Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Fatu Hiva - Arriving at the mystical islands of the Tiki Gods

Land Ahoy!! After 19 days at sea since leaving the Galapagos, we have reached land, tiny specks dotted in the middle of The Pacific- one degree out and we would have missed them completely!

Yes we have arrived in Fatu Hiva and of course we couldn't resist stopping! We spotted her from 30 miles away.  A towering  dramatically steep island lush with vegetation even on the steep cliffs.

 As we approached she loomed over us, and we could smell her fragrant flora enticing us to make landfall! As you saw, we sailed round on the leeward side and anchored in a small bay lining up rock pinnacles as our transit.

The landscape is breathtaking, huge rock formations which resemble large faces of the Tiki Gods ascend into the mist above. There are coconut palms, banana trees, foliage covering every possible aspect of the mountains and unbelievably I can see little goats teetering along tiny narrow tracks in the cliffs! 

This beauty is like nothing I've ever seen before, I feel like I'm in some sort of mystical fairy land. 

We ventured ashore where they are constructing a small breakwater for the fishing boats to be safe from the thrashing seas, which now appear to be quite calm but later on in the year the wind and swell hit this tiny fishing village hard.  

The village is sweet, dotted with small corrugated roofed houses painted bright colours. The villagers are very welcoming and greet us in French and I find I'm more in my element here. Every household was offering to sell us fruit which we wish we could buy but didn't  have any local currency. They said that doesn't matter, we can come back with something to exchange that they might like. One lady wanted shoes. Another man some rivets for his boat. Some young men asked for alcohol in return for bananas or any fruit from his garden.  So tomorrow we are going back with a sackful of things that might be of interest to them. I might take some clothes I haven't needed and I think we've got some fish hooks and bits and bobs they could find use for. 

It took us a while to walk through the colourful village as we were chatting to everyone. They told us about a waterfall we must visit about an hours walk into the jungle so we went exploring! 

On the way we saw some men tending to their beehives and they motioned for us to come and have a look. We timidly went over as there was a thick swarm of bees but we weren't stung once. They were extracting the honey comb and each gave us a decent slab to eat. It's the tastiest honey I think I've ever tried from the mango flower of the surrounding trees and slightly smoky from them smoking the bees out  (but the bees were surprisingly not angry at all) They very generously  gave us a huge slab to take away. 

 I was poorly shod for such an adventure into the jungle, only in my flip flops. As we got further in following the river upstream, the pathway became so muddy and slippy that I went barefoot. This was much easier and actually a very lovely feeling being more at one with nature..In fact it was the best massage for my feet.  We walked passed hibiscus trees, birds of paradise, orange groves, breadfruit trees, grapefruit trees, coconut palms, mango and papaya trees.  A wonderfully natural cultivation of the land.

It was a beautiful walk up into the mountain and we knew we were getting close as we could hear the cascade approach. We had to climb under a few big boulders to get there and we arrived very muddy but wow it was worth it! What an incredible waterfall!

There was a pool at the bottom of the falls which we all jumped into and it was so deliciously cool. It was hard to swim towards it to be immersed in its power but I managed to get under it and feel it crashing over me radiating energy through me which I can still feel the effects of now, still buzzing! 

The walk back down was a muddy one too but at least we were able to wash off again when we reached the river further down. Papa and I were stopped on the way down by a lady selling big bottles of honey, I guess it was her sons we tried the honeycomb off before. She invited us inside her house and showed us the rows of bottles. They were wine bottles filled to the brim with honey! We told her we must come back with some money tomorrow  and she was very grateful and gave us 4 huge pomplemousse (grapefruits) as a gift to take away. We must find someone willing to exchange some euros with us and go back tomorrow. That honey is out of this world! 

We arrived back for a stunning sunset over the bay with the giant faces in the rocks lit up with gold.  There are the lovely tropic birds with the fabulous tails flying around and swooping down to the water. Dora's coming out tomorrow first thing, I can't wait to explore around the edge of the bay, there looks like there are some secret little coves and even more waterfalls cascading into the sea. 

I'm sitting up at the bow now and the full moon is so bright. Actually it's half hidden behind a cloud now but as it becomes uncovered it lights up the peaks of the mountains and pinnacles that surround this.bay.  I'm watching the reflections in the ripples of the water and I can hear occasional splashes of life in the water. I wander what is below... large fish... very large fish? 

We were invited the next evening to dinner made by a local lady Katerina who cooked for occasional sailors that came into the bay.

And wow, that was some meal! I think we returned back in the dingy a little lower in the water than our trip ashore (full tiki bellies!) No goat on the menu but an array of lovely dishes: tuna ceviche in coconut milk and limes, papaya salad, hot coconut chicken, rice, roasted spiced plantain, cooked bananas and grapefruit 

A beautiful feast laid on by a lovely Fatu Hivan family. We sat down to eat with Katerina and her husband Serge, their daughter/granddaughter? Hanavave and then we met their older son who had just come back from la chasse, hunting Sanglier(wild boar) up in the mountains with his two dogs. 

The husband showed us all the sanglier tusks hanging up from their hunts. They make them into sacred necklaces.  Serge also carved beautiful tikis but he's going to take them in a boat to Tahiti where he'll sell them in the artisan market during the festival. Such skilled workmanship and beautiful carvings.   We gave some euros for our meal but it was a shame we didn't have any more to buy a tiki.  We had already bought a beautiful carving of a manta ray made out of rosewood from another villager who also gave us grapefruit and limes.

It was such a pleasant evening and it was so nice to be able to converse with them at ease, they were so wonderfully welcoming and we had a good laugh!  

This morning the weather was beautiful whilst I was exploring with Dora but the afternoon changed to heavy rainstorms which we had to seek cover under a corrugated roofed eve of a building. The winds came howling through the valley out to sea and we were worried for a while that Tin Tin might not hold her ground. 

I'm going to be sad to leave this island, in only 2 days of being here I've really fallen in love with it and it's people!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Water Water Everywhere...

Water Water Everywhere...

I realise that I haven't blogged in a while now and there's a fair bit to catch up on. I'm carrying on in diary format so I don't lose my mind on ever merging days!

Day 12
So big news is.... we caught a massive tuna! The sun was almost setting and we were about to reel the lines in and call it a day when both lines took a hit. I ran to my line and started pulling it in but I wasn't strong enough or fast enough and the fish got away but Justin who had the rod was slowly reeling his in keeping the angle up so as not to lose it. It looked like the line was really straining and we were afraid it might snap but eventually the fish tired and he was able to land it. And what a beauty it was. We reckon it was about 5 kg and had the most vibrant silver and bright blue colouring. This time Papa went back to his original method of inebriating the poor soul by pouring rum into its gills which actually did the trick and made it pass out in a flash. Then we were able to cut its head off swiftly without it thrashing around and then bled it upside down in the bucket for a few minutes so it drained. This seemed much less traumatic than our previous attempts so
we might keep this one as the best method so far, even if it still does seem terribly cruel! I then filleted and skinned it whilst it was still warm and chucked the carcass, head and guts over board for the sharks.

Whilst the excitement of the tuna was going on, we had a visit from a booby who had been circling us for a good half hour previously. At first we thought he was just interested in our catch but it turns out he just wanted a place to rest his tired wings for the night and settled on the aft, finding a good balanced spot on Snowy. I thought he might like some supper so I kept a few scraps of the raw tuna and put it on the solar panels for him to help himself but he was not interested one bit and has since ignored the succulent pieces of tuna, skinned and filleted! I've come to think that actually, he's probably never eaten tuna before as there's no way he would ever be able to attack something that size, so I expect it's quite foreign for him so is wisely avoiding it. His preference being little fish swallowed whole that would wriggle inside his belly!

Sadly we noticed, the poor thing has a bit of blue fishing net stuck round one of its feet, at first making us believe he was a blue footed booby! The problem is he would be far too scared for any of us to go near enough to remove it. It doesn't seem like it's bothering him but then how can we tell? If he's still with us by the morning we might think of a way we can help the poor fella. I'm going to bed now but I hope he's still there on my watch at 3 to keep me company. He's so cute!

Day 13
Well, I'm awake now on watch and the sky is peppered with stars and the Milky Way reaching all the way down to the seas surface and horizon.

There is a light on the horizon, however, that is not a star and is most definitely a boat as I can see it's starboard light. It's not on AIS but does show up on the radar occasionally but keeps disappearing. I'm just taking its bearings every so often to determine which way it is moving and if we are getting closer. It must be a fishing vessel I think, hearing of our good catch yesterday!

Booby is still with us snoozing his little head under his wing. He must be quite glad of a rest and the winds and seas are gentle enough for him not to worry to much about sliding off or being got by a wave. Papa is going to wake at five to help me remove the netting, it will be easier to see when we have the first light of dawn but hopefully he'll be sleepy enough not to cause too much distress.

Day 14
The booby stayed all night with us and when it was dawn I woke Papa so he could help me me remove the netting from its foot. He was sleeping with his head under his wing and so I quietly stood up on the railing ready to place over a sarong so I could capture him but he had lightening reactions and before I knew it he had flown away not before giving me a piercing look with his eyes. I know it was just a millisecond but in that look I tried to tell him not to be afraid and if only I could have explained. I think he had had a good rest though and was refreshed to face another day at sea- if only we could've helped him.

As the sun rose, I was able to see that the green light that had been getting closer all night was in fact the top of a masthead and I could see that they had their sails up! So it wasn't a fishing vessel as i so had imagined. Dad tried to radio them to say hello but with no answer.

However, they did later contact us and they are a Dutch boat called Acapella heading towards Hiva Oa, like us. They were really friendly and told us to listen in on the radio to a network called puddle jump who broadcast everyday at 5 and it's a network of sailing boats crossing the Pacific, who keep an eye on each other and if any run into difficulty, the closest boat can come to their rescue.

