August 8-15 Galapagos Sky Cruise Review

2010 My August 8th Adventure to Galapagos Sky starts with an on-time departure out of Miami aboard American Airlines. The flight time was approx four hours and while the flight was 100% sold out it was uneventful and after a couple of A/A’s $ 7:00 red wines the crowed “accommodations” on the Boeing 757 did not seem all that bad!

8/06/10: Curbside check-in at MIA would have been a breeze but I was NOT aware of the TWO bag limit on A/A from MIA to Quito – could not even pay for the third bag, so my carefully planned 3 x 68 lbs dive bags full of “stuff” for the Galapagos Sky went by the  wayside  (pun intended) – luckily my lovely wife Alice was still there w/ our vehicle so after some rapid assessment & adjustment I was on my way w/only 2 x 68 lbs dive bags but thanks to a compassionate A/A supervisor – NO overweight charge (limit 1 x 70 lbs or 2 x 50 lbs – I think? Don’t quote me!!) Note: Please remember that an embargo is currently in effect for MIA to QUITO so ONLY 2 Checked BAGS are allowed. Always double check with your air carrier prior to departure !

I met Michele Westmorland (professional U/W & Interiors/topside photographer first class) at MIA as she had flown in from Seattle on assignment for us and we flew to Quito together. Upon arrival in Quito we were met by the shuttle service from the Le Parc Hotel –  the “meet & greet” & check-in was seamless and we were off to sleep to be ready for an early (an quite excellent buffet breakfast) before our five + hour City Tour including some of the closer surrounding areas.

8/07/10:  Our tour (all organized by our  sister company Ecoventura S.A. – thanxxx Luly, U R the best,) our guide Sylvia & driver Carlos were all excellent and the quick taste of the city made us realize that more time was definitely needed as there is so much to see & experience in Quito and the surrounding areas. I think we can both comfortably recommend that if time & budget allow it one should consider at least a two/three day stopover in Quito coming or going to/from the Galapagos Sky –  well worth it!!

8/08/10: Another early rise for our flight to Galapagos on Aerogal  (our airline of choice for this internal flight) and all was going as planned until about half way to the Galapagos (after an intermediary stop in Guayaquil where our professional U/W videographer Annie Crawley, also on assignment w/ us, joined us) when due to “technical difficulties” our Captain turned us back to Guayaquil. All went well, no emergency situations and only about 20 minutes in Guayaquil and we were on our way aboard an alternate aircraft arriving SAFELY in Galapagos about three hours behind original schedule. Due to late arrival we missed the usual kick-azz check out dive at Cayo Lobos (playful Sea Lions –very playful) but after check-in aboard a late lunch was served as we were all starving – all briefings were conducted as required (by susan).  Michele immediately started “shooting” the interiors of our Deluxe & Master staterooms BEFORE our guests unloaded their personal effects in the staterooms which would have quickly detracted somewhat from the welcoming appearance! I must say she accomplished great things in record time thanks in part to the willful assistance Hugo, Darwin & Capt. Patricio – many thanks guys!! After all this and getting our gear all set up, weights & belts adjusted and required safety package checked – Sea Marshall  Personal Beacon (supplied FOC by Galapagos Sky,) Dive Alert (highly recommended you bring your own,) and SMB (also highly recommended you bring your own) most turned in w/ anticipation of  what was to come the next morning!!!

8/09/10: Found us at Baltra Island w/ an early 6:30 am refueling appointment w/ the “barge” and we were off after breakfast for our first dive (8:30 am) in North Seymour Channel – this was our official check out dive. I was very grateful for this dive as I was wearing my brand spanking new Scubapro 7/5mm Wet Suit on top of another brand spanking new 5/3mm Hooded Vest (more “rubber” than I have EVER worn) so  I needed this opportunity to get  my weight requirements properly set. I was VERY glad to have all this “rubber” as the water temperature at North  Seymour was an attention grabbing 64*F/18*C (guesstimate temp conversions only) our second dive of the morning at approx 11:00 am was at the North Seymour Wall where we were back on our normal itinerary (after our flight delays.) Water temps  were the same, viz  a bit  better and the sighting of Eagle Rays, White Tip Sharks, Turtles and a YELLOW LEAF FISH (how unusual is that??? Go  figure??) quickly diverted our attentions from the cold!!! After the dive and over a wonderful buffet lunch we steamed to Bartolome Island to snorkel w/ the Galapagos Penguins who  were basically “not at home today” w/ only one little guy gracing us with his presence but  … we all had fun laughing at the lonely little guy! It was then off for a hike to the “top of the mountain” to experience one of the most beautiful  & well  recognized  views from the Galapagos Islands – think Master & Commander movie!! As soon as everyone was back onboard Captain Patricio  & his  efficient crew got us underway for the long 16 hour crossing to Wolf Island.

