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Eye of The Wind - Newsletter
Before us, a green mantle of foliage clung to the volcanic slopes which descended into the crater of Rano Kao. The crater's bottom was like a giant patchwork quilt - the green of the reeds interspersed with the darkness of the still water pools - the silence absolute.
Christmas found us at Isle de Saintes, made famous by its great sea battle in the Napoleonic Wars. Was surprised to have a visit at dawn from the local baker in his boat selling fresh croissants - a great start to the Christmas extravaganza.
Isle de Saints has a special ambience, and as the French there seem to celebrate Christmas Eve, all the little bars and coffee shops were open on Christmas Day, which made for very pleasant meandering ashore: Santa left a stand up microphone for Emma (we weren't too sure if this was a good move to begin with), so this year the Christmas Fairy orchestrated a more formal gift giving ceremony, aided by the new gadget.
Sailing down island, visits were made to Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and our most favourite, Bequia. The big question then was should we spend New year's Eve at Bequia or go to Mustique? We opted for Basil's Bar at Mustique, and as the early evening progressed, more and more vessels arrived to crowd the small bay. There was a fantastic fireworks display put on by some local residents, and a good time was had by all ashore, although prices did seem to rise a little for the evening. Our thoughts did go out to Helen Bird, who spent New year flying back to the UK.
A month was spent ambling between St Vincent and Grenada, enjoying the beauty of the Grenadines. Owing to good rainfall in November, the islands were particularly lush, and ablaze with tropical flowers. Jacci from our office, gained first hand experience of sailing and diving when she joined us for 2 weeks with her family.
We shared anchorages with 'Astrid' and learnt of her sad situation. Since our arrival back in northern waters in 1992, we have competed with her in Tall Ships races. Our paths have crossed from Grenada to Bermuda to say nothing of the support we have had from them and their office when we called in a Weymouth. Over the years we have gained close ties with many 'Astrid' trainees and crew, and only hope that she will be up and sailing again soon.
It was with some trepidation we headed south from Grenada and entered Venezuelan waters, as our last taste of Venezuela in 1977 ended in one of the worst rip-offs by chandlers/agents we have ever experienced. Added to this, we had read 'Søren Larsen's' newsletter and knew of the difficulties she had encountered in this part of the world. After a blustery passage made landfall at Marguerita, where all our concerns proved groundless, and we had and enjoyable, trouble free visit. However, while we were standing on the wharf waiting for our boat, so we could load 100 cases of beer we had bought, the locals said that if the gendarmes noticed us they would probably appear looking for a cut (machine guns in hand). It was a little difficult to appear nonchalant after that. Many of our people flew to Angel Falls for the day, which they said was a fantastic experience.
After the happy go lucky and 'mañyana' mentality of the Venezuelans, Bonnaire and Curacao with their Dutch influence, came as a bit of a shock. Bonnaire offers some of the best diving in the Caribbean, as most of the island is a marine park. It is also a nesting ground for the pink flamingos, which are found in the vast salt pans interspersed through the island. Bleak stone structures were a grim reminder of when slaves were used to harvest the salt crop in the glare and blazing beat - fences were not necessary as there was nowhere for them to go even if they could escape.
Many of you will be aware of Dava Sobel's book 'The Search for Longitude, which was on the best selling book list this year. It outlines the true story of John Hamson, an English genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time by inventing an accurate chronometer, thereby providing a means of calculating longitude correctly.
We were privileged to have aboard Will Andrewes, the Curator of the Collection of Historical Instruments at Harvard University, who was participating in a documentary covering the life of John Harrison the precision clock maker, in a joint British/American production.
Consequently, at Curacao came aboard beautifully boxed historical instruments from the Harvard Collection, including backstaffs, quarterstaffs, sextants, astrolobes, and early versions of logs. The film unit was from the UK, and the producer was American, who had to his credits a film about the wrecks of Iron Bottom Sound in the Solomons, which was done from 2 miniature submarines.
