A quiet day today with light winds over the quarter. At first light the Parasailor went up and that has given us a lovely stable platform.
Out track today shows us heading in many different directions as we try to keep the boat moving, but also try to get a little north into the better breeze. The 24 hr run shows 151 nm, well down on previous days but could be worse and might still be tomorrow unless we find the wind to the north.
Chocolate cakes have run out but we did have a lovely chicken satay for dinner and a packet of chip cookies did fall out of the cupboard into my hand this afternoon.
1145 nm to go so if we find the breeze, we might be into three figures tomorrow night – I sense another small celebration coming!
A relatively quiet 24 hours here in mid ocean. The seas continue to suprise us, even more so as the wind drops. It can be quite flat for an hour then out of nowhere it becomes a bit lumpy for a while, then goes back to being flat again. In general its far more comfortable than it has been so getting some good rest has been easier.
We have seen no boats or wildlife except the occasional bird and many flying fish for days now.
The wind is very broad now and has dropped so speed has dropped off too. The 24 hour run was 171 nm which will probably be about the average for the rest of the trip – it may even drop off below that looking at the forecast, however we do have our Parasailor out of the bag now which should help.
The nearest land is a long way away. In fact yesterday we were further from land than we are ever likely to be in our lives again – some 1500 nm. But now we are getting closer again since we have passed the half way mark.
Celebrations were a little muted since we have both been pretty exhausted, but we did share a beer and toast the achievement over dinner last night. It was a very late dinner because Leslay had been sleeping in the afternoon and I left her to sleep well past our normal dinner time, rather allowing her to wake naturally (or more likely to some bang or crash or unusual lurch as is the norm in our small world). Twenty minutes after dinner I was fast asleep and slept solidly until woken for my shift at 2 am.
We can’t complain though, as we have had some pretty decent weather for a few days now, no rain to speak of, warm trade winds coming from further behind every day and deep blue seas with water so clear that you can almost see through the tops of the breaking waves, which are getting fewer and further between. The boat’s motion changes from minute to minute. The waves and swell are now mainly coming from the port quarter and much of the time there is now just a gentle long swell (always difficult to judge its height but our routing software suggests it should be between 2 and 2.5 metres at the moment which is probably about right) with about 10 seconds from peak to peak, overlayed with much shorter steeper smaller waves. As the underlying swell passes underneath the boat its picked up and lowered gently and rolls according to the slope of the water. At times though the combination of the swell and superimposed waves gives rise to a more vicious roll – inevitably when you are pouring tea, or getting something out of the oven, or walking across the cabin, or climbing out of bed. Its a randomly moving world, but luckily we have lots of handholds. Its pretty dry onboard now too – very different from when the wind is coming from in front. Generally the waves pass underneath the boat, but every now and again the combination of swell and wave will result in water slapping the side of the hull, spewing upwards and the resulting spray being caught in the breeze and driven across the deck or into the cockpit. Its not a problem just slightly irritating especially if its 5 minutes since you came out of the shower! Luckily its not a frequent occurrence now.
With dropping, backing winds our daily distances covered are back down a bit, but still reasonable at 183nm and 188nm. Nights are brighter – it will be a full moon on Friday, the daily count of flying fish is reducing and the boat is holding together rather well. I think that’s about it for now.
After a relatively relaxed night with waves decreasing we were treated to a spectacular display from a large pod of dolphins just cruising on past, leaping at time metres from the front of the breaking waves and crashing gently into the back of the ones in front. The nightly delivery of dead (well dead by the morning) flying fish and squid continued with a mix of about 10 around the boat.
The lures went out mid morning (plastic ones), and shortly after lunch a Mahi was spinning line of the reel. Unfortunately a bit of clumsy handling timed perfectly with a big lurch over a wave, released him back to the ocean, but no such luck for his bigger sister a few hours later who is now filleted, partly eaten and the remaining 10 portions in the freezer! Lesley is a happy girl…
With a freezer now full of fish, the rods are away for a while since unless we think it will be eaten we don’t tend to haul them in just for the sake of it.
The rest of the day was spent doing some washing, cleaning salt off the boat and getting some rest which is getting easier since the boat is more stable and its easier to sleep. Boats ahead are reporting very rolly conditions so its important to catch up on sleep while we can.
