EQUATOR, BOOBIES SEX AND SURVIVAL OF THE ADAPTED SPECIALIST   

Having avoided the Columbian pirates, (we heard the story firsthand
from David
and it was for real and pretty scary - they were at one point surrounded by
10 boats) we were only 40 miles from Galapagos
after just 6 days sailing, some days covering 160 miles in 24 hours,
but then we hit the doldrums again and in just 4 knots of wind (and
sometimes not even that) we were struggling to make 2 knots. But it
gave us time for a crossing the equator ceremony - the Galapagos are just
south of the equator. In the best way it was a surprise, I looked up from
attending to a tangled fishing line, to see a strange bottle behind
Intrepid. I picked it up - King Neptune commanded the presence of all
Pollywogs (those who were crossing the equator for the first time at sea) to
submit to tests of wit and strength to see if we were fit to  enter his
kingdom.

Well, it was messy, sticky, lots of gel, glitter, baby food, water and as
much wit as we could manage and lots of fun, King Neptune (Christian) was
pretty beastly but relented towards the end, Queen Neptuna (Caroline) was
elegant with strategic lobster, and Nicky and I passed, so we are now
Shellbacks (although it took a
long wash to clear it all off). In the old days it used to include ducking
from the yardarm and beating with firehoses so I guess we were lucky.

The Galapagos are about 10 main islands and about 40 rocks formed about 1-3
million years ago (so very young in geological time) on the edges of 3
tectonic plates which are drifting east, so the oldest islands are to the
east. Being formed so recently, not many species have had time to get there,
but those that do have almost no natural predators (it would be really
unlucky to drift for 1000 miles on a log with a mate only to find your main
predator had
come along as well). So the few species to make it found an almost virgin
environment. Each island habitat is different (height, rain vegetation etc)
and separated by as much
as 40 miles, so each species that
arrived adapted in subtly different ways to the niche they found themselves
in, and the result is many species and subspecies that are endemic to the
Galapagos (ie are ONLY found here). So there are 16 sub-species of giant
tortoise, and 13 varieties of finch - the latter all evolved
from a single finch species that arrived from St Lucia in the Caribbean and
each adapted to a different niche eg longer/shorter/stronger  beak. The
giant tortoises are different in each island, and 2 sub species are already
extinct (sailors used them as longlife rations because they survive for a
year onboard without food or water) - and a 3rd sub species has only a lone
male as the solitary
survivor.

Lonesome George was found on Pinta island and eventually brought
to the Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz (the central island) where he
has studiously ignored all females of even close genetic subspecies of
tortoise. Which may explain how different subspecies, having evolved in
different ways, stay different. Its those small things that do (or don't)
turn you on. So a female finch with a long beak to dig deep into a cactus
will look for a mate with those same characteristics because she thinks its
sexy and what a proper male should have, and since this is a
strong genetic trait, their offspring will also be best able to exploit
that. If by chance she mates with a different finch, (unusual because she
wont fancy short blunt beaks), their offspring will have in between beaks
that are no good for cactuses, nor for eating insects and seeds on the
ground, and they probably wont survive long or mate. It was Darwin's study
of the different
adaptations of the finches to differing habitats, and the ways they then
continued to diverge to become a separate species, that lead him to publish
the Theory of Evolution 30 years after he visited the Galapagos.

The rules for yachts entering the Galapagos are mind-boggling - vary each
month, and
appear to be applied in different ways to each yacht that enters. Galapagos
are part of Ecuador, who actually haven't done a bad job of protecting the
unique environment here - its in the application of the rules that they get
derailed. In
principle every visitor has to have a permit to enter the national park
(which is most of the Galapagos, excluding only a few towns and villages).
Visitors by air have to buy this permit ($100), no option. Then visitors are
supposed to go on tour boats for 4-7 day cruises which stop off for a quota
of 2
landings/day to see animals, and 1 snorkel, or stay in a local hotel and do
day trips. Owners pay a significant licence fee to operate these boats
(there are 83 of them, 10 - 100 person capacity, economy to deluxe standard
for the 1500 visitors/week that come), so they dont want competition from
yachts. You are strongly discouraged
from touring on your own
yacht -  you have to pay $200/person/day plus have a guide on board (another
$100 or so) in addition to the various charges that all yachts are supposed
to pay for everything from buoyage to lights to a tonnage charge to navy
fees, and in principle at least (the Ecuadorian Embassy in London told us,
we had to ask 6 months in advance.....

