Passage from Panama to the Galapagos Islands – February 2012

Day 1

Woke to overcast skies and not much wind!  2 February 07.00 hours said goodbye to Contadora and headed off for the Galapagos!  If only it was that simple!  Got the mainsail up and were about to pull out the genoa when Matt noticed that the portside aft winch was a bit ‘grungy'.  We had serviced all the winches earlier in January but since then not used them much.  So that had to come apart again - to reveal a crack in the plastic moulding underneath the self-tailor.  It was a bad fit into the self tailor so Matt got out his file and sorted it - at least we are able to use it.  Good start eh?  Wind was around 9 knots from WNW to start but as the day progressed it turned to the north – varying between 9 and 12 knots and in the afternoon we were able to pole out the genoa.  The current turned with us at around mid-day.  Had a few dolphins with us now and again – may have been bottle nosed but they weren't very lively so possibly rough-toothed.  A few other very large splashes were the only evidence of other ‘creatures lurking beneath the surface'.   After all the frenetic activity of the past month, we spent a leisurely day, reading and cat-napping!  We didn't even bother with the fishing lines!  Sea a bit lively now and then with a few rolly bits but prepared 3 good meals whilst we could (it's not like we don't know where our next meal is coming from – and let's face it we're not going to starve with ¾ ton food on board - more that we don't know what the conditions are going to be like when we reach the ICTZ - doldrums!)  I even managed to do my yoga salute to the sun.  Stood 3 hour watches from 8pm to 8am.  Wind stayed more or less same direction all night varying from 7 to 15 knots still with around half to a knot of current.   Hadn't seen much of the sun during the day and the thin cloud cover kept the moon and stars hidden.  Lots of bio-luminescence.  Passed quite a few ships in the night – had the AIS running in order to be able to identify them – in fact we had to call one up as he was heading directly for us from behind – he said he had us on his radar and changed course slightly to avoid us! 

24 hour distance:  160 miles.     Position:  06:10:85N 80:05:44W

    

        Matt relaxing with a cuppa  (and cake of course)                     Jean relaxing with a kindle

Day 2

Overcast again. Sailed with genoa poled out and wind around 6 knots all morning with a very agitated sea.  Did some work on the January website page.  By lunchtime wind was NE 11 knots so gibed.  Still very rolly.  Not able to do yoga today!  Been doing readings for pH etc but too much cloud to take any aerosol readings – sorry Sasha!  Mid afternoon wind had dropped again so we took the pole down and tried a 2 sail reach on starboard tack for a while.  Sea still agitated so sails flogging badly.  Took genoa in.  Wind died to 2 knots and mail and boom flogging despite having preventer on.  Just before dinner decided to put engine on.  Ran engine all night.  Carried 1.5 to 2 knots of current all day so speed not too bad. Still got 3 good meals despite rolliness!  Read a lot! Seas flattened out in the night so very comfortable.  Passed Island of Malpelo at 06.30 on 4 th Feb.

24 hour distance: 161 miles      Position:  04:08:45N 81:44:08W

 

               Sunrise over the pacific                                         Island of Malpelo (belongs to Colombia)

Day 3

After a glorious sunrise promising a bright day to come, it wasn't long before the cloud came over.  The sea was glassy calm.  It was good to have the flat seas after yesterday being tossed about but we need the wind.  Tried a couple of times to sail but couldn't make enough south which we needed to do to get the wind (according to the grib files).  So we kept the engine running.  Had some spectacular displays from what we think were Spinner dolphins – the sea was alive with their activity – jumping high in the air and turning and twisting then tail slapping.  Also saw a small pod of Pilot whales – their black bodies moving gracefully through the water.  The wind finally came in and we got the engine off early afternoon.  With all the flat sea, I got some yoga done and once again we ate well.  Sailed close hauled on port tack. The sea got a bit choppy later and we had around a knot of current against us.  Tacked on to starboard at around 2am for a couple of hours then back on to port. Hopefully we're now through the ITCZ (inter tropical convergence zone – where the winds from the north east meet the winds from the south east and anything can happen – from doldrums to thunder storms).  The winds are now light but from the south west so we have a 600 mile beat still to go!   

