Diver Down

Chill out in the coolest dive spots around the Sea of Cortez.

 Access to remote places is one of the coolest advantages of boat ownership. While land-based folks sweat their way through summer, boat owners can cool off in a few of the most interesting dive spots that are accessible only by boat.

Since August and September comprise the height of the summer storm season in Mexico, it’s best to stay close to safe ports. With that in mind, here are remote dive spots near hurricane holes in the Sea of Cortez, which Jacques Cousteau dubbed the Aquarium of the World.

Whether you do serious scuba diving or just snorkel around the boat, give all the dive gear a summer safety check. When’s the last time the scuba tanks were inspected? Are they full? Did you flush the sand and salt water out of the regulator with fresh water before you stowed it last? If not, flush it now. Do you need to replace worn-out straps on the fins, masks and snorkel tubes?

Is your boat’s swim step or ladder ready for divers to get in and out safely? Is your dinghy easy to board, or do you need to hang a rope ladder? Do you have plenty of waterproof sunblock?

Bigger boats are likely to carry some scuba gear — maybe even a compressor — as safety gear for making emergency DIY bottom repairs. Since that’s often the original excuse for the investment, you may as well “limber it up” for recreational pleasure, just in case.

What about wetsuits? Sea of Cortez coastal waters are usually warm enough during summer that a full-body neoprene wetsuit is overkill. But the added flotation of even a “shorty” wetsuit (shorts and a short-sleeved or tank top) will benefit children, older people and novice swimmers. A long-sleeved T-shirt over a swimsuit prevents sunburn. Protect your feet with booties.

An easy way to check out a new-to-you dive location is to anchor nearby and snorkel over it to see what catches your eye. Or take the dinghy around a few corners, anchor it off the nearest beach and swim around with the snorkel to determine if conditions are favorable and inviting. If you see any jellyfish, move on. Remember to shuffle your feet in the sand to scare away any sleeping stingrays.

To avoid tourist-heavy locations we’ll look at the most interesting boater-only dive spots within a day’s sail of the hurricane holes of La Paz, Puerto Escondido, the Midriff Islands, L.A. Bay and San Carlos.

1 La Paz
Boaters can anchor in El Empachado Cove on the southwest side of Isla Espiritu Santo to dive the wreck of Fang Ming, the 185-foot steel-hulled Chinese smuggling vessel seized with 88 men and seven women in confinement. Sunk in 1999 a quarter of a mile west of this cove, Fang Ming sits 69 feet down on the sand bottom and attracts a lot of marine life.

Dive through the “Garden in the Sea,” a sculptural grouping submerged in 2017 off the north side of Monument Rock in the middle of Caleta Candelero. This environmental project shows how quickly marine flora and fauna thrive. But don’t anchor atop the sculptures: 24 degrees 30 minutes 18 seconds north latitude, 110 degrees 23 minutes 25 seconds west longitude.

2 Puerto Escondido
Isla Danzante carries a nav light on its south end to mark a lovely linear reef that stretches less than a quarter of a mile southeast. Danzante Reef’s near-shore half is often breaking, so dive the south half. Current and upwellings bring nutrients to the colorful sea life on Danzante Reef. One mile northeast is Danzante Arch, seldom visited by tourists. Danzante Reef is less than 5 miles from Marina Puerto Escondido. The nearest anchorage is Honeymoon Cove (Luna de Miel) on Danzante’s northwest quadrant.

Alternately, V Cove on the north side of Carmen Island is a unique dive excursion reserved for summer. Here is a sea-level cave that’s roomy enough to enter via dinghy, SUP or kayak; at low tide, the small beach at the cave’s far end is accessible. V Cove is about one and three-quarter miles southwest of Punta Lobos, the bold northeast tip of Carmen Island. During hurricane season, boaters who keep a close eye on the weather can roam freely around the upper Sea of Cortez.

3 Midriff Islands
Bahia San Francisquito on Baja is one of the most remote places on earth, yet logistically it’s a primo departure anchorage for the easy 60-mile crossing of the Sea of Cortez, with the Midriff Islands always in sight.

In Bahia San Francisquito, boat owners can snorkel the lushly cloaked rock piles on the east side of Punta Mujeres in the bay’s northwest corner. These piles are rife with tall lacy fans and brilliant reef fi sh. Take the dinghy around that corner and snorkel off the pristine white beaches in two tiny coves known as Caleta Ninos and Caleta Mujeres.

On the east side of Isla San Esteban (about halfway across), a small volcanic islet with dramatic 80-foot peaks stretches its reef fi ngers 300 yards northeast and southwest. This reef, 1 mile northeast of the island’s rounded southeast corner, pokes out perpendicular from the south end of Playa Arroyo anchorage. Snorkelers can walk down the beach and swim right out over the reefs at either end of the islet.

Monument Pass (35- to 50-foot depths) at the south tip of Isla Tiburon — largest island in the Sea of Cortez — offers expert diving in three spots: a rock reef that runs north from Isla Chayudito (Little Knob), a longer and deeper reef that links Chayudito to Chayudo, and all around Isla Turner. The west side of Monument Pass drops off to 900 feet, while the east side forms a 30- to 60-foot shelf. Expect a strong tidal current, whale sharks and schools of manta rays. The nearest summer anchorage is at Tiburon’s Dogs Bay, 5 miles northeast of Monument Pass.

4 L.A. Bay
From the Puerto Don Juan hurricane hole, near Bahia de Los Angeles, there are 17 separate islands that run north for 10 miles and provide six intimate dive spots. Of those, my favorite is Ventana Reef (15 to 35 feet), which runs southeast from Isla Ventana.

If you’re hunkered down in Puerto Refugio at the north end of Guardian Angel Island, the two best dive spots are False Pass at the south tip of Isla Division and Isla Piedra Blanca in the middle of Refugio’s East Bay.

5 San Carlos
From the summer shelter of San Carlos, Sonora, boaters can zoom 15 miles west to Isla San Pedro Nolasco where hammerhead sharks gather for their annual mating rendezvous in August, while some stay through November. La Cueva on the island’s southeast flank has a good cave dive. If you’re exploring north up the coast, find primo diving reefs at Himalaya, Venazia and Seri Muerto Cove.