Go Go Go to Galapagos April 20 2007
Our provisioning was complete and the weather looked good for a departure from Panama City. To celebrate we had a final dinner in Panama City. This time at La Posta (www.lapostapanama.com)...a "gourmet bistro with a tropical classic menu." It was a wonderful night! We put on our best attire (okay, at the root it is technical clothes and a Hawaiian shirt but we were festive) and called for the Balboa Yacht Club launch on VHF 6 (moye, moye...nessistamos panga Barefeet por favor). The restaurant is located in the Calle Uruguay with many other night spots. As described it really was a French Bistro with a tropical flair...steak and frites for Chris and duo ceviche for Erin...and a great red wine (just like we like it...smelling like a wet dog). The ceviche was in two parts; fish in a tangy citrus/onion mixture and octopus in a sweet coconut mixture...both delicious. And the steak was so tender (there is some butter in there, son). We lingered, chatted and watched the room around us until we finally headed back to Barefeet. (Chris - by the way, the dock with the red railings above is the beautiful balboa yacht club. If you look carefully, you can see the pool, snack bar, and hut where the boat boy hangs out. Not to mention the showers, restaurant and dancing hall.)
4/11 began with an early start in hopes that we would be first to the fuel dock...almost...but not quite. A bit of circling and then we filled with diesel, settled our tab and gave Barefeet a quick wash (likely the last one for quite awhile). Off to Las Perlas archipelago...a collection of uninhabited islands with untrodden shores that are a favorite cruising spot and a nice transition from the soot filled air of Colon and Panama City before heading to the Galapagos. Some friends on s/v Serai left a bit ahead of us and suggested anchoring in Isla Bayoneta...gosh was it beautiful. A mixture of rocky, New England coastline and Panama wildlife. It was hard to stay for just one night...but the Galapagos were calling. We got the screecher hoisted, a lasagna made for the passage (quick and easy, just in case) and odds and ends stowed away.
dolphin video (with sound)
Off we went at 10am on 4/12 for the Galapagos. It is 800 miles with variable wind directions and various current patterns. We have been told that patience is needed and the doldrums (no wind) are almost inevitable...but no major storm events to worry about this time of year. We do not have capacity to carry enough fuel to be able to motor the entire way even if we wanted to...so our strategy is to sail as much as possible and motor using one engine only at a time (using two is not a doubling of speed) in order to conserve fuel. The journey started out with a bang...lots of sea life ushered us onward; two sea turtles, a jumping ray, jellyfish galore, squadrons of pelicans...and swarms of dolphin. Okay, yes, they are technically called pods but there were just too many...literally 2-3 dozen! They played in the bows for 45 minutes twirling and spinning and darting around.
Day two (4/13) was a tough day. The fun started in the dark hours of the morning (when else do these things happen). Chris was on watch and Erin was sleeping...when the engine changed from a purring kitten to a cranky lawnmower showing an overheating alarm. Something was definitely wrong...turned off the port engine and started up the starboard engine. Back on track until the sun comes up and the port engine can be looked at. Chris took a look and the belt that goes to the water pump had snapped (this is the way sea/raw water enters the engine for cooling...a must have). Getting out a new belt (deep in storage below the guest bed mattress and under boxes of food), getting out the tools, hanging upside down in the bilge while fixing/stripping the bolts was a sweaty/greasy job...and a sure fire recipe for cookie tossing. Good news is it all works fine now. Bad news is if it has a problem again we are in trouble because all the bolts got stripped putting it back together. The rest of the day was bumpy and both Erin and Chris tossed cookies more than once. (Chris - Erin is very nicely talking about how the bolts "got stripped". Actually, Chris stripped the bolt while hanging upside-down in the bilge, trying to loosen the 3 bolts that hold on the water pump so he could slip the new belt over it. Of course, when 7 foot waves are moving you about, it is tough to get the wrench to stay put, because you need two hands to hold the wrench - but the waves are tossing your body around. That means the rest of you is moving 7 feet in all directions while your arms are getting torn apart on every sharp bit of metal and hose clamp on the engine. A little bit of that goes a long way and soon you are tugging and cursing while sweat and vomit slime are dripping into the bilge. Eventually, any rational person would decide not to remove the old pump and use a giant screwdriver to "lovingly" coax the new belt over the flywheel. That "worked" and so now the new belt is on. Of course, the water pump better not need to be moved or tightened anytime soon .... )
Day three (4/13) dawned a new and better day. Barefeet even caught a 4 ft blue marlin; unfortunately, after a few acrobatic jumps in and out of the water the line broke and he swam off with the lure...ah well, fridge and freezer are currently full anyway. En route we have been reading The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner to get a jump start on the wonders of the Galapagos (thanks Uncle Charlie). Day four (4/15) was even calmer and it was showers for both of us...who knew this would feel like such an accomplishment?!
