While floating on a mooring ball in Bora, Bora, the last of the Society Islands we will be visiting before setting sail to American and Western Samoa via Surwarrow, we decided that, providing a sense of all the islands and places of interest which we have had the good fortune of visiting, detailing some of our highlights and encounters with the people and cultures along the way, as well as the sailing limitations and influences which we have experienced, would provide a comprehensive picture of our circumnavigation to date.
It is hard to belief though, that it is 2nd July 2016, Log Day 175 and that almost 6000NM of our 8432NM sailed on Paw Paw since moving on to her in April 2014, has been completed with the World ARC after leaving St Lucia on 9th January 2016. Undoubtedly many of our experiences, both positive and negative, have been influenced by our participation in this rally, but there are just as many that have not.
One of the primary influences of our experience to date has been sailing in the South Pacific during an El Nino year, particularly the weather we have encountered, as well as the lack of general information and, in some cases, misinformation, regarding safe and comfortable anchorages; a matter which has become more and more prevalent with each passing storm.
While we experienced strange weather patterns in the Caribbean Sea this year, like light winds and completely flat seas rounding the Colombian Cape to gale force winds and high seas entering Santa Marta, approaching the San Blas islands, during our passage from Panama to the Galapagos and being woken in the night in the Santa Marta Marina with Paw Paw’s bow bashing into the dock, given the incredibly strong winds that had kicked up, delaying the start of Leg 2, we have certainly wonder “where in the world are we now” and perhaps have entered a parallel universe, where the South Pacific as we know it, is no more. It hasn’t helped matters that many of the sailors whom we have met and who have sailed in these parts for a number of years, have never seen weather like this during the sailing season.
Having crossed the Pacific Ocean, sailing thousands of miles to get to this part of the world, the last thing we were expecting in the Marquesas Islands, for example, was to find most of the anchorages were susceptible to a very uncomfortable swell and torrential rain showers which washed mud and debris down the rivers and into the anchorages. In Fatu Hiva so much mud was washed down that our depth sensor could not register. We battled for two hours to get a reasonably safe spot, but too close for comfort to rocks alongside. The small number of anchorages that were protected had a scattering of residents and no services.
Most of the Society Islands, particularly the leeward islands of Huahine, Tahaa, Raiatea and Bora Bora have very limited anchoring options due to the depth and rocky bottoms of the anchorages, resulting in yachts having to find a mooring ball, of which there are precious few and certainly even fewer on which one would be comfortable riding out a severe storm.
In many instances, the weather has dictated a premature departure from a number of our destinations, curtailing our respite, for example, in all, but one of the Marquesas Islands, Rangiroa in the Tuamotos and again in Tahaa and Raiatea. In other instances, like Huahine, we were storm bound and had no option, but to stay and settle for the best available anchorage with less than ideal characteristics. As the worst of this particular winter storm passed over us, the winds never turned E/ESE as predicted and which would have given us more protection behind the hills. Instead, we endured a night of sustained winds of 27 to 33 Kts, gusting to as high as 39 Kts at one point. Fortunately the sea state was not uncomfortable and Paw Paw held her ground, not dragging an inch. So too did the other yachts in the anchorage, thank goodness! However, just when we thought that this was probably the worst storm we would encounter, including a very rough four hour storm in Rangiroa, where, for the first time ever on Paw Paw, items were flung off the galley countertops and cockpit table, Mother Nature had other ideas.
On our first night in Bora Bora, known as the "Pearl of the Pacific ", we endured the worst storm that either of us has ever encountered. Worse than any storm in South Africa, that we can remember. Worse than any monsoon storm in Phoenix. Worse than tropical storm, Raphael, which we experienced while in St Martin. Worse than the one while in Deshaise, Guadeloupe or Gustavia, St Barths. Worse than the one we had just endured in Huahine two weeks before.
Besides the howling wind, the thunder and lightning could have woken the dead. The torrential rain was so bad we couldn’t see the yachts on the mooring balls next to us and, at times, we couldn't even see beyond the perimeters of Paw Paw's hulls. What made it the worst is that all of this lasted the entire night. It was never-ending!
