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Passage from Panama to The Galapagos Islands

July 2nd, 2008 · 8 Comments

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Our time in Panama was up. The ever-pumping surf had decimated us into useless lumps of surf-induced soreness, but with all the left over stoke still fueling and driving us. Our quest for new lands and adventures will continue. So, with a quick trip into the local store to grab some, potatoes, eggs, hot sauce (of course), milk that doesn’t go bad for months and gasolina. We said peace out to our little anchorage and headed for Ensenada Naranja on Isla Cebaco, where we could find the supply ship and floating fuel station “Cebaco Bay”.

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We topped off our 17 jerry cans, scoured an onshore plantation for some more lemons, limes, oranges, coconuts and some wired fruit Kahlil got. It looked like a big piece of white, semi-translucent ginger and had a jellyish consistency. It friggin smelled like absolutely rank BO. Ben and I are like what the F@$# is this S*#!, it smells worse than crap. But, Kahlil insisted the natives said they were super tasty, only smelled bad and Dizzy said he saw it for sale in a market before (I doubt it, Dizzy has a hard time remembering how to find a surf break he surfed the day before). I had never seen such a fruit before and I wasn’t trying that nasty thing. A little bit into the passage Kahlil just bites solidly into it and runs hurriedly aft spitting and retching, he chomped off a big bite of the BO fruit and proclaimed it was just like eating a nasty stench. What a retard, I swear the villagers were fucking with him and we tired to tell him.Kahlil_tree_climb.jpg

Any way, a little bottom scrubbing, not mine, the boat’s and we set sail or rather turned on the engines and headed out of Ensenada Naranja, aiming for the Galapagos Islands and into the vast Pacific Ocean. We powered for a while, as there was zero wind again. This time of year Panama lies in the ITCZ (Inner Tropical Convergence Zone or Doldrums) and as a result has little wind. We had four fishing lines out, two poles and two hand lines, but could only catch small Bonita, which we still happily ate and P Kiddy was in fish food heaven for a couple more days too. I swear he is the most spoiled cat ever just eating tons of sashimi quality fresh fish and now even demanding it. What else can I do, but make the little fur ball’s day, cutting up mini bite size cubes every morning and evening for his dinner, always getting the appreciative leg rub up when he’s finished, letting me know how much he appreciates the tasty morsels.P_sunset.jpg

We weren’t the only ones fishing out here though. As night fell a moderate breeze built, and we quickly hoisted the sails and were soon blasting along at 8 knots. But we were headed straight into a pack of six fishing vessels with long lines deployed and thankfully, strobe lights marking the ends of them. We had to bare off, way off and steer around these ensnaring lines, which stretched out for miles. But any potential problem was averted and with that it was the open ocean and no more ships to be seen anywhere, until we made it too the Galapagos.

The breeze lasted only six short hours, but never less was a welcome relief from the rumble of the diesel engines. Around early morning we turned them back on and were once again motoring on a peaceful sea. We were headed almost due south trying to cross through the ITCZ at a right angle, minimizing our time in the Doldrums and speeding up the meeting of the Southern Hemisphere Trade winds. During the Southern Hemisphere winter the trade winds push across the equator and make it to about 3 degrees north, making the passage potentially faster, as its not entirely in the doldrums the entire way. We spent the next day and a half motoring along, with no fish biting, except one short fish-on incident. Luckily it quickly came off the hook, as when we looked back a giant Black Marlin was jumping and thrashing out of the water behind the boat. Easily the biggest fish I had ever seen, probably in the 1000-pound range and would have absolutely just destroyed our fishing tackle if we tried to fight it. The weather partly overcast, growing cooler and we were alternating between running one engine and then the other for about three hour stints, checking the fluid levels of each one during its off time. When almost like clockwork we hit 3 degrees north and boom! The wind started to pick up and whoo hoo we were sailing again.

