TRIP REPORT: Scubapro DEMO Week – M/V Galapagos Sky, April 28 – May 05, 2013.

Peter Hughes provides the narrative, guest photographer Philip Hamilton provides the stunning images in the slideshow and video clip (scroll down to see the video).  Kudos to Philip for sharing his excellent work – all images were taken during just this single trip…

 

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From Peter’s Trip Report: On Saturday I boarded American Airlines flight # 927 out of Miami International Airport for an on-time 03:45 PM departure for the uneventful four hour flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador – this flight arrives at a civilized hour giving adequate time for a decent night’s sleep prior to taking the Aerogal Airlines domestic flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal the following (Sunday) morning.

We use the excellent Hotel Oro Verde for the overnight and a uniformed representative from the hotel is at the airport to greet us and transport us (short 10-15 minute drive) to the hotel – the following morning the hotel provides shuttle service back to Guayaquil’s domestic terminal for the approx 1 ½ hour flight to San Cristobal, Galapagos.

Upon our arrival at the airport on Sunday morning we meet the beautiful and incredibly efficient Erika from company headquarters who masterfully handled all our check in procedures and somehow makes our luggage overweight problems disappear – God Bless you Erika!!

After clearing through the Galapagos National Park formalities at the airport the crew of the M/V Galapagos Sky are there to greet us, take 100% care of our luggage and transport us (short 5 minute bus ride) to the pier where the M/V Galapagos Sky “pangas” were waiting to take us out to our floating home for the coming week – the excitement builds!!

Sunday, from the time I woke up to the time I collapsed into my bed, was a busy day – there is no getting away from this hustle & bustle due to the need for check in aboard the vessel, have an excellent lunch (gotta have fuel,) briefings (several,) cabin assignments, gear/equipment (kit, per our British friends) set-up, check out dive (very important) and … the check out dive at Isla Lobe is always fun – shallow & short, just to get buoyancy right, as the sea lions are always present and are always equally playful – the 20 minute dive is over in no time at all!!

4/29 – Very early Monday AM found us off Cousin Rock – for two morning dives – this is an excellent, central island dive site w/ a deep, steep wall covered w/ all manner of growth (easy to go too deep here – it’s deep, steep sheerness calls to me) and a reasonably good possibility for white tip and hammerhead shark encounters but the eagle ray pair followed by large school of their “buddies” made the dive – a large school of Pacific barracuda were beautifully present and we were dive-bombed by sea lions (great fun) on several occasions.

Following the two dives we had lunch while motoring to North Seymour for an incredible land walk – it would take me pages to describe this experience – frigates birds, male w/ the red throat pouches fully inflated therefore still looking for a mate, females in the nest incubating eggs, females w/ fuzzy all white chicks, blue footed boobies – males doing the famous booby dance trying to attract a mate, some virtually on the path requiring us to step around them, huge land iguanas, marine iguanas and sea lions surfing the waves at the beach and mothers nursing pups on the beach – a truly memorable land visit and some of what topside Galapagos is all about.

4/30 Tuesday – a minor technical difficulty temporarily slowed the speed of the M/V Galapagos Sky so our arrival at Cape Marshall (Cabo Marshall) was delayed resulting in us only having time on Tuesday to do three dives at Cabo Marshall and missing Punta Vincente Roca.  Instead, we dived Cabo Marshall – not bad at all – viz of 10 m or 35 feet and cooler temps 20C or 74F but sea life good including a fleeting flyby of a huge Manta Birostris.  The second dive at Cuidad de las Mantas (City of the Mantas) was a bit disappointing so we returned for our third and later afternoon dive to Cabo Marshall – excellent! The highlight of the dive was a litter of sea lion pups, perhaps out for an evening meal or just out playing but their interaction w/ the divers and their hilarious (mischievous little boogers indeed) behavior among themselves kept several of us in the water well past the requested 60 minute max – as soon as we were all safely back on board the captain (temporary technical difficulty long since corrected) got us underway for our overnight journey (crossing the Equator) to the far north – destination: Darwin Island and the legendary dive site Darwin’s Arch – it was with this in mind that we retired for the night full of excitement & expectation …

5/01 Wednesday – Darwin’s Arch – we woke to a beautiful sunrise with a large school of dolphins playing off our bow and Darwin’s Arch clearly visible – our first early AM dive was unfortunately cut short for most due to a mishap w/ one of our divers – all turned out 100% well – no harm done – and a few of the group got to complete a shorter than normal dive but were really excited by the experience and what they now knew was “more to come!”

