Galapagos Final Thoughts
21 April 2018
I asked Lisa, “Are you glad we came here?” Her reply is different from mine, “Yes, I'm glad we came.” I asked “why?”
“Well, it's Galapagos, it was on my bucket list. If we didn't stop, we would regret it.” She couldn't point out to anything that spectacular we enjoyed here. Neither can I.
We did see some very cool wildlife. We saw giant tortoises, Pacific sea turtles, white tip and black tip sharks, sea lions and rays. All were quite close and seemed not to notice us in their world. There were a plethora of birds of different and rare species. The lava terrain was interesting, especially the Tunnels on Isabella. But the setting for these animals is not beautiful. These are desolate islands with sparse growth. The sea is not clear in most of the areas we snorkeled. Worst of all was the way we were treated by the bureaucracy, cost and red tape on entering Galapagos. We paid about $1,800 just to drop anchor here! At one inspection we had nine officers on Uproar all with clipboards and stern looks. We were forced to sail 40 miles out to clean a few spots of green off our bottom with a toothbrush and return for another $100 inspection. Galapagos clearly does not want cruisers here!
Lisa and I are extremely fortunate that our travels have taken us to places of breathtaking beauty. We have seen a lot of wildlife throughout the Caribbean in more beautiful settings. We have snorkeled in some of the most amazing reefs in the world. So for us, Galapagos was a lot of hype and hassle to see some admittedly rare and unusual animals and the shrine of Charles Darwin. But for visitors who have not had our years of traveling in the tropics, this is a very special place.
P.S. Galapagos treats cruisers like the tortoise on the bottom.
Galapagos Serious, Khaki People
21 April 2018
The South Pacific has the Society Islands and the Friendly Islands. I have come up with a name for the Galapagos archipelago, the Serious Islands. Tourists here don't smile. They are on a serious, eco-tourism mission.
We have anchored in the three major ports for Galapagos. These ports are stops for the myriad of small, cruise ships that ply these waters. Each of these cruise ships has large RIBs (rigid bottom inflatables, like Navy Seals use) to take the tourists ashore. They are constantly going back and forth past Uproar. Now it is an absolute rule that people on boats wave to each other. Not so for these tourists. We wave and occasionally get a reluctant wave in return. The boat driver is more apt to wave to us, the tourists just stare.
But how do I know they are staring? They are all wearing the uniform: khaki Tilly style hat, Columbia SPF 70 shirt, Khaki pants with zip-off legs and sturdy, tropical hiking shoes. With those hats and sunglasses, who knows where they are looking. Even in the resorty towns with fun restaurants, the uniform must be worn and don't dare smile! In the Caribbean Islands, we dub the tourists “Pink People” due to sunburn on their mostly exposed skin. They are dancing and drinking like crazy on the excursion boats they are packed into. In Galapagos we have the “Khaki People.”
The locals more than make up for it. As usual for places we visit, the local people are warm, friendly and generous. We especially like the water taxi guys. But who wouldn't be happy with a job driving a boat all day?
I'm sure the Khaki People are enjoying their Galapagos tour. But why can't they just smile a bit and put on a “Love the Boobies” t-shirt?
20 April 2018
I'm not proud of this one but I promised to write about the good and the bad. Galapagos is reputed to be the pristine environment preserved for its unique species and the birthplace of Darwin's “Origin of the Species.” Cruisers are committed to leaving a clean wake and in the Galapagos, we become quite fanatical about it. That's why I'm not proud of dumping partially cured Urethane foam into the bay at Isla Isabele.
We bought a used Avon RIB (rigid bottom inflatable) dinghy in Michigan on our way out of the Great Lakes. Avon makes a high end dinghy and we love ours. It has a “V” shaped bottom but a flat floor inside. There is a void between the flat floor and the “V” bottom that is supposed to be watertight. Would be great if it was. Occasionally that space fills up with water making the dinghy quite heavy. We can tell we are carrying the extra weight, especially when dragging it up a sandy beach.
