06/09/2008, South Pacific
It was bumpy last night. Not too bad for sleeping but rough for showers and that sort of thing. Everyone had to get used to the four hour watch, which seemed a lot longer than the three hours we covered with Ed aboard. By the end of the day everyone was settling in though.
Nobu had the first night watch with the 18:00 to 22:00 shift. In the middle of his watch we came across some bizarre lights on what we think were craft but could have been buoys. Strobes and different colors that made no sense from a Col. Regs. stand point. None of us were abducted (as far as we know, hard to tell about that sort of thing) and we passed the strange lights without incident.
By morning the seas were up a bit and, as predicted by the GRIB files we download nightly, the wind was coming up as well. You sure knew you were in the open ocean. By noon we had 12 footers frothing by with 20 to 25 knots of wind. Not comfortable at all. We only had to put up with the really unpleasant bit for four or five hours and by night fall things were back to just "rather rough".
We have been making great time regardless of the seas. We have been fortunate in that the swell has been from the south allowing us to take it on the beam. The swell most often comes from the SW on this passage, putting it a lot closer to on the nose than we have it. We were doing 9 to 11 knots most of yesterday and closed the 24 hour day with 225 nautical miles, not bad. Today when I woke up Nobu asked if we could put up the whole main. I vacillated back and forth and then seeing the wind staying around 20 said sure. Immediately after we shook out the reef the wind picked up. We were doing 13 knots in no time and launching off of big waves doing the catamaran slam dance. Needless to say the reef went back in and we still managed over nine knots.
The wind is right on the beam as I type. This is not optimal for us because with our swept back spreaders you can't really let the boom out for proper sail trim on a beam reach without bending the battens on the spreaders. So we are a little over trimmed on the main right now to ensure that we arrive without holes in our most critical sail. We are still doing about nine knots which is nice. It probably wont hold, but our present run rate puts us in the Marquisas after 12 days at sea. Pretty quick for a sail boat.
A few Boobies were hunting around our boat last night and several Storm Petrels as well. We are also getting squid all over the deck. They sort of adhere over night and you have to scrape them up with a spatula in the morning so that you don't slip on them like banana peels.
We checked in with the Pan Pacific net again this morning. We have not picked up any of the French Polynesian nets yet. We also talked to Double Vision, one of the boats from the SSB net, on the VHF radio a little bit ago. They are about 30 miles south of us. There are a few boats in this area including Panacea, and Quig Quig, both boats we have talked to on the morning SSB net. I would guess that there are at least 20 boats crossing to French Polynesia right now.
Nobu says: "The beginning of this voyage is perfecto"
Hideko says: "I saw ten tuna jumping high in the sky, too bad it is too rough to fish"
2,628 nm to go...
06/08/2008, South Pacific
It has been a tough day but we are well on our way to the Marquisas. We were in no rush this morning and everyone maximized sleep before our departure. I checked in to the Pan Pacific Net at 14:00 UTC (8AM Galapagos time). There are a number of boats in route that we will be traveling close to which is always fun. Boats near by give you a better overall perspective of the weather and make for good conversation if not a little bit of competition.
It took us until noon to get everything ready to go. We did a thorough rig check, made sure our remaining prop looked like it was going to stay with the boat and other such tasks not on the normal day sail check list. As we were going over things the generator (charging the batteries prior to departure) began to overheat, again. Maybe another impeller, not sure. I'll be looking it over on the first smooth day, if there is one.
We finally got out of the anchorage at about 12:30. We followed the marks back out into deep water under starboard power and then set sail. The swell is fairly large and not as long as we'd like with a bit of wind chop but it is reasonable. You certainly know you're on a sail boat. We have had a great run though with the moderate trades blowing 12-20. The wind is from just east of south and that works out to 60 to 70 degrees apparent for us. Doesn't get much better. We have averaged over 10 knots the whole way and had stints over 11.
Nobu took over for the first night shift at 18:00 local time. We tucked a reef in the main for night time safety and Swingin' on a Star is still doing 9.5 knots. Hideko is up at 22:00 and I take over again at 02:00.
It has been a good first day but everyone is still adjusting to the constant motion. Poor Roq is having the hardest time I think. Oh well, if we keep this up we'll be in port in 12 days, not likely. Our sister ship posted 17 which I thought impressive. We have a pool going and Nobu has 18 days, Hideko 19 and I have 17.
