Friday, May 31, 2013

Some facts about Irie's Pacific Crossing

If you have never crossed an ocean, and 6-8 foot waves are all you've experienced while sailing (as was the case with us, prudent Caribbean sailors, always waiting for a good weather window to move), the Pacific will be an eye opener. Whatever its name indicates or whichever stories you have heard, this is real ocean sailing. This ocean is not a peaceful one (where did that name come from?) and should not be underestimated. Cross swells of over 12 feet, winds of 30 knots, confused seas, bumpy wind chop and squalls are very common. We were on all points of sail at some time or another and could not stay on course regularly either, when the wind came from dead behind or in front of us. Some days are sunny; the nights are chilly.

Irie's passage can be broken down into 5 parts: a few days of being becalmed in flat seas and barely moving, eleven days of uncomfortable and unsettled conditions, while making good, but bumpy progress, a couple of fair "transition" days, three days of comfortable and peaceful, albeit slow sailing, and two awful days of beating into wind and waves during stormy, squally, windy and frustrating (many wind shifts, constantly varying wind speed, high and rough seas) weather when a front/low pressure system passed overhead.

Amongst cruisers, this particular trip west is called "the Milk Run" because it is supposed to be an easy, straighforward, downwind journey. For us it was as much a milk run as there was a milk man around: not. I do have to specify here that Mark and I sailed from the Galapagos to the Gambier islands, instead of the Marquesas, French Polynesia's most popular arrival destination. The route to these more northern islands is said to be less challenging than the one to the Gambiers. Reports of frequent squalls and confused seas reached us from that area as well, though, but no fronts go that far north and you don't sail on a beam reach (uncomfortable wind and waves from the side).

Irie Trip info and tidbits:
* Route: Galapagos islands - Gambier islands, French Polynesia
* Distance: 2938 miles
* Time: 21 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes (May 7 - May 28th, 2013 )
* Hours under engines: 12 (half getting into the anchorage of Rikitea)
* Hours under sail: 492
* Average speed: 5.8 knots
* Wind direction: SSE-SE-E-ENE, when front passes: all directions
* Wind speed: an average of a perfect 15 knots, but we never saw 15 knots, instead it blew a weak 10 knots or a heavy 25-35 knots!
* Squalls: 42
* Favorable current: 0 knots: a few days + 0.5, a few days - 0.5 early on
* Sail configuration: spinnaker, main (reefed at night and during heavy weather) and jib
* Sail changes: multiple times a day.
* Gallons of diesel used: 9
* Gallons of water used: 47, including 5 gallons to rinse off after showering and 2 gallons for laundry
* Other boats encountered: 2
* Objects encountered: 1 floating pole with a black flag, some garbage, and one whale shark (we think)
* Planes spotted: none
* Fish caught: 1; a smallish mahi mahi, too rough to fish most of the time
* Lures lost: 3
* Sea life "scooped up": 5 squid, 38 flying fish
* Flying fish whacking Mark on their way into the cockpit: 3
* Time zones traveled through: 3
* Latitude travel: from 1°S to 23°S
* Longitude travel: from 90° 58' to 134° 58' W
* Days of having fun: Mark: 1, Liesbet: 4
* Seasickness medicine taken (Liesbet, who used to be very prone to motion sickness): 5 days - 3 days preventive, 2 because of nausea
* Sky: blue, grey or black
* Water: deep blue
* Waves hitting the bridgedeck: Too many to count
* Books read: Mark 6, Liesbet: 1
* Movies watched: Mark 7, Liesbet: 2
* Casualties ("boat bites"): bloody toes, scratched eye, bruised legs, bumped heads, sore knees, burnt arm - nothing serrious or unusual
* Things we have learned/realized during this passage:
  - Why people take planes to cover 3000 miles
  - How long one can go without a shower (6 days)
  - That it takes a long time of not washing up before one gets smelly (> 6 days) *
  - That we really, never ever get bored; I was going to remove my "Boobie blue" nail polish from my toes, one toe every day. I arrived in the Gambiers with 8 blue toes and the trip sure took longer than 2 days...
  - That crossing the Pacific Ocean is not a leisurely "sit back, relax, and enjoy the weather and the ride" kind of sail
  - That this was the longest amusement park ride of our lives (not in a fun way)
  - That sailing is not easy
  - That the wind is never consistent
  - That living in a "stable" house with conveniences must be so nice
  - That it was much colder than expected, especially at night. Winter clothes and comforter needed!
  - That a passage to the Marquesas would have been easier and more comfortable (a confirmation of what we knew)
  - That the days are short and the nights long (Southern Hemisphere winter)
  - That there is little time or energy to do the things you like or plan to do, because of exhaustion or sea state
  - That the Pacific doesn't harbor as much wildlife (whales, dolphins, ...) as we thought
  - That one cannot be in a hurry

* in non-sweaty, Southern Hemisphere conditions

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Irie in French Polynesia!

Time: 2030UTC, COG Drinking Beer and Wine, SOG As quickly as possible, Distance
Remaining: 0nm

Irie, Mark and I arrived safely in Rikitea, Gambier Islands today, after
exactly 21 days at sea. It was a rough and mostly unpleasant passage that
was finished "appropriately". After two uncomfortable days dealing with a
low pressure system, we arrived at 6:00 this morning near the Gambier
archipelago, where squalls brought over 30 knots of wind on the nose, and
more rain. It took us a while to motor all the way into the channel and
towards the comfortable anchorage against wind and seas. As if we did not
bounce and slam enough the last three weeks…

Once in the anchorage, we were surprised by cheers, ringing bells, fog horns
and waves from other cruisers who made it here over the last few weeks. Our
friends from SV Pitufa quickly came by to say "hello" and handed us a basket
full of local produce and a fresh baguette! Very nice of them and most of
the bread has already found its way into our bellies! Basically everybody
had a terrible trip, from gales, to serious damage, to crappy weather and
sea conditions, to long periods of being becalmed, to one single hander
(man) drowning. His boat is still drifting out at sea. Scary!

As I mentioned before, this was not a fun trip and I would recommend every
cruiser thinking about sailing west to French Polynesia to go to the
Marquesas instead. It is the most popular route for a reason. Not much has
been written about this subject (we would have loved to read some
negative/objective experiences about it to help us make the decision), so
please beware of undertaking a sail trip to the Gambier Islands, especially in a catamaran. The weather
is crap and the banging and bouncing incessant!

