Having finally received the new bearings for the rudders, we were keen to leave Santa Cruz as quickly as possible. Lou phoned our agent, Irene and an hour later we were stood in front of the Immigration man who cleared us out of Ecuador. We needed to clear out from Santa Cruz as Isabela, although the most obvious island to leave from, 60 miles W of Santa Cruz, doesn’t have any Customs or Immigration facilities. We also got our Zarpe from the Port Captain, allowing us to move to Isabela. It is a bit of a strange system. Officially we have left the country but we have as much time as we really want in Isabela as long as Isabela was on the original Autografo. Some people without agent are given a time limit of just a few days by the Port Captain. We, with the excellent James Hinkle acting for us, Bolivar Pesante’s island representative, are treated a little different, I fear simply because money is seen to be going into someone’s pocket on the island.

We decided to travel overnight and had a tedious motor-sail into about 5kts of wind. It was very very dark with no moon and only the occasional glimpse of stars. We woke to the islands showing the form of a huge  largely sunken caldera with boobies dive bombing around us.



We arrived at Puerto Villamil at 1115hrs, parked up beside Taranga and in front of Jade. The Port Captain’s representative was on board within 10 minutes. After a little bit of confusion, we fed him coffee, James spoke to him on the radio and we promised to bring all the paperwork ashore for James to present to officialdom. James is an American, who, having driven to Ecuador in the 1960’s, became one of the first Darwin Guides and married a local. After raising his family in the USA, he and his wife have retired back to Isabela. They are a lovely couple and of great help to us both here and in helping with some pushing of FEDEX when we were back in Santa Cruz.

A quick word on the anchorage here. Having got used to the surge and roll of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, it was a delight to anchor in 5m of water in  a wonderfully sheltered bay, protected by low islands and reefs. We have not had more than 10 boats in at any one time.

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It is the best anchorage we have been in for months with no swell at all and even the monohulls sit unmoving beside us. It is also beautifully picturesque.  Strangely, it reminds me strongly of some anchorages in Scotland. It is the only official anchorage that Charlie’s Charts doesn’t have a picture off.  Trying to keep people away?  Maybe.  The other delight is the lack of traffic here.  There are few tourist boats operating here and only the occasional taxi so there is very little wash.

The anchorage is full of life.  Turtles, baby sharks, sea-lions and penguins.  Tiny little things but real penguins.  And Manta Rays.  Great big enormous wonderful Manta Rays.  One we caught a glimpse of, decided to have a tour around the anchorage.  No photos yet but we are still hopeful.

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As with all the islands, you are restricted from doing most things sensible with your boat.  You may snorkel around your boat (but not clean it) but may not go across to the reef to where the iguana and penguins hang out as this is the main snorkel area for the locals to bring the tourists.  If you want to go there, you need to pay.  However, no one seems to bother you if you use a canoe.  There are a couple of beaches ashore by the harbour that you can snorkel off which are well used but full of iguana, turtles and seals.  The main beach which starts at the town and heads W is great.  White sand, good surf and there is a good play park too. Close to the play park and across the road from the Captain’s office are public showers.  The water gets switched on to them around 1700hrs daily for people to rinse off from the beach.  

There is a dinghy dock here so you can get yourself to shore without the need of the rather expensive water taxi ($2 a head each way – for comparison, Santa Cruz was $0.80).  Advise is to make sure you lock everything up and take the fuel hose with you.  Our friends on Tika came back to find theirs had been stolen.  Not impressed.  Make sure you tie up on the inside of the dinghy dock too.  The locals use the dinghies as big fenders as they crash in.  Not real friendly.  Returning to your yacht after night fall is a challenge as there is a reef, rocks and a sandbar between the dock and the anchorage.  Make sure you take a BIG torch to allow you to spot the infrequent buoys marking the safe route and I’d advise having a good look at the route in daylight hours before you try it at night.  Lots of people have either ended up crunching their propellers or running aground. 

