Date: 27 April 2018
Location: Anchored Kingston Harbour, Jamaica LAT 17° 56.810 LON 076° 46.411
Weather: Sunny, Upper 85, Wind E 15 Knots
We anchored up in Montego Bay ahead of a nice downwind sail around the NW corner of Jamaica en route to the “Backpackers Beach” of Negril. The West coast is pretty much one long stretch of white sand with small hotels and beach bars dotting the shore line. A few fancier places on the north end covered with water toys and tourists being pulled by outboards, a few parasails doting the skies and some Party Cats with sun seekers dancing to the music. As we worked southward along the coast the places got smaller and simpler. Enjoyed a little rain shower (I do need an occasional bath) before we dropped the hook off a beach bar called Woodstock. Sea Tigger ferried the crew in for supper and some live Reggie (aka Reggae according to First Mate Karrie Lynn) music. The show even included a magic act. They met some local kids- complete with backpacks and water bottles and enjoyed the show.
Probably would have “Chilled Out” here another day or 2 but we needed to start our way Up The South Side towards Kingston as The Admiral had flight reservations for 25 April. So instead, we headed out early the following morning for Black River. Rounded the Negril Lighthouse on the SW corner of the Island and got a taste of the adventure ahead.
Trade Winds are a Force of Nature and a Fact of Life. Sometimes you “Love” them and sometimes you “Live” with them. If you are headed West – you “Love” them – if headed East you “Live” with them. The Trade Winds are located in a belt from roughly 30 degrees N to 30 degrees south of the equator and blow continuously out of the East towards the West. They blow year around but with different intensity (10 to 15 knots and up to 25 to 30 knots) and slightly different directions (slightly out of the NE or slightly out of the SE) depending on the time of year. Just track any hurricane as they come off the coast of Africa and you will see the effects and direction of the Trade Winds.
Since Sailors Started Sailing the Seven Seas; repeat that fast 5 times, they have had to deal with them and now it’s our turn. There are different strategies – such as traveling at night when they tend to be lighter close to land or tacking back and forth through the wind to make headway. About 40 to 45 degrees into the wind, that is about as tight as we can sail. We modern day sailors do have the advantage over the old timers by virtue of sail design and engines which allows us to motor sail; oxymoron? But whatever method is used, it is and will always be something sailors will have to “Live” with when heading East into the Trade Wind belt.
Okay, enough of the Science lesson. After a few hours motor sailing into a strong headwind, we stopped in a small cove called Whitehouse Bay (yep, you’re right – named for the big White House in the Bay) for a few hours rest and to let a thunderstorm pass by before continuing on to Black River. After navigating a couple of reefs at the entrance to Black River Bay, we furled the sails and continued on under power alone. The town is positioned way up in the large bay situated right at the mouth of the River. Next, the crew dropped and lowered my anchor in about 14 feet of water off of the town docks. They took a few minutes to get me cleaned up and settled in and were about to head into town but not before the local Marine Patrol came aboard to check our documents and fill out their array of forms. Invited them on-board for a coke and some crackers and wrapped officialdom up pretty quickly.
The South (windward) side of Jamaica is not traveled as much but this area is certainly one of the highlights. The current from the River flows down from the Santa Cruz Mountains pretty hard – maybe 4 to 5 knots at the entrance. Similar to a lot of rivers in Florida, the water is really a deep brown (color of molasses) instead of Black which is a result of tannins in the water from the mangroves. The ecosystem of the River is very complex. Marsh grass, Red and Black Mangroves with their tangle of roots and massive amounts of Lily pads swamp the water. It is Jamaica’s most significant crocodile habitat and supports dozens of bird species including Snow Egrets and several types of Herons. On Saturday, The Admiral and Captain took Sea Tigger under the bridge and upstream a few hundred yards (she fought the current well) where they joined a couple from England for a river tour further inland on a pontoon boat to visit the critters. Apparently crocodiles are territorial and stay pretty much in the same general area. The guide had names for each one and knew pretty much where to find them. There were amazing and extensive Mangrove trees and root systems along the river bank. Some of the trees extending 50 to 60 feet up. The guide claimed some of the trees were aged over 200 years and grew up to 6” per year when young. The boat stopped up river to give the group an opportunity to jump in the water but the Admiral declined. She said it was the murky brown color but I believe it was the possibility of coming face to face with a set of teeth. Back at the tour docks they viewed a crocodiles nursery where there were some young ones being raised for release. The river guide indicated that roughly only 5 or 6 eggs out of 60 will hatch and reach maturity. Seems like they can use a little help but nature has its reasons. All in all it was a good excursion.
After the River Tour, my crew hitched a ride with the couple from England and their personal driver and headed up to Y-S Falls. Got a laugh when they heard the name of the driver. James Clark (First Mate Dustin’s Birth name) took us about 20 miles (45 minutes) up into the mountains to a private Farm/Estate that had a decent size river running through the area. The place was set up as a public park. At the gated entrance to the property, my crew was met by a Massey Ferguson farm tractor pulling a wagon that took them up to the Park area and the Falls. The place was surrounded by forests; had 3 gravel lined swimming holes, a restaurant, gift shop, a zip line, gardens, walking trails and changing facilities with showers. A regular State Park just without the camping facilities. They climbed along the side of the river to the top of the Falls for the view. The tour book boasted that these Falls were some of the most pristine in Jamaica. I guess that means it typically is unless there hasn’t been rain for 3 days prior to your visit. The water here was brown as well but this time it was from mud. There were ropes stretched across the Falls for those wanting to navigate the rocks but, at The Admirals insistence (although I hear she didn’t put up a real big fight), the Captain was only allowed to get his feet wet in the river and retreated to one of the pools to get totally committed.
