The Path Home

In early February 2014, accompanied by Jan's two older brothers and a sister-in-law, we transited the Panama Canal. Once again we are in the Pacific, where our journey started in 2006. This time we feel we are on our way home. The best (to us) way to get there is not the shortest. We decided to break up the long passages with stops in the Galapagos, the Marquesas, and Hawaii, where two of Jan's siblings live. Ths page describes the first leg, to and including the Galapagos.

February 10 - Radio Blues

Today the radio burned up. Dave was transmitting, when he saw a puff of smoke and smelled that doomsday odor of burning insulation! We depend on the radio for weather and to let family know we are ok. Our first reaction was to head back to Panama, all to windward. A ship was passing by, and agreed to send an email to family to let them know all is well, but we have no communication. With that, we decided to carry on, hoping our email got out so no one worries.

We have lost our wind now. According to our last gribs, we should have a couple days of motoring. All is well. Except the radio, which is toast!

February 11 - Idyllic sailing

We fell into a hole with no wind for a few hours, then our N breeze filled back in. Together with a bit of favorable current we seem to be making almost 5 knots, heading almost due south, wing-on-wing, in flat seas. Dave opened the radio box and found a singed circuit board, nothing he can fix. Having no radio does make us feel more isolated, though that is an illusion - at sea we are always on our own. Easy trip so far - no squalls or signs of the ITCZ.

February 12 - doldrums

After a couple good sailing days, our winds died to single digits on the nose. The motor is started and stopped, and staysail and jib unfurled and furled. Every few hours we get a favorable breeze, so set up sails, stop the engine, set the shaft brake, and the windvane. Before long the wind slackens, or turns into noserlies. The vane fails in light breeze, backwinding the sails. On comes the engine and autopilot, and sails are furled again! Frustrating. Without the radio we are not getting weather reports. Based on old gribs, we are still trying to edge south. 270 miles down, 680 to go. Easy trip, flat seas, but too many engine hours. First day out we hailed a freighter to pass word to our families that all is well, but we have no radio. We don't know if that message reached them, and hope they are not worrying.

February 13 - ITCZ?

We are in a zone of squally overcast, some rain, 20-28 knots out of the SW, the direction we want to go! We are reefed down, vane steering, heading west. Seas rowdy but after braving the Indian Ocean, easily handled. A squid landed on the cockpit cushion and left his signature. No shipping - just a few fishing boats. All is well.

February 14 - Trucking along

Dave says we are halfway there! Making slow but steady progress to weather in 15-22 knots from the SW. Wish the angle were better. We are north of our course, best we can do. Can't complain, we are moving forward at 4+ knots, motion not bad. No ships. We keep hoping to see one, to try again to send out messages that all is well. We are now in the cadence of passage, getting enough sleep. Less than 500 miles to go.

February 15 - 375 miles to go

Each night at dusk the wind picks up a bit, into low 20s, and we throw a reef in the main. In the morning winds drop, the reef comes out. We are now south of the ITCZ - no more squalls, though they weren't bad. Still beating, but making ok time and comfortable enough. Found a stanchion with bolts pulled out to give Dave something to do.

He is making a list of questions we need answered about the radio repair/replacement when we get to Isabela. Apparently it is a bad idea to import parts into Ecuador - high duty and the parts get stuck in Customs on the mainland for some weeks. We may have to entice someone to fly to us.

February 16 - Landfall options

We have 3 options for landfall, each on a different island. Puerto Baquerizo (Wreck Bay) on San Cristobal, Puerto Ayoro (Academy Bay) on Santa Cruz, or Puerto Villamil on Isabela. Since we haven't obtained an autographo (cruising permit) in advance, we are only allowed one stop. We'd intended that to be Villamil. But that may well be a nightfall landing given our current speed. Hmmm. The ports are far enough apart that at least one would be a daylight landfall.

The first 2 ports are likely packed with World ARC boats and there may be little room. There is a rumor that a local agent in Cristobal can get the autographo upon arrival. Without the radio, we can't confirm this. Dave and I discuss our options, but it is too soon to know our ETA.

Meanwhile we are making good time though on a beat, boat heeled to starboard and lurching along in a steady 20 knots of wind. I left the bathroom port open for ventilation and we took a sloppy wave Dave had to mop up.

February 17 - Boobie on the bowsprit

Boobies accompany us now, swooping to scoop the flying fish disturbed by our passing. All night one hitchhiked on the bowsprit. Ancient mariners read the bird flights to find landfall. Nights are cooler, even though we are approaching the equator. We are feeling the effects of the Humboldt current, bringing chilly water from Antarctica. The cool current is why the Galapagos have penguins and fur seals.

