Passage Jamaica to Cayman Brac

by Glen

Friday 13 Mar: Leaving Jamaica (day 19) on 140nm passage to Cayman.

Ooh, Friday 13th! Maybe we should have just hibernated today. Let’s see if superstitions beat normality.
During breakfast we read the usual doom and gloom world news. This Convid-19 is starting to look very bleak. Especially in western countries where lock-down actions all seem to be very late in the taking. I was reading last night for instance that when China was at the stage France is at today, they had already been locked-down for well over a week. And predictions for each day’s lock-down delay are quite astounding with regards to % death rate. But being an engineer, the math does make sense. This is real. I guess it’s a good time to be isolated on a boat! Our own concern now (other than for aging relatives back at home) is how long will countries still allow us to enter. So we have decided to get to the Cayman’s, our next country, as soon as possible before any barriers come down there. Cayman feels like a good place to be marooned.

After breakfast we head ashore for customs and immigration check-out in the Montego Bay Yacht Club. It seems most of the yachts here are also leaving today, so it’s a bit of a queue to check-out. And while we are there filling multiple forms again, we find ourselves now very conscious of how close we physically come to other people – especially the lady from the catamaran, who is coughing! The check-out doesn’t take too long, and same as check-in it is completely free (apart from MBYC landing fee, $10/person/day) and authorities are very polite.
As soon as we are done we get back to Cloudy, pronto, and thoroughly wash our hands. But we don’t depart immediately. It’s a 140nm passage to Cayman Brac, the closest Cayman island. That’s too far to achieve in daylight hours, so we opt to depart early afternoon, with an ETA around breakfast time tomorrow. A short overnight passage, and I love night sailing. The wind looks good, 15kts ENE which will put us on a beam reach with the apparent wind, until it dies in the evening. Let’s hope the waves are not too big, because they will be side-on to us.

After posting the blog and getting the final weather forecast, we set off at 1pm. It takes a lot for Oana to finally get all the wads of mud off the chain using the deck-wash hose, as she raises the anchor. The anchor must have buried very deep into the mud these last days. As we motor out the harbour the wind is gusting 20kts. So we just put out 2/3 of the mainsail and fully reefed genoa until we are clear offshore, out of the gusts.
We set a course 325mag, aiming east of Cayman Brac. I want to do a banana track to the east, because strong katabatic winds will come from the Cuban mountains in the early hours tomorrow. When they hit us, we can then come off the wind and ride comfortably on a broad-reach to Cayman Brac. ETA shows 4am. Hmmm… a bit early. Let’s hope we do actually slow down during the night. We don’t want to arrive before dawn.

Soon we are in open water and, for now at least, we are ploughing along at top speed, 8-9kts. It’s so lovely to be sailing again. It seems like weeks since our last good sail, and the conditions really don’t get better than this on the open sea. The waves are only about 1m, the wind a lovely 14-19kts, and a pretty much cloudless sky with cooling breeze coming through the cockpit. We have kept the cockpit tent up in case it’s chilly tonight. And during the heat of the day it gives us a double barrier to the suns ray: bimini and tent. I know, you’d think the shade from the bimini alone would keep us cool, but in actual fact the intense sun on the bimini warms up the material which then radiates into the cockpit. So the more layers of shade the better.

The easterly trade wind has an acceleration zone around this corner of Jamaica and as we get 10-15 miles away from the land, it drops to 14-15kts. So we unfurl both sails allowing us to maintain top speed. And there we are, thundering along to the sound of the bow pushing through the waves, all afternoon.
As easy sailing as it is, Oana is not so comfortable. But she still insists on making lunch. It seems worth her while to get nauseous below decks, rather than have me messing up her galley! She really is a trooper when we are sailing. She never complains and always prepares food no matter how bad she feels.

We don’t get much of a sunset due to clouds on the horizon. But 30 minutes before sunset we do have quite a special display of shafts of sun light radiating through gaps in the clouds. Then it’s a very dark starry night. Venus is still very bright these days and sets with an orange glow into the sea at 9pm. On the south horizon there is the southern cross and to the north, the pole star. And all around us the stars go from horizon to horizon. One of the key delights of a moonless night sailing.

Since sunset the wind has been gradually decreasing. By 9:30pm it’s just 5kts at 150deg and we are barely doing 4kts. So engine comes on and we motorsail until midnight. We needed to make water and charge batteries anyway. But it doesn’t stay on for long. By 11pm the wind has shifted north at a steady 7kts. Just enough, and at the right angle, to be able to gently sail. So engine goes off just as the moon rises. And oh what a sail: moonlight on the sails and moving very nicely at the same speed as the wind (6kts in 6kts wind, then 7kt when wind increases by a knot). Just a perfect way to end the day.

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