First off I'd like to thank Prudence Thiry, Claire Morda and Patty Bryan for their knowledge, wisdom, skill and time to help with this crossing. I would like to thank Steve for taking on this adventure with minimal sailing and boating experience, he has been amazing taking on all sorts of tasks, from fixing the heads to becoming the boat mechanic.
I have never personally undertaken this type of offshore voyage before so doing so as the captain of 5 required a lot of planning, stressing, weather watching, coordination and luck. I acquired the necessary western Caribbean sailing guides that cruisers consider the bible down here. I plotted the route based on these guides, watched the weather, where the currents are this time of year, and provisioned the boat.
We were set to leave on Sunday, the crew was arriving Saturday afternoon and of course our chart plotter decides to self implode on Friday. Thankfully this was Black Friday (and we were not already underway) and I got a sweet deal on a Garmin chartplotter from West Marine, but it had to be installed... our awesome electrician who had helped us out with some other issues in Key West (AIS, anchor light etc.) came to our rescue and took it home with him to refit for installation Saturday, nothing like waiting until the last minute.
Our crew arrived and while I would have liked to debrief and get last minute things done we instead dealt with the garmin installation while the ladies got last minute provisions.
We got up with daylight Sunday morning and Steve and I took the doggies to shore for the last time for several days, hit the fuel dock and headed out. It was a beautiful day with turquoise waters, we were out in the channel and went to raise the main (after having a new anchor light installed a couple of days ago). As we go to hoist the main we realize it's caught on the deck light and we try to use the wind and boat hooks to untangle it, all to no avail... not the best beginning.
I decide that Steve has to go up in the climbing harness to untangle it, with Prudence on deck to support. Steve has never been up the mast and we were not at dock, we were in three foot swells, but he knew what had to be done. I winch him up the mast and he was able to untangle it with the boat hook, not too terrible. He came back down only slightly terrified and we sailed the next 60 miles to south of Dry Tortugas. From there we turned South and had to turn the engine on as we were dead down wind and it was beginning to get dark.
Time for the first night watches.
As there were five of us we broke the watch up to two people every two hours rotation. Our first night was fairly uneventful. It's hard to describe being out in open water at night, no land around, no other ships and just blackness. We had the moon for a while, but when it set it was dark!
It was somewhat peaceful but also challenging because you can't see the waves or the direction they're coming from, or the foresail, you have to listen for it to luff and feel the wind on your face. As the sun came up the second morning we hoisted the main sail, only to realize quickly we were headed for a very nasty looking storm that was forming in our path.
We dropped the sail right away and changed direction towards Havana, where there was a patch of blue in the sky, while to the west of us the sky darkened and the lightning began. The wind and waves picked up and I found myself at the helm navigating 10-12 foot swells trying not to look at the sky behind us to see if it was catching up. All I can say is we got really lucky!
We sailed about 40nm out of the way to avoid that storm and it was absolutely worth it. I don't know how long I was at the helm, I know when I passed it to someone else I couldn't open my fingers because I was gripping the wheel so hard. Once we cleared the storm and the swells and wind died down some we raised the sails. It was mostly a downwind sail as the wind was coming from the north/ north east.
We hugged Cuba until we met back up with our course line. The next night was a little less peaceful as there were storms in the distance on both sides, you could see the lightning in the distance. We again sailed a course away from the storm, more difficult to see at night but we knew at least which way the wind was blowing them, not the most restful night with bigger seas and getting tossed about a bit. We reefed our sails every night before dark to be safe and I'm so glad we did. We didn't want anyone to have to go up on the deck at night if it could be avoided.
The next morning we noticed the engine temperature gauge was reading hot (like off the gauge hot), so we killed the engine and decided to sail at whatever speed we could make without the engine. We tried turning it on again much later and it was still reading hot so Steve took to troubleshooting it. He cleaned out the water strainer, changed the impeller, checked the oil, added coolant, nothing seemed amiss but it was still reading hot and we didn't want to kill the engine if it really was hot, so we decided to sail the rest of the way. We weren't going as fast, but we also didn't want to come into a strange marina at night so the slower speed was fine.
The final night was much calmer and was quite peaceful. The moon was reflecting off the water and it was beautiful. We arrived outside of Isla Mujeres Mexico around 3am so it was still dark and we had some time to kill. We hove to, but the current was still dragging us so we slowly started sailing in. The wind had pretty much completely died (we were going about 1-2knts) as the sun began to come up over Mexico.
We decided to get a tow into the marina since we weren't sure about the engine. I tried calling Boat US and couldn't get through, so I had my dad call from the states and have them call me. They were pretty useless even though I was told they would provide international coverage, ugh whatever. So I hailed the marina on the radio and they agreed to send someone out to tow us in. We were greeted by a family of dolphins outside the marina, we had seen several pods that surfed with the boat on the trip down as well as some turtles. Our new friend Felix came out and towed us in, an entertainment for everyone on the dock.
In total the trip was 400nm and took us 72 hours. Looking back it is a blur of beauty, peacefulness and exhilaration with a mix of scary, nausea, saltines and exhaustion. That being said I can't wait for the next leg. The doggies did remarkably well but are happy to be on land.
Our next weather window is approaching and we will being preparing for the next leg.
For now we are cozy in the marina, oh and the engine was just a faulty gauge, oh well, better safe than sorry.