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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
SCUBA with Sea Lions
05/21/2008, Under the Boat

Today we spent the morning working on dive training. Ed is getting close to completing his Dive Master certification but we still have some work to do. The water here in the Galapagos is getting colder as the Humbolt current from Peru begins to take control so everyone wore wet suits.

Dives in the park require a local guide but we simply did a dive under the boat to work on skills which the local dive shop said we could do without concern. The visibility was moderate, perhaps 20 feet or so. The bottom under the boat was perfect sand and made a nice training spot.

Within five minutes of our decent a playful young sea lion showed to see if he could incite us to run off and chase him. We would diligently try to practice scuba skills and he would spin around us, bump us with his nose, nip at our fins and anything else he could think of to get us to play. After a fun dive with our sea lion friend we returned to the boat to clean up and head ashore.

We have divided the boat into a sea lion napping area and a humans only area. By the second day, left uncontrolled, the sea lions we all over the boat. They were on the fore deck, in the cockpit and perhaps only because of Roq, not quite in the cabin. Our concern for old Roq's odds against a large sea lion and our desire to keep the sea lions from getting into a dangerous spot caused us to segregate the boat. Everyone we asked informed us that barbed wire was the only means to keep them out of a place they would otherwise like to go. So we now have a coiling barbed wire fence between the lower two steps on our boat and the upper swim platform. The sea lions can still hop up on the lower steps and sun themselves or sleep at night (we had a mama and a suckling baby last night) and yet if they try to go higher on the boat they are stopped by the wire barrier. They seem quite smart enough to avoid the barbed wire and we now have a peaceful coexistence. That said they do make some rather loud gargling and burping type noises at all hours. They also seem to enjoy playing between the hulls. They are pretty carefree critters.

Tour of San Cristobal
05/20/2008, San Cristobal

We took a nice tour of San Cristobal island today. We paid Fernando $50 per person for the tour. Fernando doesn't actually accompany you (at least he didn't with us) but he does cook you a nice traditional meal at his house at the end of the tour. You can see the same sights with a taxi for about $25 per person but you don't get things organized for you and you miss out on the lunch.

We left Puerto Baquerizo Moreno by pickup truck and headed up into the mountains. There is a single primary road spanning the south of the island leaving the northern 2/3s of the island closer to natural. Most people live in the main town of Baquerizo Moreno but there are several small villages along the road that leads up into the highlands. The soil in the highland area is very rich and has been largely cultivated in the southern part of the island where rains are frequent. The once extensive scalesia forest has now been choked out by guava orchards and other farming. The scalesia trees look like something from Horton Hears a Who, tall and skinny with symmetrical rounded umbrella like canopies. The most bizarre thing about them is that they are members of the dandelion family.

The first stop on the tour was El Junco, the only fresh water lake in the Galapagos. The lake lies in the mouth of an old volcano high in the hills with a spectacular view all around. From time to time you will find yourself in the middle of a cloud as you hike around the perimeter. The walk around the caldera is easy and provides wonderful views of the surrounding area. Many birds, including frigates, frequent the area around the El Junco lake. At the far end of the trail you can see where the cataract runs down the hill in the rainy season to form the waterfall in Agua Dulce bay far below.

The largest peak on the island, Cero San Joaquin, is just across the way from El Junco. A recent "green" power project is situated here. It involves three large windmills which supply 50% of the power for the town when operating.

We visited the giant tortoise habitat next. Wild Galapagos tortoises live in the north of the island but the park has a habitat that you can visit in the south where they are attempting to increase the population through managed breeding. You get to see tortoises at all stages of development here. The eggs and babies are protected in cages that keep the alien rat species and cats from destroying them. The large tortoises live in a natural setting at the park and wander freely through the brush, munching leaves and grass.

As we travelled on we saw several beautiful vistas providing panoramas of the coastline and surrounding areas. The highlands are surprisingly lush, cool and ferny, while the lowlands can be rather arid.

Our last stop was at the coast where we crossed tracks with the marine iguanas. These guys are big. My friend Kevin (aka the lizard man) had a pretty amazing lizard habitat at his house and one of his pets was a large green iguana. These marine guys are even larger then the green fellas we're used to in the states. If you watch the ocean you will see one pop its head up to take a breath between grazing sessions on the bottom.

We wrapped up the tour with a wonderful lunch at Fernando's. Fernando has continued the tradition of having visiting yachts sign in on a log book that his mother started when she ran a restaurant on the wharf years ago. It was interesting to see who was here last week and last year and last decade.

After wrapping up the tour we spent the afternoon and evening at our new favorite Internet cafe, The Mocking Bird. They make burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, brownies and have good coffee and ice cream. What else could you want?

Fuel for $2.30 a gallon
05/19/2008, San Cristobal

Fernando came by today to fuel us up. We purchased fuel from him at $2.30 a gallon which isn't Venezuela prices but is still cheap. The locals pay $1 and change at the station but the port captain indicated that we were not allowed to fuel up at the quay or at the stations in town. Don't want to end up in jail in Ecuador so $2.30 it is.

