Tag Archives: Starcharger

Opua, NZ – Meeting the fleet

When you are travelling south towards New Zealand from the Pacific islands of Fiji and Tonga, most people will head for Opua. It is the northern booking in port for yachts in New Zealand, where Customs and Immigration are based and it is within the famous Bay of Islands, a gloriously sheltered area with a huge number of anchorages to hide in, no matter what the weather. The traditional route takes you past Minerva reef, one of the most desolate anchorages in the world and then S, potentially through an area of nasty seas to the shelter of NZ. Another route, used by Tika, is to go via Norfolk Island, newly administrated by Australia with a population of 60. It isn’t a popular route as it adds on a couple of days sailing and takes you in to Australian territories but it does have the huge advantage of allowing you to go around the main weather patterns, giving you a beam reach at worst back into NZ waters. Opua

We had been monitoring the transits of Jade, Starcharger, Quatsino II,  ZigZag and Tika as they made their way down past the Minerva reef and wanted to meet them at Opua where there was a small festival for the arriving fleet. There was also a calling notice out for the Ocean Cruising Club, who were organising an arrival party at Nina Kiff’s house, the local Port Officer.

The drive up took about three and a half hours, through stretches of beautiful countryside. You got the impression that the land around the road had been tamed but the hills overlooking the road were wild and covered with thick vegetation. And so green. As soon as you are way from Auckland the roads become single lane A roads with the occasional overtaking lane on steep hills. The speed limits are closely adhered to and we have heard that this trend is reinforced by a zero tolerance Police attitude and numerous unidentified van and cars with speed cameras ready to snap the unwary. Saying that, with the state of our van, keeping below the speed limit is not a problem. The roads are steep and full of bends. I am finding that I am keeping our lumbering heap well below the limit to be safe. She doesn’t corner well with the weight we have on board.

We arrived at Opua and immediately ran into Irene and Georg off ZigZag, newly arrived and looking very tired. The sail down had been reasonable but windy towards the end and for the first time in a long time, there had been a head wind and sea for periods of the trip. They soon decided to fire off to bed. We had been invited to stay with Gill and Alasdair on Starcharger with the kids to sleep next door with Lorna and George on Quatsino II. Typically the kids saw small friends for the first time in months, screamed with joy and just disappeared.

We headed up to the OCC gathering at Nina’s house. It was great to meet some truly dedicated sailors and were privileged to be at the prize giving of the 2015 Rose Award a prize presented for the most audacious short handed voyage of the year. Suzanne and Comrey of Whateke travelled 1200 miles upwind on the Patagonian coast, starting at the Beagle Channel, a trip which proves them to be as hard as nails and a bit nuts!  It was great to meet them and hear their story. Amazing. Lou also met a wonderful lady called Rose. Lou is hopeful that when she is in her eighties and still sailing, she is as positive, bouncy and fun loving. I’m not sure how many times sailing round the world this group represents but I suspect that it is more than you can count on a set of hands. Inspirational.

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For the next few days, we enjoyed the marvellous hospitality of Starcharger, Quatsino and a variety of guests. One could suggest that we partied a  little hard but it was great fun. We learnt that Gill plays the sax well, Paul can be understood when he sings (magnificently, by the way) and Lorna should not be left in charge of a didgeridoo. We had fun and the kids had a great time catching up with the Jade and Tika kids and meeting new ones from Enough and Carpe Dium, names we had heard on the net but never met. They joined in with the local sailing club. $3 a head for 3hours sailing on the club Optis, Splash or 420s. The kids loved it and of course got pretty wet. The difference is the water temperature here meant they came out blue!

It was fun.

With the crews of Invictus, Mobi, ZigZag, and two French boats, all with small children, we visited the Otama Vineyard for some wine tasting and to meet St Nickolas. Very much a Germanic tradition, St Nickolas appears on 6th December. He appeared a little early but the kids loved the small goody bags he dropped in to give them. I understand St Nickolas enjoyed the visit too…….Opua Opua

We must say we have been lucky in meeting people. Malcolm and Helen Shaft are OCC members of long standing who settled in NZ after many years sailing. At the OCC party, Malcolm offered us a small flat that had been used by his mother who recently passed on. He followed this up with an email a couple of days later to remind us of the offer and to say it hadn’t been the drink talking. With Starcharger planning to move South a week later, we decided to lighten their burden (and to save our livers) by taking Malcolm up on his offer. However, before we left we had some more cracking nights, taking it in turns around Quatsino II, Starcharger and ZigZag. The kids had a variety of sleepovers but had almost as much fun on Quatsino. I think George found it novel having smalls on board, happy to come in in the morning for a chat (one way traffic at a million miles an hour in Eleanor’s case). Certainly, I found him looking a bit stunned after one of these sessions!

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The daytime activities were varied too. We had a great time at the Paihia Xmas parade. Lots of fun, some great costumes and the smalls got lots of sweeties. The free ice-cream at the “Taste of Switzerland” on its opening was good too. I’m not sure how long it will last in the partisan setting of NZ considering the shop opposite is selling NZ’s best ice cream at half the price….. And of course we had to try the fish and chips. Noah bullied his way in to being fed by Gill and Alasdair. Note the fact that the tomato sauce is being held for him. He intonated that this was to happen very loudly.

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A short ferry ride away from Paihia is Russell, the original capital of NZ. Known as the Hellhole of the Pacific in the early 19C, a den of iniquity and houses of ill repute abound, it has transitioned into a quaint tourist town of shore side tearooms and shops selling tourist trinkets. The oldest pub in NZ, The Duke of Marlborough it still alive, well and serving excellent beverages. The pier, rebuilt and extended these days is a magnificent structure.

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Our sincere thanks to Alasdair, Gill, Lorna and George for giving us berths for the time we stayed with them. It was hugely appreciated and great fun!

We moved up to Malcolm and Helen’s house and unpacked the car into the Granny flat and garage. Hot water, a double bed and a TV! What more could we want!

Crossing “The Wine-Dark Sea”

We stayed at Ua Poa for just two days and have had a sad parting.

We had hoped for a few days more but the weather gods dictated that we cut this visit short. However, we manage to pack in a fair amount, not everything we had hoped for but enough to remind us why we liked this island so much. The bakery got hammered, we took Mia to the cross at the top of the hill and we even had a clear view of the Spires for a few minutes.

We managed to get up to the Catholic church which is highly recommended. The clever open wall design ensured the place is light and airy and the carvings inside are excellent. Hannah got a bit freaked out by the older ladies she met there but they all were super friendly! Serve her right for looking small and cute.

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Mia has been having real problems finding a flight at a reasonable price from the islands in the Tuamotus that we are hoping to visit and she wasn’t able to alter the ticket she had. There is also the issue that many of the flights are only once or twice weekly, so leaving her with an expensive layover in Tahiti. Tough life, I hear you say, but when you are on a travellers budget it is just that and choices must be made.

Starcharger, newly arrived at Ua Poa from Hiva Oa, is shortly leaving the Marquesas and after a couple of stops will arrive in Tahiti within a couple of days of when Mia has her ticket home. To that end, as we looked to make our way back E to Hiva Oa, she has jumped ship and joined Alastair and Gill. We loved having her on board for the short time we did but we are glad she will have a proper time in the Tuamotus before heading home to Denmark.

We have also promised to put the word out for her as she would like to join a yacht crossing the Atlantic this Nov/Dec. We give her a big thumbs up for her friendliness, competence and work ethic. So if anyone knows of someone doing the ARC and is looking for crew, I present you with a highly qualified ICU nurse (a great skill to have on board) with a skipper’s ticket, a diving instructor to boot and has a Pacific crossing doing solo watches under her belt. She has a great attitude and the kids loved having her around. Perhaps more importantly, so did Lou. Get anyone interested to drop us a line and we will put them in touch.

Mia made one last early morning run for bread with Hannah and then moved her kit across. Our thanks to Starcharger for taking Mia with them and for a great last night together. We look forward to seeing Alastair, Gill and Pickles again in New Zealand at the turn of the year.

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We wish Mia all the very best and hope we will get the chance to catch up with her further on down the road.

We had to jump East today. It is the first time in over a month that the islands have had a period of no wind and we couldn’t afford to miss it. We really want to visit Fatu Hiva before we leave the Marquesas. It is the furthest SE of all the islands in the group and can be unpleasantly difficult to get back to. According to the forecast (never an accurate beast but the best we have) the calm will last a maximum of 30hrs before the trades fill in again.

As soon as Mia had moved across, we left Ua Poa with another two boats all trying to claw back the easting they need to get to Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva, normally a long 70 miles away upwind. Although we needed an engine on throughout the day as the most wind we saw was 3kts, I got no abuse for uphill sailing! The seas moderated to this extraordinary polished calm with a long swell of about 2m height.

I always thought Patrick O’Brian had simply used his imagination for his book title and the name I have adulterated for this blog. Not so. As the sun set we had a gorgeous lighting effect. Behind us, the sun set behind Ua Poa in a boil of colours and in front, well, I tried but the photo doesn’t do it justice. It was like looking through a glass of Beaujolais.  You can just make out Hiva Oa and Tahuata, about 40 miles away.

