Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami Warning

At 6:30 this morning, our friends on Tyee woke us up with their loud foghorn and a yell, "Kamaya, Kamaya, there's a tsunami warning. All boats have to leave the anchorage."

I vividly recalled the photos and tragic stories about boats in the tsunami on American Samoa and Tonga. We quickly pulled up our anchor and sailed out to deep water.

While all the boats exited the harbor for deep water, the remaining population of the island (about 7,000) evacuated and went up to the high ground.

At 7:15, the tsunami wave passed us by. We didn't feel anything, but we heard via the SSB that boats in the nearby island of Isla Isabela felt a 4-5 foot surge of water come in and out of the bay. Boats in Panama also had tsunami warnings and went out to sea.

Our hearts go out to everyone in Chile and those affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Once the danger had passed we made our way to Kicker Rock. Kamaya and Tyee swam with sharks, sea turtles and spotted rays. Fantastic!

Friday, February 26, 2010

We're in the Galapagos!

We're in San Cristobal, the first island in the Galapagos where Charles Darwin stopped. Like Darwin, we're being inquisitive naturalists and we're amazed to see many of the same animals that he did in 1835. I don't think the famous and very prehistoric looking Galapagos tortoise have changed much.

We're also examining the mischievous marine iguanas

And Kai is chasing the elegant Galapagos Green Turtle

I watched the colorful yellow warbler play on the rocky ponds near the beach

And we saw the famous Chatham mockingbird, found only on this island, San Cristobal

We also laugh at the playful sea lions who are everywhere -- whether they're hanging around the playground, lounging on benches, or making their home on the stern of people's boats.

It's fantastic to be here, surrounded by such interesting animals.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Passage to the Galapagos

Long passages like this 953 mile journey from Panama to the Galapagos makes you really look forward to your destination, like a child counting the days until her birthday.

Today, 5 pm Monday the 22nd of February, we have been away from land for five nights. We just crossed the Equator for the third time, gave King Neptune some sacrificial rum and asked him to continue to be kind to us. We are now officially back in the Southern Pacific Ocean. Back because we crossed the Equator in August when we sailed to mainland Ecuador and lived in Bahia de Caraquez for three months. Isla San Cristobal, the only Galapagos Island with fresh water, is 55 miles away. We’re moving slowly towards it on this moody on again off again windy and rainy day.

Our friends on the catamaran Stray Kitty offered to come out in their dinghy in the middle of the night and help us navigate the entrance, but instead of waking them up at the witching hours, we’ll slow down and time our arrival for dawn tomorrow. Every morning at 9 am we check in with other boats via our single sideband radio on the Pan Pacific Net. Stray Kitty, a Canadian family of five, arrived in San Cristobal about one week ago and they told us that they need to fend off the sea lions who climb on their boat. One even managed to make his way up to their cockpit cushions and demand breakfast.

But back to passages….Last Wednesday Feb. 18 at four pm, we left the idyllic island of Jicaron in western Panama where we swam in clear blue water, had tiny freshwater shrimp clean our toenails and fingernails (look closely - not at my beautiful manicured toes, but at the diaphanous tiny shrimp near my second and third toes)

and ate fresh coconuts on the beach.

As we sailed away romantically towards the orange pink sunset, I was feeling nervous heading out to sea.

This was going to be our longest sail so far – it was 673 miles (we had shaved 200 miles by sailing to western Panama.) “I’m looking forward to this passage,” says Tim and I smile, wondering whether I was looking forward to the passage or dreading it.

I always struggle the first few nights at sea. Getting used to being awake from 11:00 pm until 1:00 in the morning and then again from 4:00 to 7:00 am is difficult, especially since I love to sleep and hate to be woken up in the middle of a dream. When it isn’t too windy, I like to listen to various podcasts and audiobooks to help me stay awake and entertained. I wish I could watch the winter Olympics but unfortunately we don’t have television coverage out at sea or anytime on the boat. You know, sailing is about doing with less.

The first few days, I also always feel a little out of it and desperately need a siesta during the day. But then my body slowly adjusts to keeping vampire hours. Being in perpetual motion is also hard for the kids, so instead of our typical school, this passage we’ve been learning about the moon and the stars, memorizing the Presidents of the United States, playing the recorder, dissecting squids (one just landed on our deck) and reading continuously. Maya and I are enthralled with the book, A Sheltered Life, The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise. It’s a perfect way for us to learn how Charles Darwin came up with his evolution of species theory. According to the author Paul Chambers, it was the Galapagos Tortoise, not the finches, that gave him the important clue that animals change and evolve into new species depending on what they eat and where they live.

