Author Archives: amarulasail

Practising Patience on Pacific Passages!

Patience is a virtue, right?
Practice makes perfect…..
We’ve had plenty of practice so far on our Pacific passages, but we are far from perfectly patient yet!

However, when we look at this, we are once again reminded just how lucky we are and why we do what we do!

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After exactly 8 days at sea, sailing from a small bay called Hakaotu in Ua Pou, Marquesas, we finally made landfall at our first atoll, Tahanea, in the stunning Tuamotu Archipelago.

Our original plan had been to sail the 420NM passage to Raroia in the central part of the Tuamotus, however the wind, when it finally started blowing 6 days into our passage, had other plans and after 2 changes of direction, we finally decided to submit and we set a course for Tahanea Atoll, an uninhabited atoll some 140NM to the south west of Raroia.

We began our passage at 1215 on Friday 19th May from the very rolly but impressive Hakahetau bay in Ua Pou DSCN2169, where we had stocked up with fruit and vegetables for the next 3 to 4 weeks.

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We had been advised that fresh provisions are difficult to find in the Tuamotus and the islanders there love to trade lobster and coconut crab for fresh pamplemousse (grapefruit) and limes from the Marquesas.

As we set sail down the west coast of Ua Pou, we spotted a lovely, calm anchorage and after a couple of hours with too much wind for the spinnaker, but not enough to sail just with the headsail, we decided that, with a 420NM passage ahead of us, we would turn back and repair the main sail, which had ripped on Day 17 of our 38 day passage from Panama to the Marquesas, almost 2 months ago. When we had tried to do the repairs before leaving Nuku Hiva, after we scored some sail material and purchased some Sikaflex and sail tape from Kevin at Nuku Hiva Yacht Supplies, rain had stopped play on numerous occasions.

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After repairing the mainsail, we finally departed at 0630 on Monday 23rd May. Unfortunately, we had missed the weather window, as the forecast was for light winds for the coming week, but the job had to be done and, as it turned out, our mainsail proved a godsend in the last couple of days of our passage when we had consistent 20 – 30 knot winds from the south east.

23rd – 30th May 2016 – Passage from Hakaota Bay, Ua Pou, Marquesas to Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia.
Distance: 420NM
Direction: 225 degrees
Expected passage time: 4 days

Monday 23 – Winds were around 8 – 10 knots from the SE, dropping overnight to 4 – 5 knots. Slow progress, even with the mainsail & MPS, but no hurry, right…? At 2330 we dropped the mainsail.
Tuesday 24 – Wind shifted around to E, then ENE 5 – 7 knots dying down to zero by afternoon. We were lucky to make 3 knots all day and spent much of the day just drifting. Meanwhile we dessicated some coconut and froze some bananas and sun-dried others. DSCN2245Our MPS was up and down like a bride’s nightie during the early days of this passage!
Wednesday 25 – By the start of day 3 we had sailed less than a quarter of the ‘4 day’ passage distance! Sure, we could have put on the engines and motored, but the grib (weather) files were showing that whichever direction we went, other than back to the Marquesas, there would be little to no wind, so we just went with it. We made banana bread, froze more bananas and made fishcakes. And of course we read and even watched movies!

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Thursday 26 – What wind we had blew from NNE and died again completely after some midday squalls, so more drifting….

Friday 27 – After 4 days at sea we had completed just 1/2 of our 420NM passage! Must be a record….. By 0900 we had to motor away from the squalls, so we were practically going backwards at this point! As the day went on, the wind picked up and so did the squalls, so we once again dropped the MPS and motored. Later in the afternoon, soon after we’d raised the MPS (yet again), the pin on the block in the spinnaker pole sheared and broke, so down came the MPS once again. By now we had more wind and decided to raise the mainsail. Unfortunately the wind changed its mind and direction yet again. It shifted round to the west, then to the SSW, which by this stage was our desired course, so we dropped the sails and motored through the night hoping for the elusive south east trade winds, which we’re now convinced are a myth!DSCN2257

Saturday 28 – By daybreak we finally had enough wind, albeit still from SSW, to raise the mainsail again. Unfortunately, as we did so we noticed a long tear between the 1st and 2nd reefing points! We put in the 2nd reef and started to finally make good progress, but the wind was certainly out to get us on this trip. Despite the grib files showing 4 – 5 knots from the NE, we were getting 16 – 20 knots from the SW by mid-morning. By midday the wind had picked up to 25 – 30 knots ON THE NOSE! By mid afternoon we were getting gusts up to 40 knots! At 1500 we hove to and waited out the winds and storms, but after battling rough, sloppy seas and almost head on winds through the night, we decided by mid-morning the next day that we really had little choice but to change course from Raroia to an atoll further to the west.
Sunday 29 – The strong winds continued through Sunday and having made the decision to change course for Kauehi Atoll, we set the sails and the wind (finally) gradually shifted around to the SE! Knowing that it would be a major challenge to head back to the eastern Tuamotus once we reached Kauehi, we decided to pinch as much east as we could and attempt to make landfall at the western end of Makemo or head for Tahanea, another 47 NM further south.
Monday 30 – As Monday progressed we continued on our course towards Tahanea. Unless we could get to Makemo before late afternoon it wasn’t worth risking entering the atoll as the Tuamotus are renowned for challenging passes and strong current as you enter the lagoons and it is vital to pick your times to enter and exit. DSCN2289 We slowed the boat down on dark so we could continue through the night in time to arrive at the pass into Tahanea at daylight.
Tuesday 31 May – What a beautiful starlit sky as we drifted outside the pass until daylight. By 0630, just 8 days after departing Ua Pou, we had dropped the anchor inside the lagoon at Tahanea, ready for a well-deserved rest!

