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On the boat from Jamaica to Roatán

Jun 112017

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For four weeks I have been sharing the small place of nine meters with Aldo on his sailboat Still Free. Aldo is from Uruguay and has been living for a long time in Miami. Now, at the age of 67, he fulfilled his dream to sail the Caribbean Sea. He saw my leaflet in the marina and wrote me an email. Since he wanted to go all the way to Panama, he was looking for a crew member to help him n this long journey. We were anchoring for a long time in Port Antonio to wait for a good weather window.

The bay was sheltered and situated quite close to the town center. We could leave our dinghy at the Bar "Anna Banana" and use their internet connection, too. Together with the other boats on the anchorage we founded a nice little "anchor family". The two Brasilians Thiago and André were sailing on their ketch Good Run and were also heading for Panama. John is from the United States and his Ave del mar has got the same dimensions as Aldo's Still Free. These two guys sailed together for a few weeks from the Bahamas to Haiti and then to Jamaica. They became real "boat buddies". In the end of our stay George joined the family with his Earthling. He is an Iranian Swede living in Texas and came to increase the amount of Scandinavians next to the Swedish Fairwinds.

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Sailors of all nations, unite!

Together we spent some tremendous days and managed to make up for the bad weather. In Portland it has been raining basically every day in the month of May. Additionally there were a few storms. They were so strong that one night we found ourselves waking up at the other side of the bay. The anchor couldn't keep up with the power of the wind and so we got dragged away at night.

When we switched on the VHF, we heard John's voice coming from the speaker: "Hey you two! Come back to us! Is everything alright? Tell us if you need some help." And so we saw Thiago and André arriving on their dinghy, equipped with wet suits against the heavy weather. They helped us moving the boat back to the anchorage and bailing out our dinghy, which was so full of water that it nearly drowned. It felt really like a big family where each one supports the other.

Literally everything was wet. A few leaks in the deck made sure that the water could even get inside the boat. At one point we were just sitting with only a towel around our waists and eating cookies. We couldn't do more than to wait.

So we killed time by making music and having dinner together with the other sailors. John just started to play the ukulele and had already a long list of classics that he could play. After joining him, we managed to sing quite a few tunes together and were even thinking about signing up as a band to entertain the other boats.

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Fitz Rast, John, Aldo and me after one of our famous jam sessions at "Anna Banana's"

One time we even jammed with the owner of the bar who joined us with his Jamaican drum beats. The other day we were invited to the huge Italian sailing vessel Adriatica and this is where it got mad: people were playing drums, bass, ukulele, harmonicas, guitars and singing. It was an incredible and loud evening, especially when we played Cake's version of "I Will Survive".

Originally, we wanted to sail to Panama together with two other boats. But Good Run and Our Joy are way bigger than Still Free. These two vessels could withstand the big waves coming from the east, where as for us it would be a very uncomfortable ride. So we decided to wait for better weather. After the Brasilians left on their Good Run we couldn't help it. We were itching to leave as well.

So Aldo proposed very spontanously to sail to Guatemala instead. Since I was actually aiming to Mexico, I immediately affirmed the plan. The weather report looked perfect, too and Aldo would be able to leave his boat in the save harbour of Río Dulce during the hurricane season.

A few days before the departure I got to know Marina. She came on a catamaran and recommended us to go to Río Dulce. She is actually an actress but now working as a freelancer, connecting captains and people who want to go sailing not like a charter but like a holistic experience. She even gave me a job offer to fill the website with photos and interviews for her "fleet". Now I only need a camera...

It was a bittersweet goodbye from all the sailors and especially John. Of course, we could all meet somewhere in the seven seas again, but it is very uncertain when. I left a really unique family of sailors in Port Antonio.

At 7 am we started the engine and pulled anchor in the pouring rain. I still had a little cold from all the rain and humidity aboard. Given also a boat that I was not used to, high waves, a lot of wind and rolling, it didn't take long until I got seasick. But I managed to overcome it with some sleep and the view straight to the horizon.

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The typical boat provisions: cans last forever.

We decided to not go through this heavy weather the whole night and headed for the beautiful bay of Oracabessa in the afternoon. Suddenly the sky cleared up and the sun shone until the next morning. The next day we did the same thing: sailing until the afternoon and then looking for shelter at Falmouth bay. The third day we went to the last place on Jamaica.