Now, it is time for a well-deserved nap and then… cocktail time; our first
drink in three weeks!! Santé! :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 21 to FP - The Worst for Last

Time: 2330UTC, COG 245T, SOG 5.0kts, Distance Remaining: 68nm

Too rough. Too uncomfortable. Too wet. Too bouncy. Too seasick. Too
exhausted. Too much wind, 20 - 25 knots on the nose! Too inconsistent. Too
frustrating. Too many waves over the bow. Too high of a swell. Too much
complaining... to write a full-size blog... :-( 68 more annoying miles to
go. Almost there!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Day 20 to FP - Time, Time, Time

Time: 2330UTC, COG 225T, SOG 6.0kts, Distance Remaining: 180nm

"Ti...i..i...ime is on my side. Yes it is." While the boat is rockin' and
rollin', this song of the Rolling Stones plays in my head. We might be
missing out on a lot of stuff, food, conveniences, joys, and stability
during this movement-rich multiple-week journey, but there is one thing we
have a lot of: time. We have "all the time in the world" and are free to do
what we want, any old time... within the bouncy confinement of a 35 foot
plastic float. How awesome is that?

We have so much time, that we don't ever know what time it really is (which
time zone are we actually in?) , let alone which day of the week, or even
worse, the date. We have gotten used to the year being 2013, but the month
is sometimes vague. Luckily, there are no important dates to remember this
time of the year. Or are there? If so, we'd have to celebrate them another
time, just like many passed birthdays and anniversaries that have piled up
over the ever so busy months. We'll be ready for some kind of triple-stacked
celebration soon!

Anyway, what do we do with all this free, fresh, favorable time? Not much,
really. To find out more, you'll have to read a previous post, called
"Routines". Time for a nap now. :-)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 19 to FP - Food on Irie

Time: 0030UTC, COG 245T, SOG 4.5kts, Distance Remaining: 316nm

Food is usually very important for the (female) crew on Irie. It still is,
but because of our "weird" hours, snacking and napping throughout the day,
we are just not that hungry. This, the fact that we don't seem to catch any
more fish, and that our abundance of vegetables started to turn all at once,
changed a few things about our eating behavior on board. Temporarily, of
course. Having an all-vegetable main meal, for example (like zucchini as a
starter, followed by vegetable soup, and fried sweet plantains with hot
sauce for dessert), has been quite common.

Provisioning for a long passage is quite tricky. The problem is not what to
get - you buy whatever choice they have - but how much. You want to have
enough fresh produce to last the whole voyage, but you don't want (too many)
things go bad. It has happened enough times in the past that we really look
forward to eating a certain vegetable from the fridge, even plan a dish
around it, only to find it too rotten to eat.

Despite the rough weather half of the time, we have had a few food
revelations and treats. Our banana bread was tasty and everlasting. The
limes we obtained for fish ceviche were turned into a dessert of lime
squares and limeade. Mark made an unbelievably yummy and over-sized pumpkin
soup, with three pounds of fresh pumpkin needing to be eaten quickly and
some carrots thrown in. We prepared some favorite and enjoyable dishes, like
falafel on home-made spinach flat bread, spaghetti carbonara, shrimp curry
and an exquisite salad with eggs, cheese, ham and beets.

The highlight, however, were the American-Belgian chocolate chip cookies
Mark produced. The - new to us - recipe was American (we won't use any other
recipe ever again!), the dark chocolate chips were from Belgium (thanks
again, Griet and Wim). They were truly "the best chocolate chip cookies in
the world", crunchy on the outside, soft with melting chocolate in the
middle. Straight out of the oven, they are to die for. I am still licking my

Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 18 to FP - Routines

Time: 0030UTC, COG 250T, SOG 4.5kts, Distance Remaining: 419nm

What do you do all day, every day, for 21 days straight while being in the
middle of the ocean, with nowhere to go? I'm sure many of you wonder about
this. I asked myself that question as well, before we left, and answered it:
I would do many things I usually don't have time for or has less priority. I
would read books and magazines, I would write (many ideas are waiting to be
put in print), I would bake some great and unhealthy desserts, make bread,
yoghurt and other food, stare out over the ocean for hours, and try to spot
wildlife. Oh, and take care of Irie, of course.

Reality is far from that, what with being totally exhausted and having the
boat roll underneath you all the time. A friend suggested in an email that
being on passage for so long must be similar to being in a remote anchorage
for a while, having the time and desire to cook many different dishes among
other things... No, not at all, for the reasons mentioned earlier. and,
there is a lot to do to keep everything moving. Literally.

Mark and I are not the kind of people in favor of, or executing routines.
Far from it. But, on this trip with precious hours of daylight and long
nights split 50/50, one needs to have some kind of a schedule. Ours is as
6:30am: Mark gets up and we adjust or change the sails if necessary
7:00am: Liesbet goes back to bed for a couple of hours, Mark wakes up, has
breakfast and does some computer/navigation stuff
9:30am: Liesbet gets up, does some chores inside the boat, has breakfast,
takes over the helm, Mark might take a nap
11:00am: lunch - the big meal on passage - is prepared
12:30pm: lunch is served and we eat together
1pm: clean-up
2pm: Mark takes a nap, Liesbet does some writing - blog and emails off line
4:30pm: Liesbet stays in the cockpit, while Mark sends previously written
emails, and grabs the weather and new mail through the sat phone. He does
some routing and weather plotting. We both read the emails of loved ones -
always the most exciting part of the day - and do a log entry (Mark
electronically, Liesbet in a logbook). We are either disappointed or
ecstatic about the daily distance covered. Liesbet marks our position on a
paper chart of the Pacific Ocean; every day we move about a quarter inch
5:30pm: we have a small dinner (meat and veggie sandwich usually)
6pm: we adjust or change the sails for the night
6:30pm: Liesbet goes to bed and Mark does his six hour night shift
12:30am: Mark goes to bed and Liesbet takes her six hour night shift

Note: the further south we travel in this hemisphere, the longer the nights
become, so some flexibility is required.

Usually, there is a central "event" every day. Depending on necessities,
moods and energy levels, we also take care of the boat, her sails and her
course, do some extra cooking, fit in some cleaning and laundry or squeeze
in some extra rest. Just like our surroundings never change and seem
infinite, our routines are pretty much the same every day. Talking about a
monotonous life... :-)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day 17 to FP - Our Blissful Day

Time: 2330UTC, COG 250T, SOG 5.0kts, Distance Remaining: 549nm

It is a day from heaven after a night from hell. Mostly Mark's part of the
night was as frustrating and annoying as could be. Already being exhausted
didn't help. His shift started at 6:30pm, with a nasty squall approaching
our very exact position. It played around with the wind and had rain in it,
drenching Irie and all its exposed contents in dire need of rinsing. When
the squall moved on, so did the wind. Not even one knot stayed behind. Our
boat was totally becalmed, sails flapping, rigging creaking and banging from
the left-right movement in the churned up seas. Half an hour of motoring
brought us to a slightly better place to be.

