Leela Year Five - Heading to the Pacific

15 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
13 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
07 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
03 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
27 August 2019 | S Pacific Ocean
23 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva
20 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia
13 August 2019 | On passage S. Pacific
08 August 2019 | On passage S. Pacific
30 July 2019 | Puerto Aroya, Galapagos
24 July 2019 | Galapagos
17 July 2019 | Isla San Christobal, Galapagos
13 July 2019 | San Christobal, Galapagos
09 July 2019 | Wreck Bay, San Christobal, Galapagos.
06 July 2019 | 200nm ENE of San Christobal, Galapagos
02 July 2019 | N Pacific Ocean
30 June 2019 | 200nm south of Panama City
24 June 2019 | Vista Mar Marina, Panama
02 June 2019 | Vista Mar Marina, Panama
23 May 2019 | Panama City

On (not) Getting Away From it All

15 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
Graham
One of the many things we are learning out here is how utterly dependent we have all become on ubiquitous Internet access. All of us have administrative threads back into ‘civilization' that need to be maintained; stuff in storage, phone services, satellite services, credit cards, cash cards and so it goes on. It is very easy for this house of cards to come tumbling down. In the last couple of weeks we have had our primary credit card gratuitously repaced with ‘updated technology' and our backup card that we NEVER use in a retail establishment fraudulently used by someone else. Then our (fixed) primary credit card gets blocked by the over-zealous (and frankly dumb) ‘smart' security system. None of these issues would be overly disruptive IF we had internet access - but we don't. Well, we sort of do, via the satellite phone but most administrative websites are so badly built that they fall apart over low bandwidth connections.

The first indication of a problem is the phone bill does not get paid. This has to be fixed in three days so we get to a cell tower (without Internet access) and call customer service to change the account. Sorry, there is absolutely NO way to add a credit card to the account except via the (non functional) website. Customer service won't do it. Can't be done by email. When we tell them that it is simply not possible to get Internet access in the required time we are met with an utter lack of comprehension and a degree of suspicion. Everyone has Internet access all the time don't they?

So, back to the credit card to try and fix it there. “We just need to send you a security code to your mobile app”. No Internet access so the app does not work - back to the lack of comprehension and suspicion.... After providing my life history and, managing to receive a text message they are willing to talk to me. “We just wanted to check that it was you that authorized the payment to Google Fi (that we happily paid last month)”. OK, credit card fixed BUT the only way to get Google to retry the charge is through the website, remember? The one that does not work via satellite. Argh.....

I'm pretty much resigned to the phone getting cut off at this point. We don't use it much but it is one more broken thread in the tenuous web we depend on. This is just part of a long running saga but there is a cautionary tale for us all here. One day the Internet is really going to go down. If we persist in electing imbeciles to ‘govern’ us that day might come sooner rather than later. When it happens we are totally and utterly screwed. The veneer of civilization will fall away amazingly rapidly when the power goes off, fuel cannot be purchased and food supply systems collapse (remember New Orleans?). Maybe the preppers have a point....

OK. Back to the illusion of getting away from it all....

Enough Fish For a While

13 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
Graham
We are still hiding out at the NE corner of Rarioa Atoll with Perigee and Capel, Mara, two Australian boats. A spell of calm weather has allowed us to get out to the mid-lagoon deepwater bommies, which are fantastic and I am getting the hang of photography while snorkeling so LOTS of fish pics are forthcoming. Unfortunately one of the downides of remote anchorages is only having satellite communications so they will have to wait, possibly for quite a while until we get to an island on the fiber optic cable that has recently been strung through parts of French Polynesia.

I have now dragged out the big camera and started to get some bird pics. We are not sure if this is a Tern or a Petrel but I'm sure someone out there will know. Anyway they are beautiful birds that often fly around in pairs in such tight formation that they can be mistaken for the white wing tips of a larger bird. This formation flying appears to be an important part of their mate selection process because we sometimes see a second male join the formation for a fly-off. They are impossible to tell apart so the victor is uncertain but it ends with one male flying off alone.

We motored down to the village yesterday as a group on Perigee to see if we could get online and visit the only store to buy some veggies as the monthly boat came in the day before. Slim pickings, carrots, cabbage, onions and garlic was all we found. The village satellite internet link was down so no internet either. We did manage to find some beer and some Tim Tams (the Audtralian equivilant of US Oreos or UK Kit Kats) and it was a very nice day out.

A fourth boat is arriving later today so our little community of six people will become eight - very exciting.

Back in the Water

07 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
There is no dive shop here to get tanks filled. In fact, there is no anything here..... so we are just snorkeling. There are plenty of small reefs around us with an interesting range of different creatures. Taking good pictures snorkeling is a challenge, particularly in three feet of water. The dappled sunlight is distracting and it is very hard to keep the camera still enough. None the less I'm managing to get a few interesting pics.

From the top left, clockwise:

1. An as yet unidentified goby cleaning out his home. He would disappear inside for thirty seconds or so then come out and spit out a large mouthful of sand and gravel.

2. The head of a reef top pipefish. Our first pipefish ever in decades of diving. This one is slightly thinner than a pencil and about four inches long. The patterning is fabulous.

