Friday, 27 October 2017

The Passage That Wasn't Meets Military Escourt and Some Crazy History

Dear Mr Pelican, must you sit there and poop all over our bowsprit? !
After my last post, leading up to our second attempt to cross the Pacific, we were so encouraged and boosted by everybody's well wishes. We felt confident and happy to be taking on this 40 day passage, (again). However, the morning we were to leave, we discovered one of our water bladders had leaked over 100 litres into our bilges.
Over two days of various fix-it attempts and cleaning out bilges left me feeling rattled, my confidence also washed out into the bilge. I experienced numerous moments of nautiousness and feeling weak kneed.
We ended up buying 160 litres in 5 litre bottles and stashing them throughout various nooks and crannies of the boat. Then Dave found a solution: clamping the area around the small hole with two pieces of wood meant we could refill the tank up to around 100 litres.

Anchored out back of anchorage. Photo: Eli.

(Refilling the tanks requires ferrying jerry jugs by dinghy back and forth a rather decent distance, due to extreme tides, to the dinghy dock ashore where, thankfully, there is free, potable water).

Neighborhood view courtesy of Eli.

With that hurdle over, we tried to leave the next morning but the rain poured down so heavy, with no let up in sight, often white out conditions and poor visibility. We made the decision not to leave based on the fact that with the weekend boat traffic returning from the islands and the white-out conditions, it could be potentially dodgy. Besides, this is supposed to be "cruising," how necessary was it to rush off into a 40 day passage, starting out with soaking wet, grumpy crew?! - Movie day.

The fattest, brightest bumblebee I've ever seen! 

Following morning, sunny day, engine on, Dave just finished manually cranking up 150 feet of chain, hauled up the oversized anchor... when the engine cut out and does not start. What now?! Drop the anchor.
We read through our trouble shooting manual and spent the day trying to fix the problem: air in the fuel. Our fingers were raw and blistered from maneuvering the lever to bleed the lines. Still nothing. Late afternoon some friends came over to help work through the problem and we finally got it fixed.
Fourth attempt, we were determined to leave but Dave suddenly became overwhelmed at the prospect. Some time and discussion passed, he managed to push past it and we finally left the anchorage.

Up anchor: Dave hard at it, Salem on bowsprit as mostly
silent moral booster, Eli hauling up water to wash stinky mud off chain.

We left in pleasant conditions, and good spirits, happy to be finally leaving and tackling this part of the journey we had talked about for years. There was no wind so we were motoring, but had expected this to be the case based on other cruisers' experience of this section of the run.

We had alotted the boys an evening time slot each for the watches, with either Dave or I dozing in the cockpit with them. They knew what was expected of them, including filling in the log book, checking on bilges, engine gauges, wind direction, course direction, and of course, traffic. They took their job seriously and it enabled Dave and I to get longer stints of sleep.
I enjoy getting into the swing of passages, and night watches, having the time to myself to read, write, exercise a little, watch the conditions outside. Admittedly, it takes me quite a few days to get over the nautious/zombie mode so nothing much is done unless it's absolutely necessary, including meals (I try to have a couple already made before leaving). Things are pretty basic.

We were keeping in touch with our friends on S/V Rosanna on a daily basis who had left a week before us. We both had the same satellite tracking device which allowed us to txt each other. This was a great moral boost and we were plotting their course on our chart to get an idea of their track.
Day 4 Dave retreated quietly to our cabin, thankfully we were still motoring so the boys were oblivious, but Dave was immensely overwhelmed. Mostly at the prospect of being so far from land and our lack of experience. I messaged our friends ahead: they stressed that they had really struggled in the area we were in; one day they'd only made 10 nm (nautical miles) in a 24 hour period - ugh!
I messaged another cruiser friend in Australia. She got in touch with New Zealands' Bob McDavit, long time sailor and legend weather guru. From our position, he prepared a text message of upcoming weather and his recommendation of course.

We were almost in line with Isla Malpelo and Colombia. The forecast was of course different to when we left and not in our favour: we were to expect head winds for the next 600-1000nm in the direction we needed to head. Eli and I managed to convince Dave to try tacking back and forth as suggested by Rosanna. For 8 hours we headed North as close to the wind as we could, (in the same direction we'd come from) then South, almost following the exact same track. Due to our sail configuration, we could only sail at 55-60 degrees off the wind.
At the end of the day when Dave measured how much forward (or westward) movement we had made, it was all of 1 nautical mile!! This was a very daunting prospect as we considered the math of making 1 mile every 8 hours and needing to cover 1000 miles in miserable head winds and a two metre swell due from the South.  It became all too apparent that with our lack of experience, our boat not being set up well enough to sail into the wind, Dave not being in a happy or secure state of mind, we could not continue on our proposed course.
Day 5, 5pm and 400nm offshore, more tears were shed, as we turned the boat around and made the very slow sail back to Panama.

