Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28

After leaving the U.K in May 2016 i’m sailing around

the world single-handed in Fathom, a Vancouver 28.

map

The Tuamotus – Toau & Apataki

I couldn’t have wished for better conditions on departure from Nuku-Hiva on 29th May bound for the Tuamotus. 15-17kts of breeze on the beam, swell under 1.5m and not a squall cloud in sight. Fathom was in her element and despite not pushing, over the first three days we covered 133, 135 and 130nm. Not bad considering she has been in the water since March 2016 and the underwater hull has not been cleaned since. 138nm remains the record 24hr run achieved on passage from Portugal to Madeira back in September. The new fishing lure proved quite popular and within a couple of hours of leaving I pulled in a Barracuda but threw it back due to the risk of it carrying the toxin Ciguatera. An hour later a yellow fin tuna took the hook and subsequently provided a tasty dinner for the next couple nights. A perfect size for the solo sailor with no waste.

I was a little anxious about sailing alone to the Tuamotus, an ocean oasis of reefs, palm trees, pearls, fish and sharks but didn’t want to miss it. The archipelago of 77 coral atolls lies 530nm south west of the Marquesas and about 200nm north east of Tahiti. In pre GPS days they were commonly referred to as the dangerous archipelago because any navigational error would likely have serious consequences and result in being wrecked on a reef. Even now with GPS the charts are not so accurate in places and many sailors decide to bypass the area because there are still plenty of obstacles to catch out the complacent. Each atoll comprises a large fringing reef marked by a few tiny sandy islets called Motus. These barely rise above sea level and therefore the atolls are hard to spot until only a few miles away. Within the reef is a lagoon with many unmarked coral heads (bommies). There are normally one or two passes through the reef into the lagoon and depending on the state of tide water flows in and out of the lagoon at speeds of up to 8 knots. The pass therefore needs to be entered at slack water to avoid standing waves and overfalls but none of the sources of tide times agree with each other. Quite a bit to think about without crew to help.

To make life easier I decided to head for the atoll of Toau first. At the north west side is a false pass into the reef called Anse Aymot, a one off in the Tuamotus. As it does not break into the lagoon there are no currents to worry about and it can be entered at any state of tide. Progress had been so good from Nuku-Hiva that I was close to making Toau within daylight on the 4th day out but as the wind was forecast to drop didn’t want to risk arriving after dark. That night I hove to and let Fathom drift south at 1 knot while I slept. The next day the tradewinds had disappeared so the engine was required for the final 20 miles. I threw the fishing line out in hope because I had never caught a fish before under motor. I was amazed an hour later when the line went bar tight so slowed the boat and battled to pull in whatever was fighting me at the other end. Eventually I could see it was a very good sized yellow fin tuna which I estimated to be in excess of 1m. Just as I was pulling it up over the pushpit it made a final bid for freedom and the swivel connecting the metal leader to the line exploded and it escaped. I am still in mourning as it would have provided a meal for everyone on the atoll that evening.

My visit to Toau definitely goes down as one of the highlights of my voyage so far. Only five people live there, Gaston and his wife Valentine, her nephew and a couple who live on a separate motu within the reef. They work very hard to get by and live off the land. Gaston and Valentine are renowned for welcoming yachtsman and often cook up a lobster feast for hungry sailors. Unfortunately I had missed the feast by one day but after rowing ashore got talking with them and was immediately offered a glass of their ridiculously strong home brew beer. This broke the ice and I later rowed back to the boat and returned with coffee, a bottle of rum and lemons for them. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking rum and listening to their favourite music from my ipod connected to Gaston’s portable speaker, a gift from a visiting yacht some years ago. Their favourites were Bob Marley, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton and Gaston played along with his home-made one string bass and there was some bottle and spoons accompaniment too. A Swedish couple later joined with another bottle of rum… How surreal to be socialising with such a small isolated community on a remote atoll in the middle of the South Pacific while listening to Jolene and Ring of Fire on full blast!

The next day was a Sunday and despite not being religious, thought it would be nice to witness their church service. They have made a make shift church in a building behind their sleeping quarters and at 10am I turned up with a Norwegian couple making a total of 6 people. On entering the room we sat around for 15 minutes as Valentine struggled to tune her Ukele and in the end she gave up as it sounded so bad. Some songs were then sang acapella, regularly interrupted by Valentine wacking Gaston with the bible when he went off key. Nice upbeat songs similar to the church service in the Marquesas. We were all then instructed to read several passages from the bible in turn and Valentine told us Jesus would be paying earth a visit next year. Some more songs were sung and afterwards Valentine picked up her Ukele again for a final attempt at tuning. This time it immediately sounded perfect and she looked up at the ceiling and proclaimed that it had been tuned by the angels!

The next stop was the neighbouring atoll of Apataki where my friends on yachts Danika and Waterhoen were already anchored. In order to get the morning slack water I left Toau at 4am and motored in a calm conditions the 15 miles to the pass at Apataki. My timing was good and 1 knot of tide took Fathom through into the lagoon without drama. Phew. It was then a 10 mile trip across the atoll, dodging a couple of coral heads, to the anchorage off the carenage (small boatyard). The following four days were spent with John, Oceana and Alice from ‘Danika’ and Alfred and Adva from ‘Waterhoen’. The only three yachts at the anchorage. The others had already befriended a local called Tony who runs the carenage and we enjoyed his generous hospitality. He invited us to eat freshly caught fish with his friends and family ashore on several occasions and demonstrated how to make coconut cream. His grandma also did my laundry. Anchored in turquoise water off a palm tree fringed white beach was probably the closest to paradise I have ever found. We snorkelled with black tip sharks and drank beers on the beach as the sun set. My only wish is that I had taken more photos.

After unwinding our anchor chains from some bommies Waterhoen and Fathom exited the pass at Apataki on Friday 9th and headed south west for Tahiti. It was nice to sail with a “buddy boat” for a change, the two small yachts, 28 and 31 feet, seemingly a rarity in the Pacific where 40 foot catamarans and 50 foot monohulls are the norm these days. Fathom struggled to keep up in the very light downwind conditions but we remained in VHF contact the whole time. After 2 days on passage both boats rounded the southern tip of Tahiti before sunset on the 11th June. I went alongside Waterhoen and Adva passed across dinner, my kind of takeaway! Late evening we drifted up the coast for a few hours in the lee of Tahiti before bashing into headwinds and swell on the west coast during the wee small hours, sleep non existent that night. As the sun rose the next morning we entered the pass and headed up the west coast of the island, past the airport where I had to call up and ask for permission for us to motor along the end of the runway between flights, and tied up at the marina in the centre of Papeete. After months of remote anchorages and sleepy villages it was a nice change to be in a bustling city with, amongst other things, a big selection of vegetables including the previously elusive red tomatoes. Amazing what I get excited about these days.

