Day 562 [April 17/10] -- Under the islands

Today's Report
April 17/10 0800 JST

01°59'S, 89°43'W (South Pacific Ocean, 120 nm to a point 25 nm abreast of Isla Isabela, and presently 30 nm due south of Isla Española, Galápagos Islands)

An uneventful day under overcast, occasionally drizzly skies, with 105 nm DMG for the period. Winds were weak out of the SE and ESE at under 9 kts, as the equatorial Doldrums continue.  


Saito-san is moving under the lower-most islands during the night, and already at 1800 local time was about 30 nm due south of the first of the Galápagos Islands he will pass, Isla Española. 

This tour guide description of the island could have been written 150 years ago, apart from a digital photo that shows how utterly unafraid of humans at least some of the fauna still continue to be. 

Shown is the Hood mockingbird first identified by Charles Darwin about 1835. The several species of mockingbirds found here form evidence cited by Darwin in his seminal book "On the Origin of Species," which saw its 150th year publishing anniversary in 2008. 

According to this commentary on the "extremely aggressive" Hood mockingbird, "to tourists they are amusing, but to scientists who work in the Galápagos, they can be a major nuisance." 

As such, it gives a rather different meaning to the concept of "dominant species," especially if you have to constantly swat them off your head!

This island also very well could be the home of the albatross Saito-san believes he saw a few days ago. Ornithologists say Española is the only nesting grounds of the species of the endangered Waved Albatross endemic to the Galápagos Islands. These magnificent soarers can have wingspans of nearly 7-1/2 feet and live as long as 45 years.

Mating pairs, following months of separation, are just returning to the island in April after spending their annual sojourn elsewhere. Saito-san may have spotted a returnee with just one thing on his or her mind. It's mating season.

Another milestone was passed yesterday as the voyage's 20,000th mile slipped under the bow of NBSDIII.

Distance in last 24 hours: 105 nm
Distance completed: 20,104 nm
To Yokohama: 8,195 nm (distance remaining: 28.9%)
Heading: 320
Reported boat speed: 3.0 -3.5 kt (day's average: 4.4 kt)
Weather: Continued overcast, with scattered drizzle
Temperature: 30.0° C during the day
Barometer: 1006 hPa (stable)
Wind (from): eased to 5-7 kts SE -- expected to stay below 9-10 kts mostly out of SE and ESE
Waves: 1. m, causing enough rolling for Saito-san to complain
Current (from): variable
Engine rpms: 14.0 hrs, 1800 rpms
Generator: 8.0 hrs
Sails: Genoa 0%, staysail 100%, mainsail 1-pt reef

Position Map (click to enlarge)

Day 561 [April 16/10] -- The 'Saito proof' of Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Today's Report
April 16/10 0800 JST

02°59'S, 88°15'W (South Pacific Ocean, 2,380 nm from Valdivia; 220 nm to a point 25 nm abreast of Isla Isabela, Galápagos Islands)

A slight route adjustment was made as it became clear that Saito-san will pass the Galápagos in the dead of night. Rather than edge too close to some very hard and immovable objects (like islets and reefs) he won't be able to spot in darkness, he decided to give Isla Isabela about 25 nm of sea room off his starboard bow. Isabela is the largest and most westward of the Galápagos island group.

Yesterday was largely another "iron jib" day as he motored 14 hours in the Doldrums that characterize the usual wind conditions in the area. This is one of the reasons the islands remained in a largely unspoiled state for centuries as motorless sailcraft usually gave the islands a wide berth. They are difficult to navigate being often windless, yet with tricky meeting currents and frequently overcast skies that block star-assisted navigation. 

Saito-san made 135 nm during the period; at the time of his nighttime (local) call he was back to sailing at 3.5 to 4 kts. He reported that the mainsail No. 3 batten pocket had completely ripped out, so he no longer has that batten to help maintain efficient sail shape primarily for up-wind sailing. Without it DMG will likely suffer but "not so bad," Saito-san believes.


For Saito-san the trip to the Galápagos has been almost exactly 20,000 nm through four oceans (Pacific, Indian, Atlantic & Southern, then the Pacific once more) and for Charles Darwin in 1835 it was 12,000 nm from England by way of the Atlantic. For both it entailed a highly dangerous westward Cape Horn (Tierra del Fuego) crossing, which Peter Nichols described in Evolution's Captain, his enthralling history of the Beagle's second voyage:

As the Beagle and Adventure [a smaller companion ship] neared the western shores of Tierra del Fuego, ready to sail out onto the Pacific, poor weather and visibility kept them pinned inside The Furies, a rock-studded constellation of small islets that posed a death trap for ships.... 

The Furies have always made strong men quail. Sixty-two years later, in March 1896, Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail alone around the world, found himself trapped among them in his 37-foot sloop, at night in a roaring gale.

[Slocum wrote:]
Night closed in before the sloop reached land, leaving her feeling the way in pitchy darkness.... I was immediately startled by the tremendous roaring of breakers again ahead and on the lee bow.... In this way, among dangers, I spent the rest of the night. Hail and sleet in the fierce squalls cut my flesh till the blood trickled over my face; but what of that? It was daylight, and the sloop was in the midst of the Milky Way of the sea, which is northwest of Cape Horn... It was not time to complain of broken skin... This was the greatest sea adventure of my life. God knows how my vessel escaped... The great naturalist Darwin looked over this seascape from the deck of the Beagle, and wrote in his journal "Any landsman seeing the Milky Way would have nightmares for a week." He might have added "or seaman" as well.

The Furies are west of Cape Horn at the location shown below. (Click to enlarge.)

 The meandering red line is where, a full lifespan of a Galápagos tortoise later, Minoru Saito encountered his own sleeting gale that lasted 3 days. After being hoved to much of the third night, sans use of a rope-fouled rudder and propeller, he drifted helplessly in the "pitchy darkness" on 10-meter seas, his ship blown by 45-knot winds toward wave-swept rocks not far from The Furies.

The Chilean Coast Guard was alerted, a tow was ordered, and Nichol BMW Shuten-dohji III was saved from almost certain destruction.

Over the centuries hundreds of ships and crews have perished under similar conditions along this stretch of unforgiving coastline. 

But not this time. It was, it might be said, still another "proof" of Darwin's Theory of Evolution and the survival of the fittest.

This time, an Iridium sat phone was on board.

Distance in last 24 hours: 135 nm
Distance completed: 19,999 nm
To Yokohama: 8,300 nm (distance remaining: 29.3%)
Heading: 284
Reported boat speed: 4.0 kt (day's average: 5.6 kt)
Weather: Cloudy [corrected]
Temperature: 30.0° C during the day
Barometer: 1007 hPa (stable)
Wind (from): Improved at 8-9 kts SE -- expected to stay 9-10 kts mostly out of SE and ESE
Waves: 1.0 m
Current (from): variable
Engine rpms: 14.0 hrs, 1800 rpms
Generator: 4.5 hrs
Sails: Genoa 0%, staysail 100%, mainsail 1-pt reef

Position Map (click to enlarge)