Day 173, Year 1: The Transmission Blues

Day 173, Year 1: The Transmission Blues
Date: Saturday, April 8, 2006
Weather: Another Beautiful Day in Paradise
Location: Academy Bay, Puerto Ayoro, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Today was spent just trying to figure out exactly what to do about the transmission problem. At present, we cannot start the engine to charge our batteries. When we start the engine it sounds like a lot of bolts being mixed in a metal bowl-not good. We have contacted our agent here, Johnny Romero, and asked him to help us find a transmission mechanic. No one is available today, but he will find someone by tomorrow. Evidently they work here on Sundays. In the meantime, Patrick and Margaret on Aqua Magic have loaned us their gasoline Honda generator. It is not powerful, but it will keep the freezer going until we can figure something else out. In the meantime, we are limiting our use of power. I am writing logs, but I cannot send them until we have the power situation under control.

Here is what Mark has discovered about the transmission. Between the transmission and engine there is a coupling. Apparently when we were caught in the fishing net off the coast of Columbia, the force of stopping the propeller so quickly moved the prop shaft back slightly which put force on the mounting plate which holds the transmission to the engine. The mounting plate is cracked and a couple of bolts that held it to the motor are sheared. We didn’t notice any of this at the time, but with continual use, two more bolts have come loose and at that point-yesterday-the transmission was partially disengaged from the coupling and the odd angle at which the prop shaft from the transmission was entering the coupling caused the coupling to shatter. It appears that the noise we are hearing is the parts of that coupling rattling about inside the housing. What all of this means we are not sure, but once we get a mechanic onboard to help us remove the transmission and back it away from the engine so the broken parts can be removed. Our hope is that this will happen tomorrow.

060408 Day 173 Galapagos Santa Cruz–Anchor Up and Sushi Dinner

Day 172, Year 1: Be Careful What You Wish For

Day 172, Year 1: Be Careful What You Wish For
Date: Friday, April 7, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies, Calm Seas, Winds Building to 15-18 Knots PM
Location: Academy Bay, Puerto Ayoro, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

As we left Isabella, I commented to Heather, Jed, and Mark that I really don’t want to leave the Galapagos Islands. I love it here. Mark reminded me that I seem to feel this way about many places we have visited, but I assured him that this place is different. It is really special. But off we went back to Santa Cruz. There was very little wind and a current against us, so we motored along all morning and into the afternoon. At about 1:30 in the afternoon, I was down in the galley fixing lunch and I heard commotion on deck. Heather and Jed heard a strange sound coming from the engine room-something like tinkling bells-and then the tinkling became a very noisy rattle and we stopped moving forward. It seemed to me impossible . . . but we once again found ourselves without a working transmission. Unbelievable!

If you have followed these logs from the beginning, you know that we had transmission difficulties before leaving the US and actually had a new engine and transmission installed. Well, here we are in the Galapagos, which is in the heart of the doldrums with little or no wind, and no way to continue on the Marqueses without the engine. All I could think is that I didn’t REALLY mean that I wanted to stay here, but we will be here for a bit longer now until we can work this problem out.

At just the moment that the transmission died, the wind came up and we put out the head sail and started sailing to Santa Cruz. We were able to keep up our same speed, but had to go a bit off course to take full advantage of the wind. It was going to be sundown when we reached Academy Bay with the engine, and having to go off course meant that we would be coming in after dark under sail. Not an easy thing to do in a crowded anchorage, but we had very little choice. Aqua Magic had left Isabella after us and as we got closer to port, we called them on the radio and told them that we might need assistance. Since they would get in before us, we asked them to look for a good spot for us to anchor. We also thought that we might be able to get a water taxi to tow us in if necessary. Margaret and Patrick were very helpful and with wind that was totally cooperating and the light of half full moon, we were able to sail right in and drop our anchor successfully. It was wonderful to have Heather and Jed with us as extra eyes and hands. I’m sure Mark and I would have made it in alone, but probably not as gracefully!

We will spend tomorrow trying to figure out what to do. We know that getting repairs done from here is not as easy as on the mainland, but we are here and we will have to do the best we can.

060407 Day 172 Galapagos Santa Cruz–Return to Puerto Ayoro

Day 171, Year 1: Muro de las Lacrimas–The Wall of Tears

Day 171, Year 1: Muro de las Lacrimas–The Wall of Tears
Date: Thursday, April 6, 2006
Weather: Beautiful Day—Clear, Blue Skies
Location: Puerto Villamil, Isabella Island, Galapagos

The Wall of Tears is a physical reminder of a part of Isabella’s history that gives it the reputation as the black sheep of the Galapagos. In the mid-1940’s, a penitentiary was opened in Isabella about a two to three hours’ walk from Puerto Villamil. The 200 convicts that were sent here were sentenced to hard labor and were forced to build a wall of big lava blocks. The wall is 50 meters long, five meters wide, and eight meters tall. It stands as a scar on the face of Isabella. The cruelty of the guards is legendary and as you stand at the base and look up at the massive creation, you can almost feel the human misery that must have been endured here. The penitentiary was blown up in 1959 and currently the mayor is working hard to change the image of this beautiful island in order to open the doors for ecotourism here.

