Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Penguin Race

by Kai and Simi from the Sailing Vessel Tyee

Humans call us the Galapagos Penguins, but we really should have a more creative name like the names of the other 16 species of penguins. The Rockhopper is a pretty cool name. Or how about the Macaroni penguin? Now that name makes you laugh. The Emperor sounds too pretentious. And so does King. I like Gentoo and Adele and they live in Antarctica where we came from a long time ago.

Call us the Fearsome Flyers. Even though we can’t fly in the air, we do a good job flying underwater.

The fastest swimming penguin of our tribe is Penguino. He won last year’s race. You see we have a race on the first of April every year and we time all the participants. Last year, 58 penguins competed in the race. They swam twelve miles from Puerto Villamil to Isla Tortuga and back. Penguino swam 25 miles per hour and he stopped like everyone else at Isla Tortuga to rest and refuel on a delicious penguin shake made of sardines, baby Sergeant Majors and bubbly water.

The winner of the race gets served fish during the whole month of April. Everyone who participated in the race has to bring fish to the winner at least once during the month. See that’s the bad part about competing.

My Mom and Dad named me Orville. I can fish by myself and I have two older brothers and a baby sister. I competed with Penguino in last year’s race, so I had to provide fish for Penguino. I tied for second with my older brother, Wilbur. This year I’m going to win and then Penguino will have to fish for me.

Another reason, we should be called the Fearsome Flyers is because our ancestors came here all the way from Antarctica, 6000 miles away. They must have been flying to make it here. I think we might have come here during the last Ice Age. We don’t have any ice or snow here in the Galapagos since we’re at the Equator. The water is just cold enough that I have lots of my favorite food, sardines. I think it’s just right, but sometimes during El Nino years we don’t have enough food. The last big El Nino year in 1997 wiped out 65% of our population. I wasn’t alive then.
We like to swim under the boats in the harbor as there lots of fish under there.

Sometimes we team up with the sea lions and birds to chase the fish. But once in an El Nino year, sea lions resorted to eating us, so we’re a bit wary of them.
One last thing I need to tell you before I go to sleep. I have to go to bed early, because tomorrow is the big day of the penguin race. I’m so excited I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep. But I know I need to if I’m going to stand a chance at winning. Wish me luck!


It’s morning and I woke before the sun. There was a blue footed booby making noise all night long so I had a hard time getting to sleep, but I’m ready for the big race. First, I have to eat my mom’s special sardine pancakes. Mmmm they’re good!

“Wilbur, are you ready to go?”

“Not yet, Orville. I have to grease down my feathers. You should do it too. It’ll make you fly faster through the water,” Wilbur blurted out to me. We hunched over on the lava rocks with the Sally Lightfoot crabs and Wilbur showed me how to grease my feathers. It feels slimy.

“Let’s go, Wilbur. “ I was so anxious for the race.

Wilbur and I swam to the start of the race and we saw Penguino. He looked fast, but I had my strategy. I was going to pace myself and use the current.

The official penguin set the line for the start of the race. There were 51 competitors, a little less than last year. “Three, two, one BRAHHHHH, “ honked the official. We all dove into the water and flapped our wings. I went shallow and veered to the outside of the pack to get the current. The water whizzed by me. I passed schools of fish and didn’t even stop to take a nibble.

When I reached Isla Tortuga, my grandmother was there waiting to hand me my sardine shake. “You’re doing well,” she told me.

“But where’s Penguino, Wilbur and Paygriso?” I asked. I had no idea where any of the other penguins were. Granny told me the bad news. They had reached the island before me. I was in fourth place. Penguino, resting on the rock, looked over at me and blinked his sky blue eyes. He was the only penguin with blue eyes in the whole Galapagos; all of us other penguins have black eyes. How could I catch up?

Our twenty minute mandatory rest was up. Penguino jumped back in the water two minutes ahead of me. Then I plunged in right behind him. I was going to draft him. I flapped my wings, pointed my webbed feet, arched my body and flew through the water. I could barely see the other penguins in front of me and I kept my focus. Suddenly I could make out Penguino’s webbed feet. I was gaining on him. We had one more mile to swim and when I took a huge breathe I could only see Penguino ahead of me. I must have passed Wilbur and Paygriso.

Suddenly Penguino was by my side and going slower. He glanced over at me and I swam passed him moving my wings as fast as I could. I was in the lead. The other spectators on the rocks at the end were cheering, “Orville, Orville … go, go.” I needed to take another breath, but I was close. I could tell that Wilbur was right behind me. I kept going and I reached the special rock that ended the race. I jumped up on the rock, ahead of Wilbur and Penguino. I WON THE RACE!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sea Lions/ Sea Dogs

Back in Isla Espiritu Santos, Mexico, the California sea lions played and swam with us. Here, in the Galapagos, relatives of the California sea lions do something even sillier.

A catamaran has two hulls and its stern has steps leading down to the water. To get in or out of the dinghy, the crew just walks right down the steps. It’s an advantage, right?

Not so much in San Cristobal Island. Because, even though it is easy for people to get down the steps, it is just as easy for something else to get up the steps. On land they appear to be a lazy dog, and in the sea a playful porpoise.

There is a pair of tiny ears on the sides of their head, a dog-like nose, whiskers and two big innocent eyes. Let me introduce you to the Galapagos sea lion.

Sea lions climb up the steps of every catamaran possible. We heard all about this sea lion craze by radio from Stray Kitty, who anchored in San Cristobal before us. Stray Kitty is a catamaran so they were swarmed by sea lions the very night they arrived.

