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Galapagos Archipelago

24 March 2006

Tuneles Lava Tube BBQ at Henry's We visited Los Tuneles  today. These are a series of volcanic lava tubes which extend into the ocean. The tubes have been eroded by waves and wind to form a labyrinth of arches and channels which in turn have created a series of lagoons which though open to the sea are extremely sheltered and provide a haven for marine creatures, especially turtles. A group of us went with Henry who runs the beach bar opposite the anchorage. We shot along in his boat along the coast for about an hour and on the way saw lots of turtles and seabirds. After running parallel with the coast Henry suddenly turned the boat towards the shore and accelerated towards the rocks and large breaking waves. His two helpers looked delighted as they clung onto the handholds on the boat's awning. Every other person in the boat was from our group of yachts in the anchorage. For us, the concept of heading anywhere near the rocks and waves in a boat was unthinkable. We held our breath as Henry belted between rocks and waves to bring the boat to anchor in a quiet pool in the middle of the rocky maze. From that point on, Henry was Christened "Schumacher". The tuneles themselves provide one of the most naturally beautiful sites I have ever visited and the water was unbelievably clear. We first went for a ride in the tender to explore this very unique haven and saw lots of turtles, sealions and birds. Then we donned our snorkeling gear and went for a closer look. Kevin and I were over the moon when a pair of sealions decided to check us out. They were completely happy to swim around and under us and were content to let us swim with them. Underwater the grace of these curious mammals is a marvel. We managed to find a couple of turtles to follow, though the turtles were quite timid and did not like us to get close. There were a lot of colourful fish and we delighted in being so close to so many animals in a very special place. Henry is a fisherman as was his grandfather and father though he said that now, the Galapagos National Park authorities are making it impossible for the island's fishermen to make a living. Most of the population on Isabela are fishing families. For this reason, Henry said that now he tries to make a living running excursions like this. Everyone in the group could not help but notice that he genuinely loves this islands and enjoys sharing its beauty with visitors. During the evening, Henry's wife prepared a delicious BBQ for us at his beach bar and Kev took the opportunity to practise his French on a couple from Guadaloupe. He discovered that the French became easier with each bottle of beer consumed.

23 March 2006

Sierra Negra Sierra Chico Kev and his horse Isla Isabela was formed primarily by five volcanoes and today we took a trip to visit the caldera of Sierra Negra, the volcano which erupted in October 2005. This crater is the second largest crater in the world and is the largest basaltic crater measuring around 11 x 9 kms. This is also the oldest volcano on the island. We took a pickup truck for about an hour along a dirt road before collecting our horses. These horses had minds of their own and knew full well that none of us knew how to ride. We rode the horses for about 1 ½ hours up to the rim of the crater. Looking into the huge black crater we could see fissures that were still smoking. From one side of the crater we walked through old and new lava fields to reach Sierra Chico, which is a small volcanic cone. As the main crater of Sierra Negra is blocked with solidified lava and basalt, lots of smaller parasitic cones like Sierra Chico have developed as these allow the pressure to vent from the main vent. From Sierra Chico we could see from the west of the island to the ocean on the east as this is the narrowest point of Isla Isabela. We looked down onto Elizabeth Bay, and the off lying islands which are a breeding ground for the little Galapagos Penguins. These little birds are in danger now due to the prevalence of rats and other introduced species that destroy the eggs and chicks. We returned by the same route to the town and were all absolutely covered in dirt and dust. It was a great opportunity to see the island's interior which is a real contrast to the pristine white shorelines opposite our anchorage.

20 March 2006

baby tortoise tortoises flamingo We had a lovely day today. We went ashore during the morning and spent a little time wandering around the town which was open at last, having been closed due to another festival. We walked along the beach front. The beaches here are magnificent with the dark volcanic rocks contrasting with the white sand. The water is a torquise colour. We decided to visit the tortoise hatchery which is just a little way out of town. We walked along a nature trail for about 1.5 kms. This took us through a lagoon area where we saw three pink flamingos. They are very elegant creatures. We arrived at the tortoise hatchery which was free. They have done a marvellous job. This is where they are breeding the giant tortoises in an effort to try to help the native population to recover from the destruction humans have brought upon them. There are 12 species of giant tortoise in the Galapagos archipelago, five of which live only on Isabela. (These tortoises also assisted in the creation of the evolution theory in the mind of Charles Darwin.) In some cases, the only living individuals left of a species (seven in total) are being bred in this little centre. The tortoises lay their eggs in a nest in the earth and then abandon the eggs. The young have to scrape away at the hardened earth for about 30 days (without food or water, existing only on their body reserves) before reaching the surface. At present, virtually NO tortoises born in the wild in the Galapagos survive. This is due largely to the devastation caused by introduced animals (goats, dogs, pigs, mules, cattle, ants and rats). Without this breeding centre and the larger on on Santa Cruz it is likely that many giant tortoise species would die off imminently. This island seems to be much prettier than San Cristobal. It would be very easy to spend a long time here. There is wildlife everywhere. This is probably because the island is large with a very small (1500) human population. Due to its position at the western end of the archipelago, fewer tour boats call here.

