Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It Takes a Village to Cross Oceans

Departed: La Paz, Mexico on March 20, 2010
Arrived: Oslo, Norway on August 15, 2010
Total Distance: 8,200 miles
Total Days Underway: 91

At 0400 on August 17th Jeffery was the last of ‘The Sophianauts’ to leave for home, leaving us to our fate in Oslo. If the past five months are any indication of what the year will bring, we will be in very caring and capable hands. This has been a journey of friendship. We had a fair share of breakdowns and problems, but it was thanks to the talent of Sophia’s crew and the support of the numerous people in each port that we made is to Oslo.

As many of you know the only one to have completed the entire trip from La Paz, Mexico to Oslo, Norway is Sophia. It took a very talented team to envision this trip and get her all the way here. Truth be told, she got us here.


First, we wish to express our deep sense of gratitude to all who sailed for months and weeks (that may have felt like months) aboard Sophia. These are the souls who endured cramped spaces, wet everything, mildew, seasickness, and stuffing your used toilet paper in a bin. They are, in no particular order:

Dad (Phillip)
• Pre-Leg – The drive from Seattle to La Paz and preparing Sophia
• Legs 1-2 – La Paz, Mexico to Panama City, Panama
• Legs 4-8 – Bermuda to Oslo, Norway
Thank you for being a great partner in this journey and for holding the unwavering faith that we would get there and on time. You made this trip possible from the very beginning and showed that dreams (even of a lifetime) can be realized.

• Pre-Leg – The drive from Seattle to La Paz and preparing Sophia
• Leg 1 – La Paz, Mexico to Ixtapa, Mexico
Thank you Andreas for doing the first six weeks, which included a hectic and hair-pulling two weeks of getting Sophia ready to cross oceans. This was quite possibly the most aggravating portion of the trip with constant breakages and a ridiculous schedule. You got this half-baked-idea-of-a-trip off the ground.

• Leg 1B – Manzanillo, Mexico to Ixtapa, Mexico
Thanks Alison for jumping on a plane and helping bring Sophia down the Mexican Coast when Andreas and Phil were delayed and light handed. We have had to rely on the “Watch This On a Really Tough Day” dvd more than once. I just found the fruit leather when I cleaned out the refrigerator – I think it is still good?

• Leg 1A – La Paz, Mexico to Manzanillo, Mexico
• Legs 3-7 – Panama City, Panama to Inverness, Scotland
Dan the sailor man, Sophia’s chief engineer, French interpreter, problem solver, aka “he who swims with crocodiles.” Thank you for the determination and relentless work fixing and patching. We think you’re the only person who could have mastered the sextant in one ocean crossing!

• Leg 3 – Panama City, Panama to Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
• Legs 6-8 – The Azores to Oslo, Norway
Thank you for the jumping at the opportunity to join this crazy adventure, and rearranging your travel plans to Greece, buying (and at times re-buying) plane tickets to/from exotic islands. Thank you for your knowledge and skill, and the perseverance to work from 8am to midnight in the sweltering heat in Panama to stop all the leaks we discovered. We’ll be sure to send you some tube food from Norway ☺

Dad (Jim)
• Leg 4 – Providenciales, Turks & Caicos to Bermuda
We miss Captain Jim reporting for duty (early) every night. Your good humor was a welcome treat, especially in light of the rough seas and strong winds those first few days. Thank you for making such an effort to be part of this adventure, especially to join the portion through the Bermuda Triangle. Thankfully we weren’t lost at sea, but we did learn how the Triangle works its mischief ☺

• Leg 4 – Providenciales, Turks & Caicos to Bermuda
Perhaps our least likely crew member. Connie had only sailed one afternoon in Seattle prior to joining us for what was supposed to be an easy leg to Bermuda. She demonstrated incredible determination and good humor (once the initial seasickness subsided). In the midst of painfully rough seas our first night out, we were approaching another island with a dangerous reef and our need to tack when Connie wittily asked, “Does that island have an airport?” But she soldiered on and found her sea legs.


This trip was also possible because of the gifts of many friends and family at home...

Steve on White Cloud
Thank you for the generous gift of one of White Cloud’s spinnakers! We were thrilled to have it crossing the Atlantic from Bermuda.

Duff Kennedy
Thank you for the survival suits. They gave us peace of mind as we crossed the North Atlantic and the North Sea. Dan liked them so much he wore one around the deck (see photos from Bermuda to the Azores).

