Animals and more animals everywhere
February 21, 2012, 2:00 pm, Bahia Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador
Within an hour of getting to San Cristobal, our boat was boarded by four customs, immigration, health and tourism officials along with our hired agent representative. Our agent worked with us to develop our travel plan and logged this plan with the authorities. The health agent inspected every drawer and cabinet in the galley of the boat. They confiscated our oranges but there were no other issues. They are concerned about fruit flies entering the islands. The inspection lasted about 30 minutes and saved us hours of time if we had to individually visit each authority ourselves. Being part of the World ARC certainly has its benefits when entering places with complicated traveling issues. It is essential to have an agent representative to organize the officials and cut through the red tape. If not, it can take days to check into the Galapagos and you have to stay on the boat until the process is completed. We met some other boaters who can attest to this.
We suggest you Google the Galapagos for more info but these islands are made from volcanoes and have an abundant and diverse animal population. Unless you have been here it is hard to describe. The islands were discovered in 1835 when the young scientist, Charles Darwin, arrived aboard the HMS Beagle. After returning to England he later published his evolution theory based on natural selection which he based on many of the samples he took back with him from the Galapagos Islands.
The authorities are very concerned about controlling the impact of tourism on the ecology while maintaining an adequate economy for the local population. Gas is subsidized on the island to the locals at $1 per gallon. We pay $5. On many of the islands a non-residents cannot buy gas. There are 8 major islands in the Galapagos. Only 4 are inhabited and can be visited by boaters and you can leave your boat at only one port on each of those islands. Your travel from island to island is closely monitored by the customs officials and you have to file a travel plan with them and check in and out of each island with the port captain to get a clearance form called a Zarpe allowing you to go to the next port. You must also purchase a tourist permit for $110/person to visit any of the national parks. And all the sites to be seen are national parks. In addition, you must hire a nationally certified guide and arrange for transportation to visit many of the sites. The cost of most of the tours can be $50 to $100 per person.
There are sea lions and iguanas all over town in San Cristobal. You have to watch where you sit because the sea lions leave a mess or you may be under a pelican sitting on an arch or tree who could mess on you. Many of the World Arc boats had close encounters with sea lions. Most days we had one or two on our swim platform. One boat had seven in their cockpit one morning while another had two on their bimini. It was interesting to see the methods people used to deter the sea lions. Chairs were common tools used to block access.
While we were in San Cristobal we took several tours to see the sights of the island. We took a trip to five finger rock which is a frigate bird colony, then snorkeled in Isla Lobos bay with sea lions, sea turtles, iguanas, and sea rays and then snorkeled at Kicker Rock with sharks. And when we say we snorkeled with these animals we mean that they were often less than five feet away from us. The small sea lions were particularly fun because you almost felt like they were playing with you. Mark did get a little too close to one large adult sea lion who did not want to play but rather wanted to move Mark along and move Mark did - rather quickly.
Another day we took two cabs with 14 people total from the World Arc to visit the volcano and the tortoise breeding center. The Galapagos have quite a few tortoise breeding centers as a result of the tortoises almost being brought to the point of extinction on the island. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day near the volcano and we all got soaking wet (the taxis were pickup trucks and half of us were in the back of the truck). We visited the tortoise farm in the pouring rain which caused the tortoises to go and hide. We did get brought to a local family's farm, Comedor La Amancay, for lunch by our taxi drivers and had a very fresh meal made only from things they produced on the farm. They only served meals on Sundays and catered to family gatherings of the local people. They were thrilled to have "tourists" join them. The food was delicious and many of us ate several things that we had never eaten before. It was an incredible experience. When we got back to the boat, we discovered that it had never rained at the boat while we had spent the entire tour in the pouring rain.
We tried desperately to get internet access throughout our stay in San Cristobal but we were very unsuccessful. We would get internet for a few minutes and then lose it despite sitting in what was called an internet café. It was terribly frustrating. I continue to eat a lot of fish and I am actually getting to the point of enjoying it. Mark has improved his Spanish speaking immensely because he has been getting a lot of practice repeating phrases over and over everywhere we go.
