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The Saga of Ursa Minor
Passage from Galapagos to Marquesas

Passage from Galapagos to Marquesas - The saga of the misbehaving pole and other adventures, in which are related the multitudinous problems with our whisker pole, our mixed success fishing, the plugging of the head and the eating out of dogbowls.
Fun and games with the Whisker Pole:

It took us 22 days to sail from Isabella Island in the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas, a fairly average time, but a bit longer than it would have been had we not had a series of problems with our whisker pole. For those of you who have no interest in the mechanics of sailing, you may want to skip down to "Other folks problems" rather than read about our numerous trials and tribulations with the whisker pole.

For our non-sailing readers, the function of a whisker pole is to hold the genoa (the sail all the way forward, which does not have a boom like the main sail) out steadily when sailing downwind so that it doesn't flop like crazy, threatening both the rigging and our sanity with its ungodly noises and jerks. It permits us to sail straight down-wind, wing and wing as it's called, with the main sail on one side of the boat, and the genoa on the other, the wind pushing the boat forward. Although we bought the whisker pole a year ago before we left St. Thomas, we had only used it once when the sailmaker showed us how to rig it, and once again on our passage to the Galapagos when it refused to stay extended. We just hadn't had the conditions in the year since leaving St. Thomas to merit the work of setting it up until we got through the Canal. Basically it's good when you want to sail a long way dead down wind or almost dead down wind. In the Caribbean, all of our long sails seemed to be toward the wind. After it de-telescoped on us on our way to the Galapagos, we'd fiddled with it and thought we had it ready to stay properly extended.

We'd been advised to set it up while in calm water, which usually means before leaving a sheltered anchorage, or while in the lee of an island, and usually when you're in those conditions, you're not at all sure which way the wind will really be coming from when you get out in the real stuff. This means you have to make an educated guess before deciding which side of the boat to rig the pole on, then attach a topping lift and two guy lines to it, attach it to the mast and raise it and secure it so that it is rigidly sticking outboard from the mast, ready to unfurl the genoa sheet through the claw on its end. It's best to do this set-up, especially the first several times, while in calm water because it means wrestling a long heavy pole around on the foredeck, the motion of which is apt to resemble an unpredictable tilt-a-whirl carnival ride once you're out in the unprotected sea. If your educated guess was wrong about the exact wind direction, or it changes on you, you either have to start all over again, or sail somewhat off your intended course.

So, as we were leaving Isabella, while still in fairly protected waters in the lee, we set the pole out to the port side, using our spinnaker halyard as the topping lift. When we tried to unfurl the genoa, it wouldn't come out, and we realized that the spinnaker halyard was crossing the furling gear, and that it could only be used as a topping lift when we had the pole out to starboard. Bryan's great strength in trying to pull the sail out had jammed the halyard into the gear, so I had to haul him up the mast to sort it out. Fortunately, we have an electric winch to use so it is not much work for me to pull him up the mast in his uncomfortable little bosun's chair (sort of a plastic and cardboard thing held together with some straps, buckles and rings), but it's no fun for him when we're in rolling seas. By now we'd gotten out of the protected harbor, and although there was very little wind, there was a very distinct swell rolling the boat from side to side, wanting to swing him out from and smack him back into the mast unless he's hanging on for dear life - a difficult feat when he's trying to use his hands to accomplish the task he's up there for. At any rate, he managed to get the halyard free, so I brought him back down, and we took the pole down and stowed it away. We then looked around and decided there really wasn't enough wind to sail anyway so motored for a few hours before re-setting the pole on the other side and actually using it for awhile. This idea of only setting the pole in calm waters just wasn't going to work.

The next time we tried to use the pole, it worked fine for a bit, then suddenly telescoped in again. We'd thought the telescoping pole made a lot of sense, since when collapsed it takes far less space to stow along the life lines, and could be used at various lengths depending on how much genoa we wanted to pull out. When it keeps collapsing, however, it's a pain in the you know what. So we took it down, then spent the afternoon taking it apart to figure out why it wasn't working. Inside it had a line going up and back and a ram of sorts and we thought we figured it out and had it working again. Hah! Next time we tried it, bang, it collapsed again. We used it once or twice after that, not even trying to extend it, just using it in its short form and not pulling out the whole genoa. Worked great.