8/10/10: Our wake-up  call  came at 7:00 am sharp and as we staggered up, one by one to breakfast, our  sleepiness quickly disappeared as we saw Wolf Island approaching and  our captain announced over the PA that “Dolphins are off the bow!!” And were there Dolphins off the bow – racing in & out of the bow wave inches from the boat and tearing off to leap happily high in the air before racing back across the bow missing the boat by “inches!!” We were of course, mesmerized by the show and only reluctantly returned to our breakfasts!! Our first dive at Wolf Island was not until 10:00 am due a little longer than expected, very strong current against us all night, over night voyage to get there. But when we back rolled off the “panga” into the 74*F/ 24*C w/ approx 65 feet/20 meter viz at S.E. Corner, our impatience to dive was immediately replaced w/ excitement –  Wolf Island did not disappoint!!! Our u/w senses were bombarded w/ “walls” of Hammerhead Sharks,  regally passing Galapagos Sharks in much lesser numbers (always the case) than the Hammerhead Sharks, Eagle Rays, Turtles, free swimming Moray Eels, three dolphins in a quick fly-by and a HUGE, late season Manta Ray cruising along the top of the wall and  a final send off, up  close & personal w/ a very curious Silky Shark that joined us on our blue water  safety  stop!! Aboard  w/ this trip we had Senor Eduardo Espinoza (w/ three of his volunteers – Daniela Alarcon, Ivan Maffore & Davide Acuna) from the PNG (Parque Nacional Galapagos) or GNP (Galapagos National Park) who were w/ us  in order to facilitate their need to change out the many sensors that the PNG has placed around Wolf, Darwin Islands (as well  as several other areas of the Galapagos  AND around Cocos Island, Malpelo Island & Coiba Island) to track the movements of the Hammerhead, Galapagos & Whale Sharks that have been tagged – but this is a fascinating story of cooperative conservation efforts between several different governments, government organizations & NGOs – and one that needs telling but not here – suffice to say one Hammerhead took a “vacation” from Wolf  Island and travelled to Cocos  Island returning home after  40 days!!! Each day our shipmates from the PNG would clean all the growth from the sensors they removed (replacing w/ new ones) before bringing them into the salon to download into  various laptops the data  collected – I can only say this group was a pleasure to sail & work w/ and they shared their information w/ everyone that asked w/ enthusiastic liberty – thanx guy and we look forward to a continuing long and mutually beneficial relationship  working w/ you to assist in any way  we can – YOURS IS IMPORTANT WORK!! We made a total of three dives on 8/10/10 at Wolf Island and every dive was as good as the other w/ the continuing parade of mentioned characters (except Manta Ray – only on first dive) kept us happily entertained until it was Gin & Tonic time, an excellent dinner, fashion show (what a hoot) and a most interesting presentation by Eduardo from the PNG about their ongoing work in shark (and other) conservation management etc.

