Panama to Samoa

12/18/09

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Samoa - Fire Dancing and the South Pacific Games

Our passage to Samoa was meant to be, in effect, two passages with a stop over at the remote atoll of Suwarrow however the weather was not kind to us and we spent the first five days being bashed around by the waves and high winds the like of which we had not seen since the Atlantic crossing - as such our gentile short passages turned in to a less than pleasant nine day with a very brief sanity stop in one of the American Samoa island anchorages of Ofu.

                                                                           

                                                                                    Entertainment at sea.....

Surprisingly we saw and heard little traffic on the passage talking briefly to one Dutch boat two days out of Bora Bora and so it was great to get in to VHF range of two yachts as we approached Samoa. As we closed on American Samoa we linked up with the ketch Sisiutl with Bob and Kareen on board and as we anchored they rushed over in their dingy to collect us having seen whales on the way in to the bay - sadly we didn't see them close to but there is now promise of seeing more and more whales as we head further westwards.

        

                                                                                           Ofu Island - American Samoa

After the briefest of stops we decided to keep going towards Samoa and the following day had one of the best sails we have had on Mary Constance roaring along the Samoan coast goose-winged with poled out genoa - the wind was a steady 20 - 25 knots, the seas had flattened and the sun shone out of beautiful blue sky with huge white clouds as a backdrop to the greenery of Samoa.

We reached Apia in the early afternoon and were instructed to tie up the wharf with this being amended to tying up to a large rusty barge which lay against the wharf and there we were invaded by quarantine, customs and immigration officers before being allowed to head in to the bay to anchor.

                         

                                     Apia Harbour                                                                                 The "City Centre"

After finding a bank (no local currency on board), a phone shop to buy a phone card (both our mobiles had died by this stage) and a working phone we called Claire to find that she and Lene now also ran a restaurant as well as a thriving graphic design business, T-shirt printing business etc etc - in fact everyone in Samoa seems to know Lene!

Within minutes we were whisked off by Claire and Lene to "Laumei Faiaga" or the Turtle Take It Easy restaurant for a wonderful reunion over several bottles of wine which seemed to dissolve the gap of the several years since we had last seen them in Sydney.

The next day, with slightly sore heads we started to explore Apia which is a great low key town which sadly seems to be bypassed by most cruising yachties (their loss) and headed up to see the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum which is in his old house and grounds at Vailima where Stevenson spent the last few years of his life being adopted by the Samoans, whom he seemed to love, before being buried at the top of Mount Vaea just behind the house. After a varied history of Colonial Governmental use, Samoan Governmental use and so forth the house and grounds are now being restored by one of the leaders of the Mormon Church.....

                                                            

                                                                                                    Vailima House

                                      

One of Samoa's most jealous possessions is their claim to being the home of Siva Afi, the fire dance and Lene was once one of the leading fire dancers and now as part of the restaurant he runs a fire dancing show and school and we were treated to an amazing evening at Laumei Faiaga which turned in to part show and part birthday party for Jos who had celebrated her birthday at sea. The kids were absolutely transfixed by the Polynesian dancing and fire dancing display and Pippa was thrilled to be able to join in the fun at the end of the show!

             

              

                           

                                                                                                                                   Claire and Lene

                                             

                                                              

                                                                                Scenes from Laumei Faiaga

Our lasting memories of Samoa will undoubtedly be both the fire dancing and also the opening ceremony of the South Pacific Games where we treated ourselves to 5 tala tickets on the "hill" where we had a great view of the proceedings which included fire dancing, conch shell blowing and marching bands - the highlight for us and all the Samoans present was an eight year old fire dancer and the procession of all the island nations represented, a really great evening made all the more wonderful by us being in amongst the locals and being entertained by the local characters......

                              

                                                                                      Opening Ceremony for the SPG

 

       

                                                                                                  Provisioning Paradise

As always time has been all too short and we would love to have been able to stay for longer in Samoa but we are now being dictated to by the weather and the threatened onset of cyclone season off the Aussie coast, and so we now bid farewell to Samoa and head off to some of the most remote islands in the Pacific in the north of the Tongan group of islands.............

 

The last of The Society Islands - Bora Bora

We made the last hop in the Society Islands over to Bora Bora which is one of the most famed islands of the South Pacific with its beauty being crowned by the huge basalt peaks that rise steeply out of the water - we expected to be disappointed as it has become the Mecca of the expensive South Pacific hotels chains but we were not as the lagoon is truly one of the more beautiful spots.

Sadly we were not able to stay long in Bora Bora as we had to catch up some of the time we had lost making repairs to Mary Constance however we stayed long enough to have some fun and memorable experiences for all of us.

 

The first night we anchored off the Bora Bora Yacht Club (a yacht club in name only) and after a quick drink ashore decided the menu was not for us as a steak was about US$50! So we moved back to Mary Constance for a impromptu dinner with Ted and Nancy from Blackwattle, better food and far better value and company!!

            

The next day was Mike's 46th birthday and we celebrated with a snorkeling trip out towards the reef to see if we could track down some of the huge rays that congregate there waiting on countless tourists who come to feed them in the shallow waters. We were lucky to arrive just as a small tourist boat was leaving with a couple of nervous tourists who did not want to get wet and we were given their fish to feed the rays with.

The rays are the most amazing creatures growing up to about a metre across and two metres plus long down their slender tails. As you stand in the water they swim past you and the larger ones nudge up against you looking for food. If you hold food out they rise up out of the water and let you gently hold them allowing you to stroke their amazing rubbery skin - a texture that you just do not expect to feel. After swimming the the seals and sea lions in Galapagos this was an equal treat.

After our swim we went over to celebrate Mike's birthday on Southern Cross II with Cedric, Paige and Hannah complete with birthday cake and in the evening had them over to Mary Constance for dinner with their friends Dean, Lisa and William who were in Bora Bora chartering a yacht and celebrated again with champagne kindly supplied by a large motor cruiser whose owner we had pulled off the reef the night before after he went aground in his tender - an added bonus!!

Sadly that was all we had time for in Bora Bora and the next day we made ready to leave for Samoa via a small island in the Northern Cook group - Suwarrow!

The Society Islands

After making yet more running repairs to Mary Constance we left Papeete in Tahiti on a short "hop" to the next island of Moorea which was a perfect contrast to the hustle bustle of Papeete and was to serve as a brief resting stop before we headed in to the heart of the Society Islands. The contrast between the two islands could not be greater with Moorea having a shallow, sandy anchorage with rays swimming lazily past the boat as we anchored.

 

Cooks Bay - Moorea

The water was so shallow that as Mike dropped the anchor it hardly seemed to break through the water than it was sitting on the bottom - no need to test how is dug in here we could actually see the flukes of the anchor bed in to the sand - the shallow water was a little unnerving bearing in mind our experiences of grounding in the Galapagos but after checking the tidal range (a mere 20 cms) we settled down for  quiet night on board.

