Saturday, 23 May 2015

The lure of the doldrums

Now that we're out here, we're turning over everything we've heard or read about this passage from Panama to the Galapagos. It's a bit of a crapshoot, to use a phrase I'd never use.

What sticks in our brains is something we heard from Michael Barker, a garrulous Kiwi rigger who hangs out a lot at the Balboa Yacht Club ("not a bad office, is it?"). He's done 12 Pacific crossings (12!). On 10 of them, he passed north of the Galapagos. The two times when he went beneath the Galapagos were the least successful, he said, but he didn't think his experience was statistically significant.

For us it is. Anything is statistically significant when your experience is zero.

Just as there was for the Atlantic crossing, there is a rule of thumb for this passage too. Make your first waypoint the Isla Marpelo (a buttressed rock which belongs to the Colombians). From there, head south. After some time, you'll find the south-east trades; turn west. There are some magic numbers mentioned too - 2 degrees north and 83 degrees west. It all comes good when you line those up apparently.

Of course there are more modern ways of routing. I can request grib files and NOAA's East Pacific high seas forecast on the sailmail, but they tell me more or less the same thing. The trades are where they always are, way down south. What's in between here and there - the fluctuations of the Intertropical Convergence Zone - is ours to deal with on an as-it-comes basis.

We left Isla Marpelo behind as darkness fell yesterday. We've got plenty of wind (now that's a surprise) but for most of today it's been coming from the south-west. So we're close-hauled, and tacking - zigzagging from west to south. Cruisers like to go in the right direction. On the positive side, we're not motoring.

I had thought I'd be writing about our first fish. Spare you the nautical details (how we've had the gennaker out of the bag, the foul weather gear out of the locker etc). But we haven't caught a fish yet. Yesterday seemed like a great day for catching fish. Wind from the right direction, boat level, no squalls, a day to give thanks for. But the fish ignored our lures. We tried two. We've got more.

Today we've been busy sailing again. Sailing can be busy. It's not all naps after lunch and sundowners. I'm struggling to keep up with my radio schedules and the second of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy.

I've also got my work cut out trying to keep the bounty of the central Panama fruit and vege market moving along. I missed the rock melon, and the lettuce. They turned to mush before they made the menu. The tropics are tough on leafy, juicy things. The forepeak smells of pineapple. The saloon smells of banana cake (aha, got those bananas). Best not to talk about other smells. It's very hot and we're heading towards the equator. The boat's exterior is pristine though, sluiced clean of Panama's blanketing dust. On our second day out it rained heavily. Actually, neither of us had ever seen rain like it. Torrential rain. Monsoon trough rain. Mesmerising. And soaking.

Alex reminded me today of the half bottle of Veuve Cliquot we bought in readiness for crossing the Equator. I'll drink champagne anytime, but it would go very nicely with fish, I believe.

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