After 7 weeks of land travel in Ecuador and back in Tacoma (December through January), we arrived back at our slip in Ensenada ready to rumble. Our plan had been to spend two days getting Galapagos ready to go, but that was, of course, ridiculous. We spent 5 days, one of them doing almost nothing because we were in grief at the loss of our beloved dog, Skippy. The boat was filthy from diesel exhaust from the cruise ships and had to be scrubbed on the outside and lightly cleaned inside. We had National Park permits to buy, a Zarpe to get from the Port Captain, and an alternator to install. While I provisioned at the local Costco and supermarkets, Mike installed his new Balmer 100 amp alternator for the engine.
The 60 amp alternator we had wasn’t really powerful enough to charge the batteries efficiently and after going round and round about choices, Mike decided to just do things the ‘easy’ way and put this 100 amp Balmer model on. It was supposed to be quick and easy: take off the old one and replace it with this shinier, more powerful model. We picked it up at Fisheries Supply in Seattle while we were home and managed to get it over the border with no extra fees.
Nothing ever really goes as planned and so it came to pass that the belt that came with his refit kit was too short. He needed a different belt. So we adventured around Ensenada looking for the right belt. After a number of false starts, we finally found a place that sold alternator belts, called ‘bandas’ in Mexico, and he bought 4. You can’t have too many alternator belts. Many thanks to Linda and Bill Hoge-Pattison, cruisers who ferried us around Ensenada in their truck in search of good beer and bandas. So we left Ensenada with a shiny new alternator, extra belts, our Mexican National Park passes, fishing licenses, and a packed fridge. Onward to Guadeloupe Island.
By the way fellow cruisers. If you are traveling down to the Sea of Cortez you will need a National Park permit in order to anchor and go ashore at any of the protected areas. The Mexican government has just made this easier for you if you have an Android device. You can use this app to get the permit, which costs an earth shattering 350 pesos, about $18.50 US dollars for a year. You’ll get an email confirming your purchase. Then you can print it out if you want a hard copy. Or do what we did: go to an office supply store where they can print it for you in color for 5 pesos. They should have an IOS version at some point. Anyhow… we needed this permit in order to anchor at Guadeloupe, not that anyone cared we were there.
Most people don’t bother to sail to Guadeloupe Island. It’s about 150 or so miles offshore and isn’t really ‘cruiser friendly’. Most cruisers tend to hug the coast. But it is a perfect run with wind and swell coming from the north and west: a long tack out to the island, and then a long tack back toward the Baja peninsula to either Turtle Bay, or, in our case, Asuncion. And thus it proved. We had an idyllic passage; one for the cruising brochure. And the island is completely stunning, even though we didn’t go ashore.
Going ashore there is by permission only. The Mexican Navy has an outpost on the island and it’s likely we would have received permission to go ashore had we asked. But the wind and seas were fairly big while we were there and going ashore would have meant a rough dinghy landing as well as leaving Galapagos alone. We decided against it. Sometimes disappointing decisions have to be made in the name of safety.
If all the passages we make could be like the one to Guadeloupe Island, I’d probably be glad to make passages. Here are some of my notes from my travel journal. Notes in parentheses are explanatory notes.
“ February 4, 2018 1830
Mike is below trying to rest and suddenly our little space ship is heeling and going 6.5 knots. The ride is no longer pleasant and I look at the compass heading. It should be about 200 degrees and instead reads 250. WTF? (My way of saying ‘what the fuck’? I talk like a sailor in my head.) Why isn’t Carly (our windvane) doing her job? I tweak her steering cables this way and that and get her back on course, but she quickly steers us upwind again. I tweak again and still she can’t hold the course. I think that the mizzen sail is blanketing Carly’s little red sail too much and she cannot read the wind. I hear Mike below attending to things we forgot to put away, now shifted or on the floor. He comes above and finds me at the wheel trying to keep us on course as we fly blindly through the night. He suggests letting out the mizzen, which requires him to go onto the aft deck and release the sheet. Honestly this sail is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth but we don’t take it down at night, or at least not unless we have to. He plays games with Carly, getting the same response as I do. He agress that the mizzen sail may be the culprit. We decide to use the autopilot instead of the wind pilot. (The auto pilot uses electricity to steer us, the wind pilot uses the wind to steer.) I suddenly realize we have either forgotten to name our autopilot, or I’ve forgotten its name.
It was fun going 6.5 knots, but in the dark 3-4 knots is good by me. If I’m going to hit something, I’d like to be going slow. We talk about how we both fantasize about getting rid of the mizzen sail altogether since we actually rarely sail with it. The aft deck was so much nicer without it when we were doing repairs to the deck there. We loved it.
2/5/18 0200-0600 shift
No sleep to speak of during my off hours. I lay in Mike’s bunk on the leeward side of the boat but the motion is still too much. By the time I finally decide to move to the midship cabin, it’s too late to get rest. Note to self: just ALWAYS make up the berth in the midship cabin for night passages. Regardless. Just do it. With the earplugs in there is no sound, no light, only motion. I check my clock at 1:22 AM. 25 minutes before the alarm. May as well get up. Make coffee.
I emerge to a moon filled sea. I it were not for the ever-present condensation at night I would be able to see the water from my perch on the downwind side of the cockpit, legs stretched out under a blanket. At least I can see the water.
