You Can Not Get There From Here
March 20, 2012, 5:14 pm, 09 34.6'S:129 33.6'W, Still in The Middle of the Pacific Ocean
I apologize in advance for the sailing jargon/lingo in this blog but I cannot help it because I am really into sailing lately. We have been on the water for more than 16 days now. We have another 4-5 days to go but for each of the last 4-5 days, we have had 4-5 more days to go. Reason being, the winds are gradually dying a little more each day. So we are going slower and slower. Right now we are sailing, so to speak, in 8 knots of wind doing 4 knots only because we have a 1 knot current pushing us to the Marquesas. Thank you Neptune!
To keep the sails from loudly flogging/flapping due to the rolling waves, we have headed up wind and then down wind and are zigzagging our way along. This does not help the progress but it gives us a moment of quiet to sleep. The forecast is for the wind to continue to die down for the next several days. We are waiting for the last possible moment to turn on the engine in order to conserve fuel. We just received an email from WARC Rally Control that the dockside fuel station in Hiva-Oa will not have any fuel for the fleet upon our arrival. The nearest port to get fuel is another 100 miles north west. Talk about testing our light wind sailing patience (not skill).
We do a sail change at the end of almost every shift (every three hours) hoping to find some way to make the boat go faster. But we are not all that successful. We put as much sail out as we can as you can see from the picture above, where we have the jib, stay sail and the main sail deployed. Right now we are flying the spinnaker and jib together. Last night at 3 am a squall came up from behind me and I was soo thankful to have 12-15 knot winds push the boat along for thirty minutes. Normally one would try to dodge the squalls. We look forward to them.
Otherwise, life is good aboard At Last. Janet is really becoming quite the sailing chef and that does a lot to keep our spirits up. She made an apple, raisin and cinnamon cake yesterday. It is all gone now. Our daily routine is sleep, tighten the autopilot bolt that is still giving us trouble, do laundry, cook, sweat, shower, and eat. Oh, I forgot about sailing the boat. The sun is really intense here and it is hot!! The lack of wind makes the boat all that much hotter below.
I thought of a comparison for the trip that everyone might relate to. Imagine traveling with one other person from Juneau, Alaska to Miami, Florida in a minivan doing only 7 miles per hour. You are not able to stop at all and have to cook, bath, steer and change the oil and tires while underway. That is pretty much the picture.
We look forward to getting to the Marquesas and getting access to email and skype to catch up with everyone. Till then....wish for us wind, any kind will do.
Matilda to the Rescue
March 14, 2012, 5:33 pm, 08 22.9'S:115 35.5'W, The Middle of the Pacific Ocean
It is now day ten of the longest passage of our trip. We are literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are traveling over 3,000 nautical miles on this leg going about 6 nautical miles per hour (1 nm 1.15 miles) which should take us about 21 days. I would say that it is a bit overwhelming to think that we have been at sea for 10 days and we are only half way there but things could be a lot worse....
On day six, we began to hear a squeaking noise coming from the autopilot. The autopilot is a steering mechanism that steers the boat for you. The autopilot will turn the wheel to keep the boat on course and it prevents us from having our hands on the wheel at all times. We attempted to determine what was making the squeaking noise but it was coming from the component that was covered by a wooden box which was screwed shut. Luckily, Mark had bought a drill in the Galapagos for another project on the boat. I was literally trying to take the screws out of the box in order to take it off when suddenly the autopilot fell apart. It was clear to me very quickly that we no longer had a working autopilot. I ran topside and took over steering the wheel as Mark went down to investigate further. He determined that the bolt which holds the autopilot to the steering unit had sheared off. Unbelievably, with all the spare parts on board, we did not have a spare autopilot or spare pa rts for the autopilot.
And thus, Mark and I began to hand steer. This means that while we were on shift someone's hands had to be on the wheel at all times. We couldn't even make changes to the sails without us both being up. Mark had to wake me up because he needed to go to the bathroom. We couldn't eat at the same time so someone's food was always cold. Never mind the issue that hand steering for hours at a time can be tedious and tiring. I tried to keep calm but did cry for a bit thinking about needing to hand steer the boat for the next two weeks.
