02/16/2012, San Cristobal, Galapagos
It's already been almost a week since we motored into Wreck Bay, here in San Cristobal. Time has certainly flown and we feel like we've done all we wanted to do here now. Unfortunately we can't move on because there's a public holiday which means all of the banks are closed, and we need a little cash to be getting on with. So we plan to head off to Isla Isabella tomorrow (Wednesday) evening for a few days before the official dinners and parties start in Santa Cruz (Academy Bay) for the next leg to Hiva Oa.
Wreck Bay has been wonderful, mostly for the abundance of wildlife. We did a tour last Friday on a motor boat to various snorkeling locations. We have some excellent shots of sea lions playing under water at very close quarters, and a great little movie of one of those under water iguanas eating their seaweed. I say "their", and by them I mean the fish. It seems the fish actually go to the trouble of cultivating the seaweed, sort of like small scale farmers, then the iguanas stomp in and eat the fruits of their labours. It's amazing to see how the fish bite and butt the iguana as he feasts on their farmed produce; he just bats them off or shrugs a shoulder to keep them our of his ears. We've seen some wonderful birdlife too - the blue footed booby really does have very blue feet!
At our anchorage here in the bay we can see right to the bottom in 9 metres of water. Yesterday we saw a sea lion separate a fish from the school (they seem to congregate in the shade under the boats) and chase it to the rocks and sand at the bottom. He caught the fish before our eyes and swam back up to the top holding it victoriously in his mouth; then he munched it down and started looking for another.
The sea lions seem to run the town here. They lounge about all day on the public wharf, the footpaths and the street furniture giving the whole place a distinctly agricultural smell, if you know what I mean. It's quite surreal to see a load of local kids playing in water at the local beach, and just a few feet away a group of sea lions frolic in a similar way. The little pups suckling are gorgeous, but the big ones tend to growl and gnash a bit if you get too close. Touching any of the wildlife here is quite rightly prohibited. The noise they make at night can be quite monotonous as they bark for ages sometimes, just like dogs when they get a bit territorial. I wonder if they are nocturnal because they seem to spend all day lounging around town (and on people's swim platforms at the back of their boats) and all night barking. Ruby even had one climb onto their bimini (the roof over their cockpit) and make a sea lion hammock of the fabric structure. A few well-placed punches woke him up and eventually moved him off, although I doubt the bimini will ever be quite the same again.
Yesterday we went on a tour to the small lake in the main volcano on this island (apparently there are over 2,000 volcanoes in the Galapagos, although most are tiny). We also went to the tortoise breeding sanctuary and to a beach on the far side of the island. We were joined by the guys from Peat Smoke, so in all there were 5 of us. Heather and I rode in the tray on the back of the 4-door ute which seems to be ubiquitous here. It was a fun ride up to the lake, but then the heavens opened on us as we walked around the lake. It absolutely bucketted down with rain for the next hour or so, which made us all soaked through, but it also cooled us all down nicely. It has been very hot and humid here, so the rain was a welcome relief. By the time we reached the tortoise sanctuary the rain had stopped, and we saw most of the fully grown tortoises there as we arrived at feeding time. We also had a walk around the cages containing the babies - from little 1-year olds about the size of a computer mouse up to their only 6-year old which was about 600mm long. They feed them well and they all seemed very happy to splash about in their ponds. They did remind us of our tortiose in Dubai, Norman - all the same mannerisms, just on a much larger scale.
Today we will head for Darwin Bay (where he was supposed to have landed first to find fresh water - there is even a rather surreal fibreglass statue standing there) to do a bit of snorkelling. After that we may trawl the many gift shops that line the main street for souvenirs. They really do some brilliant t-shirts, although I think I will scream if I see another ''I love Boobies'' one. This morning we had breakfast on deck watching the sea lions pass, and two - what seemed - amorous sea turtles
02/14/2012, 150 miles short of Galapagos
Our decision not to head as far south as originally intended (and usually recommended) has come back to bite us. The wind is light or non existent and if it does appear it is usually attached to a strong local current in the opposite direction - very frustrating. As a result we have been motoring way too much as we do not want to miss anything of our allotted time in the Galapagos. Going by the SSB net we are not he only ones and can only hope there is a plentiful supply of the (very expensive) diesel when we get there.
