Thursday 2 March - Wednesday 15 March - Balboa to Galapagos
Thursday 2 March
We spend the day doing various errands. One thing I have to do is get the fishing rod serviced, as it is in a bit of a beaten up state after the fight with the Wahoo in the Atlantic. Now that we are going to be on passage again, its definitely time to get the fishing gear sharpened up. The Rod needs some repair, and the reel needs a thorough service and oiling to get the alarm working again. In the evening, David kindly drives us to the airport to pick up Claire and Kurt, who have flown here from London via Miami. We spot them through the sliding doors waiting for their luggage.
Soon Kurt come out to say hello, and we learn that either BA or American Airlines have lost one of their four pieces of luggage. This turns out to be the box that Nicole, a colleague at Monitor in London had kindly packed for me with my mail, some Navigation books and CDs, and other bits and pieces.
What a pain! We wait for the next flight, no sign of the box, so we then head for the boat as by this time its past midnight.
Friday 3 March
We continue to prepare for our passage, whilst staying in touch with the airport, waiting for news of the box. David takes Caroline off to a great fresh food market, so soon she is back laden with goodies. Best of all, he has shown us where we can buy the cured Spanish ham that we became so addicted to on the Atlantic crossing.
While Caroline was away, we had planned to give the boat a bit of a clean to get ready for our passage. She was looking a bit grubby on the topsides where the fenders had rubbed during the transit. Nothing that an hour with some soap would not cure. To our horror, when we looked over the side, we discovered that we were surrounded by an oil slick which had come from the direction of the Canal, and the waterline was caked in a layer of accumulated tar. This was building all the time as the current washed the slick past us. Nightmare! We looked around and noticed that the same was happening to other boats on their moorings. After a while, it looked as though the slick had passed. We launched the dinghy, and started the horrible process of trying to wipe away this gummy oily black mixture from the Ducks lovely white and grey hull. It was disgusting process and took basically the whole day rubbing with rag and petrol. Even then there was still a nasty brownish stain which would still need attention. The ugly scene was worsened when after the initial clean, when we felt as though we were making progress, the tide turned and washed the slick back in and coated the boat a second time! Very demoralising, but we kept scrubbing. Kurt and Clare were brilliant, and worked away all day in the blistering heat, helping to get it scrubbed.
Soon there were TV cameras around, and someone came round to each yacht and said that yachts could claim compensation for damage done.
By the end of the evening we were all exhausted. We discovered that an oil ship run by APSA was the culprit. It had blown a valve and chucked many gallons of oil by accident. They had gone on TV and taken responsibility, and have promised to make amends. Bit late now!
No sign of the box. I decide that we will delay our departure by a day. Two reasons. First, we are told it may turn up on Saturday night. Second, we need another half day to clean the dinghy (Our nice new RIB) which is now coated in tar, having been used as a cleaning platform, and finish the job on the hull.
Saturday 4 March - In Balboa, Pacific end of the Panama Canal Lat 8 deg 55 N : Lon 79 deg 35W
We crack the rest of the hull and the dinghy in a morning of hard work. We managed to get to a chandler and get some industrial strength soap, which helps.
At midday we take David out to lunch to say thank you at a really excellent Italian restaurant in Panama City. The City is getting geared up for the Annual carnival. This is the preparation weekend, and it starts in earnest on Monday. There is an eerie silence in the city as traffic is barred from the main centre and people are still preparing their costumes and floats, but the steady beat of some salsa music rises clearly from the waterside up to where we are.
Still no sign of the box. There is now little hope it will turn up, so if any of you have sent mail, please be aware that we will not have got it! We will have to make arrangements to replace all the other bits and pieces.
A lazy afternoon, and early night, as we are heading off tomorrow.
From here on, we are in much wilder and less-travelled territory. We may also find it harder to file log reports, as satellite telephone coverage is very patchy, although we have had varying reports.
We will do our best to get some good shots of the Galapagos, which promises to be a wildlife paradise that we are really looking forward to exploring.
