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"

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