Sharon Meehan/Kennedy
Thank you for stocking us up on Starbucks Via Instant Coffee packets. It was a treat to have great coffee and for the ease they offered aboard Sophia. No more coffee cones, scalded hands, or coffee ground all over the galley when an unexpected lurch came at just the wrong moment. We even shared some with the Phonecian replica ship we met in the middle of the Atlantic. They had been at sea for 72 days and where especially grateful for some delicious coffee.

Jim (Dad)
Thank you for making sure we were safe with the gift of the EPIRB. I hope it brought you some peace of mind knowing that we could send an emergency signal if anything happened. It certainly brought us peace of mind.

Bob and Jackie Stern (Grandpa and Grandma)
Whose gift of the Eagle and sailing made this trip possible.

Uncle Gary Severson
Thank you for lending us your SCUBA regulator!

Frank Schattauer from Schattauer Sails in Seattle
Frank spent over an hour with me (Rachel) putting together my ditty (sail repair) bag and providing information on how to do common sail repairs. It came in handy on many occasions as we had to do minor re-stitching and abrasion tending along the way.

Santa Monica Windjammer’s Yacht Club
For generously making us honorary members and cheering us on! We proudly flew the club burgee as we entered new ports.

Our Land-bound Family and Friends
Who watched our progress diligently on the SPOT and woke up early to see us transit the Panama Canal. You worried over us, supported us, believed in us, and celebrated each successful leg.

And for those people we met along the way who provided the help at the critical moment. In chronological order:

Carlos the Taxi Driver – Panama City
The best taxi in the country. Thanks for the mango collecting, using your Savemart card, the fish market… the list goes. If you need someone in Panama Carlos is your guy.

Jesus Godoy, Maritime Works, Panama City

Cel: 507-6676-7189
Thanks for having our alternator rebuilt within days and for such a good job (it is still running strong!). We heard many stories of people waiting weeks for parts. You were terrific to work with!

Dalton and Max, our Panama Canal Transit Advisors
You guys know what you are doing. Not a scratch on Sophia. It was a real pleasure and educational to have you aboard for our transit of the canal.

Frank and Gretchen
What a surprise to find you in Shelter Bay, Panama! The suggestion to head east out of Panama was spot on, making for a fast and easy crossing. The chart you gave for Providenciales was priceless. I don’t think we would have been able to get across the bank with out it. Thanks, too, for the sushi makings (we made good use every time we caught a fish) and for the English muffin recipe (a crew favorite). We look forward to seeing the San Blas Islands...

Wayne “Tool Man” and Diane aboard the Long Legged Lady (Providenciales)
Thanks for lending us the necessary tools to remount our windlass.

Herb (aka “South Bound Two”)
He does not know it but we listened to his wisdom and weather forecasts (he could not hear us) all the way from Bermuda to Flores in the Azores. The result was fast and sunny passage.

Carlos, The Lajes, Flores Port Captain
Carlos demonstrated the meaning of hospitality and generosity. He spent an entire morning building us what Yanmar charges $800 dollars for – a coupling nut socket. We were able to get the coupling nut back on, again and again making this procedure routine. It is no small thing having your driveline come apart when you are least expecting it! We look forward to visiting Lajes, Flores again.

Steve (from UK)
Thanks for setting us up with charts in Flores so we know where to go in Ireland. We used them all the way to Belfast. It was a real treat to meet you. By the way, Steve was the ONLY sailor we met who didn’t have boat projects. An exemplar of a well-planned and maintained boat!

Salvo Marine, Crosshaven (Cork), Ireland
Thanks for assisting us with the equipment we needed. The transformer is working great!

Michael Glover in Bangor (Belfast), Northern Ireland
Michael set us up with a new gear box (transmission). Certainly no one could have had the gear box delivered and installed any faster! Thanks, too, for the tip that we need a right hand prop rather than a left hand. No wonder the old gear box failed, it has been running in reverse for who knows how long. We have been going backwards for 9000 miles!!!

The crew of Good Year
Thanks the for the chart help getting from Inverness, Scotland to Kristiansand, Norway.

Arendal Sailing Club
Thank you for the great night’s stay and for the showing us the way up the Norwegian coast. We would not have attempted the rock strewn passages otherwise and would have missed the spectacular beauty. Take a look at our spot track. Some of the channels you suggested looked imposable on the chart and not any more feasible in the real world.

