David Balfour MBE 1937 – 2021 a Galapagos legend

05 Oct 21 /
Author: Sylvia Harcourt, Member of CDF's GEneral Assembly

David Balfour arrived in Galapagos in 1962, on his way to Australia – but he never left! Like so many people, he fell for the islands and made them his home. He arrived on board his small yacht “Lucent”, along with his sailing partner Roger Jameson.

David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Sylvia Harcourt, CDF.

He remained until late 1964 - 1965, doing charter trips for the Charles Darwin Station and taking visiting scientists to their camps around the Islands. He was a very good correspondent with his family and as his letters were saved, they provide a fascinating account of life in those early days. His wonderful sense of humour and also spirit of adventure come through clearly.

David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Georgina Marten.
David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Georgina Marten.

David describes taking Bryan Nelson and his wife to Tower, where they planned to spend a year studying the boobies. His crew member on this trip was a New Zealander, Sandy, who had stopped “temporarily” in Galapagos 14 years previously! The voyage there and back was fraught with difficulties, including the panga’s outboard “expiring” as they tried to offload a little field fridge in huge swells – and having to nail a piece of driftwood to a bamboo pole to be able to steer. While this went on “to make matters worse, two of the only three sacks of flour split, and their contents rapidly turned themselves into a sticky paste which spread from the decks of Lucent to the floor boards of the dingy”.

In his book GALAPAGOS, Islands of Birds, Bryan writes of David “He was a splendid character…. he loved the sea and lived happily aboard the Lucent pottering around in a pair of tattered canvas shorts, a beard and the sun. Life is a lottery in more ways than one. In ninety-nine cases it produces a normal humdrum person with comfortably limited horizons and luxury goods ambitions, while in the hundredth it turns up someone like Dave Balfour who surrenders a good job to adventure in out-of-the-way places”.

His account of the official inauguration of the Research Station and all the arrangements necessary beforehand is wonderful. Dignitaries started to arrive in Baltra on the 15th January 1964 and after being introduced by CDRS Director, Dr. Snow, David was asked how long it would take to get to Academy Bay “about 8 hours if the current is not too strong” - But we understood four hours would be ample! “They began to realise some of the complications entailed in attending inauguration ceremonies in the Galapagos”. “It was a merry group until the South Channel, where the swell rose and the laughter subsided. We anchored at 11.00 p.m.”

“The inauguration ceremony was held on the 21st – a long morning of speeches under a hot sun. The Ambassadors were fluent and sometimes amusing. Californian champagne was produced and the French Ambassador was asked for his opinion…this put him in a difficult position, and after due consideration he announced “I think that when the cork is pulled it makes a very pleasant pop!” These are delightful descriptions that contrast with the serious black and white photos that we have seen of the ceremony!

David spent most of February taking scientists to various parts of the archipelago, and he describes “the deck became a flourishing botanical garden and the fridge was converted into a deep freeze for lizards and birds. At one time I found some odd rocks lying in the cabin and heaved them over board(!) – and then thought it wiser to keep quiet while some poor scientist searched high and low for valuable items of his collection”.

Mary Eulalia Arizaga, wife of David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Sylvia Harcourt
Mary Eulalia Arizaga, wife of David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Alfonso Carrasco, CDF.

David returned to UK, to come back with a bigger boat, Golden Cachalote, which he continued to use to take CDRS scientists around as well as getting involved with tourism. His connections with Galapagos increased, he married Maria Eulalia whom he met in the Metropolitan Touring office in Quito, and they have two sons, Andrew and Robert. He was always a very staunch supporter of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), a longtime member of the General Assembly, and helped the institution through difficult times. His support to CDF was based on his strong conviction of the importance of conservation and education in Galapagos. This led to him being a founder member of Fundacion Scalesia and the Tomas de Berlanga school in Santa Cruz.

From left to right: Prince Charles, Camilla of Cornwall and David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Patrick Mullee, ex British ambassador.
From left to right: HRH Prince Charles, Camilla of Cornwall and David Balfour. Photo courtesy of: Patrick Mullee, ex British Ambassador.

As if this didn’t keep him busy enough, he was Galapagos Honorary Consul for the British Embassy from 1988 to 2013 and was a constant source of help, keeping the Embassy informed about the work of the CDF, and helping host the visit by HRH Prince Charles in 2009.
I first met the Balfours in 1979 and have been friends since then – a wonderful family, with whom I have shared interests and laughter, in Galapagos and Quito.

David, a remarkable man, ethical, responsible, a great sense of humour and who loved Galapagos, and Scottish dancing! We will miss you David.

David Balfour and Sylvia Harcourt were great friends. Photo courtesy of: Sylvia Harcourt.
David Balfour and Sylvia Harcourt were great friends. Photo courtesy of: Alfredo Carrasco, CDF.
Andres Cruz

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