THE RETURN OF SALOME
RIO DULCE, GUATEMALA
73 days and just over 2,700 n.m.
Nov. 7 , 1992 through Jan. 18, 1993
A SEA VOYAGE THAT TURNED INTO A LIFE THREATENING AND
HARROWING SEA ADVENTURE. THIS IS A DRAMATIC AND POWERFUL ACCOUNT OF HOW "SALOME"
AND HER CREW MET THE CHALLENGE THAT ONLY THE SEA COULD DOLE.
Excerpts from the daily log of Salome and some personal comments made
by, Captain Tom and Gisela.
For those of you who are thinking of becoming sailors, this story will
either scare you off or whet your appetite for adventure.
The Return of Salome
Copyright © 1993 by Thomas P. Patten
Several years ago after completing the charter season in the Virgin
Islands, Captain Tom Patten and his mate, Gisela Wood sailed out of Charlotte Amalie
Harbor, St. Thomas. They were aboard their gaff schooner ‘Salome’. The course
was set for a 1400-mile down-wind sail to Central America.
This record is not about their adventure in Central America, nor of the
charter seasons, they had in Belize and Guatemala. This is about the return voyage to St.
To take a small gaff schooner dead to windward, challenging the
Windward Passage in winter and beating into the full force of the westerly trade winds,
was not to be the same experience that they had encountered on the voyage from the Virgin
Islands, two years earlier.
This is not intended to read like Travel Tour literature, inviting one
to experience the romance and pleasure of a cruise, nor like a fiction novel. Rather this
is the account of a sea passage that turned into a life-threatening and harrowing sea
adventure. It is a factual, descriptive, and detailed account of how Salome and her crew
met the challenge that King Neptune unleashed upon them. There are several excerpts from
the Daily Log of Salome, and some personal comments made by Tom and Gisela.
Three basic philosophies seemed to surface regularly during those weeks
at sea and were with the crew until the final day and hour of their journey. One,
Murphy’s Law: "Anything that can happen will happen". Second, Saud’s
Law: "If you drop a piece of buttered bread on the floor the buttered side will
always hit the carpet". The third came from the inspiration of Rube Goldberg, with
his ingenious solutions to mechanical problems.
THE RETURN OF SALOME
DAY 1, Saturday, November 7, 1992
The Return of Salome began off the small Guatemalan village of
Fronteras on the Rio Dulce. The crew was well aware of the hazards and hardships that a
1400-mile beat-to-weather sail could produce, so Salome was painstakingly prepared,
rigged, and provisioned for the challenge. One month was spent checking and rechecking the
electronics, planks, shackles and sails, the self-steering device, the ground tackle, and
the bilge pumps. All were repaired and/or replaced.
The anchor was hoisted and the sails were set for the 18-mile cruise
down the Rio Dulce to the salt sea and clearing out at Livingston.
(first comments from Capt. Tom)
“We gave big waves with departing cocktails in hand as Salome slid
by Mañana Marina, which was home for the schooner for the past year. I gave a big toot on
the conch shell horn, and pointed Salome’s bowsprit toward the Golfete.
The cruise down the Rio was truly a wonder. Looking closely at the
riverbank. I could pick out the occasional thatched roof hurts of an Indian family
settlement. Young boys and girls played at the water’s edge. In the near jungle,
bare-breasted Indian women stood waist deep in the water and slapped garments on the
rocks. A dugout cayuco or two were pulled up on the riverbank. This small family unit was
difficult to see at first, but a thin sliver of smoke winding up through the thick jungle
directed my attention to the location, and also indicated that possibly a fish and some
tortillas were on the fire.
As we passed down stream close to the banks, children were fishing from
several cayuos. Further out on the river a man, on his knees in a 12-foot long, 15-inch
wide cayuco (dug out), was paddling slowly up river. Another man in the bow was standing
unsupported in the flimsy unstable craft. At just the right moment, he flung a 20-foot
diameter lead-fringed cast net into the water. Almost every cast yielded a few fish. This
must be like standing in a hammock on your boat and trying to lasso a fast moving
We slowed Salome and a bargain was struck for a few fresh fish for our
evening meal. In places, the river narrowed to only 250 feet, with sheer white limestone
cliffs on each side. Some cliffs towered to 300 feet. As Salome entered the Great Gorge,
the sound of the jungle was all around. Wild parrots screeched as they soared by. Hanging
vines seemed to do a motionless dance while hanging from the tall trees that grew out and
up on the face of the cliffs. A white crane lurched at the waters edge close on our port
side. This was the exact location where Johnny Wisemueller and the Tarzan movies were
filmed on location. I could recall, and see in my mind’s eye, Tarzan diving off those
cliffs and swinging through the heavy stream of vines that canopy the trees. I could not
help but wonder if Tarzan’s famous call to the wild was still echoing in the
mysterious depths of this jungle?
Salome approached what seemed to be a dead end in the Gorge. The Rio,
however, suddenly turned and the vessel slid into the open delta of the river’s end.
We dropped anchor off the ferry dock in Livingston for the night. A trip was made into the
village with Passports and papers in hand. The sessions with police, customs, and
immigration were short and courteous. We bargained for some, last minute, fresh provisions
at shops along the road. As a farewell treat Gisela and I had a couple of cold beers, the
last to be had for a very long time, we reckoned.
After a short paddle back to Salome, we settled down to a pleasant
evening at anchor, and a good night’s rest. Before slipping into our dreams we
discussed our time spent on the Rio Dulce and wondered how long it would be before
civilization crept into this secluded and virgin river. We had felt the sense of change
and saw the jungle being pushed back alone the banks already in some places. Gisela
commented that it was good we got to see it now and wagered that in a few years there
would be big power boats, jet skis and all that goes with it.”
Salome’s first day into the salt water took her only twelve miles
by night fall. We broke the bonds of land and were heading for more of an adventure than
we ever expected. The first few days into the voyage proved to be a bit troublesome. Heavy
thunder storms, torrential rains, and higher than normal winds, then followed dead calms.
This called for continual sail changes and maneuvers and the normal three-hour watch
system was abandoned. These interruptions required that we both be on deck at the same
time. A discomforting omen was that everything remained wet.
We relied on the Perkins 4-108 engine for generating the required
electric power needed for the bilge pumps and for powering the cabin and running lights.
The Solar System could not keep up with that continual drain. The engine, though perfectly
adequate for its intended use, was not powerful enough to push Salome’s thirteen-ton
weight through even the slightest head sea. It was to be used for propelling only during
the entering of ports, or in dead calm situations.
Murphy’s Law struck when a new fan belt broke. The spare had a
flaw and broke too, thus, introducing Saud’s Law. I was required to assume an
inverted and uncomfortable position, as I called on a Rube Goldberg solution to fabricate
and install a belt that worked. At least fifteen different belts were fashioned from all
types of materials until one fashioned from knotted cord, lasted two hours before
breaking. It seemed the most stable, so several were made.
It was slow going for the next couple of days. The adverse weather
pattern continued; so we had to tack, tack, jib, drift, and change sails continually. The
fan belt held, but it required the engine compartment to remain open during battery charge
because the belt also ran the fresh water pump to the engine, and that must not fail!
I expected that Salome would traverse the western and northern
Caribbean seas for the next six or eight weeks. We conceded that the existing unstable
condition was a worrisome burden, so we decided to adjust the course and head back toward
Cortez, Honduras to seek out replacement belts. This was a wise decision, because just six
hours before we entered the Port of Cortez one of the electric bilge pumps quit
Salome sailed into the Port of Cortez. We were given permission to dock
at the commercial wharf because we had a problem and were under sail only. Most of the day
was spent clearing customs. All the officials were polite, but not very fast or efficient,
and had us zigzagging from one end of the town to the other in order to accomplish the
clearance. Finally, I was off to the fan belt store. A quick return to Salome to restore
the fan belt revealed it was not the right size so I was off again to the fan belt store
for the proper one, plus a spare. These were not the best quality but I was satisfied that
they would work.