19 March 2006

Blue footed boobies White tipped reef sharks Iguana family Galapagos Penguin We left the boat after an early breakfast to row to las Tintorias which is a lagoon almost enclosed by a volcanic reef. The wildllife was wonderful. We saw Blue Footed Boobies sitting on the rocks and then plummeting into the water like arrows as they fished. There were pelicans sitting on top of the mangroves. We anchored the tender and wandered around the path which is there in order to keep visitors from disturbing the wildlife. We saw lots of marine iguanas. They are breeding now so there were lots of babies. We came to a channel where we saw white tipped reef sharks basking peacefully until the sealions came to wreak havoc. In the water the turtles ignored us while the rays came up to investigate our oars. One touched my oar with his nose then fled. We went for a snorkel in the lagoon which was wonderful. As well as a myriad of fish we saw several sea urchins and more rays. We did not see any sea cucumbers or pepinos  which used to be abundant in these waters. These strange looking creatures are important as they help clean the water by recycling organic waste. Unfortunately, they are a Japanese and Chinese delicacy. In 1992 the president issued a ban on fishing these creatures though during that year over 30 million sea cucumbers were illegally fished and then dried on the shores on one of the smaller islands alone. Within two years the ban was lifted due to the pressure of striking fishermen who realised the amount of money at stake. (The ban on shark fishing - which has always been forbidden - was lifted during the same year.) We only stayed for an hour or so as the sun was getting very strong. When we came back to the boat we saw a Galapagos penguin fishing around our boat ~ probably as we have a weedy bottom at the moment and this seems to attract the fish. These little birds are unique in living on the equator. They can live here due to the cool Humboldt Current.

17 March 2006

Bottle nosed dolphin Pelican Arrived in Isla Isabela early this morning after a windless passage from San Cristobal. A sealion had made her home on our transom overnight and did not move when we weighed anchor. She motored out of the anchorage with us for an hour before she got too hot and jumped back into the water. We saw blue footed and Nazca boobies but the big treat was a visit from a pod of Bottle Nosed Dolphins. They were squeaking and clicking to each other and as they played in the bow wave they made sure they kept their eyes on us. Clearly they love the attention. It was incredible to feel a real connection with these creatures as they made a point of looking us in the eye as they played. The anchorage here is very beautiful and wild and there are several yachts here. It is not very big and the entrance is a little tricky with the volcanic reef making navigation interesting. As we arrived in the dark we anchored off in the outer bay until daylight in order to make a safe entry to the little anchorage.

13 March 2006

Galapago sealion family marine_iguanas Today we took a short tour with some people from other yachts to see a bit of San Cristobal's interior. We visited the tortoise sanctuary to see some of the giant tortoises or Galapago  (hence the archipelago's name). There used to be fourteen species of tortoise on the islands though now only ten remain thanks to the efforts of humans and other introduced species. These creatures were hunted by whalers and seamen in the past as they can survive for a year with no food or water, so they supplied fresh meat on the boats. The males can grow to over 250kg though we did not see any that large. We spotted about five. At the tortoise sanctuary we also saw a Darwin's Finch. This little black bird was key to the development of Darwin's theory of evolution. These little dark birds have no fear of man at all. There are fourteen species and they are all very similar. Darwin realised that at some point a mother species had adapted to different ends and thus the different species evolved. We were serenaded by a Cristobal Mockingbird. We visited the island's only fresh water lagoon to watch the Great Frigatebirds soaring and dipping into the lagoon to wash the salt off themselves. This was the first time we had seen the male of the species distinguishable with a bright red pouch under his throat. He puffs this up during breeding season to attract females to the nest he prepared earlier. Towards the end of the day we visited a very pretty surf beach not far from the town. Sealions live here and we watched a pup playing with its mother in a rock pool. We were very excited to find some marine iguanas on the rocks. Most of them seemed to be basking on the black rocks though we did see one in the surf. Their dark skin helps them to absorb the sun's heat, as do the dark rocks. The Galapagos Islands are the only place in the world where these ancient creatures live. The species is thought to be over nine million years old, that is older than the islands themselves. It is thought they are descended from Ecuador's land iguanas and probably reached the islands on vegetation rafts. Consequently they had to adapt to a strictly vegetarian seafood diet. We noticed they seemed to be spitting. In fact, to get rid of excess salt, they sneeze salt! There is undoubtedly a huge amount to see on this island but today at least gave us a sample of the unique wildlife here. As we were looking at the sealions we saw two yachts heading for the island. Our friends from Lotus were arriving.

