Socorro and Magdalena Bay, Nov 2022

… continued from here.

Nautilus explorer – Socorro
Right after boarding the Nautilus explorer for my trip to Socorro, it turned out there were only 6 guests in total – on a boat designed for 18 guests. Now that’s the kind of news I like. Super quiet and so much room to spread out. We practically owned the dive deck 🀩. Very relaxed atmosphere and good food.

I saw a lot on day 1 and 2 already. Lots of mantas, circling hammerheads and generally calm seas. Visibility so so. Could have been better, but at least the water was nice and warm. I think I got a couple of v nice shots already. Diving at Cabo Pearce rewarded us with more mantas and a close, though short, encounter with dolphins. First time I got a good shot of them under water .

The first dive at Roca partida was also really good, had a manta stop by me at the end of the dive (when I was alone) and start playing with me. very nice shot of him diving down in front of me showing off his belly. Hope he wasn’t offended when I had to leave so abruptly, I really didn’t have much air left πŸ˜….
Uncharacteristically, the action at Roca did die down a bit after that. Still excellent diving but nothing compared to the diving I had last time. We speculated that the seas were just too calm – practically no surge and no sign of the usual, ripping currents – to attract the wildlife you normally see. But, as some of the guests who hadn’t been to Roca previously really wanted to stay, and the alternative dive sites were blocked by other boats, the decision was made to stay another day. I won’t say that the second day miraculously compared to diving at Roca with current but we did have two large whale sharks circling around us, one on the morning and one on the evening dive.

Moving on to the boiler, one of my favorite dive sites here, we also saw lots of mantas and I had my second dolphin encounter on the trip. This time, more than a casual fly by, a few of them actually came to check out my camera 🀩🀩🀩.

Generally awesome diving in Socorro. Calm seas and a lot going on underneath the surface. Mantas, whalesharks, groups of dolphins – what more can you ask for? While the visibility could have been a bit better, I’m still very happy with the encounters on this trip πŸ˜„. It is just awesome when mantas circle around you, getting closer and closer and when dolphins come to check you out and make fun of you. I also learned something about dolphins on this trip. Contrary to other animals where you need to be calm for them to come close, with dolphins you need to be interesting to be worth being investigated πŸ§πŸ˜‚.

Nautilus Gallant Lady – Magdalena bay – sardine run
I boarded the Gallant Lady the very same day I had to say good-bye to the Explorer. After being on a larger ship with only 6 guests, boarding the smaller and fully booked Gallant Lady took some adjusting. In theory, she has room for 12 guests and while the accomodation and living area are great, the dive deck is quite small in comparison.

After the intial shock wore off, things turned out fine. I had a very nice cabin and the crew was great. Big shout out to captain Gordon for the way he runs this ship.

We had 3 dives on our first day, on which the visibility went from bad to worse to nil. The last one was so bad it was actually hilarious. Well, reminded me of home πŸ˜‚. Being used to that kind of non-visibility was probably the only thing that enabled me to have fun on that dive πŸ˜‚.

The next day, the hunt for bait balls began. Well, turns out, this is hard work. We left in pangas, in groups of 6 with the pangero and a guide to help track down the sardine schools. They do this, trying to make out birds that fly close to the water. If they dive – bingo. This means that marlins below have pushed the frantic sardines close enough to the surface that the birds can get to them. The birds and us – in other words: the game is on.

You now need to get to this place (that is probably a tiny speck somewhere on the horizon) as fast as possible. Hold on to your equipment and let’s go. Once you are there, you need to make out the sardines. Were are they? Are they moving? You bet. In which direction? Let the pangero plot the intercept course and be ready to drop into the water with all your gear the moment he shouts GO,GO,GO! Then you better know the direction the sardines were going and start finning at top speed to try and get a part of the action.

The sardines are really in a bad position. They are being hunted by sea lions, dolphins, birds and, of course, marlins. There are so many predators, it is a miracle they do not drop dead from the stress alone. If you do get to see it, the action is amazing. The way the school moves, and the predators as they dive in, is really worth seeing. The ideal thing would be a stationary bait ball where you can just watch from the sidelines. Now I don’t know how common they are but I have the suspicion that this is rare. During 5 days of hunting bait balls (half of the guests skipped the second dive day to get another go at the bait balls) I had that once for a couple of minutes. The rest of the time, those bait balls are moving. Fast. And even faster are the marlins hunting them. They are so bloody fast it borders on ridiculous. If you get a good look at them passing you, you were already lucky.

First you need to find them. If there are no birds, you are practically blind, looking for the proverbial needle in a vast ocean. If there are only a few birds around, another problem arises. Your pangeros are not the only ones in the area. There are other boats bringing snorkelers, freedivers and spearfishers and, of course, the numerous fishing boats hooking the beautiful marlins right in front of your eyes. I know some people consider this sports but having watched them torturing and/or killing the marlins for their own entertainment or maybe to ascertain their manly prowess – I say it’s barbaric.

Anyway, having all these boats going after the same baitball, you end up with a lot of people in the same place. It doesn’t exactly add a relaxing element to the mixture. Freedivers do not help. I have next to zero experience but we had a couple of people on the boat who were quite good at it. The problem is that birds and sea lions already attack the sardines from above. So they see the freedivers as threats. And dive down. Where you can’t see them anymore. Thankfully, the freedivers on our boat realized this quickly and stopped. However, there were a couple of other tourist boats who brought dedicated freedivers who did not or were unwilling to see that they were actually pushing down the baitballs.

Then there are other predators like dolphins and sea lions that can interfere with the bait balls. We had huge numbers of common dolphins on two days, and while they are beautiful and impressive in their own right, they have different hunting strategies from marlins. Their attacks tend to disperse any baitballs that the marlins might have created.

Then there are the drops themselves. It depends on the skill of the pangero in dropping you, but in 40 to 60% of the drops, the bait ball either turns direction or passes you too far away or so quickly that you do not see anything. And catching up with them in the water is virtually impossible. In short, it can be a frustrating experience. Whoever said that, if you want to see the sardine run, you are the one who will be doing all the running, was right. It’s also super strenuous. In the mornings you are bloody cold because the sky is overcast and the water is less than balmy, plus there are places to go, so the wind chills you even further. In the afternoon it’s less cold but by then you start feeling the sunburn on every exposed surface. Also, by this time you are bloody tired from the xth jump into the frigid water to see them for a few seconds if you are lucky and if you can swim fast enough.

On the other hand, in the cases in which you do get to see the bait balls, it is so bloody awesome and exciting to see the marlins flash through the water, rising and folding their back fin, see their colours sparkle in the light, the sea lions flashing through like dancers and the birds coming in from above like feathery missiles, that it is well worth all the effort required πŸ˜„πŸ˜„πŸ˜„.

Here’s an approximate map for orientation:

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