In Hiva Oa

One day, we went up to the Semaphore, which is the maritime radio station at Hiva Oa, and also a place for the sailors to get together on Wednesdays, when barbeque is organized  by the volunteers.    Christophe was there, Jeremy, and Daniel playing with the local band. He is a French guitar maker who settled in Atuona, the main town of the island after travelling around the world, and now he builds guitars on order, from locally sourced wood. I just arrived a week ago or so, but was welcomed into the small community of the healthy mix of locals, travellers and sailors, some of them staying short, some putting off and off their departure. I had no definite plan either, and it felt good, there was no pressure on me to be haste.
More people were coming as the night progressed and most of them had interesting stories how they ended up on this beautiful and far away part of the world. ‘I am Brian O’Connor’ introduced himself with perfect English a local fisherman. I nearly spit my beer from laughing; I thought he was pulling my leg. ‘We leave in Hanaiapa, the village on the north side of the island. Nearly everyone is O’Connor there. I have eight brothers and sisters, some of them have red hair and white skin some a mix, we all look different. My great-great-great grandfather was originally from Ireland; he went to New Caledonia then here to Hiva Oa, got married and established quite a dynasty.’ He told me, he studied in Hawaii, hence his good English, and came back living on the island with his Thai girlfriend, who he met at college. I was flabbergasted by the story, only a little bit more in a few weeks later, when reading Moitessier’s book ‘The logical way’ found a reference, that him, arriving to Hiva Oa spent weeks with a family who called themselves O’Connor. The man must have been the grandfather of Brian.



  Hiva Oa is the largest of the Marquesas Islands and the main island of the southern group that also consist of Tahuata just a stone throw away, Fatu Hiva the most southern, and Motane which is unpopulated. The stunning rugged coastline, the lush vegetation and the high reaching mountains create a picturesque countryside. Since my arrival, when Rob from a boat I met in Colon waved a fresh baguette into my hands before I even dropped the anchor, I am having a good time. It is an amazing experience to meet up with friends after 3500 miles of sailing, ending up in the same little harbour on the huge ocean. I wasn’t even too surprised to see Andrea’s boat at the back of the bay. Easily recognisable, with shark jaws and teeth painted on the bow, they made remarkably good time of 27 days crossing from Panama, while I spent my time in Ecuador. Now it was time to celebrate the reunion before he must leave to be in New Zealand as soon as possible to prepare the boat to spend a winter frozen in the Antarctic ice. His short term goal was though, to beat me in chess at least once, and when it was done and the boat was ready he set sail with his screenshot charts to cross the Tuamotus. I am a bit torn between going and staying. The cyclone season is approaching and this would be the place where one can spend it safe and quiet, protected from the worst of the elements. On the other hand, it will be nearly half a year before I can get underway again if I don’t go now. Well, we will see, it is sunshine and calm water right now.



  But the conditions are not always that benign in a Pacific Ocean safe heaven. It is two o’clock in the morning and someone is knocking on the boat while I am in my deepest and sweetest dream. ‘Attila, wake up!’ It is Jeremy. He is my neighbour, only one boat is between us. His de-masted catamaran soon could be a landmark (or I should say a watermark) staying this long in the bay. They arrived to Fatu Hiva at the beginning of the season, young French surfers with big plans to setting up a mobile surf school in the Tuamotu Archipelago, but due to a small, stupid mistake during a rigging maintenance session the mast came down. They motored up to Hiva Oa for repair, the friends left, and now Jeremy is looking after the boat and organizing the refitting. He is running around all day, barefoot, wearing only a surfing short, doing something, going surfing or talking to everyone, generally knowing and wanting to know everything that is worth knowing around the Bay of Tahauku. Now, he is coming around with the news that there was an earth quake in Mexico and we have a tsunami alert and all the boats are leaving the harbour for safe deep water. Strangest thing is, I just talked to Chris about the tsunami alert last year, and how the water was sucked out of this bay and pumped back many times creating a big whirlpool damaging some boats that didn’t bother to leave. That time the gendarmerie came around the boats, and told everyone to leave, but not everyone believed them. Eventually, some people had to be forced off the boats. Incidentally, Chris had no engine, so accepted a tow, but was dumped right outside the jetty leaving him in a dangerous situation. But that is another story…


Tikis on the festival square

  The tsunami is only dangerous close to land. If you are sufficiently far away and in deep water, you will not even recognize the wave generated by the earth quake passing through, under the keel. It is also very well forecasted these days, scientists can calculate the possibility and strength of it based on the available data and issue an alert. It seems, every one heard the story of the last one, as all the boats were either motoring out of the harbour already or hastily pulling up the anchor. I thanked Jeremy the warning and tried to wipe the sleepiness out of my eyes. I was hesitating and thinking of staying put. What a miserable idea to pull up both my stern and bow anchor, and spend the night out in the dark motoring or sailing around for hours aimlessly. When I eventually forced myself to do something, the main anchor got stuck in the wire mesh that is laid down some places at the bottom of the bay to stop erosion. I had to dive down in the dark and murky seawater and free it out, working blindly, standing in the mud. Let’s not think of the sharks now! I can’t afford to lose my good plough anchor. At last it gave in and I was ready to go. Back on the deck I looked around. Danny, whose boat was the one between me and Jeremy, was helped by Axel from ‘the Norwegian boat’ as we called it in Panama. He wouldn’t be able to move on his own, but now he was sorted. I engaged the gear box, pulled on my makeshift throttle cable to rev the engine and motored out of the bay.
We were hanging around, just outside the bay, trying not to crash the boats, shouting at each other when we recognised who is beside us, but it was generally a big confusion, no one knew what to do. I tried to anchor at the 25 fathom line, so maybe I can stay and rest there, but a big fishing boat was drifting slowly towards me and Jeremy, with his mast-less big catamaran was also circulating around, so I decided it was not the best idea. How bad the idea was actually, I just realised when I started to retrieve the anchor. The 25 metre, 6mm chain and the 30-40 metre 3/4inch nylon rope felt like they weighted a ton. It took me the best of two hours before the anchor finally was fixed back on its place on the deck. Well, at least the sun was up by now. The yachts and fishing boats slowly dispersed, most of them heading back to the bay. Nothing happened of course, no tsunami wave came, it was a false alarm. I started off towards the Bay of Motopu on the north-east of Tahuata, the next island, less than 10 miles away and motor-sailed across the Canal de Bordelais between Hiva Oa and Tahuata islands. I thought I would look around if I am out at sea already, but the bay looked very unfriendly with the onshore wind and the swell breaking on the shore. I evaluated the situation and did a quick u-turn. It was a tough sail upwind against the current and bashing into the waves, but Comino again worked hard and took me back to Hiva Oa, no trouble.