Interestingly, after 4 very gloomy, bleak days, blue skies emerged and shortly after, we were entertained by a pod of large black dolphins that showed off their bellies appearing to be spattered with pink paint!
Even though Equador and Colombia were closer, we knew there would be issues with our paperwork, namely our "zarpe" (exit paper) stating Marquesas as our next port of call. Due to the huge drug trafficking issues in the area, not sticking to our proposed plan, would most likely spark a lengthy investigation. Going back to Panama we could claim boat problems and not have too much issues as we hadn't gone ashore anywhere.
We had used up almost all our funds; our boat was booked in for storage in French Polynesia, flights booked from French Polynesia to NZ, so we knew we could afford to fly home with enough up our sleeve to get a vehicle and go back to saving again, camping at my parents' place. Now, our only option to get home would be to sell Ula, dirt cheap, cut our losses and hopefully get enough for flights home.
For the first time, Dave felt like he could relax and enjoy the slow sailing. I on the other hand, anticipating what would need to be organized once we returned to Panama, felt impatient, wanted to turn on the motor and hurry back. But, we didn't have the diesel, I would have to find the patience and deal with it!
The aluminium gaff that holds up the top of the sail, was making a horrible sound as it slapped around as a result from us rolling about in the swell and not having enough wind to keep us steady or propell us. This further compounded on my impatience and emotional state of mind, producing a grumpy outcome.
Day 7 with still very little wind, Dave and Eli decided to give the bluper a go. Best decision ever. It provided better speed, motion, comfort and quietness for two days and a night.

The grim looking stormy sky motivated us to pull it in for the following evening before it got dark. Just as well, 'cos things got a little crazy trying to haul it in!
Day 10 Salem turns 11!! We had been hoping to make landfall for his birthday, but due to the light winds we were still another day away. He had such a great attitude and actually relished in the fact that not many people get to say they spent their birthday in the Pacific Ocean..the Gulf of Panama, no less! Salem received a much desired hawaiian sling, some birthday cards from his brothers and our friends on sv Bonaire, who had sneakily provided me with a little package of goodies before we left, for this event.
 His good attitude was well rewarded with some interesting occurrences:
- we were entertained by a swordfish jumping out of the water multiple times;
- a bright yellow bird landed on the lifeline next to us in the cockpit, scooted along closer to us, so I gave Dave some of my bread to hold out to it. Little bird then flew through the cockpit, landing on my plate for a bit, then flew up on top of my head for a while before finally taking off again! (Hmm, perhaps it's time I did something with my nest-like hair!).
- a soft glowing sunset with our landfall in sight, was met with a huge pod of hundreds of dolphins, as far as the eye could see, doing all sorts of acrobats and squeaking away.
What we thought could potentially be a boring birthday turned out to be one that will be hard to beat!

Chaffing down breakfast so they can get ashore!

We dropped anchor for the first time in 12 days at the private Isla San Jose, with an idyllic long, white sandy beach backed with green foliage and coconut trees to greet us. As soon as we dinghied ashore, the two younger boys ran a good stretch to the river running out into the ocean, where they began to build a dam and ride the fast flowing current down on their bellies or boogie board.

We enjoyed putting our legs to more use, found some large holes in the sand where turtles had obviously been to lay their eggs, and cracked open oysters in the hope of finding a pearl, being the "Pearl Islands."

We found out about a famous pearl from these islands called "La Peregrina"...
The story goes that the pearl was originally found by an African slave, then "given" to Don Pedro de Temez, the administrator of the Spanish colony in Panama. The slave who found it was rewarded with freedom.

Interesting tracks.

The pearl was carried to Spain and given by Temez to the future Phillip II of Spain who gifted La Peregrina to Mary I of England in anticipation of their marriage.
After her death in 1558, the pearl was returned to the Crown of Spain for the next 250 years.
In 1808, the elder brother of Napolean, Joseph Bonaparte, was installed as King of Spain. When he was forced to leave five years later, he took among other things, La Peregrina. When he died, as stated in his will, the pearl was left to his nephew, the future Napoleon III of France. During Napoleon's exile in England, the Emperor sold it and eventually came into the hands of Duke of Abercorn. The first time the pearl got lost was in a sofa at Windsor Castle; the second time during a ball at Buckingham Palace. The Hamilton family owned the pearl until 1969 when they put it up for auction at Sotheby's in London. Richard Burton purchased La Peregrina for $37,000 giving it to his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, as a Valentine's Day gift during their first year of marriage.
At one stage, the pearl went missing, but later discovered one of the dogs had been chomping on it. There's some debate as to how it was found, or more importantly, from what end of the canine!
Taylor commissioned Cartier to redesign a necklace with La Peregrina taking centre stage.
In December 2011 La Peregrina sold for a record price of more than $11 million (£7.1 million)!!
For more history details, check out Wikipedia.

Bloody Mary (left) and Elizabeth Taylor.

