Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last snorkel

Las Grietas

A quick dinghy ride and a walk over treacherous lava rocks brought us to the water between two cliffs called Las Grietas. A few brave souls actually jumped from the top of the narrow gap of the cliffs into the water below as we watched, but did not participate!

Instead, we made our way down into the water and snorkelled for the last time with Aaron and Dee, as they return to Victoria BC tomorrow. The water was the coolest that we have been in so far but it was very welcoming after the hot hike. The site was very impressive but we only saw a couple of parrot fish.

Another great day as we make our way back to town over the lava rocks - not the easiest "path" to walk on!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Diving again

At Galápagos, Aaron (Jordan's son), Deanna (his gal), and Jordan wanted one more diving experience but the site was considered a bit dangerous for snorkelling with the strong currents so I stayed in town as they took the tour boat to Gordon Rocks. This site is famous for spotting hammerhead sharks, which none of us had seen yet.

In both of their two dives, they were lucky and spotted several hammerheads (one young lady we had talked to previously had been on over a dozen dives for the sole purpose of seeing hammerheads and never saw any). Hopefully, you can make out the "hammerhead" that gives these sharks their name in the following photo...

In their second dive, everyone wore a glove on one hand to push themselves away from the sharp rocky wall if the currents pushed them too close, as they also did when they snorkelled at Isla Seymour Norte. But no one was in danger and all was well. They spotted more of the white tip sharks, beautiful sea anemone, several different coloured starfish, and lots of colourful fish...

All in all, a successful diving trip!

Happy father and son

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tortoises & lava tunnel

Back again at Santa Cruz after catching the early 06:00 ferry from Isla Isabela, Aaron (Jordan's son), Deanna (his gal), Jordan, and I hailed a taxi to head out to a tortoise reserve, El Chato, and then hike through a lava tunnel. We walked amongst the slow-motioned free-roaming tortoises and discovered that they could move quite quickly (well, tortoise quick) for their large girth when one tortoise challenged another by approaching it for a stare-down.

Dee standing next to a very large tortoise

Then our taxi driver took us to the entry of the lava tunnel (Tuneles de Lava) where he dropped us off and said he would meet us at the exit. I had read that flashlights were provided so we didn't bring any but the tunnel had hanging lights so we felt safe entering.

The surface was very rocky and bumpy, as lava tends to be, and you had to step very carefully so you wouldn't slip and fall. A short distance in, all the lights went out - I had brought a couple of headlamps but they were too dim to shed any light at all! Everyone stood still waiting, and hoping, for the lights to come back on. Soon they did and we continued through the tunnel.

Looks pretty dark up ahead...

We reached an area where you had to crawl through on your hands and knees, or even crouch lower if you were a large person, and were then at the exit. The tunnel was wet and damp so everyone was a bit muddy after crawling and touching the walls (the taxi driver provided a damp cloth for cleanup).

The lights had gone out a couple of times during our passage and by the time we reached the end, we were sure glad that they had not stayed out as it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find our way through to the exit without lights. Even without a flashlight, we definitely enjoyed the experience as we imagined what it was like when the lava had once flowed through this tunnel.

Jordan entering the higher of the low section of the tunnel

Judy with muddy knees after exiting

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Snorkelling & flamingos

On our way to our snorkelling site today, we saw GIANT manta rays in the water close to the boat. Did I say GIANT? They were easily 5 m (14 feet) wide and can be as large as 8 m (26 feet). Each is different as they actually have marks in their stomach that are their fingerprints. Thus they can be identified by taking a picture of their stomach and then releasing them. Several have been tagged and their behaviour is being studied. It was very difficult for us to get a photo as they would go deep as soon as we were close.

The boat took us out to an area called Los Tuneles to snorkel. As we approached, we saw blue-footed boobie birds and the small Galápagos penguins on the rocks. This was a great site with all of the tunnels, or bridges, to snorkel under or through. In one area, there was even a light under the water.

