Trip Report Socorro 22-30 December, 2018 Trip Report

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Dan

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Summary
This is a nine-day (22-30 December, 2018) liveaboard trip to Revillagigedo Archipelago, or it’s a better known as Socorro, with Nautilus Undersea. The itinerary, as shown in Table 1, includes 5 days of diving, 4 dives / day, except 1 day during Navy check-in, to a total of 19 dives and a snorkeling with silky shark off the back of the boat.

3Itinerary.jpg

Figure 1 shows the Nautilus Undersea cruising routes (marked by red arrows) around the Revillagigedo Archipelago. We did 1st day of diving in San Benedicto, 2nd day in Roca Partida, 3rd and 4th day in Socorro Island, the 5th (last) day back in San Benedicto. Some of the new diving experiences for me were getting very close encounters with giant mantas and friendly bottlenose dolphins.

2Passage.jpg

Figure 1: Nautilus Undersea routes in Revillagigedo Archipelago (courtesy of Google Earth)

Here is a short video of the highlight of what I saw during the 5 days of diving in Socorro:


Background
A quick browse of Socorro location, I learnt that it is about about 283 miles (468 km) southwest off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, as shown in Figure 2. It would take about 24-28 hour voyage from Cabo San Lucas to Socorro Island.

1Map.JPG

Figure 2: Socorro geographic location (courtesy of Google Earth)

Since I live near Houston, Texas, it was an easy 3-hour flight.

I read the water temperature in Socorro would be about 75-77 °F (24-25 °C) around December. So, I brought a 5mm full wetsuit with hood. The water temperature turned out to be as expected.

The Liveaboard
Nautilus Undersea, as shown in Figure 3, is 105-foot (32m) long ship with 9 staterooms for up to 19 guests, along with two rigid inflatable boats (RIB). It was formerly owned by the Undersea Hunter Group of Costa Rica and it’s well known for 26 years of service to Cocos Island. So, I was quite at ease going with this “well-oiled machine” ship.

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Figure 2: Nautilus Undersea

It runs by 8 crews (a captain, a mate, an engineer, a chef, a host, a deckhand and 2 divemasters) for 19 guests. So, they work very hard to maintain day-to-day operation of the boat and to serve the guests.

The boat layout is very functional for divers. Galley, dinning, and entertainment areas are on the main deck. Camera station and dive deck are outside on the back of the main deck. Six of the staterooms are in lower deck. A triple stateroom and a suite are on the main deck. A premium suite is on the upper deck. The upper deck is also a sundeck with open air sitting area for people to relax in between divings.

The lower-deck stateroom, where I stayed, has a bunk-style single beds, private head and shower, plenty of closet space for 2 divers. The host did a great job of keeping our cabin cleaned and orderly.

Setting up our dive gears and handling them were pretty typical of a liveaboard with RIB. Once we kit up our dive gears at our assigned stations in the dive deck and ready to board on the RIB, the deckhand would take our fins and cameras. We then walked downstairs to the loading platform, got on the RIB by grabbing on a rope, put our legs over the side of the RIB (one at a time), sit on the RIB side and slided to the back of the RIB. Once everyone was onboard, the deckhand would then handed over the fins and the cameras and off we went to the dive site.

The RIB can take 10 people. There were 16 divers on that trip. We were divided into 2 groups of 8 divers, depending on the diver skill level and preference. Group 1 was for the experienced self-reliant divers looking for complete freedom on their dives. Group 2 was for less experienced (especially in diving in blue water) looking for the reassurance of being with a DM to guide and lead the group.

When we were ready to go diving in a new dive site, we would meet at the upper deck area, listen to the dive briefing and headed back down to dive deck afterwards to suit up.

For water entry, the RIB pilot would count to 3 and we all backrolled into the water together at the same time. Each group would descend together following the DM.

The meal (breakfast, lunch & dinner) were buffet type in most of the days. Full course of dinners were served during special day (e.g., Christmas-eve dinner) in the upper deck. The food were excellent. Special dietary meal were served to those who asked for it.