Leif and Hanne
Our new friends in Oslo. You helped bring us “home” on the anchor leg and making us feel like we had friends in Oslo before we arrived.

Monday, August 16, 2010

And Now She Gets Some Rest...

There's a saying among sailors that "You can choose the time or you can choose the place, but you can't choose both." Our planning for this trip involved a LOT of both! In fact, at times we had just days to re-provision, repair, and rest before setting off on the next leg. So it is not without some sense of awe that we have arrived to Oslo, Norway on the EXACT date we planned.

We arrived at the top of Oslofjord at 12:15pm (local time) on Sunday, August 15, 2010. We had a beer at the little restaurant on Hovedoya Island across from downtown before moving over to Dronningen Marina (and the Royal Norwegian Sailing Club) for the night.

The trip up to Oslo from Kristiansand was gorgeous. The southeast coast of Norway is packed with tiny rocky islands (sometimes just a few meters across), many of which have quaint summer cabins. We wound our way through narrow (as little as a meter on each side) and shallow (as little as 1.5 feet below the keel) paths through these islands. We stayed at the Arendal Sailing Club the first night out of Kristiansand. They provided a tie-up alongside their dock, fresh coffee, and showers all for free. And one of their members gave us detailed instructions on routes and anchorages up to the entrance of Oslofjord. It was an incredibly warm and generous welcome to Arendal!

The next day we sailed to a Norwegian Heritage Village of Lyngor, where we met Hanne and Leif on their sailboat. They suggested we join them in a great anchorage a few hours away. So we followed them to a small cove through a narrows that you'd never attempt if you were just looking at the chart. It was magic! Hanne, Leif, Karl, and I swam -- yes, swam! -- in the cove. The water was surprisingly not cold (I wouldn't say it was exactly warm) at about 70F/20C. Hanne and Leif shared some aquavit and strawberries (Norwegian liquor) and we shared some coffee and brownies. They even liked our Starbucks instant coffee, or maybe they were just being polite? :-) They were a lot of fun, and we will be seeing them again tomorrow for the weekly sailboat racing in Oslo.

So, the trip up to Oslo was a wonderful welcome into the new life we will be having here.

We'll be tallying up total distances, days sailed, etc. and posting them soon!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sophia Has Arrived in Norway!!

It has been a LONG time coming...Sophia has arrived in Norway. She tied up in Kristiansand on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, about four and a half months after setting off from La Paz, Mexico. We still need to tally up the total miles sailed and all the stats, but we roughly figured it has been 8,500 miles.

We still have 120 miles to go to get to Oslo. We will take the next few days to do so and enjoy the beautiful coastline.

Thanks to everyone who has rooted for us, encouraged us, and supported us on this grand adventure!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Secreting Off to Oslo

The guys dropped me (Rachel) in Oban, Scotland yesterday, from where I took a train to Glasgow overnighted and am now off to Aberbeen on the east coast of Scotland. Again by train. Then it's immediately off to Oslo. I'll be there tonight.

Sophia's new gear box meant having to creatively get to Oslo for my Fulbright Orientation meetings on the 5th and 6th. I'm sorry to miss the Caledonian Canal. But our plan is for me to meet them in Kristiansand at the south tip of Norway after they cross the North Sea. Then we'll head up to Oslo together.

Our adventure story is nearing it's end...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

She's Got Irish Legs Now

Our Sophia done tuckered herself out after all this travel about. We had planned to leave Northern Ireland several days ago, but discovered a "wee" leaking transmission. ("Wee" is the preferred term in the Wee Northern Ireland.) The prognosis was not good and we had to have Sophia's transmission replaced. You can see some photos of the new gear box in the "Ireland" photos on the right. We just finished up the job today, so we'll be off in the middle of night. Not slipping out of moorage payment mind you, just catching a favorable tide.

Alas the delay has put a monkey-wrench into our schedule and I (Rachel) will have to miss the Caledonian Canal and instead travel by train to Aberdeen to make my flight to Norway. The guys will carry on without me, though I'm not sure how well they'll fare now with the Loch Ness monster ;-)

Daniel will leave us in Inverness and travel to London and then Quebec. Karl, Phil, and Jeffrey will make the crossing of the North Sea. I plan to rejoin them in Kristiansand at the south tip of Norway to do the final push into Oslo.

So start looking for us again on the SPOT!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Heading to the Highlands

We are leaving for Scotland and the Caledonian Canal. If we have all our bits together we'll head out at nightfall to catch the favorable current north, and if not we'll have to wait until tomorrow midday. In either case we're on schedule.

