What an amazing experience!
My daughter and I take a diving trip every year and this was our first time traveling on a live aboard and hot damn is it great! Right from the start everything was very well organized. The vans picked us up from the hotel on time and we were at the boat in about a half an hour. As we boarded the ship, we got our first glimpse of the huge dive deck. It has four large three tiered equipment racks that provide plenty of space for your gear and the very top level has two 120v outlets at each station to charge cameras and other electronic devices. There are plenty of hangers for wetsuits, a large chest of clean towels and two bathrooms.
The staff took our luggage up to our room while we unpacked our dive gear. Each person had their own station for the whole trip. There was plenty of room for everyone’s gear, even for the professional photographers who had several HUGE camera setups. After getting all of our gear laid out, they explained which garbage cans of water were for rinsing wetsuits, cameras and masks. Next, we went upstairs to our room to unpack our luggage. The room we are in is spacious, the beds comfortable, and the bathroom surprisingly large. The pressure in the shower is good and the water is very hot, which is really great after diving in cold water all day. Not to mention, you can shower anytime you like, there is no limit on water usage.
We set sail for San Benedicto (the first of the three islands in the archipelago) at about 10 am on Monday. I was really worried about getting sea sick as I had gone on a tuna fishing trip a few years prior and was green the whole time. It was awful. I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the ride on the Belle Amie was. While it swayed to and fro a bit, it was more like a hammock gently swinging in a light breeze than the violent rocking I experienced on the tuna boat. I have been taking Dramamine the whole time but have not felt even the slightest bit ill the entire trip.
Once we were underway the crew introduced themselves and we introduced ourselves. The crew was always in good spirits and a lot of fun to be around and I was surprised at how fast they learned our names. Frankie is a marine biologist and one of the dive masters and he knew a ton of information about the sea life we saw. It was really interesting talking to him after the dives. The crew of the Belle Amie all had titles but they shared responsibilities and your dive master one day could be your bartender the next day! They all seemed to really enjoy their jobs and went out of the way to make sure we had a good experience.
I could write pages about how great the food is, but I will say just this, I have surely eaten better and healthier food for the last week than I have in any given week the last decade. Jane is an amazing cook and served four great meals every day. Not only were the big meals fantastic there was a wide variety and also many snacks served throughout the day.
As we approached San Benito, we spotted dolphins playing near the boat. Nearing our first anchor point, the towering ridges of ash were a sight to behold. The water was unseasonably warm for our trip and in the high 70’s at San Benito. The first day diving was pretty decent, we saw a ton of sea life and a really big shark of some kind (Jesse, our dive master that day, thinks it was an Oceanic White Tip Shark) and another group saw a few hammerhead sharks. We also saw a manta during our checkout dive and that was our first time seeing one ever, it was an incredible sight. For the second day of diving, we moved to The Boiler and it was simply magical. There were giant mantas everywhere, pods of dolphins and we saw two whale sharks! The mantas seem to enjoy the bubbles from the divers and weave in and out of them sometimes stopping directly above you so your bubbles can tickle their bellies. A few divers had dolphins come play with them and some of the mantas even move in close enough to almost tap your head as they go by. One of the most exciting things we saw was a giant manta breaching. From about 40 feet down, the manta got itself vertical in the water and rocketed toward the surface. It shot out of the ocean with its entire body and then slammed back down in a loud belly flop. It was #*%#& awesome!
The plan was to continue our diving at Socorro and Roca Partida but those plans were cut short. Unfortunately the tropical storm southeast of us was upgraded to Hurricane Blanca and we had to make a run for the Sea of Cortez. I have to say that it was a pretty disappointing change of scenery, but there was simply no other option. While the boat is big and luxurious it would have been suicide to remain in the path of the hurricane.
We traveled overnight and dove a wreck, a reef and with sea lions the next day. My daughter found a sea horse at the wreck; it was the first one she had found in 11 years of diving so she was pretty excited. The sea lions were curious and zipped around us, blowing bubbles from their noses and checking us out with their big round puppy dog eyes. The juveniles like to come and tug on your fins and Frankie even had one try to steal his GoPro (but to no avail!). On one dive, a juvenile came down and started nuzzling against my daughters cheek, trying to get at the bubbles from her regulator. Every time she stopped breathing out the sea lion would pull back, like hey, where’d the bubbles go? When she would blow more bubbles the sea lion would start rubbing it’s whiskers on her check again. Another diver caught it on video. Here is a link to it. It was really neat. On the way back to the boat, we got to see a few mobula rays launching themselves feet out of the water and some of the sea lions followed us back, making a good show of jumping out of the water.
That night we had a party on the Belle Amie with the guests and crew from the Explorer. It was great. Great h’ordurves, drinks and music. We dove with the sea lions again the next day and also a nearby reef. Out of nowhere there was a huge school of Jacks swirling around us. It was wild, jacks as far as you could see in every direction and they were coming towards us with speed. Suddenly, they split and four sea lions came flying by. There was a big silver female, two smaller brown females and a brown juvenile. We watched them chase the ball of Jacks around us for about 10 minutes. It was really fun to watch them in action. The sea lions were so graceful and powerful. They traveled at high speeds zipping all around us and then would suddenly explode to even higher speeds. We even saw a sea lion catch a Jack and eat it. It was a great way to end the day.
We had a great group of people on our trip and everyone got along wonderfully. In our downtime, we were free to do as we liked but many times we sat together on the sun deck and talked about the morning’s dives or watched movies together at night. Downtime also provided a great opportunity to catch up on reading or identify fish from the dives. The sunsets are something to behold and the stars are beautiful when you are out away from city lights.
Despite the detour because of Hurricane Blanca, the trip was still great. The entire crew is very polite, knowledgeable and friendly. We will likely book the trip again, but during the winter when there is almost a zero chance of a storm interrupting our plans. The best thing about booking it then is we will also get to see humpback whales, more whale sharks and schools of hammerhead sharks.
Thanks to the whole crew and Mairin in the main office for making the most of our trip.