Posted in: The Tuamotus

The Marquesas – Nuku-Hiva

I departed the island of Tahuata mid afternoon on 9th May for an overnight sail to Nuku-Hiva, the principal island of the Marquesas. A nice breeze funnelled down the channel between Hiva-Oa and Tahuata providing nice sailing for a couple of hours but once in the wind shadow of the big island Fathom slowed to a crawl. Several squall clouds approached overnight but the wind gradually faded away to a gentle puff and the motor was needed to cover the final miles to Baie de Taiohae. A pretty scene in the morning as the sun rose in the east, a pink moon set in the west alongside the jagged peaks on the island of Ua Pou.

Soon after setting sail it was clear that something was up with my right foot. It had been a little sore in the morning but by evening I couldn’t put any weight on it and was stumbling about the boat. In order to get some rest overnight I took some ibuprofen and supported my foot on top of the lee cloth. It became clear that my foot had been infected through the open blister picked up on the hike a couple days before. I had been careless by not keeping it cleaned with antiseptic and covering it. Asking for trouble in the tropics.

The anchor went down just before lunch in Baie de Taiohae and I caught up with friends ashore that evening. The next morning my foot had swollen up and it was not a pretty site. Luckily Nuku-Hiva is the only island in the Marquesas with a hospital and after walking up from the harbour I was seen quickly by a French doctor who told me the infection was spreading up my leg and if I had left it untreated another 48 hours anitbiotics via an intravenous drip would have been required! My foot was cleaned up, 15 days of antibiotics prescribed and I received a telling off for taking ibuprofen and not paracetamol as the former apparently inhibits the bodies immune system in fighting the infection. I had antibiotics onboard and would have taken them had I not been close to the hospital.

Not being able to swim or wear shoes restricted my activities over the next couple of weeks. It was around this time that I began to notice small little creatures crawling about the boat and every passing day there seemed to be more. It got so bad that when I took a book down from the shelf and opened it up I could see little things crawling inside. Time to investigate! Every cupboard and locker I looked in seemed to house these creatures. What a disaster! It was when I looked in the cupboard under the chart table that the cause became apparent. I had forgotten about a bag of flour purchased in Panama. It had been pushed to the back and the ziplock bag not closed properly. It was now home to a huge community of weevils and flour mites and their resultant breeding programme. The infestation had become so bad that they had spread to any food item on the boat containing oats or wheat and infected all my pasta and spaghetti. It took four long days to remove every item from every cupboard and locker, clean, disinfect and put back. I dumped a lot of food but found someone local who agreed to freeze all the pasta and spaghetti for four days to kill anything inside. I couldn’t bear throwing it all away Nothing wrong with a bit of extra protein right? Lesson learned – all flour, oats, pasta, lentils etc is now in sealable glass jars 🙂

After the weevil cleansing programme was complete Chris on Vancouver 28 ‘Sea Bear’ turned up in the anchorage. It was good to finally meet him and we keenly inspected each others boats. Interesting that the layout of Sea Bear is quite different to Fathom internally with a larger starboard bunk and more shelving around the quarter berth. I met some other interesting cruisers in the anchorage incuding Rupert and his wife Judy. Rupert came alongside one day offering some fruit and after we got chatting discovered that he had grown up in Seaview on the Isle of Wight. I messaged Mum to see if she had known him and it turns out they went to the same school and she remembers going to a party at his house in the 1960’s! It really is a small world.

After the foot and weevil débâcle I thought my run of bad news was over. But after walking round the deck of Fathom with Chris he commentated on the depression in the deck plinth under the mast step. This had been present since I purchased the boat and I had keeping an eye on it but it was now significantly worse. The mast step has sunk further into the deck, a little more on the starboard side, so that the mast heel fitting is rubbing away where it is touching the mast step at an unusual angle. I can feel movement when the boat is going through a seaway. The mast step is also now bowed but with no signs of stress cracking yet. The mast needs to come down, the plinth grinded open, plywood support investigated and likely renewed then re-glassed. It cannot wait until New Zealand or Australia. I hope to get Fathom hauled at a boatyard in Raiatea in late June or early July.

My 34th birthday was spent with Anny and Carl on yacht Muse and they even baked me a chocolate cake. Hard to believe it is a decade since I celebrated my 24th birthday on yacht Babelfish sailing to Tahiti from Hawaii. Seems like yesterday. Wonder if I will be back in the South Pacific for my 44th!

Before leaving Baie de Taiohae I was keen to visit for the first time the vegetable market that runs twice a week at 04.00. That is not a typo it really is that early for some reason i’ve yet to discover. Apart from carrots and potatoes, vegetables are just about impossible to find in the shops in the Marquesas but I was told the best chance of finding anything, including juicy red tomatoes (a real luxury here), is this market. I pulled up alongside yacht Waterhoen in the dinghy at 03.50 last Saturday morning to pick up Adva but on arrival at the market we were told there were no tomatoes as there had been too much rain. Our disappointment was helped somewhat by finding some eggplant and cucumbers. The wait for red tomatoes continues and anticipation grows by the day.

The last task before heading to the Tuamotus was to fill the water tanks. The water is not potatable in Baie de Taiohae so I visited stunning Daniels Bay a few miles along the coast, the setting for a few episodes of the Survivor TV series. In order to fill the water jugs I had to take the dinghy into the next inlet from the anchorage and 100 yards up a river where I tied up to a tree and was met by a local Paul. He directed me to the tap and provided a large fruit basket in exchange for a few dollars. Unfortunately after taking 100 litres the water went muddy so the next day I went back along the coast to Controller Bay in convoy with friends on yacht Vega. Here we finished collecting water and spent the afternoon walking to the local village. A nice evening was spent on Vega before setting sail for the Tuamotus the next morning, 29th May.

Posted in: The Marquesas

The Marquesas Islands – Tahuata

Tahuata is situated just south of Hiva-Oa and is a small island with a population of only around 600. The centre of the island is a 1500 foot mountain chain, radiating out in steep ridges and valleys to the coast. As Fathom approached from the Canal du Bordelais the rugged coastline made a spectacular site. The first anchorage I chose was off the white sandy beach at Baie Hanamoenoa. Eric Hiscock described this bay as one of the three most beautiful in Polynesia.. I don’t disagree, it is up there with the best spots i’ve ever dropped the hook. No houses on the shore just a copra drying shed surrounded by rows of palm trees. After arriving I immediately jumped in for a swim and found myself above a manta ray that was sweeping along the seabed. Later I opened a bottle of wine and drank a glass or two while watching a beautiful sunset. It doesn’t get much better.

