Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Enchanted Islands part 4 - Moving On...

 As our time in the Galapagos is coming to an end, we’ve been madly crossing off all the boat jobs that needed to be completed before the next passage, including:
  • -        Fixing the MOB pole (minor job)
  • -        Shortening the backstay (MAJOR job)
  • -        De-torquing the rigging and re-tensioning it (major job)
  • -        Fixing the lazyjacks (again – F@$##*& lazyjacks…)
  • -        Fixing the watermaker (MAJOR job)
  • -        Sealing two of the starboard ports (major job)
  • -        Checking the rig (minor job)
  • -        Fixing a leaking deck fill (minor job)
  • -        Hooking up the HF radio to our new copper plate (minor job)
  • -        Fixing the flag (very minor job)
  • -        Re-attaching the steering (major job)
  • -        Cleaning the bottom (several times – the algae growth is crazy here – thanks Nadine- she is down there as I write this)
  • -        Fixing the broken piece on the dodger (minor job)
  • -        Installing the swim ladder (thank you Tanya for making Gary do it)
  • -        Fixing the vang ( a new problem…hopefully we’ve fixed it??)
  • -        Installing the 3rd reef (minor job)
  • -        Taking on diesel (major job)
  • -        Fixing the rip in the main sail (new issue… and a MAJOR job to fix)
  • -        Getting more propane
  • -        Provisioning with food
  • -        Trying to install new slides on our spinnaker poles (didn’t fit)
  • -        Etc etc…

While installing the third reef yesterday Nadine noticed a six inch tear in our mainsail!  Not good.  We figure it got ripped when the F@$##*& lazyjacks blew apart on our passage to Isla Isabela a few weeks ago but we didn’t notice it.  It was probably a very small tear then, but after two long night sails, the rip has grown. Thankfully we found it while still in port – it was quite a job for Nadine and Gary to patch and sew it back together and I can’t imagine doing it on passage.  The patch is good and strong though and the sail seems to be no worse for wear. 
Thank god we aren't doing this offshore....

Successful mainsail repair

We’ve also had adventures in provisioning. Although we re-fueled in San Cristobal through our agent, we wanted to top up our jerry cans here before we left. This involved an illicit trip to the gas station, where Gary and I weren’t allowed out of the taxi (non-Ecuadorians are not allowed to get fuel without a permit). Our cab driver took care of it for us, for a price. All very clandestine. Finding propane was just as entertaining. We went to the address given to us by our agent to discover it was a marine store and repair shop, not a propane depot, as expected. After much hand-waving, we were told to pick up the tank at 6pm (we think). We went back to the shop at 6 only to find it was closed! But all was well, as the guy from the shop was working just down the road and was looking out for us. It was the most expensive propane we’ve ever bought, but we can’t complain.

Provisioning for food has also been an adventure. On Saturday we got up at 5am and went to the much-touted local Saturday market with some of the crew from the catamaran
Saturday market at 5:30 am
Elcie. It was incredible! By 5:30 am the place was packed. The number of vegetable stalls and the quality of the produce was stunning. Gary stationed himself in a corner and guarded all our purchases while I ran around from stall to stall buying tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, potatoes, peppers, oranges, grapefruits, bananas, sweet potatoes, basil (huge amounts for $1!), limes, avocadoes, pineapple, etc etc. By the time we were done Gary was having to shew people away who kept trying to look through our box of food as they thought we were one of the vendors! We could barely carry it all from the taxi to the dinghy. I don’t think we’ll go hungry on passage…

Successful repair of the Backstay
While we’d love to stay here forever, a good weather window is opening for us to begin our passage to Easter Island. We met with Immigration yesterday afternoon and got our exit zarpe for the country so it is officially time to go. The last 4 weeks on the boat have gone by very quickly and have been a lot of fun.  It will be with heavy hearts when we sail out of the harbour a few hours from now. 

