Providencia, CO ~ by land

Has it already been a month?! Time is whizzing by on this bass thumping scooter riding little island of Providencia, Colombia but we’ve been making the most of it. Our time here thus far as been so filled with activity that it’s getting hard to count as another week flys by.

The islands of Providencia and San Andres both roughly 140 miles off the coast of Nicaragua but only 50 miles from each other share an interesting history. (From various Sources)

The first inhabitants of these Caribbean islands were Miskito Indians from the coast of Nicaragua followed by a group of Dutch colonists who made their home on Providencia toward the end of the 16th century. In 1631 they were expelled by English Puritans who effectively colonized the islands. They brought in black slaves from Jamaica and began to cultivate tobacco and cotton. The Spanish, irate at the English success on the islands, captured the islands in 1641, claiming rightful ownership of them by virtue of their proximity to the Spanish-controlled mainland; the English resisted, even re-capturing the islands for a brief period, until they finally recognized Spain’s claim in 1793.

Because of their strategic location, the islands provided convenient shelter for pirates waiting to sack Spanish galleons bound for home laden with gold and riches. In 1670 legendary pirate Henry Morgan established his base on Providencia and from here he raided both Panama and Santa Marta. Legend has it that his treasures are still hidden on the island.

The islands have variably been under British, Spanish and Dutch control, which has resulted in a blend of languages and cultures. Spanish is most commonly spoken, followed by English. Most of the native islanders, the Raizal, speak a Creole English incomprehensible to outsiders, but they can speak standard English and Spanish, too. Different groups of immigrants have come to the islands over the years, including U.S. missionaries, Chinese, Arabs and mainland Colombians.

Colombia claimed the islands in 1822 when it gained independence. Nicaragua has disputed the claim, though it has never challenged it with force, and as recently as 2001 filed a claim with the International Court of Justice to resolve the matter. Colombia responded by establishing military bases on the islands. On December 13, 2007, the International Court ruled the islands were Colombian territory, but left undecided the maritime border issue. There is also a small movement of native islanders seeking independence from Colombia.

Geographic isolation kept the unique English character virtually intact, though things started to change when a flight service connected the islands to the mainland in the 1950s. In 1954, a government plan to make the islands a duty-free zone brought with it tourism, commerce, and entrepreneurs.

In the early 1990s, the local government introduced restrictions on migration to the islands in order to slow the rampant influx of people and preserve the local culture and identity. Yet, Colombian mainlanders account for two-thirds of San Andrés’ population. The tourist and commercial boom has caused San Andrés to lose much of its original character; it’s now a blend of Latin American and English-Caribbean culture. Providencia has preserved much more of its colonial culture, even though tourism is making inroads into the local lifestyle.

Around the Island

We venture into town often via the dock where we leave the dinghy unlocked (though the motor is locked to it). This island has proved to be incredibly safe for us and our belongings. When you step foot on land you are immediately welcomed by elaborate art work based on the sea.

For the center of town being quite small it’s incredibly busy. At all times of the day and week residents here zoom by on motorscooters, walk with a destination in mind and generally aire a sense of business. Tate and aren’t exactly sure what they are all up to, but they have things to do and people to see!

After strolling around a bit it becomes apparent that color plays a large part in the lives of the people who live here. Pretty much everything that can possibly be painted is and with an astounding amount of color. I don’t know whose job it is to keep the paint up on the various buildings, houses, bridges and bus stops but they should never have a day off.

It also becomes apparent rather quickly that in order to see the whole island you need transportation. Walking long distances here in the sometimes stifling heat and humidity can actually be a health hazard. Your best bet is to meet up with some folks in the anchorage and pool your money to rent the six person mule for $50/day. This was our crew of mischief makers for a couple of weeks, John and Lela on SV Yachtsman Dream and Steve and Vicki on SV Tango.

The ever changing landscape reveals huge trees, free ranging cattle and horses as well as a variety of other things to grab your attention.

The island has a bright and charming feel with nautical references everywhere you look and a cute collection of artistic bus stops.

