Final days in San Cristobal

Saturday night we headed into town for sundowners and enjoyed the company of Eric and his fellow pilots again at their hotel – this time from the rooftop Jacuzzi area – overlooking the anchorage. Oh yes and spot our new neighbour the huge tanker.  We had a fun time and it was good to repay Eric for the drinks he had treated us to on Friday.

On our return about seven there were no sea lions on the transom – fantastic!   We were having a couple of drinks in the cockpit when suddenly we heard sea lion barking from behind Morphie. This usually means two are fighting it out for the spot….but it continued and got louder and louder. We turned on the torch to investigate and found a large sea lion with his flipper caught between the swim ladder and the transom – at a horrendous angle. He had clearly jumped up, slipped and got caught and had ended up on his back in the water. He was going crazy, probably with pain as much as rage, and couldn’t get himself free. We went to help and he was very keen to bite. He was shredding our old fashioned life jackets into pieces and thrashing around.

Richard quickly got him to bite onto a broom handle…and then tried to pick him up….this failed the first few times then suddenly the seal seemed to realise what Richard was trying to do and he held on tight…Richard lifted him a couple of feet out of the water…and he got his flipper free and swam away as though nothing had happened. Phew!!!   During all this – it must have sounded like a massacre – one of the large tour boats had shouted out to check we were OK. We felt terrible – just because we didn’t want them to get onto Morphie we had inadvertently caused one to hurt himself. So defences were removed from the transom other than fenders and the word is out that seals are now welcome.

Sunday morning we were up early and yes we had a sea lion on the transom – he opened his eyes to check us out and was very surprised to be allowed to stay, so settled back down to sleep.

We had a lazy day just lounging around reading and chilling. And we had a traditional Sunday roast as the gas bottle was going off for a refill in the morning.

Monday morning and there was still a tiny bit of gas left in the bottle. So I got up early and made cheese scones. Yes, really, crazy or what?!?   Anyway Bolivar’s son came by to collect our diesel and petrol jugs….and took the gas bottle for a refill. An hour later – and $120 lighter – we had 25 gallons of diesel and 5 gallons of petrol on board so we are fully stocked again now.  We headed into town and dropped off the heavy laundry – sheets and towels only – and went to Rositas for lunch.

Richard had the daily special for a great price of $6 while I blew the budget and went for the chicken with rice at $12 LOL. Well Richard had chicken soup followed by fried fish with rice which was fantastic value. My plate was huge…and the pile of rice was humongous…and had loads of chicken in it. It tasted like egg fried rice from the Chinese….quite delicious. But I couldn’t finish it and Richard had a go but we still left some. That was definitely a main meal to share!

While we were there we bumped into Chris from Sea Bear and his son – so we made arrangements to see them later for sundowners. We met up at five and had a really nice catch up before returning to Morphie at about eight on practically the last water taxi of the night!   We had to dodge the seals on the jetty – they stay away during the day but seem to think it is theirs come six.   Our pet seal was still there when we got back…..and the first of the Oyster Rally boats had turned up in the anchorage.

Tuesday morning and the gas bottle came back – but not filled! Apparently it is not possible here but is in Santa Cruz our next island destination. So fingers crossed that is the truth – we are slightly concerned about it at this stage. Filling these US bottles with separate in/out valves has been problematic throughout the Caribbean and we specifically purchased adaptors to alleviate the situation – but even that didn’t work here.

We decided to go out and about so got ourselves organised for a long walk….and hopefully some snorkelling. We walked to the Interpretation Centre at the other end of town and then followed the path through the lush green vegetation interspersed with large cactus and the occasional flower.

We enjoyed the sights of the tiny lizards – which were really quick to run off so getting a photo was a challenge – and felt like intrepid explorers alone in the wilderness. There were lots of tiny birds around too but they were way too quick to capture as they flitted from bush to bush.

After about an hour we came across some steps up to Cerro Tijeretas and took in the sights of Las Tijeratas. This is a small bay and has historic significance as this is where Darwin first set foot in the Galapagos Islands. It has rugged and spectacular volcanic scenery and we loved watching the seals frolic in the water below. Sadly we failed to pack any rugged shoes that we could wear into the water so snorkelling here wasn’t possible as the access to the water was via very sharp rocks. Something we’ll have to remember!

After a breather we followed the long and winding path – which meandered up and down quite dramatically in places – and found the lookout where Darwin’s statue stands. Was quite an impressive statue but with the sun behind it was difficult to get a good photo…..but you get the gist LOL.

Following the next path to another lookout and we were surprised to find a 1940s war cannon….was apparently used by the Ecuadorian Navy but all the markings on the gun itself were in English so we did wonder about its origins.

Moving on we arrived at Playa Punta Carola….a wide crescent-shaped beach with lots of black volcanic rock….and marine iguanas. We enjoyed watching them for a while and then went in the water to the shallows for a bob – hoping to join the seals frolicking further out – but the surf got up suddenly and we didn’t fancy it so we just sat in the shallows and cooled down. There was the occasional turtle head popping up for air too.

Leaving the beach we took an alternative path back towards the town which was a bit dark and spooky.

Finally we arrived back on the main dirt road that led to town. Walking past the nice hotel we realised that the sun beds had been colonised by mums and babies – clearly this island is just sea lion heaven!

Back to the pier…more sea lions on the steps….and a pelican taking a snooze.   We returned to Morphie, scaring seals off a derelict boat on the way, and that is where we stayed for the rest of the day recovering from our exertions.

Later on it rained which led to a stormy moody looking night sky.

Wednesday morning we were up early – which was just as well – as Bolivar came by around eight. He had, in hand, our clearance documentation and agent information for Santa Cruz and Isabella our next two Galapagos destinations. Pretty efficient as we only emailed him the night before and so we are ready to depart here on Thursday. In the meantime more Oyster Rally boats have turned up and the anchorage is starting to look a bit full….   And, in fact, we have all just been asked to move to clear a central channel in the anchorage….

We are not sure whether they will put another diver in the water on our arrival at the next island so, just in case, we have snorkelled the hull today and cleaned the waterline. We have a lovely family of fish living on top of the rudder and there are more in the bowsprit too.

Along the hull and the rudder there are marks in the antifoul that are unexplained – we think this might be the seals playing as they are pretty noisy when they hit the hull during the night!!!    Alas none wanted to play in the water with us today.

