Friday, March 30, 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes

Day 7 – Current Position 02.59.41 South by 92.35.97 West (as of 0835 Fri., March 30, 2012

Go to our position report and see what our track has been and you'll see that in the first five days we didn't move very fast or far. In the last day, however, we at least made progress – in fact, making more progress in the last 24 hours than we did in the first five days. The winds have started to pick up for us a bit and we are FINALLY out of the adverse current (or at least we hope so). The current seemed to change around 2 am this morning. There were lots of big fishing boats in the area – so we're guessing that the current change might be a hot fishing zone.

We did see six fishing boats last night – quite large and lit up like Times Square at New Year's. They looked to be netters and all similar. There was a group of three and then a few hours later another group of three. Our fishing fates haven't been very good though we were optimistic about yesterday because we actually were at fish catching speed (at least 5 knots) for a little while. Perhaps because its Friday - we'll catch a fish dinner tonight. Optimistic thinking!

It's been cloudier – and a few light squalls nearby – but nothing substantial. We are getting really good and fast at sail changes. Life aboard is settling into a good pattern and we seem to be adjusting better with the three hour chunks of sleep time at night and some daytime napping. We're luckily still enjoying some fresh veggies and are eating quite well.

Not much else to report – we hope the breeze stays steady. We are trying to head more west as we don't want to get south too quickly. We understand you lose the good current if you get above 4 or 5 degrees. And we just got the good current. We'll get across 3 degrees south today and hope to ride west for awhile. But the winds will make that call!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Doldrums

Day 5 – Current Position 02.26.37 South / 091.07.55 West (as of 1640 Weds., March 28)

The Pacific Ocean, largest ocean on the planet, has a watery area greater than that of all the earth's land masses combined. That's a lot of water! And smack in the middle of the planet is the equator. Around this line is a weather area known as the doldrums or horse latitudes. It has a lot to do with the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone). Right now, we are feeling the effects of being in the doldrums. No wind. A glass slick of water.

We sail at every opportunity we can and have changed sails more times than we care to count. It's turning into a good upper body exercise routine. Because there is an ocean swell, our sails - when not filled with wind, collapse in this swell. This is not good for the sails, the rig, or our ears. It is noisy. So when there isn't enough wind to fill sails and they start this noisy collapsing ritual, we usually pull some in or take them down. Then we drift. The current has been against us – that is not supposed to be the case – but we are sent back the way we traveled – often giving up the hard earned miles.

We carry 90 gallons of fuel and have been stingy about using it – after all we have more than 3000 miles ahead of us. But we did resort this afternoon to a dose of motoring to at least make some headway. As soon as we see "cat's paws" on the water – we shut off the engine and start sailing again. We have allotted ourselves about 10 gallons of fuel for the first 500 miles or so.

The good news with having a glass slick of beautiful clear water is that you can see the various sea creatures quite well. We've had two very large mahi (dorado) circling our boat. They seem to be taunting us. Michael fixed our small rod and reel and has tried casting just about every lure we have in our tackle box. They seem to look at them, follow then and even went after one and bit (but shook it off). But then they ignore them and continue showing off their beautiful colors as they swim round and round Astarte.

We've seen huge schools of dolphins – these are a smaller dark variety with whitish sides, and they are masterful leapers. They usually travel in huge packs (or pods) and leap with great frequency and altitude and then slap their tails as they re-enter the water. They are a beautiful sight – and even at night, we can hear them slapping the water. We've had sea lions close to the boat doing their weird fin wave thing and lots of sea birds. (plus the pod of whales). So, though we are frustrated with not moving the boat through the water at a better pace, we do enjoy the sights.

Now if we could just get the equatorial heat to let up!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Going Backwards

Day Three on the trek across the Pacific...and we are making very little forward momentum. The current is all wrong for us and the wind is non-existent so we are simply taken by the current eastward. Of course our course is southwest! No wind is predicted for the next several days and if we chose to motor and use some of our limited fuel supply – we would have to go a long way to find wind. The motoring we did do over the last three days has not gained us anything after we shut off the engine. So our theme is "it is what it is" and we'll just drift along forward, backwards or sideways.

The water is a glass slick – at night you can see the stars – which are very bright – reflected on the surface. In the daytime, you can see through the clear water to a good depth. In fact, this morning, it was so flat and clear with absolutely no wind chop on the surface, we actually saw two huge mahi swim by the boat. We dropped a lure in and they came back to check it out – but we couldn't interest them in the delicacy!

Yesterday afternoon, we saw a pod of whales – pilot whales we think. They were small as far as whales go, but quite large so close to the boat. They were moving quite quickly, but very close to the surface and came along the port side and then swam off behind the boat. It was great to see. We also spot lots of sea lions – they do this weird thing of lifting one of their flippers out of the water – either like a synchronized swimmer's hand held aloft or the sea lions just waving. When there are lots of them it does look like a synchronized swim team with all their flippers out at once.

