PACIFIC, PIRATES AND THE DOLDRUMS, PANAMA TO GALAPAGOS

I had a great time in UK, it was good to see James, and my mother in
Somerset, and our home village of West Peckham. I stayed with Peter
and Helen Johnson who threw a superb party on Saturday which enabled me to
see those of the village I had not already met in the Swan on Friday night.
I updated our website www.intrepidofdover.co.uk, with photos and logs but
unfortunately I was
unable to see everyone I intended - sorry.

Its a 24 hour journey from UK to Panama carrying lots of parts to keep
Intrepid in good shape across the Pacific, and I then spent 4 days fitting
them while hearing Nicky, Caroline and Christian's stories of adventures
flying foxing across rainforest canopies and white water rafting. A small
quiet pleasure was being able to fit a new ball bearing and water seal
to our anchor windlass gear box (with some help from a machine shop to get
the old bearing off). The repaired windlass should, I hope, be good for a
few years and avoids cutting Intrepid's deck to fit a new one (which anyway
would have cost $2800 (1500 pounds) and delayed us for a week or more. Cost
of
repair: $50 plus 5 hours of my time. The Balboa YC mooring is excellent  -
free
courtesy boats to take you off, and a grandstand view of the worlds shipping
just 80 metres away!

Of the 400 yachts that cross the Atlantic each year, only about 40 go
through to the Pacific - so we are told. First stop Galapagos was enticing -
950 miles away. Everything about the Pacific is different, winds,
currents and cyclone seasons, sheer scale of distances, far fewer ships or
yachts, warnings of pirates operating between Panama and Galapagos,
different fishes
and animals. I have to say I was a bit intimidated - from UK, we 'know' the
Atlantic, the Pacific promised new challenges and pleasures......

We stopped off for 2 days in the Islas de Perlas (Pearl Islands) 35 miles
south of Panama, which produce legendary black pearls, but our best was a
beach BBQ under the stars, then breakfast of seared jack which Christian
caught from the shore. Then we could delay no more, and Wednesday 16th Feb
set off south to go
round the peninsular jutting down from Panama, then south west towards
Galapagos - and the doldrums.

The pilots advise going south first to Isla Malpela, an isolated rock 300
miles south owned by Columbia, in order to get through the doldrums quickly,
and we set a course for there, passing lots of turtles heading for land, 2
pods of whales, and 1 marlin. However I prefer direct routes, and the Peru
current coming up from South America and especially the north equatorial
current were pushing us west at 2.5 knots plus the doldrums (intertropical
convergence zone - ITCZ) had moved south, so we ditched our southerly course
towards Isla Malpela and sailed south west direct towards Galapagos to take
advantage of the trade winds above the ITCZ coming from the north/north east
at 20 knots, fishing like crazy but with only 2 bites that got away.

Then we got more warnings from Australia (our friends Chris and Jill who are
sailing with us in May/June 2005) of serious pirates based on Isla Malpela
(probably frustrated fishermen who diversified) who in fishing boats each 50
feet long had ambushed the yacht a week before us, tried to snare them in
nets then chased them for 35 miles before giving up. Last year a yacht was
rammed by them, the owners tied up and everything looted. These pirates
apparently wait on the direct line  between Panama and Galapagos....We
practiced our anti boarding kit, (we can't do much if there are more of
them, faster and armed, but we can do a bit if not), monitored radar
intently especially at night, and felt very alone....we hadn't seen another
ship or boat  (or anything) for 4 days and were 400 miles from the mainland,
well beyond help from there.

But we were if anything west of the direct line and by then 100+ miles from
Isla Malpela, stonking along at 7 knots in a wonderful wind and current
doing 150+ miles/day towards Galapagos, so we slowly relaxed again, and
enjoyed the sun and wind and discussed how to get fish, and identified the
birds that visited (one laughing gull landed on our foredeck and stayed for
6 hours, often flying no more than 2 metres from us as he landed). He liked
bread...

Fishing was frustrating... so we became meat eaters and cooked beans with
our new pressure cooker in preparation for the longer passages to come.
Christian is a classy  bartender and serves cocktails with panache, Caroline
served a perfect sponge cake...Then
the doldrums came south again, the winds died away and the Peru current
increased pushing us north as we approached the equator. As I write - Monday
21st Feb 1230 local time - we are within 1 degree of the equator, 87 degrees
west, coaxing about 3 knots from the sails in 6 knots of wind. Galapagos is
only 160 miles away but at this speed that's 2 days. We read, write, talk,
fish, cook, do minor tasks, star gaze when the light from the moon is not
overpowering...

This is what sailing is about, making the most of what we have (wind
in this case), glad to be alive. We have the Big Green Monster sail up, and
when even this flopped, stopped for a swim in the Pacific 2700 metres deep
at this point. Apparently it is
not uncommon for sharks to swim along underneath boats, so the first one in
(me) has to take a quick look for sharks. As if there are any fish
around....We send our very best wishes to all, and at
times long for a good old fashioned February gale......., or at least an
albatross.....

Tuesday 22nd Feb: Now only 45 miles from Galapagos, (position 0 deg 11' S,
89deg 21'W) we have just crossed the equator, and are about to have a
ceremony.. I think (Nicky and I are the two who have not crossed the line
under sail before). We had no wind at all for the last 24 hours, motored a
bit but now have a little wind, and should arrive at midnight, but the
anchorage is poor so we will slow down to arrive Wednesday morning. Lots of
birds, boobies, terns, petrels.

Andy and Nicky, Christian and Caroline
PS We now have a separate file that captures any email bigger than 30KB so
that it does not go through our sat phone but is stored until we can access
it from a high speed line. We love to receive all your emails, so now if
they include a photo or whatever you can send them - but we may not be able
to access them for a while.
 

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