8. Final Dives
During our day at Isla Socorro, the wind began to kick up just in time for our overnight crossing back to Isla San Benedicto. I gulped down a few dramamine after dinner, then retired to the dive benches on the back deck to grimace in nausea and look out toward the dim horizon. We rode up and crashed down the swells and I watched little white birds fly over the waves at the edge of sight. Thankfully, exhaustion drove me to bed where I slept on and off, waking the next morning with a stiff back and legs from bracing myself all night.
The wind kept up all the next day, so we stayed anchored up at El Canon. A deep channel, El Canon is the place to look for schooling hammerheads at cleaning stations at the edge of deep water as well as baby silvertips and other sharks. Notoriously shy, hammerheads are quickly scared away from dive sites if the divers are disrespectful. None showed themselves to us all day and I feared that they might have been intimidated by divers early on. Nevertheless, it was a pretty interesting site and we dove three times. The canyon is edged by mounds of rock, some of which are cleaning stations; on the other side is a flat bottom of small boulders. Bluefin trevally jacks actively hunted over the reef and harassed morays hiding in the rocks. Octopus were abundant and I was pleased to find a sleeping soapfish (a night predator) dozing among the rocks. Bunches of triggerfish quivered in delight as juvenile Crotez rainbow wrasses nibbled on them. One low channel between two mounds of rock was alive with dozens of Chinese trumpetfish hovering a few feet off the bottom; another diver got some spectacular video of a green moray eating a triggerfish.
On our last dive I pulled myself away from exploring the flatlands (where we’d seen hammerheads four years previous) and caught up with Larry at the edge of the abyss. As I approached I noticed a shark just on the other side of him; he looked up and I made the shark sign. He thought I was asking if he’d seen a shark and shook his head no. I kept whacking my head and pointing and he finally turned around to film a curious Galapagos shark. We swam a little down the slope into the canyon and had at least five Galapagos sharks cruise by and circle around. Unfortunately, we hit our 130 foot depth limit and began to go into deco, so regretfully cut our shark time short. We had the only sharks of the day.
The wind kept up all night so we anchored the next day near shore in the vicinity of the Boiler. Some of the divers were requesting a new dive site, so we boarded the pangas for Cabo Fear down the coast. Divemaster Rey positioned us at the very end of the reef some distance from shore. We plunged into the water as a group, grabbed our cameras from the panga captain, and followed Rey down into the blue. At 90 feet with no land in site I began to have my doubts. We ascended to 30 feet and waited while Rey surfaced and got his bearing, then came back down and led us toward shallower water. Ten minutes later, he surfaced again, and continued to kick with a purpose. At 20 minutes I think we all realized we were never going to make it and I’d resigned myself to enjoying a blue water dive. Soon we heard the whistles of dolphins and turned to see a solitary dolphin emerge out of the blue haze and take in the scene. After a quick pass the dolphin cruised to the surface and disappeared in the light. I heard a crash and saw her reenter the water after a breach, maybe as a signal to the others to avoid the strange scene of 20 bubbly divers hanging together in the water column. I would have left too. As the dolphin disappeared, two yellowfin tuna appeared and faded out just as fast. Despite the brevity of the encounter, it was extremely cool to come across a pod of dolphins in open water in a classic association with tuna. After 45 minutes I pulled myself away from studying the drifting pelagic tunicates and joined the rest of the divers on the panga.
The final dives of the day were back at the Boiler. The visibility was poor and the mantas scarce, so Larry and I swam over to the “Little” Boiler (starting at 80 feet) to search for sharks and sea bass. Neither showed themselves, though a number of big leather bass enjoyed a cleaning station in a big crack in the rock. As I hovered over a ledge at the Little Boiler, an orange clarion angelfish approached, so I froze and offered a hand. Clarion angelfish are among the cleaner fish that service the local mantas. The angelfish ignored my hand and instead honed in on the strands of hair escaping from beneath my hood, coming in for a good hard peck on my forehead before losing interest. I must have been disappointing.
Drifting away from the rock for our final safety stop, a manta swam
out at the blue for one farewell pass before we surfaced. While
boarded the panga, I noticed a booby on the surface nearby and ducked
to get some underwater photos of two webbed booby feet and a
head peering at me through the water. As we headed back to the
V, swells surged and crashed over the seamount, making the water “boil”
over the dive site.
Early the next morning, four other divers and I took a cab for San Jose Del Cabo and the airport. Leaving Larry behind to stay on the west coast, I flew all day to Boston to attend the Boston Seafood Show. Meeting my coworker at the airport, I found myself wholly unprepared to reenter work life, having left it all far far behind in the islands. The show turned out to be phenomenal and I quickly adjusted, even making a few new friends along the way. Above and beyond any work-related activities, I found myself both heartened and horrified by certain elements of the show. One booth was marketing imitation shark fins (made of gelatin) while at another booth a very earnest Asian woman enthusiastically promoted her company's whole shark fins (as opposed to the less valuable strands of shark fin with no cohesion/texture). I listened politely until she told me that the whole shark fins on display were from blue sharks, one of the most elegant sharks, and one of my favorite species. I've heard divers suggest that in recent years the Revillagigedo Islands have experienced a decline in the quantity of sharks, perhaps due to the shark fin trade in surrounding waters. While two trips four years apart is hardly enough to make a reasonable judgement, we certainly experienced far fewer sharks on this more recent trip.
After the show I stayed in Boston four more days with an old friend from high school. I wandered around historical downton Boston, rode the "T' (subway) and had my first motorcycle ride. We visited the New England Aquarium which, I have to admit, didn’t knock my socks off, though I appreciated the jellyfish displays and the huge circular central tank. To its credit, I may have been a bit jaded having dived the Blue Planet proper the week before!
Hope you enjoyed the narrative, or at least the photos.
Thanks for taking a look.