Trip Report Humboldt Explorer Jan 13-20, 2020

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drrich2

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Humboldt Explorer Trip Report Jan. 13-20, 2020

-----Per my recent trip report format I’ll post my destination research notes write-up in a separate thread, and focus on my specific trip report here. In brief, the Galapagos is a cluster of islands over 560 miles west into the Pacific Ocean from mainland Ecuador, a north-central South American nation through which the equator cuts across near the top. Despite the tropical location currents render the diving cold to mildly warm, warmest at Wolf and Darwin, 2 small islands way up north-west from the rest reputed to have the best diving.
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Galapagos_Islands_topographic_map-de.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting), translated by NordNordWest derivative work: MatthewStevens (talk) - Galapagos_Islands_topographic_map-de.svg CC BY-SA 3.0. File:Galapagos Islands topographic map-en.svg. Created: 2011-09-02 00:13

-----Topside the Galapagos were made famous by the work of Charles Darwin, and by a range of endemic topside species (approachable due to the lack of large land predators) – esp. the huge Galapagos tortoises, one of two large tortoise species often seen in zoos (Aldabras are the other). In the recreational dive world, the Galapagos are famous for big animals – sea lions, mantas, mobula rays, scalloped hammerheads and other sharks (e.g.: Galagapos, white-tips, silkies), whale sharks (seasonal), dolphins and a range of life different from Caribbean fauna. Depending on where you go, seeing mola molas or marine iguanas could happen.
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-----Galapagos diving is reputedly best done by live-aboard, often entailing up to 16 guest divers split into 2 teams, each team leaving the main yacht in a RIB (i.e.: panga, zodiac) and back-rolling in. While there’s coral here and there, much of the bottom structure is very rocky like a mass of boulders, current is common and divers often hang onto barnacle-encrusted rocks – full wetsuits and gloves are needed regardless of water temp.s.
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Viz. is less than mainstream Caribbean destinations and diving tends to be guided group dives followed by the RIB diver. At the end, you may be expected to take off your BCD/reg. unit, then weight belt, then fins and climb a small ladder into the RIB. I found diving more strenuous and somewhat stressful than mainstream Caribbean diving. Most of the Galapagos falls under regulation by the Galapagos National Park; it wasn’t practical to do night dives and we were allowed to dive was restricted (e.g.: at Darwin Island, we dove nearby Darwin’s Arch, not the main island).
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-----The Humboldt Explorer defaulted to 80-cf AL tanks with 100-cf AL tanks a $100 upcharge; I haven’t heard of steel tank or larger availability in trip reports as yet. Reef hooks were mentioned in some trip reports but I didn’t see them used; the current can shift direction a bit at times, be a ‘little surgey,’ and we’d change locations and might roam rather than stay in one place, so holding on by hand seemed best to me. Our diving tended to follow one of 3 general patterns (often a mix); group roam along either a rocky wall/’boulder field’ or a deeper flat sandy or ‘pebbly’ bottom, or lying or sitting (harder than it sounds) amongst boulder or ledge areas looking (often up) into the blue.
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drrich2

drrich2

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The typical restrictions/dive planning were no solo diving – buddy diving required (not rigidly policed, divers were seasoned and with everything going on how well people keep up with each other…well…), 50-minute planned time (including safety stop, not rigidly enforced, sometimes shorter when schedule was tight) and not over 30 meters deep.

-----The typical viz. I’d estimate at 20 – 30 feet, tending mostly around 30, which sounds iffy in light of overall conditions but we kept up with the guides well and nobody got separated. Early in the trip a guide asked the group if we were okay being sent up in buddy pairs if someone ran low on gas or preferred group ascent; we were fine with buddy pairs, but I never saw any have to go up. My gas use rate is decent, not great – I tend toward a SAC of 0.6 cf/min., give or take, per my Cobalt 2, used a 100-cf AL tank (good fills, tending toward 3,000 – 3,100 PSI, not the rated 3,300 so maybe 10 extra cf or a little more?), had the worst gas consumption rate in my group and get still ended dives in the 500 to 700+ range. I think everyone dove nitrox or took the course on the trip; I accidently didn’t set my wrist unit for it, and one dive it alarmed 5 minutes NDL left (dove nitrox, it was set to air), so I strongly recommend nitrox for these trips. Water is cooler amongst the main islands, warmer at Wolf and Darwin, and thermoclines varied.

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-----At times the sea life was amazing; even the ‘bait fish’ were bigger (e.g.: swarms of Pacific creole fish, vs. the brown chromis you might see in Bonaire, varied jack species (often in schools),
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a plethora of fish I couldn’t identify – many resembling Caribbean species (e.g.: angel and butterfly fish,
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parrot fish,
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goat fish,
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similar to Spanish hogfish but different colors,
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drrich2

drrich2

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rays (e.g.: mobula, eagle, diamond and marbled)
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and quite a variety of colorful sea stars.
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A guide showed us one nudibranch. Saw no anemones.
 

