I write most of this on my night shift far out in the Pacific Ocean, 2/3 of the way from the Galapagos to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, which is well over 3,000 nautical miles west (and slightly south) of the Galapagos. The wind and the waves quietly push Carpe Diem forward from behind, although a wave every now and then thinks we need to tilt quite a bit from side to side..
So far, this is the best long distance we have sailed. But the Pacific Ocean has already exposed us to the worst stretch we have sailed, the trip out to the Galapagos from Panama.
The Galapagos is unique in wildlife and where one can clearly see Darwin’s theory of evolution in practice. Here are sea lions, iguanas, penguins, giant turtles, sharks, etc. etc. And not to forget Darwin’s finches, where the beaks are clear evidence of how the birds have evolved differently depending on what food the birds have had available on the different islands.
Doldrum and headwind
Getting to the Galapagos in a sailboat is not easy, or cheap. The list of requirements for the boat and the food you can not bring is long. Below, under Hints, you can read some of these requirements. We spent part of the time in Panama preparing the boat so we would pass the inspection upon arrival in the Galapagos. Again we chose to use an agent who takes care of the formalities and helps with inspections etc., but to our luck it also turned out that they would help with any problem, something we ended up taking full advantage of.
Seen from Panama and the weather forecast for the trip to the Galapagos, it looked like an ok trip, even though there was a headwind and we had to tack. But when we had first passed the Las Perlas islands with jumping whales, dolphins etc. in flat water, the reality became different. Thunderstorms through the Doldrum Belt, and then more wind and thus larger waves than expected made it very challenging to live on board. At the same time, we got a lot of salt water all over us, which found its way everywhere, actually all the way into the diesel tank, but we only discovered this when the engine was running the last hour into the Galapagos. Our fridge stopped, the furling genoa would not furl, rail jumped off. Apart from the engine and the refrigerator, it could be fixed on the water. And our 2 youngest crew members respectively sprained a toe and got a finger pinched. We normally gain a minimum of 120 nautical miles per day, but here we were struggling with current against us and ended up only doing 90 miles per day. This type of sailing is certainly not the reason we decided to do a circumnavigation, but we know it is inevitable. We have had to repair and secure things better before while we sail, here the concentration was greater, but once we gained an overview of the individual problems and they were handled, it was mainly down to getting the boat sailed to the Galápagos Islands.
The sailing, however, was not at all our guests’ cup of tea, but Laura, June and I can sail the boat ourselves so they could take care of themselves. Unfortunately, the longer voyage also meant that they did not get as much time on the Galapagos as planned.
At the exam
But we arrived, 11 days after we left the Las Perlas Islands, we dropped anchor in Bahia Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay) on the island of San Cristobal, where clearance is to take place. We also had a short stop when crossing the equator. Not in flat water as you see in many pictures and movies, but by heaving to there was enough peace for us to get everyone baptized.
Now only the inspection was between us and the exciting experiences on the islands. Most nerve wrecking was whether our hull was clean enough to be approved. The day before departure in Panama we had a diver down and clean the bottom, but one is often surprised at how quickly algae and barnacles that are banned in the Galapagos can settle.
While we were interviewed and checked for waste sorting, plants, handling oil spills, fire extinguishers etc etc, a diver checked the bottom. Luckily he came up and gave a relieving thumbs up. Had he not done so, we would have to sail 40 miles out, clean the bottom, and sail back for a brand new inspection. And we could not bear it at all on top of that trip.
The inspection was much like an exam, we had prepared the whole syllabus but were only heard in parts of it.
Among sea lions, iguanas and turtles
The inspection was passed and now we could experience the islands. Well, and get started on repairing the engine, refrigerator etc. And, it turned out, our water tank. No doubt it had been a tough ride, but as always: luckily it happened here and not out in the middle of the Pacific.
We were allowed to anchor at the 3 islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela. But only in a specific anchorage per island. All trips elsewhere were to be made via their official tourist tours. A few days after arriving in Galapagos, our good friends Knud and Marianne embarked, and they are sailing with us on the long trip out to French Polynesia.
Stepping ashore at San Cristobal is very special. You call a water taxi on the VHF, and already when you enter the bridge, where you are dropped off, you can expect there to be sea lions sleeping. There are sea lions on the benches and on the roads. In short, there are sea lions everywhere and it may be impossible to keep the required 2 meters distance. On the boat we had a sea lion on the bathing platform once in a while, and then it is important to prevent it enters further up in the cockpit. Even though they are cute they don’t mind using the place they sleep as toilet too. And the dinghy should not be used at all if you do not want a sea lion and its leftovers on board.
One of the animals also associated with the Galapagos is the giant turtle. At Cristobal, there is a turtle Sanctuary that takes care of the baby turtles up to the age of 25. There were also large turtles, but if you want to see the very old turtles, it is on Santa Cruz that it is best done.
After San Cristobal, we sailed to Santa Cruz and were up at a turtle farm. On the way up there in the bus we could see an increasing amount of turtles in the wild. We drove past fields with both cows and giant turtles.
On the farm we tried a turtle shield which was great fun, learned how to see the gender of a turtle and the approx age. A turtle under the age of 100 is a young turtle. We also greeted the oldest turtle, who was about 170 years old.
The Galápagos Islands are volcanic islands. They lie on a tectonic plate that moves very slowly eastward toward Ecuador. The plate also moves across a so-called hotspot, and at millions of years intervals lava escapes into eruptions and thus forms an island. Therefore, the eastern islands are the oldest, and the western ones the youngest. And in a few million years, maybe more islands will be added.
