Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

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here to start from the very beginning of the entire adventure. You can navigate from post to post simply by clicking the NEXT or PREVIOUS phrases at the top or bottom of each page. To find out what we've been fixing, changing, upgrading, click on the Triton Boat Work link under Related Websites. If you want to subscribe to this blog (and get emails letting you know whenever we update it) just click on the icon that says "subscribe to: posts (atom)" at the bottom of each page.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And Away We Go...


Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Sailor's Life For ME!!

Well, we set sail pretty late in the day on Sunday, but just in time for yet another spectacular sunset. You know, we could probably put hundreds of photos of nothing but spectacular sunsets up on this blog. After a while they become no more unusual than dolphins off the bow, wind coming from where you want to go, or the captain standing at the helm, naked, save for a T-shirt.

The waves had been a bit rough, but nothing too bad, although the motion of the boat wasn't the best. Rain hadn't been feeling that well to begin with, we think she made have had food poisoning from some of the airport food (I use the term loosely) that she'd found on her flight down. It didn't sit well with her, and she spent some amount of time leaning over the coamings, attracting fish. Now, I wanted to include a picture of this, but every time I post it to the blog, it mysteriously changes into a photo of her legs. I suspect this is due to some sort of devil spawn activity. If you look carefully you can just make out the cloven hooves. Although we felt bad for her, it seemed to do the trick for our trawling line, devil guts being the best bait. Up until this point we'd had very poor luck with catching anything, but after our brief lesson with Nick the professional fisherman, and Rain's gastromonic projections, we've now caught several tuna, mackerel and a dorado. They made for great dinners, ceviche and one quick stew for lunch. The weather is okay, the life is good, the food is great. What more can you ask for in life? Oh, well, that ain't for discussion on this blog.

As we were leaving the Nicaraguan waters, motor sailing along maybe five miles off the coast, we came upon a small fishing panga. There were two young men standing on it, waving a red shirt and gesturing at us. Being that this was Nicaragua, I was very worried about this situation. Although there aren't very many cases of pirate attacks on the west coast (they happen almost entirely over on the Atlantic side, and this situation has gotten much better in the last few years) I wanted to scout out the situation carefully and take some precautions. My boat mates seemed amused when I handed them each a machete, and we raised AnnMarie on the satellite phone to appraise her of the situation. We approached them slowly, circling around a few times to check them out. They were lying at anchor, in about one hundred feet of water, in an open fishing boat.

They seemed harmless enough, and there was no one else in sight, so we got close enough to ask them what was the matter. Our trusty interpreter, Robinson, learned that they had run out of gas and their radio stopped working. We had them float a gas can over, tied to a line, filled it with a few gallons of fuel, and gave it back. They thanked us, and much to our surprise, gave us a decent sized Dorado, already gutted and perfect for a dinner for four. This leg has turned out to be one of the best yet for fresh fish! We all had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat and didn't wake up the next morning until it was time to cross the bay.

Lest you have forgotten, we are traveling north up the west coast of Central America, and headed for the Bay of Tehauntepec. This is actually quite a difficult passage we are about to take on. This area, along with two other specific places along the coast, are known for fierce winds without any prior warnings. Usually an on coming storm will follow a drop in barometric pressure, giving you some warning of what's to come, but a Tehautepec wind can spring up out of nowhere and within minutes suddenly be blowing forty, fifty, sixty, even seventy miles per hour. That is like sailing along on a flat ocean, and then hitting a hurricane. It has been known to sink boats, tear sails and rigging apart, and force well seasoned sailors to turn back.

These winds are caused by a high pressure system that builds up in the Caribbean and tries to move westward towards the typically low pressure that lives out over the south eastern pacific ocean. The wind heads over the Central American land mass, then slams into the mountain ranges that run the length of it. Unfortunately, there are a few places, such as the narrow most portion of Mexico, just along the long, open area north of the bay, that allow the winds to funnel through. To make matters worse, as they push up then race down the mountain slopes, they pick up speed. When they reach the ocean they slam down with such force that they push the surface water hundred of miles out to sea. While this action makes for particularly good conditions for catching big game fish, it makes for very dangerous sailing conditions across the bay.

The trick is to stay as close to shore as possible. "One foot on the beach" is the saying for crossing the bay, and we tried our best to hold our course as close to shore as possible. Things were going pretty well as we reached the top of the curve, and there was some discussion (mostly on Robinson's part...he likes taking chances) about the possibility of cutting straight across along the 16th degree of latitude. Doing so saves about thirty miles of sailing, but should anything blow up, you can find yourself in some serious shit.

