Monday, March 31, 2014

Arrived in Galapagos

Sent from our satellite phone on arrival

We are safely anchored in Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos Islands.... The passage was frustratingly slow, so we are very much excited to be finally HERE. We have some extensive clearance formalities to complete (which includes a boat inspection) and then we can begin exploring. Yay!

Updated after the fact

Arriving in Isabela Island, Galpagos (the flag raised only after completing formalities)

[Kyle]Once we were anchored Puerto Villamil we got on the VHF radio and called JC, the man we’d pre-arranged as our agent to deal with the arrival paperwork of immigration, permits, etc. He wanted to meet at the dinghy dock in ten minutes; I explained that we had just got in and I’d need more time to prepare the dingy, etc. Even if I was already in the dingy it would take more than ten minutes to get to the dinghy dock we later discovered. He explained that the ferry to the main island of Santa Cruz was leaving shortly and that our passports would have to be on it if we were to clear in today. I said I’d do my best, and he said not to worry, he’d just sent a water taxi to collect me. It would be at Begonia in five minutes and the fare was only $1. Well, all righty then.

The anchorage was full of life, and I got my first good picture of the Storm Petrels that appear to walk on water

Ten minutes later, after taking a very sinuous low tide route to the town docks. This route included bonus passes by cavorting sea lions and a flock of the world’s only equatorial penguins, I stepped onto the dock at Isabela.

The ferry must have just landed on its way in because the landing area was packed with tourists, officials, and boat captains. I was wondering how I’d pick out JC among the crowd when he came up and introduced himself. I guess I was easier to spot since I was the only guy arriving by water taxi. He was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, appeared to be in his mid-60’s and spoke English in the gruff manner of a Mid-Western factory foreman.

We found an out of the way bench, in the shade, where he explained the fees and then collected our documents and payment. He said he would arrange an inspection at 2:30, so I could go back to the boat and rest, he would call on the VHF once they were on their way. I was back aboard Begonia 30 minutes after I left.

I helped Maryanne with the last of the checklist and then I tidied up and had a little nap to make up for having missed my usual off-watch.

At 2:30 JC called and a few minutes later a water taxi arrived with JC and five officials. There was a representative from the Port Captain’s office, a customs officer and his assistant, a fumigation guy and a park ranger. I was asked to show the park ranger through the boat (to be sure we complied with all the necessary environmental requirements for Galapágos) while Maryanne stayed in the cockpit with JC and the other four to start completing paperwork.

The ranger inspected our heads, our engines, and our fuel, water and waste tanks, as well as our trash bins. Her concern seemed to be making sure that we would not be a source of pollution in the fragile environment. Most of the officials were fairly aloof or indifferent, but she was especially friendly and seemed happy with the way things were aboard Begonia.

Back in the cockpit several clipboards with completed paperwork were thrust at me and I was told to sign here, and here, and here, and so on. Er, OK, I hope Maryanne knows what I’m signing! At some point all of the activity eventually coasted to a stop. There was a long pause where everybody looked out uncomfortably at the bay; nobody but the park ranger and JC spoke English and my Spanish isn’t good enough for idle chit-chat. I tried striking up a conversation with JC figuring I could either talk to him, or at least some of the others through him, his responses were all grunted two word answers that seemed designed not to encourage follow up. Oh, how I miss Roy from Panamá; he would hang out and talk and laugh and tell stories. JC was not Roy.

There was another long pause, during which nobody did anything but stare; I couldn’t take it. “So…. Are we done then?”. JC looked at me like I was an idiot, “yeah, we’re done”. We were not actually done. He had explained earlier to Maryanne while I was giving the park ranger the tour, but he seemed unwilling to catch me up.
Me again “OK, so what now?”.
JC: “Water Taxi”.
Kyle: “Oh, are they coming?”,
JC: “busy”
After several more agonizing exchanges like this, I was able to learn that it was the time of day when the water taxis ignore calls from small groups on yachts as they are all busy collecting tour groups needing a shuttle back to the island from the tour boats moored in the harbor. For the next 30 minutes our routine went like this: JC would grab his radio, say “Taxi Aquatico, taxi aquatic”, there would be no response, and then we’d just stare at each other for five minutes before he tried again.

Meanwhile, Maryanne was in the Salon exchanging life stories and laughter with the friendly park ranger. There are “besties” now. Maryanne is going to be a bridesmaid at her wedding {joke}. Their girly chatting made the silence in the cockpit seem even more stark by comparison. They were exchanging recipes and talking about boys {joke} while we were counting stitches in the cockpit awning {possibly not a joke}.

Finally, even after Maryanne had sweetened the cockpit crowd with candy, when we could take it no more, the guy from the port captain’s office called a guy, who called a guy, who called another guy, who called one of the water taxi skippers directly and made him promise to come right over.

Seeing it as our best chance to go ashore, Maryanne and I decided to go with the crowd. At least now we had the droning engine and the flying spray as a reason for not talking.

First encounters with the wildlife. A giant iguana, and some very laid back Sea lions take up the best seats on the beach

JC walked out near us but not really with us (had we done something wrong already?). At the parking lot, seemingly as an afterthought, he turned and asked what we were doing now?

We said we wanted to drop our laundry somewhere, get caught up on some internet (preferably at a restaurant), and then we were going to see if we could arrange a tour for tomorrow. “What are you looking to see?” he asked. I rattled off a few things we absolutely didn’t want to miss, I said we probably would start with a walking tour of the Sierra Negra volcano.

A great spot for a dinghy dock, and the walk into town is past many a prickly cactus

”I can set that up for you if you like. It will be $35 each, the guy will pick you up here at the dock at 7:25 tomorrow morning.”.

