SOCORRO GROUP TRIP
WITH Bluewater Travel and Eco Dive Center
Written By Lisa Walsh
Pictures by Vera Appleyard, Eldad Cohen, Katie Den Bleyker,
Justin Gibbs, Michael Pizzi, Nicole Rossi and Tim Yeo
Video by Todd Kortte
DAY 1: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2017
Manta Claus is coming to town! We decided to skip town this year for Christmas, and join the crew of the Quino El Guardian for some breathtaking underwater breathing. On the first day of our journey, a group of nine fellow Los Angeles-based travelers were wheels up from LAX at 8:15 a.m. and wheels down in Cabo San Lucas by 11:30 a.m. Upon arrival, we passed immigrations, collected our baggage, and cleared customs before grabbing celebratory red bulls, coronas, and margaritas at a bar just outside the airport exit. We then took a shuttle to our boat and home for the next 10 days: the Quino—a beautiful and cozy vessel. There we met up with our remaining seven travelers—including one person hailing all the way from Switzerland.
Giant pacific oceanic mantas as the main show in Socorro as they are not only in abundance but are aslo very interactive.
The rest of the day was spent out in and around the town near the port (San Jose del Cabo). We began at Baja Brewing Company for cervezas, margaritas, burgers, tuna quesadillas, and more. A few hours and drinks in, people began wandering off in smaller sub-herds to do other things: find a massage parlor, walk around the main plaza, search for cigars, etc.
All of the sub-herds were back on the boat by about 8 p.m., which was festively decorated by both the crew and visitors. At 8:30 p.m., the Quino hosted our first drive briefing, courtesy of divemasters Edgar and Tico, during which we formally met the rest of the fun-loving and amazing crew and learned about the various protocols on the boat. At 10 p.m., the boat shoved off, and we began the long trek toward Archipiélago de Revillagigedo (Socorro Islands).
Excited divers ready for a week of diving at Socorro Islands
DAY 2: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2017
Day 2 was spent at sea. We downed our Dramamine, Bonine, and various other prescription sea sickness medications and tucked in for the long haul—hanging out on the top deck, dining room, and living room. We also took this time to set up our dive and camera gear, and get to know each other.
Left: Nice swim throughs on our checkout dive Right: Lots of pretty barberfish on the reefs
DAY 3: SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2017
On Christmas Eve, we began to dive. We motored into San Benedicto Island at about 5 a.m. and woke at 6 a.m. to begin prepping for our checkout dive.
Dive #1: Las Cuervas, San Benedicto Island
We analyzed our tanks (~31-32% Nitrox mix), listened to a dive briefing, then hit the water at 7:43 a.m. While on the surface, we performed a quick weight check, then it was time to descend for a 50-minute dive in 30-foot visibility. The water was a little murky, but we still managed to glimpse a turtle swimming out in the blue, a giant lobster, and some stingrays.
When we arrived back on the boat topside, our cooked-to-order breakfast of eggs, sausage, and French toast was waiting for us. We ate breakfast while we completed our surface interval, then hung out in the various boat spaces (top deck, dining room, living room). And this was the pattern we would all fall into for the rest of the trip: Dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, drink, and sleep. Repeat. This familiar liveaboard pattern was made all the more enjoyable by the various delicious dishes whipped up by the Quino’s talented (and hilarious) Chef Miguel. He made fluffy pancakes and savory chillaquiles for breakfast, hearty vegetable soups and fish drenched in sauce for lunch, succulent shrimp spaghetti and delectable prime rib for dinner. Chef Miguel catered these options impeccably well for those of us with food restrictions, and all were extremely satisfied with the variety and quality of the food. Each meal was offered to us by the beloved Rana, who nimbly served each dish on a rocking boat as it motored from place to place. On the whiteboard that announced the menu for the day, Rana also drew illustrations of our incredible dives.
