Day 7 – Sint Maarten to Panama

Plan to Fail

26 July 2021

Noon position: N 12° 29.132′ W 76° 47.670′

Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Or so the old saying goes.

But what if you do plan, and it doesn’t work out? Then you should have a backup plan, right?

So you need to make a plan in case your plan fails. Isn’t that the definition of planning to fail though?

It all gets very confusing.

These rather silly musings take on new meaning when sailing longer passages. It’s always prudent to have a fallback plan when spending any length of time at sea. Things can and do go wrong, and if you’re not prepared to adapt, it could be disastrous.

On this journey, we knew we had two fallback positions at the start (USVI and Puerto Rico) should something go wrong early on. And we had two fallback positions at the end, should things not work out further down the line.

Things did not work out further down the line.

Yesterday I boasted about how prepared we were with our fuel situation. Turns out my hubris was not well founded. While in St. Maarten, we had the local Yanmar dealer (who has an excellent technician) check all the electronic connections on our Yanmar 4LV170. This should be done routinely to inspect for corrosion or any other issues.

The technician advised that we should run the engine at full throttle for an hour to test everything, and to ensure the boost pressure is built up sufficiently before we leave the island. It made sense to do this – if there were any issues after the work was done, better to discover them while still in St Maarten.

The problem is we could not do this while in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. It’s just not practical to have a 45-ton vessel zooming back and forth at 11 knots within the confines of the lagoon for an hour. It would have caused havoc.

So we waited until the day before our departure for Panama, when we left the lagoon and headed for Philipsburg to stage for the early morning start to our passage, and to clean the hull.

Everything went smoothly. The engine sounded and felt great, and we had no issues. Except for the fact that we burnt half a tank of diesel in our hour of testing the engine at full throttle. Running this engine at cruising speed is very fuel efficient, but at full throttle she guzzles diesel like a frat boy guzzles beer.

Additionally, we have been motoring since yesterday – more than a day earlier than expected – as we have been becalmed with apparent wind speeds of less than 6 knots.

Cutting through the water
It’s lovely cutting through these calm seas … but we can’t sail!

For these reasons, a few hours ago we decided to divert from our originally intended destination and use one of our fallback destinations. We’re now heading more south then west, expecting to arrive tomorrow early evening at Linton Bay, east of Panama City, where we can fill up with diesel before continuing the journey onward.

It will shorten the passage (we drop anchor tomorrow instead of Wednesday) but it also makes the trip longer (we will now only be in Bocas on Friday). That’s how it goes out here though. I’ve said it before and will say it again. Sailing on a schedule doesn’t work. There are just too many variables and trying to fit that square peg into a round hole will just cause endless frustration.

You have to roll with the punches.

On the plus side, with it being so calm, we have been on an even keel for the last 36 hours or so. This has made life very “normal” on board. We’ve had delicious bread, freshly baked straight from the oven.

We topped off our freshwater tanks using our onboard desalinator. There is something intensely satisfying about turning seawater into the most delicious drinking water you’ve ever had, and not a plastic bottle in sight.

Chef even did all the laundry – it’s washed, dried and packed away. There are few things better than arriving in port after a long passage, and NOT having to deal with a week or more worth of dirty laundry!

Doing laundry while on passage
Arriving at your destination after a week at sea with laundry already done is just amazing.

We are chugging along on a moonlit evening as I write this. The sea is glassy, the sky is lit up, there is no one else around for at least 48 miles (the effective range of our radar) in any direction, and we’re excited to arrive in Panama tomorrow.

Our plan to fail has worked out OK in the end. Or so it would seem. Maybe tomorrow has another twist in store?

I’ll let you know.


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