Shipwrecks and Seahorses – January 2021

After a few days in Barra de Navidad, we ventured further south to Santiago Bay just north of Manzillo, Mexico’s largest port. Shortly after leaving Barra, while Andrew and Tristan eagerly watched the playful humpback whales, they spotted an equally interesting shipwreck, ‘Los Llanitos.’

It looks somewhat smaller in the photo compared to seeing it first-hand

Los Llanitos ran aground on Punta Graham on the 23rd of October 2015, when caught in 165 mph winds during the category 5 hurricane Patricia. The 223-metre bulk carrier was carrying over 11,000 litres of oil and diesel, which have since been salvaged. While the ship was lost, the 27 crew members were rescued by helicopter, all escaping uninjured. The shipwreck has since split in two and its fate remains undecided; initial plans to refloat and scuttle the boat in a nearby location have been abandoned.

I was particularly keen to visit Santiago Bay as it has a large shipwreck, the ‘San Luciano‘ in relatively shallow water. It turns out that this shipwreck has an interesting and long history. Initial research led me to believe it sunk in a hurricane in 1959 but in fact, she actually hit submerged rocks in 1965.

The San Luciano, formerly known as Argyll, was constructed in England in 1892 as a dry cargo ship powered by coal and was later converted to an oil tanker with a capacity to hold 30,000 barrels of oil in 1903. In 1920, she was transferred to the Compagnie du Boleo of Paris, which, interestingly enough, is the same company that established the mine and town of Santa Rosalia, which I wrote a post on back in October. While the boat was registered in Panama, the crew and home port was Santa Rosalia and it was at this time the boat was renamed San Luciano. She was sold in 1955 to Compañía Minera de Santa Rosalia, of Mexico City, and converted to a dry-cargo carrier. She transported manganese ore and some copper ore to smelters in Tacoma, Washington and returned with shipments of bricks, oil and lumber.

This is a photo of the Argyll before its conversion to an oil tanker. Photo courtesy of Aquatic Sports Adventure

It was on August 6, 1965, that San Luciano hit a submerged rock at Punta Hermanos, Tenacatita, about 60 km from Manzanillo. There was damage to the bow and rocks tore into the forward cargo holds, flooding the engine room’s bulkhead. Fast thinking by the Captain, Romero Ortiz, enabled the vessel to continue to sail to Manzanillo by flooding the rear ballast tanks to balance the vessel. The ship then anchored in Santiago Bay where a diver determined that there was too much damage to repair and she was sold to a scrap salvage operation.

While some might consider her fate terrible, at the time she was the oldest active steamship on the Pacific Coast and for over 50 years she has continued life mostly below the water where swimmers, snorkellers, and divers can explore not only the shipwreck but also the many sea creatures (octopuses, eels, fish, seahorses, turtles, nudibranchs, shrimp, pufferfish and boxfish) which call her home.

Photo of the San Luciano after the conversion when its masts were removed, courtesy of Manzillo Sun
A very cool aerial photo that really gives you perspective on how big the wreck is. Photo courtesy of Aquatic Sports Adventure

I’m going to start by thanking Tristan for not only diving with me but letting me incorporate some of the photos he has taken into the blog.

Shipwreck Dive 1 – 28/1/2021

Tristan and I did our first dive in 3 years; I can’t believe it has been 3 years since we were in Bonaire. Normally everything you want to see in Mexico is in shallow water, so we just snorkel, but after having read that there are seahorses sometimes seen on the wreck we were keen to be able to stay down longer and find one.

Tristan snapping a selfie of the two of us

Along the side of the wreck, there are openings where the metal has broken away allowing you to find passage into it. We entered one of the gaps and immediately spotted a large wheel, not the steering wheel. Just behind the wheel was a turtle, not sure what type it was but Tristan, camera in hand, went after it. I turned my head and in my peripheral spotted a seahorse, I had to do a double take because I couldn’t believe it and yes it was still there and still a seahorse. I tried shouting at Tristan to no avail and eventually swam after him and grabbed his leg and redirected him to the seahorse. It was so amazing. We had made a goal a couple of days ago that this year we would find a seahorse and lo and behold it is there.

So the seahorse turned out to be very shy and when Tristan approached with the camera she turned his back on him or turned her head away or would tuck her head in. Eventually, after 20 or so snaps Tristan went off looking elsewhere, and I snagged the camera. I sat at the bottom watching the seahorse and snapping away. She eventually got bored with my intrusion and released the piece of coral she held with her tail, drifted a couple of feet, and then re-hooked her tail. She did this a couple of times moving further away.

