Panama to the Galapagos Islands
Depart: La Playita marina, Panama
Las Perlas Islands, Contadora
A walk to Flamenco marina to check out, and to collect the fumigation certificate from my agent, Stanley. Is this going to be $85 well spent? Time will tell. Left La Playita marina heading towards Las Perlas islands. Arrived at night and found many of the Arc Pacific boats were anchored up in one of the bays at Contadora. Weaving in and out of the yachts was a problem but none so much as trying to anchor! Several attempts and the anchor would not hold, and the owner of one yacht was getting extremely anxious as we were getting closer to him. Eventually we located a mooring buoy and managed to get two lines attached to it, at the cost of half a boat hook! Supper was taken with a couple of beers before we all settled in for the night.
Las Perlas Islands, Contadora
San Christobal, Galápagos
A major task for the morning, clean the hull of the yacht of all growth in preparation for our visit to the Galapagos. Plenty of small barnacles were all over the hull and it took hours and a few scraped fingers before we were able to consider it good enough to take photos of it for evidence as to its cleanliness. We will still have to have another clean just before we get to the Galapagos. A quick trip ashore to send the photos to my agent so that the certificate could be sent to my other agent dealing with our arrival in Galapagos. At 16:00 we lifted anchor and set the sails heading for Galapagos, a trip which will take about eight days, with quite a lot of motoring as there is little wind forecast.
The winds have been kind to us. Having put a reef in the previous night we were still making good progress, averaging over six knots since our departure from Contadoras. Predict Wind shows that the winds are going to drop considerably and we expect to have to motor for several days. A couple of TSS systems to deal with (one of them not showing up on my Garmin Chart) but thankfully with AIS, these should not be a concern.
Motoring during the night, winds have all but disappeared. The course selected (due south) should give us a bit of drive from the current but little else. At 01:00 when I came on watch it appeared that there was little to gain from this course, as the added distance would increase the passage time by nearly a day. I decided that going directly might be a better option and, as it stands, it is. We haven’t lost any speed from the current and have found a bit of wind, sufficient to unfurl the genoa. Let’s see how long this lasts!
The morning started off badly. The starboard aft cabin inner window which was supposed to be repaired at Shelter Bay marina is still leaking. I doubt whether they will worry as they know I will not be returning. They do have a Facebook page though! Just after sorting out the evening meal I decided to put the fishing line in the water. About 30 minutes later there was a shout of ‘fish’ and the rod was bending nearly in double (I exaggerate). Another 30 minutes later the catch of the day, (and for me the decade), a beautiful 3’+ dorada was on the back of the boat. Finally, after years of trying I had caught a fish! A squirt of alcohol down its gills to subdue it, Cedric then went to work cleaning, gutting and filleting the fish. Sufficient for at least three hearty meals. Karen has succumbed to Covid, that’s now three out of five crew members. Lunch was fried fish, lightly floured with herbs and spices. Delicious. In the afternoon a pod of dolphins entertained us for a short period of time and later a couple of pilot whales came by. Still no wind, as I type the screen is showing about 4kts!!!
There is a growing feeling that we will run out of diesel before we get to the Galápagos Islands. I thought that the fuel tanks carried 300l of diesel fuel but looking at the specs for this yacht it appears to only hold 200l. We have bought a further 100l in jerrycans, but, if the boat consumes 3l per hour, that’s just over 4 days of motoring. If the tanks haven’t been cleaned since purchase they may well be full of sludge at the bottom. If this is drawn up through the fuel lines it will cause problems, so we can’t afford to run the tanks to empty! Distance to go to the Galapagos, another 540nm, at the current rate, just over 4 days. And we have been running on engines for the last two days. We need wind, and in the right direction!!!!! Another meal prepared using the fillets from the dorado, a fish curry and rice.
