Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

April 1:  

   This month I'm going to try posting this blog via HAM radio since we'll be far from any Wi-Fi connections much of the time.  The technology to do this comes courtesy of Tom Gillespe, fellow sailor and computer guru extraordinaire on s/v Dream Catcher.  So if it works, you can thank Tom for maintaining your regular dose of Uliad while we're at sea!


April 3:

    Today is our last day in civilization for quite some time.  So we spent it by running around town for a few last minute groceries.  With the long passages ahead of us, we wanted to stock up on as much fresh fruits & veggies as we could.  How will we keep it all from spoiling?  Well, here are the tricks we've learned.  The first step is to buy it as fresh as absolutely possible.  Here in Panama City, that means taking a taxi to the farmer's market.  This is where all the restaurants and markets in town to buy their produce wholesale.  There are giant trucks filled with bananas, and stalls stacked 8 feet high with crates of tomatoes.  Some guys only want to sell whole crates at a time, but most will sell small amounts.

    Here we soon met Robert, a guy from North Carolina who works for tips hauling produce around on his dolly all day.  In the course of our morning, I got to hear the whole sordid tale of how he came to Panama some time ago, got robbed by a prostitute, beaten up by thugs, hassled by the police, and now almost has enough saved by humping veggies to fly back home to his family.  Panama has literally chewed him up and hopefully will soon spit him out.  His stories were made all the more colorful by, for example, wiggling his incisors to show me how loose they still are after getting kicked in the mouth.  (I had to ask him to stop...they look like they could pop out any moment)

    By the end of our morning we dumped a good 80 pounds of produce in the taxi.  The next step to making this all last was to come back to the boat and wash it all.  Everything from apples to lettuce to zuchini gets dipped in a dilute bleach solution to kill any bugs or germs and rinse off any dirt.  It turns out that the bleach all evaporates off as it dries, so it really doesn't affect the taste of your salad, but it does make a big difference in how long it all lasts.

Kathleen shops the  Panama City wholesale produce market   Washed produce drying out in Uliad's galley before getting stored

    After the bleach dip, everything gets spread out to carefully dry.  Moisture leads to rot, so we try to be careful about that.  Then we pack things in green plastic "stay fresh" bags.  Some goes in the refrigerator, the rest in various places on the boat where there is good air circulation.  The final step is to keep checking our stores regularly and getting rid of anything starting to go bad.  One bad apple literally does spoil the bunch if ignored long enough.  Lemons and limes can be wrapped in aluminum foil and they last a month or so.  Some items like tomatoes and bananas we buy both ripe and green, so we'll have a fresh supply ripening by the time our first batch is eaten.

     Fresh eggs, it turns out, don't have to be refrigerated at all.  But the membrane inside the eggshell will dry out and allow germs in before too long so the way to prevent that is to turn the egg cartons over every couple of days to keep the inside membrane moist all around.  Other cruisers talk about eating eggs that have been unrefrigerated for a month by this method.  We'll see how it goes and report back.  If all else fails, we have some dried, powdered eggs in the bilge, too.

     So there you go--a few last minute items from the market and we're ready to shove off in the morning.  And why am I telling you all this?  If you asked what I did all day before setting sail and I said that all I did was go to the market to pick up a few last minute groceries might think me lazy.  Trust me, it's a full day's job.



April 5:

     This is getting to be a pattern.  Every time we've been away from the open ocean for a while, dolphins appear to welcome Uliad back to the sea.  Motoring away from Panama in a flat calm, we came across pod after pod of them.  With the water so calm, we could look way down into the clear water and watch them cavorting below.  What a show!  And yes, dolphins, it is nice to be back.

Dolphins playing on Uliad's bow as we leave Panama

     Our plan for the day was to get to the Perlas islands, about 30 miles south of Panama City.  After a few hours of motoring, the wind filled in and we had a fabulous sail across calm waters to our destination.  But it was slow.  Whether under motor or sail, Uliad just seems a knot slower than she should be.  And I'm pretty sure why.  Sitting in a marina for a month, she had time to build up a nice layer of growth on her usually smooth hull.  When we get to Las Perlas, some snorkeling will be in order to scrub the bottom.