8/11/10: 5:00 am departure from Wolf Island for the  approx 3 hour sail to Darwin Island – we were all awakened by the sounds of the anchor winch and main engines starting but knew we could stay comfortably in bed until our scheduled  wakeup call at 7:00 am sharp – and it came right on schedule!! By the time we had all made our way to the dining room and had breakfast we were anxious to be in the water at Darwin’s  Arch which was passing  on our port side as we finished breakfast. No time was wasted before we were all on the Dolphin Deck listening intently to Edwin’s dive briefing as to what we could expect at “The Arch!!” Expectations  were running high as we boarded our respective “pangas” for the short ride to “The Arch” and our  excitement & expectations only grew as we back rolled into 74*F/24*C water & again viz of 65 feet/20 meters!! NO ONE was disappointed and the “warm” (yeah, right!!) water was greatly appreciated as we hung on the ledge and watched the “walls of Hammerhead Sharks” cruising by.  Galapagos Sharks also cruised by and fish, fish, fish and more fish – of every size, shape & color – it would  take me pages to list them all – big Snappers, big Grouper, Trevally, Jacks, Wahoo, Tuna and reef fish all over the place, sometimes restricting one’s view of the blue water action right in front of our eyes!!! As we were hanging there our dive master excitedly started a “violent” shaking of their “rattles,” their sign to us that the BIGONE was on the way!!! We have NO idea how they see them coming!!??!!  On every trip I say to myself “OK, today I forget everything else but keeping a look out for the BIG ONE, I will see it before either of the dive masters do!!” Never yet!! But low & behold, after a hurried swim out to the blue there “she” was coming right at us – a beautiful, large female Whale Shark –  just exactly what we were all hoping & waiting for – wowee!! All in all, on this one (our first dive at Darwin’s Arch) we had an amazing total of FIVE encounters w/ Whale Sharks and NO, it was NOT the same animal seen five different times!!
11:00 am and time for our second dive – anticipation & excitement as high as ever, no dive briefing necessary, same program as first dive and NO ONE complaining!!! We’re off and our Exceptional Underwater  Adventures continue w/ the usual cast of  characters on stage – Hammerheads and  Galapagos Sharks among us in what seemed like solitary superiority (an impressive looking fish indeed) but by now our focus  was firmly directed at additional encounters w/ the BIG ONE – and again, we were not disappointed as we had another amazing four encounters w/ three large (looked very pregnant so let’s hope so as reproduction of these gentle giants is of great importance to all that love them) and one relatively “small” one – perhaps only 20-25 feet/ 7-8meters.
Lunch time & a short rest and then 3:00 pm – third dive and more Exceptional Underwater Adventures!!! As we have now grown accustomed to the expected (at least “expected” at Darwin’s Arch) characters showing up and performing  for us, this dive NO Whale Sharks grace us w/ their presence. Instead an unexpected treat – a small school of about eight Dolphins do fly by at around 70 feet/20 meters and as our brains try to capture the moment for ever, we are blessed by the arrival of a large school of Dolphins that swim leisurely by. With a school of Dolphins on either side of me, above me & below it took what seemed like “forever” to pass – every time I thought this must end while willing it not too, more Dolphins came into view (w/in what I’m sure was only a few minutes) they were gone and I was left “stunned” by the incredible experience!!
5:00 pm – time for fourth dive and I passed! The “old man” had had enough for one day! My fellow adventures however came back all excited as again, the BIG ONE’s made their appearance, two more Whale Shark encounters for a total of 11 encounters w/ the gentle giants in only our first day at Darwin’s Arch /Darwin Island.

8/12/09: Having anchored safely in the designated safe anchorage area of the east (leeward) side of Darwin Anchor overnight we wake to our 7:00 am wakeup  call and on “surfacing” see we have been joined at Darwin Island by a couple of other live-aboards so the dive masters on the boats involved coordinate w/ each other to ensure we do not all converge on Darwin’s Arch to dive at the same time – all the guys did an excellent job of coordinating the dive day and we certainly had several more Exceptional Underwater Adventures!! As a group we elected for the “second shift” so our first dive was not until 8:30 am as we wanted to take advantage of the later “sun” and maximize available light for our photographers.  June – November might be considered as “winter” in the Galapagos w/ colder air & water temperatures and frequently overcast, grey skies, and our experience at Wolf & Darwin Islands confirmed this for us all  – however, our 8:30 am was worth waiting for – I am beginning to sound a bit like a “broken record” here ( do we even remember where that analogy even came from?) as upon entering the water we were again greeted by copious quantities of Hammerhead Sharks ( I can tell you our friends from the PNG onboard w/ us were very excited about the numbers too, saying they did not remember such huge schools in the recent past) and the Hammerhead Sharks provided us all w/ many up close & personal encounters but unfortunately, the BIG ONE did not show – no  Whale Shark on this dive. After the dive there was no disappointment as the amazing quantity of other marine life, big & small was nothing less than sensory overload and comments from our pro Michele, that even while on assignments in Cocos Island she had never seen such large schools of Hammerhead Sharks made all appreciate the experience that much more.
Our second dive came quickly at 11:30 am offering better light (even a glimpse of the sun in beautiful blue sky for a short while) but with a definite deterioration in the viz – can’t win ‘em all… The “broken record” continues –  superb encounters w/ the addition of  another huge, late season Manta Ray and then to top it all off (this was our last dive at Darwin Island/Arch),  while out in the blue on our safety stop our final reflections on our experiences in this remarkable place were “rudely” interrupted by the again “violent” shaking of Natasha’s ( our beautiful dive master) “rattle” as she alerted us to the arrival, out of the gloom, of a beautiful Whale Shark that swan right through our group where we were a mere 20 feet/6 meters below the surface as though to say: “Hasta Luego!!”
Over our lunch break we cruised back to Wolf Island arriving right at 3:00 pm in plenty of time for our third dive of the day at “The Pinnacle!!” One of my personal, most favorite dives in the world!! When The Pinnacle is “ON”, it cannot be beat! And on this day, The Pinnacle was ON!! As we entered the water we were dived bombed by two huge & playful Sea Lions who raced among us w/ reckless abandon and as we looked around (and around and around)  try to  keep their racing bodies in sight we were treated to two large, male Hammerhead Sharks (most of the Hammerhead Sharks seen in the schools described are females) cruising by along the wall. The strong current whipped us along the wall and we meandered into , through & out of several “cave” & swim thru’s on our way to the base of The Pinnacle. With a combination  of very strong kicking and hand over hand (Spiderman style) rock crawling across the bottom we reached our goal – the deep swim through!! The ocean in the swim through was crystal clear but the temperature dropped from the (relatively) 74*F/24*C to another attention grabbing 67*F/20*C  w/in just a few feet of descent but  who cares when the  dive site serves up yet another Exceptional Underwater Adventure  by way of a “lovely, little”  Whale Shark (15 feet/ 4.5 meters,) six turtles including one big, very well endowed male, a few Hammerheads (females,) a yet another Manta Ray encounter – pure black – and a truly HUGE Galapagos Shark (12 feet/4 meters,) most definitely the biggest I have ever seen and according to Eduardo from the PNG certainly the biggest he had ever seen!!! As we first saw the shark our thoughts were (collectively, I’d bet) “Holy Crap, a Tiger Shark!!” But as we got a closer look it was quickly & easily identified as a Galapagos Shark (on steroids!!)
Our fourth dive of the day was made right under the anchored Galapagos Sky – a deeper & shorter dive than most as our focus was on finding the unusually beautiful, ugly Red Lipped Bat Fish – deep, dark, cold but SUCCESS!! The Red Lipped Bat Fish was seen by all who dared the dive!! Admittedly, I did not!!

