Rarely are the start of passages a calm and pleasant experience, and this one held to the norm. We lost our freezer to something I couldn’t identify 10 days before our departure. San Cristobal has one refrigeration tech, and he and I struggled for 4 days straight trying to get her running again so the chefs could begin their provisioning for the 3200 mile passage to the Gambiers. I thought it would be prudent to have a backup in case we were unsuccessful, and hastily ordered a stand-alone freezer from the States to be shipped priority FedEx, which I was told would take 6 days, depending as always on customs. With nothing to do but wait for the freezer, and parts from the mainland, rather than pace around and let the stress build I took a 4 night trip to mainland Ecuador to paraglide in the hills of Ibarra.
I returned to Discovery well-refreshed after three terrific days of flying, prepared to tackle the issues at hand. I’d planned 15 days for the passage, our departure set for the 9th of April, giving us a week of cushion for poor winds or other setbacks. Bruce, Bjorn and his son Christian were all on board, all of us anxious to depart. But the 9th came and went, the new freezer held up in customs in Guayaquil, the existing freezer still giving us the shits. Hannah and Lars were on continuous stand-by. Every few hours “Frio-San” and I would think we’d gotten the freezer running, only to have something else go wrong and the wait continue.
The 10th ground by in frustration, FedEx promising delivery, as always “manana”. Tiny gains were being made with the freezer, my only means of keeping the only tech in town glued to the boat through a continual deluge of gifts- sunglasses, t-shirts, shorts, food- whatever he would eye I would provide. By the 12th, after 4 very poor nights of sleep and mounting stress our luck broke. The new freezer came in on the only daily flight, and Frio San worked some magic on the compressor. We now had both systems operational. The shipping and customs duty cost double the actual cost of the freezer, but I paid the money without blinking- we didn’t have the time to argue. The chefs ran off to the markets, I gave a hasty safety briefing, had a brief visit with Francis, who had just arrived solo from mainland Ecuador on his yacht; and we were finally underway.
For nearly 2 1/2 days we motored SSW in nearly zero wind. Burning precious fuel, it was beginning to look very bleak to arrive in time for our groups departure flights on the 29th. But it wasn’t all unpleasant. On day two a huge Sperm whale surfaced near the boat, blowing great plumes into the air preparing for a deep dive (they eat the notorious giant squid, several thousand feet down). It was the first I’ve ever seen. Complimenting the Sperm whale we also saw a hammerhead shark, lots of dolphins, a pod of smaller whales (probably Pilots). And then when we finally got into the trades, about 3 degrees south. The wind gods just threw the switch and we were off, averaging 10 knots on a lovely beam reach. The knots in my shoulders disappeared almost as if I had a personal masseuse. This was what we needed- wind and speed. For the next week we would cover 210 to 245 miles each 24 hours, and cross the half way mark on day 8, which would have been right on schedule if we’d departed on time.
Lars is our most dedicated fisherman, waking before dawn each day to deploy two handline’s and two rod lines. Thus far we’ve landed two mahi-mahi and a nice bonito, and lost who knows how many. We’re easily spending more on lures than it would have cost to just buy the fish in San Cristobal, but it’s a lot more fun. Lars hooked into what we’re calling a 50 kg yellow fin a couple days ago. After a 45 minute fight I dropped into the blue with my speargun to hasten getting the monster on board, but each time I dove so did the yellow fin, showing incredible strength even after the long fight. A majestic beauty, the largest yellow fin I’ve ever seen. I never got close enough for a good shot and my dives were meager with a lacking air supply as I was struggling to keep up with the boat. After a half-dozen attempts I surfaced in dejection only to see an even more dejected crew, some 50 meters away on the stern of Discovery. The yellow fin made a dive directly under the boat and the line cut on the prop (the engine was in neutral, but nevertheless). We didn’t hear a word from Lars for several hours.
Last night we passed the half-way point. Our days are filled with blue and white- blue water, blue skies, white clouds, white sails. The routine is simple indeed. Sleep, eat, nap, eat, fight a fish, lose a fish, eat, sleep. Bruce, Bjorn and I batter one another at chess while the chefs seem to out due themselves with every meal. Last night we had homemade ice cream. Ice cream- on a boat, on a passage. Clearly they are insane. You see why we needed the freezer to work!
I would call it thus far a near-perfect passage. Good winds, good sights, good food, good company. If we didn’t have a schedule to maintain we could remove the “near” and just call it perfect. We’ll need continued to luck to make it on time. And if we don’t, I’m sure we’ll survive.