We saw a few sea turtles and a large shark. We are now outside the 40 mile Galapagos limit so we can fish – that is if we had any speed. Michael worked on our little rod and reel and perhaps we'll kill some time with casting.

So after three days – our current position is: 01.48.65 S by 090.48.75 W. That's as of Tuesday, March 27 at 0900. As our friend Markus on Namani said on the radio last night – at least you aren't drifting backwards FAST, We like positive people.

It is what it is.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Slow Like the Galapagos Tortoise

But, we'd rather be speedy like the Galapagos penguin in the water.
Position as of March 25, 2012 – 1300 (1 pm) 01.28.39 S/091.18.70 W.

It was a VERY slow day. We started out great. Anchor up just after noon on Saturday. March 24, 2012 and we left the anchorage of Villamil on Isabela under power. We had our pet sea lion "Stinky" on the back swim platform – it seemed he wanted to come along. He stayed there until we got to the channel markers where we scooted him off – we could see us being arrested for kidnapping a sea lion from the Galapagos National Park!

We were able to get the sails up right away and scooted off with the main and head sail right on a course of 240 degrees. We would head west more than south – trying to stay above 3 degrees south for the first 1000 miles.

After a few hours of good sailing, the wind died and we had an unfavorable current of bout 2 knots against us. Burning our precious fuel so early didn't seem like a good idea, but we thought if we could get away from the island more, perhaps the current and the wind would be more favorable. So we motored for several hours. Neither the wind nor the current improved with distance, but it was safer being further from the lava rocks and shoreline.

Through the first night, we drifted – backwards. Everything we gained by motoring was lost.

It continues to be a glass slick. At night, we could even see reflections of very white birds in the sea because it was so smooth. Not a great start. We've tried every combination of sails and even tried to rig our head sail using the boom as a pole...but nothing can make the wind stronger.

The good news is the Polynesian fleet of sailboats that left several hours after us took a more southerly course and seemed to do better for awhile – but watching them on our AIS – they too are not going the right way nor are they going fast.

There just is NO wind. We continue to drift and motor every so often – but with only 90 gallons of fuel and 3000 miles – we can't do much motoring. So perhaps it'll take us 60 days at this rate – not the 30 we were hoping for.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Today, Saturday, March 24, 2012 we will begin our long passage to the French Polynesian island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. Its a bit over 3000 miles across the "puddle" as the Pacific is lovingly called. A mighty big puddle!
We really loved the Galapagos and our first stop in the Southern Hemisphere was definitely worth making. It was costly with the clearance fees here – and we did it as cheaply as you could (at least to stay more than four days). But we are glad we did it. It is a unique and very special place. We are particularly happy we made the decision to come to Isabela – rather than the other more traveled ports.
Now, we are getting the boat topsides and below the deck ready for an ocean passage. It should take us at least 30 days. The winds right now are pretty light to non-existent, but our twenty days were up so we have to go. It is a clear, quite pretty day so it is a good way to start.
We will have a little company out there. Also leaving today will be six very traditional Polynesian catamarans. They are from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Solomans and French Polynesia and are trying to prove that these boats can go east and west so their forefathers were plying these waters well before the famous "explorers." They have no fossil fuels on board and navigate by the stars only. They will most likely be much faster than us, but it should be quite a sight out there when they are fully rigged and flying sails and we look forward to being In their company.
We have a few a radio nets set up with other boats who have already left or will be leaving shortly after us. So we will have folks to chat with and check in with so that will be good.
We will try to post a daily position report(check the "Where are we" page) if all our systems continue to work as planned (SSB radio and computer). No internet or phone. Hopefully good winds, flat seas and no storms.
We are excited, nervous and thrilled for this next big adventure.
So sign up today and make your pledge to the Astarte Pacific crossing pledge drive - a buck a mile?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tortoises, Sea Turtles and Sharks

It's been a busy few days as we try to get in as much as we can before our twenty day stay in the Galapagos is over. Plus, we've had to get boat projects done before the next long passage so we've been juggling exploring and working.

On the working side, we managed to get propane and diesel – both turned into the typical "island challenge." The diesel got delivered in jugs to the boat late at night and the hunt for propane was equally complicated until a cab driver named Pedro (and his family) came to the rescue. Astarte was the propane filling station for us and a few other boats one afternoon. And we cleaned the bottom of the boat.

In between all those boat projects, we did get in some more exploring of the Galapagos. We took a cab to "muro de las lagrimas" or "wall of tears." This is just outside of town and is a wall of lava rock that is 100 meters (300 feet) long by 7 meters (21 feet) high. The wall was built between 1946 and 1959 when there was a penal colony on the island. The prisoners were forced to build their own enclosure. Many died in the process. The views were incredible. We then hiked back (about 7 miles) and got to see the famous "Galapagos" tortoises in the wild. The two we saw were not as large as those we saw at the breeding center – but it was fun to spot them in the wild. We also stopped to see the "tunel del Estero" (tunnel of Esero) which is a volcanic tunnel that is right on the water. The outer lava cooled as it hit the sea and the interior hot lava continued creating the core of the tunnel.