At around 03:00 I think we must have run through a pod of whales. Sitting at the helm I heard an almighty exhaust of air and what I thought was a splash of a tail fin. This occurred several times off the stern and then I heard a similar noise off the port bow and another off the starboard stern. I couldn’t see anything in the water but there was definitely something causing me concern. It lasted a good five minutes before the noises abated and the boat was clear of the ‘danger’. Still no wind and down to running one engine to conserve fuel. Supper is probably going to be a chicken casserole (again)! Messages from my brother indicating that the wind situation was not going to change, and concerned that I would run out of fuel. Still holding on!
Daughters birthday today so sent her greetings over my Garmin InReach, a handy bit of kit that allows text messages to be sent anywhere in the world providing there is a satellite signal operating in the area. Garmin have virtual global coverage. Still little or no wind. Not sure what the fuel content is in the tanks but we still have 100l in reserve. Breakfast was scrambled eggs with dorado. We have plenty of eggs that need to be used up, and the same goes for the fish. First vessel seen in the last three + days, Schweiz Stream, a cargo ship some 158m long passing a distance of 9nm away travelling from starboard to port, possibly heading for Ecuador? We have two interlopers on board without permission! A couple of ‘boobies’ have decided to come for a ride and have taken up position on the pushpit guard rails on each side of the bow. Not sure when they will decide to leave!
On watch at 04:00, the boobies are still with us, fast asleep. We have just under 200nm to go before our arrival in Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal and have yet to use any of our reserve fuel. It’s looking like we should get there without running out, thankfully! Did I speak too soon? The starboard engine began to miss a beat just after 05:15. Rather than get the fuel lines clogged up the engine was switched off immediately and the port engine fired up. The first two 20l of reserve fuel has been poured into the port tank, good enough for the next 25hours at least (I’m hoping), and a further 40l will be added in daylight. That additional 40l was added at 10:00 this morning. I now have only 20l left as reserve and we still have a further 170nm to get to Wreck Bay in the Galapagos. Still touch and go! Potential sighting of two more whales, basking on the surface. As we got closer they decided to submerge and that was the last we saw of them. Supper tonight was the penultimate meal of dorado, poached fish, mashed potatoes and a tomato and onion salsa. That fish has been an absolute treat for me and my crew, I just hope that isn’t the last one I catch!
The port engine is still running so we haven’t used up all of our diesel yet. Another 85nm to go before our arrival at Wreck Bay. Fingers crossed we should get there. Message sent to our Galápagos agent to forewarn him of the ETA and of our position regarding fuel. Initial confusion as he thought we were going to get there at 10:00 this morning! This yacht is travelling at 4kts per hour not 28kts! Our inspection is scheduled for 15:00 tomorrow. A pod of pilot whales went by with three immediately ahead of the bow before diving and reappearing at the stern. We have now crossed the Equator, but the change was far quicker than I expected. At one point it was reading 00’ 00.118”N
and the next second had clocked over to 00’ 00.014”S, I never did see that magical figure of all zeros appear on the chart plotter. We have started to make inroads with regards to getting the boat ready for the inspection. Starboard engine area has been cleaned as too have the bilges, port and starboard. Wally has repaired the faulty wiring at the float switch alarm for the stbd bilge. Later today we shall heave to and clean the hull of any remaining molluscs that are still attached to it. Cedric has told me of his intention to leave the boat in the Galapagos. Maybe that would be better as it could be a bit crowded with five on board and only four cabins! Plenty of pilot whales seen and a number of dolphins. Just before the end of my watch (19:00) the island of San Christobal came in view. Still 50 odd nautical miles to Wreck Bay, this part of the passage will be over tomorrow morning.
