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March 20 - 29, 2009

Providence (Providencia)

It was tough to leave the tranquility of the Chagres River in Panama, but alas it was time to head north. Our destination was San Andres, a Colombian island over 200 miles to the northwest and located east of Nicaragua. After sailing downwind for 1,600 miles, we found ourselves on an unfamiliar upwind course too high on the wind to sail. Reluctantly, we engaged the iron ginny and motorsailed straight up the rhumb line all night making great time toward our destination.

Around sunrise the next morning, the engine choked and gasped a few times, and then it rudely and abruptly shuddered to a stop. We sat there for a moment, wide-eyed and mouths agape, in the unexpected silence. Fortunately, the wind had come around to the northeast allowing us to sail. We made great time sailing close-hauled while Nick changed the fuel filter and eventually got the engine to run. But now we didn't need it.

When we left Panama, we had allowed time to make a few long tacks in order to reach San Andres. After motorsailing all night and now sailing 6-7 knots right on course, we found ourselves ahead of schedule and facing a nighttime arrival on the reefy south coast of San Andres. So we decided to head instead for Providence, another Colombian island to the northeast. We tacked due east for a few hours until we could lay a course close-hauled on the wind to Providence. As night fell, the wind picked up and the seas started smacking the hull in short, bone-jarring intervals that made sleep virtually impossible. Aahh...the joys of upwind sailing! We had forgotten.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Nick saw a frothy trough open up and swallow the boat. As the hull slammed into the trough, boxes of milk and fruit juice flew out of a crate in the v-beth and landed in the forward head. Several boxes of milk and pineapple juice burst, spewing their contents onto the floor. I cleaned up the mess as best I could, but at 3:00 A.M. with the boat heeled I couldn't get the smelly mixture to go down the shower drain.

We reached the south coast of Providence around noon the following day and entered the marked channel into a tranquil, protected harbor on the island's northwest shore. After three days and two nights with virtually no rest, all three of us sacked out and remained virtually comatose for 12 blissful hours.

The next day, after delivering our papers to Bernardo Bush of the "Bush Agency" for check-in, we set about cleaning our salt-encrusted home. The pineapple juice-milk concoction had curdled overnight and was emitting a sickenly sweet smell, so rinsing that mess down the shower drain was a priority. That's when we realized that the forward shower sump pump, which we never use, had stopped working. So, the curdled pineapple-milk juice had ended up in the boat's bilge. Phew!

After the chores were done, we started discovering what a terrific island we'd unintentionally come to. We noticed that while mariners call the island by its Spanish name Providencia, the locals use the English Providence. Along with Steve and Mary on S/V Barefoot, we enjoyed a walk around Catalina island, a Baptist beach party, and a tour by moped around the island. We also discovered terrific snorkeling on healthy reefs in the island's clear water. The residents of Providence are generally of West Indian descent, most of them speaking both English and Spanish with a Jamaican accent. However, we found them to be much friendlier than their neighbors on the other side of the Caribbean Sea. Forget Simon Bolivar and Che Gavara; we were back in Bob Marley territory. Now it was reggae and calypso music instead of Latin rap.

Providence turned out to be a delightful destination. Bernardo advised us that a dinghy has never been stolen in Providence, and we had no problem leaving ours tied and unlocked on the public dock. The island is pretty, the water clear, the coral healthy, and the people friendly. As we often find in cruising, sometimes when the wind blows you off course, you may discover unexpected pleasures.

Just another day in Paradise. Nick swinging on a tire at Manchineel
Bay. (Note the frayed rope on the left side of the branch.)

Dinner! Nick lands this fish on our first day out of Panama.

Nick fights a dorado (mahi-mahi). Sadly, this beautiful fish flipped
off the gaff hook before we got it onboard.

Providence has a beautiful anchorage, comfortable with good holding and
close access to town. Just what a cruiser wants.

Another harbor view

Nick with Mary and Steve of S/V Barefoot at the Baptist picnic. The church
sold barbecued chicken boxed lunches and sodas (no beer, of course) to raise
money for a temple expansion. We were quite surprised to discover Baptists
in the Catholic Caribbean. The church members were very friendly and made
sure their gringo guests were fed and comfortable.

Spectators step aside for the horse races!

Baptist boys compete in a sack race.

Now the girls have their turn.

A prominent landmark over the harbor: Split Mountain or, as the sailors call it, Morgan's Ass.

Lovely beaches and clear water are found in laid-back Providence.

Deanna demonstrates the meaning of "laid back" at Roland's on Manchineel
Beach, the perfect Caribbean beach hangout.

Nick and Deanna at Roland's

Roland's served us one the best meals we've had in the Caribbean.
This mixto included stewed conch, grilled lobster tail, fried snapper,
crab claws, tostones (plantains), coconut rice, and slaw.

These little boys gladly posed for a photo. When Nick showed them
their picture in the preview screen, they said "Gracias." I was
shocked. Anywhere else, they would have stuck out an empty
palm for money.

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