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drrich2

drrich2

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Coral diversity looked pretty limited.
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We saw dozens of scalloped hammerheads, decent numbers of Galapagos and white-tip sharks, somebody saw silky sharks and at Darwin’s Arch we saw a lot of bottlenose dolphins at the surface (including breaching – it felt primal, like we were diving Jurassic island) – and we saw a bunch underwater (esp. at a safety stop) – though they didn’t come in close to play.
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It was not whale shark season and we saw none. We saw no marine iguanas underwater, but I saw plenty on the rocky shoreline at San Cristobal Island (where we board the boat).
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drrich2

drrich2

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-----I did 19 of the 20 offered dives (called the 4th dive one day at Darwin’s Arch; I was worn down and had mild right ear barotrauma from coming up a bit fast on dive 3). There were no night dives. On the very last dive, at Cousin’s Rock, I prayed for one thing we’d not seen I thought by reputation would be common…a manta. That very dive, the only one we saw that trip passed right over.
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A blessing. Cousin’s Rock is also where the sea lions were playful.
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Dive Log.

-----Most values from my Cobalt 2; I got min. temp.s from my old VT3. I get different SAC rates from different sources. From my Cobalt 2, set for the 80-cf tank my 1st dive and 100-cf (at 3,300 PSI fill pressure, which I didn’t have) for the rest, I’ll give SACs. (Note: Photos this section don't match dive or day taken, just ornamental).
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Monday. 1 Checkout dive at San Cristobal (short – plan 20 min. max, shallow, saw a sea lion).
Dive 1: 21-minute, max. depth 21.8 feet, average depth 13.3 feet, min. temp. 69 degrees.
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Tuesday. 2 Dives at Punta Carrion.
Dive 1: 50 min., max. depth 58.37 feet, average depth 38.05 feet, min. temp. 73 degrees.
Dive 2: 52.5 min., max. depth 61 feet, average depth 40.61 feet, min. temp. 76 degrees.
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Wednesday. Wolf Island.
Dive 1: 45 min., max. depth 72.5 feet, average depth 53.12 feet, min. temp. 74 degrees.
Dive 2: 46 min., max. depth 67.75 feet, average depth 48.72 feet, min. temp. 76 degrees.
Dive 3: 42 min., max. depth 79.87 feet, average depth 54.13 feet, min. temp. 76 degrees.
Dive 4: 53.5 min., max. depth 66.38 feet, average depth 44.83 feet, min. temp. 75 degrees.
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Thursday. Morning 2 dives at Wolf, afternoon 2 dives at Darwin’s Arch.
Dive 1: 60.5 min., max. depth 58.5 feet, average depth 41.14 feet, min. temp. 75 degrees.
Dive 2: 51.5 min., max. depth 76.69 feet, average depth 49.65 feet, min. temp. 76 degrees.
Dive 3: 52 min., max. depth 56.69 feet, average depth 46.81 feet, min. temp. 76 degrees.
Dive 4: 38.5 min., max. depth 70.81 feet, average depth 52.73 feet, min. temp. 76 degrees.
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Friday. 4 Dives at Darwin’s Arch (I did 1st 3).
Dive 1: 45.5 min., max. depth 94.13 feet, average depth 55.47 feet, min. temp. 75 degrees.
Dive 2: 44.5 min., max. depth 86.44 feet, average depth 58.21 feet, min. temp. 77 degrees.
Dive 3: 46.5 min., max. depth 79.19 feet, average depth 52.49 feet, min. temp. 77 degrees.
 
