23 December 2015 - Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand
We’re liking Whangarei, upriver about 20km from the coast. There is a vibrant cruising community here, with many returning year after year. There are many options for lifts and boat yards in the surrounding area, but we’re months away from hauling so we haven’t even bothered to look into those details yet. My view of the town of Whangarei (population about 55,400) is that it has four areas, the waterfront, the downtown area and the industrial zone (which seems to be by far the largest area) - and outlying residential communities. The industrial zone has hundreds of shops and small businesses that do virtually any service that we could need (welding, machining, electrical, motor rewinding, canvas work, sail makers, riggers, painters, carpentry, plumbing just to name a few). It is truly a yachties paradise! We’ve got our little folding bikes out, and this makes it really convenient for getting around the town. Normally, we don’t need a car.
If you look closely, our boat is in the white dashed circle. The big yellow building in the background is the local “Pac-n-Save”, a huge discount grocery store, just across the street.
We’re currently “rafted” up against Talulah Ruby III, our friends Paul and Andy from the UK / Canaries. Both boats receive a 25% discount when rafting, alongside one another.
We’ve put up our Christmas lights, both the solar and 110V models. I’ve taken photos but they turned out poorly and not suitable for posting. I need either a better camera, or more knowledge. Being in the Southern hemisphere, we actually had increasing hours of daylight as we just passed the “summer” solstice on 22 December. On 22 December, we had 14 hours and 35 minutes of daylight, with sunrise at 0603 and sunset at 2038. Consequently, it makes observing Christmas lights, including our own, a little challenging with so many hours of daylight. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just different than what we have normally experienced in the northern hemisphere. I’m told that people living on the South Island of New Zealand (being further South) have even more hours of summer daylight.
There is a nice park just adjacent to the marina and there are often concerts and other things happening. Here, we came across a bagpipe band practising.
Since coming into Whangarei, I’ve had to start taking antihistamines because there are many flowering plants and trees just metres away that cause my eyes to water, particularly first thing in the morning and then again at about 6pm. At least there is no ragweed here. Since we left Canada 6.5 years ago, I’ve taken an antihistamine every time we’ve returned home, but I’ve never needed to when in the Caribbean or the South Pacific.
There are still lots of jobs on the boat “to do list”, but we’re ticking away at many of them, the most notable of which are the following. I bought (from the US) and installed a new Xantrex 60A battery charger, custom programmed for Li batteries by Lithionics in Florida. This is working very well, and doesn’t give us the over-voltage failures that the last charger started to show (over 15.2V and then the Battery Management System (BMS) would shut down the house bank in “protection-mode”).
I replaced three lamps (with LED bulbs of course) in the main cabin because the finish on the old ones was “tarnished beyond recovery”. We also refinished two reading lamps in the aft cabin.
I replaced the facets in the forward head sink and the aft head sink (they were tarnished and unsightly in appearance).
I replaced the port-side lower lifeline, as it had a broken strand.
Diane and I repaired the Canadian-made Man Overboard (MOB) pole. The plastic housing had disintegrated in the sun, so we replaced it with PVC components and painted it fluorescent orange and also made a new holder from white PVC pieces.
We had the staysail inspected and repaired by Ross Harold of Harold Sails in Opua. Ross also inspected our jib, with the intention of repairing it, but we decided instead to have Ross make us a new one. He did an excellent job for a fair price. We have now taken delivery of the sail and hoisted it on deck.
On the wifi front, I installed a new 12dbi gain antenna (EnGenius) and Groove radio/amplifier (RBGroove52HPn). This allows me to pickup 802.11a/n 5 Ghz wifi networks, in addition to the 802.11b/g/n 2.4 Ghz networks that I could already pickup with my 8dbi antenna and Bullet 2HP radio/amplifier (that are 6 years old). Why bother? Because wifi is very expensive in New Zealand, and not very fast either, and we want the best we can get for the least amount of money. I struck a deal with NetStop wifi to provide us with 50GB per month at $ 89NZD. They sell 4GB per week at $ 19.99 and discount the monthly rate at only $ 49.99, but this is only 8GB, not 16GB. We have lots of electronic devices onboard and we use lots of bandwidth. Updates to applications and operating systems (that we have been delaying all year long) use lots of bandwidth nowadays and we figured we’d need at least 50GB per month. This is working out fine.
Our lazy boy (bought in 1999) and installed in the boat in June 2002 was getting “sticky” and the extended footrest on one side wouldn’t retract anymore. After a five minute “Google” Internet search, I realized that all I had to do was to lubricate the “under-the-seat” working parts with WD-40 (which I then did) and all functions returned to normal again.
I solved an “old” problem with low DC voltage coming into the inverter when we’re running our microwave. We have a powerful microwave, drawing over 140A (12V DC) when powered by the Magnum inverter. The problem has been that the voltage on the panel has dropped to 11.2V when supplying that high current, although the battery voltage stays at 12.8V. I relocated the Magnum inverter/charger, moving it into a locker just adjacent to the battery bank. Shorter, heavier (4/0) cables with new terminal lugs has greatly improved the situation. Now the voltage drop is much better, showing 12.7V on the panel when the microwave is running, and this should be acceptable.
We had Diane’s Bernina sewing machine repaired and tuned up. This machine gets regular use but hasn’t had any maintenance for about three years. She needs it now, as she is building a new mainsail cover.
A few days ago, the temperature outside was 10C and inside was 21C. We don’t have any heaters going, and have all 6 dorade boxes and 4 portlights open for ventilation. There is enough ambient heat from our bodies and the fridge and freezer to keep us comfortable (and the boat is well insulated). The day normally warms up to 21C or even a maximum of 26C, and that’s OK - as we get into summer.
I’ve been to see an excellent Dermatologist, Dr Bruce Cottee at the Town Basin Specialist Centre. I haven’t been seen by a specialist since July 2014, so I was overdue. He zapped my head, neck and shoulders with liquid nitrogen in about 20 places, and surgically removed 5 pieces on my head, neck, shoulder, chest and leg. These biopsies have all passed through the lab for analysis and they turned out to be either basil cell or squamous cell carcinoma, and not melanoma (the big one).
We’ve been for a drive around the countryside with our friends Ernst and Inge on SV Atlantis (German flagged) and took these photos from the surrounding hillside.
We’ve frequently come across this sign for PANEL BEATERS many times. After thinking about it, I figured out that this is the Kiwi expression for a “Body Shop”, an automotive collision shop that repairs automobile accidents.
Diane has an aunt living in New Zealand, Dora, a younger sister of Diane’s deceased father. We rented a car last week and drove to Hamilton and back (4 hours there, 3 hour visit, 4 hours return) to have a quick visit with her. Diane last saw her Aunt Dora more than 20 years ago, when her Aunt was visiting Canada.
27 November 2015 - Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Our vibration issue has been solved! We contracted JB Marine to investigate the problem and they recommended changing the flexible coupling (KOP-FLEX that I originally installed in September 1999) to an R&D model, made in the UK. It is simpler, stiffer, lighter and obviously doesn’t vibrate like the last one!
The good news is that Barry brought one in, had it custom machined for our shaft and installed it yesterday. The dockside test was extremely encouraging, with no noticeable vibration. We are ready to leave dock and expect to head South to Whangarei in a day or two, once the current weather front moves through. There is no bad news!
We are in the North of New Zealand (at 34 degrees South) in late November, the start of their spring. I’d like to compare the current weather and landscape to Picton and Prince Edward County, near Kingston Ontario, without the winter extreme temperatures and snow of course. The distance from the equator is similar to when we were in Beaufort (at 35 degrees North) North Carolina, six years ago.
We have been staying at the Bay of Islands Marina, a fairly nice facility with the adjacent Opua Cruising Club.
In truth, although the facilities are good and there are two chandleries and many contractors nearby, the downside is that really there are only two possibilities for eating out (the marina cafe at lunch time and the Cruising Club for dinner) and the grocery store onsite is little more than a convenience store. The nearest “grocery” store is Countdown about 7 kms away - and there is no free bus. I don’t even know where the nearest hardware store is!
This is the storefront for Countdown, the only NZ grocery store we’ve been to.
Inside Countdown, I was impressed with this display offering free fruit for children. Isn’t this novel?
They also have refrigerated pet food. I wonder if this is a new trend in North America?
Here, some local cheese is on sale. We bought two 1kg blocks of cheese for $ 9NZD each, about $ 8.10 Canadian (per 1 kg block of cheese).
We took the opportunity for a day tour of the local area, with a bus organized by the Cruising Club. The scenery was nice, but this trip was more about visiting the local craft shops than beautiful scenery.
Every morning and evening, the atmosphere is blessed with the scents of budding trees and flowers, many of which I’ve never seen before. Surprisingly, it hasn’t bothered my sinuses, maybe because their is no ragweed?
One of our stops was at the Makana chocolate factory, where they produce and sell wonderful things to eat.
Its interesting to know that NZ, just a few weeks ago, won the world championship for rugby, again. This competition is held every four years and is really something to be proud of. Our bus driver, Brian - used to be a professional rugby player and coached in the US for 14 years or so.
I asked Brian how much salary the best players on the current NZ team could hope to garner and he told me that it was maybe $ 200,000 NZ dollars (about $ 180,000 Canadian) - a pittance compared to what North American professional “athletes” get, in salary alone. Actually, I’ve long since been disgusted with what “professional” athletes get in salary and endorsements and feel that they are well overpaid - but its interesting to make the comparison.
We also contracted with Ross Harold, of Harold Sails - to make us a new jib. The last one blew a hole in it on the way here, and after 14 years of faithful service - needed to be either substantially repaired or replaced. We chose replacement. That work is underway, and will link up with us in our next location
18 November 2015 - Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
We finally left Fiji on 2 November, bound for NZ. We were expecting an 8-10 day passage, but with these things, there are always “other issues” like weather or technical problems. While on passage, two days South of Fiji, the weather started to become noticeably colder. It was cold enough at night that we needed long underwear, socks and warm clothing. During the day, even if you were in the shade of the cockpit, the wind was a “chilling winter wind”. It seemed illogical, since we were headed “South”, but South of the equator, this actually makes sense, because we’re headed to Antarctica!
During the trip, we initially had moderate winds and seas for the first 5 days, making mileage of 140-150nm per day. One day the winds were above 25 knots and we wanted to roll in a bit of the jib, but then noticed a HOLE IN THE SAIL, so we rolled it all up, and continued sailing just with the mainsail and staysail. Then, a high pressure system set up over the North of NZ. This is normally where people start up their engine, or pull out their “light air sails”. Well, on the journey from Galapagos to the Marquesas (back in May), we tore up our spinnaker (the only light air sail we’ve ever had), and then sold it (to get rid of it) when we were in Tahiti. While in Tonga, I ordered a new Code Zero sail to be built in Hong Kong by Far East Sailmakers and delivered to Fiji. The sail arrived in Fiji alright, but I just couldn’t get together all the bits and pieces necessary to fly it. The one “long pole in the tent” was the Wichard MX-10 shackle. This, I found on an Australian online chandlery, ordered it a few days after arriving in Fiji, but after three months it was never delivered - or at least not on time to meet our departure date. Therefore, we had a “brand spanking new” Code Zero in the bag, but couldn’t fly it!
Therefore, we had to either MOTOR or lie ahull through that high pressure system. Lying ahull means just that, lying there bobbing around with no sails up.
The sea was remarkably calm.
You can’t have the sails up because even the slightest wave action will cause the sails and the boom to flop around driving you crazy with the noise. Unfortunately, we’ve been having problems with engine vibration over the past few months, changing 3 engine mounts when in Tahiti and then a fourth in Fiji. With the engine rpm between 1000 and 1900, the engine will just vibrate in a terrible, rocking and threatening fashion. We were really scared to break something expensive. Therefore, we could either motor at 2000 rpm, or 1000 rpm. At 2000 rpm, the engine consumes a lot of diesel. At 1000 rpm, the boat hardly moves forward enough to justify the effort. Therefore, we decided to just lie ahull for 3 days, waiting for the wind to pickup. During this 3 day period, we listened to music, read books and watched season 5 and 6 of The Sopranos, an HBO production (that we really enjoyed) that we had never seen before.
Here, Diane is polishing our clock.
We were entertained one afternoon with a three-some of mahimahi who were curious. They hung around for at least four hours checking us out. I tried to entice them to bite one of our lines, but our plastic squid lure looked way too fake for them.
We tried to repair the hole in the jib, laying out the sail on the deck and then hoisting it again, but even in light air the repair let go, so we took it down and bundled it up. One day, the wind was hardly perceptible, but it was there, maybe 4 knots on the beam - but it was enough. We were able to sail along at about 2.5 - 3 knots with the rudder holding the boat on course, without even using the autopilot. Better than nothing!
