Monday, 28 April 2014

Bahia de Caraquez to the Marquesas via the Galapagos

Apologies for the lack of photography on this bog, but it is impossible at present to get a decent wi fi with enough speed to download photos either in the Galapagos or here in Hiva Oa

We left Bahia at 13.00 on Tuesday 11March, with Colin, Andrew,Peter,Ceri and I  as crew. Pedro and Carlos piloted us through the surf at the narrow entrance to the bay. Our depth gauge was reading 0.2 metres below the keel for a while. 

Our 630 mile passage took 7 days in fairly light winds which meant motoring around 50 % of the time. We had used most of the fuel containers on deck by the time  we reached the Galapagos. To get it from 20 litre container into the tank you use a Jiggly siphon which consists of a small ball in a cage which you rattle to generate the necessary vacuum. Much better than sucking the diesel up the pipe where you inevitably get a mouthful. We then pass it through a fine mesh filter which proved necessary as some paint residues from one of the containers arrived on  the filter.

Peter has re organised the fishing tackle ,with heavier braided lines and a fish alert system that involves winding the line round the winch that gives us a very audible zing when a fish takes. As a result after a couple wriggled free we landed a magnificent blue fin tuna. Peters boneless filleting technique sprang into action,and we had tuna sushi with wasabi sauce for lunch, plus tuna stakes for the fridge- marvellous.

Ceri's 59th birthday was spent at sea. All the poor chap got from the rest of the crew was an extra helping of dessert! 

As we approached the Galapagos, we began to see increasing numbers of birds, dolphins followed us for a while and we saw double finned Manta Rays jumping out of the water to clear the lice. To avoid arriving at Puerto Villamil in the dark we hove to until 4 in the morning. This is a very comfortable manoeuvre involving backing the genoa and lashing the wheel to ensure a stable boat and minimal progress . It can get you out of trouble in all sorts of situations and is favoured by single handers.

We arrived in the beautiful anchorage of Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela at 10am on Tuesday 18th of March. On radio instructions from the local agent "JC" . We                                                                                                                                                                                    picked up a buoy and then went ashore to meet him. He informed us that there was a new port Captain and that we could only stay 24 -72 hours unless we thought of a good excuse.  Within a short period he told us things had changed and that we could stay for 20 days, provided we submitted ourselves to open wallet surgery with a variety of fees and charges amounting to around $1000 in total. After an inspection on board and a morning at the port captains office we were finally free to escape the clutches of Ecuadorian beurocracy and enjoy the Island. At least on this island the navy don't have a diver so they can't inspect your hull.
When you step ashore from your dinghy , the dock and benches are covered with sea lions who ignore you completely and perform comic turns with each other. Marine Iguanas lie in wait on the footpath, and Galapagos Penguins perch on the rocks looking at your berthing manoeuvres with a superior air. None of the wildlife has any fear of humans.

The town itself is fairly small. Provisioning is tricky  because of short supplies which come periodically by freighter and are then ferried ashore on large rafts. After a few days in the shops fresh produce is either non existent or what you would normally throw out. We couldn't find decent meat anywhere until on our last day we were directed down a side street to a couple of doors normally closed. The lady sawed off some beef from a huge bit of haunch and we got the front half of a chicken that just needed deboning to turn into breasts. The price was also half the exorbitant shop rate! Just shows if you hang around long enough you find out what the locals do to survive.

There were plenty of large cruising boats on the anchorage mainly heading for the Marquesas. Neville on a boat called Alba has arranged a cruisers net on the Single Side Band radio at 12 Midday Ecuador time , 1800 Zulu (Greenwich mean time) that will be particularly useful to us as we have not been able to solve why the pactor modem fails to send messages in the outbox. So we can't get weather or do Emails at sea.  Cruising boats also tend to share information and resources which is a handy way to do things when there are no chandleries ashore.

We had a wonderful day driving into the interior of the island which was quite green as rain is precipitated by the height of the volcano at 1,000 metres. We then walked 16 kilometres along a path that took us above the enormous crater of the volcano that had last erupted in 2005.  The crater was 10 kilometres in diameter  and is just beaten in size by one in Tanzania. It was great walking at 1000 metres, the air was cooler especially starting at 7 am ,butterflies, finches flew around our heads and land based iguanas occasionally poked their noses out of fissures in the volcanic rock. The air temperature made it just like walking along on a summers day back home. We walked across the moonscape of the 2005 eruption on the side of the main caldera. The fragments of volcanic ash contained many colours including shiny aluminium, copper, ferrous deposits and many other rare earth elements.  The streams of molten lava had solidified from the cooler outside inwards leaving long rock tunnels, and we peered deep into holes made by multiple small eruptions. Apparently  Vulcanologists monitor the height of the main crater which is pushed up by the magma core underneath the earth. It sinks back after an eruption, and then gradually rises. At present it has risen 2 metres; they will  start to get worried when it reaches 5 metres.