 

The anchorage in Opunou Bay

The next day we did little and decided to head on that night to the island of Huahine which we were told was one of the most beautiful - we left at dusk and after a brief panic (the anchor winch decided not to work - Mike quickly found and repaired a broken wire) we motor sailed towards Huahine in light winds. As the night progressed the winds increased and it made it difficult for us to keep our speed down to about 5 knots which was necessary if we were not to have to wait to go through the reef pass at Huahine.

 

The pass in to Huahine

As it was we arrived in perfect time and cleared the pass moving from unpleasant rolling seas to a perfect flat calm that only a coral atoll seems to be able to give. We motored down to our intended anchorage at the grandly named Port Bouroyne and turned in to the bay to find the "port" was only a sheltered anchorage and did not even have a village - it was however very pretty but its downside was that the minimum depth we could anchor was over 25 metres needing most of our chain down.

Jos took the kids snorkeling together with James from Silvergirl and new friends Paige and Hannah from the Kiwi boat Southern Cross II and then we all met up for drinks and supper on Silvergirl.

The next day we decided to move round the corner of the island to a new anchorage which had been recommended by Rod and Sue when they passed through the Society islands a few years ago on their yacht Tintin. As with many things this should have been a simple thing but in our case the gremlins had been at it again and the anchor winch decided to pack up totally leaving Mike to manually raise about 80 metres of chain which was a rather slow and painful process - albeit better than going to the gym!!

The exercise was worth it as the new anchorage was quite beautiful again with crystal clear water and a palm lined white coral beach - the water colour was amazing with the colour changing dramatically dependant on the depth of the water and the proximity to the reef.

Shortly after we anchored it seems that we attracted two new "pets" below Mary Constance with a couple of "Sucker Fish" taking possession of our hull and darting out to eat any scraps which we threw over the side.

    

                                                                                             Pet fish feeding in Huahine

The bay was delightful and we stayed for three days enjoying some good relaxation time (after Mike had stripped down and rebuilt the wiring for the winch). The first night we ate with Southern Cross II and the next night went ashore to a demonstration of floral hat making at a Polynesian restaurant followed by a somewhat "interesting" meal. Mike ordered a local dish of fermented fish (billed as an acquired taste) and for the first time ever was not able to eat even a mouthful as it smelt and tasted like an open sewer!! It was not so bad however and we returned the next day for a demonstration of basket weaving and a more simple meal!!

 

                     

                                                                                      Hats for all..................

                                                   

                                                                                    ........and baskets

   

                                                                                         Paradise in Huahine was hard to leave

The following day we set off with Wakelele for Raiatea and Tahaa, twin islands about 20 miles across to the west of Huahine which were the birth place of the wider Polynesian migration to New Zealand, Hawaii and other island groups. As the wind started to build we decided to take refuge off the Tavahana Yacht Club on a mooring - a wise move as for three days the wind howled and reached 35 knots at times, far nicer than being at anchor and stressing out about dragging plus the upside of having a rather good restaurant to while away the hours!!

     

                                                                      

                                                                        Varied weather at the Taravana Yacht Club on Tahaa

As the weather cleared we headed back towards Raiatea to meet up with the electrician we had asked to look at our battery charging system which was still giving us problems, we had arranged to meet him on the Monday morning at the town jetty hoping for a quick repair. We approached the town jetty and entered a race for the last spot only to be beaten to it by a charter catamaran - luckily we managed to find a place in the municipal marina which was to become our home for the next ten days as the repairs to the electronics became more major and we also found a diesel leak that needed urgent attention - cruising, moving from one repair to another in exotic locations.......

                                                      

                                                       Utaroa Municipal Marina - not a bad place to break down!

After the initial depression we set out to explore the island of Raiatea and also catch up on some of the boar chores we had neglected for a while; varnishing, finding water leaks (and curing them) and a multitude of other small niggling jobs.

The town of Utoroa  is quite lovely, just like a small Mediterranean port in the south of France complete with Gallic charm and in some cases diffidence - the municipality has spent a huge amount of money on the town giving it the best facilities possible and it is reflected all around with new buildings, jetties and roads.

                    

                                                                                                           Uturoa

                                                 

                                                                                                     Mini Boules

We hired a car one afternoon to explore part of the island which is fabled as the heart of the greater Polynesian as from Raiatea the Polynesians set out to conquer and colonize Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. The size of the morai at Opoa was impressive - the morai was the centre of the historic community and formed both the religious and secular centre for the island and it was from here that stones were transported by the émigré Polynesians to start their new morais.

                        

                                     

As we drove along Jos quickly spied the variety of fruits growing on the roadside and we were soon picking pampelmous, papaya and avocados. We also saw for the first time cultivated pineapples - each one growing on its own individual bush, looking quite bizarre!! The island is beautiful and surprisingly unspoilt with little hotel development (although this we are sure will come soon), the views across blue water coral bays were spectacular and the backdrop of verdant green hills and mountains quite awesome!

                                                                

Close by the marina was a local fete which we took the kids to one night and they had fun on "pick a duck" stalls and a massive jumping castle type slide - amazingly the whole fairground complete with restaurants was a temporary structure and a few days later when the fete finished the whole lot was carefully dismantled and packed away. This community festivity seems to be the local way in the islands as we had also stopped for lunch on our car trip at a community centre which was being set up for an open air movie complete with about ten restaurants/cafes around the perimeter!

                                               

Our repairs proceeded slowly but positively and soon we were ready to leave with a yet again repaired alternator, new regulator and a mended diesel injection pump (and a much lighter wallet) - just in time for the wind to increase again and us to be stuck in port for a further three days!

The delay worked in our favour for whilst we had had to say adieu to Wakelele and Silvergirl for a while we are able to catch up with Ted and Nancy on Blackwattle just in time for Ted's birthday which we celebrated, with Bart and Dorothy from Bauvier and their kids Thibault and Olivier, at an excellent Chinese restaurant on the quayside in Utoroa.

                                                         

                                                                                   The Birthday Boy "Uncle Ted"

As with many things events often become intertwined and Ted and Nancy were able to help us out by lending us the irrepressible "Jane Fonda" - their Honda generator which made life much more comfortable as we had no shore power in the municipal marina - the kids were happy as they could computer game and video to their hearts content and wre were happy as the batteries were kept fully charged whilst repairs were made!

The day before we left our friends on Clarabella arrived at the town key giving the kids a chance to play with other kids for the first time in a while, sadly we only saw tem briefly as the next day we set off via an overnight stop at Tahaa for the well known island of Bora Bora which towers over its neighbouring islands with its huge volcanic peaks.

                                                                         

                                                                                     The singing fruitier of Tahaa!!

