“Man cannot discover new Oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” – Andre Gide
The Revillagigedo islands (other than having one of the most complicated names) is undoubtedly the trending dive destination of the moment for pelagic encounters. Known for its Giant Oceanic Mantas, it seems every dive magazine, blog and article is talking about these waters. Well, March 2016 was our turn to experience it. Sailing 240 nautical miles from Cabo San Lucas on the Nautilus Belle Amie to the first Island, San Benedicto. Known more commonly as the Socorro Islands, these four uninhabited Islands off the coast of Mexico sit isolated and alone in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. San Benedicto itself looks remarkably like a sleeping Tyrannosaurus Rex, the hardened lava flow creating the spiky skin and the humps of the mountains replicating the body of the prehistoric beast.
Warm air temperatures and calm seas meant the first day of diving was remarkably serene – hitting the famous ‘Boiler’ our dive plan was to circle the rock and ascend back where we started. However, the moment we entered the water we were surrounded by fish, pointing out sharks at every turn, literally enamoured with the surroundings so only made it half way round! There were three groups of divers from the Nautilus Belle Amie; green, blue & red. We were in the blue group, second in the water but towards the final third of the dive the three groups reconvened to experience what I can only describe as a ‘spectacle’ – a beautiful shadow emerged from the blue, her white and black chevrons so distinct as she glided towards us. Approximately 20ft wingtip to wingtip, this Manta was almost four times my height, yet up close the delicate fins and sparkling skin made her seem impossibly delicate. Her eyes were bright and alert and looked right at you, connecting on an almost ethereal level.
Our group had many underwater photographers on board – beginners, amateurs and professional. I felt very privileged to dive amongst some of the best including Nigel Wade of DIVER Magazine and the infamous Paul Colley. Naturally, the shots they took were far superior and it became clear I still had much to learn. I found despite being close to these Mantas, getting a good shot was incredibly challenging. I did manage a few though with one shot in particular making me proud – ‘Manta & Jack Dancing’ – named because when Nigel gave me feedback he described it ‘as if the Manta and Jack are dancing together’. As soon as this alluring Manta had left us, another arrived out of the darkness, this time the distinct chevrons were missing… it was a Black Manta! A first encounter for us and one that really made an impact – no different in size but all the more intriguing as the black cloak encased the Manta’s skin like a phantom shadow. The intoxicating display caused me to stare, unmoving and bewitched whilst she swam over me. I missed numerous photo opportunities, not that I minded, it really was an amazing first experience with the giant beauties of the Pacific.
The second day we set off to Socorro Island, the only island humans go on land to man the Mexican naval base there. All three dives this day were at Cabo Pearce and whilst there was much to see, none were as spectacular as the first day. Poor visibility and strong current meant the dives were challenging and tiring. We were lucky to spot one Black Manta in the distance but it was difficult to see and after the success of San Benedicto it’s safe to say the group were disappointed with Socorro. I myself was keen to get to the final island on our itinerary, Roca Partida. Late that evening we set off and travelled 70km west to this odd little rock in the middle of nowhere. Known for it’s many Sharks, this dive site is unlike any other. The rock itself protrudes from the surface, the name literally meaning parted rock – formed of two pinnacles shaped like bunny ears distinctly white from all the seagull and booby droppings!
Our first dive here was spooky and unnerving as the sheer rock rose dramatically from the dark depths and the early morning light cast shadows across the water. The image here ‘Just keep swimming’ shows how striking the rock face really is, with the waves crashing thunderously at the surface – the school of fish seemingly swimming to escape. We proceeded to swim around the rock at approx 15 – 20m, I say this with a large ‘approx’ since the surge here is so powerful, you end up being forced upwards and back downwards 5m at a time when it catches you. One of the huge draws of this rock is the schooling hammerheads that are known to swim just out in the blue. Our own experience of this was nothing short of mind-blowing as hundreds and hundreds circled all around us. Lurking in the depths, these elegant creatures pass by like ships in the night. We were told not to follow them but to stay still and let them come to us so we did exactly that and were lucky to see the full impact of their distinct features. Richard captured the full effect on vide here:
Back at the rock it’s hard not to notice the real spectacle of this dive site – amongst the dark cracks and hollows the white tip reef sharks stir. Not one, or two, or even three, but up to 20 of them bundled on top of one another! The photo ‘Do not disturb my slumber’ encapsulates just one of the many nooks these sharks occupy. In isolation, this strange behaviour would seem odd but here on this desolate rock it feels like the most natural thing in the world as they slip and slide over each other for a daytime snooze. What’s even more fascinating is their interaction with divers – eyeballing you constantly as you move closer and closer until their resolve diminishes and they shoot off to find another spot. These white tips are really something to witness. Whilst they don’t have the majestic serenity of the Mantas, they do pull off an odd cuteness that makes them so interesting to watch.
After an eventful day at Roca Partida we headed back to San Benedicto for the last few dives of our trip. Similarly to the first day we were not let down and witnessed a Manta on every dive at The Boiler. There was one dive in particular that blew us all away when within 10 minutes of entering we found ourselves greeted by three Mantas dancing around us, playfully enjoying the bubbles. Then we heard the distinct squeaking of Dolphins, coming out from the dark blue waters as if saying ‘look at us!’. They played with each diver, doubling back towards us when our attention turned to the Mantas – competing with each other as they fought for our attention and pictures. This was definitely one of those dives you lock away in your memory as one of your top 5 of all time – it really will be hard to beat! Because of this you can understand why many of the articles on The Revillagigedo Islands talk about the giant Mantas, yet despite me also being a huge Manta fan I still find myself thinking about the White Tips. The lead photo of this article entitled ‘What you looking at?’ features a cheeky white tip chilling on Roca Partida eyeballing me whilst I get up close to take a shot of his laziness. If I am ever lucky enough to go back and dive these wonderous islands again, these beasties will be what excite me the most!