”OH… great!” I replied. “Well, that is one less thing to worry about”.

Maryanne asked if we should wait until he knew for sure we could be accommodated

”No, no, he’ll be here, 7:25am”

”Lovely, what about the Port Captain’s office,” (This was the remaining administrative obligation for us) “don’t we need to see him first?” .

JC stopped, let out a prolonged sigh, looked at her and said “Look, I’ll explain it to you AGAIN since you obviously weren’t listening the first time. You are cleared into the country, there is nothing left for you to do, all you must do is go to the port Captain’s office to check in tomorrow once you are in the computer system, you are done, just call me on the VHF when you get back from your tour tomorrow and I’ll let you know if they are ready for you.”

Maryanne had already encountered this attitude from back at the boat which I’m sure is why she asked, but this was my first experience with his preferred speaking structure which involved starting and finishing by saying the exact opposite of whatever was in the middle and being exasperated at our incompetence when asked to clarify.

Maryanne: “O… K….., It is not a problem if we do the tour first?”

JC: another sigh, “look, it doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as its done before you leave. You will be done with the tour tomorrow at 1:30 or 2pm, we’ll do it then.

”Oh, OK, great”, have a good evening, we’ll be here tomorrow evening at 7:25”.

Maryanne was holding it together rather well I though, she was still even smiling with no sign of gritted teeth.

{Maryanne: I will say that LOTS of people report great reviews about JC, I'm not quite sure how it came about he decided we were imbeciles and wanted to treat us as such, while confusing the hell out of us by changing the facts in every breath. I guess we were tired and maybe we really were a little slow, but I'm not convinced.}

Before parting ways JC gave us these really convoluted instructions for a short cut into town to find the laundry. It turned out to be only 20feet shorter than the main (direct) road, but did have the benefit of going along the beach.

Eventually leaving the beach, we stepped onto the main road of sand and volcanic ash, we couldn’t see anything that looked like a laundry while our bag of dirty linen was getting heavy, so we popped into a local hotel to ask for directions. Maryanne couldn’t remember the word for Laundromat in Spanish so she tried French, I was no help either and then I remembered it and blurted it out like a game show contestant “Lavanderia!”.

The woman at reception broke out in a big smile and gestured at the most adorable little barefoot girl, presumably her daughter. She was about eight years old, she had already lost some of her baby teeth, and she looked at us with that happy curious stare that kids of that age are so good at doing. She led us into the street and led us the two blocks to the laundry, constantly checking to be sure we were still there. It felt like a reversal of the usual arrangement; the little girl was there to be sure we didn’t get run over by crossing the road.

We deposited our laundry and pre-paid the $27 charge (figured by weight), and then chose a reasonable looking restaurant that offered wifi. We ordered dinner and two giant Ecuadorian beers with the unimaginative brand name of Pilsener, then cracked open our laptops to check back in with the world at large.

We also took a quick tour of the salt ponds to look for flamingos (who were all camera shy) and made it to the beach for sunset... ahh, so pretty.

Our hopes of a quick catch up on everything internet slowly faded. While it technically existed the internet was unusably slow, just a simple log in page seemed to take five minutes to load (we subsequently found the same issue at other bars and restaurants; the island’s infrastructure may not have been capable of much bandwidth). My fantasies of performing a detailed weather analysis for our upcoming departure by looking at lots of high detail color maps were dashed, as were Maryanne’s plans to download more podcasts.

We eventually settled for just checking the important looking emails, verifying that I did in fact get the schedule I’d worked so hard to bid for in Contadora, and obtaining an updated low bandwidth weather file like the ones we normally download with the Ham radio or satellite phone at sea. It took us two hours to do just that.

It was getting to be about 7pm, JC had earlier told us that the water taxis run regularly until 5pm, but that someone is always around until 8pm. We didn’t want to miss the last taxi home.

We headed in the general direction of the docks, popping into a couple of places offering tours along the way. We found one we liked and pre-paid the $140 fee for a much recommended snorkel trip the day after our volcano tour.

We made it to the dock by 7:30pm and were dismayed to find the place deserted. The parking lot was empty, and there were no boats milling through the harbor. Even the street lights were out. Oh, oh!

We walked the docks to be sure we hadn’t missed anyone snoozing on their taxi boat, but nothing. With nothing left to do we decided to head back into town (wondering if we’d need to book a hotel for the night) and hope we bump into someone that can help. The first place we saw people was the parks office, near the harbor. They looked as though they were closing up for the night. We apologized for disturbing them and told them our predicament. It was a relief that they seemed genuinely surprised that there was no taxi on duty, a couple of phone calls were made and we were assured the taxi captain had just popped out for dinner and would return shortly.

About half a minute later a teenager pulled up in a pick up truck and asked if we needed a water taxi. Whew! “Si, gracias”.

The ride to Begonia was impressive. The sliver of a one day old moon had already set, leaving the harbor a black expanse with a small constellation of anchor lights. The water taxi had no lights at all, not even a flashlight. It was dead low spring tides, the lowest tide of the month, and rocks seemed everywhere just below the water surface. The low tide route to the anchorage from the dock looks like a grand prix race-track.

The kid raised the outboard engine on its mount until lonely about two-thirds of the prop was submerged. He then headed into the inky blackness using only his memory as a guide. I could imagine it: head straight out from the dock 100m, turn right 30 degrees, wait until you smell penguin breath, turn left 40 degrees, wait five seconds, then turn left another 70 degrees, when you hear the little wavelets hitting the unlit moored barge ahead turn right 90 degrees, wait three seconds and then turn right another 90 degrees. When you smell kelp on your left, turn right 60 degrees, after 10 more seconds you are in deep water, you can lower the engine and punch it.

