- Port of departure: Isla Montuosa, Panama
- Departure date and time: November 15, 2014 at 1200
- Port of arrival: Puerto Chiapas, Mexico
- Arrival date and time: November 25, 2014 at 1500
- Total travel time: 10 days and 3 hours (243 hours)
- Miles travelled: 816 nm
- Average speed: 3.4 knots
- Engine hours: 1374.3 begin – 1405.8 end – 31.5 hours
- Diesel consumed: 15.75 gallons
- Fuel economy: 52 mpg
- Tide and currents: Apparently we should have a NNW setting current helping us the entire way, in addition to an extra little boost right around Cabo Blanco in Costa Rica
- Forecast: By this time the gribs we downloaded before we left have almost run out, but we’re checking into the Pan Pacific Net and the Maritime Mobile Net to get updates on the Papagayos – otherwise we’ll just sail in what we’ve got! The gribs for day 1 show SW winds, which is promising.
- Maintenance note: Checked engine oil – Cleaned bottom and prop
- Navigation notes: See tides and currents – we encountered a fair amount of fishing traffic and shipping traffic both inshore and offshore in Costa Rica and Nicaragua – need to keep a close lookout – strong Papagayo winds accompanied by big seas
Day 5 – November 19
Try to record it all before it fizzles. So many thoughts pay me a visit while I’m sitting here on watch, but I rarely write them down. So many observations, words roaming around in my head. We have been on passage now for four days – just finished our fourth night…beginning our fifth day. I want to get some of this down on paper before we climb through the jaws of the Papagayo to be masticated and spit out somewhere near the Gulf of Fonseca.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Papagayos, they are described by the internet as “a violent, northeasterly, gale-force wind that funnels through the mountains, gusting to wind speeds normally found in tropical storms and hurricanes.” Oh great. These winds “shriek over the lakes of Nicaragua as a jet of wind that pushes far out over the Gulf of Papagayo on the Pacific Coast.”
On the brighter side of things “the wind mixes the normal warm surface waters with colder, nutrient-rich water that lies beneath the shallow thermocline near the coast. Algal blooms propagate in the path of the Papagayo, fueled by the banguet of nutrients. An entire food chain ascending to the majestic marlin and sailfish depends on the episodic Papagayo events.” Source: Nasa
Day 1 – November 15
Not in any rush. Had the excuse of waiting for a rainstorm, and the W winds that brought it, to pass. We’re generally okay with any scenario that justifies our beloved, drawn out morning routine – coffee, reading, writing, cleaning.
Perhaps we delay because we are hesitant to leave Western Panama and Isla Montuosa, this solitary gem, our parting memory. A sweet one. Found an abandoned homesite yesterday with bananas ready for the picking. They’ll ripen somewhere along the way and remind us. Nonetheless we’re eager to chew through some miles, ~800 miles…roughly one quarter of our way home.
SW wind around noon. Raised anchor under sail and set out up wind. Want to get as much Westing in as we can while we can. A very nice sailing wind, 10-13 knots…my favorite. Rain clouds over Punta Burica. Rain tonight?
Eggplant parmigiana for dinner. Didn’t turn out quite as imagined (it’s a tall order on passage), but still delicious.
Caught a skipjack after nightfall, we’ll filet it tomorrow. Tack can’t contain his excitement. He’s camped out next to the fish. Doesn’t want to miss any action.
Night time drizzles on Jeff’s watch, but no serious storms. Light SW winds all night. Definitely a N setting current helping us along.
Day 2 – November 16
Jeff woke me at sunrise. Wind died shortly thereafter, so we bobbed around for awhile until I became impatient. Decided to motor for two hours to juice up the batteries and make a little progress.
Checked into the Pan Pacific Net. Looks like the ITCZ will be passing overhead? Light winds and rain storms. Excited to get North where dry season has already begun. Washed dishes and filleted the skipjack. Tack is in kitty heaven.
Killed motor to resume bobbing and drifting in the very light (nearly undetectable) breeze. Concentrated all of my energy into hoping and praying for wind.
