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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Officials and Missing Propellers
06/02/2008, Isabela

We got up at 5AM to get the boat ready for an 80 nautical mile passage to Isabella, one of the western most islands in the Galapagos. It took us about 45 minutes to get everything ready to go, not to mention the time spent yesterday.

We motored out of the anchorage just as the sun was peeking over the San Cristobal highlands. We put up the main and rolled out the jib just outside of the harbor, falling off to 264 degrees true, a direct course for Villamil, the only real town in Isabella.

The true wind was light at around 13 knots but is was in our sweet spot, on the beam. We averaged 9 knots for most of the run. This brought us to the Villamil approach at about 15:00. We initially made a line for Isla Tortuga just south of Isabela at 1 degree south. There was a dead bit as we passed north of Floreana where the wind died down to 5 knots or so. We waited it out and in 15 minutes or so things were coming back. Before long we were back up to speed and closing on Tortuga.

Tortuga looks to be the north half of a large volcano cone just popping its head above water. The south part of the cone is inscribed on the charts as an underwater obstruction. We sailed north of it, staying well south of Roca Bura and the reef line that runs back to Isabela from its position. Tortuga is definitely an alien landscape with black rock predominating and rivulets of erosion and old lava flows running down its sides.

We sailed for a mark in the neighborhood of 01 south 091 west. At this point you have cleared the off shore reef (really rocks not reef) and head into shore on a bearing of 029 degrees true using the green buoy and shore based light as a transit. We cut this corner a bit watching our British Admiralty chart and the sounder carefully. When we reached the transit line we started the engines and dropped the sails. While I couldn't be sure, it seemed like we weren't getting the thrust I expected.

We motored in on the green buoy and then turned due east to make for the red and green marks up the coast. This takes you behind the rocky shoal toward the anchorage. Waves break to port on the coast and to starboard on the rocky shoal, which is always interesting. Once through the red and green marks you make directly for the large orange mark which sits at the entrance to the anchorage.

There are two places you can go ashore. There is a rock pier with stone steps leading down to the water off the beach to the west with waves breaking all over the place. The town dock is up the coast a bit to the west but you must inscribe the largest possible arc around the bay to get there safely as there are rocky shoals all through the little protected harbor.

Most boats anchor just inside the orange mark. If you head a bit farther in to the southeast you can get out of any swell that might be sneaking in. The anchorage is formed by the coast of Isabela and a collection of little rocky islands that rise a foot or two over the high tide mark.

As we came into the anchorage we targeted the area in past the other three boats to give everyone lots of room. The anchorage had one cruising yacht and two tour boats when we arrived. As we passed the sail boat and head south I noticed a strange lack of control centered around the port engine. Further testing confirmed that the port engine was revving but no thrust was resulting in forward or reverse.

Luckily we have two auxiliaries, unluckily I was now driving the boat with one motor mounted 4 meters from the centerline. I decided exploring the fringes of the anchorage to get the best spot was no longer prudent. Hideko was on the fore deck with Nobu readying the anchor. I told them we had an issue and needed to get anchored smoothly with little help from the auxiliaries and preferably in amongst the other boats where we knew the ground was clear and good.

Catamarans do not need to have way on to maneuver quite like mono hulls. With two props 8 meters apart you can pretty much wiggle in anywhere. However with one prop way outboard things get tricky. Prop wash works but not as well as it would with a mono hull. There's no prop walk because the sail drives place the prop at a 90 degree angle to the surface, making both sides of the prop travel through the water at the same angle. You can go ahead but you need steerageway to invoke the rudder. You can go astern but you get a big doughnut shape arc due to the prop location.

I let the wind blow us back clear of the sailboat to starboard. Once out of the way I revved up the starboard engine to get steerage quickly. After that we selected the safest, not most comfortable, spot to drop the hook and got the anchor down. I couldn't really keep the bow up so we just blew off sideways in the wind. Once on the bridle I did manage to set the anchor with the remaining engine.

We had only planned a day or two visit to Isabela. This was not a happy occurrence. I tried hard but could only imagine one thing having this effect that would not fall into the "fairly serious" category. My dearest hope was that it was just the transmission cable.

As we talked about how to investigate this occurrence the port captain representative arrived. He spoke very little English and our Spanish had not constructively improved since San Cristobal. I told him we had a problem. He climbed on the boat said quite a bit, but I retained "come to the Capitania office in the next hour or two". He pointed at the blue roofed building straight through the crashing surf and then he left.