24 hour distance:  134 miles  Position:  03:09:21N 83:07:08W

                     Dinner's up                                                                    Glorious sunset

Day 4

No glorious sunrise today – clouds too thick but can't complain as we had plenty of wind.  By mid morning the wind was south east 17 knots and we were storming along close hauled on port tack.  Still had current against though. Getting into a daily routine now – net on the SSB radio with the Pan Pacific Net at 09.00 hrs and afterwards a chat with friends Darramy and Malarkey – usually discussion about wind and grib files and strategy for the day!  They both set off a day before us so we'll a bit scattered about.  We've had some useful weather info too from friends (Tisha Baby and Sea Cycle) back in Panama who join in the net.  Daily check over boat – lines, blocks, fittings, rigging, sails etc then check vegetables to see what needs using then a bit of housekeeping (or should that be boat keeping?)  Bit of a task cleaning the toilet at an angle of 45 degrees though!  We check emails, upload our blog and get our daily weather file on the satellite phone some time during the morning.  Then it's R & R!

Stayed on port tack all day with the wind 12 – 15 knots, lumpy sea and 1 to 1.5 knots current against but going well.  No cetacean sightings – just the odd sea bird.  Seas and wind started to die off late afternoon so able to cook a good dinner!  Wind died off completely and sloppy seas with sails crashing and banging so motored for 3 hours to find calm seas.  23.00 hrs engine off, a bit of wind so we sailed on starboard tack all night in very flat seas – making a bit of progress but not in the right direction! 

24 hour distance:  125 miles       Position:  01:32:10N 82:51:18W

 

             The communications centre!                             Taking measurements of seawater (temp, pH, salinity)

Day 5

The doldrums continue! Had been on starboard tack all night doing around 3 kts.  We had made a bit of progress south but were also slanting east towards the coast of Ecuador so decided to tack on to port to make some long needed westing. – But with the light winds and a bit of adverse current our tacking angle was abysmal, and ended up almost heading back the way we had come!  Very frustrating!  There was hardly any wind so we decided to put the engine on for a while and motor in the direction we wanted to go as well as charge batteries etc!  Mostly overcast again but we did get a few glimpses of the sun.  Did our daily chores and bit of yoga.  Got our January blog for the website finished and ready to upload when we get to an internet café. Put a small patch on the genoa as it had a small tear on the luff where it rubs on the edge of the foil feeder. 

Just before lunch we put the engine off and were able to sail on port tack albeit very slowly – only making 2 to 3 knots – but how peaceful it was just watching the huge swell rolling along – no wind chop on the sea so very, very pleasant.  No need to rush in these conditions and we know we're not going to starve (and we might well be out here another 5 days at this speed!) Saw a fishing boat mid afternoon – that's the first vessel we've seen since the first day.  No cetaceans and just one long-tailed tropic bird.  Spent a goodly amount of time cutting up our plastic waste – Matt reckons it's like being on Blue Peter.  All food waste goes to feed the fish.  The empty glass bottles and cans we fill with sea water then condemn them to the deep.  But absolutely no plastic goes overboard.  I rinse everything with sea water then cut it up small – it's amazing how many milk/juice cartons you can get into a small bag! 

24 hour distance: 103 miles   Position:  01:06:64N 085:17:04W

 

                               Before Blue Peter                                 After Blue Peter (or should that be Green Jean)

Day 6

A great sail through the night continued into the morning and all day making a speed of around 6 to 7 knots on port tack.  Less cloud today – a few glimpses of the sun.  Saw the ‘man from Del Monte' (or at least the container ship from Del Monte) early morning – must've been going to get the ripest fruits from Ecuador!  A couple of hours later we passed another container ship heading north but nothing else.  No cetaceans either – the odd bird and a few flying fish but that was it!  Productive day doing jobs.  No yoga – not easy to balance when sailing at an angle!  Later in the evening the wind dropped and great dark clouds were looming not too far ahead so we decided to motor until we passed them.  However the wind never got back up again so the engine was on most of the night.  At 03.20 on 8 February we crossed the equator at 86.52W and passed from the status of Slimy Polywogs to Shellbacks as we gave our gifts of a cup of tea and a glass of wine to Neptune - whilst we toasted King Neptune with cups of tea, ginger biscuits and bleary eyes!  

24 hour distance: 139 miles      Position:   00:10:62S 087:09:02W

                            Crossing the equator                                     A cuppa for Neptune

                   A glass of wine for Neptune

Day 7

Our most frustrating day so far!  We must've forgotten to put sugar in Neptune's tea!  The skies were leaden, the sea a gunmetal grey – very agitated and rain – lots of it and lots of massive black cloud formations.  More like sailing in the north sea than the pacific. I actually wore long pants – so much for being 30 miles from the equator!   The worst was that we had very little wind to start with which, when it did increase during the day, was coming directly on the nose - from the west.  We had the choice of either going south (current taking us either further south) or north against the current or motoring.  Hobson's choice really – if we sailed we would add at least an extra 100 miles to our trip!  So we spent the day and night motoring, sailing when we could.   Each time we got the genoa out we would get headed and put further of course – very frustrating.  However, we got our usual jobs done - no yoga on deck in the rain!  No cetaceans again but a few sea birds – in fact quite a few storm petrels and one red footed booby who kept coming to land on the pulpit to take a ride with us!  At the first misty light of dawn we saw a black shape looming ahead – which we initially thought was more cloud but as the light increased, the black shape turned into Isla Cristobal at 17miles, the most easterly of the volcanic islands of the Galapagos!  Yeah!  We only have another 127 miles to go to reach our destination of Villamil on Isla Isabella, but currently have 2 knots of foul current and as I write, Isla Cristobal has disappeared into the cloud. 

