Log 7 - Costa Rica to Galápagos
|DATE/TIME||LAT.||LONG.||FIX||COURSE STEERED||AVG. SPEED||COMMENTS|
|2004-03-12||09˚50.3’ N||84˚53.6’ W||GPS||who knows…||who cares…||the mainsail asked me to marry! (I said yes)|
Yup. Our little honeymoon has led to an engagement which will
lead to our marriage. We sort of did it backwards but it works for us. Its
obviously big news for us to share, but a little anti-climactic for others who
we know or have met. Those who we know presumed the inevitability of the event
and those whom we have just met presumed we were married already so we really
didn’t shock anyone with the news.
Despite the absence of surprise, the engagement was not without its challenges. I had actually planned it a year ago! I’m kind of a romantic at heart and given what we were doing I knew this had to be more than just a "down on one knee" kind of proposal. So I got it in my head about 12 months ago that I would propose to Dana on the mainsail with a big sign. As she hoisted up the sail, she would be hoisting up her proposal. Kind of cool huh? The problem has been that since April of last year we haven’t actually been sailing that much. So basically, I’ve put off our engagement for a year because we weren’t hoisting any sails. But Dana as you know is very special and deserves something very special – even if she has to wait a year to get it.
There were other complications which also forced the postponement of this mission of mine. For example, how do you make a 10 x 20 foot sign that says “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” in secret when you’re living 24/7 with the person you are proposing to…and in a space the size of most people’s kitchen (or smaller)? Then there’s the weather factor. There had to be wind…but not too much wind. You don’t want "WILL YOU MARRY ME" to sag and flop and, on the other hand, nothing is terribly romantic about near gale conditions.
So as you can see, this simple little gesture of love and devotion had become quite involved. But finally, after 12 months, the timing was right. We had made it far enough south to get out of the really heavy winds; we were moored at the Costa Rica Yacht Club where I could find the space and privacy to fully develop my little scheme; and the Gulf of Nicoya, which we found ourselves in, provided fairly predictable winds. So…I got to work. I was actually finishing up a work contract during this time. This provided me with an excuse to go to shore each morning to work. What Dana didn’t know was that an hour or two of that time I was actually working on my proposal to her. I still had to be discreet about it as I didn’t want any of the other cruisers looking over my shoulder as I was spray painting my marriage proposal…or worse yet Dana! The sign itself wasn’t as simple as I though either. I wanted it to say a little more than “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” It was to read, “YOU ARE MY TRUE NORTH. MARRY ME”. It also had to have the True North symbol and dual color scheme. It also required grommets for hanging. All right, so I’m a little anal retentive.
After two weeks of working on it, the sign was finished. Now I just needed to attach it to the mainsail somehow without her knowing. We had planned to set sail on March 12th for a little island within the Gulf of Nicoya. Over the last couple of days prior to leaving I had tried to find excuses for Dana to go into town. Unfortunately, she would always remind me that I was the more logical choice to go because of my Spanish. My knavery just wasn’t working. So at 2am on the 12th while Dana was fast asleep, I slipped out of bed and crept up on deck to fasten the sign. I had to do this very quietly so as not to wake her and, in an instant, ruin one year’s worth of planning. There were no dress rehearsals either. I had to hang the sign while only partially raised as hoisting it completely would make too much noise. I had no idea what it would actually look like once raised.
As I quietly got back into bed, I was overcome by another frightening thought. What if the wind comes from the opposite direction?! You see, I placed the sign on the starboard side of the sail. Given the prevailing wind, which is from the northeast, this would mean the sign would be on the windward (concave) side of the sail making it visible to the person hoisting it. But if the wind were to blow from the other direction, the sign would be on the leeward (convex) side blowing outward. This would mean I would effectively be proposing marriage to every passing sailor and fisherman. I resolved that somehow, the forces of nature would be on my side and that I would not have to walk down the aisle hand in hand with a scruffy faced man named Beto who smells like sardines.
