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Exploring the Socorro Islands aboard the Rocio Del Mar

(DiverWire) Phoenix resident and PADI Instructor Terry Gilbreath just returned from a trip to the Socorro Islands aboard the Rocio del Mar liveaboard. In his first feature story, Terry shares his experiences.

March 3rd, 2012, was the start of another great adventure – a weeklong scuba diving experience on the Rocio del Mar diving the Socorro Islands. I was met at the airport in Cabo San Lucas by a smiling young man who gathered up my luggage, along with some fellow travelers for the trip from the airport to the marina.

Holy Cow—I’ve seen pictures of the Rocio del Mar on Facebook but it is even more impressive in person.  It is 110’ in length and the equivalent of four stories in height above the water line.  This is one big boat!

My soon-to-be-new best friends (the crew) met us at the dock, promptly taking charge of our bags and introducing themselves.  They are a hard working, friendly group and by the second day everyone knew me by my first name.  My cabin was a pleasant surprise as it was roomy for a live aboard and had its own bathroom.

In the first half hour, I met fellow travelers from Belgium, Canada, Virginia, Ohio, and Puerto Rico.  There were 20 passengers in total and a great group to get to know and with whom to share diving experiences.  A few of us peeled off to enjoy one of the marina cantinas before leaving dry land.  My drinking buddies also turned out to be in the same dive group and the upfront bonding is still going on as we are now Facebook friends.

The first night was spent on the boat with good food at dinner and an opportunity to meet the rest of the group.  We set out for the Socorro Islands sometime in the middle of the night and spent the next 26 hours in transit.  On the trip down we passed by dolphin pods, humpback whales spouting and breaching and this was just a preview of coming attractions!

Finally, time to dive.  Four dives per day were offered with the first dive at 7:00 AM followed by a hot breakfast, then two dives, followed by lunch and then the fourth dive, followed by dinner.  Our last dives were usually around four o’clock in the afternoon.

The first dives were at El Fundeadero off San Benidicto Island.  How many dive sites have whales breaching around you and dolphin pods swimming by as you gear up to get in the water?  I’ve never been in this type of environment, and obviously very few of my fellow divers had either, as we spent a lot of time “oohing” and “aahing” the show.

The 20 passengers were divided into three dive groups each with our own guide.  Mayo was our guide and over the span of the next six days did a great job of taking care of us and getting us to the best spots to view and interact with the marine life.  Oh yes, my drinking buddies from the marina cantina were in the same dive group.

photo by Brooke JolleyOnce in the water, the marine life was all around us.  I shot underwater video and it took me awhile to sort out what exactly to shoot as it was definitely a “target rich” environment for me.

Second dive was at the Boiler at San Benidicto Island.  We encountered a Manta Ray on the descent, along with octopus and lobsters scattered all over the place.  By the end of the trip I saw more octopus in six days than I had seen during all my other dives combined.  The angelfish are orange and are “Clarion Red Angels.”  Moorish Idols all over with butterfly fish with long noses called forceps fish in abundance too.

The key is to look all around and keep your eyes open—no diving through the lens of your camera or you just might miss something important.

On the third dive whales were singing and my video camera picked up the sound as background to some of my manta footage.  Our group chases some mantas and we get a little push from the current so we surface about ¼ mile from the Rocio.  No problem one of the crew is within 100 yards of us in an inflatable with an outboard.  We strip out of our gear and hoist in on board for the trip back to the boat.  Fourth dive is more of the same.

The boat then moves to Roca Partida, an overnight trip, as we arrive at where we are going to dive for the next two days.  Roca is two granite spires that come up from some place deep enough that I never saw the bottom.  The marine life here is even better than San Benidicto.  We encountered schools of chub 60 feet high and 30 feet across (seriously!).  While filming one of these I lost track of my group and wound up at 127 feet.  Okay, what was it I said about not diving through the lens of your camera?  You can’t blame me – there were sharks all over the place – Galapagos and Silver Tip sharks.  I don’t know what is on their diet but it looks like they haven’t missed any meals.  On a part of one dive there must have been a dozen of them just hanging at the edge of our visibility tracking along with us.  We are also seeing dolphins all around us.  After two days at Roca Partida we return to San Benidicto to the Canyon dive site.

Diving is six days with four dives per day.  I’m never bored with diving the same site multiple times as the marine life is constantly changing with the time of day and my ability to pick out whatever is moving around our group.  I made the trip to specifically see hammerhead sharks in the water.  That goal was accomplished multiple times in a wide variety of settings as the sharks are typically early morning visitors and more than a little shy so we have to wait for them to come to us.

The giant mantas are everywhere.  I think the smallest I saw was 14-16 feet. It makes you wonder ‘Where do the little ones live?’  We were able to secure some great video while on a safety stop at 20’ as the mantas were buzzing the divers and putting on a great show.

All too soon it was time to get out of our gear for the last time and start cleaning it.  For me this has been a “Top Five” dive trip.  The marine life is impressive and the crew works hard at delivering a great time.

A personal message to the Rocio del Mar Co-Owner Dora Sandoval, “Next year I’m diving the Sea of Cortez with your crew and looking forward to it.”

Photos courtesy of Brooke Jolley of A certified PADI Instructor, Brooke is a regular aboard the Rocio Del Mar and has contributed many exciting photos and images to the live-aboard marketing efforts. Watch for more of Brooke’s work on in the near future.



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