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escapade sailing

life on the ocean

The Society Islands

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It’s funny how the clichéd images of Polynesia are actually still quite real.

If I told you about the beautiful women with flowers behind their ears, musclebound men strumming ukuleles under coconut trees, an outrigger canoe outside every house and everyone has traditional tattoos, it would sound like a cartoon, but it’s sort of true.

Our little tour of the Society Islands took us from to Tahiti to Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha’a, where the sun sets over Bora Bora.

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The islands and their lagoons are all beautiful.

Yes Pape’ete is a growing cosmopolitan city and there are hotels and resorts around the islands.

But away from all that, most of the land is steep jungle.  The flat coastal areas are rural and sparsely inhabited.  It looks like a very relaxed and authentic Polynesian life, complete with ukuleles.

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In one out-of-the-way anchorage we were joined by a boy in his outrigger canoe offering us coconuts and fresh sea urchins, the barter system included the food, some francs, a t-shirt and a go on my windsurf board in exchange for a paddle in his pirogue.

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The Neighbourhood

After we have been anchored somewhere for a few days, the boat becomes part of that environment.

We often get ‘adopted’ by fish who enjoy the shade under the hulls, or the way the anchor chain moves the sand.

We have had gangs of little squid who take a liking to the water between our hulls and stay for days, there are usually scavengers competing for fish scraps going over the back and sometimes remoras who seem to want to stay attached.

Here, it is the puffer fish.  A pair of chubby, bustling puffers who seem to be feeding on whatever the chain rakes from the sand as the boat swings to the light breeze above.  Every time I look over the side, there they are, busy with the chain or resting in the shade.  They are used to my morning swims through their territory and look me in the eye as I pass.

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Further out on the flats I pass eagle rays, flapping their wings as they fly through the water, a reef shark, stingrays, the occasional turtle, nothing unusual here, we all see each other every day.  Each swimmer acknowledges the others and we adjust our course if necessary to keep a polite distance.

Drying off on deck I watch a flounder crossing the sand below, he thinks I can’t see him if he stays perfectly still.  It’s so glassy I can see his gills moving.  Eagle rays leap out of the water, but never when you have a camera in your hand.

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After a few days with these neighbours, this morning we are moving on.  The anchor comes up through the clear water and Escapade moves into the deep channel.  Mr and Mrs Puffer fish appear to be outraged.  Their shady shelter, now just a bare patch of turquoise shallows.  By tonight I’m sure they will have found another yacht, and we will have found another pair of puffer fish.

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As we approach the pass, the resident pod of dolphins are playing, they swim with us to the edge of the lagoon.

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Then outside in the open ocean a humpback whale breaches just ahead of us.  More whales blow around us as we ghost along in the lee of the island. That’s a lot of sea life this morning, and it’s still only 9am.

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Wrecked again

Back in Tahiti with Jemima, we explored the sad remains of an old trimaran sunk on its mooring, and a small plane sitting in clear water off the end of the runway, both now full of fish.

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Teahupo’o

We were watching the swell forecast for a chance to see the famous wave at Teahupo’o from the water.

When the day arrived, the WSL were running the qualifying heats for the Tahiti Pro surf contest.

The swell had come up from nothing overnight, to 2.4m at 15 seconds, which is enough to produce some very solid sets at Teahupo’o.

Forty surfers competing for one place in the actual competition starting 10th August.  Mostly local heroes and a few visiting regulars, hoping for a chance to compete with the world’s best.

Dawn had somehow foreseen all of this and made reservations for a car, accomodation and a taxi boat to the wave.  We drove down the day before and were on the dock at 9am as the morning showers passed and the sun came out to light up the show.

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Our skipper Michael arrives and we head out to the pass to join the party.

He puts us right on the shoulder of the wave, with about twenty other boats, as many jet skis, cameramen, competitors, marshals, the local  gendarme on his jetski, several men, women and children casually sitting in the water on surfboards and paddleboards, all of this just a few feet from the breaking wave.  Live commentary from the judges’ tower drifts over the floating circus, letting us and the riders know their scores for each wave.

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When the first big set arrives it is just breathtaking.  Abnormal lumps on the horizon quickly become dark lines in the water beyond where the surfers are sitting, then the first wave stands up, distorting our foreground and blocking the view of everything behind it, forming a shining dark wall which seems to hollow out the sea in front of it as a brave local lad makes the drop, fifteen feet down then pumping for height on the wall as the lip pitches above him.

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If he gets it right, his ride will be a long, deep, stand-up barrel which will spit him out a boat length from us.  If not, he will be pounded by that famous lip into the shallow water over the reef, and almost certainly have to swim under the next one or more, unless he’s lucky enough to be scooped up by the rescue ski.  From the heats I watched, I’d say the odds of a completed ride were no better than 50/50.  Compelling viewing!

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Surfing here is not about tricks, carving turns or aerials, it’s about making the drop and making the barrel or dealing with the consequences, and it gets much bigger.  All pretty terrifying.

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Airtime

So having cheated death on the shoulder of Teahupo’o, Dawn and I jumped off the mountain.

Jemima’s friend and ace pilot Jørgen invited us to fly tandem on his paraglider.

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Conditions weren’t perfect for my flight, which was lacking in breeze (run faster down the hill) and thermal lift, but by the time Dawn took off, the mountain had warmed and they were able to soar from 540m at launch up to 870m and cruise indefinitely.  Finally descending out of the clouds, over the treetops, the lagoon, and in for a soft touch-down behind the beach.  Thanks Jørgen!

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Guernsey time.

I have been on the boat for six months now, it’s time to go and catch up with our life at home.

We’re flying away and leaving Escapade on a mooring in Tahiti.  Jemima will be living on board, keeping an eye on everything, and not throwing any wild parties.

 

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Travel Scrabble on night passage

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The Turquoise Bubble

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This is it. Living in the turquoise bubble. Anchored in a huge shallow lagoon, no other boats in sight.

Swimming, windsurfing, freediving, cooking our way through the supplies.  Sharks and rays cruise by.  Days slide by.

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After a few days my brain clicks out of gear into neutral. This is it.  The languor of the lagoon.

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Some years we have lived in this bubble for months.  This year we have hardly had a chance.

Escapade has been in challenging waters.  Months of passage-making, then working through the maintenance program when we arrived in Tahiti.  Sometimes running a boat can be like having a job. That to-do list. All part of the yin and yang of boat life. After 3 weeks in Tahiti it was time to fill a chariot with fine French goodies in the giant Carrefour, load up at the fruit stand and sail away again. Enough yin, let’s go and have some yang. Find our bubble.

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Now we are living that life again, in the lagoon to the west of Huahine (Hoo-ah-hee-nay).  But it doesn’t really matter where we are; it’s more a state of mind to slide into.  It takes a while, an uninhabited horizon and a shallow-draft boat.  Here is just bright turquoise, sunshine, shimmering life on the reef, passing clouds, showers, rainbows.

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At night Escapade hovers above her moon-shadow on the glowing white sand below.  There’s steady thunder of surf when the swell is high, and when it’s not, humming silence.

It takes a while to adjust.  Let go.

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Our dock-time in Tahiti was productive, everything ticked off the urgent list.

After all those miles we had a few things to fix, and Pape’ete is a good town for fixing boats.

Everything is there. The jib went off to Tahiti Sails for a new bolt rope (Although our mid-ocean repair would have been good for a few more thousand miles).

Christophe the composite specialist designed a new solution for the windlass.  Now it’s seated on a massively reinforced panel with a heavy laminate above and below a foam core.  As well as being a master of epoxy and carbon fibre, Christophe is also a keen sports fan, he is Belgian, with strong views on English athletes.

I’m no football fan but I do enjoy all the nationalist sporting banter that gets whipped up by the World Cup.

First he assured me that British cycling star Chris Froome was cheating.  Not only with ‘le doping’ but he also has an electric motor hidden in his bike, which is how he was able to win the Tour de France.  Then we moved on to England’s prospects in the World Cup.  I left that to Dawn, whose knowledge of French and football is better than mine.  We downed tools to celebrate with a Trappist beer when Belgium beat Brazil.  The windlass installation was completed before the Belgians lost to France, so we didn’t have to deal with that, but I’m sure Christophe has a great explanation.

We added a further 30m of anchor chain to cope with some of the deep anchorages we have to deal with in the Pacific, so now the rode is 80m chain plus 50m of nylon.  That should do it.  Maybe I should carry a scuba tank too, in case I have to untangle it all.

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Our trampolines were suffering from four years of wear, UV and salt.  Dawn had brought replacements from France, but I was not relishing the task of rigging them, thinking that could be delayed until the next pitstop.  It is a notoriously long, hard job, involving hundreds meters of line, hundreds of knots, tension to be exactly equal all around.

