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PANAMA TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

 

16th February ;  13.00 we set our anchor in Playita de Amador and transport ashore our very helpful and good fun line handlers on the canal transit, they depart for Shelter Bay, we bid our farewells as it is unlikely in the course of things that we should run into Pat, Hendric and Laura again.  The anchorage is not particularly restful as the constant movement of pilot boats, tugs and the transiting ships send in their wash making us roll and pitch day and night. The bars ashore are lacklustre and there is no obvious congregating point for sailors.  Over the next few days we explore the city, sometimes by the very colourful, loud buses, very cheap  at 25c. per person, per trip. But it is difficult to determine where you may end up and impossible to get either route map or time table. Otherwise we go by taxi, every time bargaining,  for there are prices for locals and ‘Gringo’ prices and only the very foolish would get into a taxi before agreeing the price.

18th February; the old city is partially in ruins but being slowly  restored to its former glory, the new city is vast with ultra modern malls contrasting with immense slum areas of endemic poverty.  Quinto de Mayo we were told was a place we had to visit, must be the cheapest street in town reading glasses $1.50 Polarized sun glasses $1.00 - we bought lots of bits and pieces to use for trading in future Pacific islands - this tip given to us by a veteran American sailor. At the end of the street was a very large supermarket and here we started the process of provisioning for the long Pacific runs - this task was to take over a week.  Loading up two trolleys with non perishable goods of all kinds, for the word is that while you may be able to get some of these good in the Pacific islands they will be VERY much more expensive, so we stock and we shop and it goes on and on. The pile is brought back to the dingy dock in a taxi we load the dingy, load the boat, Kay makes it all disappear but making large running lists of where all the items are stored. The most vital part of this process was of course the wine and for storage it has to be boxed,  ‘Clos vino blanco’ was the winner on Pylades and at $2 per litro, it is stuffed into every crevice of the boat, all other boats were loading hundreds of boxes of Clos or the more expensive Frontera wine at $2.25 per litre  ! – some had converted their extra bathroom with shelves to hold the wine.  Not Until New Zealand or Australia, we are told, will there be decent priced wines or wine at all  !!!  Scary.

26th February 2010; Returning in the dingy to Pylades after a walk ashore and a quite pint we were immediately into big seas the wind had shifted 180 degrees to the south, 20 knots and rising and with a large fetch in that direction the seas were now occasionally breaking.  Boarding Pylades from the dingy was in itself a touch dramatic. Yachts were dragging their anchors and mayhem grew, the vhf filled with voices – some asking help, others reporting  yachts dragging with no crew on board, this was just after darkness and a sizeable number of people were ashore.  A large cat alongside us started to drag and while we had two anchors down and were holding, we decided to break out and run to weather into the dark but safer sea. Thirty five minutes later we were anchored in calm water at the other side of the causeway. There we cooked dinner and sipped some wine watching the lights of the yachts on the windward side gyrate wildly, only about three of us came around.

27th February: Back in the south anchorage when about 7.00 this morning a Swedish vessel  was drifting past and calling us.  There has been a large earthquake in Chile and a tsunami warning has been issued for this coast it is due to strike at 8.50. Anchors were being broken out all over the place and we all headed for deep water.  For the next few hours as we drifted a few miles off the coast reports and rumors abounded, Valparaiso has been badly damaged, Easter island has been evacuated! . The most dramatic came at about 10.00 when we got a report of a wall of water turning into Panama bay, never was a bay  scanned with binoculars so much.  Hatches were sealed all deck items were secured but thankfully nothing transpired, all boats returned to anchor.  Since then there has been a constant call out for sightings of a missing 14M steel yacht ‘Discovery Sailing Academy." with five persons on board,  who departed from Salinas, Ecuador headed to Colquinbo, Chile, and may have been in the vicinity of Juan Fernandez Island when the Chilean tsunami hit. As of this date he is still posted as missing.

Every morning the anchorage ran a very efficient radio net, the speed and efficiency with which the yanks can run these is very impressive.  Any question can be raised, information on all topics gleaned.  One morning Fergus with a persistent sore throat asked the whereabouts of an English speaking doctor, a curt response came from a Dutch boat, ‘’Call by after the net’, we did, there were two doctors on board from Holland with 35 years GP practice behind them , an instant examination in the cockpit and a recommendation for an antibiotic. That’s net service for you!  No prescriptions are issued in Panama, all and any medicine can be bought on demand at the counter. Later we discovered another strange anomaly when we went to send a postcard home, there is no postage delivery service in all of Panama, if you want to receive mail one has to set up a mail box and go and collect it. There is only one post office in all of this city.

6th March; saw  us at a party organised for the ‘Pacific Puddle Jumpers’ partially sponsored by the tourist board of French Polynesia, they had put some prizes up for raffle.  The top prize a black pearl in a setting and it was won by ...... yacht ‘Pylades‘.  Not quite sure what one does with a ‘black pearl, but now that we are a pearl ship are we more exposed to pirate attack!.

