Charter broker Michael Sawyer of Infinity Yacht Charters just returned from a familiarization trip in the Galapagos Islands aboard the 141-foot Gulf Craft motoryacht Integrity. He was a guest of management company Northrop and Johnson. I spoke with Sawyer this week about the experience that Integrity is offering charter clients.
Was this your first time in the Galapagos Islands?
It was. I flew to Ecuador and had my choice of staying at Guayaquil or Quito on the mainland for one night before catching a flight to the islands the next day. That’s what most people will do if they fly commercial It was pretty seamless in terms of travel.
I’ve been on two charters in the Galapagos Islands, and my experience taught me that while the location is fantastic, many of the boats are of lower quality than the international standard. Integrity is different because she is being promoted by a leading management company with offices in Florida and Europe. What did you think of the yacht?
Integrity is really comfortable. It has huge windows throughout the main salon, the dining area, and all the staterooms. The views are fabulous. The sundeck is massive, too, so you can be outdoors looking at all the sights. We didn’t see any other boat there that compared with what Integrity was offering. Everything looked very well maintained, including during tours of the engine room.
How was Integrity’s crew?
The naturalist is key to the Galapagos experience, and Integrity of course brings a naturalist as part of the crew. Ours was American and a 20-year master veteran naturalist. He had absolutely encyclopedic knowledge. It was fascinating. And that is something that Integrity prides itself on—having a top-notch naturalist.
The rest of our crew were locals who spoke primarily Spanish. They were one of two crews that charter clients might meet, because Integrity runs with two crews that take turns week by week. I felt like I was in good hands, and everybody on the boat felt very well taken care of.
What is the day-to-day experience of a charter onboard Integrity?
All itineraries are assigned by the Ecuadorian government to protect the environment of the Galapagos Islands. They want to regulate how many people are at each site on shore at any time. So there’s a morning stop, then you’re under way by noon, and then there’s an afternoon stop. The boat then repositions every night, and you start over again the next morning. That itinerary is locked, and you cannot vary those appointments to go ashore. It’s different than yacht charter elsewhere, where you can go with the flow. Here, you go with the pre-planned program.
For variety, Integrity offers two itineraries, one in the western islands and the other in the eastern islands. They do them every other week. The eastern islands have warmer water but no whales and limited penguins. The western islands have cooler water but more whales and penguins. To see the whole of the islands, you could do two weeks on Integrity. One week you do more swimming and snorkeling, and the other week you do more whale- and penguin-watching.
What were some of your favorite wildlife encounters?
I thought the sea lions were endlessly fascinating. We saw them on the beach and also in the water. They’re very playful in the water. If we were in the water, they would do what we did. If I dove down, they’d dive down. The water was crystal clear and it was so much fun to see them playing with us.
Another thing I loved was watching a mating dance that some birds were doing. It was very elaborate, this couple dancing. It was riveting.
Wildlife is a huge part of the charter experience in Galapagos. It’s definitely the number one thing you would go there to see. But scenery is number two. It’s a beautiful place, and the snorkeling is dynamic.
What about the experience of being on the boat in between the stops at anchor?
It was really calm cruising. I learned that the Galapagos have some of the calmest winds anywhere. Our naturalist explained that air rises at the equator, which is where these islands are located, so this is one of the calmest wind locations in the world. We had no issues with seasickness, waves, or swell. Plus, Integrity is a very stable boat. I was comfortable the entire time.
What else should charter clients know about chartering Integrity in the Galapagos Islands?
It’s an early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule because of the government regulations about when you can visit the shore destinations. They suggest a 6 a.m. wake-up call every day on the boat for a 6:30 breakfast and being out the door by 7:15 a.m. You have to get up and out the door if you want to do both activities at the morning location every day. Of course, you can sleep in or change the schedule, but you’d miss things. I thought it was great to get on the schedule, go with the flow, and see everything the place has to offer.
So, overall, you would recommend a charter in Galapagos aboard Integrity?
I would highly recommend Integrity. If you’re into wildlife, scenery, being back in touch with the natural world, and really getting away from the norm for a week or two, then this is a fantastic experience. The weekly rate for 2013 will be $95,000, which is for 16 guests in nine cabins and is mostly inclusive. Select weeks are on special at $75,000. I already am working on an inquiry for one of my clients, and I’m sure there will be many, many more.
Learn more about booking a charter aboard Integrity in the Galapagos Islands by contacting Michael Sawyer at Infinity Yacht Charters.