Antigua to Panama

 

We decided that while we wanted to get an early start on this 1200nm passage, we didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn – I mean – we had 8-9 days of sailing ahead of us – a few hours more or less wouldn’t mean anything in the greater scheme of things.

But the best laid plans of mice and men………………There is a saying that life is what happens while you are busy making plans.

We had decided to sail around the corner to English Harbour to bunker fuel instead of doing in Falmouth Harbour where we have been at anchor.  Now why would we make a decision like that? Well mainly because the fuel dock in English Harbour looked to be much easier to lie into than the one in Falmouth. Yes – laziness is king!

So we sailed over into English Harbour (1/2 hour sail) and docked at the fuel dock.  Hmmmm – suspiciously quiet here – in fact there was no one here – not even a pickpocket. I wander around a bit and finally come upon a fellow enjoying the shade and a cup of coffee.

Ahem – fuel dock closed today? Of course it is – it is Easter.  Ahhh – Easter??? As a cruising sailor you quickly miss all sense of time, dates etc. But I wouldn’t have thought we would forget Easter.

Ok – nothing for it but call Falmouth Harbour fuel dock on the VHF and see if they are open – which they thank-fully are – and we can now sail back the ½ hour to where we were at anchor and now bunker fuel.

And then we’re off! – The first 15-16 hours in fantastic sailing weather and damn! We flew across the waters. We passed by Montserrat and could see the smoke from the still active volcano.

But unfortunately at 5 a.m. the wind died and we were forced to start up our iron jenny (engine). The wind was under 8-9 knots and the sails were flapping.

We spent the next 1 ½ days on the engine before the winds returned and we were aboe to turn off the engine and set our sails again. This time we poled our genua out to port and our mainsail to starboard and  – well – away we went. Little to no effort from here on in on our part, we made 5 – 7 knots the next many days and there was nothing – I repeat – nothing to do while on watch.

The windvane kept us right on course and the days and nights sort of melded together. For once, Vinni and I chose a good weather window and the were no squalls (ok – vinni said she had 2 on one of her watches, but I was sleeping and didn’t experience them and you know – pictures or it didn’t happen), almost constant wind and Capri glided across the waves like the beautiful swan she is.

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What sleeping in our seabunk looks like

But we wonder – there are supposed to be really many humpbacked whales in this part of the Caribbean this time of year, but we see none – not even a spout. Almost no ships either – the world seems completely empty. When we finally spot a ship on our AIS, we follow it closely – just so we have something to do.

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Carsten tries his hand at fishing but only caught some seagrass

No dolphins either, until just at the end (more about them later) so for once on our travels, Vinni and I can use our time to read, work on Sudoko’s or just relax – even when we are on watch.

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Vinni relaxes with a book

The ocean raises up some waves on occasion, otherwise the swell is 0.5 to 1.5 meters, but when the tide turns some of them rise up to 3-4 meters. They’re coming from behind (following seas) so Capri just liftes her derriere and glides over them without problems.

We log 120-130 nm in this ultra-relaxed sailing. We’re not in a hurry and have our sails reefed down a bit so we don’t have to constantly be trimming them. The passage is roughly 12000nm so we can easily figure out that this will be a 9-10 day passage.

But – as I keep saying – we’re not in a hurry.

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you never, never! get tired of sunsets like these

We’ve made lots of chili and spaghetti sauce before leaving so dinner (a subject that can be discussed endlessly amongst our crew – what do we have, what can we have – how ambitious is cookie?) is simple. That does not stop the discussion, however. I’m the cook so I always end up having the last word (in your dreams Carsten), but I can be convinced to make something else than what I was thinking of. More about this further down in the text.

But into each life a little rain must fall, as the saying goes. Suddenly one evening our chartplotter emits a loud “beep” and boots itself. Uh, uh – not good. Not supposed to do that. I look at our battery monitor and se 12.5 volts.  Hmmmm. -I suppose it might be a coincidence and the freezer and refrigerator both started at exactly the same time and the autopilot was working overtime and that coincidence caused a nanosecond  drop in the voltage. I tell Vinni we need to keep an eye on it.