Fathom anchored at Hanamoenoa as a rainbow hangs above the beach

The following two days were spent enjoying the tranquillity of the anchorage and catching up on some boat maintenance. The problematic washer on the Aries self steering arm was replaced and a new one attached with epoxy and later shaped with the dremel cutting wheel. Several splits in the Aries paddle were repaired and new seals added to the cockpit lockers to ensure they remain watertight. I also rebuilt the support for the companionway steps which had split. All in all a productive couple of days. Two other yachts at anchor but they kept to themselves. One night the heavens opened and it rained heavily for several hours. I was glad I had put up the rain catcher and caught around 50 litres. Without a watermaker onboard and with few places to fill up with good potable water in the Marquesas fresh water is a bit of a luxury so rainwater makes a welcome addition.

The next stop was Baie Vaitahu, situated 2 miles SSW of Hanamoenoa. The village of Vaitahu is the largest on the island with post office, small museum and one shop. I anchored Fathom in front of the village in between two other yachts. After going ashore I got chatting with Marianne, Kolbjorn and William from Norwegian yacht ‘Impuls’ and French Canadians Carl and Anny from catamaran ‘Muse’. They were about to hike to the next village and invited me along. We arrived at the village of Hapatoni over two hours later after a fairly taxing walk. Along the way we stopped to pick mangoes, papaya and lemons from the trees and passed dozens of wild goats.

I had read that the village of Hapatoni is one of the friendliest and attractive in the whole of the Marquesas and that proved completely true. The villagers welcomed us with a sincerity that was heartwarming and the area had a very tranquil feeling. It is off the beaten track and there were no visiting yachts in the bay. Carl and Anny, being French speakers, talked with the locals who all appeared to be happy and contented. The children rode past us on bikes shouting bonjour and smiling. We were invited into the homes of one of the local bone carvers who offered us fruit from his garden. I later returned to Fathom with a whole branch of bananas, mango, papaya and grapefruits for free. We were not overly keen to walk all the way back to Vaitahu so a local lady offered to be a taxi for 20 bucks each. That evening I was invited aboard Implus for drinks with my new friends.

We discovered that the next day, Sunday, a cruise ship was coming to Baie Vaitahu. The bad thing was that the village would be swamped by a load of tourists for a few hours but the good thing was that all the wood and bone carvers from the island would decent on Vaitahu to display their craft. Before the ship arrived we all attended the local church service. This was a very upbeat affair with lively singing to guitar and plenty of flowery attire on show. The impressive church and stained glass was built to mark the 150th anniversary of the first missionary arriving on the island. Not a word of French was spoken during the service and it was a really authentic Polynesian experience.. After the service several locals sold food and drink from small stalls. We found a very smiley lady selling a selection of tasty treats from her landrover. All very exciting when ones diet has been rather limited for the last couple of months!

In the afternoon we made sure to visit the carvers before the cruise ship passengers arrived. Some of the work is of a very impressive quality. Many combine rosewood, ivory, fish bone, animal bone and shell in one piece. Prices for the best pieces went up to 900 USD! A nose flute can be yours for 300 USD and would surely guarantee an impressive and unusual addition to the village band back home. However my budget dictated that I could only walk away with a small bone carving of a Tiki. As the passengers arrived in their jeans, trainers and loud voices it felt like an invasion from an unwanted civilisation!

The morning of 8th May was quite eventful. I had rowed ashore in the dinghy to pick up a couple of baguettes reserved the day before. There is no easy place to land a dinghy at the village. The concrete wharf requires putting out a stern anchor due to the swell or one can risk the surf and land on the beach and pull the dinghy up. I had gone for the later. All went well going ashore but on launching the dinghy to head back out I mistimed and found myself side on as a large wave began to break. In desperation to pull past the surf I pulled too hard on one oar and snapped the rowlock off. The dinghy then flipped and I was thrown out onto the rocks. I managed to drag myself and the dinghy back to the shore without drama and wasn’t hurt, just a bit scratched. Good job the outboard wasn’t on the dinghy. The worst part of the whole débâcle was that my two lovely fresh baguettes were now soggy and and the shop had sold out. I spent the afternoon cleaning the sand out of the dinghy and even found two small crabs at the bottom I had scooped up.

While visiting Vaitahu, Kolbjorn had opted to have a tattoo from the renowned local tattooist Felix. In Polynesia tattoos are an artform and taken very seriously. Felix is a great character and likes to welcome family and friends of his customers to dinner at his house. It took nearly 10 hours for the tatoo to be completed and later in the afternoon I was invited to join the others for dinner. It was an amazing experience to spend time with this local family, be invited into their home and dine with them.

9th May marked exactly 12 months to the day since Fathom departed Yarmouth having now safely carried me 11,113 nautical miles. As I watched Felix demonstrate the proper technique for skinning a coconut, sat in the garden of a house in a small village on a remote island in the South Pacific, Yarmouth felt a long way away.

Posted in: The Marquesas

The Marquesas Islands – Fatu-Hiva & Hiva-Oa

After 38 days at sea, the first night at anchor in Baie des Vierges, Fatu-Hiva I slept like a log. No need to wake up every hour to check Fathom was on course or to go on deck and pull a reef in the sail before another squall hit. Bliss. The first task in the morning was to fill up the tanks with drinking water, nearly depleted after five and a half weeks at sea and seek out some Vitamin C. I found a tap near the wharf and the locals confirmed the water was good to drink. Half way through filling the bottles a little girl, encouraged by her mother, walked shyly towards me and passed over a small bag of lemons and limes from their garden. A kind gesture typical of the Polynesian people. Ian from Canadian boat ‘Fandango’ then came over to say hello and helped me with the remainder of the water filling operation. We later walked round the village and traded some wine with locals for bananas, papaya and mangos. The village only has one small shop, no ATM and I didn’t have any local currency so the only way to get produce was to trade. That evening I had dinner onboard the boat of Lionel, the French solo sailor I had first met on arrival. He circumnavigated the world alone three years ago and was on another lap because he had enjoyed himself so much the first time. Although married with a wife back in France he was alone because he said his wife doesn’t like sailing and prefers to sit on the couch and watch TV!

