GALAPAGOS’ ILLUSIONS AND PORT PROTOCOL |
As the black tooth climbs higher into the sky it begins to look more like an island of some substance. From the charts and its shape, it is established that they are indeed gazing at Santa Cruz Island. On the western side is Academy Bay and Puerto Ayora, their final destination. At this moment, with the island dominating the offing, it suddenly disappears and leaves what appears to be a blank canvas on which, only moments ago was a very real island. The captain, deliciously (for him), allows the crew to panic momentarily and then explains rather loftily that this phenomenon is known as the ‘Garua Effect’ and is peculiar to the Galapagos Islands. During the dry or ‘Garua’ season, inversion layers form over the highlands of the islands and frequently a fine mist forms. This translucent haze very often obscures the high ground making it invisible to the observer from a distance. They, being well back over the horizon unable to see the unobscured lower slopes, and with the western sky now cloudy, the impression of the island disappearing is very genuine.
‘My goodness’ she exclaims, ‘fancy them not knowing that!’ Her resonances coming in an entirely different form, and under water, tell her that islands of that size just do not move!
All sail is best trimmed, and she thrusts forward with urgency now that the decision has been made to make landfall that night. Sailing into the gathering gloom, the islands, built completely of black lava and basalt, appear incredibly intimidating. Their steep and jagged cliffs, fringed at the base with foaming white water, conjure up Jurassic Park thoughts. A Frigate bird could easily morph into a pterodactyl and a sea iguana into a T-rex, such are the overactive imaginations of her crew. Darkness falls and with the cloud cover obscuring the moon, it is a very black night. The original hydrographic charts of the area show some lights, but they are either not turned on or fallen into disrepair, as there is only one in the main approach, off the starboard bow. Fortunately as she rounds the final headland and Academy Bay opens up, the lights of moored craft and the small port help her into the bay. There is going to be no docking here as the port consists of a partially sheltered corner of the bay in which all vessels, commercial, tourist and yachts alike are moored.
Creeping forward, she approaches a vast black hulk outlined against the dim port lights. It is very poorly lit and there is some suspicious looking activity going on alongside. Our crew, staring, staring, can see some things being hauled up the side of the ship from a lighter, and as she comes closer a single gallows like arm protruding over the side of the ship is doing the hauling. Attached to the end of the heavy chain is a very upset, upside down milking cow. Her mouth is working and her free hind leg kicking furiously, but that is all the resistance she can muster as she is dragged unceremoniously up the rusting side. Fifteen to twenty of these poor animals disappear into the hold of the ship in this manner, and her crew are wondering what barbarous acts may be exacted upon them once inside the bowels of the ship. Feeling her way further up into the corner, where hopefully she can find a mooring position more out of the swell, many a long rode and scope is piloted around, until they arrive at a spot her captain deems fit for them to drop anchor and moor.
Over her nose rattles the chain endlessly, almost to the bitter end before it takes in the mud. With the constant swell she realises that she has to let out as much scope as possible. This task completed and a small stern anchor laid out to reduce her swing, the crew sit down to a self congratulatory cup of tea. Halfway to their lips, their cups freeze, as the whole island is suddenly plunged into total darkness. Santa Cruz is on generator power, and midnight is the shutdown time. Our poor crew slide into their bunks that night with some level of apprehension, wondering what tomorrow is going to bring.
Dawn breaks a murky grey sheet over the town. The bugle blast of the navy reveille is the first sound to be heard, and her crew stumble into the cockpit. Peering into the mist they realise they are moored directly off the local navy base. Without a military vessel in sight, crisp white uniformed ratings line up in the quadrangle, and salute the Ecuador flag as it is hoisted up its staff. Our crew remind themselves that Ecuador is indeed a democracy and they have no need to worry – however, following on from what they saw the previous evening, the nagging doubts firmly lodged in the corner of their minds will not disperse. These islands are so unique, and classified ‘eco tourist’ by the Ecuadorian government, there are strong warnings and procedural advice for visiting yachtsmen. Visiting areas other than designated ports, is not allowed, and if caught will face immediate arrest and probable confiscation of vessel. Visits are only allowed for a maximum of forty eight hours on an emergency basis, repairs and/or provisioning, with visas issued to this effect. All printed material stresses this, so her crew are acutely aware of this protocol as they put ashore in the dinghy to visit the Puerto Capitano.
In their smartest casual gear they manage the tricky landing on the stone wall, stepping ashore with the minimum amount of mud and salt water stains on their clothing. Straightening their garments as best they can, and the captain, importantly carrying their waterproof doco/passport bag tucked under one arm, they set off down the quay. Arriving at the lovely old colonial stone building which is the Custom house, and Puerto Capitano’s office, all varnish and gloss inside, they are ushered into his office. A handsome fortyish officer, with a level gaze, stares at them bleakly from the other side of a huge desk. Varnish must be cheap in this country as this piece of furniture is positively glowing. Our crew are not easily intimidated, but with his cool, silent stare, and two matelots one each side standing to attention behind, this comes close. Our captain compliments him on his fine building, and his incredibly crisp and brilliant white uniform. He cocks his head slightly, breaks into a raffish smile and says:
‘How long would you like to be staying in our country?’.
Our captain, momentarily taken aback, but having risen early, replies that ten days would be very nice indeed, thank you.
‘No problem’, a now very relaxed Puerto Capitano replies.
Visas are produced, with passports being stamped accordingly, entry fees paid, and our crew shuffle backwards out of his office almost bowing as they go. Our captain is on the point of inviting the Port Captain to join them for a beer at some point at his convenience, but considers this might be pushing their new relationship a little too far! Instead, they march straight faced down the sea wall, eyes to the front, out of sight round the first corner and suddenly leap into the air, fist punching in their exhilaration. Ten days to explore these fabulous evolutionary islands. A local fruit seller looking out from his stall, gives them a quizzical glance – crazy foreigners! Events as we shall see, will extend this time to eleven days. Later, checking their entry fee dockets, our crew discover that it was somewhat less than they had calculated.
Extract from the ebook ‘Voyage of the Little Ship ‘Tere Moana’ downloadable from my sailboat2adventure website website for Sailors
Vincent Bossley is a sailor and publisher living on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. He has his own website on www.sailboat2adventure.com for cruising sailors, sailors preparing for their lifetime sailing adventure, armchair sailors, virtual sailors and anyone who has ever dreamed of sailing off into the oceans of this beautiful planet of ours. He offers a package of extremely useful dollar saving tips that could save the voyager many hundreds of dollars and more, plus a FREE one hundred and thirty five page ebook download ‘Voyage of the Little Ship ‘Tere Moana’, of his sailing adventures in many of the exotic paradises around the globe. You can visit him anytime on www.sailboat2adventure.com
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