Monthly Archives: May 2014

Goodbye, Galapagos!

For the second time in a month we watched the Archipelago de Colon fade to a smear on the horizon as we motored out of Puerto Ayora and turned north. We could still see the faint outlines of Floreanna and Santa Cruz until night fell and we were left in total darkness because of heavy cloud cover. We had a late dinner of black bean chili and rice, then I took the first night watch.

The blackness was disorienting, what with no steaming light and only our deck level running lights. Even though we have AIS, I always felt confident that in a pinch I could light up the sails with our arch-mounted floodlight and give any passing ship a pretty good look at our size and characteristic. We still have the floodlight, of course, but no sails to illuminate. It’s awfully hard to get used to. Still, we work well under power and after we could make our northerly course we have the seas largely behind us and it’s not a bad ride.

About nine o’clock the clouds parted overhead and I could finally make out the horizon. Two gulls circled us all night long, flashing by as streaks of light and, as we saw in the daylight, leaving their mark on our deck and dodger.

Jack took over at midnight and we switched engines. The beauty of a catamaran — this catamaran — is that we have two equally comfortable aft cabins, one in each hull, and the off-watch can sleep in the one opposite to the engine we’re running. So I slept in the Presidential Suite, as my sister calls the guest cabin, and realized right away that I’d forgotten to address the annoying rattle of a barrel connector held by wire ties to the other side of the aft bulkhead. I discovered it first on our motor back to the Galapagos after the dismasting — no one had slept in that cabin under power before — and in our flurry of activity getting ready for the passage to Central America it just slipped through the cracks. Plus, getting to it requires the contortionist body of a Cirque du Soleil performer and a more dexterous left hand than I have, although I’m the one who installed it in the first place.

We’re making about 4.5 kts, considerably better than we did against the wind and current getting back to the Galapagos and about what we expected during these first few days. If you’re following our Spot (click the Where are we? link on the right) — if the satellites are picking us up — you’ll notice we probably won’t be motoring the rhumbline direct to Costa Rica. That’s because we’re trying to avoid adverse currents and take advantage of favorable ones.

Our job today is to think through our fuel transfer method. The big 17-gallon containers we took on to increase our capacity are too heavy to lift up to siphon height, but the alternative is a double-siphon scheme, first siphoning into a 5-gallon container, then siphoning that 5 gallons into the tank. This back and forth sounds way too boring to us so we’ll see if we can’t figure a more efficient way that won’t strain our backs.

As I write this the seas are building slightly. Jack just woke up and I’m going to take a nap.

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Today’s the day


It’s been challenging deciding our next step. We had a long range plan firmly embedded in our brains and with the dismasting all of that flew out the window and we had to rethink the entire coming year. Of course the first step is to get rerigged. With the help of our insurance company and others we knew what our options were and we’re completely comfortable with our decision to go to Costa Rica. What’s more, we’re actually getting excited about it. For one thing, we’ve never been there. And for another, I have a whole branch of the family there I’ve never met.

Long term blog readers will remember that one of my obsessions is family history research, and that one branch of my mother’s family lived in St. Thomas in the early 1800s. From Charlotte Amalie our diaspora includes New York, Philadelphia (where I was born), Puerto Rico (we met some of those cousins in January), Spain and Costa Rica. I’ve been in email and Facebook contact with the patriarch of the Costa Rica branch for many years and now we’ll get to meet him and the rest of the mespuchah. Arturo is an incredible photographer and we’ve been looking at his beautiful pictures of Costa Rica for a long time. Now we get to see and experience the place for ourselves.

We’ve been watching the winds and sea state over the past week, and while the conditions aren’t exactly as benign as we’d like, we decided that today is the day to start this long slog of a motor to Central America. We’re confident we have enough fuel. Jack has serviced the engines and we bought a bunch of extra fuel filters in case there’s any gunk in the Galapagos diesel. We’re still provisioned to the gills for the trip to the Marquesas. Our Nooks are full of ebooks, our TV’s full of movies, our IPods are full of audiobooks and podcasts. Jeez, it’s only a week, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!


