We’d heard awful things about the sail from Aruba to Colombia. Not because of Venezuelan pirates, but it is considered one of the top five most dangerous sails because of the potential wind and water conditions. In fact, one of our friends had a knock down on this sail last year. We needed to get past the northern most hump of Colombia before the Christmas winds set in. It started out beautifully, but then it threatened to live up to its reputation.
Even with rainbows and pelicans charming us off the shores of Aruba, we were all ready to leave. There wasn’t going to be much wind, but that wasn’t likely to change any time soon. Being one of the most dangerous passages, maybe motoring through it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The Mona Passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was another such passage. For that trip we took a weather window with no wind and motored the entire way, but it was the calmest, smoothest trip ever that left us wondering why that passage had such a bad rep. I could happily repeat that scenario. Clearing out wasn’t near as bad as clearing in. The wind and water had calmed, so we could easily dock at the one spot with a board instead of tires and chains. Without the surge to beat us up, we even had Steve on Slow Flight raft up to us, so the officials could take care of both boats at the same time. What a difference a few days makes!
Milly gave us an hour or so head start. This Antares 44 is typically faster than us, but today they were going to fly their spinnaker, giving them an unfair advantage. The head start, though, was to give us a chance to get ahead so we could take pictures of them under sail. They didn’t have any sailing photos yet and they are hard to get since you are always on your boat when the sails are up. She sure looked good coming up on us.
Peter played with jibing for the practice and to give me different angles to shoot. In no time Milly was passing us. They were effortlessly flying through the water.
Peter and Sally came out on deck to pose and wave as they passed us. It’s been great fun buddy boating with Milly and Slow Flight!
Likewise, we didn’t have any pictures of Livin’ Life sailing with the gennaker. We’d only recently been able to start using it. It is a light, down wind sail, so banging into the easterlies in the Eastern Caribbean was not the time to use it. So Peter and Sally returned the favor and took some shots of us. Thanks guys!
Our great sailing day continued with dolphins playing at our bow. Dolphins are smart and understand about fishing lures, so I normally leave my lines out when dolphins come to visit. But these guys went back and forth from our bow to our fishing lures. They actually played with the lures! I knew they weren’t biting them, but I was afraid one would accidentally get hooked. So Dave and I quickly reeled in our lines. After this, the dolphins lost interest in us and paid Steve a visit, playing with his lure! However, they didn’t leave before I captured a little bit of their bow play on video.
The sail was going beautifully. We were sailing anywhere between 2 and 5 knots, which is so much better than motoring, even if it is painfully slow at times. The evening promised to be calm, so went against our better judgment and left the gennaker up for the night. That really wasn’t the smart decision because, if any weather came in, one of us had to go to the bow to furl in the gennaker. Our rule is to never leave the cockpit at night — if we don’t absolutely have to, of course. But we were a little too complacent and didn’t even put out the jack lines. This meant someone would have to go to the bow without clipping onto the boat. Can you say stupid?
Fortunately, someone looks after those who are too dumb to look after themselves. In the wee morning hours (still dark) we did have to furl in the gennaker, but not because it was going to be overpowered. I couldn’t keep any wind in it and it was folding in on itself. So Dave’s trip to the bow was under perfectly calm conditions and our deck light lit his way. We were lucky and we were about to learn just how lucky we were!
Anything can happen when you spend multiple days at sea. You can study every weather forecast available, every grib file, and subscribe to every service known and you will still be faced with some surprises. Weather can be so very localized and no one can see what is going to happen in every square mile of the sea. You just don’t want to be in the wrong square mile when something does pop up. We were motor sailing by some very dark clouds that seemed to get denser and denser. We could see rain coming down not to far off our port side, so we thought there was a chance we’d get wet. No biggie, happens all the time. But then this funny little funnel thing started coming down from the cloud. I was just pointing out to Dave that those clouds looked pretty threatening when we got a call on the VHF from Peter. He said that some pretty strange activity was happening off our port side.
Then two more funnels appeared. Now we had three funnels and the clouds were still getting darker and denser. Dave and I nervously watched to see what would happen next. We discussed whether we needed to drop our sails or not.
The funnel next to us grew and stretched down towards the water. It was maybe a couple miles away, but that really is nothing. The wind in these funnels may be 70 to 80 knots! And I don’t know about funnel clouds, but I know hurricanes can travel at 20 knots. With our sails down and both engines on, we can only go 6 knots! If it decided to come for us, we could NOT out run it! With this funnel growing and well formed, we decided it was prudent to drop our sails. Dave gunned the engines to 2000 rpm, which he never does. We hold a steady 1800 rpm. So we may have got another half knot out of them. I strained my eyes to see if the funnel touched down…
It was faint, but if you expand the picture by clicking on it, you can see the water spout. It touched down and was stirring things up. About this time, I started bringing everything that wasn’t attached to the boat inside the cabin. We hoped it wouldn’t come our way, but we had no way of knowing. Maybe someone more experienced could read that sky and make an educated decision, but not us. I made a panicky decision: prepare for the worst.
The water spout became more formed and I became more nervous. But it didn’t last long. It seemed that once it started picking up the water, it would lose some of its force and die out. We were very glad to watch this. It happened that way three different times. Funnels kept forming and dying, but not all touched down. The dark mass of clouds didn’t move. They stayed to our port and we hurried by as best we could, eventually leaving them behind. As we reflected upon what happened, we realized how dumb it was to leave the gennaker up over night. We did not feel the wind from those funnels even though they were fairly close. We probably would not have had much warning and Dave could not have gone forward if we were smacked with 70-80 knots of wind suddenly. Lesson learned. Only use sails we can drop from the cockpit at night! Since experiencing this, it has made cruising news that a catamaran was just recently flipped by a funnel cloud. It came down right on top of them! We were seriously lucky! Next, we take a break at Cabo de Vela, Colombia, and discover a village that time forgot.