As the days ticked away we took it apart a few more times and finally realized that a padeye the line inside was supposed to be tied to had ripped out of the pole, so there was no way to make it stay extended. Bryan figured out an ingenious way to jury rig a fix, and we tried again, poling out to starboard which fortunately was where we wanted it. Finally we're sailing wing and wing with all the genoa out, loving the speed it's giving us, until we notice the extended part of the pole is bending dramatically. Oops. We had to get it down quickly before the bend became worse, which of course it did when the end managed to drop over the side of the boat and into the water before we could get it stowed, and the water pressure made it much harder to get it back on board as well as contributing to the bend. We spent the next few days trying to straighten the bend and get the pole to collapse again, without success. First we had a pole that wouldn't stay extended, now we had one that wouldn't telescope in because the bend prevented it. Eventually we decided we weren't going to straighten the bend on board, so decided to put it back up and just use the thicker part of the pole by jury-rigging a way to attach the genoa sheet without using the claw on the end. This worked super, and we were back sailing wing and wing again, when suddenly a noisy change in the sail pattern alerted us to the fact that the topping lift shackle (part of the improvised topping lift we were now using to pole out to port) had come open and dropped the pole. Fortunately, the sheet and guy lines were still holding it all together fairly well, but we had to take it down again. After it was all put up again, we sailed fine for awhile, until the genoa started flapping around a bit and we realized that the wire holding the guy wires which kept the pole rigidly in place had chafed through and the guys were dragging in the water. At this point we just put the pole away for the remaining five or so days left of the passage, and waited until Fatu Hiva where we took it ashore, straightened it enough to get it apart, cut out the bent part, and inserted a bolt to make it a stationery, but somewhat shorter pole than before. All in all, we were probably only able to actually use the pole for 10-15 hours of the 22 day trip! Whatever could go wrong with it did, but we came away with a far greater understanding of how it works than we probably would have if it always worked perfectly. Hopefully it will work fine on our next passage, but who knows.

Other Boats' Problems:

While we were having fun with the whisker pole, and a few other problems I'll relate later, other boats were also having problems. Our German friends on La Gitana, leaving Isabella about an hour behind us, went suddenly from 6 knots of speed to a dead stop when they hit a whale. It scared the daylights out of them, and Volker went over the side to see if any serious damage had been done, but fortunately discovered only some damaged gel coat and paint missing. This happened right in the area where we had slopped around while putting Bryan up the mast to fix the fouled furling gear.

Several other boats crossing at about the same time blew out sails, either genoas or spinnaker-type sails. Our friends on Zazoo, a nice couple from Britain and Brazil with two great little boys Josh and Luke, had a major rip in their genoa and had to sail the rest of the trip with just a tiny headsail, making their passage much longer. Other boats had steering problems, engine problems, and various other assorted issues.

Our other problems on the passage:

I managed to plug up our head (that's toilet in nauticalese) which meant using a bucket until Bryan could get it fixed a few days later. Marine toilets are very delicate and persnickety devices, and ours has had recurring problems ever since one of our line-handlers through the Canal stuffed it big time. Fortunately it's been behaving itself again lately, but it's only a matter of time.

Our single sideband radio(for long distance communications) started having a lot of interference from our autopilot, which meant we couldn't use them at the same time. On passage we spend a lot of time on the radio checking in with various nets and keeping track of our friends who are also on passage, so this meant that whenever one of us was on the radio, the other either had to hand steer, or Lizzie, our third crew member, had to do the job. Third crew member, you ask? Lizzie is our Monitor self-steering windvane, an expensive and complicated device we installed on the stern before leaving St.Thomas. Much of the time she works like a charm, but occasionally suffers from PMS - pissy mood syndrome, when she just doesn't want to take us directly where we want to go. She's definitely one of the best investments we made preparing for this trip, and we're getting better and better at using her, but sometimes she just doesn't want to cooperate. She had a little problem of her own on this trip. One of her lines connecting her to the steering wheel kept chafing where it goes through a small pulley, a problem we still haven't fully solved, but we have lots of spare line arriving from California soon.