     I can understand why Balboa, after crossing the jungles of Panama to become the first European to see what was on the other side of the new world, named this ocean Pacific.  For she certainly does seem calm, placid, and well behaved.  Lake Pacific more like.  I've had rougher water fishing for walleye back in Minnesota.  But I'm going to shut up about that, because I'm sure this ocean is capable of much much more.  For today, I'm just going to crack a beer, let the warm breeze blow across my face, look out at this beautiful ocean, and smile.


April 7:

     We landed at Isla Contadora after a lovely 6 hour sail to find a welcoming field of free (as best we can tell) moorings on the sheltered side of the island.  Contadora is one of the few inhabited islands of the Las Perlas group.  The hills above the beach are dripping with mansions in clashing architectural styles.  This little island is a playground for the wealthy elite who fly in to the tiny airstrip that bisects the land.  On the north side, we sailed past a mansion that the former Shah of Iran retired to after being deposed by the Ayatollah.  The island seems a fitting place for exiled royalty...upscale to be sure, but also showing a bit of decay.  More than a few estates here look a bit run down, out of style, or neglected. 

     I spent the better part of the day under Uliad scraping and scrubbing off the marine growth that had accumulated.  I'm pretty disappointed with the SeaHawk bottom paint I put on in Trinidad.  Bottom paint is supposed to block this sort of growth but after a couple of months it just quit working. 

     By mid afternoon today I had the job finished and came up for lunch.  For some reason, I just couldn't get the water out of my right ear.  I'd try to shake and turn and tug on my ear but every so often I could feel a little drop of water move.  Or so I thought.  I moved on to Q-tips which still didn't solve the problem.  So finally I soaked a q-tip in a little Tea Tree Oil and swished that around in my ear.  One last shake of my head and out popped a tiny crab no bigger than a pencil eraser.  The little guy was probably living in the little forest growing on my hull and thought he had found a nice new home as soon as I scraped him away underwater.  Sorry little can't stay there either.

     Just off the beach here is a Bavarian style building, and as we got closer we could read the sign:  Restaurante Romantico.  Always ready for a little romance, I brought Kathleen along and we had a drink on the veranda at sunset.  This place, too, looked like it was really something back in its day.  But it was rapidly becoming as tacky as its name.  But I couldn't argue with the view out onto the sea, the cold gin & tonic they poured, and the sounds of the tropical birds in the trees.  (Which thankfully my crab-free ears could now hear very well!)



April 9: 

     If the Las Perlas Islands seem vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because the 2003 season of the TV show "Survivor" was filmed here.  In fact, it was filmed right on Isla Chapera where we are now anchored.  This afternoon I dragged our old dinghy up onto the gorgeous uninhabited beach here to scrub the bottom with a mixture of muriatic acid and beach sand--very effective at getting rid of the last vestiges of slime, barnacles and such from Cartagena.

     Anyway, as I was roasting in the equatorial sun, I got to thinking how our upcoming voyages could be a tour of "Survivor" sets:  There's the Marquesas, Fiji, Australia...and didn't they go to the Tuamotus or the Cook Islands one year?  I can't remember.  Frankly, I have lost interest until they come up with "Survivor--Antarctica" or maybe "Survivor--Afghanistan".  I doubt my wish will come true though.  One simply cannot sell as many commercials when one's nubile young reality stars are dressed in parkas.  Or burkas. 

      We're amazed by the richness of nature here.  Eagle rays jump out of the water all over, flapping their wings like they're desperately trying to join the pelicans overhead.  Large flocks of cormorants dine on thick schools of minnows.  Then when their bellies are full, they all line up on the beach and spread their wings to let them dry.  They look like a yoga class all holding the same posture.  But Emmett's favorite today was all the moon jellyfish that slowly floated by in the tidal current.  Soon he had captured one in a bucket, then transferred it to a glass jar where he could study it more closely.  I felt almost embarrased to tell him that today's homeschool science lesson was going to be about rocks.  He seems to be learning more about nature without my intrusions.



April 12:

     The tranquility of Las Perlas continues to amaze me.  We sailed south to an island called Isla Bayoneta and had the place to ourselves.  There continue to be large flocks of sea birds, and scenic boulders interspaced with fine, clean beaches.  And just when you think you've taken in the scenery, the tide drops 8 feet revealing a whole new layer of rocks and beach.  The warm afternoons and quiet waters seem like a perfect invitation for napping.  I was doing just that in the cockpit this afternoon when I was suddenly awoken by a noise that sounded like rushing water.  I looked up to see a large flock of cormorants flying by.  The noise was all their combined wing beats going past the boat.  Now that's quiet. 

