Saying yes to sailing to The Galapagos – 960 nautical miles, Panama to Galapagos
In the spirit of always saying ‘Yes‘, I find myself at the start of a 3-month sailing and surfing trip across the Pacific Ocean on sailing vessel Finding Avalon! The first passage, sailing to The Galapagos!
Nautical miles traveled to date: 960 nautical miles, Panama City to Galapagos
Books read on passage:
- Welcome to Paradise, Now go to hell – A true Story of violence, corruption & the soul of surfing
- Saltwater Buddha – A surfer’s quest to finding Zen on the sea
Notable podcasts that kept me awake: The Swellians Surf beatdowns.
Fish caught on passage: 114cm Mahi Mahi, 1x Albacore Tuna + 1x other fish but we lost it along with the blue squid lure!
Now I know why it’s called the “Pacific”. The Pacified Ocean. Passive. Lack of pace. Lake Pacific. This ocean is flat. Gutless. Better suited to wakeboarding than birthing 40ft Teahupoʻo barrels. Something tells me I am soon to regret writing these words. It’s day 2, well 2.5 if you count the inevitable faffing around that accompanies multiple attempts to leave a port and a country: Immigration, the missing port captain that needed to sign the paperwork, the purchase of additional jerry cans for emergency ‘what if?’ diesel. The spontaneous acquisition of a heavy-duty fishing rod because fishing is ‘my new calling‘. Water. More fishing lures (called Freya)… the list goes on. It took forever to leave, but then we did. It all became very, very real.
I’m on my third watch at the start of my lustrous new sailing and fishing career. Snowboarding, frostbite, mal-nutrition, 2.8C cold-water Hokkaido mushy surf breaks along with the copious amounts of Japanese fried chicken that still taunts me from its new home around my midriff, falls in my wake. 38ft of Slovenian fiberglass is all that is keeping me alive. That and optimism. And possibly this flat ocean. Retirement feels good, having called it my last winter season as a professional snowboard guide. It was time to do something different. So here I am. On Lake Pacific. The horizon dissects the sky like a clean cut of a knife through butter. Slick, smooth, soft. The occasional dolphin comes to say hello. Brian Jones Town Massacre plays on the speakers. Freya, our red-headed lure, taunted a 114cm long Mahi Mahi and before I had a chance to make my morning coffee, we were pulling in a beast of a fish off the stern. We feasted on fresh ceviche tacos and cracked a corona. What a Central American cliché. The good life. Life on Lake Pacific.
Saying yes to 3 months at sea on a ‘perilously small boat’ as my friend Euan liked to joke, wasn’t a hard decision. In all honesty, I had nothing better to do and I boast a strong resume of say yes to out-there adventures. It was the end of the snowboard season cat ski guiding in Niseko, Japan and the start of the annual 3-month period where I make excuses to delay the inevitable; going back to work. Three months of being a sustainable spec on a giant ocean sounded like a great alternative existence. Plus there was the promise of surf. And surfing in recent years, surfing is all I want to do. It is my new love. Teahupoʻo would be my final destination. What a trip.
I don’t quite know what epiphany I’m expecting to have on this trip. I’ve written a long list which includes rhetorical questions like “what is my dharma?”. My head explodes upon reading. I’m hoping to have a revelation. Boketto – which in Japanese means staring at the horizon thinking of nothing. I’m looking forward to lots of Boketto. Boketto is easy but I know at the end of the 3 months I have some big decisions to make. Having just turned 35 I’m somewhat, maybe, pensively excited(?) to play adult again back in Sydney. Relish in those $12 ‘cold ones’ at The Steyne after a long day in an overly air-conditioned office where I complain that I’m cold and my colleagues defiantly tell me to wear more clothes… in summer. When it’s 40 degrees outside. I scour at the unnecessary use of the planet’s resources. Adulting. I ask myself, is that what I really want to do? Maybe I’ll just stay on the boat. 3 months becomes 6. It is heading to Fiji after all. Cloudbreak. More Bokettu… the horizon is still flat as a tack. We stop the boat. Time for a swim.
