Diving in the Galapagos – swimming in shark soup!

This was one of the most memorable weeks of my life! Diving in the Galapagos is beyond compare and it is totally worth learning to dive somewhere else just so that you can safely dive here. The dive sites in the north (Wolf and Darwin) are challenging but the rewards are almost too amazing to describe. I’ll do my best here.

Note: the post was written as a day-by-day account whilst onboard the Nortada. The underwater photos are an assortment from the shots taken by the group, above water shots are mine.

2 March

When I got back to Santa Cruz I was so excited to board the live-abord dive boat Nortada. I went to the Galapagos Travellers dive shop to collect all my dive gear and caught a water taxi to go across in time for dinner. I didn’t realise that all the other passengers had been on board since midday! My cabin was curiously in the front of the boat and had bunk beds which I hadn’t expected from the floorplan. But it turned out that for this trip they are taking 10 passengers rather than the 8 that the ship is built for so I am in a crew cabin sharing with an Aussie called Grant. It seems nice enough, though not quite what I was expecting. There’s not very much storage space because of the shape of the hull so my backpack is just kind of in the way but it’s not too awkward if I do all the straps up. I joined everyone upstairs for dinner and sat on a table with Grant, Helen from the UK, Sam from Israel and Marcus from Finland. On the opposite table were the 5 Swiss-German passengers. The food and company was great and we all got on really well, I can tell this is going to be a fab trip already!

3 March

The boat sailed overnight and our first day of diving was to the North of Santa Cruz Island. When I woke up there were ants all over the bathroom and this got worse and worse throughout the day, it was a true infestation!

Our wake-up was at 0545 so we got to see the sunrise. Dive one was at North Seymour and it was an absolute cracker! Lots of hammerheads, Galapagos and white tips along with plenty of lovely turtles. I also saw some guinea fowl pufferfish and there were lots of blunthead triggerfish in sandy pits with other fish joining in and sifting through the sand. We saw a swimming moray eel, lots of starfish and rays too. Towards the end of the dive we swam through forest of garden eels and watched as they all retreated into their holes.

The first dive brief had been at 0600 so when we got out we had breakfast, with plenty of fresh fruit which feels like a big treat.
Dive two was at Mosquera, a sandy island that you can see as you come in to land at Baltra Airport. There is a sandy bottom and I saw a field of chocolate chip starfish along with black tip and hammerhead sharks and I saw a couple of Galapagos sand dollars too which look like the skeleton of a sea urchin with amazing patterns of holes in them.
We had lunch and had a four hour surface interval between dives as we headed to Cousins Rock off the island of Santiago.
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Here we saw stunning lava flows creating shelves underwater where we could see all sorts of creatures lurking in the dark, requiring us to use torches. My hired torch was pants but if I got super close then i could see just how annoyed the fish were when I shone the light in their faces… I saw some stone scorpionfish, which are camouflaged and extremely poisonous. They also always sit exactly where you would love to hold on to escape the current. We reached the stop point and a sea lion shot up from the depths right there as if to confirm we mustn’t go any further. There were some epic thermoclines making the dive super cold at one point and I really struggled to think straight in the cold water. I hadn’t been wearing a hood for the dive but this changed after the thermoclines. Amongst corals I found some cute tiny blue striped sea slugs and some nudibranchs and as I was ascending I left the shelves, heading out into the blue and turned to see an enormous wall of pelican barracuda blocking out the light.
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The atmosphere on the boat is fantastic and the crew are really helpful so you just have to show up and dive really! The journey to Wolf I think is about 15 hours so we got trucking as soon as we were all on board. I sat up on deck to watch the sunset and then after dinner I went up to watch there blood moon rise. It was magical!! A huge full supermoon was blood red on the horizon giving us enough light to see the lava gulls fishing alongside the boat. A few of us had a beer to celebrate crossing the equator.

