Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Freebird ~ Day 7/8 Panama - Galapagos

Position at 2330 local  YESTERDAY  22 June was 00 05.77S 088 24W

COG 245degrees  SOG 8knots  Double Reefed Main, Reefed Gib, True Wind 14 knots still just in front of the beam, 2 metre swell

Another Cloudy Day but no squalls since  morning, still 4 booby birds on the bow,

Zero Degrees South
A decent days sailing on a close reach, keeping things as comfortable as they can be for a windward trip.  The wildlife is increasing, 3 black tip sharks have swum by, 2 big turtles - one of which was face to face with a small crab, looked like they were having a standoff, well the crab wasn't going to eat the turtle, and I thought turtles were vegetarians so who knows what that was all about.
The booby birds have been making an invasion, they seem to think we are a small island and have all moved in, sitting (or should that be s*itting) on the pulpit, hanging on for dear life.  Think we peaked out with 12 of them up there and two on the dinghy davits at sunset.  They are great company and have been keeping us amused, spirits onboard are rising at last.

Zero Degrees North
We gave King Neptune a Mt Gay Rum on the equator and so far the South Pacific is being kinder to us than the North Pacific was.  The wind has backed some and finally is just in front of the beam and we are romping along doing 8 knots with everything still reefed (cant unreef the gib cos it will make the birds fall off!!!)

23 June
Heavy cloud cover again overnight but there was a spell of about 2 hours when it clearted and the stars came out at last, what a treat.
Land Ahoy, yippee
Land ahoy at 6.30am, just after dawn, reached the northeast tip at 8.30am then had one of the best sails ever down the lee of the island in flat water, about 15 on the beam, fabulous.  Amazing scenery, a few tour boats around, crystal clear water.  Lost count of the amount of giant turtles we saw, the clouds cleared and a brilliant blue sky has stayed with us now all day, it is stunning here.

Anchor down in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal, Galapagos at 1430 local (actually 1330 local, need to change our clocks another hour), a Danish boat we met in Panama here and an American one a day or so behind us so will have some company.

Our Agent has been and rid us of $1345 USD, the fees for our 3 month permit here and we gave (sold) him his 6 bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label he asked us to bring.  He will be back in the morning with all the officials - meanwhile skipper has jumped overboard with the sealions to make sure our bottom is still nice and clean, then we will have a very early dinner and and VERY long sleep.

WE ARE IN THE GALAPAGOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  

Monday, 22 June 2015

Someones Knocking At The Door ~ Day 5/6 Panama - Galapagos

Position at 0945 local  1445 UTC  00 00.77N 086 45W   22 June

COG 245degrees  SOG 8knots  Double Reefed Main, Reefed Gib, True Wind 14 knots still just in front of the beam, 2 metre swell
Sunny Skies now, 4 booby birds on the bow, oh ~ here comes another squall!!!!
24 hour run 0830 - 0830 was 156 miles.

The days are all melting into each other somewhat, conditions yesterday were somewhat lively
Night time Visitors, Interesting Boat Registered in Guadeloupe
Quite a lot to report, starting with maybe two days ago (could have been three) we were overflown mid afternoon by an AWACS aircraft with a big satellite dish on top, they did a very low flyover and made a good attempt at trimming the top of our mast off.     Conditions in the afternoon were ok, hard on the wind but about 10 knots so not bad and we were almost laying our course for San Cristobal in the Galapagos.

The heavy clouds formed again at dusk and squalls showed all around us on the radar.  Then I saw lights of a boat, we wondered whether someone was coming to do a drugs inspection after the flyby, who else would be out here without radar, as nothing was showing up, but maybe it was lost in the squalls.  We were both below tidying up for night time when we saw lights shining on us and heard an engine and voices.  But no, this was no drugs bust, just 2 men in an open wooden fishing boat about 25 feet long and they had swung by to say hello and to show us their catch of enormous fish, maybe mahi mahi or tuna but bigger than us, almost the length of their boat.