The slow boat to Galapagos! When you see the island the night before and we are still motoring to the anchorage, this is always the worst part of the passage. So close and yet, so far. Mind you, when we are travelling at around 3kts per hour, it is always going to be very slow. A person could walk quicker than this! When we get to the anchorage there will be quite a few Arc Pacific boats already there. Hopefully they will have left space for me to drop the anchor. No worries, plenty of room to drop the anchor although one Arc boat was concerned that we were too close. Next it was the turn of the inspection team to come on board, seven of them. We were told by our agent that they would conduct a thorough inspection of the boat, above and below the water line. Below the water line a couple of divers (with just masks) took photos of the hull. Clean bill of health!!! The team of seven asked various questions and carried out a cursory search for animals, didn’t check any foodstuffs, took pictures of the labels on life jackets and fire extinguishers and checked my yacht insurance. Fortunately I had notified Pantaenius that I was no longer on the Atlantic side and they set me out cover for the Pacific side. Only failings; no absorbent cloth to mop up spilled oil and no eco friendly washing up liquid, although I later found that we did have a tub! Why were we so concerned about this inspection, it was nowhere as detailed as we were led to believe. After the inspection was over it was time to celebrate with a few beers and then catch the water ferry and hit the town.
THE GALÁPAGOS INSPECTION.
I was sent several documents by my Galápagos agent that the yacht was to be thoroughly inspected, inside and out. I had heard from various sources that the inspection was detailed and that we had to have certain certificates in order to pass the inspection and to be allowed access to a few islands, three; San Christobal, Isabella and Santa Cruz. All others were off limits. So the inspection was as follows.
The boat needed a Fumigation Certificate to show that it was fumigated against rats, mice, cockroaches, mosquitoes and Covid. I asked my Panama Canal agent (Stanley) if he could get me one, and he did. $85US. Had the boat been fumigated? That I will leave to you to decide. Galapagos got a certificate and they were happy with that.
The boat required a hull cleaning certificate. I told my Galápagos agent that I would self certificate but he said that this was not acceptable. Having already left Panama there was no where or no way that I was going to get someone to do this hull cleaning. In Las Perlas Islands, in the morning before we left for Galapagos all the crew put on their snorkelling gear and started cleaning the hull. After a couple of hours I called it a day and we went ashore for a last minute drink. Also I needed to contact Stanley to get him to send a hull cleaning certificate to Galapagos, at a cost of $225US. We again gave the hull a further clean just before our arrival in the Galapagos. On arrival we were meet by two ‘divers’. They had a mask and underwater camera and took a cursory look at the hull! We had passed.
Next a party of seven inspectors came on board to ‘thoroughly check the inside of the boat’.
Mandatory items for Health and Safety.
Nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer, safety glasses, face masks and alcohol. There was plenty of alcohol, nitrile gloves and a bottle of hand sanitizer, but they only checked the hand sanitizer!
Boat and crew documents in order. Checked. Flares, life jackets, life raft must be in date. They checked a couple of flares for dates, took photos of the life jacket labels but didn’t check out the life raft. They did check my three newly purchased fire extinguishers but not the dates, the navigation equipment not checked neither was the communication equipment. This I suppose could be said to have been checked as they called me up on my arrival.
Environmental assessment and requirements.
Signage displayed around the yacht saying what can’t be done to waste and black water. Checked. All waste on board separated for recycling. Checked. Asked about eco friendly washing liquid. I showed them the bottle by the sink, which wasn’t eco friendly but forgot the one under the sink that is. A cross against this, as was not have absorbent roll of towel in case of oil spills. They didn’t check my log book for fuel fills and waste disposal.
Bio security requirements.
There was a long list of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products that were prohibited entry to the Galapagos. We had quickly eaten the oranges - banned, the chillies - thrown away, berries - eaten, yogurt - small amount acceptable, processed cheese and meats - acceptable, but fresh meats had to be eaten by the time we got to the Galapagos. In the end not one item of foodstuff was checked. They did check the bilges - clean, and a cursory look in each cabin and heads.
And that was it. Why did we think that this was going to be a problem passing! Maybe because the World Arc boats had arrived a day or so before and they were very busy, or is it just scare tactics to make you believe that your vessel has to be in pristine condition for entry to the Galapagos?
