Sail to Curacao, ABCs

SanBlas to Curacao

Trip from Panama to Curaçao


During our 50 hour flight back from Perth to Panama City we had made "the list", things to do before we could leave for the next leg of our adventures. Still a couple of items for Ednbal, primarily the new gypsy for the windlass that we had ordered but had not arrived and of course to reprovision. Panama is cheap so we provisioned about as much as Ednbal could hold, including "alcoholic beverages", gin in particular. If you read this journal you may have picked up that Sasha and I are rather partial to the odd GnT. Our research showed we could come by reasonable French gin purchased in the free zone and delivered of a little over $4 per litre. Now, with the watermaker we only use the forward water tank. The aft one is empty. It seemed a good investment to get a couple of year’s supply of gin. Duly 9 cases, 108 litres, were delivered and emptied into the after water tank, gin on tap! Finally our new gypsy arrived, all looking good until I tried to fit it, yes it was different to the old one. We had ordered it from the manufactures agent in Florida who in turn ordered it from Lewmar. The agent ordered the right part number and shipped it to us (shipping cost almost as much as the part). The box had the right part number written on it but what was inside was a different part. Bugger! We had to leave the agent trying to sort out with Lewmar how to correct the situation and get the right part to us at our next stop, probably Bonaire.


Many cruisers, especially Americans talk about "weather windows". Those good weather patterns that enable one to sail from point A to point B in comfort. Our next journey was to be in the wrong direction that is in the opposite direction to the normal prevailing easterly trade winds. From Panama, 70 degrees for about 500 miles to the top of Columbia then another 150 miles east to the ABC islands (Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire). The passage around the North Western corner of Columbia is reputed to be one of the 5 worst passages of the world as stated in one of our cruising guides. There can be abnormally large seas and winds resulting in vessels being pooped (waves breaking over the stern). Torn sails and damaged rigging. Better take care!  Starting 12 or 13 October, we had a near perfect weather window, South West and Westerly winds and, almost as equally unlikely, ocean currents in our direction. A rotating tropical storm was forecast to form above Aruba that would provide Westerly winds for us as it moved away to the North East. Our timing had to be right and we may have to motor part of the way in areas of light following winds to ensure we make it in time. After clearing immigration and port we set off from Colon on 9 October to visit friends in Portobello, 20 miles away. From there to the San Blas to stay overnight before the big trip.


Before leaving our anchorage in the lovely East Hollandes, San Blas, we thought we should check our gear and systems. The generator and watermaker had not been started since we left for China. I hit the start button for the generator; it coughed and spluttered but no go, oh great. I had changed the primary fuel filter and bled it but air must had got in further up the line. Another bleed at the secondary filter, another try and away we went. Next the watermaker which is powered from the generator via the inverter/charger, the new replacement one we put in before we left for China. You guessed it, the watermaker wouldn't start although we had set up the 12 volt charger parameters, and we had forgotten the AC side. Sasha dived in with the PC connected to the inverter and set it up as for the old one and hey presto away went the watermaker, phew. By 8:30 on 12 October we were on our way, planning to sail, with some motor sailing (we don't carry enough fuel to motor all the way anyhow) to Curaçao about 650nm from here. The backup in case of weather/wind change, divert to Cartagena, about 200nm away. Once we cleared the islands of the San Blas we had the wind, at about 10kns behind us so up went the spinnaker. And we even had a passanger!



At night we took it down and motor sailed, still with wind off the aft quarter. The moon was so bright, just after the full moon, that it was almost like daylight but we did not want to take the risk of having to pull in the spinnaker at night in case of an unexpected situation. I know I have said it many times before "it doesn't get much better than this"! However as a very good friend from my home Swan Yacht Club is prone to say when the weather is so good, "we'll pay for this".


On day 2 we ran out of water so started the watermaker for a bit over an hour to about 1/3 fill the tank. When we stopped the watermaker the lank level was showing between zero and quarter full, a bit strange but the level indictor is not terribly accurate since the tank is long, wide and shallow so thought nothing of it. A while later Sasha went to the head and could hear water sloshing around in the bow bilge, mild panic! A quick look, yes water, fresh water. The hose on the non return valve from the watermaker to the tank had come off so most of the 90 litres of water we had made was now in the compartments under the tank and had overflowed from there into the bilge proper. Various items stored around the water tank, including all our foul weather gear were saturated so we had a major clean up exercise. Last year one of our plastic detergent bottles had ruptured and spilt into the bilge so the water mixed with the remnants of that so we ended up with the cleanest, freshest bilge imaginable.


Later on day 2 we had the spinnaker up in 10 to 11kns of wind, going like a train, when the wind suddenly jumped to 20kns in a matter of seconds. We had been watching a squall behind us but thought it was a way off, not so the wind. Panic stations, with Sasha controlling lines (ropes) from the cockpit, I was up on the bow trying to pull the chute (a long sort of sock that is pulled down over the spinnaker to effectively smother it before the whole thing is pulled down) down over the spinnaker. The wind was so strong that the spinnaker was almost lifting me off the deck as I tried to pull the chute down. Luckily, for a brief time, the wind dropped a little and we managed to get it in without damage to gear or life. For the duration of the squall, maybe an hour, we sailed with just the headsail reefed, still doing 6kns.

As I write this we are in day 4, 90nm from the corner, the Northern most point of Columbia, where we turn almost due east for the 150nm run to Curaçao. The tropical rotating storm 15 (that went on to become Hurricane Omar) has formed above Aruba and is now headed North East, half way across the Caribbean sea to Puerto Rico, we have a westerly wind of 10 to 15kns and we are sailing at over 6kns with only the spinnaker up. Sailing under these conditions is just wonderful.



Sasha has many pre made meals but she is able to cook as well. We enjoy beer o'clock, eat at the cockpit table, sleep, watch passengers (usually swallows) that join us for nights wrest and plan our stay at the next stop.



Don't you just love it when the plan comes together? On the night of day 4 sailing East from the Northern tip of Columbia towards Aruba, 10kn Northerly giving Ednbal almost 6kn running straight into a silvery Caribbean Sea created by the near full moon in an unusually clear sky. By the time we reached Santa Cruz bay in Curaçao we have covered almost 600nm sailing "the wrong way", almost 2 full days under spinnaker and all but the last 100nm with current abaft the beam (behind us). Only the leg from Aruba to Curaçao, 60nm, against the wind and that, for the most part, under 10kns. We are very happy to have covered what is known, in normal prevailing weather conditions, as a hard slogging beat to windward.


We dropped anchor just after 10am on 17 October, in Santa Cruz Baii, five days and one hour after leaving the San Blas, Panama. Santa Cruz is a small bay, only enough room for one boat, the small dive shop come bar/restaurant in one corner, palm thatched public use pergolas on the pebbly beach to the East and surrounded to the North and South by rock cliffs.





We were lead to believe, from the cruising guide that the water was crystal clear, well not quite, visibility about 5 metres. Although we had our quarantine flag up and not supposed to go ashore until we had checked in (another 25nm down the coast) we went in, to be warmly met by the shop owner Captain Goodlife.