Dear F&F,
December 27, 2008

I feel like we are on a spiritual retreat, out here communing with the mantas. We have had so many wondrous experiences in a row. We do not take them for granted & are in complete awe with each creature that ventures near us. We just had another 45 minute highlight encounter. Chuck & Linda tied their dinghy up to ours where we anchored to dive & they snorkeled above us. After we came up & there were just the snorkelers, the same manta that played with us deeper, came up shallow to interact with them. I got back in the water & snorkeled with them while Scott followed us with the 2 dinghies.

Words cannot express the feelings of love & honor that we feel towards these beautiful beasts. Today’s playmate was mouth to tail about 6-7 feet long, wing to wing 12 feet wide & we guess the weight is 1200 to 1500 pounds. And yet I feel so safe swimming under, beside, or over them. They really seem to like eye contact. The eyes are a blue grey to cobalt blue. They have an eyelid of sorts. It seems the eye rotates back under a protective flap. Scott has so much video footage that he is now switching to his still camera. He is loving every minute of such cooperative underwater subjects. Fish almost never pose like this! Today’s manta just circled & circled & circled us, so close, eyeball to eyeball. Absolutely no fear.

Had lunch, pumped up the tanks & are ready to jump back in for the afternoon’s possibilities.

Afternoon Report
Scott decided it was time to take the still camera in. He has plenty of great video footage to work with. He hasn’t had much opportunity to use this digital camera & underwater housing up until now. Still photography is his main passion, but more challenging than shooting video. Video can be used in low light without strobes. Most of the time the still camera requires flash when underwater. When using the wide angle lens Scott attaches two hinged arms that each holds a strobe. When extended out fully the rig is 6 feet wide. That is a lot to drag around while swimming underwater. But Scott handles it with expertise.

As he was assembling his camera & housing he was sending out wishes to the underwater powers that be to have another friendly manta appear. He was not disappointed. I swam to secure the anchor while Scott started taking photos the minute we got down to our favorite 25 foot pinnacle. It was a different animal than the morning manta. Each has distinct markings. It was another very cooperative photography subject. I mostly stayed behind Scott so my bubbles wouldn’t mess up his pictures. The manta swam circles around Scott giving him 120 opportunities to take breath taking shots. Back in the day when he used film, he got only 36 shots per roll, one roll per dive. Now the limitation is not running out of film, but running low on air. A picture speaks a thousand words, so I will sign off so you may go to the photo gallery and enjoy Scott’s artwork. THESE PHOTOS WILL BE POSTED WHEN WE GET INTERNET ACCESS IN FEBRUARY, 2009.

Scott & Cindy

Dear F&F,
December 26, 2008

It’s just past noon & we’ve already had another amazing day. Scott spotted mantas on the surface just inshore of our boat at sunrise. We had a quick cup of tea & hopped in off “Beach House” with tanks. Chuck & Linda snorkeled & got to see 3 manta rays & 1 turtle. They were so excited & we were happy for them. We only saw 1 manta on scuba. The visibility was pretty low, still murky from past 2 days of rain & runoff.

After breakfast we put the dive gear in the dinghy & went out to our 25 foot mound. It is so easy to find now that we have it marked on the GPS of our depth sounder. We put on all the gear, did our backroll and along comes an all black (back) manta. All the mantas are gorgeous, but the all black ones look sleek, stealthy & spectacular. I grabbed the video camera from Scott so he could secure the anchor & while I took some footage. The current wasn’t strong so I could swim along with the manta while filming. I give Scott tremendous credit for being our resident photographer, because I am not good at this kind of multi-tasking and he is. Framing the manta in the video screen, trying not to hold the camera steady while swimming, watching my depth, avoid swimming head first into a rock, trying to keep an eye on where Scott is. After he had secured the anchor, he came to take the camera duty away from me, but I encouraged him to go ahead & play with Mr. Manta while I continued filming. He had a great time: petting belly, going for a ride. Even grabbed hold of a remora! Chuck & Linda got to watch from the surface while snorkeling. That manta went away & a 2nd one came & played with Scott a long time. Scott had the camera in his hands then so I’m sure we got some super close ups of its eye, mouth, etc. That one played with us a good 20 minutes. It was nice that they showed up early in the dive, while we had plenty of air. And they stayed pretty shallow the whole time, mostly 30-50 feet.

After the 2nd manta swam away I went up to the top of our 25 ft mound to say hello to the lobsters. I saw 5 today. They are so cute & silly looking. We are getting very familiar with all the critters on that particular reef.

Finally it was time to float the anchor up. Cool system Terry taught us: inflate a float bag clipped to the chain & it helps raise the anchor so you don’t have to muscle it up. We just free drift with the current, holding onto the dinghy line 15 feet down for our safety stop. And here comes the last manta back again. Scott kept a hold of the dinghy while I went to give it more belly rubs & swim eye to eye with him. It is such a privilege. A wild animal, so trusting, so willing to interact with us. Amazing. We are absolutely in awe every time.

