Pacific Crossing 2010-11
Passage to the Galapagos
Tuesday, March 1st,
We got up early Tuesday morning and decided it was an auspicious day to depart on our passage to the Galapagos. The weather forecasts had been promising several days of wind out of a northerly quadrant for days. Each successive GRIB file pushed this wind yet another day away. We decided we didn’t want to wait forever so we pulled up the anchor at 7:00 a.m. and headed out. We checked in with Pyewacket via VHF as we passed and told them we were on our way and that unless we found something awful once we got out from behind the Island we’d probably keep going. Of course we knew we wouldn’t find anything awful once we got around the corner except for the rain that had moved in over the Island, so we were off and running.
The promised wind had yet to make an appearance but it felt good to be moving, even in the rain with the engine on. We were able to make the most of the downpour by filling the stern water tank. By noon things were looking up as the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds. We had checked in with the Pan Pacific Net at 9:00 a.m. giving our position in the “boats underway” category. At last.
We were able to raise the main by early afternoon when a light breeze began to build. Unfortunately the bottom of the main got caught on the reefing horns as it was raised and we put a small hole/tear into our new sail. Drat! Out came the sticky Dacron, a palm, needle and hand sewing thread. I had hoped that I was out of the sail repair business with the arrival of the new sails but accidents happen. The only other mishap on day one involved a temporarily clogged head. Thankfully it was only a brief glitch and we didn’t have to resort to the bucket.
All in all it wasn’t a bad first day. We managed to get a bit of sailing in and it looked like the wind was gaining momentum.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 06 16N/ 79 53W
Night one was quite pleasant despite a soaking rain shower. We checked into the Net at 9:00 a.m.Wednesday to discover that both Pyewacket and Reality had departed the Perlas several hours after we had. We were several hours ahead but they are both 50+ feet. It was going to be interesting. By mid-morning the wind was moving us along nicely. It was a beauty of a day. We were in the gentle hands of a southerly flowing current. South was just the way we were going for the first two days of our trip. It was a very nice treat to repeatedly see our speed over the ground reach 9+ knots. Sadly, by eight in the evening we had to turn on the engine again for a bit as the wind went from fickle to nonexistant. The stars were beautiful as they glowed out from the Milky Way. We weren’t complaining too much.
Thursday, March 3rd, 03 46N/ 81 07W
I should probably mention that the passage to the Galapagos from Panama is generally known to be a slog. It passes through a weather area called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), otherwise known as “The Doldrums.” Not only is there generally very little wind but there is usually a good deal of convective activity (read: thunder & lightening storms). For that reason we were pinching ourselves to make sure our spectacular weather wasn’t just a dream. We were simply flying along. The days were blazingly sunny and the nights star-filled. We checked in twice daily on the SSB radio. Once on the official morning net, then again in the afternoon on a casual passage net that Pyewacket and Reality had initiated when the trip began. By Thursday morning there were about ten boats underway to the Galapagos, checking in regularly. Early Thursday morning we rounded Isla Malpelo and headed for our Galapagos waypoint on a broad reach. Happily the current rounded the bend with us. By mid-afternoon we went to wing on wing which we were able to maintain all night long. There were two glitches during the day, both involving rigging. First, we managed to jam the sheave at the end of the boom while reefing. Roger was able to unjam the sheave, fortunately. Glitch two was the breaking of the loop that holds the whisker pole topping lift to the end of the pole. That fix required a bit of jury rigging. Other than that it was another amazing day.
Friday, March 4th, 02 33N/83 48W
Thursday night went well except for re-tearing the main while shaking out the reef. We spent a certain amount of time Friday rigging a sort of straight jacket for the reefing horns to prevent another incident. It was an amazingly quiet twenty four hours but we managed to cover 186 miles. “Good on us” as the Aussies would say. Nine boats checked in on the net this morning. It’s a regular migration. The wind and the current both continue. We are in a constant state of amazement at the conditions.
Saturday, March 5th, 0 59N/86 39W
We were 200 miles out of Wreck Bay Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. We had covered seven hundred miles in four days. Friday night was another wonderful stretch of wing on wing till about four a.m. when Roger switched to a broad reach, port tack. His competitive nature was starting to show itself. At this point we could pick up Pyewacket on radar, nine miles behind us. Reality was out in front, having cleverly gone west of Isla Malpelo. Saturday was another in a string of sailing days we will remember for a long time. We just rolled along.
