Passage Diary: Saint Martin to Panama (Day 1-3)

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We have been running back and forth to marine supply stores for the past two weeks, stocking Sabado up for the Pacific while waiting for a weather window to sail to Panama. We got the green light from our weather router to depart last Saturday. So, we enjoyed our last sunset in Simpson Bay before pulling up our anchor and hoisting our sails Saturday morning. 

Day 1

Crew morale was high as we motored out of the anchorage we’d called “home” since the holidays. We enjoyed Saint Martin and have befriended locals and cruisers alike, making saying goodbye bittersweet, but it was time for our next adventure!

We reefed the mainsail using our new reefing system with hooks at the mast. It went smoothly, and we were impressed with the sail shape we achieved. We discussed how the new reefing process would work if we were in rough weather. We reef early and often, and it’s not an uncommon setup, but it’ll be interesting to see how it goes in more urgent conditions when one of us has to go up to the mast to reef. We shut the engine off and brought the jib onto a barber hauler. We had around 15kn-17kn of apparent wind, and our speed over ground was 7.5kn.

As we continued farther offshore, the seas built. We had 4-6ft waves from behind us for the rest of the day and through the night. The wind held steady, and Sabado was surfing downwind at 8-9.5kn! 

I always find the first couple of days of a long passage to be the most difficult as you find your sea legs and adjust to sleeping in shifts, so I prepped some food to minimize my time in the galley. I reheated a big pot of chicken chili that we ate for lunch. The wind direction wasn’t what was forecasted, so we needed to alter our course to compensate. We jibed later that afternoon and crossed our fingers the wind would shift in our favor soon. In the meantime, though, we were maintaining good speed. The excitement of the journey ahead got the best of us, and instead of resting up for our first overnight, we sat at the helm together, chatting until sunset. 

We ate the rest of the chili for dinner and, like clockwork, took 3-hour shifts at the helm through the night. Usually, our shifts are more fluid; anywhere from 5-7hrs is the norm for us. We base our “schedule” on mutual trust that the other will keep watch for as long as they can comfortably stay awake and focused. Then, we wake the other up and switch. It happened to fall repeatedly at the 3-hour mark during night 1 as we got in the groove of things…

Day 2

First light came far before sunrise on day 2. I sat at the helm, waiting patiently for the sun to appear and raise the temperature a few degrees. The cool nights are pleasant when you’re sleeping at anchor under an open hatch, but they’re bothersome when sitting at the helm for hours. We had kept the same sail set up through the night: jib out on a barber hauler and the mainsail at its first reef. I noticed Ray had put a preventer on the boom during his last shift.

We had forgotten to turn Starlink off overnight, and since the sails had shaded our solar panels most of the day before, our batteries were low. So, we ran the generator for a bit that morning. The wind and waves calmed down as the day progressed. We added another small line to the barber hauler. Ray called it a “tweaker,” and I thought he was kidding. Turns out, that’s actually what it’s called. This allowed us to get a better headsail shape and maintain our speed as the wind subsided. 

The exhaustion from our first night sleeping in shifts set in that afternoon. One of us kept watch while the other slept for the rest of the day. This is the lonelier part of passage-making with two crew: the initial transition period where you’re never awake at the same time. I kept myself busy at the helm with podcasts and audiobooks, periodically checking our fishing lines- no luck yet. We jibed again before sunset and shook out the reef in the main as the wind settled at 10-12kn.

I knew the squeaks and groans of our boat in motion had already taken their toll on Ray when I went below, and he called down to me, “Careful! I wedged a knife in the wood down there!” … what? A knife? Sure enough, I looked up and saw his leatherman precariously wedged in between the wood trim near our bookshelf. “Oh…Okay, sweetie! Do we have a better solution on the horizon?” “Yes, I’ll fix it later!” 👍🏼

Night 2 was calm, with 5-10kn of apparent wind and 2-4ft seas. Sabado sailed comfortably beneath a sky full of stars at 6kn. We jibed again at our shift change around 3AM, an annoying process with the barber hauler + tweaker + preventer. We chatted about what a bright night it was, something that often goes unnoticed on land. The moon illuminated the entire sky, amplified by its reflection on the water, unadulterated by street lamps or city lights. 

We didn’t get a very good angle after our jibe; the wind direction has not been our friend so far. I went inside to get some sleep.

Day 3

There’s nothing quite like waking up to dolphins playing around the bow at sunrise. I skipped up front, squealing with excitement. It just never gets old!

It was a magical morning! I felt relatively well rested and settled into the helm seat while Ray fell asleep. Day 3 tends to be when we fall into more of a routine. Typically, I don’t drink caffeine on passage because I have a hard time falling asleep in general and need to be able to nap when I can while underway. Still, that morning, I had a cup of caffeinated tea and exercised while keeping my eye on our instruments, sails, and the horizon. It felt good to move my body.

I pulled all of the lines out of the bag and flanked them. We try to stay on top of this as we trim the sails, but we inevitably get lazy, and I hate seeing our lines jumbled up. Plus, it can be a safety hazard if we need to make a quick change and find the lines knotted. 

I got hungry around 9AM and made a fruit and yogurt bowl. I checked to see if Ray wanted one, but he was fast asleep. Breakfast tends to be a “fend for yourself” meal on passage. Ray got up a few hours later and relaxed on the bow. I was tidying up inside when I heard him yell, “Fish on!!”. I made my way to the sugar scoop while he grabbed his gloves and the gaff. We tried to guess what it was as he pulled it in: “Tuna? I see teeth! Barracuda? Ahh, I’m not sure, that’s a big fin…” Once it was close enough to see the stripes, we knew it was a Wahoo. Ray cleaned it up and handed me a hefty mixing bowl of filets to do with what I pleased.

I portioned it out, set some aside, and put some in the freezer. Coincidentally, it was lunchtime! So, I made some rice and veggies, and we enjoyed our fresh catch. According to the forecast, we should’ve had to motor all day, but we were still sailing along at 5kn in 8kn AWS. We finally had a good angle toward our destination!

Maybe I jinxed it by writing that. We lost the wind later that afternoon and started an engine. We furled in the jib after dinner and motored through the night.

Check back next week to read about the rest of our passage! ❤️

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Great account of sailing on passage! I hope the rest of the passage goes smoothly. Fair winds and following seas⛵️

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