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Dive Review of Solmar V in
Mexico (Western)/Socorro Islands

April, 2010, an Instant Reader Report by Bob DeFeo, CA, US
Contributor   (18 reports)
Report Number 5457
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
251-500 dives
Where else diving
Philippines, Indonesia, Roatan, Cayman Islands, Monterey CA, Northern
Sonoma Coast CA, Texas, Channel Islands CA, Puget Sound, Hawaii, Kauai,
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

sunny, dry  
calm, surge, currents  
Water Temp
75   to 81    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
40   to 100    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
Safety sausage & whistle mandatory; No deco dives; Max depth dependent
on NITROX % but 130' max; No gloves, No dive lights, No knives, No night
diving--feeding sharks...dozen or so 6-7' silky sharks always feeding on
smaller fish from dusk till dawn around the boat.  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
Whale Sharks
> 2 
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  2 stars
Tropical Fish
3 stars  
Small Critters
  3 stars
Large Fish
5 stars  
Large Pelagics
  5 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
5 stars  
Boat Facilities
5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's  
5 stars  
Shore Facilities  
Two large 44 gal rinse tanks; 10'x 6' padded two-level, covered camera
table; plenty of 110v charging sockets; onboard computer; INTERNET access
available via SEAWAVE for uploading pictures & e-mail/browsing.
Extremely careful camera handling by crew on water entry and exit. Marine
biologist & Dive Instructor (Eric)part of permanent crew and was most
helpful in finding/identifying various marine life and detailing the full
gamut of behavior and characteristics.
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
5 stars
4 stars
Service and Attitude
5 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
5 stars
Dive Operation
5 stars  
Shore Diving  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
5 stars    
1 stars   
5 stars    
Five Stars for Solmar V! Great Liveaboard; Great crew; Amazing diving. Our
trip was organized by Jon Edens, Trip host & Manager at The Pinnacles
Dive Center in Novato, CA and was superbly choreographed with no surprises
and exceptionally smooth transfers to from the Solmar V. Outstanding
We were greeted picked up from out hotel at 130 pm Saturday in 7-passenger
vans with all luggage was handled by the Solmar V crew from hotel to
delivery onboard the Solmar V.  Sail time was 4 pm and it takes 24 hours to
get to the Socorros. Dive gear and baggage are required to be unpacked
prior to departure as all emptied luggage is stored onboard prior to
sailing.  Dive gear all goes on the dive deck with wet suits hung on port
and starboard racks and you set up your diving equipment immediately upon
boarding as you are strongly encouraged to ensure all equipment is present
and in working order.  A great policy since one of our members brought the
wrong size fins and another had a low dive computer battery.  The crew
assisted in finding a set of fins and our host provided his primary dive
computer for use---thankfully since the dive shops close in Cabo San Lucas
just after 12pm on Saturday. We paid, in USD, our $100 NIROX fees (recently
increased to $125), $15 chamber fee,and Socorro Island dive fees, $45. You
must have your C-cards for diving (no card-no diving) & NITROX as well
as dive insurance through DAN, DiveAssure, other. DAN insurance is
recognized immediately while DiveAssure was not well known to the crew but
not an issue.  Pack light on clothing!! The cabins have almost no storage
space: a little bit of 5-inch shelf space against the hull along your bunk,
a less-than-12" wide closet for hang-ups and that's it. If you bring a
small easy to fold-up duffle (recommended) you can keep it in your cabin
but there's no room for roller bags. All cabins along the port &
starboard have one single upper bunk and a larger lower bunk and sleeps two
to a cabin.  Each cabin has a sink with mirror outside the combined
shower/toilet chamber.  All fresh water and ice on the Solmar V is from
desalinization, it is drinkable, plentiful, with great pressure and hot is
hot. We had no illnesses due to stomach/intestinal issues other than the
occasional green gills look when the swell picked up a bit. Shower/toilet
chambers in each room are a tight fit but they are exceptionally clean and
work great.  Bunks have comfortable mattresses with two pillow below and
