0630, 30 Nov, Day 1, we cast off from Royal Marine Services and set out for either Guatemala or Mexico. We had launched Ete Infini the day before and did final setup that night in order to be ready for first light. There was not much sleep as it decided to rain most of the night, which did nothing for the heat, humidity or mosquitoes. A quick coffee in the morning and the lines were cast off.
Coming out of Piscadera Bay just as sunrise was beautiful, clear and mirror-like water. The forecast for the next week was good even to the point of too calm. Jean-Marie was not looking forward to needing to motor so much but I was looking forward to a calm, uneventful sail – this being my first time ever on a sailboat. Calm and uneventful just did not happen; I got my ‘trial by fire’ and Jean-Marie even got to use his experience to get us through safely. Thank goodness for his unflappability, he was steady as a rock the whole time which really helped.
We hit the first squall by 0800, followed by two more in the next six hours. They only lasted 1/2 hour or so, just enough to soak everything and make us wonder where all this good weather was supposed to be. The afternoon and evening were good, the sunset (our first) was gorgeous, the seas were calm and we made it through the night in very good shape.
Day 2 (Dec 1) saw extremely calm weather and yes, we motored quite a bit. There was just no wind to be had. Late morning, Jean-Marie decided to change course completely and head for Jamaica so we set the coordinates and off we went. We were accompanied by a rainbow coloured fish with a black tail (whatever it was) for over half and hour, just swimming alongside and playing in the wash. Clear skies, light cumulus clouds along the horizon, some sylphs floating around, lots of sun, just a nice day on the water.
Day 3 (Dec 2) we had done 140 nm in the last 24 hours. Just after sunrise, were had the honour of a few dolphins swimming alongside. They were just so quick I was not able to get any photos of them. They stayed only for half hour or so but were wonderful to watch. Amazing how fast those little things are!
There had been a swallow following and circling us since late yesterday and he actually landed about noon. Just flew right under the bimini and alit on the cushion, where he sat looking around and seeming exhausted. We were over 300 miles from anywhere so we wondered where this little guy came from. We put out bread crumbs, dry cereal crumbs, watermelon and water for him but he was not interested. It looked like he just needed to rest so we left him alone. He went downstairs into the main cabin after awhile and made himself comfortable in the forward cabin, on the shelf railings, in the aft cabin, etc. I put his food and water down near where he looked like he was going to stay and just let him be to rest and relax.
At this time, we figured on being off Kingston about midnight or so Dec 3/4 so were trying to think of how to go about taking up about 6 hours so we didn’t arrive at night. Little did we know.
There was a bit of a squall mid-afternoon with two fronts, both lasting about 20 minutes. Heavy heavy rain, lots of wind but the water was smooooth. The colour was awesome, it had changed from a beautiful medium royal blue to a steely grey and shiny, almost like it was oil. It took all the wind with it when it passed by and left us steamy and becalmed.
That night, at about 0230, we circled around some more weather mostly because we could; we had the room and the time to do so no sense in getting the beds all wet. We were finding it quite cold at night which is hilarious when you think of it. Broiling during the day, trying to find respite from the sun and then donning long pants and sweaters and wrapping in blankets at night. Weird.
Day 4 (Dec 3) We saw what looked like remnants of a homemade raft, a couple of long thing logs, some bits of wood and rope and some empty plastic jugs. We called it in on the radio but got no answer from anyone. The wind was up and down all day, mostly down, but the seas were 10-12 ft. It began to chop, with whitecaps, and the surface looked windblown but there was really no wind to speak of. The waves were from different directions, creating a nice little washing machine effect. The clouds were mostly scattered cumulus but with flat dark bottoms. They joined together in spots but passed by behind. By late afternoon, we were approx. 34 nm from our last waypoint before Kingston; it would put us just southwest of the Cays and far east of Pedro Bank.