There was now time to try to find a new or used electric bilge pump.
The problem with the pump was a tiny spring that held down one of the brushes. It had
broken off, so it was into town again. This search was not successful as there were no
replacement springs in the area. While I was talking with the outboard motor dealer, our
last hope, Gisela was chatting with the dealer’s wife. That dear lady pulled out her
ball point pen, unscrewed the cap, and handed the small coil spring over to Gisela. IT
We turned in early that night for a well-deserved rest. No way! The
Murphy and Saud team joined forces. We were awakened and ordered to move the boat at once,
and this was not a polite invitation. The Dock Master ordered us to pay a dock fee of
$250.00 in US dollars. This, of course was obvious extortion, and it would break the
kitty’s back. In third world countries, you seldom win in these confrontations, but
you do have to try. Protests, arguments, and negotiation attempts on both sides followed.
Finally, around 10:30 PM, with the help of a well-staged hysterical cry session by Gisela,
$40.00 was agreed upon and paid. We moved Salome and waited another day to sail out of the
Early in the morning, clearance was completed and some fresh provisions
were bargained for in the market. We enjoyed a couple of cold beers at a roadside stand
and then returned to Salome for a short nap before departing at twenty-three hundred
hours. We left the harbor and pointed Salome’s bow-sprit North East toward Cuba. Only
a few miles were gained on this sixth day, and Salome advanced only 75 nautical miles
toward the intended landfall in Cuba.
Special Note from Captain Tom:
We have introduced you to Murphy’s and Saud’s Laws, and to
old Rube Goldberg. We now introduce you to Red Neck and Cranky, our two mechanical mates
on Salome. They eat nothing, never get tired or irritable, and yet perform great tasks of
vigilance and maintenance.
Red Neck is the crew’s affectionate term of endearment for the
wind vane self-steering device that has served Salome for the past nine years. It was so
named for the red strip of cloth sewed to the bottom of the wind vane’s sock. Salome
has this, one crew, support on watch twenty-four hours a day. Of course, Red Neck does not
relieve the normal watch from a constant vigil, but it does permit the watch to leave the
helm briefly for a coffee, a stretch, or to take care of a personal problem. If Red Neck
should decide to quit, a crew of just two on a long passage would soon feel the pressure
Cranky, the other mechanical mate joined the crew at the same time as
Red Neck. Cranky is a hand cranked Reed Sail maker sewing machine. The stitches are not
always tight, and it is sometimes difficult to wield in high seas and bad weather. This
mechanical device considerably shortens the tasks asked of me, and the seams and repairs
on the sails are strong.
In the galley, Mate Gisela prepares at least two hot and hardy meals a
day in our precious pressure cooker, regardless of weather conditions. Boat glop, as
referred to by cruising sailors, is a one-pot concoction and a favorite. It consists of
potatoes or pasta, onions, vegetables that are on hand, canned meat, fish, or whatever is
available, and it is highly spiced. If during the cook-up a rough wave hits and the cook
may find herself levitating in the galley with feet and arms searching for something to
land on, the pressure cooker, even if it takes a tumble, will not lose the boat glop. The
crew will enjoy a couple of meals anyway.
For the next seven days, we looked for any wind that would drive us
either north or east. The weather started to turn bad. A fierce Northeaster prevented any
progress in the proposed direction. We were constantly wet and began to chafe and develop
salt-water sores. This coupled with the mounting number of boat-bites that we were
accumulating, made life uncomfortable, to say the least. Boat-bites are little cuts,
bruises and abrasions caused by knuckle-busting wrench slips in the engine room, rope
burns, and pinches during sail changes and maneuvers in high winds, plus the usual bumps
and burns encountered in the galley.
There was one mishap after another that required constant repair. The
number one electric bilge pump quit completely. During a routine engine start to charge
batteries, a solenoid stuck, and the starter almost burned up. Smoke and strange noises
spewed out of the engine compartment until the main battery lead was disconnected. I
dismounted the starter and made some repairs. It then worked but was weak and hurt. As for
the starter solenoid, that was defunct! For the rest of the voyage to start we had to hold
the start hot cable to a battery post, not an easy job in foul weather or in the dark.
Gisela managed to learn that task after much apprehension. She didn’t like
electronics or sparks.
After tacking and jibing continually for several days we had gained
only 320 miles toward Cuba. The violent thunderstorms and heavy rains abated somewhat
today but the Northeaster still plagued our progress. Murphy and Saud teamed up again. The
bracket that held Red Neck to the transom loosened, threatening to tear at the stern
planks. I worked up an apparatus with ropes and tackle in a configuration contrived to
alleviate this problem.
The seas remained very rough, and to add to our misery, the second
electric bilge pump quit completely. I moved the hand bilge pump from the cockpit mount to
inside the cabin. Five hundred strokes each hour were required to stay ahead of the water
entering the boat. With every wave, tons of water hit Salome’s freeboard. From the
pressure alone the seams started to leak badly.
With an estimated seven days more to landfall, at the rate, we were
going and with the prevailing conditions, an even more serious condition confronted us.
While on a port tack for several hours, over thirty gallons of fresh water was lost
through the galley hand pump. By the time this was noticed, almost all of our fresh water
was gone. With only five gallons of water left, rationing began immediately, one pint per
person per day, and that included what was used for cooking. We had to suspend two of our
moral boosters; the sundowner cocktail, and the midnight hot toddy. From that moment on
the rum stash was not touched.
Our fresh fruit was gone except for two limes, and these were cut in
small pieces as needed to sustain the watch. The dryness in our mouths was somewhat
relieved by wetting a finger and sticking it into the Tang Crystals. My belly fell away
during the first two days of rationing. Gisela could not afford any loss. About the same
time, that water rationing began, Gisela ran out of cigarettes and for the rest of this
leg of the voyage she resorted to trying to light up my small chewing cigars.
The diaphragm in the hand pump went belly-up and a bucket had to be
used to keep the water in the bilge to an acceptable high level. Finally old Rube Goldberg
inspired an alternative. A new diaphragm was fashioned from an old rain jacket. It worked
fine and only needed to be replaced about every 2000 strokes. This continual pumping had
to be maintained until the weather calmed down and Salome could sail smoothly on the
bottom of the boat only.
Even through these difficult and disheartening experiences, harbingers
of hope appeared, and there was the assurance that just beyond the horizon the weather
would settle when a large sea bird visited us out of the murk and landed on the solar
panel for a rest. It stayed about an hour then flew off, but to where? On another day a
banana bird flew aboard. I had seen these birds before and told Gisela that it would be
sitting on her shoulder and chatting away very soon. The little finch-type bird stayed
with us two days, sleeping in one of the hanging nets in the cabin. One morning it peeked
its head up from between a potato and a spice jar, stretched, shit on my charts, and then
flew off, not to be seen again. By then, we were both to weak to care and the dehydration
started to affect our judgment.
On this morning the weather calmed and a nice east wind filled the
sails. The skies were clear, so everything from below came out to dry, and off came our
cloths. The chafe and sores were getting unbearable, especially when no fresh water could
be used to give relief. But thanks to Gisela’s number one daughter, a bottle of nice
body oil eased some of the misery. Water was low now, and we were eating all of the canned
food that contained any water or liquid. All of those black and troublesome thunderstorms
we endured were gone, but so was the precious water they brought.
