Monthly Archives: April 2016

The LONG sail to the Marquesas: Three weeks at sea.

Three long, long, long, long weeks at sea.  One of the first things we did on this passage—only after a day or two—was to change our watch schedule.  Everyone has to figure out what works for them, but our four hour watches at night weren’t cutting it.  I never felt well rested on passage.  Dan and I originally alternated every other night:  one night he did 8 pm to midnight and 4 am to 8 am and I did midnight to 4 am, and the next night I took the two watches and he took the one.  I don’t mind staying up late (night person) and Dan doesn’t mind the early morning watch (morning person), so we decided to make our schedule permanent, as follows:   I did watch from 8 pm until 2 am (6 hours) and he did the 2 am until 8 am (6 hours).  Most days I let Dan sleep for an extra 15 minutes or so because I had the luxury of NOT having to get up right at 8 am.  Why?  Ryan and Ariana handled 8 am to noon each day (2 hours each/alternating each day) and they also handled 2-6 pm between the two of them.  (I did the 12-2 pm and Dan did the 6-8 pm.)  The kids were never totally alone, as one of the adults would either be awake inside the boat, or dozing outside near them in the cockpit.  They knew to call us if a sail was in need of trim or if there was a boat near us on the AIS (which barely happened during the whole 3 weeks).

This new schedule worked out well for us.  I felt much more rested and didn’t dread being out to sea for so long.  The kids did amazingly well.  Ryan did school all but 4 days (it would have been six days of weekends anyway) and Ariana managed to do some—but less than Ryan because she often doesn’t feel as well as Ryan underway.  In fact, Calvert has not been a good curriculum for Ariana (it has been fine for Ryan).  The only science topic she hadn’t covered previously in her Calvert curriculum was Astronomy.  When she finished that, everything else was redundant—the history and the grammar books and assignments were the same too.  So, Dan downloaded a physics book for Ari and they have been working on that together (solving equations, etc.).  She is also still completing Wordly Wise and Geometry with Teaching Textbooks (which has been a great math program for both of them).    Ari and Ryan read a great deal also.

On Day 2 of our passage to the Galapagos, I was terribly seasick despite the fact the first three days were spent motoring south in calm seas trying to reach the wind.  I resorted to a scopolamine patch (for the first time) which began to work within a few hours.  They work for three days.  I used one the entire trip except the last two days of the passage, but as a result, I was no longer seasick.  At first, the patch made my eyes a bit blurrier, and a few days it rarely caused a couple of increased heartbeats, but after weighing the pros and cons, I decided it was worth it.  I’m pretty sure that anyone who has experienced debilitating seasickness would agree!

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The passage was very routine.  I dislike routine.  A LOT! (I LOVE IT…-Ari)  That being said, it was better than having stormy seas and too many wrenches in our day!  So, I tried to practice patience most of the time.  When we only had 1,000 miles to go, I began to get a bit excited—two thirds of the way through.  I read about 9 books on passage, watched a few movies, colored with magic markers in this adult coloring book the kids gave me for Christmas, slept, played Monopoly with Ryan, watched Modern Family with Ari, and cooked.  And cooked, and cooked, and cooked, and baked and baked.

I made at least two meals per day (sometimes the kids made their own breakfast or lunch), and I also baked.  I made a homemade cinnamon coffee cake, a giant chocolate chip cookie bar, an oatmeal cake, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and homemade sour cream biscuits that actually ended up more like corn bread without the corn.  I also made naan bread on the grill.  The grill.  Yes, the grill became my best friend.  Our generator had ceased working prior to our leaving the Galapagos.  It was something that was to be easy to fix so Dan said he would fix it while we were underway.  Unfortunately, it was not just one problem, but two, and we were without our generator for the whole trip.  No laundry.  And—no convection oven.  I still could use the microwave off of the inverter (for heating things—not for more than about 5 minutes at a time total), but I had no real oven.  Good thing I already make pizza on the grill out here sailing!  Without a generator, we also had to run our engines each day to charge our batteries.  We have solar which was great on sunny days when our sails didn’t blanket the sun, but most days, we still needed diesel charging.  The generator is much more efficient in charging the batteries compared to our engines, but you have to work with what you have.

