Fast passage from Panama to Honduras

On December 4th we set sail from Bocas del Toro, Panama, to Roatan, Honduras. Depending on weather conditions and ocean currents we expected the 860-nautical-miles-sail to take us between 8-9 days. Except of a close encounter with a fishing vessel off the Nicaraguan coast, we had a smooth 7-day passage. How where we so fast? The conditions turned out to be very favorable, but not always comfortable, with constant northeasterly winds between 15-25 knots. We managed to follow the strong northbound current pushing us to our new daily milage record. We captured our thoughts during the passage in the following daily updates:

Day 1:

The first 24 hours at sea are behind us. 840 nautical miles are still ahead. Thanks to a strong current, we have mostly sailed close-hauled for 135 nautical miles to the east along the coast of Panama. Just before the Panama Canal entrance in Colon and the traffic separation zone we will follow the current northward. Since the northeast winds run against the current, the sea is very rough and Porky rocks and slams into the steep waves. As always after some time at anchor, we have to regrow our sea legs and are therefore still quite sleepy. Hopefully we will feel better in the next few days. This year, we have made our own trivia advent calendar, which hangs on our Christmas tree (or better fitting our Christmas mast) to spread at least some festive atmosphere in these tropical climates. Each of us has put 8 trivia questions in a small pouch. Starting on December 1 until Christmas Eve, every day we will randomly pick one of the questions and the other two try to answer it.

Day 2:

We still have 720 nautical miles ahead of us and have covered 121 nautical miles in the last 24 hours. The wind unfortunately comes from northeast and we can not quite hold course toward our initially planned waypoint. We might need to make a tack to the East to keep us away from the reefs in the north of Nicaragua. The current now also pushes us to the west, which does not help us, but it should turn north again in a few days. Today, a big swarm of dolphins swam with us and played around Porky’s bow. We already slept much better during the night and slowly get used to the rocking and heeling again.

Day 3:

We are making good progress; 117 nautical miles in the last 24 hours. 600 are still ahead of us. The wind has increased (some rain showers brought over 30 knots) and we sail close-hauled against the waves with the 3rd reef in our sails. The constant heeling of the boat is comfortable for sleeping, but cooking is difficult. We are looking forward to when we can fall off the wind in a few days. Our refrigerator has broken, so we have to eat cheese and yoghurt quickly and can soon only enjoy warm drinks. Shortly before sunset, our furling line of the head sail shaved through. Fortunately, we were able to tinker together a solution with spare rope, which seems to hold so far. This morning we have passed the first shallow reef of many more to come. This means that we are approaching the Nicaraguan shallows where fishermen, turning pirates occasionally, are hanging about. We are trying to go as close to the wind as we can to avoid getting too close to the shallows.

Day 4:

What a ride! 131 nautical miles in the last 24 hours. Only under 400 nautical miles ahead of us. We have a lot of wind and surf down the high waves. Many waves splash over the deck into the cockpit and we now simply accepted the fact to be constantly wet with an itchy salt crust on our skin. We now have passed the technically hardest part of this crossing and can adjust to a more comfortable reaching course. But, now we approach the canal through the shallows, which leads past the lurking fishermen, who occasionally decide to rob small boats. In order not to be seen, we have run “dark” since last night, meaning all the navigation lights are turned off and our AIS is on silent mode. Technically we are only visible on radar to other boats now. After 4 days of riding an uncomfortable close-hauled course, we look forward to a reaching course heading towards Roatan!

Day 5:

We have now adjusted course to the west and will sail comfortably down wind for the last 230 nautical miles of this trip. Despite today’s slow morning, we have set our previous milage record in the last 24 hours; 160 nautical miles! That’s 6.7 knots on average! You could say we were even too fast for the pirates. Although yesterday we had a close encounter in the late afternoon, as a local fishing boat without AIS changed its course so that it only passed a few meters behind our stern while several men eyed us. Whether it was only curiosity, a spy out or they simply insisted on their right of way, we do not know. As previously planned, Antonia hid under deck and contacted the next cargo ship over VHF. They agreed to standby on channel 16, in case we need assistance. The fisherman tried to disturb the radio conversation, but did not speak any English. So at least our plan worked and the fishermen were aware about the radio traffic between us and other ships around. In the meantime, Max and Daniel self-confidently stayed on deck and stared back with a harpoon in hand. The fishing boat continued on his so strangely changed course into the sunset and we never saw them again. Maybe our worries were unnecessary. Anyhow, with all the stories you hear about this region from other sailors, it is no wonder that we act with caution. As soon as night fell in, we felt safer in the darkness, as our large white sails were no longer visible from miles away on the horizon. During watches we attentively observed the radar and lights on the horizon. But except of dodging a few cargo ships, the night was very quiet and we successfully passed our race through the pirate area. The hope is to arrive in Roatan on Antonia’s birthday on Saturday to celebrate with a delicious dinner on land. Let’s see if the wind plays into our cards.

Day 6:

Final stretch on the last 110 nautical miles. The last 24 hours were very relaxed and we sailed 122 nautical miles downwind averaging 5 knots. If everything goes smoothly we probably arrive tomorrow afternoon just in time for the birthday dinner in Roatan! We will first anchor in French Harbor to clear through customs & immigration and inquire about an affordable marina. A few unavoidable boat projects have been piling up, which we have to do so that Porky continues to run well. In addition, at least one thorough fresh water shower and freshly washed clothes would do all three of us well. This morning, three big whales swam past the boat, but unfortunately we could not see any details. The mood on board is good and we’re looking forward to explore Honduras and the Bay Islands. Above all, we look forward to diving on the second largest reef in the world!

Day 7:

The last day at sea was very calm. Dolphins have greeted us off the Bay Islands and we have just arrived in Roatan after 906 nautical miles. We are anchored in French Cay and will now eat and rest. It was a successful and above all fast crossing and now we’re enjoying Antonia‘s birthday!

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