Trip Report Socorro Islands on the Solmar V

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peeweediver

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We went on the Solmar V to the Socorro Islands from December 1 to 10. The trip had an extra day from their usual 8 nights which which well appreciated. I went on the same boat 8 years ago. Many have submitted trip reports on this trip so I'll try to be helpful and not too boring. You needed a negative antigen test 5 days before boarding. We did the at-home with an on-line monitor test, Biovac. Your temperature is taken as you board and that's about the extent of it.
This is the first Liveaboards (my 8th total) that was not part of a LDS group trip where we always had half or all of the boat. It was just me and the owner of the dive shop I teach at. I even left my dive buddy for the last 29 years (wife) at home. There was a group of four and one of three three but everyone else traveled solo. Switzerland, Spain. Lithuania, Ireland, England and the US represented. A great group.
The boat is cozy...meaning small cabins but it worked for me. A full bed on the bottom and single bed on the top of the bunk bed structure. Do not overpack. Very little storage space in the room. They take your big bag and you have to hope to fit your carry-on in the room. They would store it if you wanted to. I had a foldable backpack so so issue.
The dive deck is well laid out and I never felt crowed. Plenty of room on the camera table. There were 6 big camera set-ups and then smaller, point and shoot set ups and it fit. Dining area has four booths that comfortably sit 4 and 4 high tops for 2. We usually squeezed 5 in our booth just based on who hung out with who.
Food was amazing. I remember from 8 years ago how good the lunch soups were. Chef Tony is still there and the soups and all foods were wonderful. It's staff served food, not buffet. You can ask for something else or an adjustment if you don't like the entree. I actually had a PB&J one day for lunch because I thought the chicken fettuccine was a bit heavy for lunch.
Crew was amazingly efficient and helpful. We had Danny as our DM who I also had 8 years ago. His ability to lead us to see what he hoped we'd see was quite impressive. Our group told him we'd be OK spending some part of some dives just going out in the blue and seeing what happens. We were rewarded more often than not. He was a great DM/guide. When we wanted to explore on our own, he was fine with that. He advised us where the stronger current was and asked us not to get swept away. Nobody went to far and, in our group, we were all comfortable surfacing on our own.
He was genuinely excited before every dive and we all fed off that excitement.
Diving: This trip had much more big sea life encounters than 8 years ago. On our very first dive the morning after our afternoon checkout dive, we interacted with dolphins (I got to pet 3 who just stopped in front of me), mantas and large numbers of Silver tips and Galapagos sharks. We did 22 dives over the trip and only a few were "quiet". Roca Partida which can be hopping was pretty quiet, but did have large schools of fish to see against the huge wall of the island. We only spent one day there. On one dive at the dive site, El Boiler, we had 10 mantas with us the whole dive, including 3 circling us during our safety stop. Danny found three large (50 or so) schools of hammerheads and I got fairly close to a small school. Not Cocos Island close, but pretty darn close. One of my favorite dives was letting the group go down to 100 or so to watch a hammerhead school, while I stayed at 60 and had my own time with a manta which circled three times so I could be under, over and to the side. I felt like it was mine.
This trip exceeded even my highest expectations. Sometimes, things hit on all cylinders. On the return, easy antigen testing at the Cabo San Lucas airport.
One big issue. On the website, it states that you need at least 50 dives worth of experience. This is mostly blue water diving with some currents, though this trip had less than 8 years ago. We had one diver with only three dives beyond his training dives and no ocean diving experience. As you could expect, things did not go well including a serious incident that required oxygen treatment. When booking his spot, he told the Pacific Fleet's staff (new owners of the Solmar V) what his experience was and they said that was fine for the trip. I have written to the Pacific Fleet in my trip comments and used words that were bit stronger and requested that they please enforce their own standards.
What I learned about the Socorro Islands from this trip is just how amazing it can be. One of our boatmates has been on the boat 11 times and said a few of our dives were his best ever on those sites. We all know it's the ocean and anything can happen, but this was a real treat. I highly recommend the destination, the boat (remember it is cozy and not new) and very much the crew. I can only hope the owners clean up their act a bit and stop taking money from divers who don't meet even the boat's minimum standards.
A few pics to show I was actually there.