Then one night I put my foot through the old tramp.

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Hired hands Benoit and Thomas came to the rescue, the new trampolines were expertly fitted in two days.

By chance those two days marked the start of the local wave-sailing season.  I skived off to explore a couple of reef passes offering big blue walls and side-off wind, leaving Dawn to project manage on the boat.  So good to be windsurfing on waves again.  After a couple of trips over the reef on my back, my 4.7 and shorts were added to the repairs list.

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I also found time for a couple of surf sessions on the local pass, a dinghy ride away.  These waves are really out of my league when they are working properly.  Steep drops, solid barrels with a hungry crew of locals and sailing-through surfers.  But when the swell dropped and the crew was all surfed out, I found a few gems. Small ones.

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The annual ‘Heiva’ festival was in full swing in Pape’ete, lots going on. Traditional Polynesian drumming, dancing, plus very serious outrigger canoe racing.

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We never really reach the end of the to-do list, but all the critical stuff was done, so it was time to leave port.  We also left Jemima on the dock.  After four months and 5,000 miles on Escapade, she jumped ship and is off on a quick trip to New Zealand.

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Our de-compression started in Moorea, just ten miles to the west of Tahiti.  We tucked in to a lagoon there and got stuck for a few days as a ‘Mara’amu’ blew through.  Strong SE winds, rain and big swell.

 

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Once that had passed we left at dusk, timing our passage to arrive at Huahine in daylight, not before.  We were aiming for a speed of 6 knots all night.  The breeze was a warm and soft.  We hoisted a fully reefed main and jib.  Escapade took off at 9 knots!

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We spent the night slowing her down.  At daybreak I was cutting a corner, a mile outside the barrier reef.  The huge Mara’amu swell was lifting the boat as the sets started to stand up, sweeping under us and exploding on to the reef with an impact I could feel in my chest. Close enough. We arrived at the pass and sailed through with the sun high enough to see the coral.

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The lagoon close to the island is deep blue water, then the seabed rises rapidly to a huge plateau of white sand and turquoise shallows, beyond that is the reef and open ocean.  We found a sandy spot with just enough water to float us and dropped the hook.  We’ve been here ever since.  Sliding into my daydream.  Gone Troppo.  I feel more aquatic every day.

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Long swims across the shallows, studded with coral heads further out.  When it’s really calm you can see it all just standing on the paddleboard, through a surface of glass, no snorkel needed.

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We’re not leaving this bubble until we run out of pamplemousse.

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French Polynesia

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7th June

This last leg was to take us a mere 300 miles WNW of Pitcairn, but we were tested by one more gale before we found shelter in the Gambiers.

We had been getting along very nicely, with the occasional 12kt surf, when the wind completely changed gear and started to howl.
Suddenly we were way over-canvassed, should have furled that gennaker while I had the chance.
Jemima was off watch, asleep in her bunk moments ago, now at the helm, soaked again while I prepare to pull down the third reef.  I’m shouting at her through the horizontal rain “Hold on for a moment, it’s just a squall, it won’t last!”  She considers this for a while, “No Dad just get on with it, this isn’t a squall, it’s the new weather.”  She was right, it blew for days.  Anyway we still had a gennaker up, and it was far too windy to furl it – so drop it.  After some (shouted) discussion, I released the halyard at the mast, grappled the huge billowing sail down from above and the two of us wrestled it to the trampoline in the black night using all 8 of our combined limbs.

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By morning we are in the lee of Les Iles Gambiers.
Here is a cluster of high green peaks, encircled by a barrier reef.
We pass through a gap in the reef to a lagoon about twenty miles across, enclosing the five high islands and numerous islets.

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Plenty of bays and coves to anchor in any wind direction.
A sleepy outpost of French Polynesia, still 1000 miles from the bright lights of Tahiti.
Several hundred islanders live here, almost all Polynesian, the main occupation is pearl farming.

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We anchor off the village of Rikitea and go ashore to show our passports to the Gendarme.
Ashore it feels like a big garden, extravagant fruits and flowers growing everywhere.  We are right on the Tropic of Capricorn here.  But this is France.  The tiny village boasts a church, 3 petit magasins where you can stock up on President butter, roquefort cheese and some frozen escargots, then down the lane is the boulangerie which sells fresh baguettes twice a day.  There’s a dusty petanque court in the square under the mango tree.

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But enough walking around, we’ve been up half the night, is there a bar here?  Or a restaurant?  We’ve sailed thousands of miles to get here, any chance of a shady seat and cool bière?  Not so far.
Finally at the other end of the village we find our way to ‘Snack JoJo’.  The only hostelry on the island, not only do they offer shady seats and cool bières, they will serve you steak frites or gaufres avec Nutella. Oh go on then.

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Behind the village there is a mountain, we climb up through the jungly foothills, banana groves, papayas, mango and avocado trees, pomegranates, pamplemousse, coconuts, up to the cooler air, through the casuarinas, into the pine forest, now we are eating the wild raspberries, and finally out onto the grassy summit with a booby’s eye view of the whole island and the anchorage 500m below.  Escapade sitting in a blue pool between reefs and turquoise shallows.  Back down in the village homemade goodies are being offered on the sides of the road, choux buns, beignets, meats on the grill behind the long Sunday afternoon petanque game.

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The French military built an airstrip on the barrier reef here, in the days when there were nuclear tests on the atolls to the north.  Now that airstrip gets a weekly plane from Papeete, and next week Dawn will be on it!  Time for her return to Escapade life after 5 weeks away.

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11th June
Out to the islands

After a few days anchored off the village of Rikitea, Jemima and I have climbed the mountain, cycled right round the island, joined the girls skipping team, caught up on sleep and the wind has dropped. We still have a few days before Dawn arrives, so we set off to see the smaller Iles Gambier, starting with Taravai, which is very slightly inhabited.  We find a way through the coral maze and drop the hook in a blue lagoon. There are a few little houses along the beach, smoke rising.

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We glide ashore on the paddle board and meet the locals. Hervé and Valerie live a life here that is sublimely simple.  A modest timber house, some very fertile land cleared from the jungle.
Their garden is beautifully kept, neat rows of vegetables growing, pigs, chickens and goats, a nice solar array provides electricity, huge containers hold rainwater from the roof.  Hervé shoots fish on the reef, their youngest son runs wild with his dog.  And the jungle all around provides fruit, falling from the trees.  Year-round supplies of pamplemousse, bananas, coconuts, papayas, limes and oranges, plus seasonal guavas and pomegranates, then avocados, mangoes and lychees to look forward to in summer.  We pick arabica coffee beans growing wild in the woods.

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We roam through the vegetation, past the abandoned church and the other beachfront smallholders Jean and Marcel, each living a similarly simple life.
Taravai, total population about 7 humans.

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Our next stop was the island of Aukena, where we were invited to join a party of French sailors creating a feast with islanders Bernard and Marie-Noelle, which would coincide with the day of Dawn’s arrival.
First was a quick jaunt in the bushes to find a young pig, foraging wild along the beach.  He would form the centrepiece of the Polynesian banquet that was being prepared.  We de-husked and split coconuts, drank the water, grated the meat then squeezed out the ‘lait de coco’. This was used to make a ‘poisson cru’ with fresh tuna.

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We picked limes for a ceviche of ‘Huitres de Perles’.  Bernard sacrificed a young coconut tree to provide us with a delicious heart of palm salad.
We learnt how to roast ‘uru’ (breadfruit) in the embers of the coconut husk fire. The unfortunate cochon was dispatched and expertly butchered on the beach. The meat would cook slowly for hours over the fire, the blood was prepared as ‘Boudin’, the head as ‘Paté de Tête’ and the liver and kidneys as ‘Paté de Fois’.  Very little wasted, the cats and dogs were well fed. As was the football-playing rooster.
Best of all Dawn’s flight arrived on time.  We blasted across the lagoon to pick her up in Bernard’s home-made boat and she joined the party in time for the feast.
A long lunch at the sandy table under the coconut trees, dappled sun, smoky fire, cartons of vin rouge, fluent Franglais all-round.

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That night the winter returned. Cold SE wind and rain. We decide to sail north in to warmer weather.  My jury-rigged windlass is shifting out of alignment and it’s time for a professional repair. Looks like we should sail straight to Tahiti. 888 miles.