Pyewacket presented ”Musketeers Rally” passage awards during the afternoon net. Highlights included Reality winning line honors (though they had yet to finish) and a case of beer which they had to forfeit for not rounding the windward mark (Isla Malpelo). Shango won handicap honors and a bottle of scotch which we had to forfeit for admitting on the radio that we had turned on our engine at some point during the trip. The most amusing honor went to an Australian boat which won the Bravery Award for admitting on the radio to being from Melbourne. Pyewacket awarded himself Best Husband Honors. In all seriousness Shango’s crew was very proud. Over 900 miles she averaged 7.1 knots and kept pace with boats 10 feet longer than she. Way to go Bill Crealock.
By the beginning of my Saturday midnight watch we were getting distinctly close to the equator. I pried Roger out of his bunk mere moments after he had crawled in so we could prepare for our crossing ceremony. In sailing tradition those crossing the equator for the first time undergo an initiation. We thought we’d stick to just the ceremonial recitation. I donned my special fishing lure earrings and forced Roger to wear a pirate eye patch and we each promoted the other from pollywog to shellback using a U.S. Navy text from the 1960’s. Some rum went over the side to appease King Neptune and a tiny bit of rum went to each of the new initiates. Sadly there was a problem with the camera and we didn’t quite capture the important lat/lon perfectly on film. We were nonetheless in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in our lives.
Sunday, March 6th, 0 32S/89 14W
We sailed abreast of Pyewacket all night, watching their tricolor bob along next to us. At 7:00 a.m. I spied San Cristobal on the horizon. We had a magical morning sailing down the coast of the Island. Its landscape was other worldly. Volcanic cones, greatly eroded over time, were surrounded by gentle hillsides clad in brilliant green foliage. The equatorial sun blazed down from above and the water was a spectacular shade of deep blue. We had 15 knots of offshore breeze making for ideal sailing conditions. Shango and Pyewacket bubbled along, threading between Kicker Rock and the coast, madly snapping pictures as we went. Two miles from the Harbor a wind shadow slowed us almost to a halt and our sailing day was over. Our amazing passage came to a close at two p.m. when we dropped anchor in Wreck Bay, five days, six hours and 899 miles after leaving Las Perlas.
With the wonderful weather and good companionship this passage had set a standard that will be hard to beat. We’ll keep our fingers crossed though.
Monday, March 7th, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay), Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos
Joseph, an agent’s representative, turned up almost immediately after we anchored Sunday afternoon, saying he would return shortly with a variety of officials. For two people who wanted only to shower, drink a bottle of champagne and go to bed, “shortly” could have been a bit sooner for us. Two hours later he returned with someone from the Port Captain’s office, someone from what we guessed was Agriculture and someone from the National Park. Everyone was very pleasant and the paperwork got done, the boat got fumigated (sprayed with a can of something “non-toxic” to humans) and we were free to enjoy our evening. Joseph departed saying that he would fetch us for the trip to Immigration in the a.m.
Bright and early Monday we made our way around the Harbor in a water taxi as Joseph collected his recent arrivees for the trip up the hill. Having already visited the Galapagos, Noel & Jackie on Pyewacket had wanted to get a seventy two hour provisioning stay but had been told the previous afternoon that it was no longer the easy option that they had hoped for. They needed to leave within twenty four hours. As we and Reality trudged down the hill after our morning round of paperwork Jackie spotted us from her seat at Rosita’s Restaurant and proposed a celebration/farewell luncheon. We swapped stories and photos and whiled away the afternoon knowing that we’d all soon be going our separate ways.
Tuesday, March 8th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
We waved goodbye to Pyewacket as they departed at dawn, headed for Easter Island. Partings are sad but inevitable. We spent the morning wandering around town. While checking out the Laundromat we met Eddie and Glenda from the boat Helena. Over lunch Eddie told us about his career as a coal miner in Brussels. You don’t meet many former coal miners out here. After lunch it was off to the National Park Interpretive Center. The exhibits were well done, covering the natural and cultural histories of the Galapagos. We were unsettled to learn that only 6% of tourist dollars go to the local population. Ecuador is trying to find a balance that will allow the residents of the Galapagos to thrive while protecting the environment of the Islands. It’s a complicated task.
After our tour, we went in search of a spot to hide from the sun. Under a tree overlooking a beach we encountered a couple who looked like cruisers. It turned out that they were the crew of Curare, one of the other boats which were checking in on our recent passage net.
