The Great Crossing

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It’s 7.30 am. The orange sun redraws the silhouette of Viveros, one of the 300 Las Perlas islands. Today, March 11th 2016, is preparing to cross the bluest, most beautiful and peaceful of seas… it can only be the Pacific ocean. The weather forecast suggests an east-south east wind of around 15 knots. There’s a short but adequate window which should allow us to reach the Galapagos from where we should start to benefit from the south east trade winds.

We haul up the anchor, all excited about the unique adventure which we are about to experience. The spinnaker is ready to be deployed. The sea is like a mill pond. We motor out of our anchorage carefully, as not all the sandbanks are marked.
Once in open water, the spi tries to show us what it can do under the pleasant Panamanian morning sun, but it mustn’t have woken up properly yet! We’re currently doing 1.5 knots. At this speed we’ll arrive in the Marquesas in 120 days… Let’s hope things improve!

The water is remarkably still. It is green and full of particles, plankton and jellyfish. The eagle rays seem to appreciate the living waters here, as we cross whole shoals of them, flexing their wings.

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The sea lions bid us farewell as we leave the Galapagos.

The wind is playing games with us. After going past San José, the last of the Las Perlas islands, we sense that there might be a little wind just behind us. It appears to follow us without ever catching up, which is very annoying! This lasts for an hour until we leave Panama behind, and where hopefully the wind will stay with us.

12th March. We are sailing at 8 knots. The wind has picked up, maybe a bit too much for our spinnaker, so that goes back in its sock, and we goosewing with our two genoas. There is a very long swell. There’s no risk of sea sickness with these wonderful waves which push us along, even surfing on them from time to time.
This is the Pacific, so let’s get fishing. We already knew that this ocean is home to the biggest and most powerful fish. Before setting off, I took time out to prepare my fishing rod and to sharpen the hooks on my best lures. Unsurprisingly, the rod soon starts to bend under the weight of a yellowfin tuna, and another one follows within a quarter of an hour.

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Great pods of common dolphins accompanied us out at sea

The hours pass, but we don’t seem to notice the passage of time. Who could have imagined that we’d get bored? Yet this is only the start of our long journey, which is leading us inexorably towards the aromas of gardenias and the resounding music of the Tamure.
We skim past the island of Malpelo, which reminds us of Saint Helena: a big rock stuck out in the middle of the ocean. With the amount of sea life that is here, we encounter a marlin, or rather its bill, which severely damages the resin head of one of the lures.
We cannot help just watching the sea pass by or remark upon the shapes of clouds, study how the wind changes direction, and constantly scan the horizon for dolphins and whales.
Some pygmy killer whales come to check us out. This is a new species which I had never seen before. They are very timid and we lose sight of them almost immediately, only for them to be replaced by pantropical spotted dolphins. Same thing: they disappear almost immediately. Amazed, we keep looking all around. Suddenly, less than a mile away, a blue whale shoots out of the water like a rocket. It seems to be in slow motion before falling on its flank and throwing tons of water up into the air. I immediately got the necessary equipment out and began taking pictures. The whale would go through the same routine twice more. This was a great privilege, given that there are so few Blue Whales left in the world’s seas. Three different species in 10 minutes. That was a nice surprise!

The wind died down again and we deployed the spinnaker. Bizarrely, the sky seemed to become bluer and bluer. We were leaving lands which were very verdant and quite humid, so perhaps that explains it. It seemed to work in tandem with the water, which was crystal clear.
Some pantropical spotted dolphins came to play alongside each day. We just couldn’t stop ourselves watching and taking photos!

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The sun rises as we head from north to south past the Galapagos.

