Galapagos to Marquesas

Week 1

Our trip to Marquesas got off to a flying start. We picked up our hook just before our buddy boat, ‘Matelot’ but before long they could be seen behind us and the race was on!

They were first to catch a fish while we lost one of our two lures with an oversized catch. The next one got away too. But fear not the guys on Matelot promised to share just as soon as they caught us so then the race was really on! We managed to hook ourselves a lovely skipjack tuna in time for dinner just as Matelot sailed up behind us. At least we managed to save face on one score.

After a lovely fish supper we all reefed our sails and continued into the night. I must say it’s nice to have a little navigation light twinkling behind us on this, our longest trip yet.

They say the Pacific is supposed to be the nice, placid calm ocean but the start to our trip has seen some decent winds and larger than expected swell. At least we are making good speed where traditionally many struggle with little to no wind in these parts. The conditions are actually not that bad but on the advice of our weatherman our heading is quite Southerly to avoid the dreaded ITCZ band (or some such thing) which is prone to dead winds and lightening storms. Because of this we are close hauled, running into the wind instead of with it which always feels worse. It’s been challenging conditions though.

The next day was spent just trying to keep on top of the sailing, watermarking and catching some zzzzs whenever possible.  We did have one decent squall and of course it was then that we discovered that the pin had come out of the roller furler so we couldn’t pull the head sail in. Simon had to go up on the foredeck and man-handle it and just in the nick of time. He’s now jury-rigged it with a new bolt so hopefully that holds up.

Matelot have been kind enough to keep with us which is absolutely lovely.

The next morning I awoke so find them just off our stern for a photo opportunity as they sailed by.

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Pippy had been hand-steering all night and has now shamed us into turning off that auto-pilot a lot more which is helping to save our battery power which will hopefully equate to more watermaking and therefore more showers in time. Although we’re still suffering a little from that leak we had on the way from Panama to Las Palmas and it’s taking us time to catch up with our water.

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Day 3 and I was awoken by friendly banter on the radio as Simon took up Richard’s challenge to overtake him. I hope this trend continues as it allowed me time to have a relaxing cup of tea, coffee and bake some bread.

Simon has had less success in the kitchen just lately. First up a bowl of soup slid across the galley spilling half the contents… everywhere! Then the pepper pot that has been dropped a few times decided to explode when he was making omelettes. Funny as mine were both delicious and his took the brunt of it.

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We spent some time waiting for a squall to pass so we could use the rainwater to shower. But after waiting hours for it to arrive it brought only some English style drizzle so it looks like we’ll have to resort to watermaking again.

Grey skies all day so today was all about energy conservation as the solar struggled to keep up. This meant more hand steering and keeping the nav screens turned off as well as keeping lights off whenever possible.

I was on watch this morning and saw some blue skies. Richard suggested there were trade wind clouds so we headed towards them.

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Otherwise not much to report just a day of eat, sleep, sail, repeat.

We’ve been making great progress with some excellent winds and some great speeds. We’ve had a little more sun but it’s mostly cloudy. Simon has solar panel envy. Matelot have adjustable solar panels so they can tilt them in the direction of the sun. This means they have recharged their batteries before the sun has got high enough to shine on ours. Grrrr!

The winds are still good though and we’ve completed a third of our trip in just 6 days! If this continues we’ll be very happy bunnies.

All the hand-steering means doing anything else on watch is hard. Thank goodness for audio books. Simon has the Game of Thrones Series while I have War and Peace. Not sure which is longest but I think they will keep us occupied for a while.

Pizza Friday! We decided to treat ourselves to some home-cooked pizza as we had picked up a couple of blocks of mozzarella cheese in Galapagos. We tried take-out but apparently we’re not in their delivery area. Anyway we didn’t hold much hope for it but it worked out a treat! Not sure if it’s beginners luck though so we’ll have to have another go.

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Week 2

We had a bit of roll today. The three-meter swell that was promised came and went but we had 20 hours or so of rolling around which makes doing anything and everything difficult. It was nothing like the swell we had in the Atlantic so we weren’t worried, it’s just very, very annoying. We’re still getting great winds though.

Week 2 and our average speed is 6.9 which must be a record for us on a long passage – let’s hope it continues. A lot of the time we’ve been sailing at our hull speed of around 8.2knots. Amazing stuff!

A huge pod of huge dolphins came by at morning coffee time. I thought you were supposed to pick-up-a-pick-up-a-penguin but maybe things are different out here. We’ve also seen lot of birdlife.

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Urghh! That ground-hog day has feeling set in… one day feels exactly like the next.

We gave Matelot a bit of a scare tonight. We were playing that game of ‘What appliances are using our amps?’ We inadvertently switched off our nav lights and radio during this process. So Matelot saw us disappear and then couldn’t reach us on the radio. They flashed us with a torch – a sign we’d agreed on earlier and then it was our turn to worry. Finally caught up on the radio to find out it was all a mistake. Good that our system works though, although maybe we should have let them know our plans beforehand! Oops.

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It’s harder and harder to get up for those night watches. Last night I got fully rigged up in my jumper, wet-weather jacket, hat, life-jacket – the whole shebang and bounded on deck only for Simon to tell me I had another two hours of sleeping to go. Either my mind was playing tricks on me or Simon is. Didn’t know whether to be pleased or grumpy – went for grumpy.

The following night we noticed some chaffing on the main halyard (the rope that holds the sail up). So we gave Matelot the heads up before doing some crazy manoeuvres. Took the sail down, chopped off the offending bit of rope, burnt the end to stop fraying, tied the new end back on and hoisted the sail again. It was an old wound so it’s good to get a more permanent fix in place.