On Isla Isabela we were on a trip up the volcano Sierra Negra. We walked along the huge crater, which is several kilometers in diameter, and further out into the lava landscape formed from the eruptions. It is very impressive and beautiful and I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
The lava makes so-called lava tunnels, and on Isabela you can get out and see them in a boat and snorkel around in them. The ceiling in the tunnels has fallen down long ago, but it is a completely unique landscape to sail, walk and snorkel in.
Here we were close to the very famous bird ‘blue footed boobie’ with the characteristic blue feet. And on the snorkeling trip we came very close to sea turtles, sea lions and sharks.
We also came near, but not so close to, penguins. The small penguins are another example of how the animals of the Galapagos have adapted to survive. When they came to the Galapagos many years ago from Antarctica, they were big as we know them. But in the warm climate, it is not good to be big, and therefore evolution has turned them into small penguins. However, they are endangered and the population has declined significantly, so it is not certain that in a few years there will be more Galapagos penguins.
The most important in the Galapagos Islands
Although the wildlife is unique in the Galapagos, it is as always the people we meet that mean a lot.
Eddie and Maria we first met on Santa Cruz, but by then we had already written with Eddie since Panama. In Panama some long-distance sailors we know from Denmark put us in touch with Eddie. Eddie has been married to a Dane and has children in Denmark, and when we arrived in the Galapagos he was on holiday in Denmark. He can do everything with water, knows all the good places, and works as an exclusive guide. His girlfriend Maria, who is originally from Chile was about to open a restaurant while we were at Santa Cruz. We were invited to a rehearsal dinner and can highly recommend her delicious food, so if you come to Santa Cruz, stop by El Balcón, get a delicious meal in very cozy surroundings and say hello from us. Eddie and Maria are enormously helpful and really nice and funny people who we luckily had the opportunity to spend wonderful moments with.
On the island of Isabela, we were standing outside a church where a service was taking place. We looked curiously through the open door, so we almost joined. So did a Dutch couple, Sabina and Steef, with whom we fell into conversation about circumnavigation, travel, the Galapagos and the ongoing service we were witnessing. None of us realize that the time, a weekday at 2 pm, is not very likely for a regular service. It dawned on us when we suddenly see them get up and carry out a coffin which we could not see through the open door. Embarrassed to have sat in cheerful talk in the doorway, we hurry away. We run into Sabine and Steef by chance later too, Sabine is an acupuncturist just like June and they have been to French Polynesia. We had some nice hours together and still write together regularly.
There were not many sailboats on the Galapagos at this time. We had been accompanied by Judith and Haakon on Touché from Panama to the Galapagos, and besides us there was just another boat, Pachamama from Sweden, with Anna, Martin and their son Jonathan. It turned into some cozy moments. Touché is now in Chile, Pachamama in Ecuador (mainland), but expects to sail to French Polynesia, where we hope to see them again.
The Galapagos were amazing and lived up to expectations to the fullest, even though we had to put a lot of effort into repairs. Fortunately. Because you really have to want it when you come by sailboat to the Galapagos.
We have tried to gather some good advice if you would also like to sail to the Galapagos.
We used Yacht Agents Galapagos (http://www.yachtagentsgalapagos.com/) as an agent and can highly recommend them. They answered all sorts of questions quickly before and along the way, and throughout our stay they helped find professionals in relation to the repairs we needed. Not to mention the amount of time they have spent with us and engineers as interpreters through all the repairs.
They also provide a good overview of what things you need to have in place before departure, as well as preparing the copies needed for different authorities. All the way through super service.
The following deals mainly with advice in relation to the requirements for being allowed to enter the Galapagos Islands in a sailboat. We can see on Facebook and various forums that you experience different things being checked from inspection to inspection. Consider it an exam where you prepare the entire syllabus but only come up in parts of the it
The hull must be clean of algae and barnacles . Have the boat up on the hard or a diver clean it just before departure. We had some long-necked snails when we reached the Galapagos. We dived down and removed most but there were still some because it’s really hard to do in waves. They accepted this but not with everything.
Make sure the described waste sorting is ready for the inspection, including clear markings, as well as signs not to throw out waste (your agent has a list of which)
Make sure the bilge is exceptionally clean and that you have things on board for soaking up oil.
Have no plants, seeds or kernels on board from the list of prohibited items. Ok, it may well be that we had a bag of peanuts packed well away and which remained packed away for the entire stay. They do not search during the inspection (however, look in cupboards etc.), but explain that Park Rangers can decide to search the boat. Ironically, you can go up in the city and buy the goods we are not allowed to bring…
They take pictures of the waste you have from sailing to the Galapagos. If you do not have anything, you have an explanation problem as it can only be because you have used the sea as a rubbish bin.
It must be possible to switch off your automatic bilge pump.
Keep the first aid kit up to date and tidy. Same with emergency flares and other safety equipment.
Make sure the logbook is up to date (of course), but also keep a log of engine service.
It is only at San Cristobal that diesel can be refueled, so make sure you fill up well before the trip continues to the other islands.
On Isla Isabela, the ATMs did not work and only a few shops and restaurants accepted credit cards. Make sure you have enough cash to avoid running out.
At San Cristobal we did not get out to snorkel on ‘The rock’ it was probably a mistake as there is a fantastic wildlife under the sea. Among other things, hammerhead sharks.
In many of the restaurants you can get a good and cheap lunch in the form of ‘dish of the day’ for less than 7 dollars. It is used by many locals and it is always a good idea to eat where the locals eat.