Wow! Sensei would be proud. He got an EXTRA big tip for that journey.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Passage in the Pacific - Day 14

Sent from Sea - day 14

Weather: [Sunny, calm]

Sailing conditions: [very light and variable winds]

Food: [Lunch: Egg fried rice, Dinner: Cottage pie]

General Comments: [We've had NO Wind for the last 15 hours, crushing any thoughts of arriving today. Yesterday was a very distressing day. At around 9:30, with Kyle asleep, and me at the helm, we hit something hard. The boat lurched and rolled over something big and heavy. After the noise and the lurch of the boat I saw a whale in a pool of blood pass by us to our starboard. I was in total shock; as though I'd just driven over a young child with my car. I had the sense to wake up Kyle (he'd been woken anyway), and he had the sense to take over and check over the boat for leaks/holes. I was stood in the cockpit crying; crying from the distress at having obviously hurt an innocent animal, while also being frustrated 'why didn't you move out the way, there was no way I could see you'.

Soon after another whale started to follow us, head out of the water as if attempting to make eye contact. My thoughts swapped between sincere apology and Moby Dick style fears; would we now be subject to a whale attack in retaliation?. The boat was fine, Kyle eventually dived on the bottom to be 100% sure and reported a LOT of missing bottom paint and cracks in the paint only (we hope) from two obvious impact points. The other whale stopped following us after a couple of minutes, presumably returning to it's friend/child/mate? For the rest of my watch, I imagined that every white cap was a whale, and I was jumpy and still distraught. I did see plenty more whales, mostly in the distance luckily, but some I was ready to divert for. We hear of other boats historically that have hit a whale and subsequently sunk. All day I was grateful that we were not added to that list, while being concerned at the unknown state of the whale we did hit.

[Kyle]The initial bang woke me. In my half sleep I first assumed it was just an odd wave, but then there were more impacts and lots of violent motion. I didn't feel any sudden deceleration so I was pretty sure we hadn't come to a stop against anything. When Maryanne called out for me with alarm and distress in her voice I thought that the mast had come down and slammed into the boat on the way. She said that we'd hit a whale and I emerged to see a giant eddy to the right of the boat, followed by a large black dorsal fin angling away. Maryanne had initially thought that we hit the whale with the starboard bow since this was the one that reared up most, but upon inspecting it I could not find any damage. In the process I noticed through the trampoline, on the port hull, a square meter of missing bottom paint. A quick check of the bilges and compartments within the boat showed no signs of leaking, but we decided I would dive under the boat to check the extent of the damage and the conditions of the rudders, props and keels. It was pretty apparent where the whale hit, the fiberglass had flexed, shattering the new paint, and causing it to come off, but there was no more substantial damage. Of course after this, it was impossible for me to go back to my off watch and get the sleep I should be having; we were both too wound up by the event.

Later yesterday we had troubles with our traveller car that helps us keep the main sail in the best position for the point of sail. It keeps getting stuck. It seems a screw had dropped down and is jamming in the track holes where screws secure the track to the boat. For now we have is centered (at least) but we'll need to (somehow) get it off and address the problem...

Progress: so far we've made [127] nm on this passage and have [127] nm to go. Last 24 hours we made [64] nm.

Updated after the fact..

Sunsets again add color to our days at sea

[Kyle]We ate up the miles. On day 12 the wind shifted to the east making it too far down wind to use the jib effectively, so we rolled it up and hoisted the spinnaker. We were flying it when we hit the pilot whale; we were going about seven knots when it happened (pretty fast for us)…

With the spinnaker up, you cannot just turn upwind to stop, but must pull down the sail. After hitting the whale the boat had slowed, before picking up speed again, and we were nearly a mile away before we had assured ourselves that there was no water coming in and we could eventually bring down the spinnaker and stop the boat. There was no sign of any whales when I dove in to check for damage from the outside of the boat.

The evening of “whale day” (day 13) we lost our nice wind and once again were back to hourly speeds of zero-point-something as a norm. We were now 40 miles south of the eastern most islands of the 150nm long Galapagos archipelago. It was agonizing after five days of good wind to be almost there and then slowed to a crawl.

The next afternoon I went for a swim to wipe what little growth we had (mostly algae) off the bottom. We didn’t even bother to pull down the sails while I did it. (Galápagos has strict rules and was know to have recently sent some boats away from the island to have their bottoms cleaned at significant expense and hassle).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Passage in the Pacific - Day 11

Sent from sea - day 11

Weather: [We had a little more sunshine yesterday but it is still (sadly) mostly overcast. I'm sure we'll find a tropical paradise sooner or later, but we'd expected to be there by now!]

Sailing conditions: [Seas are surprisingly flat, and wind remains favorable/useful. Currently sailing a beam reach to the SW with the wind from the south]

Food: [Egg Sandwiches for lunch, and Pasta for dinner... We normally eat pasta 3-4 times a week and this is the first time we've had it on this passage. Kyle has been asking WHEN are we going to have pasta? but I've wanted to be sure we use our fresh provisions before they need to be thrown out (due to rot or legislation); there is much we cannot take into Galapagos with us that must be eaten or discarded before we arrive.]

General Comments: [Given the (current) weather forecasts it looks as though a stop in the Galapagos is ON, I'm very excited and trying to make that cautiously excited. Yes, we are now in the Southern Pacific. We crossed the equator just before sunset yesterday (YAY!), a first for us and the boat. I bullied Kyle into a ceremony/toast to Neptune (which he eventually enjoyed)... Twilight only lasted about 20 minutes. The night-time bio-luminescence is AMAZING with the back of the boat creating rocket trails through the water, it's just magical to watch. Not much to see otherwise, the occasional bird circles us and moves on. Occasionally we see other boats on the AIS that are too far to see clearly by eye.]

