Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chile - First Impressions

The Promised Land - Mouth of the River Leading to Valdivia

We’ve been in Chile for a week now and have fallen in love with the country.  At first glance it looks a lot like channels at the top end of Vancouver Island.   The hillsides are green, and there are boats transiting back and forth across the narrow waterways.  But then you look closer and realize that the trees, birds and marine mammals are all completely different.  We will definitely need to buy a whole new set of wildlife identification books!  

South American Sea Lions
The sea lions were the most stunning.  They are about three times the size of the ones at home, and the males have what can only be described as big manes (like a lion).  They are incredible.  They hang out at the outdoor fish/vegetable on the edge of the river in town.  Despite a big chainlink fence, two had made it inside the market and ‘helped’  the workers fillet fish, to the delight of all the tourists (us included). 
Fillet-guy fends off a hungry sea lion at the outdoor fish market

Currently the boat is in a marina about 5 miles up a river from the ocean, and 5 miles south of the town of Valdivia.  It is probably the most tranquil place we’ve ever stayed.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere, but the bus stops right outside the gates and goes by every 10 minutes, so it is very easy to get into town.  The marina facilities are great – free hot showers (assuming they haven’t ‘borrowed’ the propane tank for the BBQ...), free laundry (no dryer, which does make it a bit of challenge as you can really only do the washing on a sunny day), nice docks, super friendly staff.  It is an ‘outstation’ of the main marina in town, but has slips that can handle boats over 40 feet.  Most of the boats are Chilean, but there are currently three foreign yachts here (including us).  There is a Swiss single handler, Renee, and a British/US couple on a catamaran called Begonia.  Funnily enough I had met Maryanne from Begonia last March at a pressure cooking class I took in La Paz.  It was nice to arrive at the dock to a friendly face and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them better over the last week.   The locals are also incredibly friendly and welcoming.  On our second day we got invited to an impromptu party in the work room being put on by the workers and other yacht club members.  They fed us BBQ’d meat (the first we’d had in many many weeks) and red wine (even Gary drank a glass!).  No one spoke much English, but we made do with our Spanglish.  It was a very fun afternoon. 

The town of Valdivia is quite nice.  This area was settled by Germans and so the town has a distinctly European feel.   The chocolate stores in town have wonderful Easter window displays at the moment – it is almost like being in Germany.  
There is a wonderful outdoor fish and vegetable market that sells the biggest mussels I’ve ever seen.   We haven’t tried them yet, but I think I’ll only need to eat 2 or 3 to be completely full.  We spent our first day off the boat walking around town in the pouring rain.  We loaded up on fish and vegetables at the market, and then all bought alpaca sweaters as none of us seem to have enough warm clothes (Gary in particular).  The man in one sweater store even threw in a free pair of wool socks when he saw Gary’s bare sandled feet. 

Not sure about this one...
On Tuesday we rented a car and drove down to Puerto Montt (220 km south) to check out the marina and haul out facility there.  We also dropped Nadine off so that she could catch a flight down to Punta Arenas, where she hopes to get on a couple of Patagonian cruises before she flies home at the beginning of April.  The town was a bit grittier than Valdivia, but I think we’ll enjoy spending some time there as well.  We ended up having dinner at the ‘German Club’ in town and so I finally got the bratwurst, saurkraut and spatzle I was dreaming about while on passage.  Mmmmmm.  

The marina/haul out facility in Puerto Montt was fine and we’ll definitely haul out there next year, but we’ve decided to keep the boat in the water at our current marina in Valdivia for this season.  This marina is more protected and we know the staff will take very good care of the boat.  Plus the boat will be in fresh water.  We’ll just have to prepare for a lot of rain.  We’ve already had quite bit of rain this week and so the boat has been thoroughly rinsed off - Sea Rover no longer feels like a salt lick.  Our poor bimini leaked like a sieve during the first day of rain, but has finally decided to be waterproof again.  Luckily for us all the panels seem to still zip together even though they haven’t been used in four years.  They are certainly a necessity here.

Public washrooms, Chile-style
So far life is good.  We’ll spend the next few weeks tackling boat projects (ie, installing the hot water/heating system, finding and fixing leaks, cleaning every compartment) and exploring the town.   I think we will enjoy owning a floating condo in Chile...

Monday, March 19, 2018

Passage Reflections - Karina 's Thoughts

We’ve now been on dry land for 4 days after what I found to be a very long, difficult 3 week passage.  I thought I’d write a few quick notes on my impressions of the last passage before it is all too far in the past to remember how I felt.  Maybe this entry will be useful later when Gary has some crazy idea to sail around Cape Horn or to do something equally crazy…

I’m still not sure if I feel a sense of accomplishment yet, or just massive relief for having made it here in one piece without any major breakages.  We went through at least five major weather systems (or was it six??), each with seas greater than 4 meters and winds in the 30 knot range during each event.  We’d have 24-36 hours of crap conditions, then about a 12-24 hour break before the next one.  The breaks were definitely required, but not necessarily restful as it was often difficult to keep the boat moving in the light airs and big seas.  We ended up running north 250 nm to avoid one big system, only to be smacked immediately following it by another, even bigger system on our second last day.  We saw sustained 30 knot winds and 5 meter seas for about six hours.  We managed to fill the cockpit with water three times on my shift which was incredibly scary… the only good thing about it was seeing how fast the water emptied through the cockpit drains.  Thank heavens for small miracles.  During that storm I declared I’d be perfectly happy to never sail again.  And there are no pictures as I never want to remember those conditions… Being on the bottom of one wave and looking up to the crest of the next many, many feet up was not a pleasant experience.  I definitely never want to go through conditions like that again.

One of the things that kept me going during the difficult hours was watching all the sea birds.  We had a flock of either petrels or shearwaters (need a bird book!) follow us pretty much the whole way.  I’d watch them and imagine that they represented all the people at home following us on the blog or on our tracker.  That helped give me the strength to make it through my watch.  Interestingly, on the really, really tough days, when I needed an extra shot of courage, an albatross would make an appearance...  I think I have a new spirit animal.

The boat took a beating this year but managed to make it through reasonably unscathed.  We’ve worked it out that she (and Gary) spent 59 days offshore.  The vast majority of those days were in rough conditions.  Despite a few leaks, she looked after us really well.  Frankly, I don’t know how she didn’t shake apart.  In terms of issues (at least on Legs 2 and 3) we chafed through two furling lines and the genoa sheet. We also lost the pins out of 4 shackles – the genoa shackle, and two separate shackles on the boom vang (we lost one of them twice!).   In addition, two sets of screws for the bimini came undone (but were luckily found before they escaped overboard), and the top pins that hold the bimini together came out twice.  We also developed a stress fracture on one of the hydrovane mounts (note, the hydrovane is our device that steers the boat by the wind).  We monitored the crack daily and it did grow in size over the course of the trip, but happily it (and the back end of the boat) didn’t fall off.   We also broke the lazyjacks again, although that was caused by handler-error, not the seas.  Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Heidi, our hydrovane – she steered us faithfully in every condition we encountered, from the light airs to the 5 meter seas.  Our autopilot (Otto) also had no problem in any of the conditions we put it through.  And our engine, Myrtle, started reliably when required.  We couldn’t have asked for more. 

