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April 29, 2006

Caption Contest

GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR - The guy in the red shirt is Brian. Anybody who's ever met him can attest to the fact that he´s not a small guy. I can´t imagine how much this turtle actually weighs.

April 27, 2006

The Galapagos Archipelago

GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR - Last night, as the sun was set over the Galapagos islands, Seal Lions and Giant floating turtles welcomed our boat to the village of Puerto Ayora where we promptly went ashore for a celebratory meal and drink.

On my map of the world, it´s obvious that this first leg, is a very small step across a very large ocean, but I can´t help but feel that this landfall is more significant than the miles suggest. There is no turning back now, we´ve taken that first giant leap offshore.

As far as having fair winds and following seas though, we´ll have to wait until we break from here toward the Marquesas with the trade winds. We faced headwinds nearly every single day as we muscled our way down to the equator and we weren't without our share of mechanical challenges along the way. Including overheated engines and blown starter motors. Nothing we couldn´t handle.

There were moments of aching boredom and moments of terrifying excitement, the most memorable of which cumulated in me having to climb the main mast (55 ft) to fix a jammed halyard. This is something that can be unnerving in the best of conditions; in the middle of the Pacific I was faced with the added difficulty of a rolling and bobbing boat, which of course is amplified at the top of the mast. It was as if she was trying to buck me off. Brian, being the heavier of the two of us, was left on deck to man the safety rope, jealous and defeated.

269 nautical miles from any land we were approached by a small fishing boat. Alarming to say the least. Instead of pirating us, they traded four big squid for a pack of cigarettes then quickly motored out of sight. I forgot to ask where they were from and have no idea how they´ll make it home. They were in a boat not much bigger than a standard 14ft tin runabout. No maps, no GPS, no radios. Strange.

There were other moments of adventure but I feel I´m rambling already. For now we´re looking forward to what is billed as the wildlife experience of a lifetime, a first hand lesson in natural history set in this barren, volcanic land where Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution.

*The batteries on my camera are dead. I´ll post photos as soon as they´re recharged.

April 18, 2006

So Long... We Sail Today

Pilot ChartDAVID PANAMA - This is something I must have spent several thousand hours day-dreaming about over the course of my life. It blows my mind to actually stop to realize that I'm doing it. I don´t really even know how I got this far, I just started telling everybody it would happen. We set a date and when the time came I left my job, moved my furniture into storage and just did it; one step at a time.

After 3 weeks of cleaning, painting, varnishing and provisioning we'll be leaving Central America with this afternoon's tide. Our first concrete destination will be the Marquesas Islands, a small and isolated group of islands owned by French Polynesia. This initial crossing will be the longest open water passage on our way to Australia. In fact people say it´s the longest open water passage in the world. Up to 40 days.

There is however a chance that we´ll stop in at the only other land mass along the way, The Galapagos islands. The way the currents and winds work this time of year, we´ll need to sail down to the equator (8 degrees) to catch the trade winds. If the sailing is easy and the wind anywhere but on our bow, there is a chance of making landfall at the Galapagos (10-15 days).

I guess what I'm saying is that I probably won´t be posting again until April 28th and it could be as long as May 28th. Big discrepancy, I know, but such is the nature of sailing. We are at the mercy of the wind.

*In other news
- As I meet more and more people, the traffic continues to grow each month. A couple weeks ago The Gazette, the daily newspaper for the University of Western Ontario featured an article about this site and this week I´m featured on the front page of PublicBroadcasting.ca as a 'Great Blog'. In addition to the donations that keep rolling in, we´ve been helped along by some of the online crew banks including a complimentary membership to Crewbay, one of the more professional crewing services offered online.

April 16, 2006

The Countdown Continues...

Shake Down CruiseDAVID, PANAMA - It was never in the cards for us to leave Panama on the 15th, despite our best intentions. All three of us overlooked the fact that Saturday, April 15th happens to fall smack dab in the middle of the biggest holiday in all of Central America. Easter is a time for Customs and Immigration officials to keep a low profile. Hardware stores lock their doors and virtually all commerce grinds to a halt.

