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July 5, 2013
Panama City, Panama

The book that has been our “bible” for the last 20 years has just been revised.  I mean Robert Beebe’sVoyaging Under Powerhas just gone through a thorough updating.  This historical compendium of Passagemaker sea sense was first revised by Jim Leishman in 1994 as PAE was launching its highly successful NordhavnYachts designs.  But at the time, no true passagemaking power catamaran was available.  Well, my friends, the time has come for certain powercats to be recognized as full-fledged passagemakers.  In this Fourth Edition, Denis Umstot introduces the MalcolmTennant Catamarans, with full feature of the DOMINO 20 design.  At last, the gospel that Malcolm Tennant preached and that we enthusiastically spread along our travels is being heard.  
Long-range power catamarans are a desirable cruising option.  
Kudos to Umstot for having the foresight and courage to go against the grain of conventional and sometimes obtuse thinking about powercats!

As pleased as we are with the recognition of DOMINO 20 as a successful passagemaker, we’d like to address some of the comments in the book.  The author obviously studied Malcolm Tennant’s blueprints but never came on board to inspect the finished product, therefore was not aware of the few modifications we made to the design.  Neither was he aware of the specifics that we asked of Malcolm Tennant during the design phase.  So, with all due respect to Usmstot, let’s expand on his very valid critiques of the design.

 1- One Stateroom –
Domino's Master Stateroom
Conventional thinking has it that a 20-meter yacht should have at least 2 full staterooms with en-suite heads, preferably 4 staterooms.  That was not our mandate and I have expanded on this in a previous blog.  In keeping within the Robert Beebe “Passagemaker” philosophy, we wanted our stateroom to be large and comfortable, to have it at deck level, and not to give up “our” space for guests who might or might not materialize.  Additionally, we refused to give up the forward hulls for accommodations, wanting to keep plenty of volume "for the boat" as Malcolm used to put it.  Our DOMINO is made just for a couple cruising FULL TIME with occasional guests, mostly family who don’t mind sharing the head.  Our thinking was, only one head, one shower to clean, one toilet to be maintained or unplugged (which happens every time we have guests on board.)  

Top bunk, 2-meter long, with large cupboard, lighting and ventilation
Indeed, we could have lowered the bed to have more headroom

The bottom bunk also has 2 full lockers,
lots of headroom, but less ventilation

Our double-bunk is adequate for a couple and 2 children.  Granted, we could have done a better job at designing the bunks, using the wingdeck space.

This modification has been well executed by Bill Shuman on his HERO powercat just launched in Pensacola.  It can be done; we just didn’t want it, in keeping with our promise to Malcolm not to alter his design, not to widen the hulls, not to remove any bulkhead, and to follow his specifications and blueprints to the letter.

Hero Powercat guest stateroom
Visitors are, in fact, rare since we cruise far away from home and our guests so far have been more than happy to “tough it out” ... or we might give up our own stateroom once a year...


2 – Engine Room Access – 

Engine room access is well protected, within the cockpit
The rear-deck hatches are within the large and totally enclosed area of the aft deck, with 70” high coamings and a 3’ tall rail.

The original fore-aft orientation of the opening has been turned 90° (athwartship) to use the curve of the wingdeck for the building of full stairs, at a 65° slope, with natural hand-grabs all along.  

The stairs end in the pre-engine room where all the fuel transfer systems,  filters and gauges are located. 


A fireproof, soundproof door separate this “anteroom” from the engine room itself.  We have had to access the engine rooms in rough seas and it has been very safe to do so.  

We’re rarely seen a catamaran (or any small cruising yacht) with such safe engine room access.

Wide steps, gentle slope, natural hand-grabs all along
Even at 85', the French PELICANO only has straight ladders to access the engine rooms
3 – The Helm Bench -

Grand son Asa shares the helm with his "fafa"
 We totally agree with Umstot.  A couple of $2,000 Captain’s chairs would be so much nicer.  In fact, we had ordered a Tyco Pacific Chair, with adjustable stand and were looking forward to its comfort and versatility.  However, that beautiful set-up “disappeared” while in the hands of Paraguayan Customs… or somewhere along the three-month delivery trip from Miami-Valparaiso-Buenos Aires-Asuncion-Mariano Roque Alonso.  We got the box all right… empty!  No captain’s chair!

Plenty of foot rests and rails at various levels for added comfort and safety in strong seas
So we went for the original bench design which, thankfully, presents a few advantages.  The lack of metallic part in this all-wood bench has allowed us to place the gyrocompass under the bench, far away from all electronics.  

JP built the bench to accommodate the largest sized paper chart, so we can store all our charts, pilot charts and other oversized documents without having to roll them.  The bench inside dimension is 37” deep x 49” wide.

 On long passages, the helmsperson has the option to sit sideways, stretching his legs on the bench.  Alternatively, the bench backrest could have been built on a swivel, allowing to flip it forward and provide additional seating while at anchor.

4 – Flying Bridge –

Dinghy storage aft of the arch

Grand daughter Maddie lazing while going down the East River, NY

 Indeed, we enjoy this large space very much.  

Paraguayan friends Daniel & Malou celebrate the New Year from the top!
Not only do we store the dinghy during long passages, during intense fishing trips, at anchorages reputed for outboardtheft (Trinidad, Panama, Honduras) or to do all outboard maintenance work, but we love the sunset views from the top.  

As for “getaway for crew members,” well, we don’t ever have crew members, so that does not apply to us.  However, we keep in mind that the flying bridge can easily be modified and fitted to accommodated more entertaining and crew.  

MTD "RHUMBA", an Oyster Bay design, has fully-enclosed flying bridge
This was successfully addressed by RHUMBA (a MTD Oyster Bay design) and HERO (another MTD design for Bill Shuman.)

Bill Shuman's "HERO" has a hard-top flying bridge with excellent seating
5 – Range – Malcolm Tennant was always very conservative with his numbers and estimates.  He designed the DOMINO 20’s range with a goal of 4,000 nautical miles at 10 knots.  After traveling almost 20,000 NM, we estimate that at 10 knots our true range is closer to 6,000 NM.  

Here are the numbers at full load of fuel and water
 RPM         GPH         SPEED (Kt)        RANGE (NM)
1100 5.5 10.3  5,618

DOMINO under full load at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club (Photo Philippe Dufour)
It may, to some, seem silly to have such a large range capability.  However, this allows us to select our refueling points, eliminating the dubious and risky drums and old barrels.  So far, we’ve never had bad fuel.   With the help of Tony Athens (Seaboard Marine and Boat Diesel.com) the tanks, fuel fill-up and transfer system have been designed to avoid ingress of water and condensation.  So far, we have not had a drop of water in our fuel, which allows to keep fuel for a long time without using additive (16 months from Myrtle Beach to Panama City.)  Finally, is the economy due to DOMINO’s highly performing John Deere 6081 engines? Possibly.  Do we always cruise at 10 knots?  Most of the time, we do so because we are trolling.  Sometimes, we troll at 7 knots on 1 engine only (900 rpm, 7.3nm, 1.8 gph, 12,000 NM range.)  At times, and DOMINO much prefers this, we cruise at 20 knots (2,000 rpm, 23 gph, 2,200 NM range) as we did to escape Hurricane Tomas, cross the Gulf Stream, or even to please our pilot on the Panama Canal.  Bottom line, in our 19,000 NM of travels we have averaged 10.5 knots, 2.5 mpg.  

Again, we asked to design our DOMINO with economy in mind, in keeping with the original “Passagemaker” philosophy: a boat for 2, cruising full-time, far-far away.  Modifications would be easy.  Our in-hull workshop could be scrapped to build a stateroom, for example, but I’m not about to take this workshop away from JP.  If the galley makes every cruising woman want to move on board DOMINO, the workshop has their male counterparts salivating in envy.

For JP and I and considering our cruising style and destinations, DOMINO is, indeed, the Ultimate Passagemaker.

Thank you, Denis Umstot and Bill Parlatore for being such strong supporters of the Powercat concept in general and of our DOMINO 20 in particular.  This is an idea that has come of age.  Eight of Malcolm Tennant’s powercats have crossed oceans on their own bottoms.  After the success of the DOMINO 20 design, as proven by the frequent New-Zealand to Samoa crossings of our sister ship TABBY CAT, we are so excited to see that Northland Contract Boatbuilders is now offering a small series of DOMINO 20.  We wish them and Anthony “Tony” Stanton all the success they deserve.

Gone cruisin’….


Lightning Survey Results

CONSIDERATIONS for  marine lightning protection (PART ONE)

July 9, 2013

Panama City, Panama

Lightning over Isla Del Rey, Las Perlas, Panama
from our anchorage at Espiritu Santo
Allow me to vent a bit.  Recently, I created a survey of cruisers’ experiences with lightning and their attitudes and beliefs with regards to marine lightning protection systems (MLPS), and submitted it to various forums and cruisers networks.  Amazingly, I was booted out of certain entities, accused of doing “market research.”  Later, as I had the survey completed and compiled, having spent dozens of hours reviewing the literature and getting an education on the subject, I responded to some inane comment on a forum, tantamount to “See, they have an MLPS and STILL got hit”and referred the reader to white papers and scientific articles on the subject.   Again I got booted off the forums.  Not that I care, since in that particular 48-hour period I had over 1,100 hits on the blog (an another 1,200 the following day) with the majority focusing on lightning.  But I wonder what is this attitude against the search for knowledge in a subject that most boaters consider as “Voodoo.” 

Well, I’m no witch and lightning protection is no Voodoo.  Communication towers are under mandate to protect their towers and their equipment from damage from lightning strikes.  They may be fined if their service is excessively disrupted.  Consequently, communication companies take lightning protection seriously and spend big bucks on the issue.  You can Google the subject and study the depth of information and layers of protection that are fostered upon communication towers.  It’s not so with the boaters and boat builders.  Yacht builders are under no obligation to provide any kind of lightning protection for their yachts.  Very few cruisers spend the time to get an education on the subject.  Even fewer are willing to spend the money to protect their boats, crew and equipment.

Granted, the information on the Internet is confusing.  But with a bit of time and perseverance, one can pick through the harvest of data and separate the wheat from the chaff.  In an attempt to do so, I’m presenting you with a two-part blog.   The first part is the result of the survey I conducted while in Panama.  The second part is a discussion of the various considerations for lightning protection.


Since I have no commercial ties to any of the entities I refer to in my blog, I feel confident to present the results of this survey and my own comments and reflections, all free of commercial bias.  In conducting this survey, I have been careful to protect the identities of the participants.  I’ve also, to my capacity, tried to follow basic scientific principles.  For this reason, I do not intend to draw a cause-to-effect conclusion.  I will simply leave the events and casualties be on a co-incidental level.  The reader, if he so desires, will draw (or not) his or her own conclusions.

This, my dear reader, is an eye opener.  Nothing more.  Food for thought.  Data to fill your think tank.  In the next blog, we will review the considerations for fitting or not fitting our yachts with a marine lightning protection system.  But for now, let’s see what other cruisers have experienced.  For this, I thank the CRUISERS ONLINE NETWORK for allowing me to conduct the survey and for the members’ answers and comments; I also thanks all the boaters from my personal address book, MIT professors, international physicists, and Happy Hour fellows who participated, sharing their thoughts, knowledge, and stories.

World lightning zones index


1 – Participants

N = 21 owners representing 24 yachts
 18 yachts had experienced one or more lightning event, for a total of 21 events
  6 yachts had no event

2 - Lightning zones Index  (LZI)

                (1 unknown)

3 – Situation

On the hard

4 – Direct or Indirect strike (perceived and reported)

            Direct = 9
            Indirect = 10
            Unknown = 1
            There did not seem to be any correlation between the directness of the strike and the total amount of damage to the boat.

            The “Direct” vs. “Indirect” issue is, in my opinion, largely subjective.  It can be difficult to assess whether a yacht suffers a direct (i.e. overhead, “bolt out of the blue,”) or indirect (“spill-over” surface discharge, "white ball".)  In crowded anchorages, several yachts may be involved in the same “direct” strike.  Although one yacht might sustain the “first” strike, neighboring yachts may also send upwards streamers and attach to subsequent downward  leaders, also suffering direct strikes.  But the owner might perceive it as indirect.  An “indirect” strike can come from surface discharge on top of the water, which might also, conceivably (but not for sure) travel underwater and affect neighboring yachts.  

5 – Damage

            Reported damage ranged between $100 and over $100,000.
            - One case of engine room fire with health consequences for the owner;
            - One case of pinholes in the hull;
            - One case of holed zinc anode;
            - One case of blown caprails, exploded LED lights, exploded TV screen;
            - Two cases of arcing across the deck
            - Most common loss of VHF radio, wind sensor/processor, and most sensitive electronics (Autopilot, depths sounder, AIS, radar)
            - Three cases of blown or discharged batteries

6 – Insurance _ Had insurance or reported to their insurance company
            7 Yes
            7 No
            4 unknown

7 – Marine Lightning Protection

            a) Non-event:  Of the 6 yachts who had never been hit,
        - 4 yachts (2 owners) had protection, all Static Electriciy Dissipators (SED)
        - 1 yacht had no protection and has no intention to add any.

            b) Events: Of the 21 reported events, 
i _ Protected:  
       - 5 yachts had some kind of protection:grounded shrouds, bonded metal or grounded mast. 
       - 3 had SEDs
       - 1 had a full system, air terminals, electrodes and full bonding (in both events)

ii _ Non protected: 12 yachts had no kind of protection
8 - Changes after being hit – Of the 18 yachts affected, 14 answered this question.
            - 8 who had no protection did not add any kind of protection
            - 2 who had no protection added some kind of protection
            - 3 who had protection kept and/or improved their protection system
       Improvements in MLP were:
            - 1 added SED;
            - 1 fitted his new yacht with air terminals and full bonding;
            - 3 added arrestors and/or surge protectors on major electronics, electrical and RF equipment
      Changes in general yacht configuration included:


Most yachts lowered their VHF antenna below the level of the air terminal or SED
            - Some considered or added wireless sensors and quick disconnect at the base of the mast.
            - One disabled his entire navigation suite and switched to iPad and iPhone apps.

Dynamic cloud: lightning strike was intense in the "back" of this cloud
at Isla Espiritu Santo

- “BOLT OUT OF THE BLUE”  -  This is the most dangerous and potentially damaging kind of strike (see BOLT) –
      - a steel trawler underway off Nicaragua [LZI=80], 20 miles away from the cell.  The strike appears to have entered through the engine room intake and caused an electrical fire in the engine room.  “[the boat] is steel which they say saved my life… I did suffer medical effects due to the chemical toxins in the wiring which consumed my entire boat during the fire.” 

- “WHITE BALL” or “The Roller”  (see TORRO)
      - our own fiberglass power catamaran, while side-tied to a steel trawler in Asuncion [LZI =120] was engulfed by a white ball.  The ball struck the yacht club’s parking lot, rolled across the lot, into the water, parted in the back of the catamaran and kept traveling forward.  Amazingly, we suffered no injury nor boat damage.  Perhaps this was due to the fact that we were side-tied to a steel trawler, or due to the fact that our hulls are fitted with Siedarc electrodes.  Perhaps we were safe because our entire boat is bonded and we are literally inside a Faraday Cage.  We were five adults on board, sipping our “Bon Voyage” Champagne.  The light was so white that our champagne looked like silver bubbles.
Perception... did the bolt strike land or the yacht's railing?

            - “The reports we have read have not convinced us that protection systems work.  We always try to anchor next to someone with a taller mast.”

            - “Efficacy of systems seems questionable; can cause more problems than solutions.  If you don’t want to get hit by lightning stay away from areas with lots of lightning.”

            - “The odds are low; better have insurance and let the insurance pay for the damage.”

            - “Once you get hit, you have no way to guide the charge where you want it to go.  It is very powerful and unpredictable.  All the efforts should be devoted to avoiding to get hit.  This is much simpler and achievable [SEDs]… Lightning protection is not directing the lightning where you want it to go.  It is preventing the lightning from striking.”

            - “Nothing works.  For a direct hit with millions of volts and tens to hundreds of thousands of amps will go everywhere.  Air ionizes and becomes a conductor.  You know what we call the green bonding wire in that scenario?  A fuse.”

            - “[Nothing is] effective… So in my opinion, the best protection against lightning is an insurance policy that will pay for the damages in a reasonable amount of time with the less amount of hassle.”

            - “Lightning dissipators at the top of the mast… are virtually useless.  There is no way to protect your boat against lightning.  The only thing you can do is protect your pocketbook against lightning by having proper coverage.”

            - “When we left for the Carribean in 2002, [our insurance company] insisted I install an ion dissipator on our masthead…When we returned to the States in 2010… we asked our new insurance company their recommendation, they told us they had none, so we removed [the SED]. 

Finally, my favorite…. “It’s a crapshoot… do what makes you feel good!”

Well, what makes me feel good it to gain as much knowledge on a subject that is so nebulous to most of us, boaters.  Ignorance can kill as surely as a lightning bolt.  I’ve spent my entire working career in the medicine and science field.  The term “INFORMED DECISION” is ingrained in my brain.  So, in the next blog, I will share the results of my information search on the subject of marine lightning protection, with links and bibliography, presenting the pros and cons, the good, the bad and the ugly!  Anybody who cares to chime in, go ahead!

Until next blog


Considerations for Lightning Protection


DOMINO's original 16' VHF antenna: well above the air terminal  -  A big mistake!
This is neither an exhaustive nor an authoritative article about lightning protection.  I certainly do not have the proper credentials for that.  Rather, it is—I hope—an eye-opener about the importance and feasibility of installing the right lightning protection system on a cruising yacht.  As demonstrated in the previous blog, cruisers get hit, especially those who cruise in higher-risk areas.  As well, yachts that stay at marinas in high-activity areas are at highest risk.  But my focus in on cruisers, since not only their yachts are at risks, but also their own lives.

