Archive for the ‘ Boats and sailing ’ Category

Yes, Nuku Hiva is as beautiful as reported. And we haven't even gotten to any of the clear-water anchorages yet. A friend on another island in the archipelago reported being able to see his anchor chain lying on the bottom in 35 feet of water.

Yes, Nuku Hiva is as beautiful as reported. And we haven’t even gotten to any of the clear-water anchorages yet. A friend on another island in the archipelago reported being able to see his anchor chain lying on the bottom in 35 feet of water.

All checked in, no problem, the only expense being that of a per-person fee to an agent to write a bond letter and prepare a page or two of paperwork. (In French Polynesia, non-European Union citizens have to show an outbound airplane ticket, post a cash bond equivalent to the price of an airplane ticket, or have someone put up a bond that the visitor will not throw him/herself on the mercy of the local health-care system and government resources.)

The biggest check-in hassle was proving that I am currently enrolled in Group Health – my plastic wal­let card doesn’t show dates of coverage. Fortunately I was eventually able to show the agent a Group Health Web page that did indicate I am covered through 2016. Matt and Ana had exactly the same issue with Kaiser Health – the data were not conveniently available at all and, for security reasons I suppose, could not be printed.

The sharp contrast to checking in to the Galápagos was amusing. There, gaining permission to enter was hideously expensive and complicated and time consuming, and required a great many officials from the Navy, Aduana (Customs), and Migración, and much shuffling and rubber-stamping of papers. Here, the Gendarmerie, which handles immigration as well as routine police work, didn’t care in the slightest about our zarpe (permission to leave our previous port), inspecting the hull, eyeballing our dwindling food stores and minimal liquor supply, etc., and required only brief, rapidly completed paperwork.

French is the local idiom, of course. I’m having trouble both remembering much French at all (despite having been pretty good at it, although much longer ago than I care to remember) and not having Spanish come out of my mouth when I fully intend to try to say something in French. I feel as though I’m trying to get some rusty, frozen-up old machine operating again after decades of disuse. I suppose I’ll get better with more time and practice, but it sure is frustrating and pretty embarrassing right now.

A Hungarian fellow named Adrian came over from a nearby boat as soon as we had set the anchor to welcome us to the anchorage and show us where to go to check in. When we expressed some wonder at the hassle of the Ecuadorian check-in, Adrian said with a smile, “Don’t worry, you’re in Europe now. It’s all mellow here.”


Silver Lynx at anchor in the rain in Taiohae. Note 3-masted megayacht in background.

As the old joke goes, while under way we did quite a bit of fishing but not much catching. The score­card:


  • Two dorado (mahi-mahi)

  • One wahoo

  • One tuna (couldn’t tell whether yellowfin, albacore, or maybe even ahi (the meat was really red))

All were quite small, 5 lbs or less; one dorado was so small we threw it back. The ones we cooked were all were delicious.

Hooked or lost:

  • One marlin, estimated at 6 feet, which Ryan had to cut loose lest it strip all the line off the reel or even tear the rod completely out of Ryan’s hands

  • One mystery fish big enough to completely snap the hook embedded in a lure Jordan custom-tied for me

  • Another mystery fish that left impressive bite marks and scars all over the Rapala lure we were using at the time yet somehow avoid all the hooks

  • Two or three other fish we lost during the reeling-in battle.

Of course, all the fish we lost were gigantic (and getting bigger with every retelling of this part of the story) and presented truly epic battles. Epic, I tell you, epic.

For fishing nerds who care about the techie details, our gear includes two Penn reels, a big 114 Senator I brought with me and a 113 that was already on board. The 114 was, until the marlin arrived, wound with about 350 yards of 80-lb test braid and fifty yards or so of 50-lb test monofilament leader. Now it has perhaps 250 yards of just the 80-lb braid. I’ll probably put a few yards of steel leader on. The 113 is wound with 275 yards of 50-lb mono. The reels are attached to a couple of stout 7-foot rods that somehow haven’t broken yet. We have an assortment of lures that includes several of Jordan’s custom hand-tied flies, a couple of Rapalas, three or so hoochees, and some funny rattling hoochee-like thing that drove the fish crazy.

