Guatemala to Belize
20100319, Placencia, Belize
The sail from Roatan, Honduras to Livingston, Guatemala started with fair sailing winds. Several boats departed about the same time. With only 6 knots of wind, we cruised past a Lagoon 46 cat as if it was standing still. Then the winds died. We ended up motoring through the night to Guatemala. A number a radar targets crossed our path, large freighters, and we had to change course several times to make sure we stay a few miles out of their way. A miles doesn't mean much, when the LOA of the freighter is 1/8 of a mile, they travel at high speed relative to us, and they cant and wont turn to avoid us.
Arriving in Livingston at dawn are several other yachts, including an Atlantic55 "Sephira", a sistership to aVida. In Livingston, the customs agent Raul is very efficient, and we have 5 officials on board within 30 minutes: navy, port captain, customs, immigration, and health department. They ask many questions about guns, drugs, pets... As usual, to keep things light I say that I am the only pet on board. They laugh.
We are required to pay the fees in Guatemalan "Quetzales", so we go to the bank, where there is a line 50 people long, and we spend an hour waiting to get our Q's (7.8Qs/USD).
We had seen Sephira in Panama, and also in Roatan, but never had the chance to meet the owners, Peter and Jennifer and their 2 kids- very nice people. Went through the customs process together, and even though we are all eager to get underway again, Peter asks to come aboard aVida as see what has changed in the several years since Sephira was built, so we give them the tour, and exchange ideas and experiences. Peter and I think very much alike regarding ship systems, and we both like to innovate with new systems. Peter added lithium batteries and synthetic shrouds to Sephira in a recent refit, something I researched extensively, decided against 2 years ago when the decisions had to be made for aVida- these were and still are both emerging promising technologies.
By 1PM both boats head off again, into the Rio Dulce river gorge.
This is a deep river gorge up to 300 foot walls in many places, 8NM long, covered in tropical jungle vegetation- very beautiful. The original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, swung through the trees here making movies. We have lunch and a bottle of vino blanco during the journey.
The river opens up into a large lake, "El Golfette" approx 8NM miles long. Sephira ahead of us sets a spinnaker for the ideal 15-18 knot aft winds, but we decide that after a bottle of wine we should stay in the cockpit and motor sail- it is less than a 1 hour sail across the lake, and a lot of work to set and douse the spi for such a short sail.
The lake turns into a river again, called the marina area. This is the hurricane hole where hundreds of yachtistas bring their boats to escape the hurricane season of the north.
There are probably 12 marina, and a town called Frontieras. It is a 3rd world frontier town deep in the the Guatemala jungle. The guide books warn us that people walk around with machetes, knives, and guns in town and on the roads. It is like the wild west all over. Well... some do, but once again it does not seem as bad as some guide books or sailors make it out to be. But what is true is that as in all of Central America, the primary economy is drug trafficking, and that drives everything. As long as we all stay out of their way, they are happy to have us around as a nice "cover" for their world. This applies to Panama (the drug banking center of the world), Colombia, etc.. did you know, Panama City is the biggest financial center in the Americas south of and including Miami, due to drug $$? Insane massive hi-rise construction projects going up with no tenants, just to launder $$.
And when some locals here in RioDulce rob and murder a yachtista (like last year), the local police are afraid to do anything about it because of reprisals from the families. But the drug lords dont want bad attention drawn to their world, so they "take care of it" in a fatal way- they kill them all. This has kept the crime against yachtistas down in the recent past, since several local banditos (pirates) were taken out by the drug lords last year. Yeah, we feel safe. Actually, we do.
The people are friendly, lots of other yachts around, but we must be careful to lock up the dinghy etc and be smart at all times.
We will be here for maybe 5 days, then on to Belize. We are presently quite tired, having sailed overnight from Roatan and spent the whole day getting to where we are. 4 hours of sleep each in 36 hours.
We found a med-moor dock (put an anchor out, and back the stern up to the dock) at Tijax Marina, a primitive but excellent marina nestled with jungle all around, and their own private jungle preserve, with canopy suspension bridge, trails, etc. We migrate to the marina restaurant deck overlooking the water, having wine, internet, and dinner. Its comfortable here, and amazing faster internet we have seen in 4 months.
Then we walk the dock back to aVida to get long overdue sleep. but not yet....
