Galapagos island hopping (MV Santa Cruz II)

Our parts arrived very quickly in Panama City, thanks to Maria and Cathy. As we knew we would have at least another week waiting for them to be brought to us via another cruiser, Ian and I decided to have a few days on a cruise ship exploring some of the islands we couldn’t get to on Sea Cloud. We left JoAnne and Bill with Sea Cloud and caught the ferry to Santa Cruz where we joined the cruise. ship Santa Cruz II for 4 wonderful days of being looked after, eating very well, meeting interesting people and seeing the most amazing places full of wildlife.

IMG_3584IMG_3808IMG_3840IMG_3901IMG_3970IMG_4000IMG_4015IMG_4127IMG_4336IMG_4388

Galapagos – San Cristobal

Our checkin to Galapagos went smoothly. Eight officials boarded our boat, the diver went down to check the bottom, cupboards were opened, foodstuff and safety gear checked, forms signed, money paid and Sea Cloud and crew were cleared to stay for 60 days in Galapagos. We used water taxis in and out of town as there is nowhere to put your dinghy. We wouldn’t want to leave one here anyway as it would quickly become a bed for one of the many resident sea lions.

 

IMG_3235

We were welcomed by a few pups sitting on the end of the jetty. They are so cute and there are so many of them playing in the ‘creche’ pond. You never tire of their antics.

IMG_3229Sea Cloud’s bottom step was a comfortable spot for this sea lion pup.IMG_3361IMG_3370

Monique and Dick from Umnyama had been here for a few days, so filled us in on their favourite spots. Sea lions loved sleeping on their transom. They were happy to have them there, but not so happy when they realised one had slept overnight on their cockpit table!

Our first walk took us to the magical Tijeretas Cove, which very quickly became our favourite spot. Snorkelling with the playful sea lion pups was very special. They are so unafraid, and obviously don’t know about the park rule of keeping 2m between humans and wildlife. Their cheeky face would come right up to your mask, then they’d dart below you. The more we tumbled, the more they copied. So much fun. The bay was different each time we visited, we saw sea lions and pelicans feeding on huge balls of small fish. We also saw rays, turtles, iguanas blue footed boobies as well as many colourful fish.

IMG_3243

IMG_3704Our other favourite spot was La Loberia, a surf beach on the southern cove. The cliffs beyond the beach was a wonderful spot for viewing nesting swallow tailed gulls, watching blue footed boobies fishing, frigate birds swooping and the elegant red billed tropic bird.

IMG_3475

You had to take care not to tread on the marine iguanas on the footpaths. They blend in so well to the dark lava.IMG_3389

A tour across the island to climb the extinct volcano, visit the giant tortoise breeding centre.

IMG_3535

San Cristobal town is small, laid back and friendly. There are sea lions everywhere along the beachfront and town dock.

IMG_7622

Panama City to Galapagos

After final farewells at Balboa Yacht Club and last minute shopping done, we left Panama City.

A_IMG_7476This passage was the most pleasant we have had by far. We had steady winds on our beam, a 2knot current behind us and calm seas. Having JoAnne and Bill on board meant lots of sleep, laughs, good food and fun for all.

The only hiccup was the burning out of our fan belt when the idler pulley failed. Pretty scary to have black smoke coming from the engine room, but a relief to find it was not a fire. Ian and Bill spent the next day building a replacement pulley from bits on the boat, and it worked!!

We crossed the equator during the night, so postponed our celebration until the following day.

equator screen

 

C_IMG_3109

Crossing the equator was celebrated in style. We wore crowns made by JoAnne, while we told stories, and sipped  French champagne as we toasted our conversion from shellbacks to polliwogs (or is it the other way around?).

us equatorIMG_3121

As we wouldn’t make it into port by the evening, we hove to off the top of San Cristobal to clean the hull and to take many photographs posing with our new friends, a pair of red footed boobies perched on our pulpit.

GA_IMG_3153

GA_IMG_3194

As the sun rose over Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion) we drifted down in the current towards San Cristobal Wreck Bay anchorage with the dolphins and sea lions swimming around us.