Our time in Ireland has been wonderful and the wedding was simply lovely. We're still marveling that we made it in time! In fact, Karl was able to just make it to the wedding too after sailing to Belfast (I had gone ahead by train). We made wonderful new friends here and look forward to visiting again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sophia Says "Hello, Ireland!"

Leg 6: Azores to Ireland
Departing: Lajes, Flores, The Azores
Arriving: Crosshaven, Cork Harbour, Ireland
Distance: 1206 nautical miles
Dates: 11 July 2010 – 21 July 2010
# of Days: 9.5 days
Crew: Rachel, Karl, Phil, Jeffrey, and Daniel

She Just Needed to Stretch Her Legs...
We're beginning to think Sophia only needed a little stretching of her legs to show us how fast she can really be. We had another great and faster-than-expected crossing from Flores in the Azores to Cork, Ireland. 1206 miles (rhumb line) in 9.5 days. We plan on 100 miles per day and then added a few days more for this leg for storms.

Our Thanks, Once Again, to Poseidon
Alas the weather was once again with us. Each leg we start out with a toast to the God of the Sea, Poseidon, and give him a couple of drams of our finest. He seems to like expensive Bermudan Rum. One doesn't get thrifty with the Sea God. We had a series of fronts pass over that kept the wind consistent (usually somewhere between 15 and 25 knots), but no real storms to speak of. We feel quite fortunate as we heard several boats had difficult crossing a week prior because a steady march of storms. We watched the weather faxes we receive on our SSB radio from Boston and Northwood, UK like hawks, but the lows either went north of us or never developed into storms. That said, the fronts did bring wind, rain, and colder weather. I think it is safe to say that Karl has taken his last ocean shower on this leg (where he dumps a bucket of sea water over himself). And he finally started wearing socks and shoes!

The Ocean Comes Alive
This leg was marked too by consistent visits from the local sea life! We saw many Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, a Cachalot (or Sperm) Whale, and several Pilot Whales. We even had 2 dolphins right alongside Sophia (so close their exuberant splashes got the cockpit all wet!) as we approached the entrance to Cork Harbour early this morning.

A Turn Around Fastnet
We went by Fastnet Rock yesterday evening on the south end of Ireland. This rock is famous for the Fastnet Race and, in particular, the tragic race in 1979 when several boat and lives were lost (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_Fastnet_race). On this eve it was calm with a gentle rolling swell crashing on the rock. It is an impressive site nonetheless! And it marked our successful crossing of the Atlantic. It is still boggling to think about how far we have come.

Arrival in Crosshaven, Cork Harbour
From Fastnet Rock we still had about 60 miles to go to tuck into the safety of Cork Harbour, so we pushed onward following the coastline all night. At dawn we came to the entrance of the Harbour as the sun rose alighting the green hills of Ireland. So here I sit now, in an Irish Pub (Cronnin's) in the village of Crosshaven, having just finished a pint of Murphy's. We will push off north into the Irish Sea to Belfast. I will head out early (by land) in order to make it to Naomi and David's wedding at Belfast Castle on the 25th, and Sophia and crew will pick me up there. It's hard to believe that we made it here on time for me to make the wedding! There's a sailor's saying that you can choose the place or you can choose the time, but you can't choose both...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We have arrived in the Azores!

We had another fast crossing, taking 15 days to cross over 1800 miles from Bermuda to the Azores. We are on Flores Island. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Dramatic cliffs rising 1000 feet from the ocean, lush green rolling hills atop the cliffs, red-tile roofed houses nestled in little villages. We arrived yesterday (July 5, 2010) and already remiss to leave. The food is amazing! Fresh from the island, complete with cheeses, wine, and fresh bread.

We will re-provision here and await meeting up with Jeffrey who flew into another island in the Azores yesterday. In fact, Jeffrey, if you're reading this, email me :-)

The crossing was very enjoyable. Perfect winds, gentle seas, and sunny days. We saw many dolphins, Cachalot (or Sperm) Whales, turtles, and many other residents of the sea. We also came across a Pheonecian replica gaff-rigged boat that was also on their way to the Azores from the Ascension Islands. When we saw them they had been at sea for 72 days!

