Friday, 30 April 2010

On The Line with Elliot... Bait Ball


The experience of being in the middle of a bait ball is a huge thrill. Birds are diving, bait fish are circling in what seems to be organized panic and larger fish are attacking the ball from below. The water is boiling with fish. We took our dinghy into the middle of the action to get these images.



Day 12, 29th April, 2010 The Ice Cream Run

The main cruising route across the South Pacific runs in a gigantic arc linking Panama with the Torres Strait. It has been affectionately nicknamed the "Milk Run".... The Germans call it... the "Barefoot Route", Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Routes.
We lost sight of Inspiration Lady a couple of days ago, although we are still in radio contact. We suspect that Gary and Jackie are in fact totally focused on the Ice Cream Run. Among cruising buddies, they have a tradtion that involves the first boat in buying ice cream for the rest. I.L. is giving reports that indicate they are just about 10 miles behind us but there's some way to go yet and we think they will pull out all the stops to get in first. They just love to buy ice cream and Jack on Anthem loves to eat it. Make mine coconut!
Owen and Elliot have graduated to solo watches. They're doing a great job and we have a nice watch schedule that allows enough rest for each of us.
We hit a milestone at about 11:00am; sailed 2,000 miles and have less than one thousand miles to go. YIPPEE!
Posted by SSB radio.
Position 05 degrees 55 minutes south, 123 degress 14 minutes west

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Day 11, Weds April 28

So Blue
We'd forgotten how blue the Pacific can be. Today we were treated to gorgeous sunshine, calmer seas, beautiful blue skies and a pod of dolphins.
When the seas are fairly calm we can look, seemingly forever, into the blue and have to resist the urge to jump in for a refreshing swim. Well, ok, it's not really that tempting an idea to jump overboard. The sea is about 4,000 meters deep around here and keeping up with the boat, as well as climbing aboard, would be a real challenge. Swimming will have to wait.
We love the Pacific so much we are using some of it in our cooking. We've found a little goes a long way. One third sea water to two thirds fresh water works well when cooking pasta, no need to add salt to the pot! Given that we don't have a watermaker, conservation of our precious fresh water is a must.
It's our 26th Wedding Anniversary today. Talk about a novel way to celebrate. It is great to be celebrating with our boys. Maybe we'll find a good restaurant in the Marquesas and splurge a little when we get there.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Day 10 Galapagos to Marquesis - Not Racing, Just Going Fast

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to our friend Blake. Bristol Rose was approaching the harbour one fine afternoon in St. Martin when Slow Mocean pulled out all the stops to get there first. Blake's friend was confused, "Why the rush? There's no race". Blake's retort: "Are there two boats out here? Then it's a race." We're not trying to run a race against anyone out here but we do get a kick out of "tweaking" to get the best out of our boat.
We keep an hourly log where we record information that helps us navigate our way and check the performance of the boat. We record our progress on paper charts as well as using the electronic navigational aids. Robert does the math, comparing this 24 hours performance with the last, estimating our ETA at the next anchorage, making course adjustments based on GRIB files, etc.
Each boat out here is different so it's hardly fair to compare performance (boat or crew) in absence of handicaps. Now if there was another Shannon 43 making the passage, those competitive instincts might be sharpened and things could get really interesting.
On this passage Bristol Rose has exceeded all her previous performances. A boat's length at the water line dictates maximum hull speed. Although BR is 43 feet in length overall, her water line is only 36' 9" That means her hull speed is about 8 knots. She's packed to the gills with equipment and provisions but in our favour on this Galapagos to Marquesas run so far we still have at least a 1 knot current assisting our speed over ground. We never expected to do 200 nautical miles in a 24 hour period but we've done it.
Going fast in any vehicle can be exhilarating. Going fast in a vehicle for 24 hours is a test of stamina. Going fast in a sail boat which also happens to be your home adds a few additional challenges and considerations, not least of all, crew comfort and safety. The past week's comfort level is on par with the thrill of being on a roller coaster but not being able to get off.
We heard that boats who started a few days after us had to motor-sail due to too little wind! We have not had that problem. Boats between us and the Marquesas have reported conditions similar to ours. During the first 8 days of the passage we've experienced winds from 15 to 25 knots and up to 35 during squalls. We've had only rare breaks in the sloppy seas, making the ride less than comfortable. Cooking and taking care of daily tasks is quite a challenge. There's little chance of getting any promised projects completed. Better to find a "comfy" spot to sleep or read.
Just in the past 36 hours the sea conditions have improved a little and this morning the winds have become lighter. That's going to put a dint in our average speed for the passage but we can enjoy a more relaxed pace with these more friendly wind and sea conditions. Sunrise was a picture and for a change we could lounge comfortably in the cockpit with coffee in hand, look out across the blue Pacific and declare, "This is quite nice!"
It's an exhilarating ride. It's also quite tiring but given the choice of a 20 day passage or a 30 passage, there's no contest. We want to go as fast as possible. Our race is against the calendar. If we can have the 15 to 20 knot winds along with an organized sea with longer intervals between waves we'll be really happy. We can't wait to get to those friendly islands of the Marquesas.
Posted via SSB radio
5 02.623 S
117 17.331 W

