Panama City - Galapagos - 28.3.2013

Thu 28 Mar 2013 17:02

0:53.6532S 89:36.8465W

Panama City – Galapagos: Michael’s Roundmail Update

Mar 28, 2013


Crew consisting of myself and Iris and 2 guys, Jackie and Stevie from Belgium. They are in their late 30’s and had planned to buy a boat themselves for a Pacific voyage but ran shot on money and time. Both are very much into water sports including kiting, fishing, surfing and diving. They have yacht master qualifications but I can see they both need plenty of practical experience and reminders of how things should work! It’s fantastic that Iris now knows Andromeda so well she can train them on all aspects of running and caring for Andromeda and help whip them into shape. She now appreciates what I go through training crew!


We spent  4 weeks in Panama City (well I was back home for 2), working very hard at repairs. Among these we needed new clutch for our new Yanmar sail drive and dealing with the local agency,  who had a very bad reputation, was a nightmare.  I contacted Yanmar N America and got some better result with coverage under warranty but they still estimated weeks to get the new part from Japan. Iris then contacted headquarters in Japan and explained the whole situation to a few people there. Suddenly the part was arriving in 2 days!


After 11 years I also needed new batteries. After an exhausting research and inquiries I ended up buying a new Lithium type. The purchase and delivery is a long saga of itself, but they are now installed and working well. I was able to replace 8 batteries weighing a total of 480 lbs with 2 that weigh together only 100lbs and used the extra space for provisions. They are well worth the cost of $2000 each.


And of course we were busy with endless provisioning and supplies (about $4,000) worth.  I rented a car for 4 days to handle the many trips to numerous stores and big loads to bring back. After 4 weeks with many delays, everyone was anxious to leave for Islas Las Perlas, a short 35nm sail away to complete our tasks and get out of dirty Panama City.

Unfortunately upon arrival we discovered the Humboldt current had again deposited very cold and green plankton filled water. We had much been looking forward to spending a week or so in turquoise blue warm water. On top of this my computer completely died! Well after a few days on computer repair we all agreed to leave a soon as possible. We beached Andromeda the next day to touch up the antifouling paint where it had pealed off and then set sail for Galapagos at sunset.


We had good strong winds from behind and sailed very fast with the spinnaker up through the night. I didn’t get much sleep worrying about 2 inexperienced crew when they were on watch and the wind strength rose from17 to 25+knts. In the morning, I was just about to go up and take a look, thinking from the boat movement the wind is too strong now, when Steve yelled for me. The spin halyard had broken and the spinnaker was in the water. Fortunately all of us with much effort managed to drag it slowly back on board without damage. We then set just the Genny and sailed at a comfortable 6 knots. Late morning the wind dropped so we set the main sail also. Later that day it came crashing down with another broken halyard. I then used the toping lift to hoist the main and it lasted half a day before it broke, too!

Let me tell you, it is no easy job going up the mast under way, with even a small swell running, to try and lead a messenger line from the top of the mast back down through the inside of the mast and reaching in tiny openings to try and retrieve it! Fortunately Iris does not mind going up because my back was in a lot of pain already. She did a great job and probable spent over an hour total up there for all the repairs needed.

After trying but finding it impossible to get to the top again Iris volunteered to go up and rig a temporary block by the top spreaders so we could at least hoist the main part way. I planned to replace the rigging and halyards in New Zealand but obviously I miss judged their condition. Hopefully the rigging holds out better!


Unfortunately after all this work the wind ended up dying and we just drifted for the night. The wind continued to remain light and variable then next 7 days so we had to motor sail or just motor a good part of the time. At least with 4 people and very calm seas it made the night watches a breeze. After a total of 8 days and 900+ NM we finally arrived! Had I not been in so much of a rush and soo tired and my back in pain, I would have studied the wind forecasts better and sailed a more southern route with better winds.


We finally arrived at the Isla San Cristobal last Sat eve. The Galapagos Islands, situated on the Equator and in the path of the cold Humboldt current  (coming up from Antarctica via Peru), is a unique place in the world. Created by relatively recent volcanic activity – it is still experiencing active volcanoes - and being so far from any land (1,000 miles to Panama, 600 miles to Ecuador) have blessed it with unique wildlife. Here one can see (and often on the same day!) dolphins and whales, large schools of hammerhead sharks and the powerful Galapagos shark (related to the Great White shark), large schools of manta rays, many green turtles and hawksbill turtles, sea lions at touching distance, land and marine iguanas, giant land tortoises, penguins and albatrosses, boobies and frigates, all living with little interaction from mankind. The Galapagos was elected one of the Seven Wonders of the Marine World by CEDAM International, the prestigious oceanographic organization. The Galapagos is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Whale Sanctuary and it has the world's second largest Marine Reserve. For all you adventurous scuba divers, the Galapagos was voted TOP DIVE destination in the world - ahead of Belize, Great Barrier Reef, Truk lagoon, Bonaire, etc, etc. Given that there is almost no coral, what makes it so special? It's the sea life - it's abundant beyond words and one can get really close to all the pelagics without them feeling threatened. Twenty three percent (23%) of all animal life in the Galapagos is endemic (meaning it only exists there). These islands were an inspiration to Charles Darwin when he visited aboard the sailing ship Beagle, and were the foundation for his study of the evolution of the species. He named them the Enchanted.


While all this sounds terrific, the Galapagos is really geared to the fly-in tourist, offering simple accommodation ashore and a variety of boat tours, from the economic to the super. There are many 100 foot and larger live-aboard vessels, taking tourists to experience the islands on land and underwater. A few vessels specialized in scuba diving even offering re-breathers and nitrox diving to allow the diver to stay longer under water and to get even closer to the pelagics. As 97% of the islands are a National Park, a guide is needed for virtually all activities, above water or below. For the sailing-in yachtie, the Galapagos is a problematic mess of bureaucracy, regulations and control. We are only allowed to visit the main harbor on one of the islands (this can be extended to three more ports by arranging permission before you arrive paying a lot extra), pay high fees for a maximum 20 day stay and then not allowed to move with our boats at all - if we want to explore, we have to do it with the tourist boats. Already I feel very restricted! We did a snorkel tour today and it was a bit disappointing (I guess we also had high expectations) and also served to remind me how much I usually dislike organized tours! Iris and were planning a 4 day tour around some of the islands but now I’m having second thoughts.


The small town we are anchored off is quite charming except for the smell of all the Sea Lions camped out on the beach, docks, walk ways, park benches, and boats, hundreds of them! In fact it is quite a battle every night to keep them from coming aboard Andromeda since they discovered haw comfy the cockpit cushions are! We block the entrance to the sugar scoops in back (a perfect entry way for them) as best we can but they often are very persistent and eventually find a way around! At least no presents have been left behind so far.  There is also a nice beach a 10 min swim away where I can do my exercises and yoga in the morning. My back is starting to feel much better for it! We also happened to land at the best surf spot in the Galapagos with a few breaks a shot dingy ride away. We missed a big swell (15’ at La Loberia) a few day before  we arrived but the surf was back up this AM and I caught a few good waves with a friendly crowd.. A good warm up for bigger thins to come.



Michael and Iris



On a snorkel trip to Kicker Rock                                                                                             Nice beach for yoga in the morning


Our crew working hard

Iris up the mast under sail, out in the big blue ocean

Almost there, no wind so we motored the last day

Many Sea Lions lining the promenade

That was the first day – we took much more measures the next days.

If you’re not watching for a second, the fellows sneak in and get comfy as soon as they see a chance. They are extremely cute, though…