Not excited about putting our dinghy down and figuring out how to get through the breaks at dusk I began to ponder my options. Hideko saw one of the charter boats heading into shore and hailed them. One of the men spoke pretty good English and offered to take me ashore. I gratefully accepted. The route in to the stone pier on the west end of town is gnarly. I would not try this until you have gone with a local several times. There is one spot where it "usually" doesn't break between a vicious line of rocks running along the east coast and off shore to the into the west. In general you make a straight line from the anchorage to the corner of the pier but you must veer to port to stay off the coastal rocks (a large clump just under water is very hard to see), the head starboard straight into shore until you get past the breakers to port, then back to port to run along just inside of the break, carefully watching for any strays.

The pier is really an enhanced lava rock point with a stone staircase set into an small lee area behind the wall with room for maybe four dinghies packed in tight. The man running the tour boat and I got off safely and, duly impressed, I thanked him and the driver. I made a mental note to ask how to navigate into the town dock for future reference.

The Capitania's office is right on the beach and it only took a minute to walk down the beautiful pier and across the wonderful and peaceful beach area to the gate. The man who had come to the boat said hello and after much Spanish I could not make out told me to make copies of my documents down the street for him. So I waked to the corner, noticing that all of the streets in Isabela are just sand. The island is very natural and the foreign aid that has helped build the organic street lights made from knurled bits of wood and surreal looking glass globes has done much to preserve the feeling on the Galapagos even in the small town of Villamil.

After paying my 10 cents per page at the phone center where many locals make use of the only phones they have access to, I returned to the port captain. We could stay one day (I felt I could have bargained for two) or pay the port fees we paid in San Cristobal all over again and stay as long as we wanted (with an unspoken limit implied). I tried to tell him that two days might be sufficient but I didn't know until I inspected the problem and sorted out any parts I might need. No of this seemed to stick. In the end I just paid his fees so that we could be left in peace (little did I know this was not to be).

We paid about $500 all told in San Cristobal. A chunk of this was an agent fee of $150 to Carmella Romero. This is basically vigorish as you pretty much do everything yourself. Carmella doesn't speak a word of English so there's not even that to her credit. The port captain wants you to use an agent though, you can imagine why, so it is best to do so. The port captain charged us for a displacement of 45 tons because that is our coast guard listed gross tonnage. I tried to explain that this was silly because the boat weights 15 tons and that the gross tonnage is not related to the boats weight in non commercial applications such as yachts. He told me to take it up with the coast guard and charged me $277 total including the $135 for the tonnage. We paid various other $15ish fees to immigration (the police station) and for the Zarpe (clearance out).

The officials in some cultures just feel slimy to me. You grease their palms and all is well. You want to be treated fairly and do things by the book, look out. Ecuador is rated as the second most corrupt country in Central and South America. I would not contest this. There are no clear guidelines as to how you will be treated or what you will pay. If the port captain doesn't like the way you look he can tell you to leave then and there and this is completely within his jurisdiction. It almost feels as if they charge as much as they think you can or will pay.

Unfortunately this is a top to bottom problem in Ecuador. It seems as if all of the ambitious folks in the society believe this is how you should behave. Many have never known anything else. It will take a long time to change the culture.

But I digress. The official continued to ask me how long we would stay. I repeated told him I didn't know, I hadn't even had a chance to look at the problem. If I needed a part flown in how long would that take. He said he didn't know and ask how long I would stay. In the end I gave up and said I would pay to stay since it was unlikely that I would leave in 48 hours at this point. He said that if we did that there was no charge. I convinced him that our sail boat weighted 15 tons and so he only charged me $45 for weight. My total bill was $170, the last $20 added in probably because I didn't contest the $150 number hard enough. There was no receipt forthcoming.

Hideko had wisely handed me the portable VHF as I jumped into the skiff on the way to shore. I now had to figure out how to get back to the boat. It would be unsafe for Hideko and Nobu to try to get to the pier and I wasn't sure how to get to the dock on land or how to safely arrive by dinghy either. Fortunately I found the gentleman who had brought me over relaxing at the bar on the rock pier. He offered to take me back and I gratefully accepted again.

The surf was coming up and the ride back was even a bit more interesting. I was still holding out hope that we might fix the boat, tour the island and leave in time to reclaim our fees.

Transom Stand Off
06/01/2008, Wreck Bay

This morning we caught Roq and a sea lion cautiously observing each other across the iron curtain. It was pretty comical to watch them. Today would be the last day for the barbed wire barrier though.

For every day you are at anchor you will need one half hour to prepare your boat. Thus after one night you can get underway in a half hour. After two weeks you will need seven hours. This assumes no projects. It took us all day today to get the dive gear tidied up and stowed dry, all of the tools and parts stowed, last minute shopping done, books, magazines and all manner of other things ship shape. We were here 15 days so 7.5 hours sounds about right.