With all our onboard systems shutdown and our battery bank isolated to help limit damages if we had a lightning strike, Elaine, unable to stand it, eventually went down to her cabin, closed all the blinds, crawled under the covers and prayed for daybreak. Roy, on the other hand, like a sentinel, continued to stand watch to handle the situation if we broke off the mooring ball, as some yachts did.
Additional challenges have included the limited number of passes one can safely use as an all-weather pass when entering, or more importantly, having the ability to leave, the various lagoons. For this reason, we have decided to skip Maupiti.
The weather we have encountered has, for the most part, been completely unpredictable and definitely not reflected or conflicting in the multitude of weather forecasting sources we access, adding another dimension to decisions on whether to stay or leave. On most of our passages we have had no wind, completely flat seas and have had to motor, while on others, we have been flying along at speeds of 12 Kts. We’ve arrived at new destinations like Tahiti just as the heavens opened about an hour after we were settled and didn’t stop raining for a week. On too many occasions, with the unreliable weather forecasts, the wind and the sea state has picked up unexpectedly, giving us lots of uncomfortable and interrupted nights of sleep.
While this point has been laboured, the weather, together with the ability to find safe and secure anchorage are paramount to any sailor and have certainly increased the stress levels aboard Paw Paw on more occasions than we care to remember during this circumnavigation.
It hasn’t helped matters that any fun activities to relieve the stress levels or, simply enjoy the lifestyle we have chosen, have been impacted as a result. Instead of an outdoor lifestyle, we’ve found ourselves “housebound” and, with the wind howling and endless bands of rain drenching the anchorage, we’ve decided that staying in bed with a good book was the best option. We have even lost our dark Caribbean tans!
As a result, “making hay while the sun shines” has become our new motto and we have literally crammed in our activities on the few days the sun has come out or, at least, into days when the rain has held off. Having lived in Arizona for fifteen years, enjoying 360 days of sunshine per year and then the Caribbean for two years, it is safe to say we are definitely over this weather. We can accept that there "has to be a little rain sometime", but this is definitely the worst weather we have experienced in all the sailing we have done since 2008. Even worse than sailing in San Francisco in the winter!
So, with the songs like, “It's raining again...", from the 1980s band, Supertramp, regularly on our minds and, as this El Nino year continues to throw us curved balls, with relentless winter storms, originating in the Southern Ocean and reaching further north than normal, we have done our best to become acquainted with the islands, their people and their cultures, albeit on “fast forward” mode and squeezing in as much as possible, with the weather limitations. Since our blog gives a “blow by blow” description of all the activities on a daily basis, we will try to provide our overall perspective in this article in the interest of brevity, but detail the highlights.
Prior to joining the World ARC rally, we definitely felt we had immersed ourselves totally in the cruising lifestyle, but joining the rally for the first section of our circumnavigation, while presenting numerous challenges, many of which were detailed in our previous article, also gave us the opportunity to bring our skills to bear in assisting and interacting with the other participants and allowing us to reap the rewards of doing so.
From loaning our diving gear to help other yachts get their bottoms cleaned in preparation for the Galapagos, to providing spares that we didn’t need. Like windless control switches, when those on one yacht had totally disintegrated with the salt air or a gas regulator when someone’s stove decided to stop working or being able to provide something as simple as seizing wire to help secure a shackle or provide a few washers and some bolts to help repair an engine alternator.
We’ve helped yachts fix anything from their dive compressor to various pieces of electronic equipment like the all-important AIS, as well as stitched sections of sails. We’ve charged to the rescue when yachts have needed someone to hoist them up their masts to fix a problem or when yachts have dragged on their anchors with no one aboard. When dinghies have broken free or yachts have run aground, as well as relayed our own experiences of an anchorage in order to assist other yachts in choosing a safe anchoring spot and we’ve stayed in close proximity to a yacht in distress while at sea after broaching in huge seas. At times, all we’ve needed to do was stay within radio range on a passage to provide company to another yacht or lent a listening ear to sailors who needed a sounding board to solve a problem or, indeed, to someone who simply needed a shoulder to cry on when life aboard became too much. And, finally we have opened Paw Paw up to being a home for a few days for a yellow shirt or a crew member of another yacht. Our generosity has also extended to non-rally yachts as well. For example, assisting the single-handed sailor who arrived under tow in Fatu Hiva as his first port-of-call after sailing across the Pacific Ocean from Mexico for 38 days and, exhausted, had lost steerage just prior to entering the anchorage at dusk.