18th March. It’s still dark as we approach San Cristobal, the most easterly of the Galapagos Islands. Dawn is breaking, and we are desperate to catch sight of the islands where Darwin discovered such incredible fauna. Steep slopes gradually start to become more and more visible.
Once again we hit a dead calm, and the sound of the motor growls in the pristine morning air. Of course we would prefer to be under sail.
However, the lack of wind meant that the sea took on an incredible smoothness; the timid sun only added to the effect, with pink, yellow and black reflections. It was difficult to make out the horizon amid this watercolor. The birds which were sat on the water looked as though they were levitating.
We carefully scrutinized the surface for any movement. Would we see any sea lions? A new shape appeared: a small triangle. We were hoping for a sea lion, but it was in fact a manta ray cruising along the surface. The day was starting well!
At around 7am we eased away from San Cristobal, having seen plenty of sea lions and manta rays, which I tried to film and photograph with my drone.
We were still having to advance under motor. From time to time a breath of wind would come along and get us excited, seeming to say “Maybe… “, but finally the answer was “No”. The wind wasn’t going to play ball yet. “Come on Aeolus, make an effort!” We made the most of sailing the Galapagos by day to pass by another magnificent island, Gardner. This splendid rock was circled by hundreds of frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies and diving terns, not to mention all the hunting sea lions.

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Just as we were leaving the Las Perlas islands, the Mobula Rays were swarming in their hundreds.

I hesitated to send up the drone to immortalize this fabulous sight, as the birds can become a real problem for my little technological gem, just as the swell can affect its sensors. But we won’t be coming this way again, and I can’t let this rocky arch which towers over the steep cliffs get away! The UFO was launched into the blue. The view from above was incredible. The boat moved forward slowly whilst I tried to film the cliffs, despite a few frights when curious birds got a bit too close.
Suddenly a shrill beep sounded. A countdown had started. The drone would return to its GPS departure point in only 10 seconds, but it had started at more than a mile away. Panic set in as I tried to bring it in. The countdown stopped, and I was not in control any more. The drone set off on its own, toward the rocky escarpment, all set to crash before our very eyes. After a few quick adjustments, I managed to wrestle back control and bring the drone back onto the boat. It will be grounded for the moment, until I’ve got my nerve back.

Once we leave The Galapagos in our wake, a light breeze starts to pick up. Have we met the Trade Winds?
Despite the fine weather and the light breeze, there are fishermen in the area, and this often means that there are nets around, something which we could do without while out at sea.

March 20th: The wind has dropped again. We alternate between the port and starboard motors to save as much fuel as possible. We can only motor for 8 days with our 400 liters of diesel. The sky began to fill with disconcerting clouds. It was grey and damp. There’s nothing more miserable. The horizon starts to darken and squalls start to surround us. The air is hot and humid, which cannot be good news
At 5pm we came across a group of very active common dolphins which were jumping up to over 3 meters. It was a mesmerizing spectacle. We followed them for a half hour before turning back onto our course of 250°.

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It's difficult to make out the horizon on this dead calm sea. We were advancing at 1 knot…

Night fell, and what we had expected did indeed happen. The first drops of rain of our crossing began to gently fall. We tried to wash ourselves out on deck, but the force of the rain wasn’t enough, although we did manage to add an extra 80 liters to our water tanks.
The rain carried on, but no wind appeared. Smothered in the darkness, without any moon or stars, a light appeared on the horizon. Of course, if there’s a fishing boat it would be at night! We changed our course, and the light moved to starboard, about 4 miles from our position. At 3am I was awoken by the pleasant phrase: “We’ve got a net!” This was going to add a little spice to a night that was already punctuated by squalls.

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We pass the time reading adventure and travel books

Within a few seconds the crew were ready for action. The captain went into reverse gear which slowly removed us from the solid net that we’d become tangled up in. I heard a strange noise from the motor. A nylon cord had got caught around the propeller which quickly caused the motors to cut out. It needs to be cut. Armed with a sharp knife, everything that passes beneath us needs to be cut up. We have no choice. The port motor is out of action, we only have the starboard motor. More lights appear and we try to avoid them as carefully as we can. Two hours later we get caught up in another one. This time we stop the motor straight away. We don’t care, we cut everything, and so what. These huge long-line nets are responsible for the deaths of thousands of fish, cetaceans and sharks. Our torches bob around in the dark, and we hope that the fishermen haven’t seen us. We switch of the navigation lights and any other lights which could be seen by fishing boats. We impatiently wait for daybreak when we can at least avoid these wretched nets. And especially so that we can get rid of the nylon wrapped around the propeller