4 March

We arrived at Wolf Just after 6am and saw hundreds of birds circling in the sky above the island with the full moon in the background. It was quite an unbelievable sight. As we approached we were joined by a pod of dolphins but they didn’t stay with us long, then we saw our first shark fins poking out of the water!

We were pretty much straight into the water for dive one at Shark Bay and straight into silky sharks, Hammerheads and turtles! Within 5 minutes I couldn’t believe how much I had already seen. Turtles, sharks, rays, moorish idols, pufferfish, parrotfish. It was just incredible. We stayed there anchored to the rocks for a while to let the Hammerheads come close. One swam right towards me at eye level so I dropped right down against the rocks and span around to watch him glide right over me. I could see into his mouth!! Wow. I smiled so much underwater that I flooded my mask.

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I also got to see a flock of moorish idols and I love them so much. The current was strong at times so it was important to stay holding on to the rocks. There were lots of moray eels and stone scorpionfish too so I had to be careful where I put my hands and to check any holes for morays. As we came up for our safety stop we were surrounded by hammerheads and turtles.

After dive one we had breakfast and then sat up on deck watching sharks swim around the boat! We could also see the male frigatebirds flying around with their red throat pouches inflated. I put a hood on for the third dive as the thermocline on the first dive was epically cold!
Second dive was at The Landslide with an amazing underwater rock fall to explore. The rocks drop steeply into the Deep Blue and there was a really strong down current which pushed me deeper than I expected but wasn’t hard to overcome to get back to the shelter of the rocks. We saw so many hammerheads it was unbelievable and there were lots of turtles also getting cleaned by the fish at the cleaning stations. My buddy Helen and I had to move off to a different rock at one point because a stone scorpionfish decided to visit us and then we were plagued by a pair of hogfish right up in our faces with their scary teeth.
Lunch was great, and I am eating and snacking all the time. My appetite is in overdrive. After lunch I sat up on deck to watch sharks circling the boat. I had some biscuits just before the third dive and felt stuffed. Filled my wetsuit with hot water again.
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Dive three was back at The Landslide. Best. Dive. Ever. So hard to explain but there was life absolutely everywhere. Hundreds of hammerheads swam by through the cleaning station and it was just incredible. Trying to find somewhere suitable to anchor down was quite fun, had to reject the first few spots due to either moray eels or stonefish then I found a great spot where I could sit down on a rock with a platform under my feet to stop the upswell catching my fins. We spent a long time holding on and just watching the world go by. I saw two wahoos at the safety stop.
We had a great birdwatching trip on the dingy and went over to the main Wolf Island and also went to Elephant Rock. We saw red footed boobies, Nazca boobies and frigatebirds mainly along with some tropicbirds that were flying really high above us. Then we returned to the Nortada and had a delicious snack of cheese doughballs dipped in maple syrup (!) before get ready for our night dive at La Botella near the boat. The sun set just as we were getting ready and it was another gorgeous one.

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Our night dive was lovely! The current was gentle and allowed us to explore between all the rocks and corals. I saw an absolutely monstrous red spiny lobster scuttle between hiding places and there were lots of red eyes glowing in the torchlight which belonged to shrimps. I also saw a red and white panamic arrowhead crab who was the size of my palm but with long spindly legs, quite bizarre. There were sleeping parrotfish, funky cucumbers and swimming eels. Luckily nothing too spooky. I particularly liked seeing the white spiky sea urchins perched on top of rocks and when you looked up you could see them all stacked like on a staircase. We saw an absolutely monumental porcupine fish swimming around between the rocks. They can grow up to three feet long and I think this guy must have been as big as they come. When we neared the end of the dive everybody switched off their torches and we could see amazing blue lights in the water as we disturbed the bioluminescent plankton. Helen and I held hands when it was super dark and just played around like children swooshing the plankton around us furiously. We surfaced under a sky full of stars. The moon hadn’t risen yet so it was pitch black and I saw a shooting star immediately! It was absolutely magical.
We had dinner and then chilled out on deck. I headed downstairs for a fairly early night and managed to slip down a steep ladder with a wet handrail, jarring my back and hitting the soles of my feet. I stretched as much as I could before going to sleep and hoped for the best.

