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Darwin’s Wonderland – Part V

For two glorious weeks in November, Scuba Diver Life went to the Galapagos Islands aboard two different live boards to see as much as we could both above and below the water.

The following series of articles details our misadventures, from spontaneous bird feeding frenzies, to Nadia’s Internet withdrawal, playful sea lions, getting rocked out of hot tubs, wonderful food, lava flows, chasing penguins with digestive issues, newborn sea lions, running out of air, schooling hammerheads and much more.

Click Here to Read Part l of This Series

Click Here to Read Part ll of This Series

Click Here to Read Part lll of This Series

Click Here to Read Part IV of This Series


Day Nine: Wolf Island, The Point
By now we had arrived at Wolf Island, considered one of the top diving spots in the world. Yes! The dives here were drifts, except that we were told to periodically grab onto the rocks to keep ourselves from moving. While we held on, the show would unfold in front of us. Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, silkies, eagle rays, mobula rays, tuna and barracuda would usually swim past, both alone and in large groups. Of course there would also be tons of smaller fish. Let go and drift some more, grab on again, and so on. We were told that when we were ready to surface, we should swim out into the blue and far away from the rock wall. At that point, we would be in a strong current and couldn’t linger any more than normal ascent rates plus safety stops. This would be standard for all dives at Wolf and Darwin.

The first dive was a bit of a shock to me since I’m not that experienced with currents and drift dives. If you didn’t hold onto rocks, you traveled pretty quickly with the current. Holding on not only went against everything I know and teach as an instructor, but it was also difficult sometimes. Often the current wasn’t too strong, but there were surges. At times I felt like a flag on a pole, and still other times divers bumped into me when they lost their grip or bearings. But I saw my first hammerheads! Several turtles coasted by; tons of reef fish and a couple of Galapagos sharks and rays also passed. Sharks, sharks everywhere! The water temp was a balmy 75 Fahrenheit and I was toasty in my two-piece Sharkskin suit.


Unfortunately, I burned through air faster than I normally do, due in part to sheer excitement about where I was diving, but mostly because of the 90-foot depth and my struggle to keep from getting swept away. I didn’t want to hold onto rocks and tried to swim instead, but it wasn’t long before I realized I just couldn’t do that. By that point I’d burned through my tank and Nadia and I had to bail a little early due to my heavy breathing. Nadia threatened me with my own duct tape if I kept burning air and cutting her dives short. I hid the duct tape.

Our second dive was in the same spot as the first one, but now we were pros and knew what to expect. Nadia and I hung at the back of the group and stayed a little shallower to conserve air. We saw several Galapagos sharks this time, and a couple of them came in a little closer, as if checking us out. A few more hammerheads made an appearance and I had a hogfish buddy with me during most of the dive. He stayed pretty much right in my face the whole time, waiting for me to accidentally break off barnacles. Blue-fin tuna, trumpetfish, pipefish, large parrotfish, moray eels, barracuda, Moorish idols, damselfish — I saw too many to list. Schools and schools of fish were all around us nearly all the time. Nadia actually complained that there were too many fish getting in the way of her shark shots.


Midway through the day we had a shish-kebab lunch and rested a bit, but we were ready to get back to diving. On our third dive, I was floating around with the group, trying to take pictures and video. A Moorish idol caught my eye and I focused on getting it to smile for the camera. It would not cooperate, so I gave up. That’s when I realized I was alone. When I stopped, everyone else had apparently kept drifting. There was momentary panic, but I thought I would just catch up with them since they would stop at some point. So, I drifted and drifted. And drifted. I couldn’t see any sign of the group at all and started deciding on when to abort the dive. I figured Nadia had hammerheads all up in her face and didn’t even notice I was gone. I drifted a bit more, saw a large school of eagle rays out in the blue, and decided that was a perfect time to abort the dive. I swam out into the midst of the rays and floated with them a bit as I slowly ascended. All around me their gentle wings glided past and eventually out of sight. If I hadn’t become separated from the group, I never would have experienced that magic.

Once they were gone, I realized I was experiencing one of my worst nightmares. I was alone, in the middle of the ocean, and there was nothing but blue all around me, since I had lost all points of reference. And there was a strong current sweeping me away from the boat. It was a bit eerie, I’ll admit. During my safety stop, I got my surface flag ready because I expected to be far away from the boat. Luckily, I wasn’t. After the crew pulled me out of the water, I tried to learn some Spanish while waiting on the rest of the group.

When they returned I found out that they had swum away from the rocks to interact with a particularly large group of hammerheads and Galapagos sharks, which explained why I couldn’t find them. Also in my absence, Nadia decided it would be fun to kick a sea urchin. She had a small puncture wound that was swelling and stinging. I mentioned that I thought the urchins in the Galapagos were deadly, but I got the stink-eye for my effort. Richard applied a topical treatment that seemed to help and off we went for our fourth dive.


This time I used the GoPro-on-a-stick and got some decent close-up footage of Galapagos sharks, which were everywhere. They swam around us, and the rocks, and seemed willing to get much closer than on previous dives. A free-swimming moray startled a couple divers. To me, they’re one of the more frightening things out there. I also saw a scorpionfish that was extremely well camouflaged on a rock I was holding onto. We were warned to be careful where we put our hands, specifically because of those two creatures. There were so many things to look at, from nudibranchs, sea cucumbers and shrimp to sharks — the Galapagos really had everything and Nelson and Richard seemed to know exactly where to find it.

The Galapagos only recently started allowing night dives and we were offered the option of doing one on this night. Though I was admittedly exhausted, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss a single dive on this trip. Only four of us, and Richard, ventured into the darkness on the other side of the island where there wasn’t any current. We saw very large puffers, several morays, lobsters, nudibranchs and turtles. One turtle was blinded by our lights and ran into three of us before departing.

Back on the boat the rest of the guests were waiting on us for dinner so we quickly cleaned up and sat down to some great lobster and wine. It was a fabulous end to a fantastic day of diving with the Galapagos Aggressor. This was what I had been waiting years for.

You can check out my YouTube channel, if you are so inclined, to see pictures and video from the trip as I get them uploaded.

Next up: We venture to Darwin for whale sharks! And tons of hammerheads! And more whale sharks!


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