While we believe these acts epitomize the spirit of sailing, we have, nonetheless, been richly rewarded. From a thank you as simple as being invited aboard to enjoy afternoon tea and freshly baked cupcakes to receiving a gift like a bottle of wine or gin. From being included in beach barbecues or invited to happy hour or dinner either ashore or on board another yacht, all of which has helped foster wonderful, new friendships. As these friendships have grown, we’ve been able to enjoy joint excursions and entertainment aboard like game nights, resulting in heaps of laughter and wonderful memories.
It has also provided access to participants who have medical training such as Claudine on Wishanger II, who gave Elaine her antibiotic injections every day while in the Galapagos Islands for a bladder infection or Dan on Do Over who assisted when Elaine hurt her back in Tahiti or the yellow shirts who were able to assist as interpreters when visiting the hospital.
We’ve also had the delight of reconnecting with “old” sailing friends. Ondular (Isabel and Mick) met us in San Cristobal, Galapagos, whom we last saw in Martinique prior to our last Hurricane Season in the Caribbean and then Cattiva (Maria and Maurice), whom we first met in Bonaire and said goodbye to in Curacao some 18 months ago, but caught up with them in the Oa Poa, Marquesas Islands. The beauty of the sailing world is that it doesn’t take much to meet new friends, even sailing outside of a rally. Just a polite hello followed by a single question opens the doors to folks like YouNevaKnow (Michelle and Neil) after Neil swan over to Paw Paw or Balvenie (Amanda and Mark) and Zota (Corola and Jim) whom Elaine met while waiting on Roy to have his tattoo.
Unfortunately, there have also been plenty of examples where the sailing spirit has definitely not been demonstrated among rally participants, like when we’ve radioed for assistance when entering an anchorage and the rally yachts present have simply ignored us, even when we’ve tried to call their attention by shouting over to them. Elaine’s favourite bug-bear, of course, were the prize-givings, particularly the one in Tahiti for the longest leg of the rally, Leg 4: The Pacific Crossing.
We were looking forward to the event and awards where yachts that spent more time motoring vs sailing would be acknowledged, since we knew of a number yachts, when faced with the question to sail or not to sail, bobbed around for two days, waiting on the wind to kick in after leaving the Galapagos Islands, rather than turn on their engines or those that arrived in the Marquesas needing little to no fuel, like ourselves.
Our excitement started to wane, however, when we found out just a few days prior that the event would not include a dinner as had occurred with every other ceremony, but just a drink and some snacks. With that, we rightly assumed it would be another fiasco with under catering and we were not disappointed in that regard. It definitely wasn’t an adequate celebration of the achievement in our opinion.
Anyway, based on the order in which yachts crossed the finish line in the Marquesas and discounting those yachts that would receive a DNS (Did Not Start) status, since they had started well ahead of the official start time for the Leg, as well as the fact that most of the yachts in our division needed the duty free fuel permit to take on diesel on arrival in Hiva Oa and would, therefore, be penalised for motoring time, we had estimated that we were definitely in the running for 1st place. The only wildcard was Maeva Maris who had been gaining on us towards the end of the passage.
When it was announced that Maeva Maris had received 3rd place, we waited with bated breath. But, alas, Paw Paw received 2nd place, with 1st place awarded to a yacht that we assumed would receive a DNS and would have motoring hours that exceeded ours. Given that Paw Paw, along with a host of other yachts, had received a DNS instead of the 3-hour penalty for starting early on Leg 3 from Las Perlas to the Galapagos; it appeared that the rules had not been applied consistently. What actually came to light a few days later was that the impossible appeared to have occurred. The yacht that was given first place had been tracked by one of the owners who was not aboard their yacht for the Pacific Crossing and located them on the Yellowbrick at a position more than four hours away at the time of the start and who had managed to arrive at the same time as yachts that logged and declared hundreds of hours of motoring time on the crossing. Go figure as the Americans say!