3. The biggest marine life in this region are the sharks. These are black tipped reef sharks. They can get to eight feet long but the ones we see are typically three to five feet. We have never been in the water without seeing them and we are beginning to take them for granted. Most of the time they pretty much ignore us as they cruise the reef looking for someone (small) who is not paying attention. Sometimes they circle us, getting a little closer at every pass. When they get too ‘€˜friendly' We swim at them aggressively and they shoot off (so far....). They are actually quite beautiful to watch once you get past the ‘shark' thing.

4. There are giant clams everywhere, in an amazing variety of patterns and colors. They can get to more than four feet across but the ones we are finding are generally four to eight inches. What is odd is the crazy diversity within the species. Most marine life is very uniform in appearance within the species but these guys are all over the map.

We go for a snorkel pretty much every day but the weather has been a bit nasty (30kts of wind and a steep chop) for the past day or so and the visibility is going to be poor tomorrow so probably no photography. The longer range forecast is good so more soon.

I Think We Have Arrived

03 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
It was hard work getting here but the payoff is astonishing. We are tucked into the NE corner of the Rarioa Atoll (red arrow on chart). We can hear the Pacific Ocean crashing on the outside of the reef but in here the turquoise water in perfectly flat (a real luxury at this point), the palm trees are swaying gently and it looks and feels like the epitomal South Pacific scene. The temperature is just about perfect, the humidity is low, the sky is mainly blue and there really is nothing you would want to change.

Getting into the atoll was interesting. It is a coral ring, about 40km long and 12km wide. It has a tide of 1m and only one significant pass. This means that about 450 million cubic meters or 119 billion gallons of water rush through that pass four times a day so timing was important. We arrived well before the calculated slack tide and monitored the pass. It was not too hard to see the flow. Even with wind with tide there was a remarkable tidal rip where the outflow hit the Pacific swells so we hung about and watched as it gradually settled down. A mother humpback whale and her calf and a small pod of dolphins entertained us while we waited. Eventually we started nosing into the flow to check the current. The north side of the pass was reasonably flat and we only saw a couple of knots so we pushed on through. The max current we saw was 3.5kts which was easily managed and we were through our first atoll pass.

Once inside we had very precise waypoints provided by our friends on Capel Mara, already waiting for us at the anchorage. We used those, geo-referenced Google Earth images and mark 1 eyeballs to navigate through the many coral outcrops or bommies between us and our destination in the NE corner of the atoll. There we met up with our sailing buddies (and waypoint providers) Sal and John on Capel Mara and Leanne and David on Perigee, the main culprits who helped us talk ourselves into this crazy endeavor a couple of years ago and many miles away in Lagoonies bar in Sint Maarten.

Since then life has been slow and easy. The boat was a tip after two passages so we are still working on that and we have the inevitable list of boat chores but we work for a few hours each morning the either go snorkeling, walking on the Motu (area of reef that has built up enough to support vegetation) or hanging about in the shallows chatting. The marine life is always entertaining. If you look at the bottom left corner of the bottom right image that smudge is a 3ft black tipped reef shark doing his rounds. I am posting this via satellite so I can only post one image at the moment so I will do another short post about the underwater scene.

There are some challenges involved in ‘getting away from it all'. There is only a very small village on the island and that is about ten miles away on the NW side of the atoll. The nearest actual town is probably Papeete on Tahiti, a four day sail from here so we need to be pretty self sufficient. There is on store in the village but the supply boat only comes once a month so pickings will be slim. We are well stocked up on food and making water so we can go a couple of months or more before we need to move. We have no phone service so the satellite link is our only communications. It is nice to be able to get emails and post this but, to be honest, a spell with zero internet would be fine by me. I know it is going to upset me but I cannot resist the occasional look at what passes for news these days, even if it does take fifteen minutes to download an image-free web page.

We think we will probably stay here for another month then move down to a nearby atoll, Makemo, that apparently has a dive operation. After that we are not sure. Janaki needs some dental work in Tahiti so we might sail there and then back to the Marquesas, just another 1,200nm.....

I will pop up a short post to get an underwater pic up and, as soon as I get some half way reasonable internet I will put up a photo album but that might be a ways off.

Moving on (a Little too Quickly)

27 August 2019 | S Pacific Ocean
Graham
After only a few days in the Marquesas we decided to push on quickly to the Tuamotus. There were some strong drivers for this. The Marquesas are visually splendid and the perfect arrival destination but there are drawbacks; the anchorage was so rolly we would wake up at night wondering why no one was on watch, the water is murky and not good for swimming or diving and the islands themselves are not particularly accessible. In any event we are coming back there in November for the festival on Ua Pou. The Tuamotus, on the other hand, are classic coral atolls. Clear blue water caressing white sand beaches lined with coconut palms, FLAT water anchorages, snorkeling and swimming. Add to that our sailing buddies on Capel Mara and Perigee, who we have not seen for a while, are hanging out there. Why not?

Here is why not. We really had no idea how depleted we were from the two big crossings and the rapid scuttle round the Galapagos. One day into this thankfully short three day passage and we are both feeling our age. Just run down and bone weary. Not dangerously so, just uncomfortably so. The boat is still a tip from the long crossing and we are ready for a break. So, two more days, into the lagoon, and both the crew and the boat are going to get some much needed TLC. We have an ample to-do list for Leela, much of it involving cleaning and the crew is going to work half days then laze about, swim, play games, whatever.

