June 1999
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Costa Rica, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotus

OK, so we haven't been great about keeping our friends up-to-date.  Well, we have some excuses.  First, we were having too much fun and were too busy.  Second, our internet email connection didn't work out.  We have not been able to access the casherj@ibm.net address since March.  We finally prevailed on my sister to handle sending out our newsletter info.  Third, we expected to be able to write pieces of this on our passages but most of the more recent ones have been too rough to do any writing.  Fourth, our ham email developed a problem and we were hoping it would get worked out.  We kept waiting and testing and waiting and testing but it didn't get worked out.  We have a new address now.    We actually wrote this  first piece of this as we approached New Zealand but delayed in sending it. 


We last left off in Playa Cocos, Costa Rica in February.   Since then, we have travelled through Costa Rica, into Panama, across to the Galapagos, long passage to the Marquesas, spent time in French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotus, and Tahitian Islands), visited Rarotonga in the Cooks, spent three weeks in Niue and stopped in Tonga to prepare for the jump to New Zealand.  We'll try to share a bit of our experience in each of these places.

Costa Rica

We had a great visit with Jeff's cousin Andy and the family (Avi, Dylan and Jessie) in San Jose.  They've lived down there for more than 20 years on an eleven acre rancho with beautiful scenery and their own waterfall.  It was great to be able to spend some time with them again.  We were in heaven visiting San Jose, a town with major shopping malls and almost anything we needed to buy.  Gail purchased a breadmaker at Jeff's urging and we've both been very happy with the results.  Andy gave us a ride back to boat (3 hours) and had a chance to see how we live.

From there, we traveled in our four boat flotilla (Passion II, Windfall and Eolo) down to Playa Panama to get out of the strong Papagayo winds.  It didn't work.  These strong offshore winds would follow us halfway down Costa Rica.  In Playa Panama, we had a chance to do some boat chores including scraping the muck out of our diesel tanks.  What an ugly, messy job.  We took enough crud out of the tanks to fill a gallon container.  Yuck.  Pulled most of it out by hand and then built a fuel recirculating system with a pump and a filter.  This was an 8 hour job.  And you all wonder why we never get bored with "nothing to do all day".

Next stop for the 4 boats was Quepos, a quaint town that caters to surfers and some tourists that want to get away from the big hotels.  This was a quiet and pretty town with a comfortable though sometimes rolly anchorage.  Hit a few restaurants, chased down some parts and visited the internet cafe.  There is a small harbor for the local boats.  To enter, they cross a river bar and big shore break at high tide.  We tried this with the dingy but couldn't find a way through.  We did manage to get the dinghy sideways surfing a big wave and are still not sure why we didn't roll it in the surf.  Gotta get the adreniline going sometimes.

We visited Manuel Antonio National Park, a large reserve on the coast near Quepos.  Beautiful trees and greenery - a large change from Baja Mexico - and lots of animals.  We were able to get real close to three kinds of monkeys and numerous iguanas. 

Continuing down the coast on an easy sail, we were delayed and we hooked up 6 sailfish in under an hour.  Wow, can they jump and dance.  We lost a couple until we reset the hook further back in the lure and then had some really good battles.  One 9' sailfish battled for 45 minutes including charging the boat and getting the line wrapped around the rudder.  Jeff went into the water to free the line while Gail battled the fish.  We "boated the fish" which for us means getting it next to the boat, reaching down and grabbing its bill to lift it, retrieving our lure and releasing the fish.  We usually get them back in the water so fast that we sometimes forget to take a picture.  These creatures are way to beautiful to keep. 

We stopped in Bahia Ballena and explored the mangroves - woodpeckers, egrets, kingfishers and dozens of other birds we were unable to identify.  Next time we'll take the book with us.  Bahia Ballena was a good place to do some more boat work.  One major project was to remove and replace the wood plugs and screws in the deck.  There are 1000 of these.  Of course, we couldn't do all of these in a few days work but we did manage to replace almost all of the ones that need it.   Eolo, a 55' woodie, stayed in this bay a few more weeks to recaulk their decks.

