March

This is a quick post as I have left it until the last minute as we have been busy provisioning the boat and getting ready to leave.

We left Zihuatenjo and returned to Manzanillo on the 5th of March for a few days. First on Tristan’s and my agenda was another dive on the shipwreck and to check on our seahorse friends.

3rd March Dive (Tristan)

From the first glimpse underwater we knew it was going to be a muck dive, with so much growth in the water. There was a brief moment of panic to start us off when the camera slipped from mum’s hand while I was putting on my tank, though after a couple of minutes searching the sandy bottom below the dinghy we found it, the bright red standing out; next time we made sure to bring the floating handle!

I spent the beginning of the dive photographing arrow crabs and other critters that mum doesn’t find especially exciting, but she was very quick to point out a Felimida baumanni nudibranch, which we have only seen once before. She didn’t realise this at the time, but once we got closer to this sea slug we could see that it was resting after having just laid a sticky spiral of thousands upon thousands of tiny white eggs. The photos aren’t especially clear, but you can see the individual ova in this clutch. The proud mama looked very tired, barely moving at all, so we left her to her business and continued on.

This is a Felimida Baumanni nudibranch with her thousands of eggs. Photos by Tristan

We continued on finding several bright Pink Telja nudis and hundreds of Orange Cup Coral polyps. These stony corals usually only emerge during the night, but being covered by the deck of the San Luciano provides them with enough darkness to emerge, while enough light to photograph them; score! After mum got tired of me looking at coral polyps she dragged me away to seek out her favourites, the seahorses.

Pink Telja Nudibranch, photos by Tristan

Orange cup coral, photos by Tristan

Mum was pretty captivated by the seahorses so I headed off in search of octopuses in their usual hiding spots, though they seemed to have hurried off quickly after their fight the last time we dove in Manzanillo a month before.  What I did notice though were several extravagant-looking aeolid nudibranchs laying thin strands of yellow eggs all over these weeds. These are Unidentia angelvaldesi, or Purple-Line Unidentia, and I have to wonder if the spawning of both baumanni and angelvaldesi nudis had anything to do with the terrible water clarity? Just that time of the year, maybe. Love is in the air… or water.

Purple-line Unidentia nudibranchs. The bottom right photo of the yellow is her eggs. Photos by Tristan.

3rd March Dive (Karen)

I eventually managed to drag Tristan away from the nudibranchs, completely unaware that they had eggs to find the seahorses. We did make our way up to the halfway point of the ship and managed to find the male seahorse, but not the orange one. They are definitely territorial and stay in the same area.

5th March Dive (Tristan)

The second dive was two days later, and while my intention was to immediately head for the new nudibranchs we saw last dive, we got a nice surprise from a Jewel Moray eel hiding on the wreck. You can see a long length of fishing line that must have gotten hooked on the wreck and has since become a part of the environment, covered in growth.

Jewel Moray Eel (Photo by Tristan)

The nudibranchs were all abuzz today, with Agassiz’s nudibranchs doing their typical craning neck to cross long gaps on their journey around the wreck, and a large Diomedes Sapsucker chewing his way across the weed. I saw several more Purple-Line Unidentias, and as we made our way around the hull of the wreck there were many Red-Tipped Sea Goddesses, or Sedna nudibranchs, cozying up to each other; in the photo here, there’s actually a third nudi hiding in the right hand corner. The Pink Teljas are a bit smaller, and harder to spot.

Nudibranch Photos from the top going clockwise: Agassizs, Diomedes Sapsucker, Red-tipped Sea Goddess, and a purple-line unidentia. (Photos by Tristan)

5th March Dive (Karen)

We did another dive on the 5th of March looking for more nudibranchs and their eggs, unfortunately, the water clarity had worsened and you could really only see a couple of metres in front of us. Once entering the wreck we quickly found the brown male seahorse who was happily swinging on his piece of rope. Tristan left me to my seahorse and went off looking for more nudibranchs eventually returning to show me that he had found the orange seahorse again.

This little guy loves his piece of rope he hangs on tight while the water slowly rocks him back and forth.

Tristan found the lovely orange lady quite happy hanging by herself.

6th March

Max’s 17th birthday!!! Our baby boy is so grown up now. Max started the day with the girls from Love and Luck coming to Utopia for breakfast, followed by a Tristan-led snorkelling trip and ending with Love and Luck joining us for a pizza night followed by a blueberry cheesecake and a vanilla cake.

