We left Carriacou, Grenada on November 16, 2015 bound for Columbia with stops planned in the Dutch islands of Bonaire and Caracou. The 420 mile passage from Grenada to Bonaire was to be our longest yet and we estimated it would take 4 full days, with another 4 or 5 days to Colombia. My dear friend DJ joined us as crew for the trip. I had a carefully laid out ship’s notebook that included our watch schedule, along with procedures and checklists for everything. To say that I was a bit nervous is a huge understatement. We checked and double checked everything from top to bottom and stem to stern, until finally there was nothing left but to pull anchor and set out. It was anchors up at 11:40 a.m. next stop Bonaire. My heart was pounding.
Our course had us heading northwest for sixty miles before turning southwest for Bonaire, which is basically about forty miles in the wrong direction. The theory was to go far enough north so we stayed at least forty miles away from the islands that skirt the coast of Venezuela, where there seriously might be pirates. Having a nice broad reach to Bonaire would be a bonus.
We set sail on a beam reach with one reef and a small jib in 4 foot waves, making six knots. It was fairly comfortable and the kind of sailing sailors dream about. Coleen’s first watch was from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Ship’s rules require giving the next on watch a 15 minute warning so they can get ready. Coleen showed up for watch prepared. She had a dry bag with her ipod, kindle, warm pj’s, a hoodie sweatshirt for after dark, a bottle of water, and some snacks! I was quite impressed with her organization and commitment to doing a good job. As I had explained in our pre-departure meeting, the on watch is responsible for the safety of those who are not on watch. On Glass Slipper the on watch duties are:
- Scan horizon 360 degrees every 10 minutes
- Make sure we are on course
- Wear harness and tether at all times
- Notify captain-
- Ship within 5 miles, or unusual lights
- Storm approaching
- Before going on deck
- Give next watch 15 minute warning
- Trim sails to suit course
- If in doubt at any time wake the captain
- In an emergency call ALL HANDs
- At end of watch
- Check bilge
- Update log
- Send SPOT update
Coleen’s first log update read, “Saw no ships, heard no ships, nothing happened”. That’s just the way we like it! DJ’s first watch from 8 p.m. to midnight was little more eventful and he woke me at 11:30 as we had the lights of fishing nets all around. It was a little tense getting through and we gave them a wide berth, as getting caught in a fishing net would be no fun at all. My first watch, the dreaded midnight to 4 a.m. saw only two ships, a little rain shower and we were still on a reach making 5 knots. Nice start!
Downwind Downright Awful
We finally altered course for Bonaire the next morning which instead of giving us that nice, comfortable broad reach, saw us sailing downwind, wing and wing for the next 3 days! It had been months and months since the Glass Slipper last sailed downwind and we quickly learned that our careful stowage was not careful enough. As our little ship rolled from one side to the other, everything in the ship’s lockers also rolled. It was quite a lot of racket which added to the discomfort. Coleen and I got busy stuffing the lockers with towels, extra sheets, sail bags, pretty much anything we could find to keep things in place.
We also learned that it was impossible to sleep on the cockpit seats as within a few minutes you would be pitched to the floor. My answer was to put my yoga mat and a few pillows on the floor, curl up in a careful ball with my back wedged against one side and my feet on the other. No it wasn’t comfortable, but it was better than being inside. At one point I did a fist pump and yelled, “I’m living the dream!” We all cracked up; truly they do not tell you about this part in the cruising magazines.
So it continued with DJ and I taking turns sleeping in the cockpit floor when off watch, and Coleen sleeping cozily inside the main salon, held tight by the lee clothes. She was the only one who could bear the motion inside, and somehow managed to do school lessons, eat and sleep while off watch. She even washed up and changed clothes each day. At one point she said, “Mom, you know you’ll feel better if you wash up, change your clothes and brush your hair.” Guess I was looking a little rough. I took her advice and did feel a little better.
While Coleen was able to eat cold leftovers and spaghetti-o’s from a can, all I could manage was a few ginger cookies, and lots of ginger tea. I actually ended up losing several pounds by the time we arrived in Colombia and joked that this could be the next diet craze. Trapped on a rolling ship at sea..losing weight guaranteed!
