Socorro, Mexico and The Solmar V -- 11/98

I arrived in Cabo San Lucas on the Thursday before Thanksgiving and was scheduled to leave on the Solmar V bound for Socorro Saturday evening.

I spent the next several days blowing off some steam with friends who live and work in Cabo. After several nights of entertainment Cabo style, I was ready for a more sedate week of diving.

We departed Cabo San Lucas and headed south for Socorro, 280 miles out on the Solmar V. Our arrival was not until 3:00 pm Sunday after cruising for a full 22 hours.

Finally, after much travel and our extensive dive briefing, we dropped into the water near Isla Benedicto at El Boiler - a site named for the ocean mountain which "boils" as wave and surge rush the top at only 12 feet of depth.

  As we circled the mount, we spotted our first manta. She gracefully flew over the top of us and one after another joined us until six mantas slid between our group of divers. We hung motionless in awe as the mantas swooped upon us again and again after within inches of our faces. There is no need to chase them. They are naturally curious and seem to like divers.
This scene set the tone for the week to come. Overnight we made way to Roca Partida at Archpielgo de Revillagigedo, 70 miles out where we encountered white tip reef sharks, green morays, more mantas. Even a scalloped hammerhead cruised by to take a look at the strange beings in his territory.  
     

Another 70 mile cruise took us to Isla Socorro and the Naval station where we were required to obtain clearance from the officials. After a several hour delay, we moved on and dove the waters surrounding Socorro where reef fish were abundant and sharks of all types were present. The island topography is quite dramatic with steep cliffs rising from the sea, mountains in the background and very interesting rock formations.

     
  It was here I witnessed a most unusual interaction between two Slipper Lobsters. As I approached it was cleared they were involved in some sort of dispute, perhaps territorial. They lunged as each other repeatedly, forcing each other back and thrashing their legs into the other. The climax of the battle was when the larger one climbed a rock above the other and jumped upon his opponent, sending him scurrying off in defeat.
We moved through several other sites around Socorro while several passengers fished for wahoo and tuna. At the end of the day we had quite a number of carcasses which provided us an evening's entertainment as we dangled them over the side enticing the many sharks under the boat to strike. A hard pull and the shark cleared the water to thrill us with his savage attack in all his gnawing and gulping glory.  

While under water could hear the sounds of dolphins and would swim away from the pinnacle and hang motionless in the deep blue, the sea bottom over 300 feet below. Our patience was rewarded with a close encounter. Like the mantas, dolphins are naturally curious and given a quiet opportunity will approach and play with divers.

  We concluded our week by returning to El Boiler at San Benedicto Island for two glorious days of interaction with the wild mantas. Every time we entered the water, the mantas joined us, frolicking around us and passing overhead. It seemed they enjoyed flying though the exhaust bubbles of our scuba. They would hover directly overhead, sinking slowly and taking us down with them in their downdraft.

Scotty, the host of Solmar V is quite an authority on mantas and has spent more than five years studying and identifying these beautiful creatures. On this trip alone, thirteen new individuals were identified and cataloged.

On the second day back, we were joined by the ship "Star Ship", a self described Ambassador of the Sea to on a mission to promote awareness for the oceans.

They are on an ambitious, a three year voyage around the world sponsored by corporate giants like Microsoft, Olympus and Sony. A 75 foot vessel, equipped with top of the line gear, tender, sail plane, shark cage and even a 10 station computer network and satellite up link.

 

They have a permanent crew of six and room for six more visiting scientists and researchers. They boarded us several times, proudly boasted of their trek and technology, and invited several of our crew and passengers to gawk at their corporate sponsored wonder.

Once in the water with them, I was astounded at the callousness with which they treated the mantas.

Though specifically instructed not to, and against the law, they chased the mantas, jabbed at them and even insisted on riding them.

Though Scotty took one of the divers to the surface, a very aggressive woman who was attempting to ride the mantas and admonished her, she continued the harrasment.

Even when the President of Mexico dove with the mantas, he too was instructed not to chase or ride them.

 

Now, months after the incident, they deny it occurred! We were there and saw it live!

Who are these self appointed Ambassadors? Do the normal considerations of ecology and conservation not apply to them as they do to the rest of us who love the sea? Is this attitude not the very cause for the state of our oceans today?

Their journal for the days at El Boiler is HERE.

Want proof of their interactions with ocean wildlife? Check this out!

Footnote: Since this article has been published, they modified their page and printed a denial of the incident.


SPEAK UP for our oceans and E-MAIL the crew of "Star Ship"
with your opinion of their behavior!


We pulled anchor just as the sun set, and left "Star Ship" anchored in the midst of the mantas, sad in the realization there was nothing more we could do. Though educated, they choose to ignore the law and the wisdom of acknowledged experts.

Back in Cabo San Lucas, I departed Solmar V briefly to look up a few friends and then returned to gather a group of new friends for a final evening together. I took seven of my fellow passengers to my favorite restaurant in Cabo, Misiones de Kino on Guierra Street about two blocks past Cabo Wabo.

A family business, all food is prepared to order and served in a tranquil garden setting away from the hub bub of the central tavern. The meals are generously portioned, very tasty and incredibly inexpensive.

We finished the evening by visiting some of Cabo's night-time institutions like the Giggling Marlin and then bid each other farewell in the morning.

This was an A+ trip. The Solmar V is a fine 112 foot 24 foot beam vessel, very well set up for diving and meticulously maintained and appointed in etched glass and wood. She is powered by twin, turbo charged Detroit 12V-71s and has a 10,000 gallon fuel capacity.

Ten crew members and the captain provided more than adequate attention to the passengers. Diving rules are structured enough to assure safety in this remote location but not unduly so.

The meals were modestly portioned and for the most part, tasty but not exciting. The summer camp style call to breakfast by our server Pepe became a standing joke. Each morning, though the breakfast time had been posted the night before, Pepe would stand outside our cabin door and bellow "Breakfast Time!"

This became our battle cry and Pepe took our teasing quite good naturedly and even toned down the announcement on one morning.

At $2200 - 2500, this is on the more expensive side of live-aboards but the vessel is exceptional, the opportunity to dive with the mantas limited to this operation and fuel costs are high. I estimate we made almost 1000 nautical miles.

  Overall, the value to thrill factor is good and I can recommend this as a fine adventure.

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1999 John Petrak