On Sunday we started to get some manky, rolly seas and overnight the wind picked up. At first I thought it was a squall the change was so fast, but then a couple of hours later I realised it had really set in. The conditions continued through Monday making us all a bit tired and a little grumpy. Big winds, big waves, big bruises.

In good news we passed our half-way mark. The celebrations are on hold until conditions improve.

We’ve started to plan the rest of our passages back and are pleased to report that all but one passage should be less than five days. Good, we’re well over passages at the moment!

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Another beautiful sunset, another drama. We’ve been rolling around in swelly seas again and trying to keep a nice SW heading which has meant trying to keep as downwind as possible. But every now and then a particularly ferocious wave will send us flying causing the self-tacking jib to smack from one side to the other. It wasn’t too surprising then when the car-slider knocked the end block off the track and went flying into the air. We calmly rolled in the sail, tied off the jib sheet, jury-rigged a new line and continued on our way. At least that’s one less thing banging around.

Today’s drama began early when I switched on the water-maker and it didn’t switch on – great. We got the instruction manual out and after a bit of deliberation decided it was a fuse. So Simon got the spares out and pulled the fuse ready to replace it. Just as he did the boat turned 90 degrees sending the sails flapping and everything flying. Turns out it was the fuse for the autopilot! Oops!

Anyway after a bit more deliberation we couldn’t work out what was wrong so we tried it again and it worked perfectly. Bloody charming! Probably just a bit of air in the pipe from all the swell we’re getting.

We keep trying to head West but the weather is forcing us more and more South making us all scratch our heads. Tomorrow we will have to find a new solution. The angle we’re forced to take as well as this continuous swell is driving us all to our wit’s end. Horrid!

Ok no ideal solution presented itself overnight so Matelot tried the old wing-and-wing but unfortunately we don’t have a pole. They disappeared from site :(

After an hour or two fighting the waves we gybed and followed them North to try and find the marginally better conditions. We hit squall after squall, and in between two particularly rainy ones we spotted Matelot in the distance and then we lost them.

And it turns out I turned the radio down and couldn’t hear their hails. We finally caught up via email to find they’ve found a nice Westerly heading while we’re still fighting North. With no sign of any improved conditions we reduced sail and turned West once again. Hopefully we can track them down tomorrow. It sure is lonely out here without their guiding light.

We found them! Or at least they found us. With a bit of back and forth on email we were finally able to catch up on the radio and then eventually we had visual. It’s great to head into another night with their little light ahead again. Turns out they couldn’t hold their wing-and-wing for long either as the swell was bouncing them around also. We’re both just sailing under mains at the moment (and still flying along with just that sail up!).

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Week 3

The last few nights we have been playing frogger with the clouds. There are these huge bands of black clouds streaming across the night sky and the aim of the game is to nip through between them, not under them. It is strangely satisfying when you get it right, when you get it wrong it’s windy and wet :(

Another day, another challenge. We’ve been hearing this strange groaning noise at the stern between the steering wheels and Simon has been convinced that it’s the steering cable in the floor below.

‘What would happen if it broke?’ I asked him ‘The steering wheels would stop working.’ Didn’t sound great.

So I was sat on watch this morning and looked up to find the steering wheels weren’t moving. We opened her up and had a look, sure enough the cable had sheered through. I hate it when he’s right. Anyway lucky for us I was using the autopilot which continues to work. We took some time to make sure we could fit the emergency tiller, and then continued under way on the autopilot. No drama for now but it sure is going to make anchoring harder.

We’ve decided to head straight to Hiva Oa as there are rumours of a welder there that might be able to help us with a temporary fix. Also it’s a port of entry so we avoid risking a fine by heading to the nearest island, Fata Hiva as many people do. Hopefully we can back-track and see that island later, it’s supposed to be stunning.

In other news we had the best sunset yet so that made up for a pretty crappy day – almost.

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Finally the wind died down and it was time to hoist to the big sail for the day. That was followed by a night of motoring and another day of the sails flapping. We’ve been waiting for the wind and swell to drop for two weeks and now it’s here we’re fed up of flappy sails and slow speeds. There’s just no pleasing some people. It did give us a chance to do some boat chores so hopefully we’ll head into the anchorage all spick and span, and with a working outboard motor.

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At last! Today ended with less than 100nm to go. Woohoo! Hopefully we will see land tomorrow morning and make landfall tomorrow afternoon.

I love it when you awake to see land! Time to dig out that trusty French flag and get the anchor ready.

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Hiva Oa looks stunning but then what wouldn’t after 19 days at sea. We followed Matelot into the harbour. We were a bit nervous as our usual steering system wasn’t working, however, we had the autopilot on and the emergency tiller rigged and all our fingers and toes crossed.

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Despite all the rumours of this being a rolly anchorage it looked pretty flat so we chose a spot out of the way near the entrance and dropped our anchor. Everyone here has their stern anchor out so we got ready to despatch ours. That’s when our knights in a dinghy turned up from Savannah (who had heard of our plight) and offered to set our stern anchor. So thanks to them we’re perfectly set and taking in the stunning scenery :)

Then it was time to celebrate with our buddies – the longest crossing yet!

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Galapagos Islands

Good morning Galapagos!

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San Cristobal

Shortly after arriving in San Cristobal our agent showed up and went through all the paperwork with us. Our inspection was booked for 3pm so we had a few hours to kill. I asked if we could ‘unofficially’ pop to shore and was told it wouldn’t be an issue.

You can’t use your own dingy here so we took a water taxi to the dock.

Wow. Seal city! They were everywhere. On the jetty where you try and depart the taxi, lined up on the steps, on benches, flopped in the middle of the road. No fear of humans at all. Such an amazing sight that really takes your breath away.

We weaved through the seals and found a nice cafe for some lunch.

