Science & Faith
1st January 2008 - 15 April 2008
Written 6th - 18th April
How appropriate they are. Every one of them seems to describe some aspect of the months since the last update.
THE YEAR PROGRESSES
We settled in, figured out transportation, went to the grocery store–—it had been over two weeks since we'd purchased anything fresh. And then it was New Year's Eve. What should we do? Host a party, of course. We put the word out and had a movie night aboard Migration. New friends and old came aboard. We watched American Graffiti, shared loads of delicious desserts, and lit some crappy fireworks that almost took our heads off. It was good fun.
You might remember that we sailed to Panama because we felt the duty Ecuador demanded for the importation of our dinghy—more than the cost of the dinghy—was a little over the top. Well, we did save money. But if you consider the wear and tear on Migration (we traveled an extra 1,000 miles), the cost of the fuel used (we had to cross the doldrums), check-in and -out fees… hmmm, well, why bore you with the numbers? In fact, let’s just move on.
But our world offers opportunity at every
turn. Panama has the Perlas Islands. It has the Darien. It has
well-stocked stores. And it has
My extreme dislike of most things urban is fueled by visits to places like Panama. It is noisy, crowded, smoggy. The traffic is terrible. It takes twice as long as it should to get anyplace. And you have to argue with nearly every taxi driver as he tries to charge you two or three times the normal rate because you aren’t a local. Panama City doesn’t seem to have beautiful parks, or beaches, or promenades. It has heaps of new construction and several fancy malls with designer stores (the country is very profitable these days), a good amount of poverty (the country is very profitable these days -- for a select few), and several fairly dangerous sections (they didn’t seem so dangerous to us as we walked through—at least not until local police stopped us and said we really shouldn’t be walking there).
But Panama does have stores. And metal shops. And chandleries.
As we would soon be heading far away from these kinds of places, we thought we should make use of their services. We spent a lot of time provisioning—buying foodstuffs and supplies that we thought would be impossible to get, or very expensive, down the line. Things like olives and olive oil. Rum and beer. Peanut butter and cooking oil. Boxed juices and, wow!, we actually found Captain Crunch! (Sadly, we ate that already and we are now Crunch-less).
We also spent a good portion of our 35 days there doing projects. We were soon to be crossing thousands of miles of ocean and we didn't want things breaking. But doing projects also means finding parts which means riding the bus, flagging taxis, searching for days to find a store that sells acrylic sheet (we had to replace a portlight), or visiting three stores on opposite ends of town looking for that certain-sized stainless screw.
We did get our new dinghy. And we had some nice reunions with old friends, and made some new ones as well. We spent a pleasant and interesting evening visiting Dr. and Mrs. DeLeon, the couple who purchased my parents' house in Long Beach many years ago. But it wasn't an overly social time. I was steeped in my anti-metropolitan mood and Alene had spent too many days in Panama City previously and it did not hold wonderful memories for her. So we buckled down and worked, and shopped, hard. We had to get out of town.
But we couldn’t leave Panama without transiting the Canal.
CROSSING TO THE OTHER SIDE
Notice that going through the Panama canal sounds a lot like a visit to a psychic? But the process is not nearly as complex as contacting the dead. However, it does require some preparation. You need a set of old tires hanging from the sides of your boat to keep it safe from the lock walls. You need four long lines of the correct thickness to control the boat in the lock, and you need four line-handlers to manage those lines. Boats are always looking for line handlers. Of course we weren't going through the canal on Migration so we put out the word that we’d be happy to line handle and sure enough we found a boat right away. David on Sucre is an artist from Belgium heading to Brazil after buying his boat in Mexico. (You can view his work at www.stricoff.com — David Janssen). Alene and I, along with Joe from Panacea and Phyllis from Otter II, were his crew for this adventure.
And it was an adventure! What a fantastic construction the canal is. What a great day we had. Read The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough if you want to gain an appreciation for this colossal project. I was reading it while we were going through the canal. That was kind of cool. Not only is the canal an engineering marvel, but medical science took great leaps in the study and control of tropical diseases, particularly malaria and yellow fever.
We finished our transit, our projects and our provisions. It was time to go. But why hurry? We had come all this way north, let’s see something.
The far eastern portion of Panama is called the Darien. It is a land of many rivers running through dense forest. The home of the Wounaan people, renowned for their beautiful basket weaving. Few boats visit the Darien and that made it feel like even more of an adventure.