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drrich2

drrich2

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Saturday. 3 Morning Dives at Wolf.
Dive 1: 45.5 min., max. depth 87.25 feet, average depth 59.22 feet, min. temp. 75 degrees.
Dive 2: 43.5 min., max. depth 93.88 feet, average depth 53.73 feet, min. temp. 75 degrees.
Dive 3: 41.5 min., max. depth 86.44 feet, average depth 57.08 feet, min. temp. 75 degrees.
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Shot of me at Darwin's Arch, taken by a fellow diver.
Sunday. 2 Morning Dives at Cousin’s Rock.
Dive 1: 46.5 min., max. depth 58.25 feet, average depth 37.89 feet, min. temp. 71 degrees.
Dive 2: 46 min., max. depth 105.12 feet (my bad; drifted down while taking photos), average depth 39.20 feet, min. temp. 71 degrees.
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I think my Cobalt 2 factors in a reserve gas supply, so I’ll pull start & end pressures off the VT3. Format is Starting PSI, Ending PSI and SAC. Be mindful I’m an air hog by nature making a conscious effort to cut my breathing rate, which led to likely CO2-retention headaches on a few dives. After Dive 1 I had a 100-cf AL tank, but it’s only 100-cf at a 3,300 fill pressure, so I suspect it gave me maybe 10 extra cf, give or take? My gas consumption was the worst in my group and I’m glad I paid the extra $100 for the big tank.
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Dive 1. 2,848----1,950-----0.78 cfm (had trouble getting enough weight).
Dive 2. 3,064-----784-------0.64 cfm.
Dive 3. 3,014-----762-------0.56 cfm.
Dive 4. 2,946-----708-------0.56 cfm.
Dive 5. 3,114-----676-------0.64 cfm.
Dive 6. 3,092-----716-------0.64 cfm.
Dive 7. 3,158-----862-------0.53 cfm.
Dive 8. 3,090-----744-------0.49 cfm.
Dive 9. 3,002-----874-------0.49 cfm.
Dive 10. 3,022----960------0.46 cfm.
Dive 11. 3,040----738------0.67 cfm.
Dive 12. 3,014----626------0.56 cfm.
Dive 13. 2,986----632------0.56 cfm.
Dive 14. 3,090----632------0.60 cfm.
Dive 15. 2,780----484------0.49 cfm.
Dive 16. 3,024----772------0.56 cfm.
Dive 17. 3,102----884------0.56 cfm.
Dive 18. 3,094----1,036---0.60 cfm.
Dive 19. 3,166----1,170---0.56 cfm.

-----With all that wonderful sea life, the limited visibility, distance some creatures maintain and mildly ‘challenging’ conditions at times made getting good photos of some frustratingly difficult. But just to be there and see all that was a wonder.
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-----At dive’s end reboarding can be work; it took a lot more weight than I expected (even with a BP/W system, I had to wear a weight belt to reach the 36-lbs our weight check dive suggested I needed); turns out my BP/W waist strap buckle feels a lot like a weight belt buckle when wearing gloves, releases the same way, and losing it with 4 4-lbs weights set me back $80 (I was extra careful after that!). Sea conditions weren’t bad, but averaged rougher than the Caribbean, and the main yacht had more palpable rocking than I recall from Caribbean live-aboards – if you’re motion sickness-prone, be ready!
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Gear Considerations

1.) You need full wetsuit and gloves. Gloves should be ‘disposable’ (in case barnacles shred them), or really tough. I went for Kevlar gloves and they did fine.
2.) Did get mild scrapes on my wetsuit.
3.) I suggest skip the reef hook.
4.) I like to wear a rubber necklace on my primary 2nd stage so if my reg. falls out of my mouth, it’s held close and I needn’t do an arm sweep to retrieve it. Having to hand up my kit to the RIB driver, that wasn’t so practical and I ditched it.
5.) For similar reasons, I didn’t attach my crotch strap or my Dive Rite thigh pocket strap to my BP/W waist strap; moved my SMB & reel to a chest D-ring and left crotch strap loose. Left the pocket on the boat.
6.) For the Wolf and Darwin diving, the Humboldt Explorer crew provided a Dive Alert (sits between low pressure inflator hose and BCD attachment; if you use an Air2 with different connectors than usual, better check into that in advance!) and a Nautilus Lifeline (at surface, unclip, open top, hit blue button, take off plastic top, hit red button, it sends signal – no messing with setting boat channels, compact and looked easy to use) and an SMB. Those aren’t provided during the other dives.
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7.) It took a lot more weight than I expected. With a jacket BCD and 95-cf steel tank, same wet suit/book/similar gloves and also wearing a hood in California, I got down to 24-lbs. lead. In the Galapagos, our checkout dive showed I needed 36-lbs. and I had to resort to a weight belt. The weights I saw on the Humboldt Explorer looked to be 2 or 4-lbs; if you’re used to loading up on 5-lbs. weights, better think again!
8.) Due to the need for negative entries, to get down fast when there’s current (not always), press your inflator’s gas release and mash all the air out of your bladder or wing you can, on the boat.

The Boat
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Humboldt Explorer – length 111.5 feet, beam 21.3 feet, max. speed 10 knots, 16 guests, 8 rooms, partially covered sun deck with a hot tub. The dive deck has a bathroom and 2 shower stations, and camera table. Diving is from 2 RIBs. The back of the main deck is the dive deck; in front of that, you enter the salon (e.g.: dining and ‘living room’ area), at the front of which is a stairway down to a hallway with most staterooms. 2 Staterooms are on the main deck frontward. I thought the boat clean and well-kept.
 

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