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I have no photos of the night sky but my memory will long remember the The Milky Way blazing from horizon to horizon, reflecting back off the sea, making it seems if we were travelling through some sort of starry tunnel. It was the clearest and most vivid night sky of our trip so far.

As the bay here is very dark and the moon will not be up until 0200hrs, I will be ashore tonight to try and recapture on film at least some of what we saw.

We arrived at Tahuata in darkness and decided to park up in Hanamoena Bay, an easy wide bay and safer than attempting the tight Atuano anchorage on Hiva Oa. I woke up this morning to look down at my anchor, clear as a bell in 35’ of water on white sand. We may decide to stay here a few days…….

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Crossing the Pacific–Part II

Day 14 – Mon 23 May   05 20.310S  116 37.725W  141miles

We had a good run overnight but the wind diminished in the morning to a frustrating 9kts and went back into the ESE then later, ENE. Think I might just ignore forecasts from now on. We waited for it to settle down then threw the parasail up which has pulled us along nicely all day. We decided on the basis we hadn’t seen the wind go beyond 13kts true, to keep the parasail up for the night. We will sleep in the cockpit in case we need to get it down quickly. A great day’s sail on a wonderfully pacific sea.

We are starting to see some growth on the hull – not that we are stopping to clean it. We made use of a trick that I had heard of which is to drag a line along side the hull and just leave it to rub the hull around the waterline. It seemed to work although the line needs to be in the water for a couple of hours per hull.

It is no surprise when there is little to do on a long passage that meals become hugely important events. It was the same on my Atlantic trip I did where we lucked out with a Navy Lt Comd called Tim who was a brilliant amateur chef. After he took over the galley, life was very pleasant. We aren’t doing badly either with some great food coming out of our galley and, with some good planning by Lou, we still have plenty of fresh fruit and a small supply of veg left.

Eleanor made the dough for our bread this morning. We are making dough every second day and then mixing and matching what we make with it.

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Lou has got a great inventory of bread types. Plain loaf, rolls, rosemary, flat, nan, coriander, pita, the list goes on and gives us a great variety to enjoy. There is nothing better than the smell of newly made bread wafting around the cabin. Today was a simple loaf. Added to that, she dug out a frozen pack of bacon so lunch was a magnificent bacon and egg butty. It’s the simple things in life!   This evening’s offering was a rather good curry.

We transferred 25 gal of diesel in jerry cans to the tank today. We have been using the generator a couple of hours a day and the tank had just reached half full. Most of that diesel usage was from running the engines during the first couple of days when we needed to motorsail down to the trades – certainly the generator doesn’t take much. In this heat, I prefer to have as much fuel as I can in the tank to prevent any condensation that may occur.

I saw a falling star tonight. Not a shooting star, a proper falling star. I thought it was a flare at first. It burnt out just to the N of us. Quite beautiful.

Day 15 – Tue 24 May    05 52.856S  118 53.656W  127miles

Our first sail with the parasail up overnight went well. The wind ranged from 6 to 10kts from the ENE and it dragged us along beautifully at a 6kt average. It makes such a difference to the daily total if you can press on overnight. The daytime wind was no better. A light wind of 10-13kts from the ENE again. Thank you, Mr Parasail. If we didn’t have you, we would be having a tedious day of rolling. As it is, 5s and 6s is reasonable.

Dawn is getting later and later again. Nearly time for another time zone. I hope tomorrow to move to –8UTC. Then there will be just one more to go before we hit the Marquesas who are on –9.5UTC.

When we are sailing we always have the scale to include the boat and the destination. There is something very satisfying being able to go down a scale and watch your destination get bigger on the screen. Today we were able to go from the 1200miles to the 600mile scale. Still a long, long way to go but it brought a smile to my face.

I had a nice chat with Vaguebond this morning. Ivan was saying that he has been running under twin headsails for the last six days. He hasn’t had to touch them once! Nice way to sail. We have been running on a converging course for some days now and are about 40 miles NNW of him.

The girls did a bit of a clean up this morning. H found her missing sunglasses (what started the whole cleaning thing off), E brushed so much hair off the floor (is it true that girls moult? I have compelling proof…..) and their side of the boat now smells of lemon all purpose cleaner.

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Hannah, a touch distracted, found lots of postcards that we hadn’t got around to writing. Sounds like a something to do this afternoon!

 

Day 16 – Wed 25 May 06 07.748S  120.47.476W      131miles           TIME ZONE CHANGE to -8UTC

We had to change down to the jib just after midnight this morning as a huge black lump of nastiness rolled across us. It lasted a while so we decided to wait for first light to throw the parasail back up. As soon as we did the wind came back in beautifully and went back into the SE giving us a fantastic broad reach with full plain sail. A bit bouncy and bangy but fun as well. The wind dropped in the evening to 10kts, enough to make sure we are still moving at a respectable pace.

We should have really changed time zones yesterday but we waited for the 120W line. Only one more to go now.

Activities today? A chocolate cake (slightly over done), a loaf (perfect) and a bag of laundry using the the ammonia technique which seems to work so well.

Boat maintenance?  I had to reset the solar controllers. I have three different controllers. Two of them automatically condition the batteries once a month and the Blue Solar controller for the main panels doesn’t like it. I’m sure there is a more elegant solution but at the moment I resort to disconnecting it at the batteries to reboot it. Seems to work. Whilst I was in with the batteries I checked water levels and refilled with a surprising amount of distilled water  – over a litre between the four batteries. I’ll need more from Hiva Oa as I have only 500ml left. As I filled the batteries at Santa Cruz just a month ago, I think I’d better keep a closer eye on them. One cell was dangerously close to exposure. I may need to up the regularity of the checks.

We had luck fishing today. We caught a small 3kg Mahi followed 15 minutes later by this beast. Good eating for us for a few days!

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Finally, Happy birthday to my best mate John! Hannah sang Happy Birthday, we ate cake and reminisced on a memorable day we had with John and Sharlene a while ago, walking down to the pub via the duck pond and then playing bananagrams in the evening. We need a repeat performance when we get home.

Day 17 – Thu 26 May   06 45.762S  122 52.136W    118 miles

The wind backed at midnight to ENE, leaving us with options of dropping the main or running a lot further S than we wanted. We ended up under jib until first light at which point the wind moved back to the SE, the main went back up and we started moving at more than 4kts again. I wish the wind would just stay in one place. The consequence of this fluking around is a small side swell that forms on the main long swell which then gives you a couple of hours of washing machine before it all calms down again. It is a right pain and meant a slow morning.

The wind was kind enough to come round far enough E to get the parasail back up. The difference in pace is a knot and a half. I think we will try and run it tonight as well, keeping a close eye out for squalls. The moon will be up at about 2200 local so we will have a couple of hours of dark before it gets light enough to see any rubbish coming in at us.

I had to clean the log again. I always find it a little worrying pulling the log and watching, just for that split second before you get the dummy in, the ocean flowing in to the boat through that hole in the hull! There was a little growth on it, quickly cleaned. It is still working flakily so there may be an electrical problem too.

No one was in a particularly good mood today. Little happened other than arguments.

Dinner tonight was some of the Mahi we caught yesterday.

Too much cloud and little wind meant long runs on the generator today.

Day 18 – Fri 27 May  07 12.104S  124 57.522W   129 miles

What a quiet night! The wind dropped and dropped to the point that the parasail was collapsing – a whole 4kts of wind – but  came back enough that in the flat sea we had, we made some good mileage. First light saw us with 10kts from the ENE.

Lou and I are tired and we both need to get our mojo back. E and H stood watch for a couple of hours each whilst we tried to catch up on some sleep. They did well.

I repaired one of the fishing rods. After an unfortunate incident involving a winch, a jib sheet, the tip and Eleanor, the last 4” of the rod was broken. It was a simple job to grind down the end of the rod. Not quite so easy was to clean out the old tip but judicious use of the blow torch and brute violence stood me in good stead! I had a go at cleaning up the rarely used kid’s rods and reels. Perhaps we should have paid more than $20 for them as the reels,  “precision engineered” (says so on the label so must be true) Chinese rubbish were rusted solid.

We have had the parasail up all day. We have decided to start worrying about the strength of the wind when the wind generator starts turning again. Light air sailing………

Comms seem to have gone for a burton. Manahi is supposed to be the closest and strongest station for Airmail that I can use but it just isn’t working. The only thing I have had from it was a message to email the guy who runs it and use his services whilst I’m there. Not very happy. It means I am trying to hit San Diego to get my email, which is taking time. I reckon I have had a lot more than my 30min a month this month. Think Quatra may have had finger problems. I got their posn email eight times today saying they were under a 1000 to go to Gambier but had no wind. At least we are moving.

Lots of emails from people we know telling us about the Marquesas. We can’t wait! Sadly I think we will miss Quatsino, already looking for a weather window to the “Tomatoes” (Lorna’s description!) and Free Spirit is well on their way to Tahiti already to get David back on a plane to Australia. I hope we catch up with both of them down the road.

