05/09/2012, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands
After a couple idilic days in Fatu Hiva (friendly people, amazing walks ashore) we did a day sail to the larger island of Hiva Oa with the intension of checking to French Polynesia and finding some internet. Well we found internet but otherwise it's a murky, cramped and rolly anchorage 1 hours walk from the village. Emboldened by a blog article describing a 30min shortcut and the recommendation of great pizza we were enthusiastic about our first meal ashore in 3 weeks. To cut a long story short the shortcut involved us swimming to a disused staircase, bashing through the subsequent thick undergrowth followed by Mike stumbling into a wasps nest resulting in 4 very sore bites from the blighters. To top it all off when we eventually made it out onto the road above, we found the pizza place shut, in fact the whole village shuts down between 1:30pm and 6pm and seemingly this is the centre of the Marquesas Islands! I'm sure we must be missing something though, why would anyone stop here? We're now back onboard wishing we never left and planning on sailing to our last stop in marquesas, Nuku Hiva in a few hours.
05/09/2012, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands
We sailed into Hanavave Bay on the Island of Fatu Hiva in Marquesas around 3am Monday morning. We're safe and well and didn't break anything along the way. It was a very frustrating and tiring passage (weather wasn't on our side much of it) but it's done now and we feel quite a sense of achievement.
We had a little sleep in this morning before doing some cleaning and chilling in the afternoon. We were amazed to see how dirty the hull was, a foot above the waterline all along the hull was covered in green and brown slime. It took us a few hours to get Whippersnapper white again!
We can tell you firsthand now that Hanavave Bay is very beautiful, I think most beautiful in the world is a big call but the combination of black volcanic rock cliffs, lush green vegetation, rolling mist in the valley and glimpses of blue sky make it all quite dramatic. We were too lazy today but tomorrow we'll go ashore for a bit of a hike. Interestingly some locals came by to sell us a whole dead goat, we politely refused.
Still using our sat phone to send emails but we plan of sailing to Hiva Oa in a couple days which should have wifi for us.
05/03/2012, South Pacific
Gone are our dreams of a big adventure on the open ocean with ten metre waves and forty knot winds where we battled through to retell the tale to anyone who would listen. Instead that frightening big bad ocean has transformed into a timid sheet of glass. With no wind for the past two and a half days we're nearly gone mad with the constant thrum of the engine. We did our calculations a couple of nights ago with 760 nm's left to go and only 310 litres of fuel remaining, we estimated we could make it to Fatu Hiva with enough fuel in seven to eight days if we motor at just 1400 rpm's or a slow four knot pace. Hence life onboard Whippersnapper since then has been pretty dull. Bad and all as it is, we did pass a German boat two nights ago who left a week before us!
The good news is that we've sailed in some light breeze for the past two hours and we're enjoying every silent mile of it but it's not forecast so we don't know how long it will last. With 450 nm's to go, best estimated arrival now in four days time.
04/30/2012, South Pacific
I thought by now we'd be in some perfected zen state of relaxation as we become "at one with our yacht and the sea", looking back over the log though it's quite obvious our moods are very closely related to the weather. When the winds are favourable we're feeling happy and optimistic, when the winds are variable and squally we're grumpy and when the winds are light we're bored and tired. The winds over the last few days have been variable, squally and light so right now this passage is really starting to drag on.
One of the pieces of data on our plotter is TTG or Time To Go which gives a duration until we reach our destination. There's something very disheartening about watching it level or climb rather than fall. The last three days it's read around 200hrs (evidence we're going slower each day) and yesterday morning it was briefly 9999hrs as we came to a complete stop with wind at all. Today at least we're moving again though the last 24hrs (128.2NM) is our slowest of the passage.
