Twelve hours into our seven day sail to Galapagos, we lost electricity. The smart batteries communicate with an app on our phone, and there was message saying « Disabled by remote ».
Navionics, our navigation app, was glitching too, advising us to try again later because it couldn’t connect with the GPS satellite.
I admit, the thought crossed my mind that these events marked the start of a global cyberattack and the beginning of World War III.
So as the sun started to set, we sailed a parallel route with massive container ships coming out of the busiest port in the world, with the tacit agreement between us that they don’t run us over provided we have on running lights and throw off an AIS signal. Both lights and AIS require power.
Ian put on an headlamp and started checking each connection from battery to battery monitoring system (aka BMS) while I hand-steered. When he couldn’t solve it, he called the technician in Grenada—Jean-Michel—and explained the problem in French on our scratchy SatPhone connection. J-M tried to explain how to trouble-shoot an unsolvable problem such as a malfunctioning BMS or cyberattack. Bottom line, the two of them couldn’t figure out what went wrong and instead J-M helped Ian bypass the BMS so we had lights, AIS and autopilot to return to Panama safely.
We sailed back through the night arriving the next morning exactly where we started the day before. Turns out there was no global cyberattack. So we seemed to have a faulty BMS.
Then the following morning, the whole system appeared to heal itself so we set sail the next day—Galapagos Version 2.0.
And again, we lost power, but this time we were farther along and Ian knew how to bypass the BMS so we’d have power for essentials. The BMS basically protects the batteries, so when full, the batteries stop taking power from the solars, when hot they slow down, when almost empty they turn off. By overriding the BMS, we could have the basics in power but had to keep an eye on the health of batteries.
We managed to catch some wind and other times we motored through glassy seas. Sunset brought dozens of Dolphins, playing in the wake of the bow. And one afternoon, a large pod of Orcas came up beside the boat, which was amazing to see them up close.
Nearing Galapagos, Red-Footed Boobies started roosting each evening on the pulpit. The collective noun for Boobies is congress or trap. Both are suitable because like politicians at a congress, they nip at one another, deterring others from landing as they jostle for prime spots for the night. Likewise, they’re a trap. We initially thought “Oh how fun, nature up close” – but its a trap, because once settled in, they don’t leave and it’s not fun to clean the deck off each morning of solidified mounds of vomit and guano.
We arrived at San Cristobal Island in the evening, and prepared to clear customs the next morning.
Galapagos is a national park belonging to Ecuador. Ecuador got independence from Spain almost two hundred years ago, and since then, they have had one hundred changes of government and twenty constitutions. One article I read describes a history of “unbridled political warfare” between the right and left. But somewhat of a blessing, tapped oil reserves were not as big as originally estimated, so Ecuador stopped drawing attention from the fossil fuel industry who always seem to be behind civil foment. As a result, Ecuador is not distracted by oil money and is taking its environmental stewardship of Galapagos seriously.
This is all to say that clearing customs in Galapagos is serious–highlights include: engage agent in G to manage our check in, proof of covid vaccination, scrubbed bottom of boat of any and all growth and send photos to agent, proof of fumigation of boat two days prior to departure, clean out pantry of offending foods (e.g. chia seeds), employ bypass of black water dischage, stock up on absorbent pads in case of gas/oil spill on boat and eco-friendly detergent and dish soap, set up garbage and recycling separation containers, and a bunch of other things. Total cost for this as well as every type of plausible permit was $2200 USD.
We had heard about the process from other sailors and we were prepared for the ten people to board the boat to review each aspect of the check in file. Of course the first thing one agent noted was that we have a (legally purchased) Humpback Whale vertebrae from Bequia mounted to the wall in the saloon. He asked what else we had, explaining that finding any other pilfered items of nature on the boat at departure would results in confiscation and fines. So we declared an embarassing amount of pilfered nature that Ian has accrued on his travels, and the agent photographed, documented, wrapped and taped up each piece and left us with solemn instructions we must not remove anything from Galapagos.
But it has been worth it–Galapagos is absolutely amazing. We plan to visit three islands, some of the highlights so far are the enormous sea lion population who hang out wherever they feel like it, rays, turtles, sharks, and marine iguana. The biggest highlight was swimming with a 15m pregnant whale shark – check out some of our video footage here and this Guardian article on the endangered whale shark. As always, you can check out our place in the world here. (Oh yes, and a new BMS is on the way courtesy of Ian’s brother Doug and FedEx)