The water taxis here are great. They are always around and they charge $0.50 per person one way by day and twice that at night. If there aren't any taxis around late at night you can get a ride with one of the tour boat launches that are always going back and forth (often they won't take your money even if you offer). The Taxis monitor VHF14.

We spent another day relaxing and exploring town. We chatted with some of the other cruising yachts in the anchorage as well. Presently there are four of us including Blizzard, Blew Moon and one that I can't recall the name of.

The anchorage has been calm and peaceful with a nice cool breeze at night. We´re liking the Galápagos.

Looking Around Puerto Baquirezo Marino
05/18/2008, San Cristobal

We took a water taxi into down today to have a little look around. There are about 5,000 folks in Baquirezo Marina, the capital of the Galapagos. Santa Cruz island has a population of about 10,000 and is more of the economic center.

San Cristobal is quiet and pleasant. The people are very friendly and most everyone is very curteous. I have no worries about having Hideko wander around here at night by herself.

The water front represents a large investment and is complete with several little cafes and restaurants, lots of touristy shops, some excursion tour outfits and a nice park on the water.
The grocery stores and hardware/auto parts shops are very basic but have most general things you´d need at high, but not crazy, prices.

The water front at night is fun to hang around. They have lots of green lights illuminating the municipal pier and the water below. You can see many sea lions swimming about or relaxing on the pier. In fact I would say that the sea lions are the dominant natural feature of the harbor.

We had a wonderful day looking around and are looking forward to our island tour in two days.

Day 7 to the Galapagos
05/17/2008, Pacific Ocean

We arrived in Wreck Bay at 14:00 local time (6-UTC NoDST). Everyone was very excited to be in the Galapagos. It is kind of a magical place. On the way in it seemed the creatures were coming out to welcome us. Some small dolphins began jumping out of the water doing tricks in front of our bow as we came down the west side of the island. As we motored into the bay sea lions swam around the boat to see if we had any good sleeping spots on our transom (unfortunately we do), and a sea turtle swam by to say hello after our anchor was down.

We sailed all last night and as providence would have it the GRIB files came true and the wind backed to the south allowing us to fetch San Cristobal. At just about 1AM we crossed the equator. As expected King Neptune Ed (Ed being the only one to previously cross the equator) showed up on deck and indoctrinated everyone. Hideko made a yummy cake and we all shared a champagne toast. It was a bumpy night thereafter with Swingin' on a Star making 7 knots even after we reefed the main and jib.

The sail down the coast was going nicely this morning but the closer we got the more the wind began to blow from the anchorage. We furled the jib and began to motor sail. By the time we reached the anchorage we were motoring into 25 knots with gusts to 30 (which we later heard was rather unusual).

The Navionics electronic charts we have for Central America don't cover the Galapagos and neither do the South Pacific electronic charts. We discovered that we would have had to buy the South American Chart chip (another $250) to get the Galapagos. We have paper charts of everything on our route plan so we used the British Admiralty chart of the area for our approach.

Wreck Bay has a big reef in front of it to the south side and there are various hazards to watch out for along the coast to the north. That said if you come in from the northwest at mid day you should have no problem entering the harbor and getting to the yacht anchorage. There is an East Cardinal Mark that you leave to starboard marking the northeast end of the reef. On the opposite point at the north end of the bay there is a light and a shoal extending which you should leave well to port. We sailed straight for the cardinal in deep water and then turned to port just before reaching it, heading straight into the yacht anchorage. After doing this once in the daylight it would be easy eoungh to do at night but it would be dangerous to make your first enterance in the dark.

Once anchored Hideko made us huge bowls of Tekka-don (fresh marinated tuna over rice with seaweed). We had our first cold beers in a week as well. A nap was called for immediately thereafter.

I hailed Blew Moon, a boat near us in the anchorage, on the radio after we arrived and they gave us the clear in low down. There is only one agent at this time and the port captain wants you to use an agent. Carmella Romero runs a small grocery store and from this vantage also clears yachts. She speaks no English but her bother Johnny Romero does and is usually only a phone call away. Fees are around $150. Then you need to pay the port captain (who will come to your boat M-F, so we wont get their visit until Monday) another $150ish for anchoring fees and what not. Basically $300 for 20 days, at $15 per day it is about the same as the mooring fees in the British Virgin Islands.

Fernando, the local yacht services guy, took a water Taxi out to our boat at 6PM. Apparently everything shuts down from 1-4PM for siesta. The town is open for business again at 4 until eight or nine. Fernando is a nice guy with very little English and a lot of determination. He will take you to Carmella (the claim is that you must get a cruising permit started within the first 24 hours of your arrival). He will also arrange for fueling (current quote is $2.50 per gallon but under pressure he agreed to $2.30) at your boat, tours, and other things boats need.

Most yachts use the water taxis here because if you put your dinghy down you may find sea lions in it when you get back. Our dinghy also acts as a barricade keeping them out of the cockpit.

So far the Galapagos is a pretty wonderful and very different place. We are looking forward to exploring in the days ahead.