7th March; 07.30 we stow anchors and bunker up with as much diesel and water as the ship will carry and set sail for the Las Perlas islands. With a fine wind we arrive off Contadora faster than expected and pick up a mooring. There are about five other boats there. It is an unusual place in so much as it is a Island of holiday homes for the rich of Panama. It has some roads, an airport and a well kept atmosphere generally. This contrasts with many large hotel projects which have failed and fallen into ruins. The original population of these islands had been famous pearl divers, the Spanish conquistadors conquered the islands, stole everything and enslaved its people and as far as we could ascertain its original population were almost eliminated.   After two days we push south to the island of Ampon , anchored in a sheltered and very deserted bay.

Exploring by dingy we land at a village, the people appear of African rather than Indian descent, a street of desperate shacks at the end of which was a tiny disheveled church without door or window with old pallets serving as tables, everything was  infused with a foreboding sense of poverty. While the people were friendly they were ashamed we were looking at their village and we were ashamed as fellow humans to be a witness to it.  We did not  take any photographs.  On our departure a man asked us to give him our outboard engine. Our attempts to explain why we need to retain it seemed somehow feeble. The wealth of the world is indeed very poorly distributed.

10th March; Isla Canas, again a fabulous anchorage, deserted beaches everywhere one more beautiful than the next. Dingy over a dodgy breaking river bar and explore up one of the rivers, strange unknown iridescent birds burst out of the jungle canopy, shy iguanas dart along the shore, rays pass under the dingy, owls cooing unseen in the trees. Ashore we go chasing land crabs.  Back on board a man calls in a dugout canoe, he has paddled miles from the far village of Esmeralda to sell us fish and bananas  We buy some  and say we will call to his village to take on some water tomorrow.  Next day we motor up to his village, children in dugouts converge and board, our man from the village arrives and promises to return with water, he does, we feed the children with soft drinks and biscuits pay them to take our rubbish ashore. They insist on this and promise to dispose of it properly. We up and leave to the Galapagos, 940 miles to the SSW. As we leave the Las Perlas, eagle ray’s leap into the air they are about 1.5M across  and hit the water with a mighty crash.

14th March; 6kts of wind on the nose,  sail a bit, motor a bit , the tacking angles and speed are awful  over the next five days as we pass down through the ITCZ (inter tropical convergence zone), beset by shifting light winds and poor progress,  two days of rain coming down in solid sheets thunder and lightening and its dark by day and no visibility what so ever  at night, the rain is so dense that the radar cannot penetrate. We trust that there is no shipping out there.

17th March; St. Shamrocks day, dawns bright and cheerful, blue sky and a freshening wind from the south, on starboard tack into the Ecuadorian coast. This would appear to be against all logic, but the pilot insists this is the wise move, it urges not to attempt to close haul towards the Galapagos until one can point well to the south of them. Boats that end up north of the islands will have to contend with a current stream of up to two knots and will be in a right kettle of fish.  50 miles later we tack for our target now 400 odd miles away, The sea is calm, the sky is blue, the breeze is just perfect, Pylades is holding just under 7 knots and every 12 hours or so the sheets can be freed a tad, this is sailing as it should be. On this Paddy’s Day the equator is crossed, approaching the ‘line’ our  GPS  (Global Position System) counted down to N 00.00.000 and then read S 00.00.001   – it was kind of an emotional moment, we toasted with a drink of whiskey gave Neptune a capful and took of photo holding green bananas as no shamrock on board !! . In the night sky we see Southern Cross.

20th March; Early morning, ‘land ahoy’ the enchanted isles. At midday Pylades is anchored in Wreck Bay, Isla San Cristobal . We are delighted to be here following in the wake of so many before us, the  Beagle  with Charles Darwin on board. His book, The Origen of Species, was hugely inspired by his findings and observations during his stay in the Galapagos.  A copy of this is on board  and has been read on this passage, a heavy read but his arguments were very detailed and precise as he knew this book would shake the world and its belief systems to the core.

We are not permitted to leave our boat until it is first visited by the Port Captain, he arrives very smartly with the agent who will handle all our paper work, consisting of a stamp on our passport and a permit to exit the Galapagos after the 20  days allotted to us . As the day wares on and more agents, officials etc, have to be dealt with the temper of the skipper begins to fray and K deals with the officialdom !.  We are told that we cannot move to any other island or bay, Wreck Bay prison!. We cough up a total of US$260 for all sorts of things. That evening we relax with a beer, cool down and relish our position.

All transport ashore is by water taxi 50c per person $1 at night, this is for two reasons, one the occasional high surge but more importantly the sea lions, the bay has thousands of sea lions. They would board a moored or beached dingy and their weight would quickly reduce same to a pancake.  One climbs on to our stern and sleeps, but is really eyeballing the cockpit, these sea lions are very big as is their smell and their droppings - so we ask it to leave, it barks and snaps its teeth,  we produce the boat hook he takes off – for now. We then tie a line of defensive fenders at the stern. One Australian boat has electric fence erected – I kid not ! he brought it with pirates in mind but needs be…..

