At least half a day of R&R. That was the promise after the early start and stress of the Canal transit. But, given the date (April 1st), Annick must have known that it was never going to happen.
We started the day by saying goodbye to Patrick and Hans who, having helped with the canal transit, were returning to Linton Bay to finish getting S/V Triton and S/V Manuka ready for their own transits. (They will both be crossing the Pacific single-handed).
Our plan was to leave for the Galapagos the next day. But the next day would be a Sunday so we had to do the preparations on the Saturday morning.
The first job was to 'clear out'. In Panama you need to get a 'Zarpe' issued and your passports stamped. How easy this is depends on where you are. Based in La Playita marina, this should have been trivial as all required offices are in Flamenco marina, just a half hour walk away. Unfortunately, I had not done my homework properly and a half hour task ended up taking two hours. On the positive side, as we traipsed back and forth we passed (and explored) five different chandleries and ticked off most of the items we were after. Then we took a taxi to a big supermarket to do our last 'perishables' shop before the ocean crossing. We were back on the boat before noon. Could the Skipper be about to make good on his promise?
As Annick put the provisions away, the skipper sat down to forensically dissect the arrival instructions for the Galapagos. Our agent had been dealing with many boats from the ARC Pacific rally (who are currently still in the Galapagos) and had been slow to send through this checklist. Key points:
1. We need to print out multiple labels and plaster them around the boat (e.g. a label by the black water tank saying, 'only discharge 12nm offshore'). OK. A quick trip to the helpful marina office and that was done.
2. Establish waste re-cycling with coloured bags and proper labels. OK (we had been told this)
3. Go through the first aid kit and ensure there are no out of date medication. OK.
4. Fumigation certificate and hull cleaning certificate before leaving port. OK. We knew this and had it done in Shelter Bay Marina...NO..WAIT...Must be done within 48 hours of departure!!!!!!
The aforementioned tasks had been done on the afternoon of the 30th before the transit. That was 45 hours ago. We would not be leaving on April 2nd after all. After breaking the news to Annick (and recording that I would need to make this good sometime), a final social media check (What? Laura,our eldest daughter is pregnant?), quick look at PredictWind, some lunch and we were away in the early afternoon.
We had heard different strategies to sail (or motor) to Galapagos. We chose a hybrid route, distilled from Jimmy Cornell and the Pacific Crossing Guide (PCG). To get out of the Gulf of Panama we sailed south; positioned a couple of miles due east of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). This meant we did not have to worry about the big ships. In fact, that first night, it was comforting seeing a steady stream of lights go by yet know that they would not be coming our way. This route also keeps you clear of the shoals and rip currents which extend off the western Capes of the Gulf. It also places you in the optimum position to benefit from the (significant) current flowing south west. Finally, it keeps you in the narrow band where you are most likely to have wind if the Trades spill over into the Pacific.
Once clear of the Gulf, the next waypoint is Malpelo Rock. It has a lighthouse and, from the days of dead reckoning, was a handy reference point. The current was also wonderful. The second night we averaged 8 knots through the water but 9.5 knots over the ground! We past Malpelo Rock (350 nm) after just 47 hours sailing. The PCG then warns that, even if you have had a great two days sail out of Panama, expect progressively less and less wind until you inevitably become becalmed. At this point, those with infinite patience can sit and drift with the current whilst more sensible mortals turn on the engine.
We were only six hours past Malpelo Rock when the 12-18 knots, which we had enjoyed, dropped to less than 8 knots. The swell was still running and the sails were banging back and forth in a way I did not like. So we dropped them and started to motor. Fortunately, less than five hours later the wind returned and we were sailing again (albeit going slower and slower as time passed). As the wind gradually dropped, so the swell dropped too and this made it possible to keep sailing (using asymmetric and code zero) in light winds until we finally lost patience. But by then we were within 300nm of the Galapagos or two days motoring. That was a 'result' and would keep our diesel usage well within budget.
The sail was a lonely affair. From the moment that we were clear of the TSS we did not register another vessel on AIS until within 30nm of the Galapagos. The seabirds (boobies we believe) had also realised that we were the only game in town. First, two arrived. By the amount of bickering going on we guessed they must be a couple. From 400nm out, our pulpit and anchor became home to five or six of them, searching for a dry place to rest and groom their feathers. Initially I tried dissuading them by periodically releasing the genoa sheet. The noise scattered them in all directions. But it was not long before they were back and, after a couple of times, they soon realised that the windward pulpit was safe. Until I started to throw in the occasional unexpected tack or two. But their perseverance outlasted the Skipper's and we became resigned to taking along hitch hikers despite the mess.
