The Adventures of the Five Fantasics (2001)

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ã Walter Marti

walter @ diver . net

A few members of the Sea Sabre Dive Club ventured south of the border once again to dive in La Paz. Peter G., David M., Joe D. and his non-diving wife Sharon, Linda B., and myself. We enjoyed the fine hospitality and diving that Fernando Aguilar’s Club Cantamar has to offer. Upon our arrival we were amazed to see the changes in the resort, a new hotel tower, a condo tower, a rec-room by the pool, an indoor dining room by the restaurant, hammocks under a palapa on the beach, an ulta-light airplane and a small seaplane as a spotter for whales, a center for international whale studies, Nitrox, trimix and rebreathers.

It was nice to see familiar faces, and even nicer to have those familiar faces remember us. The hotel manager, Benjamin was as polite and eager as ever to please. When I jokingly, told him that I have a complaint, he told me, “that customers never have complaints, they only have needs that are unfulfilled”. I like that attitude! We were sorry to see Fernando’s sister Amerika, no longer in charge of the restaurant. She was replaced by the ever sweet and giggling Juanita. Her cuisine consisted of the basic Mexican fare. It was there that I was reunited with the likeable and crusty boat captain, Jorge. As he entered, he sees me and gives me a big hug. He shouts, “Walter, how are you my friend. It’s been a long time” It’s been three years. Of course this was all in Spanish. He doesn’t speak English. With hand gestures and repetition, he communicates with us as if he did. It was also sad to see that Lorenzo was also no longer a part of the organization. Fernando’s son, Pedro, is now in charge of the entire dive operation. He also has the positive ‘no problemo’ attitude. Once we all got settled in our rooms, I found Pedro and tried to organize the diving for the following morning. I had noticed that the divers at the resort consisted of a group of 14 involved with a whale shark research project, and six other unrelated divers. I requested of Pedro to have Jorge as our boat captain. “Why would you WANT Jorge??” he asked. I told him that his is a ‘fun pain in the ass’. He agreed with the last part and Jorge was ours. He now captains a larger faster boat, the Realidad. Another reason I preferred him.

On the first day of diving the smaller boat, Casi-Casi, was full of 14 plus people and Jorge’s larger Realidad had 11. The group consisted of the five of us, a German couple, a Swiss couple, an Austrian diver, and a Spanish pro-photographer. The divemaster was Pascal, from Belgium, and his Mexican wife, Debbie was assisting. At a later date, in briefing to the new crop of divers, she refers to us as the ‘Five Fantasics’ Jorge was eager to show us the new engines in his boat. The Realidad is now the fastest in the fleet, it can reach El Bajo in an hour and ten minutes, forty five if pushed. When he took off out of the harbor, I think the entire boat could have water skied behind it. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. High winds, 63 degree green water, and strong currents greeted us. We tried Los Islotes, the sea lion rookery, it was solid white caps. We were able to make three dives in some protected coves on the east side of La Pardita Island. A time for macro photography.

Second day of diving, as we leave the harbor Jorge spot a bryde whale. We follow it for a while in the pea green soup water. The winds and currents were down a little, we make two dives at Los Islotes. Hiding from the winds and currents on the east side. Pascal show us a sea horse and a couple of large speckled jawfish. Great photo opportunities. The water is still cold and green. With fifteen foot visibility, I didn’t want to play with the huge male sea lions. The third dive is again in a protected cove. Oh well, weather happens. By now, Jorge is in top form in the ‘trash talk’ department with us. Peter and I of course are goading him along. This makes a fun and amusing trip for most everyone. Pascal, slowing comes along and joins in this male bonding ritual. Some of the other divers also get into the routine and figure that we are definitely welcomed regulars. At sunset we are treated to a 95% annular eclipse. A wonderful, bit of natural phenomenon. I also, learned something. If a full or new moon, and especially an eclipse is happening, don’t schedule a dive trip. It causes high tides, strong currents, upwellings, and resulting bad visibility.

Day three of diving. The day after the eclipse. We try Cerralvo Island. Beautiful warm blue water. At the first anchorage at La Reina, you could hear the anchor line whistling in the current. We move to La Reinita. I jump in and quickly grab the current line or else miss it entirely. The current is so strong it depresses the purge button on my regulator causing it to free flow. Once all are aboard we try a spot Jorge takes freediving spear fisherman to. By the white rock on the peninsula of Baja, not an island. Warm water, good vis, lots of small rays, and large schools of fish by the white rock. The weather reports keep calling for increased winds due to an upcoming tropical storm. So, Jorge decides to move from this ‘best spot so far’ to closer in. The water turns green quickly. We stop at the Salvatierra wreck. A dirty five food vis, most divers abort it entirely.

