Crossing the Caribbean Sea – The Passage, to Hopefully Never Be Repeated

Apr 23-28, 2017

Departing the Bahamas, Heading to Bonaire

The Passage

We left Man-O-War at midnight and sailed slowly toward the tip of the bay. While passing the salt plant, Mark was hailed from a service tug working on the salt plant’s new docks (the old ones were destroyed from Hurricane Matthew). “Catamaran that was anchored in the North Man O War Bay, are you dragging anchor???”  “Nope, just heading to Bonaire.” It was nice to know someone was looking out for us.

Mark read somewhere about an old weathered sailor with gray beard and flip-flops saying, “Gentleman sailors always run with the wind”.  “Old man, what do you have to offer me but tales of racing, storms, and stories of all the great boats you have owned?” (Mark’s typical cynical reply.)  We decided to sail into the wind, all the way from Great Inagua to Bonaire through the windward passage, between Cuba and Haiti.  Then, use the protection of Haiti and DR to sail East, to get a better wind angle for the Southern legs to Bonaire.  At its best, Uno Mas sails 60 degrees true (30 to 40 degrees apparent) into the wind with the new set of canvas sails. Winds were shown to be 20-25 knots for the first night, then dying down to 15-20 for the 2nd thru 5th days, and picking up to 20-25  for the 5th through 7th. We should be there in 5 days.  In actuality, we had an additional  5 to 10 knots more of wind for the entire trip, with gusts 10 to 15 knots above predicted.  We ended up taking 6.5 days, with the winds hitting 35 knots, gusting to 40 by the end of the final day. Seas were predicted to be 3-5 ft at the beginning and 5-7 ft at the end. The beginning was accurate; However, at the end (taking the additional 2 days), the seas hit 20 ft and confused (tossing us around like a washing machine).  At the beginning, water and gps speed was consistent at 6 knots and about 1 less for GPS.  At the end, we had 8.5 knots of water speed, but only 3-4 knots of GPS. The riding up and down of those waves added a lot of distance that the boat had to travel.  Don’t even get us started on the current that we had to deal with! None of these variables were taken into account at our departure, due to Mark’s admitted arrogance and skepticism of the “old man” stories told over and over again on blog sites and at the local bars.

Passing Cargo Ship
Passing Cargo Ship

Needless to say, at the end, we had our asses handed to us the entire trip, on top of the lack of sleep with the 4 hours on, 4 hours off shifts.   Mark thinks he only slept for a total of 6 hours, the entire trip. Angie was pretty proud of the fact that she did all of her shifts with not much complaint.  We were in a situation that could not be changed, and did not need to be amplified, by bitching.  With all of the hull flexing and pounding, the boat was ripping its salon interior cabinetry out of the floor.

Cabinet Fallout, C Cross

We could not use the stove to heat up or make food.  You could not stand in front of the stove due to the hull slamming and boat flexing under your feet.  Angie literally had her knees knocked out from underneath her, trying to stand and eat a bowl of cereal.  Everything, including Angie, ended up on the floor. Our coffee supply went bad after 4 days. We couldn’t make more.  Talk about a mutinous situation all around.  We were living on Emergen-C packets, granola bars, and applesauce packets for the trip. You could not open the refrigerator or freezer without the fear of its contents being jutted across the cabin floor, or getting slammed with the doors. It wasn’t worth it to get out the muffins or brownies. One really didn’t feel like eating anyways, being constantly tossed around.

Soggy Gloves
Soggy Gloves

Catamarans do not respond well sailing into the wind, especially when 20 ft seas are trapped between the hulls. We had the worst hull slap we’ve experienced….ever. It sounded like you were inside a metal barrel with sledgehammers pounding on the outside (Angie’s description). The salon floor was heaving 4 inches every 5 to 10 seconds with a thunder that can only be outdone by being struck by lightning (Mark’s description). You could feel the flex and sledgehammering rippled down the entire hull. Most of the time, while trying to sleep, you actually were levitating off the bed from the downward motion.  The hull hammer apex was less  than a foot away from your head. Sleep did not come often. Angie ended using Nyquil to help take the edge off and was able to sleep a bit better than Mark.

Anti Motion Sickness Pharmacy for Angie and Mark
Anti Motion Sickness Pharmacy for Angie and Mark

Nearing the end, we decided to not make another 2 day tack due to gale force wind gusts and 20 ft confused seas. There were times we took the steering off of autopilot and hand steered up and over the waves.  With the confused seas, we had some coming straight at us from the side, which made it even more unnerving.   We were taking waves over the bow and over the sides, constantly drenching us at the helm.  It wasn’t worth dressing every day because we were just going to sit in wet clothes for 4 hours.  So, we pretty much wore our jackets and swimsuits with the harness and tethers.  We were chaffed from sitting in salt water at the helm chair.  Our eyes burned behind the sunglasses from the constant salt water in the face. We were not going to be able to make it to Bonaire before the storm.  Mark rerouted us to the lee of Aruba. Once there, we turned into the wind, dropped the sails, and motored the final 10 miles to anchor off of Low RiseEagle Beach.  We were thankful the boat movement and hull hammering had stopped and the nightmare was over.

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