Which brings us to the other issues…two days into our trip, Ariana is on watch and informs Dan that there is a little tear in the main sail.  Dan went to look minutes later, and already, the small tear is a huge one, going across much of the sail on the seam below the second reef line.  So—now we were down to a main sail with a double-reef.  We could not fly the full sail, regardless of how minimal our wind was.  That was sail problem #1.  A few days later we had good conditions for our Parasailor so we hoisted it up.  What we didn’t notice (until it was too late) was that the shackle on the Parasailor Guy chafed the jib while it sat there rolled up on its furling.  I noticed a rip in our jib.  Sure enough, we unfurled it and it was torn.  No more jib.  That was sail problem #2.  We put out our Genniker (our “Silver Bullet” that we blew out on the way to San Blas Islands and had repaired in Panama) and we were making great time.  After a few days with the Genniker, the tack blew while I was standing watch at night.  I looked up and I didn’t even SEE the sail because it was flying up in the air.  I seriously thought we had lost it completely!  I screamed down to Dan who rousted from sleep, and we managed to get the sail back down to our bow.  But, what a chore…it is so loud when your sail blows off like that.  It is also dark.  You have to navigate around the boat and up to the bow by connecting and disconnecting your tethers, which further complicates things.  So you end up screaming at the top of your lungs in the dark in the middle of the night thousands of miles offshore of any land.  Are you jealous yet?  Do you wish you were there with us?  So that was sail problem #3.  In hindsight, I guess we did have some wrenches in our very routine trip; I must be becoming an old salt…

For the last 8 days, we only had the options of a double-reefed main sail or a Parasailor for a mostly down-wind sail.  We got VERY lucky.  Dan headed nearly due south at the beginning of our trip to get to the wind.  (He had looked at the weather wind GRIBs and south looked to have better wind.)  It took us three days (traveling at only 3-4 knots the whole time…can you say painful?), but when we hit the wind, it was very consistent and we had only about 5-10 minutes of rain the entire three weeks.  We had heard that others on more northern latitudes hit very inconsistent wind speed and direction and had more squalls.  On latitudes more south, folks had too much wind.  (At over 20 knots of consistent wind, we really need to take our Parasailor down.)  Our latitude proved to be the best we could have been on.  We began to have 24-hour averages of 6.9-7.2 knots per hour!  We also were able to fly our Parasailor for the last week straight—never having to take it down—because our winds stayed consistent even during the night that last week.  At the end of our journey, we were very ready for land, which we reached at about 2 in the morning.  I will never forget the smell as we neared Hiva Oa.  It was absolutely incredible.  The air smelled of the flowers of a traditional Polynesian Lei and of clean earth, especially with the light rain that was hitting the island.  What a welcoming!  The kids were also awake at this point, and once we were anchored, we stayed up for a while despite the late hour, reveling in the completion of our longest passage.

 

The Stowaway

No one ever thinks it can happen to them.  You take off for a long passage—a three week one to be exact—and one day in, a hundred miles offshore and in thousands of feet of water, you find out you have a stowaway onboard.  Shocking since this stowaway has been living in your engine filter—and is still alive.  Our stowaway was a small, Galapagoan-Ecuadorian, goby or blenny fish.  Dan discovered him on Day 2.  He must have got sucked up in the intake when we were leaving Ecuador.  What to do?  If we put a little reef-living guy like that in the deep ocean, it was the kiss of death for him.  We had heard that sailing kids often like to keep a fish for a day or two while in port and then release it prior to departure.  Well, luckily, I had bought a little mini Beta fish aquarium in St. Lucia for the kids and it came with a small packet of Beta food.  Surprised that our stowaway was still alive, we quickly got out the tank, scooped up some ocean water and prepared his new home.  When Dan tried to catch him in a cup, he swam back up into the engine outtake.  A turn on of the engine forced him back out and we were able to capture him unharmed.  Our little guy (“Lucky”) has been living with us since, eating Beta food, one miniscule litter critter we inadvertently scooped up when we changed his water underway (we did that about every two days), and most recently, a bit of dried cat food.  (Try finding fish food in these islands!  Ha!)   We will have had Lucky about six weeks when we release him in Fakarava (Tuamotus) when we arrive there in about five days.

Ecologically, we were a bit concerned about putting a Galapagos fish in waters over 3,600 miles away.  What if he were unique to the Galapagos?  Well, we reasoned that if Lucky were female, she would have laid eggs by now if she had some.  So, Lucky may have to make “new friends” who speak Fish French rather than Fish Spanish, but there is no chance of breeding unless these little guys already live here, which wouldn’t be a problem.