Photos to come (forgot my cord on the boat).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Leg 2: Panama Canal
Departing: Panama City, Panama
Arriving: Colón, Panama
Distance: 50 nautical miles
Dates: 17 April 2010 – 18 May 2010
# of Days: 2 days
Crew: Rachel, Karl, Phil, Daniel, and Jeffrey

To Transit or Not To Transit?—That is the Question
Isn’t it always the case that once you know how a process works, it appears that the whole process is obvious and even, dare I say, easy? This was certainly the case with the Panama Canal. The accounts we had read of transiting the canal made the endeavor seem dubious and at times dangerous. Boats crushed against the rough side walls of the lock’s chambers. Handlines ripping cleats clean out of the decks. Solar panels being shattered by the lead-filled monkey fist knots used by the canal line handlers. Boats spinning out of control in tights chambers with the force of the freighter’s propwash. Careless travel advisors who misguide the uninitiated. Karl wondered if we would be better off tackling The Horn than to risk the perils of the canal. To add to this, the process for arranging canal transit was a complete mystery. Our internet searches were essentially fruitless, other than indicating that most cruisers decide to hire an agent to assist with the process whereas comparatively few attempt the process on their own. But be warned that to do it on your own may mean increased risks of mugging! Villains may be lurking near canal offices to snag wads of cash from your clutches. The Horn was sounding all the more tempting despite it’s notoriety of sailboats being dismasted or pitchpoled in the raging winds and seas. Yet, a plan in place has its own inertia, and we charged forward despite our misgivings.

It is no secret that both Karl and I are rather frugal. We don’t spend much money on fashionable clothes (at least not new fashionable clothes) and are more “do it yourself” types – well, both for the savings and for knowledge and experience gained from the DIY approach. So it took some doing for us to decide to hire an agent to arrange for our canal transit. Ultimately, we appealed to our desire to help others in need; that is, we saw it as our contribution to supporting the financial well being of some Panamanian families. At the very least our agent expedited the process, although even then we had to wait a week before we were able to start our transit. The process is, hmm, you might say, thorough, but certainly not efficient. Here’s a brief overview: Once the process is started you have to schedule the Admeasurer to come measure your boat (the cost of transit is based on length of vessel). The Admeasurer only measures from 8am-2pm. Even if your appointed time is 9am (as our was), the Admeasurer may not come for a few hours depending on unknown factors. Once the vessel has been measured, these documents must be taken to the bank to pay the canal transit fees. The bank accepts payment until 1:30pm. Once you’ve paid the fee you can then call the Scheduler to arrange your transit day, but only after 6pm on the day you paid the fee. So while it is theoretically possible to complete these steps in one day, in practice it is more on the order of 3-4 days, and this is just to get to the point of getting on the schedule. We also learned that yachts (although we still guffaw at that title for our boat) all transit at the same time, and at the end of the north- or south-bound transits for that day.

In the end, we had arrived in Panama City on May 4th and were scheduled to start our two-day transit on May 17th. In the interim we worked on projects, provisioned, and enjoyed a little of Panama.

Transiting the Canal
Our transit advisor joined us on Monday morning around 9am. We were transiting with 3 powerboats. We would raft up next to one of the powerboats. The first set of locks was the Miraflores Locks which has two chambers, or two steps up to Miraflores Lake. Each step up was approximately 30 feet. We then crossed Miraflores Lake to the Pedro Miguel Locks for the 3rd and final step up to the elevation of Lake Gatun. Once through Pedro Miguel (and another 30-some feet) we entered the 9-mile long “Cut” through the Continental Divide. Here there is only enough room for ships to transit in one direction or the other (either northbound to the Atlantic or southbound to the Pacific). While the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) has widened the cut to accommodate two ships width, the Pilots have so far refused to pilot ships in both directions through the cut believing it too risky to have ships passing in both directions through the narrow cut. The PCA, in response, is in the process of carving down more of the hillsides for greater visibility in the Cut. The narrows then open into Miraflores Lake, a once broad valley where the Gatun River flowed north to the Atlantic.

