The Galapagos Islands


Friday 2 May 2014

After completing the arduous formalities for yachts visiting the Galápagos Islands and having passed all of the inspections (see last blog), it was time for the tourists on board Adina to begin to enjoy themselves on these remote islands located in the Pacific Ocean.

Yachts are allowed to stay in only a limited number of permitted harbours and having secured a pricey 5-island permit (called an “Autographo”) we started our explorations on the island of San Cristóbal. Each island has its own speciality and in San Cristóbal it’s the sea lions. And they are literally everywhere. Getting to shore from your boat is done by water taxi. Getting off the water taxi you may need to ask a sea lion to kindly move so you can disembark. A bit of a grunt from the disapproving sea lion and you are on land.

Lazy days...

Lazy days…

The main tourist drag runs along the beach front and it is this beach front that is scattered with sea lions. In fact, the sea lions are not in the slightest bit intimidated by humans and it’s not uncommon to find one basking in the sun on a wooden bench originally built for human enjoyment. You can easily pass time simply watching them. They climb over each other, cuddle each other, bark at each other and looking at you will give you a nonchalant “I’m not bothered” look. But you do need to treat them with respect – get too close and a bark tells you you’re not coming any closer. This actually makes for more fun as you watch some poor hapless individual trying to get somewhere and sea lions are in their path. Tactics involve tip-toeing, clapping at them, a few words of encouragement but it takes patience and it’s a good thing no-one is in a rush on this island.

I can see you...

I can see you…

We do our usual reconnaissance of a new place, walking the town trying to find supermarkets, bakery, butcher, laundry, half decent wifi, coffee shops. And then it’s back to Adina and more fun with the sea lions. If you have bathing steps on the stern of your boat as we do, it’s prime sea lion basking territory! While initially amusing, they do sometimes leave you a little smelly present so need to be discouraged. We put a large fender across our bottom step thinking that will do the trick. Coming back to the boat, the fender seemed to have acquired a sea lion head and tail. Yes, a sea lion had got behind the fender and was peering out at us. Victory sea lion. Our next tactic was to put a line of fenders vertically side-by-side across the step. In bed that night we could hear a distinctive flip-flap on the deck. Victory number two to the sea lions. We got up and found two of them on deck!

A sea lion on our bedroom hatch - luckily closed!

A sea lion on our bedroom hatch – luckily closed!

We sleep in the aft cabin and above our head we have a hatch which we open at night to provide some cool air. Later the same night around 2am Tom woke and decided the hatch should be closed just in case the unthinkable happened – a sea lion in bed is not a good idea. Some more flapping, up we get and indeed we find a sea lion proudly sitting on the now closed hatch. We have a golden rule on Adina – when Tom gets one of his premonitions, we do something about it. The next day we installed our wooden gangplank with the vertical fenders – a real barricade. That seemed to work, we could hear them bubbling beneath the boat but no flip-flapping on deck. Victory Adina.

To see many of the sights in the Galápagos Islands you need to sign up for tours, although some things do come free. We signed up for a snorkelling trip to a famous rock called Kicker Rock. Not bad, not brilliant, we saw some Galápagos sharks, black tip sharks and swimming sea lions. That’s wildlife, some days you see lots, some days your luck isn’t there.

Frigate birds

Frigate birds

We are not bird spotters by any means but in the Galápagos you can’t avoid becoming one and we soon identified the huge soaring black frigate birds who now in mating season were showing their distinctive red chin pouches. Impressive.

One morning we woke early and walked to a beach rumoured to be good for swimming with sea lions. And we weren’t disappointed. Three teenage sea lions (well, we think they were teenagers) were playing happily in the shallows rolling around each other and often hugging each other. And they weren’t bother by us and were quite happy to let us watch, coming over to have a look at us every now and then. Susie had our GoPro camera filming underwater when one peeled away, swam right up to the camera and blew bubbles! Susie does frighten rather easily and the clip of Susie getting a fright will be released soon as it makes tremendous viewing.

The famous neck stretch - tallest wins!

The famous neck stretch – tallest wins!

Richard and Ros Plume (Susie’s parents, in case you didn’t know) are slowly but surely following us around the world and jetted in to join us. Wearing their Adina shirts for arrival, it was a joy to see them again and now we could tour the islands as a group. Next up on the tick list were giant tortoises and a trip to the beach to acclimatise Richard and Ros. We marvelled at the giant tortoises sitting and eating their food in a sanctuary where they are protected and bred for release into the wild. Most impressive is when a duel occurs, for example when two tortoises go for the same piece of green leaf to eat. They extend their necks as high as they can and open their mouths wide open. No physical contact is made and the tortoise who crams his neck the highest wins! Can you imagine that around the dinner table when one scrap of beef is left? “Gentleman, all please stand…”

DSC_7494 (640x424)The breeding section is a marvel to see. Tiny little tortoises grow protected from preying birds, numbers written on their shells so they can be tracked. They grow until three years old when they are released into the wild and likely to live beyond one hundred years. Then for us it was down to a beautiful white sand beach for a swim where we discovered that Ros just was not tall enough or didn’t jump quite in time to avoid the waves gently crashing on her. The laughing men also got their share of crashing waves as due punishment.