As fortune would have it, the wind blew 5-10 knots out of the northeast on the morning of the 12th. Once we were out of the estuary, I calmly asked Dana if she would hoist the sail. All the planning, deception and trickery was now paying off. In a moment, my proposal would get harnessed by the wind and plastered across the mainsail for Dana to read. I was fixed on her expression. Would she be surprised? Would she be excited? It happened to be neither. What I saw was a look of constipation and confusion. You see the sign only went part way up as one of the lines I had used to attach it had caught on one of the rigging steps (ratlines) as it was going up. The constipated look came from laboring to pull the stuck mainsail up. The confused look came as a result of discovering a sign on the mainsail that said “YOU ARE MY.” YOU ARE MY…what? my sunshine?...my captain? What does this mean? As she struggled to finish the phrase like a Wheel-of-Fortune contestant, I decided it was time to intervene. I left the helm and climbed the ratlines to unwrap the entanglement. As I did she finished hosting and my proposal became public…
fastened the halyard to the cleat, walked back to the cockpit, hugged me and
quietly said yes. We celebrated with a box of cheap wine and that evening
anchored in a beautiful little spot between the islands of Cedros and
Jesusita. Then, for the next two days we proceeded to celebrate our love by
re-caulking the starboard deck which had been leaking. We couldn’t have been
happier. Our plan is to get married in a small ceremony in the South Pacific and
then have a larger wedding when we return to the U.S.
Following Cedros and Jesusita, we crossed the Gulf to a nice large anchorage called Herradura where the Marriot-owned marina and resort called Los Sueños is located. Since it costs $25 just to tie up your dinghy there, we did not stay at the marina. We anchored out, took a bus into Jacó (a surfer’s paradise) the next day and then sailed back to Puntarenas.
On March 20, we took a bus back to San Jose to spend a couple days before heading to the airport on the 22nd. Given that we had seen very little of the interior of the country, Dana and I spent a day visiting Volcán Poas, one of Costa Rica's few active volcanoes. We arrived in the morning and had a good half hour viewing of the green, smoking cauldron before the clouds moved in and covered everything (to the chagrin of other tourists who traveled for hours only to miss the sighting). It was a nice cool day in the mountains and very different from what we had been experiencing.
On March 22, we returned to the United States once again. I had to go to Washington D.C. to finish up my contract and Dana went to Los Angeles to see her family. After my work finished, I flew to LA to spend a few days split between Loren’s place (Dana’s brother and my new brother-in-law) in LA and her parents' place in Orange County. We had a nice visit with both and, while there, bought our wedding rings. We returned to Puntarenas on April 1st to prepare the boat for its biggest venture yet – an offshore passage to Cocos Island and then onto the Galápagos.
After returning to Costa Rica, we began preparations to depart for our year of touring the Pacific islands, where things in general will be much harder to get and much more expensive (when we're at land at all). We started off by buying at least 6 weeks worth of a complete menu of food to add to our stores. After getting all this stowed away in our cabinets, under our cabinets, under our galley floor and under our couch, Chris was on his own in finishing the remaining pre-departure tasks. That is because I had to run off to Nicaragua and El Salvador for a paid gig taking photos of Project Concern's programs there. It wasn't the best timing, but it would be the first time I earned money in about two years, and doing something I enjoy, so we couldn't pass up the opportunity.
During the course of a week I traveled from Puntarenas to San Jose to Managua to Jinotega, back to Managua, to various locations in San Salvador and back to San Jose and Puntarenas, meeting many of the families, farmers and others who benefit from PCI's programs, and photographing every kid using a faucet that I could find. (I took photos of many other things too, but I don't think I'll ever be able to see a kid by a faucet without wanting to snap a photo.) In both Nicaragua and El Salvador I was also able to attend community events involving the inauguration of water and latrine systems, where I was asked to sit at the head table and treated like a special guest. Indeed, anyone from PCI (especially from as far away as PCI's San Diego office) was special to these community members who in some cases had waited through decades of failed attempts to get clean water brought to their communities. There were songs and poems in PCI's honor, piñatas shaped like faucets and latrines, and mariachis who performed during the ceremony and played specifically for me as I ate lunch. In addition to the ceremonies, I visited many residential communities, visited kids in schools, toured model farms and training centers, and even got stuck in a car in a river. All in all, it was a fast-paced but enjoyable trip, and I appreciated seeing first hand how PCI makes a difference in people's lives.