Sailing Through a Forest Canopy
The lake is dotted with small tree-covered islets, what once were hilltops where one might look far in the distance to glimpse the sparkling blue ocean waters. Once the dam was completed it took a full seven years to fill the lake to operable height. The entities that could leave did. The local people were required to moved to new villages erected by the U.S. government. The animals shifted with the rising waters to outlying areas. But the trees could not flee. They stood where they were as the waters breach their roots and made a steady climb up their trunks to their limbs and leaves. Today they still stand like ghosts beneath the surface of the water. Now ships pass above their boughs as birds had done in centuries past. I was reminded of the story “The Wreck of the Zephyr,” in which a young boy learns to sail the winds so well that he can rise above the water through the forest canopy. Yet the winds changed over the land and would not carry the boy and his boat over the treetops. Today only the wreck of his boat can be seen high above the water in the trees.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

We made it to Bermuda

Arrived yesterday (June 7th) at 6:00am. Beautiful sail. Record setting speed (for Sophia) of 138 miles in 24 hours. Yowza, she was smokin'! More details and photos to follow...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Transiting the Panama Canal

We are scheduled to transit the canal on Monday and Tuesday (May 17-18th). We will leave between 6:30am and 7:30am (Central Standard Time) from the Balboa Yacht Club and will get to the first set of locks (Miraflores Locks) in about 20 minutes. You can watch us on the Panama Canal webcam for the Miraflores Locks (http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html):

We will pass through a second set of locks before entering the lake where we'll stayover for the night. We will then complete our transit on Tuesday passing through the Gatun Locks (webcam again) and into the Caribbean! Our plan is then to stay at the Shelter Bay Marina on Tuesday night, return our extra lines and tires (fenders), and be on our way up the Windward Passage to Providenciales (Provo), Turks & Caicos.

You can track us via the SPOT link ("Follow our bread crumb trail") on the upper right hand corner of the blog.

Until then...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ixtapa, Mexico to Panama City, Panama

Leg: Central America Pacific Coast
Departing: Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Arriving: Panama City, Panama
Distance: 1760 nautical miles
Dates: 12 April 2010 – 5 May 2010
# of Days: 23
Crew: Rachel, Karl, Phil

Meeting Sophia
Karl and I arrived in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo on April 7th and were met at the airport by Phil, Andreas, and Alison (on her way back to Seattle after a week in Mexico). We were anxious to meet Sophia, having only seen her in photographs. It was a bit like an arranged marriage. Karl’s father, Phil, had gone to Mexico to inspect Sophia and do a sea trial, and we moved forward with her purchase without Karl and I ever having seen her in person. Now we were about to meet her for the first time, hoping that a father’s assessment and assurance would match our hopes.

In the days that followed we began to learn about Sophia—crawling in her nooks and crannies, pulling away her handsome exterior to see what lay beneath. One becomes best acquainted with a boat when making repairs, and it seemed there would be plenty of opportunity for us to know Sophia intimately. She has a sturdiness to her that inspires confidence on the sea. Yet some systems were dubious; products of a lack of understanding or initiative, or maybe both. We focused on the projects that were high priority in terms of safety and seaworthiness, and meticulously noted other necessary repairs, however big or small, on a notepad we titled, “Sophia: The Fix It List.” There would be opportunity for some repairs while were we underway and others could wait until we reached another port or received necessary parts.

We left Ixtapa in the afternoon of April 12th. Sophia was laden with fuel, water, and provisions for a planned three-week passage to Panama City. Our route would take us southeast about 250 miles off shore as the coast of Central America bends to the east. We hoped to stop over at Cocos Island (Isla de Coco), a small island about 300 miles from the coast of its parent nation Costa Rica. However, wind and weather would be our guides, ultimately determining whether we would stop at Cocos Island. There were many days and miles to go before we would reach Cocos Island (1100 nm away), and a lot can happen in that time.

Tehuanapecker Winds—or Pacific Molasses
Our first decision was how to traverse Tehuanapec Bay. Known for its high winds and rough seas, this bay is the bain of many cruisers heading south from Mexico. Winds from the Gulf of Mexico pass through a narrow slot in the mountains to the Pacific. The winds are intensified as they squeeze through and blast across Tehuanapec Bay at 40 knots creating a large swell that can carry hundreds of miles off shore. These winds are referred to as the “Tehuanapeckers.” One option is to take the longer route staying close to shore with the hope that the waves are less with a shorter fetch from shore. The other option is to pass well offshore where the high winds do not penetrate. We opted for the latter option as the forecast indicated it was unlikely that high winds would blow from the Gulf of Mexico, therefore the large swell would not develop. We were right. There were no Tehuanapeckers while we crossed the few hundred miles of the large open bay. In fact, there was no wind. Never have we seen such glassy calm water on the Pacific Ocean. Stars reflected in the placid ocean. We witnessed the slow migration of millions of jellyfish as the light penetrated deep into the tranquil blue depths. Turtles would lazily pass in the current, raising their heads to peer yawningly at us. Dolphins would dash towards us from great distances, curious about our presence in an otherwise “empty” ocean. Of course it was not empty of life, but empty of other vessels. We saw the lights of only two ships passing far on the horizon. With each little zephyr we would raise the sails and drift more than sail along. After we had enough bobbing around, we would start the engine for a few hours to make some progress. But it felt slow; time moved like molasses in the warp of Tehuanapec.