24 hour distance: 130 miles    Position:  00:39:80S 088:59:40W

                  Storm clouds gathering                                               A red footed boobie hitchng a lift

                 Land ahoy!  Isla San Cristobel

Day 8

Well we started the day motor sailing (again) but at least we had land to look at!  Isla San Cristobal very diverse – at first sight it looks so barren – just brown volcanic land but then as we turn to the north east we see green slopes dotted with brown craters – “like carbuncles on the landscape”.  Frustrated with having to motor so much, we kept trying to sail but every time we got the genoa out, the wind would head us again and we would make no progress.  We also had a current of around 2 knots against us!  Eventually we did manage to sail on port tack with 2 sails – but making very slow progress.  Within minutes the cloud came down and we lost sight of San Cristobal – then the rain started.  Just after lunch the wind did a complete U-turn to the north east and got up and we off at over 10 knots with 20 knots of wind from behind.  The sea started completely flat but soon built to a short steep chop to compliment the wind and rain.  This continued for a couple of hours – the current now with us at around 2 knots and boat still charging along at over 10 knots. We gybed about an hour before dinner but decided to put the main away while we ate. Just before dinner we had our evening SSB net with Malarkey and Darramy. Now about 60 miles to go, we decided to slow down and make a daylight landing, so started to experiment with the best sail plan to give us the right speed through the night. As the wind died more, the seas rolled more and the genoa became very unstable.  It was now pitch black dark – no moon and dark clouds and surprisingly chilly for the equator – we both had long pants and fleeces and Matt had his heavy weather jacket on!   Only the equivalent of a channel crossing and back to go!  To settle in for the night we put the genoa away and put the main back up with a preventer on.  This dampened things down a bit and the boat was steadier.  A couple of hours later the wind dropped right off so guess what – engine back on again but we still had 2 knots of current with us so were doing a good speed – which if we kept that up we would be at our destination in the dark.  At around midnight we were able to sail again but of course the wind was now in excess of 20 knots and on the nose. We spent the night tacking back and forth under reefed main and stay sail.  Progress was a bit slower than planned, but as dawn broke we could see Isla Isabella in the distance – hope to get there some time during the morning. As I'm writing this Matt has just called down that he has sighted a whale – we watched it blow a few times but couldn't see much of it's body – enough only to know it was a rorqual with a small dorsal fin towards the back of its body.  

24 hour distance: 120 miles.    Position:  01:04:67S 90:42:54W

                 Equatorial sailing                                                      Need a cuppa to warm up!

 

177 years after the arrival of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, at mid morning on day 9 we dropped anchor in a lovely small natural harbour in Puerto Villamil on the Island of Isabela, the western Galapagos.  A total distance of 1086 miles in a slow 8 days 3hrs 45mins with an average speed of 5.5 knots! We ran the engine for 71.2 hours! Hopefully that is the ITCZ and doldrums behind us! We can top up with fuel here, but not so for the next leg of around 3000 miles. With the exception of the second last day, the trip was very comfortable and really enjoyable, in fact great if somewhat slow sailing. So if this is pacific sailing, bring it on. So far we have had seals, a little penguin, a huge turtle, a small shark and several stripy box fish swim by the boat.  We went ashore yesterday afternoon to check in with the authorities and came across seals and iguanas in abundance!  What a wonderful place.  There are 4 other boats in the anchorage – a German, a French and 2 other British.  On our return to the boat as the sun was setting (it's GMT -6 here), we were invited aboard one of the boats to meet everybody else and arrange some group visits next week - what a welcome. Woke up this morning 57 miles south of the equator after a great nights sleep to brilliant sunshine, such a change from the usual cloud we had been experiencing – the evening temperature is cool and very comfortable for sleeping – even need a sheet! The water is a bit cooler so looks like wetsuits will be required for any long periods in the water but the water cooled freezer loves it. Great stuff!

Position:  00:57:92S 090:57:73W

   

                    Isla Isabela                                                                     Puerto Villamil

 

                Back to Flotsam.....