Maya also just starting doing watches and has been helping out by taking an hour watch from 3:30 to 4:30 in the morning when the wind and weather permit. What other 10 year old is awake at such hours?

Our journey so far has been mixed with a strong breeze the first few days where we sailed at about 7 knots. Then on Day 3, we were brought to a screaming halt from the ITCZ, the inter tropical convergence zone. Also known as the doldrums, the ITCZ is an area of low pressure caused by the convergence of the northern and southern trade winds and that translates to hot windless days. We tried to sail, but then opted to motor. I hate it when Kamaya becomes a noisy motor boat, but it’s better than drifting all day and night.

Then yesterday, we had our first rain in a long time. When the rain stopped, the wind shifted and came straight ahead of us. We’ve been beating ever since, with light wind and a strong current pushing us north of Isla San Cristobal, but we'll manage to get there somehow. We’re almost there! I’m so excited to see the Galapagos!

That evening, the rain poured and lightning and thunder blasted from the sky. It was the worst sail so far and we could hardly see ten feet of front of us. With limited visibility, radar enabled us to see the contours of land, ships and even rain clouds. We arrived at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno at 8:00 in the morning and the rain ceased. According to the locals, this was one of the worst storms they had in many years. The otherwise aquarium clear water has turned a reddish brown mucky color. Their beach in front of the town is cleared away. But we’re here and so happy to be here with the Galapagos tortoises, sea lions, marine iguanas and the famous finches and mockingbirds!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fuzzy Goes Through the Panama Canal

(Kai wrote this story about the Panama Canal and just finished it yesterday while we were anchored in Contadora Island in Las Perlas. Just didn't want to confuse you.)

I, Fuzzy the Great Seventy Eight Poppa Nate, (Kai’s stuffed bear) had heard the news. Kai was taking me on a boat across the Panama Canal! Kai came into my room, put me in his backpack and I fell asleep. I woke up to Kai shouldering his pack and we were leaving the bus. We were in Colon, on the Caribbean side of Panama.

Kai took me in a ponga and about 5 minutes later we (me, Otto, Kai, Ruth, Tim and Maya) were greeted by Andrew and Kerry, (the owners of Mariposa, the boat we were going to transit the canal with.) Kai took me down below, sorted through his stuff, brought me outside and said “let’s go up to the foredeck so you and Maya and I can explore the boat. Fuzzy, it’s too dangerous for you to go up here without me or Maya.”

Kerry pulled up the anchor and a boat came by and dropped off a Panamanian man who was going to help us cross the canal. About 20 minutes later we tied three boats together, like a raft! We saw the first lock and the people onshore opened the gate. We went in the gate and it closed behind us almost like one of the humongous cages in the zoo. We started going up and up as the water bubbled into the chamber. The gates opened and we did this two more times. It was just like the history books that Kai had read to me. We finished Gatun Locks and motored to Gatun Lake.

And when it was getting dark, we went to a mooring. Kai gave me a meat dinner and put me down below. I saw everyone on the boat go to another boat and they left me behind.

Now that I had the boat to myself, I scrambled up on deck and thought how big everything is and how small I am. I knew Kai had warned me not to go up alone, but I was so curious. Suddenly the wind picked up and blew me up in the air all the way to the top of the mast. I reached for a line and grabbed it. Then the line started to go down fast and I was swinging. This was a life or death situation. I jumped for the spreader and I inched my way to the mast. I held on tightly.

I saw Maya and Kai walking from the other boat back to Mariposa and I roared but they did not hear me. I was on my own. I slowly climbed down paw over paw. I didn’t want to fall down and end up in the water because I could see crocodiles circling the boat and I knew if I fell into the water I would be a dead bear. Paw over paw I scooted down the mast, but I fell down about 100 paws down all the way to the deck.

My head was spinning and I couldn’t tell what was up or down. Maybe the cockpit had gone where the mast was and the mast was upside down. I was so confused.

Kai picked me up and told Maya, “I thought I put Fuzzy in the backpack. I wonder what he is doing here.” I didn’t want to tell him what happened, but I was glad to be safe in his arms.

On the second day, we went through two more locks and then we were back home on Kamaya. Kai unpacked me and put me with the rest of my friends and family. I was so glad to be back with Snowy, my daughter and Balto my son.

That night, Curlo, Paca, Al, Flitter, Golden Fur, Ali, Sparkle, Duck Shoes, Moonlight, Spot, Stormy and Phili and all of us gathered together and I told them the story of the canal. I’ll never go out on deck alone!