Under the sweltering sun we sat sweating. With little to no wind to cool us, we would dump buckets of salt water over us. The water was only slightly cooler than the air temperature. One evening Karl cajoled me into jumping off the boat into the water. The water was deep—6,000 meters deep—and this was quite unsettling when I thought of swimming. Eventually I slowly lowered myself over the side with a snorkeling mask on and looked down. Holy cow! The sunrays penetrated forever but there was nothing else. I scrambled back onto the boat, my heart racing. From then on I decided that the bucket would do for cooling off.

One afternoon sitting in the cockpit I caught a flash of white on the horizon. I casually remarked, “Huh, it sort of looks like a boat in the distance.” I didn’t really believe my own eyes since we hadn’t seen other yachts. As we got closer it appeared to be an overturned boat. Strange 300 miles off shore. Our first thought was that the boat was a diversion set up by pirates. We kept a close eye in all directions for an approaching vessel. As we got closer we could make out the white hull of a 25 foot powerboat with several Boobies sitting on top (or bottom). We cautiously motored closer looking for lines, debris, or dead bodies. Fortunately we did not see any of these things. Instead we saw thousands of fish! We quickly cast our lure and fish on in seconds. We released a few because they were too small, but kept one white fish. Then I hooked a BIG ONE slowly reeled it in to find that it was a shark! It calmly came alongside the boat, but when Karl tried to remove the hook (and not lose his fingers), the shark thrashed around severing the line with the lure still in its mouth.

Under the Skirts of Squalls
The winds finally became more consistent and we could reliably sail for a good part of the day. Not fast, but forward motion. We found that if we skirted squalls, we could boomerang on the higher winds on their edges. If we did it right, we would miss the rain that dampened the wind and us. The squalls also brought lightning, which is an obvious danger on a sailboat with an aluminum mast standing 55 feet high. We made every attempt to avoid these squalls, often steering way off course to stay out of their paths.

Alas, we were not always successful in our attempts and more than once had to prepare as best we could for a potential strike. We stowed our computers (all 4!) in the oven and tried to stay away from the shrouds. One night was particularly challenging. During Karl’s watch (midnight to 3am), a large storm came over with a lot of lightning and high winds. I awoke to flashes of lightning around 2am and asked if he was doing all right. When he said, “I’m not sure yet,” I knew that things were serious. For another hour we were screaming along with reduced sails with flashes of lightning all around us. Fortunately we weren’t seeing any strikes. Since I am not as brave as Karl, when my watch started at 3am we hove to (which essentially means we parked the boat by backwinding the staysail), and I was able to hunker down in the companionway. I’d venture out every 30 minutes to check on everything. We stayed there (actually lost 2 miles) until about 9am when we decided to start sailing again. While the lightning had stopped the wind was still strong and we were screaming along at 7 knots. Bam! Suddenly we had a strike on the fishing pole. A fish was on! Over the course of the next 10 minutes we reeled in 4 decent sized (5 lbs) tuna (we think Albacore). We were very grateful as we were down to pasta, rice, and marinara sauce.

Land Ho! Arrival at Isla de Cocos
This same day brought our first sighting of land in two weeks. We made out the rise of Isla de Coco (Cocos Island) about 8 miles off. Our charts of Cocos Island were quite poor—it was just a circle with no specificity about the coastline, obstructions, or possible bays for anchoring. We did have a waypoint which we hoped indicated a bay good for anchoring. However, when we entered this waypoint on the electronic chart, it appeared about 2.5 miles before the island. We approached cautiously only having our eyes and the depth sounder to warn us of submerged rocks. It turned out that our chart was off in the location of Cocos Island by 2.5 miles, meaning that the waypoint we had was correct and it did in fact mark a safe harbor.

