Canal to Bocas del Torro to San Andres, Colombia
20100215, San Andres, Colombia
2010 Feb 15
We sailed to Bocas del Toro from the Panama Canal, making 3 stops along the way to break the trip up into day trips, and to see some sights.
We first stopped at Rio Chagres, only 10NM west of the canal entrance. Much of the canal was built on Rio Chagres. They build a dam 7 miles from the sea, to create Gatun Lake, and then dug the locks around the river to Limon Bay and Colon. This 7 mile section of river is a National Park, has no development, and is pristine tropical rainforest.
We explored the river up to the dam, and then anchored mid way. Taking the dinghy up a channel in the mangroves, we went into the jungle a mile or so. We tried to trek through the rain forest to find the Smithonian Institute research tower that goes above the canopy. A rainforest sound impenetrable, but actually the solid canopy prevents much undergrowth, and it is not too difficult make your way through it. Armed with a compass and a handheld GPS, we ventured a ways in, but dusk was only a few hours away and we did not want to get caught in the forest after dark. We returned to aVida and anchored near the mouth of the river, so we could get a start at 5AM for the next destination.
We stopped again at Isla Escudo de Varaguas to anchor for the night. The anchorage was exposed to 6 foot swell diffracting around the ends of the island, and it was a rolly night. but the anchor held, and we departed at sunrise again.
Next stop was Tobobe village, in a pretty sheltered inlet. We are getting our fill of native villages. They all come out in their dugout canoes and hang around the boat, hoping for handouts, it appears.
The first canoe was a guy who asked to come aboard. I said no. We talked for a while, and then he claimed to be the chief of the village- Tobobe. I felt I could not insult the chief of the village where we were anchored, so we invited him onto the aft deck for conversation, offered him water, etc. Somehow what started as him inviting us to dinner at his hut, turned into him bringing his wife and 2 children onto our boat for dinner that evening. Quite a bizarre experience. He claims to own all of the land on the other side of the bay from the village, and his wife was not friendly at all. She breast feed her baby at the dinner table all evening, and did not interact at all. I did not know I would get a booby show. He was very friendly and polite, and the conversation was not bad, although his English was as bad as our Spanish. He told us he was studying to be a "chef", so now I don't know if he initially told us he was the chief or a chef. After treating him and his family with kindness, respect, wine and food, I made comments suggesting ending the evening, get some sleep, etc.
Then, I think I heard him ask $50 for "the dock". What- to anchor here?- why did you not tell me the cost to anchor off your village when you came to the boat this morning? Then he clarifies (or back pedals)- he was asking $50 to sell us his dog- not dock- he says, and he apologized for the misunderstanding. I try to escape the evening again. So he asks what do I have for him. What do you mean? Money. I asked Why- por que, quando?. He said, even $2. Maybe 5. For my baby, etc. It appears these people are quite desperate, and they may have all the fish and bananas they need, but they can't buy other items that are important in this world. Out of kindness we gave him $10, and sent him on his way.
We still don't know if he was the chief, a wanna-be chef, or just a beggar, or maybe all three. One of many unusual experiences we are having.
From Tobobe we sailed to Bocas del Toro. This is a large region with numerous bays, islands, and places to explore. The center is Bocas Town.
We scuba dived in Bocas- not bad, but just does not compare to Galapagos or other places we have been, or are going to. Rita stated that Bocas Town is like the Put-in-Bay of Panama; bars and partying everywhere.
We took the dinghy to Bastimentos, one of the Bocas islands. There is a quaint native village here, living simply but they all seem happy and friendly. We hiked a trail up over the peak of the island to the other side to an amazing beautiful bay and beach area, swam, napped on our blanket, and just relaxed. The trail was very primitive and Very muddy in many places. We ended up taking off our sandals, and going barefoot in the muck for the 3km hike. The colors of the village; the village life; the trek through the tropical forest on the trail; the beach; all just so wondrous.
We had made a 200NM overnight voyage from Bocas del Toro to San Andres, Colombia (off the coast of Nicaragua), planned to arrive early on Feb11. But the winds and waves were on the nose at 15-25 knots, with squalls blowing through. We had to motor all the way, with limited opportunity to motor sail and make a bit faster headway, and we arrived late in the afternoon- later than planned.
We were about the begin the entry into the San Andres channel just before dusk, when our Furuno depth instruments went berserk and could not give us our depth. The entrance to San Andres is a hazardous 2.5 mile obstacle course through reefs and shoals. Our attempts to contact the Port Captain or the yacht agent ashore via VHF were unsuccessful. I was about to venture into the reefs blind, but then thought to call Furuno via sat phone. Fortunately, it was a weekday; Furuno tech support was in the office. We spent 20 minutes of expensive sat phone time to diagnose and reconfigure the equipment, and were able to get the depth working, just as dusk was falling. We made the entrance into the inner harbor without problem. We were rather exhausted after just 2 of us doing round the clock watches in heavy weather and head-seas. The boat once again was covered in salt crust from the spray coming over the bows, over the forward cockpit, and even over the top of the pilothouse.
Our plan was to only briefly stop in San Andres, to break up the voyage to Roatan. But we love this island. The island is so beautiful, the water the most crystal clear we have seen maybe ever. The people are all so universally friendly and helpful.
Our cruising guidebook warned us to never leave our boat unattended here. I think this may be American/Western paranoia about all things Colombian. In any case, they say this island is to Colombia as "Hawaii is to the US". Wealthy Colombians, Argentineans etc come here, and they tell us they rarely see Americans here. But they treat us very kindly here.
Our voyage efforts were rewarded with an excellent dinner at La Regatta, a very nice restaurant on the water, with great ambience and great island/reggae music, and very fine food and wine. Back to the boat for a good night sleep. But we had to rise by 8, to meet our agent on the dock to begin the paperwork- customs, immigration and inspections- for entry into Colombia.
For the first day, we rented a golf cart and circumnavigated the beach road around the whole island, then went into the interior through the local villages, and universally felt safe and welcome. It is not like the Caribbean where the poverty and resent of the people, and the beggars, seems ever-present- these are happy, not angry people. We thought this was a very natural island, but at the north end of the island we discovered a maze of streets with upscale shops, restaurants, hotels, etc that is apparently the commercial tourist center for the island. We went back walking this area at night and were very impressed with all it had to offer.
For the second full day here, we went natural. On the western side of San Andres is a barrier reef, second in the Caribbean only to Belize, through which we navigated. On the reef are 2 islands: Aquaria and Cayo Hxxx?? Saturday we took the dinghy to these islands with our snorkel gear, and found some nice snorkeling. There is abundance of small fish, but universally on this island a lack of larger predator species. These islands are a popular spot for tourist day trips, and there is a bar and restaurant (shack) on each.
The second island has "Bebe's Reggae Restobar", and it is a true Jamaican trip. Bebe is a Rastafari, the beach is lined with Jamaica and marijuana flags, the picnic benches and thatched shacks are all painted in rasta colors. Drinks are served in "pipas" (young coconuts- Lauren taught us that word) with the tops cut off to make a drinking cup. Groups of people come here to party for the day. A group of young people were gathered around a hookah, passing the hose, and the odor was distinct.
We had our fill of tropical drinks and the MOST fantastic fish and chicken we have ever had, fried with crispy crusty spiced outside. With the ultra-clear waters, multicolored turquoise and every shade of blue, with breaking reefs all around us, we said to each other "it just doesn't get any better than this". It was a very nice afternoon.