Monday, 26 April 2010

Day 9, April 26, 2010. Galapagos to Marquesas - Record Day

Inspiration Lady and Bristol Rose have been within sight of eachother for the last couple of days. This is quite incredible considering that most of the time when blue water sailing you'll very rarely see another boat. Most boats who buddy up find it's not that easy to stay within visual range of eachother.
Gary and Jackie built their boat in their barn up in Canada over a 26 year period. They really do have an amazing ability to stick to a goal to see it through. Both boats have posted their personal bests; 200 miles in a 24 hour period. This achievement is somewhat of a holy grail for cruising boats.
We have another reason to celebrate today. We've passed the halfway mark after 8 days of sailing. That's about 1500 miles to go.
Posted via SSB
04 47.258S
115 25.008W

Day 9, April 26, 2010. Galapagos to Marquesas - Record Day

Inspiration Lady and Bristol Rose have been within sight of eachother for the last couple of days. This is quite incredible considering that most of the time when blue water sailing you'll very rarely see another boat. Most boats who buddy up find it's not that easy to stay within visual range of eachother.
Gary and Jackie built their boat in their barn up in Canada over a 26 year period. They really do have an amazing ability to stick to a goal to see it through. Both boats have posted their personal bests; 200 miles in a 24 hour period. This achievement is somewhat of a holy grail for cruising boats.
We have another reason to celebrate today. We've passed the halfway mark after 8 days of sailing. That's about 1500 miles to go.
Posted via SSB
04 47.258S
115 25.008W

Day 8, Sunday, April 25. Galapagos to Marquesas. Checking in with the net

...It's ANZAC Day in Australia. G'day to all our Aussie mates...
We're still a few weeks behind the rest of the World ARC fleet. They will rendezvous in Tahiti on April 28 and expect to make landfall in Australia at Mackay towards the end of July. We hope to be there to cruise the Great Barrier Reef with them but we still have a very long way to go.
Outside the cyclone season quite a number of boats are sailing the South Pacific to the Coral Sea to reach Australia before November. Others will be dropping south to New Zealand and will wait out the cyclone season there.
Not every cruising boat has SSB radio. If you do you'll most likely be making a cruisers' net your daily check in point while underway. In the anchorages along the way we've especially enjoyed the informative and fun cruisers' nets on VHF radio. The grapevine, at it's best.
We left the Galapagos last Sunday with Anthem (Jack), Inspiration Lady (Gary and Jackie) and Jackster (Dave and Jacqui). We've nicknamed our regular SSB chat sessions with the group "The Jac Net". We're also checking in mornings and evenings with a larger group of boats on the "Barefoot Net".
Others also underway and checking in are: Acapella, Bamboozle, Bubbles, Dignity, Dream Kaper, Freedom, Gratitude, JSea, Kamia, Mintaka, Passages, Scream, Sea Mist, Sidewinder, Savannah, Victoria, William Phuket and Wonderland (apologies if I've renamed some boats with incorrect spelling). Jewel and InnforaPenny will hopefully soon be underway. We'll be looking out for a couple of Aussie boats who are not on SSB, Woolloomooloo and Fine Gold. We expect our friends on Whiskers and Emily Grace are now enjoying the Marqueses, but they're a few weeks ahead of us.
When checking in we give our current position, latitude and longitude, wind direction and speed, the sea conditions and our course. It's a big ocean (the Pacific covers 64 million sq. miles!) and the net puts us in contact with boats over a few hundred miles radius.
We use our SSB radio to log our position report which you can see when you click on "Where is Bristol Rose" at the top of our blog page. Our Yellow Brick tracking device seems to be working well and you can also go to the tracking page on the World ARC site.
We can't upload images while at sea so before we left the Galapagos we scheduled a couple of blog posts to share while underway on this long passage to the Marquesas. So you'll see some photos interspersed with our entries via SSB.
Onboard Bristol Rose on the way to the Galapagos we celebrated the achievement of sailing across the equator. Watch out for those photos (sorry Captain) when we get our next internet connection once we get to the Marquesas.
Posted via SSB radio
04 46.369S
115 21.348W