Of course this meant they brought their boat VERY close alongside,  we had a good sea running and one wave came up between the boats and bounced off them and we got the most saltwater in the cockpit we have ever had, they thought it was hilarious, guess they get drenched by waves the whole time ~ we do not!! So off they went then turned round and came straight back, this time they asked for water and we threw them a gallon bottle we had in the saloon but he came too close to get it, another wave came through and they hit the boat, profuse apologies and he gunned it to get away but we expect we will have a scar alongside to show of our visit!

We were 400 miles offshore and there was actually a small  fleet of about 6 of them, guess there was a mother ship too. Shortly after the squalls started hitting and we rolled up the gib and drifted around for the next few hours, happy to have the lights of the fishing boats as company.
When the wind returned it had changed direction directly out of the south south west, straight where we wanted to go, at this point we had 361 miles to the top of San Cristobal but we needed to tack away south east, to be able to sail and get some southing in. The wind was forecast to come around to the south and build so we needed to get as south as far as we could to make the next few days as comfortable as we could.

17 hours later when we tacked back we had 368 miles to go, skipper and admiral were quite despondent but we had achieved a much better position.  We had a good sail on the new tack all day, always as hard on the wind as was comfortable, cloudy skies all day, heavy cloud cover at night, the moon was visible for about 10 minutes one night, the only time we have seen it so far since leaving Colon

That will do for now, I am going cross eyed and we are almost in the southern hemisphere, best get ready with camera.  Life on board is improving 


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Every Which Way But Loose ~ Day 5 Panama - Galapagos

Position YESTERDAY 20 JUNE 2015 at 1515 local  1915 UTC  02 04N 083 39W   
More when conditions improve for typing 

As you can see from the photo sometimes the best place to get some rest is on the floor

We moved the mattress down there on the second night, and it stayed there for the whole trip!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Who Painted The Moon Black? ~ Day 4 Panama - Galapagos

Position at 1415 local  1915 UTC  03 13N 083 37W   19 June
this looks nice, but is sure wasn't all like this
24 hour run will be 100 miles for the 3rd day in a row .
Currently sailing with a double reefed main and heavy reefed  gib.

We have been sailing since 1.30pm yesterday, initially in light winds and quite comfortable seas but then at dusk the clouds formed out of nowhere and gave us a very heavy blanket of cover for the whole night, boy was it dark out there.

Winds built to 18 knots true, right from where we want to go so hard on the wind, once again ~ when will it end?  Ocean swell and lots of other currents swells going on making for a messy sea once again, combined with the extra wind.
this flying fish didn't manage to escape, but it tried hard!!

Skies now clearing and wind easing a little, COG 270 degrees, SOG 4.2 knots, just trying to keep things comfortable.

Will have to tack at some point to get further south, wind not looking like co-operating to do this without tacking
All is well, still tired but at least not so many sail changes the last 24 hours and no rain or lightening
If this is the "milk run" I would suggest that someone has curdled the milk!!!!!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do ~ Day 2/3 Panama - Galapagos

Position at 1215 local  1715 UTC  03 36N 081 53W   18 June
motoring in glassy seas
24 hour yesterday run only 100 miles, today wont be much better.
Currently motoring in under 2 knots wind, glassy seas but ocean swell and lots of other currents swells going on making for a messy sea, now sunny/hazy skies, COG 190 degrees, SOG 5.7 knots
Yesterday was horrible, started ok sailing with full sails in light winds but then forecast trough and thunderstorms came through and threw everything at us for several hours, torrential rain, lightening and thunder, winds from every direction but thankfuly nothing over about 22 knots.

skippers chatting to the passing birds
The heavy cloud cover stayed with us all day and night, with no breaks in it and an exceptionally dark night was not enjoyed.  After the storm passed the seas were all churned up and have settled somewhat but we are still bobbing up and down way more than we should be
It also took all the wind so we are now motoring south trying to get to the light trades.
This morning dawned quite clear, there is cloud on the horizon, hopefully it will bring some wind. We are both well but very very tired and hot, about 540 miles to run.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Great Balls of Fire ~ Day 1 Panama - Galapagos

Position at 1515 local  2015 UTC  06 39N 080 25W
24 hour run 147 miles  currently  Sailing in Wind 9 knots SSW, calm seas but ocean swell, sunny/hazy skies, COG 205 degrees, SOG 5 7 knots