P.S Don’t tell Kai about this! And Happy Birthday to Poppa Nate!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ready to Set Sail

We leave tomorrow morning for the Galapagos Islands, but we’ll stop along the way to break up the 900 mile journey. In the meantime, I wanted to update everyone on our recent days in Panama City. Besides going to the 3D version of Avatar, we've been working a ton preparing Kamaya.

After Ethan and his family left, we had to deal with our leaky fuel tank which eliminated us from getting the carbon neutral award. Up until then we had been doing really well supporting our planet, by generating electricity with our solar panels, sailing instead of motoring and in fourteen months, we had consumed as much gasoline/ diesel as we had used in one month driving in Oregon. Everything was looking great until about 70 gallons of diesel spilled from our bilge into the ocean. We were horrified!

We determined that the bottom of our fuel tank had corroded because of its proximity to the bilge and salt water. Next we had to decide how to fix the stainless steel tank. Our boat is built around the huge fuel tanks so taking it out wasn't an option. We considered getting a plastic bladder, but the baffles in the tank could pop it. Fortunately, we found Ali, an experienced welder and fellow sailor, who was willing to help us fix our tanks while anchored out at la Playita in Panama. Ali managed to make the opening of the tank large enough so he could stick his arms down into the tank and weld a new bottom about two feet above the holy one. This wasn't an easy job, but he managed to do so without blowing us up. Thank you Ali!

see the small space - that's where he had to weld.

So after that was fixed and a few other projects completed on Kamaya, it was time to provision. Sometimes I wonder if we’re on a shopping trip around the world. Panama City though has everything we need and then some, so shopping – though painful – is fairly easy here with Price Smart, Riba Smith, Foodies, and even a Kosher Deli.

Shopping was also made much easier and even fun thanks to Teresa, a native Panamanian and cousin of Mara’s (my sister in law) step-mother. You know how we're all related all around the world with perhaps less than six degrees of separation.

Not only did Teresa take me all over, but assisted in turning me into a Latina Diva, with high heeled flip flops, a pedicure and a manicure, a haircut and fancy hydrating creams. Tim and our other sailing friends didn’t recognize me when we returned one evening from our “shopping excursion.”

But on Sunday we did have a scare when I was buying eight pounds of sushi rice and seaweed at the Asian store. Maya and Kai had been tussling on the boat and suffice it to say that after Kai shot a rubber band at Maya, the fighting escalated and Maya kicked Kai who somehow cracked open his head on the interior wooded rail. Teresa and I came rushing back to the Yacht Club and took Kai to the hospital. Having a local brought such piece of mind. Teresa called the emergency room at Punta Pacifica, a John's Hopkin's hospital, ahead of time and the doctor was there to give five stitches to the back of Kai’s head.

Since then, we had a family mediation to figure out how Maya and Kai could assure us that this would not happen again. They usually get along pretty well, but they certainly know how to push each other’s buttons and they love to play wrestle with each other. They came up with four different ideas including not teasing one another, not fighting if your intention is to hurt the other sibling, recognizing moods and pausing their game to either eat something, read a book or whatever else is needed. Hopefully, our passage will be smooth and uneventful in the sibling department.

Right now Kamaya is stuffed to the gills with all sorts of food. This morning we went to Abastos, the fantastic fruit market, and bought ten pineapples,

a stalk of bananas,

four cantalopes, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, carrots, limes and so much more. We won’t starve on this boat! I’ve also learned how to make yogurt thanks to our friends on Calypso. And did I mention that we also have our trusted sourdough starter? I guess we’re becoming true sea salts.

Parting shot: Our last bowl at the Mall!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Crossing the Panama Canal

We crossed the Panama Canal … on another boat.

The Kamaya crew was picked up in a dinghy with another crew member who would be sailing (motoring) through the Panama Canal aboard Mariposa, a Westsail 43, owned by Kerri and Andrew. Kerri is from New Zealand and Andrew is British and South African. We were going to be linehandlers and help them transit the canal. The other crew member was Otto, a South African who is nice, but unfortunately a chain smoker.

Otto told us there was a boat called The Road, so called because its hull is painted black with white stripes just like a paved road, and they have a pet parrot called Rubbish. Mariposa was anchored right next to The Road on the Caribbean/ Atlantic side and we’re living on the Pacific side of Panama.

After a tiring 1 ½ hour bus ride to Colon we took a taxi to a hut and then a ponga took us along the point where The Road waved us over. We were in the Caribbean Sea – an ocean away from the Pacific. Otto gave them a bag of ice that he bought which he nearly dropped in the water.