After our a few days back in Santiago Bay, we decided to head north to Tenacatita where we caught up on some school work.

9th March

Andrew had read about the 2.5-mile water trail from Bahia Tenacatita through the mangroves and ending in a lagoon. So we headed off at 8 am in the morning while the tide was high through the breaking waves, which turned out to be a great surf spot for the kids and into the mangroves.

We did see quite a few different species of birds and a small crocodile, which as we approached with the dinghy it quickly dove deep into the water and disappeared. Love and Luck spotted a green iguana which we all eagerly watched.

We did take a wrong turn and quickly realised it when we reached a dead end and had to do a three-point turn in the dinghy. We eventually found the right waterway which narrowed to nearly impassable to reach the large lagoon.

By the time we began our return trip it had started getting hot and there were far fewer birds around. Of course Willie who joined us for the trip kept us entertained.

12 – 15 March

Julie and I had been keeping in touch with a boat, Distant Star, over the past few months and had been waiting for them to come and join us. Finally, on the 12th of March, they arrived in Tenacatita in the evening on Ilo, their eldest son’s 17th birthday. Both Luka and Makawi’s (15th birthday) quickly followed behind Ilo’s birthday. Ashe cooked a delicious coconut cake for Luka’s birthday using a coconut that one of the boys had collected from a nearby tree.

Happy Birthday Luka!!


Distant Star has been a great addition to our group encouraging all the kids to get active again and there has been lots of surfing, volleyball, Bocchi, a walk to a waterhole and another beach and a few beach BBQ’s where we have enjoyed the delicious Marlin that Distant Star shared with us.

18th March

Our walk to the nearby beach required us to walk up a rather large hill and scramble down through brush and through a resort to reach. Tristan was quite excited when he spotted these cute little creatures, apparently called Coatis, or coatimundis. They are found in south and central America, Mexico and the southern part of northern America.

And a few photos of people….

While Ashe, Julie and I went for a long beachwalk the kids had a sand castle competition. The parents got to judge and the winners were …….

The winner was Heidi, Tristan and Ilo’s group who sculpted the turtles

Then the time came which we have all been dreading, saying goodbye to our very dear friends Mark, Julie, Heidi, Lucy, Sally and of course Willie, who we already miss so very much. After our beach adventure, we had a pot luck dinner over on Love and Luck before a very sad goodbye. But it’s not really goodbye just so long until we meet again next year in the Pacific. Wishing you guys a safe, fun and happy adventure back in the States this year and a Pacific crossing next year!

25th March

Finally Ava got her braces removed after 29 months and 3 weeks they are off. She was very pleased. A few of the brackets were replaced last year in Puerto Vallarta and they proved difficult to remove, so much so that he had to numb her gums to do it. Now we have to wait 10 days for the retainers to arrive and we are finally free to leave Mexico.

What a beautiful smile!!!

Prom 28/2/2021

How did the Prom idea come about? Well living on a boat and being home-schooled, especially during Covid-19 means that you miss out on special events like Prom and it was something Heidi was a little disappointed about. So the kids came up with the idea of having their own prom. I will admit I was somewhat reluctant with the idea because it seemed like a lot of work and money to create prom dresses, fortunately, the material is pretty cheap in Mexico and we had plenty of time to create dresses. What we didn’t have or what we couldn’t find was patterns to create the dresses. Believe it or not, all four dresses came from the same pattern cut from one of Heidi’s dresses. The girls did find photos of prom dresses and Julie and I adapted the pattern we had to make them work. I was somewhat lucky as I have only one girl, so I had only one dress that had to be created, Julie had a far greater challenge in creating three unique dresses. I’m very proud of all the kids for their creativity and persistence to create their dresses, ties, and corsages. We have had quite a few fun afternoons filled with laughter while working on their dresses.

Max

By around 5:30 pm, we all met up on Love and Luck. We brought over sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches, both of which, Willie, Love and Luck’s dog tasted, when no one was looking. Within 10 minutes of the boys arriving, we were posing for professional-looking pictures. We posed for pictures on the bow of Love and Luck and when the sun had descended slightly and the tourist boats had departed the island, we snuck onto the dock for a few more photos.

When the photos were finally completed, we returned to Love and Luck and enjoyed a wonderful pasta dish for dinner. After dinner, we went to the bow of Love and Luck, where Julie had set up some coloured lights and blasted music loudly (or as loud as the little speaker would go) out playing a motor boat that had similar music. We danced, played games and posed for silly pictures throughout the night, leaving at near to midnight. Thus ended the wonderful prom night.

