|This is a long post, but Galapagos diving is truly astounding. An over-simplified post just can't do it justice. This is from the dive log of one of the divers on the trip - and his account of the experience in his own words.
Also, please note that when the divers were coming in contact with the bottom (in the review below and pictures), we had strict guidance and were required to do so. Galapagos takes conservation very seriously and we were following their direction very carefully for environmental and safety reasons. Now...on with the story.
Aug 06, 2009
We had a day in Quito to explore the city and see the sights, then it was off to to the Airport and onto the Galapagos Islands. The trip thru the airport was quick and we had a quick stop over at the largest city in Ecuador – Guayaquil, population 3 million or so. Guayaquil, a port city, was large, flat and at sea level. We were required to stay on the plane for 30 minutes while more passengers boarded and then we were off to the Islands. 1 and 1/2 hours later we were landing in Galapagos. From there we met someone from the Peter Hughes crew from the boat, boarded a bus, and were promptly taken to the docks, boarded a Panga (small rubber boat) and headed to the Sky Dancer.
Aug 08, 2009
After boarding we were ushered to the main Salon, given room assignments where we then unpacked, relaxed and headed down to the Galley for lunch as the boat headed out to sea.
We didn’t go far before we were gearing up and going for our first dive of the trip. The day was heading toward evening but we were to do a short check out dive in 20 feet of water – but with sea lions. This turned out to be one of the most memorable dives of the trip and one we all wished could have been longer. The sea lions were absolutely fascinated by divers, and loved playing the in the bubbles we exhaled. They zoomed in and out of us, nipped each other, played in the bubbles and seemed to enjoy themselves more than we did. At this point, I had some inspiration, and thought “I know how to create some bubbles”. I had a full tank of air and a short dive, so I grabbed my Octo and purged it until I was down 500 pounds (2000 remaining) or 1/6th of my air. The mass of bubbles was flowing out of my Octo and the sea lions loved it. They swam into the flow of bubbles with enthusiasm and did somersaults, spins, twists and everything else just feet from me.
My dive buddy did some somersaults in the water which delighted the sea lions until her tank came loose. I fixed it back up and we played a few more minutes then had to surface and end the dive.
Aug 11, 2009
Morning brought a fair amount of excitement. We entered into a somewhat sheltered area around Wolf Island and the sea calmed down. We were very glad for the calm water as the Captain said he'd seen 20 foot seas at this dive location. We opened the window blinds on the windows and peared out see the sites. Wolf island was stark, gray, and looked completely uninviting to humans. It is not pretty like a Caribbean dive site, but that did not diminish our excitement.
Breakfast was served and we had finally arrived at what was commonly believed to be one of the best dive sites in the world for spotting “Sharks, Rays, and Mantas”.
We assembled at 8:00 on the “Booby Deck” for our diving briefing. The dive master informed us that current could be VERY strong and we would have to assess the conditions at the site. In addition, we had all been given GPS devices (one per buddy pair) in case we managed to get lost at sea. We also had whistles, strobe lights, safety sausages, and air horns powered by the compressed air in our tanks.
We were wearing our new 7 mil super comfy AquaLung wetsuits that provided a LOT of warmth. Combined with 3 mil hoods we were quite comfortable and warm in the chilly water. The only problem was weight. The 7 mil suits are thick and very buoyant, and I had 23 pounds of lead in my BC to counter the 7 mil suit. Even though I balanced the weight to sink, all the gear added a significant amount of mass. 23 pounds of lead plus about 40 pounds of additional gear adds up and takes a fair amount of additional effort to move underwater. More effort means more work, more work means breathing harder, breathing harder means using up air faster.
So, we drop in the water and current is significant, but not overwhelming. We headed down quickly and grab a hold of the rocky, volcanic bottom, get our bearings and follow the dive master to an underwater ledge. In no time hammerheads, curious Galapagos sharks, and schools of eagle rays are putting on an underwater show for us. in the distance, we can see a “wall” of hammerheads. Not just a few, but hundreds. They are swimming together in a group, a long line several sharks deep and high…the same way people might walk along a wide path in a meadow.