5 March

We arrived at Darwin at sunrise as I was having a couple of pre-dive slices of toast and a coffee. I got a bit of a back massage from the dive guide to loosen off the sore muscles from where I fell down the stairs. It actually really helped.

Our first dive was to The Theatre at Darwin’s Arch, a platform of rock above a drop off with incredible currents which draw the hammerheads in their hundreds. It was another phenomenal dive and we were totally surrounded in a sharknado at times. There were turtles and lots of big jacks and other silver fish but the hammerheads stole the show. I was wearing a vest with a hood under my 5mm wetsuit as I thought there might be some strong thermoclines but the hood was a nightmare. Way too tight so it squished my face and made my mask leak loads. We have to do negative descents here as the current would separate us if we all started bobbing around on the surface before going down. It was fine but the mask leaking was a pain in the butt and I had to take off the hood and disentangle my mask when I got to a place I could hold on. Helen helped hold me down while I was faffing and then we were off to the theatre with a full tank of air to watch the view. And boy did we have front row tickets!
We came back to the boat for breakfast and were able to admire the 6 silky sharks circling the boat then dive two was to the further edge of Darwin’s Arch, where we dove down to the edge of the cliffs and I found a great comfy place to anchor down and watch the sharks go by. The current was unbelievable, huge downswells where you are surrounded by your bubbles followed immediately by a current from below so strong you have to hold on super tight. I had a king angelfish keeping me company. Then we went out into the blue to drift past the sandy area past hundreds of hammerheads on both sides and then a turtle came up out of the blue and used us as a cleaning post. I knew what he was after so I used my gloves to try and clean his back so he didn’t catch himself on any of the dive gear or knock my mask off as he was really giving himself a good day scratch! It was an amazing experience. Near the surface there were some baby boobies poking their faces in the water to look at us coming up!! So funny to see their feet and beaks below the surface. We had a really good laugh as we were getting in the boat and our instructor tried to jump in like a seal and I pushed him back out and then we hauled him in and he ended up in a heap on the floor. We returned to the Nortada to find the bow entirely covered in baby boobies all lined up and squabbling. There were still 6 silky sharks circling the boat and I put a mask back on and was hanging off the back of the boat with my face in the water watching them. We have seen them so often that I recognize the individuals. There were some dolphins too nearby when we were getting ready to go in.
Dive three was back at the Arch and the current was even stronger. It was difficult to hold on but I found a good place to stand. The current was crazy and we stayed watching the fish whizz past for a while before letting ourselves drift. The current was pushing us down and out into the blue and at one point Helen managed to make it back to the rocks and I couldn’t catch a break from the current so I just concentrated on staying at a reasonable depth and tried to keep an eye on any other bubbles between spotting the circling hammerheads! I found the Swiss guys and joined them and we made our way slowly to the surface past a towering pinnacle and then out to the blue. I surfaced under a floating baby red footed boobie and played a game of hide and seek with him with him poking his beak in the water to see me. The dingy came to collect us and we were taken back to the Nortada as the other group were collected from the planned exit point. We saw some dolphins playing but they didn’t get too close.
A couple of guys went in to snorkel with the silky sharks from the back of the boat but for once there were only two there so I didn’t bother getting in.
We had lunch and then dive 4 was back at Darwin’s Arch. The conditions were still really tough so we had a negative descent down to the reef at about 9 metres and then we were getting blown all over the place in the current. I managed to get to a rock close to Helen and then smashed right into her so with the next strong blast of current I managed to pull of an epic underwater handspring to flip over her and land the other side of the rock. I was so chuffed with it that I was looking around to check if anybody had seen my acrobatics and then burst out laughing having to hold my regulator in my mouth. The dive wasn’t very eventful. We saw some jacks and hammerheads and I lodged myself next to a zebra moray. The dive wasn’t one I particularly enjoyed overall as the conditions were just so tough and there wasn’t actually the abundance of fish we had come to expect.

