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My husband and I were on the Wolf Buddy boat in the Galapagos from Saturday, May 26th through Saturday, June 2nd. The Diving
We kept to the itinerary listed on the Buddy Dive website every day except Day 6. The water was around 75 degrees every day except for Day 6, when it was only around 68. We rented 7mm semi-dry suits from the boat and we were toasty on all days except Day 6, and even that was tolerable, although a full week of diving in that temperature range and I would have wished for an even warmer suit. We did not wear hoods. Gloves are needed at Wolf and Darwin in order to hang onto the rocks.
The current was sometimes fairly strong at Wolf and Darwin but I was able to do all the dives. On the dives with stronger currents we descended and spent most of the dive hanging onto rocks, or sometimes we drifted. We did have to swim against small currents from time to time throughout the trip – it was enough of an effort that I felt it, but I was able to do it. (I'm not a strong swimmer – the currents were a big worry for me going into this trip). Luckily my ears didn't bother me; needing time to clear them on the way down could have been problematic with the currents on some of the Wolf and Darwin dives.
Wolf Buddy equips each diver with a flag, horn, and GPS beacon. Not needed on our trip, thankfully!
The visibility was okay but it wasn't crystal clear tropical water. I'd say 20-60 feet; some sites were murkier than others. Huge schools of creolefish also hindered visibility when scanning the blue for big stuff. We have many photos where you can sort of see sharks/dolphins/rays, but through a curtain of creolefish. In fact, the schools of creolefish were so thick that, when hanging onto rocks, you could barely see the other divers in the group. It was sort of cool to be covered in such a swarm of fish, and sort of irritating. :)
We saw lots of great stuff, though!!!!
Day 1 – Lobos Island, San Cristobal (1 dive): Check-out dive…tons of playful sea lions!
Day 2 – Cape Marshall, Isabella (3 dives): Schools of barracuda, loads of big yellowfin tuna, a few whitetip reef sharks and stingrays
Day 3 – Wolf (1 dive) and Darwin (2 dives): Schools of hammerhead sharks at both Wolf and Darwin. Also silky and Galapagos sharks. Many black/white mating pairs of bigeye jacks at Darwin. Snorkeling with dolphins after the third dive.
Day 4 – Darwin (3 dives): Whale shark, big schools of jacks, good number of hammerheads, a few dolphins
Day 5 – Wolf (3 dives): Large schools of hammerheads, huge pod of dolphins, silky and Galapagos sharks, and spotted eagle ray
*We saw a couple of manta rays at Wolf and Darwin, but since we didn't get any photos I can't remember exactly where or when. We also saw mobula and cow rays.*
Day 6 – Punta Vicente Roca, Isabella (2 dives): An ocean sunfish (mola mola), turtles, and sea lions. The morning dive was supposed to be at Roca Redondo (according to the published itinerary), but we didn't go there, I'm not sure why. We did two morning dives at Punta Vicente Roca but the visibility became so bad during the second dive that we skipped the afternoon dive. During the second dive a green 'cloud' suddenly overtook us and at that point the dive was pretty much over – couldn't see anything.
Day 7 – Cousins Rock, Santa Cruz (2 dives): big school of spotted eagle rays, schools of barracuda, marbled rays, a couple of whitetip reef sharks, many turtles, and some sea lions
We didn't run into another dive boat until Day 6. Until then we were alone at all the sites, save for a few researchers on a small boat at Wolf. Wonderful!
This was our seventh liveaboard trip, and the Wolf Buddy boat was one of the nicest we've been on. The Buddy boats are less than a year old and they are spacious and modern. A large dive deck and lounge/dining room/bar area are on the main level together with 3 guest rooms. Above it is a small sundeck, 4 more guest rooms, and the bridge/captain's quarters. Above that is a large sundeck with a bar, lounge chairs, and a jacuzzi. Unfortunately the jacuzzi was not working, which was disappointing. (And I get the feeling that it may be a longstanding issue that they're in no great hurry to fix).