I have tried and tried to find out where that water is coming in and have not pinpointed the leak. When we pull the dinghy on a beach, I remove the plug and water pours out. Several days later it is full again. Arggghh! I have read about two part Urethane foam kits. You mix it together and it expands like a cream colored volcano. I happened to ask about the stuff in a shop in Panama. The owner said, I have some of that stuff I will never use, He gave me two gallon jugs of the stuff, half full.
Lisa and I decided to do a science experiment before committing it to our Avon. I poured just a drip from each jug into a can. With a Bamboo skewer I stirred the two chemicals. Voila! Within a minute it started erupting. It was the perfect muffin shape. Just a teaspoon of the stuff filled the can to overflowing. And it hardened within 10 minutes. We weighted the can, foam and all in a bucket overnight to see if it absorbed any water. It was light as a feather the next morning.
This brings us to a flat calm morning in the Isabela anchorage. We hoisted the dinghy bow down beside Uproar. Lisa and I mixed a batch thoroughly and began to pour it through a funnel to fill that void under the dinghy floor. Oh no! The volcano erupted just as I started pouring. Here I had a funnel clogged and overflowing and a can erupting with hot, creamy goo all over my hand and into the water. My instinct was to keep it over the water so we didn't foul Uproar's deck with the mess.
Lisa and I looked in horror at the moulten mess floating beside Uproar. She quickly retrieved our trout landing net. Glyn and Laura bought it for us when we were fishing for Blue Crab in the Chesapeake. I dove in and netted the offending lumps. The fine mesh net was the perfect tool for the job. There was no wind or current so I was easily able to coral the stuff. I'm pretty sure I retrieved 95% of it. Sure, there were some small bits that got away. We dumped the mess into a garbage bag.
Ten more batches were mixed but for only 10 seconds. We got it all in the dinghy before the eruption. With just a bit left in the jugs, the cavity in the dinghy was full. Project completed and dinghy back on deck, Lisa and I hung our heads in shame. We had bespoiled the Galapagos. We were satisfied with our clean-up efforts but knew the port captain had cameras trained on the anchorage.
An hour later a panga approached with two women in uniform. Gulp! They asked if we spoke Espanol. Poquito. They explained in broken English that there was an epidemic of a disease on the island and mimed it as a skin disorder. They even had large posters they showed us. We believe it was Chicken Pox or Measles. Lisa and I explained that we did not have the affliction and they were satisfied. Strangely, we were the only boat out of eight in the anchorage approached. I'm writing this as a free man, sailing from Isabela to Santa Cruz, another Galapagos island. Guess we and the waters of Galapagos made a clean getaway.
The Medical Teams and The Wanker
08 April 2018
(Channel 14 VHF, San Cristobal, Galapagos, April 7, 7:00 PM)
“Heritage, Heritage, this is Uproar”
“Uproar, this is Heritage.”
“This is Lisa, we are ready for the medical team, rum punch is ready.”
“Roger that Uproar, we will take a water taxi over right away.”
I knew well what awaited me when the medical team arrived, filled with dread. But they arrived with smiles and “Yes please” to rum punch. Adam and Alyssa have a beautiful, traditional, Bruce Roberts design ketch and presently had three crew from Germany. Caroline, one of the crew, is a doctor. They all celebrated their equator crossing as did we on Uproar. Caroline's was most extreme, she shaved her long hair off. Alyssa is a nurse and Lisa as administrator filled out The Medical Team.
I read years ago that sailors who crossed the equator under sail would get a gold earring as a signal to other sailors of their accomplishment. Hmmmm.
During Antigua Classics week, I was fortunate enough to get a crewing spot on Iris J, a 5.5 meter sloop. Patrick Aguillard was also in the crew and had the coolest, gold shackle as an earring. There were times when the waves were filling up Iris J. Patrick became the wanker to keep us from sinking. Perhaps I should explain. Old sailing ships had a bildge pump that had an arm to be pumped up and down. The wanker was one of the lowest positions aboard so became a derogatory term. The motion of the wanker gave it its modern connotation. Nothing personal Patrick, just admired your earring. That and we sure had a great time racing.