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Downwind sailing at last!  Easy 200+ mile days.  Blue skies, moonlit nights, fresh fish suppers.
We are back to a crew of 3, so the night-watches are shorter, everyone gets plenty of sleep , all nice and easy as Escapade eats up the miles.
Our course skirts the southern western Tuamotus, a huge archipelago of atols.  These are low motus and reefs, hard to see from even a few miles off, and a worry to be sailing close to at night.  There is a long history of shipwrecks in these waters.  It looks like we will pass within a few miles of one.  I zoom in on the chartplotter, there is no detail and I’m suspicious of the charting.  We have seen significant off-set in other remote places, is this atol where the chart says it is?  My pilot book says palm trees make a great radar target.  I turn on the scanner and there it is, a bright orange blip 5 miles away, a stand of coconut trees on the atol, exactly where it should be.
Very reassuring, imagine sailing these waters with just a sextant and dead reckoning…

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The fourth day saw dark squall clouds, but not much wind. I left the afternoon Scrabble game to walk around the boat and see if the wind was returning.
As I scan the horizon, there right next to us is a very big whale, swimming alongside and looking us over.
It is so unexpected and exciting.
Our resident marine mammal expert identified our visitor as a Sei whale, second in size only to a Blue whale.

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The next night we are counting down the miles, looks like a perfectly timed landfall at first light. Dawn will be on watch.

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26th June

I wake at 7am to an overwhelming view of the island of Tahiti.  Not a distant peak on the horizon but a huge 3D tropical mountain range right in front of me.
Dawn is drinking tea at the helm, still in her warm night-watch outfit.

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We are sailing close in, smells of land, wet earth, woodsmoke.
Along the coast we pass Teahupo’o.  Clouds of salt spray hanging over the reef.

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We sail up the west coast, enter the lagoon and steer through the busy anchorage off of Marina Taina to a quiet patch of pale green water over white sand.
Now we are swinging on the hook in a turquoise pool with a ridiculously scenic view.  Glassy surf is peeling over reef, beyond that is deep blue, then the green peaks of the island of Moorea.

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On our starboard side are a row of palm thatched bungalows on stilts over the water, honeymoon suites at the Intercontinental Tahiti, each boasting a postcard view of the lagoon and Moorea, except that now there’s a big grey catamaran in the foreground.

A few days relaxing, time for laundry, the next to-do list, and the return to this civilisation, the one with internet, and good pizza.

 

Pitcairn Island

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So after ten long days and nights battling contrary winds and seas, we raise the green peak of Pitcairn on a Sunday morning.
As we sail closer we can see swell surging around the dark cliffs and off-lying rocks, shrouded in a mist of spray.
Above are coconut trees, sprouting from sheer rock walls, and the houses of Adamstown, overlooking Bounty Bay.
Barely even a bay!  Open sea with some protection from south winds, but the island is small enough for the south swell to bend all the way round.

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We pass the anchored supply ship ‘Claymore’ and drop our hook in to a patch of sand 12m down.  I dive in the crystal clear water to check the anchor is well buried, hoping to spot the wreck of the Bounty.
Just as we are finishing off the Sunday Pancakes, the VHF crackles to life and welcomes us to Pitcairn, suggesting we dinghy ashore.
We motor through breaking waves and handbrake-turn in to the tiny dock.  Our welcoming committee is ready to hoist our dinghy ashore with their trusty, rusty old crane.

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We are greeted with smiles and beaded leis.  The dinghy is set down in the middle of the wharf and we all board quad bikes to ride up the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ in to Adamstown. There we deal with formalities in the charming town square, meet the magistrate, get the Pitcairn stamp in our passports and arrangements are made for lunch to be cooked for us down the lane.  We discuss provisioning from the one store, which will be open tomorrow.

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We had been talking in the square about what livestock there is on the island.  Jemima and I have been living on vegetables and the occasional fish.  There are some goats here, maybe we could find some meat to take with us?
Our host for lunch is a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, as are half of the people we have met so far.
As I am tucking in to my dessert, the phone is passed to me. “It’s Dave, for you”
Dave killed his goat yesterday and wondered if we would like a leg.  Word gets around fast here.
After lunch another quad bike takes us up the steep muddy hill to Dave’s house to do the goat deal.

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The Population of Pitcairn is currently about 50 people.
We met all of them that afternoon.  The supply ship is the island’s only connection to the rest of the world.  She arrives four times a year, bringing all the island’s imports from New Zealand.  She happens to be leaving tonight, taking some passengers with her, islanders and visitors.  It is the only way to leave Pitcairn and the arrival and departure of the Claymore is a big occasion.  The whole population arrives down at the harbour that afternoon.

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The longboat is launched, loaded with fresh island produce for the journey, the few passengers, plus half the islanders who are just along for the boat ride to the ship and back.  It’s a great social occasion, young and old arriving on a variety of quad bikes, many with homemade plywood biminis against rain and sun.  We are introduced to the everyone.  The shopkeeper, who will supply us with fresh fruit and veggies, the manager of the museum, who will open it for us tomorrow, and whose hens are laying.  Dave shows up with the consignment of free-range goat meat.  All the islanders say hello and recommend the sights we must see while we’re here.

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Almost all the residents are descended from the mutineers of the Bounty and their Tahitian wives.  We wandered through the graveyard which contains the handful of  surnames which arrived here on the Bounty in 1790.  The mutineers intended to disappear from the face of the earth, and they succeeded, sinking the evidence and remaining completely undiscovered here for twenty years.  It’s still a pretty good place to disappear to.

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I wrote about how much I enjoyed the remoteness of Easter Island, but Pitcairn is on another level of away-from-it-all.  Easter Island has an airport with regular flights to Chile and Tahiti. (Aviation trivia: the Easter Island runway was extended by NASA as a possible emergency landing for space shuttles.  The Air France Concorde used to land there!)
No airstrip here on Pitcairn, if you want to leave the island, the ship calls four times a year.  I think that really shapes the character of the island in a different way.  There is such a strong charm to Pitcairn.  It’s beautiful, fertile, everything grows here.  On our hikes we are picking fruit everywhere.  Wild pomegranates on the roadside, citrus falling everywhere, papayas, passion fruit, a coconut, the rucksacks are full.

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One hike takes us up and over high country, deserted green lanes through the thick jungle, shaking ripe bananas from a tree for a snack, then down to the western point where there’s an Olympic length rock-pool to swim in, with a slight risk of being swept out to sea if a big wave crashes in.

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Pitcairn is no better a refuge for passing yachts than Easter Island, we looked over a cliff to another of the listed anchorages, known as ‘Down Rope Bay’, because the only way to get from the cliff to your boat is down the rope.  Sketchy place to leave a boat, but possibly an unridden surf spot.

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After a long day exploring, we found ourselves at the island’s only pub.  Now one of my favourite bars in the world.  It’s also a sort of museum of curiosities.  As I sipped my cold beer, the first artefact was slid across the table to me.  A rusty ship’s nail through an ancient piece of timber, a relic of the Bounty.  Next comes the skull of a tropic bird, a fossilised piece of genuine pterodactyl shit, the bar owner’s thumb, in a jar, (accidentally amputated a couple of weeks before while gardening with a sharp machete), old scrimshawed teeth of a spermwhale, in which shots of tequila are about to be served, a new hand-carved wooden replacement thumb (so that he can continue to strum his collection of ukuleles), all this while singing along to vintage Suzi Quattro videos playing above the bar.  We could have stayed all night, but we were late for our arranged dinghy craning at the bottom of the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ so we had to leave.  Be sure to call in if you’re ever passing that way.

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The island shop is a gem, way down here in the South Pacific, so far from everywhere, a well-stocked village store where you can buy a jar of Branston Pickle!
We loaded up with English treats to supplement our mainly Panamanian larder, while fresh produce was being cut and picked for us in the gardens up the hill.

We would have loved to stay longer, but once again the weather forecast urged us to leave the anchorage in Bounty Bay and put to sea. We were grateful to have been granted the few days we had.  It’s a magic island and we were made so welcome.

Just 300 miles to sail now to Les Iles Gambiers, French Polynesia…

 

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Easter Island, between a rock and a hard place.

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21st May:

The Rock

The Original Polynesian name for this island is Te Pito o te Henua, ‘The Navel of the World’.
A sticky-out button in the huge round belly of the Pacific.
Then a passing Dutch navigator caught sight of it on Easter Sunday 1771 and named it Easter Island, while the islanders were still blissfully unaware of Easter.
That name stuck and now the Chilean governors call it ‘Isla de Pascua’, while the islanders prefer the name Rapa Nui.
Lots of names for a volcanic rock about 10 miles across, in the middle of nowhere.  Looks a bit like Alderney from the sea.

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I really like that remote outpost feel.  Having recovered from the trauma of our windlass episode, we were ready to explore. There’s only one settlement at Hanga Roa.  The wind blew the right way for us to be able to anchor there, so we took the dinghy in through the town surf break (timing!) and tied up in the tiny keyhole harbour with the local fishing boats.  We cleared in and wandered through a green and pleasant village, a blend of Chilean and Polynesian styles and a bit of a hippie vibe.  We found some fresh local produce for our next voyage, sampled the huge Chilean style ‘empanadas’ and looked forward to returning for more, but next day the wind changed, so we had to move again.

