Lost in Time
Explore Darwin's World of Unique and Unusual
Creatures Aboard the Galapagos Aggressors
By Martin J. Sutton, Apr. 1997
If you are into nature, the Galapagos should be at the very top of your list of places to visit. Ditto if you are into high excitement diving. After more than 20 years of dive travel I can think of no place in the world that rivals this enchanted archipelago when it comes to incredible terrestrial adventures combined with mind blowing underwater action. And, if you're a diver, your choice must be one of the luxurious Galapagos Aggressors.
Sitting right on the equator, the Galapagos are spread across a wide swath of ocean, washed by three distinct currents that combine to showcase an unusual variety of marine life. The Aggressors can choose from two different routes. The southern route couples great diving with some of the most awe inspiring land excursions on the planet. There are islands such as Punta Suarez, with sea lions, marine iguanas and a dramatic blow hole, or Espa–ola, perhaps my favorite, where a brackish lake is home to a flock of garish pink flamingoes and sea turtles idle in the shallows waiting to climb the beach and lay their eggs in the cool of evening.
And then there is the north. Some distance from the rest of the islands are Darwin and Wolf; little more than towers of rock rising sharply from the blue depths; home to schools of Hammerhead, Galapagos and Whitetip Sharks, dolphins and even whales! Reminiscent of Coco, 400 miles to the north, these northern islands provide an adrenaline rush on every dive, as shark after shark glides by only inches from the camera lens.
The Aggressor Fleet, with two superb boats, each a mirror of the other, offers either the northern or the southern route, with a level of comfort and service few boats can equal. Longer charters than the normal one week itinerary allow visitors to include both routes in one trip.
The boats, named the Galapagos Aggressor I and II, were made in Ecuador and reflect the skill of the artisans who constructed them using beautiful local woods. In truth, these vessels look more like the luxury yachts of a Saudi prince than dive boats. Teak gleams everywhere and a large crew keeps each ship immaculate. Some meals are even served by a waiter (the others are buffetstyle) and, in the evenings, a steward serves cocktails. The seven air-conditioned cabins are well planned and beautifully outfitted. Each has two single beds, separated by a bedside stand that includes a cassette player for personal music choices. Each cabin also has its own spacious bathroom, complete with toilet, sink and full sized shower.
But it is nature and the incredible diving that bring people from all over the world to these tiny, sparsely populated islands, immortalized by Charles Darwin in the last century. He visited the islands as part of an around the world cruise and his studies here helped formulate his thoughts on evolution. Not only were the animals different from those anywhere else, they were even unique from island to island. In splendid isolation they had evolved to become distinct. Evidence of Darwin's theories abound. Marine iguanas bask in the warm sun everywhere, yet exhibit slight differences island to island. Each island has its own version of giant land tortoises and finches have evolved into many separate species around the archipelago. Even underwater the Galapagos is a weird collection of disparate parts with tropical species mingling with others usually found only in colder waters.
When you visit the Galapagos you should bring both an underwater and a land camera for your time is split between exploration of the islands and diving. Each day the dinghy takes the group ashore to see the sights, escorted by a naturalist trained at the world famous Darwin Center. Under his expert supervision visitors learn about the fascinating behavior, habits and natural history of the remarkable animals that abound. The islands have been a National Park since 1959, so the animals have grown accustomed to visitors. Blue footed boobies with nursing chicks will sit sedately by the side of the path and albatross will incubate a clutch of eggs just a few feet from snapping cameras. I have fond memories of sitting quietly by a rock pool as a baby sea lion untied my shoes laces over and over. Each island is different and each has its highlights. The problem is that there is never enough time to fully explore them as the water always beckons.
The Galapagos underwater is a wonderland of life and activity but it is somewhat difficult to categorize the diving because it crosses so many boundaries. For the most part the water is cool but can vary in temperature from one side of an island to the other. Usually visibility is limited, yet sometimes it exceeds 100 feet. The Aggressor Fleet, in deference to the swift currents and cold thermoclines, recommends this trip to more experienced divers, yet I have seen fairly new divers have the time of their lives here, too. Being volcanic in nature and swept by cold currents, the islands are, for the most part, not too colorful underwater but what they lack in tropical hues they more than make up for in marine life.
This is high voltage diving, where the diver will be swept through vast schools of fish so thick you can't see through them. Sharks are everywhere, from the Whitetips that roam the shallows to the impressive schools of massive Hammerheads that patrol the drop-offs. Dolphins are often heard and from time to time join divers in breathtaking shows of acrobatic skill. For sheer agility nothing compares to the sea lions that are everywhere. Lumbering and clumsy on land, they are transformed underwater into ballet dancers possessing a wicked sense of humor. They seem to love to charge divers, waiting for them to flinch in a bizarre game of chicken and, with dizzying speed and constant barking, at first present an unnerving foe. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this, like everything else they do, is part of an elaborate game and it is up to us to learn the rules.
In the years since I first cruised aboard the Galapagos Aggressor, the crews have continued to fine tune their adventures, evolving into a 21st century live-aboard operation. On most trips nitrox and rebreathers are available and, new for 1997, there's a whole range of trips that are sure to excite even the most jaded diver.
For example, they have discovered a definite Whale Shark season in the Galapagos. With the aid of a spotter plane, they run special Whale Shark charters, bringing divers close to these amazing creatures. Each year one vessel or the other travels to Ecuador for refitting (an attention to detail that is inherent in everything the Aggressor Fleet does) and on one of the trips noticed a number of both Humpback and Right Whales. As a result, they now offer special charters allowing divers to interact with some of the largest creatures on the planet.
The Galapagos are amazing and surely no single trip could ever be enough. With the luxury of a Galapagos Aggressor and the opportunity to explore both the north and south, with Whale Sharks, whales and sharks making frequent appearances, this is an unparalleled opportunity to savor nature at its finest, both above and below the water.
If you'd like more information about the Galapagos Aggressors or any other Aggressor vessel, you can request the fleet's amazing new CD-ROM or, if you have access to the Internet, check out the exciting new Web site at Aggressor.com. Both the Web site and CD-ROM were produced for Aggressor Fleet by Sea D Publishing of Grand Cayman and come packed with information and pictures about all Aggressor vessels, including the Galapagos Aggressors. You can check out the cabins, see boat configurations and sailing schedules and explore routes and dive sites. You can even sign up on line for your next trip! The Aggressor Fleet can also be contacted at (800) 348-2628; (504) 385-2628 or fax (504) 384-0817. Write to P.O.Box Drawer K, Morgan City, LA 70381.