Humpback whales are one of many encounters to be had in the waters surrounding Socorro Islands
At the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean collide, thrives a translucent, sapphire blue world teeming with marine life. Over the first week of 2018, I set out on an adventure with the Pelagic Fleet team, a group that runs day trips and liveaboard itineraries from this majestic peninsula. Their fleet consists of the Solmar V liveaboard, a daytripper called the Mobula, and another soon-to-be-active liveaboard, the Socorro Vortex, which aims to set a new standard for the industry.
Starting with a day safari on board the Mobula, I explored a plethora of life below the surface and enjoyed some mind-blowing encounters. I then traveled to the northern part of the peninsula with the Pelagic Fleet team to check out the Socorro Vortex, which is currently at the Gran Peninsula Shipyard in Ensenada, Mexico, undergoing a full-scale transformation into a luxury liveaboard. Needless to say, I was keen to kick off the New Year with this exciting itinerary.
Pelagic Fleet’s storefront is situated in the luxury Puerto Paraiso mall in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
The journey began in the seaside town of Cabo San Lucas. This bustling, tropical locale is known by most foreigners as a place to go for lazy days spent beside the water’s edge and long nights with friends out on the town. What a lot of visitors don’t realize is just a short boat ride from the marina lies another world that has the potential to change their lives—a world where magical encounters lie below nearly every wave, and a healthy dose of adrenaline can make you feel more alive than ever.
I met up with the Pelagic Fleet team at their striking new shop situated on the upper level of a luxury mall called Puerto Paraiso, beside the El Medano Ejidal marina. Before I even stepped foot inside the shop, my eyes widened. The sleek, minimalist design had me instinctively reaching for my iPhone for some quick snapshots before I even introduced myself. Wood accents and stark white walls juxtaposed with stunning, underwater aluminum prints immediately spoke to me. As an ocean lover, it’s a rare experience to appreciate a storefront with brilliant underwater imagery this lifelike gracing its walls.
As it turned out, this wonderful underwater imagery was the handiwork of Pelagic Fleet’s very own CEO, Jorge Cervera Hauser. As an underwater photographer, I felt reassured that I would clearly be in good hands with this multitalented leader at the helm. While I was certainly ready to get out on the water, Hauser’s visuals inside the shop had me captivated for the moment.
Dolphins are a common sight around Socorro Islands
Jorge Cervera Hauser freedives with a silky shark
The marina is a massive congregation of boats that could easily take half an hour to walk around. Luckily, the Mobula is a short and easy walk from the shop—thanks in part to the nifty trolleys and crew’s assistance. A handsome 32-foot boat that accommodates up to six guests comfortably, the Mobula has a nice size dry area in the bow and is super convenient for bringing topside camera gear along without any worries of seawater infiltration. As this vessel is outfitted for day trips only, as opposed to Pelagic Fleet’s other liveaboard offerings, the Mobula’s year-old business has been dubbed Pelagic Safari.
Pelagic Fleet’s 32-foot intrepid day trip boat—the Mobula
The concept behind Pelagic Safari is really quite simple. Just as one would travel through the African bush in a jeep seeking wildlife encounters, Pelagic Safari provides marine enthusiasts and adventure seekers with a truly immersive excursion—only via boat sans terra firma. And while lions or elephants aren’t on offer, there’s an alternate, aquatic “Big 5” in Baja waters, comprising sharks, sea lions, dolphins, humpback whales, and orcas. No scuba tanks mean you are free—free to freedive, free to feel more a part of this foreign world, and free to reconnect with the wild side of this amazing planet as you hover over thousands of feet of sparkling blue water.
A California sea lion entertained us with its acrobatic moves for close to an hour
As we headed out, the rugged terrain that surrounds the city grew smaller in the distance, and I began to wonder what my first encounter would be. I had heard that on the day prior to my arrival, a group of lucky freedivers stumbled upon a pod of orcas within sight of land. While we did not find orcas this time, to my delight, we spotted two humpback whales within the first 20 minutes of our journey out into the Pacific Ocean. Swimming gracefully through the water, the pair lingered for a bit before disappearing into the depths. This would be the first of many humpback encounters in the days that followed. Depending on the time of year, many different species of whales can be found in the waters off of Baja.