As for making it here in one piece, I’d like to thank Nadine for helping us get the boat here.  She was very helpful crew and kept us fed and allowed us to get some rest.  And of course, I need to thank Gary for getting us here safely.  I don’t think he slept more than 2 hours a day, but made all the right decisions on where to go and when.  He calmly dealt with every issue as it came up (always at 2 am) and constantly reminded me that our boat was just like a rubber ducky in a big bathtub.  He was right – we just kept bobbing up and down each wave, no matter how big.

Am I glad I did this trip?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  I’m glad we are here and will definitely enjoy exploring Chile, but I’m a Cruiser, not a Sailor.  I didn’t hate being offshore (at least not all the time), but I certainly didn’t love it either.  Obviously I can do it, and I can see the appeal of trade wind sailing where you set the sails and forget them for two weeks.  As that should be the type of conditions we encounter when we leave Chile in a few years’ time, I know I will do another passage.  But, I’m happy it won’t be any time soon.

Overall trip details:
Leg 1: La Paz to Galapagos = 22 days; 1900 nm (~3600 km)
Leg 2: Galapagos to Easter Island = 16 days; 2000 nm (~3800 km)
Leg 3: Easter Island to Valdivia, Chile = 21 days; 2300 nm (~4370 km)

Overall distance travelled this year = ~11,700 km (greater than all the way across Canada and back)


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Made it to the Promised land - Day 22

We made it.
Well, not quite yet but we are pulling into the river to go up to Valdivia now.  It's been a very long journey and it will take us a few days of sleep before we realize what we have done but tonight should be spent at a dock and that is all that matters right now.
More to come later

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Heading to the Promised land - Day 20

Well Sea Rover has just made it through her first "Storm". Yup, Gales are soooo passe now, in fact we are still in a gale and I'm down here writing a blog post. We hove to/forereached for about 12 hours yesterday and again for 4 hours this morning but are now underway at best possible speed to get into Valdivia before the next one wholops the coast sometime late tomorrow night.
The seas are still huge at about 5 m but the winds are down to 20 knots so we can make way safely. Wind and seas are forecast to dimish through out the rest of the day and into to tomorrow. We hope to arrive in port sometime mid day tomorrow but if we are a bit late we at least have a safe anchorage where we can weather the next Gale until the seas come down enough to let us go up the river to Valdivia.
All is well on board
93 NM to go!

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Monday, March 12, 2018

All is well

Just a quick post to state that all is well on board. Yes, we know our tracker shows us slowly drifting north. The wind and seas are such that it doesn't make sense to keep trying to sail south so we will wait out the storm and continue when conditions improve.
Hopefully we won't loose too much more ground and we'll be able to carry on shortly.
278 NM to go to Valdivia.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the Promised Land - Day 15

Karina: The "Gaia Principle"

If you've been following us on our tracker, you are probably shaking your heads right now and saying 'those poor creatures have finally gone mad in the southern ocean'. Although we've spent a few days traveling directly towards our destination, we veered off yesterday morning and started to sail north. No, we haven't lost our minds (although that is debatable). We'd traveled in the southerly direction for the past week knowing we were going to get pushed north with the last gale. And that is exactly what happened. The wind veered to the south and so the only direction we could travel with any kind of comfort was NE. As it turns out, this was a good thing...

Now to explain the "Gaia Principle". We have friends, Desiree and Damon, on a junk-rigged steel boat called 'Gaia'. They've are about our age and have been Cruising for at least 10 years. They've done a number of ocean crossings and are famous for never using their engine. They sail to anchor, they sail off anchor. Basically, they just sail. I wasn't even sure they had an engine until Damon talked about needing to buy diesel - shocking. Anyway, we got to talking about our upcoming trip back in the fall and Desiree told me how they literally floated in the monsoon trough between the Galapagos and Hawaii for 14 days. Their overall trip took something like 30 days. Ugg. I asked her how she could handle being 'out there' for so long, and she said that she considered the boat her home, so where ever the boat was, she was home. Therefore it didn't matter how many days a passage took as she had everything she needed with her. Gary and I both thought this sounded good in theory, but weren't sure either of us could put this into practice. We called her attitude the 'Gaia Principle', which I've been trying to live up to ever since (mostly unsuccessfully, I might add).

We now have a chance to put the "Gaia Principle" into full practice. We were hoping to make it into Puerto Montt before a big low hit the coast of Chile, but it doesn't look like that will be the case. If we'd kept our current course of heading straight to Puerto Montt, we would have ended up right in the middle of it. Having been in 4.5 m seas twice now in the southern ocean, I'm not keen on experiencing the 6 m seas that are being predicted with this latest system. Both our weather routers (yup, we have two) have told us to run north for the next few days to get out of the winds and big seas, so north we go! So no, we haven't gone mad, we are just moving to 'safe waters'. This of course means that we will not be into port by Monday, as we were all looking forward to, but as Desiree said, this is our home and so what else do we need? We will be fine being out here for a few more days. Sometimes the way to your destination isn't a straight path.

Oh, and it now looks like our final destination will be Valdivia instead of Puerto Montt. Stay tuned.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 11

Is it really day 11? Are we there yet? Oh wait, that's Gary's question. For the past 11 days we have been going from one small way point to another. Side note, we have been "trying" to get to the way points but Poseidon has had other plans. Anyway, going from point to point like this has not given me a very good sense of how close or, should I say, how far we have to go. Are we there yet? No. It's "only" 960 nautical miles to the Chilean mainland. Now I have something to focus on during my bleary night shifts.
On a more positive note, I think I slept thru most of this day. Nothing like the "white" noise of the engine running at 1800 rpm to put you into a state of unconsciousness. To my unskillful eye we all seemed to be catching our breath and getting some rest. And since we were motoring in very calm seas (read only 2.5-3 meter swell) it was a perfect time to have a cold shower. Yes, the hot water tank would have been amazing after 8 hours of motoring. Alas, that was not the case on Searover. But we are now a clean bunch and currently staying that way as we did not spill our dinner. The other highlight of the day was seeing our first albatross soaring gracefully around the boat while the sun was setting in an almost cloudless sky.
I seem to have extra time to add to this as my bed is currently several inches higher than it should be. Gary claims the diesel needed extra polishing and has been transferred from the tank to the bladder. I think he's tired and turned the valves the wrong way which almost burst the bladder. I'm glad the fuel is getting a cleaning. Maybe it will make us go faster when we motor...
960 NM to go.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 10

We are just finishing sailing in our first gale in the Southern ocean. Not pretty. Well actually, the mass of white foam mixed with hues of deep blue and green and the contrasting sky of white, grey and blue would make quite a painting. Anyway, aside from losing our port lazyjack line we've come through with minimal carnage. All of us are exhausted and production in the kitchen has stopped for now as the seas are still around 4.5 meters with 20 knots of wind. We should see some lighter winds later this afternoon with the seas calming down shortly after that. After the past 36 hours this will be very welcome.
All is well on board Sea Rover.
Somewhere around 1100 NM to go.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 8