Sunday 5 March
We popped up to the airport in Panama to have a last look see if our missing box had turned up. No joy. The lady from American Airlines was not optimistic. She said that if it has not turned up now, it is unlikely to turn up, so we should file a claim in a few days.
The wonderful David Manrique again stepped in and offered to act as our contact in Panama should the box pitch up in the next few days.
We got back to the boat, unhitched from the mooring, and came alongside the Yacht Club pontoon. There we filled the water tanks full, and gave the topsides the full treatment, so that she was sparkling clean. Probably the last freshwater hosing she sees before we get to Tahiti in early May.
We set sail off at about 3.40 pm, and motored out of the long channel. Lots of ships lining up to make the reverse crossing to the Atlantic, so we need our wits about us. Also not much wind, so we are motoring. It is 880 miles to the Galapagos from here, and the passage is notoriously windless. The doldrums, or to give it its proper name the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (must have been an American that called it that….) lies across our path. At least it does some of the time. It is like an amoeba shaped blob that gently floats around the equator, sometimes lying just South of it, and sometimes moving North. At present it is South of the equator, so we face a real fight to find wind and will inevitably have to do some motoring.
We do not carry enough diesel on the Duck to motor even half the way. Our tanks give us 300 miles range (at 6 knots), and I have loaded on another 100 miles worth in jerry cans. The lazarette is bursting with diesel jugs. This yacht was designed to sail, and built before the days when cruisers motored a lot. Contrast our capacity with our friend Kiko Rutter, who left on Thursday in his smaller Hallberg Rassey 42. He has 1000 miles of motoring capacity on board.
So we need some luck with the wind, or we will just have to sit and wait for it and watch our Galapagos time dwindle away.
By early evening we are delighted to discover that a breeze has picked up and we are able to sail at 6 knots on a broad reach.
Monday 6 March
Still steaming along on a broad reach, and closing on the Southern tip of the Bahia Panama, about 150 miles from Balboa. I had consulted the Forecasting Unit at Bracknell and asked them to tell me where the best chance of wind might be. They said stay close to land, so we gybed in close and sure enough kept the breeze.
It feels just great to be on passage again. Monday evening is a dreamy scene with calm sea, a fresh breeze to push us along, and great company with Kurt and Claire. The contrast to the wild wind and huge swells that we had seen in the Caribbean, particularly down to Panama, could not have been more marked. We have not seen such easy sailing since the Mediterranean in September.
I was also relieved to have the transit behind us, and the vastness of the Pacific opening out in front of us. Panama was really interesting, and David Manrique certainly made the stay in Balboa a real pleasure.
There is no doubt however that the real adventure starts here. There is very little in the way of technical support available until we get to Tahiti. Wind is not guaranteed until we get down to Latitude 10 or even 15 South. And we are likely to lose Satphone coverage for most of the way, so we will be out of touch. The Pacific passage is a scary but also exciting prospect.
Max the Monitor windvane is in use most of the time. It is working perfectly, and has clearly benefited from a modification and a small amount of welding which Nick Gambier had suggested in Colon. A great success, and we look forward to thousands of trouble free miles to Australia.
The sky is brilliantly clear, and we once again bring the computer on deck and use the wonderful ‘Starry night’ CD ROM to identify all the constellations. Now that we are so close to the equator, there are lots more constellations to see. Scorpio is my new favourite, and displaces Cassiopeia, which was with us all the way across the Atlantic. It is truly amazing software. You just enter your Lat and Lon, and it shows you the night sky from there, with some great graphics . You can run simulations over time, fast forwarding, and rewinding in time, and you can zoom right in and see what a planet looks like close up. Get one through their website in UK at www.guildsoft.co.uk, or outside UK at www.siennasoft.com. (I get no cut, honest!)
Tuesday 7 March
We had a bit of a scare when the wind went down to about 7 knots at night, but it soon got up again. We are delighted with this, as we are putting lots of miles into the bank, without having to motor. Two more days of this and we will be safely within motoring range. We are in touch daily with Kiko on the radio. He is about 300 miles ahead and has been motoring non-stop since he left, so is very jealous of our wind.
