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Pacific crossing, the first two weeks

October 5, 2012

02/09 – 16/09
miles to go (Las Perlas/Panama to Tahiti/Polynesia): 4.460
miles sailed: 1.592
minimum etmal (24hrs): 72nm
maximum etmal: 179nm

The first 10 days we spend with tacking in very little winds.
One day we manage to sail 72 miles but make only ONE mile towards our destination, frustrating.
The current always pushes us back towards Panama City and the wind is not enough to push us forward.
Thunderstorms follow us for the first week, black fronts, squalls out of every direction, rain. After the squalls there’s not a breeze! We still play ‘Panamanian Roulette’, will we get hit by lightning or not?
So we spend the days with playing with the sails, up, down, more, less, stormsail, no reef, 2nd reef, ….
At night it gets even more interesting. Lightning all around, does it come closer? Reef down? Leave the sails up? What? And strong rains, we get a huge dose of water while outside playing. And it is cold, we need fleecestuff and woolen socks, and a sleeping bag!
There’s only one day where we can actually sit outside without freezing or soaking.

The main adventure, it starts with a helicopter: After midnight, we’re on a southbound tack, heading towards Colombia.
It circles a couple of times, weird, gets very close and stays there, weirder. Then out of the dark night comes a looming black ship without any lights, scary. Are we in their way? What’s going on?
Behind us the ship stops, the helicopter bathes us in bright light and there comes a black inflatable with strong engines and 6 soldiers on board. First question: weapons?
And then there’s questions for another 30 minutes or longer. Good thing we made so many copies of our papers for the canal authority, we still have some.
We never ask who they are but it’s Americans for sure, we guess U.S. Coast Guard, and we are suspects for smuggling drugs or something else because we move South. And we don’t have lights on top of our mast as a proper sailing boat should have. But we have a swiveling mast, there are no lights on top. Where are we coming from? Portugal, suspicious, who goes that fast that far?
When did we go through the canal, 2,5 month ago, suspicious, how did we spend the time? They can’t know about our roof building project, yes, THAT took us so long!
WHERE have we been all this time in the pacific? And so on, meanwhile we continue sailing with about 4 knots in not too little seas and they follow close by with their inflatable, we feel sorry for them. It’s 2am!
But after a while they either believe us or just give up, they’ve been busy for over an hour, helicopter, speedboat, soldiers, can’t be cheap, all this for a small sailingboat, BUT we could have been smugglers or they could have been pirates, we’d never know. We are not sure if we feel safer or not.

Within the second week the wind shifts to a better direction, it gets more southerly and picks up, we still sail very hard on the wind and crash in every wave, but not in a completely wrong direction. They also get higher and are very short, not your normal pacific wave! We get tired of all this crashing, moving, noise, not sleeping, reefing in rainstorms, eating not enough because we don’t feel like eating, ….

At the end of the second week we have strong winds on the nose, with a tiny foresail and the second reef in the main we still make 9 knots…

And the technic begins to fail.
First the plate where the stay is connected to the deck breaks, all four 8mm screws just snip off and the plate goes flying.
We fix this by putting a rope on the closest cleat, in the morning we see that the cleat also broke and water came into the hull all night long, waves and rain.
Then a shackle from the stay breaks, then another one. It’s frightening because we have only one stay on each side to keep the mast upright. As soon as anything gets loose the mast starts shaking like crazy. And of course all of this happens at night.

The main question we have: WHY the hell are we doing this???

Seemingly the only nice part of our first two weeks is our small passenger.
A black bird with a curved beak lands in the outer cockpit, looks like a bat as it can’t start flying from the ground.
We put it on the lines beside the door. At night it sits inside beside the sink in a corner, we leave it there, early morning it’s gone and left a few reminders on pour clothes, must have moved around a bit.
Two nights later it’s back, or another one, and flies directly into the cockpit and sits on the floor. We put it in a basin, cover it up and let it sleep inside.
Early morning the same problem: it can’t start from the ground. It’s not shy at all but hops on an arm and tries to fly off.
It has only one swimming leg, the other is crippled, we are very far off land, what is it doing out here? Somehow it flies off or falls overboard, it’s gone while we are not looking.
But we see some more of those birds flying very close to the water, Galapagos is about 300 miles off, swimming birds hunting fish with a curved beak???

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