 

 

Distance from Hakaota Bay, Ua Pou to Tahanea Atoll: 522NM as the crow flies
Actual distance travelled: 776NM!
Time: 8 days
Average speed: 4 knots

Postscript Saturday 4th June:
Having finally found an atoll with wifi, we have had a day of solid rain, not exactly conducive to going ashore and sitting on the wall outside the post office trying to pick up wifi and upload blog posts!! At least our water tanks are now completely full and we’ve had a pleasant onboard day getting these posts ready to upload when we finally do pick up the internet. Hope you enjoy them :) DSCN2301

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We are hoping to do some diving here in the Tuamotus, but so far we’ve had too much wind and rain to get out and explore. We have another couple of weeks here before we head to Tahiti for the Pacific Puddle Jump Rendezvous over the weekend of 24 – 26th June.

If you haven’t checked out our photos from the Marquesas, you can find them on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AmarulaSail/

And remember, when we are on passage we will continue to send our progress reports to this link http://www.pangolin.co.nz/xtras/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=Amarula using our HF radio and we will pick up any emails sent to us via the contact page on our website
We will not be able to check Facebook though, so any comments and messages will only be picked up when we get access to the internet, which is something of a challenge when crossing the Pacific!

We have very limited bandwidth to post photos on our blog at present, but here the links to the Marquesas photos we have shared on our Amarula Sail Facebook page.

Photos from Fatu Hiva on Amarula Sail Facebook page

Photos from Tahuata

Photos from Hiva Oa

Photos from Ua Huka

Photos from our Nuku Hiva day trip and Daniel’s Bay

We will post more photos when we can…..

More of our albums from the past few years are here

38 days at sea! Really….!!!

Yes, that’s how long our passage from Las Perlas, Panama to Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia took. With little to no wind for most of it and a couple of issues with sails/ damaged blocks etc we had a record slow trip. The good news is we didn’t have any truly adverse weather :)

Hope you enjoy the photos. More great photos below from our crew member Catrin, who has shared many photos on her Facebook page Adventures At Sea

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First Mate’s musings:

Day 20, not even half the distance into our Panama to Marquesas passage…. what a challenging trip!
After weeks of checking the weather on various sites prior to departure, in particular www.windyty.com, we elected to stay north of the Galapagos for the initial part of the trip, as predictions were for very light winds, so by staying at around 2 degrees north we picked up strong favourable currents. These currents enabled us to drift during these windless days and nights at a speed of around 2.5 to 3 knots. Every few days we picked up the weather grib files via the HF radio sailmail system and winds were consistently non-existent for most of the area west of the Galapagos, so we eventually started to make our way south/ south west in search of the south east trade winds. Unfortunately this meant a lot of motoring. We tried just about every sail configuration with various levels of frustration! But no, there was simply not enough wind for most of the time until we reached 5 degrees south.
For the first 2 weeks we had hardly any wind, no rain and no fish, except for 2 large trevally, which Eric caught on the first day.

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We spent days drifting about in hot, muggy conditions, the highlight being an occasional swim with water frisbee for the boys!

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When the wind finally kicked in during the start of week 3, not long after we crossed the equator (Cat was on watch & took this great shot!) along with rain, rain and more rain, we encountered ‘a series of unfortunate events’…..
First of all, during Cat’s early evening watch on Day 15, there was a loud bang. Eric was asleep down below so I went outside to check the cockpit. Everything appeared to be in order, but about 10 minutes later, another much louder bang and this time I saw the gate swinging open at the back of the boat and when I looked up, the boom was way out to starboard with the preventer pulling the starboard guard rail out of whack. I ran up to the wheelhouse to winch in the boom, but nothing happened and it was then that we realised that the main sheet block had snapped and the boom was swinging freely! Thank goodness we had the preventer on! Eric was soon on deck and somehow, between the 3 of us, in the dark, we had the boom in the crutch and managed to lower the mainsail.
Once again, back to slow sailing with the head sail…..
A couple of nights later, the wind kicked in again after 2 painful days of motoring/ drifting without even a current to help us along, so we raised the mainsail.
Eric had fixed the block by this time, but soon after dark the wind seemed to shift and Cat tried to steer us back on course, but nothing she could do would bring the boat round, so I started the engines to drive the boat round. We had been having a problem with our port rudder and we wondered if the steering had gone, but when we looked up there was a tear right across the top section of the mainsail! Once again we dropped the sail and limped along at a measly 1 – 3 knots…..
The next day we checked the damage and realised that, when the main sheet block broke and the boom swung out, the main sail must have got punctured by the top spreader on the mast and when we next raised it and the wind picked up, it got hold of the hole and tore it right across the sail. So now we were without a mainsail again.

