28 April, 2011

Land Ho!

Date: April 28, 2011
Position: N 24 34.175 W 081 48.206
Location: Key West, Florida, USA

Our last 2 days have been busy and tiring. We slogged along the north coast of Cuba for a day and 2 nights, into the wind, which is never fun. However, there were times of reprieve when the winds died down and made the ride a little more comfortable. Our plan was to head for Miami ahead of some bad weather this weekend, but after checking the weather this morning we saw the wind was expected to shift more easterly. This meant 2 more days of close hauled sailing into the wind and waves. Suddenly Key West was looking much more attractive!!

We turned Rachel toward Key West and immediately she rode the waves better, sailed faster and more easily, and we all felt much happier.

About 50 miles off Key West we got a call on the VHF radio from the Coast Guard. They asked for basic information about the boat and told us to stand by. About 5 minutes later they call back and say they'll be sending a boarding party to do a 'safety check'.

US Coast Guard cutter

A pretty good sized Coast Guard cutter suddenly comes into view, they lift a big inflatable into the water off the side deck, 4 officers get into it and they head toward Rachel. While we are still sailing 3 of them jumped aboard Rachel to do our safety check. Everything went really well, they were very professional but friendly and after about 30 minutes they were on their way. We told them it was so nice to talk to someone other than each other and they got a chuckle out of that!! Apparently the Coast Guard cutter had been 300 yards off our boat while we were sailing along the Cuban coast last night, we had never seen them (even using our radar!!), and neither did Osprey, our travel companions.

30 miles from Key West a pod of dolphins came to play with us. About 15 of them swam in front of the boat doing tricks and leaping out of the water. What a lovely welcome back!!

20 miles from Key West we started seeing a lot of port traffic and hearing LOTS of chatter on the radio. All vessels with a VHF radio are required to monitor channel 16. Unfortunately, there is so much yakking on that channel that we looked at each wondering why we came back. We couldn't even have a conversation with each other without interruption. The constant chatter really got on our "last nerve". We'll take a dolphin welcome, any day!!

Despite the constant interruptions we managed to communicate with each other and slowly work our way into Key West harbor in the dark. We anchored at 9:30 pm and are safe and well. Tomorrow we have to figure out how to check in to the US here. Until then it's a good nights sleep for Rachel's crew. And we get to sleep at the same time for the first time in 10 days!

It's good to be back. Good Night

25 April, 2011

More plan changes

Position: N 20 13.427 W 85 58.843
Location: Heading for the Yucatan Channel

Yesterday was an uneventful day except the seas were rolly and not too comfortable. In the evening Julie was sitting in the cockpit on night watch looking up at the stars when she felt a flutter near her cheek. She turned on the flashlight and there was a dove sitting on the cockpit floor. We were 120 miles from land to the west and northwest, poor thing must be tired she thought. Not too happy about it pooping all over, she shooed it to the stern of the boat and it fluttered again landing underneath our solar panel. There it sat for most of the night and when we looked this morning it was gone!!

After downloading the weather this morning and talking to our weather guy we, along with Osprey, have decided to keep on going, heading to the Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys (or perhaps further), if the weather holds. Our other 2 friends kept on going to Isla Mujeres so now we are a fleet of two!

Stay tuned.

22 April, 2011

Cayos Cajones

Position: N 17 54.573 W 84 38.792
Location: Caribbean Sea

Well we just spent 1 1/2 lovely days at the Hobbies Cays (Cayos Cajones), tiny islands sitting behind a reef in the middle of nowhere. The small island next to which we were anchored had 2 young Honduran guys living on it. They said they were there for a month and as far as we could gather they were caretakers and guards for the hundreds of lobster pots piled all over the island. One of them, Federico, paddled out to our boat and asked if we had cigarettes and we had a nice chat in our pidgin Spanish.

The snorkeling and fishing around the reefs here is reportedly amazing, that's the main reason people stop here. We did manage a snorkel yesterday which was awesome and yesterday afternoon had a happy hour gathering on a tiny beach island by the reef, surprisingly there were 7 boats anchored here.