Later on we are planning to go ashore for supper before an early night in preparation for the trip tomorrow. The passage will take around 10 hours so we want to leave when the sun comes up to ensure that we arrive in daylight. The charts here are woefully inadequate so eyeball navigation is going to be important. There is a bit of wind forecast so fingers crossed for a good one. Don’t forget to watch our progress via the ‘Where are we now’ tracker.

Looking forward to visiting another island on Thursday and we remain hopeful of swimming with sea lions and seeing schooling hammerheads, giant turtles and manta rays. There are other things to see on Santa Cruz too not least giant tortoises so all quite exciting.

Bye for now

Exploring San Cristobal

Wednesday morning we awoke to find a sea lion in our cockpit fast asleep on the cushions.   He was not amused at being shooed off and tried to bite the stick Richard prodded him with.   There was another one cuddling the fenders on the transom too. 

So another attempt at keeping them out had failed….more measures called for….this time with brooms, fenders, canvas, ropes and old-fashioned foam lifejackets.    Richard got on with boat jobs – this time he was moving the downhaul for the whisker pole – and I did the laundry.   He also checked engine hours for maintenance purposes and fixed the toilet seat – again!   Hopefully this will work this time.  

Later on we headed into town via water taxi and got some drinking vouchers from the ATM before visiting the dive store to book a two-tank dive to Kicker Rock for Friday……it’s Spanish name is Leon Dormido.   We then wandered the town – which is called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – and first walked the length of the main seafront promenade and were fascinated by the cactus trees.   

Away from the main promenade – which is largely tourist-related such as tour shops, boat trips, souvenirs, cafes, restaurants etc – the housing deteriorates as you get further into the town away from the seafront.  And there is quite a lot of rubbish around too which surprised us bearing in mind how serious they allege to be about preservation of their environment.   And we even spotted some asbestos sheeting just lying around….don’t breathe in!!!   

We eventually found the municipal market – for fresh fruit, vegetables and meat – and were interested in the huge food court on the upper level.  Sadly we were between breakfast and lunch times so nothing was on offer – would have been interested to try some local food.  

We purchased some fresh vegetables – surprised by the lack of variety – and then headed into a number of small shops to see what else we could get.   Purchase of the day was a couple of bags of dried milk powder – have been looking for that for ages LOL.   But we came away pretty much empty-handed as the stores have a very limited range of pasta, rice, noodles and pulses with the occasional pack of biscuits and tomato sauce on offer.   Most of the shopkeepers appeared bemused that tourists were actually shopping for food – and they seemed pleased by my Spanish attempts to be polite and friendly.  Another good find was the bakers – so we got some fresh bread and pastries too – the first in a long while!

We had a couple of drinks on the seafront before returning to Morphie.   And, of course, we watched sea lions enjoying themselves….. 

Back to Morphie to find sea lion No.5 (or wonky eye as we call him) back on the transom fast asleep….so our defences had been breached again.  

We left him there for the rest of the afternoon while we got on with more boat jobs – Richard filled up Morphie’s tank from our diesel jugs in preparation for them to be filled again.   We used 25 gallons of diesel since we left Balboa Yacht Club so were pretty pleased overall with our fuel consumption.   He also reinforced the shelf that the autopilot lives on in the lazarette – he noticed that it had been flexing a bit whilst underway.      

Before the sun went down we evicted No.5 again and reinforced our ramparts.   Let’s see if that will keep them off.   They obviously seem to see us as a challenge and every night under cover of darkness they work it out.   We don’t mind them really but they smell…..and they poop and pee…and the flies love to hang around them….   And they tease pelicans too as they try to catch the little fish that are hiding underneath Morphie.

Before we went to bed Richard had a rum punch to celebrate his new Shellback status.  

About 3am we were woken to the noise of a sea lion barking loudly.    We checked it out and there was another small one in the cockpit.   Seriously don’t know how he managed to get through the small gaps left….but was quickly evicted by frightening him with the beam from the torch.

Thursday morning and it was laundry day again on Morphie.    We also arranged for Bolivar, our agent, to come by on Monday to collect our diesel and petrol jugs and our gas (propane) tank for filling.   We aren’t allowed to purchase fuel here so this is the only way to go…. and we know we are getting ripped off at $120 for 25 gallons of diesel plus some petrol but we have no choice.   

Lunchtime we headed into town and walked to the Darwin Interpretation Centre.

This was an interesting snapshot of the history of the Galapagos from its formation through volcanic activity and included different migrations – not all of them successful – right up to the current day and the challenges that they face, particularly lack of fresh water.   It talked about evolution of the species and how animals here had adapted to their environment with, of course, the most famous being the shape of the beaks of the finches according to their food.    It was a pretty dry exhibit with lots of reading and little else…..but it was worth the effort.

We walked back – intending to go to the little nearby beach for a while – but there was no shade of any description.   Also there wasn’t even anywhere to buy a bottle of water and, by this time, we were parched.   So we walked back into town and found a little local kiosk on the water front where we had some fish and a soda.    As we wandered across the little walkway that leads back to the pier we came across a Nautical Museum too….which was also interesting.   They mention HMS Beagle and its historic journey to these islands but they didn’t have a painting of it which we thought was a bit strange….

We got back to Morphie mid-afternoon pretty shattered so we rested up and got our dive gear ready for the morning.   Oh yes…and defences breached again by No.5….so further reinforcement activity again!  For dinner we ate Richard’s tuna with coconut rice.   Was delicious.

Friday morning…and no seals on board!!!   Woo hoo!!!     We got up early…in fact an hour early as Richard set the alarm clock for 7 and it went off at 6 because he had failed to change the clock to Galapagos time.   Never mind….time for a cuppa.    We got our stuff together – only basics like wetsuits and masks – as the price was the same whether we used our gear or theirs so we didn’t bother to schlep all our gear over in the water taxi.

We arrived at the dive shop as planned…and were delighted to hear that there were only three divers onboard the boat.   There were a bunch of snorkelers too but that’s fine.   We introduced ourselves to our fellow diver Eric, a pilot from Canada, and headed to the boat and enjoyed the 30 minute ride to the rock.  We arrived very close alongside and kitted up.  The sea was really rough as we jumped in……and the waves were breaking over our heads as we swam backwards towards the rock. 

