d 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490
2nd Report 2005: San Blas Islands, Panama and Galapagos Islands
Our last update came from Aruba and much has happened since. In the chart below you can see our track from Aruba to Obaldia. All along the Columbian coast, but in respectful distance. It took us exactly 3 days to cover the 550 miles and it was boisterous sailing in strong trades, at least for the first two days. In the chart, where the track is shown in red, Taniwani was sailing at more than 9 knots. Beate had the peak reading on the speedo in the second night when it showed 14.6 knots. As typical and expected the wind died some 30 miles before our destination.
Obaldia is the
easternmost outpost of Panama, right at the Caribbean border to Columbia. It is
an official port of entry and since we wanted to explore the whole chain of the
San Blas Islands it was the most natural place to enter Panama. There is a very
good book by Tom Zydler for cruising in Panama, but we still were not quite sure
what to expect. Also the most accurate chart you can get for the 50 mile stretch
of islands west of Obaldia is just 1:300,000, amazingly the whole area is still
not surveyed. Already on our approach to Obaldia we had to move carefully and find
the actual anchorage behind a little reef corner. Once in the bay the first
thing we see is a heavily armed guy in camouflage pointing out to us where to
Obaldia is the easternmost outpost of Panama, right at the Caribbean border to Columbia. It is an official port of entry and since we wanted to explore the whole chain of the San Blas Islands it was the most natural place to enter Panama. There is a very good book by Tom Zydler for cruising in Panama, but we still were not quite sure what to expect. Also the most accurate chart you can get for the 50 mile stretch of islands west of Obaldia is just 1:300,000, amazingly the whole area is still not surveyed. Already on our approach to Obaldia we had to move carefully and find the actual anchorage behind a little reef corner. Once in the bay the first thing we see is a heavily armed guy in camouflage pointing out to us where to anchor.
Soon after that, a dug-out canoe with four officials appears and in no time they are all on our boat. The one guy in orange overall starts to spray around the aft-deck with some insecticide, but stops when he sees that we had treated the others with some drinks. They are all very friendly and tell us that we need to come ashore and visit some four or five different offices. Once we showed them our track on the plotter and assured them that we didn't come from Columbia, they were happy and just curious what such a yacht looks like inside. As so often the very fine Najad joinery work is touched and looked at as if we would come from another planet. Well, maybe we did: Aruba certainly was a different world.
Soon after they were
gone, just as we were getting the dinghy ready, a crude workboat with two armed
guys and a dog shows up. The guy with the dog jumps on board, drags the dog on
board and disappears in the cabin. "Sook, Sook!" we hear and after a
while we realize that he tries to talk German to the dog. Apparently the drug
dog was trained in Germany and he meant to say "Such". The dog didn't
find anything and the guy seemingly relaxes. "Yes, all ok! Yes, yes dog
trained in Germany, good dog, can do more: Sit, sit!" Dog doesn't react. I
say "sitz" and the dog sits down immediately.
The first thing to visit in the village is the police which has an army like garrison at this outpost. After the chief has nodded you off, you have to visit harbor-master, immigration officer, customs officer and finally the health officials. The various fees sum up to about $120, but then you can cruise freely in Panamanian waters. The local currency actually is the U.S. Dollar, they just call it Bolivar and the coins are different and only valid in Panama.
It takes some time for us to work through all the red tape, but it is also entertaining: Lacking the appropriate forms, the harbor-master creates them by writing on the letterhead paper of the marine office. Works fine, but takes time. The immigration officer asks us to wait a few minutes so he can clear two international flights?! We follow him to see what is going on and come to a soccer field on the beach. The goals have been moved and there are two 20 seat planes nicely parked, Kuna people in tears saying goodbye to their loved ones and eventually the first plane starts the engines, taxies behind a row of houses and them comes roaring out the small alley, across the soccer field and off into the air. Later we learn that some flights come from Columbia with a short stop here and then on to Panama City. A flight to Panama City costs just $47 and they go every day. Aside of slow coastal boats, this is the only connection; there are no roads to most parts of Panama.
Obaldia seemed like a nice place, but we thought the anchorage might be a bit too open to the swell and we also were keen to get into the island world of the San Blas'. And so we moved on as soon as all the officials were happy. It was only some 25 miles to Caledonia, but moving through shallow and uncharted water made it seem longer. For many miles offshore, the sea is shallow at around 30 meters and just once in a while our graphic sounder showed a steep incline and we quickly slowed the boat: 15 meters, 10 meters, 7 meters..., we would hold our breath, but then it got deeper again. This sort of excitement we had several times while cruising in these islands.
