Day 18 – Independence Day

Today is day 18 and it’s the longest we’ve ever been at sea. Although we are not alone, having 5 non paying passengers who have taken up residence on our bow sprit. Their hygiene and toileting habits are fairly dire and they can’t stand a night watch so they are not the most welcome of guests, our freeloading red footed boobies! They are bizarre looking birds, so if you don’t know what one looks like, google it and you too can join in the experience of smiling at these crazy looking creatures.

We’re at the point where days are melting into one another. The catering department stands out though. We had fish and chips last night. Posh fish and chips no less…..fresh yellowfin tuna marinated in lime juice with sautéed potatoes and a side order of top notch cabbage, onion, garlic and ginger. Followed by tinned peaches. We are at sea and a can now and then is obligatory and I really like tinned peaches. Mixed fruit is disappointing and pineapple should only be used to make cakes. Things like figs are other worldly and prunes pass muster but only at breakfast time.

Fishing in the Pacific has been less successful than in the Atlantic. We’ve lost 3 lures….maybe the fish are just bigger here, and we have no more spare line. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Resources are finite on Grace. Good job we’re stocked up on loo roll and tinned peaches.

Our purple patch of hyper galactic speed is now behind us as currents have eased. Daily runs of 190, 194, 174, 178, 209, 195 have been followed by a more subdued 135 today. It’s weird to think we’ve been on the constant move for so many days now. Sometimes I forget this.

Tactics wise, we are still above the equator, but starting to curve down in a south westerly direction. There’s a current roundabout ahead. No it’s not a new offering at Greggs the bakers. It could be the British version of a Danish pastry though. Grace needs to position herself to ride the south going anti-clockwise current then hop out to the right and join the current down to the Marquesas.

I shall stick my head briefly above the parapet here. It may prove a foolish move. Time will determine. I’m surmising an arrival between 15th and 17th July. Dave has just gone for 40 winks and he departed pointing at the Speed Over Ground instrument saying, “don’t let that drop below 5”. So far I’m being successful doing nothing more than delivering a brief glance every so often. Sailing through telepathy.

Scores on the doors if you’re interested.
Current position 01 31.13N. 116 16.33W
Speed over ground 5.8 knots
Distance to go. As always it’ll be more than this, 1557, meaning we’ve done 2283.

Day 13 across the Pacific

Almost two weeks in and that wave of emotion has had peaks and troughs along the way. Here’s some high level stuff to paint the picture. I like a bullet point.

  • It’s about 4000 miles -ish to Nuku Hiva from Panama
  • I say ish because you never travel in a straight line in a sail boat, there’s always some too-ing and fro-ing to be done
  • It took us 9 days to get to the north western end of the Galápagos Islands. The first 36 hours was motoring with diddly squat wind
  • We then had plenty of wind, almost exclusively from where we wanted to go. Plus counter currents. This necessitated an etch-a-sketch track as we tacked back and forth to make slow slow uncomfortable progress
  • We had unpleasant, nay scary, thunderstorms with lightening forks cracking around the boat. The rain was a true deluge and our visibility was diminished massively. We were both hanging out, sat on the cabin floor in our soaked waterproofs at one point
  • THEN we picked up a strong west going current and our speed over the ground topped 10.2 knots. Hurrah!
  • Yesterday our noon to noon distance made good was 190 miles. Best ever by some margin. Will we hit the magical 200 mark today?
  • Our top speed hit 10.2 knots at one point last night. Blimy O’Reilly
  • We are fit and well and already talking about getting in and walking about. Lots of walking about
  • Distance to go is 2,418 miles….in a straight line so not halfway yet
  • Other boats seen since we left the shipping lanes around Panama. 1 cargo vessel.
  • Fish caught. One enormous, humongous, swordfish. It snapped our line. There’s no way we’d have landed this thing onto Grace
  • Lots of dead squid on the deck each morning. I like squid but I don’t fancy cooking these guys up
  • Plenty of dolphins….small ones….birds too
  • It’s been chilly at night. Unexpected. We dug out thermals for our night watches.
  • And finally, still have 4 cabbages left.