     The one disappointment of Las Perlas has been the water clarity.  It's murky here.  I'm guessing that the soil from the mainland jungles flows into the ocean and continues to affect water clarity even here.  Em and I tried snorkeling a few times, but it's just not as nice as what we're used to. 

     We have made some interesting discoveries, though.  Our first time out, we found a new, wildly spotted starfish which our book tells us is called a "Leather Star".  And then while exploring the rocks near shore, I noticed a few oysters clinging to the rocks.

Emmett with Leather Star, Steve with (pearl-less) oysters

 Thinking that there is probably a good reason these are called the Pearl Islands, I brought three fat ones back to Uliad to open them up...unfortunately no pearls.  (They tasted good though.)  The other interesting thing in the water are these little brown spheres about 1-2 cm in size.  They look like little eggs or algae blobs or something.  And depending on the state of the tide, the water can be just full of them.  I felt like I was swimming in a giant bubble tea!  Who needs clear water to have fun?


April 13:

     This morning we motored down to Isla San Jose, which is the last island in the Perlas before we head southeast.  Our plan was to stop here a couple of days and make our final preparations to go to sea.  Rounding a point of land and heading toward our anchorage, we were finally reminded that the Pacific really is an ocean.  A slow, 3 foot high swell curled around the island and was affecting our anchorage.  By the time we arrived here, it was 4pm, so we didn't have many options of going anywhere else before dark.  On our second attempt to set our anchor, the chain must have snagged a rock, because as the swell lifted Uliad, the rope snubber suddenly went very tight and snapped, taking my chain hook to the bottom. 

    No problem, I thought, we carry a spare.  But after several more attempts, we still couldn't get the anchor to dig in.  I finally ended up snorkeling down and shoving the point of the anchor in while Kathleen backed down and then we were well set.  Darkness set in as the tide started dropping.  I slept in the cockpit.  For reasons I can't quite explain, I just didn't feel totally comfortable about this anchorage.  I think I was worried that if the wind or current changed, and the anchor pulled loose it might not reset itself in this bottom.

     Around 10pm I woke up suddenly when I heard surf coming from an unexpected direction.  In the darkness I could make out some boulders that had become exposed by the falling tide.  These were NOT on our chart.  As the moon rose, I could see that we were between a rocky reef on one side of us, and a beach on the other.  And the tide was still dropping.  Finally around midnight, we were in 8.5 feet of water.  I just couldn't take the suspense any more as to whether we'd swing into the beach or into a rock if the tide went out any more.  So I woke up Kathleen and we re-anchored out in deeper water.  Well, sort of.  Not being able to get our anchor to dig in meant that we just laid out a bunch of chain and anchor on the bottom and hoped that its weight would be enough to keep us from moving.  I set the anchor alarm that is supposed to tell us if the boat moves more than a tenth of a mile.  I slept in the cockpit and woke up every hour to look around.  And by morning, we were still safely in the same spot, with a great view of those uncharted rocks nearer to shore.

      It's nights like those that make me not feel guilty in the least for taking all those long afternoon naps in Las Perlas.  When sailing, you never know when you'll be glad you were well rested.


April 16:

    Emmett was in the middle of some game on his PSP when Kathleen and I were ready to go to the beach.  "You guys go without me," he said, "I don't really feel like going.  No amount of encouragement was changing his mind.  But this would be his last chance to stretch his legs for a couple of days.  Mom was adamant that he needed to run off some energy while he had the chance.  There would be plenty of time for video games during the passage to Isla Coiba.

    "Alright," I shrugged, "but you won't get to go coconut bowling."  I was grasping at straws here.

    "Coconut bowling?  What's that?"

     "Just a game that Mom and I are going to play on the beach.  But I'm not telling you how its played if you're not coming."

     In the dinghy ride to shore Emmett began to guess.  "I'm thinking that it's like bowling, only instead of a ball you use a coconut and instead of pins you use sticks."  His idea sounded as good as any, so we set to work marking out a lane in the sand and each choosing a coconut that would roll the best.  Emmett got some exercise, and Mom even got a chance to go shell collecting on her own for a while as Emmett and I further refined the rules of the game.

