April 19, 2011

Ecuador to the South Pacific.

        After spending nearly a month in Ecuador it was time to head west to the Galapagos. We departed with a crew that included, Wayne and Sarah who were spending their third sail aboard Downtime and Tom, Yoana (who met us in Galapagos), Daria and myself aboard.  On March 2nd 2011 we set sail from Salinas Ecuador and sailed south with hopes of catching a few monster fish that we frequently saw brought to the beach by sports fishers in Salinas.   The Humbolt Current flows north along the Ecuadorian coast 20 to 40 miles offshore and bring the nutrients and bait fish with it that the big game fish like to munch on.  

We  motor sailed a 100 miles south during the night and when we arrived where I thought the fishing would be good the next morning we sadly found more long lines floating in front of us for miles.  We pulled our best baits in hopes of catching the “Big One” and after a few disappointing hours of trolling with out any luck we turned the boat north west toward the Galapagos .  Around mid afternoon we saw a lone long line fishing boat with three fishermen on the horizon.  We came along side and asked if they had any fish they would like to trade for?  The captain said “No tenemos pescados”  and that he had “delor de la cavesa”  No fish and a headache and then asked if we could spare a few aspirin and some cold water?  We gave him a few Tylenol and a bottle of water which was greatly appreciated. It was just too bad he had no fish to offer in trade….

From  the coast of Ecuador the Galapagos Islands are almost 600 miles West NW and are located just south of the equator.  The winds are light along the equator and we had the engines on for a few days to make any headway.  The wind helped out the other days but for the most part we motored.  We arrived on Cristobal Island 4 days later and anchored Puerto Villamil.  The seals here are brave and are not afraid of the boats as we found out the first night when one made herself at home in our salon creating quite a mess.  Seals are beautiful and graceful in the water but are stinky and messy on board  leaving hair and crap behind they smell of old fish and shed an amazing amount of short black hair.  We had to put up makeshift barricades to keep them off the boat the rest of the week.

The Galapagos are part of Ecuador and clearing in was just about as big of a pain as the mainland.  We had hired an agent to take care of the formalities and he did a pretty good job getting us through the process.  The process being line up the right people and hand them the money!!   The officials tender comes out to the boat and 5 people climb aboard with their dirty shoes.  The Agent, Port Captain, Navy official, Park Ranger, and the Bug inspector.  They all act like this is the first time they have cleared in a boat to throw you off and make you feel like $1300 is a insignificant price to pay to see their islands… hmmm still a lot of money to me!!  The bug guy looks in a few lockers and gives a 3 pages to document his presence and the boat is cockroach free. Ya Right!!. The park official gives you a park passes for $100 each which we were never asked to show at any location except when we cleared out. The agent gets his $400 for a few hours work.  It would have been nice to get current information on the rules and regulations in English for that kind of money. The other officials were there just to leave more diryt foot prints on my white decks?

The rules here are always changing and nobody really knows what you can or cannot do?  One island is different than the other, it is just who you get your information from.  One day we asked an Officer in the navy  if we could take Super Dink out to this other island and he said no problem?   Well two hours later we were being escorted back with a park official and our agent, Neither were to happy with us… They then told us “No private boats allowed to other islands” . 

The 4th day we were in Puerto Villamil the Port Captain came up to the boat at 6 am I thought they were going to address our going to the other island the day before… but he was explaining about the Tsunami that was heading this way!!  He was explaining that it would be here by 5 pm.  At noon all boats were evacuated to 5 miles offshore from the harbor and the town’s people were brought to high ground. It was a little scary!   But we never felt the wave and just before dark were allowed back in the harbor to anchor.  We should have just waited a day to see that other island… we were right there next to it all that afternoon!!  Tom and Yoana we on an Island tour and missed the boat.  They were evacuated by a fire truck that afternoon and taken to the evacuation center in the high country where Yoana was consumed by mosquitoes. The Tsunami was about 3 to 5 feet above normal tide and there was some water that went into town and done some damage on other islands that we saw. Thank goodness it was no a bigger wave!! 

Fuel prices here are interesting,  the government subsidizes the locals to the tune of only paying $1 per gallon.  Well, as we found out, there are many ways to get some of this $1 diesel for a fraction of the world prices.  We had fuel delivered for $3 a gallon and on another island hired a taxi to the fuel station and bought some of the $1 per gallon diesel!!  Not hard to do the math at the pump here!! 75 gallons is 75 bucks!!  I think this will be the cheapest diesel I will ever put in Downtime.

The Islands’ economy are strictly tourist driven.  There are lots of little restaurants and shops.  Diving is big here and the diving is well worth the effort.  On our dive we saw hammer head sharks, turtles, manta rays, and white tip reef sharks and lots of colorful fish.  Back on the island we hired a guide to show us around and he first took us to the Giant turtle hatchery.  They have been successfully breeding turtles here for the last 15 years and have about 80 on site.  The turtles here are huge and they stink!!  They live to be over 100 they say.  We were lucky to be there on feeding day and saw 10 to 12 of them munching on plants and leaves. The island used to be covered with them, but when the sailors came through back in the day they would fill their holds with them to eat on the voyage since a turtle can live up to a year with very little to eat.  Along the way we stopped and hiked up to a dormant volcano with a lake in the middle of it, the view was amazing!  The last stop was a beach that had sea iguanas.  The iguanas we jet black like the rocks they climbed over and grew to 2 to 3 feet.  This apparently is the only place on earth where these guys live?   Amazing!

