April 24, 2019
Last week the stalwart crew of the CHANTICLEER passed our 5-month and 5,000 mile mark since leaving Portsmouth/Kittery. We had hoped to be good correspondents, but our blog has turned into a bust, at least for a while. The Weebly program requires a muscular WiFi signal to upload text and pictures, and we just haven’t had one of those since the French West Indies! So we feel negligent, but what can we (non-geeks) do….. In this place, Sea Lions on park benches are more common than good WiFi.
We are trying this mass email as a substitute for the blog. We may be able to upload the text to our blog, if WiFi allows. If not, you’ll just have to imagine all the cool photos of amazing places.
We are still anchored in the Galapagos. Have been to four separate islands so far, for a total of about three weeks. These enchanting islands are biologically and geologically stunning. We have been hiking across lava fields, perching on the rim of one of the largest volcanic caldera’s in the world, seeing new birds at an amazing clip, and marveling at the abundance of fish, rays, sea turtles, giant tortoises, sea lions and other creatures. As my colleague Andy Rosenberg once said, “if you don’t kill them, they have more babies.” Yup. I simply have not seen such abundance in any other marine system. The day we made landfall here, nine days out from Panama, we sailed through what seemed like dozens of huge Pacific Green Sea Turtles. Wow! Later we snorkeled in the midst of sea turtles that seemed as large as VW bugs, well, almost. I went SCUBA diving last week for the first time in 35 years. My left ear still hurts, but I saw more sharks at once than ever before, plus moray eels, and wonderful fish.
The boat has been great so far, meaning no major mechanical or rigging problems. Thanks to KPYY and Valiant Yachts. And, honestly, thanks to Hurricane Irma. She whacked us, but that made us really overhaul the boat in a thorough way as one should for a voyage like this. I replaced the steering cables in Panama, the last major piece of our huge long refit. In general systems are working. There has just been the on-going maintenance one expects.
For those who have been following our blog, we last updated it just prior to transiting the Panama Canal. Yikes: that was a long time ago! In a nutshell:
Locking through the Panama Canal was a dream come true for both of us. We had been reading about it for decades, and now we were doing it. We left the anchorage at dusk with our Advisor, or Pilot. That means our first approach to locks and locking through at Gatun was all in the dark – extra exciting. We were rafted with two other yachts, an Australian trimaran and a big catamaran from Colorado, squeezed in behind a huge cargo ship that had only 24 inches of clearance on each side! As the locks fill, the water roars in and there is quite a surge. But all lines held. We moored that night in the big Gatun Lake, through which most of the canal runs, and then descended to the Pacific late the next afternoon. 42 miles all told. The locks were exciting; the lake serene. Each yacht needs 4 Line Handlers, plus skipper, so we had a German dentist named Hans, and a husband & wife off a British boat, Philip and Claudia, in addition to Molly, as our line handlers. I had served as a line handler for Hans earlier in the week. Having “company” made it pretty social. And Philip was very impressed that Molly served bacon and homemade cornbread for breakfast on Day 2.
We sat in Panama City longer than we had planned, anchored out at La Playita. Our Raymarine Wind Instrument was balky. We were selling our house in Portsmouth. And a million other things kept delaying us. (Arranging for the paperwork necessary to sell the house to be notarized in Panama was a challenge in its own right! We speak no Spanish, and the Latin Americans love rules and regulations. But after a few days and much frustration, we pulled it off.)
The passage from Panama to San Cristobal, Galapagos was a marvelous introduction to the Pacific. We had fair winds, but never too much or too little until the last 14 hours, when the breeze petered out, and then came ahead. So we motored the last half day, including Crossing the Equator at 0140 one morning. We delayed the ceremony until the next day, appeasing Neptune with a tot of champagne. We are Shellbacks now.
Sometime I will write more details about what a trip like this entails – the noises, the bumps, the bruises, the rush of the sea and wind as the boat careens down a big sea, the serenity of a sunset drink in a quiet anchorage, the concerns when a crucial system seems to falter, the sublimity of the sea and the stars on long night watches with no moon, the consoling presence of the moon at other times of the month, the satisfaction in tucking a reef in the mainsail as the wind builds, and knowing once again that the boat will take care of us. It’s not an easy life. Challenges abound. So o do satisfactions. So we will keep sailing west.
We intend to leave for the Marquesas, in French Polynesia, within the week. That will be a long boat ride, close to 3,500 miles without a speck of land between here and there, probably 3-4 weeks, depending on what weather we encounter. That distance is so great that motoring to cover any real miles is impossible. Our 150 gallons of fuel would be a joke! So we will keep our weather eyes peeled, and hope that we don’t have too many squalls. There are rarely or never gales here near the Equator, but squalls can be threatening and exasperating. On a long passage like that, of course, you take what you get.
Molly baked a cake yesterday, and threw a modest party (for us) to mark the occasion of me officially becoming an Old Geezer. 65 years ago my Mother forced me out into the world. It’s been quite a ride, and I have been lucky enough to do essentially what I wanted to do: sail boats and ships, write books, lay down miles on my bike, have healthy great kids, and share it all with my wonderful wife. Wonder what the next 65 years will bring.
Thanks to all who have been following Molly’s Instagram posts. We do appreciate being “in touch” with old friends, even in that passing fashion. We miss you all.
Best, Jeff & Molly