I suspect that while fish can swim really fast, we were probably making too much speed through the wa­ter for optimal fishing. We spent a lot of time between 6 and 9 knots; you expert fishermen out there will know better than I but I think trolling is best accomplished at around 3 or 4 knots.

Also, on a radio net conversation one morning I heard another boat under way in the same general sec­tion of the ocean saying they had caught absolutely nothing in the nearly three weeks they had been un­der way.

I did make an offering of Abuelo (Panamanian rum) to Neptune upon departing the mainland. Maybe it’s time for another supplication.

Comments Off on The Fish Win, Mostly 2016 South Pacific, Boats and sailing

Here’s a good look at the twizzle rig. Normally, you set the twizzle with two poles that are lashed or fastened somewhat loosely together so they can flex and move a little. It can be a bit complicated. In this case, we have just the windward side (to the left) poled out. At this point our wind was pretty good, at least 15 knots, and also a bit on the port quarter, not exactly on the stern, what you could call a very broad reach. Thus the leeward sail, the one on the starboard (right) side would stay full just by the natural action of the wind on the sail and we needed only to hold out the windward sail with the pole. We were forcing the sail to “sail by the lee,” a bit of salty terminology that normally refers to having the mainsail held by the boom on the same side of the boat as the wind. Our setup shown here is effectively the same, just with a jib and a whisker pole instead of the main and boom.

Overall, it was a good and fairly swift passage, if pretty rolly and bouncy much of the way. We saw no foul weather but rather lighter winds than normal for substantial periods. The sea principally sent us fairly small (1.5- to 2.5-meter) swells from the southeast, but with a 3- or 4-second period, not the usual 10 seconds or so one typically sees in the open ocean, and some wind chop and some seas from the south. So even though we modified our course to make the ride as comfortable as possible, much of the time it was rollier than I expected it to be.

Some notes:

Tues 22 March   Departed Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, about 0930. Motor sailed more or less due S for a couple of days through less than 5 kts of wind.

Fri 25 March   Found the tradewinds yesterday early morning, at about 5 degrees S latitude. Dis­covered that squalls can sometimes hit you with a burst of wind and sometimes kill your wind completely, sometimes make it come from all different directions.

Sat 26 March   Made 175 miles yesterday, a very respectable number. Note that mileage figures are de­termined with point-to-point measurements and don’t take the inevitable weaving around or zig-zagging that a boat inevitably does. So actual mileages and average speeds are slightly higher than reported.

Sun 27 March   Changed course slightly and are no longer heading toward Pitcairn Island or the Gam­biers (only about 5 deg apart when you’re 2500 miles away) but rather toward Hiva Oa. The goal is to keep the ride as comfortable as possible. So far, the seas have been quite short period, 3 to 5 seconds, none of the big, gliding ocean swells, and a lot of wind chop. So the ride has been pretty bouncy at times.

Tues 29 March   Hooked something big enough to make the reel scream even with the drag fully set, and big enough to snap the hook. Not just bend it – break it off completely. Unfortunately that was on the blue-and-white fly that Jordan tied for me and that attracted a lot of at­tention from our finny friends.

Fri 1 April   Set the twizzle rig this morning. A “twizzle” rig (“twizzle” perhaps a mutant form of “twin headsail”?) is basically two jib-like headsails stitched together at the luff to form one large headsail that sticks out to either side of the boat. It flies from the roller furler on the headstay or from the solent stay, if the boat has one rigged. The twizzle is spe­cifically for sailing downwind.

Sat 2 April   Another slight course change: we’re now aiming at Nuku Hiva, a bit farther to the north. It’s also the principal entry point to the Marquesas for people sailing from the Americas.

Sun 3 April   About 0300 the halyard holding up the twizzle rig parted. Matt and Ryan fished the sails out of the water – no apparent damage; we’ve yet to inspect them in detail. Had to drop the main first, then rig the yankee to windward (the whisker pole was already more or less in place, from previous days’ sail setup). All in all took about an hour to get everything dealt with.

We had been in a great groove for perhaps 12 hours, going fast (6.5-8.5 knots), not too much motion to the boat. With flying the yankee instead of the twizzle we’ve lost only perhaps 1-1.5 knots of speed, so not that bad.