Drakes Bay was our next stop for the remaining three boats.  There are a couple of "wilderness resorts" here.  This area is a heavily wooded penninsula with no roads.  All supplies come in via small boat.  We wandered around the resort grounds, watched the monkeys and had a beer on their terrace overlooking this uninhabited piece of Costa Rica.  We joined the resort dive boat for two dives and a picnic at Isla del Cano.  Four divers and 3 people on the boat.  What service.  Mantas, sharks and lots of fish.  Visibility was limited to 30-50' but the dives were very nice.

The last port in Costa Rica was Golfito.  While this town has gotten a bad rap, we enjoyed it.  Of course, we rafted 3 boats together for security and left lights on at night when we were away.  This was our last place to stock-up before the jump across the Pacific.  We knew that prices in French Polynesia were exhorbitant so we stocked up with as much as Sea Witch could hold.  This included a stop at the duty free for a case of rum (US$ 3 a bottle) and a couple cases of wine (US$ 3 a liter). 


We had not planned to go to Panama but some friends we hadn't seen for a year were still there so...  We pointed Sea Witch south and had an easy overnight to catch up with Legend.  We spent a week or so in  Islas Secas (cookout on the beach, giant fireflies, nice diving) and then hit Bahia Honda where we were besieged by almost 500 kids from the local village.  They come out to the boats in true dugout canoes and ask for pens, pencils and other school supplies.  We ran out very quickly.  

Lots of rain in Bahia Honda.  Our rain awning filled our 120 gallon tank in 15 minutes. Passion II and Windfall were headed for the canal.  We thought we would head that way too but ran out of time.  We waited a few days for the weather to get better, said goodbye to Legend and set course for the Galapagos.

Passage to the Galapagos

We departed April 15th  which meant another birthday for Jeff underway.  The passage to the Galapagos was 7 days hard on the wind.   4 days in the Intertropical Convergence Zone with some serious lightning, thunder and rain.  We closed up and huddled inside during the lightning feeling really helpless.  Another nice birthday present for Jeff.  This is our third time at sea in rough conditions on his birthday.

Other than this excitement in the ITCZ, it was not really a bad passage as we managed to play the wind shifts right and not use up too much fuel.  Friends coming down from Mexico had run out and drifted for days in this area. 

Once clear of the ITCZ, the nights turned nice and Gail kept seeing falling stars all around the boat.  The next night she realized that these were sea birds glowing in the dark from the bioluminescence in the ocean.  We crossed the equator in the early hours of the morning on April 22 and shared a tot of rum with King Neptune.  Many of the other cruisers had shared champagne but the old-time tradition was rum and we stuck to it.  We like to think that King Neptune treated us better for respecting his traditions.

Seven days after leaving Panama, we arrived in the Galapagos at Wreck Bay.


Wreck Bay surprised us.  We had expected an isolated, remote island.  Wreck Bay isn't even the primary tourist center of the Galapagos, yet it was teaming with boats in the harbor.  The must have been more than 50 boats of various kinds and less than half of these were cruisers.  Much of tourism in the Galapagos is on live-aboard boats that travel the various islands on 7 to 10 day packages.

The Galapagos Islands were wonderful.  We spent time at Wreck Bay, Academy Bay and Puerto Mil with the boat.   In Wreck Bay we put the boat back together after the passage and did some land tours.  Volcano craters with frigate birds cleaning themselves in the fresh water, marine iquanas, boobies, and sea lions that all let you get close and the Galapagos Museum.  A

Academy Bay is the center of tourism for the islands.  The harbor was crowded with tour boats and cruisers anchored bow and stern and close together.  Here we saw giant turtles both at the Darwin center and in the wild (great video of turtles doing the wild thing, complete with sound effects), lava tunnels, marine iquanas on the sidewalks in town, and had a chance to tour volcano craters and underground lava tunnels.  The tunnels are quite interesting.  One is over a kilometer long and 15' in diameter.  These are caused by air bubbles as the lava cools. 

There is a lot of diving in the Galapagos.  Cruising boats are not permitted anywhere but the three main harbors so we signed up for a dive trip to Gordon Rocks, a mid-ocean volcano crater that breaks the surface by 20'.  Surprisingly, the water here is relatively cold even though the islands are at the equator.  Heavy wetsuits were in order.  We dove on both the outside and the inside as parts of the volcano walls are eroded through.  Sea turtles, white tip and hammerhead sharks.  Brad, a friend from Altaira, was on his first open water dive after getting certified and had a divemaster just for himself.  The spied a whale shark, swam up to him and went for a ride.  Part of our group saw the whale shark also but we missed it as we were at the back.  We told Brad that he can quit diving now since it can't get any better. 