Finally, when the wind returned, we were moving again and back in the swing of things. We found our wind, sailing SW and S and finally directly into the Bay of Islands area. We came in through a 24 hour cold front, with steady winds of 20-25, then 25-30, then 30-40 and gusting to over 50. Several gale warnings came out over the radio, cautioning boaters to “stay at home”. We got within 1.5nm of the marina, turned the engine on, and “idled” onto the Quarantine dock - ready for clearances the next day. When we were 10nm out, we called Customs to suggest to them that with our engine vibration issue, we “just might need a tow in” for the last 30 minutes - we were told “in no uncertain terms” that it was strictly forbidden for anyone to come out to lend assistance, to give us a tow. We had to get to the Quarantine dock “on our own steam” or just anchor short of the dock, getting as far as we could. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME??? Unfortunately, this left a very foul taste with us, and we (and other cruisers we has since spoken with) feel that when it comes to “safety and security”, this Quarantine stuff is taken too far. If we really needed a tow, maybe, just maybe - the Customs officials “could” have come out in one of the MANY boats that they operate and are berthed in the SAME MARINA. Why not? It was a Monday, between 3 and 5 pm.
OK, enough said, we’re here now, safe and sound. From the perspective of the actual clearances, the next morning - it was uneventful. We have 3 month visitor visas, extendable when the time comes. The boat has a temporary Customs Import Exemption for 24 months and anything we buy for the boat will be exempt the 15% GST.
Over the coming days, we’re going to have a specialist look at our engine vibration issue. Is it the engine mounts (maybe these Vetus mounts are too soft), the alignment, the shaft log or hanger bracket bearings or the propellor bearings - or some combination of factors? We’re going to get this fixed, and then move South to our next destination, the town dock at Whangarei.
We’re here now, and it looks like a beautiful country. All of the people we’ve met (except one woman at the marina office) are warm and welcoming. It is spring-time and the trees and flowers are in bloom. The night-time temperature in the aft cabin is about 19C (while its about 12C outside) and day-time temperatures are in the range 14C-22C. We’re not in the tropics anymore where we would sleep in the nude, without even a top sheet on the bed, with fans cooling us!
This is where we are, at the Bay of Islands Marina.
22 October 2015 - Savusavu, Vanua Levu Fiji Islands
Much to the surprise of others, we are still in Savusavu Fiji, just over 8 weeks at the dock. Our dockage works out to about $ 96 USD per week, electricity included - its very reasonable, and at these cheap rates, we prefer the convenience of the dock. Sure, we’ve travelled the island of Vanua Levu, and seen the sights, its just hard to leave when we like it so much. Is it our favourite place so far? Maybe.
Two weeks ago, the country celebrated Fiji Day, although we hardly noticed any celebrating done in this area. We went to the Planter’s Club (a squash club with a real squash court) for a traditional lunch with our friends Max and Elizabeth Shaw on SV Fluenta. Max and Liz are both Canadian ex-military and although our paths never crossed while in uniform, we do have some mutual friends. In the background is Rudy and Doris from SV MUCK, a swiss flagged sailboat bound for Australia.
There are lots of other cruisers here, both dockside and on moorings. Some are headed to NZ, some to Australia, and some North to the Solomon Islands. One of our neighbours, from the West coast of the US left a week ago - sailing East to Hawaii, with multiple stops “wherever the winds take him”. At this point in our lives, we wouldn’t even consider sailing East into the wind. A week ago, we were under a “cyclone warning” by the Fiji Meteorological Service for more than a week. The winds haven’t been “that high”, 25 knots gusting to 30 and sometimes 35 - but there has been a lot of rain. We were literally trapped on the boat for nearly a week. Its a good thing the surface sea water temperatures are “cooler than normal”, because that is what has kept the cyclone from “developing power” and getting winds up to the 100 knot PLUS range that is more common with tropical cyclones.
Our new Hood Sea-Furl 5 jib-furler has been received and installed. Diane did some minor repairs to the head of the jib sail and we believe it will be sufficient for the next trip. I cut 1” off the forestay wire and re-used it, although I did buy a spare and now have two lengths of 10mm wire in my locker (with Sta-lock fittings), both new.
I changed another motor mount (I changed 3 in Tahiti, but left the 4rth, knowing that it was “only” 5 years in use). Well, I discovered this particular motor mount broken (again) when we arrived here in Fiji, so I promptly ordered a replacement through Australia and finally changed THAT ONE too, (it was AFT PORT side) and then re-aligned the engine/shaft. After giving the hull, keel, rudder, shaft and propeller a good clean, I tested the engine/shaft alignment at dock and pronounced it “better than ever” with very little vibration.
Oh, in case I forgot to mention it, I’d like to mention that this place is incredibly NON-FOULING. There isn’t a lick of green stuff on our waterline and I can clearly see the rudder from the dock. It is the most non-fouling marina or anchorage that we have ever come across. Eight weeks, and not a weed growing! It might be related to the thermal springs dumping slightly sulphurous water and the amount of fresh water from the river.
Our towed water generator parts have arrived via USPS from the States and believe it or not, the USPS tracking followed the package all the way from the East coast of the US to Savusavu Fiji where I picked it up at the local post office.
On one excursion, we drove to the NW corner of the island, to the village of Nabouwalu, where there is a ferry port. Its really a small town, with only about three shops, and definitely not accustomed to seeing tourists.
Along the way, we passed several logging trucks and agricultural endeavours.
We drove by rice fields…..
We came across these pineapples growing by the roadside.
The roots of this kava plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, mostly instead of alcohol. You can buy the plant (and roots) in the market, or get it from one of several “grog-pounders” (they pound the root into a powder) or as a finished product (a tea drink) in shops.
Diane finished a project to recover our cockpit folding seats with new slip-covers. All the expected boat projects have been finished, and we’ve even knocked off some that are on the long NZ list. Here, I’m “servicing” the winches. This entails dismantling, greasing/oiling and putting back together 9 Andersen winches, one-by-one.
While driving around the island, I came across some dump trucks carrying red soil and noted the work was being done by the Xinfa Group Aurum (a Chinese Fijian company).
It seems that the Chinese are mining bauxite and shipping it “off-island” (to China) for processing. I’ve read that this particular deposit may contain 400 to 1,000 million tonnes of the Bauxite ore. Personally, I have some difficulty with the wisdom of this because that “dirt” is never coming back - but then that may explain why a Chinese contractor is building new asphalt surfaced roads……
I tried to get some Coleman camping gas cylinders refilled while in Fiji but I couldn’t. They use butane here, not propane - but the folks at Fiji Gas still tried to refill a cylinder for me - with a special fitting I provided. I don’t know why it didn’t work, but I do know that we can buy fresh cylinders in NZ so I’m not concerned about it.
Here is a nice view of the Savusavu peninsula from the heights overlooking it. This is from a day tour we did with Larry and Margie Linder on SV ALTHEA.
I haven’t seen many lizards, but lots of mongoose and unusual bugs.
We’re now looking closely at the weather between here and NZ. The passage is about 1200nm, and we figure it will take 8-10 days at sea. We’ll try to time our departure for a smooth trip, but with a passage of that length, its impossible because the weather forecasts become quite unreliable at the 6 day point. We do expect to leave here “within a few weeks”.
23 September 2015 - Savusavu, Vanua Levu Fiji Islands
We took a touristic trip with Bob and Annette on SV Tempest to both the Flora Tropica Gardens (Botanical Gardens just outside of Savusavu) and then to Vuadomo to see a waterfall. The botanical gardens are privately owned, comprising five acres of beautifully landscaped hillsides and creek flats, explored by walking along stone paths and elevated wood walkways. The highlight of the gardens is the palm collection with more than 300 species from around the world thriving. The gardens also include more than 40 types of tropical fruit trees, flowering trees, shrubs, flowers and much more.
These are photos of the Curly Stilt Root Palm and the Snakeskin palm, evident by their look.
This was a very interesting leaf, but I don’t recall the name.
I also don’t recall what this was called, but it should have been called PENIS PLANT.
There were lots and lots of different palms.
This was not a palm tree, but rather a structure made out of PVC that supported the LED lighting and wires, made locally.
After the botanical gardens, we took a boat ride on an aluminum “barge-like” boat, boarding and exiting at the beach - to Vuadomo. It was a pretty cool boat ride.
Since we were newcomers arriving at a new village, a Kava ceremony took place where our guide Billy presented Kava root to the village chief. I can’t say that we participated in the ceremony, but to be more accurate, we viewed it. We were quiet, clapped our hands when necessary and simply observed. Its a big deal here, but no, we didn’t drink any of the Kava.
As we walked through the village, I noticed that each house had an “outhouse” attached to it, so evidently indoor toilets and septic tanks were not common. I took a photo of some domestic pigs (much more common than iguanas) on our way through the jungle to the falls.
I also took interest in this big spider. It pays to walk through the jungle with your hand in front of your face if you don’t have a machete.
Last week, we took a shuttle ($5US per person, each way) to Labasa (pronounced Lambasa) (it took about 1 hour 45 minutes) over paved roads. The journey was very pretty and over a dramatically changing landscape, from tropical jungle to arid steppe with pine trees.
As we approached the North side of the island, it didn’t look like a tropical jungle anymore, but rather like a steppe or dryer climate. There were lots of coniferous trees evident.
These were some trees that were scarred at the base, and it was evident that people were harvesting the sap to be used for glue.
Labasa itself is NO TOURIST town. It is a gritty industrial city, based on the outlying sugar cane agricultural harvest, but they have a very good dentist with Dr Kumar. I had two fillings and a polishing for $ 40US. We needed to go back again the following week to complete the work for both of us. It was cheap but very good dentistry.
We went into one discount shop and the bargains were so plentiful that they even offered customers a wheelbarrow to haul away the goods.
I noticed that in addition to clothes washing soap/powder, you could also buy these really big bars that were used for “hand-washing”. I’ve not seen this kind of soap before.
Diane went to the nearby “J Hunter Pearls” pearl farm, for a guided tour. The tour began in their showroom with a short, 15-minute presentation on the history of cultured pearls. She was then taken out to the undersea farm in a boat and snorkelled to view the pearl oyster culture. She saw pearl oysters at different stages of growth, suspended on 200 metre long lines that run 3 – 5 metres below the ocean’s surface. At the end, the boat came alongside to one of the cleaning platforms where she saw farm workers cleaning and checking on the health of juvenile and adult oysters. A clam can only be out of the water for 1.5 to 2 hours, or else the host will die.
There were Japanese specialists onsite implanting nuclei, while others harvested pearls from the oysters but photos were difficult in this area. This commercial video really sums up their operation.
Since we arrived, I’ve had several parcels arrive: code zero sail (UPS from Hong Kong), replacement whisker pole T-track (TNT from NZ), boom exit blocks to relocate the mainsail reefing lines (DHL from Australia) and replacement Hood Jib Furler (DHL from Florida). There were no glitches. In my opinion, shipping “Yacht in Transit” to Fiji addresses works very well, providing you get the address line CORRECT and include the phrase “Parts for Yacht in Transit SY Joana, Rotation Number AY2015/199”. I am still doing repairs, some that were slated for NZ, some that needed to be done here.
Concerning the motor mounts - I decided that this was a good place to check the engine alignment AGAIN. I did it last in Papiette/Tahiti with Marcos. What I discovered is that the top of one mount had the nut spinning free. The washer below it had broken. Therefore, I decided to remove all the mounts and verify that all were good. I don’t expect the mounts to stay tight without washers, and lock washers. When I removed the aft mount on the port side, I discovered that it was broken and needed to be replaced. It was last replaced 5 years ago when we were in Florida. Also, one of the forward mounts was partially broken, and I replaced the bolt by cannabalizing an old mount. There is something weird going on with engine vibration (and there has been for a while) and I hope I can solve it once and for all while we’re here in Fiji.
8 September 2015 Savusavu, Vanua Levu Fiji Islands
We’ve made it to Fiji on 31 August, the last country before we set out for New Zealand. Our three day passage from Tonga was a bit eventful, as we had winds of 25-30 knots and things were a bit “stressed”. They call it a trade winds “squash zone” and there are many more of these squash zones this year since it has turned out to be a full blown El Nino. A critical bearing on the jib furler broke, as well as a piece of T-track used for the whisker pole (without this pole - we can’t pole out our jib in light winds) and finally our Rutland wind generator is not functioning. All these things are being worked on though, and it all comes with the lifestyle of cruising to exotic ports and fixing the boat.