The first day was more on the nose than we expected and quite boisterous but the wind has now backed to a more comfortable beam reach. The seas are down and the sky is bright blue and dotted with little, picture book, cumulus clouds. At night the Milky Way lights our path south in a moonless sky. All good.

I’m struggling to post photos to the album with the generally dreadful internet access here but I will let you know when I have managed to do that.

The Passage Making Setup

23 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva
Graham
For the long downwind passage we used a modified Twizzle or Simbo rig

This consists of two genoas on the furler that can either be deployed 'wing on wing' or used as a single genoa with the sails laid on top of one another. Normally it requires twin poles that we do not have so we used the pole on the upwind side and the boom on the downwind side. This worked fine but prevented us using the main in conjunction with the genoas. If I did it again I might try not using a pole on the downwind side and incorporating the reefed main. It is well described in the attached article.

The setup worked very well. We went several days reaching with the sails laid on one another without problem then switched to the downwind setup. It was fast and could be reefed by one person from the cockpit very quickly. The boat was well balanced, despite the different sized genoas and showed no tendency to broach, even at the occasional 10kts, although we still needed warps to deal with the aft quartering seas (more on that later). Despite the benefits I remain somewhat ambivilant.

It put enormous strain on the furler and furling line, enough to destroy most of the furler line running blocks. We have an oversized furler system that seems none the worse for the trip but it felt like unnecessary risk at times. As we had configured it, the operating window was from Port 120deg to Starboard 160deg which happened to work OK for us but got tight. With the boom and the pole out it was not a trivial job to reconfigure for broad reaching.

The Hydrovane was remarkably effective, even downwind in difficult conditions. I was expecting to get it set up and tested then put it away for emergencies but we ended up using it most of the way. It was subtle but it actually seemed to provide a smoother ride than the very sophisticated autopilot. The only time it was insufficient was when we needed to sail close to the edge of the working envelope of the rig. The Hydrovane did not hold us to the angle tightly enough causing the sails to flog. Using both the autopilot and the Hydrovane together worked well in those circumstances although care was needed to make sure they worked together and did not fight one another.

In big following seas (most of the passage) we trailed warps to help keep the stern in line when surfing off wave faces. This consisted of 109' of 3/4" nylon anchor rode, 10' of chain and a fender. Above 18kts it had no apparent effect on boat speed and may have been faster because it helped prevent the boat slewing sideways then rolling on the waves. Apart from being very uncomfortable, this sideways slide unbalances the sails. This use of warps made the Hydrovane more effective and also make the ride much more comfortable and (so far) has prevented boarding seas. It is pretty much our go to solution for following seas in anything over about 18kts true now.

We had very few equipment failures on the passage. The whisker pole went from being a telescopic long pole to being a fixed length short pole when the extension line broke. This meant we had to stay quite heavily reefed to keep the sail shape. Fortunately there was enough wind to make this necessary anyway. The furler line blocks were easily bypassed or replaced. The masthead light has gone intermittent. It is probably an electronics problem in the LED light but I will check the masthead connection when we get to flat water (SOON I hope). The SSB radio worked as well as ever (not at all....).

We did discover a bit more play in the rudder shaft than is ideal. It has probably been like this for a while but it is only noticable when using the Hydrovane downwind with the main rudder tied off amidships. It clunks ... A repair plan is being developed.

All in all we were very happy with Leela's performance. We were much faster than we anticipated. We were reasonably comfortable in the robust conditions and we got here pretty much in one piece. What more could you ask for?

Landfall

20 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia
This afternoon we made landfall in Baie de Taiohae, Nuku Hiva,in the Marquesas Islands, one of the archipelagos in French Polynesia. The passage from the Galápagos Islands was 3,076nm (3,540 Statute miles, the distance from London to New York), completed in exactly 19 days at an average, current assisted, speed of 6.8 knots. As our estimate was 24 days at 5.5 knots we are pretty pumped by this result. The other surprising fact is that we are already more than half way to New Zealand from Panama. We will do the second half at a more leisurely pace.

While the winds were ideal for a fast passage, conditions were decidedly robust and it was definitely not the serene experience we have heard about from others. Moving hand over hand in a sometimes violently moving boat for weeks at a time is hard and slightly risky work. I know that my balance and upper body muscles have benefited enormously. It will be interesting to see how bad the dry land vertigo is this time.

So, how do I feel about it now? Firstly very pleased to have done it. It was the culmination of several years of boat preparation, skill development, incremental challenges and learning. I think this is probably the most serious adventure I have ever undertaken and I’ve undertaken a few. Then I feel relieved. It might be something to do with my background in the offshore oil industry, constantly doing risk assessments, but I spent too much of the trip in a state of heightened anxiety. “What's going to break?”. “What have we forgotten?”. “How would we deal with the many hundred failure scenarios I managed to conjure up? I think we did a really good job of preparing the boat and ourselves but the difference between ‘succeeding' and ‘getting away with it' is always fuzzy and we were a LONG way from any help. I was particularly concerned about injury in the rough conditions so we were very careful how we moved about and protected ourselves and each other. As soon as we were within motoring distance of land some of the anxiety fell away. Now the rest has gone. We did have a buddy boat, Kelvin and Caroline, a couple of New Zealanders on SV Ondina. We managed to stay within 50nm of one another for the entire passage which provided a potential source of help but, perhaps more importantly, a sense that we were not completely alone in a VERY big ocean. During the entire passage we have only seen two other vessels, both tuna fishing boats waiting for calm enough weather to fish.

