Ok! We made landfall! We are safely anchored at San Christobal Island, in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. While we start our explorations here, we will report on the passage southward. Sonrisa requested that I let her provide the first contribution. So, in the words of our fearless and strong vessel, here is Galapagos Passage, Leg One:
I am finally in my element. It has been almost ten years for me, too. I returned to San Diego from my last adventure in 2009, and since then I have been itching to get going again. The first few weeks of this trip were hard for me, too. Sailing North to Santa Barbara was a slog, and with each wave, we tested my rigging. On the trip South, I knew Andrew and Leslie were nervous, even scared. I felt bad about that, and I just wanted to say: “Don’t worry! I’ve got this. We’ve got this!” But, Leslie can’t hear me over her din of fretfulness.
I try to be patient. I know that the sea is my world, and it hasn’t been Leslie or Andrew’s world until now. They are just getting used to it. Each day on anchor at Cabo San Lucas, Andrew and Leslie would have their morning coffee and discuss their plans for the day and for the next few weeks. I listened and waited, hoping they would trust me enough to jump to the Galapagos.
I could feel Leslie’s mood shift the last few days, resolved. But for what? They didn’t specify in their morning talks, and I don’t know what they are saying while they are on land. I tried to make sure that I don’t move off my anchor and cause any trouble. We moved to the marina, and Andrew gave me a good scrub down. It felt good to get the salt grime off of my rigging. They would leave, return with groceries. Leave, return with friends. Leave, return, leave, return. We seem to be getting ready to go somewhere. Finally, Leslie calls her parents on FaceTime and confirms we are going to the Galapagos next!
My heart skips a beat, we are jumping off!
We leave on Thursday afternoon (can’t set sail on a Friday), and the wind is honking! 30 knots and big waves, though from behind. We are rocking and rolling, but everyone seems relaxed enough about it. The first night is cold, the second night is less cold, and by the third night, the coconut oil in the food stores melts. We have crossed below 20 degrees latitude. The sunlight is golden and the water is an unbelievable blue.
All is well, except for one nagging problem. I haven’t mentioned this to anyone, yet, because I didn’t quite know how to tell them. When we had my rigging replaced, the rigging company did not replace the connection between my jib (little front sail) and the chainplate that holds it to the hull. It is a custom fabricated piece, and it seems they didn’t have one, so they just put the old piece back in where it was. The thing is, this piece is at least twenty years old, it could be thirty; I’m not sure, I’ve lost count. And, it is crumbling. I can feel it. I wish I had mentioned this before we set off for a two week venture, but I had forgotten in my excitement. Now, I just have to hold on until…what, two weeks?
In the 30 knot winds, I can feel the piece losing its strength. I have to hold on. If it lets go in a rugged seaway with the sail out the whole jib roller furling will begin swinging around from the top of the mast. The roller furling drum will become a wrecking ball, and it could be dangerous. I resolve to hold on, at least until they get the sail rolled up. Maybe we will have some light winds soon?
Indeed, on the fourth day the winds become lighter, the waves lay down and the ocean is relaxed. The wind is registering only 1 - 2.5 knots, and that isn’t enough to sail. Andrew and Leslie turn on the engine and roll up the jib. I can relax now. Moments later, my whole hull lurches when the jib pin lets go. Andrew and Leslie look at each other, “What was that?” They ask in unison. They look beyond my stern to see if we hit something in the water. “Uh, guys…guys? Up here.” I will them to look forward. They do, and Andrew spots the sagging jib. “Shit.”
Now, to be fair, the jib is an important piece of machinery. It is the small front sail, so it is the sail we use if the winds are heavy. It is also where we secure the storm jib if things get really hairy, so if it is out of commission we are not in a very good spot with regard to high wind.
Andrew and Leslie approach the deck and survey the problem. Leslie holds the jib to keep it from swinging around while Andrew takes apart the connector. It crumbles in his hand. They are understandably irritated with the rigging company, but address the problem only as a matter of fact. The rigging company isn’t going to come out to 19.54.345 N, 101.33.235 W to fix it for them. “Let’s tie it down and get it under control first,” Leslie suggests. Andrew agrees, and he goes to get a box of extra shackles. They wrestle it into place, and it is temporarily secure. Hot, humid, vibrating with the hum of the motor, Leslie suggests they return to the cockpit and think.
“Should we divert to Alcupulco?” But even Alcupulco is four days away at this point.
In the meantime, the breeze increases to 4.5 knots. They turn off the engine and Leslie launches my beautiful, red, white and blue spinnaker. After several hours of motoring, a cooling silence oozes over nerve endings frayed by motor vibrations. I feel like I am stretching my arms out, gathering up the breeze. Small waves lap at my hull as we go. I’m not worried about the jib; Andrew will figure it out.
After Andrew’s evening nap, he emerges through the companion way and declares: “I have an idea.” He sets up his workshop on deck: dremmel buzzing, tools and parts helter-skelter. He is sawing apart a spare shackle to devise a new pin, but how does he plan to hold the pin to the furling drum?