It was not the best note on which to leave the 2016-2017 World ARC rally, but we did not let this outcome dampen our spirits or reduce our sense of achievement, as we received a beautifully engraved mother of pearl plaque from the City of Papeete, presented by the mayor. We were also pleasantly surprised to be presented with a plaque from World ARC signifying the end of our participation in this year’s rally until we re-join the new fleet in Fiji next year. In addition to our prizes for 2nd place in Leg 4 – a bottle of locally produced rum, a delicious locally produced papaya jam and a body exfoliator made from one of the local trees, we also received 2nd place in one of the fun competition. Additionally, we received a Tahitian blessing, enjoyed Tahitian dancers and celebrated our achievements with dinner and a chance to see friends, before saying the inevitable goodbyes. We have, however, stayed in contact with a number of yachts which also left the rally in Tahiti and have enjoyed seeing the rest of the islands together. All in all, Paw Paw left the rally with her head held high!
While the above has provided some insight into our overall experience to date, below, provides our specific experience of the various places we have visited as part of this amazing adventure.
Colombia remains the biggest and most pleasant surprise for us. We were a little apprehensive, given the political situation, but what we found was completely unexpected. The people were extremely friendly, food and services were very inexpensive, food vendors and restaurants that lined the streets provided a very festive atmosphere and turned out the most delicious and creative meals, fresh fruit stands providing fresh fruit salads and juices were everywhere.
The organizers of this sponsored World ARC destination and associated events did a first class job of assisting and entertaining us. Besides all our marina fees being sponsored, the staff efficiently assisted us with various services and the ease of clearing in and out through the marina was very refreshing.
Our first outing was a beach day and lunch time barbeque at Bahia Concha in the Tayrona National Park, which was exactly what we needed after our first passage and the chaos in St Lucia. The city tour took us to Museo Etnografico, the Cathedral de Santa Marta and the Hacienda de Simon Bolivar the following day and then Elaine joined the entourage to a local school for underprivileged children. What she wasn't expecting was the greeting received in what one would never guess as being a school, as well as learning about the background of the children and the operations of the school. Essentially 49% of children in Colombia do not have access to an education. This school completely funded through private donations and support, where the teachers are working professionals in various disciplines who donate their time, attempt to fill the gap. It was heart wrenching to learn that the $1000 US collected from the World ARC participants prior to the visit and then presented during our visit would actually go towards completing the building currently consisting of just two unfinished rooms and a bathroom. A very humbling experience!
A fond memory will remain Elaine’s “birthday party”, where we didn't have to arrange a thing. It was all laid on by the World ARC sponsors. A Skippers Briefing for our Leg 2 departure to the San Blas Islands, in the lovely Club Santa Marta, followed by dinner and the prize giving. Pre-dinner drinks were enjoyed while a saxophonist entertained us. The dinner was absolutely superb so much so that we asked the Head Chef to join us so that we could extend our thanks with a standing ovation and resounding applause. It was indeed, not only a night to remember, but a destination too; one we hope to revisit someday to do some of the things we missed, like seeing Cartegena, doing the hike to the Lost City and using Colombia as a base to visit Peru and Ecuador.
We were definitely looking forward to vising the San Blas Islands, especially when we saw the strange tuffs of palm trees sticking out of the sea and masts of yachts which seemed to be anchored in the middle of nowhere. This archipelago of 340 plus islands is owned and controlled by the indigenous Guna Indians, although part of mainland Panama. While accepting of visitors, they prohibit any non-Guna from settling or intermarrying and have, thus, maintained their culture and traditions without the influence of our modern world.
This, however, was the worst destination we have been to and we will be hard pressed to want to visit it again. We encountered a very rude and unpleasant chief. We found the locals to be “money grabbing” around every corner by asking us to pay fees to stop on any given island, trying to charge the sailors for coconut drinks that had already been paid for by the World ARC organisers, exploiting the various yachts with vastly varying prices for molas and attempting to charge us additional water taxi fees above what had been previously agreed. The clearing process was a complete farce, where the immigration officer blatantly created a situation to charge us bogus overtime fees then pocketed the bribe money right under our noses. Additionally, we were charged extra fees amounting to $270.00US over and above that which the World ARC had already paid on our behalf for the cruising permit.