We returned to the boat that evening just in time to find the boat had dragged its anchor approx 300 feet, and was approaching an island and shoals. I dove on the anchor to see what was happening, and could see the long drag trail, with the anchor clogged with grass riding on top of the grass. Luckily, no other boats were directly down-wind of us. Our spade anchor (excellent otherwise.) is least effective in grassy bottoms. So we moved the boat twice to reset the anchor, and it would not hold. Then wind squalls came in right at dusk, with 20-25 knot winds that sustained through the next day, even though we are inside the harbor and in the lee of the island- I wondered what the winds were outside the harbor!. The boat began to drag again rapidly. Big problem esp. with night falling. We have 3 anchors on board. I got out our Fortress anchor, and in the driving rain we repositioned, and set both the Fortress and the main spade anchor. The Fortress is holding very well in the grass, and takes most of the load.
Today we took some time to dump our 4X5gal jerry cans of diesel into the tanks, and refill these and our gas can. We did some computer time, but could not find a working internet café- it is Sunday, and most are closed, and the 2 hotels/resorts we tried did not work. So we had a late lunch and mas vino again.
Ashore we ran into Gilles and Rachel, 2 Canadians who have been sailing a Pearson44 for the past 5 years around the world. Very nice people. We invited them over for drinks and appetizers on the boat in the evening. Very pleasant engaging conversation, sharing sailing experiences, and our life stories, weather discussions, etc. They are sailing the same route as aVida for a while, and we both are planning to depart for Providencia at the first weather window. They will leave earlier than us because they need more time to make the voyage.
Weather data suggests that our limited weather window to sail to Isla Providencia, Colombia will be this Tues, and then another blast of NNW winds will come down from the north. So plan is to depart Feb16 Tues AM for Providencia, a "simple" 60NM sail or motor, depending on the northerly winds, and we are going north, against the normal flow.
Then after a few days in Providencia, waiting for the next weather window, we sail to Roatan, Honduras. That voyage will be 400NM and will take approx 52 hours mas o menos, depending on the winds and seas. Roatan is a well developed tourist center that is focusing on diving- and the diving there is said to be spectacular- we are looking forward to getting wet there.
San Blas with Daughters, back to the Canal
20100131, Shelter Bay Marina, at the Canal
31 Jan 2010
San Blas and back to the Panama Canal
aVida is back on a dock at Shelter Bay Marina, at the Panama Canal, across from Colon.
Colon is a place tourists don't go, except in the day, via taxis, with care. Nobody goes there at night. A cruising book describes Colon as a town "left to degenerate" - seems fair. But we did a provisioning run via taxi, to a ferreteria (hardware store), a marine supply store in the blighted downtown of Colon, and to a decent "Rey" supermarket for food.
The week we are spending here is well needed time to catch up. Internet, correspondence, boat repairs, provisioning, and planning for the next legs of our voyage.
The good news is that fixup list is finite, and getting smaller. It is a race between new problems, and backlogged todos, and for now we are getting ahead. That is what a boat is.
We spent a week plus in San Blas Islands, and Michelle and Lauren flew in to join us there. Access to San Blas is primarily through an airstrip on Porvenier Island. It is rather funny that the island is barely bigger than the airstrip itself. As my daughters flew in to land on this postage stamp island with aVida anchored right at the end of the runway, this must have accelerated their change to island perspective..
San Blas is a region of Panama that is politically under the rule and law of the native Kuna Indians, as a result of an uprising in 1925 that gave the Kunas autonomy as a part of Panamanian rule. The Kunas are the shortest people on earth, next to the pigmys. They fish and farm and live very natural ways, not much different from hundreds of years ago. They fiercely defend their culture and ways; if a Kuna mates with an outsider, they are expelled from the Kuna community and must leave. All land is communal. Every palm tree and coconut is owned by a Kuna, and one must Not collect coconuts without paying a Kuna. To take photos of the Kunas typically requires paying $1 for the respect.
There are several islands in San Blas with Kuna villages, that cover 110% of the island, with thatches huts stretching over the sea on stilts. Sewage and waste pour into the sea; trash seems to pile up on the shores. These Kunas do not seem to understand or have the infrastructure for waste management. Seems like a contradiction- I don't understand.
But there are many dozens of uninhabited idyllic islands, populated with coconut palms, sandy threads with coral reefs all around, and crystal clear azul waters all around.
Our favorite was Barbeque Island in the Hollandaise Cays group. The anchorage there is called Swimming Pool we think because of a special beach there; it is a sheltered flat large sand bar area just 12" deep, where you can lay in the sun and the sand and relax; and we did.
There was another tiny sandy island just 100 feet long, with 3 palm trees on it. We took turns going ashore for stranded shipwrecked photo sessions from the dinghy. It was fun.
Snorkelling was OK, not great, because we had trouble accessing the outer reef due to the surge crashing over the reef. There is no scuba allowed in Kuna-land.
With no restaurants or entertainment infrastructure, we have all meals on board. The Kunas would come to our boat each morning in dug-out canoes, selling lobster, octopus, fish, coconuts, and their famous "molas"- meticulously hand sewn fabrics typically depicting natural scenes, or sometimes silly tourist notions.
We bought a couple of small tunas from one Kuna, and had sashimi for lunch. Then at dinner, while eating the cooked tuna, I detected some long white threads in the fish, and pulled a few out. I thought they were parasites. Nobody wanted to believe me. So I isolated one, and took a photo through my 10 magnifier lens. No doubt- we ate raw fish with parasites. Well, this certainly brought on an uncomfortable evening, but we all got over it the next day. Our fishing books suggest that most fish parasites are not compatible with mammal hosts- but we will investigate further.
Michelle and Lauren made bread pudding one night- chocolate, plantain, raisin whatever pudding- it was awesome. We had fresh lobster- the girls said it was the best they ever ate. Rita made a number of awesome dinners- as usual- must be the Italian cook coming out in her. And I merely enjoyed the company of my three wenches (that is a most respectful term among pirates) while I could.
We spent the last day sailing back west from the Santi Islands to Porvenier, for the girls' flight out. It was a beat to windward the whole way. They say a catamaran can not sail well to windward. Well, there were 2 monohulls on the same course as us, and we pointed higher to windward, and sailed over the top of them. They were on the horizon ahead of us when we started, and by the time we approached Porvenier, they were far on the horizon behind us. aVida is a boat that can sail upwind or downwind faster than almost all other cruising boats, and probably faster than most racing boats. aVida is an amazing boat.
We greatly enjoyed having Michelle and Lauren with us for the week, and we all talked about when we could do it again. Michelle goes back to Manhatten, and Lauren just moved from NewZealand to Australia, and she goes back to find a place to live and gainful employment.
Early this week we will depart on the next legs of our journey. Rio Chagres- a lush tropical rainforest jungle. Bocas del Toro- an island region of Panama near the Costa Rica border. Isla Providencia- a Columbian island off the coast of Nicaragua. Roatan- a Honduras island with some of the best scuba diving in the world. Rio Dulce- a Nicaraguan river that is wild virgin tropical rainforest, with monkeys crocs and all- they say the town there is like the wild west. Then Belize- huge barrier islands with amazing scuba and snorkeling opportunities. We will spend 2 weeks in the south of Belize, then we have some friends flying into Belize City to spend a week with us, and we will go north, and outside the barrier reef to Tennerife and Lighthouse Cays.
After that maybe Cuba?- Great salsa and diving. Then, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, US Fla to N. Carolina. Then Bermuda, Azores, Canary Islands, and the Med!! Until Oct 2010, then we will head back to the Caribbean, Panama, the Canal, then the South Pacific in 2010, and around the other way.
July 2010 we will be back in Ohio for AVID's 25th anniversary celebration. We have hired 2 of the "tall ships" that will be visiting for the 4th of July celebrations, and will take the company sailing on these ships, and then have a catered dinner on the dock near the boats. Will also catch up with family and friends while we are in- probably on 2 weeks though, then we will be off again.