Highlight of the day is when we spot a whale cruising by about 200 metres off the starboard beam at dusk. It is heading fast in the other direction and does not stop to check us out sadly. A lovely sight.
Claire, who has done little sailing before, has really mastered the helm and is now confidently standing watches alone at night. Kurt has done lots of racing on the Duck as well as other yachts. Its great to have someone who knows the boat to help out. I have missed that since JJ and Em left us in St. Maarten.
Wednesday 8 March
Our luck runs out today. The wind dies early in the morning, as predicted. We start motoring at about midday. Initially we are able to motor-sail, but by evening the wind has died.
Then a series of rather nasty squalls come through which make life rather unpleasant as a swell is kicked up, but there is little appreciable wind to accompany it. We motor through it. A rather uncomfortable night all round, compounded by some ships coming at us at awkward angles.
Thursday 9 March
Still not a breath. We have now furled in the headsail and have given up all pretence at trying to motor sail. The sea is completely glassy. Thankfully the swell has died down, and we are able to motor at around seven knots comfortably.
It is hot, and the saltwater pump and hose on the foredeck is used daily for washing and keeping cool.
The compensation for this calm is that we can see the wildlife around us much more readily. In the early evening Caroline, Kurt and Claire on the foredeck see a pod of pilot whales, about seven or more heading straight for us like torpedoes . I altered course to avoid them, but of course they are way ahead of me, and simply dive down just before they get to us. The water is crystal clear and we can see their graceful, majestic shapes glide smoothly under our hull. We don’t see them again.
Later, however, we are joined by some dolphins. They stay and play for a good 15 minutes, treating us to some wonderful ‘hydrobatics’ in the bow wave.
Friday 10 March
STILL no wind! Thank God that we had just enough wind in the first few days to allow us to sail within motoring range. We are refilling the tanks now from the jerry cans, and have emptied all the cans. I have been dipping the tanks regularly just to make sure that I am using the right consumption rate for my calculations. We are in good shape, and will just about make it without having to dip into my emergency reserve of 20 Litres.
The big excitement of the day is the preparation for the Crossing the Line ceremony. This tradition harks back to square rigger days. When sailors on board cross the equator for the first time, they are subjected to an initiation ceremony led by King Neptune. I hate to think what the Jack Tars of old did to each other. On ‘Lazy Duck’ there is a fever of activity as the girls make a Crown, long snowy white beard, and Triton spear for me (I am to play King Neptune) out of cardboard and cotton wool. Sarah and I compose a poem to be read out during the ceremony. Caroline and the girls also set about concocting an evil-smelling gloop. See Sarah's log for the recipe. This gloop is to be poured on to all the newcomers to the Southern hemisphere by King Neptune. As it is my first time as well, Queen Neptune will also be pressed into service to do the honours on me. GULP!
The ceremony takes place at dusk. We set up my throne on the foredeck and the victims are lined up, youngest first. Hannah is very brave and closes her eyes very tightly as the gloop is poured over her. The poem is read out:
am King Neptune, King
of the deep
Sarah is next and it soon becomes clear that the team have done a very thorough job, after some experimentation, in producing really horrible stuff. Not only does it smell bad and have a disgusting slimy consistency. It also has flour added for extra durability and adhesive strength, bonding tightly to hair, clothes etc. Still its fun wielding the ladle, and by the time I get to Kurt, I am really getting into my role as King Neptune.
Unfortunately my zeal does not go unnoticed. By the time it has come for me to change roles and be initiated myself, Queen Neptune has a thoroughly evil glint in her eye. The crowd of strange looking, bad smelling crew are baying for blood. Queen Neptune dispenses with the ladle and simply picks up the bucket and empties the whole lot all over me. YUK!
It takes a while for the excitement to die down, and the deck to look clean, but everyone enjoyed themselves hugely. We decide that the only way to really clean off is to jump in the sea. There is not a breath of wind, so we jump in for a dip and liberal application of sea-soap.
We cross the line within the half hour. At this pace we will be in tomorrow at around midday.
