05/11/2008, Gulf of Panama
The sun is setting on our first day at sea as we make our way to the Galapagos. We worked hard yesterday to get the boat all ready to go and everyone turned in early. We woke up around 6AM, sunrise, to dense overcast with thunder and lightning off to the southeast. Not favorable.
Yesterday the NWS Eastern Pacific Discussion reported the ITCZ running from 7N 77W up to 10N way out at 110W. There were scattered moderate to strong thunderstorms from 80 to 84 west up to 120nm south of the ITCZ axis. We needed to cross this area to get to the Galapagos. Our plan was to head due south and go around it if it persisted.
Fortunately this morning the band from 80 to 84 fell off of the report. So we set out on a great circle (pretty close to a straight line on the chart) for San Cristobal in the Galapagos.
Underway we checked in with the Pan Pacific Net for the first time (8.143 MHz). We heard our friends on Galletia report in well on there way to the Marquesas.
We used the radar to dodge the lightning we were seeing off to port but generally stayed on our heading most of the day. It rained (more drizzle) quite a bit in the morning but by afternoon it was just dreary overcast.
We have been running the starboard engine all day as the ITCZ doesn't have much in the way of wind in it (outside of the thunderstorms of course). Most of the wind we have had has been on the nose. We did have a stint sailing at 9.2 knots (an hour at most) running under jib and main but most of the day has been main and iron genny.
We just tucked a reef in the main for the night and are settling down to enjoy the big tuna Ed caught. Seas have been pretty calm so it should be an enjoyable supper.
Nobu says: "This is the most exciting cruising of my life"
Ed says: "Fishin's been good"
Hideko says: "Galapagos here we come"
775nm to go...
05/10/2008, Isla Espiritu Santo
This anchorage is flat! It also has a nice beach on the back side of Espiritu Santo that appears as the tide goes out. A Fountaine Pajot Catamaran tied up to some trees with a stern anchor out and was high and dry by 11AM. They spent the day working on their bottom and floated off around 4PM.
We did some work on the boat finishing up projects and what not. Nobu and Ed used the windsurfer to get into the back side of the new chocks we had installed. The chocks needed to have the nuts put on but it was too choppy in the other anchorages we were in to go under the boat and remove the access plate to get at the bolts.
It is the two year mark for our shock cord holding the tramps on. This is about when they start to give way. We have two patches in place, one added today. We need to get about 80 feet of shock cord to redo both sides next time we run across it. Catamaran folks are always searching for the holy grail, tramp attachments that never need maintenance. We have nylon line tying up the front edge of our tramps. It will last forever but it doesn't stretch compared to the shock cord. This is fine for the leading edge because folks don step onto the tramps from there. I like the feel of the shock cord and it is easy to replace and not too expensive. I think we'll just replace it every two years until someone invents perpetual shock cord.
The tramp material we have, kind of a vinyl coated fine webbing, is holding up great. It is comfortable to walk on or lay on and survives the sun day in and day out. I would choose this again as well.
The other tramp plague is the sail slides, the little cars, that fit in the tracks that the tramps attach to. Many folks have these break often. We haven't lost any as of yet (knock on wood) and there are several spares installed. We'll see how long they last.
We made a first pass at gasketing the lazarettes today as well. This is an item I would hope the factory tackles on future boats. Crossing the Baranquilla coast we had some waves tops break and put a fair amount of water on the side decks. This runs about with some pounding down on the lazarette hatchs. They are not water tight and the drain channel fill easily and the excess salt water (read: evil medium of incredible corrosion) rains down on the gear in you locker (i.e. genset enclosure, folding bikes, etc...). Big following seas can be a problem as well. The shape of the lazarette opening doesn't lend itself to a 360 degree seal. We put a good seal on the aft and port/starboard sides though. This is where most of the water over flows due to the shape of the locker opening.
We knocked off all of my high priority projects while floating aimlessly about our chain between Isla del Rey and Isla Espiritu Santo. At the end of the day Swingin' on a Star was in the best shape she'd ever been in for off shore travels. Everyone shut down early in preparation for a crack of dawn departure for the Galapagos.
