Friday, June 01, 2007

May 31, 2007 - Santa Cruz to Isabella, Galapagos

We really enjoyed our week in Santa Cruz. The people here are so friendly. There is a street that we call "Eat Street" lined with restaurants on either side. At night, vehicular access is shut down and the restaurants put their tables out in the streets. Often, since we only take up half a table, we wind up eating with someone else. We've had a good time talking with the other tourists and the locals.
The waterfront between the main dock and the port captain's compound is a park where children play well into the evening hours and the groups of adults gather to play cards. We love the climate here. It has been dry, warm and sunny during the day and cool at night, which makes for great sleeping. It is nice to wear jeans again. We were so surprised that it would be so cool on the equator, but the climate of the Galapagos is influenced by cool ocean currents.

This strikes us as a great place for a vacation. Accommodations and food are so cheap. Unlike so many places, the people here are genuinely happy to have tourists around. And there is so much to do - from bird watching and seeing the huge variety of animal life to diving, snorkeling, surfing and deep sea fishing.

From a cruising standpoint, the harbor is a bit of a problem. It is open to the south so the swell constantly rolls in here, making a stern anchor necessary. We had some drama with ours earlier in the week when the rope and chain sections of the anchor rode separated. And then today, just as we were getting ready to leave, the wind piped up for the first time since we arrived. Unfortunately, it was coming from about 60 degrees to the right of the direction it was blowing when we anchored a week ago.

Picture a V with our bow and stern anchors at the tips and Mata'irea at the point. The wind blowing against Mata'irea's starboard side was holding us off of our anchors. No matter how much chain we let out or took up at the bow, we couldn't get our stern over the stern anchor. In a sandy bottom, this wouldn't have been much of a problem. But the bottom in Santa Cruz is rocky. And our anchor was wedged among the rocks.

We didn't want to hoist the bow anchor entirely as we didn't think that the padeye on the transom that the anchor rode was led through would be strong enough to take the load of the whole boat pulling against it. Eventually we lifted and reset the bow anchor well to the right of our original location. With the bow pointed into the wind we could get the stern over the stern anchor but the rocks wouldn't let it go. Eventually we rigged a chain hook to the main halyard and then to the anchor chain. As I winched in the halyard and Sten held the chain off of our hull, we were able to free the anchor.

We got out of the harbor by 11:30 with a 45 mile passage ahead of us. We were late, and were pushing it to get in to Isabella by sunset. On our way we passed an island in the shape of a sickle formed by a sunken volcanic crater - much like Molokai (or is it Molokini?) off of Maui. As the sun dropped lower in the western sky the western wall of the crater cloaked the eastern wall in shadow. It was starkly beautiful sight, but a bit ominous as we were still several miles out of the anchorage at Isabella. It was getting dark. Fast.

As we approached the harbor on the south coast of Isabella, 10-12 foot waves were breaking on a reef that jutted well south of the island. We had to go around it to approach the harbor from the southwest. By now it was dark. Until now, we've always carefully timed our departures so that we would not arrive at strange harbor at night. But the stern anchor threw us off today. Perhaps we should have reset our anchors and waited another day to depart Santa Cruz.

A tuna seiner, lit up like New Years Eve, was anchored outside of the harbor. We were just past it in 20 feet of water when we realized that the navigation lights we were looking for were behind it. Just then a good size wave broke a couple of yards in front of us. Sten quickly turned the boat around and headed us back out to sea. Even if we could follow the lights into the harbor, we didn't know what we would find once we got in there. We were debating whether to anchor near the tuna seiner, and suffer through a rolly night in the swell, or to just push off for the Marquesas - nearly 3,000 miles away - when a small open fishing boat came towards us. The driver of the panga waved his hat and said "follow, follow, okay, okay." We followed him into the harbor, which was a bit difficult as the clouds were blocking the moon and he had no running lights, and he pointed us towards a safe spot to anchor. Once we were anchored, Oscar introduced himself. We passed Oscar a cold beer and in a mix of halting English and Spanish we made arranged to do a tour with him the next day.

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