Monthly Archives: July 2010

Noonsite – 31 July: looking for trades

18.00 UTC (Zulu), 12.00 Galapagos time
Position / Posicao: 03.50.397 S (sul), 97.51.867 W (oeste)
Course / Rumo (COG): 245 degrees magnetic (245 graus magneticos) Speed / Velocidade (SOG, GPS): 7.0 knots (nos)
Wind: SSE, 10-12 knots knots, approx. 100 degrees to port
Swell: 3 meters today – shorter fetch between them.
Temp: 23 C – partly cloudy today, skies varying from passing showers to mixed cloud formations, spotted by sun Barometric Pressure (BP): 1012 mb (fell overnight)

Noon to Noon / Distancia percorrida em 24h: approx 136 nautical miles (ok, a little better, and this one without any help whatsoever from Yan).

Distance to Marquesas: 2,460 nautical miles

Hey gang! I will make this a bit short and sweet. Essentially the situation over the last 24 hours has improved just a tad, and is showing sings of improving even more over the next few days. For a lot of weather reasons that I do not really know how to explain, the firmer, steadier trade winds we are looking for seem to be a tad further south (according to the forecast), so we are falling south of the rhumb line a bit, making slightly more southing than we would have planned. With that, we expect to find steadier winds between 4 and 6 degrees south.

The high seas drama yesterday? Well, to put it simply, the boom came off. Yep, the boom is attached to the mast by a simple setup, all fastened in place by a large bolt and nut, essentially. The nut had worked itself loose, fell straight down, and the mainsail, attatched to the top side of this bolt, lifted it right out, allowing the boom to release… Lara and I were chatting in the cockpit when we heard a strange noise forward… looking over, we watched as the boom simply fell in a downwards direction. Of course, it wasn’t going anywhere (like falling overboard or anything like that) – it was still attached by the lazy jacks, the boom vang, the mainsheet, and, no less, the mainsail! It was an eerie sight, and almost funny in hindsight. Well, we rolled up the genoa about halfway to maintain some course and stability in the large afternoon rollers and went to work, lowering the main carefully and wondering about our next move. In the end, it could have been much more dramatic, certainly, but we managed to get everything back together with a bit of difficulty and a LOT of teamwork (Lara is the best!) and about two and a half hours later, we were sailing full steam again, with a beautiful sunset in the making. Not everyday your boom falls off in the middle of the Pacific…

All is well aboard and we are confident that the daily runs will start to improve from here on out. But if they do not, no big deal. It is a sailboat, we have lots of food and patience, and the immense blue of the south pacific is, well, quite a magnificent place to travel slowly through, without being in a hurry. Ah, and the weather is getting just slightly warmer by day and by night – so is the water temperature.

Have a great weekend!


Noonsite – 30 July:

18.00 UTC (Zulu), 12.00 Galapagos time
Position / Posicao: 02.48.914 S (sul), 95.50.583 W (oeste)
Course / Rumo (COG): 245 degrees magnetic (245 graus magneticos) Speed / Velocidade (SOG, GPS): 6.5 – 7.0 knots (nos)
Wind: SSE, 8-11 knots, approx. 100 degrees to port
Swell: 2.0 meters – a bit more swell today from the SW, coming from abaft the beam, to stern port quarter. Temp: 24 C – SUNNY SKIES TODAY!!!! Get out the sunscreen
Barometric Pressure (BP): 1015 mb

Noon to Noon / Distancia percorrida em 24h: approx 130 nautical miles (again, yep, it sucks). That makes 72 hours at sea, about 400 sea miles as the blue footed boobie flies it (more, as we sail it), and an average of about 5.5 knots. Given the wind, we would like to do better than that – but we would prefer just a tad more wind! Without the wind, we have to lean a bit on Yan, and we do not like to – as this is sailing after all, and diesel is like 6 or 7 dollars a gallon in Polynesia….

Distance to Marquesas: I forgot to look at noon, but it was something like 2,570 nautical miles – at this point, still a porrada (that means A LOT)

Thursday afternoon was pretty relax, pretty slow. We were making slowish time under thin cloudy skies and flying our gal Jen. She is gorgeous, that gennaker of ours. Already our second time with this sail, we are getting better at hoisting and lowering her. Now we need some work on the best trimming, but it is fun trying to figure it out. Anyway, there is an important side note to all this – the definitive layout of this sail (which I had put up to vote amongst friends), or at least an important detail of it, was suggested by our dear friend Fabio (from Rio, currently in Switzerland, by way of England). The side note is, and was the highlight of the day – being able to stand on the bow with Lara and call him… after all, it was his birthday!!!! Happy b-day Fabian – we had a good time talking to you and hope you had a great birthday.