Local way of transport

Local way of transport

Life resumed, and I went to visit Christophe on his blue boat. There are so many boats, who can remember all their brand and size. At least it was blue and not an AWB (average white boat), a bit more distinctive and easily recognisable. A Beneteau or Jeanau, one of those French ones, he was living on it for twelve years. He sailed to French Polynesia from the Caribbean, to meet with his girlfriend, who was sailing her own boat on a similar route, but she never showed up and hardly replies to his email. He is completely heartbroken, and just wants to sell the boat as fast as possible, as was his original plan, and fly back to France. The trouble is the boat has osmosis all over the hull. It is like a plague here, nearly all the boats develop it when they arrive, despite having nothing like that before for decades. It has to be hauled out at the boat yard, and it means weeks and weeks of sanding, epoxying, painting, antifouling. I persuade him to go for a hike and we spent a day in the mountains climbing up a random peak and having lunch on the top under a mango tree. We descended on the other side and hitched a car back to the boats.
I have my own trouble with the boat, but it is been decided, small boat – small problem. On the way back from Tahuata, I noticed that the starboard side lower shroud, 4mm stainless steel wire rope, broke at the lower fitting. Only 3 years old, it had no reason to do so, but what can one do. I looked around for solution. In general, you should try to avoid big repair in French Polynesia (in fact even small ones) as everything is very expensive and transport cost is high. The old rigging that I replaced in Lanzarote was still around somewhere in the lazarette, now I dug it out and used it to make a jury rig. Combined with some clamps and a couple of shackle it made a good enough impression on me. I went halfway up the mast to check the other lower shroud. Loose strands of wire were hanging out of the fitting. It was totally dead. I replaced that too, using the last of the ‘emergency rigging repair kit’ hoping everything will last for awhile now.

Meanwhile, I am running out of butane gas, used in the galley for cooking, and I have to find a way to refill the bottle. It isn’t always easy considering all the different variation in size and fittings of the cylinders. Here, the French Polynesian bottles are similar to the ones on the French Caribbean islands, but different colour. I heard about boats that managed to exchange their empty ones by merely repainting them to the local grey hue. I have smaller ones though, one from the UK (Calor, 4.5kg) and a Campingaz bottle. I use the Calor most of the time and just have the Campingaz as a backup. Cannot complain, last time I filled up my relatively small cylinder was in Portobello, Panama months ago. Now, Chris kindly offered to fill it up for me for a small charge. Chris is practically a resident on the boatyard. He arrived to Hiva Oa nearly two years ago sailing his Columbia 56 from San Diego. Originally from England, he has some interesting life behind him. After growing up on the English countryside, he learned French going to school in Switzerland. Later on he had his picture framing business and printer tone refilling enterprise; he worked in Australia in mines and in south-east Asia in the tourism industry. He sailed his boat across the Pacific with the help of friends and family, but had osmosis, engine, battery and rigging problems by the time they got to the Marquises. He put the boat on the yard and working on it ever since. He has a local gas bottle, we hung it upside down high up, connected my small one with the screw-on fitting I hacked to let the gas through into the bottle and settled down waiting with a couple of cold beer. The evening routine for Chris is to feed the cats he has, and to play with the chickens. The chickens are eating the cat food from his hand, but they are getting bold and demanding, climbing up the leader and taking over the deck. They are living wild all over the Marquises islands; you can see them in the towns, at the roadside, in the forest literally anywhere you go. There are usually hens and chicks and a cock together like a family. I heard opposing reports about the quality of their meat, some say they are lean and tough as they are near-wild animals, some say the meat is fat and juicy from the coconut and fruits they eat. I have yet to try it. At the moment they are flying around us as we are sitting four metre high in the cockpit of the boat in the cradle and they look very happy. They are useful; they help to keep the cockroach and the poisonous centipede population down.

The Bay of Atuona and Tahauku are like one huge south facing bay divided by a rock, Pointe Feiki with a light on it. The eastern side is Tahauku where the yachts anchor. There is a quay, currently under construction, where the supply ships go alongside. You suppose to anchor your boat behind an imaginary line in the middle of the bay to let the ships manoeuvre. A jetty runs across the harbour mouth, where the local fishing boats are tied up, stern to the jetty bow on a mooring ball, Mediterranean style.  On the left side of the bay, as you enter, there are high rocks all the way to a black, volcanic sandy beach. The beach slowly and gradually drops and has more rocks as it gets deeper. Behind, there is a coconut plantation. A small river flows lazily into the bay, twisting away from your sight as you look inland. A ford lets you cross it even at high water. After heavy rain in the mountains the river can grow immensely and bring trees and all kind of floating debris to the sea. On the right side of the bay is the road to Atuona. It has some traffic. Fishermen from the boats, cargo from the quay, locals and tourists drive back and forth between the sea and the land. Behind the quay, with a high open barn to protect the offloaded goods from the rain, there is a gas station and small grocery shop. The road continues on, passes by the slipway, then splits right to the jetty, left to the boat yard and further on to the Semaphore station, famously the first in the Marquises.

Tahauku Bay is protected enough most of the time from the wind and swell, but in special circumstances, it can get dangerous. The news went around in the middle of September that a once in a five year phenomenon will create waves in our bay big enough to break and to surf on. The south-south-westerly swell combined with strong winds would push the waves through the entrance making it uncomfortable for the boats, to say the least. Everyone was getting ready to leave one way or another. Some boats were put on the hard, some stocked up with provision and left for other islands and better protected harbours. I decided to stay. When the place is crowded, it is recommended to use stern anchor to keep the boats banging into each other as they would swing around differently with no constant wind and the tide swirling around the bay. Now, that nearly all the boats are gone, I just put Comino on a swinging anchor and let her look after herself. I was helping Danny this time on the next boat. He is an elderly sailor from America, living on his catamaran. Sadly, his health is deteriorating and he is finding it hard to conduct the daily chores on a boat, let alone going sailing. Still, he loves living in the climate here, and on the boat and not willing to go anywhere. We prepared his boat the best we could and waited the waves to come. There were stories of previous big waves in the harbour and surfers surfing by the anchored boats bucking on the waves, so we held tight and expected the worst.
It was bad. It was coming slowly, getting worse and worse and then stayed for a long-long time. Comino was just fine in the middle of the harbour; I put the tiller on a bungee cord, and a very slack piece of rope to let her play with waves, and she followed the way of the flow of the water and it was even possible to make a coffee occasionally. I went up to Danny’s boat to check upon him every day. He had the bow anchor and two stern anchors out and they kept the boat into the swell. He had nearly a hundred meter scope in both direction, but the waves were big and sometimes just broke under the boat and this put enormous strain on everything. It was hard even for me to get from the dinghy onboard. Days on struggling we thought it was over, but it started to get worse again. The old catamaran couldn’t take it anymore. Things started to break. A fairlead on the bow, chafe protections on the anchor lines, hatches, everything.
  One night the port stern anchor line got caught under the rudder and damaged the hull where the shaft enters. It started to leak badly. Danny told me in the morning the bilge pump was working overtime and he was worrying. I went to investigate and reported to him. He was nearly crying ‘I suppose this is the end for me. I have to move off the boat’ I told him not to worry, let’s have a beer; we will sleep on it, think about it and see what we can do. The next day he was much happier. We concluded we found the solution. The rudder was removed and the rudder stock was plugged in with a bung. All was good again. I went off to do one of my last shopping, and meet with Ana to discuss the details of our departure.


