Expedition to Galapagos

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Week Four

27 Feb. 1999. You won’t believe where we are now – DARWIN! 6:30 a.m.

After finding the greenest, muckiest water ever at Cousins, Al made the decision to move north again to Darwin. This is a considerable haul and eliminated any chance that we’d hit Cabo Douglas and marine iguanas. While I understood his motivation (clear water, potential for more big-animal shots), I am very disappointed that we didn’t give the marine iguanas another shot. Hammerhead sharks are high drama in IMAX, but they’re not unique to Galapagos as marine iguanas are. Anyway, we are here and the poor spirits this morning may be as much from the rough passage last night as from the disappointment regarding Cabo Douglas.


Diving with the Moray Eels
28 Feb. 1999, Darwin Island, 6:25 a.m.

Well, Al began the time at Darwin doing solo dives, and I began to fear that my time at Darwin was going to be spent sitting on this boat. This is basically intolerable for someone who loves being in the water as much as I do! So, when Al said he was going back in at 3:30 with the 80 lens to try to get close-ups of some large wrasse-like fishes "cleaning" hammerheads, I suggested I go along to identify these fishes. Al agreed, so into the water I went for another encounter with the hammerheads. Al dropped me off on that same pinnacle as before and took off with the camera. At one point, he began herding large numbers of sharks toward me. Once, I was sitting there watching a Bodianus (hogfish) and a trumpetfish in what looked like a cleaning station posture, when I looked up to see a big group of hammerheads approaching me. I thought that one got close to me the last time we were here, but it didn’t compare to how close one came to me yesterday! Trying not to exaggerate here, I would swear that the animal was within 2-3 ft. from my face before it turned away! Whew, that was close.

A lot of discussion ensued last night after we watched the footage from the day. Mitch and Randy have an idea of a sequence with large moray eels, and Dave likes the idea a lot. Al is afraid that it will take a huge amount of time. Nothing was decided definitely, but we will shoot hammerheads today.

Darwin is nice still. The dolphins are still around and still performing their tricks. And there are lots of birds on the island. The weather is nice, but there’s been a gentle swell that has kept the boat in a constant roll – with the occasional huge roll! "Breakfast, breakfast" calls Alex...

4:30 p.m. Wow, what a day. After Al’s solo dive this morning, Al, Randy, Mitch and I went in at the anchor site to scope out a moray eel shot. Took the camera, but the intent wasn’t to shoot much on eels yet. I was given a mesh bag full of fish heads to carry as a moray lure. Ha... more like dinner for a horde of hungry morays who hadn’t eaten in weeks. What a sight. First one started sniffing around me, and before I knew it there were 5-6, probably 10-12 eventually. It was like a swarm of snakes, Medusa’s head. The eels were biting the bag hard and twice pulled it away from me. I hear Al through the buddy phone saying "Carole, don’t let the eels have the bag, don’t let them have the bag." Right. They’ve already got it. And I’m not sticking my hand down in that swarm and retrieving it! Randy got it once for me. I used the handle of my net to retrieve it the second time. Anyway, I’m terrified the whole time of being bitten (eels don’t see well), and I understand that their bites hurt. They were certainly pulling hard on the bait bag – the jaws must be incredibly powerful. Finally, I pulled away from the swarm with the bag and went up off the bottom 10 ft. or so. I was breathing pretty hard at this point and needed a break – especially since we were nearly 100 ft. deep. The eels followed me up a little ways but mercifully dropped off and returned to the bottom. About the time I was beginning to catch my breath, I heard Al saying "Where’s Carole with the bait?" Aaaaargh! So back into the frenzy I went. Al was trying to film the swarm that was still milling around, but the current was ripping and getting stronger each minute we were there. We were all struggling to keep our positions, control the camera, and not get bit. Al soon called it quits and drove off into shallower water with the camera. Mitch, Randy, and I were having trouble just holding onto the rock wall because the current had gotten so strong. Try as we did to claw our way up the wall and not get swept away, we were making slow progress. Randy was running low on air, and we knew we’d never make it up the wall with what he had left. So we let go and began a slow ascent to the surface while being swept downstream. This was not a big deal because surface boats were monitoring our position, so we drifted together and then made our safety stop. While at the stop, we began examining the bait bag and were incredulous to find that it was almost completely shredded. Benigno picked us up on the surface, and we were nearly hysterical with laughter as we drove back to the DAPHNE in the panga. You really don’t know whether to laugh or cry after such an intense experience – you don’t have dives like that one very often.

