Around 30° latitude north and south of the equator you enter an area of variable winds where you happen to stumble across the calm equatorial conditions that afflicted the ships of the past. The English used to call them Horse latitudes because Spanish ships used to throw horses overboard to save water during the long days of no wind.
We sailed on February 12 from the Las Perlas islands, (located just 45NM off Panama), with a route to the Galapagos about 900 miles away. Today it is more difficult to end up in these becalmed conditions that lie between the tropics and the equator, as our weather forecasts can provide us with different models for following the wind. But the tongues of wind in this area appear like a leopard and move constantly. All the models we had available proved to be inaccurate and even though we sailed the recommended route of southwest, we still came across a high pressure area almost devoid of any air movements. It is not easy to explain what it feels like to be in a flat calm in the middle of the ocean, but it must not be very different from what the sailors of the past felt. There is a certain concern among the crew due to the unnatural conditions and immobility of the sea. Doubts arise and a subtle nervousness grows; the hours are getting longer and the afternoon never seems to end. The heat becomes unbearable, the light so intense that you have to narrow your eyes to look at the horizon. Everything is still, immobile, as if dead. We slowly advance south where we expect to find the southeast winds that will allow us to point the bow towards the Galapagos. After two days of calm the sea begins to move, the sails swell again and our flag begins to flap in the breeze. But the opposite currents slow us down and generate waves that cross each other. The sea seems to boil. Sailors of the past saw these phenomena with fear, imagined monsters that stirred the waters, fantasised stories that fuelled a mythology of the horror of the sea. We go from 2 to 3 knots, then the currents begin to turn favourably and we reach 5 knots, until we sail with a nice wind, stretched at 7-8 knots towards our destination. The bow bobs neatly on the waves and Milanto goes smoothly, keeping on course. The clouds in the sky seem to run fast, turning into a thousand shapes and then vaporising in a continuous creative cycle. This part of the ocean is called the weather maker: because it is at these latitudes that the masses of air are formed which, overheating at the equator, ascend and generate the convective motions that influence the whole planet. Here, clouds, hurricanes, disturbances and air currents are created that move clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. Approaching the equator is like entering the kingdom of winds. The lesson to be learned here is that you should not be in a hurry to get to your destination, sooner or later the wind will come, doubts will disappear and good humour and self-confidence will return.
It is customary for sailors who cross the equator for the first time to perform a thanksgiving ceremony to Neptune. In our case, the event lends itself to renewing the wedding vows of Giulia and Carlo, who chose to make their honeymoon with us on this Leg. So we decide to celebrate in style. I compose a stately hymn to Neptune. Neal translates it into English. We recite it together with the passage of the major meridian throwing, as tradition dictates, libations to the sea. Valerio impersonates Neptune with a trident built with a hook, a saw and two screwdrivers. Everyone prepares for the big party. Carlo, Giulia, Sue and I will be baptised, as our first passage through the equator, with a mixture of porridge and beans that Neptune will pour on our heads and we will drink rum in his honour.
And the gifts of Neptune are not long in coming: the next day we fish for an ocean dolphin (Mahi-Mahi) of one meter in length. Beautiful in its golden and blue colours that change continuously. It will be our dinner, cooked in the oven by Amancio with a side dish of potatoes.
The Galapagos islands appear on the horizon at dawn on the sixth day of the passage. Majestic and green, like a primordial landscape. As we get closer we can distinguish the volcanic peaks and the steep cliffs of Leon Dormido in front of the island of San Cristobal.
Glynn helms Milanto, flying with Zorbina, our light spinnaker, while we run parallel to the rocky coast of the island. Getting to the Galapagos by sail is a unique experience. Thank you Neptune.