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By this time we were at 5 degrees south and the winds were slowly starting to kick in more consistently, yet light enough to run the spinnaker (the brand new one, which we’d been waiting for just before we left Panama). After many days of well under 100 nautical mile runs, we were finally on track for a good 100+ NM day, when Cat yelled out and the spinnaker came tumbling down. What NOW??!!!
Way up at the top of the mast, the spinnaker block had broken and the halyard snapped, so down came our brand new sail, splash into the water getting caught up around the starboard hull. Eric had to get in the water to untangle it, whilst Cat and I carefully hoisted it back onboard. After assessing the damage we noticed a couple of 2 small tears, which we ultimately repaired, once the rain let up enough. The most upsetting part is that the sail wasn’t even a month old and we had made the decision to invest in this new sail after a number of go bads with our old spinnaker and now, here we were again, with a damaged mainsail and a damaged spinnaker – reminiscent of our passage from Trinidad to Bonaire in October last year, both of which were repaired in Cartagena after our horrible piracy attack in Taganga, Colombia. This was all too much for me and I took myself off to have a good old cry whilst watching a beautiful double rainbow over the horizon.

Another week down the track and rain daily, so any sail repairs remained in abeyance, however we had pretty good runs averaging 125NM just with our head sails. We were all beginning to get cabin fever with the overcast, rainy days and choppy seas and dreaming of the delicious pineapples, mangoes and all the other goodies we hoped to find in the Marquesas
(Note: sadly it seems that now is not the season; no mangoes, no pineapples, no avocadoes etc!!. We were told by a local tour guide that we should have been here 3 months ago. People couldn’t give all their fruit away and it was littering the ground all over the island!!)

The good news is we finally had some luck with the fishing and landed a small yellowfin tuna on day 19 (the big one got away…) and a wahoo a couple of days later.

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Since arriving in the Marquesas Eric has made up for his poor ‘on passage’ record by catching plenty of fish most nights, at dusk, off the back of the boat, so fish is back on the menu!

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One that we threw back, due to the possibility of ciguatera…. too big…

From time to time we were visited by various birds, including swallows, red-footed boobies etc,

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and occasionally we had dolphins swimming in our bow wakes. On day 20 we enjoyed the company of a good sized pod of pilot whales, but other than that not much to report, except of course, for the glorious sunrises, sunsets, moon and stars miles away from anywhere :) Absolutely, one of my favourite aspects of being on long passages!

Yet another stunning sunset at sea

Yet another stunning sunset at sea

Finally in week 5 we enjoyed a few days of comfortable downwind sailing and made some progress with our sail repairs. Eric managed to rig an external halyard for the spinnaker

Eric rigging a temporary spinnaker halyard

Eric rigging a temporary spinnaker halyard

Whilst we were all definitely ready for some fresh fruit and vegies Cat and I used the time at sea to do the 5:2 Fast Diet, which made us feel less guilty about the home-made bread rolls and Ghiradelli Triple Chocolate brownies on the non-fast days! I had also kick-started my weight loss by doing the 10 day Ketopia body reset plan, which I started a few days into the passage. With all the boat movement I was unable to weigh myself accurately, but I did lose an inch off my waist, hips, thighs & chest!! Unfortunately, now in the land of baguettes, French cheeses and pates, not to mention getting back to socialising* with old and new friends, keeping the weight off may prove somewhat more challenging!

Eventually by the start of week 6 (Yes!! week 6) we could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and expected to arrive in the Marquesas by mid-week, at least a week later than initially expected. Despite starting the week with fair winds and a pleasant downwind sail (and hope!), the wind once again died by day 3 of week 6 and we decided that, if we wanted to make landfall in daylight we would need to motor the last few hours….. We finally dropped anchor at 1620 Marquesas time on Wednesday 20th April, some 38 days, 4 hours and 5 minutes since departure!

Entering Hiva Oa anchorage, Marquesas, French Polynesia on day 38

Entering Hiva Oa anchorage, Marquesas, French Polynesia on day 38

Meanwhile we made a large dent in our book and movie collections and enjoyed the offline time, which it seems that now we’ve arrived in French Polynesia, offline time will continue barely unabated! Wifi and local data sim cards here are extremely elusive, so please don’t expect too many updates and certainly the former Facebook chit chat I loved to induldge in will be a rare luxury, but I am certainly thinking of all our friends and family all around the world. Miss you heaps and hope to hear from you as and when we get a chance to check in!

Captain’s comments:

This passage is one of the longest in the world and is a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG way!
Panama City is located at 08 Degrees 53 Min North, 078 Degrees 41 West
Hiva Oa is located at 09 Degrees 50 Min South, 139 Degrees 01 West

Monday, 18th April 2016 (Day 36)
It does not get much better than this!
We are 250 miles out from our landfall, 0300 hours, almost full moon, clear sky, bright stars and we are sailing directly downwind on our rhumb line, with both head sails winged out with a breeze of 13 knots and our boat speed varying between 5 and 6 knots.
At this rate we should make our landfall at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas in 2 days….. (hmmm, wind died at daybreak…)

For weeks prior to our departure we had studied the weather patterns to determine which way to go to pass through the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), commonly known as “The Doldrums”.
There are 2 options:
1) To immediately head south/southwest to around 4 Degrees S before heading west
2) Generally follow the Rhumb Line to 2 Degrees North then head west, taking options to make South, as and when available
We had advice on weather patterns, current conditions, anticipated speed and time frame in the forecast conditions up to the time we set out and chose to follow the Rhumb Line option.

We left Panama City and sailed 35 miles south to the Las Perlas Islands where we careened Amarula to clean the bottom and touch up our anti fouling for a clean passage. We spent a few more days exploring the more remote islands in the group before setting off at 1645 on Sunday 13th March (Panama time).

*Had a lovely get together in the anchorage the other night when friends we’d met in the Caribbean a couple of years ago threw a surprise early birthday party for Eric before they took off to Fatu Hiva!

