Monday, November 21, 2011

Explore Baja!

Wow, what a spectacular season!!  I'm sorry about the lapse in entries, I know I missed several weeks but living out at sea and trips going out Saturday to Saturday, it is easy to live in the moment and let details slip by. For this I apologize and I will try to do better. I promise... but don't guarantee :)

I would like to share Bob's recount of events of our Explore Baja trip, enjoy!!!

We had wonderful and fun-filled voyage this year for our relocation trip from Puerto PeƱasco to San Jose Cabo Oct 29th to Nov 9th to begin our season at the Socorro Islands.  We, the crew of the Rocio del Mar, were honored to be able to provide 12 days of sunshine, 25 dives, three town visits, and 31 delicious full meals to our 22 happy and joyful passengers.  Our divers ranged in age from 18 to 81 and all were very experienced and advanced divers who thoroughly enjoyed the trip as much as we enjoyed serving them.  The heart of our boat is the crew and our respect and dedication in ensuring that all passengers receive the service, care, and concern that we show to all who grace our decks during our trips to is always our goal. Six of our divers were repeat guests with us and we deeply appreciated their choosing us for their vacation time again.  We thank all those on the trip as we enjoyed your companionship, great cheer, laughter, and your expressed enjoyment of the beautiful Sea of Cortez.

Now to the diving.  Bob and Arturo led our dive operations for the trip and we were especially grateful to have Arturo, a marine biologist and dive instructor with us.  His knowledge and experience added to the experience by enriching our knowledge of the wildlife that calls the Sea of Cortez home.  Our dive spots included the Island of Angel de la Guarda checkout dive on Angel Rock where visibility approached 50’ followed by a second dive on the pinnacle of La Vela.  Visibility was good on both dives and some saw turtles on Angel Rock and all saw the sea lions on La Vela which were playful…at least those on the southeast side.  The North side wall was still impressive with the yellow-polyped black coral and the morays along the west side. Temperatures were a bit cool here and we hit 65 degrees at depth…average for this time of year late in the diving season for the Northern Sea of Cortez.

We also dove on Andrea’s Eagle, La Cueva, and Vivoras.  We found a giant jaw fish at Andrea’s Eagle and fed him a little of our chef’s (Geraldo’s) fish supply.  He blew it out like they do sometimes…guess he didn’t care for the soleJ the highlight though was the 1” long, banana-yellow juvenile jaw fish that had built his very own den and acted just like the adults by peeking out of his den and sliding back down when approached---cute!  Vivoras gave us an opportunity to observe an octopus out in the open which we all enjoyed.  With visibility fair, we completed our last dive at Vivoros and headed for San Pedro Martir.

We did four dives there:  Ravijunco, Xareni’s Pinnacle, Cormorant, and the southeast side of island at San Pedro Martir.  Visibility was dramatically better and approached 80 feet.  At Ravijunco we saw a 2-meter long Pacific angel fish…a first! They are occasionally found in the Sea of Cortez but it was a rare find and a beautiful animal for our photographers’ delight.  Xareni’s Pinnacle was as beautiful as ever and diving on it at mid-day provided for good lighting all around.  Juvenile hawkfish were in abundance up top and the schools of Creole fish were thick and active as well as the Cortez king angel schools. Cormorant provided its usual sea lion encounters and additional schools of angel fish and Creole fish along with two hawkbill turtles. We did a night dive on the southeast corner of the island and entered the large cave there.  That turned out to be exciting as the dominant male sea lion became very aggressive as we entered it.  Can’t imagine why he didn’t appreciate 6 divers shining dive lights in his eyes…he charged and bumped our dive leader pulling his safety sausage off his reel.  The dive leader reported that when he went to leave the cave, all he saw was fast stroking fin tips of the rapidly exiting group…well…they said they wanted a thrilling night dive and we do aim to please our diversJ While here, divers also toured the sea lion colonies by panga and had an opportunity to see the stone walls built in the 1800’s for guano storage that was used for fertilizer back then.