On another tour, we visited a different type of volcanic island, hiked to the top and were treated to some incredible views of that and surrounding islands.   Lunch was served on the boat and then we had a chance to swim with the Galapagos Penquins.  These birds travel at more than 40mph underwater and just zipped on by.  We were lucky to also see them on the rocks and were able to get close and shoot some video and still footage.

Academy Bay had a great farmers market.  A huge stalk of bananas for $1.  Of course, you have to dunk them in salt water to make sure all the cockroaches leave.  We do this from the dinghy.  Our friends on Amazone learned why as they dunked theirs over the side of their boat and the cockroaches swam off the bananas and headed up their anchor line. 

Puerto VillaMil was our last stop.  There was a lava tunnel in the bay with the top eroded away.  We climbed on top and could watch dozens of sharks swim or rest in the tube in 3' of water.  We did a trip on truck and horseback to the top of the second largest volcano crater in the world. The horse saddles were made from steel rebar (the stuff used in concrete patios and buildings) so we took some boat cushions to sit on.  The views were spectacular and the ride was fun.  The trip included an hour long hike across a lava field and a trip to some active vents.  We put our hands in, felt the heat and smelled the sulfur. 

Having traveled to a number of remote places, there were many species of animals in the Galapagos that we had seen in our travels.  We found it interesting that many of these animals were always called the "Galapagos sea lion" or the "Galapagos something-or-other".  The guides would describe them as the "Galapagos sea lion, similar to others but smaller than most.  Don't touch them".   Perhaps a bit of marketing to cater to the tourists.  There were so many species described like this we started joking about almost everything as the "Galapagos rock, similar to others but smaller than most.  Don't touch it".  

Even with a bit of tourist hype, the Galapagos Islands were truly special.  We shot more video there in the 2.5 weeks than we did in Mexico in 14 months.   While there is a lot of tourism going on, they are extremely careful not to let it affect the natural beauty or the wildlife.  This was definitely worth sailing a long way out of our way to visit.

Galapagos to Marquesas

This was our first really long passage - 3000 nautical miles (3400+ land miles).  Before we left the Galapagos, we built "Blinky" our watch timer.  This guy makes sure that someone resets him every twelve minutes.  If not, he beeps quietly for 45 seconds and after that blasts us with his megaphone car alarm.  He keeps us honest and makes sure we look around often but frees us up to read, work inside the boat without having to worry that we haven't looked around enough.  He's quite helpful.

A group of about 15 boats formed up a radio net and departed the Galapagos at about the same time.  This gave us company and people to chat with.  Since we left at the tail end of the group, we could follow their progress and figure out what the weather was up ahead.   Except for the first few days of light to very light winds, it blew mostly 20-25 with some days hitting 30.  We managed to fly the storm chute (is that a contradiction or what) for 12-13 days and racked up some good runs with two days exceeding 190nm and the rest in the 170 and 180 range.  We still have not hit the mystical 200 mile day but we came close.  At rollcall each morning, we tracked all the boats and measured our progress on a spreadsheet.  This gave Jeff a great excuse to learn more about excel.  Each day we would have info on how we did against every other boat.  We gained on all the boats in the fleet except one, usually gaining 10-30 miles on many of the boats and up to 40 or more on some others.  The trip took us 19 days and we managed to pass all but two of the boats that left three days ahead of us.  There are a lot of boats planning to buy small, heavy duty chutes when they get to New Zealand.  With the winds we had on that passage and the rest of the season, a small, heavy duty chute seems like the hot ticket. 

We had been worried about long passages with just two people but quickly fell into an easy routine.   We managed to sleep well and the passage was mostly uneventful.  The spinnaker poll did come crashing down on the deck a couple times - while Jeff was sleeping - but this got sorted out quickly.  We were also surprised when a helicopter flew over and checked us out while we were more than 500 miles from land.  It must have come from one of the large fishing factory ships in the area.   Gail cranked up the breadmaker and we enjoyed fresh bread for the passage.

Landfall in the Marquesas was at a small, isolated island call Fatu Hiva.  It was daybreak with the morning mist and clouds over the lushest, most green island we ever saw.  The bay was in a narrow cut on the leeward side of the island looking at towering pinnacles that were often shrouded in bits of cloud.  This was our idea of cruising.