Nobu says: "I'm feeling pretty good"
Hideko says: "First day has been tough for Roq and I"
2,851 nm to go...
It was our last day in Isabela and we had no real plan other than getting our ships documents and passports back. It was a lazy morning and we all slept in. I did manage to get up at 8AM to listen in on the PanPacific Net.
Nothing exiting on the net. Trades are blowing, one boat has 10 knots from the southeast, one boat has 15, and another 20. Everyone has 1 to 2 meter swell from the southwest. This is pretty much what you seem to get in June from the Galapagos to the Marquisas. We heard friends on Tuppenny and La Danseuse (who left this anchorage yesterday) check in and everyone seems to be having a great passage.
After the net we all headed in for breakfast and another session with the Capitania. It is a new moon and low tide at 9AM is very low. We took a long sweep around the bay which is our favorite route anyway because it goes by the penguins. There's nothing like penguins to brighten your morning on an overcast day.
We tied shooting star up at the base of the floating platform by the gazebo on the inside of the marina and began hiking into town. On the way in we ran across the sergeant. I told him we wanted to pay and head out and he said he'd meet us at the Capitania in a bit.
We continued on our way to the Hotel Abermarle where we meet the British owner, his lovely Ecuadorian wife and their 10 day old baby! There were just back from Quito with the little one. Marco the chef and ad hoc hotel manager was getting a day off though so we would have to find comida elsewhere. The owner recommended a place around the corner called La Choza.
La Choza is a typical Galapagos eatery. The only person in the place when we arrived was the owner. She was very friendly and set us a table. They didn't have a breakfast menu but she made us perfect eggs over easy (believe it or not this is hard to come by), nice fresh bread with margarine and jam, juice and coffee. The coffee was instant and mixed with hot milk to your taste at the table. Not something you would probably choose in connoisseur mode but when in need in the AM passable. The juice, like all juices we have found in Ecuador, was fresh squeezed and wonderful. La Choza has a neat vibe with an old wooden bar and tree stump seats, tables settled in lava rock and an open air style canvas roof above.
After a lovely and relaxed breakfast we crossed the street to the Capitania. Fortunately our friend Michelle was there as well trying to clear out. I think they paid maybe $130 total but they speak Spanish. So far they haven't paid Johnny Romero but I have a feeling they may have to. We got hit for a total of $300 to the Capitania ($23 more than in San Cristobal) and $50 for Johnny Romero, though Johnny went for $100 at first. So San Cristobal cost us almost $500 (largely due to the $150 agent fee to Carmella, Johnny's sister, and the small additional fees for immigration) and Isabela cost us $350. $850 is a lot to pay to visit two anchorages.
Given it to do over I think I would probably repeat, the Galapagos are a pretty amazing experience. If I had to choose one island I would definitely choose Isabela. Isabela is huge, quiet, completely safe, and full of very natural wildlife. The creatures in Isabela can be witnessed in a very pristine setting compared to the much more inhabited island of San Cristobal. Today for instance, as the sun set, we watched a huge squadron of perhaps 50 Boobies dive bombing a school of fish in the bay. Over and over they plunged one after another at amazing speeds right into the bay. Isabela has active volcanoes and higher peaks to explore than anywhere else in the Galapagos. The beach just west of town is spectacular and wonderful to walk on at sunset, the list goes on.
After wrapping up with the Capitania we caught a cab to the Galapaguera. The Galapaguera turtle hatchery on Isabela has many more turtles than the facility on San Cristobal and hosts several varieties of the giant tortoises. The facility sits at the end of a wonderful path that leads from town back trough the brackish swaps that support many Galapagos birds including Flamingos. After thoroughly enjoying the turtles we hiked back into town still enchanted by the lagoons and birds on our third trip through.
We looked around in some stores as we made our way to the marina but didn't find much of anything except three cold Coca Colas. The stores here have only the most basic of necessities. Small light bulbs and specialized batteries were out of the question. We did however find the Iguanamen CD we were looking for. They were being sold out of a small hotel on the beach that I think on of the Iguanamen owns. We first heard the Iguanamen at the little bar on the quay off of the center of town. Smooth Galapagos acoustic blues. Good stuff.