The elephant in the boat, or let’s talk money!

The monster subject when family, friends and enemies ask about your cruising life. ‘And how much it cost?’ The scale is infinitely long, depending on the thickness of your wallet, expectations, habits, desired level of comfort etc, etc. You heard the rumour of cruisers who left their home port with 100 dollars in their pocket and sailed around the world, and yachts that spend most of the time (and money) in marinas, the crew in elite restaurants. Inevitably, there are unavoidable associated expenses, but with a bit of discipline the cruising budget can be stretched to last longer than expected. To monitor my spending and out of curiosity I documented all my expenses from the start. The initial investment is excluded, where would you start? Should you include the boat value, equipments big or small, provision, bits and pieces? Income, if any was also excluded as it is not strictly relevant to the topic.
There is, admittedly a wind-down period after you had cut the lines. Most of us had worked extra hard to get to this point, and it is hard to hush away the inner voice that says, ah sure you deserve an ice-cream today or a cold beer. Later on, when you got hooked on your new life style, you will think, sure it is worth to restrict myself so I can spend a few more extra days in paradise.
I don’t know how much others spend nominally, as it is usually a touchy subject, but I hope my record will help future cruisers to plan their financials. There are times and places where you just have to spend a bit more, either to save on a long run (like provisioning when shopping is cheaper) or just because there is no other way (Panama Canal). I tried to include prices of individual items to show what and where it is worth to buy, without going into too much details and generating unmanageable data.

Below is the excel sheet of my first 14 months of spending. Enjoy!





Crossing the Pacific II.

The wind became strong, but it became a bit too strong for liking. I have the three reefs in the main and rolling the jib in and out. There is something to adjust every five minute, the night was tough with the strong breeze, but at least it was steady and the wind-waves were uniformed and now coming from one direction. During the day it changed and squalls with light winds between them made life hard. I still try to make as much southing as possible taking the wind and the waves on the beam mostly. I survive another night and even catch a big mahi-mahi in the morning within five minutes of dropping the lure into the sea, and manage to have breakfast despite the appalling conditions. It consisted of a good size flying fish, collected on the deck, eggs and coffee. It is raining and really not pleasant at all, I decide to drop the main bear away and run with the wind until it gets better. Life immediately becomes tolerable again, and I have time and energy to attend a problem with the wind vane. It revolts aft around the bolts that hold the bracket together, and losing its desired vertical position. It seems like, when surfing down on a wave, the pendulum rudder experiences enough force to pivot the wind-vane around the fixing points, and I am unable to apply enough torque with any tool to fasten the bolts sufficiently. It is quite uncomfortable to sit on the lazarette hatch hanging over the side, one hand grabbing the push-pit the other two working with the spanners trying not to lose them overboard.  I notice the push-pit needs attention too, some nuts have to be tightened, another couple of lines on the ‘list-to-do-after-arrival’.   At the end, I fix the wind vane with a piece of stick put between the vane column and the deck to keep it in place. Lunch is fried plantain and fish.
The daily runs are reaching the 80-90 miles per twenty four hours and in a few days time I experience better and better conditions. ‘The most beautiful before noon since the Caribbean’ I write in the log book one day with the position coordinates, S 07⁰ 46’ and W 115⁰ 36’. The wind becomes more and more easterly and although light, the sea smoothes somewhat and I keep up my progress. On Day 26, I decide there is only two more weeks to go. Under jib only, helped by the current, the clear sky above and the blue sea beneath us, we are sailing on like in a dream. People in general, if did not try it extensively, imagine sailing like this, sunshine, blue sky and sea, gentle breeze, gin & tonic with ice from a glass on the deck, sitting in a chair. It hardly ever is though, but I don’t want to think about that at this moment and am just trying to enjoy every minute of this dream like existence. One day, when I am 2/3 over the distance, clouds appear just to show, it could be much worse, but then it is quickly over, and the next week is just a sequence of continuous perfect days. The log is nearly empty, but the coordinates. There are few event to write down:
‘Movie night, watched Eddie the Eagle.’
‘Breakfast: porridge & muesli, coffee. Lunch: aperitif (tiny glass of cognac), potato, last ½ onion, tined beetroot and tuna. Snack: ½ portion of chocolate. Dinner: lemonade, left-over potato and dried fish.’
‘Inside the 1000 miles!’
‘I put 20 litres of water into the tank.’
‘Tea afternoon.’
‘Change of time zone, Nr.IV.’
These are the log book entries. I did not even bother to make a note of trivial stories, like when I hove-to to have a swim and make an attempt to scrub the hull to free it from the growth we accumulated the past weeks. I contemplated this for days (in fact for months, even on the Atlantic crossing) but it is quite scary to leave the safety of the ship and jump overboard deliberately despite all the precaution you take. I will never do it if I don’t do it now, now is the chance I kept saying to myself. I was reading the book Shrimpy, from Shane Aston about his circumnavigation (on a 6 metre boat in the ’70-s) and he did the same roughly on the same spot (well, +/- couple o’hundred miles), but he had a crew. He suffered a jelly-fish sting and was unable to move his left side of his body for 24 hours. I went for it. I took a deep breath, did a last check on our speed, it was under 0.5 knots, drifting, and dived. The sea temperature was pleasant; my heart was beating overtime adrenalin level high up, and I surfaced as fast as I could. Comino was already some distance away and it took a few strokes to reach the pull pit and pull myself up back on deck again. Many different feelings like a turmoil whirled in my mind, but I took my tools to scrub the hull and jumped again, this time on the other side. I opened my eyes while I was underwater and the picture I saw will stick with me forever in my life. Visibility was extremely good and the sea calm and crystal clear. Floating 4000 metre high in the most interesting substance in the universe, a few feet above me was my boat, almost seemed to define the law of physics. Underneath me, in the opposite direction, a group of mahi-mahi fish was looking at me, questioning my senility with their eyes and in general unapproving my behaviour. They were following me for awhile hiding in the shadow of Comino, which was their base and where they, one by one went hunting from, chasing the flying fish. They stayed with me all the way until the Marquises. I surfaced again and did a vague attempt to try to clean the hull. In a minute or two I felt a sting on my left shoulder and got a fright. What if it is a jelly-fish, and I will not able to climbed back aboard?  Before it had a chance to spread I retreated to the comfort of cockpit. I am still unsure if it was real or just a trick of the mind, but I had enough excitement for the day, set sail again and continued on westwards.