Had a great start with solid wind up to 20 knots just aft of the beam late afternoon and until dawn when things lightened up
Lost wind completely at 11am so have been motoring since, just put sails back up and sailing again but still quite light
Lots of distant lightening last night, but overhead starry skies and not a glimpse of the moon at all    Several shooting stars, wouldn't be surprised to find aliens in the dinghy when we drop it, one came down that close   Dancing dolphins at dawn stayed about an hour and a flying stingray did a couple of belly flops nearby    There also seems to be a major pelican migration going on, maybe they are going to the Galapagos too

Monday, 15 June 2015

Leaving Panama

Panama's new Bio-Diversity Museum & City Skyline
08 55N 79 31W

Plans are to leave Panama City later today for the Galapagos Islands

We will update the blog and our positions should show on our Mailsail blog too, click on the link in the left hand side bar

Voyage should be about a week but theres not much wind out there so may be longer

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Crossing A Continent by Canal, Back Into the Pacific ..... June 2015

30 May – 11 June: Caribbean Colon to Pacific Panama City ~ 8 55N 79 31W

Panama Canal 008

 Frantic Few Days in Colon P6100045

Because we had already spent a hurricane season in Panama 2012, our sole purpose for visiting this time was to fill fuel tanks, propane cylinders, buy as much food as we could store, organise our canal transit, transit the famous Panama Canal and then pop out into the Pacific!! 

You are permitted to enter for 72 hours without getting a cruising permit (USD200) or visas (USD100 each), but even with engaging the services of an agent (about another USD400) it would have been impossible to achieve everything within this time frame, and they know that.


So we decided to do all the transit paperwork without an agent which was relatively straightforward, we emailed forms, made phone calls, made an appointment with the measurer and collected several official documents and eventually paid over our money.

But we had to spend an afternoon in Colon doing the rounds of officialdom to check in.  First stop was the Harbour Master who took 1 & 1/2 hours to issue a receipt for our cruising permit to take to Immigration.  A taxi ride in torrential rain then took us to Immigration who only took just over an hour to issue the two visas (only 3 months validity!!), can you believe they even wanted to know our parents names.  Just bear in mind here if you fly in you get 6 months, its free and you don’t even fill out a form!  P6100050

Then back, still in the pouring rain, to the Harbour Master who acted like he had never seen us before and had not issued the cruising permit, and yes, we were the only ones there!  So across to Citibank to lighten our wallet of USD1875  and pay for our canal crossing, at least that was quick but you must pay in cash and it includes a deposit in case we damage something ~  what, like a container ship or the inside of a lock maybe!  Then back again for another half hour wait for the cruising permit.  Patience and politeness are certainly virtues, but ours were wearing very thin.  And then you all wonder what we do all day.

P6100056 Just How Much of Everything  Do We Need?

Back in April before we left St Maarten I started provisioning, there were all those yummy French goodies to tuck away.  In the British and US Virgin Islands I filled trolley after trolley with things I knew I couldn’t get in Panama or were cheaper there but that was 6 weeks ago and we have nibbled away at supplies.  Now I am provisioning for 6 months, good grief that's a lot of food and dry goods.  So for 4 mornings in a row I caught the marina courtesy bus to the supermarket, and daily I came back with bags and bags of “necessities”.  On those 4 afternoons I spent my time recording it all and stowing it all away. P6100072

Are We Ready? ~ Yes We Are! 

The freezer will not fit even an ice cube, the lockers are bulging.  Skipper has the fuel tanks completely topped up, the propane tanks have returned, are tyres (as fenders) and lines have arrived, we have employed the services of professional line handler Rick and have accepted an offer from lovely Dutch couple Ingrid and Ben off yacht Blabber to be our 2 additional line handlers.  3.30pm on June 10 2015 ~ the marina bill has been settled, electricity and water disconnected from mother earth, our helpers are aboard, the mooring lines are let go and Balvenie quietly exits the marina without incident in the drizzly rain.   We motored across to “the Flats” to await our adviser and were happy to see Swiss yacht Kyory also waiting to transit.  Follow the photos for our journey through...


