Sailing to Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Archipelago

Arriving at Isla Isabela

 
This is Isla Pinzón ("pinzón" is the Spanish word for "finch"). The central volcano is 1502 feet high. We watched the clouds build over the island for several hours.   We passed this unusual island that looked like it had been sliced in half. On the chart, the island is listed as "Nameless Island" (in Spanish, Isla Sin Nombre). This seems like a perplexing contradiction, if you ask me. If the island officially has no name, how come they chart it as "Nameless Island"? If it's nameless, the chart shouldn't have any name at all.

We spent much of the day motoring at slow speed to reduce the strain on the shaft and propeller. As usual, the wind was too light to sail. Unfortunately, we're not as far along as we had hoped because of the time we spent yesterday working on the prop shaft. The GPS shows us arriving at the anchorage at or just after dusk, which is not a good time to arrive in a reef-infested area (you need good overhead light to see and avoid the reefs).

The scenery was quite interesting since we traveled through the center of the archipelago. We saw numerous islands, large and small, near and far, and looked them up on the chart to identify them. Sometimes we could see several islands at once laid out in front of us, left to right, foreground to background. Each major island had piles of clouds building over the highlands; there was a big enough pile of gray clouds over Isla Santa Cruz that it was likely raining in the highlands. All the islands are of volcanic origin; this was very obvious for some islands where we saw perfectly-shaped small volcano cones scattered across the landscape.

In the afternoon the wind finally came up and we started sailing. Silence, blessed silence, after hours listening to the engine's 90 horses clattering and clomping along. Late in the afternoon we were getting closer and closer and our GPS ETA became more accurate. It showed us arriving at dusk, admittedly not a good time, but we decided that if we had any trouble we would bail out and anchor off the coast until morning.

It had been breezy for a while and there had been a slow but significant swell. As we approached the island we could clearly see big surf crashing on the hard basalt shoreline and over the rocky reefs that were partly exposed; clouds of misty spray hung over the reef line. After we furled the main and started motoring shoreward, it was clear that dusk was settling in. In fact sunset came early because the sun dropped behind masses of gray clouds that enveloped the upper reaches of the mountainous island. At our location we were enjoying a brilliant and colorful sunset overhead, but the inner anchorage looked gray and foreboding, backed by dark clouds.

We motored slowly towards the harbor entrance, starting from a GPS waypoint obtained from a cruising guide. Personally, I though our approach was a little too close to the reef (the chart showed a benign and deep approach further away). Everyone was a little tense and our senses were sharpened as we headed into a dimly-lit and unfamiliar anchorage through shallow water with a deadly reef close by. Ahead of us in the near distance we could see the backs of big rollers that formed as the swell surged in towards the reef and waves reared up and crashed down.

Marcie was at the bow, preparing to drop the anchor. David was at the helm, scanning the water for rocks and checking the chart and depth sounder. At one point, the surging backs of rollers appeared directly ahead of us, indicating shallow water; David steered away towards deeper water. From the bow, Marcie noticed what might be a channel marker in the distance; I used the binoculars to verify it was a red marker. Scanning around I noticed two more green markers, though none of the markers was on the chart. We were well outside the channel defined by the markers and closer to the reef than necessary, so David steered towards the channel. The rest of the approach went just fine and we arrived safe and sound at the inner anchorage.

The best part of the anchorage was tucked-in behind the reefs, which provided good protection from the swell. This part of the anchorage was also crowded and/or shallow, with boats arranged mostly in rows and columns. Since it was getting dark, we didn't have enough time to pick out an ideal spot. David maneuvered Nine of Cups to a spot that looked OK and called for Marcie to drop the anchor. Unfortunately, as the boat settled back on the anchor and stretched out the chain, David thought we were too close to another boat. David pulled forward and Marcie raised the anchor, then we maneuvered awkwardly in the tight space to another location and dropped the anchor again. This time the spacing looked OK, and with the anchor set, the engine was finally shut down in the last light of day.

After tidying the topsides, we all went below. Later on I went up into the cockpit and was startled to see brilliant starfields strewn across the pitch-black sky—the Milky Way was simply magnificent. Looking over to the shoreline where Puerto Villamil was located, I saw some street lights and house lights but for now the town was basically an enigma. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to scope things out and start exploring—the adventure continues in the next section as we visit and explore Isla Isabela.

Here are the statistics for this passage: We departed Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, April 8, 2004. We arrived at Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 9, 2004. The total mileage was about 149 nm (via our detour to the equator); most of the mileage was motoring.

 
The town of Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela, as seen from Nine of Cups in late afternoon.  

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