The town is a bit sleepy but I love the fact that other than a pompously wide road from the dock which stops short of town, the rest of the roads are either sand  or volcanic gravel.  There is a good selection of restaurants which are reasonably priced, particularly for lunch, and have a great selection of sea foods.


One note on money.  There are no ATMs on the island so you will need to load up with cash before you reach here.  The bank is a basic one and for locals to use, not tourists.  Beware also the bars and restaurants with signs up saying that they can take credit cards.  They can but there will be a service charge of 22%!!  They know they have you over a barrel if you haven’t brought cash………

The girls have had an active social life here.  We have had a couple of sleep overs and birthdays too.  Grace and Evie, two UK girls travelling with their parents Adrian and Christine, by land around the world came for a stay.  Evie turned 7 and had a birthday party of pizza and far too much sugar!

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Then, having had Meriel stay (the girl with the interesting choice of headwear) the girls had a return night with her and Nerana, her sister, on Persevere.  They had a couple of film nights there as well, watching on their huge TV – a 60” beast!



Then we continued the surfing education at a birthday party for Arsene off Quatra who turned 10.  Audrey, his mum surprised us with a fantastic birthday feast on the beach.  

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The S end of the island can be explored by bicycle and although the sand tracks are hard work, it is great fun.  We were joined on this trip by Pickles, Gill from Starcharger’s ever present childhood bear, who Hannah carried and introduced to a number of new friends!  Watch out for him in the photos.

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There are tourist trips to The Tunnels (volcanic tubes – now flooded) but you aren’t allowed to snorkel in them and we thought $80 a head was a bit steep.  However, on the bike route we found a tube running down to the sea that we could explore for free.

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We also visited the Wall of Tears, built by political prisoners between 1945-59 as something meaninglessly tedious to do.  The island had a fearsome reputation and many prisoners died here.  The wall is huge. Roughly 10m high, about the same wide and it is about 300m long.


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The climb above the Wall of Tears to the three viewpoints is hot, long but worth it.  We nearly broke the kids!  You get a spectacular view along the S coast of Isabela  and inland to the highlands.  The gentle breeze at that height is a life saver too.


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Having cooked on the bike trip to the Wall of Tears (there is a lot of uphill riding required), we were all ready to cool down.  We visited two gorgeous beaches, Playa del Amor and La Playita, that we shared with more marine Iguanas than we have seen before and an awful lot of land crabs.


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Although there is a “official” flamingo lake, a inland brine affair, the birds don’t like it! We were pointed to a pit near to the Tortoise Sanctuary just N of the town as a better place to go to see these pink marvels. We also saw some lovely little birds showing no fear of us at all.  Twitchers – over to you to name them please.


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Hannah found us a wild Tortoise, a rare find, dozing under a tree whilst she was looking for some shade on the bike ride out and it was still there on our way back to the beaches.  By its size, we think it was about 50 years old.  We also stopped in at the Tortoise Sanctuary to look at the work being down there.  Currently there are about 800 turtles being raised, a mix of the five species of Tortoise present on Isabela.  The great difficulty that the tortoise have is that rats, introduced from ships visiting in the past, eat the eggs and it has become more and more difficult for tortoise to survive to hatching, let alone the first few years.  The Sanctuary raises the tortoise until their size can give them the protection they need.


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We were recommended a good snorkelling site, El Eskro,  by Gem, a London lass working at at the Surf and Bike shop.  However, try and go at low water.  There is too much surf at anything more than half water.  We rented both surf boards and bikes from that shop and were impressed with the price and quality of kit.  A handy map of the area is below. 


We made the boat ready for the crossing with the last of the provisioning done in the small supermarkets here.  The Farmer’s Market, held on a Saturday, was a disappointment with little in the way of offerings and poor quality.  The problem is lack of rain.  Produce just isn’t growing either as large or as plentifully as is the norm.  Hopefully once El Nino has cleared things will improve.