Meanwhile, back at the boat, Chris was a busy bee making great progress with our last-minute projects, shopping and organizational needs. By the time I returned, we were just a day from being ready to leave Puntarenas! We took the boat to the fuel dock to fill up with diesel and water, then on April 21 we departed the Costa Rica Yacht Club. We headed to Bahia Ballena near Cabo Blanco, the closest point on the continent to Isla del Coco, about 310 miles away. All went well, until we were sailing past the tip of the Puntarenas peninsula in the late afternoon. Chris was at the helm facing forward, and while I was chatting with him facing aft, I noticed a fishing boat approaching behind us. This was not unusual, as we were very close to land and the entrance to the bay. However, the fishing boat seemed to be gaining on us, precisely in our direction. "I sure hope they're planning on going around us," I said. Since we were under sail and they were under power, and because they were approaching us from behind, we had the obvious right of away. Because of this, I assumed that they would soon alter course. But they continued gaining and did not veer. I was about to try to get their attention, when I saw a man walk to their bow and look right at us. (They were already close enough that I could see where he was looking.) We assumed they'd change course to go around us now that they saw us, but their course did not change. Chris hit our horn, and still no change. As they came distressingly near, Chris turned on our engine and we tried to veer away ourselves, but getting a 12 ton boat to go from slow sailing speed to fishing boat speed does not happen instantly, and the fishing boat was soon within about ten feet. They finally started to turn a bit away from us, but they had a long, large outrigger extending out sideways which looked like it was not getting far enough away and was about to knock down our mizzen mast like a bowling pin. I strategically placed myself in a safer location for the impending collision. One man on the fishing boat crawled out onto the outrigger as if he was preparing to deflect our mast, but he certainly could not be of much use due to the speed at which they were moving. Nonetheless, at the very last moment Ker-Mor had built up enough momentum that we were able to turn away just in time. The outrigger cleared our mast by about a foot or two, no exaggeration. My whole body was shaking with adrenaline, as we were sure that was about to be the end of our voyage. Instead, we made it unscathed but turned to the men on the fishing boat with what I'm sure were angry and astonished looks and asked "que pasó?!" They shrugged their shoulders with no answer and waved goodbye. Our best guess was that they turned on their auto pilot as soon as they got to the tip of Puntarenas, then went about their boat work oblivious to the traffic directly in their path before finally managing to notice us and turn the auto pilot off. Whatever the reason, we developed an increased interest in avoiding fishing boats. We had a chance to practice such avoidance throughout the evening, as we dodged fishing boats and their lines all the way to Bahia Ballena, while at the same time passing through squalls of wind, rain and lightning. We arrived and anchored in Bahia Ballena at 1am on the 23rd and spent a relaxing night together. The next morning, Chris took advantage of the warm clear waters to clean our hull, then we sailed out of the anchorage and off to Isla del Coco, the first of our Pacific island destinations, which would take us about one-third of the way to Galápagos.