I have really enjoyed working with Janaki to manage the operation of the boat. She has been developing her cruising skills and we have become a more balanced sailing team, working really well together. She has remained resolutely upbeat (apart from a couple of well justified galley melt-downs). I cannot conceive of anyone I would rather do this with. We discussed getting crew to help but we are very glad we did not. Getting enough sleep has been a non-issue and crews bring all sorts of other challenges. Just being the two of us has made it a great experience. We have actually been quite surprised by our resilience. Neither of us feels too depleted and we agreed that we could continue pretty much indefinitely if we were so inclined - we are not.

We do still have a few pink and blue jobs. Janaki does the provisioning and cooking and I do the cleanup and the fishing. J did a lot of planning for the trip and it worked out amazingly well. We are still eating salads and fresh fruit on the last day. The meals have been fantastic, with plenty of rough weather options. My fishing was pretty meager due to the conditions (and some competence issues) but we have supplemented our menu with some very nice Wahoo steaks.

So, the few serene days were just that. The rest was rugged but OK. I enjoyed the isolation but it was somewhat marred by ubiquitous internet access. It would have been nice to avoid my daily dose of unpleasant reality but I couldn't resist. This is about the only aspect of the passage where I envy the early navigators. Janaki did a much better job of staying offline.

Overall I'm very pleased to have done it but equally pleased that I don't need to do it again. There are lots of five day trips in our future and maybe a few ten day passages but nothing like this. Fine by me.

I will do another post on the more technical aspects of the passage when I've had a good sleep.

Galapagos- Marquesas Week Two

13 August 2019 | On passage S. Pacific
I'm not going to torture you with a blow by blow account of week two as it followed a remarkably consistent pattern. The seas were 10-12', steep and confused. The ride was between uncomfortable and plain nasty. We made great progress every day. We saw two other vessels apart from our buddy boat, both tuna fishermen waiting for better weather.

As of this writing we have averaged 160nm per day at an average speed of 6.6kts. This is, of course, current assisted but it is way faster than we expected. Mind you, a slower but more comfortable passage might have been nicer. You get what you get. We are a little bit short on sleep, not because we are short handed, there is plenty of time to sleep. We have just found it difficult with the noise and the motion. The seas are down a little for the next couple of days so we should be more comfortable. We are eating really well despite the galley being a little challenging.

We thought boredom might be an issue but the days have passed remarkably quickly. Managing the boat, doing checks and chores and napping seem to fill the available time. Janaki has listened to a couple of audio books and I have fitfully attempted to brush up my French, now thoroughly contaminated with Spanish.

We have another 1,000nm to go and the forecast is good so, barring other issues, we should be in on the 20th, possible even the 19th, just a ‘few' more days eh? It is certainly an experience. I will qualify that statement after a couple of beers next week. The only significant boat problem to date has been our telescopic whisker pole turning into a short fixed length pole when the extension line parted (inside the pole unfortunately). This slightly limits both our wind angle range and the amount of sail we can put up. With the present forecast that should not overly impact progress.

We do get the comments from the blog so it would be great to hear from you. Our normal mail@ email works as well.

Galapagos- Marquesas Week One

08 August 2019 | On passage S. Pacific
Graham
One week completed and 1,000nm sailed, about 2,000 to go. Our average daily mileage has been 151nm at an average speed of 6.3kts. This has wildly exceeded our plan of 120nm per day. Let’€™s hope it continues. We did motor for four hours at one point but, with the benefit of hindsight, that was completely unnecessary, requiring only a little patience.

Thankfully the passage has been largely uneventful so far. We did have a remarkable encounter one afternoon. I was on watch when I heard a snort on the port side. I looked out to see a very large whale just off our stern quarter. I called Janaki up and we were just looking at the slick created by that whale diving when, with a great snort, a second, larger whale came to the surface right alongside the boat, maybe ten feet from the hull. It rested there a few moments before diving and turning to go right under us. That was a trifle unnerving. It was a fairly light gray on top and white underneath. The skin was very smooth. Longer and slimmer than a humpback, perhaps 45' with a relatively small tail and dorsal fin. Thanks to Kris for the onshore research, we established that it was a Fin Whale. We thought it was huge but it turns out that, at something over forty feet, it was quite a small Fin Whale as they are the second largest whale species after the Blue Whale and get to eighty five feet long. It was a very elegant beast and a real, if slightly scary, privilege to see from so close.

There was a bit of a learning curve using the double genoa but we seem to have tamed that. The Hydrovane was really struggling with the big seas from the stern until we deployed the stern warps, consisting of 100' of anchor rode, 10' of chain and a fender to create some drag. We last used this offshore Colombia and it does a remarkable job of settling down the yawing motion as we drop over the waves. Right now, as long as the wind is above 14kts true we have a good setup of reefed double genoa, the windward sail on the pole and the leeward sail on the swung out boom, the Hydrovane doing the steering, ably assisted by the stern warps. If the wind drops, with the big seas, it all gets a little ugly but, apart from a period around dawn and sunset, that is becoming rarer.