Back on the boat we were treated to a wonderful encounter with bottlenose dolphins and I was laying on the floor of the bow taking photos and getting sprayed with their blows and jumps. Then the sunset was magnificent too. We all went to the bridge to watch as we crossed back over the equator and then went upstairs with beers to celebrate.

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6 March

0530 wake up again and my body was just exhausted from getting rid of the nitrogen! But I heard the call of the ocean and headed to the dive brief ready for a 6am first dive at Wolf Island, Shark Bay. I watched the sunrise and it was breathtaking.
It was another awesome dive where we saw tonnes of hammerheads. The currents were so much less powerful here than at Darwin so it was less frantic and the sharknado was all around and very close. We could see angelfish and butterfly fish cleaning the sharks. I did battle with a hogfish who kept getting right in my face. He broke off a chunk of barnacles as big as my finger and chewed it up and spat it out in my face. Hint?! I moved on. Sam and I are having a little underwater battle and this dive I rode his tank for a while when there weren’t any sharks to look at. At the safety stop I was absolutely surrounded in shark soup, it was just fantastic.
We came up for breakfast and had a little break before dive two at The Landslide. Again it was just shark soup. We found a shelf to sit on and hung on for about 20 minutes watching the show. A white tip reef shark came really close to Helen and I along with all the hammerheads. A hogfish tried to bite my finger and I punched him but he didn’t go far. I saw a black spot moray in a hole next to me but he seemed chill so I stayed. I managed to run out of air so I used Helen’s second regulator, it wasn’t a surprise so it wasn’t very worrying and we were at the safety stop so we just surfaced together.
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Dive three was at Garilla Point between Shark Bay and the Landslide. There were lots of big fish on this dive, including Hammerheads and White Tips, Big Eye Jacks, Barracuda, Blue fin jacks and Black Bar Grunts (which look like a bar code). I saw my first big rock conch too along the way. Dive four was in the caves along the wall. The first cave had a big entrance and then a nice big dome at the back. The torch I rented was epically terrible again so Helen and I swapped and I was pointing out creatures from across the cave! We had sea lions playing with us and I tried to play fetch with a piece of rock but the sea lion was having none of it. At the back of the cave there was an enormous Marbled Ray that emerged from the depths and swam right beneath me.