We'd heard about this group before and I think dad had tried to contact them but hadn't received the right frequencies to be able to connect. We listened in and there were about 8 other different boats on the network who checked in with their positions wherever they were in the Pacific with helpful info on what wind conditions and boat speed. So we have now officially joined puddle jump and had a lovely welcome. It's strange to think there's a little community out here in the middle of the big sea.

We almost ran over a raft today which only I spotted as I was sitting at the bow. We were sailing along at quite a speed and so passed it quickly. Too quick for me to see exactly what it was so I shouted back to Papa who was at the helm and we did a man over board drill and turned back to go and investigate to see if it was anyone needing rescue.

It didn't take long before we found it again and on closer inspection this raft was very well constructed almost looking like a massive lobster pot about 3m2 and attached to it looked like some sort of sensor bobbing. We decided that it must be an oceanographic floating buoy collecting data. Apparently there are a few just floating around the Pacific but you certainly wouldn't want to run into one of these at speed!

It's two in the morning and I'm wide awake on my night watch for once. I've just logged that we only have 865nm to go and Tin Tin's really in her element with these trade winds, whooshing along at a comfortable 9 knots!

Day 15
We have had another visitor on board today. This morning we found a tiny petrel bird that had landed on deck completely drenched from the sea. It was shivering and must have been cold and in shock. No one saw it land or crash. So we wrapped it lightly in a tea towel and kept it in the sunshine on deck to dry out.

We gave him some tiddly little flying fish that Justin had so kindly chopped up in hope that he would eat something. But he wasn't interested. I think he must have just been exhausted so we let him rest.

Eventually he started to wake up and spread his wings to dry them in the sun, and started to preen himself, oiling his feathers, which was a good sign. He kept on sliding off the deck as the swell was making us roll so I sat next to him for quite a while to protect him and stop him from falling any further and injuring himself.

About an hour ago he thought he was ready to fly again and kept attempting, each time gaining more strength but I still didn't think he was strong enough. Finally he made flight and flew off the boat and flapped for maybe about 30 secs before landing in the sea not having the strength to go any further : ( This made me really sad because now he was water logged again he wouldn't be able to lift off and we saw him bobbing away into the distance so vulnerable in the turbulent swell.

Poor little darling! I wish he'd stayed with us for longer to build up his strength, perhaps we should have kept him in a box until we thought he was ready but it seemed cruel to stop him flying away if he thought he was ready... oh I don't know, now I'm so sad for the poor little thing, who has no chance of survival!

Day 16
I was rudely awoken this morning early to being thrown around in my cabin as the bow was crashing hard into the waves. I thought why the heck are we going head to wind? Maybe they wanted to get the mainsail up but it was already up so it couldn't be that. I rushed out of bed to see what was going on and Papa said that he think he spotted an orange life raft half deflated or a life jacket!
So he set off he MOB alarm and turned around to search for it so we were crashing head into the wind and had turned the motor on. It was raining hard and waves were crashing over so I put on my waterproof and life jacket and leant my eyes to the search. We went back to the position where it was first spotted but it was nowhere to be seen so Papa followed a search pattern scaling the area that it could have drifted within a couple of miles from the original position. Uncle Mark and I kept watch scanning the surface but ... nothing!

We had been searching for about 55 mins before I spotted it and it certainly did look like a big deflated life raft but was in fact a fishing net with loads of orange and yellow buoys floating together. It was such a relief to find that there were no dead bodies or an empty life raft! Also, if we hadn't have found it, it would have played heavily on our minds. It is scary, however, how long it took for us to find it. It is so difficult to spot something in the water where the swell and the waves are hiding it. Not a nice thought of it really were a man overboard. But good practice for us, nonetheless!

Day 17
I've just watched another beautiful sunrise, not so dramatic but lovely soft colours as it lit up the clouds. We had a lot of rain yesterday and I think today we might be dodging rainclouds again but we're not complaining because there's great wind in our 3 sails!

So eta to Hiva Oa is supposedly 11th April if we keep up the speed but we think the winds might drop the closer we get. We might decide, however, to have a cheeky stop in Fatu Hiva which is on the way, depending on the time of day, because we won't want to be rocking up there at night!

So I've been reading up about Hiva Oa and how there's one bay that it's not recommended you swim in because of the large shark population. You see, this island isn't protected by shallow reefs but is a huge volcanic mountain where the depths plummet to hundreds of metres below. The steep incline being very close to the shore, thus the difficulty we are going to have in anchoring! Perhaps no swimming then, although I'm becoming more at ease with them, I don't think these ones will be as friendly somehow by the sounds of it!

Day 18
It's been difficult not to lose track of what day it and let them all merge in to one. But I've tried my best and I think it's day 18? I do know however we have just over 300nm before we reach Fatu Hiva and land!

We've finally tacked and changed to our final course to Fatu Hiva as the wind had taken us a lot further south than we had intended.
Time now 04:34
Position 11 21'.167 s, 133 01. 31 w
SOG 8.3kts True wind speed 22.7 kts starboard tack COG 288' Distance to waypoint 338nm.

Having tacked however, the wind was pushing us too far north and not on the course we wanted. So after much deliberation before lunch we decided it was parasailor time! And that has been a great move so far allowing us to head directly to Fatu Hiva and reacting perfectly to the now light winds. Hallelujah!

I'm longing to reach land now, I can't wait! Also I'm so looking forward to seeing my darling mummy too. It will be very refreshing to have her company and to join us on our voyage! This last stretch is feeling very long now and it sort of feels like we've been on board for an eternity. Not that I haven't enjoyed it, it's been pretty wonderful, exciting and reflective. In a way just living day by day without the clutter of civilisation has been very cleansing to the soul, being surrounded by ocean and sky and governed by the wind and the elements!

Wow, sorry that was a long one! Maybe don't read it all at once!

Love from over the oceans

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

the most remote place on earth...?

Day 9
It feels like I spent most of the day doing the washing in between my watches. I've only just taken down and folded the last few garments and bed linen. It takes some time as there's only two small buckets but it was quite a nice therapeutic task to do on the aft deck and oddly I enjoyed being washerwoman for the day! I'll relish sleeping in some crisp clean linen tonight.

We had the lines out again today but no fish. The lures aren't lasting very well in the water though, whether it's wear n tear or big fish are biting at it without getting hooked I don't know, but they're losing their skirts.

Does anyone have any good fishing tips? We'd be so grateful for some suggestions!

I've really been on the look out today for more dolphins or whales and all the white horses and every splash teases me into believing it's something but it has been a disappointing day on the sightings front! The sunrise was lovely this morning but the rest of the day has been overcast. At least the wind has not been a disappointment and has kept up in the 20s.

Poor Papa's not feeling very well with a fever so we've put him to bed with paracetamol and are covering his watches although I know he's going to be stubborn about it. I hope it passes quickly and that he feels better tomorrow.

Day 10
We're over half way there now and on the final heading of 260 to Hiva Oa . It's not ideal as we're running with the wind behind us but we've maximised speed by having the genoa at goose wing to the main which has allowed us to also put out the staysail- so 3 sails up and there's no stopping us!

Still no fish! We are not to be defeated, however, and will persevere to catch our supper!

I'm on watch now and there's a threateningly inky dark cloud that's come to take away my starry night.. I'm not welcoming it and I might need to don my cagoule!

Day 11
We've had a few flying fish reach their sorry end as they misjudge their flight and land wii a crash on deck. So we've changed our tact and We have decided to try and attach it is a lure. Surely this will bring in the supper! Justin threaded its body very skilfully and securely with wire but we soon learned that the speed in which it's being dragged through the water just disintegrates it and it falls away so when we reel it in only the hook is left. We feel deflated and revert to our other lures.

I've been baking bread today and I've just taken out a lovely looking golden granary loaf from the oven... mmm the smell of freshly baked bread!

So yet another unsuccessful fishing day passes and my menu must change to garlic and ginger vegetable coconut curry in rice minus the fish accompanied by homemade lentil flour chapattis.

It feels like we're floating in the remotest place on earth.... is there anybody out thereeeeee???? Not even a dolphin to comfort the solitude or a plane to wave at... but quite wonderful nonetheless!

If you lovely people would like to comment on my blog or send me a message, I have a satellite email address pandaem@myiridium.net which works if the file size isn't too big so please not too lengthy and no attachments/ photos! It would be really nice to hear from you out here in the middle of this endless blue seascape!


Friday, 31 March 2017

Dorados, spinner dolphins and whale's breath

And so my Pacific adventures continue.... in diary format for my own sanity more than anything, as I'm finding it increasingly difficult to keep track of the days!

Day 5
It's just after midnight now and I'm on till three. We have found the trade winds! Yayyyy! Finally 20+ knot winds which is making us go super fast )well...9knts) Tin Tin seems very happy and it's lifted all of our spirits, I think!

We even caught a Dorado which wasn't very big but enough to feed 4 of us for supper, a welcome treat! Again, I prayed for the poor soul and filleted it wasting nothing. We've had more bites on the lines all day but lost the one on the rod as it was too strong to pull in and then something very big snapped the wire off the other! Evidence there are beasts lurking in the deep blue!

One thing that makes me smile when I flush the heads is that you get all this glowing phosphorescence sparkling up the loo bowl! Haha! It still amuses me every time! The little things...

Day 6
We caught another Dorado today- quite a big fella, this time Justin reeled it in and it really fought against him and was a nightmare to kill. Actually, I couldn't watch this time, as I hated seeing it struggle, poor thing. More prayers were said by me and he was enjoyed for supper. A delicious marinade of lemon butter and dill, a beautiful creation made by Papa Paul! I think we are going the perfect speed for fishing now so it looks like we'll be eating the freshest of fish most days- must not take it for granted!