Hiva Oa

Hiva Oa Island

On Day 34 the wind dropped so much I had to start the engine for an hour to get steerage way. Then it came back strangely from the north, but it was so light I only made 59 nautical miles between two mid-days. I made some flat-bread, it is very simply. Eggs and flour, a bit of salt (I used seawater, I like the taste of it) mix and knead it, use plenty of flour or corn meal to stop it sticking your hand, shape it and bake in a frying pan (if you have no oven, as I). Don’t keep it on the fire too long, after a while it just drying it out. Add various herbs if you wish to taste.
The next day might be a negative record with 50 miles made in 24 hours. I had to climb up the top of the mast to fix a broken spinnaker halyard block. It fell the previous day; I heard a bang and did not know what it was. The spinnaker was up, and I instinctively looked up the top of the mast and immediately saw the problem. The shackle holding the pulley broke but the halyard got caught on the forestay and didn’t fall all the way. Nonetheless, I had to drop the chute, and roll out the jib but I lost speed big time obviously. I expected to be able to hoist the other jib and fly it as twins later on, on a dead run, and I need this halyard for it, so no choice, somebody has to go up. It wasn’t so difficult after all, I free climbed and put a safety harness on at the top (I have full rock climbing gear on board) hoisted up the tools on the halyard in a bucket, while swinging around in a quarter arc of circle, fixed the thing and came down. 15 minutes later the big blue and white cruising chute was flying again.
Well, not for long, the wind dropped again completely and I turned on the engine again. It is mainly to test it and use it; I still had no confidence in it for some reason. Instinct, sixth sense, I don’t know. It stopped the same way as before, after less than two hours and I was back to thinking what could be the problem. I went to sleep on it.
It was coming to the 20th August, St.Stephen’s (funder and first Christian king of Hungary) day and the national day of Hungary. It was a good reason to start a big cleaning operation on the boat. There is only 560 miles to go, the double jibs are up and we are doing nice mileage day after day. I can finally shed that feeling of hopelessness that was hanging around while we hardly made any progress. Despite the beautiful weather, when according to the calculation the estimated date of arrival is sinking back to the unimaginable distance of the future, mode is down. Now, as we entered into the three digit miles-to-make territory, I lost that inherent feeling of being in the middle of the unbounded, enormous something called Pacific Ocean, and sensed inside me that there is a wall somewhere in front of me, that puts, if not an end, a break to it. That will be the island of Hiva Oa.
I had a dream-like (sub)conscious thought about the solution, to fix the engine, while I was lying in the dark, in my bunk, only the moon and the milky-way with the billions of stars looking at us from the infinite distance. As it must be an easy and simple problem, the solution is easy too. The interesting part is how randomly it works or not, and that was the key to the problem. The long fuel line from the tank to the feed pump looks like a sinus wave or a hilly landscape in two dimensions. It goes up and down, and depending on the heeling of the boat and the weight distribution the upper part is either under or above the fuel level in the tank. Furthermore the tank also changing its relative position to even the engine and it either helps or hinders with the fuel supply. Well, I took off the fuel line from the feed pump and started to let out the Diesel into a 5lt jerry can. There was air and diesel, as expected, then only diesel, then after more than two or three litres airless fuel a big gulp, a bubble and from then on clear, fluent flow of fuel. That was the problem that air bubble got stuck somewhere in the middle of the line and resisted to the bleeding process for long time. I instantly gained back my confidence in the engine, I didn’t even have to try to start it, and so far after many hours of faultless engine use again, the feeling seems to be justified. 

Comino after the 42 days crossing

Comino after the 42 days crossing 

  The extremely beautiful days were over, and I had to pay more attention to sailing again. Getting closer to the destination means less and less deviation is tolerable in the heading. So jib down, main up, reef in, spinnaker up, last square of chocolate eaten are the focal points of the days. I am longing to arrive, but at the same time I know I am going to lose the strange intimacy that developed between the three of us: The Ocean, Comino, and Me.
On Day41 midday there is only 51 miles to go. I obviously will not be able to do it during the afternoon, so I aim to arrive in the morning, I can slow down. But it is always much harder to sail in the vicinity of land than out of the open sea. Not just because you are not allowed to sleep practically at all due to danger of running aground, but because of the strange and disturbed flow of the currents and the winds. I set up my alarm clock for 15 minutes intervals for this last night, to wake me up in case I accidentally fall asleep, but in fact I was kept well awake by the sails and the steering. The wind vane lost control over the steering, not enough boat speed, the wind changed direction and strength, the sails needed to be attended. At 0600 hours on the 25th August 2017 I turned on the engine and after a couple of hours of motoring on the 42nd day at 0900 hours I dropped the anchor in three metres of water at Baie Tahauku, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquises Islands.

Traitor's Bay

The Bay of Traitors 

Crossing the Pacific I.


The bearing from Bahia, Ecuador to Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquises Islands starts out as 255⁰M if you follow the great circle route which is the shortest between two points on the sphere shaped surface of the Earth. So close to the equator, and sailing nearly parallel to it means there is not a huge difference between the great circle and the rhumb line (that is the shortest distance between two points on the two dimensional representation of the Earth on a Mercator projection chart) but every mile saved and not sailed counts. In my mind I have already dismissed stopping at the Galapagos, so I tried to make the 255⁰ or as close as possible. The SSW winds meant it was a tight close-reach again, a rough ride when I finally got out from behind the shelter of the land, and sailed into the full force of the breeze. When the effect of the ebbing tide faded away, the current took over, and started to push me north, off of my intended heading. It was a real battle between the elements and me, but I knew I must hold my place and sail against wind and water; every mile I can make south now, will count double later on when I am in the proximity of the Galapagos Islands and its infamous light winds. With lot of hard work and fierce fight, I sailed out of the inter-tropical convergence zone, a weather belt around the equator between the south and the north east trade winds, and sailed into the light SE trade winds just south of the equator.
When I arrived to Bahia, three weeks before, I changed the main and the fore sails to the older, spare ones, thinking to save the better ones from wear and tear and use up the old ones on this very long leg, however, I had to realize now, that my spare main sail is absolutely useless. Its leech is flapping widely, shaking the whole rigging (it does not have battens, as the pockets are very narrow, and I failed to find suitably sized ones) it is worn and it has no draw at all. I had to change back to the old-newer Hyde sail. It, with its pal, the jib, are a remarkable pair of masterpiece, some fifteen years old or more and still keep going strong. I kept the old jib on, despite the significant difference in performance between the two jibs (even though they look very similar).