Just before reaching Caledonia we caught a large barracuda and worried about ciguatera poisoning we headed for a small canoe with a very primitive sail and an old man with his very young son or grandson. We gave them the fish and you should have seen the smiles we earned.
Caledonia turned out a really beautiful place. A pool fringed by little islands, so calm inside that we thought our boat was on land, not in the water. And so quiet too, absolutely no noise to be heard all night.
Word of our arrival
quickly spread to the nearby village, and soon several canoes were visiting
Taniwani, full with Kuna folks trying to sell us something. The unique product
of the Kuna women are the so called Mola, the colorful cloth they wear. It's
main parts are the square pictures on front and back, which are stitched
together from many colored pieces of cloth, all in a very unique way with very
special motives. They are one of the souvenirs that are easy to transport on a
yacht and decorative as they are can be used in many ways. In the course of our
stay we bought some 25 of these. Other than that the Kunas sell vegetables,
fruits and fish.
The Kunas managed to
maintain a very high degree of independence from Panama and they largely
maintained rules and lifestyle of their ancestors. Villages have chiefs and a
congress who define the rules and discuss and solve day to day problems. From
village to village rules may differ. In such a community, no money is actually
needed, as fish is traded for bread and so on. But as some Kunas explained to
us, money is helpful for those who go outside their community, or to buy books
for their kids in school. Women have traditionally headed the Kuna families and
now that they also earn most of the money by producing Molas, this hasn't
In the eastern part of the San Blas, yachts are still few, but certainly for the Kunas they have become common visitors and trading partners. In every community a yacht has to pay $5 to the congress, which entitles them to orderly complain if they feel they haven't been treated right. But this is unlikely as crime seems unknown in this area and boats and their belongings are very safe. In addition to that the Kunas have a very friendly and humorous character; they are giggling and laughing all day and if you walk through their villages that is the most likely noise to hear coming from the wooden houses.
The Kunas have simple means of fishing and at best they may tow a line from a dug-out canoe with a small sail. They just get what they need for living and consequently the area is still quite full of fish. And snorkeling along the reef Felix found and caught a huge crab.
The first Kuna village we visited, was that at Caledonia and it was a quite large one with some 2000 people. Strangely one has the impression of something rather smaller when walking through the 'streets'.
Our next stop is at Isla de Piņo, where we anchor off the most perfect beach, lined with beautiful palm trees. From there it is maybe a mile by dinghy to the small village (200 people), a little to the north.
Another concentrated sailing day through the uncharted waters brings us to our next stop: A nice place called Mamitupu. Again a little village, maybe even smaller than the one at Isla Piņo and on a wonderful little island. A sailing canoe that was far out near us now lands at the same island. By the time we come ashore it is all unrigged and tidied up.
We inspect the new place and soon meet Pablo who has worked in England for many years and speaks quite good English. He is trying to entertain some very basic tourism, has a ' hotel' with one room and a restaurant where you may have dinner if you tell them in advance and if they have enough supplies. We pay the usual visit to the Congreso and the Chief, check out the village and buy Molas and bread.
Later Pablo, in our dinghy, guides us up the river, right across at the mainland. Once over the sandbar it is deep enough for the outboard engine for at least two miles, then by order of the Congreso we need to take the engine off, leave it at the shore and paddle further upriver. A canoe comes down the river with a guy and a dog. The guy's name is Manuel and he asks whether he could join us and help paddle. Sure! Dog and canoe stay tied to the shore and we glide further upriver. Nice jungle, birds and the like.
Leaving Mamitupu, we also left the more isolated and uncharted eastern part of the San Blas islands and sailed to a group of little islands and reefs, called the East Holandes Islands. The area is a bit further offshore, there are no permanent Kuna villages out there, and it is well known in the cruising scene. Some boats have been staying there for almost ten years, with an annual visit right across to Cartagena in Columbia for the annual haul-out and some restocking.
It is indeed a very nice, picture book like place. We stayed for a few days, diving, wind-surfing, and waited for Wetnose to arrive from Aruba. Eventually Harald's birthday came up and we picked one of the lonely little palm islands to celebrate on the beach together with the crew of Wetnose and Nis Randers.
But it was time to worry about our passage through the Panama canal. We had heard many rumors about it and it was time to find out. One thing seemed sure and it was that this year there was a very long waiting time of up to three weeks to get a slot assigned. We also heard that an Agent might be able to accelerate your wait time, even if you were away from Colon in some nicer place and so we hired an Agent (Enrique Plummer) via e-mail. He explained that we had to come to Colon to get measured, but after that we could go away again and he would inform us if the transit date changed. He also mentioned that for $2500 extra we could have any date.
