Virgin Islands to Panama  April 2009

April 21

Caribbean Sea

0830  Making 7.5 knots under jib alone in passing rain.  Mostly cloudy sky.  I was going to leave the tillerpilot steering until we cleared the east end of Vieques Island thirty miles ahead, but because of the strength of the wind just changed to the Monitor. 

I woke at 0540 and thought I might leave before the cruise ships entered, but found two already circling just outside the channel, so I had a leisurely breakfast.  The ships were docked by 0700, and our anchor was up by 0715. 

As before it came up with a big clump of sandy goop, which took a long period of dragging the anchor just below to surface to clear.  When It was clean, I brought it to the bow roller, then back on deck, where I removed it to stow below for the passage.  We were still in the main channel and protected by hills, so the water was smooth and removing the anchor fairly easy.

A container ship passed us heading in, and another cruise ship was coming from the east.  Busy morning.

Shower has ended and sun breaking through.   I think more intermittent rain is likely.

I’ve left the cabin cushion covers on.  They are wearing out, and I hope to be able to wash them in Panama, so a little extra wear won’t matter.

Also I’ve thus far left most of the provisions on the quarter berths, and only moved a few bags that have already been in the way forward to the v-berth.  Otherwise, except that the solar panels aren’t out yet because the engine has the batteries fully charged, the boat is in passage mode.

1205  Five miles south of Vieques, which is an island off Puerto Rico.  As far as I know there isn’t anything else between us and Colon, Panama.

Wind in mid-teens.  Sky above us mostly clear, but there are long banks of cloud to the north and to the south that look to have rain.  Making 6+ knots on course under jib alone. 

Noon position:  18º 03’ North; 65º 19‘ West.  Run to noon:  28 miles.  Colon 996 miles, bearing 239º.

Our position at anchor at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas was

18º 20‘ north, which will be the farthest point north of this circumnavigation, and 64º 56‘ West.  It’s all south from here.

1800  The trend through the afternoon has been for the sky to clear and the wind to decrease.  Now only 9 or 10 knots.  Seas down to 2’.  Very few white-caps.

Two changes:  the mainsail is up and the fabric covers are off the cushions.

Shortly after 1300 I poked my head on deck and found us on a converging course with a cargo ship heading for Puerto Rico.  Perhaps whoever was in charge of the ship had everything

under control and knew he would pass well in front of us, but it was not so clear to me, and, although I had right of way, wanting to make life easy for everyone, I jibed and left the jib backed in order to let him pass. 

While stopped, I went below and removed the fabric covers from the cushions.  There was no reason not to do so except laziness.

This took all of five minutes.  When I returned to deck, the ship was clear ahead.  I unjibed and resumed sailing, but our SOG was less than 6 knots, so I raised the main, only to lower it a while later when it began to blanket the jib, then raise it again when our speed dropped to 5.3 knots.

At the moment we’re making 6.1 slightly high of course, sailing smoothy and almost level.  The vague outline of Puerto Rico’s south coast is visible to the north of us.

It has been a sultry day.  I haven’t paid any attention to humidity.  Perhaps it has been higher today.  With spray over the deck this morning and early afternoon, I couldn’t open the deck hatches.  But even eating dinner on deck at 1700 in the shade of the sails, it still felt hot.

Could be a spinnaker day tomorrow.

April 22

Caribbean Sea:  Wednesday

0840  I’ve been up three hours, but only now is the sun high enough not to blind me as it shines through the companionway and I can see this screen.

Not a spinnaker day, but fine sailing under jib alone on a port broad reach.  SOG around 7 knots.

I lowered the mainsail at 2100 last night when it began to blanket the jib.  Put the sail cover on this morning when it was obvious the sail wasn’t going back up soon.

Awake many times last night.  At 0130 saw running lights of a small ship a few miles south of us, heading in opposite direction.  Particularly since the encounter with would-be pirates off Java last year, I find the presence of other small vessels unsettling.  This one continued about his business.

Other ships, innocent and otherwise, are my greatest concern about this passage.  Although not as crowded as the Mediterranean, there is land on all sides as we move west, and fishing boats and ships can come from any direction, with the concentration increasing as we funnel toward Colon.

