We’re anchored in Wreck Bay, off the Island of San Cristobal. It was quite a hectic arrival. We dropped anchor in 36-feet of water and were immediately approached by our agent (we’ve no idea how he knew we were arriving at that time) who informed us that we would be inspected by the environmental agency in 30 minutes. It was a mad rush to get the below-decks looking presentable and make sure everything was in order. I also made a quick foray up the mast, since in my haste to tie the courtesy and quarantine flags onto the flag halyard I had tied a poor knot on the latter and they were both looking quite sad dangling by one piece of string from the starboard spreader. We have found that officials in these parts of the world often put great store in appearances and that first impressions are important, so we figured they might not appreciate seeing their national flag in a twisted heap. Anyway, having fixed all that we were invaded by at least 8 different officials who thrust various bits of paper at us to fill in and sign (I’ve no idea what half of them were) while hurling questions at me as if i were a celebrity being hounded by the Paparazzi. ‘Capitan, what were your last 10 ports of call? Where are your trash cans? What is the capacity of your holding tanks? Do you have any animals on board? Where are your documents? Do you have copies? What is your etc. etc. etc. ‘ Meanwhile a guy turned up in a skin-diving suit to inspect our hull (we’d scrubbed it thoroughly in Las Perlas and again one day before arriving in San Cristobal while at sea) and another guy turned up in a terminator suit with something resembling a bazooka. We were informed that this man was the fumigator and summarily instructed to go to shore and not come back for 4 hours. I hadn’t even finished anchoring properly! Having seen no signs of human existence for the last 7 days other than a single ship which passed some 4 miles away from us, this onslaught was, to put it mildly, quite a shock. The important thing however is that we passed the various inspections and have now been granted permission to stay for up to 60 days – a freedom that we intent to make the most of having spent $1,500 for the privilege of the invasion. I can’t help but think that the British have lost their touch when it comes to invading places. We haven’t done much of it in quite some time but the Spanish on the other hand have continued to hone their skills in this field quite diligently, while appearing the whole time to be doing the invadee a great service.
I digress a smidgen! The passage from Las Perlas – a lovely group of islands on the Pacific side of Panama where we spent two secluded days before setting off to come here – was absolutely wonderful. The general weather conditions for the passage between Panama and Galapagos are light winds or no wind at all. Initially we had intended to take a straight-line route and spend a lot of time chugging along using the engine, since there was no wind forecast at all for the entire passage. The day that we set off from Las Perlas however the forecast changed to favour the ‘traditional’ route of cutting South toward mainland Ecuador before turning West toward Galapagos. This is what we did, and by going as fast as we could (comfortably) we managed to stay with the winds for almost the entirety of the passage. A friend who arrived in Galapagos two weeks before us was pleased to have only had to motor half way. We were very, very fortunate in only having to motor for a total of 23 hours. We also had the longest run in 24 hours that Bob has ever achieved – 165 miles from noon to noon, measured in a straight line from one noon position to the next – and could have made the whole passage in 7 days if we had been so inclined. The wind dropped out in the evenings toward the end of the passage, and on our final night we simply took in all sail and drifted slowly toward San Cristobal with a 1.5 knot current pushing us along nicely. Our days on this passage were spent largely reading, discussing the various characteristics of our fishing lures, discussing life in general and occasionally pulling on a bit of string to tweak a whatsit or somethingorother. Given the forecast i was confident enough to set one of our more racy spinnakers – a lightweight assymetric racing spinnaker from a J105 that was donated to me some years ago – and leave it up for a good 36 hours without having to worry that we’d encounter a sudden squall, or that increasing winds might make dropping it with just the two of us problematic.
San Cristobal has changed a huge amount since my last visit in 2003. The tourism industry has boomed and infrastructure has not lagged far behind. What used to be a sleepy town with dilapidated roads, a few bars and couple of shops selling odds and ends is now a teeming tourist trap with boutiques selling plastic turtles and sea lions, companies selling guided tours (it is now impossible to visit most places without hiring a guide, and most tours are in the vicinity of $100 per person or more), dive companies abound, butchers, bakers and probably candlestick makers. Miraculously, it hasn’t lost it’s charm however. The new cobblestone streets are picturesque, the sea lions are still the dominant species (over humans) and the people are very friendly. They are used to speaking to people such as ourselves whose command of Spanish is pitiful, so they speak slowly and simply to us and every now and then we actually manage to complete a conversation without running into a vocabularial dead end.
We enjoyed San Cristobal and are by no means done there. It looks like it might be the best place for Sarah to do a dive course, things seem to be relatively inexpensive (if you buy the right things) and despite it’s incredible development over the last 13 years it is still way behind Santa Cruz. We moved here to Santa Cruz yesterday after a day-sail of 40-miles or so in order to meet Sarah’s mother who is due to arrive from the UK at about the time i am writing this. It was a great sail despite the forecast of 1 knot of wind; bottlenose dolphins and sealions kept us company for 15 minutes or so, and i particularly enjoyed sailing past the Island of Santa Fe, or ‘Barrington’ as it is also known (alas, bureacracy does not allow us to stop anywhere except ‘designated ports’, which now number just 3 in the entire archipelago). Bernard Moitessier and his wife Francoise spent some time on this island during their incredible voyage around Cape Horn in the mid-1960s. Having read his account (‘Cape Horn: The Logical Route’) several times I would dearly have liked to have seen with my own eyes some of those parts that remain unchanged from those days; indeed, unchanged for millennia.
Santa Cruz is much more built up than San Cristobal. Prices are correspondingly higher. Tourism is really the only industry and it dominates over all. Nevertheless, the Ecuadorians have done a good job of avoiding sterility during the development and it appears to be very pleasant based on a cursory wander around last night. I’m going to head to shore now and see if I can find some flax packing to re-seal the rudder shaft stuffing box. I only replaced it 3 years ago……… I wonder what the word for ‘flax packing’ is in Spanish………. and how I’d say “I’m not sure whether it’s 3/8-inch or 7/16-inch thickness so can I have both please?” This will be fun! Maybe they’ll put me out of my misery by simply not having any. It does seem likely under the circumstances 🙂