Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 6

POS: 6 56.3S 109 54.7W

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.

All is well on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 5

POS: 6 27.9S 106 94.7W

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.

All is well onboard.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Days 3 & 4

POS: 5 54.3S 101 39.7W

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).

All is good onboard.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 2

POS: 4 06.6S 97 02.3W

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.

All is good on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 1

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.

Panama to Galapagos – Day 3

The wind died yesterday as forecast at lunchtime. The peace and quiet of gently sailing along on a fine reach changed to the monotonous background drone of the diesel. As planned, we took the lines of the nearby vessel to avoid them having to spend a few days idly drifting around awaiting the wind to fill in. With flat seas and no wind it was an uneventful process with an audience of pilot whales to judge the quality of the job.

The wind dropped so we started towing the Hanse 575 on a long line

So from being completely alone we have now spent the last 19 hours with another boat 140 metres behind, several pods of dolphins and pilot whales and some bird who landed on the end of the spinnaker pole a day ago and has hitched a lift ever since! Various others have tried to share his perch but that results in loud squawking and much wing flapping as they are sent away – clearly not a sociable chap and one I would rather not have as the colour of the end of the spinnaker pole is rather different than it used to be…

Two birds hitching a ride

Strangely the nights are now cooler and more damp but that does make off watch time more pleasant down below.

Latest stats: 158 nm to go. Approximate position: 0 degrees, 46N, 87 degrees, 22W. Thats just 46nm from the equator, which we expect to cross sometime tonight!

All is well onboard and we still expect to arrive tomorrow. Even better news is our official paperwork has now come through from our agent so clearing in should be relatively simple.

Panama to Galapagos – Day 2

A pretty uneventful day aboard Ocean Blue, except we had wind! The forecast 24 hour previously was for virtually no wind, but that changed overnight and we had a glorious day’s sailing from the early hours until after dark, fine reaching at between 7 and 9 kts.

Having a breeze was doubly fortunate for us because we had been contacted by another boat, a Hanse 575 that had converged with us during the night. They informed us that they had complete engine failure and with the forecast no wind, asked if we would consider towing them to the Galapagos. Obviously we agreed but to tow a 58 ft boat some 400 nm is not trivial.

So now we are sailing in company with them, and fortunately the breeze has held sufficiently that no tow has been required so far – we expect the situation to change still, but we are getting closer every minute.

Stats as of 08:00 Wednesday: Distance to go: 285 nm. Approximate distance travelled in 24 hrs to 16:15: 165 nm. Position: 2 degrees, 24N, 85 degrees 54W. That makes us just 144 nm north of the equator – Neptune must sense us approaching by now!

No fishing yesterday but line is out now!

All is good onboard.

Panama to Galapagos – Day 1

We finally left Panama at 16:15 on the 17th March. We had spent the previous 4 or 5 days cleaning the hull and enjoying the outlying islands.

We had approximately 680 nm to sail and left in an encouraging 18-20 kts of northerly breeze, which changed to a frustrating 4 kt headwind within 5 miles of the coast. By mid evening the true ocean breeze took over from the land effects and we were able to sail albeit rather leisurely for most of the night. Before dawn the engine was on but by mid morning, there was sufficient breeze again to hoist the Parasailor which stayed up for a few hours before the wind dropped away and the engine came back on.

It is to be expected because we are traveling through the eastern end of the ITCZ (or Doldrums)which are where the Southern and Northern hemisphere trade winds converge. Our routing software suggests we are unlikely to see any further wind before we cross the equator, just short of Galapagos.

The fishing line produced a first for us – we caught a shark! Luckily it was only about 5 – 6 feet long but had loads of very sharp looking teeth. We managed to release it and not lose the lure so it could have been worse.

Stats so far: In the first 24 hours we traveled 158 nm, and now at 21:00 local time (utc -5) we have 509 nm to go. We are at 5 degrees 2 minutes north, or 302 nm north of the equator, motoring along in the dark at 6.5 knots. It is warm and calm, albeit slightly rolly and we haven’t seen another boat since the early hours.

All is well onboard.

Aruba to Columbia

We left at 5 am with an Easterly wind which increased to perfect downwind sailing with the Parasailor. A two day sail was planned, broken by a stop over in a large bay, Ensenada Huaritcheru, before arriving in Santa Marta.

The first day was champagne sailing with everything working as it should. We caught a small Mahi but it jumped free before we could land it and something else bit through the trace in one bite without any effort – probably best that we didn’t try to get that one on board!

