18 Jan 2019

The first leg of our journey - St Lucia to Columbia

Saturday 12th January

We pulled away from the dock at 11am and went and anchored in Rodney Bay in readiness for the midday start. From about 11.30 onwards, boats were motoring around with just their mainsails up and then at 11.50 the first horn sounded. Genoas were unfurled and boats started heading for the start line, weaving between each other for pole position. The second horn sounded at 11.55 and then at noon, the final blast on the horn, and we were off, crossing the start line on the first leg of WARC. It was an incredible spectacle seeing 28 boats all heading off West, some with spinnakers flying, others poled out and a few with conventional sail configurations.

We’d decided in advance to just sail poled out today and use the new parasailor from tomorrow, but the winds were so light we decided to give it a go today. An hour after putting away the genoa, our main driving sail, and trying to deploy the spinnaker, we had to give up… lines were twisted around the sail itself and it just wouldn't go up. Very frustrating indeed as several boats overtook us as we were fiddling around.

So tonight we’re sailing along poled out at around 6 knots, slower than we would like but there’s not much we can do until daybreak when we give the parasailor another go. Hopefully that will gain us a knot or so of speed.

Sunday 13th January

We were up at the crack of dawn to get the parasailor up and running. Yesterday's debacle only made me think about what we did wrong in trying to fly it. We had sorted the twists and untangled the snuffer lines, and I realised that I needed to be as far forward on the bow as possible to deploy it. Suffice to say that we finally got itsorted out and it eventually went up and inflated itself. It is now working brilliantly. We’re making good speed in light airs, and should start to overtake some of the fleet!

This afternoon we caught an Almaco Jack. It had two bites at the lure as it wasn't successful with the first strike, and we landed it shortly thereafter. Not knowing what it was, I hastily put it back. Big mistake! According to our book, they get 5 forks, really great eating! Damn!  At sunset, we assessed the weather and the clouds, and decided to keep the Parasailor flying through the night. Without it in these light airs we wouldn't make much progress. We are making good progress in the fleet, and according to our friend Mac who is following the rally, we are the second fastest monohull in our division. That came as a real surprise to us! Talking to the other boats on the radio, several are heading north and south to pick up favourable  currents. We have consulted our tidal atlas and can't see that there is any benefit in doing either. We will stay on the rhumb line and do fewer miles. Who knows, we might even win a prize!

Sitting in the cockpit on watch, the time is 11:10 pm. The moonlight lights up our path as we head pretty much due West. The parasailor is billowing out in front of the boat, inflated by the 10 knot winds that would normally leave us wallowing on the water going nowhere fast. We are maintaining a steady 6 knots, often getting up into the sevens and eights for short bursts. This is why we invested in the blouse blue sail with its white star. The sea is calm with a following swell that picks the boat up and allows ustosurf down the waves. It is so peaceful out here with just a few of the other yachts for company. The waxing moon is half way through its cycle, giving a nice glow on the water. Every night on this leg we will have good visibiliy if the clouds stay away.

Monday 14th January

I’ve just started my second night-watch (1.30 to 4.30am) and I can’t begin to describe the brightness and number of stars above me in the Milky Way. It is truly breathtaking, incredible, no light pollution, just myriad statrs twinkling in an inky black night sky. I only wish I could somehow photograph them but sadly not with the technology on board.

The other incredible thing is Tumi’s performance with the parasailor … we're flying along having passed two yachts today with another four on the horizon. Without this sail we would have been struggling to keep up with the pack in light airs.

For some reason our AIS is not transmitting our position. We are receiving the location of the rest of the fleet but they can’t see us. The inbuilt diagnostics say everything is working so maybe it’s a fault of the aerial. We’ll investigate in daylight.

I thought about the AIS system while I was on watch last night, and concluded that the aerial it was using was only good at short range (line of sight) and it is low down on the transom, so I fitted the AIS antenna splitter that I bought last year (and which incidentally we had been trying to sell in Grenada,  thankfully without success). Anyway it works!

The afternoon was spent in a relaxed manner. The parasailor kept us bowling along at a steady seven knots and we kept it up until dusk. Two of the other boats had been through some squalls today and so we took the sensible and cautious decision to drop the kite and put out our normal sails. We won't go as quick, but we will be able to sort the sails out quickly from the cockpit should we get caught in a squall or two ourselves. Getting the kite down in high winds is not something to look forward to - 144sq meters of material that is  full of wind is not an easy proposition to wrestle down. As it was, I ended up with a rope burn on my hand, so gloves are the order of the day from now on. I have two pairs of Musto gloves, one pair unused. This pair has a problem in that the retaining strap that goes across the back of the hand has perished. Musto can have them back and replace them with some new ones, but that transaction will have to wait!

