N.W. Caribbean Sleigh-ride

Bonaire, N.A. to St. Petersburg, FL

By B. C. Bieg
Click on any picture with colored border to see it full size.

    List of contents.
  1. Bonaire to Montego Bay,
  2. Montego Bay,
  3. Jamaica to Grand Cayman,
  4. Grand Cayman,
  5. Grand Cayman to Florida,
  6. Notes - Definitions, Navigation.

Part one - Bonaire to Montego Bay

In April, 2001, I was invited to bring "Ariel", a 41 foot Gulfstar sailboat, back from Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, to St. Petersburg, Florida. The owners, Bill and Valerie Lowerison, had decided after four years of sailing in the Caribbean to sell their boat and return to dry land and cruise around North America in a different type of yacht - a motor home. This is the account of that voyage.

Chart Because of time limitations of two of the crew, friends of the owners, who would be coming aboard in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the segment from Jamaica to Florida had to be completed between May 27 and June 10. The rhumb line distances are:

Bonaire - Montego Bay 690 NM (nautical miles)
Montego Bay - Grand Cayman 210 NM
Grand Cayman - S. Pete 740 NM for a total of 1,640 NM
ETA St. Pete - earliest June 6 - latest June 10.

On May 14 I flew from Newark, NJ, to Bonaire to meet the owners, get acquainted with "Ariel" and prepare for the trip. On Friday the owners left Bonaire, and my crew arrived. Rux had sailed with me on "Kochanka" on Lake Michigan in the 1970's , subsequently he had cruised in California waters in yacht club boats. My daughter Eileen had sailed with me extensively since she was seven years old, on Lake Michigan, in Greece, in the Caribbean. On Saturday we had completed purchasing provisions, filled up with water and fuel, and completed departure formalities with Bonaire immigration and customs. All that day it had been blowing hard - so hard that the windscoop, installed over the hatch of the aft cabin, had torn in half in a gust. The weather forecast for the N.W. Caribbean was for 20 - 25 knot easterly winds which promised a fast sail to Jamaica.

Bonaire Bay Sunday morning, 20 May, we cast off our moorings at 9 a.m. and motored out through the narrow harbor entrance into Bonaire Bay. We spent about an hour sailing back and forth between Little Bonaire Island and the shore while we familiarized ourselves with the rigging and the sails. Finally at 10:10 we approached our starting waypoint, 1 mile due west of the S.W. tip of Little Bonaire, with full jib and a single reef in the mainsail and we set our course at 315° heading toward Jamaica. At first we tried to sail wing-and-wing with the mainsail pulled far out with a preventer, but with the wave action continually pushing our stern around, this proved too difficult. As soon as we left the shadow of Bonaire, the wind and wave action increased and we rolled the jib in to 50%. This eased the pressure on the helmsman but we lost no speed and were rocketing along at an average speed of over 7 knots. Before sunset, Rux got the main down to the second reef points. This eased the weather helm somewhat, without appreciably slowing us down.

We had tried to engage the Centek automatic hydraulic steering, but I had not been told that it was necessary to turn on two switches, one marked "bilge pump" and the other "spare". However, as we found out later, it did not matter. Even with this error corrected after leaving Montego Bay, the Centek was unable to steer "Ariel" on a downwind course. Even in much lighter sea conditions, it reacted too late and too slowly when the boat yawed under pressure from the following seas. She would alternately jibe (fortunately without damage, as the boom was held tight by the preventer) or head up into the wind with sails flogging, before the gear corrected the course. We fiddled with the various adjustments without achieving any material improvement in steering. The conclusion is that, at least this brand, hydraulic steering is unsuitable for a sailboat. What is even worse, the hydraulic pressure in the pistons made manual steering much harder. In the heavy following seas, with waves of 12 feet, and occasionally up to 20, steering is always hard work. Working against the additional resistance required considerable physical effort. We all developed callouses, Rux even got blisters.

Wave It was hard work steering for two hour shifts, with four hours rest. Sometimes we would be surfing at nine knots off the top of waves, fighting against the yaw as the boat fell back into the trough slowing to six. But we were making great progress. The log entry at 9:15, Monday morning, reads:
"GPS position 13° 48.8'N; 70° 34.3'W. 165NM made good (ave speed 7.1K). Baro 1015mb (+3). Partly cloudy, wind ESE 20K with higher gusts. swells 12 feet plus. 415NM to go to waypoint JAM2, course 318°".
Plotting our position on the chart showed that we were within 2 miles of the rhumb line - we were making great progress!