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Day 7, Saturday April 23. Galapagos to Marquesas. Sightings

We've sailed 1,000nm in just a little over five and a half days. Apart from a lot of the gorgeous deep blue sea, sparkling phosphoresence and plenty of rain squalls, we're not seeing much out here.
On our first day out we saw Spinner dolphins and Elliot caught a nice 7 lb yellowfin tuna. Late this afternoon he landed a small dolphin fish (mahi mahi). Each morning we find flying fish and baby squid on the decks. The ones we don't find straight away, our noses will locate once the poor unfortunates have rested in the sun a while.
Owen and Elliot saw one well lit ship just a mile away the first night of the passage and last night during their watch they saw a container ship on the AIS. It passed about ten miles astern of us.
It's exciting to catch sight of a familiar vessel after almost a week alone on the high seas. We've been in VHF range of Inspiration Lady most of the time. VHF radio has a range of about 20 miles but visual is only about 5 miles. At 3:30am this morning I clearly see her navigation lights south of us on the horizon. She's sailing directly and appropriately beneath the Southern Cross. What a lovely sight!
Posted via SSB radio, position 04 degrees 02 south, 109 degrees 17 minutes west.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Day 6 Galapagos to Marquesas. Navigating our Course.

We've made 900nm in 5 days. The crew of Bristol Rose are enjoy watching the video "Master and Commander".
We left the Galapagos island of Isla Isabela on Sunday 18th of April 2010. We were fortunate to have good wind as we left the delightful anchorage of Villamil. Taking advantage of the wind conditions we took Bristol Rose south on the rhum line. In hindsight this tactic was not necessary as we had favorable wind to enable sailing towards the SE trades. We then sailed due west along a 3 degrees south latitude to avoid the reported area of rough weather conditions. At 105 degrees west we started the remaining 2000nm run along the rhum line to the Marquesas.
We plan to stay on the north side of the rhum line, not to be tempted to make south too early. This strategy should keep the SE Trades on our port beam and keep us in the South Equatorial Current for most the passage. We are receiving reports that boats sailing south of 7 degrees South are outside of the favorable effects of this current.
So far we have enjoyed better then expected SE Trade Winds of 15 - 20 kts. However, sea state is confused and we have experienced numerous rain squalls making for some uncomfortable sailing. Conditions are improving as we move West. Taking it day by day.
posted via SSB
03 24.025S
105 55.967W

Day 6 Galapagos to Marquesas. Navigating our Course.

We've made 900nm in 5 days. The crew of Bristol Rose are enjoy watching the video "Master and Commander".
We left the Galapagos island of Isla Isabela on Sunday 18th of April 2010. We were fortunate to have good wind as we left the delightful anchorage of Villamil. Taking advantage of the wind conditions we took Bristol Rose south on the rhum line. In hindsight this tactic was not necessary as we had favorable wind to enable sailing towards the SE trades. We then sailed due west along a 3 degrees south latitude to avoid the reported area of rough weather conditions. At 105 degrees west we started the remaining 2000nm run along the rhum line to the Marquesas.
We plan to stay on the north side of the rhum line, not to be tempted to make south too early. This strategy should keep the SE Trades on our port beam and keep us in the South Equatorial Current for most the passage. We are receiving reports that boats sailing south of 7 degrees South are outside of the favorable effects of this current.
So far we have enjoyed better then expected SE Trade Winds of 15 - 20 kts. However, sea state is confused and we have experienced numerous rain squalls making for some uncomfortable sailing. Conditions are improving as we move West. Taking it day by day.
posted via SSB
03 24.025S
105 55.967W

Friday, 23 April 2010

On The Line with Elliot... Fish On!


Fish On! A call that always means an adrenaline rush aboard Bristol Rose.

Elliot and Owen enjoy fishing aboard Bristol Rose, catching Mahi Mahi, Cero & Spanish Mackerel, Wahoo and Tuna while passage making.

A five foot male mahi.

When Bristol Rose is anchored we troll off the dinghy around the anchorage or bottom fish at night catching a wide range of interesting fish including Barracuda, School Master, Red Snapper, Porgy, Green Moray Eel, Crevalle Jack, Triggerfish and Grouper. We often practice catch and release. We always release grouper because in most areas their numbers are already severely depleted.

Rex prepares to release this grouper caught while trolling a lure behind the dinghy.

This eel has nasty teeth. It's carefully released back into the water

When we catch fish to eat, we are very particular about the preparation. It is a luxury to eat a freshly caught wild fish so we make sure it is properly prepared to get the best out of this precious resource. Rum is applied to the gills to subdue the fish and prevent bruising. Bleeding keeps the flesh white. Dark meat, skin and bones are removed to avoid strong flavors, before putting on ice. Always best eaten while still fresh. Following these guidelines, our fish meals are always excellent.