There have been serious attacks on yachts recently, particularly near Venezuela, some resulting in death.  I’ll stay well off, but I was a hundred miles off Java last year.

With the wind further aft, we are not taking much water on deck and I was able to open the small hatch in the main cabin last night.  It helps, but still hot and sweaty.

Pumped a couple of buckets of water from the bilge this morning after some sloshed over the cabin sole when we slid down a wave.  Wind about 18 knots.  Waves mostly 3’ to 4’.

I put out only the new solar panel this morning in order to observe its performance.  Getting a couple of amps with the sun shining though a high haze, which is what I expected.

1200  Hazy clouds thickening, but mostly sunny.  One wave splashed in through the open hatch, but fell harmlessly on the cabin sole.

Intermittently wind strengthens and I consider partially furling jib.  Is happening now.  But so far it is manageable.

This is an unusual passage in several ways.  I can see the entire distance from start to destination on the chartplotter screen without panning.   I’ll have fresh fruit most of the way.  Bought bananas, apples and pears.  And my lunch these past few days has been salami with fine herbs on fresh sourdough bread.  Have enough salami for one more lunch, but may not last another day in this heat.  And have enough fresh water for showers whenever I wish. 

Noon position:  16º 40’ North; 67º 33‘ West.  Day’s run:  152 miles.

Colon 844 miles, bearing 239º.

We’ve just passed into new time zone, GMT -5, which is the time in Panama.  I’ll change ship’s time this afternoon.

1730  We’ve made more than 200 quick and relatively easy miles since leaving St. Thomas, but the illusion I had that we were sailing smoothly was dispelled by hanging up the solar shower bag this afternoon and being flailed by the hose and nozzle.  This is not ‘leave it open in the galley‘ smooth, as I later confirmed when a half used can of tonic ended up on its side.

Did some rewriting on the South Africa to Antigua article. 

I ate the last of the salami for dinner on deck.  Wasn’t very hungry and wasn’t sure the salami would last until tomorrow lunch.

Pleasant on deck in late afternoon in the shade of the jib.

We are 100 south of the east end of the Dominican Republic and  250 miles north of Bonaire.  Haven’t seen any other vessels all day.

Sailing into a cul-de-sac.  One of the things I like about sailing is that the ocean ahead of me is endless, but this sea isn’t.  Ahead there is land.  It blocks the mind as well as ships.  That there is a way through is due only to Teddy Roosevelt.  I’ll be glad to be into the Pacific.

While I don’t usually want to be in marinas, I was very grateful to find a place to leave THE HAWKE OF TUONELA in Durban, and I very much hope I can get into Shelter Bay Marina in Panama.  The old Panama Yacht Club has just been torn down by the authorities, which makes Shelter Bay the only game in town, other than anchoring out in what is called The Flats.  Done that.  Don’t want to be again.  Also I’d really enjoy standing under a real shower again and letting the water run and run over me.  Last time was at Port Elizabeth Yacht Club in early February.

April 23

Caribbean Sea:  Thursday

0910  A substantial cloud looming up behind us.  I don’t mind a little rain, but hope it doesn’t bring a gust of strong wind.  We are making 6 knots under the small spinnaker, which I set an hour ago when our SOG occasionally dropped below 6 with the jib.  The only advantage of the jib in the face of a gust is that it can be partially furled, while the spinnaker is all or nothing.

Feeling rested today.  Got eight hours sleep last night, even with breaks, one of which came when a few drops of rain fell on my face at 0330.  The night before I left St. Thomas I was wide awake and ready to go at 0200 and couldn’t get back to sleep until nearly 0400, and the first night at sea I was up often.

So far the wind has weakened as the cloud nears.  Whatever happens, I don’t think it will be of long duration.  Time to put the computer away and see.

1000  A non-event.  Five minutes of rain and a hole in the wind, which along with bright sunshine has resumed.

I do like the small blue spinnaker, which smoothes and quiets the boat’s way through the water.


Today is Carol’s birthday.  I wish you a happy and fulfilling year, my love, and look forward to being with you again.