You can follow us on our Delorme tracker - the link is on the "Where are we" page.  Supposedly the link will now work on a tablet (Gary complained to the company and they fixed it last week ).  Stay tuned for our semi-daily updates about life offshore for the next 2-3 weeks.  No photos until we get to the next place with cell phone coverage.  
Galapagos map showing the strong currents the Leg 1 crew of Sea Rover experienced when arriving from Mexico

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Enchanted Islands part 3 - Isla Santa Cruz

After another great night sail, we arrived in the very busy harbour off of Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz at first light last Tuesday.  It was shocking to see so many cruise boats, tour boats, taxis and ferry boats after the tranquility of Isla Isabel.  We threaded our way through the nautical chaos and squeezed ourselves in between several boats.  We quickly realized we were going to need to set a stern anchor as the anchorage was very rolly and uncomfortable.  As the dinghy was still on deck, we put the paddle board in the water and deployed our stern anchor from there.  Our first attempt brought us too close to a local boat and we got to have our first “conversation” with a local… Oops.  The second attempt was better, but we quickly realized we needed to add chain to our all-rode anchor line so that it wouldn’t get run over by the ten thousand boats zipping by at full speed.  The dinghy was deployed, the stern anchor was pulled up, our link of chain added, and then sunk again.  Third time lucky. The officials showed up at 9 am to clear us in.  One of our agents was there, so all went smoothly.

Golden Rays off the pier in Puerto Ayora
Puerto Ayora seems like a major metropolis compared to the other two islands, but it is still a small town.  We have spent our time here wandering around and exploring the town, in between getting the boat ready for our next passage. 
We’ve swum in the brackish waters of a lovely grotto a 15 minute walk away, and spent a nice afternoon visiting the turtles and land iguanas at the Charles Darwin Research Center. We also did a snorkelling day tour out to Isla Pinzon and saw many many many sea turtles (we lost track after 30), sharks, sting rays and a couple of sea lion colonies. 
Gary Observing the Sea Turtle

On the way to the snorkel spot we stopped and admired a beach just full of marine iguanas.  A great day.  The next day Nadine did a day scuba diving trip and swam with hammerhead sharks.  Another amazing Galapagos experience.

Gary announced that we had to eat out as much as possible while here as we’ll be eating on board for the next 2 months.  So, we’ve been trying out the local cuisine.  We’ve eaten some great empanadas, found a brew pub with good wings and coconut encrusted shrimp, and eaten a couple of times in the “food alley” area. 
Street Food in Puerto Ayora

They close an entire street down every night and set up tables in the middle of the road and all the restaurants that line the street then vie for your patronage.  We had a great meal of Brujo (a type of grouper that is very popular here) one night, and a nice Mexican meal last night.  We’ve also eaten a lot of ice cream.  Sometimes two a day…

Being Checked Out by a Friend

And after being the only Cruising sailboat in the Galapagos (and only the second all year) we finally met some other Cruisers – Fourth  Quarter, a Peruvian boat being run as a charter, and a lovely family (plus paying guest crew) on the beautiful catamaran Elcie, which they built themselves.  Elcie will be sailing to Easter Island at the same time as us. 

Luckily for us they’ve been there before so we’ve been able to pump them for information on anchorages (generally poor – pray for calm weather), provisioning (generally poor as everything gets shipped from Chile), weather (will hopefully be good??!) etc. 
They are on a tight schedule and can travel much faster than us, and so they may be gone before we finally arrive in Easter Island, but hopefully we’ll overlap there for a few days.  It has been a bit lonely being the only Cruising boat for the last few weeks and I know Gary has missed sharing stories and information with other sailors.  However, there have been a lot of advantages to being here early in the season.  We haven't had to compete for the prime anchoring spots, and you can just tell the water taxi that you want to go out to the sailboat - makes it pretty easy when there is only one!  But, it is always re-assuring to know that we aren't the only crazy people doing the trip this year.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Enchanted Isands part 2 - Isla Isabela

After spending one week in the anchorage on San Cristobal the crew of Sea Rover pulled up the anchor and had a pleasant sail to Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela.  Isla Isabela is the furthermost island to the west in the Galapagos (San Cristobal being the furthest island to the east).  We had originally planned on visiting it last before heading off to Easter Island, however, the ‘clear out’ process for the Galapagos recently changed.  It used to
be that you could visit Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz (the middlemost island in the Galapagos), get your exit zarpe for the Galapagos, and then visit Isla Isabela on your way to your next destination.  Not anymore.  Officially clearing out of the country on Isla Isabela now requires you to pay the expenses for all the officials from Puerto Ayora to come over to issue the paperwork (ie, ferry tickets, food, accommodations etc)!   We opted for simplicity and decided to visit Puerto Ayora last to make the clear out process easy (and less expensive).  So, a trip to Isla Isabela was planned.  This suited our Leg 1 crew Tanya, as it meant she would be able to do one final sail on Sea Rover before heading back to Mexico for the rest of the season.  It also allowed us to visit with Leg 1 crew Denis and Rosario one more time as they had left us for Isla Isabela several days before.