Hoping to arrive tomorrow evening, but it may be the morning of the 16th, all being well.
We have also acquired a stowaway, some form of gull who landed on our deck 3 days ago. We made the mistake of giving him some bread and water, with which he had a snack, drink and bath. In return he demonstrated how completely at home he felt and re- decorated the decks in his own special way. I don't think any further explanation need be given on why he has been nicknamed Poopy Doo. He flew off yesterday morning but has just re-appeared this evening (14th). We are pretty certain it is the same bird as he went straight to the (now dry) water bowl and stood in it giving us an expression that can only be described as hurt with a dash of hopefulness. He is also pecking around where the bread once was so I think one of us will crack soon. For once we will be actively seeking out squalls in the hopes of counteracting the aftermath of a gull diet.
Must get on and prepare for another night at sea. It will be a bit of a relief to be in the cool night air as the day was hot and sticky with so little wind. We should be crossing the Equator in the wee hours, but doubt Mr Neptune is going to get a libation - he is not our most popular deity at the moment.
02/10/2012, 5 58.8N: 80 45.9W
The last night in Panama was very enjoyable, with a full prize giving ceremony, entertainment from a winner of the Brazilian Pop Idol, hunky backing dancers that could fire-breath and a fireworks display (all a bit surreal).
We are not sure how we managed it, but we came in third in our division on corrected time for the Caribbean sea crossing and we won a prize for being the closest on predicted time of arrival. All I can think is that we were mistaken on our calendar dates! For the first time in my life I have had a taste of what being celeb is like, as there was quite a media presence and when we got up on stage they were all shouting at us to pose - they even demanded that we kiss (cheeky devils).
This was followed by another highlight, Joachim and Jutta (Chessie) very kindly gave us a lift back in a Kawasaki Mule (small 4wd) and we got ride in the tray on the back - great fun on those roads; sort of like a roller coaster in reverse.
We were 20 minutes late for the start the following day, mainly due to getting the para-sailor (our big spinnaker) set up, however once up we got to the middle of the fleet relatively easily. We made a dodgy decision to keep the Para-sailor up all night which eventually slowed us down and Jonathan did some amazing fore deck work in the wee hours - what a hero!
Instead of going South, as a recommended way to get to the Galapagos (and as we had originally intended) we have decided to go relatively direct. This may be a mistake but the GRIB files seem to indicate there is not much of an advantage in heading South, it adds about 100 miles and we want to get past a very quiet patch before it becomes even quieter - otherwise known as the doledrums. This is another decision we may later regret!
Spirits are high on board. Jonathan managed to overhaul the wind/water-powered electricity generator (Duogen) that we inherited and it is proving marvelous, not only supplying all our immediate onboard power needs, but with enough left over to top up the batteries. I never realised that these could be so effective and had we known would probably not have invested in the conventional generator that has given us so many problems (whether we get some form of recompense for that is still being sorted - however, we are refusing to let it spoil our trip any further).
We have also got the Hydrovane working, which is a wind vane on the stern which steers the boat for us using it's own rudder. We have had a problem with this since installation, but the issue was a design fault on the rudder itself. The company has graciously sent us a brand new rudder, with the amended design and it is working perfectly. This means we also don't need to use more power with our Autohelm. Yet another breakthrough for us!
We are just now settling down to another night at sea and getting dinner prepared. Look after yourselves, particularly those dealing with the icy temperatures in the UK.
02/07/2012, Contadora, Las Perlas, Panama
Yesterday was a productive day at last; we overhauled and re-assembled our Duogen (water/wind powered electricity generator). Amazingly it is now working and charging the batteries very quietly indeed. We also took delivery of our Autohelm and installed it. We even managed to top up the diesel tanks and motor-sail across to the Las Perlas islands!
So this morning we woke up at anchor in the most beautiful little anchorage, off a beach by the "Hotel Romantica" in Contadora, Las Perlas. We will have the rally briefing today and a wander around the island tomorrow, with the usual welcome drinks, dinners and parties, followed by the start of our next leg to Galapagos on Thursday at noon.