The first couple days of our voyage were fairly typical, with variable winds that gave us some good sailing, but also calms that slowed us way down or made us resort to motoring. During one of these calms we spotted a large squall coming our way, and instead of wanting to avoid it (as one might do if they are already moving along just fine and don't want any stronger weather disturbing things), Chris announced "I want to ride it". That we did, and we got a nice boost for a short while and a freshwater bath for Ker-Mor (and Chris) at the same time. But by day three, conditions changed. Isla del Coco is located in an area known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, where north and southeast trade winds meet the north and south equatorial currents, creating rather unusual weather patterns, particularly when it comes to currents. For us, it meant that we found ourselves beating into the wind and unusually strong countercurrents, through which it was very difficult to make much headway. Our friends on Waterdragon who left for Coco a couple weeks before us had the same experience, and in fact gave up after deciding they were having to use more fuel than they could spare. They did an about face, went all the way to Panama, headed due south to Ecuador and then crossed west to the Galápagos from there. Even tired boobies had difficulty making the passage and would take a break from flying to rest overnight on our bowsprit. But we had filled to the brim with fuel, and though we were trying to spare as much as we could since we would need it for the rest of the voyage to Galápagos, we ended up motoring the entire last two days of the passage (at an average of about only two knots of forward movement). By the time we arrived, we had used roughly 70% of our fuel. We still had enough left to make it the rest of the way to the Galápagos, but only if we motored a much smaller percentage of the time, so we hoped for better conditions then. In the meantime, issues such as these were sent way into the backs of our minds, as on April 27 we joyfully approached the lush Isla del Coco and anchored in Bahia de Chatham just as the sun was sinking below the horizon. We rested all night, then awoke to a veritable paradise.
Isla del Coco is relatively small (approximately 4 miles long by 2 miles wide), but it is the largest uninhabited island in the world, other than the few park rangers who rotate living there a few months at a time. It receives a high amount of rainfall, supporting a lush tropical rainforest environment and spectacular waterfalls, some of which cascade hundreds of feet off sheer green cliffs into the sea. Though it is not commonly visited, some know it as the fictional island setting for the movie Jurassic Park. It is also known for its non-fictional history and the mystery that surrounds it, having been a refuge for pirates (and whalers and others) back in the 1800's, and widely considered the likely burial site of many pirate treasures including the "Treasure of Lima". Now, the entire island is a national park belonging to Costa Rica, and its plants and wildlife are well-protected from development, trash, treasure-hunters and the like. Moreover, fishing is prohibited within a 12 mile radius of the island, so its waters are teeming with fish, sharks, rays, etc. It is considered by many to be one of the ten best dive sites in the world.
We had learned most of this before coming to Isla del Coco, and once we were there, it did not disappoint. The bay we were in was filled with crystal blue water and surrounded by tall green cliffs, and nearby a waterfall poured into the bay. It was like a fantasy. We were also happy to find in daylight that there are new moorings in the bay, so we quickly moved to one so our anchor would not disturb the underwater environment (and because we always prefer a secure mooring over anchoring). Later in the morning, two park rangers visited our boat and gave us a brief orientation, including explaining the fee to us. We knew it would be higher than most, and it turned out to be $75 per day ($25 for the boat plus $25 per person per day), plus $10 more per person if we wanted to scuba dive, which we didn't. The regular fee covered the mooring, snorkeling, hiking, showers and even the use of "semi-automatic" laundry machines at the ranger's house! We found the fee to be more than worth it, and we felt sure it would be put to good use, since the park system seemed to be doing an exceptional job of protecting Coco's unique environment.
After the visit from the rangers, we didn't waste much time before heading off in little Ker-Les to the snorkeling spots the rangers most highly recommended. While approaching the first spot, I saw an unmistakable hammerhead shark swimming at the surface. Strangely, the sighting got us excited to get in the water and take a look around, which we did about fifty feet later. After just a few minutes of swimming around, Chris spotted a group of white-tip sharks emerging from the dark side of a tiny islet and summoned me over -- our first time swimming with sharks! They were awesome to see up close and the lack of a plexiglass wall separating us made it exciting as well. As I floundered a bit to get my camera aiming correctly despite its fogged up underwater case, I decided they didn't seem all that interested in us despite the fact that a couple of them swam by us a couple times. Hell, the small tropical fish weren't worried, so why should we be? But later as I was trying to photograph one lone shark swimming below, I began noticing that every time I tried to swim away he would turn and go the same direction. After making a few direction changes and continuing to be followed, my heart rate raised a bit and I thought, can't sharks smell fear or something like that? I don't know the answer, but I decided to stay cool and made it un-nibbled-on back to Chris who had been watching from a safer distance. We explored the area a little more, then did a round of speed-snorkeling, taking Ker-Les from one site after another and happily hopping in to see what other wonders awaited our exploration. At the end of the day, we were back at Ker-Mor enjoying a round of Cuba Libres and watching the sunset.