We met Rubbish and heard the bad news. The Road wouldn’t be going through with us today, oh well, we’ll see them in the Pacific then. Several hours later, we were heading to the famous canal. We motored along with two boats, Ariel from Tasmania (that’s near Australia), and Tin Hao from France. Mariposa pulled into the first lock, Gatun. Let me explain something first. Each lock has doors and chambers and they get filled with fresh water to raise and lower boats. There are three locks in the Panama Canal, Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores.

Kai and I had to go back into the cockpit to avoid getting hit by the monkeyfists with lead balls in them. Those are thrown by the linehandlers on the land and the linehandlers on the boat then catch the lines and connect them to the monkeyfists. The water fills the chambers through holes at the bottom of the chamber. Little whirlpools swirled around.

In less than ten minutes we were up 27 feet and the gates towards the bow opened. We went through two more chambers and were raised 87 feet. The two other locks go down to the Pacific Ocean. Gatun Lake is higher than sea level, so because the Pacific tides change a lot (20 feet) sometimes boats need to go down a lot or only a little, depending on the tide. First, we entered Gatun Lake, the world’s second largest man-made lake.

Mariposa curved around the islands that were really tall mountains. The valley below them had been flooded by damming the river Chagres; it was dammed to build the lake. Some people who had lived there were overlooked and the river flooded over them but I don’t think anyone died. But lots of people did die during the ten years when they constructed the Panama Canal. Soon crocodiles came to live in Gatun Lake, but, they don’t bother people, at least I hope they don’t. We came to two moorings, the French boat hooked to one and we shared the other mooring with Ariel. Mariposa was invited for some after dinner coffee over on Ariel. Kai and I jumped from one boat to another by hoping across the giant mooring buoy.

And then we fell asleep at about ten o’clock.

I didn’t hear the howler monkeys in the morning; instead, I awoke to the sound of voices. Kerri was waking Otto up, telling him that Mariposa was leaving the anchorage. The French boat was sleeping in. Ariel had just left. I checked the time, it was 6:33 in the morning, I had finished the City of Ember and started my next book, Walk Two Moons. Unfortunately I got bored with it quickly so I went outside.

As soon as I went outside I smelled it. The wind blew it over from the cockpit. I went back down below to avoid the odor. The wind kept blowing it towards the bow and down below. I tried going to the forepeak but even there it reached. There was one thing to do. Go all the way to the bow sprit. Otto and the new advisor (those are Panamanians who come on the boat to help us through the canal) both held cigarettes. I am being driven out. Why do so many people smoke when they know it’s so bad for them?

The smoke continued all the way until breakfast. We were all handed a tray of bacon and eggs with some mashed potatoes on the side. I must say that Andrew is a pretty good cook. And as soon as I finished breakfast, poof! More smoke.

We passed a few digging carts and came across the Chagres river.

It really didn’t look like much, but then again, I had no great view of it. Kai chose that moment to wake up. Turned out he had been reading for the last ten minutes, so he must have woken up at 9:50. He got up just in time to see the beautifully built bridge. It was the thin kind with a large pole where white cords connected down from.

I got up to the bow where I would have a good view of what was happening but at the same time be safe from the monkeyfists coming from Pedro Miguel. Ariel and Mariposa rafted together. We entered the second lock, Pedro Miguel.

I blinked, and I saw a wooden boat, I think it was the same boat that I had seen being varnished over on the Pacific side? It was and full of tourists. We waited fifteen minutes or so, and the French boat Tin Hao entered. She rafted next to the wooden boat.

“Last one is always the lucky one.” I heard Andrew mumble.

I have to admit he was right.

The monkeyfists were tossed to us. All but the man astern made the throw. He tossed again, missing badly. He tossed again, four times until someone more experienced took over. I think he needs to go back to school. The new line thrower got it on his first try.

And we went down. This time I could be a linehandler.

I let out the line and we continued going down. The descent was much smoother than ascending. First of all because when you go up, they squirt water up from the floor and it takes a longer time, I think. Verses when they let out water for going down. There are no swirls in the water and it is smooth going. I definitely prefer the water when it’s going down.

I watched it come through the gate into the water. And the water stopped so the double gates swung open. Why double doors? Is that what you’re wondering? The two gates keep some of the freshwater of Gatun Lake stay in the lake.

They are building a new and wider canal that will save tons of water. I wonder what that will be like.

The space between Pedro Miguel and Miraflores was several miles. But it didn’ t take long and soon we were going through the last lock, and two chambers. The first chamber went well. The second chamber went fast. We were out of the Panama Canal. Here's what it is like looking over the lock.

I saw our familiar boat as we came into La Playita. We anchored and came back to our boat.

“Wow” I said to no one in particular.

By Maya

Please comment, (it lets me know if you like my story. )

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