The jerry jugs are full and the tanks are loaded. The lockers are crammed with food and spares. It is once again time to set sail for a new destination--if we can get a decent weather window.
This time of year is tough in the southwest Caribbean. The forecast is calling for 25- to 30-knot winds and big seas north of 10 north, and 15-20 with 7- to 9-foot seas south of 10 north. That's about as good as it gets in the winter, so we'll be shoving off in the morning for a short trip to the Rosario Islands, then a 170-mile run to the San Blas the next couple of days.
Hopefully, it will be just one night at sea and hopefully conditions will improve as we get further south. Many ask what we are using for weather forecasts down here. I find the NOAA weather fax charts (24, 48, and 72 hours) very useful, and I also get the offshore waters text forecast for the SW North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. I occasionally glance at the virtual buoy predictions on buoyweather.com, but I think they are interpolating finer results than the data warrants.
Others use weather routers and listen to weather nets on the SSB, but again these sources tend to micro-interpret the weather to greater detail than is possible with the data available. I think most cruisers agonize over the weather more than is necessary, and they have lost the ability to think for themselves. Get a decent forecast for the beginning of the trip, avoid any predicted severe weather, and don't trust any forecast more than three days out--it is nothing more than wishful thinking.
We're finally getting ready to leave Cartagena, after a great stay of four months. The first big project to tackle was the aquaculture project growing on the bottom of our boat. Our last bottom job dated from August 2005, and Cartagena waters are famed for their fertility (at least for barnacles and muscles).
We had hired divers to scrape the bottom a few times, to avoid the unpleasant task of swimming in toxic waste, though I had to go over the side a few times myself to open up plugged through hulls and clear the propellor.
We finally decided on going to the synchrolift at Club de Pesca. This is a platform that one floats onto, which is then raised vertically out of the water by a system of winches and cables. Steel arms are raised on either side of the boat at bow and stern to provide support, but the weight of the boat rests on the keel. To ensure proper alignment two divers entered the water to guide the keel onto a central steel beam. A maze of docklines helped keep us vertical.
Once we finally got into the lift (Colombian time!) the whole process went smoothly. We hired two local hands, Manuel and Escuardo, to help with the scraping and painting, and they worked very hard and well. In fact, the whole operation was very professional, helping to make an unpleasant process as painless as possible. The final price was very reasonable--probably the cheapest haul and launch ever for this cruiser. That was step one in the long process of readying Minke for a rough offshore passage.