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Reviews (2)

Waterhorse Charters San Diego

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Los Coronado Islands, Baja California Sur, with Waterhorse Charters Review
Trip Date: April 19, 2014

It had been a five and a half hour drive from Arizona to hook-up with my dive partner to dive San Diego’s Wreck Alley. Unfortunately, we found ourselves standing on the dock waiting for a dive boat that never showed-up. Despite the fact that the boat owner provided an explanation about what had happened, her failure to give an out-of-state diver a telephone call about the cancellation left me somewhat soured on San Diego area diving. This said, I had heard good things about Mexico’s Los Coronado Islands and I really wanted to dive there. Eventually, I decided to try a different San Diego dive boat operation and I am glad I did.

Los Coronado Islands

Los Coronado Islands are in the neighborhood of twenty miles south of San Diego and six miles off Baja California Sur’s Pacific Coast. There are four islands in the group. The islands sit on the edge of the Continental Shelf. Distance offshore and proximity to the deep waters of the Pacific tend to result in good visibility for diving.

Juan Cabrillo documented the presence of the islands in 1542. The translation of the islands name is ‘the crowns’ and comes from the original name Los Cuatro Coronados (the four crowns). History of the islands is rich: slave smuggling, piracy, rum running, and a prohibition-era casino. Personally, arriving by boat at a place with a history like the Coronados tends to stimulate my imagination. It is a cool place.

Waterhorse Charters

After visiting with several San Diego area divers, I decided to book a trip with Waterhorse Charters. At the time of my trip, Waterhorse was the only charter company offering day trips to Los Coronado Islands just south of the U.S./Mexico border.

Booking on-line was easy. Given my earlier negative experience with a different San Diego charter company, I also made a phone call and visited with a Waterhorse staff member about the importance of giving me a phone call if a cancellation became necessary.

Travel to Mexico via boat requires a passport and a tourist visa. Tourist visa paperwork was completed at their office before divers were allowed to get on the boat.

Overall, my experience with the Waterhorse office staff was a good experience. They were personable and very service oriented.

Humboldt Dive Boat

Humboldt is a big boat. It is 45’ in length and has a 16’ beam. Official boat specs are available on Waterhorse Charters website.

Humboldt was comfortable during my Coronados trip. Regulations did not permit divers to sit on the bow deck, but there was lots of room to spread out on the main and upper decks. The boat also had a large salon with lots of seating and tables. Hot water showers were available on the main deck.

Lunch was included with the Coronados trip and the food was excellent. Diving the Pacific side of Northern Baja is a cold-water experience; the hot soups prepared by the crew were a hit. There was no shortage of salad as well.

Diving Ops

Waterhorse Charters runs ‘limited load’ trips. Load limits typically allow more space on the main deck for gearing-up and dive operations. This works well unless one finds one’s self sandwiched in-between two very large divers as I did. I had to wait for them to gear-up and step clear of the area before I could slip into my BCD. It was not a major issue.

Humboldt is equipped with low-pressure steel 85 cf tanks. Using steel tanks typically requires some weight adjustment. Basically, steel tanks are heavier than the aluminum variety so shedding some weight is necessary. The skipper reminded divers of this multiple times prior to commencing with dive ops on our first dive site. The boat is equipped with air compressors. The crew had no problem accomplishing tank re-fills for everyone during surface intervals. It is kind of nice not to have to change-out tanks.

The skipper provided dive site and safety briefings personally. Briefings included a description of each site, tips on what to look for, and an assessment of potential hazards. Current was present at every dive site, but it was a major issue on our second dive.

Los Coronado Islands Diving

One of the major reasons I wanted to dive the Los Coronado Islands was to pursue photographing sea lions, seals and if I was lucky, maybe some members of the small elephant seal colony that reside on one of the islands. The trip was not a total bust for me, but opportunities to photograph pinnipeds were limited.

The reality of scuba diving is the variety of experiences divers can have at different locations on the same dive sites. One simply cannot predict what divers may encounter. While the ‘dive gods’ did not smile on me with an encounter with any elephant seals, a couple of other divers were privileged to have one make a close pass to check them out. Others enjoyed more interaction with sea lions than I did. The Coronados have an excellent reputation for large numbers of pinnipeds; the large numbers were probably just off doing something else other than looking for divers to interact with on the day I arrived there.

We undoubtedly hit three of the more heavily used Los Coronado Islands dive sites. These included: Lobster Shack, The Keyhole, and Three Fingers. The skipper commented that they usually do the first dive at Lobster Shack because it is reasonably well sheltered and a good place for the crew to do something of an assessment of the diver skills. Keep in mind, there can be a wide range of skill levels among the twenty-two divers who are on the boat.

A fisherman shack once sat on the sheltered cove that bears the name Lobster Shack. Bottom topography is a sloping boulder field that provides habitat for fish. Blacksmith and Garibaldi were numerous. Triggerfish were also present.

