Saturday, February 23, 2013

The equator!

By Nicole

It was Day 6 of our nearly 1,000-mile passage from Panama to the Galapagos. A few days prior, Aaron managed to jury-rig our broken autopilot, so we were once again blissfully sailing hands-free. The sun was shining, the seas were calm and the equator was steadily approaching. It was time to perform the checklist:

Glittery tassel headbands? Check.
Funky Elton John-style sunglasses? Check.
Champagne and cake? Check and check.

Now crossing the equator and graduating from a pollywog to a shellback is no simple feat. You can’t just sail across like it’s no big deal. You’ve got to dress for the occasion and have a party!

Getting closer … I’m so excited!

GOPR1339Woohoo! We’re shellbacks!

GOPR1342Yep, that’s right. 0°00.000’

A little Southern Hemisphere dance party

What’s a party without Champagne and homemade chocolate cake? We raised a toast to our good buddies Poseidon and Neptune for safe passage in the Southern Hemisphere. They love Champagne.

After 7 days at sea – our longest passage so far – we arrived in the beautiful Galapagos Islands this morning! The check-in process was painless, our friends on Ninita and Orkestern just pulled in and we can’t wait to get to exploring this awesome place (sea lions are everywhere!). Welcome to Ecuador.

Friday, February 15, 2013

On the launch pad

By Nicole

So as it turns out, prepping for an ocean passage and provisioning for, oh, the next 6–9 months, is a lot of work! We had visions of cruising the rivers of the ultra-remote Darien region and of taking a road trip to the Caribbean before we set off for the Galapagos. But that darn project list was nagging at us, so instead of playing, we buckled down and got to work getting the boat ready for her next big adventure.

Vying for the top spot on our project list (along with “install watermaker”), was to locate, purchase and install two new 100-watt solar panels. Our solar capacity wasn’t quite sufficient to keep up with the fridge and laptops, and a few nights a week, you could hear our generator humming in the cockpit. But those days are over – now we’re rocking 400 watts of POWER! Between getting the panels ordered and delivered, having the support structure fabricated at an aluminum shop, finding the right electrical components, sourcing stainless steel tubing, running all the wires and hooking up a new solar controller (the old one was damaged in the lightning strike), it ended up being quite the project. But as you can see, Aaron did an awesome job. POW-POW!

P2110509Our two new solar panels make us look a bit like a satellite.

While Aaron was busy wiring up the solar panels and watermaker, I managed to bring thousands of pounds of provisions aboard (I swear) and squirrel it away in every available nook and cranny. With the sheer volume of pasta we bought, I’m fairly certain we can feed a small nation. Hope they like bowtie …

P2060498P2060493Storing food for the apocalypse. Or a trip to the South Pacific. (And this is just one of our holds!)

I spent hours planning and making lists (and lists of my lists) about what to buy, and I’m sure I overdid it on some things (and probably skimped on others). But heaven forbid we run out of maple syrup, right? As I was hefting bags bulging with coffee and tomato sauce into the dinghy the other day, I met a guy on the dock who gave me this piece of advice about provisioning for the Pacific: “Go back to the boat and put all these groceries away,” he said. “If you still have room left, go buy more stuff! When I see you in Tonga, you’ll thank me.” Oh my.

So after 75 trips to various grocery stores, hardware stores, marine chandleries and the aluminum fabrication shop, Bella Star is as ready (and as full) as she’ll ever be. It was a hectic, stressful and expensive month spent rushing from one errand to the next, working on one project after the other. And yes, the yellow legal pad still has a list of “to-do” items on it. Judging from the way I feel right now though – peaceful, eager, happy – I know the time is right to move on.

Although saying goodbye to Panama forces us to bid farewell to our long-time friends and buddy boat, Knee Deep. They’ve been one of the constants in our cruising life, and we’re going to miss them tremendously. Have a blast in the Caribbean and the East Coast, Doolittles! And don’t forget about our grand California reunion.

