Pacific Crossing: Panama to French Polynesia

FIVE WEEKS AT SEA. More than a month - 33.5 days to be precise - without contact to the outside world, other than our satellite phone and very limited credit to send one sms every few days with our position, to my dad who plotted our progress on google earth (Thank you Daddy!).

On September 21st, 2012, Rufus and I set sail with Melody across our first ocean together - 4 weeks across the Atlantic from South Africa to Brazil, with a half way stop at St Helena Island. Exactly 3 years and 7 months later we left Panama on April 21st this year, for what is most likely the longest passage we have and will ever do.

This was a very daunting trip for us to plan and prepare for, our first really long passage just the two of us. This time there was no half way stop. We didn't go to Galapagos, like many cruisers do. The price is far too high for our limited cruising budget and we are on a deadline this year to complete our circumnavigation.

Nothing about this crossing was as predictable as so many cruising guides promised us. Probably thanks to El Nino, the winds and currents were not what we anticipated or hoped for but, despite all that, we had an unbelievably blessed trip with minimal damage to sails, our autopilot held up superbly the entire way and our “new” second-hand spinnaker literally blew us away with it’s phenomenal performance. Without it we would probably still be bobbing around in the middle of nowhere, despite repeatedly snagging itself on the spreaders and keeping us busy with repairs. We have now appropriately dubbed it “Patches” and love it all the more for it’s new character, every patch a story we will remember for years to come.

Thanks to the uncomfortably turbulent anchorage outside Panama City we already had our “sea legs” well before we left and mercifully sea sickness was not an issue on this trip. We did have to get used to the watches again, 3 hours on / 3 hrs off and the physical aspect of rolling constantly, always countering the movement even during sleep. After the first week our bodies started getting used to the new sleeping routines and fatigue and, by the second week we were happily into our new routines - cooking, fishing, daily tasks (cleaning/maintenance etc), frequent sail changes to get the most out of the wind, reading, watching series & movies and many hours sitting in quiet refection or chatting together and dreaming of what we will eat and do on land when we arrive!

Thank you to everyone who sent us messages to the satellite phone. We could not reply to everyone but we did receive and treasure every single word! Thank you for all your support!

More tropical island photos to follow, as soon as we get a chance ;)

fishing boats along the South American coast

stowaway hitching a ride from Panama

SO GRATEFUL for our spinnaker on this trip!!!

happy skipper, happy boat!

Rufus playing hide and seek...

saw SO many of these guys, the babies were the cutest - always lifts our spirits

Ruf's outdoor nav station

crossing the equator for the second time!

almost every day we enjoyed Ruf's delicious freshly baked breads

plotting our progress the old fashioned way

Ruf's favourite "watch spot" - so he could keep an eye for boats and chat to me while i lay on the couch

proudly South African!

weather updates from our old Melodian team mate Wilhelm :D

topping up my tan before we arrive in the islands

after losing quite a few lures we finally figured out the perfect combo for decent sized Dorado 

its not the size that counts...

passage food isn't too bad ;)

Dorado ceviche and sweet potato

cinnamon doughnut balls

Dorado done "shark 'n bake" style

Pacific swell

spinnaker repairs after a 7m hole ripped along the leading edge

our deck was like a seafood buffet every day, with all the sea creatures that got washed up by the waves

painting the French Polynesian flag

calendar making and route planning

our friends from S/Y Excalibur, who we crossed the Panama Canal with, sailing past us a few days before we arrived in Marquesas

washing on passage: bucket at the back of the boat ;)

Pacific sunsets are unlike any we have seen...

10nm from land we FINALLY got to fly the courtesy and Q flags!

first sight of land - we were so excited we even prepped the tender while we were still at sea so we could launch it IMMEDIATELY when we arrived!

hello, Marquesas!

Crossing the Panama Canal

After we returned from our overland trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, we spend Easter weekend in Bocas del Toro and then made the trip down south to the port town of Colón. Before we left though, we met up with a friend from our super yacht days, Peter, and invited him to join us as crew for the Panama Canal transit.

Colón was a bit of a shock compared to Bocas del Toro. We came from beautiful jungle covered islands, surrounded by clear waters and we arrived in a dirty dilapidated "post apocalyptic" city. It was, however fascinating to watch all the massive ships in the port and we had friends with us to help pass the days waiting for the canal passage with lots of laughs and good conversation.

We arrived in Colón on the Wednesday after Easter weekend, Melody had her appointment to be measured the following day by one of the Panama Canal Officials and 5 days later wefinally  transited the Canal!

It was our first transit and there are so many horror stories passed between yachties that we were rather nervous, not to mention the seriously high price tag to go through and the fat deposit you have to put down in case something goes wrong in the canal...

In the end it was actually completely relaxed and most of our time was spent waiting - for the big ships to catch up and join us in the locks, for each lock to be filled or drained, depending on which side we were of the lake etc.

It was a victorious moment motoring out into the Pacific as we exited the last lock of the Canal. We are finally here!

