by PADI Course Director Jorge A. Mahauad
When I first started a technical diving operation in the Galapagos in 2009, many of my colleagues and friends thought I was crazy. Some still think I am and very often I tend to agree with them. In any case, we have seen some advancement in the Tec Rec market here in the past few months. I thought my sharing of this could inspire other people who are thinking of a technical diving oriented facility in other areas of the world and the best place to do this is definitely PADI’s Tec Rec Blog.
Even though the Galapagos Islands are a major diving hotspot of the world and a “bucket list” destination for many, technical diving has never been popular here. Hundreds of sharks and other marine mega fauna lurk around in the current at about 15 to 20 meters throughout the year. Very often, the ever inquisitive silky sharks push recreational divers out of their safety stops because of their eagerness to explore; not too good if you are doing decompression diving. In addition, currents are strong and a fairly short drift hang can render a dive team very far from sight in an oceanic archipelago with rough surface condition that is located 1000 kilometers away from the mainland.
But dive conditions aren’t the only challenge. Like many other remote dive destinations, obtaining even a properly rigged set of 12 liter aluminum doubles is a quest, let alone specialized equipment, oxygen cleanliness, soda lime for rebreathers, etc. And, since welcoming a Tec Rec diver is definitely more laborious, the amount of dive operators willing to allow Technical Diving are very limited and guides are hard to find.
On the other hand, my passion for exploration, going beyond and doing things no one has ever done before, are stronger than the pure niche market existence (or not) and all the logistical and supply limitations. This is why in 2010 I opened Galapagos Rebreathers and the Galapagos Tip Top Dive & Training Facility, a 5 Star Instructor Development Dive Resort offering all the recreational and most technical courses available from PADI and the Tec Rec range.
Our first customer in 2010 was Andy Phillips, a Tec Rec IT who brought his Megalodon rebreather. We provided cylinders, Sofnolime, high pressure oxygen and support for his expedition. Since 2010, a number of rebreather friendly live-aboard trips in conjunction with Andy and Peter Seupel have been supported at least once a year. Our September 2013 live-aboard is the biggest to this day with a total of 13 divers on board using many different units. We have Megalodon, Evolution / Inspiration, Hammerhead, JJ, Poseidon and Titan rebreathers booked so far.
In Galapagos the deeper areas of the archipelago are mainly unexplored. Dive tour operators, fishermen and scientists have vast knowledge in the 0 – 30 meter range but little is known about what lies below. This is the reason why some of scientists in the Galapagos have started training in rebreather technologies. In late May 2013, we had the first ever PADI Tec 40 CCR course in the country. The course was taught to Paul Tompkins, whose intention is to use rebreathers to discover deeper species of algae in Galapagos as part of his PhD candidacy.
In addition to the closed circuit technologies, other trends such as sidemount and back-mount open circuit have developed lately. In early May we had the opportunity to teach the PADI sidemount course to a couple of instructor candidates. The specialty instructor course was part of their MSDT program and they became the first sidemount instructors 100% taught in Galapagos. June also saw a couple of other Tec Rec levels. I had a two Tec 40 and Tec 45 diver candidates who worked very hard to earn their Tec Rec certifications.
It is interesting to look back and see that the last three years have made a difference for PADI Tec Rec in Galapagos. This process has not been absent pain and heavy investment. On the other hand, the rewards obtained from seeing my region develop and appear in the world’s Tec Rec map are completely worth the effort.
Continuing with the vision of a more specialized diving in Galapagos, next year we will introduce NORTADA, a new concept charter live-aboard for 8 people. Nortada will be oriented as the option for private groups and specialized crowds such as photographers, rebreathers, and technical divers. The next couple years will also see the completion of the Tec Rec range of courses in Galapagos by the addition of the Tec 60 CCR and Tec 100 CCR levels. We are also working on the establishment of a local deep diving record. The idea of establishing such record is to set a landmark for others to follow and to be the event of a deep reef expedition that will attempt to explore areas of Galapagos where no man has ever gone before, mainly in the 50 – 120 meter range.
Most of these new projects are very ambitious and require a team. If you are a PADI member interested in getting involved please get in touch with me, the possibilities are truly endless.
Galapagos Rebreathers: http://www.galapagosrebreathers.com/
Galapagos Tip Top Dive & Training Facility: http://www.tiptopdiving.com/