Right outside the Municipal Library

The local Black Crab

Humming bird with a boat bench

Manta ray


Colorful Houses

The creativity doesn’t stop in the town center or on the street. Every single house on the island is painted in a multitude of bright colors that sharply contrast against the lush green mountains in the background. Children run and play in the yards while clothes are hung in the sun and a barbeque takes place under a shady tree. As you would imagine building materials are hard to come by and though most buildings seem to be under some form of construction/destruction your heart can’t help but be lifted gazing upon these colorful oranaments that decorate the hillsides much like a Christmas tree.

Horses and Beaches

If you prefer to go a bit faster than on a mule $16 will get you a scooter, pink if you’d like, to use for the day tearing up the asphalt and leaving sand in your wake.

Heading around the island counter clockwise the best way to find a beach, and there are plenty, is to hang a right and follow it to the end. It’s hard to get lost on an island so small. One day we made it to Rolands Roots Bar where ice colds beers awaited and tree swings beckoned.

Rasta Roland himself

With our ice cold beers we took a leisurely stroll down the beach and found public hammocks and lots of shade and grass huts with more beer or a fresh caught fish for lunch.

One Saturday afternoon we made our way to the Southwest Bay to watch the famed horse races on the beach. Crowds gathered and moving speaker trucks blared Reggae music so loud the beach vibrated under our feet.

The race was against this first jockey and horse against this other much younger jockey.

The horse in blue won however based soley I think on the fact that he stood in the ocean for a bit before the race. I recorded a short video of the excitement.

El Peako

Once you’ve seen everything from sealevel if you wish you can take a much different view. The Peak, or El Peako as the residents call it is a regional park here with a trail leading, what took us 2 hours, up to the highest point in Providencia 1,181ft up. I wouldn’t say it was strenuous… but it was strenuous. Nothing will make you feel older than hiking with a group of retirees and being the one who lags behind.

Huge trees with parasitic Orchids were everywhere as were idyllic hillside scenes that motivate one to grab an axe and start on a log cabin.

The residents here have a great pride in all of their natural surroundings and hung hand painted signs with details of the local ecology. There were more than ten all together that I spotted on the way up.

One of the many inhabitants are these very blue lizards. They can change from blue to brown and as far as I can tell OWN the mountain. There are probably two lizards every square meter, no joke.

The “trail” or as I like to call it the “rugged mountain path” starts out deceivingly flat and easy and gets progressive steeper. I think whoever made the trail got really tired towards the end and said screw it, cut it straight to the top! Tate however was unaffected and charged forward with gusto. At least I could count on him to carry me out if need be.

Eventually we broke free of the mountain side and our sweat quickly dried in the cool breeze. The hike was definitely worth it and provided the absolute best 360 degree views of the island. You could see the breaking waves crash constantly over the reef that surrounds a large part of the island. Even Sundowner could be been seen in the anchorage below. Pictures really don’t do it justice though so I made a short video of the view below.

Los Congrejos Negros (The Black Crabs)

“The hills have eyes” we were ominously told as we headed out one evening. We were on a mission to find the black crabs that migrate from the mountain to the sea once a year over many months to lay their eggs. You could see evidence of the migration attempt everywhere you drove and we were hoping to spot some in action.

We didn’t have to look far as they littered the sides of the roads waiting to make their break across the busy stretch of concrete and to the sea. They are skilful little crustaceans that climb vertical walls or any other obstacle in their way. They also taste good and are on many menus throughout the restaurants on the island.


They say that tourism is the number one industry here but you wouldn’t know from the town center. 99 percent of the people you see are locals, all apparently very busy in whatever they are up to. So while there are some “restaurants” within walking distance from the dinghy dock they are far and few between. Most are open for lunch but closed in the afternoon for siesta (12 to 3 is the best we can surmise) and then reopen, or not, for dinner. They are more like the places back home we’d go for a cheap lunch and not a steak dinner.

They all have plastic chairs and typically a few options of plate meals featuring chicken, beef or seafood. There is usually always beer though and sometimes wine. There is one pizza joint that we like a bunch and the cruisers from the anchorage would get together for a night on the town.

The tourism everyone talks about must be tucked away in the many different hotels and bungalows for rent around the island. Further out of town (via scooter) near these places you can find more options for eating out and I think the most expensive place on the island is called Deep Blue. It is a resort and a restaurant with a view of Crab Key. Here you can drink $12 pina colodas and dine on good food that runs $15 a plate with $5 for a glass of wine. Still cheap by US standards but very expensive in our budget. I thoroughly enjoyed however my fish fillet topped with none other than “black mountain crab”.