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The town is a little bit sprawled out covering way too much area. Lots of development work is going on, most seeming to be half-finished backpacker accommodation. Shame there isn’t a little more town planning going on here. Nothing really struck us as Eco built, large concrete structures were everywhere. The seals seemed happy enough though. They are protected near the shore by a large walkway.

We headed back to the boat to do a final clean up ready for our inspection. I was in the middle of washing the decks down when this cheeky fellow decided to pay us a visit. He hung out on the swim platform for a good 30mins before flopping off back into the sea. Seals can be a real problem on boats here so I’m glad we can raise our platform.

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No sooner had we finished cleaning then the welcoming committee turned up.

Nine, yes NINE, officials showed up including customs, immigration, two park officials, the harbour master, a random soldier, some guy who dived under the boat to inspect the hull, two environment officials and our agent.

Two people headed below decks with Helen and inspected everything while I was hammered with paperwork and questions from all angles above. It was very full on but they were all very friendly and seemed happy with the drinks and biscuits we’d laid on for them.

We passed with flying colours, handed over a load of cash in fees and they left to visit our Kiwi friends on Matelot who’d only just arrived from Panama.

We decided to just stay on board that night as the drain of the crossing hit us like a brick.

Next day we went into town, did some provisioning, and explored the area more. We also managed to get totally refuelled so we’re ready for the long passage coming up. We joined Pippy and Richard from Matelot with their friends who were visiting and had an amazing seafood meal. Yum!

Day after we headed over to the interpretation centre built just outside the town which went into the history of the islands and the human effects on the environment. Was quite a depressing eyeopener.

Ever since humans discovered the islands the wildlife has suffered greatly. Many species of giant tortoise were lost due to them being used for food and to power streetlights !?!

Whaling wiped out the local numbers, anything that could be used was striped for a long time.

Introduced species are a real problem here as well. Cats and dogs, goats, rats, and many aggressive plants, have all attacked the delicate balance in this unique area with many areas now lost. The locals are fighting hard to protect what’s left but it doesn’t sound hopeful.

The number of tourists visiting is also growing expnentraply, but the money they are willing to spend is shrinking. Backpackers looking for budget accommodation and cheap tours seems to be the way things are heading and the demands on resources can’t keep up.

Wish I had a silver lining to all this but I don’t. We feel very lucky to be able to visit, and totally understand that by being here we are adding to the problem, but unless something changes the Galápagos Islands will become just another screw up in human history. It’s a very tricky issue as people want to visit and experience this amazing place and the money needed for research and protection comes from tourism for the most part. It’s a bit of a catch22.

After the centre we headed down a trail to an amazing cove where you can dive in and snorkel with seals and other sea life.

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We couldn’t believe our eyes once underwater. The density of fish in the water was staggering. Then… Whoosh… A huge seal swam just below me scaring me half to death, the fish he was after were probably a little more scared. We followed Mr Seal over to a rocky ledge where loads of his friends were hanging out. We dived around the water and they’d come over and play with us. So cool to be swimming with wild seals, watching them feed and play.

The water here is pretty cold so after 45mins we called it a day and walked back to town with huge smiles on our face.

On the way back we also saw a huge land iguana and lots of small finches that are native to the island.

We went to shore later for one final meal and got an early night ready to depart for our second island tomorrow.

Santa Cruz

We had a lovely sail between the islands over to Santa Cruz and arrived in good time. The anchorage here is well known for its swell so we wanted to be safely in before dark. We managed to get a good spot at the back of the pack where we noticed other boats nearby had their stern anchors out.

We’d read this can help with the swell here so we decided to give it a try ourselves. We’ve never used a stern anchor so didn’t really know how to set it. I came up with the great idea that I could just swim with the anchor from the boat, take it behind us and then drop it. Helen thought I was nuts and would sink.

Turns out Helen was right (as normal). I did quite well for the first 10secs before noticing that the top of my snorkel was now well underwater and I was sinking like a brick!

Helen pulled me back above water and we decided to go back to the drawing board.

We decided to throw the dingy in the water then throw the anchor in the dingy. I used the line from the anchor to let myself adrift backwards then paddled over to the side a little to give us a good angle then dropped the hook. Helen tightened up the line and I paddled back. On board the boat was now heading nicely into the swell and much more stable. Nice!

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Santa Cruz is even bigger than San Cristobal. An old salt we got the water taxi in with from another boat said he couldn’t believe it. He visited 15 years ago and said there were only one or two restaurants and bars back then. There must be 50 times that now. These towns aren’t really what we expected. There must be over a hundred places selling the same tours.

We visited one to book a visit up to the highland area the next day then walked over to the Darwin centre where good work is being done to breed and reintroduce Giant Tortoises back into the wild. The size of these creatures is amazing. They live over 200 years and can weigh over 200kgs. I bet a few of the older ones must wonder what the hell is going on as they have watched explorers come and go and then towns built smack in the middle of their lands.

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The tour up into the highlands the next day was great. Seeing the Giant Tortoises in the wild rather than breeding pens was amazing and we also visited huge lava tunnels and volcanoes.

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There isn’t much (hopefully) on our final Island, Isabela, so we needed to visit the main market to reprovision for our huge passage over to French Polynesia. When we did the Atlantic crossing this was easy… pop into a huge supermarket and buy whatever you want and they delivered to the boat. Here we had to get to the weekly market (fresh produce gets delivered to the island once per week) early and fight over the best items with the locals. Was a great experience but there’s only so much you can carry and we fear a lot of the produce won’t keep. We’re not worried though. The huge number of fish we’ll catch will ensure we don’t starve. Yeah right.

We caught up with the guys from Matelot who were also a little so-so of the places visited so far. We decided to leave the next day and head for Isabela which we hoped was still unspoilt.