This was my first voyage with a GPS. I was very impressed with the capability to know our exact position at any moment. In the past I would have relied on dead reckoning and occasional celestial sightings with the sextant, very difficult under such wave conditions. I would have known our position approximately, but under the prevailing conditions there would have been a considerable possibility of error, perhaps as much as 20-30 miles.

Rough sea The night had been wonderful. The moon was just new so the sky was completely dark and the stars brilliant. We could see the kite-shaped Southern Cross about 30° above the southern horizon at midnight. At the same time the Big Dipper angled across the northern sky and we could see the Pole Star about 12° above the horizon. The waves coming up from behind us were gleaming as if Neptune had thrown bags of diamonds into them - this was the phosphorescence generated by tiny sea-creatures.
Unfortunately, Eileen was suffering from sea-sickness, as she always did the first day or so, so she didn't appreciate the beauty of the skies. Gamely she stood her two hour watches, wrestling with the wheel. However I did relieve her one hour into each of her shifts that first night.
On my regular shift, at 3:15 that morning, I saw the lights of a big ship off our starboard, about 2 miles away. I could see her red port light and her course put her very close to our bow. I shone a light on our sails, then, while I was pondering the best action to take, I saw the angle of her mast lights change, then her starboard light came into view. She had changed course - 15 minutes later she passed about ½ mile behind us. Most likely she tried to talk to us, but our radio was down in the cabin and turned off. I didn't want to wake my sleeping crew to turn it on.

Monday passed without any change in weather or sailing conditions. We continued at about the same speed and on the same course. Rux and I slept crosswise in the aft double bed. Even though there was no lee cloth, Eileen managed to sleep on the saloon settee, with one arm around a bookshelf bar, but most of the time she slept in the cockpit on the lee side seat - this was more comfortable, and she needed the fresh air.
During the day we noticed that the carpet in the aft cabin was wet. Inspection showed that the steering post was leaking and a little trickle of water was running down the the vee in the floor towards the bilge, but the carpet was absorbing most of the water. That afternoon the pump handle of the aft head broke. We shifted to using the foreward head, which empties into the small holding tank.
Rux and I struggled in the galley to make light meals. There was no places to strap ourselves while working in the galley. We tied safety belts around the companionway handles to give us some stability if we leaned hard into the harness. Eileen managed to keep some light food down and was feeling better. A tanker passed us in the afternoon, heading westward on almost a parallel course, about ½ mile to port. We saw more ships at night because we could see their lights even when they were several miles away.

Monday night, the wind eased off somewhat, although the waves seemed just as high. The log entry on Tuesday morning. May 22, reads:
"08:30. Partly sunny - wind est 15K ESE. Waves 10-12 feet. Speed averaging 6K. Baro 1018mb (+3),
position 15° 27.8' N; 72° 44.6' W, total 324NM made good (ave. speed 6.97K over 46.5 hrs). Distance to JAM2 255NM Course 314°."

We were making great progress, slightly north of the rhumb line. With a lighter wind we took out the second reef, and eased out the genoa to full size, increasing our speed (which had dropped) back to 6½ knots. There was no change all day.

That night the wind dropped, but then at 04:15 we passed through a squall line and the wind went back to an estimated 15K. But the Wednesday morning (May 23)log book entry shows only a 6 mile drop in the daily run:
"08:00 Wind ESE 15K, Swell 10ft. Mostly sunny. Baro 1018 (no change).
17° 15.8' N; 74° 39.8' W. Total 478NM made good (159 last 23 ½hrs.). Distance to JAM2 101NM @ 309°."
. That we were still making such good daily distance, in spite of a slight reduction in speed through the water, may be attributed to the aiding current of perhaps ½knot. There had been a slight shift in the wind direction and we were having difficulty in holding the desired course, in fact we were sailing 345° putting us further north of the rhumb line. However I was not concerned, as this would put us further north of the reefs and shallow water that lie 30 miles east of Morant Point (the east point of Jamaica). During the day the swell slowly died down to 5 feet.

Dolphins The calmer seas brought us a very welcome entertainment. A large school of dolphins, at least a couple of dozen, swam along with us in the early afternoon for about an hour. The adults and babies rejoiced in jumping through our bow wave and gambolling in our wake. Finally they tired of these games and left us.

