Playful Manta RayA friendly Pacific manta ray poses for the camera off Mexico's Socorro Islands.
Scuba Diving’s editor, David Espinosa, recently traveled to Mexico’s isolated Socorro Islands onboard the luxury live-aboard vessel Baja Aggressor. Located about 260 miles south of the tip of Baja, the Socorro are known as Mexico’s Galapagos due to their booming population of large sea creatures like Pacific manta rays, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks and humpback whales. Espinosa kept a written journal of his diving experiences, and thanks to the generosity of a few his fellow guests with cameras, we’ve got a collection of images and videos to illustrate his written blog posts. Check back with scubadiving.com every few days over the coming weeks to see all six blog entries from Espinosa’s dive trip to the Socorro Islands.
Blog Entry #1
April 23, 2011: San Benedicto
I arrived in Mexico two days ago, but I won’t bore anyone with the details of my travels or the long ride south to Socorro. It was a quiet crossing from the mainland yesterday, and we arrived early this morning off the northwest corner of San Benedicto.
There are 12 guests onboard the Baja Aggressor this week. Nine are diving, wearing everything from a 5mm surfing wetsuit to one woman, who’s sporting a patchwork of assorted wetsuits: a 5mm full suit with a 3mm full suit over that, along with a hooded vest. There’s a couple from Baltimore diving the new Scubapro Everdry 4 drysuit (a 2011 ScubaLab Tester’s Choice), while Bare has kindly loaned me their new SB System drysuit (also a 2011 ScubaLab Tester’s Choice) to test out in waters that, while not as bone-chilling as my backyard diving in Monterey, are still cold enough that the rest of the divers are looking at the three of us with envy.
Today we did four dives on the Boiler, so named because when the swells are large they crash onto the two “horns” of the pinnacle, creating a boiler-like effect. Never quite had a checkout dive with an introduction like that.
The rock itself can easily be circumnavigated twice on one dive. The walls drop down to tremendous depths. In the southwest corner there’s a smaller pinnacle that comes up to 75 feet. It’s a manta cleaning station, along with a ledge at 65 feet on the northwest corner.
On our first dive, we dropped into clear waters, with some heavy surge. We dived with one big manta virtually the entire dive. “The mantas here have personalities,” everyone would later remark. They’re right. It was almost as if this manta was a party host, going around to each guest (diver) to make sure he’d had some personal attention. He would come close, do some acrobatics and then move on to the next diver.
The pinnacle itself isn’t that interesting — just sharp ledges covered in rocks and barnacles. Saw a few free-swimming morays, some white tip sharks, beautiful Clarion angelfish and schools of jacks. Upon exiting into the panga (note: we stern tied to the boat and did main-boat diving the entire day, but we got lazy on the first dive and wanted to be picked up) we saw a humpback whale slamming his fin against the surface, some 150 yards away.
Second dive was the best one. We’d been seeing humpbacks all around the boat throughout the day, but in between the first and second dives we had dolphins playing nearby. I dressed quickly, jumped in and was immediately surrounded by three bottlenose dolphins. One was very playful, charging me and stopping within a few feet. What made this spectacle even more amazing was there was a giant black manta swimming only a few feet away, waiting for everyone to get in the water, so it could play too.
The divers entered and the dolphins moved on, but I stuck around because I continued hearing the chirps. I watched as one dolphin surfed the big waves that swamped the two horns at the surface, ducked under the wave and jumped into the air.
This dive we encountered two mantas: the one from the first dive — a giant black manta with a white arrow on its belly — and a second, white manta, that flew in after I went ahead of the group. The two proceeded to entertain us for the whole dive.
Our third dive was “uneventful.” On the fourth dive only four of us went — the rest went in the panga to see four male humpbacks that were making a run north. They spent an hour with the whales, while we dived and enjoyed the twilight action that makes dives at this time of the day so special. We also saw four white tips on a ledge and some strange lobster action: they were all out of their holes, moving around unafraid and some were really big. Must’ve been hundreds down there packed tight in the shelves up at the top.
To read the other blog entries from this trip, click on the Related Articles below.