Progress: so far we've made [773] nm on this passage and have [388] nm to go. Last 24 hours we made [138] nm.

Updated after the fact..

Turtles visit as we move so slowly through the water, and my favourite picture of Kyle sailing

[Kyle]Day eight was another no wind day, where we were barely able to keep enough water going over Begonia’s rudders to keep her at least pointed in the right direction. The sun finally came out though, so that tempered our disappointment with the wind.

At around noon we came across a large patch of trash and slime where two different currents converged. It was a disheartening sight, soda bottles, potato chip bags and miscellaneous plastic junk floating in a thin oily slime that was green with algae.

We spotted a big sea turtle from a distance he looked like he was entangled in something so we altered course and crept over to take a better look. I thought he would startle when we got too close, but he seemed completely unbothered by our presence. We were able to get within a couple of feet of him before being sure he was fine; he was just enjoying a meal of garbage slime – yuk.

Over the next couple of hours we saw dozens of turtles, all were completely indifferent to our presence. Begonia was moving along at well under a knot, but I still expected the sight of such a large thing approaching and casting them in shadow would make them at least a little nervous. I passed one so closely that Begonia actually rubbed one of his flippers for 20ft or so. There was no reaction at all. A couple of others passed between the hulls, never pausing in their foraging.

Later on we also saw about four groups of about seven or eight pilot whales each. These are members of the delphinius family between the size of other dolphins and orcas. The were mostly off in the middle distance, breaching and smacking their flukes in the water to stun the fish on which they were feeding. One group stopped what they were doing and came close enough for me to identify them.

On the ninth day, a 6kt wind filled in from the south-south-east and stayed there. After five days of tacking back and forth in light air we were finally able to point Begonia at the Galápagos and pick up some speed, putting miles between us and the South American mainland, and allowing us to finally start ticking off minutes of longitude in earnest.

On day Ten we finally crossed the equator at 4:24pm and the third day of Spring became the third day of Autumn. That must be why it was overcast and the temperature only 23 degrees Celsius (73 F).

Having fun with our first equator crossing under sail

Friday, March 21, 2014

Passage in the Pacific - Day 7

Sent from sea - day 7

Position: [01.6234,-081.0284] at 6am EST

Weather: [Cooler - around 24C/75F (but it feels much colder with the wind) and overcast, it really does not feel tropical and we are less than 100 miles from the equator! Yesterday I spent most of the day and night in foul weather gear to keep the wind and the cold at bay. The solar panel has been useless for days now, and the wind is not strong enough to keep up with our power needs.]

Sailing conditions: [Frustrating.... Our good headway yesterday did not last long and we ended up sailing SE/SSE most of the day (slowly) when we really wanted to get SW. We seem currently to be moving (slowly) more westerly for now, but I dare not hope it will last. We are sailing close-hauled in 6kt of wind. Seas are much calmer at least. Yesterdays high seas were enough to start to remove the trampoline, so that needed some daredevil fixing from both of us at various times during the day.]

Food: [Fajitas, and snacks.]

General Comments: [We are way more East than we had hoped or wanted; off the coast of Colombia (Equador?). Overnight Kyle has passed close by to two separate fishing boats... I didn't think about it much until I saw the 2nd one and realized that these were OPEN fishing boats. These poor fishermen are out in the open ocean with no cover from rain/sun/cold/spray... They seem so miserable that I feel less so for myself, and they had what seemed to be an open fire aboard to make their morning coffee - Yikes. They waved happily as we passed.

As for our progress.... grrrrrrr. We are seriously discussing skipping the Galapagos. We will need to continue to sail up wind (zig zag) towards it, and if we continue at our current speed then we'll not be able to spend any time there once we arrive. We haven't decided for sure yet, but will keep an eye on the forecasts. It may just be that we turn and head for Hawaii (where we also know there are frustrating areas of no/light winds to contend with).]

Progress: so far we've made [516] nm on this passage and have [682] nm to go. Last 24 hours we made [65] nm (although not in the right direction unfortunately).

Updated after the fact

At sea sunset and sunrise are a welcome splash of color

We spent the yet more days tacking back and forth along the Colombian coast at a distance of about 50-100nm. At our closest approach at about 40nm on the seventh day we caught a fishing line and slowed to a crawl as Begonia struggled to pull a ¼ mile long string of floats, line and 5” baited hooks. We tried everything we could with our boat hooks, but were not able to free the line from the reach of the cockpit. The problem was the line was polypropylene - very cheap and it floats - so even if you can get the tension out of it, it won’t fall free of the boat. Eventually I had to don mask and fins and go for a swim to free it, being very careful not to get near the hooks. Once we were underway again an open fishing boat approached. With a hard to understand accent in Spanish and hand gestures, the man asked us if our prop had cut his line. I replied that it hadn’t, that I had freed it by swimming and unhooking it. It took about three tries to get the message across, but once he got it he seemed much happier. He then said that he and the other guy were thirsty and asked us if we had any coke cola? I said we were sorry, but we didn’t, he seemed surprised that a boat flying the US flag didn’t have barrels of the stuff. I asked if he needed anything else and he declined, bidding us “buen viaje” and chugging off towards the mainland. {Maryanne: In hindsight he may have been asking us to fill his coke bottle with water, and if this was the case I feel terrible!}

This passage was beginning to get frustrating, although we had been able to eke out almost 100 miles per day by carefully playing every wind puff with the sails, we were generally not making much progress to our destination (maybe 20 miles). The weather had also been surprising, at between 1 degree and 3 degrees north, with the sun about to cross the equator itself, heading for a northern summer, we expected it to be crazy hot. Instead we had days of skies with a hazy featureless overcast and the air even had a bit of a chill in it. We were wearing jackets and hats on night watches.