1205  Doesn’t seem quite as sultry as the past two days, but the sky is still hazy with scattered clouds.

Noon position:  15º 23‘ North; 69º 46‘ West.  Day’s run:  150 miles (25 hours.)  That’s a six knot average, but I expected more.  Must have gone slower than I thought while I was sleeping.  Colon:  695 miles, bearing 239º.    

1630  Driven below by another brief shower.  Was sitting on deck, listening to music and feeling good. 

I feel so good today that it makes me realize that I must have been feeling bad since the passage began.  Possibly the cold I had when I first reached St. Thomas lingered.  I did have a bad night after snorkeling at Christmas Cove.

We’ve averaged 6 knots since noon, but I doubt we will have another six knot day unless the wind increases.  Often this afternoon our SOG has dropped below 6.  Not enough for me to set the big spinnaker with night coming on, and we are still way ahead of reaching Panama in eight days.  Must admit that I’d like to average six knots and make it in seven. 

Colon is a harbor that I might enter after dark.  It is huge and once through the breakwater there is lots of room where I could anchor out of the way of shipping until dawn.  Depends on time of arrival and visibility. 

I’ve let us drift a bit north of the rhumb line to Colon.  I want to stay out here in the middle as long as possible.  The Dominican Republic is 165 miles north of us and Maracaibo, Venezuela, 165 south.

Cloud has passed.  Rain stopped.  Going back on deck.

1800  Fine sailing.  Cross seas at right angles to one another, but only 2’ high.

Rain continued to fall from the cloud as it moved west of us.  Still lingering at sunset.

A ship passed behind us an hour ago, heading south toward Venezuela.

I like sailing across oceans.  I like living on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA on her mooring in Opua, New Zealand.  And I like living with Carol.  All are mutually exclusive.  Wish I could have been with Carol this evening of her birthday.

April 24

Caribbean Sea:  Friday

0700  The wind did pick up and we continue to average six knots.  Actually making 7.3 at the moment.  Sunny morning, with one big rain cloud that has already passed north of us.

Several ships in sight last night until around midnight, apparently heading to or from Maracaibo.  Every time I stuck my head on deck the running lights of at least one and sometimes as many as three were in sight.  One, heading south, crossed a mile or so ahead of us.

Despite getting up frequently to look for ships, I slept pretty well.

0900  Wind and waves increased a half hour ago.  Almost to the point of going from the spinnaker back to the jib.  Still may.

So far the sailing has been effortless and fast.

We are 132 miles north of the border between Colombia and Venezuela, and 178 miles south of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola.

I’ve been rewriting the article about the South Africa to Antigua passage and have it pretty much in shape to submit from Panama.  I can always find a word or phrase to change and could rewrite forever.  There just comes a time to stop.

Also finished RIDERS IN THE CHARIOT, one of the few novels by the late Australian novelist, Patrick White, that I had not previously read.  I started it at sea before Antigua, but didn’t read there or in St. Thomas. 

As those who have followed my journal know, I admire Patrick White, and consider at least two of his novels, VOSS and THE VIVISECTOR, great.  RIDERS IN THE CHARIOT may be too.  I’ll have to think about it for a while, and will reread it again in time.

Set in a small New South Wales town after the Second World War, there is an elderly woman living in a crumbling mansion, an aboriginal artist, a Jewish refugee, another Jew who has become a successful business man and renounced his heritage, and several other characters all of whom are brought together in a near re-enactment of the crucification of Christ.

But as always with Patrick White, and for that matter perhaps every great writer, it is not the story itself but the way it is told that matters.  Patrick White often dared to choose great themes, and his use of words is original and profound.

I brought back to the boat with me two other of his novels, THE TREE OF MAN and A FRINGE OF LEAVES, that I read many years ago to reread.

1205  Slid down a wave and rounded up, spinnaker flailing for a few seconds, then the Monitor got the boat back under control.  No clouds of significance around.   Thicker to the south toward the continent.  Hazy sunshine.  Barometer 1019.