We spent a week at the first anchorage and then moved to Puerto Ayora 30 miles to the north on Santa Cruz Island.  The seals here were not as aggressive and we only had one come aboard.  We spent a week exploring the island.  This island was much bigger than the first and one day we hired a guide to show us the island.  He first drove us to a farm that raised turtles and charged you $5 to go see them in their pasture.  Well for me…if you seen one turtle sitting in a puddle you seen them all, it’s not like they are very social animals.  Just up from the farm there is a lava tube that we hiked through.  The lava tube was about 400 yards long dark and wet tunnel. At one point you have to crawl under a low spot right across the muddy floor.  This did a great job of getting everyone muddy hands and knees!   Daria was last in the line and got stranded when the lights went out!!  The next stop was on top of the mountain where there were more sunken lava domes, giant holes where the lava tubes collapsed.  You have to wonder if the whole island is like a big piece of Swiss cheese?  The hillsides are lush green grass and I only saw a few cattle grazing on them.  It is strange to see all these resources not being utilized?  It seems to me you could have quite a good cattle or lumber industry on these islands and still not hurt the environment.  But hey people pay to see turtles and seals right? 

The last island we stayed on was Isabella.  This is where we finally saw penguins!!  The penguins here are small just 3 feet tall or long if they are swimming…  An animal that has a hard time walking on land but more than makes up for it with its agility and speed in the water. They darted around the boat chasing baitfish and having a great time.  First time Looking at a Penguin off  the side of Downtime!!  Good Stuff!! 

Isabella is the quietest island we visited.  There are no paved roads and only a few hundred people live here full time.  The beach is beautiful and there are a few nice hotels located along it.  The restaurants don’t have menus, you just sit down and order lunch.  The beers are $2 and lunch is $4 for fish, rice, soup, and a desert!! 

Isabella is the point where we would jump into the Pacific from, the last land we would see for over 3000 miles!!  We were watching the weather waiting for conditions that would allow us to sail south to the trade winds.  On the 24th of March the right conditions came together and we went to clear out.  Well, clearing out was just about a big a pain as clearing in!! They wanted another $300!!  I told the agent “It’s not going to happen“!!  I am pulling anchor and sailing out!  Clearance papers or not!  Our agent spent the next hour in the Port Captains Office explaining  the situation and got the bill down to $31, that’s more like it!!  The Captain was trying to charge me for the days I already paid for!!  Well  not his time……

As for the Galapagos…They are all just an illusion that this is some special place untouched by civilization.  The reality is that most islands are infested with wild goats and feral cats and blackberry vines.  The goats trample the turtle nests, the cats kill the native birds and the blackberry vines choke out native vegetation their seeds being spread by any animal or bird that consumes the berry.  At one point in time there must have been vast hardwood forests here like all of the other south American countries, but few old growth trees remain and there is a type of moss that is strangling most the other trees.  It appears that no re-forestation plan is in effect, just the last of the old trees being cut down and sawed into lumber.  The farms and ranches that were productive at the turn of the century are all but overgrown with jungle.  The local waters are fished with the same diligence as the mainland coast.  When we were on our dive the local fishermen had lines down catching bait in one of the highest rated dive sites in the Islands?  Sports fishers go out daily satisfying the tourists sport fishing demands.  The reality is the Galapagos Islands are just another tourist destination and they know how to part the tourist from their cash.  It would be hard to find a reason to return?  I think if you want to see wildlife, go to the San Diego Zoo and see it all!!!

With Downtime loaded with all the fuel and provisions she could carry we set sail late afternoon on the 23th.  We had to get 300 miles south to find the trade winds that start blowing west around 6 degrees south of the equator.  We had steady north-east winds all night and made good time on a southwest track.  The following day the wind dropped a little and we started up one motor to maintain a minimum speed of 5 knots.   By day three we were in the trade winds and in all only had to motor 30 something hours to get to 6 degrees south . On day four we saw our first traffic, a commercial fishing boat from Ecuador some 700 miles from home and a another catamaran Nordea that we had met earlier in the Galapagos.  The fishing on Downtime had been slow and we hailed the fishing boat and asked if he would like to trade fish for some beer?  Well that’s a silly question…he had his tender in the water in a flash and two crew heading our way.  They bought us 7 tunas and a nice piece of marlin!!  They took the beer out of our hands like it was gold!!  Mucho gracias por los pescados, Capitan!!