At 19:50 the GPS fix put us almost 42 miles due east of waypoint JAM2. We jibed onto the port tack on a course of 270°. Now Eileen could sleep comfortably on the settee without falling off! During the night the wind dropped and shifted further and we were sailing barely 5 knots through the water on a course of 285°. At 03:30 when I woke up and came into the cockpit to join Eileen who was then on watch, she said that she had been seeing lights for about half an hour directly south of us. We could not see the Morant Point lighthouse because we were 22 miles north of it, just beyond its range.

Off Jamaica We had been considering the possibility of stopping at Port Antonio. But we would only be able to stay until evening, and most likely would waste most of the day on customs and immigration formalities. Therefore, I decided to press on ahead. At 06:00 our watch time (which was only 05:00 Jamaica zone time) we were 12 miles due north of Port Antonio. A large freighter was standing at anchor, apparently awaiting daytime to enter the harbor. I changed my watch to local zone time (G.M.T. + 5)
The wind was light, so at the end of Rux's watch we took out the remaining reef in the mainsail. Slowly we passed the headland Galina Point, beyond Port Antonio, close enough that we could clearly see details of the coast. The high mountains in the interior were frequently covered by heavy clouds of rain storms. As the morning passed the wind started increasing and by 11:00 was once more blowing 15K and the boat had heavy weather helm. We dropped the mainsail and proceeded under jib alone, which allowed us to sail almost directly before the easterly wind. For the rest of the day we sailed along the coast at 6 to 7K in increasing swells with white caps. We passed Ocho Rios and could see a large cruise ship in the harbor.

Rio Bueno It was clear that at our present speed, we would be entering Montego Bay after dark, about 22:00. We decided to anchor in some convenient bay to delay our arrival until the morning. We chose Rio Bueno, a few miles west of Discovery Bay, because of its wide open entrance and lack of hazards. We also hoped to enjoy a welcome swim. We were disappointed. As we entered the bay at 16:00 we were greeted with milky coffee colored water resulting from rain water flowing down the river into the bay. We slowly felt our way to anchor in a depth of 12 feet, 100 yards from some houses on the east shore, directly west of the pier of a grain loading dock. A small village, with a church, occupied the western shore of the bay. I carefully noted bearings for our departure, then we relaxed with rum punches. For the first time in five days Rux was able to cook us a good meal without having to worry about falling into the stove!

Shortly before one o'clock, Friday May 25, we pulled up the anchor and slowly motored out of the peaceful anchorage in the darkness, lit only by millions of stars in the sky. There was no wind and the sea was calm, we had to motor the rest of the way. As the first rays of the rising sun lit up the surface at 5:25, we made our turn towards Montego Bay. Here GPS proved its value. Shallow water and reefs extend almost a mile from the shore to the north of the bay. The coastline had no easily identifiable features upon which to take visual bearings from which I could establish our exact position. The GPS solved the problem! At 07:00 we reached the entrance buoy R#1. 20 minutes later we dropped anchor close to the Montego Bay Yacht Club pier. There was no one to give us any information at this early hour.
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Part Two - Montego Bay

Montego Bay Yacht Club

Downtown Montego Bay (Photo: Doug Dodson)

Rafts on the River

Jamaican Village

The crew at the Townhouse Restaurant

Pictures at the Townhouse Restaurant
We didn't want to untie the dinghy and drop it into the water, one of the dock hands rowed me ashore to clear with a Customs official, later the Harbor Police came to check us out and they took me back to "Ariel". Immigration officials arrived after clearing a cruise ship that had docked in the port, close by. Finally I had to clear with a Health Department official. Each of these required the filling out of numerous forms. We could not take down our yellow "Q" Quarantine flag until the last formality was completed at 13:30.

The Yacht Club Harbormaster didn't turn up until after 10:00. Too bad, because by now the wind had piped up and was blowing a good 12K at right angles to the pier. He assigned us a position next to "Excalibur", a beautiful, black and white, 60ft. Brazilian sloop. Mooring to the pier Mediterranean style required us to pick up a bow-line from a buoy, then to back in to the pier. This manoeuver is always difficult for a sailboat that does not steer well going astern. In this case the cross-wind made it more difficult, and the mooring buoy was over 100 feet out, making it very difficult for Eileen, in the bow, to keep the bow under good control. I had backed in to within 40 feet of the pier, and Rux had just thrown a stern line to a dock-hand, when a sudden gust pushed the bow to starboard. Even though I quickly put the engine controls into fast forward, the momentum caused "Ariel's" port stern quarter to hit "Excalibur." The bang caused the Brazilian captain, who had not responded to earlier shouts, to rush on to the deck very upset and screaming. Fortunately the damage caused was very slight, a tiny crease (which I later recorded in photographs). Pedro, the Brazilian, later turned out to be very nice. We exchanged reports of the incident.