You can of course keep your boat more ship shape than we do at anchor. This is also not a bad idea. If something unpredictable occurs you may need to leave quickly. We always try to keep the boat in reasonable condition so that in an emergency we could move out quickly but when you open up a dive shop on the back porch and have the dinghy in the water, a certain amount of minimum effort is involved.

At then end of the day we decided not to rush. We had also decided to try to visit Isabella, one of the western most islands in the Galapagos. Isabella is about 80 nautical miles away and has a trickier entrance than San Cristobal. We wanted to arrive during daylight so we planned to get up early and be out by daybreak. With our plan in place we made an early night of it.

More Repairs
05/31/2008, Wreck Bay

More repairs. We knocked off the first 7 items on the list by the end of the day. Numbers one through nine are priorities but not musts so we wrapped up the repair program at the end of the day..

Often, if not always, working on the boat is fun. It is a labor of love, especially when you can improve something.

We have gotten much utility out of our Wind Surfer while working on the boat. Our old dinghy could fit under the bridge deck but it didn't leave much room to work and the new dinghy can't really make the squeeze. The board makes a perfect platform for underbody repairs.

05/30/2008, Wreck Bay

We spent the day today prepping the boat for our crossing. We have an unusually long list of projects. There's always a list of projects on a boat. When we were researching boats I told myself, self, we'll buy a new boat and then we won't be fixing it all the time like all of these other people I keep hearing about. Nope. It doesn't work like that. If you leave your boat in a yard, things break from disuse. If you use your boat constantly thing break from use. If you use your boat half the time you get both angles. A new boat may break a little less but it is still a boat.

We purchased our boat from the factory as a 10 month old demo. She is now two and a half years young. We have maintained her as best we could with the services available to a circumnavigator, sparing little expense for quality. This typically means buying the best parts and doing things yourself. If you are not already, you must quickly become a skilled mechanic, electrician and even possibly an electronics specialist.

Our condensed version of our present list looks like this:
1. Figure out why 2 solar panels are not putting out
2. Service the genset (just ate another impeller)
3. Replace dead engine room and head sump RuleMate pumps (unused these fail in 3-6 months for some reason)
4. Reinstall jackline under port bridge deck (mysteriously vanished in the San Blas)
5. Reinstall one backing plate for boat rack (nuts welded to plate to give a clean look have been hard to mate to bolts), plate is not holding two bolts and is not bedded properly [this was an after market addition of course]
6. Install some snaps for cockpit enclosure (last of 3 canvas folks did not work on the boats, only the canvas) [also after market]
7. Finalize temporary Water Maker repairs [after market]
8. Figure out why the AIS isn't working [after market]
9. Figure out why the NEMA output to the VHF and SSB isn't working
10. Figure out why the fridge is dripping lots of condensation onto floor
11. Repair a broken head faucet
12. Replace a broken draw string on one of the saloon blinds
13. Install new stripes (factory stripes were incomplete and fenders have taken their toll on what we have)
14. Replace anchor light and tri color fixture with LED unit (current one burns through anchor lights every 6 months)
15. Replace dive flag (Westmarine purchase corroded in about a year an a half) [aftermarket]

This of course doesn't even mention standard maintenance and cleaning. Though this stuff can get you down sometimes, we, of course, love out boat and we love cruising. The key is to not to let these repairs get in the way of your travels and experiences. Have fun, enjoy where you are and the people you meet. Make separate time for repairs and then close the book when it is time to enjoy the world.

Preventative maintenance is very helpful. Almost every time I'm in the engine room I find broken hose clamps and what not. I have found shackles barely attached that hadn't been seized in the rigging when walking the deck. It pays to be observant and to repair little things that are awry immediately.

We have an admittedly complex boat. There are those with no auxiliary and a bucket for a head. I think we're on the other end of the spectrum and have the large list to go with it. That said, from what I have seen, our list is short by the standards of some. We like to have everything working. Some don't bother with anything that is not critical until the annual haul out. Either philosophy is fine. I'm going for an empty list though. We still have plenty on a seperate list for our Australian refit in 2009.

We shut down at the end of the day to enjoy another spectacular sunset.

Dive Master Ed
05/29/2008, Wrech Bay

Ed finished the Dive Master program today. Congratulations Ed!

As usual we had to kick (not literally) several sea lions off of the back porch to make way for diving. The good thing about this is that instead on sleeping on our transom all day they are forced to get in the water and play around while we dive. The little ones are the most playful but the cows are also inquisitive. The big bulls are territorial and usually not found out and about. They're better left alone anyway.

Ed had two dives left to do which we did from the back of the boat. I had to do a six month service on the dive compressor before filling the tanks for the day. Our Brownies YP35 is a great unit. The Brownies team did a wonderful job installing it as well. Everyone is always impressed when they see how clean the setup is. The compressor is electric and located in the hull opposite the genset. Air is pulled from inside the boat and the fill station is mounted in the tank locker and setup to fill all four tanks at once.

