Friday, January 24th, 2020
Galapagos, Even Better Than I Imagined
Maggie here, from Picton Castle’s shore crew. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have sailed with Picton Castle to the Galapagos not once but twice. When I was first interested in sailing as a trainee, the Galapagos Islands was one of the ports I was most excited about. Why? To answer that, we need to go back to my childhood.
When I was a kid, I had a subscription to OWL Magazine, which is a Canadian science and nature magazine for ages 8-12. I remember being so excited to check the mailbox each month to see if it had arrived. The last page of the magazine always had a series of close-up photos of different items and readers had to guess each photo, and there was a different science experiment every month that you could do at home. OWL Magazine did a whole series of issues on nature in the Galapagos. I remember thinking that this place must be just filled with interesting and unusual animals and that it must be very, very far away because the landscape didn’t look like anything this nine-year-old girl had ever seen before.
Fast forward almost 20 years and there I was, aboard Picton Castle, sailing into the harbour at Baquerizo Moreno, also known as Wreck Bay, at the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos. My immediate first thought was that there were more buildings and streets than I expected. Of course people live there, but I was surprised to see a thriving small town and a number of vessels at anchor in the bay. The landscape had always been described to me as barren, and it certainly was dry but it wasn’t empty.
Even in town, nature is everywhere. Sea lions swim in the bay, sun themselves on the beach in town, or on the concrete jetty, we brought Picton Castle’s skiff to, or even on some of the unoccupied boats at anchor. Blue-footed boobies and frigate birds fly overhead. Tropical plants of all sizes and descriptions grow neatly in gardens or not so neatly in vacant lots and outside of town.
Adult sea lions are louder and smellier than I expected. Young sea lions are as playful as I imagined. One evening, getting into the skiff from the jetty to return to the ship with a number of my shipmates, a young sea lion put its flippers up on the gunwales and was starting to push itself up and into our boat in the same spot where I was about to sit down. The chief mate came to my rescue, by instinct he reached his hand out and gently pushed the young pup back into the water. Likewise, on night watch, instructions, as usual, included bailing the skiff, but with the added precaution of checking it with a flashlight first for sea lions.
Seeing marine iguanas and other reptiles was interesting, but for me the big highlight was seeing Galapagos tortoises. It’s incredible to think about their age, they routinely live to be 100 years old in the wild, even longer in captivity. In order to ensure they can reach a ripe old age, there’s a tortoise sanctuary on San Cristobal where baby tortoises hatch and are kept in a wild-like environment but with protection from potential predators. Being in the presence of creatures that are so rare definitely felt magical to me.
On my second visit to the Galapagos Islands in Picton Castle, I was sailing as the purser so I saw less of the natural world and more of the town and the people. People were friendly, and they tried to help as best they could with anything we wanted to find. We were able to provision the ship there with fresh fruits and vegetables, including some really delicious bananas and oranges. We also picked up some bamboo, which we later used as clubs for stuns’ls or booms for small boat sails.
Picton Castle will be sailing to the Galapagos Islands again on this upcoming Voyage to the South Pacific. As usual, we’ll be sailing to Wreck Bay at the island of San Cristobal. We’re now accepting trainee crew applications for the full year-long voyage or for a three-month leg of the voyage (Galapagos is on Leg 2).