Time to Go
11 October 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
We have had an awesome six weeks here in the Raroria Atoll but it is time to take our leave for this season. We have loved the isolation and the underwater experience has definitely lived up to our expectations for the South Pacific but we are completely out of fresh food, our administrative ‘life' is a shambles and just to make sure we get the message, the propellor on the outboard AND the spare failed so our ‘car' will only go in first gear so to speak.
So, tommorow we head back out to sea for a four day passage to the Marquesas. We are the only boat here at the moment so this end of the atoll will return to its normal deserted state, just the fish and the birds.
We will be hard on the wind to get up to Hiva Oa but the seas will be on the beam so it should not be too unpleasant. It is going to be strange to be moving again after the tranquility of this place but we should get into the swing of it pretty quickly and it is a short passage by recent standards.
Once we arrive I should be able to post some (a lot of....) photos so I will write more then.
David from Perigee took the photo from the top of his mast while he was doing some checks before heading out. We will catch up with them before long.
05 October 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
Wow! Time has both ceased to exist and flown by. We are still in the very remote NE corner of the Raroria Atoll. There is only one other boat here now and, apart from a French boat that stopped for one night, we have seen no-one else. We have settled into a routine of boat chores, snorkelling, swimming or walking, reading, board games and movies. The snorkeling continues to amaze. We have been going for a couple of hours pretty much every day for about six weeks and we cannot recollect an occasion when we did not see something new and interesting. I am looking forward to being able to post more pictures but these little composites are all I can manage for now.
From top left clockwise:
1. An aptly named Shrimp Goby. These gobies consistently share a hole with a particular type of shrimp. The shrimp does all the excavation while the goby acts as lookout. The shrimp is blind and only comes out of the hole while the goby is there. It keeps one feeler on the back of the goby and if the goby moves, rapidly retreats into the hole. Remarkably, there are many different shrimp gobies, each with their particular type of shrimp. How all this gets set up is a mystery. It is indeed a strange world.
2. Talking about strange worlds, this is a juvenile Rock Mover Wrasse. Like many fish it looks nothing like its mature form. It swims like a drifting piece of weed, twisting and turning as it tries to avoid being eaten while it hunts its own prey.
3. We have not seen many nudibranchs yet but this one is a beauty and we should see more as we head west.
4. I was taking a photo of two Convict Tangs in about eighteen inches of water when this Black Tipped Reef Shark photobombed me. They do not normally get that close but it was a pretty confined area and he clearly had places to go. Sharks are ubiquitous here. We treat them like stray dogs, largely ignoring them but remaining cautious. There are four types of sharks we have seen so far. The Black Tips are everywhere but we see the occasional Grey Nurse shark, White Tip Reef Shark and Grey Reef Shark (given a wider berth).
Anyway, the clock is now ticking on our little escape. Our administrative affairs continue to collapse due to lack of Internet access. This morning's fun was our Paypal account being suspended ‘please go online to resolve the issue’ - business as usual.... We pay a lot of small bills with Paypal so that one is going to be a big mess. Almost every program on every device is now complaining that it cannot call home. It is really scary what a busy life our communication tools are having, normally behind our backs.
There are other reasons for partially rejoining the world. We are running out of fresh food and we need to be further north by the start of the cyclone season in November so it is time to take more interest in the weather forecast and look for a window to head back up to the Marquesas. At this time of year the winds tend to be from the NE (where we are going) so we will look for the least bad window then pay the price for our time in paradise with a tough four or five day upwind sail. Once we are there we should be able to sort out all this administrative chaos and, hopefully, make it all more robust before we head down to the VERY remote Gambier Islands in January as we will be there for several months. We will also be able to post all the fish pics we are accumulating.
That's it for now. This morning's boat chore is to go up the mast and try and sort out our failed masthead light, not my favorite activity but someone has to do it. All part of the fun.....
On (not) Getting Away From it All
15 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
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 âcivilization' 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 âupdated 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) âsmart' 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. âWe just need to send you a security code to your mobile appâ. 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. âWe just wanted to check that it was you that authorized the payment to Google Fi (that we happily paid last month)â. 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 âgovernâ 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
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
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
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?
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
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:
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Ready for the Off
30 July 2019 | Puerto Aroya, Galapagos
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.
24 July 2019 | Galapagos
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.
17 July 2019 | Isla San Christobal, Galapagos
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
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.
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 (email@example.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.