The rest of the day was even more relax – Lara doing a full nail salon job on her left and right hand fingernails. She is a pro. I watched an few episodes of ‘Centennial’ on my laptop. I don’t have any more unread Michener books aboard (though I ought to be reading the one he did about the south Pacific), so the next best thing was re-watching some of the old TV series. Fond memories of watching this with Mom and sister Nancy – I think Dad was in Pittsburgh that week, like, late 70’s, early 80’s?. Little black and white tv on the kitchen table. Remember Mom?

Anyway, at night the wind grew weaker, again. The motorsailing continued after we pulled down the gennaker at about 7PM. I took the first watch until midnight, listening to old podcasts again on my iPod – particularly from ‘Furled Sails’ (Noel and Cristy, in Fla). I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Reese Palley and, one of my heros, John Guzzwell. Lara came on as the day changed by the clock and did watch till 5! Lara is awesome on watch, esepcially when she feels good, and rested. She plays her iPod too (I can hear her singing 🙂 ), does exercises with leg weights, and thinks about how to use food that will spoil soon so we do not have to trow anything overboard.

I was on deck again at 5, coffee in hand, and tired of listening to Yan, even though Yan was at minimum possible revvs. Sunrise soon after was great (sun, not clouds), and the breeze started slowly to pick up…. Inspired, I shook out the reefs in the main, opened the genoa and the staysail and started to sail. Slowly at first, but by 9 or 10, we were getting back to speeds of 6.5 and 7.0 knots.

We didn’t play cards Friday morning. Turns out that on Thursday, I beat her again.. that makes two days in a row. I think that if they knew, Adriana would have a heart attack and Edu would find some explanation that somewhere in my ancient history there was a touch of Rioja blood…

Oh, we had some great news from our friend JP on Thursday (uma questao de tempo, achei, desde sempre), and a text message from his brother, our dear friend the DOC! Also an email from my brother MCN – thanks bro!

The rest of Friday? Ahhh, now there is a story of drama at sea for us newbies, but I will have to tell it tomorrow. 🙂


Noonsite – 29 July: about our gal Jen, fish nets, and slap slap slap

18.00 UTC (Zulu), 12.00 Galapagos time
Position / Posicao: 02.02.497 S (sul), 93.51.946401 W (oeste) Course / Rumo (COG): 252 degrees magnetic (252 graus magneticos) Speed / Velocidade (SOG, GPS): 4.3 knots (nos)
Wind: SSE, 4-5 knots, approx. 90 degrees to port
Swell: about a meter, call it that and change – the seas are quite calm Temp: 22 C, 70 F
Barometric Pressure (BP): 1015 mb

Noon to Noon / Distancia percorrida em 24h: approx 130 nautical miles Distance to Marquesas: 2,715 nautical miles

Just after posting yesterday, the wind started to fade. I mean literally, just after posting our blog/position report. Pretty soon, we were flopping around in the swell, less than 4 knots of breeze and less than 3 knots of boat speed. There are few things that irk me more on the boat than a slapping and slatting mainsail. The noise will drive you nuts, but what really gets me is the anxiety about the damage it slowly does to the equipment in general. Anyway, we did not want to turn the motor on and so we decided to try something new, for us – fly the Gennaker! That is why we have one, right, for light wind situations? Well, Lara and I had never flown it before, and the only time I had actually used the sail was back in 2009, with a good crew of 4 aboard – and that time we flew it as a spinnaker. Take a look at David de Villier’s website… it is the picture on the home page, up top.

Anyway, we got the whole thing set up – it took a while because I had to think it through – crossed our fingers, and started to raise the gennaker in the sack, like a huge sausage. We got it open and set and marveled at it – it is such a cool looking sail anyway, and with the colors of the Brazilian national flag in homage to so many things. Best of all though, the boat started to accelerate. Not much later, a knot or two of breeze kicked in and essentially we flew along all afternoon – typically doing one knot less than windspeed. If the wind was at 8, we were at 7. This continued and the sail was very comfortable indeed. For a good long while, we were doing 9 and 9.5 knots, even when the wind was only 10! Yeah, there is a bit of current helping, but it was great – and we watched the seas whizz by as we played cards at the salon table (note for Edu & Adri – I beat her at Tranca! That’s twice in less than a month – unbelievable!!!). We were so thrilled with the performance of this sail, we settled on a nickname – Jennifer the Gennaker, or, our favorite gal Jen.

