Last year, BARE celebrated its 40th anniversary by taking divers on three of the world's most amazing dives with its BARE The Adventure video series. Adventure team divers explored the breathtaking beauty of Rangiroa, Tahiti, the epic diversity of the Great Barrier Reef, and the frigid unknown off the coast of British Columbia. In addition, BARE asked Sport Diver and Scuba Diving readers to share their ultimate dive adventure story for a chance to win one of these once-in-a-lifetime dives. Emily Sintek's tale of diving with manta rays, dolphins, sharks and a whale shark in the Socorro Islands earned top billing in the BARE The Adventure Contest. It also won the La Center, Washington, diver a once-in-a-lifetime trip based on the BARE's Rangiroa, Tahiti, adventure. Read Emily's winning story then head to Sport Diver's Facebook page to vote for one of four runner-up stories and your chance to win the ultimate dive gear setup in BARE's Gear Up For Adventure Sweepstakes.
La Center, Washington
“Anything worth doing is worth waiting for” is an old saying that holds true for the fortunate divers who are able to visit the Socorro Islands. With just a handful of operators who visit this remote location, bookings are often made more than a year in advance to guarantee a seat on the boat. Once you leave port from Cabo San Lucas, a 24-hour open-ocean crossing is next. This may seem daunting to some, but the payoff is some of the best pelagic diving a person will ever encounter in a lifetime.
My journey begins with 21 fellow scuba divers. They’re a mixed bag of people from different countries and with different skill levels, but they have one common interest: to see one of the best open-ocean diving locations in the world. As we wait to board the vessel, there is an excitement in the air that everyone from the crew to the passengers seems to feel. As we settle into our staterooms, the ship motors out of the marina and we are on our way.
After traveling a full day out into the Pacific, our first sight of land is the island of San Benedicto. After a thorough dive briefing, we gear up and do a giant stride off the back of the boat. As we start to descend, a giant dark shadow hovers over us. Sure enough, our first manta encounter is within three minutes of the first dive. She is a beautiful black manta who seems to know that we are there to see her. She flies over us real close — almost too close in fact, because we have to dive down a little just to get out of her way. She acts as though she is the star of the show and that all the attention needs to be on her.
Throughout the dive, we are also entertained by Mexican hogfish, octopus and schools of Pacific creole wrasse. Just as we are ascending, our dive master points out into the blue. Dark, fast shadows are moving about. Dolphins! Three of them come toward us like torpedoes. They circle and check us out one by one, and clicking and chattering can be heard as they communicate with each other. One especially curious dolphin comes in so close we actually make direct eye contact with each other. These animals are so smart and beautiful, and we are lucky they have chosen to make an appearance. Just as our safety stop is over, they take off almost as if they knew our time was up. We spend our next two days here at San Benedicto. Our manta and dolphin encounters continue, along with glimpses of schooling hammerheads and even a tiger shark.
The dive masters advised us that we will be traveling overnight to our next island, Roca Partida. I wake up early, anxious to see “Roca” as the crew calls it. My first impression: “Is this it?” Roca Partida is a volcanic seamount jutting out of the ocean, and the top of it is not much larger than the vessel we are on. As we back-roll off the pangas, we are enveloped in a cloud of fish. Schools of tuna, jacks and wrasse move together and act as a curtain between us and Roca. As the curtain lifts, we see the huge granite seamount for the first time underwater. Moving in closer, we notice whitetip sharks patrolling the area. They live here, and they spend their days and nights hanging out and sleeping on the ledges along the wall. We are here in May and there are several pregnant females. The sharks are stacked up on top of each other in piles so thick that it is not uncommon to see them getting pushed off by the surge. Down below us at 100 feet, we spot a school of Galapagos sharks. We slowly sink down to their level but they just go deeper. As we ascend and move around the rock, we notice a school of more than 30 silky sharks, who are curious and very approachable. This is an amazing feeling, because I had never been this close to a shark before. The next few days at Roca did not disappoint, and schools of silky, Galapagos and silvertip sharks were often encountered.
Our last dive, however, would be my best memory of the trip. Nearing the end of the dive, I hear someone’s noisemaker. It’s unusually loud and being shaken at a frantic rate. My heart is pounding and I am moving my eyes around in all directions. I am hoping the rattling indicates one of the main reasons why I came to the Socorro Islands this time of year. Finally, I turn my head to the left and look up slightly. There it is, the marine animal that I have been wishing to see — a whale shark! I am awed by the size and beauty of this breathtaking animal. So large, yet so graceful. He is a juvenile male at only 20 feet in length, and it’s hard to imagine that adults are twice as big. He moves through the water slow and steady, but with so much power. He stays with us until the end of the dive, circling the rock and allowing close encounters as we do our safety stop.
Back on the boat we are practically speechless about the events that have just unfolded. One of the dive masters refers to it as a “real Nat Geo moment.” It’s a perfect phrase to describe our entire trip in four words.