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MALPELO review on the Ferox liveaboard

Discussion in 'South America' started by moorish8idol, Sep 7, 2019.

  1. moorish8idol

    moorish8idol Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Canada
    Hi folks,

    I have recently returned from a fabulous 9 day trip to Malpelo on the lovely Ferox and as promised, am going to share the details of my experience. TLDR: It’s a fantastic trip, a fantastic site and Tony’s operation is amazing. This is not a “luxury” liveaboard in the traditional sense but it is a huge luxury to have such a fantastic dive site ALL TO YOURSELF and with a highly competent, kind and safe boat/crew.

    As many of you know, the Ferox is a new operation and has been running Malpelo trips for just about 18 months now. The owner Tony is a Colombian-American former merchant marine and bought the Ferox from the Swedish navy. He has made a number of adjustments and improvements to make the sturdy vessel into a more dive-friendly vessel. Since he still considers this a burgeoning op, it appears that Tony accompanies most (or all) of the boat's dive trips just to make sure that crew are excelling and guests are happy. I enjoyed our many chats and really wish him and his operations the best of luck and look forward to joining the Ferox again in the future.

    Cabins and boat space
    At present, Tony takes a max of 12 divers - there are 4 single cabins, all with en-suite and individually controlled AC in addition to 2 twin cabins and 2 double cabins (all in the lower deck except for 2 single cabins on the main deck where you will find the dive prep area and dining space). I saw one of the double cabins and it was very spacious with a TV and a long, narrow bathroom. I LOVE that Tony has made for small but highly functional and private single cabins and wish more dive ops did this. As much as I have been ok sharing my cabin with other (strangers) divers in the past, this has really spoilt me. While at Malpelo, the bow area has space for some sun loungers and there is a covered dining and chill area on the stern of the main deck. The stern of the top deck also has sun loungers and a bar space. Your dive equipment and tanks stay on the tenders for the duration of the trip so you only need to get on and off with your wetsuit, mask and camera. Since the seas can be rough, you gear up into your vest and tank once you arrive at the dive site. A lot easier and more comfortable! Tony is rightly proud of his all-Colombian crew and especially his two lancheros who are experts at navigating the Malpelo marine terrain and making sure they are following the divers’ bubbles (or not - they purportedly even manage to follow rebreathers!) and we never had any issues with pickups once the dive was over. By popular demand, Tony built an upstairs indoor lounge with AC, TV screen and couches, though admittedly this is seldom used. We really only stayed in there during the Park presentation on the way over (a Malpelo park ranger accompanies all trips and will dive with you throughout the week) and during a photo sharing ceremony at the end. We didn’t encounter super hot or sunny weather on our trip (it was mostly overcast with some wind and rain and with the diving) so we tended to congregate in our warm clothes and ponchos in the social-dining areas between and after dives.

    Diving style
    Security and safety is Tony’s number 1 priority and it shows. All divers are equipped with Macready GPS beacons and must carry them at all times. Tony is the only recreational vessel using these GPS beacons. Independent diving is not permitted at Malpelo. You will be in one of two dive groups and need to stay together for the duration and ascent together. There is little to no tolerance for divers that refuse to respect this and for good reason - we encountered fairly tame conditions during our trip (only a few examples of moderate current and tricky swells/surge) but Malpelo is famous for having some very rough and tough conditions in the water and topside and they can change in the matter of an instant. There are 3 dives a day but longer dives are certainly possible if the group can manage their air effectively. My all-female group was excellent on air consumption so we generally were able to stay down for 60-75 minutes each dive. Since I was the least efficient on air, Tony happily gave me one of his 15 L tanks to extend my time with my buddies - he is the only operator in Colombia that has these tanks available for diving so take advantage!

