The amazing story of the M/Y Grace has it all... wealth and power, glittering romance, royalty, war, tragedy, rebirth and adventure. text BY CORNELIUS MYERS photos by CHARLOTTE OTTO BRUC
he was born in the roaring twenties in Southampton England with the very best of pedigrees. The world famous yacht builders, Camper and Nicholson, launched her in 1928, and in a shower of champagne, christened her “Deo Juvante II. When the brutal realities of World War II stilled the flamboyant lifestyles of the yachting world, she was conscripted to serve in the British Royal Navy. True to her credentials, she comported herself regally; playing an important role in Dunkirk, capturing a German torpedo E Boat and even sinking a U Boat. After the war she was destined to traverse the waters of the world as the personal yacht of the powerful, rich and famous; including Sir George Tilley and Winston Churchill. In 1951 Aristotle Onassis acquired her and renamed her the “Arion.” Onassis was a close friend and associate of Prince Rainier of Monaco. When it was announced in 1956 that the Prince would marry the radiant movie star Grace Kelly, Onassis could think of no finer wedding gift than his personal yacht for the newlywed’s honeymoon cruise.
She sailed out of Monaco’s harbor to meet the USS Constitution - just arrived from New York - to carry Grace Kelly to her new home and the adoring citizens of the Principality. The Prince accompanied his bride-to-be aboard the yacht and together they disembarked to receive the cheers of the crowd. Thus, after the “wed-
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ding of the century”, the newly crowned, Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and her handsome Prince, sailed off on their yacht for an extended Mediterranean honeymoon along the coastlines of Corsica and Sardinia. “Deo Juvante II” sailed into rougher waters after 1958. She was passed from hand to hand, carrying many different names over
almost 50 years, as she spiraled downward into total disrepair. In 2006, the owner of the Quasar Expeditions cruise line in Quito, Ecuador received a phone call from a Fort Lauderdale, Florida marina alerting him that they had a beautiful, but battered yacht on hand. According to his wife, Dolores Gangotena de Diez, the commercial Vice President of Quasar, her husband is a well known collector of eccentric yachts. One look at the faded beauty and fabulous lines of this former princess of the sea and he committed to restoring her to her former grandeur. After extensive repairs and restoration, she was relaunched in 2009 to join the Quasar fleet of ships cruising the Galapagos Islands. True to her history, she was christened “M/Y Grace” - reflecting the elegance, beauty and prestige of her namesake. This story has a happy ending. Today, cruising at 147 feet, she carries 16 guests in four suites and five premium staterooms. With a crew of eleven and one elite naturalist guide she sails between the fascinating and historic islands of the Galapagos Archipelago . It is a cruise that Princess Grace would have adored. Cornelius Myers
JEAN CLAUDE TOURN
M/Y GRACE PRINCESS OF THE GALAPAGOS
& Life Style
THE GALAPAGOS ABOARD
text BY CORNELIUS MYERS photos by CHARLOTTE OTTO BRUC
t is just before sunrise, sailing aboard the M/Y Grace through the Bolivar Channel, on the cold, clear waters of the Cromwell Current. I am on the bridge with the Captain enjoying the rich, winey bouquet of a cup of steaming Ecuadorian coffee. We are sailing to the western-most island in the Galapagos archipelago, Fernandida. It is the best island for wildlife encounters, but for the moment all we can speak of is the soul touching beauty of the Pacific, as the salmon splashed sky is mirrored in the waters around us. Dolphins, swarming ahead, cut through the multi-hued palette, splashing sparkling diamonds of light and color as they frolic ahead of the bow. The crisp, clear air of the dawn sky is suddenly filled with birds of every description, crying out as if to greet the rising sun. The Captain has sailed these waters for 26 years and has never failed to be touched by this display of natural beauty. He turns his weathered face to me and says, “This is how it is meant to be.”
Our voyage takes us to eight of the 13 volcanic islands located just under the equator, about 600 miles (960 km) west of Ecuador. It presents, over eight days, the exceptional and rare opportunity to experience close encounters with the wildlife, but on every occasion, the magnificent natu-
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ral settings come close to stealing the show. Some of the islands are black, barren, twisted lava formations, while others are verdant, tropical jungles, but all are teeming with wildlife - in the air, on land and in the clear, azure blue waters of the Pacific. The daily routine aboard the M/Y Grace doesn’t vary. Each day begins with an early, hearty breakfast. We then board the dinghys, or pangas, to arrive at our destination. After exploring, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, photographing, or whatever the day calls for, we take the pangas back to the yacht, where we are greeted, as always when we return, by platters of local snacks and fresh fruit juices. After lunch, we are off again to the next adventure. Back onboard in the evening, we have time to rest and reflect on the day’s activities, shower, change. Then, before dinner, we gather for our expert guide’s briefing on the next day’s adventure. These briefings are laced with information not only about our destinations, but about the nature, history, and ecology of the Galapagos. Each island has it’s own identity, history and variety of creatures. Collectively they have colored the values, science and attitudes of the Western world forever. At the center of it all is Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection.