Back at the big boat we put on the Iguanamen as a light rain, Garua in local speak, began to fall. Andres came by in the Pulpo Tours boat to say high. We talked about our travels and looked over charts of the South Pacific together. Andres is a very nice young man and would be a good choice for a guide while in Isabela. After Andre left Nobu and I scrubbed up the outside of the boat while Hideko set about cooking various tasty smelling things.
One of the things Hideko made was a loaf of Banana break for Mary's birthday. Mary and Michelle were going to have to stay until at least Monday when the local doctor would either sign off on little Adrian's cough or they would have to start considering a flight to the mainland. The three of them came over to our boat for a celebration and we all drank champagne and wished Mary a happy birthday.
It was a wonderful day but as we shut down for the night we were all excited about setting off for French Polynesia.
Our fifth day on the island would not be complete without a trip to the Capitania. They have been on our boat or asking us to come to the office everyday since we got here. We have also had to print them pictures of our broken hub for some reason. To repeat my note from a previous blog, I am certain that everything would be less hassle and much cheaper if we spoke Spanish.
We have learned all of the dinghy routes around the bay now. Our first day here some nice guys on a tour boat gave us a ride in to the stone pier from the anchorage on their way to pick up clients. This is a hairy run. Waves break all around the area here even without a big swell. To get in you have to head north toward the fairly dangerous rocks where waves are breaking just off shore. Before you run into them you cut to port to head north toward the west end of the beach. This takes you close in behind the waves breaking to port of the nasty reef that you are now inside. You go through the pipe with the waves breaking to port on the reef, big chop under you and waves breaking on the beach to starboard. A small wall of the stone pier creates a niche of sheltered water with some stone steps inset. You time it to avoid any break on the corner of the pier and shoot into the niche. Once in there is really so good place to tie up. There is a big hunk of rope hanging down from the corner of the pier and a couple of stubby branches on a platform on the beach side you could try to go bow and stern with. Tying up to the rope leaves your dink likely to swing into the break at the corner of the pier. Tying up to the small wood posts leaves your dink to scrape against the stone wall of the platform and at low tide possible the turbulent bottom.
So of course I took this route this morning. It is pretty gnarly. I would not recommend it on anything but the calmest day (it was fairly calm today). I tied up bow and stern and took the short walk to the end of the pier to visit the Capitania, a blue roofed building right on the beach. The return is a little more tricky. You have move your dingy around to the rope side where it is a little more calm near the steps first. Then you have to stand on top of the wall for a bit to get the timing and location of all of the breaks. Next you run down to the dinghy start the motor (while tied to or holding on to the wall's rope), then when your timing predicts an opening to shoot out (you can't see around the wall), you blast into the surf and power back through the pipe toward the cut in the reef. The reef can break even across the opening so you have to time this as well on some days.
The run to the marina from the anchorage is much safer but still tricky. You basically connect the dots from your boat to the next closest boat in the bay moving counter clockwise in a large 200 degree arc. After leaving your boat the next target is a fishing boat anchored in the south end of the bay. This is right next to the small mooring buoys where the penguins hang out. Next you make your way around to the floating dock and the next fishing boat. This circuitous route takes you clear of the large shoal in the middle of the bay. At high tide you can cut right across but at low tide it breaks. At low tide the last stretch approaching the marina is pretty shallow but no problem for a dinghy. You need to go all the way over to the last fishing boat in the bay and then make for the outer most boat moored in the marina area. This of course could all change so keep a good eye out and travel in good light your first couple times.
We moved the boat up deeper into the anchorage today. Right near the yellow mark is fine but a little more rolly than deeper in. If you anchor up tight to the rocky islands you will have very smooth water in most conditions.
We spent the day finalizing our departure plans and watching all of the little baby marine iguanas laying on the beach.
Our forth day in Isabela was designated tour day. We had met a friendly English/Japanese couple on the trails over the past few days. I suppose you're pretty likely to see the same few folks on this island given the population and scarcity of tourists. They were traveling the Galapagos with a great guide who spoke pretty good English. He recommended another guide on the island to us.
Unfortunately we missed our 8AM meeting while sorting out a diesel top up with Fabricio. Fabrico does Taxi work, tours and will also bring you diesel. He is a great guy and highly recommended but he doesn't speak much English.