    Quality of the diving and wildlife - really excellent!
    Not all Eastern Pacific dive sites are alike - based on what I had read beforehand, I think I was really quite pleasantly surprised about Malpelo and would have to say that I prefer it to Socorro (though Socorro is still excellent and highly recommended - I haven’t been personally but fellow guests that have also traveled to Cocos appeared to agree that Malpelo topped their experiences there as well - the Galapagos appears to still take the top-spot however). The diversity of the wildlife and the dive sites/types of diving makes Malpelo extremely interesting. The topography changes quite a bit from site to site so at times we were “chilling” off of rocks at a cleaning station or swimming through channels, exploring caves or drifting around the rocks, pinnacles and some sandy bottoms. We saw hammerheads on every single dive. Numerous individuals regularly made fairly close passes and we saw large schools (at varying distances) every day (most dives I would say) ranging from 20-100 sharks or so. I am told that for much closer interactions with even bigger schools, February is one of the better times of the year (due to much colder water in the 18-21 degree range). In August, we encountered water temps around 25-26 degrees on average though the hammerheads were frequently seen very high up at around 10-15 metres! Silkies were regularly encountered closer to the surface and during safety stops. I am told the best chance at seeing the huge schools of (up to 1000) silkies is in the month of May (though I was also told that such schools aren’t necessarily present every year). I have never seen such huge Galapagos sharks and we reliably saw small groups of them on most dives and at cleaning stations. These buddies were regularly seen in the 3 metre range and came very very close, as in almost uncomfortably close! Our group had very very good luck at El Acuario site where you hang around the rocks and see 7-8 or more come in very close for cleanings while we the hammers also came in for a clean, though less close. August is whale shark season and we were lucky to encounter different animals on 2 different dives, one a very curious 8 m juvenile male who hung with the group for about 25 minutes and another very large about 12 metre animal that made a couple passes. We also were lucky to encounter dolphins a few times. Free swimming moray eels are ever present and eagle rays are an extremely common sight - we were able to encounter mobulas a few times and even met with a decently sized oceanic manta when coming out of the Gringa cave heading into El Bajon site (where schools of hammerheads also patrol the channel). Schools of jacks, snappers etc also very common. On less exciting moments at the cleaning stations, we were entertained by curious hog fish, super cute gobies, very well fed white-tip sharks, Moorish idols and so on. The sand-tooth tiger shark (aka the monstruo aka the Ferox shark) tends to congregate in non-recreational depths so we didn’t see one though we were told they are more commonly seen as rec levels in the cold water months (ie January-February). Nitrox is free and obligatory on this trip and we used 32% mixes on each dive so didn't exceed the 30 metre threshold though this was plenty deep for the action. The colder water months mean you can stay even shallower and spent a lot more time underwater if you like.

    Food and drink
    Food and drink were plentiful and largely Colombian (seafood, fish, pasta, burgers, curries with rice, soups, plantains, beans etc) and the kitchen was happy to accommodate special dietary needs such as vegetarian and pescatarian diets. The bar isn’t huge but we had regular access to wine, Colombian rum and Poker beer. Snacks between dives were always on offer and there is hot water/coffee/hot chocolate available all day. If you need anything at any time, the crew is there to help you out.

  2. moorish8idol

    moorish8idol Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Canada
    The trip begins at the Intercontinental Hotel in Cali. The airport is fairly well-served and there are numerous flights with Copa from Panama City in case you are eager to avoid Bogota airport (I was). The trip into town is less than $20 US by taxi and can be made in about 30 minutes. I stayed at a nearby hotel and one of the dive masters kindly picked me and my gear up to head over to the IC the afternoon of our departure. The dive guides come to the hotel and the group is transported the 3-4 hour drive (with bathroom/food break) to Buenaventura port which, despite the many government official warnings, is a fairly safe destination to board the boat. The bus arrives, luggage is transported down to the dock and taken on tenders out to the vessel and you quickly get on the Ferox and begin the 30 hour voyage to MP. On your return, the crew aims to be back in Buenaventura before nightfall the last night so you can comfortably leave around 8 am the next day and be back in Cali before noon. If you don’t second-guess yourself going down to Cabo San Lucas to board a Socorro LOB, you really shouldn’t think twice about heading to Cali/Buenaventura for Malpelo. Having spoken to Tony a lot, I understand how important it is for a Colombian operator that employs a Colombian crew to have a regular presence in Malpelo - particularly important for conservation efforts and to try (minimally) to deter illegal fishing in the park. If Tony is able to see through his plans to introduce a second LOB by 2021, there would be a near permanent presence of divers in the Malpelo park. Unfortunately the crew reported on the previous trip to seeing 37 illegal fishing boats in the park - once reported, only 6 boats were detained and crew arrested (ie 31 free to continue to fish).

    Let me know if you have any questions or concerns and I'd be happy to answer here since there isn't much info about Malpelo on this forum and the Ferox is still new. If you love wild diving all to yourself and don't need all of the luxury amenities, please go and support this liveaboard and help keep Malpelo protected!
    Knockneed Man, <*)))><, Dan and 9 others like this.
  3. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    Excellent report, thank you.

    Why were only 6 arrested? Man power or something more nefarious? Do you know?
  4. moorish8idol

    moorish8idol Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Canada
    100% manpower issues. The Colombian navy is 30 hours from Malpelo (when not in the area - we did have a navy diver just hop on board with us for a couple of dives one day) and they are mostly focused on drug trafficking though they are starting to realize that these boats often combine illegal fishing with drug trafficking so there is a bit of a peaked interest. The presence of dive boats in the area is a deterrent which is why is so important to try and have a near-permanent presence there!
    Dan and chillyinCanada like this.
  5. matthall

    matthall Solo Diver

    Thanks for a nice report.
    I'm thinking about going in mid-January; any thoughts on what sort of marine life might be plentiful at that time?
    Weather and sea conditions?