BANG! SHAKE! RATTLE! During an engine run, the engine went nuts. What
happened? Could a rod or piston have broken? The propeller came loose from the engine! I
was upside down, at it again in the usual inverted position. The repairs were accomplished
in about 30 minutes but a seal in the transmission was damaged and now the transmission
needed about one quart of oil each hour. Only four quarts of oil were left on Salome so
that meant four hours of engine run time while we were in gear. Running out of gear for
charging used no oil.
From the Log of Salome:
DAY 18 Nov. 24, 1992, 1600 hours
“Land-Ho, on the Bow.” Carbo Peppe straight ahead just 18
miles on the sprit. The past few days have been good weather with favorable winds. Several
days before, the decision was made to change course toward the Isla Pinos, a large island
on Cuba’s South, about 120 miles to the west of Cayo Largo.
(end log entry)
The wind died off and slow progress toward the land ahead was made. For
the next two nights a very alert vigil was observed on the watch, because of the 8 to 10
ships a night that crossed our path. We were crossing a very busy shipping lane near the
Salome pushed ahead into Cuban waters. We navigated for a position
favorable for negotiating the fringing reef, to enter the flats on the west coast of Isla
Pinos, by mid morning. The wind was about 15 knots out of the east on that beautiful clear
day. None of the expected Cuban Patrol boats were encountered, and we awaited the dawn.
Bong, Jib, Rattle! “Which one of the villains struck this
time?”, I thought. A cable broke. Red Neck could not keep up with the action. Gisela
coaxed Red Neck back on course manually as I assumed the upside down position again. This
time in the back steering hole to string and connect a new cable. When the job was
completed, Salome was 4 miles off the reef. We slowed the boat to meet the opening in the
reef, under a relatively high sun. We were on the flats in clear calm water and with just
enough breezes to have the kind of sail one dreams about. There was a 35-mile sail left to
reach the port of entry on the islands north coast. Since we could not make it before
nightfall, we dropped the anchor.
Note from Captain Tom:
Very accurate Cuban charts were secured before we left the Rio Dulce.
The path plotted over the reef went flawlessly with the use of the Big Fixer and those
charts. The Big Fixer is how I refer to the GPS unit. For the many years that I have been
challenging the seas, the sextant has been my sole navigational instrument for determining
a position. On this voyage, however, we enjoyed the wonders and accuracy of GPS. Sextant
fixes would have been rare because of the bad weather conditions we have encountered. The
extra time and energy expended in the calculations and plotting of our positions using the
sextant would have deprived us further of the little sleep we were able to get.
(end of note)
DAY 20, Nov. 26, 1992
Welcome to Cuba, also Happy Thanksgiving Day up north. During the
night, a moderate rain fell and fresh water was caught. We made lots of coffee, had a big
breakfast with juice (Tang) and Gisela made pan bread. We then had the treat of real fresh
water baths. All of the cushions and bedding were dried out and the boat was tidied up.
The yellow ‘Q’ flag was hoisted just under our new Cuban
courtesy flag that was made for us by Ursula. Jody and Ursula are dear friends that live
in Guatemala City whom we visited just before leaving on this voyage.
The Spanish flag of Salome and the crew’s country flags are also
flapping from the spreader. We are ready for the officials. Anchor up and ready to hoist
sail. Plan to make port before nightfall.
Total distance made from day one: 584 miles
Total distance traversed in that time: 724 miles
It wasn’t until 1430 hours, on Nov. 27, 1992, that Salome dropped
anchor and waited for the Cuban officials and whatever they had in store. Not many people
have sailed into here in the past decades. Stories of good and bad have been heard.
All was not completely flawless the day and night before. When the
engine was started in the morning, it stopped at once. The electric fuel pump had quit, so
the approach to port and anchoring was made under sail. I called for the Port Captain on
the VHF radio. Soon the Patrol Boat and the Port Captain came out in the pilot boat to
inspect papers and the boat. They extended a big “Welcome to Cuba”, which was
very polite. Only Spanish was spoken so we had to try very hard to be correct and not
embarrass the officials or ourselves. The pilot boat came to tow Salome up river to a
berth. I would have preferred to sail it but without a river chart the first bend could
have produced a very unfriendly bridge that would have damaged our apparent friendly
relationship and greatly embarrassed us. So the tow was accepted reluctantly with thought
of how much this was going to cost.
When Salome was secured at the dock, the crew of the tug loaded the ice
chest to overflowing and the deck hands filled the water container. The Pilot Boat Captain
passed over one cold beer and a pack of cigarettes which Gisela was fast to accept. I
offered rum all around and we made our first Cuban friends.
The officials from customs, immigration, police, and army arrived. They
requested, most politely, permission to board Salome and then they all took their shoes
off. This had never been done in any country that Salome had visited before. What a treat
and show of concern from officials. The complement of men and one woman filed below to
complete formalities. The entire operation was short, painless, and to my surprise, no fee
was charged, not even for the tow or the berth. We requested that no Cuban stamps be put
on the Passports and the request was granted. We were, of course, assured that the Cubans
had no quarrel with the USA. It was the other way around, they said. More “Welcomes
to Cuba” were extended and the officials departed. Politics aside, this floundering
seaman’s safe arrival was welcomed eagerly and the courtesies from the officials was
a humanitarian gesture that Gisela and I will never forget.
Salome stayed at the dock for five days. Some preventive maintenance
and repairs were made and provisions for the continued passage were negotiated. While we
were there, we experienced the communist way of life that dominates its people. We passed
a bread shop with bread to the ceiling and people stood in line to receive a small portion
of a loaf. We were not allowed to buy any. No poverty was observed in this area and no
homeless or drug related problems were noticed. Everyone we encountered was cheerful,
healthy, well dressed and groomed, and very helpful.
When it was time for Salome to leave port and continue her voyage, the
provisions we were promised could not be arranged. I did, however, manage to buy a crate
of grapefruit, and the needed engine oil was obtained. Other than that, just cigarettes,
some rum, and plenty of Cuban coffee were boarded. No eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, bread,
sugar, or butter could be arranged. It was not the people, it was the system.
The generosity and friendliness of the people cannot be emphasized
enough. One morning, about 7 AM, Gisela encountered a middle-aged man sitting on the dock
by Salome. He asked about fishhooks. The word had gotten around that Gisela had given some
to the tugboat Captain for his kids. Gisela did hand over a few to the stranger. A little
later he showed up in a truck. He slowed down by the boat, looked around, pointed to the
back of the truck, winked, giggled and then drove off. This he did several times. Finally,
on one pass, there was no one around but the pilot boat people. The pilot boat mate
snatched a full case of soda from the truck and hurried it below deck for Salome. The
driver gave big thumbs up, another giggle and a wink, and drove off. This was a gift from
the fishhook stranger. Gisela wrote in the Log: “That episode unfolded like a spy
One morning a 20-pound tuna landed in the cockpit from a passing boat.
There were motions to hide the fish quickly, and then the usual giggle and wink. Another
time some fruit was delivered and one old fan belt on another occasion. Of course, none of
this was legal and always everybody watched everybody else but who were we to reject such
hospitality. Salome reciprocated with more fishhooks, bars of soap and Bic razors.
At 1630 hours, the Cuban officials arrived, requested permission to
board again, and completed paper work as before, then extended their regards with their
best wishes. Not a penny was charged and Salome slid down the river to the open Bay.