We had a beautiful afternoon/night sail to cover the 80 nm from San Cristobal to Isabela and actually had to slow the boat down to prevent us from arriving at 3 am.  As it turned out, the wind died at 3 am and so we had a slow drift with the current (2 knots west!) until sunrise.  We anchored in the reasonably protected anchorage just off the town of Puerto Villamil at 8 am.  The Armada and Port Captain were on board 30 minutes later to check out our paperwork (yes, official paperwork is required to travel between the islands for sailboats).  Despite the language barrier, Bolivar (or ‘Don Bolo’ as he is known to almost everyone in the islands), our acting agent on San Cristobal had all our paperwork in order and the check in went smoothly.  We were all asleep 30 minutes later. 

After long naps, we all jumped in the water for a wonderfully reviving swim.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the water temperature was up to 25oC, compared to a chilly 20-22oC on San Cristobal.  And it was much sunnier and warmer than it had been on San Cristobal.  Ah, tropical paradise at last! 

As Puerto Villamil is the only town in the Galapagos that allows you to access the shore using your own boat (versus one of the water taxis), we lowered the dinghy and headed for the dock.  The anchorage in Puerto Villamil is surrounded by a rocky reef system called the Tintoreas.  We were anchored in the sandy part of the reef system, but had to dodge numerous rocky outcroppings in the dinghy on the way to the dock.  Luckily the bright sunshine and clear, baby blue waters make it easy to see these ‘boomers’.  We were escorted into the dock by several manta rays, sea lions, and several baby white reef tip sharks.  We knew we were going to like this place.

The town itself is 800 meters from the dock.  A pleasant walk on a welcoming road led us into the downtown core, if you can call it that.  The population of Puerto Villamil is about 2000, and it makes Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal (with all of 8000 people) seem like a huge metropolis.  To say the town is sleepy is an understatement.  But it is wonderful!  The streets are filled with lovely fine, soft sand, there are palm trees along the surf beach, and the people are friendly and welcoming.  The whole place has a ‘resort’ feel and there are definitely more tourists compared to San Cristobal (or maybe just the tourist-to-local ratio is greater).  We all instantly fell in love with it.  Definitely a place worth visiting for anyone going to the Galapagos.    

The next few days were spent exploring the town and visiting with our Leg 1 crew.  Our first stop on the wildlife tour was a visit to the lagoons just outside of town where a special Galapagos species of pink flamingos hang out.  It was amazing watching them use their beaks to siphon mud from the bottom and strain the food out of it.  
The next stop was snorkelling in one of the salt water lagoons just off the anchorage.  As all activities in the Galapagos require a guide, there are only a few places you can visit unaccompanied.  This lagoon, called Concha y Perla, is one of them.  To get to it you have to walk along a boardwalk constructed amongst the mangroves.  Inevitably you end up having to step over marine iguanas and sea lions blocking the path (trust me, they don’t move).  The snorkel spot itself is quite nice.  It isn’t the best snorkelling we’ve ever done, but each time we’ve gone there (3 times so far) we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff, including sting rays, an eagle ray, a sea turtle, and chocolate chip sea stars.  And big parrot fish (Bill, we thought of you).  

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Isla Isabela was that it is one of the only islands in the archipelago where you can see the Galapagos Penguin.  This is the only tropical penguin in the world, and definitely the only we’ll be able to watch from our boat while wearing a bikini!  I wasn’t sure we were going to see any as from reading our guide book it seemed that most of the colonies are found on the west coast of the island where we, as a sailboat, are not allowed to go.  Needless to say I was overjoyed to look out from the cockpit on day 2 to see a penguin swimming by the boat!  It turns out there are a couple of small colonies in the reef area where we are anchored.  We’ve seen them many times now fishing around the boat in the morning and evening.  They make a wonderful honking noise which always alerts us to their presence, and they usually put on a show streaking through the water and leaping out like a dolphin while they charge after their dinner.  