JEAN CLAUDE TOURN
A ONCE IN A LIFETIME ADVENTURE
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the key to Darwin’s theories iven that Darwin spent only five weeks on four of the islands, during his five years voyage on the HMS Beagle - and the fact that his earth shaking revelations were kept locked away for more than two decades - it is amazing that the publication of “On the Origin of Species”, published in 1859, had such a profound effect - an effect that endures even today. The book sold out on the first day of it’s release, and it’s importance, popularity and the controversy it created continue today even after 150 years. What Darwin witnessed slowly unfolds to us with each island we visit. We begin our explorations by setting out along the coast of San Cristobal Island, and then by panga to the landing at Playa Ochoa. It is our first opportunity to mingle with sea lions as they sunbathe along the powdery sands on the beach. The animals have no fear of man and continue to rest peacefully as we wander through their ranks with cameras shutters snapping away. There are mocking birds - the key to Darwin’s theories - marine iguanas, and herons to be seen. The beach before us is suddenly transformed into a living, shifting carpet of tropical color. It is a full display of the bright orange sally-light-foot crabs as they scurry over the sand. We cruise overnight and awaken on the far northeastern end of the archipelago at Genovesa, or Tower Island. The panga takes us along the base of the cliffs; formed on a collapsed volcanic caldera. The ledges are packed with nests of the red-billed tropic birds - trailing their exotic tails. It is to be a morning of hiking up Prince Philip’s steps and on to the other side of the island. We encounter red-footed and masked boobies and swarms of “Storm petrals” as we make our way over the undulating black lava. It is easy to understand why this is also called “Bird Island.”
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What Darwin witnessed slowly unfolds to us with each island we visit
text BY CORNELIUS MYERS photos by CHARLOTTE OTTO BRUC
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Punta Espinosa. unexpected hundreds of marine iguanas, piled on top of each other, blocking our path
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cruising with only the wildlife for company
n the afternoon we land on the white sands of Darwin Bay. It is mating season for the frigate birds and the males are everywhere, dramatically inflating the huge, bright red sack under their beaks to attract the females, who circle lazily overhead, apparently unmoved by the frantic efforts of the males to attract them. We are fortunate to witness the dandelion display of the white, fluffy balls of frigate chicks whose nests are everywhere in this special season. The trail leads past sheltered pools to a cliff overlooking the mouth of the extinct volcano. Pairs of swallow-tailed gulls - the only nocturnal gulls in the world are nesting, while lava gulls, and pintail ducks fly overhead.
Darwin Volcanos. Beneath us, nested in the sheltered cliffs are blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, pelicans and noddy terns. Flightless cormorants and penguins line the ledges. Later in the day, we arrive at Punta Espinosa where we are confronted by a basic fact of the Galapagos. It is an active volcanic zone; still being formed by the forces of nature in a never ending series of eruptions and lava flows. Reinforcing this awareness, La Cumbre volcano looms before us at 4,858 (1495 meters) above sea level. Itâ€™s last eruption was in May, 2005. We are startled by the unexpected bizarre sight of hundreds of marine iguanas, piled on top of each other, blocking our path. They are communally soaking up the warmth of the sun, in a writhing mosaic of prehistoric appearing creatures. Further along the trail we find a Tagus Cove, in the nineteenth century, was an colony of the worldâ€™s only flightless cormoanchorage for pirates and whalers. As we rants in a cove shared by sea turtles. land, we spot the names of their ships carved Galapagos hawks wheel in the sky as we head into the lava rock. A hike takes us to a vantage point to view Darwin Lake, Wolf and back to the panga.
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text by CORNELIUS MYERS photos by CHARLOTTE OTTO BRUC
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“Lonesome George” - the last survivor of the Pinta subspecies.