The trip was fascinating. The landscape quite beautiful. We were the only sailboat around. We traveled 10 miles up the Rio Sabana and anchored. Then took Plover another 5 miles to the village of Boca de Lara. Amazing that 90 miles in a direct line from Panama City, there is a village where women sit bare-breasted weaving the baskets their tribe is famous for. We took pictures with the kids, gave them the ubiquitous pencils (a gift all cruisers seem to carry for children), and talked with some of the locals. The village looks traditional with raised huts, however the electrical wires change the ambiance a bit. And how strange to be in a hut with no furniture except one solitary table on which sits a television.
Still, that evening we listened to the current rippling against our hull and the howler monkeys in the trees sending up their weird monster-like call while the approach of a tropical shower beat its raindrops against the forest leaves. We felt far away from the city and were very glad we came.
The next day, downriver in the town of La Palma, Migration became the focal point as cayucos (dugout canoes) of women and children (and dogs!) came to sell their baskets. It was a nice little party we had on deck. The baskets were exquisite and we bought quite a few. But we weren’t done yet. An hour after our departure the next morning, as we motored downriver, an outboard-powered cayuco came roaring up from astern. One of the ladies had one more basket we just had to see.
Both of us have done longer passages on other boats, but for the two of us together on Migration, the 1,000-mile passage to the Galápagos would be a milestone. More importantly, this was the transition from our “coastal cruising”—up and down the coast of the Americas—to truly crossing oceans. We were heading west to start across the Pacific. And there’s a lot of Pacific to cross.
The area between Panama and the Galápagos is often in, or affected by, the Intertropical Convergence Zone – otherwise known as the doldrums. We had a couple days of good sailing as the northern winds that cross the Isthmus of Panama from the Caribbean shot us out of the Gulf of Panama. Then… well, the doldrums. Sometimes there was wind, sometimes there wasn’t. Squalls, rain showers, and thunderstorms are very common in this area and we had our share.
Our fuel tank holds 90 gallons of diesel and we carry another 20 gallons in jerry cans on deck. That gives us a range – in calm weather – of about 600 miles. However, that’s without the help, or hindrance, of current. We should have had favorable current (current going in the same direction as we want to go) for most of the passage. But this was a strange year. Most sailboats were reporting strong easterly-setting, contrary current. Sometimes we had as much as 2.5 knots against us. We ended up motoring just over a third of the 8 day passage. Overall, it was pretty easy. We celebrated Valentine’s Day at sea, were contacted by a Panamanian naval vessel, passed a small fishing boat, had some nice visits from dolphins and caught not a single fish. I did get hit in the head one night by a seagull. Sitting in the cockpit with the notebook on my lap, a very large gull flew right into the side of my head. I was astonished... as was the gull. He sat next to me in the cockpit trying to figure out what had happened while I yelled "What the hell do you think you're doing!?" After a few minutes he shook himself and flew off, obviously wishing he could yell the same back at me.
DEFINITELY NOT PROGRESS
Cruisers thrive on rumors. We're hungry for any information on the ports and countries we plan to visit. We'd heard many different stories about fees required, how long we could stay and where we could visit. Way back in October 2007 we had emailed six agents in an attempt to obtain a cruising permit which would allow us to sail between the five populated ports. We knew we couldn’t sail within the national park areas as that permit costs $200/day per person and requires a $300/day park guide to be onboard at all times.
This entire update could be about the craziness that surrounds the regulations for a yacht visiting the Galápagos. The port captain insisted we use an agent to check in—at a cost of $200. We didn’t really want to do that and had heard that there were some boats that had not used an agent, so we just dragged our feet for a while. Besides, we had to clean up the boat and get ready for visitors.
Maureen and Riley arrived with lots of spare parts for us and other much-needed items (mail, postage stamps, Alene’s extra sunglasses) along with much-coveted gifts like See’s candy. We spent the first few days making plans, swimming, hiking and touring the island.
We had planned on sailing to other islands but since we had no cruising permit we were only allowed to stay in the one port where we arrived. However, that all changed when one of the agents we had emailed months before showed up with our permit! Unfortunately, it was a little too late in their visit for Maureen, Riley and Liam. So we visited Isla Isabela by small plane. It was wonderful flying over the islands and seeing them from a new perspective.
Our trip to Isabela was mostly great. Unfortunately, Alene didn’t have the best time as she was in bed with a fever. But the rest of us had fun touring, hiking, snorkeling and eating. (Sorry, Alene). We then flew back to San Cristóbal where Riley had a chance to get in some surfing before the family packed up and headed to Peru and Machu Picchu.
Alene and I had plenty to do aboard Migration. Topping up our fuel took a whole day as we had to take the jerry cans in by dinghy, go to the gas station by taxi, then ferry the fuel back out to the boat and siphon it into the tank. We provisioned and did a few projects. In between all this, we made time to snorkel with the sea lions.
