Panama bound

Underway update from S/V Starlight– We are currently in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola, sailing south at about 6 knots, with the wind thankfully from astern. We checked out of Matthew Town yesterday and got underway at about 2300 last night, after the wind shifted from SE to E. It was a good sailing breeze of a solid 25 knots when we left, so we made excellent time on a beam reach under only a triple-reefed main and a third of the genoa. Our closest point of approach to the Cuban coast kept us conservatively out of their territorial waters. We expect to arrive in Panama on Friday or Saturday. The trade winds are strong right now, so we should have a fast passage. The sun is shining and the breeze is fair. We have small seas thanks to the protection of Hispaniola. Life right now is as comfortable as it gets while at sea on a small boat. Nobody even got seasick last night. Maybe everyone is getting used to this sailing thing…

Layover in Matthewtown

Anchorage off of Matthewtown, Grand Inagua
Anchorage off of Matthewtown, Grand Inagua

We are in Matthewtown on Grand Inagua waiting for Lydia to turn 12. Her birthday request was to not be out at sea for her birthday. Depending on the weather, we could leave for Panama as early as Sunday.

Swim Call at Rum Cay

Since it was on the way, we stopped for this afternoon at Rum Cay for lunch and a swim. It was one of my favorite swim spots so far, not for beautiful coral or anything like that, but because there were at least 4 stingrays that stayed around the boat, a few other smaller fish, a barracuda that hung around at a good distance for watching us swim, a shark, and plenty of sand dollars for the kids. I enjoyed seeing some life in the water, as most of the coral that we have seen so far on the trip has been dead and covered with algae. We’ll be getting underway again in just a short while…

Underway for Matthew Town… Again.

Our new sail track came through with no problems thanks to Doe Boi, who shepherded our part through customs with no hiccups. We installed it on Saturday, filled up with water today, and are now underway again. The weather is perfect for sailing right now. We are enjoying winds of about 12 knots, with some higher gusts. Even though the wind is from right ahead it is still very pleasant out here. We might entertain the idea of another stop along the way somewhere if conditions are right for it. I haven’t had really had time for things like snorkeling yet on this trip, so I would like to fix that situation. I am also sure that the family would probably like a break along the way. We will see how far we get. I’ve heard the snorkeling on Rum Cay is excellent….


We are anchored near Lee Stocking Harbor to check on the availability of a new Strong Track for the mast. Hopefully we can have one sent here, but it may have to be sent ahead to Panama. At least this is a nice place to divert to. What was it that I have heard said about cruising? Isn’t it just repairing the boat in different places?

Change of Plan

The Tides Marine Strong Track that is used to fasten the luff of the mainsail to the mast has proven to be weaker than hoped. Last night sail slides began pulling out of the track. We went down to a triple-reefed mainsail, and this allowed us to use the sail a while longer, but now more slides have pulled out, so we have to drop the main. We will be putting in to Georgetown in hopes of ordering a new track, either to be shipped to us here, or shipped ahead to Panama. The girls are thrilled to take a rest from the boisterous upwind sailing that we have been experiencing. Winds have topped out at about 30, but for he most part we have been beating against easterly winds of between 15 and 25 knots. With the heavily loaded boat our tacking angles have been very wide, so progress has been slow even though boat speed has been good.