After several days of constant intervention we are now along for the ride. We have been a bit surprised by both the constant variability of the conditions and, more recently, the sea states. We did have a few days of the promised slow rolling swells. Now we have 11ft+ seas with an eight second period which is a lot more robust. We have a few more days of roller coaster then it should settle down again. We hope so because this makes every little task pretty hard work.

We set off with a buddy boat (Kelvin and Caroline, a couple of Kiwis on SV Ondina) with a degree of ambivalence about the concept and, for the first few days, they were no more than an occasional satellite text or incomprehensible noises on the completely useles SSB radio. Now we can see them behind us and talk to them on the VHF radio and we are very thankful to have them there. This is a very big very empty place. We have seen one other vessel in seven days and that was several days ago. We seem well matched for speed and are going the same way so all is good.

As I write this Leela is in the groove, doing seven knots over what feels like flatter seas. The stars are down to the horizon and the Milky Way shines brightly above. It is both beautiful and a little scary. I am suffering a degree of anxiety over potential gear failures and their consequences. Did we do everything we needed to do? Did we miss anything? Much as I am enjoying the experience I will be very relieved when we get to Nuku Hiva.

I have been putting daily updates on a cruiser tracking site:

https://cruisersat.net/blog/Leela

You can subscribe to those updates to get them by email. There has been a technical issue with that but it is apparently fixed now.

Ready for the Off

30 July 2019 | Puerto Aroya, Galapagos
Graham
The hull is clean, the water tanks are full, the rig is set up, the provisioning is nearly done and the crew are feeling good. I guess we better do it...

We are planning to depart the Galapagos at midday local time tomorrow enroute to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. We will be on passage for between three and four weeks, depending on the wind, which tends to be a bit too light on this route. We will drop down to the 5S latitude and maybe a little further to find the southern trades and a favorable current.

We will be traveling with a buddy boat, Caroline and Kelvin on SV Ondina, which will be a good feeling because it is a VERY big piece of ocean....

Our normal emails should be accessible (not art@). No attachments please. I may be able to post to the blog occasionally but there will be daily updates here on cruisersat.net. There is a 'follow' button if you want email updates.

After considerable soul searching we are looking forward to the experience. The very tough sail from Panama certainly improved our confidence in both the boat and ourselves. This passage is much longer but more benign. Hopefully boredom is the only problem.

We have done a little more tourist stuff amidst the preparation. Seen enough giant tortoises for a while.... This land iguana was impressive.

More from French Polynesia.

Isla Isabela

24 July 2019 | Galapagos
Graham Openshaw
We have had a fabulous few days on Isla Isabela. The weather has been remarkably cold and wet but that has failed to detract from the experience. On the way there we tested our double genoa setup in preparation for the long downwind passage to the Marquesas. It worked really well and we are hoping it will knock a few days off our passage time. I will do a tech post about that one later.

We spent one day going up the still active (last eruption 2018....) Volcano, Sierra Negra, using a combination of truck, horses and boots. It was fascinating to see the 15km wide caldera full of recent black lava and to crunch over the fresh lava pebbles. They are incredibly light and some are beautiful, with coloration from pyrites. The sky cleared on the leeward side of the volcano and the views north towards the equator were spectacular, if hard to photograph.

The next day we went for a long walk along the coast. We thought about renting bikes but, after a day on horseback, the idea was unappealing.... The highlight of this one was Janaki spotting a pair of giant tortoises in the bush. We were planning to go and see them on a tortoise 'sanctuary' but this was much better.

The next day was amazing. We went on an organized tour to Los Túneles. This is an area on the coast where the lava had hit the sea and the crust had hardened while the molten lava continued underneath forming a web of lava tunnels. Over time some of the roofs had collapsed creating a remarkable landscape.

Getting there was an experience in itself. First was a 45min blast in a powerboat doing 25kts over big Pacific swells, only punctuated by a couple of stops to look at Manta Rays. By the end of that I was very glad we only do a relatively comfortable 6kts in Leela. When we 'arrived' all we could see was an apparently unbroken line of large offshore breakers between us and the calm lagoon. It did not look remotely enticing. The skipper picked a spot and waited for several minutes apparently studying the surf then suddenly gunned the motors and rode a large wave through the reef. A couple of sharp twists through exposed rocks and we were behind the reef in utterly flat water - phew....

It is hard to describe the area in words but there are several photos in the album here. The combination of ocean, lava bridges and cacti was visually stunning. There were large green sea turtles everywhere and blue footed Boobies nesting in the rocks. Like everywhere on the Galapagos, the wildlife was completely indifferent to our presence, even the nesting birds. On the two snorkels we did we swam through lava tunnels and saw turtles, sharks, seahorses and a range of Pacific fish. The only downside for me was that the weather was kind of nasty and I got way too cold snorkeling. You cannot have everything.

