To the Other Side

All too soon we had been measured, a formality for someone to do more paperwork as all boats under 50ft attract the same minimum cost of about $800, paid our money, had our crossing date confirmed and were motoring across the bay to the Flats anchorage to pick up our canal crossing advisor who would accompany us for the first day. Patti and James had joined us from Portabello to make up the requisite 4 line handlers on board. The advisor pick up time was set for 4pm, he arrived at 7 as did the advisors for the two other yachts we would go through the canal with. The arrangement was for the 3 of us to "nest”, tie up side by side while in the locks behind the ship we were to go through with. First bit of stress, the advisor wants me to go outside the channel to give more room for ships passing the other way, OK until suddenly the bottom came up to 2 metres on the echo sounder, I moved back into the channel! Next a passing pilot boat said that our navigation lights were not on, well they were switched on but not working, no time to investigate now so makeshift red port and green starboard lights were hurriedly rigged up, green being an inflatable frog toy, given to us as a present from Koza some time ago.

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Next the nesting exercise, after some jigging around we managed to get tied up without damage then into the first up going lock, lines secured in the dark. The way it works is there are four guys up on the lock walls, two either side. They throw their a monkeys fist connected to a 3/8th inch hemp line to two people fore and aft on the two outside nested yachts, we were one. The haul line is tied to one of our 300 foot lines and the guy on the wall pulls it in to him and ties it off. When all is secured and the lock gates are closed the lock is flooded and up we go about 8 metres. All this in the dark, weak under lights of the lock. Much turbulence but we all stayed fairly well in place. While still tied up we went into the 2nd and 3rd locks, where one of the line handlers up on the side of the lock got the haul line caught and it broke. It took some time for him to realise and throw another monkeys fist on the end of another line to us. Phew made it, many thanks to Roz and Graeme on the bow and Patty and James on the stern, into lake Gaton and tied up to a huge plastic mooring float for the night, time for a beer or two!

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Before leaving our advisor requests we be ready to go at 7 in the morning to motor across lake Gatun and down the 3 locks on the other side. Our new advisor arrived at 8, not too bad. Quite nice motoring across the big fresh water lake in amongst small islands and through the rock cuts dug out over 100 years ago at great human cost. For our downward journey we were tied two yachts together, the middle one from yesterday and us while the third yacht was tied with a fourth yacht behind, no ship this time.

Here is our skipper and two line handlers from La Aventura, waiting for the water to drain from the lock: Panama Canal 2015

All went without event, much easier in daylight and less turbulence water going out for us to go down than the other way around.

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By mid afternoon we were in the Pacific anchoring in the anchorage outside La Playita marina on the outskirts of Panama City and popping the champagne.

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In the morning Patti and James left us to stay a few days in a hotel to do sightseeing of Panama City. We, along with Roz and Graeme, did a little ourselves before Roz and Graeme flew back to Australia a couple is days later.

Our reprovisioning was going well, stocking up mostly on enough non-perishables to last us at least the 4,000 miles and 3 months it would take to get to the Marquesas islands, the most Eastern of French Polynesia, via the Galapagos. Oh and of course the booze, cartons of very cheap Guinness, wine and a dozen of the lovely local Abuelo rum for when we get there. The list of things to buy for the boat was also being whittled down. We made good use of the public transport system - any journey on a modern air-conditioned bus $0.25 and any trip on the 2 year old metro train $0.35. Even a 20 minute taxi ride only $5. I had some concerns about the generator, it seemed the whole machine was sitting on its base. We took some photos and sent to Northern Lights, they quickly came back saying that our engine mounts had collapsed.

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We couldn't find in Panama so ordered new ones from the US causing a delay we hadn't planned on. In this time we got together with a Canadian couple, Greg and Kaycee on a 41ft Lagoon catamaran, Oceanna, as they were planning the same trip at the same time. We had first met them in the San Blas, Greg is a pretty out there sort of guy working on piping in the gas and oil industry to save his money buy the boat, do it up and go sailing around the world. He is a mad keen surfer, kite boarder and spearfisherman with 6 surfboards, a couple of sets of kiting gear and a while armoury of spear guns on board. Their enthusiasm is infectious, feels like it takes years of one age. Yes we should team up. A week later, after 4 days Panamanian Customs delay we had the new mounts. Now to change them. Luckily Sasha is small, she was able to fit in the aft locker behind the generator and get to those two mounts while I tackled the other two from inside the aft cabin. It all went rather smoothly, 6 hours later job done and we immediately took off for the Las Perlas islands 35 miles South to get some reprieve from the very rolly La Playita and await a good weather opportunity to sail for the Galapagos. We sailed in company of Oceanna, surprisingly at similar speeds and anchored off the island of Contadera the most developed of the Los Perlas archipelago.

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Last chance of provisioning, filled the last spare jerry can with diesel and filled a dive tank, ready to go. Sasha had been downloading various weather forecast models, ocean currents and long term stats on weather for the route for this time of year. Together with Greg and Kaycee we came up with a strategy to make most use of the currents and with a forecast of reasonable winds for the first 3 days we took off late afternoon of Saturday 21March 2015.