Tues 5 April   Made 175 miles yesterday, 7.2 kt average. This is very good, fast progress.

Wed 6 April   Made 189 miles yesterday, 7.9 kt average. Yee-hah! This is really cookin’ along, for a boat of this size. Averaging 7.9 means that we spent a lot of time sailing in the mid to high 8 kt range. Going too fast to fish. Probably 4 or 5 more days to port.

Fri 8 April   Made 173 miles yesterday and 177 miles on Thurs. Wind lighter today.

Sat 9 April   Hooked a marlin, est. 6 feet long, yesterday. It was jumping and leaping out of the wa­ter. Ryan had to cut the line – no way were we going to get a fish that big close to the boat, let alone on board. It could take line off the reel at will, even with the drag tightened down as far as it would go, just strip line off the spool and make the reel scream. And it could easily have torn the rod right out of Ryan’s hands as well. We lost perhaps 100 or 200 yards of line and, more importantly, the lure. It had been our most successful lure, a hoochee-like squid thing with some sort of rattling device built into it. Oh well.

Sun 10 April   Ran out of wind, which the grib files we downloaded and a weather report we got on the SSB radio suggested would happen. Motor-sailed or just motored under bare poles most of the day. When you’re motoring 7.5 knots downwind, 10-12 knots of breeze on your transom isn’t enough to even hold the sails up.

Mon 11 April   Arrived Taiohae about 0930, exactly 20 days after leaving Puerto Villamil. That’s pretty good time, all things considered. The passage was about 2970 miles, I think, so we av­eraged 148.5 miles a day, or about 6.1 knots overall, including time spent motoring in and out of harbors, dealing with sail changes and other on-deck issues, slowing the boat down to attempt reeling in a fish, stopping in near-flat calm to swim, etc.

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To see photos from my 2010 visit to the Galápagos with Margarita, go here:

After leaving Quito I made my way back to the boat, spending a couple of days in Puerto Ayora, on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos, en route. There, I dealt with a passport issue – Puerto Villamil, where the boat was anchored, has a port captain but no Migración office, so I couldn’t get my exit stamp right before departing. Fortunately the local Migración official is a very amiable guy and agreed to stamp me out if I could get to his office in Puerto Ayora a day or two before we were actually going to set sail. Which I did; mission accomplished without drama.

I would have been fine with just leaving Ecuador without the stamp – I need a new passport next year, and it will presumably have a different number from my present document. But who knows, maybe the Great Database in the Sky would nevertheless remember me by name and not just passport number and somehow know that I had cut a corner, and would put me in trouble with the scary people who wear uniforms and carry guns. And, seemingly, are aware of our every move.

And as cruisers everywhere so frequently do, while ashore I also scoured Puerto Ayora’s three or four hardware stores for various nuts and bolts and bits and pieces needed for assorted small repairs on line. As usual, partial success – found a few items I didn’t expect to find and couldn’t find some other things that I thought would be universally available.

It would be too strong to say I have a love-hate relationship with Ecuador. But I do have some ambival­ence. It’s a strikingly beautiful country in many places, from huge Andean peaks and volcanoes to tran­quil coastline, to dense Amazonian jungle lowlands. It’s culturally rich, with two or three indigenous groups going strong as well as the mainstream Spanish/mestizo population. I’ve had many wonderful adventures and good times there, indeed some of the happiest times of my life. And of course I have family – the Moreno family – and friends there.

But accomplishing things, even routine things, in Ecuador can be really frustrating and amazingly time consuming. The bureaucracy, while perhaps a bit slimmer than in past decades, is still grossly inefficient and byzantine in its complexity, while large social problems continue to be insufficiently attended-to. The country continues to claw its way out of third-world status – indeed, it is absolutely first-world in many respects – but progress is much slower than one hopes for.

I’m reminded of the closing line in the famous movie “Chinatown,” in which detective Jake Gittes uncovers but ultimately is powerless to change profound corruption in 1920s Los Angeles. In the closing line, Jake’s partner advises him, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Same with Ecuador – sometimes you just have to remind yourself that the vexing contradictions of the country and culture are just the way it is.