What's also frustrating about the light winds are the flogging sails. If the wind is not strong enough to overcome the rolling motion of the boat the sails flog back and forth in loud cracks, bangs and groans. We can mitigate it somewhat by sailing closer to the wind but then our VMG drops off and the TTG climbs again
04/27/2012, South Pacific
Not only is today the start of our 11th day at sea but more importantly its Hugh's birthday. It's only 11.40am and already he has had coffee, a fry up, freshly baked bread, and there's birthday cake baked and a freshly caught Mahi Mahi in the fridge for dinner. I've spoilt him so much that I even let him beat me at chess! ;)
We crossed the half way mark with big smiles at 4am yesterday. The last couple of days has been very pleasant with clear skies once again. The wind is a bit less than we had hoped for but we're not complaining. We're changed from a broad reach to wing-a-wing today so we're on a direct course for our first Marquesas Island of Fatu Hiva in 1,224 nm's. Fatu Hiva is supposedly a fascinating place with spectacular geological formations. Our books describe the anchorage as one of the most scenic in the South Pacific (some say the world) which only adds to our excitement of seeing land again.
I've got to tell you about crabs in our ears. After arriving in Las Perlas (outside Panama) we proceeded to do our monthly scrub of the hull to remove the growth that builds up and slows us down in the water. As we scrubbed we noticed small crabs living in the growth around the waterline. Bothersome things kept attaching themselves to our skin and giving little nips. After getting back on board I felt something crawling in my ears and Hugh took four crabs out of them. We laughed and retold the tail to other yachties. In the Galapagos, we cleaned the hull again and the crabs were back. This time when we got back on board I had Hugh check my ears and all clear. I checked his and saw nothing though he claimed something didn't feel right. For the next few hours we would repeat the search in his ears as he would take uncontroled fits of laughing at something tickling in his ear or he would start hitting his head like a mad man in the hope something would drop out. Still nothing. That evening he had enough and had me pour whiskey in his ear, which caused another laughing fit but after that the tickle was gone. A few days later after removing an ear plug (sometimes used while sleeping), a small drunken (dead) crab fell out of his ear!
04/25/2012, South Pacific
Gosh, conditions are a world away from when we wrote our last entry, we've gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. I'm sure we jinxed ourselves by saying how lovely it was, that and I sent and SMS to Mum & Dad yesterday saying we could do with a little more wind. Well now it's averaging 22kts which sounds like perfect trade winds but we're getting a rain squall through about every half hour gusting to 35kts, so we're reefed for the 35kts meaning we're a little underdone between squalls and the boat wallows in the waves. Seas are rough, at times it's exhilarating like a roller coaster as we make little surfs others more like a washing machine when waves broadside us with a bang and send water over the decks. Poor Mike was in bed last night when the first big squall came through, we had all the windows closed but I forgot about the one over his head, he got quite a rude awakening when a bucket load of sea water landed on him!
Mike spoke with Ben and Bridget on Ganga via sat phone yesterday, they left 3 days ahead of us but it looks like we may arrive before them, they're about 1.5 days ahead of us now not that it's a race or anything!!! From what we've read on choosing a route for this passage you head south for more wind or stay north for more current. Not needing any more wind and with still a favourable current we'll lift our course a bit to head straight for Marquesas now. We should hit our halfway mark later today.
04/21/2012, South Pacific
We left San Cristobal (Galapagos) midday on Tuesday, it's currently Saturday morning - 2350NM to go (700 traveled) and all is well. It's been a very fast and easy passage so far, we're on a broad reach flying the gennaker and main during the day then furling the gennaker and unfurling our genoa for nights (being a little conservative this far out). We haven't had much wind above 15kts yet but the forecast is to rise to 20kts shortly which will be perfect. What has been most welcome is the south equatorial current flowing on almost exactly the same heading at around 1-2kts. That means we can be lazily sailing at 7kts and making 9kts over the ground! Our best watch average has been 9.5kts, not bad for a fully laden cruising yacht :) To be honest the wind angle has also been a pleasant surprise, we just assumed this would be a dead run like the Atlantic. We're sailing now on about 140 true (110 apparent - just perfect for our gennaker) and with the slight seas it's a very comfortable motion.
Thursday morning was exciting, we landed a 9ft Black Marlin! It took 30 mins to reel him in and we had to furl sails and motor backwards to help but we eventually got him to the bathing platform. It was a huge beast and very strong, we were wondering how on earth we were going to get our lure out of his jaws, but after some indecision and a failed attempt with the gaffe hook he flailed and snapped the line (60kg leader line). Shame he escaped with the last of our good lures still in his mouth (on the first day we lost two lures in quick succession to what we're guessing were similar sized beasts). In a way we were glad not to have to get close to his mouth but we're going to miss those lures, nothing else we have works half so well. We've a fishing comp with Ganga and feeling pretty confident he was a winner. Despite "letting him go" we got to see him beside the bathing platform which is 8ft wide and he was about a foot longer!
