Friday, 31 March 2017

Dorados, spinner dolphins and whale's breath

And so my Pacific adventures continue.... in diary format for my own sanity more than anything, as I'm finding it increasingly difficult to keep track of the days!

Day 5
It's just after midnight now and I'm on till three. We have found the trade winds! Yayyyy! Finally 20+ knot winds which is making us go super fast )well...9knts) Tin Tin seems very happy and it's lifted all of our spirits, I think!

We even caught a Dorado which wasn't very big but enough to feed 4 of us for supper, a welcome treat! Again, I prayed for the poor soul and filleted it wasting nothing. We've had more bites on the lines all day but lost the one on the rod as it was too strong to pull in and then something very big snapped the wire off the other! Evidence there are beasts lurking in the deep blue!

One thing that makes me smile when I flush the heads is that you get all this glowing phosphorescence sparkling up the loo bowl! Haha! It still amuses me every time! The little things...

Day 6
We caught another Dorado today- quite a big fella, this time Justin reeled it in and it really fought against him and was a nightmare to kill. Actually, I couldn't watch this time, as I hated seeing it struggle, poor thing. More prayers were said by me and he was enjoyed for supper. A delicious marinade of lemon butter and dill, a beautiful creation made by Papa Paul! I think we are going the perfect speed for fishing now so it looks like we'll be eating the freshest of fish most days- must not take it for granted!

Today there were lots of flying fish meeting their unfortunate end as they miscalculated the waves and land with a crash on Tin Tin. We'll be eating them soon enough if food stores diminish ; ) I think they might be very bony though which is a risky business for me with my recent history!

The clouds are tall and fluffy today which is said to be typical of the ITCZ where the two trades meet. We seem to have left the mushrooms behind and with it the fluky wind. We averaged 8.5 knots today and top speed 10.5 on my watch! We're flying waheyy!

I had the most eventful shower this evening, the swell is pretty big at the moment and I was being swung around all over the place, shampoo foam flying everywhere and it felt like I'd been to power yoga from all the balancing ! Because the shower is right at the bow- you get the full force of the crashing waves!

Day 7
So, all the electrics failed last night and Papa and Uncle Mark have been down below trying to fix the problem all morning. Something to do with bypassing the alternator?? I think they have solved the problem temporarily but need some new parts which hopefully mummy can bring out with her. I'm sure Papa will give a more detailed account of the electrics on his blog (occasional problem solving page!)

It's my turn to cook today and we still have half a side of Dorado left...

After some deliberating.... for the menu du jour, I ended up marinating the Dorado in fresh ginger, lime zest, two special chillis, soy sauce and sesame oil and then making a little roomy parcel out of baking paper for it to steam in the oven (en papillote) accompanied by vegetable egg noodle stir fry and tiny little limes (with bizarrely bright orange flesh but green skins, If that's confusing enough, the oranges have green skins and yellow flesh! I feel tricked) Again, talking endlessly about food.. sorry I can't help myself!

It's been the perfect day of sun and blustery trade winds and I've felt alive with wonderful energy like every breath makes me smile. We saw spinner dolphins in the distance today.. I do wish they'd come and play!!

Day 8
Not much to report on my day so far. It's been a lovely morning starting at 6 for my watch to see the awakening sunrise lighting up the peculiar shaped clouds, one which distinctly looked like a big humpback whale... maybe that was a sign of what is to come? I hope so : D

The wind is a little gentler today but that's no hindrance on our speed as the current is nicely with us. But it's slowly making its way east behind us which is making us steer off course a little to keep up the pace. We're not as keeled over as we have been the past few days which meant that I had a beautiful yoga practice on the aft before the sun became too powerful.

I thought I'd use this quiet afternoon to try and master the ukulele once more but I really don't think this is where my talents lie. I've ended up after an hour or so becoming increasingly frustrated with my ineptitude! You know when you get a little feeling that you might have hidden talents that you haven't discovered yet..? Well, this was one of them- I thought the ukulele and I would be at one with each other and beautiful music would float out over the ocean ; ) It so turns out that my dreams are shattered and I've made the crew endure more than is fair... Woe is me!

I'm just sitting at the bow now watching the flying fish skilfully take flight long distances skimming the waves and planning where their next entry into the water will be. They're quite mesmerising!

The sea is a deep teal colour today with little white horses breaking on the crests. I've seen two birds circling an area of water and taking a decisive plunge to catch its prize. It's quite something to see them so far away from land and I wonder when they can give the tired wings a rest? Sometimes the birds are a sign that a whale is below so I've been keeping a watchful eye.

