Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabella

Friday, April 6.

We are anchored in Puerto Villamil on the island of
Isabella. It is a very pretty anchorage although still a bit
rolly (although not nearly as much as Academy Bay was in the
last three days we were there). Sea lions swim by the boat
looking for fish, boobies dive bomb into the water looking for
the same, and this morning Laura was startled to find two
Galapagos penguins checking her our out while she dangled her
feet off the transom. Let me first update events since the last
blog entry.

On Monday we spent a few hours provisioning. It took us
less time than we thought because there was not that much to buy
in the stores, and we have quite alot of foodstuffs that be
bought in Panama, Bonaire, and the French Caribbean. At the
Mercado Municipale, we bought a huge stalk of bananas (we could
not resist the price — $3). They were all very green on Monday
but about half are ripe today and the rest will be ripe tomorrow
so we have some serious banana eating to do. We bought lots of
oranges, tomotos, peppers, and pineapple. The problem is that
we do not expect to start our Pacific crossing until Tuesday or
Wednesday next week, so that most of these will have to be eaten
before then. I spent some hours looking for a filter element
for a ZF Hurth gearbox with no luck. We had arranged to meet
our agent, Johnny Romero, on the boat at 3 pm to get our
clearing out papers and settle up our debts but he could not
make it. It was not until after 7pm that he sent Javier and
Manolo to the boat with our passports and documents, and not
until 8:30 pm that we got our laundry. Somewhat to my surprise,
at 5:45 pm “Macaroni” showed up at the boat to clean the bottom.
Macaroni runs a dive shop in Puerto Ayora, and Craig of
“Patriot” had spent some days trying to get him to clean the
bottom of Patriot and of Sabbatical III. He would show up and
say he would be right back with a tank of air and then not
return. You could never find him at the dive shop as we was
always taking tourists out for dives. But there he was just
before sundown ready to go. I had him change the zinc anodes
first and then as the sky darkened he went to work on the
bottom. I cannot imagine how he could see anything down there
but he said that he cleaned it well by touch. He had an
assistant with a snorkel clean the water line. They both worked
feverishly for 45 minutes and asked for $40 for their efforts —
an exceptionally good deal. (Just now, Laura checked out the
bottom and said is was very clean). That afternoon we had a
chat with the German couple (Uva and Beatrice) in the boat next
to ours and they said they were planning to go to Isabella as
well the next morning. They hauled in their stern anchor that
evening so that they could get an early start. As soon as they
did, their boat turned broadside to the swells and started to
roll in a most uncomfortable fashion. They later told us that
they could not sleep in the roll. We left our stern anchor in
for the night.

Tuesday morning was exceptionally cold and foggy. We wore
long sleeved shirts at breakfast and delayed preparations for
leaving because of the poor visibility. We talked with Uva and
he said that they did not want to leave in the fog and would
stay another day. The issue was not so much with leaving
Academy Bay in limited visibility, which is not very hard to do,
but entering Puerto Villamil. There are shoals of black
volcanic rock all around the anchorage and the charts are very
poor. The fog started to lift at 9 am so we quickly hauled in
both anchors and headed out. There was no wind the whole way so
we motored, The fog burned off after an hour and it was a very
pretty ride to Isla Isabella. We had a pod of dolphins with us
for a short while, plus big sting rays leaping into the air. It
was perfectly clear when we entered the anchorage at Puerto
Villamil and most of the other sail boats at anchor were boats
we recognized from Academy Bay, including a trio of Austrian
boats, and a couple of American guys from California in their
early twenties who many of us refer to as the “dudes” since that
word is such an important part of their vocabulary. We got a
ride in to the Embarcadero from Henry, who runs Club Nautico,
and then a pickup truck taxi into town to do our check-in with
the Ecuadorian Navy. We have done everything by the book in the
Galapagos. We applied for a cruisng permit months before we
arrived (they are issued in Quito), and paid every fee required.
This cost us many hundreds of dollar. It seems that some of the
other boats did not do this — they either just drop an anchor
and do not check-in, or pay something to the local port captain
even though a cruising permit is required to come to this
island. They live is fear that they will be told to leave
immediately, but that does not seem to have happened.

We have not done to much on Isabella. I have developed a
case of bronchitis — the first illness since leaving the USA.
I suspect that I got the bronchitis from “Capitan Cucharacha”,
the captain of the boat that took us to Isla Floreana one week
ago. He liked talking with me but was hacking and coughing the
whole time. Fortunately, my wonderful physician Dr. Warren
Licht had given me a big bottle of antibiotics on which he hand
wrote “bronchitis”. The other limitation is that it very hard
to land a dinghy here and the water taxis stop running at 6 pm.
At low tide a dinghy has to cut an extremely circuitous course
to avoid going aground on jagged black volcanic rocks, and then
there is no place to leave the dinghy ashore. As we anchored
in fairly shallow water at high tide, I was concerned that
Sabbatical III might get too close to the bottom when the tide
went out. In the morning I was pleased to see 2.0 meters of
water under the hull but then dismayed when, as the boat swung
ever so gently at anchor, the depth dropped to 0.0 meters,
meaning that we were touching bottom. I suspected that there
was a volcanic rock that we did not spot when we first anchored.
Laura and I rushed on deck to look over the side for a rock
and saw something black right under the keel. Then we saw a sea
lion dive into that blackness and emerge with a silvery fish in
his mouth, and then do it again. In watching more closely, we
realized that that dark spot was not a rock but a large school
of fish trying to hide under out boat. The seal lion was not as
easily fooled as we were. Another boat at the anchorage reported
the same thing.

Yesterday morning we visited the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center
which is not far from town. There are hundreds of juvenile
tortoises awaiting return to the wild and a couple of dozen
fully grown tortoises for breeding, with many more females than
males. The males grow larger, and fully grown male giant
tortoises are — well — giant. As Laura and I sat in the shade
next to a group of females, a huge male slowly plodded his way
over and mounted the first female he came to. All I can say is
that it was a pretty amazing show of slow motion sound and
action. Another male must have suddenly remembered what his
duties are at the breeding center, and sprung into action,
although he seemed a bit rusty. He mounted a female backwards,
which seemed to annoy her greatly, and as she tried to turn
around, she got it in the shoulder, before finally all the parts
fit. He was so energetic that he pushed the two of them
completely across the dusty pen six inches at a time.

There is a beautiful trail from town to the Tortoise Breeding
Center that passes three lagoons with brackish water and the
sulfur smell arising from volcanic activity. In one lagoon we
saw three pink flamingos slowly walking and using their beaks to
look for food in the mud. Where the trail hits the beach, there
is an enormous colony of marine iguanas. They are mostly black
and they rest motionless on the black volcanic rock, so one can
miss seeing them. But if you look more carefully, there are
dozens strewn about including some very large individuals the
size of small dogs.

Last night Henry arranged a BBQ at his Club Nautico for the
sail boats in the anchorage. We attended along with the three
Austrian boats and our German neighbors from Academy Bay who
arrived yesterday. The water taxi that took us back in the dark
at low tide kept banging into shoals but finally got us back to
Sabbatical III. I am feeling better today but am still a bit
rundown from my bout with bronchitis. This is Easter weekend so
I am not sure if the restaurants or stores are even open. It
does not matter much as we have plenty of food on board. The
wind forecast has improved a few of the 10 boats in the
anchorage will be leaving tomorrow or Sunday for the long
passage across the Pacific. The German couple, Uva and
Beatrice, just came over in their dinghy to say goodbye. We
will probably meet up with all of these boats in the Marquesas
in a few weeks.