  6. Sunn

    Sunn Barracuda

    how many days in Malpelo ?

    what was the total cost of this trip ?
  7. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    Excellent, detailed, practical report. Appreciate comparison with Socorros, and other's views comparing with Cocos and Galapagos; I think Malpelo joins these 3 as the 4 major regional 'big animal' destinations (I'm not counting Guadalupe great white cage diving - which sounds like a different experience). You packed a lot in...I still have a few questions.

    Any idea how much moving the boat does, in transit and once out at Malpelo? I ask thinking some people are prone to sea sickness, and wondering if this is one of those 'don't forget the scopolamine patches/tablets' destinations.

    Were the ponchos to keep the wind off you, or was it often rainy? Warm clothes? I figured it'd be tropical topside; was this to warm back up between dives? On a Southern Channel Islands trip out of California, I learned a steady topside breeze can cause evaporative cooling between dives - was that an issue?

    Speaking of which, you indicated water temp.s are seasonal, and you guys average 25-26 degrees Celsius (77 - 78.8 F).

    At least some Galapagos dive days can be 4/day (depending on transit time as they move around). I'm not sure about Cocos or the Socorros (translation; too lazy to go look it up right now). Wonder just how the total trip dive counts tend to compare? From what I understand, the transit time to Socorros is 20 - 24 hours (?), Cocos 36 hours, and you said 30 hours for Malpelo. So, for a 3 day trip, you dove what, 6 1/2 or 7 days?

    Speaking of which, with the Galapagos (haven't been to any of these at least yet, by the way), I read boats often head to Wolf and Darwin - way north. So the boats move around over a pretty large area. The Socorros is a group of islands. Cocos Island I'm guessing is just the one? Wonder how much large area the Ferox moves around during the dive week compared to those?

    Wonder how many of those big tanks he's got? Near half of humans (and from what I read well over half of divers) aren't female, and while I imagine those heading to Malpelo tend to be advanced dives, I figure most will average shorter time than an all-female 'excellent-on-air' group.

    Can you give more detail about this? Is there anything about Socorro you preferred? From what I read, Socorro is the cheapest (relatively) of these big 4 destinations for most, and served by a number of live-aboards (some complained it's getting 'crowded') vs. Malpelo the one (so finding a slot might be easier).

    Did you see other mantas this trip?

    I imagine some people trying to decide amidst the big 4 big animal destinations may wonder which species are much more likely to be seen at each. Since it's seasonal I wonder what the breakdown would be? So far, the main distinctive standout that comes to mind are the tiger sharks of Cocos Island (though after the fatal attack in 2017 and one biting someone's BCD in 2018 enthusiasm for that may've cooled a bit).

    Great review!
    chillyinCanada and Trailboss123 like this.
  8. NothingClever

    NothingClever ScubaBoard Sponsor ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Red Sea and Atlantic Ocean
    Very nice report, moorish8. Thanks for taking the time to post your experience and insight.
    Hippocampus01 likes this.
  9. scubadada

    scubadada Diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Philadelphia and Boynton Beach
    Hi @moorish8idol

    Thanks for the excellent review, there is not much information regarding Malpelo. I will be on the Ferox in June, I have previously been to Cocos, Galapagos, and Revillagigedos. I'm really looking forward to this jewel.
  10. moorish8idol

    moorish8idol Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Canada
    Happy to help guys - I think Tony is doing such a great job with this operation that I wanted to make sure everyone was aware how great it is! As for your questions:

    - How much does the boat move? Once you get to Malpelo, you may not move at all. There are only 2 mooring lines from what I understand (a third was reportedly cut by one of the former operators when they did their last visit there - I don't know if this is true or not but if so, extremely disappointing to say the least). We moved the boat one afternoon since the waves were up and we were rocking quite a bit but then moved back shortly thereafter as the other spot wasn't much better. You are pretty exposed out there so I can imagine that in rougher seas you could be dealing with quite a bit of rocking. There is no land to go to while out there! So normally the boat will stay put and then you use the tender to get to the dive sites - 5-15 minutes depending on where you are going. I am not at all prone to sea sickness but there was one night in the mooring where NONE of us got a good sleep because we were rocking quite a bit. Even Tony, the 20 year veteran of the merchant marines said he didn't get a good sleep. Out of us 11 divers only one had a tinge of sea sickness the first day but he was quite inexperienced and had never been on an LOB before. If you are prone at all, the patches or meds certainly can't hurt! The crossing can be a different story of course. Perhaps we were lucky but the way out there was pretty smooth and the way back even smoother. It took us about 30 hours there and maybe only 25 coming back. The Ferox is a solid solid boat though - Tony brought her all the way from Norway across the Atlantic, Panama Canal and the Pacific.