Mark and I smelt a very strong and distinctive marine smell at night what could only be described as a very warm and musky/fishy/seaweady aroma which we believe was the breath of a whale nearby. It certainly smelled somewhat of mammalian sea life. You could almost feel it's presence.

I still think I'm in a dream sometimes... this boat life seems so surreal being a tiny speck in the middle of such a vast ocean accompanied by wild waves and wondrous sea life and with only the wind to carry us.

This is the only way I'm keeping track of what day it is by writing this blog otherwise the days all seem to merge together in a wondrous expanse of sunrises, sea, sunsets.... this breezy boat life : )

Monday, 27 March 2017

Galapagos towards Hiva Oa

We sail away from the Galapagos past the famous and mysterious Floreana (if you're curious read "When Satan Came to Eden" to know more!) and Isabella, which sadly we had no time to visit. We say our goodbyes to the sea lions and turtles as they make their final appearance.

We have a long voyage ahead of us - 3000m across the Pacific and I can't quite get it into my head that we won't see land for at least another 21 days! We have painstakingly little wind and so reluctantly we have to motor if we're to get to Hiva Oa in time for Uncle Mark to fly back for Cousin Matt and Elisa's wedding!

That night on my watch, the moon is just a slither. This leaves the sky dark enough to see the never ending mass of stars that feel close enough to touch. Some lie so low on the horizon that I keep mistaking them for mast lights which is somewhat disconcerting at times. I see three shooting stars that night, one of which fell half way through the sky!

24th March - Day 1
As it's Marks birthday that coming day, I blew up loads of balloons to decorate the boat and decorated the table with shells before he came up on watch at 6. I almost lost a few balloons as they tried to escape into the Pacific with the breeze but I managed to rescue them from the deck in the dark. One or two popped giving me such a fright! Anyway, I think the birthday boy was happy to see the effort made (I hope) as he came up on deck to see the sun rising.

Later, I baked a chocolate cake whilst Mark was snoozing but I'm surprised the delicious smells coming from the oven didn't wake him! After a spot of dolphin watching, afternoon tea was followed by blindfolded piñata smashing on the aft deck which I had acquired in Santa Cruz especially for the occasion. Mark then enjoyed setting the broken piñata on fire into the sea and sending a cardboard boat on fire sailing off into the moonlight. What more could a birthday boy want.... chocolate cake, piñata and now pyrotechnics! Haha!

25th March - Day 2
No wind at present, but last night on my watch, the wind picked up enough to justify switching off the engine which allowed us wonderful peace for most of the night. Sadly it's died down since this morning but with the occasional squall which brings heavy rain and strong gusts which pass fleetingly. Apparently, this is quite normal behaviour for the doldrums. Lightning threatens in the distance as i finish my night watch. The stars have kept me company once again. Sirius always takes me by surprise as he's so bright and pretty I the sky twinkling multi colours.

26th March - Day 3
It's still gentle seas but forecast looks as though we might pick up some trade winds on 29th...fingers crossed!

I saw big whale splashes in the distance today but no other eyewitnesses as they were all lounging below deck. I think it could have been a humpback considering the size of a the splash and I think I saw it's tale end but it was a bit to far away to determine.

We've just been feasting on a Lebanese supper which I spent most of the afternoon creating down in the galley whilst lovely sounds of the ukulele floated down from the cockpit from the three man band. All vegetarian with falafels, hummus ( NB chickpeas take ages to crush with a fork!) Harissa courgettes and home(boat)made beetroot, cabbage and chilli pickles.

Another apricot sky as the sun goes down.

26th March - Day 4
It's always a great watch to come up on deck to see the sun rising and how it instantly warms the air with its first few fiery rays. I'm already peckish and it's only 6am, so I make my way to the aft where our long stem of Galapagos bananas are hanging and I pull off a ripened one that has yellowed before the rest. They are delicious yet tiny but enough to satisfy my early morning munchies! They are all going to ripen in quick succession, so it looks like we'll be feasting on bananas over the next few days! The pineapples and big papaya all ripened far too quickly in this heat and we struggled to eat them all before they went too fizzy.

We spotted pilot whales today not too far from Tin Tin and we beckoned them to come closer and play but they had other ideas and travelled in the opposite direction!

We've had the fishing lines out pretty much since leaving the Galapagos but we are yet to have any joy. Justin stands at the aft as I write, tweaking at the lines with hopeful optimism as the sun is soon to go down.

