I saw things in the Sea of Cortez that were not nudibranchs
Despite troublesome conditions on our Sea of Cortez diving trip (on the liveaboard dive boat Nautilus Explorer), we did manage a few days where the visibility was good enough to leave the macro lens in the cabin and get underwater for some wide-angle action. In fact, the water was so clear and beautiful on our first dive day, that we never saw the hurricane coming!
(Spoiler alert: No whale sharks, hammerheads, baitballs, manta rays, or other large, awesome animals were shot during this expedition. None at all.)
We began our trip at La Reina, a dive site on the southern tip of Isla Ceralvo due east of La Paz. A couple of 50 foot dives in great visibility were exactly what we needed to get oriented on our first wetsuit dives with the rEvo rebreathers. The site featured some really interesting and dramatic rock formations with narrow sand channels between them at the bottom. Sea lions dove and played in the shallow water.
Moving northward, we landed at El Bajo on Day 2. This deep seamount came highly anticipated as this is the! spot! to! see! hammerhead! sharks! We were especially jazzed to have the rebreathers, as the sharks are allegedly spooked by the sound of open-circuit divers' bubbles (if you've never dove closed circuit, you have no. idea. how deafeningly loud you are). We jumped in just fluttering with the excitement, only to find thick, dark, green water. In fact, the ocean was so opaque that there was a ~10-foot "leap of faith" necessary to drop below the shot line at 50' to the top of the seamount at 60'. Some of our group quit right then and there.
But not us! No, not us, the ever-eager shark seekers. Maybe it's just a layer! Maybe we can drop beneath it and our bravery will be rewarded with clear water and sharks, sharks everywhere, as plain as the olives in a gin martini. Hope sprang eternal for our dear heroes that morning.
Our hope died a little that day.
No gin-clear water. No olives. Definitely no sharks.
So here's a picture of a torpedo ray instead. Don't touch torpedo rays. They will shock you. Don't ask how I know.
Wreck of La Salvatierra
I have to hand it to the crew of the Nautilus Explorer. They were so genuinely bummed out by the crappy conditions and they tried so hard to find something good for us to dive. It wasn't their fault the ocean was angry. I love them. They were great.
So yeah, we backtracked south again to try La Salvatierra, a 300' car ferry/former WWII transport ship that in 1975 ran aground on Swanee Rock and sank in about 60' of water. The cargo is still scattered around the wreck. Wrecks of trucks on the wreck of the ship! Very cool. We happily accepted the 10-15' of visibility and poked around the wreck for an hour or so, watching octopus and schooling pufferfish.
On the way up, another guest on the ship somehow captured a huge red snapper--WITH HIS BARE HANDS--and bear-hugged the thing back to the surface. It is still unclear to me exactly how he did this, but I love him for it. Snapper Veracruz: it's what's for dinner. The caliber of talent that the ship's chefs (plural!) brought to the table was just incredible. The food on Nautilus Explorer was absolutely to die for.
Then we drove around for roughly forever looking for dive sites where the water didn't look El Bajo-green.
... Then we went to Las Animas.
Las Animas is in the middle of nowhere, so far as I can tell. We got there and it looked somewhat okay and so we just stayed there for a day and a half. Las Animas is a big pile of rocks. Some are deep, some are shallow. I know because I dove ALL of them. I dove Las Animas at 68 feet. I dove Las Animas at 92 feet. I dove Las Animas at 151 feet. I dove Las Animas at 87 feet. I dove Las Animas at 160 feet. I think I even sat out a dive or two at Las Animas. I got to know Las Animas intimately.
This was roughly when my nudibranch world tour started to get a little tedious. Not that I have anything against nudibranchs, mind you, I'm just saying a manta ray or two might have broken it up a little bit.
Then: more nudibranchs.
Our penultimate day was spent chasing nudibranchs again. Lots of those photos are in another post. Still more are still on my computer. I've printed two in large format and they are gracing the walls of our living room. But this post isn't about nudibranchs. Or at least, it wasn't supposed to be. Sometimes it feels like life is about nudibranchs. I don't think this is normal.
On our last day of Sea of Cortez diving, something magical happened.
Not manta-ray magical. Not hammerheads circling a majestic seamount magical. Semi-magical I guess might be a better way of putting it. "Finding a shallow coral reef with blue water" semi-magical. Anyway, I have no idea what the place was called. It was a nice way to wrap up the trip, though, and I lingered underneath the Nautilus Explorer to watch everyone else get back on board before reluctantly hanging it up myself.
The Nautilus Explorer was amazing! The Sea of Cortez, only so-so.
I would make another dive trip on the Nautilus Explorer liveaboard without hesitation. It was by far the nicest ship I've ever jumped off of. The cabin was well-appointed, the crew were absolutely perfect, and the food... oh my God, the food. So. Good.
They also take that boat to the Socorro Islands, which are supposed to be crazy good, and to Guadalupe to cage dive with white sharks. I'd happily jump on both of those trips in a heartbeat. The sister ship, Nautilus Swell, visits British Columbia and Alaska, which are also both pretty high on my list.
I wouldn't bother with a liveaboard trip on the Sea of Cortez again, though. There are a few sites I'd still like to hit, but I think they are all accessible as day trips. Gordo Banks springs to mind. Yep, I'm still chasing those hammerheads. Nope, I never learn.