After spending our first full day at Coco exploring its waters, we decided to spend our second full day at Coco exploring the land.
But first, we paid a visit to a scuba vessel that was also anchored in
the bay to see if we could buy any diesel off of them. The captain agreed
to sell us 15 gallons, for which we happily paid a well-inflated price.
As a bonus, we also got a tour of their impressive engine room and a couple mangos. After taking our loot back to Ker-Mor, we headed
to shore, laundry in tow. The ranger explained to us how to use their
"semi-automatic" laundry machines, and we excitedly threw in our dirty clothes,
sheets and towels and watched as they received a very thorough cleaning and a
surprisingly effective spin-drying. He then showed us the rock where Jacques
Cousteau left a carving commemorating his visit back in 1987. After
starting a second load of laundry, we started off on a hike up the mountain en
route to an adjacent bay, Bahia Wafer. The rainforest offered exceptional
scenery, and the heights provided a spectacular view of Bahia Chatham and
Ker-Mor. Eventually, we made our way back to the ranger station where
we spent a short time visiting with a group of Swiss cruisers from the only
other cruising boat moored in the bay before returning to our little home by the
sea. The next morning of April 30, we said goodbye to this small
paradise that we enjoyed thoroughly, to head for the land of marine iguanas,
flightless cormorants and giant tortoises -- Galápagos!
After a beautiful reprieve on Cocos Island, it was time to head
south for the legendary Galápagos Islands. Our decision on how to get there
would be a strategic one. According to our pilot charts (charts that show
averages of wind/current speeds and directions reported over the last 100
years), Isla del Coco lies right on the edge of a 300 mile wide circular current
during the months of April and May. The edge on which Cocos lies heads directly
north – this is why we had such a hard time reaching the island. Our new
destination (the Galápagos) now lied mostly south and slightly west. If we
started west immediately we might get out of the awful current early but the
southeasterly winds could push us too far west making us beat back against winds
and currents further south. If we headed south first, we would continue the slog
against the currents, but given we were right on the edge, we would hopefully
work ourselves out of it in a day or so. This would then put us on a good tack
for sailing towards the Galápagos. We decided to head south…so much for our
strategic planning. We spent four days fighting currents in pretty miserable
conditions. To add to the frustration, on the morning of our second day out I
discovered our large Genoa sail dragging lifelessly through the water. The night
before, I had carelessly tied it to the lifelines instead of storing it
appropriately. When I pulled it out of the water we discovered that it had torn
in so many directions we couldn’t make head nor tail of it. There was no other
alternative but to sew. This was our only light wind sail and we NEEDED it. Dana
and I spent two marathon days of sewing. It was inadequate and we knew it
but…”what are you going to do?”. I taped over our newly sewed seams just to add
another insufficient layer of protection. We hoisted the Genoa after finishing
and it flew perfectly…for five hours. With the force of the wind, some of our
recently sewn seams came undone along with some new ones. So we spent another
couple of days sewing. During this time we had been communicating with some
cruisers via e-mail who informed us that there was a person in the Galápagos
that repairs sails. We decided not to test our sewing skills again. We would
sail the smaller jib until we arrived in the Galápagos. As prudent as this was,
it made for a very slow sail given we were still fighting currents. Our average
speed during the first four days was 2.2 miles an hour.