Often referred to as Fiji’s “hidden paradise”, Savusavu is much the same as it was 30 years ago, hardly influenced by tourism. It continues to be a “copra” town with its own processing mill. Savusavu is nestled between green hills and has only one main street, forming the hub of activity for the southeastern portion of Vanua levu, Fiji’s second largest island. The town has a butcher shop, several grocery stores and way more hardware stores than you might expect (but they all seem to carry the same products). It also has a busy open-air (but covered) fruit and vegetable market where we shop every couple of days.
There is a large Indian influence here, in contrast to the Chinese influence that we’ve found on other islands in the South Pacific. Local Fijian people have told me that there are cultural issues that separate the two groups and that there is little intermixing - as it is often not supported by the extended families. Nonetheless, we continue to enjoy both cultures and see them for what they are.
There is quite a large cruiser/boater presence, with many people coming here year after year, as well as cruisers like us - just passing through. “Curly” operates a radio net six days a week in the morning where we learn what’s going on in the community. There are no super-yachts or mega-yachts in sight, or cruise ships for that matter.
There are many very cheap restaurants in Savusavu, but don’t look for Greek, Italian or an Argentinian steakhouse to name a few. They don’t exist here, or at least we haven’t come across them yet.
We’ve bought a small Mobile WIFI (MIFI) device and are getting caught up on updates to all of our computers, laptops, eReaders, iPad etc. We haven’t done any updates since leaving Panama in March because the Internet through the South Pacific islands was just so slow and unreliable. It was very hard to post a blog, and took hours just to upload it. The Internet here is not free, but it is fast. We are going through lots of bandwidth though.
I found it a little expensive to clear in at $ 354 Fijian dollars (about $ 177USD), at least in comparison with other islands that we’ve visited. We’ve got a cruising permit though, so that if time allows, permits us four months in the Fijian islands. However, we’ll try to be “out of here” before we get to the two month period. We need to leave here in the mid-October to mid-November timeframe to avoid Cyclone season.
We’re currently dockside at Copra Shed Marina, at a cost of about $ 11USD per day. At that price, it just doesn’t make sense to anchor out or take a mooring. We lucked in and got a berth just a few hours after we arrived - and we’re not letting go of it. We won’t run our water maker here, but if we were moored in the bay just in front, we wouldn’t run our water maker there either - its less than 100m away.
The story is that this rusted steel boat that is on the shore - was owned by Canadians. Apparently, there was a fire onboard and they both passed away, five or six years ago. I don’t know the cause of the fire, but odds are that it was a propane gas leak.
When we were in Tonga, I went diving for a two-tank dive with Paul (SY Talulah Ruby III) and Colin (SY Endorphin B). Diane was feeling under the weather and did not join us The water was a bit cool, requiring me to wear a neoprene suit for the first time in years, but it was still quite enjoyable. We’re hoping to go diving now in Fiji, where people have reported seeing “schools” of hammerhead sharks.
We haven’t wandered too much yet. It has rained a couple of days and we’ve been focussing on boat repairs. I’ve got five orders being shipped in (one from Hong Kong, one from NZ, one from Australia and two from the US). We’ve got dental checkups (and need to take a 2.5 hour bus ride) scheduled for Friday, so that will force us to get out and about more. I expect we’ll be here for a month, or possibly more.
18 August 2015 Neiafu, Vava’u Group, Tonga
We had a good passage from Niue to Tonga, 230nm with 1.5 overnights. The winds were steady from the SE at 18-20 knots, with a “modest” swell, nearly inline with our direction of travel. We arrived at Neiafu just at 1630, closing time for the Customs/Immigration people, so we cleared in the next day. Just before arriving in Tonga, we crossed the International Date Line, so now when we email our friends or post on Facebook - we are a day ahead of our family and friends in North America and Europe. Here is a photo of our current favourite beer, “Ikale”, the “First Beer in the World - Every Day”.
Tonga has a definite “third-world” look to it, in stark contrast to what we saw during our three month stay in French Polynesia. Officially known as the Kingdom of Tonga, it comprises 177 islands, of which 52 only - are inhabited by 103,000 people. Tonga provides for its citizens free and mandatory “basic education”, secondary education with only “nominal fees” and many foreign funded scholarships for post-secondary education. Their universal health care system is similar, in my opinion, to the Canadian model - although the services and technology may be lacking. There is lots of agriculture here, but it is primitive, without any signs of irrigation or big machinery. We didn’t even see a tractor. In our experience to date, it is not unusual to see domestic chickens roaming around free - but they all belong to somebody. In Tonga, the pigs that you see roaming around, and they all belong to somebody. Here are some pigs in the church grounds.
We happened to be in town for the annual Agricultural Show, where many of the farmers and fisherman showed off their talents. These are some dried/tanned octopus skins, no meat, just the skin. It looks bizarre, even a little creepy. What are they used for? Diane has read that it is chopped up and added to food, as it is very high in protein and supposedly “mouth-watering”.
King Tupou VI officially became the new King of Tonga on July 4th 2015. Even the new King was in town for the agriculture show.
Here is the stand that the People’s Republic of China had. They were demonstrating how they have brought their farming technology and assistance to Tonga.
There are two charter boat operators here, The Moorings and Sunsail, and both operate from the same dock and shore facilities. They provide moorings, water, diesel, showers etc to visiting cruisers. There is a large (and getting larger every week, as cyclone season approaches in November) contingent of cruisers here, reminding us of our time in Georgetown Bahamas and Grenada. There is a morning radio net, on channel 26 at 0830 seven days a week. Apparently there are a small number that remain during cyclone season, staying on a “hurricane” mooring, if there is such a thing…..
We took a “Cart tour” one day with Vava’u Adventures. We drove around in these little “buggies” from 1000 to 1600.
It sounds exciting, but in reality, the ride is rough and unreliable. Of the four buggies we had, two of them kept breaking down. We left ours running because it was a nuisance to keep boosting the battery. It did give us a different perspective on the island though.
We had a great tour of the Botanical Gardens, which is privately owned and managed by a retired and very knowledgeable former government official for agriculture.
Here - I found a very big, but apparently not poisonous spider laying in its web in the jungle.
The anchorage at Neiafu is deep, 90-140 feet, so nearly everyone takes a mooring. Many of the moorings are very strong, “typhoon-rated” but some are not. The cost of the mooring varies from 12-15TOP ($ 6 - $ 7.50US) per night. A few boats anchored in close to shore, but the bottom isn’t really conducive to anchoring.
We went for a tradition Tongan Feast on Lapi Island, something that many cruisers before us had raved about. We found Lapi to be a small island with only about 30 people living there. They put on a pig roast (suckling pig) and at least 10 side dishes for us to enjoy, at a cost of 40TOP ($ 20US) per person. The meal was pretty good, but sadly there were simply not enough pork or other dishes to cater to the number of cruisers (about 40) that reserved. The event was way “over-sold” by about 50%. This is the “plate” we were served, tasty food on a banana tree stalk.
It was good to have a small tour of the island though, and see solar panels (190W per house) donated by the people of Japan and the renovated church (thanks to the people of the USA).
Each household is obliged by custom to make and maintain a “tapa”, a hand-made wall covering. These tapas are there when a baby is born and when people die, they are double-wrapped in one (the second layer being made of reeds) for burial.
Children learn English as a second language, in school. We visited a small school and had a conversation with the English teacher. Naturally, the children are shy to speak English, but they get over it.
Their map of the world shows the Pacific ocean as the centre, contrary to our view with North America being in the centre.
As we head further West, and South, we’ve noticed that the air and water temperature is getting cooler, made even more noticeable because of the El Nino year and effect on climate. We don’t use fans at night much anymore, and sometimes even use a blanket! Its strange that cold air comes from the South, but that’s where Antarctica is. The water temperature is so cold (22-24C) that we even take our hot showers indoors and haven’t taken a shower on the transom in weeks. I suppose that’s why the whales like it in this area. The air temperature though is still in the 20-26C range.
The Internet is not too bad, much better than what we had in Niue, but we’re looking forward to fast Internet in Fiji. Supposedly, they is fibre optic cable laid to Fiji, and that’s where all our computer, laptop, iPad and phone updates will be downloaded!
1 August 2015 Niue (pronounced New-eee)
We arrived in Niue on 27 July, after a passage 1067nm (1976km), taking just under 8 days. We had a few slow days at first with light winds, but day 6 and 7 were record-breakers, attaining 175nm for Day 6 and 170nm for Day 7. Surprisingly, there was nothing broken on the boat on arrival - another record! We crossed the South Pacific Convergence Zone and that brought rain, mist, high winds, overcast skies, and mostly a big swell of over 12’ from the SE - making the trip pretty lumpy for most of the way. Most of the way we sailed with a double reefed mainsail and only about 1/3 of the jib.
Jack Canfield, our crew member that we took on in Papeete, has mastered his sea-sickness on this passage. A few weeks ago, when sailing from Papeete to Bora Bora, he was really sea-sick, but he still did his watch from 0200 to 0500. On this 8 day leg, Jack did much better using “the patch” this time, behind his ear, and he wasn’t sea-sick at all. He just needed the right drugs. Jack is moving over to join Peter and Miranda on SV TAYRONA to help them with their next leg to Tonga and Fiji. They are on a “faster” schedule and have an unreliable autopilot - and could use another crew-member.
History tells us that the first European to sight Niue was Captain James Cook in 1774. He made three attempts to land but was discouraged by the inhabitants. Subsequently, he named the island "Savage Island" because, as legend has it, the natives who "greeted" him were painted in what appeared to be blood and he was afraid that they were cannibals - although the substance on their teeth was probably hulahula, a native red banana.
Niue is known as the “Rock of Polynesia” and is a self-governing state (of 1400 inhabitants on the island) in free association with New Zealand. New Zealand conducts most of its diplomatic relations on its behalf. Niueans are New Zealand citizens, and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state in her capacity as Queen of New Zealand. It surprised me to learn that 90 to 95 percent of Niuean people live in New Zealand, along with about 70% of the speakers of the Niuean language. They use the NZ dollar here, which seems to be worth about 10% less than the Canadian dollar. Everybody is suffering against the strong US dollar right now. I’ve noticed the cooler temperatures, and colder water, perhaps similar weather to what we’ve experienced in the Bahamas in late January. Our 19 degrees South latitude is similar to the Bahamas at 19 degrees North. When in the Bahamas in the winter, we were regularly pummelled with cold NE winds. Here in Niue, it seems that the cold wind comes from the SE, since we’re in the Southern hemisphere. One big difference with the Bahamas though is that humpback whales flock here with their calves on an annual basis. We’ve seen whales nearly every day. We’ve even heard them at night, as they cruise through the anchorage and sometimes burp or fart!
Niue is one of the world's largest coral islands and the terrain consists of steep limestone cliffs along the coast with a central plateau rising to only about 60 metres above sea level. There is no shortage of water on this island. Niue is an old volcano, where the surrounding atoll has nearly disappeared and the volcano in the centre collapsed millions of years ago. There is a sizeable limestone cap underground capturing a huge reservoir of fresh water. Some of the soils are geochemically very unusual. They are extremely highly weathered tropical soils, with high levels of iron, aluminium oxides and mercury, and they contain high levels of natural radioactivity. There is almost no uranium, but the radionuclides Th-230 and Pa-231 head the decay chains. This is the same distribution of elements as found naturally on very deep seabeds, but the geochemical evidence suggests that the origin of these elements is extreme weathering of coral and brief sea submergence 120,000 years ago. No adverse health effects from the radioactivity or the other trace elements have been demonstrated, and calculations show that the level of radioactivity is probably much too low to be detected in the population, but - according to the World Health Organization, residents are evidently very susceptible to skin cancer (maybe more related to the lack of adequate care than radiation in the soil?). In 2002 Niue reported 2,482 deaths per 100,000 people – far higher than any other country.
Diane cleans the “heads” every Wednesday. A few days ago, she put some strong cleaner in the bowl, which was then flushed up into the hoses. Diane instructed Jack that he couldn’t use the toilet during the night because the solution had to sit in the hoses overnight - but if he had to, he could use the aft head. Wouldn’t you know it, the urge hit Jack and he needed a toilet at midnight. So, rather than tip-toeing through the aft cabin, he decided to go out through the companionway door and across the aft deck down to the swim platform. As he was crouching down, doing his thing on the swim platform, he was “greeted” by a curious sea snake, nearly “scaring the shit out of him”! The sea snake was much like this one, and they seem to be very common on this island.
We’ve been to the grocery store a few times, and now we’re seeing a lot of products from New Zealand and elsewhere in the Pacific Rim. For example, I took particular notice of these yoghurt kits - I’ve never seen them before. We don’t need a yoghurt kit, since Diane makes our yoghurt every two days, but I thought the product was interesting.