As we wend our way further westwards, the forecast is for the wind strength to increase, so ideally we want to make as much speed as we safely can now to try to get into Santa Marta before the low really gets a grip on the area. In the meantime we enjoyed the spectacular sunset and even managed to video an elusive green flash, the phenomenon occasionally seen as the sun dips below the horizon.

Tuesday  15th January

Today has been very frustrating for us. The expected squalls of last night didn't appear, so we drifted along through the night almost in a dream. This morning dawned calm and so we decided to put the parasailor back up. It promptly decided to twist itself into knots which took us an hour to untangle. Undaunted, we tried again with the same result. This time it took longer to unravel, and all the time we were falling behind the other boats around us. So we decided to put our normal sails up and pole out the jib as the wind was coming from directly behind us. This is probably our worst point of sail and we didn't make much headway. Those boats with twin head sails did best and they left us standing.

I also tried fishing and had the line out all day. All I caught was weed yet on the twice daily WARC radio net other boats in the fleet have reported catching tuna and Mahi Mahi. I will try again tomorrow!

As we sail through the night we are coming to our closest point to the Venezuelan coast, so we are ‘running silent’. All our AIS transmissions are stopped, and our navigation lights are off. We don't want to advertise our presence at all. Once we reach our next waypoint we will be in Columbian waters and normal operation can resume. In the meantime, shhhhh!

The weather forecast for sailing along the Colombian coast is not great .. high winds and big seas, all thanks to a phenomenon called the Colombian Low. We’ll greatly reduce sail and take our time for the final 24 hours or so into Santa Marta.

Wednesday 16th January

Well, we survived the night, no pirates as at 06:30 this morning. We (and several other boats) switched off our AIS transmitters just in case, one can't be too careful out here in the coastal waters of some of the more dubious countries. We passed through another rain squall this morning at about 05:30, no additional wind, just a quick downpour. It's  cloudy today, probably indicative of the low pressure are we are heading into. The barometer has dropped steadily and is currently at 1012 millibars - we started off at 1017 millibars. We are expecting high winds and more showers / squalls as we round the Columbian coast heading down to Santa Marta. If we maintain our current average speed of ~7 knots we should be there and settled down in the marina before the worst of the forecast weather hits. There are excursions planned for our time in Columbia, we just have to choose which one(s) to go on.

We rounded the peninsula that marks the start of Columbia in late morning, only a couple of miles ahead of TinTin, another rally boat, with 190 miles left to go to reach Santa Marta. All the weather forecasts we received suggested poor conditions for this final 24 hours (high winds and big seas) but by mid-afternoon we are yet to see any evidence of either. In fact it is such a calm day that it’s rather slow progress! We sailors are never satisfied!! We were tempted to put up the Parasailor again but it may be the conditions with deteriorate quite soon so we decided not to bother.

Three hours later we fully a appreciate not flying the parasailor: wind speed has increased to the high twenties, gusting into the thirties. And with wind comes waves, in our case 3 or 4 meters high. Fortunately we are sailing with the wind and waves at our back which makes it acceptable, if somewhat of a bouncy ride. Thank goodness we’re heading west in these conditions. The reverse direction would be nigh on impossible in a sailing yacht.

We hope to arrive at the marina in Santa Marta by late afternoon tomorrow, assuming we don't  lose the wind altogether!

Thursday 17th January

Just 29 miles to go now, the Colombian coastline is in sight and the current is finally against us.

We didn't lose the wind and were bowling along at around 7 knots overnight with heavily reefed sails. The two other rally yachts that were in close proximity to us as darkness fell are nowhere to be seen this morning. Our only ‘company’ overnight were two freighters and one cruise ship. The stretch of Caribbean Sea we are sailing leads to the Panama Canal and we have been surprised just how many tankers etc we have spotted via the AIS. It's a vital piece of kit for avoiding mid-ocean collisions!

We awoke to a rather overcast day, presumably another feature of the ‘Colombian Low’ pressure system. The clouds are breaking up a bit so we may get a sunny day yet. Yesterday there wasn't a cloud in the sky, beautiful. The generator is running to top up the batteries, seeing as the solar panel output is low today, so we took the opportunity to give Paul a haircut … he was beginning to look far too much like Captain BirdsEye, perish the thought! It wasn't the easiest of procedures as the deck is rolling from side to side (nothing to do with alcohol …. we haven't touched a drop since we left St Lucia) and so it isn't my best effort!!  Say no more ….

We’ll have 6 nights in Santa Marta, plenty of time to explore the city and its heritage, plus take a couple of tours. We’d both like to visit Cartagena if we have time, somewhere that has intrigued us since watching Michael Douglas, Danny De Vito and Kathleen Turner back in the eighties in ‘Romancing the Stone’. Every place we stop from now on is somewhere neither of us has visited before. All very exciting!

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