Looking at me, looking at you...

Looking at me, looking at you…

Having enjoyed San Cristóbal we headed on to Santa Cruz, the main island with the largest town and population. En route we were treated to rays leaping out of the sea into the sky. Spectacular displays, they leap out of the water to return with a smack with the aim of removing parasites. A large group of bottle-nose dolphins playing on the bow similarly kept us entertained. That and the ever-present sea lions popping up their heads to say hello or a turtle diving down as soon as it saw us. It was non-stop entertainment all of the way across. Anchored in Santa Cruz you more often than not see a lot simply from sitting on the boat. The pelicans constantly entertained us and we even saw a shark leap out of the water.

Richard and Ros had brought out snorkels and so the snorkelling lessons started off a small beach on Santa Cruz. Richard took to it in no time and was soon dashing around; we had to teach him to slow down a little or fish would equally be dashing away. Ros was more cautious but after some encouragement would get her head in and then promptly enjoy it, getting thoroughly immersed in watching the fish.

Fish Market, Santa Cruz

Fish Market, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz features a rather unique and to be honest the best fish market we’ve ever visited. The market is on the waterfront and boats pull in, unload their catch, and it’s sold fresh then and there. Sounds great but what makes it really fun is its customers. Not only are humans getting some super fresh fish but they have to jostle with sea lions and pelicans in the middle of the market also on the lookout for a tasty piece of fish!

The highlight on Santa Cruz was a great big deserted beach called Tortuga Bay with an adjoining lagoon. Snorkelling was excellent and little baby black tip sharks could be seen. But no time for resting and we sailed onto the next island Isabela.

Blue footed Booby

Blue footed Booby

Isabela is a yachties’ favourite as the anchorage is good and the town is the smallest and most relaxed in the Galápagos. The highlight here has to be the famous blue footed boobies and tiny Galápagos penguins. The penguins can be seen in the anchorage. One will come swimming alongside the boat poking its head in-and-out of the water looking for fish. Quite often they will chase pelicans that swoop down fill their enormous gullets and drain them of water to eat the fish. Penguins dash after them nipping away at their beaks hoping for some leftovers! As for the blue footed boobies, they are a delight to watch. With their blue webbed feet and dark blue faces they are certainly distinctive. You can quite easily get up close to them. Their fishing tactics are great – five or so will be together and then bomb out of the sky, one leads and the rest follow immediately spiralling down into the water.

Penguin chasing a Pelicans catch

Penguin chasing a Pelicans catch

By now Richard and Ros were acclimatising well to life on a boat. We forget how different it must be for non-sailors. Simple things like you have to clamber in and out of a dinghy where a foot wrong will mean you’re in the water. Talking of which, Richard was now becoming more and more confident and always chipping in to help. One night we returned to the dinghy dock after a nice meal out. The actual dock itself is rather small, next thing we heard was a splash – Richard had walked right off the end. Fortunately it was shallow and he soon climbed out. Of course, there was some merriment and teasing as to such clumsy behaviour. Next day we go into town and return to the dinghy. Tom wanting to be part of the clumsy behaviour club steps onto the dinghy, loses his balance, pirouettes and plonk, is in the water. Any time you need a dinghy ride from Adina, perhaps enlist Ros and Susie’s help rather than the boys!

We did various tours, snorkelled, relaxed and enjoyed the constant wildlife. One tour will go down in the memory as ‘just the perfect day’. Together with friends from a fellow boat, Field Trip, we chartered a speedboat for a day for an off the beaten track tour. Departing at 5.30am due to the distance to be travelled, we enjoyed a sunrise coffee and sandwich for breakfast. Fishing was included and Mark from Field Trip and I were keen to learn from the professionals. Some birds on the water were spotted, boat slowed, in went the rods. Nothing. Mark and I were a little bit “see girls, it’s not that easy”. Off we go again, more birds, out go the two rods. Strike, strike! Sadly Mark’s fish got away but I pulled in the biggest yellow fin tuna I’ve ever caught. Maybe it is that easy?

Tuna landed!

Tuna landed!

Happy and posing for pictures a shout goes up “Whale Shark!” I’ve done some diving in my time and I know how rare these beautiful giants of the sea are. Everyone starts diving for their snorkelling kit. But I’m left holding a big tuna – help! Somehow it’s taken care of and in no time I’m second in the water behind our guide Fabricio. For me, whale sharks are simply the most beautiful of all sea creatures. I land in front of it and seeing its large open mouth seeking plankton I politely move aside to ensure I don’t join the plankton. We follow it as it swims gracefully on, its huge grey back etched with white spots reflecting in the sun, oblivious to the excited humans swimming above. Back on board everyone is in a buoyant mood.

