Passage to the Galapagos Islands

Apr 05, 2010| 0 Comment

The First Mate has made passages before, but never one that is as long as this one will be. One-night and two-night passages have been all that she and The Captain have done by themselves, and these passages, though short, were never eagerly anticipated or enjoyed by her. Those 3-hour watches in the middle of the night, when any sane body ought to be in a prone position enjoying recuperative sleep, are her downfall. She does not like them. Period.

On all longer passages we have undertaken (Canada to San Francisco or San Diego to Cabo San Lucas), crew have always joined the valiant team. On those occasions, her job has been that of galley slave and occasional watch stander. Nothing strenuous here for the intrepid mariner. Those days of pampered existence aboard the S/V Avante are now over. She is going to have to step up to the plate and become a full member of the team (i.e.: stand watches 24/7 along with everyone else, like it or not, no moaning, no grumping). There is no room for misgivings here. It was her push to sail across the Pacific rather than east through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean. Thoughts are running through her head similar to ones she experienced when she found out she was pregnant with number one son: “Now you’ve done it, Smarty, and there’s no turning back now!” She is filled with a mix of anticipation and apprehension. Lots of open ocean lies ahead. Though she may not be totally confident in herself, she is completely confident in the ability of The Captain and Crew Mate Jim, and that does count for a lot.

This passage is from Manzanillo, Mexico to Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands. We will be heading directly there on a southeast course for 1455nm. Because of the light winds forecast, The Captain has increased the scheduled time to 12 days. We only carry enough fuel to go 900nm, so we need to sail for much of the time.

Many of my friends have wondered how one could possibly keep oneself from going raving mad on a small boat for days on end. Some even have wondered how one could not go crazy after even one day.  Though she has no intention of describing every hour of every day for this entire passage, she thought that a more detailed description of the hours passing on this passage might be of interest to the most doubtful.


Day 1 – Wednesday, March 24


Before pulling anchor, The Captain discusses roles and responsibilities in the event we are in danger of sinking. The Captain will try to save the boat by locating and fixing the problem. Crew Mate Jim will get on the radio and satellite phone to call for help. The First Mate will get behind the wheel and keep Avante into the wind. We all are given additional responsibilities if we decide to “Abandon the Boat”. The Captain states that we will only do this if Avante is just about to sink and that we will step “up” into the life raft as she is doing so. The Captain will handle the life raft. Crew Mate Jim will get the ditch bag and medical kit to the life raft. The First Mate is to grab all the large water bottles, any food she might think good to have onboard to supplement the military-type rations in the ditch bag and anything else she has time to add (computers, cameras, sheets, pillows, etc.). This is a 12-man life raft so there’s room for stuff if there’s time. She decides another list is needed of items she should try to get on that raft.

1030 – Anchor up, and we’re off! Winds keep rising as we clear the bay, and we are able to raise sail. So much for forecasts of light wind, but in this case, we are more than pleased with the opposite results. As you will soon learn, managing fuel vs sailing time vs scheduled arrival date become a juggling act all the way to the day of arrival. 

1100 – In the galley, chop ingredients for the Pasta e Fagioli that she will start cooking later this afternoon. Next, update Provision Spreadsheet and work on Blog.

1300 – Prepare and serve lunch of salad with roasted Turkey Breast and Manchego Cheese.

The Captain sets out the fishing rod. Crew Mate Jim suggests tying the rod to the boat — just in case. Great idea! Fish are bigger out to sea.

1415 – Retire for quick nap (mainly just to get off her feet!)

1500 – Assume first watch. We are all initially involved with monitoring the angle of approach of a passing freighter.

1530 – Start beans and broth to simmer for dinner.

1545 – Both men retire to take a nap, and she is alone on watch. Avante is moving smoothly through the water on a beam reach in about 13 knots of wind. There are gentle swells with a good-sized one every few minutes.

1600 – Go below to Nav Table to make the hourly log entry. The data required: Time, SOG (Speed Over Ground), COG (Course Over Ground), Latitude, Longitude and Distance. Then there’s space for any additional comments like sail or wind changes or big fish caught. None such events happened during her first hour.

The Mexican coastline is still visible though we are cruising away from it at a slight angle. She wonders how long it will be before it finally disappears. All is peaceful and quiet except for the water flowing past the boat, and she is loving it.