The swell is often so bad at the town dock/concrete wharf (the only dock) that there are no floating docks and consequently no safe way to tie up a dinghy. The government has installed an electrically operated crane, which is used to launch nearly all the boats. Each day, we use it to haul our dinghy up, and then put it on a small trailer to move it over to a parking spot on the concrete pad.
There is a conspicuous absence of graveyards on the island. It could be because there is just no dirt. Any holes that need to be dug are done so with a jack-hammer or “drill and blast”. People are usually buried in their family plots, on family land. If you don’t own any land, then your body (when you’re dead) has to be taken off island for burial (typically flown to New Zealand).
Here’s something interesting, welcome to the smoke-free village of Tuapa.
Apparently, nobody smokes in this village. According to Wikipedia, in 2003 Niue became the world's first "Wi-Fi nation", with the Internet Users Society-Niue providing free wireless Internet access throughout the country. In fact, based on my observations there is NO FREE WIFI access in Niue. The Internet is slow, not expensive, but not unexpectedly — slow. I had to laugh when I saw that sign declaring that the village of Tuapa was “smoke-free” and wondered about the use of the English language in declaring Niue as a “wifi-free-Internet” access nation - (no smokes, no wifi !!) We do get Internet on the boat, but its not good enough for a Skype call or any streaming video.
Niue has some monster size coconut crabs. These are colourful fellows and the locals actually hunt and eat them.
This family uses their truck and a long pole to harvest coconuts for an occupation.
We met a local fellow who is building a new bar. Most people might take a photo of his bar, but me - I took a photo of his lumber, which is grown and sawed on the island of Niue. Its nice looking lumber.
We went on a really good island tour with Commodore Keith (of the Niue Yacht Club) and his wife Sue. They took us to see pristine clear, fresh water mixing in pools with salt water producing beautiful grottos, caverns and chasms - unique in our experience. We saw lots of very colourful stalactites and stalagmites. Here, there are brilliant night skies with no light pollution as well.
Of course, you won’t find this photo in the typical tourist brochure. This is an example of one of the public toilets / outhouses at one of the many sites. They all have toilet paper and pressurized water, the water being useful for washing shoes and rinsing snorkelling gear.
Farewell Niue, next stop is the Kingdom of Tonga.
19 July 2015 Bora Bora, French Polynesia
We arrived in Bora Bora on a Friday morning, and will be leaving tomorrow - Monday morning. It was really too short to form an honest opinion, but we had to leave because of weather and visa timings. We are limited to 90 days with our visa, so we had to be careful. We’ve heard horror stories of people being fined when staying past their dates. For us, though, we also had to watch the weather carefully. This being an El Nino year, the Easterly trades are weaker and the South Pacific Convergence Zone pushes North, right in our path as we head West.
I emailed Met Bob (Bob McDavitt in NZ) and he accepted the job of “weather routing” us to Niue, 1065nm West of Bora Bora on the rhumb-line.
Bora Bora was a US military supply base during WWII, but nothing seems to remain of that. Now it is a very popular tourist destination offering crystal clear waters and stunning scenery. The local population is about 8,800 people. Unfortunately for us, they were refinishing the main road at the water front, so every time we went ashore, our shoes got muddy. We did go snorkelling once, and yes the waters were extremely clear.
We took on crew-member Jack Canfield (a US citizen) while dockside in Tahiti and he sailed with us to Bora Bora. He’ll continue further west with us, possibly to Tongo. This is a touristic photo op of Jack in front of the famous view of the twin mountain peaks of Bora Bora.
This surprised me, moto-cross bikes, in Bora Bora. Who would have thought?
Finally, this was the last thing on shore we saw, the office of the Gendarmarie, where we did our out-clearances. Easy and cheap - free in fact.
9 July 2015 Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
We’re back at the Marina - and there’s more about “why” below. The primary reason I’m writing this blog is to express my thoughts after attending last nights dance performance at the Tahiti Heiva (pronounced “heave-ah”). The Heiva is an annual cultural festival and parts of it are held within walking distance of our marina. In addition to traditional spear throwing, canoe races and other sportive venues, there are also dance and singing competitions. The dance and singing events take place only 15 minutes walk from the marina. Returning to Tahiti while the Heiva is ongoing gave us an opportunity to attend and see first hand Polynesian singing and dancing in Tahiti. We went last night with Bill, Laura and Isobel of SV Sunrise (who we first met, coincidentally about 6 years ago in the Bahamas).
I’ve read that Tahitian dance choreography is determined by the rhythm and tempo of the drums - and the style of dance is commonly known for the specific hip movements that later developed into the hula dance in Hawaii. The Tahitian women use abrupt hip movements that are enhanced by elaborate costumes with long grass skirts. The upper body remains more fluid and the head rarely moves. The dancers are obviously highly synchronized and this all lends to a hypnotic effect when watching two hundred or more swaying to the drums. In partner dances the male dancer is often doing a different type of motion (involving bending at the knees with their arms out parallel to the floor) than the female dancer. Watching this energetic dancing, primarily in synchronization with the high tempo beat of the drums was just fantastic. I felt like we were extras in a “King Kong” movie! Nothing I’ve ever seen can compare. Unfortunately, photography of any kind was strictly forbidden, but a casual search on Google and YouTube produced some good material. For example, this video is quite good, and I think it really shows what we saw.
The reason that we’re dockside again, and haven’t continued West - yet, is that our mainsail is damaged. On 29 June, we attempted to sail out of Cooks Bay at Moorea and while hoisting the mainsail, it tore along the luff edge in several places. Since removing the Tides Marine ultra-high-molecular-weight black plastic “slippery track” when in Galapagos in March, the bronze sliders have often been “sticky” to hoist in the remaining aluminum track, sometimes, too sticky for use. So, we’ve come back to the dock.
These photos show where the Tides track is fitted, and how the mainsail attaches to it.
The track was 14 years old and has evidently suffered some UV damage, to the extent that some of the bronze sliders would “pop” out of the track while we were sailing. This could have presented us with a very difficult situation while underway, so we decided to un-install the track and throw it in the garbage when in the Galapagos and continue sailing West without it - relying on the aluminum track. Now, of course, we’ve decided that this is too risky.
The sail is now with a sailmaker and we should have it back in a few days. My sister-in-law Karin has sent us a new Tides Marine sail track (that we had ordered back in March and had sent “home” in the event that we needed a new one) via TNT shipping, and we should have that in a few days. Our visa for French Polynesia is time limited to exactly 90 days and will expire on 26 July, so we’re also making an attempt to try and get an extension of a few weeks. There are “lots of irons in the fire” so to speak, but we’re still enjoying what we’re doing and where we are.
27 June 2015 Moorea, Society Islands, French Polynesia
After leaving Tahiti, we first visited the island of Moorea, only 17nm West. After being dockside for a month and then making such a short passage - every squeak and buzz has a tendency to sound different and somewhat alarming. We clearly needed to get back into the routine.
We forgot to put the bar in place to hold the forward shower door (our pantry) and it opened when the first wave hit the side. Consequently, a cardboard litre of milk crashed to the floor and emptied its contents, much to Diane’s chagrin.
A few hours later, we anchored in tranquil Cooks Bay, where the towering mountains reduced the hours of sunlight even less than the 11 hours we’ve been getting (winter in the southern hemisphere) to only about 9.5 hours. The first morning the temperature was a chilly 23C in the aft cabin where we sleep. It was incredibly quiet being on anchor in this deep, well protected bay, after being in the hustle and bustle of Papeete for a month. There was no swell, little to no traffic and very little wind, but, we had free wifi and a half decent grocery store!
I didn’t take either of these photos, but fetched them from Google. They are excellent aerial views of Moorea, the island we’re currently visiting. Absolutely stunning views!
Last week when we were in Tahiti, we took part in the Pacific Puddle Jumper’s Rally, and were entertained by Polynesian dancers. Unfortunately, the dancers photos didn’t turn out, but instead we have photos of Wade and Diane, followed by Chris and Chris on SV Scintilla (from Seattle Washington). We’ve been hanging around with C-squared quite a bit lately.
Diane and Chris found a store selling these polynesian skirts at bargain prices and couldn’t resist them.
Next on the list of islands to visit is Huahine, about 93nm West, an easy overnight passage. We expect to sail there in the coming week.
12 June 2015 Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
So, where exactly are we now? This first map shows where we are, in the South Pacific, while the second map zooms in on French Polynesia.
We’ve already visited the Marquesas and the Tuamotos and are now in the Society Islands. We won’t be going to the Gambiers or the Australs Islands.
We’ve been in Tahiti for over two weeks now. We’re currently dockside at the marina downtown, with new floating docks, where there is a 50% discount running until the 30th of June. We just couldn’t turn down staying dockside for 30 days, at $ 21 per day. I treated this period like an abbreviated hurricane season “time-out”. The big difference being, its not hurricane season, but we are taking the time to get boat jobs completed. For example, we’ve taken the jib sail over to a sailmaker where he is restitching it, and attaching a new boltrope/luff tape. The jib is a critical sail and with 2700nm remaining until we get to New Zealand, its worth getting the attention now. Here, SV Joana is docked with the cruise ship “Legend of the Seas” in the background. The reality is that when a cruise ship is “in town” we don’t go ashore or use the Internet. The streets and shops are full with cruise ship tourists and the Internet is much too slow with all the extra attention.
Being downtown has its advantages. We are only about a 5 minute walk from the fresh market where we can get fresh fruit and vegetables without going to a grocery store. We’re also within walking distance of dozens of restaurants and shops. At night, the ferry dock parking lot is taken over with “roulettes” or camper vans, and vendors set up for restaurant economy priced meals. All in all, we’re very happy with being downtown.
Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and there is certainly a concentration of people living here. I’ve read that nearly half of the 500,000 French Polynesian citizens live in Tahiti, and there is no question as to why. Its an absolutely beautiful island, surrounded by a protective coral reef. Boating and anchoring inside the protective ring of the coral reef is a treat. Although French Polynesia is standardized with European electricity, 220V and 50Hz - for some reason, Tahiti is 60Hz. MacDonald’s is here, and so is Carrefour - the French grocery store chain.
The downtown waterfront is beautiful with many parks and walkways. Even the concrete concrete wharf area is well lit with pedestrian lighting and literally dozens of underwater lights for the fish.
There are lots of boating clubs on Tahiti and many of them offer storage for local pirogues (they look like outrigger canoes to me). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tourist in one of these, just the locals.
We came across this Tiki in the park. There aren’t very many of them left and I don’t know the origin.
When Brian Alexander was still with us, the three of us took a day long island tour with Corinne Mateata McKittrick. Corrine has a PhD in Polynesian languages and Civilizations and gave us a personal tour of Tahiti in her car. Our tour started at 0800 and finished at dusk, 1730. We know of other cruisers who have rented a car and paid much more, to end up seeing much less. I can highly recommend her services. She can be contacted through our agent Tehani at Tahiti Crew (office is onsite at Marina Taina).
Corrine took us to a waterfall (one of many), where we stripped down and enjoyed a cool freshwater shower/swim. We joked about a coconut falling from above and next thing you know, a coconut splashed right next to Brian - almost beaning him on the head!
We all tried some local heated fruit treat called Mape Chaud. The taste was similar to roasted chestnuts. I can’t say that I liked it, but I did try it.
We also went to the marae Maraeta’ata, where you will find three enclosures thought to have been built over time in several stages. A marae is an ancient, sacred place and sometimes they hold historical reenactments during festivals.
As we move further West, we are headed for Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Maupihaa, part of the Society Archipelago and the Leeward Islands. We have to leave French Polynesia by 26 July because our 90 day visa will be up.
A few days ago, I made a short video to chronicle our journey from Galapagos to Tahiti. My thanks to Brian Alexander, who provided much of the video footage.
26 May 2015 Rangiroa, Tuamotos, French Polynesia
We have been in Rangiroa for the past week and have now made landfall in Tahiti. This blog is about our time in the Tuamotos. Here is our track from Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas, through the Tuamotos to Rangiroa - five days at sea.
On the way there, I took this photo of a bird that was hitch-hiking. Just at sunset, he was flying around looking for a good place to land on our boat. He ended up landing on the outboard motor hoist, just in front of the wind generator blades. What a precarious place to sit….
Rangiroa (meaning Vast Sky in Tuamotuan) or Te Kokōta (Hyades in Māori), is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus, and one of the largest in the world (although it is smaller than Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and Huvadhu in the Maldives). It is about 355 km Northeast of Tahiti and measures about 80 by 32 km.