Rob
 

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bassplayer

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nice report - what were the water temperatures like? high 70s?
 
OP
P

peeweediver

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nice report - what were the water temperatures like? high 70s?
Mostly 78, a few spots of 77. I was comfortable in a 7mm with a neoprene beanie. Our Ireland diver was in a 5 mm shorty and fine, but he normally dives colder water. Most were in 7mm.
 

scubaNYC16

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Yeah 3 dives is crazy. You definitely need to be experienced to deal with the surge and diving in the deep blue. Heading back next week, super excited.
 

drrich2

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Good report! IIRC, a number of the Socorros live-aboards get good reviews, which leads to a question since you are the 2nd person I've read cite the small rooms. Does the Solmar V have any particular 'selling points' over the competition? I ask because when people have a range of really good options at a destination, modest points of discrimination can become significant.

Glad you had a great trip. Never been myself.

Richard.
 
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peeweediver

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Good report! IIRC, a number of the Socorros live-aboards get good reviews, which leads to a question since you are the 2nd person I've read cite the small rooms. Does the Solmar V have any particular 'selling points' over the competition? I ask because when people have a range of really good options at a destination, modest points of discrimination can become significant.

Glad you had a great trip. Never been myself.

Richard.
I can only compare to one other Socorro destination liveaboard, but can compare to other liveaboards I've been on. As to the other Socorro boat, the Solmar's dining/salon area is far superior because it has good windows, good acoustics (not so loud that people left as soon as they finished eating) and is a good spot to hang out during free time. Food was better and dive deck had more room. Out of the 8 liveaboards I've been on, the Solmar V would rate second in food and second in dive deck comfort and ease of boarding pangas. Yes, the rooms are small and there is no half wall or floor to ceiling windows. A couple (as my wife and I did 8 years ago) would sleep in the full, bottom bunk and use the top bunk to store stuff. There is a nice reading lamp above each bed and I took advantage a few times when looking for some alone time.
I also can't compare price, but that's easy to do. If I was "selling" the Solmar V, I'd pitch on the food, crew and dive deck comfort.
Richard, if things stay as they are in terms of restrictions, I recommend you consider the destination. It can be amazing at its best and quite good when not amazing.
Rob
 

Hoag

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Good report! IIRC, a number of the Socorros live-aboards get good reviews, which leads to a question since you are the 2nd person I've read cite the small rooms. Does the Solmar V have any particular 'selling points' over the competition? I ask because when people have a range of really good options at a destination, modest points of discrimination can become significant.

Glad you had a great trip. Never been myself.

Richard.
I have been on the Solmar V twice, but both trips were "a few" years ago. The common areas of the interior of the boat are gorgeous! Mahogany with brass fittings and frosted glass accents. The food was some of the best I had ever had on a Live Aboard. The big drawback for me, and the reason that I have not been back was the size of the cabins. They redefine tiny. While one person is standing upp in the cabin, the other is basically confined to their bunk (or stuck in the head) until the other person is done. Common wisdom is to pack light for a Live Aboard. On the Solmar V, it is (or was when I was there) almost to the point where if it didn't fit in your carry-on, it won't fit in your storage area in the cabin. The head is so small, that to take a shower, you literally had to straddle the toilet.

That was, as I said several years ago. I have heard that she has had a refit since I was on her, so the cabins may not be the same as when I was on her, so take what I have said with a grain of salt.
 

Manuel Sam

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Hi Rob,

Funny to stumble upon you here on Scubaboard.

I'm the one Rob (peeweediver) alluded to as the boatmate with 11 prior trips on the Solmar - and 9 prior trips to Socorro. Just wanted to share a few of my thoughts on some of the topics discussed here.