We stayed 7 days at Fatu Hiva.  Most of the boats on the Vagabond Net - our radio net for the passage - made landfall in Fatu Hiva.  We had a potluck on Sea Witch to celebrate a successful passage. 

Except for the cruisers, there is no tourism on Fatu Hiva since there is no way to get there.   The locals were very friendly and eager to trade Tapa cloth and wood carvings for things like watches, lipstick, perfume and fingernail polish.  We did some hiking and took a hike up to a waterfall.  While swimming in the pool at the base of the falls, Dan (from Dakare) got bitten by a large fresh water eel.  We were wondering what the local kids trying to tell us in French; now we knew.  No real harm as it just left some teeth marks on his big toe. 

We were invited to attend a local dance practice.  There were two groups.  The adults were under one streetlight and the kids under the other.  We were the only non-locals on the island that night.  This was not a show they put on for tourists but something they were doing for themselves.  We found that as we walked around many of the islands, the locals were gracious and invited us to sit and watch many of their activities.

While traveling some of the islands, many of us had the opportunity to "give something back" to the locals.  We were asked to try and fix various things - watches, VHF radios, VCRs, etc.  This gave us the opportunity to really meet some of these people and see how they lived.

A few dinghys got together to trek down to the other village a ways down the coast.  It was too rough to land but we did get to play with a pod of dolphins and then rafted for a picnic.  French Polynesia was looking good to us.

Moved on to Hiva Oa to check-in, get money, spend money, re-supply, get our reciprocal ham license and each in a restaurant.  Did a 4x4 tour of some local villages, historical areas of worship, tikis and had lunch at a village celebration/volleyball tournament.   At one place, we stopped at a platform built on the edge of a cliff where the village would sacrifice a virgin to the sharks.  This explains why mothers tended to encourage their daughters to have sex at an early age.  Combine this with their dancing, which tends to be a bit erotic, and it is easy to see why sailors used to jump ship.  

Fruit was in abundance and we arrived back at the boat loaded with copious amounts of fruit that our tour guide picked in the forest.   We had our first experience with breadfruit - remember Mutiny on the Bounty - and really liked it.  You cut it up and cook it like any way you would cook a potato. 

We spent a few days at the island of Tahuata.  Diving was fun and while visibility was so so, we saw many species that were new to us.  We also attended a village celebration and were invited to the local lunch.  OK, so we enjoyed the chicken and passed on the stuff we couldn't identify.  Most of the cruisers did.

The island of Oa Pou was our next stop.  While checking in, the gendarme insisted that we stay through Saturday to attend the "big party" so we stayed.  There was a meal and a spectacular presentation of local dancing.  Each of the islands has different dances.  We were fortunate to arrive before Bastille day as all of the islands were gearing up for the big dance competition in Tahiti. 

Oa Pou is one of the three big islands in the Marquesas.  The town was immaculate and the houses all well kept.  Hiking up the hill, we found a sculptor.  Our friends on Yankee bought his carved horn.  We liked it so much that we asked him to carve us one.  He couldn't finish it before we left so we agreed to sail back later and pick it up.  When we did come back, he was really honored that we would go to so much effort to buy his horn that he had carved us a really nice one.  We were happy and we know that he felt honored.

Next stop was Nuka Hiva.  This is the "big city" of the Marquesas and the typical first stop for most boats coming from Mexico.  We had sailed from Oa Pou to Daniels Bay to hike to the waterfall.  It should have been a 3 hour hike in each direction but our friends from Innocenti (Graham and Ellie) decided to take a short cut and the trip up took 4 hours.  Bugs were a problem here, especially since we had to cross rivers a dozen times.  We took a can of bug spray and reapplied after each river.  No problem for us.  Graham decided to go for a quick dip up near the waterfall.  He stripped down to his birthday suit, left his sneakers on and hit the river.  Guess what part of him wasn't covered with bug repellent and was well bitten!

The next day we sailed back to Oa Pou to pickup the horn and prepare for the crossing to the Tuamotus.  BUT, Yankee called us on the radio and told us about another party/show back at Nuka Hiva in the main bay.  So, we sailed back to Nuka Hiva, attended the party that night and then headed for the Tuamotus the next morning.  Its kinda nice not to have too much of a schedule.