We got on the SSB radio that evening for the usual check in. We announced we had lost our autopilot and soon a miracle began to take shape. Another boat had the spare part we needed. At this point, the 29 boats on the trip where spread out over 500 miles east to west and 259 miles north to south. Miraculously, the boat that had the part was 40 nm directly behind us. We slowed down our boat and discussed doing a transfer at sea of the part from their boat to ours. Can't say we have ever done that before.
The next day we picked a waypoint to meet them. We wanted to divert our course but didn't want them to change theirs. Jonathan and Heather on s/v (sailing vessel) Matilda worked out a way to transfer the part to us as safely as possible. Basically, Jonathan put the part in a water bottle and tied the bottle to a line. They let out the line off the stern of their boat while continuing to sail at 7.5 knots while we took down our sails and motored. We approached the bottle in the water several times before Mark was able to grab it with a boat hook. He ended up cutting the line because the first time he got the water bottle it took too long to untie it. We had to make several attempts but each time we stayed clear of their boat and negotiated the 10 foot waves and 15 knot winds while doing this maneuver. Once the part was on board everyone on board Matilda and At Last held their breath while Mark tried to install the part. In about twenty minutes, the part was installed and our autopilot was restored. Of course, I again cried.
When we radioed back to Matilda to tell them that the part worked and to express our appreciation for what they did and let them know that we were unsure how we would ever pay them back. Their response to us was remarkable. They said we didn't own them anything for what they had done. It was their pleasure to help and it actually added some good excitement to their passage. And that truly is what sailing and being in the World ARC is about - watching out for each other and lending a helping hand whenever needed. We are eternally grateful to Jonathan and Heather for their help. I always wanted to name our autopilot but Mark and I could never agree on a suitable name. But now we have now named our autopilot Matilda in honor of them. And as Jonathan says, "Matilda will always get you home." At this point, I am just hoping she gets us to the Marquesas where we can get a spare autopilot. You can see At Last rendezvous with Matilda if you go to the World Cruising Club we bsite link on the left of this page for the fleet location (Yellow Brick tracking). Look for At Last and replay our route starting at noon eastern time on 3/10 to 4 pm 3/11 for the rendezvous with Matilda. The photo above is Matilda sailing off into the sunset after lending a helping hand and much need spare part.
Minus the day and an half where we didn't have the autopilot, the passage is going extremely well. We have gotten into a daily rhythm which is enjoyable. We are eating well and showering more often. It has been cold at night so we have needed to wear sweatshirts while on watch. We are doing three hour shifts from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am then six hour shifts during the day. This schedule has us getting enough sleep although who wouldn't want a little more. We have sailed for the entire trip so far except for 11 or so hours of using the motor when there wasn't enough wind. It is delightful to do this much sailing. Our average speed for the trip right now is 6.7 knots (1 knot 1.15 miles per hour). This puts us ahead of schedule with potential arrival at the island of Hiva-Oa in the Marquesas the morning of the 23rd.
Life is good aboard At Last after 1200 nm and 7 days
March 12, 2012, 9:23 am, 07 08.9'S:109 32.0'W, 1800 nm from the Marquesas Islands
This brief posting is just to let everyone know that Janet and I are doing well and are in good spirits. The boat is fine and we are in very good sailing conditions and good weather. We have only had to use the engine for 10 hours since we left the Galapagos. So no concerns about fuel yet. Winds are usually 15-25 knots from ESE pusihing us along between 7 and 8.5 knots. Good trade wind conditions.
Caught lots of fish lately (flying fish landing on the deck). Even had 2 squid hitching a ride. Janet is making cinna buns for breakfast. Love the smell of the boat when she bakes. So far, this leg of the trip is meeting our expectations as a memorable event (what do I mean by that?) and we have plenty of stories to share and will find the time to post them to the blog soon with some pictures. Hope everyone is well.
