Liveaboard Trip to the Revillagigedos - Wild, Remote, Wonderful…
For experienced divers seeking thrilling marine encounters, numerous pelagic species and dramatic rock formations in the middle of nowhere, head for the Revillagigedos far out in the Tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The islands are a 24-26-hour boat passage from Cabo San Lucas at the southernmost point of Baja California in Mexico. And divers come from far and wide - on our trip they had travelled from Japan, Singapore, Canada and Argentina as well as the UK.
The four Revillagigedo islands were declared a World Heritage Site in 2016 by UNESCO, a National Marine Park in 2017 and are uninhabited apart from the presence of the Mexican Navy. Liveaboards visit only Socorro, San Benedicto and Roca Partida as the fourth, Clarión Island, is too remote and yet to be fully explored. Roca Partida (split rock) is more of a seamount than an island and all the action occurs beneath its rugged peaks.
The 390km trip by sea from Cabo San Lucas to the closest island, San Benedicto, is a day and night at sea and allows respite from jetlag, time to acclimatise and the inevitable build-up of excitement while getting to know the other divers and crew. We experienced heavy swells (eating lunch off sliding plates and condiments flying) but the highly attentive and welcoming crew helped ease the way towards what would be some demanding but exhilarating dives.
An important part of any liveaboard is the passion and knowledge of expert guides and on the Socorro Aggressor, they were no exception. A particular focus of this itinerary was the manta rays – which comprises of two species, the Mobula birostris and the smaller Mobula alfredi. Our guides Rana and Arturo spoke of the psychological and emotional interaction which can take place with these magnificent animals. Rana explaining how seeing them 'is all about energy' and that to look them in the eye or rather be ‘seen’ by them, is a profound experience. Arturo added how they can ‘scan’ divers with their cephalic lobes, the two structures which extend and help to introduce water into the mouth for feeding activities. The guides also reinforced the rules of look, don't touch and move out of their way if they get close.
Approaching San Benedicto, our excitement was palpable as the volcanic landscape loomed over the horizon. At El Canyon, we descended from the tender surrounded by pelagic sharks queuing up to use the cleaning stations - Galápagos, silvertips and hammerheads. The barren nature of the rocky sea floor was a stark contrast to my more familiar coral reef diving and elicited feelings of being at a remote outpost where nature’s rugged and wild beauty forgives no one. Rather like you would imagine being on the moon, but underwater.
A 150km overnight crossing took us southwest to Roca Partida, a guyot of two eroded outcrops of rock devoid of terrestrial vegetation, concealing an 80m plateau below. The surface was choppy with big, foaming waves and the briefing emphasised not delaying descent due to the risk of being buffeted towards the rock face at the surface.
As we descended into the calm blue, the view was breathtaking, one of the most awe-inspiring I have ever seen underwater. The cliff face drops down into inky darkness, before sloping off to the sea floor 1,500m below.
Sleeping whitetip reef sharks were piled together like kittens in small caves, while a Galápagos shark and silvertip sharks cruised in the blue. Schools of cottonmouth jacks swarming above. As many currents converge here, the peaks attract an abundance of life. Numerous pelagic fish can be seen including huge yellowfin tuna and schooling bigeye jacks. We finned through a slight current, hovering and looking out into the blue before surfacing to a safety stop to be greeted by several bottlenose dolphins playing and making for us.
This was to be the first of several encounters with these characters and while they feed on fish, squid and crustaceans at night, further daytime interactions were to show the full extent of their playful, teasing nature. The last dive of the day there was blessed with a cruise-by of a juvenile whale shark, 4 to 6m long and perhaps 6 to 10 years old, wrapping a stunning day at one of the most thrilling dive sites in the world.
Overnight to Socorro island, 120 km to the east of Roca Partida and after laying anchor we crowded to watch a silky shark circling the stern. The first dive at Punta Tosca was a beautiful wall dive with a mild drift, a turtle and lots of fish but no humpback whales. We were a bit late for the humpback season which runs from January to early April. Migrating from Alaska to sing (males impressing females) mate and birth, the humpbacks are a rare sight to behold. It's illegal to enter the water if the whales are already present. However, if you are already underwater it's no problem if they join you.
Following lunch and a visit by the Mexican Navy to check our passports, we enjoyed a late afternoon dive at Cabo Pearce on the east side. A beautiful swim through blue hazy water and many thermoclines along with whitetip reef sharks, huge schools of fish and a drift after hanging on to barren rock looking out into the blue. From the calm of the main mooring we had gone a long way and after a big silky sighting at the safety stop, surfaced in some pretty big waves.
The weather was too bad to stay at Socorro, so after a turbulent overnight crossing, it was back to San Benedicto along with other liveaboards. The Aggressor crew had been in radio contact with all the vessels to plan dive times with no crossovers or crowding at sites – superb organisation.
The next dive was a heavenly playground of Galápagos sharks, then an extraordinary show of ‘fish chase’ by bottlenose dolphins. Part play and part ruthlessly toying with the poor fish, the dolphins tried to smash them into rock or drive them to the surface. A few times I had to duck as they shot over my head like missiles. Even more extraordinary was how the dolphins would hover upright by divers, mimicking or perhaps ‘showing’ us how to do buoyancy correctly. They would also lie back in the water as if wanting a belly rub, an absolute 'no', of course, but a sight to behold. The dive ended with a school of scalloped hammerheads at my safety stop, at which point I wondered if I was hallucinating… then a black and white manta breaching at the surface as I clambered back into the tender.
That evening we found out that due to catastrophic starboard engine failure, we would have to leave for mainland Mexico a day-and-a-half early but not before diving the famous El Boiler.
Arturo delivered a wonderful presentation on mantas, their reproduction and the importance of identifying and tracking individuals to see their migration patterns in order to relay to the Mexican preservation authorities. Manta sightings are almost guaranteed at El Boiler’s cleaning station where bright orange clarion angelfish nibble parasites from their skin. The manta rays will fly over divers’ exhaled bubbles to mimic the ‘tickly' feeling of being cleaned.
El Boiler is rectangular seamount that rises to within two metres of the surface at low tide, hence the ‘boiling’ water analogy. It requires a skilful drop by tender and a quick descent by the divers. After a very choppy long trip from the main boat in huge 5m swells, it was a relief to get underwater where the Mobula birostris put on a graceful show.
The zodiac ride back was no less dramatic as we were surrounded by false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) with their young. This large oceanic dolphin gets its name due to the similar skull characteristics to the killer whale.
The final dive in calmer waters bought silvertips and schooling hammerheads as we finished the diving for the trip. Still wanting more which is always a good sign.
If you are an experienced diver, I cannot recommend venturing to the Revillagigedo Islands highly enough. If you like your diving, perhaps like life - wild, remote and unpredictable, its the place to be.