On the fourth day we try El Bajo. Finally! We all cross our fingers. When it is nice, this is the best possible dive spot. When we get to El Bajo, another dive boat is looking for anchorage. The Casi-Casi is on the heals of the Realidad, it now become a battle of the Skippers to find it. They all believe that a ‘real captain don’t need no GPS’. The problem is, it is a hazy day, the landmarks are obscured. The other boat drops anchor first, on a buoy. He is going to do a ‘live boat’. Jorge is searching the depths. The Casi-Casi is jocking for position. Drops anchor and misses. The other boat sends down divers into nothing, a miss for them also. Jorge finally drops anchor, it holds, 60' of water, top of the third reef. Casi-Casi pulls next to the Realidad and drops anchor, it’s easy to find now! The other boat eventually ties off to the Realidad. This is the site! Lots of fish, groups of morey eels in every hole. The vis on top is twenty feet. Off the reef in eighty feet and beyond, it’s crystal clear, but dark with the bad vis above. There is a slight to moderate current. After the first dive, the other boats leave because they were cold. We all heckle the Casi-Casi and Pedro as being a bunch of lightweights as they leave. On the second dive the current is down, visibility is the same in the beginning. I make a trip down current to the second reef, explore a bit and turn around. It quickly turned into ten foot visibility. Linda is sure I’m going the wrong way. I’m getting low on air and we make an accent in the slight current. We come up next to the boat. After talking to the other divers, we realized that the visibility changed so quickly, my landmarks got obscured. When we dropped down the reef we had 75' visibility how could it possibly change to ten feet in ten minutes? On our way to Espiritu Santo Island we are treated to a large school of dolphins riding the bow wake.

Day five. The divers now consist of the Five Fantasics (it was on this day we were so named), the German couple, the Spanish pro-photographer, a lady from Canada, and a couple from Colorado. The last three were there just for the day. Our destination is Cerralvo Island and La Reinita. A rock off of the island and a pinnacle just off of this rock. Wonderful dive, 73 degree water, fifty foot plus vis. Lots of fish about, garden eels, jewel eels, sea horses, slipper lobsters, nudibranchs and flatworms. At the end of our second dive, someone comes down and chases up all the divers. Fernando in his airplane spotted a small pod of Orcas nearby. Off we went!! We weren’t able to get too close, but we did see the transient Orcas of the Sea of Cortez. Afterwards we had a mutiny aboard the boat. Jorge started back to Espiritu Santo Island for the third dive. ‘The third dive is always closer to home’. Peter and I protested to the divemaster, the Germans jumped in as well, ‘this is the best conditions we’ve seen all week and you want to leave??’ Pascal tells me that his hands are tied, he can’t convince Jorge. I tell him that, ‘he’s the boss, tell him to stay!’ Now Pascal gets nervous and radios his boss, Pedro. Who tells Jorge, to do what Pascal tells him to do! A successful mutiny!. Of we go to the lighthouse at La Reina, the northern tip of Cerralvo Island. Slight current, warm blue water, 75' plus visibility. As we descend, we are greeted by an eight foot plus manta ray which stayed with us for the entire dive. My entire dive consisted of filming this magnificent creature. On the way back, we saw more schools of dolphins that were riding the bow wave of the boat. A perfect day.

On the last day of diving, a large group of divers from Montana, bumped our now group of nine, off of Jorge’s Realidad and onto the Ensueo. A lot smaller boat with a capacity for 12. We depart earlier, but Jorge has to make a big showing by ‘blowing our doors off’, as he passes us. We head back to the clean water of Cerralvo Island. La Reinita again a wonderful dive, as I start to video tape the garden eels, I am visited by a school of four foot long amberjacks. I try a spear fisherman’s trick and ‘wave at them’. This does spark there curiosity and they come in a tight circle around me. Afterwards we head back to La Reina for our last two dives of this trip. The current is fairly strong, we pull ourselves along a rope to the anchor line and down the anchor line. A little to the right the current stops, and I encounter a 25' diameter ball of fish. This fish ball had a life of it’s own. It slowly moved back and forth along the lee of the rock. You could hear it coming and it was dark underneath it. After I passed the fish ball, I entered an aquarium of fish. Lots of them and big ones as well and turtles. At the end of the last dive, the current picks up and the visibility drops dramatically along the anchor. I being the first to run out or air, can’t find the anchor line. Not wanting to make an accent in this raging current, I opt for another plan. I swim back to the calm reef just under the surface and decide to wait until everyone is aboard, and the boat can then come to me. I liked this idea better than making a mad dash to the boat. If I missed, I’d be floating behind it. Holding my ‘scuba tuba’ until everyone was aboard, hoping they could still see me a mile or so behind the boat. I hung on this shallow reef for a while, video taping an octopus in three feet of water, and the sea lions checking me out. The live aboard, Don Jose, was also anchored there. When it came time for them to launch their chase boats and pick up their divers, they offered me a ride back. On our way back home, we came across a slow moving school of pilot whales, the boat ran in front of them. We jumped in the water. The pilot whales and accompanying dolphins came by us. A very magical moment. The image burned in my mind is of Linda, who was the first off the boat, surrounded by a small group of pilot whales with dolphins jumping around her. We did six such jumps!

On our ‘outgasing’ day, we all went on a walk along the coast. Linda picked up sun-dried fish skeletons. And we all we amazed at the Humboldt squids that had stranded on the beach during he evening. They were three to four feet long. They were all over the beach. The locals came to the beach, checked them out and cleaned some of them for their dinner. That evening Fernando offered us the use of one of his vans, for us to go into town. He just gave us the keys. We all walked around sleepy La Paz for a while and then had dinner at the exquisite La Pazta restaurant. Absolutely first class dinning. Probably the only place in Baja you can get a fabulous Fondue.

I had a brief talk with Pascal, he was thrilled to have us as clients. He told me that eight out of ten divers that come to this or any other resort have the skill level of beginners. It was a treat for him to dive with the Five Fantasics. He was amazed how we unthinkingly helped each other and other divers. Also, how we set up our own gear, and how eager we were to go diving. He can’t wait for our return. I am also looking forward in returning.