LandHo2_IMG_3210GA_IMG_3216Bill pushed Sea Cloud along using the tender and we safely anchored. Very exciting to finally be in the Galapagos!

 

 

 

 

Las Perlas Islands

Carnivale over, we left Panama city and its very busy waterways headed for Las Perlas islands, about 40Nm from Panama.

IMG_2871

IMG_2872
Our first day out we caught our only fish for the trip. Hard to believe as there were fish everywhere!

IMG_2876

Bill demonstrated the art of filleting the tuna for sashimi.

IMG_2878

The islands were lovely.  Contadora, is the closest to Panama City. It is the most populated island, a popular getaway spot for Panamanians.  It was a very pleasant spot to anchor and explore.IMG_2886

Contadora has a colourful history. The abandoned hotel with its beached ferry were apparently owned by a Colombian drug lord. Once his plane exploded mid air with him aboard, his wife was no longer able to afford running the resort. Such a shame to see the graceful old wooden buildings in ruinIMG_2897The bird life, especially around the southern islands was incredible. Huge flocks of black birds would pass the boat in formation, congregate on the beach for about 30minutes, then leave again. An amazing site.IMG_3047

IMG_3049

We never tired of watching the pelicans flying past and then diving for dinner.IMG_2909

To our great excitement we spotted whales off Elephante Island. It was rather scary but wonderful to have these giants frolicking in the water around the boat. We slowed right down to watch the whales and the huge schools of rays which swam past the boat.

IMG_2921IMG_2920IMG_2956IMG_2981We were all very keen to visit Isla San Telmo, the location of the wreck of a 1860s pearling submarine. The sub was abandoned in 1869 following many deaths due to decompression sickness.  JoAnne and Bill had been wanting to visit this treasure for years.  Low tide was the perfect time for viewing the sub. It is a such shame that this important part of history is just rotting away in this isolated location.

IMG_3032IMG_3036

Anchored on the south coast of Isla Del Rey, we explored the Rio Cacique River by dinghy. Beautiful and fun, but didn’t spot any crocs or other wildlife.

IMG_3037

JoAnne, a ham radio operator finally proved that our SSB worked by chatting with some ham operators in Virginia. We are looking forward to using it to communicate with other cruisers as we head out into the Pacific.

IMG_3244We anchored near San Bernando Islet, on Isla Pedro Gonzalez, looking forward to the walks ashore amongst the herb plantations described in Bauhaus, our very good pilot book. Unfortunately the beachfront has been taken over by the Ritz Carlton, so although we could anchor there and take our dinghy ashore, access any further was forbidden.

IMG_7441IMG_7430

It was great to meet up with Karen and Chris on Skabenga for beach walks, drinks, dinner and hilarious card games….

IMG_7438

We’re now back in Panama city to await our French Polynesian visas and to do a final provision before our much anticipated trip to Galapagos.

Panama City Carnivale

Transit over, we settled into life on our mooring buoy at Balboa Yacht Club, watching the passing traffic, catching up with other cruisers and enjoying Panama city.

IMG_4448

IMG_3195

IMG_7170

Las Perlas Islands

We had timed our arrival perfectly, managing to coincide with Carnivale.

IMG_7303IMG_7324IMG_7333

Carnivale in Panama is a huge 5 day event with parades and all night parties. The ‘schedule’ was very fluid, never seeming to correspond with the anything we read, or were told. The police on site (and there were masses of them!) were the only ones who really seemed to know what was going on. Security was a huge issue, everyone (including tiny children) had to show ID and then undergo a body search before entering the fenced off parade area along the waterfront.

IMG_7279

Colourful, lively and loud parades were held each night, with the main parade being held on the last night.