The boat next to us in the marina has been left here for 9 months while the French Canadian owners were away. They just returned today, and Remi looks totally despondent sitting on the dock next to his boat. The boat needs a lot of clean up, but right now his batteries are dead and nothing is working. So, tired as I am, I get out my clamp-on ammeter/voltmeter, and go aboard to help Remi track down the problem. His solar panels are putting out traces of energy from the fading evening light, but there is no charging current coming from the battery charger. I help him trace the AC power from the dock all the way to the battery charger, and then determine that the DC connection from the charger to the battery is missing- somebody stole the wire out of his boat!
Remi is now my best friend, he tries to return the kindness the rest of the time we are here.
20100304 Spent the day working. Rita hoisted me up to the masthead for an hour to replace the VHF antenna that fell off and broke the wind vane; glued a stiffener to fix the wind vane; and prepare to replace the hailer/horn that got ripped off by the spinnaker halyard. Tightened up all the screws and hardware while I was up there. Taxes, email, internet, etc... Rita worked on AVID forecasted sales opps, and did a lot of work for the coming AVID 25th anniversary event in July. We will take our employees, spouses, and key customers for a sail on 2 "tall ships" in Cleveland, and then have dinner and a band on the Cleveland harbour. Rita is prepping a photo slide show showcasing the long AVID history through prior Halloween events, company events, etc, showing our team in the most compromising and humorous positions possible. We have had a lot of history, memories, and fun, over the many years.
20100305 We wake at 5am for a kayak trip up a river into the mangroves, to hear the howler monkeys awake at dawn, and see the jungle intimately.
In the afternoon, we hike through the jungle to an observation tower on a high hill, then up into the jungle canopy where they have set up hanging bridges between the trees 100 feet up. There are a large number and variety of birds. Groves of rubber trees oozing their white natural latex into collection cups. Not many animals- we noticed this also in the Amazon jungle.
We are still keeping up quite a pace, and don't seem to find much downtime. After a day of internet and shopping in Frontieras, the next morning we catch a bus in Frontieras for a 1.5 hour ride inland to Rio Agua Caliente, literally river of hot water.
The bus is a cargo minivan overloaded with bench seats spaced too close, and it is full of people with a few hanging out the open cargo door. I offer to sit on top of the luggage rack on the roof to make room for a woman and her baby, and I climb up there, and they look at me very strange, because we had just arrived at our stop, and we get off here- lucky me.
As we hike into the jungle toward the river, Francisco, a local, offers to guide for us- good thing too, because the trail up the mountain is steep and winding and we would not have known how to find everything we saw. A 20 minute hike along the steaming hot river takes us to the source- several pools of water that are too hot to put your hand in, gurgling from holes in the ground. Source Rio Agua Caliente.
There is also a cold river here, Rio San Antonio, and we hike up the mountain to its source, from a cavern 75 feet high, in a deep river gorge. The cavern goes into the mountain at least 300 meters, and they say from there you can climb up the cascading waterfall inside the mountain much further. Rita and I swim into the cavern, around turns that cut off all light from the outside- (we brought dive flashlights with us). About 200 meters. We could hear the water cascading down from within the mountain ahead of us.
Hiking back down the mountain, we come to a place where the cool river forms a large swimming hole, with the hot river cascading over 50 foot cliffs creating a waterfall into the cool water below. We swim across the pool, until the hot water falls on us- even at this downstream point in the cold pool, it is too hot to stand for more than ½ second or so.
Large trees grow from the rock walls all around the pool, their impressive twisted branching roots tenaciously clinging to the cracks in the rock. Francisco serves as photographer as well, taking photos of us swimming at each location. I give Francisco 50Q for his services, and he says "Ciento". He wants 100. I happily give it to him.
The afternoon bus takes us back to Frontieras where we find a basic but good dinner and vino overlooking the river. The dinghy always seems to know how to get us back to aVida after such evenings. It was another excellent day.
We spend 1 more day in Frontieras, preparing for the next voyage.
At crack of dawn 6AM next day, as we prepare to depart, Remi and Jim (our friend on the other boat next to us, with whom we shared several late evening talks and indulgences), are on the dock helping to put away the pasarelle and throw off the dock lines for us. As we sail away, they remain standing and waving from the dock as the distance fades away.
Our plan is to go through the Rio Dulce gorge, clear customs in Livingston, get our papers, and sail to Punta Gorda, Belize, and clear customs, immigration, navy and inspection the same day. Punta Gorda is the southern-most port of entry into Belize, and it is only 20NM from Livingston. Once again the winds are light and on the nose, so we motor the entire way, and arrive there by 3PM.