Less than a week before reaching Fatu Hiva, the modem which allows our computer to speak to the radio (allowing us to send and receive email and weather forecasts while at sea) stopped working. Many people have sailed the oceans without any means of communicating with shore, and the ability to send email from the high seas is certainly a very new treat, and one that is certainly not required to make a safe passage. However, we'd become used to having it, were depending on it for weather information, and our families were hearing from us quite regularly, so it was a real bummer when it was suddenly cut off. One of the first things we did upon arrival in Fatu Hiva was to get another boat with working modem to send emails to family that all was well, and emails to various support companies for help in diagnosing the problem. Friends on other boats who were more adept with computers tried to help, but after various efforts including trying the modem on three other computers with the same email software, it became apparent that the modem just wasn't working. We were ready to bite the bullet and spend another $1000+ to buy a new modem, when an email arrived from the email service provider which gave us instructions on getting the firmware (some kind of hard software???) inside the modem to work again, and lo and behold, it's working again. In the meantime we'd decided to take our friend Gwen's advice and get a satellite phone - it can do the email faster and better, and is a great backup if the radio doesn't work, and gives us emergency communication should we ever take to the liferaft. It's a very costly investment, one we'd earlier decided against (back when we could have gotten it in hand with no costly shipping fee like here), but just seemed the prudent thing. We're now sitting in Nuku Hiva awaiting its delivery via FedEx, so soon will have a new email address to add to the four we already have.

It's amazing what technology has done to cruising. It's a far different world out here now than it was when my brother John and his family circumnavigated in the 90's. In any port with internet access, you find all the cruisers spending much of their time tied to their computers or those of an internet café, catching up on all sorts of stuff, from email to needed parts to weather to new software for charts - the list can go on forever. I almost miss the simpler days - it was certainly cheaper in many ways to cruise then, although communication is far simpler now.

Fishing and Food:

Early in the passage, we caught a nice yellowfin tuna, reeled it in all the way to the side of the boat, then it got loose while I was desperately trying to squirt the squirt bottle we had filled with booze to sedate our fish before bringing them on board. It just wouldn't squirt, and the fish just wouldn't wait. A few days later we caught a nice cero mackerel, which came on board quite nicely, only to be found to have little white worms in his innards once cleaned. Over the side with him, thank you very much. Later on we caught two nicely sized mahi-mahis (for us that means big enough for 2-4 meals, but not so big that it takes our line and lure and disappears) which were a very welcome addition to the menu.

Speaking of the menu, we ate very well most days, only occasionally finding conditions rough enough to deter my efforts in the galley. We did use our new "china" often, the double-sided dog bowls that allow us to have a two course meal that doesn't attempt to launch itself off the boat while we're trying to eat. Since most of our passage was down-wind, we didn't have the sharp heel (tilt) to the boat that comes with upwind sailing, but we did tend to roll and bounce a bit, making it difficult for a plate to stay put on the table, or for the food to stay put on the plate. I baked bread occasionally, we had fresh fruit and vegetables almost every day, and our freezer had quite a range of diverse offerings - many pre-cooked meals I had frozen in Trinidad or Panama. We did both manage to lose a few pounds - if the way our clothes fit upon arrival is an indication - but I suspect it wasn't for lack of eating well, but because we don't drink alcohol at sea. That first cold beer upon arrival sure tasted good!

Sailing conditions:

The wind generally came out of the east and east-southeast, and its speed varied tremendously, with several days, especially early on, with almost no wind, most days with 10-20 knots of wind, and a handful of days with winds 25 knots and above. Our last few days before arrival included several squalls with winds gusting to 35 and above at times. We couldn't even see high Fatu Hiva until we were less than 10 miles out, and that was only brief views when the clouds occasionally lifted a bit. Our last few hours were very rainy and generally 30-35 knots with higher gusts and nasty seas as we were rounding the southern tip of the island, but Ursa Minor performed very well and we gained even more confidence in her ability to easily handle the wind and seas. Thirty five knots was really no big deal - something I wouldn't have said a year ago.