Getting out of the reef made getting in look pretty benign. Again, the skipper waited for several minutes behind the reef studying the waves then suddenly gunned the 350hp motors and roared into the oncoming surf, weaving through rock outcrops. I'm not sure if we actually got airborne but it sure felt like it. I wish I had managed to get some pics but I was preoccupied with hanging on. All in all it was a memorable day.

We spent yesterday doing some final boat prep before heading to Santa Cruz for a few days before clearing out. As I write this we are on our way there at our stately 6kts. Slow but comfortable.

The Booby? She (the male was looking after the chick) very carefully stretched into this pose on one side, held it for about twenty seconds then repeated on the other side. It looked exactly like a yoga pose. She was totally Indifferent to our presence.

Moving On

17 July 2019 | Isla San Christobal, Galapagos
Graham
We have had a delightful ten days on Isla San Christobal. There is plenty to see and do yet the place is so laid back it is pretty much horizontal. We have become fairly reluctant to leave but we are told that Isla Isabella is wonderful so off we go.
It is an overnight sail to make sure we arrive in daylight because the anchorage is a bit tricky so we will leave tomorrow afternoon. We will take the opportunity to test the double headsail setup we have rigged for the long trip.

We have posted an album here that starts with the canal passage. It is organized with the newest images at the top so that you don't have to scroll through all the old stuff when we post more. Anyway, enjoy.

By the way, the rather strange photo is a young (inverted) sea lion closely checking out my camera...

First Galapagos Dive

13 July 2019 | San Christobal, Galapagos
Graham
After a day working through the to-do list we went diving yesterday at Kicker Rock. It was a suitably spectacular experience. The rock itself is awesome, jutting high out of the sea. As soon as I can get some decent bandwidth I will post more pictures. For 'mature' divers, used to gentle Caribbean conditions the diving was extremely challenging. The water is COLD so we needed much thicker wetsuits than we are used to, requiring more weight. The visibility at this time of year is relatively poor and there was considerable surge around the rock.

Was it worth it? Definitely! The sea life is totally different to the Caribbean, much bigger for a start. We saw large turtles that were completely unafraid and inquisitive, a school of big tuna, something I've always wanted to see in the water, a number of black tipped sharks and one Hammerhead shark! Actually I, who was very keen to see a Hammerhead, missed it completely and Janaki, who was distinctly more ambivalent about the idea, got a very good look at it, such is the fickle nature of wildlife watching.

One of the more remarkable experiences was swimming through a large school of smaller fish known, unfortunately, as a baitball. We have done this before but normally with small silver fish that are beautiful but do not obscure the light. This was very different. The fish were larger and darker and the ball was much bigger. The result was they could completely obscure both your surroundings and the light. It was like swimming in a moving cave, very strange and disconcerting. It became quite hard to maintain depth control and orientation. The photo does not really do it justice as I was a bit preoccupied at the time.....

After the dives we went to a beach and saw sea lions and marine iguanas. It was remarkable to watch these ungainly reptiles climbing into the surf and swimming away.

By the end of the day, having dragged our gear back to Leela and cleaned up, we were utterly exhausted so today will just be a local walk and a quiet day. The wind is up and there is a big swell coming into the bay making us roll a lot. I have set up a bridle that is helping but some time on land is going to be good.

Galapagos First Impressions

09 July 2019 | Wreck Bay, San Christobal, Galapagos.
Graham
1. We are horizontal again
2. It is COLD
3. Sea lions run this place
4. It's wonderful

I better clarify those....
It is wonderful to not be inclined at 20deg and bashing, sometimes violently, up and down. Ten straight days of sailing close hauled is exhausting. Being able to walk down the boat instead of swinging from the monkey bars is such a luxury.

Cold? Well night time temperatures fall to about 63F (17C) and it is often drizzling. For us delicate tropical flowers that is cold. We have had to unpack blankets and clothes we did not expect to see until New Zealand. This is not all bad. We are really enjoying the cool air after the oppressive heat and humidity of Panama and the afternoons seem to be bright and warm.

Sea lions along the foreshore go where they want and stay where they want. People have to adapt. We went to a restaurant for lunch that had a sign up asking people to use the other entrance as the sea lions had decided they liked the access ramp. There is a catamaran anchored near us that clearly spent some time preparing their defences. No matter, a young sea lion has decided he likes their cockpit and there he lives. He pops into the water for a cooling dip every now and again and climbs back onboard over large, carefully placed, ball fenders with apparent ease, a remarkable sight given he just has a pair of flippers.

We are SO glad we did not let all the alarmist online chatter put us off. The entry bureaucracy was impressive but not unpleasant. The town is attractive and quiet with low key tourism. Fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available and astonishingly cheap. The people are delightful, cheerfully greeting one another and always ready to smile and help. There is absolutely no sign of the aggression so often just below the surface in the Caribbean islands. All good so far.

We are not ambitious to do all the plethora of tourist things that are available. We have about a month here so there is no rush. We are going diving on Friday and will get a taxi over the highlands some time. Mainly we are happy to just chill out and enjoy the ambience.

There is, of course, the job list. Our shakedown cruise went really well but it did expose some things that need to be addressed before we head out. Tomorrow maybe.....

PS. Look up Boobies diving on YouTube. They are awesome.

