Monday, March 28, 2011


San Cristobal Island, Galapagos!!  Idyll Island is rocking gently while a mum and pup Galapagos Sea Lions are wedged onto the bottom transom step dozing in the late afternoon sun.  This is no easy feat as we have tied every manner of obstacle over the steps to dissuade the ‘lobos marina’, as they are known here, from boarding us.  These two are our preferred company as the bigger males are so noisy and boisterous.  Megaphone loud, resonant belches, strangled wails, exaggerated fishbone coughs that literally shake the boat; we have sea lions. They are everywhere – in any unoccupied dinghy or fish boat, park benches, the playground, all along the promenade, etc., and they are absolutely fascinating to watch.  For the North American Westcoasters reading this, they are an endemic subspecies of the familiar California Sea Lion. 

We arrived several days ago after a delightfully easy, light wind sail of just over 800 nautical miles, 6 days and 4 hours from Panama City (including 36 hours of motoring through the doldrums, aka the Intertropical Convergence Zone).  This was our longest passage so far and has us keen for more.  We watched a Brydies Whale for some time just feeding in the rich Panama waters, a shark go after a Bonita tuna that Derek released, several schools of dolphin playing in our bow waves, and dodged large freighters along the coast.  Two 700+ footers altered course for us in the middle of the night.  Kind of intimidating but they were very cooperative - even small boats have the right of way under sail.  This of course only works if they see us, which it seems that they usually don’t.  Our AIS receiver and radar together tell us the name, course, speed, length and ‘closest point of approach’, etc. of the vessel, which means that we can call them by name so they can’t (easily) ignore us.  Six hour night watches seem to work well for us.  Time passed quickly - the moon was brilliant, the sun too, no rain and the seas sparkled. 

After days out of sight of land or any other vessels, San Cristobal rose slowly on the morning horizon.  It is a magnificent welcome, verdant (we expected stark and arid) low volcanic hills punctuating the rolling green, many white sandy beaches and craggy headlands.  Pelicans, boobies, gulls and terns wheeled around us especially near the spectacular, sheer, nesting cliffs on Isla Lion Dormant.  Galapagos!  A bit of a Mecca for us biological types.  The town of Pueto Baquerizo Moreno (previously known as Wreck Bay) is delightful.   Ecuador has enhanced the long natural waterfront with beautifully designed pools, winding cobble walks and streets, numerous stone and wood gazebos, and labeled plantings of native species, all decorated with sea lions – live ones.  They are just a part of life here.  The shops and cafes are pleasantly ‘local’ and the back streets are clean but tropically basic and friendly.  Off the outer points of the bay there is a sometimes significant surf break that provides some nice rides but as it breaks on volcanic rock we declined.

We have walked with our friends Iris and Graeme (of the Aussie steel cat, "Pelagic"), to several nearby beaches where the famed Galapagos Marine Iguanas, the only salt water iguanas in the world, swim, dive, feed and sun themselves.   Blue-footed and masked boobies stand about unafraid,  bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs scurry about and of course the sea lions cavort and laze, mums nurse their young and the immature, but sizeable, males stage playful battles (hmm, rather familiar).  There is a very impressive Interpretive Center on one of the walks, large and beautifully designed.  Today we took a 45 min taxi ride up into the hills past a tiny town and numerous small fincas (farms) to the giant tortoise breeding facility.  12 hectares of low scrub forest contain incubating and nursery areas for young up to 4 years of age and then the giants roam about on their own.  There are 11 extant subspecies in the archipelago, some evolving on different craters not too far from each other.  San Cristobal tortoises are dome-shaped while other islands have saddle-shaped or intermediate carapaces.  We hiked around the lava paths and boardwalks, heard and even saw several indigenous bird species – finches flitting about all looking too, too much the same to id to species (13 bill shapes) and newly resident bobolinks.  So far we get the best look at Darwin’s famous finches at lunchtime – the crumb-snarfing subspecies (Sidewalkus caf√©tierias).

Such a treat to soak up the laid back, local atmosphere, have the local water taxis know us and wave each time they pass, tune into which day the supply boat arrives with fresh fruit and veg and sus out some favorite little restaurants.   In a day or two we will be off to explore little Isla Floreana for a few days and then to three more islands – the younger ones with active volcanoes and drier more stark environments and tortoises with even longer necks.

A calm sea and light winds to Galapagos.  Cathy making adjustments to our new screacher sail (half way between a genoa and a spinnaker) which sets on a short bowsprit and rolls up on its own furler.  Should be a good set-up for downwind sailing in the trades.

 We're in the Southern Hemisphere!  We crossed the equator at night and made sure we provided Neptune (and ourselves) with a celebratory tot of rum.

 Galapagos landfall!  The rest of San Cristobal is much greener than this headland.

"Do I have to get up now?"  Despite what we thought were extensive defences, this sea lion pup managed to wiggle through and spent the night in our cockpit. Very cute, but it took about an hour to clean up the mess he left behind as he searched for just the right spot. He was even up on the table...

 "OK,what's for breakfast?"

 So we beefed up our defenses, but two more have still managed to penetrate the barriers!

 Nice of the town to put benches in for us....

 There are animals other than sea lions.  The famous Blue Footed Booby - looking good!

 The famous Marine Iguana - looking as good as they can...

Cathy talking to a young (40 year old) tortoise.

"If they would only get rid of all this junk, we could get really comfortable!"