Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Notes on the Las Perlas, Panama to San Cristobal, Galapagos Run

passageIMG_6714 The first 5 hours after we left was done under the asymmetric spinnaker in light winds. 
I thought I’d drop a few notes for our cruiser friends coming this way. Since I’ve only done the passage once and only at one time of year, take it all with a grain of salt.
Overall it was one of the easiest passage sails we’ve had. The course we laid out was about 890 miles. We sailed about 960 miles per the log. It took us 6 days and 6 hours. The first 2 1/2 days was a nice downwind sail with winds in the 12-20kts range. The higher range being nearer Punta Mala (Bad Point) exiting the Bay of Panama. Our course was laid out to pass Punta Mala at about 26 miles offshore. The actual course had us about 11-12 miles off. Seas were small the entire way, all less than 1 meter.
The next 3 days days was mostly close hauled with light winds. We had 2 nights of no wind that we motored through. This ended up with about 25 hours of motoring, including the last 17 miles coming up the inside of San Cristobol island heading into the anchorage at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Daily noon-to-noon runs were: 182, 145, 141, 153, 123, 108 miles
passageIMG_6719 Our course took us past the west side of Isla Mapelo. A Columbian Island about 250 miles offshore. It is located about 2 miles NW of where it is charted on our electronic charts. Pretty desolate looking place.
Our basic weather plan was to wait till their was a north wind blowing in the Bay of Panama and the ITCZ was north of us. This time of year the north winds seem to blow about once a week or so and the ITCZ moves around a lot. When we left it was actually south of us, but pretty much dissipated by the time it got to the longitude of the Galapagos. You can a  prediction of the ITCZ from the surface chart RadioFax online (or broadcast) from NOAA Hawaii. The rest of our plan was to sail the north winds as far south as we could, motor through the doldrums and then take the S or SE winds onto the Galapagos.
passage_Grib valid 20150126 0000 (OSCAR-443ddaae This is the OSCAR view of the currents running from Panama to the Galapagos. It was fairly accurate till about 250-300 miles from the Galapagos when we got almost 2 days of current against us that did not show up on the OSCAR display. You can pickup an OSCAR grib by sending a request e-mail to with the body of the e-mail the same as you would for a normal grib files, with the word OSCAR in place of GFS. The body would look similar to (all on one line): send OSCAR:11N,03S,091W,078W|1,1|0,6..180,192..240|WIND,WAVES,RAIN
We arrived at San Cristobol in the late afternoon. You could go in here at night, especially with prior experience, but it is probably better to wait till day light to make your approach. Above is a small freighter from Guayaquil aground on the reef after having engine failure when picking up their anchor. The white boat next to it is assisting the salvage and you can see the oil spill protection boom in the water. The salvage operation is expected to cost the owners US$5 million – the limits of their insurance.
There are yellow mooring cans (made of plastic, not metal) with large bitts on top of them located on the port side of the bay for cruising boats. Create a lasso with each of your bow lines and drop them over the bitt. 
We arrived with an Autografo that we had setup with agent Bolivar Presente about a month before our arrival. The total cost came to $1265 for us for 3 ports. He met us at the boat that evening to get our passports and discuss the inspection. After 2 days of visits from various officials and two separate video inspections by divers of our hull, we were officially cleared in.
passageIMG_6753 The bottom needs to be clean BEFORE you arrive. I dove ours 3 times in the Perlas island with the Hooka and got it really clean. But by the time we stopped just offshore San Cristobol to recheck it, it had grown a fair amount of green slime. I dove it twice offshore to get that off. If you get your bottom rejected by the officials, then you can be told to head offshore approximately 40miles and have the boat cleaned there, probably by local divers. Alternately, you may arrange a less pc way to have the hull cleaned before inspectors arrive.
You also definitely want to have a Fumigation certificate before you arrive – available from Tito in Panama for $25. If not, you’ll be paying for fumigation in the Galapagos.
The food inspection was pretty extensive, with the most effort put into looking for weevils in the rice and pasta. Be prepared to give up any citrus you have onboard. And, be sure you have your trash separated into recyclable, organic and ‘black’ waste.
If you show up without an Autografo, then your stay is at the whim of the Port Captain. It sounds like depending on the port captain you actually get, you will pay the entry fees and get anything from 3 - 5 days or 20 days.
The only thing we would have done differently on this passage would be to drive a little further south, if possible, before heading west towards the Galapagos, giving us a little better angle to the wind as we approached.

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