05/09/2008, Isla Espiritu Santo
We had a relaxing morning in Contadora as we prepped the boat for a trip farther south into the islands. Low tide was around noon so we left the anchorage around 13:00 as things flooded in. As things have been going for the last few days the wind was light and variable. So we motor sailed southeast toward the eat side of Isla del Rey, the largest island in the Las Perlas group.
The sky was pretty heavily overcast but the scenery was still beautiful. We had to keep a sharp eye on the water as there were lots of large pieces of wood and even trees floating around near the islands.
We motor sailed in the flat waters for a few hours and came to Isla Espiritu Santo. We were going to go down a little farther to Isla Canas but Espiritu Santo looked so nice we decided to pitch it in there. The water outside was pretty flat but back up behind Espiritu Santo it was dead calm. We dropped the anchor but didn't know exactly which direction to set it in. The strongest winds come north and south and we had a breeze from the west so we set up west.
A classic mono hull and a catamaran shared the large anchorage with us. We enjoyed a nice pasta dinner (the fishermen had been shut out on the way over for the first time in the Pacific) and a beautiful view nestled in amongst the islands.
05/08/2008, Contadora, Las Perlas
We took a down day today. I was feeling a lot better after a good nights sleep, an obnoxious grinding in my right side from time to time as the bones move around but otherwise sound and hail. The Offshore Doctor says breath deeply and take it easy for a week or 6. Every time I tried to clean up a line or straighten up a locker, Ed or Nobu would push me out of the way and do it for me. I could get used to this.
It was a nice calm, but hot, day in the Contadora anchorage. The wind normally blows gently from the north but it can come from any direction as the ITCZ moves around. You also have tidal currents that over power the wind running along the island.
It is tricky finding a spot to anchor in close because there are moorings everywhere. There are a few spots in the field you can hook up but you have to watch how you swing so that you don't wrap a mooring line around your rudder. The moorings range from a big ship float to tires. I wouldn't tie up to one without diving on it. The air strip approach is also right over the area so you have to keep big sticks out of the flight path.
We have been tracking weather with an eye toward shooting across to the Galapagos. The ITCZ is at about 5 degrees north which is 3 degrees south of our current position. The ITCZ represents no weather or disturbed weather depending on your luck. We have been hearing distant thunder for the past couple days but nothing too close. As we move south we'll get closer to the disturbance.
The next couple of days have a little too much wind on the nose in the Bay of Panama for a fun trip out to the Galapagos. The GFS GRIBs (Gridded Binary files used to visualize weather over an area) show 20 right at us on Saturday and the GFS is always 5 knots shy of the real wind. Sunday things look like they will settle down to 10 knots or less on the nose, which is often about as good as it gets for the early part of that trip. Tomorrow we will start moving into position so that we can jump on Sunday if the weather follows through.
05/07/2008, Contadora, Las Perlas
Ed and Nobu have decided to give me some work upgrading their SCUBA certs. Ed did a lot stamina skills today for his Dive Master rating. I had to tie a rope to him for the float test so that the current didn't carry him to the next island. We even got some underwater work done at a little sandy patch we found in the murky water.
After a hard day of dive training we went ashore for lunch. We didn't really want to eat lunch at the restaurant, the people are nice and the place is beautiful but the food They do have pretty good WIFI though so we felt obliged to eat there in conjunction with our four way laptop invasion. After a relaxing afternoon online we rented a golf cart and toured around Contadora. We saw lots of nice vacation homes (they say the Shaw of Iran lived here after he split the middle east), a little store with a respectable stock, a dive shop (surprising given the 0 viz), the airport (props only please) and even a medical clinic. Ed got his SCUBA medical signed off for free at the clinic, I suppose due to the Panama social medicine bit. It was a fun day of exploration.
With the big tides there are no usable docks on Contadora. We left Shooting Star anchored outside of the low tide break so I had to swim for it when we got back to the beach. It turned out that I had the easy part. The waves were breaking pretty big as I approached the beach. Ed and Nobu had to ferry the laptops out to the dink with the waves often going over their heads as they held the backpacks and briefcases aloft. Everyone ultimately made it into the dingy and the laptops were all nice and dry if the people weren't.