We haven't see any other yachts, despite knowing about 4 others who set off at a similar time we've encountered nothing. We've proximity alarms set on the Radar and AIS which will warn us in advance of any approaching vessel but so far the only alarms triggered have been by the radar finding a rain cloud. There is so little to do on deck it's hard remembering who's on watch.
It's very nice to see the Southern Cross though it still sits very low on the horizon.
Even though the trip to the Galapagos saw us motoring for 70% of the time we did enjoy the calm seas, crossing the equator and on the second last day we managed to catch our biggest Mahi Mahi yet (our freezer is full). We were pleasantly surprised upon our arrival into San Cristobal Island to see Ganga already in the bay. With Bridget's parents onboard they made up great time. Bridget's father commented that the last time they visited the Galapagos there was only five yachts in the bay, today there is over twenty-five all heading to NZ or OZ with as many more already gone ahead as well as behind us. We're like a floating community; all moving in the same direction at approximately the same time and now that we're getting to know each other we offer advice to one another and look out for each other. It's really nice!
Checking into the Galapagos is an expensive bureaucratic nightmare. First of all you have to have an agent so upon arrival different agents water taxi over spruiking for business. Prices range from $175 to $125; we paid $100. When you choose one they return with a team of people from the navy, national parks authority and quarantine then after a thorough check of the boat and approximately $500 later they all leave. The agent earns his $100 going back and forth for a couple of days doing all the paperwork including getting a permit from the navy to buy diesel. New rules also apply now that we are not allowed to leave the anchorage which is different to previously years where yachts were able to visit four different ports and anchorages. Now we have to take ferries if we want to visit other islands, which is not ideal.
One quickly begins to forget the cost and hassles of entry when sea lions start jumping up on the boat to sleep. I have to say we thought they were just so cute at the beginning, but we have progressively moved them from our cockpit to our back step to now having fenders out trying to keep them off the boat altogether after many attempts to clean up after them. Hugh had a terrible job cleaning the back step after one sea lion seemed to have a bad case of the runs and liked to lie in it - enough said.
We enjoyed two great days with Ganga where we hired a car and visited a lagoon made from a crater, a tortoise farm and an awesome beach called, La Loberia, where we swam with sea lions, turtles and multitudes of fish. Hugh fascinated with the sea lions spent ages imitating them in the water and giving them his flipper to chew on. The next day, we all did two dives at Kicker Rock where we saw hammerhead and reef sharks, octopus, moray eels and iguanas. Our guide, although a nice fellow, was very careless and left the majority of us with practically no air in our tanks by the time we finished.
San Cristobal has a very relaxed atmosphere, which we like. Food is reasonable so we eat out frequently helping to save our boat supplies for the passage. Unfortunately you can't land a dinghy anywhere on the island so everyone takes water taxis at $1 per person per trip. The same goes for refueling the boat, we had to fill our jerry cans at the local service station using land and water taxis, tip them into the boat diesel tank then go back and fill them again. Diesel pricing is interesting too where locals get to buy it for a ridiculous $1 per gallon (26 cent per litre) and tourists are charged $5.38 per gallon ($1.41 per litre). As you can imagine, some entrepreneurial water taxi guys have set up a black market offering fuel to yachties at $4.15 per gallon. We know someone that bought it but it turned out to be dirty fuel so we stayed well clear of it.
We took the ferry (more like an overcrowded small speed boat) to Santa Cruz Island today to visit the Charles Darwin research centre and Lonesome George, the oldest and last tortoise of his kind as all attempts to breed from him have thus far failed. He is nearly 200 years old after all. While Santa Cruz was busier and had more tourists, we much preferred San Cristobal. I can safely say that many people but particularly our nieces and nephews would have a ball with all the wildlife and uniqueness of the Galapagos. I can only hope that some of them will get to enjoy it here one day as we have.
The wind is building nicely for our passage to the Marquesas Islands tomorrow. It will be our longest passage of the whole trip at 21 to 23 days. We're looking forward to it and surprisingly are not at all apprehensive!