Fathom at anchor Baie des Vierges, Fatu-Hiva

The next night I didn’t sleep so well. The cruising guides had mentioned that due to the high volcanic peaks surrounding the bay big gusts of wind can blast through the anchorage. Sure enough the wind howled at 35 knots during the wee small hours and the four yachts in the bay swung wildly around their anchors. I have a lot of confidence in Fathoms anchor setup but even so when the wind is shrieking in the rigging it is hard to relax and sleep. Lionel’s anchor dragged and his boat ended up hitting Fandango bending a stanchion. Luckily Fathom held station and avoided any drama. In the morning I basked in the limitless supply of sweet fresh water and gave the inside of Fathom a thorough clean and desalting. In the afternoon Ian and I hiked up to a cross on the hill looking down on the anchorage and then on to an impressive waterfall. Great to give the legs a workout. A nice dinner was spent onboard Fandango with Ian and his crew that evening.

In arriving at Fatu-Hiva first I had taken a risk because it is not an official port of entry into French Polynesia and yachts have faced heavy fines in the past. But it is to windward of the other islands and the logical first stop so I had gone for it. Lionel warned me on the 26th that the Gendarmerie were visiting from Hiva – Oa for the day and making a check of yachts at anchor. Convinced I was about to be told to leave immediately and pay a fine I went over to the officer, and in my best tired sounding voice, told him I had just sailed 38 days solo from Panama and was tired and could I rest here for two days before checking in officially at Hiva -Oa. He smiled and in broken english said “no problem, take your time and enjoy the island”. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The following day I spent four hours in the water cleaning Fathom’s dirty waterline. After so long at sea there was green weed as high as two feet up the topsides. Helpfully some fish in the bay had chewed off all the goose barnacles which saved me scraping them off. I later found out there are many sharks in the waters of Fatu-Hiva and swimming is not advised in this bay. Whoops. Ashore I found a very good wood carver and walked away with a nice carving of a Tiki in exchange for three bottle of wine. The Tiki is now attached to the mast support post in the cabin and supposedly will ensure good luck and a safe onward trip. Once I was back onboard a swiss guy called Martin from the 35 foot Defour anchored behind Fathom came over looking for a ride to Hiva-Oa as the boat he was on was headed the other way. I agreed to take him aboard Fathom the following day for the short 40 mile sail. The boat he was leaving is well known in Switzerland for transiting the North West passage. Their website is www.bonavalette.ch.

Fathom departed Fatu-Hiva on the 29th and it made a nice change to have crew onboard. I made use of the extra pair of hands to swap back the old mainsail for the good one and replace the headsail. The sail was most enjoyable with 15 to 18 knots of wind and a broad reach. After crawling along for thousands of miles with a dirty hull and faint breezes Fathom seemed to revel in her clean bottom and we charged along at 6 knots. Martin and I had high hopes for catching a fish but alas we were disappointed. On arrival in Hiva-Oa I pulled in the line and embarrassingly realised I had forgotten to put a hook on the end before throwing it over the side. To make matters worse the lure had been bitten in half. Lucky fish, stupid skipper I say. Arrived just in time to get to the customs and check in officially to French Polynesia before they closed for the long weekend.

Hiva-Oa is the largest of the Marquesas and the main island of the southern group. The town of Atuona is the administrative centre and has a population of over 1,500 with several food shops, an ATM and fuel station. All very exciting after being away from civilisation for so long. The anchorage is very tight and there is little room for all the yachts. It was the first time I have anchored using both a bow and stern line which limits swinging room and with the bow pointed into the swell the boat rolls less. The first evening was spent gorging on huge pizzas at the restaurant near town and drinking cold beer.

The next days were productive and quite social. Martin stayed for a couple of days before flying on to Tahiti. I spent some time with English couple Tom and Emily and had them onboard for dinner and drinks one night. Plenty of American boats around including solo sailor Dan and Tom and Shannon on ‘Finely Finished’. We often found ourselves meeting up unplanned at the pizza restaurant, the only place with decent internet. One day I hiked to the valley of Ta’ a Oa, an ancient ceremonial and sacred sight about two hours from Atuona. The remains of the Me’ae, or sacred site and Tohau, a cleared area used for dancing and singing performances, are still there . In the forest at the top the Me’ae is a Tiki sculptured onto a stone slab. It was here that people chosen for human sacrifice were placed on the altar next to the Tiki. Rather eerie atmosphere walking through the wood alone on a dark, rainy day.

After five days at anchor in Atuona I was keen to move on to the reportedly beautiful island of Tahuata, a few miles to the south west of Hiva-Oa. . Final tasks before leaving were to fill the jerry cans with diesel and top up the tanks, buy some fresh baguettes and do some food shopping. I paid a brief visit to the Paul Gauguin museum in the town. The French artist lived here for several years at the end of his life but the museum only contains copies and was quite underwhelming. On the way out of the harbour I spotted ‘Sea Bear’ on the AIS. I had been tracking Chris on his Vancouver 28, sister to Fathom, during his 34 day sail to the Marquesas from the Galapagos. I motored alongside and we had a quick chat. Here we were in some of the most remote islands in the world, two solo sailors on two Vancouver 28’s.

Posted in: The Marquesas

Panama to the Marquesas – Part 2

Staying south – Days 18 to 25

The entry in the log for the 3rd April begins with “PISSED OFF!” The Aries paddle had flipped up twice in the night and I was tired. On one occasion it flipped up and I hadn’t woken up so for two hours Fathom was heading S.E away from the Marquesas! The latest weather advice showed the S.E trades much further south than normal too but at least there was wind in our current location, albeit squally conditions and an uncomfortable sea still. The huge bunch of bananas which I had separated into three sections to prevent them all ripening at once ignored me and all ripened together within 24 hours. Never eaten so many bananas at one sitting.

On the 20th day at sea all the remaining bananas had gone to mush and I ate the last of the Grapefruit so no fresh fruit remained. On the veggie front sweet potatoes last for ages as do onions and garlic but the peppers, carrots etc don’t so these had already gone in the pot. The next day marked 3 weeks at sea, by far the longest time I had been alone. The Atlantic crossing had only been 17 days. The wind was down to 10 knots, the sea much calmer and my spirits so much better that I baked some chocolate brownies.

Over the next few days the sea became uncomfortable again and there were still squalls but less frequent and with less intensity. I spent a lot of time reading and trying to learn the harmonica. Most the time I was pulling the tow generator behind to keep the batteries charged but when I pulled it in the fishing line went out. No luck but there must be some big fish out there as I lost two lures one day.

Tradewind sailing, kind of – Days 26 to 38

Blue skies, small cotton wool clouds and 10 to 15 knots of wind, the tradewinds at last! Days 26 to 28 were really nice. Decent progress and pleasant sailing. I slept well at night and the Aries behaved. Sleeping wise I would go to bed at around 23.00 and stay in the bunk until about 6am, waking every 2 or 3 hours to check the course which I can do on the Ipad without getting up. Since leaving Perlas I had only seen one other yacht and two ships had appeared a long way off on the AIS but not within sight. Mornings would usually be spent doing a Suduko over a coffee and every couple of days baking some fresh bread. I spent relatively little time outside the cabin on deck due to the heat and sun.