More detail info about the liveaboard can be found here: Giant Mantas at Socorro Island- Nautilus Liveaboards

The diving
We did 4 dives in most of 5 diving days to a total of 19 dives, with a night snorkeling with silky shark. The diving schedule would be posted in the lounge whiteboard and divemaster would announce it to everyone 5 minutes before the scheduled dive briefing. Typical 4-dives / day schedule was as follows:

06:45 – continental breakfast
07:15 – dive 1
09:15 – hot breakfast
10:15 – dive 2
12:15 – lunch
13:45 – dive 3
16:45 – dive 4
19:30 – dinner

We saw 1 to 4 giant mantas in most of our dives (that’s the main reason I came to Socorro), lots of pelagic fish, including 5 species of sharks (galapagos, silvertip, whitetip, silky and hammerhead) and friendly dolphins in Socorro. There would be too many to list them all here from every dives. So I would just mention a few unusual / uncommonly seen by me or the first time I saw them during the trip and anything that was noted in my logbook.

1st Day of Diving
We had a great 1st day of diving in San Benedicto. Water temperature was about 75°F. Dive 1 was in The Canyon, 85 feet depth with 50 feet visibility. It was a calm dive site, a good place for a check dive. Some fish worth noting were silvertip shark, whitetip shark, of course giant manta, as shown in Figure 3, below.

aGH010804c1.jpg

Figure 3: Giant Oceanic Manta Ray of Socorro

Dive 2 was a repeat of Dive 1

Dive 3 was in El Boiler, 77 feet depth. This site is well known for the giant manta cleaning station. Those mantas love to swim over divers' bubbles. So, we gave them plenty of bubbles, as shown in the video, below.


Dive 4 was a repeat of Dive 3 on a shallower site (62 feet depth) and better visibility (60 feet). We saw a few of juvenile silvertip sharks, hanging around us like puppy dogs, as shown in the video, below.


Afterwards, we cruise down to Roca Partida for 2nd of day diving.

2nd Day of Diving
The diving in Roca Partida could be challenging due to we would be exposed to more open water as the island is just a small, steep rock in the middle of Pacific Ocean, as shown in Figure 4, below.

cM1835978.JPG

Figure 4: Roca Partida, Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico

I was so looking forward to see the fish there and video them with my GoPro. Unfortunately, my 6 months old GoPro Hero 6, just decided to shut itself off for unknown reason. Later on when I got back home I troubleshot the problem with GoPro technical support to no avail and I had to send it out for warranty replacement. Fortunately, plenty of dive buddies there brought their cameras and gladly share their videos and pictures. The trip video, posted in the beginning of this trip report is compilation of their videos and pictures. Thank you guys!

Dive 5 to Dive 8 were all done in Roca Partida with depth around 110 to 113 feet, 80 feet visibility, medium surf, a bit of choppy water surface, typical open ocean diving. The nice thing about that day was the mild to no current underwater. The not so nice thing, however, that could also mean that there would be less pelagic fish swimming around. Luckily, we still saw some pelagic fish, like a yellowfin tuna, as shown in Figure 5, below.

dIvan.jpg

Figure 5: Yellowfin Tuna in Roca Partida

We also saw schooling of white-tongue jack, bigeye trevally, and as expected, giant mantas.

Another interesting site to see in Roca Partida is the Balcony, where local resident sleep during the day, i.e., whitetip reef sharks, as shown in Figure 6, below.

dM1835852.JPG

Figure 6: Local resident of The Balcony of Roca Partida, whitetip reef sharks

This trip report is continued on to post 2.
 
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Dan

Dan

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3rd Day of Diving
On this day we went cruising eastwards to southwestern part of Socorro Island. We dove 3 times in Punta Tosca (Dive 9 to Dive 11). There was no 4th dive of the day due Navy check-in on late afternoon. We saw stingray whitetip shark, silvertip shark, torpedo ray and Galapagos shark, as shown in Figure 7 and 8, respectively, below.

fM1836031.JPG

Figure 7: Torpedo Ray

fM1836082.JPG

Figure 8: Galapagos shark

4th Day of Diving
On this day we went cruising around the southern part of Socorro Island. We dove 4 times in Cabo Pearce (Dive 12 to Dive 15). We had a nice encounter with friendly bottlenose dolphins, as shown in Figure 9, below. One of them just swimming vertically, as if imitating how we dove.

hElise1.jpg

Figure 9: Friendly bottlenose dolphins of Socorro

On the 4th dive of the day (Dive 15) we saw among the usual suspects, an endemic fish of Cabo Pearce, which is Clarion damselfish attending her eggs, as shown in Figure 10, below.

hM1836267.JPG

Figure 10: Clarion damselfish attending her eggs

Other eastern Pacific fish that we saw there were Clarion angelfish, redtail triggerfish, Panama Graysby, as shown in Figure 11, 12, and 13, respectively, below.