Just at sunset a misty rain came through and brought a little more wind. Not wanting to fly Jen in the dark anyway (it can be a major handful, day or night, if a decent wind picks up) we took it as a call to action and took the gennaker down. That probably took 20 minutes – and by the time we had it stowed below, the rain had passed of course and the wind even lighter than before… and so began the slowest part of the trip so far. Miserable 4 knots of wind – 5 when a swell rolled under us, and I won’t even mention how low the boatspeed was. Add to that slapping, smacking, slatting of the mainsail and other noises by the genoa and by midnight I was losing my mind and my patience. Shaking out the reefs and raising the main full was not an option either – it only makes it worse. We furled the genoa, and turned on the motor. I put Yan into gear, just barely – to save fuel, and started the long slow nightcrawl over the swell – this time slightly more S. I went to bed with Walk On struggling to keep it over 4 knots…

At about 3am, Lara was in the galley making a snack when se felt the boat slow suddenly, and dramatically. Quickly, she rain to the cockpit, saw something in the water behind the boat and put the engine in neutral. Big long fish net – stretching as far as the eye could see to either side of the keel, and with only one plastic just as a floater within sight. She woke me, we got out the spotlight, boat hook, and a knife. As soon as realized we could not escape without going back over the net, we raised it up out of the cold dark water and the knife guaranteed our escape.

And so now you know about our Gal Jen, the fish nets (not Jens) and the slap slap slap (nothing to do with Jen). 🙂

The morning continued slow and the wind extremely light – hovering at 5 knots. We put Jen up anyway, slowed the motor to the bare minimum, and plodded along. More card playing, relaxing and double-checking of the weather forecast. 130 miles in 24 hours is way short of our goal. Forecast says Friday will bring slightly better winds. We hope so.

Hope you are all well. Our best from the eastern south pacific. mjm & larissa

Noonsite – 28 July – all’s well aboard

18.00 UTC (Zulu), 12.00 Galapagos time
Position / Posicao: 01.25.028S (sul), 91.49.946 W (oeste)
Course / Rumo (COG): 252 degrees magnetic (252 graus magneticos) Speed / Velocidade (SOG, GPS): 7.3 knots (nos)
Wind: SSE, 8-12 knots, approx. 90 degrees to port
Swell: about a meter, call it that and change – the seas are quite calm Temp: 22 C, 70 F
Barometric Pressure (BP): 1015 mb

Noon to Noon / Distancia percorrida em 24h: approx 140 nautical miles Distance to Marquesas: 2,845 nautical miles

Yesterday afternoon went well enough and the first part of the night did too, as we weaved through the rest of the Galapagos Islands – leaving Floreana and Santa Maria to the south (port) and Santa Fe, Santa Cruz and finally Isabela to the north (starboard). The middle of the night, however, was slow and somewhat painful… the winds died to near nothing and thanks only to a bit of west-setting current were we able to continue without the motor on. 5 am to 7 was the worst, when our speed was down to about 2 knots, and the sails slapping mightily in the swell coming from the south. As I was about to turn the motor on, a bit of breeze came up and has been improving the last hours. Perhaps we are slowly working our way out of the peculiar local weather systems in the Galapagos – though that may take another day or two. Now we are rolling along beneath gray skies, and greeted by occasional misty showers. I am not sure we will see the sun today, just as we did not really see the moon last night. That’s ok – we got plenty of books and little projects to keep us busy. Lara has dug out the French lesson book, complete with CD, that we are listening to now. After nearly five months of bungling through Spanish in Colombia, Panama and Ecuador, it’s time to shift gears and get ready for FRENCH Polynesia… ahh, the memories of Martinique…. just hope the baguettes are as good.

Since leaving land behind, we have had the seas all to ourselves. No boats, no radio traffic, no whales or dolphins – just us and a few finches fluttering around. We will have an SSB radio sched with Maya Ray (big ass sloop of 100 ft that we first met in Panama – they are in Santa Cruz right now and will be behind us as soon as their spare part for the sat system is delivered). The other boat currently on the course is the Cat “Sunsail”, a boat being delivered from South Africa to Tahiti, whose crew we met only last Friday. They left on Saturday and are currently about 450 miles ahead of us, on the rhumb line. We are in occasional email contact with them (they are not equipped with an SSB). In a day or so, we plan also to join the Pacific SSB net (just as soon as I can ask Larabeck for the frequency and time again). Also, thanks again to our friend Japes for the well-wishing phone call! Our phone hasn’t rung in so long it actually startled us. 🙂

Lara did and awesome ‘picadinho’ yesterday, complete with the egg and everything, for our big afternoon meal and so today is my turn – I’m in the mood for pasta al ragu!

and a turtle came by, I think just to say good-bye…

Yup, just before noon, and moments before we raised the anchor at San Cristobal to start the big crossing, a large sea turtle swam slowly by the stern, raised his head to breathe a couple of times, and somehow seemed to be wishing us fair winds and a good passage! I think he winked at me and said, ‘ok, today is the today’. And so we raised the hook, motored out of the harbour, and started to look west. We will miss this place, so special and so unique, and hope to return one day. But for the moment we have other things on our mind… three thousand things, each one of them a nautical mile – those that separates us from our next port of call, in the Marquesas. This is it, we have begun the big passage at long last.