From Day 28 the wind gave up and on several occasions Fathom was completely becalmed with the sails banging back and forth. By day I used the cruising chute to try and gain an extra knot or two. The tow generator created too much drag and wasn’t deployed so I had to run the engine every couple of days to charge the batteries as the solar panel couldn’t keep up. I decided to turn off the fridge to save power which meant sacrificing quite a bit of cheese sadly. I used as much as possible by having a pizza evening! After 4 weeks at sea I was very excited by the sight and smell of freshly baked pizza coming out of the oven.

There was now about 1000 nautical miles to go. I tried not to look at the eta because it changed so much depending on current conditions and boat speed that it was pointless but my mind began to wander a little to thoughts of landfall. Daily runs suffered in the light winds and ranged from 74 to 92 miles. In truth though I felt in no great hurry to make landfall. I was in a bubble and enjoying the solitude. Not once did I feel lonely or wish I wasn’t out there in the big blue.

On day 31, the 16th April, there was one of the most amazing moments of the voyage from the UK so far. I was sat on the foredeck with a cup of tea waiting for the sunset which I always did if conditions allowed. I noticed a pod of dolphins in the distance racing towards Fathom. There was about 12 knots of wind so we were sailing along quite well. These dolphins numbering at least 20, were particularly playful and keen to show off. They revelled in Fathoms bow wave twisting and turning right alongside while other decided to jump into the air or slap their tails on the surface alongside the boat. Here I was, alone, thousands of miles from land with unexpected company. I had a front row seat for the mid pacific sunset dolphin extravaganza! As the sun set they became even more expressive and somehow I managed to capture one of them, mid jump, leading me west towards the setting sun. A moment I will never forget.

Day 32 marked one month at sea.. On the food front despite turning the eggs every day most of the remaining few had gone bad. I baked a cake with the last three good ones. The wind hovered around 8 to 10 knots and the cruising chute was flown during the day. I discovered the Scrabble App on the Ipad which I had forgotten I had and which provided great entertainment for the remaining days at sea as I tried to beat the AI on expert mode. Important to keep the grey matter active.

On the 19th April, day 32, I woke up at 2am to the sails banging about and 0.2 knots of wind and a speed over the ground of 0.1 knots. Most of the next 24 hours was spent motoring and waiting for the wind to return. Every attempt so far had been made to conserve fresh water. Washing dishes was done using salt water and I didn’t wash as much as I would have had there been crew onboard! So every time a heavy rain shower came over I would rush on deck, strip off, grab the soap and shampoo and receive a free shower. Latest weather forecast showed good winds coming which should push Fathom the remaining 500 miles to Fatu-Hiva.

The last days were very pleasant with the wind ranging from 10 to 15 knots. Speed was slow though and I guessed the hull was very fouled. Peering over the stern I could see a harvest of goose barnacles along the waterline. I decided to head to Fatu-Hiva, the most windward and reportedly beautiful of the Marquesas islands. It is not possible to check in to French Polynesia here and other yachts have been fined for stopping here first in the past but I decided to risk it and avoid the long beat to windward to come back later.

On the 24th April, 38 days after departing the Perlas Islands I spotted land at 06.30. As Fathom swallowed up the remaining miles to Fatu-Hiva the volcanic peaks of the island made a beautiful sight. The only suitable anchorage when translated is called the ‘Bay of Virgins’ and the anchor went down at 15.30 local time. Fathom and I had reached South Pacific Paradise!

There were six other yachts in the anchorage including a French solo sailor who came across in the dinghy to say hello, the first person I had seen in a long time. I invited him onboard for a cold beer ( I had purposely turned the fridge back on several hours before). He told me he had arrived here the day before in his aluminium 36 footer after taking 45 days from Panama. I couldn’t help feeling rather smug! Well done Fathom 🙂

Posted in: Misc

Panama to the Marquesas – Part 1

It would have been nice to stay longer in the beautiful Perlas islands but as Fathom was full to the brim with fresh food and the forecast showed some good north east winds for a few days I was keen to set off on the 3971 nautical mile voyage to the Marquesas as soon as possible. After a trip up the mast for a last check Fathom was on the way out of the anchorage early afternoon on the 17th March when I spotted two people in a small dinghy waving frantically to me in the distance. It turned out they were a young American couple who had just been spear fishing on the reef and had guessed I was off to the South Pacific, probably by Fathom’s incredibly low waterline. They had wanted me to take a fresh fish they had just caught and passed up a good sized red snapper all gutted and ready for the pan. A nice send off and another example of kindness from fellow cruisers. They would be the last people I would see in five and a half weeks.

Perlas to the Galapagos region – Day 1 to Day 9

It turns out that the most consistent wind and fasted progress of the whole voyage occurred during the first couple of days. Sustained 15 to 20 knots of breeze, the remainders of the Caribbean tradewinds, and a tail current enabled Fathom to roar along at 6 knots at times. Due to the high amounts of shipping in the bay of Panama I slept in short chunks at night and used the AIS and radar alarms to keep a look out. By the third day the wind was under 6 knots and the cruising shute was deployed. This is the big asymmetric spinnaker which I use in winds under about 12 knots but never fly at night in case there is a squall or it gets wrapped. On the fourth day I spotted another yacht on the horizon but couldn’t raise them on the VHF for a chat.

chasing rainbows

The wind was still under 10 knots during the 5th day but a current of nearly 2 knots enabled 24 hour runs of close to 100 nautical miles. It was on day 6, when becalmed, that I made the spontaneous decision to swap the sails over. The yankee headsail was swapped for a new and unused downwind headsail and the mainsail swapped for a well used but serviceable second hand one I had purchased for £150 as a spare before leaving the Island. The idea being I could save the primary sails from UV light damage and from banging about in the calms to come. It took nearly all day to remove the mainsail, battens, reefing lines and get it stowed (not easy to get it neatly packed into the bag alone!) and the replacement bent on and single line reefing setup adjusted accordingly.

The wind remained very light during the 6th and 7th days but I was reluctant to use the engine due to the need to save the diesel for calms later in the voyage when there would not be favourable current. The cruising shute was deployed in the daylight hours and at night the mainsail and poled out headsail. One notable change was the increase in cabin temperature as we approached the equator. The cabin thermometer regularly showing temperature of up to 42 degrees! I was constantly drenched in sweat, day and night, and without any real wind it was very uncomfortable onboard. Everything inside was sticky and it was generally not too pleasant.