Galapagos, Pearl Islands, Panama Canal
20100112, Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
12 Jan 2010
It has been almost a month since our last blog update. The days have been full with voyaging, hosting friends, diving, snorkeling, boat maintenance, logistics, provisioning, exploring, dining, and various indulgences.
There are 4 new photo galleries added, and this one blog entry- working backwards in time.....
We thought the winds and waves were strong on the Pacific side. This time of year they are consistently Much stronger on the Atlantic side. Presently the winds are 22 to 30 knots from the north, driving 20 foot swells to crash over the outer breakwall. Weather reports suggest some calming by Thursday, when we will begin our voyage to San Blas Islands, where Michelle and Lauren will join us.
We are now on a dock, in Shelter Bay Marina, on Limon Bay, across from Colon, Panama, on the Atlantic side. We spent the prior 2 days transiting the Panama Canal. It was quite an impressive journey, tiny aVida positioning in small spaces in the canal locks, while fighting to maintain position against 25 knot swirling winds and turbulent lock waters while the locks fill, and when the giant container ships ahead of us turn their props to move forward. A catamaran with twin engines spaced 24 feet apart is like a tank that can run either side forward or reverse, to spin on a dime- the maneuverability is a good thing. In any case, all went well.
We hired a "line handler crew" of 4 locals who have transited the canal hundreds of times. The Authority Canal Panama also put a pilot on board to direct the navigations and coordination with the authority. These are legal requirements for all boats, but especially essential for a novice captain with only 1 crew. The crew was led by Cholo, plus Winston, Winston's brother Eduardo "the Professional" (who helped with a rattling alternator cooling plate in the middle of the transit), plus #4 who's name I lost but he did a great job. We had fun playing Jenga and cards at night; they helped cleanup after dinner, and were all perfect gentlemen. And a great crew.
We spent the night anchored on Gatun Lake, above the Atlantic side locks, due to scheduling delays by the canal authorities- otherwise we could have made a 1 day transit.
After voyaging from Galapagos to Panama with friends Marc and Penny, we spent about 1 week in Panama on the Pacific side. First, arrival in Panama City at Flamenco Marina for customs, immigration, inspection, and the normal legal rigamoroll ( how do you spell that word? Is that really a word?). We immediately departed for Las Perlas Islas, where we spent 4 days diving, snorkeling, beaching, dining, and generally relaxing.
Then, back to Flamenco Marina (Panama City) on Jan8 to prepare for Marc and Penny departure Sat AM. We spent Fri provisioning and preparing for the coming canal transit. But Fri evening we went into "the old town" Casco Viejo. This is the original colonial era town that has fallen into serious decay, with crumbling abandoned buildings adorned with graffiti, and until recently a very unsafe place to be. But as is often the case, life rises from the dust, and there is a dynamic growth of restaurants, music venues, bars, and nightlife that comes alive after dark. We relish such places compared to "cities". We found a great restaurant, but the Cuban band played a bit too loud to talk. And then we found a jazz club that had a top Cuban salsa band playing, and all had a great night of salsa dancing and a few too many cuba-libres.
The voyage from Galapagos to Panama started out with the characteristic south winds and currents that originally carried us from Chile to Galapagos. A glorious day of spinnaker sailing was enjoyed as we drove northward. Then we reach the ITCZ- intertropical convergence zone- where weather patterns change, are variable, and generally No Wind. So we motored for 3 days.
Then, in the final 1 day approach into the Gulf of Panama, we hit the prevailing Northerly winds and waves, on the nose. 1 day turned into 2. Winds were 20 to 30 knots, waves were short and steep, driving into a 2 knot current. On the west side of the Gulf of Panama, we needed to round Punta Mala- "bad point". It was rather uncomfortable for the crew, so we tried to go inshore, hugging the shore to find some reduction of wind and waves. In the lee of Punta Mala we found some relief, but then rounding the point we went square into a concentration of wind and current. Once we punched through this, it was a bit easier as we motor-sailed beating into the wind at 7 knots. As we reached the north end of the Gulf, the land provided some wave reduction, because waves need a long purchase of water to gain height. With 25 knot winds and relatively flat seas, we turned east, onto a beam reach, and we screamed the rest of the way to Panama City at 9 to 12 knots, sailing all the way. Good thing too, because we had burned most of our fuel motoring through the doldrums, and then fighting our way upwind into the Gulf of Panama. Other larger boats that made the same passage around the same time incurred damage and delays. In the past few days, a Canadian boat needed to be rescued off Punta Mala. We did OK considering.
We had only 3 days in Galapagos with Marc and Penny before the voyage to Panama.
They flew to Galapagos to help us with round the clock watches for the voyage. But we tried to give them a Galapagos experience none the less. We spend a day doing 3 dives on Daphne, North Seymour and Mosquera islands with our dive master Santiago. We saw many sharks, went into a cave where white tips where circling; giant manta rays, sting rays, hammerheads, turtles, morays, a seahorse, and many other creatures. Other than that, it was a lot of preparation for the 1000 mile journey ahead, from Galapagos to Panama.
We had 4 weeks to ourselves, after the Schillings left end of November, until Marc and Penny arrived just after Christmas. During this time we explored the outer Galapagos Islands with our guide, Gino. While on Santa Cruz Island, we spent several days of diving with Santiago, who took gentle care of Rita, holding her hand during dives that had significant currents, which Rita enjoys very much (Santiago; not the currents). Previous blogs cover much of this time.
Next stops: San Blas Islands, then Bocas Del Toros, then who knows where. We need to define our itinerary soon for the several people who want to join us in the coming months. Will be in touch....
Stay warm. We hear it is cold and lots of snow up north. We will try harder to appreciate the heat and humidity here while we can, to compensate. Wish we could send you all some.
Mark and Rita
Galapagos marine parks
20091214 Blog text.
Finally finding that elusive "down time' everybody tells us to do. We have been so busy and on the go.
The highlight of the voyage so far has been the 4 nights and days we spent sailing (and motoring) into the marine park areas. It requires costly and painful permits, fees, inspections, fumigations, and a live-aboard guide for us to go into the un-inhabited outer islands and anchorages of Galapagos. But it was well worth it.
We saw nature of all types, above and below the water, that rivals the National Geographic movies we all watch. We swam with sea lions; 30 green sea turtles feeding only feet or inches from us while snorkeling; a flightless cormorant was upset by our presence and attacked my underwater camera lens and my fins for several protracted minutes as I swam in its territory... Rita got within 18" of a blue footed boobie, and began doing the boobie mating dance. They alternately raise left foot, then right foot; raise their wing elbows like a chicken dance, raise their beaks to the air, and whistle their seductive song. As Rita did this, the bird got very excited, and increase the intensity of his crooning. Photos don't do justice, I did get a video. Hilarious.
We hiked numerous lava flows covering as far as the eye can see, vast wastelands that are still full of bits of life clinging to the black rock. The sea surge permeates the hollow lava tubes under the rock and far inland there are sink holes where the surge rises and ebbs 12 feets with the surge and the tides; one is called "Darwins's toilet". Fur seals, giant land iguana, and all types of birds. Gino, our guide, speaks many languages. Spanish, English, some German and French. Also sea lion, fur seal, boobie, and finch, among others. As we approach a colony of fur seals (heavily hunted in the past, wary of people, and still endangered) he barks or bleats a male fur seal call, and all the fur seals raise their heads from the rocks and revel themselves. In one area, some years ago, the land upheaved several meters, raising coral heads and mangroves above sea level. In this once-sea now-land wasteland, Gino gave out his finch call, and amazingly finches from far away all around clustered around us on the now dead mangrove forest curious to see who the caller was.