Getting ready for our longest passage of the trip
March 4, 2012, 5:56 pm, 0 44.7'S:90 18.4'W, Puerto Ayora, Bahia Academy, Isla Santa Cruz Galapagos Ecuador
We arrived in Puerto Aroya Santa Cruz on 2/29 after sailing through a volcano. That is right. (see the photo gallery). Many of the World Arc members are calling it a bustling metropolis and compared to the other islands of the Galapagos, it does appear that way. I was convinced of this when I ordered a vino blanco (white wine) at the restaurant for lunch and the waiter asked me if I wanted chardonnay or pinot grigio. I have not had a choice of white wines since the British Virgin Islands and many times in the Galapagos you could only get beer, no wine.
We spent the next several days working the to-do list to get ready for the three week passage to the Marquesas. Mark and I are doing the passage on our own as are a few other World Arc boats. We have discussed strategies for successfully managing the long trip with other double handers. Again, I have precooked all of our dinners for the trip and they are in the freezer. We spent the next three days getting fuel, LPG gas for cooking, gas for the dinghy, and some miscellaneous supplies. We handed in our laundry and it was done in one day with all items accounted for. We made a trip to the rather small and pricey grocery store. I went to a farmers market on Saturday morning at 6:00 am which was very interesting. I wish I took pictures of the fresh meats and fish sitting out in the sun and covered with flies. But there was a good supply of many items and I was able to get fresh local fruits and vegetables including apples, cilantro, basil and pineapples.
Refueling here is quite an experience for boaters. Fuel is closely regulated so the World ARC needed to secure a permit from the Navy to purchase the fuel for all of the boats. Then the World ARC hired an agent who contracts with a local to buy the fuel from the fuel depot and deliver it to your boat. They do not have a fuel dock here so the fuel is delivered to your boats on a launch in plastic jerry cans (one is 35 gallons, one 25 and the rest are about 10-15 gallons). It is syphoned out of the plastic jugs from the launch that is tied to your boat. Did we mention how rocky/rolly the anchorage is? It is difficult it to get the fuel into the tank without spilling it on the deck.
Like most other schedules here, the fuel deliveries are always later than planned; lots of waiting around. Because of the lack of wind on the last passage, many of the boats used all of their fuel and now about 30 boats need on average 100 gallons each. It took three days for all of the boats to refuel. We were the last of the boats that got fuel. You prepay for the fuel you think you need to just fill you tanks. If you buy too much, you cannot get your money back and launch drivers sell it a second time to another boater (under the radar). There is no gauge to measure how much fuel you are getting. You have trust the guys on the launch to honestly represent that the jugs are full and that the volume of each jug is accurate. We paid for 140 gallons of fuel @ $5.91/gal. I believe we received about 20 gallons less than what we paid for but cannot prove it. This is consistent with almost all of the other boaters. The World ARC staff worked hard to monitor the agents a nd fuel delivery guys. But moments like this happen on the trip and one has to learn to accept them as part of the experience. We are guests in a foreign country with little recourse. CanĂ*t imagine what it would have been like without the help of the World ARC staff.
On Friday night there was a rally party at the hotel Sol Y Mar with prizes awarded for the leg to the Galapagos. s/v Glamorous Gallah won a prize for sailing one of the faster times. When they accepted the award they read a funny poem they wrote about the fleet. Click on this link to their blog to read the poem, it is worth a look.
We have been without internet access for two weeks and finally found some reliable hot spots here in Santa Cruz. So we updated the blog, uploaded most of the photos and called most of our family members using Skype on Saturday. We had to check out of customs this morning so Mark planned to finish the blog, upload more pictures and call his daughter, Grace, when he went into town. He was able to check out of customs as planned but he could not use the internet to call his daughter or finish the blog and uploading pictures. The power in the city was out. This is a typical example of things that foul up one's plans, especially with internet access. Even worse, I asked him to pick up some diet coke because we are out and I forgot to buy some at the store. He looked all over town and there is no Diet Coke on the island. I am going to go through withdrawals.
