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Galapagos October 04

Wave Shape

Galapagos October 04 or Malcolm’s Search for the Blue Booby.

Rumour hath it that it all started when he was a young lad, and became convinced that there was a different, maybe even bigger and better, sort of booby out there. So, having crossed the mighty half century mark, an age at which most men are supposed to be well past such fancies, and having been warned (probably by Hugh) that it’s all downhill from now on, he chose to venture abroad to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, a thousand kms. off the coast of Ecuador.


He somehow managed to assemble a highly talented team of experts, albeit not particularly knowledgeable on boobies, into accompanying him on the venture, namely: Melanie, the well known Scottish expert on willies, well its sort of compatible; Steve, a forensic scientist, just in case we only found a dead specimen; Paul T. in case the boobies were tree dwelling; Chris T. to manage the funding; David J. to keep the booby records in order; and Carol J. to ensure that he didn’t let the boobies go to his head! Just in case, he also took his dive gear, cycle clips, riding boots, as acquired from Paul for a tenner, and even his swimming trunks, and of course the newly mastered digidol video camera.

It all started inauspiciously, with the flight from Manchester to Amsterdam being cancelled. But, having arrived at the airport early (with Malcolm!!) we were put on an earlier flight, which gave us even longer in Amsterdam to make sure that Malcolm didn’t get lost and miss the Quito flight. But he was far too dedicated to be swayed, shear single minded determination keeping him at the airport. Arriving in Quito he immediately set off in search of booby hunting apparel, namely a panama hat. (He still thinks he knows how to impress a booby.) We flew into the Galapagos Island of San Cristobel on a Saturday, to find lots of sea lions but no boobies. So Malcolm augmented the gear with a hideous fishing jacket, the search for which revealed the first clues to the elusive blue booby, cunningly depicted on the front of a tee shirt, one of which was presented to Malcolm, not least to remind him of the real purpose of his quest.

The next day, after a rip-off breakfast that laid both Paul & Carol low, we embarked on the booby research vessel, the Lammer Law, a large, well equipped and very comfortable trimaran, and set out to the farthest flung corners of the archipelago, in search of the …….. It must be said here that there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that Malcolm had to share a room on the boat with Melanie. No, he didn’t have to, but he valiantly volunteered to!! The alternative was a rather large Estonian man, who seemed to have absolutely no interest in boobies. Steve was the beneficiary of Malcolm’s sacrifice.

Contrary to expectations the boat was not full of Americans, only the two Mike’s from New York, one of whom turned out to be Malcolm’s kindred spirit. A Dutch doctor and his daughter, Art & Margaret, A Spanish girl and her Swedish husband, Eleyna & Gunnar, who were on their honeymoon, and three Estonians, Orbus, his wife & the large colleague, made up the complement of 16. The boat crew were brilliant throughout and produced excellent meals. The day’s routine was arduous. Dive Briefing at 6am. First dive at 6.30. Breakfast. Second Dive at 10.30. Lunch. Third dive (if not sailing) at 2.30pm. Night dive at 7pm (once only at Wolf island). So it was 2-4 dives a day. 14 in all over 5 & 1/2 days. Tough and no boobies to speak of.

But there were a few other things, even sea lions on the check dive. There followed, usually in numbers, white tipped reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, which we were fortunate enough to swim with on the surface, green turtles, spotted eagle rays, diamond backed stingrays, giant manta rays, oh, and an awful lot of fish of different shapes and sizes. Viz. was generally good at 12-20 m, only occasionally poorer. We also got lucky with the weather, which was generally sunny and reasonably calm, if surprisingly cool for the equator.

The problem was that the dive guides had not been told of Malcolm’s search for the blue booby, so the first confirmed sighting did not occur until we were disembarking from the Lammer Law at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. Malcolm was so excited he nearly fell overboard. Just as well it wasn’t a few hours later when, after the farewell meal, after finding out that the Estonians practiced Dervisex, we left the boat for the last time with one or two people a little the worse for wear.

The international make-up of the divers led to some interesting cultural diversity, with not everyone understanding when Malcolm agreed with Mike’s comment (about the diving) that he had been holding his own…….all week. Relations with the dive guides was generally very good, building from the remark at the initial briefing, “any more sarcastic comments from the British contingent”, to a ” you weren’t nearly as bad as we expected” at the end of the week. They were , in fact excellent at spotting the big fish and pointing us in the right direction.

During the shore based part of the trip, a thorough search was made by foot, cycle, taxi and even horseback for the elusive booby. We found fur sea lions, marine iguanas, giant tortoise, mocking birds and many of Darwin’s finches. But it was only on the last day, when exploring the mangroves by canoe that Malcolm and Melanie eventually tracked down the elusive blue booby, allegedly in numbers. Malcolm’s dedication to the task resulted in him being badly sun burnt, especially on his back, and the back of his legs. Strangely, Melanie avoided the sunburn, sensibly wearing a protective neoprene suit. Well, he had been away for nearly 3 weeks!

The final sojourn of the trip, back on the mainland, managed to establish beyond doubt that blue footed boobies are not to be found at 4,800 metres on Cotapaxi. So, all in all the expedition was successful, although we await to see the photographic evidence which, due to KLM’s ability to lose baggage, has ended up in Aberdeen.

The Ornithological Correspondent of the Caernarfon & Denbigh Herald. (DWJ).

Photographs by: Paul Turkentine (PT), David W Jones (DJ), Carol Jones (CJ), Malcolm Roberts (MR), Steve Andrews (SA) and Margaret (M), should not be reproduced without their permission.

And the Blue Booby?? weeooo, weeooo. Over here Malcolm!

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