In town we asked Marco, chef at the Albermarle Hotel if he had any English speaking guide ideas for us. To visit most of the park areas out of town you are required to have a guide by the national park. Marco directed us to Andres, a friendly young man with functional English skills. We spent the better part of the day with Andreas.
Sierra Negra is 1,000 meters high and must be amazing on a clear day. The hike is great with some pretty steep bits to get to the caldera's rim. You can hike all the way around the rim if you want to spend the day. It is the second largest volcano on earth. You can also some up on horseback which would be fun.
Sierra Negra was awash in clouds today. It was still a wonderful sight. It would clear from time to time letting you see how vast the crater is. The vegetation climbing the volcano and throughout the park at the top is also wonderful. You can easily see the arid lowland, transition and highlands zones peel away as you ascend.
After our visit to Sierra Negra we explored some lava formed caves on a lower area of the park and then went in search of provisions. Andres took us to a farm in the fertile hills leading up to Sierra Negra. It was a great experience. The farmer walked us through the hill side where here and there we would find scattered plots of this and that. Four or five rows of tomatoes over here, an odd pineapple bush over there, through some trees and across a culvert to some watermelons, around some bushes and up the hill to the orange tree, native bush, trees and bracken all around. Hideko has pretty much managed our ship's stores single handedly and she was in heaven. She was particularly happy to see green tomatoes. They originally told us they had no tomatoes yet and couldn't understand why we would actually want green ones. At the end of you collecting hike you present the farmer with your sack, he carefully eyes it, weighs a few things and then blurts out $11. The deal of the century on the freshest produce you could possibly ever acquire.
Back in town we had a lovely dinner at the Albermarle hotel with the BBC Galapagos series playing in the background and the sea rolling in on the white sand beach outside. It was perfect. Unfortunately we overstayed our tide window.
We got back to the dock at 9PM, the lowest low on a new moon. Shooting star was sitting eerily still in the darkness of the marina. A quick check from the flashlight told us that we had two or three feet and the same number of hours before there was any prayer of floating out of here. Unlike Little Star, Shooting Star was not a dinghy you could man handle over the sand and lava rock to the water.
We curled up on the wooden benches in the gazebo just above the barely floating landing and waited. We are on the equator in June. Most would assume a temperature in the 80s or 90s. It is actually lovely here this time of year. The cool southeast wind comes in with the cold Humbolt current and the frequent overcast all conspire to keep conditions very moderate. As night though it can even get cold. It was. At least for cruisers wearing shorts, tee shirts and flip flops.
At about midnight I climbed down into the marina, still very dry in parts, and slide Shooting Star gently into the water. We all sleepily piled in and had a quiet ride back to Swingin' on a Star.
We had a lazy day on the boat today. I spent much of the day under the boat removing the hub of the missing prop. The hub was still very securely bolted on and hard to remove with SCUBA. The breaker bar gave me plenty of purchase but I had no way to hold the hub still, or myself, while cranking. Eventually persistence prevailed and I got all of the pieces off and into the cockpit.
We spent many BGAN dollars making satellite calls to the Saint Francis factory in South Africa and Bruntons, the prop manufacturers, in England. I must admit that while I am fairly unhappy that the prop has gone missing, Duncan at Saint Francis and Adrian at Bruntons both were fantastic and we had a new prop in the air within 24 hours. No idea what caused the issue at this point but speculations are that something fouled the prop and forced the prop loose from the adapter hub. I have much interest in discovering how the adapter hub is attached to the prop (I though it was one secure piece previously).
Crazy plans began to develop as we considered how to get our new prop. After all we were in a two boat anchorage in Isabela, Galapagos, Ecuador. Ecuador is bad enough, the Galapagos adds insult to injury, and to try to ship to Isabela, well... Isabela does have an airstrip. That said it is host to no more than prop planes that fly to the Santa Cruz airport on irregular schedule with few exceptions.
Just as I was pondering the all of this I received an email from Margaret, a sailing buddy of ours who joined us in Cartagena for the San Blas cruise. She was writing to say that she wanted to try to join us for the Isabela to Marquisas hop! She said she would happily bring us our prop if she could arrange flights. I couldn't believe it.
