We have sailed 830 of the most incredible passage miles with only 100 more miles left to our destination, Porvenir, Panama. We’ve had sunny day after sunny day, no squalls, no scary stuff at all. For the past four days we’ve barely touched our wing and wing sail configuration and it’s kept us moving in winds ranging from 10 kts to 22 kts.
I finally got it together to make and freeze meals ahead of a passage so we’ve eaten well, and we’ve done 6-hour overnight watches instead of our usual swing 4-hour watch schedule and we both feel pretty rested. It helps that going downwind means we can actually sleep in bed instead of cramped on the bridgedeck settee or in the cockpit. This is definitely what we signed up for.
We are going a little too fast today. The chartplotter calculates our arrival in darkness so we will reef down the mainsail again tonight to slow us down for a dawn landfall. We will be clearing in to Panama but about 60 miles east of the canal. We’ll take a few days to rest, clean up the boat, do some laundry, fill up the water tank.
So it’s one more night of watching Mars over the port sidedeck, the big dipper just astern to starboard, the sails in their now familiar wing and wing configuration, and the green blinking light of the dashboard GPS reassuring us that it knows where we are.
I really can’t describe the joy of how this passage to Panama has begun. Well…not the final preparations in Ponce what with having to find our way across the bay around the quay to an unmarked minimalist dock that customs doesn’t even own to pickup our zarpe…those Panamanians are sticklers for this kind of thing, saying a final goodbye to our friend George from Summer Wind, and fueling up. Part of the problem may have been two tense people with too much to think about…but we did it and now we are flying down sun-kissed white-capped rollers out of the south east in twenty knots, and we are finally heading for Panama. Even Uncle Ray is cooperating and there is a lot of peace of mind knowing that the rigging is brand new and carefully tuned by Fraito. Chris Parker, Caribbean weather guru, assures us that we have a great weather window and right now at least we are making great time under sail. Of course these predictions are only good for a couple of days and weather gathering resources while underway are always problematic.
We are quite used to the Atlantic with its tricks but the western Caribbean is another matter. As we settle into passage mode it turns out that the winds have become variable and flukey so we occasionally motorsail to keep up some momentum towards Panama. For now it’ll be fair weather and just enough breeze to keep us honest and sailing. We will set no records on this one.
Our plan was to stay well north of the Colombian basin where currents and high winds predominate and turn a passage into a cauldron of pain and disappointment, but we find that when our average speed drops in a lull, we are well tempted to cut the corner a little closer to Colombia. The fly in the ointment is what will the weather be like by the time we get there and how close is too close?
In the meantime sailing downwind for days on end is everything that you’ve read about. The waves approach and gently lift the stern, Escape Velocity gathers speed and surfs on the face, and then the wave passes underneath with a loud whoosh. There’s a circadian rhythm to it that just feels right.
As dusk falls the breeze over our left shoulder begins to rise into the low twenties, which is right in EV’s wheelhouse. The only problem would be if it continues to rise, due to the fact that we have all the “laundry” out with preventers and we are flying wing and wing in the dark. It would take about ten minutes of foredeck work to turn her about into the wind so we could shorten sail. Still eight knots is eight knots and this is what we came here for. By the dawn shift change the wind had moderated and Marce came out yawning with a grin, approving of our happier pace.
So it’s a slow motion race to a spot in the ocean about 200 miles north of the Colombian Basin, but that’s how you get to the Panama Canal and we can’t wait.