Today, we went to an area called Los Tuneles. We went with Captain "Gato" (which means cat in Spanish). He came highly recommended by our friends on "Stolen Kiss." The "tuneles" is an area about 45 minutes by fast boat from where we are anchored. On the way we saw giant manta rays leaping, a huge shark, lots and lots of sea turtles, some sea lions and various birds including the masked boobie and blue footed boobie.

Once we got to our destination it was exciting – like an e-ticket ride. Gato had to get his boat over a huge surf break to get to the area inside. The seas were quite big today – so it was more than exciting. He made sure we all were in life jackets and he waited...and waited...and waited. He counted waves and watched (like a cat). Then he went for it and it was masterful boat handling and quite scary. Once inside the surf, he wove his way through very narrow, shallow spaces between lava rocks. It was beautiful to see the formations of lava – lots of natural bridges, arches and
swim-throughs. The water was very clear. Then we tied up to the lava and got out for a walk around a lagoon area where there were lots of huge sea turtles gracefully swimming by. It was like being at an aquarium. Only these creatures weren't captive – they were free to come and go as they please. Then we got in the water in another area for a snorkel through caves, tunnels, overhangs and interesting rock formations. The water was chilly and not all that clear, but the caves with the light coming through were as beautiful.

After that snorkel, we headed out – and now Gato had to get out of the surf that he had worked so hard to get through. Same routine, life jackets and watching, watching and then going for it. Then we went to another snorkel area so we had to do the e-ticket ride one more time. In this area, we got in the water again for a snorkel and saw white tipped sharks and giant sea turtles – both within arms reach. The water was a bit murky and a few of our fellow snorkelers (there were six of us) weren't very graceful in the water so they tended to kick up some of the silt and algae on the bottom making it tough to see – especially the sharks. The turtles though, would swim right under you and a few were longer than us and very large around. It was a great trip.

So it's been a few boat projects and some Galapagos adventures – with only a few days left in this island paradise. The time flew.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Off to the Races

We continued to enjoy the festivities of the XXXIX Celebration of Isabela by going to the horse races on Friday afternoon. Now this was no Kentucky Derby – not a fancy hat in site! There were seven races many with repeat horses and/or riders. The "jockeys" were the local caballeros – the cowboys and most of the saddles were a homemade contraption of a few padded strips with stirrups hung on them with rope. The course was down the main street of town with the race starting a few blocks away. You could see this cloud of dust as the horses were heading for town. It was a bit frightening at times as young children, dogs or people would just cross the street nearby when the horses were either getting ready to run or on the run. At one point, a young girl playing in the street was grabbed away just seconds before a somewhat wild horse decided to rear near her. But it was a blast to watch the horses, the people and the event. Several men were walking around with wads of cash obviously taking bets and you could always tell the winners because of the big smiles.

The party continued with music that started at around 9 pm and lasted until 6 am the next morning.

On Saturday morning, we awoke at daybreak (just as the music in town was wrapping up) to head into town to find the farmer's market which is supposed to happen every Saturday morning at 5 am. Now, because of the fiesta – we weren't 100% certain it would happen – but we got an early start to see. The open air place where we were told it's held was empty when we got there. So, it really is over by 6:30 am or it didn't happen. Luckily we did run into a farmer selling some fresh stuff out of a pickup and picked up some fresh tomatoes, a new "dulce "(sweet) cucumber, some choclo (corn on the cob) and some fresh basil.

We came back to the boat by 8 am and Michael got to work on sewing repairs of the headsail. We needed to restitch most of the sacrificial cover. It was a big project that took him most of the day set up on the aft deck with sewing machine. That was a big project completed. We got the sail back up on Sunday morning.

More boats have come into the anchorage so it is now quite cozy.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fiesta de Isabela

First - volcano pictures are up!

Today, March 16th, is the founding of Isabela and that means fiesta time. For three days, the island celebrates its beginnings with rodeo, parade, the obligatory beauty pageant for "Miss Isabela," artisan fair, horse races down Villamil's main street, lots of speeches and a big party in the town tonight with performances by Darwin, the romantic singer (and we thought he was a researcher/evolutionist/scientist); the music of Michael Jackson and a big all night dance to the Orchestra "D'Franklin Band."

We went to the parade this morning and it was a classic small town parade including the fire man (yes one!), table tennis team (a competition later today), the Galapagos National Park rangers and a youth group, the International Oceanographic Institute which looked like mostly University of Miami students (thought you'd like that Gene and Pat); the local "congress people," electric company, National Bank etc. It was quite the event with music provided by a sound system from the back of a pick-up truck. The best part was the military which had a good horseman and horse.