The sun hadn't even got out of bed next morning when we heard a lancha pull up alongside next morning, someone was yelling right outside our bedroom ports, "Ula, Ula!"
Took us a while to wake from our dead sleep and stumble out with slightly more appropriate clothing for visitors - they were not backing down. We were greeted with five large military men, AK47s and other such weapons attached. My hazy interpretation was that we needed to leave - immediately. Now our cruising guide said that in spite of the island being private, it was fine to anchor and explore ashore. My confused look prompted the Captain to explain some more..we need to leave now because a bomb will be going off in a couple of hours ashore and we couldn't stay there. Dave figured it must be a mosquito bomb to keep all the flying annoyances at a minimum, being a private island at all.
There was a slight hitch however. We couldn't move. We had just filtered through some diesel the night before between tanks and were planning to bleed the lines that morning. There was no chance our engine would start without us going through this lengthy procedure. Out came our Spanish for cruisers guide and I frantically looked for the explanation to convey to the impatient military guys. This led us to a very hasty Superior jumping on deck, helping Dave with the anchor while the other guys set up ropes, and before we knew it, we were being towed at 5.6 knots - the fastest Ula had been in months! Along the way, Dave queried the Superior about the "bomba." "Mosquito?" he asked,
"No."..chemical bomb.
"For mosquito?" Dave asked again, to which the hand gesture was made of a hand slicing through the neck, no, chemical. He proceded to enlighten us on the situation..
In 1940 the Americans decided to trial a chemical bomb, intended for the Vietnam war, but, it never went off. Today of all days, a decent artillery of US military were here to safely dispose of the bomb and they needed a 3 mile radius!!
The bonus to all this was that they towed us to an even better spot than before to set anchor..

Having explored ashore and bled our lines allowing us to once again motor, we felt compelled to continue onto the next island of Pedro Gonzales. Ensuring an extra 3 mile wide gap or more, was between us and San Jose, we meandered along and were met in the late afternoon by the most wonderful surprise. A yacht was in the anchorage, not only that, as we neared, we discovered it was in fact our good friends from SV Bonaire!! This was the second time they welcomed us back from our Pacific ordeal relieving us with warm encouragement, as they paddled over to us by kayak this time!

Eden and Sam returning from island in background. 

The next week or so the two boat kids met regularly after school work and chores. They explored, swam, paddled, played football, snorkelled, dug holes etc.

Eden also had the privileage of celebrating his 8th birthday with friends.

Cake by the ocean!

Emily and I got into the wonderful routine of an early morning swim (sometimes paddle) ashore, walking the length of beach, while hording more treasures of shells and stones (much to our husbands' disdain), then a return swim back to our boats.

One morning we even discovered mama turtle tracks going up the beach, and returning back down to the sea. Under the branch of a tree where the two tracks met was a rounded scuffed up area where we presumed the mother must have laid her eggs before returning!

Dave managed to spear a couple of fish with his spear but Salem unfortunately didn't see any.

It was a much needed reprieve, but before long, the restlessness was mounting, knowing it was time to get back to civilisation, and Internet, get serious about marketing our boat and figure out a plan.

Photo courtesy of Bonaire. 

So many years of reading about other couples and families living the sailing life, I always felt sad when they decided to sell up and settle on land. Yet here I am facing the reality that it is also my story. I expect the adjustment will take some time, I find living in a house with its constant bills, shut off from nature and its inability to move places, the everyday routine of land life to be rather claustrophobic.
On the flip side, living in nature also keeps you on alert all the time, any random squall (which tends to pop up regularly) has the potential threat to life and home. So it will be nice to be able to relax a bit more.

Happy wife happy life they say. Dave has done his upmost to achieve this, he's been stressed and stretched beyond his physical and mental capacity, fighting the fears within. Five days out at sea they resurfaced to an alarming new level. He could no longer accept the uncertainty of 40 days or more of open ocean and whether he could as Captain make sound decisions or judgements to keep the crew, his family safe. So I can tell you that in fact a stressed out husband is not a happy place to be at all.
Another in Las Perlas archipelago. 

Where was I at with all of this? Yes there were times where the enormity of it all felt overwhelming and scary but I kept feeling it would pass and things would get better. Seeing Dave stressed, his face gaunt with worry definitely brought my stress levels up.

Photo: Dave, inside our cockpit! 

Much to Daves dismay, I have a slightly higher tolerance level to living in crusty sea dog conditions if it means we get to enjoy some exotic locations. He realized the discomforts of life on a boat, namely: no decent comfy couch, no watermaker, shower and washing machine, no oven for decent meals, far outweigh the small pleasures. He loves his comforts.

Our friends on Lungta (background ) inspired us to have
 a go at sailing off anchor also - successfully I might add! (Thanks Bonaire for photo).

The practicalities of maintaining this lifestyle, the money we've poured into it and would still need to invest, along with the amount of work Dave was having to do weighed heavily on him, on us. It definitely took its toll on our family relationships at times.

The boys are upset (as am I), to be ending this but they are amazing at adjusting and looking forward to home, whatever that may be. We tried the best we could with the little we had to make this work.

Photo: Bonaire. Outside Pedro Gonzales village.

We had some fun, saw and experienced unforgettable places and people. Now it's time to let this boat go and find a new adventure...

Thanks again Bonaire crew for photo.

Ula is for sale.


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