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The Marquesas here we come!

Enjoying yet another stunning sunset at Contadora as we complete our final preparations before sailing off across the vast Pacific Ocean on what will be our longest passage yet. Possibly a whole month at sea before we reach the Marquesas!

Sunset at Contadora, Las Perlas, Panama

Tomorrow we careen the boat and give her a good bottom scrub, then we’ll be on our way as soon as the wind decides to blow :)
Meanwhile we have updated a few of our website pages.

Check out our Find Us page and our revised Marine Consultancy page with details of our new BOAT INSURANCE agency!
Please note:
Even though we will NOT see any Facebook messages for the next few weeks you can still contact us via the form on our Contact page

If you want to follow our passage, you can check this link to see our progress and where we report from http://www.pangolin.co.nz/xtras/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=Amarula

 

So, at last we start to make our way across the Pacific Ocean and are excited to visit the numerous Polynesian islands en route. The lush, towering islands of the Marquesas in French Polynesia will be our first landfall, followed by the flat, turquoise atolls of the Tuamotos and eventually those classic dreamlike names, Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora.

More to follow…..!

Update:

Bottom all clean and we’re raring to go! The boys had a great time on the beach :)

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Pacific Passage Preparation and Planning

Oh dear, for the past 2 months I have had good intentions of posting all about our wonderful San Blas experience, but it’s already the end of February and I still haven’t got around to it…..
With all the preparations for our upcoming Pacific crossing, not to mention the Panama Canal transit and our visitors, Cathy & David from UK, it has been a hectic few weeks. So the San Blas photos and story will simply have to wait…. for now….. but just to whet your appetite, here are a few photos :)

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We plan on setting sail within the next week to the Marquesas, French Polynesia, and there is still so much to do! We had an engine problem that has not yet been resolved, although we’re hopeful that Eric has finally figured it out. Fingers crossed on that one!! Plus our MPS (multi-purpose spinnaker) blew out when we sailed down to Las Perlas the other week after only just being repaired, yet again, in Colombia! First time it blew out was on the sail from Saldanha Bay in South Africa to Luderitz, Namibia back in late 2011.

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Our first MPS repair in Walvis Bay, Namibia in 2012

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Our most recent MPS repair job, done in Cartagena, Colombia, December 2015

 

 

We’ve had some great sails with this MPS though and consequently we decided it was not worth risking it on the long Pacific crossing, so we have ordered a new one from the sailmaker in Australia who made our original sails. It is due to arrive any day, along with our new watermaker! For 7 years in East Africa we used our watermaker daily and one of the greatest aspects of having it was that we were able to share pure, clean drinking water with people we met in isolated islands on our travels. It was a Godsend and in fact, we were once told we were sent from God when we rocked up to Okuza island south of Mafia island in Tanzania and gave about 200 litres of water to a group of fishermen who had been waiting for their supply boat, which had been delayed by a few days.

Okuza island, Tanzania. The thirsty fishermen are off in the distance, under the tree.

Okuza island, Tanzania

They had run out of food and water and were desperate, so we took one of them with us and dropped him off at an island further south where he was able to get transport to the mainland to go for assistance. With the El Nino year and lack of rain in certain regions, it made sense to finally replace our original watermaker, which broke down in southern Mozambique when we were heading to South Africa, late 2009. After numerous attempts to get it repaired Eric gave up and has been hauling water in jerry cans for the past 6 years! At almost 70 years old, I think it’s time he starts to take things easy, although he has other ideas….!!

It’s not been all work these past few weeks since we arrived on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal though. We’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks in Las Perlas islands just south of here and just by the anchorage in Panama City we’ve spotted sloths on a few occasions!

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During the next few months, as we sail in the South Pacific, we expect to have even more limited access to cyberspace than usual! We will have our HF radio email, which has been our trusty companion on each of our ocean crossings (Indian Ocean 2002, Atlantic Ocean 2012 and now the Pacific Ocean 2016). The best way to contact us is to send a message via our Contact us page on this website, as I have it linked to an email which will be forwarded to our HF radio email.

We do still have the IridiumGo, which I bought back in October, but I haven’t had a chance to really get it up and running, as I am still struggling with configuring and organising the new Windows computer after 8 years of living with Macs! Grrrr!!! We’ve been trying to sell the IridiumGo, as it was really a luxury item above and beyond our requirements and since our pirate attack and all the other expenses we were hoping to cash it up before we set sail, but so far no takers….. Maybe I’ll figure out how it works between here and the Marquesas! Wish me luck!

As one gate closes, another one opens…..

THE PANAMA CANAL!!!

SV Amarula in the Miraflores locks (webcam screenshot courtesy of Nicole, Eric's daughter watching from Australia!)

SV Amarula in the Miraflores locks (webcam screenshot courtesy of Nicole, Eric’s daughter watching from Australia!)

OMG we did it! After years of anticipation, knowing that, one day, if we were to complete a circumnavigation, we would either have to go through the Panama Canal or face a long, possibly treacherous sail around Cape Horn….. (that was never on the cards!)

With our trusty crew (line-handlers) of Cathy Stephens, jeweller extraordinaire and her intrepid travel partner David, along with our sailing buddy, John from SV Aeeshah, we had a wonderful, exciting and FUN transit!

Our trusty crew at beer o'clock!

John, Cathy & David (l to r). Our trusty crew at beer o’clock!

