Over the weekend and today I have been assessing girls from The Abbey School for their Silver DofE around The North Wessex Downs. There were 19 teams in total though I only had 2 to worry about. All passed and enjoyed the experience.
Today it was a relief to get out and I was on Dartmoor conducting a 1 day Hill and Moorland Leader re assessment. The weather was perfect (for a navigation assessment (with mist and rain almost continuously during the day with vis under 50m at times. I am pleased to report that not only did the candidate pass, he passed with flying colours having put the time and effort in since the original assessment. Well Done
Today I was running a "Security on Steep Ground" CPD workshop for members of the Mountain Training Association and British Association of International Mountain Leaders. During the day we looked at verbal reassurance, spotting, confidence roping, belay (direct and indirect) and use of a sling and karabiner. We had a mix of candidates from those who were qualified through to those approaching assessment soon. Thanks to Andy Holborn for helping me to today as it was well subscribed so we had two groups running
It has been a busy week. A few sessions out on the road bike and some admin. Today I was on a Mountain Training Course Provider update workshop held on Dartmoor. In the morning we were out and about looking at how GPS can help us with our work. Thanks to the guys from Exeter Cotswold who cam out to assist. The afternoon was spent looking at course reporting, confidence roping and general update info
I got home from Ecuador late last night and having been missing some aerobic activity (Diving really isn't that energetic) so jumped on my Giant Defy 2 for a quick spin around the local area. 35km with 455m of height gain in 1hr 40 not too bad but clearly two weeks at sea has not been good for my fitness.
On the evening of Saturday 23rd May 2015 I left home and headed to Heathrow for what I hoped would be a trip of a lifetime. After a short night in an EasyJet Hotel (a bargain £80 for a night and 15 days parking) I arrived at Heathrow T4 and caught a short flight to Amsterdam where I jumped on a KLM flight to Ecuador. Ironically this plane flew straight over London on its way. After 11 hours on the plane we arrived in Guayaquil and spent a pleasant evening at The Macaw Hotel before heading to St Cristobel on the morning of the 25th.
There was no rest and after negotiating the sealions on the pontoon we arrived on our boat, the Galapagos Master and had a quick tour before completing the check dive in the harbour accompanied by sealions.
Overnight we sailed to Santa Cruz and had our first dive of the day in the channel between Santa Cruz and South Seymour. I really can’t recall seeing much here.
The second dive was on the edge of Mosquera and this was the better of the two dives as we saw whitetip reef sharks.
After fuelling the boat, the afternoon was spend on North Seymour walking about with Frigate Birds, Lava Lizards, Sealions, Blue Footed Boobies and Iguanas. All of which had no fear and allowed us to get very close and take some good photographs. This was definitely the highlight of the trip so far.
A long journey north started that evening towards Wolf Island. The highlight of this part of the trip was seeing the lava flow of the recently erupted volcano even though we were 35+ miles away from it. The photo really does not do it justice as it was really bright and reflecting off the clouds
On the 27th we arrived at Wolf Island and dived Shark Bay, which had more free swimming Moray Eels than I have ever seen and at Landslide Bay were we saw a couple of Hammerheads. A second dive at Landslide Bay gave us more Hammerheads, Eagle Rays & Turtle plus a bit of excitement for me when my inflator hose came free from my BCD and I lost all buoyancy control. Still, it got sorted and I am still alive. To be honest I was a little disappointed with the dives today as I had very high expectations. I passed on the night dive that was offered for this reason.
A shortish overnight cruise saw us at Darwin Arch for the next 2 days where we were offered 8 dives (4 per day) around the arch. I am reliably informed there are no other options around the island and that the arch is where it all happens. We saw a small school of 30+ Hammerheads, a Whaleshark (which I failed to get a photo of), a number of Galapagos Sharks and a large pod of Dolphins both underwater and from the surface. I took part in 6 of the 8 dives and generally enjoyed them but still did not get the wow factor I was looking for. The iconic hundreds of schooling hammerheads has not appeared for me and this is what I had been hoping for.
Overnight we headed back to Wolf Island for the 30th May and I took part in 2 or the 4 dives offered at Landslide Bay. More Hammerheads, Turtles and Galapagos sharks were seen along with a trio of Eagle Rays that seem happy to show off to us. Accepting that my dream of seeing a massive school of hammerheads swimming above me would not be realised I was able to enjoy the dives a little more as I had lowered my expectations.
It was now time to head south and overnight we cruised to Roca Redonda a small rock north of Isabella. This was a fairly mediocre dive to look a bubbles coming through the rock. We did see a shark at least but I can’t say it was great. The highlight of this day was crossing the Equator 00’00’00 and then we arrived at Punta Vicente Roca and potentially the worst dive I have ever had the misfortune to pay for. The visibility was awful and although this is a location for Mola Mola we had no chance of seeing one even if it was 2 metres away. I passed on the third dive of the day at the same location and went snorkelling instead and saw a Turtle as well as Sealions, Marine Iguanas and a Penguin sitting on the rocks.
On the 1st June we were at Cape Douglas where I missed dives due to being ill but the rest of the boat dived with Marine Iguanas. I was somewhat gutted as this appeared to be one of the better dives of the trip.
All afternoon and evening we sailed and passed Wolf Volcano at only a few miles away but apart from a few glows of lava it seemed to have settled down since last week. The next day was at Cape Marshall where we had 3 dives. Even before the first dive we saw Mobula Rays jumping at the surface and dives one and two provided us with whitetip reef sharks, mantas and turtles. Dive three failed to deliver but that is how it goes sometimes.
Another overnight journey saw us at Daphne Minor which gave us lots of Turtles and a few Whitetip Reef Sharks. Right at the end, we had a couple of Sealions join us on the safety stop which was a nice end. I only completed the one dive today as I didn’t fancy a second dive on the same site.
And that was the end of the diving. I took part in 20 of the 29 dives on offer. 2 were missed due to illness and other I chose not to do as they were repeat dives at location that had not delivered much previously or I felt the surface intervals were too short.
That afternoon we headed inland to see the Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz which was nice but not as good as the walkabout on North Seymour as these Tortoises were in captivity.
During the trip I saw Sealions, Hammerheads, Dolphins, a Whaleshark, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Galapagos Sharks, a Penguin (yep, just the one), Turtles, Marine Iguanas, Land Iguanas, Flightless Cormorants, Mantas, Eagle Rays, Mobula Rays, Blue Footed Boobies, Red Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds, Giant Tortosies, Darwin’s Finches, Galapagos Gulls (which flew along the boat at night), a couple of whales blowing at the surface and loads of fish.
However, I am somewhat disappointed by the fact that the best parts of my “dream” dive trip took place out of the water (the first walkabout on land – which was amazing) and the erupting volcano (which was pure chance that it happened as we were here). The diving in the Galapagos is not bad (well the one at Punta Vicenta Roca was) but it seems to be all or nothing dives. You sit on rocks, hang on in the current and hope something comes by. If it does then great but there is no brightly coloured coral reef to turn to if the pelagic species do not appear. You are guided all the time and although the guides are nice enough, being forced to be in groups of 4 or 6 (we were lucky as we had 3 guides but the rules are up to 8 with one guide) is not really my style of diving. I knew we had to do this prior to coming out and I wondered if it would annoy me and to be honest it did. The group I was in was actually very competent and courteous (with only the occasional GoPro pole wafting in my face) and we got on well. I just never got the underwater “Wow” factor that I was hoping for having travelled halfway round the world and paid out a large chunk of change. Others on the boat thought the diving was great and some agreed with my view so I guess it depends on your previous diving experience and most likely on your expectations. Mine were clearly set too high.