By this point we had expected to be only a couple of hundred miles out of Galápagos, but we still had almost 1000nm. Missing most of that weather window when leaving Panáma really killed our chances.

Then, just after noon, we caught another fishing line. Ugh!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Passage in the Pacific - Day 6

Sent from Sea on Day 6

Position: [02.3444,-080.9236] at 6am GALT

After several days of very light winds of inconvenient direction we finally have wind that can push us to our destination which is currently just over 700nm away - and all upwind and into swell and chop. Not ideal. The sun has left us and any venture outside the cockpit is a wet and wild one.

Sigh..... So much for the idyllic tropical passages I was promised!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Passage to Galapagos - Day 2

Sent from Sea on Day 2 Weather: [Sunny, dry, hot, hazzy, cooler at night (need a t-shirt)]

Sailing conditions: [Downwind, making good speed, but we only expect this great wind to last another day before dying out, we managed to fly the big light wind sail (the spinnaker) most of the day yesterday)]

Food: [Chinese noodles in peanut butter sauce, sandwiches]

General Comments: [Lots of dolphins joined us yesterday and we also got a whale sighting. As we left the Perlas Islands we sailed through masses of Pelicans, the fish don't stand a chance! A full(ish) moon makes for fun night sailing too]

Progress: so far we've made [158] nm on this passage and have [922] nm to go. Last 24 hours we made [153] nm.

Additional information after the fact

[Kyle]We would have just left Contadora in the dark but the channel separating it from Isla Chapera to the south and leading into the Gulf of Panamá was shallow so we wanted a chance to be able to see the bottom as we crossed it. The engines were off before 6 O’clock.

The tropical sun rises steeply and was soon glaringly bright and blazing hot, that and the excitement of starting a passage had me surprisingly awake. I helped Maryanne deploy the spinnaker, it caught the big winds and pulled us fast out of Panamá leaving us little wind left over in the sweltering cockpit.

As we passed the last of the Perlas Islands, Isla Pedro Gonzales and Isla San José, huge flocks of pelicans came out and escorted us, swooping around Begonia in graceful turns. They would approach fast from downwind, make a low turn around the front of the spinnaker with their inside wing tip just off the water, then pull up into the headwind, appearing to hover right alongside the boat. A couple more flaps for altitude and it was time for another circuit. There was 100’s of them, all doing this at the same time in different directions. They followed us for a couple of hours and never made a peep.

Dolphins escort us from Contadora, and Kyle has to clear the first of many fishing lines on this passage

By midnight we were over 100 nautical miles from the nearest land and still moving fast. It wasn’t until late on the second night at about five degrees North that we lost the wind completely. The sails became so useless that Maryanne eventually just pulled them both down rather than watch them flop back and forth in the left over swell. I came on watch at midnight at the beginning of the third day, the wind returned briefly at about half of our fist couple of days. This allowed us to get another 75nm or so further south before it died again in the middle of the night at about three and a half degrees North.

On the fourth day, the highest wind we recorded was a single puff of six knots, mostly it was less than two. It took us from midnight until seven in the morning to cover our first mile of the day. By nine in the morning we were at two miles, and by the time we finally saw that six knots of wind, it was 9pm and we had only covered 13 miles for the day. The last three hours brought our total distance for the day up to 25nm, but those last 12 hours were sailing upwind and perpendicular to our desired course in winds that were now coming from the Galápagos.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Leaving Panamá, Celebrating an Anniversary

[Maryanne]*Warning* This is a really long post, feel free to scan through the pictures for a quick overview - please don't complain to me if you don't have time to read, I can't stop him...

Beautiful beaches in this quite get-a-way

[Kyle]Firstly, some background: I had hoped we would be able to stop for at least a few days in the Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panamá, on our way to the Galápagos. When my March work schedule arrived, I was luckily enough to have an extra 5 days off than I had hoped for. I was thrilled to have some extra time to meander through the Perlas. {Maryanne: he promised me...}

Checking the wind forecast from work a few days before my return to Panamá, it became apparent that a limited window of favorable winds was available for our first half of the journey to Galápagos. If we missed it, we would be bobbing around in light air for the whole trip, instead of only the second half. In light air, the 1100nm journey might take almost a month, we were hoping for a more normal ten day passage. The window of good wind was directly during our time allocated for the Perlas Islands. I made an abbreviated itinerary for the Perlas, with fewer stops at fewer islands that would allow us to catch the bulk of the wind to push us out of the Gulf of Panamá.

The only other potential fly in the ointment was my need to submit my bid for my April work schedule before we left internet access. I needed to bid very carefully to ensure the whole month of April would be work free as I intended to be at sea. The bids opened on March 7th and closed on March 11th. I had a nice, long, layover at my last overnight that would allow me enough time to get it done before heading home to Panamá and the boat.

I logged in at the appointed time and found no schedules ready to bid. The next day I got up really early and checked again – there were still no schedules, but instead there was a memo saying “sorry, no bid packages yesterday, they will be out on the 11th and due on the 17th“.

Aaarrrrgggghhhh! I forgot about our new company advertising slogan: “We put the everything in being bad at everything”. I was hoping to be out of the La Playita anchorage at first light, but now I would have to dinghy ashore and find wifi for a couple of hours in order to submit my bid. OK, OK, we can whack another day off the Perlas Islands.

