Downey Duck Sea of Cortez on the Narval

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight of us joined Big Fish Expeditions’ trip to the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) in September. It was a blast, but also a different type of dive trip than usual.

We overnighted in Los Angeles, then flew Alaska Airlines to Loreto, Mexico, part way down the Gulf of Mexico; we enjoyed walking around in spite of the heat. When needed, we took sanctuary at our hotel, Posada del Cortes, a small boutique hotel which had great AC. The hotel almost had hot water, but we didn’t miss it. We ate at a couple different restaurants, all with friendly staff and good, inexpensive food.

The Narval, our home for the next week, motored up from La Paz to pick us up, as we would be heading even farther north. The boat hadn’t seen action in four or five years, so it was a bit rough around the edges. The below-deck cabins were tiny, with bi-fold doors on the bathroom and changing space for one person at a time. We started calling the bunk beds “bear caves” because the bottom two thirds was enclosed, but at least the top bunk had enough room to turn over. Our cabin had one tiny cubby for clothes and one of the hinges broke half way through the week. Most of us wore the same clothes all week—it was just easier. Our backpacks and carry-ons found space on our bunks—actually not a problem. Tall people could not stretch out; sometimes being short is a good thing! There was a step for hoisting oneself into the upper bunk and there was a small basket for our odds and ends—very handy.

I slept great all week due to the engine “white noise”, the gentle rocking (big rocking for the upper deck cabins), the “bear cave” feeling, the darkness (no port holes) and the firm mattress. No back pain!

The bathrooms were interesting; besides the bi-fold doors, they either had a hand-held shower head above, or a pull-out shower head that doubled as a faucet, so one was surprised the first time by either a wet head or a wet stomach while teeth brushing, depending on the configuration. We started leaving the shower head in the sink. The water did get hot enough, but the hose on the dive deck was very popular throughout the week.

Each diver had a cubby hole on the small dive deck. BCs and regulators stayed on tanks, which were loaded by the crew into two skiffs for the dives, a hard bottom inflatable we hauled ourselves into after dives, and a regular type skiff with a ladder. Skiff rides were usually short, the longest being 15 minutes.

The boat traveled far, starting in Lareto and heading north. It probably wasn’t as far as it seemed because the boat moved slowly. One day we only got in one dive; the most we managed was three. On the plus side, because we covered a lot of ground, we saw a variety of different things. Although the Humboldt squid never materialized, we did get to snorkel with whale sharks. The north brought us the largest jawfish I’ve ever seen, with a head about 3” across. We also saw very friendly Cortez angelfish and not so friendly king angelfish. We got to play with sea lions a few times, and also spotted a few mobulas, seahorses, and octopus. There were lots of little stingrays and electric rays, including the bullseye electric ray. Triplefin blennies, also new to us, were everywhere, as well as finescale triggerfish. As we moved back south, the fish got more tropical. The visibility wasn’t the best due to a storm that moved through before our arrival; with better visibility, the dives would have been awesome instead of great. The topography of some of the dives was outstanding, with huge boulders, valleys, and little caves; on one dive we saw several turtle bones—turtle broth, anyone? Water temperatures ran from 79 to 88 degrees.

After all the diving, whale watching (we did see a few from the surface), and sleeping, we were hungry! Food on the whole was good, with a few awesome meals. They tried their best to accommodate food preferences; if all else failed, quesadillas (meat or cheese) were available.

Speaking of the staff, most of them didn’t know each other before this trip, but they appeared to mesh quite well. The trip wouldn’t have been a success without Juan, the head honcho, and Rafa (Rafael), our dive guide, was exceptional. Our group of eight had a great time despite the problems.

Upon returning to Loreto, there was flooding from an upcoming tropical depression. We spent one more night at Posada del Cortes Hotel and waded through ankle-deep water to breakfast the next morning. Our first restaurant choice was unavailable because they were still sweeping out the water. All streets slope to the Gulf of California, so they had turned into rivers.

I found pretty much everything about this trip fun and interesting, partly due to the people, divers and staff, on board. Although we wouldn’t repeat this particular itinerary, we would consider another trip to the Gulf of California with less travel time and more diving, although going north was definitely interesting.

 

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