Monday, March 28, 2011

Galapagos!


San Cristobal Island, Galapagos!!  Idyll Island is rocking gently while a mum and pup Galapagos Sea Lions are wedged onto the bottom transom step dozing in the late afternoon sun.  This is no easy feat as we have tied every manner of obstacle over the steps to dissuade the ‘lobos marina’, as they are known here, from boarding us.  These two are our preferred company as the bigger males are so noisy and boisterous.  Megaphone loud, resonant belches, strangled wails, exaggerated fishbone coughs that literally shake the boat; we have sea lions. They are everywhere – in any unoccupied dinghy or fish boat, park benches, the playground, all along the promenade, etc., and they are absolutely fascinating to watch.  For the North American Westcoasters reading this, they are an endemic subspecies of the familiar California Sea Lion. 

We arrived several days ago after a delightfully easy, light wind sail of just over 800 nautical miles, 6 days and 4 hours from Panama City (including 36 hours of motoring through the doldrums, aka the Intertropical Convergence Zone).  This was our longest passage so far and has us keen for more.  We watched a Brydies Whale for some time just feeding in the rich Panama waters, a shark go after a Bonita tuna that Derek released, several schools of dolphin playing in our bow waves, and dodged large freighters along the coast.  Two 700+ footers altered course for us in the middle of the night.  Kind of intimidating but they were very cooperative - even small boats have the right of way under sail.  This of course only works if they see us, which it seems that they usually don’t.  Our AIS receiver and radar together tell us the name, course, speed, length and ‘closest point of approach’, etc. of the vessel, which means that we can call them by name so they can’t (easily) ignore us.  Six hour night watches seem to work well for us.  Time passed quickly - the moon was brilliant, the sun too, no rain and the seas sparkled. 

After days out of sight of land or any other vessels, San Cristobal rose slowly on the morning horizon.  It is a magnificent welcome, verdant (we expected stark and arid) low volcanic hills punctuating the rolling green, many white sandy beaches and craggy headlands.  Pelicans, boobies, gulls and terns wheeled around us especially near the spectacular, sheer, nesting cliffs on Isla Lion Dormant.  Galapagos!  A bit of a Mecca for us biological types.  The town of Pueto Baquerizo Moreno (previously known as Wreck Bay) is delightful.   Ecuador has enhanced the long natural waterfront with beautifully designed pools, winding cobble walks and streets, numerous stone and wood gazebos, and labeled plantings of native species, all decorated with sea lions – live ones.  They are just a part of life here.  The shops and cafes are pleasantly ‘local’ and the back streets are clean but tropically basic and friendly.  Off the outer points of the bay there is a sometimes significant surf break that provides some nice rides but as it breaks on volcanic rock we declined.

We have walked with our friends Iris and Graeme (of the Aussie steel cat, "Pelagic"), to several nearby beaches where the famed Galapagos Marine Iguanas, the only salt water iguanas in the world, swim, dive, feed and sun themselves.   Blue-footed and masked boobies stand about unafraid,  bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs scurry about and of course the sea lions cavort and laze, mums nurse their young and the immature, but sizeable, males stage playful battles (hmm, rather familiar).  There is a very impressive Interpretive Center on one of the walks, large and beautifully designed.  Today we took a 45 min taxi ride up into the hills past a tiny town and numerous small fincas (farms) to the giant tortoise breeding facility.  12 hectares of low scrub forest contain incubating and nursery areas for young up to 4 years of age and then the giants roam about on their own.  There are 11 extant subspecies in the archipelago, some evolving on different craters not too far from each other.  San Cristobal tortoises are dome-shaped while other islands have saddle-shaped or intermediate carapaces.  We hiked around the lava paths and boardwalks, heard and even saw several indigenous bird species – finches flitting about all looking too, too much the same to id to species (13 bill shapes) and newly resident bobolinks.  So far we get the best look at Darwin’s famous finches at lunchtime – the crumb-snarfing subspecies (Sidewalkus caf├ętierias).

Such a treat to soak up the laid back, local atmosphere, have the local water taxis know us and wave each time they pass, tune into which day the supply boat arrives with fresh fruit and veg and sus out some favorite little restaurants.   In a day or two we will be off to explore little Isla Floreana for a few days and then to three more islands – the younger ones with active volcanoes and drier more stark environments and tortoises with even longer necks.


A calm sea and light winds to Galapagos.  Cathy making adjustments to our new screacher sail (half way between a genoa and a spinnaker) which sets on a short bowsprit and rolls up on its own furler.  Should be a good set-up for downwind sailing in the trades.