Of note, my beard came off today. I had intended to keep it until we reached land but I was bored of the scratching. Although the girls find it funny, the three tone colouring (ginger, grey and white) is an odd look.  I don’t think it suits me…….

Day 19 – Sat 28 May  07 30.532S  127 03.225W  118 miles

The wind stayed light for the night and we pushed with 5 and 6s. It strengthened in the morning to the point we really should have brought the parasail down but doing 9 and 10s was too much fun and in the gusts I bore away and ran to lessen the effect.  The wind strengthened to 20kts in the afternoon and the parasail had to come down. We had a nasty side slop mixed with the main swell of 10’. We sailed with white sail initially but the angle was terrible and we had to go down to jib only. 

I’m pretty sure we are losing at least half a knot with the growth we have on the hull. I have cleaned what I can off with rope and a scrapper lashed on to a pole but we are pretty gungy. Much as we had when we arrived in at the Galapagos, we have a brown scum line at the water – almost a spattering. I have no idea what it is. Whether man made or otherwise, it looks a mess.

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We also got the wind generator working again for the first time in three days. Hopefully we can save a bit of time on the genset today.

Vaguebond told us to watch out for Chinese fishing boats, one of which he had had to dodge last night. We saw one of them that was going N. It wouldn’t talk to us which was a little disappointing as it is the first boat we have seen in over a week.  It went by a mile behind us.

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A quiet day otherwise. The girls watched something called “Glee” and much reading was done. Less than 700miles to go!

Day 20 – Sun 29 May    07 46.753S  128 55.377W  134 miles

There is, we found during the night, something called the wrong kind of wind. A crap mixed sea, lots of side slapping just killing our speed, an apparent of 15-18kts, jib only (just too much for the parasail) and 3 to 4kts of boat speed. Lou and I were near in tears trying to get something to work. Lou’s watch was shocking. 10miles in 3 hours. It has to have been the most frustrating 12hrs we have had.

By 0800L, the wind had calmed enough for H and I to throw up the parasail. It was cheeky sailing with gusts regularly getting up to beyond the theoretical maximum of the sail but we rode it out and the wind steadied as the morning went on. The rest of the day we fired along with 6s and 7s. We had expected to do less than 120 after the dreadful start to the day. 134 was a very pleasant surprise.

By the looks of the weather forecast, we need to keep firing on too. There seems to be a hole developing behind us which will make its way as far W as 132W in about 36hrs. We need to be on the other side of that line to make sure we have wind for the final leg into Hiva Oa. If we keep the wind for the next 24hrs, we should do it.

We finished the eggs today. Lou used them up for one last fahata with a side dish of cabbage and butter. Dinner was interrupted by the arrival of a big pod of dolphin, only the second pod we have seen in the crossing. We enjoyed their aerial display.

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One thing that H has reinstigated recently and that we are all loving, is the evening bedtime reading of a story. Although both girls read prolifically, it is great that H wants to roll back the clock and be “little” again for a while. Note the luci lantern, still in our opinion one of the best inventions ever,  tied off on the spinnaker sheet.

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We ended the day playing dodgems with another three enormous fishing boats. None wished to speak to us. 

Day 21 – Mon 30 May 08 08.832S  131 11.131W  138 miles

What a lovely day. Or at least up to 1400hrs. We had been firing along at 6-8s with 15kts true from the ENE. The wind started to drop to sub 10kts true, then we had a squall, a touch of rain (a few spots rather than anything really wet!) and then back to 12kts true. Perhaps the weather gods are being unkind and the hole is forming early. We put the parasail back up and ran along at about 5-6kts. We have our fingers crossed that the wind lasts. To help us along, the sea is now running straight for the islands so is giving us a bit of a shunt too.

Eleanor made dough this morning so we had a cob loaf for lunch.

Minecraft mania has started again on the boat. After a couple of months of never ending discussion which died in Grenada, we seem to be back into the game with a vengeance. The girls are reciting  data out of the Minecraft hand books and are building each other huge skyscrapers. It is keeping them occupied. Dad, of course, has joined in. He is in full combat mode rather than creative, has a big sword and is loving the mindless violence!

We had more luck with the rod this evening. A cracking black fin tuna, about 30lbs. We really need to get some scales to measure properly. We cut steaks off it. Once we had bagged it, we had enough meat for 8 meals for 4 people. On the basis we have had a bit more luck than they, we have promised Vaguebond some of the spoil.

 

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The wind has dropped this evening. The sky was initially overcast but thankfully has gone clear. With the moon rising after 0100, it means a dark night which is a little worrisome as we intend to fly the parasail right through. We are hoping for a steady breeze to get us over the 133W line by the morning.

Day 22 – Tue 31 May

The wind died and died as the night went on to the point that the parasail was struggling to stay filled. We moseyed along doing 3-4kts. Frankly I gave up worrying and enjoyed watching the amazing dark sky above us. The Magellan clouds were so clear.

First light saw us joined by a small pod of dolphin. A great way to start the day. Dawn came a few minutes later – 0700hrs today. The sun was just able to peek out under the cloud that was rolling in behind us. This gave us squalls and rubbish for much of the morning.

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Lou spoilt us for breakfast today, leaving us out some bacon with instructions to “use it all”. Happily, dear, happily.

Come morning the wind strengthened to 12kts from the E but we sailed into the hole at 1500hrs. The stb engine is on and we will run until the wind appears to be favourable again. It is about 40 miles to the 134W line. I’m hoping that the wind will fill in by then. If not, we will run further W until we do pick up the breeze. We have decided not to wait and allow nature it take its course. We want to be there now.

We had a real bouncing downpour today, our first prolonged rain since Panama. I had a great time cleaning the decks and then there was plenty rain left to allow us to each stand outside, strip off and have a free, warm shower. Lovely!

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With the time of arrival down to less than 100hrs, the GPS has started to give us an estimated arrival time. About 70hrs at current speed. Fingers crossed…….

We are missing Ferne’s of Jade birthday. She turns 9 today. Hannah has already made her a present and in way of an apology for not getting to FP in time, she got to send Fern an email wishing her the best of the day.

We had enough light left for a bit of tomfoolery as well. Does everyone know Hannah has very, very tickly feet?

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Day 23 – Wed 1 Jun  09 02.640S  143 43.350W   95 miles 

I was thinking of doing one more time zone change to ready us for the –9.5 UTC setting on the Marquesas but as it means the morning radio traffic with Vaguebond then falls into the period we are using for the generator (and more importantly, my non-comms using wife’s watch!), we have decided just to stay at –8 UTC until our arrival.

We finally hit wind again at 0830hrs this morning at 134 28W, a bit further W than expected. Only 7kts but enough for us to get the parasail up and the engines off. Blessed peace! We haven’t seen anymore than the occasional sniff of 10kts, the av being 8 all day and we are running at 4kts. Not a fast day but we are moving.

We are now close enough for lots of questions on when we will see land. Unfortunately it looks like another couple of days before we reach land now unless our speed picks up markedly.

Tonight’s fare was a chicken pasta bake. Eleanor did us proud earlier with a no bake chocolate cookie mix which was so good, it didn’t last long.

We heard this morning that the main issue of no email we have been having, that of not being able to hit Mahini, is because Mahani isn’t working. They are waiting for new parts. Apparently there is the intention of putting a new station in on Hiva Oa as well, but this is some months off. Perhaps next time round…… We did talk to Vaguebond and Plastik Plankton (the couple that helped us through the Panama Canal) tonight. PP is waiting for us at Hiva Oa. We are really looking forward to catching up with Wolfgang and Kathi, two really nice people.

It looks like a clear night tonight. There is a little high cloud but the sky is already wonderfully clear. Stargazing is on the agenda tonight.

Day 24 – Thu 2 Jun     09 20.334S  136 11.448W  88 miles

I wish I could adequately describe the night sky here. I fell in love with offshore sailing many years ago when I helped my father take a boat from the N of England up the North Sea, through the Caledonian Canal and back down towards Oban. Being the youngster on board I had a night to myself, motoring 50 miles offshore on a mirrored sea, in what was probably my first proper dark sky, being amazed at the brightness of the heavens. The sky here is equally as awe inspiring with the Milky Way blazing overhead. We have Jupiter, Saturn and Mars up with us too and I can see moons on the first two.  No pictures are possible whilst we are at sea as our camera is not up to it but I will try to take some long exposure pictures once we reach the stability of land.

The night’s passage was very slow with a 5-9kt wind blowing us along at 3-4kts. There is no sea to bother us. We had a beautiful sunrise with the E sky ablaze but little wind to go with it.

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For our morning’s entertainment, the girls and I played Mah-Jongg. Hannah came out on top by some way.  Kirsty will be pleased to know Hannah logged all the hands in her notebook for further analysis.

We trogged along during the day with the mileage slowly falling to less than 150miles. Far too slowly for Lou whose morale is shot. I think she needs gin…..

We gave up with sail at 1455hrs and switched the engine on. With 2kts true, we couldn’t fly the parasail. The wind didn’t make another appearance and we gave up even trying to motor sail. We headed towards Hiva Oa on a bearing of 248.

Vaguebond is 60miles out and should arrive tomorrow morning. We will be a day behind them as we will need to slow and will arrive Saturday morning now.