The flesh of the Crevalle Jack is dark red, almost like beef. Best used for bait.

Cooking Fish aboard a sailboat. As much as we enjoy deep fried fish and chips, cooking with hot oil aboard Bristol Rose is not desirable. Frying creates too much heat and is potentially dangerous especially while the boat is underway. Plus there’s the mess of oil splatters in such a confined space. Alternatives for us include BBQ, curried, sushi, and baked providing much appreciated variety in meals. Cooking fresh fish over coals on the beach is a real favorite when we can easily share our catch with friends.

A Mahi Mahi ready for cleaning and filleting. We found a nice flat piece of driftwood on the black sand beach at Isla del Rey in Las Perlas.

Ciguatera poisoning is a constant concern for the cruising sailboat in the tropics. Our approach is to only consume fish caught well off shore and in deep water, e.g. Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Mackerel, etc. We don’t consume very large older fish. With reef fish, we ask around to see what the locals eat.

Pelicans, Frigate Birds and Seagulls diving on a bait ball in Las Perlas

From our home on the ocean we get to see many fish, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, feeding frenzies, sea birds, stingrays and turtles and occasionally a whale.


One of Elliot's more unusual catches, a Lookdown

How do we identify our catch? We reference books. Our favorites include:

Sport Fish of the Atlantic by Vic Dunaway. We like the addition of the food value section on each fish species.

Snorkeling Guide to Marine Life by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach

The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing by Scott Bannerot & Wendy Bannerot. If you are new to fishing get this book. It will answer most of your questions about catching fish and preparing your catch.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Day 4 Galapagos to Marquesas

"For many cruising boats the passage from Galapagos Islands to the Marquesas is their longest and, if one is lucky with the weather, it can also be one of the most pleasant" - Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Routes.

Our passage on Bristol Rose is not blessed with fine weather. We have overcast skies, numerous rain squalls with wind gusts to 40 knts and a heavy swell with wind blown chop, making for an uncomfortable ride. On a positive note we are also enjoying one of the fastest passages to date on Bristol Rose with daily runs of over 180nm for 3 consecutive days. We are sailing with double reefed main and Genoa. Our fastest speed over ground has been 10.4kts with a favorable current of 2kts and our average for the passage since we left Isla Isabela is 7.7kts

The crew is only able to find a comfortable place to rest and catch up on reading as we wait for better conditions. All are in good spirits and happy with our progress. We're fortunate that no one is suffering seasickness. By the time this mail goes out through our SSB radio, we will have passed the 600nm mark of the 2820nm passage to the Marquesas.

We're looking forward to the Pacific Ocean becoming more "pacific".

Posted via SSB radio.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Don't Sit and Wait in Panama, Get Out and Enjoy!



The beautiful country of Panama is sadly a frustrating place for many cruisers. Everyone seems to be waiting, waiting, waiting, for services and for parts that are difficult if not impossible to find locally. Marine businesses in Panama generally don’t cater well to the sailing community.

Two toes sloth

We were fortunate to locate a few individuals who understand the magnitude of the passages undertaken by cruisers from Panama across the Pacific, and are trying to improve the situation. During the cruising season they are very busy. The cruisers net on VHF channel 74 at 9:00AM local time is a good place to find out about them.

The sail loft on Taboga

Haul out facilities are extremely limited. We were lucky and have to thank the Flamenco Marina for scheduling our haul out for propellar repairs very quickly. One drawback is that you cannot stay onboard while your boat is on the hard. Our friends on Inspiration Lady and Jackster came to our rescue to accommodate us. Their generosity is greatly appreciated - the Bristol Rose crew numbered 5 people!

Jackie and Gary, Inspiration Lady

Jacqui and David, Jackster


Parts can be ordered through a local agent but they must be shipped from the USA. The wait is only part of the problem.Import duties and shipping costs are shocking. Then try to get the Fed Ex agent to deliver - that’s another story. Panama is one of those places where you can easily blow your annual cruising budget without really trying!

So if you have any funds left, you must leave your frustrations behind and get out and about to see more of this stunning country.

Nice hat John, Eowyn


The islands of Kuna Yala (the San Blas Islands) on the Caribbean side could be models for a classic tropical island paradise yet they are totally unique. We’ve already covered them in a couple of posts.

Elliot collected a t-shirt full of hermit crabs


Las Perlas (the Pearl Islands) on the Pacific side and an easy day’s sail away are perfect for a calming break from the pace of Panama City. Quiet anchorages, long sandy beaches, the interesting history and great fishing are what we’ll remember most about these islands. Owen’s Primitive Skills blog says a lot more about the islands.