I just updated this map today, it shows we're exactly halfway home, about 6000 nautical miles to go (as the crow flies).
04/11/2012, San Christobal, Galapagos
Hey Mike... I think I can hear something in the cockpit...
04/08/2012, Crossing the equator
About 8:30am this morning we crossed the equator (actually a couple times because it was very hard to get the 0 00.000'N reading on the plotter) and we're now in the southern hemisphere! We planned for a celebratory swim but a school of stingers had the same idea so we only jumped in and out very quickly!!!
It's the start of our sixth day at sea and we're still about 200NM from Galapagos, it'll take us about another two days from here. In all honesty I don't think Neptune is very happy with us, despite a wonderful 1st day we've been plagued by light headwinds, counter currents and rain. We're fighting through 1.2kts of counter current right now which is frustrating, our speed through the water is 6.0kts but our speed over ground is just 4.8kts, our passage guides for this area all refer to a "very favourable south equatorial current", yeah right. Otherwise today is looking good as the sun is out and while we're still motor-sailing at least the wind is on the beam so we can make for Galapagos without tacking. Hopefully Neptune will look at us more favourably now we're Shellbacks.
One upside to the lack of wind is that the seas are very calm, it makes moving around the boat as simple as if we were at anchor (you can put down a glass of water without fear of it sliding away). Other recent passages have all been like a washing machine compared to this. Life aboard is very easy, we've even been enjoying an afternoon beer (normally no alcohol at sea). It always takes a few days at sea to settle into a routine and stop feeling like a zombie but we're doing well now. We alternate shifts, 3hrs at night and 4hrs during the day. Afternoons and dinner are the only time we're awake together.
The bread is getting better too as we're learning a few shortcuts so it's less of a task. We started with an App on the iPad that had us mixing, kneading, rising, kneading, rising, shaping, resting before finally baking. Now it's more like mixing, kneading, rising, baking.
We caught a giant Mahi Mahi on the first day so we're only now putting the line back in the water.
04/02/2012, There's no friggin wind!
Leaving for Galapagos tomorrow morning. Unfortunately there's very little wind predicted so we're expecting to motor just about the whole way there :( It's an 850 NM passage and motoring at around 5 kts plus 1 kt of current it'll take us about 6 days.
It is a notoriously unwindy passage because we'll pass through the ITCZ (Inter-tropical Convergence Zone) also known as the doldrums. Basically it's the area where northern and southern hemisphere wind patterns meet around the equator and form one big high pressure leaving very little wind. Apparently there can be spectacular thunderstorms though :) It was also named the horse latitudes in olden times because if trading galleys got stuck without wind for too long they threw the horses into the water to save on rations. Lucky for us we have diesel and lots of it, though it's never much fun to motor for too long.
We'll cross the equator just before arriving into the Galapagos (our destination port; Wreck Bay on San Cristobel Island lies at 0 degrees and 54 minutes south). Normally yachts crossing the equator dress up and act out the "Court of Neptune" into which Shellbacks (those who've sailed across before) initiate the Pollywogs (those who haven't) in silly rituals which the Pollywogs are interrogated by Neptune and generally end up being doused in some "muck" . hmmmm . maybe we'll just go for a swim to celebrate!
See you in the Southern Hemisphere!!!
We left Sydney this day last year to embark on our adventure and oh what a year it has been. As we hope our blog updates portrayed, we've had great experiences both on and off Whippersnapper, saw lots of new and exciting places, had a steep learning curve in how to look after the boat, sailed over 8,000nm (13,000km) and met many good people and friends along the way. Looking forward to our next seven months!
We finally left Panama City yesterday after spending longer than we envisaged there. Getting work done just seemed difficult compared to Europe or the Caribbean. However, after multiple taxi trips in and out of the city we got our whisker pole repaired and provisioned the boat to hopefully see us a lot of the way home to Sydney. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any par-baked bread and the automatic bread makers are all 110 volt which is not compatible with our boat so Hugh has been busy learning how to make it. His first effort yesterday morning went extremely well. If my sisters wish to send us an email of the recipe for the tasty and simple bread that we grew up with, it would be appreciated, or better again ship 100 pieces of dough to us. J
We're in the Las Perlas Islands now, which is an Archipelago of inhabited and uninhabited Islands, some 40nm from Panama City. We plan to stay here for a few days before going on to what should be one of the highlights of the trip, the Galapagos Islands, 800nm's away. Although we haven't explored the Islands here yet they look very nice indeed and Hugh is determined to make a bonfire one night. The Island we're anchored at today, Contadora, is Panama's answer to Italy's Capri making it a popular weekend destination for vacationers from Panama City. We're expecting the hordes of powerboats and jet ski's to arrive anytime now.