The always talented, smart, and kind girls off Love and Luck; Heid, Lucy, and Sally who looked stunning in their creations.

Ava

We had planned to do a prom maybe two-ish months ago and bought the material from a fabric store in La Paz after the girls and I discussed the style and colour dresses we wanted. Throughout the next two months, mum and I worked on my dress and we would go over to Love and Luck occasionally to see how the girls were doing.

We were all so excited for prom. We’d planned out our make-up, our nails, our hair. And when I went over to get ready there was a bit of a rush, but it was a lot of fun. I’ll admit we all panicked a bit when the time came for us to all take photos.

Thankfully mum was there to be our personal photographer to take our awesome, pretty, and silly pictures. I had such a lovely evening with all my prom dates (Lucy, Sally, and Max), what with all the dancing and singing and squealing. There’s no one I would have rather stayed up till nearly midnight tripping, spilling food, waltzing, and doing karaoke with.

This fun loving group of girls looked beautiful!

Some family photos. Ava was very pleased with her dress.

We have been so fortunate to have travelled with this amazing family for the past two years.

Tristan

I’d been instructed by the girls to wear a skinny tie, so that was the first step for prom, for me. That, combined with a new, respectable haircut courtesy of Lucy, a sunflower boutonniere from Heidi, some tie-tying lessons from Dad, a button-down shirt, and my Vans, I was feeling pretty spiffy. Everyone looked so amazing and had worked very hard on their dresses and ties. After several poses on the bow of Love and Luck, I drove all of the kids (including Mum) to shore to take photos on the jetty. With corona still rampant in Mexico, we had to wait until everybody had left the beach for the day before we could get some mask-less pictures, in the soft light thanks to Mum’s keen eye.

Tristan and Heidi. The necklace that Heidi wore is actually Julie’s and she wore it to her prom with Mark, how cool is that.

We returned to the boat and had a little trouble when Lucy took an accidental swim climbing back into the boat, though she handled it like a trooper. Dinner was followed by dancing on the deck under colourful lights to BTS, Shawn Mendes, and Black Pink. I spent most of the time slow-dancing with my girlfriend and good bud Heidi, and everybody there had lots of fun dancing, singing loudly, and chatting away. It wasn’t until half-past eleven that Mum and Dad finally dragged us away.

Most teens faced with falling in the water in their prom dress that they spent weeks making would be devastated and their night ruined. Not Lucy, she continued smiling, no tears, and went and changed into another dress and enjoyed the rest of her evening.

I thought I would end the post on a funny note, they say you should never work with kids or animals, in this case, the kids (teens) were great, it was poor Willie who was another matter. When people left the room or fell in the water, Willie used the distraction to steal the finger food, not only that but he also decided to pee whilst we were in the middle of taking the photos, he did look suitably embarrassed when everyone burst out laughing. It was a little hard to find privacy with 10 people everywhere, wasn’t it Willie.

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!!

Orcas!!!!! – 20/12/2020

While Tristan and Ava were on watch during a rather boring passage between Loreto and San Evaristo, we heard excited shouts of ‘Orcas!!!!’ We all ventured upstairs to take a look, expecting to see whales or maybe dolphins. Much to our surprise, they were right; there was a pod of about 10 orcas. While it had been an uninteresting few weeks, with the water turning too chilly for any kind of snorkelling, we were thoroughly dazzled with our first orca encounter, which lasted about 40 minutes.

The Orcinus orca is also known as a killer whale, orca, grampus, blackfish or, my favourite, the sea wolf. Interestingly enough, despite the name ‘killer whale’, they are not a whale but instead belong in the dolphin family. The orcas who visit the Sea of Cortez belong to the Eastern Tropical Pacific population, travelling between the Sea of Cortez and Costa Rica. Orcas feed on squid, fish, sea lions, turtles and even sharks, and are in fact one of the top oceanic predators. Although we have been taught to fear Orcas, and they have killed humans when in captivity, there are no known human deaths by Orcas in the wild. I will admit that both Tristan and I have contemplated whether we would swim with them if we saw them again.

While Andrew drove the boat, the rest of us raced up to the bow to watch these incredible creatures leap and bound through the water; a surprisingly easy feat for them, despite their size. When they came close to us, Andrew put the boat in neutral while we all watched in amazement. At one point they swam around our stern, turning to look at us as dolphins often do.