Baracuda caught on our way into the anchorage

Saturday, April 23, 2011

After listening to yesterday's forecast we all decided it was time to head further north before some stronger winds settle in on Tuesday, so this morning we hauled anchor at 06:15 and continued our journey to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. So far it's a bit rolly but the sun is shining and the fishing line is out. Today is our 4th anniversary living aboard Rachel, it keeps getting better. As the sun set we sat in the cockpit eating a special dinner with sparkling water!! We were rolling still pretty badly but the rolling allowed us to see 2 green flashes one after the other as Rachel rolled gunwale to gunwale. Good AND Bad
A quiet night, we saw no ship traffic.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The four boats who set out together from the Hobbies for Isla Mujeres (Osprey, Tashmoo, Mentor, and Rachel) all seem to be fairly well matched - we're all still within about 8 miles of each other, making it possible to have nice chats on the VHF radio during night watches. It's nice to hear friend's voices during those dark hours. It's been very rolly with light winds and big waves - not one of our favorite 24 hours of passage making, that's for sure. Everyone has had trouble sleeping. We're hoping to get things a bit more stable during the day today and see if we can catch up on some sleep.
Adendum - since writing this the other 3 boats have sprinted ahead of us, we're still in VHF range with 2 of them though

Change of plans (go figure...)

Location: Cayos Cajones, Honduras
Position: N 16 01.837 W 083 06.199

Wow! Talk about on the edge of nowhere! The Hobbies Cays (Cayos Cajones) is on the edge of nowhere!! Really! It's probably the most remote place we've ever been. We're sitting here looking out at the Caribbean Sea with nothing between us and all those waves but the reefs that surround these small, low cays. It's amazing.

Oh. We guess we should tell you that this morning we decided at the last minute to stop at the Hobbies to wait our some less-than-excellent weather that was expected over the next few days up near Isla Mujeres. Our friends on Osprey and Tashmoo, whom we are traveling with, stopped also. Funnily enough there are 3 other boats already here and we already know 2 of them from Honduras! Small world eh? We've heard there's great snorkeling here so that's what we'll be doing for the next couple of days.

It's amazing. We came in here at around 3pm today. It happened to be only a few miles out of our way, anyway - what could be better? When we dropped the anchor we were amazed to find an absolutely flat, calm, yet breezy anchorage on the edge of the shelf that extends all the way out here from Honduras. This after bouncing around for almost 4 days getting here! We're sitting here with only the barrier reef between us and the Atlantic Ocean and it's FLAT! This is so cool!

On the way here we hooked a 4' mahi mahi, but it got away as we were bringing it alongside the boat. DANG!! Images of delicious fish dinners reluctantly begin to fade ..

Then, just as we were turning in and had to haul in the fishing line, we hooked a 30" barracuda! Talk about teeth..man, these things are toothy! We'd never eaten barracuda before, but on the advice of friends anchored here decided to try it. WOW! It's delicious - a nice white meat without the fishy taste other fish sometimes have. We had a wonderful dinner and are now ready for some well deserved rest & relaxation. A glass of wine and a rum drink, sitting out on deck, just soaking it all in...

Wow. So. Awesome. We're taking an unexpected, albeit welcome "pit stop" on our way north. Sometimes the best things just sort of "happen". What a cool life we have!

All our best,

Mark & Julie

21 April, 2011

San Blas to Isla Mujeres - Day 3

Position: N 15 34.252 W 082 36.641

We've had a great day 3 and got another 142 miles under our belts. We're currently 40 miles south of the Hobbies (Cayos Cojones), off the coast of Nicaragua - about half way through our trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We had sun all day, winds on the beam at 8 to 10 knots, sailed almost all day, and only saw maybe one boat ALL day.

We're finally getting caught up on our sleep and starting to feel human again. It always seems to take until the second or third day for us to get acclimated to a passage. Not much happened during the day except for the 20 or so dolphins that came to play in our bow wake. As usual Julie ran up to the bow and spent a good 15 minutes watching them jump and play before they peeled off to play somewhere else. We had a lovely dinner in the cockpit, watched the sun disappear below the horizon, and were treated to a small green flash. The perfect end to a perfect day.

During the night we dodged a few squalls and enjoyed playing 'identify the cloud creatures' with the big black clouds in front of the majestic moon. "This one's a dragon with a lady on it's back." "That one is a man with a pointy nose and a big chin!"

