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Day 663 - Galapagos Islands (S 0° 53.7 W 89° 36.8)
18:06hrs - March 24th 2009
Evolution

As it turns out, 2009 is a very special year for the Galapagos. So much in fact that the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, graced the islands with their royal presence just a few days ago - participating in the celebration of Darwin's birthday, who was born 200 years ago. To add to the excitement it is also the 150th anniversary of Darwin's masterpiece The Origin of Species, (much of his research and theories were greatly influenced by the unique animals found in the Galapagos) and it is also the Island's 50th year anniversary in becoming a national park. So not wanting to miss out on all the fun and festivities, Catherine and I took a special 2-day excursion over to Santa Cruz Island to celebrate the anniversaries and to visit the Charles Darwin Foundation Headquarters for ourselves.

About 40 miles away from San Cristobal, Santa Cruz Island has the main port of entry for the Galapagos and is home to approximately 10,000 residents - the majority of people living on the islands, the most famous resident of all is "Lonesome George". Lonesome George, sadly, is the last surviving tortoise of his particular kind and when he's gone, his variety of tortoise, that could only be found on Pinta Island, will be gone from the world, forever! Poor George, from what I understand, is only 85 years old, barely middle aged, so in an effort to try and save this tortoise from extinction the Darwin Foundation have introduced two hotty tortoises from Wolf Volcano (on a neighboring island) that are genetically closely related to George, and have been given instructions to seduce the lonely fellow in an effort to create lots of new little Georges. Unfortunately their efforts, thus far, have failed. Perhaps it's the stress of performing under pressure or more than likely George's solitary existence, whatever it is, Lonesome George isn't interested.

The signage next to George's corral hinted, as a last resort, that George might have to be cloned. Even though it's a very costly procedure and the odds of a successful clone are extremely slim, The Darwin Foundation are, never-the-less, considering the option. I wonder what old Mr. Darwin would make of that?

Pondering George's potential cloning and Darwin's theories of evolution, Catherine and I spent the afternoon discussing the sad irony of the situation on Tortuga Bay Beach - the largest beach in the Galapagos. Practically deserted, expect for a handful of die-hard surfers, the stunning bay of beautiful floury white sand, gentle breaking surf, marine Iguanas and pelicans, I suspect, looks much the same today as it did when Charles Darwin first stepped foot on the islands in 1835. However, so many things in the world have changed in only the last 170 years. We've evolved for sure, and made remarkable advancements, but seeing a plastic bottle washed-up on the beach and another cruise ship trailing black diesel smoke across the horizon, you have to wonder, are we evolving in entirely the right direction?

 

Learn more about the Charles Darwin Foundation and their conservation programs at: www.DarwinFoundation.org

 
 

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Day 659 - Galapagos Islands (S 0° 53.7 W 89° 36.8)
19:55hrs - March 20th 2009
San Cristobal, Galapagos

After a few restorative nights sleep and a little exploring we are getting better acquainted with our little island named after the patron saint of sailors, San Cristobal, here in the Galapagos.  We have already been on a ‘land tour’ which took us from the top of a dormant volcano to the beaches below and everything in between.  We were introduced to giant tortoises and marine iguanas and more and so far it’s everything I hoped for but nothing like I imagined. For a start there are a lot more boats here than I thought there would be, there are about 30 other sail boats in the harbor and when you add all the tour and fishing boats plus the multitudes of underwater marine life traffic, it’s quite a busy little patch of water.  The town itself is small but very well organized and beautifully maintained, there is a discreet but visible police presence and every now and again a flurry of tourists bustle through in safari gear and snorkels getting ice cream on their way to their next expedition.