Fishing boat near the Ecuador coast

It was hard sailing into the light wind, making only 50-60-70 miles in 24 hour periods, in the dull and grey landscape as the sun and the stars were hiding behind the clouds most of the time. Hundreds miles offshore, and I was surprised to still see fishing nets and small fishing boats around. I was even more surprised that they left fish in the sea, and I caught at first two tunas, then a couple of mahi-mahis. I ate fish with fish, and the remainder was salted and sundried for later use. I got into the habit to filet the fish, and not to throw away the bones, head and fins, but make a good thick soup stock out of them. Later, with the filets added, spiced and flavoured a very nutritious dish was created, and no part of the fish was wasted. Apparently, the Inuit Indians obtained the vital vitamins and minerals by eating not vegetables and fruit, but every single part of the caught fish, eyes, skin, and all the lot.
I was still trying to make as much southing as I could, but soon I found myself in the position where I had to decide if I pass Galapagos on the south or on the north. The northerly route means easy short term solution, longer but more comfortable passage. The southerly route means hard work in the next few days, but with a bit of luck, keeping close to the wind to sail a hundred mile south of the islands gain back the time and effort later. I went for the second option, even though it felt dubious, but the wind gradually changed from SW to S and it enabled me to head 260⁰ – 250⁰ COG instead of the initial 310 – 280⁰.
The wind was in general very light compared to the size of the swell and the waves. It looks like there is always wind somewhere and the generated waves reach us, but the wind dies before it arrives. The mornings are the worse. At sunrise, the wind can die nearly to nil, and there is nothing more annoying than listen the sails flapping and banging with the rhythm of the boat rolling in the swell. I’ll get nowhere like this! The current is getting stronger though, it looks like I’ve arrived into the stream of the west flowing Equatorial current and it maintenances my progress.
On the fifth day, I decided to try the cruising chute to scare away the light winds. I had to bear away a little bit, but it might be worth it. With the boat jumping forward in a puff and with the help of the current, we overtake the wind and the sail collapsing and start to flap. It goes on for awhile, and very tiring, so I am glad when the wind shift back to the west side of south, I drop the spinnaker, harden up the white sails and continue on close reaching.
My plan of the southerly route seems to be working, but I can’t let my guard down just yet. I am still sailing close to wind and have to adjust the sails a lot. Sometimes I put in a reef or two in the main, not to decrease the area, but to flatten the sail to stop it flapping. Jib is poled out or pulled in, the wind-vane tweaked, traffic checked. There are not many boats around, thank god; I can get a good sleep at night. I even turn off the chart plotter for the night it isn’t that important, and turn on the depth sounder instead, allegedly, it keeps the whales alerted and away from the boat. They can sense the pulses the transducer emits and they do not like it. Better than bumping into each other on a dark night.
Soon, the daily routine establishes itself. It temporary disturbed by the changing of the time zone announced by the plotter’s clock, that synchronised with the satellites’ atomic timepiece. Not a huge change, it goes back by one hour at every 15⁰ meridian or about 900Nm on the equator (15⁰ x 24h = 360⁰, one day) The nights are still very long and very dark, nearly 12 hours total darkness; I am lucky at the moment if I can get a glimpse of a star or the moon for a short time. I don’t like to use the cabin lights for reading or staying up late doing anything for a couple of reasons. The battery is not an infinite resource of power and I might need it later, and I might have to go out into the dark in case of an emergency and I would be blinded by the bright light. Lucky, I like to sleep. The same goes for music or loud sounds. My primary sensors are my ears; with hearing what the boat and the surroundings doing I am more ready to react quickly.
The day starts with getting up with or before the sun. A good breakfast and a cup of good coffee are essentials. There might be a fish caught last night and it is waiting to be sorted out, or there is just a general cleaning and dishwashing to be done. I check the course and the sail settings and adjust if necessary. I start a new day in the log book and might jot down something about the night, or some notes to be remember. Sometimes I have ideas how to make or repair something that come at night and I write it down not to forget it. This time the wind can be so light I am afraid to move around too much, it disturbs the balance of the boat and affect our progress. It is a good excuse to go back to the bunk and read another book. I like reading, and now is the time for it. It is quite a binge reading, but I make sure not start a new book on the same day I finish the old one. It has to settle down, find its way to the labyrinth of the memories. As nearly all my paper books got soaked on the way to Bahia, and I had to dry them out by putting them out to the sun and wipe the mould off them, I had decided I would read them as fast as I can and give them away. E-readers are very useful; you can store hundreds of books on them, but when you read them they don’t have their own character. You can only see the new words and the symbols in the same case. When you handle a hard copy book, you make acquaintance with the individual item, the quality of the paper, the size of the font, the cover and the special scent of it. Sometimes it is worth refreshing last century experiences. I also find it hard not to open my last, special bottle of red wine, kept for the celebration of successful landing, as each and every book (contemporary and 19th century) seem to be full of drinking. Drinking of good wine, strong rum, grog and beer, casually, for aperitif or digestive, or simply to get drunk. I resist.


Catch of the day: mahi-mahi

Midday comes, and it is finally lunch time. Not before I scribe down the “noon sight” data, position, SOG, COG etc, and put my position on the paper chart. The Pacific Ocean is huge, the chart is small and small scale. The dot I am making with the tip of the pencil is as big as the island I am heading to. Nonetheless, step by step a curved line is developing showing the path of our journey.
With no fridge on board, nearly every dish has to be made fresh. It is not an easy task, as the cooker is not on gimbals and the boat is rolling. The menu is fish. I start to pray now when I throw the lure in to trawl, not to catch any fish, please, I want to eat something else, but just before I run out of the salted, dried bites, another one is landed successfully. I imagine I will resemble a fish in appearance at the end of the sail, if I keep eating so much. It is a fair game for the fish though, I hooked many and lot managed to get away one way or another, for instance by doing a spectacular twisted summersault and thus get rid of the hook.
The afternoon goes fast with the belly full. The weather is surprisingly cold and the water temperature is low. Not much after the sun is over the zenith the air is cooling down and a jumper is needed. It might be because the deck is now shadowed by the sails. At around six or seven o’clock the day is nearly over, darkness soon takes over again. Time slowly losing its significance, and so are dates. One can go back, in mind at least, to the ages before clocks and calendars, when the time was not divided up to arbitrary hours and weeks and our ancestors followed its natural pace.
On day eight, a Saturday, I finally declared the Galapagos Islands cleared and bore away slightly to get the wind more on the beam and start to make a bit of speed. So far I sailed about 530 Nml in a huge curve projecting northwards and from now on it should be more of a straight line. Also, I reached the first magic milestone, and now there is only 2999 Nml in front of me. That calls for a celebration and the inevitable fish-soup and fried fish is accompanied with a few small glass of red wine.
The next day was Sunday; I had a big wash of myself in the cold sea water, from the bucket. It was refreshing. I felt I deserved a good healthy breakfast of French toast from the bread I still had. If I was there, I turned over the eggs in the box, it makes them keep better and longer. The light winds still persevere; I hoisted the cruising chute just before 1000 hours, and kept it up until the first sign of a bit of stronger gusts in the afternoon. I dropped it, albeit too soon. The gusts only lasted for a short period of time and I was quickly back to the struggles with the insufficient sail area.
I was in danger of running out of fish in the next couple of days, so one afternoon, on the first sunny, warm and really nice day I tried a new lure. I thrown it into the sea and was still standing there watching the line getting taut and adjusting its length, when I felt a big jerk on it and realized there was a fish at the end of it. That was quick, I thought, and started the fight which lasted for awhile as it was a big fish. Unfortunately, it was a smart fish, and just before I could lift it in, he has gone free. Never mind, there is plenty fish in the sea! There is plenty fish, and plenty other sea life in the sea too. This ocean is truly more alive than the Atlantic. Any time I look outside there is life form in the sea, even hundreds of miles offshore. Dolphins, fish, funny and unusually looking jelly fish, a cloud of what looks like fish eggs or planktons, or if nothing else some birds are always circulating around Comino. One night I woke up to a strange noise. It was a fishing boat way far away, but up wind of me, so I heard it a great distance. That was a bit too much life for me on my ocean! It felt like an intrusion of my privacy.
I was still fighting my battle with the light winds, now turning more and more to south and occasionally even SSE, when on the 11th day the last noisy fishing boat passed by us. It was a small enough boat with two big extra diesel tanks on the deck, towing three open boats behind it. Hundreds of miles from the Galapagos Islands and more than a thousand miles from the continent, I wondered what they would do if the engine broke down…
With them gone, I didn’t see people again for a long, long time. That night I was kept busy, at first checking regularly if our paths would be crossing again or not, then with sail adjustment and various noises that kept me awake, their sources to be found. In the morning I cooked a big bowl of rice in milk with sugar, a treat of mine. It was a promising morning with sunshine, wind and warming air. I could feel the weather improve as we leave behind the cooling effect of the Humboldt Current and it gives me a bit of extra energy.
As the weather improves, at least the temperature, I spend more time outside in the cockpit and less hiding in the cabin. I am not a person to sit down to watch the landscape and stick to it for hours; I can get bored with it fairly quickly. However, the waves following and overtaking Comino can mesmerise me easily. They are big, not like the Atlantic waves were, tall and sharp, but their mass and volume is stupendous. They do look like small hills and as they roll underneath the boat and lift it up extending the horizon significantly, is something one can watch indefinitely. There are always waves, sometimes they are coming from multiple directions and cross each others’ paths reinforcing or cancelling out each other. If I am lying awake in my bunk the sound of the waves are indeed resemble music, your imagination makes up the beat and rhythm possibly from some (subconsciously) stored melody. Some days, idling and listening the song of the sea, I start thinking of fearsome ideas, like the incredible depth of the water beneath and how little separate me from sinking quickly without a trace, and all the things would be down there waiting. Strange creatures, enormous pressure, rocky seabed, ancient wrecks. What can be down there 4000 metre deep, we will possibly never know, it is just such a vast area?