Noon position:  14º17’ North; 72º 01‘ West.  Day’s run:  146.  Colon 550 miles, bearing 238. 

We should pass the halfway point this evening.

When I saw the longitude I realized that we are just west of Boston.

1540  Lowered spinnaker an hour ago.   Big clouds bearing down on us and although they resulted in only brief rain, I’d been thinking of changing to the jib for greater flexibility, so I did the sweaty work before I showered in a shower.   Water from solar shower bag warm.  Water from sky cold.

I did some accounting today and determined that in the first year of this voyage, from April 21, 2008 through April 20, 2008, THE HAWKE OF TUONELA and I sailed 15861 miles and were underway 134 days. 

I had four 1000+ mile weeks:  two on the passage from Cocos to Durban, and two on the passage from Port Elizabeth to Antigua.  The best week’s run was 1111.

My worst week’s run was 777, the last full week before reaching Durban.  The second worst was 789, the first week out of Opua, New Zealand.

Best noon to noon run:  175 miles on the Port Elizabeth to Antigua passage. 

Worst noon to noon run:  76 miles on the Cocos to Durban passage.

Of the full days spent at sea, there were five noon to noon runs of less than 100 miles and forty-four of 144 or more miles.

The number of miles is calculated by adding daily runs.  The number of days underway includes many partial days, such as at the beginning and end of a passage, and those daysailing inside the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns to Cape York.

Sky clearing.  Going to sit on deck.

2020  Less than 500 miles to go.  We are 115 miles off the nearest point of Columbia.  We are on course.  The land has reached up toward us. 

Starry sky has cleared since sunset.

April 25

Caribbean Sea:  Saturday

0750  Had to wait until now to write because sun blinds me through the companionway when it is lower.

We are making mostly 8 and sometimes 9 knots exceptionally quietly under about ⅓ of the jib.  A very good decision to change down from the spinnaker yesterday afternoon.

I put a couple of rolls in the jib before I went to sleep.  Then furled it to half when we were making more than 9 knots at 0300.  And an hour ago reduced it again.

The wind is not more than twenty or twenty-two knots.  The seas only 3’ to 4’ and rounded rather than jagged.  Sunny with haze and a few scattered clouds that do not threaten rain.  THE HAWKE OF TUONELA is flowing smoothly with the wind and waves toward a 160+ mile day.

1205  We had a seven knot day, probably with help from current because I don’t think we have been sailing that fast. 

If this continues we are going to complete the passage in less than seven days and be faced with a night time arrival Monday.  Not complaining about good sailing.

Wind has decreased slightly, so I let out a little more jib.  SOG showing 7s again.

Beautiful day.  Few clouds.  Sparkling blue sea.

Noon position:  13º 02’ North; 74º 34‘ West.  Day’s run:  168.  Colon 383 miles, bearing 235º.

In EGREGIOUS in 1975-76 I set what was then the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation in a monohull.  I believe the time was 202 days and some hours.  In doing so I broke the previous record set by Francis Chichester of, I think, 226 days.

With ample time on my hands, this morning I worked out how many days and hours I have sailed since leaving New Zealand. 

As of St. Thomas it was 121 days and 17 hours.  The world’s biggest ocean is still ahead of me, but there seems a good possibility that I can beat EGREGIOUS’s time and set a personal best.

1715  The sky is now as cloudless as it has been for weeks in the tropics, yet the barometer is down to 1014.  All this is very odd. 

This afternoon the wind dropped, so I unfurled the jib until almost all of it was out.  Then the wind increased, THE HAWKE OF TUONELA began yawing wildly, so now it is more deeply furled than it has been on this passage, and we are still making 7 knots.  I’m sure part of this is current.  There just isn’t that much wind.   There are many white-caps, yet the waves have not increased in size.  We are rolling, but continue moving forward at speed almost silently.

I’ve seen few birds and few flying fish.  None have ended up on deck.

As we near sunset Colon is just under 350 miles away.

April 26

Caribbean Sea:  Sunday

0610  We are having a gale. 

The sky is mostly clear.  We just had a pretty sunri---

At that very moment a wave caught us, threw us onto our side, splashed into the cockpit and spilled through the companionway, which fortunately I had closed while I am using the computer.