Dos grande cervesas por favor!!
We tried to leave San Cristobal on Monday but had difficulty picking up our laundry. Most of the stores are closed for siesta from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Also, while we were in San Cristobal they had their annual celebration of their independence from Columbia which lasted for three days during which time many stores, banks and other services were closed. This gave a whole new meaning to the term "island time."
We finally did leave on Tuesday 2/21 for a 60 nm trip to Floreana. There was no wind and we motored the entire way there. We arrived as the sun was starting to go down with plans to stay overnight and head to Isabella the next morning. Mark had quite a shock in the morning when he found a rather large sea lion in our cockpit. For some reason we had dismantled our sea lion deterrent system which was basically multiple fenders on the swim platform and across the steps onto the back of the boat. Well, sea lions are smelly and messy and they shed worse than any dog. Mark spent much of the morning cleaning up sea lion hair and sea lion oil off the cushions in the cockpit and the deck. As a result of this, Mark no longer cares how cute I think the sea lions are they are not welcome on our boat at all!
We have posted more pictures of the passage to the Galapagos and our time in San Cristobal on the photo gallery.
A Toast to Neptune and Welcome to Las Islas Encantadas (Galapagos)
February 15, 2012, 3:00 pm, Bahia Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos
We arrived at this port of entry in the Galapagos this afternoon safe and sound. First, the details of the trip; we traveled 865 nm in 6 days and 3 hours. We only sailed without use of the motor for 300 miles. The seas were like glass most of the time and the wind was insufficient to sail after the first 36 hours.
But the good news is that Janet and I worked the sails trying to get every bit of speed we could and learned a lot about light wind sailing. Big Al (our spinnaker - the big bright colored sail that is flown off the bow of the boat) got as much use on this leg as he has in the past 4 years.
We crossed the equator at 11:59:25 eastern on Valentine's Day. I timed it just right. We toasted Neptune and asked for his blessings and assistance for the rest of the trip. The three of us shared a glass of wine together (Neptune's was dumped into the ocean which is customary). Janet and I talked about this adventure for the next hour and then I went to sleep as it was Janet's watch.
As we approached the Island of San Cristobal, the sea lions came out to greet us and a huge manta ray jumped out of the water and did a barrel roll about fifty yards off our bow. We are anchored in a pleasant bay with the 30 World ARC boats and about 50 others from around the world. The seals and sea lions are swimming all around us and you can hear them on shore. The customs agents are on the way to board our boat and inspect it. Hopefully we will pass. We will be exploring the islands for the next two weeks and posting the blog with plenty of photos and stories. So stay tuned.
Ok, Just how dull are the Doldrums?
February 13, 2012, 11:06 am, 02 01.1'N:86 01.9'W, Doldrums on the way to the Galapagos
The Doldrums are so dull that if it were a chick flick, Janet would be bored watching it. Can't relate? Janet never saw a chick flick she didn't like, and she has seen them all.... several times each. Still can't relate? How about this, the Doldrums are so dull that it makes my speeches at work seem exciting and inspirational. That's right, it is that boring.
The first 36 hours after leaving the Las Perlas islands were perfect for sailing, 20 knots downwind with a two knot current pushing us. We flew "Big Al", our asymmetrical spinnaker and our jib together for about 8 hours making over 9 knots. We hit 10.7 over ground at the high point. Then the bottom fell out as we entered the Doldrums. We have been motor sailing (using the engine and sails together) since Friday at 9:00 pm. The winds tease us constantly increasing just enough for us to take out the sails including the spinnaker (no easy task) then dying down and letting us flounder, bobbing around in the 1 foot seas. With no wind to cool us off, the sun is so intense you can feel your skin sizzle and it is a sauna below decks. But that's what this trip is all about, it's like a visit to the spa on a beach. Yep, know all about that from St Lucia.