We walked among hundreds of frigate bird nests, with the babies sitting quite still only inches away, while the males with their giant bright red balloon throats inflated in their own mating rituals crooned all around us. A Galapagos hawk followed us around one island. The seal linos have just gone through a mass birthing season, and there are pups just days and weeks old everywhere. Giant Galapagos tortoises everywhere. Just amazing stuff.
It is very different, but this rivals our African safaris with the large numbers of larger wild beasts and their own cycle of life and death.
In the past weeks, we have not done very well at blog updates. After a week or two pass, we cant remember anymore the details of what we did- there is so much we experience that each day blends into the next. So we began keeping daily logs of what we did.
This is not a high level interpretation of the experiences and how we feel, but it my give others a sense of how it is to live on aVida, in Galapagos. A lot of text, read as much as you care to. Enjoy.
We miss so many of you, and we wish you all very well, and Merry Xmas.
Mark and Rita.
Clear, bright sunny day. Get things done in the am. Rita rinsed, cleaned and dried the dive gear. A sea lion came on the stb aft deck and slept all morning- totally disregarding our presence as we took photos and tried to baby talk to it. I worked on software updates for the Furuno chartplotters and instruments; loading charts for Central America and Caribbean for trips to come, soon. Charged batteries. Many misc boat repairs. Etc.
Took the dinghy ashore about 1pm, with trash bags and computers. Did a bit of shopping in Villamil, but this town is sooo small, selection very poor. We ended up soon at our favorite beachfront hotel where we have vino blanco and empanadas, and use the hotel internet for almost free- the internet cafes are cheap, but they are hot and have no service or amenities (ie vino). Catch up on emails; order some more boat equipment that our friends with bring with them; download the massive Furuno software update- takes 2 hours here; buy more Iridium airtime; a few calls; etc. We sit in a dining area with bay windows directly overlooking a beautiful panorama view of the beach, reefs, and aVida at anchor. This vista is always intriguing, never boring. Giant marine iguanas swim and walk the beach. This is still low season, so the town seems deserted still- but every little hostel and hotel is furiously working to prepare for the coming high season.
We are 1 of only 3 private sailing yachts in all of Galapagos, and the only one here in Puerto Villamil on Isabela.
Isabel is by far the largest island in Galapagos, with 5 active volcanoes, and the most to do in natural terms. Santa Cruz island is more developed, and the town there is much more commercial and developed. We like Isabela a lot.
Tomorrow we take a boat to Los Tunnelles (the lava tunnels) that are giant hollow lava tubes that run down the volcano to the sea. We will snorkel inside the open ends of the tunnels which are reportedly rich in sea life, etc. Then some land hiking up and around the tunnels.
We need to get our "Zarpe", the armada (navy) papers that permit us to leave Villamil this Wed and sail back to Puerto Ayoro on Santa Cruz, where we will stay for 1.5 weeks until our friends Marc and Penny arrive, and then soon embark for Panama, just after Xmas.
Grey overcast day all day long. OK day to be diving, but the lack of light reduces viz. The dive boat came to aVida 8:45 to pick us up. We threw our dive bags aboard, and boarded. It is a good practice in these islands that they always do a checkout dive in protected waters before the real dives, to verify the dive weight buoyancy, and the basic skill of the new divers- so in Villamil bay we dove to practice removing our masks underwater and purging with air; removing out air sources and recovering them, etc..
We are diving with a Spanish speaking couple, and our guide Omar, who we spent time with when the Schillings were here, horse back riding up the volcano, and salsa dancing at night.
We dove at Tortuga Island, an ancient volcano that is now eroded by 1.5 million years of sea and currents into a crescent shape rising above the ocean, with an open core to the south. We dove on the north shore.
The diving was mostly unremarkable, but at the end of the first dive, we saw the most gigantic manta ray we ever saw- it was as big as a boat- and very close.
The second dive saw a large stingray on the bottom, some turtles. Rita saw an octopus that I missed as the swift current moved us along.
Back to the boat for nap and then to consume more of the octopus delivered the evening before, plus some wine.
Stayed on the boat all day. Got a lot of fix-up details done. Cleaned out the Stb fwd sail locker. The two 600' spools of floating ½" polypro line were getting moldy on the pressed paper spool- carefully unwound the spools to eliminate twist in the line, while creating an open loop of line X2. Hung in the Stb fwd sail locker. The whole locker was moldy- the canvas bags for the Dahon bikes were all modly. Pulled everything out, and Rita washed the interior with disinfectant. I replaced the inflatable kayak, oars, seat cushions, bikes, deck chairs, etc. Nice and tidy now.
I have had anchor chain depth markers in a drawer for months. Let out all of the chain and rode, out to 430 feet, and put strings every 10 feet, and labeled markers every 30 feet. The windlass moves at 21 seconds per 30 feet.
Put a lock on the dinghy outboard motor, refueled the dinghy fuel tank. Secured the dinghy seats so they don't move out of place. Put a foam protector on the steel eye on the front of the dinghy so it doesn't scrape the boat when boarding. Organized the workshop tools and supplies. Used the KVH satellite to do some banking and other internet work. Little details the keep our hears clear otherwise. So many details to fixup on the boat, we handle what we can as time permits.
A sea lion came on board in the afternoon while we were working, and settled in on the port transom all day and evening. Other sea lions came and went. Penguins swam around the transoms.
A fishing boat returning from a day of work came to the boat at 6PM, and we bought 2 lobsters and a large octopus for $20. The lobsters went in the freezer, and we cleaned and cooked the octopus for dinner. How fresh can you get?
All day playing music on board while working, and drinking white wine as the afternoon went on.
The day started with AM rains, and continued with overcast skies. As we worked on deck, we did not use sunscreen, but the naturally overcast sun seemed to increase our tans to a golden brown, vs the red you get under a full sun. There was not enough sun to recharge our batteries, so we ran the port engine for an hour while electric cooking and to charge the batts. Not a bad thing.
We called our guide, Omar, to finalize arrangements for diving manana at Tortuga Is, a circular volcanic crater open to the south. We will dive on sites on the deep water north side, hoping to see hammerhead sharks and other large pelagic fishes. Of course rays, white tips, and myriad fish species.
Octopus dinner was fantastic, with small local potatoes and veggies. More vino.
Diving manana will come early.
We dinghied ashore at 9am with our folding dahon boat-bikes. Met Omar to plan diving and a trip to the lave tunnels for the next days. We bicycled on a coastal path that goes about 20km with various sites to enjoy; several hilltops to hike up for great vistas; numerous mangrove swamps with wildlife; the Wall of Tear- a giant wall of lava stone built across a valley between two peaks for who knows what reason; and we hike to the top of the highest peak in the area. On the way back, we found a cozy beach sheltered from the waves and swell, and went skinny dipping with marine iguanas swimming along side us. Just too cool. We were sweating hot- it was also cool refreshing.
Coming back toward town, we bike to the giant tortoise nursing station, where the park officials are breeding some of the endangered species of giant tortoise, which they reinteroduce to the wild when they are large enough.
It is interesting to note that the lava flows from the volcanoes create virtually impenetrable barriers that isolate tortoises into regions for thousands of years, so the tortoises evolve into different species isolated from each other.
In the past few hundred years, man came to these islands the hunted and killed off almost all of several species. The park services used genetic testing to identify each species, and in some cased only 6 survivors were found; they are now breeding the species for reintroduction to the wild.
We spent the afternoon at Albermarle hotel, right on the beach with a view of the bay and aVida, with internet connection, and a good bit of white wine. We upload pics from our sail around the Galapagos islands, and caught up on emails to work and personal.
A day to get things done. So we thought. We dinghies ashore in the am, did some shopping, and ended up at Albermarle hotel for internet connection and a bit too much chilled white wine for the afternoon. Had dinner at our favorite restaurant. I always have the pulpo- octopus, and Rita has either sheelfish soup or shrimp, etc.