We have to entertain ourselves as best we can!

Mark & Julie

20 April, 2011

Under way

Location: Just East of Providencia, a Columbian island off the coast of Nicaragua
Position: N 13 39.624 W 81 14.394

We're starting day three of our passage. We've just got the weather from our SSB radio weather guy, have downloaded the latest GRIB (wind and wave forecast model) files, and it looks like we'll have great weather to make Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Our first day we had winds on the nose and boisterous seas, 5 - 8 feet, causing us to be a little uncomfortable. But we made good progress and after the first 60 or so miles, we were on a nice, fast close reach.

Our first night we got to see the Big Dipper pointing at Polaris, the North Star, off our bow, the Southern Cross off our stern, and a full moon above us. A fantastic display of three of our favorite stellar bodies. While we are sad to be leaving one of our favorite cruising grounds, and happy to be on our way back to family and friends in the US, we are also excited - this will be our longest passage to date on Rachel.

We've seen lots of big ship traffic heading toward and away from the Panama Canal, making watch keeping a bit exciting at times. The wind shifted a little more east and the seas died down to only 3-6 feet making us more comfortable. We made 140 miles in our first 24 hours, good for us.

The winds and seas held through our 2nd day, this is always the hardest day as we could both use a bit more sleep, but sleep is coming easier as we get into the rhythms of making passage. The ship traffic was less today, lovely sunny skies and we saw 3 dolphins.

Through the night we again had great starlit sky and the full moon, just past, rose at 8:30 pm to help us through the night. We got more sleep so we're feeling a bit more human and the seas have died down to 3-5 ft. We made another 150 miles today, awesome.

All is well as we start on Day 3, we're happy and healthy, and are just passing Providencia, feeling nostalgic for the times we spent there over Christmas. Rachel is cranking along on a beam reach at over 6 knots in light winds. It doesn't get much better than this. The constant movement, the rush of Rachel's movement through the waves, the wind in the cockpit, the sounds of friends on the radios all begin to keep us awake less and less as we acclimate to being on passage.

Oops - it's 7:44 in the morning! Time for bed for one of us!

17 April, 2011

Adios San Blas!!

Position: N 09 32.786 W 078 53.731
Location: West Lemmon Cays, San Blas, Panama

After 3 wonderful months in the San Blas the time has come for us to say “adios” and head back to the US. The weather looks good for a departure tomorrow (Monday, April 18th), so unless something changes we'll clear out in the morning and start our voyage North.

We've really enjoyed our stay here and are a bit reluctant to leave. We'll miss this beautiful place and our wonderful friends, but it'll be nice to get back to our friends and family in the good ol' US of A, too. How strange it will seem to not need to speak Spanish while shopping...

We've spent the last few weeks exploring places we had not yet seen and saying goodbye to friends before we will leave here. We realize how much we would like to return at some point, as there are still hundreds more scenic spots that will just have to wait.

We are hoping to make pretty fast progress. As long as the weather cooperates we'll try to keep on moving. Three or four other boats will be leaving with us. Even though we probably won't be able to keep up with them, it'll be nice to be in radio range and have someone to chat with during those long night watches.

We'll be sending daily position reports so check the 'Where is Rachel now' link on the blog as it will be updated daily. We'll also try to get out a few short Khronicle posting to the blog along the way, too.

Hasta la vista.

02 April, 2011

Seahorse Quest

Date: March 26, 2011
Position: N 09 28.778 W 078 38.103
Location: Green Island, San Blas, Panama

We've just spent 2 glorious days snorkeling on the reef here in Green Island. The wind and seas have been down making the water crystal clear. The low wind and waves also allowed us to get around to the ocean side of the reef just north of the island. We had 2, 2 hour snorkels and the fish were abundant. We saw hundreds of fish including: a spotted eagle ray gracefully flowing by; a big turtle foraging on sea grass 10 feet below the surface; trumpetfish; cowfish; indigo hamlets; 3 varieties of angelfish; porcupinefish; trunkfish; and a 6 ft nurse shark. We've never seen so many fish in such a short amount of time, although we're still on a quest to find seahorses. What a great couple of days!