3rd March 2023
Portobello, Central Panama, Panama – Georgetown, Grand Cayman
When Roy castle, Norris McWhirter and the delectable Cheryl Baker* hosted ‘Record Breakers’ they gave awards for such amazing feats as ‘How many bar mats can you catch from your elbow?’ or ‘Maximum number of cheeseburgers eaten in an hour’. After sailing to Grand Cayman if we were to feature on Record Breakers, then there would be a huge haul of prizes, not all of them good.
Leaving Portobello and waving goodbye to our new friends, we were about to embark on a record that neither of us were looking forward to; going upwind. The bow was pointed to the northern horizon and the sails were pulled into points that we try to avoid. Ruffian leaned over to a worrying angle and Iain started turning a fetching shade of green.
As green water cascaded over the bow our new hatch seals were tested as were our abilities to function normal everyday tasks. Cooking became an exercise in extreme Greek plate balancing, sleeping required wedging arms and legs into nooks and crannies to stop them flailing and the less said about toilet antics the better.
After winning the record for our longest, most painful, beat ever things started looking up. The wind shifted allowing us to point Ruffian towards our destination, the current swept us in the right direction and our speeds built and built and built. Those days punching through, instead of over, the waves felt like a distant memory as Ruffian hurtled along and although our toilet antics were still difficult, at least one of us, Fiona, felt like a weight had literally been lifted.
Nothing was going to stop Ruffian’s charge north and our daily score was about to be revealed as we readied for our daily SSB net. We’d not clocked 150 miles, not 160, not even 170, but a truly inspiring 171.6 miles in 24 hours. We’d done this by letting the autopilot do all the hard work of steering, the AIS, radar and echomax the tricky task of watch keeping, while all being powered by the magic solar panels and towed hydro generator which filled the batteries with energy. Even though we’d broken yet another record, we really were just passengers in the experience.
These high speeds had taken us from the usual open ocean into the scary confines of the ‘Nicaraguan Rise’ and into the scarier sounding ‘Thunder Knoll’. On ‘The Rise’, the seabed which is usually flat and placid changed to one full of pinnacles, huge cliffs and dangerous shoals and past ‘Thunder Knoll’ which marks a narrow pass through these unmarked dangers. Entering the pass the seas flattened, Ruffian stopped bucking on every wave and, after a mere 5 days, Iain could finally tend to his toilet antics. Were those 5 days a new uncharted record never noted in the Book of Guinness World Records?
Life was getting easier and easier on Ruffian as the wind was freeing, was the perfect strength and was consistent in every way. During the day the sky was an uninterrupted blue and as dusk came the moon reflected the sun’s light making sailing a joy. Once the moon disappeared under the horizon, the sky was filled with bright planets, far away stars and the occasional blink of the space station.
After nearly 600 miles of sailing Ruffian found herself tied to a mooring ball in water that shone while we had to attend to formalities. These formalities usually entail finding anonymous offices hidden in a city and then filling forms in triplicate in varieties of colours and then returning said forms to all the offices is a seemingly random order. This is not the case in Grand Cayman. It’s not enough for them to have a big building with ‘Customs and Immigration’ festooned in huge letters on the outside, its emblazoned everywhere on the door, on the paperwork, on the stationary and on the clothes of everyone we met. They then took it a step further by escorting us into the building talking us through the process and just as our ‘guide’ had finished talking, our passports were mysteriously returned, Ruffian was cleared in and yet another record had been set.
The sail to Grand Cayman was record breaking so many different ways and if Roy Castle, Norris McWhirter and the delectable Cheryl Baker were in attendance then they’d be awarding prizes for all of them. There are however new records to be broken as we’re in a diving paradise where the sea teems with life and the water is so clear as to be like gin.
* Second only to Michaela Strachan who Iain had a crush on since the age of 8 and then bizarrely went tank driving with at the age of 21! How cool is that: Driving a Chieftan tank with your childhood crush.
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