Motoring to Villamil on the SE corner of Isabela, from Punt Moreno, on the W side of Isabela. It is about 65NM, into wind and against 1-2 knot current most of the way. Est 9 hours. We finish dinner by 8:30 and decide to weigh anchor and just go, vs trying to get 1 hsour of sleep. Gino is very worried about getting in early enough to catch his 8am flight.It is too dark to see the waves, but it is a bouncy ride, into winds of 15-20 mostly on the nose even as we clock around the south end of Isabela. Only in the last 2 hours of the trip were conditions right to sail, but in the dark we elect to continue motoring.
Rita and I alternate watches through the night, and we let Gino sleep; partly because he has a long day of travel and hospital ahead of him, and partly because there are numerous course changes and other boats around us and Gino may be excellent on visual watch, but he does not know how to operate the nav equipment.
We are within 1 hour approach from Villamil by 4AM, so we back the Stb engine down to 1500RPM from 2200, to time our arrival at dawn. Within 1 mile, we back down to 1000 RPM. On the hook at 5:30.
We bid our well wishes and goodbyes to Gino, and take him to the dock via dinghy. He had made arrangement for his friend who runs a laundry service to be there, and we agree to bring our laundry to the dock at 12:30. Back to aVida to sleep. Sleep till 11. Laundry to the dock at 12:30; shop for a few supplies. Have a light lunch and glass of wine. Back to the boat for a thorough boat cleaning. I do the outside- wash windows, apply the mesh window covers and label them; scrub every inch of topsides with a hand scouring pad to get the specks of dirt out; scrub the fenders which are looking pretty dingy already. The National Park inspector who comes to the boat at 3PM to inspect the boat and clear us out of the Parks. We finish cleaning and head to shore at 6PM. We try to clear in with the Capitania del Puerto, but we do not have the zarpe to travel from P.Ayoro to P.Villamil. I had assumed that the Park zarpe that listed our travel itinerary would list us as ending in Villamil- does not. Will get it from Johnny tomorrow.
Dinner and wine at our usual place. Water taxi back and in bed by 10.
Up at 5:30AM. Relatively short sail to Elizabeth Bay, Isabela. Did some fishing underway, Gino got a nice Yellowfin Tuna to the boat but then the hook bent and the fish escaped. At anchor, we fished off the boat, and caught some grunts, and a nice Bacalao, that Gino says is the best tasting fish, better than sea bass. We took the dinghy into a network of mangrove channels, into a small lagoon. Tried fishing- nada. Saw sea lions that climb mangroves to sleep on the branches.
Short sail to Punta Moreno. This bay is ringed by mangrove forests. Fighting 16 knot winds and the current going out, we work our way up channels in the mangroves to a landing spot on a lava flow. This lava flow goes for many miles in all directions, to the volcano in the distance to the SW, and to Sierra Negra volcano to the SE. These flows happened thousands of years ago, but there is still virtually no life here, except a few wet brackish sink holes within 1/2k of the ocean. There are 2 types of lava here, AhAh (the really gnarly sharp and porous stuff) and XXX (the more black and somewhat smoother flow). Huge patches of lava look like multiply parallel spaghetti tube extrusions laid side by side with curving and flowing patterns. After 1.5 hrs, the sun is setting and we have to make our way back to the dingy before we get caught in this minefield after dark.
Last night of our voyage around the national park.
We depart at 10PM and will sail or motor thru the night, to get Gino back to Puerto Villamil, in time for an AM flight to the mainland, where his wife is having surgery.
Isabela, Vicente Rocka. A geologically powerful example of island formation. A large volcano thrust upward, upheaving the lighter colored rock of a prior island. The color constrast and strata remain. Then the face of the volcano, to the core, collapsed long ago dropping millions of tons of rock to the sea, and causing a tsunami of giant proportions.
Today it is natures work of art. The vertical lava tubes look like the veins in an arm. The uplifted layers of the old island lean on the volcano at a 45 degree angle. Near by the crumpling of the strata have eroded to form a large marine cave the aVida could motor into a ways. The waters are hundreds of feet deep only 100 feet from the cliff, so we anchored on the brink of the drop, in 35 feet of water, with the transom just 30 feet from the shore.
We dinghied around the area, then snorkeled. 50-100 sea turtles swam all around us. Sea lions raced by. And the rare Galapagos flightless cormorant raced underwater chasing fish, then came to attack us and our camera. The silly bird poked his long beak at the lens, grabbed our fins, and tried to get Rita's arms. This went on for a minute or 2.
The seas here are usually quite rough and uncomfortable, but we had relative calm, allowing us to get closer to the walls towering over us, and go inside the cave by dinghy and snorkel. The volcano towers 1000 feet high, well into the clouds, and aVida appears miniscule anchored at its shore.
Still not enough wind to sail, we weigh anchor and motor on to Isabela, Urvina bay. Fishing off the boat, we catch a grunt and a yyyyyy, and have these for dinner. We land the dingy on the beach, and drag it up above the tide line. The beach above this level looks like it is cratered with bomb hole every 5 feet- these are green sea turtle nests- everywhere. Walking into the interior, we find many large land iguanas, lots of land tortoise tracks but only one small tortoise. The entire plateau we are walking on used to be under water, and in 1955, an area of several square miles rose from the sea by several meters. There are areas with coral heads, large mangrove forests that are now high and dry and dead.
Rabida. Red sand beaches and cliffs. Snorkel close to many many turtles. Hiked inland along the coast. V close to a Galapagos hawk, that seems to want to pose for us and follow us around. Giant cactus trees.
San Salvador, James Bay. Black sand beach and cliffs. Several other tour ships in the bay. Saw fur seals. Darwins toilet- a vertical hole in the lava about 12 feet in diameter that powerfully sinks 12 feet, and then rises and overflows, with the surge.
Black lava beaches with zillions of sea lion pups, large sea iguanas, etc..
Embarked at 10PM, with watches thru the night, to make the next stop.
Rise 4AM, so we can be on anchor at Santa Fe by 7AM ready to go. It is a beautiful deserted and well protected bay. But there are 4 other cruise boats there already.
Snorkelling along the inside of the rock peninsula that forms the bay, we easily see a plethora of life. I dive to about 12 feet and for 30 seconds or so, swim in the midst of a school of good size (12-18" long) fish, only 1-2 feet from me, and they tolerate this uncommon proximity.
We then hike a trail on the island. .................
N.Seymour. snorkeling along the rock wall here; not in open water because of the many large sharks in this area.
The highlight is the hike on shore. As we walk up the path from where we tied up the dinghy, we are 12" face to face with 6 open nests with frigate bird young. They stare at us inquisitively, and show no sign of fright or flight, their heads cocking and twisting left and right to see us better.
We walk further to find a sight that we are told is a rare privilege. There are hundreds of nests of frigate birds, many with red breasted males inflating their balloon like throat and chest areas to seduce females nearby. The nests are already filled with young from hatchlings to the biggest baby birds I have seen.
More than that, the blue footed boobies are everywhere, seemingly having an orgy of mating dances. They stand on the ground, alternately lifting one foot then the other in a Charlie chaplan sort of way, then extend their wings in a peculiar way, as if we would lift our elbows in the air with hands down doing chicken imitations. Then they whistle and consistent song, and this all must be very impressive for the female boobies.
Well, it worked on Rita. Rita approached a boobie to within 24", and began to do the mating dance. The boobie got very excited and did his dance in unison. This was all captured on video.
Moving on, we observed the rare fur seals, which were hunted in the past to near extinction, and are typically very shy of humans; large land iguanas; sea lions, and myriad other creatures.
Back to the boat for dinner, and early bedtime. We rise at 4AM again.