11 March 2006

Kev on San Cristobal Sealion Pups So far our time in the Galapagos has been wonderful. We have not left the main port but there has been plenty here to keep us interested. Yesterday we went overboard for a snorkel to the little beach here. We saw a lot of fish, in particular a magnificent school of yellow tailed sturgeon fish. Their tails together looked like flowers in the water. There are lots of sealions in the port and to our delight there are a lot of pups here too. They allow people to get within a metre or so. The babies are just gorgeous. Kevin tried to catch up with a sealion that appeared to be just floating on its back yesterday but the creature was still too fast. The little anchorage is filling quickly now with another three or so boats arriving each day. Each morning we have been working on boat jobs and then heading into town of an afternoon though the town is tiny. Wreck Bay is an easy place to relax and just absorb the surroundings.

9 March 2006

Wreck Bay We left Puerto Lucia on 5 March, exactly four weeks after our arrival. We were off by 1000 and were amazed to find a good sailing breeze though it was, as ever, very hot. I was a little seasick on the first afternoon and Kev had come down with a cold. Not the best start. Still in the first 24 hrs we made good 178 miles over the ground. During the second day there was less wind. Yesterday we saw some boobies flying close to the boat so the Galapagos must be close. During the last two days we managed just under 100 miles through the water but had 50 and 60 miles added to our total each day due to the current. The wind has varied from 1 kt to just over 30 but after the first day has stayed aft of the beam. After 3 ½ days we arrived in Wreck Bay on San Cristobal under a waxing gibbous moon and a clear sky. We crept into the anchorage under radar and were immediately greeted by the scent of jasmine and the company of curious sea lions who had swum out to see what they were missing! We celebrated our arrival with a shot of Mt Gay rum in the cockpit under a beautiful sky. The sealions were barking on the shore and several started swimming under the boat.

Puerto Lucia and Cuenca

1 March 2006

Since our return from Cuenca our spare parts arrived from the US. We fitted these with no problems except for the prop. For some reason it seems that Suzuki outboards in the States have a completely different propellor fitting to those in Europe so we need to re-order this. We have decided not to wait any longer. We plan to leave here shortly and have the propellor delivered to us in the Galapagos Islands.

22 February 2006

Cathedral of Immacuate Conception flower market hat factory Cuenca lady Cuenca is the capital of the Panama Hat industry though the locals call the hats by the material of which they are made - paja toquilla. We visited the shop of Homoero Ortega P and Hijos, where they make and export hats around the world, and have done for generations. The factory was interesting and I could not resist buying a hat. We looked in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was a beautiful building. The afternoon was spent wandering through the markets where I was shot with a water pistol. This weekend is Carnival and dousing people with water is the custom. We noticed that many of the shops and restaurants employed guards armed with shotguns and that lots of the houses have either electric or other vicious looking security fencing. We went for a cocktail in the Eucalyptus bar before enjoying a fabulous Italian meal at La Viña. For us, the restaurants were the highlight of Cuenca. We were glad to have made this little trip if only to see another side of Ecuador. Tomorrow we return to Puerto Lucia.

21 February 2006

stilted house banana farm cuenca We took the bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca. This trip took four hours with locals boarding the bus every now and then to sell kebabs, empanadas, tropical fruits, ice creams, drinks etc. The bus trip itself was interesting as the scrubland around Guayaquil gave way to incredibly green swamps where the people lived in stilted houses. The road passed through banana plantations (which brought back traumatic memories for Kev of his days on the banana farm in Tully, Queensland) before the bus began to climb. The plantations petered out and the road wound though dense, cool rainforest. As the altitude increased we found ourselves driving through and above the clouds on a road with lots of hairpin bends. There was a lot of water on the road and in the fields and less vegetation than at lower altitudes. We even saw some llama. The bus ride itself gave us a little taste of what Ecuador has to offer visitors. The countryside really is wild and quite stunning. We checked into a small hotel in the centre of Cuenca (which was significantly less expensive than Guayaquil) and wandered around the centre of this colonial town, one of Ecuador's oldest cities. The town is attractive with lots of churches, museums and restaurants. It is also cool due to the altitude of around 2700m, a very welcome change from Puerto Lucia.

20 February 2006

Guayaquil Parque_Bolivar This morning we took the bus to Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city. The journey of 2½ hrs was interrupted by people jumping on the bus to sell all sorts of food and drink. I bought something - I have no idea what it was but it was good. The bus terminal in Guayaquil is a bit of a disaster. It reminded us both of Colon in Panama. This was not an area we felt comfortable wandering around in and it was very hot so we took a taxi to our hotel which was opposite Parque Bolivar. This park was great fun as it is home to dozens of ancient looking land iguanas. They just wander around in the same way that pigeons wander around London's parks. We even saw a red squirrel (which was probably horrified to find itself in Ecuador!). We walked along Malecón 2000. This is a long strip set right on the river bank which has been recently regenerated and is now fairly attractive with cafes and restaurants. I am sure this must be a great improvement on what this area was before though it is fenced off and with the many police wandering around with big guns it seems to struggle to convey the relaxed atmosphere it is striving for. We were fascinated to see that many of the cafes had huge outdoor fans to cool their customers. These fans blow water vapour over the diners and work brilliantly. We had noticed that several of the policemen had positioned themselves strategically in front of the fans! (I would have done the same as being situated on the Rio Guyas ensures that Guayaquil is very close and steamy.) We walked up the colonial section of Las Peñas and Cerro Santa Ana. Our very unfit struggle up the 444 stairs was rewarded with impressive views over the rivers.

13 February 2006

We have been here for a week now and are slowly getting ourselves sorted out. It took us three days to clear in as the immigration police were never at work. That done, we eventually started to get to know some of the other people here. There is a fairly even split of British and American boats with three Dutch boats as well. We were really happy to see our friends from Lotus  arrive last week. An engineer fixed the problem with our Sat C which was a relief as we had not expected to be able to have that repaired. Today we have to order a new car for the main and a new navigation light (our spinnaker sheet killed the previous one). Since our arrival here our ourboard propeller has also packed it in so we need a new one. We also need to apply for a permit to visit Galapagos. After we have done that we will take a quick trip to Cuenca. There is lots to see here in Ecuador but we are more interested in leaving for the Pacific. I do not like this marina much. Though the setting is beautiful with a stunning pool (two actually) and a nice bar, I find this place to be really sterile - a rich little Disneyland plonked in the heart of a very poor area. One of our friends from another yacht was robbed at gunpoint recently just a moment away from the heavily guarded marina entrance. There has been a lot of swell here lately due to high winds further north. Consequently, Sapphire has been taking a good run up from her med-mooring and charging towards the rock wall only to have her stern lines pull her back at the last minute! We have kissed the boats beside us several times (though we are well fendered). Lotus is moored like us and one of their stern lines snapped with the surge. There are lots of boats out on the shore for painting etc. Several of those have had water breaking over them as waves have come over the wall. There is also a pontoon for boats though this is twice the price of a mooring. A third of this snapped off with the boats still attached a few weeks ago - we were not tempted to go there. Though this is unusual weather (it is usually very calm here) we will be happy to leave as soon as we can.

Passage to Ecuador

5 February 2006

Salinas A rainy day today. After a night and a day of dodging little fishing boats, we arrived in La Libertad, near Salinas at 1730. We were not allowed to enter Puerto Lucia Yacht Club as first the Port Captain wanted to inspect us. We spent the night on a mooring off the club.