Overall Panama has been a very interesting country. Compared to my experience of other countries in Central and South America the standard of living seems higher. The Canal brings in profits of approximately $1 billion per annum for the government and because of this there are many huge infrastructure projects taking place in the city. Of course there is the usual huge disparity between the classes that is evident throughout the region but one can't help thinking that in years to come the profits from the Canal will change all that for the Panamanians, remembering that Panama only got control of the Canal since the 31st Dec 1999 from the Americans. During our tour of the old city we were amused to find that only a few feet away from the Presidential Palace is a popular backpackers and derelict houses. They have some way to go yet! I like that the country is so diverse from the remoteness of the San Blas and Las Perlas Islands to the busy vista of skyscrapers over the City. Everything is also very reasonably priced which was great to allow us to stock up our wardrobes for the rest of the trip. It wasn't all good though with temperatures hitting 35 degrees most days it was stinking hot, ash kept falling on our boat and we couldn't swim in the green water. Also Hugh and myself are suffering from the flu and we don't make for great patients.
03/23/2012, gallery.me.com is closing so we have to move.
gallery.me.com is closing so we're moving our photo gallery to Picasa.com. The bonus is that movies that wouldn't play on gallery.me.com play perfectly on Picasa (who said everything on mac just works?).
I'll update the link on the right but our new gallery address is: https://picasaweb.google.com/101934552479970487173
03/22/2012, All fended up and ready to go.
Woohoo! We're through the canal and in home waters, well still some 8000NM away and actually in terms of straight-line distance we're not yet halfway home but it feels good all the same.
We transited the canal on Sunday night and again with Båten Anna on Monday, two very late nights. Both transits went well though Whippersnapper had one scary moment when a huge 5000HP tug overtook us in the lock and Whippersnapper did a quick spin in the wash, kinda like doing a handbrake turn, only our bow thruster and powerful engine in full reverse stopped us driving headfirst into the wall. Funnily Mum and Dad were watching us on the Panama Canal webcam and wondered why we were side-on to the path of a huge cargo ship (Mum and Dad made a video that we've posted in our gallery).
Now we're anchored at La Playita, Isla Flamenco and we can see Panama City on the other side of the Bay. There is very little facility for cruising boats here, we have two jobs, to find a replacement tube for our spinnaker pole and upgrade the firmware of our instruments (to fix a bug) but both are proving near impossible. We could get by without the firmware but not the pole, as an absolute last resort we found a piece of galvanised steel pipe we could sleeve our broken pole with but lets hope it doesn't come to that. Apparently there are some alloy welders around, we may be able to get a proper sleeve welded. I just got a quote for shipping a new pole in and it was 1200 GBP!
There are huge shopping malls nearby though and big supermarkets so provisioning should be one thing we can get done. Provisioning is very important now because this will be the best opportunity until Tahiti and Panama is quite cheap so for long life items we'll buy as much as we can carry :) The Pacific is rumoured to be very expensive due to its remoteness and the need for everything to be shipped in.
We may go sightseeing in Panama City tomorrow but otherwise there's nothing nice about this place, we're missing clean water to swim in. Hopefully we'll go to the Las Perlas Islands (beautiful archipelago 50NM away) on the weekend for a while then back here before departing for Galapagos end of the month.
Quick correction to previous post, expansion program is costing 5.25B.
03/16/2012, Miraflores lock gate opens into the Pacific.
Our Panama Canal transit has now been confirmed for Sunday afternoon (about 8am Monday Sydney time). Our friends on Ganga are going on Saturday and Båten Anna on Monday. There are so many Australian boats waiting here in Shelter Bay you could happily rename the canal the Aussie Canal! The night before last we joined another Aussie boat as line handlers for their transit. All up it's simple enough but we're really glad we did it as there's a number of tricks we learnt that will help with our own transit. Until Sunday though we've only a limited number of jobs and are enjoying the pool here at Shelter Bay Marina and $1 beers during happy hour!