There are still a few butterflies, yes, but we were both so happy and relieved that we seemed to have solved the Yanmar dilemma. Relief outweighs anxiety at the moment, and we are starting to settle in to the routine on this, day 0. The problem? Fuel. The solution? Well, I suppose I will write about that at another time, but I fixed it myself (and thank Ari, Edu, Fininho, and even Yanmar Brasil for the emails and suggestions!). A good breeze, an 18-20 knot southerly greets us from port and we’ve moving along nicely under a very conservative sail set. The main is double-reefed and the staysail is out for the moment, giving us a comfy 6 knots. We will see how it goes today and start to accelerate later – maybe after the first night has passed. It is a cool 60-something right now, but as I have told Lara, from here on out we ought to be making slightly warmer temps every day.

So that’s it gang – we’re on the way. We’re estimating a 20 day passage, but we will take her as she comes. More soon – at the latest tomorrow afternoon.

mm & larissao

false start!

Guys, we were ready to leave today, but our Yanmar wasn’t. It died after 15 minutes idling while we were preparing to leave. Seems there’s a fuel issue, but we’re working on it. For the moment, I smell like diesel with bloody hands and Lara is guaranteeing dinner – a killer soup coming up, just perfect for the cool eveing and full moon…. Open some Merlot and read Nigel Calder (if you’re a cruiser, you should know who that is). We’re disappointed, but we’re cruisers, and we know these things happen, so we’ll work it out. Probably, it happened for a reason we haven’t discovered yet. A day more? Ok. Better to work it out here in the remote Galapagos than in the even more remote middle of nowhere (literally).

Galera, estavamos prontos a sair hoje, em todos os sentidos, para a grande travessia. Mas o nosso Yanmar nao estava tao pronto assim… ele morreu apos 15 minutos ligado. Parece que tem um problema com o fluxo de combustivel, e estamos pesuisando e trabalhando. No momento, estou com cheiro de diesel e a Lara ta garantendo o rango gostoso! Em breve vai sair uma p—- sopa gostosa para acompanhar a noite fria (fresca) – ta na hora de abrir um merlot e ler o Nigel Calder (livro que ajuda muita cruzeirista). Estamos tristes um pouco, sim. Mas do outro lado, somos cruzeiristas e sabemos (agora) que as vezes essas coisas acontecam, entao vamos dar um jeito! Provavelmente aconteceu isso tudo por algum motivo, bom, que nem descobrimos ainda. Mais um dia? Ok. Ninguem morre por isso, digamos. Melhor dar um jeito aqui do que tentar a milhares de milhas de tudo….

Spirits are good, so don’t worry if you don’t see anything on Spot.

More when we’ve got news.

last post – last two pics…

Just for effect, I decided to publish these separatly.  🙂

This was our view of the sunset last night, here in the anchorage….

You know the old saying, right? ´Red sky at night…´

And this the view from this morning, looking to starboard:

So you take the glorious sunset, the nearly full moon last night (I think it will be full tonight!), and a morning rainbow and I think you´ve got the right omens and the vibe going for you.

So, we´ll be going!

Ciao gang.  Keep your eyes on Spot (remembering that it may have blackout areas), and check back for position reports from time to time, right here.  🙂

mike n´lara

more pics

The internet here is tough… so I´ve had to try the rest of the pics in another post…

This on the first beach at Tortuga Bay.

Another marine iguana at Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz). This one had some serious ´growth´ on him. 🙂

I don´t think they were chatting exactly, but this bird did quite a number on the iguana.. cleaning I suppose.

We saw more iguanas here than anywhere else. If you go to more remote places, like on Isabela, I hear you see them by the thousands.

That´s probably enough photos of iguanas, don´t you think? If anybody wants more, drop me a line, I have hundreds…

You have to have a bit of flora as well. Thes are the Galapagos version of the Opuntia cactus. These were small in comparison to the others we saw further up the path, some reaching 3 and 4 meters high.

This the quieter of the two beaches at Tortuga Bay – protected by lava formations on the point and mangroves just behind. A quiet place to relax for the day…

Lara and Spencer at the back of the powerboat on the way back to San Cristobal.

a few last photos… and then the big puddle jump!

