Galapagos Day 6: The Hammerheads rock at Gordon Rocks.

Galapagos Islands Travel Blog

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Albatros Tours.

An uneasy heron has agreed to share the hotel patio with me, so here I lay on the hammock, watching him and about 4 million other birds around this small bay. I am not a bird watcher, really, but I have been here for almost 3 hours. It's an incredible display: Blue Footed Booby birds keep dive bombing the water for fish, but seem to come up empty handed (er, beaked) every time. Brown pelicans soar by me like prehistoric 747s, close enough for me to see into their cold eyes. Far above, Magnificent Frigatebirds glide like kites, occasionally making way for flocks of white birds (Tropicbirds I think) that keep passing through.
He looks innocent, but don't be fooled. This captain is a maniacal speed demon!
It's quite a show. The place is teeming with life.

I have decided to take it easy this afternoon. I am a little battered and bruised after this morning's brutal-but-excellent dive trip to Gordon Rocks. My body needs a break, hence the hammock. (I wish I had a margarita too!)

It all started at 6:45am when I made my way to the dive shop at Albatross Tours. When the whole group had arrived (a Londoner named Tom, a father and son from Argentina, and a couple from Russia) we made our way to the harbor and started to board a small boat. I looked at the huge waves out there in the water, then to the wee boat, then back to the waves... surely this piece of crap isn't the dive boat!? I decided that it must be the taxi boat that would take us to the "real" boat, which would be nice, big, and comfortable.
How can he sleep through this!??
I was wrong. It was our dive boat. Oh boy.

To make things more fun, the captain had apparently decided to break some sort of speed record on the way to the first stop. The small boat flew from wave to wave, jarring us all and probably loosening some filllings. At this point I was very glad Steve hadn't come... he would have hated this ride! I was surprised no one got sick. Crazy ride.

Our first stop, at the North Plaza (or was it the South Plaza?), was for a test dive. The dive master, Jimbo, wanted to use this calm area to make sure we were properly weighted and comfortable with the equipment before the real dive. Considering the challenging conditions we would face at Gordon Rocks, I think this test dive was an excellent idea! I jumped in the calm water with my big fat 7mil wet suit, and wouldn't you know I was so puffy I couldn't descend even when weighted with 8kg (17 lbs)! I went back for more weight, then had a good test dive, wearing a whopping 10kg (22lbs).
Our "test dive." Easy peasy.
(For comparison: I use 8lbs in the Caribbean).

After our check dive it was time for the real thing: Gordon Rocks, a set of two or three immense black rocks protruding from the ocean. The waves were NUTS. As the five of us gamely clutched the edge of the violently rocking boat, about to backroll into the churning cauldron below, Jimbo screamed out, "WELCOME TO THE GALAPAGOS!!! ONE-TWO-THREE- GOOOOO!"  Off I rolled, and down we went.  

On previous dives all over the world, the instruction I have received is always, always, always: DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING! Here, we were given gloves and told, HANG ON FOR DEAR LIFE! The current and surge were unlike anything I have ever experienced. It pushed me one way, then the other, then up, then down.
Jimbo gives us the dive briefing for Gordon Rocks.
We went as deep as 95 feet (29 meters) and clutched on to the rocks and coral, searching in vain for the area's main attraction: hammerhead sharks. The Russian guy used up his air very fast and had to ascend early, but the rest of us managed about 40 minutes, a pretty long dive considering the conditions and depth. My dive buddy (Tom from London) caught a glimpse of one hammerhead, but the rest of us missed it and we saw one lone turtle, but not much else. I went back to the boat disappointed.

After a surface interval (and lame lunch) in a calm area, we returned to the bubbling brew for another shot at the Hammerheads. This entry made the last one look like a walk in the park. After a backroll into the water, the waves pushed me back into the boat, and I had to swim hard through the surf to get away.
Tom and I are ready to go. (photo by Albatross Tours).
Tom was not so lucky and smacked his head on the boat. As I made a thumb's down signal ("descending"), he was rubbing his head but giving me the "OK" signal. 