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We sailed over with Matelot and pulled into the anchorage at Isabella where we instantly knew this was what we’d been waiting for. The anchorage is surrounded by a reef where birds by the 1000’s were nesting. Scores of blue footed boobies were dive bombing the waters just behind us, more seals came to inspect our boat (one scaring me half to death as he swam under me while I checked the anchor had set), white tipped sharks glided through the waters, penguins waddled about on the rocks, and huge iguanas sunned themselves in the warm sun. Oh, and not a tour operator or hostel in sight.

After a few hours we got a shout from Matelot to head over for some beers so we rowed the huge distance (about 20m) and caught up with everyone. Was a fun night and we decided to head into the little town about 1km away to book a guide to see more of the island the next day.

Next morning we took a long dingy ride ashore. Long due to the reef surrounding the anchorage, you have to take a huge arc round to get to shore safely.

Ashore we found the dingy dock to be a seal stronghold. It’s so funny here how so many structures built have been only to be taken over by the seals. All the seats were claimed and boards put up to keep them taking over more areas. I guess they aren’t taking over, humans have built on their habitats so fairs fair.

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The walk into town is down a small road that’s about to become a very big one. Yep, the early signs of development were to be seen here as well sadly. Boards lined the trees and scrubland to either side of the road offering land for sale. Why the hell isn’t all this national parkland and protected?! The road was due to be replaced by a huge two-lane highway linking the (currently) small town with the (currently) small dock. Give it a few years and Isabela will have gone the same way as the other islands. Get there quick!

Luckily the town was still lovely, much smaller and more basic than the others we’d visited. We had breakfast and bumped into Josh who had taken a ferry over to the other islands to do some exploring. He gave us the low down on the area and what tours to visit. I should explain this ‘tour’ thing. You have to visit most areas on the islands with a guide so small tours are provided. It keeps humans confined to set areas which can only be a good thing.

We thanked Josh and headed straight over to book a tour of the volcanic areas. We also needed to visit immigration and customs (again) to let them know we’d arrived. Honestly the whole visa in and out for each island is starting to get a little annoying. No one seems to know the rules, it takes ages getting the agent to smooth things over, etc. I really don’t mind but if you’re going to put complex requirements and red tape in place at least inform your officials how they are meant to work.

After a few phone calls, lots of form filling, and good old Google translate, we were cleared in and able to explore a little more. The town is really cool actually. It’s how I imagine the others would have been ten years ago. A lot more laid back, slower paced, and not full of endless shops selling the same ten t-shirts.

After a slow lazy day hanging out in the town and checking out the amazing beach in front of it we headed back aboard as our volcano trip kicked off at 7am.

Fully rested we were picked up from the dock the next morning. A 4×4 drove us up to base of the Volcano and then we were on foot for the 14km hike around the area. The guys from Matelot joined us and it was good chatting and getting to know them more as we ascended. If was quite misty for the first few hours and one of the main viewpoints looking out over the huge crater was totally greyed out. Was quite funny having our guide explaining and bigging it up when all we could see was cloud. Could have been a massive industrial estate there for all we knew.

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After a few more k’s we made it above the clouds and entered into a surreal volcanic landscape that could have been on Mars. It was fascinating learning from our guide how the area had been destroyed by a recent eruption. Really amazing to see the world turned inside out as all the minerals were belched from below. The colours and textures of this barren landscape became more intense as we walked higher where we ended up looking out over Isabela while we had lunch and took it all in.

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We then had to walk back but was lucky that the mists had cleared so all the lower views opened up, for the record there wasn’t an industrial estate. It took a few more hours to get back to the base by which point people were starting to fade. A massive hike, but one of our favs, and well worth a few blisters. Even the ride back to town was fun. All the seats In the 4×4’s were all full (no idea where the extra people came from?!) so we were lobbed in the back bouncing around- loved it!

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Once back in town we pressed on. Had a lovely walk over to another tortoise breeding centre. This one was way better than the first one we visited with all the major species from the different islands represented. Once past a certain age they are reintroduced back to their native islands. One guy was well grumpy though- what a face on him!

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By this point we’d climbed / hiked / walked enough so headed to the beach for a quick dip and then lazed in a cool beach bar with some ice cold beers.

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We met a very inspirational women who was traveling South America so shared stories and some more beers with her for a few hours then braved the reefs in pitch dark in the dingy back to the boat.

Next day we were up and at ‘um early again. We heard there was a good cycle route away from town so picked up some bikes and headed out. The route led us a good few k’s out into some stunning woodlands. It’s amazing how quickly the landscapes here change. At the end of the route stood the ‘Wall of tears’. Some genius around WW2 times decided to teach some prisoners a lesson by forcing them to stand in the blistering heat and build a wall. The wall serves no point. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just in the middle of nowhere. It’s huge and the area has a bad vibe to it. I hate to think how badly they were treated. This pointlessness was designed to break the poor sods out there in the sun. I bet he didn’t even give them suncream to wear.

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Can’t help but think this workforce couldn’t have been put to better use. You know, like building schools or a hospital. Humans. Mad as hatters.

After leaving the wall we started back down the route towards town. We raced to the end on the way out but stopped in some places on the way back including an amazing lava pool where we took a dip and watched the iguanas, crabs, and huge pelicans doing their thing then cycled to another spot where we climbed up to some lookouts to get a view from up high. A cycle down the beach was amazing also, but hard bloody work!

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Once back in town we booked another tour for the following day and headed back to the boat to rest.

Next morning we joined up with a few others for a tour of the lava tunnels. A speedboat took us about two hours down the coast to an amazing spot where lava had washed into the sea and cooled creating tunnels and bridges above and below the ocean. In this area the lava had cooled to form a reef of sorts so you were protected from the swell. We popped on our snorkels and jumped into the water to explore.

