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Socorro Island ~ February 12-21 2005 ~ Nautilus Explorer

Socorro IslandWe had one of those magic trips that make divers LOVE to dive! Absolute luxury and comfort aboard the Nautilus Explorer; one of the finest vessels afloat today. Mike Lever owner/operator runs a tight ship with high quality crew. They are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about mantas, whales, sharks and the history of the islands!

Manta Cindi Jerry TuttleOur arrival into San Benedicto Island we started with a check-out dive. Then the fun began! The famous 'boiler', manta cleaning station introduced us to our first MANTA. Our love affair with these magical beauties began! The most unique difference with these manta's from those around the world is how utterly friendly they are! They literally come up to divers to be loved. There is no riding of mantas here, and no need to. My way of attracting them is by talking to them, it works every time! They are so naturally curious, they come right up to me, we swim side by side and I babble on about how beautiful they are. Photographing them all the while, I then slowly (still eye ball to eye ball) ease below and tenderly touch and caress their underbelly as we swim as one. They shudder and shake with obvious delight. This is truly the joy of us divers that have the grace to approach these magnificent powerful beauties and revel in the communion between beast and man.

Hammerhead Les JonesWe then headed to the ‘Canyon’ dive site on San Benedicto, this is a FABULOUS dive site. Our first dive silky sharks greeted us under the boat, we had 2 beautiful mantas together and the beefy Galapagos sharks turned up, very sharky sharks. There is an area here where there are schools of Hammerhead sharks and you do not have to go that deep to find them! This is how this day went all day long. At this dive site we were anchored and you could come and go as you please from 7:30am to 6:00pm. My favorite way to dive. It is too sharky to night dives here so we are back before it gets real dark. There is a marked difference in the sharks’ behavior as the sun goes down.

Whale Les JonesThe Humpback whales migrate here to calve and procreate; they start to arrive in December and start their return back to Alaska in April. In my opinion this is an excellent time to go to Socorro, the whales are a bonus! We heard them singing underwater many times that soulful sad moan, then some add an upbeat chirping at the end. We had the whale researchers on board one night for dinner Jeff Jacobsen has been out there on and off for the last 17 years. They stay on Socorro, students from all over the world come here to do their research. The male whales allegedly have one song they all sing and the best singer gets the girl! Cool. For those of us lovers of whales, they would take us out on whale safari with cameras, fins and snorkels in hand! Great fun, and great frustration!

Les Manta Deborah SmrekarRoca Partida is a favorite dive site of many, this small rock is home to EVERYTHING! The water was very blue and clear, excellent visibility here. Silver tips sharks, Hammerheads, coves all over with varying sizes of white tip reef sharks all piled upon each other. One cove had a nursery of many small sharks, very cute. I saw the largest white tip ever, she was a pregnant female and must have been ready to give birth any moment. Mantas came from every where at the end, we reveled in 4 at once. All coming back to play with divers. Great opportunities for the perfect manta photo here. They stay close for so long you can change f stops and strobe placement, front, back, side shots, you name it! We had so much fun here! This site you have to go by tender, we had 2 humpies breaching out of the water like a dance, one after the other about 10 times each! We saw some fighting male humpbacks also, wow that is a sight to behold 2 40 ton whales fighting, yikes.

Socorro Island is large and very green and beautiful. Here is where we check in for our permits with the officials. Great manta action here at Punta Toscana, they love us! Nothing like happy mantas how big can you smile underwater? This is when I got even more friendly with the mantas. They love to be touched! There are 2 types of mantas, one all black on the top, and the other is called chevron Mantas. However they are all the same genius. For some reason in Socorro Islands they are quite big, from 16 to 22 ft across. We had really cute juveniles also!

Dolphin Les JonesOh now some of our divers were blessed with schools of bottlenose dolphins swimming with them! They are the most friendly dolphins and so beautiful to see them undulating underwater smiling at you. I sadly missed them ;-(, however my friend Les had my little point and shoot canon in a housing and God Bless him, he got an awesome video clip of them!!!

So as you can see, Socorro is rich with pelagic life, a soup mix of everything. If you love mantas you have to come here, you don’t just see them glide by. You interact, you connect, you touch and they love it.

“The splendor of interaction with creation’s giant manta’s of the sea”
Revillagigedo archipelago

Boat niceties:
BoatThe Nautilus Explorer is one of the finest top vessels afloat today. Mike Lever purpose built here and spared no expense. She is the most comfortable boat I have been on since the Cehili in Indonesia 10 yrs ago. She is 116’ long about 30’ wide which makes her very stable and roomy!

All staterooms have ensuite bathrooms shelves and hooks, some have 2 beds a dbl and single, and some have a double bed only. 2 executive suites are on the Bridge deck with large picture windows and a giant king bed, looks like a small hotel room. She is a solas ship with all the safety features for her category type. The crew have to do full fire drills and we have to do one with our life jackets. Safety is the name of this boats game! Mikes gives a full complete briefing of dive sites, emergency blasts, and what to do if you have ‘gone blue’. If blue you come directly up and deploy safety sausage. The crew are on the back deck at all times looking out for divers. We are all big kids here, no hand holding, but you must follow the safety rules. Dive masters take turns going on dives, so no problem if you like to dive with a DM.

Les Cindi 2The dive deck is giant, lots of room for suiting up out of the sun. Camera tables everywhere and the most charging stations and plugs for 110v North American plugs I have ever seen. They do a lot with rebreathers and nitrox and are fully set up for it.

The crew are excellent, friendly, efficient and happy and knowledgeable.

Group ShotThe food is EXCELLENT and served buffet style, plenty of choices for meat, fish, poultry and vegetarians would be happy! Lots of great Mexican dishes as well as western fare. Lots of fresh green salad with different types of lettuce! Home made bread, soups and great deserts. Baked goods in the afternoon accompany your tasty snack!

The bar is fun and has a full liquor license, Sylvia makes a mean Margarita! They offer 30 types of beer and an excellent wine list, selections from France, Australia and the US with excellent prices from $16-$24 per bottle and very good wine!

Hot TubThe Hot Tub is the winner on the top deck, after diving in mid 70 degree water temp in February, nothing better than ripping off my 4 layers of wet suit and jumping in the hot tub, ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Then after diving, one of Sylvia’s yummy Margarita’s in the hot tub with whales breaching in the back round is more than heavenly!

In the giant, comfy salon, they have a PC computer so you can download your CF cards and save in your folder until the end of the trip, then edit and save to cd to take home. Everything on this boat is so efficient and easy!

SunsetWe also had some manta behavior and ID talks trying to compare photocopies of mantas from Socorro Islands to the ones we have seen. Our trip did not re see one manta, they were all different! They ask us to save our images in a file on the computer so the Manta researcher Bob Reuben from Santa Rosa Jr College can collect more data.

This is the finest boat and dive operation going to The Socorro Islands today. If you are ready for the magic mantas of Socorro and pampering of your soul, Nautilus Explorer is the trip. She also does the Sea of Cortez in October before heading to Socorro. Plus from June to September she dives B.C. from Vancouver to Alaska. Join us as I have chartered the June 11 –21 2006 trip from Vancouver to Sitka. Mike Lever has an adventuring nature like us, thank God he has the finest boat to enjoy our wanderlust with!!

Cindi LaRaia