Despite the wind easing, the daily run was still good, noon to noon was 205nm and 18:00 to 18:00 a little less at 203nm (maybe something to with stopping the boat twice in the afternoon to land fish!)
Wind increased for the evening a little but not enough to make the sea uncomfortable. The moon is getting bigger and setting later so coupled with much clearer skies the nights are much brighter.
This is being written a little later than normal and we have now been at sea for 7 days. We expect to be halfway on Monday night or more likely Tuesday morning, so we probably have another 10 or 11 days to go. The wind dropped further overnight so one of the reefs has come out of the mainsail and we have a full genoa. If it continues to drop we will be back to full sail later today. One of the spinnakers might have to come out to play soon, so even more reason to get some good rest now.
How long is a day? Obvious really – 24 hours. But only obvious because we learnt it at school and we have accurate time pieces that keep track of time to within thousandths of a second a year.
Anyone who has taken a long haul flight from East to West or West to East will have experienced the shift in time between where they boarded and where they landed. Get on a plane in London in the morning, get off in New York 7 hours later and its still morning, although your body clock tells you otherwise. Has time reall stood still? No of course not its just different time zones, ensuring that day and night in different parts of ye world all occur during the hours of light and darkness.
Travelling just a little South of West, we see this effect every day. For every degree we sail west, the sun rises and sets 4 minutes later every day! To compensate for this we can change our clocks to effectively move ourselves into a different time zone whenever we want.
But what about the ancient mariners who relied on the sun for defining their time and for navigation?
Local ‘noon’ or the point at which the sun is at its highest is frequently used as a time for navigating with a sextant, and many things on a ship are based around sunrise and sunset, all of which as we have said above differ by 4 minutes a day for every degree we travel East or West. Sunrise and sunset are also effected by latitude and time of year which must have made it very difficult for those ancient mariners to have a consistent ‘day’.
One thing is for certain, I would have wanted to be sailing East not West, because based on the above the days would always have been shorter so less time between meals!
Our last day has been quite pleasant. We are in the South East trades now and our speed has been quite reasonable – we covered 189 nm during the timed 24 hours (and due to the fact I am writing this a little later and we have had a cracking last 12 hours overnight covering 105 nm we now have less than 2000 nm to go, and we are over a third of the way).
We had a deck full of flying fish and squid this morning so I got the ‘cruisers guide to fishing’ out and looked up how best to utilise the squid as bait!
I had already dropped in one normal lure and unfortunately with a quick scream of the reel, something large took the lure, the stainless trace etc. and snapped the line mid length – very strange indeed, but maybe it had been snagged on something which gave me an idea – ;ets have a ‘Squid Off’. Plastic versus real (well used to be real but now rather dead). So on one rod the carefully prepared dead squid was trailed and on the other a plastic squid lure. It was a bit uneven since the plastic lure was about 4 times the size of the real one, but that ink and other goo to attract the predators so each had their own USP.
First blood (well bite) went to the plastic lure within less than 30 minutes but the hook wasn’t taken. Then the sun came out brightly, which in my limited experience means a sinking lure is a better bet than a surface one and both these were surface lures. There was no more action until just after lunch when the reel with the real (dead) squid started screaming and we landed a small female Mahi. It was certainly big enough for several meals but having caught several Mahi before and realising just how young this one must be we returned it to live another day. By dinner time Lesley was somewhat regretting the decision since its a while since she has has fresh caught Mahi, but on balance it was probably the right thing to do.
So which was better? Inconclusive, but the plastic ones are far easier and less mucky and less smelly to prepare!
We saw no boats and no wildlife today but we did see some shooting stars in the partly clear sky. Other than that not much has changed. Apart from a few rolls of genoa in and out to match the changes of average wind strength the sail plan has remained constant. The regular checks around the boat have revealed nothing more sinister than a broken lower guardwire across the gate to the bathing platform (trivial, not used at sea and easily fixed with a short length of dyneema) so things are holding up pretty well.
Last night got a bit busy, so two days in one here.