At last a better breeze on the 8th day with 12 knots from the north east and I was in great spirits. During the afternoon Fathom crossed the equator for the first time. Second time for me having crossed 10 years ago when sailing from Hawaii to French Polynesia on yacht Babelfish. I toasted Neptune by tossing him some Balboa lager and enjoyed the remainder of the can myself. I never drink at sea so this was a rare treat. It felt great to be in the southern hemisphere and I remember feeling that I really was a long way from home. As part of the celebration of being in the south I decided to bake a cake later in the afternoon by cheating and using a pre mix pack. However it turned out like a chewy rubber mess which was most disappointing and it was inedible.

What a difference a day makes. On day 9 there was less than a knot of wind and Fathom was crawling along at 2 knots with the current. A real game of patience in these conditions and with over 3,000 miles still to go to the destination I couldn’t help thinking, however unrealistic, that we might be at sea for months and soon i’ll be so low on fresh water i’ll be performing rain dances on deck. I had never properly got to grips with the fuel consumption of the engine since it had been installed in October so spent a bit of time working out how many hours I could motor on the fuel capacity I was carrying and various RPM levels and reckoned on about 450 miles max. Resorted to motoring for several hours during the afternoon to make some meaningful progress and myself feel better. The south east tradewinds still at least 500 miles away to the south.

During the night I was very close to the Galapagos islands and as the sun rose the next morning I could just make out the outline of Isla Cristobal on the horizon. It was a shame to give these islands a miss but the cost for visiting yachts are in the thousands of dollars and the regulations stipulate the underwater hull must be entirely clean and the cabin fumigated. Fathom was completely becalmed during the next night so I dropped all the sails and went to bed leaving Fathom to drift south with the current at 1.5 knots. I later received a few messages from people asking if everything was ok as they had seen low speeds on the tracker map and were worried something bad had happened!

Over the next days I noticed a significant increase in bird and animal activity. I was visited by blue footed boobies who flew constantly in loops around the boat, especially at night when they loudly squawked and looked like they were trying to land on the mast but never did. Lots of dolphins by day. I awoke one night to the sound of flapping sails and the boat wildly offcourse. After going on deck the cause became apparent. A bird had decided to perch on top of the wood paddle of the self steering gear for a rest. Why on earth it chose to sit there when it had the mast and the rest of the boat is beyond me.

Galapagos region and south to the trades. Day 10 to Day 17

At this time the weather forecast and free routeing advice emailed weekly from a forecaster in New Zealand was not overly encouraging. A convergence zone had formed south of the equator between the Marquesas and the Galapagos islands with big squalls, thunder storms and calms. Furthermore there was now a river of east going current, the equatorial counter current, running between 2 degrees and 6 degrees south, west of the Galapagos. The recommendation for yachts heading to the Marqueasas was to avoid the direct route, cross the foul current as quickly as possible then head right down to 12 degrees south to find the tradewinds before turning directly to the Marqueasas. A much longer distance.

The journal reminds me that day 10 was quite successful in the galley. An excellent cake baked, fresh loaf of bread and a sausage, carrot and sweet potato stew in the thermal cooker. Good sailing in the day but little wind during the night. A small milestone on day 11 was that Fathom passed 91deg 30′.27W longitude and therefore was a quarter of the way round the world from Yarmouth!

Fathom was well and truly in the doldrums during days 12 and 13. Baking hot with not a breath of wind and a mirror like sea. Motored through the night which was miserable to try and get though the foul current as soon as possible. A couple of notable things on day 14 – the equatorial counter current was passed at last, signified by the speed over the ground increasing by a knot and I mastered the four hole draw bend on the harmonica!

I guess I wasn’t completely alone as technology in the modern age allows contact with others. A highlight each day was checking emails and reading messages from friends and family. Thanks to everyone who messaged me it was much appreciated. It was good also to exchange SMS messages via the sat phone with my friends Victor and Julie who left the Perlas islands one week after Fathom. We would compare weather conditions and fishing success rates and generally check everything was ok.

The night of 31st March I was woken up in the wee small hours to a squall so went on deck in the howling wind and heavy rain to put some reefs in the mainsail and roll in some headsail. A long standing problem, which I thought I had solved in the Cape Verdes, began to occur again around this time. The Aries self steering gear paddle began to flip up time and time again especially in bigger waves and wind. When this happens the boat veers off course and invariably this occurs in the middle of the night during a squall or when i’m fast asleep. The boat needs to be stopped and I hang over the stern with the boat hook to reseat the blade. It was not something I could really fix at sea because the cause was the swelling of two parts of the hinge so I made the best of it.

During the following days the sea became rough and very confused with swell from several directions. The motion of the boat was most uncomfortable and doing any task in the cabin difficult. To make it worse squalls regularly appeared from astern with wind going from 7 knots to 27 knots in an instant. Sleep was hard to come by at night so I was tired and lethargic during and not in great spirits. The Aries paddle flipped up numerous times which didn’t improve my mood. At least progress was reasonable with daily runs ranging from 110 to 121 nautical miles. Most of the days were spent catching up on sleep or reading.

Posted in: Misc

To the South Pacific!

I think Fathom and I are as ready as we’ll ever be for the long passage to the Marquesas Islands. Yesterday we departed the anchorage at La Playita and spent several hours motoring in no wind before having a nice sail over the last few miles to the island of Isla Contadora in the Perlas Islands. This morning I went up the mast to check everything over before it got too hot, replaced the self steering lines and went over the side to give the waterline and propeller a scrub. Unfortunately the bottom isn’t as clean as I would like, quite a few barnacles have got a grip and some will have to make the passage with us. The boat is full to the brim with stores there is not one bit of space in any locker or cupboard. Highlight of my fresh food provisioning is probably the box of green bananas I purchased at the large local market for 10 dollars, a bargain. Only trouble is I have 100 of them and they are bound to ripen all at once! In addition to the 220 litres of water and 110 litres of diesel in the main tanks, there is an extra 100 litres of diesel in jerry cans and just over 100 litres of bottled water. Waterline, what waterline?

I have heard many good things about the Perlas Islands but as I am already tucking into the fresh food and water want to get cracking asap. Intend to set off in the next hour or two. It is quite hard to prepare mentally for such a long trip alone, nearly 4,000 nautical miles, more than double the Atlantic crossing. The intertropical convergence zone (doldrums) and large areas of calms are sure to be frustrating and may drive me mad but I know conditions will improve once I am far enough south to reach the S.E trade winds.  It looks like two or three days of N.E breeze to get Fathom out of the Bay of Panama. There is an option to pull into the Galapagos Islands if very short on diesel or water but will avoid if I can. The cost and regulations for visiting yachts these days is sadly not making these islands a viable option for those of us on a budget.

