Baby, can I drive your boat?

I’d climbed Volcán Sierra Negra in the morning and was now back in the middle of Puerto Vilamil on the island of Isabela trying to figure out how to get back to Isla Santa Cruz where I was hoping to meet the captain of a catamaran bound for French Polynesia.

Boat building in Puerto Vilamil marina

A hitch later and I arrived at the marina where I asked a couple of guys perched on some railings about boat times. ‘That man there’, one said, gesturing towards a guy walking towards us, ‘he’ll take you for $30’.

Half an hour later I found myself riding up top in the captain’s cab – up on the flybridge – whilst twenty nine kids and their teacher snuggled in downstairs under the sun protection of a tarp and the safety of a burly deckhand.

Leaving Isla Isabela behind, Galapagos

We bounced along, away from a sunny Isabela and towards an increasingly greying sky. Rain started to patter down.

‘Can you…?’ asked the skipper, pointing to the wheel and the captain’s seat, having clearly remembered my earlier jests about being able to captain his boat. My friend Ollie had pulled a similar trick back in 2011 during a trip between Koh Tao and the mainland in Thailand. Whilst he may have got away with dishing out a bit of bullshit in order to convince the crew that he could captain the small ferry, why did I think I could pull the same cheek?

‘I can drive it, you know’, I’d told him, ‘can I drive it?’ It had been a mischievous ask, and now he was off of his pew and I had to deliver. I jumped over into the hot seat whilst he pulled across the rain screen and secured things up top.

And in those few minutes that I turned the wheel the wrong way and in the moments that I tried to steer us on the least choppy path possible, all my Galapagos photos went sliding down the tarpaulin. My little camera made a secret escape attempt. Oblivious, I continued taking my steering seriously until captain finished up his rain mission and returned to his rightful duties.

I sat back in my co-pilot seat and pondered what lay ahead in my adventures beyond this Galapagos trip. This little moment at sea and at the helm had got me thinking: how would it feel to do three weeks without stopping? The stretch from Galapagos to Tahiti could either destroy me or cure me of my ocean fears, I figured.

And then, finally, I realised that my camera was missing. I did a panicked scout about, and the captain killed the engines. Because there she was, nestled on the edge of the tarpaulin, waiting for a big wave to give her enough lift to fly off into the sea. Burly deckhand reached up as we held our breaths; he would either knock her into the ocean depths or save her from a watery death.

Thankfully it was the latter and the remainder of the trip, although wet and stomach lurchingly rough, was accompanied by a little bit of fuzziness. My Galapagos photos may be poor compared to what other people manage to capture, but they’re still my photos, some of my memories.

Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz comes into view

Ah, another little adventure with a happy ending. (And I meant the fact we got the school group across from Isla Isabela to Isla Santa Cruz safe and sound. Of course. What were you thinking?!)


Filed under activity & sport, ecuador, nature, sailing, solo travel, south america

4 responses to “Baby, can I drive your boat?

  1. Ollie

    I think it may have been 2001? Correct me if I’m wrong, but seem to remember you were there with me, and in 1998 you were probably still in school? And I take objection to being quoted as speaking bullshit! Ok it is often true, but I really did have previous experience, albeit rather disastrously commanding a 3-man sailing dinghy in a sheltered harbour. But hey – that’s not what that Captain asked when I asked if I could have a go! I did only mean for 10 minutes though – even I didn’t expect him to sleep, play cards, go below decks etc and leave me solely in charge for the +100km journey to Koh Tao. I still wonder what might have happened if I’d taken him up on his offer to bring her in and dock against the pier? I’ve since randomly driven taxi drivers and guide’s motorbikes, pickups, cars etc while travelling (usually because they were drunk) but no boats. However, a tour-bus and maybe even a small passenger flight are certainly future ambitions. Good times….

    • Hehe great, thanks for padding out the memory! I do remember you being asked to dock the boat and you suddenly wanting to hand back control. I think it was in 2001, there abouts – thanks – I’ll change the year in the post. But the bs stays… because not only does it work with alliteration, but really you did talk/bull your way into the captain’s seat. 🙂 Lightly, maybe, but, come on! And I’m thinking of Catch Me If You Can with regards to your future ambitions…

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