Lisa took the hint and ordered an 18K gold shackle. I said I would try but didn't promise anything. I have a strong phobia of needles and medical procedures. If someone starts to describe an operation they had or similar, I have to leave the room. Fortunately, I have had very few illnesses or conditions requiring medical care. Perhaps it is because this phobia keeps me healthy. It would suffice to say that when I am confronted with a shot or blood test, I shake like an old dog shitting razor blades....then the room starts to spin.
The Medical Team was well aware of my condition and my conflicting desire to wear the shackle in my ear. Lisa coordinated the procedure and sheltered me from any details. Three rum punches later, I was lead to our cabin and laid out comfortably on our bed. Lisa held a powerful flashlight and Alyssa went to work. I don't even want to write about the details. They had Lydocaine cream, a sharp needle and a potato. The toughest part was screwing the screw in the tiny hole left by the needle. Nurse and Doctor took turns working the screw through my ear and holding my hand. Lisa even took a turn with the final tightening of the shackle screw. They all shared in the fun.
Somehow it actually worked. OK, I was freaked out a bit but this compassionate team could not have been more kind and gentle. Thanks to The Medical Team, the patient survived!
Polywogs to Shellbacks
04 April 2018
"Passages" is a term often used to describe life-changing experiences. The metaphor is well understood among sailors. Our passages cruising are transitions from one part of the world to another. Uproar's most recent passage from Panama to Galapagos is no exception.
Our most significant passages to date are from Beaufort, NC to the Bahamas; Bahamas to Virgin islands; St. Martin to Bermuda; Bermuda to Martinique; and Caribbean to Panama with a few stops. Panama to Galapagos was a beautiful sail and a passage of significant changes in our cruising lifestyle.
We left from the beautiful Las Perlas Islands, just south of Panama City. The weather pattern gave us a strong, north breeze to start heading south. We left at noon and sailed on a fast, downwind run for the first day. Wind lightened on day two as we knew it would. Prior to departure we changed from our small, #3 jib to our racing, light #1 genoa. This is a well used sail that really piles on the speed in light wind. But the magic ended on day two when the wind drop below 5 knots. We rolled up the genoa and started the engine.
The ocean was listening. Within a few minutes I saw dolphins swimming fast toward Uproar. We have experienced this in the Caribbean. When dolphins hear that engine, they come out to play. They frolicked under our bow, crossing back and forth. Other dolphins swam on all sides, jumping and playing. I woke Lisa up, napping from her previous night watch. We stood on the bow for about 15 minutes watching a dolphin show that would put SeaWorld to shame. At one point three dolphins jumped in perfect unison. Several were swimming on their side, looking right at us. One even swam on her back right under out bow for a minute, what a clown. The water was perfectly flat with that deep blue, clear Pacific. Then they left for other adventures.
Whales started surfacing one half mile to our north. These were small, pilot whales. We saw their fins, spouts and blunt heads. Later in the passage we spotted one whale on the surface slapping his great fin on the water. Sadly that's all we saw of him. A Blue Marlin took a liking to the pink squid we towed and then got really pissed off about that hook. He took out line so fast the reel was smoking hot. I set the drag tight and held on with just a few yards of line left. I couldn't yield any more line. He made a mighty jump and the line broke. Then he jumped again to show his disgust. I wasn't the least disappointed. No way would I land a fish like that, we didn't have room in the freezer for 50 pounds of fish. He gave us a brief show and I'm sorry for his new piercing. Hope the other Marlins don't make fun of him.
The route to Galapagos passes through the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), more commonly known as the Doldrums. This is an area where the NE winds of the North Pacific collide with the SE winds just north of the Equator. We have all read stories of boats getting stuck in the Doldrums for days on end. The Doldrums strike up images of endless, glassy seas under a hot sun. Not so, these air masses colliding produce low, gray clouds; light, shifty winds and rain. That's exactly what we experienced.