We elected to stay close to shore, and made it past what we thought was the difficult part. We were headed into Salina Cruz, what is considered to be west of the danger zone, when the winds started to pick up. We were running with just a double reefed main, with wind on our beam, when it started to blow up a bit. The seas were relatively calm, but as the wind increased, our boat speed did as well. Pretty soon we were flying along, averaging speeds around twelve knots, and at one point getting up to fourteen knots for over a minute. It was incredible!

We raced along like this for quite a while, heading for Salina Cruz. Eventually we reached the port area, where large freighters were stacked up at anchor, waiting for an appropriate window to traverse the bay. As we got closer the wind continued to increase, first forty, then to fifty knots, with gusts to sixty. It was a howling, cold wind, something we weren't used to after so much time in a hot climate. We were wearing our foulies, as much to keep the wind chill off as to protect us from the spray, and bashing along as the waves increased.

As the winds increased we realized we needed to get the main down. The seas were building and becoming square and steep. We decided that the safest place to do this would be in the lee of Salina Cruz harbor itself, so we headed up into shore, hoping to get right onto the beach and out of the brunt of the waves. This would theoretically reduce the "fetch", the amount of time the wind has to build up waves, so we headed up towards land.

And stopped. Catamarans are not normally good at going to weather, but in fifty knots we were barely moving forward at all the further we reached. We started the engines, and began pushing our way into the cove. Are speed continued to drop. We pushed the engines to full speed, and inched our way along, barely making any headway, all the while waves continued to crash into us. Given that we had breaking seas five or six feet high coming off a lee shore with only a hundred yards of fetch, you might be able to imagine the kind of force the wind has to exert to generate those conditions. It was a bit of a tense moment. Had the winds worsened we might have had to drop the main right there...something no one wanted to do. Standing on a bouncing deck while struggling to bring down a flogging sail in hurricane winds is not for the weak of heart. Fuck it isn't for the strong of heart. In fact, it is down right dangerous! A flogging sail can generate unbelievably strong forces, and create speeds at the end of the sail that exceed the speed of sound. That cracking noise you hear when someone snaps a bull whip is the sound barrier being broken. When a massive sail starts moving about like that, it can create whipping motions in the lines tied to it that are capable of breaking an arm or knocking you unconscious. Getting up on deck when things aren't stable is dicey. In fact, at one point we tacked and a line got hung up on a cleat, the jib began flogging and the jib sheets started whipping around the deck. Robinson, who was standing in the cockpit, was trying to winch in the slack when a loose line lashed across his shoulder, and cut him through his shirt. Although he was unlucky to be caught by a freak accident, he was lucky to get away with what he did. It left two good sized gashes in his shoulder that took a while to heal. He had pink skin for several weeks afterwards, and a great sailing story to boot, but it isn't what should have happened. High winds mean dangerous times, and things can go very wrong, very fast. We really didn't want to spend any more time exposed on deck, especially in this weather, than we absolutely had to.

Eventually we got close enough to shore to get some protection. There was some shelter from the tall cliffs in front of us. The wind speed dropped to about thirty knots. Robinson and Robert dashed up on deck, pulled down the main and tied everything down. You can see the relief and joy on Robert's face once we got everything stowed away. We turned tail, headed back out into the bay and pointed our boat towards Huatulco. With nothing but bare poles, we ran with the wind and the waves, but further out into the ocean the seas became so steep that it became difficult to keep Triton pointed in the right direction. Now, you would think that running with the wind and waves would be a cakewalk, but its not. Large waves would pick up her stern and try to spin her sideways.

Not wanting to constantly deal with correcting the wheel, and "driving" the boat (the autopilot does not handle this particular condition well) we threw out a drogue. This is a small, cone shaped chute that drags along behind the boat. It provides just enough resistance to keep the waves from broaching us, and still allows for good steerage. With nothing but bare poles, and a drogue, we were pushed along at over four knots. It was a quite, comfortable ride, and given the increased stability, we could turn the autopilot back on!

We drifted like this for several more hours, passing along the Mexican coast line. The winds were still blowing us along at four knots under bare poles, no engines and a drogue!! We realized that if we went faster we'd arrive in Hualtulco before sunrise, so we just coasted along, watched the sunrise come up, the Mexican fishing trawlers go by and just relaxed. As we moved further south the winds died back a bit, but the current kept us moving, so we relaxed and let ourselves be delivered to our destination within using much energy or breaking anything in the process. What a great way to travel. Now if we could only find a downstream course around the world, it would be worth circumnavigating it.

In the meantime we are approaching our first stop in Mexico, looking forward to getting cleaned up a bit, getting a good meal, fixing what broke, and doing laundry. It don't sound like much, but after a few tough days in the weather, a comfortable chair on stable ground, a hamburger and an iced tea are something to look forward to.

Hoping your dreams, happiness and desires are as easily attained!



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