I can see rain clouds in the distance as the lowering sun streams through them. There are lovely smells coming from the galley as Uncle Mark prepares what I can already tell is going to be a delicious supper...

I realise that I talk a lot about food on here but it is somehow what we revolve around to create a certain structure to our drifting days out in the middle of the Ocean... Also, it shouldn't surprise anyone that food is usually on my mind most of the time anyway!

I hope you enjoyed reading...
Sending love from the big blue seas.

Ps I've now found out how to post blogs whilst out at sea using Tin Tin's very slow satellite connection so I can now send more regular updates rather than bogging you all down with a huge entry that quite truthfully drags on far too long, don't you think?!

Magical Galapagos and diving with sharks!

After anchoring in Wreck's Bay, our first day has been rather frustrating as we had to wait ages for our agent to come and then we had to wait for a whole team to come aboard Tin Tin ... there was one guy from the Armada (navy)- very formal in his white uniform and cap!, one from immigration, one from customs, one from health and environment, and a diver to check how clean Tin Tin's bottom was! Anyway we were finally cleared at about 5.30pm and allowed to go to shore.

Whilst we were waiting for clearance I went for my first paddle on Dora in Galapagos and there are sea lions everywhere! They're quite inquisitive and certainly not shy and were happily splashing around me and basking on their backs in the sun. They have gorgeous little faces with whiskers and ears and then a huge blubbery body! A lot of the boats around us especially the fishing boats have been overrun by them as they bask on the decks... it's only a matter of time before we had a keen visitor astern who snuck up onto the aft steps of Tin Tin! We've also seen two spotted eagle rays mating!

When we go ashore (finally!) the whole pier and steps are covered with sea lions, occupying even the benches! After our meal out we take the water taxi back to find Dora had two sea lions sleeping on her, I really thought they would struggle to balance on her but they seemed very comfortable...Oh poor Dora!

The next day we ventured to Playa de las iguanas which was very dramatic with huge boulders made from volcanic lava bubbling into the sea and large dragon-like iguanas soaking up the sun.

There was big surf crashing against the rocks but further in, sheltered by the breakwater was a calm bit of sea where there were more sea lions and two turtles poking their heads out so scrambled across the rocks and dove in with my go pro to film them . They were pretty large and just gorgeous! They're really docile and swim along so gently. I think they are wonderful creatures! It makes me sad that so many were eaten in Darwins day. Actually mainly tortoises who could go without water for a whole year were piled into whaling ships alive and there they would stay confined until they were killed for the ships supper. Reportedly thousands were slaughtered each year. Even Darwin ate them when he visited!

If we're not looking at the human impact on the land. It doesn't feel yet as if much has changed from Darwin's time, having read his account of the Galapagos. I still don't think the animals of the island have learned or yet evolved to be afraid of humans as they really don't give a monkeys if you get close, quite surprisingly the birds.

When we started to walk back from the bay, the heavens opened and it chucked it down! I don't know what it is about me and water but it felt sooo good and I relished in this torrential rain, washing away the salt from my skin. That is what was making this whole island so lush. I think Charles must have come at a dryer time of year (must reread to establish his dates here) as what he described was an arid and unforgiving landscape that he couldn't quite believe that anything thrived here. He does say though towards the end of his stay here, the rains came and suddenly the dead looking fauna came to life and flourished very quickly..

Here on San Cristóbal we visit a huge volcanic crater bowl called El Junco perfectly round and filled as a lake. The panoramic view of the island is stunning and I try to imagine to the time it was formed all those millions of years ago as an erupting volcano.

One of the most incredible experiences I had those first few days in the Galapagos was my snorkelling adventure to León Dormido (aka Kicker Rock) I went along with some ecology students who were all equipped with diving gear to study he wall. I wasn't diving this time as I needed to have a refresher dive as it's been so long since PADI. As soon as I was in the water looking down through my mask I spotted 2 sharks, learning from my guide that they were black tip sharks. They were very long and wonderfully graceful as they snaked menacingly into the depths. We swam the circumference of the rock studying the abundance of life along the steep wall which plummeted vertically 50m below, beautiful star fish, colourful coral, striped endemic Galapagos fish, parrot fish and turtles. We entered one entrance of the cave which cut right through the rock. As we entered the darkness, below I could see sharks gliding in the depths. They were smaller than the black tips and I was informed they were the great Galapagos sharks. The fish didn't seem to be too bothered by them so I free-dived down to get a closer look at them and some footage on my go pro! Whilst we were in the cave, the waves came crashing in with a whole load of playful sea lions who had fun dancing around us and diving for fish. They were huge and it could've been quite intimidating but I just thought it was the most wonderful experience playing with these creatures and they made me laugh so much into my snorkel!