Tahiti

We had, for a first time developed preconceived ideas as to what Tahiti would be like; beautiful, larger than life and very very very expensive - we were not disappointed in any of these areas!

As we sailed in to the port we had to dodge both dolphins and high speed ferries and then liaise closely with the harbour controller to ensure we did not get in the way of both boats and planes. As we approached the anchorage off the marina we were passed by a variety of racing canoes practicing for the festival games which went on around the Bastille Day holidays.

The holiday weekend proved to be a riot with the kids enjoying a fair for the first time in ages, cheap (well in relative terms) eats out of the rollades (meals on wheels deluxe),  visit to the tall ship Soren Larsen and generally catching up with friends in the crowded anchorage.

                                           

                                                                                     The Soren Larsen

                                                                               

                                                                                   "Meals on Wheels"

Mike had a swag of repairs to do to Mary Constance and was as soon as possible down to the main chandlery - what a disappointment as they had no stock leading to much frustration and the irritation of having to leave many jobs undone again leaving only two major jobs - replacing the entire battery bank  which had died and then replacing the oil in the sail drive as once again it was leaking salt water in to the oil.

Notwithstanding this set back it allowed us to go as a family to the Ancient Games where (with the best seats in the stadium - we arrived by mistake two hours early) we were lucky enough to see the whole range of local games - definitely not for the tourists as a French lady explained to Jos - from javelin throwing to a ridiculously small target of a coco not about 15 metres up in the air, to male and female coco nut husking, stone raising (male and female classes) and the grueling poduce or Banana races - all totally captivating and  true experience of local culture!

 

                                         

                                               Coco nut husking - womens team event...                      "Break it like Beckham"

                             

                                                                The javelin throwers                                           Coco nut husking - male solo event

And no we prepare to leave Tahiti for its neighbouring islands and hopefully a chance to swim with Dolphins and Stingrays - more of that later............

 

 

The Tuamotos - home to the Black Pearl

It sounds like something from the Pirates of the Caribbean but the island chain of the Tuamotos, midway between the Marquises and Tahiti, are indeed the centre of the world's production of the most stunning "black" pearls which has led this remote archipelago to be a prized possession for France to say nothing of its vast importance to the French as a nuclear test location!!

We arrived off the atoll of Manihi after four days at sea, this was to be our first experience of a coral atoll and the entrance in to and subsequent navigation around this and other atolls was enough to make Jos feel about ten years older. The entrance to all coral atolls has to be treated with great respect as huge amounts of water flow in and out dependant on the state of the tide - get the timing wrong and you can be pushed through or have your passage impeded by up to 8 or 9 knots of current.

                                                           

                       

                                                                                       The pass in to Manihi

Our first entrance proved to be beginners luck and we motored through the pass with almost no current only to find that the interior of the atoll has only be charted haphazardly and we had to keep a careful watch (with good Polaroid glasses) for coral reefs and pearl farmers' nets.

The first atoll of Manihi was outstandingly beautiful with the most amazing coloured water lapping against brilliant white beaches and huge coconut palms.

                                                           

The time of arrival from the Marquises was important as it was to coincide with Anna-Mie's birthday and we hosted a small celebration on board Mary Constance, on which was slightly delayed by the arrival of the first of the pearl sellers who, in standard Mary Constance tradition proved to a simple rogue!

                    

                                            Anna-Mie's Party on board MC                                  The latest rogue - Jean Paul

After showing us a collection of pearls it was agreed with Jean Paul that we should take a trip the next day to the pearl farm where he worked - a bone jarring 4 miles in Steve's tender. The trip was well worth while and whilst the conditions for the workers was poor the end product was amazing. Each pearl is seeded multiple times during its life and produces pearls of various dark colours from silver to black, some are perfect and graded accordingly where as others are misshaped and are used to create, in our view, more interesting jewellery.

The pearls seem to have little real intrinsic value to the residents of the Tuamotus  who are happy to trade (illegally) for pearls seeking in return rum and other goodies all of which are prohibitively priced in French Polynesia!

                    

                                    Seeding the oysters                                                                      The finished product.....

                                                 

                                                                                   Fossicking for pearls?

After a little gentile trading the weather started to turn nasty as a major pressure system slid past the archipelago and Mary Constance and the other yachts started to swing around the anchorage neatly tying our anchor chains firmly around the huge coral heads. Luckily between5 boats there were four keen divers who were needed to release the anchor gables and allow us to move on - however for the second time Mary Constance was firmly "tethered" and going nowhere before we were released!!

                                                       

                                                                                   Heavy weather in Manihi

And so we set off for our next atoll, Apataki, a totally uncommercialised paradise and home to Assim and Nini Lau who are friends Rod and Sue had met four years before when they passed through the islands. The entrance in to Apataki was more exciting with a far current against us however Mary Constance struggled through and we found ourselves in paradise, a huge atoll which we could comfortably (with a good watch) sail across and an anchorage off Assim's property that was flat with clear clear water!

As we anchored Assim went past us in one of his "whalers" and invited us to come ashore and soon we were ashore making friends with Assim and his wife both who, whilst now retired, had built up an amazing business of pearl farming, vanilla farming and chicken raising..

             

                                  Assim's pearl farm                                                                                Assim's front yard!

Over the next two days we got to know Assim and Nini better a they showered us with generosity firstly showing us around and then letting us help string oysters together to be sold off as embryonic pearl producers. Later we were invited for dinner on the proviso that we went out with them to catch supper - an amazing experience which reinforced the notion that these atolls were part of paradise as we caught over forty fish in almost as many minutes.

                            

                                                                                      Fishing with Assam and Nini

                                                                            

                                                                                           The catch.........................

Diner that night was wonderful, we provided the rice, wine and pudding whilst Nini coked up a storm of fish; grilled, BBQ'd and sensational "poison cru" - the local form of raw fish marinated to perfection! The conversation was also wide ranging from Assim's life, to religion and local politics all confirming that Assim had a huge love of life and, slightly surprisingly when we saw his modest life, was well travelled.

                                                      

                                                                                               Making diner with Nini

Sadly the wind direct changes and rapidly our anchorage became untenable and over the next two days we chased around the atoll finding a quiet anchorage and then, as the wind swung going through the whole process again!

At the next anchorage Mike decided he had learned enough from Assim to try the local form of fishing - a hand line, lead weight and bait in the form of a huge hermit crab - net result a bucket full of fish in about an hour and more than enough to feed three boats that night.

The weather continued to be fickle caught us unawares when we had planned to move to another atoll forcing us to firstly fight out through the pass with 4 knots of current against us and, when we diverted back in to the atoll another counter current of over 5 knots which made life interesting for a while!

