Astra Log - Panama to Galapagos, Crossing the Equator 23-29 April

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Fri 2 May 2008 17:23

Astra Blog: Panama to the Galapagos 23/04/08 – 29/04/08


Despite weighing anchor at 13:47 local time, it was another half an hour before we actually left the anchorage.  This was because we had to “hover” Astra next to the causeway in order to save some air time and use a nearby wireless facility to upload the previous blog and download the weather!  This done we motored out through the numerous merchant vessels awaiting their west-east transit and began our 900 mile passage to the Galapagos.


Thankfully the weather forecast and GRIB files (predicting no wind) bore no resemblance to the actual conditions and with the sails up we were soon achieving a comfortable 8 knots.  During the night things got even better with speeds up to 11 knots and all in the right direction.  Consequently in our first 24 hours in the Pacific we covered 214Nm – not bad! 


Sadly this was not to last and Thursday morning the wind began to diminish rapidly.  Ash and Sally who were on deck at the time decided to take the opportunity to have a fishing competition to see who could lure in and land the largest fish.  Ash decided to go after Wahoo and chose a deep diving lure whereas Sally went for her favorite surface lure a fluffy yellow and green object she affectionately refers to as “The Canary”.  The lures had been in the water perhaps a minute before the reel on Sally’s rod shrieked into life and after a bit of a wrestle, which Sally supervised from a distance, a particularly energetic 4 foot mahi-mahi was landed and filleted.  Jeremy (who was lucky enough to be the galley slave for the day) then deftly turned ¼ of the fish into a delicious mahi-mahi cerviche.  Unfortunately with no more room in the freezer we had to bring in Ash’s lure just as an enormous Wahoo was literally about to bite it!?


On Friday, the Doldrums reared its ugly head, the ocean became a mirror, the wind died totally and it was necessary to let the donkey stretch its legs.  This was all very well except that we were not carrying enough fuel on board to motor the whole distance.  We decided to head south towards the equator in an effort to clear the Doldrums and pick up the fresh winds that come up along the coast of South America.  After motoring for the better part of 24hrs and still no sign of wind things were not looking great.  The Doldrums do however have their plus point; we were treated every night to some beautiful electrical storms which lit up the sky from horizon to horizon.


Early on our first windless morning during Ash’s watch, a very small fluffy object, later identified as a bird of some sort decided to bum a ride onboard Astra, this hitch-hiker looked exhausted so Sally and George went to a lot of trouble preparing a bowl of water and some seeds for it.  It politely declined to eat or drink any of our offerings but seemed to enjoy our company; so that’s something!  Our little visitor proved to be extremely friendly and allowed us to actually stroke it.  Unfortunately it might have got the wrong end of the stick as it was later found in George’s bunk (with George!?).  However, finding George not to its taste the little tart decided to fly next door into Ash’s bunk where much to its surprise it was quietly told to “bugger off”!  Undeterred by its lack of success below, it spent the rest of the day close to us in the cockpit.


Finally we succeeded to pick up the promised breeze from the south and close-hauled we managed to sustain 8-9 knots of boat speed on a course for the Galapagos.  Excellent news for every one except for George who had the misfortune to become galley slave on the same day that the wind filled in and was thus required to carry out his tasks at an angle of 30 degrees.  Still he rose to the challenge admirably and along with a lot of sweat, tears and profanities he also managed to produce some lovely food.


Every evening we were followed by a small number of less friendly squawking seagulls, we are not sure what they found so interesting about us, but with our spreader lights on for dinner it is possible they thought that we were a trawler or some sort of fishing boat.  On discovering that the only fish available was that being devoured by us in the form of a delicious blackfin tuna and mahi-mahi fisherman’s pie (all caught from Astra and prepared by Sally), they registered their disapproval by defecating in mid-flight sending a generous helping of guano onto our head sail.  Looking at the mess on our genoa we are just grateful that it took the hit and not us!


The closer we got to the Galapagos, the number of fishing boats began to increase. On one of Jeremy’s more attentive watches from the comfort of the blue cushion he awoke mid-watch to find himself in the midst of a fishing fleet. The log entry reads: “01:19 – Passed 3 fishing boats and buoys etc. No AIS and not on radar – all very close!” It is for the best that Jeremy has a psychic ability to detect imminent collisions and rouse him from his slumbers!


At 15:00 (GMT) on Monday 28/04/08 we crossed the equator. A particularly significant milestone as none of those aboard had previously been to the Southern Hemisphere. As is traditional we each sacrificed a cherished possession to Neptune. Jeremy parted with some beloved peanuts; Sally threw some chocolate overboard; George generously donated his faulty camera; and Ash shared some rum with the King of The Ocean. In festive spirits, Jeremy then fashioned a trident from our gaff in order that he could dress up as Neptune and receive replicas of the gifts which we had cast into the sea. Being a special occasion, Sally made a delicious celebratory feast of Beef Wellington, cauliflower cheese, courgettes, carrots and roast potatoes. It goes without saying that it was quite a bibulous start to life in the Southern Hemisphere.


We were enjoying a post-prandial game of Scrabble as the sun dropped to the horizon when we were treated to a fishing boat to look at. While scanning the vessel through the binoculars we noticed that it was being followed by what appeared to be three very large dolphins. On further inspection and reflection we decided that they were too large to be dolphins and were most likely a small pod of killer whales. An impressive sighting, hopefully the first of many.


After 5 days 19 hours of sailing we anchored in Academy Bay, Santa Cruz, Galapagos at 0830 (local time) on Tuesday 29/04/08.