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January 23, 2011

The Thorny Path

After leaving Georgetown in the Bahamas and really getting our move on south to Panama on a route known as "The Thorny Path", we have arrived at the Leeward islands. The last 800 miles have been fighting our way south and east into the wind and large seas.

I made some good and bad decision on the way down:

Bahamas to Turks and Caicos

The weather window on the passage from the Bahamas to Turks and Caicos worked out well, it was a long sail close hauled for most of the passage. We sailed off into the darkness from Georgetown to Rum Cay arriving after dawn and took a short break to walk around the island, sailing off in the afternoon. Sailed overnight to Samona Cay by dawn passing just north as we maneuvered to avoid developing water spouts. Made our way passing just to the south side Mayaguana around dusk, slowed the boat down for timing and arrived at the channel just north of West Caicos with good light to enter the shallows. All told this segment went better then anticipated, we sailed about 57 hours (three nights, and half a day on land). Arriving at the Sapodilla Bay anchorage just before the next cold front arrived.

Turks and Caicos to Puerto Rico

After the cold front passed we headed south and then east staying in the shadow of the shallows of the Caicos, Mouchoir, Silver and Navidad banks. We had good sailing all the way down to the Mona Passage only needing to motor sail for a little bit when we got to close in to San Juan. I landed a really nice size Wahoo and Mikiko landed her first Mahi Mahi. The passage took about 74 hours non-stop and mostly on sail. Making it to Fajardo four days ahead of our new member arriving, my mom, who came to welcome in the New Year on GlobalHopper.

Puerto Rico to Virgin Islands

Sailing close hauled beating in big swells we had an invigorating day sailing to weather making it to our planned anchorage just before dark. Unfortunately it was a little to much for my kayaks as both took damage from the pounding. The next day since the wind was going to be all in the wrong direction and unstable mixed with rain squalls we opted for a slow motoring tour of the narrow passages and beautiful landscape of the virgin islands, with all the other boats doing the same. We moved from anchorage to anchorage using the Jib.

BVI to St Martin

The weather report was for 20kts from the north east and switching to east in 24 hours blocking our path, seas were still in the 2-4m range as they had been for a few weeks but would reduce later in the week. So, we snorkeling and took time to have a nice dinner and nap before heading off into the darkness of the overnight passage. I estimated we should arrive around noon and I could take my mom to Rosemary's in Marigot for lunch. I put one reef in the main sail and Mikiko and I pull the anchor, we were off. The wind was blowing and sea were calm as we made our way our into deep water, it was the magical world of darkness and stars that we love, until we passed the end of the Virgin Island and we got the full effect of the giant swells. Then it all went to hell, at 3am Mikiko was on watch and the boat was closed hauled and beating at about 10kts into 25kt wind with large swells hitting us just a bit off the port bow when she saw a lights in the distance. She called me up to check and see what I thought about the direction and distance, I looked at it for a few moments and we were on a collision course with a large four masted hotel ship. I went to the VHF Radio and made repeated calls for the ship, with no response we quickly started the engines and rolled up the Genoa, loosed the main and made a 90 degree turn. At this point the main started to get over powered and I ran forward and dropped the main and boom on the deck, watching the hotel ship pass about 200 feet off our stern. We slowed the boat down to secure the sail and get a moment of clarity in the darkness, then motored the rest of the way to St Martin. The biggest mistake I have made since we started sailing was this passage. The remnants of this action almost got us killed and made our guest crew member (my mom) sick as a dog for the entire passage. The correct move was the one in the back of my mind, put mom on a small Island hopper plane to make her flight, instead I broke the first rule of cruising: Schedules Kill Sailors.

Next Steps

Well, we have been working on installing new some new equipment that might help us find target vessels and be seen by hotel ships and moving warehouses. The new AIS system will send off our information (Name, Speed, Size and Direction) and collect information from other boats with AIS as all large boats must have AIS installed, but are not required to have it turned on (Oh, Joy!!).... We now have a new radar that seems to find boats and other objects, this is much better than the old radar that seemed to only find and track rain clouds.

All in all, the experience of The Thorny Path has left us wondering if we are ready to make the passage to the Pacific. We have a lot of thinking to do and at this moment, two and a half weeks later, we are at a complete impasse as to what direction we go from here. We have not given up on the plan of going to Japan, but we are debating if it's the correct decision for this season.