                                          

                                                                     MC at anchorage number three in Apataki

And so we finally left Apataki and the Tuamotus laden down with great memories and headed off in brisk winds toward Tahiti making landfall some 40 hours later at Papeete the heart of French Polynesia.

Into French Polynesia

After the solitude of the passage across the Pacific it was great to hit land again and also to be in a country that we could speak the language passably well, at least well enough to get us by. What was however difficult to get used to was the total change of culture between the Spanish heritage dominated Eastern Pacific and the Polynesian area we were now in - everything was dramatically different from the weather (much wetter), the scenery (mountainous and green) and the people who are far simpler and, on the whole, welcoming.

We were truly in the area of the simple life where people literally eat food that drops off the trees, to an extent that you can not buy fruit in the very few shops and are directed to pick it up off the ground!!

Our landfall at Fatu Hiva  was the most southerly of the Isles Marquises (named after the first Spaniard to find them) and we were to visit this island and then move on to Tahuata, Ua Puo ad Nuka Hiva all of which offered different attractions.

Rather than write in detail about each at this time (we have only just connected to the internet now in Nuka Hiva and do not have much time) we will pull together some photos and highlights and fill in the gaps later...........

Fatu Hiva - reputed to be the most beautiful island but, for us, the least favorite due to the constant rain and high winds making it a very unpleasant anchorage.

              

                                                                                Justine's 6th Birthday Party on Mary C

            

        Dancing for the Cruise Liner passengers - two of whom were from the same yacht club as us in Sydney - small world

          

                                             Local produce                                                                                     Local kids!

 

                                                                          

                                                        Jos and Justine swimming in the waterfall after a 2 hour hike

Tahuata - a beautiful anchorage, white sandy beach, coconuts and wild limes, not to forget the mossies and "no-nos" who munched away on us like mad...

           

                                                          The beach at Bay Hanamoenea - paradise found

                                

                                        The Vatican funded church at bay Vaitahu and the local general store

                                                       

                                                                            Sunset at Bay Hanamoenua

                                                       

                                                                     The kids with Martin from Meitli

Ua Pou - full of friendly people and a trading paradise!

         

                                                                                   Bay d'Hakahetau on Ua Pou

                                        

                                                         

                                                                                           The local "gang"

                                                     

                                                                                       .......and still it rains....

                    

                          Trading with Bridgette for fruit                                  .........her husband, master carver Robert

Nuka Hiva - the main island in the Marquises with a very laid back attitude...

                                                     

                                                        That first ice cream never tasted so good......

                                                             

                                                     Mary C at anchor in Bay de Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

                                          

              Another Trintella!!! - Antares with Jasper, Astrid and Maryn - fellow Trintella Club members

           

                                                                    The anchorage at Bay de Taiohae

                                                   

                                                          Secret women's business - Anna-Mie, Jos and Nancy

Across the "Great Blue"

There were no fireworks, no crowded seawall as there had been when starting our Atlantic crossing in November, as we raised anchor and set sail quietly with Blackwattle and Wakelele from Isla Isabela, yet the planned crossing to French Polynesia was longer, more remote and potentially equally perilous....

How we have changed and on reflection all of us have grown in to our new roles - even so 20 plus days is along time away from land on a small yacht!!

The passage to the Marquises in French Polynesia started very uneventfully with no wind worth speaking of and, as we left the Galapagos we were forced to motor for several hours to clear the becalming effects of the islands. Fortunately the winds soon increased and we started to make good ground to our destination however with the wind came large waves reminiscent of the Atlantic which soon had all of us grumbling - so much for the "Mer Pacifica"!!!!

As per our descriptions of earlier passages the main issue for the crew of Mary Constance on long passages is to avoid boredom and it takes some time to settle in to a routine again after a period ashore. For the kids there was schoolwork most days as we had to do some serious catching up if we were to stay in line with the curriculum, Jos took on the role of teacher again with Mike occasionally helping out when he could even if progress under Mike was very slow compared to Jos.

Everyday we faithfully put out fishing lines (and caught nothing), looked for whales (and saw none) and kept watch for other boat traffic (and saw none). Having left the company of Wakelele and Blackwattle a few days after leaving Isabela we had the "Great Blue" to very much to ourselves and any distraction became important.

                                                                             

                                                                                  Mid passage madness show

The kids had set up a kid's net on the radio and each day at lunchtime all the boats with children on board chatted to each other with jokes, riddles, fishing stories and so forth - even Blackwattle got in to the act with Ted coming up with an educational spot with sailing folk law, basic weather information and so forth. The kids learned amazing fast how to use the HF radio and were quickly adopting the protocols used by their parents with loads of "Roger Roger", "Stand By", "Sorry Did Not Copy", "Can I Relay" etc often said with huge giggles and broad smiles whilst we listened on. With the broad cross section of nationalities it was amazing to see how the Belgian contingent also came to grips with speaking English telling jokes and singing songs along with the other kids!

      

The real radio controllers on Mary C

As we progressed the weather changed and for several days it seemed like we were back in European waters with rain and colder weather forcing us to dig out the wet weather gear and wrap up warm when we were on watch which made conditions fairly miserable for all of us particularly when we developed a leak in the coach house roof turning the saloon in to a cross between a shower and a sauna! Fortunately Mike was able to cure the leak which had been caused by a badly fitted through deck fitting installed in St Lucia.

After the rain came the light winds and our excellent progress, we had been doing 160 to 180 mile days, slowed dramatically and surprisingly Mary Constance started to seriously take some strain with a daily catalogue of breakages and gear failures greeting us each morning - from discussions with other boats this was to prove to be par for the course albeit very frustrating. This is a sample of things that went wrong:

* Main out haul - chaffed through and had to be replaced with a rope from the spinnaker pole kicker

* Main sheet block fell came adrift - luckily as Mike was walking past so bits were retrieved in time

* Boom connection at mast - bolts loosened and fitting wearing badly

* Boom connection at mast - second part of fitting nut shatters leaving it hanging precariously

* Self steering mounts - all bolts loosened

* Self steering - connection with tiller pilot comes adrift

* Alternator fan belt adjustment - needed radical surgery with a file to allow us to tighten the belt

* Main sail gets stuck in furler - needs Mike up the mast again (shades of the Atlantic)

* Genoa furler - jams and needs unraveling

* Rudder stock drops marginally causing fittings to rub

* Main autohelm starts to slip

* Navigation lights start to work intermittently

And so the list went on and on mainly caused by the light winds combining with waves from a different direction - still it all kept Mike busy!

                                                   

Surprising things happen at sea and we were very surprised to see that we had a slow away on board with us, in fact two little passengers had joined us along the way in the form of two light brown gekos who happily munched the plague of fruit flies that seemed to breed at every turn!