Today there were lots of flying fish meeting their unfortunate end as they miscalculated the waves and land with a crash on Tin Tin. We'll be eating them soon enough if food stores diminish ; ) I think they might be very bony though which is a risky business for me with my recent history!

The clouds are tall and fluffy today which is said to be typical of the ITCZ where the two trades meet. We seem to have left the mushrooms behind and with it the fluky wind. We averaged 8.5 knots today and top speed 10.5 on my watch! We're flying waheyy!

I had the most eventful shower this evening, the swell is pretty big at the moment and I was being swung around all over the place, shampoo foam flying everywhere and it felt like I'd been to power yoga from all the balancing ! Because the shower is right at the bow- you get the full force of the crashing waves!

Day 7
So, all the electrics failed last night and Papa and Uncle Mark have been down below trying to fix the problem all morning. Something to do with bypassing the alternator?? I think they have solved the problem temporarily but need some new parts which hopefully mummy can bring out with her. I'm sure Papa will give a more detailed account of the electrics on his blog (occasional problem solving page!)

It's my turn to cook today and we still have half a side of Dorado left...

After some deliberating.... for the menu du jour, I ended up marinating the Dorado in fresh ginger, lime zest, two special chillis, soy sauce and sesame oil and then making a little roomy parcel out of baking paper for it to steam in the oven (en papillote) accompanied by vegetable egg noodle stir fry and tiny little limes (with bizarrely bright orange flesh but green skins, If that's confusing enough, the oranges have green skins and yellow flesh! I feel tricked) Again, talking endlessly about food.. sorry I can't help myself!

It's been the perfect day of sun and blustery trade winds and I've felt alive with wonderful energy like every breath makes me smile. We saw spinner dolphins in the distance today.. I do wish they'd come and play!!

Day 8
Not much to report on my day so far. It's been a lovely morning starting at 6 for my watch to see the awakening sunrise lighting up the peculiar shaped clouds, one which distinctly looked like a big humpback whale... maybe that was a sign of what is to come? I hope so : D

The wind is a little gentler today but that's no hindrance on our speed as the current is nicely with us. But it's slowly making its way east behind us which is making us steer off course a little to keep up the pace. We're not as keeled over as we have been the past few days which meant that I had a beautiful yoga practice on the aft before the sun became too powerful.

I thought I'd use this quiet afternoon to try and master the ukulele once more but I really don't think this is where my talents lie. I've ended up after an hour or so becoming increasingly frustrated with my ineptitude! You know when you get a little feeling that you might have hidden talents that you haven't discovered yet..? Well, this was one of them- I thought the ukulele and I would be at one with each other and beautiful music would float out over the ocean ; ) It so turns out that my dreams are shattered and I've made the crew endure more than is fair... Woe is me!

I'm just sitting at the bow now watching the flying fish skilfully take flight long distances skimming the waves and planning where their next entry into the water will be. They're quite mesmerising!

The sea is a deep teal colour today with little white horses breaking on the crests. I've seen two birds circling an area of water and taking a decisive plunge to catch its prize. It's quite something to see them so far away from land and I wonder when they can give the tired wings a rest? Sometimes the birds are a sign that a whale is below so I've been keeping a watchful eye.

Mark and I smelt a very strong and distinctive marine smell at night what could only be described as a very warm and musky/fishy/seaweady aroma which we believe was the breath of a whale nearby. It certainly smelled somewhat of mammalian sea life. You could almost feel it's presence.

I still think I'm in a dream sometimes... this boat life seems so surreal being a tiny speck in the middle of such a vast ocean accompanied by wild waves and wondrous sea life and with only the wind to carry us.

This is the only way I'm keeping track of what day it is by writing this blog otherwise the days all seem to merge together in a wondrous expanse of sunrises, sea, sunsets.... this breezy boat life : )

Monday, 27 March 2017

Galapagos towards Hiva Oa

We sail away from the Galapagos past the famous and mysterious Floreana (if you're curious read "When Satan Came to Eden" to know more!) and Isabella, which sadly we had no time to visit. We say our goodbyes to the sea lions and turtles as they make their final appearance.

We have a long voyage ahead of us - 3000m across the Pacific and I can't quite get it into my head that we won't see land for at least another 21 days! We have painstakingly little wind and so reluctantly we have to motor if we're to get to Hiva Oa in time for Uncle Mark to fly back for Cousin Matt and Elisa's wedding!

That night on my watch, the moon is just a slither. This leaves the sky dark enough to see the never ending mass of stars that feel close enough to touch. Some lie so low on the horizon that I keep mistaking them for mast lights which is somewhat disconcerting at times. I see three shooting stars that night, one of which fell half way through the sky!

24th March - Day 1
As it's Marks birthday that coming day, I blew up loads of balloons to decorate the boat and decorated the table with shells before he came up on watch at 6. I almost lost a few balloons as they tried to escape into the Pacific with the breeze but I managed to rescue them from the deck in the dark. One or two popped giving me such a fright! Anyway, I think the birthday boy was happy to see the effort made (I hope) as he came up on deck to see the sun rising.

Later, I baked a chocolate cake whilst Mark was snoozing but I'm surprised the delicious smells coming from the oven didn't wake him! After a spot of dolphin watching, afternoon tea was followed by blindfolded piñata smashing on the aft deck which I had acquired in Santa Cruz especially for the occasion. Mark then enjoyed setting the broken piñata on fire into the sea and sending a cardboard boat on fire sailing off into the moonlight. What more could a birthday boy want.... chocolate cake, piñata and now pyrotechnics! Haha!

25th March - Day 2
No wind at present, but last night on my watch, the wind picked up enough to justify switching off the engine which allowed us wonderful peace for most of the night. Sadly it's died down since this morning but with the occasional squall which brings heavy rain and strong gusts which pass fleetingly. Apparently, this is quite normal behaviour for the doldrums. Lightning threatens in the distance as i finish my night watch. The stars have kept me company once again. Sirius always takes me by surprise as he's so bright and pretty I the sky twinkling multi colours.

26th March - Day 3
It's still gentle seas but forecast looks as though we might pick up some trade winds on 29th...fingers crossed!

I saw big whale splashes in the distance today but no other eyewitnesses as they were all lounging below deck. I think it could have been a humpback considering the size of a the splash and I think I saw it's tale end but it was a bit to far away to determine.

We've just been feasting on a Lebanese supper which I spent most of the afternoon creating down in the galley whilst lovely sounds of the ukulele floated down from the cockpit from the three man band. All vegetarian with falafels, hummus ( NB chickpeas take ages to crush with a fork!) Harissa courgettes and home(boat)made beetroot, cabbage and chilli pickles.

Another apricot sky as the sun goes down.

26th March - Day 4
It's always a great watch to come up on deck to see the sun rising and how it instantly warms the air with its first few fiery rays. I'm already peckish and it's only 6am, so I make my way to the aft where our long stem of Galapagos bananas are hanging and I pull off a ripened one that has yellowed before the rest. They are delicious yet tiny but enough to satisfy my early morning munchies! They are all going to ripen in quick succession, so it looks like we'll be feasting on bananas over the next few days! The pineapples and big papaya all ripened far too quickly in this heat and we struggled to eat them all before they went too fizzy.

We spotted pilot whales today not too far from Tin Tin and we beckoned them to come closer and play but they had other ideas and travelled in the opposite direction!

We've had the fishing lines out pretty much since leaving the Galapagos but we are yet to have any joy. Justin stands at the aft as I write, tweaking at the lines with hopeful optimism as the sun is soon to go down.

I can see rain clouds in the distance as the lowering sun streams through them. There are lovely smells coming from the galley as Uncle Mark prepares what I can already tell is going to be a delicious supper...

I realise that I talk a lot about food on here but it is somehow what we revolve around to create a certain structure to our drifting days out in the middle of the Ocean... Also, it shouldn't surprise anyone that food is usually on my mind most of the time anyway!

I hope you enjoyed reading...
Sending love from the big blue seas.

Ps I've now found out how to post blogs whilst out at sea using Tin Tin's very slow satellite connection so I can now send more regular updates rather than bogging you all down with a huge entry that quite truthfully drags on far too long, don't you think?!

Magical Galapagos and diving with sharks!

After anchoring in Wreck's Bay, our first day has been rather frustrating as we had to wait ages for our agent to come and then we had to wait for a whole team to come aboard Tin Tin ... there was one guy from the Armada (navy)- very formal in his white uniform and cap!, one from immigration, one from customs, one from health and environment, and a diver to check how clean Tin Tin's bottom was! Anyway we were finally cleared at about 5.30pm and allowed to go to shore.

Whilst we were waiting for clearance I went for my first paddle on Dora in Galapagos and there are sea lions everywhere! They're quite inquisitive and certainly not shy and were happily splashing around me and basking on their backs in the sun. They have gorgeous little faces with whiskers and ears and then a huge blubbery body! A lot of the boats around us especially the fishing boats have been overrun by them as they bask on the decks... it's only a matter of time before we had a keen visitor astern who snuck up onto the aft steps of Tin Tin! We've also seen two spotted eagle rays mating!

When we go ashore (finally!) the whole pier and steps are covered with sea lions, occupying even the benches! After our meal out we take the water taxi back to find Dora had two sea lions sleeping on her, I really thought they would struggle to balance on her but they seemed very comfortable...Oh poor Dora!

The next day we ventured to Playa de las iguanas which was very dramatic with huge boulders made from volcanic lava bubbling into the sea and large dragon-like iguanas soaking up the sun.

There was big surf crashing against the rocks but further in, sheltered by the breakwater was a calm bit of sea where there were more sea lions and two turtles poking their heads out so scrambled across the rocks and dove in with my go pro to film them . They were pretty large and just gorgeous! They're really docile and swim along so gently. I think they are wonderful creatures! It makes me sad that so many were eaten in Darwins day. Actually mainly tortoises who could go without water for a whole year were piled into whaling ships alive and there they would stay confined until they were killed for the ships supper. Reportedly thousands were slaughtered each year. Even Darwin ate them when he visited!

