Isla San Benedicto
3. First Dive and the Boiler
The next day was mostly spent enduring the ocean crossing, everyone a little tense in anticipation of the first dive and worrying about their gear and cameras. At last, in the late afternoon, we suited up for our first dive at El Fondeadero at Isla San Benedicto. After listening to divemaster Rey present the briefing, we each plunged off the swimstep, grabbed our camera, and disappeared. Sinking below the surface among the ever-present triggerfish and creolefish, I suddenly became aware of strange sounds between my breaths--whale song! Throughout the dive, there was some male humpback a few miles away serenading the ocean. With seemingly unconnected blurps, moans, and squeals, the song was utterly enchanting. The visibility was poor and the only really interesting critter was a long tiger reef eel sitting atop a little seamount, but all I wanted to do was hold my breath and listen to whale song.
Predictably, Solmar V anchored the following day at El Boiler for a rigorous four dives at the quintessential Revillagigedo dive site. A cleaning station for mantas, the narrow seamount is a good site for manta interaction. We were not disappointed. As soon as I ducked my head in the water, a solid black manta appeared nearby. Along with the other 20 divers, I followed a line connecting the stern of the boat to the seamount, with my eye ever on the manta. Originally intending to circumnavigate the rock, I found myself too distracted by the manta swooping by and spent the rest of the dive hovering near the rock and watching. The manta “flew” from one diver to the next, seeming to pick no favorites, cruising everyone at eye level. After about 10 minutes, the manta began to swim over the heads of the divers and pause, an invitation to touch. I watched this happen to quite a few divers who, to the one, stuck a camera out for some photos rather than tickle the manta. When he came to me, I dropped my camera (clipped to my gear) and wiggled my hand as an indication that I was willing to pat (wouldn’t want to disappoint the manta). He cruised straight in toward my face and lifted up at the last minute to hover about five feet above me. I kicked upwards, shocked at the growing size of the great white belly as I approached, and ran my hand along his rough skin. Delightful.
By the end of the dive, a second manta showed up, and three or four relentlessly played with divers on the second dive, surrounding us in an ocean of friendly rays. The water was a flawless blue which made a stunningly beautiful backdrop to the black and white mantas. Hovering at the surface, we could easily make out the sea floor as it sloped away at 130 feet. Whale song accompanied us on every dive. We explored the backside of the seamount a bit more on the following dives (one can swim all the way around it several times on a single dive), but nothing compared to the mantas. I can understand their desire to interact in order to be touched, but these mantas were clearly seeking eye contact as well. What were they thinking, I wonder? One manta initiated contact, then swam so slowly and gently that I was pulled along underneath just by laying my palms flat against her skin just behind the giant gill slits.