Next stop: French Polynesia!!!!

checking out or neighbours in Colon. photo credit: Peter Thomas

Ruf and our advisor, as we enter the canal

Ruf and our advisor, as we enter the canal

on our way to the canal. photo credit: Peter Thomas

on our way to the canal. photo credit: Peter Thomas

Peter on the foredeck

Peter on the foredeck

friendly crew of the nearby ships in Colon harbour

friendly crew of the nearby ships in Colon harbour

José our friendly admeasurer, registering Melody for her canal transit

José our friendly admeasurer, registering Melody for her canal transit

Rufus next dream boat project...

Rufus next dream boat project...

sunset in Colon commercial harbour

sunset in Colon commercial harbour

fellow cruisers in the Colon anchorage, preparing for the canal transit

fellow cruisers in the Colon anchorage, preparing for the canal transit

João and Natali on one of their provisioning runs before they transit the canal

João and Natali on one of their provisioning runs before they transit the canal

it's official!

it's official!

Paula & Luigi from S/Y Santavacanza

Paula & Luigi from S/Y Santavacanza

Colon City, Panama

Colon City, Panama

Colon City, Panama

Colon City, Panama

the "yacht club" we anchored at in Colon

the "yacht club" we anchored at in Colon

Peter & Rufus prepping the fenders (tyres) and lines for the canal transit

Peter & Rufus prepping the fenders (tyres) and lines for the canal transit

Melody dressed in her new "fenders"

Melody dressed in her new "fenders"

one of our friendly line handlers in the canal

one of our friendly line handlers in the canal

closing the lock

closing the lock

Rufus and I with our advisor in the first lock. photo credit: Peter Thomas

Rufus and I with our advisor in the first lock. photo credit: Peter Thomas

our fantastic line handers, João and Paula

our fantastic line handers, João and Paula

João in charge of our bow line

João in charge of our bow line

entering the Gatun Lock

entering the Gatun Lock

Captain Ruf and his first mate ;)

Captain Ruf and his first mate ;)

our trusty (tiny) fog horn

most of the canal transit is a waiting game - João catching some zzz while we wait for things to happen

our neighbour in the locks

my boys :)

in the last lock before we exit into the Pacific - Rufus standing on the foredeck, posing for the Canal cameras as our families watch online

in the last lock before we exit into the Pacific - Rufus standing on the foredeck, posing for the Canal cameras as our families watch online

our full team aboard Melody as we finally arrive in the Pacific!

Family Farm Life in Costa Rica

And we are BACK! If you follow our page on Facebook you will know that my MacBook charger took a walk in Bocas del Toro so my photo editing/blogging station has been down for a while. Luckily Panama mainland is not short on malls and electronics shops so I finally found a replacement and I am back online!

The last post was on our overland trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We traveled by water taxi (from Bocas del Toro Islands to Panama mainland) and bus from Panama to Costa Rica and on to Nicaragua and back again. In Costa Rica we stayed with friends in the area of Tarbacca, just outside of San José. 

What I didn't mention previously is that the main reason we decided to take this trip now was to visit these friends, since we were so close and we weren't sure when we would be back in this part of the world. We had originally met the Jensen family when we hosted them on a sailing charter in Belize the previous year. We got on so well with them and stayed in contact ever since. They had offered to host us if we ever visited Costa Rica and so we took them up on the offer!

Andreas is from Denmark and Andrea is from the US, of Columbian and German descent, with two beautiful adopted daughters from Columbia. The family relocated from the US to Costa Rica some years ago and have been living on their lifestyle farm in the hills of Tarbacca ever since. They have horses, goats, pigs, sheep, geese, ducks, chickens, turkeys and they grow their own coffee! 

Andreas and Andrea hand make a variety of delicious cheeses from their own goat's milk and from time to time their own pork and lamb. They spoiled us daily with delicious meals from mostly their own produce - cheeses, meat and veggies - as well as including us in all the daily happenings of the farm and family life. 

We rode horses in the mountains, witnessed their stallion mating (which is a lot more dangerous complicated than we ever expected!), got to milk the goats, ride quads, help dry coffee beans and spend wonderful hours chatting and relaxing with the family and their friends. It was also an extra treat because of the warm fresh water showers!

I think we, especially Rufus, must have driven Andreas and Andrea crazy with all our questions about the farm and Costa Rica but they were so patient and generous with their time and their home. Thank you Jensen family for your hospitality!

The first morning we arrived Andreas put us to work milking the goats - so much fun! photo: A.Jensen

I loved the small details and thought that goes into every aspect of their farm and their home

Rufus peppering Andreas with (more) questions about farming with livestock

Andrea and Nicol spending some quality mother-daughter time in the kitchen

one of the delicious breakfast made with Andrea's own ricotta cheese

Andreas giving us the tour of his land

it's time to ride! photos: A.Jensen

Laura in full farm girl mode ;)

cutest little kid 

Rufus was a hit with the lady goats...

the resident stallion getting new shoes

resident mouse catcher