Saturday 22 February 2020

Passage to the Galapagos and story of Birdie

After three weeks in the marina preparing for the Pacific we left Panama in a process we defined as "Splash and Dash", to ensure that there was no time for marine growth to gather on our hull, for we had to be sure of arriving in the Galapagos with a clean bottom.  Our optimised process Checking out in Panama Ciry on Thursday, splashing on Friday and sailing on Saturday.  This relied on us being ready, the final boat preparations going without a hitch and the weather being compliant.   

Splashing at Vista Mar is somewhat unusual or perhaps heartstopping, here Clare is holding on to avoid slipping back into the cockpit.

We engaged MetBob for a passage route, which surprisingly stated that it would take 5 days when all our software based planning was for a 6 to 7 day passage.  What boat speed was he thinking of, at least we knew the weather window allowed us to leave a day later so we didn’t need to worry about taking longer.

Final provisioning complete we left the marina around midday looking a little low in the water.

The trip was very comfortable despite starting our second day with a near Gale (sustained 35 knot gusts)

 and then learning how to sail in very light winds and strong currents, but it will be remembered for being one of our easiest passages and for the story of Birdie.

As the winds calmed and as dawn broke on our third morning we noticed a young gull had taken up residence towards the bow.   Gingerly this gull, quickly named Birdie, moved forwards.  We were shocked to see it had a fishing line tight around one of its legs.

A day of edging closer and then pulling away got us to close proximity by lunchtime, helped by a few breadcrumbs.  Thanks for Bryana for on line veterinary support, Birdie seemed to know we knew what we were doing.  When first presented with a large blue towel Birdie shied away from us but then came closer still.  We became aware that we were being checked out by a small animal that didn’t know whether it could trust us but equally seemed to know that it had no option.

Moving bravely into the cockpit.
Free at last and now moving back to the bow of the boat
As dusk drew closer we sat down to eat, something we try to do before dark as that makes dinner a pleasant end to the day and start of the more formal overnight watches.   Birdie came closer, drawn in by the steak we were eating and impressing on us an increasing sense of urgency, with Clare holding the towel, Birdie allowed us to pick him up.  We had considered wearing protective glasses in case he became scared and tried to attack our eyes but he was totally calm and for the intricate operation I needed as good vision as possible.  The fishing line was tightly looped and knotted around his legs, each thinner than the line itself.  With large wire cutters needed to cut the line an advertent amputation would have been so easy, but Birdie remained calm and when I reached the final knot he pushed his leg out straight so I could access it easily.   We removed the final knot and let Birdie go.

He walked about a bit, took to the air and then to the water.   Now, this is not a Disney movie so there was no music but in a completely surreal moment 10 to 20 dolphins leaped out of the water and played along side us and Birdie for a few minutes until darkness fell.

Birdie spent most of the night with us, watched us perform a major sail change at around 2.00 am and sometime later left us, we hope for a long life at sea.

We sailed on into lighter winds and some motoring but in strong currents continued to make good time.  We crossed the equator at around 0400, despite the early hour we managed a brief ceremony being "griffins",  not entirely up to the standards of that reported by Darwin on HMS Beagle.

"A similar ceremony took place during the second survey voyage of HMS Beagle. As they approached the equator on the evening of 16 February 1832, a pseudo-Neptune hailed the ship. Those credulous enough to run forward to see Neptune "were received with the watery honours which it is customary to bestow".[2] The officer on watch reported a boat ahead, and Captain FitzRoy ordered "hands up, shorten sail". Using a speaking trumpet he questioned Neptune, who would visit them the next morning. About 9am the next day, the novices or "griffins" were assembled in the darkness and heat of the lower deck, then one at a time were blindfolded and led up on deck by "four of Neptunes constables", as "buckets of water were thundered all around". The first "griffin" was Charles Darwin, who noted in his diary how he "was then placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of water. — They then lathered my face & mouth with pitch and paint, & scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop. —a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me & ducked me. —at last, glad enough, I escaped. — most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put in their mouths & rubbed on their faces. — The whole ship was a shower bath: & water was flying about in every direction: of course not one person, even the Captain, got clear of being wet through."  (Source wikipedia)

Later in the morning of our fifth day we realised that we could arrive before dark.   We passed Kicker Rock, famous for hammerhead sharks and enjoyed a gentle cruise down San Christobal.

