British Virgin Islands to San Blas Archipelago – Preparing for the Pacific

A shining morning arrives and early, she slips out of her berth and noses around to the fuel dock to receive a belly full of that awful and smelly but necessary diesel. She casts off again and suddenly, there it is, with her nose heading south west and feeling it in every fiber of her hull, the route home to New Zealand, that jewel of the South Pacific the crew have been babbling on for about months.

A sparkling cerulean Caribbean sea and a fresh breeze on the port quarter inject her with infectious excitation, transmitting to her crew so that everyone is in singing high spirits and looking forward to piling on as many seas as she can before nightfall on this first day . She feels the urgency and with some tweaking of the sails, she lifts her skirts, settles in serious intent, and leaps forward at a cracking eight knots. She revels in an impossibly blue sea and rattles the topping lift to alert the crew of the arrival of the first batch of dolphins, seeing them on their way and blessing their voyage – a good omen. Sleek and big and black and white, these fools of the seas play with her, frolicking out, near and under her keel, one moment rushing full tilt at her sides, then turning abruptly to skim along within millimetres, using the water pressure between them And her hull as a cushion, then charging out ahead to leap yet again in their joyfulness. Diamonds arcing through the sun each time they exit, they finally tire of this pedestrian behemoth with three idiot grins hanging over the side, and head off somewhere looking for a more mobile playmate.

Long, hot, humid days follow as she heads down into the cauldron in the south west corner of the Caribbean Sea known as Panama. Visions of swamps, mangroves and mosquitoes along with stultifying heat are conjured up to play upon the imagination of her crew. The fine wind holds and our ship bowls along making an extra thirty nautical miles a day due to that union of her shaft and that object of her desire, the shiny new brass feathering propeller. She is surprised and very pleased with the difference it makes and shares this with the captain who now thinks he is so clever! The following
Wind pushes her along, dragging her own micro climate with her creating a kind of vacuum, so everything above water level is cooking, including the crew! Coleridges' famous lines from the 'Ancient Mariner' float up in the haze:

'All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody sun at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship,

Upon a painted ocean '


How to paint a picture with few words? Although a lengthy poem, Coleridge says it all about the Doldrums, in this short passage.

Life on board is molded into a routine and one day runs into another, smoothly, seamlessly, like a never ending Mobius Strip. The Captain, lounging languidly in the cockpit, shaded by the awning, glances lazily astern and suddenly leaps bolt upright, staring into the water where the fishing lure is swimming some one hundred meters in their wake. He can not believe his eyes as a huge darker blue shadow angles up toward the lure, gives it a little nip, disdainfully turns, and sinks back into the depths. Several pounding heartbeats later he is able to splutter a shout to the others, who pour out of the companionway to see what all the fuss is about. Seeing nothing and believing the Captain is going delirious, despite his postulations concerning a monarch marlin, they retire once more below – poor fellow! However, he knows, as does she, that indeed it was a large billfish of some kind, as its' gleaming bill had cleared the water whilst it inspected the lure. He put it down to curiosity and added it to his store of knowledge on pelagics.

Brilliant green flash in the last of the suns early evening rays, flinging off rainbow droplets, each a prism of color, signals a solid strike on the trailing lure. In comes a beautiful 7kg Mahi Mahi. These gorgeous fish, when first out of the water, are a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, sometimes blue, sometimes green and / or gold – hence the Spanish name for them, 'Dorade'. She is quickly filleted and placed in the ships refrigerator in preparation for dinner. Sibling crew announces dinner with a couple of strikes on the ships bell, and our crew tuck into the 'catch of the day' with relish. Served up with straw potatoes, slivered carrot, tomato, red pepper, salad, hot bread and a glass of chilled chardonnay her crew will enthusiastically quaff it all down, relaxing in the cockpit in the last soft glow of the tropical evening, distant pink and Rose cumulus stacked to the ceiling – could there be anything more enjoyable?

'Why do they have to go to those lengths to feed themselves?' She wonders when all she needs is wind in her sails.

With Cartagena sunk astern and well across the gulf of Darien, she alters course a few degrees to port to intersect with the San Blas archipelago. This little forgotten corner of the globe interests her immensely. Early morning with the sun behind and rolling gently on the moderate swell she approaches the first bunch of islands cautiously. At this point only palm trees are visible. Gradually other landmarks slowly rise out of the sea to reveal more small islands, white beaches and some tiny buildings. Many reefs are also visible, darkly lurking under the surface to catch an unwary visitor. Her crew are being extremely cannisticated because the charting in this area is inaccurate at best, and whilst she knows the way in, she let them practice their connection skills. There were going to be many more situations similar to this, once they entered the Pacific and sailing among those South Sea Islands. Beside, it made them feel good and brave them bragging rights at the next nautical bar they happened upon. Dropping anchor over her nose in Porvenir, just fifty meters from the Custom house, she comes to rest. That was about the amount of their harbor – a small pond encircled with jagged reefs. However, the ground is good with the anchor holding well.

Extract from my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship' Tere Moana '