Cedric and I were just wandering around the town, checking what there was to do and how to get around to visit the sites. Not a great deal to do but at least we have a few options to mull over. Wally, being Wally was content in carrying out more electrical work on the boat, but came ashore later on to have a beer with us. On returning to the boat we were greeted by sea lions resting on the sugar scoops. Not what I was expecting so we put up some fenders as barriers. Little good did this do, they soon got past these, into the cockpit and one blighter actually came in to the galley / saloon area. The mess they leave from the hairs that they drop and the oil from their coats, cleaning was a nightmare.
A taxi ride up to the volcano and a walk around the rim. Next a trip to the tortoise sanctuary and learning how their breeding programme is working to re establish tortoises in the northern part of the island. Finally a visit to the south side of the island and a refreshing swim. Not having taken a towel or change of clothing, fortunately the taxi driver had put covers over the seats to protect them.
A days walking along the north coast up to several viewpoints and finally to the swim platform where it was possible to get in the water and swim around the sea lions. When we got there there were only a few people there. When we left it was very busy. Timing was perfect. Cedric went off to visit the information centre and I went off to try and get some bits for the boat. Wally was still working on setting up the remote for the anchor windlass.
Today was diving and snorkelling day. As I hadn’t dived for over three years they wanted me to take a refresher course, at an extra $80 on top of the $180 to dive. I refused, so went snorkelling instead. A trip to Kicker Rock and two 45 minute sessions in the water interspersed by lunch. In the water we saw all three types of local shark, several different rays and sea turtles. Plenty of species of fish and frigate birds and boobies.
San Christobal, Galápagos
During the course of the night we had sea lion patrol. Having washed the boat twice in the last four days there was no way these pesky blighters were going to mess up the decks again. At 07:00 we departed San Christobal for Isabella, a distance of about 85nm. We had four x 2hr watch systems and I began the first. All seemed fine but, for some reason, both water tanks were empty. Not a problem, run the water maker. At 50litres per hour they would be full in 12hrs, and as there was no wind we had to have the engine on. After a few hours we had water but it was only dribbling out of the tap. It appeared that there was an airlock in the system. Would it help if we filled the tank fully and then tried to purge the air out of the system. Eventually we had the port tank full but it still wouldn’t flow out of the taps. Having just come off my watch at 01:00 all hell broke loose. Both the gas and bilge alarms were sounding. The port tank of 300l had filled the bilge and we needed to discharge the water quicker than the bilge pump would operate. I found the stirrup pump and a chain gang was put to work, one pumping the water into the bucket, one sending the bucket to the cockpit whilst receiving an empty bucket to be filled again. An hour or so later the bilge was empty but were still no sure why the tank had drained so quickly! I decided to divert from the passage to Isabella and to head back to Santa Cruz, where if there was a major problem we would have a better chance of getting it fixed. I had already decided to look under the port aft bed and inspect the calorifier (hot water tank). The floor was saturated with water and it was evident that the fault lay in this area. A quick look at the tank and I could see that the cold water inlet pipe had come adrift. It was only held on by one jubilee clip and there should be two. Within 20 minutes the problem was fixed, but what a night!!!
A late start to the day was greeted by a water taxi ride to the shore. Walking up the high street we headed towards the Charles Darwin centre. An hour or so walking round the information centre before heading back to the centre. We met up with John and Karen and decided to have a meal out and several beers. A taxi back to the boat and the evening was rounded off with some rum (actually a bottle of rum!)
Back to the Darwin centre, this time to go on the guided tortoise trail tour. A 1.5hr tour with a culminating visit to see the stuffed remains of Lonesome George, a giant tortoise from the island of Pinto. He lived to the ripe old age of 120, dying in 2012. From the early ‘70’s they brought him to the Darwin centre to get him to breed with female giant tortoises to increase the stock of them. He would have none of it!!! A meal with the rest of the group at the $5 menu for the day restaurants and the it was another guided tour to Las Grietas, ending with a swim in a volcanic gorge. I’m not sure if this was $10 well spent!