A tiny breeze came back, out of a very inconvenient direction for Irie at
night (when the spinnaker is put away): directly behind her. Mark tried full
jib and mainsail, part jib and the main, just the main; nothing worked to
stay on course and keep moving. We didn't want to be 30° off course all
night, doing better speed with two sails, so he resorted to the slowest
option, mainsail only, to give boat and crew some needed rest and only be
off course 10°. While the wind fluctuated all night, and more squalls
arrived, Irie was creeping along at 3 knots.

The first part of my shift looked alike, except that our speed dropped below
3 knots. Grrrrr... But around 3am, my muffled begging, cursing, promising
and complaining was heard. The wind shifted to a better direction (SE), I
unfurled the jib, got on course and launched Irie towards the Gambiers at
4-5 knots. My smile was back. The night ended with the gorgeous setting of a
near full moon.

Today started then with a pretty sunrise, opening up the skies. Would day 17
be the one perfect day? The mainsail received two reefs, the spinnaker
replaced the jib and Mark joined me in the cockpit. After an hour of
fighting the collapsing spinnaker, we dropped the main all the way and let
the colorful light air sail scoop up all the wind. The sky is light blue
with a few puffy clouds, the ocean is deep blue and calm and comfortable.
Irie is whizzing along again at 5-6 knots. Sailing at its best! For now.
When the night approaches, we will have to take the spinnaker down again
(you don't want to get caught by a squall with that thing up) and figure out
a new set-up. Hopefully the wind will agree with us from the start, this

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 16 to FP - Are We There Yet?

Time: 2330UTC, COG 255T, SOG 4.5kts, Distance Remaining: 668nm

Irie has slowed down tremendously, by about two knots an hour, meaning that
our pitiful average speed is down to 4-5 knots, if we are lucky. The good
thing about this change is that the seas have subsided and the ride is way
more comfortable. The bad thing about the change in weather is that the
winds are light now and not very consistent. The wind meter needle is "all
over the place" (between SE and NE) and so are we, constantly changing
course and adjusting the sails. It is a tough and tiring job, when all you
want to do is rest, sleep or read a book. :-)

Last night, after a nice morning and annoying afternoon, we had to deal with
one squall after the other - no rain - meaning the person on watch had to be
alert and account for the wind changes at all times. Our speed dropped to
3-4 knots and, because of the angle of the wind, we only had the mainsail
up. First thing this morning, we broke down and ran the engines for an hour,
to pass through a squally area with no wind. We hoped for some rain, since
everything is extremely salty and gross on deck, but it didn't come. The
afternoon brought pleasant spinnaker weather. We will get there eventually!

Out of 20 days Mark and I would sail to get to a different destination
during all our sailing years, 1 day would bring perfect conditions, while
the others would range from OK to frustrating. At the end of the day, we
would reach our dedicated harbor and we wouldn't think about it anymore.
Now, we do. Only 1 out of 20 full day trips would be sunny with winds
between 10-15 knots from a perfect direction, comfortable seas and a gentle
swell. Irie would do 6-7 knots and the crew would be smiling from ear to ear
feeling irie. We've been gone for 15 days now, so what that means is that
this perfect day must be arriving pretty soon! We can't wait to produce that
big smile again.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 15 to FP - The Nightshift

Time: 2330UTC, COG 245T, SOG 5.0kts, Distance Remaining: 785nm

Mark and I take six hour shifts at night. Six hours of sitting in the dark
is a long time. The trick is to turn this big chunk of the day into an
entertaining, fun-filled affair. You want the shift to be enjoyable, maybe
even a bit productive. It is personal time you miss out on during the hours
of daylight, because you feel tired then and there are other tasks to
perform. You want half of that night to represent part of your normal day; a
bit like having a job at night instead of during the day. Being able to keep
your eyes open is key.

It is not easy to accomplish this goal, being used to the "normal"
be-awake-during-the-day, sleep-at-night kind of life. While Mark adjusted a
bit better and quicker (which might have to do with him having the first
shift from 18:30 to 00:30), reading and watching movies along with being on
duty, it took me a good week to utilize my night watch "actively". The first
week, my six dark hours consisted of watching the instruments, nodding off,
checking the clock, watching the instruments, scanning the horizon, gazing
at the stars, nodding off, turning on the radar, looking at the horizon,
nodding off... Even though night and day in the tropics theoretically are
the same length (12 hours), it feels like the days go by much quicker than
the nights. 6:30pm is always right around the corner, while 6:30am is miles

Week 2 brought some more enjoyable and interesting moments, turning the
night watch into a somewhat useful and memorable era of my life. The first
half of my shift was filled with writing, reading or watching movies on the
tablet (of course doing the necessary other watching and staring in
between), while only the last three hours of the shift were a repeat of the
first week. Of course, all this is void during squally nights or periods of
finicky winds, when the mind and body are on high alert.

Maybe week 3 will produce busy, entertaining, fully occupied night shifts,
becoming the most enjoyable part of the day, where 6:30am arrives quickly
and where 6:30pm just lingers in the distance?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 14 to FP - 1000 Miles to Go

Time: 2330UTC, COG 240T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 935nm

We are rushing through the water as quickly as the days fly by. They might
not be fun days, but they are turning into long nights sooner than we want.
Our main focus is getting some sleep, but we are not very successful. Other
than that, we mainly take care of the boat and the sails, make sure we get
some good tasting food in our bellies, clean up, check weather and emails
from loved ones over the satellite phone, write a blog, and stare at the
constantly rising and falling water mass around us.
Yesterday, Mark exclaimed. "What the hell is that?" Hoping it was a whale or
some other amazing sea creature, I jumped on deck (tethered to the boat, of
course), but didn't see anything. "It's a flag!" Mark said. Then I saw it:
some kind of pole, sticking up from a wave, with a small black flag on top
of it. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean! We were suddenly alert and
scanning the crests and troughs of the bumpy sea around us. We didn't notice
anything else. No more flagpoles (most likely marking long fish nets) and no
fishing boats or "mother vessel". Pretty scary stuff.
The waves are still massive. The wind is still relatively strong, pushing us
along fast-ish and preventing us from just bobbing up and down these watery
hills. Instead, we jerk, bounce and splash. It is still too rough to fish.
It's been a while since we saw the horizon or ate sushi. We bought two dozen
limes to make ceviche one day. They are just browning in the fridge. A lot
of the non-refrigerated produce has gone bad already. Luckily, our fridge is
still full of fresh stuff.
The flying fish seem to have ceased their attacks for the time being. The
days are sunny, the wind is chilly, and the nights are cold. Used to the
tropics, we didn't think about long clothes. Our parents' closets in Belgium
and the US are full with them, but last summer we had no idea we'd be so
crazy as to cross the Pacific Ocean and travel to lower latitudes. We just
crossed latitude 16 south. Only 1000 more miles to go!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Day 13 to FP - Going Bananas

Time: 2330UTC, COG 240T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 1102nm

Every cruiser on passage from the Galapagos to French Polynesia seems to
write a blog about bananas. Why? Because they are supposed to last forever
when green and they play an important role in our food intake the first week
(if you're lucky two weeks or if you are the banana expert, three weeks) of
the journey. You buy a whole stack of them while they are green and careful
planning follows. Nevertheless, cruisers report, they all turn yellow at the
same time and you are forced to indulge them until you turn yellow yourself.