Hey gang, time to go. Our next passage of course will be to the Marquesas (French Polynesia), and were leaving today! The day of the big trip – certainly our longest to date (just over 3.000 nautical miles) and likely to be the longest of our lives. Butterflies in the stomach? Yeah. But then again, weve got the boat for it and the boat is ready to go – provisioned and stocked with sufficient water, diesel, propane, and lots of books and good music to enjoy along the way. Ill play Southern Cross at full volume as we raise the anchor and leave the Galapagos…

Before we go, a few more pics:

Lara goofing around the visitor´s center near Tortuga Bay Beach.

Galapagos adventure summary!

Good morning crew, everyone had their coffee? I am in fact having mine at this very moment. It’s Friday morning and we’re back aboard Walk On – home sweet home – after three days and two nights off the boat and touring a bit of the Islas Encantadas…. We’ve had some very memorable days. It’s time to try and write a bit about it! I’ll try to be brief, though the place deserves more than a brief review. Besides, being brief isn’t my specialty. I know my mother-in-law will try to read all of it, and my mother will read it all too. Sorry to Fabio and Patricia. 😦 If you keep at it, you might convince Lara to write some more in Portuguese. 🙂 Besides, after this, the next 20 days or so will be marked only by short posts during the passage to the Marquesas, with position reports and the like. I know you prefer pictures, but we no longer have the bandwidth to publish them, and I like to write sometimes.

Day 1!
Tuesday morning we were up early and on deck, waiting for the ferry to pick us up right here on the boat. The inter-island ferries are really not big slow steel jobbies that you might think of: they are smallish fiberglass powerboats – typically around 30 to 35 feet I believe – with a collection of large outboard motors on the stern. With two and sometimes three of them clustered together, you’re likely to get on a boat with 400 to 600 HP to push you along. It’s a good thing too, because the typical distances are around 50 nautical miles and the seas can be fairly large at times – so racing and pounding along at 25 knots, you’ve still got a good two hour ride. We kind of enjoyed our first trip, as we’re definitely not used to traveling on the water at 25 knots! I closed my eyes and remembered driving the boat out of Yes Bay, turning to port, and making the run up to the Bell Island drift in SE Alaska. 🙂

Our first ferry took us from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz Island, which is kind of the geographic center of the Galapagos. The town of Santa Cruz is quite a bit larger than San Cristobal, and caters to tourism. There is quite a selection of hotels, hostels, bars and restaurants – as well as countless shops and stores – to cater to any tourist budget. If you’re a cruiser, you can also check in and anchor here rather than San Cristobal – but Lara and I agreed that the anchorage where we’d left Walk On was less crowded, less rolly, and more protected naturally from predominant wind and swells. We left our bag at the agency office and started our 5 hour walking sojourn – we’d have to be back on the docks at 2PM for the trip to Isabela Island. First was coffee and tea at a cool place called The Rock. Yummy. Best espresso I’ve had since I can recall. Then we walked to the Charles Darwin Research Center – a conglomeration of buildings, small offices, and facilities otherwise totally engaged in raising the famous Galapagos Tortoise, you know, the really big ones. Giants. They also dedicate part of their facilities to raising and researching land iguanas, as well as native and endemic plants.

Again we managed to get the ‘exhibit’ order wrong and so ended up first at the pen with the largest tortoises! This was supposed to be the end of the walk-through tour. The first one we saw was about 25 meters away, immobile, and Lara said out loud – ‘that can’t be real – it must be a statue to show you what they are like in case you don’t get to see one!’ I did a double-take and wondered for an instant if she was right. It was the kind of disbelief that you might express on your first visit to Jurassic Park, if you get my meaning. It was very funny the way she said it. We walked into the pen to take a look and our eyes started to adjust to the sight… there were big tortoises sort of all over the place, and the statue was real enough when it slowly craned its long neck to check us out! You can enter the pens and walk around, being careful of course not to bother the big fellas – no sitting on them and silly stuff like that. But you can get very very close and what a sight they are to behold and observe, truly.