We arrived in Cartagena a little earlier than planned due to the strong wind flow, so had a good chance to look around. This startling city was Spain's major outpost in the New World. It was from here that the gold fleets would sail to the Old World after taking on victuals. Owing to the town being attacked by both Dutch and British corsairs, immense fortifications were built to protect the town and its extensive harbour. Today it is reputed to be Columbia's safest city, and has a thriving tourist industry, which includes not only memorabilia from the past, but handicrafts of this vast country and an outlet for its famous Columbian emeralds. We did add quite a bit to the local economy, as many fell under the spell of these beautiful gems and quite a few purchased.
In overcast weather we made our landfall at the San Blas archipelago, home to the Kuna Indians. As we neared the anchorage, we were greeted by Indian women in canoes wearing colourful traditional costume, selling molas for which they are famous. Molas are multi-layered applique, encompassing traditional designs as well as more modern ones, and there was very brisk trading on deck. Our last visit to this group had been on Operation Drake, when in nearby Caledonia Bay excavations were made to find New Edinburgh, a Scottish colony dating back to 1689 which had a very short occupancy lasting 2 years, before the Spanish and fever drove them back to Scotland.
On an overcast and blustery morning, we contacted Limon Port control and permission to proceed to the 'flats', the holding area for small ships waiting to transit the Panama Canal from the Atlantic-Ocean. Colon city must be considered one of the most dangerous places in the world. Numerous yachting newspapers had warned of the crime ridden state of this run down city. We kept to taxis as we followed the convoluted paper trail to allow us to transit the canal. On payment of a very modest US 535.00 to the Panama Canal Company, we were slotted in and given a date and time. Rates certainly vary, as a heavily laden container ship would cost in the vicinity of US 90,000 - rates are calculated on a special Panama Canal tonnage, for which all vessels are measured.
Ferdinand de Lesseps, after his great success with the Suez Canal commenced building his canal across the Isthmus of Panama and work commenced in 1881. By 1889 work was abandoned as the company had gone bankrupt, and it is estimated that 22,000 people had lost their lives during this time mainly due to smallpox, cholera, dysentery and mosquito borne diseases. In 1903 a treaty was signed between the US and the new republic of Panama, and this created the US Canal Zone and the rights to build a Canal. Roosevelt put the project in the hands of the US Army, and their first task was to eradicate the breeding grounds for mosquitos. The Canal took 10 years to build at an estimated cost of US 287 million to the French, and US 400 million to the Americans. The Canal was acknowledged as one of the great engineering feats of the world.
Our Panamanian pilot (one of 400) boarded at 05.00 and we proceeded along the 6 mile channel to Gatun locks. There ships are raised 85 feet in a continuous flight of 3 steps to enter the fresh water Gatun Lake filled by Chagres River, which was once the largest man made lake in the world. It is incredible to think that all the water to operate the canal comes from rain in the rainforest - the water then flows out into the ocean at either end and none is recycled. 600 ships a month use 52 million gallons of water to traverse the canal. It was quite bizarre seeing enormous vessels passing us on the inland waterway - its banks lined with dense foliage, as we weaved through the myriad of small islands, while tropical jungle sounds continually wafted over the water.
The Australians aboard decided the water definitely looked different on the Pacific side of the isthmus.
Fred flew to Panama to help with the last minute organising and storing during our frantic week there. We once again filled up any available space aboard with supplies (including the jolly boat with potatoes), before we headed out into the south eastern Pacific.
Whilst moored off the Balboa Yacht Club we once again saw Alvei, a 3 masted schooner, square-rigged on the fore and main mast, which we had first met in conversation at Oporto in 1994, and sailing in Bequia last year. They were planning to cross the Pacific, and we are hoping to meet again in the Marquesas.
With fair winds we set off into the Pacific. Unfortunately these were only to last for 24 hours, when we entered the doldrum area on our way to Cocos Island, a lonely outpost belonging to Costa Rica. This area is now a National Park, but in the past was used by pirates such as Bonito, Thomson and Henry Morgan as a resting and watering place. It has long been rumoured that fabulous treasures were buried on the island - one hopeful searched for 18 years to no avail.