My guide, Evans Baudin, photographs a playful California sea lion
Farther out, the captain positioned the Mobula over a deep, 3,000-foot underwater canyon. As the boat settled to a mild sway, the brilliant water clarity became apparent. Floating on the surface, one can easily see 80 to 100 feet in all directions. The flawless visibility is a dream for divers spotting marine life from afar or underwater shooters photographing pelagics. In this seemingly endless water world, one gets the feeling anything is possible.
As we waited, wondering what would swim past, several silky sharks arrived on the scene. Shifting below the flat surface, they seemed somewhat weary of us; however, as time passed, their shyness turned to curiosity and with every pass, they made the space between us grow smaller and smaller. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive myself, but through mutual respect, we seemingly became quite comfortable with the silent exchange.
A sleek silky shark swims past to investigate
Over the next few days out at sea, I encountered more inquisitive silkies, cheeky sea lions, dolphins on the hunt, one random mobula ray, and humpback whales thrashing around at the surface. Baitballs, makos, smooth hammerheads, marlins, and diving seabirds are some of the region's other wildlife attractions. It was a wild and free few days, which I’d be thrilled to repeat again and again. While each interaction was extraordinary, the most memorable was finding a sea turtle miles from shore, badly entangled in a shark fishing contraption.
As we were cruising out to look for makos, the Pelagic Safari crew made one of its regular stops to pick up a floating bottle. Slowly approaching the rubbish, we noticed a sea turtle entangled in ropes, which were fastened to the large plastic bottle. At the end of the ropes we found large, rusty hooks—meant for catching sharks. Realizing the turtle was in trouble, we threw on our masks and fins and slid over the edge of the boat into the open ocean.
Evans Baudin works on freeing a sea turtle from a shark baiting contraption
After being freed, the sea turtle swims away into the blue
Without delay, my awesome guide, Evans, went to work on freeing the poor creature from its awful situation. To my surprise, the turtle was quite calm. It seemed to fully understand its plight and what Evans was doing. I began photographing the rescue and a few times received a funny glare from the creature. The rope had made its way around the turtle’s flipper and had caused quite a bit of chaffing. As the last bit of rope was cut loose, the turtle and dozens of colorful reef fish that had kept him company, slowly swam off into the blue—a satisfying thrill yet a sobering reminder of all such similar threats that go unattended.
An orca swims through the waters off of Cabo san Lucas
The Socorro Vortex
As my time in Cabo San Lucas came to an end, I traded in my rash guard for a fleece and headed to the northern part of the Baja California Peninsula. Situated on the Pacific Ocean, Ensenada lies two hours south of the U.S. border by car. The mission involved a few days at the Gran Peninsula Shipyard to check out Pelagic Fleet’s newest addition, the Socorro Vortex, which is being retrofitted into a luxury liveaboard.
Built for the Canadian Coast Guard, the Socorro Vortex will, after its transformation is complete, accommodate 14 guests in style
As I traveled south along the Pacific coast from San Diego to Ensenada with members of the Pelagic Fleet team, I learned a bit about the boat and its illustrious history. Originally designed for the Canadian Coast Guard in 1981, this 140-foot aluminum hull vessel benefitted from “bulletproof” construction well beyond the standard specs required for liveaboard use. In line with its official Canadian pedigree, the vessel’s original moniker was James Sinclair, named for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s grandfather, a Canadian politician and businessman in his own right.
Designer Peter Hughes and Pelagic Fleet Marketing Director Jorge De Haro discuss the proposed layout of the boat
Sitting alongside me during the drive to Ensenada was liveaboard legend, Peter Hughes. Hughes’ long history of building and designing dive boats all around the world appealed to the Pelagic Fleet team and made him an ideal candidate for the role of designer.