We took a fast ferry to the main island Santa Cruz mainly to visit a cash machine, non existent on Isabela despite the presence of  several local banks who do not dispense cash to tourists. The 40 miles takes 2 hours in a speedboat with 3 huge 300 horse power Yamaha petrol outboard engines. The main town Puerto Ayora is much busier and more commercialised than Villamil with numerous shops selling tours. We hired bicycles and cycled to the Darwin Research Centre . This was something of a disappointment. There was a display area warning about global warming and species reduction on the Galapagos, but almost nothing about Darwin and why the Galapagos allowed him to come up with his theory of evolution and no real celebration of the unique plant and animal life on these Islands. There were a lot of air conditioned research department offices sponsored by North American and European Universities that seemed to come up with fairly indifferent publications every 5 years  or so. The only people we saw working were some American Volunteers in the greenhouse.
Nevertheless there was an interesting display of how the beaks of Darwin's finches had varied according to the different sources of food on different islands which had helped him work out the principle of natural selection, and there were some giant tortoises looking pretty grumpy in their compound. However at 175 years of age they had seen it all before.

In the late afternoon we strolled down a 2 kilometre path through some cacti that had developed tree bark at their base and swam on a great surfing beach surrounded by sea birds including Boobies which are gannet like in appearance and flight, and the ever present terra-dactyl like frigate bird that robs 70% of its food off other birds. Colin made friends with a pair of iguanas.

We said goodbye to Andrew the next day. He had celebrated his departure until 4 am with Colin in some local night spots. At 67 he looked fresh as a daisy at breakfast compared with Col who had developed oesophagitis and the rest of the "younger " crew who had gone to bed early. Truly a man with an iron constitution who also managed to run his business with Skype calls at 5am Galapagos time.

Back on Isabela, Colin ,Ceri and I went diving for a day off a neighbouring island , on the promise of hammerhead sharks. The dive wasn't easy.there were 8 people on it with only one dive master, visibility was poor and Ceri who had only done 3 dives before was issued with a Buoyancy Control Device that didn't inflate properly which resulted in him nearly sinking when he came to the surface. I saw a turtle in the distance and Colin reckoned he glimpsed some sharks. One of the divers happened to be an instructor and reckoned it was the worst dive she had been on. We didn't have much to compare it with.

We had a much better time the following day  when we took a boat out to Los Tunnelos, Volcanic Reefs that had formed tunnels through which the sea passed.
We went snorkelling and were privileged to see huge sea turtles , grazing on the sea bed with small fishes around them gobbling up the displaced algae. These huge creatures were 150 -200 years old and took absolutely no notice of us as we snorkelled to within a foot of them. We dived into caves where White tipped sharks lurked and the whole reef was crawling with fish like an ultimate tropical fish tank.
Ashore standing above the lava tunnels there was an interesting mixture of plants. Cacti and mangrove thriving on fresh water, together with lichens and grasses that metabolised salt water. The fissures in the larva rock had produced different microclimates. Blue footed booby birds unique to the Galapagos perched happily on the rocks preening themselves, next to Galapagos Penguins who come as far north as the Galápagos Islands because of the cold Humbolt current from the south.
Our scouring of the shops for provisions continued. We eventually managed to get some black market fuel off our agent. It arrived clandestinely by truck at night and we transferred it in twenty litre containers by dinghy to the boat at low water which was tricky because of the large number of rocks around the anchorage. It was impossible to get our butane gas bottles filled as the island was on propane and there were no small propane bottles to buy. So we will need to be very careful about gas use over the 30 days to the Marquesas.

After finally obtaining our exit Zarpa ( the computer had broken down , and they were two days behind doing things manually! ) we set sail for the Marquesas on the afternoon of March 27th . We spent the morning diving under the boat and cleaning the hull and prop. A considerable amount of weed had accumulated in just over a week on the anchorage. The bottom of the dinghy was similarly coated, however it is now much easier to pull the dinghy out of the water as we can pull it up using our handy billy pulley system attached to the main halliard. 