We returned to the M/V Galapagos Sky (all dives are conducted from the “pangas,) refueled our bodies, warmed up in the equatorial sun (be very careful, particularly at this time of year ) and readied ourselves for the second dive of the day at Darwin’s Arch – WINNER!

Second dive: Within only moments of descending to the theater this HUGE shape glided up to us w/ the current – a large, early season whale shark just drifting in the current and being cleaned – w/in a virtual arm’s length of the wall, where I and several other divers were hanging on and watching in awe!! The magnificent animal remained there for several minutes (at least 5 +) and was undisturbed by a couple of photographers who just couldn’t control themselves ( heh, heh, heh,) and had to get closer for that perfect image … after a short while longer the animal simply drifted UP and over us and hung as a silhouette above us for several more minutes before descending very slowly into the deep and out of sight! WOWEE!!  To top it all off viz was a stunning 25m or 80 feet – maybe as much as 30m or 100 feet and temperatures – although already cooling for the coming “Garua” (colder, drier, rougher) season, a comfortable 22C OR 76F.

Third dive: Not quite up to the highest standards usually experienced here – very strong current, viz dropped to 15m or 50 feet – sea life was good; a huge school of horse-eye jacks virtually blocked out the sun, hammerheads perhaps fewer than at other times but those we saw were BIG, turtles as always and a couple of silky sharks on our safety stop.

Fourth Dive: Another WOWEE!! Many of Darwin’s Arch’s usual parade of characters were present on the dive – viz improved & temps about the same – but not another whale shark encounter – TWO – another large animal and a noticeable smaller animal so this experiences grabbed everyone’s undivided attention for most of the dive until the small school of dolphins showed up to give the group the once over and an amazing ENCORE to the dive – it ended as it should – another wonderful day of “exceptional underwater adventures” at Darwin’s Arch.

Once we were all safely back onboard the captain started the short trip south to Wolf Island where we would spend a quiet night in the safe haven anchorage on the west side of the island.

Scubapro Demo Week Video

click here to view video

5/02, Thursday – Wolf Island – we woke and had a dive briefing (new site) and were ready to rock & roll – first dive started slowly but after sassing out the situation and moving slowly down the wall at “Landslide” our guides found the action – WOWEE !! The wall of hammerheads was there, the Galapagos sharks (20 + individual animals) were eying us as they passed almost w/in an arm’s length and the ever present eagle rays glided gracefully by – viz was again excellent and temps remained comfortable, even if a wee bit cooler than normal for this time of year …

Second dive: The first was so good the group requested a repeat (Landslide) for our second AM dive – this dive was good but after the adrenaline rush of first dive it was a bit of a letdown, as I have found it usually is – like gambling; better to quit when you’re ahead!

Third dive: We moved to Shark Bay for our third dive – personally, I like this site better earlier in the day but it was another excellent dive – the hammerheads that graced us with their presence were BIG and curious coming nice and close on several passes. As on ALL dives at Wolf Island moray eels were plentiful, some in their “lairs” but many swimming free and turtles “by the dozen”. Sea Lions also paid us a couple of interesting visits on this dive – and while the focus is always on “SHARKS” perhaps it should not be as the marine life – especially all the fish – in the Galapagos is quite amazing – quantity and in some species size etc – and none concerned by our presence.

Wolf Island, unlike Darwin Island, offers several choices for truly superb dive experiences and our guides were excellent at reading real time conditions ….