While most people buy a whole stack of about 100 or so bananas, we decided
half of that would suffice. I tried to count them, but lost track. There
must have been over 50, some of them ripe, so we could start eating them
immediately instead of staring at them being inedible for a week. To me this
was also an indication that they didn't turn all at once. They were of the
thick and heavy kind. The whole bunch, on a massive stem, must have weighed
40 pounds! All for the price of $3.

We started off with a banana each for breakfast, adding another one in a
shake and consuming a third one as a midnight snack. Soon, the color green
was totally replaced by yellow and we couldn't keep up. Irie's cockpit had a
sweet banana fragrance. Mr. Gecko was in heaven with his new "bug
attractive" hide-out. Mark and I had a banana eating contest and when the
last third of the stack turned brown, we were in trouble! We had to become a
bit more creative real soon.

In a normal situation, we would have made banana pancakes for breakfast,
sliced bananas as a side dish with fish curry, and some banana-based
dessert. We would have come up with some interesting and fun dinner recipes,
but the sea conditions were too rough to do much in the galley (kitchen).
Instead, our shakes turned a bit thicker, consisting two bananas and I
braved some sea sickness, making two banana breads. They are so tasty, that
the first loaf disappeared within 24 hours! We ate it for dinner (with a
last shake), as a midnight snack, for breakfast, and for dessert after
lunch, currently the big meal on Irie. Not sure how we will survive the rest
of the trip without our banana fix... If we are careful with the other loaf
of banana bread, we might just make it!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day 12 to FP - Halfway to the Gambier Islands

Time: 2330UTC, COG 235T, SOG 6.5kts, Distance Remaining: 1269nm

When cruisers leave the Galapagos to sail west, they have two options to
make landfall in French Polynesia: the Marquesas, which straddle 10 degrees
south and the Gambiers, which lay near 23 degrees south, close to the Tropic
of Capricorn. Some "crazy" people decide to go the Easter Island/Pitcairn
route first. If we would have opted for the Marquesas from the start, we
would have followed a more northerly route, counting on a favorable current
and enough wind to comfortably push us from behind. Our favored destination
was the Gambier islands, so we headed southwest pretty quickly on a direct
course there, with seas on the beam (side), which is a less comfortable
point of sail. We were willing to give this course a try, despite having
learned that all the (much bigger) catamarans and some monohulls shooting
for the Gambiers before us, had bailed and "turned right" to take the nicer
sailing path to the Marquesas.
Even though the first few days were not that comfortable and pretty bouncy,
we didn't think it was too bad and, really, wanted to see the Gambiers
before heading to the Marquesas later this summer (or should I say winter?).
Unlike most cruisers, we are planning to stay 1.5 years in French Polynesia
and didn't have to pick. So, we committed ourselves to this route, and the
sailing circumstances turned for the worst - comfort wise. We chose to
suffer our way through massive seas and heavy winds, which last way longer
than expected and predicted. Not necessarily the wisest decision, but once
the conditions settle down a bit, we will be fine.
The biggest advantage of having a lot of wind is that Irie has been flying
along (I wouldn't say nicely). bouncily at around 7 knots (no favorable
current). Yesterday, we crossed the 1500 mile mark, which means that we are
halfway there; distant wise, which only means that much. When the weather
finally settles and life aboard becomes more comfortable, we will slow down
considerably and celebrate this milestone in style. Hopefully that will
happen well before we see land! :)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Day 11 to FP - Getting Hit

Time: 2330UTC, COG 240T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 1438nm

No, Mark and I are not hitting each other (yet), despite the last days being
rough, uncomfortable, tiring, and moody. We have also not been hit by
dangerous objects, like containers, whales or other boats - touch wood - nor
by lightning. We've been hit by exhaustion after many sleepless nights, and
are not able to fight back. The only thing we want to hit is ourselves for
making some poor decisions about this passage. If there is one thing we've
learned, it is not to underestimate the Pacific Ocean, because she can hit
back hard. And, all out of left field - the south!
We've been hit by millions of waves in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They
attack us from underneath, causing incessant banging, trembling, slamming
and tossing, as well as "by air", from above. Massive towers of water have
come down upon us and our belongings. Wave after wave crashes against Irie's
side or stern and engulfs the cockpit, drenching everything in its path.
Victims include our bananas, plants, cooked meals and us. It's hard to keep
anything alive aboard Irie these days on the jerky motion of the ocean. Even
our spirits.
Squalls hit us too, but none too terribly bad (yet). They usually don't have
a massive amount of wind or rain in them and are short-lived, passing at a
high speed above the boat. What prompted this blog, however, is the invasion
of the flying fish. At night, we hear them hit the side of the hull. In the
morning, we gather them from the trampoline and the side decks. During the
day, we see them fly en masse above the choppy seas, heading for safer
areas, out of Irie's no-nonsense path. And, just a few days ago, they got
braver and "visited" us in the cockpit, after whacking Mark on the head
first. A scene of "The Life of Pi" comes to mind.
Another form of sealife made a direct hit, recently. We're not sure how he
managed or where his jumping talent came from, but a squid propelled himself
onto the mainsail. one third up! He was so stuck, that even hitting the sail
did not detach him. Both sea creatures are said to be good bait, but we
haven't had any success using them. Speaking of things that fly. How is it
possible that we still see birds, 1500 miles away from land? The fishing
must be good here, I reckon, even without squid or flying fish as bait. We
wouldn't know, because we are being chased by a sea too rough to allow us a
hit with fishing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 10 to FP - A Sea of Mountains