I had imagined more of the ‘Master and Commander’ version of the Galapagos here on the most eastern of all the islands, but despite all the activity there does seem to be a pretty good balance between nature and the curious tourist, and it appears to be working.  For instance the sea lions wander around with an air of ownership and they dominate the beach in huge numbers, they play and swim around the boats in the harbor and take any unattended swim platform or transom steps as their own, Dinghy’s seem to be especially popular as they make a comfy alternative to the usual rocky sleeping spots, and even the kayak proves to be an entertaining diversion for the young ones.  The integration appears to be comfortable for everyone.  Creatures of every kind seem quite at ease with one another here but it does seem a somewhat delicate balance that will need careful managing if it is to be preserved
 
After a long mellow walk on a deserted beach we sit down and relax in the sun gazing out to sea on the warm black lava boulders alongside dozens of marine iguanas doing the same thing, or we sit in the cockpit in the evening watching countless sea lions dash around and about the boat fishing, playing, fighting and from time to time hopping in, out and over of our dinghy and kayak, and we have giant green turtles glide by on their way to here or there, and this is Galapagos, lovely!

 



 

 

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Day 655 - Galapagos Islands (S 0° 53.7 W 89° 36.8)
20:53hrs - March 16th 2009
The Galapagos Islands - We Made It!!

We made it ….. we are in the Galapagos!

After 9 days in the Pacific, with wind and current in our favor to help push us along, and a pit stop at the Equator for an afternoon of equatorial festivities, we have made it safe and sound to Isla San Cristobal in the Galapagos.  We are both a bit tired, and we have some sleep to catch up on but we have already scheduled an island tour for Wednesday and are looking into 4-5 day tours where we hope to get the whole Darwin experience.  Even here, right where we’re anchored in the ominously named Wreck Bay, we have huge turtles and inquisitive seals swimming around us, its already worth every sleep deprived moment of the sail here.

Bye for now, will post more soon……..




     

 

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Day 652 - The Pacific Ocean (N 1° 14.1 W 86° 00.0)
08:03hrs - March 13th 2009
Freedom Baby!

I've got five toes on each foot so why is it always, and I'm not exaggerating here, ALWAYS the little fella on the end that gets the abuse. Just this morning I clipped him on a solid stainless steel deck cleat, mid-stride, during a full leg swing. Not wanting to disturb Catherine who was fast asleep down below, I was forced to weather the excruciating pain in complete silence - bowed over at the waist, clutching the lifelines with both hands, doing a little one-legged hop and enthusiastically mouthing profanities through clenched teeth.

As the last wave of pain diminished and after exhausting my pool of the most offensive phrases imaginable, I peered down at my toe, certain that the little guy would be jutting out at an unpleasant angle - broken, or at the very least dislocated. But there he was, in perfect shape, defiantly resilient. Now either I have an incredibly low threshold for pain or bionic toes, whatever, but thankfully, after all the drama, there was not a single sign of trauma. Yesterday, however, Catherine wasn't as fortunate and after clipping her little piggy on the top of a winch, left a trail of blood leading from the cockpit, down the companionway steps and into the cabin where I found her wrapping the injury in about 10 sheets of kitchen towel. Luckily though there was no damage to the winch (Catherine's toe will also survive).

Now I know that some readers of this blog, certainly of the nautical variety, are probably shaking their heads slowly, tutting and thinking, "that's why you should wear deck shoes on a sail boat." While wearing deck shoes is certainly a sensible idea and would spare the little guy from further injury, clothes and cruising don't really work for us. I'm not suggesting that we frolic around on the deck naked, although on special occasions..., but we do generally try and wear as little as possible. I have two pairs of cruising shorts; my "day surf shorts" and "soft evening shorts". (Occasionally I like to mix things up and just wear a sarong instead - don't ask). And Catherine has simply downsized her cruising wardrobe to two sets of pajamas, one for sleeping and the other for lounging around during daylight hours. As we don't have a washer / dryer on board, just a bucket, why complicate things with a pile of dirty laundry? After-all, it's not like unexpected guests could show-up at any moment, we haven't seen another boat for over four days, no, it's all about freedom, the absence of restriction that makes this whole sailing experience so liberating.

Let me ask you this, have you ever been on a warm deserted beach, perhaps on vacation, and just had an uncontrollable urge to strip down to your birthday suit and run around as naked as the day you were born? It feels great right?! (If you haven't tried this I strongly recommend that you do.) Well that's sort of how cruising feels to me and if my little toe has to occasionally take a beating for me to keep that feeling alive, than that's a small price I'm willing to pay!

