Mexico’s Socorro Islands are world famous for their predictable encounters with giant manta rays but that’s not all they offer. Several species of sharks are commonly seen here, including hammerhead, Galapagos, silky, white-tip reef and silvertip, along with bottlenose dolphins. Whale sharks are almost always seen in November and December, while humpbacks arrive to give birth and mate from January to early April. (Underwater sightings, while rare, have occurred.)
The Socorros, also known as the Revillagigedos, are 250 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas and more than 300 miles west of the Mexican mainland. There are four major volcanic islands: San Benedicto (2.6 miles long), Socorro (10 miles long, 9 miles wide), Roca Partida (300 feet long, 115 feet tall) and Clarion, 250 miles west of Socorro. The Solmar V visits all but Clarion.
Cruising to and from the Socorros takes an entire day. On the Solmar V, you travel in luxury. One hundred and twelve feet long with a 25-foot beam, the steel-hulled boat is well maintained and beautiful. The main salon features glossy mahogany, polished brass and lighted etched glass panels. There are four U-shaped booths and four two-person tables with bar stools. There is a big screen TV and stereo, along with a library containing movie DVDs (to view in the salon or your stateroom), music CDs, marine life ID books, novels to borrow and a laptop computer equipped with PhotoShop (e-mail access is available if you make arrangements ahead of time).
All living areas are air-conditioned. The boat can accommodate 22 divers in six standard staterooms (bow) and six superior staterooms (amidships). The staterooms are as well appointed as the salon, with glossy woodwork, Roman shades and comfortable bunks. Each stateroom has a private bathroom, complete with toilet and shower in the same area, and a sink inside or outside that area. (Three watermakers can provide up to 1,600 gallons of fresh water per day, so showers are unlimited.)
Powered by two Detroit 12V71 twin turbo engines, the Solmar V has a cruising speed of ten knots and a range of 2,300 miles. She has redundant electronics systems, including VHF and SSB radios, GPS, radar, autopilot, weather fax, LCD depth sounder and is compliant with all U.S. Coast Guard Safety Requirements.
The Dive Deck
The dive deck on the stern is well organized, with benches along each side. Tanks are secured behind the benches; personal gear goes in boxes under them. Suits can be hung to dry on racks on either side of the main salon.
A large, two-tiered camera table accommodates photographers and their gear. There are two Ingersoll Rand 17cfm air compressors and a Nitrox Technologies Membrane System for filling tanks.
The four freshwater rinse buckets—two for cameras/regulators and two for other equipment—are emptied and refilled daily. There are also two freshwater showers (and towels) for after-dive rinses.
While some of the sites are dived from the Solmar V’s stern, most are accessed via two 22-foot Achilles inflatables (pangas), powered by 60hp outboards.
The Solmar V has a large crew, and all of them on my trip, from Captain Gerrardo to jack-of-all-trades, Francisco, were capable, conscientious, accommodating and friendly.
Divers are usually ravenous and the Solmar V’s galley accommodates them with delicious meals. Breakfast always features coffee, tea and a large platter of fresh fruit — including melons, papaya and kiwi fruit—along with yogurt, cereal, pan dulce (Mexican sweet breads) and juice. Eggs with toast and, depending on the day, hash browns, bacon, ham or sausage, are also offered.
Lunch begins with homemade soup. The entrée might be cheeseburgers and fries, grilled chicken breasts or fish fillets, usually with vegetables (broccoli, squash, cauliflower) steamed al dente. There is always a luscious dessert.
Dinners start with a salad of fresh vegetables and either fish, chicken, shrimp, pork chops or steak, along with fresh vegetables and perhaps rice or mashed potatoes. The desserts are wonderful: cheesecake, pies and cakes. Beer and wine are included in the cost of the trip and several times a week specialty drinks, such as margaritas and tequila sunrises, are offered.
While I enjoyed each and every dive on my March 2007 trip, three were particularly memorable.
One was at San Benedicto’s The Boiler, where mantas are frequent visitors. On my first Socorro trip (1999), interaction with the rays was encouraged, now it is forbidden. Thus, when an all black female manta appeared at The Boiler, nobody chased her; we hung in the water column and let her glide freely among us, which she did for about 20 minutes. She seemed to enjoy feeling our exhaust bubbles on her underside, going through them slowly and occasionally hovering just over a diver.
Another special dive occurred at Roca Partida, the remains of a volcanic plug that rises almost vertically from the depths. Diving here is a challenge because there are nearly always currents and big swells. Skip the dive? Not on your life! Guests love the adrenaline-pumping encounters with sharks—silvertips, Galapagos, silky, white-tip reefs and schooling hammerheads, among them. You always need to keep an eye on the blue because you never know when a manta ray, whale shark, or even a humpback might show up.
I’ll never forget a dive at Socorro Island’s Cabo Pearce, where a pod of bottlenose dolphins zoomed in to check us out. Seven to eight of them sped past me one time, reminding me of a beautiful bronze sculpture. Manta rays are also regular visitors here.
Socorro trips depart from Cabo San Lucas, just a 2-hour, 20-minute flight from LAX (a little less from San Diego). For more information on the Solmar V and its itineraries, which also include the Sea of Cortez and Guadalupe Island (great white sharks), see the website: www.Solmarv.com.