From the log of Salome:
Day 25, December 1, 1992
A few observations on this controversial political system are noted:
The first obvious observation of a communist system was the evident absence of shops and
stores, as the free world knows them. The shops that were open were sparsely stocked and
purchases were made with ration stamps and Cuban pesos only. We searched in vain to find a
cold beer. A visit to a tourist hotel was of interest and foreign money was accepted. Some
articles of luxury were available but at a higher price than in the rest of the Caribbean
Islands. The main nationalities staying in the hotels were French and German. Tourists did
not venture out of the hotel complexes except to go on Scuba-dive trips or on strictly
guided bus tours to selective locations. There is no sport fishing because all fish caught
go to the co-ops. If one has a banana tree in his yard, the entire yield goes to the
commune for equal distribution. No one under 30 years old knew any different than to get
their four eggs a week and the one-gallon of gas for their motorbike. This was just a
normally accepted allowance.
From the Log of Salome:
DAY 26, Dec. 2, 1992
Sails were raised at sun-up. By 0830 hours, Salome crossed the
barrier reef, pointed to the open sea, and to the next intended Port of Call in the
Dominican Republic, some 850 miles to the east. I gave several loud toots on the conch
shell horn as a last farewell to Cuba.
(end of log entry)
The first day and night along the south shore of Cuba was the perfect
setting for a romantic novel. The easterly current was with us, a perfect beam reach, and
Salome pushed eastward 85 miles that day. If this held, we would be in the Dominican
Republic long before the holidays. We hoped that our luck had changed and that Murphy and
Saud had left.
During a routine engine run to charge batteries, a fresh water leak
developed in the radiator. A decision to use salt water was made, knowing that it would
cause problems later, but not until well after Salome was home. The running lights also
failed, but I was able to get them back into service. By morning, the wind continued to
increase. It was now up to Force 6, so sails were reduced and reefed. The speed was
maintained, but waves soon mounted high and the pressure on the hull caused seam leakage
again so we went back to hand pumping. During the 27th and 28th day, the weather continued
to deteriorate. The sky became overcast, and Salome found herself in a foul northeastern
gale at Force 8.
Murphy’s Law now dominated and Red Neck sheared a pin that holds
the rudder in place. This could not be fixed at sea unless it became dead calm and this
was not likely at these latitudes. It was over 700 miles and maybe three weeks to get to
the Dominican Republic. Red Neck’s failure was not immediately serious but we knew
that fatigue and exhaustion would soon set in with the burden of standing at the wheel
every moment on watch and maintaining the 500 strokes every hour at the bilge pump if the
seas were up. The wind showed no sign of letting up all that day.
Both electric bilge pumps were out and the hand pump broke another
diaphragm. Since Red Neck broke, one of us had to stay at the wheel without any
interruption. I resorted again to cutting the raincoat and fashioning it into a fix-up for
the hand pump. The job was completed and Salome was literally flying along on the easterly
course. Again, a decision had to be made. We had to change course to SSE to slow the
pressure on the hull and slow the leaks.
From the Log of Salome:
DAY 28, Dec 4, 1992, 1430 hours
The crew becoming exhausted as Force 8 continues and both electric
bilge pumps are out. We were sailing now under double-reefed main. Course changed to SSE
to reduce pressure on hull to slow leaks, and to reduce the random blue water over the
boat. At this time another course change and decision made to make for Grand Cayman, 36
miles to the south of present position. This stop will enable crew to purchase and install
new bilge pumps, repair Red Neck, and dry out.
Everything below is wet. Though this storm brought no rain, there
was salt-water spray, bilge slop and the occasional poop. There was also some loss of
provisions due to bilge oil sloping into the lockers.
(end log entry)
From the Log of Salome:
DAY 29, Sat. Dec 5, 1992, 0200 hours
We entered the open road stay at the harbor in Georgetown, Grand
Cayman, called Port Security for clearance, and were given permission. We were permitted
to anchor and to clear after 0830 hours. Anchor dropped in the calm lee of the island. The
crew fell asleep in full foul weather gear in the soggy jumble below.
(end log entry)
We had a hearty breakfast and all the wet stuff was put topside to dry.
The day was clear but the wind was still up although not so apparent on the lee shore.
Though everything dried quickly in the hot Cayman sun, the slightest dampness would turn
cloths, cushions, and bedding soggy again. The salt-water sours our chafes and our
boat-bites that had begun to heal in Cuba were growing bad again.
The clearance and paper chase in Grand Cayman was not that upsetting
except for the obvious uppity attitude of the black British-schooled officials. I did go
quite nuts when a mosquito-spray man came on the boat, informed me that he was official,
gave two fast squirts of “Raid” repellent in the cabin, and then ordered a fee
of thirty-eight US dollars for the service. No mosquito could have survived that gale so
this was outright graft. “I am not paying,” were my only words as I retired to
the cabin, leaving the bug man jabbering threats, pleading for pay, and then ordering
payment. I did not return to the deck to argue with the bug man. He finally left after
Gisela assured him that the fee would be paid. HA!
The unplanned stop in Cayman put Salome another three days off course.
It was apparent that the Dominican Republic would not be reached before Christmas. Phone
calls were planned to inform friends and relatives of the delay and a new ETA for the
Dominican Republic for New Years Eve. Provisions were re-stocked, Gisela organized a bank
transfer to fatten up the kitty, and repairs to Salome were made. Red Neck’s rudder
had a new pin insert. I could not get the proper size but it should hold. The bracket on
Red Neck that had loosened was also reinforced by cable and turnbuckle. A new electric
bilge pump was installed and spare adjustable fan belts were obtained. We secured a piece
of tire tube to fix the hand bilge pump, which proved more effective than the rain jacket.
Special note from Captain Tom (log entry )
The Cayman Islands are the most expensive ports in the whole
Caribbean. The Cayman dollar cost $1.20 US dollars. The economy is out of touch with the
world. The beaches are beautiful and the diving is great, but there is not much else.
Cruise ships stop, but voyagers don’t buy. They wait to get to St.Thomas, U.S.V.I.
The island is flat and uninteresting. English is spoken, of course.
We spent four days in Cayman, securing some cash, making repairs,
and re-provisioning. Clearance was obtained the afternoon of the 32nd day, and we turned
in before sunset for a good rest before a late night departure.
(end log entry)
From the Log of Salome:
DAY 32 December 8, 1992
Anchors and sails are up. There is a beautiful moon and a moderate
wind. The weather is great and the crew dry and well rested. Salome is all provisioned and
(end log entry)
As Salome rounded the SW tip of the island, I set the course to 120
degrees that would take us south of Jamaica then across the Windward Passage. The wind was
freshening up and we took up the normal three-hour watch shift. The shooting stars were so
big and so many at one time that it was thought they would land in the boat. They looked
like basketballs. They were sparkling all around and leaving long tails of blue, green,
red, and yellow. Neither of us had ever seen such a display before. One comment from
Gisela as she climbed to take her sleep was, “You forgot to pay the bug man.”
There was an overcast sky by 0400 hours but the wind remained steady.
“Its always darkest before dawn”, Gisela said. I was on watch to accept dawn and
the new day in about 2 hours.
At 0515 hours, BING! BONG! BOOM! CRACK! There was the breaking sound of
cables and the cracking of a mast. Booms and gaffs tossed violently, sails flapped, and
parts from above started bouncing on deck. Gisela was up in a flash and we were alerted in
controlled panic to deal with what, we did not know.
In the total darkness it was not apparent what had happened, but from
the loose cable and stuff flying around we thought it was at least one broken mast. The
situation was serious as we downed all sails. A flashlight to the main mast showed it
nipping big figure eights in the sky, and that meant only seconds before it would snap.
Once the sails were down and quickly tied off, every halyard was put to use as running
stays to secure the masts. Block and tackle was then rigged to tighten the makeshift
As Salome pitched and rolled violently under bare poles, the serious
problem was now obvious. The running back stay on the port side broke. This supported the
main mast, the main topmast, the fore mast and the jib forestay. The main topmast port
standing rig cable also broke.
