Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rounding the Honduran Hump

The leg from Providencia to Guatemala had some of the best sailing of the entire trip. We’d had time to acclimate to the washing machine turbulence of the Caribbean Sea, so all of us were up and about to enjoy the fantastic wind. Even though Perky was in top shape from her recent overhaul, we barely had any occasion to run her. For three days the wind averaged 15 to 20 knots and was mostly right behind us. We flew both the symmetric and asymmetric spinnakers, and poled out the jib for some wing-on-wing action.

Boats must be careful when rounding the Honduran hump because a shallow bank of coral heads and tiny islands extends about 50nm off the northern coast of Nicaragua. It is generally safer to stay well offshore when making this passage.

Our dock neighbor from Shelter Bay had given us the waypoints for taking a shortcut through the Moskito Bank via the Edinburgh Channel, which saved us about a day and a half of travel time. We expected to see some very small – and therefore very scary – numbers on our depth sounder, but the shallowest it got was about 70ft.

The shallow waters seemed to cut the swell down dramatically, which made sailing through the Edinburgh channel utterly delightful. With calm waters and a steady 20kt wind from behind, our speed meter got all the way up to 9kts.

One afternoon we got a visit from this little bird. We were at least 10 miles offshore and he must have been very tired of flapping his wings. He sat on our lifeline and let us feed him and even rub his belly before he finally flew away.

Sadly the calm seas were not to last and as we rounded Cabo Gracias a Dios the waves picked up and the boat started rolling once more. We were lucky our autopilot had performed reliably so far, despite some serious waves when we left Panama, and it seemed to be handling this new swell with equal capability. So it was quite a surprise to discover one morning that the most important part of it (the paddle) had completely fallen off. With no paddle there was no way to repair it.

This was an unwelcome discovery. Without an autopilot we were once again subjected to the tyranny of the helm. We had two more days of sailing left before arrival in Livingston, Guatemala, every minute of which would require somebody to be at the helm maintaining our compass heading. Steering a sailboat with a 20kt wind is nothing like steering a car. It necessitates actual physical effort to fight the wind and the waves and keep the boat aimed in a specific direction. But you don't have to stay between the lines and you can also steer with your feet.

By the afternoon John had come up with the clever idea of pulling out our emergency rudder and rigging it to function as an autopilot. After a few hours of tinkering, we had a new autopilot that worked just as well (if not better) than the original.

We flew the spinnaker all the way to Bahia Amatique without having to adjust it once, which meant the remainder of the journey was quite enjoyable. As it was dark when we arrived at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, we anchored and waited for daylight to commence the 25 mile trek up river.

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