We took a taxi out to the wall, walked around it, and up some steps to the top. We then took the taxi back to the first view point and walked back to town from there. We enjoyed the view from the first vista and walked the many paths that have been built to make it easy to enjoy the area. There was an estuary, many lagoons, a lava tunnel leading out into the sea, and then the beautiful white sand beach that stretches as far as you can see. On our way back to the embarcadero, we saw Mathias, our guide from yesterday’s trip up Sierra Negra. Mathias had mentioned that he was a musician, but he had not told us about the CD he has for sale. It is called Musica del Ultimo Paraiso-Galapagos. We immediately went to buy it and each of the songs is about a different animal or plant that exists here. Mathias sees the Galapagos, and especially Isabella, as the ultimate paradise on earth, and he explained that he wants to make sure that these beautiful islands not only preserve the endemic species that live here, but that they also have “endemic” music.

We returned to the boat and got ready for one last snorkel here. We went out to the area where the family of six Galapagos penguins live and were able to snorkel right up to them. A couple of them jumped in the water and I was able to swim with them for just a minute. Then off they flew through the water. I was thrilled and will always hold dear the memory of swimming with the little penguins.

We returned to the boat and prepared a TexMex dinner of soft-shelled tacos, and beans and rice for Doug and Sylvia from Windcastle. We will not see them again until the Marqueses, so we wanted to celebrate our pending passage. It was a lovely last evening in Isabella and tomorrow morning we take off early for Santa Cruz.

Day 170, Year 1: An Easy Day

Day 170, Year 1: An Easy Day
Date: Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Weather: Clear Day, Cloudy Evening
Location: Puerto Villamil, Isabella Island, Galapagos

After yesterday’s big adventure to the volcano, we took it a bit slower today. Heather and Jed visited the turtle hatchery and saw flamingoes in the lagoons on the way there. Mark and I stayed on the boat and did some chores. After Heather and Jed returned we all went out to Las Tintoreas. This is actually close enough to snorkel to if you are truly adventurous, but we took the dinghy for this first trip out. Las Tinoreas is a trail that leads you around the reef islets that protect this anchorage. On our way out there, we came across a very large group of golden cowrays. They are a mustard yellow and are a treat to watch as they move slowly through the water. Once we reached the trail head we followed the path around the volcanic landscape reef and enjoyed its many surprises. First, there is a fissure between the main islet and a small outer bay that is full of white-tipped sharks. They just sit there on the bottom as if napping through the afternoon. Some were five to six feet long. In this same area, we also saw one of the largest spiny pufferfish any of us had ever dreamed of seeing. It was probably 22 inches long. When we looked it up upon return to the boat, we think it was a porcupine fish. When this big guy entered the white-tipped reef shark area, they all scrambled as if they were afraid of it. Interesting.

As we continued our walk, we came upon a beach with lots of sea lions. There was a particularly aggressive male protecting his harem and we decided not to enter the water to swim with these sea lions. As we continued our walk, we came to another rocky beach area that is home to the largest marine iguanas we have seen here. We then headed back to the beginning of the land trail where we had left the dinghy and searched for a good place to snorkel. As we started out of the protected area where we had anchored the dinghy, and before getting into the water we spotted a very large stingray-probably three feet across. We think it was a diamond stingray and we not to see it again! Unfortunately, it was getting late in the day and snorkeling was not great, but I did get very close to the rock where the little penguins spend their late afternoon hours. I took this opportunity to observe them very closely from only a few feet away.

Evening was approaching so we all headed back to the boat and then went into town for dinner. At $2.50 for a complete meal, it is hard to pass up. We will spend one more day exploring here and then head back to Santa Cruz. Heather and Jed want to get in a couple of dives before heading home and that has to be done from the main island. They fly out on Tuesday and we will then begin serious preparations for the run to the Marqueses. It will be hard to leave here, but that time is drawing near.