Back to town for a shower and to purchase some food for the evening and breakfast. Within minutes of arriving back at the boat I was visited by an Arc participant from South Korea. He told me that he was resetting his anchors as the winds had picked up and had unfortunately collided with my yacht. On inspection the port bow and forequarter had some gel coat damage. We have exchanged details and his request is to pay for the damage rather than go through the insurance company. I said I would be happy to do it this way but am concerned that I might not be able to get an estimate for the damage before he or I leave in a few days time.
Up early, photos of the damage have been sent to my agent. He has told me that a technician would be with me between 09:00 and 10:00. It is now 12:45. No technician, I have sent a message to my agent again! A day wasted as the technician never turned up. In the evening we went ashore for a drink and a bite to eat. Lovely street food, craft beers but the music in the two bars we visited was much too LOUD!
I have been given the phone number of the technician so I have sent him a WhatsApp message to find out if he will be available to inspect the gel coat damage. The technician did turn up, about an hour after he said he would be with me! A brief look at the damage and an explanation of what he would do to fix the damage, he arrived at an estimate of $1000(US). My thoughts are that having the boat repaired in the water would not be a good idea, however I sent an email to the third party explaining the situation and asked for his feedback. He was of the opinion that it would be better if the boat was out of the water when it’s repaired. We both were in agreement so now I need to consider where it is to be repaired. The earliest place with haul out facilities is Tahiti, some 4500nm away! After the technician had left I decided to go ashore for a shower and a bite to eat. The toilets and showers are open to the public but are probably, dare I say it, possibly the cleanest toilets and showers I’ve seen, far exceeding some of those in private marinas. Cedric had finished his cycle ride to the tortoise farm so I meet up with him for a spot of lunch and a drink (!!)
We have a couple of days before our intended departure, Tuesday 11.04.23. I sent a message to my agent advising him to begin the process of checking out, but then told him I would like to bring it forward a day. Not possible was his response, he needed more time to organise the inspection and to sort out the paperwork. So Tuesday it is. All the crew got their heads together to make a list of the provisions required for the passage to the Marquesas, which would take 20 - 22 days, weather permitting. A trip ashore armed with plenty of bags, the initial purchase came to around $250, excluding meat, fruit and veg. Later on Cedric and I meet at the Golden Prague, a great craft beer bar, with some amazingly strong beers and taste. Thankfully it was happy hour so three beers for the price of two.
Graham’s birthday today so a call back to the UK was in order to wish him all the best for his birthday. I was asked to take all the passports to the agent and get clearance from immigration. The other three had decided to go snorkelling and had left the boat around 07:30. My meeting with the agent was at 15:00 so I had plenty of time to catch up with jobs that needed addressing. I found the 12v charger for the VHF radio. I had been searching for this for days. I moved the water generator to the cockpit but needed a hand to attach it to the bathing platform ladder. This would have to wait until later. A few other minor jobs completed, the time was approaching 12:00. I decided to go ashore, a shower and to charge up my laptop battery. Around 14:00 I set off to go to the agent’s office but stopped to have a drink beforehand. A small bottle of beer $6.50, nearly as expensive as the one in Aruba! I finally found the agent’s office, having previously walked passed it earlier. I was then taken to the immigration office where all the passports were stamped, allowing us to leave once the inspection had taken place, but this would be tomorrow at 10:00. I thought I would ‘gate crash’ the World Arc briefing to get an insight as to their plans for the route and weather. I found out the time and venue so headed to the Town Hall. My request for entry was not permitted so I returned to the bar where the Arc participates were socialising. One gent said if he is given a USB stick he would allow me to copy the data from it, if I was still at the bar after his seminar. True to his word, he handed over the memory stick and allowed me to copy it. I offered him a drink but he was with others so rejected the invite. A couple of drinks later it was time to find somewhere to eat, and pizzas seemed to be the preferred choice. After several failed attempts to find a restaurant we eventually came across one, and the choice was good. Although there was a delay in service, the pizzas were excellent. No one managed to finish theirs so the leftovers were boxed up for breakfast / lunch the following day.