Flew to Phoenix and took a van with other divers to Rocky Point in MX to board the Rocio Del Mar. It’s a 4 hr drive with interesting scenery for those that visit deserts rarely. They make a stop at the ½ way point to stretch, bathroom break, etc. The van ride is $125 both ways and easy to make work. Was nice to fly in/out of PHX rather than deal with international airport arrangements.
I have been on the Rocio Del Mar before and knew what to expect. Nice sized rooms for a live aboard, plenty of storage in the room for luggage. Good food, good guides, nice boat layout. You dive in two groups of 7 and one of 6, taking turns on which group goes first, second, third. It appears they matched up the groups based on diving experience and photo equipment and it seemed to work well. You get to know you group, how they dive, how to fit in and make it work. You can stay near the guide or travel elsewhere with your buddy. The guides are good at finding critters so its not a bad idea to keep them in sight. They let you know when you find something interesting.
For those used to diving the Caribbean, it’s a wonderful change. The population density of small creatures is amazing as was the life on the rocks. The Caribbean seems empty in comparison. While no reefs, there is plenty of coral and life clinging/growing on the rocks. When wanting to find a spot to place a finger or get a grip on a rock to steady for a photo, there was usually no place ‘dead’ around to use. And when moving to place a finger, 2-3 hidden little fish would dart away from your finger causing a bit of a startle. Structures and plants were worth exploring as there was macro life on many of them. Overall, less visibility but more food in the water.
The population density led to ‘photobombing’ quite often as well. It seems that lizard triplefin goby, redhead goby and bluebanded goby love to have their picture taken. If you took more than two images of something to get the shot you wanted, a goby would often show up in the later pictures. Same with browncheek blenny. They seems to pop out of a hole to see if they could get in a photo too. One in the group was photo’ing a nice nudibranch and a bluebanded goby came and laid down on the nudi, taking a ride and photobombing. I was working on a nice flatworm and had a similar event.
Did some work on a Christmas tree worm and had a goby swim into the middle of the worm and a blenny join the photo on each side of the worm. Its hard to get a steady photo when laughing at the crazy antics of the photobombers.
Tried some pics of a very small nudi and after a couple of photos, the coral seemed to come to life. It was a tiny crab, crawling across the photo. Then a redhead blenny jumped in the picture too. I had to pick who to have in focus as I could not get them all in the same plane. Here is an example:
The main draw for me was diving with sea lions in warm water and they did not disappoint. Plenty of times when they would join the group and do their twisting gymnastics around divers. One grabbed the dive guides fin and started a game of tag.
I tried twisting and spinning to try and generate interest and it worked great! They doubled their speed and played tag with me. But my strobes would spin out of places sometimes and my photos got worse. A nice trade off to debate… better composed photo or more fun interaction with the sea lions.
There is an afternoon with whale sharks in a bay and that was fun as well. One let me swim with it for a long time, seemed like forever. When I would slow down or move to the side, it seemed to match my speed and movements often. The water is a bit green and viz is low so great photos are not easy but it’s still a good time. The whale sharks are not full sized adults but a few did seem to reach maybe 20 ft.
The highlight of the whale excursion was actually not a whale shark but another diver. The diver to drop is ready with mask, snorkel and camera ready to slide off the side. Others watching for them call out when time to slide in as the diver to go cannot see well. One woman got the call and slid in just as the whale shark came straight at her from under 15 ft. Her snorkel was above the water and you could hear her exclaim – OOOOOOO! from everywhere in the boat. Reminded me of a child finding a marvelous discovery.
Three types of jawfish were prevalent, blue spotted, giant and fine spotted. Some of them had eggs in their mouth. The bluespot males were often displaying and it’s a fun game trying to get the photo as they are only stationary for 2-3 seconds then back in the hole they go.
Recently back from a trip to Belize reefs aboard the Aggressor IV.
It was a great trip overall. Hurricane Earl removed the wood for the dock the ship uses. They still moor at the steel pillars there but you cannot walk to the ship. So you meet at a hotel as a group and they ferry you to the boat. It works just fine but causes boredom at the hotel when you wish you were on the boat.
This boat is quite nice with good sized rooms. I loved having a room on the main deck. The layout of the boat is really efficient overall. The camera tables are adequate though if many took DSLR’s it would be crowded. There were only 2 of them on board so camera space was quite sufficient.
The food was very good to excellent and plenty of it. Dinner was usually 2 selections of meat or fish so no trouble finding something to your liking.
The crew and service was really special. When you start the dive, you walk down to the dive platform without your fins or camera. As you stand on the platform geared up, they are at your feet, putting on your fins. All you do is move your feet into the fin as they hold it open for you.
When you finish the dive and hang at the 15ft safety stop bar, they swim down to you and take your camera rig up for you. When you get to the ladder and have a good hand grip, they remove your fins for you underwater. No worries about dropping a fin, bending over or troubles stepping on the ladder with fins. When you finish your hot shower on the dive deck, they are standing there with a warm, dry towel marked for your use only. They wrap you in it and give you a shoulder massage as you stand there. The towels are cleaned and dried for each dive.
My best dive service experience previously was Ocean Frontiers on Grand Cayman. The Aggressor IV service beat that easily.
Diving was excellent for Carib. diving. Weather was not so cooperative. It was sunny one aftn only. We only saw one sunset. Cloudy the rest of the time with some heavy rains from time to time. Usually not good lighting for good backlighting of reef structures for photos. Often lots of particles generating backscatter around the reef top area. Lots of fish life and lots of juvenile fish.
Sharks at Lighthouse reef on all dives. They usually patrolled at 100 ft or so but once in a while, came by at the reef top. Toadfish on all Turneffe late aftn and night dives but not always easy to find. They were easy to hear.
Overall, loved the trip and would do it again and recommend it to others.
You can see photos at this link at shiningseastudio.com