Saturday 11 March
We sight land at dawn. San Cristobal island appears on our Port side as expected out of the morning haze. We plan to sail past it and go straight to Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay) where it is easier to check in and organise trips around the islands.
It is Emma’s (my sister's) birthday today, so thankfully e-mail is working and we can wish her well. I had been warned that we would lose coverage somewhere around here, so we are pleasantly surprised to still be in touch.
As we approach we spy a large turtle just gently swimming around. We motor right up to take a look, and it just stares back at us, totally unconcerned.
By two o’clock we have made it in to Academy bay. We get in touch with Riccardo Arenas, who will be acting as our agent here. He comes on board and talks us through the procedures for checking in etc. We are reunited with Kiko on ‘Hygeia’ who is anchored just across the way.
We take a trip ashore in the dinghy for a wander around. It has the appearance of a small village, with a lovely green square overlooking the bay, and a few craft shops and restaurants.
Riccardo takes me for a long run in the evening down to Tortuga beach. This beach is where the Turtles come to lay eggs in Jan/Feb. Miles of perfect white sand, and huge rollers coming in on the swell. A perfect end to the day.
Sunday 12 March
Took a small boat with a guide out to a tiny island. There we are able to swim and snorkel in amongst the sea-lions. The girls are in heaven! Then we go for a walk into the bush and see some lots of marine iguanas basking on the rocks. I will post pictures in the next log. Now we really felt we’d arrived in the Galapagos.
We started to make plans to do day trips out to the islands to snorkel, diving amongst the sharks and Manta rays, and inland to see the giant tortoises in the wild. What and exciting prospect for the next two weeks.
In the early evening we had a drama that was to provide a very different form of excitement over the next few days. The boat we had ordered that delivers fresh water on board (we are at anchor) came alongside. I was dozing down below. Caroline and Kurt set about preparing to take the water on board. The water inlet is on the starboard side. Caroline went below to open the inlet pipe. Kurt called down to check which side the inlet was on. Caroline shouted up ‘The Starboard side’. Kurt opened up the cap and started filling. After a while, the tank overflowed on deck. We had taken about 15 gallons. The man who brought the water was puzzled and started complaining in Spanish. He had been asked to bring 100 gallons, and was unhappy that we took so little. At this point I came up on deck to see what the fuss was all about. The water man was very unhappy, and I was mystified as I knew we needed about 100 gallons, and could not understand why we had taken so little.
Then the awful truth hit home. There are two inlets on the starboard side. The water had all gone into the starboard DIESEL FUEL tank!. Oh Dear. Now we are in trouble. We immediately isolated the starboard fuel tank and started to think through what needed to be done to recover the situation. Having isolated the tank, I was sure that as long as we don’t run the engine, we would avoid the really serious problem of putting water inside the infection pump and the injectors themselves. We got out the small pump I had bought in Antigua. This magic little device fits onto a standard electric drill and can deal with small pumping jobs very well. We opened up the fuel tanks (after Antigua I can now do this blindfolded) and started it up, pumping the diesel water mix into our empty Jerry cans. It worked fine, but was a bit slow. The tank was about half full of water. The battery ran down. We needed to charge it up to continue evacuating the tank. Having isolated the tank, I was sure that the port tank was clear, so we started the generator and charged up the drill battery and continued.
By the end of the evening we had emptied the tank completely into Jerry cans. We had used rag and tissue to get rid of the last remaining drops, and so we went to sleep, leaving the tank open and airing to allow the remaining water to evaporate.
Monday 13 March
Woke up early and made plans to get some more diesel to replenish. Kurt and Claire headed off to spend the day diving thinking, as I did, that we had solved the problem. Caroline and I took of with the girls for a morning shopping. At midday, we came back to the boat. Batteries were low, so we need to charge using the engine. This should be fine, as port tank is nice and clean. Or so we thought. The engine ran fine for about half an hour, then started spluttering. I raced up to switch it off before it conked out. I inspected the Racor filters, and was horrified to discover that it was full of water. Praying that it had not got into the engine, I followed the fuel line in to the fine fuel filter, the last line of defence before the injectors. I took this off, and discovered it was half full of water. This means that some water could well have got through to the injectors. If it has, we have to get it out fast. Worst case scenario is that the injector pump could be ruined, as the pump and the injectors are only lubricated by diesel in this engine.