By our fifth day out currents finally shifted to the northwest and winds improved allowing us to increase our speed to 3 knots. Things continued to improve from there. In addition, we began learning the art of balancing the boat for self-steering. Prior to leaving Costa Rica we met a couple, Rodolphe and Stephanie on Vaya Con Dios (see April log). As we were all ultimately heading to the Marquesas, they had loaned us their extra auto-pilot to use on our trip across the Pacific. We were very grateful to them for the loan but ultimately opted NOT to install it. We had been reading about the traditional art of boat balancing – a means of getting the boat to steer a course without the aid of mechanical or electrical devices. We wanted to learn this but knew that if we installed the auto-pilot it would be too easy to “flip a switch” and rely on electronics. On the second half of the voyage to the Galápagos we had a chance to try this out. With the wind forward of our beam and currents in our general direction we trimmed the sails, finessed the wheel and let Ker-Mor move herself. It was a great sight to see. For nearly two days, the only steering we did was to move the wheel a few inches port or starboard every four hours or so. While we were quite proud of our newly acquired skill, we were in sheer awe of the skills of the men and women who could build such a vessel that allowed us to do that.
On the 7th of May, Dana and I reached another milestone in our voyage. At 1711 hours our GPS monitor registered latitude of 0˚00.00’. We had reached the equator. I remembered as a small boy the crossing my family made on a much larger ocean liner in route to Australia. On the day we crossed the equator, one of the staff donned green body paint, a grass skirt and a makeshift crown passing himself off as Neptune – Roman God of the Sea. All the children were lined up in front of the imposter and forced to pay homage by kissing his big toe. Dana and I decided we would also pay homage. Not wanting to offend Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea, each of us would take a god and cover our bases. Dana's note to Neptune and mine to Poseidon read as follows:
|Dear Mr. Neptune,
Please grant safe passage to me and Chris aboard Ker-Mor through your oceans. We have the utmost respect and appreciation for your waters and all who live in them. We wish happiness to all, and please let the boobies know they are welcome on our bowsprit at anytime. Thank you very much and thank you also for a safe passage thus far. Warmest regards –
Dana s/v Ker-Mor
The boat that passes over you kindly requests that you grant it and its occupants safe passage – with
and buckets of ice at its next port of call.
Each of these supplications was then individually placed in a ziploc baggie within a glass jar filled with water so that it would sink. Upon reaching the equator, we each stepped before the oceanic altar (the starboard deck). With our backs to the water we tossed the jars over our shoulders and into the depths of the sea. As a part of the ceremony, we opened a bottle of rum, poured a shot into the water for each of the deep blue deities and took a swig for ourselves in their honor. Having now assured our safe passage and all other good things, we headed south for the final leg of this difficult journey.
In 1535, Tomás de Berlango discovered a series of islands with
what he described as incredibly tame wildlife, huge tortoises and unusual
iguanas. The archipelago known as the
Galápagos (meaning large tortoise) lies
roughly 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador and at the convergence of the El
Niño current from Panama and the Humboldt Current running north up the coast of
South America. The islands are also known as the Archipélago de Colón (official)
and the Islas Encantadas (Bewitched Islands), the latter due to the varying
currents that tricked navigators trying to find them. Its most famous visitor
was back in 1853 when a British naturalist by the name of Charles Darwin visited
on the HMS Beagle and formulated his theory on evolution based on the unique
species found on the island.
Somewhat less famous, Dana and I arrived on s/v Ker-Mor on May 8, 2004 at 0830 hours. We anchored in Academy Bay (Puerto Ayora) on Isla Santa Cruz. Expecting little more than a small village alongside the Darwin Research Center, we were pleasantly surprised to find a bustling little tourist town. For Dana it was reminiscent of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California, with an Ecuadorian flair. We spent two weeks on Santa Cruz refueling, rewatering and recharging our physical batteries after the long passage. Although the Galápagos islands lie on the equator, the temperature of both the air and water there are surprisingly cool. As such, we didn’t do a lot of swimming while there. Despite our penchant for warmer waters, the Galápagos islands are known to be great spots for snorkeling, diving and even surfing.