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We are keen to be ashore and stretch our legs, but it’s not easy!  The Port Capitan says the boat must be manned at all times, ready to leave at short notice.

The wind was forecast to start NW, soon backing W and rising to 30 kts. We chose Anakena beach, a bit exposed to the NW but should be fine, well sheltered once it goes round to W.
But it never did!  We sat on the hook all night with the boat rocking in the very lumpy onshore chop.  I had snorkelled over to the anchor earlier, it was buried in white sand, so I knew we were ok, but the motion made it impossible to sleep.

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By morning it has blown out, we are sitting off the beautiful Anakena beach, a row of Moai statues and a coconut grove beckon us ashore.  It’s all calm apart from a bit of surf breaking on the beach.  This is our moment!  We launch the dinghy and go in to explore.  There is a sketchy stone dock where I drop Jemima but can’t leave the dinghy.  I tie up to a fisherman’s mooring in the bay and swim ashore.  We hike around the headland, pay our respects to the Moai and find a great lunch in a Polynesian hut on the beach.  We would like to see a bit more, there are horses to rent here, some good hiking and surfing, might stay another week!

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But it wasn’t to be.
The new forecast is for more NW wind and a big S swell.  The worst combination!
We decided we couldn’t manage another of those nights with no shelter from the NW, so we’re off to sea again.
First we have to clear out with the authorities.
The Chilean Armada launch came alongside us off Hanga Roa.  Mauritzio leapt aboard, followed by his drug detecting hound.  A handsome Belgian Shepherd in an Armada uniform with a handle, so he could be passed across between boats.

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He had a good sniff around, our passports were stamped, and we set off to make the most of the fair wind before the NW set in.  We are aiming for the island of Pitcairn, 1100 miles to the NW!

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24th May:

The Hard Place

That northwesterly wind started to blow the next day, up to 25 knots with an uncomfortable sea building.  The following day it was gusting 35 knots.
Escapade can sail to windward, and she can handle plenty of wind.
But to windward, in big breaking seas with a gale from the wrong direction, is not her favourite!
We just had to slow her right down to reduce the strain on boat, rig and crew.  Three reefs, no jib, climbing over endless steep blue hills.  We’re in the northern part of a huge low pressure system that should pass to the east.

Over the next few days we came to realise that the low pressure was not moving!  We were in a massive weather system with no way out.  Ideally I would bear away and run off downwind, given the sea room.  Much more comfortable sailing, but we’d end up at Cape Horn!  We have to get west, the low has to move eventually, so we endure.  We are still managing to cook, eat, laugh and sleep, although sometimes with difficulty.

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Every day we get an updated forecast via satphone, nothing but headwinds!  We are working hard to make some ground to the west, tacking on shifts, trying to ease a path across the waves.  The red track on the plotter screen tells a sorry tale of days and nights of frustrating sailing.  I’m still reading about Charles Darwin’s voyage in the Beagle, which he hated.  He has this to say about sailing upwind: “This zigzag manner of proceeding is very grievous”. I hear you Charles.

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Finally after seven days and nights, the low moves below us, seas subside and we emerge into the centre of the high pressure that was behind the low.  We shake out the reefs, enjoy the sun, and are actually sailing in the right direction at last.
Then we are becalmed.
We swim behind the boat, scrape a thick layer of sea salt from the cockpit cushions and dine outside for the first time this week.
A welcome respite from constant motion.

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Now we are only 300 miles from Pitcairn Island, but on our route is the tiny speck of Ducie Island, so we call in there for lunch.

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Ducie is really an atoll, a sunken volcano with a beautiful lagoon within. The charts mark a ‘boat pass’ through the reef, but the surf was enormous as we passed, and nowhere to anchor, so we left the fish and birds in peace and sailed on to the west.  Pitcairn is just over that horizon now.

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The rock, the windlass and the Russians.

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Sorry for the long silence.

I have been offline for weeks. I sent the last update to Dawn by satellite phone when we arrived in Easter Island, but text only, Dawn improvised some images.
So now Dawn is back on board, we have all arrived in Tahiti, internet is firing, we will now post the blog updates that were written over the last month or so.
(We have also added the missing photos to that last post https://escapadesailing.com/2018/05/23/galapagos-to-easter-island/.)

Starting with this harrowing tale, when Jemima and I had just arrived in Easter Island..

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Easter Island 20th May
Fouled anchor, rocky lee shore, surf pounding, wind rising, no windlass.
Well we do have a windlass, but it’s not where it ought to be.
Usually we look forward to a landfall at the end of a long passage, a chance to rest up, catch up on sleep, stretch your legs, and relax at anchor for a few days.
Easter Island at this time of year is a bit different.  Trying to be anchored anywhere here is far more stressful than being at sea!
The island is a speck in the middle of the Pacific, and while Dawn is basking in the sunny Guernsey springtime, winter is fast approaching down here.  Deep low pressure systems come spinning along the roaring forties and we feel the effects as they pass.  Big swells and the wind clocking round, blowing from a different direction every few hours.
The island is the top of a large volcano and almost all her shores are steep dark cliffs with waves smashing away, continuing the erosion of millennia.
There are a handful of possible anchorages, but usually only one option for the weather of any given moment.  So we have to be very aware of what’s coming next and be ready to move to a different spot at any time.  Then there’s the depth.  In the Caribbean we would regularly anchor in one or two metres of water, here 20 metres is normal.  Any closer in and you could be picked up by a breaking wave!  I don’t like that, it’s too deep for me to go down and check the holding, or sort out any foul hooking.
So our first refuge was Hotu Iti, with it’s breathtaking surf scenery and dark stone statues lining the shore.  After our first night at anchor we woke facing the open sea, the wind had switched direction in the night and was now building from the south. Time to look for shelter on the north shore. There is one other yacht here, the Lady Mary with a Russian family living on board.  She’s a well-travelled looking ketch. Andrey came by in the dinghy with his 7 year old daughter, to welcome us and throw us a coconut.  He has been here for a week already, after a 21 day passage from Galapagos.  I tell him him my plan and he advises on the next anchorage.
So off we go, up with the hook.  We haul up about 5 metres of chain and it stops dead.  Strange.  Try again, win a bit more chain, then it won’t budge.  Chain runs back out under load.  We motor slowly to where we think the anchor is, to break it out.  We seem to be stuck.  I engage the lock on the windlass to stop the chain running off again while we think about it.  A large swell arrives, lifting the boat as it passes.  There is a tremendous bang and rattling of chain.  Jemima says “It’s broken”.

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I go to the foredeck and cannot believe the carnage.  The massive windlass has pulled it’s mountings through the deck and flown forward in a shower of splintered fibreglass.  Loose wiring hangs from the wreckage and the weight of the boat on the chain is now pulling the windlass along the deck and off the boat.  I unlock it and slacken the gypsy with a winch handle, chain runs out and we re-attach the bridle.  We’re safe again for a moment.
Actually we’re both in shock!  This looks serious.  How will we get that hook up now?  The SW wind is building and we need to leave.  The hook seems to be stuck fast on something.  We can’t contact anyone on VHF from this remote spot on the wrong side of the volcano.  I propose we let all the rode go, buoy the bitter-end and sail to Hanga Roa to find a diver who could come and retrieve it for us.  I could rig the spare anchor, but could we ever get it up again without a windlass?  In these deep waters with wind tugging at the boat?  Should we go to sea and come back for it when the weather relents?  Leave it there and sail to Tahiti to buy a new anchor?
It happens to be Sunday morning, so while we are pondering our position, Jemima whips up a batch of banana pancakes.  Well you have to eat.

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She also suggests that our new Russian friend may have scuba gear on board.  “He looks the type”.
Well breakfasted, I return to the wreckage and tidy up a bit.  The windlass is (was) attached to the deck with four big studs which are now a bit bent.  I remove the nuts and what’s left of the backing plates and lift it back into position.  There is a large wood pad laminated into the deck for the windlass to sit on and the wood seems to have rotted, so when it ripped out there was actually not too much damage.  I think I could knock up some beefy new backing plates and bolt it back in.