The Pacific Ocean

On the 13th day the wind completely died by the morning after a squally period and left a lumpy uncomfortable sea state. I turned on the engine to try how it works, but I still have problems with it, so after half an hour it was shot down. At least the batteries are fully recharged. In the afternoon I took of the fuel pump, various hoses and fuel lines, checked again every bits I could, and everything seem to be working. The wind is back, so I do not need it at the moment. Until I try again, I have hope that I might have just done something to it and it will function better. 2540 nautical miles to go to Atuona, Hiva Oa, and I am ¼ way between Ecuador and the Marquises Islands. Coincidently, I am ¼ way around the world as well. I have passed the W 96⁰ longitude and I left from Dublin which is at about on the 6⁰ meridian. That is 90⁰ done out of the 360⁰.
The days are slowly crawling forward; every day there is something extra worth to jot down into the log book. Now, I passed another time-zone, then I was able to hoist the spinnaker for an hour, or I am at the 1/3 mile stone. The light winds are frequented with big squalls and it makes a hard sailing sometimes. Also, there is rain, or at least drizzle with the squalls which doesn’t make life easier at all. As the wind speed goes up and down rhapsodically and the waves are not in synchrony there is lot of work to find the proper sail configuration that suits the conditions. Main sail up and down, reefs in and out, spinnaker, staysail and jib tried and tested. The bearing and the angle of the wind I should take is not perfectly suitable either I can’t use the running sails it would take me to much north, but can’t use the main sail most of the time as it is blanketing the jib, and then it is just flapping useless. A huge and long squall woke me up in the 18th day early morning and I had to run to pull down the main sail. It was already in the third reef, but it was still too much for it.
On the 4th of August, 1756 miles from Bahia and Atuona as well, I am half way across the East Pacific. This is Day21, but I hope to make the second half of the voyage faster than the first, and I give 18 days to myself to arrive. After the very light winds at the beginnings and the squally unsettled weather in the last while, I seem to have arrived the steadier and stronger SE trade wind zone. The sun is shining!

The earthquake at Bahia de Caráquez


Everything I touched seemed to break down in Ecuador. I put on the coffee in the morning the valve of the burner on the cooker fell apart, I swapped the jib to the spare one, the furling gear got stuck, the engine kept playing havoc, as I am getting used to it now, but when the throttle cable broke one morning when I started it to charge the batteries… well, what can you do, laugh.

After the arrival my main concern was to empty the boat and dry it as much as possible. One of the reasons I was here, because it supposed to be in a dry tropical climate. After the humid and warm conditions in Panama and the wet ride down to Ecuador mildew and mould farms cherished all over the interior of Comino, and it become a dangerous health issue to me. I felt breathing in the smell of the fungus and the ill effects of it, dry flu like symptoms.  While the port, for a hefty, compulsory fee, organised my check-in procedure, and various officials were visiting me to fill their papers with ridiculous information, I surveyed the damage this last tough leg of sailing caused in my assets. Half of my paper books were soaked in water, some of them beyond rescue. Clothes and various items also dripped from the seawater, only God knows how it got there. The deck soon looked like a yard sale; section by section I emptied the shelves and lockers, dried them then wiped them with vinegar while trying to air out the contents as much as possible. The sun rarely showed itself during my stay, it is true, it was that season, however, the air was dry and slowly, I managed to get from the bow to the lazaret.  The seawater, but even the salty air eats itself into everything, especially metals and even more if two dissimilar metals are in touch irreversible corrosion sets in. I routinely have to open and oil every single zip I have on board at every stop, or more frequently if possible, otherwise they seize up and there is no way to open them anymore without permanent  damage. Jeans, even in waterproof bags lost the studs in the pocket corners, starting with a slight discoloration, and rapidly going downhill to complete destruction. Luckily, no real valuables got spoiled, yet. However, I will have to be more careful in the future, if it is possible.

The ungrateful behaviour of the cooker, by giving up working for me, was a great blow in my mood. I didn’t know how and which way I would be able to sort out this problem, if at all, here in the middle of nowhere. I decided I needed a day or two off, and one early morning I got on the bus and bought a ticket to Manta. Manta is one of the biggest cities in Ecuador, and it has a huge commercial port as well. A mere 100 km distance on the road, it took nearly five hours to reach it. Bahia de Caráquez and the area were destroyed by a powerful earthquake just last year, and the roads still under repair. I had to change in Portoviejo, but it was all organized for me without my knowledge. The system here is still that one man is driving; one man cares about the passengers, like in many other South American and Caribbean countries. So my conductor took the money from me for all the way to Manta, then in Portoviejo he put me on the other bus and gave the share of the fair to his colleague. It suited me fine. I bought some funny food from the local vendors who got on the bus at some stops with their goods and sometimes had to stay on until the next one if the driver was too impatient to wait for them to finish. They were selling everything from cocoa water to cakes and candies. They were real homemade curiosum for 50 cents or a dollar. It really seemed like hard work for little profit.

