We just got back a week ago from our very first liveaboard trip–the Rocio del Mar in the Sea of Cortez/Midriff Islands. I thought this would be a good introduction to the liveaboard experience as it isn’t a huge commitment of time (1 week) or money (relatively speaking) and it’s very accessible. For once I was right–this was an excellent choice for us and I absolutely recommend it!
Any concerns I had about seasickness (none) or fellow passengers (we had a great group!) or cold/current (few and minor problems) were dispensed with almost immediately. This was, however, our first trip without our son, who has been our diving buddy/photographer/divemaster for nearly ten years. We missed him terribly and really missed his photography skills, because, frankly, we suck. No, not fishing for complements, just stating a fact.
That said, this trip would be an outstanding place to practice photography skills. There isn’t a lot of coral, so buoyancy isn’t so crucial, IMHO. I mean, I’ve been places where I’ve wanted to snatch cameras out of photographer’s hands–after seeing their slimy wetsuits or fins striking sea fans, etc. In the Sea of Cortez, it’s possible to really spend some time on a subject and not kill 100 years of growth–you still have to watch out for the critters’ homes, of course, and the scorpionfish, which are everywhere. So that was a missed opportunity–wish we had taken a class or done some reading or something before we went.
I tend to write long and winding trip reports–sorry!–so please just jump ahead to the parts that interest you.
GETTING THERE AND BACK
Our last big dive trip was to Lembeh, so getting to the Rocio was quite painless. Phoenix is a hub, so there are plenty of direct flights. It’s also a nice airport, with volunteer senior citizens who come up and ask you if you need help. (!) There’s even decent food! We came in a day early and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express (recommended!) because we are so super-paranoid about flight delays (a burnt child dreads the fire). It’s about a 4 hour trip via a nice van (Head out to Rocky Point) to Puerto Penasco/Rocky Point through some dry and desolate landscape on a two-lane highway. There was another couple who had also stayed at the HIE, so the van kindly picked us up there so we didn’t have to go back to the airport. We enjoyed the van ride–and getting to know some of our dive companions! I don’t know this area of the country very well, and I’ve never been a fan of desert landscape, but it was interesting and beautiful, in its own way. We stopped once to use the bathroom in a small, sad mining town in Arizona. No worries getting past the border, and it doesn’t take long before you are in Puerto Penasco–it looks like a seedy beach town catering to the party crowds, but, honestly, we only got a look at it from the van windows. Lickety-split, we were at the pier, on the boat by 4 p.m. and were underway by 5 p.m. Could not have been easier. Getting back to Phoenix was equally painless. We were in the vans by 8 a.m. and the conversation was even more congenial, as we’d all become quite friendly over the past week. You have to disembark from the van when you reach the border. There are an additional two stops further up the road–checking for drugs & illegals, I guess. These stops are in the middle of nowhere; just two border officers and a dog and (hopefully) an air-conditioned trailer. That can’t be an easy duty–I hope they are rotated frequently. Anyway…
As I’ve said, this was our first liveaboard, but we thought it was a comfortable boat. I think the layout may be different from most liveaboards–passengers eat in the galley, next to the kitchen (no view) except for the two occasions we ate dinner al fresco on the sun deck. There is an air-conditioned lounge area and a shaded one–most of us spent a great deal of time between the two. Briefings are held in the air-conditioned lounge. There were a few people who took advantage of the sun deck, but, Dios mio!–it was freaking hot and the sun was muy fuerte! Twice they lost power–briefly–and there were some problems with the air-conditioning in the beginning. In the middle of the first night, it suddenly got quite warm–somebody had fooled with the thermostat? Rooms during the day were always frigid. Every room has a window and the views in the early morning light were fantastic. The beds were very tiny (definitely not a double, perhaps a single +?) so it’s a good chance to do some close snuggling. We used the top bunk to store stuff. The bathroom was also tiny, but it worked fine. Lots of hot water, although the shower tends to get everything wet. I wish they had thicker towels. We only changed them once, but you could ask for a change more frequently, if you wanted. Lots of hooks to hang your stuff. It isn’t easy to get stuff to dry–we hanged our suits on the railing to dry in the sun.
THE DIVE ROUTINE
Divers are put into two groups–“A” and “B.” I don’t know the criteria they use, but it didn’t seem to be based upon experience or age. Diving is done from the zodiacs (pangas) back roll in, ladder coming back out. All dives are drift–the sharp-eyed and diligent panga divers keep track of the bubbles and will pick you up if you surface early or away from the group. All divers must have a sausage and a whistle. The Rocio also has radios for dive pairs–two were out-of-order, so we were one of the pairs that didn’t get one. I don’t know how they made that decision, either, but it didn’t bother us too much. The one time I surfaced by myself, I could see the boat and I was close enough to swim to one of the islands, if I had to–but I was picked up in a matter of minutes, so no worries. It’s easy to fall into the routine of the Rocio: 6.m.: The “little” breakfast. Fruit, yogurt, cereal, toast. 7 a.m.: First briefing, followed by 1st dive. “A” or “B” group has a 15 minute lead–they alter who goes first each day. 8:30-9 am: Full breakfast. Eggs, waffles, etc. 10:30 a.m.: 2nd briefing, followed by 2nd dive. 12:30-1 p.m.: Lunch. Soup/salad, followed by hot meal. 3 p.m.(ish) : 3rd dive briefing, followed by 3rd dive. 4:30: Snack in lounge. We had two twilight/night dives, and both were before dinner.
This is homestyle, stick-to-your-ribs cooking; quite good and quite satisfying for a group of hungry divers! Beer and wine is available, but, more importantly, there is always brewed iced tea with ice available! (Yeah, I’m kind of a fanatic about the brewed iced tea.) Beer, water and sodas are also kept in the fridge in the lounge. Jugs of water for refills (they give you your own glass) are located throughout the boat. There are two “special” al fresco dinners each week, but no entertainment or music. Music would be nice, I think. They don’t always serve dessert, but I wish they would at least offer fruit after lunch and dinner. People sometimes complain that they feed you too much on dive vacations. Oh, please! After our last dive, when we wouldn’t be getting any more exercise, they gave us a lovely, light, healthy lunch of grilled chicken salad with avocado. Delicious, of course, but something was missing. I asked for tortilla chips and, believe me, everybody ate them!
THE CREW: Love, love, LOVE them! These guys work tremendously hard to ensure that we had a great trip.