It’s not a country for the faint of heart. All that said and in the final balance, I do love the place and will certainly return.


Comments Off on Setting Sail, Almost 2016 South Pacific, Boats and sailing

17 March

Time to leave Quito and rejoin the boat. An emotional departure for me – I had to not speak lest I start crying, right there on Mau’s and Martha’s doorstep, with the taxi driver waiting patiently. Words failed me anyway; I couldn’t begin to express to Mau and Martha how wonderful it was to see them again, how thankful I was for their kindness and hospitality and friendship; how much I enjoyed our unpredictable and invariably interesting conversations and meals and outings together. We parted with long and strong embraces.

I’m sorry only that I missed seeing their daughter Paola and her 3-year-old son (was sick in bed when they dropped by) but loved catching up with son Adrian, daughter-in-law María, and their delightful 9-year-old daughter Lía.

Mau and Martha, you guys are awesome. I cherish our relationship.


Comments Off on A Treasure Greater than Gold 2016 South Pacific, Boats and sailing

Magnificent Cotopaxi, not far from Quito. Not my photo — credit to Oregon State University (

12 March

Start of a little side trip to Quito, to visit Mauricio and Martha. (Mauricio is Margarita’s oldest brother.) Unfortunately, I got sick as a dog the first night, a combination of food poisoning and altitude sickness. Very ugly, very gross and messy, very embarrassing.

A couple of days later: in M & M’s cool new house in Tumbaco, 30 min (on a good day) outside Quito, feeling pretty much 100% again.

Weather crappy – cloudy and rainy and pretty cool – and I’ve slept most of the last couple of days, but no matter, am spending some great time with M & M, yammering away. Conversations range freely across family news, current events and geopolitics, local news and history, and countless other topics.

Note: the “new” house is the one that they’ve  been building over the last eight years. I’d post a couple of pix of the house except I haven’t yet figured out how to move files from my iPad to my non-Mac laptop computer. The house sits in a spacious, approx 6.5-acre compound set aside by one of Martha’s forebears, a prominent Ecuadorian lawyer and politician of the early 20th century, specifically for family to build houses on. Mauricio’s and Martha’s son Adrian and his young family live only a couple hundred meters away, and three other relatives also have built houses there.

15 March

Very much enjoying visit with Mau and Martha. Seems that conversations range widely across subjects, people think and speak in paragraphs, not just fragments or short sentences, people aren’t afraid of silences or gaps in the conversation. Am feeling 100% over the nastiness that hit when I got to Quito the other day.

Quito Quito Quito

4.5 quake 8 am this morning, centered somewhere close by. Felt only a slight, brief shaking here in the house.

Cotopaxi has been erupting for months, not violently, but sending up steam and who knows what sorts of gases. The area has been on Yellow Alert for a long time. A huge eruption with smoke and ash and lava would be disastrous – no way could very many people get away. The roads would become choked and impassable immediately, despite there being established evacuation routes.

Ventured into the city this morning with Martha; bought a high-quality induction-capable pressure cooker for the boat and accomplished a few other small errands. Overwhelming; a high-intensity, high-density urban experience. The terrific new freeway coming into town is wonderful, lets you join the trancón (traffic jam) quite a bit sooner. Quito traffic is brutal, even at mid-day – all but gridlocked. Beautiful day today, though, so could again admire how so much of the city clings to the steep slopes all around, plunges hundreds of feet into ravines, then crawls its way back up the opposing slope.


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I was sitting in a bar/restaurant in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Isla San Cristóbal) the other day working away on my computer when a fellow approached and politely asked what my name was. I was a little puzzled by this but replied, “Felipe,” which is what usually gets most traction in such situations.

He very tentatively said, “Sherwood?”  which with a  bit of a Spanish accent tends to come out a bit like “Shair-wood.” At this point I was startled and looked at him closely. Some faint recollection couldn’t quite form in my head, and I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Yes! How did you know that?”