So together with Wetnose
we left the Holandes and sailed to Colon, but not without two overnight stops in
Chichime and Porto Belo.
Once in Colon we found out more: Wetnose could go through the canal any time after 48 hours, but Taniwani would have to wait approximately two to three weeks. The reason was that Wetnose has been through the canal before with her previous owner and was measured at 65.7 ft and boats over 65 ft get a fully licensed pilot, smaller boats get a trainee as advisor. The shortage on pilot trainees causes the long wait time.
But if a smaller boat requests a real pilot, it will have to pay $2250 extra, for what the bigger ones get for free. On the other hand boats between 50ft and 80ft pay all the same price and from 65 ft up the real pilot is included. So we had the great idea of making Taniwani longer by rigging one of the spi poles as a bow sprit and with this and the dinghy far out back in the davits we measured 70ft!
So everybody was happy and
we could have passed the next day. But Wetnose was waiting for Pearl, another
boat with kids of same age and wanted to spend a few days together back in the
nice Holandes. And so we fixed our transit for a week later and sailed back to
the San Blas islands.
So we soon were back in this beautiful spot and Felix was very happy to play with his new windsurfer in the well protected lagoon. Soon he got better and didn't need the "bring me back to windward service" any more, and than he also figured out the water start. But we were all having a good time there and yet another birthday to celebrate on our special little island. This time it was Inga's turn. Inga also called "Mother of Pearl" is from a new and pretty Hallberg Rassy 43 named Pearl. www.RouchesBigAdventure.com Wetnose had met them already in the Windward islands and both kids and adults were getting along very well. So we all joined into another birthday party at the beach and had a good time.
The trip back to Colon
started out with good wind while out in the islands, but closer to the land it
became clear why Panama is also known for much rain, which on the other hand is
a prerequisite for operating the canal. For us it meant to motor through a rainy
day with hardly any wind. Once in Colon there was still work to be done: Every
boat needs four long lines and one line-handler per line, for us it meant we
needed two more people to help out and we had already agreed with Bernd and
Daniel from Nis Randers, www.wirhauenab.de
that they would volunteer. But when we arrived in Colon we learned that Nis
Randers was now also scheduled to go through the canal starting a day earlier
and completing with us. That was certainly good news for Nis Randers, but for us
it meant we had to start looking for line handlers and most other boats we knew,
were in the same bulk with Nis Randers.
But it all works out and in the end we have one more hand than absolutely needed: We found Renee, a German globetrotter who had come on another boat and wanted to visit Panama City before sailing on yet another boat to Cuba http://stolle.blogg.de , then Edith from the yacht Mignon www.sy-mignon.com was so nice to volunteer and Steve who had crewed on an American Yacht and was running out of time waiting for their transit was happy to come along.
So we just needed to get
some car-tire type fenders and they were easily obtained from a guy who prepares
them in garbage bags and wrapped with tape.
Now we are ready: Renee stays overnight on board and the other two line-handlers get picked up at 3:30 in the morning! Well, we were told to call the control tower at 4:00 in the morning to get advice and they tell us that the pilots are on their way. We are three boats: Wetnose, 3t ( a Norwegian Nicholson 60 ) and Taniwani, the smallest boat.
Wetnose has hired two professional line handlers and has Inga and John from Pearl on board in addition. The "Pearl Family" now plans to leave their boat in Colon and sail on Wetnose to the Galapagos, spend two weeks there and then fly back to their own nice boat.
Soon the pilot boat shows up and heads towards our lights and at 4:20 David, our pilot jumps on board: "Are we still anchored?" "Yes." "Ok, you can bring the anchor up and proceed to the entrance channel; where can I change?" And so we are off and move through the dark towards the blinking lights of the main shipping channel. The other two boats now also have their pilots and follow us.
A mile or so before reaching the brightly illuminated Gatun Locks, David asks us to slow down and wait for a cargo ship to overtake us. It is supposed to be with us in the same lock and when locking up, the big ships always go in front. Soon a huge wall of steel passes close by and then we see the name on the stern high up: Pioneer Leader.
As we follow and approach the locks, the rain starts pouring down - David says that's normal here.
Now our three boats get rafted: 3t in the middle, Tanwani to the right and Wetnose to the left, and then the whole raft moves slowly into the lock. 'Even' on 3t does a fine job bringing the whole raft slowly into the center behind the freighter. The boats outside are just standby on their engines and thrusters for the final slow down and adjustment. Then the monkey fists come flying from the walls high above us, the lines are tied to them and hauled up to the pollards.
The big doors to the Atlantic close, the lines are tensioned and then water starts bubbling in from below and the boats slowly rise. Not much different to the many other locks Taniwani has already been through in Scotland. - Just bigger.
