Tourism in the Galapagos Islands has come a long way since Irishman Patrick Watkins washed up on Isla Floreana in 1807. A hardened alcoholic, Watkins lived in a hut for two years, surviving on vegetables and iguana meat. By then, according to one witness, he was 'the most dreadful thing that can be imagined, in ragged clothes and covered with vermin, and with no desire beyond that of getting drunk'. Trading vegetables for rum from passing ships, Watkins captured men by getting them drunk and hiding them until their ships departed. They then became his slaves. Eventually, he set off for the Ecuadorean mainland in a stolen boat with five captives, killing and eating them before he arrived. My fellow travellers were in no such danger because my passage through the Galapagos was aboard the Sulidae, one of the most comfortable boats in the archipelago. A 63-foot, gaff-rigged ketch with berths for 12, the Sulidae began life in 1901 as a Baltic trader, but now ferries human cargo around the islands on eight-day tours. The first port of call was the island of South Plaza, a 13-hectare chunk of rock punctuated by cactus and loads of mustard-coloured iguanas. Because of the islands' isolation (1,000km off the coast of Ecuador) and the fact that they were never attached to any land mass, many of the Galapagos' animals - 95 per cent of the reptiles, 50 per cent of the birds, 80 per cent of the insects and 20 per cent of the fish - exist nowhere else in the world. Our second day was spent off Isla San Salvador, snorkelling with sea lions that spent the whole time blowing bubbles in our faces. My favourite animal was the East Pacific green sea turtle. Weighing about 150kg, it has a grace underwater exceeded only by its prodigious libido. On the Isla Pinta, in the north of the archipelago, we found the main beach covered with them, in various stages of copulation. And then there's Lonesome George, the last of Pinta's so-called giant tortoises. (Many of the Galapagos' turtle species were wiped out years ago by traders, whalers and pirates, who would stow them live as sources of fresh meat on long journeys.) An ancient quarter-tonne male now living out his days in a research station on Santa Cruz Island, George resists all entreaties to mate with similar sub-species, thereby condemning his line to extinction. Naturally enough, food in the Galapagos is seafood-based, and although the galley was cosy, this had no negative impact on its output. Fittingly, the last night's meal was probably the best. Moored in the moonlight off Bartolome Island, we feasted on barracuda (caught by the skipper on a hand line), plus a bevy of lobsters harvested by the crew from beneath our boat. The Sulidae costs US$1,400 a person for eight days. Rates include accommodation, meals, land excursions with a naturalist and snorkelling equipment.