Well, turns out he was the dad of a student I had in one of my classes when I taught at Colegio Interamericano, in Bahía de Caráquez, on mainland Ecuador, some six or seven years ago. He and his wife, whom I had met in and around Bahía, are on a vacation in the Galápagos and happened into the same restaurant I was in, and recognized and remembered me! We ended up chatting for quite a while, talking about mutual friends and acquaintances, how things had been going in Bahía for the last several years, and so forth, and parted with warm embraces.

To say that I was flattered grossly understates my feelings. I was really deeply touched and gratified to hear, so much time later and in such an improbable way, that I had had a positive effect, had helped a student along. Late into the evening I was still thrilling over the encounter, and I’m sure I’ll always have it in my “Teaching Paybacks” ledger.

Goddamn, every once in a while I guess you actually do manage to get something right and leave something constructive and enduring behind. Sure feels good to hear about it.

This wreck is from the San Blas islands in Panama, not Wreck Bay. It’s nevertheless an effective admonishment that the mariner not become complacent.

8 March

Pulled into Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (English name the much more foreboding Wreck Bay), Isla San Cristóbal, about 1100 after an easy passage across from Panama. We did see some stretches of 12-20 knot breezes but for the most part the winds were quite light (8 knots or less) and we did motor sail for a few multi-hour stretches. Happily the seas were flat or nearly so and the wind was on or aft our beam almost all the time, perfect for maximizing speed and ease of boat handling and minimizing boat motion.

This boat, about 55,000 pounds displacement as she lies right now, fully laden, is astonishing in its sailing ability. In light airs we can sail half or nearly half the wind speed – thus 4 or 5 knots in 8-10 knots of breeze. And when the wind gets up to 20-25 knots on the beam, the boat can easily touch 10 knots. Granted, we did motor perhaps a third of the time to get here, but still, we easily averaged 165 miles a day.

We’ve yet to see any heavy weather, so no observations yet on how the boat handles in wild conditions. Reportedly the delivery crew had to get through gale-force winds and nasty conditions crossing the Gulfstream when delivering the boat from Annapolis to Grenada last November, and the boat handled the rough going like a champ.

9 March

Waiting to complete the check-in process. Official people have to inspect the hull and probably do a cursor look-around belowdecks, stamp passports and a thick sheaf of other papers, and of course collect a big stack of US dollars. So here we sit under the yellow Q (quarantine) flag.

1015: Still waiting. 11:30: All done; we’re free to go ashore. Total time from arrival to final clearance: about 24 hours. Fortunately we passed the hull inspection. Whether this was because our agent Bolívar had his thumb on the scales in our favor or because our hull really was very clean I don’t know. I think the latter, as we put a lot of work into cleaning it, and I saw other cleared-in hulls at anchor that didn’t look nearly as clean as ours.

Whew. No one was relishing the prospect of being sent back to sea, to clean the hull 40 miles offshore, or of just skipping the Galápagos entirely.

Possible change in route plans: Looks as though we might head to the Gambier islands – southeast corner of the Tuamotus, still part of French Polynesia – rather than to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. Also some talk of going to Vanuatu and continuing west to New Caledonia and Papua Guinea rather than heading down to New Zealand. I think in the larger scheme of things Matt and Ana would like to head farther west, then north up to Japan, then ultimately complete a circumnavigation of the Pacific by passing through the Aleutian islands.

All is scratched lightly in sand at low tide. Stay tuned.

In the Miraflores locks, the last step down to the Pacific from the Continental Divide. The difference in sea levels from the Caribbean to the Pacific is about 30 meters.

28-29 February

Transited the Panama Canal from north to south. All went well, if slowly at times, a smooth, uneventful passage. We were rafted up with a Lagoon 44 catamaran through the locks. See photo above — yours truly in red t-shirt on bow of sailboat with red hull stripe.

Had a nice British cruising couple, James and Claire, aboard as linehandlers.

Left Shelter Bay Marina a little before 1300 (1 pm) on the 28th and spent five or six hours at anchor in the waiting area off the Colón docks before our advisor arrived. Hurry up and wait – one of the seemingly unvarying axioms of Panama Canal transit.