If we're not looking at the human impact on the land. It doesn't feel yet as if much has changed from Darwin's time, having read his account of the Galapagos. I still don't think the animals of the island have learned or yet evolved to be afraid of humans as they really don't give a monkeys if you get close, quite surprisingly the birds.

When we started to walk back from the bay, the heavens opened and it chucked it down! I don't know what it is about me and water but it felt sooo good and I relished in this torrential rain, washing away the salt from my skin. That is what was making this whole island so lush. I think Charles must have come at a dryer time of year (must reread to establish his dates here) as what he described was an arid and unforgiving landscape that he couldn't quite believe that anything thrived here. He does say though towards the end of his stay here, the rains came and suddenly the dead looking fauna came to life and flourished very quickly..

Here on San Cristóbal we visit a huge volcanic crater bowl called El Junco perfectly round and filled as a lake. The panoramic view of the island is stunning and I try to imagine to the time it was formed all those millions of years ago as an erupting volcano.

One of the most incredible experiences I had those first few days in the Galapagos was my snorkelling adventure to León Dormido (aka Kicker Rock) I went along with some ecology students who were all equipped with diving gear to study he wall. I wasn't diving this time as I needed to have a refresher dive as it's been so long since PADI. As soon as I was in the water looking down through my mask I spotted 2 sharks, learning from my guide that they were black tip sharks. They were very long and wonderfully graceful as they snaked menacingly into the depths. We swam the circumference of the rock studying the abundance of life along the steep wall which plummeted vertically 50m below, beautiful star fish, colourful coral, striped endemic Galapagos fish, parrot fish and turtles. We entered one entrance of the cave which cut right through the rock. As we entered the darkness, below I could see sharks gliding in the depths. They were smaller than the black tips and I was informed they were the great Galapagos sharks. The fish didn't seem to be too bothered by them so I free-dived down to get a closer look at them and some footage on my go pro! Whilst we were in the cave, the waves came crashing in with a whole load of playful sea lions who had fun dancing around us and diving for fish. They were huge and it could've been quite intimidating but I just thought it was the most wonderful experience playing with these creatures and they made me laugh so much into my snorkel!

We had a a gentle night sail over to the next island Santa Cruz but we received a Mayday as dawn broke over little Santa Fe island en route to Santa Cruz. Dad contacted a small local cruise boat who came out to search, although they had not received it. It kept being repeated and finally the position was that of a boat at anchor in a bay. The cruise boat went to investigate, but after about two hours we reckon it was an error in their AIS system (or ours perhaps). The Santa Fe gremlins also stopped our speed working, then our GPS. Very eery!

Arriving in Puerto Ayero, Santa Cruz poor Papa had to deal with yet more formalities which seem to take up so much of his time. We do however, get round to exploring some of he island where we walked through huge lava tunnels which were formed when the outer layer of molten lava flow solidified. The tunnels seemed to me quite vulnerable to collapse as there were huge chunks of fallen lava partially blocking the tunnel. They were over a km long and at one point we had to crawl under on our bellies! We also walked through the lush green forest around the tunnels and saw more giant tortoises eating guavas in the torrential rain!

I decided that I couldn't miss out on a proper dive experience here in the Galapagos, where the marine life is some of the best in the world so I booked a dive and told them I would need a refresher too! Papa and Justin joined the trip to snorkel. So we set of on our boat trip with our guides and two other divers at the crack of dawn. Once reminded of the ropes by my wonderful instructor Luis, I soon relaxed and remembered how much I love the underwater world! It's so peaceful down there and magical. We swam with about 15 hammerheads and a group of about 10 white tip sharks really close to us we could almost touch them! They didn't seem bothered by our presence and they glided around very gracefully with a slight menacing glare. We also saw a family of spotted eagle rays and it's amazing to just float there whilst they go about their daily life around you, I was so entranced by them that I followed them temporarily losing my dive group! It's ok, our guide had a bell and I was shortly reunited with them. I wanted to stay down a lot longer in this dream world but our tanks were getting low so we had to surface and there was a strong undercurrent so we were having to hang onto rocks below. There were huuuuge parrot fish and puffer fish and rainbow fish and zebra fish and hundreds of Galapagos striped fish and amazing azur starfish!

Thank you Galapagos for sharing your beautiful nature with us. I hope you are protected and conserved enough to sustain your magical life and rare beauty.

I'm sad to leave these magical islands so aptly named as "Las Islas Encantada" but onwards we must sail South across the Pacific towards the Marquesas Islands.... a long voyage that should take us around 21 days or more..

Hasta lluego mis amigos!


Monday, 20 March 2017

Panama to The Enchanted Islands of Galapagos and "Crossing the Line"!

I'm writing this up on deck mid Pacific.  We are on our way towards the Galapagos a little more than half way there.  It is so calm that the water looks like teal silk.  There’s just the faintest whisper of wind and it is unbelievably hot!  We’ve taken this opportunity to stop the boat, take down the genoa and go for a dip in the deep blue ocean.  We are about 3000m above the seabed, that’s 3km of water below us - crazy deep!!  We put a rope out attached to a fender so if we start getting left behind then we have something to grab onto.  Ive just been reading a lovely Galapagos natural history book and discovered there’s 28 species of sharks.  i tried not to think of that as i lowered myself into the water trying not to make a splash.  It was a very liberating swim and deliciously refreshing.  You just don’t know how long you’ve got until the sharks detect action so it wasn’t one of the most leisurely of swims, I’ll admit but totally worth it!  Uncle Mark stayed in longer and splashed about so recklessly which made me incredibly nervous that I was sure fins would appear from the deep as the jaws sound track played in my mind!

I'm going to jump back now to when we left Panama City as there’s a fair bit to fill in!  Notably my birthday and Las Islas Perlas!  Having finally left Panama City, we had a brilliant sail over to Las Perlas and the wind picked up so we were averaging about 8 knots. Half way across we noticed distant splashes in the water.  At first we thought of dolphins or a splash of a whale’s tale but as we got closer we realised that they were actually big manta rays leaping high out of the water! There were so many of them and they gave us a wonderful hour long display. We read up about this extraordinary activity and apparently they can be seen doing this when they are giving birth and the little ones have a turbulent start to life as the rays leap clear of the water! We later learned, however, that this phenomenon had made the news and it was a rare sight as they were escaping the jaws of sharks chasing them!

Justin then caught a tuna which we enjoyed for supper but the poor thing didn’t have a very graceful end as even after a blade though its head, it thrashed around spurting blood all over us and the deck. Really horrible and distressing...I’m sorry little fella.  we ate you all up though, so you weren’t killed in vain.  Papa later saw a glimpse of what he thought was a whale shark.  it seems like the Pacific is teeming with life as the cool upwelling from the seabed brings up all the nutrients and with it the sea life flourishes.

We spent that night anchored in between two tiny islands.  One is called Mogo Mogo and that is where “Survivor” with Bear Grylls was filmed!  As soon as we anchored, I pumped up my beloved paddle board for the first time and went paddling. The water is so clean and clear that it was a beautiful contrast to Panama City! I love my SUP, whom i’ve named Dora.  I paddled ashore to a beautiful deserted beach  and on my way back, the sun was setting as i took this moment to breathe in this clean air and then i just lay back and floated for a while listening to the sea lapping against my board.  Paddling back I saw a little puffer fish and then below it a moving dark shadow!! I didn’t hang around and paddled quickly back to the boat trying not to lose my balance!

I woke up the next morning at 6 to the sound of Uncle Mark swearing so I popped my head up on deck and discovered that Snowy had gone in the night!  She had come loose from the painter and had drifted off into the unknown.  thankfully, Justin was scouring the shoreline of the island opposite with the binoculars and spotted her lolling against the rocks.  If the current had been going the other way we would have lost her for good.  they were about to start blowing up the spare dingy when i told them i would venture over (bravely) on Dora.  i mean what else is a paddle board for if not to heroically rescue poor stray dingys! 

So I made my way across the channel on my rescue mission and watched the beautiful sun rising.  It was further than I thought and quite choppy mid channel but I got there and poor Snowy was crashing against the rocks.  i was more worried about the outboard motor which seemed to be getting an awful bashing so i levered that up first, got in, tied Dora to Snowy’s stern and rowed out until we were clear of the rocks.  It was a while before i finally managed to get the motor going which was a relief as I was tired from rowing.  I returned from a successful rescue mission and now the crew think that Dora has earned her place on Tin Tin and can stay!

After breakfast we ventured over to the island of Mogo Mogo (Survivor Island) I on Dora and they on Snowy.  The water was abundant with life and i spotted so many puffer fish and parrot fish. 

We landed on the most beautiful white sand beach and we scrambled through the foliage where we came across what looked like an old camp and I’m pretty sure I recognised it to be the ‘Survivor’s’ camp.  There was one palm leaf hut with makeshift beds still left if a little ruined and old benches made from logs. it felt strange to be on the site where they filmed it all!  It made us wonder whether we could survive if left here and we decided that yes we’d be alright, conjuring up ways to sustain us. 

We made it over to the other side of the island where there was the most stunning beach, turquoise blue and calm.  I dived straight in, already hot from the heat of the day and it was deliciously cool.  Sitting on the beach with the water lapping over me, i watched little hermit crabs scuttle over the sand all with there own bespoke shell they had chosen as a home.

Paddling back to Tin Tin was really hard work as the tide was changing and the current in between the two islands was really strong.  I followed a turtle for a while and he didn’t seem to mind and when i eventually got back to the boat, i was ready to jump in the water.  That was quite a workout!  I hung onto a rope off Tin Tin’s aft and dangled for a while cooling down with the flow of the current when i felt a horrible sting on my arm and looked down and saw long pink tentacles of a jellyfish  wrapped around me!  I brushed them off with some difficulty and the little devil had given me a really nasty burn on my forearm which had blistered.The perils of the Pacific - ouch wouchy!