                                                                                

                                                                                                    Stow Away

Whilst on the subject of fruit we had stocked up of fresh fruit in the Galapagos which now hung on the stern of Mary Constance in an improvised sling, foremost amongst the fruit were two complete bunches of bananas which should have kept us going for most of the passage - the only trouble was that they ripened almost all at once leading to a high intensity diet of bananas - bananas au naturelle, bananas in breakfast serial, bananas in porridge, fruit salad, banana bread until we were getting sick of bananas!!

                                                                 

On the fishing front our luck began to change as we approached half way and we hooked a number of fish, several of which were large enough to snap the fishing gear and run off with our lures, and the final tally was three fish; a dolphin fish, a wahoo and finally a tuna which all made great eating.

                                

                                                                  

                                                                         The catches of the passage

Fate seems to dictate things even when at sea and it was our good fortune to be near Blackwattle again when she started to have problems breaking her spinnaker pole and then having her alternators fail making her rely on a camping generator dubbed "Jane Fonda" the Honda! So off we went reversing the roles of our last mid ocean meeting in the Atlantic to transfer petrol and mast fittings as we shared the same type of mast.

We finally get into visual range of them and change course slightly to meet them, only to find four hours later that they were following what they thought was Mary Constance and it turned out to be Meitli - the three Atlantic transfer boats back together again! The transfer went well with the roles reversed and we all set off on our way again!

                              

                                                                              Mid Pacific transfer time

So finally after 22.5 days and some highly skilled navigation (alright we followed the GPS track) we wake in the morning to see our destination; Fatu Hiva, tantalizingly close at a mere 35 odd miles away - at which point the wind drops away and we slow to less than 3 knots. What the heck, after 22.5 days and only about 6 hours of motoring in gear we start the engine only to find that we can't move forwards to more than 4 knots due to the amount of barnacles and sea grass growing on the hull. Finally the wind gets up as we near the island and we sail towards the anchorage with the MPS sail up in a mass of colour!

                

                                                        

                                                                               Landfall at Fatu Hiva

HOORAY we arrived in the anchorage of the bay of the Virgins (apparently pre missionary times known as Penis bay) just at night fall and after the first beer the passage is soon becoming a distant memory!!

     

                                                                 The Bay of the Virgins - "wet and windy ville"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galapagos - Isla Isabela

We left the anchorage at Santa Cruz at first light assisted by Felix who kindly came out to help both  us and Wakelele retrieve our stern anchors which is a tricky operation at the best of times but very hard when so many yachts and commercial vessels are crowded in to the anchorage. Accompanied by Wakelele, Blackwattle and Bauvier we made a relatively short passage to the island of Isabela which was to prove exciting for both the right and very wrong reasons!

Our first experience of the island was one of "officialdom" with the Port Captain seeming to do everything possible to discourage visiting yachts from staying and making it very clear that we were only allowed to stay for three days and then we must leave!

                                                   

                                                                                 Main street - Isabela

So we settle down for the night in the crowded little anchorage feeling comfortable as we, with many other boats had taken note of "local knowledge" when anchoring having been advised of a secure spot by the local water taxi skipper. As the kids watched a movie we noticed the depth gauge was  rapidly showing shallower and shallower readings and we radioed Karl and Sandi and Fantasy 1 who were anchored close by to check their depth too. Within minutes Fantasy 1 was aground closely followed by Blackwattle and ourselves and all hell broke close.

Fortunately we were on a sandy bottom and had no damage, as did Blackwattle, Fantasy 1 however was thrown on to the rocks was badly damaged  before being refloated three hours later. The surrounding yachts leapt to assist with dinghies charging around placing stern anchors out and desperately trying to prevent further damage.

As quickly as it started it was over as the yachts floated free and damage assessment started. We were fine although somewhat shaken, Fantasy 1 however had lost part of her rudder and damaged her skeg sufficiently badly to need emergency repairs before being sailed back to Ecuador for major repairs!

Not a great start to our stay but a strong lesson learned for Mary Constance!!

The following day we had organised a trip up in to the interior of the island to horse ride and hike up to the top of one of the volcanoes   and made our way ashore and climbed aboard the back of a ute for  very bumpy drive to the base of the volcano where we met our horses. The landscape was totally different to anything we had seen so far with far more recent volcanic activity on the island leaving huge lava fields across much of the land. Undaunted the islanders have lived amongst this building houses surrounded by huge piles of lava - a very bleak outlook! On the way up we learn that the island was until the 1950's a penal colony for Ecuador's worst offenders, a location that offered little chance of escape it seemed for convicts and guards, only after a revolt by the convicts did things change and now, like the rest of Galapagos it forms part of the national park.

                                                     

                                                                              On route to the volcanoes

Once we were allocated our horses we set off (remember here that we have not ridden horses for many years and the kids not at all) up the volcano enjoying spectacular views when the dense cloud we were in cleared from time to time! We arrive on the rim of the main volcano whose crater in about 4 miles across and most recently erupted in the 1990's and from there dismount to walk to a smaller volcano, Volcano Chico, across the most weird landscape you can imagine - the relatively fresh lava looks like the surface of the moon, totally barren with the exception of a few hardy plants and cactus slowly regaining a foothold. In places the ground is still hot to the touch, a reminder of how close we are to a "sleeping giant"!

              

                                       

              

              

               

                                     

Returning from our "equine adventure" we stopped for a drink at the Club Nautico by the jetty and met yet another "rogue" by the name of Henry - so far all the places we have been to have had a local rogue who seems to run most of the yachtie related services and Isabela was no different! Looking through his visitors book it seems that his bar has been the meeting place for yachtsmen on Isabela for several years with an amazing cross section of nationalities sailing through the area - what was refreshing (apart from the beer which was a lifesaver after a dusty day's riding) was that the bar consisted of a large fridge that you helped yourself from!

           

                                                                                   Scenes from Club Nautico

The final treat on our short stay in Isabela was a trip the girls took to see turtles swimming in the sea around the most amazing lava tubes whilst Mike stayed on board to finalise some of the works required to prepare Mary Constance for the long Pacific passage to the Marquises. The water was amazing clear and the girls saw the most amazing sights guided by the irrepressible Henry.

             

            

Sadly our time in Isabela was limited by the authorities who would only allow us to stay three days and so we soon had to finalise our preparations for possible 25 days at sea on our longest passage to date!

Our final task was to say goodbye and good luck to Karl and Sandi on Fantasy 1 who were waiting repairs following their grounding before they headed off for full repairs in Equador - sadly 1800 in the wrong direction for them!

 

 

Galapagos - A Darwinian Paradise

The Galapagos was to firstly be  meeting place for us, after 9 days at sea we entered the anchorage of Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz to find nearly all of our cruising companions; Blackwattle, Chatti, Meitli, Silvergirl, Bauvier, Wakelele and more. It was a cause for celebration particularly as Mary Constance had limped in with our engine cooling water pump held together with duct tape (never leave port without it), a bicycle inner tube, silicon glue and a cable tie - this was to be the first of several celebrations as other boats also came in, some with other problems that always seem to dog cruising yachtsmen!