The facilities of the Yacht Club were very good - restaurant, bar, showers, swimming pool, laundry. Most of the members are local Jamaicans who have an extensive sailing and racing program. I was interested to see a bright yellow, Polish racing yacht, "Warszawa", that was moored to the same pier. The skipper, Piotrowski, had participated in a race from Miami to Montego Bay, earlier this year, then he disappeared, leaving his boat at the club.

Later that day, the first of our new crew, Doug, arrived from Texas. Fortunately he had reserved a guest room at the Yacht Club, because facilities on "Ariel" were very cramped. The second, Vic from Atlanta, arrived Saturday morning. We took a taxi into town, sent off emails from a small computer store and filled up with fresh provisions at a fairly well stocked supermarket. Then our taxi driver took us on a drive into the mountains to see the Jamaican countryside. We were taken to the starting place for a ride on bamboo rafts down a mountain river, but none of the crew were interested in trying this out. The country is lush but the villages are very poor.
I had been dreaming about fresh bananas. Unfortunately it was late in the season, the few available in the markets were all overripe. Our taxi driver took us to the store in a small village. After much wheedling, the woman at the counter brought me two ripe bananas and a small stalk of green ones. The stalk hung for several days in the boom gallows, and the bananas finally were ready to eat on our last day. Though they were small, their taste met my expectations.
Saturday evening we went out to dinner at Montego Bay's best restaurant - the Townhouse - in an old plantation house that was built in 1756. It was an expensive meal, but well worth it. The food was excellent and matched by the romantic atmosphere. The walls are decorated with interesting pictures by local artists.

On Sunday I had to go to the airport to obtain clearance from Immigration so that we could leave. The Customs inspector made a special trip to the club, to sign us out, for a fee of $US 20. We filled up with diesel fuel and fresh water, then as the club was preparing for a big wedding with elaborate decorations, we had our last lunch in Montego Bay. The Sunday afternoon departure was necessary for us to reach Grand Cayman Island on Tuesday morning.
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Part Three. Jamaica to Grand Cayman

At 15:05 on Sunday, May 27, we cleared the Yacht Club pier. Pedro, the Brazilian skipper, cast off the lines for us. As we cleared the bay, the wind was only about 12K from ENE. The sea was calm, the barometer was reading 1015mb, down 5mb since Saturday. Our speed was about 5 knots. We fiddled with the two autopilots, but even in these light conditions they did not work well. The hydraulic Centek reacted too late and too slowly. The Autohelm 4000 actually worked better, it reacted faster, but it was unable to cope with the heavy steering. We resigned ourselves to steering manually. Now that we had five people on board, our watches were two hours on, eight hours off. Sleeping arrangements were difficult. The forward cabin was full of extra sails, equipment and personal luggage. We tried to lower the cabin table to create another double berth, but somebody had modified it and it didn't work. Doug slept the entire trip in the cockpit. Two off-duty crew could sleep in the aft cabin. the fourth off-duty crew member slept on the settee, but was always in danger of rolling off whenever we were on starboard tack (which we were most of the time).

During the night the wind picked up a little and we were doing 5.5K. But we were unable to hold the desired course of 288°, we steered higher at 320° to keep the sails filled. We had to run the engine at least two hours a day to recharge the batteries, then we motor-sailed adding an extra knot to our speed. On Monday at 05:30, the log read: "19° 06'N; 79° 04'W. Wind and sea no change. Baro 1019mb (+4). Distance from Montego Bay 75.2 NM (5.4K ave speed made good in 14 hours). Desired course to CAY1 278°. distance 133NM.".
This indicated that we were north of the rhumb line, therefore we jibed on to port tack, where we could hold 255°.
At noon I turned on the macerator pump to empty the holding tank. The tank was not yet empty, when the pump suddenly stopped. I searched for a solution but could find nothing (in St. Pete it turned out that a fuse had blown, but at the time I had no indication where the fuse or circuit breaker were located.) Rux got to work and repaired the aft head. He inserted a new through bolt to hold the toilet in place (it had broken loose and was held by only one bolt). A pair of vise-grips were attached to the shaft of the broken pump stem, so that, with difficulty, the head could be pumped dry.