The lack of good places to eat with regular hours is actually a blessing in disguise as it forces you to cook on the boat. Since we’ve been in the anchorage here for a month we’ve had countless dinners on other boats ranging from freshly speared snapper or grouper, to homemade pizza and delicious pork loin with deserts to die for. Tate pleased a whole group of 10 cruisers, our largest group yet, with a pot of his famous chicken and sausage gumbo. He always said he wanted to bring gumbo around the world. Boats pictures are SV Yachtsman Dream, SV Tango, SV Nimue, SV Motu and of course SV Sundowner.

Our time here has been so fun and we are in no hurry to leave. The winds have been blowing like crazy in the twenties for over 3 weeks now but it keeps the temperatures much cooler. Tate goes spearfishing everyday and I join him about every third day for a few hours of snorkeling. We eat very good and spend a lot of time reading or playing bridge. It’s hard to imagine a better life right now than this. Eventually we’ll make our way to the San Blas but for now we’ll soak up the sun and enrich our souls in the lovely paradise of Providencia. Next up for the blog is posting our 6 months cruising costs and starting gear reviews. Adios!

In my last few posts before we left Isla Mujeres to make our run down to the beautiful island of La Providencia, some of you may recall that I mentioned a final thread holding us to shore. And some of you may recall that I mentioned not to have stuff shipped to Mexico. Well, we did have something shipped. A reverse osmosis water maker.

Water makers are a significant expense and I had long debated about getting one but didn’t like them because there wasn’t really any good place on board Sundowner for me to mount all the parts and plumbing and I didn’t want to have it in the bilge or the engine room. Tough. We figured that we’d jerry jug it. But as we got closer and closer to time to head to San Blas, that niggling fear in the back of my mind was catching up with me.

Enter the scene, Rainman, a water maker that doesn’t have to be “installed”, instead, you can just use the component parts on deck and stow away when under way or not in use. It was exactly what I’d been looking for. Something high capacity and something stow-able and easily service-able. So we called up Rainman, got the prices and ordered the unit.

Enter Mexican Authorities…. Dani went to GREAT lengths, being the research ferret that she is, to prepare all the paper work for the water maker to be tax free and parts for a yacht in transit. The rub came in when the package was addressed to a marina that agreed to let us ship to them as a land address instead of Dani’s name on the package. At first they wanted us to pay taxes. We filed papers saying we didn’t have to. Then they said the names were wrong and we’d have to do this or that. Then they said they’d abandon the package in customs. Then we tried to pay the taxes and they said we couldn’t even do that! Dani was practically in tears and I was pulling my hair out.

We called up our Rainman rep, Ron Schroeder, and he called in his DHL shipping people who called the Mexican DHL people and it started this massive chain of work to get this sorted out. This guy was on the phone with us at weird hours being from Australia and he really worked hard to get the package through and eventually the DHL people did get it through, but without him, I don’t know that we would have EVER gotten the package. So score one for Rainman, they have incredible customer service. Thanks Ron!

Anyway, on to the good stuff. The unit itself. Behold!

Can you see it? The RO filter lives under a blanket beside the life raft.

The hoses are all standard with the exception that they have high pressure quick connectors on them so you can put them on and take them off.

You can see that the pressure gauge is on a quick connect that we attach and monitor as we increase the pressure up to “operational level”. The pressure must be brought up slowly over a few minutes to 800psi. This is accomplished by shutting the valve on the connector slowly until the needle is at the correct pressure.

Generally we route the brine into the head sink though sometimes I’ll just put it out the window and over the side. Don’t forget to tie it onto something or it will come back through the portlight and fling saltwater around like crazy. Don’t ask how I know.

The motor sits up outside the boat while running and we just route the hoses up through the companionway to it.

Who likes fresh water? Dani likes fresh water.

You can see the pick up hose over the starboard side. It sinks into the water and lifts it up to the unit.

Once I have a bucket of water filled with the “flush” water, we generally do a salinity test and then transfer the output to our tanks.

