Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ten days of isolation....

We were totally overwhelmed with the comments on FB about our last post. Thank you for all your positive comments and messages of love. I truly believe there must be some positives to come out of this.

Just a quick update as I know we now have lots of people interested in what is happening out here in the Galapagos:

- We have food! Yesterday we covered up like a couple of bandits and went to the local market, where we had whatsapp'd an order to the lovely Joanna. Her assistant 'Chico gordito' (chubby boy - ha ha) had most of it organised when we got there. We did however end up with 60 eggs rather than 12 due to our dodgy translation - anyone for a frittata? We also procured the biggest zucchini I ever saw and some bread rolls at the market. We have since conducted a full stock take and definitely have enough food aboard to get us to Queensland.

- We have propane! We discovered when reviewing all our supplies that in Panama our propane tanks were not filled correctly so we were low on cooking gas. This would be a problem for a sail to Australia. Our agent introduced us to Snr Pachay, a mechanic, who set up a makeshift contraption in his yard to transfer propane from his own kitchen supply to our tank yesterday and we collected it this morning.  We were supposed to get it yesterday but confusion about the time curfew started meant we had an anxious night with the tank off the boat and rumours abounded about a 24/7 curfew. The new curfew is actually from 2pm to 5am and we were able to collect the full tank this morning.

- Our faith in the human kind is maintained. Going ashore, people were so warm and friendly, offering us help at every corner. A man from the national park even offered to carry my bags. Everyone here is covered with masks (yes I know it probably does nothing but makes you think about distancing) and the majority of people are staying home. The Navy came to visit us yesterday to check if we needed anything and say if we have to empty our black water tanks we can leave the harbour for a sail and return.

- Sadly COVID19 has reached the Galapagos with 4 cases including a local man who came to Isabela from the mainland and not knowing he was sick went all over the small town. In Isabela 90 people - more than 5% of the population are now in full quarantine. The good news is that they expect to bring testing to the archipelago in a few days which will help speed up testing. They were also disinfecting the dirt roads in town today from a tanker. Now we have food and propane we will stay on the boat for at least the next week.

- We have a verbal confirmation we can stay in the Galapagos until at least May 26th, we just need to also get an approval from the Ministry of Defence for the boat, via an extended 'autografo' or cruising permit. Our agent Bolivar seems to have this in hand and we understand a further 60 days should be possible through to June 13th. As the situation continues to deteriorate elsewhere in the Pacific and Australia we plan to hunker down for a while if we can.

Stay safe everyone and virtual hugs if you need one.

Here's some more pictures - from 10 days of isolation.....

Fishermen dropped by with these - one is a scorpion fish and was yummy filleted
How you get a new car at Isabela - winched off a ship and brought ashore at just the right state of tide

Our lovely neighbours

Empty streets - the flags were for a celebration that was cancelled

The rock in the road is a key landmark in town - the Australian flag flies right next to it

These guys are taking over

Our own private dinghy dock 

Kicked off the dock to get back to the dinghy

This is where we are - so beautiful - Askari and the supply ship over a week to unload it

Swimming with penguins yesterday

Getting propane
Snr Pachay's workshop - not the usual tourist pic from the Galapagos

Veggies galore - all washed before going inside the boat

Monday, March 23, 2020

Challenging times for us all

Like everyone we are trying to come to terms with what this Covid-19 Crisis might mean. All I can say now is our thoughts go out to all those that are finding this a challenging time, be that business or work related, health issues or stuck in a far off land away from family, like us and many of our friends.

We are fine, but locked down in the Galapagos, anchored all on our own at Isabela Island. Lock down here means that one person can only leave your home, or in our case boat, for essential food shopping, medical or emergency needs. There is a full and enforced curfew from 4pm to 5am. We have not left the boat, other than for a swim for 6 days. We are told this is for at least another 10 days, subject to extension.

We have watched a supply ship unloading, including a car, over the last few days so plan to try and go ashore tomorrow and buy some provisions, as we are nearly out of fresh goods. We have an agent here who is trying to obtain fuel and cooking gas for us and investigating if we can extend our permit beyond April 14th, when it currently expires.

Some issues for us live aboard, blue water cruisers at the moment:

-       - Nearly every country has closed it’s borders and most of us can’t just go home. For us Askari is our home. So stay put I here you say – well that’s fine for a short while but it doesn’t look like this crisis is coming to an end any time soon. We mostly follow the seasons, have insurance restrictions and have planned our travel for years ahead. Those are the charts and guides we have aboard plus the visas, permits and other research we have done. 

-       - Being at anchor is great when the wind and swell stays in one direction. We all monitor the weather daily and would generally move based on weather. So being told to stay in one place makes us all anxious. Fortunately, on Askari we are in a very protected bay at the moment and only a West wind or big South West Swell would make it uncomfortable and is unlikely to be dangerous.  We are currently outside of the cyclone/hurricane area and the South Pacific season is opening up from 1 May - many friends are not in such a good position, however the Pacific is the biggest stretch of ocean and what if there’s no ports to go to in a storm or if we get sick. (I really hope maritime law would prevail in that situation).

