With every thing done (or rather as much as we could get done, its never all done) we pulled anchor and began the journey to the Galapagos. Here it was, the first big trip out into the pacific, another big step along the journey, my longest passage as skipper and on Kuhela and Kim’s first and longest passage at sea. There was a level of excitement inside that I have only felt at certain times on this trip, a feeling like it was taking a big stride into the unknown, but also trusting that this was exactly where I was supposed to go. With a good wind blowing, we hoisted the sails and set off on the 700nm journey to the land of Darwin, tortoises, sea lions and iguanas.
The wind stayed with us until late that night, when it started drop and soon there was nothing, we tried to keep going for as long as we could with the sails but soon enough we had no other option than to put them away and start the engine. The difference between sailing and running under engine is a big one, the noise and heat changes the entire feeling of the boat and it becomes a machine rather than something that harnesses the elements to make ones way along, but at least your getting closer to your destination. This would be the case for almost the next two days, picking up a bit of wind here and there and studying the charts to see where we could find good breeze, all the while the engine running and actually making out way slightly eastward, away from our destination, but hopefully towards the breeze.
After a couple days of this we began to find more and more pockets of wind, sometimes nothing more than 6-7 knots of wind, but enough to fly our big drifter which billowed out in front of us and kept us moving forward and a couple of knots. Not fast, but in the right direction. I slowly began to let go of the expectation of reaching there, of working out our estimated time of arrival, of expecting and waiting to be somewhere else, and enjoyed the journey for what it was. We may only be doing two knots, but the boat was stable, the large sail ahead of us full, and the sun setting fire to the skies every morning and evening. Who cares if it takes and extra day or two. We made our way along and slowly settled into the routine of night watches and catching up on sleep during the day. We decided to start with two hour watches and see how we went during the trip. This worked quite well and we actually found that running a two-hour watch as a minimum, with the option of taking a longer watch if you felt up to it to worked quite well. Night watches are some of my favorite times at sea, the large full moon we had overhead, the stars, the quiet and feeling of it just being you alone on the sea is something that I have always treasured. I would sometimes find myself laughing quietly to myself, just at the fact that here I was, I was sailing in the pacific as I had dreamed, on my boat, heading to a place which has such a mystical feel to it. I am so lucky and blessed to have the chance to make this a reality. And so it continued, days merging into one as we made out way across, the wind was generally good to us once we found it, but every now and then it would drop and leave us rolling back and forth in the swell. Not enough wind to keep the sails full so they stabilized us, and enough swell to rock the boat and make the sails flap form side to side. Slightly uncomfortable and annoying, but all part of it. One of the big milestones on this trip was going to be crossing the equator. the first time for both of us, and a big step in any sailor's life at sea. We crossed just about midday on an amazing, sunny day of sailing with good wind and poured ourselves a drink with old Neptune and asked for safe passage. Was good to have a bit of celebration and break from the routine and to now be one of the many that have crossed the line by sea.
On the seventh night at sea I awoke to take over my watch from Kim at about three in the morning and a quick glance out to the horizon showed a slightly darker patch than the rest, just visible enough in the moonlight. San Cristobal Island, just off the starboard bow. It was amazing seeing this little speck grow and take shape, we were still quite a few hours off and would not get to the anchorage until around midday, but we had done it, we were here. I was amazed at how big the island was, far bigger than I had imagined, and this is one of the smaller islands in the group. We came around the northern point just on sunrise and to see the changing colors paint their way across the landscape, slowly giving color to all the things it touched was the best welcome we could have asked for. On we sailed down the coast for as long as we could but as the wind dropped out we unfortunately had to break the silence and start the motor. We were dropping sails up on the bow when Kim gave a shout and we saw two fins break the water ahead of us and lazily swim away, two sharks, swimming together, one black and one white, I scratched my head at this as I've never even heard of such a thing, but they disappeared as quickly as they arrived and left us guessing. Didn’t take long for another pair to pop up though and then it all made sense. A large manta ray cruising just below the surface, his wings breaking the surface, passing just off the port side. Then there was another, and another, and then we noticed the many little heads popping up for a look before disappearing with a small splash, turtles everywhere as well. Add into the mix quite a few birds and here was all this life, everywhere, welcoming us. Hadn’t even gotten to the harbor yet and all ready I was loving this place. We sailed up past Kicker rock, a massive rock pillar rising up out of the ocean and an amazing dive spot I’d read about, though I’d have to wait a little for that though. One of the down sides to Galapagos is the restrictions and we weren’t allowed to stop there and with tourist boats in the area I wasn’t game to try. So we did a quick sail by and on to the harbor.