We have had some exciting up close and personal sea life encounters, giving us a taste of things to come. On this leg alone we have seen two whales, four sea turtles, several pods of dolphins swimming in a bow wake, and a stubborn free loading sea gull who decided to catch a ride to the Galapagos. He would not leave the boat despite all of our efforts. I know it's a nice boat, and that's exactly why he should not have treated it the way he did if he wanted a free ride. It seems that sea gulls don't mind using the bathroom where ever, or rather everywhere.
At our current (no pun intended) pace, we should arrive in the Galapagos about 4 am on Wednesday. If so, we would "hang" off the bay of Baquerizo on the island of San Cristobal until daybreak. No problem, we are getting good at bobbing around in the water. There we will have some internet hot spots to upload the pictures of the start of the rally from Las Perlas and our passage. By the way, everyone is fine and in good spirits. Despite the heat and lack of sailing, we are having fun.
Fresh Fish on the Barb-b, Finally!!!
February 4, 2012, 9:48 am, Isla Pacheca, Las Perlas Islands
We left Panama City a day later than planned due to the need to get about everything we need for the next six months. This may be a slight exaggeration but we have been cautioned that the next time we might see a real grocery store, hardware store or liquor store will be when we hit Australia. If we do find these stores in French Polynesia they will be quite expensive. So we have been stocking up on so much I am again reminded about how difficult it is to store everything on the boat.
When we arrived at the anchorage today after a five hour sail (we actually motored and had not wind for the first time in quite a while), there were only two other boats there. By the time the sun was setting there were only two. The other boat flew a French flag and as I settled in to make dinner, two french men from the boat came motoring up in their dinghy offering us fish. They had gone spear fishing and had more than they could eat. They wanted nothing for the fish and seem pleased that we were grateful to have it. As Mark took the two fish aboard he was surprised that they were still wiggling around. One of the men said, "Yes, very fresh fish." Once they left we took out our meager fishing supplies and I went and got the book titled Salt Water Fishing Made Easy. I began to read the book as Mark followed my directions. Every once in a while I would get engrossed in the book (which was infinitely more pleasant than what Mark was doing). Mark would say keep reading, aloud please. Mark was a trouper and within an half an hour "we" had filleted the fish. The larger fish was huge and we decided that we would freeze 75% of it and eat the rest for dinner. The dinner I was going to make transformed itself into a fisherman's stew with the meat from the smaller fish. A portion of the larger fish was wrapped in foil and cooked on the barb-b. As we ate the fish that was absolutely delicious, we could only think how much better it would have been if we had caught it ourselves. It's only a matter time!
Appended By Mark
We leave for the Galapagos Islands at noon on Thursday. We will be crossing the Equator and will be making an offering to Neptune as sailing tradition dictates. We have to decide what is worth throwing overboard. I think Janet might want to pick me for the offering. I should be on my best behavior for the next few days.
It will be a 6 day trip and we will be motoring most of the way through an area known as the "Doldrums". The winds are 0-5 knots and variable so sailing will be difficult. We have enough fuel to motor about 900 miles at 6 knots. That is about the distance of the trip. So fuel conservation will be important and we may be bobbing around waiting for the wind. Wish us luck.
The Visit to the Emberer Indians and Panama City Tour
February 2, 2012, 9:21 am, La Playita Marina Flamenco Island Panama City
Andrea and I got up bright and early the morning after the transit to take a tour of the Emberer Indian Village in Panama. Mark was more than happy to stay on the boat and relax (fix broken things). The Emberer Indians originally lived in Darien, South America but many left that area to resettle along the Chagres River due to the abundance of fish in the river. Although the area was later converted into a National Park after some negotiations, the Emberer Indians were allowed to remain living in the Park. Under this agreement, they were no longer allowed to sell the fish they caught but rather developed their economy around tourism. We were invited to their village for lunch and they entertained us with several of their traditional dances. We also had the opportunity to dance with them. Like the Kuna Indians they sold their crafts and also were willing to give us temporary tattoos.