Fourth dive: Night Dive!! Not for me! Those days for me are over!! But every other diver aboard made the dive and all came back aboard very excited indeed and took turns ragging me about all I had missed … immediately following the night dive with all safely back on board our captain started the long transit back south to the central islands

5/03, Friday – first dive was very early AM at Roca Redondo – I have had the privilege of diving this “rock in the middle of nowhere” several times – it can be one of the “very best” or likewise one of the “not so very best at all” dives in the Galapagos and unfortunately, this time around the Sea Gods were not with us – a disappointing dive w/ benign conditions – sometimes conditions can be barely manageable and sometimes so violent, we have to abort even attempting the dive – not so this time around – we can’t win ‘em all!

Second & Third Dives: Punta Vincente Roca – first things first – this is almost certainly the coldest dive you will do in the Galapagos – it certainly was for us – due the effects of the Cromwell Current – and temps were as low as 18C or 66F (I have experienced 15C or 58F there) and viz was 15m or 50 feet and the Sea Gods were with us – on both dives truly amazing encounters with the unusual Mola Mola (sunfish or sometimes moonfish) with my best encounter being on the second dive – an incredible 8-10 minute encounter in about 27m or 90 feet watching two Mola Mola being cleaned – everyone remained quietly (thank God for that) in place and just enjoyed the experience – it was surreal – eventually one animal slowly just dropped deeper & deeper until out of sight but the other remained.  I gave up my vantage spot so others could take advantage and the experience continued the seconds animal also slowly descended – a couple of our photographers dropped with it for better individual photo ops – fantastic! In addition to the Mola Molas we also looked for and found red-lipped bat fish, a large Pacific seahorse, Port Jackson shark (bull head shark, horn shark,) countless sea turtles and of course, (in my opinion) the Galapagos’ most beautiful and steepest & deepest wall covered w/ endemic black coral among other things – here too, the depths beckon me and it takes great force will for me to be a “good boy!”

After the third dive we took a” panga” ride along the amazing shoreline too see and photographs all manner of birds including, but not limited to, frigates, blue footed boobies, terns, pelicans, flightless cormorants (endemic to Galapagos,) Galapagos penguins (endemic too Galapagos,) long tailed tropic birds, marine iguanas, sea lions etc – a beautiful “one of a kind” evening experience!!

After the “panga” ride, again with all back aboard safely and the “pangas” secured in their cradles our captain continued our journey south (back towards home port) crossing the Equator for the second time …

5/04 – Saturday Isla Pinzon (Islote Dumb – yep, that’s the name of the dive site) – two morning dives on this site – new to our itinerary in 2013 and proving to be nicely productive.

First & Second dives: Here viz was not great – maybe 12 -15m or 40- 50 feet and again colder – 20C or 68F – this site offers a deep area which is great for spotting and photographing red lipped bat fish, it has another beautiful deep, steep wall and a nice shallow area – all areas produced valuable encounters including a distant manta birostris and a school of quite large mobula rays, possibly as many as 20+, truly beautiful even in the lowered viz. This area has a lot to offer and if you’re good little boy or girl and the Sea Gods reward you – it can be a truly superb site offering possibilities for mantas and yes, even whale sharks encounters on occasion!

After the dives and lunch we are back in port – Puerto Ayora/Santa Cruz Island with time to visit the highlands to see giant tortoises in the wild or to visit the Darwin Research Center (no time for both) and I personally, find the Darwin Center quite interesting but always look forward to time to “get to town” and visit my favorite “hole in the wall” Cevicheria for some ceviche & beer with all my new friends and some of my old friends that live in Porto Ayora – I would not miss this opportunity for anything!!

Around midnight our captain completes our voyage (we have traveled approx 550 nautical miles and crossed the Equator twice) back to San Cristobal and we wake up there for breakfast and disembarkation – upon disembarkation we visit the Interpretation Center for about 45 minutes – 1 hour, very informative, and then depending on flight schedule a visit to town (Internet café, great coffee, more excellent ceviche, shopping etc) and off to the airport – it is all over!!

Next Year’s Scubapro DEMO Week is confirmed for June 15 – 22, 2014 and space is at a premium. Please book your space on this exciting trip quickly and we look forward to diving with you!

One helluva trip, new friends made and a GREAT TIME had by all – Hasta Luego Baby!!

Hope to see you all there … someday soon … and until then and as always … keep an ocean mind,

Peter