We moved to another island, named Casaya and found a calm anchorage. The water is more green here than crystal blue so you can’t quite see what’s lurking beneath.   Nonetheless, Dora and I go adventuring and we have a lovely evening paddle ashore to the island which is shaped like a starfish.  it felt like a really wild beach and there were amazing bird and animal noises coming from the thick forest behind.  I think the island is volcanic as the rocky platform looks like it is formed from bubbling lava.  I floated on my meditation board to watch the sun go down.

We stayed anchored off Casaya for a couple of days, where Papa painted a beautiful watercolour and the others made a raft out of huge bits of driftwood along the beach.  The inspiring piece of wood was the huge log of balsa, which had amazing buoyancy.  I helped by collecting washed ashore rope which was bound to bamboo for an outrigger ( how to spend a day on a desert island?….build a raft, make fire!) .And of course, that’s exactly what we did that evening but it did involve some drama… Justin was stung by a scorpion when collecting the driftwood to put on the bonfire!  he was quite stoical about it considering how much it would’ve hurt.  Poor Justin! He was sent back on Snowy to Nurse Papa Paul to be given antihistamine and a bravery sticker.  I went to have a look at the little beast who was still on the log and his angry tail and sting were still curled up in the air ready to strike again!

After Justin had recovered a little we made our way back to Scorpion Island and enjoyed the fire which was blazing so well as the driftwood was so dry.  We figured that all the creepy crawlies would have escaped away from the fire and so we were a little more relaxed about planted our bottoms on the logs. There was a sense of tribal energy, with sticks drumming… its funny how a campfire can bring out the primitive enjoyment and nature in us all!

The following morning, the chaps had put on a delightful birthday breakfast for me and decorated the table with shells and presents.  Papa had made homemade granary rolls that were a little bit like rocks but were still warm from the oven and were the most wonderful treat after weeks of oats and muesli.  So sweet of them! I was later treated to a real birthday cake at tea time which was utterly delicious despite the bright blue icing which got everywhere!

The next morning we set sail for the Galapagos, having anchored off another beautiful island the night before.  800 nautical miles to go!  Not long after setting sail we saw a humpback whale splashing about.  incredible! We keep our eyes peeled for more action but none came that day. 

The next day however we are greeted by a large pod of dolphins, there are almost 40 of them leaping around us and playing at our bow! An incredible sight!  We are back on the watch system and it takes a while to get used to keeping awake at night!  My night watches are magical though and the dolphins come back visit on my 3-6 watch.  There is a space in the clouds where the moon is shining through reflecting on the glassy water and lighting up the dolphins as they surface.  I don’t know whether to wake the others who are all sound asleep and have already marvelled in them. But secretly I’m enjoying this moment to myself .  I feel like they are soothing my soul and give me a moment of inexplicable happiness… thank you sweet dolphins!

Pilot whales interrupt our lunch one day and their slow movement through the water is very graceful.  they are too far away to get a good photo, but we all try.  It’s hard to keep track of the days out here in the middle of the Ocean.  The sun, moon and vitally, the wind govern us.  We travelled over an ocean rift where the depth plummeted to 4000m!   I’m reading Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle” to keep things relevant as we near closer and closer to the Galapagos.  It’s an enjoyable read and I’m getting more and more excited to see these magical volcanic islands and the magnificent and rare creatures they hold as we draw closer to the equator. 

As we cross the equator Mark and I are given a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony/initiation by King Neptune (Papa Paul) and Queen Nefertiti (Justin) who are dressed magnificently for the occasion. Forced to stand court over our crimes and admit our sins and we were then anointed with a bowl of noodles and rank fruit thrown over our heads! We were then hosed down with the powerful deck wash and i pumped up Dora for the occasion so we could paddle over the imaginary line and cross into the Southern Hemisphere! And the men all jumped in to the sea with far too much splashing!  Fortunately, no sharks came for a curious visit!

We’ve been blessed with some gorgeous blood red moonrises as the moon is at its fullest and rises big over the horizon and tonight is no exception.  The reflection is so clear on the black glassy sea and I sit up on the boom for a while to take it all in and absorb its wonderful energy.

Waking up for my early morning watch, the sun has just risen and the sea is dotted with Manta Rays basking in the sun with their wings up as little pointed tips.  Occasionally they jump out of the water, they could be feeding but I think they are rejoicing in the rising of the sun! I feel their joy!

The Galapagos islands are in sight slowly rising out of haze, a slight mist hanging over them which the sun will soon burn them away it heats up.  We see turtles swimming under our bow and our first sea lion. Papa paints a watercolour of this beautiful scene. You can see why they used to be called the “Enchanted Islands’, “Las Islas Encantadas"

Friday, 3 March 2017

Paddling the Pacific

Now a proud owner of a Red Paddle SUP!
I managed to find a place in Panama City to buy a stand up paddleboard and I'm allowed to have it on TinTin as it's inflatable. I'm so excited to get paddling but I have to wait till we leave the filthy waters of Panama City and arrive in Las Perlas! ­čĆä‍♀️  ­čśŹ She's yet to be named, Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Across the Isthmus - transiting the Panama Canal

It was time to leave the Caribbean Sea and and take the extraordinary journey through to the Pacific Ocean.  Carved through one of the narrowest and lowest saddles of the long, mountainous isthmus that joins the North and South American Continents, the Panama Canal is an incredible feat of engineering and it’s only now having gone through it that I can truly appreciate the extent of its greatness.  Completed in 1914, having taken decades in the making  and planning and costing tens of thousands of lives due to harsh climatic conditions and the resultant diseases which took a hold of workers of such, yellow fever and malaria spreading like wildfire.  This was no mean feat, by any stretch of the imagination, to join together two of the worlds largest oceans and with it unfathomable loss of life.  

Before going through the Canal, we needed to hire sufficiently strong and long enough mooring lines to hold Tin Tin under heavy strain and big fenders to protect her against the lock walls and big tankers - heaven forbid!  We also were required to welcome a Pilot on board for the whole transit  to guide us through the canal - they take this transit business very seriously! We have to wait 3 hours on the flats just inside the Cristobal Breakwater before we receive our Pilot, named Hector.  He hops aboard effortlessly from the pilot boat and assumes his control over our vessel.  Even Skipper Papa Paul must now answer to him!  He then tells us we will be rafting up next to a neighbouring wooden yacht named Arc en Ciel which is bigger than us.  Papa is to be helmsman at all times and Hector gives him the directions to follow the buoys along until we reach the locks.  We raft up with the other boat just before and meet our new neighbours for the transit. 

The skipper is an old American guy called Harry who is sailing around with his 12 year old son and they have recruited 3 kids from Shelter Bay to be the line -handlers for the transit, who are also American and very charming.  We go through the first 3 locks on the Atlantic side called the Gat├║n Locks and here we are raised a total of 26m progressively. we share the lock rafted up with our new American friends  on Arc en Ciel and in front of us is a huge Reefer and a sports fishing boat. It is really quite surreal to experience  the locks filling up.  We are thrown lines from the sides with little weighted balls called monkey fists attached to help land them on the boat, we then have to attach and loop our lines through them and the line handlers on shore pull them back to the dock once we’ve secured them round the cleat.  We then keep the tension and take up the slack as we rise with the water.  We’ve got starboard lines to deal with whilst Arc en Ciel attend to the Port lines.  Its quite nerve-racking as the currents can be really strong inside the lock and you do not want to loose control!  The final gates open up to Gat├║n lake just as the sun is setting.  Here we find a huge red mooring buoy so big it’s almost half the size of Tin Tin and we anchor up for the night.  Hector, our Pilot is done for the day and is collected by Pilot boat to go home to bed… I did wander where he would sleep on Tin Tin…?! 

We sleep lolling in Gat├║n Lake to the sound of distant Howler Monkeys and think of the crocodiles lurking in the shallows. The next morning we rise bright and early at 6.30am for a 7am departure for our next part of the journey.  Despite our early get up, our new Pilot, Omar doesn’t arrive till 9am and we are impatient to get going.  We slowly make our way up the canal towards the last set of locks on the Pacific side which seems to take all day. We only can go about 6 knots and have to stay behind Arc en Ciel because apparently the Pilot on her is calling the shots today and we have to time it so that we all get to the locks at the same time as our mother ship  - a huge Cargo who is behind us.  The Canal is windy as we cut through the thick lush jungle of Panama.  We spot a croc bathing lazily on the shore line.  

We raft up again with Arc en Ciel and soon we reach the Mira Flores Locks which is another set of three and this time we have to prepare for the locks to empty, slacking off the lines as we descend.  First we wait of your big companion to enter behind us  and i’m not exaggerating when i say that this beast of a boat completely dwarfs us! She comes up behind us terrifyingly close.  A Japanese Cargo ship, on its way back to port, has just a couple of feet clear either side of the Canal.  It is incredible how precise these big ships have been designed to fit perfectly within these locks.  We hear that there is a webcam just above the visitor centre so have told a few people to look out for us.  One of the young American line handlers who is slightly bonkers but brilliant decides to moon the tourists at the visitor centre and the webcam, much to our amusement.  Looking back to the webcam footage, there is a great image of Tin Tin and her neighbour being towered over by this giant vessel and we look quite tiny!  