They stayed with us for a day and a half, becoming most active at night. According to my brother-in-law, as it gets dark plankton rises to the surface bringing squid and fish to the surface too. The boat obviously disturbed enough of them to present easy pickings to the hunters hovering just above the bow.
We were also visited by the largest pod of dolphins I have ever seen. Over an area of more than 100m by 100m the sea was filled with countless splashes, fins appearing and disappearing; and the occasional leap out of the water. A handful decided that Skyfall was interesting enough to play in the bow wave for a few minutes. My impression as a non-expert: dolphins here are larger than their North Atlantic cousins, swim slower, and are markedly less playful. We also saw our first large (shellback?) turtle.
A shellback turtle is now another tattoo we are supposed to get. We marked the crossing of the equator with a short ceremony where Neptune was treated to, among other things, some home-made cake and a taste of Panamanian beer. The problem for us was that we crossed the equator at nine in the morning and neither of us were in the mood to drink alcohol. But traditions are traditions.
The skipper was not looking forward to the last day. You might think 24 hours of motoring would be a chance to relax. Not a bit of it. Because the last day would not be 24 hours of motoring. We had planned 18 hours motoring and six hours drifting whilst the skipper indulged in a final hull clean in a desperate attempt to meet the stringent Galapagos entry requirements. The concern was not unfounded. Of the ARC Pacific fleet; all of whom had been well briefed and well prepared, one in twenty-five failed inspection. The Skipper had already done a thorough hull clean during the trip to the San Blas Islands. A professional diver had been employed in Shelter Bay Marina to repeat the task (and issue the all important 'clean hull' certificate). But this is no longer enough. On arrival there WILL be a diver inspecting the bottom and one barnacle is enough to have the boat rejected. We do not carry scuba gear so my hull clean would have to be done by free-diving. I find it quite tiring so the plan was to work for ninety minutes, then motor for a couple of hours before getting back in the water. Starting at first light; I reckoned on four such sessions being possible on that final day. There was obviously small amounts of weed around the waterline, especially under the transom; and these were relatively easily removed. But that took all of the first session. The second session started well enough. As I scanned the bottom methodically my confidence grew as it did look in a reasonable state. Then, after about an hour, I found a barnacle. It had definitely not been there a week ago. Removing it was no problem but how many more would I find? In the rest of the second and third session I found another four. After the third session we turned on the engine and I needed to sleep. Exhausted, I went out like a light. Annick let me sleep three hours. So there was no fourth session. Either I had found them all, or we would fail inspection. Nothing more could be done.
We dropped anchor off San Cristobal around 0930 slightly less than a week after leaving Panama City. Now for the inspections. The diver arrived within half an hour. As he rolled backward into the water I had no idea whether we would pass. Fifteen minutes later he surfaced, removed his mask and gave a quick 'thumbs up'. I almost exploded with relief. I disappeared below decks so Annick would be the only witness to my victory jig around the saloon, uncontrolled whoops and general celebrations. The hard work the day before had paid off.
The euphoria lasted around fifteen minutes. Then, I remembered that another six inspectors were due shortly. Still plenty of opportunity to turn us away. An hour later six officials arrived, each with their own area of expertise, questionnaire and concerns. I would like to say we passed with flying colours but we had three 'near misses'. I blame the agent (but then again, it is rarely the Skipper's fault is it?).
Firstly we had no special absorbent material for soaking up oil. I showed three months of paper towels, smiled sweetly and put on my best Spanish and they let that pass.
Then our recycling system was criticised. We had the required 4 types of recycling bags. All labelled. But they were each supposed to be in a plastic container. So we quickly emptied food out of their plastic containers and used them.
Finally, we were missing one sign which must be stuck on the wall somewhere. 'Do not throw hazardous waste overboard'. We had the other one (without the hazardous). But that was not enough. And the official had to take a photo of it stuck on the wall. So I started to write one out. Unacceptable. It must be printed. My heart sank. No printer on board. Then Annick remembered the Dymo printer Chris (my brother-in-law) made me buy to 'organise the boat'. Excitedly I pulled it out of the drawer. OK? I asked. Yes.
I turned it on. Nothing. It had not been used since 2021 in the first weeks of our Atlantic circuit. Panic, then logic. A change of batteries, one printed label later and we are now legal for our 3-4 week stay here.
This post begins following our canal transit celebrations. Or rather, the morning after. Passing the Galapagos entry requirements also warranted a serious party. (Honestly, perhaps because of the potential financial ramifications, the canal transit and getting into Galapagos are easily the most stressful aspects of our RTW to date). But the morning after we were ready to start enjoying this unique place.