There was no wind and the seas were more swell than chop but higher, getting on to 15 ft or so. We couldn’t understand how this could be. The eastern horizon was one long, dark-bottomed cloud stretching to the south with a huge squall curtain. The bilge pump decided this was a good time to pack it in. The floor in the nav station was awash in diesel and it was spraying out of the engine compartment onto the galley floor and aft cabin floor as well. So we disconnected the old pump, hooked a new one to the hose and wired it direct to the battery for the time being. No mean feat in 15 foot waves and 100 degrees downstairs. It was icky. We got the bilge pumped out which meant the engine compartment stopped sloshing all over, put a towel down to sop up the most and left it hoping for the best. By now, things were starting to heat up outside.
Just after sunset, it hit.
The wind picked up, the seas picked up, everything picked up. We closed up tight and brought in some of the jib but kept main sail out. It didn’t take long for everything to go to hell in a handbasket. Long story short, the next 16 hours were a nightmare – estimated 30 ft waves, 80 kmph winds from the E-NE. It was a very long night of huddling, wet and scared (well, me anyway) in corners of the cockpit and allowing the autopilot to do its thing. I swear I left claw marks in the metal bimini frame while Jean-Marie battled the blowing sheet he was trying to keep on. It was cold and wet and miserable. The bow buried under one wave, the railing under the next, the dinghy bashed on the next. The port side lazy jack broke when we tried to drop the main sail and the keeper snapped which sent the cable and sail over the side. Getting it back up took everything Jean-Marie had and then some and we stuck it down the companionway just to keep it from blowing us over.
Every hour or so, I needed to run the bilge pump as it was filling up like crazy. The only problem was that the wind was kicking it back all through the cockpit every time it drained.
The sun coming up was not quite the blessing it should have been because it meant we could actually see the crap that was happening. It was much easier to sit with eyes closed in the dark. It lasted until late morning when everything went calm all at once, and I mean really calm. Water like glass and not a breath of wind. That’s when the motor decided to die. We were approx 10 nm south east of Kingston, the hills looked close enough to touch but still so far away. Jean-Marie started working on the engine and I just steered back and forth in the current trying to stay within sight and reach of the harbour. We radioed for hours with no response. Finally another ship came back and asked what the problem was. We told him we were dead in the water, trying to get to Kingston and wanted a tow or a mechanic. He said he would get hold of port authority and get back to us. We never did hear back from anyone.
About 1630 we had enough wind to get us into the final shipping lane but that died off too. Knowing we couldn’t safely stay in the main lane after dark, especially not moving, we lowered the dinghy and used it to tow the boat past the markers to find an anchor for the night. There were planes coming in on final approach just over our head so we had to get past the airport as well.
It was midnight before we finally were able to sit and think about bed. We dragged a bit overnight but luckily kept off the rocks we knew were there. At first light, Jean-Marie was back at the engine trying to coax life into it. The problem, as it turned out, was that the fuel that was in the tank from before was so full of sludge and crap that it clogged everything. It would probably not have been so bad except for the storm and all the rocking and rolling stirring everything up. The filters would clog as soon as they filled so Jean-Marie finally just jury-rigged the system to bypass and feed directly. At 1100, the engine started and kept running for half hour so we figured it was safe to haul anchor and head in. The lobster fishermen were out in the morning and we saw where they put their traps which told us where the rocks were – all around us. One boat stopped by and asked if we wanted a tow or anything but by then Jean-Marie had the problem solved. It was super nice of them to stop and offer.
We retraced our path back to the main channel and found our way into the harbour proper. There was NO way we could have done that in the dark. We didn’t have the proper charts and the GPS didn’t have the expanded chart for this area. There were rocks and sandbars all over the place. After a zigzag course going by sight and depth meter only, we made it into the mouth. We radioed for directions to Customs but got no answer. We finally flagged down a pilot boat and asked where to go and he directed us.
We anchored and took the dinghy over to the Customs building where the first smile welcomed us: the first of many. “Welcome to Jamaica” were the first words we heard, music to our ears. We told them of our situation and the need for a marina to make repairs and they directed us to the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club. They also called ahead and let them know we were coming. So we came up through, past the refinery, past the line of tankers at anchor and found the marina where they waved us in to the visitors dock. We got tied up and welcomed most warmly and we shut everything down. Finally feeling safe, we were able to sit and really enjoy a beer and cigarette.