Work day. Preparing for 4 day/night cruise into park areas. The AM is spent with 4 sets of officials; navy for voyage zarpe; national park for park permits; inspector to verify holding tanks, recycle trash collection, engine compartments, bilges, etc; and the fumigator to make sure we are not taking hidden pests into the park. Expensive payments get made for the privilege to take our own yacht into the park- depleting all our cash. We must take a park guide with us on board for the whole trip; we ask to meet him and Gino comes aboard after all the officials leave. Gino was born on Isabela, has been a park guide for 20 years, speaks English well, and know the islands, anchorages, and wildlife very well. Laundry gets done. Diesel jerry cans get filled. The bank is unable to advance cash on debit or credit cards, so Rita and I both max out on ATM machines to have enough to cover Gino's fees and to have cash when we arrive on Isabela- there is not a bank there, we hear.
We embark at 4AM Sat. Very very few private yachts take cruises into the park due to the expense, and the navigation demands. We will hit 2 islands / anchorages each day, to maximize the sights and life we will see. To do so means voyaging at night- some nights we leave at 4AM, other nights we must leave at 10PM and sail/motor through the night. Even with a watch system, we will be running low on sleep.
The itinerary is: Santa Fe Is.; N.Seymour Is; Rabida Is; San Salvador, James Bay; Isabela, Vicente Rocka; Isabel, Urvina Bay; Isabela, Elizabeth Bay; Isabela, Punto Morena; ending in Isabela, Puerto Villamil.
Isabela is the largest island, and the north / west sides where we will go are rugged, wild and unsettled. Manana comes early.
3 dives today: Gordon Rocks, Mosquerra (mosquito), and North Seymour.
6 divers, a baby, the baby sitter, boat captain, boat crew, and Santiago our dive master. The boat is way too small. One engine transmission locked up mid trip, leaving us with an old shaky 25HP engine to complete the trip.
But all 3 dives were great dives.
Gordon Rocks we saw over 30 hammerhead sharks at reasonable range, almost 20 in one group, 2 smaller groups, and a single. Sea worms. Trumpet fish. Barracuda. Sea turtle.
Mosquerra. Playing with a family of sea lions for 15 minutes, swimming and dancing and darting all around us, close up, never tiring. Several sting rays up close, eagle rays, a white tip reef shark, and lots of colorful fish.
North Seymour. A shallow sandy bottom dive. Several large white tip reef sharks, resting in a grotto, got real close for photos, then one started moving around anxiously about us. Cool At the end of the dive immense schools of colorful fish all around us. The viz is not as good as the Caribbean, but the hammerheads and sea lions were impressive.
Boat back to the north side of Santa Cruz by Baltra ferry, and car ride back to town.
9am. Water taxi and walk to GalapagosFanDive, Santiago's tour business. We drive to SantaCruz Highlands. See giant Galapagos turtles in the wild. They are all over the roads as we drive up to the volacano. We walk around private farms, where the turtles congregate, but they move across private and park boundaries freely. As we walk these dinosaur remnants move slowly, but there is the primal fear these awesome creatures will leap from the brush and ambush us.. not. They move very slowly, and as we approach close, they retract their head and hiss at us. This must be a remnant of the history of humans hunting and killing these beautiful giant creatures almost to extinction- they remember. Rumor says they live to 300 years, but recent research suggests more like 150 years- still a Long time. There are maybe 3000 on these islands, of different species, separated by the ocean between the islands, and even by the lava flows on each island, that the present millennial barriers between breeding populations, and resulted in different species. Amazing.
We see the sink holes of volcanic eruptions. And then the Lava Tubes. Long ago, when the volcanoes erupted, as the lava flowed down the mountainsides, the lava flows hardened on the outside, even as the lava continued to flow inexorably to the ocean. As the lava flowed from the tubes, the tubes remained, many underground and still undiscovered. We entered some lave tubes, cavernous in dimension, and walked ½ km into a lava tube, with ceilings 30 ft above us. Amazing. There are many on Santa Cruz Is, and other islands.
Spent the rest of the day trying to catch up on internet stuff. Called Mom on Skype. Talked w Rick at AVID. Uploaded some photos to the blog, but the island internet kept going off line.
Went to see Santiago at his dive shop- GalapagosFanDives. Fan sounds like Fun in Spanish, and he doesn't seem to know it yet. We arranged 3 dives for tomorrow: Gordon Rocks- to see hammerhead sharks; North Seymour for rays, and Mala-whatever- cant remember now. All good.
Back to aVida for left over dinner from last night- grilled Pulpo (octopus), pork, vegetable, platains, fish... v good. And of course some wine. For the first time in a long time, we played our music loudly on the boat and the aft deck, victims of WineFlu. Sitting on the aft deck, slowing absorbing where we are, what we have ventured into, what a great boat we have, settling into the world that awaits us, we begin to appreciate and comprehend what is ahead of us. After so many years of work, intensity, and urgency, it will take time for us to become the gypsies of the sea that we have dreamed of. But we are well on our way.
And our boat is serving us well. The inevitable startup issues are behind us, with only a reasonable list of improvements we would like to make- amazing for any custom yacht, and especially for such a powerful sailing machine. None are mission critical, it becomes a constant improvement process for any boat.
We love aVida. aVida apparently loves us. All is good.
We look around the harbour, and watch the other boats at anchor around us. Some have their noisy generators running, disrupting the silence and solitude of our natural sailing experience. Inevitably, some large power cruise boats anchor too close to us, and we watch as the wind and conditions shift to make sure they do not swing into us. We watch the relative positions of the boats, and worry if our anchor is slipping. I write into the Ships Log our GPS coordinates at anchor, accurate to 5 feet, and check each day to make sure our anchor is holding. It is. But that is not always the case, and when cruising we must Always be diligent. Even when drinking a bottle or 2 of excellent Sauvignon Blanc for the afternoon. Life is tough. We all must always be diligent. There is no rest, at all hours of the night. We hear every noise on the boat, and the boat around us. Ce la vie.
Diving comes early manana.
8am on the docks. Diving at Gordon Rocks- a 60 minute boat ride from Purto Ayora. A circular volcano eroded leaving a few peaks and a central sandy bottom between. It is low tide, and the current is just starting to come in. As the current flows through the peaks, the hammerhead sharks and other large pelagic fish swim between the peaks. The currents can be challenging, so we drop quickly to depth, then cling to rock at the precipice of the pinnacles to watch the open water below.
I see a large moray eel, and spend 1 minute taking photos and videos. Duh- in that minute the rest of the groups sees 5 hammerheads up close, with another 5 behind them. Later in the dive, I get a hammerhead on video. Some rays, turtle, etc.
Our dive master is taking great care of Rita in the currents. He holds her hand the entire way; much appreciated by both of us because the currents are difficult; leaving me to roam and explore. This reminds me of when Rita got dive certified, in Cozumel, with Alonzo- the bronze golden Mayan god man- as we went off on our dive boat the first 2 days, we watched Rita with her gleaming smile in the hands of bikini-clad Alonzo. Well- Rita did get certified with Alonzo, and dove with us for the rest of the trip.
Dinner at Café del Mar- with large open charcoal grill. Had great grilled octopus, and a carne selections. Took leftovers to the boat. Did I mention some wine as well. We are victims of the WineFlu- that is a joke Helmut told us, and we can relate very well.
A day to organize and get things done. So we thought. We went to the internet café, and their uplink was pitiful or nonexistent. After 2+ weeks of not having a chance to check emails, update our blog, etc, we were very unproductive this day. We did some shopping around town for supplies and equipment we needed.
Cleanup day. Our first day on the boat without crew or guests. Time seems to stand still. No pressure to wake- but we wake at 8am. No hurry to do anything. But we do. We try the internet cafes, to catch up on things, but the island seems to be down. The day pleasantly seems slip by us. That is OK.