Santa Rosalia’s Mining Boom and Bust – 8/11/2020

Santa Rosalia has a long and interesting history starting with the Cochimi Indians who lived in the area for thousands of years, leaving evidence of their lives through their cave paintings. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, it was not possible for us to go and see any of the caves in the area.

Missionaries settled in the area and in 1868 José Rosas Villavicencio discovered some blue-green nuggets (boleos), which were taken to Guaymas for analysis and discovered to be rich copper ore. José was paid 16 pesos by two Germans to show the location of the nuggets that he found and this led to prospecting in the area. From 1870 to 1884, it is estimated that approximately 42 000 tons of copper was mined in the area, along with around 6 000 ounces of gold.

By 1884, a French company, The Compagnie Boleo (El Boleo Copper Company), had bought up many of the small independent mines and was granted by the Mexican government a 99-year lease of some 200 square kilometres. What followed was migration of entire French families to the new town of Santa Rosalia.

The Boleo Mining Company constructed the town of Santa Rosalia, along with a network of roads, ranches, farms, houses, businesses, schools and water lines to supply the needs of both the mine and the miners and their families. Ships were continuously arriving from Europe bringing engines, rails and railway cars along with other mining equipment. Lumber was brought from Canada and Oregan to build homes and businesses. Over the years the company drilled hundreds of kilometres of tunnels, as well as built a smelting foundry, a railway to haul the ore and a pier for shipping it to Washington state for refinery.

Santa Rosalia’s distinctive French influence can be seen in the homes and businesses that used timber in their construction to create porches and balconies, similar to that of New Orleans. Generally, homes in the Baja were constructed with cement blocks as there were no trees in the area; for construction, all timber had to be imported, and a fire department became a necessity.

The town of Santa Rosalia did have a very distinctive class system, with the workers’ homes built on the lowland near either the foundry or the port and the government and support staff living in the Mexican quarter on the higher slopes. The French quarter was located on the highest most advantageous point of town.

During the 1950s there was a fall in production and the mining equipment was becoming well-worn; El Boleo decided to shut down, compensating its remaining workers and giving away company homes. Today, remnants of this by-gone era are easily seen along the waterfront, which is full of abandoned buildings and hulking metal structures that housed steam generators.

The mining past can be seen throughout the town, with ore cars hidden in home entrances, carts outside restaurants and even locomotives on the town roundabouts.

Two of the original seven locomotives used by El Boleo during mining, now scattered around town.

Ore carts hidden in-home entrances and wooden carts decorate the exterior of restaurants celebrating the past.

One of the old caves along the waterfront road

Mining of copper, cobalt, zinc, and manganese continues today north of the town of Santa Rosalia by a Korean company.

Another interesting site to visit is Iglesia de Santa Barbara, a prefabricated steel church with an iron framework. The church came from a Belgium warehouse thanks to Carlos la Frogue, the manager of the French mining company, El Boleo. It was shipped to Santa Rosalia and installed in 1897 in its current position.

It is believed that the church was designed by Alexander Gustav Eiffel as a prototype of missionary churches to be constructed in French Colonies and built to withstand tropical storms. The church was exhibited in the 1889 World Fair where both it and the Eiffel Tower were awarded prizes. Lack of historical records has meant it has been difficult to accurately determine the church designer and analysis of the church’s structure has led some to believe that it was possibly designed by French architect Bibiano Duclos, rather than Eiffel. We may never know who really designed it.

Interestingly, the church is protected by Saint Barbara, who is the chosen saint for those who face danger and accidents from explosions. With the adoption of gunpowder in mining, Saint Barbara became the patron for miners, tunnellers and other underground workers; rather fitting for this copper-mining town.

Even if you are not interested in history, it is an interesting town to explore and wander the old streets. The town decorates for different holidays throughout the year; we were there just after the day of the dead and the town’s parks and roundabouts were still decorated.

Halloween displays around Santa Rosalia including a gigantic La Calavera Catrina

October Teen’s Blog Spot

High Tea

Written by Max Deeley

One day during our long line of parties with Love and Luck, I decided to host a formal ‘High Tea‘ upon the advice of my Grandmother. She gave me a recipe for her Lemonade Scones and advised me on other things to make for the high tea. Heidi, Lucy, and Sally came to our boat (an unusual occurrence for our parties as they are usually held on their boat) at two o’clock to the smell of freshly baked scones and the sound of Mozart and Beethoven to complete the feel of a posh high tea. We had dressed in our fanciest clothes and gave each other old-fashioned and fancy names, I acted as a waiter with a tea towel draped over my arm, presenting the specialty teas, coffees, and hot chocolates that we could make.