The boat was fairly comfortable most of the trip, but at times was subject to very jerky movements and lots of noise. Some nights sleeping was quite easy, other times it was very difficult because of the noises and motions. Worst were the very light air nights, when the sails really made a lot of noise and the boat tended to roll mercilessly. Next worst were the real windy nights when we had the genoa out with no pole going downwind - it would shake, rattle and roll regularly (I probably should make that irregularly - it wasn't on a consistent timetable) and make every part of the boat creak and groan and jerk about. We found that when we couldn't go wing and wing with the pole, our best bet was either to broad reach with both the main and genoa filled out on the same side of the boat, which gave a nice consistent forward motion and not so much noise, or to go close to dead downwind with just the main up. Amazingly, going downwind with just the main often gave us a nice steady 6-7 knots of speed, even with the sail shortened with one or two reefs in it, and became my preferred method of sailing when a broad reach couldn't keep us close enough to our rhumbline. Actually, we were rarely able to sail exactly on our rhumbline - it seemed the wind was always conspiring to make a broad reach or dead downwind run result in 10-15 degrees off our course, so we zig-zagged back and forth roughly along our course line, and were happy to do it


New Galapagos photos in gallery

Go to the tail end of the photo gallery to find the new album of pictures from Isabela Island Galapagos for lots of pictures of flamingos, tortoises, sea lions, sharks, penguins and lovely volcanic landscape - and Bryan riding a horse!
Click on the album to see all the pics, then click on the pics to enlarge them. Don´t miss the earlier album of photos from San Cristobol island, Galapagos!

Isabela Island, Galapagos

We´ve had a wonderful five days on Isabela. Went horseback riding up to a volcano which erupted a few years ago, snorkelled, saw more tortoises, sharks, sea lions, pengins, flamingos. Terribly slow internet here, so will do much longer report later. Have added some new pics to San Cristobal, Galapagos album in picture gallery, will try to add new album of pics from here. Wonderful wildlife!
We leave tomorrow morning for Marquesas, probably a 3-4 week passage, depending on wind.
No clue when we´ll find internet again.

Galapagos - San Cristobol Islands

San Cristobol Island, Galapagos, Ecuador

We anchored in Wreck Bay, aka Bahia Naufragio, off thePuerto Bacuerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, about 9 am on May 1. A very pleasant gentleman named Fernando came out to the boat to interest us in tours and activities. We had read about him in a Seven Seas Cruising Association Bulletin (Sharon of Winifred had given us several years worth of these wonderful bulletins which are chock-a-block full of great information from other cruisers) so signed up for a tour of the island a few days hence. His mother has a delightful restaurant right on the beach near the town dock, and they offer a myriad of services including tours, laundry, showers, and provisioning.

Since it was Ecuador's Labor Day holiday, we couldn't check in (or at least were apparently erroneously told we couldn't) so we took a water taxi ashore and wandered around. Thank heavens they have water taxis available, for a mere $.50 a ride or $1. at night, since the harbor is full of lively sea lions who just love to laze away the day and night on any convenient boat or dinghy they can find. We had lunch at Fernando's mother Cecilia's restaurant, El Flamingo, where we could sit on the deck and watch the sea lion's at play. Lunch was like most meals here - soup first, then rice and vegetables and fish or meat or lobster.

After lunch we walked around town and visited Pepe, a pet tortoise kept in an enclosure behind the church. He is supposedly 300 years old, the oldest tortoise around. When we called him by name, he laboriously walked 40 feet from the shade of a tree over to us at the fence, and happily accepted the few leaves we could offer him. He then moved along the fence, apparently in the hopes we would follow and find the box set out for donations to help pay for his food. He definitely has learned how to play the tourists in his 300 years of life!

We later walked out of town to the Park Interpretive Center, where they had very nice displays on the history, ecology and wildlife of the island. The islands have a very sordid history, including several attempts at exploitation using convict labor under brutal conditions. Whalers and other mariners killed off many of the tortoises for meat over the years, leading to the extinction of some of the original 9 varieties. One variety is now represented by one tortoise named Lonesome George who can't continue the species because there are no females left.

We have spent hours watching the antics of the sea lions, from the restaurant, the beach, and on the land and boat tours we went on. The pups especially love to play, jumping from the water, sparring with each other, surfing the breakers into the beach. The older ones seem to spend most of their time stretched out in the sand, on the rocks, piers or on whatever boat they can find to climb on, warming in the sun. Most of the local boats at anchor here have barbed wire strung along their sides to keep the sea lions off - and some of these had several sea lions on board anyway! A few have tried to climb aboard Ursa Minor on our sugar scoop stern, but the wind-vane structure has deterred them so far. Nearby catamarans have tried all sorts of things on their back scoops to keep them off, mostly without success.