1745 – Though technically her watch goes until 1800, the guys are now up, and she is relieved of the watch to complete dinner preparations. We eat on deck. It is too hot to contemplate eating below deck. Since we are underway, we cannot install our big teak cockpit table. Dinner is eaten out of large bowls nicknamed “Doggie Bowls” because that is just what they look like. Large green plastic bowls, flat-bottomed with rubber rings on the edge to keep them from sliding around on tilted surfaces, though that is absolutely no help in keeping the bowl from slipping and sliding around on one’s knees. Eating becomes a balancing act, and it is best not to have a meal that requires a knife — unless one is an octopus, the only creature Mother Nature has blessed with enough appendages to be able to balance itself on a rolling boat while at the same time hold a bowl, spear and cut its food and get that food to its mouth without either missing the mouth or dropping the food. Being not so blessed, The First Mate has decided that there is nothing elegant about eating one’s meal at sea. It’s all about survival, plain and simple.

1930 – Lights out for The First Mate. It is still very hot, and she is so very glad she stuck to her guns about the number of additional fans she insisted be added to the boat in San Diego. When she saw that The Captain finally realized his protests were falling on totally deaf ears and absolutely no longer worth his effort, she brought on 2 additional clip-on fans and one larger one. With her little air-moving arsenal, she is able to maintain her cool — most of the time.

2245 – Watch alert received from The Captain. One groggy eye is opened. It is painful to rise, but it is amazing what a splash of cool water to the face will do to wake one up and propel one forward. Life vest is put on. Flashlight secured. Besides, this is just a 2-hour night watch. This is manageable.

2300 – Assume watch. The winds have dropped considerably, and we are only making around 3 knots SOG. This is breaking The Captain’s normal 4-knot rule: Under 4 knots of forward speed, start the engine. Though not happy with this slow progress, The Captain does not want to start using our fuel at this early stage of the passage. We have too many miles ahead of us. The Captain and Crew Mate Jim have been listening to wind and weather reports on the radio and studying GRIB charts. These GRIB charts are downloaded to the computer via satellite connection. One sends up one’s location (latitude & longitude), and a chart of expected winds for that area is sent back. The program also shows expected winds in 3-hour intervals going forward. Winds look to be light for the beginning of the trip and definitely light toward the end. If we are to anchor in Academy Bay on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos no later than Monday, April 5th, this is going to take some planning. We do not have and cannot carry enough fuel to motor our way through all the light wind areas; yet we do not want to arrive behind schedule. Passage-making is an hour by hour monitoring of one’s forward speed, the wind as it is, the wind as it is expected to be and the amount of fuel one has for the boat’s need. It’s a balancing act of all available resources. 

On watch, The First Mate is presently content and happy. The Southern Cross is the low on the horizon to the SE. It is so peaceful as we ghost along. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole trip could be like this?” she thinks, ignoring the fact that if it were to continue as slow as this, we might never get there.


2400  –  Captain’s Daily Report:  Calm seas, gentle swell, more wind than expected, sailing nicely.

  • Engine Hours:  0.5       
  • Trip Log (13 1/2 hours):  65nm       
  • Trip Log (Total):  65nm


Day 2 – Thursday, March 25              


0100 – Relieved from watch by Jim. Set out Keurig coffee maker and Keurig coffee and tea pods. What a wonderful invention this thing is for an ocean-going sailboat! Everyone can make what they want, when they want, and there is no thermos to fuss with and no waste of undrunk coffee. Fantastic! Late night snacks are also set out. The First Mate returns to bed.

0445 – Another watch alert received. Ghastly to get up and out of bed, but she made it. Two hours — the night watches are only two hours. Anyone can do that. She can do it.

0500 – Assume watch. Oh, the stars! The moon has gone down, and the dark sky is full of stars. The Milky Way is awash up there, and she feels like she can see to the very end of the universe, if such a final end point exits. Still ghosting along in calm conditions.

0645 – Wind has completely died. As the batteries need to be charged, the engine is powered on allowing us to make some forward speed as well as charge those batteries.

0700 – Relieved from watch by Jim. Cut up fruit for breakfast. Put out cereal. Cut up Smoked Turkey Legs for dinner. Back to bed.

1000 – Mini-shower mainly to remove old layer of sunblock before adding new. She hates sunblock lotions, and she has tried them all. Even the non-greasy ones are greasy. In this heat, one ends up smearing sunblock and sweat. Yuck, just plain yucky! The First Mate comes up with the idea of drying and cooling off a limb in the breeze of one of her trusty fans and then applying the lotion. This works somewhat, but even the excursion of rubbing on lotion can work up a sweat. It really is the humidity more than the heat that is so obnoxious right now.

The batteries are fully charged so The Captain decides to turn off the engine. We proceed to ghost along at about 3 knots in a 5-knot wind. The First Mate finds a spot in the shade and the slight breeze to relax and knit. Yes, she has her knitting with her and is working on an Irish Fisherman Knit sweater for son, Eric. This sweater is being made with salt spray and sweat! He’ll love it!