     After a while we felt that our mission was accomplished on the beach and we got ready to go.  We were expecting it to take 36 to 48 hours to travel the 200 miles to Isla Coiba, but we had some better wind and currents than expected.  That plus some generous use of the motor for the last 8 hours and we're here in 29 hours!

     There are lots of green sea turtles napping on the surface of the ocean around here.  Kathleen said that we almost hit one while she was on watch.  I reassured her that at our speed we probably wouldn't hurt one if we did, but she was still keeping a sharp lookout.  The fishing was great on the way over, too.  We hooked 4 Mahi Mahi, but only kept one.  Emmett reeled it in all by himself and while it wasn't very large, it turned out to be just the right size to make a meal for three.  Fresh grilled fish was how we celebrated another successful crossing while the howler monkeys in the trees ashore serenaded us with their eerie roars.


April 18:

       Isla Coiba once ranked up there with Alcatraz and Devils Island as a notorious island penal colony.  The rumors go that the guards locked themselves in at night here to be safe from the criminals who were sent here.  Our guide book warned that a number of years ago, a cruising boat anchored off Isla Coiba, only to have some murdurers swim out in the middle of the night, slit the crew's throats and make off with their boat.  Yikes.

     Those days are over.  Like other island prisons, this one was closed down and turned into a national park.  The morning after we arrived, a park ranger stopped by our boat to welcome us to Coiba.  We could fish and explore wherever we wanted, he said, but if we wandered too far inland, we'd almost certainly get lost.  That sounded like a challenge to me, so later Emmet and I went ashore to look around.  An old building from a prison camp was rapidly being reclaimed by the jungle.  Beyond what used to be a small clearing, the jungle is so thick that you need a machete and a strong arm to go further.  Get 10 yards in and you can hardly make out the beach anymore.  I could see what the ranger was talking about!

     The coconut trees that line the shores here are all loaded with more nuts than I've ever seen before.  The beaches are covered in shells, the birds and monkeys hoot and screech... this place is so loaded with life it's just incredible.  And aside from that one ranger boat in the morning, we have it all to ourselves.  Panama has a real gem here.  Such a large, unspoiled wilderness so close to shore--it is a miracle that Coiba was overlooked by the world's resort developers.  I guess we have those murderers who once lived here to thank for that.


April 20:

    Just south of Isla Coiba is the smaller Isla Jicaron.  We found better protection from the occasional strong north winds here.  The snorkeling is better also.  In the Caribbean, it had gotten that we could pretty much name any fish or invertebrate we saw as we snorkeled, but here, everything is new again.  We've got to get a field guide to Pacific Ocean marine life and start studying!  There's a long beach here lined with palm trees and dense jungle.  The monkeys here seem to like to come to shore in the evenings and howl for us, which makes quite a show. 

    I looked at our fuel gauges this morning and realized that we'd better get moving soon.  We've used up about a third of our fuel tanks driving around these islands south of Panama, and now I'm getting a little nervous about having enough to get to the Galapagos Islands.  We'll be crossing the "doldrums" on our way there, which is a band of calm, fickle winds found near the equator.  Ancient sailing ships could get caught in the doldrums for weeks waiting for wind and hoping their water and food would last.  They were also called the "horse latitudes" because as water supplies ran low, the Spanish galleons would throw their horses overboard they were carrying in cargo.  Not only would the horses no longer drinking the ship's precious water, but they could tie a rope to the horse and hope the horse pulled the ship toward some wind before drowning.

    Our horses consist of 85 horsepower worth of diesel motor to pull us through the doldrums, but only as long as our fuel lasts!  So yesterday I spent the afternoon scrubbing off the bottom once again.  The smoother our hull, the faster we can go in these light winds.  We've done all our laundry and filled our water tanks.  Today I'm studying the current weather charts and making final preparations for our 5 to 7 day crossing. 


April 22:

     Our first day at sea started with the usual greeting by a pod of dolphins as we left Isla Jicaron.  We were only moving at about 3 knots at the time, so the poor dolphins just kind of sloshed around at our bow and rolled to look up at us as if to say, "Let's go, pokey!"