Here are a few of my favourite seahorse photos that I took today. Tristan and I are pretty sure this seahorse is actually female because it has a high coronet

Tristan, Andrew and I have been fortunate to see a yellow seahorse on a PADI dive in Thailand about 7 years ago, but pointed out by an instructor who visited it daily, so this was pretty exciting to find it ourselves. Funnily enough both Tristan and I had dreamed of seahorses the night before; premonition?

Tristan, with his super eyesight, spotted many nudibranchs, including a few he hasn’t seen before. It amazes me that he can find nudibranchs, some of them less than 1/2 cm long, especially when the water isn’t the clearest, but he does it.

These two photos were taken by Tristan of a sea slug, certainly prettier than your ordinary garden slug, its scientific name is Felimida baumann.

This cute little guy was actually large enough that when Tristan pointed it out and photographed it, even I could see it. It’s called an Agassiz’s Nudibranch

These two were photographed by Tristan, the first one is a pale anemone and the second is a commonly and easily found nudibranch called a red-tipped sea goddess.

The wreck has so many pufferfish and boxfish swimming openly and hanging out in groups under ledges of the wreck. There are different types of soft corals and worms. The dive was only 7 meters at the deepest, so we were able to stay down over an hour.

Here are a couple of long spine pufferfish that Tristan photographed during our dive

Shipwreck Dive 2 – 29/1/2020

We enjoyed the dive so much yesterday that we went again today; Andrew came along for a while too. Our dive began in search of Sammy the Seahorse where we last saw her, but alas she was nowhere to be seen. We continued around the wreck, where Tristan spotted quite a few nudibranchs, a couple that was new. Lots of pufferfish around and they are a little fugly (I thought this meant funny ugly, but my family has since informed me that that is NOT what fugly means. I’ll stick with my meaning though). They always look like they are smiling. I did see the biggest one I have ever seen about 75 cm.

Towards the end of our dive I convinced Tristan to go back to the seahorse spot and while I found either a sink or a toilet covered in coral and growth, Tristan found Sammy. She had moved deeper into the wreck and had wrapped her tail around one of the pipes. After Tristan had snapped some photos I got down onto the sand and snapped a few, but won’t bore you too much, I’ve selected my best three.

It turns out they are quite shy, and it is very difficult to get them to face you, isn’t she beautiful!

In yesterday’s photos you couldn’t see her variegated colour because we couldn’t see her tail properly, but today we could see clearly the reddish tail and orange body.

Sammy Seahorse is a Pacific Seahorse, also known as the giant seahorse or its scientific name is Hippocampus ingen. This seahorse inhabits coastal waters to a depth of 60 meters in calm waters on the western Pacific Coast from Peru to the Galápagos Islands to southern California. Their colour varies and includes red, orange, brown, yellow, green, and gold. Their size varies from 12 cm to 18 cm but has been found up to 30 cm long. I think we all know that males carry the babies in a pouch, but did you know they can carry up to 2000 eggs, of which only about 1% make it to adulthood?

This little nudibranch (sea slug) is tiny, about 0.75 cm, I couldn’t see it even with Tristan pointing it out as he photographed it. This one’s scientific name is Coryphellina marcusorum.

A few more of Tristan’s eclectic collection of underwater photos include a Christmas tree worm, jewelled eel, arrow crab, and the cute little goby.

Dive with the VanNinis

After our morning dive, Andrew refilled the tanks and then Tristan took Mark, Heidi and Sally for a dive on the wreck. Apparently the water clarity was appalling, but they were able to find the seahorse from the morning dive. Tristan also got a few cool nudibranch photos.

Tristan’s selfie of Heidi and himself.

The blue and orange guy is an Agassiz’s Nudibranch and the red and orange one is called a Felimida sphoni

Dive 3 – 31/1/2021

Tristan and I went out for another dive; this time we decided to swim along the top of the wreck and descend into some gaps in the deck. We spent a good 25 minutes not seeing a lot and while the water clarity wasn’t great, it was better than our last dive.

Tristan leading us into one of the many rooms throughout the ship

I followed Tristan down a corridor only to have me tell me to go back, which I did. I then proceeded to wait and wait for him, thinking I must have missed him, so I went back and looked down the corridor and couldn’t see him.

While waiting, I did see the largest nudibranch I have ever seen, probably about 7 cm, unfortunately, no camera to capture the moment. Finally, Tristan tugs my flipper gesticulating madly to go to the surface (6 meters up) as we ascend I’m frantically searching for sharks. Turns out as he had been turning around in the corridor he spotted an octopus and while he was photographing it another dived on it and was wrestling, luckily he captured it on video, unfortunately, I missed it. Tristan took me back to where he had seen the wrestling match, and we saw the original octopus curled in a ball.