Our second day here we cleared in with the Port Captain and Immigration, fairly easy but expensive. The crazy rule is that we can only anchor the boat here, and cannot take it to the other two ports of entry. The only way around this would have been to spend far more money, way in advance, on a cruising permit. We don't understand what the reasoning is.

We went on a land tour arranged by Fernando with Claudia and her father Erich from Austria who are on the catamaran Tahaa. Claudia speaks excellent English and has been a delightful companion. We drove through the El Progresso area where there is much farming. It was originally settled as an agricultural center using settlers and convict labor that turned disastrous, but since its rebirth without convicts seems to be working well. We hiked up to El Junco, the only fresh water lake in the islands, situated in the cone of an extinct volcano. The clouds and mist were so heavy we couldn't see anything, so tried again after lunch with the same result. Finally a few days later Claudia and I went back on a clear day, and saw a lovely emerald green lake in the crater, with many frigate birds skimming the water taking fresh water baths. On the land tour we also went to the Tortoise Protection Center, begun a few years ago when they brought several tortoises from the isolated northern end of the island and set them free in a large protected area. They also collect eggs from nests and keep them safely in enclosures for several years until they are big enough to fend for themselves on an island now populated with dogs, cats, rats, goats and other non-indigenous threats to their safety. Next stop was a beach on the southern side where we saw huge breaking surf, several marine iguanas climbing over the rocks, and many sea lions frolicking on the beach.

A few days later we went out on a dive/snorkel trip with about 15 other people including Claudia and Erich and several students from the States who were just finishing up a three month stint at the university here. We just snorkeled, and were glad we did. We saw dozens of sharks and at least 10 spotted eagle rays and several varieties of fish that were new to us, including the lovely king angel fish. The sharks and rays were swimming fairly close to the surface, just below and around us, and I think we saw them far better than the scuba divers. The water was very cold, we were both wearing wet suits and freezing, and the divers reported it was much colder below. We snorkeled at Kicker Rock, also known as the Sleeping Lion, two huge monoliths rising straight up out of the sea. We had hoped to see hammerhead sharks and manta rays, but they only make the occasional appearance. Anchoring was impossible because of the depth, so the boat just drifted while we swam around. The most activity was in the narrow channel between the rocks. The walls were alive with coral and colorful organisms and scads of fish. The middle of the channel had the sharks and rays in abundance. We also stopped at Lobos Island, a low-lying island just off the coast of San Cristobal, where we anchored in a shallow channel between the island and the big island. We snorkeled with sea lions - the pups would spiral around and below us, come up and stare in our masks; they obviously just love playing around. We saw an Imperial Frigate bird in a tree on shore - obvious with it's huge red balloon-like throat, and our first blue-footed boobie.

We met a very nice young couple and their two boys on the Brazilian yacht Zazoo - Ben and Roseangela and Luke (6) and Joshua(4) (named after Joshua Slocum whose birthday he shares). Ben is from Wales and Scotland, his wife from Brazil. They're slowly headed across the Pacific and were interested in learning more about the Marshalls as a possible stop for cyclone season.

The anchorage has been mostly comfortable, occasionally rolly or choppy. The wind really piped up one day and a few boats dragged and snagged anchors, but we've been just fine. The water taxi system works fairly well, but sometimes there's a long wait, and sometimes they seem to quit early. The night we had dinner ashore at El Flamingo Fernando had to arrange a special taxi to bring us all home so we could stay past 7:30. That night was a lot of fun, resulting in many empty beer bottles to leave on the beer ship the next day. We met David, a British single-hander on Pinta, and the crew who are delivering Vamanos, a troublesome catamaran, to Australia. Also, a young couple from New Zealand,, both engineers, who are serving as volunteer teachers in a local school.

Las Perlas Islands, Panama & passage to Galapagos

The Las Perlas islands consist of 3 largish islands, and dozens of smaller ones, with numerous rocks Las Perlas Islands, Panama and Passage to Galapagos
and shoals as well (far more at low tide than high tide) located in the Gulf of Panama. We spent our first night at Contadora, an inhabited island about 38 miles from Panama City, where wealthy South Americans have built fabulous homes. We anchored on the north side because the wind was from the southeast, and had the anchorage below several lovely homes to ourselves. We hopped in the water to clean the water line, but found the current far too strong. As the tide changed we found ourselves amidst a stream of huge logs and trees which floated past one way, then came back the other way. We could have built a log house with what floated past! The water was murky and uninviting, and the shore did not appear to welcome yachties so we stayed aboard and left in the morning. Sailing around the western end, we found many more yachts anchored on the south side, perhaps because of easier access to shore, but it could not have been as comfortable in those winds as where we anchored.

We anchored for lunch off a lovely beach on Chapera, where Judy worked on the water line, while Bryan removed and cleaned the hoses on the aft head which had stuffed up again. It seems that once it gets badly stuffed, you may get it going by cleaning one portion of the system, but it soon packs up in another portion. Pounding on the hoses to break up the deposits may help temporarily, but soon the deposits cause blockages further down, and you just have to break down and remove the hoses for a thorough cleaning. Not a fun job, but unfortunately part of the boating life. The scenery and snorkeling were very nice here.

In the afternoon we motored (virtually no wind) around to the western edge of the islands, intending to anchor for the night in a recommended anchorage at the southeastern corner of Isla Bayoneta. Along the way we saw several rays jumping well out of the water, often in groups of 2 to 4. It wasn't until I got the pictures into the computer that we realized they were manta rays, probably devil rays, a small type of manta. We must have seen dozens of them jumping from the glassy seas, all around us for as far as the eye could see.

The wind came up in the late afternoon, and the recommended anchorage looked very exposed and choppy, so we hurriedly checked out a few others near by that turned out to not be any better, before plunking down the anchor at dusk at the northern end of Bayoneta in an area not shown on the charts as an anchorage, but which had more protection than any of the recommended anchorages. We were in a small area bordered by Isla Bayoneta, Isla Gibraleon and Isla Casaya. It was fairly high tide when we anchored, and we realized what a good job we'd done of reading the sketch charts when the next morning we saw all the reefs, shoals and rocks around us at low tide. We'd picked a perfect spot. The next day brought lots of rain and gray, so we stayed put another night, and never saw another yacht the whole 2 days we were there. We did see a few small local fishing boats pass by at a distance. When the sky cleared for awhile in the afternoon, we dinghied over to large sandy shoal exposed at low tide. We saw several mounds of partially digested fish left by the pelicans that flew away upon our arrival. Then on to a beach on Bayoneta, where I found several shells. Despite the poor weather, we quite enjoyed this anchorage, and its isolation. I cooked and baked and put more in the freezer for our upcoming passage.

Next stop was Don Bernardo bay on Pedro Gonzalez island, a lovely palm-ringed beach with several other yachts at anchor, including our friend Mike on Wanderlust, whom we'd met in Colon. He's the single-hander who couldn't walk for 12 years after a hang-gliding accident, who learned to sail in the last 5 years after inheriting a small sailboat. He just bought his second Hunter, which he first told us he was taking back to California, but then later changed his mind and decided to join the coconut milk run across the Pacific with us and several other boats. He had some friends aboard, but was mostly immersed in trying to fix his generator.

I snorkeled from shore out along a group of small islands then back to the boat, and saw several new species of fish, plate-sized rays with a lovely pattern, and some gorgeous pink and white birds on the islands. The water was fairly murky, but pleasantly warm.

The next morning we sailed in light winds and bright blue sunny skies to the island of San Jose, the most southwestern of the Las Perlas, anchoring all by ourselves off the mile-long Playa Grande beach on the eastern shore, where we found enough protection from the southeasterly swell from some rocks extending out from the shore. We anchored well off shore since we knew the tide still had much lower to go. At low tide we took the dinghy ashore, winding our way through rocks invisible at high tide, to clean the dinghy bottom of the crud it had accumulated in the weeks in Panama. We spoke to Wanderlust on the radio, and learned he'd gone on to the next bay south, where since our cruising guide had been written a small resort had been built. He was still having generator problems, but intended, like us, to head out for the Galapagos the next day.