The sun rose illuminating a few scattered high clouds, but a thirty to thirty-five knot wind built waves during the night that average 8’.  As is to be expected sets come through unpredictably that are bigger and steeper.  Three or four of these knocked us around last night, leaving a flying fish in the cockpit as a calling card.  I have seen a few in the sea, but not many.  And few birds.

Not long after dawn a ship passed a few miles astern, mostly hidden by the waves.  I could only see it when on the crests.

I went on deck after one of the waves that caught us last night and brought in the solar shower bag which was sitting in the cockpit.  Didn’t want to lose another one.  Also stowed various loose objects such as my iPod and battery operated fan which have been sitting on the upper berth since the beginning of the passage. 

I usually sleep with the lee cloth secured by one line at hip level, but tied in a second line at shoulder level as well.

This morning I had to go out and retie the lines holding the new solar panel, which were too loose, and also tightened the Monitor control lines to give it greater leverage and quicker response.

We are essentially under bare poles.  I have only a few feet of jib exposed to weather cock the bow downwind and help the Monitor.  Mostly we are progressing smoothly in the right direction and at the right speed 5.5 knots, which would put us just off Colon at dawn Tuesday.  Colon is 273 miles away.

The barometer is at 1012 and has been steady for twelve hours.  Hopefully this will pass without get worse or leaving a big hole in the wind behind it.

1205  Barometer up to 1014.  Wind and waves down. 

Wind around 20 knots and waves 6’ to 8’.  Though the odd wave may still pound us, conditions no longer difficult.  I might eventually even set more jib, but there is no point in going more than 5.5 knots, unless we are becalmed, in which case I will regret the miles I didn’t do when I could.

Noon position:  11º 40’ North; 76º 33‘ West.  Day’s run:  142.

Colon:  241 miles, bearing 236º.  

1630  Barometer has dropped back to 1012.  I hope we are not in for act two.  Nothing in the sky indicates it. 

I slightly increased sail a while ago and we immediately started making 7 knots, which I don’t want, so I furled it back again to about where it was.

We haven’t taken a wave all afternoon.  I have the companionway and the small deck hatch over the port settee berth open.  Even when water did come in, the sun is hot enough so I didn’t have to wipe it up.  It evaporated. 

I had planned to take a shower this afternoon, but that wasn’t going to happen.  Am hot and sticky.  Will be glad to get in.

April 27

Caribbean Sea:  Monday

0545  A surprisingly restful night.  We kept moving at 5 knots under our scrap of jib without excessive rolling.  The seas are down to 2’ and 3’.  The wind backed a few degrees yesterday afternoon, causing us to sail south of the rhumb line.  I think this has moved us south of the shipping, which is a very good thing.  I looked around several times last night without seeing any lights.  I had the companionway open until around 0300 when a few drops of rain caused me to close it.

Thick low clouds this morning.  We’re only 80 miles from land, so they may be coastal.

May add a little more sail, and will jibe sometime today unless the wind veers, but we are where I want to be:  the harbor entrance is 144 miles away.

0800  Jibed to starboard broad reach a half hour ago.  Let out a little more jib, increasing speed to 6+ knots.  Sun is beginning to burn off clouds.  Because I hope to be going into a marina rather than anchor, I will have to wait until it is open, and so would like to be at the harbor entrance at about this time tomorrow.  It is presently 132 miles away.

1200  Pleasant sailing.  Speed has been dropping below 6 knots, but I’m not going to add sail.

Started preparations to enter harbor.  Removed spray cover from engine controls and started engine.  Had no reason to think it wouldn’t, but, if so, would rather know that today than tomorrow or with a ship bearing down on me.

Still have to get out fenders and dock lines, remove extra lines I put to secure Monitor, and put anchor on bow.  Hopefully I won’t use it.  And near sunset bring solar panels below.

Noon position:  10º 17‘ North; 78º 19‘ West.  Day’s run:  134.  Colon 109, bearing  240º. 