The masts were temporarily safe and secure, and so was Salome, so we
sat in the cockpit and sipped coffee. We stared aloft and strained our eyes to try to
ascertain what went wrong, how bad the problem was. What the cause was, would have to wait
Daylight came and so did the realization that Salome was hurt. The
return to Grand Cayman would be a bad choice because they had no boat yard to accept
Salome, no cables and hardware to repair the rig, and the cost to stay would have broken
the Kitty clean before repairs could be made. It was 183 nautical miles to the eastern tip
of Jamaica, and that should be 3 or 4 days sail under normal conditions. The decision was
made to make for Negril, on the western end of Jamaica.
We now had to rig Salome to sail without further jeopardizing the
masts. The topsail was secured as a spanker on the Main to point Salome to weather and
ease the roll. The Yankee was checked and raised, and Salome eased off to the SE under a
very fresh northwestern wind. More ropes and cables were secured. The broken gaff was
secured as a boom to winch over the main topmast which had split. Salome sported a web of
lines and cable that would have made any spider reek with envy. What was left to sail
with? The jib top sails. The course sail could no longer be used. The mizzen and yankee
would be the working sails until port could be made.
The wind calmed some that night and we settled down in the cockpit with
a toddy to watch the now full moon as we did the night before when leaving Cayman.
What? Where was it? Where was the damn moon? Every star in the sky was
visible. Not a cloud was in sight and the black horizon shown all around from the bright
starlight. It was now 10:30 PM. At 10:30 PM the night before we sat in the cockpit,
looking up over the bow at an almost full moon that had shown like daylight, and now it
For most of the voyage, I relied on the Big Fixer for navigation.
Without this new gadget, I would have been continually probing the nautical almanac to
collect data necessary to compute position when using the sextant. I would have known that
at this longitude and latitude, on this date, at this time, a total eclipse of the moon
was to take place, and we would not have gone into semi-scientific shock when we lost the
The total eclipse lasted for almost an hour and when the first sliver
of silver appeared in that dark tropical sky it shown so bright, one might think it had a
light source of its own. With mystery solved, we settled down to a peaceful night and
From the Log of Salome:
DAY 33 Thursday, Dec 9, 1992
The day is spent still re-rigging and strengthening the stays,
drying bedding, and solving a fuel starvation problem. With Murphy’s help the
electric fuel pump quit, so old Rube inspired me to use the one-way valve in the guts at
the pump to pressurize the tank instead of the line. It worked just fine. All that is
required is to take the small rubber hose which serves as the fuel tank vent and give it a
small blow-job each time the engine is started. Gisela ejected with hope. “Maybe the
wind and waves will slow down a little after sundown.”
(end log entry)
Murphy and Saud never seem to strike in the daytime. The gaff jaw broke
on the mizzen gaff again. Though once fixed by me and once by Gisela, it was now gone for
the duration of the trip. The mizzen sail was now loose-footed, and the mizzen boom was
laced on as a gaff. Salome was carrying a very strange sail combination for a schooner,
but it was working and some progress eastward was being made.
As day 34 started, not much progress was made and the wind calmed.
Salome started a three to four knot drift to the west. This was no good! We ran the motor
for three hours to try to get out of the bad current but lost three quarts of oil. I
predicted a NW wind before daylight. At 0400 hours, the wind picked up, the sails filled,
and Salome moved to the ESE under the light NW wind. With a severely wounded boat, it
mattered not how slow she went, just that she made daily progress eastward.
From the Log of Salome:
Day 34 Friday, 10 Dec., 1992 - Special note from Gisela
During the calm on my watch, I observed a huge school of dolphin. It
was so quiet I heard them blowing a long way off. It was unusual, no sea or wind noise at
all. “You could hear a fish fart”, according to Tom. The sun came up at 0630. I
let Tom sleep through his watch. I knew he would not be pleased with me for that, but he
was exhausted and who knew what new adventure would fall upon us today.
(end log entry)
The winds were dying down again. I hoped to make some progress or we
would be out of rum before we reached Jamaica. For a change, the night went without some
mishap and so did the next 4 days.
On December 16, we were still not in Jamaica. For the past 2 days
Salome tacked back and forth, but getting no closer than 50 miles to Jamaica. We just
can’t seem to make much headway with the light airs. When the wind does pick up,
Salome cannot challenge it because of her weakened condition. Our primary task is to keep
masts from breaking, until repairs can be completed.
This is the 8th day out of Cayman and only 133 miles have been made.
There was no wind this day until after the moon came up, then a norther started to blow
full force. The yankee sail soon ripped along the lee and stuck. I couldn’t find the
sail needles and palm so out came old Cranky to make repairs. I needed to hoist the main
with the mizzen to keep headway. Cranky did a fine job, so up went the yankee again and
the main came down. The rig was very tender, and the fear of losing the mast was ever
present. Jamaica was still eluding Salome. The wind still blew with contrary currents.
Every day, some progress was made, only to be lost the next day.
From the Log of Salome
DAY 42 18 Dec. 1992 - Gisela’s personal note
Today is Dec. 18, dedicated to Karen. Twenty-nine years ago she was
born, bald, but turned into a beautiful blond girl child. Too bad, she never lived to be
29 years old. Life is short. I miss her.
(end log entry)
For the next 2 days, the west coast of Jamaica remained aloft. At
night, Salome crept to within a mile off shore and a safe anchorage. We heard the music
and saw movement on the beaches and roads then we were swept out again by the current into
the strong contrary winds for another frustrating day and night and all within earshot of
From the Log of Salome
DAY 45 Sun. Dec. 21, 1992 at 0700 hours
I called Jamaica Coast Guard and asked permission to enter port and
anchor. I requested this under International Law of a seaman’s right to safe harbor
if a dangerous or life-threatening situation exists. Permission was given and anchor was
dropped off Negril, Jamaica, in the lee.
(end of log entry)
It took fourteen days to traverse 183 nautical miles from Grand Cayman
to Negril, Jamaica. During this time Salome was severely wounded, and the crew worn to
bits. Before Salome reached shore, a welcoming committee met the boat about one mile
offshore. It was a school of about 100 dolphins, young and old. They put on quite a show
for us. What a sight and pleasant way to start a day. A fishing skiff came along side with
two smiling black Jamaican fishermen. They pointed to a safe anchor area, welcomed us to
Jamaica, then sped off to their days toil on the sea.
The Coast Guard arrived to look us over soon after our anchor was
dropped. One look at the damaged rig, the gaunt and wet crew, and they allowed us dockage
even though this was not a port of entry. Water and supplies were getting short and no
other port was possible.
Checking in with police, immigration and customs was not as nice as
that experienced in Cuba. One very nasty police officer stomped onto the boat in his big
muddy boots, threatened to confiscate the boat and impose a fine of $3000. Custom officers
forced us to take a 3-hour bus ride to Montego Bay to sign a paper they had with them when
they visited the boat. The local immigration officer was pleasant enough. It’s just
that he was never in his office. A whole day was spent waiting for him to get out his
stamp. The Coast Guard kept the police from bothering us and was extremely helpful during
the entire stay in Jamaica.
We spent the next couple of days in vain, traveling the island looking
for cable and hardware necessary to fix Salome’s rigging. Even in the large cities,
Jamaica offers nothing like what was needed. I spoke to a gringo in the boat yard who was
working on his boat. His advice was to go to Miami and get it since that is what he had to
Back on Salome, all spare cable and hardware came out of the bilge and
lockers. I drew new rigging plans then re-planned it over and over until I was sure that
the job could be done with what we had available. Soon new running back stays were hoisted
and secured. They were a bit shorter but strong and safe. A new baby stay was hoisted
between the masts to allow use of the big sail. The main topmast stay was re-rigged, but
it was not strong enough to allow use of the main topsail or full main.