Finally I shut down the unit, pick up the hose overboard and put it in the flush water and then shortly afterwards, shut down again. The RO filter is flushed with 2.5 gallons of fresh water after each use. If you’re not going to run it for over 7 days then you must “pickle” the membrane but we haven’t gone that long without running it yet. Finally, we put it all away. The setup and put away only takes about 10 minutes.

Amazingly, the engine unit EASILY fit into the engine room through that Bowmar hatch I installed way back when. So the whole unit just sort of “disappears” after use.

Many cruisers that have come and looked on with interest at our setup have been confused about the Rainman because they’re used to electrical units and think the motor is a generator driving and electric pump. This is not so. The motor is a Honda GXH50 that is mounted via a belt directly to a high pressure pump. There is also a filter mounted to the unit itself. It is DEAD simple, which is why I love it.

So far the unit has run like a champ and in the warm tropical waters of La Providencia we are producing around 18.5 gallons/hr using around 0.20 gallons of gasoline. Not a bad trade at all!

At the time of our purchase the Petrol Unit with the “Economy RO” filter with hydrotester and all the other stuff you need costs us $5,125 plus shipping to Mexico.

I’ve included the pricelist of all their stuff and starred the items that we opted to buy (at the time of our purchase – approx May 2015).

Rainman Price List – US$
US$ (ex-duty, ex-tax)
Product RRP
PSU-E (230V or 115V) US$3,028
*PSU-Petrol US$4,163
RO-High Output US$1,900
RO-Compact US$1,725
*RO-Economy US$939
Pressure Washer Gun US$148
*5 Cartridges US$36
*COM80 Hydrotester US$55
Jabsco Impeller US$31
Flow Gauge US$305

Here is a link to their products page – Rainman Products Page

And all this in a nick of time because as it turns out, pressure water is a “new” thing here on the island. Most people have roof fed cisterns and there is no “public” water source readily available. Taking it from people would be like stealing their precious water. So we’re thanking our lucky stars that Rainman came out with their product at the right time and we ordered it before heading down here or else it might have been salt water showers for us!

I know you guys are thirsting for gear reviews. I’ve promised I’d do a full gear review of everything at 6 months cruising, but this one was so exciting that I couldn’t wait. Plus it is a good reminder, never ship anything to Mexico!

Providencia, CO ~ by sea

To be perfectly honest we didn’t know much about Providencia before we arrived. Come to think of it we didn’t know much about Isla Mujeres either…maybe it’s a trend? All it took was hearsay of this beautiful place and a few photos of lush green mountains over 100 miles from the nearest land mass to motivate us to up the anchor in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and take to the sea, hoping one day to explore this exotic island. We dropped anchor a bit over 2 weeks ago now and I can definitely say this island hasn’t disappointed.

The exchange rate through the ATM, including the bank fee, is 2,400 pesos to $1USD. I get a much higher exchange of 2,600 to 1 if I use my Chase Sapphire Card which the grocery stores don’t mind taking. The groceries are a good price and eating at the local “restaurants” are economical (read $18 for two dinner plates and 4 beers). The check in (covers checkout) fee was $150 USD or 320k in Colombian pesos (roughly $130 USD) and is easily done by calling Bush Agencies on the VHF Channel 16 when you arrive. You then go into town and “up the hill” to Mr. Bush’s place. He can tell you anything you want to know about the island.

The anchorage is free and there is internet available via SIM card for around $20 a month for 3GB. One thing I wish we had brought with us was a Mifi type wifi thing that takes a SIM card and will act as an internet hot spot on your boat. They make these as stand alone devices or as USB dongles. Essentially we get internet through the cell service here. We were lucky as the internet lady must have pitied our sorry state and let us borrow her one and only wifi SIM card reader. She simply asked we return it. NO Problem Senora…you can’t buy anything like that on the island.

The island has much to offer in the way of land services and adventures but that is for another post.

I think more than what the island has to offer on land is what the waters surrounding Providencia, CO hold under their multi colored blue surface. Lots and lots of snorkeling sites (diving as well if you want to go deeper) all within dinghy range. We were excited to see the underwater coral here in the area that has the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world with something like 20 miles of reef protecting this island.