We visit the interpretative center just outside the town, it is very good with a full, in your face emphasis on evolution. The skipper later, to his horror, discovers that the local people take none of that on board as all the children of the island are still thought creationism !

Over the next few days we explore the town and its surrounds. People appear to be reasonably well off in third world terms, but the infrastructure leaves a bit to be desired.   Ships delivering all the goods to the island offload by derrick into barges the goods are then manhandled ashore. To fuel the fishing boats and tourist boat, a truck with an open 100gal drums of petrol parks on high ground, places a very long plastic hose from the top of the drum to a boat below surging on anchor., a siphon is started and away we go …. health and safety how are ye; at least no one was smoking. In the supermarket, the manager recognises our Irish accent, introduces himself as Tony Castro Iglaise, offering his help if we need it.

A day later trying to get a SS fitting to take off salt water to the sink , we thought of Tony, within minutes we were at a steel fabricators and the order was placed, it was to be ready the next day, Tony suggested going with us to collect the fitting otherwise we would  be charged Gringo prices, we did, he negotiated, it was very good value for US$30, business done we headed for  a drink and  discovered that many years ago he had taken care of an Irish boat as the crew had to fly home for their fathers funeral, the boat was ‘Golden Apple’ and the man who died was Hugh Coveney, who had lectured me when I was an Architectural student in the School of Art in Cork all those years ago, the world can be smaller than we imagine.

26th March; we had organised a tour with an English speaking taxi driver/guide. However, the tourists were the only ones who turned up.  All was reorganized for Sunday 28th March. We took off on a tramp to the airport, why we still can’t figure out, are we missing something??. Then went on a great coast walk coming across all sorts of wonders, including a statue of the man him self, Darwin, overlooking the bay the Beagle first landed. Everywhere we looked were species of plant, insects, lizard, bird that had our heads agog.

28th March; The organised tour finally gets under way, Pico, our English speaking driver and guide and three couples - all the men sitting in the back of an open pick up truck we head for the hills. We drive along with Pico who is telling stories and pointing out interesting flora and fauna, and history  to the ladies indoors and then shouting out the window the same facts for us men seated in the open - we understand the odd word ! He drives us to the banana and coffee plantations, then we walk to the rim of an extinct volcano, at that altitude the air was moist and cool and the ferns looked very familiar. On to a great and very explicit tour of a turtle breeding farm. Most amazing creatures they are. The whalers over the past millennia killed and carried away tens of thousands of turtles for meat aboard the ships, three of the species are now extinct and the introduction by man of, cats, the black rat, goats gone feral, threaten the remaining with the same fate. So they now take many of the remaining turtles from the wild get them to breed in ‘protection’ and return them to the wild after 7 years.

The tale of ‘Lonesome George’ the last of a species of giant turtle who appears to be about two hundred years old was that he will not mate with any female of similar species, so a lady from Switzerland has been trying to encourage him for six months in the hope of getting some sperm and artificially inseminate some of the girly turtles, so far no luck.  What man will do to make up for his misdeeds against nature?  We finished off our tour with lunch in a very nice farmhouse restaurant, a fine simple meal of foods grown and chicken reared on the farm , at the end of our meal lady of the farm directed us to the hammocks in the shade - all a bit decadent really, but most enjoyable. A bunch of green bananas was cut from a tree in the garden; two persons could barely carry it we collectively bought it for US$6.00. 

It is because both aspects require more money to spend. Let’s see the fact of second aspect of wedding. They are cheap wedding dresses.
 

Today, 30th March;  spent chasing diesel and water.  Skipper when snorkeling down under the hull cleaning the propeller and shaft is joined by two young curious and playful sea lions.  They come within inches of his face mask and spin around his body. One sticks his head between the shaft and the hull and winked at me. After a while I take their constant presence for granted. The water temperature is cooler than the Caribbean and is getting cooler, we are assured this is a good sign as it indicates the weak El Nino is further declining, time will tell!

Some evenings we wander the town and have a beer, chatting with fellow sailors, the countries represented are mainly America, Australia, Canada, UK, Norway, France, and sighted for the first time ever, the land of the rising sun, a few young men from Japan. We are going through a constant checking of Pylades, as one laconic yank put it, long distance cruising is boat maintenance in exotic locations.

4th April; Tony comes out to visit us on board, as he lives and works both on the island and the mainland he is a wealth of information.  He tells us of the very high level of AIDS on the island and the corruption at high levels. He also confirms that despite all the benefit brought to the islands by the work of Charles Darwin and his ‘Origins of the Species’ they still teach the children ‘creationism’ the art of reason does indeed have a long road to travel.  

Orders are placed for final top ups of water and diesel, we have applied for our departure papers  and zarpe, a load of old cobblers, but an excuse by the powers that be to attempt to control the movements of the cruising sailor and charge for the privilege.

5th April; Well stocked up again with water and fuel , it is time to push on and we set our faces for our longest sail out to the west, ever west, 3000 miles of ocean to the islands of the French Marquesas.

 

MILES SAILED SINCE BELL HARBOUR……. 8198.00

 

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Posted: 3:30:45 AM - 3/31/2010

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