When we honeymooned in Hawaii a few years back we tried a 4hr scuba excursion off the coast of Maui. Jeff had never scuba dove before (and I only had done it once before) so we didn’t know what to expect. Essentially they ask you if you have scuba’d before, if no then they ask if you are comfortable scuba diving. We said, “yes, of course.” It was kind of a shit-show. You take about a 1hr boat ride to the spot, gear up and go over your equipment for about 30 minutes, get in the water, descend and tool around 20-30ft of water with an instructor right at your side, scuba for 30 minutes, get back on boat, enjoy a soda, take your gear off and head back. It’s a blur. Jeff couldn’t clear his ears so he decided to snorkel while Lindsay made it to 30ft but her ears hurt. The sea life and colors below the surface were OK at best. Long story short – not a great experience. But we have always wanted to give it another shot. And what better place than the Galapagos Islands, which some consider to be the best diving in the world.
After a little research online Lindsay sent an email to the folks at Tip Top Diving. This email set off a series of events that we’ll remember for a long time.
Lindsay booked the classroom, pool and open water school to get us certified as open water divers. Classroom session began Wednesday the week we arrived, pool session followed on Thursday and we had two dives each day on Friday and Saturday. Unlike our in-and-out experience in Hawaii, Tip Top Diving and their instructors took the time to make certain we knew the material, we were comfortable, we were safe and of course we were having fun.
This was a small class too, only 2 others besides us. Both were younger than us (and so was the instructor) – we’re getting old. One student was from Montreal and she was there for 6 weeks getting her dive master. She really wasn’t a student like we were, but instead think of it as a student-teacher observing how the classroom works and helping out where needed. The other was from Isreal on the islands for a week and half getting both his open water certification and advanced dive certification. Lindsay and I didn’t have any plans to get the advanced diving certification.
We passed the written exam, we passed the pool session and we had two great days in the ocean just off the coast of Santa Cruz. We saw turtles, sharks (white tip & reef), sea lions, tons of fish & and a coupe of eels. This was such a dramatically different experience than what we had in Hawaii. We cannot praise the team at Tip Top Diving enough – they were incredible.
On our last day in the water (Saturday) the owner of Tip Top Diving received a call. He just got word that the government was issuing a permit on his new boat to allow it to operate as a live aboard scuba diving boat. This has been a 4 year process. He asked us if we would be interested in “testing” out the boat by taking a 2-night dive cruise and get our advanced diver certification. It was a no brainer – of course we would.
This boat is gorgeous. It’s called Nortada. The 86ft boat has accommodations for 12. Our rooms were air-conditioned, all meals were served and all the diving equipment was taken care of. We were completely spoiled for 2 days. It was awesome. There is nothing like being on a boat in the ocean. The feeling is incredible. Brought back memories of sailing and how much we love being on the water.
We left Puerto Ayora late on Tuesday evening. When we woke we were anchored outside of Bartolome, a small uninhabitated islet north of Santa Cruz. (there are only 4 inhabited islands in the archipelago – Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal & Floreana – we will be staying on all 4). We dove at 7:30am at Bartolome. Afterwards we cruised over to Cousins Rock for another two dives. We dove to about 80 feet on these dives, it was amazing (We’re working on the video right now from the GoPro and will get that up shortly). We found ourselves in the middle of a “fish tornado” like you would see on the Discovery Channel more than once, there were tons of sea turtles – Jeff saw a hammerhead shark – which is terrifying, but awesome. After the third dive of the day we motored back over to Bartolome to hike to its peak and soak in the views. So many good pictures from this vantage point. On our dingy ride back to the boat we were given a tour of the shore where we spotted a couple of the famous Galapagos penguins and blue footed boobies.
The boat was filled with the normal crew and a few other friends of the owner. It was a great group. After our return from the shore excursion we popped a bottle of some local Ecuadorian vodka and made some type of cosmopolitan concoction that we brought on board. Vodka, limes, cranberry juice some soda water. We had a mini celebration of a successful start to Nortada’s maiden voyage. We capped the night with a really tasty homemade Oreo cake. Yum.
During the night we sailed over to Pinzón (Duncan) Island where we would have two more dives before heading back to Puerto Ayora. These dives were intense for us. On the last dive we encountered a nasty current. It was so strong that we had to grab onto rocks and hold on for our lives (not really, but it felt like it). The snorkel park of our masks were getting caught in the current and pulling our masks off 70ft below the surface. In the midst of all this chaos we found ourselves observing some really magical marine life – thousands upon thousands of fish swimming all around us. At one point you couldn’t see the other scuba divers because there were so many fish. It’s a benefit of the strong current.
This has easily been the highlight of our trip thus far. The people we met, the scenery we saw, our new found hobby, and the opportunity to sail around on a live aboard is exactly why we decided to take a break and travel. We cannot wait for more – it’s what No Approval Needed is all about.