Motor is still off, making 5+ knots steady on our beat, helped now by a full knot of current though winds have dropped to mid-teens. Motion better, enough to make an orzo salad with a lot of our vegetables. Read that quarantine may take some things. Seems reasonable - anything we import and leave behind will impact this isolated ecology. The Parks Administration that manages 97% of the Galapagos has to balance the economics of tourism with the unique environment that brings the tourists here. It is impossible to leave no footprint.

February 18 - Landfall Galapagos!

All night we glided between the islands to reach Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela in the morning. The AIS revealed a cluster of ARC boats approaching Cristobal. Glad we didn't have to stop there, the bay must be packed. Around midnight we crossed the equator for the 5th time since we started out in 2006. We are once again in the southern hemisphere.

February 18 - Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabella, Galapagos

Approaching Isla Isabela, Dave called Tagish on the VHF radio. Brian answered and gave us a waypoint in between the buoys, and suggested we anchor near their boat. He also knew that we'd lost our radio, our family had been emailed by the freighter who passed along our email, and a new radio was already on its way, courtesy of Jan's brother Rolfe! Blew us away - we really had no certainty our message had been relayed until then.

Once anchored, we called JC on the VHF, the local agent who handles clearances at Pto Villamil. He had actually talked with Rolfe on the phone! JC suggested to Rolfe that the radio replacement NOT be shipped to Ecuador, where it would languish for some weeks in Guayaquil, in Customs, released only after heavy duty. So Rolfe bought the replacement from Dockside, who shipped it to a Panama agent, where it will be handed off to Deb at Cruisers Casa, who will put it on the next boat headed to the Galapagos. Whew!!! We have high confidence this will work. JC assures us the Port Captain will not make us leave without a working radio, even if we exceed our allowed 20 days.

We caught the water taxi ashore, $1 pp, to meet JC, who explained our fees and the clearance procedure, and took our passage garbage to be incinerated. Total fees came to $565 for Park and agent fees, quarantine, muelle (dock use) plus another $132 to the Port Captain. We will pay quarantine one more fee tomorrow when they come aboard to inspect - another $20. Seems like a lot for clearance, but still a bargain way to see the Galapagos.

And there is a lot to see. We met JC at the pier. Penguins dart through the shallows after fish, marina iguanas laze all over, pelicans, frigates, boobies dive to catch dinner, and smallish sea lions are parked on the many benches probably placed for tourists. Large stingrays glide by. The wildlife is teeming - denser and more active than we could have imagined. And this is just from the anchorage to the pier!

Tagish showed us where we can buy Magnum bars, and JC got us through clearance with the Port Captain. Tomorrow Parks and Quarantine will come to the boat, then we will be free to explore. Beautiful, calm anchorage, we are especially happy with this landfall.

Sea lions hog the benches...

and the lounge chairs.

Maine iguanas are everywhere...

...guarding the shoreline.

None are shy.

February 20 - Tortoise walk

We dinghied ashore to meet JC, who handed up our completed paperwork and receipts, and gave us helpful info about services and tours. Next stop was the laundry, to drop our 2 bags. Lunch was almuerza - dish of the day, fish soup and chicken or fish main, rice, potato salad and juice drink - $11.50 for 2. We walked west to find a neat boardwalk trail that led over several pozas, brackish ponds dotted with flamingoes, land iguanas and birds. The trail wound through cactus and scrubby woods. A sign warned that the small apples underfoot are poisonous to all but the giant tortoises who can eat them. At 1.2 km we came to the tortoise hatchery. The tortoises are segregated by size and breed in separate enclosures, from tennis-ball to trunk size. One group of 18 tortoises was rescued from an erupting Isabela volcano, and now numbers 200. When mature enough, and shells hard enough to deter predators, they are released back to their native habitat. An estimated 100,000 were taken by sailing ships in the 1800s, including some eaten by Darwin! The hatchery is slowly restoring the population.

Walking back through town we got info on the ferry to Santa Cruz, bike rentals and a possible scuba trip. Isabela is cash only - no ATMs and no business accepts credit cards. We will have to make a bank run by ferry to Santa Cruz.

Fun day, a lot of walking in the equatorial sun. We cover-up and carry water. Back aboard we were visited by a playful sea lion, penguins, a sea turtle, and yellow-fin tuna. Sitting in the cockpit, we can watch the Galapagos come to us!

A boardwalk winds across salt ponds...

...through cactus scrub...

...and poison apple trees... the giant tortoise hatchery.

February 21 - Marine iguana rookery

With the radio underway to Panama, Dave and I could relax and enjoy Isabela. We dinghied ashore and got overdue haircuts ($6 each), then walked out to the overlook platform just north of the town pier. A fenced off area protects the marine iguana nesting ground. We watched a number of females digging holes, laying eggs and burying them. The bottom 3 steps to the viewing platform were piled high with photogenic iguanas. We slowly approached, and they scooted a few inches, enough to give us a toehold to climb the steps. In the platform's shade hundreds more iguanas cooled themselves, looking like a huge Escher print.