Left: Scalloped hammerheads were always around on the dives Right: White tip reef sharks sharing close quarters on the rock
Dive #2: Boiler, San Benedicto Island
Check out dive checked off, the boat moved to a dive site that had those who had dived Socorro previously cheering: The Boiler. We hit the water at 10:52 a.m., and visibility was much clearer this time (100 feet). Water temperature was 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Swimming around the unique rock structures of the Boiler, we glimpsed the shadows of hammerhead sharks off in the distance, followed by two mantas—one of which had two remoras riding on its back. The giant mantas of Socorro are renowned for their extremely friendly behavior. Unlike many sea creatures that avoid human contact, the giant mantas of Socorro seek it out. They love scuba bubbles on their bellies, will lock eye contact and swim along with you in the blue. Some even come when called with beckoning hand gestures—leading one of our fellow divers to aptly call them “sea puppies.”
Dive #3: Boiler, San Benedicto Island
After a lunch break and surface interval, it was back into the water at 2:13 p.m. for Dive #3 of the day and trip. Visibility remained at 100 feet, and the water temperature dropped a few degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The ocean opened up and a plethora of marine life greeted us. We glimpsed a school of scalloped hammerheads far off in the distance, their ghostly shapes numbering in the hundreds. Multiple white tip sharks sleeping in stacks in a cave (quickly nicknamed “shark stacks”) were also spotted, and some divers even saw a 15-foot tiger shark.
Left: Large lobster and sharkstacks Right: Manta and divers silhouette
Dive #4: Boiler, San Benedicto Island
For the final dive of the day at 4:45 p.m., a couple divers caught a rare sight in Socorro: A great hammerhead shark—identified by the lack of indentation on the front of the hammer and a very long dorsal fin. On the dive, we also spotted a school of scalloped hammerhead and another school of yellowfin tuna, along with white tip reef sharks and more lobsters.
After the final dive of the day, we all took turns showering in the four shared bathrooms on the dive deck, ate dinner, and enjoyed the complimentary beer and wine on board. Some divers hung out on the top deck, while others watched a classic Christmas movie on Christmas Eve: Die Hard.
DAY 3: MONDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2017
Our primary Christmas gift of 2017 came in the form of three dives at one of the most spectacular dive sites in Socorro: Roca Partida (meaning “split rock”). The Quino motored overnight to this deservedly popular dive site, that looks like a forked rock covered in white droppings left by the swarm of birds circling it. The rock’s two pinnacles tower out of the middle of the Pacific Ocean, beyond which there is nothing for as far as the eye can see.
Dive #5: Roca Partida
For our first dive of the day and trip at Roca Partida, the crew dropped the nitrox mix to 28% to allow for deeper dives. We slipped into the water at 7:21 a.m. for a 54-minute dive, and caught sight of two silvertips, six mantas (including one beautiful, black morph manta), a massive school of striped bonito, white tip sharks, and a school of mobula rays.
Dive #6: Roca Partida
A breakfast break and surface interval later, we jumped into the water again at 11:04 a.m. to see a school of about 100 hammerheads, and six massive Galapagos sharks jetting by along the pinnacle below us and beyond into the blue.
Left: Black morph manta Middle: Loving the daily manta show Right: School of mobula rays
Dive #7: Roca Partida
After a lunch break and another subsequent surface interval, we again dropped into the water for the last dive of the day at 2:40 p.m. A manta appeared and checked us out. Once he decided we were cool, he began playing with us, dipping and diving in the water around us—begging for air bubbles on his belly. This playful manta distracted five of us so much with his entertaining antics, that we ended up getting sucked out into the blue by the current. We immediately deployed a surface marker buoy (SMB) so the panga could locate us, the whole while following along with our playful, friendly manta until he too disappeared into the blue. Not long after, a school of smaller mobula rays appeared, dancing in a tornado formation below as we completed our safety stop and ascended. We all boarded the panga then it sped off to collect the other group of divers from our team.
That night we celebrated Christmas with a delicious prime rib dinner. We then gave Christmas gifts to the crew to thank them for spending their Christmas with us and making our holiday a truly magical one. This was all capped off with a White Elephant exchange on the top deck between the 16 divers in our party. Chaotic hilarity ensured—with divers fighting over an SMB capped with a clown fish and a “I’ve Been Dreaming of a Wet Christmas” shirt. But the game ended with everyone getting a cool new underwater accessory, such as a scuba tank water bottle, a dry bag, or a dive mask.
Christmas festivities for crew and guests on the Quino el Guardian
DAY 4: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2017
Everyone cheered when we learned we would be staying at Roca Partida for another day—it would be a memorable one.
