Safe Arrival in the Galapagos

It is now Saturday, March 24 (Hannah’s B-Day!), and we are spending some time on the boat today to organize ourselves, sort through 2000 photos for possible inclusion in our web page slide show, and finish administrative arrangements. Our agent, Johnny Romero, is due on the boat any minute with our passports and some tour information. We are anchored in Academy Bay, off of the town of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz right in the middle of the Galapagos. Our location is South 00 degrees, 44.90 minutes, West 90 degrees, 18.40 minutes.

Our passsge to the Galapagos was faster and easier than we anticipated. It took less than 6 days from Balboa, Panama to San Cristobal Island, the eastern most of the Galapagos, and then a few more hours to Isla Santa Cruz. We arrived in Academy Bay at about 0920 local time on Thursday to crystal clear water and pelicans and other birds dive-bombing fish all around us. There was only notable event in our last hours of the passage. After being visited by the pod of whales, crossing the equator and going for a swim, and watching a stunning sunset, we had a strange encounter with two Spanish speaking men in an open boat about 40 miles northeast of San Cristobal. As soon as we turned on our navigation lights, a 25 foot boat with a large outboard suddenly appeared out of the dark and headed for our starboard side. I was down below when Annabelle called to me and I immediately came on deck and took the helm and powered up the engine to about 8 knots. The other boat ran parallel to us and told us a confused story about how their two compatriots had fallen overboard and they needed our help to find them. For some time, the seas were almost flat and there was no wind so it is hard to imagine how anyone could fall overboard, much less become “lost” to a highly manueverable small boat. Nonetheless, we wanted to provide assistance if someone was in danger. The men said they were fishing but I noticed that the boat had no fishing gear nor were the two men dressed like fishermen. I kept us at 8 knots as we conducted a shouted conversation in Spanish, with Matt translating. The other boat did not seem sufficiently distressed over their missing compatriots, was not interested in having us call the Ecuadorian Navy on our VHF, nor did they seem concerned that during our conversation we had moved at least one mile further away (in pitch darkness) from their lost friends. We asked if they had a GPS fix on the location where the men went overboard. They hesitated and then said they did, and then provided a location that was some distance away. They had a bright light on an arch, and if they knew the location of the men overboard, what help could we possibly render? They asked us irrelevant questions, such as what port we were heading towards for. They asked us to put our foredeck light, which makes us even more visible in the dark, and to follow them. We turned on the light and I said that I would follow, but with no intent of doing so. The whole thing seemed fishy to me and I had read that there had been “incidents” on this very route in which banditos had faked an emergency in order to board sailing yachts. The faked emergencies that I had read about were smoky fires set in barrels on small boats followed by a request to “rescue” the boat’s occupants from an uncontrolled fire aboard. This seemed like a new variation on that theme. After I agreed to follow, they turned in the wrong direction require to get to the location of the “lost” men in the water. After starting a turn to follow, we turned off every light on the boat, even covering the radar screen and turning off instrument lights, and I turned the other way at full power. We could see their light in the distance and it was hard to tell if they were trying to follow us. They did not have radar and in the dark it was very unlikely that they would be able to see us. If they did see us, they could motor at three times our speed and could be on us in a minute. Fortunately, it was a very dark night. We motored a zig-zag course at high speed and without any lights for about seven hours. When we arrived in Academy Bay we asked if there had been any reports of men lost overboard and there seemed to be no such reports. We were also told that outboard powered open boats would not be in that location at night. Moreover, we had monitored marine VHF channel 16 all night listening for emergency calls and there were none. We can only conclude that these the two men in this boat were up to no good and that we made the right decision to darken the boat and power away.

We had to spent most of Thursday on the boat waiting for clearance from the authorities. Thursday night we relearned to walk and have become pretty good at it again. We had a nice Ecuadorian supper and founds some phones to call home with. Yesterday, Laura and I checked out stores and chandleries, visited the fish market (which a center of activity with the pelicans, sea lions, and iguanas looking for fish gut handouts), and spent the afternoon broiling at the Charles Darwin Research Station where we saw huge tortoises, land iguanas, and Darwin’s finches in between trips to the kiosk for bottles of water. Fortunately, it is always cool on the boat. At night we need a light blanket when sleeping. Last night, Annabelle and Matt treated us to supper at the nicest restaurant in the archipelago. They leave the boat tomorrow for a three day tour that ends at the airport for their flights home. There is much more to say but that will have to wait for a day or two. We hope to post some slide shows as well very soon. We will be in the Galapagos for about three weeks before Laura and I begin the nonstop 3000 nautical mile passage to the Marquesas island chain of French Polynesia.