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Dive Review of Explorer Ventures/Estrella Del Mar I in
Galapagos Islands/Ecuador

Explorer Ventures/Estrella Del Mar I, Jul, 2008,

by Paul Selden, MI, USA (Sr. Reviewer Sr. Reviewer 11 reports). Report 4535.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving California, Florida Keys, Great Lakes, Andros, Roatan, Caymans, Mexico, Belize
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather windy, cloudy Seas choppy, currents
Water Temp 73 to 81 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 7
Water Visibility 70 to 90 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions Staying together with our group was important, and understood to be critical in this environment. Safety sausages and tank-powered air horns were mandatory. Diver-worn GPS was provided in certain locations.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas Squadrons
Dolphins 1 or 2 Whale Sharks 1 or 2
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 3 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Photographers didn't have a lot of room to charge batteries or setup cameras, but it was easy to make do. There were two plugs in each room, outlets in the forward salon, room enough on dining tables to assemble gear, a couple of powerstrips on a shelf outside the dining area, and a spacious padded cubbyhole (about one per room) outside the dining area for storing camera gear when not in use.

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling 5 stars
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments This was to have been a combination land and dive live-aboard itinerary, but when we arrived we were told the government had just changed its policies. Now our itinerary would be dive-only, with brief stops on land at the beginning and end of the trip. Fortunately for my wife, a snorkeler, we had just finished two weeks of fantastic land tours covering the highlights of Ecuador. Also lucky for me, we learned we would now certainly dive the legendary Darwin and Wolf Islands. Our Galapagos tour was led by Dave Kaspar of Huron Scuba (Ann Arbor, MI); our group more or less filled the eight double bunk cabins, each with its own sink, flush toilet and shower, on the 75 foot Estrella Del Mar I. Our first dive was a check out dive after our flight from the mainland to the island of Baltra. Unneeded luggage was hauled away and stored on shore. (Tip: We needed to decide whether wed be using the nitrox aluminum 100s for the week, before we left the channel. This was an extra cost, but well worth it since repeated dives can be deep and I soon discovered that my SAC rate was even higher in the strong currents.) Traveling overnight a short distance, our first dive the next day was at Mosquera Island, followed by a dive at North Seymour Island after breakfast. All our dives were from Zodiacs (pangas), everyone backrolling in at the same time. Reentering the inflatable was either by climbing up a ladder in the rear, or vaulting up and over the side after first taking off weights and BCDs (leaving on mask, snorkel and fins). (Tip: Watch out for any loose gear that can be lost when the BCD is dragged up and over the pontoon. I gave a dive scissors and photo white card to Neptune that way.) After getting back on board we began the long overnight journey to Darwin. A 4-6 foot chop was against us the whole way; rough enough so that many people had a sleepless night and were queasy. My wife, usually prone to motion illness, used ginger root and a medicinal patch, and was not seasick the whole trip. Typically, the first dive of the day was at 7am. After a hot breakfast, dive 2 was typically around 9:30, dive 3 around noon, before lunch. The last dive of the day was around 3pm. Sunset was close to 6pm, with no night diving allowed. At Darwin we dove the Arch seven times, and on the coast once. The Arch was incredible; scores of hammerheads circled in front of us while we held on to the barnacle covered rocks to avoid being swept away by strong currents. The journey to Wolf Island was short, but at night. At Wolf we dove Pinnacle Rock, Landslide and Shark Bay. Wolf offered a variety of marine life from King Angelfish to Galapagos Sharks. Some of our group saw a Whale Shark they estimated at more than 40 ft. long. Then we traveled the rest of the day and overnight back to Isabella. Again, a number of our party was hit by seasickness. At Isabella we dove Coca Beach off Cape Marshall and S_it Rock. We then traveled the rest of the day back to the area around Bartolome where we made two early AM dives on Cousins Rocks before heading back to Baltra. These last were ultimate dives, swimming through clouds of Pacific Creolefish so thick they hid me from view, with Eagle, Mobula, and Manta Rays gliding past us very close. Our tour ended on land with a visit to a tortoise sanctuary on Santa Cruz and dinner in the town of Puerto Ayora. Throughout, the crew, and our informative dive guide Fabricio (he had an MA in Marine Ecology and some 10,000 dives) were helpful and cheerful. Meals were decent if not gourmet quality; my favorite was Wahoo with lemon caper sauce. Ecuador is a wonderfully diverse and beautiful country, with geography that ranges from snow capped mountain highlands to Amazonian jungle to sea coast, to the Galapagos Islands. If you can take the time to explore it before or after a Galapagos expedition, you wont be disappointed. We used ZenithEcuador.com for an unforgettable excursion from Guayaquil to Quito, Explorerventures.com for our stay at Paradise Huts Jungle Lodge, and Huronscuba.com for the Galapagos portion. Be prepared for last-minute changes of plan, tips at checkout, and extra charges (we paid extra for nitrox and a fuel surcharge). Pack so your dry clothes will all fit into small storage compartments. Try to go as a group; sometimes extra weight charges are not heavily levied if your group leader can negotiate a group rate. A comment on diver safety in the Galapagos is worth mentioning. Everyone had an tank powered air horn or was provided one and required to wear it. Everyone had safety sausages; mine could double as a horse collar to keep my face out of the water when using my back flotation style travel BCD. Although GPS locators were provided by the boat, there were not enough for everyone; I felt I could do without it. Our group stayed together well; throughout the whole trip, I never felt in danger of being stranded without help being nearby. The panga drivers were very experienced, and kept close to our bubble trail so that when we surfaced, they were always close by.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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