Dive #8: Roca Partida
On Team B, first dive out, a diver forgot his weight pockets as the panga sped away from the Quino, so we had to go back and retrieve them. With the weights, came the “Chicken of Shame”—a jocular form of torture in the shape of a plastic chicken that is attached to a forgetful diver’s tank any time the panga has to return to the Quino for forgotten gear. Not only did the chicken motivate divers to remember their mask, weights, and fins—it also served as a great prop for underwater photos. We were soon also calling it “Pollo de la Suerte” (or “Chicken of Luck”) because it quickly seemed like a plethora of fantastical sea creatures came out to greet us whenever someone was wearing the chicken.
Dive #8 for Team B began promptly at 7:30 a.m., with 100-foot visibility and 78-degree-Fahrenheit water temperature. The dive provided vistas of a plethora of sea life. We saw some large ocean mantas (including one black morph manta with remoras), as well as a couple of silvertips and Galapagos sharks. We even had some very close encounters with sharks: one baby hammerhead and a Galapagos shark came close to check us out. Around the corner of the pinnacle, a flurry of sharks clustered, in what we later came to term “Sharknado.”
The "Chicken of Shame"
Left: Mantacoming in to check out a diver Right: Sharknado on the Boiler
Dive #9: Roca Partida
A breakfast and surface interval later, we were back down into Roca Partida waters at 11:43 a.m. for the second dive of the day. Dive #9 was spent with a series of mantas that kept swimming out of the blue—including one black morph manta. When diving in Socorro, watch your depth. Blink and a manta appears—you are at 40 feet. Blink again, and suddenly you’ve followed the manta to 70 feet. One blink later, you and the manta are back up at 20 feet—you blowing bubbles on the manta’s belly or locking eyes with him during the whole process. It is an incredible, peak experience like no other, but best to periodically check your dive computer while experiencing it!
Dive #10: Roca Partida
“Something amazing always happens on the last dive at Roca,” said our divemaster, Edgar. “Could we see a whale shark?” we wondered aloud as we grabbed our gear and boarded the panga. At 3:08 p.m., we dropped down into the blue again—right on top a 25-foot long whale shark. Several divers booked it excitedly to catch up with the giant, dark-colored, white-spotted fish. This frenzied chase turned out to be unnecessary, as the whale shark swam slowly enough that we were all able to swim close up and side-by-side with it. The whale shark was so curious and friendly that it swam around the rock and visited us four times during the dive, each time leaving only to return again. Each time it appeared, divers were dancing and doing underwater somersaults in euphoric jubilation. The whole dive was spent swimming with the whale shark around the rock and into the deep—camera strobes flashing all the way. It was a relatively short dive because we blew through all our air, but during our safety stop, the whale shark made one last drive by appearance. It was a spectacular end to a spectacular dive. When we surfaced and climbed back onto the panga, everyone from Team B was hooting and hollering. Back on the Quino, we learned that Team A had also had a similar experience with the whale shark. We were all elated.
Following our last dive of the day, the boat picked up anchor, and motored slowly away from Roca Partida—a cascade of pink and purple colors swirled in the sky as the sun set over the split rock. Dinner was served. Photographers poured over their pictures as we motored on toward Socorro Island.
A friendly whale shark circles Roca Partida 4 times
DAY 5: WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2017
The next morning, we awoke at Socorro Island and prepared for our morning dive.
Dive #11: Cabo Pierce, Socorro Island
It seemed to us that nothing could surpass Dive #10, but Dive #11 managed to immediately do exactly that. At 7:38 a.m., we dropped into the rocky outcropping of Cabo Pierce, and followed it along out toward the edge of the blue, where we spotted a large hammerhead shark, soon followed by a smaller 20-foot whale shark! He checked us out then soon swam off, only to return a few minutes later with his friends. Two bottlenose dolphins swam along with the whale shark as escorts. Another two dolphins joined the party shortly. During our safety stop, we also saw another giant manta, and when we finally surfaced, we glanced down into the water while waiting for a panga pick-up—only to see a silky shark circling us briefly before swimming off into the blue. One diver from the other team managed to get a GoPro screen grab of the whale shark, two dolphins, and an ocean manta all in one frame. We joked that no one would believe the photograph was real. Anyone who saw it would think it had to be photoshopped.
