You know those feelings when you’re in the last few days of an epic holiday? The feeling of impending doom as your holiday nears its end and you have to get back to the ‘real world’? As your vacation countdown clock ticks away and you feel a tremendous pressure to fully enjoy every last moment? Well, these are what I am feeling now, in our penultimate destination of our three and a half year voyage: the British Virgin Islands, or the ‘BVIs’.
On Wednesday February 10th 2016, Bob hauled in her anchor and set sail from Marigot Bay, St. Martin, bound for Cartagena, Colombia. A little under 3 1/2 years later, on the afternoon of June 10th 2019, the same anchor found purchase on the same sand, and Bob found herself once again clustered
The photo above is looking up at Bob from somewhere in the depths of the South Atlantic Ocean.
We’ve made it from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Woohoo! Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a reasonable chunk of Atlantic lying between us and Bermuda that we’ll be tackling over the coming months, but it still feels like a major achievement to cross such a huge swathe of ocean. We’re currently in the Caribbean and working our way north, from Martinique to Nevis, where Alex will be the best man for his best friend’s wedding. I can’t think of anything better after almost two months at sea than a week of celebrations with good friends.
Thus far Bob has had a lovely time of it. With the exception of day two, when winds were very light and we were forced to head straight South towards Venezuela, we’re enjoyed very favourable winds and kind seas. At least, I say they’re kind and Isabelle believes me, but in her book they’re pretty big! Bob is running along under poled-out genoa and currently averaging a touch over 6 knots. Winds are 20 knots from the East and promise to remain about the same (15 to 25) for the next couple of days at least. We could be doing 7 knots but alas, the only size of aluminium tubing that the metalworking place in St. Martin didn’t have in stock was the size I needed, so my spinnaker pole is looking very sad and bent where it had an unfortunate encounter with the shrouds back in 2009. Until I figure out a permanent solution (hopefully in Cartagena) it’s managing remarkably well under the circumstances, though I expect at any moment to hear a bang and a crash and go up on deck to see one end dangling from the genoa sheet and the other lying on the lifelines with one end still attached to the mast. Fingers crossed it won’t be necessary to clean up that mess!
Other maintenance – we had been using the brand-new 110% working jib but it was getting beaten up by the light winds and the boat rolling back and forth, alternately filling and then backing it. I decided to switch it out for the big old rotten genoa. Unfortunately some of the stitching didn’t like the brief flogging it received when we were shortening sail before a squall yesterday. It’ll have to come down and be replaced with another old, beaten-up one at some point – no small task in 20 knots of breeze, and it only promises to build from here. A job for after lunch methinks.
We’ve been working hard to empty the fridge to make way for potential fish. Last night (after another hearty beef stew) I declared that our efforts have been sufficient, so this morning I have put out a fishing line for the first time on this voyage. Thus far the only catch has been Sargassum Weed, but I have faith. A mahi mahi would be very very nice indeed.
I have a terrible confession to make. Our first flying fish was discovered on deck yesterday and I didn’t eat it. The thing is, it was very dead and dried-up by the time I found it so I doubted it’s the quality of its offerings as a culinary delight. I figured Neptune would understand my reasoning and not look too harshly on me for not following tradition – the first flying fish to come aboard must be eaten (usually for breakfast) by the Captain. I hope my decision wasn’t folly……………
There’s not a whole lot more to report really. I’m still pretty nervous about rounding the headland on approach to Cartagena but I’m not worried that it will endanger Bob even if it’s really nasty. At around the time I send this I’ll also attempt to extract a weather forecast from the ether, and at that point I can get a good idea of whether we should go for it, slow down and wait for a window or, if it looks really nasty, pull in to Santa Marta and wait it out.
Hope all’s well with everyone!
Until next time, cheers!
Bob is finally on the move. 2 weeks has turned into 7……..ish and St. Maarten has been invaluable as a resource of both bits of boat and excellent company. The time has come to leave, however, and not a moment too soon! I am very much looking forward to Sarah joining me in Cartagena; in fact, she flies into these in a mere 6 days but I fear I will not be there to meet her as my departure has been delayed by one thing after another, most notably the weather.
The passage from St. Martin to Cartagena should be mostly an easy one. Between 15 and 25 knots of breeze from astern or on the quarter makes for a very happy Bob and a very happy crew. I say ‘mostly’ because there is one rather large (though hopefully short-lived) bit that promises to be anything but easy. The approach to Cartagena itself is notoriously horrendous. There is a mountain range near a town called ‘Barranquila’ (a notorious drug-smuggling port) and to the East of the range is a large desert. These topographical features produce a diurnal low pressure which, in periods of strong trade winds (like now………) produce winds of 30 to 40 knots and very large seas. Exacerbating the situation is a current which runs North East up the coast of Colombia, opposing these strong winds and making the waves very steep. Further adding to this is the effect of the South American continental plate, which cause the sea to shallow and makes everything even worse, plus a large river which flows into the Caribbean Sea at this point and mixes things up even more! I’ve spent the last 3 days looking at the long-range forecast and trying to figure out when the trade winds might abate and make life easier. Unfortunately, they still show no signs of doing so we’re just going to have to bite the bullet, head to sea and hope the forecast changes.
On the plus side, unlike North Atlantic weather systems these conditions off the Colombian coast are very predictable and localised. There is also a bail-out option – a town about 150 miles East along the coast from Cartagena called ‘Santa Marta’. This is another hot-spot for cruisers, many of whom work their way along the Venezuelan coast, through the ‘ABCs’ (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) and then wait in Santa Marta for a good window in which to make that last hop to Cartagena along the coast. Alas, we don’t have the option of taking our time at the moment – we need to be getting through the Panama Canal by mid-March at the latest.
Also on the plus side – I have found an excellent crew member for this leg of the Voyage – Isabelle from Sweden – who has absolutely no time restraints whatsoever and who has so far proven to be excellent company and a very willing helping hand over these last few days leading up to our departure. She also likes cheesy pop music so I think we’ll get along fine.
We’re provisioned, full of fuel, water and lots and lots of stuff and I have cleared out French customs and immigration (while sitting in a marine chandlery drinking a beer – these French really are very civilised). I don’t like leaving port to go to sea in the evening so we’re going to get a couple of odd jobs done, have a beer, pull the dinghy out of the water, lash it on deck and be ready to catch the first bridge opening tomorrow morning at 0830. I’ve arranged an agent for entry into Colombia in Cartagena – a very characterful German gentleman who has requested that I bring him some Gouda, sour-pickled herring fillets and some kind of sweet liquorice. His most valuable advice was to ‘stock up on cheese and wine as they are very expensive here’. Alas I could only manage to carry 7 bottles (purchased for an average of $3.50 each) in addition to the rest of the groceries. Ah well, I’m sure we’ll manage.