We had a memorable event tonight. Our log reached 10000 miles which means we have now travelled 8400miles since the start of our journey.

 

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Day 25 – Fri 3 Jun 09 40.532S 137 51.632W 103 miles

The wind failed us again, blowing at 3-5kts overnight. Just tedious. I really hate motoring but with about a 100miles to go, I will be divorced if I suggest taking another a couple of days to drift in.

However, at 0615hrs the wind finally kicked back in with a steady 10kts out of the E. Parasail went back up and the engine went off. Strangely the girls both woke because of the sudden lack of noise so I was joined by them for sunrise.

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Hannah has decided that she needs to get her tan back. It has flaked off in a rather amusing piebald way which she is not happy about. Her morning activity included lazing on the foredeck.

 

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Finally – 1455 LAND HO! We could just see the end of the Hiva Oa rising out of the sea. There was a fair amount of excitement and jumping around. 

By mid afternoon, we had but 60 miles left to run and plenty of time to get there for first light tomorrow. The parasail came down and up went the jib.

Our last evening meal was a doozy. A corned beef pie with fresh potatoes and beans on the side. If there isn’t any wind tonight, I’m sure the Henderson side of the family can supplement!

We decided that the last of the grapefruit, never our favourites, should be sacrificed to thank Neptune for a safe crossing. Ever hopeful, Hannah took it as an opportunity to model new boobs but we did get some throwing practise in too!

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We talked to Kathi from Plastik Plankton and Jean from Out of the Bag this evening. PP will be waiting for us tomorrow morning and gave us an idea of the anchorage we are heading for including a good spot we should be able to take, single anchor only. Seems that the anchorage is quiet at the moment with few boats in.

Day 26 – Sat 4 Jun    Time Zone change to –9.5UTC – Marquesas time

By midnight, we had a whole 20 miles left to run as we slowly made our way along the S side of the island, about 5miles off, under jib. There are no lights on shore at all and with no moon left, it is very dark tonight and the only reason I can make out the island is by realising I can’t see stars to the horizon to my N

The girls are sleeping upstairs tonight. Although we could see the islands of Hiva Oa and Mohotani as the sun set behind them last night, they were still a great distance off. They both wanted to make sure they are up to see land “properly” at first light.  Which they did!

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The weather for our arrival was not auspicious but gave us one last chance to wash the salt off Skylark.

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We had one worrying incident as we came in. As we were positioning ourselves to anchor, the Stb engine gear cable ( the one that froze on us just as we left Galapagos – then freed itself) snapped with the engine in forward and I was unable to change it. I had to kill it which left us with limited manoeuvrability. Some very quick dropping of dinghy allowed us to throw a stern anchor out on our rode line, stopping us from piling in to another boat.

The anchorage is everything I dreamed off. A spectacular view with being overlooked by an enormous hill. The island is so lush after the dry, drought ridden Caribbean and Galapagos islands. Can’t wait to start exploring.

Skylark, arriving!

 

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Summary

Departed   00 57.933S  090 57.700W   Isabela, Galapagos on 10 May 16

Arrived       09 48.167S  139 01.866W   Hiva Oa, Marquesas on 4 Jun 16

 

Total Distance by log: 2985 miles

Total time: 24days 21hrs

Av speed: 5kts

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Crossing the Pacific–Part I

When we first looked at crossing the Pacific, many years ago, it was a romantic dream. Now we are at the point of leaving, it has suddenly becomes a huge and slightly worrying distance. 

We think we have got everything ready.

Boat  – prepared as much as we can. Sails ok. Rigging checked and we have balanced the boat. Bottom cleaned. Steering gear ok. Through hulls checked. Winches done. Lines checked.  Rudders  have some play but we can’t replace the bearings accurately until we get pulled out. Opinion of two other skippers I trust is that they should last no problems to the Marquesas. They will need to be watched.

Power – Generator and boat engines both serviced. Solar cleaned and wiring checked. Good output for all. Wind generator doing as it has done the last 3 weeks, sitting idol. Looking forward to getting into some wind

Fuel – diesel full. Gas bottles refilled.

Water  – filled up and water maker ok.

Food – Enough tinned and dry for months. Fresh being loaded today. Far too many bananas for my mind but on the positive, I think we even found a couple of cauliflower.

Charts – E and paper checked and ready. We will switch chips to the central Pacific one as we leave Isabela.

Electronic gadgets – EPIRB, HF Radio, computer, Pactor4, spare GPS,  even the damn inReach seems to be behaving…..

Grab bag and safety stuff – nearly all checked and packed.

Forecast – There is wind at 02 30S says the forecasts with 10-15knts from the SE. That would be perfect. A bit of slow stuff before we reach there though.

Think we are ready. Tomorrow is our last day in the Galapagos. We are going exploring on bikes and the kids will play with their friends for the last time in a while. On Tuesday, we take a deep breathe and go for it.

Day 1 – Tue 10 May  Posn at 1200 local  00 59.231S  090 59.590W   Distance travelled in day: 74 miles

We had a busy final morning. Stewart cleaned the hull of weed and lots of tiny crabs. Lou got the boat tidy, hiding away the 60 eggs she got yesterday, doing one last wash and cleaning the shoes of Galapagos dirt. We headed across to Quatra for a farewell coffee. Next time we see them will be Raitea in about a years time. Lovely people and great kids. I think that both girls will miss Arsene hugely. Hannah will also miss having “big brother”, Axel to look up to.  And then we did exactly the same with Jane and Alex on Starcharger. We lifted the hook at 1115hrs and were honked out of the bay by Starcharger and Sanuk. The girls answered with the conch horn. Alistair and Gill managed an impressive shout out from the Volcano on the handheld as they watched us leave.

We have had about 5-8kts of SE wind for the rest of the day but have motor sailed throughout @ 230 to try and get down to the trades as quickly as possible. There seems to be a knot of current helping us. Long may it last.

We have seen some spectacular wildlife too. First of all, we nearly ran over a Manta Ray. Eleanor thought it was about 15’ across. Another two wandered past the boat, fins just breaking the flat water we had. We then saw one jumping twice and we could hear the splash at several hundred metres. Within an hour we spotted a huge dorsal fin and tail of a Whale Shark. It meandered away from us as we tried to work out how big it was. We decided sodding huge was an adequate description. We definitely lucked out seeing both of these. It was a great way to leave Isabela.

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As the light failed, we had a perfect cloudless sunset (sadly still no green flash) and our last sight of land for the next 3000 miles.

One issue today. The starboard engine control seems to have partly frozen. The engine won’t go into neutral unless clicked into by hand in the engine room. Hopefully just a lubrication issue.

Day 2 – Wed 11 May   02 26.742S  092 44.125W  127 miles

Over night we had a fog and very heavy dew. The free fresh water allowed us to get a lot of dirt off the boat but it felt clammy and cold. The girls did a good job killing the annoying flies left on the boat before, shock, horror, volunteering to do some school “because that’s what Tika does” – without argument. Thank you, Rusty and Greer!

Our first full day at sea and with it came the disappointment of a lack of wind. We have been running one engine for most of the day to try and keep us moving S in to the Trades. We thought we had reached them as the wind jumped beyond the 10 mark for 30 mins but it quickly fell away. Hopefully things will pick up tomorrow.

The only items of interest today are a Red Footed Boobie (to be known as “Breena” says H) that has come to stay awhile and a 150’+ fishing? boat of a design I’ve never seen before, sporting a very high spotting mast and crows nest and what looked like a couple of big chase boats on her back deck at an angle of 45. Strange looking thing. A whaling vessel?l

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We managed to talk briefly to Tika and Jade this morning on the HF. Hopefully we will get a better chat with them tomorrow as we plan to move the timing later to get better atmospherics. We heard Free Spirit on the evening Magellan net. Most of the boats this evening seem to be moving along the equator using the current and will head SW to the Marquesas beyond 125W. A different approach to ours but then most are coming straight from Panama.

Dinner tonight is a fantastic smelling Pasta Bake. May as well make best use of the fresh whilst we have it!

Day 3 – Thu 12 May  03 23.571S  094 25.004W 111 miles

We hit the trades at about 0700local. At first light we had put up the parasail and we watched the wind gradually strengthen to a lovely 13-15kts from the ESE. The only disappointment is we seem to have lost the 1kt current that has been helping us up until now so we are making only 6kts @ 245. Eleanor has been working at her Competent Crew book and Hannah stood a proper watch (with Dad not so far away). Message received from Quatra to say their missing delivery boat, Seyla had finally turned up at Santa Cruz. Typically, I sent the message out trying to find her on the last message sent before I received theirs…… Cancel sent.

We caught our first fish – a very small black fin tuna that we threw back. We are hoping for something that would actually feed all of us.

We changed down from parasail to plain sail for the night.

Day 4 – Fri 13 May  03 50.744S  095 32.794W 72 miles

Where has the wind gone? It dropped to near zero through the night. Thankfully the sea went slack too but we had a couple of hours of unpleasant hours in a lazy sea slopping around before it did. We dropped the main at 0200local to prevent damage (and noise) and tied the jib out. The morning finds us with a F1 from the NE. Our saving grace is a 1.25kt current taking us W.

