BLUEWATER PHOTO WORKSHOP
ON AN INCREDIBLE LIVEABOARD
ROCIO DEL MAR IN SOCORRO TRIP REPORT
BY TRIP LEADER, ERIK LUKAS
The packing was done, the workshop presentation was polished, the excitement level was high, so arriving in Mexico couldn’t have come soon enough. I had been looking forward to visiting the Socorro Islands for quite some time.
After an uneventful flight from Los Angeles to Los Cabos, followed by an easy ride to the quaint Tropicana Inn, located on the main square outside of the hustle and bustle of Los Cabos, I was able to settle in and get myself ready for the trip that lay ahead. I had the chance to meet up with a few of the guests the night before we boarded the Rocio Del Mar. Divers were arriving from places as far off as Colombia, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, Malta, China and the United States.
Our guests and the crew of the Rocio Del Mar - Bluewater Socorro 2017 Photo Workshop
The group began arriving at the boat starting at 8am on Saturday, March 25th. With bags loaded, and the guest shown their cabins, the excitement of the trip was setting in. The weather in Los Cabos could not have been any better as we departed for the 26 hour voyage to Socorro. The entire trip was made on calm waters, with gentle winds and clear blue skies. During the morning briefing, everyone had the chance to get to meet one-another, and it was apparent from the start that even with the cultural and language barriers, this group was going to get along well.
The sun broke over the horizon at 6:20am on the morning of March 26th, and by 7am the boat was alive with activities. The crew was getting ready for our arrival at San Benedicto Island, the divers were busy setting up their gear, their cameras, and checking to make sure everything was ready for our first dives of the trip.
By midday, we were suiting up and getting ready for the check out dive happening at a lovely site called Las Cuevitas, in clear water with 50-60 ft visibility. What a great way to kick things off. Upon moving the Rocio Del Mar to a site called El Cañon, we were greeted by a humpback whale, and several of the guests took the opportunity to try to get in the water with it before our second dive, where ripping currents at the cleaning station made for lots of excitement. Many of the divers had their first sighting of a beautiful Manta Ray, as well as a few hammerhead sharks, several Silvertips and a large Galapagos Shark.
Manta Rays at San Benedicto Island at dive site Las Cuevitas
The day wrapped up with an amazing dinner among new friends followed by the celebration of the second of two birthdays during the trip. Most divers took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep as we prepared for an early start on our second day at San Benedicto Island.
Day Two - San Benedicto
Day Two started again at San Benedicto Island with four dives planned. The first two were set to be at The Boiler, a site which everyone had high hopes would bring some close and plentiful Manta encounters, and it did not disappoint. On dive one, several divers were greeted by three Manta’s making close passes. Dive number two at The Boiler didn’t produce any Manta encounters, but one of the teams who ventured off the rock and into deeper waters were met by two quite large Silver Tip sharks, sadly they were just a bit deeper than we were able to venture due to our Nitrox mixes, but seeing them out there was quite nice.
A diver explores the steep walls at El Boiler at San Benedicto Island
Dives three and four on day two were at a site called Fondeadero, a series of rocky valleys, with sandy flats in between, also a known Manta cleaning station. The current was moving quite briskly for these dives, so we entered the water straight off the dive platform of the Rocio and did a drift dive. On the first of two dives our divers saw a mix of plentiful White Tip sharks, as well as two massive Hammerheads that sadly kept their distance, but what a thrill to see such a large pair of these beautiful sharks.
The steep ash covered slopes of the dormant volcano of San Benedicto Island, with the Quino El
Guardian dive boat, the sister vessel to the Rocio Del Mar
During the safety stop, one group was met by large black morph Manta, that circled to play in our bubbles for over 10 minutes. Such an experience that proved to be a great photo opportunity for the divers who were onsite at the time.
One thing which had by now become evident for everyone on board was the high quality of the food. Chef Jorge was putting out delicious meals and snacks throughout the day, and all of the guests continued to comment on their amazement with the food he was serving. After a great dinner of seared tuna with a mango and vanilla sauce, we gathered the group for our first slide show of guests photos. While not everyone was ready to submit images, those who did had some great contributions to make. We followed that up with the next session of the photo workshop, which so far was going very well. It was nice to hear the feedback from the guests on the workshop material, and seeing their results was proof that they were taking the lessons and applying it to their photography.
Chef Jorge, who kept the guests and crew well fed during the trip
Day two ended as the Rocio pulled anchor and began to make her way to Isla Socorro. The plan was to complete the Mexican Marine inspection in the early morning, and then do three dives at Socorro.
The sunsets over two dive boats at San Benedicto Island with the peak of Socorro Island, our next
destination, off in the distance
Day Three - Isla Socorro
Our third day began with a visit from the Mexican Marines at Isla Socorro. The team that boarded the Rocio was professional but polite and they expeditiously conducted their inspection and attended to the business at hand. Once the inspection was completed, the three dive teams began to prepare for dives at Punta Tosca, a relatively quiet dive along a beautifully colorful wall. One highlight for me on this dive was the abundance of a specific nudibranch called Chromodoris cedna, which according to the dive team on the Rocio was the only nudibranch they commonly see at Socorro, and at this time of the year they were abundant.
The other groups had encounters with multiple mantas at Punta Tosca, and each encounter lasted for 10-15 minutes. My second dive at the same spot produced much the same results...no encounters with any large pelagics. I suppose that is just the way diving is on some days. Dive number three turned out to be our lucky dive, as the last 10 minutes of our dive was spent with a beautiful black morph manta that made repeated close passes and presented more great photo opportunities.