From all I’ve read, and I agree with the Peterson Owner’s Group(1),you cannot prevent lightning from striking your yacht.  There is no such thing as a “lightning-proof” yacht.  But there is plenty that you can do to limit the damages from a lightning strike.  Since yacht builders are under no obligation to fit their products with any kind of lightning protection or bonding system (17), it behooves the yacht owners to address the issue and protect their yachts from utter destruction. 

But let’s go through the decision process.  I am a firm believer in statistics and probabilities, much more than in following three of the most common Boaters Lightning Beliefs (BLBs): keeping my fingers crossed, hiding my head under a pillow, or praying to some Heavenly God to spare my yacht.


1 – Where do you cruise?

BLB #1 -  “If you don’t want to be hit by lightning, stay away from an area where there is a lot of lightning.”

For boaters whose crafts spend most of the year at a marina, the issue of lightning protection may not be important.  But for bluewater cruisers whose life depends on the integrity of the yacht, lightning protection becomes much more vital.  Even more important is the area in which they cruise.

The lightning index chart above gives an idea of the risk of lightning for any given region.  It seems logical that the higher the index, the more desirable a marine lightning protection system (MLPS.)  Yet lightning does strike in low-index areas too.  A survey respondent was hit in Nova Scotia, another one in Maine, and another one in Spain, with damage up to $5,000.  The Gowrie Insurance group reports the average claim to hover around $20,000.

2) Salt or fresh water?  Consider the story of WINGS hit by lightning(2) on Lake St Clair, a low-index area.  Not only did the yacht lose its electronics, but also it was taking on water by blown through-hulls.  Consider the fact that damage from lightning on fresh water bodies can be much more extensive than on saltwater, due to the lower conductivity of fresh water.  Read the story of ECLIPSE (3)hit in the Pilmico Sound.

This catamaran suffered an indirect strike, lost its navigation suite
3)  What kind of boat?   A boat with a 50-ft mast is likely to be struck once in an 11.2-year period (4)
          - According to the 2000-2005 Boats US insurance claim data, the overall odds of any boat being struck by lightning in any given year are about 1.2 in 1000.  But, the odds are much greater for boats in higher activity index, such as Florida, with a strike rate of 3.3 in 1000.  A close second to Florida is the Chesapeake Bay.
- The majority of strikes are on sailboats (4 per 1000), but powerboats get struck also (5 per 10,000) with trawlers topping the list (2 per 1000) ahead of miscellaneous houseboats, bass boats, and PWCs.. (5)  

These numbers are astonishing and yet I suspect that the number of yachts involved in a lightning event is much higher than reported by the insurance industry.  According to the survey I published earlier, 50% of the respondents either had no insurance coverage or did not report to their insurance company. 

"Witching Hour" in Panama City... lightning is coming!
a)  Cat vs/ monohull - Multihull sailboats are struck more than twice as often as monohulls. (7) Compared to a monohull of identical length, a catamaran has twice the water length, which certainly makes strike management more desirable.  But the length on the water may not be the reason why cats get hit twice as often.

- The “Lollipop” factor - Ewen Thomson has an interesting theory on strike probability.  I call this the “Lollipop” factor and it has to do with yacht proximity.  In a crowded anchorage, yachts close to each other will compete for attraction and have approximately identical electrical potential (“Pick Me” factor); the outlying yachts will only have half the competition; and the larger yachts (wide catamarans and large cruising yachts) who anchor away from the fleet have no competition at all.  Remember when you were a kid in the candy store, picking out a lollipop from the counter?  Which lollipop did you pick?  The one in the middle of the bunch? The one on the outer edge?  The one that was standing alone on the side?  The outliers were much easier to pick.  Ah! Of course, there is always the vicious kid who'll make a point of picking the lollipop from the center of the bunch.  Well, lightning can be vicious too.  There is no hard rule; just probabilities.  However, do keep that ‘Lollipop” picture in mind and read Thomson’s theory. (7)

b)- Metal vs/ FG  - All-metal ships are rarely damaged, and injuries or deaths are uncommon. (6)  Their hulls themselves act as grounding and dissipate the charge through salt water.  But a wooden or fiberglass yacht does not present that advantage, and they are natural targets for a lightning strike.”(6)  As one yachtie put it to me, “The more ground, the better.”  This makes a case for the metal ships, but also may make a case for properly interconnecting the lightning ground to the general ground.
This yawl lost its electronics, blown TV screen, blown caprails
c)- Mast height –  That’s what I call the main “Pick Me” factor.
           BLB #2 - ”We always try to anchor next to someone with a taller mast.”

 Lightning coming down from a cloud (“Leader”) will look for the easiest way to hook up with an upward-travelling charge (“Streamer”) emanating from a yacht.  Popular thinking has it that the tallest mast will be the easiest pick.  But, as we’ve seen above, it’s not the only decisive factor.  Reports of small trawlers getting hit while nestled between taller sailboats illustrate the imperfection of the “cone of protection” concept.

The communication tower at Saboga: we try to anchor close to it
4) - Cone of Protection –  Yachties seem to count on each-other for protection.  The “Lollipop factor” leads the smaller yachts to anchor close to the tallest ones, or at the foot of a communication tower, or at the base of a hill, hoping to benefit from their cone of protection.  But this cone seems to be rather leaky.  Lately, I have heard the term being re-coined as “Sieve of Protection.”  The National Lightning Safety Institute warns that lightning can penetrate the cone of protection. (9)  Even Prof. Ewen Thomson admits that there is no absolute guarantee that lightning will not enter the cone of protection afforded by a properly installed system. “The zone of protection is a region of relative (not absolute) safety in a boat that has a lightning protection system installed. In this region a direct strike, that is, lightning attachment, is very unlikely.” (10)

5) - “I don’t ground my boat.” Some yachties refuse to ground their boat, not to “elevate the level of the water” to the top of their mast.  Others are of the opinion that if they have a grounding plate below water, lightning spill-over can enter their boat via the grounding plate.  I wonder if they also remove from below water all other metallic part, such as prop and shaft. Freeman reminds us that "lightning is RF and it wants to travel on the surface, not deep in the water."(11) 
       These particular cruisers, admittedly, have never suffered a strike.  But what if they do, one day?  Without grounding or any other path for discharge, a strike is likely to create much more damage, fire, and injury to the crew.  John Payne has a particular warning for non-grounded vessels:  Ungrounded Vessels actually promote strikes to the vessel due to [static electricity build-up on deck].”(8)

The powercat HERO has full lightning management system, air terminal way above all antennas

II -  Marine Lightning Protection Systems– Rather than “Lightning Protection Systems,” I’d rather consider the term “Lightning Management Systems.” The word “protection” is ambiguous: protection FROM a strike or protection FOR the yacht? As cruisers swear repeatedly—and specialists agree--there is no way to avoid a lightning strike.  But there are many ways to manage the strike and the way it discharges, as well as to manage the backflow to equipment.

             BLB #3 - “[MLPS] can cause more problems than solutions”. 
   John Payne calls this the “Great Myth”(8) 

               BLB #4 - "Nothing can be done."
            Perhaps the most interesting response I’ve had during my survey came from C. Freeman who took the time to post a technical and informative paper on the Yahoo Group and I reposted on my Google docs.  “Lightning is not a mystery and electronic damage is not inevitable. If that were the case there would be no cell phones, radio or TV stations; all those sites are filled with sensitive electronics that continue to work after having taken direct hits. Why? Because they are protected. How? Can we do it on our boat? The answer is "maybe"  (11)  


1 -  Goals of protection  - ABYC is clear: “The primary purpose of a lightning protection system is to provide for the physical safety of all aboard your vessel.”(12)
     - to the boat -  The basic components of a MLPS are an air terminal, a main conductor, and a ground plate.  
     - to the crew – Bonding the boat to create a Faraday Cage.
      - to the electronics – Preventing residual electricity to backflow through the circuits, using clamps, arrestors and other preventors.
      - sidestrikes management – Sidestrikes are “a lightning detour” (4)and can happen through the air, but also at the surface of the water or of the earth (13).

            I am not going to belabor the components of a complete protection system.  Professionals in the field are much more qualified.  So, I’m listing here the main links to what I have found to be the most complete and informative sites.

- Marine Lightning Protection by Ewen Thomson
- Brewer’s Complexities by Ron Brewer 

2 – Static Electricity Diffusors (SEDs)

            Perhaps the most controversial issue in my survey has been the effectiveness of those funny-looking little brushes, or SEDs. 
            - The cruiser’s point of view:  BLB #5 - “They are inexpensive and can do no harm.”

            - The seller’s point of view -  Foresparmakes a case for their product, showing the MALTESE FALCON setup as their champion.  LightningMaster Corp.also distributes the “Streamer Delaying Air Terminals.”  
            - The insurance company point of view– I am perplexed as to the lack of consensus in the insurance world.  I would have thought that with all their actuarial data, insurance conglomerates would have a standard recommendation on the subject.  Yet, some insurance companies request the SEDs, some do not. 
            - The consultant’s opinion- Ron Brewer is of the opinion that “Dissipators make for good air terminals.  They may even be better at streamer initiation than a single rod .(4)    Ewen Thomson  is of the opinion that dissipators might displace the charge a few inches, "in other words, enough to deflect the attachment point from its intended target, the air terminal, to an antenna or the top of the mast.  This is especially problematic for carbon fiber masts which cannot carry a lightning current without localized damage to the CFC composite." 
            - Survey says -  Of the 18 yachts that were hit, 3 had dissipators.  Of the 6 yachts that reported no event (2 owners,) 5 had dissipators. 
            The effeciveness of the SED has, however, been questioned in several studies, as reported by the Peterson Owner’s Group .   The effectiveness of SEDs has been studied by NASA, FAA, Army, Air Force, NFPA and DOT.  “None of these agencies supported their use.  Scientific papers by scientists in reputable journals have also been negative.”(16)

For a striking illustration, see the photo of a catamaran after a strike: SED in place, boat burnt.

JP adds arrestors on our Indel refrigerator
3 – Arrestors and surge protectors, or “The Clamping Game.”  In previous posts, Little Fusesand Big Fuses, I have developed this subject at length, sharing Internet resources for further research, white papers, and product information.  The idea of adding transient surge suppressors and other clamping devices on all vital electronics and RF equipment is not to manage the “millions of volts” (as one cruiser puts it) that flow through a strike, but to clamp, in a matter of a picosecond, any residual backflow.  Again, here are the links:

5 - Your “Bag of Tricks” – Capt. Tom Serio has an interesting article(15) on the subject of what to do if you get hit by lightning.  But he also recommends installing some kind of what I now call a “Lightning Management System.”  He also points out to the fact that Hatteras and Christensen Yachts are two boat builders who install some kind of MLPS on their yachts.

6 – Our mistakes –  So many cruisers tell us BLB #6 - "See, you had a protection system and you STILL got hit.” Yep!  There is no absolute guarantee when it comes to lightning.  We were hit, fried most of our electronics.  But the boat kept its integrity, we were unharmed and didn't even realize we had been hit until some 10-15 minutes later.  None of our non-grounded equipment was damaged (phones, computers, handheld...)  
        But we have to admit that we had made two major errors that ended up to be costly.
            a) Our 16’ VHF antenna was taller than our lightning rod, unbeknownst to our lightning consultant.  What a great “Pick Me” tease for a lightning strike!  Since our 66’ powercat was anchored way away from the rest of the fleet (as usual) we became prime target.  But it’s not the lightning rod that became prime target.  It’s the VHF antenna – although the lightning rod is likely to have carried most of the surge.  Lightning through an antenna causes much more damage than through a properly grounded air terminal.
            b) We had not installed any kind of clamping or surge protection on any electronics.  That was weak!
            Both errors have been corrected and we now BLB # 7 - “feel good” about our lightning management system.

            During the last year, we have personally met over a dozen yacht owners who had been struck by lightning (some have participated in our survey, others have not.) In the majority of cases, their apparatus at the top of their masts had blown up: VHF antennas, wind sensors, or “bottle brushes.”  This makes it all the more obvious to me that no antenna should protrude above the highest level of your mast or lightning rod.  

Whatever you do, do not underestimate your risk.  Consider the probabilities.  With the help of a marine lightning expert, pick a system that’s right for your boat’s cruising grounds, configuration, size and value.  And finally, engage the service of a trained, reputable electrician to help with the installation. (14)

Now, let's go cruising!

Till next blog



(1) Peterson Cutter Owner Group - http://www.kp44.org/LightningProtection.php

(3) “Eclipse Hit by Lightning”  -  www.sailingcatamarans.com/lightningarticle.htm

(4) Brewer, Ron, EMC/ESD – “Complexities of Marine Lightning Protection”  March 2011 http://www.evaluationengineering.com

(5) Lightning! Flash, BANG! Your Boat's Been Hit — Now What?  August 2010 http://www.boatus.com/seaworthy/swlightning.asp
(6)  National AG Safety Database – “Boating/Lightning Protection – October 1992  http://nasdonline.org/document/209/d000007/boating-lightning-protection.html
(8) Payne, John – “Lightning Strikes on Board” http://www.kp44.org/ftp/LightningStrikesOnboard.pdf
(10) Thomson, Ewen – Air Terminals - http://www.marinelightning.com/AirTerminals.htm
(11) Freeman, C. – Response to Lightning Survey – Yahoo Group – Sept. 15, 2012
(12) ABYC – Lightning Protection Recommendations http://www.kp44.org/LightningProtectionABYC_Standards.php
(13) Moore et al.  An examination of Lightning-Strike Grounding Physics – Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, NMT, Socorro, NM
(15) Serio, Tom – Lightning Protection– Yacht Forum – April 2009 – Permalink #13 http://www.yachtforums.com/forums/general-yachting-discussion/11059-lightning.html
(16) Lightning Protection – Air Terminals  http://www.kp44.org/LightningProtectionAirTerminals.php

(17) Thomson, E.  A Critical Assessment of the U.S.Cod for Lightning Protection of Boats– IEEE Transactions on Electromagnetic Compatibility, Vol.33, No.2, May 1991  



Peterson Cutter Owners Group: compendium of articles on lightning

Fall Winds of San Blas

Windy morning in the Holandese, Gunayala
"Chakasana" Winds

July 14, 2013

Panama City, Panama

HAPPY BASTILLE DAY -  Just as we are getting ready to raise anchor and go celebrate our French National Holiday with a flotilla of Frenchies at Taboga, enjoying a perfectly calm day on the west side of Panama, I just read a horrendous report from our friends in the San Blas, the eastern side.

As I’ve mentioned before, the weather in Eastern Panama, particularly the San Blas (Gunayala) during the rainy season (that’s now…) can be extremely violent.  High velocity winds rush down from the mountains, usually at night, and slam into the islands at speeds of 65-70 knots.  The locals call these winds “CHAKASANA” (don’t trust the spelling.)

Little is known or recorded about these winds.  First-hand accounts are rare.  Even our weather guru Chris Parker would like more info about these winds. If you have witnessed these winds or have info about them, you may contact any of the following:

Glenn Tuttle  parrothedd@gmail.com  (of the Yahoo group Cruisers Network)

Chris Parker  mailto:chris@mwxc.com

In any case, if you’re cruising Gunayala (San Blas) in the rainy season, be very aware of those fall winds!

I’m simply posting the report from Allen on SV Honalee. 

Off to the islands….  Pacific side!


Evening in Gunayala... who knows what's coming?


“We were awaken around 0300 when Honalee, our Tayana 55, suddenly healed over and the wind picked up.  Within a few minutes it was blowing around 30K, lots of lightning and rain but not so heavy rain.  Within a few minutes the winds were screaming and continued to do so for about 30 minutes.  Windspeeds of 65K and 70K were read in the Eastern Lemmons …  and stayed above 50K.  At 0410 it was over.  The boat was snapping from side to side and a large chop entered the anchorage.  I went on deck to be sure the kayak was tied and decided not to venture out again.

Honalee's dinghy, which was raised on the port side, took out one stantion, bent two more, deposited the fuel tank and start battery on deck and the seat is missing in action.  A couple of gallons of seawater entered the boat through an open port in the hull, probably when it heeled over.  My boom mounted awning had the threads holding the D'rings on three of the corners failed and I was able to pull them down and into the cockpit with no other damage. The front awning survived with one D'ring webbing slightly damaged.

I have bee cruising the Caribbean for 24 years- 16 in the Eastern Caribbean and almost eight years in Gunayala/Panama.  I have never been above 12.4 degrees latitude during the hurricane season.  This was by far the worst conditions I have ever encountered.

These squalls are totally unpredictable as they can follow beautiful sunny days or rainy gusty days.  They always occur in the wee hours of the morning and if they are predicted you can bet it won't happen.

The only thing I could have done differently is put Honalee on the hard in Shelter Bay and went elsewhere!

May boats dragged and I heard that three boats went on the beach in Chichime, one a cat is still aground and one in Porvenir.

sv Honalee
Lemmon Cays, Gunayala”

"Swimming Pool" anchorage, Holandese Cays, Gunayala (San Blas)

Fav Powercats

PELICANO and DOMINO in New York City
July 18, 2013
Panama City, Panama

If landlubbers delight in people-watching and nature-lovers enjoy bird-watching, we go for boat-watching.  Oh, how do we like our yachts!  All of them... power catamarans, sailing catamarans, mega-yachts, fishing skiffs, antique crafts... we love them all!

It goes without saying that I snap pix at any yacht that catches my attention.  It's about time I shared with you, other than with our FB friends, our favorite yachts.  Of course, we'll start with power catamarans.  Not too many words, mostly pix... enjoy!

PELICANO, a Joubert-Nivelt long-range cruiser.  Cruises at 10 knots, max 13 knots.  We bumped into PELICANO several times during our East Coast travels and were impressed by its roomy and sturdy feeling.