We arrived at the anchorage of Ensenada Huaritcheru early afternoon and got some rest. We planned a lunch time departure to arrive for what was promised to be a spectacular sunrise over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The Spectacular Sierra Nevada, snow capped mountains

The next day we set off in a brisk force 5 wind with an uncomfortable quartering sea. We did manage to catch a very nice Tuna just as it was getting dark.

Once we rounded the Cabo De La Aguja headland the sea state calmed and we were able to have a gentle arrival into Santa Marta.

We were met by the marina rib and escorted to our berth with plenty of help around to take lines.

Sunset over Santa Marta Marina

It was great to be able to assess the boat and clean her off, unfortunately we had a tear in the main sail, probably from a spreader end which would need investigating.

We were not allowed to explore the city until the formalities had been completed but enjoyed a social in the marina seating area, catching up with fellow rally sailors and exchanging tales from the trip.

Trinidad to Curacao

At last we can go…

The wind is forecast to be light and from the East, we have got all the parts on board and there is time to checkout and get duty free onboard, so we do it, just running into their out of hours customs charges as it is 15:45. It does take until 16:15 to complete all the paperwork even though we were at immigration for 15:00. The charge was minimal and our remaining currency was spent in the duty free store, conveniently situated next door to customs and right by the dock.

It took us another six hours to store solar panels and put the contents of the lazerette and tools away ready for sailing.

By 22:00 we were leaving the Bocas del Dragon, a fast flowing Channel between Trinidad and the Islands to the West, into an area called the ‘Dragons Mouth’.

It was a bumpy ride, where the tidal stream meets the Equatorial current that began to sweep us westward. Dolphins accompanied us out, their shape and wake looking like torpedos in the bio-luminescence, visible in the dark water under the black sky.

Once we were clear of land everything settled into an easy motor sail, not enough wind to get us going without the engine. We were both tired and started short watches to enable each of us to get some sleep. We extended our watch system to four hours once we were in the familiar groove.

Dawn on day one at sea brought a beautiful sunny day but still no wind. It’s so beautiful to be in open water which is clear of floating debris. Dolphins came to play around the boat briefly and no fish were caught. By the evening there was just enough wind to turn the engine off and sail slowly under a starry moonlit sky enjoying the peace after having the diesel engine throbbing away all day.

A larger pod of dolphins stayed with us for over an hour entertaining us as it got dark. The stars were fantastic, with many meteors or shooting stars. After a very busy 5 months it was quite therapeutic to be so connected with nature again.

Dawn on day 2 at sea saw sufficient breeze to raise the Parasailor, this was an hour’s exercise to prepare the sheets and sail ready for the hoist.

Our favourite sail – the Parasailor

After a small tangle in the lines was sorted she was flying, but by then unfortunately we could see rain and the wind had died again. We doused the parasailor and left her hanging secure in the sock and decided on a clean up of the aft deck. This had been the storage area for all the ropes and sheets whilst we had been pulling wires through for the new arch. We hoped the rain would help rinse the dirty sludge we were loosening but it seemed to skirt around us, tantalisingly close. Eventually one did deliver the fresh water rinse we wanted.

A squall with some rain in the distance

The day’s wildlife we saw consisted of seabirds of several varieties as we approached the Islas Los Roques Islands. Our other company were two cargo ships that caused us to nearly be the meat in the sandwich between them.

Two ships and two rain showers showing up nearby on our chartplotter

There was a flying fish on the deck in the morning that would have fed the cat in Trinidad.

Another pod of dolphins came to play and this time Lesley was able to take a video clip from the cockpit. She also captured what appeared to be a sailfish swimming around us. It checked out the lures but didn’t bite, although Derek found that something had eaten his hooks! Just as we were tidying up at sunset we caught a fish! a Yellowfin tuna weighing 22lbs.

Yellowfin Tuna

After a quiet uneventful night motorsailing, dawn on day 3 at sea left us with 70 nautical miles to go with an eta of Sunday afternoon at approximately 16:30.

We had hoped to stop in the Islas Los Roques islands and Bonaire to dive before arriving for the start of the ‘Suzie Too’ rally, however our delays in Trinidad meant we had to sail past both to be there for family arriving and the start of the rally festivities.

We arrived around 16:30 to cheers from Boca 19 Marina and Beach, where familiar friends were swimming at the regular ’16:00 Hrs Beer and Bob’.

Entering into Spanish Waters, we headed for the designated anchorage, ‘Anchorage C’, set up for the rally boats and were met by fellow rally participants Tim and Nancy, who we last saw in Trinidad, who came to help us with lines as we had to tie stern-to, to a long line, our home for the next week.