     We hooked a couple of bonito later that day, but Emmett and I looked like the Bad News Bears trying to land them.  The first time we got a strike, I tried to set the hook and start reeling in, but the line went slack as the fish spit out the lure.  But then he must have come around to get a better bite and the fight was on again.  Em wanted to take over and try to reel the fish in himself.  After much effort, we got it just to the side of the boat when Emmett let some slack in the line enough for a nice bonito to shake the hook loose again.  About 15 minutes later, we got another strike.  This time we had a nice 10 pounder reeled in.  We got our gaff hook into him and had him sitting on the cleaning table.  I sent Emmett to bring the alcohol bottle we use to squirt in their gills to kill them.  While I was waiting, the fish went into its dying convulsions and somehow detached the gaff hook from the pole and both went overboard.  So now we're without our gaff hook and without any fish.

    The winds have been variable, as expected.  So we alternate periods of motoring and sailing.  My goal is to make at least 100 miles per day in these trying conditions--which is slow, but setting a modest goal keeps me from burning too much diesel.  Anyway, our first 24 hours barely met that goal.  But since about 5am this morning there's been a real nice southerly breeze that has been blowing us along at a steady 5 knots.  If this could hold for a day or two we'll be in great shape.

     Kathleen has been down with some sort of stomach cramps all day.  I cracked a coconut for her back on Jicaron that was so fresh and sweet that she ended up eating the whole thing.  I think maybe it gave her the belly ache.  No more coconut for her as I need her help to split up the night watches! 


April 24:

     I can't begin to tell you how odd it seems that we're still underway.  In this modern age, it just doesn't take a week to travel somewhere.  You can drive half way across the country and in the worst case spend one night in a motel.  Anything farther than that and you fly...and arrive the same day you left.  But here we are starting day 4 of our crossing.

     We saw one ship a few hours out of Panama, and had seen not a single sign of human existence since.  Until yesterday afternoon when we passed a drift net.  A few hours later, we could see a fishing boat on the horizon, but soon it was gone and we're back in our little capsule.  We spend our mornings doing homeschool, just as on shore.  But with no distractions, I find it easy to slip in about a day and a half of schoolwork and Emmett doesn't seem to mind.  The rest of the day, we curl up and read books or watch DVDs, taking a break to reel in the occasional fish.  Sometimes the wind lightens up to the point that we run the engine for a while.  After dinner it's more of the same until either Kathleen or I feel inclined to go to bed, at which point we divide up the night watch so one of us is awake to keep an eye on things.  Although with no ship traffic for days, it is easy to get complacent about watchkeeping out here.

Em has been plowing through The Chronicles of NarniaEmmett reeled in this small Mahi Mahi near Isla Jicaron

     Yesterday we held a contest to see who could guess the time we crossed the halfway point.  I guessed 8am today and my pessimistic wife and son each guessed a few hours later.  But with some nice conditions overnight for motorsailing, we actually reached the midpoint of our journey at 5:30 am.  But on a journey this long, I told Emmett, it's not time to start asking "are we there yet?


April 25:

    It's 2am, I'm on night watch.  Kathleen is fast asleep below in our cabin.  Emmett has decided, for reasons unclear to us grown-ups, that while on passage, he should not have to sleep in his own bed.  Some nights he sleeps in the cockpit, other nights he crawls into our bunk.  Tonight he's sprawled out on the settee in the main salon.  Fine.  Out here, we feel less inclined to enforce arbitrary rules like sleeping location or bedtime.  School will start tomorrow whenever we wake up and get around to it.  It's not like we have much else planned.

     Kath and I usually divide the nights into 4 hour shifts, but if the person on watch is feeling alert, we often let the other sleep a while longer.  Different boats use different schedules, but for us, three hour stretches just aren't long enough to get restful sleep.  And sometimes, it's hard to stay alert longer than 4.  But the longer the passage, the less it seems to matter whether its day or night.  Our watch schedule becomes less and less rigid.  We just tag off whenever we feel like its time.  On this particular passage, Kath has been laid up with some stomach problems and lying down a lot during the day.  But she likes the quiet of a night watch as much as I do, and she's been hogging that time to herself lately.  Not that I mind a good night's rest (she let me sleep 6 hours last night!) but I'm kind of glad to have the night watch again tonight.

    On night watch there is everything and nothing to do.  My job is to keep an eye on the sails, the engine (if running), the weather, and most importantly the seas around us.  We are a tiny speck on a giant, empty sea and don't want to get run down by some freighter in the night.  So someone stays up to glance around.  If I'm engaged in a gripping novel (or fighting the urge to nod off) I set my Timex to beep every 15 minutes--a reminder to get up and scan the horizon for 360 degrees to look for ships.  Out here, there never are any.

