Passage Diary: Saint Martin to Panama (Day 4-6)

Good morning! Let’s pick up right where we left off… Watch our latest YouTube video here to see what a day in the life while on passage is like! 

Day 4

By day 4, we were fully acclimated to life underway. We were taking 5-7hr shifts at the helm, which meant better quality sleep during our time off. I was typically at the helm from 7pm- 12am and 5am- lunchtime: moon and sun rise shifts (my favorite). I watched as the darkness turned to dawn, then liquid gold as the sun peeked through the clouds, flying fish jumping all around. Did you know that, on average, flying fish can “fly” for up to 650 feet- the longest known flying fish flight was 1,312ft! 

I danced around to my favorite playlist to wake myself up. Ray got up around 10am, and we decided to calibrate our backup autopilot. We had the unit installed in Saint Martin but hadn’t tested it out yet. Since we were motoring with no sails up, we figured now was the perfect time. I hand-steered while Ray set it up, and we both cheered when I felt it take over. It steered the boat in an S formation to calibrate; then we had it steer to our heading using both engines, then using one. It worked! Woohoo! Ray explained to me that the way it was installed essentially makes it a spare full of spares, meaning we can use it as an entire spare system or use components of it in conjunction with our original autopilot if needed. Ahhh, there it is, the warm fuzzy feeling of preparedness… 

The wind picked up just enough to raise the main and bring out the jib. We turned the engines off but were going less than 5kn. So, we decided to get the gennaker out. We usually fly it off the bowsprit, but this time, we tried flying it off the port bow, allowing us to fly it a bit higher- more like a spinnaker. It took a minute to rig it up, but once we got it, we gained 2kn of speed! 

The wind continued to build, so we had to switch out the gennaker for the jib, and an hour later, we lost all our wind, dropped all our sails, and started an engine back up. We were bummed to be motoring again, but fresh wahoo tacos for dinner cheered us right up! 

The moon didn’t rise until 11:30pm that night, so most of my shift was pitch black, revealing millions of stars overhead. I got up for a snack and noticed these huge glowing balls shooting out of our stern in our wake. Some were as big as basketballs! I took a closer look- they were bioluminescent jellyfish! I did my best to take a photo, but it was dark and they were moving so fast. 😅

Some were right at the surface, emitting a neon blue glow; others were deeper and dim. I’ve never seen anything like it!! I watched for a while, amazed, then spent a good chunk of time reading about bioluminescent jellyfish. Did you know it’s estimated that 50% of jellyfish are bioluminescent? Most jellyfish use bioluminescence as a defense mechanism against predators. Some can produce bright flashes to startle a predator, and others can release thousands of glowing particles into the water, mimicking plankton, to confuse the predator. Some can even produce a glowing slime that sticks to a potential predator, making it vulnerable to its predators… fascinating! 

Day 5

There were squalls on the horizon at sunrise. 

We hoisted the sails and turned off the engines around 9am. We didn’t have enough fuel to motor the rest of the way, so even though we’d be sailing slowly in light winds, we needed to sail. We brought out the gennaker. 

We tried flying it off the bow again but couldn’t get a good trim. We switched it over to the bowsprit, which was better but still not great… We got tired of listening to it flog and swapped it out for the jib that afternoon, causing us to lose 1kn of speed. We got an update from our weather router as we neared the coast of Columbia, where the current against wind is known to cause rough conditions. We were given an updated route to keep us out of that mess. So, we put in the new waypoints and jibed onto our new course. 

Ray decided to experiment with the gennaker some more. Since the majority of our upcoming Pacific crossing will be downwind, we wanted to test out our headsail options. Unfortunately for me, this meant furling and unfurling it a few more times using the manual winch. My arms felt like noodles. I kept pulling by hand and coiling the lines until my palms burned, a reminder that I needed to wear my gloves more often. I wish I could tell you it was all worth it, and we figured out the perfect setup, but the angle we were being asked to sail at to maintain the course was just not practical for us. We spent the rest of the afternoon troubleshooting together, a perk of finally being awake at the same time for the majority of the day. 

That night, the autopilot started making weird noises. Granted, we do have a spare, the goal is to keep it as a spare! Ray climbed into the compartment to try to identify the issue. 

Not seeing an obvious problem, we resorted to picking the brains of others on online forums and cruiser group chats. The resounding verdict was that there was air in the system: it would need to be bled upon our arrival. 

Day 6 

I sat through a miserable morning shift; the wind speed and direction sucked. No matter what we did, the sails sounded like they were getting beat up. Was it the sea state? The current? We were beyond frustrated. Ray thought maybe something was wrapped around the rudders, so I stuck my GoPro in the water. Both rudders were clear. This was supposed to be the last day of this passage, but at this rate, we’d be out here for another five days. My upper body was sore from yesterday, and my palms were raw. A squeaky halyard was nearly my ticket to the loony bin. Shhhhhh!!!! 

By noon, Ray had called an audible. We altered course. Our new heading would bring us closer to Columbia but at a more favorable wind angle, allowing us to sail faster and shave a few days off the trip. This decision saved our sanity. Sabado was much happier (and quieter!). We were able to sail the rest of the day using our main and jib. We watched another beautiful sunset, ate dinner together, and sailed through the night. 

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

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