Wednesday 6th June - Galoshes before Galapagos

Jon & Carol Dutton
Wed 6 Jun 2012 16:18

1:37.41N 86:49.58W

Wednesday 6th June – En Passage to the Galapagos Islands

Having completed a few bits of boat maintenance – which inevitably take longer than they ought – and done some final stocking up in Panama City we slipped our mooring at around midday on Friday 1st June bound for the Galapagos Islands where we will collect Chris Austin for the 3,000 NM trip from there to the Marquesas.  Inevitably he is bringing a bag full of spares of one sort or another.  This part of the journey is, of course where it all starts getting serious from the point of view of spare parts.  Until we get to NZ or Oz, either we can make do with what we have or, probably, we’ll have a significant issue to resolve.  Fingers crossed!   

Final provisioning in Panama City was made considerably easier by the fact that we’d discovered on the internet the 2008 advice given by Frank and Shirley of S/V Windsong, on the subject.  Of course, you can get pretty much anything you’d like in Panama City.  The question is “How and where?”  The answer was by using Taxi Tony whose vehicle is a battered old van (definitely not the regulation yellow of a ‘proper’ taxi).  He can do the normal here-to-there runs but is best used as a driver/guide/interpreter. For this he charges $10 an hour for the whole deal.  Generally speaking that’s much cheaper than the equivalent taxi fare and the time it saves you, Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms/Whatever Unfamiliar-with-Panama, is anybody’s guess.  But, it has to be very appreciable.  Tony has been doing this for a long time for yotties and knows the score.  So, over the course of a couple of trips we managed to refill a propane gas cylinder (to do that quickly you need to drive half way back to Colon), a sub-aqua air cylinder, finish off the grocery shopping and mount a successful assault on both the fruit market and a most impressive hardware store.  

Having finished all that and slipped our mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club, we made our way SW to clear the approach to the Canal and around Amador Island to anchor briefly to the east of its causeway.  A quick snorkel around the boat showed that, as we’d suspected, it was going to be well worthwhile diving with compressed air and getting rid of a zillion barnacles that had begun to colonize the flatter areas of the hull, the propeller, prop shaft, water intakes and anywhere else the little monkeys felt they could usefully make mischief.   That and getting rid of the slime on the waterline took about half an hour and we were off.

The approximately 900 NM trip SW from Panama to the Galapagos Islands is frequently a difficult trip for yachts.  There is often very little wind for much of the passage and given a small amount of swell, very light winds are of little use.  So, how far can you motor if you need to?  Many a more modern cruising boat would come up with a more comforting answer than Arnamentia.  But then, some more modern cruising boats might be said to have auxiliary sails rather than auxiliary engines.  Because, in the Med . . . .

Arnamentia carries about 360 litres of fuel in her tanks and we supplemented that with another 140 litres in plastic jerry cans strapped to the guardrail.  So, around 500 litres in all.  With a bit of luck and running the engine at around half revs we could make about 6 knots in flat calm water and perhaps make something over 700 NM before we were out of fuel.  We’d make less distance and speed in swell or against an unhelpfully weak head wind – weak enough to be useless; strong enough to be a nuisance.  One way or another, motoring the whole way was not an option.   The various sources of weather information showed a general pattern of no wind at all in the vicinity of Panama, a light westerly flow a couple of hundred miles down track backing to southerly quite well north of the Equator.  So, once we’d got to the wind we had a wind bend clearly inviting us to sail to the inside of the curve, starting off heading more or less for the destination on starboard tack, accepting a continuous heading wind shift and finally tacking to port once we could fetch it on that tack.  Things got a bit more involved than that because there was a band of heavy rain hundreds of miles wide and around 100 NM from north to south lying along the track.  It really was not practical to try to avoid it and anyway, there would be wind there.  The early stages of the voyage involved motoring continuously for the first 18 hours and a mix of motoring and sailing on Saturday and into Sunday morning.  On Sunday afternoon we hit the rain belt and we were in that for the next two days – full oilskins albeit with bare feet.  By the bye, Mr Musto, Henri Lloyd etc what about breathable oilskin shorts (maybe plus 2’s)?  It’s all I’d have wanted in addition to a jacket for such a continuous period of rain in these latitudes.  And, how stylish!

As each mini system within the overall belt (‘squall’ if you will but we’re not talking very strong winds here – Force 4 or 5) passed through, the wind backed to SSW and then veered to around NNW.  That made for a wet and busy couple of days with continual course changes and tacks to try to ensure that we continued to head in some sort of useful direction.  But, at least we were under sail – if a bit tired, damp and bedraggled by the end of it.  Life would have been easier had Orville the autohelm behaved better when asked to steer to a given wind angle.  But, he kept losing the plot and so had to be told to steer a constant compass course in a shifting wind.  Which meant, of course, that we had to keep altering the course he was being told to steer.  Which you can’t do without clambering up the companionway, into the forward cockpit, across the bridge deck, into the after cockpit and then manoeuvring yourself around the wheel.  In the completely vertical, heavy tropical rain.  Hm.

There has been virtually nothing to see on this passage – not a single other vessel – only a couple of frigate birds and a few flying fish which have landed in the cockpit, and of course the endless, grey sea.  Books have been read and iPods listened to.  Meals have been somewhat haphazard, mainly pre-prepared frozen ones reheated in the sloping galley – note to purser – next time stock the freezer up with the things you want first on the top!

By Tuesday afternoon we’d very largely sailed out of the rain belt and got far enough south (getting towards 2ºN) to pick up the more constant southerly winds.  We’ve been sailing very steadily SW under reefed main and yankee since then and averaging around 6 knots – maybe a bit more.  Why reefed?  Because one of the Fredricksen mainsail batten cars decided yesterday that enough was enough and fell apart on us.  We can’t replace that until Chris Austin arrives.  So, we’ve hoisted the mainsail with 2 reefs in it to get above the bottom batten.  As at 1000 this morning (1600 BST) we had about 250NM to run and much more diesel (around 365 litres) than we need.  So, that’s OK then.  Might not bother refuelling in the Galapagos Islands given that it’s apparently quite difficult and pretty expensive.