Randy, Mitch, and Al are back in the water now, scoping out a site that Mitch and Mathias marked for filming eels while Al and I dove at the arch this morning. The eel site isn’t ideal, since at 70 ft. it limits our available time there, but there are a lot of eels, some sand (good contrast for the spotted morays which blend in too well with the rocks), and much less current than we experienced on the first dive. Al hopes to light the set with HMIs (this, too, will help increase contrast of eels and rocks), and plans are to shoot the eel sequence first thing tomorrow morning. We’ll be a bit more subtle with the bait this time, and I won’t have to hold the bloody bag thank goodness...

On the arch dive this afternoon, I went again to my pinnacle perch and waited there while Al tooled around. While I was there, the water changed dramatically – from partly clear and warm to total muck. I was pulled first in one direction by a strong, warm current, and then seconds later, I was pulled in the opposite direction by a strong cold current. I had a heck of a time just hanging on to the pinnacle, and it was hard to enjoy the scenery (i.e., my new pet hogfish and numerous hammerheads) because I could barely see them. As I mentioned before, when two different currents like these mix, the resulting "front" area is very viscous and visibility drops dramatically. Al eventually came back to get me, and we went for quite the ride – through big hammerhead schools and down to 70 ft. where we saw five huge marble rays swimming along the bottom. I hopped off the batmobile and Al dove down another 50 ft. to try to film the rays, but it was too dark down there. Tough luck – they were spectacular.

1 March 1999, Darwin Is., 6:20 a.m.

We’ve "leaped" into March early this year. I was so surprised that my Timex Indiglo® knew it was March 1 and not Feb. 29 this morning. Not a great technological feat I’m sure, but it tickled me nevertheless.

Forgot to mention yesterday that my plankton sample Saturday night was full of ctenophores; I had a whole bucketful of "jello" to sort through and found very few fish. Had the same situation last night although I shortened the set and thus reduced the overall volume of the catch. The last time we were up here, I didn’t catch any ctenophores, so things change rapidly. Anyway, last night I found a larval fish (silvery and short) in the body cavity of a ctenophore, and it reminded me that ctenophores are big predators of larval fishes. If you saw the volume of ctenophores in my net, you’d wonder how any fish larvae survive! Sat up here (I typically do these morning entries on the upper deck and watch the sunrise, birds, dolphins, etc.... perfect way to start a day) after sorting my sample last night with some of the guys. Such a nice group of people we have on this ship. As with last summer, I’m sure I’ll be sad to leave them all at the end of this trip. Mitch will leave soon – when the topside crew comes in, and we will all miss his stories. Funny guy – and always smiling and, as someone said, he has "a personality and a half!".

Dave Clark said his family reported that the IMAX theater at Natural History opened last Saturday night with the 2-D film "Africa’s Elephant Kingdom." Sorry I missed that, but I’d rather be here! Al and the boys will try the first eel filming this morning, and then Al will try to work me into this scene later. Hope it all works as well as we hope. Should be dramatic in 3-D.

Al is thinking of returning to Darwin Is. in the next few years to do "Darwin Island: The Last Great Frontier." He wants to scale the Island and the arch, covering both land and underwater. There is so much happening here in both places, it would probably be a great film.