There are 3 shipping agents. We don't usually use agents but because we had
a spare part for our Duogen coming from England we used Galapagos Ocean
Services (GOS) who were recommended by Tony on a Catamaran we met in Panama.
GOS aim to do super yachts. The Galapagos were colonised by a number of
Germans in the 1930's (although still Ecuadorian) and Peter Schiess who owns
GOS is very well connected to the more senior local authorities, and seemed
to be able to make things happen. Other agents have connections to
lower placed officials and so have their own route through this official
maze, other yachts dont seem to use any agent, and sometimes slip right
under the radar and don't even pay the national park fee (80% of which goes
to the Research Station and National Park).

We were met at Puerto Ayora, the main town and port of Santa Cruz, (the main
tourist
island of Galapagos, with a population of about 12,000 up from about 3000
only 15 years ago), by John from GOS, then Peter did all our entry
formalities in 2 hours for a fee of $20. The uncertainty of the rules arises
from the regulation that allows visiting boats (at the discretion of the
Port Captain) to remain in the Galapagos for up to 20 days for provisioning
and fuel, provided they do not go into the national park, and remain in 4
designated anchorages. Since for many people the main reason for
visiting the Galapagos is to see the animals, it makes no sense to do this,
so we first went with Nicholas (Peter's nephew and a very good guide) to see
giant tortoises in the wild up in the
hills. The males wander onto farm land, and we found 3 - they are about 1
metre high and 1.8 metres long and I timed them at 0.5mph on their way to
the lower levels where the females are (half the size, and preferred by
pirates for that reason if no other - the males weigh at least 150 kg) .
They love passion
fruit which we collected from a nearby tree, and spent an hour feeding one.
Nicky fell in love with them, and I had to drag her away.......well how can
I compete with someone who lives to 200 and has such gravitas?

Next we snorkelled with white tipped sharks and kayaked round the Puerto
Ayora coast, walked to Turtle Beach, and
finally left
Intrepid at anchor and took a local tour boat for 4 days. There are a number
of local travel agents in Puerto Ayora who specialise in last minute deals
for people who arrive without a prebooked tour. You can't be sure of
availability,, but prices were reasonable - $80/day for
economy, $100 tourist superior, $125 1stclass and $200/day de luxe including
guide and all food, tea and coffee - not beer($2.50)  or fizzy drinks
($1.50). The main difference seems to be the quality of the guide and the
reliability of
the boat and accommodation. Christian and Caroline went on Jolita, economy,
where the cabins were apparently rickety,
Nicky and I splashed out on Aida Maria a first class locally owned and
constructed boat that had what I considered good facilities. Both did
essentially the same 4 day southern islands
route.

We caught the 07.30 bus north across Santa Cruz to the island of Batra which
is a short ferry ride from Santa Cruz and where the Americans constructed a
large runway in WW2 to protect the Panama Canal, subsequently donating it
to the islands, where it is now the main airport for flights from Quito (the
capital of Ecuador). We found Luis our guide, and slowly collected the other
passengers from the incoming flights then found the Aida Maria at anchor. We
had a good bunch of fellow passengers, George is from Greece, Anna from UK,
they met in Manhattan where they now live. About 20 years before George
trailed a 27 foot yacht all the way across Europe to launch it in Greece -
and he expressed admiration for what we were doing - I think his exploit was
harder! Robert is a young rabbi from Dallas and Barbara a 19 year beauty
from near Munich, backpacking before starting Freiburg University in April.
To Robert's slight embarrassment, as the only 2 singles, they were allocated
to the only remaining cabin (all doubles). Robert was the perfect gentleman
but he made us promise never to tell his congregation.

After a short visit, Aida motored off to Plazas where we ate dinner at
anchor, and next day we had a dry landing onto a small jetty (wet landings
are onto a beach) past hundreds of seal lions of all ages gambolling in the
surf, then up to the cliff top on the east side of this small island for
some staggering views of swallow tail gulls (endemic) blue footed boobies
(endemic) nazcar boobies (endemic) and tropicbirds which have a long white
tail as long as themselves. The birds seem totally unafraid of us, a few
nests were just a few metres down the cliff and one (rather dim) swallow
tail gull had a nest and egg right on the path. The blue footed boobies were
fantastic - they are about the size of a medium seagull, but with powder
blue legs and feet which are very fetching. There is a red footed booby but
they dont interbreed. The Galapagos species has a brownish head, elsewhere
they are white. The Nazcar booby is the largest, and was only recognised as
a separate species in 2001.