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The Skipper speaks: Slow motion rescue

I don’t know. I mean what can I say, our whole world came tumbling down from above, sounding like a giant reverberating slinky while it coiled itself on the side deck. We hardly had time to blow the jib clutch and turn Escape Velocity into the wind in a vain attempt to save the rig but it wasn’t to be. It took eight seconds for the rig to hang upside down pointing towards the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. With a tearful, but rueful smile to each other we cut the last line and watched 22 years of hard work and dreams slide under the surface of the Pacific Ocean 2,500 nm shy of the Marquesas. Like our good friend Mark says it’s a sod and a bugger but there it is. It was time to save ourselves.

In aviation circles they have a wonderful truism that goes something like you never want to run out of altitude, fuel, or ideas all at the same time. We had no sails but we still had fuel and barring anything unusual we should make it back, some 440 nm, to Academy Bay, Galapagos.

As usual, the unusual happened quickly. The current and winds which we were riding to the Marquesas were now right on our nose, cutting our single engine cruising speed down to 3 plus knots and our motoring range by more than half. Not good, not good at all. It would be a close thing escapees, a very close thing. After four days we tucked in close to Isabela’s shoreline and were the beneficiaries of a one and a half knot reduction in counter current. We rounded Puerto Villamil and with roughly ten gallons of diesel left we diverted into Isabela to the well wishes from old friends and some new ones too. Word gets around fast.

After a few days of high level negotiations, the authorities reluctantly gave up thirty gallons of diesel so we could get out of their hair and into someone else’s. However the kindness of the fellow cruising community continues to amaze me, and with Dirk from Dancing Bear hitching a ride and occupying the spare stateroom, we headed out of the harbor towards Santa Cruz. Once again, It didn’t take long before the unusual overtook us as our engines started to stumble. Bad fuel @$5.00 per US gal. Switching back and forth I changed filters on each engine and we thought that we could safely continue. Ok this qualifies as a bad start, but the further we traveled the less current we noticed and we arrived at Academy Bay earlier than we expected. Phase two of our slow motion rescue is complete, now it’s on to more petty bureaucrats with nonsensical rules, seemly made up just to make this situation more difficult, plus a few repairs, and inventing a way to store lots of diesel aboard. Maybe we can even get the ball rolling on re-rigging.

Like the flightless cormorants that live here, Escape Velocity has no wings so we’ll just have to evolve, or as Randy Newman says, you gotta roll with the punches.

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We’ve made the transition — temporarily — to motorboat. Sailors call them stinkpotters but we don’t mind, at least for the time being. As a catamaran with two engines and pretty generous fuel capacity, we have a longer range than most monohulls of our size. In our situation, that’s a good thing.

We took delivery of 250 gallons of fuel on Tuesday and added to whatever we already had on board (who ever trusts their fuel gauge?) we’re confident we can make Costa Rica safely.



Yes, Costa Rica. That will be our next destination. Our options were limited but with great input from various quarters we think this is our best bet. No solution is without its challenges and Costa Rica has them too, but the biggest vote in its favor is that we’ve never been there and for us virgin territory trumps familiar every time.

The cruisers still here in The Galapagos at this late date are all in the same predicament. All have experienced gear failure of one kind or another, all are waiting for replacement parts to arrive, all are doing the daily permission dance with the agents and port captain. At the Internet cafe ashore they share news of tech support calls and shipment tracking, make trips to local machinists or chandleries, and wait out a longer stay than expected in a place that starts out enchanting and ends up feeling like a trap.

The boats heading across the Pacific to the Marquesas and beyond, all of them but us, are starting to worry about timing. The Pacific is huge and it’s a long way to go before the beginning of cyclone season when you have to get safely out of the cyclone belt for the southern summer. This constant readjusting of departure date and cruising schedule is wearying and stressful. In a way, we’re a little less stressed because our choices are more limited, and we have a solid priority: get rerigged. Everything we do is to get us closer to that goal.

We’re more or less ready. Today we provision, make some reheatable meals, and watch the weather.


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What we look like now



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Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?

Saturday morning we got a lovely send off from Isabela when Monique from Deesse brought us a delicious Dutch ginger cake.


We motored the 45 miles to Santa Cruz and despite leaving early in the morning we barely got the anchor down before dark. That should give you some indication of how long it will take us to motor 750-900 miles to mainland Central America, depending on whether we choose Costa Rica or Panama. We had rolly seas and a bit of a headwind but Sunday was quite windy so we were glad we came on Saturday instead.