1130 – Put together salads for lunch. Sitting on deck eating lunch, Jim notes a turtle “racing by”. Though meant as a joke, it hardly is.  Our SOG is that pathetic! Conditions remain calm and peaceful, but at this rate, it will take us weeks to arrive in the Galapagos. Wind, we need wind. The Captain develops a spread sheet to monitor fuel consumption. If this present slow progress were to continue, how long will it take us to reach Galapagos? Given that, how much of our precious fuel will be needed to charge the batteries? Any remaining fuel can be used to motor. It’s too early in the trip to burn fuel if we don’t have to. So, we continue to ghost across a very calm sea.

1200 – Assume watch.

1400 – We note that wind is slowly beginning to pick up and backing. It is now 6 – 8 knots, and our speed has increased to 5 knots. Still not great, but certainly an improvement. It’s also still so HOT!

1500 – Relieved from watch by Jim. She goes below for a nap.

1700 – Back on deck.

1745 – ZING!  We have a fish on the line. All spring to action.  Captain grabs the pole. First Mate mans the helm. Crew Mate Jim manages the sail as we turn into the wind to reduce speed. What a fish! It leaps out of the water several times. What kind of fish? It looks to be 5 feet long. Maybe longer. It’s some kind of game fish, and it’s a fighter. There’s no teasing this guy toward the boat. He takes off running and jumping, almost stripping the line off the reel before finally throwing the hook. What was that thing? The fish identification books and charts are brought out, and it is decided that we may have hooked and lost a Striped Marlin. The guys are disappointed, naturally, but The First Mate is of another mind. Striped Marlin or not, that was a game fish, probably not all that great eating, and how would we ever get it on board? More importantly, what would we do with it if we had? The First Mate is suddenly not all that enthusiastic about those fish out there. In fact, this first encounter definitely ratcheted up her “wimp factor”. She is now downright scared of all that’s swimming in the wild ocean, but The Captain is eager and enthused. Edible or not, he wants a fish. She’s fostered a fishing monster!

After the fish exertion, we decide that showers on the aft deck would be appreciated, and they are. De-sweated and refreshed, we enjoy light gin and tonics as the sun heads to the horizon.

1930 – Dinner is served. Smoked turkey & gravy with potatoes and zucchini. Aging bananas are used for Bananas au Rum, and that treat is enjoyed by all.

2100 – Assume watch. This evening watch is the beginning of the 2-hour watch schedule, and The First Mate finds this a very easy watch to do.

2300 – Relieved of watch. Set out coffee and watch snacks. Head to bed for about 3 1/2 hours.


2400  –  Captain’s Daily Report: Winds decreasing, heat increasing, lost one big fish.

  • Engine Hours:  5.3   
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  122nm  
  • Trip Log (Total):  187nm


Day 3 – Friday, March 26


0300 – Back on watch. We are motor sailing while we charge the batteries again. Conditions still light and calm.

0500 – Relieved of watch. Put out breakfast cereals and cut-up fruit. Head to bed for a couple of hours. Wonder whether to call this “sleep” or “nap”?  This 0300 – 0500 watch does not offer much time for a morning sleep, as there only remain two 2-hour watches ahead before one’s next watch at 0900. There is a bonus to this, however, for once finished with this first 3-hour watch of the day at 1200, one is off for the whole hot, baking afternoon until 1800. For The First Mate, this means that unless needed for sail changes or some emergency (a fish caught?) on deck, she can hunker down below out of the beating sun and amongst the relative breezy comfort of her fans. She can even catch up on sleep if needed.

0730 – Awake and unable to sleep. The First Mate finds she cannot sleep more than 2 hours at a time;  yet she is feeling fine. One’s body develops a rhythm along with these watch schedules. Forget about thoughts of needing a 6 – 8 hour sleep to be a fully functioning creature. Such unbroken sleep is a forgotten luxury when living with a watch schedule at sea. Sleep is a series of cat naps. Two hours caught here and there. Maybe three hours if you’re lucky, but over a 24-hour period, these little catch as catch can naps add up to the much-needed 6 – 8 hours of sleep. The body will tolerate this and does adapt. How wonderfully we are made!