During the night we departed San Pedro Martir for Tortuga (Turtle) Island where we made two dives on the Punta Sur and Tortuga Suroeste.  Interesting rock formations abound here and we enjoyed the warming waters and better visibility as we moved further south on our trip.  That windy afternoon we arrived at Santa Rosalia for our first shore excursions and to replenish water and food supplies.  Docking was difficult in the high winds but thanks to Lolo’s expertise, Everado’s use of the panga as a tug boat, and Aurelio, Jorge, Tito, and Julio’s working of the mooring lines, we successfully docked.  Our first stop, in Santa Rosalia, fell on the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead where families honor their deceased relatives with remembrances of the things in life they enjoyed.  Home activities include positioning of altars with pictures, items the passed love ones liked, and lit candles as well as the preparation of special meals, BBQs, and cemetery visits.  The culture of the Mexican people is very family-oriented and respectful of passed love ones.  We were able to enjoy some of the special breads made specifically for the day of remembrance.  Santa Rosalia is well-known for the having the finest bread in Mexico, if not the world, and we brought many loaves onboard and enjoyed the aroma and delicious taste of it for days onboard.  Most of the divers grabbed some pizza and beer at a local restaurant after touring the town a bit.

We set out the next morning for a full day of cruising to Loreto and our second shore excursion arriving near sunset.  The magenta, orange, rose, blue, and purple of the sunlight-illuminated clouds made for an extraordinary sunset panorama and some great photographs.  Loreto is quite picturesque with its attractive waterfront and swaying palm trees.  Our passengers enjoyed an evening on the town and had fine meals and drink.  All returned---very happy and animated…perhaps they indulged in some fine tequila, but we won’t tell moreJ.  

The next day as we continued towards our destination of San Jose del Cabo, we dove on the dive spots of Cabeza De Mono and Punta Lobos off Coronado and Loreto, enjoying the water temperatures now entering the 80’s.  Balloon fish were everywhere and schools of jacks and barracudas off in the blue made for very enjoyable dives on these spots but greater adventures waited so we motored off for the island of Las Animas.

We did three dives on Las Animas and oh what a beautiful place to dive!  Visibility was 100 feet and our first dives were on the pinnacles to the east of the island which allowed us to go below 100 feet and stay warm at 84 degrees and view the classic underwater topography in our search of hammerheads, turtles, and a large variety of marine animals.  We found no sharks, unfortunately but we did have a spectacular dive in poking around all the crevices and swim-throughs finding nudibranchs, turtles, barracudas, and loads of fish.  On our second and third dives, we concentrated on the east and north side of the island entering the large cavern on the northeast side.  Huge cathedral ceilings and spaces made for fascinating diving here.  There were other caverns along the east side of the island as well.  The walls of Las Animas are adorned with orange and yellow buttercup corals and in the darker areas they were fully open making for incredible displays of color.  Las Animas was pretty much tied for first place as our favorite dive spot of the relocation trip.  During the evening hours we engaged in our traditional Mexican BBQ on the top deck under the stars.  Geraldo’s cooking was again superb.  It was a great clear evening with no wind whatsoever so Dora’s candles didn’t need to be re-lit at allJ.

The following day we went to Espiritu Santo and had a great dive on El Bajo, a sea summit that provided again for fascinating diving around the topography combined with 84 degree water and 100 feet of visibility.  The summit is visually intriguing being surrounded by white sand and the big blue all round.  Barracudas circled, jacks and yellow tails cruised by with schools of grunts thrown into the mix. We thoroughly enjoyed the spot as much or more than Las Animas.  However, we needed to get moving so we again motored south and dove next on the wreck of the Fang Ming.  Here we found a real treat!  On the forward part of the superstructure and later on the bow, we found a resting hawksbill turtle that was not at all afraid of us.  We were able to swim right next to it as it sleepily watched us by sticking his neck out—literally and sort of rolling his eyes at what must have been an interesting scene.  He acted like he wanted to be petted---so we did, and he enjoyed it, rolling his neck side to side so we could rub his head and his neck.  The scene reminded one of a cat looking for affection and a kind pet down.  Amazing sometimes what our underwater friends do that remind us of other animals we live with day in and day out.  But this was a real treat and all who saw it appreciated the experience.  The purposely sunk Fang Ming is a good dive as wrecks go with some penetration possible as long as you were careful to not fin up the slit too much.  Schools of jacks, chubs, and Porgies cruised by the couple of groupers we saw inside the ship--a fun shallow dive.