Red Neck’s makeshift pin sheared and a new stronger one was
installed and glued over with epoxy and whipping. All shackles, blocks, halyards, and
sheets were replaced, checked, and then re-checked. The heavy yardarm that supported
Salome’s huge square course sail was taken down and lashed to the deck.
When Salome leaves port this time, she will encounter the hardest
portion of the journey. The delays we encountered so far put the venture into late
December. The Windward Passage will be like a washing machine. Christmas north winds are
already howling, and once past the effect of the Windward Passage, Salome will be required
to plow straight into the teeth of the full strength trade winds. There is over 450
nautical miles to the next landfall and port in the Dominican Republic.
Provisioning had to be done well. Fresh water was the main concern now
that rigging was secured. Each 5-gallon jug had to be filled at a roadside spring, a
quarter mile from the dingy dock, then carried and paddled out to Salome against head
winds and current. Though the distance was only 200 yards, several trips were necessary
and my old bones, back, and neck muscles were already straining in pain from the recent
climbing to repair the rigging.
The tally of supplies for the next part of our journey was as
follows: 50 gallons of water, 3 flats of fresh eggs, 25 pounds of potatoes, 10 pounds of
green tomatoes, plenty of onions, cabbage, canned fish, high energy food like re-fried
black beans, pork and beans, bread, canned cheese, bananas, a bushel of the best juice
oranges (which we got from a Rasta road-side) plus, flour, coffee, tea and soups. After
the necessities were loaded, rum, port and cigarettes were acquired.
(End of log entry)
Salome was ready and stronger than ever, except for the topmast, which
was by-passed with other supports. The stay in Jamaica was the longest and hardest 5 days
of the voyage.
Special note From Captain Tom (log entry)
“Before leaving Jamaica, here are a few words on the people.
Jamaica is a very black society, which has a large complement of Rastafarians. There is a
lot of Reggae and Rap music, which goes with that philosophy. The people seem happy. They
show no prejudice or hatred, which is so evident in most Caribbean Islands.
They were friendly and helpful to us. The nasty cop was the only
sour spot. Gisela got into a chat with a funny old black lady who was a hooker in Kingston
in her youth. Even though she was very wrinkled and bent with age, she hopped up and did a
jig as she belted out old Blue Eyes and Bing Crosby songs. She jabbered continually, and
when she begged a cigarette, she lit it, popped it into her toothless mouth backwards,
puffed, and jabbered away until it was gone, then spit out the filter. A gag? No! This was
the way she did it all the time; ashes, fire, and smoke all consumed.”
(end log entry)
Early in the morning on December 24th, I hoisted Gisela up the masts
for one last check of things, and then we went to town to complete clearance. The
Jamaicans claim they celebrate Christmas, so everything is closed down. We saw no
decorations, heard no Christmas music, and saw no frantic gift buying. On trips through
the countryside and into several towns, only two or three churches were seen, and these
seemed closed. When the paperwork was finally completed, Salome was cleared to leave port
no later than 1430 hours on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Day we made our one last trip to town to try to phone
friends and relatives on our intentions and situation. We enjoyed a couple of cold beers
at the roadside, and bid our farewells.
Special note from Gisela: (log entry)
“We both jammed into our small dingy once again and Tom rowed
the 200 yards out to Salome. We were all repaired, cleared out of the country, and eager
to continue the voyage. When we came along side the port side of Salome, I jumped aboard
and left Tom to secure the dingy for passage. It was Christmas Day and we planned to get
good nights sleep and up anchor early and fresh in the morning.
When I went into the cabin, fear, shock, and then anger engulfed me.
A short, plump body lay on the starboard salon bunk, and did not move when I yelled for
Tom to hurry aboard. Before Tom got down, I shook the young girl. She sat up and with a
dazed response in broken English, said she was waiting for her friend. She had been
asleep, not dead, which was my first fear.
She was a very dangerous cargo for us. We were already cleared out
of the country, and could not legally return the stow-away to shore.”
(end log entry)
Captain Tom’s comment: (log entry)
“Gisela emptied the stow-away’s purse and frisked her,
looking for drugs. If any were found, it could have caused serious problems for us. Salome
could be seized and we could be put in jail. No drugs were found so I called the Jamaican
Coast Guard on the VHF radio.
When the young Jamaican girl heard me call, she pushed by Gisela,
ran to the rail, and hailed a passing fishing skiff. It turned in close to Salome to
rescue the then screaming young girl. She jumped into the skiff as soon as it was close to
Salome. I yelled to the fishermen that we had been cleared through customs and the girl
was a stow-away. When I mentioned that the Coast Guard had been called and were on their
way, the fishermen quickly passed closer, and tossed the girl back aboard Salome.
The Coast Guard arrived and took the girl off to jail. When they
returned to our boat, they thanked us, and wished us a good voyage. They knew the young
woman. She was a local prostitute. The Coast Guard officer said that they had some fun
with her and then let her go, because after all, it was Christmas Day. They had come out
then just to wish us a good voyage again.
When the Coast guard left Salome, we stored the dingy, put up the
sails, hauled up the anchor, and I gave a few toots on the ol’ conch shell horn.
Salome was off. The rest of the day and that first night out of Jamaica, Salome did a
whopping 28 miles down to south coast. We were a little nervous with the new rigging, but
all went well.
(end log entry)
DAY 50 Boxing Day
We enjoyed morning coffee with a small nip of Jamaican Coffee Liquor.
At sun-up, the wind died, and it was flop, flap, flop, and flap until 10 AM. Then here it
came, high curly waves marching over the horizon from the east, dead on the nose and
strong. Salome maintained a SE course, but was a hard beat to weather. We were still
nursing all the new boat bites from the re-fit and all the strained and aching muscles
incurred during the past days of rigging, hauling, carrying, climbing and paddling.
By sun up, the seas had calmed some. It was a nice day but seas were
high. Just before sunset, the engine was started to pump and charge batteries for the
night. CLANK! And nothing. There I went again, the grease monkey, upside down in the
engine space. The flapper on the exhaust, that keeps salt water out of the system when a
high wave pushes the transom, broke off. When that happened seawater was forced up into
the exhaust system, then on into the manifold, and then through the open exhaust valves to
fill up the piston chamber. The engine could not turn or fire. The starter would most
likely break or burn also. This had to be fixed at once! The area was too busy with ship
traffic to run without navigation lights or VHF radio.
As darkness fell, the injectors were removed, and a hot starter wire
was rigged to the battery. Lucky! Lucky! Lucky! The starter was OK. The engine turned and
spat water all over the cabin as it ejected the water from the piston chambers. I
re-installed and bled the engine and hoped she started on the, now weak, battery. It
worked! For the rest of the voyage, each time the engine was shut off, we had to
disconnect and plug the exhaust hose. It was an upside down job, and the reverse procedure
was necessary to start the engine. Gisela learned the task also.
From the Log of Salome
DAY 55, Dec 31, 1992 - Personal note from Gisela
“It is New Years Eve. The night is gloomy, and still we have
not made much headway. We gain a little during squalls, but that is not an easy or nice
way to do it. We try to be cheerful. We have a cocktail and open a can of cheddar cheese.
That’s a treat! After 10 PM things clear, and at midnight – HAPPY NEW YEAR 1993!
Scared to think what it will bring. Well anyway, finished the old and started the New with
my favorite person.”
