Wednesday, 29 November, 2006 @ 8:10 PM
Spotted two groups of dolphins today, a pod of maybe 6 paid us a brief visit at noon, and then just on dusk a single, lonely-looking fellow appeared and followed in our wake for 20 minutes or so. We were also treated to a magnificent Pacific sunset, so I'm happy again :-)
Wednesday, 29 November, 2006 @ 8:08 PM
Corrected our new Iridium phone contact number to 8816 31525813.
Further tweaks to CSS styling, this time on the entry headers.
Tuesday, 28 November, 2006 @ 10:15 PM
Well, we've had a pretty uneventful journey so far. We haven't spotted another boat since a fishing vessel passed near the horizon four days ago. We also haven't encountered much variety in sea life, until today when we were joined by a group of what were either a large species of dolphin or pilot whales. On almost every wave we scatter schools of flying fish, impressive groups of several hundred launching themselves skyward in splendid displays of synchronised gliding. Most mornings we have a handful to clear off the deck. A few days ago, we also had an epidemic of small squid appearing on deck. We initially assumed that they were stranded there by large waves, but one evening Erik was hit in the back by a flying squid. Yes folks, you read it here first, SQUID CAN JUMP! There is also a surprising number of seabirds this far from shore, with usually a couple of small petrels (?) in sight, and the occasional large flock, skimming just inches above the water.
The weather has been kind to us, but overcast with just a couple of spots of rain here and there. Winds varying from 6-20 knots and generally from the port beam or just aft, with following waves of under 2m. Quite disappointed by the lack of spectacular sunsets so far, although of course there is plenty of time for those. We are now over 1,200 nautical miles from Galapagos, and still have a shade over 1,700 to travel to reach the Marquesas. In about 2 days we will be as far from land as it is possible to be on the surface of this small planet Earth.
Southern Cross, by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Got out of town on a boat
Goin' to Southern islands.
Sailing a reach
Before a followin' sea.
She was makin' for the trades
On the outside,
And the downhill run
Off the wind on this heading
Lie the Marquesas.
We got eighty feet of the waterline
Nicely making way...
More desktop pics
Wednesday, 22 November, 2006 @ 1:44 PM
Added another couple of Galapagos photos for download as desktop pics. If there is a demand for any of these to be sized for larger or wide-screen monitors, let me know, and I guess I could look at knocking up some alternative sizes.
Wednesday, 22 November, 2006 @ 12:30 PM
We departed Puerto Ayora as planned, just before dawn yesterday. All the boat systems seem to be operating perfectly, apart from a worn alternator belt, which we will replace today. We were shadowed for a couple of hours by an Ecuadorian Coast Guard boat, making sure, I guess, that we didn't violate our visa by stopping at any other islands on our way out. We sailed past Isla Isabella, and the crescent-shaped Isla Tortuga (Turtle Island), formed from the remnants of a volcanic caldera, half collapsed into the ocean. It is an incredibly bleak looking piece of rock above water, but the diving must be spectacular below! A family of seals and a gaggle of seabirds bade us farewell, and Jana saw a turtle and a ray passing on her watch.
As we set our waypoint for the Marquesas, the readout of 2,910 Nautical Miles seems a dauntingly long distance to cover. However, the wind is on the beam, and we have Main, Cutter Jib and Genoa flying, making 7-8.5 knots with a 2 knot current assisting us. If we can maintain this speed and course, we'll be there in just over 2 weeks – not much longer than our slow grind from Panama to Galapagos.
I began my early morning watch to a perfectly clear night sky. With zero light pollution, the view of the stars was breathtaking, and I watched the Southern Cross rise above the horizon for the first time on this trip. Later, I spotted a light on the horizon. It slowly drew level with us before disappearing astern. Most likely a small fishing boat. Again, about noon today, we saw a small boat on the horizon, and then a line of floats. A long-line or a drift net! Either of these could cause problems if hooked around our keel or tangled in the prop, so we gingerly drifted up to and then through a gap in the float line, fortunately avoiding getting caught.