 

Footnote: The passage is going great, we're only 72 nautical miles from the equator and 247 miles from the Galapagos. We've been sailing 80% of the time in favorable easterly wind with 1-2 knots of westerly current, and seemed to have dodged the doldrums altogether. Still trying desperately to catch another fish.

Dream Time: Trip log to date: 5262 nautical miles. Total engine hours: 1,478. Running watermaker for
1-2 hours daily (7 - 14 gallons). Fitted bungee cords in cupboards.



     

 

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Day 650 - The Pacific Ocean (N 2° 40.7 W 83° 16.1)
11:59hrs - March 11th 2009
What a Difference a Day Makes

We are now at day 5 of this passage and in my opinion its way better than day 4, 3, 2 and possibly 1! 

Day 4 marked my saturation point for rolly boat, sleep deprived rollyness, and I was starting to loose my sense of humor about the whole thing.  We have had light wind and rolly seas every day so far which was making the whole experience something akin to being on a giant non-stop swing that someone won’t stop pushing, and while that’s all kinds of fun at the beginning, after 4 days (and nights) of it, even the most enthusiastic of us might want to just get off and go home. But magically day 5 arrived and hallelujah!! My sense of humor returned and I felt better. So what changed?  We still have rolliness, that hasn’t stopped, but we did finally get wind, unexpectedly good wind! 15 to 20 knots of it on the aft quarter, and although that hasn’t stopped the rolling, it has improved the boat movement, and my outlook, from disagreeable to manageable.

This kind of sailing becomes a bit of a sport rather than a recreation. You are constantly bracing and balancing yourself.  Working on the boat, just moving around, even sleeping requires a physical concentration to stay balanced. Maybe that’s why so many cruisers and sailors we’ve met are so fit, the whole thing is a workout.  Combine that with the fact that preparing food can be an Olympic event in a kitchen that never stops moving, and I guess you have the recipe for a fit and healthy crew.

Despite all the rolling and unintentional but useful exercise, its all been a blast, and it’s still so strange to think that we are actually here, in the Pacific, well on our way to the Galapagos, when not so long ago the Pacific seemed impossibly far away and almost unreal, but here we are, rolling along, in the Pacific. Yes, less rolling would be nice, but I guess you can’t have everything.




   

 

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Day 648 - The Pacific Ocean (N 5° 14.7 W 80° 09.8)
08:30hrs - March 9th 2009
New Habits

With almost 200 nautical miles of Pacific Ocean having already passed under our keel, I'm happy to report that we are well on our way to the Galapagos Islands!  

Our first Pacific passage has, to date, been blessed with a big fat juicy Red Snapper, caught no less than 3 hours into our voyage, a dozen dolphins playing off our bow waves, almost as many freighters that have remained a comfortable distance away, and a reasonable amount of wind. With the NE Caribbean trades spilling over into the Pacific, we've managed to sail the majority of our passage so far. Although, with only 10-12 knots on our stern and with both sails flared-out like the wings of a giant swan, our ride, at times, has required both hands for the boat as Dream Time wallows along at only 3 knots in following seas. Ordinarily the thought of only managing 3 knots would have me reaching for the engine keys and firing-up 'Mr. Yanma-San', our 50 horsepower diesel engine, in an effort to help us obtain a more satisfactory speed of around 5 knots, or 120 nautical miles in 24 hours, a figure far more agreeable than the measly 70 miles we labored through yesterday. But our cruising habits will have to be adjusted now. We're in the Pacific where the average crossing is over a thousand miles of ocean - a distance we could never hope to cover using just our engine and the sparse 70 gallons of diesel fuel we carry on board. So with no gas stations that I know for the next 600 miles, and only enough fuel in our tanks to motor 400 miles or so, and with the doldrums dead ahead (a notorious area of light or no wind separating the northern and southern hemispheres), adjust our habits we shall.

