While Edi was below preparing Sequitur for sea, I was up top finishing the repair to the stitching on the mainsail clew cringle. Then I hoisted and secured the dinghy in her davits, and I shortened-in the rode on the stern anchor to allow the surge in the anchorage to loosen the Fortress' bite on the bottom. As I had hoped, the anchor worked free and I was able to hand it in rather easily. By this time, Edi was finished below, so we flashed-up the engine and at 1115 on Wednesday the 19th of May we weighed and proceeded out of Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos on our way to Callao, Peru.
Callao is just over 1000 nautical miles to the southeast, and the prevailing winds this time of year are from the southeast. The 180-hour forecast had shown a 10 to 15 knot southeast wind for the entire period, with a little more southerly component near the South American coast. My plan had been to start out on a port tack, heading south and trying to make any bit of easting that is offered, or at worst trying not to lose any. Then after six or eight days, a starboard tack should give us a close reach toward Callao across the northbound Humboldt Current. This would mean sailing some 1400 miles and depending on the winds, might take ten to fifteen days.
The Humboldt Current sweeps northward off the South American coast, and then it bends to the westward as it nears the Equator. In El Nino years, the Current is greatly diminished, and in some cases, reverses itself and flows slowly southward. The current El Nino cycle was earlier forecast to extend into the summer of 2010; however, I saw a few mentions of the cycle ending this spring, and I suspected the Current was again running north. I could find no reports on the present state of the Humboldt Current.
The southerly swell was already up to 3 to 4 metres and was forecast to increase to 4 to 5 metres over the next day, the result of a 955 low in the Southern Ocean dissipating northward. The swell was then to remain high for a couple of days before slowly decreasing to the 3 metre range. The sky was mostly clear, with a fringe of cumulus at the horizons and over the islands, and the barometer was steady at 1014. As we cleared the influence of the island, we were left with a light southerly breeze, so we continued motoring.
At 1440, with the southerly breeze at 7-8 knots, we set the main and jib on a starboard tack, shut-down the engine and set off down the rhumb line at 3 knots. At 2030 we were back into variable winds influenced by the proximity of islands, and these were compounded by the varying currents over shoals and around islands. We flashed-up and motor-sailed until we were finally clear of Isla Espanola, the last of the Galapagos, and back out into the open South Pacific. Shortly before sunrise on Thursday we shut-down and sailed. Mid-morning, after we had had put Isla Espanola twelve miles back, we struck the Ecuadorian courtesy flag.
The southerly wind had filled to 12 to 15 knots, and we continued close-hauled down the rhumb line for a couple of hours, making 2 to 2.5 knots into the northwest-setting current and keeping the 4 to 5 metre swell and the building wind waves on our starboard bow. Then as the wind began backing to the southeast, we were forced more and more to the east, until the Humboldt Current was sweeping us well north of east. We tacked to try the other side, only to find we were beating directly into the 4 to 5 metre swell, which was now confused by wind waves, and the Humboldt was sweeping us too far westward.
Our only viable option was to flash-up and motor directly into the wind and current.
While rolling-in the jib, it jammed. I put on my harness and tethered my way to the bow to try to find out what was amiss, but in the dark with the bows pitching into the seas and swell compounded by some 20 knots of wind over the decks, it was difficult to sort-out. I decided the best bet at the moment was to lower the jib and lash it to the lifelines, which we did.
I left a quarter of the main sail out to serve as a stabilizing fin and we set the Hydravane to steer our course to the southeast, directly toward Callao. The wind strengthened, and for a while it blew in the 20 to 25 knot range, but then settled in at 15 to 20. With her engine turning at 1800 rpm, Sequitur makes 6.5 knots, but now into the current, the wind and the seas, our hourly runs were in the 2 to 3 mile range. Our first day's run had been 76.6 miles, the second day's was 71.7 miles, the third, 73.8 and the fourth a mere 57.4 miles.
On the second day Edi baked a couple of dozen carrot and raisin muffins, and now that we were again in clean water, I made three hours of water and began a routine of making an hour and a half or two hours of water each morning, to bring the tanks back up to their full marks. The new Balmar alternator was working well, and our batteries were at 100%.
All was well except for the conditions we were in: We were bashing into a 4 to 5 metre southerly swell crossed by 2 to 3 metre southeasterly wind waves and motoring directly into 15 to 25 knot winds and against a 2.5 to 3 knot ocean current. Sequitur is normally a very stable boat in a seaway, but this combination of wind, wave and swell had us rolling and pitching uncomfortably. To compound matters, the weather was mostly overcast with heavy mist and occasional rain showers.
