First comes the HMS Beagle. The year is 1831. Onboard, we find Charles Darwin, a recently graduated medical scholar who has opted to be the naturalist aboard this vessel, which has the objective of surveying and mapping the coasts of the world.
Four years in, the Beagle arrives in the Galapagos Islands, where the crew are to spend five weeks exploring.
During this time Darwin heads onshore to make observations and collect specimens. One can picture the famous scientist, with his trademark white beard (whether this was factually accurate at the time or not), leaning down and loading specimens into his bumbag, staring through binoculars and craning his ear to the distant tweet of finches.
What strikes him most is the bizarre and rare nature of the species. But he does, also, notice that animals on different islands that are meant to be the same species are showing glaring differences, which appear to be adaptive.
It’s only later that he starts to put together his world-changing theories. Working backwards, he realises that traits that aid survival are passed on through generations. In this way species evolve, differently, depending on what aids survival in each unique environment.
The endemic species of the Galapagos were crucial to this realisation.
THEN CAME THE M/Y GRACE
Now comes Grace Kelly’s Honeymoon Yacht. Wait a moment – who’s that?
Let’s begin at the beginning. The boat actually preceded Grace; it was made in 1928. Grace was born the next year. Weighing in at 298 tonnes and measuring 147 feet long (the boat, not Grace), the vessel changed hands among the rich and famous, before becoming property of the military during WW2, during which it participated in various skirmishes, including the successful capture of a German boat.
After the smoke had settled, the ‘wartorn’ vessel was returned back to the previous owner. Upon this gentleman’s death, Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate, inherited it for use in his charter company.
By this point it was the golden age of television and Grace, 26, had rocketed to fame through her acting. But she gave up all of that to marry Rainier, the Prince of Monaco. The only thing missing was a yacht, but that was remedied quickly when Onassis gave them the boat as a wedding present in 1953.
They owned it for five years, cruising up and down the coasts for their honeymoon. Then it changed hands again and commenced another interminable trajectory, that has seen it end up in the hands of Quasar Expeditions.
Now, after refitting and refurbishing, the vessel is suitable for 18 guests, and it tours through the Galapagos on seven night, eight day tours that involve kayaking, hiking, snorkelling and wildlife observation. It seems to have, finally, found a reliable home.
MODERN DAY DARWIN
Part of the Galapagos Islands’ appeal is the opportunity to follow in Darwin’s footsteps. Visitors can observe, in the same way Darwin did, the wondrous species that abound here.
And so what if visitors are not tossing about below the masts of the HMS Beagle nowadays, but are instead enjoying the luxuries accorded to Monaco’s royalty. Is that such a bad thing?
EXAMPLE ITINERARY WITH QUASAR EXPEDITIONS
- Day 1: Fly to San Cristobal Island. Board the M/Y Grace, head to Isla Lobos and share the water with sea lions, gaining views of Kicker Rock.
- Day 2: Visit Punta Suarez, seeing marine iguanas, albatross and various booby birds. Then to Gardner Bay, with sea lions and turtles offshore.
- Day 3: Visit historical Post Office Bay, then head to Punta Cormorant, with its red and a green beaches and a salt lagoon with flamingos. Then snorkel with sharks and rays at Champion Islet.
- Day 4: Visit Charles Darwin Research Station, including giant tortoises. Then to the Highlands of Santa Cruz, which has lava tubes, craters, and wild tortoises.
- Day 5: Visit Las Bachas where turtles lay eggs, and flamingos and iguanas lurk in saline lagoons. Then on to Chinese Hat Islet, a volcanic cone. Snorkel with sea lions and penguins.
- Day 6: Visit Rabida Island, with its red terrain, turtles and booby birds. Then onto Sullivan Bay, a volcanic site with unusual plantlife. Swimming and snorkelling with coral.
- Day 7: Visit Bartolome Island, with Pinnacle Rock, penguins and sea lions. Hike to summit for grand views. Then onto North Seymour Island, with Palo Santo trees and varied wildlife.
- Day 8: Visit Black Turtle Cove, a mangrove estuary, before flying back to Ecuadorian mainland.