Time: 2330UTC, COG 240T, SOG 6.5kts, Distance Remaining: 1615nm

All around us, the waves are like mountains. They have different shapes.
They come from three directions. They follow each other in quick succession.
They are wet and salty. And, above all, they are huge! They pick Irie up and
toss her around like she is a tiny plastic toy. The ocean is the Himalaya of
swells. The horizon is gone. Once in a while, we see it appear hilly in the
distance, after we climb, sideways, to the crest of a bigger wave, and
before we fall off the other side. We are engulfed by the steep,
white-capped blue mass. It is bumpy, it is rough, it is windy, it is
uncomfortable. and it is supposed to last through the weekend. The crew is
exhausted, cranky, and not able to do anything but (try to) take care of the
boat and its contents. It's not fun out here; not Irie.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Day 9 to FP – A Free Hour

Time: 2320UTC, COG 240T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 1781nm

Since we've been sailing westward, we have been noticing something interesting. Every evening, the sun sets a bit later. Depending on the distance we covered over the previous 24 hours, she would go down 5 to 10 minutes later every day. Not being a fan of our 12 hour nights, I remarked "Oh, look, the days are getting longer here as well. Sweet!" To which Mark, in his dry manner answered "This is because we are traveling more west". Ah, that makes sense, of course, but usually, one doesn't travel slow enough to actually see the changes in the sun´s behavior day after day. Usually, people take a plane to a different time zone and just adjust the clock whenever they arrive. For us, cruisers, it doesn't quite work that way. Not on a long voyage like this one; it would mess up our schedule. Our days and nights would be well off after a while.
Based on the sun setting about five-ten minutes later every day and the average daily distance of 130 miles covered by Irie, today was the day to change our clocks. We set them back one hour and just like that we created an extra hour in this day (of course, we are not adding the hour to our already everlasting night!). We're enjoying every minute of it. :) So, generally speaking, every 1000 miles (wow, one third of the trip done!) traveled means setting the clock back an hour. At sunset we'll start all over again for 1000 miles, get another hour as a present in a week or so, and do it once more after that, before we arrive in French Polynesia. Let's hope we don't get to that date line very soon, so we can savor our extra time without having to give it all, and then some, back yet!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day 8 to FP - The Irie Feeling?

Time: 2300UTC, COG 250T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 1958nm

The Irie feeling is missing these days on Irie. Irie means "It´s all good",
life is great! It is a reggae term, "Feeling irie, mon!" Not always the
appropriate name for our boat and we have joked with friends that we should
have a "Not" sign aboard, to hang in front of the boat name when necessary.
We would have it up for sure right now, but it would only blow away or get
swamped by waves, or both. The question "Why do people do this trip?" has
entered our heads a few times, lately.
The waves (swell) have been coming from three directions, on our side, with
wind chop on top of them. They collide underneath Irie, creating a lot of
terrifying sounds and abrupt movements. The boat is constantly swinging,
pitching, bucking, banging into the waves, She sways from left to right,
lifts up, goes down. We basically can't do anything useful onboard. It took
the better part of the day to write this blog.
Mark and I have only been gone one week, but we are exhausted from lack of
sleep, especially at night when we need it most. The banging of the boat,
the jerking. We are jetted up in the air, to land with a smack, crash, back
onto the water. Naps are not very successful either. The hulls are noisily
streaming through the water next to our head. Then we are attacked from
underneath, waves being machine guns or explosives: crack, bang, kaboum!
Once in a while there is a huge one! It sends a shiver throughout our house,
the whole vessel vibrates and flexes. Maybe this is how a waterbed feels
like? When someone shakes it heavily? I compare the motions more to a
mechanical bull, or a real one at a rodeo. It also reminds me of laying on
an air mattress or one of those air-filled castles at children's parties,
while someone is walking and jumping around me. And then there were the
squalls (local bad weather systems) this afternoon. They turned the swell
into massive towers, sending waves crashing over the bow and side into the
cockpit. Everything, including us, was soaking wet with salt water. It
leaked into the bathroom through the vent as well. Did I mention we forgot
to close the door? It will be a fun night…
On a positive note, Irie is flying along at 7-8 knots. She is performing
beautifully speed wise. Over the last 24 hours, we sailed 170 miles, a
personal record. Her extra weight from provisioning in Panama makes her a
bit more sluggish through the water and less quick to react with the waves.
This contributes to the banging and smashing. It might be uncomfortable and
rough, but at least we won't starve. Unless it is too uncomfortable and
rough to dig up some food, prepare it and eat it…

Monday, May 13, 2013

Day 7 to FP - Clean!

Time: 2300UTC, COG 230T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 2153nm

Yep, it did take us a week to finally clean ourselves up with a full on
shower! Right before we left, we had our last "conventional" shower and a
few days ago, there was a tiny rainstorm. Mark and I rushed on deck, shampoo
in hand (the seas were still "flat" back then), soaped up and tried to
collect drops of water coming down from the cabin top and along the sail to
barely rinse off. It kind of worked. Today was the real thing: Shower Day.
The sun came out just long enough to warm one of the sun showers up. The
seas are still very bumpy and confused, so it was a bit challenging to
balance ourselves in the cockpit, to say the least.
You don't get to read about personal hygiene in blogs very often, but since
this is a somewhat important part of the boat life, and very different from
shore life, I figured I'd share… :) Showering is not a daily occurrence on
Irie and since it involves some preparation, it becomes the event of the
day, while underway. On the trip to the Galapagos, we had one full 5 gallon
sun shower and that did the job. This time, on a voyage 3 to 4 times as
long, 5 gallons with only fresh water wouldn't suffice. At anchor, Mark and
I jump overboard, wash and rinse with sea water and then rinse off with
fresh water from the sun shower. Not an option in rough mid-ocean either.
While I had visions about filling buckets with salt water and using an old
fashioned hand cloth to wash up, getting splashed by the bucket water to
rinse and then finalize the deal with fresh water, we came up with a more
civilized solution.
Our primary sun shower was still full of fresh water from Isabela and we
filled our broken "spare" sun shower (leaking cap and crappy hose) with
seawater. I used the salt water pump from our sink for this. It took about
130 pumps to fill the thing and I only sprayed salt water all over the
kitchen once. After that, Mark insisted we fill it with a bucket of sea
water next time. Let's hope I won't lose bucket or man overboard then. There
is a lot of force and resistance from the water when you´re sliding
(bouncing) along at 6.5 knots! After warming up on deck, the crappy shower
still had enough water left for the salt water part of the process: rinsing,
washing with shampoo and rinsing again. The second part was the familiar
rinse off with fresh water out of sun shower # 2. Losing our balance humpty
times was a new experience.
Most other cruisers don't go through this hassle. They have bigger tanks
than Irie and most of them also have a water maker, which means plenty of
the fresh stuff. They more than likely take their showers indoors in the
bathroom (daily!), probably with hot water, since they have enough
electricity or run their engines more liberally than us. Mark and I only
have one fresh water tank, holding 53 gallons (200 liter) of water. We also
carry four 6 gallon jerrycans, of which two are filled (we can't make the
boat too heavy and don't have room to store four full jugs), which adds 12
gallons (45 liter) of water to our supply. These are used to refill the sun
shower, add to the tank or for an emergency. At anchor, this amount (65
gallons) lasts us about one month. We use the (filtered) tap water to wash
up, brush our teeth, rinse the dishes (washing happens with seawater), cook
and drink. We've learned to become very prudent users of fresh water,
utilizing sea water wherever possible, even more so on this passage, which
could last longer than one month.
When you take your next comfy shower at home, just imagine two naked bodies
in Irie's cockpit, rinsing off with two cups of water and holding on for
dear life… only to get clean; in the name of personal hygiene!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Day 6 to FP - Wobbly Mother's Day!