Finally some light NNW wind on Jeff’s watch, though it’s right on the nose. Nice to have enough breeze to put the main back up. Sailed upwind the remainder of the day and all night in light NNW breezes. Zig zagging up the Osa Peninsula as clouds swell and dissipate over land. Skipjack and rice for lunch and dinner.
Day 3 – November 17
Apparently the “lost day” seeing as I have very little recollection of it. Woke up to clouds stacked up on the Osa Peninsula. Decided to tack out around the weather, which was a moderately successful strategy. When the winds finally hit they were from the NNE, which was a nice (though fleeting) change in wind direction.
I think we’re finally honing in on the perfect watch schedule. Today is rough, but it should be getting better from here on out.
Low-key blur of a day. Probably spent most of my time either sleeping or reading. Still an upwind slog. More zig zagging, more slightly ominous (though not terribly violent) rain clouds. Patacones (fried green plantains) and sausage for dinner. Deep frying is a feat on the boat, especially on passage.
Day 4 – November 18
Finally cleared the Osa Peninsula and now have our sights set on Cabo Blanco. When we get to Cabo Blanco we’ll be getting closer and closer to Papagayo land. W wind now, though it’s light and can barely keep the main full in the swell. Some N progress but very little W progress, we’ll take it.
I’ve been tired and groggy all day. The weird sleep schedule hasn’t become normalized just yet. All I want to do is laze about and read. Fortunately the conditions allow me to do just that.
Tried to check into the Pan Pacific Net but couldn’t hear anything. Later discovered the antennae had been disconnected during the period of flogging sails. An easy fix.
Wind spun around to the SW, which got me prematurely excited…because it died shortly thereafter. Dead dead. No wind. Uncomfortable seas. Motored for 9 hours and charged up all of our electronics.
We spent a good long while trying to think of the name of the Greek god of wind. Texted our friend who is a professor of classics to find out that there are actually four gods – one for each direction. That makes total sense. I would like to introduce you to:
Boreas – god of the North wind
Eurus – god of the East and Southeast wind
Notus – god of the South wind
Zephyrus – god of the West wind
I like that we can specify what wind we want…that’s some advanced praying right there (and that’s just barely scratching the surface…we haven’t even gotten into the deities!). I’ll take a E/SE wind for the next week or so? Eurus! You’re our man!
ps. It’s crazy that technology allows us to acquire such information from the middle of the ocean. Thanks, Michael for being our resident expert!
Eggs and green beans over rice for dinner. Discovered this savory little combo at an unassuming comedor in Herradura, El Salvador. Probably one of my favorite meals on passage.
When I go down for the night Jeff says he’d rather just bob around and wait for wind, to which I respond “you’re the captain now” and crawl into the V-berth. He kills the motor and waits. He has infinitely more patience than I do when it comes to waiting for wind. Made little to no progress.
Day 5 – November 19
A magical morning. Jeff roused me just before sunrise and we watched the sea wake up. A very light wind at our back. A 2 knot current pushing us along. Flat calm, salmon sky. Fish jumping, birds congregating, the water aglow with incandescent blue sequins, three Dorados trailing behind our boat, gliding in a V formation, like a neon sign pointing at Serenity. The greens and blues electric in the translucent water. Close enough to touch if they had allowed it. Straight out of a Lisa Frank drawing. Jeff tries to catch one. I try to convince him that they are our guardian angels (offering protection as we draw nearer to the Papagallos) and I’m pretty sure it’s bad luck to eat your guardian angels.
Finally starting to readjust to life at sea…life on the move. Feeling well rested and contented, wanting for nothing…except for maybe the Papagayos to be behind instead of in front of us.
Light wind still at our back, though up to about 7 knots now. Not enough wind to keep the main full, but we’re making about 4 knots of speed with just the jib up, thanks to this current. A current I cursed on the way down. It’s all about perspective. We could fly the Spin, but it’s so relaxing the way it is.
Tried to check into the Pan Pacific Net but heard nothing. Perplexing. Tried to get through on 14300 for an offshore weather forecast, but our signal is light and hard to pick up. I gave up eventually, realizing that the radio was sullying an otherwise perfect sleeping environment.
The Dorado are still with us. I sit on the stern and watch them swim in formation.
