"Starten, Sandra!!", is the deafening cry from captain Georg as his boat Coolrunning II bobs helplessly on the open sea north of Colombia.

The fuel pump had needed replacing in the Atlantic after some 30 hours battling 25 knot head winds and cross currents on route to Cartagena from the San Blas Islands.

We were five hours from our final destination and, having pulled the sails down, the engine had given up on us.

Three hours, earlier the sea-sickness stricken wife and I had been harnessed to the deck as six metre waves lashed the decking.

I had lost count of the times we had sat on the high side of the boat staring into the watery abyss below, before taking a glance at the beauty of the stars above.

Co-skipper Sandra's words ' this isn't getting any better' were ringing in my ears, as we had finally given up on our vigil close o midnight and headed below to our sauna-like cabin.

And it hadn't.

The engine eventually sparked into life - after much swearing - and we were able to make relatively smooth passage for the final leg of our five day crossing from Panama City.

It wasn't for the feint hearted and it reminds you life on the ocean is full of many contradictions.

So much water, yet not a drop to drink; so much space, yet you're so confined; the company of eight shipmates, yet the feeling of being so alone; so many miles of seemingly endless watery beauty coupled with the raw savagery of nature.

The San Blas Islands 48 hours previously couldn't have been a greater contradiction to the outer reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

Drop anchor in the crystal seas and you are transported to paradise.

Water so clear and so flat it is like being in a swimming pool filled with tropical fish, sharks, stingrays and coral.

Take a trip to an exclusive resort in the Caribbean and you would expect to a pay a four figure sum for that.

We shelled out $430 each for a thrilling journey under the expert captaincy of a hard-drinking 40-something Austrian seaman.

He is funding his lifelong ambition to sail around the world by ferrying backpackers between Panama and Colombia.

We're certain he will do it - accompanied by his tasty traditional Viennese recipes - and will spend plenty more time entertaining guests with seemingly tall stories of daring do on the high seas.

His sure-footed, multi-tasking girlfriend - the glue that keeps the pair together - will make sure of that.

To be continued......