Manta is a real big town with an incredibly sized market. Just the hairdressers’ tiny workshops filled many rows on the market, so I quickly got a badly needed haircut. On the market you can buy everything from tobacco leaves via chilli peppers to smart-phone covers. A few stall was selling the gas cookers that I thought, with a bit of modification would suit me, so I made a mental note of their location in this maze of vendors, and set out to find a bed for the night. There were no tourist and hardly any other gringos around town, and I just happened to wear a bright yellow T-shirt which seems to be Ecuador’s colour, so the local people looked at me curious and usually smiling but at least on an approving manner. No one speaks English though and my Spanish is virtually non-existent and this makes communication rather hard. Still, it depends on situation and personality. Sometimes, a conversation could be held by I am talking in English and listening in Spanish and my partner doing the opposite. I met not one young Venezuelan refugee, working in Manta, who was keen to telling me about the harsh reality in the home country. No money or no food to buy in the politically unstable Venezuela is a good reason for escape.

After bombarded with European prices on a well-known booking site, I decided to ask personally for a cheap bed for a night. The first place’s best shot was a room with breakfast for $27, but I found it too expensive. At the next hostel the receptionist’s offer was $20 so I asked the busy young couple who looked like they were running the place, if there is anything cheaper. They gave me a room that was under construction for $8. It was really like sleeping on a building site but I was tired enough to fall into bed after a shower and a quick shopping for breakfast.

The morning came fast, I went back to the market bought the cooker and headed for the bus stop. When I got on the bus and connected to the Wi-Fi, messages kept coming to me if I was alright after the earthquake? I thought it was funny, how could an earthquake from a year before hurt me? Then I looked up the news, and realised there was a quake at the same spot not too far from Bahia, just the last afternoon. It was a magnitude 6 one, strong enough to be reported in the European news, but not strong enough to do any damage in the already half-ruined town.  I did not feel it, but now I was in a hurry to get back to see if I still have my boat.

Back in Bahia they reassured me that they only felt a little rumble after all, and all is OK. Comino was safe and snug on the anchor and after some fixing and tinkering the cooker was ready to be tested. It worked, although not as good as the old one used to be, but I have to do with this now.

My next job that was on one of the sticky notes that were lining up on the switchboard not to be forgotten was to change the sails to the other set I had. I used the better ones so far, but I would like to keep them as they are not too bad, and use the old ones until they last. I will have to buy a new set sooner or later and this way I would have a usable spare one. Also, the pulleys for the reefing lines needed to be replaced, they were getting rusty and were stuck. I changed the main, and it took some time to find the best way of using the available resources to set up the reefing, but it was sorted out anyway. However,  when I hoisted the jib it didn’t want to furl up so I had to drop it again and again until I figured I had to oil the bearing on the top gear. Maintenance is the key to the seamless running of the ship.

Days were going fast and I started to understand the few cruisers who spent prolonged time here. Food is cheap here; I could have a three course meal with a soft drink for US$4, the Port provides Wi-Fi and shower, the staff is nice, the weather is mild. I wouldn’t mind a bit of more sunshine, but should have come earlier I suppose…

As there is no sunshine the solar panel is hardly generating any power, so I use the engine occasionally to charge the batteries. It still has the same problem as it started in Portobello, despite my belief that it was fixed, many time. Then one morning the throttle cable broke at the control head. I knew there would be no chance to get a cable in Bahia and not in a short notice in Ecuador either. An old couple on one of the few boats here were waiting six weeks for a fuel pump to be delivered from Europe. I was already getting ready to leave and gave my passport to the port to obtain my zarpe, so I quickly put together a makeshift solution and decided I will not rely on the engine any more at all. I am sailing.

A rough sail to Ecuador

The normal route yachts usually take, if they are planning to cruise the Pacific and French Polynesia is to go straight from Panama to Galapagos Islands then the Marquises, the eastern most island groups. Landing on the Galapagos if problematic, rules and laws changing every day, and you don’t know what mood the local authorities are on the day of your arrival. To obtain cruising permit takes weeks of bureaucracy and lots of money. Beside, you more than likely run into the doldrums with no or little wind for days, drifting by the mercy of the local currents. I was still planning a short stop there, but decided to sail south, against the SW winds to Ecuador, then turn to west from there. Thus, I would break this long leg to half at least, and hopefully have good wind for the second part. The first 600 miles would be hard though, I knew.

As I had to sail SW my main concern was to make as much westing as possible so that later on I will be in a better position for the stronger wind. At the same time, sailing south was the shortest route, but I hardly had the problem of worrying between the two choices as many times one tack took me SE the other NW, neither one good for me. It was desperate.

The first evening, I was just enjoying a reasonable sail heading 230⁰M, putting myself in a good position after pushing the boat and the engine a little bit to round the northern tip of San José island, when I saw a big black cloud coming towards us. What is that going to do? I kept an eye on it as it was getting closer and closer, and before the night fell I finally gave in to the more cautious inner voice in my head and put in two reefs in the main. That was the first reefing that must have been followed by hundred more on this 11 days sail to come.

Dusk arrived, the big black cloud was getting closer, the wind dropped and the darkness grew around me, soon there was nothing to see, only small patches of fade light from the reflection of the mast head light and the compass illumination. I was sitting at the companion way in anticipation and was thinking if I was maybe too careful with the two reefs when a few stronger gusts hit the sail. Our speed increased, Comino heeled over, the wind-vane started to work. The gusts became more frequent and suddenly the gunwale was under the water, and I had to damp the mainsheet to depower the main sail. The wind kept increasing it was howling amongst the rigging like in a small gale. The boom was hitting the water while I was trying to furl the jib and was fighting with sheets and the furling line. By the time I found a good balance between the sails the waves grew big and the rain started. It was awful. We were beating into the big black moonless night, the storm was raging outside, and this was not how I imagined the Pacific Ocean cruise. I was disappointed. The storm lasted most of the night, when the wind decreased the rain got heavier and the air cooled down. Still, I had to go and let out some of the jib, then later on the main, to keep the boat moving. By 5 am the wind was completely gone, and I started up the engine. The sea was still disturbed and without forward motion the boat was rattled like a mouse in the mouth of the cat.

Soon the wind has come back and I was able to sail again. Close haul, tight on the wind in a SW direction. Good sailing conditions a F3 wind, moderate sea. It didn’t last long, the wind veered at first and I was tacking between 270⁰ and 130⁰ M, probably against some current and then dropped to nothing. I started the engine again, after I span around a few times losing steerage way, but only for a half an hour. Light breeze sprang up, and I sailed through the night without needing to touch the sails or the tiller.