Below the surface was amazing. Tunnels you could dive through. Fish everywhere. Our guide took us over to some caves where we watched some white tip sharks resting in the shade. Then onto a lagoon where a sea lion came right up to us and decided he wanted to play. Helen and I were just diving and spinning under the water and he was copying our moves then showing off with his own. After our guide tore us away from this (I could swim with sea lions for days and not get bored). He showed us where the sea turtles hung out. We’ve seen loads of turtles on this trip but these fellas were super-sized. Absolutely huge things and like all creatures on the island couldn’t care less we were there.

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It was a magical few hours and such an amazing highlight of our time here.

Back in town we headed to the Port Captain to clear out which resulted in us ended up in the back of a police car being questioned. Long story short the Port Captain said we needed to visit the police station to get our passports stamped. Fair enough. We went there and all hell broke loose as they couldn’t understand we were on a boat and we’re just trying to clear out. Five guys and two hours later we ended up in the back of the police wagon with some official who’d been yelling at the Port Captain driving us back to him. We went back in to see the Port Captain who stamped our passports right away?! No idea what that was all about but we hope we haven’t caused any internal deputes. Oops.

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At the dock we met up with everyone off Matelot who were heading out for drinks and a meal so we rushed back into town and helped celebrate Pippy’s birthday. We’re going to be buddy boating with Matelot for the little 3000 mile passage to French Polynesia so it was good to chat about our options and plans for the crossing with them. Pippy and Richard’s friends Brenda and Andy were leaving the next day so a few goodbye drinks were had with them as well. Lovely bunch of people and a great final night in Isabela.

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Next morning was a bit of a rush to get the boat ready and the we were off. Next bit of land is maybe 3-4 weeks and 3000 miles away! Gulp!

Have to say the Galápagos Islands really were a highlight of the trip so far. But mostly the last island, Isabela. It’s still undeveloped enough to blend in with the surroundings rather than dominate them, the wildlife and scenery really is breathtaking and we’ll never forget how lucky we were to spend some time hanging out in this unique part of the world.

If you have ever thought of going do it now. Not sure it’ll be the same in a few years which is really sad to say as we both loved it exactly as it is.

Panama to Galapagos

We were up with the ducks again to start our way across the Pacific Ocean!

Simon got the launch over to the yacht club to settle up while I got the boat ready. Then it was time to cast our lines and head South again. Well that’s what we thought until the line got caught around the dodgy mooring buoy and Simon had to jump in the canal again to free it. He loves that canal water!!

After that we scooted down the outside of the channel watching the big ships motor on by.

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There were heaps of birds too. I’m not sure if they live here or if they are getting ready to migrate but there are huge flocks of pelicans, cormorants, as well as terns. We also saw another big pod of crazy dolphins doing somersaults and generally larking around.

After leaving the canal we got the sails up and it was all making for a pleasant journey to the islands. That is until Simon found the taps had stopped working, the pump wasn’t pumping and a huge puddle of water was forming in the front cabin. The pipe on the water tank had come loose again this time spilling half the contents into the boat.

Simon managed to put it back together in a flood of panic and we continued on our way. Then he mentioned ‘I’m not sure where all that water went’. On closer inspection we found puddle after puddle in each of the bilge holes. What’s worse you would clean one out and a river of water would fill it again finding its way from some other location.

Back on deck the scenery and wildlife was stunning. They do say cruising is fixing boats in exotic locations and it certainly was today.

We finally made it to the islands which were covered in bird life. We went to Contadora and picked up a mooring buoy. They’re provided by a local restaurant that we planned to go to, but they didn’t come out to greet us – it is Easter though.

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We spent still more hours mopping up water from the leak and cleaning the soot off the deck which descended on us everyday in Balboa. We weren’t up for dinner after that so we had a can of soup and an early night. We still had the hull to clean ready for Galapagos.

We’ve hired a professional weatherman who said heading to Galapagos sooner rather than later was the way to go so we were feeling the pressure. It’s a shame as we’ve put in a lot of work to get ready and now we’ve been hit with a few curve balls.  Hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow.

Day 1 – and Happy 21st Anniversary to us!

We were woken pleasantly by the sun and then remembered that we still had heaps to do and had forgotten to set our alarms. The restaurant idea seems to have fallen by the wayside but instead we’ve promised ourselves we’ll get underway to Galapagos then celebrate tonight with some pasta and a single can of beer. Whoop!

First things first the hull needs cleaning ready for our Galapagos inspection so Simon jumped in. Secondly everything that was stored in the bilge needed drying and packing away. Oh and we had to move the Parasail for easier access which meant unloading everything out of ‘the shed’ and repacking it all.

Once I was finished with that I went to check on Simon who seemed to be having fun too, There’s a little bit of growth covering the entire hull which means diving down and holding your breath while you rub away the green. If that’s not enough there was a strong current coming through the anchorage, oh and some stinging jelly fish.

It takes time so it looked like I’d be joining him then – after all how hard could it be? I busied myself with the bit at the top near the waterline. I’m not a fan of diving in currents or stinging jelly fish. It was all going swimmingly just the odd sting here and there. Then I got a double wammy stinger and headed for the swim platform. As I clung to the swim ladder in relative safety another one wrapped itself around my leg. I jumped out and the sodding thing came with me. They don’t give up easily!

I was cursing like a trouper as I tried to untangle it and run fresh water over my leg when a lovely English couple tootled by in their dinghy. Typically English myself, my candour changed with a smiley ‘Good morning, nice weather’ and the usual pleasantries. Turns out they’re heading back to Oz too where their son lives and will be heading to Galapagos shortly so hopefully see them there. After that little Interlude I went back to cursing and hopping around on deck. I tried to look busy as there was no way I was getting back in the water.

Ten minutes later Simon appeared, flaunting his own set of stings and rashes. The air turned blue once again and we agreed enough was enough. So we packed up and shipped off destined for Galapagos.

