00:57S 90:58W Galapagos
Conor & Marion Wall
Wed 18 May 2011 22:15
View of Panama City from our anchorage at Los Brisas.
The sail from Panama to Galapagos was not without incident. We left Panama on Saturday the 23rd April for the relatively short trip to the Las Perlas Islands some 35 miles or so to the SE of Panama. We anticipated a passage time of six to seven hours so we did not rush in the morning to get moving. I did not count on the amount of weed that had grown on the undercarriage during the seven weeks that we were waiting, transiting and resting at either end of the Panama canal. There was no wind and flat seas and the most I could get Toucan to do under engine was three and a half knots. Towards the end of the passage and about two hours before dark the wind picked up and I managed to get five and a half knots out of her, however we could not help but arrive in the dark to the anchorage on the island of Contadora. It was the holiday weekend and there were lots of motor cruisers, some larger, some not so large filling up the anchorage, nearly all with lights blazing both under water and above deck. It was like a mini city but eventually we found a place to drop the hook. The underwater lights seem to be a feature on most medium to large motor cruisers in this part of the world. I must say that some of the boats look spectacular when all lit up from above and below and the underwater lights give the people on board their own natural aquarium as the lights attract the sea life which in the clear waters is very easy to see.
Laura Dekker on the right, trying to be the youngest person to circumnavigate alone, from Holland and on the SV ‘Guppy’
Me on the left, possibly the oldest person. Before leaving Las Palmas.
The next morning I dived to see the extent of the weed and barnacles and was horrified so off to work to remove the offending growth with the new plastic trowel that I had purchased in Panama especially for the job. I could of course have done this work in Panama but the water there was so skanky that I dared not even venture into it for fear of picking up some nasty infection coupled with the fact that the visibility there was very bad. At Los Perlas Islands we had nice clean water and ideal conditions for diving. Four hours of diving and two days later the bottom of Toucan was once again clean and ready for the Pacific.
Fishing boat as we left the Los Perlas Islands.
We spent a few days at the Islands and explored one or two anchorages before setting off on the morning of Thursday 28th April for the 900 mile passage to the Galapagos. The winds in the bay of Panama are very difficult as it lies in the area know as the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) and the winds are fluky and light. The books advised to make sure that we had lots of fuel before leaving Panama as a lot of motoring was expected. For this very reason I had stowed six plastic containers for diesel in the bilges of Toucan before leaving home and now they would be used. So out they came, were filled with diesel and stowed on deck. Now we looked like all the other yachts that do long distant sailing. Some of the boats that left before us took as long as two weeks and one in particular took 16 days to the first of the Galapagos islands.
Fuelling up in Las Perlas Islands for the anticipated lack of wind trip to the Galapagos.
For us the first three days were very frustrating but whenever boat speed dropped below three knots the motor went on and this seemed to be most of the time. However our friends on another boat ahead of us told us that we should do the naked wind dance on the foredeck to bring the wind. For the remaining five days we were close hauled on port tack in approximately eight knots of wind and making good speed and just making our target waypoint.
Stupid photos of us crossing the Equator, wishing to please the Gods for good winds and keep Neptune happy.
Red Footed Boobie. He stayed with us for nearly two days with perfect balance.
We had a worrying incident the day before we arrived at the islands. It was about 1600 when we heard a bang from outside the boat, we were both below and I rushed up to the cockpit to find that the fishing line was running out very quickly. I shouted to Marion that we had something big and thought I saw a monster jump behind the boat. I could not hold the very heavy duty nylon line that I use and suddenly it broke and pinged back at me. I began pulling in what was left of my line when I noticed a small open fishing boat approaching from in front of us and behind our headsail. They had an outboard motor and we were 170 miles from the nearest land on Galapagos. Alarm bell started to ring and as the three young men (all immaculately dressed) in the open fishing boat approached I had visions of some nasty stuff to follow. I asked them not to approach too close to Toucan and they backed off a little. Marion went below to see if she could raise someone on the SSB or VHF radio but it turned out that they were not about to attack us. I then began to worry for their safety and thought that they might be lost. Eventually they left us and made for the point where we heard the noise and where I thought we had caught a fish. On reflection and having told our story to many, what we had snagged with the fishing lure was surely a buoy marking a cocaine stash. The bang on the boat was us hitting the buoy (no damage to us, thankfully) and the three lads were supposed to be guarding the stash. Nothing else made any sense. On reflection also, had we arrived at that spot during an exchange of drugs we most certainly would have been in grave danger.
This photo sums up my frustration with trying to get connected
We arrived at the Galapagos in the evening of Friday the 6th May after eight and a half days.
Above photos show some of the amazing wildlife, blue footed boobies seem to be the ‘stars’ especially when diving.
We chose to visit the Island of Isabela and skip the very rolly anchorages at San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. It is only permitted to drop your anchor at one anchorage in the Galapagos unless you get a permit in advance, normally up to 3 months in advance, which then allows you to visit between three to five anchorages in total depending on the mood of the authorities. Once again we found the formalities to visit these Islands to be overwhelming if you stick to the rules so we did not. There are only two islands on which you can do customs and immigration , San Cristobel and Santa Cruz but both of these islands have very uncomfortable anchorages for most of the time. Both are nice islands but do not offer as much on the wildlife side of things as does Isabela. We had heard of a loophole in the system from a Canadian sailor before we left Panama who told us to contact an agent by the name of Bolivar. Yes once again you need an agent to check into these islands. He told us that we should request our anchorage on Isabela and that we would take the ferry or fly to Santa Cruze to do the checking in formalities as there are no immigration officials at Isabela.
Cheeky seals in our cockpit every evening when we returned to the boat.
This worked out well for us and in the end we did not need to go to Santa Cruz but got to stay on the best island with the most comfortable anchorage for eight days. During this time we would see the second largest active volcano in the world, ten kilometres diameter where the last flow of lava was only six years ago. We would see terrain that was created by eruptions varying from 100 million years to 10 thousand years ago to the present day so a bit like going back in time with the landscape. We got the opportunity to see the giant land tortoises in their natural habitat, we swam with giant turtles ( I even managed to piggy back one for a short while, the turtle did not seem to mind) swam with sharks, 5 meter wingspan rays, penguins, seals and more. Got close up to the amazing boobies, blue footed, red footed and masked. Iguanas, crabs, I could go on. Worth every penny and inconvenience to do all that.
The ride through the clouds to the Volcano
Behind us the 2nd largest crater in the world & with recent volcanic activity.
We left the Galapagos Islands 1300 Saturday the 14th May 2011 and are currently about 2500 miles from the Marquises in French Polynesia.