Finally made contact with the Maritime Mobile Net on 14300 after lunch. Thanks to the network of relays, someone was able to pick us out of the noise. When someone finally heard me, all other chatter ceased and they honed in on our signal. “I think we’ve got a YL in there, doesn’t anyone else hear the YL?” “Yeah, I heard the YL. Very faint signal.” “I think I might have an okay copy on the YL. Is it okay if I go ahead and try to make contact?” After the check-in Jeff and I spend a solid 15 minutes trying to figure out what YL stands for. We’re pretty sure it’s Ham speak for young lady. LOL. We love those guys and gals (we’ve heard a few female net operators). They’re always there for us when we need them.
Weather forecast: Papagayos predicted to blow 20-25 knots from the NE with 8 foot seas for the next 48 hours. Intense, but manageable. We decide to go for it.
Wind is light, but fantastic. Making more than 4 knots on a N heading with the wind out of the E/SE. Thank you, Eurus! I could kiss you!
A perfect, calm, relaxed, enjoyable, couldn’t have asked for more, day at sea. Jeff and I (finally) both had the energy to hang out off watch. We talked all day and played games and went swimming. Totally at peace. Enjoying the calm before the storm.
As night approaches I’m filled with anticipation about the Papagayos. When will they hit? Our strategy: make as much Northern progress as possible until it becomes unbearable, then we’ll turn West and take the Papagayos on our stern quarter.
Dinner of green beans and eggs over rice again! Tomorrow we’ll probably be eating Mountainhouse dehydrated meals.
When I come on night shift it looks like we’re being chased by lightning. Bolts strike the water immediately behind us. I fear the worst – rainy season squall immediately followed by Papagayo madness. My stomach is uneasy. I alleviate my anxiety with a juice box and squeeze some over the side for Neptune. I hope he likes Mango as much as I do. I’m conflating my Greek and Roman mythology…hope that’s not cause for retaliation.
Despite some rain, my watch is mellow. So is Jeff’s. Wind at our back or at our side making steady progress with a current clearly assisting us. The occasional big wave interrupts our flow by approaching us on our beam rather than our stern. Is the swell direction changing? Lightning in the distance now. Goodbye ITCZ! I have a hard time getting to sleep – like the night before a big test.
Day 6 – November 20
The big day is upon us! Today we encounter the Papagayos. I hope we’re ready.
Beautiful morning and surprisingly calm. I slept remarkably well in spite of the low grade dread that crawled into bed with me. I kept expecting be woken up by Jeff’s yells, the wind howling and seas towering over us, but I wake up to the same conditions I fell asleep to – 8-10 knots from the E/SE (at our side or stern), flying just the little jib (in case $%^& hit the fan in the middle of the night). Swells are primarily from the S/SW, though we’re also seeing swell from the W/NW (Tehuantepec?) and the E/NE (Papagayos?), which makes for washing machine like conditions. But still, the wind is great and I’m feeling good, the warm up run before the race. Adrenaline pumping, race strategies on a loop in my head.
At around 10:30am the wind starts to pick up, now 10-15 knots, and moves more to the North, thus begins the uphill portion of our Papagayo journey. I raise the reefed main. The wind is finally enough to keep it full in the waves and it helps us point upwind and stay steady in the sloppy seas. The Doc is still able to drive, which is a good sign, though he has trouble with the occasional big wave. Hand steering is in our very near future.
Jeff is up at around 11:30 and the wind and waves have continued to build. We now have 20 knots sustained wind with gusts to 25. Jeff gets ready for his shift. Until we’re out of the Papagallos we’ll do 2.5-3 hour shifts since we’ll likely be hand steering, which is difficult to do for more than 3 hours at a time since you really can’t do anything other than just sit there. I make Jeff a cup of coffee, he relieves the Doc, puts in a podcast and starts climbing while I try to rest on the downwind settee.