-       - We often seek out remote places, these places generally have only basic medical services and a population that has no idea about our lifestyle, some are very poor and some might be suspicious of outsiders having had their cultures invaded for centuries. One of the things I think about everyday is that what happens if people get desperate, most people we meet are amazing but a crisis can change things – let’s hope it’s for the good. Maybe we can do good along the way and share what we have, if we are able to travel. Foreigners however have bought covid-19 to many remote places so I think island people are right to be wary. We would hate to make local people feel afraid by our presence. 
-       - We are self-sufficient and generally a very healthy bunch. Often a conversation we have is how since we started living on a boat we have never been healthier. Many people run the boat with just a couple and no crew, so if one person or both were to get sick from this virus we would be in trouble. Therefore it’s essential we have a period of quarantine before starting a passage in this environment – something authorities may or may not allow, say if we manage to pull into a place just for fuel, food and repairs.

-       - Blue water cruisers are generally pretty well provisioned most of the time, but extended periods without keeping things topped up would challenge all but the most well prepared crew. We currently have 3 to 6 months food aboard. However we are using fuel, propane and food everyday we are here. So we need to ensure we can top these up, especially if we are sent out into the blue yonder. Being on a remote island where there are not gas stations and fuel is delivered by ship means we cannot guarantee fuel, therefore we are already restricting our power consumption. We use fuel to make water so this is really our most important commodity.

-       - What to do? Everyone’s situation is different; some people have kids or pets aboard, some have crew or commitments, health issues, a very tight budget, etc. Here in the Galapagos there’s about 12 boats and nearly everyone is thinking something different.  There is no place to leave a boat here and even if there was there are no flights anywhere at this time.

-         If necessary we will sail to Australia directly (maybe the only place not closed to us right now as Australian citizens). It’s a journey of more than 7,000 nautical miles and with favourable conditions we should be able to achieve this with the resources we have on board.  It would be a big call though as we are crossing some of the most remote parts of the planet possibly without an option of stopping.  Three weeks at sea is daunting enough; never mind two months. Andrew has spent days working out our range to ensure we could make it and refreshing his celestial navigation skills in case we run out of electricity (that’s certainly not one for me). If you know us you know we sold our house and built Askari to sail back to the South Pacific – this wasn’t a whim, but a trip we have planned for 15 years and made huge sacrifices to achieve. So I know it appears (no not always) we are mostly living the dream out here but it really has just been smashed and we feel pretty scared too. We will just have to keep going and come back around to get back to Bora Bora.

All that said, it is still a privilege to be out here and I know many people are struggling or in a far more tricky position than us. So please relax and enjoy some lovely random sights from our first three weeks in the Galapagos – San Cristobel, a day at Espanola and onto Isabela.

Lets hope we all get some good news in the coming days – Stay inside and stay healthy – Love from us and the Penguins x x
Sit back and relax

A huge number of officials came with masks to clear us in
My first giant tortoise meeting at San Cristobal - they are now released back into the wild at islabela

Playful sealions - diving at Kicker Rock

Galapagos Green Turtle at kicker rock

Andrew inside the bait ball that was permanently attracting sharks 

Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle at Wreck Bay
On San Cristobal you can't go anywhere without a sea lion for company

Ready for our second dive at kicker rock - we actually got to see hammerhead sharks - yay


Christmas Iguana

How many creatures can you spot?
Nazca chick - mummy didn't even mind me being here

This Booby bird loved Andrew

Blue footed booby amidst the Nazca boobies
Blowhole at Espanola
Stunning coastline at Espanola
Galapagos Hawk on its nest

at Espanola the beaches are really busy

Sally light foot crabs cover the rocks

Ready to dive at Espanola - such a wonderful dive, so many sharks

Beautiful calm sail to Isabela island
Sunset from the bar at Isabela

Tortoises on the track at isabela

Wall of tears - built by prisoners incarcerated on isabela 

mangroves at Isabela

Swimming igunas

Red lake at Isabela
Beaches of isabela are stunning - shame we can't go there now

At the breeding centre the giant Tortoises take their jobs very seriously
Blue footed booby birds in our anchorage

Penguins in our anchorage - they now swim around Askari in the mornings, today one joined me as I swam - wow!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Arrived..... Galapagos

After a gentle motor through the night on Tuesday, yesterday morning we glimpsed 'kicker' rock at dawn and then pulled into Bahia Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobel Galapagos.

We managed to get a message to our agent, via a water taxi, that we had arrived. He came to check the boat out and give us some labels about garbage and said he would return at 4pm. About 20 past 4 a water taxi arrived with 9 people all wearing pink masks to board Askari.

We got lucky, or maybe Bolivar managed it, they came late in the day and were keen to get home so rushed through what we have heard can be a really long winded experience. We gave out soft drinks and then the park guy said he did not drink CocaCola as he did not agree with that organisation so I offered him a homemade sodastream drink and our world was easy - he loved sodastream and the fact I had eco washing up liquid and only vinegar and water for cleaning..... I was an eco warrior like him! Welcome to the Galapagos - it was all done in 20 minutes, then an fumigation guy was brought out by taxi. We all left together - fumigation smoke pouring out of Askari - scary indeed to leave her looking like that while we went out and ate sushi.