Log of Starlight, Big Major’s Spot

The family’s first sail on Starlight was from Nassau to big Major’s Spot in the Exumas. Everyone was excited as we finished last-minute preparations and fueled up just before leaving. The boat was over-full with fresh fruit and vegetables, and we had gallons of drinking water that could find no better home than the space under the saloon table. A big bag of ripe papayas rolled around near the nav table, but we were ready to go. The sun was shining, and the wind was blowing at 10 knots—perfect conditions for the family’s first sail. Too bad the wind was coming directly from where we wanted to go, but no matter. We got off to an inauspicious start when the engine began to sputter and die soon after leaving the dock. We had had this problem a few times on the way to Nassau from Ponce Inlet. There is some contamination in the fuel tank in the form of pieces of old rubber sealant or similar that are big enough to clog the fuel line or pickup. Usually, they clog the fuel line just after the shutoff valve on the tank, so it is relatively easy to remove them. I told Idoia that we needed to sail, even though we were still in the busy part of the harbor. She wasn’t thrilled about the prospect, but the wind was good, so we put the sails up and began tacking eastward. I went to work on the engine, only to soon discover that the fuel line just after the valve was clean. That meant the blockage was inside the tank, which is more problematic. I first tried poking the blockage out with a wire, but it was not enough. I tried blowing the blockage backward, but couldn’t get enough pressure with my lungs. I needed more pressure and volume. The dinghy pump turned out to be the solution. With the right adapter to shove the end of the hose into the valve on the fuel tank, I was finally able to blow the blockage out. I was showered with success as fuel gushed happily out of the clear line and valve. A nice, smelly mess to begin the trip, but nothing some paper towels couldn’t fix… The engine was now working, but we were sailing well, so we continued to tack eastward across the banks towards Ship Cut, which would let us out into Exuma Sound. We reached the Cut at about 0030 the next morning. The wind had come up enough for us to take two reefs in the mainsail, yet still sail at 6-7 knots. There was a slight chop in the Sound—about 2 feet—just enough to make sleep in the forward cabin uncomfortable. All of the family were seasick to varying degrees, but nobody was vomiting. The kids were heavily dosed with Meclazine, and mom and dad a little less. The medicine was doing the trick and nobody seemed too unhappy with the sailing conditions. I tacked out of the cut, which was deep and wide, although some depths were as much as ten feet less than charted on our Navionics charts. I never saw less than 14 feet, but when the depth went from 25 to 15 in just a few second, it reminded me that there were some big rocks down there and I didn’t want to find one with less than 6 feet over it. A couple of long tacks out in Exuma sound brought us to the cut just north of Staniel Cay. The cut was deep and easy to navigate, but finding our way through to the anchorage behind Big Major’s Spot was a little nerve-wracking. We bumped across one 6-foot spot and found good holding in 10 feet behind the Cay. The kids went to visit the pigs on the beach, but soon tired of all the feces in the water and on the beach, so we went to find a beach with “less poop”. A short dinghy ride brought us to a deserted beach that we all could enjoy peacefully. Idoia and I went out snorkeling, and the kids and mom splashed in the shallows. The snorkeling here is not great—most of the coral is dead and algae-covered, but we still saw some fish. Out near a drop-off, there was some live coral and better fish. Back at the boat, we had dinner of rice, onion, cabbage, and carrot, and turned in for a full night’s sleep. Now, we’re just getting ready to head south and east. Next planned stop—Matthew Town.

Beautiful Bahamas

Swim call on the Great Bahama Bank
Swim call on the Great Bahama Bank

We stopped for lunch with Bernard from the Contessa 26 “Little Minute”. The weather couldn’t have been better for a swim all almost out of sight of all land…

Bahamas Arrival

Beneteau 445 Starlight on the Bahama Bank
Starlight on the Great Bahama Bank

Starlight arrived in Nassau at 1400 on Friday, June 5.

I guess this completes the short first leg of the voyage, since there will be some big changes aboard going forward from here. The owner and his family will be aboard, for one thing. This trip is the idea of the boat’s owner, Simba Hoo, who decided that he wanted to sail from the USA to his planned new home in New Zealand with his wife and two daughters, who are emigrating from China. Instead of just taking a plane over and setting up their new life, they first detoured for an entire year in the US, during which time they toured and shopped for a boat. Everyone I meet tells me that you just don’t hear about Chinese sailors, and this is something that Simba also noted. His goal is to become “China’s first cruising family”, and this is the motivation for making the voyage. There will be much to learn along the way, as the family just spent their first night aboard the boat last night. Simba was aboard to deliver the boat from Oriental, NC (where I joined this venture), to Daytona Beach, FL, but the rest of the family has not yet gone sailing on the boat. It’s going to be an interesting journey. Stay tuned for updates…