The last lock eventually empties out and the golden gates open to reveal the Pacific Ocean, we made it!  The Pacific welcomes us with a heavenly breeze and we glide out into the salt water once again and detach the lines from our adjoining friends and say goodbye to Arc en Ciel. Towards us we see the famous Bridge of the Americas joining the North to South America.  Omar leaves us and is collected by a Pilot boat waiting for him, and we find our anchorage for the first time in the Paciifc just off Balboa Yacht Club, on the outskirts of Panama City.  We see the sunsetting behind the famous bridge and think of how far we have come and what the next leg of our voyage will bring us. To have crossed from one ocean to the next, wow! 

Balboa yacht Club is fairly basic but there is a free water taxi service and the bar does good food and we are starving!  We then go in search for the showers - well in need of a good wash! The shower block is policed by armed guards which makes us wonder how safe an area we are in..?  Anyway it is a welcome shower, if a little dingy… the lights don't really work and the door won’t lock, and so i just have to trust the guards don’t decide to have a peak inside.  I take my chances and am grateful to feel clean again!

We sleep well that night despite the constant traffic of ships through the night.  The next day is a rest day although Papa goes in search of new batteries as it seems as our old ones aren’t working sufficiently anymore.  I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t involved myself in these technical issues on Tin Tin.  There seem enough men on board with a thirst for fixing things that I’ve taken a step back (I hate to be the stereotype but I'll admit my lack of interest)  It turns out that the batteries Papa picked up which were so heavy to get on board were in fact too tall to fit under the floor boards and so the next day we all make the trip to find new ones without much success.  Also, we learn that because of Carnival coming up at the end of the week, nothing is going to be open…. It looks like we’ll be hanging around Panama for a lot longer than we'd anticipated.  We say goodbye to Steve who catches his flight back to London that afternoon. He’s been such an amazing help getting us through the canal and a great advisory to Papa with all the electrical problems Tin Tin has been experiencing. Thanks Steve!

It’s about time we did a big shop to stock up on food supplies as we need to start thinking of provisions that will last us over the next 3 months as we cross the Ocean to The Galapagos and Marquesas where we won’t come across much in the way of convenience stores, and if we do they’re bound to be mega expensive.  We get a taxi to a big shopping Mall call El Rey and get to work on our Supermarket Sweep - the bill comes to a ridiculous sum of $780 I’ve never seen a receipt so long.  We need to take two cabs back in order to get us plus shopping back to the boat and then a huge trolley to take us down to the water taxi.  We spend the rest of the afternoon storing it away in cupboards around the boat in some sort of logical order.  I have to hand it to Justin on being super organised and making an inventory of everything as we went along.  

We pootle around the corner that evening to find a new anchorage that won’t cost us as much and as the sun is setting we have the extraordinary sight of hundreds of Pelicans dive bombing into the water to catch their evening meal.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The sea must be bubbling with fish as i’ve never seen such a feeding frenzy of birds.  Amazing!

We spend the next few days in this anchorage just off La Playita, exploring the Old Town of Casco Viejo and enjoying the next few days of Carnival experiencing the Parade and water festival along the main Corniche in the city.  At least we are entertained whilst we wait for things to reopen again so we can sort battery problems and find an electrician because now (shock-horror) the engine won’t work, which means we won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

I’m on a personal mission to find a paddle board to buy as I think it would be a great way to explore the islets we’ll be coming across in the Pacific.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find one here in the City but I’m yet to convince the others that there is room on Tin Tin (there definitely is)…watch this space!

To pass the last day of carnival, we escape the city and get a ferry to the neighbouring island of La Taboga, once a sanitary Island used for quarantining the diseased canal workers, one of which was Paul Gauguin.  Because it is Carnival however, the ferries are jam - packed and we have to be there an hour early to ensure a space. Families from the city have come out with huge picnics and umbrellas and are ready to fiesta on the beach.  The crossing takes an hour and the island itself is pretty unspectacular and very spoilt due to the mass of tourism and pollution from the city. The water is so littered, even I can’t bring myself to go for a swim although it is scorchio and everyone else seems quite happy to splash around in it!  I am however, grateful for a day relaxing on the beach and pay $5 for a lounger and umbrella - it is way too hot to be out in the sun!  The men want to climb to the top of the hill which is about an hours hike but it is midday and I chose to watch the world go by and people watch  - one of my favourite past times.  I also scrub up on my Spanish and speak to some children playing ball  after which it hits me on the head whilst I’m reading resulting in a lot of giggles.  I also negotiate a very fine piece of Creole fried fish with rice and peas.  I meet los hombres back at the ferry port and find them drenched in sweat and hardly able to talk from climbing the hill in the middle of this hot day!  I’m quietly happy of my choice of activity for the day.  We return back to the mainland on a rammed boat where we are obliged  to wear hot grubby life jackets and with only space for half a bottom on your seat, it is quite an unpleasant ride! I’m realising how spoilt I am to be able to cruise in the luxury of one’s own boat…must not take it for granted!  It’s good to be back home on board Tin Tin.  

Night night,


Friday, 17 February 2017

Bye bye Colombia - Hello Panama! (featuring Las Islas San Blas and a surprise visitor)

I was sad to leave behind Colombia and I’d grown rather enamoured with this vibrant city of Cartagena but it was time to set sail again this time in the direction of Panama but stopping en route to the idyllic islands of San Blas.

We woke at dawn to up anchor and realised we hadn’t taken the latest bag of rubbish ashore, so whilst los hombres got the deck ready for our next voyage, I rowed Snowy into the marina with the basura.  It was a calm morning and there was hardly a ripple on the water.  The sun had just risen and i could see it ascending through the high rises.  From Snowy, I could here loud beating music coming from the shoreline, and periodic whoops and shouts.  My initial thought was wow - there’s some energetic partygoers still up and dancing at 6am.  I mean, this is Columbia after all ; ) and only two hours earlier I was woken by a party boat sliding past Tin Tin with dance music blaring out.  But onshore, at a closer look I saw that this group of partygoers were infact up for their daily exercises and were taking part in a lively aerobic class.  Looked like fun to me and was tempted to join.  Must keep to the task at hand, though, the rubbish run...How glamorous I am? Must get back to Tin Tin before she sets sail without me! 

The forecast has predicted winds of 30-40 knots for our passage.  But its not until we are a good 10 miles from the coast of Colombia that they hit us, slowly at first but they soon pick up to 40 - 50 knots (storm force 10) this is going to be a rough ride! The swell gets bigger and soon waves are crashing over the aft with the occasional wave wiping out whoever is at the helm.  After my watch which finishes at midday - I go below to make lunch for the crew.  I try and wedge myself in the galley to stop me flying, I curse the fridge for being so difficult to find anything! I don’t think I’m very good at this after all! I come up through the hatch for some air and to deliver lunch.  I take the rest of the afternoon to recover as i’ve become quite green.  Its been a few days now of not sailing so my sea legs have left me and it may take a while to get them back.  I retire to my cabin and sleep it off.  I wake and Justin has made a lovely stir fry but my appetite has gone  slightly and I think about how I’m going to get through the night - i’ve got to stay awake till midnight when my watch will end.  

Just as I was thinking I need a distraction,  we get a surprise visitor  - a brown booby who had come to Tin Tin for a refuge as it must have been tired - miles away from land now.  He looked young and balanced very skillfully on the side railing just by the cockpit - apparently undisturbed by our presence.  He settled down for the night and tucked his head under his wing for a sleep.  poor little fella he must have been tired.  It amazed me that he could withstand these intense winds and wildly rocking Tin Tin and manage to rest.  He stayed with us for about 6 hours as we transported him closer to Panama.  I was thinking how lovely it would be if we could have a companion/ pet aboard who would stay with and keep us his home only leaving to catch fish daily.  Sadly my hopes vanished as near to the end of my watch the biggest wave crashed into the cockpit, drenching me and knocking poor booby off his perch.  Like me, he too must have had such a fright and the poor thing was in a dreamy sleep.. He tried desperately to land back on Tin Tin but without any luck - the winds were too strong by this point and there was now way he was going to land without being blown off again.  He tried the boom first, but it swung violently and knocked him into the water, he recovered himself and tried the stern and managed to land on the solar panels but it was so slippy he slid right off and into the water again with a loud cry - I didn’t see him again after that and i felt quite tearful after my long watch, i had grown quite attached to this little chap and fear that he was injured.  And i missed him as my companion.. its funny that because I was so tired I suppose and it had been quite a scary rough watch on my own, i had become emotional and the loss of Berty the booby had made me into a  fervent sailor.  

I will tell you another thing that I forgot to mention on that watch, the exact same wave that took out Berty, also washed our safety ring over the side with the attached Danboy.  I had seen that it was attached by just one string and went astern, falling over a few times from the waves,  and tried to save it.  I was too late and I watched it float away, with the lit Danboy bobbing out of sight into the distance.  This felt quite dramatic and imagined how horrific it would be if that was a person in there and I was losing them from sight, helpless.  Obviously if it had really been ‘man-over-board’  I would have alerted the rest of the crew and set off the GPS  MOB alarm.  When I let Papa know in the morning his said we should have used that for MOB practice.  It all happened so quickly - first boobie, then life buoy.  I stayed astern a little in shock i guess, and it was so rough i could barely make it back in the cockpit.  I thought it would be safest to wait until Uncle Mark came up on his shift which would be very shortly.  I’d like to add so as not to alarm my close ones - I had made sure I was attached by my harness through all of this  - so easy for a wave to take me over in this weather - in fact by rule I’m always attached when I’m alone on watch and always at night - I’d be stupid  - the risk is too big without anyone  to even see you go overboard. Just putting it out there for rested minds.

We arrive in the beautiful archipelago of Las Islas San Blas and wow is this paradise!  We have to navigate carefully through these atolls as coral reefs surround the islands with only a few narrow passages that will allow you entrance, make a mistake and Tin Tin will be another of the many shipwrecks that have met there unfortunate demise in these turquoise waters.  In fact there’s quite a history of ships meeting their tragic end here -  and because these waters aren't that well chartered we don’t want to be one of them!We find our anchorage in the middle of three tiny islands.  The water vis so clear and so blue, it doesn’t even look real - the islands have a perfect ring of white sand around them and tall coconut trees swaying in the wind.  There are two other boats anchored in this spot.  It’s funny how we are finding new neighbours all the time.  We don’t have this paradise to ourselves it seems but I’m not complain this is.heaven.  