one above with hi-intensity reading lights for each bunk.  Bedding consists
of a mattress cover, 2 sheets, blanket, and quilted bedspread. Length of
bunks are approximately 6'2" but a 6' person will have both head and
toes touching the very well padded foot and head bulkheads.  Hull bunk
sides are also well padded and appointed. Single porthole is just above top
bunk.  Cabins are carpeted and linens and towels are replaced half way
through the trip. All cabins have individual air conditioning controls
located on the under lower bunk facing panel.  Rooms get stuffy if you
don't use it but you will.  Shower/toilet has strong vent fan and dries out
the shower rather quickly. There is a cabin in the bow that sleeps two in a
narrow cabin with bunks on the port & starboard.  There's a reason why
most ship brigs are in the bow--more of a ride up there in higher seas so
if you're prone to sea sickness, steer clear of the bow cabin and select
one more towards mid-ship.  Noise is not bad at all onboard the Solmar V
but if you're a light sleeper or your cabin mate snores, foam earplugs
would be useful and keep you happy in the mornings. No wet gear/attire is
allowed in the cabin areas or th dinning salon above.  One head is
available as you leave the dive area and enter the salon and may be used
while wet but don't enter the salon.  The salon looks like a salon and are
where all meals/drinks are served.  No buffet lines on Solmar V---you are
served your meals and your drinks or you can get your own coffee, tea,
water, various sodas.  Beer and wine are included in the trip price and
both are plentiful and good too! Breakfast at 7 am included
made-to-your-liking eggs in the morning with cereals, yogurt, milk, large
quantities of fresh fruit to include bananas, pineapple, papaya,
watermelon, cantaloupe. Fruit is also available after each dive and you are
offered really great hot cocoa after your dives. Each afternoon we had
heavy snacks after the last dive and included such things as cheese &
crackers, spreads, vegetables, fruit, chicken wings, shrimp, breaded and
fried fresh fish fingers---really great tasting and high quality fare.
Lunches around 1230- 1 pm always included hot soup and a variety of foods
including pasta, lasagna, veggies, fish, hamburgers with a dessert. Dinners
at 7 pm were steak twice, shrimp pastas, yellow tail tuna--a couple of
meals--and a variety of other foods.  Special dietary needs or Vegan meals
are available and tasty. Dessert served after every dinner and were very
good.  One evening you get a Mexican style BBQ on the bow and that was good
as well.
Dive and boat briefing combined took an hour 45 minutes but was thorough
and jam packed with good to know and essential information.  This briefing
was conducted in the salon at 1030 Sunday morning while sailing out with a
single checkout dive scheduled for 4pm on arrival at San Benedicto island.
Weights available with 80 cu ft aluminum cylinders. Lost weights cost $3
USD per pound and some of our group paid the cost for having loose weight
belts or velcro "secured" vs. positive "click-locked"
integrated weight pockets. Some dives are conducted off Solmar V's aft dive
platform and some from the two rigid hull inflatable pangas depending on
dive site location and sea state. They prefer to use pangas when the swells
up and weights were lost due to catching the velcro on the sides of the
pangas on water exits. Dive times were 50 minutes for drift dives and 60
minutes for dives from moored sites. Our entire group of 22 divers dove on
deep and long at depth.  My highest depth was 86' and lowest was 130' with
most averaging 100'.  Solmar V varies the individual dive NITROX mix from
26% to 32% with some mixes occasionally varying to 33%, to account for the
planned dive depth to ensure additional margins.  This is a great policy in
my opinion since most of the diving is vertical drop-off close to the
islands with surge, currents, and sometimes dramatic up and down current
movement.  It also gives some margin for visual/attention fixation on the
incredible numbers of schooling hammer heads at depth.  No decompression
dives are allowed and you are penalized by not being allowed to dive the
next dive if you enter deco.  You are also penalized one next dive if you
bust 130'.  Good rules given the nearest chamber is in Cabo San Lucas and
it just took you a full day to sail from there.  Four oxygen analyzers were
available for testing your tank.  When you dive off the pangas, the
tanks/dive gear stays on the pangas and tanks are filled on the panga. 