1720  Solid low overcast this afternoon with diminishing wind.  Kept letting out more jib to keep speed above 5 knots.  It is now all out and we’re making 5.1.  Barometer down to 1011.  Hope I have decent visibility tomorrow morning.  Colon 80 miles away.

Took a well-needed shower this afternoon.  Brought fenders and dock lines forward on the quarter berths.  Just brought solar panels below and switched from Monitor to tiller pilot.  I have two tiller pilots, and the one I’ve been using has malfunctioned, so plugged in the other, which seems fine.

No ships this afternoon, but an airplane circled me twice, perhaps a coast watch.  It’s pretty obvious where I’m going.

From this angle Colon is beyond a point of land, so put in a waypoint to clear that twenty miles east of the harbor entrance.  Should be off it around 0400.

April 28

Caribbean Sea:  Tuesday

0430  Been up an hour, to whatever extent I was ever not up.  Ships almost always in sight after dark.  None of them close.  The lights of two or three in sight now.  Got a few scattered hours of sleep, perhaps three or four.

We’ve just passed the waypoint off the point east of Colon and have a direct course to the harbor entrance, which is 27 miles away.  Wind almost directly astern.  Full jib set, but only making 4.5 knots.  We’re 7 miles offshore by the chartplotter, but  the only sight I see of it is a loom of lights ahead where the harbor must be.

Sky cleared after sunset, then clouded over again.  Brief rain at 0200, followed by ten minutes flopping about until the wind re-established itself.  Dark, moonless and starless night.  Will welcome dawn.

0600  Light.  Mostly low gray cloud.  Thinner directly overhead.  I can see the outline of hills to the west.  One ship in sight east of me.  I think he has been making big circles all night and that I have seen him before.  Our speed is 5.2 knots.  Colon 20 miles away.

1100  Docked at Shelter Bay Marina.  The passage is over, but it the end wasn’t easy. 

As we neared Colon, more and more ships came into sight.  I counted thirteen.  There were more than that anchored off Durban, but not as many in motion.  A few moved at speed out to sea, but most were circling slowly, waiting for something, presumably to go in and dock.

With the wind directly behind me and the tiller pilot steering, the jib kept collapsing and THE HAWKE OF TUONELA yawing, so at 0830 six miles from the breakwater entrance, I started the engine and furled the jib.  I also called Cristobal Control, who heard me and responded promptly, asking me to contact them again when I was one mile off the breakwater entrance.

When the U.S. controlled the canal, on the Caribbean side, Cristobal was inside the Canal Zone and Colon outside in Panama.  On the Pacific, Balboa was inside and Panama City outside.  Apparently now that all are in Panama, the Caribbean side harbor control is still called Cristobal.

As I powered on I couldn’t figure out which direction one ship was heading, until I got close enough to see that she was anchored.

At one mile off, I called Cristobal Control again and was given permission to enter the harbor.

Another sailboat, with mainsail up, was coming in from an angle closer to land and a few hundred yards ahead of me.  And then a refrigerator ship began moving toward the entrance from the other side.  All three of us cleared the breakwater at the same time. Obviously it is a big entrance.

I slowed and swung around the stern of the ship to follow the breakwater’s inner side two miles west to Shelter Cove Marina.

The other sailboat had to jibe out of the way of the ship, before also heading toward the marina.

I had called the marina earlier on VHF, but their signal broke up, so I called again.  The woman who responded asked the size of my vessel.  I told her length 37’, beam 12’, and draft 6’ 8”.  She told me to go to slip C2.

As I entered the marina basin I saw men gesturing me toward them.  I powered slowly toward slip C2, which was close to the shore, and as I was almost to the slip we went aground.  Later the woman said she thought I said my draft was 5’.  Not sure how anyone could mistake 6’ 8” for 5’.  But there you are.  Or rather there I was.

Eventually I was able to back off by giving the little Yanmar maximum rpms, which I don’t think I have ever done before.

I moved into anther slip further from the shore.

I thought I was settled, but the marina manager, who had been elsewhere, arrived and said that I and another boat had to move.  I did.  Hopefully for the last time.

We covered 1031 miles in 7 days and 3 hours.

Passage over.