At last the first rays of light start to appear, and suddenly a 6 meter long fishing boat came hurtling towards us. As this is a new situation for us, we are a little unnerved. The boat arrives. There are two fishermen, and they pull right up to our hull and ask for some food. That’s a relief! In their boat there’s a marlin and a silvertip shark, that’s around 2.5m long. They quickly set off in the direction that they came.
With just a 75hp motor so far from the coast, we didn’t doubt that there was a mothership somewhere, which did not reassure us much.

The captain prepared to dive down and take the nylon line off the propeller. He wasn’t too optimistic having seen the mess that awaited him.
The damage is fixed, and we can carry on.
However, that day was full of fishing boats. It was a fleet from Columbia. We assumed that they were there for shark fin, something that we don’t like at all. We could see flippers sticking out of the boats that were some distance from us.
We finally got out of this high risk zone, getting stuck on another long-line on the way. However, our team is now a well-oiled machine, and with a couple of moves we had cut everything and got away.

March 22nd: The weather started to get very bad, with one squall after another, and suddenly the wind turned north east. We were upwind. Where’s the downwind? This isn’t what we expected. Ten hours later the wind turned around slightly, unlike the sea which had become very heavy.
Everything was soaked. No more dry sheets and towels.

A few days later the south east wind returned, yet the sea didn’t seem to want to calm down.
When my fishing rod clinks, the reel sets off like a hamster on a wheel, going as fast as it can. It’s impossible to stop the fish that has just taken the bait. It has unrolled all of the 800m of line, it calms down, and I begin to reel it in. After 20 minutes it sets off for a second time. This is called a “rush” and it starts to dive. We’re fairly sure that it’s a tuna. This is their specialty: when they bite they dive. In 30 seconds it took all the line that I had reeled in over the previous 20 minutes!
The battle lasted an hour, and finally a silhouette began to appear. Everyone always says “It’s huge”! but this time it really is very big. It’s a yellowfin tuna, about 100kg. It won’t let itself get too close to the boat, and it doesn’t want to surface. Under the huge weight of the fish, the rod succumbs. I grab the line which is hanging over the side and this in turn breaks too. We all look at each other without saying a word. The captain speaks first: “It wasn’t my fault”.

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Every day, the sunset is different.

The sea finally calmed down, and the swell was not downwind any more. We surfed along at more than 13 knots, with our wake showing our acceleration.
A shadow suddenly appears from a wave, as though a solitary visitor had come to see us, 30 meters from With the world sea mammal guide in one hand, I am unable to identify it. The head is white and pointed, there’s a central, very high, dorsal fin, a black and brown skin and white zones on the ventral area, and around 3.5m long. With no blowhole visible, and very timid, we were sure that we had discovered a new species. I will check when we reach dry land.

We advance across the blue Pacific that we have come to know, and we pass through the “1000 miles to go” barrier. The countdown has begun. The spi flutters in 15 knots of wind when suddenly a tearing noise surprises us. Our good ol’ spinnaker has given up the ghost. The wind had ripped the heart out of the spi. There will have to be an operation, and it’s the hammock which will donate its arteries to help repair it. After two days in intensive care the spi lives again! The surgeons have worked well!

It’s 5pm and we are only 35 miles from land. In the distance our eyes make out the northern and southern capes of Fatu-Hiva. It’s an emotional moment.
As always, we manage to arrive at night! We enter into the Bay of Hanavave, also known as the Bay of Virgins, at 2am. I don’t sleep at all that night, and at first light, before us is a view like we have never seen. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful mooring that we have ever been to.

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Our wonderful sea companions always offer up a fabulous spectacle.

Jonathan, the photographer

Jonathan is a sailor, but also a talented photographer (he has just won the prestigious Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award). If you would like to discover his work, you can check out his Facebook page:

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An encounter with manta rays, skimming across the tranquil surface of the sea. Magical.

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