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                                          The Galapagos

                                             April, 2008 

   

As our time in Costa Rica Yacht Club drew to a close, “Tio (Uncle) Carlos” the restaurant manager and staff hosted a farewell party in our honor.  It was a somewhat grand affair, complete with live music.  All the visiting yachts were invited and all of the staff attended.  Our stay here was indeed a special time and in a strange way we can be thankful to whoever it was that hit us and ran away back up in the Grenadines.  Without that event and the subsequent damage we would not have come here to make our repairs and thus would have missed these new and meaningful friendships. 

On March 3 we bade a tearful farewell to “Tio Carlos” and the staff of the Costa Rica Yacht Club.  Carlos accompanied us on our trip down the river and Timoteo in his panga served both as our river pilot and return taxi for Carlos.  A week later we learned that on the way home Timoteo ran out of gas (normal for him) and they spent two hours sitting on the river waiting to be rescued.

The word, which best describes our passage to the Galapagos, was  perfect!  It really paid to carefully watch the weather patterns and sail in the right direction when conditions were optimum.  Every day was comfortable sailing with light winds, clear skies and flat seas.  Night watches sped by thanks to our MP3 player featuring old time radio shows, music or books on tape.  The off-watch slept in the after cabin which allowed the on-watch full reign of the main cabin.  Ellen slept from six to midnight and Ed from midnight to six.  Early morning breakfasts together as sunrise brought another day was a treat.   

The winds were so light that never once during the nine day passage did we shorten sail.  Once more our light air “Mainster” and large drifter enabled us to move in winds of 4 to 5 knots while others were forced to run their engines or sit and bang around in the calm..  We didn’t sail very fast but there was no hurry.  The seas were calm and we were able to enjoy the quiet time of the ocean rather than the noise and heat of the engine. If all ocean passages were like this the ocean would be crowded with boats.

A major milestone in any sailor’s life is the first crossing of the Equator.  We planned carefully and worked very hard to make the crossing in daylight as we did not want to miss out on anything.  We were not disappointed.  There is actually something to see!  The ocean bubbled and boiled on either side as if it were a reversing waterfall.  Of course we had to request King Neptune’s permission to cross over through his domain and offer him a token of appreciation for his gift and for a continued safe voyage. And yes, absolutely, just ten feet on the other side of the Equator we ran below to check.  The water in the sink drain does spin in the opposite direction!  

Our landfall was Academy Bay, Santa Cruz, Galapagos on March 19, 2008.   Since 1998, the Galapagos are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and as such has placed severe restrictions on them.  The result is that visitor’s movements are somewhat restricted and supervised in order to preserve and protect this very fragile habitat.  Unlike other countries we have visited we could not just anchor where we pleased and explore on our own. Entr’acte was granted a 20 day permit but was required to remain at anchor in Porto Ayora for the entire time.  Most exploring had to be with a guided tour. To visit another island it was necessary to travel by inter-island ferry and book a room for the length of our stay.    This was not as bad as it first seemed.  The anchorages in the Galapagos are not very secure and are open to the Pacific Ocean swell.  A boat at anchor is in constant motion from that swell so it was actually a blessing to be forced to take the ferry to a different island and spend a few days in a Pension that did not roll around all day and night. We gave all our attention to setting up our anchors one time and thus Entr’acte would be well secured for the entire visit.

In many ways, the Galapagos have fallen victim to their history and reputation.  We naively expected that once close to the islands they would just explode with all sorts of exotic sea life-----“Galapagos…..Action!!!!!”  Alas, we were quite disappointed until we realized that things were much more subtle than that.  The wildlife is indeed there and it is decidedly exotic.  Our harbour tour guide “Pink Floyd” explained that  “you have to go slowly, look carefully and be patient if you want see something truly special..” He practiced what he preached.  He was never in any hurry.

Much of what the Galapagos has to offer can be seen by walking or taking a harbor tour offered by one of the water taxi drivers.  But if you really wanted to get “up close” with the wild life you had to book a tour.  Although we generally are not fond of such organization, we quickly came to appreciate why things had to be this way. If everyone could wander around unsupervised there would quickly be nothing left of this fragile habitat.

It was an easy walk to the Darwin Center to see the famous Giant Tortoises we had read so much about when we were children.  From La Finca Mariposa we saw even more of these great creatures as we rode on horseback through the highlands of Santa Cruz.  On Isla Floreana we swam with sea turtles and sea lions and hiked Isla Isabella to study the giant volcanic crater that is still smoking and cooling after its recent eruption in 1995.  On the island of   North Seymore we explored the habitat of the Albatross, Booby, Frigate Bird and Giant Iguanas.  In all of these situations our presence was accepted completely as normal and none of these wonderful creatures evidenced the slightest fear or concern over our intrusion. They were not at all camera shy!  The tours were very well run, the guides were friendly and informative but those ferry rides definitely supplied their own element of high adventure!

