We did it! We are back from our biggest offshore sailing and diving trip. We sailed 220 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to the Revillagigedos, a volcanic group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We spent 18 days at Isla San Benedicto and went scuba diving with giant pacific manta rays and also sharks.
I feel deeply satisfied we pulled off this advanced dream trip. I also feel filled to the brim with love for my husband, who gave me so much support during this journey. It was difficult at times. Sometimes I didn’t handle stress very well. The sharks frightened me at first. Sharing close quarters with family for three weeks was sometimes tense. I was shaken by a couple close calls where I felt our safety was at risk. But through it all, Brian loved me, encouraged me and helped me enjoy this amazing trip. Our relationship was strengthened by this experience, which I think is a good sign for our plans to cross the Pacific Ocean next spring to the Marquesas.
Brian and I will also forever love the giant manta rays which thrive at Isla San Benedicto. We swooned over these creatures so much we made up songs about them. You really do lose your mind a little being at remote islands for so long. We would take Christmas carols about “Santa” and make up a “Manta” version. “Manta, baby…”, “Here comes manta clause…”, etc. I’ll never forget the special times diving with the manta rays and how they would swoop gracefully around us, eyeing us curiously and coming close.
Few private boats venture to these islands. During our stay at Isla Benedicto we only saw two other private boats. We saw about a half dozen large liveaboard dive boats, and this is said to be one of the top ten diving sites in the world. It was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to go back.
What an intense trip. My comfort limits were stretched in all directions. I watched Magic ride bigger waves than ever before and went scuba diving with aggressive sharks for the first time. We lived on the boat for three weeks with Brian’s mom Sue, and her husband, Tim. We never went ashore on the island, so for the entire 22 day trip our feet never touched land.
It was the most rewarding trip ever.
We left Cabo full of Costco provisions and headed south during the tail end of a wind event. We hoped to have about 10-15 knots for sailing. The wind had been stronger during the previous days, so we got to ride some pretty big waves in the Pacific on the way south to the islands. Our catamaran coasted comfortably and only a couple items flew off the shelves.
A small warbler visited Magic to rest and get a drink of water on the way to the islands. She was very friendly, hopped on our legs as if we were a piece of furniture and explored both hulls of the boat. She certainly made herself at home, then mysteriously disappeared sometime after the sun went down.
After a two day passage we arrived at the beautifully stark volcanic island. Tall cliffs made of jumbled gray and brown rocks formed the north side. There was no sand in sight. Pale green vegetation blanketed the steep upper slopes of the island, which is an active volcano. Its last eruption was 50 years ago, and we regularly found little bits of pumice floating in the water nearby.
We planned to anchor in a cove at the south end of the island, and thankfully there was a tiny, grey sand beach there and good holding for Magic. The beautifully curved volcanic cone rose steeply behind Magic and became a glorious backdrop during sunrise and sunset when pale pink light would paint its rippled slopes. Dark brown fingers of igneous rock reached out from the base of the cone at the south end of the anchorage. This was the wildest and most beautiful place we had ever taken our boat.
The next morning a huge Pacific Manta Ray glided by close to Magic to welcome us to the island. I impulsively jumped in the warm water with my snorkel and mask to meet this wonderful creature I’ve heard so much about. Indeed, the black and white ray was friendly and curious. It made a close pass and my heart somersaulted. It flapped beautifully in the water right past me and kept on going.
Once the manta was gone I looked around and saw a six foot long shark right below me, way too close to my bare feet and I was really not ok with that. I swam about 20 feet back to Magic, swiftly but trying not to splash, my body pulsing with adrenaline.
Brian got our reef fish identification book and we looked at some photos. We hopped in the water to peer at the shark once more. We identified it as a Silky Shark, which the book said was typically wary but considered dangerous. Hmmmm. We would grow to accept this shark as our “pet Silky” over the coming weeks, because most days it could be seen circling our boat. After snorkeling with it a couple times I was satisfied it seemed sufficiently wary, although it was always on my mind when I thought about jumping into the water to cool off.
We saw sharks on nearly every dive, usually White Tip Reef Sharks or Silky Sharks. They were usually mellow and wary, but not always. We aborted one of our dives when three Silky Sharks began showing too much interest in us. They swam around nearby for a few minutes and then one of them circled us a couple times, coming between Brian and I. Brian swam over to me and smacked the circling shark on the tail with his underwater camera, but that is a story for another day.
Our fantastic memories of diving with Giant Pacific Manta Rays will always win out over the memories of aggressive sharks. The rays were the most interesting, curious and beautiful marine animals I have ever met. We’re excited to return next year and frolic with them again.
I will write more soon. It takes time to reflect on a trip like this, to make meaning of all the wonderful and difficult events, and to process all the lessons we learned.
Next Article: Encounters with Giant Manta Rays