 

IMG_7207

IMG_7218

 

Panama Canal

Having a scheduled canal transit date of 15th February, with high winds and seas precluding a windward passage back for another look at the San Blas Islands and little hope of transiting earlier, we headed north on a road trip exploring inland Panama. Our planned few days hiking in the small hill town of Santa Fe was cut short after one day when we “got the call” to transit in within 48hrs. The only thing predictable about Panama is that nothing is predictable and expect the unexpected! … but we weren’t complaining!

IMG_2695IMG_3069

So we left the very pleasant Coffee Mountain Inn scampered back the 300+km to Shelter Bay Marina for a last minute shop (yes – even more provisioning), boat clean, stowing of goodies and most importantly, to find line handlers for our canal transit.  We were delighted when JoAnne and Bill (both qualified commercial captains) from SY Ultra, stepped up to the plate. We were very fortunate to secure their help – both great fun with wicked sense of humour and experienced hands. This would be their 3rd canal transit.

IMG_2702

Delays and change of plan were very common throughout the transit. We left later than scheduled from ‘The Flats’ the anchorage just outside the start of the canal. Apart from the 3 yachts transiting, the only other boat in the choppy, windy anchorage (25-30knots) was the one below.  IMG_7160Ivan, our ‘advisor’ boarded us at the Flats for the transit from Colon to Gatun Lake. We passed under the new bridge which will soon connect the Shelter Bay marina side of the bay with Colon, avoiding the car ferries and water taxis which are now used to cross this busy stretch of water.IMG_3080IMG_3086This first stretch of 3 locks up to Gatun Lake was done in the dark. Once close to the locks, we were rafted up to our friends on SY Panache, a Canadian 48′ Catamaran whome we got to know in Shelter Bay.  Manoeuvring the rafted boats with a 15-20kt tail wind required intense concentration and coordination a among the skippers to avoid passing ships in the channel – especially when we were rafted together. Following the large tanker into the lock then maintaining position with the tail wind and turbulence was the next challenge. Every step of the way was a totally new experience!

IMG_3098IMG_3099The line handlers are incredibly important, dropping a line can rapidly deteriorate into the rafted yachts spinning around out of control and a high probability of hitting the very unforgiving lock sides.

IMG_3141Once the boat is secured the large lock doors close and the locks fill.

IMG_3103

IMG_3107IMG_3149IMG_3125Once the lock is filled, the linesman on the shore pull us into the next lock (there are 3 here) and the process is repeated.

 

IMG_3152Exiting the locks at about 9.30pm, we tied up on a mooring in Gatun lake, ready to repeat the process the following day.

IMG_2712

Luis, our line handler

IMG_2719After a leisurely breakfast, our advisors arrived. We were very privileged to have one of the first female trainee advisors for our transit.

IMG_2723

IMG_2762She was very conscientious and pleasant. She should do well, as she even managed to stand up to Ian. Not an easy task for a young woman.

We were very lucky to have a beautiful day and to transit in the daylight. Below is the Culebra Cut, the most difficult part in the construction of the canal.

IMG_2740

Once we had tied up in the lock we could relax for a while. Well, until the big guy started moving towards us.

IMG_2758IMG_2778

Bill thought he looked a little too close..IMG_2759

I guess its all in a days work for these guys.

IMG_2788IMG_2784The closer we were to the Pacific, the more excited we became. Miraflores lock with its webcam caused the most excitement as our friends at Shelter Bay Marina were relaying their photos to us. Sea Cloud and Beachlands (NZ cat) really do look like toy boats in front of the big fella.IMG-20180209-WA0038IMG_2861The doors of the last lock opened and we were finally in the Pacific. The turbulence in the lock and the size of the ship behind us meant that speed out of the lock was crucial.

IMG_2837

IMG_2840IMG_2845Bridge of the Americas ahead, we were now in the Pacific Ocean, only 7500Nm from Australia!

IMG_2869We are now moored off Balboa Yacht club, a great base close to Panama city. Our visit is perfectly timed to enjoy Panama’s annual Carnivale! Never a dull moment here with ships, water taxis, pilot boats constantly passing. When it’s too bumpy at anchor we retreat to the very pleasant Balboa Yacht club.