Back at the boat everyone was shutting down for the night and I went up on deck to secure some things. I left the bright cabin stepped up onto the side deck in the pitch black overcast moonless night, found the aft cabin hatch with my foot, stepped over it and right into the open hatch. The hatch was not closed it was open and laying flat on the deck. Taken totally by surprise the first thing to make contact with the rim of the opening as my leg plunged down into the cabin was my ribs.
The hatch hinge was not holding up so laying the hatch flat was the only way to get air into the cabin on a hot night. I guess I am used to finding things where I leave them, with guest aboard this is a bad assumption. Certainly all my fault and quite avoidable. A few broken ribs later I decided to hit the hay and rest up. Nothing you can do about broken ribs but suck it up.
05/06/2008, Isla Contadora
Ed has been conducting Yoga lessons on the fore deck. It is a lot of fun but sometimes he gets a little exotic for his newb students. Our favorite so far is the Ten Tibetans, ten exercises that include whirling like a Dervish.
We headed north today in the afternoon on the rising tide. Our goal was Contadora the one fully inhabited island in the Las Perlas. We have since discovered a large settlement on Isla del Rey, the largest island. That seems to be the extent of civilization here. Contadora is pretty fully built out but it is still very quaint. There are some lovely restaurants that are very romantic but unfortunately the food could get an upgrade by having Denny's cater. There is an airstrip with a couple of commercial flights a day and some beautiful beaches and little hotels as well.
As the tide began to fall the swell on the calm little beach began to get a little interesting. We decided to try our first beach landing with Shooting Star and have dinner at the Restaurant Romantico. I can say several complementary things about the Walker Bay at this point. First it is very light, second it has a little keel that keeps is tracking and third you could drive it right onto the beach before having to pull up the little 8hp.
Shooting Star is a much more tricky affair. First if you stop the motor you lose all directional control. Second if you head for the beach you need to pop up the motor sooner because it is a big 25hp and you are facing away from it to start with when steering. Third there are a lot of expensive bit, like a battery and a console, that don't fair well under water (Little Star had no such issues). Fourth the first wave that comes along once you have the motor up is going to turn you side ways. At this point you are happy that you have 18 inch tubes and only got really wet instead of turtled.
So as we turned sideways Nobu went over, I held onto the outboard, Ed jumped out and Hideko laughed at us. The plan was for Ed and Nobu to jump out and drag us up while I stowed the outboard. Then we would all jump out and haul the boat up on the beach. We got the last part right.
The restaurant has a giant chess set on the front porch, the kind with pieces that come up to you waist. Ed and I had a match while we dried off. It reminded me of my old chess opponent Richard, who is the last person I had played with prior.
When 7PM rolled around we announced ourselves at the restaurant in our wet attire but still tried to look respectable. We were seated and enjoyed a wonderful view of the anchorage and the growing beach as the tide went out. Little Star was a bear to drag on a beach because of the wheel in the keel, nice on the dock, like a Danforth in the sand. Shooting Star was, happily, much easier to drag on the beach with its fairly flat bottom. Good thing because the beach turned out to be quite large at low tide.
05/05/2008, More Sushi
We got underway from Taboga at around 09:30. The sky was pretty overcast and there wasn't a lot of wind. The ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone where the northern hemisphere winds and the southern hemisphere winds meet) is right on top of us and moving south, which means no wind and possible thunder storms. Always nice to avoid the ITCZ unless you're trying to sail against the prevailing winds
We motor sailed southeast to Isla Bayoneta in the Las Perlas and arrived at around 16:00. On the way Hideko caught a nice Mackerel and Ed caught a nice Tuna. It was Sushi for dinner, again, and no one was complaining.
Coming into the Bayoneta anchorage required either really slow driving by the sounder or slow driving by the sound with frequent reference to the Bauhaus Panama Guide. The Navionics charts here are not too bad but still not detailed enough for close quarters work. The visibility in the Las Perlas at present is nil. Ed and I worked on the bottom a bit and you could make things out maybe 5 feet away with a mask. There are also lots of reefs here and they are hard rock, not good for the bottom paint. The tide is critical as well. We snuck into our watery anchorage at high tide and six hours later there were islands around us that didn't exist when we came in. It was a new moon and the tide swing was 17 feet. There was a big rocky island with a nice sandy beach maybe 8 feet out of the water that we could have sailed over at high tide.