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Then there’s the dangling electrics, four wires have been yanked right out of their connections in a junction box below the windlass.  I’m sure I could re-connect, but there are four different colour wires on each end and no clue which attaches to which.  I am crammed into the chain locker, trying to work it out, when I happen to turn over the cover of the junction box.  Inside is a hand-written message from the Outremer technician who installed it: “RED = UP,  BLUE = DOWN”. Merci beaucoup!
The other two wires must be for the chain counter, which we can live without.
Ten minutes later the windlass is working again!  Now we just need those re-inforcements to fix it back to the boat.  I am eyeing up a wooden chopping board.
Andrey comes back with both of his daughters and I show him my project.  Within moments he is back from Lady Mary with a big chunk of marine ply and 10mm drill bits.
Best of all, he DOES have scuba gear and will dive to see what the problem is with the anchor.
Remember this is the only other sailing boat within thousands of miles!  We are so grateful to our new neighbours.
Jemima wriggles in to the locker and cuts paper templates.  I spend a few hours sawing and drilling plywood pads, then screw it all back together with big penny washers under the nuts.  We carefully hoist a foot of chain.  Seems fine. We’re back in business.

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Andrey pulls on his scuba gear and soon reports that our change of direction in the night has wrapped the chain right around a huge old coral head, so we are effectively chained to a 4 metre high pillar of rock.  That would do it!
Now we begin the waltz around the bay, Jemima dropping slack chain and taking up, with directions from Andrey in the water, his wife Marina and daughters handling a line around the anchor, all in the freshening wind.  Finally the chain and hook is all back on deck, the new windlass installation passed its first test. I’m not sure how we would have managed without our Russian friends.  They dinghy back to the Lady Mary.  Marina has made a borscht for their dinner.  We supply them with a bottle of wine.

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We motor round to the north shore to find our new spot for the night.  A race against darkness!  The sun has set, we can just see a sandy patch and drop the anchor in 7 metres of clear water in the last glimmer of dusk.
What a day.
As Dawn left us in Galapagos, her parting words were “Don’t break anything!”.
So far we have put a 20 foot rip in our only jib and yanked the windlass clean out of the deck.
She’s not even been gone two weeks!
Still 2,300 miles to Tahiti…

 

Galapagos to Easter Island

Sat2Isabela Island, Ecuador to easter island - Google Maps

8th May

So we are sailing away from Galapagos after 3 islands and 3 weeks.
Most cruising boats sail straight past the Galapagos these days, on their
way to the Marquesas.

The Galapagos are not particularly welcoming to yachts.  The permits are
expensive and there are lots of restrictions on what you can (and mainly
cannot) do.
But for us it was so worth it.  The islands are completely unique.  Very
entertaining wildlife, plus good fun Ecuadorian hospitality, there was no
way I could sail past and not stop for a look around.

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The check -in desk at Isabela airport.

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Dawn flew out this morning on her way home to Guernsey for a few weeks.
Jemima and I are adjusting to life without her.
There are certain aspects of the management of this ship which are really
Dawn’s domain.   All things electronic, for example.  And the precise
location of any useful thing stowed somewhere on board.  How will we manage
without her?  Don’t panic, we have 2 satellite phones and she has preset all
her numbers on speed dial..
This morning we jumped through the final bureaucratic hoops to get our
Zarpe.  We have permission to leave!  All we need now is some wind.
Up with the anchor and off we go, trying to get away from the large
volcanoes of Isabela with associated cloud, drizzle and light wind.  Giant
manta rays come by to see us off.
At dusk we sight a dismasted catamaran coming the other way, motoring in to
Isabela with the broken rig on her deck.  A bit ominous!

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9th May

It’s Liberation Day on Guernsey, I raise a glass to the island.  Dawn should
be there later today.
Meanwhile we have been liberated from the Doldrums.  Today I felt some real
wind on my face for the first time in weeks.  Whitecaps!  Escapade is buzzing
along at 8 knots, feels good.
Our code zero headsail has a nominal upper wind limit of 15 kts apparent.
Dawn is a stickler for these things and we always furl in good time.  But
Dawn’s not here!  So we were romping along at 10 knots on a close reach and
the sail seemed quite comfortable in the freshening breeze, shame to slow
down.  I think that 15 knot limit is not actually about whether the sail can
handle it, it’s about whether you’ll be able to furl the thing.  It can be a
bit of a handful, somehow we managed to get it wrapped into a mess and it
had to be dropped and stuffed untidily back into its locker.  We shut the
hatch on that and skulked back to the cockpit.  That won’t be coming out
again until we are becalmed!  We are short handed but that was not our best
bit of sail handling and frankly, it would never have happened had my wife
been on board.

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10th May

I hand over to J and I’m asleep by 0130.  Woken at 4ish by very bumpy ride
over disorganised seas.  We pull down the first reef.  Back to bed.  At 0500 I seem
to be hovering above my mattress whenever the boat launches off a ramp.  We
steer downwind to find an easier path across the seascape.  It was a rough
night.
We are still 1500 miles from Easter Island.  At our 0600 watch change we
seriously discussed the idea of just bearing away for the Marquesas
instead!  Had enough already?
Let’s see how wind and sea are today.

 

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More flying food:
16 little squid and 4 flying fish collected from the trampoline and
scheduled for the sundowner tapas slot.

0800
The new GRIB weather file tells me the wind will back to a much better
angle, and soon.  I’m immediately happier.  When I see a forecast I like, I
accept it as certain fact.  If I’m not so keen on it I will question its
accuracy.  Well I’m banking this one, getting ready to ease the sheets
already.

2300
My forecast hasn’t come true yet, we are hard on the wind with two reefs in
the main.

11th May

Worse things happen at sea.
Jemima wakes me at 0230 to say the jib halyard has failed.  We put a deck
light on, the top of the jib is dangling down and the rest of the sail
looks like a sack of potatoes.  It’s dark, rough and windy.  The sail is not
usable but we don’t want to be working on the bow right now.  Thankfully it
is still furlable, so we roll it up without leaving the cockpit and I go
back to bed.  Deal with that tomorrow.

 

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Daylight reveals that the head shackle failed, the top 4 metres of the bolt
rope have torn away from the sail, and the top swivel seems to be stuck up
the forestay.
This jib is our only working headsail in stronger winds.  We can’t really
get to windward without it, and we don’t have a spare.
We pull the wounded sail down and think about our options.  First idea was
to re-hoist it on a spare halyard, without using the foil track.

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It actually set quite well, but would never get close to the wind with a
loose luff, and we were concerned about problems dropping and retrieving it
if the breeze piped up.
We really need a sailmaker to stitch up that length of bolt rope, an easy
repair for any sail loft.  Where is the nearest one? Ok lets’s see, we could
turn left for Peru, must be a sailmaker in Lima?  That’s 1200 miles.  Turn right for Tahiti? 3000 miles.
Any sailmakers left on Easter Island or Pitcairn?  Don’t think so.  We call Dawn on the satellite phone to get her to check online.  No.
We are on our own out here.
There are some needles and thread on board.  Start sewing!
We pick our moment between black clouds, drop the jib to the deck, bundle
it in to the cabin and start work on the dining table, trying a variety of
prototype repair methods and materials.

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The other problem is that top swivel.  Even if we can repair the jib we
won’t be able to hoist it without one of us going aloft to bring that back
down.  This is no weather to be climbing a mast.
A long night pushing a needle through sail cloth, very tired, worried that
the repair may not work, just needing to sleep.
Oh well it’s only a sail.  I’m happy it’s not one of us that needs to be
stitched up, because out here, the answer would be the same.
On the plus side, Escapade carries on regardless.  Still humming away on a
close reach at 8 knots with just the double-reefed mainsail.

12th May

Feeling much better after some sleep.  Sail cloth all over the cabin.  Keep
Sewing.  The needles are breaking, not many left.
By the end of the day the repair is nearly done.  Another dark and bumpy
night.

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13th May

Repair completed this morning.  More good news: that top swivel has worked
its way down – no mast climb required!
We are ready to hoist our needlework and a bit nervous, will it hold?
First things first, it’s Sunday morning, which means Jemima is making
pancakes.
OK it’s now or never, quick test hoist to check our repair will all fit up
the track, it’s a tight fit, but so far so good.
We replace the shackles and clew lashing and up she goes…looks fine.  We
have a jib again.

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On the chart this trip is 1,930 miles. (As the albatross flies.)
This evening we will be 965 miles from Galapagos and 965 miles from Easter
Island, so it’s our Halfway Party.
Plus Jemima is thirty-and-a-half years old today, so it will be a
celebration-and-a-half.
We found some potatoes to serve with this morning’s flying fish. Fish and
chips!
That jib still seems to be up..

14th May

This morning’s GRIB file promises lighter winds and more favourable
direction.  Well we’ve heard that before, but it does sound good.

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On the water with my daughter.

Jemima and I made our first passage together when she was 8 years old. We
sailed an 18 foot bilge-keeler from Itchenor to the Isle of Wight. Pausing
for a few hours to run aground on a sandbar off East Head, finally arriving
in Bembridge harbour in the dark with Jemima asleep on my lap. We spent the
night at anchor, cooked breakfast, went ashore to explore the sand dunes,
then sailed back to Chichester Harbour the next day. It was an epic voyage
for us, perhaps 25 miles all told.

