Archive for 'Panama to Galapagos'

Lat: 1 47.740′ N
Lon: 84 59.805′ W

It looks like we’re finally starting to catch a break. We had to tack back SE because we were running into some stiff winds that looked like they were going to get stronger and we would never be able to sail a course toward the Galapagos. After sailing SE for a day or so, we turned back WSW just above the 2nd parallel, and we’re hoping to be able to sail the rest of the way. On the way south, we had winds that were gusting to 35 knots and more so we have a double-reef in the main. The winds are getting calmer now, and after checking the weather we’ll probably take the reef out. Not that the weather forecasts are perfect out here. It’s not at all unusual to get a consistent 20-30 when nothing more than 15 knots was forecast. If we get the good winds we’re hoping for, we have a good chance of making landfall on the 10th as we only have 380 miles to go.

Today we actually had a sunny day for the first time since we were at Shelter Bay. That was a welcome change that had been anticipated for a while. We also seem to have crossed into the cold current, because the wind is much cooler. The cool breeze makes opening a hatch really nice below, but does make cockpit showers a bit more exhilarating. As things were starting to clear last night, Lauren was able to see the full moon set on the horizon. Since we’re less than two degrees from the equator, we’ve pulled out a couple southern sky star charts to try to figure out how soon we’ll be able to see the Southern Cross. Tonight, as I’m writing this, we have a beautiful sunset in the western sky off the bow and a nearly full moon rising of the port stern quarter among the puffy clouds and pale blue twilight.

The sightings of sea life haven’t been as frequent out here. There are often birds about. There seem to be at least three different varieties that are common and they often fly near the boat in the evening and at night when the navigation lights are on. This morning I saw a group of them dive-bombing for fish off to starboard. The nights before and after we tacked SE there were small squid on deck in the mornings. The first time there were three and the second time there were two. Both times the squid were on the engine room covers at the aft end of the boat. I’m really not sure how they got there.

The boat is still doing well considering the pounding it’s been taking into the seas, although we have had a couple of casualties. The windex at the top of the mast blew off. I could see it was loose this morning, but didn’t really want to drop the sails and go up the stick out here. We also blew a split all the way fore and aft in the starboard trampoline. Hopefully some repair work or a makeshift tramp will get us to New Zealand.

Last night Lauren & Tiff made a special meal to celebrate our being at sea one week. We had breaded & fried vegetarian scallops (thanks Mom), fried potatoes, and green beans. It’s making me hungry just typing about it. Today we had chili for lunch and Lauren is working on a fettucine alfredo with peas and veggie meat for dinner. You can tell what’s been on my mind lately. The other day we sat around and talked about some of our favorite restaurants. It’s a recurring conversation even with the great chow on board. Sometimes we talk about our favorite restaurants & dishes of a particular variety or sometimes favorites in a city we’ve lived. In Panama Brett joked that when they reached French Polynesia they all went ashore talking about the steaks they were going to order and then all ordered salads after the three weeks at sea. I can definitely see that.

As a general rule, I think I’ll go back to the morning blogs instead of writing before dinner…

On the Nose

Lat: 3 35.9′ N
Long: 84 18.7′ W

Well, the good news is that we are sailing. We have a steady blow of 15-20 knots. The bad news is that the wind is on the nose (from the southwest–precisely the direction we are trying to go), so we have had no choice but to sail in the wrong direction by as much as 30 degrees. For the first two days, we sailed on a west-northwest course, and after making westerly progress but obviously not getting any farther south, we had to tack back to the south this morning. This wouldn’t be so bad except that with the strong counter-current, we are now heading back toward Quito, Ecuador! Talk about two steps forward, three steps back…we can definitely understand why this is not a preferred passage among cruisers of the Pacific.

You might ask (as I did), why not just flip on your engines and motor on your desired course? Well, not only do our captains prefer to sail whenever there is sufficient wind, but also Dallas has been keeping a close eye on the engine hour-meters in preparation for their 150-mile oil changes. They are both at around 130 hours as of now, so we could potentially motor for a day or two, but we are going to save up the hours for the next few days when the wind is expected to die down.

There are a couple of other minor issues that we have had to address in the last two days. First, the seas built up to 6′ or so–not a big deal in itself, but since we are beating into the wind and swell, we are experiencing a lot of pounding and taking a lot of waves across the bow. Second, we’ve had leaks spring up in both of the forward berths–yes, where we sleep. The combo of the waves and the leaks is not a good one! It could be worse, though…at least there is still enough dry space for one person in each berth!

The leak in Wes and Tiff’s berth seems to be a problem with the frame around oneof the hatches rather than the hatch itself, which I’m pleased about since I replaced that hatch 6 months ago. The rather large leak in our berth is coming from a crack in the Lexan window. Those are a bear to replace, as Dallas and my dad can attest, so we’re not looking forward to that repair. For now, we decided to just double-reef the mainsail (reduce its size) to slow us down and give us a chance to dry out and get some sleep.

It’s hard to stay in good spirits when salty and sleep-deprived, but we’re holding up pretty well. At least seasickness has not been a problem. Tiffany and I try to boost morale by keeping bellies full. Last night we had soy meatloaf (much better than it sounds) with instant mashed potatoes (the Idahoan brand are really good!) and canned peaches.

The multimedia on board continues to be crucial in terms of keeping us occupied. (After running the engines for three days, we still have plenty of electricity.) I’ve been sticking to regular old books for the most part. I just finished reading “The Intricate Art of Sailing Afloat” by Clare Allcard, who has spent more than 20 years living aboard with her husband and daughter. I should have picked it up prior to provisioning in Panama, as she had some really good tips for predicting how much food you will need on board. The most interesting part for me given my profession was her discussion of child-rearing. Be it dealing with dirty diapers or deciding how to address children’s social and educational needs, there are many complicating factors related to family life on board. However, Clare is a big proponent and seems convinced that it is worthwhile to spend so much time with one’s child and husband in such a small space! (I know many who would beg to differ…)

That’s all for now. Time to get this posted, check the weather data, and last but not least, get some rest.

