After three weeks of living in Panama City, I for one was ready to get underway again. Discovery has received nearly $15,000 in upgrades- new batteries, new anchor chain, new GPS and Radar (after they got fried in Colombia), fishing gear, sail repairs, a myriad of spare parts… Each day I would spend a few hours on the boat doing odd projects in hopes that by the time our departure date arrived it would be less chaos than usual. As we’ll be away from any kind of services, or even a marina for nearly two years once we depart, the time was now to stock up and get her ready, but there’s always a list that remains undone.
We’ve got a whole new crew on Discovery, a decision made just in the last week before departure. I’d spent two weeks interviewing potential candidates to fill Jody’s shoes as she’ll be only joining us on select trips this season. At the same time Nico had fulfilled his 12 month contract with extraordinary success, but we all felt with a very difficult year on the horizon in the South Pacific (lots of miles, lots of back to back trips) some new energy on board would be a good move for all. With a week left before we sailed for the Galapagos I was suddenly faced with replacing our Chef, as well as finding a Stewardess/Mate. The Best Odyssey has turned into not just a kiteboarding expedition, but a culinary adventure as well, and we’ve all grown accustomed to truly world-class cuisine. How could I hire two people in a week and have them be remotely qualified or well-suited to what we’re doing?
By sheer luck. It occurred to me that a couple/team would be the way to go. We’d be using one less cabin for the crew, and single people tend to get very lonely out here. I found a team profile on one of the crew web sites and somehow knew they were the ones. Two days later we had an interview using the wonderful technology of video skype, and we suddenly had a new crew, Lars and Hannah, from the US and Denmark respectively. They both have formal training, (Lars the French Culinary Institute, Hannah the Copenhagen Culinary Institute), and have worked in some of the finest restaurants in the world. In fact they met cooking at the 3 Michelin star “Fat Duck” in the UK, but more importantly, they are both PASSIONATE about food. Lars and Hannah arrived Friday, spent the weekend provisioning and buying things like an ICE CREAM MAKER and completely overhauling the galley. As I write this five days into our sail to the Galapagos I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are in for an amazing year. These guys are at a level I didn’t know existed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The shipment with our chain and dozens of other goodies, including a new stand up board compliments of Surftech arrived Monday night. We brought Discovery into the fuel dock and worked until the wee hours. We’ve been joined by Scott Balogh, who was so helpful to us in Bocas for the all-pro event in January; a surfer friend of his named Gaby from Venezuela; and my good buddy Tim Ahern, who I grew up with in Lake Tahoe. Tuesday was spent tying up all the loose ends- changed the oil in both main engines, replaced the radar antenna, GPS unit, packing everything away, getting immigration clearance… Finally and thankfully we got underway by 1930 Tuesday night, just a day behind schedule, all of us tired but excited to put the city behind us. Once the myriad of tankers, cargo ships, and other boats (which all dwarfed us) waiting to cross the canal were threaded we had nearly 48 hours of light but sail able winds out of the north, perfect conditions for our new cruising gennaker, which powered us along downwind at a respectable 7-8 knots. The seas were calm, everyone in jovial and anticipatory moods. It’s only a 1,000 miles to the Galapagos, but being right on the equator and thus the doldrums the conditions would likely be marginal for sailing. We caught a beautiful yellow fin tuna Wednesday, which Lars filleted expertly and had on the table within minutes in the form of mouthwatering sashimi. A nice start to what would become a perfect passage.
By Thursday the charts showed the waters to be over 10,000 feet deep. We’d left the Bay of Panama, heading almost dead south towards Malpelo island, the only spot of land between the coast and the Galapagos. In hopes to hook into more fish and wind, we decided to sail right past the island before turning southwest on a rhumb line to the famous archipelago. We reached Malpelo just after nightfall, a lonely and stark dark form in a sea of black. All kinds of sea birds ducked and played in the rigging, and we’d seen footage on the BBC’s “The Blue Planet” of abundant sea life around the protected marine reserve which made us seriously consider stopping for the night, but our charts were so wildly off what the radar showed (not uncommon in the S. Pacific) I was too uncomfortable trying for a blind anchorage and we carried on.
As we turned SW our winds died and have stayed calm ever since. This is not something any of us mind. We’ve got plenty of fuel, we have a strong westerly current helping our speed, the ocean is almost pancake flat. The skies have been almost void of clouds and each day as we close on the Galapagos we see more and more wildlife. It has been in fact one of the most pleasant passages I can remember, and the only passage I’ve ever been on that I don’t want to end. Huge pods of Spinner dolphins, Pilot whales, the elusive and rare Beaked Whale, a lone Hammerhead shark, and sea birds have visited, many on more than one occasion. We slow the boat each day to swim and refresh in the vast expanse of deep, clean blue water. We caught a 30 lb. Ono yesterday (which means ‘delicious’ in Hawaiian, and my favorite pelagic fish) which our chef team turned into breakfast, lunch and dinner- nothing short of culinary orgasms. Five days ago I was choking on the exhaust and garbage of Panama City. I can’t begin to explain the difference of living out here. It is clean, pure, healthy, simple. Our lives are dictated only by what we feel like doing- eating, reading, sleeping, dreaming.
This afternoon we will sail into the southern hemisphere, my fourth trip across the equator by sail, virgin territory to all but Jody and Scott, who have both crossed once. In 24 hours we will reach the Galapagos, a place I’ve imagined and dreamt of since the sea became my home. My only anticipation is the next meal, my only concern is reaching our destination, which means this amazing journey will be at an end. And another begins.