    There are books, which we're each tearing through at a rate of about one thick novel a day.  There are gauges and computer screens to look at and see how many miles left to go.  There is a brilliantly starry sky overhead begging to be gazed at.  There is the sea--which throws off dazzling sparkles of phosphorescence in our wake on a dark night like this.  I can't help the thought from going through my head every time I look at that sparkling comet-tail flying behind us surrounded by deep and utter blackness:  If I fell overboard on watch, I would die.  Within a few minutes, Uliad would sail on so quickly that they'd never be able to see me.  And they'd never hear my splash.  Or my scream. 

     Not that I'm morbid or anything.  It's why I insist that everyone wear a harness that tethers us firmly to the boat after dark.  It's just a thought no different than the fleeting thought of what would happen if you jumped off that tall building, or jumped out of that moving car.  (I'm not the only one who has odd thoughts like that, am I?)  The thought does make me double check my harness, though.

    There are sometimes visitors.  A lone wandering albatross circled our boat at sunset for a half an hour before settling down on our bow pulpit to give his poor wings a rest.  He's gone now and it amazes me to think that he flew out across 400 miles of open ocean...what if we weren't here?  Dolphins sometimes appear, announcing themselves by their sudden breaths beside the boat and their own phosphorescent trails through the water.  Shooting stars wink from above. 

    There are cupboards full of snacks to munch on.  There's that pan of brownies we made to celebrate the half-way point just calling out to me.  There are I-pods full of music that always sounds so amazingly good in the middle of the night with nothing to distract you.  There are deep thoughts to think in the middle of the deep ocean.  There are long pauses to not think and just be...

    Before long, there is a faint glow on the eastern horizon.  Or Kathleen crawls up beside me and says, "Why don't you go get some sleep."  And another peaceful night watch is over. 


April 26:

    Ever since my boy scout days, I've had a little habit when I look up at the night sky.  My eyes trace the outline of the big dipper.  Then I follow the imaginary line from Merak to Dhube to Polaris--the north star.  Then I know where north is and somehow from that, where I am. 

    I never realized I even had this habit until two nights ago when suddenly, I realized that my little ritual no longer worked.  For the first time in my life, there was no North Star in the sky.  I realized that we were now so close to the equator that the North Star was subsequently right on the horizon--no longer visible from where I stood.  In the opposite direction floated the Southern Cross; a particularly lovely and bright constellation that looks like a kite flying across the night sky.  I'll have to develop some new ritual now to look at those stars.

    Sailors who had never crossed the equator were traditionally called "swabs".  Upon crossing the equator, navy and merchant ships all over the world have their own traditions and rituals whereby the "swabs" become "shellbacks".  Hazing is usually involved.  We crossed that imaginary line at about 8:15 this morning and tried to recreate what little we knew about the shellback ceremony, minus the hazing of course.  As you can see from the photo, King Neptune paid us a visit, and after a short speech and a wave of his mighty trident, he gave Kath and Emmett their shellback certificates.  An offering to King Neptune was then demanded to assure good luck and safe passages in the future.  Emmett immediately ran below and returned with the most valuable commodity onboard Uliad at this moment--a freshly baked brownie.  This was pleasing to King Neptune.  Kathleen gave King Neptune a brief "Equator Dance" which consisted of some rather vulgar gyrations, but promised Him an even better offering later...after Emmett had gone to bed.  Which will also undoubtedly be pleasing to the King!

King Neptune's visit to Uliad for our Equator crossing ceremonyKathleen's Shellback Certificate

    We should be arriving in the Galapagos by tonight.  We are already seeing more birds in the sky, and even a lone sea lion out here.  The water has cooled about 10 degrees as we enter the chilly Humboldt Current waters that stream up from Antarctica.  This is the sixth day of our crossing, but it has been three weeks since we last saw civilization in Panama City.  My mind is already savoring the list of things I'll soon be able to indulge in again:  A cheeseburger at a restaurant.  A hike on dry land.  An internet connection.  Fresh produce.  A full 8 hours of sleep in a quiet, secure anchorage.  Oh, and let's not forget Neptune's reward! 


