Isla San Benedicto – Days 20-23…..

Dear F&F,
January 5-8, 2009

We certainly are getting plenty of exercise & I think it\’s caught up with us a bit. We are really moving slow on this grey & rainy day & since there are no mantas visible we did not go diving. We picked up Linda & Chuck on the other sailboat, \”Jacaranda\” & went to see \”Nautilus Explorer\”. We had not been onboard that dive boat. We got good information from Buzz the Divemaster & Brad the Captain & enjoyed a tour of the boat.

I asked for & received a cube of butter from the galley girls. The chef that gave us bread, fruit & cookies on our first week here is not working this trip. That\’s fine. We are not starving by any stretch. For baking I find I am using more butter than anticipated.

So what did we do instead of diving? Breakfast: Hot tea, oatmeal with dates & pecans & brown sugar. Unload & defrost main refrigerator. Reload & take secondary fridge offline. This will save 40 amps a day. We have had such overcast skies we are not getting much solar power so having to run the generator more. In hindsight, I would have bought more apples & fewer onions… I must also be braver about not refrigerating the eggs. Boat neighbor Linda said she\’s kept them up to 1 month as long as they have NEVER been refrigerated.

Scott tore apart the shower pump. Really really really stinky! Diagnosis: motor shot. He scavenged & cleaned some parts. New one is already ordered & friend Mike is holding it for us in LA. We have been using our back up sump pump which is adequate, but does cause some leakage into the bilge. Cleaned sumps on both port & starboard. Cleaned starboard bilge. Port is dry.

I read my book, autobiography of Ellen MacArthur, \”Taking On the World\”. Scott is learning about the video editing from tutorial DVDs. I would never have the patience for it, but I love his results.

Another \”retail\” boat came in for a few dives m/v \”Sea Escape\” apparently from La Paz. We didn\’t talk to them. They left we presume to dive a the site called the Boiler & then returned to anchor here for the night. We expect \”Solmar V\” again any time. The neighborhood is crowded. We chatted with Terry at the designated 6:00 pm radio date hour. He got his new hard drive so had many computer questions for Scott. Talked on VHF to Linda & Chuck. We are all eager for this weather front to pass so we can get back to diving with the mantas.

We would like to have 4-5 more good manta diving days then will head over to Isla Socorro.
January 7
Generator keeps giving \”Coolant Failure\” warning. This problem was a blessing in disguise. On repairing the coolant hose that had melted, Scott discovered a very badly cracked, worn out ready to break at any minute fan belt. That would have been potentially more serious & created additional difficult repairs. We have spares of just about everything. The space is insanely small & awkward to work in, especially for Scott\’s tall self. In sympathy for his wounded ribs, I offered to try to do it & just have him talk me through it, but he bravely carried on with me running back & forth for tools. We had a good post-repair run. Then this evening it \”hiccupped\” again with a coolant warning/auto shut down. Scott re-siphoned the coolant to make sure there was smooth flow & it has now been happily running one hour. We are watching it closely & checking everything. The generator has only been used 350 hours which is very low use for diesel, but who knows how old the unit was sitting on the shelf in Europe before we purchased it. Plus we know rubber parts, like belts, don\’t like heat & because it is such a small space, not well ventilated despite our adding fans, removing sound insulation cover etc. We must have the generator to run the scuba compressor. I am always impressed at how much Scott has taught himself & is able to do. It gives me a lot of confidence to be out here in the back of beyond since he knows how to fix things.

He had less yelping & more just wincing during the night as he changed positions & when we awoke to mantas swimming near the boats there was no stopping him from going for a dive. We asked Chuck to drive our dinghy & follow us as we snorkel & tried to determine if the mantas were still feeding or ready to play. Scott was pretty sure he saw \”Buttercup\”, so he descended. I stayed on the surface & observed to see if it looked like the manta was interested. Seemed that she was still feeding & not interested in interacting yet, so Scott surfaced. We were all \”dressed up\” & eager to play with mantas so dropped Chuck off at his boat & went back out to our 25 foot mound where we\’ve had the most encounters.

The visibility was pretty low, maybe 45 feet but a good current was flowing which often brings more sea life activity in general. We just hung around the mound waiting and watching. I swam to visit my lobsters and my zebra fish. I turn around & see Scott videotaping \”Buttercup\”. Yeah!!! She is her usual playful self, swimming circles around Scott. I swam near her & got in 1 belly rub but the truth is she is Scott\’s manta. I took the camera away from him to let him go play with his girl. (We have confirmed that she is a girl by the way. Dr Bob Rubin, of SRJC and his research assistant Karey has been in close email touch with us & given us more info. She has never been here but very familiar with the animals here & eager to see Scott\’s photos & video.) \”Buttercup\” clearly prefers Scott & we have heard that they will often choose 1 diver over another & connect & repeat encounters with 1 person. I don\’t know why MY first Magic Manta never returned, but our most frequent repeat manta is \”Buttercup\”. I have resigned myself to watching Scott with his new best friend & doing my best to capture it on film. She swayed with us for 45 minutes, limited by our running low on air. She swam right beneath us throughout our safety stop. We were so jazzed. Scott of course instantly bursts into his new theme song \”Buttercup\” which happens to be hilariously perfect.