Unfortunately Tate’s brand new snorkel mask we bought in Key West at Diver’s Direct leaks. We always attributed this his mustache but while we were here we switched masks and determined indeed it leaks even on me! I was however able to buy another mask from the very limited selection here so now we can both snorkel again. Diver’s Direct said they’ll refund us the money if we ship it back from Panama, kudos to their customer service. In retrospect I would have brought a couple of masks. From the water the porta-bote isn’t the easiest to get in and out of. Honestly it’s actually hard…but it’s amazing how well you do with what you have.

You could swim for days around here and still not see it all. I’m no coralologist but I’ve been told that many of the coral species are native just to this island. There are tons of coral heads so deceptively close to the surface that delight the eyes but send a shiver down a sailor’s spine…imagine one wrong turn off the channel in this place, YIKES!

Living around the mounds and mounds of coral are lots of fish.


Small Cowfish…
Baby Cowfish

Up to bigger fish like this Black tip reef shark that swam about 30 feet away from me during one of our dives. This is the first time I’ve seen a shark like this wild in the water and surprisingly I wasn’t >that< scared. He was about 5 feet I think and seemed uninterested in me, besides there's nothing I could have done except grin and bear it and in hind sight I feel lucky to have seen it. I have a general rule of thumb with animals. Bigger than me is pretty frightening but smaller not so much. I imagine I would have felt differenct about an 8 foot reef shark in the water with me...

Squid hilariously swimming backwards through the water, giving me the stink eye.

Nice sized brain coral with perfectly formed pathways on top.

The perspective of the island from the dinghy is quite spectacular. You get a sense that you are really out in the wild this far away from land.

One time out diving Tate got hooked! You see a fellow on a boat in the anchorage, Steve and Vicki SV Tango, likes to spearfish and one day came over with some wonderfully cleaned fish as a gift for us. YUM!

Wouldn’t you know that yet another boat in the anchorage had an old speargun they never use and offered it to Tate to use while he is here. With a little tender loving care the speargun was revitalized and everyday Tate looks forward to going out and bringing home his dear wife something delicious to cook.

The very first fish Tate speared was a nice sized grouper (bottom left of the bowl). Since he has speared a couple of Yellowtail Snappers and as we speak is out in the dinghy trying to feed me.

We’ve been absolutely so busy with spearfishing, swimming and exploring the island with other boats in the anchorage that I almost feel as if I need a break from all the activity. Tate and I are really having a blast here and are in no hurry to leave. Hopefully we’ll stay another month at least so Tate can sharpen up his fishing skills in anticipation for Panama and the islands of Bocas del Toro and the San Blas. I think we are finally getting the hang of this cruising thing.

EDIT: Tate’s catch of the day. Definitely going to invest in a better speargun in Panama:)
Tate spears a lobster

(We are almost out of our 3GB internet card so I apologize if there is a delay in responding to comments)

Sailing is a Contact Sport

“After being delayed over two months in Isla Mujeres I felt like all we were talking about was how much we were looking forward to leaving. It’s not that we didn’t like it there but the trip around the world is long and there are many wonderful places we have yet to see, like our current trip South. We had to skip many places like Belize’s atolls and the Honduras Bay islands in order to get out of the hurricane area. The island of Providencia is 550 miles away from Isla and going there is very exciting.

If we can make enough easting we can ease into life there and not have to worry about getting stuck so to speak on the Rio or the Bay Islands with bad winds forcing us to motor long distances. The idea of sailing across the Caribbean Sea is magical. It’s what childhood dreams are made of and here we are making it happen! The night starts with the moon up the sky high and bright and as it sets the stars come out, each one brilliantly illuminated. I wish I could take a picture and show it to my loved ones so we could share in this moment of beauty.” ~ Excerpt from my (Dani) diary May 29th, 2015 about 150 miles away from Isla Mujeres, Mexico in the Caribbean Sea.

After successfully completing our longest and most difficult passage yet I wanted to reflect and share in more detail how the nearly 700 mile trip from the island of Isla Mujeres, Mexico to the island of Providencia, Colombia went…before my memories are replaced with all of the fun activities here on the island. (I apologize for the length but I feel it’s all part of the story)

The week leading up to the passage we looked intently at the weather, sometimes multiple times per day, looking for any sign that the winds might be favorable enough for us to sail straight to Providencia instead of going to Guatemala or even the Bay Islands of Honduras. June 1st and Hurricane season was fast approaching and even though Guatemala was top on the list to visit on this side of the Caribbean (and so also a top motivator for heading West and not East to the Lesser Antilles) our time with that place had passed and we wanted to make the most of our sail if we were going to sail a long while. We’ll catch up with Guatemala on the West Coast or perhaps later in life.