We'll head back into town later for the artisan fair and horse races. We probably won't make it for tonight's music though seeing the reincarnated Darwin as a romantic singer might be worth it!

Last night we enjoyed dinner in town with three other boats – an Australian boat with their guests and a British couple. So it was international and very enjoyable. They had found a good place where we got a three course meal for $6.60 each. Two bottles of beer cost more than the dinner. A local band came by the restaurant and started to perform – a trumpet, fiddle, large acoustic bass guitar and rhythm guitar. They had good voices and played traditional Ecuadoran music. It was a nice extra.

We nursed our big volcano hiking blisters and aches with a short walk to town and scoped out how to get propane. We had to buy another adapter for the Ecuadoran type bottles...but luckily it was available at a local hardware/grocery store for $4. We'll share the tank with the Aussie boat.

We're still planning on another "tour: - this one to the Tuneles which is supposed to be interesting. There are now nine boats in the harbor – three French, two Canadian, a Belgian, an Australian, a British, and us – the lone US boat. It seems the further west we head the fewer and fewer US boats we are seeing.

It's fiesta time – and we'll enjoy that over the weekend along with a few boat projects including restitching a sail. We still have our daily visitor to the back of our boat – our little sea lion friend. He has adopted Astarte as his personal home.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Volcano Exploration

A big, and grueling, adventure day on Tuesday! We joined three other sailboats on a tour of two volcanoes and a cave, The Galapagos are volcanic in origin and most of the volcanoes are still considered active. We hoped that the two we went to wouldn't decide that March 13 would be the day to spew lava!

The day started bright and early when all 13 people met at the dinghy dock. We walked into town to pay up and board an open bus and rode up into the hills. The island has lots of bananas and plantains growing (though you can't find a banana in a store to buy). We progressed over very bumpy roads where you could feel the temperature drop as we got into higher elevation.

First stop was the Sierra Negra volcano. This is the second largest crater in the world (first is in Tanzania). It is 10 km (app 6 miles) across. We hiked up a muddy road to get to the crater overview. We are with two families (read: young people) and another couple. The pace was very fast and it seemed you could barely look around to see the sights trying to keep up and not trip in the mud ditches. The views (when we actually stopped so the guide could give us information) were incredible. It was much cooler up here as well. We were at around 1000 meters (3000 feet) so not really high, but certainly above the sea level we've been used to. The cloud cover over the area also kept things much cooler.

After getting a good view of Sierra Negra we then headed to Volcan Chico where we actually hiked across the lava fields. Here the climbing and walking was more challenging and the views were quite dramatic. There were cactus growing out of the rock and very large craters and lava tubes that were amazing. We climbed to a rim where we enjoyed a lunch and spectacular view of the whole island. This was around 1100 (11 am). And the sun was starting to break through the clouds. It would get hot reflecting off the lava.

We headed back the same route. The pace was much more aggressive than we would normally walk, so it was challenging, especially for Barbara. She had hurt her toe on the boat and her knees were feeling every rock twist and turn. But we survived.

On the drive down from the volcanoe trail head, we stopped at the Cueva de Sucre. This was another interesting spot and part of the National Parks of Galapagos and requires a guide. It was a short hike down a nice path to some stone steps that led to a very dark, damp cave. The folks who set up the tour forgot to tell us to bring headlamps, so luckily the guide had one spare so we shared that (though having your own light would be preferable). The cave, unfortunately, didn't have any bats but was an interesting structure with lichen growing and long strands of drippy hairlike algae. The guide had everyone shut off their lights and be quiet for awhile (a challenge with five kids along). But that was very cool to hear the sounds of the cave and just feel the darkness and drippy dampness.

Then we headed back on the bus (glad to sit down). The other couple from "Dancing Walrus" asked if we wanted to seek out a cold beer and we of course, being sociable, said YES! So we walked back towards the dinghy dock and enjoyed a cold beverage.

It was a long, tiring day. But we made it (barely). A five hour constant hike over uphill, rocky terrain made us feel every muscle and joint. But it was great to see some of the island and the second largest crater in the world.

Michael got some good pictures and as soon as the interent speed allows, we'll get some on the website.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Blue-Footed Boobies

One of the many creatures that call these islands their home is the Blue-Footed Boobie. It is a bird that is exclusive to the Galapagos Islands.

From where Astarte is anchored, we can see them sitting on the nearby rocky island and it is enormous fun to watch them fish. The birds are a rather large sea bird with very distinctive big blue web feet. It looks like they are wearing blue rubber boots. When they are in flight, the feet are difficult to see, but when they stand on land, they are very obvious.

