Thursday, 28 May 2015

Cruising past the Galapagos

This is our ninth morning at sea. The pale outline of Isla Pinta, the northernmost of the major islands of the Galapagos, is fading. We're turning south now, around the outline of Isla Isabella. We won't see much of that either. It's buried in cloud.

Is what we're doing, bypassing the Galapagos because we can't come at the stiff fees and biosecurity regulations imposed on visiting yachts a bit like ignoring Paris and taking the autoroute direct to Avignon, judging that a day or two inside the periphery with a car is not worth the aggro? A bit. We've done that too. Like Paris, the Galapagos seems to be tailored to air traffic. Perhaps one day we'll fly back to this equatorial latitude and join the obligatory tours to play with the giant tortoises and sea lions. For now, we're pressing on, past the rock named for Mr Darwin the naturalist, and along the highway towards the Marquesas.

We've taken a day longer than we expected to make these 1000 miles from Panama, but on the plus side, we've hardly used the engine at all. That's unusual. We know of people who've motored for eight days to get through the ITCZ and down into the trades. We're still north of the trades, but it seems we've benefited from unusual weather which has pushed us along at a decent speed under sail, albeit not in the straightest of lines, and close-hauled. The easy downwind sailing is yet to come, along with fish on the plate, but there are promising signs of both. We've had two strikes. Both times the fish got away. We'll keep putting the line in the water while there are two of us awake, and there's daylight, and the swell and waves are kind enough to make fish action on the aft deck safe and viable .... it isn't THAT straightforward fishing on a sailing vessel, no matter what you hear.

We've signed off the Pan Pacific net and onto the Magellan net which will see us through to the Marquesas in appproximately three weeks. These SSB radio nets are just what they sound like - safety devices. In theory, if other yachts expect you to check in at a certain time (0200 UTC in the case of the Magellan net) and you don't show up for a couple of nights, you are missed. They're loose structures, run by the people who benefit from them. So right now, for example, there are about ten yachts, perhaps a few more, strung out across this 3000 mile run. Unfortunately St Leger, with our friends Doreen and Michael on board, is no longer among them. Their fridge blew up on their first day out of Panama, and they've headed north to Costa Rica to deal with that. So while we don't know any of our fellow travellers personally, by the time we make landfall we'll be very familiar with the names of their yachts and the sound of their voices.

You keep the chat brief - position, wind speed, sea state, cloud cover, boat speed, and sign off with "all's well on board", if indeed it is. If it isn't, the net is where you can broadcast that fact.

Of course we also have our sat phone, EPIRB etc, but this is a closer to home kind of security. Boats have been known to turn around and battle adverse conditions for many hours to go to the aid of another boat which has put out a call for help.

I say all this to ease anxiety, should it still exist on our behalf. This is a well-travelled route, crazy as it may seem. It's called the Coconut Milk Run. Think of it like trekking in Nepal or running a marathon. Same sort of personal challenge. Not everyone who enjoys boating is interested in crossing oceans (in fact, many can't think of anything worse). But for a certain kind of person - someone like Alex, for example, who gets off on being self-sufficient and on the history and romance of sea-faring (don't under-estimate that) - it's the logical conclusion of preparing a boat to go cruising, and then thinking you might like to go somewhere other than your favourite coastal anchorages. All the better if you can share the experience. Most single-handers we've met are not cruising alone by choice.

So here we are. I didn't think I'd got to philosophizing, but damn it, all this space allows the mind to freewheel. Bread's out of the oven, Alex is out for the count, dolphins spotted cavorting to starboard, small birds skimming the surface of the milky grey ripples to port, larger birds (our Galapagos hitchhikers) gone off fishing, leaving the pulpit free, and, as they say in Netland, all's well on board. May it stay that way.

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