    - I am a friolenta as they say in Spanish. I run very very cold. So even to very warm destinations I always have my plush poncho with hood to warm up after dives. That being said, we were all a bit covered up on the trip - it wasn't cold per se but it wasn't hot and humid either. This was at the end of August - in Buenaventura it was 35 degrees plus with 100% humidity - but once you get an hour or two from the port city, things tend to get a lot cooler, more breezy and less humid. As I said above, you are pretty exposed out on the mooring next to that rock. At night we all had light tropical clothes on with a hoodie or light jacket over top. The dining area is technically outside though it is covered and they have sturdy plastic see-through covers they can set up quite quickly if it is very windy and/or wet outside. The weather was mostly overcast with some light rain so not a lot of opportunities to warm up in the sun in-between dives. There was usually light wind. However the August sea temperatures were around 26 degrees so I was quite comfortable wearing my Bare Evoke 5 mm and hooded vest. I was told that sea temps get down to around 22 degrees or less around February. The dive guides say this is their favourite time of year to dive (and very much low season so if you want to go there in Feb, there are some good deals on with huge discounts). It is much colder yes but they said the viz is quite excellent and that you can comfortably hang around 15 metres and see very much active and up close the giant hammerhead schools (200+) and that you are also much more likely to come across the Ferox shark at those depths too ( they usually hang out way past rec depths). With shallow dives, you can stay in for MUCH longer. They don't put limits on the times to make up for the 3 dives a day rule so we regularly were doing 75 minute dives (and tended to stick around 30 metres until we were close to deco and then shallowed up accordingly) but the DMs said that in February they were doing 90 minute + dives easily!

    - I did a 9 day trip which allowed for 6 full days of diving, 3 dives every day for a total of 18 dives. They also have 10 day trips and Tony told me he was thinking of offering some much longer trips in the 12-14 day range. Sometimes they only do 2 dives the last day but we got in 3 and were back in Buenaventura port just after sunset the night before our departure. In Socorro, we usually did 4 a day but sometimes we only had 45 minutes between dives and dive times were usually 45-60 minutes. Some people missed a dive or two just so they could catch their breath. I would have to check my log book but I think we had a few 3 dive-days because you do have several lengthy passages between the sites once there (and there is a competition to be the first boat on site). You generally start at San Benedicto, then travel the 5+ hours (?I think?) to Socorro and then again to Roca Partida before traveling back towards San Benedicto to do another diving day or so. So Socorro had a lot more movement. The amount of dives we did was also affected by the presence of other boats - there always were several. The general rule at Socorro is the first boat to the site is the first in the water the next day. However we were on the same route at the Valentina and they continually violated this rule - they even skipped an afternoon dive to try to get to the next site ahead of us (I was on the Explorer - a much faster boat). We beat them to it anyway but then they would just go in the water ahead of us. The boat's lack of respect for the rules and other divers left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. I would never ever dive with them as a result.
    And so yes, as I mentioned above the Ferox does not move. It stays in its mooring spot and then you tender to the dive sites around the island of Malpelo. I believe this is similar to what happens at Cocos.

    If you write to Colombia Dive Adventures I am sure Tony or his staff can let you know how many 15 L tanks he has. It looked like he had quite a few. His DMs and a number of us passengers were using them. And Tony had told us that he is getting more and more female majority dive charters!

    Socorro is the cheapest, by far. I really loved going there and the Nautilus boats for example offer a bit more of a luxury experience on board if that is something you are after. Its hard to compare because they are both amazing dive destinations, but I liked Malpelo better. The Ferox is the only boat out there so you have the sites entirely to yourself - this is a HUGE advantage for me. The wildlife is amazing (waaaaay more sharks than Socorro) and the terrain was more diverse and more interesting. Malpelo is not the Manta-destination that Socorro is but we saw several on a number of dives. We saw eagle rays constantly.. like all dives all the time. Malpelo is a hammerhead destination though. We saw the hammers on every single dive and I have never see so many hammers so shallow. Once we hit around 15 metres the hammers were there. And when the water gets colder, the hammers get bigger, in larger groups, and even shallower. I look forward to going back in February one year so I can experience that. The other big animal you will reliably see every dive in Malpelo would be the Galapagos sharks (they were absolutely huge and just lined up in the cleaning stations one after the other and had no problems coming right next to us as we saw and watched) - and we saw silkies on the majority of safety stops. Otherwise, there were dolphins, lots of rays, huge HUGE schools of fish (different types of jacks etc, tuna), turtles and a billion free swimming Morays. The Morays there, for some reason, do NOT hide - they are out and about and loving life lol. There isn't really any coral but there were some swim-through caves, channels, pinnacles etc so as I said the terrain was diverse and kept it interesting.


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