Astra Blog: Galapagos (Part 2) 04.05.08 - 10.05.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Tue 13 May 2008 23:55

Astra Blog: Galapagos (Part 2) 04.05.08 – 10.05.08



Sunday 04.05.08


Sunday was a very significant day for George as he bit the bullet and decided that he would enroll on a PADI Open Water Diver course in order that he could share the fun with the rest of the crew. One Dive instructor, Macarron came highly recommended and had a course commencing the next day. A little nervous, he signed up and got the course text – nearly 300 pages of theory to be learned in the next four days.


Meanwhile Sally and Jeremy visited North Seymour on an organized tour to see frigate birds, marine iguanas and boobies. More about this later. In the evening Jeremy, Sally and Ash went aboard Coral II to meet Dale and Sandy from Snow White, our neighbour in Shelter Bay Marina. Dale and Sandy are favourites of Ash and George as they kept them well fed in Shelter Bay! We saw them last over 1000 miles away in the Swimming Pool, San Blas. Hence, it was a pleasant surprise to find them on a tour boat 100 yards away. While everyone else enjoyed a sumptuous banquet, George remained assiduously on board studying his dive textbook.    


Monday 05.05.08


George spent Monday watching DVDs containing practically identical information to that which he had read the previous evening. After about 8 hours of the diving lessons he still had been nowhere near the water! Fortunately the day ended, most the theory out of the way, by setting up the scuba gear in order that the more practical side of the course could begin early on Tuesday morning. After a few drinks with Ash to celebrate successfully completing day 1 of 4 they returned to Astra to find that we were entertaining Rahula, another near neighbour in Shelter Bay. The air was thick with stories of boating and diving – with Rahula set to leave for the Marquesas on the same day we might be able to trade further stories in a few weeks.


Tuesday 06.05.08


George dropped Jeremy and Ash ashore at 7am in time for their rendezvous with Rafael their dive guide for the trip to North Seymour, Mosquera and the notorious Gordon Rocks.  There were four others on the trip and in two taxis we were driven to the north tip of Santa Cruz where we were to board the dive boat.  Our taxi driver must have set a new record for the journey getting us there 15 minutes before the others showed up which was fairly pointless, we even beat the dive boat!  The dive sites were only a short hop from there and it was only 30 minutes before we plunged over the side at North Seymour.  Diving in the Galapagos is a bit of a lottery, sometimes the visibility is crystal clear and sometimes it is rubbish, it changes on a daily basis and nobody seems to have a clue what it will be like until they dive in.  Sadly on this occasion we were unlucky.  However, it made these three challenging dives quite exciting.  As we “rock climbed” (underwater) up to a plateau in 10metres of water we came across 30 white-tip sharks all cruising along together, some came within a few feet of us.  The second dive at Mosquera also suffered from low visibility but despite this we found moray eels, white-tips (which were resting in a cave and leapt out while Ash and Rafael were attempting a close up photograph of them), a marbled sting ray and a sea lion which gave Ash quite a shock as it snuck up on him and then shot past his nose, missing by just inches.  Jeremy found this hilarious and used up a fair bit of air laughing into his regulator!  The others on the trip had claimed that they had 30 dives experience each and we could not figure out why they kept disappearing about half way through each dive.  It later dawned on us that that was the minimum experience required to go to Gordon Rocks, unfortunately it was fairly obvious that they had not done 30 dives as they were not terribly good. 