Lucky provided morale to our crew on our three week passage.  Whenever we tapped on the top and opened it up to feed him, he would do “the butterfly” as Ariana coined it, swimming back and forth and wiggling his little fins.  As soon as we dropped a pellet of food, he would race to the top to grab it and swim back down to his little fake tree or the miniature-sized Leaning Tower of Pisa that Ryan added to his tank from his own souvenir collection.  It is nice to have a pet on board!

The kids and I really miss having a pet, actually.  We pretty much scope out all stray cats and dogs everywhere we go to pet them and sometimes feed them.  There have been some cute strays!

Lucky

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How we secure Lucky when we’re sailing…

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Passage to the Galapagos and the Galapagos

We had a five night passage to the Galapagos.  Since seasickness was at bay for our captain and crew, it turned out to be a decent passage.  The seas were favorable and we made decent time.  We also crossed the equator!  Dan made it very fun for the kids given he is already a “golden shellback” (someone who has crossed the equator at the international date line).  We were to become merely “shellbacks” but we still needed the blessing of King Neptune (aka crazy Dan).  King Neptune requested our presence in swimsuits on the bow.  With music loud and Dan dressed in Ariana’s wizard Halloween costume (among other things), Dan provided rhyming summaries he had written for each of the three of us, made us slather in squid snot (shaving cream) where we were doused with a salt water hose.  Good times.  A few years ago, I bought each of the kids a coin that celebrates becoming a shellback, and they can have them engraved with the date when we finally reach a place that can do that for them (probably New Zealand).

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We were very happy to finally arrive into San Cristobal.  The Galapagos have SO many rules in order to go there and that was a bit annoying, so I will start with the bad before I hit the good.  I don’t mind rules and regulations if everyone is forced to comply, but that simply is not the case in the Galapagos (which I suspected given a book I had read regarding the Galapagos).  Unfortunately, locals get a pass and that may eventually take its toll on the wildlife there.  As a sailboat, you cannot have ONE barnacle on your boat bottom.  How do they know if you do?  As soon as you arrive, they have divers checking your bottom.  Dan had donned scuba gear and cleaned Do Over back in Las Perlas, but one boat in the ARC was not clean enough and had to sail back out 75 miles to have their boat cleaned professionally.  They inspect your food when you arrive, and some boats had thrown their freshly caught fish overboard before entering Galapagos waters because of this—which ended up being a waste.  And back in Panama, we had to permit someone to “fumigate” our boat in preparation for the Galapagos, which in my opinion was ridiculous since we never even tied to a dock in the Galapagos—even to fuel.  (They have a fuel boat that comes to your boat to provide you with diesel.)  Plus, I am not a fan of who knows what kind of pesticides being sprayed in our boat given it is such a small space and we have kids.  But, in the Galapagos, we saw some locals working on their boat who waited for low tide so they could scrape, sandpaper, and paint their boat bottom.  Those copper-based paints are TERRIBLE and yet it was all allowed to seep into the water, despite the fact these local boat owners did this in exactly the place where authorities were set up to collect a tourist tax.  Ah, the hypocrisy!

Okay, now for the good—and there was a lot of good in the Galapagos.  The wildlife was spectacular!  We had watched a BBC documentary about the Galapagos and its unique creatures and we were all excited to see them.  We visited three islands (San Cristobal, Isabela, and Santa Cruz) and each offered something unique.  On San Cristobal, we toured the island with Widago and K1W1 Beanz, visiting an old volcano that was now a lake, a tortoise sanctuary and a beautiful beach.  On Isabela, we kayaked and snorkeled on our own right from our boat (one last “bad” thing—locals are allowed to do this but tourists are supposed to hire a guide just to enjoy the water that is right underneath their boats).  But here, we saw marine iguanas (AMAZING creatures who have evolved to swim, eat algae off the bottom, and then to secrete the excess salt by blowing it out of their nasal glands), penguins (really, in the wild?  I LOVED this), baby reef-tip sharks, blue footed, red footed, and nasca boobies, some beautiful fish, and a surprise for Dan and Ariana…  They were snorkeling a bit away from me and out of the darkness this sea lion swam right for them!  It caught them by surprise and they were relieved it was merely a sea lion and not one of the sharks hanging out in the bay, especially since just a few days before, Ryan and I saw a 5-6 foot shark jump entirely out of the water as we stood on the stern of our anchored boat.  I was so excited!  Except then it hit me that this was the same water we kayaked and snorkeled in just a few days before!  I am just glad the shark wasn’t going after a person!