Taboga, “Island of Flowers” lies only an hour’s leisurely sail from Flamenco Marina. Francisco Pizarro had a base here during Spanish rule and there is also evidence of pre-Columbian inhabitants. Today’s inhabitants are quietly reserved yet welcoming. We fell in love with Taboga and hope to return one day.

Taboga

The Panama Canal with the Puente del Centenario Bridge (two white arches) in the background, right. The Bridge of the Americas joins North and Central America and is out of view to the left of the image.












The Panama Canal is a tourist attraction in itself. Cruisers who are not planning to transit in their own boats from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side will sometimes come aboard as line handlers for the experience.

If you have had experience in Panama with exceptional boat services or repairs, please leave a comment to pass on the good word.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Day 1 Galapagos to Marquesas

We have just finished our first 24 hours of one of the longest passages a cruising sailboat is likely to make, Galapagos to the Marquesas
We had great winds leaving Isla Isabela in the Galapagos. We first sailed south to 2 degrees then west hoping to pick up the SE trade winds. Our first 24 hrs of the passage resulted in 192nm under the keel. Our top speed was 10.4kts SOG. Good speeds for a 43 ft sail boat.
We also caught a nice 10lb yellow fin tuna for dinner.
We are using 3 hours watches and log into the Barefoot net on 8122khz each morning and evening.
All is well aboard Bristol Rose

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Closing the Chapter on Our Rescue in Panama

We’re currently anchored off the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos. A lot has happened in the past couple of months including a return to Panama for haul out and repairs, involving weeks of frustration and waiting for parts from the USA.


While we were drifting at sea waiting to be rescued I started writing about our ordeal. Writing helped as a stress release valve at the time. We’re finally able to close the chapter on our rescue in the Gulf of Panama.


Bristol Rose at anchor off the rocky shoreline of Isla del Rey in the idyllic Pearl Islands (Las Perlas)


I never wanted to be rescued. I’ve gotten this far, hoping never to have to face my fear of a rescue at sea situation. A call to abandon ship on the open seas must be one of a sailor’s worst nightmares, along with the fear of a man overboard. My sailing aspirations really don’t go much beyond being comfortably tied to the dock and let out on occasion for a weekend sail on the bay. Nothing too strenuous.


Signing on with the World ARC Rally has provided us with a measure of assurance that should anything go wrong, the personnel and tracking systems of the organization will work to bring us to safety.


Conditions were perfect when we weighed anchor early in the morning to begin the long passage from the Las Perlas islands of Panama to the Galapagos islands. Tonight we are disabled and adrift in the Gulf of Panama and being carried by the current towards the Columbian coast.


Thousands of Pink shells are washed ashore at Mogo Mogo


Anchorages in Las Perlas vary from white sand beaches to black sand to rocky cliffs and shorelines.


Our week in the islands of Las Perlas was a dream. Elliot and Rex caught plenty of fish. Owen scoured deserted islands for materials that early inhabitants might have put to use for fire making and shelter building. He researched and located a pre-Columbian fish trap and a freshwater well from the time of Spanish occupation.


The bar at Esmeralda Village


We visited local villages and were charmed by the welcoming friendliness of the local people.


Captain Graham, S/V Eowyn


At the same time Captain Graham and crew Mike and John on our buddy boat S/V Eowyn, were also cruising the islands with a plan to rendezvous with Bristol Rose at Isla San Jose.


Mono Ahumado - it reminds us of a character from The Simpsons


The anchorage makes a perfect place to stage for our crossing with the added bonus of a visit ashore to Gerda’s home. She settled on her island paradise 30 years ago from Germany. Gerda welcomed us to her home on Isla San Jose with a glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice. We stocked up with delicious mandarins, grapefruit and oranges.


Elliot, Rex, Owen and Robert enjoy Gerda’s hospitality.


Our passage will take us through the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the doldrums, and south of the Equator. We went to sleep on Friday night feeling confident and pleased that all was ready for an early morning start on the 850 mile passage to the Galapagos; a passage that could take us 8 days. At 7:40am Saturday, February 13 we weighed anchor and said farewell to Las Perlas.


Dolphin Fish, also called Dorado or Mahi Mahi.


Keen fishermen Elliot and Rex start the day with a good sized Bonito which goes back in the water. There are better eating fish to catch. It seems that just having a lure in the water is enough to catch a fish in these waters and Elliot soon brings in back-to-back mahi mahi.