It seemed to take ages to actually make the descent and we had used up quite a bit of air in the meantime.    As we descended into the gloom we were disappointed that the visibility was terrible…..just plain awful….   We saw huge shoals of fish;  a turtle;  a couple of sharks;  and some large grouper etc.   But the dive was demanding with currents especially as we swam out into the blue or rather the black.  This is where the hammerhead sharks school but, to be honest, they could have been all around me and I wouldn’t have seen them.  It was pretty spooky especially when you hit the freezing cold thermoclines!!!    We returned to the rock and the dive leader took Eric to the surface as he was low on air and then returned for us.    We continued diving until we were at the maximum time allowed before we surfaced and swam to the boat.   When we picked up the snorkelers they had seen sharks, turtles and sea lions and were so excited … Oh well, never mind, there is another dive to go.  

We waited out our surface interval and kitted up again – this time we were going to go through a crevasse in the rock.  

We jumped into much calmer water and went down…then headed into the blackness of the cave.    Eric was unhappy – especially when he saw the sharks close up – and decided not to continue.   To be honest, the conditions were intermediate to advanced level and he was not really experienced enough for the challenges of the day.  Just glad it didn’t put him off diving for good and it certainly didn’t affect our experience.   The divemaster, Conselo, continued to lead us through the cavern…and we had some close up encounters with black and white tip sharks and a turtle….plus a sea lion who decided to bump into me.    We were being pulsed backwards and forwards with the currents and had to cling on a couple of times….   Anyway we then decided to swim around the rock and go out into the blue again hunting those elusive hammerhead schools.   Well…as we headed off….the current was strong and I struggled…and the boys were ahead of me and seemed to be getting further away.   This made me struggle even more until eventually I had to admit to being a bit panicked and asked them to turn around….  Conselo, bless him, held my hand until I got my breathing back under control and then I was fine again.   Thankfully I did not have to abort…we just turned around…and rode the current like superman…and I enjoyed the rest of the dive.  We stayed down a bit longer than planned and we surfaced after almost an hour.   Despite my little blip this was a much better dive than the first one so I’m glad we persevered….despite the poor visibility….we saw some great fish.   It was disappointing not to see the hammerheads but you can’t have it all!

Back to the boat and we headed over to a deserted beach….we had a great chicken stew and rice lunch….and then went ashore for an hour or so.  We swam, we chatted, we lazed around and generally had a good time.  

Then back in the boat for the trip back to town and everyone decided to go onto the hotel that some of them were staying in….so we ended up spending a few hours there drinking happy hour mojitos and daiquiris…and a fun time was had by all.    Great signage too!

Back to Morphie and we were seal free…woo hoo…have we finally cracked it?!?   Anyway…we decided to forgo dinner and just had a couple more beers in the cockpit before having an early night.  We were both a bit sunburned from the beach – no shade at all – and tired from the exertions of diving.   

This morning, Saturday, we awoke to find another small seal in the cockpit fast asleep curled up in our new helm chair.  Get lost!!!   We poked him and he reared up and tried to bite the stick again….definitely not happy about being moved on.    Finally he left and we had to reconsider our defences yet again.   This must be iteration no.8 at least LOL.   We dropped dink lower so that he blocks access to the cockpit from the transom and we’ve covered the stern with canvas to make it slippery for them to climb on.   A few have tried already but have fallen back into the water.   We’ll have to see how that works out.

We are having a relaxing day today keeping out of the sun and might go ashore for a sundowner later.   Tomorrow, Sunday, we’re planning on hiking to another remote beach and we are hoping to snorkel with sea lions and turtles….   Apparently there are marine iguanas there too.     So we’re looking forward to that.

Bye for now

Las Perlas Islands to San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands

As promised, here is just a quick update to share with you some of the photos we took on our passage from the Las Perlas islands to San Cristobal in the Galapagos.

We enjoyed the sights of the rock formations on the way down the Las Perlas island chain – but think some of the names were wrong.   How about Turtle Rock (it’s actual name was Elefante), Skull Rock and maybe a lion?

The anchorage at Canas was billed as scenic – we thought it was scrubby and isolated.   Lovely sunset though before we went to bed and the scent from the trees smelt lovely in the morning.

Our final Las Perlas anchorage was where we did the bottom cleaning…in very poor visibility…and here is Richard kitting up to go in. Check out the yucky water!

We set off on our passage with little wind and the sea was flat calm…..

We loved watching the birds hitching rides on drift wood…..

And you can’t beat sunsets and sun rises at sea…..

Loved using the pole and it definitely worked for us, so was glad we made the decision to buy and fit one.

On the way we had a stowaway who, sadly, died….

We were worried about processed pork and dairy produce being allowed into the Galapagos so decided to have a huge brunch using them up whilst we had flat conditions.

And the blue-faced booby joined us for the Equator celebrations.

After the celebrations we ate English pub-style bangers, mash and beans….lovely!

Approaching San Cristobal was magical…especially the sight of Kicker Rock…which was very impressive.

The first day at anchor in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal, was frustrating.   It rained heavily for most of the day – which was great for cleaning the salt off of Morphie – but the officials wouldn’t come out to see us in the poor weather conditions.   So we waited all day to no avail and, of course, we were in quarantine so can’t go ashore.   Eventually, five o’clock, we decided they weren’t coming so we had a few celebratory beers before having an early night.

This morning, Tuesday 22 March, we awoke to find three sea lions asleep on Morphie’s transom.   The fender defences clearly didn’t work LOL.   They had to be prodded and poked to vacate their berth!

At 7.15 am our agent, Bolivar, turned up – and took our money and paperwork away with him.   His parting shot was ‘clean the bottom of the boat now’ before the officials come to inspect it at 9.00 am.

We were surprised at this….after all we had spent hours in Las Perlas cleaning Morphie….but we jumped in and checked it out anyway.   We were horrified to see that there was a scum line all around the hull and, at the stern, there were lots of big biting buggers – a bit like mini-lobsters – clinging on for dear life.   We worked really hard in the water scrubbing the hull again and managed to get Morphie cleaned up in preparation for the officials to visit.   While we were in the water we had sea lions swimming around us wanting to play but, sadly, we had to get on with the job.   That will have to wait for another day sigh….    It does show you, however, that these guys are more interested in taking money rather than stopping foreign species entering their eco-system.

