The Galápagos to the Marquesas Islands

As we approached the Galápagos Islands we made sure we were ready for the onslaught of officialdom that was to greet us upon our arrival. We’d already done a hull scrub before we departed Panama and were fairly well prepared. So how many people does it take to clear one yacht into a country anyway? Well, if you’re in the Galápagos Islands it appears the answer is about ten. Apart from Customs, Immigration and Port Police, there’s the doctor (who checks the medical kit for any out of date prescription medication). There’s also a diver who checks the hull for any growth. Plus the Ministry of Agriculture have a quarantine person to check the fridges and galley for any prohibited items (fair enough). You also need to demonstrate that all your rubbish is being sorted for recycling into appropriate categories (they actually check this). Then there was some dude in an army uniform, plus two of the agent’s representatives interpreting and someone from the Marine Park authority. That about covers it. The cockpit was jammed to overflowing, the paperwork was flying and Fitzy even got to use his boat stamp. But the Galapagos is a special place to come to and it is a fairly pristine environment, so we didn’t mind jumping through a few hoops. We subsequently learnt that another yacht was sent away twice to go offshore and clean their hull because it didn’t pass the stringent requirements. 

Once the officialdom is dealt with the next thing that grabs your attention is the sea lions. They’re everywhere! Swimming all around and under the boat. Climbing up onto any vessels that have a stern platform. Lounging around the dingy dock, pier, footpaths. There’s a good water taxi system to get you ashore without having to put your own dingy in the water, which is a good thing, otherwise you’d come back to find it full of sea lions. When you go to bed at night it sounds like there’s a scuba party going on underneath you as you can hear the sea lions cavorting about. Pretty cool really!

We visited the islands of San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz and Isabela, each a little bit different. Being volcanic islands means there’s also interesting things like lava tunnels to explore.  In some places the landscape is dominated by ancient lava flows. We really enjoyed our visit to the area of Los Tuneles (the Tunnels) on Isabela. More like a moonscape, it is home to Galápagos penguins (a bit like our Fairy penguins) and blue footed boobies. We remembered seeing the marvellous blue footed boobies during our previous visit to the Galapagos back in 2000 and never tired of watching the males doing their hilarious mating dance. In order to attract a mate the male struts his stuff, comically high-stepping and flaunting his bright blue feet, as if he’s saying “Look at me! Look at me!” These amazing birds are great fishermen and are known to hit the water from an overhead distance of anywhere between 10-30 metres doing up to 90 kmph. Apparently they have something a bit like a small airbag at the top of their head that reduces the impact as they strike the water. Very clever! The snorkeling at Los Tuneles was also terrific with turtles, golden rays, octopus (our naturalist guide very deftly caught one) and a cave that you could swim into where white-tip reef sharks were happily dozing.

On land one of the main attractions is the Charles Darwin Research Centre, where they have a breeding program for the giant tortoises and iguanas. The centre is really well put together and very informative about Darwin’s work and the Galapagos in general. We learnt later that a proportion of the fees we pay to enter the Galapagos are forwarded to this centre, so it’s good to know we are positively contributing to the work they’re doing there. It was also nice to see the turtle nesting areas at the local beach protected and monitored. I think Darwin would approve of the work still being done here today. Even the local fish market is entertaining in this part of the world, watching the frigate birds trying to swoop in for a feed, whilst the brown pelicans wait patiently for the tasty morsels that are thrown their way. The frigate birds are known thieves, not having oil on the feathers means they can’t fish for their own food so they steal it whenever they can. Unlike other seabirds they are unable to feed below the ocean’s surface, because they would become waterlogged and drown. Instead, they feed on the wing by snatching fish at the surface or by grabbing smaller birds in midair and shaking them until they disgorge their catch. 

But I have to say, some of the best wild life is under the waves. We did a couple of scuba dives as well as some snorkelling, which really makes you appreciate just how special this place is. When we were last here we didn’t scuba dive, so it was great to be able to have the experience this time around. We dived at Kicker Rock, off San Cristobal, a steep wall dive famous for its hammerhead sharks. The nutrient rich waters of the Galápagos are often affected by numerous flows including the Humboldt, the Cromwell, the Equatorial, the Panama and the Counter-Equatorial currents, so visibility often depends upon what the combination of these is doing. We did a fabulous two tank dive with great visibility out at Isla Tortuga, near Isla Isabela and were treated to seeing an Eagle ray, turtles, hammerheads, white-tipped reef sharks and frolicking sea lions. The sea lions might look quite clumsy as they lumber their way up onto the sterns of boats or along the dock or footpath, but it’s not until you see them in their natural underwater environment that you can really appreciate just what graceful, agile creatures they are. We were privileged enough to watch them perform their beautiful underwater ballet for us. To see a quick video of the dive click here:

Since my last post we’ve done some serious miles at sea. Over many months prior we’d done lots of planning for this passage so the boat and we were ready for it. Now it was time to set off on the longest leg of our journey, and the longest that we’ve ever done aboard Loki, or any other vessel for that matter. It is about 3,000 nautical miles (approximately 6,000kms) from the Galápagos Islands to the Marquesas, French Polynesia. We conservatively expected this might take about 3 weeks. During a crossing like this it’s all about managing limited resources, whether they be diesel, water (we make our own using our mini desal plant, but doing so uses diesel), gas or food. We’d already done loads of provisioning in Curaçao, plus another couple of rounds each side of the Panama Canal, but given that we wouldn’t be seeing another supermarket until Tahiti (which is still potentially 3-4 weeks away), I took the opportunity to put more food on board at Santa Cruz. We truly were loaded to the gunwales, but Fitzy had previously done an Atlantic crossing where they hadn’t had enough food to eat. This was not going to happen aboard Loki!