Yellowfin Tuna


The big excitement of the day is a ten pound Yellowfin Tuna; at last, a tuna with a reputation for excellent eating. We’ve had sushi rice and nori on the boat so long in anticipation of a fine tuna catch. It’s sushi rolls for dinner. Robert is is in his element, “It doesn’t get much better than this”.


Captain has decided on three-hour watches during the night. With Owen and Elliot sharing the 6:00-9:00PM watch, me 9:00 to midnight, Robert midnight to 3:00AM and Rex 3:00-6:00AM, we should all settle into the routine and get sufficient rest. After the first four days the plan is to move forward in the schedule with Rex taking the 6:00-9:00PM watch, and so on.


Butterflies invaded our cockpit and nav station


During Elliot and Owen’s watch till 9:00PM conditions are perfect and I’m keeping them company. The only thing of note is the black and green butterflies hitching a ride with us. We’re doing about 4 knots of boat speed running with the wind in winds of less than 10 knots. Flying the spinnaker all day, the motion is comfortable and it’s a satisfying enough pace for us in light conditions. Eowyn left before us in the morning and Graham confirmed by radio that 15 miles south and west of us the winds are light.


Sailing with our big red spinnaker on route to The Pitons, St. Lucia in December


We’ve been enjoying our new spinnaker. The extra couple of knots of speed we get in light air is worth the financial expense. Our habit is to reef the main, and reduce sail for the night, bringing in the spinnaker before dark. Tonight we’re expecting more of the same light air and the spinnaker is easy to rig and bring down so we’ll just keep an eye on things for now.


At 10:00PM when Robert awakes to check on our progress my report is “perfect, we’re sailing beautifully”. Just at that moment the wind picks up from under 10 to 12 knots. Robert moves to bring in the spinnaker. In the next minute we’re hit with a front, no rain, just punishing gusts of wind at 30 knots.


We broach and I’m struggling to hold Bristol Rose. That dip of the gunnels brought enough water in through the hand basin in the aft head to dump water on the floor. Owen and Elliot tend to the seacock quickly before responding to the need for more muscle on deck. At some point the engine is turned on to help control the boat.


Robert, Owen and Elliot are in a struggle with the spinnaker. Now Rex is trying to

turn Bristol Rose to help get the sail in. With Robert’s call to ease the spinnaker sheet, the wind flings it free. At midships I foolishly try to grab hold of the clew and I have the sheet for a moment. Not surprisingly it is whipped out of my hands and all I can do is call “watch out for that sheet!”. As it goes with most disasters of this kind, things happen fast. The dreaded words fly from someone’s lips, “The sheet is caught around the propeller”. The sound is sickening.


The propeller is out of action. If we can cut the line away we’ll be ok. Rex says the rudder is also in doubt. What is restricting movement of the helm? The spinnaker is undamaged and is now safely bagged and secured on deck. Robert climbs over the stern and out onto the self-steering. The boat is bucking up and down in washing machine seas. With a flashlight he is able to see the sheet is held tight against the rudder, forcing it hard to port. Steerage even under sail will be impossible unless the rudder can be freed.


Let’s think this through first. Outwardly, all the crew remain calm while fears, questions and doubts compete for attention within each of us. Robert discusses how he might get into the water and what safety lines we should have in place before he does. How will we lift him back on board? What if he gets knocked out or injured by the boat bouncing up and down on top of him? We can use the Lifesling but will we be able to manage it? It’s now after 10:00PM. How will he see in this darkness without a diving light?


Bristol Rose is lurching, taking waves on the beam in nasty wind and sea conditions. I’m not usually prone to seasickness but as the reality of our situation sets in, I have a strong urge to throw up. We all agree conditions are too bad right now for anyone to risk diving on the propeller. We’re hoping wind and seas will calm down by daylight. Maybe then Robert can cut away the line to at least free the rudder so we might still be able to sail out of this mess.


After a while of drifting with the wind from the north-west and a two knot southerly current, we’re concerned that we could drift south and east onto the rocky coastline. With the rudder stuck hard, we have little control over our direction but we try to sail for about an hour before giving it up as a bad joke. We have to face the fact we can only drift. We try to contact our friends on Eowyn without success. They must be a long way ahead of us now. We’ll keep a watch as planned and hope any ships in the area will see us by AIS and radar and perhaps come to our aid.


At 9:00AM on Sunday morning we check in to the Pan Pacific Net on SSB 8143 kHz (our pre-arranged contact point with Eowyn) and advise Sue, the net controller of our situation. Robert reports he is hopeful we can get the rudder freed up once the weather calms down a little and he can safely get in the water. We’ve been drifting for almost 12 hours. Sue gives us the weather report and it looks like we can expect a slight decrease in wind, before it picks up again. She asks us to check in again with her on the 6:00PM net.


