23 November 2014 | Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
16 November 2014 | Marina Lanzarote, Arrecife, Lanzarote
05 November 2014 | Graciosa, Canaries
30 October 2014 | Morocco
11 October 2014 | Torrevieja, Spain
23 September 2014 | Islas Baleares
31 August 2014 | Porto Petro, Mallorca
31 August 2014 | Porto Petro, Mallorca
25 August 2014 | Crotone, Italy
18 August 2014 | Crotone, Italy
15 August 2014 | Vela Luke, Croatia
07 August 2014 | Hvar, Croatia
25 July 2014 | Cavtat, Croatia
06 July 2014 | Primosten, Croatia
30 June 2014 | Sukosan, Croatia
28 June 2014 | Prtljug, Ugljan, Croatia
26 June 2014 | Uvala Podgarbe, Molat, Croatia
20 June 2014 | Rovinj, Istria, Croatia
19 June 2014 | Burano, Venice, Italy
13 June 2014 | Treporti, Venice, Italy
Tuamotu Islands: Fakarava
16 June 2015 | Fakarava, Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia
Fakarava is only 55 miles or so from Tahanea, an easy day sail. Being on a starboard tack with the port rudder missing, Por Dos was temperamental and wanted to round up into the wind. We ended up motor-sailing with jib so that the autopilot could steer our course.
In Fakarava, we first anchored near the South Pass, an excellent place for diving and snorkeling with sharks (and, there were lots of them, ranging from small black tips to big greys). Alec put together a couple of short videos of Mark and Roan's dive in South Fakarava.
The wind changed to the SE and picked to 25 to 30 knots, so we moved four or five miles to the Hirifa Motu anchorage, where the waters were calm and protected from the wind. It was here that Alec and Roan started wake boarding with a borrowed kite board. They both loved it. Mark spent many hours dragging them behind the dinghy.
It was a sad day when we left the Tuamotus, our favourite place so far in the South Pacific. But, it was time to move on. Tahiti, here we come!
Tuamotu Islands: Tahanea
06 June 2015 | Tahanea, Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia
Tahanea was another beautiful atoll with a narrow but easy access channel. We spent five glorious days here, just paddling, snorkeling, relaxing, and picnicking in the beach with our friends from Miss Behaving. I have no words to describe how beautiful these atolls are. It almost does not matter which ones you stop at. They were all fantastic and we always found a protected anchorage from wind and waves.
Next destination, Fakarava! Yes! That is the name and, for some reason, it sends all English-speakers into peals of laughter.
Tuamotu Islands: Raroia
01 June 2015 | Raiatea, Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia
At the end of May, we left Nuku Hiva for the Tuamotu Islands (the word motu means island and usually applies to the individual coral islands that form the atolls. We were planning to visit three islands of this archipelago. The first one was Raroia, where Thor Heyerdahl, had landed with the Kon Tiki, back in 1947.
The passage was a mere 450 miles, a three-night crossing mostly with jib alone. Winds stayed around 20 to 25 knots except when squalls hit us, then the winds ranged from low to high 30s and we had to partially furl the jib. It was during this passage that Alec caught a 5.5 Kg wahoo - the first of many ☺
The pass in Raroia is on the west side of the atoll, and, thankfully, protected from the prevailing winds and swell. We entered with four knots of current against us. I busied myself by taking pictures and video of our progress so I would not think about our missing rudder. There was no reason to fret, as we quickly found ourselves in deep calm waters with almost no current. Roan climbed to the first spreader to guide us around any shallow coral heads, but it turned out these bommies were big and easy to spot and the water around them was very deep. We crossed the inside lagoon and anchored in front of a large flat motu full of coconut trees and thick bushes where Miss Behaving and the rest of the flotilla (Seabbatical, Amelie IV and Perry) had arrived a few days before. The motu and surrounding reef created enough protection from wind and waves that the waters were calm, pristine and that deep turquoise colour only found in the tropics. We fell in love with this place.
We only stayed five days but we enjoyed every single minute. We visited the local black pearl farm and played with water toys (after school, of course!). The snorkeling with colorful corals, fish and sharks (mostly little black-tip reef sharks) was fantastic.
On June 6, we sailed to Tahanea, an uninhabited atoll just 140 miles west of Raroia.
Marquesas: Finally in the South Pacific!
28 May 2015 | Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Ah! The exotic French Polynesia! One thinks of Gaugin, tattoos, fire walking, James Cook, coconuts, breadfruit, The Bounty, and, of course, beautiful Tahitian girls moving their hips in unbelievable enticing ways. Many of those thoughts were propelled more by movies than any serious reading I had done.
French Polynesia comprises several groups of islands, each one at a different stage of atoll formation (do a google search for atoll formation. It is absolutely fascinating). Marquesas are in the younger stage so they have almost no coral reef around the original volcanic cone. The lack of surrounding reef makes most of the bays susceptible to swell (translation = rock and roll at anchor, especially when the swells gets the boat side ways).
We visited three anchorage on the island of Nuku Hiva: the main harbor and town in Taiohae Bay, Daniel's Bay just 5 miles to the west of Taiohae, and Anahoe Bay in the north of the island, the quietest of all anchorages. The island is typically tropical, which means lots of lush greenery everywhere, frequent rain, and great heat and humidity.
On our way to Daniel's Bay, Mark tried to fine-tune the pesky autopilot, but no matter what he tried, the autopilot was still wandering a bit. We anchored and met with our friends from Miss Behaving and the flotilla of boats-with-kids that they had been traveling with from Panama/Galapagos. The whole group of families was going to hike up to a beautiful waterfall through a meandering trail with multiple river crossings. It sounded fun, so we joined in. It was well worth it, especially the refreshing swimming in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
In Daniel's bay our dinghy's painter kept on getting stuck around the bottom of the port hull. One of the times, Mark had to dive in to get the rope untangled. He surfaced and said, "We are missing the port rudder". "Say, what?" I responded without comprehending. "There is no rudder on the port side," he repeated. OMG! And suddenly, everything made sense: there was nothing wrong with the autopilot; the poor thing was struggling because it only had the starboard rudder to maneuver. We had probably been sailing for almost a week before arriving in Nuku Hiva. Strangely, we had not heard any big bangs; no noises or any indication (except for the wandering autopilot) that a rudder was missing.
We assessed our options and decided that our best bet was to have a new port rudder made in Papeete in the big island of Tahiti. The starboard rudder could be used as a model. We have been sailing with just one rudder for a while, so unflappable captain Mark did not see a reason to change our plans to visit the Tuamotu Archipelago before reaching Tahiti mid-June. The Tuamotu Islands are coral reef atolls that you enter through narrow channels sporting rushing currents with shallow reefs in close proximity – my Spanish heart was accelerating just thinking about it.
While making long distance arrangements with a company in Papeete to make our new rudder, we enjoyed Nuku Hiva. We ate French baguettes (a must in all French territories) and "Poisson cru" (sashimi tuna in a coconut milk sauce, yummy!). We hired a four-wheel drive car and drove around the island's only road. We visited the ruins of Pa'eke Me'ae and Hikoku'a Tohua. The first one had several original stone tikis guarding a stone rectangular structure. The second one had been partially restored to give a better idea of the tikis and structures would have been in older times. Here, we also found some petroglyphs.
Mark enjoyed driving the four-wheeler through the goat track that took us along the north coast (this was the only "road"). Going back to Taiohae, we passed through steep mountains with tall cypress-like trees. It felt like being in the Alps minus the cold. It was a world apart from the palm-tree beaches of the coast.
After two weeks in Nuku Hiva, it was time to leave for the Tuamotu Islands.
Pacific: Obviously a Misnomer
12 May 2015 | Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
We left Galapagos with a nice breeze filling our full mainsail and jib. Right from the start we had a fast passage with many days of sailing over 200 miles (until our Code 0 sail went on the water, but more on that later), sadly however, it was not a smooth one. The seas were often confused with waves coming from different directions. We never quite found the forecasted westerly heading current that would have added one to one and two knots to our speed. More often than not, we found areas of counter currents subtracting half a knot or even a knot to our speed and adding choppiness to the already uncomfortable seas. Despite all of that, we manage to surpass our previous record of 211 nm in 24 hours: we did 222 nm one day and 218 nm the next, with other days at 209 and 210 nm, and several more at or around 200 nm for a total of 16 days crossing from Galapagos to Marquesas.
We maintained the watches that worked well for our family in previous crossings and the activities that had kept us entertained in the past – mostly reading, playing cards with some movie watching on the days that we had to run the engine to charge the batteries. Yes! Even with our 10 solar panels, with the sails on the starboard side shading the afternoon sun from the panels, and the continuous running of navigation gear (specially autopilot), we had to run the engines for a couple of hours every 48 hours.
We had few issues to deal with: the first one happened almost immediately after starting the trip, when we realized that the instruments wind vane at the top of the mast was missing, so we could collect apparent wind speed but not direction and not true wind speed. How the wind vane broke is anyone's guess but we remembered several pelicans and other large birds attempting to perch on the top of our mast while in Galapagos. We had a spare but it was not worth the dangerous exercise of sending Mark up the mast in the confused non-pacific seas of the Pacific Ocean. We had to read the wind true force and direction like the real sailors of the past by looking at the water and feeling it in our faces :).
Our second issue was a broken pin on the shackle that holds the main tack to the boom. After trying to fix it in a couple of different ways, we ended up replacing it for a Dyneema soft shackle, adding a second soft shackle as a back up. [Three months later, this soft shackle system is working very well].
Ten days into our passage and with 1000 nm to go, the sewn eye on the torsion rope of the Code 0 became unstitched and let go: translation, the Code 0 ended up in the water. Luckily this time it happened in the afternoon, with plenty of light for the four of us to pull the sail wet but undamaged into the trampoline. We rolled the sail into its bag, unfurled the jib and continued sailing albeit at a slower pace. Not that I wanted any expertise on rescuing sails from the seas, but we have become real pros and went through the whole exercise in less than an hour. Sailing with the jib alone, our 200 mile days came to an end; we were doing 180 to 170 miles days so our 15-day passage became a 16-day one.
About 500 miles from Marquesas, the autopilot started to wander a bit more than usual. Nothing was obviously wrong when Mark investigated, so he adjusted the autopilot settings to make it more responsive, which seemed to fix the issue [more on this on a later blog].
In terms of fauna, we saw one high-dome turtle swimming in the surface on day 7 of our passage. The dolphins that we have seen close to Galapagos had not been interested in Por Dos, but as we were getting closer to Marquesas, we had many hundreds of Common dolphins visiting – at some point the water was full of dolphins as far as we could see. There were babies and mothers, really small and big ones; some will jump up high, others were just focused on getting to Por Dos bows. We enjoyed watching them for hours.
Early on the trip, a flying fish attacked Roan. This is not unusual per se; many a sailor has been hit by flying fish while at the helm or in the cockpit. However, Roan happened to be inside the companionway. It was 8 PM, and he was talking with Alec and me in the galley, while Mark was at the helm. A flying fish flew all the way from the stern of the boat, across the cockpit, and into the saloon. It hit Roan on his upper arm and fell down on the galley floor. Initially Roan thought that Mark had thrown something at him, but he soon spotted the poor fish flapping desperately around. Roan grabbed him with a paper towel and through it back to sea. The fish, was probably as surprised, and more afraid than Roan.
Tuesday, May 12, we sailed into Taiohae Bay in Nuku Hiva, after a 16-day passage across the South Pacific waters. Our most lonely crossing, we had only spotted by sight three or four fishing boats in the first 200 miles from Galapagos and by AIS a small cargo ship 30 nm from us on its way to Japan when we were 500 miles from our destination. We were happy to make land; it had been an uncomfortable, rocky passage, but nothing that a solid night sleep would quickly wipe from our memories (until written in this blog of course).
Galapagos: A Dream Come True
26 April 2015 | Academy Bay, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Islas Galapagos, Ecuador
Galapagos! Ever since my childhood in Barcelona (where road-kill, pigeons and seagulls were as close as I got to wild life), the Galapagos Islands held an irresistible attraction for me: the weirdness of their animal inhabitants, their contribution to the development of the Theory of Evolution, their remoteness and exotic nature, the sparseness of human population and human paraphernalia; as far in distance of space, time and way of life as one could get from the busy city life in crowded Barcelona.
Hard to believe that I was going to visit Galapagos after all, and, like a well-thought present, Mark and I would celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary while there. How much luckier can a girl get! (Hold on to your knickers girls, as it turned out neither Mark nor I remembered our anniversary on the actual date, despite our mutual reminders few days before. Yep! That's what 20 years of marriage does to you! :)).
You will be happy to hear, I was not disappointed. We stayed for two weeks and visited three islands: Santa Cruz, Isabela and Santa Fe. We swam with sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, and fish schools as far as the eye could see. I took one thousand pictures of the different finches – it is mind-boggling that one genus could diversify so extensibly as these cute little birds have done. Another thousand pictures went to the tortoises and a third thousand to the views of cactus-trees and volcanic formations.
Our walk in Isabela to the top of Volcan Alcedo, a shield volcano, was one of our highlights. We befriended a young English geologist, Rob, who was in our group of about 20 tourists hiking Alcedo. Rob graciously shared his knowledge on the formation of the volcano and the different rocks and volcanic formations that we could see. It was fascinating.
Other highlights were: observing the black sea iguanas lying in the beach, where they were easy to spot, or in the lava rocks, where they camouflaged themselves so much that I almost stepped on one of them (and, yes!, they do sneeze salt snot to be rid of it); snorkeling with sea lions, the young ones were especially playful and they would come to check what was Mark holding in his hand (his new Go Pro); videoing the courting of the male blue-footed bobbies to their belles in the lava tunnels of Isabela; visiting the tortoises breeding centers - We visited two of these nurseries for land turtles: one in Santa Cruz and one in Isabela. We delighted in the antics of these ancient looking reptiles – another thousand pictures!
What I loved the most in Galapagos was the lack of fear of the resident animals: marine iguanas, sea lions, finches, tortoises, blue-footed bobbies all kept their ground; seeming not to mind the ah! and oh! and the continuous noisy clicking of cameras. The park rangers tried with mixed success to keep the most adventurous tourists at a reasonable distance from the animals, but for the most part the rangers seemed more annoyed than the animals themselves. Of course, the lack of fear translated into several pelicans visiting our boat, and even a sea lion trying to get access to Por Dos cockpit for a night rest.
Armed with millions of photos, videos and even more memories, we left Galapagos on Sunday, April 26 for what it was going to be our longest passage so far: 3075 nautical miles to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.
The most comfortable passage!
13 April 2015 | Panama to Galapagos
Our smoothest passage by far!!! Going from Panama to Galapagos, we crossed the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ for short, aka “The Doldrums”. Most people leave Panama with lots of fuel and prepared for many hours of motoring with no wind. Our friends from Miss Behaving, who had crossed few weeks before us, motored 4.5 days out of a 5.5-day passage. We decided to risk it, instead of increasing the amount of fuel, which would have meant to buy more jerry cans and to carry more weight. We were banking on Por Dos being able to sail in very light winds at a reasonable speed. She did not disappoint us.
I can’t remember how many sail changes we did per day in order to keep Por Dos going at her best speed. The seas were smooth, the sky was clear and the sun was shinning so nobody minded the many sail changes.
This was a relatively slow passage (average daily mileage and speed was 160 miles and 6.8 knots), however, on our second day, Por Dos managed to surf at her highest speed ever while under spinnaker on 20 knots of wind. At first I could not believe my eyes: 17.7 knots water speed! I must have made a mistake! We continued to surf at 12, 13 and 14 knots – hitting some 15 knots. A couple of hours later, 16.8 knots and then 10 minutes later, a wave took us and kept on going, and going, and going - 18.3 knots water speed! For sure, we were about to take off! With the wind picking up, it was time to take the spinnaker down, for yet another change of sails.
We motored the last twenty-four hours in flat waters and no wind, which made our Equator Crossing Ceremony very easy: Once the engines were stopped with just stood at 00° 00’, gently bobbing. The Equator Crossing Ceremony is when King Neptune visits the boat and all Pollywogs – the ones that have never crossed the Equator by boat before - become Shellbacks – the smug ones that have just crossed the Equator. Roan and Alec crossed on the paddleboard being towed behind Por Dos; Mark and I swam across the Equator. We also egged each other – great excuse to have a good shower before arrival. With our Shellback Official Certificates in hand, we continued motoring. By early Monday morning, on our sixth day, we anchored in Puerto Ayora in the island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos.