The next morning, he is ready. He asks Leslie to help him by holding the furling drum while he gets everything in place. She is skeptical (as usual), but follows him on deck. The spinnaker is still flying nicely, and the winds are pleasant and relaxed. The sun, however, is hot. Beads of sweat form, gather into a sheen, then run in a steady trickle down the crew’s faces. “I’m going to lash it with dynema!” Andrew says proudly. Which means, he is going to tie the jib to his newly fashioned pin with fancy rope.
Dynema is an amazing little rope that claims to be stronger than stainless steel. It is much, much lighter (and much more expensive) than stainless steel, too. Fancy race boats like to build their entire rigging out of it, holding up the mast and all the sails. Much to Leslie’s father’s chagrin, we used this magical rope to lash down our lifelines, and it has performed well. But, do we trust it with something as important as the jib? Yes, for now.
Leslie wraps the crook of one elbow around the bow pulpit, and the crook of her other elbow around the jib. Straining against the weight of the roller furling and the motion of the boat through the waves, she holds it in place while Andrew prepares his pin and lashing. The crew groans in unison when the pin falls out of place and Andrew has to start over with his lashing. Finally, though, he nestles the pin into place and tightens down on the lashing. Leslie leans on the jib pushing it forward and down to try to tighten the leading edge as much as possible. Andrew pulls and pulls, ties it down with a series of hitch knots, and then locks everything into place.
“There,” Andrew says, standing up and brushing his hands together with that smack of satisfaction. “That is probably stronger than a new pin would be.” Leslie rests on my cabin top, looking at the whole situation with trepidation. They unfurl and furl the jib a few times to test it's function. Andrew tweaks the design to prevent the furling drum from rotating when the sail is pulled out, and then Andrew is satisfied. This is why I bring him along. He is very handy to have around.
Days five through nine are pleasant. We have light winds, but with the crew’s racing experience, they keep me moving under sail most of the time. During Leslie’s night watches, we count shooting stars together (25 in one night!) and listen to entire albums rather than the mix ups Andrew prefers. One night we listen to the entire Smashing Pumpkins, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness album. Andrew hates that album, but it takes Leslie back to her sullen, black-wearing days of junior high.
In these calm days, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun sinks and then rises again through a haze of only humidity. It looks like a pink easter egg being dipped in the surface of the ocean water. Every day, we are getting visits from my ocean friends. Pods of dolphins swim along side me, birds swoop around and around my sails.
On the fifth day, three seabirds find me inviting enough to land. They hitch a ride for the entire night; two on the bow pulpit, one on the solar panel on top of the stern arch. Leslie named them Burt, Sam (on the bow) and Sacha (on the solar panel).
In the middle of the night, Leslie had to go on deck to jibe the spinnaker (change which side of the boat the sail is set on). This requires her to adjust some lines that are cleated right next to two sea bird friends. Leslie approached cautiously, with her headlamp on. “Ok, Sam,” she says, “You don’t have to go anywhere, but I have to adjust the sail. Don’t peck my eyeballs out.”
Sam opened one sleepy eye to see her approaching, and was blinded by her headlamp. Squinting into the bright, unnatural light, he shuffled his webbed feet on the bow pulpit, scratched an itch with his beak just below his left wing, and then watched her make her adjustments. Leslie sat on the bow and looked at him for just a minute. His brown feathers shimmered under the headlamp light, the white down on his belly looked soft and fluffy. “I am so close I could pet you, you know.” She says to the bird. He tucks his beak backward and beneath one of his wings and closes his eyes. That headlamp is annoying. Leslie finishes her duties and returns to her bunk, without petting the bird. Probably for the best, as those are “working beaks”.
At 3:00 a.m., Leslie takes her place back in the cockpit for her watch. As the sunrises, Sacha would poke her head down to see what Leslie is up to.
Pretty soon, the three birds invite fifteen more of their closest friends. They swarm my decks, some aiming to take landing on the other empty stern solar panel, another seeking refuge on the bow pulpit with Sam and Burt, another simply lands on the deck, almost tangling himself in the lifelines. Leslie starts to get restless, and takes the boat hook in hand. She is swinging it in the air yelling “We are not an aviary! Three is enough! No. No. No!” One takes landing on the empty stern solar panel. Leslie, worried about the possibility of more bird poo everywhere, threatens to poke him with the boat hook. He just looks at her with curiosity. I can hear him thinking “what is that human doing?” He does not move. Soon, she gives him a gentle nudge timed with a down sloping wave. He slides off the panel into the ocean with a look of complete shock. “What the hell?!”
Hearing the commotion, a sleepy-eyed Andrew pokes his head out of the companion way. “What are you doing?”
“We are not an aviary! They are bringing a million of their friends!”
“Oh, let them rest. They have been flying all night.” Andrew says in response. Feeling guilty, Leslie puts down the boat hook. It’s too late, now, though. Sacha flies off, having seen her neighbor poked into the ocean. The remainder of the flock, too, abandons their attempts to land, leaving only Sam and Burt on the pulpit. They stay for a few hours more, then shove off as well.