Uproar received the first rain rinse in two months. We loved having the Panama washed off our decks. She felt clean again. That's the only good about the Doldrums. The seas became a bit lumpy and wind unpredictable. But there was enough wind to sail....right on the nose. I tacked back and forth for hours. Looking at our track, our tacking angles were impressive. Sure I caught some good wind shifts but the 1.5 knots of current behind us helped. I had enough and started the diesel. The next morning we saw blue skies ahead and the wind came from the SE at a light 6 to 8 knots.
This was the SE trades we expected. Even though it was light Uproar sailed along beautifully with our light #1 genoa. The current helped too, giving us an astonishing 7 to 8 knots! Current was not only behind but from our lee side. Fellow sailors, ponder this: Sailboats don't sail straight through the water. The track is to the lee of where a boat is headed. With the current from our lee, we tracked to weather of our boat heading. Not only that but this current pushing us to weather gave us an apparent wind lift. It was bizarre and welcome. Uproar was performing like a TP 52 sailing to weather! The result was that current gave us a free 120 miles on this 880 mile passage.
Night watches were pleasant but surprisingly cold. Lisa set up our stadium seats with backs, pillows and the fuzzy, purple blanket. My Ducati sweatshirt was the standard night watch uniform. We swiveled the chart plotter so we could easily see it from this position. Kindle, Ipad and night stars kept our attention. A little Starling, lost at sea took refuge on Uproar for a day and a half. It would perch in various spots, occasionally flying around and landing back on the lifelines.
Our light #1 genoa gave its all. We watched it slowly delaminate and shred where it crossed the bow pulpit. Tom Pease told me, "I don't know how long this sail will last." We bought it quite used. It did just fine and got us to Galapagos with a huge hole near the tack. We used this sail for our light wind passage from Bermuda and to win the Carriacou Regatta. But this was its last passage. We are back to our smaller #3.
Galapagos is notoriously unfriendly to cruisers. They just don't want us here. Skabenga was turned out to sea where they must sail 40 miles, clean their bottom and return. We stopped Uproar about 20 miles from Galapagos to clean the bottom before arriving. There was absolutely no wind. Current was light too. We turned the engine off in one of the most beautiful seas I have ever seen. Galapagos was in the distant mist. There was not a single sound. I donned snorkelking gear and with scraper in hand dove in. I have to admit to some primal fear jumping off a perfectly good boat in the middle of the ocean. But once in, the beauty of the azure, clear water was enchanting. I scraped some growth off that had hitchhiked over the past week. We continued to motor into Wreck Bay.
But the biggest moment for Lisa and me was when we crossed the Equator. Neither of us had ever been south of the Equator. We had the perfect sailing weather as we watched our GPS go from N to S. Tradition is to have the Shellbacks (those who have sailed over the equator previously) harass and taunt the polywogs (first timers). Lisa and I were lucky there was no Shellback onboard. Then I remembered one of my missions on this passage. I had some of Dad's ashes onboard. Dad was in the Navy and had crossed the Equator. We opened a bottle of good, French champagne, gave the first sip to King Neptune asking his permission to enter his ocean and asking for his protection. We toasted each other and Uproar.
I spread Dad's ashes in the wake of Uproar and said goodbye. Dad, the Shellback didn't give us polywogs the business but he sure made us cry.
Las Perlas Islands, Panama
27 March 2018
If you have watched “Survivor,” “Naked and Afraid,” or “Dual Survivor” you have seen a lot of the Las Perlas Islands, Panama. This group of about 100 islands is only 40 miles south of Panama City but feels like an island wilderness and paradise. Very few of the islands are inhabited leaving plenty of desolate and pristine spots for these shows. We are anxious to head off to Galapagos or we would be spending a lot more time here. Contadora Islands does have plush resort hotels but there aren't many other places for tourists here....unless you come by boat. Calm anchorages are everywhere.
