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Dive Review of Peter Hughes -- Sky Dancer in
Galapagos Islands/Santa Cruz, Darwin

Peter Hughes -- Sky Dancer, Jul, 2010,

by Yonel S Grant , CA, US ( 1 report). Report 5700.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Mostly Northern California, but all over.
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather cloudy Seas currents
Water Temp 64 to 73 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 7
Water Visibility 30 to 60 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Typically never more than 90 feet.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas Squadrons
Dolphins 1 or 2 Whale Sharks > 2
Turtles > 2 Whales > 2
Corals 1 stars Tropical Fish 2 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 5 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

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

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]

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

Accommodations 5 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving 5 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Galapagos, July 12-25 2010
Yonel Grant, Menlo Park, 300+ dives

Combined one week of land-based diving from Santa Cruz island (Scuba-Iguana) and one week of live-aboard diving (M/V Galapagos Sky). First time in Galapagos. The combination of local action first followed by the live-aboard second was great because I would have felt too rushed otherwise. The extra week gave me the chance to do some hiking on Santa Cruz, develop a keener appreciation for the islands, people, geology and unique land fauna not to mention ease into local diving conditions. This might sound like a luxury to some but can be done inexpensively (the islands attract both ends of the tourism spectrumfrom the high-end cruisers to the backpacker set. In the mid-range, a comfortable B&B can be found for $40 per night, including breakfast.

Diving Galapagos was colder than expected. Temperature was 64F in the main islands, and 72-73F in the Northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. Most divers complained from being cold, even with rented 7 mm suits. July is the Garua (wet) season in Galapagos; my advice is bring your 7 mm suit and hood if you have one.

First week Scuba-Iguana (S-I) is a very professional organization and one of the oldest on Santa Cruz, I am told. S-I is located next to the Darwin Station, making that an easy visit immediately following the diving day. Guides Quike, Jimmy and Paulo were extremely friendly and knowledgeable. S-I rotates dive sites daily with one or both of their dive boats, depending on demand. The larger boat is more comfortable and accommodates 8 divers. Guides produce CDs with the days photos and videos, which are available for purchase for $25. When the dive site is on the North side of Santa Cruz, they moor the boat in the Baltra channel and divers are transported via Toyota from Puerto Ayora to the boat and back after the diving. Floreana island (1h40 boat ride to the South) actually provided the best local dive experience with unbelievable profusion of life including large schooling fish and four sightings of the famous red-lipped batfish (not encountered again at all in my 2 weeks of diving). Quick snack served after the first dive (usually yogurt and cereal or fruit), and lunch served after second dive on the way back to dock. Floreana also featured a gigantic school of salemas that completely blocked out the sunlight. White-tips, Galapagos, the occasional individual hammerhead, marbled rays, jacks were sighted on most dives, as were green turtles and jacks. Viz was typically so-so, ranging between 35 at Gordon Rocks and 40-50 in other locations. Saw one Hawksbill turtle and one octopus at Daphne. Floreana and Seymour hosted large schools of Pacific Barracuda. The Seymour channel is a thrilling site with thousands of garden eels. I have to say I was surprised by the paucity in moray eels. The biggest excitement was the sighting of an orca after surfacing at Cousins Rock. The first group of divers had just come out of the water; needless to say the second group climbed on board in record time. Cousins has lots of sea lions we figure the orca could have been hunting.

Second week Galapagos Sky is the Peter Hughes operation, one of the four boats currently licensed to make scheduled stops at the mythical spots of Wolf and Darwin.
I was traveling solo, and lucked out on the group which had excellent chemistry: Swedes, British, Irish, South African, Swiss, and Americans. Guides were Fabricio Carbo (12,000 dives in Galapagos or so he says, but he exaggerates sometimes!) and Natasha (4,000 dives), both outstanding. Crew members were impeccable as were the accommodations. Some people might think that two guides for 15 customers is not a great ratio, but they are so good that it was never an issue. Four land excursions are included: Bartolome volcano, Point Egas on Santiago, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz prior to returning to San Cristobal. We were told that next year, 14 boats (!) will be licensed for Wolf and Darwin, and that they will be diving only (no land excursions), but that trips will be timed so divers wont feel more crowded than today.

The experience at Wolf and Darwin is a dream for adrenaline seekers. Viz was 60, with strong to ripping currents. Follow the safety instructions carefully. Typical dive at Darwin: 10 minute panga-ride (a 50 hp zodiac) from the mother ship to the Arch, drop quickly to platform at 50-60 feet, hold on to ledge and watch the show unfold. Dolphins, tuna, large schools of jacks (we had one that numbered 500), many hammerheads (usually 100+ per dive, but several times 200+, almost exclusively females), solitary or pairs of Galapagos and silkies. No one pays attention to the eels, turtles and smaller critters in the area! Out of seven dives at the Arch, we also had six encounters with whale sharks (most likely the same 3 individuals, the largest about 36 feet), all of them pregnant females. Divers need to kick hard to get in front of the animals, and we were warned that under no circumstance could a diver touch a whale shark even intent would be penalized and that physical contact would be the end of the persons diving while aboard the Galapagos Sky. I respect this position. Because the divers tend to crowd the whale shark on the ledge side, photographers need try their best to avoid the bubbles and or else swim to the other side if they have time. None of the big ones lingered so the encounters lasted at most 4-5 minutes. One of the big pluses of the Galapagos Sky in my view was the nightly briefing led by Fabricio and mining his 25+ years of experience. The boat had an open bar and people certainly put away a few, but the physical exertion was such no one lingered too much after dinner. Given the number of back-to-back dives, Nitrox is strongly recommended by the guides ($150 for the week, or $10 per dive). There seldom was a reason to descend below 90 feet. Most, but not all the divers chose to use the enriched air.

Our last major excitement took place off Isabela island at Cape Marshal. This dive site right off the Equator Line is known for manta rays. We were also told to watch for sunfish/molas (saw none). Turns out we saw ten mantas (rather smallish compared to those in other locations, and quite a bit darker), and an orca passed right next to us as we were about to ascend. No photo equals no proof (running joke with the guides), and we lucked out that a fellow diver captured the scene the orca framed by two divers. Not only that, after surfacing on the way back to the Galapagos Sky we happened on the pod (4 adults and two 3-4 feet calves), which surrounded the panga for 15 minutes. Holding onto the panga ropes and leaning into the water, it was possible to clearly see the mother and calf swimming around the boat. The calfs skin color must have been temporary instead of being pure white and black, the white was an off-brown or yellow. Our group was advised not to jump into the water to snorkel with them, but the other group did and loved it.

All in all a terrific experience, serious divers and thrill seekers alike should consider Galapagos. After a disastrous shark poaching period in the 1990s and early 2000s (thank you China), authorities have stepped protection efforts up significantly and the numbers seem to reflect a recovery.
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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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