On the day, we found out that our Panamá exit papers were not ready, and we’d have to stay at La Playita an extra day anyway! We schlepped the computers to shore, still no bids, but a new memo, now saying “Oops, sorry, the bids will now be out on the 13th. Also, check out our new ad in Screw-Ups Magazine”.

Aaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh! This left us two choices: skip the Perlas Islands entirely, or find somewhere there to submit my bid. I had originally planned in staying in a chain of the many remote and picturesque anchorages, ending with the beautiful fishing village of Esmeralda before departing for Galápagos. A little research found that the only place we could expect internet access on the Perlas Islands, and certainly not any place we had planned to visit. Everybody in Esmerelda, for example, knows everybody else’s business, because they all have to climb to the same spot on the nearby hill to make any cell phone calls. That one island in the Perlas that had any significant population or development was Contadora, and I had planned to skip it for that very reason, but now it was our first, and most important stop. The visitors center and several inns advertised Wifi.

Since we knew fuel would be difficult or impossible to obtain in either the Perlas Islands or the Galápagos, we needed our supply to last us the entire way to Hawaii (same with water, food and propane for that matter). The engines were reserved for battery charging and getting into and out of harbors. With this in mind we left La Playita at the very first hint of daylight for what was expected to be a slow, light wind sail to Contadora.

We spent most of the day going only a knot or two (that is much slower than walking), we ghosted passed the big ships in the Balboa anchorage, and then into the open sea, as we watched the Panamá City skyline and its thin veil of smog slowly recede into the distance.

Just as it was becoming apparent that we were not going to make it to Contadora by dark a breeze picked up and our speed doubled, then it picked up some more and our speed doubled again, then it turned into real wind and … we reefed! What are we, nuts?

We came whooshing into the Contadora anchorage just as the last of the daylight was bleeding form the sky and taking the colors with it. There were already a handful of other boats there but it wasn’t crowded. We couldn’t find a suitable spot close to shore so we anchored way in the back. Maryanne tried to find us Wifi but there was none.

The new plan was to go ashore in the morning, submit my bid, and then head for a nearby peaceful anchorage in time for sunset where I would improvise a long beautiful speech over a bottle of wine about how lucky I was to be married to Maryanne on this, our eleventh anniversary. That is right, it was our anniversary and weather and bid packages had conspired to change this celebration from a romantic island-hopping cruise to a search for internet.

After what felt like just 20 minutes of sleep, we packed up the computers, piled into the dingy and went ashore in search of some Wifi. We spend way to much of our time doing this sort of thing!

The Restaurante Romantica was calling my name, but we wern't allowed just yet...

The first place we found on the beach, the Restaurante Romantica, had a signal but would not connect to the server, we tried another, and another, holding out our iPhones ahead of us like they were tricorders from StarTrek, but found nothing usable. Doesn’t that just figure? Given it was our anniversary, Maryanne was more than reluctant to leave Restarante Romantica, she was not happy at our ever changing anniversary plans!

We ended up finding nothing until we had climbed up and over to the other side of the island where we located the visitor center. It turned out not to be a government affiliated visitor center, but rather a vehicle rental shop and café that offered a map and wifi. We paid the man for our $1100 and were issued our 3 minutes of wifi. I signed on and found (why am I surprised?) no bid packets. Instead there was a memo dated the day before, saying “Oops, sorry again, the bids will be out tomorrow”. Wait-a-minute! It is Tomorrow. Well, not really, tomorrow often means it is the last thing they do before shutting off the lights and heading for their cars for the weekend.

OK then, the next plan is to explore Contadora, skip the nice anchorage, and wait for them to get their act together back at work. We decided to walk back to the dinghy along the perimeter, past the beaches.

Contadora was not nearly as commercialized as I had feared, although it looks like it was not for lack of trying. We walked past beautiful sandy beaches, fronted by one empty hotel complex after another. They all looked abandoned either half way through construction or demolition, it was hard to tell which in some cases. What was left had the feel of an overgrown park. At the far end of the first beach a tractor was unloading the island’s supplies from a beached ferry with a fold down ramp.

Really old buildings doing just fine, some not so old buildings being reclaimed by nature

We took a short trail to the nudist beach. There were no nudes, we had places to go, maybe next time. We rejoined a sandy road that stayed just out of reach of the beaches’ cooling breezes and were slogging our way up a big hill in a section with no shade, when a couple came bouncing by us on a rented 4-seater gas powered golf cart. The motioned for us to grab a ride on the aft facing rear bench seat, and we gratefully accepted. We tried introducing ourselves but could not find a common language to use so we resorted to a lot of Japanese style smiling and bowing. Where did that come from? After a little more trying and using a lot of hand gestures, we were able to determine that they were from Brazil, they were in love, they were very happy, and they were very drunk.

We left them at the top of the next hill with the flurry of over enthusiastic hand shakes and big drooly smiles. It is a good thing that those things only go about 6mph.

We walked the last short distance back to the Restarante Romantica on the beach just by the landed dinghy. We found a nice outdoor table by the rail and plopped down feeling much to grubby and sweaty to have been let in.

In spite of the beautiful location and the great company, I was having trouble focusing on my bride and getting into the spirt of the day. The wind was already starting to abate and we absolutely needed to submit my bid before we left the island. Maryanne had so far only been able to see a list of her email subject lines and had not been able to get at any of the content. As a result we spent most of our anniversary dinner troubleshooting password problems with the waiter, and then with the manager.

Views from our dining table - not bad at all!