At 10.00 am the officials turned up – all eight of them!!!   Not sure what they all did although there was lots of paperwork being passed around and lots of stamping and photo taking.   They did check flares (and took three away that were out of date); fire extinguishers; EPIRB; GPS; life raft; food stuffs; heads; etc etc….   And the snorkeler went in the water to check the hull.   Thankfully we passed with a big thumbs up…not bad for US $1370!   Cher Ching.

We were then fumigated so had to leave Morphie for at least four hours…so went ashore by water taxi called Black Pearl.

We arrived to find sleeping sea lions everywhere….on boats….on steps…on benches…on rocks…. This is just sea lion heaven!

And lots of pretty nice looking crabs too…

The anchorage is pretty busy with a variety of boats – not many transient yachts though.   Guess the expense and the rigid formalities keep them away.

We wandered the town…got some information on diving….damn expensive at $160 per person for a two tank dive but hey we are in the Galapagos so what can you do?   It appears that the prices are fixed as all dive shops we spoke to quoted the same price.   We found a nice bar, had lunch and caught up on the internet.   We also scoped out a land trip we are likely to do and maybe even a bit of hiking!   Finally we came back to Morphie to do the blog and have an early night.

Bye for now


Passage to the Galapagos – Part 4

Sunday lunchtime the wind was supposed to disappear…..but, instead, we had 20 knots so we picked up speed dramatically. Was great fun but sadly we had to reef down as our ETA was now early hours Monday morning.
At just before 3pm we crossed the Equator – woo hoo! There were some traditions that had to be upheld before we donated a bottle of bubbly to Neptune in return for being promoted from Pollywogs to Shellbacks. Very exciting but we restricted ourselves to one glass only in honour of the celebration as we run a dry ship when on passage. There will be pictures and a video to follow once we get back on line…… Oh yes – we think we had a spy from Neptune – a blue-faced red-footed boobie sat on our bow throughout the ceremony.
At 6pm the wind started to wane and come 9pm we only had five knots….which was good for us. Gave us great confidence in PredictWind as a weather routing system as they were very close to actually what happened.
However we annoyingly picked up a monster current and, even with bare poles and no engine, we were still making 3 knots. So we had to work hard to slow the boat which also meant hand steering as the autopilot didn’t like the angle. This continued throughout the night and we were pretty successful as, in one three-hour shift, we only covered 5 miles!
As the sun come up this morning. Monday 20 March, we were approaching the end of San Cristobal and loved the dramatic scenery and the sight of manta rays jumping clear of the water. We also saw a giant turtle come up for air not far from us.
We worked our way slowly into the anchorage in Wreck Bay and dropped the hook amongst the huge diving live aboard boats. Was nice to see Chris on Sea Bear in the anchorage as we hadn’t seen him since his transit through the Canal. We are now sitting on anchor – in quarantine – waiting for the officials to turn up. This was a 916 mile passage that took us eight days and 30 minutes from anchor up to anchor down. We did it! Woo hoo! We are very excited to be here and can’t wait to explore. I think we might deserve a beer tonight.
One water taxi has already been by to find out our agent’s name…..and Richard has deployed sea lion defences on the sugar scoop to try and keep them off Morphie – sea lions rule here LOL. Have seen a few black heads checking us out already.
When we get on line again and catch up, I’ll post a blog of the photos you’ve missed and then normal service will be resumed.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to Galapagos – Part 3

Friday (17 March) afternoon and the conditions remained the same. The only difference was that a little swallow came by to visit. He was clearly exhausted and was hanging on to ropes and latterly the dinghy trying to recover his breath. We did try to get him into a nest of cloths but he just wasn’t interested…nor in any water we supplied. So we left him alone.
At 6pm we had another spectacular sunset and we continued to make good progress towards our rhumb line. The wind continued at around 13 knots….until 9pm when it dropped back to 8 knots and we could barely keep the full genoa filled so put a reef in to minimise the banging and slapping….and that worked as we kept our boat speed between 4-5 knots during the night as we helpfully also picked up a favourable current. It was another dark and gloomy night with lightning off in the distance so we were pleased to see the moon when he finally came up at 10 pm. Our little stowaway flew down into the salon during the evening and although I looked around I couldn’t find him – I assumed he had flown out behind my back.
Saturday morning at 6am the wind had swung north and we gybed again to keep us high of the rhumb line which is where the wind was forecast to be located. It was slow going again though. During the morning I found our little stowaway friend sitting on the cockpit cushions….looking weaker than ever….not sure where he had spent the night. He ended up sitting on the cockpit floor and we tried again to get him to take water to no avail….sadly we had no bugs to feed him with either. By noon the wind had started to fill in to 12 knots so our boat speed improved once again….
Sadly I have to report that our little friend died….so we gave him a proper sea burial to the backdrop of Eva Cassidy singing Somewhere over the Rainbow. I even shed a tear for the little chap. Soft or what?!?
During the afternoon the winds were consistent although the rolling continued making it challenging to cook down below. We were being pushed towards our rhumb line by the current – away from the wind – so we gybed back again and set the extended pole for the night. We also ran the generator to top up Morphie’s batteries and to have a charge fest of all our mobile electronics.
At 6pm the sky was ominous and there was no sunset as the sun sank below the clouds. It got dark very quickly and there was lightning around again…but thankfully off in the distance. The wind is being quite fickle with speeds in the 5-15 range but we are managing to keep sailing….it is weird though to be surfing along at 7 knots one minute and then down to less than 3 the next! Mr Moon finally decided to come out to play at midnight.
This morning, Sunday, and the sun came up behind us in spectacular style. The wind remains constant at 12 knots and, although still rolly, it is not as bad as it has been. The sky ahead is grey and cloudy so we may have to dodge squalls later. We are getting close to the Equator now at 00 degrees 20 minutes north…so we shall cross over into the Southern Hemisphere later today. We have covered 790 miles at the time of writing and hope to reach our destination of San Christobal tomorrow morning. Currently our ETA is 7am so we may have to slow the boat down a little bit overnight as we want to navigate our approach in daylight.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to the Galapagos – Part 2

