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Lavalamp

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If you're looking for a trip report with colorful pictures, videos, and detailed accounting of the dive sites, this report is not for you. If you are looking for a report on a general sense of the overall experience of the trip and of this particular boat, I hope you will find this helpful.


My wife and I have recently finished a 7-night diving trip in the Galapagos Islands aboard the Galapagos Aggressor III in late April - early May 2017. This was our first time in Galapagos. We chose Aggressor and this particular sail date because of the 25% 'Dive The World' special discount. No we're not liveaboard newbies. We've been on liveaboards before multiple times.

All in all, we had a very positive experience. It was very expensive (even with the discount), but well worth it. We had incredible, amazing dives at Wolf, Darwin, and Cabo Douglas which we’ll surely remember for the rest of our lives. We hope to have the chance to return and dive these legendary sites again at some point in our lives.


The Yacht:

Galapagos Aggressor III was smaller and rockier than any other liveaboard yachts we’ve been on before, including Aggressor’s own legacy Dancer Fleet yachts. The cabins and bathrooms were tighter and felt more claustrophobic than we’re used to for liveaboards in general. Overall this boat felt a bit worn down and was beginning to show her age quite a bit. She could use some dry dock time for cosmetic repairs and deep cleaning.

We were in cabin #8, which was upstairs on the briefing/hottub deck. Arriving there on the first day, we noticed a few things:
  1. The blinds were broken – so we never had complete privacy for the whole trip. Everyone who walked by could see into our room at any time.
  2. Wallpaper had a tear.
  3. The bathroom floor and door was unevenly warped (probably due to moisture and constant motion of the boat).
For the most part, the salon/dining room was clean and adequate. One minor challenge was that the dining tables didn’t have power outlets – so if you use a laptop to work on pictures or videos in between dives, you better make sure your device is fully charged from somewhere else before you bring it to sit down at the table.


The People:

We had 8 all-male Ecuadorian crew members taking care of 16 guests on board. On this trip, the guests came from USA (10), Canada (2), UK (2), Sweden (2). In the Galapagos, there’s a law that requires all crew members to be Ecuadorian citizens. This explains why only 2-3 out of 8 crew members onboard could speak any English. Fortunately a few of the guests were fluent in Spanish, so we were all fine.


The Operations:

Diving services were generally well-organized, efficient, and professional. Walter Torres was a good dive guide. He was knowledgeable and helpful. Reuben was good as well, always checking to make sure we are safe and comfortable. We liked both of these guys and we would be happy to dive with either of them again any time.

On our voyage, the newest, latest, and greatest Aqualung gears onboard were being used by the dive masters. So us guests were left with rental BCDs and regulators that were a bit older (worn and faded). But that didn’t bother us. These older gears were still perfectly fully functional, so we didn’t complain. Ultimately, it’s just a corporate value talking point that’s all – in my line of business, ‘putting the customers first’ means customers should get the latest and greatest gears BEFORE my staff.

Yes, I know I probably sound petty for talking about this. I just happen to notice these things because I manage customer experience and perception in my job – it’s how I make my living.


The Service:

In most aspects, the service level and politeness of the crew was adequate, but unfortunately isn’t up to the industry average/standard based on our experience. Some guests will point to the protectionist labor law (Ecuadorian-only mandate for crew members) as the reason for this shortcoming. Others will point to language barrier as the main challenge. Others will say that the staff lacks formal training, so the service is not quite as “refined.”

Whatever the reason maybe and despite the crew’s best effort, our objective assessment is that the service quality on this yacht falls below that of the liveaboards in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Palau, and Belize.

Random story: we misplaced and lost a $700 dive computer onboard. It mysteriously disappeared onboard (not in the ocean). We thought the crew would be more enthusiastic about helping us locate it – but we got a sense that they didn’t really care. I expected the captain or someone to show some concern and proactively propose “let’s review the security camera tape. Let’s take a look at when and where exactly we last saw it and how disappeared.” This didn’t happen.

One of the two zodiac drivers was very helpful and outstanding – Alex Precado. The other one was the opposite – aloof and uncaring. So for every dive, we always tried to put ourselves on Alex’s Zodiac. And in the end, we of course gave extra tip to Alex.


Diving in Galapagos:

Truly epic and every bit as amazing as all the hype in the world. The Ecuadorean government has done a great job protecting this very special biosphere from over-population and over-commercialization. They strictly limit and enforce the boat permits (to control the number of tourists and number of boats). They’ve restricted migration to the Galapagos islands – according to the locals, even Ecuador’s own citizens from the mainland aren’t allowed to move there anymore unless they marry someone from the islands. Tough but effective!

Here are our favorite dive sites:

Wolf and Darwin in my opinion are among the best dive sites in the world. The fish, shark, and turtle traffic was out-of-this-world insane. The action was constant. The sizes of marine animals were of Jurassic proportion. Every dive was a drift dive. The current was fast, exhilarating, and exciting. As we sat and hung on to the rocks at the bottom, the schooling hammerheads interspersed with random Galapagos sharks and turtles would block out the sun. Words cannot describe all the jaw-dropping moments that we experienced.

Cabo Douglas on Fernandina Island also stood out to us as a very cool and unique place to dive. The water temperature was colder here due to the Humboldt current from the South (64F at surface, 57F below Thermocline). But we saw a lot of unique, endemic species: red-lipped batfish, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, and sea lions were the stars of the show.