We had a nice sail and a manky sandwich for lunch and decided to settle down for a nice bowl of pasta and a cold beer once we had cleared the traffic separation scheme (the motorway for tankers). With eyes trained in the chart plotter we chose our gap between a tug towing a tanker and two other tankers all headed for Panama.

As we approached the wind started to pick up so we reduced our sail and put in a reef. We congratulated ourselves on doing that early especially as the wind continued to rise during our approach.

Then Simon called out ‘what’s that in the water?’ He’d seen some water movement so I checked the chart, no rocks or reef. Must be a pod of dolphins or some large fish – so long as it’s not a whale.

I couldn’t see anything and thought it unlikely with all the tankers around so we continued forward our thoughts and eyes trained on them.

Next thing a huge whale breaches on our port side, proper David Attenborough styley. Now I think perhaps the best way to see a whale is on the sofa with cup of tea, a hobnob and your favourite wildlife presenter.

This way was not so fun, in fact it was damn scary. I went into a whirl, making Simon steer to port (towards the tankers!). Then he suggested I get our life jackets and maybe the small radio. I came back with everything, 2 radios a sat phone, a cuddly toy and the kitchen sink. I was promptly sent back downstairs with half my wares and told to close the windows. That done I came back on deck and closed the hatch, just as a freak wave ripped through covering everything with cold salt water.

I guess that calmed me down a little but I was still on the look out for crazy whales. Simon on the other hand was diligently negotiating the traffic separation scheme. We crossed the first lane and then sidled down the ‘central reservation’, then crossed behind another super-sized tanker.

After that we were still screaming along with strong winds and rolly seas. Anyone feel like trying to make pasta? Not a chance! Another manky sandwich then?

Happy ruddy anniversary! 😉

Day 2

We fell into our watch patterns overnight and it feels strangely familiar with our Puerto Rico to Panama trip not that far behind us. We had good winds and were belting along with favourable currents.

Sometime during the night I heard the engine turn on so I popped up on deck to check on Simon. He had heard a bang and felt something ‘nudging the boat’. I guess he hadn’t been left unaffected by the whale incident after all. He’d put the engine on to scare whatever it was away. I mentioned that I’d bumped my head on the hull in the back berth (it can be a little disorientating) but he didn’t think it was that.

After a while a great big whale jumped on deck! Only joking! Nothing happened so Simon switched the engine off and I took myself back to bed.

We had some pleasant sailing. We ate some wraps with heaps of salad – our new fav. What can I say it was a slow-news day.

Later the wind dropped and we increased or sail to match until eventually we had no wind so had to drop our sails altogether and put the engine on. We’re pretty disappointed as we were expecting wind for at least two days and we’re worried that we don’t have enough fuel to motor all the way from here.

Motoring 659 miles on 300 liters of fuel at 1.8 liters per hour doesn’t leave much in the tank.

On AIS we could see two sail boats nearby but further South and judging from their speed they seem to be sailing but we’re not sure. The one that we could actually see seemed to have her sails up. We tried hailing them on the radio to find out but can’t reach them.

Anyway we took the opportunity to use the battery power generated by the engine to run the watermaker and top up the tanks. A steady 25% now. Woohoo!

Simon checked our email to see if we have received an update from our weatherman. We’ve been struggling to receive some of his emails which is a shame. Nothing there but we do have a position update from our friends. The funny thing is it seems to be in decimals. We’ve never seen this before and have only ever seen positions given as degrees, minutes and seconds.

This seems to be a degree and then a point if a degree instead of minutes.

We wondered if that is what our weatherman is using too. This would put our waypoint further South. This would also make sense as when we studied the gribs (weather files) there was more wind down there.

Simon fired an email off to our weatherman. It was frustrating as now we would have to wait for Australia to wake up to get an answer. In the meantime we were burning fuel and heading in a general SW direction. It’s always at night when these things happen which makes everything feel worse.

Anyway Simon ploughed on while I went downstairs and buried my head under a pillow. Not long after we heard a big thudding sound under the hull and Simon sees something dark and heavy spew out the back of the boat. I checked downstairs for damage but the only leaks I find are the ones from the water tank. Some of those haven’t given up all their water yet.

Day 3

A happier day today!  Overnight we received an email from the weatherman which said he is using decimals. This means our heading should have been further South. The good news is if we head South we should pick up some more wind.

And voila in the wee hours of the morning the wind picked up and the Capitaino helped me hoist the sails. Yay, sailing again!  :)

We sailed across some low water today. It went down to hundreds instead of thousands of meters deep. There I was surprised to see a turtle. I thought they ate sea-grass but I can’t imagine them going that far below the surface. Perhaps they eat that dreaded seaweed that floats about and wraps itself around the keel. Later on, in really deep waters, we saw another turtle and then another turtle. They seemed really surprised to see us as they floated up to take breath just as we floated past. Do they just live here or are they just passing through?

Anyway it got us thinking about that bump in the night. Sorry Mr Turtle!

After all that motoring in the night we were able to get the watermarker on. We even managed to sneak in a fresh water shower! Smells better!

Then as the sun went down so did the wind. Maybe another night of motoring. Then maybe tomorrow we’ll get the big sail out again. Yikes!

Day 4

I woke Simon at 4am to help me get the sails up. We finally had some wind. Over the course of the morning it grew to almost 20 knots and with a good angle we were soaring along.

Then it gradually dropped and finally around 4pm there was only a little breeze and we were getting knocked around a fair bit with the waves so we took them down again. In the afternoons we tend to get confused seas which we think maybe due to the current fighting against the wind. It makes for a bumpy ride and with low winds our sails flog terribly.

We heard our friends behind us have decided to fly their spinnaker so no doubt we will see them passing by soon enough. But as it was nearing sunset we resorted to the motor. I’m not sure we’re ready to fly the Parasailor at night just yet.