We turned the engines off for good this time and trimmed our sails to a close-hauled course headed W/SW on a very fresh breeze, jamming along at 10 knots. The wind increased and the seas built and soon reefs were put in and then second reefs as the apparent wind was now in the low 30 knot range. The wind continued to stay strong the entire rest of the trip and we were kept moderately busy putting reefs in and taking them out of the sails. “Natural Mystic” likes to sail powered up, especially into a head sea. Its when the wind drops and you are underpowered sailing around 7 knots when she starts to pound into the seas, slamming into the bottom of the wave troughs. But, when she is correctly powered charging along around 9 to 10 knots, she powers through the waves, over their troughs, like a freight train and doesn’t pound nearly as much. This means you have to pay attention to the wind and the sails and trim the boat correctly, just reefing because its nighttime doesn’t work and can make for a very uncomfortable, jarring ride. storm_brewing.jpg

Fishing was mostly out of the question, as it was too windy to stop the boat with the sails up if we hooked one with a conventional pole, but we left the handlines out and when we checked them some hours later discovered, both had hooks that had straightened out, as if what ever they hooked was too heavy for the metal and our speed combination. I made a mental note to get some bigger, stronger hooks for our handlines.

The next days were spent just sailing our boat as best we could, trying to play the minimal wind shifts to make as much southing as possible, for our course was taking us just a degree or two north of our chosen landfall. This was broken up by our constant entertainment, the little things in life you learn to appreciate and laugh at when you have castaway conventional entertainment for so long now. Like the “poop shoot” lid (the hole straight through the boat to dispose of kitchen scraps and one of the boat’s best innovations) flying up in the air as we get hit by a wave, or making fun of peoples little idiosyncrasies and quirks, as living on a boat you get to know everyone oh so well. Ky_sunrise_helm.jpg

Sometimes you want to talk some smack, but who needs to when nature does it for you. I was standing behind Kahlil about to give him some shit, when a flying squid hits him square in the eye, and he’s all whining “I just got hit in the eye by a squid, ooooh-aaaa, it hurts” classic, what a little baby, it was only a tiny squid and I was rolling with laughter. As normal with any passage we were covered every morning with dead flying fish, but on this trip through the northern part of the Humboldt Current, our decks were awash in squid too. Small white and red ones, slithering all over the place and dam good eating.

I got mine however when I tried to stop “Windy Spins” (our wind generator) in the middle of a 25 knot gale as she seemed to blow a bearing, making a high pitched screeching noise. With it whirling and screeching away full blast like a windmill satanically possessed, I pulled the rope attached to her tail fin to turn her square to the wind, so she would stop, my hand gets too close, and whack. I though I was missing a finger or two, but miraculously only a couple of solid gouges and no feeling in my fingers for a couple of hours would result, luckily. I think my hand got bounced into the blades by the pitching motion of the boat, next time I’ll use our boat hook in high wind and waves, a lesson learned the hard way.

This was the passage of bad bake offs. Some great creations have come out of “Natty M’s” ovens in the past, this trip was no to be one of them. Kahlil started with a lime walnut cake that tasted like eating lime flavored cardboard, but just real thick and crumblier. Ben and I who came on to our watch thinking we had a tasty treat waiting for us discovered a completely inedible culinary abomination for our fine tuned American palates. Being honest, I told Kahlil what I thought of his crap cake and what do I do, but make the best chocolate chip cookie dough ever, complete with freshly shredded coconut, only to burn up the cookies and coat them in toxic smoke in the oven, when one of the silicon baking sheets catches fire. A rush to get a wet rag and douse the flames and “Natty M” is safe, but the cookies contaminated with foul smelling toxic ash and fumes. At least I got to lick the bowl.

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As we got closer to the islands various forms of sea birds, some species we had never seen before started to accompany us. Some like the Great Frigatebird soaring right in our rigging, never even flapping it wings, just using the lift off our sails to glide for hours on end. A Red-Footed Boobie clinging on to our lifelines at night, with feet of steel apparently. He hung just back from our bows, out of P Kiddy’s comfort zone, unphased by our 10 knots of boat speed and the waves that would wash over him and our bows as we blasted through the seas. Flocks of Swallow-Tailed Gulls, the only form of nocturnal gull in the world would join us as dusk fell and throughout the night. Their nocturnal adaptations include eyes with more rods than cones enabling them to see more contrast than color and their clicking vocalizations sound very odd at first, but are actually a form of echolocation, enabling them to avoid obstacles in the inky blackness. They would fly just in the darkness, outside the reach our boat’s lights, accompanying us like ghostly phantoms and you could just make out their shadowy shapes every now and then, before they would disappear into the darkness to swoop up a squid or flying fish disturbed by our vessel.