So that’s a little summary of what’s been our focus for the last couple of weeks. At some point we need to cross the doldrums and the equator to get further south. But for the time being, we’re heading west with good wind and current, eating miles, drinking tea, staying sane. We hope!

Performance Review

For the purposes of this story I’ll call him Simon. He didn’t really have much respect for ‘da management’. He was a bright capable guy, who had a vociferous opinion on most things and could – I believe – have been difficult to manage at times. He also had a wildly subversive sense of humour. Put these character traits together and you have a perfect storm.

His 6 monthly ‘chat’ about how things were going at work was coming up. Simon wasn’t the happiest of bunnies and he was keen to get his point across.

That morning he came down to breakfast (a whole gang of us worked at an outdoor residential centre….this is back in the day). He was proudly wearing a millinery hand crafted delight on his head. Crown like but with drooping Deputy Dawg ears. The main material used in the manufacture of this contraption was tin foil.

The conversation went something like this. ‘Morning Simon, nice hat. Is it today you’ve got your performance review?’

“Yes”, he replied with glee, “that’s why I made the hat. It’s my bull shit deflector.” At which point he pulled a string and the deputy dawg ears shot up vertically to demonstrate its purpose. Just brilliant and so Simon. We all just fell about and what was even better, he wore the hat to his performance review meeting. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall.

Why tell this story? Other than it’s a great tale. I was thinking about how things have panned out for us over the past four years. Admittedly, it’s a fairly tenuous link as stories go. However, it’s 4 years to the day that we locked the door at 2 Mount Pleasant and swapped indoor space, a washing machine and easy access to day to day living for a forty three foot floating home with the potential to cruise the oceans.

Our sketchy plan was always New Zealand. We’ve been distracted along the way. We had no intentions of going to Bermuda or the East Coast of the States or Nova Scotia or Newfoundland or the Bahamas or Jamaica. There’s a saying that we’ve learnt from other boaters which states that any boat plans are written in sand. I’m super glad we did visit these places though. The people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made, is more reward than we could have dreamt of.

Today finds us on a relatively calm sea heading towards a point 82 miles away. It a cross on the chart plotter, just north of Darwin Island, Galápagos. We’ve psychologically broken this trip down into sections. Get out of Panama Bay, get to the Galápagos, cross the doldrums and the equator. Etc. Distance to go to Nuku Hiva is 3014 miles. Distance covered since Isla Contadora, Panama is around 900. It’s hard to tell with all our zig zagging.

Our New Zealand plan drifts closer. Time to assess our performance when we eventually get there. If indeed it even matters. In the meantime, I have time to ponder new millinery possibilities.

Animal Antics

I laughed as a booby struggled to keep its balance on a small floating log, just a couple of metres from Grace as we sailed past. Our forward motion pushed a small wave of white water away from the hull and I almost heard this bird going “Whooa” as it wobbled back and forth trying to regain its balance. It chose not to use its wings to help steady itself, instead throwing some body popping shapes from its knees up. (Do birds have knees?) No way was it flying off its watery perch. “I’ve found a log, I’m staying here, thank you very much”.

More animal activity as I passed up the dinner plates into the cockpit last night, including delicious cabbage I hasten to add. A pod of spotted dolphins came over to play, distracting us from our dinner for a few minutes. Not just arched backs this time but full leaps out of the water. Always a happy sight.

Our departure was in two stages, although we hadn’t planned it that way. We were almost ready, so it was time to go. We’ve learnt over time that we are never 100% totally sorted so almost is good enough. The anchor came up around 1.30pm local time and we were off. No fanfare. No ticker tape. Just a quiet motor between Contadora and Seboga till the we put the sails up and pointed west.