7 March

Dive one was a deep dive to try to see Mola Mola at the cleaning station. We had to dive pretty deep through a narrow channel to get down there and then the current was strong with poor visibility so we drifted along the wall instead. The wall was super colourful with fan corals and cup corals. We saw an octopus tucked into the wall and I saw 5 different species of starfish and 3 species of sea slug. We also saw a rock conch with a huge pink/purple foot visible from about 10 metres. Below 12 metres the water was really cold! I saw some super cute mini king angelfish at the shallow corals at the same time as I was suddenly surrounded by turtles. I followed an amazing little creature for a while – it appeared as a small blue light in the water and was paper thin. When I got close I could see six or so illuminated segments and the rear one was pulsing on and off, absolutely mesmerising.
To express my frustration at lack of Mola Mola I headbutted Sam underwater and he squeezed my mask and knocked my regulator out, which seemed to be the theme of the last couple of days diving. Helen and I surfaced in a cool cave and swam past some blue footed boobies to get to our dingy. Markus managed to see a couple of Mola Mola from the boat, but we were heading to the next dive site so we couldn’t stop.
Dive two was at Cape Douglas on the island of Fernandina and we are so lucky to go there as it’s fairly remote! The dive was really shallow, only 5 metres (which suited me as my ears were getting very sore from equalising) and when we arrived I saw a flightless cormorant dive down – a great omen! We saw lots of awesome marine iguanas munching on seaweed.
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I also saw both a Galapagos penguin and a flightless cormorant! It was another really cool dive despite some strong swell. I found two rock conches having sex and called Helen over using some pretty vulgar signals then we both had a bit of party over them until one of the Swiss guys, Micheal, swam under us and we felt fairly awkward.
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Back on board the Nortada we moved North again to Punta Vicente Rocka for another try at spotting the Mola Mola. The boat kicked up a gazillion bubbles at the surface so we had to drop about 5 metres to see anything. The drift along the wall was great and we went around the channel this time. I found a great place to sit at 25 metres looking out into the blue. I saw a red-lipped batfish and got excited – it was one of the things I was desperate to see on this dive. Then the group moved on and I felt disappointed to be leaving the deep after only 18 minutes without seeing a Mola Mola, I looked back over my shoulder and I saw one over the end of the channel. I pelted over to Helen to tell her and sadly it was gone so I felt really guilty for getting her hopes up. We swam out of the channel and played with sea lions again and then out of the blue came a Mola Mola, much closer this time. I was thrilled!! I saw four more when we stopped there and one came close to me. So lucky. Helen and I celebrated with a quick dance and a hug, which of course knocked out my regulator and flooded my mask. We finished the dive and there was a buzz on board the boat. We were able to head back out on the dingy to explore. The Swiss went snorkeling while Helen and I stayed on the dingy to check out the flightless cormorants. We could see Mola Mola fins poking out of the water and suddenly our guide shouted that he could see an Orca, we didn’t believe him for a second and then he span the boat around and he was right! We sped over to the Swiss shouting at them to get in the boat then we hauled them in and shot off after the Orca. We had a phenomenal time playing with the Orca and there were super mixed feelings over the death of a turtle in front of our eyes. We were with the Orca for well over an hour and I got some great close up shots as it surfaced around the boat and swam beneath us. I drove the dingy back to the Nortada and we actually ran out of fuel so Joel in the other dingy came to rescue us and towed us back.
Our journey around the northern tip of Isabela took us back across the equator and I finally managed to get a shot of the ships computer as we crossed. We celebrated the Mola Molas and Orca with a beer.

8 March

The overnight journey was pretty bumpy and the wake up call at 0550 wasn’t welcome! Particularly as this was the last day of diving for the trip. The dive site is Roca Blanca and it is a small rock in the middle of the sea covered in bird poo so it is both smelly and white. It is also a Giant Manta Ray cleaning station. The dive brief as usual didn’t follow reality so we were at the dive site for a full hour. We waited for 15 minutes and only saw a distant manta but as we started to move on an enormous Manta Ray passed close by. It was a magical experience and I took a slow deep breath to stop any bubbles so the Ray passed very close to me and I could see his beautiful eye and his wings. I couldn’t help but think he looks like a spacecraft and I just wanted him to have little LEDs light up along his side. Helen and I celebrated with a few photos and then I rode her tank for a while and made Grant laugh at us.
Our second dive was at the same spot to try to see more Mantas. I only saw a shadow of one but I saw a sleeping white tip reef shark, a bunch of huge morays and a big sleeping lobster. Helen and I spent a while wafting clams closed and playing with more tiny fish in the barnacle shells. I had a play with a sea lion too and we came up after just over an hour.
Then we peeled ourselves out of our wetsuits for the last time, showered and sat up on deck until the lunch bell. The ride was unbelievably bumpy again and I nearly fell out of the shower, saving myself with a ninja move like a cat avoiding a bathtub. I even got fairly sea sick and was really glad when we made it to the harbour of Puerto Ayora.
I have had the most amazing week with a great bunch of like-minded people, we got on so well and had so many laughs. I find it interesting too that the 5 of us are all travelling for an extended period so we have had lots of recent stories to share and plans to discuss too.

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