Damned if our advisor wasn’t Victor, whom I knew back in 2007-2008-2010, and who was living with a cruising friend aboard her boat both in Balboa and in Bahía de Caraquez (Ecuador) for a while. After another hour and a half or so of waiting for a big container ship to clear the docks and be on its way north, we finally made it through the Gatun locks and into Lake Gatun for the night. We rafted up with an Aussie catamaran and squeezed into the three successive lock chambers aft of a huge container ship, then rafted again after we had made ourselves fast to a huge mooring buoy (a so-called “dolphin”) a couple of miles on into the lake for the night.

Then got under way promptly at 0900 on the 29th and motored the long stretch of canal to the Pedro Miguel locks, at which point the descent to Pacific sea level begins. We again rafted with the Aussie catamaran through Pedro Miguel and also the Miraflores locks, which are just a mile or two farther south, this time in front of a huge commercial vessel. Our adviser explained that on the way up the small boats always go through aft of the big boats and on the way down forward (ahead of) the big boats. This is because the greatest stress is put on the lines holding the boat to the lock walls when the water is being let out of the lock and the boat is descending. Should one of the thick steel cables securing the huge boat part it would fly backward and devastate anyone and anything to the rear, thus, the small fry go first when descending the 90 meters or so from the continental divide to either the Pacific or Caribbean (Atlantic) oceans.

This transit went off with the usual last-instant lock-by-lock changes in plan but marvelously smoothly, without a hitch. Our advisors – Victor went home after we tied up in the lake and a different advisor, Naftali, came aboard the following morning – were both very good: knowledgeable and communicative, friendly, mild mannered. Also, Roy, the first advisor on the Aussie catamaran, was excellent, cheerful and upbeat and very detailed and precise in his supervision of the rafting up, how to move the two tied-together boats as one unit, how to enter the locks.

29 February

Anchored in La Playita, just three miles or so from Balboa, for the night as it was late afternoon by the time all the lines and fenders had been returned and linehandlers James and Claire had gotten a ride to the Balboa Yacht Club dock.

1 March

Made our way down to Isla San Pedro in the Perlas islands, about 50 miles from Balboa and last night’s anchorage. Spent a day at anchor in Ensenada Grande, a beautiful big bay on the privately owned Isla San Pedro, cleaning the hull, as we had been told the Ecuadorians will inspect the hull upon one’s arrival in the Galápagos and send boats with barnacles (and possibly other marine growth as well) back out to sea. Then on 3 March weighed anchor and pointed the bow toward the blue southerly horizon.

Comments Off on Into the Pacific 2016 South Pacific, Boats and sailing

It’s a new year — 2014 now — and a long time since I last posted anything. I’ll add some items that go into a little more detail, but the short story is this:

After getting through the Panama Canal, I singlehanded up the Pacific coast, first past Panama, then Costa Rica, one day at a time, finding one of the many good anchorages along the way by sundown. In Nicaragua I stopped at Marina Puesta del Sol for a bit of R&R, then ventured on a little ways into the Golfo de Fonseca and after that to an anchorage off the beach outside of Bahía del Sol, El Salvador.

From there I ran overnight and beat it straight up to Puerto Chiapas, formerly known as Puerto Madero — didn’t want to stop in Guatemala — and spent a week or more in late January 2013 in the new Marina Chiapas waiting for the Golfo de Tehuantepec to calm down.

Eventually it did, and another boat and I crossed together, keeping one foot not quite on the beach but only a mile or so off it. Approaching Salina Cruz the wind blew 20-25 knots but from the south, which made for a sloppy, wet slog the rest of the way to the Huatulco area. Far better than being caught out in the gulf with the north wind blowing 40-50 and the seas running 15-20 feet, which had recently been the case. Hard to remind yourself of that at the time, though, when you’re exhausted from the two-day-two-night run and want only to find some flat water, get the hook down, and sleep.

The Huatulco –> Acapulco –> Zihuatanejo trip was uneventful, just uphill. Spent a couple of days resting up in Bahía Puerto Marquez, outside Acapulco, while jet skis and water skiers roared back and forth.

I lingered for three weeks or so in Zihua, one of my favorite places. My friend Louise signed on board there, and our trip up to the Sea of Cortez will make the second installment of this abbreviated saga.

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