Day 3 was looking like we would have a reasonable run, right up to the point the sun came up, the clouds rolled in, the rain came down and the wind went did a runner! After a great night we were wallowing and the radar was showing showers all around us. The engine went on and we picked our way as best we could between them. Lesley was happy though, since with an upright boat the washing machine could go on! Less than an hour later a light breeze filled in and we were sailing again albeit at a rather slower pace. We l;eft the clouds behind, hung up the washing and had a relatively peaceful day. Our 18:00 24 hr run was about 169nm. A lovely steak dinner followed, washed down by a glass of Chateau Neuf du Pape (I wish… We actually don’t drink alcohol on passage except for the occasional milestone celebration, so a glass of chilled tap water actually accompanied the steak). However Lesley had baked cakes so I was allowed one or two of those (allowed one and sneaked two…).
And then our small world changed. As darkness fell we could see a band of cloud ahead across the entire horizon and the radar started showing bright orange patches all over the screen – rain, like the morning, however unlike the morning this rain was accompanied by wind, and lots of that too. The entire night was spent driving through and between rain showers in gusty variable winds that reached mid 30s knots, whipping up the sea into an uncomfortable steep sharp chop. On watch was wet and off watch was noisy and uncomfortable. We drove the boat higher in the lulls and lower in the gusts through the total blackness on a zig zag beam reach to try to get through the band of rain and just as the horizon started to appear at first light a couple of stars appeared just above the horizon – the first signs that we were close to the other side.
As the morning progressed the sky cleared and a patchy sunshine replaced the total grey mass and the wind became steadier.
And then a small triangle appeared on the chart plotter about 8 miles away. Initially just for a second then it disappeared, then it came back slightly closer. Small triangles indicate other boats that are being picked up by our AIS – some electronic gadgetry that allows people to see us and us to see other people. Each boat has a unique number and the numbers are issued by the country of registry. All british vessels start with 235 so I could see this was another british boat, heading roughly the same direction as us. We called them on the VHF radio and got an instant reply, and had a brief chat about routing weather and the general unpleasantness of the previous night! Apparently two of their friends are a little way ahead too, so we might see them over the next few days too. Whilst there is something very nice about the peace and solitude of ocean sailing, its also quite reassuring to discover there are other vessels around.
It took almost the entire day for the sea state to die down to something more comfortable, but finally now (at 21:52 local time), the winds are steady and the sea not too lumpy – just the normal waves and swell you would expect so far from land. The good part of the day is that despite a very wiggly course as we steered through the changing breeze, we were travelling a little faster, so we covered a straight line distance of 185nm in the 24 hrs to 18:00.
Hoping for a little more rest tonight we have kept a rather small sail plan until the morning so don’t expect to cover a huge distance overnight, but at least the current is now showing marginally in our favour.
Our tally of squid and flying fish found on the deck keeps increasing, but due to the bouncy seas the lure didn’t go in the water today so it was curry for dinner (and a few more cup cakes).
Not a great deal worth writing about has happened over the last day. We have kept the wind, so haven’t needed to burn any diesel and we have seen no wildlife except a few small birds – it always seems amazes me to see birds this far from land.
There seems to be a bit of a fight between the currents – we are not yet south enough to be consistently in the west going current and the direction can change frequently. On balance its been pretty neutral, maybe slightly in our favour over the last day. Distance travelled has been 169 nm so pretty consistent but that will improve hopefully over the next few days.
One of the fishing lures went out this morning and the reel screamed a few hours later as we hooked a nice Mahi. Unfortunately I let the line go slack as I left the rod to slow the boat down after a few minutes fight and it threw the lure. Shame as Lesley fancied Mahi, but we did land a smallish black fin tuna a few hours later – enough for several meals.
The boat is behaving well, a morning inspection found no issues except a small squid on the foredeck. It seems a little warmer – maybe since the wind has backed a little and the skies have been mainly clear with a small scattering of cloud.
Tonight is our second night at sea on the longest passage any circumnavigating cruising sailor normally makes – crossing the Pacific. We shortened it somewhat but calling in at the Galapagos Islands, which were amazing, whereas many people make the crossing in one from Panama or the USA. To say ‘crossing the Pacific’ is slightly misleading too since our destination is the Marquesas which are far from ‘the other side’, however there are many stop off points after the Marquesas, so this trip, which is expected to take between 18 and 21 days should be by far the longest.