Monday, 20 November, 2006 @ 11:50 AM
Just for a laugh I sent emails to a handful of yachting magazines, to see if they might be interested in running a story or series on our trip. To my great surprise, I had positive replies back from all of them, and a firm offer from one! I've been doing some background research, and will write up the Galapagos leg as we sail to Marquesas. It'll be great to have an article and some of my photos in print!
Monday, 20 November, 2006 @ 11:10 AM
We took Valdolese out for a quick test run yesterday, and happily the propeller vibration seems to have been completely eliminated. Also, our fix to the genoa furler seems to be solid, and Ian's concerns that the water-maker might be playing up seem to be unfounded. We have a marine electrician on board at the moment, trying to track down the problem with the instruments and the new autohelm. I don't expect it to be a difficult issue to fix, and if he manages to get it sorted we will be sailing off first thing tomorrow morning.
I'm about to head into town for some final chores and to do a last bit of exploring. Looks like we've got a bit of rain coming in though, which is a shame.
P.S. The replacement autohelm works like a charm. We are definitely on our way tomorrow at dawn. Next website update... 20-30 days from now.
P.P.S. Regarding our contact while at sea, note that Ian now has a new Iridium (satellite phone) number – 8816 31525813. It is possible to send SMS messages to the phone for free by visiting www.iridium.com. Love to hear from you!
Saturday, 18 November, 2006 @ 4:00 PM
I finally found an internet café with a speedy connection, so all pictures and linked galleries have now been uploaded. Yay!
Thursday, 16 November, 2006 @ 10:55 PM
The boat repairs are going well. Yesterday we fixed the genoa's furling track. Being able to use both the genoa and staysail should definitely give us some extra speed across the Pacific. Today Erik and I dove and pulled the prop (after a bucket of cold water got rid of Number 240, our transom's resident sea lion). We set up the new blades in a jury-rigged micrometer jig, and aligned a spare set of blades as well. We then re-attached the prop, and whilst down below, checked the hull for damage from our log collisions. Fortunately we appear to have escaped without a scratch (apart from the prop damage of course), despite the solid sound of the collisions. Good, thick Beneteau glass on the bow protected us. Today we also filled our jerry cans with diesel at the smile-inducing price of $1.02 per gallon. Yay! We are rationed to 40 gallons per day, so we'll be back again tomorrow for a final top-up. Tomorrow we will also be installing the new (electric now, rather than hydraulic) autohelm system, which is the last major job before we head off on the longest leg of our journey, the near 3,000 nautical mile run from Galapagos to Marquesas.
Wednesday, 15 November, 2006 @ 11:00 PM
Today I took a short hike out of Puerto Ayora to Playa Tortuga (Turtle Beach) on the South-Western corner of the island. After a very scenic 2.5 km walk along a well-kept stone path through rugged cactus forest, you emerge onto a long, flat, white-sand beach with powerful Pacific surf rolling in. One of the first things to catch my eye was a pair of large marine iguanas, strolling up out of the surf, headed, no doubt, for a cozy sun-heated rock to relax on.
Playa Tortuga is a turtle nesting area, and signs are posted at intervals, politely requesting visitors keep off the area of dunes behind the beach. I headed along the beach to the north, noting the dozens of iguana, bird and crab tracks in the sand. After a few minutes I ran into Erik and Jana, who were returning after an afternoon spent swimming and sunbathing further up the beach.
At the northern end of the beach is a rocky outcrop, which is home to large numbers of large red crabs, marine iguanas, and various species of birds. A sizeable rock pool just after this held a buffet for a solitary blue-footed boobie, which repeatedly circled, dived and took off again with a mouthful of wriggling fish for the 15 minutes or so that I was watching. Past the outcrop is a low headland which encloses a large, sheltered bay, host to a family of brown pelicans, gorging themselves on fish. The shores of the headland are jam-packed with sunbathing iguanas, some of which were amusingly lying on top of each other like stacked firewood.
