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Written by Daryl

Photos by Daryl and Joar*

Ecuador July 2005.


    Bring on the Storms!    

     Leaving Panama felt great.  Usually, when you are stationary on a boat, either at a dock, mooring or anchor, for too long you can't wait to get out to the open sea and sail.  However, when the situation reverses itself and you are at sea for too long, you can't wait to secure the boat somewhere and go ashore.  In Panama, we had been stationary on the boat in a harbor for very long (excluding the 2 days transiting the canal) 6 days at anchor in Colon on the east side of the canal, and then 7 days on a mooring in Panama City on the west.  Plus, being situated at the mouth of the canal is not the best place to be secured. It's pretty amazing how much garbage and pollution gets dumped into the Pacific Ocean via the Panama Canal.  It was something we never really thought about when we first moored the boat in Panama City and then dove in for our celebratory ‘canal crossing’ swim.  Oil containers, gas, lot’s of plastic and tires were some of the common ingredients of this garbage soup.  I even saw a volleyball float by the boat one day.  It sure looked liked Wilson.  Or maybe, it was Voit?

     Our timing was good when we motored out of Panama City at 4 pm into the Pacific Ocean.  Our first stop was at the Pearl Islands, 40 miles away, on route to Salinas, Ecuador and then Galapagos.  If we travelled at an average speed of 4 knots (8 km/hr) we should be there by morning. And there were no storms in sight!  But, we knew that this Panamanian weather could change very quickly and slow us down.  And sure enough, about 25 miles out of Panama the flashing skies got closer and the rain started to fall, in buckets!!  The lightning was so close to the boat that the flash and the thunder were almost simultaneous.  It was a scary experience as we have met other sailors in Panama who were there because their boat had been struck by lightning in the Pacific and blew out all of their electronics.  We weren’t really worried about the electronics being affected by the lightning as much as how our wet bodies would handle a strike.  Everything in the cockpit was soaked and we still had about 8 hours until we reached the Pearl Islands.  With over 25 islands to choose from in the archipelago we cranked up the engine and steered the boat towards the island which displayed the only blue sky, Pedro Gonzalez Island.  But, to make matters more interesting at 4 in the morning the motor suddenly stopped.  Out of gas again?  No, garbage in the propeller!!  We had to wait until daylight at 6 when Joar dove in and removed a huge sheet of plastic from the propeller, a goodbye present from the canal. All was good, and we set our course for the blue skied island in front of us.  As we approached Pedro Gonzalez, the rain stopped and we were then reminded why this area of the Pacific was famous. Not only for the filming of Survivor but, more importantly, for catching sailfish as we witnessed one playfully jumping in the waves.  A sight, like many on this trip, that can only be reviewed in our minds.

     The Pearl Islands were beautiful, and made us wonder what all the ‘Surviving’ was about.  This was a touch of paradise although, the Pacific temperature is a few degrees lower than what our Caribbean bodies are used to.  Instead of the waters being 27 to 30 deg they were only 24.  It was the first time that I shivered in 8 weeks!  It would have been great to spend more time discovering the Pearl Islands but, we knew that we weren’t far enough away from the Northern storm belt and we had to make use of the good weather while we had it.  Plus, there are always great times in front of the bow.  But first, more garbage in the propeller!

     The ‘great time’ prophecy could not have been more evident than when we left the Pearl Islands.  About 1 day out from the Islands we were enjoying the still sunny weather, and thinking about changing our course to head straight to the Galapagos, when all of a sudden the drag alarm on the fishing reel went off.  We had just caught a 15 kg trevally, and there were so many tunas jumping by the boat we just figured it was just another common fish.  ‘It’s a Sailfish!!’ yelled Joar.  But, that was hard to believe with all of the fishing jokes that we play on one another (such as pulling the line to set off the drag alarm.)  Then we saw it jump in the air.  What the heck!!! We had a sailfish on the line!!!  It was a great 25 minute fight with many jumps in the air just like in the pictures we have seen.  This sailfish was huge!  But, how to get this great fish in the boat??  Kjell, figured out a rope system to lasso the fish’s tail and then hoist it to the front of the boat.  No problem.  Well, until the waves started to pick up and the sky turned darker.   A storm was coming.  We had to work fast; catch, kill, cut, clean, cut and clean, and then clean.  Oh, and of course pictures. The whole process took about 3 hours to get the fish done up and the boat back in decent smelling shape.  The whole experience was very assussing.  It was also a good thing our ice box was still cold and stocked with ice from Panama.  We measured this Sailfish at 2.7 meters and around 75 kg!  By far the biggest fish we have ever caught and the most magnificent!!

     Now we could focus on the new problem at hand, Squalls!  You could see them all around us.  One would hit us with rain and wind for an hour or so and then another one would be right behind it.  Kjell and I donned the raingear this time and ended up battling the squalls from 6 pm until 5 am with half an hour to an hour steering shifts while Joar catered to our inside needs with food, drinks, and smokes.  By morning we were so exhausted, and it didn’t look like the weather was going to get any better.  So, we decided to take down the sails, go in the cabin, batten down the hatches, and just float there until the storms passed.  It was a good thing we did this, for that next storm we hit was a big one with lots of rain, wind, and huge waves for 36 hours!  We just stayed in the cabin resting, eating, writing, watching movies, waiting, soaking up leaks, and reading up on the Doldrums: ‘An area near to the eastern equator where there are usually light winds and calm waters, and you could just sit there for days barely moving at all.  Unless, you get caught during the time of the year when the tradewinds bring southern moisture back to the equator, then you get heavy rain squalls and violent thunderstorms!’ (courtesy of the Pacific Crossing Guide)  Everyday is a school day.

     It felt so good when we woke up to blue sky.  We quickly put up the sails and with the good side wind, we were doing 5 knots (9 km/hr.) a good speed for the boat.  But, since we had used up most of our gas and now my other leg was getting another infection (‘what the heck?’) we decide to head to the closer city of Esmeraldas in Ecuador for gas, supplies and more medical services.  With still 5 days sail to Esmeraldas, we used the good weather for cleaning up and drying out everything in the boat.  As well as celebrating making it through our first Tropical storm and Canada Day!

     Finally, after 12 days at sea, traveling over 600 miles (avg speed- 2 knot/hr or 3.7 km/hr) battling storms and sailfish, we arrived at Esmeraldas.  As we motored into the harbor, we quickly noticed there were no sailboats here or even a dock for us to stop.  Actually, there were no recreation boats at all in this harbor, only hundreds of different size fishing boats motoring around and thousands of eyes staring at us.  This wasn’t what we expected and definitely not a place for tourists.  To quote the lonely Planet ' Esmeraldas is a lively, noisy city with a reputation for being dangerous, and most travelers pass through it quickly.'  It's advice that we have read before on this trip so, we weren't really that concerened with the warning.  More importantly,  where were we going to put the boat,… 










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Darryl & Kjell


























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