How I set off for Curacao and ended up in Panama 26th May – 7th June

And no before I start it wasn’t a navigation error.
I had decided after much consideration of the alternatives to go to Curacao to lay up the boat for the hurricane season, I had even booked some storage there. Curacao is about 600 miles SE of Jamaica so I knew it would be a hard passage to windward but thought it do-able, but just how hard I was later to discover. I delayed my departure by a day to let some strong winds pass by but then the forecast looked OK. What they don’t tell you however is that these passage forecasts of grib files ignore what they term as local disturbances and there was one just to the SE of Jamaica right then. I’d filled up with diesel and topped up with water the day before and now the weather looked fine to set off and so it was until later when I ran into this disturbance. Dark rain squall clouds 30 knots plus of wind 12ft swells and torrential rain capped with thunder and lightning. It was not pleasant. The wind eased but throughout the first night the skies looked very threatening and lightning flashed all around. Mid morning next day conditions were better but the seas were big so it was hard work punching into them and the motion of the boat far from relaxing, lots of crashing and lurching.
Had a couple of reasonable days but noon to noon runs were disappointing in terms of distance covered then it was more squalls and a wild night.

Just to show its not all blue skies, fluffy white clouds and gentle trade winds a couple of short clips.


By the 6th day I was concerned over our slow progress, the weather which was continuing unsettled and the sea state which was rough.
4.00 am on the 8th day was the final turning point, Curacao lay 250 miles away to the SE on a course of 118 degrees, our course was 130 but our COG was 187 so a little west of south due to leeway the waves and the strong W setting equatorial current and SOG a dismal 0.7 knots. It was pretty obvious even to a stubborn skipper that we weren’t going to make Curacao.
An American who had meet in Jamaica had been selling me on the virtues of Panama, he has been keeping his boat there for past 8 years. So I decided to head there. It was about 420 miles away but importantly downwind. As soon as I altered course the differance was appreciable, gone the crashing and jerking, the motion although still lively was much more comfortable and boat speed shot up.
The weather though had not done with us yet, after a reasonable day in which we ran 90 miles noon to noon, the night grew steadily wilder and by dawn I was putting the 3rd reef in the main then handed it a bit later when the wind passed 30 knots and the seas were huge, all a bit scary. Little else to do but put the washboards in the companionway and close the hatch and lie down on a bunk.
By noon it was easing and we could raise more sail, the trouble was the wind continued to drop first to 10 – 13 knots then next day down to 6 knots and then calm. Now us sailors we are never happy there is always either a deal too much wind or not enough. 11 days out and we had to resort to motoring. That was OK for some hours until the engine started to falter and then die. Sounded like fuel starvation to me and problem fairly soon traced to a blocked air vent pipe to the fuel tank. For good measure I cleaned out the fuel filter and separator just in case there was water in the fuel, bleed the system and we were running again, although hadn’t managed to clear the blockage in the vent pipe I could get around this by loosening the fuel filler cap from time to time to let some air into the tank.
Late afternoon of our 12th day out we sited land off to our port side. Had a bit of a scare that night wen a sailboat appeared close by, no AIS, no lights showing, all sails up and fluttering but obviously moving under engine. A powerful light flashed over it brought no response at all and I had to take evading action. The morning of our 13th day on passage we closed the rocks and light on Farallon Sucio and shortly after passed between Isla Verde and the rocks of Bajosalmedio to enter the bay of Portabelo, Panama. It was so good to see green hillsides again. We finally anchored off one of the old forts and the little town of Portabelo. A passage of 835 miles

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