Las Perlas – the Pearl Islands – are the Pacific-side answer to San Blas. And although it doesn’t have the same clear (and warm) water, it’s worth coming here for a different reason: The area to the south is full of sea birds – especially pelicans and frigate birds.
I have a distinct memory of watching pelicans on a television show when I was a child. That programme might have been Animal Magic (it certainly wasn’t a David Attenborough programme). Whatever it was, I have a distinct memory of a pelican in a zoo standing rigidly to attention while a zookeeper threw fish into his cavernous mouth, and being amazed by its ability to hold that much food. This gave the impression that these birds are greedy, lazy, and just a little bit dull.
But then, anchored in a bay at the south of Isla Del Rey, we witnessed a spectacular display to change the mind of any ex-Animal Magic viewers. The pelicans arrive in Rio Cacique in the morning, hunt the entire bay and don’t stop until evening. And when they spot fish in the water, they plunge into the sea at full speed. It sounds like a small bomb exploding. But there’s no hanging around. As soon as they have eaten whatever it is they have caught, they are off and flying again for more. We stayed for two nights in that bay and never got tired of watching them.
We took care of the pre-Galapagos stuff in Las Perlas. I scrubbed the topsides to get rid of the rubbery marks left by the mooring ball at Balboa Yacht Club and washed the decks. Maria pre-cooked several meals for us to eat on the way. Nigella Lawson has nothing on her cooking abilities aboard. And I made an emergency repair to the sprayhood.
All this UV radiation has created havoc with the thread holding it together, and when I put my hand on the hood when coming back into the cockpit, the seam split wide apart. It could have been worse – might have happened at sea in rough weather. And while we had the sewing machine out, I put together something that looks a little like a Galapagos flag.
Off to the Galapagos
On Saturday 30th March, we left our prehistoric friends behind (the pelicans, not the other cruisers) and motored out of the anchorage. The wind in the islands isn’t consistent in terms of speed or direction. And within the space of an hour, the wind shifted from SE at 12 knots to NW at 16 knots. But as we cleared Las Perlas, the wind steadied and blew us along between 7 knots and a current-assisted 10 knots towards Galapagos – over 800 miles away. At that speed, we reached the end of the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Panama at 1600 local time, far earlier than expected, and the other one, off the Panamanian coast, at 0130 on Sunday. On our first 24 hours, we travelled a distance of 170 miles.
Sadly, that didn’t last. By Sunday afternoon, the wind had dropped to under 3 knots, leaving us drifting in a glassy sea. So, on went the engine and we motored slowly along for the next 24 hours.
The wind made a welcome return from the SE on Monday evening. This was a relief; we had visions of our Bermuda to Virginia experience when we arrived at the Chesapeake Bay with only fumes in the diesel tank and had to call Boat US to bring more fuel. Fortunately, the wind stayed with us for the most part (we probably motored about a third of the way). And we made better than expected progress, arriving at our anchorage at San Cristobal on Friday 5th April at 1430 Galapagos time.
Our friends on JaJapami set off from Las Perlas a few days later than us, so we stayed in touch by satellite email and by phone when possible. Although the voice quality on the IridiumGo! isn’t the best – it literally is live by satellite – and the delay makes it difficult for the conversation to flow.
At 0150 local time, we crossed the equator. We had initially thought we would celebrate this by opening a bottle of champagne to share between Neptune and Maria and I. But, as have adopted a policy of not drinking when sailing, we decided to give Neptune a can of Panama’s best lager and a shiny new penny.
We offered thanks for allowing us passage and for keeping us safe, then a fair maiden served the beer to Neptune while being berated by Neptune’s proxy. Actually, Maria poured the beer over the side and chucked the penny over while I prodded her with a rubber trident.
San Cristobal island is bigger than we imagined. From the time we spotted land, under a massive block of cumulous cloud, it took 9.5 hours to get to the anchorage at Wreck Bay.
Due to a misunderstanding between the authorities and our agent, the authorities arrived onboard Lady Jane almost three hours late. But when they did come, it was en-masse onboard a water taxi. And, apart from Maria’s birthday in Mindelo, we have never had so many people on the boat.
The crowd consisted of representation from the port authority, immigration, health, police, national parks, and I have no idea who else. The divers, however, didn’t turn up. This was just as well; I doubt we could have fitted them anywhere.
Maria drew the short straw and got the job of filling out the forms, of which there were many, while I escorted the other interested parties around. The doctor wanted to see our medicine chest (which has expanded to the size of a chest) to check for out of date medicines. The parks guy wanted to make sure all the labels for rubbish and the discharge of black water were in place, and he wanted to see the engine. And the port guy wanted to see the engine, electronics, and paper charts. What the others down below were up to I don’t know.
All of the people were very friendly, but we couldn’t quite understand the point of all the people being there. Most of them – including the police guy – sat baking in the near-midday heat of the cockpit. And why out of date medicines (of which we had none) are a concern to the authorities; I have no idea.
But it is what it is, and we passed whatever it was they were seeking to check. The port guy then called for a taxi, our agent’s representative gave us a pair of courtesy flags (rendering my home-made flag obsolete), and we invited to share the water taxi with the gang back to shore.
Our agents representative showed us around the town and explained where to buy things from and how to get diesel, then we were treated to a free lunch by way of apology for the cockup with the timings. Free food within the space of a few weeks? Never mind all those technical problems – our luck is in!
Later that afternoon, we brought out the champagne to celebrate our official arrival into the Galapagos and another place ticked off the bucket list.