We made a quick trip here before our return to Ohio for Dad's memorial service. We returned here to get ready for the jump to Galapagos and on to Marquesas. But a watermaker hose blew. I had to fly back to Panama City, get a new hose made, spend the night and return to Contadora. Now this essential part of our survival equipment is working fine.
This is our first introduction to the Pacific Ocean. So far, mixed reviews. It's cold! Well, colder than the Caribbean. I bet the water temp is mid-70s. Caribbean is mid-80s. It is also a bit murky due to a lot of plankton in the water. Tides are 14 feet, something else new to Uproar. Between islands there can be some wicked currents caused by the tides. But the beaches and vistas are fantastic. These rugged islands have rocky coves that offer great protection from the gentle, Pacific breezes.
There is some history here besides reality TV. One beach has a 100 year old wrecked submarine! The US built runways on several islands during WWII. The guide book mentions pre-Columbian pottery on the beaches but we haven't found any (saw a lot on Nevis). My return flight from Panama City stopped on Isle San Jose before Contadora. I had no idea there was another stop and was surprised when the Cessna Caravan (turbo-prop 12 seater) descended onto a tiny runway. The cruising guide mentions that San Jose is privately owned. It does mention that cruisers can hike the many roads put in by the owner.
The owner's son, Mark was on the plane with me. We chatted while the plane was being unloaded with food and supplies for the island. They actually have a small hotel and restaurant on the island, Hacienda Del Mar. He invited us to anchor in their bay and dine at their restaurant. Rooms are cottages and they charge per cottage between $180 and $300/night. Four can sleep in the cottages. Trip Advisor gives it high reviews. Mark said it is a paradise to live there. The island is quite large. He has a cattle operation and the many roads and runway were courtesy of the USA. They did have to pave the runway several years ago. There are deer and lots of wildlife on the island. June through October, they can see whales right from their bar.
The best story Mark told me was that there was a German couple who lived on their boat, in a bay on SJ for 45 years! They would sail to Panama once/year to haul the boat, paint the bottom and service the equipment but just lived in that bay full time. His dad gave them several Hectares of land for growing vegetables and they eventually moved onto land. But they lived a reclusive life. When he died, his widow left the island. Mark and his dad visited their camp for the first time. He said it was a real live Robinson Crusoe camp. They later figured out that the guy was a Nazi officer hiding from wartime prosecution. Great story!
There are several small, fishing villages in Las Perlas. Houses are crude, concrete with corrugated roofs. Esmeralda is one town we visited that was supposed to have a store. Well, it was sort-of-a store. A few cans, squashed tomatoes but no onions. The minute we landed our dinghy on their beautiful beach, we were surrounded by a dozen children. They helped us drag the dinghy up the beach, safely away from the rising tide. They followed us everywhere. Lisa was a bit intimidated by them. Some of the pre-teenage girls just couldn't stop looking at Lisa. We went looking for a welder because Chris on Skabenga needed a pin for his anchor roller welded. Miguel said he could do it. On our walk through town, the kids were asking us questions....in Spanish of course. We could answer some but didn't understand a lot of what they were saying. As we left Miguel's house, I felt a little hand in mine. I looked down and a girl, about 4 years old was holding my hand, looking up at me. I proudly held her hand for a block until she scooted off. That was just the day before I became a grandpa! Yes, Liz and Victor had a baby boy, Harlan on March 24.
Chris and I returned the next day with his boat project. Miguel did weld a washer on the end of the pin. The work was crude but he had only a small, stick welder to use. He wouldn't take any money for the job. I brought a few soccer balls and some colored pencils to give away. I made it clear the balls were to share and they understood. Strangely, we had only boys following us around. Without Lisa, the girls stayed away....except for the one girl who stared at Lisa the previous day. She came by and I gave her the colored pencils. She seemed pleased. As Chris and I were leaving, one of the boys came up to me and whispered, “gracious.” I smiled, “denada.”