Not to be left out, marine iguanas (endemic) were
scurrying around - they are black and have evolved from land iguanas from S
America who have adapted to life in the Galapagos by taking to the sea to
eat seaweed, which is often iron rich so some subspecies get a red (from the
gold) and green (from the algae in the seaweed look). Smart. Other land
iguanas, presumably because they landed on an island with more food on land
stayed away from the sea, and are now Galapagos land iguanas. Within this
collection, we found several baby sea lions, some right on the top of the
cliffs, left there by their mothers when they went fishing. There were also
a
fair collection of skeletons of iguanas and baby sealions, dead presumably
of thirst and competition for food - death of the less fit I suppose.

By this time it was apparent that poor Luis (our Aida guide) was right out
of his
depth - his English was poor and his naturalist knowledge also, and since we
had largely paid for the Aida on the basis that we would get a Category III
guide - bilingual and with at least a degree as a naturalist, I organised a
total passenger mutiny to the Captain, who very fairly agreed with us, told
us that Luis was in any case only a stand-in, and
arranged with the owner for a substitute guide to join us in the next
island, Santa  Fe. The substitute Patricio was very much better, spoke 4
languages and had
an impressive grasp of natural history which made the whole visits much more
interesting and entertaining.  Santa Fe has some of the tallest opuntia
cactus in Galapagos - these are the main food for land iguanas, and evolved
to protect themselves by growing tall - others developed thick trunks.
Perhaps because of this diet the Santa Fe land iguanas are unique to this
tiny island - they are a chocolatey yellow/brown. Aida neatly moored stern
to a whole family of sea lions so we flirted with sealion females (who
nibbled my fins and blew bubbles at me) while the (rather large) male
patrolled round trying to keep order. Apparently after about 28 days they
are exhausted and another male takes over.

We normally ate dinner at anchor then travelled the often 20-40 miles to the
next destination overnight. Espanola is a larger island, one of the most
southern of the Galapagos and my favourite, with masses of nesting boobies
and gulls. Galapagos has 2 seasons, July to
December - cooler and dry, and January to June, hot and wet. But perhaps
because of an el Nino effect, the rain had not come. The boobies like many
birds are opportunistic breeders, ie they will mate when there is a good
supply of food. They had therefore delayed mating in many cases, but it had
rained overnight, so we were able to see an elaborate mating dance with
solemn blue footed boobies circling each other, stamping their blue feet
slowly in unison, tail feathers erect, grooming, cooing (males) groaning
(females) and finally mating. We had to avoid iguana nests, and I spent
hours trying to photograph Darwin finches, which although fairly unafraid,
move every 2 seconds so there is never enough time to get a decent close up.

Floreana was the first island to be inhabited, and has a post office barrel
from whaling days so that passing ships could drop off letters, and take on
any that were addressed to where they going. We were up at 6am to see
flamingos, and bahamian ducks and turtle nests, then to a different site to
see the post office barrel (full of postcards from tourists now), and walk
down inside lava tubes formed by fast cooling lava flows. Then a great
snorkel at devils crown (a small, just submerged volcanic cone, with
thousands of brilliant fish and rays).

We arrived back in Puerta Ayora in time for a full dress final dinner on
board, all 6 crew in uniform, then we hit the town and our Aida party found
the Jolita group (Christian and Caroline's boat). Christian and Barbara
finally met up and it was love at first sight. Obviously the air in the
Galapagos makes things just ..happen...they think the world of each other,
and within an hour or so Barbara had postponed her
flight to be with him, and I made a mental note to check that Barbara had
not stowed away when we left. Christian tells us every hour that she is a
wonderful girl......(we just agree)

But human life (unlike boobies) is never that simple. We delayed our
departure to pick up the duogen spare part, Christian manfully put Barbara
on a taxi and re-joined Intrepid on Sunday and we sailed/motored direct in
to an unseasonal westerly wind the 40 miles to the largest Galapagos,
Isabella - unfortunately without our duogen part which had missed the flight
from Guayaquil, and with confused messages about whether we would be able to
land on Isabella or not. Peter advised us that the Puerta Ayora Port Captain
was OK, but we would have to slip the Port Sergeant in Villamul $20. Peter
was embarrassed and its so frustrating to see the good work the Ecuadorians
are doing put to shame by petty corruption among the officials.