As the day was getting on, I reluctantly wandered back down the beach. Happily the sun peeked out from the clouds to provide some fantastically atmospheric late-afternoon light with which to fill the rest of my camera's memory card.
I've updated the Galapagos gallery with some pics from today. Due to the slow internet connection here, I'm not sure if I'll be able to upload all of these immediately, but I will keep trying.
This Pelican image is stitched together from two rows of three images, and is equivalent to an image from a 38 megapixel digital camera.
Tuesday, 14 November, 2006 @ 8:40 AM
The gallery of Giant Tortoise photos is now live. Enjoy! I've also uploaded an initial gallery of other Galapagos photos, however this one will likely be updated over the next few days as I take more shots. I added some text to the photography page as well.
Monday, 13 November, 2006 @ 8:40 PM
Ian hired a taxi for the day, driven by a friendly local called Gabriel, so we all piled in the back for a trip around some of the highlights of Isla Santa Cruz. First off we headed out of town towards the highlands in the centre of the island, and although the highest point on the island (Cerro Crocker) is just 864m the temperature dropped rapidly. We were soon headed for the coast again though, an isolated but beautiful beach on the Eastern side of the island called Garrapatero. The last 8 or so km of access road are unpaved, and bordered by an inhospitable-looking landscape, prominently featuring towering cacti of several different species. As the road ends, there is approximately a 1km walk through similar scenery to reach the beach. The beach is of lovely white sand, and appears to stretch for miles around the coastline to the North, broken here and there by small rocky headlands and outcrops. It is around these outcrops that most of the life seems to congregate, with plenty of birds of different species (pelicans, gills and oystercatchers), large congregations of bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs, and ruling the roost, a handful of large Marine Iguanas, basking in the sun.
After an hour or so of exploring and photographing the various ecosystems around and behind the beach we jumped in the taxi and headed back West and upwards towards the private El Chato Tortoise ranch in the highlands. This was quite a different experience from viewing the captive tortoises at the Darwin Research Station, as the tortoises were less used to humans, and therefore more wary. Not that they are likely to run away (ha!), but when you approach, they tend to withdraw into their shells and hiss loudly their displeasure at the interruption. There were a LOT of tortoises here, I'm guessing perhaps 50 on the property, munching grass and paddling in the small pond. The ranch adjoins a national park, which is off-limits to people (well, tourists, anyway) and separated by fences with the bottom wire set about 2 feet above the ground so as to enable free reign for our shelled friends.
The tortoises are large – some mature males topping 300kg, and with a shell length of up to 1.2 metres, with females growing to maybe half the size of the males. They are one of the longest-lived of all creatures, with an estimated maximum life span of around 250 years. Before the arrival of man, they had no natural predators, but once the whalers who were the original settlers of the islands discovered the fine quality of tortoise meat, the slaughter began, and the population of around quarter of a million tortoises was quickly decimated. It is only due to the efforts of the breeding program that tortoise numbers have again reached sustainable levels on most islands, with around 15,000 alive today. Another interesting fact is that there are 11 unique sub-species of giant tortoise on these small islands, which are externally differentiated by shell shape and pattern (amongst other characteristics). One tragic case is Lonesome George, last surviving tortoise from Pinta Island, and thus the last of his species. He is corralled with two female tortoises from Isabella island, who are considered his closest genetic relations, however George shows no inclination to breed, and so it seems likely that his line will die with him.
Monday, 13 November, 2006 @ 8:10 PM
... for Geof Lord, who last week arrived home in Brisbane with his Beneteau 501 Men Bati, which he purchased early this year in Nice, France. He sailed it across the Atlantic to Panama, where Ian and I spent some quality beer-drinking time with him, through the Canal (with assistance from some by-now expert line-handlers :-), and then across the Pacific to Queensland, via a similar route to the one we have planned. He made several of the Pacific legs single handed, including the long Galapago to Marquesas run. Distance covered: 13,000+ Nautical Miles, 240º W and over 70º S. On ya mate!!