Punta Vicente Roca on Isabella Island was also very memorable. it’s the cleaning station for Mola Molas. The wall was blanketed with soft corals and millions of tiny silver fish that moved in smooth unison like a silk curtain (I want to say they’re mini sardines?). The seals loved to play here by swimming through and making them move aside like Moses parting the Red Sea. Okay, maybe they weren’t playing – maybe they were legitimately trying to eat them.


SUMMARY:

Would we recommend Galapagos Aggressor III to a friend?

With 25% discount or more AND with some dry dock renovations, yes.

At full price and in the current state, probably not. We would be inclined to have them check out other options: Galapagos Sky, Galapagos Master, Humboldt Explorer, or Nortada.
 

drrich2

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Appreciate the detailed, practical 'what you need to know if you do this' review style. Quite useful.

What water temp.s did you get? Roughly what was the viz.? Given that it's drift diving, and cold water from what I read elsewhere, did you guys have any trouble keeping together or fear of getting separated/lost? Did you use reef hooks?

Richard.
 

ronscuba

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Appreciate the detailed, practical 'what you need to know if you do this' review style. Quite useful.

What water temp.s did you get? Roughly what was the viz.? Given that it's drift diving, and cold water from what I read elsewhere, did you guys have any trouble keeping together or fear of getting separated/lost? Did you use reef hooks?

Richard.
I went in August 2009. Temps ranged from 58-65 degf. and viz ranged 30-60 ft depending on the site.

You should have a thorough discussion with your dive buddy on how close you intend to stay together and to the dive master.

We saw many whale sharks and other large marine life. You can get close to everything if you are willing to kick a lot. Key thing is to take a path to where the animal is heading and not directly towards it.

For whale sharks decide if you will chase together, chase independently or not chase at all. Most on our boat chased independently with some divers getting much closer than others due to differences in fitness and speed. The less fit and less experienced divers tended to stay very close to the dive master.
 
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iamrushman

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very interesting...thanks for sharing.
 

Dom@DiveAdvice

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good advice and as he says temperature range can vary widely, although the norther islands of Darwin and Wolf tend to be as much as 10 degrees warmer than in the south, but that is also where you get the strongest currents. What's important is to be prepared for multi-tasking - back flips off a rib with negative entry and swimming into a strong current 15+ meters to get into the shelter of the boulders at Darwin ledge. Being prepared that currents can be so strong that you have to pull yourself over the bottom and if you turn your head to one side, you may get water filling your mask. These are all things we should learn training and that we should not panic about, but when you also add in the big animals swimming close by you and the aura of your situation, you just need to psyche yourself to stay calm and know that at any time that you can abort and return to the surface. Usually that is not necessary and you just need a minute or two to settle the heart rate and relax. Most important is that you may have to pull yourself between the boulders to get to the ledge, but you should never have to swim against the current - just go with the flow - the tender drivers are very experienced and will pick you up wherever you are and if you have not brought a Nautilus Lifeline with you, then they will provide you one - safe as houses :)
 

ronscuba

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We had 2 groups on separate RIB's, generally split according to ability and fitness.

This is an example of independent diving and planned semi-separation.

Fast forward to time mark 1:35

Young girl and I were the fastest kickers all week. She took a direct route, I took a longer route out in front of the whale shark to get the head shot. About 1/2 the divers from the group never got close to the whale shark.

 
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THIS is the kind of detail I like to read! Thank you so much. I’ve been on the ropes trying to decide whether or not to take this trip. This helps with that decision a lot. I’m going to do it.
 

Dom@DiveAdvice

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Thanks Lavalamp for the wonderfully positive feedback - Galapagos is still at the top of the game but it helps when people share their amazing experiences. If Curt is looking at joining the Aggressor, we still have spaces on an October 4-11 trip that we are currently offering a special of $800 off at the recent Paris and Dusseldorf dive shows and they can be booked thru our European or California offices. Other top boats we have discounts on are the GPS Master, Humboldt Explorer, and Majestic Explorer. Let us know if we can help you. Best, Dom dom@diveadvice.com
 

hiloboy

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I just got off the Aggressor and wanted to add an update to lavalamp' s excellent report in regards the condition of the boat. In the beginning of this year, the boat was in dry dock for an extended period and it shows. My trip was the third one since its dry dock and everything looked brand new. It was obvious every surface had new paint or carpeting.

We must have had very calm conditions because I was struck throughout the trip on how smooth the ride was. And I have never been on such quiet zodiacs. I generally book budget liveaboards so I actually was surprised how big my cabin was. I guess it is all a matter of perspective. My room was on the bottom deck.

And just a few random thoughts to some replies. I brought with me my own reef hook, big safety sausage, dive alert and personal locator beacon. Walter, my guide, recommended that I not use my reef hook as you want to be tucked in as close to the rocks as possible to get the closest approach for the hammers and he was correct. Everyone was given a signaling device which was recommended over a safety sausage. It consisted of several segments of pvc with a bungy cord running through them with a flag on top. If you needed to use it, you connected the segments together so the flag would fly high off the surface. Everyone we given a dive alert. In highsight, I only would only packed my personal locator beacon as none were offered.
 
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