Belize has the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world, and hundreds of islands to explore. Our plan is to work our way north over the coming 2 weeks, hopping between several ports and islands, to arrive in Belize City end of March, where we have 2 couples flying in to sail with us.
Punta Gorda has little to offer, and the whole town is shut down this Monday for a national holiday, so we depart early the next AM for Moho Cay, a tiny palm tree covered sand island with a small resort on it.
We arrive in time for a late lunch, and Breeze, the manager, comes out to the dock to greet us with a fish gaffe in hand- seems a bit threatening at first, but he quickly sees we are good potential customers, not drug runners or something, and welcomes us ashore for a very nice lunch and vino.
In this beautiful lodge with 12 private cabins, there is only 1 couple staying there- John and Amy- very nice people, and we spend the whole afternoon in conversation. We return to aVida for dinner aboard.
In the AM Breeze takes the 4 of us in their power boat out to Sapodillo Cays, the southern most part of the Belize barrier reef, for snorkeling and beach time. A very nice day indeed. We swim amongst quite a few large barracuda patrolling their territory; see a number of sting rays and eagle rays; nice corals and many fish. Another very nice day.
Dinner aboard, and depart in the AM for Placencia, Belize. This is a lively little village on the mainland. There are many yachts at anchor here, and it is a base for Moorings and other sailing charter companies. As a result, there are a lot of dive shop operators, restaurants, bars, and activities going on.
Since we arrived in Belize, we have still been in the habit of trying to speak our pig-Spanish to the locals. We do this here in Belize, and they look at us like we are crazy, because everybody speaks English. It takes us a few days to stop this habit, which we have built for almost 5 months now.
As usual, we don't yet know how to slow down for a minute. In the fading afternoon light, we explored most of the town, and then stumbled onto the best restaurant, Rumfish u Vino for a great dinner- these are US ex-patriots, John and Pam, with a great success on their hands, and now they want to open other cookie-cutter restaurants in other Central America locations- I warn John about the dangers of absentee ownership, and the fact that this restaurant succeeds so well because of their personal presence and charisma.
As we dinghy back to aVida, a rasta local on shore starts yelling to us repeatedly- Jah Mon. Hey Mon. They have some interest in us. Back on aVida, I get out my 24" military machete, mace, stun gun, and sit up for a while sharpening my machete so long as the rasta keeps calling to us. Finally I put my weapons at the bedside and sleep takes over. As I sleep, I imagine the ninja moves to use a machete to take out 2 attackers in a single thrust or rotary slice that does 2 for 1. I hope I never have to attempt these moves, but in my dreamstate, I can visualize it- maybe I could do it.
Early the next AM, we are on the dock for a 2-dive + snorkel trip to the outer wall of the barrier reef. It was quite good, but cant say it was spectacular- viz could have been better.
Then another day of internet and catchup work. We are now coordinating the next 3 months of our voyages, trying to predict distances, voyage times, departure and arrival times, safe anchorages and marinas, security, etc.. so that the many friends flying down to join us and help us with the major offshore passages can book airfare, etc.
The total passage is 3500NM, so we break it up into segments for breaks. We have Mexico to KeyWest. Miami to Bahamas. To Bermuda. To Azores. To Gibraltar. And to the Med. We now have different friends with sailing experience signed up for each of these voyage legs, and also for the non-stop 2800NM return leg from Canaries back to the Carib.
Sailing voyaging is not something you can schedule arbitrarily- the winds and weather can blow any schedule away. Our schedules are a bit tight, but all keyed into coordinating so many places and people- we shall see how our planning works out. The overriding factor is trying to get out of the southern Atlantic before early June when the probability of hurricanes becomes a major concern. So, once again, there is pressure and a timetable- which are at odds with sailing and not respected by King Titan, or the Sea Witch.
20100315 Another working day- at first. We do some work on the boat in the am, and go ashore to the Purple Space Monkey resto-bar for lunch and internet. As we complete our lunch plus several drinks, 2 older men sit at the table next to us, and we are quickly drawn into conversation. These guys have had a colorful and Hard life, with many stories to tell. Bob, 65, is a poet; Claude 84 is a sailor. Bob has so many poems in his head that speak of truth, objectivity, reality, insight, and wisdoms against a lost world that largely blindly follows fabricated mass-media, mass-delusions, mass-religions, and mass-insanity. His poems are complex, very carefully and perfectly chosen words, full of insight and awareness. It takes intense concentration and focus to just follow and digest the words as they stream from his mind across his lips- but I do, and they resonate. Bob delivers from memory at least 6 long poems. We buy them drinks; they buy us drinks. I would like to capture Bob's poetry, but he has never written them down. Bob did hard time for taking out the guys that killed his brother. Like I said- hard colorful lives.