Our first afternoon at sea was spent beam reaching in a pleasant local sea breeze, reflecting on the Galapagos. The Ecuadorian government are obviously trying to limit the flow of visitors to protect the wildlife by making the Islands a top dollar destination . While we could see the logic of this position and accepted the need to charge more money, the sea of beurocracy and endless petty regulations that were flouted by the locals on a regular basis just created an unnecessary pantomime , with agents in the middle raking in fees just to help navigate the system. The  topography and wildlife of these Islands remains unique and we were privileged to see it .

The wind soon died as we went into the inter tropical conversion zone( doldrums by any other name) . Neville called us up on VHF radio with a prediction that we would have to go about 5 degrees ( 300 miles South ) before reaching reliable trade winds. This proved entirely correct as we sailed, motor sailed , and motored using what wind we could. Three days later, by the time we reached the trades we had been motoring for 39 hours albeit on low revs. Prior to getting into the trades we entered an area called the variables where the wind came from a variety of directions, with frequent squalls and downpours. In one of these the ultra violet strip on the foresail ripped, so there was nothing for it but getting the sail down on the foredeck, and then stitching the ripped fragments in place and then taping them over. This took about 3 hours getting fried on the foredeck , after which we were knackered . Fortunately Ceri had fried up Chicken Fahitas for dinner after which we were properly restored. 
In 4 days we have seen only one other ship a freighter. The Dutch Captain called us on the VHF . He was a yachtsman himself and wanted to know that we were all OK. 
He wanted to know where we were going and wished us fair winds for the voyage to the Marquesas. 
Monday 31 March was a lovely day . We had reached 6 degrees South . The SE Trade winds strengthened to 12 knots and we cruised along with a poled out goose winged genoa at 5 knots. The sun was shining and all was well. Our radio net is frustrating . We can only faintly hear the other boats apart from Grace who is around 30 miles from us, so we couldn't get a weather forecast, so Colin's satellite phone is a godsend. Colin  was able to speak with his daughter Jenny who was moving back to Berlin and I spoke to Bridget and ordered a new bulb for the main compass light which has blown. We saw another boat that looked like a whaler with a tall observation tower and huge derricks on the back. At the same time we saw the spout of a whale blowing off in the distance. We hoped the crew didn't spot it. Ceri has seen a pod of Orca whales but Colin remains skeptical.

At night there is a new gibbous moon ,so the stars are very bright. In the South one can see the Southern Cross straddled by the giant constellation of Centaurus striding across the sky, while it's still possible to see Ursa Major(the plough) in the North ,however the pole star has dropped below the northern horizon. Orion which is in the South at home now lies directly overhead. The Milky Way is very vivid and with the binoculars you can see the thousands of stars in it. Occasionally shooting stars cross the sky.
The boats wake creates a myriad of phosphorescent stars so sitting out on night watch in a cool breeze , with just your thoughts for company is a real pleasure.

Tuesday April1 appropriately named April fools day as we awoke to rising winds and heavy squalls of rain. We took in one reef where I stupidly lost my specs overboard as they were caught by a flogging genoa sheet. At 11 am the wind was rising at 25 knots (Force 6)so we took in a second reef without incident. We beam reached in overcast rainy conditions with a fairly big swell occasionally breaking into the cockpit. Cooking below was difficult so Pete did stew in the pressure cooker that worked well . Our carrots which never looked good when we bought them are going soft at a rapid rate so we will need to eat them up. We can't understand what's happened to those balmy trade wind conditions!  
Wednesday  April 2 was a much better day. The wind had moderated to 16-20 knots so we shook out a reef . The motion is more comfortable, and we are doing at least 6.5 knots over the ground. Yesterday we managed over 140 nautical miles. Only 2400 miles to go ! 
When we slowed down to reef there was a zing on the line . Ceri and Colin pulled in a beautiful Dorado , which I filleted using Pete's technique. Ceri then cooked Dorado fried in batter, a  mayonnaise sauce with lime and ginger in it, sautéed potatoes and green beans for dinner. It was voted best meal of the trip so far. Pete says Dorado is very expensive in top restaurants. 
The sail repair has come undone, so we will have to redo it when the weather  improves. We probably needed to stitch on the tape. The mast head light is now flickering, and we lost a bucket overboard, so we have strengthened the rope carrying the remaining one by making new holes in the plastic rim with a hot knife. As ever on passage the snag list grows. But we are heartened by steady trade wind progress and hope it keeps up.
Thursday April 3. Steady progress in 20 knot winds. Our noon position showed 150 miles run yesterday, a record! We spoke to Sailing Vessel Grace on the radio net this morning. She is some 60 miles ahead of us and gave us a weather report that indicates steady SE trade winds for at least the next 3 days. Apart from the woodwork joint between the engine cross section and Colin's bunk coming apart and banging in rolly conditions all is well. Some repair jobs are too difficult in rolly conditions and will have to wait for an anchorage.
April 5 . My 60th Birthday . Had a lovely day . Spoke to Bridget on Colin's satellite phone. Colin provided tea for breakfast and fruit cocktail plus chocolate and coffee at dinner , finished off with an episode of Michael Palin around the world in 80 days. What more could a man ask for!

