Saturday, April 14, 2012

Our 65 hour passage from La Cruz to Isla San Benedicto in the Revillagegdos Archipellago gave us a chance to test both our sea legs andour light air sailing skills. Conditions the first night after leaving Banderas Bay were pleasant but somewhat lacking in wind. We did manage though to keep "Blue Rodeo" moving in access of 5 knots until the windfreshened the next day. The wind speed increased but the direction was mostly from the west which meant we had to sail close hauled (close to thewind) the entire way. At times, our windward side deck was awash from wind driven spray and waves. The lumpy sea conditions meant that any moving about the boat had to be done with care while reaching from one hand hold to the next. Anne was happy that she preemptively put on a Scopalamine patch before leaving La Cruz. Despite the lumpy conditions we were both happy to be at sea, excited about the prospect of where this path will take us. Rather than sail directly to the Marquesas like most Pacific Puddle Jumpers, we had chosen to make a stop at one of the remote islands west of Mexico rated among the top ten dive spots in the world. Our decision would be a good one as our stay at the islands was truly a magical experience. Isla San Benedicto is a small volcanic island featuring lava flows and a huge cinder cone. It last erupted in 1952. Its location, far from any major land masses, and the fact that it rises from water depths of nearly 3,000' mean that it often has crystal clear water and is home to countless species not seen elsewhere. Over the years, fishing took a toll on the fish population in the area but the Mexican government now strictly enforces a fishing ban around the islands and requires park permits for each visitor. On our approach to the island we were greeted by one of the huge Manta Rays that the island is so famous for. While anchoring "Blue Rodeo" in a marginally protected bay on the south side of the island, we were visited by yet another that came close to the boat as if to invite us into the water for a swim. A short exploratory dive with masks, fins and snorkels the next day left us a bit disappointed. Due to strong winds that had been blowing for a few days and the associated large ocean swells, the water visibility was less than we hoped for. We did encounter schools of large inquisitive fish that seemed totally unafraid of our presence. It wasn't hard to see the area's potential and we hoped that the visibility would improve during our stay. Over the next few days we were joined by the crews from fellow PPJ (Puddle Jump) boats, "The Rose", "Shantiana" and"Lightspeed". It was with these folks that our diving excursions began to become more rewarding. While diving a rocky area not far from the anchorage, we saw several octopi, dozens of large lobster, and a big fat Hammerhead shark. The shark swam close enough to get our attention but, appearing well fed, had no interest in us. Unbeknownst to us we were diving near a deep ocean trench where it is not uncommon to see hundreds of Hammerheads at any given time. A special treat was observing playful Humpback Whales frolicking nearby and clearly hearing their songs while we were underwater. The next day, our combined group traveled from the anchorage to the northwest side of the island aboard the catamaran"Lightspeed" to dive the rocky pinnacle known as "The Boiler". While the others jumped in the water to snorkel, we donned our scuba gear and began exploring the area at greater depths. We were treated to the sight of several Silver Tip sharks and more octopi and lobster. Nearing the end of the dive, two huge Manta Rays approached and we wasted no time greeting them and trying to hitch a ride. Anne got close enough to gently touchone but Mark was able to grab hold for the ride of his life. His Manta effortlessly pulled him through the water with such speed that it nearly ripped his face mask off and, at one point, swiftly descended to over 80'in depth before Mark chose to let go. Back closer to the surface, our group was playing with another Manta, though no one could quite catch up to it for a ride. Mark was able to climb aboard his for a second time but his ride was interrupted by a large Jack that decided to take a nibble out of one of his fingers as he held onto the Manta's head. Mark's only thought was that the fish seemed to resent that he was having so much fun. Fortunately, one of our friends captured much of the action with an underwater video camera so, in addition to our memories, we will have some treasured video to share with others. We all returned to our boats that afternoon giddy from the amazing experience and talking excitedly about how special the interaction with the sea creatures had been. The next day we attempted to locate another submerged rock pinnacle, not far from our anchorage, that was reported to be a frequent hangout for theMantas. Using our hand-help GPS receiver, we zeroed-in on the reported coordinates of the pinnacle. Unfortunately, we failed to locate it on ourfirst attempt and made one descent into the abyss to over 100' without even seeing the bottom. Back on the surface and aboard our dinghy, we conferred with Pat, John and Rebecca from "The Rose" who were also searching unproductively nearby. At one point, Pat and Rebecca spotted a Silver Tip shark, a little too close for comfort, that caused them to reconsider diving in the area. With Anne ready to throw in the towel on the afternoon's dive, Mark spotted the top of the pinnacle and urged her to follow him in for a check of the area. An hour later she would be bubbling with glee about having made the right decision. The dive started like others in the area with sightings of huge fish schools, lobster and octopi. At one point, we took time to hover near a camouflaged octopus and Anne gently extended a finger allowing it to respond by extending one of its tentacles. What happened next was magical as we were joined by a pair of enormous Manta rays with 15' plus wing spans flying in formation. Mark wasted no time in climbing aboard one for a ride but Anne had trouble swimming fast enough to catch up. So, as Anne swam with all the speed she could, Mark was able to release his hold on the Manta with one hand, reachback and pull Anne aboard for a tandem ride. Mark soon let go so she could enjoy the majesty of the creature one-on-one. Before long we had ridden both Mantas and, rather than seem annoyed by our presence, they returned to us time and time again to offer more rides. We will remember the special interaction for as long as we live. You see, Mantas are filter feeders, straining minute animals from the ocean water, so their interest in us was definitely not about begging for a hand-out like some animal in a petting zoo. It was ever so clear that they enjoyed the interaction with us as much as we did with them. In fact, when we had nearly exhausted our air supply and were forced to return to the surface, they followed us back to our dinghy, gliding nearby as if to encourage us to continue the play time. It's hard to describe how moved we were by the experience. Just remembering it, as we write this, causes the emotions of that special moment to well up within us. Later that night, our friends gathered aboard "The Rose" to share snacks and stories and say another adios before heading out the next day on the 2,700 passage to the Marquesas. The next morning was spent re-stowing dive gear and supplies and making our boat ready for the serious ocean crossing. By 2:30pm we raised our anchor for the last time until reaching the beautiful tropical Islands of French Polynesia. We set sail that afternoon again feeling so fortunate to have made the efforts to make this adventure happen.

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