Whilst setting up our aries self steering windvane, Dave commented on some stiffness in the adjustment mechanism. So we made the decision to sail south for around 4 hours to Pedro Gonzales and anchor up to check it out. Which is what we did. Some spannering, boiling water and silicon spray did the trick start.

We set off again at 01.15am when the current was favourable after an 8 hour pit stop. Pedro Gonzales is a hard place to leave. It’s a super quiet anchorage off a lovely sandy beach with a beauty to keep you there. Leaving in the dark removed some of that pull. But we have an ocean to cross. Better crack on.

Its breakfast time on the morning of day 2. I’m counting our 01.15am as our real departure time. So far the motor has been chugging more than we’d like. Getting out of the bay of Panama was always going to be a bit of a pig and that’s what we have experienced so far. Little wind or wind from the direction we want to go. For now, the combustion machine is not combusting.

All three sails are up and we were making 6 knots the right way. Short lived pleasure as the wind has dropped to diddly squat and we are making 3.5 knots in 6 knots of breeze. There’s a helpful current here enhancing the numbers.

We are in dilemma world. Do we motor to make progress? Motoring uses fuel and fuel is a limited resource. It’s also noisy and makes the cabin hot. Or do we sail very slowly, not necessarily in the right direction which is quieter but can be pretty frustrating due to the lack of progress. Covering the ocean between here and north of the Galápagos Islands is very much about positioning and not getting into any counter currents. The dilemma continues.

Offski….across the big big blue

This is apparently what it looks like according to an image on Mrs Google. Let’s hope it’s an accurate portrayal. Feasting my eyes on this after 6 weeks at sea will be most pleasant, thank you very much. And a hill to walk up too.

My plan to write something for the blog every week when we’re at sea. It’ll be the longest passage we’ve done, and possibly the longest passage we will ever do. I’m guessing around 4000 miles. It’s a flipping long way.

The lovely Lisa will have her fingers poised at the ready back in the UK to upload anything I write. Cheers me dear.

So folks, stay well. Who knows what the world will be like in another 6 weeks. Your guess is as good as mine. Bye for now.

Cabbage Panic

I had a cabbage panic. This is not something I ever had when living in a house. We are about to embark on 5 or 6 or 7 weeks at sea. Not sure. The wind and currents will decide. Freshies become a bit of an obsession. And some things last better than others. Cabbages are up there!

What this meant was a final trip into a supermarket to acquire 4 white cabbages and an extra 20 oranges. No scurvy on this boat. Panama has reinstated lockdown so we were back to negotiating two hour windows when it was possible to be officially out and about from your home.

Yesterday evening at 6pm we officially left Panama City. All checked out with stamps in our passports and official paperwork. Grace has survived her last days in Las Brisas anchorage when a 60 foot tree tried to eat her. Our buddy Bill did some fending one day.

The tree revisited us as were about to get into bed at 11pm on night. We’d been out socialising hence the late night. I was aware of a scratching noise so onto deck I went. The blighter was being pushed into the hull by the current and wind. After lopping a few branches, (yes we have tree loppers on board) into the dinghy we hopped with the big torch and a line of rope.

20 minutes later we’d pulled the thing away from all the main part of the anchorage and let it go just above a sunken mast, hoping the branches would catch on this. There was no really good place to let it go and taking it to the shore was a non starter. All fun and games before bed.

I will get round to posting something brief again before we leave. Keep an eye out in a day or so. And as many tv shows say….here’s a reminder.

You can follow our progress should you choose on the tracking page of the blog. You have to click on this web link …..

http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/GraceofLongstone

If we’re going slow, or it stops for some reason, don’t automatically go into panic mode. It’s computery stuff. Things break and stop working. We have amongst other things a sat phone, an SSB radio, a new life raft, a big torch and cabbages.

Walking in the rain

WordPress have ‘improved’ my customer experience by upgrading / changing how I post these missives. At this particular moment in time, I don’t believe this. I’m pondering the adage, just because you can change something, doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea.