By 0900 local we had the Parasail up. It takes 4kts to set and we struggled to find even this throughout the morning. By early afternoon we had had enough of 1kt an hour so put the motor on to run SW. We continued to run SW to get into the 04S. GRIBs say there is wind there. Fingers crossed.

The light wind stayed with us right through the day. Picked up for a while in the evening but a poor day all told. 72miles only

Looks like our Boobie has finally left us this morning. Time to clean the deck……

 

Day 5 – Sat 14 May  04 13.097S  097 20.898W 140 miles

We had to drop the main as no wind and mixed seas were causing a lot of banging. Finally a Wave (the Pacific equivalent of a front but not associated with a clearly defined weather system) went through in the small hours, giving us some rain, a few mild squalls and an even more mixed sea.

The wind filled back in about 0630local back to 15kts and we have set course @260 with Main 1 reef (due to the crap seas – less banging and chance of damage) and Jib. We are hoping that the sea settles into something more regular and with a Pacific length. Flying along at 7-8kts.  I’m hoping this is us properly into the Trades now.

Brownies were baked by E. Lou did a fine bread.

We lost two lures today. Our line to the excellent cedar plug of previous great success, fizzed out and then the line broke with enough pressure that it pinged the line back on to the bimini roof. The replacement lasted the first bite and disappeared as well. Not very happy. We need to make sure we can slow the boat quicker. 

We are starting to see more deep water birds. Storm petrols, fulmar type and lots of large terns.

We heard that Lumiel reached Hiva Oa a couple of days ago. A quick passage!

 

Day 6 – Sun 15 May 04 27.307S 099 49.184W  130 miles

A good steady day with reasonable wind all day and 130miles over the day. The parasail went up early and we had a good run until early afternoon when the apparent jumped to close to 15kts – the max the sail can take. We took it down and replaced with plain sail and satisfactorily went along at 6+kts. The wind died as the evening progressed but we stayed with plain sail through the night.

INSERT DOLPHIN VIDEO HERE  – needs to be done from Youtube account whilst online.

We were joined by a huge pod of dolphin that were a lot more energetic than the norm. They were having a great time!

We caught another Black fin Tuna today. Eleanor did the honours of gutting and filleting it. She is getting pretty good at this already. We are all hoping for a decent sized fish at some point. This one was no more than three kilos.

Lou is now trying to get through the eggs. Two bad eggs stank the boat out today. They were from an earlier buy but we are concerned that we may need to start getting through the remaining 60 a bit quicker than we are! Need to do some turning.

Had to change a gas bottle today. On the basis we had changed it a week before, the last one must have leaked badly. It should have lasted 6 weeks. Need to monitor the next one.

We seem to be averaging just over 5kts as we go along. I had hoped for a bit better. We moved waypoints today and our next, some 500 miles off only takes us another degree S. I’m slightly concerned that we have lost the advantage of the current again. The latitude we are is supposed to be where the best of it is. I’ll ask on the net tomorrow where others found it strongest. I’ve done the same with Taranga by email.

 

Day 7 – Mon 16 May  04 35.458S  101 48.699W   138 miles

The wind has steadied but the sea remains a mixed pain which is both slapping us and slowing us down. We ended up with the wind a little too S for the parasail so we stayed with plain sail all day. 6s and 7s for the afternoon and evening. Nice to be in the third digit of Longitude finally.

It is amazing how little change there is in the wind, either by bearing or strength, here. A big change is 5 degrees and that lasts normally for no more than an hour before it goes back to a ESE, around 110degrees. Long may the Trades last!

Little to report for on board activities today. Lots of reading done.

We had the tuna tonight seared and served with “special” rice – lovely.

We got mention of squalls at the 104W line by Out of the Bag, a boat in front of us. Something to look out for tomorrow.

 

Day 8 – Tue 17 May   04 55.570S  104 15.262W  139 miles

A day of squalls indeed. Sails up, down, changed side, washing machine rubbish. Not much fun at all. We had gusts to 30kts but most squalls topped out in the high twenties. We have been running @ 250-255 for most of the day. We really need a bit more W rather than WSW but with the number of squalls coming through we can’t trust the parasail up and as always, our downhill ability is poor, losing the jib if the main is up after the wind app goes more than 135.

I sometimes get jealous of other yachts we are out here with. Out of the Bag, with Bill and Jean, an Aus couple we met in Galapagos did 225miles yesterday. Very envious. Saying that, we have caught and past a monohull, Vanguard,  up near the Equator we have been speaking to on the net for the last week. We aren’t doing too badly.

The discussion goes on about what the fastest route. A NZ weather forecaster, the Pacific equivalent to Chris Parker in the Caribbean is suggesting staying around the 5S line until 130W then heading straight for the last few hundred miles. Seems that is where the current ends. The difficult thing is that the angle to travel due W is not a good one with the seas as they are which is why we have been very slowly moving S. We may, however, just have to grin and bear it for the sake of the current. On the basis we are covering just over two degrees a day, that is another 12-13 days before we head S.

On the upside, we got some decent rain with the squalls too. The decks are cleaned of the squid stains and the crusty salt bits that were starting to show on the solar panels have all gone.

I think this is the first day where Lou and I have felt properly tired. There is no reluctance to head straight to bed after a watch. E is being a great help and is standing in for the odd hour here and there. It makes a difference.

 

Day 9 – Wed 18 May. TIMEWARP to –7UTC.    05 05.643S  106 28.372W  121miles

The hour before dawn is turning into the hour to watch. For the last few days, the wind increases for about 45 mins dramatically, then backs into the S  before dropping away to less than 10kts for an hour or so.  Today we had a sustained period of 28+ kts(F7). We had run through the night with 2 reefs in, still averaging 6s, which meant all we needed to do was tuck away lots of jib. Still, bursts of 10+kts with the boat as heavy as she is at the moment meant there was some serious force on the sails. For us the weather is a bit cheeky; for Out of the Bag with another 5’ of length and built for speed rather than comfort, they did a 240mile day. Sigh………

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It does mean we are getting some beautiful sunsets and dawns. These are our last two. Red sky at night and all that doesn’t seem quite to be accurate!

After getting chucked down the stairs (lovely bruise on my backside and hip too), I got bored with the cross sea rubbish and the banging of the main so dumped it and ran under jib only with a far kinder tail sea, pulling in and out as the squalls came through. We have moved a little further N to try and stay in the best of the current. Tony on Tactical Direction, another boat on the morning net, got a full load down from his mate in Aus which says it is running strongest between 03-05S at the moment although there is positive current all the way down to about 09S. Happy days. Next update on Sunday.

The wind for the rest of the day has been around 12kts true. We had a couple of squalls miss us . With us going back in time and the moon waxing, we are starting to get a good moonlight for the night. A lot nicer than the black out we had over the first week.

We reached the 1000mile point today. It means Lou can now claim full membership rights to the Ocean Cruising Club and we are wondering if we should do the same for the kids. Is there a family membership available?

Another fish today. We seem to be doing well with small tuna. Enough for a meal but not enough for the freezer. May have to try another lure.

First cry of “are we nearly there yet?” today.

Day 10 – Thu 19 May   04 51.970S  108 20.767W  121miles

A comfortable night’s sail av 5kts with about 8kts over the deck. The current is definitely helping although another 5kts of wind would be helpful too. 

We are having a bit of a set to over when to switch the generator on. We haven’t seen a huge amount of sun the last few days and the autohelm has been working hard. Even though Lou hand steered the last hour of her watch, at first light the batteries were at 12.1V, a lot lower than we want them. Looks like we need to set a cut off point and start up accordingly.

Task for today was to replace the topping lift which I had hoped would last a little longer. I partly replaced the line whilst we crossed from Panama but another part of the line shredded yesterday. We stitched the old and new lines together, pulled it through and up the mast – no problem.   Our topping lift is now a pretty blue. Our thanks to Invictus for bringing us the line out from Panama.

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Eleanor learnt a new trick this morning – how to do whipping. A marvellous morning was had, whipping everything! Watch out for lots of red at the end of all our ropes. Note for me – buy more No 4 whipping line – we are nearly out. 

We have had a tedious day of too much wind, then nil, then just about enough and so around the loop again. And lots of very light showers. The parasail was up and down three times before we had enough and stuck to the jib.

Lou did an excellent tuna and noodles supper – v good.

 

Day 11 – Fri 20 May  04 49.489S  110 18.088W  115 miles

More showers and squalls overnight. Lots of cloud and few stars. It is safe running under jib only at night but it isn’t the fastest of passages.

Hey ho. I love my pactor4 modem. It really does do what it says on the tin. The email service is excellent – I wish Gmail was as quick and simple – and I am hitting Panama, now about 2000 miles away with ease getting about 3-5000bit per sec connection rate. I’m still needing to minimise what I send out as I only get 30 mins connection a month but it means my weather is always up to date (Airmail 3.5 has a great GRIB request format).

Eleanor did some baking and produced some excellent muffins today. Lou bribed the girls with the promise of M&Ms. It is amazing how spotless a bedroom can get when there is a proper incentive!

