Sailing to Isabela island Galapagos

We were accompanied by a pod of over 100 inquisitive dolphins on our sail from Santa Cruz to Isabela which was amazing.

It was a delight to drop anchor in the calm anchorage of Puerto Villamil after the rock n roll anchorage of Santa Cruz. We were promptly inspected by the port authority to check all our papers, safety equipment, permits and permissions were in place. You need internal zarpe forms for travel between islands in Galapagos and we have had to have another set of COVID-19 tests, all negative thank goodness.

The anchorage is deserted and we are apparently the first boat to arrive here for seven months. We are allowed ashore tomorrow when the medical team will inspect us at 7am on the dock.

Cruisers meet Overlanders

It’s always great to meet another family travelling and we’ve been delighted to meet a German family who have been overlanding in a truck for two years. They have four children including two teenagers aboard and it dispels the myth that you can’t travel with teenagers. These guys are having a ball, love their lifestyle, the places they are exploring and the children practically speak four languages now.

We’ve loved sharing trips round Santa Cruz with them, climbing volcanic craters, playing on beaches, trips for ice cream or simply working alongside each other doing school work. Such a lovely family and we hope to cross tracks again in Australia!

Their blog (in German) is @Followdirectionsouth

We said a sad farewell as we left Santa Cruz to sail to the island of Isabela our last port of call in Galapagos.

Touring Galapagos

The best way to see Galapagos is on a tour boat as it allows you access with a guide to all the visitor sites. After a long search we finally found a small 16 person tour boat that was working which was both lovely and had a minimal environmental footprint, the motor cruiser M/C EcoGalaxyII http://www.ecogalaxyonboard.com. We became their first trip since the COVID-19 shut down.

A holiday within a holiday. I can’t tell you how excited we are to sleep in proper beds, have hot showers and for someone to kindly cook and wash up for us (and of course to see all the amazing animals)!

What followed was the most amazing ten day tour of our lives on a gorgeous boat with a wonderful crew and delightful fellow passengers. We cruised around Santa Cruz, the western island of Isabela, Santiago, Fernandina, Bartolome, Rabida and north Seymour and swam with penguins, sea turtles and sea lions all at the same time! The water was bitterly freezing but worth the chill to have penguins swim past you.

On land we were treated to giant tortoises, sealions, land and marine iguanas and countless stunning birds.

Each day had breathtaking sights and we were spoiled by being the only boat at every site. There simply aren’t any other tourists here and no other boats are working (yet). So it’s Galapagos without the tourists and doubly inquisitive animals.

The crew were amazing and we had a crossing the equator party complete with pirates and Neptune.

The guide, James, explained to us that we were so lucky as normally for example the penguins are shy. But with us they played happily around the dinghy, diving and fishing as a family.

Each day we seemed to snorkel with more exiting sights. Groups of white tipped reef sharks, huge Galapagos sharks, stunning fish, turtles and sea lions.

Swimming with the most enormous manta ray on our last day has to be the most beautiful experience ever and an image etched on my brain forever.

An amazing trip, stunning volcanic scenery and beaches, I wish we could stay forever!

Santa Cruz, Galapagos

We sailed the 40nm to the next island along called Santa Cruz which lies at the heart of the archipelago. This is the commercial capital of Galapagos and felt a lot busier than the laidback and friendly San Cristobal. All the tour boats were anchored in the harbour looking forlorn as most of them have not moved for six months. The anchorage is south facing and is open to the southerly Pacific swell which means it feels like we are at sea rolling around even though we are anchored, which is somewhat disappointing! Any excuse to get off the boat and explore then!

Rock n roll anchorage
Las Grietas – stunning water colours

We’ve done a great hike to Las Grietas and Tortuga Bay beach which was stunning and practically deserted. We did have to share it with a few iguanas and sea turtles.

The Darwin research centre provided a great location for school one day as we are doing a project on Galapagos animals and Darwin’s trip on HMS Beagle. There is nothing like the boys writing all they know about giant tortoises and then running to watch them in their break time. There is no one here so the animals are really alert to our presence and even walk towards us to stare!

We’ve also found a delightful little library and the boys are enjoying all the children’s books in Spanish. It’s a great resource for facts on all the amazing animals.

Boat maintenance and the mystery of the missing 12V power

Whilst Chloe and I do school with the boys each morning, Russell ploughs through the endless list of boat maintenance and fixing to be done onboard to keep us ship shape.