For the few days we were there we did, however, witness their traditional dancing and music, as well as see the type of huts the people live in. On one of the days we headed via dinghy for what we thought was an uninhabited tiny island just south of us. It was, in essence, a heap of golden sand approx. 1/8th of an acre in size with about 5 palm trees on it and surrounded by reefs - simply stunning! It turned out to be inhabited and the owner definitely made us feel very uncomfortable by racking up our foot prints as we took a very short walk on the beach before deciding to leave.
Unfortunately, regret, after leaving the San Blas Islands, was not stopping in at Portobella to see the “Black Christ” en route to Shelter Bay due to bad advice and inaccurate information received from a World ARC representative.
There is nothing flattering one can say about Colon or Shelter Bay marina. The latter happens to be the only place yachts can await and prepare for their Panama Canal transit. Since the marina has a captive audience, there appears to be very little effort applied to providing reasonable services, which at best, were not good. Besides the fact that they lost our laundry and the restaurant food was mediocre with very poor service, the staff was unpleasant, inexperienced and disorganized. Given, the isolated location of the marina, taxis were outrageously expensive and there was constant confusion around the bus service needed to do provisioning.
The World ARC did, however, arrange a wonderful outing for us and we did get to visit the Gatun Locks Visitors Centre to see the operation up close and personal prior to our own transit. The highlight of our stay in Shelter Bay was, of course, having Keenan, Brooke and William join us. Although our grandson, William, was only eight months old at the time, he was the youngest member of the fleet and probably amongst the youngest to every make the transit, a memory definitely worth treasuring!
The World ARC event was a trip up the Chagres River in large dugout canoes, to visit one of the Embera Indian villages. Our welcome was simply incredible. As soon as the villagers saw William, one of the women came over, took him from Brooke and, within seconds, he was surrounded by the other woman who promptly carted him off to play with the babies and children of the village, much to his delight. He was indeed the "Belle of the Ball". After being welcomed to the village, we were served a delicious lunch of fish and fried plantain in bowls made from palm leaves, all of which was prepared by some of the woman in the communal kitchen (aka a traditional open fire). This was followed by dessert; the sweetest pineapple and watermelon we have ever tasted. After lunch we were free to roam through the village and peruse their homes and handmade crafts before being entertained with traditional singing and dancing. It was a wonderful experience and one we had plenty of time to reflect on as we meandered our way back down the river to the waiting coaches, while William slept after an exhausting day of playing.
The Embera Indians were amongst the nicest, most humble people we have met on this voyage and it was enlightening to see a community live so happily, yet so basically. A stark contrast to the Guna Indians we met in the San Blas Islands who were very sombre and unwelcoming.
Our Panama Canal transit through the Gatun Locks, an overnight stay in Gatun Lake and then onto the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks the following day, although not without incident, remains one of the highlights of our circumnavigation. The canal, which opened in 1913, ten years after the USA and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, following Panama's independence from Colombia in 1903, was initially started by the French in 1892, but disease, the harsh geographical and climate conditions coupled with a lack of funds halted the operation, having cost 1,435 million francs and consuming 20,000 lives. When it was eventually completed by 75,000 men and woman, it had cost an additional $400 million US. It was an incredible experience and in many ways surreal. Seeing the Pacific Ocean as the last lock slowly opened in front of us certainly brought home the fact that we had reached the point of no return and we were definitely excited about exploring new horizons.
Panama City was another destination that surprised us, particularly the magical skyline, which we got to fully appreciate on a Party Bus outing arranged by the World ARC for one of our evenings, but also, El Casco Viejo, the Old City, founded on 21st January 1673 after the destruction of Panama La Vieja, Old Panama, in 1671. El Casco Viejo is a fabulous old town in which to stroll around, with the most amazing old buildings that have been beautifully restored. The people are typically that of a large city and leave you to your own devices. Like any big city, provisioning was good and most services were readily available, with the exception of acquiring diesel and petrol for some obscure reason. It was more expensive than we anticipated, but Albrook Mall; the largest one in the Americas, allowed us to catch up on some much needed retail therapy, which included the obligatory purchase – Panama Hats for each of us. What most people don’t know though is the Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador. We do, however, wish we’d spent more time in Panama City versus wasting our time motoring around Las Perlas.
