|The Great Whites of Guadalupe||
|September 2010 on board the Nautilus Explorer|
Great white sharks have really big teeth, as evidenced by Bill’s picture of Grace, a 20-footer, pressing her nose against his fish-eye lens port!
The Ramada Inn near the San Diego airport was the official beginning of our 5 nights, 3 days of diving trip, where the Nautilus Explorer had a suite reserved for luggage. We walked around for a couple hours, had an early dinner and then waited around the Ramada for the bus that was bringing the previous week’s guests back and would take us to Ensenada, Mexico to board the boat. The bus and divemaster Jessie arrived around 6:30, and by 7:30pm our international group from the US, Canada, France, Holland, Spain, and Mexico was on its way to the Mexican border; once through immigration and customs it took about two hours to arrive at the dock. We boarded the boat, had a short briefing, a snack, and we hit the sack as the boat departed for Guadalupe, about 20 hours away. The seas weren’t that rough, but due to the direction we were traveling there was a side to side motion that made many people queasy or sick. We spent the night and most of the next day traveling, arriving at Guadalupe around 7pm.
Guadalupe is a big mountain in the middle of nowhere. As the weather comes through, the mountain splits the clouds. We could often see clouds rolling over the mountain’s edges at either end, but where the boat sat on the lee side it was calm and sunny. The Nautilus Explorer parked not too far off shore and stayed there the entire three days, where we could hear sea lions barking on the shore.
Early the first morning of diving, a pre-breakfast was offered around 7am while the crew started putting the 4 cages in the water. Cold cereal, juice, hot oatmeal, toast, muffins, and fruit were all on a large buffet area. We had our major dive briefing and then the fun began. The Nautilus has a surface cage, a cage accessible from the surface that goes down to 15 feet, and two cages that are lowered to 40’ via winches. These cages were lowered and raised about every 30 minutes; any longer would have been too cold. Since there were 25 of us on board, certified divers were scheduled for 3 rotations in the 40’ cages a day; any open spots were available to anyone ready to jump in the cage at the last minute. These cages were active from 8am to 5pm and the other two cages were available from 6:30am to 6pm. The divemasters plus some of the other crewmembers put in long days, as one was always down with each 40’cage. Non-certified divers were welcome to use the surface and 15’ cages. I managed to do 5 rotations on days 2 and 3. The water was 66 degrees, so it got nippy after a while, especially if no sharks appeared, which luckily didn’t happen often.
The sharks were wonderful! The first day we had 12 different sharks at various times; I could see 5 different ones at the same time. They ranged from 15’ to at least 20’ and when the 20 footers appear, the energy in the water changes. They circled and circled us and it never got boring. We only had a few rotations where no sharks showed; we were told that on some trips they saw sharks on only two rotations. There were also 5 shark breaches the first day, which of course I missed, but I did see one of them from under water. Standing on the top of the cage was allowed when deemed safe, but I never did, as most of the action was level with, or a little below, the cages.
Around 9am the made-to-order hot breakfast was served, lunch was at 1:00, and supper at 7pm. The food was very good to excellent. If our rotation was during a meal, it would be put aside for us. Scrumptious snacks were always available. There was no problem accommodating my tree nut allergy. Each evening there was a short presentation. At the end of the trip, pictures that the guests were willing to share were put on CDs for everyone to take home.
Normally when a boat advertises a hot tub, I don’t bother with it, but the Nautilus’ hot tub was 102 degrees and after spending an hour in cold water, it was the most popular place on the boat! Hostesses Silvia and Ashley were frequently checking with the hot tub people to see if they needed anything, and one of them was always waiting with hot drinks and snacks when each rotation surfaced. In fact, the entire crew was top-notch—one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
The Nautilus is a roomy boat. It has a large dining room and a separate salon. There are 4 upscale cabins on the hot tub deck, and the rest are down below. Most of the cabins have side by side beds with plenty of storage beneath them, and the showers are separate from the commodes. The sundeck is one level up from the hot tub deck. The dive deck is spacious and has a very hot shower. Packing for this trip was easy, since we didn’t need BCs, regulators, fins, or lights. Air is surface supplied, weights are on a suspenders-type arrangement, and no fins are necessary in a cage.
At 5pm on the third day, all cages were pulled and we headed back to Ensenada, arriving the next morning. A bus was promptly waiting to take us to the border. We had to drag all our luggage through customs, then re-board the bus on the U.S. side. The bus stopped at the airport for those catching red-eye flights home, then at the Ramada Inn.
Would I do it again? Oh yeah.