Back on aVida, we are preparing to go to another boat for dinner- Jim and Jane, whom we first met in Roatan.
As we are getting ready to board our dinghy, we hear a holler from our stern- Hey Mark and Rita! It is Jim Lightheart, our friend from Rio Dulce. He has just sailed into Placencia, on sail only, because his motor stopped working (again). It must be a real challenge to navigate these reefs and shoals under only wind power, but he did it, alone.
After Jim leaves, we head off for dinner with Jim and Jane. She is a Brit who has been working on boats all her life- he is American, and has a business with several large charter catamarans in Jamaica doing tourist day cruises. Dinner and conversation are great, we play Jenga on the rolly monohull, and once again the dinghy autopilot finds our way back to aVida.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this sailing life is that the people we meet are invariably unusual and exceptional in their life and sailing experiences. And often a bit over the edge, in a number of ways. But that makes it fun and interesting.
20100316 Overcast, drizzling. A northern front is coming in tomorrow afternoon that will blow from the NW. Thanks friends up north for sharing your weather with us. This is the start of it. We work on the boat all day.
Jane comes over early AM to show Rita how she makes bread on a boat. JimL comes by with the local crew he has picked up, with his engine starter motor in a bag, heading to shore to get it repaired. Jim and Jane come by twice during the day, with gifts, requests for favors, etc.
We made arrangements for Thai massages in town tonight, and we will prob go back to RumFish y Vino for dinner after.
We also made arrangements to go to Belize City by taxi tomorrow, to see a dermatologist to take a look at some skin blotches to make sure they are not cancer, and to cut out whatever is in question. Just whack it all is what I say.
The trip to Belize City is a long drive on very bumpy roads. 60 miles takes over 3.5 hours. Dermatologist checkup is ok, no major concerns, but we do have some things that need treatment, and we are now converts to using SPF twice a day, using special skin creams, and sun avoidance. Before any major problems have started.
Another day of heavy internet. Taking care of AVID business, 2009 financial year end stuff, taxes. 2010 planning, comp plans, etc.
In the evening, we went to Robert Grove Inn, where they have a local Garifuna drum group performing. The Garifuna are descendants of Jamaican and Cuban sugar plantation slaves, and they fiercely defend and extend their culture, music and beliefs. The music is mostly African, with some carib and latin rhythms mixed in. Excellent.
We splurge on dinner. Rita has the Biggest crab legs we have ever seen, I have a NY strip steak. And good vino of course.
Saturday AM we depart for islands north. Northward to a few outer Cays on the barrier reef, then to Belize City to pick up our friends. Belize City is not a nice place. We don't intend to stay there- we will anchor off a Cay a few miles away. Will come in just to pick up our friends and then get away to the most pristine places in the western hemisphere- the Turneffe and Lighthouse Atolls, outside the outer barrier reef. The charter boat companies don't allow their charter boats to go here due to increased navigation hazards, but the appeal of 100 foot visibility, superb diving and snorkeling are what we and our friends are after.
There is the "Blue Hole", a perfectly round ¼ mile diameter very deep hole in the ocean rimmed by a living ring of coral, In 1972, Jacque Cousteau explored this geological phenomenon, where they discovered at 125 foot depth a forest of stalactites. The Blue Hole was once a cavern above the surface of the water, 12,000 years ago when ocean depth was almost 400 feet lower than it is today! Global warming or not, whether accelerated by man or not, the ocean levels will likely rise another several 100 feet more in the coming centuries. Don't buy that Florida swamp land.
Providencia, Colombia to Roatan, Honduras
Week of Feb15 Providencia, Colombia
Providencia is the smaller, low-key sister to San Andres. Beautiful mountainous island, with very friendly people.
Providencia and SanAndres have a true pirate history. Blackbeard's Cave on SanAndres is a big attraction, and his descendents are still searching for where he hid his biggest treasure. Henry Morgan used these islands as a base to plunder passing Spanish treaure ships, taking the gold stolen from the Mayans. Morgan was a Welsh Admiral and "privateer", which means a pirate operating as a sort of "black ops group" for England.
