Astra Blog: Galapagos (Part 2) 04.05.08 - 10.05.08
Astra Blog: Galapagos (Part 2) 04.05.08 – 10.05.08
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
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
George dropped Jeremy and Ash ashore at 7am in time for
their rendezvous with Rafael their dive guide for the trip to
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.
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.********
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 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!
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
We realised how bad the
tour guides were when we were invited onto a cruising boat by some friends we
had met in
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!
If you wish to get in touch with those aboard email:
‘boat name’ ‘at symbol’ ‘mailasail.com’
(Full email address omitted so we don’t get spammed!)