 We're in the Southern Hemisphere!  We crossed the equator at night and made sure we provided Neptune (and ourselves) with a celebratory tot of rum.

 Galapagos landfall!  The rest of San Cristobal is much greener than this headland.

"Do I have to get up now?"  Despite what we thought were extensive defences, this sea lion pup managed to wiggle through and spent the night in our cockpit. Very cute, but it took about an hour to clean up the mess he left behind as he searched for just the right spot. He was even up on the table...

 "OK,what's for breakfast?"

 So we beefed up our defenses, but two more have still managed to penetrate the barriers!

 Nice of the town to put benches in for us....

 There are animals other than sea lions.  The famous Blue Footed Booby - looking good!

 The famous Marine Iguana - looking as good as they can...

Cathy talking to a young (40 year old) tortoise.

"If they would only get rid of all this junk, we could get really comfortable!"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

PanamaRama

As we get ready to sail away from Panama, where we've spent 9 of the past 15 months, here are some pictures from our time on the Pacific side.

 A nice pair of Bonito tuna caught on the way to the Las Perlas Islands, about 35 miles south of Panama City.

 Not quite sushi grade, but not bad pan seared for Christmas Eve dinner.


 Christmas morning;  huevos rancheros and champagne.

Christmas day on the beach.

A Christmas feast aboard Idyll Island. Cathy turned out an excellent turkey dinner which we accompanied with more champagne.




 Wait a minute, that's not champagne.  Tristan on one of the most beautiful beaches we've seen. A group from a neighbouring island had just finished spending 3 days picking up all the garbage and raking it clean. A great example of grass roots care for the environment.  It was pristine, and we were the only ones there!

 Tristan wake boarding on our new surfboard. 

 And Cathy is looking good too!

After Tristan returned to school in the cold and rain/snow of Victoria, Cathy's brother Jon flew down from much colder (-35) and snowier Calgary. 

 Cathy and Jon off to explore another beach in the Las Perlas.  We anchored in one big bay, all by ourselves and explored a different beach each day - for a week.  There were a few local fishing boats in the area, but other than that we didn't see another soul.

 Our friend Elvir, who piloted us through the canal, also works as an engineer on one of the canal tugs (built in PEI).  He very kindly arranged for us to spend a morning on the tug, moving a ship through the locks. Fascinating.

 Ready to see another perspective of the canal.

 We're pushing up against the side of an 800' ship with 4000 hp, all controlled through a pair of joysticks.

 A Kuna Indian, selling her molas in the old town (Casco Antigua) of Panama City.

 Restored street in Casco Antigua.

 One of the many churches.

 We've had a great time in Panama.  But its time to move on and explore the South Pacific....

Friday, March 11, 2011

From Sea to Sea

Its been a long time since we've updated this blog.  We've been pretty busy with visiting friends and family and getting the boat ready for 8 months across the South Pacific.  So now that we are getting ready to leave Panama for the Galapagos and points south and west, here is a bit of a catch-up.


We left Bocas mid-October, headed for Shelter Bay Marina, via the Escudos de Veraguas, a group of islands with fascinating topography. Little cupcake islands sprouting out of the water and twisting channels and chasms under limestome cliffs.  The same thing underwater made for some interesting snorkeling. Lots of invasive lionfish again - Derek managed to reduce the local populatoin significantly, if temporarily.  Also speared a small barracuda which fried up nicely! 
Couldn't resist....


You know what they say about people looking like their pets...?


Some pretty active squalls with major lightning as we approached Colon.  Best to dodge these ones.


Here is a picture of our radar screen showing us escaping from our anchorage (lower center) and scooting out between two nasty squalls.


Much more peaceful up the Chagres River where we spent 4 days relaxing, exploring and resting up before hauling the boat out at Shelter Bay and tackling the large list of jobs necessary before heading into the South Pacific. The Chagres river was dammed to create the Gatun Lake which supplies the immense amount of water for the Panama Canal.  About 180,000,000 gal of water flow out of the lake with each group of vessels (one lock full) passing through the canal's six locks.  The Chagras is navigable for about 10 miles below the dam.


A peaceful evening on the river.

We paddled up several of the side channels of the Chagres looking for wildlife.  Despite rumours of monkeys, crocodiles, toucans, and even jaguars, we didn't see anything other than flocks of rowdy parrots and a few lizards sunning themselves.

Finally, some wildlife!  The dock crew at Shelter bay Marina - on Halloween.  We scrambled around and created costumes for ourselves in time to join the party two hours after our arrival.  Cathy went as Neptuna and I was a Mola mola (Pacific sunfish, represented by a mola stapled to my shirt front and back).  Something got lost in translation and Cathy was referred to as "Queen of the Tuna", and I was Mola Man. Luckily we don't have any pictures to remind us!