Our first night sailing the Pacific was unforgettable. With no moon the bioluminescence was incredible. A long sparkling trail behind the boat, sparkling crests on the small white cap waves but most unbelievable the dolphins. As they seem they were encapsulated in luminescence looking like a torpedo with a long sparkling trail, had to be seen to be believed. We sailed fairly close to Oceanna, with our asymmetrical spinnaker up most of the night but were out of site by day although still within vhf radio contact. By radio we kept tabs on each other but with the spinnaker up and sailing almost downwind we were moving ahead so after a couple of days we dropped the spinnaker for Oceanna to catch up. First problem. As I tried to pull the sock down over the spinnaker to drop it the plastic collar on the bottom of the sock tore away from the sock. Now we had to drop and pull in the spinnaker as you would without a sock, had almost forgotten how! Anyway we got it down and in, spent a few hours sewing the collar back on and repairing the torn sock and found the problem. The pulley at the top of the sock through which the rope to pull the sock up and down had broken. That repaired she was just like a new one.

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Seemed there was something wrong with our or Oceanna's VHF radio as our communication range was only about 10 miles. If we lost contact it would be hard to find each other again, luckily as we slowed down we re-established contact and soon later had visual contact which we maintained for the rest of the journey. Fishing did not go as well as we had hoped, one nice Tuna that Sasha cooked as seared with wasabi mashed potato, one very small Tuna that I threw back, one big Marlin that broke the line and took the lure and, for the first time, a shark took one of my home made skirted lures. The shark was quite big around two metres long and took some time and effort to bring into the boat. In the end wo decided to cut the line, another lure gone. Greg on Oceanna is a very keen fisherman usually trawling four lines, even he only caught a small Tuna. One afternoon we got a real big surprise, a huge Sperm Whale one hundred metres away going in the opposite direction.

For most of the trip we had current, often over 1kt assisting us and the wind, although light, mostly of the aft port quarter which made for wonderful smooth sailing with the spinnaker up. As we approached the equator the wind died out so with about 30 miles to run and at night, we downed sails and went to sleep as we drifted with the current hoping for more wind the next day. It didn't happen so we had to motor the remaining 20 miles, having drifted 10 overnight, to the equator.

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It was dead calm, a glassy ocean with little swell so we tied the two boats side by side to drift over the equator. Sasha put some appropriate words together for king Neptune, which Greg, dressed as the king himself, read out while we gave some Champagne to the sea, to each boat's bow and at 10am on 29th of March 2015 we passed into the Southern hemisphere and drank the rest plus more.

Ednbal and Oceanna Crossing Equator Ceremony

Before passing…
In the name of all who have sailed aboard those two ships in the past, and in the name of all who may sail aboard them in the future, we invoke the ancient gods of the wind and the sea to favor us with their blessing today.
Mighty Neptune, king of all that moves in or on the waves; and mighty Aeolus, guardian of the winds and all that blows before them:
We offer you our thanks for the protection you have afforded Ednbal and Oceanna in the past. We voice our gratitude that they have always found shelter from tempest and storm and enjoyed safe passage to port on the Northern hemisphere.
Now, wherefore, we ask that when they are again presented for blessing on the Southern hemisphere, they shall be recognized and shall be accorded once again the selfsame privileges they previously enjoyed in Northern Latitudes.
In return for which, we rededicate those two vessels to your domain in full knowledge that they shall be subject as always to the immutable laws of the gods of the wind and the sea!
Passing Equator

For thousands of years, we have gone to sea. We have crafted vessels to carry us and we have called these two in front of the Equator by name of Ednbal and Oceanna. These ships nurture and care for us through perilous seas, and so we affectionately call them "she." To them we toast, and ask to celebrate Ednbal’s and Oceanna’s passage across the equator.

Everybody raises your glass filled with champagne and shout, "TO THE SAILORS OF OLD…TO EDNBAL & OCEANNA."

Now, take a sip.

The moods of the sea are many, from tranquil to violent. We ask that those ships be given the strength to carry on in Southern Oceans, their keels are strong and keep out the pressures of the sea.

Again, please raise the glasses, and shout, "TO THE SEA...TO THE SAILORS OF OLD...TO THE SEA!"

Take another sip.

Today we cross the Equator with lady Ednbal and lady Oceanna, and send them to South to be cared for, and to care for the Sasha, Roger, Kaycee and Gregory. We ask the sailors of old and the mood of God that is the sea to accept Ednbal and Oceanna, to help them through thier passages South

Again, with the raising of the glasses, "TO THE SEA...TO THE SAILORS BEFORE US...TO EDNBAL & OCEANNA." A last, long sip by all.

EDNBAL and OCEANNA may bring fair winds and good fortune in South hemisphere of the Earth as they did in the Northern one to all who sail on them

Now pour champagne over the bow to appease King Neptune, and lay a branch of green leaves on the deck to ensure safe returns. (Breaking the bottle across her prow is optional for a recreational vessel, and should be done only if all safety precautions have been taken, and after the bottle has been properly scored for a clean break.)

 

We stayed tied together and partied until 10pm, swimming diving and wakeboarding on a mirror calm South Pacific Ocean. What a fantastic equatorial crossing with great company.

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After untying the boats we pushed apart and went to sleep drifting at almost 1kt towards the Galapagos islands! Next morning was a leisurely, if not a little hung over, start, having drifted 20miles in the right direction we started the engine at 10am to head for Isla Isabela, still 120 miles, again on a mirror calm ocean. As we started to come into the Galapagos archipelago its reputation for nature soon became evident, even before we started the engine, while I was giving the hull a final clean, we had a Sea lion visit. While under way Frigates along with many other birds were in the sky. Unbelievably two Marlin swam by within just a few metres of Ednbal, one with almost its complete tail out of the water. Later a Manta Ray just in front of the boat and a shark swam by. Watching out from the cockpit the surface of the ocean seemed to be broken almost continually by some sea creature. We had our non-alcoholic sundowners sitting on the bow absolutely wonderful.