We were met by a Cocos Island Reserve park ranger, who showed us to a mooring bouy (no anchoring on Cocos Island). He looked like Che Gueverra with a beard and camo hat. He asked if we spoke Spanish? Karl said, “Un pequito.” To which he replied (in Spanish), “I don’t speak Spanish very much either.” Che with a sense of humor ☺ We soon learned there was a fee for entry into the reserve, for both us and the boat, on the order of about $225 payable in U.S. dollars. Hay problema! We had only $18 in U.S. money not expecting that we’d need money until we arrived in Panama. Moreover, we had just come from Mexico where we could only get Mexican Pesos. The ranger shook his head and said, “Big problema.” He granted we could stay under “Emergency conditions” because there was a “big storm in the Ocean of the Pacific.” However, we would have limited access to the island, only able to go ashore in the area of the Ranger’s house and we could dive or snorkel unless it was immediately around the boat to “clean the bottom” (wink, wink). Oh, but be careful of the Tiger Sharks (no wink, wink).

Still it was lovely to be a Cocos Island. The bay was gorgeous with caves on one side and waterfalls on the other. We were able to walk on land, although some swaying occurred as our sea legs adjusted to stable ground. And we were able to rinse off in fresh water from the river. Magnifique! After two nights at Cocos Island we decided to carry on to Panama City, still 500+ miles away. But we will return to Cocos Island next time with some cash.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In Panama City!

We arrived in Panama City yesterday afternoon! It has been an excellent journey so far. Not always easy, never boring, and often awe inspiring. I will be loading photos soon and writing up a summary of our trip, but my battery is low at the moment. And it's a lovely sunset coming on so better to go watch that :-) We will be in Panama City for several days, hoping to transit the canal early to middle of next week. We hope to have our canal transit arrangements finalized tomorrow.

More soon...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Off to Panama!

We are heading off to Panama City today! It's been a busy few days in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Mexico getting the boat ready for the first big leg. It's about 1600 miles from here to Panama City. We are thinking of going closer to shore until we get to Bahia de Tehuanapec so that we can time our crossing of the bay with gentle winds. The forecast for this week is looking ideal to make this crossing without delay. Time allowing, we want to stop at Cocos Island famed from Jurassic Park and home to many species of sharks. We brought our dive gear! We plan to arrive in Panama City around May 2 or 3rd, where Dan and Jeff will meet us to transit the canal.

Don't forget that you can keep an eye on us via the SPOT tracking link at the upper right hand corner of the blog.

See you all in Panama!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Frenchy Dan's Trip Log

We are VERY fortunate to have our French Canadian friend Dan along for most of the trip. In fact he's only going to be off the boat for the section from Puerto Vallerta, Mexico to Panama City so that he can finish up his part of the Boeing 747-800 flight testing. But, I digress.

Dan has put together a trip log using his SPOT satellite messenger device. The previous post give a link for the real-time tracking of our progress. At the end of each segment, Dan can then save the log, along with his hilarious commentary of the trip (where I am featured as a princess!). Here's a link to that log (which includes some really cool stats of the trip):


And a preview of our trip log so far...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Our Bread Crumb Trail

For those of you interested in tracking our progress, you can do so thanks to Dan's SPOT satellite messenger.

You can view our bread crumb trail in real time giving the most recent data points every 10-20 minutes (so long as we remember to turn it on): http://www.spotadventures.com/user/profile?user_id=53229

A Hearty Welcome to Sophia

Sophia is our Hans Christian 38 cutter entrusted with the task of carrying us to Norway from the Pacific Coast of Mexico. As Phil remarked, "She is a woman of substance," as we know all the good ones are. Sophia is wisdom. She is mother of all gods. She is a vessel with most precious cargo.

This blog will chronicle our adventure down the coast of Central America, across the Caribbean, across the Atlantic, and finally across the North Sea to safe harbor in Oslo.

And the adventure has already begun! Phil, Andreas, and Dan sailed Sophia from La Paz, Mexico (east coast of the Baja Penisula) to Mazatlan, then Puerto Vallerta, and now to Manzanillo (where a very special surprise awaits -- shhhhh!). Dan has returned to Seattle for the moment to finish up his work and will rejoin Sophia in Panama (as will Karl's Uncle Jeff). Karl and I (Rachel) will join Sophia and her intrepid crew, Phil and Andreas, in Zihuatanejo on April 7th.

Adventure abounds! As our friend Brad is wont to say, "Adventure is our bread, excitement is our butter, and from the wavering edge of risk the sweet honey of life drips, drips, drips."

There will be many stories to tell. I hear the whispers now of an adventure story about to unfold...