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!

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