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Figure 11: Clarion Angelfish

hM1836280.JPG

Figure 12: Redtail Triggerfish

hM1836296.JPG

Figure 13: Panama Graysby

5th Day of Diving
This was the last day of diving. We cruised back to San Benedicto to dive in The Canyon (Dive 16 to Dive 19). The interesting part of the dives for me was to see schooling of hammerheads, as shown in Figure 11, below. Too bad, they were too far away. For close encounter with them, you need to go to Cocos. I was there 3 months earlier, posted the trip report here: Cocos Diving Trip Report, 17 -27 September, 2018

jM1836323.JPG

Figure 11: Schooling of scalloped hammerhead sharks of Socorro

Nevertheless, the schooling of hammerhead sightings in The Canyon was a good closure for the fantastic diving trip to Socorro.

The next day, we headed back to Cabo San Lucas. We had all day to dry up our dive gears in the sun and pack them. We arrived in Cabo San Lucas on 30 December morning, disembarked the ship around 8:30am.

Some of us headed straight to the airport to fly home. While I spent another day in Cabo San Lucas to do some whale watching that afternoon. We saw 3-4 humpback whales surfacing for breath & sticking their tails out of the water as they dove back into the deep water.

Conclusions
My impression of the diving and the trip are very positive. If you want to see giant mantas and bottlenose dolphins in close encounter, Socorro is the place to go. The liveaboard is well organized. I will be coming back for more diving in Socorro in the future, perhaps at different time of the year to see humpback whales underwater and bait ball being hunt by sailfish?
 

togatown

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3rd Day of Diving
On this day we went cruising eastwards to southwestern part of Socorro Island. We dove 3 times in Punta Tosca (Dive 9 to Dive 11). There was no 4th dive of the day due Navy check-in on late afternoon. We saw stingray whitetip shark, silvertip shark, torpedo ray and Galapagos shark, as shown in Figure 7 and 8, respectively, below.

View attachment 502261
Figure 7: Torpedo Ray

View attachment 502262
Figure 8: Galapagos shark

4th Day of Diving
On this day we went cruising around the southern part of Socorro Island. We dove 4 times in Cabo Pearce (Dive 12 to Dive 15). We had a nice encounter with friendly bottlenose dolphins, as shown in Figure 9, below. One of them just swimming vertically, as if imitating how we dove.

View attachment 502263
Figure 9: Friendly bottlenose dolphins of Socorro

On the 4th dive of the day (Dive 15) we saw among the usual suspects, an endemic fish of Cabo Pearce, which is Clarion damselfish attending her eggs, as shown in Figure 10, below.

View attachment 502264
Figure 10: Clarion damselfish attending her eggs

Other eastern Pacific fish that we saw there were Clarion angelfish, redtail triggerfish, Panama Graysby, as shown in Figure 11, 12, and 13, respectively, below.

View attachment 502265
Figure 11: Clarion Angelfish

View attachment 502266
Figure 12: Redtail Triggerfish

View attachment 502267
Figure 13: Panama Graysby

5th Day of Diving
This was the last day of diving. We cruised back to San Benedicto to dive in The Canyon (Dive 16 to Dive 19). The interesting part of the dives for me was to see schooling of hammerheads, as shown in Figure 11, below. Too bad, they were too far away. For close encounter with them, you need to go to Cocos. I was there 3 months earlier, posted the trip report here: Cocos Diving Trip Report, 17 -27 September, 2018

View attachment 502268
Figure 11: Schooling of scalloped hammerhead sharks of Socorro

Nevertheless, the schooling of hammerhead sightings in The Canyon was a good closure for the fantastic diving trip to Socorro.

The next day, we headed back to Cabo San Lucas. We have all day to dry up our dive gears in the sun and pack them. We arrived in Cabo San Lucas on 30 December morning, disembarked the ship around 8:30am.

Some of us headed straight to the airport to fly home. While I spent another day in Cabo San Lucas to do some whale watching that afternoon. We saw 3-4 humpback whales surfacing for breath & sticking their tails out of the water as they dove back into the deep water.

Conclusions
My impression of the diving and the trip are very positive. If you want to see giant mantas and bottlenose dolphins in close encounter, Socorro is the place to go. The liveaboard is well organized. I will be coming back for more diving in Socorro in the future, perhaps at different time of the year to see humpback whales underwater and bait ball being hunt by sailfish?