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A few years later she stood her first night watch on our Biscay crossing,
whilst Dawn and I slept soundly below. Since then Jemima has covered many
thousands of ocean miles, she loves it out here. I still sleep well while
she’s at the helm.

We’ve been at sea for a week now and are settled in to the daily and
nightly routine. We don’t see much of each other!
The 10 hours of darkness between dinner and sunrise are split into two 5
hour watches. We can set our clocks to any timezone we like, right now the
sun sets at about 7pm down here, we eat dinner and Jemima retires at 8pm
while I take the first 5 hour watch. She re-appears at 1am, we have a quick
chat at handover, then I sleep until my alarm wakes me at 6am.
Another quick chat, then J goes to top up on sleep for another few hours,
leaving me to drink tea, watch day break, read, write, work out, eat
breakfast and potter around until 10ish.
Then we spend a few hours together, drink coffee, and plan the lunch menu.
We have a daily sort through the Galapagos fruit and veg and decide what
needs to be eaten most urgently. (controlled avocado ripening going
particularly well on this trip.) The fishing line only goes out when we are
both awake as it can get a bit hectic if there’s a strike when the boat is
sailing fast.
After lunch I’ll snooze for an hour or more, then we are together again at
4pm for tea and cake. Jemima is often busy in the galley during my siesta,
I wake to the smell of freshly baked goodies. She brings a whole new
repertoire to Escapade’s offshore cuisine, turning out all sorts of
delicious and interesting new creations.
So then we have a couple of hours to chat, cook dinner, play music,
continue the Scrabble marathon and celebrate another sunset.
It’s our world, the next nearest human is a long, long way away.
15th May

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A change in the weather at last. We have sailed out of the SE trades and
into the Horse Latitudes, an area of high pressure between us and the
Roaring Forties.
The skies are blue, the wind is light and the sailing is easy. We shake out
the reefs, hoist the code zero and enjoy the ride. Gliding easily over the
smooth south swell.
Finally, a peaceful ocean. This is the ‘Mar Pacifico’ as it was named by
Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century. Must have been on a day like this.

16th May

It really is different down here, we are now 20 degrees south of the
equator. The sea is a new bright blue, J says sapphire blue. No more flying
fish, and it’s getting colder. Socks and hats on for night watches and
blankets on our beds.

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I have started turning off all the lights at night to enjoy the sky. The
stars demand my attention, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around to see
our nav lights anyway. We haven’t seen a ship or a plane for a week, so I
can turn off my own light pollution for a whileand really let my eyes
adjust to the show.
The boat leaves two phosphorescent wakes across the blackness, while above
us stars and planets rise and set, great balls of fire streak across the
sky and galaxies shine like white clouds. Tonight a new moon appeared
briefly, setting soon after the sun.

17th May

Change tack.
After 10 days on port tack, the wind backed around this afternoon and we
gybed. The big red gennaker is hauling us south, breeze is building.

18th May

Now we’re really travelling, up and over the big blue hills of the south
swell, getting a bit of a surf on the way down. If we keep this pace
tonight we could make landfall in daylight
tomorrow.

19th May

J calls me on deck at 0400 to help furl the gennaker. Boat speed up in the
teens, lightning all around, we press on with the embroidered jib and
reefed main.

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At 0800 we emerge from a thick raincloud, surfing down a swell, and there
in front of me are the green sunlit slopes of Easter Island, with a
welcoming rainbow for good measure.

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I call up the Capitan del Puerto who tells me it is not possible to anchor at the main port of Hanga Roa in this weather.  He directs me to Hotu Iti on the south coast to find shelter. We gybe onto the new course, reel in a good size mahi-mahi and sprint round the last headland. Up into the cove, we drop the hook in 16m of water and Escapade finally comes to rest after her 2000 mile romp.

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Hotu Iti takes a bit of getting used to.
First there is a large south swell. The waves lift us a couple of metres on
their way to the reef where they explode a few boat lengths ahead of us.
Then there are the large barreling waves peeling towards us down the
western side of the bay, pounding the volcanic rocks, uncomfortably close.
It’s cold, grey and still super windy. All feels a bit mad!
This is really the best anchorage? Anywhere else in the world I think you
would look for an alternative.

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Welcome to Easter Island. A row of giant carved Moai heads line the shore
just in front of us.
We are happy to be here. Tidy up the sails, fillet the fish, fry a few
chunks for lunch, celebratory beer, siesta.
Anchor alarm on, no night watches tonight!

Galápagos

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Isla Santa Cruz

Having dragged Jemima away from the sea lions of San Cristobal, we sailed to Santa Cruz.  The doldrums continue to produce glassy calm seas for us, sailing weather best suited to diesel engines.  I am so looking forward to the trade winds further south.

Santa Cruz is the centre of tourist tripping in the islands.  A pleasant little place with plenty of cafes, wifi, t-shirts and the Charles Darwin Research Institute.  It is populated by laid back local Ecuadorians and roaming gangs of sun burnt eco-tourists dressed in wide brimmed hats and beige safari suits, being led by a National Park guide.

One spin-off of this tourism is the recent arrival of some great restaurants, we ate well.  They are growing quite a few crops on Santa Cruz, so rather than the usual fried snapper with plantains, we are offered ‘farm to table’ modern Ecuadorian fine dining no less!

There is also a great Saturday morning farmers market to top up our stores, a huge open barn full of fresh produce, followed by a trip to the breakfast stand where they fry up a very sustaining plateful for the early morning marketeers.

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There are lots of young black-tip sharks swimming around the boat, large eagle rays, the usual boobies and pelicans dive-bombing.  On land there are plenty of iguanas and another breeding centre for giant tortoises.

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There is nature to see here, but most of it has been packaged up to sell as a tourist day trip, which I have an irrational aversion to.

We head for the next stop, Isla Isabella.  Past the spectacular Isla Tortuga, a jagged crater rim emerging from the sea, swell surging around its rocky walls.

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Isla Isabella 

A large hammerhead appeared to welcome us to Puerto Villamil, a lovely shallow lagoon to anchor in.

This feels like a real sleepy backwater in comparison to Santa Cruz.  Sea lions playing in the mangroves around the shore, sandy dirt roads in the village.

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More surf, not the powerful point breaks of Cristobal, but a very fun beach break a few minutes away, I have surfed it every day.  Lots of waves here. I remember watching Sir David Attenborough’s programs from the Galapagos years ago and being distracted by the waves peeling behind Sir Dave.

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Los Tuneles

This is really a one-off landscape, unique to the Galapagos.  The only way to see it of course is to sign up for a boat trip with a local naturalist as your guide. (I am trying.)

It’s a remote area of mainly collapsed ancient black lava tubes, leaving arches and bridges standing in a labyrinth of clear aquamarine pools, channels and caves.  Sea-lions chasing the boat.  Tidal waters full of life, we snorkelled with sleepy white-tipped sharks and huge grazing sea-turtles.   Above the water are mangroves and candelabra cacti hundreds of years old.  Outside the reef we saw giant manta rays.  The whole trip was pretty amazing.  Sometimes you just have to be the tourist.

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Dancing Boobies

I have read about the ‘complex and comical’ courtship dance of the Blue Footed Booby.  In flight, boobies look much like a Guernsey Gannet in shape: streamlined fuselage, feet tucked away, low level gliding and a powerful dive from a great height.  We have seen a few of these birds around the islands but not up close, and certainly not dancing.  In Los Tuneles we almost tripped over a pair, mid performance.  It’s wonderful.  Slo-mo foot raises, whistling (male), grunting (female), all sorts of posturing.  Apparently the male needs to persist with this dance for WEEKS before the female acquiesces.

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We have noticed that several birds, animals and fish here are not afraid of us, or camera shy, but seem to be positively performing and posing for their close up!

The Booby dance is on the video, if you make it past the sea-lion footage..

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Penguins

This special Galapagos penguin is only to be found here.  Penguins!  On the Equator!  They are often seen in the bay where we are anchored, but it’s still too warm here, they are enjoying colder currents in the western islands.  So I had given up on seeing penguins here, but just as we were swimming back to our trip boat, the skipper called out “Pinguino!”  And there he was, a solitary penguin waddling along a rock next to another pair of dancing boobies.  Only in Galapagos!  I may buy a safari suit.

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Now what?

Dawn is flying home to the delights of springtime in Guernsey, catching up with family and friends.

Jemima and I are planning to sail the next part of the Pacific and meet Dawn again in Polynesia in a few weeks.

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Hare brained scheme

The traditional route from here is to sail to the Marquesas, the closest, northernmost islands in French Polynesia.