We continued our tour backwards, in sort of Benjamin Button style. We came upon the pen that is home to Lonesome George. George is the last of his species, poor fella, though he currently shares his pen with two lady tortoises – the swinging old bachelor of the Research Center. If I remember correctly, George has been there since the early 70’s. There are tortoises on nearly all the islands and though related, they are in fact different species, as they evolved completely separate from one another, on different islands. Some have flatter topped shells, while others are more round and so while both huge, a Floreana tortoise might differ significantly from an Isabela tortoise, if you see what I mean. We didn’t have a guide on our tour, but I think that what they do is bring tortoises from the other islands and then breed and raise them at the research center. When they are of adequate size (say after 5 years or more), they are carefully transported back to their native island and set free. When we got to the ‘beginning’ of the tour at the end our walk through, we saw the pens with juveniles – the classes of 2008, 2009, and 2010. These were small pens loaded with very small tortoises, divided by year and then individually numbered with a color-coded paint on their shells to make them identifiable by island of origin. So a pink 37 on your back might mean you were going back to San Cristobal when you were big enough, while an orange 5 would be your ticket to Espanola, and so on. The little ones are really cute, though you find yourself hard pressed to believe they grow into the really big ones. Another curious fact we learned: the sex of a tortoise depends on the temperature at which they are incubated I don’t recall which is which, but you can probably Google-it! We also enjoyed the land iguana pens. These guys are similar to the black marine iguanas that we’d already seen – but they don’t have the same flattened tail, nor are they black – many in fact have interesting coloring ranging from gold to green and so on (I’m color blind, remember?).

Walking back to town and our ferry, we stopped at The Rock again and had very good ceviche and cold beer for lunch – it was their special of the day! We boarded the second ferry for the slightly longer ride to the southern end of Isabela Island and the small village of Vilamil, our destination. We’d arranged for a small hotel, sight unseen, called Coral Blanco, and was met at the docks by David, the owner. Walking up the docks, we saw three rays swimming around below – two spotted leopard rays and an eagle ray. It was going to be a fauna fest! After checking in, we walked up the road (sand, all sand, but with sidewalks) to the main square. We needed to fix our itinerary for Wednesday, our only full day on Isabela. A short while later, we had two tours set up and were looking for a restaurant. For the cruisers: volcano tour, 5 hrs, 35 bucks a head; snorkeling tour, about an hour, 20 bucks a head, 15 if you bring your own snorkel gear. After a shower and a brief rest, we hit the town again 🙂 and had dinner at El Faro, a restaurant owned by David’s wife.

Day 2!
Wednesday started early as well. First we had a full breakfast down the street at the “Aloha Betsy” cafand restaurant. Very good grub, a very nice lady and a surprise: she was a huge Pink Floyd fan, and U2 as well. We asked, because she had a poster on the wall of a group of 5 or 6 naked ladies, seated at the edge of a pool. The view is of the back of the ladies, and the back of each one is a projected image of a separate Pink Floyd album cover. A curious photo, pretty cool actually. I took a picture of the poster. But to look at Betsy you would never believe she was a Floyd fan. I’ve got to send JP the pic – he’ll love it. Can’t judge anything, or anyone, by their ‘cover’.
Then we met Fausto, our guide for the Sierra Negra volcano tour, and a short while later boarded the mini-bus that would take us and others up to the hiking trail. You really have to make the drive to believe it. Near sea level, the terrain is flat, rocky (lava!), and dry – dotted primarily by cactus. As you proceed up, the terrain and indeed the whole ecosystem change dramatically. Soon there are all manner of trees, plants, bushes, and then – in a specific and controlled area – even agriculture. The farmers here grow a diverse selection of crops, from pineapple and mangoes to corn and coffee. And there are beef and milk cows as well. The further up we went, the cloudier and mistier it got – a sign of things to come…

Just off the bus, we met the other member of our small group – Spencer. Spencer is an undergrad at UNC (Chapel Hill), but originally from Marin County, California. He’s got a great story to tell and so as we walked up the trail through the mist we chatted – there wasn’t much to see anyway! Spencer’s been in the Galapagos for something like 10 weeks, working as a research assistant to a pre-PhD student from UNC, doing preliminary field work on her thesis. He was in Isabela on some ‘off’ time, and only a few days before leaving the Galapagos, his participation in the project coming to an end for now. They’ve spent most of their time snorkeling and diving all over the place in the islands, visiting some places not otherwise open to mere tourists like ourselves. Very cool stuff indeed. Spencer is considering a career in Marine Biology, though he seems quite aware of the trade-off: another 7 years or more and probably a good amount of debt before he’d become Dr. Spencer, Marine Biologist.