April 27:

   The Galapagos Islands are famous for its amazing wildlife, and this archipelago wasted no time in showing us its charms.  When we were about 10 miles away from our anchorage, Kathleen and I were standing on the port side deck admiring a sea lion who was doing a lazy back float as we sailed past. Suddenly I noticed a bunch of white dots in the water alongside Uliad.  It looked like a big school of squid until I realized that the dots were all moving EXACTLY the same.  Then the realization struck me...those spots I was seeing was the pattern on the back of a whale shark!

    The whale shark is the largest fish in the world...and this one must have been about 40 feet long.  I can't say for sure because we only saw the back half of it.  I started to grab on to the lifelines--bracing for impact because I was sure our keel was going to hit the giant beast on the back.  But the tip of its enormous tail just broke the surface and he glided into the deep without ever touching us.  The whole event lasted only a few seconds, but it left our hearts pounding and our faces grinning for long afterward.

   After 5 1/2 days at sea, it was just as big a thrill to finally drop anchor in Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal.  We arrived just at dusk.  The timing was quite an annoyance to Emmett, who could barely see the sea lions swimming around our boat.  The Galapagos Sea Lions, like much of the wildlife here, have little fear of humans.  They are notorious for climibing aboard anything afloat and using it as their personal pool lounger.  It didn't take long for them to be eyeing the swim step on our stern as a potential napping spot.

    I was concerned about getting foul and fishy smelling sea lion poop on Uliad and was setting up counter measures when Emmett informed us that he would sleep in the cockpit where he could guard the boat from intruders.  I readily gave him the responsibility and crashed into my bunk below...  This lasted about an hour until Emmett crawled into our bed and mewing about sea lions coming into the cockpit and could he sleep with us.  "No, Emmett," we said all bleary eyed, "the sea lions are not going to get you in the cockpit.  Now go to sleep."  But he persisted so I finally dragged myself out of bed to shine a flashlight around and confirm that there were no sea lions onboard.

   A few minutes later we hear some more thumping on the stern and Kathleen decides to check for herself.  "Um, Steve," she announced, "you might want to come up here.  There's a sea lion in the cockpit."  And sure enough, there she was just starting to enjoy our comfy cockpit cushions.  With a little encouragement, she waddled back to the stern and slid back into the water.  We then strung out a web of rope across the stern to prevent any more visits in the night.  The following morning, the sea lion hair left behind on the cockpit cushions confirmed that it wasn't just a crazy dream.  One of them was lying just a few feet away from where Emmett had been sleeping.  We were pretty impressed that he woke up with a sea lion right next to him and calmly got up and came downstairs to report it. 


April 30:

   We sailed over to the island of Santa Cruz to meet my brother, who is flying in for two weeks.  The town here (Puerto Aroya) is the largest in the Galapagos and for the life of me I can't understand why.  On most islands, life revolves around the port.  Wherever the best harbor is--that's where you'll find the town.  Well the harbor here is terrible.  It is wide open to the ocean swell, and surrounded by shallow rocks.  Nonetheless, all the tour boats come here to load their passengers and provisions, so the harbor is packed with an assortment of rather worn out motor yachts and catamarans.  I can't help but wonder how many tourists get a little disappointed, if not panic stricken here.  They've spent all this money for an all inclusive Galapagos tour and suddenly they arrive here and see their "luxury accomodations" streaked with rust and rolling wildly in the swells.

   Our strategy will be to fetch my brother, quickly tour the sights on Santa Cruz, and then head for another island with a calmer anchorage!  First on our agenda this morning was a hike to the edge of town where the Charles Darwin Research Foundation sits.  Here scientists from around the world come to study the Galapagos Islands and restore lost habitat.  They are raising endangered Giant Galapagos Land Tortoises here.  We learned all about how the tortoises on different islands evolved in slightly different ways and how human hunting as well as the introduction of rats, dogs, and especially goats led to their near-extinction. 

Baby Tortoises at Darwin Research Station, Santa CruzKathleen and Mike with tortoiseA female Galapagos Land TortoiseEmmett with Galapagos Land Tortoise

   The highlight of the day was walking down into the area where the adult tortoises are kept and sitting next to these enormous creatures.  There is one tortoise here named "Lonesome George" who is the last living tortoise of his particular subspecies.  The scientists have tried to get him to mate with the closest genetic relatives they can find, but George seems uninterested.  Perhaps he is a gay tortoise.  In any event, they live for 150+ years, so he still has time to fine true love.


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