Tuesday afternoon (14 March) we continued to enjoy dead flat calm seas but were frustrated by the lack of wind which averaged 3-4 knots so we continued to motor sail. We also reduced our revs to 1100 to maximise fuel so we are only making 3 knots. This could be a long passage! But at least some dolphins came to play before the sun went down.
By 9pm the wind started to build to 10 knots and we were sailing close hauled – as the wind had swung SE – with all three sails out. Happy days! This continued throughout the beautiful moonlit night.
By 6am on Wednesday the wind had died back to 6 knots and we had changed course towards the Galapagos islands. So we motor sailed slowly again on very low revs. By 10 am the wind had died completely so the sails were put away and we had a bit of a swell rocking us from side to side. But it is a nice sunny day….and the sea colour has started to improve.
The wind remained at 6 knots all day so we deployed the fully extended whisker pole and kept on motor sailing – it was worth the effort as the poled-out genoa added about a knot to our boat speed. But disappointingly the light airs meant that we only covered 99 miles in the second twenty-four hour period. The forecast predicted some wind from Thursday onwards but the models don’t agree and put it in different places at differing strengths so we decided to hedge our bets and run higher than our rhumb line. We enjoyed another lovely sunset. By 9pm the wind had died completely again so we continued motoring slowly. The moon is rising later and later so now it is pitch black until after nine. And we haven’t seen a ship for days….it is a big spooky to be honest!
Thursday morning and we were still motoring….. Suddenly as the sun came up the wind kicked in and at 6am we poled out the genoa in 10 knots of wind and the engine finally got a rest! As the wind continued to fill in – and switch to the NE – we put the pole away and gybed. We now had 16 knots of breeze and continued to stay high of our rhumb line and were finally moving through the water above five knots.
The wind stayed in the 14-16 knot range – and we were having fun running downwind and eating up the miles – until 3pm when the wind sadly started to moderate again. The seas were eight feet plus with the occasional growler breaking behind us causing us to surf…. So the movement was a bit rolly to say the least but we are grateful to be sailing. The third twenty-four hour period saw us cover 112 miles and we hope to improve on that if we can just keep finding the wind. The star show Thursday night was spectacular with clear views of the Milky Way – combined with phosphorescence in the water behind us in our wake looking like someone was sprinkling fairy glitter dust – it is just plain magical to be out here. Or is leprechaun dust? Happy St Patrick’s Day.
Friday morning at 3am we gybed and started to head back away from our rhumb line. But it has been hard going ever since – the wind remains at 10 knots – and we appear to have picked up some adverse current. The sun came up behind us spectacularly and it is a bright and sunny day. There is nothing around but ocean which always reminds us of the scene in the Truman Show where he tried to leave the island in his little sailboat and ended up hitting the scenery backdrop LOL.
Come 8 am, having downloaded the weather again, we gybed back towards our rhumb line as the different forecasts were almost in agreement that the stronger winds were just below our current position. And, we are pleased to report, that they were right. Within half an hour of our gybe we had picked up winds blowing 12-14 knots and we continue to experience them now. Fingers crossed this continues for a while although we could do with a break from the rolly and breaking seas.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to the Galapagos – Part 1

Sunday, 12 March, we picked up anchor at 10 am – later than planned because of a refrigeration problem that needed to be solved first which, thankfully, was an easy fix. Would you believe it as we got underway it started to rain! First time for a long time….. We think Morphie was being baptised by Neptune for her first long Pacific passage. There was very light airs so we pulled out the mainsail and motored – at 1500 rpm to minimise fuel usage – into the gloom away from Isla del Ray. Even when the rain stopped it was so grey and hazy it was hard to tell the difference between the sea and the sky or even where the horizon was.
It remained dull all day and the seas were like glass. We loved watching the birds who were hanging around on driftwood that floated by. About 20 miles out we picked up a favourable current and we’re moving along at six knots in five knots of breeze! We had a beautiful sunset at sea. And finally we put the sail away because it was doing nothing apart from banging….but we still enjoyed a favourable current. Richard was fishing and caught a small mahi which he threw back and then a monster came along and stole his favourite lure…oh dear….
Just before we went into our shift pattern at six the wind and sea started building and we went into a crazy half hour – sails up, engine off – then quickly reefing down again as the wind became brisk at 20 knots with gusts to 26 knots.
The sea conditions worsened and we were getting growlers behind us and breaking onto us – lifting us onto the top of the wave to throw us down the other side. And we then found out what hadn’t been stowed properly down below as things started flying about so we needed to sort that out. These rough conditions continued for most of the night – it was uncomfortable but at least it was warm and dry and the night was lit by a beautiful moon.
By 6am on Monday the wind and waves were easing as we were treated to a pretty sunrise. And here come the ships…..heading to and from Panama….and we changed course and gybed for a few of them. The depth sounder kept giving us the wobbles with hundreds of feet of water beneath us it shot up to five feet…back down off the scale…back up to twelve feet…down twenty five feet…back off the scale….continuously. What do you reckon? Shoal of fish, whale, submarine LOL?!? Whatever it is please go play elsewhere…..
At 9am the ship frequency was increasing and we continued to sail in reasonable 10-15 knot winds, which had now swung northerly. Overall we had covered 129 miles in our first 24 hours so pretty happy with that. At noon Richard had a hit on his lucky pink lure and caught our first yellowfin tuna. Woo hoo… It was quite small but enough for four huge fillets – which were in the freezer within half an hour of the catch.
By 3pm the winds had eased even more so we poled out the genoa for the first time this season – when the usual shouts of pole up, pole down, ease the sheet coming from Richard took me back in time to our yacht racing days. It was pretty rolly by the time I cooked dinner down below – we always eat just before we start our evening shifts.
At 6pm there was a beautiful sunset – unfortunately coupled with a complete drop in the wind – so we started motor sailing. At midnight we picked up speed as we found another current heading our way.
By 3am this morning, Tuesday, there was no wind and the current had petered out. So we just motored…..slowly……but at least we could head back towards our rhumb line. At 6am the wind picked up forward of the beam so we deployed all three sails in 8 knots of breeze. Come 9 am the wind had swung WSW – weird when all forecasts say NE – so we tacked across our rhumb line. This direction isn’t really helpful though so we have just tacked back across and the engine is on again because the wind has dropped to 4 knots. We have just checked our diesel and we have used 10 gallons in total since we left Balbao Yacht Club so consumption is looking fine at this stage (we started with 125 gallons in total). The second twenty-four hour period was slower at a disappointing 105 miles only. Oh yes and while we are motor sailing we take the opportunity to make water to keep our tanks topped up.
As it is really flat calm right now (just gone 12) we have just had a large brunch of sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs and tinned tomatoes – we even sat at the cockpit table to eat together. Now that’s a first and it means no cooking for me tonight – yay!!!
Bye for now Jan