Our Canal transit preparations began when we sailed to the Flats anchorage on Sunday 10th January ready for the PCA (Panama Canal Authority) Admeasurer to arrive on Monday 11th January to start the process.

Our personal Ship Identification Number for the Panama Canal transit

Our personal Ship Identification Number for the Panama Canal transit

Once we had received our paperwork from the Admeasurer we relocated to the tight, rolly anchorage off Club Nautico next to the cruise ship dock, where we met with our agent, Erick Galvez, to finalise the transit formalities and wait for our date and time. There was no shortage of entertainment with 2 cruise ships in port and the rapid turn around of numerous container ships just across the channel from us.

Club Nautico anchorage at Colon, by the Cruise ship dock

Club Nautico anchorage at Colon, by the Cruise ship dock

The anchorage was convenient with a supermarket and shopping mall a few minutes walk away, a fabulous meat, and fresh market a short taxi ride away and readily available fuel and water at the dock next to Club Nautico. Cathy and David arrived early on the Tuesday morning after a fascinating train trip on the historic Panama Railway from Panama City, which was built in 1855! We joined them with their taxi driver for a drive to the market to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, then we drove up to Gatun Lake to see where we would be spending the first night of our transit after going through the Gatun locks.

Panama Railway circa 1855

Panama Railway circa 1855

Erick rang us to say that our transit was to be late in the afternoon of Thursday 14th January, so we contacted our 4th line-handler, John, who was at Shelter Bay marina and he joined us Wednesday afternoon so we could all spend a less rolly night at anchor in the The Flats anchorage and wait for our Advisor to join us later on the Thursday afternoon. With Africa in common, John was born in Kenya and Cathy was born in Rhodesia and has been holidaying in Kenya for many years, there was no shortage of stories flying around the cockpit, punctuated by David’s witty jokes and anecdotes.

Lynne tightening the lines

Lynne tightening the lines

It was quite late on Thursday afternoon when our advisor arrived, so by the time we reached the first of the 3 Gatun locks, it was getting dark. We were all slightly apprehensive, not knowing exactly what to expect and we were asked to tie up alongside a smaller, sports fishing boat against the lock wall. Eric declined this option, as there was potential for damage by putting a heavy aluminium boat (us) alongside a smaller fibreglass boat, especially with the amount of turbulence that is created as the lock floods. Consequently, we had to wait for the next lock and darkness was falling fast. In fact, it was quite exciting with all the bright lights, however there was considerable turbulence and Cathy and Lynne had to hold tight to their lines until securing them around the winches, slowly taking in the slack as the lock flooded. We had plenty of time to take photos and share them on Facebook between our linehandling duties and it was fun to hear from friends and family who were following us from all around the world! On the second day a few photos popped up in our Facebook feed as Eric’s daughter Nicole and other friends posted screenshots from the Canal webcams!

SV Amarula in the Miraflores locks (webcam screenshot courtesy of Stephany on SV Endless Pleasure in the Caribbean!)

SV Amarula in the Miraflores locks (webcam screenshot courtesy of Stephany on SV Endless Pleasure in the Caribbean!)

After a successful run through the first 3 locks, we were guided to pick up a buoy in Gatun Lake for the night and our advisor left us with instructions to be up early ready for the next advisor to join us for the rest of the transit.

Sunrise on Gatun Lake. Guess who was anchored nearby? Yes, it was our Miraflores lock buddy Islamorada!

Sunrise on Gatun Lake. Guess who was anchored nearby? Yes, it was our Miraflores lock buddy Islamorada! Apparently this had been Al Capone’s rum runner back in the days of prohibition!

We were up with the sun and waited…. and waited…. until eventually our advisor, Roy, was dropped off at around 1030 on Friday 15th January. He advised us that we needed to be at the first of the Pacific locks by 1330, which meant a 30 mile trip in 3 hours! Hmmmm, no bueno bwana!

Roy wasn’t unduly worried and suggested we just get there as fast as we could. Apart from the time constraints for being in the first lock, we had a pleasant 28 mile motor from our overnight mooring in Gatun Lake. The channel wends its way between small islands and occasionally it’s possible to see various birds and animals. Some cruisers have been lucky enough to spot jaguar at the water’s edge on occasion. Part way through I asked Roy about a boat that was moored off one of the islands and he said it was a research boat and the island actually belonged to the Smithsonian Institute and scientific research is continually carried out there.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake

Other than this, our passage was fairly uneventful. It was fascinating to watch the huge ships passing each other, especially in the narrow Gaillard Cut as they approached the Pacific locks.

Ships that pass.... in the canal

Ships that pass…. in the canal

We reached the Pacific locks quite late in the afternoon, but still in daylight, so it was much easier for our followers to spot us as we entered the locks and we’re grateful for the screenshot photos posted on Facebook, a couple of which we have shared in this post. Initially we expected to tie up in the centre as we had done in the Gatun locks, but last minute we were advised to tie up alongside a wooden tourist boat at the starboard side of the lock. It was full of German tourists all taking photos and bemused by Chui & Scrumpy running around the deck barking at them all! We soon discovered that the boat we tied up to had once been Al Capone’s rum running boat between Cuba and Florida during prohibition, so it had quite a history attached to it!

Goodbye Islamorada! It was fun sharing the locks with you :)

Goodbye Islamorada! It was fun sharing the locks with you :)

By the time we untied from Islamorada for the last time the excitement was palpable as the enormous gates opened to welcome us into the Pacific Ocean, ready for huge tides and a very long passage ahead of us. Roy, our advisor, accompanied us as far as Balboa Yacht Club where we said our goodbyes and a big thank you and we handed our lines and fenders to the tender from the club to be returned to Erick, our agent. What a fantastic experience!