No sooner did we enter the harbor than our Santa Cruz agent showed up in a water taxi. They do this. They stand off, sometimes circling in the hard wooden launches while you’re trying to choose a place to drop the anchor, and then all the while you’re paying out chain, setting the hook, getting the bridle attached. We often have to wave them off because they get too close. We can never understand this. You’d think they’d worked with boats long enough to just wait the 15 minutes or so until we’re done. As soon as they see us walk away from the foredeck — but before we’ve had a chance to record engine hours, shut down the engines, and do the usual post anchoring tidy-up — BAM! they’re on deck and into the cockpit.

Irene gave us one sentence of commiseration before asking how much fuel we need and how many days we’ll need to stay. One day? Two days? My jaw dropped. Again. I’m amazed at how much pressure we’re under to leave. Luckily Dirk was with us and he has a rudimentary bit of Spanish so through him we tried to convey that we don’t know how long because we don’t yet know where we’re going and in any case we need a lot of fuel and something to put it in.

Ah, fuel. That she knows something about. But we would not be allowed to purchase the amount of fuel we need; it’s too much. She didn’t seem to grasp the conflict between wanting us to leave but not giving us enough fuel to do so. She said she would figure something out and work with the Port Captain on our permission to stay. Our original visa doesn’t expire for another month yet but it had been stamped “canceled” when we left the islands on May 1st so now we’re expected to once again pay the nearly $800 to reenter the Galapagos.

All of this rankles me. I can deal with the dismasting and the long road ahead getting to the mainland and to repairs. There’s a logic to it and everyone we are coordinating with is on the same page, offering help and advice. But this, this incessant barrier to moving forward, this waste of emotional energy is keeping our stress level at a constant simmer.

Monday we scoured the local stores for fuel containers. Our first choice was flexible bladders but there are none on the island. Several stores have 10-gallon jerry cans but we would need at least 10 and securing them on deck would be challenging since our port side stanchions are awry and we don’t really trust them. We could build some kind of enclosure on the foredeck but we want to avoid having to go forward to schlepp fuel back to the cockpit for siphoning. We checked with a local fixer to see if he could get us some of the larger containers the locals use to transport fuel. He said he’d let us know.

We took a taxi back to the boat and who should be waiting for us but Irene, the agent. She told us she could get us the 250 gallons of fuel we need and that it would cost $4.95/gallon. Ok, we said, that’s reasonable. Then she said it would cost $1/gallon to deliver it to the boat. What?!? It’s a couple hundred yards from the pier to our boat. And they want $250?

I lost it. I had had enough. I exploded and said NO! I will not be taken advantage of this way. While Jack kept telling me we had to pay it, that they had us over the barrel, that we had no choice, I just put my foot down. We are a vessel in distress, I told her, how dare they line their pockets on the back of our misfortune? And besides, I said, we don’t have it. That’s true. Our cash reserve is completely gone now after our unplanned few days on the cash-only Isabela and the fuel we had to buy there, and we have a cash flow problem until the end of the month.

Irene, of course, understood none of this, only that I was hopping mad. She told us that the Port Captain is trying to keep us out of the system and our only other option is to pay all the entrance fees again, that he’s giving us a break. Yeah, right. We said we would pick up the fuel ourselves but she said no, we weren’t allowed. I said we would pay $50 for the delivery. She got on the phone and had a long conversation with someone, then hung up and said they’d go for $80. We reluctantly agreed and she finally left.

With nothing more we could accomplish and needing to stretch our legs and get out of town we walked to Las Grietas with Dirk. It’s a huge crevasse in the volcanic rock where you can swim and snorkel. Kids climb the cliffs and dive in from various heights. We got there late in the day and without swim or snorkel gear but it was nice just to appreciate the scenery and watch a few jumps.



As we got back to the water taxi dock there was Irene again, waiting for us. She followed our taxi in hers and came aboard. She found us six used 17-gallon tanks we could use for fuel and she wants $25 apiece, and she wants the money now. I counted out the $150 and that was the end of our cash. She will bring the tanks Tuesday afternoon, and the fuel will be delivered then too.

Our day still wasn’t over when we went ashore to the ATM and had to trek from one machine to the next because they were out of cash. We finally got our daily withdrawal limit and finished the day with the crews of Amelit and Dancing Bear. I got my smile back by the end of the evening, but I’m so soured on the Galapagos at this point that it’s getting harder to look on the bright side.


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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.