We had a a gentle night sail over to the next island Santa Cruz but we received a Mayday as dawn broke over little Santa Fe island en route to Santa Cruz. Dad contacted a small local cruise boat who came out to search, although they had not received it. It kept being repeated and finally the position was that of a boat at anchor in a bay. The cruise boat went to investigate, but after about two hours we reckon it was an error in their AIS system (or ours perhaps). The Santa Fe gremlins also stopped our speed working, then our GPS. Very eery!

Arriving in Puerto Ayero, Santa Cruz poor Papa had to deal with yet more formalities which seem to take up so much of his time. We do however, get round to exploring some of he island where we walked through huge lava tunnels which were formed when the outer layer of molten lava flow solidified. The tunnels seemed to me quite vulnerable to collapse as there were huge chunks of fallen lava partially blocking the tunnel. They were over a km long and at one point we had to crawl under on our bellies! We also walked through the lush green forest around the tunnels and saw more giant tortoises eating guavas in the torrential rain!

I decided that I couldn't miss out on a proper dive experience here in the Galapagos, where the marine life is some of the best in the world so I booked a dive and told them I would need a refresher too! Papa and Justin joined the trip to snorkel. So we set of on our boat trip with our guides and two other divers at the crack of dawn. Once reminded of the ropes by my wonderful instructor Luis, I soon relaxed and remembered how much I love the underwater world! It's so peaceful down there and magical. We swam with about 15 hammerheads and a group of about 10 white tip sharks really close to us we could almost touch them! They didn't seem bothered by our presence and they glided around very gracefully with a slight menacing glare. We also saw a family of spotted eagle rays and it's amazing to just float there whilst they go about their daily life around you, I was so entranced by them that I followed them temporarily losing my dive group! It's ok, our guide had a bell and I was shortly reunited with them. I wanted to stay down a lot longer in this dream world but our tanks were getting low so we had to surface and there was a strong undercurrent so we were having to hang onto rocks below. There were huuuuge parrot fish and puffer fish and rainbow fish and zebra fish and hundreds of Galapagos striped fish and amazing azur starfish!

Thank you Galapagos for sharing your beautiful nature with us. I hope you are protected and conserved enough to sustain your magical life and rare beauty.

I'm sad to leave these magical islands so aptly named as "Las Islas Encantada" but onwards we must sail South across the Pacific towards the Marquesas Islands.... a long voyage that should take us around 21 days or more..

Hasta lluego mis amigos!


Monday, 20 March 2017

Panama to The Enchanted Islands of Galapagos and "Crossing the Line"!

I'm writing this up on deck mid Pacific.  We are on our way towards the Galapagos a little more than half way there.  It is so calm that the water looks like teal silk.  There’s just the faintest whisper of wind and it is unbelievably hot!  We’ve taken this opportunity to stop the boat, take down the genoa and go for a dip in the deep blue ocean.  We are about 3000m above the seabed, that’s 3km of water below us - crazy deep!!  We put a rope out attached to a fender so if we start getting left behind then we have something to grab onto.  Ive just been reading a lovely Galapagos natural history book and discovered there’s 28 species of sharks.  i tried not to think of that as i lowered myself into the water trying not to make a splash.  It was a very liberating swim and deliciously refreshing.  You just don’t know how long you’ve got until the sharks detect action so it wasn’t one of the most leisurely of swims, I’ll admit but totally worth it!  Uncle Mark stayed in longer and splashed about so recklessly which made me incredibly nervous that I was sure fins would appear from the deep as the jaws sound track played in my mind!

I'm going to jump back now to when we left Panama City as there’s a fair bit to fill in!  Notably my birthday and Las Islas Perlas!  Having finally left Panama City, we had a brilliant sail over to Las Perlas and the wind picked up so we were averaging about 8 knots. Half way across we noticed distant splashes in the water.  At first we thought of dolphins or a splash of a whale’s tale but as we got closer we realised that they were actually big manta rays leaping high out of the water! There were so many of them and they gave us a wonderful hour long display. We read up about this extraordinary activity and apparently they can be seen doing this when they are giving birth and the little ones have a turbulent start to life as the rays leap clear of the water! We later learned, however, that this phenomenon had made the news and it was a rare sight as they were escaping the jaws of sharks chasing them!