We enjoyed another pescado ala plancha almuerzo lunch $5 each), then picked up our laundry ($1/pound, wash dry fold) and dinghied home to grab our snorkel gear. A few hundred meters from the dinghy dock is a natural pool. Visibility was not great - it seemed like fresh water infusion, though there is no water here on Isabela. But we could swim with iguanas. Sundowners at Tagish to discuss strategies for the next leg to the Marquesas, another fine day.

Puerto Villamil anchorage.

Dave makes a new friend...

...I get one too.

A marine iguana buries her eggs.

Friends hang out.

The steps to a viewing platform...

...are piled high with iguanas.

They allow us to step through but are unafraid.

Beneath an Escher print of iguanas.

They are happy to pose.

A helpful lava lizard hitch-hikes to eat flies.

Sea lions frolic under Baraka.

February 23 - Wall of Tears

This morning we rented bicycles and rode about 5 km westward to the "Wall of Tears". In WWII a small outstation was built by the US here on Isabella to give early warning, in an effort to protect the Panama Canal. Post-war, the buildings were used by Ecuador as a prison, with inmates brought from the mainland. In the late 40s, to keep the prisoners busy, they were forced to build a high wall of coral blocks, which had to be carried a few miles from the shoreline. A sign says the strong cried, and the weak died. We hadn't carried enough water with us, so we got a small taste of their suffering in the equatorial sun!

On the way back to we stopped several times, to examine volcanic tunnels, tortoises, and more marine iguanas. Back home, a penguin darted around out boat, snacking on the tiny fish that like to hover in our shadow.

We bike to the wall of tears in the midday sun...

I share the shade with a tortoise.

Others have the same idea.

A lava tube winds into the bay.

A pelican dries his wings...

...nearby another.

February 25 - Santa Cruz trip

Yesterday morning we caught the 6 am ferry to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz ($30 pp each way, about 2 hours). Puerto Ayora is the epicenter of Galapagos tourism. Most people arrive in the Galapagos and book boat tours, the best way to see wildlife in the wild. The tours originate at Cristobal or Santa Cruz. We went to hit the bank (no ATMs here on Isabela) and enjoy a night away from the boat. Walking along the waterfront, we came to the fish market. The counter was surrounded by pelicans and sea lions, hoping for a snack. We had a comfortable and affordable room ($67) at Blue House Suites. For dinner we found a blocked-off street of small seafood restaurants. Tables are set up in the street and you can watch your fish being grilled. We walked out to the Darwin Center to visit land and marine iguanas, and the tortoise hatchery. Good info center explained the threats to native species. Some threats are natural, like an El Nino year which can decimate the iguanas, but most are manmade. One of the worst was introduction of goats, which wiped out vegetation within the reach of tortoises. The goats are slowly being eradicated.

Ran into Tagish and Mojombo there. The "ferry" back is actually a large powerboat with 2 or 3 engines, bench seats down the sides. Dave and I climbed up to the cockpit to ride behind the skipper, nicer view and more comfortable ride.

At Puerto Ayora we find the fish market...

A sea lion hopes for a snack...

...catch of the day is albacore tuna.

Patience is rewarded.

Iguanas underfoot. Watch where you step.

Giant tortoises at Darwin Center.

Enjoying the shade.

Golden land iguana.

Pelican shares his perch with an iguana.

The beach sand is crushed pencil urchins.

Female digs her nest...

A little privacy please!

Time to bury the eggs.

We ride the inter-island ferry home to Isabela.

A pelican has moved aboard.

A phalanx of golden rays sweeps by.

March 6 - Marooned in Paradise

The new radio is stalled in Panama, but hopefully will start moving soon. The puddlejump boats planning to leave are now awaiting better winds - the gribs show calms everywhere for the next 5 days.

This is not a bad place to wait - lovely calm anchorage. Huge sea turtles glide by, and cute penguins, which seem to enjoy travelling as threesomes, dart for dinner. Ashore we watch kingfishers and pelicans scoop snacks in the shallows at low tide. We tie to a small dinghy dock and run the gauntlet of snoring sea lions and lazy iguanas. There are a few nice walks, and today we booked a day snorkel trip to the Tuneles for tomorrow.

In town we can find nice produce - tomatoes, cukes, cabbage, apples, fresh green beans and welcome avocados! Each shop seems to have a different selection, so it is worth making the rounds.

Pelican and penguin fishing.

Iguana siestas with sea lions.

Whimbrel on the beach.

A little finch that challenged the biblical version of creation.

Tortoises challenge each other, loser retracts head into shell.

Turtle eggs.