Avante is moving along smoothly and easily. There is no need to be up and about so one of The First Mate’s collection of Galapagos books is opened. Having finished “Floreana”, the story of a German family of 3 who moved to the Galapagos island between the World Wars, she starts “My Father’s Island”, a daughter’s search into the life of her deceased father who was one of the first settlers on Santa Cruz Island. The stories of these early pioneers on these barren islands are fascinating. Volcanic soil may be a fertile medium in which to grow crops, but that’s about the only good thing that can be said about it. Water, as in rain, is the source of life here on these islands, and it is a fickle source. Always too little and occasionally too much. With no access to renewable resources and no “how to” books, everything has to be learned by trial and error, and there were plenty of trials and lots of errors. Not an easy life and definitely not one for the timid. The First Mate has always thought she could have been a pioneer slogging across the plains in a conestoga wagon with her eyes set on distant mountains and the fertile western coast, but she knows she could never have survived as an early settler on these islands.

She dozes off and wakes with a start at 0930. Her watch was supposed to have started at 0900. Why didn’t The Captain wake her? She dresses quickly and heads to the deck where she finds The Captain cradling the satellite phone. With the calm conditions, he decided to remain on watch while “attending” a Telluride Hospital Board meeting.

1030 – Assumed watch. It is still and HOT – even in the shade. The fishing line is out. None of us has seen a passing freighter in over a day. We are alone out here, though through a low-lying hazy cloud layer, we can still make out the mountains of the Mexican coast.

1200 – Relieved of watch. Make sandwiches for lunch. Start initial dinner preparations. Take short nap and wake to find wind conditions have deteriorated abysmally. 

1330 – The Captain turns on the engine to “avoid a turtle strike from the rear”. Seas are glassy. It is hot on deck, and the afternoon sun is merciless. The First Mate remains below with her arsenal of fans. With her temperamental skin, this sun and heat call for serious avoidance on her part. She begins to wonder if this adventure was such a good idea for her – but so far no itchy, oozing bumps or hives from over-exposure to UV.

1600 – Engine turned off. Just ghosting along making less than 3 knots. The First Mate notices that the coastline is no longer visible.  We are 140nm southwest of Acapulco. Looking across and around the flat surface of water, Avante appears to be positioned in the middle of a huge, round negative-edge swimming pool. There are no straight lines to the horizon out there. It sweeps across one’s vision gently curving as one follows it. The First Mate wonders what it would look like from the top of the mast. Would it look like one vast round bowl? Crew Mate Jim tells her that to obtain that perspective, one needs to be higher than the mere 75 feet of Avante’s mast. Oh, well, it is still interesting to contemplate.

1800 – Assume watch. All take turns showering the day’s sweat off on the aft deck. Somewhat invigorated, we enjoy light gin and tonics and a refreshing appetizer of cold sliced jicama and cucumber lightly sprinkled with lime juice. 

1930 – Winds die at sunset. Our SOG is less than 2 knots. The Captain’s log states that he “gave up and turned on the engine”. The First Mate’s log states that she served a dinner of Chicken in Orange-Ginger Sauce.

2100 – Relieved of watch. Set out night watch coffee and snacks.  Head to bed, but it’s too hot to even think of crawling into the berth next to a sleeping Captain. She grabs a sheet and camps out on the narrow couch in the salon with her largest fan sending forth cooling breezes over her cooking body.


2400 – Captain’s Daily Report:  Dying to dead wind, engine running more than desired, increasing heat.

  • Engine Hours:  11.7       
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  123 nm      
  • Trip Log (Total):  310 nm


Day 4 – Saturday, March 27            


0100 – Assume watch. Still motoring. There is no wind. We would be wallowing if we turned off the engine. The Captain states that if the wind holds at a steady 4 – 5 knots, we will turn off the engine. With the continued light winds still being forecast for the last 400 miles of this passage, we have to conserve fuel to get across those doldrums. No wind, no waves, nothing out there but 5 boobies circling the mast.

0200 – Turned off engine to sail. Winds holding at 6 – 7 knots. In the relative evening coolness, all surfaces feel damp and are oily, sticky with salt. Maybe the breeze will now help dry things off a bit.

0300 – Relieved of watch. Go to bed immediately with her next watch at 0700 a mere 4 hours away.

0700 – Assume watch. Under sail. Wind up to 7 – 8 knots and making 5 – 6 knots SOG. Now we’re beginning to go somewhere! A hazy, thin cloud layer has been building which is welcomed by all aboard, for it partially blocks the sun.

0900 – Relieved of watch. She heads back to bed for her morning nap. She is finding that if she can get one longish period of either sleep or rest during the day, she is fine with this schedule. The 2-hour watches at night are not taxing and are really enjoyable because they are just that: two hours. The 3-hour watches during the day are also manageable. In the daylight, one just feels more awake plus there is usually someone else up and around for company.

The big event for the day is that, in the afternoon, with the wind having backed around, we can raise the spinnaker. While The First Mate handles the helm, the guys work up quite a sweat getting all the lines set and the sail up and flying. The increase in our SOG to 7 knots is well worth the effort. All aboard are smiling!


