Trip Report – Sea of Cortez0
By: Lance Carlson
Photographer: Cat – Pipat Kosumlaksami
Live – aboard: Quino El Guardian
This is a very unique and fun dive adventure. Divers looking for something different yet still a solidly good live-aboard experience should definitely consider it. We were on board the the Quino El Guardian, in early October 2016 for “Explore Baja” in the Sea of Cortez.
Our trip began in the North departing from Puerto Peñasco after an approximately 4 hours drive from Phoenix airport in the “Head Out to Rocky Point” shuttle van. The van was comfortable and there were several stops along the way to get out, stretch, buy snacks, etc. Another good point was getting to know your new diving friends.
At the docks we were met by the crew who helped get us and our gear aboard. There is a small shop a few blocks away for last minute purchases (let the crew know you are going) – very limited items but they did have some Don Julio at very reasonable cost :).
Departure was pretty quick for the overnight cruise to the first dive site. The passage was a bit rough, some of us tried to sleep on the top deck but had to come inside because of the salt spray from wind and waves. But this was the only time we had rough seas, all other days/nights were very calm and beautiful (and sunny!).
The divers on this trip were a diverse group, most of us had never met before. Lots of different backgrounds and personalities. But the nature of the Quino was to bring the group together. The 4-per-cabin arrangement, shared facilities (4 persons per one bathroom), and smaller size of the boat contributed to this – to me it felt a bit like an adult-version summer camp, where one tends to make new friends and have great adventures. So I’ll say the size and organization of the boat, being smaller and less private than others, was actually a big plus – gave the whole trip a unique feeling.
I should also say the boat is completely adequate in size: comfortable dive deck with a good system for organizing the divers onto the dinghies, spacious and comfortable dining area, large shaded deck area (with additional non-shaded area for sun-worshipers), reading/relaxing/computer/TV lounge. It never felt crowded on the Quino – just fun.
Next I should mention the crew. Wow, best crew ever. These guys all work extremely hard to make the trip fun and comfortable, yet they are always personable and friendly. Lots of laughing and joking and interaction with the divers, but did I mention they work extremely hard to make the trip fun and comfortable? One thing I really appreciated is that every night the crew would deliver my mattress to the top deck, where I (and about half the other divers) could sleep out in the fresh air under the stars. I hadn’t done this since my early diving days in the South China Sea years ago – on this trip I slept every night on the top deck. Very fun!
Special mention must go to Pancho, our cook. The food was outstanding. Fresh, varied, flavorful, well-prepared, interesting presentation. I liked the fact that the breakfast menu changed daily, with lots of fresh fruit selections, and all served a la cart.
The two BBQ dinners on the top deck were outstanding. Big addition is complimentary wine/beer served at every dinner.
By now you must be wondering what the diving was like. OK, I’ll tell…
I brought a 5mm wetsuit + 3mm hooded vest for the diving in the north (first part of trip) and was glad that I did. A few of the dives had some pretty cold upwellings, most other dives were 75-79 degrees. Half-way through the trip I switched to a 3mm, which was perfect for the south.
The diving itself was very diverse. Lots of small things to see in the North. The south is clearer visibility, big school of fish and playful seals.
Dives in the north were modest visibility. Not great but not terrible. Perfectly good for the kind of dives we did where there were lots of smaller creatures to find. In fact I really enjoyed seeing some new species that I’d never seen before, including signal blennies (very fun to watch), giant jawfish (amazing to look at when they come out of their holes), and different species of nudibranches.
Not the lush colorful reefs of Indonesia, but still plenty of interesting things to see and I can say that I really enjoyed the diving.
Also memorable about the North is the stark beauty of the landscape. Think: Mars meets ocean. Really enjoyed going on-shore and walking about a few times.
One great aspect of this trip is that not only is there lots of diving, but there were also other fun things to do. For example an afternoon swimming with friendly Whale Sharks in a shallow bay (as much swimming with them as we wanted). Whale watching, including one encounter with Orcas. One evening walking about the small Baja town of Loreto and enjoying a marvelous dinner at a local taqueria (everything hand made and cooked over wood fires – you must try the Queso Fundido if you ever go).
A number of dives with Sea Lions (some very playful), more and more fish and fantastic visibility as we moved toward the South, along with some beautiful reefs. Plus – for just about the entire trip we were the only divers (and in fact the only boat) anywhere in sight. We definitely had the dive sites, and it seemed the entire sea, all to ourselves.
Especially memorable in the South were our dives in the Cabo Pulmo national marine park. Google it and you will see pictures of giant schools of fish swimming around the divers. Yes – we saw that. Or I should say: we were in the middle of all that. Another dive there was on a very beautiful reef, definitely artistic in its beauty.
Other great memories: The night dives we saw plenty of fun stuff, including one dive with bunches of mating sea hares all over the reef (where do they all come from???). Another dive we saw more moray eels than I can recall ever seeing in one site, including a hole with 14 of the big guys all packed in together. Lots of octopus, especially in the North where it seemed I saw at least one on every dive. Night dive with fighter squadrons of Mobula attacking the dense clouds of krill attracted by the light. And the several dives on submerged sea mounts were all very fun too.
Although currents can be strong in the Sea of Cortez, we were pretty lucky and at most only encountered modest current on just a few of the dives, most were without any current. I think the dive masters did a good job of planning sites in this respect.
All in all it was a unique and very fun trip, I highly recommend it. Thanks to Dora and Lolo (owners/founders), all of our new dive friends, and the entire Quino crew for making it a great experience.
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