The Gatun locks are actually a three stage lock, where you have to move from chamber to chamber, being lifted about 9 meters in each of them. While this approach is more time consuming, only a third of the water is used than would be with a single stage for the total 26 meters to the Gatun Lake.
We have plenty of space behind the freighter and could have easily secured every of the three yachts separately in the center line. David our pilot explained that they don't do this because it is too expensive to have that many people tending the lines on the shore. And the canal company may well loose money on transiting yachts anyway. A big freighter like the one in front of us has to pay about $70,000.- for the transit, while we pay just $850.-
The water streaming into the locks causes some turbulences and to prevent the boats from drifting around in this, the lines need to be kept tensioned. In our case this is done on Taniwani with its powerful electric winches and the lines on Wetnose remain fixed; With the other heavy boats attached, Wetnose alone displaces over 50 tons, there is a lot of tension on the lines and it would be impossible to pull them by hand.
David our very skilled and very nice pilot is supervising the whole process and quietly gives commands to the line handlers. He is very concentrated and watches out that none of the somewhat inexperienced volunteers gets accidentally hurt. As always, Taniwani seems to attract fine people, and it isn't different with our pilot: While he usually takes big freighters through the canal, he turns out expert in small boat handling and concerns and he does it all in a very gentle way; most maneuvers start with him saying to the skipper: "Is it ok with you if we do this this way?" It certainly is.
David tells us that he is a proud young father with a 3 week old baby, tells us about his job, for example how much better German built freighters handle than their Chinese counterparts and so on. Beyond his duty he is also looking out for tourist attractions like birds or alligators, so that we get the most out of our trip through the beautiful Gatun Lake. And yes, the rain and the mosquitoes are a permanent feature of the canal.
In the narrow Gaillard Cut we meet several freighters coming the other way and Dave really spots a big, lazy alligator right at the shore close to us.
While the canal is operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, yachts are only taken through at daylight. That means the boats need to be able to cruise at a certain speed to make it in one day. It used to be that that they accepted sustainable speeds of over 5 knots as acceptable, but since a year have raised the bar to 8 knots, which is impossible for many of the smaller boats. So if you specify a sustainable speed of under 8 knots, you will be scheduled for a overnight stop at Gatun Lake and they will charge you an extra $450 for the advisor who will be picked up in the evening and brought back to your boat early in the morning, most likely a different one.
The result of the raised speed limit is that even the smallest boats claim to be able to do 8 knots, so that they do not have to pay the extra fee, and the schedulers knowing that, now schedule all regular yachts with an overnight stay at Gatun Lake. So everybody is happy. Boats above 65 ft, those that go with real pilots, are scheduled for a one day passage and, like us, start very early in the morning.
We still were there an hour early and so we rafted up at a dock in order of arrival: 3T, Taniwani and then Wetnose. Unfortunately the other pilots thought we should just stay rafted and go like this into the first lock. Neither David or we were too happy with the lightest boat driving the raft and the light wind pinning the whole raft to the dock. But it worked out somehow, with just 3t's dinghy scratching the dock.
It all went smooth and relaxed. We used the hour at the dock for lunch while the kids from 3t and Wetnose and Pearl climbed from boat to boat. Our 'kid' Felix climbed the mast to take some pictures.
So, after the lunch break the raft with Taniwani in the middle enter the Pedro Miguel Lock. This lock is a single stage lock and we are just lowered one third of the height from Gatun Lake down towards the Pacific.
Below that lock is the small Pedro Miguel Lake, where some of the big ships are anchored waiting for their locking slot. We break up our raft and motor about one mile to the two stage Miraflores Locks, where we raft up again in the proven configuration with 3t in the middle.
The Miraflores Locks are again a double stage where we complete our descent to the Pacific. There is a webcam at Miraflores and we had informed our friends of our transit time, so some may be watching our slow progress through the two locks. Unfortunately, as David explains, it is a Sunday and then the camera is on a fixed wide angle setting, whereas on regular work days somebody may have it point at the individual boats.
Soon we are down at the level of the Pacific and the huge doors to a new ocean swing open. On the short last leg to Balboa, just before we pass under the beautiful Bridge of the Americas, a pilot boat catches up with us and David jumps over. For a moment it looks like after we managed the canal without damage we will now incur one, as the pilot boat gets entangled in our guardrail for a moment. But it's all fine and we complete the transit by passing under the nice bridge and picking up a mooring buoy at the Balboa Yacht Club.
