Socorro Trip Report - May 10th to 18th

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Hintermann

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I had planned a BIG westwards diving trip for this spring and a liveboard cruise to the Revillagigedo Islands was the first part of it. I booked this trip over 2 years ago on the Rocio del Mar and was eagerly waiting for it. It was worth the wait.

From London, I flew on American Airlines to DFW, stayed overnight in a motel near the airport and caught the late morning AA flight to Los Cabos the next day. I met David Mayes from Kansas (kcmayes on Scubaboard) on board the second flight and after mutual self-introductions we agreed to be dive buddies on the trip. On arrival at Los Cabos airport, we met LittleNat and rest of her group, who had arrived from LA and were staying overnight (like I was) at the Tropicana Inn in San Jose del Cabo. Although Dave was staying elsewhere nearby, all of us agreed to meet that evening at the Tropicana’s bar. We had a few drinks at the inn and walked over to a local restaurant for a meal. That helped a lot to break the ice and get to know each other.

The following morning we checked out and moved to the pier where the Rocio del Mar was moored. Dora was there, supervising over the proceedings but told us that she would not be joining us on the cruise. I was pleased to note that my requested 15-litre steel tank was in place, complete with my name on it. We then went about settling down and familiarising ourselves with the boat and meeting the crew, who seemed very helpful. I also met my cabin-mate, a Canadian named Chris; this was his first liveaboard trip.

I really liked the layout of the boat, which I understand Dora’s husband designed specifically to suit Socorro trips that involved long crossings. The dive deck was spacious with a new long 3-tiered camera table with plenty of space and charging outlets. Also, the cabins were located on the same deck just a door separating the corridor – this was very convenient before and especially after dives. The #1 cabin that I shared with Chris was the closest to the dive deck, making it especially convenient. The cabins themselves were designed to maximise space availability and the en suite bathrooms had separate shower cubicles. The lounging areas (both enclosed and semi-exposed) were in the upper deck, above which was, of course, the sundeck equipped with a large barbecue bar.

The dining room was in the lower deck just across the corridor from the galley. This was particularly thoughtful because it position meant minimum roll during the voyage. Of course, the trade-off was that it also maximised pitching but while eating pitching was less troublesome than roll and so it worked well.

The 26-hour cruise to San Benedicto was nothing to write home about and we spent time eating or lounging around. On the next morning, there were signs of some restlessness as the boat sped on towards a seemingly empty horizon. Therefore, everyone was relieved when the faint outline of the island appeared in the distance. It seemed ages before the boat reached it and dropped anchor, but we finally got there and were at last ready to dive. The conditions were perfect – warm and sunny.

The first one was a check dive at Las Cuevitas and the water temperature was a coldish 25*C but the visibility was good. I was OK in my 5mm full suit and quickly got adjusted to the conditions. As expected, the topography was barren volcanic rock with no coral but there were plenty of fish life. We saw pufferfish, clarion angelfish, blennies etc Of the big stuff, there were several white-tip sharks, a couple of stingrays and later in the dive, two huge manta rays, one of which got quite close.

At Punta Norte, where we did the next dive, the sea was a bit choppier and visibility not as good but still OK for a good dive. There was also quite a bit of surge near the rocks and one had to be careful and fin selectively. Rather surprisingly, there were a few small clumps of yellow sea fans in crevasses between the rocks. We saw a large hammerhead shark but it never got closer than 20 feet from where we were and so photography was not possible. I also saw moray eels, blue-spotted jacks, trumpet fish, groupers etc. We also saw another manta ray.

The following day was devoted to The Boiler, San Benedicto’s most famous dive site. In a lot of our opinions, this is the best dive site of the trip and fortunately for us, diving conditions were excellent throughout. We did 4 dives at the site on this second day and all of them were rewarding. Manta Rays, white-tip sharks, silky sharks and some smaller sharks that were probably the Galapagos variety were all in attendance. Plenty of smaller stuff too – lobsters, clarion angelfish, jacks etc. But the piece de resistance was a large whale shark which we saw quite close-up in two of the dives. Other interesting things were an all-black manta ray nicknamed “Darth Vader”, some superb striped moray eels and the sight of jacks and groupers seemingly hunting together. We also saw several dolphins at various times but they were too fast for anyone to photograph.

We travelled overnight to Roca Partida, a small guano-covered rocky outcrop literally in the middle of nowhere. We did 3 dives under good conditions and we saw a lot of sharks – white-tip, silvertip, Galapagos and silky sharks. Most of the white-tips (or were they silvertips?) were resting in groups in rocky crevasses but the silky sharks were very active; we had a couple of the circle us several times during the second dive. I took a picture of a white-tip shark eyeing a group of fat lobsters sharing a cavern, presumably with lunch in mind. We also saw a few turtles and dolphins pass by but sadly the hammerhead school appeared to be closed. Apart from a few relatively distant strays, most hammerheads were taking a spring break. There was a lot of surge closer to the rocks and so we had to keep a certain distance.