Sunday, 12 November, 2006 @ 11:00 PM
I spent a good 3 hours yesterday wandering the grounds of the Charles Darwin Research Centre, here in Puerto Ayora, hanging out mainly in the Giant Tortoise enclosures. I took literally hundreds of photos of these amazing creatures, and will be putting up a gallery page of some of the best shots (along with a gallery of miscellaneous other wildlife pics) soon.
Sunday, 12 November, 2006 @ 2:00 AM
Friday, 10 November, 2006 @ 4:00 PM
I've been walking around dosed up on Ibuprofin, which does a great job of keeping the pain away. I really dislike taking pills of any sort, but in this case it was absolutely necessary as the pain was excruciating without them. Anyway, the problem was a bodged filling that I was given in Panama City (thankfully not an abscess, as I'd feared), so many thanks go to Dr. Walter Vargas, who drilled it out and re-filled it correctly for the princely sum of US$40.
Wednesday, 8 November, 2006 @ 10:10 PM
I've added a couple more galleries of recent images to the photography page, and, although I doubt anyone else really cares, I also shuffled around the titles and order of the navigation tabs into what seems to me to be a slightly more logical and descriptive arrangement. Also added anchors to all the blog postings and manually cleaned up some crufty old Dreamweaver HTML.
Wednesday, 8 November, 2006 @ 9:40 AM
We've just dropped anchor in the harbour at Puerto Ayora, and already the Galapagos have shown themselves spectacular. Dawn this morning was marked by a friendly juvenile red-footed booby (photo) perching on the bow rail, and plenty of curious seals in the water, heading out on early-morning fishing expeditions. They were in a playful mood, with several leaping clear of the water. We also saw an (eagle?) ray jump about 20m off the starboard bow, and later a larger ray did a spectacular back flip right in the harbour.
Had a slightly worrisome experience at the end of my morning watch, as the rising sun revealed Rocas Gordon (Gordon Rocks, off the eastern end of Santa Cruz) to be just about a mile away, dead ahead of us, where our charts had them positioned about 5 miles off!
From the boat, Puerto Ayora looks like a small, frontier-ish village, but further explorations will give me a better feel for the place I'm sure. My toothache has escalated and has been giving me hell for the last two days, so tracking down a decent local dentist will be high on the agenda here.
Tuesday, 7 November, 2006 @ 6:55 PM
At 5:25PM I helmed us across the equator, at 0º South, 90º 4" West. Ian managed to avoid his dunking by groveling and promising to do the dishes for the rest of the trip (we wish!).
Earlier today we spotted Isla Genovesa on the horizon, and just now Isla San Salvador has appeared ahead of us, but due to unfavourable winds and currents, we are still a fair distance from Isla Santa Cruz, so our revised ETA is tomorrow morning.
Monday, 6 November, 2006 @ 9:00 PM
Aside from a slight toothache that just came on today, I'm feeling fit and healthy. The last traces of my Cayman/Panama Beer belly have disappeared, and strangely enough my appetite for beer has completely evaporated. Those who know me know that I occasionally enjoy the odd tinny or two, but despite having a good stock of Balboa aboard (insurance against the US$75/slab gouging we have been warned to expect in French Polynesia), I have simply no urge to crack a can at all. Weird... but a good thing I think!
On a passage like this, there is plenty of time for relaxing, reading and reflection, and I've been doing plenty of all three. I've been thinking a lot about how I've lived my life, and the long, long list of things I could have done differently or approached in a different way, especially in the academic, work and relationship areas of my life. Anyway, I'm still a bit young to be having a mid-life crisis, so I've also taken time to reflect on some of the fabulous places I've been in my travels, and the wonderful people I've met along the way. I guess life is a matter of finding a balance between the things you have to do and the things you want to, and making sure you don't have too many regrets when the end comes.