Through the net we’re able to speak with Captain Graham of Eowyn. Graham has a satellite phone and offers to be our communicator with the World ARC Rally Control. Graham’s suggestion to make contact again on the hour is much appreciated. We wonder if he knows how much we appreciate the sound of his calm and caring voice. We expect that our position is currently being tracked by World ARC Rally Control through the Yellow Brick device fitted in St. Lucia.


Conditions in the morning are slightly improved. Robert, Owen and Elliot inflate the dinghy on deck. It takes the three of them to stop the dinghy from flying around once it’s inflated but they get it over the side. From the relative safety of the dinghy, Robert sees the situation is much worse than he had thought last night. Between the cutlass bearing and the propellar the line is wrapped tight. The propellar shaft is dislodged (similar to how a corkscrew dislodges a cork from a bottle). It is jammed up against the rudder.


Propellar Shaft


We need help. Robert puts out a pan-pan requesting towing assistance. There’s no response. As arranged, he talks with Graham by SSB radio. Graham contacts Nick at Rally Control by sat phone to advise we are disabled and adrift. Nick tries to communicate with us via SSB from his location in Ecuador but we can’t receive his transmission. The only direct voice communication we have is with Graham and we have an agreement to make contact once every half hour for updates on plans to help us.


During the following hours the crew of Eowyn have put their passage to the Galapagos on h

old and are hove-to while communicating between Nick and ourselves. Nick is working the situation from the World ARC office in Ecuador, with the rescue center in Falmouth and they in turn are also in contact with the American Coast Guard and the Panamanian Patrol. We wait for news. Those words “rescue center” bring the severity of our situation well and truly home to each of us aboard Bristol Rose.


After only a short calming of the winds, it picks up again and we continue to be bounced around by the waves on our beam. We’re thankful that nobody is injured although the crew are quietly suffering seasickness and anxiety. Dry crackers are all any of us can manage. Cooking is impossible in any case. An added danger below decks is that all the bouncing has strewn things around that normally would stay well in place. Moving about is difficult and Robert advises us all to try to rest.


By late afternoon on Sunday, after almost 20 hours adrift, we know that the Panamanians have taken responsibility for our rescue. They can have a boat to us within 24 hours. Graham suggests we should make tow lines ready. We pull out the lines we think are most suitable, our longest, strongest lines, and wait expectantly. Rescue could be as soon as three hours away depending on the rescue boat’s current position. Once Graham has confirmation that a boat is indeed coming for us, Eowyn continues on to the Galapagos wishing us good luck. Robert continues to put out pan-pan calls on the radio and to send position reports to Nick and the authorities co-ordinating rescue efforts.


Twenty-four hours after the incident, we have no voices calling us on the radio and no sign of a rescue boat. Earlier in the evening one commercial vessel answered our call but told us they cannot tow us. We sight just one vessel in all this time and we assume it to be our rescue vessel so we fire off some flares. We call on channel 16 but get no response. Our hopes of being found tonight seem to have faded with the light. All we can do is to continue sending position reports, putting out calls on the VHF and SSB radios, praying we don’t drift into Columbian waters and reassuring each other. We gave Owen a Spot personal tracking device as a birthday gift in January and he activates a call for help which results in a call to Robert’s brother in Sydney.


Around midnight we hear a voice, “Bristol Rose, Bristol Rose …and

lots of words in Spanish. We respond but get no confirmation that we are heard. We shoot off more flares. Nothing. Robert sends a hasty email to Nick that we think the rescue vessel is near but cannot hear us.


Finally, around 12:30AM, again, “Bristol Rose, Bristol Rose…”. We respond in the little Spanish we know, “No hablas Espanol” and are elated to hear a voice in return asking us to “slowly” give our position. The ship is the Panamanian Patrol boat Ligia Elena.


Half an hour later they are beside us. We ask if they can tow us back to Panama City but the language differences between us make communication difficult. It is obvious that any attempt to get a towline attached will be difficult in the current conditions and darkness. The Commander suddenly says he will not make an attempt because it would be too dangerous, however, he will stay with us until conditions are safer.


We’ve been adrift for about 27 hours. Robert is the only one not feeling seasick. We haven’t eaten anything resembling a meal since Saturday evening. Utterly exhausted, we all sleep on and off, waking to the loudest noises of our bowsprit dipping into the ocean and waves slamming our beam and washing into the cockpit. Not knowing whether our rescuers would need to come alongside, earlier we had put out fenders. Only now, in our half sleep we remember they are still in place. They’re adding to the chaos of noise, whacking against the hull with every wave.