We came around the final point and into the bay and I didn’t quite know how to make sense of what I saw before me. It seemed there was hardly enough space for another yacht in between all the other yachts, fishing boats, dive charters, and the large ferry unloading supplies in the middle of the bay. This all set against the sizable little town that looked out over the bay, full of half finished houses and with the evidence of far more people than I had in mind. It was not the Galapagos I had imagined, or had seen up until we rounded that last point, that at least that was the impression of the town. We didn’t get much chance to relax and settle in slowly either, as soon as we sat down there was suddenly someone alongside who turned out to be our agents representative, he was quickly on board and running us through the procedure and we then had to go into town to get things sorted and hand over a solid fistful of cash before heading back out to the boat and waiting for all the officials to arrive. As if on queue, the minute I lay on the couch and shut my eyes there was a shout and then a party of seven people boarded us and it there was paperwork and questions flying everywhere. They went through the boat and I had to show them where everything was so they could take pictures, holding tanks, engine room all the food on board, which meant pulling apart my bed and a few other areas to get access to all the things they wanted to see. The change of pace was crazy, with some lack of sleep and being in our own little world for the last few days, this was a full on assault on the senses. We made it through though and headed off to the beach for a look. We knew there were waves here; we just had to find them.
I could have slept through anything that night, I fell into bed exhausted around eight o clock and didn’t wake till late the next morning. There was a splashing barking coming from somewhere out side and I stuck my head out of the hatch, only to see a big sea lion disappearing under the hull before circling around to come splashing back to the surface. They’re everywhere here, in the water around the boats, on the boats, on the jetty, asleep on the benches in town, and my personal favorite, swimming along just under the surface with one flipper in the air, probably for warmth, but I think they like to pretend to be sharks sometimes. Good to scare the tourist a bit. Our second day was a bit more tranquil and we spent some time exploring the town and getting out bearing and taking in all the sites. The town itself is quite pretty, with the area on the foreshore done up with benches, trees and fountains, all of which the sea lions appreciate very much. Its not a big place and the people are very friendly, we thought it was a bit quiet when we got in but then realized that it was siesta o clock and every man, woman, child and sea lion had closed up shop and was home snoozing. Not a bad idea.
We spent the next few days having a look around, finding ourselves some surf and as always, doing a few jobs here and there on board. I did come across one problem a few days out from the Galapagos, a serious vibration in the propeller shaft that needed attention. This could be due to a number of things, and luckily I got some help via the radio from a very experienced cruiser with a few ideas of where to start looking and found that the prop nut had backed itself off just a little and this was probably throwing the balance off. Tightened it up and its definitely improved things, but there still is some vibration there. I will have to keep an eye on it. It was a good mix of play and work though and we found some really cool things to go check out on the island. One thing I couldn’t leave without seeing was the giant tortoises, these amazing gentle giants are one of the first things that come to mind when I hear the word “Galapagos” and so we rented bikes one day for a trip up to the breeding center on the other side of the island. Turns out there were a few more hills than I expected, but after some strenuous peddling we finally made it and hadn’t taken more than two steps through the gate when we were greeted by a huge tortoise, munching away on the leaves of a nearby tree. He was estimated to be around one hundred years old, and could live for another fifty. Just seeing this big old fella munching away was a dream come true, I cant remember where it was I saw it, but there is an image burned in my mind of these amazing islands and a fully grown man almost dwarfed by one of the giant tortoises. It is one of those images that sparked my need to travel and explore, and now here I was myself.