I'm really glad that I've started reading again! For a long time now, I've tended to surf the internet rather than pick up a book. Out on the ocean, far from any internet connection, I've come back to books, and luckily I bought a nice pile of interesting prospects with me. I've just finished a strange little novel by VS Naipaul called Guerillas. Before that, Lance Armstrong's excellent autobiography, It's Not About the Bike (finally... thanks Bob!), and the most interesting Life of Pi (thanks Cassie and Hayley). Next up... McCarthy's Bar – a journey of discovery in Ireland, shortly to be followed by Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume (thank you Alan).
Monday, 6 November, 2006 @ 8:20 PM
We are now less than 30 miles from the outlying islands of the Galapagos group, so should be arriving at our destination, Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, sometime tomorrow. Galapagos lies right on the equator, and we are now located less than 1 degree north. It is a time-honoured maritime tradition that the captain gets chucked over the side when a yacht crosses the equator, but as Ian weighs in at about the same as the three of his crew put together, we might have a fight on our hands!
More boat problems! The autohelm started blowing fuses again yesterday, and it looks like the control unit has burned out. You may recall that this was the same problem that forced us to turn around on our second attempt at leaving Panama, over a month ago – highly frustrating as we went much effort (and for Ian, much expense) supposedly tracking down the problem and rectifying it. A new, different, autohelm system is also being sent by courier to Galapagos. Given the amount of work to be done on the boat, it looks like we'll be spending at least a week in Galapagos, perhaps more. I'll be taking every opportunity to explore this fascinating place, and with some luck may have photographs of something other than sunsets to post :-)
Saturday, 4 November, 2006 @ 12:15 PM
We are now 354 miles from Galapagos. After inspecting the latest GRIB files (data files that show expected wind patterns, that we receive over the SSB each day), we made a decision to take a southern tack for a couple of days, which, while not getting us any closer to our destination (in fact we backtracked by a few miles) should minimise our total transit time. It now seems that the gamble has paid off, and we'll hopefully arrive in Galapagos on Tuesday morning.
Ian has arranged for new log and depth transducers, as well as 2 complete new sets of prop blades to be waiting for us on arrival. Installation means pulling the boat out of the water, which should be interesting as the facilities are minimal. In this case it means running the boat aground up a tidal creek, and waiting for the tide to go out.
We've heard many conflicting reports on the regulations for yachts visiting Galapagos, with a wide variance on fees, permitted length of stay and areas open to cruising. Hopefully the limits won't be too stringent.
We haven't seen another vessel for 4 days! It feels like the ocean belongs to us.
Tuesday, 31 October, 2006 @ 8:30 PM
Steady winds all day have pushed us along on our course, although at 555 miles to go, today's distance is surprisingly low. Unfortunately the accompanying rain and heavy seas haven't made for the most pleasant sailing, despite the proverbial "Red Sky" we saw last night.
We're starting to get settled into our routine with watches. Being four on board we split the watches 3 hours on, 9 hours off. Far more relaxing than the 3 on, 3 off with just 2 crew that we were keeping on our last departure! I've ended up with 3-6AM and 3-6PM, which means I'll be catching plenty of sunrises and sunsets over the next few weeks.
Monday, 30 October, 2006 @ 8:52 PM
Progress was slow today, so when the wind dropped a little this afternoon we dropped sails and dove on the propeller. What a mess! One blade was sheared off halfway, and the other two had severe damage to their tips and edges. Due to the choppy water tossing the boat around it wasn't going to be practical to remove the propeller, so we took advantage of another benefit of the feathering prop, removable blades. We had aboard a complete set of used blades, which, although they had some bearing wear, were still in far better condition than the damaged ones. 20 minutes and 8 or so dives later we had a functional propeller again. I found it a weird feeling to be diving in the open ocean, with 3,000m of water below. I kept half expecting a tiger shark to come speeding up from the depths for a nibble.
Spotted our first turtle, placidly munching on some flotsam as we sailed past. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves in the midst of a huge dolphin pod, with maybe 50-100 animals. They were in a playful mood, leaping out of the water en masse, a sight that had everyone on board smiling for a while afterwards.
