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.
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.
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.
Tonight the phosphorescence was a good show, fish appearing as comets and a large manta like a spaceship alongside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to the Southern Hemisphere!
We furled the headsail, circled round again and jumped in to swim across the line.
Celebrations continued with Jemima’s chocolate and banana Equator Cake.
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..