Bertie Journal: Sailing to the Galápagos

February 22, 2018

Life on BERTIE continues to feel like an awful lot of work without much recreation time. Today’s visit with the Sapphires was especially appreciated, because it was a break in the semi-routine of cleaning, swabbing, cooking, thinking and talking about food, shopping, inventorying, stowing, doing dishes, and prepping the boat for a long passage. I hope that once we get to the Galápagos we will have a better balance of work-to-recreation time.

This is what landlubbers misunderstand about cruising life: it’s not a vacation. In spite of the sunblock and skimpy clothes, I feel less like I’ve been on vacation this week than I do in my normal life back at home. A regular day on board BERTIE might include painting, grease, carpentry, or electrical work. Although the daily chores are similar to housekeeping, if you let something slide in boat maintenance, you could sink at any moment, or wreck against the shore.


While we were still moored in Acapulco, I had a perfect moment that illustrated the difference between cruising and vacation lifestyles. Peter had assigned me the job of greasing the main halyard. It was only my fifth day in Mexico, so I was wearing tights and a baggy long-sleeved shirt of Peter’s to cover my lily-white skin. Both garments had already been blessed with “Bertie kisses,” i.e. grease stains. A big floppy hat completed my attire. Climbing around on the main boom so I could reach the halyard, I felt like a nautical grease-monkey. A motor-yacht passed by, with bikini-clad, tanned supermodels lounging about on deck. I waved at them with my calloused, greasy hand. Some of them gave me the stink-eye. Some of them just looked blank. No one waved. I don’t think they had a category in their brains for a woman like me.

I’m certainly not complaining about working on BERTIE. This is exactly the trip I signed up for, and a more-than-fair deal. Heidi and Peter, full time cruisers, invited me to live with them on BERTIE for the Mexico-to-Galápagos leg of their life’s journey. I will pay for my round trip airfare from home to Mexico, then Galápagos home; help with passage preparation; do regular chores on board; and, most importantly, take my turn standing watch while we sail the two-week open ocean crossing. I’ve also researched Galápagos Island day trips; picked out field guide books; learned about what season it is in the Galápagos and what animals might be around; and will be the on-board naturalist once we get to the islands. There are thirty-three islands in the archipelago, and each one has been known by at least two names in its history. Day trips depart from four main port cities. Sorting it all out was very confusing at first. I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of all the different islands, which city was on which island, and where to go (for example) to see penguins at this time of year. Before I ever stepped aboard BERTIE, I’d already served some time in my nerdy ecotour travel agent role.

For the Berties’ side of our arrangement, in exchange for my labors they will provide my room and board; cover all of BERTIE’s maintenance, fuel, moorage, and administrative costs; hire the required agent in the Galápagos; and pay for all permits and fees. My only expenses should be water taxis, tours on shore, and extras like booze and souvenirs. I won’t have to pay for hotels or food once we arrive in the islands. This is perhaps the most affordable way possible to get to the Galápagos Islands, and then spend time there.


A typical meal aboard BERTIE, featuring fresh seafood and local produce.

Underlying all of these somewhat mundane details, my motivation is pretty strong for sailing, rather than flying, to the Galápagos. For the last decade or so, my feelings about recreational travel – especially so-called ecotourism – have been conflicted. Burning up tons of carbon so I can go see the “last great places before they are gone” seems incredibly selfish and short-sighted. While we will use some fuel on BERTIE, the vast majority of our trip will be under sail power. Clean, silent, and carbon-neutral. It feels good.


BERTIE, self-steering, quiet, and no fossil fuels used.

Heidi and I went for a swim this afternoon – my first swim in Mexico! – but it was a gear check for tomorrow’s bottom-scraping, not just for fun. Tonight, salty from the ocean, I did a freshwater rinse out on deck before bed. Using a bowl with about a liter of water in it, a washcloth, and a Sierra cup, I stood under the starry night sky and washed the salt off my skin, then air dried. A waxing crescent moon hung above, sullied by not a single electric light. For years, I’ve lived in the high latitudes, wearing woolly long underwear even during the summer months. This night, naked, feeling the breeze on my skin, not a trace of a chill – it’s my exquisite reward.

(This is Part 9 of the BERTIE JOURNAL series. Click here for Part 10. Or click here to start at the beginning.)

This entry was posted in Boats, Conservation, Culture, Galapagos, Islands, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized, Work and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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