Las Perlas was definitely not at all what we expected. The islands of this archipelago are very wild, rugged and barren with small, rocky bottom anchorages - Definitely not your typical tropical islands. They got their name when Spanish conquistadores Gaspar de Morales and Francisco Pizarro who robbed a large amount of pearls from the indigenous King Toe in 1515, defeated the king and enslaved his skilled pearl divers. The 31 carat "Peregrina" pearl of Queen Mary came from these islands.
The only two main villages are Esmeralda on Isla Del Rey and Isla Contadora, the latter of which is the most developed. We had very little interaction with the locals and never got to experience their culture, but we did enjoy a beach barbeque and the prize-giving for Leg 2, arranged by the World ARC. From a cruising perspective, we felt these islands were a waste of our time, but we did make the best of it by enjoying a beach barbeque with Into the Blue and Wishanger II on Isla Del Rey. Unfortunately, due to weather, we didn’t get the opportunity to dinghy up the Cacique River.
Then, under the brilliance of stars on a moonless early morn, on the glass-like flat Pacific Ocean with the morning star reflecting off the water, with sparkles all around Paw Paw from the bioluminescence, with the Southern Cross hanging in the skies overhead and with Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young blasting out, the Island Girl and Pirate crossed the equator with champagne in hand, topped off with freshly baked scones and jam. We had returned to the Southern Hemisphere after more than 20 years. It was indeed what dreams are made of!
A few hours later after witnessing the most amazing sunrise, it was "land ahoy". San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, was spotted in the distance and we were welcomed by rays, dolphins, sea lions and birds of all types en route to our anchorage. We had stepped into a world unto its own. Getting a water taxi to shore and then having to step over sea lions that were lounging around everywhere, including Paw Paw's cockpit area, or swimming with a turtle that couldn't care less whether or not we were in their presence, was simply amazing!
The day after our arrival the residents of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of Isla San Cristobal, were out in force to enjoy a public holiday, so we got to partake in the festivities. These included delicious treats from food vendors, a fishing contest, a fireworks display, a concert featuring various local artists, which, of course, lead to dancing under the stars along with the locals. The people were very welcoming and were more than delighted to engage us in their activities.
Our sightseeing adventures included a visit to the Jacinto Gordilla Breeding Centre to see the Giant Tortoises and witness how these are being reared before being released into the wild, all in the interest of ensuring these magnificent creatures do not become extinct. A tour around the Interpretation Centre did an excellent job of explaining the forces of nature that came together to create the richness and varied fauna and flora that comprise the Archipelago of the Galapagos Islands. With the prevailing winds and the various ocean currents which transported a huge variety of species to these islands, coupled with the natural selection process and Darwin's theory of evolution, we have a natural world heritage site that is out of this world.
The World ARC arranged a visit to one of the beaches south of our anchorage in order to snorkel in a lagoon where turtles sleep. A most unusual sight, but very cool indeed! We also had the good fortune of seeing a huge marine iguana swim past us during this excursion. The boat trip to Kicker Rock for another snorkelling adventure was unfortunately spoilt by the very murky and cloudy water, but when the sun did decide to peak through the clouds we managed to see sharks, turtles and sea lions along with some other marine life. On land we saw blue-footed boobies which are an odd looking bird with their bright blue feet.
Next on our itinerary was an overnight motor to Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, where the highlight of our stay was our Los Tunneles tour as well as an early morning snorkelling adventure off our dinghy. During the latter we saw white-tipped sharks, sea lions and all sorts of reef fish, but the cutest of all are the Galapagos penguins. They are less than a foot tall and dart around the water at incredible speeds. What added to the joy of this snorkel outing was that every time we raised our heads to look around us, we had blue-footed boobies curiously staring at us - a sight to behold and an amazing experience. It wasn’t long after we had returned to Paw Paw though, that we were visited by the local authorities who reprimanded us in no uncertain terms for snorkelling on our own. In fact, we were then told that we weren’t even allowed to swim off the back of our yacht. A long walk along the white sandy beach, which stretches for miles leading from the little town into the wilderness along the rugged coastline, was definitely needed to calm us down after that encounter.