The wind seems to follow a similar pattern each day which is different to the pattern we had from Puerto Rico to Panama when our biggest winds were during the night. I must say it’s nicer to have the bigger winds during the day.

We got a weather update with some areas to avoid and when we plotted them we found there were a fair distance away which was a relief. We passed our waypoint so now we’re headed straight for Galapogos.

Apart from that we’re just mooching along, taking the chance to rest when we can and spend some time reading. We talked about Galapogos today, what we want to do there and did a bit more research. Really excited about seeing the wildlife. It still seems a long way off although I think we passed halfway today. Woohoo!

Day 5

Just when you think you have it all sussed, Mother Nature decides to mix it up. No 4am winds today so we continued in the motor. That is until 8am (aka my snoozy time) when the winds picked up, well at least to 8 knots. So I was dragged out of bed screaming and kicking to help put up the big red Parasailor. Yes this is the moment we’d all been dreading!

I don’t know why we’re so scared of this thing, maybe because it’s big and dangerous in the wrong conditions, maybe just our inexperience with it or maybe the disaster we had with it last time. And probably a bit of all three.

Anyway the conditions were right and the time had finally come or was perhaps a little overdue. There was no more putting it off. So we spent some time rigging it all up and then away she went.

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She works like a dream. No more clanging and bagging just a smooth ride. Plus we get 4 knots of speed from just 8 knots of wind. We sat down triumphant with big smiles on our faces.

It was unbelievably hot so we hung out in the cockpit enjoying the breeze and watching her fly. Or maybe we were just too scared to leave her unattended for even a second.

After a few hours the wind dropped again to under 5 knots so we had to drop her again and put on the engine. Getting her down worked out just fine too and with no chafe on the halyard we were as pleased as punch.

After a couple of rolly, noisy hours on the engine the wind picked up a little so we pushed our luck and hoisted the Parasailor again. It went up a treat and we spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around in any bit of shade we could find. A lovely relaxing day.

During the afternoon when Simon was downstairs I kept hearing a funny noise. It sounded like either a sail or rope tearing or a whale snorting water. Or maybe my mind is playing tricks on me.

At about 5.30pm we decided we should drop the big sail before the sun set. Of course just then the wind picked up to 12 knots which shouldn’t really be a problem so long as it didn’t get too much higher. So following the same procedure as before Simon went up front to snub the sail while I stayed at the back to release the lines. Only this time he couldn’t pull it down. He swung on the halyard for a while and could get it down so far but then had to let it go again.

Ok so we had a bit more wind but it wasn’t exactly huge. We tried putting the motor on to reduce the actual winds speed but this didn’t make much odds. So we looked at each other with that knowing look of concern.

I looked at the windometer only to see the wind rising to 13 knots… But then it dropped back to 12 again – phew! Still with only 8 knots of actual it still shouldn’t be a problem. It was then that it dawned on me that we we quite beamy, the wind coming across the boat, whereas this morning it was coming from behind us. We altered course 20 degrees and the whole thing fell down easily – a piece of cake!

That done we went back to our familiar little white sails.

A little later we were both out of deck recovering from that ordeal and a flock of terns turned up. It seems they make a funny noise as they call to one another – the little devils! Ok so maybe I’m just paranoid about sails and whales. Anyway we tried throwing some raisin bread but they just looked at it disgusted. They’re still hanging around though.

Day 6

Another lovely day of sailing! We were waiting all day for the wind to drop but it continued at around 8 knots and with a beamy angle so we were able to make good progress on the white sails. We’re not making any speed records with an average speed today of about 4.8 knots, however we’ve calculated that unless we increase our speed to over 6 knots we’re not going to make it in on Sunday and with a knot of current against us that would be pushing. So we’re taking our time and hope to arrive around first light on Monday. This also means we’re conserving our fuel which is always a plus.

Life onboard is pretty relaxed and with a cooler wind blowing today it was a lot more comfortable. We put the fishing line out today but no bite yet. We have lots of terns circling our lure but luckily it’s too deep for them to reach. It’s fun watching them try though and if we don’t catch a fish tomorrow we might be looking for alternative prey as our food stores start to dwindle. Actually we have heaps of food but the good stuff like chocolate, biscuits and crisps are quickly disappearing. The midnight sugar fixes are taking their toll.

We haven’t seen much shipping action. We spotted a tanker on AIS briefly the night before last and saw a light at daybreak this morning but apart from that we seem to be on our own. We know that our friends on Matelot are just 100 miles behind us so that’s reassuring. Hopefully they will make good speed and arrive safely on Monday too. We’ve taken a rather unusual Northerly route on the advice of our weatherman instead of the usual Southerly route suggested by Jimmy Cornell so perhaps that explains it.

In other news we think we have almost seen the back of the water in the bilge – woohoo! And our thoughts are turning to one last cleanup before our arrival in Galapagos. Not long to go. We should also cross the equator tomorrow, officially putting us back into the Southern Hemisphere. The bubbly is on ice!

We’ve also started researching the French Polynesia. There’s some cool places coming up as well as some tough navigation challenges so we’ll have to keep our wits about us. And tides again, I thought we’d left them behind us in Northern Europe.

All in all we can’t believe the luck we’ve had with this crossing (touch wood) which can sometimes be problematic. This area is infamous for its lack of wind.

Day 7 – (aka Equator day)

Last night we turned the engine on at about 11pm as the wind dropped to a measly 5 knots. Whether we hoist the sails again this trip remains to be seen but looks doubtful.

We were accompanied by of flock of terns that look ghostly in the nightlight. We also had bright luminescence and flashing jellyfish as well as a sky full of stars. Simply beautiful!