That afternoon, we decided to try the cruising spinnaker, since the wind was light - 10 knots or less. We got the spinnaker flying (it was a cruising spinnaker, so did not require a spinnaker pole). This added about ½ knot to our speed. Unfortunately it lasted only three hours. Suddenly it came loose and dropped into the sea. We recovered it. It turned out that the ring that held the head of the spinnaker had broken at the weld. Fortunately it was hoisted in a sleeve and the halyard was still trapped in the sleeve and could be recovered.

Tuesday, May 29. I was on watch from midnight to 02:00. I could see the loom of the lights of Grand Cayman off the port bow. I considered that it was time to jibe back to the starboard tack. However everyone was asleep and I would need help to release the preventer to go through a jibe. since the self-steering did not work. I didn't want to wake anyone up, thinking that we were not going very fast, so the jibe could wait till dawn. This turned out to be a mistake.

The wind picked up and increased to about 15K so that we were moving at 6K. At 06:00 Grand Cayman was visible off the port bow. We had overshot our rhumb line and were off the east end of the island. We jibed back on starboard tack, skirting the reefs off the end of the island. We could clearly see the skeletons of ships that had grounded on this treacherous reef.
At 10:30 we rounded the S.W. point of the island and could see three large cruise ships anchored in Georgetown Bay. We contacted Port Security on the VHF radio and were instructed to tie up to an orange mooring buoy in the harbor. 45 minutes later we were instructed to come alongside a concrete wharf, astern of a fishing vessel. Customs and Immigration boarded us. The procedure was the most efficient I have seen anywhere in the Caribbean. They even accepted my preprinted crew lists! However, we also had to pay US$31 to be sprayed with an insect disinfectant!
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Part Four. Grand Cayman - Stingray City

Grand Cayman I.

North Sound Entrance

Playing with a Manta Ray

We did not want to stay in the the open anchorage at Georgetown, we needed fuel and water. We also wanted showers. We called Grand Cayman Yacht Club on the VHF radio and they gave us exact instructions how to get there. We did not specifically ask about facilities - after all, don't all yacht clubs have showers and other comforts?
It took us almost three hours to get there. We had to sail around the N.W. point of Grand Cayman Island, and then proceed along the reef until we reached the red marker indicating the narrow entrance through the reef into North Sound. We passed markers to the old Main Entrance, which is now silted up and impassable for all but shallow draft boats. They should remove the markers - if we hadn't received specific GPS co-ordinates for the present entrance, we would logically have tried to pass though the wrong approach!
North Sound is a large expanse of water. about 10 miles wide along the reef and nearly 10 miles to its south apex. It is all fairly shallow, like the sounds in the Bahamas. Our instructions were to go ½ mile south past the last of the PVC markers, then turn on a course of 241° towards the entrance to the channels of the housing estate, dug out of hard coral rock.
At 15:40 we tied up to the designated slip of the "Yacht Club". The slips are all well built and equipped with water and electricity. But there are no facilities - no showers, no toilets, only a single toilet in the small convenience store, which is locked from 18:00 until 7:00. To add insult, they charge US$1 per foot per night! It is also a long taxi ride back into Georgetown. Supposedly there are buses, but we didn't see any.
Dexter, one of the many entrepreneurs running diving trips out to the reefs, gave us a ride into town. We chose the Almond Tree Restaurant for our dinner. A nice view of the harbor and food not bad, but we were critical having been spoiled by the Townhouse in Montego Bay.

The highlight of our stay was the visit to "Sting Ray City." Eileen and I went in the morning with Dexter on his catamaran. The rest of the crew went in the afternoon on another boat. The rays are quite tame. There are several dozen of them swimming around on a sand bar near the reef. They swim around you, brushing you with their soft wings. They allow you to pick them up and hold them by their wings. They are not actually Sting Rays, which is another species, common in Florida. They do have barbs on their back which you have to avoid.