While the authorities leave much to be desired, Puerto Villamil is very rustic and one has a sense of going back in time with its dirt streets and quaint buildings - a stark contrast to the beautiful road that leads from the dock area, known as the embarcadero, into town.
Our Los Tunneles tour took us to Cabo Rosa for two separate snorkelling adventures that were beyond our wildest dreams. We saw huge turtles that were at least 5-6ft long and 4ft wide, baby and adult seahorses, schools of golden rays, white-tipped sharks, royal angel fish, penguins and not just one or two of each of these species, but countless. They were so unperturbed by our presence that we came within a few feet of these creatures. The penguins allowed us to come within a foot of them while they bathed in the sun. The turtles gracefully swam alongside us and amongst us at arm’s length. The last part of the tour involved a meander through an unbelievable lava landscape, of lava arches with cacti growing out of them and surrounded by the clearest water we have ever seen. The lunch that was provided was definitely welcomed, but the locally produced oranges served for dessert were the sweetest and juiciest we have ever tasted.
Our last stop in the Galapagos Islands was Santa Cruz, which was not to be visited until the dates on our Zarpe indicated that we could leave Isla Isabela. This presented a situation, where, after spending one day in Santa Cruz, we realized we should have arranged to stay in San Cristobal or Isla Isabela longer and could have, in fact, spent much more time with our friends from Ondular, as Santa Cruz was really just a stop off for provisioning and obtaining fuel. Fortunately we had acquired the latter in San Cristobal and did not have to participate in the fiasco of getting fuel in Santa Cruz. That said, we were there and made the best of it.
The Saturday morning market meant an early start to the day to "race" all the other World ARC yachts to the fresh produce market for our supplies prior to heading across the Pacific. As it transpired, although everyone else had the same idea, there was no need. The market was so well stocked that there was more than plenty to go around. In fact, it was an amazing market, given the size of this island.
The astonishing matter of our visit, indeed the voyage to this point, however, was Elaine's trip to the hospital to see a doctor. After a short wait, Elaine received a consultation with the doctor on duty, received an antibiotic injection, one of three to be administered over three days, along with some tablets and left, not having had to pay a single penny. Medical Care is free for citizens and visitors alike in Ecuador. Certainly puts to shame the so called first world countries that cannot provide the same care.
By now though, excitement had started to run high on Paw Paw with the commencement of our first ocean crossing eminent, but not before we had the Skippers Briefing followed by an informal prize-giving and enjoyed a delicious three course meal, served at one of the local restaurants, Il Giardino.
We did, however, feel that although we had thoroughly enjoyed the Galapagos Islands, it was not worth all the officialdom and expense to visit as a cruiser. We believe we would have had a far better experience had we visited as a tourist and bought the holiday package tour on one of the motor yachts. Also, although we had plenty of opportunities to dive, we declined given the expense and the very poor water visibility, which was a shame.
On 2nd March 2016, singing a rendition of "Happy Birthday” via the satellite phone, to our grand-daughter, Capri and with a pod of rather large dolphins, all of them at least 6ft in length, bidding us farewell, we set sail from Santa Cruz to head out into the great blue yonder for 25 to 30 days, believing, that seeing land again, would be a welcome sight indeed. It was a somewhat scary thought to think that, in 35 years together; we had never spent this length of time alone in a 46ft x 25ft space.
The Pacific Ocean has long been the one that sailors dream off crossing, mostly, for the same reason we did it - To explore paradise. The route we are following is affectionately referred to as the "Coconut Milk Run” with yachts leaving the west coast of Canada and the USA or Panama to sail the well-trodden route, via the Galapagos Islands or not, to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji, following which they split and head to New Zealand or onward to Australia and beyond.