Here's a little about the canal transit as it's quite a process,
We have an agent, Eric, who helps with the mass of paper work, fees, bonds, legwork between various offices, arrange inspections, hiring of extra lines, fenders and the like, after watching Båten Anna go solo we can safely say it's money well spent. All in our transit is costing us just under $1000, less than we anticipated.
During the Transit we'll have an advisor onboard provided by the Panama Canal Authority and we're required to have four line handlers onboard plus the skipper! I'm going to skipper, Mike will act as one of the line handlers and then our friends from Båten Anna (Elliv, Emillie and Gustaf) will be the other three. We'll do the same for them on Monday (making three transits in total!). For the little boats (we're little compared to the cargo ships!) they raft us up while in the locks, normally a raft of three boats they place you either in front or behind a medium sized cargo ship. The line handlers then control lines from each corner of the raft upto the lock walls. The big ships use locomotives and big cables to move them through, this is why little boats are known by the canal authority as hand liners.
The transits are a little different from normal in that we will transit the entire canal in one afternoon/evening. Apparently it's a bit of a shame because yachts used to overnight in Gutan Lake which is pretty and filled with wildlife. Now it's night for most of the transit and to top if off we have to arrive into an anchorage around 2am and hope to find a safe spot.
The simplified, transit is as follows;
1. Anchor outside the canal and await our advisor to be dropped off by a pilot boat.
2. Raft up with other small boats
3. Enter the Gatun Locks (three sequential up locks)
4. Exit locks and unraft
5. Motor across Gatun Lake (about 21 nautical miles)
6. Raft up with other small boats
7. Enter Miraflores Locks (one down lock followed by another two down locks)
8. Advisor is collected by a pilot boat.
9. Exit locks and motor to anchorage at Isla Flamenco (about 6 miles)
The canal itself is an absolutely massive construction and it's all being widened over the next few years costing nearly a billion dollars. Our transit on Wednesday night was a little boys dream with the largest super sized trucks and cranes and diggers we'd ever seen. Watching the last gate open into the Pacific (photo above) is filled with anticipation but in rather a let down you're only greeted by more muddy water that looks just like the muddy water at the other end :)
03/13/2012, San Blas
Well we did arrive safely into San Blas but gosh what a passage! Started off quite nicely, for the first two days Mike and I kept commenting on how consistent the winds were and comfortable the seas, both days we sailed over 200NM (favorable currents helped a lot), quite a feat and a first for Whippersnapper. The sleigh ride didn't last though and by the third day the seas were an uncomfortable mess. Twice I left windows open (it was hot and humid) only to get a breaking wave over the deck soaking cushions and bed sheets (not fun). By the fourth day we were experiencing a number of squalls, we had a couple in the low 30s which were great fun, pretty sure I saw 16.3kts on one surf but with the bravado came complacency when the next squall came instead of reefing down we excitedly left all canvas up, well this squall hit 40kts, we had a little broach and bent our whisker pole cleanly in half :( We did repair it (two hacksaws, a spare aluminum table leg and lots of rivets) but we really only used it briefly after that as the wind veered then increased to 40kts and unwilling to test our bush mechanics under those conditions we reached into San Blas under a partly furled genoa only. Bummer about the pole but otherwise we enjoyed our biggest two handed passage and we were pleased not to have to motor at all for nearly a 1000 miles!
San Blas is a very cool and remote archipelago on Panama's Caribbean coast, The Islands are officially part of Panama but inhabited only by the indigenous Kuna Indians who have been granted autonomy to govern themselves. It is said the Kuna Indian have best preserved their culture and traditions out of all the tribes in the Americas. It is not permitted, for example, to marry foreigners. The islands themselves are all very low lying patches of sand covered in palm trees, most not more than a few feet above sea level! They're surrounded by coral reefs and white sand so the snorkeling is excellent. Unfortunately for us though the weather was pretty drab, very grey, very windy and sometimes rain. We weren't really getting to see San Blas at its best but the pictures in our guide book are inspiring.