The latest upset was when we realised we were totally out of 12 volt power. It is sunny here despite feeling cold due to the chilly wind so the solar power should be working fine. The culprit turned out to be the exhaust pipe from the engine which had sheared through the wires from the solar panels. The slight bit of movement when the engine spurts water out through the pipe has worn it through amazingly.

Russell getting inside the lazarette locker

Mending it means climbing in our cavernous lazarette lockers which are stuffed with everything…scooters, surfboards, ropes, buckets, fishing gear, beach toys, spare anchor, spare fuel, you name it which have to be removed first…let alone trying to turn the ‘solar’ off!

Next problem is that the water maker has broken, again. Grhhhh. Just when we have the most pure water to make water in. As San Cristobal is the only island in Galapagos with water, we were advised to fill here. The only way to do this is by buying large water cooler bottles you have in waiting rooms. There is no marina in Galapagos, so all 26 monster bottles had to come in a water taxi, be lifted and poured in by hand by us. Nothing like a boat workout. At least we have water again! Phew.

Water cooler bottle delivery

We’ve loved our time on San Cristobal and the wonderful friendly locals, it’s definitely the friendliest place we’ve visited on our travels and we’ve been to a fair few! We’ve been spoiled by the amazing Sea Garden cafe and the boys totally adopted by the lovely Whitman & Jeaneth. If you are ever here she cooks the best cakes you have ever tasted and the smell of her chocolate cake is divine. Thank you @SeaGarden for making our stay so magical for our gorgeous farewell dinner and helping us out with all our varied questions and needs! Felix is already planning his own sailing trip to return when he is a bit older.

Farewell San Cristobal

Kicker Rock

We were lucky enough to go diving and snorkelling at Kicker Rock and also to explore the glorious beach opposite at Cerro Brujo.

The boys lasted about five minutes in the water snorkelling but seeing as the water temperature was 17•c degrees, it’s understandable! (We had put them in three wetsuits each). Hugo did manage to see the many sea turtles and sea lions that were swimming all around us.

The dive didn’t reveal the shoals of hammerheads we were hoping for but we swam with a massive bait ball of sardines and watched the sea lions dive through it fishing. We did see some black tip reef sharks too. Shoals of fish passed us in the nutrient rich water and we must have swum with about 20 turtles gliding through the strong currents. So it was well worth the freezing temperatures!

It was great to walk on the beach to warm up and admire the turtles swimming in the shallows and sea lions snoozing.

Española island, Galapagos

The most eastern island of the Galapagos archipelago is the island of Española. At this time of year it’s home to albatrosses who come here to mate. We spent an amazing day exploring the island seeing these great birds soaring through the sky and also protecting their nests with amusingly enormous chicks (the chicks can get bigger than their parents)!

The island was covered with sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards and various birds found only on this island. The animals appear oblivious to humans so you get to see everything close up and the boys were fascinated. Even the guide was so excited to be back on the island after six months of it being closed, he was taking loads of photos too.

We also braved the crystal clear aquamarine ice cold waters and snorkelled with the playful sea lions who swam in circles around us. Brilliant fun and utterly freezing.

Post COVID-19 tourism in Galapagos San Cristobal

The island has effectively been shut to tourism for six months and the locals greeted us like royalty. Our guide and taxi driver even took photos of us to send to their unbelieving friends. “Tourists have landed!” So many people came up to us and asked us where we were from and then promptly thanked us profusely for coming to visit their island. It was quite humbling. We seem to be the first visitors here and certainly the first yacht to have been allowed entry.

The animals, not exactly shy at the best of times, had positively taken over the paths at visitor sites. No need for my 210mm zoom lens here. We were walking backwards trying in vain to keep a 2m distance from the marching giant tortoises who were even more relaxed and prolific then previously our guide explained.

We all loved seeing the sea lions, giant tortoises and Darwin finches which cover the island in our first days exploration.

Arriving at San Cristobal, Galapagos

Our delight in finally arriving at the Galápagos Islands was met with playing seals and seal lions as we picked a spot to anchor at San Cristobal harbour.