Andrea and I enjoyed the day greatly. We were taken for a canoe ride up the Chagres river in a hallowed out wooden canoe (they did have gas motors). We hiked to a waterfall for a swim. Then toured their village and ate fresh fruit, tilapia and plantains for lunch. The food was delicious, yes, even the fish. We danced with the Indians (I was picked first to go onto the dance floor!) Andrea and I were given temporary tattoos (hopefully) for $2. And then we bought some crafts from the Indians. Several of the Indians spoke English and we had a translator who was our tour guide. Thus, we were able to learn a great deal about their lives. Unlike the Kuna Indians, their huts were high off the ground due to the snakes and the jaguars. We also learned quite a bit about how they elect a chief every five years and how they use medicine men for both spiritual and physical healing. Their religion is based on nature respecting the resources around them. The photos of our visit to the Emberer Indians have been posted to the gallery.
The next day Mark, Andrea and I went on a tour of Panama City. The view of the city from our marina is quite impressive. It looks like a typical American city with many high rise buildings. Daniel was our tour guide again today and he did a fantastic job. No matter what question you asked him, he was able to answer with specific dates and the names of all the leaders involved, both Panamanian and American. He educated us about the longstanding relationship between the United States and Panama. He was grateful to the United States for all they had done to help them gain independence from Columbia and also for giving over the operation of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999. The transfer of the operation of the Panama Canal to Panama was agreed upon in the Torrijos-Carter (the President) Treaty originally signed in 1977. The talks to transfer the operation of the Panama Canal to Panama began in the early 1950's. Yes, it took quite a while.
There is much cultural diversity in Panama given that over 75,000 workers were brought to Panama from all over the world to build the canal. Many of these people stayed in Panama and thus the great diversity. The predominant language is Spanish and Mark tried valiantly to speak as much as he could. More people spoke English than we expected so we were able to get around in taxis to do grocery shopping, etc. Approximately 80% of the population is Catholic but many other religions are represented. There were many sailboats that have remained anchored in this area for many years. The cost of living here is very reasonable and everyone is very friendly (even if you cannot speak their language). Check out the photos in the gallery of Panama City showing its diverse architecture.
We sail 50 miles to the islands of Las Perlas tomorrow (Friday February 3, 2012) after much time has been spent shopping, restocking, fixing, cleaning, blogging, emailing, etc. I was finally able to do my own laundry at the marina for only $1 per wash and $1 per dry. Total cost - $14 compared to $100 in the Caribbean. I also have a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables on board now. It is amazing what thrills me in our new life on board our boat. We leave the Las Perlas Islands on February 9th for 6 day trip to the Galapagos. The availability of the internet to stay in communication with friends and family using Skype and email is only going to be more limited over the next 6 months as we sail through the Polynesian Islands. But Mark will do his best to seek out those hot spots to keep the blog updated. Thanks for all the comments and emails. It is hard to describe but let me just say that it really makes us very happy to see so many of you connecting with us on this experience and expressing your support. We will update the blog again before leaving for the Galapagos.
The Canal Transit Experience
Janet (Mark as editor in chief)
February 2, 2012, 9:03 am, La Playita Marina, Flamenco Island Panama City
The trip through the Panama Canal was spectacular. I will attempt to describe the crossing but I cannot imagine doing it justice.
On Thursday, January 26th we left the Shelter Bay Marina at 3:00 pm to anchor just outside of the entrance to the first lock of the Panama Canal. With Andrea's help, we had finished our "to do" lists and were feeling good about the condition of the boat for the transit. In the anchorage, we were joined by ten other World ARC boats that would be making the transit with us. While we were waiting for our advisors to be dropped off at our boats, we prepared fenders and lines necessary to keep from hitting the canal walls. Each boat has a Panama Canal employee on the boat as they go through the canal. You are to provide your advisor with a hot meal and bottled water during the trip. Our advisors were late getting on boat which meant that we would be going through the first set of locks well into the night.