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On our fourth day at sea we sighted land, our course had taken us into the Northern Part of the Archipelago De Colon, better know as The Galapagos Islands. We first sighted the most northeastern island of Isla Genovessa, small with rocky cliffs right to the sea and looking very arid and inhospitable. Through Canal De Marchena we sailed, leaving Isla Marchena to our starboard and sailing right up to Isla San Salavador, with its towering volcano obscured by clouds, its rugged, cliffy coast line and arid island fauna reminding me of Santa Barbara’s Channel Islands back home. We still had to make about 80 miles due south, directly into the wind, and we planted a tack at sunset, just yards off Isla San Salavador’s cliffs, marveling at the islands beauty, while at the same time using her to block the open ocean swell, enabling us to sail that much closer to the wind.

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Near the Island we also crossed a milestone for most of us. We sailed across the equator just offshore of Isla San Salvador, a first for myself, Ben and Diz, as Kahlil had done it before when he sailed to the Caribbean from Brazil (although he slept through it). So, as seafaring tradition dictates, Kahlil donned the role of King Neptune, and indoctrinated us into this unique brotherhood. We were all dressed in silly outfits, bunny and dinosaur costumes, while a pink bunny version of King Neptune complete with trident, smeared and threw the toxic cookie dough on us, he had saved for just this occasion. It was classic, we were all laughing and cracking up at our silly outfits and the mess, while marveling at the unique milestone we had all now achieved.

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All night long we tacked down the archipelago, making progress towards our target of Isla San Christobal, the wind still fresh and the swell solid. With the break of dawn we sighted the northern end of Isla San Christobal and again were amazed at such a foreign, rugged and beautiful landscape. Volcanoes towered into the clouds, giant hulking rocks lingered just off shore and the island had a very unique undulation to it. We sighted our first boat in days, a tourist boat ferrying loads of tourists around to see the amazing sights and we know we were almost there. Just then one of our rods starts ZZZZZZZing away, “Fish On” yelled and I’m fighting it hard. It’s a big one, probably a tuna as it never comes to the surface, just dives deep and its an absolute battle. The jib is furled, mainsail oversheated to slow us to a crawl and we fight it for almost an hour, when, some how the hook comes out and I’m left with a still intact lure and burning muscles. I guess we will not be eating great tuna sashimi our first nights in the Galapagos. Kicker_rock.jpg

Just after that incident, with our sails back up, at full speed again and what are we headed directly for, but a giant shark. I call for the breakfast cooking boys to come check it out and every one’s jaws drop at its size. Its floating perpendicular to our bows, basking in the morning sun, with its brown dorsal and tail fins sticking two and four feet respectively out of the water. Our boat is 26 feet wide and it seemed to be just a couple of feet shy of that length. It didn’t move until the last second and I had to steer around it to avoid a collision. This was no docile whale shark, probably a giant Oceanic Shark, a man-eater and an ominous sign prior to our landfall.

As we got nearer to our port of call, the wind died in the lee of the island and we turned our motors back on and powered the last eight miles, cruising right next to the islands coastline and working on getting our boat tidied up. I was thinking what a great passage, as nothing too major broke sailing wise and then when looking at the bow I noticed our anchor missing. It was there the night before and all the hard sailing had jarred the pins loose on its swivel and it simply dropped off into the super deep sea below, where at a minimum it would take four miles of anchor rode to get the proper 7 to 1 scope ratio. I guess its hard to have nothing break on an 800 nautical mile upwind passage and it was better to figure that one out at sea, then when at anchor. We had an identical back up anchor and we quickly rigged it to our main chain and I made another mental note to hopefully get a suitable secondary anchor in the Galapagos. Probably not an easy task.Diz_binos.jpg

Just past 11am on Sunday, four and three quarter days later we pulled into Bahia Naufragio on Isla San Cristobal, one of the only two ports of entry into the Galapagos and dropped our now only anchor in the lee of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the name of the port town. It was an absolute gorgeous day, bright and sunny, with a relaxing offshore breeze blowing. The air a perfect 78 degrees and the gorgeous turquoise water a perfect 72 degrees. The harbor kind of reminded me of Avalon, Santa Catalina, except much smaller and a throw back of many years. Friendly Galapagos Sea Lions frolicked every where, curious and extremely playful, tourist ships went back and forth with their loads of passengers, and perfect, offshore left waves peeled into the far side of the bay. It was paradise and we were all excited we made it. We were finally able to just kick back and relax and soak it all in. It was funny to think we were on the equator and the weather and water was cooler then it had been since we made landfall in the Caribbean, the power of the cold South American Humboldt Current felt way out here, but warmed up just a little, creating the most absolutely just perfect air and water temperatures I have ever felt.