Just when we thought it could not get any better, whale shark, dolphins and mantas all in one dive
Dive #12: Cabo Pierce, Socorro Island
A surface interval later at 10:49 a.m., Team A was back down into the 100-foot visibility, 77 degree Farenheit waters at Cabo Pierce for a second dive of the day. We saw a hammerhead swimming close and glimpsed the school. Then we were sucked out into the blue and had to ascend before we got pulled out further. Team B saw the whale shark, eight dolphins, and a manta.
Dive #13: Cabo Pierce, Socorro Island
For the third and final dive of the day at Cabo Pierce, we again saw the whale shark twice (including on our safety stop) as we swum along the rocky outcropping of Cabo Pierce. By the end of diving, the whale shark had been spotted on all three dives the entire day!
We finished our diving early so the Quino could check-in at the military base, which is a requirement for every boat visiting Socorro Islands. That night we partied on the top deck with delicious MYO (Make-Your-Own) tacos courtesy of Chef Miguel. We drank margaritas as we watched “the silky shark show.” The Quino turned on its lights, illuminating the water. The lights attract plankton, which in turn lures small fish. The small fish entice bigger fish, which then bring in sharks (or dolphins). It is an incredible process to watch. The first night, we watched silky sharks attempt to catch supper (and often miss). The following night, the dolphins agilely chased, stunned, and caught small, white, winged fish.
DAY 6: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2017
Dive #14: Cabo Pierce, Socorro Island
For the first dive of the day at 7:37 a.m., we dropped down into a pod of 10 very interactive bottlenose dolphins and played with them for 15 minutes, locking eye contact with them and counting the scratched patterns on their skin as they swam in circles around us.
Dive #15: Cabo Pierce, Socorro Island
On Dive #15 at Cabo Pierce, we saw an octopus and some white tip sharks in 100-foot visibility.
Dive #16: Cabo Pierce, Socorro Island
On the last dive of the day at 1:15 p.m., we swam along the shallow reef and enjoyed the pretty tropical reef fish of Socorro.
DAY 7: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2017
For our final dives of the trip, we motored back to San Benedicto Island to finish up at the Boiler. All of the dives were incredible once again. A divers’ best lifetime dives could all be made up of Socorro dives in one trip.
Dive #17: Boiler, San Benedicto Island
On our first dive of the day, we saw dolphins, a small silky shark, and a few mantas.
Dive #18: Boiler, San Benedicto Island
On our second dive, we swam harmoniously with three giant mantas (including one black morph). The mantas even interacted with each other, practically waving at each other and swimming in patterns that left us mesmerized. We also saw some Galapagos sharks down deep at about 120 feet.
Dive #19: Boiler, San Benedicto Island
On the final dive of the trip we dove with two mantas, a school of hammerhead sharks, a school of jacks, and a large Alamaco Jack. The other team dropped down directly on top of a tiger shark that checked them out, then swam onwards and away.
The dives completed for the day, we hung up on the top deck. The crew had all our gear rinsed and hung up to dry as the Quino began its voyage back.
DAY 8: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2017
Day 8 was spent again at sea as we sped our way back toward Cabo San Lucas. The photographers obsessively edited their pictures. Others merrily played card games (Texas Hold’em and UNO). We hit some weather coming back, but it was nothing the Quino and its capable crew couldn’t easily handle—even turning the boat out of the winds and waves so we could eat our delicious final supper.
DAY 9: SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2017
The Quino arrived back at Cabo San Lucas at about 6 a.m. in the morning. Our bags were packed and we were grabbing taxis to our various hotels by about 8:30 a.m., saying our fond farewells to the crew and entreating them to come party with us in Cabo for New Years Eve. Some of them did!
Overall, our trip aboard the Quino El Guardian to Socorro was a marvelous and unforgettable experience. The dive sites in Socorro are unparalleled, the Quino is a well-designed dive boat, and the crew are genuine and fun-loving. The crew were always having a good time and because of that, so did we. Captain Abraham, engineer Pedro, steward Rana, chef Miguel, panga drivers Pollo and Leonel, and our divemasters Edgar and Tico made our trip truly special. Our deepest gratitude goes out to all of them for sharing the underwater wonders of Socorro with us during the holiday season.
All-in-all it was an unforgettable trip filled with fun, friendly times and momentous memories.
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