Francisco, our advisor, was dropped off by a pilot boat at 7:30 pm. We quickly picked up anchor to head to the first set three locks called Gatun Locks. At night, with cargo ships moving all around us, we made our way to entrance of the first lock. And there we sat for over an hour. Once we were approved to go through, we rafted our boat (tied together) to Southern Cross and on the other side of Southern Cross was Glamorous Galah (Ausie, Ausie, Ausie). We rafted together while we were underway using our engine which was quite a feat. Mind you that Mark and I have never rafted our boat to another boat, never mind rafting it while underway. Once tied together we proceeded as a group to the first lock. The other three rafts were ahead of us. Appropriately, At Last brought up the rear.
Once inside the lock, the line handlers on top of the lock walls, threw two long lines with a monkey fist (a type of knot) to the two boats on the outside of the rafting (At Last and Glamorous Galah). The monkey fist is a bit heavy and makes a clunking sound when it hits the deck. We had the monkey fists thrown onto our bow for fear of them hitting our solar panels which we were warned could break if a monkey fist hit them. We had to protect the panels by lashing our folding padded chairs to them. Once the lines were on the boat, we tied them to 200 foot heavy ¾ inch blue lines already on the boat. Once tied, we fed the blue lines back to the line handlers on the lock walls. These lines were then put around cleats on the shore of the canal and were tightened to our boat by Mark and another crew from Southern Cross, Dave, who was at the bow of the boat. Then the huge walls closed and the lock began to fill with water for about 30 minutes. During this time, Mark and Dave were taking in the slack on the lines to the boat as the water rose. This is the hardest job of all because the pressure and turbulence caused by the water entering the lock it difficult to take in the slack of the line. This was the biggest surprise of the experience for Mark. He thought the line handlers were the one who would be pulling on the lines keeping the boats in the middle of the canal. His shoulders and hands got a workout.
I was at the helm working with the other two boats to keep our boats steady with the wind blowing and from the current created by the water entering the lock. (Janet was at the helm steering the boat for the entire transit of all the locks -- what a sailor. Ricardo respected her abilities very much and it was evident). Everyone else was busy taking pictures and drinking coffee! Once the water filled the lock, the walls opened and the line handlers on the lock walls walked our boat to the next lock. At this point the heavy blue lines are back on the boat but remain connected to the boat by the line with the monkey fist. What is moving the boat through the lock at this point is not the lines held by the canal workers but our engines as we motor as a rafted group to the next lock. Motoring through takes a coordinated effort from the three boats and the advisor on the middle boat, Ricardo, gave instructions to the three people at the helm on how to motor through without hitting the walls. Ricardo was excellent and there were no close calls. We did see the rafted group in front of us get within two feet of the wall as the wind and current were overtaking them. Close call!
Once through the first three locks which were all connected, we had to un-raft in the last lock because there was a cargo ship entering the end of the lock and we had to sneak by it on our way out, single file. Each lock is 110 feet wide by 1,000 feet long so there was room but sharing 110 feet with a huge cargo ship is not ideal. What is worse is that once you pass the ship the wake from his engine is enough to send you into a tail spin. Francisco, our advisor, told me to "give it all you got" as I passed the cargo ship, which I did but still the boat had difficulty with the cargo ship's wake. Once through that ordeal, it was about 1:30 am, we needed to anchor, have our advisor picked up and get some sleep before we started at 7:00 am the next morning with the second set of locks. Needless to say, each of us got about four hours of sleep.
