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Public Speaking

 
 

Cruising Central America

The story on how I sailed on a small vessel around Central America.
Go to the start.
 

What went wrong? And why did it happen?

We had a lot of time to think about and discuss what went wrong when we waited for the rescue that night. These are the seven reasons we identified that caused the problem:

Rush Our primary aim was to reach our destination. Hence, we passed by an island (Isla de Providencia) where we actually had planned to rest for a night or two. Since we got there in the middle of the night, we decided to keep going instead of waiting for the next morning. (You never sail into an unknown harbor - especially not in the third world where lightning is poor and maps are off.)
An alternative would have been to slow the boat down enough to make land fall on the island the next day.
Storm This guy kept us on our toes: working the sails, clearing up stuff on deck, no real meals (since cooking was impossible with those waves), no real sleep, and a continuous drain of your energy. We already had been at sea for a while and then were hit by it in addition. Had we stayed on the island as planned we would have missed it.
Course Even though the storm was coming right at us we decided not to change course and sail away from it (and the coast). That maneuver would have taken us much too far off of our general course (which was not an option looking at the first reason). Hence, we decided on heading West instead of East - right into a known (!) reef area in front of Honduras.
Maps At the beginning all went well: The reefs were shown on our map, and we therefore were able to pin our course around them while at the same time riding out the storm and heading more or less into our planned direction. Yet, ocean maps are not accurate. They may be off by some margin and not every single spot of the ocean has been explored. There could be many more reefs than what you actually see on your map. Still, we trusted ours fully.
Mood We circled around the reefs shown on the map and made good progress. Eventually, the storm calmed down, and -since we had made it through without problems- we started feeling like heroes who can it all and know it all. This lead us to be less cautious. We started to reset sails, had a great meal, and took things easy. Yet, we had not left the reef area! We should have stayed much more on alert.
Steering Our friend the wind vein (a self steering device powered by water pressure) had been steering all the time through the storm. The stronger the wind the better she works. It's very accurate and allows the sailor to stay inside instead of on deck while it keeps the ship on course. It's only problem: Different from an electronic compass based auto steering system, the vein uses the wind direction to keep track of where to go. This works very well - as long as the wind does not change direction. If it does, so does your boat. And that's exactly what happened: The storm faded out and the wind calmed down and blew a bit more out of the NE. It was not much. A few degrees, though, made all the difference.
Double Checking Only one of us had done the navigation work. He had checked our location, determined the course and adjusted the steering so the boat would head in the right direction. In addition, he had marked most reefs as waypoints in the GPS system so that we would be able to avoid them by just looking at the GPS monitor. Later it turned out that we had miscalculated the course - again not by much, but a little bit. Yet, combined with the wind vein's change of mind we ended up on the reef that we had aimed to miss.

Read the epilog to see what happened after our save return.

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2012 by Joh. Hennekeuser - Last update: 11-Apr-2012