Unfortunately, the peaceful quiet is disturbed when we have to turn on the generator at 1550. Batteries are down and need recharging. The power demand of the refrigeration system is the culprit that so quickly eats up our battery charge. In this heat, it is a greedy thing!


1730 – We take down the spinnaker as evening approaches. The Spinnaker is too big a sail to be fooling around with on dark decks in the dead of night.

The First Mate is doing fine with our watch schedule of 2-hour nights and 3-hour days because she is catching up on sleep or at least resting during some part of the day.  She has, however, been watching the men. Neither seems to be resting as much during the day as she (ever The Mother) thinks they should. Reluctantly, she queries them about their thoughts on our watch schedule over cocktails this evening. Though she does not desire a change to a 3-hour watch schedule at night, this First Mate is well aware of who really needs to be alert and rested aboard the good ship Avante. To her relief, both men say that they are comfortable with the present schedule and do not want to change. That settled, she relaxes back and enjoys her drink before she has to go below to face Dante’s Inferno (the stove).


2400 – Captain’s Daily Report: Enough wind for an afternoon spinnaker sail, but still motoring more than desired. Academy Bay is looking a long way away. Still and hot on calm seas.

  • Engine Hours:  5.8       
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  121nm      
  • Trip Log (Total):  431nm


Day 5 – Sunday, March 28


0500 – Assume watch. This is her favorite watch. Night still holds dominion when you first step on deck, but, depending on the time of year and your latitude, gradually a glow of light is seen on the eastern horizon. As the world turns, you watch the sun rise and the day unfold. Tonight, the sky is clear, the stars are bright, and an almost full moon is setting as she settles in for the next 2 hours. Boobies are again circling the mast or flying ahead of the boat as if to show us the way. Dolphins are skimming the water around us. It is hard to see them in the dark, but you can hear their little puffs of breath when they come to the surface. It is pleasant on deck with the coolness that the night has finally brought us. The sun rises with all its glory, and within a half hour, we are made fully aware of that glory with the rising heat it brings. Still, she has enjoyed her favorite time of day aboard a blue-water cruiser.

0700 – Relieved of watch. Check all fruit and vegetables. Very green pineapple appears ripe enough to cut up for breakfast. “Appeared” was the operative word. It still was too green and not enough sweet. Lost several peppers in the heat that usually last longer. Citrus all doing well wrapped individually in aluminum foil. She does not know what it is about the foil, but it does keep citrus from growing mold or turning into hard rocks. Potatoes and onions are all fine. Turn eggs. (If you can find eggs that have never been refrigerated which is not hard to do in these countries and you do not refrigerate them, eggs will keep for over a month with a turn every few days to make sure the yolks do not stick.) Work on blog for a while. Then make the Spaghetti Carbonara bacon base for dinner tonight. Wash some clothes forgetting that hands react to something in liquid detergent so now she has little pin-prick blisters between her fingers and on the palms of her hands that feel like she tangled with nettles. At this age, one would think she would learn and remember such things, but that’s a failing. She does not.

0930 – The Captain and The Crew Mate go through the tricky task of transferring fuel from the 2 big plastic jugs on our deck. One end of a hose is put in the top opening of the jug, and the other is put down into the boat’s fuel tank. A long rod is attached to the hose in the jug. Its purpose is to hold the hose, whose tendency is to curl, straight down almost to the bottom on the jug so it can pull as much diesel out of the jug as possible. Then a shorter hose is inserted into the tank’s opening.


Finally a rag is stuffed into the opening whose job is to plug the opening, so that when The Captain blows into the short hose, the pressure build up in the jug will force the fuel up into the hose and down into the boat’s fuel tank. A syphon has been created. Exerting all the force a glass blower uses, The Captain blows into the hose and the fuel flows.


One done. Now onto the second.


1200 – She assumes her watch having stayed up and involved in tasks all morning without taking her usual morning rest. Perhaps not a smart thing to do, but she was busy and forgot. Wind is decreasing but still sailable. 

1400 – Alone on watch. Both men asleep below.

1450 – Zing!  But this is more than a zing. This is a gear-stripping, reel-smoking zing. The First Mate jumps to the rod because The Captain says that the first thing to do with a fish on a line is to “set the hook”. She tries to pick up the rod. There is no way she can budge it. There’s too much pressure on the rod, and the line is spinning out like it has a life of its own. Where are those guys? Don’t my Great Fisherman Hunters hear this thing? Returning to the helm, she begins to do what needs to be done to slow the boat down. Both sails are up, the preventer is on to keep the boom from gybing across the boat in the slack breeze, and that reel is screaming like a demented banshee. Finally, Crewman Jim appears. He attempts to control the reel, but it is impossible. He then turns to help in slowing down the boat. Our monster fish reaches the end of our line. It snaps and off goes some poor fish with our hook and line. She is vastly, overwhelmingly, relieved. That was a monster out there. She is not sure how Jim feels, but she has an inkling that he was not any more eager to haul that thing on board than she was.

