Curacao to Panama (part 3) Waves and wind.

Passing behind Aruba, we came out of the protective coverage of the Islands. The seas picked up to 2 meter swells at a 5 second interval, pushed by a 20 to 25 knot wind. We sailed in a North Westerly direction having the waves on our beam (side of the boat). This made for some heavy leeching of the boat. Soon enough we found out which items were not secured enough down in the cabins below. Everything loose started to fly around. But we had to keep this course till the next morning as we wanted to clear Venezuela and the tip of Columbia with as wide a distance as possible. The peninsula (Barranquilla) is known for even fiercer waves and very uncomfortable seas. The seabed shoots up rapidly from 3000+ metres to a couple of hundred. This causes very angry seas.

First 24hrs, 200+ miles

That evening we enjoyed our Subway sandwiches and got into the rhythm of the watches and the boat. I’ve gotten assigned the 2pm, 8pm, 2am and 8am shifts. In the morning we made a Gybe to a South westerly course, putting the waves and wind astern.

After our first 24 hours we clocked over 200 miles. We were comfortably surfing down the swells. Was it not for the occasional set of rollers hitting us on the beam, shaking up everything inside the boat.

We spotted a whale shark aside the boat, but pretty soon she disappeared behind us, as we were zooming along, so no opportunities for a photograph.

The apparent wind clocked over 25 knots at times. Apparent wind is the measured whilst moving, so not the real wind speed, if you’re moving with the wind you’d need to add a certain fraction of the boat speed. It’s all so complicated this sailing business. The swells increased to at least 3 meters by sailor measurements. We were running with just 25% of the genoa (front sail), still clocking double digit speeds when rolling down the waves.

Despite all the rocking about I decided to whip up a meal in the galley, a simple tomato basil salad with some mozzarella and a double seared steak. Working inside the galley of a moving boat is a challenge to say the least. Everything needs to be secured a locked in place. Asides from a pot of coffee in the morning, this was the first meal I put together on the move. A good learning experience to see what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t dare to put the steak on the Magma BBQ on the back. The boat was rolling too much, and I was afraid the meat would just slide into the sea..

That evening I was in for an unpleasant surprise. My cabin was drenched! The hatches up front were not fully closed. The mattress and bedding were soaking wet and the floor slippery like an ice skating rink. Nothing else to do than to get some shut-eye in the salon and deal with the ravage in the cabin in the morning.


Later in the afternoon the waves died down a bit, enough for me to whip up another meal for the crew. I made some tin foil salmon pockets on the Magma, which worked out great.


The following day winds and waves remained calmer. With our course (running down wind) we could not maintain the necessary momentum. We had to run the engine for a bit to keep up the pace. Then, a nasty surprise! After a couple of hours of running, the engine computer threw a fuel system error code and stopped. Our skipper for hire, whom also proves to be an excellent diesel mechanic, dove down the engine hatch. Here he quickly discovered our diesel was polluted.

All the rocking about stirred up the tank and flaky sludge clogged the fuel filter. After an hour or so of heated battle with the fuel filter and priming system the engine started again. Now we had a dilemma. The fuel would probably very quickly clog up the filter again. We couldn’t run the engine any more until we would reach the Colon harbour entrance. Here we would absolutely need it to manoeuvre between the ships and the breakwater.

A Mearsk Panamax giving way..

Our average downwind speed wasn’t that bad. Running on only the genoa, which was now rolled out to its full potential, we made about 6 knots. But it wasn’t the double digit speeds we’ve grown accustomed to over the last couple of days.

That night we crawled closer to the traffic separation zone, sort of a highway system for large ships before the entrance of Colon and the Panama canal. The traffic was getting busier, as boats coming and going to the canal all follow the predetermined routes. We moved ourselves in the restricted area between an inbound and outbound lane where we could freely navigate up to the harbour entrance.

The track, lining up to cut through the TSS

Everyone was awake when we navigated the last miles up to the harbour entrance. We had a full moon to guide us to the right buoys, but still, with so much going on in the dark, it was difficult to find the right flashing red or green light. We entered the harbour mouth on sail as we didn’t want to risk running the engine until it was absolutely necessary. It looked like we would be on the dock before sunrise so we thought…

Dark shadows of an Oil tanker at the Colon canal entrance

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