Round the World, the Start! Saturday 11th January 2020 Leg 1 St Lucia to Santa Marta
Setting of from St Lucia in company with 33 other sailing boats was fantastic. The World Cruising Club (WCC) committee boat marked one end of the start line in Rodney Bay and seemed to be thronged with their friendly, helpful staff, known as " Yellow shirts" . They were all waving and cheering, some shouting "See you in Santa Marta", some saying "See you next year " because the Rally finishes where it starts in 15 months time!
A small group of staff (4) will fly ahead to prepare for the fleet arrival in Colombia, and future destinations, radioing us with our berth number and directions into the Marina as we approach, then coming to meet each boat to take their lines and help get everyone safely settled.
So we were off on our big adventure, just the two of us to start with, heading West to explore the world. It did not take long for the coastal waters to disappear and the ocean waves to build as well as the wind, there is a clue in the name of the Windward Islands!
It was a tough four and a half days of down wind sailing across the Caribbean Sea. Tough because there were only 2 of us doing 3 hour watches in the day and 4 hours at night. This meant the maximum sleep period was only 3.5 hours at a time. As a nurse I never settled well into night shifts and sleep deprivation makes me feel wretched. To make it more difficult we had strong winds and rough seas with squalls blowing through making watches physically hard work. We were busy winching ropes to reduce sail and then easing them out again when the wind dropped, only to repeat the procedure 15 minutes later. Moving about, cooking and executing any day to day activities was a struggle because the boat moved about constantly and erratically, we had to hold on at all times and our core muscles were constantly engaged in a mammoth work out!
Even sleeping was difficult as I would find myself woken in a panic with the sensation of falling through space across the mattress as the boat slewed hard sideways down a wave or surfed so fast ( a record 17.7 knots) that the roar of water seemed all engulfing. Occasionally a big wave would dump itself in the cockpit soaking the on watch person, or on one occasion making it through the small cockpit window into our cabin and onto me! Another shock wake up call!
I can hear you non sailors saying "Why would you do this? ", and honestly I was wondering why, but there is no going back! Apart from the discomfort the sailing was actually fantastic and we had a favourable current with us so we made very good progress, our best days run 204 miles. It was warm and sunny apart from when squalls drenched us, but we were lucky and managed to dodge a lot of them. When we rounded the headland and closed on the continent of South America the sea turned a gorgeous aquamarine green colour and the wind and sea moderated so that we breezed along at 7 knots with a comfortable rocking motion that allowed us to have longer watch periods, catch up on sleep and to fall in love with sailing again.
The night skies were spectacular dotted with brilliant stars from horizon to horizon before the waning gibbous moon rose like a yellow pitted pot.
Eventually the wind died down and we flew the spinnaker for a few hours. Again quite a challenge with 2 people as there are a lot of ropes to organise.!+
Richard celebrated his 62nd birthday in a unique way the day after we set sail, hundreds of miles offshore and alcohol free, the first for a very long time, we still manage tea and cake! However, once alongside at Santa Marta we celebrated with beers and Mojitos in the local bar and were joined by other crew as they arrived.
The Rally social side is excellent, at sea we maintain contact twice a day via the HF radio, some of you will know these radios as Ham radios.
Social events and tours are organised on shore as well as help with the formalities such as customs and immigration, marina berthing and local information. Boats crew are welcome to join in or not and we will have long periods of independent sailing interspersed with the official legs.
We felt great excitement at Landfall and berthing on a continent neither of us have ever been to. Having bought the complete pack of courtesy ensigns for the countries we visit on this circumnavigation, I sensibly looked up the flag for Colombia when I had a wi fi connection, and duly labelled it and a couple of others, (Panama and Ecuador).It has horizontal yellow, red and blue stripes, but as I went to raise it in the cross trees I was faced with the dilemma of which way up it should go! I hope you are all sympathetic of how stressful this sailing lark can be? In reality it is quite offensive to the host country to get their national flag wrong. I once had a nasty experience with a very serious gun carrying official in Morroco over the colour of the star which I had hand embroidered on the ensign. We were recycling flags when we were unable to buy them ! I had the offending handiwork unpicked and re- sewn in no time, but we moved quickly to another port!
We were thrilled to visit Colombia and found Santa Marta to be a colourful, vibrant and somewhat exotic place to spend few days. We learnt about Simon Bolivar on a city tour and organised two tours out of town with crew from other boats.
Firstly we visited a coffee plantation and small processing centre. It was absolutely fascinating and strangely reminiscent of distillery tours we have been on in Scotland!
Probably because of the machinery, all water driven, was original and shipped from the UK in 1890, plus the slight smell of fermentation and the various vats and driers.
The morning finished with an exciting dip in a river and slide down some pools and rapids before a delicious lunch in the small town of Minca.
The next day we walked along a river bank into the jungle to visit a forgotten city, called Taronaika. The Colombians are proud of the many different tribes of Indians around the area and Santa Marta has many different statues representing the different peoples. Our guide, Edouardo, was keen to explain their lifestyle and the artefacts at a small museum.
The trip down river was great fun, we all got into big black rubber rings and floated down river to our lunch stop! I never thought I would be tubing down a river in Columbia!
Luckily we did all our trips and tourism in the first few days as food poisoning wiped out the next two! And then it was time for final dinner and prize giving- we were very pleased to be 3rd in our class of 15 boats(with rating applied).
22/1/20 Leg 2 Santa Marta to San Blas Islands
The short 280 mile passage was delightful and pleasant with calm seas and fair winds that took us to the far west of the Caribbean Sea to visit a group of islands that I previously had never heard of! There was little rope pulling required and we used Otto, the auto helm, more than usual as I was still weak from the sickness that also swept through the fleet.
On the dawn watch I was contemplating our approach to Panama and realising that this was going to be quite a momentous week. Moving through to the Pacific would take us into a new ocean and definitely a very long way from home. The Atlantic Ocean is what I am used to and the water connects me with home, so I felt a bit frightened and homesick. However, the early morning skies were cloudy and the sea was grey so, apart from the temperature, we could have been on board Celtic Star in Conwy Bay! I decided it was a good time to put the kettle on!
From a bustling, modern, noisy, crowded, polluted city to the remote and unheard of San Blas Islands. Here we spent a delightful 5 days exploring this set of desert islands with pristine white sands and clear blue seas, coral reefs and mangrove groves.
The Guna people are unique and have managed to keep an independent state called Guna Yala and avoid most Westernisation. They were friendly and approached us in dug out canoes to sell us their renowned hand made Molas, coconuts and lobsters!
We also went up river to explore the jungle and local graveyard (no photo allowed) with one guide, his brother and son.
From here we sailed west along the coast of Panama which was wooded and green,
not surprisingly as we had 24 hours of heavy rain 2 days ago! In the distance we could see mountains and we navigated past and rocky islands to the biggest shipping bottleneck in the world, Colon, at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal.
We arrived in Shelter Bay Marina late afternoon on 29 th January to prepare for our transit of the Panama Canal! Or Pansit as we are calling it!! We have been measured and fumigated and lifted again and scrubbed to be ready for our allocated time slot on Sunday 2nd February.
Our crew our arriving in the morning of 2nd February and it will be lovely to welcome old friends and new to join our adventure.
To be continued on the other side...........The Pacific.