Final days in the Las Perlas islands

Later on Thursday afternoon we started looking at routes to the Galápagos Islands. We were conflicted because although experienced circumnavigators we have spoken to and Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes say the best way is to head down east of Las Perlas island chain to an island – 300 miles SSW – called Malpelo which should be left to starboard and run to the Galápagos from there which potentially gives a better sailing angle; the currents are more favourable; and it keeps us away from the Panama Canal main shipping lanes. It also means we take the shortest path across the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone – commonly known as the doldrums). But our PredictWind weather routing package – which is well respected and used by many a professional sailor – suggests we take a straight rhumb line shot at it. So we debated the pros and cons and have decided to go with the Cornell route….only time will tell whether this was the right decision. Friday morning we were up early and planned to just pop around the corner to anchor between Isla Chapera and Isla Mogo Mogo – the island used by the survival TV series with Bear Ghrylls. Well…we didn’t like the look of the anchorage so decided to continue on. The sea was pretty flat and we had to motor sail due to the lack of wind. We watched big fish flying through the surf as we frightened them by our shadow and even saw two mani mahi jumping like dolphins. Is that why they are also know as dolphin fish? Richard started fishing and had one bite but no catch…better luck next time. We passed Isla Elefante to starboard – which actually looked more like a turtle than an elephant – and turned into the anchorage at Isla Canas having covered 25 miles. The pilot guide says this is a scenic island … we disagree. It was scrubby all around and the water was very dark – neither of us fancied revisiting the hull cleaning here! But we were very productive getting the outboard cleaned up, covered up and stowed away on the rail and did some varnish ‘keepers’. Dink also got another patch – hopefully the last one. During the evening a few fishing boats went by and they were very interested – but wouldn’t acknowledge us. Hmmmm….so we decided to deploy all security measures when we turned in for the night. Seriously if we had known these anchorages were so inhospitable we would have stayed in Contadora and left directly from there. This morning, Saturday, we got up early again and were relieved that we had got through the night without being boarded – not a good idea to be the only boat in an isolated anchorage in this part of the world. Interestingly the smell of this anchorage in the morning was lovely….with a hint of spice. We picked up anchor and motor sailed in very light airs towards Isla del Ray. We had identified an anchorage at the bottom of the island that would be a great place for our final departure from Panamanian waters. We motor sailed in light airs again – at the lowest revs to minimise fuel use – and we went slowly enjoying the sights of the pelicans and boobies swirling around us. There was quite a lot of flotsam in the water and then we saw a big black rubbery thing….sadly we think it was a dead seal. Oh yes and one unnamed rock on the charts turned into Skull Rock for us….when you see the photos later you’ll understand why. (There will be no photos until we get back online.). Anyway we got our anchor down in Punta Cocos and had a cold drink. Then half an hour later the AeroNaval guys – with guns – turned up and told us to move away. They hovered while we picked up anchor and tracked us until we were far enough away from their base. The other two anchorages were off a village – not sure about that – so we opted instead to go to Rio Cacique. We finally had anchor down again at just before two having covered a huge 18 miles LOL. We quickly did another varnish coat of the keepers and got ready to go into the very dark and murky water. The nutrients here are so plentiful that visibility is no more than five feet. Richard kitted up to dive and I snorkelled above him while he cleaned the bottom of our hull – it was important I was in the water too to make sure he remained safe. I was, however, a bit worried about crocs coming from the gloom!!! The hull didn’t have many barnacles but we seemed to have picked up a lot of little unknown bugs clinging to our hull….and they bite! So wasn’t a pleasant experience. Thankfully we survived and are hoping for the cleanest hull award when we get to the Galápagos. Oh yes and we have been joined by another yacht so we are not the only ones here tonight. Phew…. We have now checked weather again and although there are a few no wind days forecast there is a breeze for the rest….so we are leaving for the Galápagos tomorrow morning. Don’t forget to watch our progress on the tracker and I’ll blog along the way to let you know how things are going. Bye for now Jan

Panama to Contadora Island

Sunday afternoon we had a few beers with Terry and Carol who were our neighbours in Shelter Bay Marina and are now in Balboa Yacht Club having just transited the Canal.    They are heading to Ecuador rather than the Galapagos but we hope to see them later on in the South Pacific.   We had a nice time catching up.

Monday morning we were up very early and slipped from our mooring ball at 7.07 am waving goodbye to Terry and Carol as we headed out towards the shipping lane…having delayed our departure a few minutes for a huge ship inbound.  

There were a lot of ships moving through so we stayed just outside of the channel and headed towards the ship anchorage….admiring the pelicans which make the channel markers their home.  

The AIS was pretty busy again too.     

We left the main shipping channel behind heading towards the ship anchorage and admired the views of Panama City in the distance.  

As we entered the anchorage the wind kicked in at 20 knots which was totally unexpected as the forecast was for 5-10 knots at best.   Fantastic…time to get the sails out!   So we sailed through the anchored ships – avoiding the occasional one that was actually under way – and eventually we cleared the area.  

The winds picked up a bit more so we reefed down to make it more comfortable for me to cook some breakfast and prepare dinner.  We were having a fantastic beam reach sail towards our first waypoint but sadly the wind eased…around noon….leaving us with only 10 knots of breeze in a hazy day with flat mirror-like seas.    Suddenly the wind swung behind the beam and we just enjoyed the slow trip watching the huge numbers of pelicans flying around us in formation.  

Then splash….and another splash…and we were watching rays jumping completely out of the water.   Was amazing but sadly you can’t anticipate where they will surface so photos were not possible.

By 2pm we had to motor sail as the wind continued to ease…and we wanted to get in before dark.   The water is very dark and not the deep blue we had been anticipating and the haze as we entered the anchorage meant it looked quite foreboding and gloomy.   We motored around looking for a suitable spot and found one in 25 feet of water at low tide – which will rise to 40 feet overnight.   We had had a lovely sail covering 39.2 miles in nine hours so a pretty slow run to Contadora but we need to conserve our diesel for the Galapagos run so sailed as long as we could despite the lack of speed.