For the first time in days, a clear day sky equals good solar output, giving the batteries a good shunt. I’m hoping we have seen the last of the cloud for a while.

I tried to get one of the ends of the main traveller today to check the rod size that my great friend, John McMenamin is getting me from Z-Spar back in the UK. It ended in abject failure with one of the screw heads pinging off, leaving the body of a screw still through the deck and end piece and another screw refusing to turn at all, costing me a screwdriver which, with a bit of swearing was thrown with some feeling into the deep blue Pacific………. There isn’t enough broken screw to fix said end back to the deck. Unable to shift it either by drilling it out (dangerous trying to drill out a steel screw held in an aluminium body as I found out) or a hammer, I’ve had to just put everything back together. Not sure what to do now….. Better drill and a bigger screwdriver I suppose…… It will need to wait to the Marquesas.

It was pretty rocky today. Jib only as I worked on the traveller then whilst we had mainly a 15kt ESE breeze it fluked up past 20 all too regularly for the parasail.  We seem to be in a counter current at the moment and it feels as if Skylark is dragging an anchor we are going so slowly. We should be doing 5-6kts; we are seeing 3-4kts. Just tedious. Started to move a little further S with the main back up to see if we can push on a little.

 

Day 12 – Sat 21 May 04 47.811S 112 03.513W  118miles

We saw our first sign of human life for a while today. A big ship on route to Panama  screamed past us at a range of about 5 miles. They will be there in 3 days said the radio op! I wouldn’t mind that kind of pace at the moment.

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Moving S, we hit a westbound current again at 04 47S. Skylark suddenly felt as if she was moving properly.

The rest of the day passed very uneventfully. We watched some crap films. I had forgotten how bad  David Bowie’s Labyrinth was but the girls seemed to like it. Hot Fuzz was deemed completely inappropriate for the girls but I caught H watching it, nervously giggling like a mad thing, more at the bad language rather than the story line.

Other than that? Not much today……

 

Day 13 – Sun 22 May      05 01.362S 114 23.476W  142 miles

Way to go! We have made the half way point with a good mileage too. “All downhill from here, dear” says I …… the Taia and So What crews might see the humour of that comment and guess the response I got…..  Smile 

Again not exactly a busy day other than the daily maintenance check of the rigging and sails.  We do need to fix the sail cover and one of the sail cover pole stiffener fittings. We will be looking to borrow a sailrite machine when we get to FP. It is too much for our wee Singer.

The sails haven’t needed to be touched all day with a lovely honest and constant breeze which has set in from the SE.  Up to now, we have had ESE wind which fluke around for an hour or so at first light. Says the forecast and in Vaguebond’s opinion as well, we should have this for about four days.  I’ve also decided it is time to start heading on the rhumb line rather than try and use the strongest current. After losing a lot of mileage to a duff current prediction, I’m more in favour now of making sure the boat sails at a decent angle to get good boat speed, rather than the run with current we have been using for the last ten days.

With the wind in the SE, we can now sail on a beam reach on the rhomb line, which is perfect for Skylark. All plain sail set.

I have to admit to loving my HF set. We have an Icom 802 and the 140 auto tuner which, paired with a rope antenna and the KISS ground plane, is working beautifully. Saying that, the propagation on the morning net is getting difficult as we move further W and we decided that we would move it back to 0100UTC tomorrow to hopefully get a better signal. We are still managing to talk to Out of the Bag, some 1400miles in front of us but it should be easier from tomorrow.   I’m still trying to get Lou to use the set. She isn’t keen. It must be some hangover from R Sig days!

I decided it was time for a haircut again. I like my short hair. Easier to maintain too. The girls took great delight in taking turns in clippering it off and Lou did the tidying up. My beard, which will remain on until we get to the Marquesas, is now longer than my hair.

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Lou made a chicken pasty which went down extremely well.  Note E’s sneaky hand coming in to nick a carrot!

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Pacific Crossing – Lessons Learnt

Final Thoughts and Lessons Learnt.

Our crossing was perhaps not as fast as we had hoped but we sailed conservatively and comfortably. We were hampered by several disappointing days with little wind and low mileage. However, when you are sailing with kids, if you can get there safely, still speaking to the wife and with nothing broken, I’d suggest that you can claim a successful crossing!

Here are a few things I would do differently next time and some comments on aspects that did go well too.

1. Repairs and spares. I wish I had stuck to it and replaced the rudder bearings in the Galapagos. It would have been very difficult to do, particularly to get the placement exactly right but it would have allowed me to get a good nights sleep. Listening to the rudders go bump, bump as they just moved enough to do so made me a worried man for a lot of the crossing. I dislike mechanical noise when I know it should not be there. I deliberately underpowered the boat on reaches to minimise the stress to the rudders. Hauling out, is amazingly, going to be less impractical in the Marquesas as I suspected with the opening of the new yard at Atuona (May 16). Even though the advice I got from two very competent engineers was the bearings were within safe limits and would easily get me to the Marquesas,  which they did, I should have just sucked it up and got it done. Lesson learnt for simple peace of mind.

In regard to spares, don’t expect to find any decent chandleries beyond the Eastern Caribbean. Jamaica had a single store, Cuba  – none, Panama pretended to have one but was very poorly stocked and foully expensive and even Puerto Rico was poor, being more in tune with stink boat types than sail. The cost to ship equipment in to any of these countries (other than to PR) is high in both import duties and time.

Make sure you plan well ahead and don’t stint. I nave been amazed at how difficult it is to find spare oil and fuel filters, impellors and anything engine or generator related since I left St Maarten. Stock up there or have it shipped in at PR and think long term again, which for us means two years. I am carrying spares enough for four impellor changes on each engine and eight for fuel and oil.

You can get through them very quickly. As an example of ill luck, Starcharger, who carried the same quantity of spares, had a problem with a squid up their water outflow pipe, resulting in huge backpressure along the lines. It took them three blown impellors just to find the problem. They ended up stuck in Galapagos waiting for more spares and had to give up their dream of Easter Isle and Pitcairn as they ran out of time.   Occasionally shit happens and you need to be in a position with enough spares to deal with it.

Silly things like spare zincs. Trust me – you won’t find the size or shape you need easily. Carry a spare!

One item I should have added to the spares cabinet was adequate spare rope. I even talked about sharing a 500m drum of 10mm with Almost There which we would have had as a bulk buy for $800 total and would have given me the flexibility to replace halyards as required. We decided not to bother after they made their decision to head back to the USA. So short sighted. As it was, Invictus brought me a 100m of poorer quality line from Panama, the best they could find, after my topping lift broke on me, for $900. Ouch. Note that we have been told that decent rope is a premium in FP and is an excellent item to trade.

2. Sails.  Down hill sailing is the name of the game for this crossing but there has been less light air sailing than I supposed there to be. We had the parasail which was excellent in lighter airs but for much of the time in the first half of the passage, we had too much wind apparent to fly it and ended up with jib only as I dislike trying to goosewing if it is too gusty. We learnt our lesson on that during our passage from Puerto Rico to Cuba – it cost us three new baton points and six weeks wait for parts from France after we got caught by a wind shift. Saying that, whilst Quatsino got caught with 40kts at one point, we never saw more than a single gust of 30kts, sustained, 25kts. As I have used before on monohulls, a small, heavy weight  spinnaker rated to 30kts would have been a godsend to run with from 15-25kts. I’d also add a deep cut asymmetric or code zero if I could, to give me more options on reaching.

Talking to the monohull sailors, although there is a little roll, twin headsail works very well and if you have roller reefing, so easy to sail. Just sit back and do as Vagabond did. They didn’t do anything with their sails other to put a couple of turns in during squalls for three weeks!

3. Crew. If you can, take a crew. We tried and failed to get interest enough from someone at home to join us. Not really surprising, I suppose. Go to the other side of the world, take six to eight weeks off from your job to enjoy sitting on passage seeing very little! Our friends are not at the age where that is easy. We then talked to a few people, one of which sounded like a goer who let us down at the end when he was offered a slot on a super yacht. It was too late to find someone else by that point, other than one wee cocky thing who was determined to be paid for the crossing. I hear she is still waiting for a boat in Panama……..

Although Lou and I’s watch system worked very well for us (see our separate post on this), having a third or fourth person on board would take so much pressure off. Simple things like sailing with the parasail at night becomes easy rather than worrying that you need to sleep up top in case a squall comes through and you need to get it down quickly. The proper watch system becomes possible.

4. Power. I’m glad I serviced the generator before we left and it that it worked flawlessly. I had in my mind endless blue sky, lots of solar  power from my 500W of panel and some wind whilst running downwind. What we got was an awful lot of cloud, wind enough to turn the wind generator but rarely to get good power out of it and the need to run the diesel generator up to three hours a day. Our electronic/hydraulic autohelm sucks power when you are running, as it has to work very hard. Unless you have crew enough for long periods of hand steering, make sure you have a reliable backup power source.