Riding the surf ashore at Chatham Bay, everyone took the opportunity to do their washing and bathe under the cascading waterfall that flows down to the sea. Carved into the rocks along the foreshore and in the river course, ships of bygone days had recorded their passing. Amongst these we found the famous whaler 'W.D. Morgan', the world travelled brigantine 'Romance' and our very own earlier carving done by Spider Anderson in 1979. We decided that the pirates were welcome to their treasure - the dense foliage and rough terrain could hide anything, and the practicalities of dragging treasure ashore through the surf and digging a hole deep enough to bury it would be daunting.
The water surrounding Cocos is reputed to be one of the shark diving Meccas of the world. On each dive, numerous hammerheads and other species were sighted, and this coupled with the clear warm waters and the extensive fish life made each foray very exciting.
Like Henry Morgan, we made the most of the fresh stream water available, and topped up our tanks - instead of using iron hooped barrels, we had it a lot easier with an enormous plastic wine bladder which filled the bottom of the inflatable and the water was then decanted aboard.
Continuing SSW beneath towering cumulus clouds our track took us to the Equator and the fabled 'Enchanted Isles' (Galapagos). Neptune paid his customary visit, and initiated all the pollywogs with his usual pomp and circumstance.
Landfall was made at the island of Santa Cruz - its volcanic slopes lush and green after one of the wettest years on record. We could not believe how crowded the anchorage off Academy Bay was, with numerous charter boats and scores of yachts, which we later found were part of the 'Europa Rally'. Due to the difficulties of visiting the islands on the ship (a permit is available at US 7.000 for the ship and US 200 per person per day + guide) our people departed the 'Galapagos Adventurer' for a 7 day discovery voyage around the islands guided by Billy, a multi-lingual marine biologist from Ecuador.
Galapagos far exceeded everyone's expectations. The abundance of wildlife both on land and under the water, the different species on each island, the breathtaking scenery, many hued waters and accessibility to the wildlife was amazing. Great care had to be taken so one did not step on nesting birds and iguanas as you wended your way along the defined trails. There was the continual whir of cameras as everyone turned into a budding photographer for the week (Emma included). The knowledge of our guide made the experience all the more rewarding, and he was an amazing font of intriguing facts and figures, so our varied levels of interest were sated.
Tower is the main breeding ground for both the Magnificent and Greater Frigate Bird and we were lucky to see the males displaying their inflated bright red pouches that extend under their thick necks during the mating season. Overhead the air was thick with circling birds, as the bushes below groaned under the weight of the nesting pairs of both frigates and red footed boobies and their young.
On Santa Fe, we saw the cactus forests that are the main food source of the large land iguanas. On returning to the beach lan, one of our voyage crew, spotted a sea lion with a plastic container wedged firmly around its neck. A rescue plan was formulated and put into action. Eventually, after 2 sarongs had been sliced by the sea lion's razor sharp teeth we managed to subdue it, and luckily was able to worm the container off over its head. Unfortunately, lan and another young man Dave both suffered lacerations to their forearms during the rescue attempt, so we made a hasty departure to Santa Cruz for medical treatment and a good stitching job.
Floreana was a delight as ashore we saw a large colony of the delicately coloured pink flamingos before snorkelling around the Devil's Crown, swimming with seals, sharks, rays, turtles and even booby birds diving into the water near us. An unexpected bonus as we returned to the boat was the opportunity to snorkel with about 80 bottle nosed dolphins who performed acrobatic feats both above and below the water - an experience never to be forgotten. Their piercing cries rent the water as the school communicated to one another.
Whilst the ship was in Academy Bay, we met up with Fidi Angermeyer, who 20 years ago had assisted us to go from San Cristobal to Academy Bay in the research vessel 'Beagle 3'. His father was one of four brothers that arrived in the Galapagos in the early 1930's from Germany, and were one of the early pioneering families. If anyone is interested in the early settlement of Santa Cruz, Fidi's cousin, Johanna Angermeyer has written an account entitled "My Father's Island", which is a good read.