The weather forecast around Roca Partida for the following day was not brilliant and so we moved again overnight, this time to Isla Socorro. The first dive was at Roca O’Neil, which had a couple of swim-thrus and similar pelagic life. There were plenty of manta rays and sharks around but for reasons best known to himself, our French guide was going into raptures over a school of yellowfin tuna that dominated the east side of the site. The highlight was a large and solitary hammerhead shark that came within 15 feet of our dive group. One of the most amazing sights that I have seen was when the fast-moving hammerhead made a smooth and very fast U-turn, presumably to catch something that caught her fancy. I have not seen any other kind of shark make such a tight and fast turn.

We dived at Punta Tosca the following day and while there was no strong current, the visibility here was disappointing. There was no dearth of big and small marine life and the usual suspects were all there. Visibility was better in the following 2 dives at Cabo Pearce, where we went after paying respects to the local military junta. I had trouble with the current halfway through the first of two dives that we did at Cabo Pierce and had to abandon the dive due to leg cramp. Conditions improved a lot for the second dive at Cabo and we saw loads of sharks, stingrays, moray eels and smaller stuff. There were even small clumps of coral in the protected rocky crevasses.

We travelled back to San Benedicto overnight and did two pre-lunch dives at The Canyon. We saw more manta rays. While-tip and other sharks, lobsters, moray eels and even a few dolphins were seen but once again, the hammerhead school was closed apart for 2 or 3 shy stragglers. The visibility slightly deteriorated for the second dive but we still saw the pelagics. We then finished off by doing 2 more dives at The Boiler. During the first of those, we came across a couple of white-tip sharks that I assumed were fighting to death but it turned out that they were mating (ouch!) while some 25 to 30 other sharks swam busily around watching the ‘fun’. We then saw our old friend the whale shark once again, some mantas that wanted us to join their dance and a school of jacks.

The boat set-off on the return journey almost as soon as we got back from the last dive. Although the return conditions were supposed to be harsher, I coped better the second time round. During the journey we settled-up, said our farewells to the excellent crew and completed repacking of dive gear. I had arranged a private transfer to Los Cabos airport as I had a late morning flight back to DFW and onward to Miami. Next stop would be Bonaire.

I have posted a flickr link for the photos that I took. As with such sites, photos do not do the trip any justice. We saw a lot of things that we could not photograph – hammerhead sharks, dolphins etc due to the critters’ failure to come close.

https://flic.kr/s/aHskczd1zb
 
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ASA400

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Thanks for the write-up. Sounds like you had a great trip. I'm scheduled on the RDM in about 6 weeks for the Sea of Cortez trip. I'm interested in seeing what the differences in your trip and mine will be.
 

ukdave0

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I was on the Nautilus Explorer about the same time frame. We dove Roca Partida for 3 days, May 16 -18, I think. No one saw a Whale Shark but most of the 25 on board saw the wall of about 40 Hammerheads. Some managed to get some pretty good close up videos. They seemed to be there for all 3 days, swimming away from the rock a little bit.
We saw many Dolphins (and Mantas) on the returning visit to the Boiler (some in groups of 4, other times a group of maybe 20). Sometimes so close you could have scratched their bellies, which they seemed to have wanted.
 

TSandM

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Glad you enjoyed the trip! We loved the boat and the crew. Were Guarani and Roberto on your trip?
 

drrich2

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Thanks for posting with descriptions of what you saw on the dives, and conditions. Don't know that I'll ever make that trip, but good to know what it involves.

Richard.
 
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Hintermann

Hintermann

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Don't know that I'll ever make that trip, but good to know what it involves.

Richard.
I am not sure why you say that. Socorro is gaining in popularity, as is the Rocio del Mar and having just been, I can see why. It is also a lot closer to your neck of the woods than mine.

I really hope that you get to visit Socorro at some stage.
 

TSandM

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It IS an expensive trip -- but it's an expensive trip to operate, with the distances you run. To me, it was well worth it. The dives on the Boiler, playing with a dozen huge mantas for over an hour, will stay in my top few dives for the rest of my life.
 

drrich2

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I am not sure why you say that. Socorro is gaining in popularity, as is the Rocio del Mar and having just been, I can see why. It is also a lot closer to your neck of the woods than mine.

I really hope that you get to visit Socorro at some stage.

I suppose a combination of cost, the need to plan & commit well in advance, the fact it's considerably different from the type of diving I'm used to, and the conditions more 'challenging' all add up, in the face of other options & limited time & money. I'm a big, chubby out-of-shape (and that ain't likely to change any year soon) 46 year old guy who can get a decent SAC rate if I'm conscious about it, and prefer a big tank. My main dive buddy gets sea sick easily; scopolamine patches work for him, but I don't know how he'd do on a boat like that. If he had the funds to go.

I'm not criticizing the Socorros; big animals are cool and there are way to many glowing trip reports about it to think ill of the place. I think of it as the sort of trip I might grow into, someday. But there are so many places to go in the meantime, I don't know if I'll ever make it. I just tried my 1st live-aboard last month (Sun Dancer 2 out of Belize) & loved it, but I imagine that's a different experience.

Did you have to fight (swim into) current much? How much of an issue was that on your trip? I like drift diving fine, but I've found fighting current is not my thing.

Richard.
 

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