Justin then caught a tuna which we enjoyed for supper but the poor thing didn’t have a very graceful end as even after a blade though its head, it thrashed around spurting blood all over us and the deck. Really horrible and distressing...I’m sorry little fella.  we ate you all up though, so you weren’t killed in vain.  Papa later saw a glimpse of what he thought was a whale shark.  it seems like the Pacific is teeming with life as the cool upwelling from the seabed brings up all the nutrients and with it the sea life flourishes.

We spent that night anchored in between two tiny islands.  One is called Mogo Mogo and that is where “Survivor” with Bear Grylls was filmed!  As soon as we anchored, I pumped up my beloved paddle board for the first time and went paddling. The water is so clean and clear that it was a beautiful contrast to Panama City! I love my SUP, whom i’ve named Dora.  I paddled ashore to a beautiful deserted beach  and on my way back, the sun was setting as i took this moment to breathe in this clean air and then i just lay back and floated for a while listening to the sea lapping against my board.  Paddling back I saw a little puffer fish and then below it a moving dark shadow!! I didn’t hang around and paddled quickly back to the boat trying not to lose my balance!

I woke up the next morning at 6 to the sound of Uncle Mark swearing so I popped my head up on deck and discovered that Snowy had gone in the night!  She had come loose from the painter and had drifted off into the unknown.  thankfully, Justin was scouring the shoreline of the island opposite with the binoculars and spotted her lolling against the rocks.  If the current had been going the other way we would have lost her for good.  they were about to start blowing up the spare dingy when i told them i would venture over (bravely) on Dora.  i mean what else is a paddle board for if not to heroically rescue poor stray dingys! 

So I made my way across the channel on my rescue mission and watched the beautiful sun rising.  It was further than I thought and quite choppy mid channel but I got there and poor Snowy was crashing against the rocks.  i was more worried about the outboard motor which seemed to be getting an awful bashing so i levered that up first, got in, tied Dora to Snowy’s stern and rowed out until we were clear of the rocks.  It was a while before i finally managed to get the motor going which was a relief as I was tired from rowing.  I returned from a successful rescue mission and now the crew think that Dora has earned her place on Tin Tin and can stay!

After breakfast we ventured over to the island of Mogo Mogo (Survivor Island) I on Dora and they on Snowy.  The water was abundant with life and i spotted so many puffer fish and parrot fish. 

We landed on the most beautiful white sand beach and we scrambled through the foliage where we came across what looked like an old camp and I’m pretty sure I recognised it to be the ‘Survivor’s’ camp.  There was one palm leaf hut with makeshift beds still left if a little ruined and old benches made from logs. it felt strange to be on the site where they filmed it all!  It made us wonder whether we could survive if left here and we decided that yes we’d be alright, conjuring up ways to sustain us. 

We made it over to the other side of the island where there was the most stunning beach, turquoise blue and calm.  I dived straight in, already hot from the heat of the day and it was deliciously cool.  Sitting on the beach with the water lapping over me, i watched little hermit crabs scuttle over the sand all with there own bespoke shell they had chosen as a home.

Paddling back to Tin Tin was really hard work as the tide was changing and the current in between the two islands was really strong.  I followed a turtle for a while and he didn’t seem to mind and when i eventually got back to the boat, i was ready to jump in the water.  That was quite a workout!  I hung onto a rope off Tin Tin’s aft and dangled for a while cooling down with the flow of the current when i felt a horrible sting on my arm and looked down and saw long pink tentacles of a jellyfish  wrapped around me!  I brushed them off with some difficulty and the little devil had given me a really nasty burn on my forearm which had blistered.The perils of the Pacific - ouch wouchy!

We moved to another island, named Casaya and found a calm anchorage. The water is more green here than crystal blue so you can’t quite see what’s lurking beneath.   Nonetheless, Dora and I go adventuring and we have a lovely evening paddle ashore to the island which is shaped like a starfish.  it felt like a really wild beach and there were amazing bird and animal noises coming from the thick forest behind.  I think the island is volcanic as the rocky platform looks like it is formed from bubbling lava.  I floated on my meditation board to watch the sun go down.

We stayed anchored off Casaya for a couple of days, where Papa painted a beautiful watercolour and the others made a raft out of huge bits of driftwood along the beach.  The inspiring piece of wood was the huge log of balsa, which had amazing buoyancy.  I helped by collecting washed ashore rope which was bound to bamboo for an outrigger ( how to spend a day on a desert island?….build a raft, make fire!) .And of course, that’s exactly what we did that evening but it did involve some drama… Justin was stung by a scorpion when collecting the driftwood to put on the bonfire!  he was quite stoical about it considering how much it would’ve hurt.  Poor Justin! He was sent back on Snowy to Nurse Papa Paul to be given antihistamine and a bravery sticker.  I went to have a look at the little beast who was still on the log and his angry tail and sting were still curled up in the air ready to strike again!