Snorkellers heading towards light with entry/exit of tunnel at right/left

Other than a chocolate chip starfish spotted by Dee, we did not see too much sea life. But at the next site that we were taken to, Cabo Rose, we saw so many turtles that once again were not afraid of humans.

Picture perfect - Dee with turtle (photo courtesy of Aaron & Dee)

See the above photo is reminiscent of the insignia used on Jacques Cousteau's boat, the Calypso. After a fabulous day of great sites with the tour boat, we returned to Isla Isabela where we sat by the beach for a cold beer. Then we noticed this unusual sight - something that you could only see in the Galápagos!

Don't bug me, I'm sleeping!

We then walked to a nearby site for more snorkelling at Concha y Perla, well at least Aaron and Dee did. Jordan and I rested in the shade after a very busy day. They saw a turtle and another chocolate chip starfish. We ended the day watching 2 flamingos in a serene bay. Their exquisite colour and tranquility was quite breathtaking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Isla Isabela Galápagos

Upon our return to Isla Santa Cruz (where we have Sea Turtle anchored), we bought ferry tickets for an April 24th journey to Isla Isabela. But early in the day, Aaron (Jordan's son), Deanna (his gal), and Jordan and I hiked out to swim and snorkel at Tortuga Bay before the ferry ride.

It was excruciatingly hot out as this is one of the hottest months at the Galápagos so the 2.5+ km walk was very tiring. The cobblestone path was lined with the tall Opuntia Cactus that is native to the Galápagos with stems that grow as large as trees. But upon arrival, the paradisiacal beach made it all worthwhile.

Long stretch of fine, white, coral sand beach (courtesy of Aaron & Dee)

There was very little sea life but the water was wonderful to swim in even if little sea life was evident when we snorkelled. We then hastily returned to catch the 14:30 ferry to Isla Isabela.

Isabela, in the shape of a seahorse, is the largest island of the Galápagos and still has 6 active volcanoes. It had a penal colony from 1946 to 1959. To punish the prisoners, they were forced to build a wall of huge blocks of lava rocks. The wall, measuring 100 m by 7 m high, still exists today and is known as the Wall of Tears. Isabela straddles the equator.

We checked into the Hospedeja Cerro Azul where our hosts, Nelton & Judith, were very helpful and warm hearted. We would recommend this ( as a place to stay if you are ever at Isla Isabela. After settling in, we wandered around the beautiful beach and cute town where most roads were covered in white sand!

The next morning, Nelton drove us to the area of the Triplet Volcanos where we then hiked through lush vegetation as Nelton pointed out other volcanoes in the distance, along the top of steep ridges and down holding onto ropes...

...and finally deep down-reaching into the inactive volcano tube using more ropes and a few rickety stairs. It was a very beautiful location and thankfully cool in the tight opening of the volcano after a hot hike.

As we drove back to town, Nelton stopped at a plantation where we picked a couple of large papayas and then asked if we would like to stop at an eco-reserve for tortoises (land turtles). Unfortunately, just as we arrived at the reserve, the front-end suspension of Nelton's truck broke! (As we toured the reserve, Nelton arranged for another vehicle to pick us all up.)

We got a tour of the reserve, picking fresh bananas, passion fruit, and all the mangoes we wanted. After we had finally had enough of all the nature surrounding us, the staff sliced for us some of the mangoes and passion fruit that we had collected along the walk and cooled us off with chilled drinks.

I need a pedicure

Next was the boat tour to the nearby Las Tintoreras, which means white tipped sharks. The boat first dropped us off for some snorkelling among the seals, turtles, and myriad of other sea hosts including a small baby octopus that the guide handed us until it shot some ink out and away it went.

Octopus holding tightly

After which, they took us ashore and we walked a "loop" tour of part of the island where many blue-footed boobie birds, small penguins only found in the Galápagos, seals, bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs, and marine iguanas were lazing around. Marine iguanas are only found in the Galápagos - no other place in the world - and it was quite hilarious to watch as they "sneezed" the saltwater from their nasal glands after their foraging underwater.