I think I've said this before... Offshore sailing is mostly moments of mundane activity with very quick moments of adrenalin thrown in just often enough to make sure you know how small you really are in the big ocean.
Yesterday afternoon through to tonight we have floated or motored in 3 meter swells of a very long period. Pretty comfortable. Its a good thing because we all needed copious amounts of down time due to the day before.
Yesterday I ended the post after describing my underwater water ski with a dive knife in my teeth to free a 12 inch line wrapped on the prop while fighting off great white sharks... Ok maybe it wasn't that dramatic but I'm writing the blog so poetic licence is mine alone. Anyway, after that event we got the boat moving again and sailed close hauled in very uncomfortable seas. Even Nadine was getting tired of the motion by nightfall so we tacked off and headed west then east at big sailing angles to try to get a better ride in the waves. Halfway through Karina's midnight watch I woke up to a loud bang and pretty big vibration. As usual I was in the cockpit before being fully awake knowing that something had broken. Now the task was to sort out what was wrong before more things went wrong. Karina was already trying to puzzle out what had broken and was shining her headlamp around the boat. We discovered the jib furling line had broken and the sail had unfurled to it's full size. Not good in 15 to 20 knots up wind. Karina headed the boat down wind and then we somehow managed to furl the sail by hand turning the drum. Surprisingly there was only one moment when I thought I would lose my grip and have the whole sail fly out again. With the jib now under control we flopped in the cockpit to consider what the next step was.
Both of us were pretty sacked from the day and Im not sure either of us could have done simple math if asked. Nadine was especially tired after making all the Naan bread and slept, snoring loudly through the whole ordeal. We measured the pieces of line that we had and discovered that none were the correct length or diameter for the furler. The line that broke was our spare but the original line was not quiet chafed all the way through from the trip to the Galapagos so we went to pull it out of the locker. It wasn't there. We both remembered thinking it had been put in a good accessible spot in case we needed to revert back to it but neither could remember where that was. You'd think that in a boat with the square footage the size of most peoples living rooms things can't go far. Well 2 hours later and 3 full unpackings of all the gear out of the lazerarete later Karina found it in the nice accessible spot behind a cover panel... As these things always go, this was done in the dark with the boat rolling rail to rail and a cold sea running down both sides. In spite of tearing apart the aft, forward and salon cabins Nadine still managed to remain unconscious.
Having finally found the line we realized we would need daylight and some possible outside internet assistance to fix it and jury rigged a much shorter line so we could get under way again.
The next morning after some much needed dead down time we all assembled in the cockpit to review our options for repairing the line. Given the squally conditions and upcoming gails we were expecting we really needed a simple way to control the jib without going on the foredeck. Upon inspection we noticed that only 4 12 core lines were cut and the outside braid only halfway chafed through. To fix it we melted and stuck the 4 core lines back together and then Nadine spent the next 4 hours darning both the core and cover until it looked like new. Netiher Karina or I went to a high school where the darning socks course was a prerequisite. Luckily Nadine is just a few years older than us, when things were fixed rather than thrown out and knew quite a few stitches that were applicable. We tested it on a winch and it seems to hold so we are now happily using it again.
Flash forward to today where Nadine made crepes for breakfast and upside down banana caramel muffins for dessert tonight and you can see we are back into the mundane.
In the interest of saving my marriage, this post contains no foreshadowing, forward looking statements or any comment on what the future might hold.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promised land - Day 7

We sailors seem to be a superstitious lot. There are all sorts of rules that must be followed while on the sea. No bananas on board, no women, whistling is bad or good (I can't remember) etc. I've never really subscribed to any of them, we have both women and bananas on board... Some times I wonder though....
Despite being a female, Karina has her own rules while on board. No job must ever be declared as easy before being started. In fact nothing must ever be said period, that could be changed a moment later by the sea gods. She of course is now quite angry about my last blog post. I made the fatal mistake of saying that things were quiet on Sea Rover. I think I also said that things were unexciting. In my defense I'm not sure yesterday was all my fault. I believe she sent an email to a colleague stating that she was bored...
Yesterday started off benign enough. We had pleasant winds from a good direction and actually had enough to keep us moving. The only concern I had was making sure we were sailing in a direction that would put us in a good position for the storm that was coming in a few days. This concern actually deprived me us a fair amount of sleep the night before because I was sure that neither Karina nor Nadine were paying enough attention to the sails. I would wake up in a daze, leap up on deck and accuse them of missing the expected wind shift. I would then realize that this accusation was unfounded as nothing had changed and sheepishly slink back into my bunk. The wind shift came mid morning and luckily it combined with light airs. Karina went back to check on our wind steering device (its mounting plates have developed a small crack) and realized we were dragging a 3 inch floating line behind the boat.
We tried a number of proven techniques to dislodge the trapped line but it would not let go so down came the sails and in the water I went to try to sort out what needed to be done to free it. Taking sails down in 1.5 meter seas unfortunately does not stop the boat. You can also imagine that in 1.5 meter seas, as the boat is floating, it also moves 1.5 meters up and down. This makes for tricky maneuvering underwater to avoid being crushed by the hull. My early years of getting towed in various devices behind our powerboat at the cottage prepared me well for this. On went the mask and fins and over the side I went hanging on to a line that would allow me to stay with the boat as she bobbed along at a lazy 1.5 knots. I luckily managed to quickly free the line from the prop and was back on board unscathed. Thoughts of Jaws waiting for me in the depths below didn't occur until after I was out of the water.
We got the sails up and the boat moving again and quickly realized that the wind was now coming from exactly where we wanted to go. Over the next 30 minutes the wind continued to build as did the seas so we now had the swell from the west and the wind waves from the south east making for very very very unpleasant sailing. Karina and I both turned our standard shades of green and settled in for an uncomfortable afternoon. Nadine decided that the movement on the boat called for Naan bread and a spicy Indian dish and spent most of the evening in the kitchen. I am sure despite the amazing food she is providing, I will end up hating Nadine by the end of the trip for her inability to feel any seasickness what so ever. My only consolation is that we have developed a new leak and it is right over her bunk. At least we are all miserable on board...
That was not the end of our adventures yesterday but this post is long and Im going green and starting to sweat again so the remainder of the tale must wait until tomorrow.
In the interest of saving my marriage, this post contains no foreshadowing, forward looking statements or any comment on what the future might hold.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the Promised Land - Day 5

For the first time in a long time, the blog posts have been delayed not because of horrible conditions, ugly weather or boat breakage keeping us busy. Really, there just isn't anything to report.
Don't get me wrong, this is a very good thing sailing in this part of the world. Most of my off watch to date has been spent trying to keep the boat pointed towards an area where there are winds to keep her moving. This has been a bit of a challenge because of the rapidly changing conditions and the boat really not wanting to travel in the direction we want it to.
So far we have done well and have stayed with enough wind to keep things marginally comfortable albeit a bit rolly.
In 4 or 5 days we are anticipating our first big low of the passage to pass to the south of us. The associated front will probably nail us no matter where we are, so now the additional task of finding the best place to be when it arrives must be taken on. Timing this is a bit like trying to hop on a bullet train from a galloping horse while crossing a cobblestone bridge.
Our radio friend Peter from the SF bay area forwarded a blog post from another cruiser he worked with doing the same trip as us a few years ago. Their report was similar to ours as they lamented about crazy changes in the forecasts and having to sail off course to avoid a storm with 9 m swells. Another cruising family we met in Mexico actually sailed West (the coast is East for those who are geographically challenged) for 2 days to avoid a low that popped up on them.
Just before we left Easter Island we had an awful reminder of how troublesome this part of the Pacific can be as our radio buddy traveling about a week ahead of us from New Zealand to the Chilean coast was forced to make the extremely difficult decision to abandon his boat. This due to the complete failure of his second rudder (his first failed weeks before) and an approaching low that he just could not get out of the way of. After battling for 2 weeks to keep the boat pointed in the right direction and surviving a couple pretty nasty lows, I can't imagine how he's feeling right now.
We are taking a very conservative approach to the coast and will motor through light airs in order to stay as north as possible hopefully avoiding the worst. Luckily we have lots of weather information available to us on board and 3 outside resources keeping an eye on things as well. Routing this way will take a few days longer and burn some hard to come by dinosaurs but given our recent treaty with Neptune this will keep us from having something exciting to blog about.
So far so good.
1638 NM to go (give or take a few 100 miles :))