Time: 2300UTC, COG 250T, SOG 7.5kts, Distance Remaining: 2286nm

Happy Mother's Day to both our beloved mums: mum Carol, many thousands of
miles away in Massachusetts, and mama Agnes, even many more thousands of
miles away in Belgium. We hope you had a wonderful day with some pleasant
weather, tasty food, loving children and no complaints. On Irie, today was
supposed to be Shower Day, but it is cloudy, windy and very bumpy. Mark and
I are wearing sweaters during the day, while sea water is splashing up into
the cockpit. That does not count as a shower. Our poor boat is being tossed
around like a little toy, in the massive waves and confused seas. Doing
stuff on deck is impossible, and so is fishing, bread making or shaving. I
even took some seasickness medicine today, to be able to do something else
than continuously staring at the constantly moving horizon. Nevertheless, I
ended up doing just that all day: looking at the rising and falling horizon.
Even though we are making good speed today, we're sailing at around 7.5
knots (we did lose our 1 knot of favorable current, unfortunately), it is
pretty uncomfortable. Waves are banging against the bridge deck sending
things flying, shaking the whole house, turning Irie into a bucking horse.
Whatever that can fall over (like the basil plant) has fallen over. While we
eat, things blow all over the place, from milk to lettuce, to napkins and
crumbs. Mark and I are nailed to our seats and clipped in for safety, life
jackets in place, just in case the wobbly seas send us flying as well..
I have noticed that when I complained about something in the past, the issue
was resolved fairly quickly. I wrote about the lack of wind and the
following day, we had wind. I complained about not catching fish and we
caught a small fish. Let's try that again: I hereby humbly ask for smaller
waves and a sunny day. Our noses will benefit from it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Day 5 to FP: Time to Fish

Time: 2300UTC, COG 240T, SOG 7.0kts, Distance Remaining: 2440nm

With our most important issue squared away - the availability of wind (gone
are the days of merely 75 miles of progress in 24 hours) - we can focus on
other things now, like food on the table. We trail two hand-lines off our
stern, a short one on starboard and a longer one on the port side. The idea
is that they don't get tangled, being different lengths. But, we better
remember to pull one of them in when we make abrupt boat movements. Now, who
plans funky movements of the boat ahead of time? Avoiding objects in the
water, changing or dropping sails, bigger than usual waves or a jerky
autopilot happen without warning. What if a fish actually gets on the line
and whizzes back and forth, left and right? A tangled mess will follow.

Since we left, we have been pulling the fishing lines, laying slack behind
the boat. Now that we are actually sailing at a decent speed, the hopes for
some fresh tuna or mahi mahi are high. Our precooked dinners are devoured
and we have space in the fridge. We are anticipating a catch, but the fish
aren't biting. We've tried colorful lures (successful in the Caribbean),
suicidal squid found on deck and stranded flying fish. To no avail. The
Pacific fish are either stubborn, smart or avoiding Irie's radius. Or, more
likely, we don't know what we are doing or we haven't gotten lucky yet.
While we keep our fingers crossed for some protein rich sea life, today's
catch is a vegetarian dish involving spinach. We'll make sure to spice it up
with some fish sauce! :-)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Day 4 to FP: Sailing!

Time: 2310UTC, COG 240T, SOG 5.5kts, Distance Remaining: 2602nm

We are sailing! You know, sailing as in two full sails up and actually
moving through the water. If someone were to look down on Irie right now,
they would see a gorgeous white speck, inching its way across a vast blue
surface. It would look peaceful from above. On the good ship itself, it is a
little bit bouncy, since we are heading into the wind and the waves. Last
night, the wind completely died again for a few hours. We had to take the
slapping and banging sails down to prevent damage and resorted to just
drifting again. A little rain squall brought some wind and with close
attention, trying to keep the sails full, we managed to move at around 3
knots. Then, around 2:30 am, someone switched the wind on! Since then, we
have been treated with 10-12 knots of wind out of the SSE, pushing Irie
westward at 5-6 knots. That's more like it! :)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Day 3 to FP - Struggles

Time: 2310UTC, COG 240T, SOG 5.5kts, Distance Remaining: 2721nm

The struggle against sleep is one you can expect during a long passage. At
anchor, Mark and I are used to going to bed around 10pm and getting up again
around 7am. We rarely take naps during the day. On a constantly moving
sailboat, the situation is entirely different. While just being underway in
the salty air is already tiring, once total darkness has set in (around
7pm), we take shifts. I go to bed from 7pm until 1am and Mark from 1am until
7am, our allocated sleepy time. We are trying night watches of six hours
off, six hours on this time. Keeping your eyes open during six pitch black
hours is hard, especially the first few days when you are trying to get used
to the new schedule. On top of that, we try to stay warm with long clothes,
socks, a wool hat and foul weather jacket. During the day, we also fight
hard against that tired feeling and naps are in order. The longer we do
this, the easier it will get. We think.
A struggle we did not anticipate is the one against the lack of wind. So
far, our trip has been as comfortable as it has been slow: VERY. If we want
flat seas and plenty of comfort, we stay in an anchorage. This time, we
really need to get somewhere. 3000 miles from here! And only moving at 2
knots is not going to cut it. While it was nice the first two days to slowly
wobble our way west - to get used to being on the ocean; getting our sea
legs and the like- three days of barely any progress and rarely any wind,
sails flapping all over the place, gets old. And annoying. And a tad
demotivating. It makes us worry about our water and food supply already.
Little wind also means no electricity to charge the boat batteries (the sun
is finicky) and not enough speed to catch fish. All we want is 10 knots of
wind. Is that too much to ask?