These islands are a blend of pirates, Caribe tribes, slaves brought from Jamaica (hence the strong rasta influences), freed African slaves and Spanish colonists. The islands display and honor their pirate roots in many ways. These islands off Nicaragua were part of Spain until after the Spanish-American war of Independence, when they were awarded to far away Colombia in 1821.
We did a hike to the top of the tallest mountain on Providencia with a sailor friend- spectacular view. Rented motor scooters with friends and circumnavigated the island. As usual, I like to explore every little side trail off the road. We went down one dirt side road to a beach where there was Roland's Bar. Roland is a Rastafarian, and the weed smoke was all around. For 27 years, Roland has been clearing and developing this patch of beach and jungle to create the reggae-paradise it is now. The rasta ambience was a lot of fun, the music was great, and the people were all so friendly.
All of the yachties have been downloading weather data and watching for the next weather window to depart- some going N, some S. Tomorrow is the day.
A number of the yachties gathered for dinner at a small restaurant, organized by the Bernard Bush, the agent who helped most of us get our customs and immigration clearances in and out of the island. The restaurant was unprepared for so many, and they only had beer. So we and our friends went to buy bottles of wine at a local market, and brought it back to drink. We drank our wine, and still were not able to order our food, so we left and found a great hole in the wall restaurant with great home cooking. The waitress was a lot of fun.....
Set sail from Providencia, Colombia for Roatan, Honduras. This takes us through the shoals of Nicaragua, notorious for pirate attacks. Sometime these are just poor fishermen far offshore, who see an opp to make a year's wage in what they can take from a yacht. But last year a 25 foot motor skiff with 4 men in paramilitary garb board a boat with shotguns and rifles, tied up the yachtistas, and cleaned out their boat. So we watch the radar all night long, looking at all radar targets, and tracking their course and speed, to see if they are approaching us. We see several targets, but none take an interest in us, and we pass.
Sailing north from Providencia was 15-20 knots of wind on the beam, and aVida screams.
5 other boats, 4 monhulss and 1 production cat, departed at 7am. We departed after 1PM. By 9-10PM, we see their radar targets a few miles all around us, and we scream past them, onward into the Nicaraguan night. We are doing 8-13 knots, they are doing about 6 knots, limited by hull speed.
Sunday AM we turn the corner near Cayo Vivarillo, and head West toward Roatan. Winds are soft, and we motor sail for a while to keep up boat speed. We are trying to make this 400 mile voyage in 2 nights only, and we don't want to arrive to early or too late (in the night), so we are pacing our speed and ETA.
Sunday evening the winds start to build to 15knots, then 20, 25, then by 3am they are 30+ knots sustained winds. With no mainsail, and the genoa double reefed, we are sailing at 8-15 knots boat speeed. Winds and waves are on the aft quarter, and the sailing is surprisingly comfortable and easy.
Rita and I are doing 2 hours shifts through both nights, and when we are off watch, by the time we fall asleep, and we don't sleep soundly, it is time to wake up. We are exhausted.
As dawn approaches, we are passing Guanaja, the island we first intended to go to. But our electronic charts for Guanaja are coarse at best, and we have no local knowledge to enter the anchorage, especially in a blow. So we bypass Guanaja and head further for Roatan. We can still make it by noon. Our Canadian friends on Obsession far behind us by now are expecting to find us in Guanaja when they arrive- but this is the best sailing decision for us. We email them to let them know our change of plans, and hope they don't call out search parties for us when they don't find us there.
We arrive in Roatan by noon- less than 24 hours of sailing.
Our customs agent when we arrive looks at our departure date and questions how we got here so fast. "good winds".
What they say about drunken sailors is so true. Once we got the anchor down and set, we headed for "Fantasy Island" dive resort adjacent to our anchorage.
As we walked into the resort, we were greeted by giant tail-less rodents as big as a small dog everywhere, collecting their palm seeds and small pipa coconuts and burying them in the sand. Very timid animals.
Then there were dozens of giant iguanas, probably 3 feet long head to tail. These were orange colored, with dark black strips. Very photogenic.
Then the palm leaves above us suddenly swayed and rustled, and a number of spider monkeys started accosting us. We had some nuts, and they came down and took them from our hands. Rita held her hand out toward a monkey, and we held a nut above her head- the monkey climbed down her arm and sat on her head, to get the nut. It was quite happy to sit there for a while for a photo or 2. We played with the monkeys some more, then moved on.
We got through the wildlife, and sat in the outside bar. Met a guy named Hank from Illinois, and talked a long while. He was on an "unlimited" plan, and proceeded to bring us drink after drink.
