Cruising Notes


Voyage Summary

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Website of sailing yacht Tokomaru2's circumnavigation of the world

Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon

Tokomaru in the Pacific, at last.


Our transit of the Panama Canal took, after all, two days.  The scheduling of yachts in the locks is very secondary to that of the big ships (paying 60,000$ for their transit!),  so we (at 600$) are fitted around this.  Our pilot came on board late and we didn’t make it through the first locks in time to get across the lake and reach the locks at the other end (Miraflores) before dark.   Every yacht dreads the prospect of this delay, but once resigned to our fate, we enjoyed ourselves.  It means anchoring overnight in the lovely peaceful Gatun lake.  A boat came to take the pilot off, leaving us all alone in the wild beauty of the jungle.  Our line-handlers were our good friends Cathy and Peter from ‘Leto’, whom we met in Curacao.  We all had a refreshing evening swim in soft fresh water, with someone on crocodile watch!   At six next morning, mist lay on the lake, birds sang in the trees, like a perfect summer morning in Europe.  We completed our transit of this truly amazing canal (a mind-boggling feat of engineering) passing through the Miraflores locks on Saturday 3 May.  After a few days stocking up and exploring Panama City, we set off into the Pacific on 7 May.


 The Galapagos Islands lie along the equator, about 900 miles to the south west of Panama, and the other side of the doldrums.  We expected the doldrums to be:  glassy sea, sweltering heat, no wind (‘as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean’).  But once we left the Gulf of Panama, up came a brisk south west wind, blowing straight from where we wanted to go!   Our aim was to go south to find prevailing easterly winds and pick up the favourable Humboldt current.  But when we tried to go south we were pushed east;  when we tacked to go west, we were pushed north, a sneaky contrary current adding to the efforts of the wind.  Tokomaru punched and slammed into wind and waves, gallantly fighting for every mile, and so it went on for 10 days.  We actually sailed an extra 500 miles with all this tacking, demoralising the crew not a little!   The skies were overcast, the sea grey, the wind chilly enough for us to dig out fleeces, even socks in my case.  SOCKS on the equator!!   We found an ancient packet of cuppa soups and really felt as if we were back on the North Sea in October.   One consoling feature:  every night, without fail, we were joined by birds.  Three or four very elegant swallow-tailed gulls came at dusk and flew alongside or just above the bow.  They stayed all night, banking and turning on the wind to keep pace.  We identified them as breeding exclusively on the Galapagos, so they made a very reassuring escort.


On Monday, 19 May, we found the westerly flowing current, the wind shifted to the south and the seas calmed down.  Still close-hauled and hard on the wind, we were finally going in the right direction and we romped along at 7 knots (which is about max speed for Tokomaru).  We crossed the equator on 20 May,  and next day we sighted Isla San Cristobal (Chatham Island), a brown and barren line of volcanic cones and craters.  In brilliant sunshine we sailed all afternoon along the coast, bleakly impressive, not a sign of life, not a speck of green.   And then, out of the waves popped a sleek brown head, brown eyes in a whiskery face, --  a sea-lion come to welcome us!  After that we saw an albatross and  some boobies, a taste of the famous wildlife to come.


After a week in the Galapagos we have not been disappointed.  Our first anchorage was teaming with sea lions, in the water, on the beach, climbing up onto the boats.  Lots of young ones suckling, frolicking, sleeping; they are very relaxed, very tactile and endlessly watchable as they lounge around on the beaches, lie on the warm rocks or swim and dive effortlessly in the clean clear sea.   Scrambling over the black lava rocks we found the marine iguanas (unique to the Galapagos), described by Darwin as ‘a hideous-looking creature, of a dirty black colour, stupid and sluggish in its movements’.  He does go on to make some fascinating observations about these creatures, and accurately deduces that they feed in the ocean.  In fact, they are the only marine lizard in the world.  They hardly move because they are warming up after their swim in the chilly waters of the Humboldt current,  (much too cold for us!)


There is, of course, a massive conservation programme going on here, particularly for the giant tortoise, almost rendered extinct by whalers and bucaneers who took them for food during 18th and 19th centuries.  Another problem comes from introduced animals such as goats, donkeys, dogs, cats, rats etc.  which compete for food and upset thousands of years of undisturbed evolution.  There are breeding centres now for tortoises and land iguanas, though both still exist on some islands in the wild.  We have seen the tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station, and they are certainly impressive.


Blue footed boobies abound, standing on the rocks on their truly remarkable feet, or diving like arrows to fish.  Pelicans and frigate birds breed here, and there are penguins and flightless cormorants.  We don’t get to see the latter from our anchorages and we cannot afford an official tour (400$ each at least).  Yachts are restricted to three places in the entire archipelago.  The Ecuadorian government are rightly protective of their unique wildlife.  But we are more than content within these restrictions.  Inland we can walk for miles without entering the national park areas (thus not paying the 100$ fee).  Land birds are very tame, so we can walk right up to Darwin’s finches and have a good look at those beaks which later had such an influence his famous theory.


We had a delightful day sail from San Cristobal to our present anchorage at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.  In a few days we will move on to anchor at Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela.  From there, on about 6 June, we set off across the Pacific on the longest leg of our voyage, 3000 miles to the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia.  This time we should pick up the south east trade winds and a favourable current ……. We’ll let you know.


So it’s good bye for a while from Liz and Nick

Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008