Manta, Ecuador

Mon 20 Feb 2012 17:10
We managed to do another 36 hours with the engine running but with eight miles to go she started making some horrible noises. Clanking and whistling with the water temperature rising dramatically. I was asleep in the forepeak and woke up, looked at my watch and thought, 'oh for fuck sake'. The GPS said we would arrive at midday and my watch said eleven. That's how aware we were that we just needed to get to port so we could sort this shit out. It took four days in the end but it seemed like double that.
Manta was enticingly close. We could see it. While we waited for the engine to cool down we weighed up our options. We put out a call on the VHF saying we would pay $100 to be towed in. No answer. We thought that as we were so close a fishing boat would inevitably come past and we could hail them but in the end we decided to try and tow her in ourselves with the tender. As we are on the Equator the Sun is that much closer that it stings you when you are exposed to it, especially in the midday Sun. It is unbearable. Anyway, I jumped in the tender and attempted to tow a fifteen ton boat with a 2.3 horsepower outboard. That idea lasted about twenty minutes when, aside from the fact that if we did manage to pull it off it would take around 5 hours and no doubt fry me and the outboard in the process besides, the tender was just veering from side to side clearly losing the will to live.
Needless to say, we thought fuck it, tighten up a couple of things, keep our fingers crossed and just get to this godforsaken place. Thankfully this worked and we anchored up in the port of Manta, next to Manta Yacht Club. We were the only sailing yacht there amongst hundreds off fishing boats. Manta is the second largest tuna fishing port in the world. The tuna has no hope it is sad to say.
We had been told that you had to get an agent to take care of everything. Not just Customs and Immigration but the Navy. Ecuador is very protective about its waters so you have to inform them straight away of your location. However it was Sunday when we arrived and the agent was not answering. Gareth and I left Dickon in charge of security and went to have a wander about (as illegal aliens). We tied the tender up at the yacht club, blagged our way past the security guards and set off to get some phone cards and some well deserved booze. We ended up in a little waterfront bar and tried to get in touch with the guys we met in Panama. No joy, so we got a load of takeouts, walked back past the confused security guards (bamboozling them with our pigeon Spanish. I think) and went back to the boat. We were pretty anxious about the authorities and getting our engine sorted and the fact that the people we had met in Panama were full of shit.
Next morning we woke up to the waft of rotting fish and decided to get amongst it. Phone cards in this part of the world have been our savior but we could not get any for love nor money. There are dozens of phone boxes with enticing little slots where one would assume that a phone card would fit. Don't be so bloody stupid. Jesus, that would be too simple. Apparently all these phone boxes are redundant and there are phone booths you can use to make international calls. Perfect. So in we go to the mobile network 'Claro' shop and ask to use one of the booths. They are out of order. Ok, damn you, can I buy your cheapest mobile phone then. Of course. Fair enough $30 is ok. Pity that it says it has sent a text when it hasn't and there is a five metre zone where you can use it without the reception cutting out. 
So by now it is Monday afternoon and we have been illegally in the country for 36 hours and can't get hold of anybody. At around 1pm I manage to get hold of the agent and he says to ring him back in two hours as he is based 5 hours away and will have to get an agent sorted for us in Manta. Not what it said on your fucking website sunshine. The fact that it said you were based in Manta was the main reason I fucking called you. Ok. Amazing as it is being an illegal alien in a South American country, let alone the fifth biggest city in Ecuador we are starting to think that we are pretty much scuppered. Two hours later I ring the agent and he says I need your exact coordinates. I say I will be back on the boat in an hour to which he replies 'you must be on the boat as you cannot go ashore until you have gone through all the formalities. We hot foot it back to the boat, leaving Gareth ashore to pay the yacht club guy and try and ring the number we were given by the guys we met. 'He's name is Roduigo Adugo. Just get to Manta and mention his name and that you know us and he will sort everything out for you'. By now we are thinking yeah right, whatever, this place is a hole and we are fucked. we tried to ring the number earlier and got hung up on and none of our contact numbers are working for our friends from Panama.
Back on the boat I frantically get our GPS position to give to our agent and attempt to ring him back. The reception is so bad I give up and tell him I will ring him back. Dickon and I go back to shore to see an animated Gareth literally hopping from one foot to the other with his hands up in the air. We step off the tender to him saying 'I found them. I tried shouting but you were gone. I fucking found them'. Excuse the swearing but this was big for us. Gustavo and Harry were at the bar with Mr. Adugo and endearingly pleased to see us. You can understand that we were thinking the worst and that we were stuck here with no help and ashamadley not the greatest grasp of Spanish, although it is getting better. Anyway it turns out that Roduigo owns the Yacht Club and about 20 of the huge fishing boats out in the harbor so pretty much runs shit and we are treated like royalty. 'The British invasion has started' Gusatvo repeats about fifty times while consuming roughly the same amount of beers
Thank God the reception went when I was on the phone to the agent because Roduigo made a phone call and within 10 minutes someone from customs and immigration was there followed by a captain from the Navy in full regalia signing us in. Special! We have since been treated so well. They insisted we moor up closer to the yacht club and he got his engineers to work on our engine first thing the next morning. We want for nothing. It's so nice to meet people who are true to their word. We were going to stop in Ecuador anyway but at a different port. we stopped here because of these guys and in there first 36 hours it seemed like we were fools. But no. It all came good and we are feeling the warmth of a protective Ecuadorian wing. Such nice people.
It turns out that the reason they hadn't got back to us was because they had endured a nightmare themselves. During their passage through the canal the skipper, who doesn't normally drink, decided to get shit faced. What the hell?. Of all the places, the Panama Canal!? Eventually after four warnings the Navy boarded them on the fifth and they were escorted through. Then they had engine failure and ended up in the North of Ecuador, in Esmirelda for repairs so only arrived a day before us.
Anyway, we have been here a week now and the engine is harder to fix than we first thought. It's ok, it's just going to take a bit more time. To be honest we really have had a stroke of luck in being able to get it sorted in this part of the world. Harry and Gustavo have acted as translators and it will all be fine I'm sure. We need the engine badly as there really is a lack of wind around here. We need to crack on to the Galapagos though soon. Even though it is owned by Ecuador you can't actually say that you are going there. You have to state that you are going to another country and basically turn up there saying it was an emergency. Perfect for us...Engine trouble!!!! I guess it's fair enough because it is a protected area and I don't think in a few years people will be allowed to visit it. Can't wait.
Here are some nice pics of our boat xxx