Ecstatic to have him on board, Pelagic Fleet’s CEO, Jorge Hauser, reflected on his involvement: “To have Peter in the team is an honor and a privilege. Not only on a professional level, learning a lot from the biggest name in the industry, but also on a personal level. Nothing he might add to the business end of the project equals the friendship that we have developed over the last few months, where along with Fernando, our Project Manager, in Peter’s words we became ‘The Three Musketeers.’ Go Team Vortex!”
Two million-dollar MTU engines will make the Socorro Vortex the fastest liveaboard to Socorro
Arriving at the shipyard the next morning, I stood below the newly christened Socorro Vortex in awe. Outfitted with two million-dollar MTU 12V4000 2,750-horsepower engines and a Rolls Royce transmission, the Socorro Vortex will be 50-percent faster than the fleet’s other liveaboard, the Solmar V, with a top speed of 21 knots and cruising speed of 16 knots. Once in service, it will be the fastest liveaboard with a route to Socorro. Given its formidable power and construction, Jorge Hauser commented modestly that “the name Socorro Vortex goes very well with the personality of the boat.”
Schooling scalloped hammerheads: Encounters with pelagics are around every corner at Socorro
After photographing the Socorro Vortex from below, I carefully ascended a metal stairwell to the main deck and immediately began poking my head around. While the engineers and Pelagic Fleet team got down to business, I listened in and found myself enthralled by these seasoned pros in their element. The unique privilege of witnessing such a landmark project in progress at one of the world’s nicest shipyards was not at all lost on me.
As the group stood at the aft of the boat discussing the extension of the future dive deck, I imagined the lucky future guests gearing up for one of Socorro’s epic dives. The Socorro Vortex will carry two of the biggest tenders in the region on a per-guest basis, which means divers will be transported to and from dive sites with ample room for comfort and camera gear.
The future site of four luxury staterooms on the lower deck of the Socorro Vortex
With enough square footage for far more guests than they plan to accommodate, the Socorro Vortex will be an exclusive dive resort hovering above the Pacific Ocean. Fourteen guests will eat, play, and unwind in utmost style. The liveaboard will boast a floor-level Jacuzzi on the top deck, an open-air bar on the upper deck, gourmet dining with carefully thought out seating arrangements, and scores of space for privacy.
Peter Hughes noted, “We could have easily added another two or four staterooms, like most boats do, but we didn’t want to sacrifice quantity for quality.” While Hughes mainly attends to dive-related aspects of the liveaboard, his input is certainly welcomed and sought after across the board.
The future site of two junior suites
As we walked around the unfinished guest rooms, the team spoke about the details some liveaboards overlook, such as proper lighting, space, and subtle conveniences that make a world of difference. Once complete, there will be seven well-appointed guestrooms in total—two bright and airy junior suites at the bow of the main deck, four spacious luxury staterooms below, and one master suite on the upper deck.
Standing on the roof of the main deck, looking at the architect’s plans, I got a real sense of the impending master suite and chic open-air bar. It is an enormous space that will surely be one of the largest liveaboard suites out there! As well as boasting a king size bed, the master suite will have its own private stairwell from the main level and direct access to the open-air bar.
A manta ballet in the blue at Socorro
On the aft of the main deck, photographers will have a well-lit station specifically set aside for assembling their equipment and charging batteries. Fifty percent more power, and 25 percent less load than capacity means the boat will get to Socorro in approximately 14 hours as opposed to 16–18 hours that other liveaboards take, thus translating into more time spent underwater—and more images to process!
With a launch date of October 30th this year, the team is extremely busy completing the necessary changes to the boat. While the handsome, two-tone gray and navy vessel is still a little way from its unveiling, I am certain it will be a formidable work of art. With such a talented and solid group of hard-working souls, this labor of love will surely be the ultimate luxury liveaboard experience to Socorro (and perhaps beyond). I’m looking forward to returning to Ensenada and reporting back on the finished results. Stay tuned!
The 140-foot Socorro Vortex is being retrofitted into an exclusive liveaboard for just 14 guests
Members of the Pelagic Fleet team discuss the dive deck extension with the engineers — From left: Javier Palomino and Antelmo Cruz, Fernando Olea, Peter Hughes, Tomas Fernandez, and Jorge Cervera Hauser
Plan Your Adventure >