070404; 1719 UTC,
Puerto Lucia Yacht Club, La Libertad, Ecuador
S 02 degrees 12.91' / W 080 degrees 55.24’
We finally tore ourselves away from Isla Coiba in Panamá and reluctantly pointed Carina's bow south with a final destination southeast towards La Libertad, Ecuador, 600 miles away. Cognizant of the northeasterly setting and contrary currents we experienced during last year's passage, we decided to stay as far west as we could and follow a longitude between 82 and 83 degrees before finally heading towards our destination.
In an otherwise empty Pacific, there were two obstacles we wanted to avoid: The almost unpronounceable Rivadeneyra Shoal and, 180 miles almost due east, Isla Malpelo (literally bad hair island). The latter is a Columbian island of which we have heard conflicting reports. Some say the Columbian Coast Guard discourages boats from stopping and detains and hassles any cruiser who does. Others say the Columbian Coast Guard welcomes cruisers. We decided not to take a chance and split the distance between the island and shoal.
What about the shoal you ask? Well, when you review the small scale chart we have that spans a very large distance encompassing the latitudes of 9 degrees NORTH to 5 degrees SOUTH, Rivadeneyra Shoal, with a depth of roughly 10 feet, shows up as a tiny blip Since Carina draws less than six feet, why would we be concerned about this shoal since, on the face of it, there seems little chance of running aground? Two reasons: first, a shoal in deep water (and this area has very deep water) attracts fish which attract fishermen which makes navigation more tense, especially at night. Second, the Panamá and Humboldt currents approach from the northeast and southwest respectively (possibly at over 2 knots) and, when they collide with this shallow water, has got to kick up some wicked, short and steep waves. But, back to Rivadeneyra Shoal; pretend you are two miles due north of Rivadeneyra Shoal and all the ocean's water has been drained away leaving you standing on what once was the ocean floor. When you look north, you see undulating hills of 500 to 1,000 feet stretching far into the distance. Turn now to the south and you are astounded to see a single, snaggle-toothed mountain directly in front of you. You tilt your head up, up, and higher still, straining to see the summit 11,295 feet (over two miles!) high. The tip of that summit is Rivadeneyra Shoal! This shoal (underwater mountain) as well as Isla Malpelo were caused by the same volcanic activity that formed the Galapagos Islands.
Now, please put the ocean water back where it belongs and we'll get back to our trip. We arrived at the entrance to the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club, La Libertad in Bahía Santa Elena, Ecuador on Wednesday March 28, 2007 after motoring in glassy seas for the last 30 hours of our passage. Our trip lasted 244 hours and we covered about 772 miles, which gives us a fairly dismal average of 3.2 knots of speed. Though slow and characterized by light and variable winds, the subdued sailing pace was easy on Carina and her crew. The passage also taught us patience and a few tricks to make Carina move to weather in very light air. Most days we enjoyed at least some sailable wind, though rarely were we blessed with wind for the full 24 hours. We also battled currents, including a branch of the Panamá Current that during one part of our trip drew us west at over 2 knots. One day, as the sun set and the afternoon SW breezes were rapidly dying, the seas continued to be short, choppy and confused. Carina refused her helm and we were hobby-horsing backwards with the current at 2.5 knots. What a bizarre feeling that was! Luckily. within a few hours, the seas laid down and a light SE breeze picked up and we were able to point the bow forward and move towards Ecuador once again.
The biggest issue we had during the passage was with small fishing boats. These were thankfully rare since we were so far offshore but when we encountered them they were only sporadically lit, returned poor radar signals and posed a hazard to navigation, particularly after the moon set on the darkest of nights. On one particularly dark night while we were able to sail along briskly in 12 knots of wind, we nearly collided with a small fishing boat. That boat was only occasionally showing a single white light which we had observed on and off as we approached.. Forget standard navigation lights or even lights that are used continuously, these boats just don't employ them. With this particular boat we couldn't judge its distance from us or if it was moving, and when a radar return began finally to appear on our screen and we were able to determine its exact position, we had to quickly altered our course to miss him by less than a eighth of a mile! This close encounter certainly heightened our consciousness and made night watches a wee bit more stressful. We had little issue with deep draft vessels which are nearly always appropriately lit and whose movements are more predictable.
Since arriving and while at anchor, we were visited by government representatives of the Port Captain and Aduana (customs) who took our Panamanian zarpe, copies of boat documents and passports and welcomed us to Ecuador, indicating we were now free to go ashore to complete our check-in. A vacation day for the travelift driver delayed us further and we waited on the boat at anchor nearly two days before being pulled and put into the boatyard to begin our refit. Thinking that we couldn't finish our check-in on a weekend (and especially on the first weekend of Semana Santa - holy week), we began work on Carina. Late Saturday evening, tired and sore, we were walking to the showers here at Puerto Lucia when we were accosted by the Policia Nacional, who were looking for us particularly since we hadn't yet had our passports stamped. They tried to insist we come to their office immediately. We pointed out to them the lateness of the hour but promised to finish our check in first thing in the morning. Early Sunday morning, we caught a taxi and arrived to find one of same policemen alone in the Migracion office along with his family (wife, child, sister) milling about. Things seemed to go well as we explained the delay in actually getting landed, our confusion over weekend hours, etc., etc. and he began to prepare the stamp for our passports, when he paused and explained (actually a few times because of our poor Spanish and disbelief) that he thought we might pay a little something to ease his burden in explaining to his "jefe" about the delay in the date on our stamps. (This was a specious argument as when you enter Ecuador in Bahía de Caraquez, you must drive to Manta, one and a half hours away by car to get stamped in by Migracion and generally this takes a few days to accomplish.) We finally understood his request and when Philip asked "how much"?, he dropped his eyes and with a flourish of his hand, said "qué usted desea dar" or " what you wish to give". Philip looked at Leslie, raised his eyebrows slightly, leafed through his wallet and finally presented $10. We're not sure if his look denoted satisfaction, disappointment or relief but he took the money and offered his thanks. Honestly, this is the first instance in four years we have been asked for a bit of "baksheesh" from any official in any country, no matter what urban legend might suggest, and it has left us feeling unsettled.
Carina now sits on land propped up on stands high in the air, cockpit to the breakwater and the cool breezes that come off the Pacific ocean in the afternoon. Jake is thrilled to be stopped and the herd of boatyard kitties romping below begging food are keeping him entertained. Now comes the part of sailing that the cruising magazines do not discuss. We need a pretty major overhaul and refurbishing. We will paint Carina top to bottom, strip all the varnish and paint off the brightwork (wood trim, bulwarks and coaming), and then refinish it once again. Our galley and sink need repair as well as our toilet. The list seems unending but we seem to be slowly making progress. Still, we expect to be out of the water for at least two months.
The Santa Elena peninsula is home to beach-boom-town Salinas and working class La Libertad and incorporates the petroleum industry (complete with gas flare), salt drying ponds, and dozens of beachside weekend condominium towers for wealthy Ecuadorians. The landscape is not pretty, as it is dry and sandy and seemingly in disarray, as if continuously under construction. North from here along the coast are smaller beach towns that we hope to visit once we finish our long list of projects and are once again, cruising. Until then, this luxury resort filled with the SUV-driving wealthy of this very poor country, and of course its boatyard, are our temporary homes.
Sus amigos del velero Carina,
Leslie, Philip and el gato supremo, Jake