They look a bit awkward on shore, but in flight they are quite graceful. They are very decisive in all their actions. When flying, if they see fish below, they make very quick turns and deep, fast dives. They go under water a way and then pop up to the surface like a cork and actually bounce out of the water a bit. Before we realized these birds were the famous blue-footed boobies, we nicknamed them "poppers" because of how they popped out of the water. We do enjoy watching them.

We've headed into the town of Villamil a few times. It is a nice walk along a road, though dusty as nothing is really paved. It is all lava rock gravel and dust. The town is a small area around a nice park with lots of benches and a beautiful beach on one side. There are several small "tiendas," small grocery markets, quite a few restaurants and small hotels. The cost of living though is quite high. A loaf of sliced sandwich bread is $3.50 and we bought some fresh vegetables (lettuce, brocolli, grean beans, and an avocado) for $8.50. Not the place to provision that for sure.

The local beer is "Pilsner" or "Club" and they are served in the larger bottles (800 milliliters) and costs between $3.50 and $4.50 at the local restaurants/bars. But we each get a glass of beer out of the bottle.

The Galapagos are also quite into recycling. They pretty much recycle everything and have well marked all over the town. In the city park there is lots of information about the recycling program on big posters with questions and answers and lots of details. They even have small bins for recycling batteries and things.

We have been shopping around for various tours we might take. As we mentioned earlier, you can't do much alone here without official guides. For now, we're enjoying being on the boat and watching the wildlife swim and fly by.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Galapagos Adventures

 Giant ancient tortoises, for which these islands are probably most known and famous, are amazing creatures. We had to see them. On Wednesday, we took a hike to the turtle breeding center. It was a warm, equatorial day and we had on our big straw hats as we made our way through town and onto a well maintained trail. There is a bridge, covered with marine iguanas, over a boggy area. We saw interesting birds including a small duck, and lots of marine iguanas in and out of the water. The trail went over some lava fields that have cactus and scrub brush growing.

The breeding center is quite a facility. There are tortoises of a various ages. The facility collects the eggs from the wild as well as using the ones from the facility. It seems there are enough introduced species on the islands (rats, pigs, goats and dogs) that the eggs or young tortoises cannot survive in the wild. The eggs are then incubated, hatched and the young reptiles grow to a few years before being re-released into the wild once their shells are hard enough to survive.

The large, older tortoises are amazing to look at. Not attractive, but large and quite mobile for their size.

After the thrill of finally seeing the big reptiles, we continued our walk to a quarry-like lake that had ten beautiful flamingos. We watched them do their flamingo dance – head down, backward knees bending and doing circles as their feet work up the shrimp they eat.

On our way back we saw some marine iguanas on rock near the ocean surf. We celebrated with a great lunch out at "El Faro" with the special of the day and a cold beer.

It was a great day.

On Thursday morning we had the excitement of watching a big local fishing boat come in and anchor mighty close to us. This anchorage is quite small and it already was pretty full – but big boats keep squeezing in. Luckily it's been quite calm (oh, that is until Thursday). The wind kicked up and being in tighter company it was a bit nerve-wracking.

It was also fun to watch the deliveries arrive to the island. We had been wondering how that happens as the dock is quite small and the anchorage quite shallow with lots of rocks and waves. A big ship comes in and anchors out near the channel markers. This ship, The Galapagos, then offloads its cargo unto smaller launches or little barges that go into the port. We watched cases and cases and cases of beer being delivered, bags of concrete, loads of vegetables, propane, fuel. packaged goods – it was good entertainment and employs lots of people and vessels.

We went to town later in the hopes of finding fresh fruits and veggies.


First, there are a few pics from our crossing and here on Isabella that have been posted.

Okay you armchair travelers – we know you want photos. And trust us, we try. Our written descriptions don't quite cut it in this visual world. BUT – please understand how this all works from the boat. We don't have access to the internet all the time. Sometimes we are lucky and get it on the boat thanks to a signal that comes into where we are anchored and our "extra" antenna can pick it up (and it is unlocked). Sometimes we have to go into town with our computer and find a free wi-fi (usually requires the purchase of a meal or drinks). Sometimes we buy internet through the phone service if we can make it work with our "stick" and it is reasonably priced (the sim card and service). And sometimes we have none available (when we are underway or usually when we just get into port and haven't figured out what's available.) So without internet – no photos. Simple as that.

So, you ask yourselves, how do we update the blog and send emails.

Magic. Simple as that!

We get e-mail through our sailmail address only and that is through a whole different system – the SSB radio. That works as long as the computer and the SSB radio are working and signal propagation is good. But that system is bandwidth limited and allows only text sending (thus the blog updates with words) but no attachments or photos or such. So we do try hard for getting photos on as soon as possible. And it takes a fair amount of time.(For all you teckies, google Sailmail and you will get all the info you will need to really explain how it works).

