24 hours from land is a scuba divers' haven in Socorro

24 hours by boat away from the southern tip of Baja California, is an archipelago of islands commonly referred to as Socorro (after the largest island). Infamous amongst the diving community for it’s pelagic encounters it has been on my bucket list for diving for years! After lots of saving and much anticipation, I set sail on the Nautilus Belle Amie from Cabo San Lucas.

First up, I’m not a flashy diver. I don’t go for swish boats or big liveaboards, but I went with Nautilus for a few reasons; safety, reputation and experience. Being that far out at sea, I was aware of the inherent risk of diving so far from land and being on a liveaboard that took diver safety so seriously was incredibly reassuring. This was demonstrated from the first evening at sea with a boat safety briefing, before a full safety and diver briefing AND fire drill on our cruise day out to the islands. Throughout the diving days, the divemasters and captain / mate worked tirelessly to ensure divers were safely loaded in and out of skiffs, and all divers and divemasters (DMs) were present and accounted for back on the boat post-dive.Their professionalism put everyone at ease and subsequently meant for more enjoyable diving experiences for everyone.

The hostesses and chef worked endlessly throughout our stay to ensure we had great food at every meal, a supply of water and tea or hot chocolate on the dive deck at all times, and fresh cookies available to snack on. The rooms were comfortable with private en suites per room giving you some privacy amongst the many divers on board (30!). The saloon, dining room and sun deck offered plenty of space, sun, shade, and sofa space for everyone to cater to their needs, as well as a hot-tub on the sun deck to help warm you up between dives if you were so inclined!

Now, onto the diving!

Each morning began with a thorough dive site briefing, detailing the topography, depths, and currents we would encounter. Socorro is known for its tough diving in regards to temperature and currents, which is partly why they get such great marine life for fairly desolate volcanic sites and sea mounts. Divers were separated into groups based on experience and confidence in the water, but each group still was accompanied by a divemaster.

Day 1: check dive and San Benedicto “The Canyon”. A great start to the trip, surrounded by silkies, white tip reef sharks and a calm Galapagos shark on the cleaning station at San Benedicto! The sound of whales in your ears as you see an oceanic morph manta gracefully swim by and then surprised by curious hammerheads out in the blue! We knew we were in for a great trip!

Day 2: San Benedicto “The Boiler”. Named because of the shallow water and subsequent rough surf “boiling” at the surface above the pinnacle, this dive site was relaxed with surprise visits from chevron and morph oceanic manta rays (always appearing right at the end of the dive!). Octopus hid in the crevices of the volcanic rock and schools of red tail trigger fish and jack fish surrounded the dive site. A huge school of pompano surrounded us at our safety stop, their silver sides shining in the afternoon light. Our final dive of the day was just around the boat’s mooring spot, and we fought the current to get behind larger rocks for cover, whilst spying on lobster, eels, octopus and lots of rays coming out to hunt as evening drew in. On our way back to the boat for our safety stop a black oceanic manta appeared over the crest of a ridge ahead of me and slowed the a stop, before curling up its cephalic fins and gliding calmly towards me and right over my head. I was grinning from ear to ear underwater and much of that evening too! There is something to be said about manta rays and how beautiful they are in the water. Despite their size and placement of their eyes they are incredibly self-aware, social and inquisitive. Oceanic mantas with their huge wingspan of up to 22ft or 8m make you feel small and humbled to bear witness to their visit to you on the reef!

Day 3 + 4: Socorro “Cabo Pearce”. A long finger of volcanic rock stretching from the island into the ocean, we were forewarned about the ripping current here as well as the surge from the heavy swell on the surface and we experienced all those things! It was all worth it though, as over these two days we had some of the most incredible ocean encounters of my life, with dolphins playing and following oceanic mantas at the cleaning station, and a large pod of dolphins hanging with us in the blue for over 10 minutes, swimming by each one of us and making sure we got eye contact before scooting off. A particularly amazing dive took my group into the current where the dolphins hung with us, before a large group of sharks came in for a closer look including a big Galapagos shark! Spoilt and on our way to our safety stop an oceanic manta came by to say “hello”.

Day 5: Roca Partida. The trickiest and furthest of the “islands” to get to (I say “islands” as it’s a small rock sticking out of the ocean), Roca Partida was 9 hours cruise from Socorro and boy was it choppy! On arrival, the dive site looked fairly unassuming (small), but the briefing got us all excited with the challenge of strong and changing currents whipping around this sea mount. Once we battled the swell to get to the pinnacle, the dive site blessed us with little to no current, allowing us to cruise slowly around the HUGE site! Covered in sea urchins, balconies housed stacked sleeping white tip reef sharks and crowds of lobster. By the surface, Galapagos sharks circled one another, with hammerheads cruising past out in the blue. A few oceanic manta came past to say hello, playing above divers’ bubbles and adding to the feeling of calm on underwater. At the edge of the pinnacle, a huge school of cotton-mouth jacks and red tail triggers encircled us, with giant trevally, silver-side jack fish, barracuda and 7 tuna making an appearance. An adolescent whaleshark even joined us on the third dive - really unusual for the season we visited - and appeared at random intervals around the dive site. On the final dive, with the sound of humpback whales in our ears and surrounded by pompano, I have to admit I was brought to tears. A dive site so small in the scale of the ocean, where we felt so tiny against its 80m deep walls looking out into the Pacific ocean. An abundance of life and the hierarchy of fish so clear it gave me hope for our oceans amongst all the stories we are told.

My diving experience in Socorro was everything: humbling, exhilarating, life affirming, and adventurous. Guaranteed I’ll be going back, the question is just “when?”!

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