P6100075  P6100092  P6100099 P6110107   P6110114

Our next advisor arrived at 7am, but Kyory’s did not so we carried on without them presuming we would see them again at the locks, over 20 miles away on the other side of the lake.  We were both scheduled to go into the locks with a huge car carrier which we could see well behind us in the far distance, however we made very good time across the lake and our advisor managed to get us hooked up with a large power tourist catamaran, Discovery 

Panama Canal 001 P6110126 Panama Canal 017 P6110135 P6110142

Panama Canal 022

Popped Out in the PacificPanama Canal 024

We motored away from the murky canal waters, the pilot boat came and collected our advisor. Have to say both our pilots Louis and Franklin were excellent, very professional and nice people to have onboard.  What a contrast from the ghastly Egyptian pilots we had during our transit through the Suez Canal a few years ago.  How rude, arrogant and thoroughly obnoxious they were.  Anyway, we detached all our big black tyres and long lines and farewelled Rick who hopped into a water taxi.  Ricks experience had been invaluable, he was always ahead of the game and was the reason why we had a trouble free transit.

Ben and Ingrid, who had donned their orange Dutch colours for the many friends back home watching on the webcam at the Miraflores locks, stayed onboard with us as we motored around to the La Brisa anchorage in Panama City and dropped our anchor in the Pacific for the first time since 2006, wow. Panama Canal 019 It was great to have their company overnight to share our celebration in finally reaching our home ocean. Their enthusiasm from the moment we contacted them to join us was outstanding and made this stressful “adventure” fun.  Thanks Ben and Ingrid, you were fabulous company and terrific linehandlers.  Ah, and what happened to Frank on Kyory, well he finally popped up nearly 3 hours after us, we sure did well.

So now we will regroup and move Balvenie once again into passage mode. We have made contact again  by our SSB Radio with our cruising friends who have been on this side for a while, most are already in the Marquesas.  We are definitely amongst the last to leave and the big advantage with that is all our friends have so much new knowledge to share on where to go and what to do.P6120149

A weather window looks possible for a Monday departure from these shores, directly to the Galapagos Islands.

Our Long Voyage Home Will Soon Commence



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Just Jammin’ in Jamaica ..... May 2015

17 – 30 May:  Port Antonio, Jamaica to Colon, Panama ~ 09 22N   79 57W

P5200056 Weather, What Weather?

Thankfully the very nasty weather that had been forecast got stalled below Jamaica and we had very light winds and just sprinkles of rain during our stay.  This did mean however that we had to wait and wait for the weather further south to clear away before we could finally start our passage to Panama. 

It was no hardship whiling away days in Port Antonio, it is a small non touristy town with a vibrant market area, several Jamaican famous “jerk chicken” stalls, some passable supermarkets, several churches and way too many banks.  We filled the fridge with much needed fresh vegetables, last time was in the US Virgins a month ago so we had been using up tinned provisions earmarked for the Pacific, never mind – we got to eat!P5200051

We took our bikes ashore and went for a long ride making the most of the cooler cloudy weather/  We headed east along the coast, past a huge mansion build only 40 years ago but replicating a European castle, talk about look out of place ~ just what were they thinking? 

On we cycled through small hamlets housing very humble abodes, past a gated community of upmarket expat or holiday houses set in large tropical grounds such a contrast to the neighbouring local homes,  but providing much needed employment for gardeners, housekeepers etc. P5200054 

Peddling on, next up was THE Blue Lagoon, yes the very one that a young Brooke Shields launched her movie career in a skimpy bikini many years ago.  With grey skies reflecting into the lagoon there was not even a smidgen of blue to be seen, well, it just didn't look much like the lagoon I remembered from the movie. 

A couple of k’s further on and we arrived at Frenchman’s Cove rumoured to be “the best beach in Jamaica” ~   We can not confirm this as an entrance fee of USD10 each was required, and quite frankly we see plenty of beaches for free so skipped this one and instead spent our money having a cold drink with Bob Marley and the bikini clad girls in a shacky little roadside bar.P5220059

Into the Blue Mountains

Another day we shared a hire car with our neighbours Rachael and Steve off El Giro.  We took the coast road west this time, over the Rio Grande then turned up into the hills and slowly wound our way up into the cloud shrouded Blue Mountains and John Crow National Park, famous worldwide for its excellent coffee, and our mission was to drink some!

