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13-15th June08 Tehuantepec....'chute wants to be a drogue!

Sunday 15th June 08

Just shook out 2nd reef I put in mid-morning when the wind and seas got up quite strongly - thought I was in for a 'Tehuantepecker' but the most apparent wind I saw, close-reaching, was 26-28 knots (I began to think of putting in 3rd reef but it was not quite needed). The seas were really short and steep - and still are, even though the wind is right down now - makes for a very uncomfortable motion although at least we're not pitching headlong into the waves as we had been quite violently before, with seas regularly madly washing the decks. The wind has veered from the West of yesterday, when I had to tack several times to make headway against the seas, more towards the North and has now died down so much that we're back into motoring with a pretence of sailing.

This morning was full of incident - the asymmetric spinnaker/cruising chute/gennaker (call it what you like!!), that I had carefully tied down on deck since before my Canal Transit, decided to become a full-blown drogue. Just before the wind really got up, I noticed the sailbag dangling half over the side - ripped & empty! Then I realized that part of the reason we were heeling over so much just then (apart from building wind and seas) was that the sail was streaming down the leeward side of the boat, attached to the sailbag which was in turn well attached to the lifelines, a shroud and a stanchion.... and the sock was streaming astern near the surface, acting like a sea-anchor or drogue.... no wonder our speed was down! I'd been down below just before, downloading and looking at weatherfaxes, when I'd heard an odd noise & had come up on top to investigate. The sail in the bag had been getting regularly doused with water as waves broke on deck with our pitching motion in the short seas and had presumably become so heavy it had moved with the rushing water, managed to go over the side and its weight must have torn the bag apart!! Incredible!

The big problem for me then was getting the sock (full of water and very heavy, with our forward speed not helping) and chute back on board with the sailbag (all being tied together with the 'chute & sock lines) without getting it all hopelessly entangled in the lifelines while I was at it. The main chute wasn't too difficult to get up handful by handful, because it was loose enough not to hold too much water, but I had to leave it on the side deck while I dealt with the sock and bag & pray it stayed there! Luckily, I was able to reach down part way along the sock and tie a line around it to help me get it slowly back on board - I thought initially it was never going to come, there was such a force on it.. but eventually I got the sock into the cockpit and then finally managed to deal with the bag (which I'd tied on really well!). So now I have one very salty, wet spinnaker & torn bag on the cockpit floor - hopefully draining and drying so I can dispose of it some time soon. At least I didn't lose the sail (luckily, it was tied well to the sailbag inside or I would certainly have lost it), nor did I have to cut any of the lines to retrieve it!

With having had to tack regularly in the veering wind overnight, trying to make our best course, I'd not slept much anyway.. so by now I was really tired and lay down for a lovely snooze until my midday log!! Breakfast/lunch could wait!

I'd made the decision to go for the 'direct' route across the Tehuantepec, as opposed to staying in shallow water almost on the beach all around this enormous Gulf, after much deliberation - not a decision to be made lightly here... But weatherfaxes and grib files all consistently showed light winds for several days, almost no pressure gradient - which is what gives rise to the notorious Tehuantepec strong wind out of nowhere (despite high pressure in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas, it was fairly high here also),.... and the nearest Tropical Wave heading this way across the Caribbean was several days away - so no tropical storm/hurricane-formation fears for now, either. Of course, I'd not appreciated that even with just the sustained 15-20 knots that built up this morning, the fairly shallow waters kick up nasty seas in no time - but hopefully, that's finished with now - certainly the seas are far calmer with the wind having died down. (I wonder if that's partly due to the 'land-heating' effect - on-shore thermal effect over the day opposing the otherwise offshore (N/NW) pressure-gradient wind - or did we just experience a 'mini T-pecker'?)

I left Quetzal on Friday 13th (!!), after refuelling, 'desayuno' and a lovely long shower, and stayed fairly close to shore in just 10-12m depth almost all the way. As night fell, there was the smell of wood fires coming from the typical Mayan groups of thatched-roofed structures which occurred at intervals among the greenery backing onto the long brown/grey sandy shore with surf breaking onto it. The current was foul for nearly 100 mls but gradually reduced, and soon after midnight, it had turned and was fair from then on all through Saturday when my course was not far from the coast. Today, it was foul all day but now it's weak but fair yet again - I wonder if the west-going current follows the coastline and, by cutting across, that's why I lost it. Now, at sunset on Sunday, I'm 50 mls from Huatulco, whose passing will mark the end of this Tehuantepec crossing, and just under two days from Acapulco.

Yesterday also had its incidents, but pleasanter ones, over a very relaxed, sunny, calm day of motorsailing. I kept seeing turtles passing by going the opposite way - several large brown ones with a long, high shell (leatherbacks??) and a couple of smaller ones, light-greenish and cream in colour. As I passed the border from Guatemala into Mexico, I heard the Puerto Madero Costa Garda calling repeatedly on VHF - in Spanish. Eventually, after listening carefully to the position of the boat they were hailing, I decided to respond - maybe it was me they were trying to talk to..? It was! They were some distance away (nearly 20 miles) but must have seen me on their radar. In response to their questions, I gave my position, British sailing yacht "Nereida", told them where I was from (Panama & Quetzal) & going to (Acapulco) in a mix of English and Spanish. There was also a US Navy vessel heading in to that port but otherwise I felt I was the only boat in this part of the ocean. Soon after that, I was visited by a playful group of five dolphins and later on I actually enjoyed relaxing and lying in the warmth of the cockpit... - haven't done that for quite a time!

Written by : Mike

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