The darkness of the nights was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. All the way through clouds covered the sky day and night. The new moon wouldn’t have given me much light, but still at least should have shown its face, the stars were hiding as well, and during the day I had no sunshine at all. After the first rough night everything was wet in the boat and there was no way to dry things out. Both of the bilge pumps worked hard, the sea found its way into the boat in the smallest holes. There are bad days when nothing seem to work. There is no wind and I drifted 5 miles back NE during the night, the fishing reel broke down, not that I would catch any fish with this slow speed, the bilge pump fell apart. When a nice breeze come the hopes are rising, then it is gone and desperation sets in. What if there will be no wind for two weeks here? What if the wind will be SW and I can go neither to Ecuador nor to the Galapagos? Then a westerly light wind starts to blow and after hours of contemplating I hoist the cruising chute and making a good southerly progress. It wasn’t used for long time and mould and mildew grew on it just like everywhere on the boat after the humid and warm Panamanian climate. I don’t trust the wind so nervously watching it for any sign of change, but so far so good. I am getting the gist of it though, laying in the pilot berth one eye on the chart plotter, looking at the COG, I can see it is gradually veering back to a southwest. Sometime during the night I pop out of the bed, drop the chute and pull up all the white sails. The wind vane is set just a few degrees off of close haul we are making 2-3kn of SOG with a SW heading through the night. The seas flat, the wind gentle, the boat is upright and happily sailing along, while I am listening the water churning on the outside of the hull. It was a beautiful sail; still the next 1200 hrs position report confirms a mere 48 Nm progress in the last 24 hours. It is still an improvement from the day before of 26 miles…

The wind and weather keep changing there is all kinds of variations. At some stage, I decide to get ready with the third reef on the main sail, which had no precedent since I left North Atlantic winter. It was not put in use eventually, but only because Comino was enjoying herself so much riding hard the waves and winds gunwale is submerged the bow thumping on every fall. Sometimes I tried the tiller but it was easy to hold, the sails were balanced, we did the best we could.

After a week sailing I cleared the imaginary border of Columbian waters and I was close to Ecuadorian shores. I felt a little bit safer now; I heard nothing good about the Pacific side of Columbia. Still, I was surprised and apprehensive when one morning, just finished my breakfast and ready with the coffee, I heard shouting and engine noise from the outside. There was a small open boat with three men on board, some with a covered face (with a balaclava-like piece of cloth, used by many people with outdoor activities around here). Add a huge outboard motor and plenty of spare fuel in the bow, colourful decoration on the hull and you can understand why I was thinking to put down my cup of coffee and pick up the machete instead. They were only fishermen, more than 50 miles offshore on that little boat and was warning me of their drifting net just under the surface. I changed course until I cleared then waved them off, and kept going S-SW.

Later on there was another, similar fishing boat, from Esmeralda, Ecuador, visiting me, with three young lads, and they were laughing and dancing when they saw me. They demanded that they can take photo of me and were generally very happy to see such a small vessel on their home water. They come too close, unfortunately, and ripped off another chunk of the rubbing strake on the same side of the Panamanian incident. They gave me a calamari from their catch, so I ignored the accident. I am corruptible, it tasted good.

After the beautiful day of the incident with the fishermen, the weather turned bad, and it stayed like that more or less for the rest of the trip. The wind picked up, and now blew consistently from the bow. Tacking, never a strong point with poor overloaded Comino and the old sails was frustrating. Sometimes, on both tacks I managed to head away from my destination, and the 24 hour runs never exceeded the 60 miles range. One dark night, after fighting all day the elements and desperation, resting dreamlessly in the bunk, I heard a scratching noise on the hull. I sharpened my hearing with disbelief, but it did not stop, and by the time I was on the deck with the torch, the boat has stopped and started to spin off the wind. I got tangled in an underwater fishing net. It was raining, the wind was strong, the darkness, like an impenetrable wall to every direction, and I was alone on the big merciless Pacific Ocean in a big mess. ‘No panic, no panic!’ I told to myself ‘What first?’ I dropped the main, and furled the jib, then lifted up the pendulum rudder of the wind vane before it gets damaged. ‘Luckily’, I had been in a similar situation, in one January on the Irish Sea, only with a lobster pot, so I had an idea what to expect. I grabbed the boat hook, and tried to push down the net deep enough to clear it from the rudder. It didn’t work; despite I am lying on the lazaret hatch and being in the water with half of my body to get as deep as possible. I didn’t want to damage the net, it is someone’s livelihood, but after many unsuccessful attempts I had to resort to the hack saw, and cut it off. There was still the problem of which way to get out of it. I imagined it to be a circle with a narrow entrance that I accidently found and now I will never be able to get out of it. In the dark, where you have no sense of direction it is no easy task to decide which way to try. I saw a bright light in the distance occasionally flash and even getting closer and I thought that would be the trawler belonging to the net, but coming close to it I realized it was a tiny calamari fishing boat and they may not even know about the net. When I run into the net a few more time and had to change direction suddenly to avoid it, I started panicking a little. I decided to ignore my bearing and just follow the net for a while as much as I could in the small light of the torch and in less than ten minutes I concluded that I cleared it one way or another and I am safe from it. I reset the vane, set the sails, changed my wet outfit and went back to rest.

I was getting nearer and nearer to shore and now I really had to tack back and fro if I wanted to clear Punta Ballena and later Cabo Passado. But the conditions did make it easy for me, and half of the time I felt I was sailing backwards when I had to tack away from land, but I could not do better than NW. Hours made days and I realised, the rough conditions became a norm and I resigned into a state where you accept that you can’t change the weather and the sea state, you have to work with what you have. In that mind set I crossed the equator and I celebrated it with a drink offered to Neptune.   As I predicted it didn’t help much, and I was back to counting back the miles and meters to my destination.

On the 27th June, Tuesday 0000 hours, I rounded the last protruding cape and I could at last bear away. I headed towards the entrance of River Chane and to the ‘waiting room’ where you suppose to wait for a pilot to direct you in amongst the shifting sandbanks. When I arrived there it was still dark and I had an hour or two before high water so, I dropped the anchor and went to sleep. I woke up in an hour later to the unbearable motion of the boat due to the swell coming in from the sea. It was daylight already but a very dull one. I tried to radio the port for a pilot on both Ch69 and Ch16 but got no reply. The swell was getting worse and I decided I had to leave before it turns dangerous. I started the engine, it run for about half minute then stopped for no reason.

I think that was the moment when I thought it was like a Fawlty Towers episode, when the character of John Cleese trying to stop a guest entering the room or the hall. It was just like a bigger force was trying to stop me the last five days to arrive to this place, and every time I felt it will be easy from here, a new hardship struck. However, I was determined. I restarted the engine, and connected the autopilot. The engine worked the autopilot didn’t. That was new, but nothing could surprise me anymore. Just by routine I flipped on the switch of the instruments and strangely, the depth sounder that was out of function for months was showing signs of life. I might just have fixed it on the way here when I was fiddling with it, that time thought to be unsuccessful. I checked it quickly with the lead I prepared earlier and accepted the result within measurement error. There were small fishing boats coming and going in and out of the river, so I pulled up the anchor, murmured a short praying, spiced up with some cursing and headed towards that seemed to be the channel. The movement of the boats coincided with the channel shown on my Garmin chart plotter (not the first time I am glad I had spent that lot of money on this digital chart) and it was reassuring. One of the smaller, open fishing boats slowed down to let me ahead of them, but I waved them in front of me. They seemed to understand at once that I wish to follow them, if they could show me the way in, and they did so, all the way to the deep basin of the river. With the dropping tide presenting extra danger, the breaking waves left and right, the sandbanks already showing themselves here and there, between the ill-functioning engine and the now not-working autopilot I cannot express the relief when I was through. Another mile motoring up the river and I saw the boatman of Puerto Amistad coming to greet me and show me to my anchorage.