With a significant amount of help from fellow OCC members, Starcharger (Alisdair, Gill, Jane and Alex) we tried but failed to fix the rudders.  After all the palaver of waiting for the rudder bearings, once we dropped the rudders out to be able to get at the bearings, we found that replacing them correctly in alignment was near impossible without lifting Skylark out of the water.  Further, the bottom bearing had been epoxied in and the top actually had a layer of fibreglass over it so even digging them out is a major endeavour.  Foutaine Pajot’s name was taken in vain several times.  In the end, we replaced the rudder and have tightened everything up as much as we could.  There will remain a little movement in the stock and we will just need to monitor it and baby it as necessary until the Marquesas.  We commiserated our failure with an excellent chilli and far too much rum.

We have our Zarpe to allow us to leave 24hrs either side of 9th May and we think we have prepared as much as we can.  We are due light winds for the first couple of days but thereafter we should be in the trades.  All being well our next post should be from The Other Side of the World. 

Galapagos–Santa Cruz

We left after a week in San Christobal to travel across to Santa Cruz. It is about 40 miles between the two anchorages so we left at dawn with our new friends, Jade and headed out with no wind and a calm sea to get across in the daylight hours.  It was a pretty tedious crossing other than seeing the breakers on the small uninhabited island of Santa Fe.  We got a little close and got a good amount of reflected wave from the island.



It turned the water into a bit of a washing machine which wasn’t that pleasant.  Lesson learned. Next time, go into the lee of the island and get a flat sea……

Santa Cruz is the main tourist island of the Galapagos and Academy Bay is the main anchorage. it is the home of the majority of big tour boats and the largest town in the whole of the island chain. Unfortunately the anchorage is exposed to the swell which predominately runs from the SW and the first few days here were unpleasant. Imaging sitting just outside the point where the waves break on a beach and you will understand the swell type. It caused lots of problems with a huge surge and roll for the monohulls and even the cats were bucking about. Taranga, our Danish friends were extraordinary lucky. In the middle of the night, they woke to a bang but finding they weren’t moving, they headed back to sleep. The next morning, the dived on the anchor only to find it wasn’t there anymore and their chain was jammed between two rocks. The surge had broken their anchor swivel and only sheer dumb luck had kept them from going onto the reef 50m behind them.

Thankfully the waters calmed after a few days but it is still the worst anchorage we have been in for a long time.

The first big plus of the anchorage is no sea-lions and the daily assault of guano on the nose has gone! There are, however, a large population of sharks with baby Hammerheads and Blacktips in the bay. The largest we saw around us was about 4’ long.

The town is the normal tourist trap with the bars offering happy hour cocktails, lots of poor t-shirt shops and a huge number of the “best Galapagos tour – ever!” signs. We have heard mixed results from those having gone on tours. Some are good but most have been a quick whip round and a charge of $100-160 per person per day. Not cheap and often disappointing. We, of course don’t have the kind of money that will allow us to go on lots of these trips but we have found the fantastic Tortuga beach about 40 mins walk away where we can see both plenty of wildlife and as a bonus, learn to surf. As you might see, the kids did somewhat better than their parents. Hannah has got it! We had a good crowd there with kids from Tika, Quatra, Jade and ourselves. Our thanks to Rusty from Tika for the lessons.

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Tortuga Beach is lovely. The red flag flies there due to the rip which builds in heavy seas but we found that it was perfectly safe at the S end.


We did one small trip to the sink holes, tunnels and tortoise sanctuary. Well worth the value of $40 a head for the day. The sinkholes are particularly impressive.






We did find one very quiet beach. Nick from Jade had a wonderful time near drowning the kids. They loved it.





The wildlife was great too. A great collection of birds, land crabs and Marine Iguana, an animal we have decided must be in the running for the laziest in the world. Watching the Storm Petrol’s seemingly walk on the water as they feed is a special sight. See below for a collection of exotic birds (sorry Jane and Gill!).