Preparing Sundowner for a long passage is a bit of an endeavour. We have to fill the diesel and water tanks with jerry jugs, provision the boat with supplies from the well stocked Chedraui in Isla with items like rice, beans, flour, popcorn, oatmeal, peanut butter, bread, honey, nuts, skittles (very important), apples, jicama, 30 fresh eggs and as much liquor as we could manage. Through good budgeting all of this was done within our $1,500/month budget.

I washed any laundry to prevent mold growth and then we stowed the boat. We put most bedding and extra cushions in the vberth and I covered them with a fleece blanket to protect them from salt spray. In the salon I covered the starboard side setee with a waterproof cover along with our pillows before covering them with sheets and pillow cases. Everything else was put into cabinets and securely packed. We have to do this or things will go flying around the boat as soon as we are out in the open water.

Our uniforms for the trip consisted of bathing suits for outside and well, depending, not much else inside. The jacklines were run down the sides of the boat and we pulled our life jackets and harnesses out of the hanging locker. This minimal gear was a far cry from the equipment donned when we raced at 5 knots from New Orleans to Key West in the bitter cold last Janaury. It’s been getting hotter and hotter down here as the summer months approach and this passage was by far the warmest.

The night before we left we hoisted and dismantled the dinghy and stowed the rest of the deck. I also took my first seasickness pill, 25 mg of Meclazine. I would take one every four hours for the rest of the trip. Sleep was deep and easy. I think my body knew I’d need it for the days ahead. We didn’t set any kind of arbitrary time line, like 7am bright and early, and instead went the natural route. Neither Tate nor I are very early morning people so we just woke up whenever, had coffee, checked the weather and finally took off around 2pm.

The motion of the boat increased the further away from our protected anchorage we got and as soon as we got around the tip of Isla Mujeres we were in the nice ocean swell we’ve come to love so much more than the short choppy waves of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. We hadn’t yet decided if we were going to hug the coast and go to the West of Cozumel before heading East. Captain Red Beard (Tate’s beard is turning red in the sun) said we should let the wind tell us where to go so we set a course as hard on the breeze as possible and it carried us almost directly East, sometimes even Northeast. We basically stayed hard on the breeze the entire trip, making for a beat.

The motion of a beat in our boat is not the most comfortable. The boat is usually heeled over to some degree and taking waves from the tack side forward quarter. Any unusual or larger waves cause the boat to lunge and lurch uncomfortably off it’s normal uncomfortable motion. This coupled with a backwind effect on the Airhead vent (filling the cabin with an unpleasant “organic” odor) and warm temperatures led to a few days of me being on the verge of seasickness even though I took medicine religiously. Tate was wearing a Scopolamine patch but after being on the bow of the boat and raising all of the sails he also was on the verge of seasickness though not as long.

The boat down below was essentially on lock down for the whole trip which means the forward hatch and all the portlights needed to stay shut to prevent water from splashing inside. This made for warm temperatures…hence the lack of a uniform. The little 747 Caframo fans though were worth their weight in gold and when off watch we situated two, one blowing on the upper body, the other on the lower body. Yep it was that warm, close to 90 degrees inside the boat during the day.

The motion of the boat down below seemed much more exaggerated than on the deck, I supposed because in the cockpit you are mostly sitting with the winds blowing through your hair while down below you are walking, on a constant angle (heeling) in a stuffy and somewhat smelly boat. When off watch each of us would get into the berth with the lee cloth raised as quickly as possible. We have a hearty supply of ear plugs onboard that make sleeping much easier. I have to say though the sounds of the boat below this time weren’t nearly as harsh as they were or as I remember during our Gulf of Mexico crossing. Maybe I’m getting more used to it or maybe the 3-4 knots we traveled this time versus the 5-6 knots we traveled back then makes the difference. The waves and the winds on this trip also weren’t as high.