The high tea commenced with us making our best attempts to act high maintenance and well versed in the politics of the upperclassmen. In the end, there were many failed attempts at drinking tea with our pinkies raised and many unbridled chortles. We had given up being fancy and polite, and returned to our normal demeanours and resumed munching loudly. I believe that we all had a wonderful time enjoying our fake British accents (because that is what we thought of when we thought posh) and drinking our teas without pinkies raised.

Camping, Camping and more Camping

Written by Tristan Deeley

On the tenth of October, we decided to go camping with the girls from Love and Luck at a flat(tish) beach in Alcatraz. We were a little hesitant to camp on the mainland, especially as Willie had run down from the beach that day with half a coyote skull clenched in his jaws. Heidi, our camp coordinator, did an excellent job of preparing the tents with Sally, while Lucy started the fire up with my wood-collecting expertise (in my mind, that’s how it went down). Max and Ava were also pitching the tents, and we had a fairly early dinner of turkey franks roasted over the fire, in hot dog buns, along with outrageous toppings like potato chips and select parts of the trail mix. Once it got dark everyone gathered to play card games in the larger of the two tents before Max and I headed to the 3-man tent to lay down for the night. In the morning, after a whole night of wind and sand, we awoke to find coyotes and jackrabbit prints everywhere, including what looked like a small hole dug around the fire by one of the coyotes, maybe trying to get access to some burnt morsel from the night before. After a quick game or two, everyone retreated to L&L for some wake-up pancakes.

Campsite on the beach at Alcatraz

Once we got to Ensenada el Pescador, it was decided that another camping trip would take place on the 30th, this time with Utopia, Love and Luck, and Arena. Max decided not to come, but all the others did, and we set up for a big night with a fire built using the principles Lucy and Heidi had picked up from their recent Leave No Trace course. I had originally planned to be sharing the tent with my good bud Lachlan, though he changed his mind after our turkey frank dinner and headed back to sleep on Arena, so I ended up having the whole tent to myself. The most exciting part of the first night (for me; everyone disagrees) was finding a big spider behind Lucy’s chair, though I’m sure the girls, who all stayed up until the late hours talking, would argue they had far more fun inside the tents.

We camped out the next night, as well, Halloween, though we did a quick run back to Bay of LA first to call Josh before he left for England. After the Halloween celebration, all dosed up on candy, everyone gathered in the big tent for candy trades and talking games. The next morning, everyone was a little grumpy, very tired, and had extreme sugar hangovers.

Halloween

Written by Ava Deeley

Halloween this year was vastly different from 2019. First off, there were ten of us. Second off, there was a lot more make-up involved.

Everyone had basically paired off with their costumes. Lucy and Max were Anna and Elsa (respectively) from Frozen. Tristan was an angel; Heidi was a devil – she pulled it off though! Sally and Riley went as vampires, Bronwyn went as a fire goddess (I’m pretty sure) and Lachlan went as Spider-Man. Ada and I had decided to go as a naiad (a water elf) and a dryad (an earth embodiment of sorts), respectively.

Anna and Elsa and the Vampiresses

The Devil and the Angel

Fire goddess, naiad and dryad

Dryad, Ana and the Devil

Mum and I made cookies in the morning, after we got home from camping, in the shape of the sugar skulls of Day of the Dead.

That afternoon we rushed back from finding the internet (as we were talking to my grandmother and brother) to get ready to dress up. I went over to Arena while the boys were over at Love and Luck. Stephanie did a wonderful job of curling Ada’s hair and straightening mine, and after we dabbed on some make-up, we looked completely different! We used band-aid tape to make our ears pointed.

All of us met up on the beach and took photos before beginning to eat the dinner we’d organized. I admit I went back for seconds, though there was only one corn fritter left…

We all sat around the campfire for a while talking and telling ghost stories.

Once our bellies had digested some food, we learned the adults had stashed some bags of candy in the vicinity and set out to find it, there had to have been three or four bags that we split between the ten of us.

That night, in the tent the six of us girls were sharing, we demolished at least a third of our candy stock. The night only got progressively more hyper and entertaining. It’s funny to see how sugar affects people in different ways.