                                              

                                                                                                 Happy reunion!

First impressions - difficult as we had not known what to expect. The town was nothing like we expected being a thriving centre with restaurants and shops aimed squarely at the eco-tourist dollar and it was only when we got off the beaten track did we find good value places to eat. The people, as with almost everywhere we have been are lovely, friendly and helpful at all times and, importantly they seem to enjoy life in this small, isolated community far from the mainland. It was however discovering the wildlife that has been so magical.

The Galapagos are carefully controlled by the Ecuadorian government and they are trying hard to ensure that ecological damage that has been done in the past is reversed and whilst it seems that your wallet is being constantly raided at every turn the tours offered are quite amazing.

It is difficult to do justice to the Galapagos is words and equally difficult to pare down the approximately 1000 pictures Mike has taken since we arrived........

The wildlife is all around even in the anchorage and the centre of the town. Seals swim lazily around the boat, sharks, turtles and rays glide by while sea birds plummet like dive bombers from the sky in to the water in search of fish. Pelicans and seals vie for scraps at the fish market whilst frigate birds wait lazily for scraps not wanting to get wet themselves.

     

Fish market competitors

A short walk from the town centre in the Darwinian Institute Research Station where they have been doing vital work aimed at steadying a fragile eco-system before too much damage has been done. Gone are the days where seals and giant tortoises were slaughtered, going are the days when the native species have to compete with vast numbers of wild goats, pigs, cats and dogs imported by early settlers. Where species are threatened breeding programs are now in hand although for many it may be too late such as "Lonesome George" the last of his particular sub-specie of giant tortoise  patiently waiting on the scientists finding him a mate somewhere in the world with the right DNA - fortunately tortoises live to be between 150 and 200 years old so in his 60's George is only young!!

Our first trip is to the Darwin Institute where we are lucky enough to tag along with a formal tour and learn much about the history and ecology of the islands as well as seeing baby giant tortoises and the giants themselves together with huge land iguanas in breeding program. To be able to get within a few inches of the giant tortoises is amazing as is the noise (and aggression to each other)!

                 

                 

                                                  

                                                                                             The Darwinian Institute

Jos takes on the role of tour organiser for several of the yachts trying to find the best deals amongst the huge number of travel agents all of whom are selling the same tours and finally we settle on a number of day rips as the alternative of a formal cruise is just to expensive particularly as we have yet more repairs to make to Mary Constance.

Our first trip is a tour of Academy Bay in which we are anchored - didn't sound much and Mike was skeptical until he dived, accompanied by Captain Felix our tour guide and new found friend, over the side of the tour boat and started to swim among the seals - it is an amazing feeling to be snorkeling surrounded by ten our twelve inquisitive seals and it takes the mind of the "mind numbingly" cold water - in case we had not mentioned it before despite being on the equator the Galapagos Islands and the surrounding waters are surprisingly cold due to the influence of the Humboldt Current.

                                                

After leaving the seals Felix took us over to a narrow inlet between the cliffs and said we should also snorkel there, Mike didn't hear the word "sharks" or he wouldn't have been so keen on going in - nothing daunting we snorkeled down the narrow passage and there were four or five white tipped reef sharks about two metres long gently cruising round!

 

Shark Central

As we dried out from the "close encounter" we landed and walked across the headland through a lava field with a dense covering of cactus which have adapted themselves by converting their leaves in to a hard tree like trunk to avoid being eaten by iguanas and tortoises. On the other side, Felix said, were some sea iguanas. We crossed a narrow sandy beach towards the lava rocks that fringed the surf not really seeing anything until we realised that the rocks were literally covered with hundreds of iguanas whose skins were the exact same colour as the rocks. The iguanas ranged in size from about 30 cms to over a metre long and mainly sat basking on the rocks although a few were swimming through the surf. It was quite amazing to see and we were able to get within inches of these lizards who clearly had no fear of us and no predators to make them wary!

               

                                                                                   The cactus field and "iguana beach"

               

                                                                                          Galapagos Marine Iguanas

Our next tour was to take us across the island to join a motor yacht heading across to North Seymour Island, having driven for about an hour across the centre of the island, past dormant volcanoes and across huge lava fields, we set off to North Seymour on a perfect day.

          

                                                                                           On Route to Isla Seymour Norte

As we land in the yachts large inflatable we are greeted by sea pups and pelicans and we set our for a walk around the island on carefully delineated tracks so we do not disturb nesting birds, expecting to see a few nests in the distance we are amazed to find ourselves in the middle of a huge "nursery" for Blue Footed Boobies" and huge Frigate Birds, the latter who seem to strike the most comical poises while they cool themselves down. We are all captivated by the mass of birds, the Blue Footed Bobies nest on the rock and surround themselves with a "roundel" of pure white guano whilst the Frigate Birds make precarious nests that seem far to small for them. The various mating rituals are sheer comedy with the Boobies prancing round whilst the male Frigate Bird puffs up his bright red chest in a bright display to attract the "girls".

                   

                                                                                   Welcome to our Island!

                       

 

                 

                                                                        The famous "Blue Footed Boobies"

 

                 

                                                   Perfect Nesting!!                                                          Frigate Birds in mating mode

                                                          

                                                                                                 Lunch on board

Having made friends earlier with Felix we had organised a private tour for most of the boats to go to Isla Santa Fe which we were told was great for snorkeling. Felix's boat seemed impossibly small for what was a good hour long journey particularly as we had crammed 12 adults and 4 kids on board however it easily made the journey and by mid morning we were rushing past the imposing cliff faces of Isla Santa Fe before turning in to a beautiful lagoon which had two small beaches covered in sea lions. With a bit of arm twisting we were allowed to land and walk amongst these gentle mammals, whose faces look so like dogs, and like the iguanas they had no fear and an inquisitive streak . The "alpha male" kept swimming along the shore line not worried by us but keeping a sentinel against six sharks that prowled close by......

       

                                                                          Sea Lions on Santa Fe Island

                 

After a brief walk on the beach we again dived over the side in to crystal clear water and swam with a family of sea lions close to the rock edge of the lagoon - quite an amazing experience as the sea lions literally played around us, as one point on of the cubs misjudged things and      barreled in to Mike before speeding off. Again the sea lions were "tame" although this is the wrong description as they are anything but tamed, just totally free from fear!

    

                       On the way back from Santa Fe                                                             Captain Felix

After this amazing experience we set off back to the main island of Santa Cruz and anchored off a series of small beaches for a swim and barbecue lunch. Walking to the end of the beaches we spotted about twenty huge turtles in the surf, gently swimming to and fro seemingly playing in the surges amongst the sea iguanas each happy in the knowledge that neither was a threat to each other!

