Posted by jl on September 30, 2006 at 19:15:47:|
In Reply to: Malibu pier posted by CORALCUTS on August 28, 2006 at 08:10:14:
Seρor Big & other wonderful things in the Sea of Cortez (Club Cantamar) - long with
When fellow divers learn that we live in Southern California, they frequently ask
about diving the Sea of Cortez. We are, what you would call, "been there, done that
divers" but for some unknown reason, we have never gone to Baja for the diving.
When my buddies, the Webbs, booked a trip to Club Cantamar, I tagged along to see
what I had been missing.
Club Cantamar Pichilingue, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
To get to La Paz, most people fly to San Jose del Cabo and then take a shuttle. There
is an airport in La Paz, but the airfare to SJC is usually much cheaper, making the
longer trip more economical. So, following the herd, we flew on Alaska Airlines
from LAX to SJC, a flight of only two hours duration. It took an hour to get our
baggage, go through immigration and customs, because three planes landed one right
after another. We met the shuttle driver outside the terminal and waited for some
other passengers getting in on a later flight. The drive to Pichilingue, on the Sea of
Cortez, north of La Paz, where Club
Cantamar is located, took three hours a very picturesque drive through the
desert green from the hurricane-spawned rains of the previous month. All-in-all, it
took us eleven hours from the time we got to LAX until we arrived at CC; next time,
I'll look into flying directly into La Paz!
[note: Alaska Airlines is going to start service direct to La Paz at the end of October
Club Cantamar is about twenty minutes north of La Paz, on a peninsula, next to the
truck ferry terminal. There is no town or anything else to see there, but it is an hour
closer to the dive sites than the boats out of La Paz. The resort is interesting,
consisting of several buildings: hotel rooms, dive operation, restaurant, pool/bar, and
a small condominium project. There's a swimming pool with swim up bar. The
rooms are spacious, clean, with tile floors, a/c, television (mostly Spanish stations),
radio, and en suite bathrooms. You can book half or full board; on the full board
plan, breakfast and dinner are buffet, lunch is served on the boats. Breakfast
consisted of the standard eggs, potatoes, pancakes or French toast, ham, cereal, some
fruit, etc. The lunches on the boats were do-it-yourself sandwiches or tacos, chips,
cookies, and soft drinks. Dinner buffets items changed nightly: several choices of
fish, chicken, beef, pork chops, pasta, with vegetables, salad bar, and a dessert. I
found the food to be tasty and filling, but nothing to write home to your mother about.
They have bottles of drinking water in the corridors of the buildings to fill up a
pitcher in your room for drinking, brushing teeth, etc. The water tastes "funny," but
is safer than the tap water.
Room with a view. I told you it was next to the truck ferry!
Note: bring sandals, the rock pathways are too rough for bare feet.
The dive operation has several large boats that accommodate ~25 divers each. The
boats all have marine heads and carry radios, oxygen and other safety stuff. Each
diver's gear is kept in a secure caged section just a few steps from the marina and you
schlep your stuff to the boat in a milk crate. Tanks are already on the boats and
consist of Al-80's, with larger tanks and nitrox available. Entries are giant stride off
the sides or back of the boat; returns are via stern ladders you take off and hand up
your fins before climbing the ladders back to the deck where the crew will take your
tank and change it out for the next dive. Divers could hand up their weight belts
and/or tanks if they told the DMs they needed extra attention. Dives times were
normally limited to fifty minutes, but by getting in the water first, I was able to do
hour+ dives and return before the last divers arrived at the back of the boat. The dive
masters will lead dives or you can do your own thing buddy diving was not
enforced. The DMs all spoke excellent English and gave detailed dive briefings.
Pedro, Antonio, and Mitsuko were great. Captain Jorge of the Uno Mas is a real
Gear lockers (bring a lock)
Scott schlepping gear
Day one We were put on the Uno Mas, along with a bunch of other divers
and DMs Antonio and Pedro. A large group from Seattle affiliated with Silent World
were diving rebreathers. Since everyone was new, we were taken to the sea lion
rookery at Los Islotes, about ninety minutes north of the marina. This shallow spot is
next to an island with a sloping boulder wall. There weren't a lot of sea lions around,
so I concentrated on the fish life. I saw many new species of fish that were obviously
not the typical Caribbean reef fish I'm used to. The fauna in the Sea of Cortes are
even very different from those in Southern California. Some of the fish, I knew:
many pufferfish, many green moray eels, goatfish, grunts, but lots of fish I couldn't
identify. In addition to the fish, the inverts were pretty cool, too colorful starfish
stood out on the rocky bottom.