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Leg 3 - Heading to the promissed land - Day 3

Day 1 and 2 were supposed to be fast sails with wind from behind and low seas. As usual the forecast was not quite right and we had low winds and high seas from the side. Oh well. Sea Rover is moving slightly less than she was at anchor so we can't complain too much. We are averaging just under 100 NM per day. At some point we will get into wind and then we'll be complaining about having too much speed. For now we will try to relish the fact that every day we are getting closer to the boat stopping. Yes, in somewhere around 17-18 days we will stop moving for the rest of the season. We will be tied up to a dock. It wont matter what the weather is or how cold the water is, all that we will care about is a full night's sleep with the boat unable to roll from rail to rail.
We can't quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet as there are a few giant hurtles to vault over still... A high that is coming to stop us dead in the water tomorrow and a low that is predicted next week to give us a good spanking. As usual we will take these conditions as they come with nothing else to do but whine about them in the blog.
1864 NM to Mainland.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Easter Island

Chilean Navy boat where we did our clearance
We’ve been in Easter Island for five days now.  We arrived in the anchorage outside of Hanga Roa at the crack of dawn last Thursday, after a 2055 nm (or ~3900 km) passage that took just under 16 days (15 days, 20 hours, to be exact).   We quickly cleaned up the boat and awaited the “officials”, who of course showed up right when we were eating breakfast.  At least we had showered!  Gary and I were then whisked onto the very skookum Chilean Armada zodiac to fill out endless amounts of paperwork.  We were interrogated by officials from Health, Agriculture, Immigration, Police and Navy, while the navy officials took pictures of all the documentation in our boat docs binder.  After 30 minutes of paperwork (I had to do several forms twice as I made mistakes the first time – apparently you aren’t allowed to cross things out.  What do they expect from exhausted people??) all  five officials came on board Sea Rover.  We lost a couple of sacrificial limes, but that was it.  Overall, it was pretty painless.

Easter Island Tapati Festival Parade
We’d manage to arrive during the last few days of the Easter Island Tapati festival, which occurs the first two weeks of February every year.  It is a big festival that celebrates the culture of Easter Island.  All 8000 inhabitants of the island participate. The day we arrived was their big parade, so we forewent sleep and went into town to see the festivities.  We’d been told by numerous people that the parade was supposed to start at 5pm, so we found a nice place to watch from at about 4:45.  Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more.  Island time.  It turns out that 5pm actually means 8pm!  But, we met some nice people from the Netherlands while waiting, and we spent time talking to the crew of s/v Elcie, who we’d met in the Galapagos and who arrived a couple of days before us.  The parade was worth the wait.  
Moai's with Sea Rover II in the background
As far as we could make out, the parade is the final event in choosing the Queen of the festival.  There are two ‘princesses’ who vie for the honour, each of whom is supported by their families.  Part of the parade is that the families try to recruit people to join their “camp”.  Each person gets dressed up (or should I say dressed down?) in costumes made up of corn husks, shells, beads and banana leaves.  It is amazing what you can do with natural ingredients.  And did I mention that all the people get painted in brown paint and body paint designs?  What is so amazing is that everyone from the whole island participates.  Everyone from each “camp” then performs songs and dances during the parade.  Incredible.  The ‘camp’ with the most followers wins.  In addition to the singing and dancing, there are a number of floats with the most amazing wood carvings.  I’m sure the whole parade told a story, which we would have understood if our Spanish was better, but it was pretty neat as is.

We rented a car for two days over the weekend to explore the island.  I can safely say that we have now driven every road possible on Easter Island.  As the island is basically a triangle of 8 km x 12 km, this isn’t really hard!  But, when you stop every kilometre or so to look at a cultural site, it takes some time to make it around the island.  

We’ve now seen Moai’s (the stone statues) that are face down, face up, in rows, facing the sunset, etc.  We also visited the quarry where all the Moai’s were carved from.  What is really neat is that the hillside is dotted with Moai’s all buried at different levels.  Some have only their heads showing, some their heads and torsos, etc.  Apparently they would do the rough carving of the Moai’s from the rock in the hillside, then they’d lower them down into holes in the hillside.  If they were working on the face, they’d bury the Moai up to it’s head, and if they were working lower down, they’d leave more exposed.  All in all, it was pretty incredible to see. 

It has been a neat experience being here as it is such a small place.  There are lots of tourists around (mostly Chilean), but the place doesn’t seem overrun.  It is VERY expensive though.  Prices are 2-3x higher than in Canada.  We took some laundry in to get washed and it was $5 a kilo.  What cost us $12 to get done in the Galapagos cost us over $50 in Easter Island!  Everything is expensive – food, eating out, goods etc.  The only thing that has been semi reasonable so far was fuel.  That seemed to be about what we pay in Canada.  
Also, the anchorage here leaves a bit to be desired.  It is a very open roadstead, with absolutely NO protection from anything.  We are basically being pummelled by waves that come from New Zealand.  We didn’t get much sleep the first night as the boat literally rolled rail to rail.  It was worse than being offshore!  Our poor flopper stoppers basically do nothing.  We’ll definitely have to go back to the drawing board to make some improvements on them this summer.  We put out a stern anchor first thing on day 2, which worked really well until this evening last night when the rode decided to get stuck in a rock.  We’ll have to either rent dive gear today or pay for someone to dive down for us to get it unstuck.  Joy.  We’ll get it up, but definitely a pain. 

Speaking of offshore, we’ll be leaving here for the Chilean mainland on Thursday (tomorrow).  A weather window is opening that we need to take advantage of.  We’ve decided to hire a weather router for this leg as the weather looks “dynamic”, to steal a word from Richard on s/v Elcie.  We will be using renowned weather guru Bob McDavitt from New Zealand to help us get there safely.  So far he is seeing what Gary is seeing, so that is good.  We have also made a decision on where we will keep the boat over the summer.  We managed to get a reservation to haul the boat out of the water at the Yacht Club in Puerto Montt.  So Puerto Montt it is! We’ll try to post to the blog along the way, but don’t worry if you don’t hear from us for a day or two ‘– conditions aren’t always conducive to spending long periods (or any period) of time down below.  We’ll keep the tracker going though, so you can follow us on that.  If we disappear briefly, wait 30 minutes and look again – apparently the satellites don’t always line up perfectly down there and there can be gaps.