My apologies for yet another sunset photo. I'm sure everyone will be heartily sick of sunsets by the time we reach Australia! The GPS says we still have 630 Nautical Miles to reach Galapagos, so only a disappointing 58 miles traveled today. Things should be faster from here on, given that we once again have the ability to motor through times of non-favorable wind.
Sunday, 29 October, 2006 @ 7:20 PM
As planned, we sailed out of Balboa at around 6:30 yesterday morning. The day was overcast but calm, forcing us to use the engine all the day. After a few hours we encountered one jubilant pod of dolphins, who crossed our path at an angle and only turned to surf our bow wave for a few moments before returning to their course and leaping off towards the horizon. Plenty of floating logs (some rather large) and jetsam were spotted and avoided.
It was a great day for fishing! First hauling in a small wahoo, followed immediately by a similar sized blackfin tuna, both of which were butchered and bagged for the freezer immediately. Shortly afterwards, Erik hooked a larger wahoo. As it was fighting hard, Ian slowed the boat and circled around, but the fish dived and wrapped the line around the prop. A quick dive brought up several pieces of line, including the lure-end which amazingly still had the wahoo on! A lovely sized fish, maybe 36 inches, which quickly followed his friends into the freezer. With enough fish to last us for a few days, we left the hand line in anyway, to see what else was biting. 3 more small tuna (all different species) which we unhooked and threw back, and then Jana hauled in a small bull Mahi Mahi which looked just too good to waste, so into the freezer he went also.
I drew the graveyard watch, 1AM to 5AM, which although wet was fairly uneventful until I ran over a large submerged log. It gave the hull a bash and rather than being knocked aside it went under and hit the prop – fortunately with no obvious damage. Right after I handed watch to Ian, he hit another, more solid log, which also fouled the prop and seemingly damaged one or more blades, as we now can't rev the engine above about 1300rpm without a dangerous amount of vibration. It also knocked out our speed log and depth finder. This is really quite depressing, considering all the efforts and delays we've been through ensuring that the prop was perfectly balanced. It's going to require us to dive and most likely pull it off again for re-calibration (assuming the blades are not damaged beyond repair) once we get a calm day. We are carrying a spare prop, however it is a solid bronze one which doesn't feather, and therefore will reduce our sailing speed by approx. 10%. Although the feathering prop certainly does have some major advantages over a regular prop, it just seems too delicate and easily damaged for serious use.
I managed to get a sound sleep today, which is a good thing as night watches tend to be quite disruptive to a normal sleep pattern. When I awoke we had a visitor, a small common tern who decided that the radar arch looked like a comfortable rest-spot. Erik tried to feed it some crackers, but got a tweaked finger for his troubles.
Wandering the deck this afternoon I spotted a rigging problem – the furling track on the genoa had split, and started to abrade the sail. For some reason it was made from 3 extrusions connected with just a couple of grub screws, very under engineered for a component that is expected to take some strain. Why not make it from a single extrusion? Anyway, we quickly furled the genoa and ran up the cutter inner gib instead.
During my watch this afternoon I dropped the hand line over to see what was biting. Not a nibble for hours, until Erik came up and gave the line a tug to see if there was anything on it. Just a few seconds later something HUGE took the lure, breaking the bungie we use to provide some give and stretching the heavy-duty monofilament to its limit. Perhaps fortunately for us the monster didn't stay on the line, but when I pulled in to see if we still had a lure, the large hook had been straightened and the plastic tentacles on the trailing edge of the lure had been cut off as if by scissors. I'm guessing a shark, but who knows!
I also lost my green Cayman Islands baseball cap overboard. A real shame, as I've worn that hat every day for the past three and a half months. I do have a tether for it, but foolishly it wasn't connected at the time. :-( I have a collection of backup hats, but this one was my favourite. BUGGER!!
Right now, the GPS readout says we have 697.9 Nautical Miles to go to Galapagos, or perhaps another 5 days sailing. As the sun set tonight, the last glimpse of Panama's coastline was disappearing over the horizon.