October in the Northern Sea of Cortez

Refugio 6 – 9th of October

We headed back to Refugio for a few days and were fortunate that the water was clear, at least for the first day or two.  Tour guide Andrew kindly took me daily to snorkel with my favourite aquatic friends, the sea lions, who eagerly leapt into the water to greet us at the dinghy.  I love these playful creatures.

Tristan and Andrew had seen about 15 turtles along one wall in Refugio; unfortunately, the day I decided to go with them the water had turned green and while I spotted 4, they were not very visible.  Luckily, tour guide Andrew took me to snorkel with the sea lions and the water was still blue, so we continued around Isla Granito and were able to see between 30 – 40 green turtles.  Sometimes you would be following a turtle and turn around and there were two more just near you, there were just so many.

Turtles, turtles everywhere…..

Why are they called green turtles?  Well, actually, in Mexico they are called black turtles although they form part of the subspecies of green turtles.  Green turtles are not green, the fat under the carapace is green but their shells are variated shades of brown. 

These two photos were taken by Tristan Deeley on one of his snorkelling trips, while in Refugio.

After a few days of the heat, no-see-ums, and bees we decided to move on to Alcatraz for a few days before continuing to the Bay of LA for the Internet.

Bay of LA – 12th of October

We spent a couple of days in the Bay of LA area, primarily to get some schoolwork sent in and get a few things from the tienda.  While there we did get the opportunity for a quick snorkel with a whale shark and its baby; the downside was that a lot of tourists that had come down from America recently were also snorkelling with the sharks. Still, it’s amazing to see such a humungous animal so close to you.

More whale sharks

Isla Partida – 13th and 14th of October

Back to the island and the water was clear; our first night the wind was blowing straight into the anchorage, and we had a rocky night, but thankfully after that, it settled down.  Andrew and Tristan started the morning trolling for fish in hope that the yellowfin kingfish were still around.  They came back very excited after having caught nine, looks like fish for dinner again.

Andrew and Tristan cleaned the bottom of the boat and then I went for a snorkel; nothing new, just an inquisitive eel, nudibranchs and lots of large snails. Have you ever bought necklaces or earrings with an operculum? Well you may be interested to know that they come from snails; they are the trapdoor that closes the snail into their shell.

The ever inquisitive eel, the Diomedes Sapsucker or Elysia Diomedea slug which we saw hundreds of and sea snails with their operculum trap door openings.

We decided to leave the following morning to catch back up with Love and Luck, but before we left, we went for another snorkel.  While Andrew was interested in all the grouper around, I was rewarded with a new creature, a speckled flatworm. The worm was about 1.5 inches long and covered in white, yellow, and orange polka dots. This variety of flatworm is only found in the Sea of Cortez. I watched it for about 10 minutes and was amazed at how quickly it moved.

This guy crawled over 2 metres during the 10 minutes I watched it, fast considering its size.

Isla Partida – 18th – 20th

Back to Isla Partida and the water had become quite chilly, it was definitely back to wearing a wetsuit for me. Tristan disappeared snorkelling for about 2 hours, returning very excited with his new discoveries. He had explored a new point of the island which was very shallow and filled with nudibranchs. He has once again taken some amazing macro and microscopic underwater images.

The Elsia Diomedia commonly seen in the water surrounding the island. Photos by Tristan Deeley

I personally prefer to call this little guy the cookies and cream nudibranch, but its real name is Dall’s Chromodorid. Photos by Tristan Deeley

This is a Sedna Nudibranch otherwise known as Doriprismatica Sedna. Photos by Tristan Deeley.

A few other favourite photos taken at Partida include the Throat spotted Blenny, a Jewel Moray Eel, and Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) Photos by Tristan Deeley

Andrew took me to see a new colony of sea lions located on Roca Blanca (white Rock) off Isla Partida. You can understand why it’s white when you see all the birds resting on it. The rock is high and steep and to our surprise, there were sea lions situated halfway up.

While the first photo shows the sea lions up relatively high, there were some up so much higher. The second photo is Roco Blanco.

I don’t think these guys see a lot of people as they eagerly leaped into the water to greet me and were incredibly interactive. The water was clear and I snorkeled with them in less than 2 meters of water. The younger ones would swim really fast at you and then turn just before colliding; unfortunately, their braking ability was not so good and a few times they came a bit too close.

I love this photo of this guy who was definitely lacking in braking skills, I wonder if the big gash on his chest is the result of previous collisions?