Thanks Roy for a wonderful experience!

Thanks Roy for a wonderful experience!

It’s 14 years this year, since we set sail from Australia and our plan is to be back there (or close by) at the end of this year. Could we keep going? For sure, but Eric is ready for some family time before the grandkids grow up too quickly and make him a great grandpa!! Who knows, maybe our course across the Pacific will take a turn towards South East Asia, but the plan for now is New Zealand and ultimately Australia, preferably to deliver Amarula to her new owner there…. 😉 Could that be you?

 

Blackpool girl meets Blackpool Tower in the Panama Canal zone!!

Who’d have thought that a Blackpool-born and bred girl like me would feel at home thousands of miles away from Blackpool?

Blackpool Tower ship 01 Blackpool Tower ship 02 This was the ship that sailed in to the container port across from us, whilst we waited at Club Nautico in Colon, for our Panama Transit!

Definitely, an auspicious sign…..

So, here we are waiting in the Flats anchorage for our transit later this afternoon, Thursday 14th January, 2016. Our transit time is 1630 today, when the assigned Advisor boards our vessel and guides us to the first of the locks, Gatun Locks, around an hour’s transit time from here .Here is the link for the Gatun Locks webcams. We expect the transit time for the 3 locks to be around 90 minutes and we should be through by around 7pm (local time = midnight GMT) after which we will drop off our Advisor and spend the night anchored in Gatun Lake.

Tomorrow morning we will pick up the Advisor at around 0700 to continue the transit, which we expect to complete by around 1600 tomorrow afternoon. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates and times of the transit through the final set of locks, the Miraflores locks. The link for the Miraflores locks webcam is here. If you are not a Facebooker and would like an email update of our transit through the locks, please send us a message and we will do our best to keep you updated!

Waiting in the Panama Canal zone

Waiting in the Panama Canal zone

Read about our Panama Canal transit here

Decisions, disasters, and a new destiny!

Cartagena at night

Cartagena at night

Well 2015 what can we say….
First of all we will take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Earlier this year, after much discussion and deliberation, we finally made the decision to return to Australia after many years living aboard our lovely floating home, SV Amarula, slowly making our way around the world.
Having made the decision we began preparing ourselves and our home (see the haulout photos here) for the final part of our journey together, beginning with the Caribbean crossing, followed by the Panama Canal transit and finally our longest ocean passage yet….. across the Pacific and back to Australia!
The plan is to be home with family by this time next year and we are very much looking forward to seeing everyone again, as it has been way too long.

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New Year’s Eve onboard SV Amarula in Sydney Harbour 2001. Maybe we’ll make it back for a 15 year anniversary celebration!!

SV AMARULA IS FOR SALE and we hope to find her a new, loving owner/s as soon as we are across the Pacific. We will soon add a FOR SALE page to our website, which we hope you will share for us.

Our distance from family and everything familiar and friendly was recently brought ‘home’ to us (literally) when we experienced what can only be described as (one of) our worst nightmares, a boarding and robbery by armed pirates whilst we were anchored in a beautiful bay in Taganga, Colombia, South America….. (story & reports here)
Not only did we and our floating home survive, despite huge financial & emotional losses, we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support and offers of assistance from friends, family and even strangers from all around the world. For that we are truly grateful.

Taganga Bay sunset

Taganga sunset, one of our happier memories of this lovely bay

We are now enjoying exploring the stunning San Blas islands off the northern coast of Panama, to the east of the Panama Canal, before we meet up with friends mid-January to do the transit.

Scrumpy enjoying his favourite activity on his birthday in the San Blas islands

Scrumpy enjoying his favourite activity on his birthday in the San Blas islands

After leaving Taganga, we sailed to Cartagena, a city which has been on our bucket list for many years and for the most part we were not disappointed, except that much of our time was spent on logistics, such as sourcing an outboard motor & a computer, plus organising new credit cards etc, which Australia Post in their infinite wisdom managed to mistakenly mail to South AFRICA instead of South America, so we are still without those…… no doubt lost in the bowels of the South African postal system…..

Wandering the streets of the old city

Wandering the streets of the old city of Cartagena

The highlight of Cartagena was wandering around in the old walled city amongst impressive buildings dating back to the early 16th Century, further enhanced by the sparkling Christmas lights at night time. One of our favourite hang outs was the Plaza by the Palace of the Inquisition, where various performers entertained the crowds, and hawkers sold everything from art work to beer & ice creams. One evening we thoroughly enjoyed the music of a young couple, one of whom played the clarinet accompanied by the young man playing the didgeridoo, of all things!!

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One of the many plazas with hawkers, entertainers and streetside cafes

The story of San Pedro Claver was particularly touching. He was a Spanish nobleman and priest who dedicated his life in Cartagena to helping the slaves as they were brought off the slave ships. The museum and church dedicated to him are well worth a visit. He was the first saint to be canonized in the Americas and his remains lie in a glass coffin at the altar of the church, in front of which many weddings take place. I am not sure that having this as a back drop for my wedding photos would be my choice, but it doesn’t seem to bother the numerous couples who marry here!

San Pedro de Claver church

San Pedro de Claver church

We can highly recommend the Free Walking Tour of Cartagena. Our English speaking guide, Edgar, shared his passion and intimate knowledge of his city over a 2 hour tour taking in all the sights in the old city. Excellent!