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And then there were the absolutely insane sea lions.  Despite barriers on the stern of our boat (we could barely get over them ourselves to get on the water taxis), the sea lions STILL managed to board our boat.  We came home one night and one had gotten onboard, wiggled to our cockpit, jumped up on our cushioned settee and decided to take a nap.  And don’t expect them to just leave when you get home and yell at them either.  Nope.  They have to be chased off!  They became quite annoying and it took me a long time to clean that oily, sea lion cushion…

On another day in Isabela, we rented bicycles with Widago and K1W1 Beanz and rode to the “Wall of Tears.”  This used to be a prison and the mean prison official forced the prisoners to build this rock wall for no apparent reason.  Now, you can hike up above it and catch a gorgeous view of the island and the bay.  Here, I had a comfortable bench and about 15 minutes of solitude and serenity while some of the rest of the group opted not to do the hike up and others did a bit more.  It was wonderful…

Ariana and Ryan also took a surfing lesson with a local man and the kids from the above-mentioned boats.  They had a great time and both managed to get up on their boards by the end of the few hours they spent out there on the water.

On Santa Cruz, our family hired a taxi driver to take us to the caves and the wild tortoise area.  That was a nice day.  We stopped for lunch at a very local place for chicken, rice, beans and plantains with our driver.  Then we went through the caves with the promise that our driver would be waiting at the other end (which he was).  Afterwards, we were able to get up close and personal with a few types of Galapagos tortoises, some much older than 100 years!  Unfortunately, two of our days on Santa Cruz were taken up by provisioning and trying to get good enough Internet to download Kindle books for our very long passage to the Marquesas.  Ugh.  I had to make sure I had enough food and drinks for about 30 days (an extra week just in case).  I actually kept a log of the meals I made to keep track of the ingredient I had used versus still had and to make sure I used up the veggies and fruits before they went bad.  I will save the trip to the Marquesas for another post, however.  And I promise not to bore you with the tedious, repetitive, monotonous routine of a three week ocean passage!

Kicker rock from Wizard’s Heel Beach

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Ari is not too old for snuggling with her dad…

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On our boat…again…

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Penquins of Galapagos

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Good Produce at the Weekly Market in Galapagos

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Blue-Footed Boobies

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Marine Iguana swimming

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The tunnels and tortoise area

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Climbing through the tunnels

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Panama City and Las Perlas Islands

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Panama City was a nice surprise. It definitely exceeded my expectations. It is a modern city that retains its old town elements, and you can find anything you’re looking for there—including a large mall with movie theaters and fast food! We visited the old town, had some lunch and walked around (with Widago and K1W1 Beanz), and another day we hit the mall for a bit of shopping and a movie. We never did make it to the movie, however, since Dan lost Ryan—albeit temporarily. That’s what Nerf does. A ten year old boy sees Nerf guns in a store and can’t help but stop following his father as he went down an escalator. Luckily, Ryan is 10 and not a toddler so he knew what to do and Dan was quickly able to “find” him waiting at the entrance of the store, but it did make us just late enough that we couldn’t catch a movie.  He also knew we all planned to meet up  at the food court because Ariana and I were shopping separately, so he planned to do that if Dan didn’t meet him there soon.

“New” Panama City

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Very cool building!

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Could Ariana look any happier?  At the mall with Taco Bell…

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“Old” Panama City

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ARC sponsored Lebanese dinner and belly dancing

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Another day we went out provisioning with Henry from Rapscullion. Rapscullion is not an ARC boat but Henry was willing to accompany us in our attempt to find a hardware store (among other stores). We ended up having Dim Sum at a restaurant in the heart of the non-touristy district of Panama City as well. Who knew you could find that there? We also bought a blow-up love seat with two drink holders for sitting on our bow. Aren’t we sophisticated? And with Ariana being fairly obsessed with Modern Family, she told me jokingly that when we return to the States, she’d like to get a really expensive house and a lawn sofa to freak out our neighbors. Our next stop was the Las Perlas Islands which was a full day sail.

Las Perlas Islands

Compared to the San Blas Islands, the Las Perlas Islands were a bit inferior. Maybe I was spoiled with the warm Caribbean waters, but the water in Las Perlas was pretty darned chilly (unless you’re from Canada or somewhere cold!), lacked good visibility, and wasn’t all that picturesque. I will say that we at least were able to find a place to watch the SuperBowl which happened to be on a beach patio with a good-sized flat screen TV with some of the other ARC cruisers on the island of Contadora. The hotel had seen better days, but it ended up being a perfect place to watch the game.