4 February 2006

Hoisting the cruising chute Sunset Not much wind again last night and none this afternoon. The bioluminescence was incredible again last night. I think I saw the outline of a shark, or a very large fish lazily swim past the boat. I also saw the green flashes of dolphins zooming past us. For a time the only sound was that of the sails occasionally flapping against the rigging, and the breathing of an unknown cetacean accompanying us. These waters are very rich fishing grounds. During the afternoon I saw lots of black floats in the water and when one of these panicked and swam away I realised that they were actually large turtles. It was easy to see them as the water was flat in the calm. During the evening a boat passed us slowly showing only a red light so I thought he was sailing. However once he was behind us he turned and still kept showing only one red light. I was very concerned as he seemed to accelerate and follow us. I called Kev up on deck. Kev called him on the radio but he did not answer. He came within a cable of us. This was a very large fishing boat. I was really very worried as I had no idea what he was up to. He shone a huge spotlight on us. I was peering at him through the binoculars to see whether there was any movement on deck. I could only see a man standing in a doorway looking at us. To our relief he seemed to get bored and leave. This was only temporary as he turned around 5 minutes later and tailed us again, at a distance of a cable. Again he thought it was a good idea to keep us in his spotlight.I found his behaviour a little threatening. After about half an hour of messing around with us he took off again and this time stayed away. We think that maybe he was just nosey.

1 February 2006

I had a close call last night as flying fish came steaming into the cockpit at a rate of knots and skimmed past my head! The mornings seem always to be really cloudy and drizzly though this burns off quickly. Kev shouted at me to come up on deck at around 10am as there was a tiny fishing boat waving frantically at us. We were really surprised to see him as we were over 200 miles offshore and his boat was a little open boat, maybe 20 ft long with three men and an outboard engine. (Kev had seen several of these boats during this watch.) They were indicating for us to pass them on our starboard side as they had a fishing net out. We did so. 1½ hrs later our speed had slowed to nearly nothing. We had picked up a fishing net with our towed generator so this was acting like a drogue. We pulled in the turbine and cut the net loose. I hope it did not belong to the men in the little boat.

30 January 2006

Kev made a temporary lashing on the boom Today has been a little frustrating. Yesterday afternoon our Sat C unit stopped working. The unit can receive messages but is not connecting to the computer so we can neither read them nor send any. On my early watch this morning I was aware of a creaking noise coming from the boom. I checked with a torch and found that the car securing the mainsail outhaul to the boom had snapped. The wind on this passage has not been demanding but this piece of equipment had taken a real hammering coming down the east coast of South America. Possibly it was fatigued then. We brought the main in and Kev effected a temporary lashing so that we could still use the main. While doing this he was smacked in the side of the head with the boom and so now sports a big lump on his head. I checked the time and my watch broke. Once we had finished there, we came below to turn on the computer to see if we could get it talking to the Inmarsat unit. In doing this the usb dongle which is used to access our ARCS charts snapped! (Without this it is not possible to access the charts.) This was not our day. Consequently we have decided to alter course and head for Salinas on the Ecuador mainland where it should be possible to make some repairs before continuing across the Pacific. During the afternoon we were followed for several hours by a red billed tropic bird, one of the prettiest birds I have seen.

28 January 2003

Cutting the line from our prop At the end of my early watch this morning we decided to run the engine to give the batteries some charge. There has not been enough wind recently for the towed generator to be of a lot of help. The engine started but felt awful when engaged. We did not know whether the problem was with the gear box or the prop. Kev donned his mask and snorkel to take a look. At this point we were over the Nazca Ridge where the depth decreased to 3500m. Sure enough we had snagged a fishing line which had fouled the prop. Kev cut this away with no difficulty. The sky was incredibly clear last night so we were both trying to learn some more constellations and navigational stars. I listened to China International Radio on the short wave set and heard that Hamas had won the elections in Palestine. We had a great dinner of Argentine steak, marinaded in olive oil, garlic, oregano and rosemary. So far, this passage has been a real pleasure.

26 January 2006

Australia Day. We are starting to settle into more of a routine now. The wind is benign and the weather and water are getting warmer. Kev has started to taking "Tilman" showers each day by dousing himself with three buckets of seawater. Not for me though. He has finished reading about Bill Tilman's sailing adventures and, so long as he introduces only his showering methods onto this happy boat, all will remain harmonious. We found flying fish on the deck last night. We turned to a more northerly course today as we needed first to get at least 200 miles from the Peruvian coast (in order to stay clear of their "territorial waters". The wind is behind us and is blowing a gentle 15 kts or so.