The Keyhole sits on the southern end of the North Island (Coronado del Norte). It is an arch and connects waters from the windward and leeward sides of the island. A tremendous amount of surge and current was present at the site on the day of my charter.

Despite the skipper’s very accurate description of the challenges presented by the current and his admonishments to dive a plan north of the arch and the surge, a number of divers surfaced down current from the boat. None of them were able to swim back to the boat against the current. Interestingly, the skipper had anticipated this situation and already had a safety line in position to haul them in.

As noted earlier in this review, my encounters with sea lions were limited; however, several engaged me at the Keyhole. These sea lions stuck around with me for a few minutes and gave me opportunities for some stills and experimentation with video mode on my Nikon D7100.

Three Fingers on the Middle Island (Coronado del Medio) was pretty tame after dealing with the surge and current at The Keyhole. Sea lions were present, but showed little interest in engaging me. The Middle Island has a small resident population of Northern Elephant Seals. Unfortunately, the ‘dive gods’ did not smile on me. While I prowled around hoping for an encounter, another small group of divers was treated to a close ‘fly-by’ they described as being buzzed by an elephant seal the size of a mini-submarine. Fun stuff!

Water temperatures ran from sixty-one to sixty-four degrees. Visibility varied from forty-five to seventy feet.

Summary

Overall, diving Los Coronado Islands with the Humboldt crew was an enjoyable experience. In addition to marine life, purple hydrocorals are present. Waterhorse Charters schedules trips to the islands on a regular basis.

Philip Bonds
Cortez Blue Photography

Visited on 04/2014 - Submitted on 11/15/2014
Read all Waterhorse Charters San Diego reviews

Club Cantamar Resort, La Paz

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4

Club Cantamar, La Paz, Baja Sur
Trip Dates: October 1-5, 2014

Hurricane Odile arrived in La Paz a couple of weeks before our group did. While we received some reassurances that Club Cantamar had been spared major storm damage, we were not sure what we would find when we arrived. Our group was the first big group Club Cantamar hosted following the departure of Hurricane Oldie.

Travel

Our group left San Diego on October 1, 2014, via bus, traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, and flew to La Paz on Volaris Airline from the Tijuana Airport. Other than a few episodes of drama shifting gear at the ticket counter to meet luggage weight restrictions and getting tagged with extra fees for over-sized carry-ons, our flight went smoothly.

Two Club Cantamar vans were waiting for us when we arrived at the La Paz Airport. The Cantamar facility is located about thirty minutes from town so we got a pretty good tour of some of the damage resulting from Hurricane Odile’s trip through the area. Our van drivers accommodated us when we requested a stop at a grocery store to purchase beer, and snacks to take out to the resort.

Our return trip to San Diego from La Paz was something more of a challenge than the trip from San Diego to La Paz. Tropical Storm Simon arrived at the La Paz Airport about the same time we were to board the aircraft for the ride back to Tijuana. Heavy rain, wind, and lightening delayed our departure. We also learned that our return flight was being diverted to deliver relief supplies to Cabo San Lucas. Needless to say, we arrived in Tijuana much later than originally planned.

The Resort

The Club Cantamar Resort is not billed as a five star resort. It is billed as a good place for divers whose focus is diving rather than the non-diving amenities a resort can offer. Everyone in our group knew this when they signed-up for the trip.

Club Cantamar sustained some hurricane damage. Buildings were intact; however, some roof damage was evident. Power had been restored a day before our arrival. Lights, and AC units were functioning. Telephone and television service had not been restored.

Wifi was not available during our stay at the resort. Management compensated for this by offering shuttle service to their location in downtown La Paz for those who absolutely could not do without internet access.

Storm damage was evident in the marina. One of the floating docks was keeping a houseboat from sinking in front of the resort. The dockside pontoon had been damaged and filled with water. A couple of sailboats had damaged rigging.

We had a third floor room with a balcony. The balcony overlooked the marina. I’ve never been a big fan of staying in rooms that require dragging luggage up lots of stairs, but the balcony was a nice trade-off.

Our room was clean. It was carpeted and had tile bathroom areas. The AC unit worked extremely well; it almost froze us out a couple of times when we set it too low. Controls for the ceiling fan seemed a bit antiquated, but the fan worked well.

There was no shortage of hot water; however, adjusting the shower taps to get water temperatures just right proved something of a challenge. It took us a couple of days to get it figured-out. Most of the rooms our group used did not have refrigerators. The resort had ice available for everyone who wanted it.

One of the downsides of our rooms was the mattress. I have traveled enough in Mexico to be familiar with mattresses that feel like I am sleeping on a concrete slab. The mattresses at the resort were reminiscent of some I have slept on in Cabo San Lucas and San Carlos. Needless to say, it takes a few days to adjust to sleeping on a ‘hard as a rock’ mattress. I heard other group members comment about how hard their mattresses were.

The pool area was still a mess when we arrived. A couple of weeks without power to run pumps and filters had left the water in the pool filled with algae. It kind of had a pond scum look. The storm had literally broken some of the palapas off at the base and others had been stripped right off the support posts. During our stay, the management had a crew working on the pool and it was showing signs of major improvement before we left.

