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Ecuador Passage

Our track from Panama, past Columbia, to Manta, Ecuador
Our track from Panama, past Columbia, to Manta

Passage Stats

Port of Departure: Balboa, Panama. March 31, 2003
Port of Arrival: Manta, Ecuador. April 4, 2003
Passage Length: 4 days, 6 hours
Average Speed: 5.9 knots
Average Wind and Sea Conditions: About 15 knots, from the north, then the south!

Note that you can also read the newsletters we emailed while we were on this passage.  They reflect our at-the-moment thoughts and feelings while we were out there.

(Sue) It was exciting to finally be pushing off from Panama.  By sailing south along the Colombian coast, we're lengthening our stay in Latin America, which I love.  I remember from 1988, when we were cruising in Oriental Lady, being quite concerned about the big tidal change on the Pacific Side of Panama, but given that we spent most of our time on a mooring (thereby insuring there was ample water under us), the tide was less of an issue this time.  Once we were sailing, it became irrelevant.  Unfortunately, our departure coincided with the dark of the moon, once again, so we had black, black nights (though the stars were bright).  Leaving the shipping lanes of Panama behind was a relief as it is quite nerve-wracking to have 4 or 5 ships on the horizon at one time, all criss-crossing paths.  It seems that the Pacific side of Panama is one of the few areas of no magnetic variation.  That is, Magnetic north is the same as True north.  Therefore, ships like to turn slow circles our here, calibrating their compasses.  This can be quite disconcerting to a small sailboat.

Our first Pacific tuna!
Our first Pacific tuna!

(Amanda age 13) I sort of started this sail off dreading what could happen, but after a bit of the calm seas and nice wind, I shook that feeling off.  Curacao to San Blas was the nastiest bit of water in the Caribbean, and the South Pacific isn't usually like that.  We also got to sleep a lot more, as we were only really "on" watch an hour and a half.  I also took out our LED headlamp and read for most of the hour and a half, with a timer for every ten minutes.  I kept my eyes on ships around us - there were a lot heading from South America to Panama - and called Dad (who was my secondary while I was on) only if it appeared to be getting closer faster than it got out of the way.  And since we had the autopilot, we didn't have to stress about hand steering at all, except for morning and evening scheds on the SSB, when the motor affects the radio.  And, lucky me, who do you think was always on watch during those times?  ME!  It wasn't that bad, though.  Seas weren't high at all, and I had my CD player to keep me company.
    Another thing, I reeled in my first fish on this passage.  We weren't all that far out, we could still see land, but I was sitting my watch in the morning and suddenly my mom comes out of the cabin and yells, "Fish on!"  I hopped off the helm seat and got to pull it in.  It looked really big at first, with the wake it was putting up, but I pulled it out and it was only about a foot or so.  I looked it up on our fish ID program, and I think I got a match, but the program only has scientific names.  Still, we got fish for dinner!

Playing chess on passage - note fruit net in background
Playing chess on passage
Note fruit & vegetable net in background

(Chris age 16) Well, our second passage was almost nothing like our first.  It took about the same amount of time, but almost everything else was better.  First off, the seas and wind were much more comfortable.  Second, we had the new autopilot, so we revised our watch schedule so each person was only on watch for 90 minutes at a time, then acted as backup for another 90 minutes.  Lots more sleep!  Third, after our first multi-day passage, the second one just wasn't as 'new' or 'worrisome.'  It still wasn't my favorite way to spend five days, but it sure beat the first passage.  I also discovered the way to handle night watches: a portable CD player with headphones and anti-skip.  During the day I tried to thump Dad at chess.

Chris, Jon, and Amanda ready the spinnaker
Chris, Jon, and Amanda ready the spinnaker

(Jon)  We actually had a delightful sail for the first few days.  We left Panama with a brisk 20 knots behind us - a bit much for the spinnaker but good for making time.  We even had a bit of current assisting us.  Having caught very few fish in the Caribbean, we caught a nice tuna early on, which we thought was an auspicious welcome to the Pacific.  The third day we actually did get the spinnaker up and had a glorious sail with it for several hours.  Then we saw what appeared to be a standard squall-line cloud in front of us, so we doused the chute and proceeded under all plain sail.  The breeze continued to die as we approached and by the time we actually reached the cloud we had to motor.  Imagine our surprise when, an hour later, we get to the other side of the cloud only to find wind, swell, and current all against us!  Not fair!  Apparently, this was the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), where the the SE trades of the South Pacific meet the NE trades of the North Pacific.

Excerpts from Ocelot's Log:

Date Time
Comments Miles
to go
31 Mar 06:30 Engines on, motor out of Balboa Yacht Club anchorage 600      
08:05 Engines off, set full sail 583 7+ 20 150
15:45 Jibed over - backed main 2x 530 6.5 18 180
18:15 Dolphins! 1.5 knot current against us 512 7.8 22 180
20:15 Drop main, full jib out. Winds to 26 knots, seas 6-8 ft 496 7 20 180
01 Apr 02:45 Reef jib - boat speed was 7.3 451 6.5 25 180
12:15 Set reefed main, jib to port (wing and wing) 390 7.5 17 150
21:30 Light winds, calm seas 326 4.5 9 130
02 Apr noon Beautiful sail under spinnaker 238 6 12 135
16:30 Spinny down, entering squall line (ITCZ) 217 4.5 7 180
16:45 Port engine on - light, fluky winds and confused seas 216 5 5 180
21:00 Wind clocked around to 50A, change to wind course 196 5 9 50
midnight Back to GPS course - close reaching 186 5 11 55
03 Apr 10:00 Motor-sailing - ETA 26 hrs (noon)! 146 5.2 20 45
18:07 Pick up speed.  ETA now 9:19 am 100 6.8 18 60
midnight Wind too close - Roll up jib - Motor-sail 72 4.8 13 15
04 Apr 03:15 Cross the Equator!  Crew tarred and feathered per custom  56 5 14 50
10:00 Nets offshore - flat calm 10 5 0 0
12:37 Engines off - anchor in 16' in Manta, Ecuador 0      

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