Our tanks are in the cockpit coming locker sized by Saint Francis to be a perfect fit for four 80cf tanks. We had to grind out the opening a bit but once you make that modification the locker securely stores all 4 tanks. We have two 80s for deep or long dives and two 63s for those who are easy on air and don't like to tote around a big old 80 (that would be Hideko and I).

I think the Brownies factory put the incorrect belt on our compressor (the belt allows the electric motor to drive the compressor) when they installed it. The brand new belt shredded itself, making a huge mess in the locker, in the first 10 hours. After that it slipped more and more often. They sent me a new belt at no charge however and after installing it I can tell that it is going to be much better. No slipping and no chaffing after the first few hours.

Our compressor is Bauer based (as most small units seem to be) and requires two new filters every six months. These are $90 ach from Brownies. Pricey but it sure is nice to be able to dive whenever you want, dive shop or no. It is also very helpful when working on the boat. So bottom line, the compressor costs $360 a year after the initial investment (installed it was close to $15,000 so not exactly cheap).

We had a celebration dinner at the Miconia for Ed. We were all happy for Ed but also sad because he would be leaving us tomorrow as we prepped for departure.

Dive Training on Man Beach
05/28/2008, Wreck Bay

We spent the day on the beach working on dive training today. Ed is almost finished with his Dive Master course and we're parting ways soon as Swingin' on a Star sails on to the Marquisas and Ed travels Ecuador.

We planned a full day of skills practice on the beach and we were in and out of the water non stop. We rented 7 tanks from Chalo tours so that we wouldn't have to go back to the boat to fill. It was quite an event, a lot of work (especially for Ed) but also a lot of fun.

We wrapped up the day with dinner at the Miconia. They have very good pizza and ceviche, and most things on the menu are pretty good. The Miconia is probably the best place we have eaten on San Cristobal. It is also a hotel, perhaps the nicest on the island, with rooms for $50 a night.

Fried Water Maker
05/27/2008, Wreck Bay

I spent the better part of today working on our Spectra Newport 400 water maker. Having a water maker you sort of get used to not hunting around for fresh water. You also don't stress out about using water for showers and things like that. Out boat has 360 gallons of water tankage so if we have to we can stock up but it is nice to not have to drag all that weight across the ocean.

Our board overheated, may have caught fire briefly, and burned the circuit board to a cinder in the area of the high current power connection. The nut that secures the high current wire has no lock washer or nylon threading. This nut was lose when I found it and the poor connection caused the heat. The controller is mounted on top of the high pressure pump which vibrates when it is running.

I am not sure if this connection was made at the factory or by our installer. Our installer was a factory authorized dealer that the factory directed me to. The authorized dealer violated most of the rules for through hulls laid out in the factory installation manual. The intake was installed on the side of the keel with only outlets (all clearly marked) and right between the two head outlets. They hole sawed right through cored hull and made no effort to protect the core. They ended up trying to do the through hull the day before the boat went back in the water and used slow cure 5200. They installed single hose clamps on everything below the water line, I could go on. I suppose I should have checked the wiring too. It took an entire day to put in a proper through hull on the inlet side of the keel, remove the core and fill with epoxy and HD filler, set everything with fastcure 5200, fix the through hull they installed, add hose clamps, etc.

The Spectra technician has been helpful and courteous. Unfortunately at 18 months from purchase (at a total price installed of about $13,000) I am going to have to pay to purchase a new board and install it. I asked a few times but so far wholesale (full profit at the factory´s bottom line) is the best I have been offered, which will be about $500 shipped to Tahiti.

On the bright side, after cleaning out some of the carbon and removing the burned wire bits, re-terminating and hooking things us, it worked! I couldn't believe it. It is still scary but it is working. We ran it for a while with an Infra red thermometer and a fire extinguisher handy. It ran for 5 hours. The board got up to 150 degrees in spots near the burn area but compared to the surface of a Pentium chip this is mild.

The tech also gave me a hot wire technique to just run the pump straight off of the power line. The bummer with this approach is that the unit will not flush automatically and the brine at the start of the cycle (1000ppm) will go into your tank unless you divert it manually.

So we´re going to leave the beast as it is and make water in big closely supervised batches until we get the replacement in July. Such is life on the high seas. It sometimes feels like everyone knows that a sailor can not show up in their office to complain, and is thus without real recourse, or at least they act as such. Sadly my list of favourite yacht product vendors is getting thin as we approach the two year mark. My Rocna anchor is about the only thing I can think of off hand...


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