Worst of all, if the cylinders have been trying to burn water and created steam, we could bend a con rod and write off the engine. We set to work. It is clear that somehow (at this stage, we are still mystified how) water got into the port tank. We open it out and clean thoroughly, using the drill and pump again. We fill the starboard tank with my last diesel, the 20 litres of emergency. We strip the injectors and bleed clean fuel all the way through to them. We pray hard and fire it up. It starts and runs. Hallelujah! Now we have clean fuel going through. Soon however, we notice that there is still build up of water in the Racor filters. This is the engine flushing out the water and returning it into the fuel system. We stop the engine and add some more diesel - we had scrounged about 5 gallons – the island is out of diesel until a ship comes in tomorrow. This goes into the Port tank. We try to prime it. Not enough in the tank to gravity feed. Now we have to wait until tomorrow to get some more diesel and keep flushing.
Help! This is literally the worst place in the World for this to happen. Panama is 880 miles back up through the doldrums. Tahiti is 3700 miles downwind. We would be pushed to make either without an engine to at least charge the batteries. And now that we have discovered that the Port tank somehow got contaminated, the generator will also probably have some water in it as we ran it to charge the drill.
The good news is that, having successfully bled and started the engine, it is quite likely that we have avoided major damage there. If we can get some more diesel tomorrow, we can continue flushing and hopefully get the generator going. Very frustrating to have to wait though. Also, we are way down on power, so we use torches. The gloom on the boat matches my mood.
Not much sleep tonight. Can’t wait for the morning to get going on it again.
Tuesday 14 March
Kind friends Glenn and Julie on next door boat lend us some diesel. We fill the Port tank, capture the return feed in a separate container so that it does not go back into the tank, and fire it up. IT works. HOORAY!. It runs smoothly for an hour with clean Filters. HOORAY AGAIN! Now for the generator. We eventually figure out how to prime it with some input from Glenn. It also has a small Racor filter which is full of water. Crucially, however, it had not conked out, so we may have been lucky and switched it off just before the water got beyond the Racor. Soon we are ready to try starting it. It fires up, coughs and splutters, dies down for about 20 seconds, then fires back up again and runs smoothly. HOORAY AGAIN!
Now we must watch the Racors carefully for any water build up, but we are probably home and dry. The relief I feel is extraordinary. Definitely the nastiest moment on the trip so far, and hopefully now behind us.
Having gone through all the bleeding process we have also worked out how the water got through to the Port tank. Whilst the two feed pipes are indeed completely separate as we assumed, the return pipes, which take excess fuel back into the tank, meet at a junction point. This point is lower than the tanks, so does not equalise them, ie if you fill starboard tank, port will remain empty normally. UNLESS, that is, you keep trying to force fuel in to the full tank. In this case the excess will both bubble up in the intake and also crucially, force its way up through the return pipe into the Port tank. The guy filling with water had done just this, in his zeal to keep filling up, having only filled 15 gallons with, he thought, another 85 to go!
We celebrate our escape with a good lunch ashore. Hopefully we can now concentrate on enjoying ourselves in paradise….!
Wednesday 15 March - Academy Bay, Galapagos Islands Lat 0 deg 44 (South!) Lon 90 deg 18 West
Wake up to a highly recognisable hail of ‘Lazy Duck’ at about 7 am. It is John Ripard Senior, John-John’s dad. We knew he was somewhere here with his wife Rosette, and now he has found us. They have been cruising the islands and have had an amazing time. They will come on board to see us this evening.
Tomorrow we plan a highlands tour. John-John and Sebastian arrive on Friday. Then we plan to charter a catamaran (we are not allowed to use our own boats) with a guide and dive master. We will take off for a three day trip around the islands. The next log will covert this period and hopefully have some shots of the wonderful wildlife here.