"HERO" - Built in Pensacola by Bill Shuman, this is one mean, "badasscat."  Just launched, this Malcolm Tennant hull design already shows impressive performance.  I'm waiting for Shuman to release his final numbers, but DOMINO seems to have serious competition when it comes to efficiency!  Well done...
HERO Powercat
And, while we are on the Malcolm Tennant subject, let's look at the evolution of the designs as we have encountered them in out travels.

"CHIC TO CHIC"  -  An early "Awesome" design, not even sure it's a Malcolm Tennant.  We first sighted her on the Rio Paraguay, her name at the time was "Ipacarai."  She was then sold to a gentleman in Argentina who refurbished her.  We were privileged to get a tour and Happy Hour while in Punta del Este.  Our favorite feature?  The toy storage bay on the foredeck: dinghy goes into the wingdeck!  Pretty Cool!

"CHIC TO CHIC" in Punta del Este
"KIWI" - A New Yorker 51 built in Brazil, the boat was brought back to Florida where owners Paul and Melanie refurbished it.  The cat now travels from Florida to Great Exuma.  The 30' beam brings an extraordinary feeling of spaciousness.

 "KIWI" at his home in Great Exuma.

"RHUMBA" - An Oyster Bay design built in Urbana, we happened to drop anchor next to them in... Oyster Bay, of all places!  What was that boat that looked like ours, but not quite?  We were intrigued, and so were Jeb and Angela.

 Of course, we had to visit each others' boats and share happy hour time!  I heard the boat was for sale, but I'm not sure what the current status is.

"MOANA" - Yet another early "Awesome" design, similar to "Chic-to-Chic" and "O'Neill" .  We came across it a few weeks ago in Panama.  This boat has crossed the Pacific several times.

"MOANA" recently sighted in Panama

We loved the rounded stern and enclosed flybridge.

But not all powercats are Kiwis.  We found a few exciting designs coming up the coast of Brazil.

PRO BOAT  in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, manufactures beautiful high-speed powercats.  Bernardo Mandelert has been doing so for 14 years and has over 40 of his yachts in the water.

Some of Pro Boat's sportsfisher in Marina Verolme, Angra dos Reis, Brazil

"AMOREH" -  We're not sure what to make of this cat.  We met at Marina Verolme, Brazil.  The yacht was from Argentina.  

OTHER DESIGNS -  We've come across some other powercats along our travels...

Carbon Fiber speed
In Annapolis, this high-speed planing carbon fiber cat caught our eye in Spa Creek.

DYAD in the Jumentos

Aluminum hull... Wave-piercing ... Dyad is a powercat in her own league!  "Bigdumboat" is her nickname...

DISCOVERY is a 33-meter small ship offering cruises on the Panama Canal.  We've often sighted her in Portobelo and Marina Flamenco, Panama City, and underway on the Canal.  Heavy, heavy, with lots of wake...
DISCOVERY on the Panama Canal

Other encounters:  "Playa Blanca," a lagoon that offers day cruises from Saboga to Contadora.

But our favorite powercat remains our own:  DOMINO

Fav Sailing Cats

Previous Fav Powercats
July 19, 2013
Panama City, Panama


I was going to delay this post a bit, but considering who just dropped anchor next to us, I HAVE to share the pix.  Dang! It's TANG!  The coolest sailing cat on the planet!  Razor-thin hulls, high wingdeck, all carbon fiber, hybrid electric EMP and Lithium batteries, well-thought enclosed steering stations, and....  (you knew that was coming)... a full lightning protection system from Marine Lightning. 

This Greg Young design is absolutely awesome, hydrofoil and all! They're on their way to the Marquesas, stopping only a few days in Panama City... can't blame them!


That's the thing about Panama.  Yachts just stay a few days on their way to far-away destinations.  Take the splendid Outremer "MOEMITI," a full advertisement for French Polynesia.  Who wouldn't want to follow this gorgeous Vahine to the end of the world?  Claude and Annie are waiting for us in Papeete!


Another sailing machine, KAYA dropped anchor next to us on New Year's eve while in the BVIs.  This souped-up, customized Dufour Nautitech is a beauty and the owners Yann and Cate made us feel welcome on board for an unforgettable New Year's Eve party.  May we meet again!


This is the cutest cat and we've been bumping into them all over... Martha's Vineyard, Newport RI, Colon (Panama), Las Perlas (Panama).  This St. Francis is home for a family of four.  We're a bit behind them, but see you soon in French Polynesia!

So many more, but they move so quickly through the anchorage that I hardly have time for a photo.  If 3 of this 4 cats are flying French flag, it's a reflection of what we see on the water.  The French navigate, take their kids along, and keep moving.  Now, let's get out of Panama and run after them!

Till next time...


Fav Superyachts

July 20th, 2013
Panama City Panama
VENUS at anchor in Panama
 Where do you go to find the most amazing mega-yachts?  At the entrance of the Panama Canal, this horrendous anchorage that is the shame of a country that doubles the transit fees every year but provides absolutely no amenity for the transiting yachts: no public dock, no shower, no restroom, no public transportation... unthinkable, and it's no wonder the Chinese are building a new canal through Lake Nicaragua... soon to be the best place to go mega-yacht watching.  But I digress...

A FEADSHIP creation at 256 feet
A few weeks ago, none other than VENUS, Steve Jobs' creation, dropped anchor off of Flamenco Marina.  The lines are pure and elegant. Structural glass panels were designed by Apple engineers.  No less than 7 big screens at the helm... Enjoy the pix.

Pure Philippe Stark design.

Other cool spots?  Antigua, with its yearly Luxury Charter Show; the British Virgin Islands who attract some of the most expensive yachts because of the Registry Laws and keep them because of their splendid anchorages.

"SOLEMATES" overshadows us as it glides into Falmouth harbor

A wonderful sight, at 200 feet of white beauty, SOLEMATES is one cool ship for charter.

St. Barth, of course, our little "Paris on a Stick," where walking the docks of Gustavia is appealing not just for the luxury boutiques that line the street, but mostly for the mega-yachts that  are med-moored there.  And just outside the harbour, more mega-yachts stand at anchor.  Always a feast for the eyes.

Owned by billionaire Mr. Abramovich as a support yacht for his fleet of superyachts (4 at the last count) - We sighted her sister ship off of Las Perlas (Panama) a few weeks ago.

One sturdy work yacht

And one very cool "dinghy"

A feast for the eyes at St. Bart ... "MEAMINA"

193 feet from Benetti

Anchored next to UMBRA and MEAMINA:  OCEAN VICTORY

Another FEADSHIP creation, at 248 feet!

Let's not forget Guadeloupe... Pointe a Pitre is not only the Rendez-vous of La Route du Rhum, but a harbour where quality workers are really good at what they do.  One morning, the jaw-dropping "A" glided by us without the slightest wake.  Another Philippe Stark design, at almost 400-feet, it's a sight!

 We saw her 2 years later, gliding out of the Panama Canal, off to ?

I suppose Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are pretty cool as well, though the only motoryacht we saw at Miami Beach was our own DOMINO....

DOMINO in Miami Beach, a measly 65-feet... far from a superyacht, but she's ours!
The Long Island Sound is sure to bring its own bounty.  Block Island, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Cuttyhunk and Newport RI are all cruising grounds for the rich-and-famous.  Some are private yachts; many are chartered.

OHANA in Block Island - Oh, the fun they had, all the toys!

MYSTIQUE in Montauk

But in Panama, we keep coming across such beauties as ELANDESS 

 At 60 meter (200-feet) this classic beauty caught our eye!

 And then, there is the expedition yacht.  DARDANELLA is a private yacht, made for bio-expeditions and we keep bumping into her, on either side of Panama.
DARDANELLA... 36 meter (121 feet) of exploration power

Well, I hope you enjoyed the show... It's so long for now, until next post...


Favorite Sailing Yachts

July 21, 2013
Panama City, Panama

How could we possibly have ONE favorite sailing yacht?  There are so many out-there, of all sizes.  So, I'll start with the latest sighting:  HETAIROS  -  She is 219 feet of sparkling green beauty.  We sighted her in Panama, the same day we sighted VENUS and it was quite a contrast to see those yachts next to each other: the ultra-modern VENUS and the ultra-classic (with all modern amenities) HETAIROS.

Her tender, HETAIRA is equally tempting, all mahogany.

I don't know the name of this yacht, but we sure like the looks!

And then, there is SPIIP   -  A CNB product, modern and racy, we bumped into them twice already, in Antigua and in Panama City.  
At 86', SPIIP can accommodate 6 guests in style

Not sure what this 5-spreader is, but we sighted her at Marina Verolme in Brazil.  She only came to refuel, was in and out, en route to where the wind blows.

There is a special place in our hearts for TABOO.   We spent 6 weeks on the hard next to them in Trinidad, and we kept going up the Caribbean side-by-side.  Whether in Grenada, Bequia, St. Bart, or the BVIs, the azure-blue hull gleaming at the anchorage was a welcome sight.  David and Miranda are genial hosts, sure to show their guests a great time.

TABOO in St. Barth

And then, of course, there is the mother-of-all sailing yachts, The MALTESE FALCON.  Not much I can say about this yacht, except that it's a sight you never forget.

The FALCON in Antigua  (Casino Royale is just behind her... not bad either!)
As jaw-dropping as all these modern beauties are, there is no denying the classic yacht.  What better place to go watch them than Newport, RI.  I don't even know the name of most of the yachts I shot photos of, but I'll just let you enjoy the lines...

The AQUIDNECK shows its power right off the start

A windy day in Newport Harbor and the tourists go for a harbour cruise.

The elegant schooner ADIRONDAK

Unmistakable: the red sails of AURORA
Other sights?  Schooners always make for a great photo... In Martha's Vineyard, the Black Dog Tallships Alabama and Shenandoah make for wonderful historical experiences.

The ALABAMA leaves Vineyard Haven

I'm not exactly sure where we saw that little number, but I had to snap it too.

The crossing to Nantucket brought a lovely surprise...  This little classic beauty and rugged crew delighted us!

On the way to Nantucket

Back down the Chesapeake, it's the watermen who delighted us with their classic SKIPJACKS.

Just south of St. Michael's a classic Chesapeake Bay SKIPJACK

 From classic to ultra-modern sport....

on a breezy day in Newport, RI

Pirate ships?  Of course, they exist!  The Brazilian wooden "Scuna" is the perfect ship!

"PEROLA NEGRA" (Black Pearl) outside Capri Yacht Club, on our way up the river to Sao Francisco do Sul

WHISPER in the Jumentos

As for design?  Quite a bit of variety.  WHISPER, aluminum junk-rigged.

WILD FOX in Portobelo

"WILD FOX" is our friend Anthony's yacht... not sure what to make of it, but we bumped into Anthony in Cabadelo (Brazil) then again in Portobelo and Panama City, last heard of him by SSB when he arrived in Ecuador.

The yellow sail covers of KULKURI are always a welcome sight.  We first met Jack, a solo handler, in San Blas, then all around the Perlas, on both sides of Panama.  Where did Jack go?  Probably across the Pacific once more!

Not quite a sailboat, really, but I had to add the CLUB MED 2, first sighted in Guadeloupe, then again in the BVIs.

Whatever the sail, it all starts small... very small... and what better place to start at than Annapolis?  Like ducks in a row, aspiring sailors return from their practice run.

It really doesn't matter what sailing yacht we choose.  A yacht is the sailor's castle.  So said Sergio, the first yachtsman I met in Ilha Grande, Brazil.

CIRANDEIRO in Sitio Forte, Ilha Grande

We've travelled almost 20,000 miles since that day, and still keep an eye for floating castles!  Meanwhile, we're truly living our dream... Pinch me!

Hope I'll never wake up from this!


Emergency Tiller


On the port boarding platform: Open the hatch and bolt the tiller into its support
July 23, 2013

Panama City, Panama

It’s count-down time.  Only 30 days before we leave our DOMINO to her babysitter at the Balboa Yacht Club and she needs to be in top form.  As soon as we come back from our US trip, it will be a final haul-out, below-waterline inspection, antifouling paint, and off to the Galapagos.  So, whatever needs to be done before taking the big jump across the Pacific, it’s now.

The pivot (below) bolts into the support plate; the extension (top) bolts into the pivot
Easy to store, fast to install
We’ve built redundancies in just about every system. Twin engines, of course;  full navigation system with iPad and separate laptop backups; battery charging through the genset, the engines, or solar panels; emergency 12V batteries; water-maker and rain-water collection system with hand-pump; electric bilge pumps and manual backup; and more parts that we can ever think of.  What was missing was an emergency steering system.

Emergency tiller... all set

What would we do if our hydraulic steering failed?  JP had been pondering this question for a while, proposing various schemes and drawings, but nothing totally to his satisfaction.  Then, we met Ricardo Crompton, through a lucky “strike.”  When we were hitby lightning last year in the San Blas, our local John Deere team flew to our anchorage within 36 hours of the strike and fixed our engines.  That’s service!  Later, Ruben –the service director for John Deere Panama—introduced us to his dad, Ricardo.  His machine shop is a pure treasure.  Ricardo can fix anything!  Drawing from a lifetime experience with boat mechanics, first in the merchant marine, then working on big machines and boats on the Panama Canal, Ricardo took a look at JP’s idea for an emergency tiller.  Not quite to his liking.  Between trolling a linebehind DOMINO and sharing a few beers, Ricardo kept thinking.  He came up with his own design, took measurements, and voila!  An emergency tiller.
Support plate, permanently bolted on top of the rudder arm.

The stainless steel mounting plate is bolted permanently on top of rudder arm.  In the event of an emergency, it would be very simple to open the rudder shelf hatch, attach the pivoting tube and bolt its extension to it.  We can sit on the platform steps and steer from there, protected by the high coaming.

Simple assembly: only 2 bolts.
Not that we’d really be happy or comfortable, and we hope we’ll never need to use this emergency tiller.  But it’s one redundancy we have to have.  Cross that off the list of things to do before the Puddle Jump!
Ricardo Crompton (right) and son Robert (center) share a sundowner with JP in
Las Brisas de Amador, Panama
Thanks, Ricardo… and if you’re in Panama and need a great machine shop, leave us a comment below, we’ll send you Ricardo’s number!   Now, let’s go catch a fish!

That would work... not that we ever want to use it!

Until next time…


Honeymoon in Las Perlas

Honeymoon in Las Perlas

July 5th, 2013
Panama City, Panama

Mr. & Mrs. Acey Aseltine ... quite a catch!
 Seriously!  How many newlyweds start their honeymoon with grand’pa and grand’ma, uh?  When our (step) grandson Acey asked to visit us on board with his new bride Stacey, we were … as they say… stoked!

Congratulations to the newlyweds

Acey Aseltine is a young film-maker and musician, with already several works under his belt.  His first work, Revolutions Southward is the story of 3 young college grads biking from Humboldt County to Mexico.  His more recent work, “Exploring Humboldt” confirms Acey as a nature-and-outdoors documentalist.  It was then, no surprise, when he announced that he and Stacey, who just got her degree in Spanish language, were spending their honeymoon backpacking through Central America.  Could they start their trek with us on DOMINO?  But of course!!!! 

A 7-day cruise through Las Perlas Archipelago

Since Acey wanted to investigate the cruising lifestyle, there was no other way than take the “Spaceys” –as they are lovingly nicknamed—for a little cruise.  Seven days, where do you go?  Las Perlas Archipelago, 42 nautical miles southeast of Panama City.  We bypassed some of our favorite anchorages such as Sabogaand Contadora’s Punta Verde to make a straight line to Chapera-Mogo Mogo and their splendid white-sand beaches.  But that was not without fishing, and Acey started with a little Dorado, tossing back a few skipjacks, all the while sighting humpback whales here and there.  Did I mention that Acey is a top-rate first mate?  Well-trained by the captain of the M/Y “LAURA” where Acey spent several summers working while in college, he had no problem scrubbing and cleaning  and drying the deck after each hook-up!

First Mate Acey never shies away from duty!
Early afternoon at Chapera, it was time for Stacey to discover Kayaking.  In two shakes, the kayaks were in the water and our lovebirds were exploring on their own.  It all had started well and Acey continued to endear himself by doing the dishes.  I was starting to really like this boy…

Stacey, glamorous on the Ocean Kayak
But morning brought bad weather and a nasty southern swell into the anchorage.  A quick look outside and we didn’t like what was coming.  A large storm was developing on the southwest, right over Isla del Rey and coming straight at us.  Time to move on if we didn’t want to be on a lee shore.  JP turned on the radar and confirmed our initial diagnosis: enormous storm.  Where to go from here?  The only protection from the southwest is tucked in at Espiritu Santo.  We didn’t even troll on the way.  Soon, the wind was up into the mid twenties, torrential rain limited the visibility to 300 yards, and lightning streaked the sky.  We hugged the coast, comfortably jogging at 10 knots, nice and dry in the cabin.  We had anchored at Espiritu Santo a dozen times before and could do it with our eyes closed.  Under pouring rain, we plopped Big Bertha down and had ourselves a nice lunch while the storm raged outside.

Panamean shrimper

We were not alone at the anchorage.  Early in the afternoon, a shrimper seeked refuge a few yards from us.  Did I say “Shrimper?”  Within minutes, I was trading a bucket filled with beer cans for a bucket of just-caught-shrimp.  Usually, a shrimper is out for twenty-some days and has to sprinkle the catch with chemicals for conservation.  So, what is sold at the market is not the best.  The shrimps in that bucket, however, all 14lbs of them, were just prime!  And when the Kunas came by with a couple of lobsters and an octopus, we added that to the Cioppino! Guess what we had for dinner!