Before arriving at Isla Santa Cruz, we had coordinated a visit with a friend who was mid-way through his Peace Corps service in Ecuador. Brent, who we knew back in San Diego, arrived the day after we did with his Ecuadorian girlfriend, Irma. We spent a nice few days with them touring some of the island and even availed ourselves of the shower in their hotel! We also met a veteran cruising couple, Skip (from New York) and Ilze (from South Africa) on the 50-foot sailboat Scoots. They were on their way to the South Pacific and ultimately around the world. Skip had started as a single handler a number of years ago before meeting Ilze in the Caribbean. He told us of his fascination of sailing and the sea. His father ran a small ship in the Navy during WWII and kept a diary. Skip recalled arriving at a small island in the Caribbean early on during his sailing. Sitting on deck with a beer and his father’s diary, he began to read. Eerily, his father talked about anchoring at the very same island so that his crew could “rest and have a beer.” We enjoyed our evening with Skip and Ilze and hope to see them down the road. We also met up with our friends Graham and Taryn of Waterdragon and spent an evening learning to salsa dance under the tutelage of a German woman living on the island.
While we enjoy spending time with old and new friends, visitors primarily come to the Galápagos to see the unique species of iguanas and turtles. So on our second day in Santa Cruz, we took a 2.5 km hike to Tortuga Bay. Ironically, we saw no tortoises but found a large number of marine iguanas. These are, apparently, the only iguanas in the world that can swim. Black in color with a rough chain-mail texture to their skin they look ominously pre-historic and almost toy-like. Close-up, they reminded me of the cheesy reptilian suit worn in the b-movie Creature of the Black Lagoon. They do blend nicely though with the black volcanic rock so characteristic of the islands. While at Tortuga Bay, we also visited a cactus forest and watched a couple black tip reef sharks swimming in the lagoon.
The following day we visited the Darwin Research Center. Established in 1958, its principle focus has been on the protection and regeneration of the indigenous tortoises and land iguanas. Between 1780 and 1860 British and American whaling ships came to the Galápagos to re-provision. They filled their stores with giant tortoises and fur seals decimating their populations. The modern day enemies however are dogs, pigs, goats and rodents that have migrated with settlers of the Galápagos. These animals destroy nests, kill hatchings and compete for food. Each island has genetically distinct species of tortoise, some of which are now extinct. Rodent eradication and canine control is a large part of what the center does along with regeneration. Dana and I were able to see various corrals of tortoises from different islands and in different stages of maturity. Once they reach a 3-4 years of age, they are taken back to their island of origin and released. The Darwin Center also hosts adult male and female tortoises for whoopee makin'. Let me tell you these guys are big! We were able to get right up to them and hang out although they didn’t care much for our company. Since 1965, over 2500 tortoises have been raised and repatriated. Galápagos is also home to 2 endemic species of land iguanas in addition to the marine iguana already mentioned. These are also being regenerated at the center. In 1998, the Galápagos Marine Reserve was also established to protect the marine environment. Fishing is allowed in the Galápagos but it is strictly controlled and limited to artesenal fishing (no long lines or big nets). As more protections are imposed and enforced however, the more the Government and Darwin Center come into conflict with locals who make their livelihood from fishing. (While we were in the Galápagos there was a strike to protest measures of controlling sea cucumber harvesting.)