Unfortunately it happens again – twice with a couple of days in between and these times it is in the middle of the day – the solar panels are producing like mad so there is no chance that this is due to a sudden voltage drop.

Shit! Well nothing to be done except soldier on to Shelter Bay where we can work on it.

The days pass and Vinni decides to try gybing our poled out genua by herself ad finds out that she can actually reach the front end of the spinnaker pole – so she is able to do this without my help.

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Genua poled out to port – mainsail out to starboard

Well done Vinni!

We’ve heard from various sailors that there is a sandbar right at the entrance to Shelter Bay Marina. A couple of friends of ours ran aground on it (they got off without problems). We would find out later that the reason many run aground there is that the bar is not shown on the charts. But there is a tiny “I” on the charts and if you click on it – it tells you that there is a sandbar here that is constantly moving – therefore it is not charted.

We decide not to chance it by coming in in the dark and reduce our speed a bit. Of course, when you want less speed, the tide changes and you get 2 knots of current speeding you on your way which means we will get there before dawn breaks. We’ll just have to sail in circles outside the Canals big breakwater and the huge pylons that mark the entrance.

As we close in on Panama, about a day before we get there, I hear Vinni yelling “whee – whee” and I know that we have the company of dolphins. And what company!  20 or more. These dolphins are smaller than the ones we’ve seen out in the Atlantic, but they are extremely playful and stay with us for over an hour. What a wonderful gift!

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They play around right under our bows

To celebrate, the cook (moi) decides to go into high gear and surprise Vinni with a pizza. But I’m lazy and instead of making my own pizza dough, I decide to use a tortilla. That works out just fine and we each get our own mid-sized pizza with jalapeno peppers – the only thing missing was cold beer (sigh). But we don’t drink alcohol when we are sailing. The cook bowed to a round of applause and promised to do it again some day. Some day was already the next evening when Vinni looked at the menu and ordered pizza again for dinner – yes these women quickly get accustomed to luxury…………………….

We sail around in circles for a couple of hours while we wait for dawn before going in. Jesus there are ship here – our chartplotter is thick with AIS triangles showing ship anchored in long rows. Some say there are over 300 ships lying here waiting.

Dawn breaks and we turn towards the breakwater entrance, staying outside the traffic separation system and at the last moment we slip around the starboard breakwater buoy and into the huge harbour area. The harbor area is so big it is actually a bay.

This is a great moment. Everyone says that the big moment comes when the lock gates open and you sail into the Pacific, but I can promise all of you that the moment you sail in between those big red and green lighthouses –  you’ll have a lump in your throat.

We’re here! This is the Panama Canal! If you can sail in here without feeling emotional then you are one very, very cold fish. Vinni and I look at each other – this is a surrealistic moment. Like sailing into New York. We, and Capri, have sailed here from Copenhagen. Unbelievable, our log shows that we’ve sailed almost 15,000nm since we left the pier in front of our house. We’ve got probably the double of that to go before Capri’s keel again tastes Danish waters…………………………..

Shelter Bay is to our starboard and we sail along the back of the breakwater towards the mast we can see behind the pam trees (yeas when you sail out here you get used to seeing palm trees). We call them on the VHF as we are supposed to and tell them that we would like to bunker fuel before going to our slip.

No problemo! Just wait a bit until the catamaran bunkering is finished and we’re next in line.

 

Hmmmm- 10 minutes later and no sign that they are leaving anytime soon. We sail up alongside them and ask if they are almost done?

Sure – just another 1- ½ hours.  WTF? Well they have to bunker 2000 liters most of it in jerry cans sitting on the deck.

Well shit. No way we were going to wait for that – so we docked at the reception dock and waited for our turn. An hour later they were finished and we moved over and bunkered.

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