Cioppino is what's for dinner tonight

A grimy sun greeted the next morning, but started to brighten by mid morning.  What better time to have a picnic?  Quick, bake a mushroom quiche and grill some eggplants, make a pitcher of Margarita, gather our snorkeling and hunting gear, and off to BBQ beach on Espiritu Santo.  I know our friend Betsy Crowfoot swears to have seen a boa in that location, but I never have… so far.  Luck was with us and the sun fully came out after lunch: hunting time.  While the “Spaceys” snorkeled around and I tried to point out “Lobster” to the newbies, JP was on the prowl for fish.  A parrotfish did nicely while I gathered a half-dozen white oysters, careful of staying clear of the resident black-tip reef sharks, not even disturbing a sleepy nurse shark.

Panama wild white oysters... enormous and delicious

It looks like we eat a lot… and we do, but it’s all fresh, organic, fat-free and loaded with omega-3s… and so far, cesium-free.  With our dedication to fixing only healthy meals, we made a point to have a little fun in the galley.  Louisiana Gumbo, Chinese Szechwan shrimp, Camarones al ajillo… around the world in DOMINO’s Galley.

Acey is not only a good film maker, he is an outstanding musician... so is Stacey!

All the fish was eaten and it was time to go for some more.  With a clear and windless morning, we decided to make the all-day trip from Espiritu Santo, around Isla Galera, south of Isla del Rey and mid-way up Isla San Jose.  Fishing grounds!  We were not disappointed.  Hundreds of dolphins (Pacific, Rizzo, Bottlenose) accompanied us while Acey filmed and filmed and filmed.  I swear the dolphins were talking to us, clicking and clicking away, the big leader training a curious eye on us while we were leaning out, clapping and cheering them on.  Suddenly, JP put the engines in idle. 

Acey in his element... filming dolphins

Uh-oh… that usually spells trouble.  “WHALE!”  Just five  yards to our starboard quarter, there he was, the humpback, its beady eye staring at us.  A second later, he was down, showing us his white belly, only to resurface on our stern and calmly cross our stilled wake, dodging our trolling lines, and waving its fluke “Adios.”  We sighted many more whales that day, some breaching and splashing down in a big white spray visible from miles away. 

If dolphins, whales and even turtles visited us all day long, it wasn’t the same for fish.  We were getting pretty desperate with only one little dorado for the day when suddenly the line zipped while coming around Galera.  Yessiree… a 14-lb big eye tuna was the prize for the day, followed by 2 more dorados (8 and 20 lbs.)  Acey was hitting his stride.  We entered the Cascade anchorage at dusk and enjoyed a well-deserved tuna sashimi.

The nicest couple!

The Cascade anchorage at San Jose is one of our favorite.  Once more, The Spaceys explored by kayak up and down the bay.  But we were ready for more oysters and one more snorkeling trip: parrot, trigger, angel, surgeon, snappers, they were all there to be looked at.  But the surprise was not it the sights, it was in the sounds.  

San Jose's Cascade anchorage at high tide
Humpback whales were calling for each other and it took us a few instants to understand that the noise was not coming from our squeaking masks or tuba, but from these giant mammals.  That was awesome!
Acey reels in a 20-lb Dorado

By then, we had been five days on the water and our cruise was coming to an end.  There was one more anchorage not to be missed:  Pedro Gonzalez, just an hour cruise away.  Off we went… and caught 2 more small Dorados on the way.  I was wondering if the kids were not getting sick of fish, but if they thought so, they never let it on.  Did I mention that Stacey is the nicest girl, with the biggest smile and never a complaint?

Lunch underway: garlic shrimp, lentil salad and greens

If our cruising lifestyle includes a lot of fishing, cooking , eating, snorkeling, hunting, wildlife sighting, it also includes foraging.  We were soon on the beach, gathering mangoes and coconut!  But it was time for work.   JP dove and cleaned the hulls.  But something else was brewing… The Spaceys really were not kidding and had us pegged down for interviews all afternoon.  We can’t wait for their video to be released and you’ll be the first to know!

Stacey starts small, but soon to catch bigger.... much bigger!
At last, it was time to return to the city.  An early morning kayak outing got me a ride with the dolphins at sunrise and a half-dozen of rockfish on the troll, just right for a fish soup.   Meanwhile, JP and the kids made one last foraging for mangoes, coconuts and flowers.  Trust me, we eat it all, except for the flowers...

Living the wild life

It had been a great cruise and we had delighted in the kids high spirits and conversations.  How could it be better?  Just 15 miles south of Panama City, all the trolling lines started to buzz at once…. Finally, in a double catch, Stacey and Acey each brought a big-eye tuna.  How is that for a good omen?  These kids are starting their life right!

JP, so proud of his "Kids

And then, they were gone, off to Bocas del Toro, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Tikal and Mexico.  It was all great fun and love, and they didn’t even plug the toilet or empty the water tank!  They can come back any time!
I'll miss you, kids... come back soon!

Till next time…


Panama City Anchorages

Panama City on a beautiful day

September 13, 2013
Panama City, Panama
Las Brisas de Amador

Panama Bay on a blustery day

We’ve just spent a year in Panama City and must admit that, in spite of the yacht traffic generated by the Panama Canal, this city is possibly the least cruiser-friendly we’ve ever encountered.  Marinas, when they consider accepting your yacht, are expensive; anchorages are rolly or slippery; and dinghy docks either prohibitively expensive or downright dangerous.  Yet, this city offers the last opportunity to provision, fuel-up, fix your boat, or import parts duty-free before you jump across the Pacific.  What, then, are your anchoring or mooring choices?

Anchorages and marinas in Panama City


08°55.19N – 079°32.00W

This is the main anchorage, free of charge and with plenty of room.  With splendid views of the City’s skyline, the Bridge of the Americas and the new Biodiversity Museum, separated from the Canal by the “Causeway,” this is quite a good anchorage.  Slippery? Although it has the reputation of not having good holding ground, we’ve never slipped here, not even in sudden 45kt T-storms.  All cruisers are advised to drop their heaviest anchors, add 200’ of CHAIN (not rode) and thoroughly test their holding before leaving the yacht.  We usually anchor near the Smithsonian Institution dock, where we can connect to the INTERNET PARA TODOS free Internet service from the Government.  Most of the bay’s bottom is mud and shale, so the anchor ends up sinking deep into the mud and it’s quite a mess to pull it up.  However, in a few spots, you’ll find gravel and construction debris.  Test your holding and if your anchor comes up with gravel, just move a few hundred yards.  Don’t underestimate the sudden storms: boats with undersized tackle or who don’t test their anchor will drag at the first T-storm.  We’ve found Las Brisas an excellent anchorage, even in the “Verano” (Jan-March) when the Northerlies blow and the swell gets in.  We’d rather deal with the wind swells than the constant wild rocking from boat wakes that plague the other anchorages, as we’ll see later.

The Bridge of the Americas and the new Biodiverstiy Museum, from Las Brisas Anchorage

Sadly, though, the dock at Las Brisas is an absolute shame.  Dealing with 15’ tides is, admittedly, a nightmare.  But the local authorities have not addressed the needs of cruisers.  Neither have they addressed the needs of professional mariners, deckhands, or even the Aeronaval who struggle like everyone else to get to shore.  The floating dock is holed and half of it has sunk over the last year.  The remaining half floats away in any kind of storm and locals have tried to secure it with enormous lines… till next storm.  There is no gangway to go from the dock to shore.  Cruisers have passed the hat around and bought a small PVC dinghy to shuttle between dock and land.  The transfer is usually soggy, wobbly, and difficult.  Once on shore, you must climb up the flight of mossy, slippery, uneven steps, praying not to fall and break a leg.  By high tide in the windy season, it's a game of staying dry and preventing your pick-up dink from slamming against the steps.  Injuries occur daily.  As for us, we never go to shore together.  One of us drops the other on the rocks at the bottom of the stairs and picks him up later, grabbing the merchandise tossed from shore, hoping not to hole the dinghy on the rocks.  Sporty… We never go out at night as the return to the boat is sure to end up at the emergency room.  It’s a mess… but it’s free.  The Aeronaval seems to be considering the building of a new dock for themselves, then for the cruisers… time will tell.

Perilous landing... not for the drunken sailor
And the weather!!! T-storms regularly hammer the bay with massive lightning, pounding rain, and high wind.  These storms come from the mountains of Panama, drop on the bay, making a full circle around it and just pound the boat.  A month ago, another catamaran was hit by lightning in La Playita.  I just learned this morning that, while we were away, 3 more yachts were hit by lightning the same day in Las Brisas.  More on that in a future blog as I gather more details.

This said, Las Brisas is, in my opinion, the best option in Panama City, even though egrets and pelicans love to take-up residence on your boat a leave souvenirs all over the deck!

Cloudy weather makes for splendid sunsets at Las Brisas (Photo Gilles Pfeiffer)


Mark 16, Panama Canal Entrance  (VHF 6) Tel: 228-5794

BYC fuel dock and bridge
Nothing is free here!  The Yacht club offers excellent moorings at the rate of $0.70/foot/day.  The moorings are (usually) very strong and secure.  We just left DOMINO for 24 days on 2 moorings (1 forward, 1 aft) and had absolutely no problem.  The site is secure as the BYC panga constantly runs the mooring field, shuttling crews to the Panama Canal workboats and the many high-speed ferries moored there. 

Domino on 2 moorings at BYC, Captain Ron's Charter AZULICA on her stern
 As safe an anchorage as this is, though, it’s untenable for life aboard.  The heavy traffic from the Panama Canal, just 20 yards away, is not even the main problem since freighters hardly throw a wake.  But it’s all the ferries, sportsfishers, tugs and workboats that speed-up along the canal at any time of day or night, kicking up monster wakes that are sure to rock your boat silly and throw you out of bed in the middle of the night.  Honestly, I have no more shot-glasses on board; they all flew from the counters and smashed on the floor. 

One of the dozens of Panama Canal workboats... day and night a high speed through the mooring field
This said, the BYC “lancha” is very convenient and it’s no problem to go out at night or load tons of provision.  There is a Panama Customs office able to receive parts for boats in transit.  WiFi from the BYC signal is free.  Fuel dock is available, but not the best price in town.

The ACP workboats drop off and retrieve pilots who lead freighters through the Canal

The future of the BYC mooring field is uncertain.  Under pressure from authorities who want no anchorage/mooring bordering any part of the canal, the mooring field may be scrapped.  This makes sense, especially as I just learned this morning that a yacht recently broke off its mooring, drifted into the canal and got scraped by a freighter.  BYC also has 2 ramps to haul out, a small and a larger one.  Don't expect cheap prices either.  All told, a day on the large ramp will range around $150.

Another storm threatens Panama Bay


08°55.64N - 079°31.50W  (VHF 9)   Tel: 314-1730

JP and Grandaughter Zoe in front of La Playita Marina.  Anchorage on the outside
Why do cruisers anchor at La Playita?  I have no idea.  In my opinion, this is the worst, most rolly anchorage in the entire area.  Favored by cruisers during the “Verano” (Jan-March) to escape the Northerlies, it is packed during these months and boats regularly drag onto each-other in any storm.  Even if the area offers some protection from the Northerlies, the locals’ total disrespect for speed rules render this anchorage untenable.  We anchored one afternoon at 4pm, and couldn’t wait to raise anchor at first light the following morning.  Ferries, workboats, and sportsfishers speed through the anchorage at 10-15kts, rocking all boats without care.  Even with a severe admonition from the Harbormaster, the locals don’t give a hoot.

The appeal of La Playita lays with its dinghy dock.  For $35/week (yep, it’s a WEEKLY permit) you can dock you dink at the floating PVC dock and happily run your errands.  There is, really, no daily rate, unless you get lucky and play with office hours… for a day or so.  When it comes to loading up your provisions and heavy boat parts, this is a second solution, after BYC.

DOMINO fueling up at La Playita
As for the marina itself, don’t expect to find a spot.  Reservations are made over a year in advance.  Even if you manage to find a berth, there must be one person on board at all times.  However, in case of an emergency and if the emergency dock is available, a yacht may be admitted to the emergency dock at the rate of $150/night.

But Playita offers the cheapest diesel fuel we’ve found in Panama, with significant discount for cash payment.  Fueling up must be arranged several days in advance since all fueling is done at high tide and must fit between the schedule of the local ferries and barges.  Worth the wait.  That’s where we’re fueling up!


At the end of the Causeway (VHF 10)

The exclusive Marina Flamenco, lift and boatyard
Don’t even expect to berth there.  There is no spot available and, when I checked, I was quoted $4,000/mo for our little DOMINO.  Shock!  The dinghy dock is available for $20/day but is free for 30 minutes to those who eat at the local restaurants.  Well, we took our dink there and stayed 2 hours for lunch and errands at the marina and it was fine. 

There is a fuel dock, but prices are the highest in the area.  There is also a customs dock, with customs officer on site, able to receive your duty-free merchandise.  We had CFT Cargo deliver our stuff directly to the customs office at Flamenco and hired a local panga to help us with pick-up and delivery back to DOMINO at Las Brisas, a short ride away.

A trick of light by a stormy day:  the bay glows an eery fluorescent green.
The shipyard is operated by QUALITY YACTHS PANAMA.  Alejandro Cora (+507-314-0183,) the manager, is very professional.  The prices are comparable to U.S. prices, yet less expensive than Shelter Bay Marina.  We are hauling out on Monday September 16 and will let you know how this goes.  The 150T travel-lift should be able to handle DOMINO without problem.

Located downtown Panama, the Club de Yate y Pesca is a possibility, mostly for smaller motoryachts.  Located in Bella Vista, it's really close to Multicentro and Multiplaza shopping malls.  But at low tide, the boats lay on the mud, which makes going to shore conditional to tide schedules.  While we were recommended at the Club by a local friend, we decided against.


Isla Taboga - 08°47.88N - 079°04.77W  (VHF 74) Tel: 6442-5712

Taboga on the feast of La Virgen del Carmen
Seven miles away from Panama City, Taboga Moorings is an option for long-term stay.  The moorings are strong and Jesus “Chuy”, an ex-cruiser, offers excellent services.  Their rates, although going up slightly next year, are still excellent for the area.  Here are the new rates for 2014: $300/mo for yachts 40’ and under; $325/mo for yachts over 45’.  One caveat: no yacht over 24 tons allowed.  Make sure to reserve early as these moorings fill up in the down season, and boats are left to the care of Chuy and his team who will bottom clean, air the boat, run your engines, or whatever else you need done.

An 8-seater commuter plane crashed on the causeway just behind us

All in all, Panama City is not a place where one stays willingly.  We stay for repair, refit, provisioning, receiving parts, or wait for the wind to blow in the right direction. 

Fires are not unusual.  The main trash landfill has been burning for month; crops get burned in December,
covering the anchorages in black soot and ashes; the old, densely packed downtown sees frequent fires.

 Here, accidents happen… boats get hit by lightning or crash into each-other; the city catches on fire; airplanes may fall out of the sky.  Yet, this may be one of the best place on earth to catch splendid yachts underway, a sunrise over the Canal or a glowing sunset over the Bay.

A cruise ship exits the Canal at sunrise
As for us, we’re hauling out on Monday, ready to finally leave the City for our Pacific Crossing.

More lightning on the way

Until then…




At 23', Domino just makes it into the lift

September 22, 2013

Panama City, Panama

 A long ramp.  There is a 3-hour optimum slot at high tide.  Make an appointment!
It has been three years since our last haulout at Peake’s in Trinidad and it was time for a little bottom paint before crossing the Pacific next week.  So, last Monday, we showed up at Marina Flamenco and got to work.  But before I get into the specifics of this haulout, let’s review the choices for haulout in Panama.

This always makes us nervous: DOMINO airborne!

Caribbean side, it’s SHELTER BAY Marina.  
The good: they accept very wide catamarans, although the wide loads must stay at the top of the ramp since the trailer does not carry the “Wide-Ones” to the yard.
The bad: price.  Shelter “Pay” Marina, sadly, deserves its nickname.  ‘nuff said.
The ugly: the quality of the work.  Last Spring, Lyman Morse was in charge of the yard, but that stopped quickly when complaints about shoddy work started to pile-up.  Best do the work yourself.

Green Turtle Marina near Linton is a work in progress… to be checked on.

Props: not too badly infested.  The trailing edge of the hull and leading edge of the rudder post show wear.  Paint needed.

Pacific side,it’s FLAMENCO MARINA and QUALITY Yachts. 
Some yachties have used the yard at Vacamonte to haul out their wide Cats, but Vacamonte serves large commercial ships, big steel barges and all, and workers there have no consideration for fragile fiberglass ships. 
Small yachts and sailboats have successfully used the ramps at the Balboa Yacht Club.  There are two ramps there, a smaller and a larger one.  If you don’t mind working on an incline, it’s a possiblity.  Still, the prices are going up; I heard last week one yachtie being quoted $150/day for the large ramp, all services and fees included.

The bottom of the skegs need serious attention.  The rest of the hull needs washing, sanding and a coat of paint.

But, back to FLAMENCO MARINA.  We have no complaint.
The good: 

- The 150-ton lift's operator did a good job and got us in and out without a scratch. 
- Power wash!  The kid who power-washed the boat did a fantastic job, saving me 2 days of cleaning.  Scraping barnacles was included.  “All” I had left to do was sanding.
- The yard gate was open for us from 0600 to 1800.  A long day.
- There were no surprises with the bill.  Better, we managed to discount some of the items.

The bows need attention: fairing, priming, 1 red coat, and 2 black.

The bad:

- Scaffoldings are almost unheard of.  We relied on our old chairs and a 9’ long board for scaffolding.  Lots of moving and dragging that thing around.
- Although we were allowed to do our own work, we were charged a premium for “hiring workers alien to Quality Yachts”  (i.e.  JP and I).  We got a 50% discount on that charge… paying to do the work ourselves! 
- We were not allowed to sleep on board and had to exit the yard by 1800. Fortunately, our friend Claude let us stay at his apartment in town.