Simon woke me excited as over the past few hours we’d found some friends. After seeing no-one for some time here they all were. It reminds me of the last few days of our ARC Atlantic crossing when everyone converged.

The nearest boat to us was a sailboat called ‘Boxing Kangaroo’, a fellow Aussie no doubt. We could even see this boat and he still had his sails up. ‘How’s he doing that?’ we asked ourselves and at that point the wind picked up surprisingly and so we hoisted the big sail again! It’s getting much easier now as we’re getting the procedure down pat.

Then it was time to watch as our longitude fell to zero marking our passage over the equator. In the final moments I woke Simon up from his nap with some loud music and we grabbed the bubbly! Then hurrah there it was! We made a toast to Neptune which will hopefully bring us luck and fair winds for the rest of our trip. It was nice to let loose and have a glass of bubbly. We usually run a dry ship. But with such a momentous landmark occasion it definitely needed celebrating. Although it’s a bit odd to celebrate something you can’t actually see.

FullSizeRender 2 copyFullSizeRender 4I’ve read about so many other famous sailors celebrating their equator crossing, Joshua Slocum, Ellen McArthur and Jessica Watson. I couldn’t believe it was our turn and we’d made it this far.

Minutes later we we’re hailed by ‘Boxing Kangaroo’ who congratulated us. It was lovely to share our celebrations with them. Turns out their boat used to be owned by an Aussie but the folks onboard were from Belgium. He told us he was about to clean his hull. He didn’t dare do it in Las Perlas as he had seen a saltwater crocodile in the bay, so maybe we had a lucky escape with just the jellyfish.

It’s great that someone thought to put the equator here, conveniently located a days throw away from Galapagos to perk you up when your stamina is waning and just enough time to have a drink and recover :)

Anyway no rest for the wicked, the wind dropped so we hopped around the decks dropping the sails and back on the motor. Oh well at least we can top up the batteries and run the water maker – still need to top up those tanks but we’re making progress.

No sooner had we done that but it was time for us to congratulate ‘Boxing Kangaroo’ Well done!!

After that it was time for lunch. We were just putting everything back downstairs when Simon went back on deck and shouted ‘whale’. Sure enough there he was serenely sliding past our boat. We really need to keep on ‘whale watch’.

Late in the afternoon we saw a huge pod of whales. They were all around us and we didn’t know which way to turn. They say if you get between a whale and her cub there can be trouble. They were going pretty slowly so we put on a few revs and got out of their way.

Dinner turned into a bit of a flop as the chicken that we’d been patiently defrosting was off. Simon made a great veggie curry, but as we are all out of chocolate we had to forego desert. My sister, Melanie, chose this time to email and tell us about her Sunday lunch with chocolate pudding. Grrrrr! So that started the game of ‘what shall we eat when we get to shore’, however, I think our food options will be pretty limited from here on in.

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After that it was back to watches. I had a quick nana nap and then went on deck for changeover. We’ve been making good progress which meant that our estimated time of arrival was 2am – too early. One of the other boats on AIS was doing 1.5 knots, presumably drifting so we decided to give that a go. We switched the engine off and floated with the current – ahhh peace and quiet. Well at least for a little while and then we heard a strangely familiar sound … Another whale?!

Back on with the engine. With no better plan we headed on low revs towards our destination but with the current with us it was hard to slow down.

Simon decided to do a check of the email to see if we had a weather update before heading to bed. Funnily enough we received one to say that there might be some lightening activity over the island but it should dissipate before our arrival. We looked up and low and behold there was a lightening flash in the distance. Not sure if this guy is predicting the weather or controlling it.

Anyway we didn’t have long to ponder this issue as next thing we know a huge alarm goes off and the chart plotter starts flashing up a message. Man overboard alarm. What was strange was we were both on deck. Simon went below to switch it off before our eardrums burst. Back in Gibraltar the guy who installed the AIS alarm said ‘sorry I only have a large one meant for a bigger vessel’, ‘no worries the louder the better, we want to be woken up if one of us goes over’. We were soon to regret that statement.

Well since we were both on board it must be a fault with one of our AIS SART devices that we have fitted in our life jackets right? But there was no position marked on the chart plotter (the way it was when it we tested them) so no way of telling who’s. Simon checked both and they seemed ok.

And then the alarm went off again! This time we got a message on the chart plotter giving us the MMSI identification number. We matched it against our lifejackets to find the faulty device only to find it wasn’t either of them. Humm. Maybe it’s coming from another vessel then but which?

We put a call out on the radio to see if anyone was having trouble or was experiencing the same thing. Another vessel in the area had reported it to the coastguard and there didn’t seem much else we could do.

The problem was every ten minutes the alarm would go off and it’s deafening. It was going to be one of those nights.

Eventually Simon managed to access more information and we found the coordinates of the vessel 168nm away and ironically named  ‘Feeling Good’. We reported this to our new friends on ‘Por Dos’ who were able to relay the message to the coastguard. It turns out it was a man overboard beacon aboard a large ship. From the speed and coordinates we could see that the beacon was onboard the ship so was probably just a malfunction. Phew!

We later heard the Coastguard call the vessel with no response. And the alarm continued…

Feeling very tired by now, Simon pulled the fuse on the alarm and we went back to our watches. Which really meant watching the lightening storm, avoiding other boats and biting our nails.

Before my last watch ended, the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was in view, all twinkly lights. It’s much bigger than I thought it would be.

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I fell asleep on deck and when I awoke it was daylight and we were in the Galapagos! I know this for sure as we were greeted by a seal :) Very, very exciting.

As we pulled into the anchorage we were welcomed in by Steve on Wandering Dreams, who we have been following since the Isles des Saintes and is leaving for the Marquesas tomorrow. Always one step ahead.

Can’t wait to explore Galapagos now – but first some food and sleep!