Bob, Karen, Ryan and Luke left this AM. Sorry to see them go; we had a lot of fun and experiences together. Best thing is, is seems they had the time of their lives. Ryan said it was his best vacation so for. Rita sent off 6 bags to the laundry. We house cleaned. Went ashore and somehow lost ourselves between wine at lunch, getting supplies, wine at dinner, etc. We slept well- our First night alone on aVida. Just me and Rita. Oh my.
6am. Rita and I got up and started an engine, and set course from Isabela Island back to Santa Cruz. Our guest slept soundly. Back at Santa Cruz Island by noon, our guest had banking and other errands to run. Rita and I embarked on intensive house cleaning and organization. Dinner out at Angermeyers- a 3 generation family of Galapgaos settlers- was a treat. Bob, Rita and I found a latin nightclub for drinks, while the others went back to the boat for sleep- so we thought. Great conversation, too many drinks, and we get back to the boat to learn that Karen, upon disembarking from the water taxi to aVida (a treacherous feat under most conditions) fell, bruising her rib cage severely, and sliding into the water up to her waist. Karen was a great trouper through this, including 30 hours of travel to get home, and it proved later to be no broken ribs, so all is well. She went to work Mon AM- tough woman.
At Sea At Last
ms & rl
20091116, Pacific Ocean off Peru
At Sea At Last
9AM, Fri Nov6 - the morning fog was just starting to lift off the Valdivia river, portending a beautiful day and voyage to come. Pulling away from the Alwoplast dock where we worked and lived for the last 3-1/2 weeks was emotionally difficult, because of the friends we had made there. Warm wishes, hugs, and some tears sent us on our way.
With Mark at the helm, assisted by Capitana Dale and crew Rita and Kevin, we cast off the lines and began the 20 minute motor trip to the Pacific ocean. At the mouth of the Valdivia river, we could see the wind and swells out to sea, so we set the main sail and genoa in the lee of the south shore hills, before poking our bows into the prevailing southerly winds, currents and waves that would carry us on our course of 335T to Galapagos.
Our departure was on the heels of a passing weather front that left us with more westerly winds 18-25 knots off the port beam, with confused seas on top of the 15 foot southerly swell.
On long voyages it is critical to have someone on watch at all times to monitor ships on radar, VHF, wind and sea changes, sails, etc. Dale suggested a watch system with Mark and Rita on watch 2100-0000 and 0600-0900, and Dale and Kevin on 0000-0600. During the day, we all nap as we need.
The noises of the first night took some getting used to, with the following seas coming in from the aft port quarter, going under the boat and slamming into the stb hull and bridgedeck with a wallop.
Speeds are averaging 9 knots, but surfing provided variations from 6 to 18 knots.
Our schedules and the incessant Valdivia rains never really gave us time for a good shake-down cruise- we only managed a few afternoon test sails - and this 2500NM voyage was our shakedown cruise. Every new boat has it gremlins that reveal themselves when they choose, and can only be dealt with as they arise, preferably not when out to sea. But.... On Saturday, running the port engine to charge the batteries, we noticed a burning smell. We traced the problem to the 24V alternator that was overloading the engine and the dual belts were burning up.
Switching to the stb engine, it on occasionally hesitated and dropped RPMs for several seconds, and began doing so more often and for longer periods- this we suspected was air leaking into the fuel line. Now in questions were both power sources for charging the house batteries that ran our mission critical navigation systems, running lights, refrigeration, watermaker, autopilot, etc.. And the grey skies would not produce enough solar energy to meet the total power demands. On top of that it appeared that the engine start batteries were slowly losing voltage, and on 2 occasions we could not start the port engine without bridging to the house. Now we had the possibility of multiple failures and no power whatsoever on the boat. Then we found some drops of reddish oil under where the Volvo saildrive bolts to the engine which we feared might be transmission oil, but which later turned out to be locktite that had dripped from the bolts when assembling the drive.
Sat Nov7, 3PM we decided to change course for Valparaiso, approx 270NM away, after making 237NM. Motor sailing with stb engine, we raced for shelter; we chose this new course to still provided significant northerly progress toward our final destination. The Iridium system allowed us to get emails out to Alwoplast, and promptly Roni responded. Roni would bring 2 new Balmar alternators (on-hand from the next boat in production), and some other parts we might need. He made arrangements for us to find a mooring in Higuerilla, north of Valparaiso, and he would take a bus overnight Sunday to meet us there Monday AM. We arrived in Higuerilla exactly at sundown Sunday evening, and rested comfortably on our mooring.
Monday AM Roni and his son Sven arrived, and Kevin picked them up from via dinghy.
Thanks to (typical) amazing responsiveness of Roni and Alwoplast, 48 hours later all repairs were made, and we were ready to resume our voyage. Amazing recovery time for a far away place.
The gremlins we exorcized in this skirmish were a combination of subtle installation wiring errors that did not reveal themselves in sea trials and which caused the 24V alternator to overheat and overload; plus operator learning curve- the need for us to better understand the complicated systems of this vessel. All good experiences and part of a very normal process on every boat.
Tues, Nov 10, 5PM. We spent ½ day getting Chilean inspections, immigration and the navy to visit aVida and clear us for exit again. The Chilean officials are very diligent in tracking every vessel in their area, and in ensuring that we are confident enough about the repairs made to resume our voyage. All very professional and courteous.
Kevin returned to the US, because the delay pushed beyond his time window. Kevin contributed not only a great supply of high-powered Gorilla ground coffee and other supplies, but he is also a kind-natured, true sailing enthusiast whose company we appreciated.
So Sven became a welcome addition to our Team. He is a wholesome self-assured 25 year old, agile athlete kayaker who exuberates a fearless attitude but with kind compassion. Sven works with his father at Alwoplast, and therefore knows these boats intimately. As is the Alwoplast way he is always willing to help out anyway needed. Having never traveled out of Chile before, Sven was overjoyed to sail with us to Galapagos. We all hoped to make this a very a positive sailing experience for him, and help him learn more English words while he helps us with our Spanish.
With double reefed mainsail and genoa for comfortable sailing at night, we still made 10-11 knots average speed, with surfing bursts to 18 knots. Our course is 325T, and we have 2192NM to Galapagos.
We all settled into the daily routines of handling the boat and sails, maintenance tasks, reading equipment manuals, cooking and cleaning, etc. For leisure, Dale and I have both read "The Lost Symbol"- excellent book. Sven is determined to catch a big tuna, with the rig that BillK gifted to us. Rita is taking a very active role in sail changes and boat handling; and she wove a bread basket for the galley. Sven tied turks-head knots on both helm wheels to indicate center rudder position. Dale has proven herself as a very experienced and patient Capitana, nurturing both Sven and us as we learn more about handling this boat and life at sea. And so the days pass, quickly it seems.
For the past several days, the wind has move directly aft, and we run on spinnaker for the most part. aVida is a powerful machine. With aft winds of 15-18 knots, we sail 8-12 knots. With wind bursts to 23 and some surfing, we have seen 20.1 knots speed. As the speed builds, the combined roar of the wind and the water racing past the hulls, with water spraying off the bows, is impressive.
The problem is this wind is variable in speed and direction. We have short periods of great progress, then the wind softens and we sometimes switch to motor sailing just to keep on schedule. When the wind does built to exciting levels for great sailing, typically late evenings, we soon get wind shifts forward of the beam, and we must scramble on deck to douse the spinnaker that is now flailing sideways. And by the time we finish this exercise, the wind shifts back again and fades. We had to motor through one night due shifting and waning winds.