After Justin had recovered a little we made our way back to Scorpion Island and enjoyed the fire which was blazing so well as the driftwood was so dry.  We figured that all the creepy crawlies would have escaped away from the fire and so we were a little more relaxed about planted our bottoms on the logs. There was a sense of tribal energy, with sticks drumming… its funny how a campfire can bring out the primitive enjoyment and nature in us all!

The following morning, the chaps had put on a delightful birthday breakfast for me and decorated the table with shells and presents.  Papa had made homemade granary rolls that were a little bit like rocks but were still warm from the oven and were the most wonderful treat after weeks of oats and muesli.  So sweet of them! I was later treated to a real birthday cake at tea time which was utterly delicious despite the bright blue icing which got everywhere!

The next morning we set sail for the Galapagos, having anchored off another beautiful island the night before.  800 nautical miles to go!  Not long after setting sail we saw a humpback whale splashing about.  incredible! We keep our eyes peeled for more action but none came that day. 

The next day however we are greeted by a large pod of dolphins, there are almost 40 of them leaping around us and playing at our bow! An incredible sight!  We are back on the watch system and it takes a while to get used to keeping awake at night!  My night watches are magical though and the dolphins come back visit on my 3-6 watch.  There is a space in the clouds where the moon is shining through reflecting on the glassy water and lighting up the dolphins as they surface.  I don’t know whether to wake the others who are all sound asleep and have already marvelled in them. But secretly I’m enjoying this moment to myself .  I feel like they are soothing my soul and give me a moment of inexplicable happiness… thank you sweet dolphins!

Pilot whales interrupt our lunch one day and their slow movement through the water is very graceful.  they are too far away to get a good photo, but we all try.  It’s hard to keep track of the days out here in the middle of the Ocean.  The sun, moon and vitally, the wind govern us.  We travelled over an ocean rift where the depth plummeted to 4000m!   I’m reading Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle” to keep things relevant as we near closer and closer to the Galapagos.  It’s an enjoyable read and I’m getting more and more excited to see these magical volcanic islands and the magnificent and rare creatures they hold as we draw closer to the equator. 

As we cross the equator Mark and I are given a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony/initiation by King Neptune (Papa Paul) and Queen Nefertiti (Justin) who are dressed magnificently for the occasion. Forced to stand court over our crimes and admit our sins and we were then anointed with a bowl of noodles and rank fruit thrown over our heads! We were then hosed down with the powerful deck wash and i pumped up Dora for the occasion so we could paddle over the imaginary line and cross into the Southern Hemisphere! And the men all jumped in to the sea with far too much splashing!  Fortunately, no sharks came for a curious visit!

We’ve been blessed with some gorgeous blood red moonrises as the moon is at its fullest and rises big over the horizon and tonight is no exception.  The reflection is so clear on the black glassy sea and I sit up on the boom for a while to take it all in and absorb its wonderful energy.

Waking up for my early morning watch, the sun has just risen and the sea is dotted with Manta Rays basking in the sun with their wings up as little pointed tips.  Occasionally they jump out of the water, they could be feeding but I think they are rejoicing in the rising of the sun! I feel their joy!

The Galapagos islands are in sight slowly rising out of haze, a slight mist hanging over them which the sun will soon burn them away it heats up.  We see turtles swimming under our bow and our first sea lion. Papa paints a watercolour of this beautiful scene. You can see why they used to be called the “Enchanted Islands’, “Las Islas Encantadas"

Friday, 3 March 2017

Paddling the Pacific

Now a proud owner of a Red Paddle SUP!
I managed to find a place in Panama City to buy a stand up paddleboard and I'm allowed to have it on TinTin as it's inflatable. I'm so excited to get paddling but I have to wait till we leave the filthy waters of Panama City and arrive in Las Perlas! 🏄‍♀️  😍 She's yet to be named, Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Across the Isthmus - transiting the Panama Canal

It was time to leave the Caribbean Sea and and take the extraordinary journey through to the Pacific Ocean.  Carved through one of the narrowest and lowest saddles of the long, mountainous isthmus that joins the North and South American Continents, the Panama Canal is an incredible feat of engineering and it’s only now having gone through it that I can truly appreciate the extent of its greatness.  Completed in 1914, having taken decades in the making  and planning and costing tens of thousands of lives due to harsh climatic conditions and the resultant diseases which took a hold of workers of such, yellow fever and malaria spreading like wildfire.  This was no mean feat, by any stretch of the imagination, to join together two of the worlds largest oceans and with it unfathomable loss of life.  