Wednesday, March 9th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
Wednesday was snorkeling day. The crews of Reality and Shango gathered at 8:30 a.m. at Franklin’s Dive Center. Charlie (known to only his parents as Franklin) loaded us into a taxi and headed for the dock. The major destination of the day was Leon Dormido, otherwise known as Kicker Rock. The five snorkelers and two divers slipped into the water beside the two towering (148 meter) rocks. We drifted along, amazed by the spectacular colors of the walls and the varied sea creatures that make their home there. In addition to the small, colorful “tropical” fish, there were sea turtles, sea lions and sharks. For her birthday Sharon was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a hammerhead. In the air above our tour boat, riding the air currents that surround the rocks were Giant Frigate Birds and Long-tailed Tropicbirds. Standing on rock ledges were the famous Blue Footed and Masked Boobies. I love birds that are so easy to identify.
After snorkeling two different areas at Kicker Rock we headed back the way we had come. On our return trip we stopped briefly at a beautiful beach where we were immediately ravaged by biting flies. Vamos! Our last stop was at Isla Lobos where we snorkeled past many marine iguanas and into a small pool where young sea lions were playing. It was an amazing day.
Thursday, March 10th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
Thursday dawned an unfortunate shade of gray. There were low hanging clouds which threatened to open up at any minute. Naturally this was to be our land tour day. Despite the weather the crews of Shango, Reality, Curare and One World packed ourselves into two taxis and headed inland. The first stop was at a two hundred year old tree house set in a giant Cibao tree. Sadly we were unable to go inside. It beckoned to me in a very tempting way.
The Cerro Colorado Giant Tortoise Reserve, our second stop, was located in the Island’s highlands. We drove through fog-like cloud cover and arrived at the Reserve shortly after feeding time. The first tortoises we saw were the young ones who are raised from hatchlings in cages clad in protective wire. Apparently cats and rats, non-native species, enjoy a bit of tortoise for dinner so the Reserve was founded just over ten years ago to prevent the collapse of the giant tortoise population on San Cristobal. After seeing the babies we walked on a path through the Reserve till we encountered the more senior residents. At one lucky mud hole we saw tortoises breeding (slowly) and tortoises having a row (slowly). Giant Tortoises are truly giant.
Our last two stops, a pretty beach and a lake in the crater of a volcano were briefer. The lake, El Junco, was quite stunning. We looked down on it from high above, wishing we could go for a swim after our climb to the top of the volcano. No such luck. Getting rained on would have to do.
To complete our day we made our way to the Cormoran Restaurant and feasted on ceviche and fish in coconut sauce. Reality, autografo in hand, was headed out in the morning towards Floreana so this was another farewell. Although damp, it was a good day in the Galapagos.
Friday, March 11th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
Friday was to be “Do Internet, buy a tee-shirt, drop off the laundry day” but instead it was “Evacuate the Harbor for 10+ hours while the Galapagos awaits a tsunami day”
Shortly before nine in the morning a fellow in a water taxi came to each boat saying that we all had to leave the Harbor till further notice because of a tsunami warning. It’s not something you expect to hear while you are enjoying coffee in the cockpit. The tsunami, generated by the earthquake off Japan, was predicted to make landfall at five forty in the afternoon. There was a certain amount of foot dragging as boats anticipated a long day of bobbing around five miles outside of Wreck Bay. Eventually the harbor emptied out and the horizon was speckled with a variety of boats doing not much of anything. There was no wind for sailing initially so we took some time to do a turbo wash, which the engine needed. Around noon a breeze picked up and we sailed back and forth in the sunshine. There was a bit of chatter on the VHF about how many waves were expected and how diminished they would be by the time they covered the distance from Japan.
At five forty-five and eight miles out we headed for the Harbor. We had felt nothing wave-like, other than the swell that was around all day. Our Spanish is pretty poor but by seven when we were outside the entrance, many boats were headed in so we assumed that the Port Captain had given the go ahead. Apparently not. What concerned us more than the tsunami was the thought of 50+ boats all charging into the harbor to anchor en mass in the dark. We followed our previous track back in and dropped the hook in the same spot. Some boats were still outside but eventually everyone dribbled back, exhausted and ready to call it a day. We learned the next day that there had been several waves, the third as we were reentering the Harbor (before permission had been given apparently). There had been enough of a wave to lift the water taxi dock above its intended maximum. The dock wiped out two spotlights meant to light it during evening use. The only hint that we had of the last wave was that our anchor wouldn’t set properly at first. All in all I think I would have preferred the “Internet, tee-shirt, laundry day”.