In Montego Bay we cleared out, filled up our water tank, took a shower and got a calm good-night sleep for the last time before starting our one week journey towards the west.

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The first two days, there was basically no wind at all. At first I was panicking, thinking about the long and wretched journey with Christoph. But then I realized that there is an actual engine on Still Free and enough diesel, too! Anyway, Aldo called me the expert of calms and asked me, what would be the most important thing in such a situation. I didn't have to think twice: patience. The days went by very slowly, so we just took our time with everything. Ten minutes for brushing our teeth, peeling potatoes in slow motion and an awful lot of sleep.

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When there was at least a little bit of wind, Aldo told me that he had a spinnaker sail somewhere on the boat but never tried it. I was immediately hooked by the idea, because it was the perfect kind of sail for these conditions and I already had some experience setting it when I was crossing the Atlantic. As you will see, my skills were not sufficient.

At the first trial, the wind increased so suddenly, that the sail tangled completely. So we had to get it down straight away. After the wind eased off and after studying the books aboard about how to hoist a spinnaker properly, we gave it a second try. We connected all the sheets and halyards correctly, set up the whisker pole and kept the sail in on the foredeck, neatly folded. Ready to hoist! A moment later I heard Aldo screaming: "No! It bursts!" The spinnaker tore on the sharp edges of the navigation lights and flapped uncontrollably in front of the bow. Somehow, I am very unlucky with spinnakers (see the explosion of one of them on Jolene)

But there was another plan: Aldo had a bigger foresail (genua) which we could swap for the small fock. Of course, this is a bit of a risky undertaking, because it is much safer to change sails in the calm harbour. In the evening the wind even picked up a little more so that we could finally turn off the engine. We even got rewarded by some dolphins who visited us and were playing in front of the bow. It was even more beautiful with less waves, so we could really see them dancing.

The next day we realized how lazy we had become. The whole night the genua was flapping in the wind. Really, this kind of noise should have to be avoided when you are sailing, since it can even break the sail in the long run. This would have meant for us to swap the genua again for the fock, in other words to get down the big one and hoist the smaller. But the wind had increased a lot which would have made it much harder. So we were watching the weather for hours - trapped in the lethargy of the rolling boat - until we finally got the guts to swap the sails, despite the wind and rocking sea.

This was the most amazing thing during the passage. I really felt like a proper crew member. I could learn a lot of things in my past sailing adventures, but this time I had enough confidence to even participate in the decisions. We were a real good team!

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Aldo thinking about how to fix the broken whisker pole.

We had to follow certain traditions, too. Every 29th of the month the family in Uruguay will have Gnocchi for dinner. Of course, it was impossible to make some with the big waves shaking our boat to and fro and we didn't even have ready-made ones aboard. Well, at sea one has to lower his standards. So we made pasta with zucchini-tomato sauce instead.

A day later we got a call from Aldo's daughter Carla over the satellite phone. She told us about an incoming thunderstorm with gusts blowing at 40 knots. So we changed our course and headed for the island of Roatán, which was only a few miles away.

Just after sunset the first squall hit us. Squalls are intense but very short lasting gusts and rain. We just managed to take down all the sails to not be blown away and made our way under deck. Otherwise we would have been completely soaked. After 20 minutes everything was over and I could go to sleep. Not even two hours later the next squall came and shook the boat from one side to the other. The rain eased off quickly but the wind kept blowing. Aldo needed some sleep now so I was awake for half a night, watching the weather change. Depending on the wind force, I adapted the amount of sail.

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Land in sight! On the beautiful island of Roatán we were looking for shelter from the big storm.

In the morning, sailing under perfect conditions with relief, we spotted Roatán on the horizon. The closer we came, the more we could make out a shoreline on the other side. But there were no islands on the charts. Of course not, because it was already the continental coast of Honduras! After eight months of living on islands I could finally see proper "tierra firme"!

Comments

John Herlig17 July, 2017What a great story. From the glorious Port Antonio "family" to the challenges of bluewater sailing - too little wind, too much wind, fatigue, squalls, gnocchi... Ahh, life aboard a cruising sailboat. There's nothing like it. "Amahi ukulele, mon."

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