Friday, March 22, 2013

Trial of the Trails

The other day, Mark and I wanted to set out for a walk along the shore line, starting at San Cristobal's naval base. On the map it was marked as a trail to two surfing spots (did you know that the Galapagos are a popular surfing destination?); it seemed like good exercise with possibly some nice views along the way. Before we even got to the base, we enjoyed watching the resident sea lions do their thing on the town's beach. A pup was stubbornly trying to drink its mother's milk, when we saw it.... The little one had a yellow rope, line or ribbon pressing into the fur of its neck. It wouldn't take too long for a bigger problem to arise. Putting on a few more pounds could cause it to be uncomfortable or even choke.

Time stood still for a moment, while I ran to the police station to report the problem. Immediately, an officer joined me to the beach, where the pup was still happily sucking milk. We explained what was wrong and he left to get a National Park vet. We impatiently waited for their arrival. The chance of the two sea lions leaving the scene and disappear was very big. Just when the men arrived, mom and pup headed for the sea. The gloved team quickly set to work: catching the pup with a giant net and removing it from its mother, holding it down to immobilize it, and cutting the line around its neck before setting it free again. Seconds later, the little one hobbled towards the water and his mommy.

It was getting hot when we arrived at the gated military zone, where we were denied access to the trail. Mark and I had a sneaking suspicion we wouldn't be able to pass through the naval base to do the hike. The trail is apparently off limits and one wonders why it is marked on the map. The base has been around for ages. We were all packed and prepared for a day trip (except for Mark forgetting his swim trunks), so we decided to head back to La Loberia, a beach and sea lion colony a few miles east of town. We had a sweaty walk there a few days prior and were disappointed with the absence of sea life. This time, we took a taxi ($1 p.p.) to the site, hoped it was higher tide and planned to explore the area past the beach.

Taking the cab was a treat, and a great decision! Our energy and sweat was saved for the more important and interesting part of the morning. We passed La Loberia beach after ten minutes of walking - still barely any sea lions - and moved further afield, following a rocky trail, which soon turned into clambering the volcanic rocks. Wearing shoes would have helped... After a half hour of strenuous activity, getting startled by a few camouflaged marine iguanas, and liters of sweat, we reached a high cliff. The view was all right, but the blue-footed boobies and other sea birds were the attraction. Undisturbed by our presence, they posed for the picture and roosted in the rocky crevasses.

Once back down at the beach, we rested in the only shade to be found. We had lunch, watched some surfers, some red and black crabs and a couple of sea lions, before I decided to go for a snorkel. Last time, the shallow water was freezing and my underwater camera couldn't handle the huge change in temperature. Plus, there was “nothing” to see in the protected bay. Mark wished me luck with the "grey fish" and the icy Humboldt current, before picking me up to go home a bit later. Little did he know about what he was missing out on by not bringing his swim shorts... From the moment I entered the pleasantly refreshing water, I saw a multitude of colorful fish and bright green rocks. A big black ray was feasting on something and I observed it for a bit, before following it up close. While filming its movement, the camera spotted a big sea turtle resting on the bottom. And another one. And three more. Distracted by the new sight, I had to get back to the ray later. All these animals have no fear of human beings and, with the swell rolling back and forth, it is almost hard not to bump into them!

La Loberia might not be a must see sea lion colony anymore (all but a few of the animals have moved to town), but it still offers a great opportunity for spotting other amazing sea creatures... at high-ish tide.

Hanging out with the sea lions on the town's benches

Marine Iguana soaking up the sun at La Loberia

The black Marine Iguanas blend in  well with the rocks we clambered

Blue-footed Booby

Swallow-tailed Gull

Nazca Booby

Mark posing next to the Blue-footed Booby he took pictures of - they are not shy

Another kind of sea urchin in these waters...

Blotched Fantail ray, with a big fish underneath him

Saturday, March 16, 2013

First Impression of the Galapagos Islands – San Cristobal

When we approached the Galapagos after our seven day passage, we half expected pods of dolphins to circle us, groups of sea lions to playfully welcome us, hordes of sea turtles to pop up their heads as a “hello”, and flocks of birds to wave their wings as a greeting. That didn’t happen. Two birds tried to catch our fishing lure. I didn’t want to catch them, so I brought the line in. The abundance of wildlife would become prominent later. It took a peaceful two hours, before our first visitor appeared on our transom steps: a big sea lion, barely fitting in the space of a bottom step. The ongoing battle to try to keep these cute, fun and funny – but also noisy, smelly, dirty and sometimes aggressive - creatures off the boat would start right then and there…

There are sea lions everywhere in San Cristobal, one of the three islands we are allowed to visit with our boat, thanks to a two month autografo. They swim and play in the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, they come say “hi” alongside Irie, they hang out on the board walk ashore and they share the town’s benches with tourists – or the other way around. They are ever-present and amazing to watch, whether gliding through the water, awkwardly clambering the rocks or crowding the beaches. Sometimes - eyes closed - they just enjoy floating by or skimming Irie’s bottom, resulting in blue flippers and bellies. Chi chink, there goes another $30 of bottom paint!