I was musing this afternoon whilst alone on watch as to our preparation and departure. Having crossed the Atlantic twice I recall the build up to both trips very clearly – both were part of a rally, both had a specific departure time and although on one I was just one of five crew, the build up was intense. And rightly so, no ocean is to be messed with, and the Atlantic can throw in its challenges as much as any other. That being said, on the rhumb line (the shortest distance from start to finish) its a significantly shorter trip, from memory about 2400 nm – 600nm less than this Pacific crossing.
So what was different this time? On Thursday we decided to leave on Sunday morning – the weather looked ok, with the chance of some wind to start with, we had done some exploring on all three islands we were allowed to sail to in the Galapagos and we were ready to leave. But there was none of the intensity we experienced previously. Knowing I would be out of direct connectivity for a while (no browsing, no uploading or downloading of anything larger than a few bytes of data) I was busy with work for the last few days. Additionally we did some last minute food shopping, tidied up the boat, some friends arrived on their boat so we went into town for dinner with them on Saturday night, went to bed, got up Sunday mnorning, did some more work, had a cup of tea, pulled up the anchor and left!
We left as if we were just about to sail round to the next bay, as if it was our daily commute, not a 3000nm ocean crossing, completely relaxed, no drama, no last minute panic – we were ready so we left!
I sat here comparing the contrast and wondering how we could be so relaxed. Were we really prepared? Was the boat thoroughly checked and ready for sea? Had we missed anything? What was different? I concluded that yes we were prepared – better than ever before, the boat was thoroughly checked and yes most likely we will have missed something – hopefully trivial but boats are complex and however thorough you can be there will always be surprises around the corner but we have learnt to expect them and deal with them. The reality is we have been sub-consciously preparing for a long time, we now know better than before what is needed for this type of trip. We know how we cope in ourselves with watches, we know the boat better, the boat itself is pretty much ocean ready all the time since the trips we have been doing for the last few months have not been trivial. We were good to go!
We did have some wind – from about an hour out of Santa Cruz the engine was off and we were sailing. Fine reaching in a light breeze – the first few days is all about working south into the SE trade winds whilst trying to still get westing towards the Marquesas. With the wind forward of the beam we opted to hoist the asymmetric spinnaker rather than our normal downwind choice the Parasailor. Either would have done the job but I figured it would be coming down at night and the asymmetric can be furled from the cockpit single handed so would be less hassle. As it transpired the wind dropped late afternoon and we were motoring before dark! After dinner we decided film night would be Pearl Harbour (an unusual choice for Lesley but the logic was that we are in the Pacific), and there was no one to disturb so the volume was on high. I think its a great film so I was happy!
The wind was up and down overnight but we have been sailing since about 6 am and we covered about 165nm in the 24 hrs from 18:00 Sunday to 18:00 Monday. Not great but not bad either considering the light winds and for much of the time we have had a current against us. As we work south that will change and we should get a decent push most if not all the way.
We have seen no boats, but we have been lucky enough to see several whales, a few birds, some flying fish and jumping rays.
The temperature has dropped a bit, I am actually wearing a sweatshirt for the first time in a long while, though it is nearly 3 am. There is very little moon, but beautiful stars, the sky is mainly clear and the sea state quite pleasant. As I have been writing this the wind has been dropping but hopefully it is just temporary.
We briefly spoke to our friends on Larus on the SSB (Single Side Band Radio) last night who are about 1500nm closer to the Marquesas. They seem to be doing well, though the transmission was not great so hopefully we will get to chat more later today.
The fishing line went out for a few hours yesterday but no bites, everything seems to be functioning well onboard, the batteries are fully charged from the sun, wind and sea, we had a lovely sausage casserole for dinner, so all is well onboard.
San Cristobal, our island of arrival is the fifth largest island of the 19 main islands that make up the Galápagos Islands archipelago, which were discovered accidentally in 1535 and are part of Ecuador. It has the second largest population.
Charles Darwin visited the islands on the Beagle in 1835 and his observations of finches there, influenced his theory of evolution and the origins of species.
The main town in San Cristobal is like most Caribbean towns with a Spanish influence. There is a great market for local produce and plenty of small tiendas for other goods. A good selection of restaurants, our favourite being Galápagos Dreams, which served a great steak and burgers served on a piece of volcanic rock!