Last minutes update: The wind has been a steadyish 8-10kts for the past
couple of hours, which is very good news. Let's hope it stays!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Day 2 to FP - Stalled

Time: 2315UTC, COG 240T, SOG 3.5kts, Distance Remaining: 2812nm

Yesterday, we motored about an hour to get clear of the land and reefs,
before we pulled the sails out and settled in. Autopilot on 225 degrees,
fishing lines out, sails trimmed for the current conditions. Blue, sunny
skies, some wind. After our set-up was configured - we were barely gone for
two hours - Mark said: "Now what?" Well, we just sail, for 25 days or so!
Make that 26. Or more. At midnight, the wind totally died, sails flapping,
boom banging and lines creaking. We didn't want to motor, so we took the
whole lot down and drifted. For 7 hours. It was very quiet on the water. The
current pushed us in the right direction, at 1 knot an hour. Luckily, the
swell was benign. Other than some breathing sea lions, nothing could be
heard. The sky had a million stars. It was cold and every surface outside
was soaking wet.
Irie left Isabela with SV Liward, but they turned their engine on all night,
creating an uncorrectable gap of 35 miles between us. Around 7:00am, the
breeze "filled in" and it blew a whopping 2-3 knots from the SE. Not enough
for our wind meter to register. We fell off a bit and rigged the spinnaker
(our light sail) up. Our course changed to 240 degrees and we are still
moving along at 2 knots. About a third of what we hoped to do. At this
speed, it will take us 63 days to get there!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Day 1 to FP (French Polynesia) - Shrinking Isabela

Time: 2315UTC, COG 225T, SOG 5kts

We left Isabela. Well, not totally; we are still kind of following its
southern shore. After lingering at anchor for a bit longer, savoring the
environment and watching the last sea lions, turtle, penguins and boobies,
we had an early lunch and lifted anchor around noon. The winds were light,
from the SSE, while our heading is SW. The sails were trimmed close hauled.
Who would have thought we'd be going into the wind to French Polynesia? The
swell is pretty gentle, so it's not too bumpy. After some slow progress for
a few hours, our speed is now up to about 5 knots. Two manta rays crossed
our path; one of them made a double summersault, Goodbye Galapagos!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Highlights of the Galapagos - Picture Blog

The main highlight of the Galapagos islands is its wildlife. And the amazingness of that cannot be described in words. A picture says more than... :-) Movies will follow in the future.

Note: None of these animals live in captivity, they are all photographed in their natural environment, except for the mating tortoises.

Sea lions

Let's go for a swim!

Comfy spot

Wet and dry version

Perfect spot to sunbathe

Blue-footed boobies

Nasca boobies


Marine iguanas 

Love is in the air...

Frigate birds 


Giant tortoises

Reproduction time
Some of these giants grow to be 150 years old

Galapagos penguins


Spotted eagle ray
Golden rays
 White tip reef shark or was it black?

Marine turtles


Sunset in San Cristobal
Full moon in Isabela

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Our Turn to Jump the Puddle

After watching all our neighbors get ready for their Pacific crossing for weeks and seeing them clean the waterline and bottom of their boat, run errands ashore, stock up on a bundle of 100 bananas, and do last minute jobs and prep work, it is our turn. Soon we will leave this magnificent archipelago and miss it! Especially the sea lions…

Mark and I are still taking it kind of easy, but marking something off the list every day. Laundry is done; water and diesel tanks (and extra jugs) are filled. Some food has been obtained. With the infrequent arrival of supply ships and small inventory of the little stores, buying all the food we “need” (read: can get) takes a while. Tomorrow, Sunday, will be taken up by general boat cleaning, testing our safety gear and instruments and top off our batteries. Monday, we hope to do more shopping and we will battle the most annoying job of them all: besides cleaning the waterline once again (a once a week chore here in Isabela), we will wipe Irie´s whole bottom, which is now brown instead of blue, and scrape the propellers and sail drives. We also plan to cook a few meals and arrange our paperwork for departure. 

Tuesday, May 7th, we hope to lift anchor, and stow it for 3-4 weeks. Yes, that is the amount of time needed to sail from the Galapagos islands to French Polynesia. Many weeks of nothing but big blue ocean. Our goal is to reach the Gambier islands, but if the seas are too uncomfortable (going that way means waves and wind on the beam – side - instead of from behind us), we will veer off towards the Marquesas and move with an easier, more comfortable point of sail. All the catamarans (all much bigger than us) on their way to the Gambiers have bailed so far and changed direction towards the Marquesas… We will keep the blogs (short ones) coming while we are underway. Wish us luck and happy sailing! :-)


Friday, May 3, 2013

Galapagos Islands Practical

Times are changing rapidly again in the Galapagos, and not for the best, especially for cruisers. Apparently a new law has been passed, augmenting the Galapagosian motto of “sustainable tourism = less tourists who pay more money”.  From 2014 every person visiting the islands by boat (possibly by land as well), will have to pay $300, meaning that a cruising couple has to put down $600 daily, for the privilege of being here! Based on that new law, few sailboats will visit the Galapagos, or even more will try to pull off the 72-hour emergency stop. This will also lead to agents losing their job, water taxis sitting idle and restaurants and other shore facilities receiving fewer customers. One can only imagine how this will affect the local economy. Yet another place where only the rich will be able to afford a visit… until the tide changes again in a few years. With that in mind, not many people will probably benefit from this blog post, but in case these are all just rumors, here we go! 

There are two ways (well, three if you count the 72-hour emergency stop) to legitimately visit the Galapagos islands by private boat. You can just show up in one of the three main ports (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – San Cristobal, Puerto Ayora  - Santa Cruz, or Villamil - Isabela) , get hold of an agent via the local VHF channel (or they might offer their services coming directly to your boat) and stay for 20 days, in the one port. Cost: around $500 for boats under 40 feet. The second option is to contact an agent ahead of time through email and arrange for an autografo, which are limited. This piece of paper allows you to visit the three main ports and stay up to two months in the archipelago.  You still have to get in touch with your agent when you arrive in one of the ports and deal with an inspection and the necessary paperwork. Moving between the three ports also requires checking in and out of each harbor. The agents do their job, but nothing more. Our experience with Bolivar (San Cristobal) is that once he has his money (a lot!), you don’t see him around anymore and he becomes less responsive and responsible over email.

Some boats got in trouble in Isabela when their autografo expired. They had asked for extensions well ahead of time, but both Bolivar and his representative in Isabela, JC, had said they didn’t need one, to just “lay low” and hang out, and everything would be fine.  Not so much. One day, the port captain came by, realizing what was going on and kicked all the “illegal” boats out! A couple had twelve hours to prepare for the big voyage, another boat received one hour notice! Not really how you want to start a three to four week sail across the Pacific Ocean!