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I’ve also been enjoying the diving. Whilst the dives I did in San Christobal were just about ok, we didn’t really get to see a huge amount. Here through? Wow, just wow. We were lucky that as the sea calmed down on the anchorage, so did the visibility improve generally around at the dive sites. I dived at Gordon’s Rock, just off the NE corner of the island and rated as one of the two best dive sites in the Galapagos chain. We dived twice to no more than 60’ and saw so much wildlife. Galapagos, Black Tip and White Tip sharks, sea lions coming to play, rays, turtles and so many pelagic fish.  The highlight was the sudden appearance of a school of Hammerhead, sodding huge things, which had us racing for the safety of the rock face. Glorious, if a bit nervy! I came up after the 2nd dive with just 200psi left in the tank. Guess I was breathing heavily!

Sadly most of my photos didn’t come out well but we pooled our photos once we got back to the shop. These are some of the best. Mia from Taranga was my dive buddy who provided more than half of the photos below. It was great to be back diving with an expert, something I’ve missed since we left Almost There and Robert’s kind tuition. Mia will be joining Skylark for a month in the Marquesas so I’m hoping we will be able to get some more diving in then too.

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We have spent a little more time than we were intending here due to our wait for replacement rudder parts from France. Not that we are complaining. There are worse places in the world to get stuck in!

Whilst I’d love to point the finger purely at Ecuadorian Customs administration,  the inefficiencies of FEDEX have been exposed here too. Our parcel left France on the 20th Apr and arrived in Ecuador on the 24th and we got a mail to say the parcel was in Customs. We found out on the 29th that FEDEX had raised the customs paperwork for the parcel on the 22nd but never got around to sending us a copy with the amount or who to pay. They are impossible to talk to here in Ecuador.  It took a week of badgering and help from a local to get a bank account number to pay the 70% odd duty. We may get the parcel on 3 May, fingers crossed.

Galapagos – San Cristobal

The first morning saw Stewart take one last dip to scrub the bottom before we were inspected, on advice from friends.  Having heard so many tales about checking into Galapagos, we were relieved to find that the process was relatively straightforward.  Eleanor had baked brownies and yoghurt cake ready for the event and the kettle had been boiled.  Our bottom was inspected and passed with flying colours.  The environmental inspector came and had a look on board but seemed quite happy after a very quick look around. 

In all we had nine immigration, customs and divers on board and the cakes disappeared very quickly.  We then had to leave the boat as they were going to fumigate the boat with something that would not have looked out of place on the set of Ghostbusters.  But we had passed!  We paid our fees and we were checked in to Galapagos.

We spent about a week at San Cristobal.  It is a lovely island but this being Galapagos, unlike every other set of islands we have visited, we were not allowed to explore it by using Skylark.  We had paid for the most anchorages we could use, which was three.  They are Wreck Bay on San Christobal, Academy Bay on Santa Cruz and the Puerto Vilamil on Isabela.

The restrictions are understandable – maintaining the environment is key in everything the locals do here.

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On the first afternoon ashore, we finally met the crew of Jade.  I had put a plea on Facebook for kid boats doing the Pacific this season and got in touch with Michelle and Alex, who have an eight year old daughter and a ten year old son – perfect!  We had been in contact since Jamaica in January so it was like meeting a pen pal.  With no option of returning to our respective boats, we had no other choice than to find a local establishment and have a good chat over a few drinks.  Nick, their American crew member, decided to that we would be drinking US style and so ordered shots of rum with every beer.  Needless to say it was a good if messy afternoon.

There are plenty of free hikes and things to do on the Galapagos without the need to sign up for expensive tours.  The first hike we did was through the excellent Interpretation Centre (which we decided to redo in detail for a school field trip another day), up to Cerro Tijeretas.  From the summit we were able to look across to Wreck Bay and out to the ocean.  The track down then leads to a bay with a swimming platform where we went snorkelling with sea lions, turtles and plenty of fish.  We then completed the trail past the Charles Darwin statue and an artillery piece.  We were joined on the hike by the crew of the French boat Quatra, Audrey, Adrien, Axel and Arsene.  Eleanor, Noah and Arsene hit it off straight away.

