Isla San Benedicto – Day 28, final dives here…..

Dear F&F,
January 13, 2009

I had one of my best night\’s sleep in a long long time. I guess the excitement & exercise of the day wore me out enough to shut my brain off. Very nice. We were awake by 6 am, but it\’s pretty dark still at that hour so we lingered in bed, resting until 6:45. Chuck is the \”Amigo Net\” (Cruiser\’s radio group) Controller on Tuesday mornings, so we turned on the Single Side Band to listen. After a year in Mexico, I am starting to recognize a lot of the boat names that check into the net. The net is somewhat a safety device, but mostly a social group and a way for people to contact each other, hear where friends are. Our main purpose for listening is to hear the weather report given by Don Anderson, transmitting from his house in Oxnard, California. He is a 70+ year old ex-pat British curmudgeon, but something of an institution for his years of service, broadcasting his weather forecasts to cruisers. Not just Mexico, he covers a wide range including Central America & the Pacific crossing. Scott always downloads weather faxes directly from NOAA himself, but Don is another source of information. We have been lucky that except for a couple of rainy & gusty days, our weather here has been very good.

So good in fact, that after the net we decided to give \”The Boiler\” another go. Chuck & Linda needed to patch the leak on their dinghy from the day before encounter during the fish/shark feeding mayhem. They stayed around the big boats while we headed out. I had been a bit concerned that \”Nautilus Explorer\” might have be out there with their group since they are due to return on a new trip today. But we got lucky & had the place to ourselves. With the handy dandy GPS in the dinghy, finding the waypoint was easy. We geared up & rolled in, eager to see if \”Black Beauty\” would show up to play like yesterday. She was there right away, but did not stay long. Scott handed me the video as we descended the anchor line, then he went to go secure the anchor & inflate our lift bag just enough to float the 10 feet of chain off the reef.

I felt something wasn\’t right as I tried to swim. I was sinking fast, down to 75 feet despite kicking & trying to inflate my BC. One of the wonderful things about diving is feeling weightless in the water, despite how awkward & heavy the gear feels out of the water. I felt like I weighed 1000 lbs. I did not seem able to regulate my buoyancy despite pushing the inflate button. I could hear it working but I could not swim shallower. I managed to maneuver to the rocky plateau & began to climb up with my hands. Like a rock climber. This is not normal diving behavior & when Scott glanced at me he saw me struggling. I used our crude sign language to spell out \”too heavy\”. He checked my weight belt & concluded that I had mistakenly put on one of his. I knew that was not the case, as I carefully check the gear as we load the dinghy. Plus his strap would have been way too long on me & I would have noticed immediately. It was my weight belt alright. The problem had to be with my BC (buoyancy compensator). He checked me out & shrugged as it appeared to be inflating. Since I wasn\’t in any danger, we continued the dive. With me pulling myself around the reef hand over hand. My fins seemed of little use & it was not pleasant at all. After circling the site once, I came up with the brilliant idea of ditching my weight belt by the anchor. Oops, now a little too light & going up without control. Manage to swim down & disassemble my weight belt, taking just 2 lbs in each pocket of my BC & leaving the belt & the remaining 2 lbs with the anchor. Seems like a small adjustment but it made all the difference in my ability to swim normally & relax for the rest of the dive.

We had nice close encounters with \”Black Beauty\” with a second manta doing cameo appearances. The visibility was less than yesterday, so they quickly disappeared if they swam too far from us. I mostly hung by the reef & let Scott shoot video without a goofy diver in the film.

We figured out during our surface interval that the primary control that inflates & dumps air from my BC was loose at the jacket attachment. Thus even though it was inflating, it was not holding air properly. A quick tighten of the hose & I was back in business. What a relief! As we enjoyed our pb&j sandwich with Gatorade, I saw a whale near the island. Scott saw it also & we think it was a mother with baby. The dinghy was still anchored, so we didn\’t get to drive closer. But it is nice to see them starting to be in this area.

We stayed up about 45 minutes, then rolled in to be greeted by \”Black Beauty\” with another black backed manta we had seen before. Scott calls her \”Rosie\” and thinks she is a manta that Terry has described to us; he gave her this name. Do you know the Barry Manilow song Copacabana? There are words that go something like: \”Lola, she was a show girl….\” Well, Rosie is a manta show girl – swirling, swooping, swimming up close to Scott for lots of great video footage. It seems that she took over the interaction & \”Black Beauty\” was 2nd in the pecking order. What was great for me was to have \”a manta of my own\” while Scott was shooting Rosie\’s close ups, I played with \”Black Beauty\”. Then out of the distant blue, we begin to see 2 other mantas swim near to join the party! The 2 newcomers were the type with white triangles (chevrons) on their shoulders & did not come too close. Near the end of our dive, I was able to swim eye to eye with one of the new ones. It was practically Manta Mayhem with 4 swimming every which way, you hardly knew where to look. Fabulous.

I am absolutely tuckered out. Each dive was an hour long and especially the rock climbing dive did me in. After unpacking the dinghy, rinsing the gear, having a shower & snack I stretched out on our bed. But instead of napping, I read out loud to Scott from the autobiography I\’ve been reading by Ellen MacArthur, \”Taking on the World\”. (Ellen at 5 foot 3 inches tall, sailed solo single handed around the world in the Vendee Globe race – she took second). It is completely enthralling & I felt the adrenaline flowing again, just lying there reading about all her sailing exploits. If you ever think we are crazy for doing what we do, you should read her book. Solo racing in the Atlantic & eventually around the world. Incredible! Quite an inspiration. No worries, we will not be following suit. We are interested in warm water, comfy sailing. No Southern Ocean for us, thank you very much.

Since we\’ve had 3 spectacular days of mantas in a row, we\’ve decided to set sail for Isla Socorro tomorrow. The weather is favorable & it is time to move along. As far as we are concerned, San Benedicto is the shining star of Mexico. Hopefully, exploring Isla Socorro will bring unexpected discoveries as well.

Scott & Cindy