A Hay Ride back to the entrance and a taxi ride back to the Town where they found Sea Tigger still waiting at the docks. The ride back out was interesting, as it was a river current flowing against an incoming tide and wind. Just to add to the excitement it started raining hard, really hard! Made for some steep wave action for about 150 feet. They survived and arrived safely to where I was patiently waiting to hear about the days adventures. Only downer for the day was when they discovered a basic truism of sailing: Deck Hatch left open = wet berth. Seems the crew (The Admiral says it was the Captains fault) left one of my overhead hatches open and the passing rain shower took full advantage of it. But the rain is gone, wind is gone and there’s a rainbow over the mountains. Another fun day exploring Jamaica!
That night the crew enjoyed a Spaghetti dinner and a pleasant surprise. Either the speaker at the local bar broke or the power went out. Quiet at 2100 hours allowed the crew to get some sleep. Up at 0500 to get a few miles Eastward before the wind started to pick up around 1030. Destination Alligator Reef. This is really just a stop behind a low exposed offshore reef that provides protection from the waves. The charts are not real detailed for this area so we went in slow and careful. Found a sandy spot in about 12 feet behind an exposed reef that was perfect for several hours of rest. The winds were 25 knots plus on the nose all day so we sat tight. As the evening came on, the winds eased off to about 15 knots, enough for us to continue Eastward. Departed at 2200 motor sailing with the mainsail about half way to help stabilize the roll from the waves. Arrived at Pelican Bay about 10 hours later, around 0800 and put out the anchor behind a small Cay that was good protection from the wind and waves. They turned off my engine and it didn’t take long for them to fall asleep right there in the cockpit. Early afternoon I saw some local fishermen come by and offer some of their catch. Good looking fish but the crew declined as The Admiral was leaving in a couple of days to head back to the States. The crew took it easy, made some water, did a few chores and went to bed early.
Up at 0430 and departed at first light on the final leg to Kingston Harbour. The wind was relatively light and from a favorable direction (15 knots out of the SE) which made for an enjoyable sail around the point and into the Harbour entrance. Kingston Bay is a large and busy place. Dozens of Container ships, barges, tugs and freighters all coming and going competing for space. Two main channels bring you to the entrance of the main harbour. When The Admiral asked if we had the right of way, The Captain referred to me as a “Mouse Among a Herd of Elephants” and said his job was just to stay out of the way. Originally my Captain wanted to anchor where the infamous Captain Morgan once anchored and stay at Port Royal Yacht Club. That was just inside the entrance at the tip of the peninsula separating the inner harbour from the outer bay. However, they found it looking run down with 3 old boats tied to the dock; one appeared to be sinking and no visible activity. We hailed on the VHF with no response. Very uninviting. So onward to the far end of the inner harbour past the Container Ship docks, the Cranes, the Anchoring Zones for the Port and the City to the extreme eastern end arriving at the Royal Jamaican Yacht Club (RBYC). This put us next to the airport anyway which was a plus.
We anchored down just outside the marina, crew cleaned themselves up, launched Sea Tigger and headed to the docks. Peter, the Marina Manager warmly greeted us, asked what he could do for us and led us in the office where his staff arranged for our check-in and lunch. Peter and staff could not have been nicer or more helpful. Officially checked in and bellies full, plans were made to go visit the famous town of Port Royal a few miles away. Once a thriving City and called “The Richest and Wickedest City in the World”, Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson had Fort Charles constructed to control the Harbour and protect the town. Pirates, Privateers and the Royal Navy all at one time or another, controlled the island and the port. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692 and never recovered. Its glory days of Calico Jack, Henry Morgan and Edward “Blackbeard” Teach is definitely part of the past. The crew explored Fort Charles, The Battery and walked through the city. The Captain was disappointed. In his admittedly warped mind, he saw a miniature Charleston or Savannah. The reality he found was an old, worn and neglected town. Not at all what he expected. Definitely better in his imagination. The crew hopped on a local bus full of students from a local tech school studying Marine Engineering that were headed to Kingston. It dropped them off on the main road near RJYC and they had a pleasant 15 minute walk back to the marina. As dusk fell the sand fleas attacked so it was a mad scramble to Sea Tigger and back to me. They took a bath and went back to the Yacht Club to get a taxi into Kingston for dinner. Stopped by the Devon House which is an old Plantation with extensive gardens and specialty shops. The Plantation House; once home of the first Black Jamaican millionaire, has been preserved and is now a fancy Steak House. He made his money, a lot of money, mining for gold in Venezuela. Captain found a Bakery for Carrot Cake and an Ice Cream Shop to top it off. They said there were lots of folks enjoying the evening wandering around the gardens and shops.
My crew finally got back home around 2300 hours and turned in for the evening. The Admiral enjoyed her perked coffee at sunrise the next morning and packed up for her return to the States for a friend’s wedding and First Mate Karrie Lynn’s Graduation from Vet Tech School. The Captain stayed with me to receive new crew and make preparations for the crossing to Haiti and beyond.
Joyce and Brian Clark
S/V Pawsitive Latitude
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