With our permits, forms and permissions all in place we were inspected promptly, medically checked and passed once a lot of photographs were taken, cupboards opened, medication inspected and even the engine room visited. A diver checked the underside of our yacht was spotless too. Russell had gone over the side before we arrived and had nearly frozen. The water temperature was 19 degrees C! When we were in Panama it was 31, so this was a big shock to the system. Amazingly the infamous Pacific goose barnacles had already started growing at the back of the boat and needed a quick clean off. We had been dragging a line over each side an hour a day to try and prevent this, although it clearly was not working at the back.

Anchored amongst the sea lions

We soon went ashore to meet the agent and find out about the island and tours. The boys squealed with delight as we saw sea turtles and more seal lions in the dinghy ride to shore. In fact it was quite difficult to step off the taxi-ferry onto the steps without stepping on sleeping seal lions who were sprawled everywhere. Marine iguanas sunned themselves, pelicans and frigate birds swooped whilst the seals played in the shallows, and this was just the port! It looks like we won’t be short of wildlife to look at here.

We’ve arrived in Galapagos!
Seal lions sleeping in the port
Enjoying a well earned beer with locals

Difficult passage

Seasonal ocean currents and winds mean there are times to do a passage and times suggested not to. COVID-19 has badly delayed us (and many other sailors) and meant we are in the wrong place in the wrong season with precious little options as countries borders remain closed.

We’ve spent a long time considering our options, time constraints and pouring over Jimmy Cornell’s world sailing routes, currents and wind books. We took the gamble that we could sail to Galapagos as although it would be sailing into the wind (not preferable sailing with a young family) we would be able to sail south enough to get the equatorial current to push us along.

How wrong were we! Despite Windy, predictWind and other navigation projections the equatorial current was flowing 2ktns in a counter direction to all the publications. Global warming effects changing traditional currents maybe? Pretty shocking. It was also the opposite direction to us. Therefore we sailed into the wind and against the current. The boat was constantly at a 30 degree angle, rolling in the waves and battling against 2ktns of current against us. This added over two days to our journey and prolonged the agony of the discomfort and sea sickness amongst the crew.

Also the closer we got to the equator, the colder it got! For my night shifts I dugout long trousers (for the first time in 15 months), jumpers and my offshore thick sailing jacket! We had to be very awake at night as there were huge fishing boats hundreds of miles off Galapagos with their AIS turned off (ie we can’t see them on our chart plotter) but they were lit up like Christmas trees fishing at night so we could see them them several miles away. I suspect these are the illegal Chinese fishing fleets that people talk about.

Eating out of dog bowls to keep food in one place!

We also had one day, which we named everything-breaks-today where we had one problem after another. First the front head (toilet) broke and Russell had to replace it whilst sailing in a rolling 30 degree angle, that has to be up there with one of the most unpleasant jobs going. He was grey with sea sickness even before he started…Then the waves were so much they washed our life ring bracket off the stern and then the electric winches stopped working, just when we really needed to use them (water got into the electrics). The bouncing of the bow in the waves was so much that the shelf cupboard holding the boys books broke. The books were airborne with each wave and smashed down on the shelf which broke it away from the wall. Everything was creaking and groaning from the shaking and crashing in the waves the noise was incredible. All the tins and food filled in every space possible was bashing around despite my careful storage and packing. Sleep was nigh on impossible even with the lee cloths to hold you in place as you became airborne and smashed to one side or another with each wave.

Exhausted and cold

Despite the hideous passage we enjoyed watching whales breaching, spinner dolphins popping up and even a red-footed booby taking a rest aboard our boat for a day. I just about managed to cook, keeping the crew well fed on cooked meals despite the precarious galley cooking angles. Our track across the Pacific looks like giant steps in the wrong direction as we tacked through the wind and battled the current.

Red footed booby taking a rest aboard

We celebrated crossing the equator and Chloe conquering her sickness even managed to bake a cake for the party. We were nearly there, anything short of 400 nautical miles suddenly seems just around the corner!

We arrived at San Cristobal, Galapagos in the early hours of Monday, too early to attempt the shallow harbour in the pitch black so we took the sails down and drifted slowly down the leeward west coast of the island. We admired dawn over Kicker Rock and then motored into the sleepy Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, delighted the horrendous ordeal was over. We were totally exhausted but needed to start cleaning and prepping the boat for our arrival inspection. It is vital to successfully pass the inspection to allow entry into the Galapagos islands or you risk being turned away.

Dawn over Kicker Rock