The morning of the second day I had a short blood pressure issue and a little anxiety attack… for no good reason at all. We were sailing well, all was good, the weather was fine and we were making good progress. I was just plain old fashioned scared. It took a few hours to get past it, and during my off watches I remained curled up in the cockpit floor trying to rest and calm down. I actually felt a little better during my watches. People often comment that I must be a very brave person. Actually I am not. I get scared, sometimes really scared, always for no good reason. When the shit really hits the fan, as it sometimes does, I am just fine, doing what needs to be done. It’s the sitting around for hours on end THINKING about what might happen that gets me scared. Crazy right! Thankfully it only lasted for a few hours and the rest of the 9 days of sailing to Colombia I was just fine.
I was not the only nervous crew. Our ship’s dog, Prince had a very rough go the first two days. He was panting like crazy, and running around looking for a place to hide. I finally had to give him a doggie tranquilizer and he settled in hiding behind the toilet. Finally on the 3rd day he calmed down, was able to do his business on the mat outside, played with his toy rabbit and took a nap outside in the sunshine. (I was sort of secretly wishing I could have his pill, but the captain can’t really pass out behind the toilet while underway)
Oh Well, Not Oh Hell
Early morning the 3rd day, DJ was on watch when we were hit by a squall with too much sail. It’s always better to shorten sail BEFORE a squall hits, rather than WHEN it hits, but he was caught up in wishful thinking that the clouds wouldn’t amount to anything. WRONG! The heavy wind back winded the mainsail and it took some doing in very heavy rain and wind, to get the sail reefed and the preventer reset, all while we were also trying to avoid a ship that I could no longer see due to the heavy rain. Not a very fun experience. I reminded him that on Glass Slipper our motto is “Oh, well, not Oh hell”. Meaning it’s better to tuck in a reef that you ended up not needing, “Oh well”, than get caught with too much sail yelling “Oh Hell”! It all turned out well, and we had a good laugh.
Duct Tape and Zip Ties
Despite checking carefully before we departed, the navigation light on the bow stopped working. I have so much trouble with this thing I’m starting to think I should have two mounted. It took a bit of DJ magic and some zip ties to get it going, and every night we had to take it apart and reset the bulb.
Sometime on the 3rd day we had to run the engine and discovered no water coming out the exhaust. Water pump trouble. DJ traced it down to a very loose belt, which was the same brand new belt we had put on in Grenada. Somehow he managed to get it going by removing the adjustment bolt, pushing it way over and holding it in place with an allen wrench and zip ties, definitely a creative solution. (We later learned in Bonaire that the new belt I bought in St. Martin was in fact the wrong size..lesson learned don’t trust a clerk to look up a part number).
You’d think that at sea, there is not much to see, but not so. Generally there are flying fish skirting along the top, playing in the waves, birds are fishing, and dolphins stop by to visit and play in the bow wake. This time we were treated to scores of tuna jumping, jumping everywhere as far as you could see. It was quite the sight and almost made me wish I was fishing. Maybe one day I’ll be enough of a sailor to also fish, but for now I was more interested in not being seasick, and trying not to get pitched all over the boat.
Last Night at Sea
On our last night to Bonaire, we shortened sail as we did not want to arrive before daybreak. We drifted along barely doing 3 knots. I spent my whole watch thinking about all the places I’ve lived and realizing that despite the rough times, my little boat is my favorite place. The sky was full of bright stars. There were no waves. It was peaceful and quiet. The light on the point of Bonaire was shining. I had a cell phone signal for my kindle’s internet from 8 miles out. Once again I was in love with the sea and cruising life. All the fears, the rolling and even the squall were fading back into a distant memory as our destination neared.
My watch was over at 4 a.m. and it was so quiet I managed to sleep on my own bunk until 7:30 a.m. when I forced myself to get up and take a look at Bonaire. We could see some barren hills to the left, pyramid shaped piles of salt to the right, and there in the middle the colorful little town of Kralendijk, with a cruise ship tied to the docks, and a couple of dozen sailboats quietly swinging on their moorings close to shore. My little ship had made it to Bonaire! Praise God indeed!