Some red is showing under the shelf: more wear in that spot.  Paint thicker this time.
The water intake grille: tricky fit or flat surface on curved hull... creative caulking.  New screws as well.
The ugly: I’m sad to say, but most of the workers were useless, except for “Columbia,” the kid who power-washed the hulls.  I called him “Columbia” because he told me he was from that country, hoping to benefit from the good reputation that Columbian workers have around here.  On the last day, I found out that he was a local kid, born just a few miles from Panama City.  It’s no surprise, though, that the hard-working kids should try to get an edge.  I asked one other kid to sweep the barnacles from under the boat after the power wash: THREE HOURS later, he was still in the process, splitting his time between the broom and the cell phone/texting.  The “Tall” guy who was supposed to help us tape the waterline was nowhere to be seen when the time came.   Meanwhile, they kept telling me to wet-sand for a quicker job and less dust (a poor result in the long run) or asking if they could paint (while texting.)  Not a chance we would hire those guys.  We wanted things done; we rolled up our sleeves. 

The joy of scraping the props!  Note the heavier wear at the exit of the propshaft: heavier application this time.

This is what we did.
- Day one, afternoon: JP removed 3 damaged seacocks while I cleaned the props.
- Day two: JP patched-up the skegs.  The workers in Brazil and Trinidad who had previously worked on the skegs had laminated over existing antifouling paint.  Result: delamination.  JP also re-installed the water intake grills (flat surfaces trying to hug curved hulls), changed a bunch of screws in various places, while I dry-sanded one 65’ hull.
- Day three:  JP re-installed all the seacocks, sanded, faired (Awlfair: magic!) and primed all the new lamination while I dry-sanded the second 65’ hull.

All areas of higher turbulence have been re-faired, primed and painted with a coat of red Seahawk.
Two more coats coming up.
JP is fairing, priming and sanding the area under the zinc anodes.
- Day four: JP painted the 1st coat of Seahawk 44 (red) on the primed areas, rolled some black antifouling on the worn areas and taped the waterline while I wiped the hulls from the dust, then cleaned them with thinner.  Imagine a 130’–long hull on a monohull, that’s an awful lot of shoulder rotations.  I felt like the Karate Kid, “Wax on, Wax off,” and after 120 square meter (1,300 sq.feet) of hull prep, I was ready to roll some paint!  Coordination was a must as we tried not to bump into each-other.  Finally, on the afternoon of day four, at 1400, we started painting… done by 1800. 120m2
- Morning of day five: JP reconnected all systems while I removed rust stains on the white hull (rust… rust… rust from those steel screws in cowling vents) and polished above waterline.  More Karate Kid stuff!
 By 1300, we were ready to go.

Chairs and ladders!  We're just about ready to splash.
That leaves me an hour to shine those 84cm props!
No, we didn’t paint 3 coats everywhere.  Our scheme is 2 coats of primer, one coat of red antifouling, 2 coats of black antifouling.  This allows us to see where the paint wears out most and directs us for subsequent application(s).  The bow entry, the aft corners, areas around the propshaft, the skegs are some of the more turbulent areas and in those places the paint wears out faster.  So, the scheme was thus:
- if fiberglass shows: 2 coats of primer, 1 red, 2 black
- if primer shows: 1 red, 2 black
- if red shows: 2 black
- if black shows: 1 coat of black (there are still 2 coats of paint underneath)

Aft skegs re-faired; rudder post and rudder re-shod; propshaft exit looking much better.
The steel bar that protects the prop has also been painted. 
How much paint did we use to patch-up 66’ cat after 3 years of cruising?  ½ gallon of red, 6 gallons of black.  We like Seahawk a lot.  We had used regular Seahawk in Trinidad, but here in Panama, we used Seahawk 44, longer life.

Looking much better now.

Amazingly, we didn’t get on each other’s nerves but instead both worked ourselves to exhaustion, getting the job done in, really, 4 days.  We’re back in the water, ready to leave for the Galapagos!
1300 - ready to splash...  That little scaffolding and I have a very close relationship!


- Travelift (paid separately to the Marina) - $17.25/foot
- Storage on the hard:  $2.65/foot/day
- Pressure wash: $5/foot  (includes scraping barnacles left after wash)
- Electricity: $11.50/day  (we didn’t use it: $0)
- Water: $23            (We didn’t use it: $0)
- Access of 2 workers: $5/person/day  (WE are the workers!  $0)
- Penalty for painting the boat without using yard personnel: $8/foot (we got a 50% break on that, although I think it should have been free)

Happily back in the water

Well, here you go.  All in all, it was a good haulout, cheaper than at Shelter Bay!

On to provisioning and off to the Galapagos!

Till then…


Provisioning in Panama

Time to lower the waterline: Shopping...
September 25, 2013
Isla Pedro Gonzalez, Panama

DOMINO at full load
That’s it!  After one year on the Pacific side of Panama, we’re off.  Domino is fully loaded, carrying 2,806 gallons of fuel, ready to cross to the Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotus and Papeete.  Today, we start on our first leg to the Galapagos, 850 NM away.  The stop at Pedro Gonzalez tonight is our last opportunity to post a blog for a while.  Tomorrow’s stop at the Cascade in Isla San Jose will be our last opportunity to gather oysters.  After that, it will only be BIG fish, we hope!  We already caught a Jurel this morning, and it’s a good thing because we have absolutely NO fish in the freezer.  This said, our provision stores are full.  Provisioning has taken us a full week of work and it didn’t happen by accident.  Knowing that it would be at least 6 months, probably 8 months until we can provision again in Papeete, we had to be serious about the process.  HOW do you provision for such a long period?

Wash and air-dry all veggies. I even wipe them off with paper towels

Provision for the way you live.  Our stores would probably not please a lot of people.  JP and I both enjoy a gourmet meal once in a while, but most of the time we like simple and healthy foods.  For example, these are the things you won’t find on board:
            - Hamburger meat, most red meats, hot dogs, ham, sausage, cold cuts, cheese slices, or any other processed meat.
            - Beer and soda.  We found that aluminum cans don’t like to live a long time on the ocean and, tired of cleaning up the mess of exploded or leaky cans, we now reserve a “cold one” as a treat when ashore.  Since I no longer drink alcohol (a treat to myself on my 60th birthday) I look forward to an occasional soda, sitting at a terrace café in Papeete. 
            - Cookies, jam, snacks, or any kind of sweets and processed junk food.

All packed and ready to go into the fridge.
Tomatoes and zucchini go into their own crispers
The slightly blemished veggies will go in a ratatouille today (I made 3 meals that way)
In order to create our shopping list, I’ve used our provision spreadsheet.  Over the years, I’ve kept track of our stores on a spreadsheet: “Where’s my stuff?”  Every food item on board is repertoired with its location and quantity.  I keep a copy in the galley.  The galley stores are my “running cupboards.”  Every time I replenish them, I update the “Where’s my Stuff” spreadsheet.  Just an update in pen in the number column and I know what I’ve got left.  When stores are low, the spreadsheet becomes my shopping list.  From that spreadsheet, I can really see what flies out of the cupboards and what sits, ignored, and this helps hone-in the next provisioning.

Back from Price Smart.
In addition to food, we replace rugs, pillows and chairs, add fuel tanks
As for shopping in Panama, there are several good choices.

Breaking it down into smaller sizes.  Helps with stores management AND diet...
No more dipping handfuls into the giant can!
            - Price Smart is my store of choice for all household items, large sizes and bundles.  Like Costco, it requires a membership card.  Cruisers who don’t have a card use the services of Roger, a local taxi-van, who is more than happy to loan cruisers his card and help shuttle groceries.  Great place for frozen meat, not that I bought any.  I found great deals on almonds, peanuts, olive oil, canned tomato products. 

            - Mega Depot is the Cruisers’ choice for booze.  Since French Polynesia only allows import of 2 liters of alcohol per person on board, we didn’t worry about booze too much.  Mega Depot is a good place for all U.S. products, canned turkey and chicken, soy sauce, mayo and spices.  We were disappointed with their UHF milk.  The carton we bought was strange:  some bricks were watery, some were thicker than cream, others were sour and only 2 were actually drinkable.  Beware.  This said, it’s a great place, conveniently located on the Via Transismica bus line.

            - Riba Smith has been my favorite place to shop.  There are several stores in town, one on Transismica and also one in Bella Vista.  Riba Smith is one of the 2 stores I found to carry bread flour.  I raided the store before leaving, loading 8 bags of bread flour (I use almost 2 bags/month).  Great place also for specialty items (guacamole dip, couscous, olives) and for fresh produce.  The meat is excellent and the variety of pre-packed meat and chicken is sure to please.  I bought a whole fillet mignon and a few pork cuts and chicken in all security.

            - 99 stores are located a bit everywhere in town, including at the Albrook mall (convenient) and Dorado mall.  JP found his transmission oil there while I dug into their incredible varieties of olive… go figure!  I like the 99 stores: no-nonsense and good prices.

            - Kosher and Super Kosher in the Bella Vista area.  If Mediterranean products are your thing and you follow a Kosher diet, this is the place.  Grains galore (at least 5 varieties of couscous), olives, oils, and a vertiginous selection of expensive teas.  This is definitely not a bargain store, but if you want to treat yourself to something special, it’s worth the trip.  Couscous!

            - The little Indian store next to Super Kosher (underground parking at the Multiplaza mall) has an impressive variety of spices and curry.

           - REY supermarkets are all over town and reasonably stocked and priced.  The only place where I found Betty Crocker pizza crust mix!

Love the Chinese store
            - Chinese?  It’s all at the Dorado mall.  The little Chinese supermarket carries jasmine rice, all sorts of dried mushrooms, Chinese noodles, sauces, spices, and teas.  The fresh produce is stocked with Napa cabbage, Bok Choi, Chinese Garlic, spinach, beans, asparagus, and even mandarins.  We even left the store with 2 Peking ducks, ate one that day and froze the other one (2 more dinners in the bag!)
            - Novey and Do-it-Centers are the most common hardware stores and well stocked with common household items.  Since I won’t have the opportunity to purchase equipment in 110v until New Zealand, I splurged a bit.  Having solar panel makes me less guilty about using electricity.  We decided to have electrical appliances as back-up to our propane (which we might have difficulties filling up in French Polynesia.)  A new bread machine, toaster oven, hot plate, egg beater, and stand-up mixer (the bowl stores itself upside down on the base for compact storage) complete our galley.

            - Discovery Center (on Tumba Muerto) is another hardware and household items store.  JP found a lot of tools, a mosquito light, paint… a bit of a souk, but worth the investigation.

            - Mercado Abasto, one bus stop away from Cinco de Mayo on the way to Albrook is an experience.  Excellent fresh veggies at wholesale prices, 3 pineapples for 1$... don’t be afraid to walk in the mud or to receive a truckload of lettuce on your head, but shop there early, bring your produce home, wash and dry it, it’s the freshest.  I’ve kept local spinach ONE MONTH in the fridge!

            - The Duty Free shop at Marina Flamenco: the best place to buy booze if you have recently arrived into Panama.  Within 3 months of your arrival, if you present your passport with your cruising visa (or ticket home) you can purchase unlimited quantities of alcohol, tax-free.  Good deal!

            Our strategy has been to take the bus to the various stores, load up our canvas bags, and return by taxi. 
All liquids into the hulls

 What to do with the stuff once it’s on the boat?
            1) Remove all cardboard, paper, plastic, wood, wrapping… whatever might harbor any kind of bug.
            2) Large sizes: vacuum bag it all into smaller packs.  Peanuts, mashed potatoes, couscous, beans, flour, sugar, rice.
            3) Items susceptible to moisture: vaccum-bag or double-bag them.  Nori sheet, Kosher salt (I use that to prepare smoked fish), dry yeast.

Double-packed peanuts
           4) Fresh produce: Wash most produce with bleached water (1 tsp/gal), drip dry, and wipe with paper towel.  I pack most produce in Ziplocks, laying a sheet of paper towel in the bottom of the bag and leaving the ziplock open 1” for breathing.  Celery gets wrapped in paper towel, then in foil.  Ditto for cilantro.  Since my fridge is usually  full the first few days, I keep some items out in a water bath: cilantro, parsley, asparagus, bok choy do well for 2-3 days.  Tomatoes go into a container at the bottom of the fridge: don’t want to crush them.  Ditto for Zucchini.

Spice drawer
            5) Onions: I remove most of the brown skins, inspect them for rot/blemishes, and let them rock in a hammock in the crew’s quarter.  Ditto for pineapple: I can keep a pineapple 3 days that way, then cut into pieces for 4 more days in the fridge.  Garlic and potatoes go into a basket on the crew’s bunk.  Ditto for apples that are wrapped individually.  Eggs also go in a basket in the crew’s quarter and get turned over regularly.

The galley locker: daily stores
As for the 4 storage bins, I try to organize the themes a bit. 
            - Bin 1: foil, napkins, peanuts and dried fruits, crackers, canned fruit.
            - Bin 2: canned meats and fish, Italian food (pasta, sauce), beans.
            - Bin 3: A bit of everything, condiments, tea, beans and grains, breakfast food.
            - Bin 4: Flour, sugar, coffee… the big stores… Chinese and Japanese specialties.

Bin #1 - not-so-often used

Finally, I take extra precautions against bugs and ants.  However, since everything is either vacuum-packed or double-bagged, I’m not too worried about major infestations.  I’ve learned the hard way, having to throw away huge quantities of flour, rice, cornmeal in the beginning.  The boat was fumigated while on the hard last week (a requirement to enter the Galapagos) and I added an “ant motel” in each bin as well as dropped a few bay leaves in each of the bins.  I feel pretty good about the stores.

ANT MAX... no ants on board

Are we worried about spoilage and expiration?  Not really.  Once it's well packed and appropriately stored, foodstuff can last much longer than people think.  See today's YAHOO news story about how Trader Joe's is proposing to open a store "The Daily Table" that sells expired foodstuff.

How long will it all last?  I’ll let you know!  We’ll be able to shop for some fresh produce in the Galapagos, Marquesas and Tuamotues, but we have our staples taken care of. 
Meanwhile, I’m posting my “Where’s my Stuff” spreadsheet so that you may have an idea of how I actually find my stuff! 

Domino loaded up - At full capacity with 2,800 gallons of diesel
Prices in Panama?  Today: Marina Flamenco $3.98/gal (no cash discount)
Marina Playita $3.89 cash price - $4.07 credit card
Six months ago, price was $4.08/gal cash
One month ago, price was $3.77/gal cash
Partial shopping list…. We carry extra stuff for trade with local fishermen.

60 lb flour
20 lb sugar  (we carry extra for trade)
45 lb rice
10 lb mashed potatoes
8 lb couscous
40 cans tomato products
30 packs various pasta
35 packs various beans
1500 capsules of Nespresso + 4 lb ground coffee for trade
350 tea bags, 7 packs of loose tea
3 kg of yerba Mate
3 gal canola oil
20 liter olive oil
8 l vinegar
8kg Breakfast Muesli
30 canned tuna/turkey/chicken

She nose-dives a bit, but will rectify that after a week of running.

Till next time.... dominomarie



October 3, 2013

Bahia de los Naufragios

San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

We made it to the Galapagos… yes, we exited Panama without getting struck by lightning again, almost a miracle when you consider that we’ve met over 2 dozen yachts hit in the last year, some of them twice.  But getting here wasn’t as easy as the GRIB files had promised.  I tried to post the play-by-play underway via sat-phone and Xgate but I must have copied the directions wrong since the mails, wile delivered to Blogger, never posted.  So, here is the play-by-play.

Fri. Sept. 27th - We left Isla San Jose (Las Perlas, Panama) after filling the bait tank with 3 dozen oysters and adding a few parrotfish in the freezer.  Warm seas (29c) and mild conditions (12-15kt, slight chop) brought us one last gift at the tip of San Jose: a 26-lb wahoo.  But no sooner had we turned southwest towards Punta Mala that the conditions deteriorated.  JP maneuvered between violent storm cells and we welcomed the pouring rain and 18-22-knot winds as long as we didn’t get hit by lightning (really, lightning is my only fear on the water.)  With the swells from the South, the wind from the West and the current from Godknowswhere, the sea had become a lumpy field and we just stopped trying to walk around the cabin.  We stuffed more tea towels into the galley cupboards, wedged ourselves in our corners and waited for this madness to pass.  For sure, the ride would improve.

Sat. Sept. 28th– Ha!  I lied… the wind may have abated somewhat, 14-17 from the SSW, but the chop has increased.  The cross-current is forcing us to a 12-15 degree course correction and has turned the sea into a roiling broth, coming at us from all sides.  DOMINO is twisting and her full belly is plunging into the froth: she doesn’t mind at all.  We covered 207 NM in the first 24 hours, traveling at 8.6 kts, burning 4gph.  The passage is slower than our normal speed of 10 kts, but at 1,000 rpm with a full load of 2,600 gal. of fuel and against wind, current and seas, we do expect to lose 1 to 1.5 knots in performance.  Surely, this won’t last.  NOAA has no weather warning for this area and the GRIB we downloaded via our XGate Iridium mail on the Global Marine Network predicts 5-10 knots from the South from now on.  Tomorrow will be a breeze!

Sun. Sept. 29th– I lied again!  The conditions have worsened.  It’s a mogul run out-there!  All day, the wind keeps climbing.  The steady 20-22 kts we’ve had all day and morning reaches a steady 22-26 kts all afternoon.  The chop is now full sets of 6-8’ waves with an occasional 12-footer, cross-chop from the current, into which BigD submarines with glee.  Green water sloshes up the windshields and over the flybridge, carrying with it flying fish, baitfish and squid that surely wonder what they’re doing on deck.  But DOMINO labors hard: at 1050rpm, we’re only going 7.8 knots, burning 5 gph… (in normal conditions, she should be running at 10 knots, burning 4gph).  She was built tough and right now is munching through this mogul run as if it were cookie dough.  JP is in bed, nursing his sore back; I’m wedged at the pilot seat, wondering when this will end: surely, it can’t last.