So that was just our morning! It’s funny, on the one hand we want to rush right back out & do it again. On the other hand we feel so completely fulfilled that we don’t want to go again. Just savor this experience. We are eager to look at the video footage. So we may or may not go again. We get a bit lazy about it in the afternoon. And there is always tomorrow.

If we don’t dive again today, Scott will probably work on editing this video so we can share it with Chuck & Linda. He thinks he got some shots of them on the surface with the manta swimming below. I am sure they will be very excited to see this.

It is such a luxury to stay here as long as we want. Well until the end of our permit January 31 anyway. It is so much better than those 10 day live aboard dive vacations we used to do. So much more relaxing & I appreciate being on our own & not having to dive in a group. I am sure the animal behavior is different with just the two of us than with 20 divers in the water.

Afternoon Report
It was sunny & beautiful this afternoon so I nudged Scott into a 3rd dive. The early dive had been short & shallow & we’d had plenty of surface intervals between them all, so out we went. To the same spot we had great manta encounters on the pre-lunch dive. Struck it lucky again! Before we even got the anchor secured a giant black velvet came swimming to us. I took over anchor duty to let Scott get to filming right away. We had 20 minutes of circling, swooning, swimming & belly rubs. Neither of us tried to go for a ride. We just enjoyed sharing its habitat & being up close. Then Manta #2 swims into view. So great to see 2 together. The 2nd one was also all black (on top, they all have some white on their bellies with various patches of black that are unique & enable you to ID them). The 1st one led the parade with the 2nd one playing chase. It was incredible to watch them swirl & swoop & each come so close to them we could easily touch them many times. Then they go swimming off into the blue & we float up the anchor & hang out at 15 feet for our safety stop. And wouldn’t ya know it but #1 comes circling under us again! Oh the limitation of these tanks. Perhaps if we stay long enough we will grow gills!

Tired, but exhilarated we do our end of the day routine: haul the gear from the dinghy onboard the big boat. Rinse all gear in fresh water bin. Hang up gear to drip dry. Shower. And today make a salad then head over to our neighbors for the evening.

The wind & waves are in the best possible direction so it was a very good time to be on the monohull. I did not suffer from motion sickness, and discovered we knew mutual boat friends from “Esmeralda” and “Beatrix”. We had the nightly radio chat with Terry & Dawn (of sailing trimaran Manta) who are cheering us on while we enjoy “their” mantas. Another great day at the island.

Scott & Cindy

Dear F&F,
December 25, 2008

Day 9 – San Benedicto Island

Scott and Linda went out snorkeling this morning & they got to see 2 big turtles. She was very excited.

Scott & I did only 1 dive today. No mantas. No sharks. But lots of colorful fish & some lobsters & an eel, so always lovely to blow bubbles. It rained in the afternoon & the skies were dark.

We caught enough rain in our dive gear rinse bin to wash the gear in rainwater – cool. The sky looks “wintry” but it is 77 degrees. I am so happy with the warm, but not too hot, weather. It suits me just fine. The prediction is for some stronger winds tomorrow & bigger seas. So it may get less comfy here in the anchorage.

Lunchtime: I found some hot dogs lurking in the fridge, maybe I opened the package a week ago. A few small white dots washed off easily. Certainly Mexican turkey hot dogs have gobs of preservatives so not too worried about food poisoning…

The afternoon project was helping Scott tweak the watermaker. The Spectra Newport 1000 is supposed to desalinate 40 gallons an hour. We got the big one so we wouldn’t have to run the generator a long time to make a good quantity of water. But since he changed the vane pump, the output went down to 20 gallons an hour. No bueno. Kyle provided technical support by email, so Scott knew the potential remedy. He gave me a list of tools he would need & I went to our “garage” to fetch them:

3 Spectra wrenches (cleverly labeled by husband so wife can readily identify them)
1 crescent wrench (clever wife asks clarifying question: what size? Answer: 6)
Long phillips head screwdriver
90 degree hose tool
Hose clamp tool
Bucket
Yellow ratcheting phillips screwdriver

I tell you, I feel like I win a prize every time I come out of that garage with all the requested items. Knowing which drawers they are in, recognizing the correct item and delivering them to Scott in a timely fashion are just a few of my talents that makes him appreciate me as his boat wife.
After the adjustment on a difficult to get to screw, we test the unit & have full output. Another successful repair by the roving Spectra Watermaker technician!

Later on, I put back on my chef hat. From the pantry, I grab the 5th (out of 6) jar of “Cuban Mojito Sauce” from Trader Joes to saut with chicken & serve over pasta. I am sad not to have any Christmas CDs onboard & we can’t get the Sirius radio to play well out here. Scott makes a playlist from our master music hard drive and after discovering the technical difficulty preventing us from hearing anything last night (mute button on the computer), we have a great time listening to Josh Groban, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra and many other wonderful voices belting out Christmas music. Propagation for connecting to ham radio email after dark is lousy. Scott indulges me to connect via satellite phone. (We have a limited number of pre-paid minutes and try to save them for retrieving large weather files and potential emergencies.) Correspondence to and from friends and family make it a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah as well.

Scott & Cindy