Other highlights of our time here so far have been snorkelling at the Tuneles, about a 30 minute boat ride west of town.  We swam with too many turtles to count, and at least a dozen white tipped reef sharks.  We even saw a pair of sea turtles mating! 
Tanya, Nadine, Gary and I at the Lava Tunels

Unfortunately the sea horses eluded us that day, but a visit through the water tunnels formed through the lava fields made us forget our disappointment.  What a wonderful place.

Cerro Sierra Negra Volcano Crater

We did the ‘must do’ 16 km round trip hike around the Sierra Negra volcano crater (which is 10km across!) and down into the smaller Cerro Chico volcano.  It was really interesting to see all the different lava flows.  Picture taking was a bit of a challenge as the one family on the tour kept ‘photo-bombing’ my pictures, but really, the pictures don’t capture the true magic of the area anyway.

We also visited the tortoise hatchery.  They have an active breeding program to re-populate the 5 different kinds of tortoises on the island.  The hatchery is a branch of the Charles Darwin Research Centre and opened in 1994.  They have saved most of the tortoise species from going extinct.  They actually rescued 8 tortoises (4 males and 4 females) from the slopes of the Sierra Negra volcano when it erupted in 1998 and had to start from scratch to keep the species going.  Perhaps not the most genetically diverse way to do it, but better than the alternative.  It turns out that for the last 25 years all the tortoises born on the island have come from the hatchery.  
Park staff actually follow the wild tortoises and dig up any nests they find and move the eggs to the hatchery to allow them to incubate.  Apparently feral dogs, cats, rats and goats have taken a toll on the birth rate in the past and so this is their way of guaranteeing a continuation of the species.  The baby tortoises live at the centre until they are 5 or 6 and are then released into the wild.  At this point their shells are deemed strong enough to survive their predators.  It was an interesting place to visit and gave us a good appreciation for the differences between some of the different tortoises (ie, different shaped shells).

While seeing all the tortoises in the hatchery was very cool, the biggest highlight of our visit was seeing them out in the wild.  Nadine, Gary and I rented bikes one afternoon (mine was a dud – apparently I’m not allowed to choose bicycles anymore…) and rode a trail up to the old prison.  Along the way you travel along the “Caminas de las Tortugas” or the “turtle road”.  We actually saw 10 of them along the way!  About half were right on the road, but the rest were in the bushes eating cactus etc.  Most were quite old – based on the size we estimated they were about 50 years old.      

We’ve now been on Isla Isabela for almost 2 weeks and have done all the touristy things there are to do.  Our Leg 1 crew (Tanya, Denis and Rosario) have all returned to their lives and it is now just Gary, Nadine and I.  In between enjoying the island we’ve taken advantage of the calm anchorage here to complete a very long list of boat jobs.  Although we could easily stay here forever, our 30 days are rapidly coming to an end and it is probably time for us to move on and check out the next place.  We plan to sail against the 2 knot current back to Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, the middle island in the archipelago, on Monday/Tuesday.  We’ll spend a few days there checking out the ‘must see’ activities and provisioning.  Then we’ll start looking for our weather window to leave this paradise. 

This is a really special place and it will be difficult to leave.  Where else can you see penguins, sea lions, rays, turtles and marine iguanas swimming by the boat in the span of 5 minutes?  These are truly the enchanted islands.    

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Enchanted Islands part 1: San Cristobal

Classic Galapagos Marine Iguana
(yes, they swim)
To say the first week here in the Galapagos has been pretty amazing is a bit of an understatement.  So far it has certainly been well worth the small amount of discomfort most of us faced getting here.

After getting our bearings, recovering from sea and catching up on some much need rest we hit the ground running and packed long days of exploring our first of 3 islands, San Cristobal.

