Costa Rica to Galapagos, day 1, February 20.
Finally, all the jobs, pretty much, had been completed satisfactorily and we felt ready to go. After topping up our tank and spare jerry cans with diesel,
we stopped for a final, private, farewell lunch at Fish Hook Marina, where we had been staying in bond for the last two weeks.
We cast off our mooring lines and departed at 1600, ship time!, unfortunately having to motor because of the light wind. As the channel leading to the ocean opened up to us, we started to feel 'this is really it! After all this time, it is really happening'. As we made our way through the channel, with a last chance to admire the lush scenery of Costa Rica, we also recalled the night, four months before when we had drifted in under sail in the darkness. Isabelle cooked a nice omelette for dinner which we ate with the sun setting as we approached the exit to Golfo Dulce and entered the Pacific Ocean proper. Night was soon upon us, as the sun goes pretty much straight down at these latitudes, at 6pm, leaving it dark by 6.30.
We were finally able to set sail and lay course about 7pm in the hoped for westerly breeze that the grib files had forecast. Quite a nice night's sail with a quarter moon out. Only saw a couple of fishing boats and then we were on our own.
The only disturbance to the peace was the sound of the propeller shaft turning as the boat slid through the water. My rather 'agricultural' attempt at a shaft brake wasn't quite strong enough to hold it from turning, but has potential.
The wind left after sunrise and we had to motor all day until 4. Our strategy was to keep moving if the speed fell much below 3 knots, trying to average around 4 knots. I figured we had about 400 miles range with the engine,which might just get us through the calms of the doldrums.
Spent the day cleaning the boat, and self, and making bread. Isabelle was suffering a mild bout of seasickness so i was trying to let her rest as much as possible, as tiredness seemed to make it worse.
Came across a whale While we were motoring in the morning. I saw it surface ahead and heading straight across our course. It had a very small, very curved dorsal fin..Minke? I decided it was wiser to alter course for a bit, just in case it wanted to play.
No land in sight by now. Just us, the sea and sky, and a pair of Petrels. They'd approach the boat with a seeming fascination for the masthead, give it a good stare and then wing off with a little waggle and flutter of their tail feathers. They are beautiful birds to watch, so graceful in flight. They would fly, tightly together, so close to the water that their wingtips would kiss the surface, then one would rise closely followed by the other, gain height with a few wing beats, then dive again under the wind, close to the water.
Is' made another great dinner of pasta. It's amazing how good food tastes at sea! Isabelle was doing so well to cook when not feelng that well. It's the toughest job to cook on a sailboat, especially if you're feeling the effects of seasickness.
We'd been on port tack for a while, but the breeze finally freshened and veered and we were able to tack to starboard and lay course again.
Isabelle had a bad night- bad headache and nausea, so i took an all night watch. I definitely had the better part of the deal!
Reduced sail a little bit and the boat sailed itself practically all night. This was the first really good chance we'd had to sail our boat and i was starting to be quite impressed. Sailing close hauled, that is, towards the wind at a slight angle to keep the sails filled, the boat balances so well that we didn't even need our auto-pilot. Just lock the wheel in place roughly around centre and the boat will tend to itself, finding a very nice balance between speed and angle to the wind. As good as i could do if i was steering myself.
A little bird, a tern of some sort, made home for the night on our bimini. It was so cute, preening itself there, getting ready for sleep. I wonder what it would normally do at night without a boat to rest on. I was quite happy to have it along with us. Just after sunrise, he gave a couple of hoarse squarks, and left us, maybe that was saying 'thanks for the ride', or he was just depositing his calling cards on the bimini.
Dolphins came to visit us twice during the night. First you hear a gasp of air as one breaks the surface, then you realise it might be dolphins. Then you see a few arced shapes in the waves. I went to the bow. It was magical, in the moonlight and the black water. I wanted to wake Is' but thought she was better sleeping, poor girl. The dolphins could just be made out underwater by occassional flashes of phosphorescence as they darted in front of the bow.
A good breeze was blowing and the bow was charging through the waves, pitching up and down. I could hear the dolphins 'squeaking' to each other. I had an overwhelming sense of joy. Maybe it was a feeling of being so close to these magnificent creatures on this magic night. One made a sudden leap right beside the bow as i was standing there, landing in a kind of belly flop, splashing me.
I wondered what they do all night-race around the seas? Do they sleep?