A quick mention of my inreach tracker which sends tracking points to the map on my blog. Yesterday it malfunctioned and wouldn’t update the map but today it seems to be working again. Hopefully it will keep on working but who knows. Don’t be alarmed if it stops.

Bye for now.

Posted in: Misc

Panama Canal

We had been instructed to depart the marina at Shelter Bay by 13.00 on the 8th March and proceed to the flats anchorage to await the advisor who would board at 15.00. Fathom felt very sluggish with the four line handlers onboard, Anne and Jim, Jose and Jaime and the heavy fenders and warps. As expected, there was a delay and the advisor, Francisco, didn’t board until 17.00. Fathom was one of three yachts transiting through Gatun locks during the afternoon, the other two being a 40 foot Dutch catamaran and an American 55 foot Beneteau called Zatara. The advisor explained that Zatara would be the middle boat with the cat rafted on her portside and Fathom on her starboard side. As Fathom was small Zatara would handle the bow and stern warps to the starboard lock wall and the catamaran the port side warps. An easy ride for us.

Fathom enters Miraflores lock

The three locks on the Atlantic side of the canal are collectively known as the Gatun locks. They raise a vessel a total of 26m in three separate chambers. Each chamber is 33.53m wide and 304.8m long. Before entering the first chamber the three yachts rafted alongside each other without issue and Zatara used her engine to move the raft into the lock behind a general cargo ship that had gone in first.  Once past the open lock gate monkey fists at the end of a thin line were thrown from the lock wall and attached to the warps onboard the yachts.  Everything was running smoothly until the three yacht raft was approaching the third chamber and we noticed the lock gates were shutting in front of us. Panic stations! All three yachts hard in reverse. Luckily we managed to stop in time but it could have been a disaster. All three advisors said that in their many years of working in the canal they had never seen the lock gates begin to close before all vessels had entered. The advisor does not stay onboard overnight but does require feeding. I had prepared a sausage and sweet potato stew in the thermal cooker that morning so it was all ready. After he had finished his plate he came back up to the cockpit and said “who is the cook?” I replied it was me and he looked mighty surprised before saying “that dinner was ten outta ten!!”.

Once clear of the third chamber we separated from the raft and proceeded into Gatun lake where we tied alongside Zatara for the night, who were alongside a buoy. The advisor was picked up and the rest of us settled down in the cockpit for dinner and some cold beers. It was rather cosy overnight with five sleeping in the cabin. I squeezed myself alongside the liferaft on the quarter berth and the others slept on the port and starboard bunks and two pipe cots. Not only was the cabin an oven there was a snorer onboard!

The next morning a new advisor, Freddy, boarded at 08.30, he should have arrived at 07.00. The three yachts set off across Gatun lake towards the locks at the other end, a journey of about 30 nautical miles or five and a half hours. The lake is completely man made and has an area of 166.64 square miles. Fathom was barely afloat with six people onboard, various bits of temporary luggage and being in fresh water the waterline was even lower. We still managed to make between 5 and 5.5 knots which is what I had stated to the authorities we could achieve. Despite this, the other yachts disappeared into the distance and we later learnt they had made an earlier lock and we would have to wait for a much later lock and go through alone in centre chamber configuration. This would mean that unlike the easy ride we had in the Gatun locks we would now be required to do all four warps ourselves.

After passing through the Galliard Cut, a passage carved through rock and shale, we reached Pedro Miguel Lock but had to wait a couple of hours for a slot so tied up alongside an unused lock wall to wait in the baking sun. Freddy explained we would go through with a tug and barge, rather appropriate I thought after spending many years working with these kind of ‘vessels’. In the meantime we watched, with a mix of surprise and amusement, a huge container ship moving into the lock. Despite over USD 5 billion worth of improvements to the canal it still took two blokes in a small rowing boat to attach the dock rope to the ship. Eventually we moved and proceeded into the lock. Four monkey fists were thrown down and each of the four lines attached. The line handlers on the lock wall then hauled in the ropes and make fast on bollards when we were in position. The warps were eased as the water level dropped 9m. No dramas and once through we were disconnected from the shore lines and motored along the artificial Miraflores lake to the Miraflores locks where we were again connected to the lock with our four lines as before. I had primed friends and family to watch the webcam at Miraflores and grab a screen shot for old times sake.

The last chamber is often the worst because there are various eddies and currents where the fresh and salt water meet. But it was fine for us and Fathom was lowered back to sea level without drama. It was a special and unique feeling when the last lock gate opened and, at last, Fathom was in the Pacific Ocean! Thanks to all four line handlers for your excellent work. It really feels like Fathom and I have come along way from Yarmouth. A whole new adventure awaits, more in the next post before setting sail once again.

Posted in: Panama Canal

Shelter Bay & Canal Preperations

On arrival at Shelter Bay marina on the 24th February I was informed that there was a 5-day carnival celebration about to happen in Panama and most of the country would grind to a halt. The Panama Canal never stops but the official admeasurers, who visit yachts before a transit date is given, were short staffed and this caused several days delay. Thankfully the items ordered from the US were waiting for me including two new Genoa cars and a couple of cruising guides for the Pacific.

There is an active community of yachties at Shelter Bay, a mix between those only around for a few days before transiting and those who live onboard permanently. A different event is run every evening ranging from open mic night on Fridays to movie night on Thursdays, all good fun.  As the marina is quite isolated a free bus runs once or twice a day to a big shopping centre near Colon and I made use of this several times to start building up stores for the Pacific. It was good to catch up with some familiar faces including French couple Victor and Julie who I had last seen at the bar in Cape Verde the evening before we all set off across the Atlantic. A notable visitor to the marina while I was there was Dee Caffari who was waiting to transit the canal on a swanky multihull.

 

I had decided to appoint an agent for the canal transit, Erick Galvez, who came highly recommended from other cruisers. Erick made life very easy and was always quick to respond to any questions I had. His services included dealing directly with canal authority, providing the mandatory eight large fenders and four 125 foot lines, handling the money transfers (no need for me to take several trips to banks in Colon), booking the measurer, providing line handlers (for a fee), avoiding the requirement for an 800 USD deposit and providing the exit zarpe for Panama. Eventually on the 28th, Fathom was visited by the canal official, the boat measured and later that day we were given a transit date of 8th March. I had to tell a white lie that Fathom had a holding tank to avoid the need to have a portable toilet onboard.