Panama and the Canal
07 April 2015 | Balboa, Panama
Marta Portoles (edited by Alec and Roan)
We arrived in Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama, on March 31, 2015. We were eager to get to the Pacific, so we stopped in Panama only long enough to provision and transit the canal. We had decided to use an agent, Roy Bravo from Emmanuel Agencies, to make the transit as smooth and quick as possible. It worked well for us. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and transited Saturday evening into Sunday afternoon. Roy provided us with all necessary equipment for the transit, namely four 120 ft, 8 tires wrapped in plastic to use as fenders, and a line handler. For the canal transit, a sailing boat our size needs the skipper (Mark) and four line handlers (Alec, Roan, Marta and our hired handler, Eric). Each sailboat must have an advisor on board during the transit. The advisor handles all radio communication with the lock staff and the other boats/ships transiting at the same time. He also manages the line handlers and any other issues.
We transited from the Caribbean to the Pacific in two days: the first one from the Caribbean Sea to Gatun Lake (going up the three Gatun locks), and the second one from Gatun Lake to the Pacific Ocean (going down the Pedro Miguel lock and the two Miraflores locks). Often, sailboats get rafted together 2 or 3 at a time with the biggest boat driving the “raft” from the middle. Of course, in the case of three boats every body wants to be the middle boat, the more protected position. Occasionally, sailboats can transit tied to a tug, in that case the tug (which will have the biggest engines hands-down) does all the maneuvering and the sail boat has only to tie and untie from the tug as it transits every lock.
We were scheduled to transit on Saturday evening, entering the locks by 19:00 (7:00 PM) and exiting into Gatun Lake by 20:30 (8:30 PM). We left the marina dock by 5 PM and motored to the anchorage a mile or so before the first Gatun lock. At this point we did not know our transiting companions or our position. It soon became clear that we were the biggest boat, the other two boats that looked ready to transit were smaller monohulls, both sporting French flags. We would have two French fenders to protect us from the rough walls of the locks if something were to go wrong :-) On the other hand, Mark would have to drive the three-boat raft through the locks. He, of course, was totally unfazed.
The three advisors for the three boats boarded each one of us, and we were off. We had the senior advisor onboard who quickly organized the raft. First, the smaller of the monohulls tied to our starboard side, and then the other one to our port side. Our advisor, Moi (short for Moises, Spanish for Moses - I thought it was a good omen to have an advisor which such a name for transiting the canal) (he would split the water for us: Roan) warned Mark about the strong currents around the entrance of the lock. Mark did a fantastic job, quickly gaining the respect of Moi, who could not stop complimenting him on his skills, his attitude and his “sang-froid” (I thought I should slip some French in honor of our raft companions :-). The handlers on our French “fenders” passed the lines to the canal staff and in a blink of an eye (well about 1 hour later in real time but I was too busy to notice) we were on Gatun Lake. Our raft separated and we all motored towards the anchorage area, where all the sailboats waiting to complete the canal transit tied up onto the two existing mega mooring platforms. We tied sideways to the floating circular platform (I hesitate to call it a mooring ball, because of its size and shape. Three or four people could easily stand on it) and one of the French boats tied to our side. On the other side of the mooring platform, two biggish mono-hull sailboats were rafted together. Another three or four boats were tied to the other mooring platform. Moi left us there for the night. Next day, we would have a different advisor, Astro, for the transit to the Pacific. The line handlers stay with the boat from start to finish. Eric settled in our cockpit for the night. He preferred to sleep in the open cool breeze than in our guest berth, which was rather hot.
Time Lapse of Gatun Locks Transit
By 6 AM on the next day, Astro, our new advisor, got on board and we motored close to 30 miles to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. Our raft had worked so well the day before that we quickly got into the same arrangement for this set of locks. We had a couple of exciting moments when wind and current worked against us, but nothing that our intrepid captain could not handle. By 1:30 PM we were out of the locks, and in the Pacific Ocean! Hurrah! We grabbed a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club not far from the canal exit and had a relaxing beer and pizza dinner.
Next day, we rented a car to finish our provisioning, fill our propane bottle and diesel drums, and do some other errands. Alec did the laundry and Roan helped get the boat ready for the 900 mile passage to the Galapagos Islands.