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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Day 4 to the Marquisas
06/11/2008, South Pacific

Great sailing today. A little bumpy here and there but over all a great day. We only put in 200 miles yesterday but are back on track for 220 today.

This afternoon we passed just meters away from Flying Dolphin, another catamaran, who may have been having problems getting her main all the way out (I think it was an in mast furler) [we later discovered that Flying Dolphin is a charter boat based on the Quai in Papeete]. They got rigged and came after us but they are fading away as we speak. They are sailing fast, but not fast enough.

Nobu and I rigged the boom box we bought in Panama with a 12 volt adapter in San Cristobal so we could use it underway. We were listening to Led Zepplin all day. Physical Grafitti is on right now, one of my favs. I was working at a summer camp (slave labor) and my Dad made cassette copies of the album (which arrived after I had left home) and brought them to me. I played it that whole summer.

If we keep moving like this we'll be in port in about 11 days.

Nobu says: "Wonderful sailing day!"

Hideko says: "What are the odds you sail 100 meters off of another sail boat crossing the Pacific?"

2,200 nm to go...

French Polynesia
Day 3 to the Marquisas
06/10/2008, South Pacific

We had another big day today. Lots of 3 meter waves and more spray in the cockpit than usual (usual is none). It was a fairly bouncy night but the crew is starting to get into the off shore groove. We had some tasty herb omelets for breakfast and the sun shone all day for the first day since we left. It was a fun day under sail even if not the most comfortable.

We are still collecting squid and flying fish on deck every night. I removed 20 bodies this morning. Too bad we don't have a recipe for squid or flying fish. We also haven't been fishing due to the rough seas. It is no problem catching them but often you need to slow down the boat to keep the big ones and we're not going to be doing that or cleaning them on the back deck in these seas. We haven't seen any Boobies out this far but the little brave Storm Petrals are still flying about. They are amazing, 600 miles out to sea and never stopping to rest.

We did have another great mileage day over our second 24 hour period at sea, turning in another 220 nautical mile day, and that with a reef in the main for motion comfort.

Nobu and I investigated the genset overheating problem this afternoon. We discovered that the impeller was fine (my first suspect) but the sea strainer was packed with slime and sea grass from Isabela. We had been running the port motor (the one without a prop) in neutral up until this afternoon. The genset certainly charges better, faster and with less fuel. Nice to have it back in action.

We have been chatting with lots of other boats in the neighborhood over the VHF and the SSB. One group has formed an ad hoc net to keep track of everyone on the way to Fatu Hiva. The fastest are doing 8 knots so we will unfortunately leave them all behind shortly. We haven't connected with any other cats in route. We are likely to get into Fatu Hiva after a little less than 2 weeks at sea if we can keep this pace.

Nobu says: "Today is my six year anniversary with Natsuki so I made Banana bread, Thanks a Bunch"

Hideko says: "Nobu made some yummy banana bread!"

2,406 nm to go...

French Polynesia
Day 2 to the Marquisas
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...

French Polynesia
Day 1 to the Marquisas
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...

Last Day in Isabela
06/07/2008, Isabela

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.

Parking the boats
06/06/2008, Isabela

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.

Sierra Negra
06/05/2008, Isabela

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.


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