On and on we went, slowly dodging potholes big enough to live in, deeper and deeper into the jungle, higher and higher into the mountains ~ and then there was a sign!  We made a sharp right turn up an even steeper and narrower road, distance not hinted at (didn’t want to put us off now did they), possibility of a u-turn very slim, the things we do for a coffee!!  

Our perseverance paid off although we nearly missed the tiny roadside sign a couple of k’s further on, not sure how many customers they see but I suspect just a hardy few pop up each month.P5220057 

We did the obligatory walk around the gardens, saw all the herbs, spices and fruit growing and of course the coffee.  The vegetation was very lush and green following recent rains but the ground still dry and they were eagerly awaiting the wet season to cool things down and liven the plants up.

We drank freshly brewed Blue Mountains Coffee out of calabash cups (type of fruit that grows on trees that the shells are used for to make bowls, cutlery etc) and enjoyed the mountain air, jungle noises and spectacular scenery.P5220066   

But Where To Now?

After coffee we were faced with a dilemma,  we had planned to continue into the mountains high up to Irish Town for lunch then drop down the other side, skirting Kingston and hooking into the coast road back to Port Antonio, thereby doing a loop of North Eastern Jamaica.  I

t had all looked feasible on the map but as you all know our original plans often don’t come to fruition and when we were told the road deteriorated even more as we got higher and it would be 3 – 4 hours just to get to Irish Town, and we couldn’t skirt Kingston we would have to drive right through it.  So we decided it would be sensible to turn around and head back down to sea level. P5240001

Back on the coast road we went to Boston Bay renowned for its extra spicy jerk chicken and pork, cooked over hot coals on roadside bar-b-que pits.  We found a spot with a shady terrace and good view and relaxed into a very long late lazy lunch not such a bad alternative!

Jammin’ Away into the Dark  

A weather window was immerging, it wasn’t going to be perfect as it looked like we would have to motor at the end (better than being beaten up!) but it was the best we could hope for and there was a tropical wave developing that we wanted to avoid.  P5300014

So with most of the boats readying themselves for an impending departure we decided to have a Jammin’ Happy Hour in the Marina Bar, all musicians, singers and onlookers welcome.   We had a good turn out and fun evening,  joined by local Danny who was extremely hard to see in the dark as you can tell from the photo!

Heading South Till the Sea Runs Out

We motored out of Port Antonio at 6.15am on the 26th May, surf was breaking on each side of channel, there was a big swell, very confused seas and no wind, yuk!  The first 5 hours really were pretty horrible until we cleared the eastern coast of Jamaica then we picked up a light breeze, raised sails, turned off the engine and finally pointed south west. P5300020

Eventually the sea state settled and we had a comfortable sail with winds around 15 knots or less just aft of the beam, Balvenies (and Admirals) favourite point of sail.  We made a couple of sail changes enroute and eventually were pointing dead down wind so deployed both our poles and floated off downwind towards the Panama Canal.

As we closed on the Central American coast the winds became fickle, the engine came on and off as the squalls came and went and the shipping steadily increased.  We wove our way through the myriad of ships at anchor awaiting their turn to transit the canal, called Port Control for permission to enter through the harbour breakwater, then thought it prudent to go behind a huge container ship that was bearing down on us at speed.  P5300023

We called Shelter Bay Marina and were allocated a berth, finally returning after our first arrival here 3 years ago and that should be the end of this chapter but we decided to arrive in spectacular style.  The berth we were allocated had just a little too much of a sharp turn for us (envy those yachts with bow thrusters big time!), so skipper reversed to widen the angle a little but there was an underwater mooring line lurking where it shouldn’t have been and our propeller found it, it then got wrapped extremely tightly around the shaft and stalled the engine.  Then to keep out of harms way until the marina dinghy arrived to tow us, Balvenie slowly floated into the shallows and ran herself aground into the mud!!  Way too much entertainment after 4 nights at sea but at least we never hit any thing.

And That Concludes Our Adventures of the Caribbean After 3 1/2 Years