We've been making steady progress of 140-150 miles a day, helped by the South Equatorial Current that runs West at 1-2 knots. Some of to the fresh food has gone mouldy . It's important to identify fruit, potatoes or carrots that are going off to separate them from other stores and either eat them straight away or throw them out if too far gone. We haven't found a good way of keeping carrots. Wrapping in silver foil just seemed to retain moisture and leaving them untouched on the vegetable rack didn't work either. Cabbage and onions last really well  ( ideal ingredients for a stir fry.) 
Because of limited water , we tend to have a proper wash on the foredeck with a salt water bucket shower and hair wash plus shave every 3-4 days. You can get a lather in salt water using either salt water shampoo or Johnson's baby soap which.  doesn't hurt your eyes. I'm convinced that with less frequent washing in salt water we smell less. Soap and all the anti perspirants we normally apply must deprive the skin of its natural anti bacterial oils and encourage smelly bacteria in body crevices. It would be interesting to do a study, comparing salt water washes under one armpit with all the usual preparations under another. Interestingly salt water doesn't seem to make you sore either.
Apart from sailing the boat, life is a series of daily checks. Above deck for chafe on ropes or sails. Examining the rigging every day . Pumping out bilge and holding tank water. Deploying the water maker during the day when there is extra charge from solar power, and checking all systems are working.
April 6/7th. We're continuing to make steady progress of around 140 miles a day. Yesterday morning when the swell had eased a bit Colin and I got into the engine compartment and put several large screws into a bulkhead that was coming loose and was making alarming banging noises when the sea was rough. It seemed to work fine. We tested it out last night when the wind got up to 30 knots right in the middle of Michael Palins around the world in 80 days (cockpit evening video)which we had to terminate early to get on the foredeck and take in a second reef. With reduced sail the Aries Wind Vane coped very well however nobody slept very well as we were being thrown around in quite a big sea. The important thing in a blow is to get both the foresail and the mainsail rigidly fixed in position with guys to the genoa pole and preventers to the main with everything sheeted in tight to prevent flogging and chafe.

We have now left the Galapagos Petrels behind. They had an interesting habit of dipping their feet in the water as they flew presumably to collect algae and are affectionately named Mother Cary's Chickens by generations of British sailors. The current petrels are larger and do more acrobatics. We also had a visit from a solitary egret who perched on our Bimini for a rest. At over a thousand miles from any land, who knows where he was heading? We haven't seen another vessel for over 6 days now as we are completely out of the shipping lanes, so it's good to be able to say hello to other boats albeit 300 miles away on the midday check in on the cruisers SSB radio net.
April 8/9 . Conditions for the past two days have been rougher with 20-25 knot winds and sometimes confused seas. When the local wind is at odds with the main swell, waves sometimes hit the boat beam on  drenching everyone in the cockpit and causing the cook to swear as the boat rocks to 60 degrees and stuff goes on the floor. Two reefs in the main and a slightly reefed poled out genoa seem to keep us stable. 
The Aries Wind Vane is a remarkable device . Invented by Blondie Hasler the commander of the Royal Marine Cockleshell raid in WW2, the vane steers the boat using only the power of the wind. The vane is deflected from the vertical by the wind moving to one side or the other. This then moves a gearing that causes the wind vane rudder to rotate within its tube. This rotation then allows the water running past the boat to move the wind vane rudder to port or starboard with much greater force pulling lines that are attached to the steering wheel. It's often better than a helmsman , requires minimal maintenance, and means we don't have to switch the engine on to maintain power.
We keep in touch with other boats via the SSB radio net at midday and although everyone is grumbling about the rolly conditions we are all making steady progress towards the Marquesas. There is a sweepstake out on our arrival time . We are now over half way and Ceri appears to be the hot favourite at a 25 day passage.