At great length and with painful slowness I discovered that my company had finally loaded the schedules into the system. However, I would not be allowed access to them until 23:59. Oh you have GOT to be kidding me! While they got the letter of “tomorrow” down, they seem to have missed the spirit.

So we were exhausted from too little sleep over the previous couple of days, and we headed back to Begonia for a few hours of sleep. Even though I was so tired, I was also grubby and frustrated, I soaped up and dived in for a swim before doing anything else. The water was so warm it didn’t actually cool me off until I got out and let the wind dry me. Boy it sure felt good to be clean. I was surprised by how strong the current was when I jumped in, I had to keep one hand on the boat to keep from being swept away.

Our alarm went off, what seemed like three minutes later, at midnigiht. We exchanged bleary eyed looks of disbelief and then Maryanne got up to see if the wifi situation had improved (hoping for access from the boat). It had not, so I bid her good night, loaded up the dingy and rowed to shore.

The Restaurante Romantica was closed and dark. In a far corner a Russian man was arguing angrily with three companions across a table filled with open bottles. It sounded like it could degenerate into a fist fight at any second, so I made a point of picking a route that kept me out of sight as I tip-toed through the shadows to the far end of the balcony. I grabbed a chair and carried it around the corner where I placed it directly beneath the wifi router mounted on the wall. Again I could sign in, but could not get any further. After several attempts I packed up everything and tip-toed back out into the night, crossing the island to the Visitor Center.

At about the middle of the island I came across a “bar” that was little more than a whole in a corrugated tin wall through which a bunch of drinks were passed. The clientele were standing in groups in the middle of the main road. Many appeared to be in that Russian state of drunkenness that was about three drinks past overly friendly. With my backpack and headlamp I suddenly felt as conspicuous as if I’d walked into a biker bar wearing a cowboy hat (or visa versa). I smiled and passed out a few Buenos Noches, most of them ignored or didn’t notice me although I got an “I don’t like your face” look from a woman who mercifully left it at that and didn’t get the mob involved.

At the visitors’ center, also completely dark, I found an inconspicuous table, hidden back from the road and pulled out my computer. The password we got earlier was still valid (yes!). I submitted enough schedule choices to be assured that I would not have to anchor in the middle of the Pacific and swim to work during our passage to Galápagos. Feeling relieved of that worry, I walked back through the gauntlet of the bar and headed back to the dinghy.

When I got there I found that the angry Russian had moved from his table to the beach, he was stomping around in the water, gesticulating wildly to a guy passed out on a nearby beach chair. He was a little too close to the dingy for my comfort but he didn’t look like he was leaving soon so I walked up, through my pack into the dingy and dragged it down the beach into the water and rowed off into the night as if it were three o’clock in the afternoon rather than the morning. He noticed me just as I was out of wading range and started yelling something.

I was exhausted when I got back to Begonia, I knew we only had about three hours until daylight, during which we needed to setup the dingy into life boat mode for the passage to Galápagos. Since I was already up, I decided to just get it done, rather than figure out how much earlier I needed to get up to do it. We had done this enough times for the process to be pretty streamlined. The sailing rig was already on board, I put the oars aboard Begonia because they were easier to load once the Pudgy is in the davits. I collected our emergency food and water rations, signaling and first aid kit, etc and loaded it all aboard. Maryanne had packed away everything in waterproof cases, each with a tether and clip. I put some of it in the Pudgy’s storage compartments, and clipped the rest to a pad eye in the floor of the dinghy, along with the sea anchor. Next, the self inflating exposure canopy is mounted and the CO2 cylinders armed.

The hardest part, for me, comes at the end when the rain cover is stretched tight over the whole affair. Once it is on, it is no longer possible to stand inside the dingy. The easiest thing to do, if the water is warm enough at this point, is to jump in tighten everything up and then pull the dingy into position for lifting. If I don’t want to get wet, I have to crawl on all fours, from atop the dinghy, as I maneuver it into position. I didn’t feel like getting wet so I was doing the latter. I got to the point where I had to disconnect the painter (bow line) to squeeze the Pudgy into the lifting harness. I grabbed a handful of the falls of the lifting tackle at the davits, unclipped the painter and used my legs to swing the dinghy into place.

Some protrusion on the dingy snagged on the harness, I pulled a little harder and somehow the force got transmitted to the opposite side of the dingy and rolled it the opposite of the way I’d anticipated. The next thing I knew I was underwater, there was not even time to realize what was happening. I was on top of the dinghy one second and underwater the next. That is when I realized what had happened. I managed to keep my glasses, and even my headlamp was still on and shining. The water wasn’t cold, and I wasn’t wearing my tuxedo, so I wasn’t so upset about going in, just inconvenienced. I had the dingy to hold on to for buoyancy, so there was no struggle to stay afloat. I decided to rest for a few seconds, compose myself and continue on.

Just then I realized four things simultaneously:-

  • The painter was disconnected
  • The davit lines were no longer in either of my hands
  • The oars were in Begonia’s cockpit
  • There was a strong current running through the anchorage

A moment later, I was in a mad, maximum-effort, one-armed swim, rescue-style pulling our one and only life boat behind me. I got behind one hull and was able to get a break from the current there, enough for me to make it to Begonia. With a final long stretch like a swimmer, finishing a race, I was able to hook two fingers over Begonia’s swim ladder and just like that the crisis was over. Maryanne woke to the sounds of splashing and heavy breathing. By the time she made sense of the noises and rushed on deck, I had just flopped onto the step at the top of the swim ladder and clipped the Pudgy back to Begonia.