Our beloved windvane Buddy steered a great course which allowed Tate and I to take longer and more natural feeling watches. We never liked the 3on/3off watch schedule we’ve always heard about and even on the Gulf Crossing our watches were 6-7 hours. This sail across the Caribbean tops them all though with most of our watches lasting 8-12 hours. Seriously a third or half the day was spent on watch while the other person had a very good rest.

It was exciting to get to man the boat all by ourselves. We had the freedom to tweak the sails/windvane to try to get the most out of our shift. When the other person would come on watch we’d share the progress or lack there of and “hand over the keys” so to speak. The conditions weren’t very bad though and this seemed doable. We really just go with the flow and do what our bodies tell us. The watch is an “active” watch that includes looking around the boat every 15 minutes, checking the course and making adjustments.

Now back to sailing being a contact sport…I’d love to say we just set the windvane like back in New Orleans and poured some drinks while she steered a straight course as hard on the breeze as possible, but that wouldn’t be true.

We actively sailed the HELL out of Sundowner to eek around the tip of Honduras eventually landing in Providencia. Each watch was filled with sail and windvane adjustments as the winds, waves and the damned Gulf Stream current conspired to force us to Roatan. It’s a very good thing we raced for a couple of years with Glenn back on SV Quest because without the knowledge of how to really get every inch out of the sails, especially in the light winds we were having I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have made it sailing alone.

Before the last 13 hours to make it straight East to Providencia we had only run the motor for 17 hours during the previous 6 days. The engine burns about 0.75 gallons an hour so for the whole trip we supposedly burned only 22.5 gallons of diesel equating to a bit over $100 dollars. It was worth it to us. We ran the motor one time when the wind completely died and we couldn’t make any progress against the current in the right direction and then again to get through a line of squalls that seriously messed up any wind that was around.

Depending on the height and frequency of the waves trying to push us West we had to adjust the sails and windvane “just so” so that the boat would pick up speed and slice through the waves rounding up into the wind when possible giving us our most efficient point of sail, even if it was off the breeze slightly. The right setting could mean the difference between 3 knots and 4.5 knots (HUGE).

Simply setting the windvane to steer as close to the breeze as possible had the boat bashing head first into the waves slowing us to a snails pace and allowing the Easterly waves to push Sundowner further off course. Then of course the winds would change and tiny adjustments would need to made again. Sometimes the sails as tight as possible worked best, sometimes a bit looser worked best. I’m sure this has a lot to do with our old and baggy sails, not to mention we are HEAVY with supplies, water and fuel. You could feel the increased weight of Sundowner trudging slowly and fatly through the water.

Most times our Main and Jib were at different angles. What seemed to work best was the main a bit tight to the center of the boat with the jib let out slightly, this allowed the jib to pick Sundowner up and over waves instead of surging heavily down into them. Halfway through we also put the Staysail up which picked up 0.5 knots or so even though it made the back edge of the jib flutter back and forth. The increased speed was worth that motion on the jib to us and we left it up for the remainder of the trip.

During the last half of the trip squalls played an important role in our sailing ability. They would build up with black clouds and lightning in the distance and like black holes would suck Sundowner towards them, many times at a very favorable angle like 110 degrees (best we could manage was 140-175) but if we allowed ourselves to be pulled full speed ahead into the center we’d find the boat overpowered, in the rain and eventually left with no wind but lots of waves once it passed overhead. After learning the way of the squalls we were able to let the sails out some and set a course off the breeze in order to skirt just around the outside and closer to our destination. These adjustments and sailing around squalls lasted many watches and was tiring for sure. Let the sails out, change the windvane, pull the sails in…wait that’s too much, let them back out. All of this of course at that sweet monohull heel.

So there were the sail adjustments and then there was the “wet factor”. After the first two days conditions on deck turned to the sea. I like to think that sailing in the open ocean puts us at one with nature, truly though it does as often the ocean over the front and side ends up in the cockpit soaking us and any cushions outside. Luckily we’ve been here before and only use waterproof pillows and such. The reclining Sport-a-Seat chairs were golden though and the best watch spot was on the low side hugging the rail, one with the boat and many times the ocean. We have little drop boards that slide down in between the gunwales and the cabin top just forward of the cockpit that keep a great deal of water from shipping back but regardless it’s a wet ride. At the end of every watch we’d wring our bathing suits out, rinse off with a rag and water before going below to the bunk.