Having motored for 60 hours straight, we are coming dangerously close to our fuel reserves. Hopefully, the wind will blow soon. It was as good a time as any to scrub the barnacles from the boat as in The Galapagos, the boat needs to be squeaky clean or they send you 40 miles out to sea with a professional cleaner to get the job done. Major #fail.
Day 5 – Half-way day. Engine over-heated.
I take it back. Lake Pacific is now the rolling Pacific. The boat leans permanently to the starboard (right) side, as we slice our way through the newly arrived SW winds… in the direction that we want to go (South-West)… Against the current also coming from the South-West. How ironic.
Sailing to The Galapagos… Into the wind. I tell myself it is a baptism of fire: the bumps, the aggressive heel, the trashing of the bow into the wave’s trough. The first leg of the Pacific passage throws into the proverbial deep end. Accomplishing one thing a day, like taking a bucket shower off the stern or making a coffee, feels like a huge accomplishment.
Now the adrenaline of the first few days has worn off, I’m constantly tired and the 3-hour watches we do in a rolling succession, yield a well-deserved 6 hours of sleep. Sleep comes easy. I imagine it’s like returning to the womb. Rocked to sleep surrounded by water, curled up in the fetal position, carried to a new destination. My 3-hour night watches fluctuate between wide-awake appreciation of my surroundings, to fighting off the urge to curl back into the womb. I listen to podcasts. Last night I laughed out loud to local Narrabeen surf comedians, The Swellians ‘Ain’t That Swell‘ and their count-down of the best beat-downs in surf folklore (always involving Hawaiians). It made me miss the boys back home. I wonder what mischief they got into this weekend and if they scored any good waves.
As soon as we escaped the wind shadow of the Bay of Panama the wind blew a delightful 10-14knts and we averaged around 5kts of speed, gaining approximately 110 nautical miles a day. We won’t be running out of fuel thank god! We were doing ‘good’ Captain Jackson tells me, despite the 2knts of opposing current increasing our drag (#drag). The 8-day passage threatens to become more. 5knts is a comfortable speed when you’re on a permanent angle. More speed means more heel (lean), which means more violent body slams into the wall or that fucking towel rail smashing into my hip as I stand up from the toilet. The fruit hammock also tired of dancing to the lean, detached itself from the wall in protest and exploded avocado and Papaya all over the floor. A cruel joke. Possible retribution for my ‘Lake Pacific’ name-calling.
As was the wave that came over the boat, through the top hatch, flooding all the electronics at the navigation desk.
Half-way to The Galapagos. I celebrate with a sunset Corona. My mind dreams of the awaiting waves. Sailing to The Galapagos – what a concept.
Day 6 – 415 Nautical miles to The Galapagos
I accomplish nothing of note. What day is it?
Made a coffee and cheese and ham toasties.
A 150ft sailboat came relatively (as in we could see it), close to us. It sailed across our bow, silhouetted by the sinking sun on the horizon. The sunset was a stunner. I abstained from a sunset Corona and instead had a cup of tea ☺
Day 7 – 750 Nautical Miles traveled, 244 to go
We’ve been making good headway with the wind now on our beam (at 90 degrees to the port side). This also means the waves are at 90 degrees, so the rolling and thrashing continue. We have a small push of encouragement from the current which has favourably swung in the direction we want to go (thanks Mr. Humboldt Current?), thus enabling us to average 7+knts – Yey!
But we have a fruit fly problem. That alongside the ever-increasing algae and barnacles under the boat threatens our inspection by quarantine officials, who decide on our entry into the Galapagos. Today’s job is to find the source and douse it in bicarb and vinegar (no chemicals allowed).
The fishing rod erupted with a high-speed whizzing sound. FISH ON! There was that split second ‘Oh shit’ moment where Xanthe and I looked at each other in utter shock. Sadly that split second married with our inability to slow the boat down, resulted in running out of line. Snap. The fish escaped along with the blue squid lure which we imagine, remains stuck in the fish’s lip like a bad 90s piercing that would make even the Madden Brothers jealous. Poor fish. Maybe it will start a rock band and get a gig on MTV cribs. The stories you tell yourself at sea … We’re starting to go mad.