More Like It

06 July 2019 | 200nm ENE of San Christobal, Galapagos
We seem to have timed our tack to the west well. We are still hard on the wind but holding the rhum line to our destination uncannily well. The Hydrovane continues to do all the work with us along for the ride.

We are pretty well heeled over while close hauled so we contemplated heaving to for meals but that is a bit of a palaver and it seemed a pity to disrupt a well balanced setup so we experimented with just easing the sails. There seems to be a sweet spot where they are not flogging but boat speed drops from around 6kts to 3kts and the heel angle goes to about 5deg from the normal 15-20deg. This is much more comfortable and safer for doing chores and eating meals. When we are done we just have to tighten back up and away we go. This is not going to work downwind but I suspect we will just have to reef the double headsail.

We should be in San Christobal, Galapagos on Monday morning. I will be glad to get the bureaucratic nonsense, that is apparently inflicted on you there, done and we can enjoy a couple ofp weeks of R&R before embarking on the big one. The current passage is about 850nm although we will have sailed a lot more than that due to the contrary winds (we have already done 927nm). The next leg is about 2,800nm but both the wind and the seas will be with us so probably three times as long. We are feeling much better about that now. Management of the key commodities, water, power and sleep, have all gone better than we anticipated.

Anyway, plenty of time to think about that later. Right now we are looking forward to some dry land and unbroken sleep.

Making (slow) Progress

02 July 2019 | N Pacific Ocean
320nm of the route covered 439nm sailed doing it.... Dodging or failing to dodge thunderstorms and battling current and winds coming straight up the rhum line. Seas lumpy and sky completely overcast. I thought the Pacific was all about lethargically running downwind on slow rolling swells and worrying about sunburn??

Actually it is quite invigorating beating upwind again and the new Hydrovane is working AMAZINGLY well. I expected it to be tested then packed away for emergencies but we have used it pretty much continuously. Good thing given the total lack of sun.... We seem to be south of the worst of the ITCZ so no more firework displays, just the odd rain shower and light squalls that need little action.

We have hardly seen a thing for the last two days, a few distant boats, a solitary dolphin and a few boobies checking us out then moving on to look for more luxurious accommodation. We plan on pressing on westward tonight then putting in a long southerly tack in the morning once the east setting current subsides.

All good onboard. We were very tired for the first couple of days but they were VERY busy and we are starting to settle into a watch keeping routine and get enough sleep. As I write this it is 11pm. Janaki is asleep below and I am on watch. The stars have finally come out on a moonless night and we have a trail of phosphorescence streaming behind the boat. The 6kts close hauled into a lumpy sea feels like 90mph and It seems, for all the world, like riding some crazy bucking rocket ship across the ocean.

Life at a churning 20deg tilt takes some getting used to. Every move feels like a gym workout. I will not be sorry when we find the southern trades and some nice flat downwind sailing but that is a long way off. We will be beating upwind all the way to the Galapagos and I think that could take another seven days at this rate. Crazy way to travel.....

On the move

30 June 2019 | 200nm south of Panama City
We hope this finds you all well. As we are setting off on the first leg of our Pacific crossing it seemed like a good time to update our plan and our communications options.

We are currently enroute to the Galapagos from Panama. After about three weeks in the Galapagos we will set sail for French Polynesia (the Marquesas). We plan to stay in French Polynesia until next May or June then continue our journey across the Pacific, aiming to arrive in New Zealand November 2020, in time for the Americas Cup.

This email address (mail@janakilennie.com) should be good any time but please don't send attachments or photos without prior discussion. The satellite link when we are offshore is SLOW.

I will continue to ramble away on the blog when I get the chance. If you are a Facebook user then friending me will give you notification of new blog posts.

https://www.facebook.com/graham.openshaw.54

For those that want to get closer to the 'action' when we are offshore I will provide position tracking and brief updates on CruiserSat.net. Our track will be here:

https://cruisersat.net/track/Leela

If you click the 'follow' button and put in your email you will get an email notification for the  updates. If that is too much information then you can just bookmark the link - or ignore it altogether.

The track position will update every four hours and we will try and provide a quick text update every day or so. There is a 'blog' tab at the top of the page to get to the updates. I will try and post a daily update.

CAUTION: there are MANY minor technical issues that can stop the satellite communications working and all of the above rely on it so please do not get concerned if we go off the air. We have other communication tools in the very unlikely event of a real problem.

The passage so far? It has not been boring.... More on CruisersSat.

It's a Boat.....

24 June 2019 | Vista Mar Marina, Panama
Graham Openshaw
The to-do list was free of essential items and we were all set to head out for the Galapagos today. Then I decided to just check the radar. We don't use it a lot but consider it essential safety equipment. It did not work at all. After several trips up the mast, to no good effect, I pulled the radome down and managed to find a boat with the same radar, importantly, at a significantly lower elevation. They kindly tested our radome on their system - nothing. At least the cable in the mast was probably OK.

We could probably send it back to Raymarine and get it repaired but that will not be free and will take a month so we bit the bullet and ordered a new one. It is a significant upgrade as it used chirp technology (using a coded signal instead of a simple pulse). It should have better resolution and use a good deal less power. It can also communicate with the MFD using WiFi as well as the cable so, if the cable is actually bad, all I need to do is get power to it, a relatively simple fix.

