Isla San Benedicto – Day 26…..

Dear F&F,
January 11, 2009

As I am writing, the full moon is rising, absolutely beautiful.

This morning there are no commercial boats, just us 2 sailboats, the generator started right up, purred like a kitten & mantas were visible near our boats & off Turtle Point – already it was a good day! Scott & I took an early scouting ride in the dinghy around the west side to see if going to the Boiler was do-able, but there were pretty big swells once we rounded the corner, so turned back. Since it looked like the mantas were here we were not too disappointed. We would like to get out there one more time before we move on to Isla Socorro.

Linda had given me a recipe for beer bread & as I am about to dig into my last store-bought loaf I decided to give it a go. She also gave me 4 packs of yeast, but I don\’t have tons of flour onboard so don\’t know how many loaves I can make. The beer bread recipe called for baking soda, salt, sugar, flour & beer. Butter the pan & top. No kneading or rising. All my flour I had pre-mixed 1/2 whole wheat & 1/2 white since I usually like to bake that way. For bread this is fine. I\’d stored it in the vacuum bags so thankfully no weevils or other evil creatures seen. My main trouble with baking is keeping a steady oven temperature. It is a royal pain that our oven gets too hot and when I turn it down about half the time the flame goes out altogether. So you have to reach into the hot oven the full length of your arm, trying not to get burned & re-light it. I usually curse until Scott comes & rescues me on this task. So I didn\’t have a lot of hope for the bread which did not seem to rise at all & looked raw, but we were eager to get in the water, so after 50 minutes cooking at a variety of temperatures ranging from 225 – 400 degrees (supposed to be 350) I just turned off the oven & left it in there.

Chuck & Linda were already snorkeling with 4 mantas when we got near them with our dinghy & all our dive gear. We hadn\’t really anchored off Turtle Point before, but with all the manta action we decided to give it a go. We could see that at least one was somewhat below the surface, so potentially done eating breakfast and ready to play. Scott entered first & by the time I swam to where he was, he was already filming a friendly manta. I hung back & then it swam towards me. This was an animal we\’d never identified before, but a real sweetheart. I swam alongside her, under her, stroked her rough belly (I\’ve worn holes in my gloves from manta belly rubs!). When I stopped, she stopped. If I swam away, she followed me. It was so amazing. We had wandered down to 70 feet deep & our air lasts a lot longer the more shallow we are. So I just swam shallower & led the play group to 35 feet so we could stretch out our air.

After I played a while, I took the camera from Scott to give him a turn. She played just as well with him & I got some beautiful footage. We have gone absolutely ga-ga about these girls. We have been told that almost all the friendlies are female & now know how to tell the difference. I named her \”Snuggle Bunny\”. She rivals \”Buttercup\” as the most interactive manta to date. And since she did not prefer Scott to me, I am absolutely smitten. If I was a child I would certainly be asking my parents: \”Can we keep it, can we keep it? Can we, can we? PLEASE!\” Instead we are grown up enough to just let the experience fully soak into our souls & are thrilled to have the video that we can replay for a lifetime. Once again, our air tank was the limiting factor. As we started to swim away toward our dinghy, a second manta came to keep our girl company. And to frost the cake, a turtle swam by. Oh my! It just does not get any better than this!!!

Linda radioed us afterwards: \”I bet that is the most BORING video in the whole world!\” Scott is curious, waiting for the punch line… \”You, playing with your dog on the lawn for an hour!\” We all laughed. She said they were snorkeling above us & watched the whole love fest below.

After lunch, accompanied by instant video replay on the big screen in our bedroom, we were eager to get back in the water. While we were suiting up I saw a commotion of birds on the surface a short distance in front of our boat. Looking with binoculars, we could see a wooden pallet that had become refuge to a school of bait fish & the birds were having a hay day. There were also bigger fish jumping & eating the small fish. We decided that would be a cool place for our second dive. As we approached in the dinghy we saw a shark fin. A few times. We get even more excited. We didn\’t want the pallet to float away from our anchored dinghy, so I drove right up to this food chain & Scott quickly clipped on our long painter (dinghy tie off line on the bow). He hung the video from one of our gear lines so he could grab it himself & we could roll in together. We reviewed our plan: Scott take the video. Cindy on shark lookout & stay very close to Scott. Both of us turned on our shark shields before entering the water. I am thinking to myself, \”Are we nuts? Choosing to enter the water with feeding sharks?\” But there were not tons of them. It was not in any way a \”feeding frenzy\”. And we were pretty sure these were silky sharks (6-7 feet long, all grey, classic shark shape), which are not known to be that brave with divers. There were no hammerheads.

The bait ball was quite a bit smaller by the time we got under it. Part of it had separated from the pallet & some fish had already been eaten. We saw jacks & yellow fin tuna feeding on the bait fish. No sharks at first. Then we saw 2 or 3 Silky sharks, but they kept their distance. They were not close enough (closest was 20 feet away, briefly) to feel the effects of our shark shields (works at 10-15 foot range). They just saw us as a bigger, unfamiliar predator so did not move in to feed while we were there. Just seeing the scenario from topside was very cool. Scott got some decent video.

We hadn\’t stayed under very long there, so surfaced & moved on out to our favorite 25 foot mound to see if anyone would come play. The water was murky (visibility 40-50 ft) & the some current. An all-black-back manta did a couple of fly-bys, not that close. We saw schooling needle fish (very shiny 18 inch long silver bait fish) and then schooling jacks. We saw another Silky shark in the distance.

We cruised by Linda & Chuck\’s boat on our way back & she had a tale to tell also. Linda went alone in their dinghy out to another bait ball who decided her dinghy was good refuge. Suddenly feeding yellow fin tuna started bashing into her dinghy as they continued eating. She also saw shark fins & was alternately terrified & fascinated. She put on her mask & looked over to see the action below then sat up straight in fear of getting her face bitten by a fish or shark. But the curiousity kept her there, alternately peering down & backing off. I think this is called \”horror / fascination syndrome\”. She went back to pick up Chuck & he enjoyed seeing the remaining action on the pallet as it had drifted past their boat. Later, they learned that either a fish or a shark had slightly punctured the inflatable tube on their dinghy. Chuck repaired this with some fast curing \”Scotch 5200\” that we had on board.

We were so happy to have some exciting stories to tell Terry at the 6 pm radio check in. He has been hanging on our tales, knowing them all well from his trips out here for a month or two at a time for the past 20 years. It is a shame it didn\’t work out for him to get here when we did, but he & Dawn hope to return here as soon as they can. Meanwhile in the Sea of Cortez, their water temperature is 64 degrees, air about the same, plus 35-40 knot winds. Hard to believe just 4 months ago when we were there, it was a sweltering 90+ air with 82 degree water. We are 400 miles south which is why it is tropical here. Our latitude is just south of Hawaii.

Every day is different. Today was certainly one that will stand out as one of the highlights of this trip.

Scott & Cindy