If someone or some company wants to send us a satellite phone and package of unlimited data, we'll be happy top post pictures more often!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Penguins and Flamingos...Sea Lions and Tropical Fish

What an unbelievable place! In just two days here – and without getting into the water – we've seen so many unusual animals, it really is a magical place.

We're anchored near the town of Villamil on the island of Isabela. It is the largest of the islands in square feet and kind of looks like a giant sea horse on a chart. The anchorage is small and we are in the company today of four other sailboats (one of which is a large charter "pirate-like" boat that will probably leave tonight or tomorrow.) There is also a majestic older large 150 foot or so motor yacht – also a charter we suspect. There are also lots of smaller dive boats, fishing boats and launches around as well that take out tours. But it is a small cozy anchorage surrounded by a lava rock reef – and the anchorage is in the center. It almost looks like we are in a volcano crater. The good news is that it is very, very calm.

We look out over black lava flows along the shore and see several volcanoes in the distance. This island is known for all their volcanoes. The whole archipelago of Galapagos are rather "young" islands that are volcanic in origin.

Discovered in 1535 by accident (like many island discoveries), the islands had been used in the Seventeenth Century as a restocking stop for pirates and whalers. The islands have been called Isla Encantadas (Bewitched Islands) for many years because the currents that make this such a unique environment tricked navigators and made the islands appear and disappear unpredictably. When Charles Darwin, serving as naturalist on the British ship "Beagle" came here in 1832, the islands had already been depleted of many of the species of whales and fur seals and the famous giant tortoises were being taken by shiploads for food.

Today, the entire island group is a national park supported by the Ecuadoran government, UNESCO, The Charles Darwin Foundation and many other organizations to try to keep this place as special as it is. Everything here is protected. Birds, reptiles and marine mammals are all protected. Many species seen here are unique in the world.

Around our boat there is a constant parade of sea lions that are quite entertaining to watch. We've seen the little penguins rocket through the water by our boat and when we're in the dinghy. A flamingo in flight was spotted and there are dozens of varieties of sea birds with amazing diving abilities. We've watched huge marine iguanas on land – yet to see one swimming by, and seen lots of smaller lizards on our walk to town. Sea turtles that are very large and beautiful eagle rays can be seen in the clear water as we dinghy ashore. The howler monkey calls we loved in Panama have been replaced by the howls of the sea lions.

In order to do just about anything here, you need to go on a tour or hire a naturalist. You can do a few things alone, but we'll decide which of the tours we want to do. There are caves, tunnels, volcanoes and islands to choose from and each offers something unique to see. Plus, we'll probably at least get on a dive once or twice.

The El Nino Current from the north and the Humbolt Current from the south mix and create a Darwin soup of interesting creatures when the converge.

We feel really lucky to be in this unique place and look forward to the next few weeks we are allowed to stay here. We did clear in with the Ecuadoran Navy and Port Captain today and handed over some huge fees for being here (with more to come from the Park and our agent). We'll hopefully be able to take full advantage of our time here to enjoy it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

At Anchor After Eleven Days

Passage from Panama City to Galapagos
Day Eleven
Noon, Sunday, March 4 to 1130, Monday, March 5
Anchor Position at 1130: S 00.57.886 / W 090.57.744
Distance covered in 23.5 hours: 79 nautical miles
Distance Covered from Panama City: 1020.6 nautical miles
Fish Caught Today: 0 (though 1 if we were paying attention)
Fish Caught on Trip: 2 (not kept)
Motoring: 22 hours
Sailing: 0 hours
Drifting: 2 hours

We are at anchor. An eleven day passage complete. No fish brought on board. But we are safely at anchor and still talking to each other. We are in the Galapagos Islands. And the sailboat "Beagle" is here – how appropriate. We anchored near Isla Isabella – the largest of the Galapagos Islands – and sort of shaped like a sea horse. It is a volcanic island and quite green and lush with areas of dark lava. More on the island and the town when we get ashore.

The project now is to get the boat back in order and wait to do the clearance dance. We have an agent so we simply wait for word from here and the port captain's arrival to our boat. We are anchored with 4 other sailboats in a small anchorage and there are about four larger tour boats here as well. As we came in to look for our spot to drop the hook, we noticed a sea lion comfortably settled on the swim platform of one of the other sailboats. He looked quite at home.

More later – now it will be nice to relax and get more than three hours of sleep at once time.

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The Roar of the Engine

Passage from Panama City to Galapagos
Day Ten
Noon, Saturday, March 3, 2012 to Noon, Sunday, March 4
Noon Position: S 00.56.475 / W 089.56.86
Distance covered in 24 hours: 70 nautical miles
Distance Covered from Panama City: 941.6 nautical miles
Fish Caught Today: 0
Fish Caught on Trip: 2 (not kept)
Motoring: 18 hours
Sailing: 2 hours
Drifting: 4 hours

It seems like we'll never get there. After a few hours of good sailing, the wind simply died. Nothing. A glass slick. Barely a wisp and enough sea roll to keep what little breeze there is from keeping the sails filled. So we had to give in finally and motor. We now would have enough fuel to get us there if we had to motor the rest of the way. So we chose to do so. At first we optimistically thought we could get in on Sunday but had to change to a Monday arrival.