Ahead of us lay the longest sea passage of this voyage - close hauled on a port tack for 1,900 miles to Easter Island. A superb sail for 16 days from anchorage to anchorage, under trade wind skies. Everyone settled into ship-board routine and enjoyed the romance and splendour of sailing beneath towering square sails. During the night watches, many hours were spent identifying and learning the constellations, as the crystal clear nights provided a perfect vista of the heavens.
The early morning sun slowly revealed in detail the volcanic peaks of Easter Island. Our first impression was how lush and green the island was - on our landing we were to find out this was because they had had the unbelievable amount of 2 metres of rain prior to our arrival.
The march of progress, like in the Galapagos had come to Rapa Nui. Paved roads led from the harbour into the town centre and its main street. Numerous shops offered carvings, artefacts and the inevitable T shirts, as well as the hire of 4 legged and 4 wheeled transportation. Kevin Costner's movie epic 'Rapa Nui' (made on the island) and its associated Hollywood money has changed the town forever (a lot of it beneficial). However, the historical sites remain untouched and mysterious, just as they have been for past aeons.
We spent an enjoyable 7 days sightseeing, hiking, horse riding and swimming. It was heartening to find out that some of the islanders still remembered our very first visit here 20 years ago.
Standing on the volcanic rim of Rano Raraku, with hawks circling above in the thermals, you could took down the slopes of the quarry and see the numerous moais (stone statues) in various stages of completion. One could not help pondering the question asked since white man first visited the island - what caused them to be fashioned in the first place, and why did the work suddenly stop? Some of the statues were massive - up to 60 feet in length. The labour and effort involved in producing and handling such monoliths must have been monumental.
From Rano Raraku crater lake 8 tons of reeds had been cut and carried over the rim, and transported to the only beach on the island at Anakena. Under the supervision of two Bolivian raft makers, an 80 foot twin hulled reed vessel (the hulls were lashed together by natural cordage in large figures of 8, which crossed between the two hulls) named 'Mata Rangi' (similar to Thor Heyerdahl's 'Ra') was in the final stages of completion. According to the plan, it was to be fitted with 3 masts and sails and undertake a voyage to Tahiti and possibly to New Zealand. Some of our people were present on the day they attempted to move the gigantic structure closer to the shore in readiness for launching. However, the combined efforts of 2 trucks and about 200 people failed to move the raft at all. We have since heard that they did manage to launch it with the aid of a crane and 2 big hunches and has set sail for Tahiti. Progress to date has been slow with only 200 miles covered in 10 days. We did wonder how the vessel would fare taking into consideration the inevitable chafing and marine growth that would quickly appear.
In our next newsletter we will tell of our adventures at Pitcairn lsland, one of our favourite places of all. Unfortunately the population is down and fluctuates between 30 and 40 souls. It has reached a crucial point in the island's survival as Government spending has been cut and many people have lost their paid employment (while rates of pay were very tow, it was guaranteed income).
In an effort to hopefully boost their earnings, we are looking to bring their local products to UK and attempt to find new markets for them. The combined efforts of Jacci and the Asst Governer of Pitcairn, the Foreign Office and Customs and Excise are trying to arrange the-importation of their local dried sugar bananas ('plun'), The bananas are organically grown and retain their natural sweet flavour, along with a wonderful chewy consistency and delicious taste, unlike the dried banana chips you may be familiar with. These are lengthwise slices which have been dehydrated without the use of chemicals and will last for years, getting sweeter as time goes by. Once we have gained permission to import them, they will be available in beautifully woven Pitcairn baskets, the basket is made of woven pandanus leaf and is approx 4 and a half inches in height and diameter and will contain approx. 300 g of the dried bananas. This is the perfect present for all those people who appreciate something a little different, whilst at the same time helping the Pitcairners to survive. It is a quality product and very good value.
These baskets will be priced around £ 8.00 including postage within the UK. All moneys will be returned to the Islanders. If you are interested in buying any baskets it would help us greatly, is you would complete the enclosed form and return it to Jacci to give her an idea of numbers:
Love from us all aboard
(pictures added for this website by Ina)