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A rip-roaring welcome

Escape Velocity is anchored safely in Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, Galapagos, with a few gallons of diesel to spare. We were greeted by dancing rays, frigate birds, penguins, a shark and the local agent who requests our presence ashore for the formalities. We’re making him wait, though, as Jack de-squids the decks and scrubs the nasty sea residue off the back steps and while I read the hundreds of blog and Facebook comments and emails we’ve received.

The other day, feeling the lowest of the low, out of nowhere Jack said, “I’m not ready to give up.”

“Me neither,” I said. “I love sailors. I love the cruising community.”

This is our place. This is our life. Maybe someday that will change, but for now we’re sticking with it. We know it’ll be a long and frustrating part of our journey to get back to sea again but we’ll do it. And the outpouring of love, support, ideas on where to go and how to get there, the offers of help, the stories you share of your own mishaps and misfortunes and challenges — all of it reminds us that we’re where we should be and that we are not alone. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you sailors and nonsailors and wannabes and don’t-wannabes, thank you to people we know and people we haven’t met yet, and people we may never meet. Your messages touch us to the very core and give us so much strength to keep calm and carry on.

This morning as we approached the harbor we crossed paths with two boats starting the journey we began one week ago. Both boats sailed over to us, hailed us on the radio and offered their condolences and good luck in the repairs. We wished them a safe passage and we waved energetically until they were out of sight. Later we heard them talking to each other about seeing us. “They seem in good spirits,” said one. And so we are. But we also know the chilling effect this kind of experience has on all the other boats. What we do is not for the faint of heart.

We are touched that so many of our readers appreciate the poem that guides us, in particular the line on our blog header: Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

Our journey continues.


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You better stop, look around

Yesterday we had our breakdown. We both cried at this miserable turn of events and about how we seemed to be thwarted at every step of the way in the twenty years it took to realize our dream. We cried because we worked so hard to get to this point only to be turned back at the most exciting moment. We cried because we had poured so much love into Escape Velocity and she was in such fine condition. We cried because we don’t know if we have the fortitude to go on.

And then we got a text message from our friends on Macushla who’ve been researching boatyard options for us. They had some suggestions and their usual words of support and we burst into tears again, tears of gratitude that we have such caring friends and family. We have a keychain that Mark and Sue brought us from England with the classic British admonition to “keep calm and carry on.”

And that’s what we will do.

As the day wore on and we read and napped in the cockpit we started entertaining possibilities. We know that the repairs will take a long time and that we’ll be parked probably in Panama for the duration. Perhaps we could visit Machu Pichu, something we couldn’t work into our cruising schedule this year. We could learn to scuba dive, which we meant to do way back in Pittsburgh and never got around to. If the repairs are done in time we could cruise up to Mexico and depart for the South Pacific from there at the start of next season. If we did that we could stop in Costa Rica and meet another branch of my family who migrated there from St. Thomas. We could make a trip back to the states and apply for a long-stay visa for French Polynesia and not be limited to the 90 days we Americans are granted on entry.

We will make lemonade. And we will drink a full glass.


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Slogging toward Santa Cruz

It’s Tuesday morning, we’ve been motoring eastward for 48 hours and we’re not yet halfway back to the Galapagos. As we come farther north the seas have mitigated a little so we’re not being tossed as violently as we were before but it’s still too rough to do any cooking. We’re both hungry but without appetite if that make sense. We force ourselves to eat what we can but it’s difficult.

I came out to the cockpit for my morning watch, looked forward and was shocked once again by the clear view over the deck. No mast, boom vang, sails, lines or wires obstruct our vision of the eastern horizon. East. Just the word makes me sad. We’ve been sailing westward for many months now and our minds were set on the “Faery Lands of the South Seas,” that cruisers’ mecca, the golden ring of sailing. Last night I watched the sun go down behind us and nearly cried that we are sailing away from the setting sun instead of toward it.

Jack and I can barely talk about it except for practical issues like compiling lists of what was lost and trying to figure out where we can get the work done, although without access to internet and a phone we can’t even begin to try and find a boat yard within range that can do the work. We had several emails from various people in the insurance company, some very kind and concerned, some officiously reminding us that we have a deductible and that replacement will be subject to “depreciation based on age.” What that means in real terms we will see. We hope this isn’t the end of our dream.

We received messages from our dear friends on Macushla and Flying Cloud who read about our misfortune and offered to help in any way they can. My family is behind us, too. We feel love and support and we appreciate it.


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