It is a well-trodden path these days.  This is the start of the cyclone-free season in Polynesia and most of the boats we met in Panama are making their way to the Marquesas.  I’m told the anchorages get crowded at this time of year.

So Jemima and I have decided to sail 2000 miles south instead, along the much less frequented route to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Bit of a detour.  If it all works out we’ll enter Polynesia via Pitcairn and the Gambier islands, (another 1200 miles) by which time it will be winter down there.

So thermal underwear possibly, but we will be 900 miles south of the crowd.

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Next Update

Well Dawn won’t be onboard to run the IT department!

We will try to send some text via the sat phone, if not it may be a quiet month on the blog!

Video

So here’s the roundup of footage from the last month, sorry but the sea lions have really stolen the show.  Again.

 

Isla San Cristobal

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The first thing I become aware of here in the Galapagos is that there are quite a lot of rules restricting my usual behaviour.

We are used to exploring by yacht, dinghy, paddleboard and windsurfers.  Finding deserted anchorages, freediving with the fauna, spearing the odd fish for supper, swimming ashore and generally doing exactly as we please.  Here of course the whole place is rightly protected from the likes of me.  A national park to ensure the future of a globally important natural wonder.  This does mean that if I want to go and see much beyond the three anchorages we are permitted to be in, I have to sign up to a tourist trip and be processed with the herd, which I’m just not good at. But I’m trying.

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The Sea Lions

The first day I went for a swim at the town beach and was joined by a frolicking young sea lion darting around me.  A lifeguard in a tower blew his whistle and said I was too close to the pup.  Well really.  These young sea lions are just ridiculously playful and friendly, more about them later.  First a word about their biggest fan, my daughter Jemima.

She does like a pinniped, her face lights up at the honk of a nearby pup. She spent a summer teaching sailing and hanging out with the sea lions in California, which became the subject of the final dissertation for her marine biology degree.  Then there was an orphan fur seal pup she nursed in South Africa, the Kiwi fur seals she found to play with in the wilds of South Island and most recently some sea lion spotting in the Falkland Islands on a yacht delivery stopover.

So the Galapagos Archipelego could be described as ‘right up her street’.

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The sea lions here really steal the show.  They are everywhere, living all over town, swimming round every boat and hauling out for a nap on any flat surface available. 15,000 individuals live here, and sometimes it sounds like they are all within honking range of the boat.  Hundreds of them on every beach, all around the rocks, lounging on any moored boat or pontoon they can climb on to.  Most sailing boats have rigged a defence system of fenders to prevent mass boardings, the sea lions would love to be lounging on our cockpit cushions given half a chance.

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They think they own the place here, sprawled out sleeping on the public seating along the harbour front.  They will tolerate humans nearby as long as we don’t disturb their lazy nap in the sun.

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They are so entertaining.  The young pups bleating for their mothers, grumpy old bulls barking, snorting and harrumphing around the colony.  Families curled up together, lying in the sun until one of them changes position, disturbing everyone’s sleep so they all have to wriggle around to get comfortable again.  Adolescents romping through the sleeping mass and jumping on everyone.  The very comical way they move on land and seem to be continually exhausted and only capable of lying in a heap.  We find we can watch and enjoy all this behaviour every day.

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But then you see them in the water.  We have been joined by excited pups on several snorkelling trips now.  At times they swim straight for us at high speed, porpoising with excitement to come and play with human swimmers.  Then they will cavort around us, coming closer on each pass, gaining in confidence, jumping over us.  Lithe, sleek, twisting bodies, changing direction so fast and gliding around us for the sheer joy of it.  It does put a big smile on your face.

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We had a long encounter with one individual.  We anchored our dinghy in about 8 metres of clear water over white sand, pulled our fins on and slipped in to snorkel.

The young sea lion saw us, launched off the nearby cardinal mark he had been lounging on and came leaping over, spinning around us.  Then we started diving with him, I was wearing some weights and could easily go down to the bottom to watch him swimming above.  He seemed to enjoy this and then would repeatedly swim from us straight to the bottom and wait for us to join him.  I would dive down, we both lie on the seabed for a while, looking at each other, then he would zip off and we spiral round each other back to the surface where we both take a breath before he goes back to the seabed to wait for me.  “Again! again!”.  A playful, freediving puppy.

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This seems like a pretty intense interaction with a wild sea creature and we were all buzzing from it.  Between us we have swum with dolphins and whales in a few different scenarios, but this contact seems different, much more personal.  The sea lions are actively engaging with us.  Friendly, unafraid, inquisitive and playful.

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It’s easy to (mis?)interpret some of the behaviour as cheeky humour.  We were all resting between dives on the glassy, sunny surface.  The sea lion approaches Jemima horizontally, almost motionless, putting his whiskers right up to her mask, they lie there for a moment eye to eye, then the pup blows a huge bubble in Jemima’s face and cavorts off.  I’m sure he was laughing as much as we were.

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After a few days the pups in the local ‘nursery’ area of the anchorage have become so accustomed to Jemima’s regular visits on the paddle board, they are now coming for rides on it!

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Surf

I’m tired tonight after a full day in the Galapagos.  Paddleboarding, a boat trip, two scuba dives and a surf session.

Surfing arrived here relatively recently, and it arrived on sailing boats like ours, bound for Polynesia.  A few decades ago those surfing sailors would have been anchored where I am now, and could not have failed to notice the quality of rights and lefts wrapping around the points on both sides of this natural harbour.  The surfboards came out of the yacht lockers and the locals took note.  The new generation of San Cristobal kids are now charging the waves in their backyard and loving it.

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There is a great Galapagos flavour to the surfing here.  A water taxi will pick me up from Escapade, drop me at the peak and come back for me at sunset.  Black volcanic boulders everywhere, marine iguanas patrolling the rocks, huge turtles in the water, the ever-present sea lions riding inside the waves at high speed.

As we sat at an empty break one Saturday morning, a visitor from mainland Ecuador told me the locals are complacent, or surfed-out, having too much fun.  There is no shortage of waves, look at where this archipelago sits on the equator.  Swells from the North and South Pacific arrive year round.

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But it’s also in the doldrums, I haven’t rigged my windsurf gear since Panama.  Even if there was wind, I’m sure it’s not allowed, might disturb the sea lions. (But they would love it!)

Tortoises

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There is a limited road system on San Cristobal, well one road really, across the southern part.  The whole of the rest of the island is wild national Park with no access.  We took a taxi down ‘the road’ to visit the breeding centre for the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. They are to be found foraging in the hot, dry vegetation, plodding heavily through the bush.  Magnificent creatures, the eldest of which may have been plodding here since the late 1800s!

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Scuba

We dived the cold waters around the walls of Kicker Rock, 7mm wetsuits and plenty of lead, with lots of fish, sharks and turtles.  Many of these fish are new to us, as is the endemic Galapagos Shark, streamlined silhouettes circling above us.  We tried to pick a low-swell day for our dive trip, but visibility was not great in the churning waters around the rock.  We have a few more dive sites on our Galapagos to-do list.

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Next island

After nine days at anchor here it’s time to move on.  We are leaving for the next stop on our Galapagos tour.  Isla Santa Cruz, 45 miles to the west.

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Bound For Galapagos

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Day 1

Farewell Panama.

Thanks for everything!

Our first full day at sea.  I think I already mentioned that this sea seems to be teeming with life.

Today started with a fin whale close by as we left the last of Las Perlas astern.

Then the manta rays started jumping.  Really jumping!  High back flips, all around the boat.  Mating displays?

The breeze was light and variable all day.  Sometimes we were reaching at 9 kts, then barely creeping along at 3 or 4.

The afternoon was glass calm, Escapade still somehow gliding on at 4 kts.  Big manta rays on the surface all around, 2 metre wingspan.

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Dolphins, turtles, schools of fish.  We landed another Spanish mackerel, protein for the day.

This evening the sea was glowing, mesmerising, the three of us each quietly absorbed in the beauty of it all.

We’re not used to sailing in such light wind, it’s very quiet and peaceful, and very satisfying to be crossing the smooth sea at the same speed as the wind.

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The wine-dark sea.

I think that’s the title of one of the Jack Aubrey books, the HMS Surprise sails in to an unnatural dark red sea and her superstitious crew consider it an ill portent.

Well today we crossed a vast red patch, my marine biologist daughter tells me it is caused by the upwelling of nutrients resulting in an algal bloom. Swirling dark red clouds below the surface.

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Tonight the phosphorescence was a good show, fish appearing as comets and a large manta like a spaceship alongside.

Day 2

Off the shelf

After all that marine wildlife, the next day was so different.