The first few days the motion of the boat was easy enough to deal with. I found myself constantly bracing myself against this, that and whatever I could grab or put a foot on. I found out very well what the sloped floor edges in the Westsail are for. After many days of this my muscles and joints got a bit tired and I even developed a kind of tennis elbow in my left arm from bracing myself while moving about, in the head and also cooking. On the last day I was happy to be almost to our destination so I could put my body to rest. I also collected a healthy amount of bruises from being thrown around the cabin and deck as the boat jerked from side to side. It’s a good thing I have strong bones or I wouldn’t have faired as well. I hope the longer ocean crossings aren’t a constant beat.

Cooking was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t prepare any meals before we left so everything we ate needed to be prepared on spot, this lead to less than gourmet eating but it was more than sufficient. In the beginning we didn’t eat much but crackers, granola bars, oatmeal, some ramen noodles, apples, jicama and greek yogurt. Each day whenever there was any kind of a lull in the heeling I’d boil a full kettle of water and pour it precariously into our Bunn Carafe (one the the most used housewares on the boat). Mostly this was a two person operation but we managed alright without scalding ourselves too badly. This hot water was then used to make multiple cups of tea, oatmeal and also the ramen. It’s really nice to have hot water “on demand” so I highly recommend a hot water carafe of some sort.

About mid way into the trip I boiled half the eggs and made a huge tuna and egg salad which I stored in the fridge. We ate on that for 3 days and had boiled eggs left over for snacks. On the last night I cooked the rest of the eggs properly on the stove and we had a delicious creamy last supper complete with a dark and stormy, my only alcohol for the journey. Cooking the eggs required the stove to be gimballed and me to stand at a very bent angle. It’s not easy I’d say and in any worse conditions would be pretty impossible. Tate did all of the sail raising/lowering while I prepared all of the food and coffee/tea.

Three days into the trip Tate needed to switch from the patch (usefulness is gone after 3 days) to the Scopace pills we have. I continued to take Meclazine every 4 hours without issue though the medicine does make me feel a little weird and a bit more tired than usual. I had tried mid way to get my “sea legs” but I always had a twinge of seasickness lurking even with the pills so I dare not get off of them. I would say it was successful trip, neither of us got sick and we were fully functional crew members. I still very much look forward to the day when I can sail without medicine. Surely I’ll get used to it during the 30-40 day passage across the Pacific. I really hope so because I can’t imagine taking that much medicine (180-240 pills!).

Tate mostly read his Paperwhite Kindle in a ziplock and I mostly listened to my Ipod during watch time. I’m not going to lie…I really love passage taking. There is so much time to think and also rest the mind. After a while the motion of the waves and the sound of the boat sailing through them became hypnotic. I’ve never experienced anything like it but for about 8 hours on the second to last day I felt like I was in a trance. The same noise of the ocean and waves, day after day, barely changing. I felt like I was floating somewhere outside of my body. Has this every happened to anyone else? Out there on the water you are alone with Mother Nature and Neptune. The Sun rises and sets, the moon travels across the sky followed by the stars. The waves and water forever move along in an endless motion that is the ocean.

It’s absolutely incredible to see and be part of it. Nothing else in my life comes close to it except the times when I was a little girl riding on my dad’s fishing skiff for an hour or so through the marsh lands of Louisiana. The motor drowned out the ability to talk so the only thing left to do was feel the motion of the boat cutting through the water, watch the various birds fly across our path and just be there in nature.

On the 7th day of sailing we cranked the motor and motorsailed as long as we could before dropping everything to set a course straight for the majestic island of Providencia that I had heard so many people talk about over the years. Our eyes were glued on the horizon for any sight of the mountains peeking up over the horizon.
Providencia Columbia from sea

Finally Tate spotted the island and we watched it grow bigger over the next 5 hours until we could could see the details of palm trees and rock faces that made up the sides of beautiful green mountains. Clouds gathered around the peaks and the water turned lighter blue as we approached the anchorage. The sight was just as awesome as I had imagined it would be.

We had made it! A trip like this was something we dreamed about back in our early refit days. Setting out free as doves across the water in search of exotic and beautiful places. It was the fuel that kept us working on Sundowner, the fuel that fanned the fires of the future and what could possibly be, what now actually is.
Sundowner at anchor in Providencia