Thursday, April 28, 2011

Galapagos Bound and After

We left the Las Brisas anchorage in Panama on a bright and sunny day. Whilst the water was flat calm, this also meant we had no wind and, as this continued all day, we ended up motoring the whole way to the Las Perlas Islands. These are between 30 and 60 miles from Panama City and are Panamanian. It was fairly late when we arrived so we were pleased to drop anchor in the daylight and turn in after relaxing through the end of the day.

The initial anchorage was a bit rolly so we moved to another of the islands – Espiritu Santo. This was a beautiful spot and we decided to stay a few days. We'd had a sail for half the journey there but again, no wind for the second half so we motored again. Just before arrival, we caught a reasonably big fish or at least it looked big. When filleted we got only 4 meals from it so there wasn't a lot of meat on it. We had a great time exploring and visiting with friends Chris and Dave. There were some evenings with incredible phosphorescence and any movement of the water caused a flare of bright white light. You could flick an oar full of water and see the brightness fly through the air before exploding on impact with the surface. Extremely impressive!!

We then moved to an anchorage at the bottom of the island chain for a couple of days to wait for some wind to begin our sail to the Galapagos. Good wind did not to be around so we decided we had to leave anyway. Once underway, we experienced a variety of conditions - thunderstorms, steady winds, light winds but most often no wind. This was most unpleasant as there was usually a big swell and without wind, the boat rolls and everything loose bangs and chafes. After a while, we always had to put the engine on just for some peace and quiet!! On passage we had the company of dolphins and distant whales, lots of logs and trees and lots of seabirds. There was some amazing phosphorescence on some nights and the whole of the boat looked like it was sailing on light!! Our fishing only once yielded a small tuna although we did hook a big bill fish (probably a Marlin) which simply surged up out of the water and shook its head violently to get rid of the lure. Although disappointing to lose it, it would have been a slow process to catch it and difficult and dangerous to bring it aboard. So, we weren't too upset!

After 10 days, we arrived at San Cristobal the easternmost of the Galapagos Islands. Predictably, there was no wind and we motored our way in. We were met by our agent (mandatory here) and the usual officials almost before we dropped anchor. The formalities were concluded efficiently and quickly and 30 minutes later they were gone and we could begin to contemplate an early supper and bed!

We noticed there were lots of Sealions and had been warned they got onto boats so we put 2 fenders on the sugar scoop. This however did not stop them and the following morning there was a big Sealion asleep who left us rather a big smelly present! We scrubbed the boat but it still smells! We increased the number of fenders and this did seem to deter them for a while. Then they figured out how to move them or get over the top of them and the last few days we have found one asleep each time we have returned to the boat. We shoo them away and they reluctantly move after complaining bitterly to us! At least they haven't made it into the cockpit which is where CD found one asleep on their cushions!

The Sealions are everywhere, they line the jetty where we go ashore, sleep on the benches and any other comfortable spot they can find. They are very noisy and often wake us swimming under the boat or barking from other boats. We walk straight past them and they never even lift their heads!

We are only allowed to anchor in the one harbour so to see the other Islands, we went on a 4 day tour on a catamaran called Valkirie. It was a little run down and we had a lot less space than we are used to but the crew were friendly and the food was very good. The first night we sailed to Floreana and then had a tour of the island during the day. This was our first visit to see giant Tortoises and Iguanas. We snorkelled in the afternoon and the turtles were so un-afraid of humans that they didn't swim away and we got very close to them.

After that we visited Santa Cruz the most commercial and built up of the Islands. In the morning we went to the Darwin centre to see where they breed the Tortoises and saw 'Lonesome George', the last Tortoise of his species. We also met up with friends Don and Kay from 'Karinya' who had chosen to anchor at Santa Cruz.

Isablella is the largest of the islands and probably the prettiest as it is little developed. Here we had a visit to the volcanoes Bocca Chico and Sierra Negro. After a short bus ride we transferred to horses for the next 6m. It was very funny as the horses were all competing with each other and every time they were in danger of being over taken would break into a trot. They were tactically weaving to stop other horses passing and we often ended up with our legs squashed against bushes or another horse as they competed for position. The saddles were not very comfortable so we were glad to get off them. We walked another 2m across Volcano Chico and then back. It was then back on the horses for the trip back which was more painful on the muscles than the trip up. Still it was fun and better than walking.

At Isabella we also snorkelled to see black and white tip sharks and saw lots of Penguins and Blue footed Boobies. On the way back to Santa Cruz the boat took us close to a small uninhabited island with lots of Frigates displaying their mating red necks and there were also lots of masked Boobies.

Chris and Dave from CD joined us for the tour and the 4 of us had some lovely evenings on board watching sunsets and drinking rum! On Monday we had a day in Santa Cruz before getting the ferry back to San Cristobel and our boat.

Once back on the boat we had to do a few chores such as re-fuelling. Not a quick job as we first had to get permission from the Port Captain (the local price is $1 but cruisers have to pay $5 per gallon), then it was a taxi to the garage with all the jerry cans. Then we had to carry them all down the dock to the water taxi, load and unload them and finally decant them into the tank. All of this including returning the jerry cans took us half a day!

There is an interpretation centre on the island with walks around the point which we visited Friday. Then on Saturday the 4 of us went diving. Off the coast there is a rock called Kicker Rock which is a sheer face rising up out of the sea and which has a split through the middle. The first dive was through the split and the second was around the edge. There was a lot of current and wave surge but we saw Hammerhead sharks plus Galapagos, white tip and black tip sharks as well as lots of turtles and fish.

Monday we shared a taxi with CD and visited a few sites on the island. There is a volcanic lake which is the islands fresh water supply and another Tortoise reserve. The driver took us to a lovely restaurant where the owner gave us a tour of his farm. We also both brought a stalk of banana for $3.50. We now have about 50 bananas hanging from the back of the boat waiting to ripen. Once they do we will have to start creating recipes to use them all!!!

It was Mike's birthday in the middle of our time here so we had a meal out with CD. It was a nice restaurant but we all had dodgy tummys afterwards! Still we all had a good time and he enjoyed his day helped along with a home made carrot cake.

We are now getting ready to leave the Galapagos tomorrow. This will be very sad as we will be saying good-bye to Chris and Dave. They are now heading to French Polynesia and New Zealand while we go north to Mexico. In fact all the other boats we have met are now heading west. We had a farewell meal with them yesterday and had our last game of Mexican train dominoes.

We have had a lovely time here and have really enjoyed ourselves. The boat maintenance has been a bit neglected but we can catch up on that in Mexico.

The passage to the Sea of Cortez is over 2000 miles and will take us about 3 weeks depending on wind.

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