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Cruising Journals - Pam Wall



Chapter 8 - Towards the Galapagos


How different this sea was from the Atlantic. The Panama Canal was behind us and we were now sailing across the vast Pacific Ocean. Even though we were skirting the Equator, the air felt cold and damp. The oily swell became dark green, not the brilliant blue of the Caribbean and a huge lazy swell replaced the flat calms of the Atlantic Ocean. Even the smell was new. We had left behind the tropical feeling from the other side of the Canal.

A new excitement was aboard the boat. For the first time we really believed we were on our way to Australia. Andy could feel his home was just on the far side of the horizon, and as usual, Sammy and Jamie were impatient to be on our way.

Historically, the passage from Panama to the Galapagos Islands has been frustrating. Early navigators nicknamed the Galapagos the "Enchanted Islands", not because there was anything mystical about the islands themselves, but because they were so difficult to find! As all the ships before us, we were fraught with fog, calms, currents, and strong headwinds! A passage is only 900 miles, yet these are hard won miles, indeed.

One can always recognize a boat departing from Panama by the distinctive yellow square cooking oil jugs stored on deck. These discarded containers line the garbage dumps outside Panamanian restaurants and are happily recycled for use aboard the boats crossing the Pacific. We too carried an over abundance of fuel in jerry cans. So, it was no surprise that after our first two days of calm, the wind came on the nose at a steady 25 knots. I well remember sitting up in the cockpit during the night huddled under the dodger for protection from the headwinds that blasted across the deck. Andy had warned me that anything could happen on this passage, but it still was difficult for me to believe that I was on deck, freezing cold and soaking wet in a region that was close to the Equator and famous for its usually calm conditions.

Sammy and Jamie who were now eight and five years old took everything in stride. Children are so adaptable; it annoys me that they can adjust so easily, while I struggle all the time. They began cooking and keeping watches full time. Mostimportantly they had the dubious task of checking the deck each morning for dried up squid that had landed aboard during the night. The dark fluid surrounding these poor creatures would stain the deck. Sammy and Jamie considered it an Easter Egg Hunt every morning as they found and threw back into the water their remains. This is just another example of how children see the rosy side of an unpleasant chore.

The logbook reflected our amazement at the ever changing conditions. One moment the log was written stating the conditions were "Clear as a bell and every star can be etched in the velvet sky." Half an hour later the log reads, "Pea soup fog, visibility only as far as the mast!" A frustrating calm one moment was followed by two hours of headwinds, only to be replaced with, "Lovely sailing at last with wind on the beam!" Relaxing it wasn't, but it certainly kept us working the ship at all times.

As we headed southwestward towards those Enchanted Islands, the new Satellite Navigator showed our position close to the Equator. Still not convinced the new electronic machine knew what it was doing, Andy had kept careful track of where we were using celestial navigation.

The day before his dead reckoning put us South of the Equator; Andy dressed up as King Neptune. A crown of cardboard was covered with silver aluminum foil. Shaving cream all over his face created his white beard. A towel around the waist adorned the King as a robe and the largest fork in the galley was held high as his trident. The King ceremoniously presented our two newly appointed little Shellbacks with their water stained certificates.

"Hear Ye, Hear ye! On this 20th Day of May 1985, James and Samantha Wall crossed the Line from North to South aboard the good ship KANDARIK, under the watchful Eye of mighty King Neptune, and are now pronounced seamen of the first degree with the honored title SHELLBACK. Let it be known to all greater and lessor Gods and ordinary mortals, and disputed by none! King Neptune, God of the Sea."

After a bowl of overcooked spaghetti was dumped on their shiny blond heads, and a goodly proportion of Andy's saving cream had been squirted all over the new Shellbacks, the ceremony was completed by King Neptune jumping back into the sea!

That night was the actual time Andy's dead reckoning would have us crossing the Equator. We all clustered around that expensive new Sat-Nav, daring it to know where we were. As we all strained to see its face, the N went to an S! Jamie grabbed a flashlight and ran up the companionway steps. He was leaning outside the lifelines peering into the black water. Andy and I were furious that he went on deck at night without the required safety harness. Exasperated with us he cried, "I was just looking forthe Red Line!"

Our spectacular landfall on the Galapagos Islands came on a rare perfectly clear day. The two pinnacles of Kicker Rock gave our exact position away. These two huge needles of rock stick out of the sea with a narrow passage between them. We were in company with Shedar, a boat from New England with Frank and Ginny and their young daughter Carrie aboard. Shedar and Kandarik both kept shunting up to the passage between the rocks. Both kept cautiously turning around at the last minute not daring to attempt the narrow slot between the steep cliffs. Andy would shout across the water to Frank, "You go first!" And Frank would politely yell back, "No no, Andy, you go first and we will follow you!" Photos were shot, heartbeats were pounding, but in the end, neither of us ever had enough courage to go through the magnificent channel. Months later, while anchored in Tahiti, we watched a video aboard another boat. The old film was of Irving Johnson taking his beautiful big Yankee through those very same rocks!

Our nine-day passage for the 900 miles, ended in dead flat calm. We powered the final miles across the oily swell into Academy Bay. There we were cleared by the Port Captain and given the usual 72 hours before we were required to depart. When I told the Port Captain that I had been writing to Quito in Equator requesting permission to cruise the Galapagos Islands he looked at me unbelievingly. Out came my entire file full of the correspondence that had taken me two years to compile. We sat and waited while every letter was carefully read and digested by the Captain. He told us he would have to go ashore and cable Quito to see if we had been granted permission to stay.

As we rowed ashore the next morning, we all were hoping for good news. The Port Captain sat behind his huge desk looking fierce. He could see our stress! Then he pushed his leather chair back, stood up, and a huge grin covered his entire face. "I have the honor to inform you that the crew of the yacht Kandarik has been granted official permission to cruise our unique island group." We could see he was as happy as we were with this wonderful news. "And," he continued as cheerful as any naval officer could be, "Would you do me the honor of coming to my house for dinner tonight to meet my wife and two small boys?" Our extraordinary stay in the Galapagos Islands had begun!

Pam Wall - Expert Sailor

Pam Wall

Outfitting Manager, West Marine Ft. Lauderdale

  • A lifelong sailor, Pam and her husband have been cruising together for over 36 years!