I was in trouble for not asking for help to setup the dinghy. But I’m supposed to be awake between midnight and 8am when we are at sea, she is not, so I figured it was something to do on “my watch”. Anyway, I’m glad she was there. If I hadn’t been able to make headway swimming, plan B was to yell like hell and hope Maryanne was a good shot with one of our emergency throw ropes. As it was, I just had time to get an hour of sleep before it was time for us to be off again, to catch those winds to Galápagos. Maryanne spent the time making coffee and doing our ‘before getting underway’ checklist.

Some anniversary!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Finally Back Home

[Kyle]After a long twenty-day stint in which I worked for sixteen, I finally got the next to last seat on the overbooked flight to Panamá City. Even though I was in uniform, The cab driver immediately took me for a sucker and started by quoting me prices with a 50% add-on. Taxis in Panamá are supposed to be a fixed priced by zones, although most drivers keep the legally required zone map in a hard to find place, like the trunk. I knew what I should be paying, so I wasn’t having any of his excuses about how it was too far and there was a lot of traffic. We finally compromised by agreeing on what I was planning on giving after adding on a tip. To express his displeasure, he stopped for an unnecessary 50¢ worth of gas and then tried to take surface roads instead of the highway. When we were turned back onto the highway due to an accident, he drove twice the speed as every other vehicle to make it clear to me that I was wasting his time.

It was midnight when I finally climbed aboard Begonia and peeled of my uniform for the last time in months. Maryanne was having me hit the ground running and had already arranged for us to go to the weekly cruiser’s brunch the next morning at a Chinese restaurant in the city.

There were twelve of us around a big table swapping stories and advice for our upcoming passages. I think I was there mostly so Maryanne could prove to everybody that I really DID exist.

When the bill came, a piece of paper was passed around. Everybody was putting his or her names and passport numbers on it. We were told it was so we could get a discount. Panamá has several favorable laws giving retirees mandatory discounts on pretty much everything. When our server came, she reviewed the list and then looked at me and barked, “You! You are not retired!” I think I cost the whole table a 25% discount. (It was still only $8 each). I guess I must be doing something right if a Chinese woman from twenty feet away thinks I don’t look any older than twenty years above my age. That’s clean livin’ for you. To be honest, looking around the table I would have figured about half of us were too young. Perhaps the glitter on my overstretched “True Belieber, Playgrounds and Chuck-E-Cheese World Tour” t-shirt ruined it for us. (Why is the biggest size available suitable for thirteen year-old girls? C’mon, guys!)

Our clearance paperwork ended up being delayed at Immigration, so we had to wait another day to depart. Without the time pressure to be in bed early for a first light departure, we were free to visit some new friends at a nearby boat for sundowners and stories. Maryanne seems to have a lot of embarrassing stories about me.

We had one last excursion into town to get the really good, high data content forecast from the wifi in town before reverting to the limited type we get over the ham radio. We met Roy along the way and he had the last of our paperwork, so we are now free to leave whenever we like. We will be pulling up anchor at first light in order to take advantage of a full day of winds for the fairly long day trip to our next anchorage in the Perlas.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Home alone in Panama City

[Maryanne]I've been 'home' alone while Kyle is back at work, with too little time for Kyle to return home between his work duties.

Kyle is away.. so a common question is what do I do all day (as if with Kyle away would leave me wondering if I should even get out of bed?). So here is a little dose of the things I do 'home alone'.

I’ve spent time with a great community of sailors; shared lectures and seminars with those getting ready for exotic destinations like Tahiti, and beyond, shared pizza nights and cups of tea with fellow sailors.

But most of all I’ve been catching up with chores (basics like grocery shopping, and laundry, along with more boat-specific sewing projects and the like). We all get together on the radio in the morning to share news and tips, and we quickly get to know what people belong on what boats (even if we don’t actually know the name of the people!)

I’ve helped a solo sailor fuel and water his boat (an extra pair of hands is always welcome when travelling in close proximity to hard things such as docks!

I prepared a new map for the local Smithsonian Institute site which they seem very happy about. And every day I visited I got to see sloths and iguanas in the wild (along with turtles and sharks in captive areas)

I’ve taken some time out for some more tourist sites, it was CARNIVAL while I’ve been here and I visited (briefly) the area and walked the long stream of beer kiosks and water guns.. The carnival had a strong security and police presence, but I left when I saw what appeared to be a policeman attacked by a police dog.. I figured I’d be safer at home!

Panama Viejo - once this was destroyed, residents slowly migrated to Casco Viejo we toured on an earlier blog

I've mastered the bus system and visited old Panama (the original City that Captain Morgan ruined and forced everyone to move further North) - the Panama Viejo ruins.

I've been to a (disappointing, and food poison providing) Afro-Antillian festIVAL, and the city fish market - all interesting experiences.

I’ve struggled to find internet; occasionally I can get it at the boat, but mostly I have to hang out at a bar or some other such terrible ordeal.

Some of my time is is taken up with the research and planning associated with our next destinations. Once we leave Panama we are unlikely to have internet for possibly months - so now is the time to research all those things that we don’t know we need to know!

I've visited Panama City's Local Produce Market for last minute fresh fruit and vegetables before we depart. This market is amazing with areas the size of several tennis courts dedicated to just one thing: pineapples, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. And was treated to a freshly pressed sugar cane juice by one of my fellow cruisers.

Oh, the wonderful Mercado de Abastos / Mercado Agrícola Central - Wholesale produce market that also caters to smaller scale purchasers (thankfully)!

And finally: I get time to read, lots of books, life is not bad at all. Kyle comes home on Monday (hopefully) and then life just gets better!

hanging out in the anchorage