We left La Playita marina at 10:40 on Thursday 15th February and set sail for the nearby islands of Las Perlas. Still in Panamanian waters. They were famous for the pearls under the reign of King Toe in the 14th century but was overthrown by the Spanish pirate who enslaved the pearl divers and made them work for him.
This was to be our first pacific island destination and the wind was a steady 15kts and for the first time in a while, coming from in front of the beam. We we set off with a reefed main and full genoa and initially spent time dodging the enormous cargo ships going to and from the Panama Canal but soon it was just KS with barely another vessel in sight. It was a lovely sail in sunshine and calm seas. The journey took 7hrs and was 38 miles to our chosen anchorage of Contadora. We encountered many birds on our journey but the Pelicans still fascinate us and as we approached Contadora these clumsy diving bird flew gracefully over KS in a squadron of about 50. As we approached the anchorage we readied the anchor but noticed other sailing and motor boats had picked up mooring buoys. As there were plenty of buoys empty we too chose a pick up close to the beach. We settled in for an evening playing cards and watching the sunset over the islands.
The 16th was to be a busy day as we had notice on our travels to the Islands that the large solar panel was not working, and this power generation is essential to our onward journey. Instant investigation showed it was a blown safety shotkey diode which Geoff replaced, and the PV was up and running again. The 2nd job was to pump up the dinghy and give the hull a wipe over. The water was a little colder than the Caribbean at 26 degrees . We went in and out of the water over the day and on the 3rd entry I notice my forearm stinging but thought it was a scratch stinging in the salt water so ignored it. When I got out of the water the stinging increased and then noticed red raised welts on my arm, they looked the same as a jelly fish sting my sister Samantha had when she was about 7. I assume I had brushed against some tentacle on my last clean of the bottom. We rinsed off and went to investigate these small islands. The beautiful sandy beach was situated at the bottom of a steep hill. We walked a little way up the hill then back to the beach bar for a Pina colada, the best jelly fish sting remedy. The following day we decided to move to another island before Galapagos and we became real yachties as we towed our dinghy behind for the first time ever. The wind was initially good but as we approached our anchorage the wind and waves increased, the anchorage was empty and when we dropped anchor at isles de Canas we understood why, it was rolly and there was breaking waves on the beautiful nearby beach. We had arrived at high water which meant the breaking waves could be closer to us at low water. We didn’t feel comfortable so quickly researched another nearby anchorage, up anchored and made our way to Punta Gorda. As we approached it seemed more sheltered and with 2 other yachts already at anchor felt happy to make this our overnight stop. We noticed one of the other yachts was WARC Panama friends Stella and John on Exocet Strike. We settled for a quiet night as this would be our last at anchor for over a week.
The next morning while preparing the boat for sea Geoff found a small lizard under a damp cloth in a bucket, we are not sure of how it arrived on KS or its type, but it swam well! After a quick chat to John and Stella we made our way out of the anchorage and launched ourselves into the Pacific Ocean with destination Galapagos. The winds were light northerly initially, so we sailed with full sails but soon the wind increased so we reefed our sail pattern but with the wind just behind our beam is was perfect wind for KS and we made good head way over our first 24 hours.
During the first day we saw many types of birds pelicans, frigates and cormorants, we think. It was on the second evening that we were joined by the first of 3 birds that hitched a short ride on KS. A comerant (we think) sat on the spreader for most of the night. Another wildlife phenomena are the giant rays that leapt out of the water and then crashed back into the sea? And of course an ocean trip would not be complete without at least a couple of dolphins. Night is always difficult, but we managed to get 5 hours sleep each and dodge the cargo traffic heading to and coming from the Panama Canal. The water was beginning to clear and get warmer (32⁰C) and when we were cruising along in 28kts of wind the phosphorescence was the brightest we had ever see. It lit up the sides of KS and the wake at the back looked like a vapour trail.
The following morning the wind began to drop and this was to be the setting for the day a slight increase and then a drop but we maintained a speed of 3-4kts, we knew this was going to be a slow crossing. Just before sunset we witnessed one or possible two whales. They were dark and slow moving Pilot whales. Wednesday was much of the same and decided at 23:30 to use the engine for a while. We were going to pass through the ITCZ (Doldrums) on our way but were not expecting to motor until we reached 5⁰ North and we still had ??? miles to go. We cannot carry enough diesel to motor to the Galapagos, so the decision to motor was difficult but with no forward motion it was essential and motored at 1500rpm and 4kts our most economical speed.
We had arranged with John and Stella to call on the SSB radio daily for an update. This was a fab way to reassure ourselves that we weren’t completely alone, we hadn’t seen a boat of any description since day 1 and we only saw yachts on the day we left Las Perlas. John and Stella on Exocet Strike and Greg and Jane are going straight to The Marquesas’ from Panama. We hope to meet up on transit as they will be leaving early March and will pass the Galapagos as we leave.
