Day three and we are moving along slowly.
It’s Wednesday afternoon, day three of our passage and we have covered about 300 miles, a little more than a quarter of the trip. There has been a decent amount of wind so we have only run the motor for about 12 hours so far, not a lot for a trip like this.
The problem though has been the wind direction, directly astern. This means that we have had to watch the sails very carefully to be sure that we don’t have a crash jibe, which can break stuff. And that’s not something that we really want to do in the middle of the ocean.
As I mentioned yesterday, it’s really deep here and I’ll admit that it is pretty creepy to see depths on the charts showing that the water is some 5 miles deep. I suppose that anything more than 100 feet is deep enough but the thought of such crushing depths in absolute darkness gives one pause for thought.
As I write this we are passing The Dominican Republic, one of the largest islands, at over 300 miles long, in the Greater Antilles. It is very unfortunate that we cannot stop to rest as it would be a very nice way to break up the trip. The harbor in particular that I have heard about is Luperon, which is supposed to be very pretty. Alas, like everywhere else, the island is closed to visitors.
In spite of the trip covering some very large bodies of water, It does feel a bit like I am threading the needle as we have to be careful to avoid some shallow places that are quite large and unmarked by any land mass. In particular, these areas, like the Bahamas Banks, come very near the surface immediately adjacent to waters that are over a mile deep.
There are two particular areas that I need to avoid, Navidad Bank and Silver Bank both off of the north coast of The Dominican Republic. While they are separated by 30 or more miles from the DR, these banks rise steeply from more than a mile deep to within 100 feet of the surface. This can cause violent waves and as they are not well charted, potential hazards that are more shallow than the charts suggest. The key is to pass close to the banks in order to stay well clear of the north coast of the DR, the idea being that we want to be out of the wind shadow of the big island.
After the DR, we will pass north of Cuba and below the southern part of the Bahamas a vast area of thousands of square miles of shoals that are less than 15 feet deep. This passage will bring us within the territorial waters of both countries. It is a very busy stretch of water and is only about 10 miles wide. And, to make matters more exciting, it is among the busiest areas for shipping in the world. This area, like most very busy shipping channels is marked with “fairways” clearly stating which side of the “road” ships should take, north being to transit west and south to east. Our plan will be to stay to the north side heading west. The last time Brenda and I passed that area was when we took Pandora from Georgetown Bahamas to Santiago de Cuba. We crossed the shipping lanes and transited the Windward Passage before heading west along the south coast of Cuba and past Guantanamo bay.
Brenda continues to do well, better than we were expecting. While she spends much of her time in the cockpit, she is sleeping well down in the main cabin. She even took a shower in the cockpit today, something that is a daily ritual for me when I am on passage. I will say that the one thing I really dislike about passage making is that it’s nearly always too hot. Pandora’s engine is under the galley and when it’s running the whole main salon is warm. Fans help but it’s sill uncomfortably as all the hatches need to be firmly closed to avoid unexpected waves. However, as this trip is down wind much of the way, ocean spray is less of an issue so at least one hatch is left open much of the time.
One of the most unpleasant parts of being on the water 24/7 and underway is squalls. While those here in the tropics are generally pretty mild, with extra wind in the 10kt range, they can still crop up most any time overnight and it can be quite unsettling to be struck by drenching rain and wind from most any direction, with little warning. And, as these “cells” are on the move, if you happen to be going the same way that they are, you can find yourself stuck under your own private raincloud for hours at a time.
On a passage south a few years ago, I counted nearly 20 squalls that we endured over a short few day period.
Last night was not great fun as around 04:00 we were struck by a nasty cell that stayed with us for several hours. I finally jibed to try and run away from it but somehow it just moved along with me and hit me all over again. The winds were not huge but strong enough to make it uncomfortable and not knowing which way the wind was going to come from in the pitch dark kept me on my toes.
After squalls pass, the wind is often very light and while I was racing along on a beam reach in rough seas just a few hours ago, I am now motoring directly downwind in less than 10kts on a smooth sea.
I am mindful of the amount of motoring that we can afford to do as there will be several days on this trip when we will have little or no wind. I carry a fair amount of fuel but am limited to about 130 hours of motoring, not as much as I fear might be required foe a downwind trip of more that will likely take more than a week.
When we left St John, we were pretty sure that we would be dodging some nasty weather as we approached the Florida coast and that may have been confirmed today by Chris Parker. He is concerned that an early season tropical low will be forming in the western Gulf of Mexico, GOMEX, and will possibly move to the NE and impact areas of the Bahamas and southern Florida. It should not become a hurricane but it may very well become quite nasty with powerful thunderstorms and squalls.
It is very important that we not find ourselves in the area of this low as it would be quite uncomfortable and possibly quite dangerous. His current recommendation is for us to be prepared to divert to the southern Bahamas, the island of Great Inagua or perhaps the Ragged Islands. These are not all that far out of our way and are not well protected from nasty weather. However, they are better than being out in the open ocean during a storm. Additionally, The Government of the Bahamas has made it clear that they do not want anyone to come into their country. However, as a participant in the Salty Dawg Flotilla, we have been granted a waiver to stop to shelter if needed.
I did get news earlier today that the restrictions in the Bahamas are still very strict but have been softened a bit to allow us to take shelter nearly anywhere we wish as long as we do not leave the boat.
This is all very unsettling but not unexpected as it is normal to run into adverse weather on a trip of this length. It is just not possible to get a decent picture of the weather ten days in advance so the unexpected always pops up. Fortunately, we have options and we will begin to have a better picture of what’s coming over the next few days.
I don’t like running the engine much early in a trip out of fear that we will have a shortage of wind later during the trip and run low on fuel. However, the forecast still suggests that we should be able to sail a good portion of the trip so I am hopeful that we won’t run out.
So, wish us luck that we will continue to have luck, not too many squalls and God forbid, a storm as we make our way to Florida.
Wish us luck.