The animals in this Ecuadorian archipelago are fascinating to behold, but the journey is made even more memorable by being onboard the first proper yacht to charter in these waters in at least a decade.
Revelation is the first true luxury motoryacht in a decade to offer charter in the Galapagos Islands. The market is evolving—just like Darwin’s finches.
By Kim Kavin
It is a few minutes before 7 a.m., and the overcast sky is smothering Genovesa like a hazy hangover from a bad night’s sleep. This island is the flattened remains of a volcanic crater whose side crumbled under pressure from the Pacific, and we are moored in its center, within swimming distance of what used to be a towering ledge of lava.
Just outside the crater’s edge sits the only other boat within sight: a 296-foot cruise ship that carries 96 passengers and 60 crew, about the biggest you’ll find in the entire Galapagos archipelago. I am too far away to see any of the people aboard, even through binoculars, but I imagine they’re pretty upset with us. After all, our charter yacht is carrying just four guests this week, and we’ve nabbed the best anchorage by arriving earlier than they did. We’ll be ashore with the red-footed boobies well before they even get their dinghies loaded.
I sit on the aft deck eating a warm, almond-filled croissant and smiling with satisfaction. It’s still survival of the fittest here, just as it was when Charles Darwin studied the place, and I am aboard Revelation—the fittest motoryacht to be offered for charter here in at least a decade.
It’s hard for me not to think back to just three years ago, when I first visited Galapagos aboard what was, then, the nicest motoryacht available for charter in these waters 600 miles west of Ecuador. That 122-footer was comfortable and clean, but few of the crew spoke English and I was one among 16 passengers, about double the number a yacht that size takes in more developed destinations. Revelation, by contrast, carries ten to 12 guests aboard her 180-foot hull, with nine crew providing nearly one-on-one service. The captain and two stewardesses are American, working side by side with charming Ecuadorian mates and deckhands whom Revelation’s owner selected (rightly, in my judgment) as the “best of the best” from local boats.
Revelation’s entrance into the Galapagos charter market has made it, like the islands’ famous finches and giant tortoises, a study in evolution. To protect the habitat, Ecuador’s government limits the number of charter boats in Galapagos to just 86—with licenses that must be held by Ecuadorian residents. No Cayman-flagged Feadships or brand-new Italian motoryachts can be booked here; there are only small cruising boats and the aforementioned cruise ships, all packed to the gunwales to maximize profits. After years without competition forcing adaptation and improvement, the charter fleet has become tired with service standards below the international norm. Their marketing pitch has long been that one visits Galapagos to see the incredible wildlife ashore, and that the boat itself doesn’t much matter.
It’s just the kind of place that attracts the attention of businessman Dan Stabbert. He previously owned the 125-foot Delta Centurion, which he positioned off the Pacific shore of Costa Rica and created a magnet for longtime charterers looking for a new environment to explore. Now, he is partnering with an Ecuadorian named Ricardo Arenas, whose company, Sail’n Galapagos, helps private yachts navigate the financial and legal maze that comes with entering Galapagos waters.
Stabbert received permission to charter his U.S.-flagged Revelation under an available local license with Arenas’s help last winter, and the two men are working to gain access to that license year-round starting this fall. The process has involved years’ worth of paperwork, nearly a million dollars in fees, and a need to train local crew to international standards—hurdles no other owner of a proper yacht has been willing to accept in exchange for potential charter business.
“He broke the market,” Arenas says of Stabbert. “He was the first one to risk it.”
I felt no risk at all as I stepped aboard Revelation. Her interior is done in the same comfortably elegant style that Stabbert chose for Centurion (which I reported aboard in 2001 for Yachting magazine), and her crew provides the proper service and local knowledge that Stabbert’s boats have made their hallmark in Costa Rica, Alaska, and other emerging destinations. Revelation is not a sleek new yacht offering white-glove service (with the exception of chef Peter David Boden, whose creations are among the finest I’ve enjoyed anywhere), but her level of elegance is far, far above anything offered before in Galapagos.
The key ingredient in any successful Galapagos charter is a top-notch naturalist, and Revelation’s was among the best I have met anywhere. Yvonne Mortola is married to Stabbert’s Ecuadorian partner, Arenas, and she serves as a combination naturalist and liaison for crew and guests. She has a superb sense of humor and a bountiful trove of knowledge about everything from lava flows to mating swallowtail gulls (which we witnessed firsthand several times). I found Mortola even more impressive when I learned that she taught herself English many years ago so she could become a guide in the first place.
She works with Revelation’s captain to get guests to the best wildlife areas before other boats show up and flood the places with people. During our first snorkeling excursion, for instance, off the southern island of Floreana, we were treated to sea lions bolting into the water around us to roll and twist and play. One fearless young male took a fancy to me and spent a few minutes as close to my face as this computer screen is to yours. I was distracted for a moment by a three-foot-long white-tipped reef shark swimming by, and then a colorful school of fish. Before I could turn back to the sea lion, a rocket hit the water behind me leaving a white trail of churning water in its wake. It was a blue-footed booby, diving down about 30 feet to feed.
After about an hour of utter absorption in this animal paradise, I followed Mortola back aboard Revelation just in time to see that same cruise ship begin lowering its dinghies. We were well on our way before those passengers even got their snorkeling gear on, and we would beat them to every destination throughout the week, including Genovesa on that overcast morning.
It was as if, though surrounded by other boats, we had the whole of the archipelago and its inhabitants to ourselves. We were a new breed making our way faster and more luxuriously than anything that had come before us.
I suppose it’s only natural. After all, evolution can begin with a single Revelation.