On the way back to lunch Jos leapt over a rock catching her toes on one foot, neatly ripping off a toe nail - agony!!!!! Not daunted she continued to enjoy lunch before being carried back to the boat and off to the hospital for some treatment!

          

       

                               BBQ Lunch                                                                          Walking wounded

                                                      

                                                                                               Beach Ninjas?

During the "non tour" times work continued on Mary Constance as, per usual, there was a long list of jobs that needed doing before we could head off Pacific. Despite our worries about lack of services in the Galapagos it seems that there were ample mechanics here and we were able to get winches mended, timber grab rails replaced and new mounts for the "Heath Robinson" conversion of our wind vane steering which hopefully will resolve some of our ever ongoing power issues.

As we headed toward the end of our stay Jos was busy with provisioning again, this time the problem of what to buy that will last the possible 25 day passage was key. Fruit is plentiful and cheap but we needed to buy under ripe produce that will ripen on passage, meat again is excellent here but without a freezer we have to buy carefully and assume it will only last a week or two, it remains to get inventive with tinned food and hopefully our luck will change and we will be able to catch fish again!!

Having decided that we were toured out we were persuaded to take a taxi out to the edge of the national park where one of the ranches has set aside a considerable area for giant tortoises to live and we were pleased we did. To see these enormous creatures in the wild (almost) was great after seeing them confined in the Darwinian Institute. We went towards the end of the day and found several tortoises cooling themselves down in shallow muddy ponds surrounded by colourful Darwin Finches. The whole area has become overgrown with passionfruit vines which the tortoises seem to love as several were merrily munching away on the fruit.

   

                                                                                          The Giant Tortoises

On the way back we stopped at a lava tube formed by the volcanic magma, again having heard of these tubes were not sure what to expect and the scale was much larger than we anticipated - the tunnels look big enough to run a railway through with room to spare and run for considerable distances under the ground surfacing here and there following the rock strata. At the entrance to the tunnel we walked through was a pile of bones - it seems that some of the early visitors were not so lucky at getting out!

            

                                                                          Into the lava tubes

A final diner in the cheap eat street and we are almost set to leave for Isla Isabella where we hope to ride by horseback to the top of the island to see active volcanoes - we are allowed to have an informal stop at Isabella for three days only and then we will be underway to the Marquesas. As we are not sure about getting internet on Isabella this will probably be the last journal entry for about a month and then we will be well and truly on the way home!!

                                                     

                                                                                            Farewell Galapagos

 

Into the Pacific - Galapagos here we come!

We leave in the falling darkness and motor sail to clear the islands -only 950 nautical miles to go or about 1900 kilometers! This is our second longest passage so far and most of it will be against wind and current - perfect sailing conditions NOT!!

                

                                                                                              Storm Front Off Panama

Anyway it has to be done and we have a good first night and the next day the wind is still good so we decide to raise our Genneker , a huge spinnaker like sail and under this green, blue and white monster we charge forwards in perfect sailing conditions, medium winds and glasslike seas rapidly eating up the miles covering over 140 nm in our first 24 hours - looking good so far!

Genneker and flying!

As is our usual practice we reef in for the night to avoid any nasty surprises only to find that when we try to get the main out again the next day it has jammed solid and several hours of futile work fail to release it - the only solution is for Mike to go up the mast yet again mid ocean, we are beginning to believe that a streak of fate exists or that Mike is just an appalling masochist, anyway up he goes again fortunately in calmer seas and  after a while we manage to release the mess and get underway again.

Passage making is an exercise in controlled boredom with occasional high points when things either go very well or very wrong as highlighted by trips up the mast or sail trimming late in the night when you are on watch on your own. In between we try to keep the boredom at bay and the "are we there yet" questions from not only the kids but Jos and Mike as well!!

At typical day might go something like this.......

07.00   Pippa wakes up and comes on deck to join either Mike or Jos dependant on who is on watch

08.00   Justine wakes up but doesn't emerge from our bed for a while - sounds familiar.....

08.00   Mike tunes the SSB radio in to one of the day's skeds to see where friends are, check weather etc (and have a gossip)

08.30   Breakfast - at the moment bacon is the kids' favourite so Jos is tied to the stove first thing

09.30   Clear up from breakfast and think about school work....

10.00   Think about school some more..... Mike does his rounds on the deck checking for chaffed ropes, loose fittings etc

10.30   Jos school starts for the kids

              

12.00   Mike does a position fix, checks the course, writes log etc (This is a constant process during the day)

13.00   Lunch -usually cold lunch

14.00   During the afternoon its a case of play, showers, cookery, attempts at fishing, quiet reading or what ever happens

            Mike continues his checks, makes water etc etc

                                       

                                                                                       "Red Indians Two"

16.30   Jos starts to prepare dinner - feeling more like a galley slave each day!

17.00   Dinner, engine started to make electricity for the night (lights, self steering, radios, computer, GPS etc etc)

18.00   The evening sked on the SSB radio - a more formal affair with position reporting for safety etc and a general chat and riddle from the kids

18.30   Dependant on power levels maybe a family movie or a show from the girls...

                                       

20.00   Kids and either Jos or Mike turn in for bed and the night watch rota starts with each of us taking 3 hours on watch checking sails but generally listening to CD's, audio books, reading and anything else we can think of to ease the boredom! Most of the time it is repetitive but occasionally one of those small panics occurs that needs both of us on deck - fortunately not too often.......

So far we are not having much luck fishing losing more rigs than we catch fish - to be honest the score is not good - fish nil- lost rigs 4 including getting two catch under the hull when we unintentionally "hove to" one night leading to us spinning through 360 degrees!

                                                                       

                        

                                                                                                   Mid Ocean Pit Stops for Birds?

We are certainly on the road less travelled now and since parting company with the faster Wakelele 2 days into the passage we have not seen a sole, in fact we only saw three or four merchant ships closer in to Panama. There is a slight chance we will converge courses with another Aussie boat, Chatti, close to the Galapagos as our courses are getting closer so we may see a yacht before we get there! Also on the cards is the possibility of seeing whales as Blackwattle radioed us yesterday saying they saw a whale 20 metres off their boat and the Hullabaloo reported hitting a whale just to the south of Galapagos!

At 00.03 on the 7th May we crossed over the equator and in to the South Pacific - a great feeling even if we were under motor at the time because the wind had died totally!

 

As it was late we kept the celebrations on hold until the morning as we believed that King Neptune probably would have been busy with other things during the night. Shortly after breakfast the next morning Neptune was spotted climbing on board demanding a present from the crew of the Mary Constance and making sure all the new "line crossers" we duly sprinkled with water. So Neptune, who had a remarkable resemblance to the skipper of Mary Constance, was duly toasted and a small libation from each of us was poured in to the water for good luck.