We have given up on getting the generator to work, so we have to hope the Duogen will meet our (fairly minimal) power needs. It has caused us pretty significant anguish and frustration, so we just have to get over it and move on without it. Panama was great in many ways (the tours, the night out with Christopher in the old town) - but so many things have gone wrong it has been a real test for us. We're feeling very positive about everything now though, and we're looking forward confidently to the Pacific crossing.
The terrace at the Hotel Romatica has an amazing view out across the bay, so it is a lovely place to have lunch and do some emailing; the fleet is anchored just off the beach so it really is idyllic (see the attached photo taken just a minute ago on the iPhone).
We are excited about the crossing to Galapagos; just the 36 mile skip across here from Panama made us realise how much we miss being at sea. And two and a half weeks in Galapagos is something we have been looking forward to for so long.
02/07/2012, Contadora, Las Perlas, Panama
Contadora has been like a breath of fresh air to us - it has been exactly what we had hoped sailing the world would be like. The anchorage is beautiful, the water is clear, and there's plenty to explore ashore. We started the day today early with the inaugural World ARC hash. There were about 30 of us who set off at 7.15 this morning on a route around the island which had been set out with great care by Paul and Joel of the World Cruising Club. We completed the run/jog/walk in an hour or so and had a lovely breakfast overlooking the bay. Since the tide was so low we couldn't contemplate hauling our dinghy down to the water, so we set off again to explore the rest of the island on foot. Then is was back to the beach for a swim, out to the boat to finish a few jobs, have lunch and an afternoon snooze. We're just in a small internet cafe now waiting for this evening's prize-giving dinner for the first leg (from St Lucia to San Blas). The only prize we could expect is perhaps a booby prize for the most equipment failures on one boat! Our next update will be from the North Pacific Ocean, as we start our sail to Galapagos tomorrow at noon, local time. We are just charging up the yellow brick, so you should be able to follow our progress on the World ARC site.
02/02/2012, Balboa, Panama
I am in an internet cafe in Albrook Mall, Panama City while Heather gets her hair done, so thought I'd take the opportunity to do a quick blog. We arrived here on Sunday afternoon after a wonderful transit of the Panama Canal. It really was one of the best things I've ever done; I even looked back at the photos from the transit I did with Mum & Dad on the Ellinis in 1975; the canal is pretty much identical, right down to the "mules", the little stainless steel trains they use to pull the big ships through.
We had an advisor on board, Carlos was his name and he was brilliant. It was great to have someone along who had been through it before and knew exactly what to do and when. The most impressive thing when we started the transit was the sheer scale of the locks. This was accentuated by how relatively small our little boat is; it really was awe inspiring.
We have been anchored outside the La Playita marina since we arrived, which is a bit of a bouncy anchorage. We actually dragged our anchor yesterday which was a little hair raising, but the wind had really picked up so no great surprise. We are heading out tonight and leaving the boat alone, so hopefully she will stay put!
The saga of our broken generator continues. We have no idea how long we will be here as a result. If they do the sensible thing and supply a replacement immediately from Miami we will hang around until it is installed, which might take a week or two. This would mean missing Las Perlas, but we should still arrive in Galapagos in time, which is really the most important thing. If they play silly buggers and insist on shipping from Germany, we can't really wait that long (or afford the shipping cost!) so we will have to head out sooner and just live without a generator for the rest of our voyage. It really has put a nasty taste to everything for us lately; so disappointing.
We have however made the most of our time in Panama so far. We did the city tour on Monday and a jungle tour on Tuesday, which included a ride across the lake and up creeks in their dug-out canoe, plus a swim in a jungle pool with a waterfall and a delicious lunch of river fish and plantain, cooked the traditional way. It was all a bit touristy, but we had a fabulous time nonetheless.
We are heading out tonight with a local Panama expat; he is a friend of friends of ours in Dubai. It will be great to get the insiders view of the city. We really like it here so far, so we will probably want to stay longer after a visit to a nice restaurant and a drink at a Cuban bar!