Spinnaker Sailing and Running Aground
After three amazing days and three miserably rolly nights anchored off Isla Isabel, we were ready to continue our voyage south. We woke early to take advantage of the favorable winds and said goodbye to our 40,000 new bird friends to make the 40 mile sail south to San Blas.
We waited for the two other boats to leave first that day incase they needed help getting up their anchors. The rocky bottom in the southern anchorage is known to eat anchors, sometimes requiring a diver to untangle the chain from the rocks. After Elisabeth and Halcyon were up and out of the anchorage, we raised our anchor and were almost immediately able to set the asymmetrical spinnaker. We had 7-10 knots of wind which was perfect for a downwind spinnaker run all the way to San Blas.
Rachel and I consider ourselves still very new to sailing and are by no means racers, every time we get to fly the spinnaker it's a little celebration! When the sail is hoisted and I lift the sock (thing that holds our sail closed) to expose the big blue sail to the wind, I am always a little nervous. But, as the canvas fills with wind and it balloons out I feel like a little kid at Christmas opening a present!
As we neared the marina we radioed Halcyon to discuss the bar crossing. We wanted to double-check the tides and swell before approaching the shallow entrance into the estuary. The San Blas marina is located in the estuary and the river mouth tends to fill with sediment from upstream, creating a sand bar. Halcyon edged their way in and we followed them at a distance incase they needed to back out if it got too shallow. After two or three failed attempts to find a deep enough passage over the bar, a large fishing boat came barreling by, obviously knowing his way in, we followed as close to his route as possible. It got very shallow, but once past the entrance jetties it opened back up and we had plenty of water bellow the keel.
A ponga from the marina came out to meet us once we had made it into the estuary to guide us through the narrow channel up to the marina's docks. As we approached our slip, Rachel went forward to throw the guys our bow line. I usually come into the docks pretty slow, as my motto is “slow is pro”, but suddenly, just as Agape entered the slip she stopped moving.
Rachel turned back yelling, “We still have ten feet, keep going forward.”, thinking I had already put the boat into neutral.
“I am in forward!” I replied. Realizing we had stopped moving, I putting the boat into neutral and walked forward.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Keep going forward.” Rachel said with a look of bewilderment on her face, probably thinking, “Why is he leaving the helm while we are still ten feet from the dock!".
I informed her and the staff that we were stuck in the mud and that we wouldn't be able to get further into the slip. I had never run aground or been stuck in the mud before, and at that moment I was feeling slightly embarrassed and was a little worried for the boat. The marina staff said we could try a deeper slip near the end of the docks closer to the main channel.
Back at the helm, I throttledup in reverse to pull Agape out of the mud. Mr. Perkins did not disappoint and easily backed us out. As I backed out away from the slip to give myself room to turn, Rachel and the dock guys start yelling at me to stop because it was shallow. Momentarily I thought, “Ya no kidding, I just backed out of the mud!”, and just at that second as I was putting Agape into forward, I felt the rudder start to move. Unbeknownst to me there was another sandbar right behind me and as I was backing into it, rudder first. The mud was starting to press against the rudder, pushing it to the side. As soon as I felt the wheel turn, I knew what was happening. I throttled up in forward, momentarily asking Mr. Perkins for all he had to stop our backward motion and keep any damage from happening to the rudder. Once again the engine did not fail me and with a little puff of black smoke Agape was moving forward. Throttling down we pulled into the end slip with only 0.5 feet under the keel. I am by no means an expert helmsman, and not the best at docking to begin with, so I consider myself lucky to have not done any damage to rudder or our boat. Luckily the bottom was soft and silty mud!
It's situations like these that I am thankful for having this style boat. Agape is a strong boat that we don’t have to worry about lightly touching muddy or sandy bottom. Yes, we absolutely try to avoid grounding at all costs. In fact this was our first time “running aground”, and I knew at the time we didn’t need to freak out because we could calmly and safely get her back off again without fear of our keel bolts failing or ripping out. Rudders can be a boat's weak point, but with Agape's massive skeg and beefy rudder supports and steering gear we have a little extra insurance in that area as well.
Now safely tied up to the dock we could relax and look forward to exploring San Blas!!!!!!