5. Gas. Make sure you have enough. I changed to a new 20lb bottle a week before we left. It would normally last for five weeks. I had to change it after just over three weeks. Food becomes the centre point of a lot of your activities. We have baked cakes, pancakes, bread, scones, brownies, pasta dishes, every evening meal is a hot meal and of course, every watch has to start with at least one cup of coffee. You will go through more than you expect. Plan for a 50% increase to your normal usage.

If you can, take a European adaptor to allow you to change from US to Euro fittings. I did have an adaptor, brought out by my Father as far back as BVI last year, but I gave it up to friends in Panama who broke theirs just before their Pacific crossing and couldn’t find a replacement. I have survived with inverted bottles and  (see the Hauling Out blog for details) plan to last until Tahiti where I will be able to refill my US ones again.

6. Food stocks. It really isn’t that difficult to stock up with a good supply before you leave but you have to think long term, as in months in advance for supplies of your exotics. You have to make sure you do your last stocking in Panama which has good USA type supermarkets, if not before. The Galapagos is not the place to think of loading up. There is so little choice.  We have probably overstocked, what with the enormous store of dried stuff that Almost There generously gave us when they went back to the USA, supplementing our own squirreled supplies. But we won’t be forking out for FP priced goods for the next year. Bear in mind that we started stocking up in the E Caribbean in November. For example, canned pates and jams were bought in Martinique, marmalade in St Maarten, we still over a dozen bottles of HP brown sauce (my favourite) tucked away, picked up in Antigua and we used and abused the US food stores in Puerto Rico for canned goods at Christmas.

You can get good fruit and veg at reasonable prices in the Galapagos. Lou packed carefully, used the “green bags” for veg, changing the paper in them regularly to remove moisture and avoid rotting. We even managed to have a few carrots, onions, cabbage and potatoes left when we reached the FP and we ate well throughout.

On the fruit front, apples, carefully stored and oranges, both lasted very well.  Bananas did not – a few days only – but plantain did and we were still frying them, making them into chips with spicy seasoning, after a couple of weeks.

Eggs, bought just before we left Isabela, lasted about three weeks. We were rotating them daily and all were unrefrigerated. Two eggs only went bad on us out of the seven dozen we started with.

8. Comms. Our HF voice comms worked well throughout the passage and it was great to be able to talk on a net with anything up to another 8 boats (up to 1500miles away) for daily chats, position reports, weather updates, tall tales about your fishing prowess and generally keeping an eye out for each other. You can’t do that by Sat phone. Vagabond, who were within a 100miles of us for most of the passage, have become friends. E-mail worked well up to about 2/3 across the passage but then became problematic through no fault of our own.

Manahi is the Airmail station closest to us in FP and it has been constantly down. It meant that the only email back link that we could establish was either via Honolulu or Niue, both some 2400 miles away. We could hit both but with a weak signal, it took time to upload or download anything. You only get 30mins a month airway time and I have used it all up.

I think that I would look at the Iridium Go package again. Satcom is expensive but it would have been far easier to get GRIBS and mail, with 24hr coverage rather than the typical HF three or four hour decent propagation window. Saying that, my Pactor-4 and Icom HF set have worked great and we have had no real issues, other than airmail linkage, to worry about. There is no way I would give up my HF set though.

NB. We have since found out that the Mahani server has broken down and is waiting for new parts to be able to broadcast again. It explains a lot.

7. On Fishing.  We had a pretty good time with the rod and line on this passage. Not in comparison to Jade or Taranga– wow, did they score big using multiple lines –  but good enough against most of the rest. We fished daylight hours only for about half the days we were out and with one line only. We stopped fishing five days out having filled the freezer.

In the end, if we had heavier line and a better reel, I think we would have caught more. Note, the line I was using had a 60lb breaking strain so sizable!

The final score was

Skylark – Six. Two Mahi and four Black Fin Tuna – one thrown back. Total weight of fish about 70-80lbs.

Fish – Four lures, (a cedar plug, two squid type things and a heavier deep fish type) all with line broken by weight of fish.

For the remainder of the trip, I may look for a better reel and a heavy drag line just to tie off to the back of the boat to give us a second chance. We will see what the reel prices are like in FP but it might have to be a New Zealand purchase at Christmas.

8. Kids.  Our kids, just as most boat kids are, are pretty good at dealing with their own entertainment and were amazingly resilient. They read huge amounts – Eleanor read the entire Harry Potter series in just over a week – and arts and craft gets a good seeing to as well. Endless pictures, cards and bracelets for friends etc etc.

We did do some school too but this was sporadic rather than scheduled.

We have also had them help with boat stuff too. Cleaning their rooms daily (God knows HOW they make so much mess), washing dishes, setting the table for meals, baking and cooking and then helping with watches as well, making sure they feel part of the sailing experience.  They have both got a lot more confident on watch to the point I know I can just let them get on with it without Lou or I looking over their shoulders. Eleanor is developing into a good cook!

In short, keep them busy and don’t be surprised when the step up to the plate and do well.

Galapagos–Isabela

Having finally received the new bearings for the rudders, we were keen to leave Santa Cruz as quickly as possible. Lou phoned our agent, Irene and an hour later we were stood in front of the Immigration man who cleared us out of Ecuador. We needed to clear out from Santa Cruz as Isabela, although the most obvious island to leave from, 60 miles W of Santa Cruz, doesn’t have any Customs or Immigration facilities. We also got our Zarpe from the Port Captain, allowing us to move to Isabela. It is a bit of a strange system. Officially we have left the country but we have as much time as we really want in Isabela as long as Isabela was on the original Autografo. Some people without agent are given a time limit of just a few days by the Port Captain. We, with the excellent James Hinkle acting for us, Bolivar Pesante’s island representative, are treated a little different, I fear simply because money is seen to be going into someone’s pocket on the island.

We decided to travel overnight and had a tedious motor-sail into about 5kts of wind. It was very very dark with no moon and only the occasional glimpse of stars. We woke to the islands showing the form of a huge  largely sunken caldera with boobies dive bombing around us.

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We arrived at Puerto Villamil at 1115hrs, parked up beside Taranga and in front of Jade. The Port Captain’s representative was on board within 10 minutes. After a little bit of confusion, we fed him coffee, James spoke to him on the radio and we promised to bring all the paperwork ashore for James to present to officialdom. James is an American, who, having driven to Ecuador in the 1960’s, became one of the first Darwin Guides and married a local. After raising his family in the USA, he and his wife have retired back to Isabela. They are a lovely couple and of great help to us both here and in helping with some pushing of FEDEX when we were back in Santa Cruz.

A quick word on the anchorage here. Having got used to the surge and roll of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, it was a delight to anchor in 5m of water in  a wonderfully sheltered bay, protected by low islands and reefs. We have not had more than 10 boats in at any one time.

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It is the best anchorage we have been in for months with no swell at all and even the monohulls sit unmoving beside us. It is also beautifully picturesque.  Strangely, it reminds me strongly of some anchorages in Scotland. It is the only official anchorage that Charlie’s Charts doesn’t have a picture off.  Trying to keep people away?  Maybe.  The other delight is the lack of traffic here.  There are few tourist boats operating here and only the occasional taxi so there is very little wash.

The anchorage is full of life.  Turtles, baby sharks, sea-lions and penguins.  Tiny little things but real penguins.  And Manta Rays.  Great big enormous wonderful Manta Rays.  One we caught a glimpse of, decided to have a tour around the anchorage.  No photos yet but we are still hopeful.

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As with all the islands, you are restricted from doing most things sensible with your boat.  You may snorkel around your boat (but not clean it) but may not go across to the reef to where the iguana and penguins hang out as this is the main snorkel area for the locals to bring the tourists.  If you want to go there, you need to pay.  However, no one seems to bother you if you use a canoe.  There are a couple of beaches ashore by the harbour that you can snorkel off which are well used but full of iguana, turtles and seals.  The main beach which starts at the town and heads W is great.  White sand, good surf and there is a good play park too. Close to the play park and across the road from the Captain’s office are public showers.  The water gets switched on to them around 1700hrs daily for people to rinse off from the beach.  

There is a dinghy dock here so you can get yourself to shore without the need of the rather expensive water taxi ($2 a head each way – for comparison, Santa Cruz was $0.80).  Advise is to make sure you lock everything up and take the fuel hose with you.  Our friends on Tika came back to find theirs had been stolen.  Not impressed.  Make sure you tie up on the inside of the dinghy dock too.  The locals use the dinghies as big fenders as they crash in.  Not real friendly.  Returning to your yacht after night fall is a challenge as there is a reef, rocks and a sandbar between the dock and the anchorage.  Make sure you take a BIG torch to allow you to spot the infrequent buoys marking the safe route and I’d advise having a good look at the route in daylight hours before you try it at night.  Lots of people have either ended up crunching their propellers or running aground. 

The town is a bit sleepy but I love the fact that other than a pompously wide road from the dock which stops short of town, the rest of the roads are either sand  or volcanic gravel.  There is a good selection of restaurants which are reasonably priced, particularly for lunch, and have a great selection of sea foods.

