Tuesday, January 1st, 2013
By Kate “Bob” Addison
Picton Castle and her crew had a magical, unique Christmas here in the Galapagos Islands. The ship and her crew had crossed the Equator and found themselves at anchor in Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal, and since we couldn’t clear in through immigration until the morning, we all celebrated Christmas Eve aboard.
With our decorated tree from Panama on the hatch and the decks all lit up with fairy lights the ship looked really quite lovely, and the crew scrubbed up pretty well too in their festive outfits. There were lots of presents piled up under the tree, some in fancy wrapping paper, some in pages from magazines and newspapers, duct tape featured heavily, and added a certain something to the stack.
And then there were all sorts of treats to eat – far too much food and then music and dancing, a really lovely evening. Then on Christmas morning, Santa (Saint?) Donald and his team of elves cooked up an epic breakfast, with fried meat doughnuts, fruit salad, bacon, eggs, breakfast muffins, pannetone, carrot cake, fresh baked bread, nuts, dried fruit and cheese. After the feed we opened presents, there was something for everybody under the tree.
Then, all cleared in and stamped passports back, we got permission to land and the off-watches were broken off to go ashore and look at sea lions and such, while the on-watch looked after the ship for the afternoon and then had movie night on the hatch in the evening. On Christmas night most shops and little krooks were open.
Everyone got two or three days off to explore ashore – the Galapagos are famous, of course, for Mr. Darwin and his studies here that went so far in developing his theory of natural selection. Quite something for us to have sailed to the same islands in a square-rigged ship just as he did, and also impressive to think that he didn’t have much more time ashore than us. He probably spent less time scuba diving and eating ice cream though.
As well as the significance of the place from a natural history perspective, San Cristobal is a very nice, easy place to be a visitor. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants in easy reach, and all manner of activities very easily organised – diving and snorkeling is a favourite activity here, with giant sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks and sea lions all competing for attention. Then there is walking and horseback riding – you can walk up to a volcanic lake where frigate birds swoop low to wash the salt from their wings, or for the less athletic there are island tours by taxi. The gang had a great time ashore – as Pete B said, “you couldn’t wipe the smile of my face with a 2″ x 4″” (and that’s quite a hefty plank of wood!).
Onboard ship, the duty watch were focusing on loading provisions and supplies: barrels of petrol and containers of diesel were loaded for the ship and for Pitcairn. Lots of fresh provisions too – they have good quality produce here, so we got plenty to last the next three weeks at sea, and some for Pitcairn too. Then there was painting and maintenance work – tricky areas like inside the paint locker and rails got some attention and lots of steel work going on. We’ll be in fair weather trade wind sailing for the next three weeks or so, which makes it a good time to open up a number of projects knowing that there will be time to get them finished properly.
The reliably good steady trade wind sailing also means we can break people off from the watches and have ‘daymen’ working on specialised projects. Usually purser, cook, engineer and bosun are daymen, but when we can spare people from sailing the ship, it’s also good to have riggers, carpenters and sailmakers. We’re rotating the daymen week by week over this next passage to Pitcairn Island so everybody who wants to take a turn will get to learn some of these specific skills (and sleep through the night!).
And for those still standing watches, trade wind sailing should mean stuns’ls, kites and celestial navigation…