Cari, Ryan, and Andrea, the three kids onboard, decided to sleep in the cockpit. Cari slept on one bench, Ryan on the other bench and Andrea on the floor in between her younger siblings. Cari came down to sleep with Andrea. It began to rain and all three siblings went inside. Good thing, for in the morning, two sea lions were lying exactly where Andrea’s and Cari’s heads were, one where Cari had been sleeping and another sea lion where Ryan slept. Andrea claims she would have been squashed, But I don’t think the sea lions would get on top of her.

Anyway, we were told by Stray Kitty that under NO circumstances, should we take the dinghy into the dock. And they advised to call a water taxi. Soon we would find out why.

We sailed into San Cristobal, and let down our anchor. I was asleep. It was 4 am. When I woke up, the first thing I saw and heard was a sea lion.

I called a water taxi and we all piled in it. At the dock, four sleepy sea lions stared up at me. I walked up the walkway and gasped. There was a dinghy tied up with one ginormous sea lion inside it. So now I understand why we needed to take a water taxi.

On the benches near the beach, sea lions lay under or on top of the benches, relaxing. On the actual beach, mothers and pups milked and played in the water right next to the local kids who were also playing in the water.

As we came back to the dock, several pups were pushing others off the steps and
chasing each other. We watched them until it was time to leave.

Stray Kitty went to Santa Cruz. Another boat, Tyee III, with two kids arrived. They’re also a catamaran and spent most of their evenings chasing away sea lions.

A few days later, we left for a second port in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. We stayed only one night in Santa Cruz, because it’s really rolly there, and my parents can’t sleep in rolliness. On the other hand, Kai, a heavy sleeper, slept in music going full blast, and in a London subway, standing up. I’m not as good as Kai, although a little rolly anchorage doesn’t bother me. But Mommy is the lightest sleeper ever. If she’s been in her bed for hours and you say hello, in a whisper, she’ll wake up.

So we moved to the third anchorage, Isla Isabela. The sea lions here don’t get on
occupied boats, but they love to swim around our boats and play with us. A few days ago, we snorkeled at Concha De Perlas near the muelle. I saw my first Christmas tree worm and on the way back, a mother sea lion played a few rounds of tag with us. I hadn’t seen a sea lion do that since Los Islotes.

This morning on the boat, two sea lions popped their heads out of the water into a standing position.

I can just sea dog in them.

Photo of Cari, Ryan and Andrea courtesy of Stray Kitty who is now en route to the Marquesas

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Slice of our life in Isla Isabela

When you look at a map of the Galapagos, look for the biggest island, the one that resembles a sea horse sitting on a round rock. Put your finger on the southeast side of the rock and you’ll find us, anchored with six other boats near the town of Puerto Villamil.

We have penguins, sea lions, turtles and marine iguanas in our backyard. Three sea lions greet us every morning and do pirouettes around Kamaya looking for fish or just frolicking in the water. The little penguins also visit. From afar they look like black ducks, but close up you can see their large beaks, white bellies and black bodies. Though they can’t fly on land, they fly underwater in search for food. They can swim as fast as 25 mph.

Last week just after we arrived, we were treated to a sunset feast of the birds. Hundreds of blue footed boobies living on the nearby lava beds flew over the anchorage looking for fish. Once they spot fish, the birds dive full speed into the water like kamikaze pilots on a serious mission. With so many birds flying into the water, the scene looks like a rainstorm.

The pelicans and sea lions follow, but don’t move as quick as the boobies. Then the fish swim quickly away, fleeing for their lives and the birds follow them to another spot, hollering to their friends to join them and again dive deep for food. It’s amazing that they don’t catapult into each other.

The icing on the cake is that there are three other families (all voyaging with catamarans), two from Canada and another from the United States, in the anchorage. It’s almost too good to be true as everyone gets along and we're having so much fun together exploring the island, swapping stories and being together. The nine kids have four different homes to knock on in search of play dates or food.

Every afternoon after boat school, the kids congregate on one of the boats and swim, kayak, snorkel or even water ski from one of the dinghies. Though a few days ago, the park service told us not to water ski because it’s a violation of one of the many Galapagos rules.

Yesterday, a huge supply ship arrived and the locals hauled bags of rice and beans, fresh fruit and cases of Pilsener beer to the shore. Someone ordered mattresses and those too paraded to the dock. When the supply ship comes, it feels like Christmas in March and I too am relieved, since our provisions from Panama are dwindling and it’s time to replenish. Fortunately, we've met a farmer, Romero who grows bananas, tomatoes, pineapples, carrots and papayas and there are also three bakeries in town. I was pretty worried when we first arrived since the stores looked barren, but now that we're figuring things out, we'll have more to eat than just rice and beans on our 25 day crossing to the Marquesas.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Penguins by our boat

This morning the tiny Galapagos penguins swam around our boat looking for fish. With their tiny white bellies surrounded by black, I was worried they would get their tuxedos dirty, but they came right up clean as a whistle and we watched one gulp down a fish. The penguins flap their wings underwater and it looks like they're flying. Here in Isla Isabela, we’re anchored in an aquarium with oodles of life surrounding us. We also have four other kid boats and nine kids total all under the age of 11 – so life on Kamaya is wonderful.

Looking Back

It took me more than seven years to turn our blog into a hard covered bound book. At first, I was leery of wrapping up our adventure because...