 

 

Panama City

Our time in San Blas cut short, entered the Port of Colon earlier than expected and under sail after an engine failure. Here is Ian’s account of our fun.

Made an unscheduled “emergency” passage to Panama yesterday which focused our attention and kept us wondering why we do this stuff. We were about to navigate some very tight shallow reefs in the islands when the engine (aka “green death”) decided to fail. After the WTF’s and teeth gnashing settled (having recently put this engine though a very major service at enormous expense) and only just the day before feeling very smug that I got the generator working again, we needed to decide quickly what to do.  Long story short, we had to turn around, head out to sea and embark on a 15hr (120mile) passage overnight to Panama for repairs. Sat phoned the Canal authority and got permission to enter the harbour under sail first and then had a restless night with fluky winds from 5 – 25kts, and uncomfortable confused sea while trying to keep enough sea room off the coast. Arriving 10miles from the Panama breakwater in the dark & rain, there were ships lights everywhere of course. Waited till dawn, kept out of the shipping lanes and kept the harbour master appraised by VHF each 2miles on approach. He was great and very tolerant! One mile out watching the waves crashing over the breakwater and some very shallow shoals to leeward, he asked us to slip in 10 minutes behind a huge tanker- and keep moving! At this point the wind dropped to 5kts, we had everything up and poled out genoa going nowhere. Fortunately the current wasn’t too bad and the wind then piped up to 12kts, dropped the pole, set the genoa on the other side and entered on a broad reach. We slotted in through the gap 4 minutes behind the tanker. It felt like the start line at the RPA Sat races trying to juggle boat speed and position – would have nailed a perfect start!! Then slipped across the outgoing shipping lane and dropped an anchor out of everyones way (on the edge of the explosives anchorage). Having just a entered Colon harbour and safely anchored I finally relaxed the anal sphincter. I guess it puts hairs on ones chest but some days one feels the one’s rich tapestry has enough threads in it and one just “wants a nice house, a dog and a German car” –  and a lot less adrenaline!! Cathy was absolutely fantastic throughout as we were repeatedly in situations where 2 brains were flat out with sail handling, navigation and pilotage. Even pulled out the Skippers Handbook to revise my lights and shapes with so many ships around in the dark.
Colon is pretty much as the name implies! This end of the canal is a bit weird – definitely not the “oral” end of things. I think many of the sailors, if they are not “going through”,  come here and stay here  for a long time. Anyway, we availed ourselves of happy hour and a hearty meal at Shelter Bay marina last night and crashed out by 8.30pm to fight another day.
The engine fixed (by Ian), Sea Cloud measured and a canal transit date of 15th February booked, we settled in to life in Shelter Bay Marina. There are many ‘boat jobs’ to be done prior to heading out into the Pacific, but the list is almost done! To our surprise, life in Shelter Bay is fun. There are morning yoga sessions, nature walks through the jungle looking for the elusive monkeys behind the marina, cruiser dinners, music nights (with really good music) and many interesting people to meet.
We had our first view of the canal through the marina shopping bus window as we passed by the locks.
IMG_6948IMG_6953
The tourist train from Colon to Panama City was another great opportunity to view the canal and Gatun Lake where we will anchor overnight when we transit.
IMG_6966IMG_6971Panama City was a lovely surprise. The old city is being restored, although the ‘gentrification’ is not popular among many locals who live very cheaply in the old crumbly buildings.
IMG_7067The city is a real mixture of old an new as seen from our rooftop terrace.
IMG_6975IMG_6976
We had our first view of the 5m tides that we’ll encounter on Sea Cloud in a few weeks. This will be the first time in our 7 years of cruising that we will have to think about calculations to ensure that we don’t find our dinghy hanging from the dock if we leave the lines too short. Most of the fishing boats sit on the bottom next to the fish market dock.
IMG_6990We checked out the anchorages and marinas close to Panama City – Amador and La Playita.
IMG_7060IMG_7048Then the express bus back to Colon and the marina. Love the colourful Panamanian buses!
IMG_7068