The atoll of Rangiroa consists of about 415 motus, islets and sandbars comprising a total land area of about 170 km². There are approximately one hundred narrow passages (passes), although only two passes are possible for us to use. The others are too narrow or too shallow. The lagoon has a maximum depth of 35m and its surface is 1446 km² - and it is so large that it actually has its own horizon. In other words, where we were anchored, you could not see to the other side. On account of its shallow depth, the currents that come in and out through the passes, when combined with the winds can sometimes create interior storms with strong winds and waves coming from any direction. In the past week, we’ve had two significant storms blow through, both with West winds blowing at 30 knots plus and 3 to 6 foot waves “in the anchorage” blowing us towards the shore for 6 to 8 hours at a time. It was very harrowing, and the second time, we had to re-anchor at 0530, just at dawn.
It is believed that the first Polynesian settlers arrived on Rangiroa around the 10th century. The breeding and production of pearl oysters in the lagoon can produce black pearls. In fact, black pearls (meaning the marine cultured pearls produced from the black lip pearl oyster shell) are abundant in the atolls of French Polynesia. These pearls, which have a wide range of natural colours, from white to dark and all kinds of grey, are the only cultured pearls in the world with as many different natural colours as the famous green rose peacock. From what I’ve read, the technique of cultivation is to insert a mother of pearl bead in the animal (clam) together with a small piece of tissue (mantle) taken from another pearl oyster. The piece of tissue, as a graft, will develop quickly and form a skin around the bead and the animal will deposit mother of pearl on the surface of the bead. Even with perfectly round beads used in the graft, only 20% of the pearls will end up perfectly round at the harvest, about 2 years after the seeding. Pearl farming is done in more than 30 atolls of French Polynesia and is the main activity for numerous families in the Tuamotu archipelago and in Rangiroa, there are a few farms operating. The biggest farm, Gauguin's Pearl employed more than 50 local workers, and has a strong impact on the economy of this 2000 inhabitants atoll. Here is Brian Alexander coming out of a shop, where he made his purchases.
We learned something interesting in the Marquesas and have seen it again in the Tuamotos and it is a difficult and sensitive topic to discuss. In the Polynesian culture, they have introduced the term “rae-rae”, which is used interchangeably with “māhū” to describe men who want to act as women. I think this really refers to their behavioural status related to occupation and appropriate peer relations, rather than homosexual behaviour per se. Historical Western views vis-a-vis homosexuality and transvestites are considered very inappropriate here and these rae-raes are by and large considered functioning and totally accepted members of the family and social environment. Some rae-raes are married to women and have children. Nothing strange at all. I’d really like to show a few photos, but its not easy to take them and a very sensitive issue.
We came upon these local men, practising for a competition to be held in Tahiti in July. They are throwing spears at a coconut, mounted high up.
We dove several times in the Tiputa Pass with Eleuthera Plongee Rangiroa, a PADI dive shop operated by Yannick and his staff. We saw grey sharks, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, schools of barracuda, emperor fish……
The water clarity was absolutely amazing. We were mesmerized by the surf, and it was the first time we noticed that we could see through the incoming rolling waves on the bottom.
The water clarity was just unbelievable.
This parking sign in the Church parking lot clearly says “Parking” and not “Stationment” - and French Polynesia is a French Territory. I wonder what the Quebec sign police would have to say about this.
Here are some local kids that didn’t mind having their photo taken.
Although this was our only anchorage in the Tuamotos, it was certainly a memorable one.
10 May 2015 Nuku-Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia
This blog is about the island of Nuku-Hiva in the Marquesas, although we’ve just made “landfall” on the atoll of Rangiroa in the Tuamotos.
We stayed in Nuku-Hiva for 8 days. In those 8 days, we worked our way through my repair list, fixing all 18 items, including the SSB. We had a lot of failures during the 3,000nm South Pacific Ocean crossing, many of which could have failed anytime. Total cost for these repairs was trivial, since they only needed the use of onboard spares or materials, except for the fridge. With the fridge, we solicited the help of Kevin and Yacht Services Nuku-Hiva. Kevin has some basic refrigeration skills, a set of gauges and a large pressurized bottle of R134a, just what was needed for the job. At the time of drafting this blog, the fridge is still working….
There is a supply ship that comes into Nuku-Hiva every few weeks, and we were not disappointed with what we found on the shelves. Of course, the prices are quite high for alcohol, junk food, and soda pop, but certainly any fruit or vegetables grown on the island are excellent quality and price (tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, pumpkin, grapefruit, bananas, pineapple, onions, peppers, egg plant, cabbage, yuka, green beans and maybe more). Fishermen at the dock were happy to sell their fresh caught catch and lemon sharks fought for the scraps.
We took a full day island tour with Jocelyne’s Tours to see the island, and hear about its history. It cost us about $ 55 per person and the price is scaled depending on the number of tourists. There were cannibals here when the Europeans first arrived. Villages on the same island fought and ate each other. Within villages, they practiced human and animal sacrifice, on a regular basis. It seems strange now to see that nearly all of the inhabitants are practicing Catholics and some ancient Tika’s are positioned outside the church. This Catholic church had open-air construction so the breeze cooled the interior.
There seemed to be “un-owned” chickens and roosters everywhere. After asking about it, they say that all the chickens, pigs, cows, goats etc are in fact owned by people, but sometimes they’re penned or tied up, and sometimes “free-ranging”. There are no snakes or poisonous animals on the island, except for one very poisonous centipede. Apparently, the chickens like to chase after and eat these centipedes, so that would explain why the locals sweep their lawns every morning and like having chickens in the yard.
The government of France keeps the standard of living up in the islands comprising French Polynesia. As a territory, they get subsidies that help to provide paved roads, water and electrical services, policing and municipal support. The locals don’t get welfare though, and they don’t use the Euro here, but rather the Polynesian Franc.
During our tour, we were given a bit of an explanation of the cultural significance of the banyan tree. I don’t currently have access to Wikipedia or Google, but what I recall is that they buried their dead essentially in the roots of these banyan trees, providing spiritual and organic fodder. This banyan tree behind Brian is over 600 years old, very old for French Polynesia but apparently not old compared to some in Cambodia or Thailand.
These are a few of the tikis that we saw.
Most of the landscape was lush and tropical, like this view of Controller’s Bay.
However, on the paved road heading out to the airport at the NW corner of the island, the landscape was more arid, like steppe and there were even coniferous trees. We were told that before the Polynesian people migrated here, the only vegetation was ferns. There were no trees, just ferns. Everything has been brought in, over time - and everything grows!
I left our 33 lb Bruce anchor in Taiohae Bay. We were using it as a stern anchor (to keep our bow pointed into the swell), with 40 feet of chain and about 150 feet of 2” nylon webbing. When it came time to leave, it was a real bugger to get the anchor up. Brian and I tried with the dinghy and then I snorkelled on the anchor in 27 feet of water. I was able to wiggle the shank up and down but it wasn’t good enough for retrieval. Then I put a tank and SCUBA gear on, and worked on the set anchor for about 20 minutes. The anchor was set very well, in very highly compacted sand. We needed to leave the bay and set sail for the Tuamotos before nightfall, and I figured I didn’t want this anchor anymore……so, I undid the shackle, retrieved the chain and left the anchor stuck on the bottom. This just adds to the cost of cruising……
30 April 2015 Baie de Taiohae, Nuku-Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia
We arrived in the Marquesas on 27 April, after 24 days at sea. We left Isabella and the Galapagos on 4 April, expecting an 18-30 day sail - bound for Hiva Oa, not Nuka Hiva. No weather forecast will be reliable after 7 days, so you just pick your time of the year and go, based on historical averages.
On Day 4, we hoisted our $ 12,000 Parasailor and flew it like an asymmetric spinnaker over the starboard bow, in light seas and winds of 10-15 knots SE. We were averaging over 8 knots and often busted over 9 - incredible!
At dusk we discussed taking the sail down but decided to take the risk, keep it up, and enjoy the speed. The only negative was that the water generator (a trailing rope/shaft that spun a 12V DC generator) would often jump out of the water because the speed was too high. We decided to risk it. At 0300, when Diane was on shift (doesn’t it always happen when Diane is on shift?), a strong squall passed over us (and we had seen many lighter squalls) and it became “all hands on deck”. Brian had to take over the wheel, as the autopilot couldn’t hold the boat on course and ultimately - neither could Brian. We had sustained winds of over 35 knots and gusts to 40, over about 30 minutes. I “crab-walked” out to the foredeck and while getting set to “douse” the spinnaker, I watched in disbelief as it shredded before my eyes. In addition, the halyard parted, although it didn’t break. Retrieving our damaged spinnaker was now a lot harder. After about 1.5 hours, Diane and I got it down and stuffed in the bag - while Brian steered the boat. This was our fourth attempt to use a sail that we bought 8 years ago. I think we just confirmed that its “not appropriate” for our needs - and now of course it is significantly damaged and “bagged” on the deck.
On the evening of Day 6, I learned what its like to pass a kidney stone at the age of 59……Just after dinner, I started to get lower back pain on my left side. I thought I must have stretched something, or pulled something out of place. I took a tylenol and one diclofenac and then 1.5 hours later, the pain, discomfort and sweating was gone. Both Brian and Diane have had personal experience with kidney stones and thankfully mine was short.
On Day 9, our ONAN 6KW generator gave problems that we collectively thought were related to fuel. It looked like contaminated diesel bought in the Galapagos. I changed primary and secondary fuel filters multiple times and eventually changed the fuel lines over to the reserve jerry cans, but the problem persisted. It sounded sluggish, wouldn’t handle a full load and often died like it was starved for fuel. Finally, by Day 16, I had the bright idea to change the 12V fuel pump and after two days declared that the problem was gone - with certainty. We continued to run off the jerry cans until we reached the anchorage, just to be on the safe side. It turned out that the fuel quality was just fine. Without the generator for 7 days, meals had to be cooked on the BBQ (on the poop deck) and the single burner gymballed camping stove in the galley. When that little single burner stove fell on the floor (with the boat heaving from side to side), both Diane and I had reached our collective limit! It was probably then that I offered to sell SV Joana to Brian for $ 1 CDN, if he paid the HST, but even he was wise to refuse!
On Day 10, the refrigerator started to give us problems. It looked like it was low on refrigerant, again - this last happened only a month ago. I took nearly two days to drain and recharge it. Meanwhile, the perishable fruit and vegetables had dwindled to nearly nothing. We moved the milk and cheese onto the lower shelf of the freezer and set the temperature at its least cold setting. We finally had to accept that we couldn’t get the fridge going again, and it will be a top priority when we reach an anchorage with suitable shoreside support (maybe Tahiti?).
On the evening of Day 11, I had a flying fish land on my pillow while sleeping in the aft cabin with an overhead hatch slightly open. Normally, when we’re at sea, we leave all the hatches and port lights closed, for safety reasons. However, since the temperature was hot and the seas pretty benign, we started opening a couple up during the daytime to make meal preparation more pleasant and air the boat out. I was sleeping in the aft cabin at 1130pm and suddenly awoke to find a live, twitching flying fish next to my head! My hatch was open just a crack, about 4”, but still, somehow, the little fellow managed to get in there! I turned the lights on and got my hands on the slime bugger and propelled him back into the sea! A few days later, Brian had the fore cabin hatch open for a few hours in the afternoon to air it out, and he was similarly greeted by a flopping visitor on the floor!
On Day 12, Brian was rinsing the glass French press on the swim platform, he slipped and the “unbreakable glass” carafe broke. Whoops! Fresh coffee is a big deal to coffee drinkers, not me. Diane had a spare, but it was only for single cup use.
Also, on Day 12, we tried to start the Volvo after not using it since the first 8 hours out of Galapagos. We thought that since the generator was not reliable, we should verify that the Volvo would be up to the task for battery charging. Much to our shock, the Volvo wouldn’t start! It was “locked up”, not “seized” but locked up. I could manually turn it with a big wrench at the front pulley, but only about 1/4 of a revolution. The likely culprit was that seawater had somehow weeped into the head and the motor wouldn’t turn either with the starter or with a socket/ratchet on the front pulley. By Day 17, Brian and I removed the injectors underway, in a very rough seaway, sucked water out using our shop-vac, re-installed the “clean” injectors, bled the fuel lines and then got the Volvo going again. I had to do another two oil changes underway, and in a rolling seaway spilt a little oil…. We handled the problem. Whew!
On Day 20, with a clear blue sky and winds of 15-18 knots, we noticed the jib wasn’t set properly. On examination, it seemed that the jib halyard shackle had broken - after 20 days of constant use. So, we furled the jib and removed the whisker pole, then unfurled the jib and lowered it to the deck (much harder to do in the wind than it sounds). Then, we hoisted the jib again using a spare halyard, furled it, re-attached the whisker pole and unfurled it again. By this time, I was pooped, but the problem was solved. In the anchorage, Brian will go up the mast in a bosun’s chair, retrieve the errant halyard and bring it down, for a new shackle to be fitted.