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Part Five. Grand Cayman to Florida

Barracuda After taking Eileen to the airport, I completed departure formalities at the Customs and Immigration offices near the pier in Georgetown. On Thursday morning, May 31, we pumped out the holding tank and filled up with water and fuel. At 8:05 we left the dock on the last leg of the voyage. At 08:55 we cleared the entrance to North Sound and hoisted all sails. The barometer was reading 1019mb., the wind was E at about 10K and we were sailing at about 5K on a course of 300° towards the Yucatan Channel.
Doug had brought full fishing gear with him and had been trolling all the way from Montego Bay without results. Today we were lucky. At about 17:00 he caught a barracuda about three feet long. Rux cooked it immediately for dinner, it was quite tasty.

Ocean Swim During the night the wind was light, but we managed to maintain a speed between 4 and 5 knots most of the time. At 9:00, June 1 our log read:
"Position 20° 14'N; 83° o6'W. Wind E light, less than 10K. Swell about 1', Speed 3K, Course 290°. Baro 1019mb (no change), sky clear. Distance made good 120NM>"
We made good distance in spite of light wind, in part because of an aiding current, in part because we had motor-sailed for nearly 4 hours during the last 24.
I demonstrated the use of the sextant and explained how position fixes are calculated. Each of the crew made some sextant readings of the sun. The traditional noon time observation of the sun, which gives one's latitude directly without a lot of calculation, turned out to be difficult. The sun was almost directly overhead, just slightly to the north of us. However I managed to make some observations and was gratified to find that my results differed by only 2 miles from the position shown by the GPS.
We took advantage of the light wind and calm sea to heave to at noon. We all went swimming in the bright blue, warm water, a welcome change of pace. For safety, one of us stayed on deck to keep watch. Then we switched.

The next day, Saturday, June 2, the wind freshened and small white caps reappeared. As a result our speed picked up and we were making 6K. That morning we saw our first sail boat, a catamaran "Manta" en route from Cay Large, Cuba to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. At 20:00 we had crossed the main shipping channels around the west end of Cuba, from the American east coast to Panama. We started our turn towards the north. All night we were making good progress on a beam reach and by morning we were through the Yucatan Channel, aided by the north going current of about 1½ knots. We were surprised that we saw so few ships in the Channel, we had expected more considering that special traffic separation channels had been set up around the west end of Cuba. Only one ship came close to us and that was an empty bulk carrier heading north that passed us less than a ¼ mile away, on our port side.

SunsightOn Sunday at 07:00 we changed course to 24°, heading straight for the waypoint EG1, the entrance buoy to the Egmont Channel that leads to Tampa Bay. We still had 308NM to go, but with the wind at 15K, we were making good time. If these conditions continued I expected to reach Tampa Bay by the evening of June 5. Earlier we had had some discussion about going via Key West. But this would require a beat to windward and would add an additional 120 miles to our trip, therefore we dropped the idea.

On Monday, June 4, we had another equipment problem, this one more serious. All night we had been pounding along at 6 to 7 knots in an increasing swell. Coming up for my watch at 04:00, I noticed that the bilge pump was running much more frequently than usual. At first I attributed this to increased leakage from the rudder post. At 6 o'clock, Vic reported that there was no water coming out of the faucet. I switched from the main tank to the first reserve tank. A little dribble came out with a lot of bubbles. I assumed there was an airlock in the line from that tank, which frequently happens. I switched over to the second reserve tank - the same result.
I told Vic at the helm to change course to reduce the amount of heel, and holding a bottle under the faucet I coaxed about two liters, with lots of bubbles, out of the faucet, then it stopped - but the water pressure pump kept running. I turned off the switch to avoid burning out the pump. Then I noticed that the bilge pump was running continuously. I looked into the engine room and there was 12 inches of water in the bilge, the pump kept running but the level seemed to be increasing. I started inspecting all the through-hull fittings, tearing up floor boards to get at them all. I could not find any leak, but a lot of water was lying in the space under the water tanks. I got into the engine room, and sitting on the batteries, emptied the bilge with the manual pump.
Chef Then I suddenly realized that a leak had developed somewhere in the fresh water line on the output side of the pressure pump and we had pumped all our fresh water into the bilge, and that was now pumped out into the sea! The only fresh water left was the 12 liters in 3 plastic bottles that I had set up as an emergency reserve before leaving Bonaire, plus the two liters I had managed to get out of the faucet. There was no great emergency, in two days we would be in St. Petersburg and we had plenty of beer and juices. A good thing we weren't in the middle of the Atlantic! From the very beginning we had been using water conservation measures - all dishwashing, cooking of vegetables and pasta were done with sea water. There is a salt water pump at the galley sink. Unfortunately it did not work and we had to get sea water by throwing a bucket overboard, then handing the bucket down to whomever was in the galley.