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Day three saw us in search of a local beach which was meant to be good for surfing, offer snorkelling opportunities and home to the famous marine iguanas.  The route round the coast took us through a military camp and when we tried to gain access we were told that only surfers (carrying a surfboard) were allowed – a strange rule but who were we to argue.  A long, hot detour finally saw us get to the beach and so the search for iguanas began. We found one – a lazier beast we have never come across!

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The following day we had organised a taxi tour of the island.  For the reasonable price of $60 ($10 an hour), we were taken to El Junco, Jacinta Gordillo Tortoise Breeding Centre, Puerto Chino and had a bonus visit to an amazing tree house tacked on to the end.  El Junco is a volcanic crater that is home to a freshwater lake which the frigate birds use to wash the sea water from their wings.  It was an easy walk up to the top and it was nice to stretch our legs after seven days at sea.  There was plenty of birds and a great view across the island. The three wind turbines, parked up on one of the high points of the island provide an impressive 50% of the island’s power requirements.


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Jacinta Gordillo Tortoise Breeding Centre is a very organised facility with a small information centre.  They keep the tortoises there until they are seven years old, at which age they are able to fend for themselves in the wild.  The tiny one month old tortoises were very sweet and I reckon they would make a good boat pet as they seem to grow very slowly – just don’t tell Hannah I said that!  The tortoises were brilliant and moved surprisingly quickly; I could almost hear the Johnny Morris voiceover.

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Onwards to Puerto Chino, where we all had a much-needed dip and the hunt was on for the infamous blue-footed booby.

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The final stop was a tree house, La Casa del Ceibo, built in an impressively large Ceiba or Kapok tree.  It is actually possible to stay in the treehouse itself overnight; it has a flushing toilet, kitchen area, mezzanine sleeping area and the longest fireman’s pole I have ever seen.  The kids had a great time exploring.  Nick was the first to brave coming down the pole, although he admitted that once he was on there was no going back, even if he had wanted to, as his rucksack meant that he could not manoeuvre back into the treehouse easily.  Fearne then bravely went next and after that all the kids wanted a go.  There is also a route for them to climb the tree with someone belaying from the foot of the tree.  Hannah was first up and as the youngest there, meant she had to be followed up by all the rest of them.

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Stewart did some diving here but wasn’t tremendously impressed.  The water is very cold here, around 16 -17C, so you need to borrow at least a 5mm suit from the school you go with.  Kicker Rock is supposed to be one of the best dives in the Galapagos.  Try and get a day with decent visibility as the reviews talking to people having done it were mixed indeed.  His one night dive was interesting but the single large ray he jumped in on top off entering the water was the most exciting thing he saw.

Shopping here is basic but there is an excellently priced fruit and veg market.  There are a couple of supermarkets but the prices reflect the fact that everything has to be shipped in.  An add in note now we have visited all three islands.  Buy your memorabilia t-shirts here. The shops on the front beside the ferry dock have the best quality and collection of anywhere in the Galapagos.  The embroidered t-shirts here are the same price as the printed ones elsewhere.

Although San Cristobal is pleasant, I have to admit I got very bored of the continual stink of sea-lion poo and the fight to keep said beasts off the boat.  It is a losing battle but the straw that broke the camels back was the one that got into the cockpit.  Lou surprised it as she opened the door and then yelled at it.  It pooed itself and then, in bouncing around in its panic, slapped the liquid faeces pretty much everywhere.  At 0200hrs, we spent half and hour trying to rid the boat of the stink.  Truly, truly foul.

Santa Cruz is the next port we are allowed to visit.  We hear there are few Sea-lions there……….