There were several small hotels and other accommodation and we were able to buy a local mobile SIM card and data.
The centre for interpretation is well worth a visit, turn left at the end of the ferry pier and follow the walkway around the coast and then the road.
Just past a modern looking university building is the centre. It’s free and provides a good overview of the islands history, biology and development. At the back of the centre is a pathway that you follow up a hill, cerro de las tijeretas, (frigate bird hill) for a good view into the next bay and back to the anchorage. We took our snorkel and fins as further on there are steps into the sea where you can take a swim. There were some fish and sea lions willing to play near the steps but visibility below the water was poor due to the high surf. There were also marina iguanas and a variety of birds, other reptiles and insects. If you take the alternative route back along the beach, playa Baquerizo, you can swim in the bay. This area has iguanas nesting all along the beach and more sea lions and crabs. All this was free!
We took a taxi, a local pickup truck, across the islands to see the tortoise (tortuga, in Spanish) conservation centre and El Junco Lagoon for the volcano crater rim hike. $60. The lagoon is a freshwater lake approximately 700 meters above sea level. The frigate birds were great to watch soaring over the lake. The health of the Miconia bush is an indication of the water retention in the area. Apart from the taxi fare there were no other costs here either.
The tortoise breeding centre opened in 2002 to protect and increase the numbers in the wild. These animals were used as food in the past and their number were greatly reduced to the point of extinction. The breeding centre is repopulating the natural environment in the north of the island. Apparently the tortoises are slightly different on each of the islands.
We took a dive tour to Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock) where there are sharks. Being new to diving Lesley was unsure of how she would feel faced with the sharks but it was worth it to dive and see hammerhead, white tip and Galápagos Sharks. We did this with Wreck Bay dive centre at $150pp which included 2 dives, lunch and a rest/exploring a different beach. We also saw a huge fin whale, more sea lions and a good variety of fish. It was only intimidating when several sharks were swimming towards us in a confined area between the rocks, otherwise an awesome experience.
For those seeking something other than nature viewing, there was also apparently a good beach for surfing on San Cristobal!
We made an early start as it was an 80 NM sail to Isabela. Wreck bay San Cristobal is an easy anchorage to leave in the dark which meant we could arrive in daylight the other end. You still have to check out before leaving, arranged through our agent via email and it cost $8 for the zarpe. It was given to us by the water taxi driver as we returned to our boat, an hour after emailing our agent!
Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago and still has five active super volcanos. Sierra Negra last erupted in 2005. Volcano Wolf is the highest point in the Galápagos at 1707 metres.
The anchorage is protected by a group of rocks known as Torentella, although its really shallow the further you go in at low tide or with a high sun you can see the ‘boomies’ as you nudge your way in. As it was late afternoon we opted for a safer, although rolly, space further out wih the Galápagos cruise ships and a delivery boat from the mainland.
We watched this boat unload its cargo, fresh items first. Then other goods and eventually building supplies. Even new engines for one of the tour boats! Once this was done it started to be reloaded with waste items, rusting metal and an enormous quantity of glass bottles! It took over six days using the barges to transport goods from the boat to the island and looked inefficient, but got the job done.
Unlike in San Cristobal, we were able to use our own dinghy to get ashore and leave it at the dock. The short walk into town revealed a touristy place with a lot of tour operators/booking agents, accommodation and restaurants. We had a quick look at the modern looking church with its stained glass windows depicting Galápagos animals. The beaches are white sand over volcanic black rock and have huge Pacific rollers breaking on the reef and beech. We tested one of the beach bars for a birthday burger for Derek at happy hour, it passed inspection!
We arranged a tour to include a horse ride and hike around the rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano as a birthday treat. It was an early start and after a 30 minute drive to the national park we mounted the horses which we were very glad were doing the uphill climb for us!
There was plenty of opportunity to stop for photos and to take in the breathtaking view. Guava bushes and walnut trees lined the track initially. Derek was not impressed with the tuna roll for lunch but cheered up when he found I had packed some birthday cake!
The crater is massive – 8 x 12km. We were able to walk through the barren ash/cinder coated areas with our guide close to the rim and where the latest eruption had been.