After lunch we relocated to Gordon Rocks.  It was an impressive sight; our dive guide informed us that it is a sunken volcano crater with 2 “sides” still protruding from the water. The other 2 “sides” have gone and all that remains of them are 2 pinnacles about 20m under water.  The centre of the crater is 40m deep, an immense current rushes across it, around the pinnacles and then plunges down to 300m.  Failure to get to and hold on to the pinnacles can result in divers being sucked over the edge, down to 60m or so before the current releases them and sends them back to the surface a mile away!?  This revelation concentrated the mind a bit.  As the current was so strong here, the plan was for the boat to drop us all at once as close to the wall at the up current end of the crater.  As soon as we hit the water we should all swim diagonally down towards until we hit the wall in 12m of water where we should hold on until all had arrived.  Simple enough we thought.  We all plunged in and after a quick “OK” we followed the instructions.  The visibility was really bad and only five out of the seven of us turned up!  Our guide Rafael surfaced to look for them, they were already back in the boat having quit on the surface.  After a few minutes, the rest of us surfaced to see what was happening.  Finally having used a quarter of our air messing around, the four of us and Rafael regrouped at 12m and continued with the dive.  At the end of the first wall, the other two were deemed to have not enough air to cross the pinnacles and were sent to the surface.  So Rafael, Jeremy and Ash were all that was left.  In hindsight we can see why less people down there to worry about was definitely a good plan.  The visibility was such that we could not see the pinnacles from where we were clinging to the wall.  Undeterred by this Rafael gave the signal and the three of us made a dash across the gap towards a point that we hoped was diagonally up current of the first pinnacle thus pushing us down on it.  Jeremy who is not a big fan of “dashing” ended up with a bit more “rock climbing” at the other end!  Whilst clutching to the pinnacle for fear of being sucked away down to the depths we were treated to the sight of a hammerhead shark passing just below us.  Then we made the final two “sprints” across the gaps with turtles, white-tips and a host of other fish whistling by.  Then it was time to ascend for our lengthy safety stop.  With arms aching from the current that only increased as we got shallower we waited for our dive computers to give us the all clear before finally letting go and drifting at speed away from Gordon Rocks.


Wednesday 07.05.08


With our departure day for the Marquesas rapidly approaching, we got down to the pressing task of doing some jobs. Ash was so enthused by taking four 22L diesel cans first by tender and then taxi to the petrol station that he decided to repeat this painfully protracted process seven times! Meanwhile, George was enjoying his first underwater sea lion encounters and putting into practice new skills such as buddy breathing – something he did not immediately excel at as he was breathing out before passing the regulator hence having no air left in his lungs to breathe!


Both George and Ash had diving in the prospect for Thursday so they sensibly had a very early night. Sally and Jeremy went to an excellent restaurant on the other side of the bay.********


Thursday 08.05.08


Jeremy dropped Ash and George ashore at 7.30am. George was off to complete his last day’s training with Macarron. Ash met the “Albatros Tours” dive boat that would take him to Floreana.  Rafael the guide from Gordon Rocks was to be dive master and there were 6 others on board.  After the boisterous high speed ride south, Ash was disappointed to hear that they would be diving at Punta del Cormoran (the same low visibility one which he had done with Sally and Jeremy the week before).  However, on entering the water, it was clear that this would be a very different story.  The visibility was astonishing.  We spent 50 wonderful minutes drifting gently along, we saw almost everything: white-tip sharks, spotted eels, garden eels, turtles, sting rays, sea lions, barracuda, a flock of 18 spotted eagle rays swimming in formation and a couple of enormous hammerhead sharks!  An absolutely stunning dive, Punta del Cormoran completely redeemed itself.  On surfacing we had the regulation lunch break and played with the sea lions: an exceptionally playful bunch!  Afterwards we proceeded to Enderby for a final dive.  We followed roughly the same route as last time but about 10m deeper along the sandy bottom, where we found two batfish, weird looking creatures with big red lips!  Then as we rounded the rocky promontory, we came across the usual sea lions, white-tips and the huge cloud of black-striped salema which were still there blocking out the sun.  We continued to drift fast along the wall in 20m with divers dropping off in pairs as their air ran out.  In the final moments of the dive, just as the four of us still down were thinking of ascending, Rafael spotted an enormous dark shape looming up from the depths, normally when Rafael gets excited about something under water it is because it is a huge predator with very big sharp teeth.  Ash assumed that this was going to be no different and waited anxiously for the beast to arrive.  What turned up had our hearts racing, it was a Whale Shark at least 6m long.  We raced down towards it and started swimming along side it.  It was rather like swimming next to a bus, it didn’t seem to mind us but did stop swimming when it saw us and as it did the current caused it to start drifting sideways at speed, one diver got “run over” by it and Ash thought he was next so within a few metres of its head he decided to abort!  Together we all made our way up for a seriously long safety stop which saw us having to borrow each others air as we had used rather a lot trying to keep up with the Whale Shark.  We surfaced absolutely ecstatic about the experience, it was truly remarkable and we felt exceptionally fortunate to have swum with such an animal.


