Posted by: catamarantwooceans | March 2, 2017

Sailing from Panama to Ecuador

25.2.17 – Saturday   – High water was around 0300 a.m and I figured we could get a nice push from the tide going out even if we would leave at first light. 0615 saw me pulling up the mainsail, winching the anchor up and motoring towards the channel between Isla El Encanto and the mainland.

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                         Rock guarding the channel’s entrance

I had to hand-steer because the autopilot was not quick enough to correct the course changes caused by the swirling currents in the narrow pass. Once out we motored on the glassy surface with the tide adding up to three knots to our speed. Shimon was already tending to the trolling equipment and even before reaching open waters a fish was caught. Shimon reeled it in and the fish released itself. Before he could reel the lure in to check it, the same fish took the lure a second and a third time and then broke away after bending the Chinese lure triple hooks. I replaced those with sturdier, bigger ones.

Approaching Punta Garachine the tide started coming in with such force that made it necessary to use both engines to get more than four knots on the GPS. Once out of the Golfo San Miguel a northeasterly wind sprang up, the current disappeared and we sailed wing and wing with the jib poled out. For a while we had great sailing and then the wind veered, lost power and the motor came back into operation. At that point the focus on the boat became the trolling, we were eager to catch a fish. First came a Mahi Mahi that just as Shimon tried to maneuver it into the cockpit separated from the lure and freed itself. Then two nice tuna fish did the same trick, leaving us bewildered and frustrated. As the sun went down we stopped fishing and had to make do with fish chow mein using some cero mackerel left in the freezer. We started our watch system at 2100, Gili doing the first three hours watch.

26.2.17 – Sunday – An hour and a half into my watch Shimon came out of his cabin, freshly shaved and ready to face the day. Hey! we are keeping a strict watch timetable here! Come back at 3 a.m! He did his three to six watch and when I came to relieve him he wanted to stay on – and fish. We lowered the lure into the water and sat waiting, and sat waiting, and sat waiting… Nothing happened all day long. We changed lures and hooks and still no joy.

A ship was sighted on our starboard, visually and on the A.I.S, its data showing it to be on a collision course. Regulations require motor vessels to give way to sailing boats but I was not going to count on it. When they came closer (and closer) I changed course to the left just short of having to jibe. The Vibeke Iris woke up and turned slightly to starboard passing very close to us.

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The day wore on with the wind coming from astern giving our wing to wing configuration a speed of 6 knots. At 1545 it abated and when our speed dropped below 4.5 I started an engine, giving us speed and house batteries charge.

We entered the routine of a long passage: tending to sails and navigation, reading, preparing and having meals and all the time waiting for a fish to bite, which inexplicably did not happen. I made a change in our planned route; the advice is to go west of Isla Malpelo, an island off the coast of Colombia, thus evading the Humboldt current and other meteorological problems associated with sailing close to that shore. I figured that passing it on the other side, only 13 miles to the east, would not make a difference and save us a few miles. Without tempting fate I can say that my impression was that we had a following current all day long.

27.2.17 – Monday – At 0300 I took the watch from Gili; at that time the wind was 12 knots true 100 degrees from port and we were making 5.3 SOG. I made a cup of tea and sat down to write the last day’s report. Looking out from time to time I saw that the wind was strengthening and creeping aft to a point where the main started to blanket the jib. Should I call Gili and put the jib on the pole? At the time we were 60 miles from the waypoint east of Malpelo after which we would turn south towards our final destination, Bahia De Caraquez, in Ecuador. At first I just turned a few degrees into the wind so as to retain the sails aerodynamics and then I thought that if no counter current was discernible I might as well turn directly to the next waypoint.

Once I turned south, the better angle of the wind and the wind velocity, 15 to 20 knots, increased our speed dramatically; we were now doing 7-8 knots on the GPS. At 0600, when Shimon came into the cockpit our distance from the river entrance to Bahia was 303 n.m. The only downside to the situation was that fishing was out due to the high speed…The forecast, by the way, was for a northerly of FIVE knots! As evening came the wind speed decreased to less than 10 knots; the port engine, started to charge the batteries, helped to keep a reasonable speed.

28.2.17 – Tuesday – At 0600 we were 157 miles to Bahia. a short period of pure, relatively slow sailing gave way to more motoring. As somebody was fond of saying:”It is what it is”. I can’t say:”At least the sea was calm” because for about an hour we had some strange waves causing a bit of a rough ride. Once that has passed, life on board continued as usual; the Two Oceans reading club was in full swing. I put down my Kindle to take the following picture.

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I asked  a friend in Israel to mail Puerto Amistad marina about our new ETA and later succeeded in getting them on the Iridium; my original planning was based on six or five days and we are going to do it in four! Today is the third day of no fish taken; very frustrating and inexplicable. Watches tonight: Gili from nine p.m to midnight, Miki until 0200, which would be the crossing of the Equator, an event that Shimon does not want to sleep through. Shimon would continue until 0500 and would be joined by me until the entrance to Rio Chone, where Bahia is located. Our information is that Bahia is a dry country but when I took the watch from Gili at midnight she told me that it rained heavily for five minutes and continued drizzling for another hour.

1.3.17 – Wednesday  – We crossed the Equator at 0203, cameras clicking.

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This occasion merits generally some kind of a ceremony but the ungodly hour and the wishes of the participants cancelled it. We motored towards the waiting point near the river entrance but before reaching it a fishermen panga came by to warn us about a shoal over which we could see waves breaking. They said we could go around it and find 3.5 meters depth but I decided to wait for the marina/Capitania pilot.

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I tried calling them on VHF and the phone, but as I write this – 0915 – there is no answer. Countless calls were attempted, text message and an e-mail sent to Gene Tatum, the marina’s owner, and no answer. By 1045 we tried their phone again and to our relief a man named Juan answered. He stated the obvious – that by that time the tide was too low to enter and promised to check the possibilities with the pilot and give us a call. Checking the tide table I can see that entrance would probably not occur before 1600.

At 1600 I called the marina again. “The pilot is going out now” I was told and sure enough a panga brought Ariosto the pilot, who nimbly climbed on board. We started motoring inside, around shoals I could not see. Ariosto sat quietly near the helm, from time to time giving a hand signal to turn this or that way. A few times he closed his eyes and seemed to doze.

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With the panga and Ariosto showing the way, we continued, passing quite close to the beach, depth instrument showed a minimum of 2.2 meters.

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We entered the river and came up to the moorings of Puerto Amistad. The panga guys tied us to the mooring, Ariosto brought the internet password from the office and our voyage from Panama was successfully concluded.

We were awfully lucky with that leg; accounts by yachties speak of currents, washing machine ride and 100 miles days. We did the 600 miles in four days and had calm seas all along the way.

The authorities would come tomorrow to check us in and then it will be time for our planned land tour. More about that – on the next post.

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Responses

  1. Well done, excet for the fishing


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