Day 169, Year 1: A Walk on the Moon

Day 169, Year 1: A Walk on the Moon
Date: Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Weather: Partly Cloudy Morning, Clear Afternoon and Evening
Location: Puerto Villamil, Isabella Island, Galapagos

Today was spent climbing one of the five volcanos here on Isabella–Sierra Negra. This is a huge caldera that is about ten kilometers wide and it last erupted on October 22, 2005-just 5 months ago. We climbed as close as we could to be point where the eruption occurred and as we got closer we could feel the tremendous heat coming of vents underfoot and out of the many fissures. It felt like walking on the moon and was another phenomenal experience. We again lucked out by getting a top-notch guide, Matthias Espanoza. He worked for 18 years as a naturalist and dive master in Santa Cruz, and has presently retired to Isabella to work on his music. He continues to lead land tours and has hired a manager to run his scuba business back on Santa Cruz. He has served as a guide for John McCain in the past few weeks, and earlier for Paul Allen of Microsoft and Bo Derek. And today he added the Handley-Goldstone crew to this list. He has also worked with many scientists and most recently with the BBC. They are making a documentary about the Galapagos.

In order to get to Sierra Negra we had to ride in the back of a farm truck for 18 kilometers and then ride on horseback for about an hour and a half. The final assault is done on foot and takes another hour and a half. The trail leads to Volcan Chico on the external slope of Sierra Negra. We went in that direction and then Matias took us toward the point of the eruption. It was a harder walk than just going to Volcan Chico, but well worth it. There is still steam rising out of the earth where the eruption occurred and you can smell the sulphur in the air. The entire walk is quite dramatic. At first there were small bushes and grasses, but then you are walking entirely on the pyroplastic scoria that blew out and covered everything in a one to two mile radius when the volcano erupted in October. This looks like black cinders and they are very porous with iridescent pinks, blues, golds, and greens that make them sparkle in the sunlight. They are so porous that even the very large rocks are so light you could pick them up and easily break them apart. They would easily float on water. We went on this expedition with Doug and Sylvia from Windcastle, and Doug’s expertise as a geologist who has spent a large part of his career studying the volcanoes on the moon of Jupiter, Io, added greatly to our knowledge base during the day.

We ended the day with a phone conversation with the Concord Yacht Club using the satellite phone we have here on the boat. The Concord Yacht Club is a group of sailors from Concord, New Hampshire, and surrounding towns. We attended the monthly meetings for the past 15 years and it was great to talk with them. The conversation inspired Mark to write another Captain’s Ramblings that I have copied below.

Captain’s Ramblings 3
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Tonight I called in during the monthly Concord Yacht Club Meeting. It was good to hear the voices of so many friends once again and remember the great get-together’s we have had over the past 15 years. The Satellite phone is an acceptable means of communication, but it does break up occasionally and there is the couple-second lag between my talking and their hearing which can lead to one person talking over the other. I hope they got as much from the brief conversation as I did.

Our sailing friends often ask questions more about the sailing conditions than the experiences we have had. Since the logs concentrate on the many delightful experiences, I thought I would talk a bit about the sailing.

Each part of our journey has had entirely different conditions. In the north Atlantic heading from the east coast of the US to the Caribbean we had very rough seas and high winds, but then we should have expected as much since we sailed this leg in late November, early December – not the best time for avoiding the winter low pressure systems that come blasting across North America. The highest winds we recorded were about 50 knots at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. But most of the passage to St. Martin was in 25 to 35 knot winds and seas of 8 to 15 feet. Sleep was fitful and broken often by dropping off a wave or being slammed by one breaking against us. The boat always felt solid and safe, but we did suffer some chafe of sheets and the Sunbrella covers on the roller furling Yankee and staysail. As the boat bounced from wave to wave the sheets would rub up and down against the furled sails. We found to solution to be simply not furling the sails all the way, leaving a small triangle of the clew of the sail unfurled and then tightening both port and starboard sheets to their winches. Wear and tear on the crew was also evident. But it didn’t take two days in St. Martin for us to feel revived. As Judy said, it is a bit like having a baby: very painful at the time but the result makes it all worthwhile. Once it is over you quickly forget the pain and are ready to do it again.

The Caribbean was a whole different story. Winds were consistently 20 to 30 knots. We put both reefs in the main sail and never took them out until we got to the Pacific. While the passage to St. Martin was mostly beating, the Leeward and Windward Islands were almost entirely on a beam reach. Then we turned west to head for the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). This was dead downwind sailing. We mainly used a polled out Yankee, but tried the asymmetrical spinnaker and tried wing-and-wing with the main on one side and the Yankee on the other. In the end, we found we could make better speed using the Yankee instead of the spinnaker. In lighter winds that may not be the case. We also found that the Monitor wind vane steering (which we have only rarely used) was capable of keeping us on a stead enough downwind course that we could go wing-and-wing so long as the Yankee was poled out and the main had a preventer to the toe rail. No matter what, downwind sailing is a rolling experience. Some say you get used to it. We haven’t yet.

>From Curacao to the San Blas Islands in Panama we had to go well north to skirt around the high winds and seas typical at this time of year around Columbia. Still winds were 30 knots or better, but downwind that is actually pretty good sailing. We jibed back and forth in order to keep the wind on our quarter and sailed most of the way with the Yankee and double-reefed main. Once we got far enough west, we turned south to have a delightful sail on a broad reach.