By Sunday afternoon, day five of our passage, we began thinking of alternate plans. If we continued on as we were, bashing into the wind, the seas and the current, we would run out of fuel before reaching Peru. We knew that whatever we did, if we wanted to get to Peru, we needed to get across the Humboldt. We could sail as close to the eastward as the wind would allow and let the current sweep us northward to the Ecuadorian coast. We could motor and motorsail across as quickly as possible by steering a course that would track us east to the northern coast of Peru, but we might not have sufficient fuel for this. We could continue motoring southeastward until we reached a point from which we could set a starboard tack and close haul across to the Peruvian coast at Ensenada Bayovar or Bahia de Paita. We chose the latter.
We continued motoring into the wind, seas and current, taking any eastings we could as we bashed our way toward 5 degrees South, trying to balance keeping the engine at an economical speed while still making headway. We clawed and bashed southeastward at 2.2 to 2.5 miles per hour through Sunday and into Monday morning, when the hourly runs began creeping up: 2.65, 2.87, 2.97, and then at 0100 on Tuesday morning we finally got an hour's run of 3.015 miles, our first above 3 knots in several days.
The hourly runs steadily increased, and at 1100 on Tuesday, in latitude 04 40 South, we had our first hour above 4 knots. I hauled-out the staysail and a third of the main and we turned eastward to motorsail just below the edge of the luff on the starboard tack. In the early afternoon I went forward to sort-out and re-hoisted the jib. I had resolved its furling problem to it having picked-up the spinnaker halyard, which I had carelessly left with too much of a dip in it, and the jib had tried to wrap it while furling.
At 0200 on Wednesday the 26th we were finally back up to over 5 knots, with an hour's run of 5.052 miles. At 0645 on Wednesday morning we set the jib, staysail and main out full, shut-down the engine and continued to the east at 4.5 knots on a starboard tack in a 9 to 12 knot southeast breeze. The sky was mostly overcast with light cumulus beneath an extensive layer of strato-cumulus, the barometer was steady at 1018 and the temperature was 21.8.
We were now within 200 miles of the coast of Peru, and required to report to Tramar at 0800 and 2000 each day, giving reports of our position, course, speed, destination and ETA. We received no response to any of our twice-daily contact attempts, each of which included at least three calls.
By late on Wednesday afternoon the wind was down to 5-6 knots and we were down to about 2. Shortly before sunset we rolled-in the jib, hardened the staysail, and shortened-in and hardened the main and motorsailed. Our fuel was getting down; I had transferred half the contents of the auxiliary tank to the main tank, which was now showing one quarter full. This, I calculated to be about 275 litres remaining, which should be good for 55 hours of motoring at 1600 rpm. For the remainder of the day we consistently made hourly runs in the upper 4-knot and lower 5-knot range.
Shortly after midnight, when eighty miles off the coast of Peru we rather suddenly ran into a fog bank and completely out of wind. My first indication of the loss of the wind was when Hydra started steering us erratically. There was no swell, no wind waves, just flat water and fog. We were definitely out of the Humboldt Current.
I rolled-in the sails and continued motoring east. Now with the relative wind from our motion alone, particularly since it was made turbulent as it passed over the boat, Hydra could not maintain a course. Compounding this was Otto, our Raymarine autopilot continued to suffer from 'Drive Stopped' errors, and would not hold a course. We had to hand steer.
It was glassy calm, very damp and rather cold. To keep warm I had to put on fleece long underwear bottoms, a fleece jacket, some socks and a medium weight foul-weather jacket with the hood up. This was the first time in months that I had worn clothing at sea for other than entering or leaving port. We also buttoned and zipped-up the entire cockpit enclosure. It was a cold night, particularly considering we were within 5 degrees of the equator, and at sea level.
With the lightening of dawn came the view of the inside of a fog bank, showing the visibility to be less than half a cable. By 0815 a combination of the sun's heat and a building east-southeast breeze dispersed the fog, revealing a sky almost totally overcast with thin stratus. The breeze allowed the Hydrovane to steer our course, and we were able to once again relax from hand steering.
Shortly after noon, while some 20 miles from the port of Paita, we began encountering small wooden fishing boats, which didn't paint on radar until 2 to 3 miles away, and even then intermittently. At first there were a few close by, then a dozen and before long we were in the midst of several dozens of them. As we picked our way through the fleet and in toward Paita, there was a steady stream of little boats coming out around the headland. There were hundreds of them, chugging to sea in the middle of the afternoon.
We hoisted the quarantine flag as we crossed the 12-mile line and worked our way into Bahia de Paita against the steady stream of fishing boats coming out. At 1620 we came to 24 metres on the Rocna in 8 metres of water a cable or so away from the outer end of several huge raft-ups of fishing boats. With all the boats that had streamed out past us the last few hours, it amazed us that there were still hundreds left. We reported our arrival to Tramar, the Capitan de Puerto and the Guardia Costera on the VHF, all with no response, and by the time we shut down and secured, it was so late in the afternoon that we decided to remain onboard until morning, and to begin our clearing-in formalities then.