Mr. Yanma-San shall lay quiet for much of the time, fresh showers will be reserved for special occasions and 4-5 hours of sleep a night will become the norm. But don't feel too sorry for us, our days will be spent lounging around on deck in 80 degree weather, napping, fishing, reading, perhaps if inspiration calls, coconut carving, more napping and just staring out across the empty ocean content in doing absolutely nothing in particular.

Catherine is sleeping-in right now after a very noisy and rolly night. I'm sipping my first cup of coffee, and besides the creaking of stretching lines, the groaning of teak bulkheads down below, the bubbling of sea water in our wake and the occasional electronic "whirrrrrr" as the autopilot gently nudges us back on track, I'm happily and quietly watching the sun rise on a beautiful Monday morning - not a bad way to begin the week.



     

 

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Day 645 - Las Perlas, Panama (N 8° 15.4 W 79° 05.3)
15:27hrs - March 6th 2009
One Giant Step

As we sit on the beach of the absolutely positively definitely last island stop before setting off into the Pacific for the Galapagos, I think about how ready I feel to do this now.  We have everything we need, and more, and now all we have to do is go.  Tomorrow morning we will set off on our own on the longest passage of this trip so far, and it’s more than a little exciting.  

However as we sit on the deserted beach looking out at our little boat bobbing merrily about at anchor, going through our pre-offshore sail checklist, I think about where we will be in a few days, sailing further and further away from land with all its safety and comfort, and about how the next significant landmass won’t be till New Zealand… in November! and about the 5 hour night watches, and about our acutely heightened awareness of safety issues, because neither of us can afford injury so far from land and help etc. etc. etc.

So anyway I think that’s the thing with this kind of sailing, one minute you are excited about the voyage ahead the next, YIKES! It’s full of opposite emotions, its fills you full of life and then its exhausting, it’s breathtaking and then terrifying at the same time, it can be maddeningly frustrating and then all kinds of fun.  I guess the trick is allowing it all to be whatever it’s going to be, and then enjoy it. 

Panama to the Galapagos, one small step for some sailors, but one giant step for me!!  See you on the other side.



 

 

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Day 642 - Las Perlas, Panama (N 8° 37.4 W 79° 01.9)
10:38 hrs - March 3rd 2009
A New Adventure

In the next week Catherine and I will launch ourselves into the Pacific to begin a journey that will take us away from the Americas and across to the other side of the world. A fact that I'm only now beginning to truly appreciate.

We're currently anchored in Las Perlas, a small cluster of about a hundred islands just 40 miles away from Panama City. It feels a little like we're cautiously inching our way closer to the edge of a great abyss and steeling ourselves to jump. While I'm confident that we've done absolutely everything we can to ensure our Pacific crossing will be a safe, enjoyable and hopefully rewarding experience, the sheer magnitude of what's ahead is sobering - thousands upon thousands of miles of open ocean, passages that will require 15, 20, 30 days of sailing, no 'safe harbors' to seek refuge in, no BoatUS or SeaTow to offer assistance and no turning back.

It's been 15 years since my last ocean crossing (the Indian ocean). I was 24 and had none of the responsibility I have now. Confident, a little arrogant but mostly blissfully ignorant of the realities of such a passage, I dove in head first with little to no regard of the potential dangers. Ultimately I had the adventure of a lifetime at an age when consequence and risk didn't even factor in to the equation, only the raw thrill and excitement of a life-changing voyage that began in 1994 and in many ways I'm still navigating to this day.

There are few comparisons between my last adventure and this one. Age, experience and responsibility have perhaps softened a little of the reckless, free-spirited adventurism I felt before, but I know that sailing with Catherine on this voyage, sharing the experiences with the woman I love, will make for a far more fulfilling journey. Safety is certainly top-of-mind. Before the idea of a catastrophic accident, pirates, shipwreck or a great storm were irresponsibly welcomed - all part of the adventure, a "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" attitude. So when we set off from Sydney to sail half way around the world to Italy, I didn't even stop to consider why we didn't have a liferaft or an EPIRB (emergency radio beacon) on board. We never wore lifejackets, not even in the worst conditions, and rarely 'clipped-on' safety harnesses. But with photocopied charts of the Red Sea, old car tires lashed to the deck for an emergency sea anchor and absolutely no ocean-crossing experience between us, we boldly sailed over 13,000 miles and arrived in Rome almost 6 months later, miraculously with our health and the boat still in tact.

