March 2014 - Galapagos Islands

1 March 2014   San Cristobal, Galapagos
The good news is that there don’t appear to be any mosquitoes in San Cristobal.  The bad news is that there are lots of house flies, which invade our boat in the daylight hours.  They’re annoying little buggers that keep landing on us, so I'm constantly wandering around with a fly swat – at least they seem to go away after sunset.

We packed our snorkelling gear and lunch into a couple of bags, walked through the Interpretation Centre and along some paths up to a nice view point on Las Tijeretas Hill.  We then took a path leading off to Playa Baquerizo.  It’s only supposed to be two kilometres, but it must have taken us an hour and a half to walk there.  The path goes steeply down the hill and then through the scrubby vegetation along the coast. Some of the time we were scrambling over lava rock and other times on a sandy path.  It was very, very hot, with little shade to be had from the small trees.

Sea Lion playing around us

Despite drinking lots of water, we were both feeling dehydrated and tired by the time we arrived at Playa Baquerizo.  It’s a nice beach, but there’s hardly any shade under the low bushes.  We went for a snorkel, but the waves rolling into the rocky beach had churned up the water and the visibility was poor.  We tried to spend time looking around the waterline, but the Horse Flies are prolific and their bites hurt, so we gave up and walked back to Las Tijeretas Hill and then down to the rocky bay below.

Las Tijeretas Bay is great.  There’s some steps leading down across the rocks into the sea and the water visibility was about ten metres.  We saw some Mexican Hogfish and had Sea Lions playing around us.  They come over to have a look and will swim around you if you do interesting things like diving down and swimming upside down, which is what they seem to do a lot.   I took lots of underwater photos, but they didn't come out very well because of the poor visibility and the speed that the Sea Lions move.

By this time it was mid afternoon, so we retired back to the boat and chilled out for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s damn hot out there.

2 March 2014   San Cristobal, Galapagos
We had a quiet day pottering about.  I went into town and went to the internet café to do some admin, while Glenys dropped off some laundry.  I booked us on a two dive trip to Kicker Rock in a couple of days’ time, which is supposed to be very good with a great chance of seeing hammerhead sharks.  It had better be a good trip because it’s costing us $135 each for the two dives.

Back on the boat, I had another look at our generator.  The starter motor is gradually becoming loose because some threaded inserts in the engine mounting flange are coming loose.  Panda Fischer tells me that the only solution is to replace the engine flange with a new improved version.  Unfortunately, it’s a big job and I can't do that until we get to New Zealand in 8 months’ time.  

Bit of string holding our starter motor on

So, before running the generator today to make water, I measured the gap between the starter motor and the flange and will monitor it over the coming months.  I also used a piece of 3 mm nylon line around the starter motor solenoid and the exhaust elbow to pull the starter motor up tight against the engine mounting flange - hopefully it will stop the starter motor vibrating, which must be making the problem worse.

I've now got bits of string holding the generator together and also holding the stern gland in position.  The boat’s turning into a Heath Robinson machine.

In the afternoon, Glenys decided to make strawberry jam of all things - she bought some strawberries cheap at the market and just wanted to play.  I was more impressed that she made some Sweet Pepper Jelly, which goes well on cheese and crackers.

We invited Erin and Glen from “Sundance” over for evening drinks, they're off to Santa Cruz tomorrow and will be staying a week ahead of us, but we should catch up with them in the Marquesas.

3 March 2014   San Cristobal, Galapagos
We walked to La Loberia beach, which is three kilometres from town and a bloody long way in the beating sun.  It’s a lovely, well protected bay, with a nice sandy beach and a very popular spot with both tourists and the locals - especially as today was a holiday.

We went snorkelling and, even though the tide was out, there was lots to see.  Large Leatherback and Green Turtles come into the bay to feed and they are surprisingly close to the shore, swimming around between the people in the water.   They are obviously used to the close presence of swimmers and just continue browsing the algae from the rocks.  We also saw a couple of Spotted Eagle Rays, but the Sea Lions and Marine Iguanas stayed out of the way on the rocks.

Sea Lion and cub sharing a beach umbrella

After snorkelling for an hour, we were getting cold, so we went for a walk along the shoreline.  There’s a very rocky path at the east end of the beach which leads to some 50 foot sea cliffs where there are lots of nesting Swallow-tailed Gulls, which only breed in the Galapagos Islands, and we saw our first Blue Footed Booby.

We were very hot again by the time we got back to the beach, so we went snorkelling again.  The National Park rules state that one isn't allowed to get any closer than two metres from any wildlife, but Glenys couldn't resist swimming along resting her hand on a Green Turtle.  No-one seems to have told the wildlife to keep two metres away from humans, because we saw a sea lion walk up the beach with its cub and crawl under a sun umbrella.  The people who owned the umbrella were a bit worried at first, but soon moved their towels to make space for the suckling mother. 

As we walked back through town, we came across a Mardi Gras parade getting ready to go around town.  It was only one float and one dance group, so we didn’t bother to stay to watch it.  Glenys made Viche de Cameron for dinner which has to be our favourite Ecuadorian dish.