Warming in the sun, sneezing out salt after ocean swim (courtesy of Dee)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Diving & Lonesome George

Isla Seymour Norte of the Galápagos Islands was the chosen site for diving for Aaron (Jordan's son), Deanna (his gal), and Jordan but I snorkelled again as I don't have a diving certificate. We boarded the boat with 4 other eager divers.

All suited up to dive and snorkel

This was Dee's first official dive and Jordan said that it was the best diving of his life! The sea life was once again abundant and definitely a great spot for a first dive.

Dee with Aaron on her 1st official dive

Up close and personal with one of several white tip sharks (did I say shark!)...

Masses of colourful fish were spotted - many in huge schools...

Forests of garden eels were also evident. These creatures are worm-like and retract tail first into their ocean bottom holes when you approach them...

Many starfish were sighted in varying colours such as red, yellow, blue, and chocolate chip. There is such an abundance of sea life that most people have never heard of or seen before. It is always such a treat to stumble upon them...

Jordan said it was like being in a huge fully stocked aquarium. Apparently, there were hammerhead sharks swimming near me as I snorkelled, according to the guides on the boat. But unfortunately, I never saw them!

Upon returning to Isla Santa Cruz, we walked to the Charles Darwin Research Centre where the famous land tortoise, Lonesome George, makes his home. He is the rarest creature in the world, and the last of the Pinta Island tortoises if a female Pinta cannot be found. There is even a $100,000 reward for discovery of a female Pinta! As of this date, Lonesome George is thought to be at least 100 years old. We were lucky to see him, as he does not always appear for photos.

Lonesome George trying to hide...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Snorkelling at Galápagos

We have spent the last few days doing boat jobs as we waited for Jordan's son & girlfriend (Aaron & Deanna) to arrive at Galápagos from Victoria BC. (We chose not to tour any areas until then as we could be seeing things twice.)

Once they arrived on April 21st, we checked out some tour agencies and booked a snorkelling tour for the next day at 3 sites. First site was at Isla San Cristóbel (San Cristóbel has been inhabited since 1910 as it has fresh water on the island and many of the other islands do not.)

After about a 2-hour boat ride we arrived at Isla San Cristóbel, then after a short hike, we had our 1st snorkelling for the day at La Lobería. This was a tranquil sandy beach with oodles of sea life! We immediately saw several cute sea lions lolling on the beach.

Once in the water, we were amazed at the abundance of colourful fish, rays, sea lions...and turtles were everywhere! We swam through schools of fish and alongside rays and turtles. Humans were inconsequential to the sea life and we were basically ignored, definitely not feared.

Swimming above a sea turtle (courtesy of Aaron & Dee)

The tour boat next took us to León Dormido ("lion rocks") also known as Kicker Rocks...

Photo snapped as we leave Kicker Rocks (courtesy of Aaron & Dee)

We all jumped from the boat into the water with the large rocks jutting from the ocean ahead of us. The rocks were very dramatic as we snorkelled between them, but it was difficult to see the sea life as the water was a little murky on that day. But we did spot this majestic spotted eagle ray!

Beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray

We then progressed to another island, Isla Santa Fé (southeast of Santa Cruz) which has volcanic rocks dating back 4 million years! We saw schools of colourful fish and lots of seals. The inquisitive seals entertained us by swimming all around us - even with their pups.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On our way to Galápagos

We finally got underway from Isla Robinson Crusoe once the strong blow settled down to a comfortable south wind that then pushed us northward on our passage to Galápagos. We quickly settled into the passage routine that we have become familiar with, and for the first week, it was pretty much uneventful.

About 600 nautical miles off the coast of southern Peru, and about 12,000 feet off the sea bed, on Jordan's watch during the day he was surprised to see us passing a numbered float. Then looking around he saw a few that seemed to be in a line that we crossed. His first concern was a net strung between the floats but there was no indication of such and it didn't seem feasible that they were tethered to the sea bed at that depth. So we came to no conclusion as to what they were.