We left today, Sunday 3/4/12, at noon local time (same as central time) for our three week trip to the Marquesas. It is more than a 2980 nm trip to Hiva-Oa Marquesas French Polynesia following the route suggested by Jimmy Cornell (the author of the book World Cruising Routes). Assuming a 10% deviation from the route due to human/weather factors and the planned distance is about 3300 nm. We have enough fuel to motor about 1/3 the distance (wish we had that additional 20 gallons). Based on our boat going about 6 knots on average for the trip, our expected arrival time in French Polynesia is 3/27/12. (23 days). Based on the forecasts, we plan to motor west/southwest for 3-4 days in light winds until we hit the trade winds and then should be able to sail most of the remainder of the passage. We will blog along the way to let everyone know how we are doing. I am actually excited about the passage and anxious to get sailing again.
Though it was a long 2 weeks without internet access it was great to see the emails and comments on the blog when we finally connected. Thanks for keeping in touch. All of our photos, well most of them, are posted to the gallery and we hope the pictures do this exotic place justice. We will have to invest in that underwater camera. Supposedly the internet access in French Polynesia is good. We will see.
Isabella, a Magical Place
March 2, 2012, 2:10 pm, Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabella, Galapagos Ecuador
We arrived on Wednesday 2/22/12 after a 35 nm trip motoring all the way - again no wind. We anchored in the shallowest water in two months - 9 feet at low tide. Having gotten used to anchoring in forty feet of water suddenly we became concerned that nine feet was not deep enough.
We quickly discovered that iguanas are even more abundant on Isabella than they were on San Cristobal. In fact, there were many times that you needed to shoo them away in order to get through a walkway. They are not very pleasant looking but otherwise were no bother.
The animal life and sea life is again very abundant. It seems magical when you are able to see penguins, sea turtles, schools of small tuna, numerous types of other fish, sting rays and sharks right off your boat. I can say I was not anxious to swim off the back of the boat after seeing the shark.
We also took several tours while in Isabella. We took a tour of the Sierra Negra Volcano (the second largest active volcano in the world) and the Chico volcano. The trip started with a 45 minute bus ride followed by a 45 minute horse ride and finally an hour hike then you had to do this all over again on the return trip. We had 14 people on the horse ride and the horses were quite feisty. There were times when the trail went from six horses wide to one horse wide and all of the horses wanted to be first. Mark's horse amused himself by biting the behind of the horse in front of him. While we also had several horses who liked to kick. The horses also were very happy to veer off the path into the brush from time to time. Luckily, everyone was in good spirits about it and we spent much of the horseback ride laughing at the antics of the horses. Once off the horses we were at the Sierra Negra volcano which is approximately 10 km by 9 km wide with a two km deep lava dome. The view was incredible. After we saw this volcano we hiked through lava flows to reach the Chico volcanos. The volcanos are still considered active with the last eruption in 2005. We were able to put our hand in one of the holes which was generating an incredible amount of heat and steam. The craters and rock formations were amazing to see. The lava rock was very colorful in places and the overall view of the island at the end of the hike was breathtaking. It was interesting to see cacti and a ferns growing next to each other. It was not an easy hike and after two hours of hiking some were even happy to get back on the horses.
We also took a snorkeling trip through caves and bridges created by the volcano eruptions. The formation of the rock was very interesting and provided many a place to swim with sea life. The sea turtles in this area were huge. I swam with one that was almost as big as me. It was again less than five feet away from me and didn't seem bothered by my presence. We also snorkeled into caves where there were sharks. They were about three or four feet and came within a couple of feet of us. Our guide enjoyed stirring them up so they would swim out of the caves and come close to us. We also saw a native Galapagos lobster which was strikingly different from the lobsters we are used to seeing back home. We also swam with several sting rays which were several feet big. We so need an underwater camera!!!!
We again had no internet access on Isabella. Mark was able to skype his sister to wish her a happy birthday by standing in the middle of the street which was the only place he seemed to be able to get access. The call lasted five minutes before he was cut off. We are so frustrated that we have been unable to blog but are beginning to feel that internet access will become more of a luxury as time goes on.
We have posted our pictures of our time spent on Isla Isabella to the photo gallery.
We are leaving Isabella on Wednesday, 2/29 for Isla Santa Cruz the major port and hopefully it has internet access!
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 cafĂ©. 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.