We only spend a few days in Balboa, just for some final shopping and to top up fuel just before leaving for the Galapagos. We had considered the possibility to stop at the Las Perlas Islands, a day sail out of Balboa, but then we had been in Panama for over a month and it was time to move on and for just one night at anchor the slight detour seemed not worth it.
The route to the Galapagos Islands usually crosses the doldrums and is known for lacking wind. The distance is just 890 miles so that in theory we could motor the whole passage. But that is not what we like to do.
There is no wind when we leave Balboa, but as we head towards Punta Mala to get out of the Golf of Panama, some light wind comes up and we set the Spinnaker and take off nicely. Soon the wind gets even too much for the Spi and we continue with the Genoa into the evening. Nearing Punta Mala we suddenly receive a MAYDAY call on VHF. It is from another sailboat called ESCAPADE on her way down the coast to Balboa. Another boat answers the call so we wait. But after a while ESCAPADE repeats its MAYDAY and we hear no other boat and answer the call.
ESCAPADE is taking water for a while and their batteries are getting weak and they think they cannot cope with the water ingress for a longer time. They say that they had no wind and that they were drifting with broken engine and the leak now for four days and that we were the first to answer the MAYDAY. We think this is strange as we are only 26 miles off their position and have good wind. Also Punta Mala is a very frequented spot with a lot of big shipping traffic to and from the canal.
We change course slightly and go for their position. We also send out a MAYDAY-relay, which is received by several other yachts who now also aim for the position. WETNOSE behind us picks up our call, and calls the Rescue Center in Bremen, who in turn notify the U.S. Coast Guard. We tried to reach the Panama Coast Guard on all possible frequencies to no avail. But in the mean time the Mayday is broadcast via satellite and two of the large freighters in the vicinity get involved.
The closest ship seems a 60ft Nordhaven trawler who connects with ESCAPADE and should be in their position in less than an hour. The name of the trawler is Starweather and the skipper handles the matter very professionally, eventually picking the couple of their boat, leaving ESCAPADE adrift. - We all go back to our courses.
Then wind gets weaker again and WETNOSE takes over running under engine. We are trying to stay in the vicinity and we have radio contact every two hours as this area is also known for pirate attacks on yachts. From what we heard they are Columbian fishermen trying some 'diversification'. In the critical area we even sail without lights and we have taken the regular radar reflector off our mast. We still have an electronic one, that gives a much better echo anyway and can be turned off.
One night we appear to sail close to two of those suspect vessels and we make a drastic course change and steer completely clear of them to err on the safe side.
The winds remain weak for most of the passage and rain squalls are now a standard feature. We motor-sail several days until about a day and a half from the Galapagos we finally get some decent wind. With that we overtake Wetnose again and a day later we cross the Equator.
The information about cruising in the Galapagos that we could find beforehand, was plentiful, but contradictory and confusing. In the mean time we have figured it all out and written a separate information page that should help other sailors avoid some of our pitfalls. Here is the link to it:
When we left Balboa we heard from our agent there, that it might be helpful to use an agent in the Galapagos and the name he gave us was the same that is also listed as a Transocean Club shore officer. So, once under way, we sent an e-mail to Johnny Romero, which was swiftly answered. He told us that he can organize about anything, from tours, to diesel, as well as cruising permits to go to the various islands on your own keel.
The only problem with the
cruising permit was time. It takes him 10 days to get all the signatures.
Luckily, we have scanner and electronic mail on board and were able to send him,
copies of ships papers and our passports, so that he could get the process
Johnny, told us that in theory we should not enter the Galapagos before he has the cruising permit in his hands, but since that was not possible he sent to us Wreck Bay on the island of San Christobal, to wait there. Wreck Bay also called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, is the capital of the Galapagos and has most of the government offices. It is also a nicer place for a yacht to wait, than Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay).
Wetnose, who had no
chance to get a cruising permit in time, now opted for exploring the islands on
tour boats and for that reason Johnny sent them to Puerto Ayora.
Once at the equator, it
was not far any more and soon we sailed along Isla San Christobal and some beautiful
off lying rocks. Exactly at sunset we dropped anchor in the wide bay of Puerto
Baquerizo Moreno. We counted about 15 other yachts, many little fishing boats
and a few tour boats. We didn't go ashore on this first evening, but enjoyed
swimming in the clear water, a nice dinner and went to bed. In the morning we
heard some noises on our aft platform and looking through our windows in the
transom, we starred straight into another pair of eyes peering into our cabin!