On April 23, we rigged our whisker pole for the first time since the one time we tried it out back in the Virgins just after we bought it, and otherwise cleaned and stowed the boat in preparation for the 850 mile passage to the Galapagos, which would be our longest passage yet. We set sail about 9 am, in 13-20 knots of wind from the NW - a nice downwind breeze which had us flying along at about 9-10 knots. We were sailing wing and wing with the genoa poled out to windward, which worked quite delightfully with Lizzie, our windvane, doing a marvelous job steering. This all worked well for about 45 minutes, when the telescoping pole de-telescoped suddenly, leaving enough slack in the guy lines for the pole to change direction from athwartship to forward where it did no good. We took it all down, and realized we couldn't lock the pole in its extended position - either it's broken, defective, or we just don't know how to lock it correctly once fully extended. We found the wind had altered enough that we could sail nicely on broad then a beam reach, making 7-8 knots in 10-13 knots of apparent wind. Fortunately we didn't have winds directly behind us for the rest of the passage, so never missed the pole.

Our passage to San Cristobal island in the Galapagos took us 8 days, with winds that varied from almost non-existent, to a few patches of 20 knots plus. At times they were on the nose, requiring us to zig-zag along our course, but mostly they were just enough ahead of the beam to allow us to sail our course on a close or beam reach. We motored about one-third of the time, mostly when there was next to no wind. We spent many hours sailing at 2 to 4 knots with winds of 5 to 10 knots, and many hours at 5 to 6 knots when the wind rose above 10 knots. As we progressed southwestward, the wind shifted from the northwest, to mostly southeasterly then southwesterly. We had currents of up to 2 knots helping us in the beginning, then slowing us down most of the rest of the way. We went days without seeing another boat, even though several left Las Perlas the same day we did, including Gannet and Wanderlust. We did check in with the Pan Pacific radio net each morning, and kept in touch with family and friends via email. We learned that Ian on Gannet had turned back to Panama because of crew issues, and several other boats either diverted to Ecuador for fuel or mechanical problems, or turned around and went back north. (Ian has since found two young Belgians to join the crew and headed off again toward Galapagos.)

Wildlife highlights of the passage included the small bird, probably a kind of finch, that joined us for several hours, flitting around first in the cockpit then down below, before flying off again. Unlike birds that alight on boats out of sheer exhaustion, shivering and shaking then dying, this bird seemed quite OK - just a bit tired and very curious about life on a boat but not at all interested in the food we offered. Another day we had a pod or 20 or so pilot whales swim past us on all sides. Having never seen them before, I originally thought dolphin as I saw several pairs of them gently arching out of the water all around us. But they were bigger than dolphins, with much larger bulbous heads and slower movements. We also had some kind of boobie birds circle around us for hours far out to sea, but never land aboard.

One very surprising aspect of the passage was how cold it was the last few days, especially at night. It seemed the closer we came to the equator, the colder it got. Wonder what Al Gore has to say about that? The cold Humboldt current that attacks the islands from the south must have been flowing considerably north of the islands as well. We were colder than we'd been since leaving Michigan in January, and took to wearing several layers of shirts and fleece vests and I even put on socks to make it through the night.

On April 30 we crossed the equator about 5 pm in very light airs. We were motor sailing, and hove-to for a little ceremony to mark the occasion. We popped open the Vieuve Cliquot champagne that our friends Dominique and Michel on Blythe Spirit had given us for this express purpose before we left St. Thomas, donned silly masks made by the Kuna Indians, bared our bodies to the sun, and made toasts to King Neptune and prevailed upon his generosity and good will in our future wanderings. We followed this with a wonderful steak and baked potato meal complete with place mats and cockpit light - a far cry from the simple meals we'd been eating out of our new "china" - two dog bowls that make eating underway far easier when the boat is heeling way over. Once the meal was over and the lights were doused, a quick look around revealed the first boats we'd seen in days, three well-lit fishing boats trying their luck just outside the Galapagos protective area. A long night of motoring with almost no wind and heavy fog brought us into San Cristobal in the morning's light.

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Ursa Minor's Crew
Who: Captains Bryan Lane (callsign NP2NH) and Judy Knape
Port: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
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