Sea of Cortez, Midriff Islands-Rocio Del Mar-Sept. 2-9, 2017
By Ken Kollwitz
Like most of the trips I do this is another planned over 18 months in advance and the only thing you can’t do is plan the weather that far in advance. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pay a little extra for a charter and be guaranteed great weather and the chance to see the things you go on a trip for? Yep, you guessed it we had weather issues from tropical storm Lida that was close to the tip of Baja just when we arrived for our trip. It wasn’t too bad but it did prevent us from getting the whole experience we all were after. Of course, it was right when Houston was flooded from hurricane Harvey and about the same time Mexico had their big earthquake so we couldn’t really feel all that bad when others were losing everything they owned including lives.
So why this trip and itinerary? The Sea of Cortez is known for its schools of fish, different nudibranchs and small critters, sea lions which if you are from California you have seen plenty of and the whale sharks which no one gets tired of seeing. The other nice thing about a trip aboard the Rocio Del Mar is the travel. All you do is make your way to the Phoenix, AZ airport to pick up the van shuttle for the 4-hour ride to the boat. Channel Islands Dive Adventures had the whole charter and we had some people from Texas, New Mexico and Colorado with most from California with a number of the people having been on CIDA trips in the past. It was a good group and the age group for this trip was quite a bit higher than usual. The baby of the group turned 47 on the trip and the average age of the group was probably around 65ish. Nice thing is everyone got along and had FUN together. The best type of trip you can have!
The Rocio Del Mar is a very nice boat built from the ground up by owners Dora and Lolo Sandoval. They started building the Rocio in June 2006 and after much work and devotion they got her into the water and in operation in November 2008. Since then they have been running trips to the Sea of Cortez, Midriff Islands, Socorro as well as exploring all Baja has to offer along the way and she is starting to show her age from all those trips.
The Rocio also carries 2 large inflatables with fast outboard motors and a crane to lower them down when needed. She has a Nuvair nitrox system, large compressors for fast fills, and a good sized dive/camera area with lots of outlets for charging all the stuff us divers feel we need to have on trips. On our trip we had a crew of about 8 with 4 of the crew being on the boat since its start. The crew was excellent crew and went out of their way to make sure everyone was having FUN.
At 6:00 pm, shortly after we arrived we had a briefing/meeting with the crew to learn about how things ran aboard the Rocio and what to expect for the trip. Dora was there to let us know that normally shortly after a group arrives the Rocio would leave the harbor to start the week’s activities but because of the storm threat the harbormaster closed the harbor not letting any boats in or out. She wasn’t sure when it would reopen and from what we could see we didn’t see much problem from the storm but I am sure the harbormaster knew what he was doing. Dora did let us know we would do our trip in reverse from what they normally do and would lose some dives but the crew would make every effort to get us some extra make-up dives in along the way which they did.
On Sunday, we received to OK form the harbormaster that we could leave around noon and of course we were all happy to leave but we still had another day of travel to get to our starting point which would be Bahia De Los Angeles for some snorkeling with the what sharks. The time at sea gave us all plenty of time to get things together and for me to get our 3 groups of divers figured out. I divided the group into 3 groups for the 2 skiffs and each day a different group started and we rotated the groups throughout the week so no one was always the first to get out. This gives everyone equal chance to see things first.
Monday when we arrived at Bahia De Los Angeles, some other skiffs meet us at the Rocio to take us with our DM to snorkel with the whale sharks. We stayed out for about 3.5 hours and all had some excellent snorkeling with adult and young whale sharks. What an experience and one I always have looked forward to. The water was shallow in the bay (about 15’-20’ft deep) so the whale sharks didn’t have anywhere to really go but one flip of their tail and they could be gone. Everyone was respectful of them and they in return let us spend some wonderful time with them. Afterwards it was back to the boat and onward for 2 dives at Punta Don Juan and El Pescador to finish the day.
Tuesday brought us to San Pedro Martir Island which is a steep rocky island with lots of bird guano and cactus covering it. Long ago the Seri Indians created benches on the rocky slopes to attract nest building so they could collect bird eggs. The benches are the only visible human thing on the island. In the late 19th and early 20th century the guano was heavily mined off the island by prisoners and shipped as far as Europe for use as fertilizer. San Pedro Martir is seldom visited and the island was classified along with 244 others as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and included in the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California. The island also has a sea lion colony and we did 3 dives here and 1-night dive after dinner. The names of these dives were Chayos Cavern, Arroyo and Corralito. This is also one of the places you could see the effect of the storm. The DM’s couldn’t find any of the sea horses or other things they normally would see plus the sandy bottom that was normally flat had large 16”-18” inch ripples.
One thing for sure about the Sea of Cortez where the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Every night they painted the sky in brilliant colors and you could never get enough of it. Another thing for sure was our chefs onboard the Rocio did an excellent job. Each day there was a new menu but you could always get with the chefs in advance and change things up if you wished. They were always good at trying to accommodate everyone and making sure you had what you liked. I think I put weight on while on the trip but it was worth it!
Wednesday, we did 2 more dives around the island at Morro #1 and Ravijunco before leaving for another long cruise to our next destination. Along the way we searched for whales seeing quite a few but the most awesome part of the ride was coming up close to a pod of Orcas. We had about 8 or more Orcas give us the show of a lifetime and I was told that the last time the boat came across Orcas was the same time the previous year.
On Thursday we moved to Punta Diablo and did 3 dives at and another night dive doing all dives around Andreas Eagle and Andreas Reef. Here we seen lots of jawfish, blennies and black coral which is actually more golden in color. One of the best dives we had was here along the outer wall. This whole area was like jawfish city and you could easily spend the entire dive in the sand watch and trying to photograph them. We did see a few cool looking nudibranchs here but nothing like even the DM’s expected plus here you could see lots of silt over the reef and rocks. Another problem from the storm earlier in the week.
For Friday we moved to another island which the name totally escapes me but here we did our last 4 dives of the trip. Three of the dives were at Los Nidos and 1 at La Muela. Nothing very interesting here till we got to an area the DM’s haven’t been to yet. Unfortunately, it was the last 15 minutes of the dive. That evening it was time to set sail again and make our way back to Puerto Penasca for our van shuttle ride back to Phoenix. We had a little weather that night and arrived back to the dock about 45 minutes before we were to leave. Our van ride again was uneventful, which is the way I like things to be. We said our goodbyes to the other group because they would be dropped off at a different location to get their cars as they all drove to Phoenix.
It turned out to be a very nice trip with a fun group of people. Things worked out even with us doing our trip in reverse and the big question I always ask myself when I get back from a trip is-would I go back. The answer to that is maybe but it wouldn’t be high on my list. The reason is I was really hoping to see schools of fish and cool nudibranchs and we just didn’t see many. How much of it was from the storm I don’t know but I do believe most was. I also think for schools of fish a trip to Cabo Plumo would be best. The whale sharks were very awesome but then I could always do a short trip to see the whale sharks and skip a lot of what we did on our trip. Overall it was fun and if you have never been to the Midriff Islands you might just want to check it out for yourself.