Heading west into the Pacific

We were prepared for an epic motor. The stretch of ocean between Panama and the Galapagos Islands is famous for crossing the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) more commonly known as the Doldrums. Conditions of very light winds and calms persist along its length which can range from 50 to 300 miles or even more in an El Nino year. Rumour has it that the passage of around 850 miles can take anything from 5 to 15 days! We may have to motor most of the way or at least through the doldrums. Not that we can motor the whole way – we are limited how much fuel we can carry and we’d like to conserve as much as possible for the rest of our (much longer!) journey to French Polynesia. We estimated our 600 litres should last us around 500 miles…

Indeed as we left the lovely Las Perlas Islands off the coast of Panama, we were motoring. Oh dear! We had specially waited for wind so this wasn’t an ideal start! However 6 hours later, we were sailing and thankfully the light winds and rather ideal sailing conditions lasted most of the way. Everyone was delighted to have Charlotte, P’s sister onboard – she cooked delicious ‘new to us’ meals, held art classes with the kids (and generally gave them tons of attention which they loved!) and most importantly performed our Equator crossing ceremony, as our only “shellback” on board! Also for the first time, we buddy boated with some American friends on a catamaran, Counting Stars, and although we weren’t able to always stay within reach of each other on the VHF, it was great to catch up on positions and conditions on the sat phone and of course knowing someone else is fairly close by is always comforting in the big wide open sea!

People often tell me they could never ‘do what I’m doing’ because they get seasick but the truth is I do too – terribly! Thankfully I’ve found some medication that works and I have all sorts of strategies to help me cope at sea but it can be the worst thing ever and makes me nervous which then makes it worse – a vicious circle! The only thing that really keeps me going is the fact that we don’t do it very often – we only spent less than 5% of our time at sea last year – and the rest of the time we get to anchor in stunning bays and explore the most amazing places. If I’m honest though crossings are not my favourite!

But this was my best crossing so far – the winds were light and the seas were fairly calm – I didn’t at any stage feel sick. We flew our spinnaker or asymmetric every day and generally people were happy and calm. I had the dawn watch (4am until 8am) and although I didn’t unfortunately have the magical starry skies enjoyed by the others, I loved my sunrises especially as Fin usually got up to join me on deck for the last hour.

Keeping busy at sea is a full time job – especially with kids onboard! On this crossing we managed to do a little bit of school, Stella read books and Fin listened to his new iPod – which he loved even with the episodes of Harry Potter all mixed up and in the wrong order for some reason! We saw pilot whales, our first blue and red footed boobies, dolphins and flying fish but unfortunately we didn’t manage to hook any dinner on this crossing!

At 10pm, on the fifth day of our sail, we crossed the Equator and entered the Southern Hemisphere for the first time! Nautical tradition is full of ceremonies, new terminology and sacred procedures for this special milestone. We were all pollywogs, having never crossed the Equator by boat before but fortunately for us Charlotte had and so was able to preside over our ceremony. Lot (aka Neptune) took her job very seriously and produced a very funny script written on a scroll, accusing each of us of dastardly crimes! During the trials and subsequent punishment, we each got bombed by cold spaghetti and presented with a gorgeous handmade necklace of our spirit sea animal – our captain even got a raw egg on his head! Finally each crew member dutifully sacrificed something to the sea – mostly hand drawn poems, pictures and sketches including one from P of a very buxom mermaid (??!!). Neptune was then lucky enough to score some of our very delicious upside down pineapple cake and we could all happily call ourselves shellbacks! In the eerie moonlight in the middle of the empty sea, the whole ceremony took on a surreal quality but it was really fun and utterly entertaining – thank you Lot!

With a brief stop 40 nm out from the Galapagos (basically in the middle of nowhere!) to scrub our hull to ensure a barnacle free bottom for our arrival inspection, we arrived the next day at Puerto Baquerizo, San Cristobal Island, just as the sun was going down and we had to anchor in the dark – not ideal in an anchorage called Wreck Bay! Thankfully we managed to safely find a good spot, dropped the anchor and popped the champagne. We fell asleep to the sound of sea lions swimming all around the boat and although we had yet to see our new ‘home’, we were already excited at all the adventures to come.

But first we had to check in and wow what a process that was…

Captain P’s Pacific (part 1) Crossing Statistics:

Distance: 880 nautical miles – average of 160 nm a day
Total time run: 130 hours (5.5 days)
Average speed: 6.7 knots
Best 24 hours: 173 nm – average of 7.2 knots
Top Speed: 8.5 kts
Animals spotted: Pilot whales, dolphins, red and blue footed boobies, flying fish
Total Food consumed: All sorts of delicious goodies including a yummy upside down pineapple cake as a gift for Neptune!

Favourite things about our crossing to the Galapagos:

Stella: I loved crossing the Equator and being with everyone.
Lot: Being able to see every star in the universe – layers of stars!
Fin: Having an iPod to listen to and crossing the Equator.
Patrick: Night watch watching a dolphin jump in the phosphorescence.
Anna: Comfortable seas and our weird and wonderful Equator crossing ceremony!

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Thank you to Charlotte Moreton for sharing her gorgeous photos with us.

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