Mon. Sept 30th– It’s lasting!  All night and all morning, we’ve seen winds in the 20-22kt range, but the current has diminished and is no longer coming across, which is making the sea smoother, the waves more organized and walking around the cabin possible again.  Still, the 6 to 8-footers keep coming at us head on.  DOMINO’s performance is improving (1,000 rpm, 8.5kts, 4gph.)  For a minute, we turn off our audio books (“The Lifeboat” for me) and enjoy a nice meal… yes, it’s possible to cook again something more substantial than hot water-based food (mashed potatoes, couscous, instant soup) or grilled fish and canned beans.  Tonight, we’re having grilled wahoo with Chinese stir-fry of snow peas, eggplants and bok choi –celebrating a wind that is finally dropping below 20kts (at least once in a while) and considering the 16-18 range as a possibility.

Tues. Oct. 1st– At 1047 UTC this morning we crossed the Equator and entered the Southern hemisphere.  I should say re-entered the South since we had started this journey in the South Atlantic.  But crossing the line this morning was not the sunny event we had experienced on the coast of Brazil.  Instead, we crossed in the dark of the night, JP blissfully asleep, and I could only thank Neptune for subduing the elements if only for a while.  The wind dropped to 10 knots for a few moments.  On the (chartless) Navnet MFD12 display, the upper half is light blue, the lower half dark blue, and our route is a red welt that bisects the screen from NE to SW… and there, at the intersection, DOMINO on the Equator.  We’re back to the South. 

            [ NOTE -- I mention the lack of chart on the Navnet MFD display because I think that C-map needs to address the issue of the Galapagos.  We have the electronic charts for Central America and for Oceania.  But the Galapagos belong to South America (Ecuador), therefore are not included in the swath of seas between Central America and Oceania.  We didn’t purchase the $400 chart of South America just to go to the Galapagos.  No cruiser does.  Instead, we resorted to the Navionics and iSailor charts for iPad (in the $40-50 range.)  We just hope that, for the benefit of cruisers who do the “Puddle Jump” run, Navnet will soon offer the Galapagos as a stand-alone package.]


            It’s only by noon, as we are in sight of the Galapagos, that the winds settle around 10-14 kts and that the swells become gentle, to DOMINO’s great relief (950rpm, 9 kts, 3.8 gph).  Time for a great meal (Indian masala-coconut veggies: okra, Napa cabbage, zucchini, onions, with rice) while we watch the Galapagos come into focus.


  15:10 – Wreck Bay (Bahia de los Naufragios) We made it!  This was (barely) our longest passage: 843 NM (after Miami-Deltaville, 830NM) but it was the longest (105 hours) and the most tiring because of the sea state.  Perhaps this was not as much of a test for BigD as it was for us.  This is the farthest we’ve been from the mainland.  It’s a good test before we jump off for the Marquesas, 3,000 NM away… but that’s in a month from now.  We are in Wreck Bay, apty named—I should think—since we’re sitting here, watching a boat sink at its mooring just in front of us!

This trip, by the numbers:

From PANAMA city to Wreck Bay, San Cristobal

Distance: 905 NM

Fuel burn: 500 gal

From Isla San Jose to Wreck Bay, San Cristobal

Distance: 843 NM

Time: 105 Hrs

Speed: 8kt

Fuel burn: 4gph

even posting from a public computer is a challenge....

till next time

Isla San Cristobal


Blue -footed boobie

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Isla San Cristobal

Higher up, the vegetation becomes lush

It’s impossible to be in the Galapagos and not feel a sense of history… natural history, that is; the same sense of scientific revelation we felt in Cold Water Creek at the DNA museum and Dr. Watson’s research lab; the same awe for the power of nature we felt in coasting along Rio de Janeiro or traveling the Andes; a reverence for forces grander than the human will itself; the raw power of nature.  Whether underwater or above ground, the Galapagos continue to be a source of amazement and inspiration.  We came here with an agreement that we would make a financial sacrifice.  Yes, cruising the Galapagos is outrageously expensive and getting dearer and more restricted every year.  Park services and other agencies make sure they make the visitor pay for everything they do and see, overtly to protect the natural habitat, covertly to provide employment to the islanders, former fishermen who have depleted the local waters of all their resources.  So, we sacrifice to the altar of tourism, determined to enjoy the experience (no sense in pain without pleasure!)  We must agree that San Cristobal Island and its harbor are exceptionally clean and free of any kind of human pollution. 

At lower altitude, closer to the coast, it{s dry
It was some time after we dropped anchor in Wreck Bay that Karmela (our agent from YachtGala) brought on board an army of officials.  But they did more than just fill out paperwork.  They nearly tore the boat inside-out, looking for godknowswhat… Port Captain turned on all our navigation equipment, revised all emergency and safety gear, inspected hulls and engine rooms in a fashion that out-did even the U.S. Coastguards.  The two gnomes from “Quarantine” snapped on their gloves and proceeded to dig into our drawers, feel inside our stacked shirts, investigate between our stored underwear, peer to the bottom of our spice drawer, detail every food lockers, fridge and freezer, looking for bugs or live cattle and crop, finding only a few old, dry shells from the Caribbean that we were ordered to stash away so as not to contaminate the local waters.   They had to earn their $200 “Quarantine Inspection Fee” after all.  Immigration and Park Services did their job too.  Park Services dove under the hulls to inspect for cleanliness and barnacles (he could have dispensed since we had just repainted the hulls), and inspected our systems for grey and black water tanks.  No holding tank on your yacht?  You’ll be assessed a fine… called something else, but a fine nevertheless.  Good!  We passed with flying colors and the vacuum bagging of our provisions was a real big hit with the sanitation guys!

At last free to enjoy our stay, we took off on foot to the “Loberia,” the sea lions refuge.  It’s the only place on the island where we also found marine iguanas.  But the sea lions are everywhere, cute as they are – or nasty as they are once you realize that they consider guarding your boat as their private duty.  As soon as we leave the boat, they take up residence of the aft deck, lounging until our return.  Today we’re trying to hang round fenders to prevent them from climbing on board, but some big macho dude is sure to find his way up on deck.  I wonder if we’ll be fined for cleaning our decks and dumping bleach-tainted water into the bay.  So, if you cruise the Galapagos, don’t forget to bring enough barbwire to “wire” your boat against these pesky sea lions.  FYI, they only sell barbwire by rolls of 300 meters here on the island… bring your own!

An all-day taxi tour took us to the “Galapaguera,” the land tortoise breeding center.  As our 4x4 climbed to the top of the island, the vegetation and weather drastically changed.  The dry and scrubby coast gave way to a lush and green interior where mango trees, orange and mandarins, avocado and papaya lined the road.  Soon, a fine mist descended on us and we were in the clouds.  We skipped our planned stop at El Junco, a 250-meter wide crater filled with supposedly crystal clear blue fresh water, 7 meter deep; we couldn’t see 250 yards ahead.  So continued to MaryLu’s restaurant to order our lunch of orange peel-smoked wahoo.

JP peels oranges, while Marilú prepares the fire to smoke wahoo
 But the surprise was at the end of the road.  

 Puerto Chino is a wild beach ringed in black and red lava rocks, its turquoise waters roiling onto a white sand beach where sea lions doze where they fall: between rocks, lined up like canned sardines on the sand, or just playing with their pups. 


Up the narrow trail, on top of a black lava promontory covered in guano, there was our surprise: blue-footed boobies, accompanied by some masked boobies.  Unfortunately, red-footed boobies do not nest at Puerto Chino.  The only place to see them on this island is at Punta Pitt, only accessible by boat (yep, more outrageous water-taxi fees for the locals.)  But we were content to admire these splendid birds and their electric-blue feet.

The Interpretive Center was our last stop.  It’s supposed to be a “must” activity, but found its 6th grade level presentation posters more geared towards schoolkids than adults.  Still, I suppose it’s a good thing to be reminded that the islands represent a precarious habitat, especially for man, considering the scarcity and contamination of potable water.  Who knows?   In a jolt of survival of the fittest, the islands might just kick the humans out.

Snorkeling in the cut is a fun drift - Water temp 20 celsius

We hesitated before booking our snorkeling trip to Leon Dormido.  The water temperature is bout 21c (70F) which might seem like nothing to my California peeps, but mighty cold for us.  Not since Catalina Island some 20 years ago had we worn any wetsuit thicker than 1 mm.  But we dug out our old armors and helmets and went into battle.  We declined the dive at $170/person and opted for the snorkel trip, “only” $90-a-pop (I warned you!!!)  We have no regret.  It was a splendid snorkel through the “tail” of the “Sleeping Lion.”  The drift swim took us above Galapagos shark, turtles, bumphead hogfish three-time the size of those in Panama, and dozens of varieties of colorful wrasses. 

Green sea urchins... each one seems to be living in simbiosis with a snail  Any clue?
But it was the sea creatures on the walls that took most of our attention.  Like bright flowers on a multicolor wallpaper, we took them in succession: lime-green urchins, giant white barnacles, grey anemones, orange sponges, yellow corals, white-fringed brown feathers, crisp and clear.  Once in a while, like underwater fireflies, bioluminescent organisms flashed an electric blue spark as we glided by. 

To top it all, sea lions trailed us and wanted to play.  Not since Santa Barbara Island had we had the chance to dive and pirouette with these puppies.  A lot of fun it was, even if I was shivering in my 2 layers of 1-mm suits (the hood helped tremendously.)  JP was toasty in his old titanium suit which still fit him while my old one had..hmmm... shrunk!

 We’re doing laundry (great Little lavandería in town, the cleanest laundry I{ve ever gotten back) and Internet today, hoping to leave tomorrow for Santa Cruz Island.  This, however, seems unlikely.  Even though we’ve asked our agent to pull our Zarpes last Thursday for tomorrow Sunday, she has not answered any of our calls yesterday and we learned this morning that she is on the mainland for the weekend, not coming back till Monday… which means we might be stuck here till Tuesday.  What appeared to be a fair start with the Yacht Gala agency 3 months ago has rapidly deteriorated due to total lack of communication on their part, and it now looks to me that our relationship with this particular agency is an experience unlikely to end well.  Time will tell…

Mangroves by Isla Lobos... getting replanted after a tsunami wiped them out

Till then, we’re rocking a bit at anchor today, but the anchorage is generally good.
Little Shell story....

Till then… dominomarie… about to cook a leg of GOAT that we purchased this morning at the local farmers’ market.

Santa Cruz Island (Galapagos)


October 10, 2013

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos (Ecuador)

00*44.885S – 090*18.53W

We made it out of San Cristobal and into Santa Cruz, no thanks to our agent from YachtGala who was nowhere to be found, but thanks to their competitor Sail’n Galapagos Yacht Services who picked up the slack and took care of us.  So far, our agent has been—to say the least—dismal, but I reserve my final conclusion till this trip is over.  Regardless, we dropped anchor in Puerto Ayora, turned DOMINO’s bows into the swell and tossed our stern anchor… bungled that so badly that we must have entertained the whole harbor on this quiet Sunday afternoon!  Well, the Park Services guys helped us out, fished out our stern anchor and tied our stern line to one of the big yellow mooring buoys that dot the bay.  Indeed, the harbor faces SE and the incoming swell, so all boats are encouraged to deploy a stern anchor.  Water taxis will gladly help you with it.  Even in this low season, the harbor is crowded, especially Thursday to Sunday when all the charter yachts come in.  We favored the East end of the bay, even though the swell may be a bit bigger on this end, because the water traffic on the West end is quite heavy.  No need to drop the dinghy: Water taxis from the Co-op do the run for 60 cents during the day, $1 at night.  It’s a very civilized way to go; we can’t remember the last time we used water taxis enjoying being able to go out at night.

Stern line is a must
 Santa Cruz Island lays some 40 NM west of San Cristobal and serves as the administrative center of the Galapagos.  We found the town quite pleasant, with lots of shopping and restaurants, tour operators galore, a post office, a good supermarket (but grab what you want when you see it) and an excellent Internet center.  At 7PM, the “restaurant row” –a street 2 blocks up the main road—is closed to car traffic, and the streets fills up with tables and chairs for dinner “al Fresco.”  Try the “Casuela de Mariscos,” a mix of ground fresh corn (Choclo), mashed plantain (platano) and seafood (mariscos) fired in an earthen pot on hot coals.  Yummy!  At lunchtime, the same restaurants serve a quick lunch (almuerzo) of soup (minestrone, shrimp, or lentil) and chicken or pork stew (seco) with rice and a fruit juice (batido), all for $3.  I’m not cooking much!

This is the low season, “Garua,” a season of morning mists and overcast, mild temperatures (21-26C) and cold water brought in by the Humboldt Current.   Comes December, it will be “Invierno” or what the locals call Winter, with still cold water (18C and warming up) and warmer days, but rain.  Only February through April is considered “Verano” or Summer, when flowers bloom all over the island, the Panama Current brings warm waters, and the Northerlies bring warm winds from Panama… warm winds and all the sailors on their way to the Marquesas.  Then, it’s Garua again, from May to November, with the coldest month in August-September.  We’re finding October-November to be a good season, not too hot, where tour operators and taxis are ready to give discounts and great service.  If we don’t like the weather outside our windows, we just wait 20 minutes and it’s sure to change.  We’re not snorkeling very much yet, the water is cold, but our stay is not over yet!

It’s a great time for land excursions.  The Darwin Research Center is another turtle preservation center, much like the Galapaguera in San Cristobal, but worth the walk.  But “Solitary George,” the main attraction at the center, died last year, the last specimen from his island, never having found a mate in captivity.   There are BIG words on the Islands: Ecology, Preservation, Organic… the kids are brainwashed with it.  Yet, we’re seeing oxymorons: plastic bags in all the stores to bag everything from fruit to T-shirts, and the curious plastic watering systems that are supposed to help the endemic plants get a better start.  Hundreds of plastic pots… not very ecological in my opinion.

The fish market is one stop we always like.  The local cold-water spiny lobster is excellent and affordable (2 large lobsters for $25)  and the local red fish “Brujo” seems quite tasty.  Only the locals can fish inside the park, with proper license, and their catch is monitored and tallied.  When the fisherman’s Co-op has reached the quota for the year for threatened species (lobster, slipper lobster) the fishing stops.  Only the local licensed fishermen are allowed to fish inside the park, a limit that extends 40 NM out of each outer-most point of the islands.  These conservation efforts, started in 1998, should help revive the shark population as well as other threatened species such as the sea cucumber. 

 PLAYA TORTUGA – To take advantage of the best hours (10 AM- 4 PM) we decided on a picnic.  Off to Playa Tortuga, after a stop at the cute Environmental Center.

 It’s a beautiful 2.5km walk through the dry forest of Opunta cactus.  Did I mention I fell in love with this giant cactus, the only cactus that grows like a tree, and whose spines eventually fall off to leave a rich caramel-color bark?  Host to the little Cactus Finch, this big cactus is totally Galapagos!



At the end of the paved walk is Playa Tortuga, a site where marine turtles come to lay their eggs (December-March).  It’s a splendid talcum-powder sand beach dotted with black lava rocks where surfers share the waves with marine iguanas and where water fowl of all kinds tried to get into our picnic.

            It took JP all his powers to persuade me to walk “all the way” to the end of the beach.  There, we found a lagoon with totally calm and warm waters, benches under the cover of mangrove trees, and more lava cliffs and Opunta Cactus.  Perfect spot for a nap!


Of course, visitors come to the Galapagos to see volcanic features.  We went on a hunt for laval fjord, lava tubes and volcanic gas bubble.

LAS GRIETAS –  We asked the water taxi to drop us off at the Hotel Finch dock and started on a long walk to “The Grottos.”  I’m not a good walker and found it difficult to traipse across an uneven trail made of basalt pillars, lava rocks, jutted edges and rounded boulders.  Yet, it was a marvelous walk along a lagoon of pink salt flats, and all the way up to a fissure in the lava rock.  At the bottom, a limpid blue tongue of water beckoned the many swimmers who dove and snorkeled the brackish water of this deep fjord between two sheer lava cliffs. 

THE HIGHLANDS For $40, one of the cabbies from the Taxi Co-op took us on a 4-hour tour of the highlands.  As in San Cristobal, the vegetation changed as soon as we started to climb.  Even though the highest point is only at 500 meters, there are three vegetation zones.  At the “finca” Chato Dos, we donned boots and walked around the farm.

  In this reserve, dozens of giant tortoises were grazing in total freedom and for miles and miles around.  It’s not so at the drier season, when the animals hunker down to save water, or stay by the watering hole provided by the farmer.  After a cup of the local coffee (yes, they grow coffee, but also mandarin, oranges, guayava) we took off for the lava tubes.


  I’ll leave it to the geologist to explain how lava tubes work, but these “breathing tubes” for lava to expand are just beyond my grasp.  At Chato Dos, there are actually 2 tubes on top of one another.

            Still climbing the highland through a forest of mossy Scalesia trees, we reached “Los Gemelos,” twin crater-like features that result from the collapse of lava bubbles, not from a volcanic eruption.   The red moss hanging from the Scalesias are now a protected specie: no more harvesting and processing of the moss to build baby Jesus mangers at Christmas time!


  A dozen of large charter yachts have anchored around us in the last 24 hours, signaling the pending start of the season.  While they’re cleaning, painting, refurbishing, we’re taking a day of farniente and shopping, hoping that our agent will have our Zarpes ready to take off tomorrow… we’ll see!

Until then…. Going to cook us one last cold-water spiny lobster!