It still cracks me up when you are snorkelling along and turn around only to discover 10 sea lions about a meter behind you, all who quickly draw back when you look at them. I definitely felt like the pied piper, it was soooooo coool.

Their acrobatic skills are always entertaining.

And yes there was a male around, but he wasn’t paying me a lot of attention and may have been sleeping on the job.

Bay of LA – 22nd – 28th October

Back in the Bay of LA, and the whale sharks were near the boats so, Tristan, Andrew, and I jumped in our dinghy, along with Arena in theirs to snorkel with them.  Unfortunately, the water was very green, and you couldn’t see them until they were about a meter away, nevertheless, it was still very exciting.  Lochlan loved watching a particularly large one that came quite close to him in the dinghy.  He told me he would like a pet whale shark, so I asked him what he would call it; ‘Daryl’ he says.  It made me laugh, the most unlikely name for a whale shark, he is too cute!  There were a few squeals from the Arena girls, but they all eagerly jumped in each time one came near.

Arena’s first time swimming with the whale sharks, there was a bit of squealing from the girls.

By the afternoon our three boats had whale sharks circling and I’m pretty sure I saw Daryl among them.  It is amazing how close they will come and how quickly they can manoeuvre those huge bodies.  Definitely one of the highlights this year has been the sheer number of whale sharks we have encountered and how close they have come to us, the dinghy, and Utopia.  Even Willie, Love and Luck’s dog, loves them; he barks and desperately wants to go in the water with them, but has not been allowed yet.

These two giants converged at our bow, it was amazing!!!!

Ava, Andrew and I followed them around our boat as they leisurely made their way.

We found ourselves stuck in the bay for several days with really strong winds. The first night we had about 45 knots of wind and earlier in the evening Andrew and Tristan noticed a neighbouring boat had disappeared. They discovered the boat had drifted and was quickly approaching a rock, so they dinghied over, waking the owner up, just before his boat took out a moored powerboat. It was a rough night with the wind and the strongest wind we have anchored in.

Isla El Racito Sea Lions – 3/9/2020

We sailed a couple of hours north and headed into Ensenada el Pescador where we eagerly looked around for the large sea lion colony which the guidebook said was located south of Punta el Pescador (Bay of Fishermen).  We dinghied around Isla El Pescador and around the point but couldn’t find any sea lions. 

The kids decided to swim to Isla El Pescador (Fishermen Island) to explore and while they were there Andrew talked to one of the Panga boats who told him the seals were south at Isla El Racito.  Mark, Julie, Andrew and I decided to see if we could find the sea lion colony.  It didn’t take long to find the low-lying rocky island covered in sea lions and birds.  As we approached the many large males barked at our presence, but also eagerly entered the water with the females and juveniles to see what we were up to. 

We donned our snorkel gear and slipped into the water, wondering if we would be welcomed or not.  We were very quickly greeted by our inquisitive friends who glided past us, while the ever-present males occasionally chased them off if they got too close or we did.

The great thing about the location is that it is so shallow you are in at the most 2 metres of water and at times less than a metre.  It was amazing.  We decided to return to our boats to gather the kids and bring them for a snorkel.

While Max and Ava have generally not wanted to snorkel with the seals, the fact that the Love and Luck girls and Tristan were going was enough to sway them to as well.  We gathered all our gear and loaded up the dinghy tied on to Love and Luck who motored and anchored close to the sea lions.  Andrew bought a dive tank with a regulator.  Tristan and I put on dive belts and sat at the bottom with the tanks and regulators hoping the sea lions would approach us, unfortunately you really need the whole BCD for it to work and we spent most of our time clutching large stones to weigh ourselves down.  We quickly gave up on that and opted to just snorkel with them instead. 

I had researched that sea lions are more interactive if you spin and twist and turn in the water, Julie had told the kids this and it was quite funny to watch them all somersaulting and spinning in the water.  I watched Ava hanging upside down and a nearby sea lion did the same thing.  The kids found one sea lion with a scar on her face who quite happily came close to the kids for a better look.  The was one very large male who had obviously not done so well in a fight and had an injured tail flipper which he seemed to be keeping out of the water and laying very low

Eventually we returned to Love and Luck for a motor back with lots of excited chatter about our fantastic time with the sea lions.

Before heading to the Bay of LA in the morning, Julie and I tried to find the pathway between the two bays, on a morning walk.  The walk wasn’t so exciting, but we did have a beautiful sunrise with the dark clouds looming above.  The photo was not so great.