Anyway, we should have it here by Friday and be on our way over the weekend.

The radar joins a long list of "good thing it failed before we left" items. I wonder how long the "wish it had failed before we left" list will be.....

We will keep you updated.

40 Miles Done 12,400 To Go

02 June 2019 | Vista Mar Marina, Panama
Graham Openshaw
Actually the 40 were in the wrong direction but that's sailing.... What we have done is left Panama City for a marina just down the coast to have a BIG rest and finish our preparations for the crossing to the Galapagos.

We realized that, although the S. America trip had been great, it had been pretty hard work. When we got back it was full-on boat prep followed by the fairly taxing canal crossing and a grueling cycle of provisioning and prep in Panama City.



All of this had left us pretty depleted and the crew has to be ready for the trip as well as the boat. The trick now is to actually rest. We PROMISED ourselves a day off today but the anchor chain is covered in growth from the Panama City anchorage. This is now happily rotting just in front of our berth so the boat stinks. It's going to be hard to ignore that one. Then the head sink decided to stop draining last night. Day off tomorrow? Fat chance. We are definitely not bored...

The job list is getting shorter and Leela is in the best shape she has ever been in. Our stern clutter of ladder, dinghy Davits, solar panels and Hydrovane self steering all seem to happily coexist, even with the dinghy in the Davits, much to our surprise.



The new windlass purrs instead of grinds and all the other little mods like the raised cockpit connector and the new chair at the nav station are making life onboard more comfortable.



One nice job we (mainly Janaki) got done was getting the boat name on the front of the hull. The name on the stern is now completely buried under sailing clut so we needed to do this a long time ago. The print shop in Panama City made it an easier task than we anticipated.



We got our long stay visas for French Polynesia and we can stay there until at least July 2020 so we are not feeling rushed. Another week here should see the job list done then we will focus on the weather window. It is going to be a pretty tough trip to the Galapagos with lack of wind or contrary winds and squalls. We have been looking at the weather patterns and heading south nearly to the Ecuador mainland before turning west is likely to be the best option to find some sailing wind and conserve fuel, an important factor on the next two legs of our journey.



More when we are on our way.

The Panama Canal

23 May 2019 | Panama City
Graham Openshaw
The Panama Canal crossing was quite an event but it all went pretty smoothly for us. I will try and summarize it here. There is a good deal of administration before you can actually make the passage. The boat has to be measured and inspected and the equipment checked. They and a couple of crocodilhref't like people breaking down in the locks. Then you have to rent large fenders and special, stronger, lines to use in the locks. We used an agent for all of this and it went very smoothly. We also had to have four line handlers and an advisor from the Canal Authority on board so it got pretty cosy.

Our school understanding of the Panama isthmus is that it connects North and South America so it must run north-south and the canal east to west. In fact there is a really big kick in the isthmus and the canal runs from the northwest to the southeast which is completely confusing, at least it confused us. Another misconception is that the canal is a continuous entity. In fact it consists of two sets of three locks with the very large Gatun Lake in the middle.



Normally we go through the locks rafted up to one or two other sailing boats, in this case we went through rafted with a single, larger, boat. We went through the first three locks up to the lake at night. On the way up you always go behind a cargo vessel on the way down you go ahead of them. I think it's to avoid too much turbulence on the smaller boats (us) as the water enters the lock.



We had a pretty easy run up the locks because we were rafted up to the other sailboat, who was rafted up themselves to a small cruise ship, which was tied to the wall. This meant we didn't have to handle any lines on the way up. We moored up in the lake for the night and set off across the lake early in the morning passing a lot of large ship traffic. Gatun Lake is actually an amazing nature reserve. The canal authority does not allow any recreation or development around the lake so it is a huge wilderness area. We saw lots of birds and a couple of crocodiles.



Going down needed more care as the two of us were tied into the center of the lock with four lines that needed to be slowly slackened as the water level drops. Too fast and the raft drifts towards a wall, too slow and it risks jamming in a cleat - NOT good....



Anyway it all went fine and it was quite an experience as the last lock gate opened to the Pacific. It was actually a strange feeling, both momentous and anticlimactic.



Janaki did a totally spectacular job, doing all the very tricky boat handling AND catering for the mob onboard (I needed to be on deck making sure it all stayed safe - that's my story anyway.....).

We are now anchored in the bay in front of Panama City. This is not a great spot. The water is filthy and there is something of a security risk but we are glad the canal is behind us and we can focus on the remaining tasks and provisioning before we set off towards the Galapagos islands as soon as we possibly can.
Vessel Name: Leela
Vessel Make/Model: Bristol 38.8
Hailing Port: Portsmouth, NH
Crew: Graham and Janaki
About:
We are a Brit and an Australian now based in the wonderful community of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We have a delightful home there but a couple of years ago we began to feel a bit over-domesticated so we thought we would buy another boat and head south. [...]
Extra:
Leela, a Bristol 38.8 has turned out to be a wonderful cruising boat for us. Some might find it a little cramped by modern standards but it feels like just the right balance of living space and storage to us. She sails like a dream. She is remarkably well balanced and is comfortable in pretty [...]
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