So the four of us (Lara, Spencer, guide Fausto and I) walked up and up and up the muddy trail, through the ever-cooler mist. The only interesting things for the first hours were the lichens and ferns, which of course thrive in this damp climate. Then you reach the ‘pinnacle’ of sorts – the actual rim of the great crater. And in a short while, you’ve gone from sea level to just over 1,000 meters altitude (mostly by bus). Great. Isabela was formed by 5 separate large volcanoes and who knows how many smaller ones, though this is the only one of the five that can normally be visited. Fausto told us a little bit about the crater – a monster with a 10 kilometer diameter and second only in that regard to another monster in Africa, called Ngoragora (or something like that – I’ve heard of it, but can’t imagine how it’s spelled). Ok, so we had a monster crater right in front of us – surely a spectacle and worth every penny of our tour fee… NOT! It wasn’t Fausto’s fault, but the weather wasn’t cooperating either. Mist, rain, clouds. That’s pretty much what it was all about. We couldn’t actually see anything beyond about 30 meters away, much less a 10km crater! I was frustrated too, but tried to keep it to myself. Lara wasn’t quite as successful at masking her frustration, and started to voice her disappointment to Fausto and the weather gods.

Somehow, it worked! Several kilometers later, now on the east and then northeast rim of the crater, the heavens did open up just a bit. Below, through the parting clouds, we could indeed see the inside of the crater. There’s a picture of that in a post from a day or so ago – with Lara on the left, Fausto in the middle, Spencer on the right (in blue), and the black, lava bottom of the crater behind them. We continued on another half hour or so, headed for a smaller volcano called Chico. I think this is what they refer to as a parasite volcano. In any case, we were eventually rewarded with the best view of the day.

Below was the exotic lava flow landscape of the Chico volcano, and in the distance, looking north, was a decent portion of Isabela Island. This was the kind of view that I’d been hoping for – the sweeping landscape, sea and mountains, the quiet bays and countless natural curiosities and wonders hidden somewhere down below. The break in the weather, all told, didn’t last for more than about 20 minutes. That was enough, however, to appreciate the view of Chico, as well as Elizabeth Bay on the left (west) and Enseada Flores / Bahia Cartago on the right – this is the narrowest part of Isabela (approx. 12km across). In the distance, we could also see Isla Fernandina, just west of Isabela, and another of the volcanoes on the island, Alcedo. Alas, The Darwin and Wolf volcanoes were out of sight. Someday we’ll have to come back All told, it was slightly disappointing because of the weather – but at least we’d hike something like 16 kilometers, putting a little exercise back into the routine.

Back at the Coral Blanco, we swapped backpacks and headed for the pier to meet our snorkel boat. We met Miguel, our guide, and motored slowly out towards the snorkeling area. It would be a short trip, but the ‘richest’ so far, in terms of fauna. First we saw two Mantas, then a sea turtle. When we arrived at the lava rock shoals that make up the protected snorkeling area, we got up pretty close to a group of Galapagos penguins. Lara squealed. They were just hanging out, many lying on their bellies. These penguins are amongst the smallest in the world, but still they’re penguins, and the fact that you’re only miles south of the equator makes it all that much more impressive. One went for a quick swim, then hopped up on a rock and leaned over to ‘kiss’ another, just within beak’s reach. A tender moment.

Next we motored around a corner to another outcropping, this time to see two boobies. These were the blue-footed boobies that we’d so wanted to see. They are about as cool as birds get – a remarkable face and beady eyes framed by a speckled kind of mask, perhaps a wig, on their heads. And then of course there are the blue feet – a sort of pale baby blue. Really stunning. It’s hard to resist the pun – but how often do YOU see two wild boobies?

We rounded another rock formation and headed up a narrow channel – dodging the ubiquitous sea lions on the way. A frigate bird rested on tree limb, alas, not the red-breasted Magnificent Frigate, but still a good close up view of a large and pretty incredible bird by any standard. Next we spotted two sea turtles swimming in the area and so made our first venture into the water. Cold? Yeah, it was, but when you can swim leisurely next to a one meter sea turtle, making his way with equal leisure and indifference to your presence, you forget the cold. Their grace in the water leaves you speechless. The last part of the brief trip would be the tintorera sharks. They are similar to white-tipped reef sharks. The trick is that you have to swim through a long, narrow and shallow channel to see them. It’s like a mini-canyon, made of lava and filled with the ocean. This is where they seem to gather and hang out at low tide. They are harmless to humans, but Lara wasn’t convinced, so I went alone.

