|The Great Whites of Guadalupe 2016||
We’ve dived Guadalupe with Nautilus Explorer twice before, but never on the Belle Amie, a 135’ vessel with a broad beam for better stabilization. Bill & I were in one of the upper deck superior rooms, almost as large as our bedroom at home, with a full-size shower, toilet, either two twin or one king bed, two night stands, and a spacious area for hanging clothes. It is quiet at night, but a bit rocky in rougher seas. What it lacks is drawer space and shelving in the bathroom; I ended up putting toiletries on a small stool just outside the bathroom, which worked well.
This was one of the quietest boats we’ve ever been on, with barely perceptible generator and engine noise even while underway. And the most spacious, separate dining and salon each large enough for all the passengers, and an immense dive deck, with plenty of storage and camera space. It was difficult hearing and understanding what people were saying when the dining room was packed, however.
Most people arrived in San Diego the day before departure; Bill and I flew in the same day, arriving at the Best Western Plus Island Palms Resort with enough time for an enjoyable meal and a free drink. The excitement was building in the hospitality suite where we signed in. Around 7:30pm everyone boarded the bus, clutching cookies and water bottles, and made the twenty-five minute journey to the Mexican border, where everyone disembarked, went through immigration, had the luggage x-rayed, then waited for the bus to be scanned and inspected before re-boarding for the two-hour drive to the dock in Ensenada. After being greeted by Captain Bryden, the boat was on its way for the 20+ hour journey to Ensenada. The crossing wasn’t too rough, although there were a couple people who were not seen until arrival. Preventive measures are a good idea if at all prone to sea-sickness. During the full day at sea, various activities were scheduled, such as gear set-up, muster station practice, ship and cage orientation, and of course meals. Guests got to know each other, with the US, Finland, and Holland represented.
The five cages were lowered into the water shortly after our 8:30pm arrival at Ensenada. We hit the sack in anticipation of our assigned 8am cage dive—would there be sharks that early? When I wandered down to the galley area for pre-breakfast around 6:30am, one fully dressed diver was ready to go; unfortunately he had been ready since 6:00am and the two surface cages don’t open until 6:30am. The three cages that are lowered to 30 feet start at 8am and each rotation lasts 45 minutes. Everyone is guaranteed three rotations a day in a lowered cage with two other people; the rotations changed so that times and cages were different on each of the three days. Any unused spaces in a cage were available as well as any empty spaces in the surface cages. And yes, we saw two different sharks during the 8am rotation, a good omen.
The next three days consisted of managing meals around rotations, signing up for free spots in the cages, and watching the shark wrangling from the surface pulpit. The five divemasters, Luis, Armando, Ryan, Pedro, and Garrett took turns wrangling, helping divers in and out of the cages, and standing on the top of the cage, keeping it in position and the sharks out of the cage. One day I spent over two hours jumping from cage to cage until my toes went completely numb; I saw others shaking from the cold, but they couldn’t make themselves get out of the water! Along with up to 10 different sharks that first day, a very moss-covered turtle traveled through, hiding under the cages and turning his back to approaching sharks, and a curious sea lion zoomed over from the near-by island, hugging the boat when sharks were around, nibbling on the bait when they weren’t. A day equal to any of the two previous trips.
All those hours in 69 degree water makes a person hungry, and feed us the crew did! Chef Marco, along with two assistants, kept churning out one great meal after another. Pre-breakfast consisted of oatmeal, toast, fruit, juice, and coffee. Breakfast was made to order eggs and pancakes, along with more oatmeal, toast, breads, and cereal. Lunch might be pizza, hamburgers, or tuna or chicken sandwiches; delicious soups were always on the menu. Sit-down dinners varied, but always included a salad and dessert; the steak and roasted chicken meals were favorites, as well as the taco dinner on the top deck. Dietary requests were taken into consideration, but mine didn’t always turn out terribly palatable. Hostesses Nubia and Laurentina ably kept the food coming, including wrapping meals for divers in cages, as well as magically tidying cabins and changing towels and sheets. Many meals were served out on the dive deck. I heard more than one guest marvel at the perfect consistency of their eggs hours after they were originally cooked.
The second day started out promising with three to four different sharks and a small pod of dolphins swimming by. The second rotation my cage-mates and I voted to keep our cage at the surface as the starboard cage and the stern starboard surface cage have the best views of the shark feeding. The wrangler would toss a good size chunk of fish into the water and then try to jerk the fish away from the shark just before it went for the bait. From below, the sharks sometimes looked half-hearted in their attempts to feed, probably because they were overeating. Other times they would attack aggressively and manage to get the bait, after which there was much clapping on the deck in favor of the shark. My third rotation of the day resulted in no sharks at all, so I kept my mind off the cold by trying to blow bubble rings, with limited success.
After all the cages closed around 6pm, everyone showered and gathered for happy hours of snacks and purchased alcoholic drinks—soda was free—as laptops came out for picture sharing. The lounge was large enough to accommodate everyone, although a few people had to stand; the dining room was also popular for working on photos until shooed away for mealtimes. After dinner on the first night there was a talk about sharks, night two consisted of trying to identify the sharks we were seeing by name, plus a top deck showing of the movie “Jaws”, which was a hoot. The last night was more shark identification; our group saw the greatest number of different named sharks, not including un-named sharks, of the season. Our reward was a round of applause.
The third and last morning I awoke with some trepidation—would the sharks show up, or stay away? Rotation #1 started off OK with a couple of sharks and some tiny fish hiding in the surface cage. Shark feeding and breeching action was picking up on the surface. During rotation #2 in the starboard cage, kept at the surface, one of the bigger sharks didn’t turn sharply enough after missing the bait and got her teeth caught on our cage, about a foot from Bill’s face! Other divers had to quickly remove hands from cage bars as sharks would swing by within inches or even hit the cage accidentally. Rotation #3 we let our port cage go down to 30’ and got great shark action at depth. Back on the surface, bent-tail, beat-up looking Lucy was back for the third day and everyone rooted for her to get the last piece of bait being doled out, which she did.
All total, I spent a minimum of just over 2 hours in cages on the second day to over 3 ½ hours on days 1 and 3, nowhere close to the record. The only grumbling I heard was when divers appeared to be hogging the surface cages; at that point wait lists and time limits were enforced. They are talking about setting up a second wrangling pulpit on the port side.
So our first trip to Guadalupe in 2010 was supposed to be a “once in a lifetime trip”, but we’ll most likely go back for a fourth trip in the future—it’s that good!