The ash was from the 2005 eruption and also the solidified lava flow from 2018. It was a well preserved area and was frighteningly large. should the whole thing erupt in the future it would have a devastating effect on South America.
The next day, we went for a snorkel at the Conch de Perla, an area next to the dinghy dock accessed via a wooden broad walk to a lagoon area inside the reef. It’s a lovely protected area and we swam with the marine Iguanas and penguins as well as a sea lion and the usual fish. Unfortunately no sea horses.
The penguins are fun, they and some small black tip sharks swam around the boat as we cleaned the waterline to get rid of the Galápagos beard that had started to grow. Sea lions also had an inquisitive look at us.
There is a small lake behind the town which was a little dried out but we did see one Flamingo in the distance. If we had gone further there is a much larger area where they are supposed to gather.
Talking to some of the other yachts we discovered that someone had managed to arrange fuel so we got the details and did the calculations deciding that it was a bit cheaper to pay slightly more for the fuel to be brought to the boat here rather than going back the 80:NM to San Cristobal. It would also reduce the journey to French Polynesia by half a day and give us more time to explore Isabela and Santa Cruz
After chatting to some of the other cruisers we decided to do one more tour to Snorkel Los Tuneles which is a 40 minute small fast boat ride from Puerto Villamil.
We past union rocks on the way which had penguins, blue footed boobies and a sea lion balanced on a ledge. They really do find all sorts of improbable places to sleep.
The entrance to the tunnels area was expertly driven by the boats captain, negotiating the right wave to surf with and just the right amount of engine power. It made for an exhilarating ride.
The contrast is startling, after a few twists and turns, to then enter the protected and still area beyond the entrance was unreal. The landscape at the tunnels was formed by the very old lava flow.
Two different types of cactus grew with lichen and moss.
The bridges are left after the erosion of the tunnels but you can imagine where they flowed into the sea. Blue footed boobies nest here whilst heron look for any small lizard or fish. The water was amazingly clear and still. This enormous turtle surfaced to say hello.
After a bit of exploring here we moved to a bay around the corner. The visibility was not as good but the marine life was extraordinary. As soon as we were in the water there were many enormous turtles feeding. There were so many throughout the trip you stopped taking photos of them! Watching them feed and surface and dive again, majestic in their underwater environment, utterly amazing.
The snorkel tour took us through the rocks and towards the sea where there was a ledge with a resting white tip shark but the highlight was seeing sea horses. So well camouflaged you would not see them unless they were pointed out to you!
After a quick lunch it was back to the anchorage but not before we had stopped to see some manta rays.
Our final Galapagos destination was Puerto Ayora in Academy Bay on Santa Cruz. It’s a rolly anchorage so its best to tuck as far into the shore as possible and use a stern anchor to hold the boat to the swell.
The town here is one of the larger towns we encountered in the Galapagos and we took the opportunity to re-provision at the handy supermarket just by the dock. On certain evenings one of the side streets is closed off and all the local restaurants spread tables out over the street and created a unique environment, where you could choose your seat then choose your vendor and the food was brought to you. If some of your party wanted food from one restaurant and some from another it was not a problem. We enjoyed a great evening here with friends that had just sailed in from Panama.
We also visited the Charles Darwin research centre which had interesting displays depicting how the islands had changed over time and the contributions that visitors made arriving by different means – air, cruise ship and yacht. They really appeared to be trying to figure out how to make tourism successful and sustainable.
About 30 minutes walk along the coast from the dinghy dock is a canyon carved through the rock many thousand years ago and within it a pool where locals and tourists congregate to swim. It is well advertised so we decided to give it a go.
It was fun, the sights from the top looking down into the canyon were interesting but it was a little busy really for our liking – we get rather spoilt being able to pick and choose our idyllic swimming sites!
It was a fitting end to our trip. An amazing few weeks in a place that is unique. We have been asked by many people whether it was worth the money, with the restrictions on where you can anchor and what you can do. For us the answer was an unmitigated yes. A once in a lifetime visit to a place that is apparently changing fast. Like many of the places we are visiting, tourists like us, are getting more frequent and the islands are having to adapt. We are told the Galapagos is very different to how it was just 20 years ago, so our advice to anyone interested in going there is to do it sooner rather than later. We are certainly glad we didn’t just sail past.