In regards to checking in fees and other harbor costs, I can only speak for our boat Irie, which is a mere 35 feet. We had to pay $400 as an agent fee and another $470 for port and other fees. $70 of that was an overtime fee, because we checked in on a Saturday. So, if possible, avoid weekends and holidays to check in or out of the (any) country. On top of that, we paid about $15 for a zarpe (paper to allow you to travel to another port) the times we left a harbor and $5 every time we arrived in a new port. So add about another $60 to the lot. We counted on about $1000 to visit the Galapagos, so I guess we succeeded. Truly the most expensive country Irie has visited. Of course, this doesn’t account for other expenses and tours!

Life on the islands is affordable. We stocked up in Panama, so we didn’t have to buy a lot of staples, other than fresh produce and some beer to make our stock last longer. Fruits and veggies cost about $1 a pound, big beers are about $2.50 with the returnable bottle costing 25 cents, a 2l bottle of coke costs $3 including a $1 deposit, 1l of UHT milk costs between $1.75 and $2. Souvenir T-shirts go for $13-$18. Most other things are imported or arrive from mainland Ecuador and are a bit expensive. Eating out in local restaurants is possible for $3-$5 a person, including a juice, soup and main dish (fish, pork, beef or chicken). Drinking out is pretty pricey, but, smuggling your own rum with you and mixing it with a purchased coke, makes this work as well on random occasions. J Isabela is more expensive than the two other islands we visited. Tours are very expensive everywhere.

Gasoline and diesel can be arranged through water taxi drivers, but caution is required, as this is the illegal (and cheapest) way to buy fuel. Word of mouth will help. You can purchase fuel through the agents, but you will pay $1-$2 a gallon more. If you manage to make it to a gas station on shore, you pay the tourist price, which is also around $4 a gallon for diesel or gasoline (locals pay $1 for diesel and $1.45 for gasoline). In Isabela (and maybe in the other towns as well?) you are required to obtain a fuel certificate, which allows you to buy some. In Isabela, this piece of paper costs an additional $15. The port captain can decide on a whim to put a halt to the sale of this certificate, which happened at one point. But then, once he wanted some boats out of the bay, he has the power to open gas stations (closed for lunch) and suddenly things work very quickly!

Drinking water is a bit trickier. In San Cristobal, you basically have to buy the 5 gallon jugs on shore and haul them to the boat, empty the water in the tank and bring back the bottles for which you paid a high deposit. We lucked out with some rain there.  In Santa Cruz, you can do the same or contact one of the water taxi drivers with your water request. He will fill up a massive container and come to your boat, where you “tank” the desalinated water into your boat and extra jugs. Very easy and efficient! We paid $25 for 70 gallons and he threw in a few extra for free. In Isabela, JC can arrange the guy who desalinates water on his property. He will arrive with a massive tank in his pick-up truck and you meet him at the dock with your (and your neighbors) jugs to bring the required water back to your boat in as few trips as possible. It worked OK for us, since we have a small tank. Two dinghy trips and $21 did the trick to obtain 70 gallons.

Laundry can be dropped off ashore in any of the three villages. You can have them do the whole service (wash-dry-fold) or just do the washing and let the sun do the drying. In San Cristobal, we paid 50 cents a pound for a full service treatment, in Isabela, the price was 50 cents a pound for just washing. Do-it-yourself laundromats are non-existent.

Propane bottles can be filled in all three villages, using the gravity procedure. The gas is relatively expensive, compared to other countries. We paid $30 for a 20 pound tank. If you do it yourself, having the correct fittings, it is much cheaper. You pay a deposit for the local tank, pay a little bit for the gas (about $10),deal with the long procedure onboard and swap the bottle back for your deposit.

Little grocery stores abound, but don’t expect anything like Panama City or other western places. Santa Cruz is the best place to stock up on things, since the supermarket on the waterfront is fully stocked and easily accessible. All three villages have a few good bakeries with daily fresh bread. In Isabela everything is closed between 12pm and 3pm!

There are many! All things considered, there are few places you are allowed to venture yourself. With the big boat, you can only stop at the one or three ports allocated to you. With the dinghy, you can only drive the shortest distance between your boat and the dock. No sightseeing! For many sights, you need the presence of a paid National Park guide. You are allowed to swim around your boat, but don’t stray too far… Most of these rules, we knew ahead and we gladly agree with. The Galapagos are a unique area and we all want to keep it that way. Where we have a problem is when the “hypocrisy” comes into play. Having massive wakes created by speeding tour boats and local fishing boats in the bay where wildlife and people frequent the water. (Why is there no speed limit? Why do the boats LOVE to drive as close as possible to anchored sailboats?)  Seeing park rangers smoke in a hidden corner while smoking is prohibited. Watching the guy feeding the giant tortoises at one of the institutes ignore the juvenile turtles on the ground and stepping on top of them. Spotting many scars on turtles and sea lions, and noticing a penguin with a hurt wing, realizing it is probably due to inconsiderate drivers. Being annoyed with water taxis and other local boaters not keeping an eye on the wildlife, just being their macho self. 

I know most people in the Galapagos are very involved and concerned with wildlife preservation and conservation, but, unfortunately, there are always “the others” for whom time is money and money means the world…

It is hard not to do a tour, even though you already paid a lot of money for being here.  From volcano hikes, to snorkel tours, island visits and boat trips, much is possible and the whole archipelago is reachable by day trips or multiple day cruises. For a price. Divers can take their pick from many possibilities offered.  You can use tour agencies or your harbor agent for an easy arrangement or you can try to skip the middle man and find better prices. It all depends on your budget and time frame.

People who decide to visit the Galapagos by private boat will not be disappointed, whether they stay for three weeks or two months. The autografo allowed us to take it easy and do the sights at our own pace, for a friend to be able to come and visit, for boat maintenance and chores to be combined with sightseeing and wildlife watching, mostly from Irie itself.  Getting an autografo costs about $200 more, mainly agent fees, than staying in the one single port. We are happy we did it the way we did it to give ourselves all the amazing opportunities we ran into and to have plenty of time. If we were to pick only one port, however, we would probably choose for Isabela. San Cristobal really pleased us as well (because of the giant amount of sea lions and the freedom to visit places ourselves) but the island of Isabela has interesting highlights and tours and you can meet all the animal species from the other places here as well, which makes it stand out. Plus, the laid-back atmosphere – very different from the two other ports and towns - and amazing beach are attractions in themself!