Be well. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Easter Island Is Very Cool

So we've now been at anchor off Hanga Roa for the past 4 days. So far we've managed to see an amazing parade and explore much of the island. We even had a great fireworks show last night (Celebration of light quality).
Internet is frustratingly slow so no pictures yet but we've got lots.
After today (another day bombing around the island) we should have some downtime to track down good internet and figure out our next plan.
Stay tuned for a full report.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - Last Day

Well, we now have 91 NM to go.
Our predicted arrival is sometime in the early morning tomorrow, at which point we will be able to sleep longer than 3 hours if we desire. We will also hopefully able to walk from one part of the boat to the other without using both hands. We might even be able to have a daily shower. Walking on land is a distinct possibility although none of us are sure we can still do that without leaning to port and falling over. Luxuries like being able to sleep in a dry bed or change into pjamas haven't even been contemplated yet.
There are those who love passage making and to a certain extent I can see part of the appeal. Defining your day by 4 events (eating, sleeping, crapping and standing watch) makes things pretty simple. You have time to let your mind wander to places it wouldn't necessarily take the time to go when in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Imagine going a full 14 days without hearing about something stupid that Trump said... There are definitely bonuses to being offshore. Add in days of endless sailing (even if it is up wind), the amazing stars at night, sunrises and sunsets uninhibited by land and good watch mates who you can trust and rely on to keep you safe... Now you'd think I was writing a brochure for an idyllic vacation. Start talking about the fact that all of us have to wear belts to keep our pants up and now Im positive I could sell this as a "holistic getaway" to many of our neighbors in Kits.
For a limited time Sea Rover II is offering a once in a life time, amazing opportunity for you to find (and even talk) to your spirit animal. For just $2000 US we are offering the perfect chance to commune with Nature and remove yourself from all your stresses of life. This 3 week "vacation" will guarantee daily cleansing's, weight loss and a new understanding of what you are capable of. The best part about this offered vacation is that no instructors will be there to bother you in your voyage of understanding...
We of course will be flying to Chile :)
88.8 NM to go.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - No Idea What Day It Is

As Gary said yesterday, the days have blended together. The last 72 hours have been under very squally conditions in VERY big seas. On the first day of squalls I wrote to the blog that the seas were horrendous. It turns out I had a few things to learn. Yesterday had the biggest waves I've seen so far. On the beam. Very exciting. The "two hand rule" suddenly had a whole new meaning. We knew the winds and seas were coming and had prepared for it by putting up our storm staysail. We've been sailing with both our staysail and genoa and have been able to manage all the squalls by pulling in the genoa as required. As the winds fluctuated between 8 and 30 knots on a regular basis, there was a lot of letting sail out, then madly pulling it back in when the winds picked up. We had to keep the boat speed up to at least 5 knots or we just stalled out in the huge seas. Then it was like being a ping pong ball down below. But, we figured out what to do and managed the days pretty well, I think. Nadine even made bacon and eggs yesterday morning, in the huge, huge seas!

Today was much better. We had a lovely afternoon of 15-20 knot winds on the beam, and the seas were definitely down (ie, back to my first definition of 'horrendous' - it is all relative). I actually read my book on my noon to 3pm watch instead of intently watching the wind gauge to figure out when I needed to reduce sail. We all even showered! A momentous day. But, alas, it was too good to be true. We had all met in the cockpit after shower time to discuss our newly clean status, when in the blink of an eye the winds went from the nice gentle 15 knots to 28 knots! After a flurry of activity we had things under control again, but I don't think we are clean anymore. Oh well. All in a day of sailing offshore!

Overall, everything is good. We are all looking forward to arriving at Easter Island on Thursday. 319nm to go.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Leg 2 - Bash to Easter Island - Day something

Well we've officially lost track of all meaning of time. It gets dark, it gets light. We pull sails out, we pull sails in. Sometimes we pull sails out only to pull them right back in. Sea water rinse and repeat. All the while the boat heaves in crazy directions. According to our instruments we are making reasonable distance. This is little consolation given the conditions. All of us on board would be happy to not be moving at all. The gourmet fair has trickled to a stop. The food is still nourishing but we aren't getting fresh Naan Bread any more. I think even Nadine has reached her G force threshold.
Somehow are spirits are still remaining reasonably good. Yes, there are grumbly moments but all grumbling seems directed at the forces we can't control. Tomorrow the seas will calm down... And yes, I said that yesterday and the day before.
469.7 NM to go

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - Day 9

Nadine: Yesterday was a very special day. We all got to have a shower and change into clean clothes... although there were a few huge splashes into the cockpit after that, so I guess we are not as clean as we had hoped to be. And during my evening shift we hit the half way mark to the Easter Island way point. Hurrah! Gary says only 6-8 days to go. You can probably guess what we are aiming for.
Shower days are ranking very high as my favorite kind of day. And I will never tire of the amazing clear nights where you can see stars all around. Today we are cooking a few things in case the winds pick up over the next couple of days. Good thing for chocolate brownies as a super survival food.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - Day 9

Last night as we were hurtling through hyperspace, I spent a bunch of time staring at the stars contemplating how we got to this point. We are now at our half way point distance wise but probably 2/3rds of the way time wise. Galapagos, Easter Island and Chile have always been on my bucket list but if you had asked me if we'd sail to all three places 10 years ago I would have said you were crazy. Many many people are still saying we are crazy even as we are doing it. In fact, I am currently writing this wondering WTF we were thinking...
While offshore, when you aren't complaining about the horrible seas, contrary winds or new bruise on your butt, you have time to think. There is no social media, TV or news to get caught up on. On watch all that exists is you, the boat and your thoughts. Im happy to say that after those 3 hours of words spinning around in my head nothing is any clearer. I didn't come up with the meaning of life, or a solution to world peace. I don't know what we were thinking in undertaking this journey but I am sure it will all become clear once we stop. At that point all the misery will quickly fade away leaving nothing but the amazing moments forever burned in my memory.

This deep thought moment was brought to you by extreme sleep depravation, fermented cabbage that we probably shouldn't have eaten and the letter K.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash To Easter Island - Day 8

Ugggg. That pretty much describes it. Day 8 of living on a 15-20 degree heel. Probably 8 more to go. Good times. The seas have been pretty horrendous the last few days making for some pretty wild rides. We've had to change the old saying "one hand for the boat and one for yourself" to "two hands for the boat at all times". As you can imagine, this rule makes some things, like dressing, eating, cooking, using the loo, difficult. But, somehow we are managing. We are all perfecting how to survive what I've termed the "fling - throw". This is where the boat flings you in one direction, and then immediately throws you in the complete opposite direction. This happens quite often, but unfortunately is not predictable! It is keeping us on our toes. Yup, two hands for the boat...or more bruises... On the plus side, the wind has finally (!!!) swung around to the east and so we've been able to crack off to a close reach. It is still uncomfortable as the seas are now directly on the beam, but it is infinitely better than the boat taking air off every second wave and slamming down into the next, which has been our world for the last 3 days.

Gary assures us it will get better in 24 hours...

800 nm down, 1100 nm to go.