I think we crossed the equator today. All I remember was my celebratory margaritas flying across the boat’s kitchen and onto the floor. Xanthe made some delicious brownies. Bye Bye North Pacific. Does the water really go down the tap in the other direction?
Day 8 – Tuna & Boobie Time
We have 3 hitchhikers! Three boobie birds every evening at dusk, land on the bow and share the front seat where they remain all through the night. Sitting on a giant pile of bird shit!
Xanthe and Jackson were filming one of their YouTube episodes on the bow when Xanthe heard the fishing line going, all be it, very slowly. FISH ON! I ran up and pulled the little guy in on my new shiny fishing rod, just as the sun was setting. He didn’t put up much of a fight as he had been dragged behind the boat for a while. The other spikes of the (Freya) fishing lure had stabbed him in the head, leaving a bit of a mangled mess. We decided we would have thrown him back to mother ocean due to his small size, but seeing as he was already dead, we’d best cut him up and have tuna sashimi for dinner.
Day 9 – Land Ahoy!!!!
Not quite ‘insight’ but approaching. ETA 06:00 San Cristobal, Galapagos. The looming stress our fruit fly infestation and imagined algae and barnacle population under the boat force us into a cleaning frenzy. The last thing we want to do when surf and Sea Lions await is turn around and sail 40 miles offshore to do some more boat hull scrubbing. I go to sleep excited to wake. My final watch is the 11pm to 2am shift. I can make a vague outline of land out. We’re going too fast at 7.5 knots so reef the sail and the Genoa to slow to a snail’s pace, ensuring we will arrive with daylight.
I join Xanthe an hour into her 5am sunrise watch, to see The Galapagos in a hazy sunrise hue. This enormous, ominous rock juts out of the ocean. She sips on a coffee silhouetted by the sunrise taking it all in (we’re out of coffee. That f**k we’re here!). The rock, I will later learn is Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido as it is known locally – One of The Galapagos’ foremost dive sites, teaming with life. It’ really doesn’t seem real. We made it. We’re out of coffee but we made it!
Day 10 – San Cristobal, The Galapagos
The damn inspection. The stress! I spot a left-hand point break not far from the boat. I’m distracted. Very distracted. Will anyone notice if we jump off the boat as soon as we are moored and start ‘swimming’ and scrubbing the hull frantically? Yes probably, but we don’t want to be sent away like naughty school kids. We jump overboard and nurse the hull to an inquisitive audience of a giant turtle, a dogfish and some other unidentified specimens. The shape of the left-hander improves with the rising tide. Distraction. Although we (think) we’re ready for our inspection, the port authorities are not. We’re told to wait until 8am the following day. Surf?… Please?… YES! Thankfully our agent said we can ‘go surf‘ and even head to the shore. Jackson and I wax up and get a $10 water taxi to Tonga Reef where I get a rude awakening on a fast and hollow left, sharing it with just turtles and sea lions.
Sunset is spent onshore to the not-so-rhymical screaming, burping and groaning of a thousand more sea lions. Xanthe loses her mind. I find them cute but a little annoying. Especially the three that made an enormous blubber barrier to our boat’s stern which they are now calling home! A local told us you clap and they move. So we did. Clapping is Sea Lion for ‘Oi piss off’.. and it works!
Welcome to The Galapagos!
Thanks for reading! This sailing to The Galapagos, 960-mile passage was the first of our Pacific Ocean crossing. Next stop The Marquesa Islands which are around another 3,000 nautical miles and should take us around 22-28 days! We are here in The Galapagos for 2 weeks or so (yey!).
Do you have a quick second? I’d love to ask if you could click here and subscribe to Xanthe & Jackson’s YouTube channel Finding Avalon (the name of the boat). Their videos are becoming increasingly popular (cos they are rad), and they are able to make some pocket money off them which helps keep this boat afloat. Hopefully, you find them as inspiring as I did.