What a diving experience those two days were! It is days like these(at one month short  of 63 years old, diving for 53 of those years, having logged 10,000 + dives & “gainfully” employed in the Recreational  Dive Industry since 1968), that keep me going, and going, and going – these days are my  “energizer bunny!!”

8/13/10: Early morning finds us crossing the equator at 00*00’00” for the second time as we arrive at Isabella Island – a bit sad as we know we are “well on our way back” and our trip together is coming to an end – but, immediately after crossing and while still underway Natasha briefs on our next two dives that we will have at Cape Marshall. The dives at Cape Marshall are colder (65*F/19*C) but these are exceptionally ‘fishy”  dives and here is where we see ( in-season, Dec-June)  Manta Rays and the endemic Salemas in a truly gigantic schools! Today we were  lucky enough to see both, yet another Manta Ray and the huge school of Salemas along w/ clouds & rivers of other fish along the shallow top of the wall.
After these two dives we made our way to Puerto Egas on Santiago Island for a land tour where we saw & photographed such creatures as Sea  Lions & Fur Sea  Lions (different species than we had been seeing) warming in the sun, very large numbers of Marine Iguanas also warming (and spitting continually) in the sun, a Galapagos Hawk. Lava Herons, Flightless Cormorants, Yellow Warblers, Sally Lightfoot Crabs and all other manner of animal, all w/ absolutely no fear of our human trespass!!

8/14/10: We travelled over night to a safe anchorage near Las Plazas Island just off Santa Cruz Island for our final two dives at Gordon Rocks!! Gordon Rocks presented us w/ the coldest water temps yet – 64*F/18*C, AT THE SURFACE. While at a depth (80+ feet/ 25+ meters) on the dive,  viz was not great but an abundance of the Pacific Green Turtles, a Queen Angel Fish cleaning station, where the Angel Fish provide such an important service for these gentle & beautiful creatures and the playful Sea Lions made it worth the chilly experience – again, I chickened out and skipped the second dive.
From here we headed into Puerto Ayora where much of the support facilities for the Galapagos Sky come from – garbage disposal, laundry facilities etc and where we went w/ our naturalist guide & dive master Edwin for a tour of the Darwin Center – the home of the now pretty well know, last surviving Giant Tortoise “Lonesome George.” A sad story it is about poor, old “Lonesome George” but for now, he’s still going strong. My favorite activity in Puerto Ayora is the teeny Cevicheria close to the dock where I always enjoy Langosta and/or  Pulpo cevechie and an excellent bottle of Pilsner beer!!

8/15/10: Back after over night cruise to San Cristobal and sadly, it’s time to say good bye to our “magic carpet” on the sea and her wonderful Captain & Crew!! As a nice parting memory, we make a  trip to the Interpretation Center w/ Edwin (very interesting, indeed!!) and then head to the airport for our 1 ½ hour flight back to mainland Ecuador.

I trust a great time was had by all – I know I had a great time!!

Thanx & as always … be ocean minded,

Peter A. Hughes

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