Still Motoring

Lat: 3 30.934′ N
Lon: 81 00.711′ W

Well, we’ve been motoring SSW almost the whole time since we posted our last blog. We seem to be south of the ITCZ as the skies are only partly cloudy now, we haven’t had any rain squalls for a day or so, and the wind is blowing pretty consistently out of the SSW. Unfortunately, the direction of the wind prevents us from sailing due South to get a better angle to the Galapagos and from sailing the rhumb line to the Glapagos. Hopefully we’ll be far enough south by the end of today that the wind will either have shifted more to the South or we’ll be able to sail close-hauled close to the rhumb line. So far the engines have done well, but it would be nice to turn them off and sail.

As a note, we only use one engine at a time for the best fuel efficiency. We make around 6-6.5 knots with both engines and make around 4 knots with one engine, so using two engines burns twice the fuel but only get you 50% more speed. At the last fuel-up in Panama City, it looked like we were getting between 1/3 and 1/2 gallon per hour. We carry about 100 gallons in the tanks and another 28 gallons in jugs, so at 1/2 gallon per hour we have a motoring range of about 1000 miles, which is quite a bit, although sailors generally dislike using the engines unless they have to. Unfortunately, there’s a contrary current for the first 2/3 of this trip, so we’re often making less than 4 knots. Oh well, at least the seas that we’re motoring into have been pretty small and should remain that way.

Wes put a line out yesterday and it looks like the lure, which was around 6-8″ or so, was bitten completely off. We’ll have to keep a better eye on the line.

Lauren and I saw a really interesting fish yesterday when the boat was stopped for a second. We were switching from running the starboard engine to running the port engine and the port engine didn’t have any water in the exhaust, which means something is wrong in the raw water system and the engine will overheat sooner rather than later. I killed the engine and went down to have a look while Lauren started it. The belt for the raw water pump wasn’t spinning. I nudged it with my finger and it started working just fine. Apparenly the belt is a little loose and didn’t have quite enough force to overcome the initial friction of the pump impeller. During this operation we were just floating in the water and Lauren noticed a large fish only a foot or two from the boat. I came up to look and it was about 4 feet long, fairly flat, and in the shape of an upside-down “U”, with it’s “head” near the curved part of the “U” and one fin sticking out from each side at the base of the inverted “U”, near it’s aft end. It definitely something I remember seeing in books before, but we don’t have it in our books on-board so we took a few pics and will look it up when we get to the Galapagos.

Other than that, bug spray showers and apple pie were the highlight of the day.

Last day of May

Lat: 06 05.959′ N
Long: 80 32.356′ W

We finally left Balboa Yacht Club late Friday afternoon and started motoring toward Punta Mala, the point of land marking the southwest corner of the Gulf of Panama. For the most part, the winds were light and on the nose in the Gulf, but we were able to sail close-hauled on a starboard tack on a heading of about 200 degrees once we cleared Punta Mala. Since then, we’ve been trying to hold a similar course, although after a series of squalls today, we’re motorsailing a SW course on a port tack. We’ll download some GRIB data when we send this blog and get a better idea of what we can expect in terms of weather in the near future.

The seas have been pretty calm, so the sailing has been pretty non-descript so far, but we’ve had some interesting sightings in the water. There were of course the numerous large ships headed toward the canal, but we haven’t seen any more shipping traffic since Punta Mala. The Gulf of Panama itself is a virtual floating minefield of logs & trash. Much of the floating wood and bamboo is only a 2-3 feet long, but there are some logs with stubs and branches still attached that are large enough for several birds of different types to hang out on. Plastic seems to be the ubiquitous trash of the ocean. It’s the one type of waste that is illegal to dump any distance from shore, but it’s not uncommon to see floating oil bottles, water bottles, plastic bags, etc. Wes told us he read that there are some parts of the ocean where there is more plastic (which simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces) than plankton. As we were approaching Punta Mala, and I was on watch, I spotted what looked like big birds jumping out of the ocean ahead and to the starboard side. I called everyone else on deck and as we got closer we saw what looked like a group of about 10 rays, leaping out of the water to the height of several feet and the doing a belly-flop on the surface of the ocean. They continued to jump as we passed them and we have some cool pics we’ll post when we get back to the land of the Internet. We’ve had numerous dolphin sightings since leaving, but the coolest one was this morning when I spotted at least 50 dolphins about a quarter mile off to port. They were doing shallow jumps, not leaving the water, and stretched maybe a tenth of a mile. Groups would jump in sets of 2-5, and several groups would jump at the same time, spaced out by 100 feet or so. Taken as a whole, it looked sort of like the ancient drawings of sea monster tails, where there are several humps of the tail visible coming out of the water. They were on a rhumb line heading for the Galapagos and crossed a hundred yards or so in front of our bow. As they started to pass us, some of them began jumping completely clear of the water, at least 6 feet in the air and landing head-first or on their back as part of a flip. We have one picture with two in the air at the same time and some short videos as well.

Other than that, just more of the same. The food’s been great as usual and we started having tea time after enjoying it on Dragon. We’re all digging into new books and thanks to Wes, are enjoying audio books, French lessons, etc. on mp3 players as well.

The port engine has picked up a bad habit of setting off the low oil pressure alarm when shifted back into idle after it has been running a while and the port alternator conked out, but other than that no mechanical problems as yet.