As Friday was definitely going to be a ‘job day’, Sally and Jeremy decided to make the most of their last relaxed day on Santa Cruz and go on a walk to the beach. George finished his PADI course – if this were not reason enough to celebrate, it was also one of his course-mate’s birthdays and Ash had seen a whale shark: cue another evening in Bongo/Panga resulting in another early morning dip in the lagoon.


Friday 09.05.08


Friday saw us making our final preparations for the off. Jeremy worked his way through his lengthy list of pre-departure chores and checks. Sally got Astra shipshape and did some more provisioning and the laundry. Ash and George spent about three hours cleaning the hull which otherwise would have itself become worthy of national park status given the number of life forms it was supporting.


An excellent, productive day was rounded off by dinner in one of our favourite bar/restaurants. Our last night on land for some time was celebrated by all crew-members eating a large amount of fish – clearly worried that we will not get any fish where we are going! 


Saturday 10.05.08


Up before the crack of dawn, we went into the market at about 5 AM. Ash kindly tendered us in before returning to catch up on his beauty sleep. The others did their best to try and select fruit and vegetables in a variety of states of ripeness that will last us for the foreseeable future – no supermarkets where we are going. This accomplished we went back to chivvy Ash into action and delighted in watching him struggle to hoist the stern anchor. After much sweating and mild cursing we managed to get the anchor on board and a filthy anchor warp washed in time for a 10 AM departure. Marquesas here we come!




Sally and Jeremy’s take on how not to do the Galapagos:


We arrived in the Galapagos thinking we could visit all the islands by ourselves on Astra, as long as we had a guide. Well you can’t unless you want to pay an extortionate amount of money, and jump through many hoops.


So we decided to go on day tours and fit a bit of diving in as well. In fact we went on one which turned out to be a bit of a fiasco, as we wanted an English speaking tour with naturalists. What we got was two Spanish speaking guides, who were about as useful as Manuel and Basil Fawlty. I had the little one. We went to North Seymour which is an uplifted island, “why?” Says I, as it is flat as a pancake. He mumbled something, and then quickly pointed out a Frigate Bird. Yes we are surrounded by them, what else. Blue footed Booby, yes but … Marine Iguana…No other information whatsoever. Though we did have a great day and met some interesting people. One couple from America in their 60’s had decided to do Galapagos and then onto the Inca Trail. Only trouble was his knee kept giving way, and he got a nasty cut. So when we were snorkelling, I was so sympathetic, I kept thinking, Oh Good the sharks will eat him instead of me!!!!

We realised how bad the tour guides were when we were invited onto a cruising boat by some friends we had met in Panama. They had 2 naturalists on board, who in the short time we were there gave us more information than we had all day. In fact this is definitely the way to do the Galapagos. Because the islands are so far apart, you need to live aboard one of these boats for at least a week. They cruise around at night and you tour the islands by day. It is very regimented, but seemed to be very well organised.

In the end we went for some beautiful walks near the boat. One took us to Playa Tortuga, which was the most stunning beach I have ever seen. Marine Iguanas swimming right past us, amazing (actually quite creepy). Honestly I did enjoy some of the wildlife that wasn’t trying to bite me. Jeremy loved it and will enthral you all one day with the photos.

Would we go back?.......Definitely.


For those of you who have made it to the end of this herculean 4327 word monster-blog: CONGRATULATIONS!


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