Isla Partida

Post and Photos by Tristan Deeley

When we sailed (well, motored) into Isla Partida there was much excitement for everyone, me and Dad especially. The water was the bluest we’ve seen in the Sea of Cortez, and it wasn’t long after anchoring that Mum, Dad and I went for a snorkel off one of the points east of our anchorage. The first thing you will notice in Partida is the swarms of grouper. Dad suggested a few other terms, perhaps plagues of grouper, but whatever it is it’s almost unbelievable. At any one time you can see around 200 grouper, maybe more, all decent size and all very curious. When you turn, they follow, and when you dive down they stare. For me, the best measure of the sheer numbers of delicious fish would be when I saw four golden grouper in a line, one after the other. Leopard grouper only have a 2% chance of mutating into golden grouper, and those that do have the new pigmented skin aren’t very well camouflaged, so to see four in a row is insane.

I swam out in the deeper water, maybe fifteen or twenty metres, and was immediately greeted by two turtles coming up to the surface right in front of me, followed by a shiny black mobula ray. The stingers got pretty bad, though, so we tried over on a point to the west of the anchorage and were just as surprised.

I had a shovelnose ray come up off the bottom to swim around me when I dove to take a look, but I couldn’t get too many photos because when I rose to the surface Mum was frantically calling me over, shouting “Nudibranchs, Tristan!”

Shovelnose ray

It has been Mum’s long and fairly unsuccessful goal all year to find nudibranchs. She mentions it every time she goes snorkelling, and on the two times I’d seen one this year she’d been very jealous, so Isla Partida was kind of a dream come true for her. Along the rock ledge, you’d often see several clumped close together, and probably fifty during a whole snorkel. They’re pretty strange-looking things, but provide great excitement.

I decided to try and swim through a pass to the other side of the point, on the outside of the anchorage where the current was ripping through, and was rewarded within two minutes when I saw an octopus sitting on a rock. He was missing a few legs but that didn’t slow him down too much when he decided to swim away.

Mum was very jealous again, of course, so we took the dinghy around to where I’d seen it and Mum and I jumped in and spotted two octopi on the same rock, who quickly changed colour from brown to bright turquoise. I feel a little bad for the number of photos I took, but it was okay, because when they decided I was too much of a hassle they just swam away, giving me some video to shoot.

On our snorkel we’d also seen someone from another boat spearfishing and hold up a decent-sized kingfish, so Dad and I got up at 7 and went trolling with rods around the point. Dad kept reminiscing on last year, in this very anchorage, when he’d caught 4 kingfish in the same day. After a couple barracuda and a needlefish, we hooked our first kingfish, and after that it just… kept happening. We did several laps over each school and caught 9 kingfish. I was having a bit of trouble with lures, so only 2 were mine, but the next morning when we caught another 9 to freeze, I’d swapped out for a squid lure and five of the fish were mine.

We snorkelled a few more times, seeing more octopi and nudibranchs, as well as cool other fish and some pretty big arrow crabs. It was a shame when, after three days or so, the green water came up from further south and we lost all the clarity. All in all, though, it’s probably been my favourite spot in the Sea of Cortez so far.

Catcophony of Noise

written by max deeley

A big thanks to Heidi for allowing us to use her photos again. After our Celebrity dinner party with Love and Luck, we began planning our next party. By the end, we had decided on dressing up as cats, a fact that excited the cat lovers in our group. Throughout the week we were planning the party; Tristan, Ava and I sewed our cat tails and our cat ears. Ava had decided she would go as a panther, Tristan was an orange alley cat, and I was a white Siberian cat.

The night of the dinner party came, and we dressed on Love and Luck with nail polish for claws and sharpies for whiskers and noses. Sally was the first to be dressed as a cheetah, followed by Lucy as a black cat and Heidi as the Pink Panther.

When everyone had been properly prepared, we took pictures, posing in many, lithe catlike poses. After we completed the picture taking; everyone was satisfied with the amount of pictures of themselves that were taken, we moved onto dinner, and then a movie.

As the movie ended, the last thing we talked about was who had the best costumes for each of the three dinner parties so far, and we had reached a decision with; Tristan winning the Descendants party as Harry Hook, Sally and Ava tying for the win in the celebrities party as Ariana Grande and Avril Lavigne respectively and finally with me and Lucy tying for the win of the cat party.