In fact, as we've found before the wind files downloaded from PredictWind generally underestimate the wind speed by about 10 knots, and this was soon confirmed as we got away from the influence of the land, as the wind rose to 40-50 knots. We held this wind in an ever rising sea all day and all night. At sunset as we were eating supper in the cockpit a young Brown Booby flew round us and then settled I the rail, balancing precariously against the wild movement of the boat. He seemed unperturbed by four people in close proximity, preened his feathers and stuck his head under his wing, and went to sleep -still wildly balancing by dramatic movements of his tail.
I handed over my watch to Emily, but stayed on for an hour and a half to see that it was alright. However after I'd gone to sleep a tremendous wave crashed over the stern, knocking the bird into the water, and also knocking the horseshoe life buoy over the side, which then jerked the dan-buoy after it, igniting its flashing light. Emily made a brave attempt tore over it. But was too late and it went off into the night flashing away. Shall inform authorities so that no one starts looking for us.
I was on watch again as dawn came, have been sleepless worrying about our approach to the coral reefs of San Blas in the storm. In the event we spotted mountains in the haze before we saw the low palm fringed islands. I set a course through a wide gap in the reefs, and as we passed we could see the 5 meter swells rear up and curl over in a crash of foam on the shallows. We were soon past and motored up to the Cayos Holandés, making our way past strangely named islets ringed with white coral sand, and crowned with tall palm trees. There were ten yachts scattered around the various anchorages, and I made my way up to a long stretch of pale blue shallow water which cruisers have named the Swimming Pool. The water was churned by the unrelenting gale, but the huge force of the incoming swells was completely dissipated on the protecting reef, leaving the water undisturbed. We anchored and found that the water was flowing clear and blue at 1.5 knots as millions of tons of surf flowed calmly across the reef and through the lagoon.
The dinghy was soon in hooked and struggled up wind to a little caricature of a tropical island, almost akin to the tiny world of Le Petit Prince! We were met on the shore by the resident villager who charged us each $3 for landing. Under the palm trees there was a natural close-clipped lawn. the family hut stood near the beach, where the sole inhabitants - husband, wife and three children - lived. We walked round the entire islet in a few minutes, drunk with being on dry land, improbably few inches above the blue lagoon water. Occasionally surges of swell that got through the reef slopped over the grass and outside Palm trees. Amazingly there was an open well of fresh water in the centre of the island. It turns out that this is where the boats bringing back packers come for a break, and there was a rough picnic table and benches set up. As a brilliant touch two poles had been thrust into a sandbank just awash, which held a volleyball net for games splashing about in six inches of water.
I sat and sketched the view across the lagoon while the others relaxed in different ways - Emily sunbathing on the sand and Justin in a hammock.
Back on board, relaxing after our rough night sail, Emily produced a fantastic Sri Lankan curry with all sorts of side dishes which we enjoyed in the cockpit while a tropical downpour lashed the sunset.