"Ariel" was equipped with a water maker that would produce about a gallon an hour, using a lot of electric power. I tried to get this system working, to no avail. (Later I learned from the owner that the blown fuse in the line to the macerator pump also cut off power to the water maker!)

All that day and the next night we were speeding along at between 6 and 7 knots with a good wind and 5 foot swells. On Tuesday, June 5, at 06:00 the log reads:
"26° 35'N; 83° 34'W. Wind 12+, swells 5', baro 1020mb (+2). Speed 6K, course 30°. Distnace to EG1 66NM, course 35° (we are little north of rhumb line), full genoa, 1 reef in main."
I estimate arrival at Egmont Channel at about 17:00. Checking tables reveals that at this time we will be faced with a 3K ebbing current. At 11:00 thunder clouds are on the horizon and an angry looking squall line is approaching from the SW. As a precaution we put a reef back in the main, and clear all lines to furl the genoa if necessary. 15 minutes later the squall line has passed us without much commotion. We remove the reef to increase sailing speed.

Sunrise A little later Doug catches two dorados in quick succession, each about 3 pounds. Withinn half an hour, our chef Rux had put together a colorful and tasty lunch. After lunch we started up the engine, the wind had dropped and we would no longer be able to reach Tampa Bay before dark under sail alone. Motorsailing at 6.3K we reached the Egmont Channel entrance buoy at 16:30. It took us another two hours motoring against the current to reach the anchorage east of Egmont Key. Just as the sun was setting, we anchored about 100 feet off the beach, 300 feet south of the Pilot station pier in 12 feet depth. The southern half of Egmont Key is a bird sanctuary and signs prohibit landing. We had a peaceful night slowly swaying in the light swell.

In the morning, June 6, the cacophony of bird calls woke us up before sunrise. We had to reset our watches to Eastern Daylight Time - GMT+4. On the VHF radio I asked the Pilot station to relay a phone call to my friend Jacek, the broker, in St. Petersburg. Shortly afterwards we heard him calling us, but the distance was still too great and we were not able to carry on a conversation. At 8:00 (EDST) we pulled up anchor for the last time and motored the rest of the way into the light easterly breeze. An hour later we passed under the Skyway Bridge and , finally, at 10:40 we were greeted in the Municipal Marina by Jacek. An hour after that I cleared us in through U.S. Immigration by telephone. Our voyage was over.

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For additional photos, see ariel/ariel-foto.html
Not all voyages are so easy! For a different story, see Rough Crossing.

Text and illustrations © 2001 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.
All photographs by author, except where noted otherwise. Chart drawn by author.


Course. All courses in this text are magnetic, that is the bearings read by a magnetic compass. The magnetic variation changed from a maximum of +9° at Bonaire (i.e. 320°Magnetic is actually 311°True) to +5° at Montego Bay and 0° in the Yucatan Channel. At Tampa Bay it is back up to +3°. Of course, all courses plotted on the charts have to be changed to True bearings. Courses given by the GPS are approximately correct Magnetic bearings.

Nautical Mile (abbreviated NM) = 1 minute of latitude = 1.15 statute miles = 1.85 km.
Knot (abbreviated K) = 1 nautical mile per hour = 0.5 m/sec (definition of wind speed used in international weather forecasts).
Port and Starboard = mariner's terms for left and right, respectively.
Jibe = turning the boat so that the wind, coming from behind, switches from one side of the boat to the other. In high winds and seas a potentially dangerous procedure, if performed incorrectly.
Preventer = tackle tying the boom down to a side rail, to prevent the boom from moving during an accidental jibe.
GPS = Global Positioning System. A navigation method developed for the U.S. Navy. which using signals from a network of special satellites, circling the earth in polar orbits, enables a position to be established to an accuracy of 20 meters. Within the last five years, portable GPS receivers have become very reliable and affordable.
head = marine toilet.

Waypoints were set up for the purpose of checking progress along the route and to provide targets to aim for. A good sailor is not a slave to waypoints as many power-boaters are. They are set up for his convenience. On this cruise, the only waypoint we actually went to exactly, was the one marking the narrow entrance through the reef to North Sound, Grand Cayman Island.
The following waypoints were set up in the GPS:

Other minor intermediate waypoints were also entered for determining courses and distances.

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Photos and text Copyright © 2001 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.