On Day 21, at 0500 we first spotted SV Cativa, with our friends Maurice and Maria onboard. Based on their AIS track on our chartplotter, it was evident they were bound for Hiva Oa, whereas we were bound just a little further NW for Nuka Hiva. We tried to raise them on the VHF radio for several hours with no response. The closest they came to us was about 4nm, and that was just visible with binoculars over the swell. We were pretty excited because this was to be our only contact with another sailboat over the 24 day passage. I look forward to making contact with them in some anchorage in the future to ask if they had seen us.
From Day 12 to Day 22, we had reasonable E winds of 15-16 knots, but it was accompanied by a constant swell from the SE. This made the boat rock back and forth continuously, day in, day out. This, of course, made a lot of day to day activities difficult. It was very fortunate nobody fell down, banged their head or fell overboard.
We saw dolphins only once. There may have been more at night, but we never noticed. Brian went out on the bow to talk with this pod.
On Days 23/24, the wind was just too light and we just motored the last 330nm, charging all batteries and filling the water tank. We had a nice sunset though.
We were very unlucky with fishing. Every day we put out at least one line, sometimes two. We had to be careful not to get tangled in the water generator that was trailing behind as well. To be truthful, we “caught” three fish, but only ate one. The first one we “caught” was a small tuna that managed to wriggle off the hook before I got him up on the deck. The second one, that we ate, was a small white fish of some kind, maybe a cero, and it fed the three of us for one meal. The third fish was actually a large flying fish that we released back into the wild. We didn’t have the best lures, and since this was an El Nino year, maybe the higher water temperatures contributed to the lack of fish as well. We’ll buy more fishing tackle in the Marquesas.
At dawn, on Day 24 - we made our first landfall in French Polynesia - the island of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas (Baie Taiohae). The views were stunning and unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. Much to our surprise, there are about 40 sailboats here, and they are constantly coming and going. This is peak season.
Daily routine continues while underway, even on a long voyage. We mostly had hot breakfasts in the morning (eggs, toast, coffee, home-made yoghurt), salad (after 5 days though this wasn’t possible), sandwiches/wraps or soup for lunch and then a hot dinner of some kind (often cooked in the pressure cooker). Diane made fresh cinnamon rolls once. I placed our Weber BBQ on the poop deck and used it to make dinner when the generator wasn’t working. On Wednesdays, Diane cleaned the heads. Brian and I fixed what I could underway (broken hose clamp, replaced fuel filters, made a rope snubber, replaced a halyard etc) in order to lessen the job list on arrival in the Marquesas. We read a lot of books, and listened to music. We didn’t watch movies per se as a group but Brian huddled in his berth and sometimes watched episodes of “House of Cards”. We took showers every second day, Brian on one day and Diane and I on the other. This reduced the burden on the water maker and made it easier to hang the wet towels on the lifelines without getting saltwater splashes. We even washed clothes in a bucket a few times. I didn’t want to run our Maytag washing machine when the boat was heeled. We did follow a shift schedule. Someone was always in the cockpit, keeping an eye on things. If the weather was nice, all of us were in the cockpit. During the daytime it was pretty loose, with no schedule, but we had a schedule at night. I was on shift from 8-11pm, followed by Diane from 11pm to 2am and then Brian from 2am to 5am. I came back on from 5-8am and then we were on a loose “daytime” routine again. From Galapagos to the Marquesas we had to move our clocks back 3.5 hours. We just did it when we felt like it, based on when sunrise and sunset occurred, “SV Joana time”.
We thought that our passage was particularly stressful, mostly because of equipment failures, many of which I should point out were solved before reaching the anchorage - and some unrelated to the trip. We heard of one sailboat, Nirvana Now, that had a rudder post failure, losing steerage, leaking so much water into the boat that their pumps couldn’t keep up. They were rescued midway by another sailboat. They were ordered by the USCG to scuttle their 49’ boat so that it didn’t present a hazard to other mariners. They are now anchored in the same bay as us. Another couple we know, on SV Cativa took 40 days in their passage from Panama to Marquesas. In that light, our passage of 24 days didn’t seem all that bad. Now that I’m posting the blog, the hardships of this voyage seem like a distant memory, and I’m glad that Brian didn’t buy SV Joana from me for $ 1 as promoted.
We’re hopeful that the fridge can be fixed in Nuku Hiva, and there are still a number of other issues remaining that will need our attention over the coming weeks - as we prepare for the next leg of our journey, to the Tuamotos and then Tahiti. For now, we just want to fix stuff and see something of this island.
4 April 2015 - Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabella - Galapagos
The anchorage at Isabella was well sheltered from the swell by natural reefs. Surprisingly, there were some mooring balls there, but we usually shy away from them — too risky. There were only about 3,000 inhabitants on the island, and all of the town streets were dug up and under construction - all gravel and no sign of a grader either. There is evidence of “road work”, but it will be a decade before its done. The water temperature was about the same as Santa Cruz, “tropical warm”, perhaps because of El Nino warming?
We did see sea lions and there was even a small colony of penguins living a short distance from where we anchored.
We paid a local taxi driver to take us to “the sights”. These included the “Wall of Tears”, an impressive wall of lava rock boulders built during the period 1946-1959 when there was a penal colony on Isabella.
We actually saw a tortoise “in the wild” as opposed to being in a conservation facility or nature preserve. We also saw pink flamingos in the wild.
The tour also included several natural vistas where you could look inland or toward the sea. We also visited several natural sinkholes and lava tunnels. One thing that struck us was the naturally occurring beach sand. These beaches are stunning and clearly the best to be found in the Galapagos, and competing for best that we’ve ever seen.
These are the unique “blue-footed boobies”, apparently unique to the Galapagos Islands.
There were sea lions in the harbour but they weren’t aggressive like on Cristobal. Sometimes we had one on our swim platform but it wasn’t a problem.
Here, we walked past the “Red Lobster” restaurant. It doesn’t look like they’re related to the restaurant chain “Red Lobster” known back home.
As we suspected, the Internet absolutely stunk. It was so bad that I postponed uploading this blog until we arrived in the Marquesas. This finished then our trip to the Galapagos. On the one hand it was interesting, but I can’t say it was value for money. We were only permitted to visit the three most inhabited islands, and they were bound to be somewhat spoiled. I’ve read that the population of the Galapagos Islands is about 25,000 and they get about 170,000 tourists per year. Most of these people are paying big bucks to see the islands on miniature cruise ships, and they are permitted to travel where we aren’t. The inhabited areas aren’t as pristine as they make them out to be, you can still see a bit of garbage on the streets, not a lot (like Panama, Colombia, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic), but its there.
These are the cruise ships tourists take, in this case there were three anchored right next to us and they were constantly ferrying passengers to shore and back, just like a big cruise ship (very annoying as it made a lot of waves).
I should record a comment about our Galapagos agent, Johnny Romero. We found his details on www.noonsite.com and contacted him while we were in Columbia, back in early December. He outlined the costs of an “autographo” (mostly government fees) and delivered extremely well. He is based in Santa Cruz, and his sister and brother covered for him on Cristobal. Even when we were departing Isabella (where he has no agent covering for him), he arranged for our international out-clearance, and we picked it up at the Port Captain’s office. Johnny was attentive and responsive to our needs. Beyond the initial cost of $ 2100US for the “autographo” and fees outlined in the beginning, we were never charged anything again.
Farewell to the iguanas …….
30 March 2015 - Academy Bay, Isla Santa Cruz - Galapagos
We left Wreck Bay and motored 42nm over to Academy Bay on 25 March. This brought us just a little closer to the Marquesas. Brian Alexander flew in from Thunder Bay to join us on 27 March. On arrival, we were greeted by a “black” marine iguana swimming by. These marine iguanas are apparently unique to these islands.
This is what his relatives look like, when on land.
Our initial observations are that the island of Santa Cruz is more touristic, a bit more commercial than San Cristobal, at least the waterfront is obviously so.
The sea lions are better behaved, and far less aggressive. At least we don’t see them laying on park benches and growling at tourists! The local fishing boats in San Cristobal were “wrapped” with barbed wire, and the ones that weren’t always had at least a couple sea lions lounging onboard. Here in Santa Cruz, none of the local fleet have taken precautions to keep the sea lions out, they’re much better behaved.
The dinghy dock is well attended, although we chose to leave our dinghy on the boat. Its easier for us and we can take a water taxi in or out for only $ 0.60 each way, unless its in the evening, when its a little more expensive. Its very convenient.
We spent one morning visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is a view of their waterfront, and of their travel-lift, the only one we’ve seen so far in the Galapagos.
This Centre is busy with efforts to repopulate many of the Galapagos islands with tortoises and land iguanas. “Lonesome George”, the last of his kind, found alone on Pinta Island, was brought to this Centre in 1972. Efforts were made to breed more of his kind, but I think they were fruitless. Nonetheless, they are making headway at increasing the population of both land tortoises and land iguanas.
Hey, did somebody lose a contact lens?
We had to look onshore for a replacement turnbuckle, to replace the tensioning arm for an alternator. Bodega Blanca is the “go-to” place here. It was very, very well outfitted and I can highly recommend it to others.
Another day, we took a taxi ride out into the countryside and were struck with the differences with San Cristobal. The island is much greener and has lots of trees.
One of our stops was the El Chaco 2 Ranch, where they provide a very natural environment for tortoises in the wild. Here, we discovered that tortoises like to eat passion fruit.
Brian is standing just behind this tortoise, to give an appreciation of the size.
These tortoises are enjoying the pond, together with a family of ducks.
Here, at the Visitor’s Centre, Brian tries on a real tortoise shell. They are surprisingly heavy, and include a large frame “bone backbone” inside. These are not plastic models.
All of the Galapagos islands are volcanic in origin. Due to erosion and the geological process, the top of the volcano eventually collapses, leaving a crater.
We also went into the underground lava tunnels, where we found mushrooms and green plants growing.
This is a Darwin Finch, native only to the Galapagos.
Also, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a photo of this spider.
Around town, its hard to miss this ATV with an external body shaped like a tortoise shell. We’ve seen it around quite a bit. This one is fiberglass, not a real tortoise shell.
At the waterfront, a local ex-fisherman has established a display of his collected cigarette butts. He has produced two “manikins” displaying the positive environmental impact of his collection. He has also written a book about his experience as a ship-wrecked fisherman, and Diane is currently reading it.
I went for a swim off the boat yesterday with Brian. The water temperature is noticeably warmer than it was in San Cristobal and back in Panama City. I’d say about 10 degrees warmer. There is always something going on nearby, one of the water taxis tipped over while delivering a few hundred gallons of fresh water to SV Conversations. We saw eight other water taxis come to the rescue.
We took on 80 gallons of fuel, buying it directly from our agent. It was delivered and pumped into our boat for $ 4 per gallon, not a bad price, given the conditions.
This morning, just as we were boarding the water taxi and heading for shore, Brian lost his footing and fell in the water. No damage done, just his pride - and wet clothes. Oh, and there was no alcohol involved!
20 March 2015 - Wreck Bay, Isla San Cristobal - Galapagos
At our first port, Wreck Bay on Isla San Cristobal, we were struck with the number of sea lions, and clear waters. Although there is a “fresh wreck” in the bay, the waters were surprisingly clear for a port. A supply ship ran aground here two months ago, and they’re still working on trying to re-float and move it, while “containing” the environmental spill. The park authorities told us not to put compost or food scraps in the water, but putting our food scraps or pumping our toilet waste overboard really can’t compare to the other issues going on. Everybody transfers fuel from jerry cans into their tanks since you can’t get close enough to the dock, unless you have a really small boat. There is always spillage. We burned about 106 of our 200 gallons getting here. Apparently, this is quite normal, being required to run your diesel for at least a few days on the way here. We’ve made a “deal” with a local water taxi operator to supply 72 gallons (US) at $ 4US per gallon. The government subsidized “local” price at the single roadside “gas” station is $ 1US per gallon.
On the subject of wifi, there are many secure networks, but none that we could connect to from the boat. I think nearly all of them are with local shore front establishments, coffee-shops bars, hotels and hostels - and they change their passwords on a regular basis to prevent moochers like us. In general, the Internet is very slow by any means. The cellular network offered only 2G, not even 3G speed. Over the past week, we’ve gotten into the habit of going into an Internet cafe and paying $ 2 per hour. In the end, its cheaper than buying a $ 5 coffee or ice cream - per person. We’ve found three Internet cafes but they’re all geared up to people using their machines, one you can plug into with an Ethernet cable, and only one has an active wifi network. Diane’s MacBook Air doesn’t even have a port to plug in an Ethernet cable.