I want to jump in the water as soon as our anchors taken and i decided boldly to sim to the closest and smallest island.  I haven’t, however, taken note of the state of the sea -  there is a rapid current that is racing past Tin Tin - even if I swam my hardest, i wouldn’t be going anywhere!.  I give in and go with the others in the dinghy where the trusty 2 stroke engine does its work to get us ashore, battling the current.  As we approach the white sand beach, we are met by a small native man who greets us and tells us we can land but this is his island and we must pay $3.  What else can we do, we oblige and come ashore.  The men stand there not really knowing what to do with themselves, i however, am in paradise and take a tour of the island, filming this paradise.  To walk the circumference takes about 10 minutes and I’m back to snowy.  The men have finally settled into hammocks and realise that they just need to relax and take it easy. 

 I find a perfect stop on the beach and soak in some glorious sun while the gentle waves cool my feet.  My head blissfully cool by the shade of the coconut tree, i drift into a luxurious snooze but not long after i’m warned that this is the most dangerous place to sit under, the tree is loaded with coconuts ready to drop and i’m in prime position for one to whack me on the head. It has been known to be death of some unfortunate souls.  How foolish - I did know this but It had been the most heavenly spot that I’d ruled out any risk assessment!  We meet the family, who live on the island and i watch the two young boys flying the kit they have made from plastic bags and sticks and a long bit of cloth to create the tail - it flies well and I’m impressed.  I think how much richer these boys are making and finding joy in a kite they had created instead of sitting in front of playstation or a computer screen and getting square eyes.  I see these boys later go out to fish. They may not have any money but they are richer in life.  

We move onto the next set of Islands the next morning and venture through more treacherous coral reefs, hoping that we’d taken the right line…  We see remnants of old ships wrecked on these reefs.  There’s a ferry that didn’t make it and another yacht tipped on its side with the full force of the waves crashing over.  I hope they managed to escape. 

Here, the current isn’t as strong and I don’t hesitate to jump in with my snorkel gear on and swim ashore.  first I go and have a look at the anchor to see if it had caught but it just lies there at the grassy bottom and hasn't taken purchase at all - I inform Papa who reverses Tin Tin and we hook to a rock - seems to have done the job.  I navigate through the coral garden, with a few fish acquaintances on the way, I lose my nerve half way and start thinking of the big fish - apparently there’s a large ray and shark population - the jaws theme tune naturally comes into my head and I react, swimming faster and quickening my breath. Every dark shadow below, making my heartbeat quicken! I’m glad when I reach the beach. And i lie facedown on the sand like i’ve come from my own ship wreck and found land for the first time - it was quite a tiresome swim - not from the distance really but from my nerves - get a grip Em!

The island is dotted with a few backpackers that have made it over on a tourist boat and they have hitched up their tent for a few nights.  there are also a few basic huts on the beach you can rent.  I’m surprised to see though that the main holiday makers there look as if they are Panamanian.  From the small tourist influx, its sad to see that the island is littered with rubbish.  Such a beautiful place but polluted with waste.  

These are incredibly beautiful islands, but the further in you get to the mainland, the more accessible it is to tourists and the boats that bring them over and the more spoilt they become.  It makes us feel lucky that we are travelling this way as we are able to experience the unspoilt, almost untouched islands. I am saddened by the impact us humans have on this planet.

Tomorrow morning we sail to Colon at daybreak, it must be light enough to navigate through the reefs. 

The coast of Panama is lush wish green jungle as we sail along it's coastline. By late afternoon we are entering into big shipping waters and we are reminded of what a significant entrance this is.  Once you transit the canal you enter another Ocean and there is no going back. When we reach the breakwater at Col├│n we make a radio call to Port Control which seems to be regimental in its organisation.  We have to wait for 3 big ships to exit before we were allowed entry.  Here we dock in a well established Marina called Shelter Bay.

This seems to be the stopping point for boats who have to fix things up before making the transit.  Some have been here for years and have made this their home with not much intention for moving through or onwards.  There is a strange but lovely community here from all walks of life, I could almost write a book on their stories of adventures.  We feel welcomed, there is a pool and yoga and I'm quite content to hang around here for a few days  (it gets small on the boat!) The men however, seem quite restless although we have things to do - Tin Tin needs to be lifted out of the water for her bottom to be scrubbed and anti - fowled (the Galapagos are very strict about clean bottoms, especially no barnacles, quite rightly)  We have a need for an electrician, the fridge needs a look over and she needs to be fumigated for the Galapagos.Oh and paperwork!! Relentless for poor Papa!  It's nice to stop for a while but even I'm itching to get on now , the transit (intense line handling and sailing by Caiman crocs) and then the Galapagos awaits! It's getting closer now and I am excited beyond words!



Thursday, 9 February 2017

Dolphins and The great escape of El Dorado! (St. Kitts to Columbia via Dutch Antilles)

I am now lying in my cabin at the bow of Tin Tin as she rocks wildly and I can faintly hear the nightlife of Charlestown , the bustling heart of St.Kitts.  We arrived here in the dark and luckily spotted a buoy to moor off overnight after a long sail over from Antigua.  We left Jolly Harbour at noon and arrived here around 9pm, about and hour ago.

Justin's brilliant idea was to get the fishing line out and now we were far enough away from the reef where the fish could possibly be contaminated by ciguatera, so they would be safe to eat.  He had attached a very shiny squid lure to the Watuma Yoyo which was deployed with its very strong line and a makeshift teaser to flap around and make it look like a fish trying to escape the squid's advance.  ingenious!  It seemed to work as after about and hour of having the line out Justin landed the biggest Dorado I've ever seen!  The poor fella battled violently when hauled in on deck (unsurprisingly) and before we'd got round to being in control of the situation (i think we were all in a state of shock) he had got free of the hook and made a great escape off the stern with Papa Paul and Justin desperately trying to cling onto it but he slipped through and was the one who got away! Ahh, so close to having a good fish supper.  Im hopeful there will be more ..  but I hope Mr.Dorado wasn't too injured and can go on now to live a peaceful life in the ocean. Thankfully for you we aren't yet practised fishermen. Im glad you are free now - you deserve to be after that incredible escape!  For supper instead we enjoy one of Uncle Mark's famously good veggie omelettes before our night adventure in the dark to find a mooring.

We spend the next 2 days in Nevis and St. Kitts. Nevis is very friendly, small and unassuming.  After Papa deals with tedious formalities and clears us with Customs and Port Control, we learn a lot about its history in Charlestown which has maintained its picturesque colonial style.  St. Kitts and Nevis was the first English settlement in the Caribbean.  Nelson was based here and fell in love and married here.  It was rich from its sugar plantations but famous for its slave trade and slave markets, a poignantly shocking history.  We trek across the island in unbearable heat to find an old fort of Nelson's, nothing much remained bar a couple of canons, an old well and a dead goat. It was a hot, heavy day and I was starting to feel really unwell with my cough and a horrible pounding headache, not helped by the heat.  We found some lunch in a shady courtyard of the museum and the hopped back on Tin Tin to move on to St. Kitts.  I'm a rubbish crew member at this point and go for a lie down in my cabin , with practically all my clothes off to cool down!  I don't feel much better on arriving arriving in Basse Terre, the capital but it would be a crime not to step ashore.

What a contrast this town is to the other Leeward Islands we have been exploring.  St. Kitts is comparatively more rugged and rough around the edges but seems to have more character than that of the americanised, "Disney" versions of the Caribbean.  We ignore 'go this way' signs intended for the cruise liners and find ourselves in downtown Charleston as the sun starts to go down.  This certainly feels like the edgier part of town but is alive with music and reggae blasting out of every street corner.  For a while, I forget my headache and fever and feel immersed in the heat and smells and sound of the town at night.  You can see the old colonial buildings dilapidated but in a way still beautiful with cracked colour.  The Independence square is a shadow of its former glory , with the grand houses that surround it and the out of place (could be in England) church and red telephone box!  We feel quite weak from our night time strolling and think its high time we stop for a drink and maybe some food.  We should have been brave and bought some jerk chicken from the side of the road but we succumb to a far too enticing Thai restaurant (of all places!) with a luxuriously breezy terrace.

We set off after breakfast for our big sail across the Caribbean Sea to the Dutch Antilles (ABC Islands).  This, with Papa's calculations may take us 3-4 days.  I had hoped I'd feel better by this point but I don't.. frustratingly I feel worse.

We settle into our watches, 3hrs on, 9hrs off which works out well, but I wish I could enjoy my watches more without feeling wretched and coughing myself half to death! Despite this, it is a lovely feeling being up on watch on your own especially at night when there's just the expanse of rolling black sea, glittered with phosphorescence as your companion, and the night sky which feels bigger than ever before.

My watches look like this:
6pm -9pm, 6am - 9am, 3pm - 9pm, 3am- 6am, 12pm - 3pm, 12am - 3am
At night, it can be a challenge to stay awake, so I set a timer every 20mins to keep me alert on watch.  Every hour, I go down to write the log and position, wind speed, SOG ( speed over ground), COG (course over ground), barometer reading etc.  and every 10mins I scan the horizon to look for other boat's lights, ones that don't have AIS and so don't appear on the charts - usually small fishing vessels.  In fact, there's very little traffic on this passage,  just the occasional tanker/cargo or cruise liner that lights up the horizon.  We're to wake Skipper Papa if they appear too close!