Late one night, again on Jordan's watch, under an almost full moon that was far to the west, he was startled to see a distinct white semi-circle arc that rose off the dark east horizon. He had never seen anything like it in his life but soon figured out that it was of course a moon rainbow! He woke me up so I could see it too. What a fascinating sight!

On about the 8th day, the winds died to almost nothing so we started the Perkins purr and let out the fishing line and soon caught a nice little Dorado fish that gave us 4 good meals. We have not been putting out the line while sailing under a wind as the seas are usually rocking us around so landing a fish on a rolling deck is not too comfortable. Also while motoring, we usually turn on the watermaker because the motor makes more than enough amps to power it. By now we only have seen one ship, a southbound freighter about 8 NM off our port side.

Where is everyone?

On the night of the full moon, again on Jordan's watch, we were visited by a lone pilot whale. Jordan pulled back on the power and it came right up beside us as if to say hello briefly before cruising off on his solo whale passage.

One day away from Galápagos landfall. Lots of motoring in the last few days. We are evidently into the ITCZ (InterTropical Convergence Zone) that disseminates the northern hemisphere atmospheres from their southern relatives (also called the Doldrums by sailors). This is a zone of calms and unsettled weather, lots of big cumulus clouds that can give you some gusts and rain showers. This is a zone that circles the world's seas at or around the area of the equator, but around here it typically extends from the equator to about 5 degrees north, so it has dropped down to the south by about 300 miles. However we did pick up a nice light tail wind for the last day and we cruised along nicely under a billowing spinnaker before the winds died for our last night.

Bright spinnaker poled in very light wind

When we started the motor just before sunset, it died shortly after (ran out of fuel on the port tank). It's a bit of a pain when that happens because the Perkins gets cranky and needs to have the lines bled - about a 20-minute job. While Jordan was doing that, he did a visual around the engine compartment and noticed the fan belt was in the advanced stages of wear. So he dug out a new spare. It was the right length, but it was too thick and it wouldn't stay on the narrower gauge pulleys so we continued on with the old one. Now this old belt was the same one we left Victoria with.

It worried Jordan because this fan belt runs the water pump and, if it broke, the engine would overheat. We don't have an alarm for an overheated engine, just a temperature gauge. So we adjusted our usual 20-minute watch check, which includes checking the gauges, down to every 10 minutes. When Jordan woke up the next morning, he said it came to him in his waking consciousness that he could cut down the width of the replacement belt by hacksawing off about 3/16" which he did and tidied up the edge with a super sharp knife. He quickly replaced it and it worked perfectly!

Also during the last night, Jordan, on his watch, heard a thump and thought we ran over something. He jumped up but of course couldn't see anything but heard a splash close by. He thought we might have ran over a whale, but then saw streaks of phosphorescence around the boat and knew it was dolphins playing with Sea Turtle. One no doubt got too close to the bowsprit support. Boy, Jordan sure has had eventful watches on this passage!

After 17th day, Land Ho! Always an exciting sight.

We dropped anchor at about 02:00 local time on April 15th in Academy Bay (Port of Ayora) on the main island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos (S00°44.876' W090°18.509'). Jordan got the outside of the boat organized (dinghy inflated, washed down the deck in the light freshwater rain, put up the bimini, etc.) while I got the interior reorganized for normal life again. Just as we finished, a panga full of officials came aboard and we got all the check-in process done. Very efficient but expensive - $658 US. That included the agent's fee, park fees, non-toxic boat fumigation, immigration, and clearance when we are ready to go. They gave us 25 days for our length of stay. But we are not allowed to take Sea Turtle to any of the other islands. We would have had to pay about double and I think we also would have had to let them know ahead of time that we were coming, which we did not do.

We then finally relaxed in the cockpit with margaritas in hand, anchored amongst about 25 other transient sailboats that have made this their stop also on their way west to the South Pacific. The surrounding waters were so green, not the usual blue. Indeed, a very beautiful anchorage.