We had a quiet night on board having a couple of cold ones in the cockpit celebrating our first successful Pacific passage.

Tuesday morning we got up early and  the anchorage looked much more attractive in the sun.  

We attacked the boat jobs with a vengeance.   Richard went into the water and started to clean the hull while I tackled down below cleaning everything as well as polishing the wood and the stainless.   Come around 3pm we had had enough so we got cleaned up and headed out in dink to explore.    The foreshore is very rocky and the erosion by the sea has created some great shapes. 

We worked our way around the corner of the island as there was a new yacht club there.   Well…we found it….and it was just a floating pontoon with steps.   We had taken our petrol cans with us just in case there was fuel available but the place was absolutely deserted and locked up.    Obviously not open for business just yet.

Coming back around the corner we went closer into shore and found a sandy spot where we could land the dinghy.   So dink was pulled up the beach and we wandered towards some parasols…and found a small boutique hotel bar on the beach.   

They even had wifi….so we had a couple of beers and asked the barmaid where we could get petrol.  She said her friend would bring it for us and, within 10 minutes, we had two gallons delivered.   Wow…was expensive and the gallons were a little short…but great service or what!    We enjoyed the views from the beach bar and watching the hummingbirds coming to the feeder….

We headed back to Morphie in dink after having a couple of cold ones and spent the evening in the cockpit watching all the comings and goings in the anchorage.  Annoyingly even with the long-range aerial we weren’t able to pick up the wifi from the boat.    Never mind….

Wednesday morning and we got busy again….Richard went back into the water to do some more cleaning while I carried on down below.   Then he surfaced – having been stung by a jelly fish, ouch!   So he called it a day in the water and instead got on with cleaning down the topsides, the rail and the steel.    Come 2pm we were both exhausted in the heat and had a break….before heading ashore later with the iPad so we could get online for the first time since Sunday night.   

We spent an hour or so online ticking off more jobs on the list before heading to the water and then spent a few hours bobbing and chatting to some people on holiday – but only after having put dink on his anchor so he didn’t get stranded high and dry as the tide went out.    We had a fun time.   

This morning, Thursday, and we are disappointed that there is no wind forecast at all for our next passage.   Although this place is beautiful we are keen to get going particularly now that we have pretty much finished all the boat jobs we had to do in preparation for our visit to the Galapagos Islands.   

I’ve just done the laundry and Richard has finished cleaning the bilges.   

We are anxious to be on the move so have decided to do a couple of stops further down the Las Perlas island chain which, at least, gets us closer to our next destination.

We don’t anticipate getting any internet from now until we arrive in the Galapagos.   The length of the passage will depend upon many factors not least wind strength, currents against us, and crossing the doldrums.  We think that we will cover 1,000 miles and that it might take us about 10 days but who knows?!?   Despite carrying a lot of fuel we can’t motor all the way so will have to just take what comes.    Oh yes, and on the way, we’ll cross the equator so will have to do a deal with Neptune to give us good passage….   All very exciting!

I can continue to blog using the satellite system but that means no decent pictures and we won’t be able to receive any emails etc…..but at least we can keep you posted.   And, of course, don’t forget to follow our progress on the tracker. 

Bye for now


Exploring Panama

Tuesday morning and we were having a cup of tea in the cockpit when Ricardo (the dockmaster) visited in the club launcha.    He informed us that Soltino would come by Morphie on Wednesday to have a look at our damage and that he was the best guy in the area.   Excellent news.   We had been told by a number of cruisers not to stay at the Balbao Yacht Club as it was rolly;  had a lot of commercial traffic;  the staff weren’t friendly;  security was a problem;  and they charged to use the fuel dock etc etc.    Well we have found nothing but friendly people who are anxious to help us and when we filled up our diesel cans yesterday it cost us just the price of the fuel.   Yes it is rolly at times when the ships go through but actually it is a bit exciting watching them….and all for only $26 a night.   And as for security problems….there are drug dogs sniffing luggage for those getting on and off the ferries and there are police / army guys and girls everywhere!    

We kept ourselves busy doing a few boat jobs before we headed off later in the afternoon to go to the large Admiralty chart shop here in Balboa.    We were disappointed that they didn’t have any charts to show us – instead they could print them off for us.  But we wanted to look at the detail on them before purchasing.  We have two sources of electronic charts plus large scale physical Pacific planning charts topped up by pilot guides for detail in each anchorage.   We didn’t want to pay $50 per chart without checking that it actually added any value….they couldn’t even tell us the scale of them.  So we left disappointed and empty handed.

Back to the yacht club – well actually it is just a bar / restaurant with a causeway and water taxi service – and we had a bucket of beer and a basket of chicken wings.  The only downside to this place is the menu – everything comes deep fried unless you want a burger.   Later on we headed back to Morphie for an early night and enjoyed watching the ships moving through the channel.

Wednesday morning and Soltino came by as promised.  He said he could fix it – no problems – except that they don’t have coloured gel coat here in Panama.   So it’s white or nothing.   Fine…we just need to protect the area…so we agreed that he could do it in white and a price for the repair, finish and polish.   In the meantime Richard was doing some boat jobs down below while I went around the decks cleaning the topsides and the rail. 

Soltino went off again to get his tools / material and about an hour later he returned.   He rubbed down the area and applied the first coat…and then went off by water taxi again.   Then he came back later on and rubbed down and applied another coat.    Then went off again….this time for lunch…. and returned and rubbed down for the final time and applied wax.    He did a good job, bearing in mind he was balancing over the water on the transom, and whilst not perfect it will keep us going this season.   And all for the bargain price of $45 including tip!!!   Morphie will have to bear her white ‘battle scar’ until we reach New Zealand where we can get a ‘proper’ repair.

For the rest of the day we dozed in the cockpit…and read books….   During the day a boat called Stella Maris ran aground behind us – hard – on a falling tide.  This guy hasn’t had the best of luck so far – he was on the flats anchorage awaiting his canal transit when he had engine problems so had to return to Shelter Bay Marina and was charged a $500 ‘delay’ fine by the Panama Canal authorities.  So finally he reaches the Pacific and runs aground….he had to stay put on the shoal until the tide filled in.  The tidal drop is 16 feet here and the mud extends out quite a way from the shoreline which, I guess, catches many people out being used to the minimal couple of feet tide on the Caribbean side.    Anyway, apart from this bit of excitement, we just chilled for the remainder of the day on board.   