The eyes of a sea-lion.
soon found out that these sea lions are absolutely not shy, they know that they
have nothing to fear from us and they just live their lazy life. A little bit of
fishing, then laying in the sun and relax, or the younger ones always enjoy to
play. Like with the other boats, Taniwani was soon identified as a really good
place to hang out, and if you don't stop them they would lay down all over your
deck. We offered the bathing platform but prevented them from coming all the way
on deck by hanging dinghy high above it. That way we had space for two smaller
ones and we hosed down the dirt, (they lose some of their fur), every morning
until one night a bigger one came to fight for that space. We had enough of the
noise at some point and closed the platform, lowering the dinghy. Next day they
Waiting for our cruising permit, we spend a few days in this place and we really like it. The clearing in and all the logistics are handled for us by Johnny's man on Christobal. The little village is quite nice and we find a good place to eat in the evening, good and very cheap.
One day we do a land tour over the island as far as there are roads and we see big turtles, marine iguanas and a beautiful crater lake above which numerous frigate birds circle in the up-draft.
Another day Felix and Harald, together with Jo and Noel from ENDELIG, go out with a dive boat for two fantastic SCUBA dives around and through the gap of the spectacular off-shore rock Leon Dormir.
Off course, life on TANIWANI is not quite as easy going as that of the sea lions, and once in a while TANIWANI needs a cleaning job on the topsides. Here was a good and quiet place for work of this kind and nice helpers to balance the dinghy.
This way and in such a nice place, waiting for the cruising permit was not so hard. Johnny had said that he might get the permit by Saturday, (we arrived Monday), so that by Saturday we had also topped up fuel and were ready to go to Porto Ayora, where Johnny has his main office and where we could get the required guide and the permit to visit the national park areas.
To our surprise Johnny showed up at our boat on Saturday, telling us that the political turmoil in Kito, that led to their president being ousted, had also slowed down some of the officials, but he was now only missing one signature and should get it during Monday. He also told us that he would talk to both harbor masters, here and in Puerto Ayora, to get the permission for us to move from one place to the other, ahead of receiving the cruising permit.
If it worked out we could
sail tomorrow, and he would like to be taken along if possible. He had come to
Christobal, mainly to check out a large mega-yacht that spent a whole month
cruising the archipelago.
As promised Johnny called us 10 am next morning, only to tell us that he hadn't got hold of the chief harbor master yet. But half an hour later he calls again to tell us that we will get approval and that the captain should come ashore with ships papers and passports. - An hour later we are under way.
At the beginning we have good wind and soon TANIWANI is gliding along towards the Island of Santa Cruz at 8 knots. Johnny, who usually travels on noisy motor driven boats is astonished about the quiet elegance of sailing. Unfortunately this doesn't last the whole way and at some point we need to add the engine to get to our destination in time.
The real good thing about Puerto Ayora is that from here you can go on many different, but very nice day tours, and that certainly is the choice to take, if you cannot go on your own keel. More details about this options can be found in:
Since we would explore the places south of Santa Cruz with our own boat, we also wanted to make at least one boat tour to the north, in particular to the little island of Bartholomew, just off the coast of the Island San Salvador. These tours start very early in the morning with a bus ride across the Island of Santa Cruz to the north, to shorten the boat trip enough to make it in one day.
Johnny had booked the WETNOSE and PEARL families on such a trip for the next morning and tried to get us on as well, but the boat was booked to the maximum 20 people and so we thought we could at least sleep longer in the morning, and then maybe arrange for such a trip on Tuesday.
But 5:30 in the morning we hear: "TANIWANI, TANIWANI, are you awake??" - "Yes, sort of??" It was Wolfgang from WETNOSE who told us that there were two no-shows and that the tour operator would take us along if we can make it in ten minutes. Trained as we are for abandoning ship emergencies, we certainly could, and soon we were sitting in a brand new and clean bus, driving out of Puerto Ayora.
An hour later we boarded the old, little tour boat "Santa Fee 2", which immediately weighed anchor and started steaming (black smog), full throttle ( 7 knots), towards the Island of San Salvador, about 4 hours away. We were served a nice breakfast and then tried to find some shade to wait for our arrival at Bartholomew.
Santa Fee's dinghy unloads all their passengers in two short rides to the shore of the little island of Bartholomew. A nice trail leads up to the top where we have one of the most magnificent views in the islands. After that snorkeling along the beach below is on the program and we get our money worth on animals to see in the water. First a shark, (Beate's first encounter), then one of the famous penguins and finally a large turtle.
Again a quite nice lunch on board and then a long steam back to Santa Cruz. It was a very nice excursion, but also a long day and we conclude it with a late dinner in town.
Next morning an excited Johnny calls us on the radio: "Guess what I have here!" "The cruising permit??" "Yes, please come to my office, we need to do all the logistics for the park and the guide, so that you can take off tomorrow morning."