The Captain, well, The Captain, dear Captain, slept through the whole episode. Never heard a thing which meant we had to explain to him later why there was only about 6 inches of line left on his fishing reel. He is not too happy when he finally does learn about his line. He asks her why she did not call out “fish on” as she was supposed to do. Well, she does not know why she did not call out. She was too amazed, just a wee bit scared, and it all happened in seconds, not minutes. Besides, how could he not have heard all the commotion? That counter question does stop him for a while.

We do have another reel of line on the boat. Out it comes, but the plastic cap at the end of the reel has become brittle in the Mexican heat. It bursts apart leaving us with a tangle of monofilament line. The 3 of us spend over an hour trying to unravel line. Finally, The Captain calls it quits. We have about 200 yards on the reel now. Not optimum, but at least it’s something. An email is sent off to our next Crew Mate to purchase some heavy-duty line, if he can, before he leaves the States to join us in the Galapagos.

Feeling guilty at being so flummoxed by this sea monster, The First Mate asks how those big sports fishermen boats handle these whoppers. You know what they do? They slam the boat into reverse, immediately. We can’t do that on a sailboat. Under sail, the best we can do is turn into the wind to slow down the boat. They have big, cushy chairs with feet supports and belts. The fisher person is braced and strapped into his chair. They have big aft decks to haul the fish aboard and large refrigerator/freezers to store the monster in. We have none of that. Do we really want to continue this fishing exercise? Silly question. Some sort of primeval male instinct has been awakened. The hunt, the kill, the thrill of it all. The First Mate has no such instinct. All she is after is food for the table — a fish she can eat, not one that can eat her!

2100 – Assume watch. Motorsailing with engine to charge batteries. Wind down.


2400 – Captain’s Daily Report: Low mileage for the day is not good. Monster fish hooked and lost.

  • Engine Hours:  7.1 
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  113nm      
  • Trip Log (Total):  544nm


Day 6 – Monday, March 29th


We start this day under sail, and, more importantly, with the engine off. Sailing smoothly with a 4 – 7 knot NE wind, we are making about 4 knots SOG.

0630 – Winds are up to 8 – 10 knots.

0730, – Windspeed is over 10 knots. 10 knots! We have not seen this much wind since we left Puerto Vallarta.

0920 –  Winds have built to 17 knots and increasing. We put the first reef in the sail.

1600 – Winds are steady at 18 – 21 knots.

1630 –  Winds increased to 20 – 25 knots.

From where has all this wind come? What is happening? The answer: We are beginning to feel the affects of the winds blowing across from Tehauntepec on the Mexican coast. There is not much land separating the Caribbean from the Pacific at that point, and there is a gap in the mountains. The winds funnel into this gap and scream down from the land across the water. T-pecker, the area has been not so fondly nicknamed, and T-pecker winds are monitored diligently, for they can blow at 40 – 60 knots. A few days previously, we had heard an alert put out by the Mexican Navy that winds in the Tehauntepeca were going to be up to 60 knots. The Captain and Crew Mate have been monitoring this phenomena by satellite download of the GRIB Charts. Though we are 400 miles off shore, those T-pecker winds are still strong enough to be felt, and the GRIB charts clearly show the affect.

This is a GRIB chart showing the narrow Tehauntepeca area and the wind predictions. The slash lines in the ocean area describe the wind direction and speed. In the upper left corner, the lines are small.  Few have any tails attached to them which indicate wind speed. Each tail equates to 10 knots of wind. This is the calm area we have been slowly crossing for the last 6 days. Now look right off the narrow stretch of land. Look at those wind lines. Look at the wind tails. Look at the change of color to an alarm red. This is the Tehauntepec area, and it’s on T-pecker alert. One does not want to be sailing anywhere near that coast, but 400 miles off that coast, we are reaping the benefits.


Now look at the area around the Galapagos Islands at the bottom of the photo. No wind slashes. No wind. This is what we will be facing for the last third of the passage, but right now in this second third of the passage, we are going to ride these winds for as long as we can to make up the miles.


