Downey Duck

Swimming with Sailfish

We flew to Cancun where we met Andy Murch of Big Fish Expeditions. We stayed at Sotavento Hotel where we were picked up each morning by SoloBuceo dive company at the dock behind the hotel. The plan was to motor out 1 hours, past Isla Mujares, then start watching for frigate birds. The birds look for the sardine baitballs that the sailfish drive to the surface. Once we spotted the frigates clustered close to the waves, the boat put us close to the action and we slid into the water. Most of the time, the baitball and the sailfish were moving quickly, so we would try and keep up. Eventually the baitball got whittled down to the point that the sailfish could keep them encompassed—that’s when we started taking photos. The remaining sardines tried to use us as shields from both the birds and the sailfish. The birds were no problem, but the sailfish would swim back and forth, and then dart between us, sometimes getting so close that I’d curl up in a fetal position and yelp into my snorkel. It seemed like the sailfish would actually look into my eyes as they zoomed by.

The plan was to do this for four days. The first day we spent eight hours bouncing around on the water, managing to snorkel with the sailfish a total of 15 minutes. Day number two was the bonanza day—more than three hours of prime sailfish encounters. The third day was a bust; there were no frigate birds because the seas were too rough for them to spot the fish and we gave up after five hours. The last day the weather was even worse, so we went snorkeling in the mangroves around Cancun instead.  Our captain must have thought we were nuts when Andy requested some dead chickens to use as crocodile bait. There are crocodiles in the mangroves, but not where we were, so all we lured were a few crabs. The day was still enjoyable, though, and the sandwiches, beer and pop on the boat were awesome.

Snorkeling with sailfish is a high-octane activity if the weather cooperates; I’m glad we had the experience.