Behind us, schooling fish are everywhere with the occasional huge yellow tuna or wahoo. Current was strong, and there was no chance of staying with the group without clinging to the bottom. Looking into the current would cause my mask to vibrate on my head, slowly flooding it. The current would also pressed on the face of my regulator causing it to purge somewhat. I ducked in behind some rocks to shield myself from the current as best as possible. We hunkered down and watched the show. It was amazing. After about 15 minutes, the dive master told us all to let go and drift with the current and flowed along at significant speed watching William for a signal to stop. On his mark, we all grabbed back a hold of the rocks and watched the underwater show from a different vantage point. At this point I was nearly 800 PSI and it was time for me to head up.
We turned loose of the rocks and headed for the open ocean…the current swept us away from Wolf island and into the blue ocean quickly. We worked our way up to the surface slowly and calmly, doing a safety stop at 15 feet as required. Below us we could see the massive schools of hammerheads , maybe 70 feet below. After a good 4 to 5 minute safety stop I was at 150 PSI … much lower then I would have liked… and we surfaced. The Panga was not far, and we signal the “OK” sign, received a like signal from the Panga operator and he headed out direction to pick us up. In order to get on the boat we would remove our weight belts and hand them up. Then we would remove our BCs and hand them up. After that, we tried to haul ourselves aboard. It was much harder then it looked. By the end of the week, I was mostly able to get aboard by myself with just fins, wetsuit and mask on. Most of the folks just got partway up and were hauled in by the Pango operator. We hauled up, we looked like a hooked fish flopping around in the boat. It was not a pretty site.
We were first on board, and we helped the other divers coming up behind us with their weight belts and gear and soon we were headed back toward sky dancer. The first dive at Wolf Island had been a success…incredible numbers of large animals to see, reasonable conditions (for advanced divers), and relatively calm surface conditions.
Dive two was much of the same and then it was time for dinner. Dinner was a lively time with all of us talking about the days events and the incredible diving. Right after dive two Sky Dancer headed for the Darwin’s Arch where we would spend 1 1/2 days and do six dives. Darwin’s Arch was also where we all had high hopes of seeing whale sharks. Excitement was in the air, the boat crew was fantastic, the diving was getting more exciting by the day, and even the food was getting better and better.
Aug 12, 2009
We geared up, boarded the Pangas and set our for the Arch. Once over the site where we would back roll into the water William, our dive master, said the current looked mild and everything was a go. William counted 1, 2 and 3 and we all leaned back and headed for the rocks below….at 60 feet down. Part of the way down we spotted a small whale shark leaving the area – small as in probably only 20 feet long. There was some current, but not much. Getting the gathering point below was easy and we go together with our groups and dive masters and followed their instructions. We pulled our selves over the rocks and found a position on the underwater ledges that lent views over the abyss. We
We all went ashore for the second land excursion and we were able to get a close, first hand view of some sea lions, marine iguana and the harsh landscape. The sea lions were large and not unfriendly and spent a lot of their time simply sleeping. The landscape was harsh and unfriendly to humans, but the sea lions seemed to deal with it without too much effort. The iguana were oddly fascinating. The iguana would swim out into the ocean, dive down and eat alga growing underwater. Afterward they swim back to shore, climb out of the water, sun themselves and rest. They had special desalinization glands that removed salt from what they took in and they would “snort” the salty waste water out their nose. Again, the areas we were allowed to walk on were very tightly controlled and our land excursion leader / dive master guided our path and answered questions. He was an interesting fellow and fairly well educated with several degrees – some in mechanical engineering and related fields.
An awesome trip with a great group of divers on one of the best dive boats in the world...Sky Dancer. Check out the short trip video for an idea of what is was like underwater