(end log entry)
From the Log of Salome: by Gisela
DAY 56 Friday, Jan. 1, 1993 HAPPY NEW YEAR
“Not a nice day at sea, strong winds, high seas and very
gloomy. The mizzen sail blows out. We are short sailed again and loosing headway. As day
goes around and night approaches it gets worse. There is a half- moon, but we can’t
see it. It’s so very; very dark, until the thunder and lightening storms start. They
are all around and winds pick up to near hurricane force. There were heavy, heavy
downpours. Finally, all sails reduced to one yankee. Lost track of time. Captain is
exhausted and so is Gisela. Everything is wet and cold. We lie down in full foul-weather
gear. The worst I have ever been in with Salome. Tom had to steer most of the time. The
wind would change so rapidly that Red Neck could not keep up with it. As weak as
Salome’s rig is, she did well. White spray is everywhere. I am surprised we
(end log entry)
DAY 57 Saturday, Jan. 2 1993
This the 9th day out of Negril and we are not past Jamaica yet. The
reefs at the East and South at Pedro Banks plagued us. We tacked away and seemed to make
an easterly headway, but on the next tack, we lose it to the West, and the lee shore
threatened again. We were losing ground. It looked like a repeat of yesterday. The
binnacle and compass broke loose and I was up early fixing it, re-tying things that broke
loose, and checking rigging. I predicted some bad weather again for the night.
Note From Gisela: (log entry)
“Poor guy is half dead and doesn’t know it. He is mad at
me 'cause he says I can’t do nothin’ right. Tom is finally getting some sleep,
of course in foul-weather gear. Every bunk and cushion is wet. I feel sick. I need some
sun and turf. I hope Tom is wrong this time about the weather predicted. Our major
breakdown was the mizzen sail going KAPUT. Tom repaired it, but she just died of old age.
Well, Lucky, Lucky, Lucky! Tom was wrong this time about the
weather, and didn’t mind admitting it. The night turned out nice. We both got about
six hours sleep.
(However, we’re still aching everywhere.)
(end log entry)
DAY 58. Jan. 3, 1993
After a good nights sleep I was on watch again. I thought the backstay
was going to go, and it did. The cable sheared where it was bent during re-rigging. It
must have happened during the big blow the night before. We were lucky it didn’t go
then. I had to repair this quickly.
We were in the full force of the winter trade winds, east of the Pedro
Banks. After several hours, Salome advanced one mile west and 2 miles north. This was done
on a NNE heading. The other tack was worse. That night, the wind picked up and there were
more storms. We lost more ground. During the past 4 days of beating to east, we lost over
20 miles to the west, and those Pedro Banks were plaguing us again.
From the Log of Salome
DAY 59 Mon. Jan. 4, 1993
This was the 12th day since leaving Negril. Salome advanced 130
miles to the east in this period. To do this Salome traversed 409 miles. The past 4 days
we lost 20 miles to the West. I now lost the mizzen sail. The steady trades were too
strong for the jib, considering the altered rigging. We could not make headway to the
East. Provisions would run out soon, and any further damage could render us adrift. I
decided, for the good and safety of the crew and vessel, to change course and run with the
weather back to Guatemala.
There were only 3 choices: Jamaica, if we could get back around the
banks, is too expensive to leave and/or repair a boat. The Bay Islands of Honduras are a
good choice, but we have no personal contact there, and to leave the boat for any length
of time would be with uncertainty. Guatemala is safe and secure, and we are welcome with
friends. I decided to re-rig the square yard so the course sail could be used on the run.
Estimated time to the Rio Dulce was 9 days.
(end log entry)
A Note From Gisela in Log:
“Our spirits are low, like being at a funeral. It is not good
to tuck our tails between our legs and run. I’m running out of energy. Tom is too,
but he won’t admit it. Our bodies are wrecked, and being wet all the time with salt
water, our asses are rubbed raw.”
(end log entry)
Salome pushed at a good speed toward the west for the next 3 days. The
large course sail was taken down because the trade winds were still too strong for it. I
expected the trade winds to taper off in a day or so, and then we’d be within the
land effects of Honduras, and could expect our good share of thunderstorm activity.
We were now sailing in lower latitude than on our departure. Flying
fish abounded. We looked forward to picking up our breakfast off the decks each morning,
but we never got any large enough to put in the pan. The dorado, or dolphin fish, arrived
and stayed with Salome for the rest of the voyage. What a beautiful sight, these
magnificent rainbow colored fish. They came within arms length to the hull, and then they
sped off in a wild splash, attacking the flying fish. Most flying fish got away, mainly
because they could sometimes fly 100 yards or so. A few were lost in flight to the frigate
birds that swooped down and snatched them out of the air. It was quite an air and aquatic
show. This went on all day for the next 2 or 3 days, even in bad weather.
We sorted out the boat and were very conservative with the sails. No
chances were taken. We were down to six eggs, almost out of oranges, had very little rum
left, and had only five gallons of water.
By late afternoon, the steady east wind quit all at once. We moved
quickly to get the main down, and just in time! A SW blow hit us. There was not a cloud in
the sky and no warning except for the quick calm. It was at least 30 knots and Salome
screamed to NW at 5 knots with the yankee only. It lasted about two hours and then
returned to normal east winds. The waves were still high and the wind was still up.
We saw a sea gull surfing by on a plank. It looked great! If the camera
was at hand, we would have gotten a great shot. No one would believe it. The bird perched
on the end of a 2 x 6 inch plank about six feet long. Its legs were slightly bent, and its
wings were out from its body a bit for balance. The plank surfed down one wave just to
meet another about to break. The bird wiggled a bit, and came up as before ready for the
next wave. He looked very cool; Sunglasses were all he needed. The dorado, flying fish,
and frigates continued their game. The dorado came up, looked at my baited hook, wiggled a
little, and swam off.
This night we saw a little light rain, mostly clear and a full moon. I
saw a sight not often seen. About midnight, a full rainbow was made by the moon. The
colors were not bright, but I could just make out the violet, blue, red, yellow, and green
DAY 66, Mon. Jan 11, 1993
Now 17 days out of Negril, Jamaica, and 215 miles to go. Today I fixed
the throttle on the engine by hooking up a cable that had busted loose from rusted nuts
and bolts. I fixed it with bands, safety wire, etc. and it actually worked. The alternator
was loose as a goose with no slack so I jammed a big wooden marlin spike between it and
the engine. When alternator began to fail during a battery charge time, we just had to
bang the spike once or twice with a hammer and it worked. The compass light went out again
for the umpteenth time. It was just wire corrosion. This was an easy job to clean up.
It’s been a hell of a trip and it wasn’t over yet. We were
getting near the Honduras coast. There was no wind, then all of a sudden a squall.
At sunrise, Salome sailed 10 miles off the NE tip of Guanaja, one of
the Bay Islands we visited three years ago. There were squalls to the right, squalls to
the left, squalls astern, and then you’re in one, and then out again.
During these past 68 days, we had plenty of practice with the sails
during storms and sea conditions of all dimensions, so these troublesome thunderstorms
didn’t need much more explanation, but what we now got was more than expected. When
the wind abated, some sails went up.
From The Log of Salome
Day 68 January 13, 1992 1800 hours
After sunset, it was ominously dark and spooky. Gisela called me up
for company and to help keep the jumpies away. The moon finally made a showing at about
2230 hours, and it got quite clear. Then the wind picked up and then it began to howl.
