The legendary Webb Chiles checks in…
Nine tall palm trees swaying in the wind visible through the companionway in our slip at Shelter Cove Marina, on the Caribbean side of Panama. A cooling breeze blowing through the forward hatch.
A passage is a problem to be solved with intelligence, preparation, planning, experience, perseverance, imagination, and our bodies.
Part 1, sailing from Hilton Head Island to Panama, of the three part puzzle of finishing GANNET’s circumnavigation has been solved, and maybe Part 2, getting the little boat to the Pacific, which may leave only sailing the 3,000 miles to windward to San Diego. Nothing to it. Or maybe there is.
On the Yellowbrick track the sail from Hilton Head mostly appears methodical and easy. It wasn’t.
The morning I left Hilton Head Island’s Skull Creek Marina, the temperature was 37º when I got up, rising to a balmy 41º when I sailed off the dock at 9:10.
Although that is probably the coldest weather I have sailed in since my first rounding of Cape Horn more than forty years ago, I had on several layers of clothes and my foul weather gear to block wind and was quite comfortable. In fact those first ten miles sailing the Intracoastal on the landward side of the island were the best of the passage
Two days later we were blown back west fifty miles lying ahull for nineteen hours in a gale. My wind instruments had already died but after arriving in Panama I learned that my estimate that the wind was between 40-45 knots was accurate when a reader of my online journal who was following my Yellowbrick track and checking weather online wrote that Windy showed 43 knots at GANNET’s position.
A few days later the Bahamas became a dangerous lee shore that I could keep off of only by bashing north, when we wanted to go south. The wind was only 25-30 knots and the waves only 8’-10’ but they were steep and close together and they stopped the ultra-light little sloop dead. I could not tack in less than 170º.
Before a passage people often ask what I am going to do and I reply that I am going to do what the wind lets me do.
I wanted to sail well east of all the Bahamas, but strong shifting wind headed us and we were forced to sail west of San Salvador where I spent a mostly sleepless night frequently on deck in rain adjusting sheet to tiller steering, a second tiller pilot having died, When at 3 am I thought we were finally clear and slept for an hour in foul weather gear, I woke to find the wind had changed again and we were sailing directly toward Rum Cay.
The next afternoon a rather exhilarating line squall caught me in the cockpit, fortunately in foul weather gear, where I furled the jib and played the mainsheet for sixteen minutes—I timed it—as GANNET slashed along at 10 and 12 knots.
I finally cleared the Bahamas by the Crooked Island Passage and two nights later we sailed the Windward Passage at the east end of Cuba.
Almost always all the way from Hilton Head to Panama I was dodging land and ships.
There are traffic separation lanes in the Windward Passage. I sailed between them using one of the two remaining tiller pilots to keep a compass course. Just after sunset there was a parade of cruise ships, heading I presumed for Jamaica. I raised a glass to my fellow seafarers. One of the cruise ships came so close that I turned a flashlight on GANNET’s jib.
That tiller pilot died the next day and I saved the last for the approach to Colon, Panama.
In addition to the tiller pilots and wind instruments, the port pipe berth sheered all the pop rivets attaching it to the hull.
During the passage, several waves came without warning and at right angles to the prevailing wave pattern and slammed into and sometimes over the hull. They were not big, but big enough, and I kept finding unexpected blood on my clothes from gashes I did not realize I had from being thrown around although I am usually wedged in place.
The day’s runs add up to 1652 miles and a lot of those miles were hard earned.
GANNET is going to do a portage. Portages are honorable. Chicago was founded on a portage.
No yacht having come forward to offer to tow GANNET all the way through the canal, which it is not certain the canal authorities would have permitted, an agent obtained a quote for a professional tow of $6,000. GANNET only cost $9,000, though I have put multiples of that amount into her. Probably on tiller pilots alone.
So the Shelter Bay Boat Yard is making arrangements for the little boat to be trucked across. the truck alone will cost $900. There will be additional charges to lift GANNET from the water and put her into the Pacific at Flamingo Marina, and to build a cradle on the truck for her. Once all the costs are added up, It is going to be an expensive truck ride. About $100 a mile.
The portage will not take place until next week at the earliest. The cradle is being built and GANNET is scheduled to be hauled from the water on February 22.
GANNET’s daily runs since leaving San Diego in 2014 now add up to 26,680. She has sailed farther than that and by the time she reaches San Diego again, assuming she does, the total will be more than 30,000 miles.
Here is a screen shot from iNavX of the Panama Canal. The distance from the locks on the Caribbean side to entering the Pacific Ocean is about thirty miles. Transiting from the Caribbean to the Pacific, a boat moves about twenty-five miles south and twenty miles east.
It is a matter of opinion as to whether those twenty to thirty miles by land compromise a voyage of more than 30,000 miles. However I suggest that anyone who spends much time considering this should rethink their own lives first. You need to find better things to do.
Of opinions, only one actually matters to me.
I repeat a story about Abraham Lincoln presiding at a Cabinet meeting, during which an issue came to a vote. Everyone present voted, “Nay”, except Lincoln who voted “Aye” and then said, “The Ayes have it.”
I don’t believe that whether Webb Chiles has circumnavigated five times or six is of much importance.
If GANNET and I reach San Diego, I will say that I have circumnavigated six times. The “Aye’s” have it.