We couldn\’t refill tanks & chow lunch fast enough. We were so enthused we decided to invite Linda for the 2nd dive. Chuck gets cold easily & she is more of the fish in their family. We saw some mantas between our 2 boats on the surface during our break. We just imagined \”Buttercup\” eagerly awaiting Scott\’s return. Linda snorkeled a bit with one near her boat, but it was chowing lunch, not in play mode. We head out to the playground (25 foot mound). It is such a big ocean & only being about to see 40 or so feet in any direction we need to have somewhere to base out of. We know the mantas cruise around there, so that is why we keep going. We don\’t know if they hear our dinghy or our bubbles once we descend, but they do seem to know we are there. The current was still strong & the visibility low. A different manta came to play fairly soon. An all-black-back one and wouldn\’t you know it…it was another Video Vixen! Completely ignored Linda & I, just swimming circles around Scott. Linda stayed near Scott in hopes of being near & being about to touch it, which she did. I hung back, keeping an eye on the mound where our anchor is & seeing how quickly we are being blown away from it by the current. It vanishes from my sight as we drift more than 50 feet. I know it is upstream of the current so am slowly kicking back toward it, but also wanting to stay with Scott & Linda. I give up the mound to stay with Scott. Linda is not kicking against the current as a 2nd manta enters the scene & chasing the first in play. Soon the 2 zoom off, but we are now quite far from our mound. Scott gestured to me: where is Linda? We had lost sight of her as she did us. Our rule is to surface in 1 minute after losing visual contact of each other. We had told her this & reviewed all rules with Linda on her first dive with us (over a week ago…) but neglected to review the rules. The reason for this rule is you have no way to know which direction your buddy is. And you can waste precious air searching below. On the surface, it is easy to spot each other & reconnect. Plus on the surface everyone has air to breath & you can know quickly that all are ok. By the way, only when Scott & I have take a 3rd party have we had to use this 1 minute surface rule. I NEVER LET HIM OUT OF MY SIGHT, EVER. Since he is doing photography or video most of the time, I know he is NOT watching me. So I watch him like a hawk & we have never gotten separated underwater, due to my vigilence. Scott & I swam back against the current to our mound & surfaced slowly holding the anchor line so as not to get blown away by the current again.

Chuck was just resting in their dinghy (tied up to ours). We asked if he saw Linda. He said no. He had not really been on lookout, not that we had asked him to or needed him to. Chuck cast off & starts motoring around the area down current of our dinghy searching for her bubbles & quickly finds them. She has stopped on a different mound. Later she said she was afraid to surface that quickly. It was our mistake for not reviewing again the \”keep in visual contact\” rule, the \”surface after 1 minute\” rule, etc. She had only done that 1 dive with us, prior to that it had been 10 years. And when you are first taught they do emphasize that you must do a safety stop to avoid \”the bends\”. As we were never deep that wasn\’t a concern. We blamed ourselves & realize the tremendous responsibility when we take someone else diving. Chuck is now trying to bang on his anchor to get her attention to surface. She eventually gets the message, does a champion job of swimming up current toward our dinghy. She makes visual with Scott on the surface & since he sees she is fine, he motions her to hang on our anchor line & do her 3 minute safety stop at 15 feet.

No harm, no foul. She was apologetic that she forgot the 1 minute rule. She got disoriented. She thought if she just sat on some mound some where we would come & find her. Scott & I plopped back down since we had plenty of air & just blew bubbles for 25 minutes. The exciting manta interaction was over for the afternoon.

We are starting to try to figure when to sail over to Isla Socorro. We have heard there are more potential whales, more sharks & fewer friendly mantas. We will have to check in with the Mexican Navy there.

We got a very nice email back from the manager of \”Solmar V\” telling us not to worry about paying for the diesel, he said he was happy they could help us. That was very nice. That was the boat that also treated us to fantastic dinner. They were here yesterday morning & Scott gave Jeronimo a DVD of some of his manta photos. He was thrilled. We haven\’t had a chance to see him again since he\’s looked at them, but will no doubt catch up to them either here or Isla Socorro. I am about ready for one of these boats to take our trash.

Scott & Cindy