The nights are dark which means magical phosphorescence, dance, sparkling in the black waves.  It really is beautiful. The wind stays a steady 20-30 knots which means Tin Tin cruises along at an impressive speed of 8-9knts, getting us there quicker than we expected.  I am blessed on my morning watch as the sun has just risen and we are joined by a playful school of dolphins, about 9 or 10 of them leaping out at our bow - an incredible sight.  they must think our hull looks like a friendly giant whale's belly.  They stay swimming with us for half and hour and I manage to film them on my GoPro aas I sit at the bow infront of the Genoa.  Such a treat - i think I am falling in love with these playfully graceful creatures!  They join us again on my evening watch , Im sure they are the same ones.

Justin hasn't lost faith since the great escape and puts his line out but we don't have any luck for a few days yet.  This means suppers remain purely vegetable.  This doesn't deter the chefs, though, and beautiful meals are produced which is no mean feat battling with the vigorously rocking Tin Tin at a 45 degree angle! The fridge you have to almost climb into to find anything as it only opens from the top, the oven sways violently and anything that's not strapped in flies off the surfaces.  Knife skills are hit and miss and chopping/slicing anything is a precarious operation!  There are bananas going brown in the fruit and veg hanging net and so I ambitiously attempt a spiced banana bread. I'm feeling fairly pleased with myself as i pop it into to the dramatically swinging oven to bake but a sudden squall tips Tin Tin over and the remaining eggs on the side all crash to the floor.  I shout a number of obscenities and Papa pops his head down below to see what the problem is,  in which I then blame it on them for changing course without warning! Turns out I can't always keep my cool... I'm ridiculously hot and starting to feel slightly sea sick.  Air, I need air!

My last watch of this leg finishes at 3am and I willingly collapse into my cabin for a sleep that comes easily.  I wake up and we are in Bonaire, anchored off Kralendijk.  Bonaire is a renowned spot for diving and snorkelling, supposedly one of the best in the world.  I had hoped to be recovered by now as i was dying to go diving again since I got my Paddy in Dahab years ago, I haven't got round to using it since.  Actually, if I have any diver friends.. I've lost my Paddy card, will dive centres be able to look me up on a database? The snorkelling here, though, far from disappoints.  There is a small island surrounded by coral reef a dinghy ride away from the main island and we venture over on Snowy.  There is a dramatic drop off where the reef drops to 100m due to the volcanic nature of the island.  Here the bright turquoise parrot fish nibble on purple tubular polyps, clown fish come close to investigate my goggles, pouting puffer fish swim cutely between huge fan corals. At the drop of the colourful coral is a beautiful contrast to the deep blue of the water that plunges 100m below.  This sends shivers through me as I know this is where the sharks like to loiter.  I get a grip of myself and my adventurous streak comes back as I challenge myself to dive deeper each time to explore this stunning underwater garden.  If things cant get any better I meet a chilled out turtle who's quite happy for me to film him as he paddles along...woahhh!

Onwards we sail to Cura├žao, sailing into the wonderfully serene and sheltered bay of Spanish Waters.  It is one of the most well protected anchorages in all of the Caribbean.  The inlet and bay got its name because it's reputed to be the first place that Spanish explorers landed in Cura├žao hundreds of years ago.  The island has quite a different feel to it than Bonaire. Both have their Dutch influence but you can see that Cura├žao has been heavily influenced by a huge wealth and we walk through the Miami-like neighbourhood line with million dollar homes.  This doesn't feel very authentic and we decide to take a bus to Willemstad through colourful villages.  the roads are pristine and one could easily be in Europe if it weren't for the coconut trees and intense heat!

Willemstad has a huge Dutch influence, the amazingly designed bridges that part to let the boats through, and especially the Queen Emma floating bridge! We walk past the bustling floating market, traders that have come over by boat from Venezuela selling fruit, veg and fish.   The brightly coloured Dutch architecture derives from when the Dutch captured the island from Spain in the 1600s. Here there is the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas built by the Sephardic Jews from Amsterdam and Recife, Brazil.  Sorry for the history lesson!

We prepare to sail the next morning after stocking up on supplies.  We meet a lovely young Dutch family who have made their boat their home and are slowly sailing round the world with their 8 year old twin boys.  They've stopped for a year there as the husband has found work and the boys will go to the local school. I could see myself living a nomadic life like that...

Off the coast of Cura├žao, we hit gold and Justin lands a very decent sized Skipjack tuna.  I gut, fillet and skin it off the aft steps, whilst dangling my legs in the water, I quickly lift them out as I realise its prime feeding time for sharks!  We dine on lime chilli and ginger ceviche and seared chilli soy tuna that night.  It can't get fresher than this, delicious. Result!

A short breakfast stop in Aruba  at anchor, a respite from the gale force winds, and onwards to Columbia - wahooo!  This is the roughest passage we've done so far and it takes 3 days.  Wind speeds are up in the 30s/40s and we zoom along at 9-10 knots  upto 15 knots as wind speed reaches 50 knots - a record for Tin Tin! Sailing like this is really thrilling but not so comfortable.  We are running most of the way as the wind is behind us and we start sailing with goose-winged genoa and main but as the wind accelerates, we have to take them down and put up the stay sail as we are flying and the swell is getting bigger (4m waves).  This is fun when we can surf them but the occasional odd waves hits at a different angle and completely crashes over Tin Tin and crew, soaking us!  I'm off watch at night when one of these hit and I'm trying to sleep without success.  I have a fleeting moment thinking this wave has really taken us and we are going down as all I can see is water out of my hatch and side window.  I think of my exit plan and that I should probably go and help whoever is on watch but sleep takes me and I wake up in the morning and I'm still alive and Tin Tin has not sunk! Phew..

Frigate birds and brown footed boobies follow us and we are met again by dolphins. Mark lands another fish that looks has the shape of a tuna but is much smaller with a mackerel patterning.  He discovers its covered in a parasite.  It has long been on the hook and is dead when pulled in.  I fillet it and chuck the remains over the side for the sharks but i think we've been put off and we still haven't tucked in.

The coastline of Columbia comes into view and we are blown away by this stark, rugged coastline.  A dramatic line where land meets raging sea.  The land is arid and lined with cacti.  We anchor in 30 - 40 knots of gale half a mile of a village with a cluster of shacks.  We have to dodge fishing nets marked only by a small plastic bottle, one of which we get tangled up in!  A group of young native men come and suss us out in their boat and offer to sell us water, petrol and  beer and more..??  The are very friendly and seem unthreatening so having been keeping down below, I poke my head out to say hola.  The boat rules (with me being the only female aboard) are that I'm to find a hidey hole below in case of pirates! Let's hope we don't have such an encounter..  Mark keeps anchor watch and the rest of us dinghy ashore and meet the indigenous tribe of the Wayuu weaving beautiful bracelets and bags.  I succumb and buy a wristful of bracelets from the most adorable young girls. It gets confusing because I've come ill prepared with no pesos and only dollars so awkwardly get change from a neighbouring Argentinian tourist who helps me out, then having to share it amongst the girls.  We eat a lovely lunch of grilled red snapper (I think?)  and watch kite the kite surfers who obviously gravitate to this stretch of coastline to catch the unsheltered wind.

We venture up the coast a way and find an anchorage at Taganga, north of Santa Maria and there is one big PARTY on the beach - its Sunday funday for the columbians and the loud fiesta music floats over to us.  We resist going ashore here, as officially we are illegal immigrants as we haven't cleared into the country yet and and risk getting caught out in this busy town.  The coastguard boat floats nearby us looking important but never comes to question us.  Eeek!  An elderly Canadian lady swims over to Tin Tin and chats to us.  We invite her on the boat and she tells us of her story of how she came to live here and gave us oodles of advice of what to watch out for in Columbia, scaring us with crime etc and who not to trust! She later comes out on a boat and has brought us some take away supper from the local restaurant and a bag of fruit.  What a sweet lady!  We enjoy yet another beautiful sunset which I can never get bored of.

We set sail for Cartagena for a very rough passage.  Arriving in this city is quite a sight as the shore is lined with white skyscrapers.  Under close radio supervision for Port Authority we  anchor in 15m of water not far from the Marina Club Nautic├│.  Papa and I dinghy ashore to deal with formalities and en route we help to rescue a Columbian boat which had wrapped its anchor around another yacht - we push them off under power and they come free.

We are finally legal and are free to roam this incredible and exciting city! I have fallen in love with this city especially the Old walled quarter which is beautiful beyond words.  Bright pink bougainvillea climb vibrant coloured colonial houses which fill the streets with such character. Salsa music fills the fiesta - like atmosphere.  The Old City is surrounded by a coral and stone wall with canons poking out of the ramparts. This was built in the 1500s in Sir Francis Drake's time to protect the city from invasion.

As i write this, I'm now sitting under a fan in a high ceilinged  beautiful caf├ę and I'm blissfully cool as I sip on a Limonada di Coco,  a Cartagenan speciality and very delicious.  We've had a couple of days here now and its been a real treat to stop long enough to relax and really get a feel of the city.  I will definitely be returning to this city if I can - it's up there in my top!

We sail tonight to Panama to start our journey through the canal which is going to be complicated but exciting, I'm sure.  I hope Papa Pablo has decided we can stop an the San Blas islands on the way.  Finger's crossed!

Thanks for reading, sorry it's so long winded.  I really will try to refine, but I'm just blabbing out whats going on in my head - there's so much to share!  I will try and write more frequently but less volume. I'm struggling to write much when we are sailing as I cant bring my laptop up on deck and i tend to get a bit sea sick if I write down below as its been so rough! So it's limited to when we are land based.  Sorryyyy.

Lots of love my friends,
Panda xxx

Hey, I forgot to mention I'm an Aunty again to a Alice and Matt Matt's beautiful baby boy who has no name yet.  Unbelievably thrilled - Congratulations guys and sending you bundles of love and hugs!!