Ocho Rios to Montego Bay

by Glen

Saturday 7 Mar, Jamaica day 13: Motorsail 50nm to Montego Bay, where we anchor next to the yacht club.

Oana is up before our alarm, making breakfast. Outside the air is lovely and cool and not a breath of wind. As forecast, it looks like it will be a motoring passage all the way to Montego Bay. We lift the anchor at 7:30am and have breakfast as we motor away from Ocho Rios. Until we get into deeper water we have to do a fair bit of fishing float avoidance. And we pass several fishermen in their small boats servicing their fish traps. Most don’t even have an engine and are using pieces of split bamboo as paddles, 1nm offshore. It’s quite a contrasting sight to the luxury hotels that line the shore. As we pass the place where Dunn Falls cascade into the sea we note it is devoid of visitors at this time in the morning. What a great time it would be to visit them right now … if we were allowed.

As we steadily motor west along the coast, we have the mainsail out to steady us in the gentle swell. The sea is mirror calm so we get a cooling 7kts of breeze (the boat speed) through the cockpit. At 11am the northerly breeze kicks in at 4-6kts and we unfurl the genoa too. That lasts for about an hour then the wind drops again and the genoa backs, slowing us down. So it gets furled away again. While it’s out I spot an area in the lower luff where the inner fabric of the laminate has failed. A rip is starting 🙁 And we debate whether we should spend more money on a sail over haul (likely very expensive with labor costs in the USA) or maybe we should bite-the-bullet and buy a new set from Elvstrom, Denmark, while we can have an ex-VAT price, easy deliver to the USA and very low US import duty (only 2%). Also not to have to worry about them falling apart on us in mid ocean would be good. Hmmm, more thoughts needed on that one. So far, I’ve really liked these sails. After 12 years and 25,000 miles their strong EPX laminate still holds its shape and I’d kind of deemed them bullet-proof, till now. If we get a new set, I would want the same assurances on material strength. Maybe a trip to Denmark is needed, to see the materials first hand.

Back to the passage: as we motor-sail along the coast, every few miles, wherever there is a beach, there is a large hotel complex. And the hills behind them seem to be very green and unspoiled. As we pass each one we look on Google Maps to see their names: Hyatt, Hilton, Four Seasons, Mango, etc. Several of them have a golf course either beside or on the hills behind them. We declare this part of the coast looks very clean and civilized. We also start to see the air traffic coming and going from Montego Bay airport. Flights are taking off and landing every minute it seems. Clearly a lot of tourist traffic at this end of the island.
Still on the subject of flights, as we approach the incoming flight path I start to see small whirlwinds on the water surface, about 30 seconds after a landing plane passes over head. So we quickly furl away the mainsail to avoid any strong air turbulence caused by vortex of the aircraft wings. It’s actually surprising that we are allowed to navigate so close to the end of the runway, especially with our 82ft mast. The planes feel awfully low to me! But we are soon passed without mishap.

As we enter Montego Bay harbour the scene of the town is on our port side. The glamour of the hotels shoreline has certainly disappeared, replaced with less attractive old developments and shipping docks. I call the dock master at the Montego Bay Yacht Club to ask if we can anchor in the Brouge Bay to the south, which has perfect shelter. But he says anchoring is no longer allowed there unless it needs to be used as hurricane protection. The police or coast guard are likely to move us. And in any case, it seems maximum draft for the entrance is only 7ft (we draw 8ft), not that this would ever stop me from trying 🙂
He instead advises where to anchor near the yacht club dock. I’m sure it’s going to be pretty choppy sea there for the next 2 days, but it seems we have no choice. We manage to anchor in the only space possible, right where he told us. And, for now at least it’s quite calm.

Before the winds arrive we fly the drone while we have the chance. As usual, the view from up high both sets the scene for our videos and also informs us what is around us. We see the peninsula where the yacht club is located has lots of smart condos and hotel complexes on the seaward side. If we can blag our way into them we might have ourselves a pampering day or two!

After lunch and before it gets dark we head ashore to the yacht club. Same as the Royal Kingston Yacht Club, it looks like it has seen better days. The last marked dates on any of the trophies are 2012 and sailing photos on the walls show faded yacht racing with boats from the 1980s design era. Today the small marina is mostly filled with tatty motor boats. There are however a line of J22s stored ashore and a pile (literally) of laser Picos going green with lack of use. The interior of the club is also dated but quite pleasant. However, it’s a Saturday afternoon and we can only see staff around. No apparent members. Bit sad really, because I’d always wanted to visit the “prestigious” Montego Bay Yacht Club and it’s not as I imagined it.

After our quick look around, we head out into the street. Right has high walls, left has high walls. We chose left. After a few hundred meters we are surprised to find a break in the wall leads to a Hard Rock Cafe. And this one has a beach club too. So we walk in and onto their beach. The HRC pool and beach are nothing to shout about but it does give us access to the beach, from where we walk along. And the next resorts are much more up Oana’s alley! Beautiful resorts and pools, and while they have security guards everywhere, no one is stopping us for once. Oana declares we are not to leave Montego Bay till I’ve paid her back for her lost day pass to Sandals resort in Nassau. And I declare that we need to get back to Cloudy as the wind has started!

Back in the anchorage the boats are now really jogging around. The wind is up and the bay has become very choppy. The waves seem to be bouncing off the nearby cruiseliner dock making the bay very uncomfortable. Pffff, and this is only the start of the wind! One good thing though, no need for mosquito screens or the AC this evening. A cooling gale is already blowing through the boat.
Let’s see how we manage to sleep tonight. Not sure we are going to be happy campers in the morning. By bed time, the wind is gusting 25kts, the whole boat is bouncing around like crazy and to say it sounds like someone is manically playing drums on the underside of our berth would be an understatement. My bed will be in the saloon tonight, for certain.

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