Thursday morning we had a decent breakfast before going ashore again.   This time we were heading to the nearest supermarket.  We got a taxi and the driver agreed to wait for us for no charge so off we went.  This was another Rey supermarket but had a different range so I was excited that, finally, I could find some suitably-sized foil containers for our pre-cooked passage meals to be frozen in.   Well…I was…until I got to the till.   The foil containers were not marked up properly – and the scanner didn’t work.  The numbers that had been printed on the label didn’t work either.   So we couldn’t buy them despite the shelf having the correct price.   Too difficult for them to work out so annoyingly I had to leave the one item I really needed behind.    Grrrr….

We headed back to Morphie and chatted to some guys from Wales – check out their huge tug boat that they work and live on – and yes they have come all the way from Hollyhead as they have picked up some work here.   We also saw that Stella Maris was being hauled out of the water…so he must have done some damage whilst aground.    Not going too well for that guy!   Back on board we chilled for the afternoon before we went ashore again for happy hour and a bucket of beer before coming back for the night.

Friday morning and we needed to get back on line as we had a long list of things to do.  We gathered all the laundry together and headed ashore.   Found the washing machines hidden away on the dock near the works yard – cheapest ever at 50c for a washer and 75c for a drier – and then we walked up to the restaurant.   There is internet in the anchorage but, even with our long-range aerial, it is really slow and unreliable.  So we spent most of the morning in the restaurant between visits up and down the stairs to the dock and the washing machines.    Finally….come about 2pm…we had achieved everything we needed to so we headed back to Morphie laden with clean laundry and called it a day.   Sitting in the cockpit later we watched Stella Maris get relaunched and he promptly headed towards the shoals again….and got warned by the locals to turn around.  He did take notice and managed to pick up a mooring ball without any further incident thankfully.  

Saturday morning and we were up very early and got a taxi into Panama City.    We wanted to go on the double-decker bus tour which costs $35 each for a 24 hour hop-on hop-off pass.   Well…we found the ticket office and it was closed….so we had a coffee and some pastries for breakfast and returned to the booth.   By now it was 8.45 am and the ticket booth remained firmly closed despite its eight o’clock opening time.   While we were waiting we kept being asked by taxi drivers whether we would like a personal tour for a discounted cost of $70.  The bus didn’t show, the booth didn’t open, so we decided to go for the private tour having agreed our own itinerary.   

So we took off and the first stop was the Chinese monument by the Bridge of the Americas with views over the canal area.    The taxi driver was a bit bemused that we didn’t want to go to the visitor centre at Miraflores Locks – not sure he understood – but we certainly had no desire to go back there again LOL.  

After that we went down the causeway towards Flamenco Island stopping off at the convention centre and a market getting ready for its influx of tourists for the day.   All were selling the same tourist tat.  

We ended up visiting Flamenco Marina – really nice looking but not yacht friendly unless you are a superyacht and can afford the $5 a foot daily charges.   We spotted the cruise ship off in the distance….so that’s what the market was really for….and the duty free shop was getting ready to open.   Again we confused our taxi driver by saying we didn’t want to go to the duty free shop but would like to visit the chandleries instead!   There were three and we managed to get something in each of them….including a few things that had been on the ‘nice to have’ list since the summer.    

Moving on we headed towards the old City – passing the ‘dangerous’ slums on the way – and got out for a walking tour.   This part of the City reminded us of what both Havana and old San Juan could look like….with beautiful buildings everywhere and lots of restoration going on.   And spectacular views across to the modern skyline.  It was lovely to just wander the old streets admiring the boutique hotels, stylised eateries and the Panama Hat shops.  Feeling pretty tired and hot we ended up in a bar with swings and had a couple of cold drinks to rehydrate before moving on.

Next stop was the fish market…..smelly and hot….but fascinating nevertheless….

After that we headed towards the modern city of skyscrapers although, close up, many of them were showing their age.    Fascinating shapes though….    

We took in the sights and ended up going into Trump Towers to get a view over the ocean and, of course, whilst inside we had to take a look at the Casino although I didn’t stop to play….    Oh yes, and what do you think of the statue in the foyer?!?    And, if you fancy living here for a minimum of six months, you can rent a high specification 2 bed 2.5 bathroom apartment with ocean views and balcony for $2700 per month.  Not bad for a bit of luxury eh?!?

We got dropped off at the end of our tour at the Multicentro Mall – and wandered the shops.   Richard managed to get a couple of pairs of new shorts that he was in dire need of…but nothing for me.    We wandered around the top-end stores and found a cheap department store that had another couple of things we needed – like a new bucket and toilet brush.  Seriously!!!   Anyway….shopping done….hungry and tired we looked for somewhere to eat.   Nothing in the food hall really talked to us so we ended up in the Hard Rock Café and shared a BBQ ribs / chicken combo with salad.   Was lovely!

Later on we got another taxi back to the yacht club.  Walking down the dock we spotted the Norwegian families catamaran that we had last seen in Shelter Bay…tied to the dock here.   We bumped into Soltino and he said that they had hit a channel marker and took a lump out of one of the keels.  They hit the dock in Shelter Bay as they left the marina too….   This young family are heading across the Pacific towards Easter Island – we have real concerns about their capabilities!!! 

Anyway, we headed back to Morphie and that is where we stayed.  Had been a long day but at least we had seen some of Panama whilst here.  

This morning, Sunday, and we’re doing final jobs as we head out tomorrow bound for Contadora, which is one of the Las Perlas islands.    We have chosen this island as our staging point before leaving for the Galapagos.   

We need to clean Morphie thoroughly before we arrive in the Galapagos – particularly the hull and the bilges – as they get inspected on arrival and, if they fail to meet the required standard, we will get sent 40 miles off into the ocean to clean them again!!!    There are other things we need to do too…..such as organising our rubbish according to their rules….putting up some signs….creating and boat stamping a self-certified sanitation certificate…and on it goes.   So we think we’ll be there for a little while getting all this ready.   The Galapagos are some of the most difficult islands to visit because of their uniqueness and the cost of entry / officialdom reflects all that.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get internet in Las Perlas so can update you again before we leave.

Bye for now