PS - the flying fish are very cool

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Monday, February 5, 2018

The roller coaster ride to Easter Island - Day 7

Nadine: This is my first blog post ever... I am currently taking a small break from prepping the peanut chickpea stew and naan bread for dinner. If you had asked me if I was going to be doing this type of thing at a break neck 6-8 knots of boat speed, and 15-20 degree boat heel, I probably would have laughed. Maybe I should have had that afternoon nap... but isn't it popcorn time???
Since we left the Galapagos, it's been an increasing crazy roller coaster ride. It makes almost all the other rides I have ever been on look tame. Way more suspenseful than space mountain where you cannot see what's next... the ocean has been throwing us curve balls left right and center. My bruised leg and butt can attest to the surprise when making contact with a hard surface. It's also quite a production to get around the boat...pretty much have to use both hands or skoot along the wall if it's available or else you are easily thrown around. Makes for interesting sleeping...
There is nothing like the absolutely amazing sun sets and rises, and skies full of stars. Yesterday the moon rise was especially appreciated. Would have been nice to have had that to help me to see the flying fish that almost landed in my lap earlier in the evening. My highlight over the past week was seeing a lone Bryde's whale on my early morning watch on day 2. It came to the then much calmer surface and took several breath by the boat before we sailed away. Maybe when the seas really do settle down as Gary keeps saying will happen in 24-36 hours, we shall see more of these lovely creatures.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - Day 6

Well its now been 6 days at a heal of 15 to 20 degrees. Progress has been pretty darn good. Yes we are having to pump the bilge pretty regularly to stay afloat and yes I've filled up my bucket with stuff other than salt water more than once but we are currently doing 7 knots in more or less the correct direction so life is OK.

Every few hours Karina and I have a private conference to make sure we are understanding each other when it comes to a comfortable boat. I have always felt that faster is better as good things do not come to those who wait. Karina is more inclined to the slower side of life. Somehow we come to a consensus and I go up on deck and put another reef in. The good news now is that there aren't any more reefs to put in so conflict has been minimal over the past few hours. Nadine has done an excellent job of making herself scarce during these lighthearted conversations. If you've ever been on our boat you will understand that this is pretty difficult to do.

Speaking of Nadine, she has also done an amazing job keeping Karina and I fed and the boat clean. Somehow she is unaffected by the heel and bouncy conditions and aside from being thoroughly bruised is somehow full of energy. I on the other hand wish I could be put in a body cast so my muscles would stop firing. A giant tub of jello might work just as well. MMMM jello.... I digress.

Elcie, a 60 foot catamaran that left the Galapagos a day after us is now ahead of us and in contact with us pretty regularly. Last night they reported coming out of the rough seas and being able to crack off and again tonight they reported they are enjoying fast reaching conditions in comfortable seas. This confirms what we can see on the gribs. 100 NM in front of us is a glorious patch of wind and seas that seems to be moving at exactly the same speed (or faster) as us. Having contact with Elcie every night feels like a kid looking through the window of a locked candy store. Maybe tomorrow night we will break through and life will be great.

1365 NM to go till our world might stop moving.

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - Day 5

Karina: Day 5 started off much the way day 4 did, and I expect day 6 will as well. We are still beating into the wind and waves at 50 degrees off the wind. But we are making good progress towards Easter Island. According to Jimmy Cornell (the guru on when the best time to sail anywhere in the world is), we were to avoid the area between 3 and 8 degress south (latitude)and 90 and 95 degress west (longitude) as sailors typically report confused seas and squally conditions. Unfortunately there really is NO way to avoid this area when going from the Galapagos to Easter Island. You either have to sail directly east against the 2 knot humbolt current to the mainland coast, or you end up way to far west to easily get to Easter Island. So, we decided to go through it. We are now at 6 degrees 48 minutes south and 93 degress 35 minutes west. So right in the middle of this area. We can now confirm that yes, this are does indeed have big, confused seas and squally conditions.

Yesterday we learned how to make the boat bit more comfortable (ie, reefing etc) and so it is tolerable, even for me. With the reefs in the main and genoa we are galloping across the ocean between 5 and 6 knots. Without the reefs we tend to do 7 or 8 knots and that becomes intolerable... 6 knots is much better. Even the captain agrees, although he just came down to complain about the reef in the main - we are still doing 6 knots...

Today was a special day as we hove-to (ie, for those non-sailors reading, that means you basically stop the boat in a comfortable position) to charge the batteries, make water, and most importantly, to shower!! Yup, it was very very exciting for all of us on Sea Rover. We almost feel human again.

We are all adjusting to living in 3 hour increments. We are rotating through 3 hour watches, so everyone does a 3 hour watch, then has 6 hours off to sleep, stare off into space, stare off into the ocean, etc. Repeat 3 times a day. Gary had a bit of a stomach bug (or sea sickness) and I've been struggling a bit down below so Nadine has been looking after us. We've nicknamed her "Cinderella" as she is doing all the cooking and cleaning while we lie down and give helpful orders and advice. I don't know what we would have done without her on this leg - we certainly would've been a lot hungrier! She is in the kitchen now preparing our dinner... It's wonderful. I'm starting to get my sea legs (yup, day 5) and so hopefully I'll be able to share the cooking a cleaning duties tomorrow. We'll see how it goes.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Leg 2 - The Bash to Easter Island - Days 1-4

Here we are on day 4 of our many day passage to Easter Island. Despite picking a "good" weather window to leave we have been beating our way through huge seas for the last 4 days. While there are lovely easterly winds about 100nm south of us, we are stuck in sucky southerlies. Not helpful when you are trying to go south. This morning we had to crack off to between close hauled and a close reef to give us a bit of relief. The boat and crew are taking a pounding. It looks like we have a few more days of this so I expect blog posts will be few and far between. At least until the boat and crew get some relief from the pounding and heal. Thankfully Nadine is immune to the bashing and can work down below, so she is keeping us well fed. Hopefully at some point we'll be able to start doing our share...
Overall, all is well. More in a day or two. This is my limit for being upright while down below...

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Enchanted Islands part 4 - Moving On...

 As our time in the Galapagos is coming to an end, we’ve been madly crossing off all the boat jobs that needed to be completed before the next passage, including:
  • -        Fixing the MOB pole (minor job)
  • -        Shortening the backstay (MAJOR job)
  • -        De-torquing the rigging and re-tensioning it (major job)
  • -        Fixing the lazyjacks (again – F@$##*& lazyjacks…)
  • -        Fixing the watermaker (MAJOR job)
  • -        Sealing two of the starboard ports (major job)
  • -        Checking the rig (minor job)
  • -        Fixing a leaking deck fill (minor job)
  • -        Hooking up the HF radio to our new copper plate (minor job)
  • -        Fixing the flag (very minor job)
  • -        Re-attaching the steering (major job)
  • -        Cleaning the bottom (several times – the algae growth is crazy here – thanks Nadine- she is down there as I write this)
  • -        Fixing the broken piece on the dodger (minor job)
  • -        Installing the swim ladder (thank you Tanya for making Gary do it)
  • -        Fixing the vang ( a new problem…hopefully we’ve fixed it??)
  • -        Installing the 3rd reef (minor job)
  • -        Taking on diesel (major job)
  • -        Fixing the rip in the main sail (new issue… and a MAJOR job to fix)
  • -        Getting more propane
  • -        Provisioning with food
  • -        Trying to install new slides on our spinnaker poles (didn’t fit)
  • -        Etc etc…

While installing the third reef yesterday Nadine noticed a six inch tear in our mainsail!  Not good.  We figure it got ripped when the F@$##*& lazyjacks blew apart on our passage to Isla Isabela a few weeks ago but we didn’t notice it.  It was probably a very small tear then, but after two long night sails, the rip has grown. Thankfully we found it while still in port – it was quite a job for Nadine and Gary to patch and sew it back together and I can’t imagine doing it on passage.  The patch is good and strong though and the sail seems to be no worse for wear. 
Thank god we aren't doing this offshore....