Isla Floreana



Masked boobies
October 12, 2013

Puerto Ibarra, Isla Floreana, Galapagos

01*16.54S – 090*29.468W

Floreana, historically steeped in mystery, vanishing bodies, and pirate lore, seemed romantic to me; perhaps it was just the name… “Floreana.”  But instead of finding mystery, I found revelation, scientific wonders, competition, and adaptation.  Imagine seeing at the same instant penguins in the water and tropic birds above!  Or zipping up your third layer of jackets when the GPS reads 00° latitude: cold at the Equator?  Or waking up in the fog, the water at 20c while the air dipped to 16c and you can’t even see the dried-up slopes of the volcanoes.   The Galapagos are a land of natural wonders and Floreana is no exception.

Puerto Ibarra - Hotel Wittmer

Our agent, Johnny Romero, somehow managed to get us authorization to stop at Floreana on our way to Isabella.  Once again we were the only yacht at the anchorage, well dug-in in front of the historic Hotel Wittmer and its black sand beach.  The bay, either to the right or the left of the beach, is pure volcanic rock, but this was a good spot (see waypoint in title) with easy approach (01*16.0S – 090*30.0W.)  The anchorage can get a bit rolly in calm conditions.  We were still dropping anchor when the Port Captain was making circles around the boat and made sure we were well dug in, asking us to stop by the Capitania.  Although it’s possible to drop your dinghy and either leave it on the beach at the Hotel Wittmer (coarse sand, so be ready to push-and-carry) or tie it (with stern anchor) to the concrete municipal dock, it’s safer for the dinghy and for your back to just call the water taxi (Mauricio, CH 16) to take you to shore ($1).  The sea lions are fearless and love dinghies!
Blue-footed boobie
We could have gone on the highland tour (walk 7km each way or hire a car for $50/person) to see the old Wittmer farm, pirate caves and look out from the top of the island, but the overcast weather did not really appeal to us.  We could have visited the Hotel Wittmer and we tried, but it was closed and we only could peer through the doors.  Or we could have visited the “loberia,” the sea lion beach, but we were having our fill of sea lions.   So much for the land.  Instead, we asked Mauricio to take us on a panga trip to the best coves and snorkeling on the island.  Sure, he charged $130 for the 2½ hour trip, but we didn’t regret a penny! 

** NOTE of apology… Yeah, yeah, I know, I always talk about $... but I want to update you on what has been going on in the islands and that it’s no longer the free tourism it used to be.  We’ve been preparing for this trip using CARINA’s log, a wonderful guide to the Galapagos with perfect waypoints.  But their log dates from 2008.  Since then, prices have gone up and some of the self-guided excursions are no longer possible.  Water taxis and Internet are found almost everywhere, though.


The panga trip was fantastic.  Along the changing volcanic shoreline, we coasted by rookeries of blue-footed boobies and masked boobies, surprised a few great blue herons lunching on red crabs, spied on nocturnal seagulls, spotted a curlew on the prowl, all the while looking for penguins.

            A flight of tropicbirds shriek overhead, all red beaks, charcoal eyes and streaming tails; but no penguin.

A black-and-rust marine iguana crawled up to the blow-hole in the lava rock; petrels wheeled around on their wingtips; but no penguin.

            We pushed on to snorkel at the “Corona del Diablo,” a nightmarish circle of jagged lava rock, and dropped into the current.  Turtles and Galapagos shark, and “Tintorera” sharks (a kind of local white tip shark) were quietly cruising below us, while we found our way through thousands and thousands of reef fish: angelfish, parrotfish, wrasses of all kinds, hawkfish… but no penguin.

            At Punta Cormorant, the sun peeked out for a minute, just to give us a hint of the splendor of the colors, and if we saw stingrays under the boat, we had no sighting of flamingos… and no penguin.

At the “Mirador de la Baronesa,” the sun had hidden again and we only guessed at the magnificence of the bay, imagining the “Baronnesse” sitting on her lookout over a century ago, hoping for a ship—any ship—to come into the bay.  We found history there… but no penguin.

            Of course, we stopped at the “Post Office Bay,” and I dropped an envelope into the barrel of ship mail, wondering if our kids would ever get it.  This envelope has lots of competitors in the way of hundreds of postcards (not stamped).  But I made sure our mail had a survival edge.  I chose a #10 envelope, stamped it with our “M/Y DOMINO” ship stamp, labeled it “SHIP MAIL” in red, water-proofed the ink with Scotch tape, and finally stuck a “Forever U.S. mail stamp” on it.  A yachtie might take pour envelope to any U.S. shore and just drop it into a postal box… who knows?  Here, we found a bit of competitive fun… but no penguin.
Nocturnal seagulls

            By 1600, the cloud cover was complete, the mist descending once again and we were ensconced in our jackets while Mauricio made one last stop along the lava shoreline… “Pinguino!” he cried.  “Donde? Donde?”  There, on a ledge, barely over one-foot tall, a little Galapagos penguin was looking at us.  He played indifferent, then he played shy, then he pointed his beak to his fellows, a half-dozen of them, swimming leisurely along our panga.  So very little and so very cute!  Tropicbirds screamed across gray sky above.

            We got back to DOMINO shivering but happy, made a hot cabbage-and-fava bean soup and roasted a farm chicken we had bought in Santa Cruz, steaming up the windows and slowly warming up.  The swell was coming in and rocking the boat, sloshing the 2,300 gallons of fuel around the tanks to the point of making us dizzy.  But really, we were dizzy from the sights of the day… penguins and tropicbirds in the same spot… amazing!

More on Floreana:

MARKET – At times, the locals come down from the highlands and bring their local products to small kiosks in front of the Junta Municipal.

BUS – We noticed a couple of trucks with benches parked in the village.  The busses, we supposed.  But nobody was around to give us any info on that. 

DRIVER FOR HIRE – Orjel (phonetic spelling) is the “blue truck” driver who will take you on a tour of the highland for $50 – Just have Mauricio call him.

INTERNET – There is an “Internet Hotspot” in the village, just in front of the Junta Municipal, but not always turned on.  Perhaps on market day?


INFO – The Junta Chief is the one in charge of the island and will send you a driver, a guide or whatever you need.  We stopped by his office but it was closed.  Perhaps on market and Internet day?  In the end, the Port Captain and water taxi Mauricio were the best source of information and quite helpful.

We’re not staying here another instant… the roll-and-slosh are getting the best of us.  Off to Isla Isabella.  Till then…


Isla Isabella, Galapagos

Previous Isla Floreana

October 19, 2013

Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabella, Galapagos Archipelago (Ecuador)

00°57.935S - 090°57.726W

If we had only 72 hours to cruise the Galapagos and only ONE anchorage to choose from, we would pick Isla Isabella.  Originally called Albermarle or Santa Gertrudis, the largest island of the archipelago is home to six volcans, still very active.  But it’s also home to the same animal species that can be seen on the other islands, with the addition of the fur seal.  Not seen here, however, is the red-footed booby (only on Isla Bartolomé).  Our week in Santa Isabella is getting to the end and I’m not quite sure I want to leave this very calm anchorage and quiet village to brave the 3,000 NM to the Marquesas.  This is, really, a lovely place.

Our cruise from Floreana was the nicest we’ve had in the last month, with a bit of current pushing us, which DOMINO enjoyed: on 2 engines at 910 rpm, we were running at 9 kts, burning a total of 3.5 gph. At that rate, we would get to the Marquesas in 14 days, having burnt less than 1,200 gallons (we’re currently holding 2,300 gallons).  This should reassure our family and friends who are afraid we won’t have enough fuel to get to Nuku Hiva.  We, on the other hand, think that we can make it all the way to the Tuamotus and even Papeete without refueling if the conditions are smooth.  But back to Isabella.

 On the approach to Puerto Villamil, the giant black and white disk at the water surface were Manta rays greeting us to Isabella.  As taken as we were with the beautiful sight, we concentrated on the approach to the anchorage, a tortuous path through volcanic islets and rocks, but the waypoints from S/V Carina were on the spot.  Our iSailor for iPad was also on the spot, although there are 2 new buoys (R/G) to mark the entrance of the channel.  We carefully steamed by the 3 yellow big-boat mooring buoys and dropped anchor just past the last one, but not too far beyond as the bottom shoals and rocks appear.

Approach waypoints:

WP1 - 00°58.046 S - 090°52.72W
WP2 - 00°59.10 S - 090°59.04 W  (between the R & G buoys)
WP3 - 00°58.58 S - 090°59.95 W
Anchored at 00°57.935 S - 090°57.726 W in 11’ at low tide.  Good holding sand, just make sure not to knock over the ubiquitous sea turtles who keep popping their heads to check you out!   The anchorage is not very large and I can’t imagine how 35 sailboats fit in that space last Spring.  Excellent, calm anchorage, protected behind the reef, but can get a bit rolly on windy days.

No sooner had we anchored that Henry-the-water-taxi greeted us and offered his services ($1/day, $2 from 6-9pm) –do you want water? Gas? Diesel? Lobster? Tours?) and showed us where to tie our dinghy if we wanted to use it (getting there at low tide is tricky), on the inside of the commercial dock rather than at the dinghy dock which, at low tide, is pretty messy.  We were charged a one-time dock use fee ($5/person) but the dock is well built, guarded and safe, which is really worth the 5 bucks. 

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, the dock fills with lobster fishermen who unload their catch for inspection and weighing; good time to fill-up your basket! [Note – Some restaurateurs may casually offer to sell you just-caught lobster since they go catch their own.  Refuse!  Their catch evades Park inspection, is neither weighed, nor tallied, nor measured.  If we, as cruisers, are to pay through the nose for Park conservation, let’s not encourage black market operations.]

From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to town, passing the recycling station where you can drop your sorted trash (organic/recyclable/non recyclable) and also dispose of used motor oil.  Very clean!

Our visit to the Capitania improved our opinion of our agent since he had entered our pre-arrival info into the system and we were cleared in Puerto Villamil ($4.95 fee to clear in, $15 for International zarpe on exit.)  A walk through town assured us that almost every restaurant had a WiFi hotspot and a $5 lunch menu, and that the many dive and tour operators were more than happy to book land and boat tours, let you enjoy their free WiFi, and provide you with anything else you might want: fuel, water, or taking you upland to the various “fincas” for provisioning.  A very enterprising lot.  It’s no wonder that most fishermen have become tour operators.  Case in point, your “Go-to” man Milton will book your tours and take your provisioning directly to the farm as well!

Although the most interesting tours require a National Park Guide and must be booked through an agency, there is much to discover on foot and for free.  Observe the Flamingo Lagoon in the center of town, home to pink flamingos; walk the 1.2 km trail to the tortoise breeding center while not stepping over young iguanas; observe the various patterns of lava flow left on the beach; walk (or bike) the 5km to the Wall of Tears, a wall of giant lava blocks built by prisoners from the penal colony (1946-1959); visit the white church in the center of town where the stained glass windows display Holy Booby, Saint Penguin, and Father Flamingo; or try to snorkel with penguins at Playa Concha y Perla, just a few hundred yards from the embarcadero.  As for diving around the anchorage?   Yes, it’s possible to snorkel around the rocks and even to spot a few penguins, dozens of turtles, and swim with the sea lions, but beware the many pangas and tour operators… and the cold water!  We abstained.

On Isabella, it’s the volcanic features that awed us.  On land of course with the Sierra Negra volcano and the Volcàn Chico, but over and under the water as well at “Los Tuneles” and Isla Tortuga.

THE VOLCANS - Nothing says “Galapagos” better than sitting at the top of “Volcàn Chico” and staring at Elizabeth Bay below, a turquoise mirror at the bottom of black lava field, Isla Fernandina springing tall across the bay.  From there, look north to the end of the island and search for the imaginary Equatorial line.  It’s a sight to behold, albeit a new version of the view described in the old books, since the 1974 eruption of Volcàn Chico has for ever remodeled the brush-and-cactus landscape with lava fields, lava “waterfalls,” tunnels and arches and craters and vents, a landscape of black lava and oxidated iron, purple manganese and yellow sulfur, and and orange mix of it all. 

Spun pyroclastic material (“Pelé’s Hair”) hide their blond threads within exploded lava; feather-weight, silica-rich granules crunch underfoot; heavy iron-rich rock rings under each step; underground lava tunnels sound hollow under your heel; spindle-shape and twisted volcanic material evokes chimeras; the entire Volcàn Chico area is a sensory discovery in itself.

Not to be ignored is the Sierra Negra crater.  At 11 x 9 km, it is the second-largest crater in the world, and still very active.  Just a look at the lava flow scar left by the 2005 eruption gives an idea of the destructive power of the volcano. 

Still, the ridge is full of life, endemic flowers and fruits as well as the all-invasive introduced guayava. 

And as much as I don’t enjoy walking, I must say that this 16-km round-trip was worth the effort, even if my shoes didn’t make it back to town and I finished the walk bare feet.  Personal reward?  A little canary who wanted to share my lunch just hopped on my knee, then on my arm and just stood there while I enjoyed my sandwich!


So much for the land.  The sea called and we were off to “The Tunnels,” which we consider the superlative landscape of the Galapagos, the ONE TRIP NOT TO BE MISSED. 

After a 30-mn high-speed run and still catching a big-eye tuna underway, Fabricio Morocho (Facebook mowglitourgalapagos.morocho) ran his boat at full speed through breaking surf, followed with a series of double-S’s between barely submerged rocks, to finally come to rest in green lagoon dotted with lava bridges and tunnels, surmounted by Galapagos cactus reflecting their silhouettes into the glassy waters.  Surreal landscape.

A fur seal greeted us from his cave in the lava rock.

A Galapagos seagull (“Gaviotin”) cast its shadow before landing on a basaltic ridge.

Blue-footed boobies in various stages of development hammed it out for the photographers.

Even though the day was overcast and the flat light not so great for pictures, we kept snapping away, above and below water.

White-tip sharks darted in and out underwater tunnels, not the slightest worried about us.

Turtles swam with us as if we had been forever in their company.

Crabs scuttled on the rocks, red-orange on jet-black; an octopus darted in and out of its bone-and-shell-ringed hole. 

Healthy green sea lettuce, rust ferns, and many other vibrant plants swerved back and forth in the mild surge.  Wrasses and parrotfish fooled around.

And when, on our way back to town, we spotted the Manta rays, a few of us jumped overboard and swam with the giants, docile to the point of touching us, too close for JP’s camera to catch more than a wingtip in the viewfinder.  What an extraordinary experience!


But we needed to book a “real dive.”  Seriously, you can’t come to the Galapagos and not explore deep down.  We decided to go dive the crater at Isla Tortuga with Harry from Isabella Tour, the only operator licensed for the site.  Harry provided us with excellent semi-dry suits, which is absolutely necessary in these cold waters.  Even though the water was turbid and the drift dive was going rather fast with no less than 8 divers—several of them rather inexperienced--we managed to spot a great variety of sea stars and sea urchins when they were not obliterated by thousands of fish. 

I even spotted a little purplish seahorse hanging in the ferns of the crater’s wall, but the dive was going so fast that there was no time to admire it. 

Then, a 9’ hammerhead shark came face-to-face with JP.  It’s the shark who chickened out, made a wheelie so fast that I didn’t even see its shadow!  A good dive, all in all, but I wish it could have been slower to really enjoy all the little things.  As for turtles?  They were everywhere, sleeping, munching or swimming.


What’s left to do now?  We’re skipping “Las Tintoreras,” a popular tour in front of the anchorage, where tourists can observe from above a number of white-tip sharks swimming in the crystal-clear lagoon below.   Instead, we’re hiring a taxi to visit the higher part of the island, catch a few more spectacular views if the weather cooperates, and stop at Finca Trojan to load up in fresh fruits and vegetables.  Then…. Off to the Marquesas.

Tour info– If you cruise Isabella, be ready to spend $$ on tours.  Current prices run as follows, but can be higher during the season (Dec-March) where availability can also be scarce.

- Taxi - $10/hour
- Las Tintoreras - $35 to $40
- Sierra Negra - $30 to 35 on foot ; $165 on horseback (then walk to Volcan Chico)
- Tunnels - $70 to $80, depending on the season and whether or not you have your equipment
- Isla Tortuga Dive - $150 for a 2-immersion trip

Have fun and enjoy!

Till next blog…



October 20, 2013

Isla Isabella, Galapagos

While I’ve posted details on the 4 islands we visited, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabella, I wanted to add a general info page on the archipelago.  The rules and fees keep changing, so make sure to check with Noonsite and your agent before you leave.



CCountry: Ecuador
ü  Currency: U.S. Dollar
ü  Time: UTC – 6 hrs
ü  Location: 620NM west of mainland Ecuador; 900 NM SW of Panama City.
ü  Archipelago: 13 main islands, 6 smaller isles.
ü  Permitted anchorages: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Baltra, Floreana, Isabella. Any one to five of the inhabited ports.  Absolutely NO other anchorage allowed without special cruising permit and authorization.  The number of ports allowed to visit is not listed on the autografo and seems to be left to the discretion of the Port Captain.  There are talks of taking Floreana off the list.
ü  National Park area: extends 40 miles out of a line drawn between the outermost point of each island.
ü  Fishing: absolutely no fishing within the National Park boundaries.  The National Park Services patrols at night and has very sophisticated equipment.
ü  Cruising: the National Park cruising permit that comes with the “Autografo” allows ONE day of cruising within the park.  This is a muddled issue since you’re going to cruise within the park any time you move from one anchorage to the other.
ü  Water taxis: we found water taxis in every port, from $.60 in Santa Cruz to $1 in other towns during the day, up to $2/person at night (Isabella.)
ü  Guide to the Galapagos: the office of tourism and most shops offer a free Info guide, very well done, with maps of each major island and list of point of interests and activities, tour operators, shopping.

ü  Internet and WiFi: can be found everywhere.

ü  Laundry: excellent in San Cristobal and Santa Cruz ($1.25/kg), none at Floreana, small and expensive in Isabella ($1/pound = $2.20/kg).