We managed to clear in on January 1st which was a pleasant surprise given the celebrations that the people here are famous for.  Bolivar (the agent) came out to the boat early to walk us through the procedure and make sure we were ready.  Then at the designated time of 11am 7 officials showed up to fill out their paperwork and clear us in.  The bottom was checked, dried food stuffs searched for foreign invaders and all required paperwork was checked and rechecked.  The officials spoke little English so it was a god send to have Rosario on board who is fluent in Spanish.   After an hour of intense question and answer we were declared free to leave the boat and the long awaited reunion of Karina and I happened quickly on shore.

Bolivar directed us to a good lunch spot where we strategized what, where and how we would first explore the island.
Two young sea lions at play

On our first full day we hiked over to a great snorkel spot where we saw a big sea turtle and a good amount of other sea life.  On the way over we stopped at a great interpretive centre that did a good job of explaining why the islands are as special as they are and clued us into the long history of man vs nature here.

On the way back we stopped at a nice beach and had our first interaction with the multitude of fearless sea lions that mingle with the few tourists sunbathing.  This time of year is a great time to visit if you want to spend days upon days watching the baby sea lions frolicking with each other.  It's difficult to find creatures cuter than baby sea lions while they learn how to flop themselves around the beach.
A new born sea lion learning how to move about

Tortoises are really easy to get photos of
Day 2 involved a personal tour by Bolivar who took us in 2 4x4's across the island.  Highlights were certainly the tortoise sanctuary where some of the turtles are thought to be 300 years old and a fantastic seafood lunch high up in the mountains overlooking the ocean.  We also had fun at a good tourist trap which was a giant (really giant) tree with a tree house in it.  A quick hike to a volcano caldera with thick fog coming and going capped of a great day and solidified Bolivar as a great agent and new amigo.

A good day at the spa for Henry

"Lola" keeping an eye on us
While we were away from the boat touring on land we came back to a new resident on our boat.  A small sea lion decided that our back swim step was heaven and despite lots of other sea lions giving her a hard time she stuck it out and slept for almost 24 hours.  It made for some entertainment while on board.  When she left as cute as she was, we added more fenders to deter the smelly beasts. 
Our new tenant that was too cute to evict

Denis and Rosario's last night on Sea Rover
Denis and Rosario were on a tight schedule to see all the sights on the islands.  A sailboat is not the most efficient way to move about the big distances between them so they decided to hop off and move to Isabela by speed boat.  We had a fantastic celebratory meal of seafood risotto with pan seared tuna on their last night.  We hope to catch up with them again before they leave Isabela.
White tipped reef shark. 
We've been told they are vegetarian...

The highlight of our visit to San Cristobal was a speed boat ride all the way around the island.  We stopped at 3 snorkel spots including a lagoon where white tipped reef sharks gave birth to their young.  At the north end of the island we floated among a few rocky outcrops where we saw 3 different types boobies and other birds nesting.

For those who are keeping score the boat also threw out fishing lines when ever we were drifting.  My curse still stands.  The driver was confused as to why we didn't catch any fish.  We didn't explain for fear of having me thrown overboard.
Feisty crab, defending his patch of sand

We stopped at a beautiful white sand beach for a great lunch of tuna and rice.  Karina is happy to visit any country where sandwiches are not considered real food.

Lastly we stopped at kicker rock which sits about 4 miles offshore.  The snorkelling here is something that should not be missed as you drift along the sheer walls with a bottom that is too deep to be seen despite the super clear waters.  Here we saw more sharks, many many turtles and lots of fish.  Two laps around the rock and we dragged back to the boat, tired, cold but happy.  We missed seeing the hammer head sharks but otherwise crossed all species off our bucket list.
Kicker Rock.  Where turtles are everywhere, 3 different types of sharks hang out and a current transports you effortlessly around the island.

Today, assuming we can get our paperwork to clear out of San Cristobal, we will move over to Isla Isabela, about an 80 NM sail.  We hope to arrive before dark on Tuesday.  Stay tuned for more brief posts of our adventures in the Galapagos

Monday, January 1, 2018

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 22

It is 8 Am local time and we are hook down with the boat put to bed after a pleasant, fast sail through the night. Officials should arrive sometime this afternoon and then we can get off the boat. Soon we will be connected to the internet and will be able to post pictures. Stay tuned for the fun part of the voyage!

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