Day five (4/16) started with dropped eggs on toast for breakfast and the discovery of hitch-hiking squids on the deck...our stolen lure does look a lot like these guys...I guess the fish would like them. The water and sky blend into one giant picture of blue...nothing else in sight...just blue. Weather continued to calm and it was showers on the stern steps for both of us...sea water wash and fresh water rinse. The night watches have been more interesting since the stars have made more of an appearance. The milky way is unmistakable and constellations are being identified one by one. We have found a great star gazing book...The Stars - A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey (of Curious George fame)...a great recommendation from Diana back on the ICW (s/v Strider).
Day 6 (4/17) got bumpy and loud again...good for speed but tiresome on the movement and noise side. Wind was averaging 20-25 knots so we reefed the main and tried to rest on our "sleep shifts" but had little luck...are we on a battlefield or sailing...the noise level would favor a battlefield. Day seven (4/18) saw conditions mellow and we are starting to see groups of birds rather than the random one or two...but we have not seen another ship in three days. One bird has even found a perch on the bow...kinda fun until Chris noticed the pile of calling cards he is depositing. Now it is Chris against the birds...who do you think will win out?! The sea conditions indicate that we are in the home stretch; water temperature is cooling (Humbolt current) and the current is now pulling us in instead of fighting with us.
Day 8 (4/19) was again a pretty peaceful day and began with Chris's famous pancakes. Both engines got a check out since we have only been sailing but we will need the engines for the final bit (starboard needed its fuel lines to be bled...awesome job Chris). Uh oh, we really need a signaling system regarding our fishing lines...and when they are in the water. The port propeller just got tangled in the fishing "meat line." If the boat can get you, it will. Sails were lowered and Chris gallantly entered the water with a rope tied to him and to Barefeet...definitely not his favorite activity but there was nothing for it. (Chris - Hughie, just want to thank you personally for how scared I am while this process goes on. I kept hearing your words about the "little ecosystem" that develops under a boat at sea ... you know the little fish, the big fish, the Mako, Tiger and Great Whites. It is definately NOT fun to think of the 11,000 feet of water underneath you, the vague possibility that the boat sails off without you, and all the big critters in between reality and your brain). Wow - the water is really clear...unbelievably so...and the depth is in the thousands of feet. Back aboard and all sorted out. By afternoon the fog had rolled in...more like a smothering wool blanket...thank goodness for radar. The night watch shift was interrupted by a "we've crossed the equator party"...complete with champagne (thanks Rob and Tracy)...first a drink to Poseidon for a continued safe voyage followed by a toast for us.
Day 9 (4/20) began with fog still present and still thick. However, the fog slowly lifted and we were treated to our first glimpse of the Galapagos. Holy cow! Very impressive...no disappointment here...even though our expectations were through the roof. We hailed s/v Serai (Jason & Emily) and seems they are still in port...great to hear a familiar voice and got some good advice about once anchored...sea lion proof your boat! They had an inflatable kayak chomped...agh.
Happily anchored in Wreck Bay (San Cristobal Island) Serai showed us the ropes and we got all checked in; 15 day visa for the boat (lucky since several folks only got 5 or 10 days...clearly a bit of a random process) and immigration for us. The whole boat visa thing is a moving target with changes happening all the time. Now that we are in Wreck Bay, it is the only landfall we are allowed to make...otherwise lots of fees and a naturalist aboard (hired, of course) are required. That said, they are also quite happy to levy several fees for initial entry (both on the boat and on us). We knew this was the deal and were actually quite pleased with the 15 day stay. We met up later with Jason and Emily at a roof top bar for drinks and bits - great way to be welcomed to the place. Serai leaves Sunday for the Marquesas so we will have a bon voyage BBQ (bring your own grillin' meat and drink) on Saturday night. As you can see, our sea lion proofing only worked so well...we returned after drinks and bits to find a fellow scooched on the first step of the right pontoon. Ah well, at least that is as far as he could get...but he was still there when we got up in the morning. Slumber party?!