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Botero’s Fat Woman monument

Later we visited the impressive fort with its thick walls and winding passageways, the largest fort ever built by the Spanish in the Americas. The guides within the fort were missing out on customers on the day we visited, because the powers that be had suddenly, without any warning or notification, decided to charge ALL foreigners (even from other South American countries) a rate of US$10, rather than the advertised 17,000 COP (approximately US$5) simply because the Colombian exchange rate had dropped to its lowest low against the dollar!! Naturally most people simply walked away in disgust, so the fort was much quieter than on a typical day….. I wonder if the world will ever wake up to the fact that not everyone who travels is American & carries pockets full of USD?!! Ho hum…

San Felipe fort, reputedly the oldest Spanish fort in the Americas

San Felipe fort, reputedly the oldest Spanish fort in the Americas

The vibrant Plaza de Trinidad is a great way to mix with the local social scene, whilst savouring tasty street food and beers at a fraction of the price within the old city. We bumped into the friends who had helped us by loaning us an outboard engine when we first arrived in Cartagena, so they showed us how to find our way around the various food stalls and explained what was what, thankfully!

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Wedding at the church in Plaza Trinidad.

Anyway, I will leave it here, as New Year is almost upon us and I want to post this before we sail out of range again.
Whilst there are fewer photos than normal in today’s post, we hope you will visit our Facebook page to see more photos and please bear with us whilst we are still getting our communications back to anything even remotely like before.
Meanwhile we look forward to hearing from you and your news.
We have received a number of your emails with news attached, but again, we are not always able to download & read these attachments until we can get to better internet, but keep them coming & we’ll read them & respond when we get the chance.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Moving on

In the early hours of Wednesday morning 2 weeks ago today we were boarded and robbed at gun point in Colombia. You can read about it here with the follow up reports for the cruising networks.

We have had plenty of people reaching out to support us, which has been heartwarming, however there’s not much that can be done from a distance and finding replacement items (necessities such as outboard engine, computer, camera etc) in a country where you don’t speak the language is quite a challenge, but we’re getting there…. slowly!

The good stuff (Mac computers, good cameras, watches, all my jewellery collection*, etc) is gone forever and we are now making do with cheap stuff, anything we can find second hand & a few handouts (camera, watches, etc) that we are most grateful for! *Do you know how annoying it is when you report stuff on Facebook forums & some idiot (male of course) makes this dumb comment: “So you’re more upset about the jewelry than the outboard, it seems.” Of course I’m more upset about the jewellery,  it’s irreplaceable.  I am not emotionally attached to an outboard engine! Grrr. … it’s inconvenient but replaceable. ….

Anyway this post is not to go over what has gone before, but to move forward. I am not able to post photos at this time, but hope to very soon.

We had heard many good things about cruising the Colombian coast from cruising friends and despite what happened, we did love the anchorage and hiking around Taganga Bay and now we are in Cartagena and loving exploring this fascinating, colourful & vibrant city.

Photos to come! Stay tuned!

Boarded and robbed in Taganga Bay, Colombia

Perhaps we were somewhat premature in our previous post when we pooh-poohed superstition and set sail on Friday 13th November……

Who knows, but unfortunately we finally experienced one of our worst fears, when we were recently boarded and robbed at gun & knife point in the middle of the night in Taganga Bay, Colombia last Wednesday 25th November.

The good news is we’re here to tell the tale and whilst the trauma of being robbed, attacked and tied up in our floating home will take some time to recover from, this attack could have been a whole lot worse.

Before we go into any great detail,  we would just like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has reached out to us since we first posted about the attack on Facebook soon after it happened. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support and offers of financial assistance from friends & family all around the world, and even from people we don’t know! Whilst this certainly is a huge financial blow to us, there are many, many far more deserving causes out there, but we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

We are writing reports for the anti-Piracy networks and, as soon as they are published, we will add the links in here, so you can read up further if you so wish. But for now we just want to get word out there that we are safe & well.  We sailed overnight Thursday from Santa Marta to Cartagena and we have friends assisting us to replace urgent needs such as our Outboard engine, laptop computer and navigation programmes.

More to come soon……

 UPDATES:

Report posted on Caribbean Safety & Security Network  CSSN. We have since realised further cash is missing, some €, £ & Australian $, all were together in the drawer containing my jewellery (value of jewellery was approx 1/3 of total value of items stolen). Values stated are our cost values, some items were 2nd hand, the stated value of $20,000 is not replacement value, which we anticipate would be much higher, but i have no intention of buying any more decent jewellery for slimeballs to steal from me….. Also note the CSSN and Noonsite links at the bottom of this report to the assault & robbery in 2012, which appears almost identical to our incident. The response to that report suggests the authorities would do all in their power to prevent any future incidents. Sadly very little seems to have changed & we do not recommend  going to Taganga. If you, like us, prefer to anchor rather than go into marinas, then please anchor in Santa Marta at night, not Taganga or head straight to Cartagena. There is also a link to a very positive report on Taganga in the report.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our dear friends John & Jen on SV Aeeshah, who insisted we relocate to the marina and went guarantor for our stay and also helped by loaning us some cash and giving us a watch each & a camera to use. I am pleased to hear that the marina have now informed John & Jen that they will cover the cost of our stay. Thank you Santa Marta Marina!