Navigating around the San Blas is truly terrifying, numerous wreaks on the reefs a sombre reminder to be careful, it's very unforgiving! Many a lagoon entrance is narrow and bordered by breaking waves and sharp coral reefs, combine that with a strong cross breeze and the pulse quickens somewhat. We discovered only after arriving that San Blas in not included in our main plotters electronic charts, we do have the Navionics charts on our iPad but we discovered they're far from accurate, islands are incorrectly positioned many reefs uncharted and far to few depth soundings. Fortunately our pilot guide book for the area is excellent (Panama Cruising Guide) so in a first for Whippersnapper we're navigating using paper! Each time we visit a new island we make a passage plan of waypoints and transfer these into our plotter to follow, some of the entrances require around 6 waypoints to navigate safely between the reefs. We always have one of us on the foredeck in Polaroid sunglasses which helps.
On the plus side though we've been eating lobster and calamari (squid) caught with our spear gun (you don't catch lobster so much as just spear them but using the gun is 100 times easier than trying to catch them by hand as we'd been trying previously). It's not quite lobster season here yet but we managed to find a few.
We've also made some new friends, Båten Anna a swedish yacht we first met in Bequia is here in San Blas too and we've been spending time on each others yachts, onboard are Eilliv, Emillie, Gustaf and Liselotte. Båten Anna is heading to Australia also (Eiliv and Emillie) so we look forward to seeing them along the way - especially because we've taught them Turbo Hearts (our favourite card game) and they're worthy opponents.
Right now we're sitting in Shelter Bay Marina awaiting our Panama Canal transit, it's currently estimated we'll go through this Saturday. We're especially excited about the canal and are even helping another yacht transit tomorrow so we can get some firsthand experience before transiting ourselves. We'll write again when our transit is confirmed, apparently you can watch us go through by webcam... riveting viewing I'm sure! It's amazing though really, we'll be in the Pacific... just one ocean to go until home.
Mike is getting very excited about his home club, Coolderry, being in the All-Ireland Hurling Final on Saturday (St Patrick's Day) and wishes his nephews and all the players best of luck!!!
We left St Martin at dusk for our first overnight sail since crossing the Atlantic, direction the British Virgin Islands (BVI's) and our last stop in the Caribbean. We heard stories about the BVI's being a lovely cruising ground but nothing quite prepared us for just how good it actually is. The BVI's is made up of over 40 islands set within an area of only 59 sq miles, some uninhabited, some with just a beach bar and restaurant, some with shipwrecks to dive on, others privately owned by rich billionaires like Richard Branson who bought Necker Island thirty years ago for $68,000 and who recently turned down a $220 million offer for it! What's most enjoyable is how it all works in harmony with each other to become this mecca for charter boats, cruisers and super yachts all enjoying each other's company in the famous sites and establishments. What's more, the sun shines more here than in the rest of the Caribbean though maybe this was just luck on our behalf. The snorkeling is great and most islands have free internet (great for keeping abreast of the current Gillard/Rudd battle). We particularly like that every bar has a happy hour from 4-6pm daily so we're generally in bed by 8pm.
We started on Virgin Gorda Island with a visit to 'The Baths', a collection of volcanic lava boulders dated from 70 million years ago. The boulders are not only fascinating to see from above the water but also lurk under it making it great for snorkeling. There is a very cool trail from the Baths beach to Devil's Bay that goes through the caves, over the boulders, through tidal pools and finishes at the white sand beach. From here we headed to North Sound, an idyllic bay surrounded by mountains with the famous Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock Resort based in the bay. After a couple of days in North Sound we met up with Bridget and Ben from Ganga whom we hadn't seen since Rodney Bay. Bridget's Grandfather, Don and brother, Jason were with them to help crew to Panama. We had a lovely couple of days with them in North Sound and a particularly drunken night at Willy T's on Norman Island before they left for the San Blas islands (our next stop).
