The Trek

Elsie and I shoved off from Huatulco on June 14 at 5pm with the intention to go to Barilla’s Marina in El Salvador. However, we soon found out that there was a 1-2 knot current against us the whole way, and for 2 of the 3 days the wind was directly on our nose, making for very slow going. Instead of taking a little over 3 days, as I thought, it now looked a lot closer to 5.

So, after 3 days of sailing, we decided we had enough for the time being, and decided to pull into Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala.

But before I fill you in on Guatemala, here is the interesting sailing story of the week, entitled “Reef? Why Reef?�

Soon after leaving Huatulco, we had to cross the Gulf of Tehuanepec. This gulf is known very well as one of the most dangerous places in the world for sailors. It is because it is a very low area of Central America where winds from the Gulf of Mexico (on the other side, in the Atlantic) can sometimes funnel through this low area and blow out through the Gulf of Tehuanepec. 65% of the days per year has gale force winds here, and they come out of nowhere with little or no warning (unless you are watching the weather in the Gulf of Mexico, which we did).

Before I continue with this story, here is a little bit of sailing information for those of you not very familiar with sailing. In a sailboat, one of the most dangerous situations that can happen is when wind comes up quickly and overpowers your boat. If you have your sails up and are sailing in regular wind, and that wind all of a sudden rises to gale force, your boat can be seriously at risk, perhaps breaking the mast right off… and in other cases, flipping the boat over. To protect against this, sailor’s do something called “reefing�. Essentially, reefing enables you to reduce the size of your sail dramatically, in fairly quick fashion, even when your sail is full of wind.

Now, getting back to the story, you would think that if someone was going to cross one of the more dangerous gulf’s in the world, known for gale force winds at a moments notice, that person would want to know how to reef his sail.

Well, I had it on my things to do first thing in the morning as we entered the Gulf of Tehuanepec (agenda: “figure out how to reef sail�). I got up on Wednesday morning as we entered the gulf and felt a bit groggy so I thought I would wait an hour or two until I was more awake before tackling this item. As a side note: I had been dodging thunderstorms all night (the reason I was quite groggy)… You can see the thunderstorms very easily on the radar and I had avoided numerous by dodging and weaving around them.

However, at around 11am on Wednesday morning I swerved when I should have, uh, not swerved, and was dead in the middle of a localized thunderstorm. It got very dark, and the wind started to really pick up. It was at this point I thought to myself, I wish I had learned how to reef my sail when I first got up. Soon it was a torrential downpour. Elsie sat inside sleeping while I was completely and thoroughly soaked. The winds hit gusts of about 35 knots, averaging 25 knots, which isn’t too bad, but never having been in a thunderstorm like this I didn’t know if it would or could get a lot worse. The seas really began to rise up and I decided just to go with the storm as I rode the waves. There was a few times where the wind really caught my sails and I knew if it gusted up over 45 I could be in a position where it could be a problem as it really overpowered the boat quite quickly.

I managed to get the jib more than half way in, which helped, but now it was time to learn, on the fly, in the Gulf of Tehuanepec how to reef my sail. Those who know me, know this is generally how I always “learn�.

I can’t say I did it right… in fact, by how ugly and messed up it was, I know I didn’t do it completely right… but I did manage to reduce my mainsail size by approximately half, with a combination of pulling the sail down, and reefing. This definitely made the going a lot more controlled, and even with half a mainsail, and half a jib, I was doing 9 knots riding some fairly large waves…

So, anyway, that is my sailing story for this week. I am writing this as I enter into Puerto Quetzal, which I know nothing about, so will update on what it is like, and my plans from here soon.