I knew there was some surf to be had here, actually its one of the reasons we picked this island out of the many, and so far we have not been disappointed. We’ve found a couple spots with long lefts peeling away over black volcanic rock and another where you swim out through a lagoon full of turtles and fish to reach a wave that breaks just out the back of a rocky shelf, and not somewhere you would want to get caught inside. At another spot you have to hand over your passports to the navy guard house at the entrance, and walk through the base to get to the surf. It did feel slightly surreal walking in, barefoot, with boards in hand and the expectation of great surf, while the navy recruits did push ups in full dress uniform and were shouted at by the large instructor at the front of the group, and if that didn’t make it odd enough, there were seal lions walking along in front of us. Not your usual stroll to the surf. We definitely haven’t seen it as good as it gets, the potential here is for some all time surf. Its not a spot without its consequences however and twice I have paid the price for pushing my luck a bit, once trying to get out over the rocks after a long session, and the other having the water simply suck dry in front of me at low tide. Even though the rocks have been worn down by the waves and tide, volcanic rock is not very forgiving and managed to rip my boardies to shreds, as well as getting a few cuts and bruises and a large bruise on my ass. Funniest part was walking back through the navy base, trying to maintain some decency by tying my shorts together, limping and bleeding. Think all the navy crew thought they were better off with the push-ups then.
With a long time surrounded by water coming up and really wanting to see some more of these amazing islands before I left, I decided to leave Kim in charge of the boat for a couple days and shoot over to the island of Isabella for a day or two. In the southern part of the island lies the Cierra Negra caldera, the second largest in the world and gives an amazing insight into how these islands were formed. I got the ferry over to Santa Cruz and then on to Isabella and then next morning made my way up to the start of the trail. Its not a very strenuous hike (which was great as I was still sporting a rather large purple and blue patch on my ass from my encounter with the rocks a few days before) and you walk up the gentle slope till suddenly you find yourself at the edge of the large crater, 11 kms across, and full of the black lava from the last eruption in 2005. The rain in the previous days was now being released back to the atmosphere as steam and gave an idea of the massive amount of energy that was stored in this place underground. We continued on to the north side of the volcano, where the rest of the larva flowed, and there were bizarre rock formations, lava tunnels and smaller volcanoes and could easily be the surface of another planet. It all seemed a world away from the beach I had been on only a couple hour before. To be honest it was exactly what I had wanted. To be surrounded by land, only a glimpse of the ocean intermittently visible through the clouds and with the warm damp, warm earth all around me. On the way back it began to rain, and I was soon soaked through and loving it. I had to stop a couple times along the rim of the volcano just to remind myself of where I was, on top of an active volcano in the Galapagos Islands. Life is good.
After my fix of land that will hopefully hold me through till the Gambier Islands it was back to the island of San Cristobal and to Kuhela to get the final things ready to sail. There were a few jobs still left to take care of, cleaning the hull, getting provisions and water, watching the weather, and getting whatever last minute things we may need for the expected month at sea until we would see land again.
To be honest it has been a little frustrating with all the restrictions here and not being able to explore with Kuhela while surrounded by all these amazing islands, but I do also understand that it is part of the reason the islands are still as they are. The track record of human interaction in the islands (and in most places) has not one to be very proud of, keeping us out of some of these places seems to be the best method of preserving them. I can genuinely saw though that from the small glimpse I have gotten into this amazing place that it still retains its mystical and magical feeling, like you are never quite sure what you are going to see, a giant turtle trodding through the bush, a hammerhead shark lazily cruising past you as you turn around, a sea lion jumping up onto the back deck, or a large marine iguana spitting the salt water of its last dive out of its nose. it’s a wonderful thing that we still have places that can inspire, awe and surprise such as these islands, and the reason that even the very mention of the name can bring about such feeling of mystery and adventure. I would love to spend years exploring and learning more about this place, but it was time to sail on. With expectations of an El Nino year upon us and with many miles to go, it was once again time to hoist the sails and ride the winds west. Next time I write we will be nearly four thousand miles away, and in another place that has inspired and enchanted me for many years, stay tuned.