June 26, 2014
Passage Note #63: Back to Ecuador: Nautical Rodeo Reprise
Going to weather. Uphill. The Bash. Being Close hauled. Slogging through it.
These are ways sailors describe a journey where you’ll be going against the wind and waves which are coming from the direction you want to go. (Sailing mechanics preclude you going straight into the wind, you have to maintain a minimum of 45 or 50 degrees from the direction of the wind).
There’s no getting around it - doing this for days is not a comfortable journey. Add to that squalls with fluky winds, rain, and lightning; or constant reefing, unreefing and deck work for sail adjustments; strong current against you; having the boat stifling hot and unventilated because it’s closed up tight against spray, green water on the decks or rain; or extreme angled sleeping splintered into abnormal watch shifts (not to mention cooking or bathroom activities at extreme angles).......and you compound the discomfort.
There is no way to make the trip more comfortable except to go by plane. Any way we can think of to compensate for comfort will have us paying the piper one way or another.
The Nautical Rodeo Reprise
So we just did it - again - a repeat of the nautical rodeo we described in PN #49 - this time leaving from Puerto Armuelles in Western Panama (instead of nearby Costa Rica) to get back to Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. It would have been possible to depart earlier in the year with more favorable winds (not so directly against us) but we were prevented from doing so by timing issues relating to our Ecuadorian visa; we had to arrive in Ecuador 365 days from when we arrived last year - June 21 - in order to get the T-3 Visa we wanted.
Dilapidated pier. We checked out of the country with Panamanian officials who came out to our boat to do the paperwork.
View of Baru Volcano in the background
This trip felt a little better than last year’s. In this year’s bull riding rodeo event, we drew a cow for 2 days (calm enough to be able to read or work on the computer below), a full on brahmin the third day (hold on! black and blue marks guaranteed!) and a pasture bull for the last two days (wild and bouncy but relatively tamable).
Our seas were a bit crazy. First we had a large southerly swell with a SW, SSW cross swell over the top - add to that current against wind and a 15 knot breeze and we had a 35 knot sea state. We had a double-reefed main and double-reefed headsail trying to keep the boat from beating us up. Oh yeah, throw into that mix never having a wind direction that lasted for more than 6 hours!
Total passage details: 5 days and 6 hours, sailing 580 miles......about the same as last year, with a little tweaking of our sailing strategy.
Putting Money in the Bank (Making Westing)
This time we made sure to make more westing (staying high or west of the direct line from departure to destination, called a rhumb line) earlier and more assiduously so that we stayed at a better angle to the wind and avoided costly tacking (costly in terms of time and total distance). We had to stay west to avoid being pushed too far east by wind, currents and swells. We call this westing mileage “putting money in the bank.” We struggled and persevered to put money in the bank 24/7 - every moment is focused on eking out a little more westing; sometimes you just can’t help it if it gets taken out (usually by a disadvantageous wind shift that “heads you” and won’t allow you to steer further westerly).
We made one long tack west from Puerto Armuelles and then didn’t have to tack west again. This time we set the initial waypoint 65 miles west of Isla Malpelo (about halfway down the track off of Colombia). Last year we set it at 20 miles. In either case we could never lay either course but understood the issue of staying as far west as possible at all times. It wasn't until we were 60 miles off Cabo Pasado - our initial destination - that we cracked off 7-10 degrees and roared down the final miles. Sometimes we were steering 50 degrees above the rhumb line with “40 miles in the bank”!!
Pointing Higher with the Engine
The second difference was something we hadn’t done before: run the iron jenny (our engine) at low speeds (slightly above idle at 1000 RPM) while we are sailing to keep us pointing 2-3 degrees higher into the wind and waves.
Last year we ran the engine sparingly - only when necessary to charge the batteries - as is our usual practice, using only 5 gallons of diesel. This was partly due to our philosophy of sailing exclusively when we can sail, partly because we carry so little fuel - 30 gallons in our tank and 25 gallons in the auxiliary jugs that we keep in the cockpit (we keep clear decks - no jugs tied on, no solar panels on the rails, no toys like kayaks). So our fuel consumption is very frugal by sailing habit and we also like avoiding the expense. Another factor was that we knew our diesel replenishment in Ecuador would be so cheap - only $1/gallon because of governmental price subsidies. So we splurged and used 20 gallons this trip.
We were once again, like last year, relieved to anchor at Cabo Pasado - 20 miles north of Bahia de Caraquez - to recuperate. It felt great to be able to walk vertically and sleep horizontally again. Although the anchorage is a rolly open roadstead with minimal protection from the swell by a reef at low tide, we stayed here for 4 days waiting (again because of our visas) to enter Bahia which has to be done at high tide.
Our friends Debi and Victor on SV Serenity who had left from Boca Chica, Panama, arrived and joined us for one day. Then we both left in the middle of the night to time our arrival outside the Bahia entrance for our 10:30 a.m. appointment with the port pilot who would escort us in past the sand bars and low water areas.
Means get dinner ready and change watch as darkness approaches. Luckily we had a full moon which always makes night watches better!
Back at Puerto Amistad
So now we are on our calm mooring in front of Puerto Amistad once again. We are so comfortable, and so happy that the rodeo is behind us and that our post-trip amnesia has kicked in once more!
We received a wonderfully warm welcome from Tripp and Maye and our friends on staff at Puerto Amistad that made it feel like a homecoming. It’s been fun to recognize familiar local faces when walking around town. The same fishermen are hanging out at the panga dock. Elvis, Linda's source for archeological pottery beads and figurines, gave her a big hug when she approached his street stall. The market shopkeepers are there selling their goods with big smiles every day. The bicycle-taxi drivers are still peddling around town.
There are 29 boats moored or anchored here so far (a lot more than last year) and a few more are due to arrive soon. We are waiting for some of our friends to return from visits to their home countries, having Sunday barbeque potlucks with the cruisers who are here, and are reconnecting with our ex-cruiser friends and other ex-pats who live in Ecuador. Looking forward to a big Fourth of July celebration!
Boat projects - repairs and major cleaning and de-mildewing - are now taking precedence as we get Jacaranda sparkling and shipshape again. Linda is searching for a studio space to continue creating some artwork. That leaves a little bit of leftover time to plan our first South America land trip of the season!
Next up: Inland travel to somewhere in South America - either north to Colombia or south to Chile!
At our anchorage at Cabo Pasado, Ecuador. Whales, just beginning their northward migration, were spouting and breaching off in the distance.
Pedro piloted us in behind SV Serenity
Happily on our mooring at Puerto Amistad