Puffer "Welcome to the Sea of Cortez."
The second dive was much better, a site called El Bajito a rocky reef located in the
open ocean. A moderate current was running parallel to the reef, so I dropped down
to a wall along the reef and worked my way into the current. Wow, many large
schools of different fish feeding in the current or hiding in the crevasses in the rock; I
photographed more green morays, a giant hawkfish, and some kind of grouper.
Water temperature was a warm 83 degrees F & visibility was a good fifty feet or
Scott with grunts
Creolefish, aka "gringo fish" there are millions of them, they are everywhere, and
they occasionally turn pink!
After lunch on the boat (sandwiches, chips, etc.), we moved to the wreck of the Fang
Ming, a Chinese smuggler that was seized by the Mexican authorities and put down
in 1998 as an artificial reef and dive site. She's upright, on the sand at about seventy
feet. A huge school of barracuda hung out off the wreck and I stopped to take a few
snapshots before moving onto the wreck, itself. A green turtle was asleep on the deck
and patiently waited while I took a portrait. Under the wreck were some large
groupers, but they were not interested in letting me get close enough for a picture.
After circling the wreck and doing one penetration (holes have been cut in the side of
the wreck for easy entry/exit), I did a safety stop near the crow's nest and then
returned to the dive boat.
In addition to scuba diving, Club Cantamar offers deep-sea fishing, kayaking, and
Club Cantamar from the water
Day two One of the big draws to Baja California is the opportunity to see
whale sharks. For twenty US dollars per person, the dive operation puts up a spotter
ultra-light plane. When the plane spots the whale shark, the boat maneuvers into its
path and drops some of the snorkelers in the water. The idea is to swim to where the
shark will be and try and keep up when it swims past you. Because whale sharks are
plankton feeders, they are most often found in murky water; we had about ten feet of
visibility and photography was very challenging. My first encounter, I was able to
get a picture of the mid-section of one WS and was very, very happy to have that. On
my second and third opportunities, I was luckier and have a few keepers to prove I
finally saw a whale shark! Yippee!
Margaret waiting for "Mr. Big."
The spotter plane developed a problem with its drive belt and headed back towards
Club Cantamar, finally putting down on the water did I mention it's a float-plane?
Our dive boat towed the plane back to the club and then we drove north to the wreck
of the Salva Tierra, a ferry that went down in 1978. Most of the mid section is
collapsed, but it is home to lots of big snapper, huge pufferfish, and a whole host of
other fish & sea critters. Visibility wasn't very good, but it was an interesting wreck,
nonetheless. I even found a longnose hawkfish hiding in a gorgonium.
Antonio takes a potty break
The final dive of the day was at Swanee Reef, a low coral reef with a maximum depth
of thirty feet. I have never seen so many fish vast schools of goatfish and scad
flowed like rivers along the sides of the reef. Garden eels poked their heads out of the
sand on the flats beside the reef. A family of sealions rafted above the seafood
smorgesbord below them.
Mutton snapper & soldierfish
Scads of scad
Day three El Bajo! This is a World-class dive site. It's one of the few
places where schooling hammerhead sharks are to be found. A sea mount, rising
from the depths in blue water, it attracts large numbers of pelagic fish. Strong
currents and deep water contribute to its mystique. In addition to Pedro and Antonio,
we had an additional DM on board, Misuko. On the way to the dive site, I noticed a
black fin off the starboard side of the boat and yelled, "Orca!" There were three killer
whales leisurely making their way up the coast, two adults and a juvenile. We stayed
with them for the longest time before they sounded and we moved on. The first dive
at El Bajo started with a bang I'm hanging on the anchor line fiddling with my
camera and waiting for the rest of the dive group, when the DM taps me on the
shoulder and points out a manta ray of course I'm in macro mode and the ray is
long gone before I can even think about changing the camera settings, but that's okay,
I have a mental picture damn! The rest of the dive was a bust, we swam out into the
blue in hopes of seeing some hammerhead sharks, but none were to be found. I did
find a colonial salp and there are always divers to take pictures of.