For those that want to get closer to the 'action' when we are offshore I will provide position tracking and brief updates onÂ CruiserSat.net. Our track will be here:
If you click the 'follow' button and put in your email you will get an email notification for theÂ 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
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
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
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.
Who Would Have Guessed?
15 May 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Seven years ago Janaki decided we needed a boat to keep me busy during retirement and give her some peace and quiet. That did not work out so well..... We now find ourselves on the brink of an adventure that we had no idea we wanted back then.
This weekend, all being well, we will pass through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific. Reading this as I write I feel like I'm talking about someone else. I guess it will sink in by the Galapagos.....
We will probably be on the Pacific side of Panama for about a week. Then it is a week's sail to the Galapagos islands. We have a permit to be there for a month but may not stay that long before heading for French Polynesia. We, and a number of our friends, have one year visas for French Polynesia so we plan to stay there until next April and the end of the cyclone season before heading westwards to New Zealand. At this stately rate I will be seventy by the time we get to Australia. That is assuming we don't peel off to Indonesia or Borneo enroute. I guess this blog has a few years in it yet.
Wrapping Up a Great Trip
09 May 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
As we get ready to head back to Panama we are reflecting on one of our best trips ever. Peru was constantly amazing and we have had a couple of very pleasant weeks in Colombia (apart from the dentist....). We spent last week in the coffee country which was very pretty but without the grandure of Peru. Contrary to all the guides, we thought Salento was a scruffy, overcrowded dump and we got out of there to a delightful Oasis in the valley as quickly as we could.
However, the nearby town of Filandia was delightful and probably the nicest community we came across in Colombia. Hopefully they avoid the path Salento has taken.
We rented a car for this trip which proved to be quite an adventure. The main roads between towns are mainly paved but once you are off them roads vary from dreadful to completely impassable. Google maps was largely useless at distinguishing between them so we spent a lot of yesterday trying to get to a fairly large town with two access roads showing on the map that simply faded out into tracks. In the end we had to book into somewhere else because we simply could not get there.
Otherwise driving was pretty exciting. Hours and hours of tight mountain roads going in and out of the clouds
with masses of large trucks and frustrated drivers overtaking on completely blind bends. Yesterday we saw two overturned trucks, one right in front of us, and we were surprised that they were the only accidents we saw. Every journey took twice as long as the usually accurate Google predicted. We will be quite pleased to return the car later today.
Anyway, that wraps up the S. America trip. The main album is here
and an extended wildlife album is here
. I will start a new album for the Pacific crossing.
We are a little anxious about getting back to Leela. It will be hot and wet in Panama and we are really hoping we don't have a mold problem. We are also a bit intimidated by the still remarkably long to-do list. It will all come together.....
More Pacific Preparations
01 May 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
We have spent a lot of time getting Leela in good shape and now we are working on the crew. We both had incipient dental problems that we did not fancy dealing with in the Pacific so we decided to spend some time in Medellin getting fixed up. It turned out to be an awesome choice for a number of reasons. Firstly our dental problems were more serious than we had realized, particularly Janaki's loose crown. Secondly we found a great dentist who speaks English, is willing to work with tight schedules and communicates quickly and directly using text messages. Thirdly the costs are MUCH less than the US. The following is a rough breakdown (all in USD):
Panoramic x-ray, US $200, Col $14
Deep cleaning, US $250, Col $46
Molar root canal (Graham), US $1200, Col $220
Molar Dental implant (poor Janaki), US $2500, Col $846
Total, US $4150, Col $1126
All this in ultra modern facilities with super-friendly staff and a complete absence of delays and BS.
A pretty fancy apartment is costing us $59 a night and the climate is perpetually delightful. Based on this experience we would not hesitate to come here for dental, and probably medical treatment.
Anyway, we have another ten days in Colombia with a trip to coffee country and some dental follow ups then it's back to Leela and getting ready for the canal transit. We still have a bit to do on the boat but we are getting itchy to be on our way.
Culture Shock and Departing Thoughts on Peru
26 April 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
At 4am this morning we left our rustic accommodation in the Sacred Valley, Peru
We are now ensconced in a VERY fancy high rise apartment in Medellin, Colombia, complete with rooftop pool, gym, pool room and jacuzzi. It all feels a bit weird but we will get used to it.
Peru has been an amazing experience, exotic but easy, despite the language barrier. We learned enough Spanish to get by and mime or Google Translate filled the gaps. Everyone has been very tolerant and helpful.
So what did we love? The scenery of the high Andes has been wonderful and amazingly diverse, high plains, jungle, steeply folded mountains. I cannot think of a country with such a diversity apart from perhaps our next destination, Colombia.