Water temps: I never suspected that a drop of 2 degrees from November (my preferred month to go due to warmer waters) to December made that much of a difference. Tolerance to cold water varies from person to person. In November, I've gone as thin as 0.5mm in the past and was OK. On this trip, my 2.5mm barely did the job (getting older, I guess), so I was always adding a 2mm hooded vest, and sometimes doubled up on the hooded vest on the 3rd or 4th dive of the day. Once in gets into January and beyond, it becomes 5mm for me, with the same 2mm hooded vest as add-on(s).

Cabin size: There are three categories of cabins, in order of ascending price: Standard, Superior, and Single, Only the dorm-type cabins I've been in on some of the US-based liveaboards have been smaller. Since I always travel solo or traveled with a group when I used to charter the boat, I always opt for one of the two single cabins (201 and 203). Unlike most other cabins, the singles have plenty of storage space. I can fit my 36" rolling duffle and my two carry-ons without their getting in my way. Nonetheless, the singles do have their drawbacks too: the standing space is about a phone booth's worth. The private bath is also a phonebooth's worth. I am 6"0" and have to bow or crouch to take a shower, lest I crash my head against the exhaust vent hood or the studs that hold the light fixture cover. I have to always bring a suction cup showerhead hanger because there is no separate showerhead. The faucet in the bathroom sink has a long hose that you pull out - and that is your showerhead. Holding on to that while showering is awkward at best - hence the need for the suction cup showerhead holder. This issue with the showerheads applies only to the forward three cabins (201, 202 and 203). All the other 9 cabins have separate showerheads. Also noteworthy is that the bow cabin (202), a standard cabin, is probably one of the spacier cabins of the boat - it has side by side beds rather than bunk beds in all other doubles. But being at the very bow is not without its drawbacks: more bounciness during crossings and a bit noisy when the anchor chain is being deployed or raised.

I have been going on the Solmar since 2001, so to Hoag's point, no, I do not believe that a refit changed the size of the cabins. About the only thing that may have occurred was that the aforementioned cabins 201 and 203, which are now singles, were probably doubles at one time in the past.

So why do I keep going back to the Solmar then, you might ask? They are certainly not cheaper. I went to Socorro on the Nautilus Undersea earlier this year because Solmar canceled my late May trip. The Undersea was a known commodity to me - I had been on it 3 times when it was the Undersea Hunter in Cocos. Without a doubt, the cabins on the Undersea are orders of magnitude more comfy than the Solmar's. Furthermore, after Nautilus bought the Undersea Hunter , in my opinion, they made it better by expanding the dive deck, adding a big camera table, a big open-air covered lounge, two huge cabins and renovating the salon. If the Solmar weren't around, they would certainly deserve a lot of consideration: food is decent, the staff is nice and helpful, and their pricing is very competitive. There were certainly some things on the Undersea that I think could be better that I don't want to get into, but as with anything else and any other boats, there are bound to be pros and cons. Suffice it to say that I am very brand-loyal and Solmar has served me well for many years - they have not given me any reasons to switch. Most of their crew has been with them for many years and they know me and treat me well. Want two servings of the delicious soups or desserts? Never a problem. Two of the dive guides on this trip have also been with them for a long time, and they know me well enough that they give me plenty of slack of the leash when I want or need it. Rob alluded to this also. So as he said: I am sold on the food, the crew, and the dive deck comfort....and I don't mind paying a little more to get a single. But for me to go and be stuck in any of those double cabins..........she'd have to be drop-dead gorgeous.