We hold onto our trust that our rescuers will stay with us through the dark hours but wake to peek out through the portholes to check, just in case. The lights are still there. It’s hot in the cabin because it has to be closed up to keep out the waves and saltwater spray. We must continue to wait, disappointed but realizing that the safety of both boats and crew are at stake. Nick has stuck with us through the night, responding to our emails and helping us to keep up our spirits.


The sight of Ligia Elena brings tears to our eyes.


At first light we’re relieved to see Ligia Elena beside us. How long was our rescue boat out here searching for us? They must also be tired and uncomfortable. The Commander hails us to say “we will begin the rescue operations”. We’re excited and nervous at the same time. It’s still rough out here. To our confusion, rather than coming closer, the boat moves away to the north. I’m pleading with Robert now to get on the radio to confirm that we haven’t misunderstood. The answer comes back they are pulling out the line they will use to connect with our towline.


A crewman throws a light line with a “monkey fist” attached to the much heavier tow line.


The sight of the Ligia Elena speeding back to us is overwhelming. We’re ready. The second throw of the monkey fist connected as Elliot took the catch. That training back in the Panama Canal as a line handler sure paid off! It takes time to feed out the towline and to make sure everything is ready aboard Bristol Rose. In preparation Robert had tied our lines in cradle fashion to distribute the stress of the load over 2 long lines, each one attached on both starboard and port side to cleats on the bow and midships. Now we are bound to the other boat. Our lines look puny compared to theirs and we hope they are strong enough to last the distance.


In the past 36 hours we’ve drifted many miles. We’re told we will be taken to the closest safe harbour, Bahia Pinas. We have no idea where that is and what, if anything, we will find there. The Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus mentions the world class sportfishing resort, Tropic Star Lodge at Bahia Pinas in the isolated Darien region. There’ a small neighboring village, but nothing to do with cruising sailboats. We’re naturally concerned that we may find ourselves far from haul out facilities in Panama City, stuck in the jungle with no roads in or out.


Under tow.


Under tow, our troubles are not over. We begin taking on water and our bilge pump has stopped working. We remind the Commander to please slow down the tow to 7 knots. We have to use the manual bilge pump every fifteen minutes. After some searching Robert finds that due to the speed at which we are being towed the wave forming at our stern is forcing water through the vent in the propane locker. The water filling the locker is draining into the bilge. The back pressure on the bilge pump must have also destroyed the valve inside it. Keeping the tow speed below 7 knots helps keep things under control and we breath a collective sigh of relief.


Being towed through rough seas is not pleasant and Robert continues to keep an eye on everything. One of our tow lines looks to be fraying but is holding. Still one more knock is coming our way. Although our spinnaker remained intact, the sea seems determined to have it. We watch incredulously as our spinnaker, looking like a red bubble, floats for a while then disappears, a victim of the constant waves washing over the bow. Despite Ligia Elena turning around and the crew’s best efforts we could not locate it. The weight of the fiberglass at the bottom of the sock would be enough to pull it under. It’s a reminder to us of how difficult it would be to locate the bobbing head of a man overboard in these conditions. We remind ourselves also that we are all still onboard and there are no injuries.


After about 14 hours under tow, we reach Bahia Pinas in the dark. It’s Monday night, 48 hours after the start of our problems. As a small boat comes out to meet us, the crew of Ligia Elena release us and we stand on deck calling out our thanks to them. They stay back in deep water and we are guided to a depth in which we can anchor. We never got to shake their hands.


Safe Harbour, Bahia Pinas


We’re taken ashore to complete the necessary paperwork and are offered a welcoming meal of sandwiches. Our surroundings seem surreal. We find ourselves in a jungle paradise, on solid ground, ever grateful to all those who had a hand (and a voice) in our rescue.


Panama Patrol station in Taboga


Later we hear that our efforts to be rescued; the flares, pan-pan calls etc. are all tactics used by pirates and drug runners in the area to lure unsuspecting boats. Our experience shouts out the importance of cruising with a buddy boat and staying connected.


The crew of Bristol Rose convey our heartfelt thanks to Captain Graham and his crew Mike and John aboard Eowyn, Nick and everyone at World ARC, The US Coast Guard, the Rescue Center at Falmouth, Servicio Nacional Aeronaval, Panama Patrol, and the volunteer net controllers of the Pan Pacific Net. We’ll always remember the brave crew of Ligia Elena. Just a couple of days after our rescue a crew member of Ligia Elena was shot in the leg during a confrontation in the waters of the Gulf of Panama. We thank the owners and staff of Tropic Star Lodge for providing a safe harbour. Last but by no means least, many thanks to our cruising friends who helped us in Panama and to those who sent their best wishes.