Solmar V, Socorro & Giant Mantas!
Solmar V, a part of the world class DivEncounters Alliance of luxury liveaboards, departs from Los Cabos between November and June on extended cruises to Socorro. There are several ways to get to Los Cabos, but for this trip I traveled direct to Cancun with BA and then onto Los Cabos with Aeromexico. Both airlines were excellent, with the added advantage of not having to transit through the USA. Travelling with dive kit and underwater photographic equipment can be a challenge, but between the 2 airlines the baggage rules and excess charges were more than reasonable and the process as hassle free as you could hope for. A quick overnight in Cancun and you are there!
As a liveaboard there are surely few boats that can compare with Solmar V (but more of this later). This is a sturdy steel vessel that is more than capable of comfortably making the 22 hour journey out to the islands. It is perhaps worth at this stage explaining more about the islands themselves. There are actually 4 islands which form the Revillagigedo archipelago (quite a mouthful even for a Spanish speaker!) – San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida and Clarion. Your typical Solmar V itinerary stops at the first 3, each of which has its own special appeal for divers.
From the very first moment we went underwater it was all too evident this destination was going to live up to expectations. The check dive at San Benedicto –white tips and more lobster than you could poke a stick at (more than 1 diver eyed them up greedily!). But it was El Boiler on San Benedicto where the action really kicked off. This manta cleaning station is a rocky pinnacle just below the surface. Jump in and wait. It was not long before huge manta started to roll in to be cleaned by the endemic, brightly orange Clarion angel fish. These manta are vast. Fellow diver Penny watched as one of behmoths rolled and played just in front of her for over 20minutes.
Resident dive guide and marine biologist Erick explained that there are in fact 2 kinds of Pacific Manta. The chevron manta looks perhaps more like the reef manta you are used to seeing in locations such as the Maldives… but much bigger. They will have both white and dark markings top and bottom. But there is also the black manta. Bar a couple of small white marks on the underbelly, these manta are totally black and look more like a stealth plane than a marine mammal. The black manta that gracefully drifted past me at Cabo Pierce at Socorro was both inspiring and beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen.
Manta are not however the only sighting that amazed at Revillagigedo. Roca Partida is the place to dive if you love sharks. We had fabulous flat weather and virtually no currents (but this is not always the case, hence why this trip really is for advanced divers). As such, we were able to spend 3 whole days at this dramatic and tiny spit of land in the middle of nowhere. Underwater the scenery is no less dramatic. Sheer rocky walls drop away and you can easily dive round the whole islet, current permitting, in a single dive. Whitetips crawl everywhere, resting in packs on rocky ledges. Creole fish buzz around you and then, from the blue you see them. Sharks. Big sharks.
The silkies and Galapagos sharks were sizeable and come close to investigate us. And the beefy silvertips would circle in groups of 5 or 6 at a time. I could often count more than 10 or 15 sharks in view at any one time but the schools can get much larger than this throughout the dive season. The hammerheads teased us a bit, their distinctive outlines flickering in the blue. A touch more current however and they would have been right on the wall itself. More than once as we were completing our safety stops a baby hammerhead or even manta would suddenly appear to see what these noisy divers were up to. Afternoon dives were especially exciting as the sharks started to close in on schooling cotton mouth jacks or bait balls of chad mackerel. Even the yellow fin tuna here were gigantic, at times dwarfing the sharks around them. I just didn’t want to leave.
The experience underwater was made all the more exceptional by life onboard Solmar V. I have never been on a boat that took such great care of its divers. Each and every day a veritable banquet of fresh fruit, vegetables and home made specialties was placed before us by both the saloon staff Luis and Crazy Luis. If you like shrimp the size of your hand or fillet mignon for dinner then make this your next liveaboard. Tony the Chef also makes a mean guacamole… and was kind enough to show us his secret magic recipe. Many of the crew on Solmar V have been there for several years and the effortless cohesion with which this crew works together to create a safe yet relaxed environment was impressive.
I must also thank the dive guides. We were split into small groups and our guide Danny was a dream. I didn’t want to be swimming about too much, dragging my camera around, so he planned dives around what we wanted to see and do. The expertise of his fellow guides Dave and Erick, both of which are marine biologists, only served to enhance the experience. Pancho and Geronimo, the panga drivers not only handled the rib drops like a dream, but also drove us round the islands between dives for surface side sightseeing. Finally, my appreciation goes to Captain Gerado, Jose Luis and Leslise for going above and beyond the call of duty – all the while with a smile and warm welcome.
So would I do this trip again? You bet! The itinerary is packed with heart pumping pelagic encounters from start to finish. As the adventure came to an end I found myself planning my return. The footage from on board videographer Adil only made tempted me all the more. Humpbacks nurse their young in Revillagigedo Feb – Mar. Or how about adrenalin racing, great white sharks in Guadalupe over the summer months? And whilst I have yet to dive the Galapagos or Cocos, this liveaboard certainly deserves a spot on your bucket list along with the more famous Pacific pelagic destinations.