ü  Dentist:Francisco (everyone knows him) on Isabella, trained in Spain, gave JP excellent service on quick notice.

  Marine Electrician: Claudio Silva in Santa Cruz 099-78-57-036 - took care of our alternators.
ü  Rumors:single handlers may no longer be allowed to cruise the Galapagos without a crew.  I heard yesterday from our tour guide that all boats within the boundaries of the park had to have 2 crew on board.  If you’re a single handler, check with the National Park Services and Port Captain before booking your trip.  You can always hire a local “marinero.”


            In our opinion, the best time to visit the Galapagos is November-December.  Although the water is still cold (20-22c), the days are warm (low of 16c at night, high 28c during the day) but not hot yet and the crowd has not arrived. 
ü  Mid-December to March is “winter,” hot but rainy.  It’s the season for sailors to arrive, pushed by the Northerlies that blow from Panama.  It’s also the season for the Panama Current to warm up the local waters.
ü  March-April is the short season of “Summer,” hot, when flowers bloom all over the islands.
ü  May starts the “Garua” season, when the cold Humboldt Current has returned and the warm Panama Current has receded, the islands cool off and once again get shrouded in mist and drizzle (“Garua”.)  Coldest months: June to September.


Some yachts come to the Galapagos without using an agent and without an “Autografo.”  They are at the risk of being refused a cruising permit and asked to leave the island within 72 hours.  The Port Captain at San Cristobal stressed to us that ALL yacht business had to be conducted by the agent.  When our agent failed to serve us in San Cristobal, we were not allowed to take care of business on our own and had to request the help of another agent.

 At this time, it is highly recommended to have a pre-authorized “Autografo” obtained by an agent, since Park Service is trying to limit the number of visitors to the archipelago and their environmental impact.

We agonized over the selection of our agent.  In the end, our agent came through, but not without giving me serious anxiety attacks.  I’m not used to casual business practices but it seems that agents are, most of the time, on top of things.
Whom we didn’t use:  Bolivar Pesante.  Our first email (4 months before cruising, as recommended) remained unanswered.  Our second email (2 months before cruising) was answered after a 1-week delay.  Unacceptable.

ü  Whom we used: Johnny Romero from Yacht Gala.  Johnny acknowledged our email immediately, but it took some 3 weeks to hammer out the details of the transaction.  We left Panama without knowing if our Autografo had been granted or not.  Bumps in the road appeared, messes were efficiently and gallantly cleaned up by Ricardo Arenas.  Mr. Romero´s sub-standard business practices, dismal customer service, and his cavalier attitude with the Port Captain do not allow us to recommend Mr. Romero as a reputable agent.

ü  Who cleaned up the mess and whom we recommend: ¨Don Ricardo Arenas from SERVIGALAPAGOS .  Not only is Don Ricardo recommended by Noonsite and takes care of the ARC, but he is also the fuel agent for Clipper Oil and seems to be the most reputable agent in the Galapagos.   His agent in San Cristobal (our first stop) picked up the pieces for us and his goodwill allowed us to continue our cruising. Additionally, when a mechanical problem forced us to return to Santa Cruz after we had already left for the Marquesas, Mr. Romero being not available to help us, Ricardo Arenas took care of us and cleaned up the mess with the Capitania.  Highly recommended .

   Ricardo Arenas
   Servigalapagos SA
   email: info@arenas.bz
   tel: 999 48 0859
     593-9 9480859


 (This is an excerpt from our agent’s instructions)

  • If you would like to cruise within the Galapagos Islands (National Park areas), then by law we must request a cruising permitfor your yacht.

  • If you just want to sail your yacht from inhabited port to inhabited port, then you also have to have a cruising permit.  Note that in Galapagos we only have five inhabited ports, and the rest of the islands are a National Park.  Also please be aware that you are supposed to cruise at least for one day in the Park due that you are getting a cruising permit. 

  • If you just want to stay in one of the inhabited ports then you do not need to have a cruisingpermit (Applicable when the yacht has no more than 10 people on board).  If your yacht has more than 10 people then it is again necessary to get a cruising permit. You can leave your yacht in the harbor (Academy Bay) or any other inhabited port while taking a tour on one of the locally based charter yachts.  If so, only the National Park entry fee of $100.00 per adult and $50.00 per child under 12 years of age applies.  The cost of the tour will need to be paid separately.  [Ergo, some yachts elect to just get into Santa Cruz without a cruising permit, see how long they are authorized to stay--anywhere from 72 hours to 20 days—remain at anchor for the entire period, and book all their activities through tour operators in Santa Cruz.]

  • Emergency arrival & Bunkering purposes do not need a cruising permit.  In this case a special arrival permit will be necessary and can only stop in the port assigned in the permit

  • In order to get a cruising permit for your yacht the following documents will be required.

    1. Copy Yacht registration, Paper work indicating (beam, draft, length, Gross/net tonnage, Flag nationality, official number and name of your yacht)

    2. Copy Crew & Guest list + passports numbers + nationalities

    3. ETA in Galapagos

    4. Approximate length of stay in the Islands

    5. Fumigation Certificate from the last port.  (We obtained ours from Health Authorities in Panama, at the hefty cost of $150.)

    Note: We highly recommend that you start the cruising permit’s application process at least two months prior to your arrival.

    [We requested—and obtained—a 2-month permit.  Really, in the colder months, a one-month permit is quite sufficient, but there is no difference in cost.  The duration of the stay accorded is entirely up to the Ecuadorian authorities.]


    If you are a couple cruising on a 33-Ton ship, be ready to shell out $1,000.

    1) International Port Captain Fee (2011)

    The following detailed fees have to be multiplied by the Gross Tonnage of your yacht.

    Inward clearance (ARRIVAL)












    outward clearance (Departure)












    Note:                   In the case that your yacht arrives or departs on weekends or holidays, the fee for                    arrival and departure will be $0.030 multiplied by the GT of your yacht. [We did arrive and leave on weekends, no such fees were assessed, we were just told to come back on Monday.]

    The following flat fees are to be paid once

    Radio Frequency:                                      $10.94
    Pollution:                                                         $ 15.00
    Receipt:                                                         $ 0.34

    2) Port Captain Fees at each island you visit:

                       Local  Arrival ($4.95)

    Local  Departure ($4.95 within the islands; $15 for International departure)

    3) Immigration 2011 fees

    - Immigration:  $15.00 check-in and $15.00 check-out per yacht

    - Galapagos Migratory card $10 each per person and per crew

    4) Galapagos National Park Fees

     $100.00 per each (Crew/Guests)

     $50.00 per child under 12 years of age

    Cruising Fees,  applicable only when your yacht is cruising within the National Park areas.

    - $200 daily per each crew/guest who cruise the Islands (Maximum time to cruise within the Park area will be for 15 days only one time per year)

    - $350 per day for on-board Park Services guide

    - $50 per guest for Park Services Inspection

    Note:  The government fees are subject to change without previous notice.

    5) Quarantine Fee

                      $200 inspection fee (Note: we were warned of this fee, but were not sure if we actually were charged, in the end.)  Fumigation fee may or not come in addition.

    6) Agent Fee

                      Count $200 for your yacht

    VI - FUEL and WATER

    ü  Big motoryachts are only allowed to refuel at Baltra Island.  Moreover, the amount of fuel to be loaded in Baltra MUST be declared to the Port Captain of the port of entry (usually San Cristobal or Santa Cruz.)
    Current price of Diesel fuel in Baltra: $5.50/gallon 
    ü  Small sailboats have been known to jerry-jug at lower cost when arranging with local “entrepreneurs.”  Cruiseship crews are quite willing to let go of a few gallons of water… at the right price.  But don't get caught.
    ü  The official word is to arrange all your water and fuel purchases through your agent.

    VII - SSB net: Panama Cruisers Net – 8143 KHZ – 1400 UTC
             HAM Net : 
    Pacific Seafarers 14.300  03:00UTC 

    roll call(03:25) for underway vessels

    VIII - Interesting reads before cruising the islands

    - Charles Darwin – “On the Origin of the Species”
    - Charles Darwin – “The Autobiography of Chares Darwin”
    - Carol Ann Bassett – “Galapagos at the Crossroads”
    - Lundh – “Galapagos”  (pdf document)
    - Yachtpals.com – S/V Carina’s “Galapagos Cruising Guide” (2009)
    - Noonsite.com

    IX – To do and see on the Islands

    1) San Cristobal

                - Interpretation Center & Cerro Las Tijeretas– Nice views of the bay and many Frigate birds - Free
                - La Loberia / Sea Lions Beach – 40-mn walk from town, snorkel with the animals; marine iguanas – Free
                - Galapaguera, El Junco, Puerto Chino, Hacienda El Progreso, tomb of manuel Cobos – A 3-hour taxi tour and lunch – $30
                - Snorkel at Leon Dormido ($90/person) or scuba dive it ($160/person) with a stop at Isla Lobos
                - Punta Pitt – One of the only 2 places in the archipelago where Red-footed boobies can be found.  $40 panga trip.

    2) Santa Cruz
                Many tours can be booked from Santa Cruz, not only for Santa Cruz and its immediate surrounding islands, but also for Isla Floreana and Isla Isabella. 
                - Las Grietas / The grottos – Marvelous hike through beaches, salt flats and to fjords created between lava cliffs.  Bring your swimsuits and snorkels, stop at the environmental center.  Free
                - Tortuga Bay& Garrapatero– A 45-mn walk through the coastal forest leads to one of the largest beaches in the archipelago, talcum-powder white, home to many land iguanas, turtle reproduction site (jan-may) and continuing to a mangrove where one can picnic and kayak on the bay.  Surfing at Tortuga Bay. Free
                - El Chato Reserve, Los Gemelos, Lava Tunnels – A 2-to 3-hour tour by taxi to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat, see the lava tunnels (Chato Dos is better) and climb up to twin lava craters.  About $30 for the taxi
                - Center Charles Darwin and Playa ECD – Land tortoises, land iguanas, and snorkel with marine iguanas.  Free
                - Cerro Crocker – The tallest point on the island, reached by taxi, only on nice days.
                - Seymour Norte – Great diving, marine fossils, Frigate bird rookery.  Book tour.
                - Isla Bartolome – The “Galapagos Postcard” with the picture-perfect Pinnacle Rock.  Book tour.

    3) Isla Floreana
                - The Loberia, off the main beach – More sea lions – Free
                - Cerro Allieri, Asilo de la Paz, Las Palmas – 3-hour tour. Some can be done by bus, walking the 7 km up and down, or renting a local driver ($40 to $50)
                - Panga trip to Corona del Diablo, Mirador La Baronesa, Bahia Post Office, Punta Cormorant – A 2-3 hour tour and snorkel trip where you are likely to see penguins and swim with sharks.  Well worth the $130/couple.

    4) Isla Isabella

                - Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico – A fantastic 16-km walk along the Sierra Negra Crater, walk though lava fields at Volcan Chico, and enjoy stunning views of Bahia Elizabeth and Isla Fernandina.  Lots of endemic flora.  $30 by foot, $160 on horseback.  Guide mandatory – Book tour in town.
                - Las Tintoreras – In Puerto Villamil anchorage, but must be booked with a guide-  Likely to see lots of Frigates and boobies, white tip sharks swimming in a clear lagoon, and perhaps some penguins.  $40 – Book tour in town.
                - Mirador El Mango, The Triplets, Cueva Sucre, and Finca Trojan – A 3-hour tour by taxi, with good views of the island on a nice day and finish with provisioning for fresh fruits and vegetables.  Taxi: $10/hour.
                - Muro de las Lagrimas, Complejo Humedales & Pozos de las Diablas (5km), Laguna Flamincos (in town), Breeding center (1.2 km walk).   Several free trails lead from the center of town to various pleasant sites.  Free
                - Concha y Perla – Small beach by the embarcadero where you might sight a few penguins and even snorkel with them. Free
                - Dive Isla Tortuga – Excellent diving site for hammerhead sharks, turtles and seahorses.  $150/person, 2 immersions
                - Los Tuneles – The BEST to do in all the Galapagos.  Spectacular site of bridges and lava tunnels in, above and under water.  Snorkel with white-fin sharks, manta rays, turtles.  $70 to $80/person.

    X – DOMINO’s Top List

    Ø   Best Anchorage – Puerto Villamil
    Ø   Sweetest taxi/tour operator on Isabella – Milton (“Isaturex”) who took care of our fresh produce provisioning
    Ø   Best Guided Tour – “Los Tuneles” with Fabricio on Isabella mowglitourgalapacos@hotmail.com
    Ø   Favorite animals – Manta Ray (JP) and Boobies (Marie)
    Ø   Favorite Flora – Galapagos Cactus
    Ø   “Almuerzos” restaurant lunch menus (from $3 to $5)
    Ø   Favorite Food – Parillada de Mariscos at La Playa, San Cristobal (Marie)
        Langosta a la Plancha in Santa Cruz (JP)

    FINALLY – If money is no object, park your yacht somewhere and hop on one of the big charter catamarans, of the luxury type, and cruise where your yacht will never be allowed to.   Let the Captain travel at night.  Wake up in a secluded anchorage where no private yacht is allowed, and Guided by the licensed NPS Guide on board, tour all day without a worry.  There are several of those 8-cabin luxury catamarans around.  Take your pick!

    Have fun!

    Dominomarie & JP

    False Start


    October 23, 2013

    Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos

    Of course I’ll blame it on the bananas!  We didn’t leave on a Friday, so it had to be the green bananas.  Not that we didn’t argue over the banana issue: should we or should we not have green bananas on board; it’s only superstition; we’re motor yachties, not sailors; let’s be mature about this.  In the end, we loaded the bananas on board, dropped them in the fruit basket with the papaya and coconut, and forgot about them. 

    We left Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabella, before sunrise yesterday, warm and toasty in the cabin while the thermometer was dropping to 15c (59F) outside.  We were settling into our chores.  DOMINO was ghosting through the fog at a quiet 9kts; the Seafari HRO watermaker was purring at 60 gallons per hour; the Furuno 6’ radar array was piercing the fog banks; JP was playing French Maid and dusting the helm while keeping an eye on the TZT radar screen; and I was mentally back to Paraguay, sipping hot Matè cocido, wearing my Estancia TeChagau shirt and shelling the white beans we had picked up at the Finca Troyan.  Suddenly, the smell… JP running toward the engine room… “It smells!” I yell… “Smoke in the engine room,” he yells… “Turn off the starboard engine…”  OFF.  Diagnostic.  “The starboard alternator is dead…”  OK, so the engines are fine, no big deal, we still have one alternator to charge the batteries.   But more smoke is coming out from behind the helm panels and through the floor.  JP runs to the port engine room… “Alternator!”  So now, we have no alternator.  An acrid smoke permeates the air.  At least the engines are fine.  But we’re not going to the Marquesas this way, no Sirreee… we quickly turn around and inform the Capitania of our return to Santa Cruz for repairs.  Permission granted, we steam to port, monitored by “Radio Costera,” the Galapagos Coast Guards.  Fine.  We’re fine.

    Still, we needed to run the watermaker since our water tanks werealmost empty.  We usually don’t make water while in port because the harbors are often polluted.  We’d much rather run the HRO offshore.  With the engine alternators out of commission, JP fired up the Northern Light genset.  Within minutes, the genset stoped.  “What now?”   Out came the Northern Light manuals and JP dug into the technicalities.  Up and down the workshop, finally he claimed victory.  Three words: “Genset voltage regulator.”  The genset, indeed, was putting out more power (140v) than the Magnum inverter-charger could take (120v), throwing the Magnum in “overload.”  JP adjusted the voltage regulator on the genset and fixed yet one more problem.  The watermaker ran another 2 hours to fill our tanks.

    JP works on the watermaker

    That’s the thing with yachting.  There is always a problem. Sometimes you can fix it, like adjusting the genset’s voltage regulator, and sometimes you can’t, like re-spooling your alternators. 

    Easy with the Quickline system
    We made it back to Santa Cruz before night and this time aced our anchoring maneuver between the big charter yachts, dropping “Big Bertha” on a short scope, testing the hold, and securing the bridle.  Then, we took the time to call for a water taxi (CH 14) to help us with the stern line.  I grabbed the end of the Quickline Flatline, jumped on the water taxi while JP let the flat line roll out, secured the end to the big mooring astern, and let JP winch DOMINO back.  This is the best use we’ve made of the Quickline Flat Line and the maneuver was a cinch.

    Well, we’re still stuck on board this morning, waiting for our agent Johnny Romero to check us in with the Capitania.  Yes, we must report our trouble to the Capitania, have them inspect our damages and grant us emergency status.  But until Mr. Romero attends us, we’re prisoners on board.

    No matter.  Early this morning, Captain Rodrigo of “Queen Beatriz,” a luxury charter cat anchored next to us, sent us the best electrician on the island.  Claudio Silva took one look at the alternators that JP had already taken out on deck, and decided to send them to Guayaquil for repair.  It’s all arranged, the alternators are already on their way to the airport and we should have them back within a week.

    More belts... more belts...
    Of course, we must think of a fix to avoid overheating the Balmar alternators in the future.  Some systems come with an optional alternator temperature sensor that will decrease alternator output by 50% until it cools down.  The Ample Power alternator regulators that we have installed do not have this safety feature.  Balmar does and we will improve the system in the near future, but not here in the Galapagos.  This will have to wait until we get to Tahiti.  Meanwhile, we promise not to run a watermaker that draws about 140 amps on engine alternators that only provide about 140 amps each.  That was our mistake: if one fail, the other will fail soon after.

    Hopefully, our Agent can deal with these unexpected events and make time in his busy schedule to accommodate our administrative needs.  We’re off to his office to make a full declaration of what happened and why in the world we returned to the Galapagos after leaving for the Marquesas.  Why indeed?

    Till next blog… when hopefully the stench of burnt electrical wire will have cleared up.  Till then…


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