A requirement for going through the canal on a yacht is that in addition to the skipper, four line handlers are needed. I had quite a bit of trouble finding four because many yachts were scheduled to go through around the same time and people had already been snapped up. I posted a notice in the marina office and one afternoon was visited by Anne and Jim who had been crewing on an Oyster as part of the Oyster World Rally. Couldn’t quite believe they were happy to downsize from a luxury 55 footer to little Fathom but they agreed to come along. I couldn’t find anyone else so had to stump up some more cash and pay for two professional line handlers provided by Erick. On the 2nd & 3rd March I joined yacht ‘Little Dove’ as linehandler for their canal transit to gain some experience which was very worthwhile.

For anyone interested in the costs of going through the canal it isn’t cheap! Here goes:-

Transit tolls $800.00 ( 50 ft and under)  or $1,300.00 ( over 50 ft and under 80 ft)
Transit inspection $54.00
Transit Security fee $130.00
Fenders & lines rental $75.00
Bank charges $60.00
Agent service Fee $350.00
Professional line handlers $100.00 each
Check out fee $35.00
TOTAL COST $1704.00

Info and photos on Fathom’s canal transit in the next post.

Posted in: Panama Canal

San Blas Islands

With no sign of any bugs or nasties on board, the outward clearance zarpe from Colombian customs safely stowed, and the diesel and water tanks topped up, Fathom departed Santa Marta at midday on the 14th bound for the San Blas islands, 280 nautical miles to the south west. These are a vast archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast comprising of over 340 islands and home to the indigenous Guna Indians. A brisk wind of 20 -25 knots allowed for fast sailing during the afternoon and evening with good progress towards the corner at Barranquilla. Unfortunately I was still feeling run down after the stomach bug I had picked up during the jungle trek and had a temperature and migraine so topped myself up with paracetamol during the night. 15 minute cat naps while feeling like that was hardly the most enjoyable experience. Not quite man flu but warrants a mention! After turning the corner at Barranquilla the wind gradually decreased and the seas flattened. Some pleasant sailing during the 15th when I started to feel much better but by the 16th the wind was under 5 knots and the engine was required. I planned to arrive at the San Blas in daylight so slowed intentionally. Land was spotted early on the 17th with the chosen landfall Coco Bandero Cays. The cruising guide describes these as ” a group of extremely scenic islands, situated behind a four mile long protective outer reef barrier. These uninhabited islands may be the most beautiful in all of the San Blas.” Sounded good to me.

DSC05491-2

A couple of days were spent anchored between the picture postcard islands of Olosicuidup and Guariadup. If you perform a google image search ‘The Panama Cruising Guide 5th edition, Eric Bauhaus’ and look at the front cover, Fathom was anchored where the 2nd boat from the right is. Doesn’t get much better. I spent a lot of time in the water and cleaned Fathom’s incredibly weedy waterline and propeller. The anitfouling is holding up pretty well but it is the soft eroding type which means I cannot scrub it otherwise it will all rub off. Hope it will last until the end of the year when Fathom will be hauled out. One afternoon was spent sewing a repair to the sprayhood, my herringbone stitch is coming on well. It is said that the definition of cruising is ‘performing maintenance in exotic locations’, an accurate description I am coming to realise.

From Coco Bandero Cays it was a nice sail west to East Lemon Cays and an anchorage off the island of Banedup. Navigating between the islands and reefs of the San Blas takes considerable care. Electronic charts of these islands are not accurate and the cruising guide contains the only accurate paper chartlets. It is therefore necessary to extract waypoints from the book and enter them into the chartplotter. Most importantly keeping a good lookout and eyeballing entrances to anchorages is vital. Thankfully the reefs can easily be seen with good sunlight and polarised sunglasses. I didn’t go ashore at Banedup but enjoyed the sunset from the cockpit. It would easy to spend a year exploring these islands, in fact many boats do, but for me time was pressing and unfortunately it was not possible to stay too long. The island of Porvenir, which lies on the west end of the chain, contains an immigration office for Panama so I headed there on the 20th. After anchoring and rowing ashore I got talking with a local Kuna Indian called Nesta. He is one of very few that speak English on the islands and kindly offered to act as translator when I met the immigration officer. After everything was completed Nesta offered to sail me in his dug out canoe to the tiny island he lives on about a mile away so I could buy a local SIM card. Why not I thought.

Half an hour later Nesta and his mate came alongside Fathom and picked me up. We set off downwind for their island sipping cold beers which I had offered to them for a return trip. The bamboo mast and boom, torn sail and leaking hull hardly seemed up to the job but after 15 minutes or so we arrived at the tiny island they share with 500 others. This island, like a few others, has lost the traditional Kuna Indian clothing but everyone still lives in small thatched houses like their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. It was fascinating to be invited into Nesta’s house, a one roomed building, and meet his family of 8. I couldn’t help notice the lack of privacy with potty in the middle of the floor but assume they all get used to it. We then strolled through the island, past the town hall, school and small jail to the one shop. Here, surprisingly, I was sold a local SIM card and I bought some bread (8 rolls) from a local lady for 1 USD. The return sail to the anchorage was upwind and I was surprised how well the canoe sailed to windward. I offered to bail halfway as we appeared to be sinking but they didn’t seem concerned. As the wind gusted up Nesta’s mate became human rigging in order to keep the bamboo mast upright. We arrived in one piece back at Fathom. I feel lucky to have had that unusual experience off the beaten track, it has definitely been a highlight of my trip so far. *video at bottom* I can now tick off ‘sailing in a Kuna Indian dug out canoe’ from the list of things to do before i’m 35.

Early afternoon I raised anchor and headed off for Gunboat island which the cruising guide describes as “uninhabited with high coconut trees and white sand beach”. Here I intended to spend the last night before leaving the San Blas and sailing to Puerto Lindo the next day. After negotiating the reef and anchoring in 6m of water off the east of the island I rowed ashore to find quite a few people on this ‘uninhabited island’. A man approached me and demanded 20 dollars for anchoring and told me it was now a private island. I wasn’t going to pay that so walked back along the beach and took some photos. Luckily the photos have come out quite well which justifies the visit. With only an hour of daylight left Fathom dashed to the next island (not private) and the anchor was set just before dark.

Early the next morning, Tuesday 21st, Fathom departed the San Blas and headed west 40 miles to Puerto Lindo which houses a customs official who can issue the mandatory Panama cruising permit. The wind held up for most of the trip and a few hours were spent under cruising shute. Puerto Lindo was reached an hour before sunset and a cold beer drunk in the cockpit while listening to the monkeys shrieking on the nearby island of Isla Linton. I write this now at anchor in Portobelo, 8 miles to the west of Puerto Lindo, a place where Sir Francis Drake is buried after dying of dysentery in 1596. I will have a walk round this afternoon before heading west to Shelter Bay tomorrow to await the official who will measure Fathom for the canal transit. Busy but exciting times.

Posted in: San Blas Islands

Back to top