Sunday, February 17, 2013

Offshore banks in the Caribbean

Position: 19°35’N, 81°37’W – Governors Harbour, Grand Cayman 

There’s always something to watch out for or worry about on a sailing passage.  And it’s always something different. From New Zealand to Tahiti, we watched for any damage to the boat from strong winds. In French Polynesia we worried about running aground on the shallow reefs. From the Marquesas to Panama, we kept a close eye on rationing our supplies to make sure we didn’t run out of food or water. And from Panama to the Cayman Islands, we had offshore banks – and I’m not talking about the financial hideaways where certain Irish politicians stashed taxpayer’s money over recent years.

The Caribbean Sea consists of over 7,000 islands, reefs and cays. In between these, there are several ocean banks – large expanses of rock lying under the water and reducing the water depth from 2,000 metres to just 10 metres within minutes. Boats can run aground on the shallowest parts of these banks or capsize in the turbulent waves caused by the disrupted flow of water. On our way to Grand Cayman we navigated through two sets of such ocean banks. We passed the first during daylight without any incident, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Something to raise the heart rate
As we approached the second set – the Rosalind Bank and the Thunder Knoll – we checked the electronic chart and cross referenced it with our navigation bible, Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes. The electronic chart warned of uncharted depths, and showed countless shipwrecks and spots of shallow water scattered within 20 miles of our position. However Jimmy advised us to continue over the bank as even the shallowest depths should not be any risk to Ashling, who needs a minimum of 2m water beneath her. Jimmy is to sailing what Jamie Oliver is to cooking and our motto on board is ‘In Jimmy we trust’. So we ploughed on through, following the path of some commercial ships going the same way and had an uneventful, albeit sleepless night. 

Grand Cayman on the horizon
On Friday morning we spotted the coastline of Grand Cayman, three days ahead of schedule thanks to strong 20 knot winds along the way. We turned on the VHF as we approached land and eavesdropped on conversations of other boaties, giggling at the new languages and accents - “Rah-ja dat. I bin sittin' ‘ere for lang time now and dere be no fishes ‘round ‘ere mon.” What a change from the mumbo-jumbo Spanish that we heard just five days ago in Panama. 

After completing the usual customs and immigration formalities, we anchored in Governors Harbour on the north-west of the island and dingyed ashore to see our first familiar faces since leaving New Zealand last September. Friends from Ireland Cara, Justin and 5-month old Eden were waiting excitedly on the dock to greet us with champagne and so many hugs that we were almost winded. We were tired from our five day sail and they were tired from a week at work but somehow we found enough energy for a delicious steak dinner and many glasses of wine until the early hours.

Already they have gone above and beyond to welcome us to Cayman and make us feel at home in their home. We’ve had delicious home-cooked meals, walks with Bossy the dog, watched a gaelic football match, drank pints of Guinness and even enjoyed a night on the couch watching Midsomer Murders. It's hospitality at its finest and we are loving every minute!

Guinness...it's still good for you
Sunday dinner: all you can eat carvery


1 comment:

  1. Hi Guys Congrats on making it across the Pacific and into the Atlantic!! Based on how long my neighbours spent cruising in the Carribean I suspect you will be having a great time. All the best and fair winds to you.

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