From there, everything kind of went to hell. I yanked the air dump valve on the bottom of my BCD, and it came off in my hand. To get the air out of my vest I had to change from a head's down swimming position to a head's up position. I finally got the air out but lost control of my body in the surge, and descended into or with a cluster of other divers. I could not seem to break free of the group, and we were all being forcibly swept down and away by the crazy current -- right into the rocks! I gripped my regulator in my mouth, pretty determined that it would stay with me no matter what, and happily, it did.  But I had no control as the surge slammed me into the rocks, HARD (ouch!).
Some sea lions waving at us.
I grasped at the rocks frantically and hung on with all my might, pulling myself down hand over hand until the water was less turbulent. I was then able to gather my courage (and my dive buddy), and the group parked itself down there, clinging to the rocks like scared seaweed. 

I stared into the abyss intently, and... THERE! HAMMERHEAD! I let go long enough to punch Jimbo, wave frantically at Tom, and make the silly "hammering my head" signal, and we observed the magnificent creature swimming slowly by. INCREDIBLE. And then right away... two more! They swam so slowly, unlike most sharks that more very quickly AWAY from the divers. (Jimbo later told us this area was a cleaning station. They come here to allow other fish clean their parasites, hence the slow pace.) I checked my dive computer.
Gordon Rocks entry point...YIKES!
I had been in the water exactly four minutes. WOW!

We didn't cover much distance on this dive. We just stayed parked and watched the Hammerheads go by, about eight in all. Fantastic! On the way up, we saw a Spotted Eagle Ray below us (on the way home, I saw another one jumping out of the water!).  It was a rough dive and my left leg hurts where it hit the rocks (glad I had all that padding), but it was WELL WORTH the effort. It is so rare to see hammerheads like that.

The ride home was just plain crazy. We went even faster this time, in an effort to get the Russians to their 1:30 boarding time with a cruise ship (we made it just in time).  I almost got sick, even thought I don't GET seasick, and the whole 90 minutes (or so) I wished with all my might to be back on land. Soon enough, I got my wish. And here I am, rocking gently on the hammock and watching my birds. Oh, and there's a sea lion swimming calmly by.

Nice day.



 
cmgervais says:
Thank you! I will remember this day forever.
Posted on: Nov 30, 2008
aswold says:
Great Blog, I enjoyed it. Sounds like a day like no other
Posted on: Nov 28, 2008
cmgervais says:
(thanks!)
Posted on: Oct 08, 2008
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Albatros Tours.
Albatros Tours.
He looks innocent, but dont be fo…
He looks innocent, but don't be f…
How can he sleep through this!??
How can he sleep through this!??
Our test dive. Easy peasy.
Our "test dive." Easy peasy.
Jimbo gives us the dive briefing f…
Jimbo gives us the dive briefing …
Tom and I are ready to go. (photo …
Tom and I are ready to go. (photo…
Some sea lions waving at us.
Some sea lions waving at us.
Gordon Rocks entry point...YIKES!
Gordon Rocks entry point...YIKES!
Ready to take the plunge! Me and m…
Ready to take the plunge! Me and …
Can you see the Hammerhead behind …
Can you see the Hammerhead behind…
Me on the first dive. (video still…
Me on the first dive. (video stil…
Always hang on with one hand...(vi…
Always hang on with one hand...(v…
Me, watching for sharks! (video st…
Me, watching for sharks! (video s…
Tom makes the hammerhead signal.…
Tom makes the "hammerhead" signal…
Theres one! (video still courtesy…
There's one! (video still courtes…
Less exciting, but very pretty.
Less exciting, but very pretty.
Hammerhead shark encounter at Gor…
Still alive after two dives.
Still alive after two dives.
Tom and Dimitri looking dazed.
Tom and Dimitri looking dazed.
Our group. (photo by Albatross Tou…
Our group. (photo by Albatross To…
Just hanging out by the pool.
Just hanging out by the pool.
On my right...
On my right...
...and on my left.
...and on my left.
Pelicans descend on the fishermen.
Pelicans descend on the fishermen.
Blue Footed Boobies dive bombing …
Brown Galapagos Pelican gliding b…
Galapagos Islands
photo by: Melboorn