Visibility was not great at this point, but cloudy and the sun was going behind the clouds in the late afternoon. The first 20 meters or so were slightly nerve-wracking. I couldn’t see more than about a meter in front of me and could hardly make out the sandy bottom about 2 meters below me. If I reached out to both sides, I could nearly touch the walls of this dark little canyon. Where were the sharks and where would the first one appear? Right in front of me? Behind me, god forbid – I know they’re supposed to be harmless, but they can still be 6 to 8 feet in length, and they’re sharks! Soon enough, I saw a lone shark, in front of and below me. It was just less than two meters in length and did a slow graceful u-turn right in front of me, as if to say ‘follow me’. I did, wondering where and how many more I’d see. I snaked my way slowly along the little canyon, and the shark doubled back every so often to check me out again, followed by more u-turns and forward he went. They moved with easy, but never seem to be in a hurry, the little white points on their dorsal fin and another on their tail fin marking a kind of gentle cadence as they slither and swim around. At one point the canyon made a sharp turn to the left and I was keenly aware of my accelerated breathing – a tense moment and a turn into the dim, the unknown

Something darted out from around the corner ahead of me and swam right past me at an incredible speed. It happened so fast that not until he was nearly past me that I realized – a curious sea lion had just zipped right by me and scared the you-know-what out of me. I had to laugh a minute later when I caught my breath. You go swimming to see the sharks and what takes your breath away is in fact an unexpected encounter with a playful child-clown of the seas. Go figure.
We walked back to town and started to think about dinner. It had been a full day – full of hiking, full of wonder, but mostly on empty stomachs. In the main square, we chose the Tres Hermanos restaurant – a place where most of the locals seemed to dine and no tourists! We were rewarded by a fixed menu and a full plate, for 4 bucks! Rice and beans and fried Pargo fish. Yummy!

Day 3!
Thursday started VERY early as we had to meet our transfer at 5.20 to make the 6.00 ferry back to Santa Cruz. We didn’t hear the alarm (small digital watch alarms are useless) but managed to wake up with a start at 5.39! In minutes we stuffed our bags, rubbed our eyes and staggered sleepily out into the street. We managed a ride to the pier and were the last two to board the taxi Spencer was already there, along with the other 15 or so passengers. The trip was terrible – very bumpy, very uncomfortable, and we were groggy and sleepy.

Back on Santa Cruz, we headed first for coffee and breakfast, just up the street from the agency. Then we walked up the road over to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle bay). Once inside the park, you walk about 2.5 kms towards the beach. The path is paved with stones and the landscape thick with flora and lava rock – very exotic. The highlights are the opuntia cacti. The only cacti of their kind, the Galapagos version of the opuntia actually mature into a combination tree-cactus, with a tall trunk of 2 or 3 meters in height, topped by an a array of ‘ears’ of cactus. A strange but wonderful sight.

The beaches are fantastic – the first a long and curved and wild, with roaring breakers and fine white sand. The second, off around another point and protected also by mangroves is serene and tranquil, perfect for lounging and swimming. The name of the bay of course comes from the presence of sea turtles – this is where they come ashore to lay their eggs, in the sandy bluffs just up the beach from the water. That happens in the evening, when the park is closed. No, we didn’t see any turtles. We did see plenty of marine iguanas – more pics at some point, at least of them piled one on the other, and also of the small finch jumping around on the back of one, apparently cleaning him while he was sprawled out motionless, soaking up the heat from the sun and the sand

We eventually had to leave and walked back to town. We had lunch with Spencer in another of those fixed-menu restaurants – very good and cheap too! Then a rocket ride back to San Cristobal on the fastest and most comfortable ferry yet. This guy pushed his 500 horsepower all the way – we hit 30 knots several times. The highlights were the 5 or so albatross we saw near Santa Fe Island – which you pass on the way back. The albatross are incredible birds, and you never tire of seeing them glide gracefully around the swells.
We pulled into the bay at just after 5pm, relieved to see Walk On safe and sound, resting on her anchor and waiting for us. Good to be home again. We crashed early after a three day marathon of wonder, flora and fauna, and island hopping. We felt lucky, indeed, and happy.

Today we’ll take care of some prep work: the next leg is of course the longest and we want to be as ready as we can. So a few trips ashore today and tomorrow: propane, laundry, fresh water and last-minute provisioning for fruits, veggies, and bread. Our plan is to cast off on Sunday for the Marquesas. Our friends Michael and Sharon on Larabeck, coincidentally, are arriving there today! Congrats to them on a successful and safe passage. Looking forward to catching up with them in a few weeks. In our absence, the big Oyster, Katharsis II has left, as well as the English double-ended ketch, Oyaghn (I think that’s what she’s called). We saw her yesterday anchored at Santa Cruz, so I don’t know what their plans are. So that leaves us, Alove, Nina and the French sloop here in the anchorage. Of these, I think only ourselves and the French sloop have plans to continue west this season – Alove is probably tied up in bureaucracy following the accident, and as far as I’ve heard, Nina has engine troubles with no easy fix in sight. Overnight another boat pulled in, a smallish catamaran with a South African flag. Perhaps they’ll be headed west too.

Have a great Friday gang.
MM & Larissa