We had a really great run out of Panama, motor sailing south at very low rpm's to escape the convection storms with their thunder and lightening. When we cleared these we turned right for the south Pacific and had several days of really good sailing. We sailed more on this leg then we did during two years in Mexico. The wind was usually from about 220 ranging from 15 to 25 knots, our course was 270 so we were close hauled punching into the wind and waves.
We did a lot of experimenting with sail combinations as the wind speed rose and fell, looking for a nice compromise between speed and comfort. I really would rather be comfortable then fast, but our son Kris was all about speed. I drove him crazy with my old man style of sailing.
Besides trying to satisfy my need for comfort, our wind vane autopilot needed to have the boat's sails adjusted so they were "balanced". The force the main sail develops tries to turn the boat into the wind while the head sail turns the boat away from the wind. If the balance between the two turning forces is equal it is possible to let go of the wheel and the boat will continue to sail straight ahead. This is what the vane needs. It does a great job when all it has to do is make minor corrections. Actually that's all it can do since it can only turn the wheel about half a turn either direction. I did find a way to get the sails balanced, but I must be doing something wrong because I had to depower the main to the point that it contributed very little to moving the boat. We could have dropped it and not lost any speed. I need to talk with some of our friends who own BaBa 40's to see how they did it.
Another thing we experimented with was fishing. Neither Judy nor I fish. We figured that landing and cleaning a fish would be difficult and messy, leaving us with blood stained teak decks. We were right. It is hard to land a large fish. It is messy filleting one, there are blood stains on deck. But having fresh dorado for dinner makes it very worth while. Thanks Kris for showing us how cool fishing is.
One of the cruising notes on the passage between Panama and the Galapagos warns of a small Columbian island, Malpelo Island several hundred miles from the mainland. The note says stay away. Malpelo, a nature preserve and site of a Columbian military base, may not be visited without prior arrangements, Occasional tour groups do go there to swim with it's famous schools of hammerhead sharks. Its like a mini Galapagos island, whose ecosystem evolved in it's own unique way.
The military maintains a 6.6 mile restricted area around the island. And wouldn't you know it, my excellent navigational skills brought us within 6 miles to the south. They knew we were close, we heard them talking about the "barko on the border" but it was a blustery day with choppy seas. Perhaps this discouraged them from sending anyone out to chase us away.
We had one other mini adventure before disaster struck. The day after we snuck past Malpelo, we were buzzed by a civilian helicopter shortly before sunset. About an hour after dark we saw three fast launches come over the horizon heading right at us. This was a bit disconcerting since we were only a few hundred miles off the Columbian border. I had visions of drug runners taking over Grace. About the only thing I could think of was to break into the cruiser check-ins taking place on the Marine Maritime Net at 14300 KHz. and report our situation to the net controller. He took our report and asked what they could do for us. I asked them pass on our position and what was happening to the Coast Guard if we did not call them in an hour with an "all ok". The net controller and a couple old hands that were tuned in decided to give the Coast Guard a heads up right away pending our call in an hour.
Well, thank Goodness, nothing happened. The launches altered course, each one heading in a different direction, then a few minutes later a large vessel came over the horizon from the same direction the launches had come. It passed by about 5 miles away before disappearing below the horizon again to our rear. We started speculating about what we had seen and reached a tentative conclusion that the big boat was a fish processor, the launches were out chasing fish, and the helicopter was their fish spotter. An hour later I was back on 14300 giving them the all ok message. It was nice to have someone out there to call and know they would spread the alert. The Coast Guard has a ship off Panama, so there could have been a fairly timely intervention if that had become necessary.
And now, the disaster that caused us to turn back. Since turning west Judy and I kept getting whiffs of fuel in the cabin and out in the cockpit. At first I thought the smell was coming from one of our jerry jugs filled with gasoline, as it had a small crack in the cap. But the smell continued after I fixed the cap. I started looking around and quickly found a small pool of diesel in the drip pan beneath the engine. I looked at all the connections in the fuel lines and found nothing, so I turned the engine on and immediately found the leak. One of the high pressure pipes between the fuel pump and injectors had a split. It was spraying out a high pressure stream of diesel.
Hey, no problem. I got out my Marine Tec epoxy, the most expensive epoxy I've ever bought. It claims to be strong as steel when it dries. I thought this was going to be a slam dunk fix. I prepped the metal pipe per Marine Tex instructions, slathered on the epoxy, let it set overnight and the next morning......started all over again. Mechanically talented readers are probably laughing their asses off at my stupidity after checking out the picture and know why I had to strip off the Marine Tec epoxy. If you don't see the problem with this fix, welcome to my world.
I spent a great deal of time grinding off the epoxy, and managed to leave a thin layer of it over the split in the pipe. Since I had used up all the Marine Tec, I applied 4 layers of fiberglass cloth using conventional epoxy, then wrapped this with self bonding "Rescue Tape" then clamped up the repair with band clamps.
The system pressure is 2600 psi, so I was not expecting a permanent fix. I was hoping for an hour or so, enough to get over the bar at Behia Caraquez, Ecuador, but fuel started seeping out at the edges of the repair in about a minute. We would have to get a tow across the bar into the behia.
We continued to have good winds on our way to Ecuador. We were hoping to arrive in time to catch the morning tide, but as we closed with the coast winds went light. We thought we could make the afternoon tide. We had to break out the asymmetrical spinnaker and relearn how to fly it.
We sailed to the waypoint where we would meet our tow, arriving about an hour early. We dropped the hook and waited. But not for long, a large panga appeared, tied up to the port side of Grace and began the 30 minute tow to our mooring at Puerto Amistad. Everything went well as we made our way through the choppy sea.
A big thank you to Oliver on Mary Ann who called the marina and made the arrangements for our tow. Also thank you Jacques on Nave, who along with Oliver gave us weather and moral support while we were under way.
The condos along the waterfront are
owned, in most cases, by well to do Ecuadorians
who visit occasionally.