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We finally left Panama City on 29th November for the 40 mile trip to Isla Contadora, part of the Las Perlas archipelago.

 

It was so lovely to get away from the hustle and bustle of the City and be able to relax and walk on the beach again. We spent the next few days day-sailing between the islands and Monty was in his element having 2 long walks a day - each one on a different beach. With our new toy, it was easy to whiz around each island’s beaches running in the new outboard and finding the best places to land for Monty to run and swim. He is finally learning that swimming can be fun although he still doesn’t like the sound of the big waves crashing onto the beach and will only swim between “Mum & Dad” but it’s a start !!





On our second day we were happily pootling along when suddenly, out of the blue, we heard sirens blaring and saw 4 official looking launches hurtling towards us at great speed. Not sure what to do, we eased off and slowed down only to be ignored whilst the 2 Policia and 2 Guardia boats chased each other around the bay. After watching them in a bewildered fashion, we suddenly realised that they were being filmed by a very discreet crew lurking high up on the Island – still not sure what was being filmed but it could have been part of the American ‘Survivor’ TV series which apparently is located in the area – who knows? A bit of excitement for the day.




Unfortunately, part way through the week, we found out that our Camera had stopped working – not brilliant timing as we were just setting off into the Pacific with the Galapagos Islands our first Port of Call (not a place to be without a Camera we imagined).  After much soul searching, umming and ahhing, wondering whether we would be able to buy a Camera in Galapagos - probably not, we decided to head back to Panama City (aargh !!) to buy a new one. We headed back to Isla Contadora on 4th December ready for an early start and arrived at Balboa Yacht Club on the 5th in time to hit the shopping mall on the Saturday afternoon – great plan…. Not only was it Christmas Shopping time but apparently it was some kind of Mother’s anniversary day and the place was heaving with people – for 2 people who hate shopping, it was a nightmare !!! Anyway, we managed to find a decent camera and bought some fresh tomatoes, onions and bread for our sail to Galapagos and left the shops behind….

 

We thought we would make the most of the Yacht Club so we had a nice evening meal while waiting for our laundry to finish, topped up our water and diesel tanks and left early the next day and were back in Las Perlas in time for our Sunday Roast – in the event, not too bad a foray !!

 



The next few days were spent watching the weather and waiting for the right time to leave.


As we were now some weeks behind our original schedule, should we wait until after Monty and Vicki’s birthdays and have Christmas at Sea again or leave sooner and hopefully get to Galapagos in time for Christmas ? Decisions, decisions !!

 



In the end, we opted to leave Friday 11th December giving us ample time to get to the Galapagos Islands (918 miles) in time for Christmas.


We hauled up the anchor and sailed through the Islands at 6 knots with our Cruising Chute flying proudly in perfect conditions thinking what a fabulous trip we were going to have. Oh dear….

 

Each night at 1am it rained heavily for about 3 hours but, on our third night, the heavens opened at midnight and it proceeded to rain heavily and consistently for 36 hours non-stop. We were cold and miserable and the sea was very bouncy. This wasn’t the plan. Where was our downwind sail and our assisting 2 knot current ? Why had we left Las Perlas behind ? As you can tell, we were a tad despondent but at least none of us were actually sick – projectile vomiting would have been the “icing on the cake” !!

 




For the next few days, we made little progress towards our target doing long tacks at 300’ trying to get some Westerly miles under our belt. Our weather gribs showed Southerlies at around 2’N so we changed tactics and headed between 125’ and 160’ to try and get closer to the Equator. The sea state was still very lumpy and we were only making 3/5 knots.


At least we had a little bit of sunshine for Monty’s birthday on the 16th but it didn’t last long and the Southwesterly winds kept on coming….

 




In the midst of all this fun, our Battery Charger Regulator packed in. Roger initially bypassed this which meant that we had to turn on all our lights, bilge pumps etc when we were running the engine to charge our batteries to ensure they didn’t overcook. This being monitored down below in a very bouncy sea – not a good combination. Once the seas calmed down later in the journey, Rog repaired the broken wire properly so all was well again.


However, on the 17th, the raw water Engine alarm went off so yet another repair job required – this time a quick change of the impeller was needed. No problem except insufficient power to run the Autohelm and Vicki hand steering in 25 knots of wind. Needless to say, we ended up doing a 360’ turn following a backed Genoa and the towed Aquagen (Battery charger) managed to get caught around the propeller. Luckily, we noticed and at 16.30 we hove to and Roger went over the side and under the boat to sort it out whilst Vicki fed out the safety line and Monty had a hysterical panic attack (lucky it was that way around!!). At least we had had a practice run when we got a Genoa Sheet wrapped around the prop mid Atlantic… Anyway, no damage done and we were all safely back on board.

 

We were keeping a daily tally of distance covered each day and miles to go and it was quite disappointing to see that between 11am on the 17th and 18th, we were actually 5 miles further away from Galapagos – Just what Vicki wanted to see on her Birthday!!


She awoke on the cabin floor surrounded by cushions and dog toys knowing that the trip could only get better…



She enjoyed the day as much as anyone can with a very lumpy sea, no alcohol and a sustained apparent wind of 25/28 knots although Roger did spoil her with warm boiled egg sandwiches as a Birthday treat. It wasn’t the Firefly but was certainly a day to remember… After 7 days at Sea we still had 544 miles to go – what progress !! 





We were waiting for the third thing to go wrong and, sure enough, we didn’t have to wait too long… Our newly installed Autohelm Drive Unit ripped off the bulkhead. This took about 2 hours for Rog to bodge (pending a full repair once we were safely in Galapagos). We were now getting even more pi**ed off as we had not expected this lumpy sea, wind direction and lack of favourable current.




There was much talk of returning to a nice country cottage with a big warm log fire, a decent pint at the local Pub etc etc. However, the new strategy was working and, although we were only averaging 4 knots and heading 20/30’ more North than we wanted, at least we had a flatter Sea and a happier crew.

 

Finally, on the 22nd, the wind changed to the South (15/18 knots) and we could achieve 4.5 / 5 knots on target with only 246 miles to go. Yabbadabbadoo – the end was near and we could put up with the swell for a bit longer.
 




We finally crossed the Equator at 9.30pm (local time) on the 23 December and Roger had a quick nip of Rum to toast Neptune –we had originally planned a proper ‘Equator Crossing’ party but at this point in our trip it just wasn’t the right time !

 




Christmas Eve saw us with Santa Cruz (one of the Islands in the Galapagos archipelago) visible in the distance although we had to tack (and keep tacking) to get around the Island which was directly in the way of Isla Isabella (our nominated chosen island). We saw our GPS mark “62 miles to go” 7 times during the day but at least we knew we would be arriving at some point during Christmas Day…