After two weeks in Santa Cruz, we weighed anchor and headed west toward Isla
Isabela – the largest and most diverse of the Galápagos islands. Arriving
mid-day, we anchored in the crystal clear water of Puerto Villamil. This
bay was well protected from winds and easterly swells by a series of reefs. It
was a beautiful anchorage with literally thousands of fish hanging around our
boat. As we approached the bay we saw four boats leaving. Over the next few
days, the bay, which was teeming with cruisers when we arrived, quickly dwindled
to just a handful. For many, as well as for us, Isla Isabela was the last
landfall before the big transit to the South Pacific. While we were anxious to
get going, we would have to wait. Our teak taffrails were long overdue for
varnish work. If we waited until we got to the Marquesas, we would risk
varnishing during the rainy season – a near impossible task considering we had
100 feet of rail and 20 or so columns (oh the beauty of wood boats!). We decided
we would complete the job in Isabela and, masochistic in nature as we are, we
decided to hand sand them down to bare wood and start from scratch. This would
take us two solid weeks of work with some time off for provisioning and seeing
On one of our days off we visited an extension of the Darwin center established exclusively for the regeneration of tortoises – a tortoise brothel of sorts. Their signs showed a sense of humor about it too -- for example, the sign at the pen for adolescents said that they had sex on their minds but were not yet old enough to go to the sex pen and showed a cartoon of a turtle dreaming of humping. Afterwards we took a 5km hike to “The Wall of Tears”. Similar to other islands we had visited, Isabella was once a prison colony. Once settlers started to arrive in the 1950's, the police/prison guards began forcing the prisoners to build their own prison wall out of massive stones. A grueling and cruel hardship, the prisoners revolted after only building one wall. Some of them commandeered a boat and headed back to the mainland while others stayed and intermingled with the settlers. On our other free day, we hired a guide who took us and other tourists on horseback to Volcán Sierra Negra. Once there, we walked among the lava fields that were warm to the touch with areas of smoldering yellow sulfur. That pretty much rounded out our month out. We would spend our remaining days sanding, varnishing, provisioning and other final preparations before jumping the pond.
Our last week in the Galápagos, we'd finished our touring on land and finished the hardest work on our taffrails (the sanding and initial coats of varnish), so we were able to spend some quality playtime exploring the marine life all around the anchorage. We visited with the marine iguanas, the Galápagos penguins, sea lions (sea wolves in Spanish - lobos del mar), turtles, boobies and even hermit crabs. Most of our touring we did via our new inflatable kayak, which we brought back with us from our last trip to the United States. Our kayak navigation was a bit comical at times, as we had some difficulty getting the thing to steer straight, and we surely wished we'd purchased the optional fin keel that would have helped it to do so. Nonetheless, it was great fun and it even handled waves pretty well. We took it bumping right up to rocks where penguins hung out, and beached it on the small island separating the anchorage from the ocean. There, we explored tide pools and collected shells (empties only) and stopped to watch a whole bunch of turtles that were surfing the waves in the distance, reminding me of the surfer dude turtle from Finding Nemo.
The anchorage at Isabela was certainly a beautiful spot for us to hunker down for a couple weeks, and even taffrail work was entertaining with all the marine life that hung around our boat. The town of Villamil, however, was a long walk from the dinghy landing, and stores and restaurants had limited hours that all differed a bit and were frustrating to learn. But while it was much smaller than Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, it did at least have stores sufficient to do some basic provisioning, and a few good restaurants where you could order "cena" or "almuerzo" instead of ordering off the menu to get a tasty meal (usually a hearty soup, then a main course of meat, rice and beans) for only $2.50. There were even two Internet cafes, one of which was functional. But these were just bonuses, as the island was really about the beautiful scenery, volcanic craters and marine life, all of which we had a chance to enjoy during our stay.
But as usual, it became time to move on, and our longest
passage was beckoning us. So on June 6, we brought back to the boat enough
fruits and vegetables to
fill our produce hammock and two small baskets, as well as the large stalk of
bananas which serves as an announcement to all other boats anchored in Puerto
Villamil that you
are about to jump the pond to French Polynesia. In addition, we were
able to purchase diesel from a restaurant owner on shore, despite a temporary
injunction on the sale of fuel (relating to a fishermen strike against
restrictions on their sea cucumber fishing), which was enough to top us off. Other cruisers who
needed larger amounts of fuel would have
to wait a couple days before leaving. The morning of July 7, we were just
about ready to go, and I ran to shore to send some last emails before our long
journey. When I got back to Ker-Les, I found one of our oars missing,
and I knew it was stolen since the sea lions wouldn't have been able to
remove the oar lock that was left behind. I marched around the
area giving an evil eye to every suspect I could find,
but to no avail. I motored back to Ker-Mor, where we began our
final departure checks.
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