                                              

                                            

                                                                                 Neptune's royal visit!

 

We could have done with his intervention earlier as the salt water pump, vital to the engine cooling system, had failed sending water all over the engine compartment and meaning we could no longer motor - tough when there is no wind!! Anyway, Mike, assisted by Neptune, soon removed the pump and made a temporary repair using grease, duct tape, a bicycle inner tube and a couple of cable ties and we were on our way again. Fortunately the wind picked up and we romped toward Academy Bay in the Galapagos arrived had covered about 950 nautical miles in a little under 9 days during which we motored for 63 hours out of 214 as the wind died on us - too much diesel but needs must and we were delighted to anchor!

Panama City

We had heard many conflicting reports about Panama City, many centered on the high crime levels that seem to dog many Central American states and whilst it does have some problems, freely admitted by Panamanians, it is an interesting mixture of old and new, poor and rich.

           

                                                                                                  Santa Filipe "Old Panama"                                                                                     

We were fortunate enough to be "hosted" by the staff of Mike's company's office where the CBRE staff were extremely friendly and could not have been more helpful. Headed by Ramon Roux the office is riding high on Panama City's new prosperity and astounding GDP growth figures.

Ramon kindly organised a driver, Javier Watts, for us to look round the city and with Javier we were able to see much of the City that tourists only scratch at in a very condensed timeframe. The city is steeped in history (not all well preserved) dating back to the days of the Spanish Conquistadors and their battlers with English "Pirates" such as Morgan who seemed to sack the town with alarming alacrity!

                            

                                  Iced Drinks "Off the block"                                             Panama "old and new"

The history is amazing with magnificent churches with gold alters nestling slum areas on one side and the Presidential Palace on the other in Santa Felipe district and preserved ruins of Panama Viejo standing much as they were abandoned after Morgan's sacking. The central districts are a mass of new development with huge residential apartment blocks crowding the skyline waiting to be snapped up by eager investors.

                          

                                                                                                  Panama Churches

                        

                                                                                               Panama Viejo

                                                                            

                                                                                  Panama Viejo's Singing Guide

Near where we moored the boat we discovered The Smithsonian Institute has a research centre which is open to the public and the kids and Jos had a wonderful time looking at turtles and sharks while Mike went off to deal with the mounting pile of paperwork!

As ever the provisioning job was huge rivaling the Canaries for the amount needed as we are now setting off for ten to twelve day passage to the Galapagos (which has limited resupply options) and then about twenty-five days non stop to the Marqueses in French Polynesia -buying everything needed was a challenge and storing it even more so!!

 

Provisioning................

Still we managed to have fun being entertained one evening with Ramon and his family all of whom fortunately spoke far better English than we did Spanish and on the Sunday we returned hospitality to Javier and his wife taking them out on Mary Constance round the bay for lunch making MC look very small against the "parking lot" of tankers waiting to transit the canal.

 

Diner with Ramon and Family

Javier and his wife on board Mary Constance

After a final round of paperwork and hectic chase about for engine spares we are ready to leave and set off with Wakelele to the Las Perlas group of islands, which lie a huge 30miles or so from Panama City, these islands are both an ideal spot for a bit of R & R and a good jump off point for the Galapagos Islands.

Las Perlas Islands

Amazingly these Islands are only sparsely habited with a few fishing villages and limited "weekender" development for rich Panamanians to enjoy, historically they were an important source of natural pearls for the Spanish and some of the largest pearls ever discovered grew here.

For us the joy is to get away from the grime of the Panama mainland and have the first swim we have been able to have since we left Isla Grande several weeks ago!!

Our first stop was at Isla Contadora, the closest island where we anchored off a small beach with a little restaurant/hotel and a few sensational looking "weekenders" that would happily grace the shores of Sydney Harbour's Eastern Suburbs. Exploring ashore we find we can hire golf buggies to go round the island and stop at the "Contadora Mall" which is a couple of small general stores with very little to offer, driving back we pass the local Police Force rushing by in a three wheeler that looks as if it would be at home in Italy - in fact the policeman also looks as if he should be in Italy complete with two girls in his three wheeler!!

          

                                           Buggy Riders                                                                          The local cop and "friends"

                                                         

                                                                                              On the beach!

                                                         

                                                                                  Who needs a motor Dad?

Te following day we have a short sail/motor to an anchorage between Isla Chapera and Isla Moga Moga where Wakelele and we have the islands to ourselves and we swim ashore in clear water over  rays that glide gracefully past. The beach is ideal for a BBQ and build a fire for later that day with driftwood and use larger trunks of wood for seats!

   

   

                                                               

                                                                                      The BBQ Beach at Isla Chapera

That evening we end up having a great evening with the kids running wild on the beach while we cook, the only down side is the aggressive sand flies who settle down to munch all of us!!

                     

                                                                                                  The BBQ

We wake the next morning to a very rolly anchorage and decide to move on further south aiming to Isla Cana in search of pearl fishermen firstly stopping to pick up more fuel at  San Miquel on the largest island of Isla de la Rey. San Miquel is a small village of a few hundred people who make there way fishing and boat building.

Built on the hill side over looking the bay the village is colourful and we motor in jerry cans and a small shopping list. Nothing is meant to be easy and whilst the local Guarda Nationale are helpful it turns out that there is nothing in the shop we need and no diesel in the village. We do however buy some fish, an experience in itself as we are led down a back alley past women in hair rollers playing bingo to a small house where four women have a pile of fish they are cleaning - everything seems to cost a  dollar here and we end up with some great fish for a few bucks!

        

                                                                                           San Miquel - Isla del Rey

Our luck turns and we are told a fishing boat may sell us some diesel so we motor out and negotiate with them. The diesel is a little overpriced and only a small amount is available but with the possibility of no wind to the Galapagos we both need all we can get. The fishermen do however earn their profit as they have no fuel pump to transfer the fuel and need to suck the diesel down a hosepipe to get a siphon working - not something we would enjoy!!

As we head back to the boats a lone canoe paddles over towards us from way over the other side of the bay with only a magnificent paddle for propulsion, although awe have a lot of fish we can't turn him away and buy a small tuna for supper - sashimi, yum!!

 

The local fisherman and source of sashimi!!

That afternoon we divert to Isla Espiritu Santu as darkness is falling and we won't make the tricky anchorage at Isla Cana in timer and settle down to a fish feast introducing Steve and Anne Mie to Sashimi and Wasabi washed down with margaritas! Most Excellent!!

In the morning we cover the short distance to Isla Cana and find nothing - no village, no fishermen and no pearls - so much for that idea!! After a few final jobs around the boat we decide to take advantage of the wind and at 18.30 set off south towards Galapagos!!

 

 
 

 

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This site was last updated 01/27/09