Then a giant peacock strutted up into the middle of the bar area, and was eating peanuts out of our hands. Unreal. No wonder they call it Fantasy Island.
They played great salsa and reggae music in the bar, and then a couple of rastafaris came out start started dancing to get the tourists involved. Of course, Rita and I are the only ones who danced, and we might have made quite a scene, but we don't care, and it was very fun.
We had the diver's buffet dinner and some wine, and a bit intoxicated motored back to aVida. As we approached, the neighbor boat tells us that we are too close, because they are on a mooring, we are on an anchor. They are totally right. I didn't notice their mooring ball when we came in. So, with a bit too much vino in us, we start up the electronics (for depth and nav data), and both engines, and pull up the anchor, and start motoring around the anchorage among many other boats on one side and the reefs on every other side, to find a new spot. Somehow we do this, and in a 28 feet hole in the water among the shallows, we drop the hook, it seems to set well enough, and we go to sleep.
Slept in. duh. Took the dinghy to explore the long channels behind the reefs of French Harbor. Went into town a bit and checked out the grocery and other stores for provisioning to come. Had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bay- not the best local experience. As we get farther into the Caribbean, the workers here are starting to get the resentful carib attitude we see so many places, but did Not see in Columbia, Panama, Galapagos, Chile, etc.
Back to Fantasy Island resort, for a swim in the bay, and a nap on the beach. We considered venturing into town to find dinner, but it was far more comfortable to have the buffet dinner and vino (of course) at Fantasy Island, and go back to the boat earlier.
Spent the first half of the day flying in a small open cockpit seaplane. Took off within 200 feet of aVida, took some great pics. Flew SE down the south side of Roatan, and got a visual tour of the towns and ports, and landed at the west end of the island. The pilot Neil had a booking to take some tourists up for a 45 minute flight, so we explore "West End". Then we took off again, and flew NW up the north side of the island the full 30 miles to the NE corner of the island, out to a pair of small Cays, and landed at Pigeon Cay, motoring right up onto the beach, and put out an anchor. We set up an umbrella, had a picnic, and went snorkeling among the reefs S of the Cay- nice. Took off again, and flew SE again back to Fantasy Island, where we are anchored. There is a weather front coming in from the NE, and the winds coming over the mountains of Roatan created some "mechanical turbulence" creating a roller coaster ride. We buzzed the Fantasy Island anchorage and aVida several times, to get photos, and then landed within 100 feet of aVida. What a great way to spend a day.
We took the dingy back to aVida, and could see that once again the spade anchor was not holding in the grassy bottom, and aVida had dragged back from 28 feet of water, to 4 foot shoals. Just in time. We motored forward to reset the anchor, and it would not set solid. So we once again put out the Fortess anchor, that seems flawless in grassy bottoms, in tandem with the main space anchor. The weather Grib data we downloaded predicts 30+ knots of winds from the NW, and we don't want to have a sleepless night. Anchors seem to be holding well again.
So we went to the Fantasy Island resort (again) for some internet work in the outside bar area. The damn spider monkeys got hold of a bottle of suntan lotion, and climbed into the palm tree above our heads. 5 monkeys were biting the bottle to let the fluid out, and were competing to rub the oil all over their heads and bodies. We were all amazed at how they know to do this- it must truly be "monkey see, monkey do". For 20 minutes, they dribbled oil all over our table and computers and papers while we were working Many other people were crowding around laughing at the whole scene, and so were we. Then the monkeys moved over another table, and started leaving another kind of droppings. Not so funny- those people moved real fast.
Back to aVida for dinner and a movie on the boat. The 30 knot winds are coming in tonight around midnight, and we want to be on board and prepared for whatever.
The winds build from 20s to 30s to 40s. We watch the wind and the anchor until 11pm, then go to sleep. Other sailors tell us in the morning that the wind peaked over 50 knots. Quite a blow.
We found an excellent experience at Barefoot Cay, a luxury marina. We started with a deep tissue and relaxation massage, followed by dinner in their restaurant. This was probably the nicest fine dining experience we have had since last October.
We intended to spend our last day in Roatan doing 3 dives, but the weather front that came in made diving impossible. So our our last day in Roatan was spent doing internet and prepping the boat for the voyage to come. We verified weather data, and departed at 9am the following day for Livingston, Guatemala, and the RioDulce gorge, on the tail of the passing weather.
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.