We had sailed west, straight off the continental shelf and out into the empty Pacific.  The sea bed 150m below us dropped away to 3,500m. We left the Americas behind, along with all signs of life at the surface. Not a bird in the sky or a single bite on the hook.

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Day 3

The Doldrums

The Equatorial sea areas previously known as the Doldrums seem to have been re-named.  So we are now sailing through the Inter Tropical Convergance Zone (ITCZ), but I think we’ll stick with the old seafaring term.  We are only about 4 degrees North of the Equator now and the winds are lacking in power and consistency. No problem if you happen to have a light boat, a keen crew and some big sails to play with, but we’re not breaking any speed records.  This area is also known for overcast skies and thunderstorms which we seem to be dodging at night.

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Day 4

Malpelo

Sea mounts rise from the ocean floor 3000 metres below, we sailed over one summit just 100m beneath us, an underwater mountain that would be a pretty good size Alp.

But one breaks the surface, a Gibraltar style rock emerges from the ocean, the tiny island of Malpelo is a Colombian possession, a remote naval outpost.  It is almost on our rhumb line to Galapagos.

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I have heard stories of spectacular diving, pristine waters and huge schools of hammerhead sharks.  We hoped to stop and have a look, but it seems that it’s now off limits to visitors.  Dawn’s VHF request for permission to approach the island was denied by the Colombian Navy, so we sailed on by.

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Scale

I still like a paper chart.

If you want to buy a nautical chart in Panama City you should go to see ‘Mister George’ at Islamorada International.  He has a huge colour printer and will run off an official, full size Admiralty chart of anywhere in the world, at the touch of a button. We bought a 1: 20,000,000 scale planning chart of the South Pacific.

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Now I have had time to unfold it and start to understand the size of the area. It’s daunting.

Our first Atlantic crossing in 2004 was 2,850 nautical miles I think, from Canaries to Antigua. It seemed an epic voyage. The Pacific at the equator is 11,000 miles East to West!  All of the land masses of the world could fit in the Pacific basin with room to spare.

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Day 5

Fish 

Having trolled a lure from dawn to dusk without so much as a click on the reel, I finally had some fresh fish on board tonight.  Reading in the cabin on my night watch, I looked up to see a fish flapping around on the galley floor.  It can only have arrived through the open hatch in the ceiling, a good 4 metres above sea level, obviously cruising altitude for this flying fish.  He seemed a bit surprised, as was I.  I guess he would have been swimming for his life to outrun a predator, breaking the surface and soaring to windward to escape, only to ricochet off the hatch of a passing yacht.  What are the chances?   Talk about ‘out of the frying pan in to the fire’.

A tiny adjustment to his trajectory would have actually landed him in my frying pan!

He wasn’t really big enough though, and seemed very keen to be swimming again, so I scooped him up and re-launched him into the night.  Good luck.

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Hydro Power

It took a while to run this sea-trial as the wind was not blowing in the doldrums.  When we did finally get up to 7 knots the new generator worked great, 16 amps coming in at that speed, rising to 30+ amps at 10 knots.  As soon as the boat is moving at her usual sailing speeds we have complete power autonomy.  This is really a game changer on passage, not only will it keep all the systems running day and night, without ever having to burn any diesel, it means that we have more power than we can use.  I can run the water-maker anytime, we have switched from gas to an electric kettle.  (Tea consumption is very high on this boat so that saves a lot of propane use.)  We have just sailed all night at about 7 or 8 knots, autopilot driving, and the boat batteries at 100% this morning!

So the tea is hot, the beers are cold, we’re charging laptops willy nilly, I could use an electric drill all day, I might buy myself a hairdryer!

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Day 6

A fine pair of boobies

At night we are joined by birds, usually in pairs, fluttering round the boat using our lights for a bit of night-fishing.

Last night at sunset a pair of boobies were doing laps and riding the airwaves off the code zero headsail.

One landed on the port bow and sat there resting his wings.  We are still 350 miles from Galapagos so there’s nowhere else to perch within a few days flight.

A pod of dolphins arrived and we went forward to see them.  Jemima had taken the booby’s seat, he flew a lap of the boat and tried to land on her head!

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A squadron of squidlets

My rounds on deck this morning were rewarded with this little haul.  Jet propelled protein snacks.

I found them at 7am, before the sun cooked them to the deck.  They were scattered from bows to transoms, ink splattered everywhere.

Now cleaned and in the fridge, to be fried with some garlic at lunchtime, and served with a chilled glass of wine perhaps.

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Ship’s stores

It’s two weeks since our trip to that market, and 6 days at sea on this passage.  The on-board tomato ripening program is going well.  We ate the last avocado this morning, our daily papayas are coming to an end, last mango is ripe, the miniature green bananas are turning yellow at a manageable rate.  We still have lettuces, broccoli and plenty of cabbages and 50 limes, so we are keeping the old scurvy at bay for now.

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Keeping busy

Dawn and I are used to sailing without crew, so having Jemima on board makes life much easier.  The night is split into three watches of four hours each, so we all get 8 hours sleep.  Luxury!  The code zero and full main have not been touched for days.  Escapade is cantering along at 8 and 9 knots to windward in a 10 kt breeze.

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So days are filled with eating, reading, music, sewing, workouts, fiercely competitive Scrabble sessions, charades, an audio book of Darwin’s 1835 voyage on the Beagle, and lots of gazing at the ever-mesmerising ocean gliding by.  But our main pre-occupation is food.  The discussing of options, menu ideas, planning, preparing and consuming three square meals a day, plus elevenses, afternoon tea and of course sundowners.  Don’t forget treats for the nightwatch.

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Day 7

Equator

The funny thing is, it’s getting colder.  The heat in Panama was up there at the top end of our operational temperature range, day and night.  That was about 5 degrees north of the equator.  Since we have been sailing south, the temperature has dropped quite a bit.  This morning we are only 2 degrees north of the line and there is a chill in the air.  We are attributing this to the Humboldt current bringing a touch of Antarctic freshness to us via the coast of Chile.  That would also account for the penguins swimming around the Equator in Galapagos.

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90 Degrees West

A less significant meridian this one, but 90 degrees west of Greenwich means that Escapade will have sailed a quarter of the way around the world.

I don’t need much of an excuse to start chilling a bottle of fizz for sunset and 25% of a circumnavigation is surely a worthy cause?

The Big Blue

Only the cleanest bottoms are allowed in the Galapagos.

The rules of the national park ban any foreign barnacles from arriving and we have heard tales of yachts being sent back out to sea to scrub off any growth before being allowed in.  We’re about 100 miles off, the wind died away tonight so we dropped the sails and jumped in for a sunset swim to check the hulls.  They were still spotless as you would hope, having been recently antifouled.  I polished up the props and I’m sure we will pass any inspection.  It was great to be swimming round the boat again, although we’re not used to that glowing mid ocean blue.  A few gossamer jellyfish drifting by, lit by low evening sun. Nearest land is only a mile away… straight down.

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Day 8

Landfall

Our first Galapagos island on the horizon at 8am, Isla Genovesa.  As we trolled our line into the fishy waters close to the island, we attracted a large and noisy crowd of frigate birds all swooping down on the lure.  We thought that announcing our arrival in the Parque Nacional with a drowned seabird in tow would not be a good look, so I quickly reeled in while Dawn tried to scare them off with a fog horn!  Disaster averted.

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Crossing The Line

Ceremonies to mark the passing of a ship over the equator have been a naval tradition for hundreds of years.  It was seen as a rite of passage for new hands and an excuse for a bit of dressing up and nonsense for everyone else.

Dawn and I are sailing across for the first time, so we are ‘pollywogs’, about to become ‘shellbacks’.  Jemima has crossed the line already so she was to preside over the ceremonies.  Around 14:00 she appeared as ‘Queen Codfish’ (standing in for Father Neptune) in a glorious home-made costume decorated with shells from Las Perlas.

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The first requirement from us was to ‘enliven her spirit with fruits of the land’ so a bottle was opened.  Offerings were made to Neptune in the forms of song and dance to request safe passage.  We sat by the chart plotter and watched the numbers click down to zero and the N became S.

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Welcome to the Southern Hemisphere!

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We furled the headsail, circled round again and jumped in to swim across the line.

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Celebrations continued with Jemima’s chocolate and banana Equator Cake.

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Day 9

San Cristobal

The little town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno sits on the shores of Wreck Bay.  We sail in, drop anchor and sails at about 9am.  A few minutes to savour the stillness before we are boarded by uniformed representatives of Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, Ecological Service, plus our agent, a diver to check our bottom (“limpio!”) and a fumigation team to exterminate any Panamanian insects who may have stowed away.

Time to go ashore to stretch our sea legs and celebrate a long passage with light winds all the way, but almost all of it under sail.

Our Galapagos exploration begins..

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