EVOLUTION OF THE CALIFORNIA SEA LION
The Galápagos sea lions have evolved into much nicer creatures than their ancestors in California. We don’t know why. They both share a common stubbornness for wanting to be on your boat or in your dinghy. We had friends on two different boats who were awakened in their bunks by a sea lion peering down a hatch at them. In the water it's a different story. We spent a lot of time swimming with the pups who are exceedlingly friendly. We discovered that swimming toward them upside-down seemed to signal that it was time to play. The pups would jump out of the water, zoom straight at us, even come right up to our masks and nearly touch us with their noses. It was wonderful! And a good workout. Unfortunately we don’t yet have an underwater camera so we have no pictures.
The Laboratory of the Galápagos
The Galápagos, of course, are unique because they inspired Darwin in his theory of evolution. The relative newness of the archipelago, its distance from the mainland, and the diversity of the ecosystems among the islands allowed the flora and fauna (except newly introduced invasive species) to develop in relative isolation. Thus, adaptive behavior and physiological changes crucial to a species' survival became more evident here than other places. A perfect example is the giant tortoise whose shell is a unique shape for the different species on different islands. Some shells are turned up at the front to allow the tortoise to reach higher in order to feed from the taller plants of their locale. A large percentage of the species found in the islands are endemic; that is, they are only found here and nowhere else. 107 species of plants (34%), 17 species (62%) of reptiles, and 22 species (66%) of the land birds are endemic. There is a lot of unique life here. Darwin's theory was most inspired by the finch which developed from a single species blown here by the wind. After many years on the islands it developed into many different species all which feed in a unique way and fill a niche otherwise left unfilled on the islands.
We felt very close to all of this evolving nature while in the archipelago. But nowhere more so than at Isla Isabela. The volcanic newness of the island, reminiscent of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, the ever-present prehistoric visage of the marine iguanas, and the oddly-colored red, orange and yellow lagoons combined with the tiny and fairly pleasant town of Puerto Villamil and the rough beauty of the anchorage gave the impression of a remote outpost on a developing world.
We visited the Sierra Negra volcano – the 2nd largest volcanic crater in the world. We rode bikes to the Wall of Tears (a huge lava rock wall built by the prisoners of a penal colony which operated from 1944-1959). Explored lagoons, mangroves, and beaches. Swam in a fresh water spring. Hiked over lava islands. Climbed into a lava tube. Visited the giant tortoise breeding center which was very active and exciting – seriously.
Our favorite expedition was to Los Tuneles. This is an area of extensive collapsed lava tubes that have been inundated by the sea. It is a labyrinth of canals, arches, and pillars with crystal clear water filled with fish, turtles, sharks, and penguins. It was amazing. First we hiked over the top and then we snorkeled through, over, and under the arches and pillars. Spectacular.
Hardly the least exciting part was getting there. Only 6 fisherman know how to navigate the treacherous route into the area through huge breaking waves. Getting in was exciting. Going back out... our fishermen earned their fee!
The Wittmers still run a hotel on the island. We met the daughter and granddaughter of the original Wittmers who settled there. They have guest books for visiting yachts that go back 50 years. We felt like a part of history adding our own page.
We met Gonzalo, the 8-year old son of the driver of the only bus on the island. He became our tour guide for the day as we traveled up to the highlands to see the caves where the Wittmers lived when they first arrived, the tortoise breeding center, and the great vistas from the top of the island. Gonzalo turned out to be our best tour guide in the Galápagos.
From Floreana we had a fine sail to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. This is the largest town (over 10,000 people) and the tourist center of the Galápagos. Tourism in the islands is a bit out of control. There are over 100,000 tourists a year although the cap was set at 40,000 some years ago. Tourism is big business here and you certainly see it with the number of cruise ships arriving and departing from Puerto Ayora. The anchorage was also filled with cruising sailboats. Most boats on their way from Panama to the Marquesas or Tahiti stop in the Galápagos -- usually at Puerto Ayora. There were over 40 boats in the anchorage when we were there with arrivals and departures each day.
We unpacked our folding bikes and had a good time pedaling around town. We visited Playa Tortuga, the Darwin Research Center, and Las Griegas – swim-able lava fissures filled with a mix of fresh and salt water.
What better flag to fly above Migration in the Galápagos? We also took it around for a few photo-ops. The giant tortoise was most impressed and thanked us for our support.
We sailed back to San Cristóbal to visit with friends who had brought us a watermaker part from Panama. A little more provisioning and then it was time to say adios to the sea lions, turtles and tortoise.