We truly have to give credit to Outremer Catamarans. Our catamaran is such a great sailing yacht its crazy. Blasting off 200+ mile days straight up wind in comfort and style. Able to cook gourmet dinners and still have enough room for all of us to sleep comfortably in our own cabins and have plenty of private space to be able to escape from each other’s company when we need a little private time. I don’t think any of us ever want to sail a cramped monohull again. We departed Flamenco Marina with 3 other 40 to 55 foot sailing yachts and met up with them again in our Galapagos anchorage. Their passages had taken them all 8 or 9 days and they all complained of the obsessive beating they were taking sailing into the seas and wind, most opting to power slowly straight into the seas instead of sailing. They were all aghast at the short time it took us and most swore if they had to do it all over again they would buy a catamaran. But, realize most catamarans do not go upwind very well, but our Outremer with its 10 ft. dagger boards and narrow hulls is an exception to the rule, as are the South African “Gun Boats”, basically the only two production cats I would consider sailing around the world.wasp.jpg

As we gently swing on anchor in this blissful place, where Blue Footed Boobies dive for fish at warp speed sounding like possessed hypodermic needles as they pierce the water, gregarious Sea Lions bask on our transoms, strange wasps and bugs abound and we work on clearing into Galapagos, Ecuador, to become legal tourists. Which is most easily done by hiring a Galapagos agent, filling out tons of paperwork and paying the most expensive fees we have yet to encounter anywhere, but at least the agent goes to all the various official buildings and offices to drop off the paper work for you, worth the extra expense. We all wonder what adventures lie in store for us here and can’t wait to get our fill of the archipelago’s unique wild life, landscape, and tasty waves. And as always we will try our best to bring you all along with us. Cheers – Kyber

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Note: The internet in the Galapagos is the slowest connection I have ever experienced. Our web page takes over an hour to load, making publishing problematic, and its impossible to re-edit something once its published. So, hopefully we can get it as right as possible the first time, as its basically impossible to change and tweak afterwards, so I apologize if the posts don’t appear quite right.

Tags: Natural Mystic

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jamie // Jul 2, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Glad you made it! JD

  • 2 Paolo // Jul 2, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    I just caught up again, after losing the story in Tortola. Great description of the transit. Glad Sandor got to share it. They should have some stats on shore about the Boobies, like the PSI their skulls endure on impact. They are a trip to watch.
    It sounds like you are learning your boat well, and have a good crew. Fair winds & killer surf!

    Paolo

  • 3 Dave Salgado // Jul 3, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Speechless! Another great post of another chapter in the Adventure!

  • 4 Melissa // Jul 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Dear Kyber and crew, You have arrived!! Thank you for handsomely sharing one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. Brian and I will be traveling with you in spirit and reliving our own experirences and adventures in Darwin’s realm. Happy 4th, Melissa

  • 5 Jamie // Jul 5, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    ….Fire burning 4th and death at the Wharf. Thats what the headlines should read here in SB. Ash rain and gang bangers invade the waterfront on indepentdance day. Dont hurry back my friend! We have a fucked state right now. Drought, bankruptcy,soaring gas prices, no jobs, declining realestate market, spicks everywhere, bleeding heart liberal policy makers, highier taxes ahead, no jobs, fires everywhere, …I can go on and on…not to mention the gangbangers that stabbed each other last nigt right before the fireworks show. Believe me, there is absolutely no reason to come back in the near future!! Have fun in paradise! JD

  • 6 Bambam // Jul 7, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Heeeyy!! remember me, BamBam from Bocas del toro. I hope your still having a great time on your amazing boat. I think about you guys alot and wish you all the best! looking forward to that documentary your working on. Besos, Bambam!

  • 7 Darren Peterson // Jul 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Jamie’s last post says it all about home life in SB.

    I’m glad you guys are safe and having a blast. That BO fruit does sound like the locals are messing with the white man. The picture of P-Kiddy is wicked and the close up of the wasp as well. I have yet to travel to the Galapagos but it is on my wish list. Thanks for bringing me closer than ever through your adventure. As always have a safe journey! D

  • 8 Gem // Jul 7, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Ha ha .. Glad to hear I am not the only one who gets slapped in the face with sea life! A flying fish took the liberty to slap me in the face while out shooting the other morning. All in all – nature has it’s ways of snapping you back into place.
    Stay safe and keep smiling.
    Love and hugs,
    Gem and Lola. xx

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