2 March 1999 Darwin Island, 6:30 a.m.

We’ve got a little drama in this film now! The entire group worked together yesterday to pull off the eel sequence, and we came away with some excellent footage of fine-spotted morays. The morning shot was the crucial one because it would determine if we could pull the sequence off. Those of us on the ship followed the underwater progress through Ray’s sound system. The first job was to set the camera on the sand bottom chosen Sunday and weight it against the surge and bottom current (as I noted before, the site was ca. 60-70 ft.). Then the "set" was built – a pile of rocks to obscure a plastic jug of bait into which holes had been punched. All of this went smoothly, and within ca. 15 minutes, Al was filming a mess of eels that came to the site. Randy held an HMI to light the set, and Mitch coerced the eels to move around by holding and waving a long stick to which was attached a small bait bottle. On the second dive, I was supposed to swim into the scene, "discover" the eels, shine my flashlight at them and observe them, and then move on. But every time I would swim into the scene, the eels would leave the rocks and come at me! I’d be kneeling on the sand bottom while first one and up to five eels would charge out at me. I did the sensible thing, which was to back up, but the problem was I kept backing up out of the frame of the camera (for this shot, as I mentioned, it was set and weighted, so it couldn’t be moved). Al is saying to me through the buddy phone, "Carole, you have to stay in the shot." And I’m thinking YOU come here and stay put with eels coming at your face! I did eventually hold my ground on a couple shots, but I’d have to use my flashlight and hand net to keep the eels at bay. I did this as gently as I could, with slow movements, because although I wanted them to stay off of me, I didn’t want to startle them. It was hard to sit there, though, because your instinct is to bolt! Each time we started the shot, I had to swim a short distance to another rock pile and get down behind it so that I was not in the picture when the camera rolled. The eels kept following me there, and each time I’d go over to the rocks and look down to where I was supposed to crouch, there would be 2 or 3 eels down there gaping up at me with those big jaws. Al would say "Get down Carole, get down," and I’d try to gently kick the eels out of the way. We did this scene at least 4 or 5 times, and they always came out after me. Not sure why they seemed attracted to my face. Possibly the bubbles coming from my regulator. Or the light I was holding up. Moray eels are typically reclusive fishes, and you rarely see them out swimming around in the open. It would be interesting to return to Galapagos to study their behavior. I accused the producer of sabotaging my dive gear with something smelly, but he swears he didn’t. Anyway, I will not soon forget my experience with Galapagos spotted morays! The last shot Al did was with the 80 lens, and he got some great close-up shots of the mouths of the eels gaping open and shut. They look menacing when they do this, but actually this is how they breath.

This is our last day of underwater filming. We’ll leave Darwin at 3:00 p.m. and cruise back south to Baltra to meet the topside crew and the SULLIVAN, the new ship that will accompany us on the rest of the shoot.

3 March 1999, En Route to Baltra, 6:30 a.m.

Well, it’s an underwater wrap. Did one film dive at the arch yesterday morning, and then Randy and Mitch took some underwater publicity stills and video of Al and me. Finally got my "Batman & Robin on the Batmobile" shot for Dad! What fun that riding around was. Nothing much was happening at the arch for filming, so Al tried one other spot with the same results. We pulled anchor at lunch and steamed to Wolf. Al jumped in there to check conditions and found poor visibility again. So, we started the trek home at 3:30 p.m. I did another aerobic workout on the top deck while we were steaming – I was treated to a fantastic rainbow for the longest time. We’ve seen quite a few spectacular rainbows on this trip, especially up north. The Darwin dolphins gave us another farewell show of bow riding and wake jumping. Ciao.


The End of the Underwater Filming
4 March 1999, Puerto Ayora, 2:20 p.m.

Arrived here about 8:00 p.m. last night after spending the day loading and unloading the DAPHNE and our new ship SULLIVAN. We all immediately hit the shore and proceeded to celebrate the conclusion of the first half of the trip. Some of our crew, I hear, never even made it back to the ship last night...! Randy, Mitch, and I got back about 2:00 a.m. but stayed up drinking water for another hour. Mitch left about 7:00 this morning. The rest of us slept in a bit and then sat around drinking coffee. Dave Clark’s son, Duncan (14), arrived with the top-side crew and is staying in Dave’s room. I think he got a little lesson from the crew this morning on the negative effects of a night on the town...!

Dave and Al were off at a breakfast meeting, and when they returned, Dave departed again, and then Al fell into the water when getting off the zodiac. He’s developed a habit of walking along the pontoons of the zodiac instead of the floor, and this time, he lost his balance. He was fully clothed, and we all had to chuckle at this, although of course we did this secretly so as not to embarrass him (Al is very agile and fit). I was laughing so hard I had to go to my cabin and bury my head in my pillow for a few minutes. Everything seemed funny this morning; I think it must have something to do with the break from the boat we had last night.