Nobu says: "I'm impressed by the boldness of these sea lions"

Ed says: "zzz (sleeping, it's hard work serving as Neptune's minion)"

Hideko says: "I could have kept going all the way to the Marquisas"

Anchored in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal Island, The Galapagos

05/21/2008 | Margaret
Glad you made it! Sounds like you had a nice passage. Looks like King Neptune (or his minion) paid you a visit to initiate you... congratulations!
Hope you are enjoying yourselves there. Don't forget to pust some underwater pictures from your diving!
Day 6 to the Galapagos
05/16/2008, Pacific Ocean

Our last day underway! By 2 in the afternoon tomorrow we should arrive in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal Island, Archipelago de Colon (Galapagos), Ecuador.

It was a beautiful night last night. Calm seas, light winds, perfect for sleeping. We had a whole squadron of sea birds fishing with us last night. I´m not sure if they were leaving thank yous or just getting sloppy but we had to scrape several squid off of the deck that they had dropped about.

Around 1AM the wind totally died and we started motoring but by 6AM it was back to sailing. We have had a good run today averaging about 7 knots close hauled into a good sized chop. We have had the auto pilot steering 35 degrees off the wind and as predicted by the gribs the wind has backed just enough for us to fetch San Cristobal. We are getting a little extra south in just in case things go bad (SW) in the night. We'll reef down to get the boat back to 5-6 knots tonight which should give us a nice 7AM landfall.

This passage has been more or less a rhumb line. We plotted a great circle (which was pretty close to the rhumb line) but the SW wind has kept us north of track fighting our way back south in the calms with the engines. If you could get south on the coast in these conditions and then sail west you might be better off. It is a risk either way because the winds and currents in this area are pretty variable.

About mid day one of the fishing lines began to run. A second later the other ran. A few minutes after that we had landed two 20 pound tunas. Yum! When it rains it pours. I think that 6 knots is about the minimum for trolling. We were running slow in light winds the last few days and got skunked. Today the 7 knots seemed to pay off nicely.

I shut the sea cock for the starboard AirCon inlet and this solved the bilge water issue we were having I think. The pump guard was dripping a little. It also could have just been left over water from cleaning the bilge out prior to departure.

We should cross the equator around midnight so we have cake and champagne standing by.

Nobu says: "I'm happy to be on Swingin' on a Star and my wish for the equator crossing is to retire early!"

Ed says: "Looking forward to my second equator crossing (south this time)"

Hideko says: "I have waited for this day, I'm starting to get tired of catching tuna! We want white fish now!!"

88 nm to go...

05/18/2008 | margie
Interesting log. Pleased that the sail has gone well and the tuna keep coming. Looking forward to your discription of Galapagos. Our friends and neighbors, the Phillips, are on their way there also, but not sailing.
Day 5 to the Galapagos
05/15/2008, Pacific Ocean

Day five underway and all is well.

We have water accumulating in the starboard bilge at a very slow rate (the pump run three times - about every 5 hours or so - for a couple seconds). Trying to track this down but it is such a small amount it is hard to trace.

Seas are still up around six feet and sharp making the ride pretty bouncy. We have been waiting for a lift predicted by the weatherman to allow us to fetch San Cristobal but so far we are still 20 to 30 degrees high (250 degrees-ish). We put in a test tack this afternoon to see what we could manage and we peaked at 140 degrees. Not so good considering our mark is 225. We had a VMG of 0 on the starboard tack. We made our way down to 2 degrees north and tacked back (we were all sick of seeing 2 degrees something...).

Last night was pitch black. I mean dark. No, like really crazy dark. It was 100% overcast and the moon set around 2AM. This made the bio-luminescence bubbling in our wake really easy to see which was fun. We were under sail alone so we were showing only a tricolor. The Boobys didn't like this, they were used to the good fishing offered by our mast head light. They sat on the pull-pit rail in protest all night (and pooped...).

On Nobu's watch a big ship was on a collision course with us. We hailed him on the VHF to inquire as to his intentions. No answer. Typical. Either arrogance or poor watch keeping and no excuse for either. We were close hauled in big seas with rain (restricted visibility) threatening and couldn't fall off without trying to cross in front. We were the starboard vessel in a crossing situation and a sailboat, making him double burdened. All he had to do was say, "I see you" on the VHF and we could have gone along our way without concern. Instead we had to go head to wind, stall the boat and get bounced around for a bit until we could lay off and make way again after his stern. It was something to do anyway.

Today we were getting close enough to have to come up with a final approach plan. We couldn't go fast enough to get in tomorrow before dark without; A: beating our brains out in these seas and B: getting some help from the wind direction. So it had to be the day after tomorrow. This meant we could not sail faster than 6 knots VMG (otherwise we'd arrive at night). So we put a reef in the main and jib and pinched up to 35 degrees off the wind. The wind is supposed to back down to 180 tonight so hopefully that will put us on course for San Cristobal. We should be in around noon the day after tomorrow.

Nobu says: "Come on Galapagos"

Ed says: "hope we get there soon, we've been skunked for fish the last two days"

Hideko says: "I have finally started to understand what it is like to be on a long passage. You get to catch up on a lot of sleep."

209 nm to go...


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