Happy New Year!
 

wunderhorn

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We went on the Solmar V to the Socorro Islands from December 1 to 10. The trip had an extra day from their usual 8 nights which which well appreciated. I went on the same boat 8 years ago. Many have submitted trip reports on this trip so I'll try to be helpful and not too boring. You needed a negative antigen test 5 days before boarding. We did the at-home with an on-line monitor test, Biovac. Your temperature is taken as you board and that's about the extent of it.
This is the first Liveaboards (my 8th total) that was not part of a LDS group trip where we always had half or all of the boat. It was just me and the owner of the dive shop I teach at. I even left my dive buddy for the last 29 years (wife) at home. There was a group of four and one of three three but everyone else traveled solo. Switzerland, Spain. Lithuania, Ireland, England and the US represented. A great group.
The boat is cozy...meaning small cabins but it worked for me. A full bed on the bottom and single bed on the top of the bunk bed structure. Do not overpack. Very little storage space in the room. They take your big bag and you have to hope to fit your carry-on in the room. They would store it if you wanted to. I had a foldable backpack so so issue.
The dive deck is well laid out and I never felt crowed. Plenty of room on the camera table. There were 6 big camera set-ups and then smaller, point and shoot set ups and it fit. Dining area has four booths that comfortably sit 4 and 4 high tops for 2. We usually squeezed 5 in our booth just based on who hung out with who.
Food was amazing. I remember from 8 years ago how good the lunch soups were. Chef Tony is still there and the soups and all foods were wonderful. It's staff served food, not buffet. You can ask for something else or an adjustment if you don't like the entree. I actually had a PB&J one day for lunch because I thought the chicken fettuccine was a bit heavy for lunch.
Crew was amazingly efficient and helpful. We had Danny as our DM who I also had 8 years ago. His ability to lead us to see what he hoped we'd see was quite impressive. Our group told him we'd be OK spending some part of some dives just going out in the blue and seeing what happens. We were rewarded more often than not. He was a great DM/guide. When we wanted to explore on our own, he was fine with that. He advised us where the stronger current was and asked us not to get swept away. Nobody went to far and, in our group, we were all comfortable surfacing on our own.
He was genuinely excited before every dive and we all fed off that excitement.
Diving: This trip had much more big sea life encounters than 8 years ago. On our very first dive the morning after our afternoon checkout dive, we interacted with dolphins (I got to pet 3 who just stopped in front of me), mantas and large numbers of Silver tips and Galapagos sharks. We did 22 dives over the trip and only a few were "quiet". Roca Partida which can be hopping was pretty quiet, but did have large schools of fish to see against the huge wall of the island. We only spent one day there. On one dive at the dive site, El Boiler, we had 10 mantas with us the whole dive, including 3 circling us during our safety stop. Danny found three large (50 or so) schools of hammerheads and I got fairly close to a small school. Not Cocos Island close, but pretty darn close. One of my favorite dives was letting the group go down to 100 or so to watch a hammerhead school, while I stayed at 60 and had my own time with a manta which circled three times so I could be under, over and to the side. I felt like it was mine.
This trip exceeded even my highest expectations. Sometimes, things hit on all cylinders. On the return, easy antigen testing at the Cabo San Lucas airport.
One big issue. On the website, it states that you need at least 50 dives worth of experience. This is mostly blue water diving with some currents, though this trip had less than 8 years ago. We had one diver with only three dives beyond his training dives and no ocean diving experience. As you could expect, things did not go well including a serious incident that required oxygen treatment. When booking his spot, he told the Pacific Fleet's staff (new owners of the Solmar V) what his experience was and they said that was fine for the trip. I have written to the Pacific Fleet in my trip comments and used words that were bit stronger and requested that they please enforce their own standards.
What I learned about the Socorro Islands from this trip is just how amazing it can be. One of our boatmates has been on the boat 11 times and said a few of our dives were his best ever on those sites. We all know it's the ocean and anything can happen, but this was a real treat. I highly recommend the destination, the boat (remember it is cozy and not new) and very much the crew. I can only hope the owners clean up their act a bit and stop taking money from divers who don't meet even the boat's minimum standards.
A few pics to show I was actually there.

Rob
I’m about to sign up for my third trip on the Solmar V — I couldn’t agree more about Danny (Divemaster). He LOVES getting in the water and sharing the fun with his group. Thanks for the trip report…I will share it with my sister, who is coming along for her first Socorro trip. Glad to hear you making your feelings known — this isn’t a trip for inexperienced divers. I had my sister do advanced open water so that she would be ready because more skills = always better!
 

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