Before going through the Canal, we needed to hire sufficiently strong and long enough mooring lines to hold Tin Tin under heavy strain and big fenders to protect her against the lock walls and big tankers - heaven forbid!  We also were required to welcome a Pilot on board for the whole transit  to guide us through the canal - they take this transit business very seriously! We have to wait 3 hours on the flats just inside the Cristobal Breakwater before we receive our Pilot, named Hector.  He hops aboard effortlessly from the pilot boat and assumes his control over our vessel.  Even Skipper Papa Paul must now answer to him!  He then tells us we will be rafting up next to a neighbouring wooden yacht named Arc en Ciel which is bigger than us.  Papa is to be helmsman at all times and Hector gives him the directions to follow the buoys along until we reach the locks.  We raft up with the other boat just before and meet our new neighbours for the transit. 

The skipper is an old American guy called Harry who is sailing around with his 12 year old son and they have recruited 3 kids from Shelter Bay to be the line -handlers for the transit, who are also American and very charming.  We go through the first 3 locks on the Atlantic side called the Gatún Locks and here we are raised a total of 26m progressively. we share the lock rafted up with our new American friends  on Arc en Ciel and in front of us is a huge Reefer and a sports fishing boat. It is really quite surreal to experience  the locks filling up.  We are thrown lines from the sides with little weighted balls called monkey fists attached to help land them on the boat, we then have to attach and loop our lines through them and the line handlers on shore pull them back to the dock once we’ve secured them round the cleat.  We then keep the tension and take up the slack as we rise with the water.  We’ve got starboard lines to deal with whilst Arc en Ciel attend to the Port lines.  Its quite nerve-racking as the currents can be really strong inside the lock and you do not want to loose control!  The final gates open up to Gatún lake just as the sun is setting.  Here we find a huge red mooring buoy so big it’s almost half the size of Tin Tin and we anchor up for the night.  Hector, our Pilot is done for the day and is collected by Pilot boat to go home to bed… I did wander where he would sleep on Tin Tin…?! 

We sleep lolling in Gatún Lake to the sound of distant Howler Monkeys and think of the crocodiles lurking in the shallows. The next morning we rise bright and early at 6.30am for a 7am departure for our next part of the journey.  Despite our early get up, our new Pilot, Omar doesn’t arrive till 9am and we are impatient to get going.  We slowly make our way up the canal towards the last set of locks on the Pacific side which seems to take all day. We only can go about 6 knots and have to stay behind Arc en Ciel because apparently the Pilot on her is calling the shots today and we have to time it so that we all get to the locks at the same time as our mother ship  - a huge Cargo who is behind us.  The Canal is windy as we cut through the thick lush jungle of Panama.  We spot a croc bathing lazily on the shore line.  

We raft up again with Arc en Ciel and soon we reach the Mira Flores Locks which is another set of three and this time we have to prepare for the locks to empty, slacking off the lines as we descend.  First we wait of your big companion to enter behind us  and i’m not exaggerating when i say that this beast of a boat completely dwarfs us! She comes up behind us terrifyingly close.  A Japanese Cargo ship, on its way back to port, has just a couple of feet clear either side of the Canal.  It is incredible how precise these big ships have been designed to fit perfectly within these locks.  We hear that there is a webcam just above the visitor centre so have told a few people to look out for us.  One of the young American line handlers who is slightly bonkers but brilliant decides to moon the tourists at the visitor centre and the webcam, much to our amusement.  Looking back to the webcam footage, there is a great image of Tin Tin and her neighbour being towered over by this giant vessel and we look quite tiny!  

The last lock eventually empties out and the golden gates open to reveal the Pacific Ocean, we made it!  The Pacific welcomes us with a heavenly breeze and we glide out into the salt water once again and detach the lines from our adjoining friends and say goodbye to Arc en Ciel. Towards us we see the famous Bridge of the Americas joining the North to South America.  Omar leaves us and is collected by a Pilot boat waiting for him, and we find our anchorage for the first time in the Paciifc just off Balboa Yacht Club, on the outskirts of Panama City.  We see the sunsetting behind the famous bridge and think of how far we have come and what the next leg of our voyage will bring us. To have crossed from one ocean to the next, wow! 