Once through the Panama Canal our whole world changed as far as sailing was concerned. Tides had only been a couple feed in the Caribbean. In the Pacific they were 10 to 20 feet. And the winds were gone. We were now in the doldrums as well as in the lee of Panama so we only got occasional winds and then typically less than 15 knots. And the seas – the swells here are large – blocking out entire ships on the horizon. But they are very widely spaced so that it is often difficult to tell that there is any swell by the feel of the boat. Windbird rides gently up one side and down the next, remaining level all the time as though on a slow moving elevator. So we have found ourselves motoring a lot. Probably half of the almost 900 miles to the Galapagos was spent motoring. We are thankful that Windbird carries about 180 gallons of diesel in three tanks plus another 20 gallons in jerry cans on deck. And still we motor at only about 1800 RPM’s in order to conserve fuel. At that speed (4.9 to 5.0 knots) we burn only about a half gallon of diesel an hour.

Many of the anchorages here in the Galapagos are exposed to the prevailing swell and winds (when there are any). As the swells come into an anchorage the period gets shorter and the anchorage becomes rolly. In Academy Bay on Santa Cruz nearly everyone anchors with a stern anchor in addition to the main bow anchor in order to hold the stern of the boat into the swell. The boat may still hobby-horse (pitch the bow down and up) which is not nearly as uncomfortable as rolling from side-to-side which is what happens when you are beam to the swell.

So now we are in the Galapagos. We have been here three weeks and plan to stay another week at least. There is just so much to see and do here. And then comes the longest sail of our voyage – 3,000 miles to the Marquesas Islands. We will start out with little or no wind as we work our way out of the doldrums. We will likely head south of the rumb line in order to get to the southeast trades as soon as possible. We are just south of the equator now and will have to sail or motor to about 5 or 6 degrees south latitude to pick up the trades. Then we should have east-southeast winds of 5 to 12 knots all the way to the Marquesas. However, several boats that are already making the trip have reported winds up to 40 knots – probably in squalls. At any rate, we are planning on about 25 days to get to the Marquesas, though we have bettered every planned time so far. Perhaps we can better this one too. Maybe 21 days. But with that many days at sea, what difference would a few more make! We have found that we actually like the routine of passages and this one is often described by sailors as the best passage of their lives. We are looking forward to it.


060404 Day 169 Galapagos Isabella–Sierra Negra

Day 168, Year 1: The Day of the Flamingo

Day 168, Year 1: The Day of the Flamingo
Date: Monday, April 3, 2006
Weather: Cloudy Day . . . and, it actually rained!
Location: Puerto Villamil, Isabella Island, Galapagos

It is the hot season here, which is also the rainy season. But we have seen very little rain since we left the Caribbean. Today, however, it actually rained for an hour or so. It was cloudy all day with a little clearing in the late evening. That is the big weather news for today.

Mark and I got up early and went with Sylvia and Doug from Windcastle to the tortoise hatchery run by the National Park. It is similar to the Darwin Center in Puerto Ayoro, but actually we thought it was a little more user friendly. The Darwin Center has Lonesome George, but the center here has done a nice job of providing natural environments for the tortoises while still allowing them to be displayed. We took a taxi out to the center, but we walked their nature trail back to town. About halfway back, we came upon a lagoon with about four flamingos. They are so unbelievably pink! We hope to see more of these special birds later in the week.

Just as we returned to town, the sprinkles started. We decided to stop in one of the sidewalk cafes for a late breakfast before continuing our journey. We then went to check-in with the port captain and told Sylvia and Doug we would meet them in the internet café®  We had also made arrangements to meet a guide in a local restaurant at lunch time to make plans for our volcano trip tomorrow. We had planned to be in town just for a couple of hours, but one thing led to another and we ended up returning to the boat very late in the afternoon with just enough time to get ready to go back to the dock for dinner at the Club Nautico run by Henry and his wife Marianna, the couple who took us to Cabo Rosa yesterday.

Heather and Jed came into town around noon to join us, and when we returned to the boat in the evening, they both decided to jump in for a quick swim and sea water “bath”. Just as they were ready to go in, Heather called down for Mark and I to come up into the cockpit. There were flamingos flying through the anchorage and they were quite a sight to see. Somehow you don’t expect to see bright pink birds flying in the sky, but they do and they are beautiful. And this comes from a person who has a pink phobia.

Tomorrow will be the day of the volcano. We will be riding in a truck to the highlands, riding horses up to the rim of the Sierra Negra volcano, and then walking around the rim to Volcan Chino. This volcano still has some steaming sink holes. It should be another fascinating day here in the Galapagos islands.

060403 Day 168 Galapagos Isabella–Giant Tortoise Breeding Center