Final two dives, giving thanks and rebreather technicalities

On Sunday we did a series of two dives in Cousins Rock, located next to Santiago Island. On the first dive we explored the bottom of a wall next to the conventional dive site and ended the dive along the sloping bottom of the rock. Maximum depth was 44 meters. In the second dive we descended to 46 meters and explored the deep end of the sloping side of the rock. Runtime was 70 minutes. We have now ended the dives planned for this week and I will be leaving the boat soon.

I’m taking a great impression from this Galapagos Rebeathers Dive Team. Claus and Peter are wonderful individuals. Peter has great attention to detail and a very particular way of analyzing everything to make it better. Claus is a very relaxed and easy going underwater photographer that makes the best out of any situation, whatever the conditions. I hope we can dive together again sometime soon, maybe in the deep wrecks of Grenada’s waters or next year here in the Galapagos.

I would like to thank Juan Carlos Martinez, Wilson Murillo and all the staff on board the Deep Blue for the opportunity they created to test rebreather expeditions. I will be more than happy to recommend the Deep Blue and to support divers coming for rebreather trips on board their liveaboard. Also, many thanks to Claus Meyer and Peter Seupel for allowing me to use this great photo material to illustrate this report and to market Galapagos Rebreathers.

Decompression, Physiology and other Technicalities:

We used APD rebreathers (one Evolution, one Evolution + and one Inspiration) all with vision electronics. We all had OCB; Peter and I had one 5.7l/ 40cft with air each; our on board cylinders were 2l / 15cft steels; Claus used 3l / 19cft on board steel cylinders. Peter and Claus had travel frames, I had the yellow box. 

We used high 1.3 and a low 0.7 setpoints. In three occasions the last dive of the day had to be done shallow and with a lower ppo2 (between 1 and 0.5) due to OTU’s and CNS% loading. We planned mainly recreational profiles with actual runtimes no greater than 70 minutes a maximum depth of 50 meters and a total time to surface no greater than 15 minutes. 

Even though we limited our TTS and stayed within one hour run time, all the dives we did were rebreather profiles and could not have been done in open circuit; the decompression obligation and gas volumes of doing this would have made this something completely different. 


Diving Wolf Island on rebreathers and making great underwater photography

Current was strong and navigation took about 6 hours. We arrived at Wolf at during the night and woke up early in the morning for a before breakfast dive in a place known as “the landslide”. We encountered a decent amount of wildlife here and this dive site became our shooting area for documenting the close and intimate encounters of rebreather diving in the Galapagos.

Close encounter, bad model. The diver (me) is in front of the shark. See how close?
It seemed that we had finally arrived to a place that would actually allow us to shoot some photos. Peter and I intended to be models and to bring wildlife to Claus. Peter also had a camera and made very interesting shots himself. Finally after a few dives, some consistency to wait for the right conditions and patience to cope with passing open circuit divers we got what we came here for:

Peter and Claus were very keen to keep diving on this site and the photos prove how right they were on their enthusiasm. On the other hand, I have personally highlighted some “points of interest” for advanced diving here. One is Gordon Rocks and the deep grotto. Some other points are many sea mounts and other “cave areas” in Española and Isabela Island (I will keep reporting on how this develops) and another point of interest is definitely the north side of Wolf Island and all the caverns there.

With this in mind and all the stories coming out of the guides mouths we managed to skip a “modeling” dive and go to a place known as “Pinnacle & Caves” where we would improvise an exploratory expedition. During this dive we descended to about -47 meters spent time swimming around and shoot some photos in the caverns located below the Pinnacle. 

Decompressing and using the pinnacle to stay on the spot
The remark of this dive was that a new cavern, deeper to those documented by guides and dive books was observed and marked for a subsequent expedition. We are already talking about another trip to Wolf and Gordon Rocks with more appropriate gasses and cave diving techniques. Our guides also mentioned several other caves in the area that are not well documented and this brings great interest to the mix. 

It feels good to put something new on the map and to gain and share knowledge from the naturalist guides. Many of us have been diving these islands for years but that have not had the time, preparation and technology to explore further. I guess we are all explorers in our hearts and that sharing about the limits we reach and the insights we have by reaching those makes all of us a little bit better.

We did a last dive in Wolf's landslide. This dive was actually the one that brought the two shots I consider our "jewels" for the trip: 


It is 16h45 now and we are navigating south. Our next destination is Cousin Rock. There we will do the last dives of the trip and I will disembark the ship tomorrow afternoon. We have been diving on a 1.3 setpoint for many days and borderline with OTU’s and CNS. My chest is burning a bit but I still have some tissue to burn in a couple more dives. I Will keep reporting.

Jorge A. Mahauad


Darwin Island using rebreathers and good shots of what was there

We came here with a few clear objectives in mind. For Claus and Peter it was to document the close and intimate encounters one can experience by diving the northern Galapagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf in a closed circuit rebreather.