This morning the final step was for a diver to check the hull. What we didn't expect was a further food inspection - I had tucked my Kombucha SCOBY in the fridge thinking we were done, I had brought him back to life and also started making yogurt and grinding coffee beans this morning- argh well all good - phew! I don't think he dared ask....

He dived the hull but came out in a hurry as a huge shark had swum by..... Now we were finally done.

Now off to explore.....

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Panama to Galapagos Day 5

Askari Position Report 0800 local time (1300 UTC) 25 February 2020

00 Degrees, 24 Minutes SOUTH
087 Degrees, 47 Minutes West
24 hours 124 miles
Motoring at 6 knots
5 knots of wind from the South East
Course 230 Degrees Magnetic

Sailing and swimming across the Equator, Pilot Whales and Boobies

It may have been our slowest 24 hours ever, however what a memorable 24 hours it was. The wind continued light until lunch time so we motored slowly, enjoying beautiful rolling ocean swells and calm sea. The sky had a few clouds we recognised as trade wind clouds and just after lunch we noticed the wind come around to the south east. It was only about 8 knots but this was enough to sail - yay we had come out of the doldrums and were in the trades again.

I had made a cake and prepared a toast to thank King Neptune, I had also randomly put a waypoint on the chart with a cocktail icon on it where I estimated we might cross the equator. Andrew took this literally and when I said it would be nice if it was about 2pm so we could enjoy it without any other distractions. So yes we arrived at the spot just before 2pm, sailing beautifully in 10 knots of wind.

With no Polywogs aboard (someone who hasn't crossed the equator by sea before), these two Shellbacks (someone who has),our ceremony was a simple giving of thanks to King Neptune and sacrifice of rum (with ice) and cake. We then asked for him to keep us safe as we travel into the South Pacific. We then dropped the sails and turned around to cross again, this time Andrew positioned the boat just before the equator, protecting me from the ocean chop and I jumped off the bow and swam across - OMG one of te craziest experiences of my life. Then it was Andrew's turn - he of course dived in! It freaked me out him not being on the boat but it was so cool; we were buzzing. Andrew grabbed a snorkel and did his best to remove any growth on the hull since he cleaned it in Las Perlas. It was a bit dangerous as by now we were beam on to the swell and the boat was crashing at the stern - so we called that off and had another bit of cake.

Here's some of the action....

We carried on sailing slow (about 5 knots) towards the Galapagos and just before sunset a pod of over 12 Pilot Whales appeared right alongside the boat - dark black shapes and the odd tail - the wildlife out here is amazing. Then three boobies with red feet arrived on the pushpit; they just sat there even when I went right up to them.

Over night we carried on sailing and it was perfect - just drifting along slowly under a starry sky. We both slept so well.

Now with just over 100 miles to go we have the engine on for charging, but will probably try and just sail slow again today so we arrive in the morning, rather than enter a busy harbour at night.

What an amazing day - thank you world!

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Monday, February 24, 2020

Day 4 Panama to Galapagos

Askari Position Report 0800 local time (1300 UTC) 24 February 2020

00 Degrees, 20 Minutes North
085 Degrees, 51 Minutes West
24 hours 164 miles
Motoring at 5.6 knots
8 knots of wind from the South West
Course 230 Degrees Magnetic

Calm and beautiful - a whale and oh so many dolphins - plus a dip in the ocean

By Mid-morning the seas started to ease and we were sailing on a steady 18/20 knots of wind, before the wind started to ease off to about 14 knots by lunch time. The current was still pushing us along in the right direction at about 2 knots so we didn't mind we were only sailing at 5 to 6 knots.

The weather was glorious, the big rollers making the ocean look like rolling hills, we could see clouds on the horizon and spotted some rain squalls but that couldn't dampen this beautiful day - one where you just pinch yourself you are actually out here. I made fritata for lunch and we even ate it off the china plates. A whale swam by - a humpback - wow what a perfect day (probably made even better by yesterday).

Just before 5 the sails were crashing around a bit so we opted to put the genoa away and turn on the engine for a bit. As it happened the wind dropped to less than 4 knots and the ocean turned glassy. It was super hot and I decided I wanted to put my feet in the ocean, it looked so inviting that Andrew stopped the boat so I could have a quick swim - my Dad would have loved that moment x

Shortly after the swim stop we started to see dolphins coming from all directions - it was a SUPER POD! (We always say that in a US accent whenever there's more than 5 after a lady we heard on the net once…. ;-)). They were actually spinners and so incredibly cool and bubbling all around us as the sun set. Wow!

It was so calm over night we opened the windows for the breeze to come in, however we had a few bird visitors - including a little finch type thing that was desperate to get in; so we kept lights off inside. We also had two boobies on the front - I couldn't see if they had blue feet or not?!

We are trying to make it to the equator this afternoon and hopefully a proper swim - it's just over 30 miles, but in fuel conserving mode we are a bit slow. That's fine as we have sowed down trying to time arrival for Wednesday first light.

237 miles to go and Neptune we are coming with treats today.

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