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Sailing from Martinique to San Blas

April 05, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

22 February - 2 March: 24 hours into our first long passage double-handed and, the kids observed, "it's just like crossing the Atlantic, except without Helen and Harley!" Running the motor occasionally to charge the batteries, our port engine spluttered and ground to a halt almost immediately. It was the same problem as last time: the Volvo electronic controller (MDI) packed it in again. Volvo keeps denying there's a problem, but everyone we know with new boats has had at least one failure, some have had as many as seven. Over the next few days it would come to life now and again temporarily, but when it finally gave up the ghost, my heart sank. If the starboard engine went too, we would be at the mercy of the elements for sure. The sea state was confused, very rolly waves, so none of us felt that great physically for the first few days, but, engine aside, we were in very good spirits just being together on this new adventure, and they were raised further on the third day, as we raised our new gennaker foresail. It was the replacement that sailmakers Incidence had provided us with free of charge, after all the trouble we had on the Atlantic crossing with the previous one. The sail now furls and unfurls like a dream, so the children were able to get involved as well, which gave them a real sense of purpose and pride. It also helped distract Francis, who suffers most from seasickness, and who would often sit out on the bow with Isabelle afterwards, talking to Xav about wind angles, knots and sailing. I loved watching those parent and child bonding moments, it's what I signed up for. 

Meanwhile Catherine was adamant that if she wasn't strong enough to winch a sail in, she would join in the night watch. She felt very grown up, sitting in the cockpit with me, looking out at the stars, helping me fill in the log book, and nestling up in the dark with a cup of warm milk and honey. Xavier and I slept in the cockpit for the whole trip, dozing off between alarms set at regular intervals to monitor the sailing. With barely a boat in sight, whether fishing or cargo vessel, our main concern on watch was keeping track of the squalls and getting the gennaker down in time when spotted. We only had to do that once at night on my watch, in moonlight so bright you could have read a book by it. Francis was also up there with us, even after he found his sea legs, which were invariably dangling off the sofa in the galley, but, he was adamant, he was quite comfortable. 

After four nights at sea I had my first short shower, with some M&S rose shower gel, still going from Las Palmas. Oh the luxury! I'm glad I did as well, because by the afternoon a part in the water-tank had shaken loose, meaning we had to strictly ration supplies for the rest of the journey. We also managed to short-circuit the kitchen appliances, by plugging in the Kenwood to make pancakes. Doing well! Still, we had gas enough for comfort food like my signature spag bol, and our ARC sourdough loaves. We had been debating whether to stop by Cartagena en route to San Blas. I had friends I would have loved to catch up with in Colombia, and was dying to set foot on the South American continent, especially after seeing Instagram footage from some of the boats on the World ARC odyssey. We also had inadvertently set sail from Martinique without stocking up on US dollars and could do with a cash point before arriving at San Blas. Still, our friends RAFTKIN and PELIZENO had already been in San Blas for a fortnight and were leaving imminently, and we knew it would make the world of difference to the kids to catch them there.

Days passed surprisingly quickly and settled into their own rhythm. Inspired by Sissi, on INDIAN SUMMER, I would start the day following an exercise app, often with Catherine, then we would all have breakfast together. As the children were not 100% we didn't do schoolwork, but instead read, wrote diaries and logs, and we had family time playing games. Once a day the kids would get out their Swedish candy, self-rationing to one or two sweets each a day (saving the second packet for the Pacific crossing!) and hold races across the table to increase the anticipation, and the fun! I enjoyed moments of silent disco at the helm, listening to the soundtrack of The Martian full throttle (from "Don't Rock the Boat!" to "I Will Survive!"), while Catherine danced around to Moana and Xav chilled to Ibiza lounge. There was not much to see, other than the changing light on the water, from a silver shimmer on the horizon at dawn to the rosy gold of sunset, and the waves that couldn't make up their mind whether to be white horses or ripples from a glancing of pebbles in a millpond. On days where there wasn't a cloud in the sky, we would hold out hope to catch a glimpse of the fabled "green flash" phenomena at sunset, but it never happened. One day we caught sight of a pod of skittish brown dolphins in the distance, but the wind had dropped so much we had just taken down the gennaker, so they didn't even bother to play in our wake. The following day we saw a pod of jet black pilot whales, slower and more majestic than their spritely cousins the day before. 

As we passed level with Cartagena we entered into the acceleration zone, the wind jumping from 10 to 25 knots, and the sail became very bumpy again for 100 nautical miles, but by this time we all took the exaggerated motion in our stride, even Francis was fine. We celebrated our last night with a movie. The kids chose "The Sound of Music" and we had a good singalong. They were interested in hearing about my own convent days growing up, the sisters in traditional habits just like in the film, and all sorts of funny stories. "Did you ever want to be a nun, Mum?" asked Isabelle. "Oh yes, but I don't think that I'd have made a very good one..." They agreed.

I don't really have the words to describe what it was like to arrive in San Blas. I could smell land first and as we approached these dinky little beaches with palm trees plonked on top, I could hear the seagulls and Sue Lawley's voice floating out asking for the first of our tracks, please, La Cigale, for Desert Island Discs. Not quite sure what she would make of the ARC boatkids' unofficial anthem "Pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows..." but there you go! 



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