05/13/2008, Pacific Ocean
We had a rowdy night last night. There were quite a few thunderstorms in the area. As the sun set the distant fireworks display began. We were past the axis of the ITCZ but still under its influence. It started raining just as it got dark, we snapped in our new cockpit enclosure just in time. In retrospect the enclosure was a great addition once we finally got it finished (started in Grenada, finished in Panama City just before we left).
The wind was still blowing straight from the Galapagos and the seas were on the nose with the current battling us as well. We had expected this for one, maybe two days. The wind was on the nose for two days (through which we motor sailed almost the whole way).
This morning was beautiful. A lovely day at sea. We shut down the diesel and put up all the canvas. It was a great morning of sailing. We couldn't quite lay San Cristobal in the Galapagos but we weren't too far north of track. Unfortunately by afternoon we were lulling along with 5 - 8 knots of wind and a 30 degree course error. We are downloading weather now. As soon as we review the GRIBs and find some southerly wind we will start up the diesels and drive straight there.
We have been checking in on the Pan Pacific net on the SSB at 9AM, 8.143MHz. It is a nice net. Various boats underway check in from Panama to the Marquesas. Everyone provides weather at their position which can give you a basic idea of what is happening around the area. We said hi to Galletia, the boat we were rafted to on the way through the Panama Canal, as they made their way to the Marquesas.
We slogged out a tough 148 miles yesterday trying to conserve fuel and beating into the forces of mother nature all lined up to defend Ecuador's prized islands. I'm scared of what we'll post today. Hideko and I have never had to accept 4 knots of boat speed in a calm before. We would just start up the motor and go (and at a fair sight more than 1,800 RPMs). It is a long way to French Polynesia though so we have to sail if we can. We can likely fuel up in the Galapagos but we are already conserving.
Nobu says: "I started playing the Uke! (jamming with Randy)"
Ed says: "cough cough (he's almost over his cold), can't wait to meet the animals of the Galapagos! [and I can't believe we didn't catch any fish today, getting low on Tuna]"
Hideko says: "I'm still waiting for Randy to catch me a Wahoo"
486nm to go...
05/12/2008, Pacific Ocean
We have been motoring most of our second day out now. The ocean is like a lake. The ITCZ, at last check, should lose its influence around 5N (soon now). We had a lot of lightning on the horizon last night but none too close. We have used the radar to steer around some particularly black spots but it is hard to predict how things are going to move in h ITCZ.
The wind has been almost sailable a few times. We were up around 8 and a half knots under sail once but had to fire up the diesel after an hour when our wind and boat speed died. Some hard core folks will wait for the wind but we usually motor when the boat goes below 5 knots.
We caught a nice Tuna today and lost three other fish (probably too big to land). One was some kind of bill fish,it did a nice dance for us before it broke the line. It has been a nice mellow day but we're looking forward to a little more seas in order to get some sailing wind.
Nobu says: "I made Maguro (raw tuna) Bowls today, yum!"
Ed says: "Life aboard Swingin' on a Star is good!"
Hideko says: "We saw dolphins, jumping mahi mahi and we hooked a big Sailfish that got away"
600nm to go...
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.