The First Mate’s daily log stops with the arrival of the T-pecker winds. Seas are up and choppy. Swells are close together. We now have our life jackets at all times on deck and clip onto the safety lines. It’s a confused mess out there on the water and not all that much different on the boat where holding on and bracing oneself is a constant necessity. Writing is impossible. Reading is impossible. Knitting is impossible. Cooking is a challenge, but we are moving forward and making great time. Things are looking up to arrive in Academy Bay on schedule.

2400 – Captain’s Daily Report:  This is more like it! No engine in 24 hours and 161nm covered! Fishing line is secured. Not even The Captain wants to tangle with a fish in these conditions.

  • Engine Hours:  0       
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  161nm      
  • Trip Log (Total):  705nm


Day 7 –  Tuesday, March 30th


All of us are feeling head-achy, and each has a different reason for the headache. Her personal one is a combination of the heat and the bouncing around we are taking. Now that the winds and seas are up, all hatches and windows below have to be closed. It is so very hot below, and the knocking about does not help.

Winds calm down during the night, and at sunrise we shake out both reefs.

0730 – The Captain announces that we have passed the half-way point of this passage!

The rest of the day and night passes steadily and uncomfortably, but we are making good speed. Finally, we are getting somewhere!


2400 – Captain’s Daily Report: Winds steady at 10-12 knots. Choppy, confused seas. Beam reach.

  • Engine Hours:  0       
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  152nm      
  • Trip Log (Total):  852nm


Day 8 – Wednesday, March 31st


Winds are back up to 17 – 18 knots in the afternoon as we continue to reap the benefits of the T-pecker. The Captain has us heading almost due east instead of on our direct course. The InterTropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) lies ahead. What’s that? The Doldrums or The Horse Latitudes as they are so named because sailing vessels of yore would get caught for weeks floundering around with no wind. Running out of food, they would eat a horse or two. This is part of that area of no wind near the Galapagos Islands that showed up so clearly on the GRIB charts. We want to put off entering this area for as long as possible so we steer more east to stay with our T-pecker winds.


2400 – Captain’s Daily Report: Winds steady in the high teens. Headaches are much better for all.

  • Engine Hours:  0       
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  156nm       
  • Trip Log (Total):  1008nm


Day 9 – Thursday, April 1st


0100 – Winds diminishing. Now down to 9 – 11 knots.

0300 – Winds diminishing. Now down to 7 – 10 knots.

0700 – Barely able to sail with a 3-knot head wind. Engine is cranked on for the first time in days. We are 460nm from our anchorage in Academy Bay. We are below 6° in latitude. We took advantage of those T-pecker winds for as long as we could, but we will definitely be in the ITCZ by the end of the afternoon. This is the reason that The Captain was so fuel conscious during those long, slow days in the first third of our trip. We were able to get over 500nm of good sailing off the T-pecker, and The Captain announces that we have more than enough fuel left to be able to motor all the rest of the way to the Galapagos if we have to.

We notice in the still conditions that the amount of wildlife has decreased. Our flying companions, the Boobies, are nowhere to be seen. There are no flying fish. No dolphins. It feels eery.

1630 – The Captain turns off the engine and announces a Swim Call! The water is quite warm and feels so silky good. We splash around holding onto a rope off the stern because Avante is still slowly moving forward in the water. There’s an accepted rule when swimming out in the ocean. 10 minutes — that’s all. Beyond that, consider yourself a potential shark meal. We’re out well within 10 minutes, feeling refreshed and invigorated.


1800 – Sitting in the cockpit, we watch our first tropical storm building up darkly around us. For The First Mate, seeing these black clouds milling around out there with occasional flashes of lightening, is both fascinating and frightening. She has never been in a tropical storm. These storms are big enough to track on the radar, and with some strategic course changes, we successfully motor through the evening without running into a thunderstorm.


2300 – Winds have changed direction. No longer are they from the north or northeast allowing us to sail a beam reach pretty much in the direction we want to head. They have clocked around so that they are directly on the nose coming from the southeast. So far they are slight, only 5 knots, but if they pick up and stay in this direction, we will be tacking. Zig-zagging a non-direct line to our destination is not the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B! 


2400 –  Captain’s Daily Report:  Entered ITCZ, first tropical storms, high engine time, no wind

  • Engine Hours:  16.2         
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  126nm       
  • Trip Log (Total):  1134nm


Day 10 – Friday, April 2nd


More storms are encountered during the early morning hours, but nothing traumatic. When the winds settle down after we pass through the squall lines, they remain on the nose at 6 – 7 knots.

0710 – With winds up to 10 knots, we raise the jib and turn off the engine. Slowly, we tack toward our destination. 

1530 – Transferred 2 more auxiliary fuel containers into port fuel tank.

1700  – Engine back on.  Winds are light, and we have to motor for a while.

