Coincidences or karma? Whatever you believe, things happen for a reason and more often than not are out of your control. Most are good such as the arrival of our new crew member, Rachel, who had, coincidentally, sailed on Miss Tiggy on a delivery from Palma to Southampton when she was still called On Liberty. Or bumping into Malcolm Bamford who was joining us in Panama City and who, having just arrived, took a stroll from his hotel to find a restaurant for dinner. He walked up the street in which we were just disembarking from our taxi. A minute later we would have been in the restaurant and out of sight. The appearance of Dobra, the Emergency Physician, who happened to be in Shelter Bay Marina when James’ foot needed medical attention and who we now believe saved Charlie’s life.
We were pleased and relieved to finally leave Panama City – our last days were marred by a non performing freezer that had not worked since we pulled Miss T out of the water for a bottom scub and several coats of anti-fouling. It was hot and busy and the constant wait for trades people to turn up was frustrating. As great a modern city as Panama City is, the Internet is slow, the roads are choked with traffic, and waiting for service (normally due to a personal mobile phone conversation being completed) made the to call to sea even louder. A few Oysters have been delayed in their departure for the Galapagos due to a variety of mechanical reasons, however our hearts go out to Annie & Tom on yacht Vela who have not been able to set sail for medical reasons. Hopefully they will catch up in either the Galápagos or French Polynesia!
A lovely group of islands belonging to Panama called Las Perlas was our stopping point for a few days and it was here, on our morning of departure, that we found that our Auto Pilot was not working. Turn around and return to Panama or hand steer to the Galápagos Islands? After weighing up all the pros and cons we decided to push forward – not an easy decision as it meant 2 hourly shifts (with 6 hours off) manually steering the boat 900 miles – all day and all night. This may not sound like a big deal however to jump out of bed at 12, 2 or 4 am and concentrate for 2 hours on the compass bearing while looking around into the night for potential risk factors is hard work! There was great relief when our Skipper decided that we could in fact head for the Galápagos Islands and get the problem sorted there as opposed to beating a track back to Panama.
Onwards and upwards! In this case it was more a case of heading in the right direction! As we set sail south we had the wonderful offer of joining 575 Calliope and following them to them to the Galápagos…this meant a leading light that we could fix on and follow as opposed to a compass point – so much easier for us and we are eternally grateful to them! Charles and Nicky have been great company for the 6 day passage and we have shared information, passage planning suggestions, and even swimming and champagne. Several evenings around 5pm we would stop the boat and jump into the Pacific…we even swam between boats, with our bottle of Moët to celebrate our forthcoming crossing at 00.00.00.
We crossed the equator at 0309 on the 31st March with deck lights blazing – Charles and Nicky were magnificently adorned with long flowing golden locks, an all over tan, and crown and trident to complete their homage to King Neptune. In true Aussie style, the Cres of Miss Tiggy was dressed up in red and blue and all things Demon to encourage Neptune to join the fold of Dees (Melbourne Football Club) supporters! We even sang to him – “It’s a Grand Old Flag”…this video footage is never to be released!!
Our first glimpse of San Cristobal the most eastern of the Galápagos Islands was just as we had expected having watched many programmes about it. We sailed into Puerto Baquerizo and as soon as we arrived were visited but officials for immigration, customs, GNP (Galápagos National Parks) – a total of 7! After much paperwork (the red tape is very stringent) and a visual check of the boat we were cleared in. Nobody uses their tenders to go in and out to the shore so water taxis are buzzing around all over the bay picking up and dropping off at all hours of the day and night. We knew about the sea lions and were greeted at the town pier by a cacaphony of barks, which sounded like a group of old men clearing their throats! They lie around like nude women posing for an artist and every now and again will open one eye to check out the scene or growl at a passer by. After a lovely dinner out we headed back to Miss T and fell asleep very quickly after our 6 day passage of hand steering….the next morning we found that we had been visited overnight by a large fish smelling hairy chap who had slept in our cockpit, on our cushions! Needless to say the next morning was spent scrubbing them within a inch of their lives and a barrier has been set up to discourage a repeat performance.
Our knight in shining armour, in the form of Gavin Needham, a marine engineer from Oyster, fixed our auto pilot in great speed – James and Rachel had been so close! A big relief particularly for our next passage, which is one of the longest…about 3 weeks to t he Marquesas in French Polynesia.
A scuba dive was set for Kicker Rock – swim with the hammerheads! An incredible experience…to see a large shark cruising through the depths and not the slightest bit interested in us! James and I also had an up close and personal moment with a large turtle who was non plussed about the visitors in his area and who swam happily near us giving us a great thrill. The birds and animals of the Galápagos are not afraid; a Naturalist explained this phenomena as due to a complete lack of predators!
5 days of cruising around the Islands on our own boat with a Naturalist on board should be a highlight!!