The flora and fauna has been equally fascinating, exotic birds and beautiful butterflies abound. Janaki has been wonderfully patient as I chase around with my new camera trying to get 'the shot'
An array of very strange insects (I only got bitten once....)
And a wide variety of beautiful flowers with many different types of orchid and a surprisingly large number of cacti given the altitude.
There has been so much to see that I have made a special album for the wildlife, link here
The history has been very interesting, notably the remarkably sophisticated pre-Incan pottery
And the amazing Inca stonework, from the high terraces
to the dense communities
to the intricately joined structures of the temples.
Here I have had to be the patient one as my tolerance for history is considerably lower than Janaki's. Fortunately pretty much all of the historical sites have great wildlife or views.
We have been blessed with off-season crowds (still big in places) but generally fine weather and the air, apart from in Lima, has been clear and crisp. It's not everywhere you can take a picture of the moon like this with an ordinary camera.
There were a few less lovable aspects of Peru. The architecture outside preserved historic districts or high mountain villages is unremittingly aweful. The 'functional unfinished' school.
Almost every town is a forest of bare brick, concrete, empty windows and rebar. Part of the reason for this is that you don't have to pay full property tax until the building is 'finished'. Duh, why would anyone finish a building? There appears to be no environmental aesthetic, in strange contrast to the huge interest in decorative fabrics and pottery. Perhaps that is just for the tourists ...
On which subject, the sheer number of souvenir sellers, mainly selling the same stuff, gets tiresome. You are bombarded with offers wherever you go. Pisac was the nadir, not only were there streets full of stalls but the locals had entirely lost their town square to a permanent mess of high-sided and covered souvenir stalls which seems like a real loss to the community.
Even on the hiking paths there are rows of old ladies in local dress hawking a variety of nic nacs, very few of which they have made themselves. We bought as much as we needed and then some. In this case we succumbed and purchased some bracelets for bartering along the way.
The last issue, the mainly plastic trash, is shared with nearly everywhere we have travelled. It is everywhere, Including some surprising locations. It is pretty depressing when you are driving across the high Andean plateau, many miles from everything, and you have to look at the view past a twenty yard strip of old plastic rubbish. The only respite was in the state run archeological parks that were kept immaculate.
I've dwelt on these issues a lot but it was certainly not enough to spoil a truly amazing experience. When we come back to Peru we will escape the 'gringo trail' and explore the Andean foothills above the Amazon basin.
The S. American album is growing here
Peru - Part 2
17 April 2019 | Cusco, Peru
Sorry - long post - but things have been happening too fast to keep up.
Well 16,000ft turned out to be challenging. Janaki had a very bad first night but recovered well when we found out you can buy Oxygen in a can.
We have been slowly descending from the Colca high spot so no more issues. Apart from the altitude travails we loved the Andean plateaue, at around 14,000' it goes on for ever and is visually stunning, with strange rock formations, herds of Alpaca and Vicuña and active volcanoes on the horizon. (more pics here
The Colca Valley was also visually amazing although the Canyon end was perhaps not as impressive as some we have seen. The thousands of years of intensive agriculture in this dip in the Andean plateau was definitely worth seeing.
It was helped by Paul, our remarkable guide. He grew up in the Colca Valley in a family where even Spanish was a second language yet he spoke perfect English and was an enthusiastic font of knowledge about everything to do with the valley; history, flora, fauna, economics, social structures, everything. It was a great experience. Seeing the huge Condors soaring through the Canyon was definitely worth the effort as well. This one will have a wingspan between nine and ten feet.
Our experience with guided tours in Peru has not generally been like that. The norm has been poor to incomprehensible English and shallow knowledge. The visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca was a mixed bag, for me at least, Janaki was less troubled. Puno is a scruffy place that just acts as the gateway to the lake. We took a two day tour that included a visit to the floating islands of Uros (people really do still live on islands made of root mass and reeds which they initially made to escape the predations of the Incas)
and a home stay on an island further out into the Lake, which was very enjoyable and gave us a real insight into how they lived. This is Mama preparing dinner.
The downside of the trip was the constant commercial pressure. At times it felt like we were little more than a flock of wallets being carefully shepherded between shopping opportunities. Even the lovely home-stay family pulled out the standard range of stuff and guilted us into buying things at about three times the already inflated market prices - oh well.... This is something you have to live with in Peru. They do make some lovely (and VERY expensive) things but mostly there is a constant pressure to buy cheaply made souvenirs and (probably not) 'Baby Alpaca' knitwear. They are not as agressive as in India or Thailand but it is pretty constant and you have to develop a no-eye-contact policy to avoid being captured. There are thousands of stalls selling stuff everywhere we go. We have no idea how anyone makes a living with this much competition and the vaste amount of tied up inventory.
There are a few travel lessons we are re-learning. We have been happily paying about $12 for a main course at the typical (tourist) restaurants, not wildly expensive by US standards but it mounts up when you have to eat out a lot, then we went to the San Pedro market in Cusco (which was designed by Gustave Eiffel before his famous tower) and one end was about 100 micro-restaurants, serving all sorts of different dishes. We ordered quinoa soup, fried fish with rice and lentils (delicious) and Muna (mint) tea. The price? $1.50. We will have the hang of it before we leave.....
Airbnb has been working well for us. It is less sociable than hostels but the freedom to cook our own meals and relax in our 'own' space has been good. We had a well located apartment in Arequipa. A modern high rise apartment in Puno (with very challenging stairs at 12,500ft) and we are now in a lovely old Spanish colonial building in Cusco.
Generally the hosts have been a great resource for local knowledge and problem solving
We are now looking around Cusco and, after the initial shock of hyper-tourism, are really enjoying it. That can be the topic of my next post.
I have created a new photo album for our S. American trip here
. I have tried to annotate it in comments and would appreciate feedback on whether that is helpful.
Peru First Impressions
03 April 2019 | Arequipa, Peru
It's been a while since I last wrote. We are now in Arequipa, Peru after a few days in the capital, Lima. Lima seemed a lot wealthier and less dangerous than my last visit thirty-five years ago but it still doesn't have a lot going for it as a destination apart from some great murals. That was not a big deal as all we wanted to do was relax after a month working on the boat and we found a lovely hotel to hang out in. The Peruvian people are generally really nice although a little more reserved than the Colombians. This is probably due to the novelty of tourism in Colombia. Peru has had to deal with the descending hoards for ever ...
We are really enjoying Arequipa. It is not wildly touristy so we can see a little more of Peruvian life. One interesting aspect of the town is that, as we saw in Seoul, all the shops selling a particular item congregate in one area. For example, the area around our apartment is entirely shops selling rooftop solar water heaters. Yes, it is that specialized. Around the corner they all sell (BAD) wine, one street over is toys. Even in the huge market it is very clearly divided by commodity. The fruit market area is spectacular.
There are a few travel tribulations. The water supply to most of the city went off this morning. Apparently it 'might be back on tomorrow'. I guess we will all start to pong together so not a huge deal for a day or so. They are organized for this so buckets of water are available for essential services. Unfortunately no one drinks the tap water anyway so that is not impacted.
Arequipa is at nearly 8,000' and surrounded by snow capped volcanoes. They are hard to photograph from the town because the air is very hazy but we are going up through them to Colca Canyon later in the week so I should be able to get some better pics then. Now we are just enjoying the place and adjusting to the altitude before we go much higher. The high point of the Colca trip is over 16,000' which should be interesting. I had no trouble with the altitude on my last visit but I was a LOT younger.
It's a Boat.....
23 March 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Lest you were thinking this is all glamour.....
Even to get this far I had to remove the autopilot actuator, the rudder angle indicator, one bilge pump and a bunch of structure. We are getting there.
17 March 2019
Even after six years there are a few parts of Leela that have not been closely inspected. After today's experience that ends now. We had never needed to remove the steering chain that goes over a sprocket on the wheel hub and connects to the steering cables.
Anyway, we decided to replace the steering cables as a precaution before going blue water. The photo is exactly as found. This is a critical center link in the steering chain. If it failed the two chain sections would fall down the pedestal and prevent wheel steering. In the worst case they could jam the cables and prevent the autopilot working.
So... neither split pin has been flared at all and one has almost fallen out. The way the chain was installed this opening link was not visible until the chain was removed from the pedestal. The previous owners were not DIY buffs so this was almost certainly yard work.
The lesson for us with this and the no-brand cutlass bearing that came unglued, is to trust no one and check everything. I'm pretty sure this is our last 'unexplored' territory but I'm going to lose some sleep thinking about it.
The good news today is we have reached the turning point. The steering is in pieces, the autopilot is disassembled, there are bits of Hydrovane scattered all over the boat, the prop shaft, stuffing box and cutlass bearing are all out, the boat is at maximum (and impressive) disruption. BUT, now we can start putting stuff back together having considerably de-risked our future travels. All good news - apart from needing some small and obscure parts that are almost certainly not available in Panama - it's a boat.....
Tree House Life
16 March 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
When we were kids, living in a tree house was a wonderful fantasy. Well. I'm sorry to report that, at our age anyway, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Apart from the constant ladder climbing and the boatyard dust, the lack of plumbing is the biggest hassle. The boat toilet is out of action and we cannot use the sink drains which definitely complicates life, but we do get plenty of exercise on the long walk to the bathrooms. No matter, it's just something that has to be done and this is our first haul since St Kitts in 2017 so we we're due for some boatyard penance.
We are making progress dealing with the last preparations for the Pacific crossing. The new ablative is on the bottom. Janaki bravely took on the job of stripping, lapping and rebuilding all the cone valve
through-hulls and I was ready to work on the Hydrovane
self steering installation until a sharp eyed yard worker noticed that our cutlass bearing inner sleeve was stuck firmly to the prop shaft and freely rotating in it's bronze case. This would definitely have failed badly on a long trip so a very good find BUT it means taking the propeller off, removing the shaft and then getting the remains of the old cutlass bearing out. None of these are trivial tasks so we are set back a few days (again).
Because we don't want to put the boat back in the water after servicing all the through hulls then leave it unattended we will leave it on the hard until we get back from our trip to Peru in May so tree house living will persist for a while - oh well....
Yesterday was a very sad day because we had to say goodbye to our good friends Jeff and Molly as they headed through the Canal into the Pacific. Our dream had been to cross the Pacific together but it turned out that they are on a much faster schedule than we are and there was no way we could be ready to keep up with them. In any event we plan to savor both S America and the Pacific for as long as it feels good and that was just not going to work for them at all. Anyway, it was a delight to spend some time with them and we will keep in touch as we both move west. Their blog is here
Panama Canal Practice Run
07 March 2019 | Gatun Lake, Panama
We are in Gatun Lake half way through the Panama Canal acting as line handlers for our Aussie friends on Capel Mara. It is a great learning experience before we take Leela through to the Pacific. It was pretty hard work and fairly stressful but we will do a couple of transits before we do it for 'real'.
Interesting aside - we are moored to a bouy close to a 36" steel pipeline which appears to be the dredging outflow pipe from the new canal. Every now and again the dredger picks up a bunch of rocks and they clatter down the pipeline next to us. The sound is spectacular, like a million quarters picked up in a giant vacuum cleaner. All conversation has to stop until they go past. Going to be a long night.....
Back to Reality
03 March 2019
After two days spent mainly working overhead while lying on a pile of chain and eating falling rust (nicely salted....) I finally got the old windlass out. After thirty-six years it definitely did NOT want to come out but a couple of backing studs and the handy prop puller got the job done. As always, fitting the new one should be a lot easier. I was thinking of trying to refurbish the old one as a spare but it's done it's time and is totally trashed so that plan is off.
Shelter Bay Marina
03 March 2019 | Fort Sherman, Panama
We are loving This place
! It is a very professional setup with everything you might want except shopping - more on that later.....
The location is the real prize. It is almost within sight of the bustling Panama Canal entrance but feels like another planet. The marina is on the old 2nd world war military base, many miles from any community and on the edge of the Fort San Lorenzo National Park. The animal and bird life around the marina is amazing. This morning on our regular walk we saw two large packs of Capuchin monkeys, a pack of howler monkeys and masses of birds including a flock of toucans. That was a pretty typical morning. Crocodiles occasionally swim between the boats (there is a swimming pool!).
I have posted lots of pictures in the 'Current Cruising' album
. All the good wildlife photos were taken by a fellow cruiser, Shiera Brady. She has two vital ingredients, a great camera and a great eye. Her website is here
Because this is the gateway to the Pacific there are a very seasoned bunch of sailors passing through and everyone is happy to share information and ideas. It is very envigorating on so many levels.
The price you pay for 'splendid isolation' is supplies. There is a daily shopping bus to Colon but that is often full and takes between one and two hours each way as you have to cross the Panana Canal or, when the access is closed, go on a ferry. When you do get to Colon it is unfortunately too dangerous to leave the fairly isolated mall. There is also a weekly bus to Panama City which is about two and a half hours each way. For us this is a price worth paying for the delight if walking in a veritable zoo each morning.
Another Huge Change
19 February 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
We have just transitioned from the sublime tranquility of the San Blas Islands to the industrial hyperactivity of the Panama Canal entrance.