Successful mainsail repair

We’ve also had adventures in provisioning. Although we re-fueled in San Cristobal through our agent, we wanted to top up our jerry cans here before we left. This involved an illicit trip to the gas station, where Gary and I weren’t allowed out of the taxi (non-Ecuadorians are not allowed to get fuel without a permit). Our cab driver took care of it for us, for a price. All very clandestine. Finding propane was just as entertaining. We went to the address given to us by our agent to discover it was a marine store and repair shop, not a propane depot, as expected. After much hand-waving, we were told to pick up the tank at 6pm (we think). We went back to the shop at 6 only to find it was closed! But all was well, as the guy from the shop was working just down the road and was looking out for us. It was the most expensive propane we’ve ever bought, but we can’t complain.

Provisioning for food has also been an adventure. On Saturday we got up at 5am and went to the much-touted local Saturday market with some of the crew from the catamaran
Saturday market at 5:30 am
Elcie. It was incredible! By 5:30 am the place was packed. The number of vegetable stalls and the quality of the produce was stunning. Gary stationed himself in a corner and guarded all our purchases while I ran around from stall to stall buying tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, potatoes, peppers, oranges, grapefruits, bananas, sweet potatoes, basil (huge amounts for $1!), limes, avocadoes, pineapple, etc etc. By the time we were done Gary was having to shew people away who kept trying to look through our box of food as they thought we were one of the vendors! We could barely carry it all from the taxi to the dinghy. I don’t think we’ll go hungry on passage…

Successful repair of the Backstay
While we’d love to stay here forever, a good weather window is opening for us to begin our passage to Easter Island. We met with Immigration yesterday afternoon and got our exit zarpe for the country so it is officially time to go. The last 4 weeks on the boat have gone by very quickly and have been a lot of fun.  It will be with heavy hearts when we sail out of the harbour a few hours from now. 

You can follow us on our Delorme tracker - the link is on the "Where are we" page.  Supposedly the link will now work on a tablet (Gary complained to the company and they fixed it last week ).  Stay tuned for our semi-daily updates about life offshore for the next 2-3 weeks.  No photos until we get to the next place with cell phone coverage.  
Galapagos map showing the strong currents the Leg 1 crew of Sea Rover experienced when arriving from Mexico

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Enchanted Islands part 3 - Isla Santa Cruz

After another great night sail, we arrived in the very busy harbour off of Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz at first light last Tuesday.  It was shocking to see so many cruise boats, tour boats, taxis and ferry boats after the tranquility of Isla Isabel.  We threaded our way through the nautical chaos and squeezed ourselves in between several boats.  We quickly realized we were going to need to set a stern anchor as the anchorage was very rolly and uncomfortable.  As the dinghy was still on deck, we put the paddle board in the water and deployed our stern anchor from there.  Our first attempt brought us too close to a local boat and we got to have our first “conversation” with a local… Oops.  The second attempt was better, but we quickly realized we needed to add chain to our all-rode anchor line so that it wouldn’t get run over by the ten thousand boats zipping by at full speed.  The dinghy was deployed, the stern anchor was pulled up, our link of chain added, and then sunk again.  Third time lucky. The officials showed up at 9 am to clear us in.  One of our agents was there, so all went smoothly.

Golden Rays off the pier in Puerto Ayora
Puerto Ayora seems like a major metropolis compared to the other two islands, but it is still a small town.  We have spent our time here wandering around and exploring the town, in between getting the boat ready for our next passage. 
We’ve swum in the brackish waters of a lovely grotto a 15 minute walk away, and spent a nice afternoon visiting the turtles and land iguanas at the Charles Darwin Research Center. We also did a snorkelling day tour out to Isla Pinzon and saw many many many sea turtles (we lost track after 30), sharks, sting rays and a couple of sea lion colonies. 
Gary Observing the Sea Turtle

On the way to the snorkel spot we stopped and admired a beach just full of marine iguanas.  A great day.  The next day Nadine did a day scuba diving trip and swam with hammerhead sharks.  Another amazing Galapagos experience.

Gary announced that we had to eat out as much as possible while here as we’ll be eating on board for the next 2 months.  So, we’ve been trying out the local cuisine.  We’ve eaten some great empanadas, found a brew pub with good wings and coconut encrusted shrimp, and eaten a couple of times in the “food alley” area. 
Street Food in Puerto Ayora

They close an entire street down every night and set up tables in the middle of the road and all the restaurants that line the street then vie for your patronage.  We had a great meal of Brujo (a type of grouper that is very popular here) one night, and a nice Mexican meal last night.  We’ve also eaten a lot of ice cream.  Sometimes two a day…

Being Checked Out by a Friend

And after being the only Cruising sailboat in the Galapagos (and only the second all year) we finally met some other Cruisers – Fourth  Quarter, a Peruvian boat being run as a charter, and a lovely family (plus paying guest crew) on the beautiful catamaran Elcie, which they built themselves.  Elcie will be sailing to Easter Island at the same time as us. 

Luckily for us they’ve been there before so we’ve been able to pump them for information on anchorages (generally poor – pray for calm weather), provisioning (generally poor as everything gets shipped from Chile), weather (will hopefully be good??!) etc. 
They are on a tight schedule and can travel much faster than us, and so they may be gone before we finally arrive in Easter Island, but hopefully we’ll overlap there for a few days.  It has been a bit lonely being the only Cruising boat for the last few weeks and I know Gary has missed sharing stories and information with other sailors.  However, there have been a lot of advantages to being here early in the season.  We haven't had to compete for the prime anchoring spots, and you can just tell the water taxi that you want to go out to the sailboat - makes it pretty easy when there is only one!  But, it is always re-assuring to know that we aren't the only crazy people doing the trip this year.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Enchanted Isands part 2 - Isla Isabela

After spending one week in the anchorage on San Cristobal the crew of Sea Rover pulled up the anchor and had a pleasant sail to Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela.  Isla Isabela is the furthermost island to the west in the Galapagos (San Cristobal being the furthest island to the east).  We had originally planned on visiting it last before heading off to Easter Island, however, the ‘clear out’ process for the Galapagos recently changed.  It used to
be that you could visit Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz (the middlemost island in the Galapagos), get your exit zarpe for the Galapagos, and then visit Isla Isabela on your way to your next destination.  Not anymore.  Officially clearing out of the country on Isla Isabela now requires you to pay the expenses for all the officials from Puerto Ayora to come over to issue the paperwork (ie, ferry tickets, food, accommodations etc)!   We opted for simplicity and decided to visit Puerto Ayora last to make the clear out process easy (and less expensive).  So, a trip to Isla Isabela was planned.  This suited our Leg 1 crew Tanya, as it meant she would be able to do one final sail on Sea Rover before heading back to Mexico for the rest of the season.  It also allowed us to visit with Leg 1 crew Denis and Rosario one more time as they had left us for Isla Isabela several days before.