P2100502Hasta luego, Knee Deep! Thanks for the laughs and memories (and all that Clos and Red Dog! Woof-woof!)

So here we sit, at anchor in the Las Perlas Islands, checking the weather multiple times per day. As Aaron likes to say, “We’re on the launch pad.” The Galapagos Islands beckon, and with Bella Star ready and loaded, all we wait for now is the wind … and it looks like tomorrow is the day! Onward to Ecuador!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Perlas Islands

By Aaron

We haven’t had a chance to post for a while since we’ve been so busy getting the boat ready to head to the Galapagos and South Pacific.  It has been a pretty frustrating experience accomplishing this in Panama City, but we’ve persevered and are back out in the Perlas Islands now, waiting for good wind to sail to the Galapagos.  So now that we’re back on island time, I had some time to write this post about our first trip out to the Perlas.

After an awesome 6 hour sail, Isla Contadora was the first stop with the largest town where a few restaurants and tiendas can be found ashore. 

The anchorage off Isla Contadora on the south side is well protected and has a nice beach.

The anchorage is right on the approach for a little airport with a few flights a day, and the planes practically hit VHF antennas on the way in.


On the beach is Restaurante Romantico.  A cute little place that we couldn’t resist after having not eaten out for quite some time.  Before going we checked out reviews, one at stating that “It is likely that there will be ten to twenty yachts anchored nearby during these times.  And they do come ashore adding even more character ,and characters, to your visit.”

Transportation on Isla Contadora is primarily by golf cart. 

We wandered the narrow streets at random and eventually made our way over to the north side of the island.  For whatever reason, the north side is abandoned and would make for a great post-apocalyptic vacation destination for ghosts.


The buildings on the north side may still be there, but the tourists are all gone.

There’s even an abandoned ferry on the beach.  Legend is it showed up one day loaded with passengers and then went up on the beach in a horrible storm.  With the sole means of transportation broken down on the beach, and with no way to escape or resupply the hotels with food, the tourists soon began to live a nightmare version of Gilligan’s Island.  As the coconuts and berries dwindled, the tourists soon turned on themselves.  Soon there was only one cannibal tourist left, and the locals say that he still roams the beach at night looking for new guests to eat.  The other legend has it that they took a different ferry back or flew out from the airport. 

Nobody seems to want the ferry, so I took possession and have it listed for sale on Yachtworld.  Start your cruise in the Perlas Islands!  Just needs some TLC. 

Back on the south side of the island, we got together with the crew of Knee Deep and being that it’s the middle of winter we got to talking about snowmen.  The idea was hatched to build one out of sand.  I scoffed at the idea between sips of beer and said it couldn’t be done.  But the Doolittle dudes got to work.

The finished snowman, complete with scarf and hat, ready to celebrate endless sunny days and fun at the beach.

But it was not to be.  Tropical sand is a fickle medium, and apparently has trouble maintaining structural integrity when molded into snowmen.  After a few brief moments of glory, it toppled over.  It was seriously injured, with both the top and bottom ball showing major wounds and silica hemorrhaging. 

We did all we could to save him, and with the tide quickly rising we didn’t want the middle ball to suffer in the surf.  In the end, Ben did the humane thing. 

Ready for some more remote anchorages, we headed off to Espiritu Santo and Isla Canas.

The anchorage at Espiritu Santo.  The area very much reminded us of Vancouver Island with its rocky shores.  Fewer bears here though!


So at this point it was another three islands conquered.


DSC_4855Sometimes we like to sit and enjoy little hole-in-the-wall places.

Coconuts.  Either shuck ‘em or chuck ‘em.

Nicole, fearlessly crossing the chasm of death.


Isla San Jose is the second largest island in the Perlas.  It’s privately owned, and looks like a perfect place for a James Bond nemesis to setup shop.




Nicole thought the black sand accented her toenails very nicely, and I agree.

My toenails however do not look good painted, but this is what happens when to you when you’re minding your own business, taking a nap in the cockpit.  But I’ve got an idea for revenge.  Just need to catch a sea snake first.