Club Cantamar’s beach area was something of a mess as well. My non-diving spouse spent the better part of a day picking up trash and storm debris. The beach was in pretty good shape when she finished, but odds are pretty good that more junk will continue to wash-up. I have no doubt the storm deposited a lot of stuff in the water that does not belong there.

Restaurant - Bar

I was not sure what to expect with regards to meals at Club Cantamar. The trip was all-inclusive which included meals at the resort restaurant. Overall, I was pleased with the meals.

It was difficult to resist the breakfast buffet. Breakfast was consistently good. Lunch was cooked on the boat; the crew always did great job with lunch. The dinner menu was interesting; it consistently appeared written on a napkin. The menu offered two choices and the waiter simply walked around the table and showed members of our group what the choices were. The nightly choices were always different, but there were always only two. I never had a bad meal there.

There was never a shortage of beer and other lavations for those who wanted some at the resort. A couple of Corona’s and a margarita was a nice way to end our dive days. It was enjoyable to sit on the deck at the restaurant with other members of the group and watch the sun set in the evening. We would usually gather an hour or so before dinner and enjoy each other’s company.

The resort did offer shuttles to town any time we asked. Our group opted to go to the malecon in La Paz on night for dinner one night.

Diving

One of the benefits of traveling and diving with a good-sized group is the potential to develop camaraderie among members of the group. Members can essentially seek out others they feel comfortable with. Personally, I think this works very well with dive groups.

Club Cantamar runs several very large dive boats. This allowed all twenty-two divers in our group to dive together. Three groups of divers were organized at each dive site by our Baja Diving & Service dive masters/guides. Divers chose which group they wanted to be in. Groups entered the water at approximately fifteen-minute intervals.

Our dive masters/guides, Edgar, Maria and Daniel, did a great job assisting with gear, organizing dive groups, briefing at different dive sites, and leading dives. Briefings included large map drawings of dive sites and pointers for what to look for in different areas of the sites.

I prefer to do my own gear set-up and tank swaps; however, assistance was available for anyone who requested it. Immediate assistance was provided for a couple of divers who experienced some minor issues with their equipment.

Accessing La Paz dive sites typically requires forty-five minutes to an hour or more of travel. Big boats provide more than the advantage of permitting large groups to dive together. While Hurricane Odile had passed before we arrived in La Paz, Tropical Storm Simon was approaching and produced some areas of rough water. I prefer a big, stable boat in rough water to a smaller one in rough water anytime. It was also nice to have large deck areas available for group members to lounge while traveling to and from dive sites. Our boat, Uno Mas, is in the neighborhood of fifty feet long, eighteen feet wide, and heavily built.

The leader of our group worked with the Baja Diving & Service staff to select dive sites. Weather and current conditions dictated some the choices they made. As a photographer, I found no shortage of subjects on all of the sites they chose. I shot wide angle exclusively during the trip. One of the other photographers shot macro exclusively. I think both of us did quite well.

A night dive was available for divers who wanted to do it. On the morning of the day of our departure, some members of our group opted to take a boat ride out to look for whale sharks.

The Uno Mas lacked a camera table; however, there was a large area in the forward below deck cabin that several of us appropriated for use with our photographic equipment. It was well lighted and provided enough space to re-configure ports during lens changes and change strobe batteries.

Snacks and non-alcoholic beverages were readily available on the boat. Space was available in boat coolers for those who wanted to bring their own beverages. Some of the group members brought beer in cans to throw in the coolers on the dive boat.

Several of divers in our group were disappointed because Nitrox was unavailable at the resort. Their disappointment was compounded when they requested it, were promised it, and resort management failed to deliver on the promise. I was not particularly interested in diving Nitrox so I never asked why the resort’s Nitrox system was not working. I do not know if their system was down due to the hurricane or for other reasons.

A gear storage and rinse area is located adjacent to the resort’s dock area. Lockers (large chain link lockers) were available in the storage area. Use of the lockers was free and divers could provide their own padlocks or rent one from the resort office. While the majority of the divers in our group utilized the lockers, a few dragged their gear to their rooms.

Summary

October diving in the Sea of Cortez is generally tough to beat. Visibility in the one hundred feet range in water that is 85+ degrees is usually typical. This year’s hurricane season left the water unsettled enough to prevent us from getting the visibility we had hoped for. Fifty to seventy feet visibility in 85+ degree water was more the norm during our trip. Many of the divers in our group dove in shorts and rash guards or T-shirts.

If you are focused on diving and less concerned about having a lot of non-diving amenities available, Club Cantamar would undoubtedly be a good choice. It is a no-frills resort with a solid dive operation. Given the opportunity, I would return to stay at the resort and dive sooner rather than later.

Submitted by: Philip Bonds, Cortez Blue Photography

Visited on 10/2014 - Submitted on 10/14/2014
Read all Club Cantamar Resort, La Paz Dive Resort reviews

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