Here’s a parting photo of our guests, John and Joy Ceelen, and their son Brian - from Rocky Mountain House Alberta. It was great having guests aboard for the Panama Canal transit and especially the passage from Panama to Galapagos, but now we’re back to our regular routine and I’ll bet the Ceelen clan are glad to back on dry land.
Johnny Romero is our agent, and his brother Gian-Carlos and sister Carmella did the local clearances for us, since they live on the island of San Christobal. There seems to be about 10 foreign flagged visiting sailboats in the anchorage at any given time, no local sailboats at all, although there are many local fishermen and guide boats. We are highly discouraged from taking our own dinghy ashore, and therefore use the local water taxis, at a cost of $ 1 per person, each way.
If you take your own dinghy, its very difficult to find a place to tie up, and even if you do, the odds that you’ll come back and find at least one sea lion camped out in your comfortable inflatable dinghy is very high. Even the supply ships don’t dock, there isn’t one. They anchor a few hundred metres out, and off-load their cargo with a crane onto small boats who ferry it ashore by hand.
While we still had guests, we took the “Highland Tour” for $ 50 pp, visiting the Cerro Colorado Galapagos Tortoise Breeding Station, the natural volcanic lake “El Junco” and a popular local beach. These tortoises are in a support centre, where they breed, eat, relax and walk around. Some of them are over 100 years old.
This volcanic lake also doubles as the islands fresh water reservoir during the dry season (now).
A few light storms have passed through here, usually resulting in a rolly anchorage for 6-8 hours, sometimes at night - which is a bummer. After our guests left, our fridge was running on and on and on, and when I had a look at the holding plate, it was heavily frosted over. Normally, we defrost every 5-6 weeks, but with 5 guests onboard for 3.5 weeks, our fridge was opened/closed much more often than normal, causing it to build up even more. So, overnight we defrosted the fridge, but then the next morning, the compressor still wouldn’t drive down colder than 38F - and kept running on and on. So, I pulled out the troubleshooting guide and proceeded to add some more refrigerant to it, R134A - the first time in nearly 5 years. Half a day later and it was working fine again. I did find one refrigerant pipe fitting that needed a little tightening, as it had a little evidence of oil around the fitting. The same day, our aft head pump plugged up, but thankfully it cleared itself after only a few hours.
Here are some photos of life ashore. We didn’t talk to this guy, but he was obviously fumigating.
This is where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, some locally grown. Open every day.
We’ve been told that the yellow and white flowers are native to Galapagos and not imported.
One day, after being ashore for a few hours, we returned to the boat to find it in a slightly different place than before (closer to a moored boat), so we decided to up-anchor and move a little. Low and behold, sitting on the top of the anchor was a huge rock (maybe 90 pounds) wedged in place. I had a hell of a time extracting this rock before re-setting the anchor. Then, 10 minutes after re-setting the anchor, the rope snubber (shackled to a cleat on the waterline) broke in half! The boat was bouncing up and down, winds were over 20 knots and there was a lot of traffic in the anchorage producing wakes - making the whole thing more tenuous. All of this occurred after a sleepless, rolly night! Thankfully, things have settled down.
The lack of good Internet is certainly a negative, at least for this island. The sea lions seem cute at first, but really they’re a nuisance. They’re all over the waterfront, sitting on park benches, shitting anywhere and everywhere. Nothing cute about that.
We roped off the transom area, to prevent any sea lions from getting up on deck. We know cruisers that have woken in the morning to find a sea lion in their cockpit, lounging on their cushions. They stink and make a mess. Nothing cute about that.
Several times a day, I go out with a boat hook and poke at the sea lion(s) on our swim platform, sometimes before they’ve had time to have a shit. Even if I run the generator, they still lay there, breathing in the diesel exhaust.
Several times, a sea lion has hopped up the transom stairs, and laid on our poop deck. Thankfully, without laying a POOP.
Next week, Brian Alexander from Thunder Bay will arrive on 27 March. We’ll be sailing to the next island, Santa Cruz, to pick him up. We don’t plan on setting off from Galapagos for the Marquesas until 9 April, or so, weather dependent.
13 March 2015 - Wreck Bay, Isla San Cristobal - Galapagos
I had to fix an exhaust system leak just before leaving Panama. Years ago, I had constructed and installed an ABS section using two 90 degree elbows and a 1 foot length of straight pipe, ABS pipe - the “the bowels of the engine room”. According to the specifications for ABS, it can operate between -40F and + 170F, OK for a diesel engine, unless it overheats. Sometime in the past year, the exhaust temperature must have risen above that because one of the end fittings was slightly distorted and it was impossible to get a seal with the hose over top of it, leaking a very small amount of sea water while the engine was running. A few weeks ago, I replaced the engine exhaust elbow (cast iron with a SS insert) and a 3 foot length of hose while we were still in Portobelo but while transiting the Panama Canal I noticed the new leak through the ABS section to hose joint. Therefore, I got Ali (a German cruiser who welds Stainless Steel (SS) for other cruisers) to obtain the materials and replace the ABS section with SS. I did consider using PVC instead, but PVC can only operate up to 140F and although PVC is plentiful, unfortunately I couldn’t find any ABS in Panama. That repair taken care of, we left the La Playita anchorage, as planned on Tuesday 3 March. Being a little short on time, we decided to give the Los Perlos Islands a miss, and spend a few more days in the Galapagos.
We made landfall in the Galapagos on Monday 9 March. We had planned on 7 to 10 days, and have heard of other cruisers taking even longer. We figured we did very well to make this 920nm voyage in only just under 6 days. We had excellent winds for the first 3 days and essentially shot out of Panama with a broad reach and 15-22 knots of wind. Under full sail, we were consistently doing 6.5 to 7.5 knots with very comfortable seas. Then on day 4, the winds started to reduce, and we had to start motor-sailing. Then, I discovered that the engine starting battery I replaced while in Portobelo only a month ago was a dud. It didn’t have sufficient charge to start the engine! After some frustrating trouble-shooting, where I thought that in the worst case the engine had seized, and believe me, that is the worst case — I ended up coupling the bow battery and then started the Volvo. Nervous moments! The charging circuit and cables all seem to be fine. Therefore, I’ll be searching to buy a new starting battery here in the Galapagos, not the best place, I imagine to make a purchase like this!
On day 5, after crossing the equator, we had a ceremony to mark the event and pay homage to King Neptune. A few words were said, and a shot of the finest whiskey was offered to King Neptune and then consumed by all aboard.
We struck the sails and lay ahull for about two hours to do laundry and do a final scraping/cleaning of the hull surfaces. Apparently, the authorities in Galapagos are very picky about hull bottom cleanliness. I also wanted to slow down a bit, and arrive at an unfamiliar anchorage at dawn, and not before.
Scrapping the waterline and doing a final cleaning of the hull was “interesting”. The depth of the water was nearly 10,000 feet, with brilliant sun and bright blue seas. Visibility was incredible, at least looking forward in the crystal clear waters. With the boat lying ahull, it was moving forward, sailing (without any sails up) with may 1.5 knots. This made it a real challenge to swim along the side, keeping up and scrapping or brushing the waterline! Thankfully, there were no sharks or jelly fish to be seen.
One early morning I noticed this sea bird had landed on our bow anchor, hitching a ride to the Galapagos.
We arrived early in the morning of day 6, on 9 March.
That afternoon, we completed our clearances with 7 authorities coming aboard, and additionally a SCUBA diver in the water to inspect our hull. Much ado about nothing I’d say. They wanted a lot of detail about the holding tanks, how we were going to dispose of garbage etc, but in the end it wasn’t so bad. We are in a “serious” marine park, after all. The cost for our 30 day “Autographo”, or permission to cruise in Galapagos waters is $ 2100US, the most expensive by-far, of any clearances we’ve ever made. The Internet is incredibly poor here, in our experience second only to Cuba as the slowest we’ve ever experienced. Within a few hours of arriving, I made a $ 600US cash withdrawal from a bank machine. The machine lost its connection, I got my card returned but never got any money. Shit. That is the first time this has ever happened to me. I spoke with the bank manager but he said it is up to my own bank in Canada to conduct an investigation. It may take weeks and I may never see my $ 777CDN again. It has certainly put me off from using a bank machine here!
27 February 2015 - La Playita Anchorage, near Panama City, Panama
Well, we’re through the Panama Canal, and now getting ready to head out to the Galapagos.
To assist us with our transit, and upcoming voyage, John and Joy Ceelen (Diane’s brother and sister-in-law from Alberta) and their son Brian came to join us, arriving on 20 February while we were still anchored at Portobelo. Admittedly, it feels a little crowded on our boat with five people, when we normally spend months at a time just the two of us onboard - but its nice to have the company.
Although I’ve read a book explaining the history and construction of the Panama Canal, it made it all “real” as we passed through it. In short, the Canal is constructed roughly North to South and is approximately 82 km in length.
From the Atlantic side, our “Advisor” boarded us at “The Flats”, an anchorage near Colon, and stayed with us through the three Gatun locks taking us UP to the elevation of the Gatun Lake.
On the first night, we were rafted to two other boats, a catamaran in the middle and a smaller 40’ monohull on his port side. When we motored across the Gatun Lake, the other monohull couldn’t keep up, so he was delayed and we continued on without him.
We moored overnight at Gatun Lake, a surreal man-made lake, with crocodiles and howler monkeys in the jungle on shore. The next morning, we joined by a different advisor and set out to motor approximately 25nm to pass under the Centennial Bridge, reaching the Pedro Maguel lock and then the two Miraflores locks, in all three cases locking DOWN to the level of the Pacific Ocean. In summary, travelling from North to South, we locked UP to the level of the Gatun Lake and DOWN to the level of the Pacific Ocean.
Diane did a stellar job as the “helmsman”.
The Panama Canal is a marvel of engineering, and uses natural, fresh water for all the lock transits. All of this water normally drained down to either the Atlantic or Pacific sides, but is now “controlled” to provide a mechanism for the locking. This is a neat little video that shows how one transits the Canal.
One of the locks had a camera running and we had a friend send us a photo / screenshot from that camera. Our two rafted boats are small, but you can see the relative sizes.
We didn’t use an “Agent” to do the administration, saving at least $ 350-500, but did use Tito to rent lines and tires from. It was easy to do the administration ourselves.
Lots of very powerful tugs were in action.
Brian Ceelen made some time-lapse video of our own transit and I stitched it together into a short movie. Its really neat, as it shows us going through the stages. Brian tied his mother’s iPad Mini up on the starboard side, just under the solar panels. He made a separate movie for each of the different phases and I pulled it together and uploaded to YouTube.
We’re anchored now at La Playita, with about 40 other boats. The Pacific water is noticeably cooler, as when we went in for our late afternoon swim/shower shortly after arrival -the shrivel-factor was evident. It may be that I am the only one swimming every afternoon….
I have serviced the Volvo (changed oil and filter, changed primary and secondary fuel filters and greased some points in the drivetrain), and we have yet to return our rented tires and lines (we obtained 8 tires, 4 long lines and 1 fumigation certificate for a total of $ 119) to Tito. Brian and John took a taxi out to a gas station and purchased eight jerry cans of diesel and one jerry can of gasoline (two taxi runs) and Diane set out to buy another $ 850 worth of groceries. We are well stocked. Our Magma BBQ has completely failed on the inside shell, and we’ve replaced it with a Weber home BBQ.
Right now, we’ve got a small mechanical problem with an exhaust fitting, and Ali, a German cruiser is working on a solution for us.
13 February 2015 - Panama - A Morning Visit to the Zoo
For the past month, oftentimes when riding the bus from Portobelo to Sabanitas, we’ve driven through a little town called Maria Chiquita and an establishment labelled “Safarick’s Zoologico Panama”. Curious, yesterday, we decided to pay them a visit, and go to the zoo. A bonus for us, they offer a two-for-one discount on the admission price during a weekday.
As we were waiting for an English speaking guide to become available, the owner (Antonio) started talking with us and he ended up giving us a personal tour.
Antonio came here from the Montreal area about five years ago to retire. He told us that it wasn’t in his plans to start this business/attraction, he kind of just “fell into it”. He became interested in injured or abandoned animals, and eventually bought a property to house and care for them - and grew into this post-retirement hobby. Nearly all of the animals on-site have been donated. Some animals couldn’t survive any longer because they lost their habitat, due to rainforest logging. Some animals were injured in a road-side accident.