This was no squall; it was a full-blown gale coming down. We sailed under bare poles and
still moved at over 7 knots. We had to change course a bit to slow it down. This was the
first time I’ve seen green water over the boat in the thirteen years I’ve been
(end log entry)
The one hundred twenty miles to go should take only one or two days. I
went down for a rest. My sleep was restless, even though exhaustion threatened to put me
down. Lightning flashed and waves tossed Salome like a cork, but she maintained speed
under bare poles. Gisela was at the wheel, and I knew she was to the point of complete
exhaustion herself. When she screamed for me, I jolted to the deck. When I got to the
wheel my heart jumped and fear raced through me. Between the blinding flashes of
lightning, we saw the dark swirling finger of a huge waterspout off to port. I turned off
course quickly, but only had a few degrees to maneuver under bare pole sailing. If I over
steered, we would stall and stop dead in the water to the mercy of a beam sea and
approaching waterspout. The next flash revealed another spout off to starboard. We clung
to each other and the wheel and steered the craft as best we could, between the dangerous
sea tornadoes. Before dawn, we spotted three more spouts, but survived the night with
close encounters, a broken boat, and bodies too tired to care.
Gisela asked, “What next can happen, Mr. Murphy? Have we not yet
passed the two month test for sailors?” I yelled, “One more string breaks on
this boat, and I quit the banjo and I take up the flute”.
As Salome rounded up on Tres Puntas in the Bay of Honduras. The
luminescence from Puerta Barrios, Guatemala lit the southern sky, and to the WSW the
luminescence of Livingston dominated the horizon. The sky was clear with stars and only
patches of darkness on all horizons. Of course, the usual thunderstorms could be expected.
The plan was to take it slow from here to the buoy marking the bar and entrance to the Rio
Dulce. I put a point in the Big Fixer. It was the drop-anchor-spot, 200 yards from the
buoy in about 12 feet of water. If there was any trouble, we decided to head for this
spot, drop both hooks, and cross our fingers, and hope they hold the first time. The lee
shore and bay would be only yards away. Salome was now in the Bay and committed. There
should be no more problems. The lights of Livingston were visible and there were only 14
miles to go.
The lightning flashes began again and the Puerto Barrios lights
disappeared. A dark spot approached Salome from astern. We both knew we were going to get
this one. Gisela told me that the steering seemed loose and a quick check showed it was
off the quad again. I stuck my hand back to slip it in place. “Not now!” The
cable behind the quad severed. Only one or two strands held it and the next turn or two on
the wheel would break it. Red Neck could not hold steerage in a squall, and one was
approaching. The mainsail went down again, and again I was upside down, with flash light
in mouth and wrenches in hand, jammed into the steering compartment like a
boat-in-the-bottle. In twenty minutes, a new cable was installed, and I received a few
Just then, the squall hit, very hard and very high. Gisela went down to
read our position on the Big Fixer. Visibility was completely gone. Gisela called up our
headings; left .06, left .05, on course 12.25 miles. This routine continued as the storm
got worse. Saint Elmo's fire bounced up and down the rigging, flash and streak lightening
was all around, and waves and speed were building. Right .02, 11.04 miles, came from
Gisela. My night vision was gone and I could hardly focus on the compass because of Saint
Elmo’s fire and lightning flashes.
Twice more Salome was in and out of these bastards. When the last one
hit Salome, she was so close to the anchor spot and the town that the crew could see
movement and hear noises from town. Then it hit! No visibility, rain so hard that Gisela
had to scream up the reading to overcome the rain beating down with the strong winds.
Again, my night vision was gone. The compass was almost impossible to see. We were sailing
by verbal directions from Gisela. When we got close enough, Gisela went up on deck. Almost
before she was hooked up and behind the wheel, I was sliding along the deck clipping and
unclipping toward the bow. I had to fight with both anchor lines until they held fast.
Gisela collapsed in the wet and gloom of the cabin in her foul-weather
gear. I also collapsed in cockpit. The storms rolled on throughout the night, one worse
than the next, and through it, we slept soundly, and Salome rested at anchor safely.
From the Log of Salome
DAY 71 Sat. 16 Jan. 1993
Gisela writes, “If we missed the anchor drop, I knew that
Salome and crew would be fish food #1 on Neptune’s list.
The sun lifted over the horizon on a beautiful warm clear morning.
Tom and I stood, stretched, and shook water out of the arms of our weather gear. For a few
moments, we just stood there, looked around at broken Salome, the mess inside and out, and
then over to the entrance buoy which we never saw at night. It lay only 150 yards away.
Fishing boats were already at work near by, and the first ferry from Livingston was
leaving the dock.
I looked at Tom. He looked at me. What dreadful sights! We smiled
and hugged, stripped off our wets and put on the coffee pot. We had our morning coffee,
with a touch of rum, as we sat drying out in Salome’s cockpit. Were we glad to be
home, or just to be alive?
The venture was not over yet, but what could possibly happen? All
that was left to do was to cross the bar, anchor and check in.
(end log entry)
DAY 72 Sun. 17 Jan. 1993
We started the engine to re-charge batteries, as we cleaned up a bit to
meet officials. Remember, the engine start means pull stopper out of exhaust pipe, then
hook it up, open engine hatch, take hot battery lead to starter and hit the post, then get
the hammer out and give the marlin spike a good whack to get the alternator working.
The anchors were up and Salome crept toward the buoy to line up on
course to cross the Bar. Just as we got to the most critical place, the transmission
slipped badly and the prop did not turn. There was no wind to sail and no engine, but the
fishing boat that doesn’t fish was waiting patiently. Luckily, Salome drifted right
out to sea and we dropped the anchor.
The problem? I was so eager to clear in, I forgot to check the oil.
After I added oil in the transmission. The second attempt went smoothly.
The officials had been waiting for us all morning. They met us in a
launch half way in, took one sad look at our mess, smiled, welcomed us, took our passports
and papers, and told us to see them about noon.
After anchoring, we headed for the Spanish part of Livingston, to our
favorite roadside, and had a couple of nice cold breakfast beers. After clearing in, we
stopped at another roadside and had a nice fish and beans meal. It was slave food, but we
were used to it and looked forward to it that morning.
From the Log of Salome
DAY 73 Mon. 18 Jan. 1993
Looks like the adventure was ending. “The Return of
Salome” - as the log starts, it ends. After the magnificent pass through the Great
Gorge, and a beautiful sail up the Golfete, Salome approached Fronteras under full sail,
except for tops. The large beautiful square sail with its full size Maltese cross painted
on it ballooned out in front, and my conch shell horn announced our return. Salome turned
into the wind. The sails came down and I dropped the anchor. That marked the end of our
The planned passage was to take 6 to 8 weeks, stopping in Cuba briefly,
then to the Dominican Republic, and to the final destination of St.Thomas, U.S.V.I. The
expected voyage was to be 1400 miles.
The actual Passage took a total of 73 days and just over 2700 nautical
miles. Fifty-nine days were spent at sea tacking and detouring around shoals and weather.
The lay-over and stops were: 2 days Livingston, 1 day Puerto Cortez, Honduras, 4 days Isla
Pinas, Cuba, 3 days Georgetown, Grand Cayman, 4 days Negril, Jamaica.
Not the End
This was not the end of the little proud ship but it was near. Capt.
Tom and Gisela labored diligently to bring Salome back up to shape, but the rigors of the
attempted passage were too much. Salome never went to sea again. The few charter trips,
sailing the river complex of the Rio Dulce and the calm waters of the lakes of Guatemala,
confirmed the worst. On August 23, 1993, Capt. Tom gave her a Viking funeral in the
Golfete of the Rio Dulce.
Thank’s for reading! Tom and Gisela
Gisela and Tom first sailed into the Rio in 1989. Their early friends
there still remember the black schooner. Today the crew of Salome can be found floating
about on the Rio Dulce or between Honduras and the Bay Islands. Sense their adventure,
told here. They have been running charters between Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala on their
sailing vessel, Osprey.
(They still miss the old girl, SALOME)