Greetings from the Nautilus Explorer.
I heard about this pioneering boat 13 months ago and it remained on my brain’s backburner for the 11 months it took for me to be ready to book it. It’s not the sort of idea one forgets easily, despite the abundance of first world distraction.
Other than the sort of people who like to spend money on dive experiences that may well surpass most on the planet and the incredibly hard-working crew who clearly enjoy what they do, the Explorer has the added feature of an open air hot tub. I knew that when I signed up it and may have mentioned it once or twice in the time between booking and boarding. 2 months’ anticipation and impatience culminated as I made my way past the relentless superficial tourism on offer in the San Jose’ Del Cabo Marina and arrived to the boat and immediately felt that buzz that signals an adventure has begun. We set sail shortly thereafter and the 24 hour passage south was a strangely patient and benificial breathing exercise as we fresh strangers adapted to shared limitations between walls and negotiated the space between expectation and realization, exhaling as we went. Drinks, introductions and dining punctuated the passage and early evening entertainment was offered in the form of a conservation documentary (Manta 101) shot at the site we lumbered towards. Not wanting to fill my head with too many artificial visuals nor stare at a screen with the elements present, I stepped out onto the foredeck and sat quietly watching the sun sizzle into the sea. Serenity.
I wasn’t alone, of course. No moment like that would be complete without company. My favourite ‘Merican has made the voyage too. All the way from Chico, California. I do like it when the mountains meet the sea. Especially the Sierra Nevada. The boat has a generous supply of North American microbrews – for medicinal purposes.
Nine hours’ sleep, two cups of fresh coffee and a spectacular sunrise later….
The creatures stirred from their slumber, their own internals alive with expectation. Excitement manifested as impatience. The hard yards passed, San Benedicto beckoned over the bow and ….
The almost obligatory arrival of a pod was our sentry to the magnificent volcanic mass of San Benedicto. Their seemingly effortless frontrunning (and tumbling and jumping) ahead of the prow immediately raised spirits. Ariadne, a young Mexican girl who’d been feeling a bit seasick was all smiles as she (and everyone else) took positions on the bow, watching the playful parade. It lasted until the engines decreased and the boat slowed. Then they were gone and breakfast was served. I love liveaboards.
A mediocre day at sea is always better than a great day at the office and in that our 3 dives on Day 1 ONLY realized 3 passing Mantas (and a handful of hammerheads, and some other stuff) there were some less than exuberant reactions. Assuaged by the ever-present effervescent staff, the phenomenal food and the spectacular sight of San Benedicto’s lava flows, not to mention the fact that we still had 5 days of diving to come, spirits remained high and we were beginning to find our rythym. It was just as well as day two started superbly and just got better.
The engines were started at first light as we moved to the other side of San Benedicto, guided (naturally) by our dolphin dawn patrol just after sunrise. Continental breakfast was served, suits were donned and by the time we were truly awake we were dancing with a manta ray in geneerous visibility. A 10-12 ft beauty circled the wall of paparazzi. Not wanting to be part of the cluster of cameras, a couple of us stayed slightly aloof, enjoying a less deliberate attempt to capture the experience. Before long I started swimming away as the manta approached. And was followed. It would appear being seemingly disinterested encouraged greater attention. So I swam, backwards and upside down, the magnificent manta gliding effortlessly above, blotting out the sun from my vision and the rest of the world from my mind. It looped back toward the masses but returned soon and often, following my trajectory and aiming at close encounters; definitely making eye contact as we performed our aquatic acrobatics. Communication with a superior being in that all-connecting element will certainly raise one’s vibrations.
And then there was breakfast. I can highly recommend the eggs Benedict (or was that San Benedict?) Day 2, Dive 2 , 2 minutes in and a huge black manta took to the dance floor. We were soon following a similar session as I looked up the intricate pattern on its underbelly. I’m sure there were other divers around but I hardly noticed. They probably tell this story too – each moment with these incredible creatures is all encompassing. So, on dive 3 – when 4 or 5 of them showed up to play – the playground was in full swing, mid afternoon light attaching to the ubiqitious bubbles becoming columns of sunshine for the dark and majestic, unmistakebale mantas to cast their shadows amongst us. An afternoon tea on the sundeck gifted the view of our dolphins in the bay, mantas visible from the boat and whales’ – spouting in the bay and breaching on the horizon. Dive 4 had diminishing visibility which mean the remaining manta had to work a little harder to find us and play – but it did. There is not a whole lot more to be done after a day like that than lie back in the hottub, soak it all in and synch a cerveza as the sun sinks into the horizon. Day 3…
No, wait a minute. I forgot to mention the sumptuous seared tuna dinner. Oh, AND the super juicy chocolate birthday cake for Monique – the French lady – who was serenaded in 3 languages. Gordon, the ship’s captain set sail on a gentle course at 21h30, keeping the engines audibly low and arriving at Roca Partida, just as the sun came back. He dropped anchor and the Roca Partida’s winged residents flew silhouetted into the red glow. The rock’s freshly arrived guests began to surface for coffee. And so the dance continues.