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One note on money.  There are no ATMs on the island so you will need to load up with cash before you reach here.  The bank is a basic one and for locals to use, not tourists.  Beware also the bars and restaurants with signs up saying that they can take credit cards.  They can but there will be a service charge of 22%!!  They know they have you over a barrel if you haven’t brought cash………

The girls have had an active social life here.  We have had a couple of sleep overs and birthdays too.  Grace and Evie, two UK girls travelling with their parents Adrian and Christine, by land around the world came for a stay.  Evie turned 7 and had a birthday party of pizza and far too much sugar!

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Then, having had Meriel stay (the girl with the interesting choice of headwear) the girls had a return night with her and Nerana, her sister, on Persevere.  They had a couple of film nights there as well, watching on their huge TV – a 60” beast!

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Then we continued the surfing education at a birthday party for Arsene off Quatra who turned 10.  Audrey, his mum surprised us with a fantastic birthday feast on the beach.  

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The S end of the island can be explored by bicycle and although the sand tracks are hard work, it is great fun.  We were joined on this trip by Pickles, Gill from Starcharger’s ever present childhood bear, who Hannah carried and introduced to a number of new friends!  Watch out for him in the photos.

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There are tourist trips to The Tunnels (volcanic tubes – now flooded) but you aren’t allowed to snorkel in them and we thought $80 a head was a bit steep.  However, on the bike route we found a tube running down to the sea that we could explore for free.

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We also visited the Wall of Tears, built by political prisoners between 1945-59 as something meaninglessly tedious to do.  The island had a fearsome reputation and many prisoners died here.  The wall is huge. Roughly 10m high, about the same wide and it is about 300m long.

 

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The climb above the Wall of Tears to the three viewpoints is hot, long but worth it.  We nearly broke the kids!  You get a spectacular view along the S coast of Isabela  and inland to the highlands.  The gentle breeze at that height is a life saver too.

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Having cooked on the bike trip to the Wall of Tears (there is a lot of uphill riding required), we were all ready to cool down.  We visited two gorgeous beaches, Playa del Amor and La Playita, that we shared with more marine Iguanas than we have seen before and an awful lot of land crabs.

 

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Although there is a “official” flamingo lake, a inland brine affair, the birds don’t like it! We were pointed to a pit near to the Tortoise Sanctuary just N of the town as a better place to go to see these pink marvels. We also saw some lovely little birds showing no fear of us at all.  Twitchers – over to you to name them please.

 

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Hannah found us a wild Tortoise, a rare find, dozing under a tree whilst she was looking for some shade on the bike ride out and it was still there on our way back to the beaches.  By its size, we think it was about 50 years old.  We also stopped in at the Tortoise Sanctuary to look at the work being down there.  Currently there are about 800 turtles being raised, a mix of the five species of Tortoise present on Isabela.  The great difficulty that the tortoise have is that rats, introduced from ships visiting in the past, eat the eggs and it has become more and more difficult for tortoise to survive to hatching, let alone the first few years.  The Sanctuary raises the tortoise until their size can give them the protection they need.

 

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We were recommended a good snorkelling site, El Eskro,  by Gem, a London lass working at at the Surf and Bike shop.  However, try and go at low water.  There is too much surf at anything more than half water.  We rented both surf boards and bikes from that shop and were impressed with the price and quality of kit.  A handy map of the area is below. 

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We made the boat ready for the crossing with the last of the provisioning done in the small supermarkets here.  The Farmer’s Market, held on a Saturday, was a disappointment with little in the way of offerings and poor quality.  The problem is lack of rain.  Produce just isn’t growing either as large or as plentifully as is the norm.  Hopefully once El Nino has cleared things will improve.

With a significant amount of help from fellow OCC members, Starcharger (Alisdair, Gill, Jane and Alex) we tried but failed to fix the rudders.  After all the palaver of waiting for the rudder bearings, once we dropped the rudders out to be able to get at the bearings, we found that replacing them correctly in alignment was near impossible without lifting Skylark out of the water.  Further, the bottom bearing had been epoxied in and the top actually had a layer of fibreglass over it so even digging them out is a major endeavour.  Foutaine Pajot’s name was taken in vain several times.  In the end, we replaced the rudder and have tightened everything up as much as we could.  There will remain a little movement in the stock and we will just need to monitor it and baby it as necessary until the Marquesas.  We commiserated our failure with an excellent chilli and far too much rum.

We have our Zarpe to allow us to leave 24hrs either side of 9th May and we think we have prepared as much as we can.  We are due light winds for the first couple of days but thereafter we should be in the trades.  All being well our next post should be from The Other Side of the World. 

Galapagos–Santa Cruz

We left after a week in San Christobal to travel across to Santa Cruz. It is about 40 miles between the two anchorages so we left at dawn with our new friends, Jade and headed out with no wind and a calm sea to get across in the daylight hours.  It was a pretty tedious crossing other than seeing the breakers on the small uninhabited island of Santa Fe.  We got a little close and got a good amount of reflected wave from the island.

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It turned the water into a bit of a washing machine which wasn’t that pleasant.  Lesson learned. Next time, go into the lee of the island and get a flat sea……

Santa Cruz is the main tourist island of the Galapagos and Academy Bay is the main anchorage. it is the home of the majority of big tour boats and the largest town in the whole of the island chain. Unfortunately the anchorage is exposed to the swell which predominately runs from the SW and the first few days here were unpleasant. Imaging sitting just outside the point where the waves break on a beach and you will understand the swell type. It caused lots of problems with a huge surge and roll for the monohulls and even the cats were bucking about. Taranga, our Danish friends were extraordinary lucky. In the middle of the night, they woke to a bang but finding they weren’t moving, they headed back to sleep. The next morning, the dived on the anchor only to find it wasn’t there anymore and their chain was jammed between two rocks. The surge had broken their anchor swivel and only sheer dumb luck had kept them from going onto the reef 50m behind them.

Thankfully the waters calmed after a few days but it is still the worst anchorage we have been in for a long time.

The first big plus of the anchorage is no sea-lions and the daily assault of guano on the nose has gone! There are, however, a large population of sharks with baby Hammerheads and Blacktips in the bay. The largest we saw around us was about 4’ long.

The town is the normal tourist trap with the bars offering happy hour cocktails, lots of poor t-shirt shops and a huge number of the “best Galapagos tour – ever!” signs. We have heard mixed results from those having gone on tours. Some are good but most have been a quick whip round and a charge of $100-160 per person per day. Not cheap and often disappointing. We, of course don’t have the kind of money that will allow us to go on lots of these trips but we have found the fantastic Tortuga beach about 40 mins walk away where we can see both plenty of wildlife and as a bonus, learn to surf. As you might see, the kids did somewhat better than their parents. Hannah has got it! We had a good crowd there with kids from Tika, Quatra, Jade and ourselves. Our thanks to Rusty from Tika for the lessons.

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Tortuga Beach is lovely. The red flag flies there due to the rip which builds in heavy seas but we found that it was perfectly safe at the S end.

 

We did one small trip to the sink holes, tunnels and tortoise sanctuary. Well worth the value of $40 a head for the day. The sinkholes are particularly impressive.

 

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We did find one very quiet beach. Nick from Jade had a wonderful time near drowning the kids. They loved it.

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The wildlife was great too. A great collection of birds, land crabs and Marine Iguana, an animal we have decided must be in the running for the laziest in the world. Watching the Storm Petrol’s seemingly walk on the water as they feed is a special sight. See below for a collection of exotic birds (sorry Jane and Gill!).

 

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I’ve also been enjoying the diving. Whilst the dives I did in San Christobal were just about ok, we didn’t really get to see a huge amount. Here through? Wow, just wow. We were lucky that as the sea calmed down on the anchorage, so did the visibility improve generally around at the dive sites. I dived at Gordon’s Rock, just off the NE corner of the island and rated as one of the two best dive sites in the Galapagos chain. We dived twice to no more than 60’ and saw so much wildlife. Galapagos, Black Tip and White Tip sharks, sea lions coming to play, rays, turtles and so many pelagic fish.  The highlight was the sudden appearance of a school of Hammerhead, sodding huge things, which had us racing for the safety of the rock face. Glorious, if a bit nervy! I came up after the 2nd dive with just 200psi left in the tank. Guess I was breathing heavily!

Sadly most of my photos didn’t come out well but we pooled our photos once we got back to the shop. These are some of the best. Mia from Taranga was my dive buddy who provided more than half of the photos below. It was great to be back diving with an expert, something I’ve missed since we left Almost There and Robert’s kind tuition. Mia will be joining Skylark for a month in the Marquesas so I’m hoping we will be able to get some more diving in then too.

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We have spent a little more time than we were intending here due to our wait for replacement rudder parts from France. Not that we are complaining. There are worse places in the world to get stuck in!

Whilst I’d love to point the finger purely at Ecuadorian Customs administration,  the inefficiencies of FEDEX have been exposed here too. Our parcel left France on the 20th Apr and arrived in Ecuador on the 24th and we got a mail to say the parcel was in Customs. We found out on the 29th that FEDEX had raised the customs paperwork for the parcel on the 22nd but never got around to sending us a copy with the amount or who to pay. They are impossible to talk to here in Ecuador.  It took a week of badgering and help from a local to get a bank account number to pay the 70% odd duty. We may get the parcel on 3 May, fingers crossed.