ANOTHER (BIG) STEP FORWARD
The trade winds of the Pacific Ocean are renowned. Every sailor dreams of days, or weeks, at sea with the wind from behind, long gently rolling swells pushing the boat forward along with a favorable current. 150, 175, 200 mile days without having to touch the sails. And the weather glorious—the blue sky filled with puffy white clouds parading along the route to the west.
Sometimes it is like that.
The trades are generally consistent winds that blow both above and below the Equator and the Doldrums. They are sucked into that region as the equatorial air rises after being heated by the intense sun. Because of the rotation of the earth the winds are bent so that they blow from the northeast above the equator and from the southeast below.
Actually, they blow anywhere from the South to the East. And, since this is weather, and not theory, from other directions as well.
We left the Galápagos thinking the southeast trades would be coming from the beam (90 degrees from the side) since we were heading southwest. But first we had to find them. We motored and sailed slowly for 2 days… all the way to 5 degrees south latitude (one degree of latitude is equal to 60 nautical miles, or about 70 miles.) At 0500 on the 3rd day out, we found the trades. A switch was thrown and one minute there was calm and the next, wind. There would be steady wind for 8 days. It was pretty amazing.
Unfortunately, the winds were much more from the south than we had hoped, so we were heading into the wind and the waves. It wasn’t that windy… 15-20 knots. But for 5 days we bounced and bumped and took constant spray over the foredeck (and sometimes into the cockpit). It was not comfortable sailing; it was noisy and it made sleeping difficult.
What do we do when it's like that? We read. We listen to audio books on the iPod. We make meals, eat them and clean up. We try to sleep. Sometimes we do sleep. That’s about it.
It’s amazing how tired one gets with the constant pitching and pounding. Also, while lying in my bunk, I am listening, always listening, to the noises of the boat, hoping (but not hoping) to detect the sound of some small problem that I can prevent before it turns into a big problem. It usually takes me several days to relax into the rhythm of the passage but when it is rough, I’m all ears, all the time.
We also write emails and talk on the HAM radio.
There are several “nets” operating for cruisers. A net is simply a gathering of people at a specific time on a specific frequency. Some are run by cruisers and some are run by amateur HAM operators on the mainland. Some are formal and some are very casual.
Usually boats give their latitude and longitude and weather conditions to the net ‘controller’ for that day. And if they want to talk to other boats who have checked in, they can call them. Someone often gives a weather report (downloaded from the internet if they are in port, or gathered from weather faxes and email if they are at sea). There are announcements (“Panama has just changed the rules for how long cruisers can stay…” or “Does anyone have information on the sailing vessel ‘Orca’s Tidbit’?” or “Today is St. Smithereen’s Day”). It’s often very boring but it’s nice to hear friendly voices and touch base with boats we haven’t seen for months. It’s also a good thing that other boats know our position in case of a problem.
So we usually occupy a half-hour with the radio. But we're never bored. Just living at sea can be exhausting. I always think I’m going to write a story or finish a boat project, but rarely do. (However, I did manage to finish a couple of poems on this crossing.)
We also think of a lot. About the boat, each other, our life, friends and family, the world. People often ask if we're afraid when we're at sea. We are not. We've not encountered truly dangerous weather which, in the middle of the ocean, is the biggest danger (except for ships—but we can watch for those). Yet we are always aware that the sea can destroy any boat, no matter how well-found. It takes a combination of science and faith for us to sail. Faith in the technologies we use -- be they ancient ones like sails, or newer ones like the high-tech line that pulls up those sails. We attempt to forecast the weather using scientific principles. We don't dwell on the fact that we are a thousand miles, and several days, away from anyone who can help in an emergency. We have faith in our boat and our preparedness.
We also have faith that we will be allowed to pass over this sea in peace. Sailors are a superstitious lot. We don't start a voyage on a Friday (one boat that we know did just that and was chased back to Mexico by a hurricane) and we pour into the sea the proper ablutions to Poseidon.
We have plenty of time to think. It’s a big ocean. If you look on the map of the world at how much of it we've crossed, it seems miniscule. Yet it is the distance from LA to Washington D.C.. And across all those miles, for two entire weeks we saw almost nothing. Well, that’s not true. Excluding the day we left the Galápagos and the day we arrived at Rapa Nui, here’s what we saw:
That’s it. Nothing else for 14 days. Not a single fish (especially not on our trolling lines!). Not an airplane overhead. Not a piece of trash floating in the water.
Two thousand miles of ocean.