Reports of our incident now published on:

Noonsite – please note that the comment regarding the marina in Santa Marta being the only safe place to stay came from noonsite, not from us.

Caribbean Compass – Eric’s letter regarding our robbery was published in the January edition of the Caribbean Compass. You can find it on pages 46 – 47.

Curacao to Colombia

Don’t leave on a Friday is the cry! Don’t carry bananas (nor even women!) onboard!

We departed at 0710 on Friday 13th November from Spanish Waters, Curacao to Santa Marta (Taganga), Colombia, with a whole stash of bananas onboard and Lynne, of course! Despite the forecast for ‘gale force winds off the Colombian coast’, we enjoyed one of our best sails yet!

So much for sailing superstitions :)

Taking Lynne’s own advice, as per her comment on Windtraveler’s recent post ‘The Best Cruising Advice in Six Words, we decided to ‘take the wind and sail away’

Farewell Tugboat Bar, Willem & guard pup.

Farewell Tugboat Bar, Willem & guard pup.

We had a leisurely sail up the Curacao coast past the lovely Dutch-style capital of Willemsted before heading slightly north of west towards Aruba. With 2 cruise ships (Zuiderdam and Jewel of the Seas) in port on Friday, Curacao looked to have a busy day ahead, a prosperous one too, we hope!

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Cruise ships in Willemsted

Our sail to Aruba rewarded us with a lovely 12 kilo tuna (fish photo) at around 1530 hours, which Eric proceeded to clean and prepare for a delicious sushi supper and to fill a few gaps in our freezer! Of course the boys also enjoyed a fish supper and their favourite, Eric’s tasty fishcakes, the following day!

12kg tuna - nice catch!

12kg tuna – nice catch!

As there was a lot of shipping off the coast of Aruba and we were passing by at night, Lynne thought better of doing the website updates (despite having plenty of Digicel data credit left for this purpose). Meanwhile, we used a great App on the Galaxy Tablet, called Find Ship, which picks up AIS signals from ships in the area and gives an ID on them, so this and of course, keeping a good look out, got us safely past Aruba. Our radar, which we normally use, is having some issues, which we hope to get repaired in either Colombia or Panama.

From Aruba, we continued with the following wind through the night, past the Archipelago Los Monjes (Venezuelan offshore rocks) on our heading for Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of Colombia (and, in fact, of South America). Passing by the point around midday on Saturday 14th, it was cloaked in a light haze, which didn’t offer us the best views, however it was flatter than we expected and exceedingly desolate! From the description in the Lonely Planet guide to Colombia (2009 edition), it suggests that ‘those that make the effort (to visit this place) will be rewarded with one of the most dazzling landscapes in South America, a sanctuary of solitude that equals travel Nirvana‘ p.184!!

Flying past Punta Gallinas with 40 knot gusts!

Flying past Punta Gallinas with 40 knot gusts!

We did consider taking refuge in the large bay Bahia Honda a few miles south of the point, but we continued on our surprisingly comfortable passage, with the wind pushing us along under staysail only, as we wanted to make it to Cabo de la Vela for sunset!

Passing Puerto Bolivar, prohibited entry as this is the coal terminal

Passing Puerto Bolivar, prohibited entry as this is the coal terminal

We hit 9.7 knots in a 40 knot gust on one occasion, so as we still had another 30 miles to go, at the rate we were sailing we expected to make it in daylight. By sunset we were anchored in the bay watching the coach loads of tourists making their way up to the light ‘El Faro’ on the hill at Cabo de la Vela, but unfortunately none of us were rewarded with the sunset for which this point is famous…..

Hoards of tourists at El Faro, Cabo de la Vela for sunset

Hoards of tourists at El Faro, Cabo de la Vela for sunset

Meanwhile kitesurfers were loving the windy conditions and the local Wayuu fishermen were busy setting their nets and floats  in the bay not far from us, so we were praying that our anchor would hold us in the strong winds, which continued gusting to 30+ knots through the night.

Kitesurfers at Cabo de la Vela

Kitesurfers at Cabo de la Vela

No worries! We woke early and Eric tried for a fish, but soon caught a large sting ray. He waved to one of the local fishermen who was passing by to see if they wanted it and they motored across to free it from the line. After an exciting few minutes of fending off their boat, attempting to assist them to remove the hook from the ray and restraining Chui from trying to bite any hands that grabbed on to our boat, off they went with their prize!

The boys enjoying the view (wishing they were ashore exploring!)

The boys enjoying the view (wishing they were ashore exploring!)

We left later that morning, again with 30 knot winds for much of the time and raced along under headsail and staysail for most of the day, until we hit an uncomfortable patch with currents against us and we slowly sailed through the night rarely hitting 5 or even 4 knots for several hours. By morning we were just off the coast close to Tayrona National Park, so we decided to take a break for some breakfast and a rest before completing our passage to Taganga. Not long after we had anchored we heard a helicopter and soon after we were approached by the National Parks boat asking us for permits (we presume). We had our yellow quarantine flag up and indicated that we had taken refuge from the swells and wind for a brief rest and they were cool with that and waved us off to our destination without further incident.

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

By 1530 we were anchored in Taganga Bay awaiting the arrival of the agent Dino, who was ready to meet us and clear us into Colombia. As it was a holiday the local beaches were heaving with tourists and water taxis were whizzing back & forth between Tanganga beach and the bays nearby. It was total mayhem!

Check out our other recent posts on Bonaire and Curacao too and please like & share our website!

Now, Colombia awaits!