It’s Sunday morning and there’s a bunch of stuff I plan to get done today. Super exciting things like washing potatoes before storing them and checking the draft accounts I sent to our accountant as he’s identified a error. Oops. My plan …..get up early, bash out a Blog post and crack on with the day. I’ve now spent a bunch of time looking how this new tangled system has been improved and made more intuitive. Maybe it will be in two months time, but today it most certainly isn’t!!

After three unexpected months in Panama, we are gearing up to check out and start journeying west across the Pacific. We’ve umm-ed and ahh-ed endlessly about setting off. The rights, the wrongs, the ups, the downs, the ins, the outs.

French Polynesia has presently controlled the Covid 19 outbreak and quarantine restrictions are being lifted. It feels a more appropriate time to be setting off as opposed to a couple of months ago. From a sailing perspective, setting off now, the winds are not so favourable and getting out of the bay of Panama could be a real pain in the backside. We know boats who have really struggled so we’re mentally preparing ourselves for this!

Every night here now, there are thunderstorms and lightning. Not necessarily where we sit but close enough to hear and see. Panama has a reputation for being one of the lightening capitals of the world. A boat was struck a few days ago here during the day in the anchorage off Panama City. Their electronics were fried. That’s a trip showstopper. It’s time to go.

Trading

Pedro Gonzalez anchorageI traded some slightly soft ‘fake’ werther’s original sweets for a friendship bracelet made by a 7 year old boy. With help from his younger brother. Mum said the boys were full of joy at the prospect of finding a boat with a supply of sweets. Even if the sweets were a bit old and dodgy.

They came over as a pair in the family dinghy. Big boy driving. Small boy clutching the bracelet. The trade was made. Just so sweet. The message that came via Mum when they got back to their boat said, ‘thank you sooooo much!! – two happy faces – better than Xmas – you were their angel today – thank you’.  So I’ve turned into aging hippy, sporting my new trade around my ankle. It’s has three colourful beads and I painted my toe nails the same blue as one of the beads to show it off. 😀

Wet season has officially arrived. Yesterday a blow came through the anchorage for a couple of hours with associated rain and wind. Everyone here held firm at anchor which is reassuring as we were all sat on a lee shore (meaning the wind was blowing towards the shore so if an anchor failed, that’s the direction you’d go). I wore a waterproof for the first time, in a long time as we sat in the cockpit keeping an eye on things. A round of chocolate cake helped us pass the time. Dave in fact described the cake as a necessity.

Wet season means humidity. Hot sticky dampness pervaded after the blow had departed. Not great for….sleeping, drying laundry or general comfort levels. Better get used to it. It’s here for a fair while.

Other news. After 3 attempts, the mend on the seam of my inflatable paddle board seems to be holding. It’s not the prettiest mend but that’s irrelevant. Eliminating escaping air sits above removing excessive black two part cement on the necessity list. This means we can head off together again on a board each. (how sweet I hear you say). We came back in the dark last night after a social gathering. It was quite serene paddling quietly in the pitch under the stars.

As clampdown is still current in Panama, we get visits from local guys in pangas, trying to secure any income possible, selling fish, provisions and fuel. A couple of decent sized fish cost around $5 which we’re happy to pay if we haven’t caught anything ourselves. We’ve also currently got a stash of avocados. Think we paid $2 for 8 so pretty reasonable when they come delivered to your boat. Avocados are green and green is good! We will mostly be eating fish and avocados for a while.

Mojo

 

 

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a ‘mojo’ kind of person. But whatever it is, it’s felt like mine went walkabout for a few miserable days. Miserable for me, but also for Dave. Sorry mister. Can’t have been fun having a mojoless wife in a small space.

 

I just felt swamped, contained, restricted. My head was in conflict. The dichotomy of ‘sod it, let’s just go” against “its irresponsible and disrespectful” turning up in a country that isn’t your own and expect to be accepted in when their borders are officially closed. Our particular situation here in Panama, when we’d hoped to mid Pacific by now, felt endless to me.