Nothing else, besides Migration and each other, existed in our world. Not the upcoming US election. Not the economy. Not the war.
One night I tuned into the BBC World Service on our shortwave radio. The reporter was interviewing an economist for the oil lobby in the United States. I listened to her trying to justify the record profits of the oil companies. I listened for 4 minutes. Then I turned it off. What is the matter with us? Hello, United States! Billions of profits to oil companies while we bankrupt our country fighting a war to secure more oil--and deny healthcare to children for the cost of a few days of that war? Wow. We are really crazy to allow this.
We lost our wind as we left the trades a few days north of Rapa Nui. Now we were in a region of variable winds between the trade winds to the north and the Roaring Forties to the south. But we were getting close. We motored a little and then tended the sails, adjusting them as the wind changed. On the morning of our 15th day, the island appeared dark grey in the light grey of dawn.
Why are there so few cruisers here? Because it is completely off the beaten track. It’s not on the way to or from anywhere. (The Galápagos are pretty much on the way from Panama or Ecuador to French Polynesia). But more than any other reason, it has a poor reputation for weather and anchoring.
Being in the zone of variable wind means the conditions are very changeable. Often, because of the storms in the Roaring Forties, very large, and potentially dangerous, swells roll in. There is no all-weather protected shelter on the island and the anchorages are deep—some with marginal holding in rock. You must be vigilant and constantly aware of the weather as it changes quickly and a boat might need to raise anchor in a hurry and sail to the other side of the island for protection. All the cruising guides expend a great deal of ink on this point and, therefore, many boats are scared off.
But last year we met a cool Spanish single-hander at Isla del Coco. He had spent many months here and raved about how wonderful it was. He said that if you were here during the summer or early fall (remember southern hemisphere, it’s fall down here now) the conditions were not that bad. So that’s why we came.
And, so far, how glad we are that we did! Rapa Nui is a great mystery. Why the moai? How? What happened here? Where are the birds? But that’s all for the next update! In the meantime here are a few photos to show you how absolutely cool this place is.
One definition of evolution is a pattern formed by a series of movements. What pattern do we find in our movements as Alene and I roam the seas? I would be lying if I denied that there are times when I wonder why we do this. Obviously we love being on the sea, and we love adventure. We absolutely love doing this together. But should there be something more, something greater, that a person should pursue? Is it our duty to strive for change, for the betterment of humankind, whatever that means? Or is it enough to simply live a life of joy that doesn’t harm others or the earth? Besides the tug at the heart that reminds us of friends and families so far away, I am still pulled back toward home in an attempt to affect the future.
Thanks to the wonders of technology—some new and some 50-plus years old—I’ve been able to continue the work of Authors and Illustrators for Children, the political action committee which my friend April Halprin Wayland and I started in 2004. Our newest project is called THIS I DREAM in which prominent authors and illustrators of children’s books share their dreams for the next generation. Please visit www.aiforc.org and view the art and read the essays. They are poignant and moving and heartfelt. While you're there, buy a shirt or mug with the art on it, download the essays and share them with your local school, and donate, if you are so inclined.
George Santayana, the Spanish-born U.S. philosopher and writer said:
I hope he is correct—that there is a direction to our change, both personally and globally. Perhaps the misstep that has been our recent US government is like the odd animal that appears briefly and then disappears; seemingly unimportant because of its quick extinction but crucial to the chain that leads to a durable and resilient species or, perhaps, a long-lasting peace.
Evolution is such a loaded term these days. People fear that it invalidates God. Of course it doesn't. Albert Einstein said "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." Faith and science can go hand and hand. Blindness must not stop us from evolving in mind and spirit. We cannot continue on this path that has created crowded cities, horrible wars, and a damaged earth. The wonders of the evolution of nature in the Galápagos, the mysteries of the fate of Rapa Nui—elements of faith and science exist everywhere, in everything. How can it be otherwise?
Last night Alene and I went ashore at our current remote anchorage of Hotuiti. Ahu Tongariki sits above the rocky coast, a line of 15 towering moai, resurrected and returned to their rightful spots by archaeologists in 1996 . I will never forget the feeling. The clouds raced across the moon, the light and dark sweeping across the volcano and sloping plain behind us. The empty eye sockets of the moai staring at us, through us, in the darkness. We could feel them. Even when we turned our back.
There is a power and spirit imparted to any work of enormous faith and labor.
May it always be so in our own lives.
Where we've been since January 2008
A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his
grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in
recalling it would rather be a man—a man of restless and versatile
intellect—who…plunges into scientific questions with which he has no
real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and
distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue
by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.
This site was last updated 11/22/17