I just got back from town where I picked up a few things for the next leg of the trip. The Ecuadorian currency, the sucre, has plummeted in value, so $1.00 U.S. is now ca. 10,000 sucres vs. ca. 7,200 when we arrived 3 weeks ago; this is good for us, unfortunate for the Ecuadorians. Then I went to Hotel Galapagos, and Jack Nelson let me use his computer to send a few e-mail messages. We’ve missed this little amenity this trip! Word from Camille is that she does plan to come down, with or without Larry O’Reilly, but it won’t be until near the end of our stay.


Climbing and Rappelling in Galapagos
5 March 1999, Plaza, 5:00 a.m.

Hmmm..., our schedule changes. Had breakfast at 4:15 a.m., and this will become pretty standard I hear. We had a group meeting on the DAPHNE yesterday evening, where we all got to hear Michael Caulfield’s vision of the top-side shoot. Michael is an Australian who’s been brought in as a creative consultant on the film. He will direct the top-side photography. He was very straightforward and direct with us yesterday evening and made no bones about the fact that he expects a lot from this crew. With Michael are Reed Smoot (camera operator), Bobby Adams and Sean Maxwell (grips), and Suzanna Struve (an Ecuadorian living in D.C. and working at the Charles Darwin Foundation). Doug Lavender is also back, and this time he’s been allowed to bring Roberta on the ship. It was great seeing Doug and Roberta again, and it’s nice to have some female company – even if they are on a different ship.

Had dinner at the 4-Lanterns last night with part of the group, and then we boarded the ship to begin the sail to Plaza. Had a smooth trip, and I didn’t even hear the arrival ruckus, which would have occurred about midnight or 1:00 a.m.

The "boys" are on shore in the dark right now, scoping things out. I’m on stand-by until this afternoon, so hope to get in the water with my net and anesthetic and do some collecting this morning.

4:30 p.m. You wake up thinking it will be an ordinary day, and the next thing you know, you’re going over the edge of a cliff in rappelling gear and climbing part way down a steep vertical face of rock! We filmed at this cliff on Plaza during the summer, but then I just walked to near the edge and gazed out. When Michael Caulfield first saw the cliff, he told me he wanted me "down there." I didn’t believe him at first – we’ve been told countless times to "stay away from the crumbly edge of the volcanic cliffs," but he was serious. So, after we finished hauling all the camera gear up to the top of the cliff (no small feat), Randy started teaching me the basics of climbing. He’d brought a harness for me (for a planned rappelling scene in a lava tube), and it fits great. He soon had me belaying and tying knots and generally learning safety measures for climbing. For this shot on the cliff, we used the crane and "hot head," a new addition to our equipment that hangs with the camera from the crane and can twist, turn, and be remotely operated. This means that the camera operator doesn’t have to sit in a chair at the end of the crane, and the camera can be swung out over cliffs and ledges, etc. In this shot, the camera pans over the landscape on the north part of the scene, sweeping over cactus trees and low brush, and then up and over the cliff, where I’m climbing down the wall. Randy was my lifeline for this shot, which we practiced or performed at least a dozen times. A line from my harness went to Randy’s harness and belay, and from him to two anchor lines around big rocks. A very safe set-up, but still a scary time for me going over the edge! It is a long way down to the water from the top of the cliff, and of course Michael asked that I stop and look back and down during the shot – yikes! As Randy said, climbing is easy once you get used to being in the vertical dimension, which I am not. Also, the lava rock was crumbly along the edge of the cliff, and I was constantly loosening bits of rock during the climbs. Although I was doing my own climbing, on one trial run Randy asked me to let go of the wall and lean back on the rope – his way of getting me to trust the gear so that I felt comfortable with the fact that he "had" me if I slipped. I think every nerve in my body was firing when I leaned back – I was really shaking. But he was right that I felt much better about things after that. I can’t remember ever putting my life in someone’s hands so completely; I think I trusted Randy because he is such a professional, always checking and rechecking his gear, whether it’s dive gear or climbing gear. Also, we’ve become great friends, and I don’t think he’d have done anything that put me in danger. Nevertheless, you can close your eyes during this scene of the film Mom!

 

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