Following a 27-hour boat journey kissed by a mild sea breeze, I opened the blinds of my cabin to be met by a splendid ashen mountain with the sun rising behind it.
Around 230 nautical miles off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, the first of the Socorro Islands, San Benedicto, sprouts from the sea.
Thousands of years of rain run-off and lava damage have formed the perfectly wrinkled outer walls of the volcano, which run down to the water’s edge. Two nights had passed since my feet had touched land, and it would be another five until my terrestrial legs returned.
Often referred to as the Mexican Galapagos, the Revillagigedo Archipelago lies in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It was declared a National Park in 2017 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site a year earlier.
Some 57,000sq miles around the islands is now protected from fishing, mining and tourism development, making this North America’s largest marine reserve.
These waters, where cool, nutrient-rich California currents converge with the southern Costa Rican current, contain one of the world’s largest aggregations of sharks and manta rays. Satellite stations strategically placed at the dive-sites tell us that many shark species – including silky, silvertip and hammerhead – migrate between Cocos, Galapagos, Malpelo and Socorro. They navigate the corridors between these food-rich seamounts on what is known as the Shark Highway.
San Benedicto is some three miles long. The volcano last erupted in 1952, wiping out most life in the space of 10 months.
Today some plants and seabirds are about all that lives on the rocky island, the southern side of which we explored at a site called the Canyon that was formed by this eruption. Dive-guide Pedro briefed us after breakfast, as a curious blue-footed booby looked on.
Our strategically placed mooring and the luck of the wind-gods allowed us to jump in directly from the boat to descend onto the cleaning station at 24m and watch some early-morning shark action.
Descending without a reference can be disorientating, but we put our trust in local expert Ivan as he led us into the abyss. After a minute or so the dark bottom loomed, and we could make out some rocky formations.
Within seconds a plethora of silvery bodies began shining in the sunlight as they approached and darted away from the cleaning station. In just 10 minutes we were graced with silky, Galapagos and silvertip sharks, set on enjoying a body scrub at the barberfish salon.
A handy briefing later that day armed us with further knowledge of how to identify these beautiful, sleek creatures.
The Galapagos sharks are wide, have a rounded nose and much of their body mass is at the front of their body, while silvertips have white edging on all their fins. The silky dorsal fin is situated behind its pectoral fins.
Three additional dives near and around the Canyon throughout the day were interspersed with food, rest and some reading. As the day went on, the silkies became more and more inquisitive and made their way shallower to the boat, making for some interesting safety stops.
There was even an unplanned snorkel with a pod of false killer whales!
Day 2 was at the famous Boiler site west of the island. A week earlier the crew had seen two whale sharks there.
As the sun rose higher we could see that we were moored close to some impressive sharp boulders that formed a ring in front of the island. We could also make out caves and ashy stalactites to the rear of San Benedicto. Remote and barren as the land is, you can’t tire of its beauty.
The Boiler is the remains of yet another volcano crater, and in our well-organised groups we boarded the skiffs to be driven over to the area of bubbling water that gives the site its name.
We made a negative entry. Whitetip reef sharks sat lazily on the ledges, and bigeye trevally moved in an organised chain in the shallows.
Two scalloped hammerheads ducked in close to the reef to check us out before slowly snaking back into the blue. What happened next was the beginning of a 40-minute rollercoaster ride with manta rays!