Nothing gets the fish biting like filling up the freezer!!!  Two days later on my B-day Daria woke me with wearing a sexy little sailor outfit from Victoria Secret and with balloons in her hand yelling PIRATES PIRATES!!!.  April fools!!!  Then she made me a nice breakfast and fed me like a king all day long topping it off with a chocolate cheese cake that was to die for!! Later that afternoon we had a nice Marlin stripping line off the reel. What a birthday!!

 The reel was screaming and the sail had to come down!!  Getting Downtime to slowdown enough to reel in fish is a big job, especially when the spinnaker is up.  The spinnaker is a big downwind sail that looks like a big kite on the front of the boat.  It took the crew a few days to get the whole process down, but after a few fish everyone had it down perfect!!  Working together like seasoned professionals, the sail was down and the fish was on!!  It took just 40 minutes to get her on board after a really nice fight.  On the crossing we landed one 80 pound marlin, two 40 plus pound skipjack tunas, one 30 plus pound Mahi-Mahi and one smaller mahi and one small tuna but never more than one fish per day?  As for the ones that got way….well one was a 200 plus pound Marlin that we saw hit the lure just 70 feet behind Downtime!!  She hit once and we all got up looking at the bait just as she took another swipe at it!!  The fish was huge!!  By this time I had the pole in my hand and eased the drag to let her take some line before setting the hook.  The line sreamed off the reel and after 200 feet of so I set the hook!!  The fish was not happy thrashing her head and peeling off more of  the 120 pound spider wire from the reel.  The crew was busy slowing the boat while I held a doubled over fishing rod.  The fish was not slowing down!!  I increased the drag and the boat was slowing down just about the time she came out of the water thrashing her head violently and the leader parted!!  150 pound leader just SNAPPED!!!  What a rush!!!   The other fish that got away must have been huge!!  The reel screamed as line went out one of my big Shimano 50 size reels with 1000 yards of 120# line on it.  I picked up the pole and put the drag on MAX and whatever was on the line never even slowed down!!   I was left with an empty smoking hot reel and a burned thumb from trying to stop the line!!  That must be one huge fish!!

We continued sailing west along 8 degrees south of the equator with SE trade winds moving us west at 146 to 210 miles per day.  Our best day was 210 miles and our slowest 146 miles  Not bad considering the wind is pushing 20 tons of boat through the water.  The wind is free but capturing it with sails is the expensive part!!  We ripped our screecher on day 4 and put a few tears in the spinnaker on day 10, nothing a little Gorilla tape couldn’t fix on the spinnaker but the screecher will need some work to put it back together after having the tack ripped out of it! (the point where the bottom of the front of the sail attaches)  Other than a few sail mishaps Downtime did a great job getting us safely to the Marquesas.  We only burned 60 gallons of our 350 gallons that we had aboard which gave us like 50 miles to the gallon!!

When you are at the mid point between the Galapagos and Marquises you are the farther from land  than anywhere else on the whole planet!!  1500 miles in any direction!!  On Downtime that is like 9 days from land!!  A little freaky when you think about it when the water is over 2 miles deep!!  During our crossing we only saw 4 other boats, one sailboat and three fishing boats.  When you are sailing you can only see about 8 miles in any direction and you do not realize how big this ocean is until you sail across it!!  The Pacific is HUGE!!!!!

The typical day on our crossing was to do a three hour watch each night that we did as couples.  The watch times rotated so you had a different watch each night with the first watch starting at 9:00 pm.  Rotating the watch schedule was nice because you got to see the sun rise every third day and get 6 hours of sleep in a row on others.  I would occasionally get up when I heard a strange noise or feel the wind change and always found things were just as they should be, nice to have good crew!!  We would stagger breakfast time and then have a nice lunch and dinner together. 

There is nothing better than fresh fish when you are sailing!!  Daria can really put some tasty dishes on the table!!  The tuna we caught were amazing sushi quality, so what did we make?  Sushi!!!  Fresh raw tuna with sticky rice, cucumber slivers wrapped in seaweed nori paper, or seared sesame tuna, or just plain sashimi (raw tuna) with wasabi, soy sauce and ginger!!  Or a seared sashimi on a fresh salad.  Or coconut curry marlin!!  Maybe some ginger baked Mahi?….a little rice and what a meal it makes!!   Every one pitched in in the galley and some amazing meals were served.  One of our favorites onboard is to take fresh marlin or any fish and make Bahamian style cevichie which is made with diced fish or conch, onions, tomatoes, cilantro,  sweet and hot peppers and fresh squeezed lime juice which cooks the fish with the citric acid.  It takes one hour and you are ready, just add some hot sauce and corn chips!!  Yummm!!!

Te crossing took just a little less than 19 days to cover 3095 miles.  We had perfect weather conditions and only encountered one small storm.  The trip across the Pacific was one of the most anticipated in my life.  I have been dreaming of this part of my journey for as long as I can remember.  I could not have dreamed it would be on a boat as grand as Downtime or with such a nice group of people to share the experience with.  Thanks for all the help making the dream come true Daria, Wayne, Sarah, Tom and Yoana, and Downtime!!

Peace, The Captain