Long distance sailors will tell you that toward the end of a passage they almost don’t want to make landfall, lulled by the rhythms of the sea and the watch schedule, the peace and isolation from outside concerns, life stripped down to bare essentials. Even though we had just experienced an emotional trauma there was a bit of that going on when we dropped the anchor in Isabela, especially when we were pressured right away by the authorities to explain ourselves. Really? After what we’ve just been through? Could we not have just a few hours to tidy up the boat, take a shower, read our email and begin to take stock of our situation? Plus, we need a hug.
The Pacific migration is a season-long movement of yachts from North America to Polynesia and groups of boats leave from various ports together for safety and company. Friends we’d spent the summer with in Grenada left weeks ahead of us and were already making landfall in the Marquesas because of our delay in Puerto Rico getting our autopilot sorted out. We’d left with Tehani-Li whom we’d just met but got to know touring Isabela. Now we were returning to an anchorage without any expectation of seeing familiar faces, but as we neared the island we could see on AIS the Dutch boat Deesse. We’d met them in Panama and shared quite a few happy hours before transiting the canal. We also had an email from Dirk, crew of Dancing Bear, telling us he’d come to Isabela by ferry to tour the volcano. What luck!
Pieter and Monique stopped by as we were rallying ourselves to lower the dinghy and head ashore to meet with the Port Captain. They didn’t know of our dismasting and watching their horrified expressions we know exactly how they felt as it dawned on them what had happened to Escape Velocity and what we are now facing. We made arrangements to meet in a few hours at the beach bar we’d enjoyed with Tehani-Li.
Jack and I were met ashore by the local agent who berated us for not coming in directly, and told us we’d be allowed only enough time to refuel and must then leave. He speaks English well but we were unable to get him to understand that we needed time to regroup and that we are a crippled sailboat, able to motor, yes, but not fully functional and therefore not safe or prepared to go to sea again right away, especially on a long upwind ocean passage. He suggested that maybe a yacht now in Panama and headed this way could bring us a mast. When we looked skeptical he assured us that people carry spare masts all the time and the authorities wouldn’t question it. We could avoid the customs duty that way, he reasoned. We felt it wise to abandon this discussion and turn to the immediate order of business, getting some fuel.
Ah, he told us, that’s a problem. Apparently one of the yachts that recently departed was having trouble fueling up and in desperation bought fuel from a fisherman at $10/gallon. That ruined it for everyone, he said, because now all the fishermen expect the yachties to pay $10. Not hardly, we said. What are our options? We’d have to go the official route, he said, and we walked into town to the Port Captain’s office for permission to purchase fuel. The Port Captain was offsite but we spent an hour explaining our situation to his assistant. He wanted to know exactly what happened, where, when, every detail. This was translated into Spanish sentence by sentence by the agent, and laboriously handwritten on a pad. We were then asked to wait outside the office while the assistant typed up a report and our official request for 30 gallons of fuel. We wanted to get more, of course, but we are low on cash and there are no ATMs on this island. We calculated the maximum we could buy and still have enough money for the few days we expect to stay here.
Another hour went by until finally Jack was presented with a document to sign and we were told to return at 8:30 the next morning for the fuel.
We met up with Pieter and Monique and Dirk and walked to the beach bar. We’re finally with people we know and who fully understand our situation and can commiserate. We hoisted a few, then went to the falafel shack for dinner. It was a late night (for us) and we dropped into bed exhausted and happy to be at anchor. But we got our hugs.
The next morning we trudged into town with our jerry jugs. Dirk met us at the Capitania and we were driven to the fuel station to get our 30 gallons. Back at the water taxi pier the armed guards challenged our right to have fuel. We showed them our official paper and that was scrutinized for a while. Our Capitania escort tried to convince the guard that it was all perfectly legitimate but the discussion went on far longer than any of us thought it should. Finally the guards relented and handed back our official document and we were free to go.
Dirk helped transfer the fuel and offered to help with whatever we needed. Jack had some engine maintenance to do but he just couldn’t rally himself and the day got away from us as we answered email, caught up on news of the world, and discovered that we were news. Several websites have copied our blog and photos without asking and we’ll have to address that somehow. But not today.
We met Pieter and Monique at the Booby Trap for beers, then walked back into town for pizza. This is the last we’ll see of Deesse and her crew and we’re sad to be leaving them. We so enjoy their company and would have loved to cruise the Pacific together. We promised to visit them in the Netherlands when we make the transition to European canal boat some time in the future.
We invited Dirk to check out of his hotel and spend the night aboard Escape Velocity, and to motor to Santa Cruz with us in the morning. He said yes to both and we’re happy to have the company. The authorities wanted us to leave as soon as we got the fuel but with our new slow speed we’ll need a full long day to motor the 40 miles to Santa Cruz. Tomorrow it is.