From the motion of the boat I can tell the waves have gotten bigger but Jeff is smiling and laughing which puts me at ease. We are hauling @#$! 6.8 – 8 knots! More than our hull speed. Wind is now 25 with gusts to 30 from the NE. The wind is actually great, it’s the seas that are uncomfortable. I poke my head out of the cabin to see us climb up a set of 10 foot waves that come one after another. The waves are probably averaging about 8 feet, but those big ones are sneaky. Waves occasionally splash up over the bow or crash into our side. The cockpit is wet. Everything is buttoned up down below.
I take my shift and come to find that, once I get a handle on it, climbing up and sliding down the backs of these waves is actually really fun. It’s a rush. I put my music on and groove with the motion, trying to anticipate and respond to the big ones so that they don’t catch us off guard. We’re still making close to 8 knots. Crazy. Masked boobies dip and swerve in our draft like it’s nothing. Just another day at the office.
A freighter is behind us and turns at a 90 degree angle to cut into shore. It’s close but not too close. Amazing to see how unphased it is by all of this. A behemoth crushing these waves as if they were insects underfoot. We are more insect than giant, at the mercy of the peaks and valleys of the sea.
Speaking of insects, we’re 60 miles offshore and the strangest insects keep showing up out of nowhere. Insects I’ve never seen before. Butterflies flutter relentlessly. What are you doing out here? You’re going to make some fish very happy – a realist might think. Give up, you’re a goner – a pessimist might think. I think to myself – If a butterfly can do it, then so can I. I guess that might make me an optimist? Fly on little butterfly!
On Jeff’s second shift the wind and waves are starting to overpower us. We now have a steady 30 knots with gusts to 35 and the weatherhelm with the reefed main up is too much to combat with these waves. We douse the main and turn more downwind so that the waves are now on our starboard quarter. Everything settles down with the wind now more at our back and just the little jib up. We’re still making over 7 knots.
Mountainhouse for dinner! Even boiling water was a challenge tonight.
Wind and waves continue to calm as night progresses. The wind is diminishing quicker than the seas. We’re now on 3 hour shifts, since we still have to hand steer occasionally. Jeff puts the Doc on, though he needs a helping hand in the bigger waves. The Doc bracket comes off during my shift and Jeff fixes it when he comes back on. A day and night full of music and podcasts and physical exertion.
Day 7 – November 21
The wind has lessened but the swell is still considerable, making the ride a bit uncomfortable at times. Despite light winds (~10 knots) we’re still making great speed, about 4 knots, on a great heading. Another blur of a day. We’re both a bit tired after so much hand steering.
Our bananas from Montuosa are ripe and oh so delicious.
The sea smells a lot like death today. Not sure why that is.
The wind is totally dead, but the seas are still sloshing at around 3:30pm. Already we’re longing for the Papagallos. Funny how that works.
After 30 minutes of unbearable sloshing we decide to motor but come to find that the motor isn’t spitting any water…no bueno. Jeff gets to work and discovers that the problem is an old, disintegrated water impeller. He removes the impeller and all its rubbery tines from the water system and puts a new one in its place. During this interlude a short-finned pilot whale comes by to check us out.
We’re back in business only an hour after the problem was discovered. Record time, Mr. Burright! We’re motoring along at 5-6 knots. Gosh I love this current! Beautiful sunset. Dinner of Chef Boyardee mixed with Mac N Cheese (OMG this is delicious), followed by some post-dinner theater on the bow.
Very little to no wind on my night watch. It picked up just in time for Jeff’s watch, an awesome NNE wind which allows us to make good speed on our current heading. Love when that happens.
Day 8 – November 22
Sun is rising later and later as we move further West.
We have totally recovered from the intensity of the Papagayos and are back to feeling more or less well rested.
Very light wind at our back for most of the day. The wind has a tough time keeping the Genoa full, but we’re still making 3.5 knots.
I discover the source of that deathly odor. Two squid must have accidentally jumped on our boat during the Papagayos. They have been shrivelling and decaying in the hot Central American sun.
A day full of life. Dolphins playing at our bow, whales breaching in the distance, swordfish piercing the sky, more birds than I can keep track of. Jeff snorkels behind the boat and sees all sorts of creatures in the water, dodging jellies as he weaves back and forth. The water clarity is astounding. Schools of fish follow us, their giant red protector. Despite the fact that we don’t do much it feels like a very full day.