Did I say Espanola was my favourite island? Make that Isabella. Its the
largest island with 5 active volcanoes, each with a different species of
giant tortoise round the crater and with only 1700 inhabitants who are not
sure whether they
really want tourists at all. Most tourists that do visit come by boat to the
west coast, and have between 2 and 4 brief visits
on shore then go back to Santa Cruz. They never see Puerta Villamul.
Isabella was originally a penal colony in the 1930s, and many prisoners
stayed. Their descendants make most money from illegal fishing of sea
cucumbers and shark fins and legally from fishing, but since there are so
few visitors their tuna has to be transported all the way to Ecuador to be
canned,and they get very little money for it. Whereas they get about $5/sea
cucumber, (and the harvest is estimated at 5 million plus) and $30/lb for a
sharks fin. They sell these at night to Japanese fishing boats that wait
supposedly outside the 40 mile exclusion zone, but in practice much closer.
All the local fishing boats have new 75hp engines...

Isabella 'harbour' is very shallow with lots of isolated rocks and sandbars
but the entrance is well lit.There are 5 local Isabellans who guide,
charging $60/day. We were fixed up with Richard through GOS, who is 26, son
of an American who came here in Vietnam days and stayed. Richard manages to
combine efficiency with a very laid back approach to life. We directed us to
the Tortoise breeding research station in Villamul, where there are 5
compounds with different species. I heard what sounded like a tortoise
snoring and peeked over a wall ......to find a huge male tortoise hammering
away with a smaller female he had backed against a wall (apparently the
females usually try to escape the advances of the males). With every thrust
he let out a low sigh/groan - after about 15 minutes (I am afraid I timed
it) he lost interest and took a bath, she wandered off.  About 4 years ago a
volcano erupted and they had to rescue 15 tortoises of a rare saddle backed
species strapped to the sides of a helicopter. Luckily they are very sexy,
(to each other that is) and already the research station have 200 young
ones......Richard took us
exploring for Galapagos penguins (on the equator!) and we found 4 amidst
masses of blue footed boobies within 400 metres of Intrepid. And our Duogen
part finally made it, by ferry from Santa Cruz, which was a relief - we
couldn't set off without our wind generator.

Tuesday we went on horses up to the 2nd largest volcanic crater in the
world - Sierra Negra. I loved it as we trotted and cantered along. But
Christian's horse took an instant dislike
to him and every other horse, and managed to go under a low tree then
slipped its saddle, then bit Nicky's horse after dislodging Christian. But
back in the saddle.......the scenery was fantastic - the eruptions here are
less than 100 years ago and in some cases less than 20 years, and we
actually had a (small) earthquake while standing on the crater. Fantastic
colours, and it was an education seeing the plants and animals already
settling in for a quick adapt to the new virgin conditions. It even rained
hard on the  way down, good for plants, less good for bedraggled Intrepids,
but nothing a rum and passion fruit BBQ at Henry's bar on the harbour/beach
couldn't cure, and Caroline bathed Christian's grazes and bruises as only a
nurse can.

Wednesday we provisioned directly from local farms (papaya, bananas, yucca,
pineapple all harvested as we watched), and including one farm with a camp
site ($5/day/person tent provided) and 42 5-8 year old giant tortoises in a
coral. Magic. Another beach dinner this time at Beti's bar which must have
one of the best sunset views in the world, and half of the free spirits of
Villamul came along and we danced to the music of the Iguanamen , (Richards
Dad's group) on cd, then somehow avoided the lethal rocks in the harbour in
our
dinghy at midnight on our way back to Intrepid.

But we had to go, so Thursday 10th March we set off by ourselves on the 3100
miles to Marquesas, no land in between, eta about 6th April and longer if
the trade winds don't come, and they haven't come yet (as I write 2 knots of
wind) one day out of
Galapagos. But the stars (no moon to detract from them) are BRILLIANT,
and one shooting star in mid Pacific topped everything.  We have enough fuel
for about 800 miles so the
wind is quite important!!!!!! We will be sending our position to James every
48 hours just in case...Galapagos is at 90W, so we still have 3/4 of the
world to go before we arrive back at 0 the Greenwich meridien. Nice to
think there is so much we have still to see......

We send our best wishes to you all, if you would like to come on Intrepid in
2006 anywhere between Australia and India via Malaysia, or 2007 anywhere
west of India, just email us, we
love to sail with friends...., we just share food costs, $70/person/week.

Andy and Nicky Christian and Caroline.