Thursday 22nd as previous days we saw no ships and encountered very light winds and talking to John on SSB he assured us it wouldn’t get any better. We had motored on and off and had racked up 35hrs of light motoring and with a capacity for 100-110 hours we really did try to sailed as much as possible. The sea temperature was now 30⁰C and the air temp even hotter so staying hydrated was important and we ensured we drunk > 2 liltres of bottled water a day as well as occasional coffee and no alcohol (but we were to have one exception). All the winds so far had come from either N/NE or SE as expected. The sail in the day was slow 3-4kts but as the evening arrived the wind increased but so did the darkness and density of surrounding clouds. The radar confirmed that the storm clouds and indicated their direction. With this information we change course slightly and switched on the engine for a couple of hours to aid our upwind escape manoeuvre and avoid the worst of the weather. The rest of Thursday night was lovely sailing breeze and only our second of this trip, sailing all night.
After a good night’s watches with settled sleep Geoff suddenly shouted for me to come on deck at 8am. We were surrounded by >50 playful dolphins who danced around the bow of KS. It was a lovely way to wake up and dolphin always make you smile. We had a lovey day sailing, with steady 10-14kts of E breeze all day but this was not at all as predicted and we just made tracks for the Galapagos as comfortably and speedily as we could as the light winds were expected at any time. It was Friday evening and night that we had our boldest visitor to KS. We think it was a juvenile Magnificent Frigate, who sat on out guard rail and was not scared when we were setting up the pole. In fact, he was so chilled he flew off but back about 2 hours later once again sitting on the guard rail preening and pooing himself.
Saturday arrived and once again we were waiting for the glassy no winds as forecast on both sailmail and Predict wind but the steady breeze kept on blowing. We were relying on a brief period of light winds to give the bottom of KS a final wipe over as the regulations in Galapagos are strict about barnacle and foreign algae. The wind did not abate and so the sea remained too large to go over. At 17:53:20 we crossed the equator, were now official sailing in the southern hemisphere. We dressed in the flags of the countries that we have so far visited and a couple of flags special to us, team Holden flag that was given to us but our cardiac friends when I left QA last March and the gin flag. Accordingly, we celebrated with a gin and tonic each before emailing Joanna, Matthew and my mum. Then finally settling down for a peaceful dinner and evening quiz. We also managed to put our equator status on Facebook via our yellow brick tracker, this is a relatively new way for our friends to also keep up to date of our whereabouts on some of the longer legs and it also means they can’t forget us! We took the main sail down before dark in the hope of slowing our progress.
Sunday dawned and we had made good ground, but we were not close enough to Galapagos to arrive in daylight today and too far ahead meaning we would arrive at the unknown anchorage in darkness. Not an option. We decided to reduce the sails down further to allow an arrival to Santa Cruz early Monday 26th. The sea was very rolly and the wind still 15kts so the chance of KS scrub of off was looking less likely. We spent to morning put up signs around the boat about garbage disposal and gave KS a general clean up. By lunch the clouds had formed and by 14:00 we were in the centre of a full-on rain storm, all handheld equipment went back into the oven. It gradually got heavier and heavier and then rained for solid 2 hours. As we only had a reefed genoa up were being tossed around by the seas and the confused wind, not excessively strong. At 16:30 it was time to switch on the engine and motor sail towards Santa Cruz we calculated at a steady 3kts we will get there in early morning and by motoring we may get out from under the storm clouds. The rain and clouds got heavier and reviewing the radar images we saw there was no escaping the weather as we were surrounded. During the evening we did witness a little thunder and lightning but from a distance. The equatorial current was a steady 2kts and this was bringing our arrival time to the Galapagos forward so once again we switched off the engine and sailed away from the island, standing-off. We decided on 2 hourly shifts to ensure we both got some sleep before our early morning arrival.
About midnight the rain abated and once again we could see the glow of Santa Cruz Island. We motored to the anchorage in Puerto Ayora, Academy bay at 6:30, we dropped anchor 3 times before we were completely happy and noticed we were surrounded by the WARC fleet. The water was so crystal clear I could see the anchor on the sandy bottom. It was an amazing feeling to finally reach the iconic Galapagos islands and first impressions suggested we wouldn’t be disappointed. Our Yachtgala agent Javier, contacted us at 7am and said he and the officials would come out to KS at 9am for the inspection, customs and immigration and we were not to leave the boat. Sure enough at 9am we had 1 agent, 2 divers, 1 immigration, 1 customs and 1 national parks representative on board. The diver went down to check for barnacles and the officials checked passports, fumigation and Zarpe etc. After30 mins we were complete and we had passed inspection, we were now free to spend up to 20 days in the Galapagos but KS was only allowed to stay in Puerto Ayora. This was such a relief and felt we deserved the obligatory arrival beer. We sent out messages to family to tell them of our arrival and gave Jo and Andy a call as they had a day off. It was then that we had the fabulous news that we were to be Grand Parents in September.