Great summary and review! We are really excited to be going with Nautilus in early May. One quick question: Did you remove your tank/bcd prior to reboarding the Zodiacs?
 
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Dan

Dan

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Great summary and review! We are really excited to be going with Nautilus in early May. One quick question: Did you remove your tank/bcd prior to reboarding the Zodiacs?

Good question. The answer is yes we did. I missed mentioning that in the report. Thanks for asking.

May is supposedly better for seeing more fish & humpback whales, especially in Roca Partida, according to my cabin mate who went there in May with Nautilus Belle Amie. Hopefully the weather will be good for you to spend 2 days in Roca Partida.

I’m already planning to come back there in May 2021. :D

Have a blast of diving there!
 

togatown

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Good question. The answer is yes we did. I missed mentioning that in the report. Thanks for asking.

May supposedly better for seeing more fish & humpback whales, especially in Roca Partida, according to my cabin mate who went there in May with Nautilus Belle Amie. Hopefully the weather will be good for you to spend 2 days in Roca Partida.

I’m already planning to come back there in May 2021. :D

Have a blast of diving there!

Excellent to know, I may be hitting you up with a few more questions before we go! And thanks again for the very detailed write-up.
 
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Dan

Dan

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Thanks for your kind words. Glad to answer all of your questions. :)
 
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Dan

Dan

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Excellent to know, I may be hitting you up with a few more questions before we go! And thanks again for the very detailed write-up.

More on reboarding the zodiac. Nautilus recommend you to do it in this order:
1st - hand over your camera
2nd - hand over your weight belt / weight pouches if you have integrated BCD.
3rd - remove your BCD and push it up towards the zodiac pilot so he can reach & grab the tank valve and pull the tank / BCD into the zodiac.
4th & last - remove & Hand over your fins.

Since we would be diving a lot in the blue water, another nice safety aspect of diving with them is having their Nautilus Marine Rescue GPS (MRG) loaned to you free of charge during the trip. This is a good safety device to have in case you get lost at sea. I have one myself, but I didn’t bring it on this trip because they would loan to each of us for free. I also carried personal locator beacon (PLB) from http://oceansignal.com/products/plb1/ as a backup to the MRG.
 

drrich2

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Glad to see all the practical description/detail. Love some of those pictures, like the Galapagos shark. Seems like the Socorros are known for dolphin encounters; I wonder why the dolphins there seem (by reputation) more prone to human interaction than in some other places? I've yet to eye-ball a dolphin underwater, but I've been on a boat, or even at the surface, in close proximity before, and had dolphins wished to interact with divers or snorkels they could've (e.g.: Cozumel, Belize, North Carolina, St. Croix).

Wonder how reliable underwater dolphin observation is on Socorros trips? A desire to dive with dolphins comes up on the forum from time to time.

Richard.
 
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Dan

Dan

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Glad to see all the practical description/detail. Love some of those pictures, like the Galapagos shark. Seems like the Socorros are known for dolphin encounters; I wonder why the dolphins there seem (by reputation) more prone to human interaction than in some other places? I've yet to eye-ball a dolphin underwater, but I've been on a boat, or even at the surface, in close proximity before, and had dolphins wished to interact with divers or snorkels they could've (e.g.: Cozumel, Belize, North Carolina, St. Croix).

Wonder how reliable underwater dolphin observation is on Socorros trips? A desire to dive with dolphins comes up on the forum from time to time.

Richard.

Thanks for your kind words.

Nautilus Liveaboards advertises it in their website. So, the probability of diver-dolphin encounter would be high. It came true with us. I’ve seen dolphins while diving in Galápagos, Bali & Raja Ampat, but they were just zooming right through. They had no interest with us. The ones in Socorro are different. There was one that started to swim vertically next to us, as if imitating the way we dove. On another interaction, a mother & juvenile dolphin came up & curiously looked at me in the eyes, did a bit swimming around me before continuing their journey.
 

LoveOceanicGears

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Thank you for this detail trip report. I will be going to Socorro on the same ship in March. Since this is my first liveaboard trip, your report is very, very helpful.

If you don't mind, can you tell me at end of day, does the boat has rinse tanks for your equipment, wet suit, and camera? Do I need to bring travel BCD and wet suit hangers?
 
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