In the end it didn't work out because flights out of the Marquisas were a hard to organize from Stateside. We were sad Margaret would not be joining us. We also decided that it was too risky to try to ship the prop to Isabela, particularly given the customs procedures in this country.
Our boat it tricky to handle under power at low speeds with only one prop (on the outboard end of an 8 meter wide platform). It certainly isn't disabled however. The trip to the Marquisas is all sailing and should we need to motor we only ever run one engine anyway. Getting in and out of anchorages certainly requires a bit more care but all within reason. I suppose we're just spoiled being used to the ability to spin in a circle within our own length.
After further considering our options we decided to sail for the Marquisas and impose upon our good friends Pablo and Louise. Pabs and Lou are coming to visit us in French Polynesia. They fly into Tahiti in July and we will then shuttle them up to Hiva Oa or there abouts. They kindly agreed to bring our big hunk of brass and the rest of our mail.
Having wrapped up our high priority business we fired up the genset and relaxed with a good movie and Hideko's wonderful cooking. Meanwhile the boat prepared itself for the crossing; the washer/dryer washed cloths, the water maker filled tanks (under careful supervision), the cold box cooled drinks, the air conditioning allowed us to close up and keep the bugs out (there are some annoying little bugs here at night in Isabela but none that bite have found us), the batteries charged and various other systems hummed away.
I jumped in the water first thing to see if there was an obvious problem underwater. There was. The prop was gone. I quickly called Duncan, the owner of Saint Francis Marine, to get specs for a replacement. Our boat manual lists a Flexofold prop which was no longer used on our boat. We needed a right handed 18" Varifold prop for a Yanmar Saildrive but I wanted to be exact given the $1,800ish price tag. Duncan agreed to help but it would be tomorrow before we would get the information as it was 6PM his time and 8AM our time.
We got out the SCUBA gear to do more reconnaissance. Examining the drive leg revealed a more catastrophic problem that I had originally though when snorkeling in the murky water. The prop had not just fallen off. It had sheared in two. The prop nut and hex bolt that secure it were still in place. They were securing the insides of the prop hub to the shaft but the outside of the hub and the blades were gone. The zinc was loose also.
I check the starboard side and everything was secure and tight. I can only suspect the genset vibration as a possible source of the discrepancy. It also looked as if something from the prop or something from the outside may have snagged between the hub and the zinc. I was now hoping that the saildrive had not been damaged.
As I began to unbolt the remainder of the prop hub the officer from the port captain came buy again on a Taxi after visiting Chantefoc, a new French flagged arrival. While there are water taxi's here (two from what I understand) things are so quiet that they don't work long hours. You can try them during daylight on 16 and they will generally be around but not always.
The officer had brought a friend. They hopped aboard and waved off the Taxi. I looked at him inquiringly from the water with full scuba on and tools in hand. He seemed surprised I actually had a problem. Fernando (Carmella's gopher on San Cristobal) and Victor (Carmella's husband) will tell you that you can visit other islands for a day or two by simply saying you have a diesel problem. This speaks to their integrity and the skepticism of the Isabela officials when you claim a mechanical difficulty. All of the port captains are in contact and the San Cristobal guy is the big boss since that is the official capital (even though Santa Cruz is much larger population wise and economically).
I indicated that I was in the middle of something and inquired as to what they needed. He said something I didn't understand and I asked them if they minded waiting. They did. So I got out of the water changed out of my wet suit dried off and attended them.
The official was saying something I couldn't understand but for the most part it seemed they wanted to gawk at our boat and hit us up for beer. I left the repairs of my boat for this. The new guy, young, took pictures of the saloon of our boat while the older guy continued on in Spanish, knowing we didn't understand. Then they asked for a beer. Hideko gave them two from the cold box. The officer suggested we should give them colder ones. I told them that was as cold as we had and that if there was nothing else I'd like to get back to fixing my boat.
He agreed and told me to take them ashore. They pounded their beers so as not to be seen ashore drinking. Seeing no end to the abuse of power in sight, I dried off the rest of the way, got a shirt and took them to the dock. As they departed I was assured that all was in order and that I would just need to stop by tomorrow to finalize some things. That would make three days in a row dealing with officials who didn't even give me any new paperwork (he told me to use the Zarpe from San Cristobal).