There is a lot of paper
pushing with the park authorities, but Johnny handles all that for us, including
fumigation and by the end of the day we are ready. We can pick up Marlon,
our guide at six in the morning at the dock and then head off.
Marlon, a biology student turns out a great guy and a big asset. He is as excited, as he has never guided a private yacht, rather jobbed for many of the local tour operators. He fits right into the small Taniwani crew and we thoroughly enjoy his company for four unforgettable days.
Ahead of our tour we had to decide on a rigid itinerary that has to be approved by the park authority. Luckily Johnny had done this before for many of the big private mega-yachts and knew what they liked.
So right after picking up Marlon, we weighed anchor and headed south to the island of Floreana, (in some charts called Santa Maria). As usual in this archipelago there was not a lot of wind and we had to motor sail. We also decided to burn fuel and go fast for a change. That way we moved at 8.8 knots and were able to drop our anchor at the famous post box bay at 10:20 am.
Three tour boats were anchored there and the people ashore near the Post Box, so Marlon decided to take us on a dinghy tour through a mace of little reefs and islands, full of seals and birds, just east of Post Box Bay. Skillfully he maneuvered through the shallow water and at one point we needed to get out and push the dinghy across a shallow channel. Then we land at a little beach and walk a trail up to a hilltop overlooking the reefs we just came through.
All the time Marlon keeps feeding us with history, and background stories of the islands, animals and plants.
When we return to TANIWANI the park-patrol is already there, alarmed by jealous tour operators, who all assume a small foreign sail boat would never pay the steep fee for the park permit. We show our papers and all is fine. Marlon tells us that some 20 years ago, when the restrictions on visiting the protected area, (95% of the islands), were introduced, some 80 permits for tour operators had been given out and since then no additional one. So they are now worth a lot and almost impossible to buy. Some owners have excellent income just renting out the permit. But with 80 boats, competition is also strong and they look carefully that nobody from outside intrudes into their business. A foreign yacht is very suspect and will not go undetected for more than a few hours.
After that short distraction we go ashore in Post Box Bay. The bay is named after an old barrel, into which originally the whalers used to throw mail, and boats leaving the islands would look for mail going their way and voluntarily deliver it. The tradition has kept until today, when many of the tourists deliver the mail faster then their originators return. Off course we left a bunch of post cards and picked one to personally deliver in Frankfurt.
Then a quick visit to a big lava cave nearby, some nice snorkeling in the vicinity and back to TANIWANI. Felix felt quite sick and skipped the snorkeling.
There is a village on the island, just around the corner and Marlon, who has grown up in the islands has never been there and was curious what it would be like. We checked if a short deviation from our plan was ok, and heard that it was an official harbor that can be visited with just a cruising permit and without a park permit. While for the night we should anchor at Cormorant Point, the north-east corner of the island, there was plenty of time to check out the village.
It turned out a very remote place, with a swell exposed anchorage, a friendly harbor master and big marine iguanas right next to the dock. We checked out the place while sick Felix tended TANIWANI, that could not be left alone in that anchorage. We found that there are hardly any supplies and we could not get any fresh fruits or vegetables. So we returned to TANIWANI and sailed to our evening destination.
After arriving and anchoring at Cormorant Point, there is still half an hour left before sunset, to explore the place. Felix, now even more sick doesn't feel like going ashore, but Marlon takes Beate and Harald onto a very impressive tour, even better in the late afternoon light.
Right behind the
beach, the trail goes slightly uphill and opens the view over a beautiful
lagoon. Pink flamingos close by and many other birds in the bushes, so close you
could almost touch them. Marlon is in his element, you can tell he is a real
nature lover. He has been here before many times, but he is so excited about the
lone moment, with just the three of us and keeps explaining the many wonders of
nature, including why the flamingos are pink.
We continue on the trail to the other side of the island where we step out onto a small, but incredibly beautiful beach. It is getting darker now, but we can see the shades of rays and sharks swimming in the surf.
Then we turn back to make it to our dinghy before it gets totally dark. We are about half way back, when an angry park ranger shows up and without understanding the conversation he had with Marlon, it was clear that we were in trouble.
He went with us to the beach, and back onto his patrol boat, which was with TANIWANI a few minutes later. Again all permits get checked and Marlon's license number gets noted down.
Marlon explains to us that he is guilty of several offenses: First it is not allowed to leave the dinghy at this beach, second everybody has to leave the park by 6 pm, and 3rd he did not wear the proper shirt that identifies him as an approved park guide. Offense number three apparently was the worst.