The only method to get ashore is via water taxi, $1 a ride so after our phone call, we had a quick lunch and sleep and ventured ashore. As expected in a small town we bumped into some friends from WARC who gave us a couple of tips on must see places to visit and tours not to miss. We found the supermarket and a phone shop and then the bar. Beer and mojito was the best was to round off our amazing day, watching seals and swimming iguanas.
Day 2 was spent getting phone and data cards as £2 a minute to call the UK would be too expensive. After lunch we walked to the Charles Darwin research centre where we saw the conservation of the giant tortoise and learnt about the giant Pinta tortoise name lonesome George who was the last of his species and who died in 2014 unfortunately without breeding. We walked back to the town and sat at a bar near the dock. We watched the fishermen cleaning their boats, filleting enormous tuna, while children jumped and dived on and off anchored boats and birds, sealions and rays flew and swam around. All pretty amazing and this bar was to become one of our favourite watering holes.
The WARC fleet left on the 28th and the anchorage became less busy and after seeing them off we moved to a slightly better anchorage spot. We went ashore and booked the first couple of many the many tours we intend to take. We decided to eat out and had a meal of fish/meat, salad, rice and chips it was delicious.
The first of our trips was a 3-site snorkelling trip to and Island Santa Fe. We joined our tour guide Lenny and 8 other tourist all in their thirties at most, boarded a motor boat and set off for our first stop of the day. As we approached the Santa Fe the helm slowed down and went in really close to show us some nesting blue footed boobies, they are native to Galapagos and found only in the pacific region. We were told to get on our gear and jump in, no anchor down, no briefing, just jump in and follow Lenny, so we did. The water was warm and the visibility >10 meters. We just put our heads under to see we were surrounded by millions of fish and hundreds of varied species of every assorted colour shape and size. We swam at this inlet for about 30 minutes and I spotted a small turtle swimming away but managed a quick photo. We climbed back on board motored to another inlet were sealions were bathing on the rocks as we swam in the water. It was here I managed to video a marine iguana from about 10 feet down on the rocks as he swam to the surface and swam away. The tour included lunch and then a trip to swim and walk on a sandy beach on Santa cruz. The beach was lovely and had a few iguanas bathing on the rock but it had the most enormous horseflies that would not go away unless we swam and even then, they sat on your head. We arrived back to Academy bay at 3pm after a lovey first day exploring under the sea.
We decided to have a day off in between the snorkelling trips and spent the following day doing boat work and laundry. We also needed a gas bottle top up to caught a taxi to the shop. Taxi in Santa Cruz are white pick up trucks, they cost $1.50 and the driver will pack just about anything in the back of the truck.
The next trip on 4th March, was to another island slightly further away called Pinzon. But first Lenny took us to an inlet on Santa Cruz to see the giant turtles and black tipped reef sharks. Our first dive on Pinzon did not disappoint as we saw enormous rays. One was resting on the bottom and the other a large manta ray swimming away from us. It must have been about 3 meters wide at least. Lenny also had us crawling like iguanas across rocks to see more turtles and smaller rays.
Our final stop was in inlet that was renown for sealions of all sizes and ages. We could swim in the bay provided we kept 2 meters from the small pups and 5 meters from the larger older guys. But the sealions had other ideas, whizzing past with barely a foot to spare. It was lovely watching these uninhibited creatures play with each other. In the water they appear nimble and fast out they appear slightly cumbersome and sluggish.
We had no further trips booked which was just as well as for the first time on our trip Geoff has a bad case of “upset tummy”. We were tied to the boat for a couple of days and the bug was quite a lingered and sure enough 4 days later it also affected me. Anyway, it did eventually subside, and we signed up for our last few trips. One to the highlands and 2 snorkelling to Daphne and Isabella. We decided to eat out and due to a very expensive glass of wine decided to try further into the town finding the food street again. This time the street was fill of tables and chairs of all types and hundreds of locals and tourist alike eating and chatting. We had a lovely reasonably priced meal here and is a place we intended to return too.
The Highland trip was first and a taxi collected us to drive to the centre of the island where we walked around huge crater formed by the volcanic activity. We then moved on to the lava tunnels. These are tunnels created by the lava when the volcanos were active thousands of years ago. Finally, on this short land tour we went to a tortoise ranch. This is an area that the giant tortoises roam freely. And they really do onto the road and not just in the area allocated for visitors. It reminded me of the new forest ponies, but just a bit slower.
The next trip was to an island on the opposite side of Santa Cruz so we were once again picked up by taxi and driven to Seymour Bay. We were joined in the taxi by a couple of traveling gents from Alaska and Germany, Steve and Bill and they were interesting characters who met 5 years ago and have joined up to travel ever since. The tour boat was ready in Seymour Bay and on this trip, we had a park ranger called Anthony guiding us. Once again, we motored out to a couple of dive sites where we were fortunate to see 2 large 1.5 meters white tipped sharks. The visibility was not as good as previous, and we enjoyed the boat tour along the rocks as Anthony is quite a bird expert and he seemed much happier out of the water than in it. Our final trip of the day was a walk along a sandy beach and spotted Galapagos crabs, iguanas, turtle egg shells and signs that large turtle come onto the beach to rest and to lay eggs.
We had stayed in contact with Orion and Exocet strike and they had left Panama and were on their way to Marquesas’. We had one more trip planned to Isabella on Monday 12/11/2018 and they we too intend to leave on 14/03/18. This 3200ml journey would be our longest but with calm winds expected. We had also joined an informal group of yachts travelling to the Marquesas. We have arranged to email our position wind and status every day at 8-10am local time, with the understanding that if we don’t hear someone will contact their emergency number.
Our final trip was a 2-hour boat ride to Isla Isabella, the ride itself was a experience, no ferry just a small fishing type vessel with 2 x 250hp outboard engines that took 26 tourist to the Island at full speed. Isabella is an island that is famed for its Galapagos Flamingos, Penguins, marine iguanas and tortoises. We had a full day first visiting the tortoise breeding centre. There were tortoises of all ages from <1week old to 150 year old. They are fed just 3 times a week and when they sensed that food was coming they moved pretty fast and were comic in their eagerness to get to the food they clambered over and under each other. Our second stop was a walk along the shores to see the Galapagos flamingos. There are only 400 in Galapagos and 90% live on Isabella 10% on other Islands. After lunch at a beach café we were taken on a small boat to tour the shores of Isabella. We were fortunate to see lots of fabulous birds but unfortunately the penguins were not among them today. We were taken for a walk along a trail that lead to a sealion breeding beach and past a gully that had 1.5m white tip sharks resting on the bottom. The path was black lava and every step there was a marine iguana of different sizes but all the same black colour that made them blend into the rocks. It was difficult to keep the obligatory 2-meter clearance from all wildlife. The sealions did not disappoint. We witnessed some young sea lions playing in the rocks and a mother and baby pup, < 1year, feeding and playing in the shallows. She was being protected by the alpha male of the beach who made sure we knew he was there with his loud bark. The last part of this trip was a short snorkel in the bay. We were glad to get in the water as the sun was very hot. We were a small group of 6 and followed our guide around the rocks and sand. We saw sharks, rays, turtles and fish.
Having decided to leave Galapagos in 2 days on Thursday 15th it meant we did not need to panic with provisioning . Also, both Geoff and I had not really recovered from our stomach bug and wanted just another day to help our tummies recover. We tidied and planned on the boat in the day and then walked to a local pharmacy who gave us a local product for upset tummy, and this worked almost immediately. We spent the evening buying a few souvenirs and had a simple meal of plain burger.
Our last day we decided to divide and conquer, Geoff visiting local chandler and refill the gas bottle and me finish the blog and washing. This next leg was to French Polynesia and an island in the Marquesas called Hiva Oa, approx. 3200miles and the next supermarket Tahiti that was 12 weeks away. Food is quite expensive on Galapagos so we were happy to have filled up with tinned and dried produce in Panama, but we did get some basic fresh supplies for our 3-4 week trip. Onions, tomatoes, apples couple cucumbers and potatoes and a couple of loaves of bread. Pasta, rice, noodles, tinned tuna and ham will be our staple diet and I have to learn to make bread, fast.
The Galapagos Islands have been an absolute joy to visit and we are really pleased we made the effort to stop here. The wildlife is amazing and all around us all the time. From KS at anchor we saw daily, swimming sharks, turtles, iguanas and sealions and so many birds. The people here are the most helpful and happiest we have met and we felt safe and welcome everywhere we ventured. Finally, our choice of agent was Yachtgala and I would recommend Javier and the team to any visiting yacht, their organisation has been fabulous and response to any query immediate.
On Thursday 15th March 2018, with our 20-day visa almost coming to an end we leave the Enchanted Galapagos Islands behind. On this next leg we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary (26th March) and Easter (1st April).
We have so many photos and videos from our time in the Galapagos Islands but the speed and reliability on the internet has meant this blog has far fewer images than we would like to share but we promise to bore you all when we get home.