For me the main objective was to “test drive” the upcoming rebreather charters here and to work hands on in what rebreather support will be like. I also had a second objective and that was to define the potential interest of the northern islands for dives requiring more "advanced" techniques and profiles.

Darwin Island only has one dive site, the Darwin Arch. This is the most famous dive site of the Galapagos and one of the world’s top places for encounters with marine megafauna. A real world class dive site; unfortunately conditions were not favorable and Claus and Peter’s objective started to look a bit far from achievable; on the other hand, my objective was pushed to the limit. 

At four one hour dives a day, all before 4pm, the logistics of boosting high pressure oxygen and topping up diluent with 9 open circuit divers around, no dedicated area for rebreather support and a particularly unhappy rebreather proved a considerable task load. As a result, I’m changing my diver to booster /oxygen ratio for rebreather support. Also, the value of being in the trip with more CCR divers and performing CCR profiles was proven very high.

Even with the adverse conditions we managed to get some interesting shots in the two days spent in Darwin Island. Dr. Claus Meyer proved himself a very relaxed and patient photographer and he managed to work his magic with whatever was in hand. 

At the end of the second day we are moving to Wolf Island, some 22 miles south of Darwin.
Jorge A. Mahauad


Day three. Punta Carrion, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Day three: April 26, 2011
Diving Punta Carrión in Santa Cruz Island

First day of a diving cruise in the Galapagos Islands is always a bit slow. Check out dives in “user friendly” dive sites. Today we did a couple of dives in the Santa Cruz and Baltra area, refueled the ship and departed for Darwin Island. There is not much to report on this day “advanced diving –wise”.

We were on our rebreathers doing recreational profiles with 62 and 66 minute runtimes and saw some wildlife. A few shots:

All three rebreathers are ready, our air diluent is toped up and we have 200 bar of oxygen in our cylinders. We are using air as a bailout and expect good things from the days to come. We are on our way to Darwin Island right now. This is the northenmost island in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and is about 120 miles north from the central islands. Our ETA is about 9am and we will hit the water as soon as we get there.

Jorge A. Mahauad

Exploring a deep cavern grotto in Gordon Rocks

Monday, April 25, 2011
Day two

We chartered a private boat and boarded everything at about 7am from the private dock at the office. The supply had a complete set of everything and almost anything we could need: from bailout cylinders and decompression oxygen to a booster pump and double cylinders. The plan was simple, go to Gordon Rocks, a collapsed crater in the north east side of Santa Cruz Island and dive a cavern that came to our attention in August 2010 while diving with Andy Phillips.

Dr. Claus Meyer and Jorge A. Mahauad
The dive site is very short and mobility is often limited by the ever changing current direction. To locate and explore a little bit further the cavern inside this crater we had to start the dive from the outside of the crater, drop down to 40 meters and start working from there. For a first dive we planned a maximum depth of 45 meters, a conservative limit for our air diluent cylinders and a profile of 20 minutes at that depth, then and ascent to 25 meters for another 20 minutes and 40 minutes at 15 meters afterwards. We droped in the wall and swam for a while...

Jorge A. Mahauad diving the Gordon Wall at -45m
We found the cavern. I had the lead with a Dive Rite 10 watt HID cave diving light. Peter and Claus had Light and Motion LED lights mounted on their cameras and followed in a cave diving formation; we deemed the use of a guideline unnecessary. Although Peter, Claus and me had cave and/or wreck training, penetration was limited to cavern practices and sunlight was always regarded as our visual reference for the exit. 

We were diving well above the sand bottom and the grotto had no ceiling so loss of visibility and percoilation were not potential problems. We swam for about 50 meters and as the grotto narrowed I pointed “restriction”and “turn”. The bottom of this grotto is at about 50 meters and the sand formation creates a wider area. Further exploration with light trimix in the unit and a more ambitious penetration objective is something I am keen of doing sometime soon.

Back shot of Peter Seupel at the grotto (-45m)

Peter Seupel at the cavern in Gordon Rocks

Jorge A. Mahauad upon exiting the cavern at -45m deep
After exiting the grotto we continued the dive with a nice steep wall and around the conventional dive site. We exited the water a one hour surface interval was followed by a second dive following the recreational dive area. In the second dive we had some wildlife including many green sea turtles, a couple of hammer head sharks, white tip reef sharks, eagle rays, sting rays and reef fish.

Peter Seupel diving the Gordon Wall. Photo: Dr. Claus Meyer

We got back to the office and started preparing and rinsing everything. The next day we would board Deep Blue, a diving vessel in the Galapagos Islands, to go on a weeklong diving cruise with our CCR’s. Two oxygen cylinders, one booster pump, 40 kilos of sofnolime, toolbox, spares, three rebreathers, two cameras and housings, fill whips, adapters and almost everything we could need were boarded on a truck at 4:45am. We arrived in Baltra at 6am and boarded the ship.

A short text on day three of this "Galapagos Rebreather Liveaboard April 2011" and some more shots will be published tomorrow. 
Jorge A. Mahauad