Tristan excitedly photographed this octopus prior to a smaller one attacking it. Great pics!

Of course, when I took Tristan back to see my find of the giant nudibranch it was gone, which I found amazing since it was so big. Somehow the giant had managed to end up on the ground where Tristan then diligently photographed it.

Tristan’s fantastic video of the wrestling octopuses

This guy is enormous, well at least I thought so, Tristan said he has seen bigger. I would say it was about 7 cm long.

Near the nudibranch the wreck had ball sized holes in one of its walls, on close inspection we discovered different critters curled up in there, one of which was an octopus.

Tristan is fantastic with his close up photography, which can be a little creepy at times, especially when you realise the photo on the left is the octopus’s eye.

It was my turn for the camera and I used it to photograph some of the wreck which I keep forgetting to do. It is amazing how much of the wreck remains, there are ladders scattered throughout the rooms. Near where we have seen the seahorse is either a toilet or a sink, which do you think? Its a pretty cool wreck.

Toilet or sink, what do you think?

Tristan diving through the gaps in the wreck, ladders, and a wheel.

We fortunately got to see Sammy again today, spotted by Tristan about 10 meters away from her original location. For most of the time she hung upside down probably wishing we would go away.

Our little seahorse friend spent most of her time upside down, swaying with the current.

This photo was taken by Tristan; he likes to call the little white dots on her face freckles.
Seahorse seen on the San Luciano on the 31/1/2021

Dive 4

Happy 20th Birthday to our second eldest, Tristan.  He unfortunately didn’t get a lazy day sleeping in as we had another dive planned. 

We swam from the dinghy to the wreck where we approached a rather large heron sitting on a section of the wreck protruding from the water, he was unperturbed by us and casually watched as we descended. 

The Mexican tourist industry is alive during Covid-19 as can be seen by all the palapas, tables and chairs on the beach front.

We went to where we had seen the seahorse before, and I went in search for our friend, while Tristan looked for octopus.  I quickly located the seahorse, but have come to the conclusion that it is in fact a different one to the original one we saw, as it is much smaller.  I happily sat there snapping photos when I glanced at a piece of rope swinging nearby and noticed another seahorse.  The new seahorse completely camouflaged with its surroundings and looked a little greenish.  See if you can spot him.

A smaller female seahorse. The third photos is as she floats away.

I raced off to find Tristan who grabbed the camera to snap some photos of an octopus in a hole while I’m frantically holding up 2 fingers (and not in a rude way) trying to get him going in my direction.  Eventually he came and while I was snapping photos of the new seahorse I was able to get a few of Tristan looking at the smaller orange one.

Shooting directly into the light never ends well, but can you spot him?

The new one quickly grew bored and simply let go of the rope and relocated to a new spot where I sat and watched him.  We are pretty sure it is a ‘he’ as he has the pouch in the front and smaller coronet.  The pouch looked very full so perhaps he is carrying babies.

Doesn’t he camouflage well?

His bulging belly is very easy to see.

Eventually he moved on with me tailing him and although the photos of his travels are not great you can kind of see how he just floats with occasional tail movements until he reaches back to his rope.  To my surprise the orange seahorse was on the rope when he arrived and although the video is not great quality due to the direction of the light and low visibility in the water, it’s still pretty neat.  She didn’t stay long and quickly left him behind.

Photo 1: And he lets go. Photo 2: He rounds the corner. Photo 3: Traffic jam, near collision between the fish and the seahorse.

The two seahorses swinging on the rope in the current.

We pretty much spent our time with the seahorses and Tristan looking for nudibranchs.  Eventually my air was low so I went up.  Tristan followed the side of the ship back to the bow where he found another seahorse, which was a paler orange.

Pale Pacific Seahorse photographed by Tristan

It was a fantastic dive and I will admit we had been a bit sceptical whether other dive reports of 1 – 5 seahorses were correct.  I kinda thought they maybe have been swimming in circles and seeing the same one, but we have seen four different ones.  It makes me happy knowing there is more than one.

Tristan led all the kids for a snorkel on the wreck in the afternoon and found our male seahorse friend before everyone came back to our boat for birthday cake.  We went with the whole theme and the cake had a seahorse and nudibranchs, I think Tristan was pretty pleased. Max finished the day off by cooking potstickers and orange chicken for dinner.

The teens wore their newly tie-dyed t-shirts for the occasion.

I’m actually a little sad to leave tomorrow, seeing the seahorses each time we have dived has been amazing!!

4 thoughts on “Shipwrecks and Seahorses – January 2021

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