I don't mind official who are formal and do official business. I don't mind official who are informal and want to relax and have a beer and a chat. I do mind official who use their station to trump up phony fees, unnecessary visits to my home and other trivialities. So far I have not been impressed by the Ecuadorian brass.
On the way back to the boat I met Julian on board Chatefoc. He is a very nice single hander who was looking to stay in Isabela for a day using the old maintenance ploy. I warned him that these officials were a hassle and that I had paid $170 to stay, and I really had a problem. He told me that he had cleared in himself in Santa Cruz and only paid $130. He also said it was crowded and more touristy than Isabela.
If I had it to do again I might just come to Isabella and leave it at that. Pay the fees (less than San Cristobal) and see everything on one island, then move on. Isabela has everything San Cristobal has plus volcanoes, penguins and much more in a more natural peaceful setting.
I offered to give Julian a ride as his dinghy was stowed. He hopped on and I motored by Swingin' on a Star to see if Hideko and Nobu wanted to visit the town while we waited for Julian to clear in. The response was positive so the four of us set out for the stone pier. I figured I had been through twice so perhaps I was ready for the challenge. The surf was considerably larger today. As we approached I could find no one spot without a break. Everytime I had though I found the pass a wave would come and crash down and the pass moved 5 meters to the side. After a very slow approach I decided to retreat. We motored back to the anchorage and then followed the line of fishing boats anchored on the perimeter of the bay around to the town dock.
A friendly local showed us where to tie up. The people of Ecuador are wonderful, kind, warm and friendly (with the possible exception of the officials). The dock is modest but beautiful and set into the mangrove lined volcanic shoreline of the bay. As we walked up to the road another official stopped us. We informed that we didn't ablo espaniol. He went of for some time about a problema. We told him that we were going to the capitania. He still went on, saying we needed to get Carmella to get us new Zarpe, among other things. Finally we got a tour guide (these guys always speak English) to help us. The official finally let us go.
At the capitania the official I had been dealing with asked why I was there. I said that I was just dropping another person off when an official told me I had a problem. He said no, you have no problem. Just come back tomorrow with a picture of you broken prop and you can take 9 or 10 days to fix you problem.
We left Julian to his fate and walked down the pier to the little bar at then end. Isabela is truly remote and gorgeous as and island. Repairs and officials aside it is a spectacular place to visit. We played on the kids playground on the beach and waded in the tide pools fringed with black lava as we finished our large cervasas from the pier's beach bar. The sunset was magnificent but it spurred me to see what was keeping Julian as we didn't want to have to dinghy about at low tide in the dark.
Exasperated he had waited for 2 hours to no avail, the official that he needed was not around. We all took a leisurely walk back to the dock and began a careful idle around the bay with new rocks popping up through the low water everywhere toward the center of the bay. As we passed by the outer rocky islands we spied some big lumpy birds on the shore. I turned the boat and puttered over. They were Galapagos Penguins. They were so cool. We couldn't wait to watch them go into the water in the morning when they feed. It was our last big check box for Galapagos Fauna completed.
As we neared the anchorage, the official who had previously stopped us on the dock was returning. He stopped us again in mid water. You can't set eyes on these guys without them announcing some self important business it seems. They aren't organized enough to get anything done in one stroke. Julian it seemed had to return to shore with him. We said goodbye to Julian and told him that we would listen on 16 if he needed a ride.
Having gotten nothing done all day due to the ridiculous official interruptions we returned to Swingin' on a Star for dinner. Shortly thereafter Julian called on 16 and asked for a pickup. Nobu and I carefully puttered along the fringe of the bay to get him. Once aboard he indicated that they wanted money or his immediate departure. He offered his immediate departure. We were sad to see Julian go and promised to look for him in Tahiti.
Late that night we were running the genset to fill up the water tanks and do some laundry so that we would not have to do either underway. At about 9PM we began to notice a eerie red glow on the horizon. Cerro Azul was erupting. Speachless, Hideko, Nobu and I sat on deck and stared and the flowing red colors that lit the black night sky. It was an experience that completely wiped away the frustration of the day and made us once again realize how small a price a little adversity was in exchange for sight few ever see with their own eyes. I called Julian on the VHF to tell him to look back but he had disappeared into the night.