4 March 2014   San Cristobal, Galapagos
We went on a dive trip to Kicker Rock which is an impressive rocky island that juts more than a hundred metres vertically out of the sea. There’s a 20 metre wide passage through the middle of the island and the two metre swell was being enhanced to a height of four metres as it was compressed through the narrow gap.

For our first dive, we were dropped off next to a vertical wall, just outside the passage.  We descended to 20 metres and then swam along the wall and into the passage.  The visibility was poor at about ten metres, but almost immediately we started to see sharks – Galapagos and Black Tip Sharks

A shark cruises above us at Kicker Rock

We were nervous at first, but it’s amazing how quickly one gets used to the presence of these supreme predators.  These only seemed to be small sharks probably 2-3 metres long, so that helped my confidence.  It was very eerie swimming along underneath an overhanging wall, in the shadows with up to ten sharks at a time ghosting past.  

There wasn't much current, but there was quite a bit of surge from the swell entering the gap.  As we were effectively in a tunnel, the light was very dim, so combined with the high level of sediment in the water, taking photographs was challenging to say the least.  However, with careful use of Photoshop, I was able to retrieve a few.   

For our second dive we had a choice of drifting along a wall on the outside of the rock or doing the channel again.  The wall that we saw on the first dive was boring (there’s no nice colourful coral or sponges here), so we decided to do the same dive again.  We were hoping to see hammerhead sharks, but today was not our lucky day.  The surge through the gap was even more impressive than in the morning and we were all swaying back and forth about five metres.  We spotted a Scorpionfish with its brilliant camouflage. 

On the way back, the boat stopped off at a beach and I got some nice video of a Sea Lion playing around me.

We were tired in the evening, so we went out for a meal .  The restaurant gave us an “A La Carte” menu which had meals at the tourist prices of $12-15 per head.  Fortunately, Glenys spotted that they also served a “Cena de Casa” for only $5.  It was just like the Almurezo’s (typical lunch) that we've been eating on mainland Ecuador – soup followed by a plate of fish, rice and salad.  Very nice.

5 March 2014   San Cristobal, Galapagos
We had a chill out day.  In the morning Glenys went shopping and I went to the Internet café.  I sorted out my email and then concentrated on Google Earth.  The only pilot books available of the Pacific are wildly out of date and the electronic charts can be out by up to half a mile being based on surveys done in the 1900s, so I had a cunning plan.  I entered push-pins for the various anchorages that we’ll be visiting in the Marquesas and Tuamotus and made sure that the images were downloaded into the Google Earth cache, so that I’d be able to view them properly when off-line.

Back on the boat, I took screenshots of Google Earth displaying the various islands and anchorages, both with a 3D view and a straight-down view with a grid displaying the Latitude and Longitude.  The 3D image gives us a bird’s eye view of the approach to the anchorage and the straight-down view is a simple kind of chart.  I then used Photoshop to add the name of each anchorage to the images, put them all into a PDF file and, lo and behold, I have a mini chart packs of the Marquesas and Tutmotus anchorages that we want to visit.  They look good on our iPad and are available on our Downloads page.

Bolivar popped over just after five o'clock in the evening - he'd just returned from his four day holiday in Isabella and dropped off our zarpe, so that we can go to Santa Cruz tomorrow.  He’s been over to Isabella and kindly brought us some mail that was sent from the UK to Shelter Bay Marina in Panama last August.  It sat in Shelter Bay for a few months, then our friends on “Vanupieds” picked it up and delivered it to J.C. Soto, an agent in Isabella.  He gave it to Bolivar, who hand delivered it to us.  It's only taken seven months to get to us – perhaps that’s why they call it snail mail. 

Lots of Tourist ships in Santa Cruz

6 March 2014   San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, Galapagos
The alarm went off at six o'clock and fifteen minutes later, we were on our way to Santa Cruz, which is only forty miles away from San Cristobal.  There was no wind for the first couple of hours, so we motored along at 4½ knots, trying to preserve fuel.  The wind finally picked up to just over five knots, so we were able to fly the spinnaker and had a lovely sail for two hours in the flat calm seas.

As we approached Isla Santa Fe the wind disappeared, so we motored along the windward side of the island.  It’s a barren hunk of rock, about five miles long with sea cliffs teeming with sea birds and cactuses sticking up on the desolate land above.  Unfortunately, the swell was crashing against the sea cliffs send in waves back causing the water to be very turbulent, so we had to stay ½ mile offshore.  

The wind never came back, so we motored the rest of the way into Puerto Ayora.  The port is a very busy place with cargo ships unloading, twenty big tourist boats at anchor, lots of small local boats on moorings and dotted between them there were ten sailing boats.  We found a space on the west side of the bay behind a couple of other yachts, but in front of the big tourist ships.

Our agent, Irene Pumayugra, came out on a water taxi with the port captain and another guy in uniform – customs I think.  They filled in the same form that had been completed in San Cristobal and we had to pay a $15 clearing-in fee.  Irene is going to come out on Saturday and give us the documentation to allow us to get diesel here.  We have to get a taxi to the petrol station and jerry jug it, which is a pain in the neck - I’d like to know how these big tourist ships get fuel.

Michael and Charlotte from “Salamander” came over to say hello and stopped for a few beers.  We’d last seen them in Bahia de Caraques and had a bit of catching up to do.