Looking down on a Manta at Punta Tosco over the deep open blue waters at Punta Tosca
We ended the day with a great dinner of prime rib and several bottles of wine. The groups from the various countries were really started to blend with one-another at this point; one could tell by the level of laughter as it grew louder as the dinner progressed. We finished the day with another slide presentation of guest photos and another session of the photo workshop. It was an early night for most everyone, as we anticipated a 10pm departure from Isla Socorro for Roca Partida.
The crossing to Roca Partida was met with fairly rough seas and high winds, making for a less than comfortable nights rest for most of the guests onboard the Rocio. One advantage of venturing out to the exposed site of Roca Partida in these conditions was the fact that on our first of two days here we were the sole boat. The result was three fantastic dives at Roca Partida with no other divers but the 20 lucky guests on our trip.
Arriving back at the Rocio Del Mar after the first dives at Roca Partida
Dive number one at Roca Partida included many sharks, the most common being the White Tips that are found resting on the many ledges all around the rock. At greater depths, we saw several large sharks including Hammerhead, Galapagos, and Silver Tips, as well as a few Silkies throughout the dive.
A Galapagos Shark at the steep walls along Roca Partida
I was lucky enough to be in one of the three groups to be greeted by a pod of 14-16 dolphins, which included a few juveniles. They stuck with us about 5 minutes, departed for deeper water and then came by for one more pass. Dives two and three on our first day at Roca Partida included larger schools of the many common species to be found here, which provided the guest with many great photo opportunities throughout the remainder of the day.
Schooling fish at Roca Partida
The winds died down to a calm breeze by the end of the day, and most guests were quite content to relax in the salon over a few bottles of wine, share some stories and get to know one another better. We were treated to a slide show by one of the guests from France of an expedition he was part of 30 years ago to the Antarctic. It was amazing to see the images he had made so long ago of such a wonderful place. Another fantastic dinner followed, then many of the guests headed in for an early night to get rested up for another day at Roca Partida for three more dives.
Thursday the 30th met us with calm seas, a light breeze and sunny skies, as we got ready for a 7:30 call for the first dive. Two more boats made their way to Roca Partida overnight, so today’s schedule would be a bit more compressed so as to share the rather small site with the other boats and divers.
Dives one and two were much the same as those from the prior day, with large schooling fish, many sharks, and finally at the end of the second dive a Manta Ray visit. Although it didn’t come quite close enough for a photo, it was nice to see one in these waters with the structure of Roca Partida as the backdrop.
Dive number three on the last day at Roca Partida turned out to be a case of either an amazing dive, or a complete bust. One of the groups was met with powerful currents that made getting anywhere nearly impossible, and the dive lasted all of 25 minutes. However, for the other groups, the final dive here included a close encounter with the first and only whale shark of the trip. Sometimes mother nature works in a funny way.
We ended the day by circling Roca Partida for 30 minutes for everyone to take the last images of, and say their last goodbyes to this rock in the middle of the sea. After about an hour under way, the captain cut the engines and allowed the Rocio to drift in the Pacific while the crew prepared an amazing sunset dinner on the upper deck for the guests. We dined on a traditional taco dinner with plenty of margaritas and enough food to feed an army. All of the guest enjoyed reminiscing on the past two days at Roca Partida, and looking forward to the final day of diving at San Benedicto, where we had four dives planned.
Sunset over Roca Partida
Guests enjoy a night of tacos and handmade margaritas on the sundeck of the Rocio Del Mar.
Our final day of diving brought us back to San Benedicto Island for four dives. We started at a site called Tosca Norta, which proved to have rather poor visibility relative to the dives we had enjoyed throughout the week. The one highlight of this dive was a Humpback whale that swam through during one group’s dive. While it wasn’t a close or long encounter, it was such a thrill to see this large whale on one of our dives. We were also met by a young Manta Ray during the safety stop, and since all of the divers but me had already exited the water, I was able to spend 5-7 minutes alone in the water with this Manta. What a treat!
One the guests from the workshop along the walls of El Boiler
Dives two and three on this final day took us back to El Boiler. This site and Roca Partida were my two favorite sites, and I was pleased to be able to revisit the site. On this dive we had a fantastic Manta encounter early in the dive, and again at the end of the dive, we had another two Manta’s together for 12-15 minutes, resulting in some of the best photo opportunities of the trip.
The final dive of the trip had us back at El Cañon, where we had dove several days earlier. Our hopes were high for some close encounters with schooling Hammerheads, or larger Galapagos sharks, as we were visiting the site during the evening when these animals tend to be out hunting on the reef. One of the group was apparently in the right place at the right time, as they had a very close pass by a group of 8 hammerheads!
Once this dive was done and the gear and panga boats were stowed, the captain steered the Rocio towards home. The group enjoyed another excellent meal and drinks before turning in early for bed and it was time to begin the 26 hour journey home.
The final day was one for breaking down the gear, packing our bags and relaxing on the voyage back to port.
We finished the day with a photo presentation that included images by many of the guests. It was a time that everyone enjoyed to reflect on the past week’s adventure. Many fine memories were created andhopefully new friendships as well. Speaking on my own behalf, I would be happy to see each of these divers again in the future and I look forward to the new friends I made on the Bluewater Photo Socorro Trip of March 2017.
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