Seeing the Galapagos for the first time is quite magical. After days and days (actually about 10) of no land in sight, suddenly these islands pop out of the sea. Also, there are more of them than we thought. The clouds over the land makes them easy to see in the distance.

As we entered into the island group we were escorted like celebrities by at least 20 dolphins – like a motorcycle brigade with about ten on each side of the boat, they stayed very close by, almost in formation. It was very cool and they stayed with us for more than an hour. A lovely welcoming party. We also spotted our first sea lions swimming and lots of turtles (unknown variety).

Though we caught no fish, we did manage to lose another lure off our yoyo – so something was on the line at least for a bit. When we finally pulled the line in – there was a bit of fish lip left – but no lure. Perhaps a large tuna as we saw a school of very large tuna in a feeding frenzy.

It was a slow motor/motor sail. We actually drifted every now and then thinking the wind was up – but no luck. We also drifted and took showers which was refreshing as it is hot in the sun at the equator.

It's amazing - we pinch ourselves. We're in the Galapagos.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Passage from Panama City to Galapagos

Day Nine
Noon, Friday, March 2, 2012 to Noon, Saturday, March 3, 2012
Noon Position: S 00.21.61 / W 089.20.80
Distance covered in 24 hours: 123 nautical miles
Distance Covered from Panama City: 871.6 nautical miles
Fish Caught Today: 0
Fish Caught on Trip: 2 (not kept)
Motoring: 0 hours
Sailing: 24 hours
Drifting: 0 hours

It was a good sailing day – at least until we got to the Southern Hemisphere where the wind abruptly stopped. We tried the drifter, various sail combinations and no luck grabbing the mere wisp of air so we have slowed way down after another productive day making headway. In fact, we were doing so good, we notified our agent that we would be in on Sunday. (Now that won't be the case).

We did manage to get our ship's knot meter calibrated – the old fashioned way. This is the little paddle wheel that's in the water and tells us how fast we go through the water – taking into consideration the current, tides etc. Timing how long a 25 foot line took to tighten when tossed overboard. Of course we did this many, many times to get an average. This method came from one of Michael's sailing mentors Keith White in Portland Oregon many years ago. We think it worked and it did entertain us for at least an hour. Now we can have a better estimate of the currents and their speed when we compare the through the water log with the speed over ground.

No fish again - getting frustrated because we have been certainly going fast enough. Every lure in the box has been tested. As we get closer to the Galapagos we are seeing more and more birds – mostly boobies, but not much other sea life.

A few more days and we should be there...hopefully. With no wind it is hot near the equator.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Latitude 00.00.00

We crossed the equator. It was poetic. In fact, almost trite it was so poetic! At sunrise on March 3, 2012, the sailing vessel Astarte with Michael and Barbara aboard, crossed from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern Hemisphere. We did it under sail with the sun rising and calm seas. It was lovely.

Ceremonies of old changed Polywogs (sailors who had never crossed the equator) into Shellbacks (the hardy that did indeed cross that imaginary line in the middle.) It usually entailed a King Neptune crawling over the bow and initiating the uninitiated by shaving their heads and dunking them from the yardarms into the sea three times to cleanse them.

Michael considered shaving his beard for the occasion. But, we realized, we need to clear into Ecuador and all his photos on the passport and all IDs have him bearded. We were certain with all the legal restrictions in the Galapagos this could be a problem and our Spanish is no where near good enough to explain a King Neptune ceremony.

So we settled for the tried and true celebration: popping a cork on champagne and sharing it with King Neptune. Now, we are always an alcohol free boat when on passage. But we made the exception for this big occasion.

We are now in the Southern Hemisphere – check off another box on the bucket list. And, because it was such a poetic moment:

A few more miles in the Northern Hemisphere
The equator's line is drawing near
When we see all zeros on latitude
That'll greatly improve our attitude
Hitting the Southern Hemisphere will make us cheer.

A good ceremony is in order
For crossing this magical border.
King Neptune rules the ocean blue
To his honor we must pay due
But on Astarte it won't mean a dunk in the water.

Ancient seafaring traditions are wild
Some sound quite horrific, not mild.
Three dunks in the sea
And shaved heads, no, not me!
Astarte's ceremony will be more styled.

The champagne cork did pop.
Glasses filled to the top.
To good King Neptune we toast
Ask his kindness as our host
Please give us seas with good wind and no chop

No longer "Pollywogs" are we
We're now "Shellbacks" you see
A big moment never to be lost
Once that equator's been crossed
And Astarte now cruises the Southern sea.