We had a beautiful afternoon/night sail to cover the 80 nm from San Cristobal to Isabela and actually had to slow the boat down to prevent us from arriving at 3 am.  As it turned out, the wind died at 3 am and so we had a slow drift with the current (2 knots west!) until sunrise.  We anchored in the reasonably protected anchorage just off the town of Puerto Villamil at 8 am.  The Armada and Port Captain were on board 30 minutes later to check out our paperwork (yes, official paperwork is required to travel between the islands for sailboats).  Despite the language barrier, Bolivar (or ‘Don Bolo’ as he is known to almost everyone in the islands), our acting agent on San Cristobal had all our paperwork in order and the check in went smoothly.  We were all asleep 30 minutes later. 

After long naps, we all jumped in the water for a wonderfully reviving swim.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the water temperature was up to 25oC, compared to a chilly 20-22oC on San Cristobal.  And it was much sunnier and warmer than it had been on San Cristobal.  Ah, tropical paradise at last! 

As Puerto Villamil is the only town in the Galapagos that allows you to access the shore using your own boat (versus one of the water taxis), we lowered the dinghy and headed for the dock.  The anchorage in Puerto Villamil is surrounded by a rocky reef system called the Tintoreas.  We were anchored in the sandy part of the reef system, but had to dodge numerous rocky outcroppings in the dinghy on the way to the dock.  Luckily the bright sunshine and clear, baby blue waters make it easy to see these ‘boomers’.  We were escorted into the dock by several manta rays, sea lions, and several baby white reef tip sharks.  We knew we were going to like this place.

The town itself is 800 meters from the dock.  A pleasant walk on a welcoming road led us into the downtown core, if you can call it that.  The population of Puerto Villamil is about 2000, and it makes Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal (with all of 8000 people) seem like a huge metropolis.  To say the town is sleepy is an understatement.  But it is wonderful!  The streets are filled with lovely fine, soft sand, there are palm trees along the surf beach, and the people are friendly and welcoming.  The whole place has a ‘resort’ feel and there are definitely more tourists compared to San Cristobal (or maybe just the tourist-to-local ratio is greater).  We all instantly fell in love with it.  Definitely a place worth visiting for anyone going to the Galapagos.    

The next few days were spent exploring the town and visiting with our Leg 1 crew.  Our first stop on the wildlife tour was a visit to the lagoons just outside of town where a special Galapagos species of pink flamingos hang out.  It was amazing watching them use their beaks to siphon mud from the bottom and strain the food out of it.  
The next stop was snorkelling in one of the salt water lagoons just off the anchorage.  As all activities in the Galapagos require a guide, there are only a few places you can visit unaccompanied.  This lagoon, called Concha y Perla, is one of them.  To get to it you have to walk along a boardwalk constructed amongst the mangroves.  Inevitably you end up having to step over marine iguanas and sea lions blocking the path (trust me, they don’t move).  The snorkel spot itself is quite nice.  It isn’t the best snorkelling we’ve ever done, but each time we’ve gone there (3 times so far) we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff, including sting rays, an eagle ray, a sea turtle, and chocolate chip sea stars.  And big parrot fish (Bill, we thought of you).  

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Isla Isabela was that it is one of the only islands in the archipelago where you can see the Galapagos Penguin.  This is the only tropical penguin in the world, and definitely the only we’ll be able to watch from our boat while wearing a bikini!  I wasn’t sure we were going to see any as from reading our guide book it seemed that most of the colonies are found on the west coast of the island where we, as a sailboat, are not allowed to go.  Needless to say I was overjoyed to look out from the cockpit on day 2 to see a penguin swimming by the boat!  It turns out there are a couple of small colonies in the reef area where we are anchored.  We’ve seen them many times now fishing around the boat in the morning and evening.  They make a wonderful honking noise which always alerts us to their presence, and they usually put on a show streaking through the water and leaping out like a dolphin while they charge after their dinner.  

Other highlights of our time here so far have been snorkelling at the Tuneles, about a 30 minute boat ride west of town.  We swam with too many turtles to count, and at least a dozen white tipped reef sharks.  We even saw a pair of sea turtles mating! 
Tanya, Nadine, Gary and I at the Lava Tunels

Unfortunately the sea horses eluded us that day, but a visit through the water tunnels formed through the lava fields made us forget our disappointment.  What a wonderful place.

Cerro Sierra Negra Volcano Crater

We did the ‘must do’ 16 km round trip hike around the Sierra Negra volcano crater (which is 10km across!) and down into the smaller Cerro Chico volcano.  It was really interesting to see all the different lava flows.  Picture taking was a bit of a challenge as the one family on the tour kept ‘photo-bombing’ my pictures, but really, the pictures don’t capture the true magic of the area anyway.

We also visited the tortoise hatchery.  They have an active breeding program to re-populate the 5 different kinds of tortoises on the island.  The hatchery is a branch of the Charles Darwin Research Centre and opened in 1994.  They have saved most of the tortoise species from going extinct.  They actually rescued 8 tortoises (4 males and 4 females) from the slopes of the Sierra Negra volcano when it erupted in 1998 and had to start from scratch to keep the species going.  Perhaps not the most genetically diverse way to do it, but better than the alternative.  It turns out that for the last 25 years all the tortoises born on the island have come from the hatchery.  
Park staff actually follow the wild tortoises and dig up any nests they find and move the eggs to the hatchery to allow them to incubate.  Apparently feral dogs, cats, rats and goats have taken a toll on the birth rate in the past and so this is their way of guaranteeing a continuation of the species.  The baby tortoises live at the centre until they are 5 or 6 and are then released into the wild.  At this point their shells are deemed strong enough to survive their predators.  It was an interesting place to visit and gave us a good appreciation for the differences between some of the different tortoises (ie, different shaped shells).

While seeing all the tortoises in the hatchery was very cool, the biggest highlight of our visit was seeing them out in the wild.  Nadine, Gary and I rented bikes one afternoon (mine was a dud – apparently I’m not allowed to choose bicycles anymore…) and rode a trail up to the old prison.  Along the way you travel along the “Caminas de las Tortugas” or the “turtle road”.  We actually saw 10 of them along the way!  About half were right on the road, but the rest were in the bushes eating cactus etc.  Most were quite old – based on the size we estimated they were about 50 years old.      

We’ve now been on Isla Isabela for almost 2 weeks and have done all the touristy things there are to do.  Our Leg 1 crew (Tanya, Denis and Rosario) have all returned to their lives and it is now just Gary, Nadine and I.  In between enjoying the island we’ve taken advantage of the calm anchorage here to complete a very long list of boat jobs.  Although we could easily stay here forever, our 30 days are rapidly coming to an end and it is probably time for us to move on and check out the next place.  We plan to sail against the 2 knot current back to Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, the middle island in the archipelago, on Monday/Tuesday.  We’ll spend a few days there checking out the ‘must see’ activities and provisioning.  Then we’ll start looking for our weather window to leave this paradise. 

This is a really special place and it will be difficult to leave.  Where else can you see penguins, sea lions, rays, turtles and marine iguanas swimming by the boat in the span of 5 minutes?  These are truly the enchanted islands.