Visiting the Galapagos islands

Giant turtle from Galapagos. Photo creds Jose Aragones
On the way between Panama and French Polynesia lay the Galapagos islands. They are a natural stop for most sailors that go from Panama or Ecuador, and a very welcome one, since the passage requires a lot of sailing and motoring, see above. I could have made 850 nm in six or five days if the wind would be constant and just right, and if there would be no counter current. Now, it took me the double. Some boats demand even more, especially if they cannot deal with the weather. San Cristobal, with its Wreck Bay that is protected from S winds and swell, is a popular stop. I wouldn't miss it, of course!

The authorities contact was dodgy and expensive, but it's nice to be on dry land after full 11 days at sea in lousy conditions. The sun is shining, and it's a very special atmosphere here. The sea lions are swimming around the boat, the huge frigate birds that look like pterodactyls are diving down and eating all the flying fish and the squid that I was cleaning out from deck to sea, the pelicans chasing them too. My plan was to go watch the sea iguanas, the giant turtles, and maybe catch a glimpse of the penguins.

Iguana with the blue waters of Pacific, on Galapagos. Photo creds Simon Matzinger
I also have to make some minor fixes on the boat (as one usually does when long-distance sailing...), and the chance to socialize and met very lovely people here. The English couple on s/y Nkhwazi gave me and the crew a warm welcome by inviting us and another boat for some beers and sailing stories galore, very much appreciated after all those days at sea.

But first things first. To clear in here, you are supposed to have an agent. I have seen other sailing boats paying much more than me, so here's what I learned. Agent fees seem to range around 80-100 USD, but ask around and you might get a better price. There is a fee for the port captain and for the immigration, compare with other sailors. If you are only staying for three days and will not go to any other islands with your own boat, you will not need any permits, otherwise it might cost you a lot more. Some agents insist on issuing this permit anyway, that's a scam. Any island tours that cost more than about 50-60 USD per day are also scams.

OK, the scams aside, it's possible to have a really good time here. On one of the days, I went to Galapagera, which is where one can find giant turtles, for close contact. The amazing creatures can become up to 180 years old. They are extremely endangered, and I hope that the re-population work will succeed in making sure they survive. I visited an incubation center for turtle babies, where they try to work on repopulating the island with the species, and learned a lot about their work.

Giant turtles from Galapagos. Photo creds Magdalena Kula Manchee
I went to several beaches, framed by beautiful black volcanic rocks, where sea lions and sea iguanas live. The iguanas are huge, black, and look like dinosaurs. They spit at you if you get too close. The sea lions just onk-onk and bark, but if you don't back away they start biting. Apart from that, they are quite cute. They are literally everywhere on the beaches, the harbor and the streets. They even sleep on park benches. One night a sea lion climbed into the boat, and was absolutely convinced that it was his now. He was not getting off at any conditions. He barked hoarsely and aggressively, but still had to go back into the chilly water at the end. That’s a problem for many boats, the sea lions also get into dinghies, and poop everywhere. Their sticky, smelly poop is impossible to get rid of easily. Most boats raise the dinghy when not using it. Boats with aft platforms have a bad problem with sea lions, as they get territorial and it’s hard to get them off without getting poop everywhere, or getting bitten. A pro tip is to use sitting cushions from the cockpit to just block them and push them off.
Living on the edge!! I managed to pose beside a sleeping sea lion on the bench, without having my face bit off.
I also took the chance to climb the volcano on the island. The crater is water-filled, and is the only source of drinking water on the island. I could see the water around the coast through the dense clouds, and walked back through lush growth. There are many endangered endemic species, but apart from them the island is covered with fruit trees. The fruits are up for grabs, they just grow everywhere. A very much welcome menu variation for a long-distance sailor without a fridge. I filled a backpack with oranges that the taxidriver helped us to pick from the tall trees (with an impressive technique using a long hooked stick), and I also picked several kilos of fresh passion fruit. The taxi driver offered me to take a huge green papaya from a papaya tree, and so I did - it will ripen within 4 or 5 days.

The chandlery here is quite good considering the location. All tools, plumbing, wires and belts can be found here. During the passage between Panama and Galapagos, the toll to the ocean was 1 winch handle, 1 plumbing device, and 1 plastic waterproof sleeping mat. You cannot recover things you drop into the sea, especially when beating against 20 knots of wind and 4 meters of waves. Luckily, I had more winch handles. But the plastic lost to sea is heartbreaking. There is too much pollution in the world already.

The next passage is going to take between 30 and 50 days. Better rest up after 3 very intensive days on these magical islands.

Read about the Pacific crossing here!

Good bye dragon creatures! Off I go... Photo cred Magdalena Kula Manchee