Galapagos cruise nearly foiled

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We departed for the Galapagos from the Ecuador mainland at Bahia de Carquez aboard our ketch Terra Nova on Oct. 16, despite conflicting reports from the Government about the legality of our visit. When we bought our zarpe, the clearance paper, we were told by the captain of the port that it would be impossible to visit the Galapagos without proper authorization papers, obtainable only from an agent in the port of Guayaquil, 200 miles to the south. But a fax that we had recently received from the Ministry of Tourism stated that the normal procedure allowed a foreign pleasure craft to get a 20-day permit upon arrival in the Galapagos. We had also heard first-hand reports from other voyagers recently returning from the Galapagos that doing so was not a problem. So we left Ecuador for the roughly 500-nm passage. What could go wrong? Hundreds of yachts visit the Galapagos every year.

The Steins did their duty and picked up the mail at Post Office Bay, within the national park boundries. Each person must pay $100 to enter.
   Image Credit: Thijs Draaijer

With the Marquesas indicated as our next destination on our zarpe, we arrived, nonetheless, a few days later in Academy Bay, the main anchorage on the Island of Santa Cruz.

At the Capitania office, we spoke to El Segundo, the second man in charge, and were not pleased with what he told us about our request for a visitor's permit: "Only if you can prove that you are in port for repairs, provisions, fuel or water are you allowed to stay for a maximum time of 72 hours." (Apparently, that is the minimum time that international convention generally allows foreign vessels to stay in public ports for safety reasons.)

Our last hope was Ricardo Arenas, the ship's agent in town that had assured us previously by telephone that there would not be a problem. A meeting with Arenas and the port captain failed to produce results. Our fax was waved away. Unless we had an autografo given out by the authorities in Guayaquil, we would have to leave within 72 hours.

Back in Arenas' office, he explained what had happened: A few weeks ago an environmentalist organization had some problems with the Ecuadorian navy, the Armada, about the fisheries in the area. As a result, Armada officials were angry and found a line in the law that forbids foreign boats to cruise the islands. Arenas was very helpful; we happened to be the first cruising yacht to suffer the effects of this new rule. For Arenas, it was important to have things clear before the many yachts on their way into the Pacific began to arrive in a couple of months. Several phone calls and faxes later, apparently exchanged with officials in Quito, we were given clearance. But it took a week. In the meantime, we were allowed to anchor at Academy Bay and visit Santa Cruz. Our new permit enabled us to visit for one month. Although we were given clearance to visit the islands, we had to purchase a new zarpe at each island. We enjoyed nearly five weeks in the Galapagos.

When the rules return to normal, the following will apply: Twenty-day cruising permits can be purchased in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay) on the island of San Cristobal or in Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay) on the island of Santa Cruz. The permit also allows you to anchor in Villamil on the island of Isabela and Velasco Ibarra on the island of Floreana.

A one-month cruising permit (autografo) has to be requested in Guayaquil beforehand; it is best to arrange this via an agent. This autografo only allows you to visit the same anchorages as mentioned above unless you pay the park fees of $200 per person, per day and an official licensed park guide is taken onboard.

If you decide to leave your boat at one of the four anchorages and book a cruise on one of the many local boats, each person has to pay the $100 park fees. Both the 20-day permit and the autografo are free, but of course, in the case of the autografo, you have to pay the agent's fee. An occasional, modest anchorage fee also applies at some harbors.

Harbor authorities sometimes ask for a document stating that the vessel has been fumigated before leaving the last port. If this cannot be proven, fumigation can be done at the port of entry in the Galapagos for roughly $50. (We had it performed by the Provincial Health Institute in Bahia de Caraquez in mainland Ecuador before we left for the Galapagos, and it cost us $2.) Arenas, the shipping agent on Santa Cruz, was most helpful; to get the latest information, you can contact him via email: pelicanb; or by fax: (593 5) 526041 or 526186.Willem Stein

By Ocean Navigator