March 7 - Tourists to the Tuneles

This morning we were picked up from Baraka and driven eastward in a launch with 8 other tourists for a day snorkeling at the Tuneles (tunnels) which are lava arches shaped by the tides. On the way, we stopped offshore at a large rock that is a Nazca Booby rookery. These boobies like to nest well offshore. We also stopped to watch huge manta rays drift, their wingtips breaking the water a dozen feet apart. A bonus, we witnessed a pair of sea turtles mating. The male, on top, is smaller, so as not to drown his mate. They drift in slow mo, piggyback on the surface, a gentle courtship.

The launch hurled itself ashore through toothy reefs, jagged aa lava, inches from the hull. Yikes! For the first time in 8 years we wanted life jackets! Inside the calm lagoon we motored through a labyrinth of more aa lava islets, barren except for cactus. We got out to walk across the arches formed by flows from Isabela's SE volcano, Volcan Cerro Azul. Blue footed boobies hang out here.

Snorkeling, our guides pointed out large seahorses, anchored to seaweed swaying in the currents. Seahorses are the only pregnant male animals - the females are smaller and less likely to survive through gestation. We got to swim with huge graceful sea turtles and saw sharks circling. On the way home we jumped overboard to swim with a large manta, but he pulled away. Nice day!

Nazca boobies like to nest offshore.

A large manta swoops nearby.

Sea turtles gently mate on the surface.

Blue-footed boobies.

The launch threads through a maze of aa lava islets...

...barren except for cactus.

Sea turtle...

...swims slowly by.

March 15 - birds of prey

Each day we do small boat projects. Then, if a freighter has been in port, we head ashore to check out the veg bins in the stores. Pickings are scarce right now - the last freighter seemed only to be dropping off palettes of beer. We console ourselves with an almuerzo lunch - tasty lentil soup, watermelon juice, grilled albacore tuna, a small salad and scoop of rice - a $5 bargain.

Back aboard, we witness an ongoing feeding frenzy. Mornings, we are woken by clumsy pelicans colliding with our hull as they dive after the small fish that hide in our shadow. At first we leapt up to see what had rammed us, but now we are used to the bumps. The pelicans drop like graceless bags of cement into the water, filling their pouch. Then they tip their heads up to swallow the wiggling fish. Little penguins dash around, nipping at the pelicans beaks hoping for bonuses, but do well themselves zipping under our keel. In the evenings the blue-footed boobies come out, wheeling in swarms above schools of fish. Suddenly, to some silent signal, they fold their wings and dive like missiles. Soon they are airborne, and the cycle repeats until they are satiated.

March 20 - Some excitement

This morning a radio call from JC woke us, to warn that one of the inter-island ferries was on fire in the anchorage. Soon a water taxi came by to collect our fire extinguishers. They were able to drag the flaming hull over to the ferry dock where it was finally extinguished. Dave assumes electrical fire, as it started right when the ferry, loaded with passengers, was scheduled to leave. No one was hurt, though we assume their luggage burned up. In other news, I found a bag of pasta with a thriving colony of weevils! Carefully examined all the rest of the dry goods and had to toss a couple things, not bad.

March 22- Moving forward

Our replacement radio successfully arrived! Dave quickly got the unit installed and configured. Initial tests were good - radio contact with an Aussie net underway, and a couple emails sent and received. But one configuration setting is misbehaving. Dave has been getting expert help from Dockside Radio and was advised that the setting issue may hint at the root cause of our radio failure. So Dave spent today rebedding connections to the antenna, tuner and grounding. No smoking guns, and the configuration setting is still wrong. The officials here have very kindly let us overstay our allowed time here to wait for the radio.

I have loaded up the produce bins and egg containers, and baked and cooked passage food, in hope that we will leave very soon.

March 26 - Goodbye Isabela

Yesterday we enjoyed a final dinner ashore, hit the stores for fresh veg, picked up laundry and collected our zarpe - exit document - from the Port Captain. We had overstayed our allowed 20 days by another dozen, but they kindly allowed us to park until our new radio was both installed and tested. Rolfe worked with Dave long distance to get answers to an anomaly in the setup. Dave rebed the antenna, tuner connections and grounding, and all testing checks out. Best of all, we are hearing boats underway and getting good info on weather and conditions.

Last night we enjoyed a full night's sleep at anchor, something that will seem like a distant luxury in the weeks to come. It is 3000+ miles to the Marquesas. The boats out there report light winds and slow times, punctuated by some squally stuff. Dave plans to point us south down to 4 or 5 degrees before turning west. Hopefully by then we are at the lower edge of the ITCZ and starting to pick up the trade winds. In any case, we are looking at a 3 to 4 week passage, though it should be fairly benign. A long passage used to seem pretty daunting, but over the past couple years has become almost routine. And this time, having parked so long in one place, albeit a very pleasant one, we are anxious to resume our travels. We are doing final stowing, and will pull the anchor midday. One boat left Isabela this morning, and several more go tomorrow, so we will have radio company. Nice!

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