5 days and 5 hours and 910 track miles after leaving we dropped anchor on San Christobal island in the Galapagos, awaiting with trepidation our bio security inspection on Friday morning.  Our fastest and most comfortable passage to date.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Preparing to Leave Panama; San Carlos, the yard, and the splash

Returning to the Tintamarre after our brief visit to the UK was a bit daunting. Tintamarre had been hauled and placed in the marina yard whilst we were away - and we knew there were a few things to fix - notably our steering and windlass (which had both broken) - and our keel needed re-treating after being dragged through the mud at the mouth of Rio Dulce in Guatemala.

We also needed to buy in lots of provisions for our long trip across the Pacific - planning on buying in everything we might need over the next 6 months.

We found Tintamarre perched rather precariously ...climbing on board required a bit of concentration.

We had planned on staying on board...not a comfortable thing to do, but the options seemed limited. When the marina informed us on day 2 that permission to do this was cancelled for everyone we were grateful to be offered accommodation in San Carlos, a small village a half hour walk across the beach. Tim and Jenni's casa was a delight, attractive, central, spacious and very comfortable.

And we enjoyed our daily walk across the beach past the fishing fleet.

We beavered away at our job list....

And brought in endless bags of food, drink and other necessary supplies, which all needed to be sorted, recorded on our spreadsheets, and safely stowed (as well as having to be hauled up that ladder). Complicating matters a bit further, our next port of call, The Galapagos has a long list of products which may not be brought to the islands. We knew that boat searches are routine there...

After a hard day in the yard we enjoyed catching up with old and new sailing friends. We visited the Chinese (Panamanian style, of course), Restaurant, opposite our village casa every evening (menu del dia was less than $5 and very good.)

We were also "treated" to the start of carnival in the village. Festivities happened on our doorstep (literally) - loud music, processions and fireworks which continued until 3am. 

With our jobs nearly complete, and knowing that we had to wait for a high tide before we could put Tintamarre in the water we took a day out to visit the nearby Highland town of El Valle. A $1 bus ride took us miles into the hills, through orange groves. Sited within a massive caldera this little town is famous for rare golden frogs (we didn't spot any). But we did climb the Sleeping Princess mountain, passing old petroglyphs on our way up. With a strong cooling wind blowing at the top we enjoyed the view.

Leaving the country we adopted a strategy of "splash and dash" - so that Tintamarre would sit in the marina for as little time possible before leaving - minimising the chances of growing barnacles on her newly cleaned hull (something which were very mindful of with our impending visit to Galapagos). So the day before our planned splash we took the bus to Panama City and checked out. (As an aside, public transport in Panama is fabulous. The hour and a half bus journey into central Panama City on a comfortable bus cost just $2.50. The clean and modern metro and bus services in the city were just 25 cents a ride, easy and pleasant to use.)

Splashing Tintamarre was at best unusual. We were in the UK when Tintamarre was hauled out. Vista Mar Marina used a trailer system, on a steep ramp, with big tides and strong winds omnipresent. We waited for a suitable tide, ensured that Tintamarre was loaded on the trailer in good time so that she could be launched at high tide. Just prior to launch we climbed on board so we could start the engines and speed away as they launched us. I would never choose to use this launch system again.  Somehow we survived the experience.

We filled with fuel and water and with no slips immediately available remained on the fuel dock for the night. The next day, late morning, all preparations and checks complete, we said a last goodbye to friends, slipped our lines and left for the Galapagos.