Another resort on Contadora Island, Las Perlas

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I also spent my birthday in Las Perlas and that was nice. We were anchored at a bay across from Mogo Mogo where Survivor was filmed, and my day started with Ariana and Ryan getting up and making me scrambled eggs and cheese on toast, with a cup of hot tea. This was novel and a pleasant surprise; they don’t usually cook. We also ended up having an impromptu BBQ dinner on the beach with several people from the ARC.
The other positive part of this anchorage was the freedom we were able to give our kids, especially Ariana. It is so amazing to watch them mature before our eyes with the increased independence they are afforded on this trip. Ariana (who has given joyrides to her brother in our dinghy before) motored our dinghy over to three other boats in the anchorage to pick up a total of eight kids (including Ryan). Not only was she able to drive it quite well, but she also had to ensure she pulled up the engine before they reached the beach, and had to enlist the help of the other kids to pull the dinghy and motor up higher on the beach so it didn’t float away. She handled all of that a lot better than I would have! And of course, she had to do the same for kid drop off too. Their goal? They were filming a movie that Ariana had written on her own with only a small amount of feedback from Dan and me. Each child in the ARC played a part and she served as Producer and Director (with William from Widago as co-director and movie editor). We have yet to see the final product, but the rally is supposedly going to show it to the entire ARC when we reach Tahiti. I can’t wait to see it! They also created a satirical news sketch under William’s direction that will also be shown, and is apparently quite funny according to the few folks who have seen it at this point.

Ariana shuttling the ARC “actors.”   

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Some of the “actors” continuing their filming on Contadora Island.

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Back at Contadora Island, Ryan got his wish. We ended up coming in first in the multihull division for our trip from Colombia to the San Blas Islands and we scored a bottle of rum. While not a typical award for a ten year old boy, it didn’t seem to bother Ryan (or his parents!). He wants to keep the bottle in his room when we finish its contents…

Panama Canal Here We Go!

What an incredible experience to go through the Panama Canal. I didn’t know all that the transit would entail, but it was quite involved. With the ARC, we had a solid transit date and we were able to “rent” the required lines and fenders as part of the fee we paid. We had a time we had to be near the locks so that we could pick up our advisor and tie up to the other boats who would be with us. In each lock, we had 15 sailboats (five groups of three).

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Guillermo was our advisor who came to our boat prior to going through the locks. Your advisor is with you for several hours, and you are required to provide dinner onboard your boat the first evening and breakfast and lunch the next day. There are two locks (Gatun and Miraflores). You complete the first set of locks the first evening and the second set the next day. (It is about 50 miles from the first set to the second.) In between, there is a large, manmade lake where you raft up with other boats and stay until morning. We were rafted up between two monohulls (Time Bandit from Ireland and Toujours Belle from Germany) and one was considerably heavier than the other which made Dan’s motoring more difficult. All in all, it was easier for us in the middle of the three boats because we did not have to catch the monkey fists that were thrown by the Panama Canal line workers to the exterior boats. We also did not have to feed our lines up to the canal workers. Fortunately, I was able to “kick it” and watch everything that was going on around us (except for the meal preparation)!

When we finally got through the second set of locks, the kids and I waved and screamed to all of the people at the Canal Visitors Center (and to the camera that provides a live feed on the Internet). My brother caught the screen shot of it online but it was way too far away to see the crazy people jumping up and down on our bow.

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Go Pro screenshot–Ariana and Ryan look like they could have been photoshopped in!

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The Lake Between the Locks

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We had watched a documentary on the making of the Panama Canal ahead of time, so it was great for the kids especially to have the historical knowledge as we went through. Ari and Ryan may not be in the classroom right now but they sure are continuing their education—and with firsthand knowledge!

I was curious about the cost of going through the Canal so I imagine readers of this blog are too. Apparently, large ships can pay between $200,000 and $500,000 or more. Cruise ships pay based on the number of people they CAN carry rather than how many they actually have onboard so it makes sense to fill those rooms! I never got an accurate number with respect to a sailboat, and our fee was included with the ARC fee we paid so I am not certain how much it was. One person told me a few thousand dollars, another person told me $800 and yet another said it was only a few hundred (which I doubt highly given the costs associated with clearing in to countries, etc.). I do know that it costs less if you measure under 50 feet (which we do). So, I wish I had a better answer for you, but I was unsuccessful in nailing the exact amount.