Balboa yacht Club is fairly basic but there is a free water taxi service and the bar does good food and we are starving!  We then go in search for the showers - well in need of a good wash! The shower block is policed by armed guards which makes us wonder how safe an area we are in..?  Anyway it is a welcome shower, if a little dingy… the lights don't really work and the door won’t lock, and so i just have to trust the guards don’t decide to have a peak inside.  I take my chances and am grateful to feel clean again!

We sleep well that night despite the constant traffic of ships through the night.  The next day is a rest day although Papa goes in search of new batteries as it seems as our old ones aren’t working sufficiently anymore.  I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t involved myself in these technical issues on Tin Tin.  There seem enough men on board with a thirst for fixing things that I’ve taken a step back (I hate to be the stereotype but I'll admit my lack of interest)  It turns out that the batteries Papa picked up which were so heavy to get on board were in fact too tall to fit under the floor boards and so the next day we all make the trip to find new ones without much success.  Also, we learn that because of Carnival coming up at the end of the week, nothing is going to be open…. It looks like we’ll be hanging around Panama for a lot longer than we'd anticipated.  We say goodbye to Steve who catches his flight back to London that afternoon. He’s been such an amazing help getting us through the canal and a great advisory to Papa with all the electrical problems Tin Tin has been experiencing. Thanks Steve!

It’s about time we did a big shop to stock up on food supplies as we need to start thinking of provisions that will last us over the next 3 months as we cross the Ocean to The Galapagos and Marquesas where we won’t come across much in the way of convenience stores, and if we do they’re bound to be mega expensive.  We get a taxi to a big shopping Mall call El Rey and get to work on our Supermarket Sweep - the bill comes to a ridiculous sum of $780 I’ve never seen a receipt so long.  We need to take two cabs back in order to get us plus shopping back to the boat and then a huge trolley to take us down to the water taxi.  We spend the rest of the afternoon storing it away in cupboards around the boat in some sort of logical order.  I have to hand it to Justin on being super organised and making an inventory of everything as we went along.  

We pootle around the corner that evening to find a new anchorage that won’t cost us as much and as the sun is setting we have the extraordinary sight of hundreds of Pelicans dive bombing into the water to catch their evening meal.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The sea must be bubbling with fish as i’ve never seen such a feeding frenzy of birds.  Amazing!

We spend the next few days in this anchorage just off La Playita, exploring the Old Town of Casco Viejo and enjoying the next few days of Carnival experiencing the Parade and water festival along the main Corniche in the city.  At least we are entertained whilst we wait for things to reopen again so we can sort battery problems and find an electrician because now (shock-horror) the engine won’t work, which means we won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

I’m on a personal mission to find a paddle board to buy as I think it would be a great way to explore the islets we’ll be coming across in the Pacific.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find one here in the City but I’m yet to convince the others that there is room on Tin Tin (there definitely is)…watch this space!

To pass the last day of carnival, we escape the city and get a ferry to the neighbouring island of La Taboga, once a sanitary Island used for quarantining the diseased canal workers, one of which was Paul Gauguin.  Because it is Carnival however, the ferries are jam - packed and we have to be there an hour early to ensure a space. Families from the city have come out with huge picnics and umbrellas and are ready to fiesta on the beach.  The crossing takes an hour and the island itself is pretty unspectacular and very spoilt due to the mass of tourism and pollution from the city. The water is so littered, even I can’t bring myself to go for a swim although it is scorchio and everyone else seems quite happy to splash around in it!  I am however, grateful for a day relaxing on the beach and pay $5 for a lounger and umbrella - it is way too hot to be out in the sun!  The men want to climb to the top of the hill which is about an hours hike but it is midday and I chose to watch the world go by and people watch  - one of my favourite past times.  I also scrub up on my Spanish and speak to some children playing ball  after which it hits me on the head whilst I’m reading resulting in a lot of giggles.  I also negotiate a very fine piece of Creole fried fish with rice and peas.  I meet los hombres back at the ferry port and find them drenched in sweat and hardly able to talk from climbing the hill in the middle of this hot day!  I’m quietly happy of my choice of activity for the day.  We return back to the mainland on a rammed boat where we are obliged  to wear hot grubby life jackets and with only space for half a bottom on your seat, it is quite an unpleasant ride! I’m realising how spoilt I am to be able to cruise in the luxury of one’s own boat…must not take it for granted!  It’s good to be back home on board Tin Tin.  

Night night,