Galapagos Islands

Graham Shaw
Fri 15 Apr 2011 12:26
First, a couple of pics taken before setting out from Panama towards the Galapagos Islands
Panama City as seen from the Flamenco causeway
Beach on the south coast of Contadora in the Las Perlas Islands
Skipjack tuna caught en route to the Galapagos Islands
Above, dorado being brought alongside the boat (caught using some of the skipjack as bait)
Below, just to give an idea of the size of it.
Anyway, here we are in the Galapagos Islands, at last. It took seven days in all to get here from the Las Perlas Islands of Panama.  There was no more than 10 knots of wind all the way, yet many squalls, with the wind still not picking up.  Some beautiful nights, so still you could see the reflection of the stars in the water. A whale passed us one night. Well I thought it was a whale from the huge amount of phosphorescence, or was it a submarine? I will never know.
Red footed boobies hitching a ride
Very wet, right at the Equator.  Some of Gray's boaty friends might appreciate the radar picture of the squall, below (yes, when rain is that heavy it shows up like this on the radar - there is no land in this picture!)
The day before we reached the Galapagos we crossed the equator, which I have to say not a mean feat.  Gray dressed up as King Neptune, and we were called to court ( Lucas and I).  We were not allowed to enter the Kingdom of Neptune until we were both tried before the court for the crimes we committed on our voyage, Lucas for resistance to having a shower and mine for serving far too many meal consisting solely of fish.  Clearly we pleaded guilty to our crimes then we were admitted to the Kingdom of Neptune - time : 2109 GMT - Longitude : 088°34'.5 West. We were then bathed in seawater, which of course Lucas kicked up about.  Also a beer was popped and given half to Neptune (poured in the sea) what a waste of beer I say!  Gray put on a grand performance, as you can see from the photo, including mop on head (unused mop may I add).
Below, you can just make out the "vessel position" window in the middle at the top showing our latitude as being zero degress (ie. the Equator)

On our approach to the Galapagos we booted up the CMap chartplotter system on the computer.  We usually use the main Raymarine plotter at the helm, but it seemed a huge waste of money to purchase another chart chip, which covers the whole of South America for just the one port we would be allowed to visit.  Hence we decided to use the CMap, but the only thing was our computer decided it had clearly had too much work lately and died on us, just refusing to boot up despite our best efforts.  Well this, as you can imagine, was just than a little more than incovenient.  Thankfully Gray had plotted a load of waypoint positions accurately into the GPS a number days in advance, to get us to our port of entry, plus a little help from our pilot books, [and the radar and the sounder and umpteen years of experience - Ed.] we managed to make our destination safely.
On arrival you can clearly see the wildlife everywhere.  We were visited by the Navy for our inspection, with our agent, who I have to say is fantastic.  Very helpful in many respects, which I think is beyond any agent we had before (this is one of the very few places where you cannot do your own clearance - you have to have an agent).  We then proceeded to shore, to have that well earned beer, and of course to finish the formalities

Sea lions, iguanas and crabs are on the dock, pelicans are flying overhead, diving into the water where the fish are all around you.  It is quite amazing to see.  You walk down the street and the iguanas sit on the pavement, pelicans are happily sitting in the trees very close by.  The wildlife seems to be fearless of humans.  To a certain point you have to watch where you are walking so you do not stand on anything.  Sea lions are around the boat and are just inquisitive of you. Or is it Lucas' toes they are after?

We had a walk up to the Charles Darwin Foundation Research Centre today to have a look at the giant tortoises, which are indeed huge. How do they move? Well slowly of course, and when they set down it is with a big clunk.  We also met Lonesome George (a giant tortoise) who sadly is the last of his particular species - no other has been found.  As well as the tortoises for which these islands are probabaly most well known, the Darwin Centre is also home to both marine and land iguanas, and much of the plant life which is unique to these islands.  A lot of research work goes on here, with scientists from all over the world contributing.  There is a very active breeding program for the tortoises - each of the islands has slightly different species - and when the tortoises born at the Centre reach four or five years of age, they are repatriated to their native islands.  Some species are already exinct, their loss having been caused entirely by humans - firstly by being taken in huge numbers as a source of fresh meat for ships, from the time the islands were first discovered in the 16th century right up to the whaling ships of the 19th century, and then from the loss of their natural habitat, which was rapidly eroded by introduced species such as goats, rats, wild dogs and donkeys.  Big efforts have been made to control the populations of non-native animals, and efforts are seemingly succeeding in re-establishing the balance.
Prehistoric creatures.  These tortoises can live to well over two hundred years old.  In fact, one (of unknown age) was taken from the islands during Captain Cook's Pacific exploration voyage of 1773, and presented as a gift to the King of Tonga, much further west in the Pacific.  This tortoise lived in the grounds of the Royal palace in Tonga, until it passed away in 1966.
Above, land iguana at the Darwin Centre
Above and below, marine iguana.

Next we took a visit to the fish market, which really is just like feeding time at the zoo.  Pelicans lined up for handouts, sea lions waiting in line, iguanas stealing fish from the side.  I saw a pelican getting very cheeky trying to steal a fish too big for himself, the fisherman just took it out of his mouth and laid it back on the counter.  Also a blue footed boobie (bird unique to the Galapagos) was in with all the huge pelicans holding his own.
I'll take this one please!
Customers queueing up at the fish market!

I'm off diving in a day or two to see hammerhead sharks, so hopefully there will be pictures in the next blog.  Apparently it's one of the top three places in the world to dive?  I understand you will see a lot of huge sea mammals here, so it should all be interesting.  Watch this space - hopefully I will not get eaten!
P.S. A big thank you to Gareth who managed to remotely (all the way from London) diagnose the reason for our computer failure as being a tiny battery on the motherboard which was flat.  It was like a watch battery - bet you didn't even know your computer had such a thing inside?  Fortunately we were able to buy this battery locally (see, it's not that backward here) for $4. I am always nervous about computer problems which need screwdrivers to fix!  Anyway, all back up and running again now.