Running Diary of Passage to the Galapagos

In order to share the mind-numbing tedium of a long passage, I have kept a running journal describing the journey from Panama to the Galapagos.

Thursday, March 9 – We haul anchor in Balboa at 3:00 PM and depart Panama to little or no fanfare. We are accompanied by Invictus IV and Geodesic and plan to maintain regular radio communication for safety and entertainment purposes. Invictus, a steel sloop, departs ahead of us and we quickly catch up. Geodesic, a lightweight racer, departs after us and he soon catches up to us. And so it goes.

Friday, March 10 – The winds are 5 knots out of the southeast, gusting to 6 knots with seas of about 6 inches. We pass through several blood tides, which look like massive amounts of blood in the water, but I am told is just red algae. Interesting and disgusting at once. Perhaps because of the miasma of algae, the fish seem to be lining up to be caught. In less than six hours, we managed to catch five tuna and two dorado. We threw all but one of the dorado back since we figured that we would catch fish the entire way and we naturally prefer fresh fish. Nothing can go wrong now. The winds are light, so we raise the cruising chute (asymmetrical spinnaker) to move us along. Mercifully, we manage to fly the sail without tearing it again, which is a small moral victory to start the trip. Geodesic pulls away from us in the light winds as our 14-ton hull insists on more than a light breeze to push us through the water. Is it evil to wish for a horrific storm to even the playing field? Meanwhile, Invictus gives up trying to make headway in an even heavier boat than mine and kicks on the engine. Far be it from me to call anyone a cheater, but motoring in a sailboat strikes me as similar to playing tennis with the nets down. Sure it is easy, but isn’t it the journey that matters? I wish I had a reliable engine.

Saturday, March 11 – No wind. Something about a painted ship on a painted ocean. I break down and use the engine for a few hours. Invictus and Geodesic pull further away. No fish. About 20 dolphins play around the boat. I wonder what dolphin tastes like. Probably not as good as turtle. Zach seems eerily quiet. I see the Southern Cross for the first time and I’m pretty sure I understand now why I came this way. (Actually, it’s the second time since I’ve been to the southern hemisphere before, but probably the first time from a boat.)(No, on second thought, I’ve seen the Southern Cross from a boat before, too. But, surely, it is the first time from my boat). A big to-do.

Sunday, March 12 – The wind blows hard at nearly seven knots out of the south. We blast along under the staysail and jib. Still, our top speed is only about four knots. Thank Allah for the two knots of favorable current that has helped us most of the way. No fish. Zach is plotting, I can see it in his mad eyes. The swine. Scoundrel. Reprobate. Dirty rogue. I must strike first. Invictus and Geodesic must be in on the dastardly plot – they could be hiding just around the corner.

Monday, March 13 – Finally, the wind touches 10 knots and Audentes groans to life. Flying the cruising chute, we make haste for the equator. The seas remain calm although the sky becomes overcast with a few dark clouds in the distance. No fish. Seriously, how is it possible to sail nearly 400 miles with three lures out and not catch a single frigging fish? I would think that dumb luck would cause us to at least spear some unlucky bastard in the side. Maybe there aren’t more fish in the sea. Damn his mutinous plot. He has cunning, I’ll grant him that, but his treachery must be punished. And punished in full.

Tuesday, March 14 – During the night, the winds build to 15 knots and we temporarily resemble a sailboat. Less encouraging, storm clouds circle and lightning can be seen in the distance. I suppose that the boat should be safe if hit by lighting, but how can one really tell? Considering that they are sticking a tall metal pole in the ocean, you would think that the yacht designers would take care of this, right? Assuming the boat didn’t sink, most of the electronics would probably be fried and I would be forced to follow birds and airplanes to a safe harbor. Here is to hoping that God chooses another day to smite me down. I dream that I am submerged in water and thrown in every conceivable direction. I am pummeled from all sides and rained down on with terrifying shrieks and groans. After hitting my head on the wall for the tenth time, I realize this isn’t a dream. If God gets me through this and has a bevy of beautiful damsels waiting for me in the Galapagos ready to fix all that is broken on my boat and attend to my every need, I swear that I will count myself among the faithful followers. Enough demands of God. I believe. I believe. I believe. Really, I believe. We see the first ship in several days. I sense a conspiracy. Something is afoot. Fie on them all.

Wednesday, March 15 – Yesterday’s blasphemy has been rewarded with today’s illness. I am suffering either from a stomach virus or else something that I ate did not agree with me. The leading suspects are hot dogs and canned sardines. At least I know that it wasn’t fresh fish. There are probably a few worse places to have stomach problems than a boat that is constantly pitching and rolling and has arguably the least comfortable toilet this side of Calcutta, but, at the moment, I can’t think of any. On the upside, at least the engine is overheating. Just in time for the doldrums. We almost caught a bird. I fear I may be poisoned. The end is nigh. He is looking at me and seems to be reading my every … what a rouge he is … never mind, never mind … silence!

Thursday, March 16 – At 12:28 PM EST, we sailed across the equator and entered the southern hemisphere. Perhaps I am gullible, but I was told that immediately upon crossing the equator, the direction that water drains would change from clockwise to counterclockwise. I am nothing if not curious, so I decided to test this theory. Shockingly, right at the equator the water seemed to drain straight down and, soon after (less than two miles), the direction in fact did turn counterclockwise. I was also informed that after sailing across the equator, it is now socially acceptable to get an earring. Even so, I have no immediate plans to take advantage of this new privilege. Instead of taking the first step on the slippery slope towards buggery, we celebrated crossing the equator with cheap champagne, cheap caviar, and good Cuban cigars provided by our friend Peter on Geodesic, who recently sailed to Panama from Cuba. Granted, our friends on Geodesic probably crossed the equator at least a day ahead of us and the foul morning-after cigar aftertaste had probably long faded for them, but the cigars were a pleasant addition to the celebration. The afternoon was spent swimming in the open water as we wallowed in the doldrums. We intentionally slowed our progress as much as possible, so as not to arrive in the Galapagos during the night, where navigation of an unknown harbor would be difficult, especially considering the strong current and the engine running hot. I think I saw a fish in the water today, but I can’t be sure. As we close in on the Galapagos, the nervous agitation that has simmered in Zach throughout the week seems to be reaching a crescendo. His eyes dart to and fro, he paces constantly, and his every mutinous thought can be seen to pass over his grim mug in a chilling wave. Time is running out.

Friday, March 17 – The sun rose this morning to reveal the barren, mountainous landscape of the islands that Melville called the “Enchanted Isles.” After 997.6 miles of traveling, we dropped anchor in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos seven and a half days after departing Panama. Although this matches the longest passage that I have completed, this trip was among the most comfortable that I have experienced, sickness and stark raving mad crew aside.

So far, the Pacific Ocean appears to be calmer and colder than the Atlantic, though the fish do not seem to be nearly as abundant or hungry. If the rest of the Pacific provides as nice sailing as the first leg, I think I am going to greatly enjoy this ocean. For now, I am looking forward to exploring the Galapagos and finally getting off this ship full of lunatics.

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