I would love to have crew on passages like this. People always seem suprised when they find out it’s just the two of us aboard. But why wouldn’t it be? We never think twice about that, really, but mostly because, well, who would we ask? We would have to know the person very well. Most people we know would have to be on a schedule. How would that work? I mean, we left a full 4 days later than we had planned from Ensenada. Andrew (our son) is the only other sailor we know who we’d feel comfortable with right off the mark. But it would really be nice to have another person to share watches with. I just get so dog tired.
There is literally nothing out here. We are doing about 5.3 knots, dead on target. Almost too good to be true; we are still sailing.
3:30 AM and I’ve played enough games of Solitaire. My mind begins to drift to how I’d like to live after this adventuring part is over. (Long rambling narrative about my fantasy house is left out here for your convenience and attention span.)
Slept hard from 0600-0830. Not enough, but I had to get up to use the head. Winds have lightened a bit and we are making 4 knots at 193 degrees. Swells are a bit larger and the water is mixed smaller swells on the surface, making conditions pretty rough down below. Last night I was sitting beside the autopilot and must have accidentally hit the ‘standby’ button (which pauses the autopilot). So Galapagos was heading upwind again to 260 degrees and the ride was rough, feeling like the wind had picked up suddenly. We were heeling over and going close to 8 knots, crashing into the seas. After spilling wind from the sails and fretting that we had not reduced sail by enough I noticed the compass heading. Oy! It was a much better ride after that got sorted. I should always check the compass heading first when something feels wrong. It’s a lot easier that way. We are 94 miles from our waypoint at the south end of Guadeloupe Island.
I had a nap in the midship cabin. We are still making about 4 knots. We had to slow the boat down after motoring a bit so we wouldn’t arrive at the anchorage during darkness.
I forget how this kind of thing beats up my body. Walking is so hard, getting flung around, especially below. I can wedge into that little cabin berth and not really feel the movement of the boat too much. But as soon as I try to sit up I get flung out of the bed. Also the nights are so long and dark. I’m out of shape and not used to the boat again yet. That makes it harder for me this time out. The swells are big and it seems like they are right on the beam no matter what we do. No wildlife except for 1 diving bird who tried to get Mike’s fishing lure. He reeled it in to keep the bird off it. No fish, which is just as well.
As the sun goes down I notice the deck light on the mast is dangling by its wires. A halyard has been left unsecured at the bitter end and has wrapped around the light, pulling it loose. How did that happen? Well, that’s a project. The wind is dying and the mainsail is flapping. I change the heading a bit in order to catch whatever wind we can. We have 3.3 knots and I don’t want to motor all night. I am glad to have only one sail to manage right now.
Feb 6, 2018 0700ish
I see hazy land close by through the port of my bunk. I have overslept because my battery on my phone died and Mike took pity on a tired sailor and let me sleep. We are at Guadeloupe Island. We are here! Stark volcanic cones rise close to the water, reddish hills against the unrelieved greys of the rest of the land. The water is almost glassy on this side of the island. We motored slowly through part of the night to arrive at daylight and give ourselves a break from the unrelenting swells.
As we travel down the lee of this island Mike and I both can hear what sounds like music, or people maybe. Likely it is unseen seals, but it does give rise to stories about sea people or islands that sing. Sounds echo off the cliffs and it sounds sometimes like children playing or calling to one another. There are seals but I cannot see what kind. There are calls that are different than what I’ve heard before. They blend into the rocks so well that the sounds seem to come from nowhere and the whole place has a spooky feel.
By 9:00 AM we are anchored in Caleta Mepomene. Indifferent to our needs for rest, as we came around the corner of Morro Sur the wind hit our flat protected water with big gusts. Anchoring conditions are not ideal but Mike needs sleep and I hear the calls of seals on the beach. This is elephant seal habitat and I see large grey beings blending in on the rocks. I hear the grunt of an elephant seal. We drop anchor in 26 feet of prussian blue water and let out 150 feet of chain, plus another 25 feet for the snubber. The anchor sets immediately, firmly, on a flat bottom. We are well out of the thundering surf and hope the wind will die down as predicted.
I want to go sleep but I am too excited about being here. I stay in the cockpit and watch wildlife and incredible scenery. I think there are fur seals on the beach (in addition to the elephant seals), and two large porpoises laze their way through the anchorage surfacing slowly right behind the boat. They are not dolphins. They move slowly, like the harbor porpoises in our home waters. There are only two of them, and they stick together. I wish I had a cetacean field guide. Put that on the list for when we get home. The seals call to each other in this high, eerie voice that sounds like the wailing of lost souls.
Now the sun has gone down and it’s pitch black out here. Nothing but the stars, the sound of the earth breathing its wind, and the sounds of seals calling to each other in their wailing song. If it were warmer, I’d sleep on the deck just to hear them calling through the night.”
Finishing this up at anchor just outside San Jose Del Cabo. We’ve reached the end of the peninsula! A milestone to be sure.
Listen to the spooky sounds of the seals calling to each other on the beach at Caleta Mepomene on Guadeloupe island. Turn your volume all the way up. Sound is best about halfway through.
S/V Galapagos, out.