Sailing – One step forward and two steps back

The weather forecast was for light winds from all directions so less than optimal sailing conditions. The pilot charts forecast a 0.7 knot current against us just to add to the challenge. But, being becalmed at sea still sounded nice when compared to being eaten by mosquitos and no-see-ums in the rainy season at the swampy Puerto Velero Marina.

So we left at seven in the morning from Columbia, heading for Panama.

The weather forecast was correct but the current was one to one and a half knots and always against us. At least the wind really did constantly change direction so we could use the shifts to make ground in the correct direction.

Heidi freeing a line as we head in to the wind

We have no idea how often we changed sails in the seven days it took us to cover the three hundred miles but we were far far more sporty than during the eighteen days when we crossed the Atlantic. We both arrived with aching muscles and Heidi is sure her biceps are now twice the size they were.

We spent a total of 48 hours drifting with no wind during which time we were pushed the wrong way at over a knot. On a bike, when you stop pedalling you stop. On a sailing boat in the Caribbean Sea you go backwards. On Day 5 we had no wind, no sun and so no electricity and decided to motor a bit. The next two days we motored a total of 96 miles to be sure we would be in Port Linton to meet Daniel. Every time the wind rose above five knots we went back to sailing but it rarely lasted long.

We were actually enjoying watching the lightning storms approaching. At least you can sail with a 30 knot wind. Visibility is zero and you get soaked through but you are finally sailing some where.

The chart below shows a day of sailing. Sailing slowly against wind and current in roughly the correct direction. Drifting back while becalmed. Trying a tack to south and then a tack to north. Sailing roughly the right way before being becalmed again and deciding to motor a little.

sailing against the wind. We are the yellow track trying to go in the direction of the arrow

We were constantly meeting huge ships coming towards us and had others overtaking. Gas tankers, oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers and one cruise ship were all leaving or heading for the Panama Canal. We kept a good lookout, even jumping up at the end of each phase while playing “Phase 10” to take a quick look round. Some of the ships travel at 20 knots so approach very quickly but luckily they all went round us.

Radar screen as we approach Port Linton

We reached Port Linton in Panama in the early morning so used the radar to verify that islands and reefs were where the chart thought they should be. As we began the final run in dawn broke and we anchored just off a jungle covered island as the sun rose after seven days of intensive sailing.

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