When poking your head out, you might come eye to eye with a pelican, sitting on the bow or stern of the boat. From up close, they are big! When doing things on deck, you get startled by a sudden splash. Something falls out of the sky like a rocket and disappears under the water surface. Then – plop – there is a head and a body with wings and webbed (blue) feet: the blue-footed booby. It devours its little prey and pecks its feathers before flying off. Underneath Irie are multiple schools of fish: tiny ones around the rudders, bigger ones in the shade of the bridge deck and even bigger ones deeper down. One time while snorkeling, I observed a group of baby manta rays near a sea lion platform.

With our friends Bill and Caroline on SV Juffa, we explored one part of the island by foot. We read the signs in the Interpretation Center, walked the easy, paved trails to some viewpoints, to the rocky cove of Las Tijeretas (refreshing snorkel) and to Playa Punta Carola. There, we watched big, black iguanas, lazily walking about or bathing in the sun. Sea lions played in the surf or waggled over the beach. While snorkeling with tropical fish, we spotted a few sea lions in a flash and three giant turtles. These gentle creatures were feeding on the grassy rocks, being unaware of our presence. Camera all the way zoomed out, I was still not able to fit one of the giants in the screen. When the waves pushed us both back and forth, it was hard not to touch its massive shell. The experience was amazing.

Each time we return home by water taxi ($1 a person each way; the alternative is leaving your dinghy on the municipal beach, pulling it up high enough for the tides, and having sea lions trample all over it and claiming it), we never know how many sea lions we will find aboard. We have put fenders, jugs, and towels in place, to block the entrance to our decks and cockpit. Somehow, they manage to ignore it all and produce a slimy, hairy mess on the boat. When trying to chase them out of our home, we have to put up with their objections. When swimming past Irie’s stern, they look at us in disbelief… “Why are these comfy bottom steps blocked by all this crap?” When being told to leave the transom and bug someone else, they try to change your mind with the cutest expression on their whiskered faces.

We are learning a lot about these streamlined animals… They make lots of different noises: they snort, they bark, they cough, they hiss, they sneeze, they piss, they bleat (the first night, I thought there were sheep or goats ashore), they growl. They can push jerry cans out of the way and climb fenders. They can squeeze in between life lines or propel themselves over them. They like to lounge on cockpit cushions and can lay flat on the table without breaking it! Time will tell what other knowledge we will obtain.

Punta Carola

Playing sea lions off the beach at Punta Carola

One of the three big sea turtles at Playa Punta Carola

Playa Punta Carola

Blue-footed booby near Irie

Viewpoint at Las Tijeretas

Municipal beach in town, at night - it is full of sea lion activity!

Comfy on Irie's back step - their behavior reminds us of dogs, sometimes

Happy sea lion blissfully floating by the boat - their breathing reveals their presence

School of baby manta rays in the bay

Hanging out with sea lions on the beach at Punta Carola

Swimming with sea lions in the bay

Rolling in the sand, so much fun!

Am I cute or what?

Sea lion prevention on Irie: fenders, jerrycans, a cushion and a towel...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Panama to Galapagos Passage - Picture Blog

Sailing with the jib and the main

The first (windy) nights were relatively cold

Mark using the sat phone to send a daily position report to this blog

Too close for comfort? This giant passed within one mile of Irie, but we knew this thanks to AIS! It was the only ship we saw in a week

Preventing chafe to the preventer line with a cloth taped to the shroud

One of the sunsets at sea

Red skies at night, sailor's delight!

Listening to the 9am Pan-Pacific Net on our SSB receiver

After two windy days, the seas are getting bigger...

Following seas create an amusement park ride for Irie and her crew. Fun!

Surfing the waves at over 10 knots! We peaked at 13.6 knots one night. The true wind speed is over 30 knots.

 The deep blue water of the Pacific Ocean

Squall ahead... Luckily, it stayed ahead.

Winged hitchhiker number 1

Winged hitchhiker number 2

 Motoring into the sunset in flat calm seas!

The equator; from the north hemisphere into the south...

That's the equator, right there. We just crossed it! :-)

Equator party with Belgian truffles, rum for Mark and Neptune, and coke for me

Mark and Liesbet on the equator - March 6th, 2013, 23:26

Sailing with our spinnaker - mainsail combo

No luck fishing...

Sunrise on the last day of the passage

Irie lunch on the last day of the passage

There are the Galapagos Islands!

San Cristobal, Galapagos

Hoisting the appropriate flags before arrival: the Ecuadorian flag and the Q-flag (yellow flag)

Approaching San Cristobal and Wreck Bay

To read the three stories about our passage, look further down these pages.