During the night Felix
gets over 39C (103F) fever and from some of the symptoms we get worried weather
that could be malaria. There was a remote possibility of infection in Panama. We
are carrying the currently best malaria medicine, but before taking that we call
a doctor, specialized on tropical diseases in Germany. She thinks it is quite
unlikely malaria, but still recommends taking the medicine, just in case.
At this point we sadly consider returning to Puerto Ayora in the morning. But in
the mean time also Beate is sick with diarrhoea und Harald feels some of the
same, just not as bad. We are now quite convinced of food poisoning, most likely
in the sushi restaurant where we ate last evening. So Felix also gets the medicine
against salmonella infections.
By morning Felix's fever is down and he seems to recover fast. And so we decide to stick to our cruising plans.
Right off Cormorant Point, within dinghy distance is a sunken volcano of which only parts of the rim stick out of the sea - it is said to be one of the best diving spots in the islands. Since Felix still has to recover Marlon drives Beate and Harald out to the place. The tide is racing through with little curly eddies and Beate feels like she doesn't want to get into the water. So only Harald has the pleasure to drift through some of the most fascinating underwater world. It's packed with fish of all sorts. The seven big sharks look scary but they seem to not bother. With the fast tide Harald is through in no time and Marlon picks him up several times to bring him back upstream. It is great fun in an fantastic under water scenery.
Then it was time to sail to the next island: Espaniola. This is the most south-easterly and also the oldest island of the archipelago. We have to go against 1.5 knots of current and so it gets late afternoon when we arrive at Gardener Bay. It is too late to get ashore, but we enjoy the a nice evening at anchor and pelicans on our rail.
Next morning we are off
early and Marlon brings us to the long beach that is full of sea lions. We walk
along the mile long beach, from sea-lion family to sea-lion family and study
their lifestyle. They just ignore us, except maybe for the youngsters who are
curious. They are playing in the surf, drift away and then with some growing
panic try to fid their mother again. Real fun to sit in midst of them and watch.
Now Marlon drives us out to Turtle Rock for another great snorkeling experience. And, with Felix recovered and no wild tide running, all three of us now enjoy it, while Marlon tends the dinghy and follows us around the rock.
By 10:30 we are back on
board, weigh anchor and quietly sail along the island to its western end, Punta
Suarez. Later in the afternoon we go ashore and are simply overwhelmed. This is
clearly the highlight of our trip. It is like we are invisible as we walk the
trail, first in midst of iguanas and sea-lions, then uphill a bit to the nesting
places of Masked Boobies, Blue Footed Boobies and finally the magnificent
The view from top of this little world is overwhelming.
It is hard to digest all
the impressions, walking from animal to animal, so close that it would be easy
to touch them, but they just live their life as if we were not there. Sitting on
the ground the big Albatrosses look like some domestic animal, but once up in
the air, the huge wings unfolded one cannot belief it is the same bird.
At sunset we return to our boat for a nice dinner. We want the get the most out of the next day, our last day, and our stop at Santa Fee island and so we weigh anchor again at 1 am in the morning and head into the night, most of us at sleep. At sunrise, with the first light we follow a tour boat into the narrow and uncharted bay. There are quite a few of them as it is a popular destination and rather close to the main port.
Santa Fee is famous for the land iguanas, which are not as common as their marine equivalent and they are often hard to find. But this is not a problem for Marlon. Again he times our trip in a way that we feel we are alone on the island and as we hike up the cliff, he spots several of them including a baby.
Then the climb up the
cliff is rewarded by a fantastic view over the bay.
The final excursion then is again into the underwater world and we enjoy turtles, sea-lions and sharks.
Then in the afternoon it
is time to sail back to Puerto Ayora where we are received by Johnny, who
supplies us with new diesel and helps to clear out of the park. Like when
clearing into, a park official has to come out to the boat to see if we brought
We spent the Sunday, our
last day in the Galapagos in Puerto Ayora, with maintenance and repair work.
Next day after some final shopping we weigh anchor at 11 am and start for our
longest leg. The 3000 mile journey to the Marquesas islands.
Now, concluding this report we are less than a day from our landfall in the Marquesas. We are heading to Hanavave Bay on Fatu Hiva, reputedly one of the nicest anchorages in the South Pacific - We shall see.
Since the Galapagos we have now sailed 2830 miles in 16 days. Some days were real fast with plenty of wind and we did well over 200 miles a day for six days in a row. But then there were days with very little wind and on the worst day we made 127 miles. All-in-all quite a good mix and about what we estimated. We have twice daily contact with Wetnose and Endelig, both started ahead of us and are now more than a day behind us.
If we get a decent internet connection in the Marquesas, we will upload this to the website with all the pictures. In the mean time we send the text out via short wave.