Just as we begin to feel we are almost there, we are frustrated with head-on winds, heavy seas and an adverse current. A zig-zag tack takes longer. For every 5nm of tacking, we only make 3nm of actual forward movement to our destination. Even motoring is slowed because we are pounding into heavy waves. Each bashing into a wave reduces forward thrust. Additionally, we have encountered a current that is running against us. Progress is slow. If these conditions continue, we will not make port on Monday, April 5th. We are all disheartened.


2400  –  Captain’s Daily Report: 135nm for the day looks good in print, but with the tacking, we actually only made 90nm toward our destination. Bummer!

  • Engine Hours:  13.8       
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  135 nm       
  • Trip Log (Total):  1269 nm


Day 11 – Saturday, April 3rd


Motored all night and all day. We’re using up fuel at a rapid rate.


1250 – LAND HO! Isla Darwin is off our starboard bow. It is only a blob of land out there. Nothing to write home about, but we are ecstatic!


2400  –  Captain’s Daily Report: Mostly motored. Sailed 6nm off coast of first Galapagos island.

  • Engine Hours:   22      
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  130nm
  • Trip Log (Total):  1399nm


Day 12 – Sunday, April 4th


0100 – We are 145 nm from Academy Bay, our destination.

0715 – Transfer our remaining 2 auxiliary fuel containers into port fuel tank.

0830 – The biggest Galapagos Island, Isla Isabela is spotted. It’s volcanic peaks are covered in cloud.


1200 – The chart blotter confirms with GPS our position: 00°00.000′. That white dot is Avante, and she is right on the Equator! The Captain stops Avante for a very special ceremony which will be described in the next blog. We are physically floating on the Equator! The Southern Hemisphere is ahead. Flying across the Equator in an airplane is something we have all done, but to have sailed across it just like those intrepid sailors of old did? What a thrill!


Ceremony finished, we power up Avante, and at exactly noon on Sunday, April 4, 2010, she crosses the Equator officially entering the South Pacific.


Isabela is one long island! We spend the rest of the day motoring down its coast with a significant current against us most of the time. Our SOG jumps from 5.3 knots to 7.5 when we hit a counter-current, but it is short lived. Our destination is just ahead. Tomorrow morning, if all goes well, we should arrive, but still the thought lingers. Will we ever get there?


1720 – Winds are suddenly up to 10 – 12 knots. The Captain decides to raise sail and turn off the engine so we can enjoy a final evening of sail before our arrival in port tomorrow. Crew Mate Jim, who is the best at sail trimming we have ever had on the boat, is at the helm as we continue to tack down the coast of Isabela. It’s an invigorating sail made all the more so by the knowledge that we will be at anchor in Academy Bay the next morning. The increased wind only lasts for about two hours, and the engine comes back on in the early evening.


2400  –  Captain’s Daily Report: Crossed the Equator. One more day to go!

  • Engine Hours:   22      
  • Trip Log (24 hours):  135nm  
  • Trip Log (Total):  1534nm


Day  13 – Monday, April 5th


0330 – We are a mere 5nm off the coast of Isla Santa Cruz and the harbor of Academy Bay. Crew Mate Jim turns off the engine, and we slowly sail off the coast until the morning light when we can safely enter the harbor. We are not sailing fast, but there is no need. We are here! It is so nice not to hear the engine, for 85% of the last 500nm of this trip has been done listening to that engine throb. Over 55% of the fuel we used on the trip was burned in the final four days. Without The Captain’s careful monitoring of fuel use, we would have had a very difficult time getting over these last 500nm, and Academy Bay would have indeed seemed a long way away.

0700 – The Captain, on watch, continues the slow sail toward Academy Bay.


0800 – The yellow Quarantine Flag (Q-flag) is raised to alert Customs that they have a vessel in the harbor needing clearance. It will remain there until we are officially cleared into Equator and the Galapagos Islands.


0915 – Turn on engine. Take down sails. Academy Bay is ahead, and we are amazed at the number of boats we see at anchor.

We motor into the harbor right on schedule – almost exactly 12 days after we left Manzanillo.


0950 – Anchored in Bahia Academia below the town of Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz in the Islas Galapagos. 

We have arrived, and none of us is any worse from the wear and tear of an open-water passage. Though not a difficult passage, it was challenging. The First Mate is delighted with her first long passage but not so delighted that she wants to head right back out again. A week or so of land activity will be appreciated greatly. We are all eager now to clear customs and set about exploring all that the Galapagos Islands have in store for us. We’re here!


Passage Summary

12 Days
1572 total nm
Sailed 938 of those miles
Motored 634 of those miles

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