Until Brian showed (2 days ago), everyday was starting to feel like a cross between the film Ground Hog Day and the song Hotel California, by the Eagles; 'you can check out, but you can never leave.'

It´s alright though, the extra time has given us an opportunity to shrink what started out as a massive 'to do' list. It´s now down to a manageable size, we´ve even had time to cast off the bow lines, peel out of marina and take her on a shake down cruise to test all the systems (radar, GPS, Auto Pilot, Engine, Radios etc..) and scrub barnacles off the bottom of the boat in clear water, without the worry of alligators.

Things are shaping up nicely. Today´s major chore will be to provision the boat with nearly 100 days of food for 3 people. wow.

April 11, 2006

A Weekend Trip to Panama City

DAVID, PANAMA - After a weekend of late nights and short days in Panama City, I´m back to the provincial capital of David; back to the quiet little backwater marina I call home. The trip to the city was essential to my mental health. With the captain in the U.S.A and Caroline and Suzi gone. I found myself instantly bored and needing a distraction. The only cure for me was to leave the boat along with its cockroaches and half finished paint jobs for the promise of some excitement in the big city.

It´s Monday now...no, wait...it´s Tuesday and for me, like most of the world, it´s back to the grind. There is a problem with the fresh water pump that needs looking at, the top deck could still use a coat of paint, and I´d better start thinking about stocking the boat with food for 3 guys and nearly 100 days at sea.

For now though, while I'm in town and running errands, I´ll be checking in for my first experience with a dentist outside of Canada. $20. I can´t go wrong. Or can I? Wish me luck.

**Charlotte is still stuck in the hospital in La Paz, Bolivia. She´s has 5 broken ribs and can´t yet walk. The unfortunate part of her situation is that the accident happened before she had a chance to meet people in Bolivia. Her core group of travelling friends are here, in Panama, and her family is in England. She´s probably tougher than I am, but it must be terribly boring for her. If you know her, call her. I can give anybody who asks the phone number. No stalkers please.

April 05, 2006

Takin' Off - The Yacht

Takin' Off - getting ready for just thatDAVID, PANAMA - She´s a Cheoy Lee 44; that is, she was built by Cheoy Lee shipyards in Hong Kong, 1979 and is 44ft long. If you look at the picture closely, you´ll see that she is a Ketch, that is she has two masts. Her name is "Takin' Off". She´s registered in Hayman Island, Australia. Not only is she relatively long along the water, she´s hefty and sturdy as far as modern cruising yachts go. I´ve heard her described by Dominic, a British ex-pat who seems to know something about everything nautical, as 'a good boat, she could use some paint and maybe a wash.' His observation seems to be the consensus around here; that is, she´s seaworthy but a little run down and tired as far as aesthetics is concerned.

With the captain in the USA for the next 6 days, Eduardo and I, a local, have been left to tidy her up. My days are now filled with sanding, varnishing, painting and trying to source materials from a limited Panamanian market. (you can see in the posted photo that we have yet to paint the green trim on the starboard side.)

I´ve managed to convince a couple long time travelling friends to live aboard with me while the captain is away and even to help out. Caroline and Suzi are getting used to living for free on a yacht, but have also been great help.

So this is my life. Caroline, Suzi, Eduardo and myself are living (and working) on a big ol' sail boat in a very small, and backwater marina near David, Panama.

Our target date of departure is April 15th, while the trade winds are still favourable and the rainy season just starting...

April 04, 2006

Charlotte Get Well Soon...

04/06/06: Charlotte is expected to stay in hospital for at least another 5 days. From what I´ve heard from her family, she´s received phone calls from a lot of friends and even visits from people who don´t know her.

The backpacking community in this corner of the world is often surprisingly small. We are constantly running into familiar faces over and over as we've made our way South.

I've just received news that a close travelling friend, Charlotte, has come off a bicycle in Bolivia. From what I understand, she's broken some bones and will be making the Americano Hospital in the capital, La Paz, her home for the next little while. If you'd like to get in touch with her you can email me here for her contact info.

I imagine it's very difficult for her to be suffering in a strange hospital in a strange land virtually alone with thousands of miles separating her from friends and family. So if you know her and are in the area, please get in touch.

¡Que te mejores pronto!