Shepherd Moon - Things that go bump in the night
At midday yesterday we left the Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands to head for Hiva Oa in French Polynesia. It's 2,950 nautical miles as the crow flies, assuming the said crow understands about great circles. However the Galapagos Islands sit in the middle of the doldrums, and so to find wind, we need to head south before turning right. We will therefore need to sail for more than 3,000 miles before we see land again, compared to 2,100 miles for our Atlantic crossing; a mere hop, skip and a jump by comparison. On the plus side, the winds should be stronger and more consistent, and so we expect to make landfall on the 20th March, assuming all goes to plan.
Our time in the Galapagos felt very different from our previous visit. When we came in 2008 we spent a week on board a tall ship, sailing between the islands. Apart from the port where we embarked (Santa Cruz), everywhere else we went was wild and empty; I'm not sure we saw another boat. It left you with the impression that the islands were largely uninhabited, with only a limited number of tourists. This time was very different. We had permits to visit three islands: San Cristobal (home of the barnacle police), Isabela and Santa Cruz. We were allowed to anchor in the main port on each island, and although you were allowed to swim around your boat, snorkelling seemed to be discouraged and using your own dinghy to explore was a definite no-no.
Each port was thronging with people, all heading out for day trips. We joined the throng on a few occasions and enjoyed some memorable moments - swimming with dolphins and huge schools of fish, diving down into a cave to see sharks, and getting within touching distance of giant turtles (it was an accident, I promise). But it all felt a bit stage-managed, totally unlike our encounter this morning.
Every morning there is a radio net, where all the boats in the fleet "dial in" to a predetermined frequency to report their current position, the local wind speed and direction, plus anything interesting that may have happened over night. This morning, one of the catamarans reported bumping into something "soft" in the middle of the night, which lifted one of the hulls by a few inches. The consensus amongst the fleet was that the culprit was most likely a whale. Apparently you are more likely to bump into a whale than be struck by lightening (if you are at sea, that is, I think the odds would be reversed if you were strolling through a park, for instance).
We were just discussing the relative likelihood of the various disasters that might befall a yacht at sea when I heard the cry of "whale" from the cockpit. Vanessa and Jacob had sighted two huge whales about 600 metres off our bow. For a while it looked as though we might be on a collision course, but thankfully they slipped behind Shepherd Moon, passing no more than 30 to 40 metres from our stern. As well as my excellent bird book, I also got a tome called "Sea mammals of the World" for Christmas. A quick thumb through the pages confirmed our visitors as sperm whales. It was an amazing sight and a real privilege to see such majestic creatures at close hand. At least it was until Jacob pointed out that sperm whales aren't the type of whale that placidly hoover-up krill. They have teeth and in the past have been known to attack small ships. Perhaps stage-managed nature is no bad thing.
At 01/03/2018 22:55 (utc) our position was 02°14.00'S 092°25.00'W