Having booked to do two dives on the famous 'Rhone' (a 310ft shipwreck broken up into a few pieces in 20-80ft of water) we headed to Cooper Island for pick up the next morning. We planned to only have one drink during happy hour so we could be in top form for the dives the next day. That plan went out the window when we met eight Americans chartering on a huge catamaran who invited us back for dinner and drinks. The dives were great and well worth it. From there we spent one night in Sopers Hole on Tortola. Unfortunately, we ripped our main sail when furling it as we entered the bay so the form wasn't great that night. It's been an ongoing issue with the batten pockets so the next day we made a quick stop in Nanny Cay Marina to get a sail maker to make new pockets that Hugh designed and patch the UV on the Genoa.
While waiting for the sail to be fixed we went to White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. There is a very popular bar there called the 'Soggy Dollar Bar' because most visitors jump off their boats and swim into the bar for a drink. Hugh was snorkeling to our anchor when he came back with his own soggy dollar, a $20 note that he found floating in the water J. We also spent a night at Great Harbour Bay before heading back to Nanny Cay and Road Town on Tortola.
If you're thinking of a sailing holiday for this time of year we would definitely recommend chartering a boat in the BVI's. We've certainly enjoyed our time here. We're about to leave the Caribbean now on a 1054nm (c1800km) passage to the San Blas Islands in Panama. This will be the longest passage Hugh and I have ever done or will ever do alone. The weather is in our favour so we're not expecting much drama and should arrive in about 7 to 8 days.
02/16/2012, Bitter End, - Virgin Gorda (BVI's)
Just a quick note, the best map of our current/past positions is via the link in the right column under the title "Favorites". Previously I'd called it "Our Logbook", I just renamed it "A better map of our current position".
02/15/2012, St Martin/Sint Maartin
OK you won't need to hear us complaining about our electricity any more, we've just replaced the chargers and life is bliss! After 3 different (and very expensive) technicians all variously told us the batteries are the problem, no the chargers are the problem, no the wiring is the problem, further time consuming tests are required... We took it upon ourselves to buy a new charger (we could return) and see if it worked, well it did and now our charging output is textbook perfect and takes less than 2 hours per day! Woohoo!!! The new chargers also came with a very cool remote display and control panel so we can monitor them easily.
This last week we've been in St Martin/Sint Maartin, they say it's the yachting capital of the Caribbean and they're probably right, we think principally because the island is duty free :) There are two very large chandleries (Island Water World and Budget Marine) who without doubt have the largest range we've come across so far. The pile of receipts we've collected a doubtless reminder of the money we're spending (time to leave for more remote waters!). It's money well spent though as this is definitely the last well stocked and relatively inexpensive location before Sydney so we're piling up on various spare parts to see us across the Pacific.
We're anchored in Simpson Lagoon, it's huge, no less than 10 marinas and three large anchorages. It's great fun, superyachts fill the marinas and cruisers occupy the anchorages, everyone zooms around is dinghies at great speed with little care for any road rules. You can get just about everywhere by dinghy and in the morning you see many people going to work that way. Then as if the place is not busy enough, a runway ends in the lagoon so every half hour or so a jet flys by just a few hundred feet above with a deafening roar.
While waiting for the bridge to open at the entrance to the lagoon a boisterous "G'day! Aussie" came from a 100ft yacht next to us called Symmetry. The captain, Ross (originally from Melbourne) had spotted our flag and invited us to a BBQ the next day. It was fun, we mingled with the super yacht staff and compared stories, we kept getting asked what yacht we were working on... Daytimes you can spot the staff easily on the island, they're the ones decked out in white shorts and polos shirts (embroidered with their yachts name) and earpieces to VHF radios clipped on their belts. They look like an FBI tennis party. That night we learnt that super yacht staff refer to us yachties as "Crusty cruisers, always wanting something for free". Captain Ross though turned out to be a wealth of information about cruising San Blas and transiting Panama canal. He invited us aboard later in the week and handed across a number of typed notes and printed chartlets he'd prepared for us.
While in Simpson Lagoon a few mornings we listened to the local cruisers radio net, a very serious discussion on the differing merits of one chandleries staff attentiveness vs another's and the financial irresponsibility of those yachts anchored in the Dutch side of the lagoon (us included), don't they know the French side is free? The net does serve a purpose though as many yachts radio in on gear etc for sale.
St Martin is split in two sides, one French one Dutch, in shops you can see prices in Euros, USDs and Gilders... very confusing. We laughed one morning when the cruisers radio net describes the French side as "no problem" and the Dutch side as "no".