It's January 1, 2011, and I've finally got the feeling that our upcoming winter cruise from Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal to Golfito, Costa Rica, is actually going to happen.
Six months ago, we were not boaters, but we were boat dreamers, and had been for many years. Many personal and economic stars aligned to make 2010 the year that we took the huge leap forward and made the dream a reality. We bought our 63 foot Sea Spirit Passagemaker trawler from the manufacturer in August, and have been climbing a steep but pleasant learning curve ever since.
We knew we wanted to move the boat through to the Pacific this season, mostly because we will be splitting our time between home in Honolulu and the boat. This is because of our kids, who we home-school, but who we feel benefit from some stability in their relationships with other children during the year. Undertaking a trip of this magnitude required adding a few things to the boat, not the least of which was a captain to supply the competence that we, as newbies, lacked. We were very fortunate to come across Captain Sarah Lowell, recommended to us by Judy Waldman who sold us the boat. Sarah grew up around large yachts, and is one of those people for whom the art and science of boats and boating runs through to the core.
While the boat came with an extensive electronics suite, there were a few things I wanted added, such as a second VHF radio, an HF radio, satellite Internet, and various sensors. I also added a watermaker, and made some changes to the fuel plumbing in order to give myself the utmost of built-in redundancy and flexibility. The boat didn't come with a dinghy, so that had to be added too, along with a suite of spare parts and tools for both the boat and dinghy. Having bought the boat mid-August, it took me about 2 1/2 months to learn the boat's systems and then spec out all the upgrades. It has taken a further two months to get everything installed and tested. While there are still a couple of very little things left to do, the boat is essentially ready now. Bearing in mind that I'm several thousand miles and 5 (used to be 6) time zones away from the boat, I could not imagine going through this process without a trustworthy person on-site with the boat. For me, Captain Lowell has been that trusted person.
My initial plan for this season was to muck around in Florida for a few weeks, then go via the west end of Cuba to Mexico, and thence to Panama. However, the more I looked at the weather pattens and the amenities available along the way, the more it seemed that we should instead go around the east end of Cuba. So, our plan is something like this:
Second half of January: Muck around in Florida, then bring the boat back for exhibition by the manufacturer at TrawlerFest in Fort Lauderdale.
First half of February: Transit to the Bahamas, and explore there. My parents will join for the Gulf Stream crossing, and will be aboard about a week.
Second half of February: Transit from Grand Inagua to the Cayman Islands, and explore them. Initially I was worried about traveling between Cuba and Haiti, but the more I looked into it, the more comfortable I became. Also, the currents are much more favorable on this route when compared to a route around the west end of Cuba. I expect the transit to take around 48 hours, incorporating two overnights.
End of February: Transit from the Caymans to San Andres Island off the coast of Nicaragua, and enjoy what it has to offer. This transit is about 50 hours, also incorporating two overnights. While it would be possible to avoid all overnight passages by sticking to the mainland's coastline, we'd like to gain at least a little offshore experience, and this seems like a good way to do it.
March: Transit from San Andres Island to the San Blas Islands, and spend some time with the Kuna Indians. Then, transit the Panama Canal and begin the run up to Golfito. We may add a land tour through Costa Rica, and an air/land tour to the Galapagos Islands.
Thereafter, we intend to take the boat up to the Pacific Northwest, but we're not sure exactly how we will do that. The choices include shipping the boat, having it delivered, and taking it ourselves. We expect the choices to clarify themselves as we gain more experience.
So, in 12 days, we leave our home in Honolulu, and travel to Fort Lauderdale, where our boat is currently docked. All four of us are very excited by the prospects of this first trip, and also about sharing it with you. You couldn't be much more "newbie" than us, but we're working hard at climbing the learning curve, and have learned a LOT from all the on line forums and blogs available these days. This blog represents our attempt to give something back.
If you are going to be in Ft. Lauderdale in the 2nd half of January, drop me a line, and I'd love to meet you.