We left Panama City scheduled by the Captain’s smooth and lazy rhythms: at 6.00am we leave the mooring “La playta”. The ocean is really pacific and winds are even hard to imagine here at the moment. We decided to stop for a week or so to Las Perlas isands. 36 miles far from the city, they are a quiet archipelago forgotten by the tourism machine that probably prefer the Caribbean coast. Suddenly we realized that fishing here is the easiest thing ever. Fish are everywhere, and also big ones are not shy to show up to our bait and close to us while we are swimming. We first anchored in front of Isla Contadora and visited the magnificent beaches. There are a few hotels, a little airport and an internet café. It looks to me that here someone tried to build structures for tourism but it didn’t work so well and most of them are abandoned and attacked from mother nature. The first time I dove here I got really scared from the quantity of curious fish that come close to your feet and hands to smell if you are well done for their dinner. It took me a few minutes before I could live the rope from the boat and quietly swim. With the Captain we decided to sail the eastern part of the archipelago, touching places like Mogo Mogo, San Miguel and Los Viveros. Don’t expect to come here and find anything else than nature. We really spent a few days like if someone took the time back of hundreds years, living between jungles and beached forgotten by god. The only “city” and actually the biggest of Las Perlas is Sant Miguel: if you are thinking to go there, be sure to arrive with your dinghy and the high tide so you’ll don’t have to walk in the mud for 300 hundreds meters, as we did. The local population is very friendly and they will show you around without asking money, only for the pleasure to stay with you. The day before we arrived, someone had the brilliant idea to bring a Big Caterpillar into the beach with the low tide to bring his boat closer to the shore. He actually made it to take the boat, although the Cat is still there half grounded in the mud. So I guess you will easily recognize where you should stop with your dinghy. Tides here are serious, up to 5 meters and lots of sailors take advantage to work on their Catamarans hulls while they are out of the water. Basic food can be found in the village 3 times per week.
Mentally ready or not…we are now looking the Perlas far behind us, almost disappearing on the horizon…our destination is now Manta, Ecuador, where we’ll try to get some diesel and leave for the Galàpagos. The ocean is really incredible, calm like oil and reflecting every color of the sky. Late in the day we also had some winds and a small Barracuda.
We are expecting to sail for 5 days before land will appear in front of us again, from here we can already say that the line of the small sailing trial is passed, from now on we will have to be ready of days and days of navigation that hopefully will take us in some of the best places in this world.
Arriving in Manta, a commercial port, we all felt lucky to have a fantastic sail. The area between Panama and Colombia is well known as unpredictable zone of wind. The “Doldrums”. When 50 knots are rare but they can happen, often is totally the opposite, so no wind at all and if you are planning a direct Pacific crossing from Panama to Polynesia without stop to Galàpagos, be ready to start your engine for a few days or check the forecasts and hope for a good window. We luckily had 15 knots almost every day and the sea was flat like never before, which allowed us to speed up a little more enjoying at same time the fantastic cruise.
Manta is one of the largest city in Ecuador, the commercial port is full of foreign fish companies well equipped with big boats and helicopters ready to empty the ocean. We found a little hard to anchor between the big and small boats parked everywhere. Weird thing was that when we decided to go into the only yacht club, we could entry, eat, use internet wi fi, swimming pool, and after a few hours the manager came to us with the info we asked before, telling that by the way we were not allowed to stay there, nor to use the facilities and not even to make petrol. We were a bit shocked, since the main reason why we made this stop-over was basically to make petrol. Anyway I remember since my last trip here that Ecuador is one of those countries where you can’t stop, buy the petrol and leave. A national law establishes that the local price for petrol is not to apply for foreign people, it is too cheap for us. The only solution was going back to Bahia De Caraquez Marina or continue forward to Salinas, and for both the options we were obliged to make a formal entry in the country with an agent. Too expensive and far from our final destination, so we took a night of good sleep and left after a little incursion to the excellent supermarket.
The Captain is that kind of person that feels always a bit lost when there is nothing to do and he’s awesome to create new situations, add this kind of personality to mine… et voila… What was an easy look to the diagnostic of the autopilot trying to set up a new program for sailing following the wind, we pushed something wrong and everything suddenly shuttled down. We were like the two kids with a broken bone after mom said not to jump from there!!!
Alice and Mme Nicole were not so far from killing us, and even if we tried everything to re-organized it again, Furuno GPS had no intention to start again. The only solution was to arrange 24h watches, 2 hours per person at the steer, trying to direct a boat that nobody of us almost drove before except from short occasions under engine power. Luckily we had not a drop of rain nor strong winds, 4 days and 4 nights of learning to do what could seem obvious for a sailor but is absolutely not, on the modern sail boats with amazing technology that makes everything smooth and easy just pushing a few buttons. At the end of the day we arrive in Puerto Ayora on the Santa Cruz island of Galàpagos. It was a calm morning of glory for us four. Alice learnt how to sail without listening to her brain that at the beginning was making her listen someone screaming or even seeing ghost islands in front of the boat. I was fully satisfy to finally try the old manual way to sail and thought that also Cap and Mde where happy to make the four days a little different than usual. When we relished the anchor in the middle of the bay, the weight of the effort came down to us, but even that was not enough to contain our excitement when we realized that we were surrounded by hundreds of birds, sea lions and huge turtles swimming close the boat. We couldn’t ask a better welcome from this world famous archipelago, and I’ve got the feeling this is going to be a very special spot destined to last long on our memories. Later on the Captain invited us to an excellent local restaurant to celebrate the arrival. Tired and proud of us, I felt blessed to look at the sea from the little window of my room, and see the water growing on the reef 100mt on our side. I could totally see the reflection of the moon while the wave was creating a perfect stage for tomorrow’s surf!!!!!