Out she comes!  Now the work starts.  Was supposed to be 7-10 days.  A few unexpected problems cropped up (surprise), like worn bearings in the saildrives needing parts to be flown in from Miami, delays to the painting schedule due to torrential rain etc....   3 weeks later we were finally done, in all respects.

This is the seal that goes around the saildrive leg and keeps the ocean out of the boat.  We knew it was leaking a bit and it was the reason that our haul out was mandatory.  But we didn't realize how badly the rubber had disintegrated.  The engine manufacturer, Yanmar, say to replace every 2-3 years.  On the internet, there are all sorts of comments that you can let it go for 7 years, maybe even 10.  I think we're going to follow the manufacturers recommendations on this from now on....

Our friends Jim and Linda from Victoria.  This is a shot of them on one of the two sunny days they had during the two weeks they were with us.  They arrived in Panama to find the country in a state of disaster due to horrendous rain storms; there were multiple deaths due to slides and flooding and the canal was shut down for only the second time since it opened in 1914. All the roads in and out of Panama City were washed out and we were in Shelter Bay on the other side of the isthmus. The plan had been to sail to San Blas and meet them there. But no one was going anywhere - except by helicopter.  Our cruising friends Randy and Lynn of High States, had wound up in a situation where Lynn was stuck in a hotel in Colon, and unable to get back to Randy on the boat at Shelter Bay as the roads were out and no estimate of when they would be repaired. So they decided to hire a chopper and since it had to fly from Panama City anyway and Jim and Linda were stuck there....  So a dramatic start to Jim and Linda's tropical vacation. 


Jim and Linda trying to be tropical.  At least it wasn't raining when this picture was taken!  We finally got to the San Blas islands, sailing through 30 knot squalls and 12' seas, a bit of a rough introduction to the cruising lifestyle - especially for non-sailors.  But they seemed to enjoy the adventure!

Had to visit the monkeys at Linton. They liked the grapes we offered them better than the apples last year.

Back at Shelter Bay ready for our transit of the Panama Canal - and Christmas!   Had a Christmas Party dinner at the Marina restaurant, sponsored by the marina and supplemented with goodies from the cruisers.  A good time, even if we didn't win the Christmas light contest....  Note the plastic covered tires hanging from the rail prior to our transit of the Canal.


Getting the lines ready as we head towards the entrance to the Panama Canal.  We have taped pieces of foam and surfboards and any padding we can fins to the hatches, windows and solar panels so that when the "monkey fists" (lead weights knotted into thin rope covers) are thrown down to us in the locks, they don't break anything.

Heading into the first lock behind a cargo ship.  Cathy's delicate hand on the engine controls as we maneuver ourselves and the 50' monohull were rafted with into the chamber.


The canal operators refused to allow us to tie "centre chamber", as contractually agreed, and insisted we and the boat we were rafted to, tie alongside a tugboat.  This eliminates our control and subjects us to far more turbulence, plus they were impatient , so opened both sets of culverts to double the volume of water flowing into the lock.  The boiling water pushed us around incredibly, stretching our 3/4" lines to 50% greater than their originals length. At one point our starboard transom was less than a foot from the concrete wall of the lock.  Thanks to Cathy's excellent driving, we came through unscathed!

Relaxing after the ordeal.  Tristan had flown in from Victoria to join us (with 3 hours to spare) for the transit and to spend Christmas with us. Great to have him along for the adventure!

After spending the night on a mooring in the lake, we were joined by our favourite canal advisor, Elvir, whom we had met the previous year when we went through as crew on a friend's boat. When we called Elvir ahead of time and told him we were taking our own boat through, he arranged his schedule to be with us. It was great to see him again!

Early morning (6:30) after a peaceful night spent on Gatun Lake - in the middle of Panama's continental divide, midway between two oceans and two continents, at 80' above sea level in a sailboat!  Pretty amazing!


Making our way through the muddy brown water, dodging the larger mats of vegetation that had been washed down from the surrounding hills by all the flooding of the previous 2 weeks.

Three amigos.  Derek first met Jim back in Grade 2 on Saltspring Island.

Tristan tending one of our lines as we lock down to the Pacific side.  Its critical to maintain the right tension on the lines so that we stay in the middle of the lock and don't crash into the walls or pull a cleat out of the boat (it has happened).

The gallant crew who shepherded Idyll Island safely from the Caribbean to the Pacific.


Back in our home ocean. Bridge of the Americas ahead of us.


Idyll Island anchored off Panama City.  Another ocean awaits!