Hunker down and wait

There are times when you just can’t get there from here! Sailboats are wonderful contraptions, but when the wind is coming from the place you want to be they can present quite a challenge. At those times we usually just become a power boat and motor along to our next home, but yesterday and today the wind, waves, and tides have all been against us. It’s three to one so we graciously yield, set the anchor and wait.

Before explaining our current state of affairs, here’s a bit of detail about our 40 mile sail from the north to south end of Isla Angel de la Guardia (Guardian Angel Island). We left the remote anchorage of Puerto Refugio at dawn, to ride the outgoing tide. With sails out, gently moving along we passed a point called Punta Pulpito, the northern point of a huge bay called Ensenada de Pulpito (Little Octopus Cove). Since we were traveling southeast and the cove cut into the island for about 6 miles to the west, that presented the building wind with plenty of fetch to create some nice steep rollers that started heading our way.

The winds and seas were building rapidly so we put a reef in the main, then a little bit later we reefed the genoa, then a second reef in the main, and finally we furled the genoa completely and rolled out the stay sail. With the stay sail and the double reefed main, Happy Dance found her stride and started pushing the knot meter to 7.5 knots against a rough sea. We had all the hatches battened down, as we were taking some high splashes over the windward side – salt water over the helm for the first time! It wasn’t a bad ride though and with a fairly steady 24 knots of breeze, gusting higher, we held a good course across the bay. Once we reached the southern point, called Punta Rocosa (Rocky Point), at the south end of Ensenada de Pulpito, poof! The winds ceased, the seas flattened, and we turned on the iron genny for the rest of the trek to Isla Estanque.

The anchorage between Isla Estanque (Tank Island, named for a nearly land locked shallow bay in the tiny island) and Isla de la Guardia was wide and quite pretty. We were greeted by 3 or 4 whales blowing and a school of dolphins playing in the distance as we entered the bay. There’s a long reef stretching between the two islands that is also connected to a mile long steep beach that we anchored next to. As we set the anchor a friendly seal came to visit and he stayed around the boat for a long time, just diving and swimming and playing under the boat. I finally decided that I needed to go swim with him, but he didn’t seem to like that idea and as soon as I jumped in he disappeared. Oh well!

We had a great walk on the beach spit, which protects a small land locked pond that is an incredible turquoise color. The spit between the pond and the sea was a good 30 feet tall, with flat terraces that the waves had created at different tide levels. On the top level were zillions of sun bleached shells and bones, then the next 2 or three terraces were covered in bright colors of rock with all kinds of striations in them. It was very different than anything we’d seen thus far, and we enjoyed stretching our legs on a long walk, and I of course added to my shell collection!

With provisions low and fuel getting even lower, we are now on a fairly quick course to San Carlos, so we decided to move on after only two nights at Isla Estanque. We left our Guardian Angel (island) yesterday at dawn with the outgoing tide, making excellent time (8 knots!) for the first couple of hours. After 15 or 20 miles we slowed a bit as the current that had been pushing us lessened in the center of the Sea. We had sails up for a while, helping push us along a nice smooth sea.

11:00am drew near just as we approached Punta Willard with its crazy cross currents and gusty winds. In the Sea, there seems to be a wind clock somewhere, that in the southern Sea is around noon, and up here in the northern Sea it’s a bit earlier, at 11:00am. This is when the wind machine kicks off for the afternoon. It takes a little while to get warmed up, however some areas, like Punta Willard seem to have an auxiliary engine to crank things up faster. We’re beginning to wonder if it has something to do with why the islands over here have names like Isla Tibur or Shark Island and the nearby channel is called Canal del Infiernillo or Channel of Little Hell!

Yesterday the winds went from zero to 20 knots in about 10 minutes flat. The sea that had been nicely rippled and friendly was suddenly awash with white caps and building rollers. The wind was right on our nose, the tide had changed so that the current was now against us, and the waves were building rapidly. Not good, considering that we still had 25 miles to go on this course! Our speed dropped from our normal 6 knots to about 3.5 and we were struggling up and over the rollers. It was definitely time for a change of plans!

Instead of continuing on to the southeast corner of Isla Tibur as we’d intended, we turned north to use Punta Willard as a wind break and headed for a couple of promising looking anchoring spots on the northwest side of the point. As we rounded Punta Willard, the seas got pretty ugly and the gusts kept building. No worries though, we could see calmer water just around the corner and that’s where we headed. We were soon anchored and enjoying lunch in a pretty little bay on the northwest side of Punta Willard, which is on the southwest corner of Isla Tibur.

Overnight the winds kept blowing which is a little unusual but not unheard of around here that’s for sure! It finally calmed around 3am, and when we woke at 5:30am to the sound of it building again we thought we’d make a quick run for it and try to get around the corner before the 11:00am wind machine started up. No such luck!

As we rounded Punta Willard going south this time, we could see the same ugly white breakers on the point, but hoped that they were just the result of the outgoing tide that was now carrying us along. We kept good speed until we started to round the point and realized that the wind machine was already in full swing for the day. White caps and frothy breakers on dark blue water as far as we could see. Again, not a fun prospect with 25 miles to go and our speed slowing from the steep climb up and over the 6-8′ waves. The current was with us but when added to the opposing wind, it only made for a nastier, steeper set of rollers. Once again we decided that having no schedule to meet is a good thing. We did a quick u-turn back to the anchorage.

As we sit here the wind is howling and we’re swinging in the gusts, like a dog running back and forth reaching the end of his leash. All is well however, and we’ll just hunker down and wait until the winds decide that it’s time for us to head a bit further south. We’ve learned the hard way that schedules and cruising do not mix, so we no longer try to get anywhere based on the calendar. Mother Nature will let us know when it’s time to leave, so until she does, we’ll watch the rays jump, the boobies dive, and the coyotes walk the beach.