April 10-13. The wind has gradually moderated together with the seas, ensuring better sleeping but also a slower average speed of just over 5 knots. We've had a close look at the rudder which is making clunking noises. The casing enclosing the rudder tube is moving from side to side. It has a flange attached to a horizontal piece of glassed in ply with some machine screws with nuts on the underside side. There seems to be movement next to the shaft of the bolts. Access in the stern locker is dreadful. With Colin inside the locker , just able to get a ring spanner on the nuts on the undersurface we were unable to shift them as they were seized in position on the bolts. We therefore fashioned a plywood brace on both sides that has wedged the rudder tube in position and virtually stopped the movement. When we get the boat to Tahiti we will get the boat out of the water for anti fouling and changing the anodes. We had better take a close look at the bottom end of the rudder for movement and maybe seek professional help if the job is too difficult.

When it comes to snags it never rains it pours. We got our old spinnaker out in the light airs today . The combination of spinnaker and main gave us over six knots. Sadly our joy was short lived as the foot of the sail caught over the pulpit light giving us a large rip in the base of the spinnaker and another vertical tear, too big to repair at sea. So we will have to try and find a sailmaker in Tahiti to see if it is possible to do a professional repair .

On the positive side we caught a couple of small tuna , one in the morning and one in the evening. The fried fillets were lovely for lunch on two days. I've also made reasonable whole meal bread. The secret seems to be allowing the yeast to prove by adding it to warm water and sugar and checking it bubbles prior to adding it to the flour for kneading. Our water maker is working well and keeping the tank topped up and the Duogen propellor keeps the batteries charged at night. We don't use it in rough weather for fear of damaging the shaft. We have finished our fresh produce apart from potatoes, onions and eggs which have kept well and the fresh meat is nearly finished. Not bad for nearly three weeks at sea. It's time to start spicing up the tins.
April 14-18 
On the evening of the 14th at 1130 pm local time ,we were privileged to see a total lunar eclipse . The earths shadow gradually covered a full moon until you could just see a penumbra of light around the edge of the moon. Then for a while the moon glowed red as the red spectrum of light curved round the edge of the earth to illuminate it. Finally after about an hour of total eclipse ,the opposite side of the moon started to reappear as the rather smudgy shadow of the earth crossed it. It was all over by 1.30 am on my watch. The eclipse was only visible in the Southern Pacific - lucky us! 
The winds have lightened to 9 -13 knots which has slowed progress. Kika always has less canvas in light airs than larger boats. On the morning of 20 th April , we decided to try and speed things up with the parasailor. As we put the engine on to reef the main, the oil pressure alarm sounded. We switched off and went below to investigate. Another of the pipes from the oil filter had burst off , spraying the sump with most of the engine oil. Colin and I spent the next two hours relocating pipes with additional jubilee clips for safety , refilling the engine and cleaning up stripped to our underpants. We got the parasail up only to find the wind so light we had to engine it. Peter gave a shout , there was a loud bang and smoke by the chart table seat. We switched off and investigated. The engine appeared to have overcharged the inverter and I was convinced the voltage regulator off the alternator had blown.
Finally got back on deck to find a tear in the parasail. Colin and I got the sail down and repaired the rip with tape. We then investigated all the wiring and the regulator all of which looked OK and finally collapsed in the cockpit . I could have done with a large Gin and Tonic. Snags definitely seem to come in threes!
Sunday  20th April
What a difference a day makes. After a good kip and a look at the manual, we put the regulator through its test cycle - definitely working ! Hurray! The alternator was generating high amperage for a prolonged period because the batteries just hadn't had a decent charge for ages.
We spoke to Martin on the Dutch boat Hera on the radio net. He had just arrived in Hiva Oa and gave us valuable information on the anchorage . 
At 2.30 in the afternoon Ceri on watch spotted land. Fatu  Hiva on the port beam and Hiva Oa dead ahead towering out of the mist. After 25 days at sea we are nearly there. It's been a pleasure mainly because Colin, Ceri and Pete have been great company and have been a brilliant crew. We've eaten well and all survived with no significant injuries.
Our plan now is to proceed slowly under sail at 3 knots , heave to if necessary overnight and enter Atuona bay at first light. The anchorage is quite crowded with most boats on bow and stern anchors because of the swell so it will be good sort it out in the day and dinghy ashore for lunch. Ceri thinks he can just see the head on the beer through his powerful binoculars.

We entered the spectacular bay of Atuona port at 6 am with the early morning sun catching the enormous green clad mountains. A large pod of dolphins escorted us in and as we rounded the breakwater we saw our friends Martin and Bea in Heera who indicated a good spot to anchor . We dropped the hook using both bow and stern anchors in fairly crowded conditions and after tidying up went for lunch ashore . It was great to be in French Polnesia.