Drifting to Darwinland

Our sail to the Galapagos Islands from Las Perlas Islands of Panama, would be good practice for the upcoming three-week trek across the Pacific.  How would the kids do?  What would the weather be like?  How would the watch schedule work out?  How long would our fresh produce last?  We would be on board for at least 8 days, given the light wind conditions and distance of 980 NM.  It is the longest trip that the kids and I have taken on board, double the time it took us to go from Bermuda to Newport, RI. 

To prepare for the trip, I pre-cooked some pasta and made some chili.  Mark went for a swim around the bottom of the boat to thoroughly de-barnacle the hulls.  Turns out, the Galapagos officials are very strict about the cleanliness of the boats, and actually have divers inspect the bottom to ensure no harmful species are introduced.  They also require a fumigation certificate, functioning holding tanks, and allow no plants (in soil) or citrus fruits to be on board.  It is wonderful to see them so concerned with preserving and protecting the environment, but creates quite a lengthy to-do list for the boats coming in.  We made sure our i’s were dotted and our t’s crossed.  

Is this how the creatures got all the way to the Galapagos?  Some scientists think so.

The waters were calm for the first few days, allowing us to ease into the trip and we got into a good groove.  Unfortunately, that meant not enough wind, which left us wishing we had Spinnaker poles to hold out our sails.  Since I was teaching school for 3-4 hours a day, Carlos and Mark handled the night shifts.  Then I would do an early morning watch and a pre-dinner watch.  Learning took on new forms while we were under way - more hands on and oral learning, less reading and writing.  The kids were also responsible for keeping a captain’s log daily at noon to track the weather and our progress.  They’d read the instruments and record the information, then we’d all sit around the paper chart using dividers and a parallel ruler to plot our course.  Elizabeth took to these calculations beautifully, always wanting to figure out more information.  “How far have we gone altogether?  How many days will it take us to get there at this speed?  How far are we from Colorado??”  She is a natural navigator, it seems!  Meanwhile, Michael wanted to play with the dividers and ruler and figure out how they worked. 

Recording latitude and longitudes, wind speed, and boat speed

Plotting our course on the charts.  
Carlos doing his sextant lesson
Sketching the Galapagos Tortoise
Last time we had internet, I’d researched lessons about Galapagos animals, geology, history, and scientific significance to create a unit of study.  The NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) has a fantastic Galapagos educational unit that we primarily used.  It gave succinct informational articles with photos of each indigenous animal.  The site also provided a list of letters or journal entries from various people who visited the islands throughout history from the first recorded visitor, a Spanish Fray named Tomas de Berlanga, to Charles Darwin, to a marine biologist in 1999.  It was fascinating to read their individual accounts of what they experienced and how they survived the harsh conditions of extreme heat and limited fresh water.  What would we think of these mysterious islands when we arrived?  What animals would intrigue us?  Would we see the same strange landscapes of cacti and lava rock?  It all made us even more excited to get there!

Dolphins swimming along with us!
Jellyfish drifting alongside in crystal clear water
As we bobbed along, we realized that we would be crossing the equator at night, so we decided to hove-to for a while and ensure a daylight crossing.  It would be the first of two times we’d heave-to, waiting for sunrise.  I couldn’t believe that we’d been on board in open water for over 7 days, and I was fine with halting progress!  This was a sure sign that the trip was going better than I ever expected.  The kids created a tin foil crown and trident for “King Neptune” to wear when he came to visit us on board, as well as a cape made from a blanket and a clothespin.  I jotted down a sort of script for the equatorial ceremony and we anxiously watched our position on the chart plotter.  Mark set up the video cameras so that we could capture the epic event!  After we were christened as Shellbacks from our measly Pollywog status, we enjoyed some champagne and orange soda, tipping some into Neptune’s seas as offering.  The wait was definitely worth the memories that were made.

Mark gets dressed up as King Neptune
Our offerings for King Neptune
Kids playing as we sail
Laundry drying in the Pacific sun

Sunrise behind Kicker Rock
The second time we put the brakes on was when we were entering the harbor of San Cristobal Island.  We did not want to enter the unfamiliar harbor at night, so we stopped just short of the entrance.  In the morning, I experienced the best watch I’ve ever had.  As the sun came up it revealed a dark, volcanic rock landscape scattered with tall cacti.  In the water, a whale spouted, sea lions popped their heads up to say hello, petrels danced along the surface searching for food, and huge rays jumped and slapped back into the sea.  The kids came wandering out of their cabin, sleep still in their eyes, to see what Mom was yelling about.  After a few moments of awe, Michael exclaimed, “It’s wildlife out here!  Wow!”  We had officially entered the magic of the Galapagos Islands.  

Trying to identify the whale that we spotted!

At anchor, sea lions quickly found respite on our transom steps and a lazy marine iguana swam by to check us out.  The creatures were everywhere, and not the least bit scared of us!  On the town dock, bright red crabs skittered along the black rocks and sea lions flopped themselves onto park benches to warm up in the sun.   The kids excitedly shouted out the names of each creature that we’d studied about, thrilled to see them in the wild!  


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