Crew checks the 02 percent and you post or they post the % next to your
assigned-for-the-trip diver number.  You are also required to post your
dive time and max depth after each dive on the board.  Dive site briefing
were 10 minutes long, included board sketches of the site, highlights,
animal activity, cautions, and safety issues.  Exceptionally well done and
not tedious. Now the great part--sharks on every dive. Roca Partida island
had the most--hundreds of schooling 8-12' hammerheads at approximately
150'+, galapagos sharks--12-footers+; silvertips 10-12 footers, white tip
reefs sharks from 2' to 6'; 6-7' silky sharks everywhere.  Silkies treated
rather casually by divemasters but they tend to be aggressive, in my
opinion.  Couldn't get one to leave me alone on one dive.  It came within
three feet and circled the entire time and they are seldom alone! 
Hammerheads, as well-known, are easily spooked off by divers so you had to
breathe lightly or they were gone in a flash.  The other sharks acted
obiliviously to the presence of 25 divers in the water but we saw many of
them.  Giant mantas were present at all three islands---San Benedicto, Roca
Partida, and Socorro but the closet and best encounters were at San
Benedicto.  Our group got great close-in approaches and photos of these
gentile giants.  We were told to never chase them and let them come and go
as they like sense they appeared to enjoy being around divers.  I'd say
that was accurate from what I witnessed.  They cruised in, out, over and
under during all our dives on the islands.  These giant mantas are much
larger than the ones I've seen in Hawaii and I was surprised at how much
larger--some double the size of those that show themselves during Big
Island manta dives.  They are beautifully graceful animals and you can't
help but be enthralled especially when the visibility was 100 feet or
better.  Visibility was sometimes 40 feet, sometimes 100' plus.  Surface
water temps 79 to 81 degrees with bottom temps 75 to 77/79 degrees with
occasional upwellings feeling colder. I used a 5mm with hooded 5/3mm vest
underneath and 7mm booties and was toasty warm on every dive.  Some used
7mm or 7mm farmer john/janes.  I wouldn't dive here with less than a 5mm
due to suit compression at depths since the dives were deep and we ran our
NITROX bottom times down to 1-2 minutes on almost every dive.  I'd hate to
pay for this trip and dive on air vs. NITROX---that would be a waste of
great bottom time.  You can get qualified on NITROX on the way out but it's
really the only way to go on the Solmar V.  We were also very fortunate to
see and snorkel with a humpback whale mother and calf.  They both breeched
and dove less than 50' from our anchored mother ship, the Solmar.  I have
great video of close-in full breeches and surface swimming---fantastic
surface interval entertainment.  We snorkeled from the pangas after one
dive and got to witness the mother nursing the calf--truly a real treat as
the crew was very excited by it all saying they could count on one hand the
number of times they had seen a humpback so casual around people or a boat.
We did not nor did the Solmar V crew harass or chase the whales...they came
to us. We also saw marlin on the surface from under the water during a
dive---also wonderful to view. Many huge eels, parrot fish, hog heads,
bonito, large yellow-fin tuna, largest wahoo I've ever seen which were
around us on every dive, many octopus on Roca Partida, lobsters, rays,
jacks, flying fish, seals and bottle-nose dolphins close--in during our
dives, feeding around the boat with the silky sharks, and playing in the
bow waves and wake of the Solmar V while we were cruising.  We saw
humpbacks breeching and surfacing everyday of the trip which ran from April
17th to the 24th. Boarded by well-armed Mexican marines from a patrol ship
twice...out of room on word count. E-mail me for more on the adventure...
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