During our time in the Galápagos we again caught up with several yachts we’d seen in Panama. Once you’re through the canal there’s only one direction everyone’s heading. Go west young man! In days of old yachties used to run radio skeds on SSB radio to keep in touch. We tried that for the first few days on several different frequencies without success, so ended up using emails & SMSs via satellite as our primary source of inter-boat and ship-to-shore communications. During this time we were gob-smacked to hear the tragic news from another yacht about how a New Zealand cruising yachtie had been killed in the San Blas, Panama when the robbery of an outboard motor went horribly wrong. His wife and child were also been injured in the attack. This was an area we had enjoyed sailing through just one month earlier. It was a sobering reminder of how things in life can change so drastically in just the blink of an eye. 

But on a happier note, I have to share with you a rather special moment we enjoyed during the passage. Late one morning I was steering the boat when I saw a spray of water off our starboard bow, about 200 metres away. It could have been wave splash, because the two metre seas were fairly lumpy and confused, but I didn’t think so. Sure enough, a minute later there was another – whale breath! By this stage it was now about 3 boat lengths from our bow. But before I had a chance to alter course there was another whale breath on our port bow, about equidistant from the other. Too risky to try and go around either of them, so we just sailed straight through between the two of them. It was then that I saw the calf, nestled in close to its mother in our port side. The whales weren’t swimming they were stationary and remained on either side of Loki, each of them only about 10 metres away from us! The whale on our starboard side gave a brief flick of his tail fluke as we sailed past, almost as if he was giving us a wave. I thought he’d disappear beneath the waves after that, but no, he stayed on the surface in the same spot.  Not sure what they we’re up to. Was the calf nursing? Maybe the Mum had recently given birth? Who could say? We would never normally sail close to whales and every yachtie knows that you NEVER get between a mother and her calf (which luckily we didn’t), but it all happened so quickly. No time to even pick up a camera. We looked back as we sailed on and they were still there, doing whatever secret whale business they were doing, not the least bit perturbed by our presence. It felt like a rather magical encounter, to be sharing a small space in this vast ocean with these great leviathans of the deep. Totally awesome! We were subsequently advised that they may have been “logging” – literally remaining very still and sleeping/resting with their heads slightly turned to one side with one eye open. (Thanks Jan!)

Life on the ocean waves was very much a case of eat, sleep, sail, repeat. A few days out from the Galapagos we settled into a steady rhythm. Day after day we sailed along in 15-22 knots of breeze, mostly on the port quarter, gusting a bit more at times. However, the Ben & Fitzy shirt bromance continued to entertain us at sea and we also managed to catch a couple of fish along the way. Ben just got hairier! We had expected the Pacific to be a very placid ocean, but we had quite a few days where it was a touch more boisterous than anticipated, with confused cross seas over swell. The upside of this was that it made for some fast sailing. Our best 24 hour run was 214nm. (But for the complete stats you’ll need to ask Ben to see his spreadsheet!) Before we knew it we were hoisting the Marquesan courtesy flag and we were there. After sailing 3,012 nautical miles and crossing three time zones we arrived at Atuona, Hiva Oa after just 16 days and 4 hours. Quite a fast trip. The only downside about our arrival was that it brought to a close our time with Kath & Ben aboard Loki. Having joined us in Curaçao they really were in for the long haul, and we’ve enjoyed some fabulous adventures along the way. Over the last three months we’ve sailed more than 5,000nm together, as well as trekking through the Colombian jungle up to the Lost City, transiting the Panama Canal, sailing to and then visiting the Galápagos Islands, and finishing off with one of the greatest blue water cruises on the planet. We’ve really enjoyed our time together and have made some great new memories for when we are all old and doddering with Nana rugs over our knees in the nursing home. Great to have you two along for the voyage, Kath & Ben. Thanks for the pleasure of your company, your good humour and all your efforts to help make our journey go smoothly and safely. We love you guys! 

Our time in the Marquesas is now drawing to a close. Alan & Paul have just joined us, and from here we’ll head for the Tuamotus as soon as the weather looks favourable.

Hope all is good with you. Don’t forget to drop us a line and tell us your news.

Cheers, Kate 

6 thoughts on “The Galápagos to the Marquesas Islands

  1. Once again, absolutely loved your blog. Photos & video amazing! So many beautiful memories for you. Loved the diving , the boys tee shirts, hairy Ben, the nursing home, the whale encounter – everything. What a magnificent journey across the open waters. Thanks for sharing. Stay well & lots of love xx

  2. always so beautifully and evocatively written. What an amazing adventure!! Can’t believe you are almost home. Cruising in Greece still seems so recent! xxxx

  3. Hi Katie & Fitzy, fab blog full of fascinating stories and great pics as always. Life is fine back here, my house pack up is finally finished and I settled a couple of weeks ago. Now happily squatting at Colin’s Esplanade apartment until such time as my new joint is built (no start as yet ….) Keep well and safe. Lots of love. Carol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *