Friday, May 28, 2004

Leaving Galapagos

Having spent a wonderful week in Isabella (highlights: exploring the volcano on horse-back, hanging out with Alyson from Cornwall who is married to a local fisherman), we are preparing to leave tomorrow and head for Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. Bagpuss left yesterday and Trade Secret will also leave tomorrow.

Pamina is as well prepared as we can get her and we have spent the last couple of days tidying-up and sorting gear out. The winds are very light - <10 knots - but it looks like there is more wind on the way.

The Galapagos were really fantastic, possibly the highlight of our trip so far. We have taken hundreds of photos and we could have spent much more time here, all in all we had 18 days here and visited three islands.

Monday, May 24, 2004

San Christobal and Espanola

San Christobal is the official capital of the islands, but not the primary tourist destination so it's a very pleasant, relaxed sort of place. There are a few shops (usually just the front room of a family house with a few goods in them), one supermarket, a few hardware stores, many bakeries and a public market in an enclosed market hall.

The market is town's focus point and sells pretty much any everything you might wish for: eggs, meat (freshly butchered - the odd leg with hoof is displayed as proof of freshness!), veggies (plantains, tomatoes, cucumber, sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots) and fruit (watermellon, v. good mandarines, some apples, bananas). There are several restaurants, more like tavernas, and a few bars. Eating out is very cheap, $3-4 for a lunch time menu of soup and main course, usually the main course is a huge piece of grilled tuna or marlin. All the locals seem to eat out at lunch so we did as well, it's the busiest time of day before the town quietens down for a siesta.

Althought there is electricity and running water, there is no drinking water on tap, so locals have to queue at the hospital to fill jerry cans. It took us nearly two days to fill our our tank, patiently queueing and letting the locals go first as much as possible, because we didn't want to abuse their resource, and then ferrying the cans to the boat by dinghy. The new dinghy really came into its own then as the surf is quite impressive - the old dinghy would certainly not have coped with the two of us and 100 litres of water.

The wild life is truly amazing. There were are many sealions in the bay of San Christobal, black iguanas, lizzards, birds, pelicans and sea turtles. The sealions are my absolute favourite, they are v. cute but smelly and they shit everywhere. They look like seals and are very graceful in the water but less so on land. In the water the sea lions are very agile, they can climb onto any boat and often do hang out on the boats just lying in the sun to heat up before going for another swim.

We have done two tours, one by boat to another island called Espanola, and land safari in San Christobal (we saw the tortoise sanctuary where they have giant tortoise, up to about 1 metre tall). Espanola is not inhabited by humans, and visitors are only allowed to visit by day with a qualified guide. It is home to large colonies of sealions, marine iguanas, bright orange crabs, albatrosses and blue-footed boobies. The blue-footed boobies look amazing, only a photo will do them justice. Due to the relatively few species that have made it to the islands, most animals evolved without predators, so animals are really tame. You have to walk round them, as they won't move for you. It is a really unique experience. We also snorked off Espanola and swam with the sealions. The sealions are very playful and will swim with you and dive towards you kamikaze-style and will only veer off to avoid touching you at the last moment.

In between the excursions we were busy cleaning the boat. Henri has polished every single wooden surface to try and get rid of the milldew which has suddenly sprung up. Conor's been busy helping other boats with their electrics and mechanics, so Henri's had evenings/afternoons to myself which has been nice, as we've been going out with the gang most days/nights. It's been very sociable as the Galapagos are the first stepping stone for most boats sailing to the Pacific. There are a few boats going this way and you get to know everyone very quickly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Arrival in Galapagos

We timed our arrival in Galapagos just right for drinks on Bagpus and dinner (Katies famous chilli) on Lionheart. Our landfall was 'Wreck Bay', on the S end of the island of Cristobal - the town is Puerto Baquerizo. Had a very pleasant sail for the last few days. Despite the upwind sailing we got here in about 10 days. Reckon I’ll get redress from the race committee for the rescue mission…

We 'crossed the line' at about 04:30 this morning. We celebrated by opening the presents Lucy & Mick on Tulaichean gave us in Grenada, but refrained from the tradition of dunking the first-time sailors overboard for an equatorial swim.

We had fog from about 6:00 am until 8:00am but it cleared when the sun came up. The islands look a bit like the canaries, but there much less habitation - practically none outside this small town.

There is fantastic clarity in the water and air. The surprising thing is how cold it is - we are back in the low 20's at midday. There are penguins on some of the islands and at the moment there are many sea-lions on the beach and also sprawled on many fishing boats! We spoke to some friends who were diving today - they saw dozens of sharks.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Mid ocean Rendezvous

We've 90 miles to go to the Galapagos at the moment. We left Panama 9 days ago and should arrive in Galapagos tomorrow, day 10. We've had mixed weather so far, 2-3 days at the start of light winds and electric storms but since then we've mostly had 20kt and more of wind (all from the either S or SW - our course is SW) and 100% cloud cover. We're now 22 miles from the equator but the temp is only in the low 20's and the sky is clear this morning and the wind has eased. The region is famous for fickle currents, which until now have been mostly contrary to our course, but for the last 2 days we have had a favourable 1kt current - which is fantastic. Seas have been pretty lumpy, though are calm at the moment. We even had several days of solid rain, rain like it rains in Ireland. Rain, rain, rain down-for-the-day rain. I reckon the sailing here is the closest to Irish summer sailing that we have seen - and the boat is holding up well.

On passage our net is working very well. The net is a twice daily radio schedule with four other boats. Katy & Matt on Lionheart, Melly & Matt of Meander, Bev & Alan on Bagpuss, Karen & Steven on Trade Secret. It looks like we'll be sailing together - at least in a very loose sense - until we reach NZ. The twice daily calls are great fun. The purpose is to share weather info and report our positions. By coincidence or rather because of similar watch patterns it's usually the girls that do the 10 net, and the boys that are on in the evening. This means that the morning slot is turning into a marine "Woman's Hour": there is usually more general chat as well (who's baking what, what will Meander do now their freezer is broken, what books have we been reading, what will we do when we arrive big life questions). In the evenings it's more strategy, miles, engine hours and still some fun. We're delighted to have fallen in with this crowd, it was beginning to get a little lonely, and certainly Henri says that girl chat is just a v. welcome break from the usual only sails and engine talk.

The net came into it's own when we responded to a call for help from Meander. We diverted course on Friday afternoon to rendezvous them as they were having some problems with their rig and needed diesel as they would have to motor the rest of the way in. They had left 4 days before us but were making poor progress into the choppy seas and headwinds. With the boat slamming so much they had eased off and feared for their rig. Fears which were confirmed on Friday morning when their inner forestay parted. Melly has been up the mast many times since to tie more ropes around it and truss it up.

Shortly after the conversation where we discussed meeting up, they were buzzed by a US Navy plane, and then a Navy helicopter. The plane contacted them told them there was a Navy ship near by and and said there was a yacht (ie us) 60 miles to the NW heading towards them. At first we though this was coincidence, - rare enough to get buzzed by planes, but to be buzzed when actually in difficulty? Also, are they really monitoring a radius of 60 miles (11,000 sq miles of ocean) to pick up yachts that might be heading in that direction? or are they just monitoring SSB traffic? Conor calculated the rendezvous point such that Meander did not have to alter course, while we continued to gain to windward. Neither boat had to sail additional distance, and neither had to wait, as we both arrived at the waypoint at the same time which was very exciting. Suspicions that the Navy listen-in on our radio traffic were confirmed yesterday morning when the plane contacted us again - right as we were paying out the dinghy with the diesel on board toward the other yacht (ie just as the deal was going down). H was about to say that the diesel was in powder form, but thought better of it. Too close to Columbia.

It was good to know the US Navy were close by because of some recent incidents on the route. 2 boats that were travelling with were harassed by fishermen of the coast of Columbia /Equador. One single hander was approached by a dory (100 miles of the coast) and the would-be boarders pulled themselves along the rope for his towing generator. He scared them off with pepper spray and a machete. The other incident was similar - it was approached (in the same area) by a dory which also tried to come along side. More seriously, there is also a report on Cornells (and another about the same incident on the ‘Latitude 38’ site) about a Japanese couple on an Amel who were attacked, boarded and tied up about 3 weeks ago. They were back in Balboa when we were there. The attack was close to the island of Malpeso which is 220 miles of the Columbian coast. Forewarned by the Japaneses’ experience we sailed a rhumb-line course rather than the recommended route south. This meant we were beating all the way (S and SW winds).

Apart from the excitement, the passage has been fairly tranquil. Last night we had some dolphins swim with us after dark. It was magical: when there is no moon, there is a phenomenon called "phosphorescence" which means that the waves and spray sparkle like with diamonds, so when the dolphins dive around the boat it looks like fireworks or rather shooting stars with massive tails - amazing! And friends who've arrived in the Galapagos islands report that they've been snorkeling with sea lions. What a welcome to look forward to!