Academy Bay is the center of tourism in the Galapagos and as such it is bustling with activity night and day.  To sit in the cockpit with our morning coffee was always a treat.   Every morning and afternoon sea lions would swim slowly by on their own private agenda which always included climbing at will aboard any vacant dinghy or boat to lie all day in the sun, sometimes in groups of two or three.   The sea turtles and rays were always present while at any time there would be a cry from somewhere “Galapagos Shark, Galapagos Shark!”  These guys must be the national fish of the islands because the locals are so incredibly proud of them and never miss an opportunity to bring them to your attention.  Everything stops when one appears.  They look every bit as sinister as any other shark but they always swim away and never appear at all aggressive, not at all like their Atlantic and Caribbean relatives. 

Our favorite attraction in Academy Bay were the Blue Footed Boobies.  They are impossible to describe.  All day long they circle the anchorage, swoop down with perfect form from incredible heights, dive to quite a respectable depth, surface swallowing their catch and take off again, only to repeat the entire process hour after hour.  They were like fighter planes, most times diving alone but many times they would attack and dive in a formation of up to ten birds at once.   When you least expected it, SPLAT! So close to the cockpit that the splash would spray the entire cockpit.  The Boobies alone made the entire trip worthwhile.  Their mating dance is priceless!  “See my feet, how blue they are?” 

The Galapagos are not at all as primitive as they once were.  On shore everything we needed to live aboard and provision for the long passage to come was available at reasonable prices and very convenient.  Ecuador has changed their currency to the US dollar so even using the ATM was easy without any service or exchange conversion charge.  The grocery store, the hardware store, the post office, anything you need is within walking distance with prices slightly higher than in Costa Rica.  Nowhere at any time did we see or hear of any stealing, pickpockets or beggars.  The streets are amazingly clean and free of all litter. The absence of fences, barbed wire and window bars were a welcome change.   Many of the locals travel on exotic fifteen speed mountain bikes which line the streets in surprising numbers, all conspicuously without locks.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays there is an open market where fruits and vegetables are available at reasonable prices.  A local breakfast ends your shopping spree.  The plate of the day is 2 fried eggs, corn meal patties, chick pea beans, and sausage and coffee for $2.00!  They also have a full pig roasting as well.   

Every evening the local families gather at the park on the waterfront. The men play volleyball and cards. The children play on carousels and swings while the women supervise and generally enjoy family life, all to the tune of the music of the street vendors who sell snacks and ice cream from their carts. There is definitely an old world family atmosphere. 

The Galapagos are definitely a busy place.   Interaction with other yachts is rather limited.  Everyone knows that their time in these islands is finite and everyone is focused on getting the most out of each day, either taking the next tour, making some necessary repair or in some way preparing for the long haul to French Polynesia.  Most acquaintances seem to be made on tours or at cyber cafes as all the yachts are catching up on correspondence, sending their latest updates, getting what little weather information there is around this part of the world or using Skype for that last minute phone call.  

Our days were indeed full but we always found time in the evenings to meet at one of the great restaurants ashore and share our discoveries.  The Galapagos reminded us of the Azores of thirty years ago when it was far less expensive to eat in the local restaurants than to deplete our ship’s stores only to replace them later at the outrageous Polynesian prices.

As our final week began we received an e mail from old friends Wolfgang and Uli on Golden Tilla.  Wolfgang is pictured in “The Voyage of Entr’acte” in the Canary Island sequence sitting on several cases of Heineken beer in a fold a boat dinghy.  We have maintained this friendship for twenty-four years throughout the world.   We rendezvoused in Spain in 2003, the Azores in 2004 and now in our golden years we would meet again here in the Galapagos but they were two weeks away and we would miss them by a week.  We pleaded our case with the Port Captain and were granted a one week extension.   We could stay at least until they arrived and then race them across  the Pacific to French Polynesia and hopefully celebrate Bastille Day together in Tahiti.

Years ago the old timers refered to us as “The Kids.”   Now the torch has been passed and  Brandon and Jamie are now “The Kids.”  Where have all the years gone? They are a delightful young couple from Santa Barbara and provide that fresh air of youth, wonder-lust.  At twenty-five they have a one-year plan to enjoy a little adventure before they settle down to the rigors of life.  Part of their plan is to get married when they arrive in Tahiti.  We admire them, enjoy their company and wish them well!  

So, once again it is time to single up the lines and make ready for sea.  Entr’acte is ready for this next adventure.  This is the passage for which she was built all those years ago. This date marks a virtual landmark in the lives of all three of us.  A culmination of the past thirty-one years which have been a  long up- hill climb, first to build Entr'acte, then learn to sail her and year after year extend our horizons and experience to prepare for  this one passage.  We feel like skiers herring-boning up a long steep hill and are now poised at the top of the mountain for the incredible down-hill run. 

We are as ready as we will ever be.  Next news from French Polynesia and Tahiti!

OK, here we go!