Saturday, March 12th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
We arose to an anchorage that looked fairly orderly given Friday’s event. Our neighbors all looked familiar and at an appropriate distance away, amazingly. We were eager to try to do Saturday what we had intended to do on Friday. That is just what we did. Whew!
Sunday, March 13th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
We started to watch the weather in hopes of seeing a window to the Marquesas. What we were actually looking for was a window to get away from the Galapagos. There had been almost no wind for five days and it wasn’t looking too promising going forward. Boat projects had crept back to the forefront. No playtime was on the immediate agenda.
Wednesday, March 16th, Wreck Bay, Galapagos
Provisioning done. Cooking done (including a barnacle ceviche). Engine maintenance performed. Still no wind in the forecast. The thinking amongst the boats waiting to leave is that there will be no wind in this neighborhood till the trades work their way further north in April. We don’t want to wait till April so we’re going to drift, in what we hope will be a somewhat southwesterly direction till we find the wind. Others are reaching this conclusion as well. We have been doing a lot of kissing and waving goodbye over the last few days.
When we leave tomorrow or Friday for the Marquesas we will be starting not only our longest passage of the year, but what will be our longest passage ever at 20+ days. We are excited and anxious to be underway.
Passage to the Marquesas, March 18th – April 9th, 2011
Twenty two days after leaving San Cristobal, as the early morning light displaced the darkness, we saw the towering silhouette of Fatu Hiva appear in the distance. At no point was the Island a “tiny smudge” on the horizon that it might have been if we had arrived later in the day. It was amazing to see its volcanic flanks rising out of the sea and into the clouds which gathered around its high peaks. We had successfully sailed across the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
When we left the Galapagos on March 18th we hoped, as everyone does, for a swift and uneventful passage. In the end we did slightly better in the uneventful department than we did in the swift department but there are no complaints aboard.
Our departure day forecast proclaimed that our sought after tradewinds, blowing out of the southeast to send us westward, were still down at ten degrees south latitude . We were leaving from roughly the latitude of the equator (0) and a longitude of 89 degrees. Our destination, Fatu Hiva, is located at latitude ten degrees south (each degree of latitude =sixty miles) and longitude 138 degrees west, a distance of approximately 3050 miles as the crow flies. Sailboats should never be mistaken for crows. Instead of following the rhumb line southwest (the route of the crow) we headed almost due south to try to find the wind. We were not alone in this quest. Several boats had left the Galapagos for the Marquesas on “Tsunami Day” the week before. We listened to their reports on the morning net. “Found wind at eight south.” “Found wind at ten south.” This wasn’t encouraging. The further south we found the wind the more downwind our angle to our destination would eventually be. Such is life.
For the first two days we had a whisper of wind allowing us to move along under asymmetrical. Day three saw the complete collapse of the breeze. Engine on, we continued south in pursuit of our elusive air. At six degrees south on day five we were greeted by rain showers, and with them came the wind. We had found the Trades.
For the next week we had 20-25 knots of wind off our port quarter. In our minds the wind continued all the way to our destination, the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva. Sadly, reality wasn’t quite so sweet. Two weeks into the trip the wind began to drop. To add insult to injury we had reached ten degrees south and needed only westerly progress. It was downwind time. Downwind sailing can be lovely. There is no slamming of seas, minimal spray flying and a generally comfortable ride, if occasionally a bit rolly. The trouble comes when the wind drops. Downwind sailing in light winds requires an increased amount of sail handling. During the day the asymmetrical sail went up. At night, to avoid unpleasant foredeck work, the genoa was poled out in its place. As the wind increased and decreased, variations on this scenario were played out. Spirits occasionally flagged but were revived by such highlights as “half way pizza” and the popular “under 1000 miles cocktail” We checked in daily on an informal SSB net, reporting our position to another ten or so boats on the same passage. We seemed to be moving well and avoiding some of the squallier weather that others were encountering. While we were lucky in the squall department we didn’t fare so well with our fishing luck. Zippo. I was ok with the good weather option.
All the while we spent our days sail handling, doing chores or relaxing while our nights, divided into three hour shifts, were spent reading and peering at the stars.
On the last day of the passage we rounded the southern tip of Fatu Hiva and headed for the Bay of Virgins which has to be the mother of all landfalls. It was a spectacular place to drop the hook. Once the forward motion of the boat ceased we just stood on the deck in amazement. Surrounded by peaks and spires, the landscape was something out of a fantasy of paradise. Anchored amongst the small group of cruisers from around the world we definitely felt like we had completed a classic voyage.
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