In twenty-twelve, oh three/oh three
At sunrise five fifty three
The line slid under our keel
For us it was a big deal
Now its the Southern Cross we'll see.

A big morning for the crew of Astarte. Thanks for joining us on the passage. Next stop, Villamil, on Isla Isabella, Galapagos.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Another Hundred Mile Day

Passage from Panama City to Galapagos
Day Eight
Noon Thursday, March 1, 2012 to Noon, Friday, March 2, 2012
Noon Position: N 00.54.91 / W 087.21.02
Distance covered in 24 hours: 120 nautical miles
Distance Covered from Panama City: 748.6 nautical miles
Fish Caught Today: 0
Fish Caught on Trip: 2 (not kept)
Motoring: 0 hours
Sailing: 24 hours
Drifting: 0 hours

We sailed all day at various speeds. The seas continued to be large through most of Thursday and started to lighten up on Friday morning. The wind is heavier than predicted – but still under 20 knots – so certainly good sailing. The seas are what continue to slow us up – they are confused enough and large enough that our sails tend to collapse and stress the rigging and the sails. It's fine if the wind stays steady – but it tends to be up and down a bit.

It's been more than a week and we are settling into life at sea. You learn to be flexible in more ways than one. What to cook, when to cook, when to eat and when to do log entries. We are getting better and better at knowing the boat and her quirks and how she sails best.

Our friends on the boat Avatar are now in the southern hemisphere. They crossed the line this morning around 0900. We are getting closer as well. Note our latitude now has two zeros in front. We're excited.

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Passage from Panama City to Galapagos
Day Seven
Noon, Wednesday, February 29 to Noon Thursday, March 1, 2012
Noon Position: N 01.53.28 / W 085.38.20
Distance covered in 24 hours: 118 nautical miles
Distance Covered from Panama City: 628.6 nautical miles
Fish Caught Today: 1 A GIANT BILLFISH
Fish Caught on Trip: 2 (not kept)
Motoring: 0 hours
Sailing: 24 hours
Drifting: 0 hours

It's been a good and exciting 24 hours. We covered more than 100 miles in a day. We sailed all day. We are at 1 degree latitude – getting closer to the equator. Michael got the whisker pole fixed. AND, we hooked a GIANT BILLFISH. Here's that fish tale:

At 1520 at latitude N 03.05 and longitude W 84.27 we were sailing with a headsail and reefed main doing around 6 knots on a course of 209 degrees magnetic. The fish line off the fishing pole mounted on the back arch started to smoke off the reel. And we mean smokin'. The reel would be empty quickly. Even after putting the drag to maximum – we couldn't stop the line from spooling off as if no drag was there at all. Michael finally got the pole in hand and started to reel in the monster. It finally broke the line and we watched a 4.5 to 5 foot marlin surface and dance on its tail multiple times. It was quite a sight. We lost a blue feathered lure – but in a way it was worth the adrenaline rush. Glad it broke free as it would have been exciting trying to get that monster to the boat in the big seas. So under sail – we hooked a billfish. Cool.

The seas are quite big in these "crazy water" current upwelling areas and we've now been in one well over 24 hours. The seas are very confused with big waves and swells coming from many different directions. It's hard to move around in the boat or open any cabinets without cans and stuff flying out. Cooking is definitely challenging.

Today is Michael's birthday and Barbara had planned to bake him a cherry pie – but not in these seas.

We're getting close to crossing the line...and excited.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Drifting in the Currents

Passage from Panama City to Galapagos
Day Six
Noon, Tuesday, February 28 to Noon, Wednesday, February 29
Noon Pcsition: N 03.20.61 / W 084.19.29
Distance covered in 24 hours: 64 nautical miles
Distance Covered from Panama City: 510.6 nautical miles
Fish Caught Today: 0
Fish Caught on Trip: 1 (not kept)
Motoring: 0 hours
Sailing: 15 hours
Drifting: 9 hours

It was another slow day with flat calm most of the day making it hot and frustrating. Luckily we have a current that pushes us along at between 1.5 and 2.5 knots as we drift. At about 2100, a mere wisp of air came up and we were able to start sailing – and moving the phenomenal speed of 2.8 knots – barely beating the current. Throughout the night, the wind picked up as did our speed. By early morning, we were on a close reach doing 5.7 knots and we sailed the rest of the morning through this position report.

Fish lines were in but no joy. Michael tackled another project, a jammed whisker pole. No joy and the seas built so he'd continue tomorrow. This "crazy water" was totally unexpected. It gets old getting tossed around in it.

For those looking for updated "position reports" on the "Where are we" page – sorry, but we can't seem to get the reports to post on the system.
We are checking in nightly to the Pacific Seafarers net – and they post a position report to their website. Go to and follow the links to either Shiptrak or Yotreps. Our call sign is KI4QYN. So check that out.

Short entry – seas are too rough to write easily or for a long time below decks.

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