Robin, our advisor for the second day, boarded our boat promptly at 7:00 am. We served him coffee and a hot breakfast (thank you Andrea!). We then motored the next four hours through Gatun Lake to the next set of locks. We motored along and then added a sail to gain some speed. The entire time we were motoring Robin was getting updates on when we would be entering the second set of locks. Sometimes Robin would get off the phone and say speed it up, as we got closer it was slow down, there was a delay. At around noon we got to the entrance to the second set of locks and we again rafted with Southern Cross and Glamorous Galah. Then we began to wait. Ricardo, the advisor on Southern Cross, suggested we anchor while waiting which we did. Southern Cross threw out their anchor and it held all three of us in place. Then we fixed lunch, Southern Cross popped some popcorn and we gave each other tours of our boats. We were the only group that anchored while waiting and we were grateful to relax for a bit.
The second set of locks were a bit easier because we were being lowered toward the Pacific Ocean. When lowering the water level, there is much less current so Mark and Dave had less pressure on the lines. There was quite a bit of wind though so we did use the engine motors to keep the boats in place. Doing this in daylight also was easier. It took a bit longer to get through these locks because they are not all connected. You go through Pedro Miguel lock then motor through Miraflores Lake and then enter the last two locks which are connected, Miraflores locks. The excitement in the last set of locks was clearly the web cam which we waved at enthusiastically! Ricardo called his friend who was the operator of the web cam and had him zoom in on us on At Last but that was just before we departed the locks. We don't know if anyone saw the close-up of us on the cam.
We broke the raft soon after leaving the lock and had an hour trip to La Playita Marina where we are staying for the next few days. Along the way we dropped off Robin, our advisor, onto the Pilot boat while underway. The pilot boat driver had to make 5 attempts before Robin could jump to the Pilot boat. Each time the boat came within inches of taking out our life lines. Take a look at the photo gallery for a shot of Robin jumping onto the boat when we are doing 5 knots in 25 knot winds in the Panama Canal shipping channel. The best of rest of the 600 photos taken during the transit are posted to the Gallery.
Mark, Andrea and I all agreed that the trip through the canal was truly spectacular. Here are some interesting tidbits we learned about the Panama Canal. The canal opened to traffic on August 15, 1914 and they have worked flawlessly since that time. The overall technology of the locks has not changed. We also learned that they do not use any pumps to move the water in and out of the locks. They are gravity fed from the Gatun Lake at the rate of 26.7 million gallons per lock for a sail boat, less water for a 900 ft cargo ship. The doors of the locks weigh 800 tons each and they do not leak when closed. They are currently building another set of locks to accommodate even larger cargo ships. The cost of the new construction is 5.25 billion dollars (Big Dig and a half) and it will be completed in 2014 (doubtful). Large cargo ships can pay up to $400,000 to go through the Panama Canal while small sailboats pay about $500. On average approximately 36 ships transit the Canal every day and the canal runs 24/7.
Mark Mathews posted this article on Sailnet in 2003. He did a good job of describing the canal and the experience. Click on this link to read more from the Sailnet Article on transiting the Canal.
One final comment about the World Cruising Club staff and their management of the transit - they have done a remarkable job!! Everything was well planned and organized in a place that tries its best to defeat any efforts of planning and organization. I would not want to attempt this transit without their knowledge, local connections, and experience. It was not a piece of cake, but it would be very difficult without their competent assistance. Thank you World Cruising Club staff for making this an enjoyable and memorable experience!!
At Last Transits the Canal
Mark / beautiful sunny weather as usual
January 30, 2012, 8:52 am, La Playita Marina
As many of you who watched in real-time know, we completed the transit of the canal around 3:00pm on Friday January 27th. We have to say that was an amazing experience. It will be hard to find the words to adequately describe this part of our adventure. Now that we found a wifi hot site, we will be responding to the many emails and comments very soon. It was great to see so many of you watching us go thu the canal. Andrea's daughter Jessica was texting her with pictures as we were on the web cam. I will have to review the 500 photos we took to select the best of the trip. Thanks to Andrea for serving as our photographer among many other responsibilities she performed so well. We will update the blog in a couple of days.