The second dive at El Bajo, I opted to dive the top of the seamount while others went
with the DM in search of hammerheads. I poked around, taking pictures of blennies
and a green moray eel
then, someone pulled my fin and pointed up. IT WAS A
A BIG ONE! I adjusted my camera on the way up and took as
many pictures as I could. The WS was eating the divers' bubbles and swam around
the boat several times as I snapped away. Only later did I realize that I hadn't put on
the wide-angle lens adapter, so all of my pictures were 35mm equivalent, but I'm not
going to complain. Boy, was I excited. BTW, the other divers didn't find any
hammerheads. Captain Jorge said the shark was about 14 meters long (that's almost
Killer whales, manta ray, and a whale shark! Wow!
The third dive was a repeat of Swanee Reef with a zillion goatfish. I found a neat eel,
a green turtle, and some other interesting critters to photograph.
Goatfish & grunts
After a beautiful day on the water, the wind picked up and it started to sprinkle. The
bar tender said it was raining in La Paz and said we might get some precipitation in
the middle of the night. (We didn't).
Day four La Reina is a small island with the remnants of a navigation light
on top. The sides of the island slope off to about 70 feet on all sides. The water was
warmer and much clearer than the previous sites we had dived, exceeding one
hundred feet. The major attraction at this site is the opportunity to dive in a vast
school of mackerel zillions of mackerel forming a silver curtain. There are also
schools of ballyhoo near the surface, grunts, goatfish, barracuda, and lots of green
moray eels many free swimming. Hawkfish, angels, butterflyfish, and puffers are
all abundant. There is even a small colony of sealions on the island.
Curtis Look Ma, no bubbles!
A crowd in a crack
After two dives at La Reina, we motored over to an island that looks like Catalina!
The dive site here is called La Reinita a pinnacle surrounded by deep water. Pedro
mentioned the opportunity to find nudibranchs at this location, so I started the dive
looking for them bingo, four Glossodoris sedna nudibranchs very close
together. [This is a common Pacific nudibranch that is now also found off of the
Day five - Today's dives were repeats I don't know if they do a four/five
day cycle or it was just the luck of the draw. We did have some newbies on the boat,
so maybe that's why they took us back to Los Islotes. We stayed there for the second
dive, but drifted around the end of the island for a change. Nothing new or big I
didn't take many pictures but enjoyed the nice warm, clear water.
For lunch, the Capt. prepared fish for fish tacos with refries
very tasty. The third
dive was back at the Fang Ming wreck with three green turtles and the barracuda
school to keep me busy.
Scott inside the Ming Fang
Turtle & Margaret
Turtle & sun
Day six - We bought an extra day of diving and because we didn't want to
do the whale shark snorkel been there, done that they put us on a boat with only
two other divers and one DM. We asked to go back to the wreck of the Fang Ming
where we saw the turtles again, a cute little eel, and the resident school of barracuda;
it was great having the wreck to ourselves.
The second dive was El Bajito, a seamount that we had done earlier in the week.
Scott found another nudibranch!
The last dive was Colorito, a muck dive on the sand where the GIANT jawfish live.
These are great fish, about three inches in diameter and very, very tame. If you put a
shell next to their hole, they will pick it up and move it away. They are not in the
least shy, in fact, they will let you scratch under their chins. I spent almost an hour
with them. There were sailfin blennies displaying all over the place, but I didn't
frustrate myself trying to take their pictures damn shutter lag.
Our last night, they cooked poolside and served really great chicken and/or beef tacos
with all the trimmings, and flan for dessert. The next morning, we took the shuttle to
Cabo for the short flight home to Los Angeles.
Bottom line: Diving in the Sea of Cortes is really great, given the opportunity to see
whale sharks, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and a vast array of interesting and
unique creatures. Plus, it's relatively easy to get to from Los Angeles. Club
Cantamar is a pleasant and affordable place to stay near La Paz. A return trip is a
Links & stuff:
Club Cantamar: www.clubcantamar.com
My web page: http://chemistry.csudh.edu/faculty/jim/Jim'sWeb_Page.htm
Camera: Olympus c5050 in an Olympus PT-015 housing with dual Ikelite DS-125
strobes, Inon macro & wide-angle lens adapters.