Cruising Story – 22 Days Solo from Galapagos (Part 1)

Rich and Karen together have cruised their Seawind 1160 all around the world.  We now join them for a particular adventure, of the kind that rarely get enough attention – sailing solo. Aboard his Seawind 1160, Rich made a solo crossing from the famed Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands, and then to the Marquises Islands, solo, in 22 days… Here’s the story of the preparation, maintenance, and how he sails solo. Over to you, Rich…

Setting up

I’m sailing the Pacific single-handed, as Karen is skipping the deep stuff. It turns out that she struggles to get over seasickness, so she is coming along to the nice places where the hops aren’t too long. She did the Med and the Caribbean and will be next in Tahiti. Other than that, it’s going brilliantly. x86 is now set up really well for cruising: Hydrovane (awesome thing!); 30-gallon an hour water maker; Marlec wind generator; Watt&Sea hydrogenerator; new Highfield dingy; Mini B sub-aqua kit; 6hp Suzuki and a Torqueedo; Iridium Go! and the SSB; and dual water separator filters for each engine.  And tons of great kit and spares aboard. In this configuration I’m finding the boat really easy to handle.

03 Apr 2018 00:20:27 – The Pacific Ocean

Tomorrow (3rd April) I am off to the Galapagos. No wind 🙁 However, this was always anticipated hence the ‘diesel work’. There’s a routine dead zone west out of Panama, and I’m headed straight into it. This will be a seven-day motor, unfortunately. At least I’m not in a hurry, so no worries. I have an ‘agent’ paid up in Galapagos, so in theory the arrival should be fairly smooth, hull police aside. The worst thing that can happen is a $5000 fine for having a ‘dodgy bottom’ as you’re ordered to leave immediately. Ha, do your worst, I have plenty of food and water! Ah, food …

So, on the Canal run, we blew the 100-amp mains (inverter) fuse. I deal with this regularly, but didn’t realise the effect on shore power when connected (it doesn’t work). So, as I was going away to Cuba for 60 hours, I had a dilemma – risk flattening the batteries ($1500 to replace) or save power by turning off the freezers and risk a full defrost. This dilemma only happens if you’re away, otherwise you charge the batteries with the engines for an hour a day to keep the batteriess topped off.

The freezers are chest freezers, and hold the cold quite well, but, as was evident on return – not quite well enough … bugger. Karen did quite a lot of work to get the contents sorted – oops! Anyway, the freezers are full again now, and the $250 to do so was a lot less than the cost of ruined batteries. Which were ok, in case you were worried!

Now the Pacific Ocean chapter truly begins. All’s well on x86, cleared to move, stoked to move.

04 Apr 2018 17:27:00 – Ships, Donks, And A Lively Rip

My animal sanctuary destination is bang on the Equator, so if plan goes well, I will be there in six and a half degrees.

Day one out of Panama was a bit dull, almost 24 hours required just to clear the bay and be in the open Pacific. But, as forecast, there was some wind (probably the only real wind of this passage), so I was able to sail quite nicely for two thirds of the day. That’s good for fuel conservation, but alas it will not be enough. In no wind conditions, I can do five 24-hour days on the two inboard fuel tanks – then I need to syphon fuel from the jerry cans (a weighty and laborious task lugging the heavy cans around a moving boat, and balancing them for the transfer), or pump it from the barrels. The barrels would be much easier but, in the Galapagos, if I decide to refuel (likely, as prudent, even though I have more than most would to get me to the Marquesas) I may have to do it via the jerry cans (no marina, just anchored) so need empty cans. So, that little fuel saving won’t be enough to alleviate the ‘lugging and balancing’, but, no worries, that’s sailing or rather ‘motoring’!

So most of the day I did nothing of note. Watched two movies. One I already can’t remember.  The night was mainly just lolling, but there were a few interesting items.

Pro Tip: Guard Zones

I bought an excellent countdown timer for solo sailing. As I was in a fairly well-trafficked area, I set it for 30 mins and then, when it goes off, just one click and the countdown starts again. I check the radar and AIS plotter charts (way better than using your eyes, for sure), and all being good, loll some more. As there is traffic around you don’t really sleep, checking the charts quite often. The clock is just a backup in case you do get overtired. Once in the open Pacific, I’ll set the clock for an hour because the charts have a very important facility – guard zones. Here I tell the AIS plotter to ‘alarm’ if a ship is going to pass within one mile of me (it does this three minutes before the ship is within one mile), and the radar plotter to alarm if a persistently plotted object (cuts out wave reflections) comes within three miles of me. Belt and braces. These facets of the system are wonderful and work perfectly as stated.

Around 16:00 yesterday, I was miles out in the bay (no land in sight), and the radar guard zone alarm went off. The target was so small it was a few minutes before a blip indicated its relative position on the screen. In the meantime, I had stared, confused, all around me, eventually spotting a small fast-moving navy boat (the size of a car), crossing a couple of miles astern of me. No idea what they were up to, but they weren’t interested in me. Even if I did watches like a swimming pool lifeguard, I wouldn’t spot things like that, at least not until they were really close, so these guard zones are excellent.

Things got a little lively at 20:00. I made a stupid move that I’ve done more than once before, more fool me. After dark, you have to take down the screen lights from four devices in the cockpit as they become blindingly bright. The autopilot controller has a multifunction press button, acting to release the autopilot or dim the screen. So, the obvious happens, and I’ve done it several times now – doh! By the time I’d got the screen dimmed, I’d clicked off the autopilot, rotated the boat 100 degrees, gybed the boat and backed both sails – doh! The wind was a bit lively, and I was then largely hove to so couldn’t get it to gybe back – doh! It’s such a pain in the backside when that happens – you then have to complete the gybe, unback the sails, get sailing forward, and gybe back. To not have to do that (lots of rope hauling and anti-crash gybe care), I was able to twist the boat around by starting and using both engines, although the sails were so backed, x86 really resisted!

At 04:00, the wind shifted 90 degrees and I was back out doing a gybe for real, but all standard stuff.

The only other thing of interest was a note on the chartplotter of rip tides in a very specific place. There were zero seabed features indicating a reason for this, so it looked like the note on the chart was just general for the area. Nope, I went straight over the top and for about a mile it was quite lively. I’d gone that way because as the bay exits to the open ocean there were several notes of strong tidal rips, so although I did roll over one, it was in order to miss several others. This also positioned me well to miss a large TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) at the head of the bay. These are ship magnets (they have to use these to traverse congested areas), and I saw a dozen big bruisers over the several hours it took to clear the zone completely .

Diet is a bit upside down. Had cornflakes at midnight (watching a super tanker pass half a mile astern of me), and sausage and mash for breakfast!

All’s well on x86, not tired, moving nicely, albeit with a donk.

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