I don't want to suggest we were completely irresponsible, we reefed the sails at night, avoided the typhoon seasons, kept a 24/7 watch, but, at least for me, I sailed with almost no regard for the dangers. It wasn't my boat, I had no valuable possessions at the time, only a sketch book and a few coconut carvings, so at the invincible age of 24, I had nothing to lose. Now, because I'm sailing with Catherine, on our own boat, aware of the potential dangers, ultimately responsible for our safety, and far more fallible at 39 than I was at 24, I've taken precautions that I would have scoffed at 15 years ago.

Some cruisers choose to involve themselves and listen-in to the VHF radio network every morning - local support groups organized by cruisers who provide and share tips, weather information, news etc. The cruisers net is extremely valuable and is maintained by sailors dedicated to helping each other. But for many, the net provides more than just local knowledge and a weather forecast, it provides security. Security in thinking that even thousands of miles from home, in a foreign country, they're not alone. That there are others out here, just like them, that they can rely on and talk to daily, if for no other reason than to hear a reassuringly familiar voice. Likewise, there are sailing regattas that are professionally organized, flotillas of boats crossing oceans together or even circumnavigating the world, comforted by the fact that they're not alone. While I certainly appreciate the benefits of these networks, the fact remains that the captain and crew are responsible for the boat, and when you're sailing thousands of miles from land, you are alone, regardless of who might be over the horizon or listening in on the radio.

I think my last ocean crossing had such a profound effect on my life because we accomplished the journey on our own. Even though it was wrought with potential disaster and we certainly had our fair share of setbacks, we figured them out and moved on, stronger and more competent after overcoming each challenge. If there was a cruisers net back then we weren't even aware of it, so we only had ourselves to rely on, much like how Catherine and I are choosing to experience this journey together now.

We've chosen to sail off around the world for many reasons; the adventure, the lifestyle, the freedom, the serenity, the incredible experiences, but also for the challenges and the thrill of knowing that we are, for the most part, accomplishing this journey on our own.

So, in just a few days, with no announcement, no farewell party, no broadcast on the net, Catherine and I will let go of the Americas, slip out of the Gulf of Panama and begin a new adventure together.




 

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Day 640 - Panama City, Panama (N 8° 54.4 W 79° 31.6)
19:04 hrs - March 1st 2009
Pre Departure R&R

At a very rocky rolly anchorage just off Panama City, having made it through the canal and into the Pacific, and with the provisioning mostly done, we are allowing for a little R&R before departing the now familiar shores of the Americas, for far far away and distant and did I mention far away, lands (yep, I'm still a bit nervous, can you tell?) 

We found a brilliant tour guide / taxi driver quite by accident when we set off to do laundry one day and ended up at a large hotel in Panama City instead when our first driver got lost, happily this led us to Earl Warren (if you are in the area and need a good guide call him at Ph: (507) 65358329) he spoke great English and knew exactly where the laundry was and where everything else on our list was, including good cigars and obscure spares for our outboard.  We spent the day merrily driving around the city gathering all our last minute bits and pieces, stopping along the way at places of historic or aesthetic interest and of course lunch, and by the end of the day we had everything we needed, and had seen Panama City in all its glory.  The next day he took us out to a village (Anton) a few hours outside the city, surrounded by volcanos where we luxuriated in warm volcanic muddy bliss followed by balmy volcano warmed mineral water showers and baths, a perfect close to our time in Panama.

Tomorrow we sail to the Las Perlas Islands, a day sail away from Panama City and the last stop here before setting off for the Galapagos! And if you thought that was big news.... I just heard my little sister and her husband are pregnant and due in September!!!! Lots of love and congratulations Claire and Tim!