Dive and Cruise (2004)

To see a video of this adventure

Click here: http://wm.diver.net

ã Walter Marti

walter @ diver . net

In January, Linda and I went on a cruise. It wasn’t the Solamar V or any of the Aggressor’s fleet, this was a 720' floating hotel. On of Holland America’s dam boats the Rydam. Our preference would have been the former, but this was a family cruise to celebrate my father’s 70's birthday. We departed from San Diego to Loreto, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, and then back to San Diego. The cruise itself was nice, lots of great food, wonderful entertainment, a chance to dress up and dance every night for a week.

Our highlight was the diving. We prearranged diving in Loreto and La Paz. In Loreto we dove with Dolphin Dive Center (dolphindivebaja.com). A shop co-owned by Susan Speck, who is/or was with Pasadena Divers West. I’ve spoken with her many times at the Long Beach SCUBA Show, and was looking forward to diving with her operation. In La Paz we dove with Club Cantamar (clubcantamar.com). This is the operation we have dived with many times in the past. At the last SCUBA Show, Pedro Aguilar ran me down to say hello and told me that January is a wonderful time to dive El Bajo. I wasn’t sure that wasn’t just a sales pitch for a slow month.

We arrived and anchored at Loreto just as the sun was coming up. We schlepped all our dive and camera gear to the elevator, waited in the lounge for the ship to clear customs, then back to the elevators, to the tender boats and to Loreto harbor. Loreto is a wonderful little town. The largest boat in the harbor is a panga. When I finally found the dive shop, they were waiting for us. We boarded a panga and headed to Isla Danzante. The Vis was 15-25 feet. Okay for So Cal, but for vacation diving?? On this dive I saw my first ever frogfish. They’re a lot bigger than I had imagined. About 14" long. By its coloration, at first I thought it was an octopus. A very strangely shaped octopus. The light bulb did finally turn on. After this we beached in a beautiful secluded sandy cove on Isla Carmen for lunch. We could have just stayed here for the rest of the week. After lunch we headed up the island for second dive. I saw a nudibranch I’ve never seen before, a Mexican Dancer, and fields of black coral. We realized this wasn’t optimum visibility and conditions. It was nice diving, and we would like to return to Loreto again for a longer stay. As a side note, after arriving home I was talking to a friend, who as it turns out was there at the same time. He drove down with the other co-owner. It would have been wonderful to have run into and have a cerveza with him.

In La Paz we docked at a brand new, cruise ship dock. It’s in the Pichilingue Harbor, just next to the ferry terminals. Aldo was waiting for us as we stepped off the gangway. He helped carry our gear to the waiting van and a 3 minute drive to Club Cantamar’s marina. Fernando Jr. was waiting for us and finalizing arrangements on the panga that was being prepared for us. Fernando told us that if we went to El Bajo he couldn’t give us three dives and get us to the cruise ship on time. And, there has been a swift current at El Bajo, if it is a blow out; we may only get one dive in at Los Islotes. I told him that I wanted to take that risk, and we should do it on Nitrox to reduce the required surface interval. ‘No Problemo’, within ten minutes of arriving the two of us with dive master Erik and the panga captain, we were bouncing our way on the 1 ½ hour ride to El Bajo. There was a slight chop and you could see how the color of the water improved from green to blue, the closer we got to our destination. Erik triangulated the spot and dropped anchor on the front of the second seamount. Current?? Yes, you couldn’t swim against it! The three of us inched our way down the anchor line, camera in one hand and anchor line in the other. The top 15 feet had a disappointing 15 foot visibility, below that it blossomed to 80' plus. When we got to the bottom at 65', I was treated to what I came to see five trips ago, and never did. Hammerheads! Lots of them. Schools of 30-40 in view at once. As we hit the bottom and crawled our way behind a rock for protection from the current, some of the sharks got within 10 feet of me. Great filming and photo opportunities. They hung with us for most of the dive. During the surface interval Erik asked if we would like to explore more of the seamount. Forget it! I’ve seen the rest of the seamount; I’ve never seen schools of hammerheads! On the second dive, I dropped down a few minute before Linda and Erik did. I had them all to myself. It’s really a rush to be sitting on the bottom alone in great visibility and having all those hammerheads circling around you. Once Linda got down, the entire school curiously headed directly for her. She took one picture and then did the ultimate no-no around hammerheads. She exhaled! The bubbles chased them way for a good 15 minutes. They did return, but now they knew we were there and stood off a bit. The seamount itself was teaming with fish; it would have been a great dive without the hammerheads. The hammerheads made it a fantastic ‘top-ten’ dive. I was never at any time afraid, nor concerned around these 8' - 10' long scalloped hammerheads. They were here for mating not feeding. On reflection, I just can’t say enough great things about Fernando Aguilar’s Club Catamar. They always make us feel like family there. It is easy to pay a lot more money else were, and not get anywhere near the diving experience you can get in there.

Once we got back to the cruise ship, we congregated in my parent’s suite and told of our adventure. My mom asks, "How big was the boat? How far out were you?" The nearest land was 12 miles away, and it was an uninhabited island. Then I showed off my video. My mom’s reaction? "Oh, my God! You two must be crazy. I’m glad I didn’t know of all this beforehand. I would have worried all day."

Diving off of a cruise ship offers many new challenges. Packing and luggage is better than on a plane. As much as you can stuff into suitcases and fit into your tight stateroom. Cleaning gear in the small shower is also a challenge, good thing my parents reserved a larger suite, with a small Jacuzzi tub. Drying gear surprised me, the circulated air was so dry in the stateroom that everything dried much faster than it would’ve at home. Stowing all the gear needed some creativity. We crammed everything we could under the beds. Once it was all put away, it was still a roomy stateroom. Doing a cruise is neither on top of Linda nor my list, but we would do it again. The diving was definitely a great diversion. Make arrangements prior to getting there made everything run very smoothly. The cruise ship also offered a diving tour, at almost twice the price we paid. And they didn’t go to El Bajo in a panga and see hammerhead sharks.