Galapagos shark hooked on rogue line

Galapagos shark hooked on rogue line

Next someone spots a commercial fishing line that has drifted inshore. It’s a very long thick rope buoyed with plastic cans and spaced apart are individual fishing lines with big hooks hanging off it. Pulling it in there is a large ray on the one hook. It’s alive and we free it. Going along the rope we pull in more lines. A Galápagos shark comes to the surface. Upside down and docile, Fabricio touches its eye to see if it blinks and is alive. Sadly not, we cut if off and it disappears into the deep blue. It’s a very sad sight. Determined we now follow the entire line. By the end we’ve freed two rays, and three sharks but lose two. The final hook has a marlin not long gone so we haul it in deeming it good karma for our hard work. We take photographs for the Galápagos officials to follow up.

Fresh Ceviche for lunch

Fresh Ceviche for lunch

Off we head for a stop to swim with penguins. Our guides make us the most delicious ceviche from the fish we catch. Mark and I can only beam at each other. After lunch we stop to see rare flightless cormorants. A case of evolution, not being threatened, they have lost their ability to fly and now have little wings looking like something between a penguin and bird. We get up close to a mother on a nest and can see its piercing emerald eyes. In crystal clear blue water we then get to spend an hour playing with 10-20 sea lions. We’re amazed at how these animals in a remote part of the Galápagos that surely hardly see humans just take to us, spinning and diving around us. Pure joy. On the return home we stop one more final time. A manta ray the size of a Boeing 747 effortlessly glides through the water leaving Tom now the only one in the water out of breath trying to keep up. Fabricio on request then finds a sea horse – he just makes it look so simple. At the end of the day we leave him armed with lots of tuna and marlin for our barbecue. Special, very, very special.

Flightless comorant

Flightless comorant

Back on land the sea lions were back and at the dinghy dock you had to dodge not only them but marine iguanas who cluttered the path.

Days passed doing walks, spotting birds, snorkelling, playing with sea lions. The Senior Plumes packed their bags and as ever we were very sad to see them go. They had to endure hot sun, living on a boat and they had done fabulously well. We’ll soon be hassling them to come and play with us again, all holidays reserved for Adina please. We appreciate all you do for us.

No sooner had they gone than that very evening we departed Isabela. Except that we hadn’t planned to depart Isabela. Around 7pm a panicked female voice came over the radio saying a tsunami was on its way. Being April Fools’ Day I asked Susie to check the BBC news and indeed breaking news was that Chile had been hit by an earthquake and coastal areas in Chile, Peru and Ecuador were being evacuated due to the threat of a tsunami. Soon after, another radio call came saying the Port Captain was telling all boats to leave Isabela immediately, get 20 miles offshore in a minimum of 100m of depth. In the pitch dark of night we hoisted the anchor. Luckily I have a policy of recording the track of our entry into any anchorages so could simply follow that route out. Other yachts were doing the same; it was hard to see in the dark and you had to be careful not to collide. We all sprinted out, heading out to sea as fast as engines and sails would take us. It provided some comfort that we could see the AIS symbols of other boats we knew and we all stayed in contact via radio. 20 miles out and in depths of over 1000m we all slowed and sat and waited. It’s not the most fun thing to do sitting in the ocean waiting for a tidal wave, not knowing what to expect. The estimated time slot of 9.30pm to 10.30pm came and went. The coast guard still kept a red alert. Finally at 1am they advised we could return. That simply meant a slow trip back to arrive in daylight. Relief all round.

Hiking on a volcano with James

Hiking on a volcano with James

Next up, James Alsop arrived to help us with our Pacific Ocean crossing. We know James from our sailing club in London and James is a skilled sailor, racing yachts and his own dinghy. We got plans in motion and went for a 8km hike across a volcano. Never seen anything like it, it was just like walking on a foreign planet with scorched earth and stunning lava formations. It was to be our last real exercise of legs for the coming month.

We snorkelled and relaxed, enjoying last moments with the wildlife. Our time was up and we couldn’t bear the thought of not waking up to having a sea lion pass by, a penguin bopping up and down, chasing a pelican off the boat, trying not to step on an iguana, encouraging a sea lion to let us pass, watching blue footed boobies dive from the sky, turtles skimming the surface of the water. Asked by a marine biologist student about our favourite destination on our trip so far, we could only reply, “The Galápagos Islands”.
Next we cross the mighty Pacific Ocean, deemed the longest passage with a distance of 3000 nautical miles which should take us 21-24 days.

Let's play!

Let’s play!

Dive on down, twist, turn and smile as a sea lion does the same, chases you and looks you in the face with their beautiful big brown eyes saying, “Let’s do it again”. Fear not my friend, we will return, we will for sure one day return to your magnificent home and then we can play again.

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