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February 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 32, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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MV Valentina. Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico

sea lion diving on a luxury liveaboard

from the February, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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In years past, I've dived and become familiar with the islands and dive sites north of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, so when a local dive club booked a week on the MV Valentina, I jumped at the chance to join them. Early on, I had hints that this would be a different quality of liveaboard. The vessel is bigger than most, at 131 feet. Built as an open ocean trawler in the '80s, it has been remodeled at least three times: first, as a boutique cruise ship, then as the short-lived Baja Aggressor, and now as the Valentina, run by Fun Baja, a Mexican eco-tourism and dive operation, in cooperation with Azul Fleet, a Japanese liveaboard company. I expected this to be a delightful combination of local Mexican divemasters and ecotourism, with Japanese-financed attention to details, and that is was.

MV ValentinaUpon boarding the vessel, Japanese divemaster Kengo Matsumoro greeted us with a Japanese-accented English "hello" and a bow, which I replied to with another bow. This made us immediate friends. Later, as Lorenzo Beltran, the dive operations director, gave the welcome briefing, my eyes met Kengo's, and we recognized each other, having met on previous trips to this area. He proved to be an incredible divemaster who drew my attention to amazing macro opportunities all week. Besides three divemasters, the vessel had two excellent chefs, a captain, an engineer, and four crew for driving the inflatables (RIBs), schlepping gear and pouring drinks. During the week, I was fascinated with the trilingual conversations: Lorenzo and others conversing in Japanese with Kengo; American customers trying rudimentary Spanish; the Mexican crew speaking excellent English to none at all. Actually, the result was surprisingly good communication and superb customer service.

We began in La Paz and headed about 100 miles north, diving along the way, ultimately reaching Las Animas, small rocky islets that are habitat for sea lions and huge schools of fish. Here, schools of bigeye scad and surgeonfish swarmed us. I swam into large schools of Mexican barracuda, and as long as I moved slowly and managed my exhaust bubbles, they paid little attention. Schools of jacks, swirled about, as an occasional skipjack or wahoo passed, and Moorish idols, long-nosed hawkfish and endless blennies populated the boulders and minimal coral. I was delighted to watch several free-ranging octopus forage in the daylight....

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