The top image is self explanatory. The bottom image is a screenshot of our navigation system showing all the AIS (Automatic Identification System) symbols of the vessels in the Canal approach. The chunky symbols are - well chunky - mainly huge container vessels and tankers. Slipping through the breakwater entrance between them is certainly interesting.
Leela is now safely inside the breakwater and tucked into Shelter Bay Marina while we pop back to the States to sort out some admin and pick up the inevitable shopping (boat bits....). We have been working hard to be ready for the Pacific but we still have some readiness issues and time is passing so it remains in the balance right to the last moment.
Chanticleer has Arrived!
11 February 2019 | Rio Diablo, San Blas
After a long hard journey from New England our good friends and Pacific crossing buddies Jeff and Molly Bolster have arrived in the San Blas. It turns out they too have been on again off again about the big trip but, right now, after a couple of bottles of wine, we are going for it. Tomorrow might be a different story.... We both still have some concerns about readiness but we have agreed that, being ‘mature’ cruisers, we are unlikely to be in better shape in a years time so if we want to do this we need to get on with it. I’ve had a couple of wins on the boat this week including fixing a niggling intermittent fault on the engine tachometer and stripping and cleaning the dinghy carburetor which have improved my confidence that we are on top of the boat issues.
We have a pretty intimidating job list for the next month including installing the self steering, a haul out and a brief trip to New England to sort out some admin, get some electronics repaired and see friends, plus all the horrendous admin required for the canal passage and the visit to the Galápagos Islands. As someone pointed out this week when I was grizzlies about the job list, “it’s an adventure not a vacation”.
Right now I’m going through the inevitable shopping list while Janaki takes Jeff and Molly on a guided trip up the Rio Diablo bird watching.
It’s a Boat....
02 February 2019 | Combombier, San Blas, Panama
Swam under the boat today for a quick check - shouldn't have looked..... The centerboard was hanging down a bit and I was sure I had stowed it completely so I gave it a shove. There was a clunk and down it came, minus the wire. Oops - our draft has just gone from 4' 6" to 10' 6". Worse still it clunks every time the boat rolls when we are not sailing on the wind.
The VERY good news was that I could still see the end of the wire inside the centerboard housing. I was running a little short of air (snorkeling) but I decided to shove my arm into the centerboard slot to see if I could grab the wire - BAD mistake. Apart from the fact that I could have got my arm stuck, a terminal error, the slot was lined with razor sharp barnacles. I stopped bleeding after about thirty minutes.....
Having stopped to consider my options (and stem the leaks), I managed to borrow a long scuba hose from Erica on Endless Summer that allowed me to stay under the boat. I cleaned the barnacles out of the slot and managed to get hold of the end of the wire which is now hanging under the boat. I also managed to hacksaw the old wire loop off so we are all set for a repair in the morning. We need to partially lift the centerboard with a line from the stern, because the wire is now too short to reach, then re-thread the wire and clamp it up with a couple of small D clamps that I was fortunate to have onboard. That should be good for a while - the Pacific? Not so much....
The Panamanian Coast
02 February 2019 | Nargana, Panama
Leela anchored off the mangroves and mountains of the Panamanian isthmus in very different weather.
02 February 2019 | Rio Diablo
We have left the islands for a while to explore the Panamanian coastline. It is cloudier and grayer but there are a number of rivers that are fabulous for birdwatching. We have done two trips up the Rio Diablo now, seeing a huge variety of birds including Toucans, Woodpeckers, Kingfishers, herons and an enormous array of small fly catchers and the like. I do need to give a shout out to the Merlin Bird app
from Cornell University. It is a big download but it is a wonderful app, making identifying birds easy and having wonderful photos.
Apart from the birds the river is incredibly peaceful the only people we saw yesterday were a young local couple in a dugout canoe collecting fresh water. We actually gave them a tow back to the river mouth to save them some time and effort.
We were so taken by the river that we will probably head down the coast to another one but we do have to head to an outer island for a day or so to charge up the batteries and make some water. It all needs careful planning in this cloudier weather.
Back in the Water
28 January 2019 | Saladarup, San Blas Islands
Unfortunately scuba diving is not allowed here but the snorkeling can be remarkably good. This afternoon we did a drift snorkel (towing the dinghy) through the cut between the two islands. The coral was in encouragingly good shape and we saw a number of small squid including this VERY small one. He clearly did not want to be photographed so he made himself as big and spiky as he could which was pretty impressive given that he was less than an inch long.....