Next did a night dive on the tiny pinnacle of La Reynita off the island of Cerralvo.  Great night dive!  Lobsters, caverns, swim-throughs, buttercup corals in full bloom in the moon light with balloon fish scattered throughout the site made for great panoply of color and wildlife together in the sea.  We had fun exploring all the nooks and grannies of this site while appreciating the walls and divers backlit by our dive lights and the moonlight.  Watching shadows coming around the corners of the walls here was surreal as black turned to blue followed by a burst of yellow-orange off the illuminated buttercup corals as divers made their way around the pinnacle.  These were sights that will last a lifetime for those of us who were so privileged to have witnessed them.

During the evening we departed for Cabo Pulmo, the renowned Mexican national underwater park and preserve.  We did two dives on Loss Morros and El Bajo with Beatrice, a local and very knowledgeable divemaster, who led us across the reefs and through the coral for some great photo opportunities. Schooling jacks in the 84 degree water…no need for a wetsuit here, so some of us just wore board shorts and swim shirts as we floated through the light to moderate current over the reef and white sands watching the wonderful displays of marine life unfold before us.  The schooling jacks were impressive.  Especially on the ones we saw during our safety stop at El Bajo.  Wonderful to see the quantity of fish here.  We also did another night dive on Los Frailes where we viewed the incredible red and white zebra flatworms stretched out to their full length as they contracted from the light from our dive lights.  We also saw ribbon jellyfish in mid-water as well as other jellies happily floating by us in the blue framed against the blue-ish-black surface filled with white-night moonlight.

The last day of diving we dove over the Gordo Banks to see the schooling jacks.  A very deep dive to recreational limits, The Banks provided all with a challenging profile and challenging currents.   Most exciting of all was our water exit!  The wind had come up during the dive and we surfaced to 5-6 foot waves causing the stern of the Rocio del Mar to pitch up and down and to be awash in the waves.  Our panga captains were right on top of the situation though and provided our divers the option of doffing their equipment at the panga and free swimming to the stern for water exits.  This worked out well and despite the challenging seas and winds, all divers were recovered with no issues.  We enjoyed the thrill of the sea and the different challenges this dive presented while staying safe and responsible in the process.  For our final dive of the trip, we dove off Punta Gorda where a reef and sand afforded us the opportunity to once again hit the water in board shorts and leisurely cover the reef.  We found puffer fish, blennies, shellfish, some jacks, and an assortment of nundibranchs…another warm dive in great visibility and a pleasant dive experience for our last dive before porting in San Jose Del Cabo.

Our trip concluded in San Jose Del Cabo that day and most divers took advantage of being in port and dined on-shore for the evening and immersing themselves in the local pleasantries.   Our trip was a complete success for all those we had the pleasure of sharing the 12 days with and we richly enjoyed the conversations, companionship, good cheer, food, and diving experiences with them.

 Our thanks to Xareni & Beto for their professionalism, friendship and gathering their group of divers from Mexico City to include ever laughing Julian; gracious, generous, and good-natured Manuel,  happy and tanned Juan Carlos (special thanks for performing waiter duties in Santa RosaliaJ); Miguel for his engaging smile and good humor; Roberto for engaging conversations; Cesar for his huge physical presence and courtesy to us all; Rodolfo for his wild hair and WWF wrestling appearances on the dive deck; Jorge for his soft spoken appreciation of what we do day-in and day-out and his diving skills; Julio for his steady dive preparedness and laughter; Rocio’s wonderful grace, smile and constant smile; Ignacio for his diving skills and courtesy to all; Salvador for his superb diving, safety consciousness, and smiles; Jose for the joy of life he showed everyday; Herbert for his conversations, courtesy, and information on culture; Fabrizzio for just plain being fun to be around; Alberto or his amazing physical strength and endurance while re-boarding the pangas without a ladder and his superb diving prowess at age 81!; and Jose Apiz for his laughter and cheer.  Thanks to David from Valley Forge and Terry from Sonoma,  for their informative and entertaining stories of their life-long diving adventures---we learned from you both; and lastly Fernando, our multiple repeat guest from Venezuela, for your zaniness, great sense of humor, strength and diving excitement.  I was a true pleasure to spend the time with you all.  Guests for 12 days—friends for a lifetime.