Diving the Sea of Cortez!
The Sea of Cortez, more commonly known as the Gulf of California or the Vermillion Sea, is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean, that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican Mainland. Described by Jacques Cousteau as the "world's aquarium", scuba diving here is all about sea lions, whale sharks, manta and mobula rays, dolphins, huge schools of fish and fascinating underwater macro life. I was offered the chance to dive here with Nautilus Liveaboards as an alternative to my cancelled trip to Guadelupe and it was a more than worthy alternative. Water temperature rises to the mid 80's by September and visibility is usually 100 feet plus. The sea is often so calm you feel like you're barely moving, and peak diving season ranges from July to November.
I flew via Chicago to Cabo San Juan, and transferred to the marina at Cabo San Lucas to board the liveaboard. The team at Nautilus, using SeeCreatures Dive Centre in Cabo, were amazing and the boat Nautilus Explorer offered everything you would expect from a live aboard holiday, including a spacious dive deck. I elected to travel with all my own gear but SeeCreatures are able to supply full gear to anyone that prefers to travel light. Nitrox was also available on board as an extra to anyone qualified and each diver was provided with a satellite tag and air horn to attach to their BCD at no extra cost. Diving the Sea of Cortez is airplane supported with a dedicated spotter plane crossing the area giving reports on animal sightings in the vicinity. Whether you can get to them depends on your proximity to the sighting and the facilities on board for getting you there.
The diving on our itinerary was a mixture - lots of rocky reefs, characterised by large shoals and varieties of fish; the sea lion colony at Las Animas; and also the opportunity to dive the wreck of the Fang Ming. The sheer diversity of fish life is truly amazing and after our straightforward check dive, dive 2 was amazing - I truly have never seen as many fish in my life! One of the highlights was the vast number of Trigger fish, which I have only seen before in small groups, and this became a feature on many of our dives. The reefs were also home to large numbers of moray eels, often seen free swimming, even in the daylight.
The sea lions were truly amazing, very interactive, though we had to make sure we showed due respect to the very vocal bull sea lion, who spent most of his time patrolling to check we weren't interfering with his harem! The wreck of the Fang Ming was an interesting respite from reef diving and home to 4 resident turtles (one of which was the biggest turtle I'd ever seen) who used the wreck as their own personal scratching post. There were also jewelled eels and octopus tucked away on the wreck too, along with an amazing number of fish species too. Several of the dives were night dives which gave the opportunity to turn off the torch and sample bioluminescence - and it was somewhat novel to order your post night dive G & T from the rib on being picked up, to find it waiting for you on the dive deck!
Above water the Sea of Cortez is a jewel too. The scenery is stunning, sunsets amazing, and the night sky so dark you feel you can see virtually every star in the sky. In addition to the diving we were given opportunities to snorkel, sea kayak and visit local islands and beaches to make this a truly unforgettable experience. I would highly recommend this as a liveaboard holiday and also Nautilus Liveaboards who truly looked after us on board.