The Giant tortoises breeding center experiences success
sabela Island, Urbina Bay and Punta Vicente Roca are our next destinations. This is home to the giant land iguana. These vivid, gaudy yellow skinned creatures stand out against the gleaming white sand. Giant tortoises also inhabit the beach and we take extra care not to step on their nests. Masked and blue-footed boobies, Darwin finches, yellow warblers, brown pelicans and marine iguanas have a home here as well. Dominating the entire area is the imposing 2,600 foot Volcano Ecuador. The Galapagos penguin is the only species of penguin found north of the equator. They waddle awkwardly along the ledges of Bartolome Island, sharing the space with sea lions, who are ready to plunge in and play with snorkelers. They pair-up to swim in figure eights and rush to the snorkel masks to blow bubbles and speed off. The pink and white beach is a nesting spot for sea turtles. The iconic, towering, spearheaded obelisk of Pinnacle Rock dominates the view from the summit of the island. On the northwestern coast, James Bay is home to the only place on the islands where fur seals can be seen.
After five days of cruising with only our fellow passengers and the wildlife for company, it is a bit of a culture shock to disembark and see the crowds on Santa Cruz Island. It has the largest population of the four inhabited islands - about 10,000 - and is home to both the Galapagos National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Charles Darwin Research Station, the major player in the protection and propagation of the very endangered Galapagos tortoise. Looking at the shell of the Giant Tortoise it is easy to see how it resembles a type of Spanish saddle, or Galapago. The first European to discover the islands was the Spanish priest Father Tomas Berlanga, who landed here in 1535. He probably named the archipelago after the shell of it’s most impressive species - la tortuga gigante. At the research center the plight of the tortoises is well documented. During the period when pirates and whalers used the islands as their personal supply depots, they discovered that the
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huge beasts could survive for one year without food or water. This made them the perfect food supply for the sailing ships. Each ship would capture up to 800 tortoises, storing them by turning them upside down in the hold of the vessel. It is conservatively estimated, that more than 200,000 tortoises were taken during this time. Add to this the introduction of destructive non-endemic species, and it is a wonder that any of these incredible animals survived. There were 15 species, of which 11 remain. The sorrow of the history of the giant tortoises is summed-up in the sadness you can see in the ancient eyes of “Lonesome George” - the last survivor of the Pinta subspecies. He has been brought to the Research Station as part of the breeding program to increase the tortoise population. with re-establishing the numbers, but old George still remains alone in his corner of the Station. Attempts have been made to breed him, but none of the eggs have hatched. A $10,000 reward is offered to anyone who can supply a female Pinta Tortoise, but so far, George has yet to find his mate. He weighs more than 500 pounds and could be past 100 years old - not old for his species, or too late to breed. It is hard to tell if the tears that stain his face are from age or the sadness of his loneliness. The southernmost island, Espanola (Hood) is our next port of call. The island has been restocked by the breeding center with over 1,000 giant tortoises. It virtually teems with fauna of every description. Sea lions frolic in the surf; the largest variety of marine iguana, with distinctive red and black markings with flashes of turquoise nap in communal piles; masked boobies nest along the cliff’s edge and Galapagos doves, cactus finch and mocking birds are everywhere... all unconcerned by our presence. The blue-foot boobies perform their mating dance among the nests, at our feet. It is a dance that could only have been choreographed by Monty Python’s John Cleese. Picture him with enormous bright blue flippers on, trying to do the tango and you get the idea. The waved albatross perform a more graceful turn - their fencing courtship done with great yellow beaks. Gardner Bay, on the
other side of Espanola, has a magnificent mile long white sandy beach. A vast colony of sea lions lie stretched out on the full length of the beach. It is a perfect spot for swimming in the turquoise water, or snorkeling just offshore. The variety, size and color of the tropical fish is quite amazing. Playful sea lions, sea turtles, rays and white-tipped reef sharks glide by. Our cruise ends at San Cristobal, back where we started just eight days ago. In that time we have experienced the most incredible adventure. Despite the fact that the islands are under numerous threats - from introduced species, illegal fishing, burgeoning populations (it is by percentage, the fastest growing population on the planet) and large scale tourism - the Galapagos is an Eden that remains unspoiled - thanks in no small part to the vigorous efforts of a dedicated few, who realize it’s uniqueness and value to the world. It is truly Charles Darwin’s time machine - frozen in time, but forever evolving in nature. The after images of what we have seen will remain vividly imprinted on our memories. Unlike a casual stroll through a zoo, peering into cages to see the animals, we have walked amongst, peacefully coexisted with, and witnessed at close proximity, fauna in it’s natural setting. The wildlife showed no fear of us as we shared their environment. As the captain of the M/y Grace said to me, “This is how it is meant to be.” CORNELIUS MYERS photos by CHARLOTTE OTTO BRUC
Travel tips ECUADOR / MY GRACE If you decide to go contact: Quasar Expedtions Toll Free USA: 1 866 481 7790 Toll Free UK: 0 800 883 0827 For more information go to: www.galapalgosexpeditions.com www.quasarex.com