 

My tried and tested solution when feeling confined is simple. Get out and walk. Space, hills, freedom, a goodly stomp provides a head clearing medicine which necessitates no chemical infusion. Thing is, this option is not currently available to us. No walking for Helen.

 

However. My mojo is back. I needed a change of scene. A change in energy. Something different. So for the last week or so we’ve been journeying around Las Perlas islands. It’s been great. Some cruising in company, some on our own. It’s been just what I needed. We’ve made a point of sailing everywhere. Uninhabited islands have meant we’ve been able to get ashore. Activities in the mix have included crocodile spotting, extreme frisbee, spear fishing, body surfing, card games, hull scrubbing and water making for a couple of other boats who’ve unfortunately had water-maker problems.

 

We’re currently anchored off San Jose island. There’s a posh resort here. (Hacienda del Mar Hotel – San José Island, Las Perlas, Panama if you want to look it up). At present, rain lashes, thunder rolls and lightning sparks. This maybe the start of the wet season. It’s 9.30 in the morning and the lack of light makes it feels like 4pm on a November day in the UK.

 

I said to Dave, it’s not really a sailing day. It’s a movie day he replied. I think we should remove the drain pipe that goes from the sink to the outside. It needs cleaning as it is starting to smell in the heat, was my response. His look said it all. It’s a pig of a job. Limited accessibility means skin removing positions to access the jubilee clips. Movies or pipe removal and cleaning? I wonder which will win out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lizard patrol

I tried my hand at lizard repatriation.  We’d been out in the dinghy for an explore and returned to the boat to find two such creatures paddling like fury and trying unsuccessfully to climb up the convex hull of the boat. The current would sweep them back 5 meters or so then they’d summon up more energy for another unsuccessful assault to board Grace.

We watched this for a while thinking, what are these creatures doing out here?  We’re anchored maybe 500m from land. It seemed to be such a fruitless pursuit. I wasn’t in need of a boat pet and didn’t fancy waking up with a lizard on my head. (Another unpleasant way to wake up to add to my list).

These creatures seemed knackered. We managed to coax one up onto the paddle board and it sat quietly resting for a couple of minutes. Then it skittered speedily off the board across the water and onto the side of the dinghy. But Lenny the lizard only had one goal. Get onto the big boat. He was summarily back in the water scrabbling fruitlessly at the side of the hull. His mate had disappeared by this point.

I concocted a plan. I’ll get Lenny back on the paddle board and take him to shore. Off I set. Me in the dinghy and Lenny on the board, being towed at a fairly sedate pace. I called by our Belgium friend Jarne to see if he wanted a pet. His girlfriend sails a boat called Gecko. Could have been appropriate.

I was pootling along towards land watching Lenny. Paddle boarding wasn’t for him. He started legging it towards the front of the board, reached top speed then launched himself into the water. And so ended my lizard repatriation. He was big boy with a mind of his own. He’d be okay. Human intervention was not required. Even if it was well intentioned.

This wasn’t our only wildlife encounter recently. On our return trip from Panama City (we’re legal now with proper stamps in our passports) we had the most amazing journey. It was the full on David Attenborough experience. We saw several Bryde’s whales, a whale shark, two hammerhead sharks, manta rays, jumping rays, dolphins, a sword fish and all manner of birds. A was a superlative time. The waters were teeming with life.

That evening at anchor we shone a torch in the water and the water was thick and rich with krill. That may help to explain why there was so much wildlife around that day.

Finally a quick update on our movements. We’re currently cruising around the Las Perlas islands off Panama. More positive news is coming out of French Polynesia with no new cases of CV.  Negotiations are taking place regarding foreign flagged vessels getting into New Zealand and Australia later this year. So we’re pretty hopeful that the Pacific will still be on this year. It may be a very different journey to the one we originally envisaged. Staying positive (well trying to) and just waiting a little longer.