The guest rooms have large windows and nice bathrooms by liveaboard standards. We had a 'king' bed (two beds pushed together). There is a fair-sized flat screen TV and DVD player in each room, but it doesn't play US format, so we had to watch our DVDs on our laptop. There was a problem with our room's air conditioner the first night – something was loose and it rattled and vibrated and kept us up – but they repaired it the next day. Room 5 is the deluxe suite – we only got a glimpse and saw it on the floorplan - it's bigger, with loads of windows and a sofa. Their AC stopped working at one point, a problem I believe was also quickly fixed. According to the boat plan, there are also two single rooms on the lower level, which is mainly the kitchen and crew quarters, but on our trip no one was staying down there.
The food was better than average and the chef tried hard to accommodate my vegetarianism, mostly with delicious results. Might have been even better equipped if he'd been warned in advance – I'd put it on my paperwork, but the crew had not been informed of my vegetarian diet. The rest of the group seemed pleased with the non-veg offerings; I heard only compliments about the food. Amazingly, alcoholic beverages are free on the Buddy boat – beer, wine, and mixed drinks. That is definitely a first!
Each Buddy liveaboard can accommodate 16 divers, but there were only 8 on our trip - no crowding on the dive deck! The Darwin Buddy didn't go out that week at all, but from what the crew said it sounds like the summer is going to be much busier for them.
We crossed paths with the three other Galapagos liveaboards during the week, and they all looked smaller and more crowded. Of course we thought the Wolf Buddy was the nicest boat and were very pleased with ourselves to have chosen it. :)
The crew were fantastic. On the dive deck they assisted in every way they could with getting into/out of gear and into/out of the panga. As soon as you are rinsed off (there are warm showers on desk) they hand you a big fluffy towel, a hot chocolate, and a snack. Always with a smile.
Hugo the waiter/bartender was also great. Like all of the crew, his English is limited, but he provided restaurant-quality service.
Our dive master/'cruise director' was Nicolas. His English is fluent and he has worked in the dive industry in the Galapagos for several years. He's also a qualified naturalist. He was competent, professional, and personable. He gave us a solid dive briefing each time we went to a new site, and one evening he gave a Galapagos lecture. He knew the dive sites and the wildlife below and above ground very well.
I did think having only one dive master for 8 people was stretching it a bit – on our other liveaboard trips (with one nervewracking exception) it's always been 4 or 6 divers to a guide, and that's with much better visibility. Since conditions in the Galapagos can be challenging, I feel they should probably dive in smaller groups.
The only other thing to mention is that Nicolas did not eat or socialize with the divers. On our other trips, the dive guides/cruise directors (there have always been 3-5) often ate with us, or at least hung out in the lounge/on the sundeck and socialized a bit. We didn't really care, but it was brought up by others in the group more than once, so I thought I should note this in case it's a big deal to someone.
I'm really glad we went to the Galapagos - if you want to see big stuff, it would be difficult to beat this! It deserves to be on a diver's Top-10 trip list. :) For us the highlights were the hordes of hammerheads, the many, many dolphins, the sea lions, the big school of eagle rays, and the mola mola. Also the penguins that we snorkeled with before we got on the liveaboard. (Always happy to see whale sharks, other sharks, mantas, other rays, and turtles, too, but we've seen our fair share of all of these in places with warmer water and better visibility). The Buddy Dive boats are comfortable and well-run, and overall it was a great trip!
1) Mermaid I (Komodo) - 2003, 2) Nimrod Explorer (Coral Sea) - 2005, 3) Queen Scuba (Similans) - 2007, 4) North Sulawesi Aggressor - 2008, 5) Mermaid II (Similans) - 2010, 6) Four Seasons Explorer (Maldives) - 2011
Maybe there's an exception that I'm not recalling, but my memory is of a general rule that when you grab a beer you are supposed to check off on a list so that they can charge you at the end. Few other boats have offered wine and none a full bar with mixed drinks (that I can recall anyway). The FS Explorer offered restaurant-style service, but they also kept track of alcohol consumption and charged us at the end.
RJP - alcoholic beverages are extra. It's printed right there under the 'dining' tab on the FS Explorer website. That's why I thought it was so amazing that drinks were unlimited and free on the Wolf Buddy!