We’ve owned the good ship Yahtzee for 11 years now and, through all the passages in our wake and the places we’ve been, our family has learned a lot about life and the realities of living aboard a traveling sailboat. Besides patience, the other lesson we’re consistently reminded of is the need to be flexible when faced with adversity. The past year has been a case study in both patience and resiliency.
With an unconventional plan of bucking the trade winds, we knew we’d have to wait for the right time to make any amount of progress towards the eastern Caribbean (see: Hurry Up and Wait…for a Weather Window).
If we didn’t wait for the right window, we’d find ourselves needlessly bashing our way into wind and waves. We knew our time would come, and we finally got our chance…
Passage One: Santa Marta, Colombia >> Oranjestad, Aruba (290 miles)
After waiting oh so patiently in Santa Marta for four months and then enduring an engine hiccup and subsequent repairs, we finally got the long promised weather window to head east. From Santa Marta, we made an overnight stop in Tayrona National Park and then continued eastward over the northernmost point of South America and then on to the island of Aruba. The two and half day passage was nothing short of wonderful — we motored, we sailed, we enjoyed beautiful sunshine during the days and brilliant star shows at night. Glorious.
Making landfall in Aruba and clearing in through customs and immigration was immensely satisfying and rewarding. At our first anchorage, we peered through gin clear water as Yahtzee’s anchor hit the sand bottom. Porter and Magnus were quickly off the boat swimming and it felt so good to be somewhere new…anywhere, really.
Over three plus weeks in Aruba, we explored the island to the fullest. Jill’s mom came to visit for a week, we combed beaches, walked around the quaint Dutch-influenced town, and even took in some of the island’s most visited tourist attractions. It was that good. Alas, as happens in this sailing life, we needed to move on. Once again, a weather window presented itself and we prepped Yahtzee for sea…
Passage Two: Oranjestad, Aruba >> Spanish Waters, Curaçao (137 miles)
…Our projected destination was Puerto Rico, but at sea, you never really know. If we could make it farther east than that, we would. If we needed a closer destination, Curaçao or Bonaire were the next options.
So it was, sailing northeast from the top of Aruba out into the deep blue Caribbean Sea, our hopes were high. Right away, things were slightly amiss. The wind was stronger than projected and coming more out of the east, instead of south, like we thought it would be. The overall conditions, though, weren’t so bad that we needed to turn around. Instead, we fired up the engine and made as much easting as we could. Then, while motoring along under bright sunshine some 40 miles northeast of Aruba, the engine abruptly shutoff with a loud, “THUNK!”
Not good, I thought. I’m no professional mechanic, but I knew right away this wasn’t a fuel issue and the engine’s vitals were fine — oil, coolant, raw water, battery level. Something was wrong.
With well over 300 miles to go to Puerto Rico, it was no longer an option. We needed to figure out the engine problem. Turning back for Aruba would have worked, but the northern tip of Curaçao was only 55 miles away and we had wanted to go there anyway. A turn to the southeast had us heading straight for it with a plan to arrive in the early morning, find an anchorage, and assess the engine.
Sailing close hauled, we neared the western coast of Curaçao in the dark and, when sunrise came, so did a big increase in the breeze. Right on the nose. With no engine to help us fight the wind and seas, we did what Yahtzee does best — we sailed. Short-taking down the coast, it took hours to get to the channel that leads into a very protected bay called Spaanse Waters (Spanish Waters). The tricky bit, though, was that the entrance channel was narrow and then, once inside, we’d need to anchor under sail.
Upon arrival, the conditions seemed doable, and our other options weren’t promising. Ahead we went, sailing in through the channel, past onlookers at the posh Sandals beach resort, and into the bay. Then, with Jill and Magnus at the bow ready to drop the anchor and Porter at the main halyard ready to dump the sail, I rolled us up through the wind. Yahtzee slowed to a stop, the mainsail fell on cue, the anchor dropped and dug into the sand, and we’d made it. Phew!
I’ll certainly be telling that sea story in the future.
With Yahtzee settled, we set about cleaning up and drying out the boat and then looking into the engine. After several days and lots of back-and-forth with knowledgeable friends, we still couldn’t get it running and finally opted to find a mechanic. The prognosis? The bearing between the engine and sail drive (transmission) had failed. The fix? We’ve ordered the replacement parts, which won’t get here quickly, and then the install is going to take time. That, coupled with the start of hurricane season, means we’re rolling with the punches and making Curaçao Yahtzee’s hurricane home for the 2023 season. It had to be somewhere and, as we are accustomed to doing, we’re making the best of an unexpected situation. Classic.