The wind continues to die throughout the afternoon. We raise the spinnaker for a spell until the wind can’t keep that full either. We turn on the motor at around 4:30.
Big pasta salad at lunch has us still feeling full at dinner so we do apples and popcorn on the bow under the stars – so many stars! Dolphins have been accompanying us all day and they stick with us through the night. The phosphorescence is breathtaking.
Very light wind picks up at the beginning of Jeff’s night watch. Slow progress through the night with a light N wind.
Day 9 – November 23
Woke up to dark, overcast skies and a 15 knot wind coming from the N/NE. Sailing along at 5-6 knots under Genoa alone. Jeff felt a push at the leading edge of the clouds. This little system seems to be carrying us along quite nicely! Great progress, stunning sunrise. The cloudbank was so thick that the sun rose above the artificial horizon created by the clouds rather than the actual horizon. I hand steer for an hour until the wind calms, then put the Doc back on.
We have entered the turtle kingdom! Turtles everywhere I look! They swerve and dip below the surface as we near, like a plane coming in for a landing, its wing tipped towards its destination. Shzoom.
I accidentally screwed up the watch schedule at night since the time zone is different on my different devices. Consequently, I robbed Jeff of precious sleep, so he’s “sleeping in” this morning. In other words he’s sleeping until noon rather than eleven.
The shackle on the main halyard came loose and the halyard was swinging around in the rigging. Damn. Fortunately I was able to retrieve it with another halyard. The last time we had to go up the mast to get it down.
An awesome, low-key day. We swim, philosophize, reflect, plan the future. We’re one day from port and we haven’t even touched some of our favorite snacks. Remember those Pik Niks I mentioned? Still unopened. So we had a little snack party and indulged ourselves on all the delicious little morsels we’d kept in hiding. Both of us felt wired. Probably from all the sugar and carbs and juice boxes! Two juice boxes apiece! Living it up!
Wind was non-existent or very light at best, at our back at least. Lots of bobbing, though the seas are calmer. Just before dinner a lovely S wind arrived. Biscuits and minestrone for dinner.
The sky is vast. Endless. Melding into the glassy sea. The horizon undetectable. The stars are brilliant. Shooting stars so bright they look like flares. They fall so far, their tail so long, you can count – one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand. During my night shift the S wind dies and we bob around for awhile on a great big mirror.
At midnight a 5-10 knot NW breeze arrives.. Right on the nose. I guess we’ll finish this journey upwind.
Day 10 – November 24
We made upwind progress all night, tacking up the Guatemala coast. A relaxing morning. Drinking my coffee. Trying to remember the last two weeks. Has it been two weeks since we left Mutis? Wow. Glad we’ll be getting to Chiapas before Thanksgiving. Feeling supremely happy and grateful. This has been an incredible passage so far – wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Day 11 – November 25
The wind all but died on Jeff’s shift last night and remained dead into the morning. We’re less than 20 miles from Puerto Chiapas, but I decide to wait for wind. I’ll wait until 11:00, I tell myself. That’s 5 hours. Surely the wind will come. It came, and it went.
Once Jeff got up we doused the sails and turned on the motor. We cleaned and organized as Serenity trundled along on a flat sea. I put some bananas out to dry in the sun and picked others for a batch of banana bread.
The last time we came into Chiapas we had clothes and books and knickknacks everywhere. I had to move my underwear to make a place for the guys from the port captain’s office to sit down. Sails spilled over the side decks, the cockpit a mess. We’ve got a better system now and passages don’t necessarily lead to unbridled chaos anymore. I’m better about keeping my panties in check. This time, when the port captain and the navy pay us a visit we’ll be ready with coffee, tea and banana bread.
We are greeted on the docks at Marina Chiapas by Ronnie. His English has improved and so has our Spanish. We are happy to see him and he seems happy to see us again too. “When I heard you call on the radio, I thought, this is the Serenity we know,” he said. We are eager to retrace a familiar path as more experienced sailors and more confident, comfortable travelers.
I’m not gonna lie, we’re also looking forward to street tacos and cheap tequila (oh how we’ve missed you!)
And just like that, we’re 800 miles closer to home.