The other problem with this powerful machine is the forces on the lines and rigging are immense. A catamaran does not heel to yield to the forces and spill the wind- it absorbs all the power and drives forward. The loads on sheets, halyard and blocks are immense, and chafe is a major problem. It is not hard to chafe through a line in one night, if we are not careful. Already 2 sheets and a halyard are heavily damaged. Too quick a tug on the spinnaker caused a small tear, which we have made temporary repair. This too is part of the learning process, and some changes to be made on aVida- a never ending process.
Throughout the day, efforts are made to bring back the comforts of home. We take turns sharing good music almost around the clock and have surprisingly similar tastes; Rita baked fresh baked bread one day, and homemade chocolate chip cookies another. Dale and Rita prepare gourmet meals. Sven and I cleanup and do what we can. We are now comfortable enough with the routine at sea, we share an afternoon early sun-downer of chilled white wine, and a bottle of red with dinner- all excellent Chilean wines of course.
Today is Sven's 26th birthday, and we plan to make it special for him. Rita is baking cookies again, and we will have a special dinner. He will call home today to talk with his charming ball of fire daughter Catalina, and wife Hemma.
Galapagos ETA on the chartplotter is Nov 22, but as winds surge or subside, this varies from Nov 20 to Nov 24; it depends on the weather ahead. We are on a timeline, something we will try to avoid in the future. Dale and Sven have flights out of Galapagos, and we have friends flying in to join us - we did not plan on losing 3 days due to gremlins. But it is what it is, we make the best we can, and learn to accept and enjoy each twist, turn and moment- that is what this is about.
Some say it's the "getting there" that they enjoy; others have their boats delivered by crews and only enjoy the "destinations". We expect we will search for a mix mostly of destinations, but also a good share of the getting there- "the water in-between".
We will post more pictures when we get to a better internet connection.
Ready for Departure
rl & ms
November 5th, 2009
aVida is ready. We are ready. Friday is the day.
This Alwoplast team is amazing. We do not need to point out the many finishing details to bring the boat to perfection- these guys continue to suggest continuous improvements to make the boat safer and better, even if it requires custom stainless steel weldments, fixturing, rigging changes, closet hooks, whatever. The owner, Alex Wopper, his very capable foreman Roni and Roni's son Sven go out of their way to do whatever they can to make the boat the best it can be- no need to push or pressure them. These guys are grreat. We have no doubt that our experience at any other boatyard in the world would be much different. They call aVida their "baby". This is a birthing process for them, and the love and care they apply is admirable. Dale tells me that the crowds on the dock when we leave will be full of hugs and tears- I know that will be the case for all of us.
Given the continuous rain, we were desperate to take the boat out and checkout the rigging and systems. There is an electromagnetic BlackHole at the Alwoplast yard, where the KVH inmarsat satellite system absolutely refuses to communicate, and we needed to get out on the water to make sure it was working fine. So last week, on a cold grey rainy day, when the winds slacked a bit, Mark took aVida out of the dock for Sea Trial 2. The KVH worked great in the open. We verified the reefing systems of the sails. Calibrated the magnetic compass. checked the watermaker away from the residue at the dock. Etc.
For Marks 55th birthday, we celebrated with a fine culinary dinner at Lomodetoro and the excellent Chilean wines (Carmenere is our favorite). Warm wishes were sent from Alwoplast, Dale, family, friends, and AVID, and were much appreciated. We kept the celebration low-key, in anticipation of the larger goal ahead. We returned to the aVida to find sheets of adhesive labels intended for circuit breakers, such as Blower, Auto Pilot, Head Pump, etc, which we mis-applied to each other in humorous ways.
Every morning, we have multiple alarm clocks to get us going. First is the operatic rooster at 5AM, then the flock of cormorants in the trees with their chorus, then the Alwoplast workers stream aboard at 8AM attacking the hit list of final tasks and details. A boat is never done, and at this point we are addressing niceties, not mission-critical systems.
Visits to the local fish market in town and evenings spent on board or at quaint local restaurants help relieve the pressure and frustrations of the all day "construction in progress". The market is colorful, open every day of the week, surrounded by sea lions awaiting their dinner, dominated by the largest bull sea lion we ever laid eyes on. He is clearly very old, very large, and very well fed; he is an icon here.
Friday, October 30th, the Designer Chris White and 4th crewmember Kevin Baxley joined us. We all enjoyed a friendly seaside lunch gathering in the afternoon in a cozy family run restaurant overlooking a picturesque bay and fishing boat; and an evening dinner at the home of Alex Wopper, wife Jacky, and charming daughter Isi, who at 12 is working to be the youngest KungFu black belt in Chile. Alex's good-nature reflects on everything he is about; his kindred spirit, gentle kindness, infectious smile, and his "natural estate" with a get-away island and his hot tub escape built under the roots of massive 150 foot pine trees (see the pics).
Some evenings, we relish relaxing on board, consisting of listening to our favorite world music, pleasant conversations, great Chilean wine, home-cooked meals, and even some salsa dancing. Dale did well following Mark's salsero lead... she is a keeper now.
Other evenings we enjoy going out to smaller family-owned eateries with character, bathed in rustic wooded walls, tables and chairs and warm indoor fire stoves, where we openly share good music and inspiring small talk. We trade music collections with the owners, and share surprisingly similar tastes, half way around the world. Our Spanish skills are rudimentary at best, especially for communicating the picky eating tastes of Mark, but the Chileans are very accommodating and kind. A particular bond with Philippe, owner of Picamadero, has been a great pleasure, and he visited aVida this week. Philippe is a sailor also, and we invited him and his girlfriend to come sailing with us in the future.
Valdivia is the rainiest city in Chile; maybe in the world. Relentless cold rain. Alex says this time of year should be dry and clear skies, but El Nino is causing extraordinary amounts of rain to continue into southern Chile spring.
But timing is everything, and last weekend we had 3 glorious days of clear skies for final Sea Trial 3 and 4 with Chris. The 4th sea trial on Sunday was most exciting prompted by a first sunny day we've seen for some time, with winds up to 23 knots and sail speed up to 14 knots. We were able to sail the boat on the open ocean under load, identifying only small adjustments to sailing techniques and rigging. Chris's intimate knowledge of the boat was valuable to the checkout and training objectives.
And aVida performed spectacularly. She may be the fastest A57 yet, doing 10.7 knots under power, and 8.8 with 1 engine. Under sail, on several occasions, we sailed as fast as the wind (see photos).
Overall, Chris was clearly very impressed, first with the performance of aVida under sail and power; her new props; the paint color selections; and also with some of Mark's design additions such as the forward cockpit navigation station, the "star trek" blue night lighting, etc, if not all of the electronics. All A57's being built after aVida at Alwoplast also have the forward cockpit nav station.
In any case, spirits were up, a fun time was had by all, and aVida looked great confirmed by the photos taken from the dinghy while under way.
Thursday the Chilean Navy, Customs, and Immigration officers will come to inspect aVida, and clear us for our planned departure Friday. Our downloads of weather and sea data predict that the nasty NW winds and seas will change back to prevailing S winds by Fri AM, and carry us northward to our Galapagos destination in relative comfort and speed. Then comes Panama in January- Las Perlas, Panama City, the canal, and then San Blas islands. They say the San Blas look more like the idealistic image of Tahiti we all imagine than Tahiti itself. After that, we will have to see which way the wind is blowing.
We have set up a satellite GPS tracing device so you can follow our voyage.
Go to www.nav-tracker.com, Login aVida@onsatmail.com PW:aVida123. Click on Tracking, then click ViewMap. This will take you to GoogleEarth to see where we are.
We may be able to post some text updates while at sea, if the satellite systems cooperate, but in any case we wish you all well until we can connect again in Galapagos, estimated arrival to be Friday November 20th.
Mark and Rita