Animals are often delivered to the Animal Clinic by ANAM (The National Environmental Authority) when they are discovered in exotic animal trafficking, found injured on the road, orphaned in the forest or taken from owners that were not taking good care of their exotic pet. Any animal that comes to the zoo is first taken to the clinic for quarantine where they are placed under observation by the veterinarian and checked for injuries, diseases or illnesses. Once they are treated and are in good health, a decision is made whether the animal is ready to be released to the wild to live on its own.
Some animals that have been raised by humans and have not learned to care for themselves or are injured and unable to survive on their own are kept at Safarick’s Zoologico to join the rest of the animals that are an important tool in educating visitors about the wildlife on the Caribbean coast of Panama.
His zoo stood out in our experience, for many reasons. It was clean, orderly, bilingual (English/Spanish) and very functional. The staff obviously have a love for their animals. It is certainly worth a visit.
3 February 2015 - Portobelo, mainland Panama
We’re now in a “holding pattern”. I’ve undertaken the administration for our Panama Canal crossing and so far it has worked well. I completed the forms, submitted them by email, called by phone to verify that our boat is “in the system”, and then moved the boat about 20nm to the anchorage known as “The Flats” at the Atlantic entrance of the Canal for our appointment with the “measurer”. This is a view from the port side of our boat, as we motored in through the breakwater, entering the Panama Canal, about 40km West of our anchorage at Portobelo.
I took a photograph of the AIS targets on our OpenCPN chart plotter software. It looks pretty daunting, but the open space is huge and most of the ships were anchored.
Here, we continue to motor in to the flats anchorage, passing by a cruise ship on our port side that has just transited from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
The “measurement” at the flats was very simple, a joke - really. The guy came with a 25’ tape measure and measured our boat’s length and width, in inches. As long as our boat is between 50 and 70 feet, we pay a fixed fee to use the Canal - but they do try and stuff as many boats as they can in the available space. There were lots of forms, and lots of administrative repetition. Two days later, we trekked into Colon and paid our fees ($ 2375 US) at the Citi Bank in the Canal Zone - and then called in the next day to request our transit date. In that fee is also our “buffer” or security deposit of $ 891. As long as we follow the rules and show up on time, this should be returned to our bank account a couple of weeks after the transit. Our transit date (it will probably actually take two days, not one) is set for Tuesday 24 February. The time is unknown, but we’re guessing it will be an evening transit, maybe meeting with our advisor at about 1800 hours. Most boats go through within a week or two, but we wanted to give our incoming guests (John, Joy and Brian Ceelen from Alberta) plenty of lead-time to arrange flights.
I’ve taken a few photos of the surroundings in Portobelo. These are a couple of views from the old fort.
These views look up and down the Main Street.
This is their local church, the only one that I noticed.
This is a view, from the Fort, of the Town Dock. We’ve never tied up the dinghy there, but people do. There is a lot of traffic coming and going from that dock, but it looks OK.
Any cruiser who has been to Portobelo has stopped in at Captain Jacks. Jack is an American, from Philadelphia, I believe. He stopped by here, while cruising, about 15 years ago and liked it so much he decided to put down roots. He operates a hostel / hotel / bar / restaurant / hangout that is quite popular with expats. His restaurant offers Thai food, hamburgers and seafood and we’ve eaten there a couple of times. Jack of course speaks English as his first language and is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Panama and getting things done.
In the meantime, we’re puttering around with little jobs. The Caframo fan that cools “my side of the bed” crapped out a couple of days ago, some problem with the switch. So, I tossed it in the garbage and we went in the Abernathy’s in Colon to find a new one. The choices were very slim, only three fans were on the shelf, all identical but with different prices. Of course, I chose the cheapest one, noting that its features included “whisper-quiet” operation. After installation, it became obvious that this is an oscillating fan, one that should never be mounted on a bulkhead (because of vibration and noise). When mounted, it was very loud and operated only in one speed “hair-dryer mode”. After 10 minutes of operation, I shut it down and thought about what to do. The next morning, I rooted through the garbage, retrieved the old broken fan and set about to fix it. It was easily fixable as I determined that a loose wire on the switch was the problem, so I re-soldered the connection, remounted the fan and have had cool sleeps ever since! The “new” whisper quiet fan was subsequently mounted in our workshop, where the noise doesn’t matter.
We’ve been “stocking up”, filling our cupboards. We’ve heard that food and booze in French Polynesia is expensive, so we’re getting what we can now. A can of beer in Panama is about 50 cents, but in Tahiti its more like $ 5 — in the grocery store! While many cruisers profess that the best way to do this is to shop at Costco, Price Smart, Price Club etc - my thoughts are a little different. Experience tells me that a big, cheap jar of jam is not as cost effective as 3 or 4 smaller jars. Why? Because the jam (or mayonnaise for example) spoils over time. Unlike “dirt-dwellers” our refrigerator is not sized to store a hundred jars of salad dressing, mustard, catsup etc. We keep ALL the condiments on the shelf. With experience, we have found that smaller quantities are definitely the way to go. We have been to Price Smart in Panama City once, and yes indeed, it did look a lot like Costco back home, but we have to be careful of what we buy there.
Most of our provisioning shopping is being done at Sabanitas where we shop at Super 99 or Reys. We take a “Red Devil” bus to get there, $ 1.35 per person each way and it takes about an hour.
Here is one of those “Red Devil” buses waiting for passengers. All the local buses are dressed up, highly modified, second hand school buses from the States.
We’re even buying beer, boxed wine, soft drinks and many other items locally at one of the Chinese grocery stores right in Portobelo just so we don’t have to haul heavy stuff back by bus. Sure, its a little more expensive, but convenient. I even bartered to get the price of a case of 24 cans of Balboa beer knocked down from $ 18 to $ 16.
You do have to be very careful with the things you buy in any grocery store. We always unpack when we get to the boat, or even before loading the dinghy and leaving shore. We don’t want to bring back cardboard, for example, as it can have cockroach eggs. Any rice, flour, or pasta is heavily scrutinized while still in the grocery store - we’re looking for worms or bugs. This box of pasta (which we didn’t open until we got back to the boat) was crawling with bugs - right from Rey’s grocery store at Sabanitas.
Two months ago while in the San Blas Islands, our boat navigation computer 19” monitor was occasionally behaving erratically, apparently correcting itself when I gave it a good slap on the side! This told me that our monitor was being affected by the high percentage of salt in the air and should probably be replaced. While in Colon a few weeks ago to pay our Canal transit fees, we went into the duty free zone, and man-o-man were we awestruck! This “zone” is more like the downtown section of another city. I believe it is the duty free zone for the whole of Panama, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It had hundreds of shops selling clothes, bags, watches, jewellery, alcohol, tobacco, electronics etc. Just like what you’d see in a big airport, but twenty times bigger! It is certainly not under one roof or in one building either. We had a map to guide us around the streets and it was huge. In retrospect, we won’t bother going back to the duty free zone again. Yes, things were a little cheaper, without tax, but it was such a nuisance to get there and then walk around looking for the stuff. I did end up buying a replacement monitor (LED/LCD) but not until after looking in at least a dozen shops and pouring over many potential replacements, some that were already five years old!
As I post this blog, Diane is off on “a jolly”, a reconnaissance trip through the Canal. One thing that I learned in the Army is that “time spent in reccee - is seldom wasted”. Diane has volunteered to be a line handler for Timo and Nicole on SV SISU, a Canadian sailboat out of Campbell River BC. Over two days, she’ll gain first hand, very relevant experience for our Crossing. This will be very useful to minimize any anxiety we have.
16 January 2015 - Portobelo, mainland Panama
After Jonathan left on 31 December, things got quieter on the boat. We moved to the Southern entrance of the East Lemmons (about .7nm) where it was overcrowded with cruisers, some who were staging for further moves, but most were just lingering around the entrance rather than pushing through and finding a spot in the vast emptiness further inside - where we had come from. There were probably 30 boats crowded in the entrance, most inside the channel - where only 5 or 6 boats should safely anchor (without blocking the channel). If one boat dragged, there was going to be a domino effect……
Since we’ve been in the San Blas Islands, we’ve come to appreciate the natural beauty of the islands and the reefs. However, all is not well in paradise. Despite the complete lack of bare boat charterers, there is an overabundance of paid/professional charterers, most of which look like “red-neck hill-billies” (really, no nation in particular) carving out an existence with boats devoid of safety equipment or spares and overloaded with back-packers picked up in Cartagena or mainland Panama. We have seen the remnants of many of these boats lying on the reefs. Since we’ve been here, we’ve heard over the VHF radio the desperate cries for assistance for one whose engine was “covered in water” (“the” bilge pump wasn’t operating and there was no spare and no manual backup), another who needed assistance with their hydraulic steering, the SSB radio - and more if you got close. Also, on 8 January, we heard by name of one sailboat that crashed into a reef (and there it stayed) and then a second if you can believe it (this one an 80 foot back-packer sailboat - Independence) that ended up on a reef in the West Lemmons. The Captain blamed the incident on water in the fuel, but I think he is at fault for choosing the North entrance to a lagoon when the wind was 25-30 knots and swell over 10 feet. In both cases, I believe the boats are “lost” although thankfully there has been no loss of life. It makes me wonder, just how much effort I’ll make to help out one of these boats (when they seem unable to help themselves with proper charts, navigation choices and maintenance procedures) when the time comes. I remind myself that I’m under legal and moral obligation to preserve the loss of life, balanced against the risks that are undertaken, but am under no obligation to assist with the rescue of their decrepit vessel.
The next day we moved on to Esnasdup, and anchored in the quiet lee of the island. We had virtually no wind, no salt spray coming off the reef, no swell - and not a single charter boat in sight, probably because there were no beach bars or BBQs planned, just a few cruisers burning a bag of garbage. The Christmas winds (NE to ENE) had set up and we had constant winds of 20-25 knots and seas of 12-15 feet for several weeks.
Diane went in to Nargana with Cathy and Maria (and Jaimie) SV Joana No 1 and topped up on groceries, while I stayed behind and looked after the boat. When we were walking ashore one afternoon, we came across this completely gutted 50 foot sea container that had obviously washed ashore some years ago. Can you imagine running into this floating sea container, with a sailboat?
Or, how about all this garbage on the windward side of the island? Unfortunately, the windward side of the San Blas Islands serves to filter or catch floating garbage before it makes it to mainland Panama.
Again, we bought lobster and fish from local fishermen. Our practice is to buy from the locals, whenever it is available. We got these two tuna for $ 5 and made 4 meals out of it.
Since starting to cruise nearly 6 years ago, we’re rarely used our SSB, primarily to get weather information, first from Herb and next from Chris Parker. However, now that we’ve been in the San Blas Islands, we’ve started to regularly monitor and check in with various SSB nets operating in the area:
Magellan Net (or Mag net) operates at 0800L on 8173
SW Caribbean Net operates at 0815L on 6209
Panama Connection Net operates at 0830L on 8107 (alt 8167)
Each of these nets has various net controllers that seem to change from day to day. We rarely listen to all three nets in a row, since at least one net will end up being operated by a net controller that is located in some distant location where we can hardly hear him or her. We’ve been told that the Mag Net is populated with circumnavigators but I keep hearing people that are in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Florida or St Maarten, and few seem to have any interest in moving West. In short, we’re still looking for the right SSB net to belong to.
On 13 January, we decided it was time to vacate the San Blas islands and make for mainland Portobelo, Panama.
It is from Portobelo that we plan to conduct most of the administration for our Panama Canal crossing. By doing the administration ourselves and staying at anchor instead of at Shelter Bay, we’re bound to save at least a thousand dollars. To our disappointment, we found that our Digicel 4G phone/data plan didn’t work in this anchorage. Shortly after arriving in the San Blas over a month ago, we had bought a Digicel SIM card, time and a data plan. For $ 14.95, you can have 3GB over a 30 day period. A week ago, we topped up and bought another 3GB - which isn’t going to be possible to use in Portobelo. The day after we arrived, we did a reconnaissance of the anchorage and discovered that Panama Cable and Wireless, CLARO and MOVISTAR all operated 3G networks in the bay, but we could not pick up Digicel. On shore, we picked up a new CLARO SIM card, bought $ 17 of phone/data time and then a 30 day unlimited data plan for the same charge, $ 14.95.
There are many abandoned boats in the bay, some even high and dry in the mud and more than a few that sunk. This one was pretty evident when we arrived, but then two days later somebody stripped the masts and rigging - and now it will be harder to see.
Anyway, despite all the negative rumours we’ve heard about Portobelo, we already like this place. Its not on the tourist maps. Its a gritty, standard Panamanian town, with good grocery stores and a few cheap restaurants.