I was so tired and managed a few bursts of very deep sleep, waking when it must have been time to check things. All going well usually, the boat still steering itself. Sometimes i awoke and found it hard to get my bearings-where i was in relation to the boat. Around 4am we came on a string of strobe lights in the water, across our course.I assumed they were marking fishing pots, lines or nets. It was too far too alter course to go around them and i figured that the nets, if any, would be far enough below the surface to allow us to sail over them. It turned out okay as we sailed through the line, but i slowed the boat just in case so that the propeller wasn't still turning, ready to wrap a line around itself.
Motored a couple of hours in the morning , though it took three goes to start, with the starter disengaging each time before the engine had fired.
A nice WSW breeze came in later so we could sail again. Saw no boats , but still evidence of other people- plastic botttles and pieces of styrofoam.
Went to start the engine as the wind dropped again but got nothing. My heart sank, 'not again'. This looked like a continuation of our starter motor problem we'd had since Panama, that i had hoped that i'd fixed. I was getting depressed but realised that there was nothing for it but we would just have to fix it ourselves, out here. At least i knew i could do the job. Is' was still feeling sick and i didn't want to bring her spirits lower by telling her about it just yet. The breeze came in again anyway, thankfully, and we sailed all day and evening. Is was feeling better by then and i told her about the starter.
I made veggie/barley soup for dinner but the barley soaked up so much water i nearly ended up burning it.
My night watch started at 10. Wind was up to 15 knots and we were sailing with a reduced headsail. There was a bit of spectacular horizontal lightning about, but nothing that was close to us. One thing we found remarkable was how bright the lightning seemed here, even if it was so far away that we never even heard the thunder. It was blinding. Maybe it was because our eyes were so adjusted for night vision, but i'd never experienced that blindingness at home.
The conditions were quite rough with the bow digging deep into some waves. I lost a winch handle overboard from our port winch which had started playing up, missing the ratchet pawls. First the winch 'bit back' at me a couple of times, with the winch handle whacking me in the wrist. Next time the handle just whipped right out of my hands. Damn, it was the good handle too.
Slept all night in the cockpit, managing to wake now whenever the motion of the boat changed, alerting me to changed conditions. Tried no headsail for a while but it was too slow.
I had a good sleep after sunrise and Is was feeling better too, having made herself a craved for breakfast of smoked tinned mussels on ritz biscuits. She must have been feeling better!
I ate our left over soup- not that great. The wind was still good and we had made good progress since yeterday morning, but it was not long before it died again, which meant it was time to attack the starter motor.
I switched off the batteries so Is steered since we couldn't use the autopilot. When we tried the starter switch i could see some open sparks at the solenoid which was a bit alarming. Turned out, when i removed it, that the solenoid cover was cracked. I still had the old one on board but after a thorough search of the boat i still couldn't find it. I was dumb-founded as i was sure i didn't throw it away in case of just such an emergency. In the end i just had to tape all the parts together, which fortunately were all laying there. It worked , but still didn't fix the starter problem. With the solenoid off i could tell that the bendix gear on the starter motor was still jammed. This meant extracting the starter from it's position tucked down one side of the engine where it is bearly reachable, tight on one side and under water pipes and oil hoses. It also weighs about 20kg to make it even more challenging when you are trying to manouver it at arms length.
Fortunately i had already cut down a spanner so i could get the bolts undone that hold it in. Once it was out, it was a quick process to dismantle and see that two of my makeshift washers had perished. Fortunately one experimental one had survived so i cut six more out of the plastic cover of my document folder.
Back together and no sticking, it was time for the hardest part- manouver the starter back into position, while also trying to get a 15mm spacer in there as well where it bolts on. With Is now holding it up in a kind of sling while i sweated and struggled to coax it in, we finally located a bolt hole after about 20 minutes. Half the time the spacer fell out of place just when we thought we nearly had it.All bolted in, pipes back in place, and it was time to hit the starter button. Success! What a beautiful sound it is when it fires. We were both very happy and i had a well deserved, refreshing shower as i had been completely soaked in sweat.
Toward evening a bird was circling us, checking us out, flying by almost within touching distance. It gave a little waggle of it's tail each time it passed. Finally after several attempts, it landed on the pulpit( the railing at the bow) albiet unsteadily, what with the pitching of the bow in the waves. It preened itself for a considerable time, getting ready for the evening. It seemed happy until a little while later another bird settled on the opposite side of the pulpit. They were arguing for a while over who should stay and who should go but they finally reached a truce. A little later still i looked and there was yet another bird, this time sitting next to the first. We were becoming festooned with birds. Last time i looked , the two sitting next to each other had decided to bunk it- one on the top rail, the other underneath.