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Dive Review of Nautilus Belle Amie in
Mexico (Western)/Isla Guadalupe

Nautilus Belle Amie: "FINS TO THE LEFT, RIGHT, UP, AND DOWN (with apoligies to Jimmy Buffett", Aug, 2015,

by Ken Kurtis, CA, US (Contributor Contributor 17 reports with 5 Helpful votes). Report 8533.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments If you’ve ever had a yearning to dive with Great White Sharks, there are a couple of places in the world where you can do so, but Guadalupe Island (or more correctly, Isla Guadalupe) probably is the king of the heap. And that brings up one of the issues with going here. Like trips to Cocos and Socorro, it involves a long open-ocean crossing to get from Ensenada (the port of embarkation) out to Guadalupe, some 200 miles south, well offshore of the Baja Peninsula. So you need a good boat to get there. There are half a dozen boats that run to Guadalupe and we were on the newest of the bunch, the Nautilus Belle Amie (sister shop of the Nautilus Explorer).

In a word, the boat is fabulous. (So is the crew. More on them later.) Belle Amie is probably the nicest dive boat I’ve ever been on. First of all, it’s huge. 150 feet long and almost 35 feet wide. There are four functional decks. The lower deck has the standard staterooms and crew quarters. The main deck is the dive deck, galley & dining area, salon, and two super-duper staterooms. The second deck has six superior staterooms, and the upper deck is a sundeck with a bar, Jacuzzi, deck chairs, and plenty of space to hang out. With 26 passengers and 11 crew, it never felt crowded.

It takes about 20 hours (depending on the seas) to get there. First you get to San Diego. Once there, we went to the Ramada Inn on Rosecrans near the airport as that’s the departure point for the trip. If you drive, you can leave your car at the Ramada for $10/day. We checked in with their DM, stashed our bags in a common room, and got something to eat. Around 7PM, you board the chartered bus and head south for Ensenada.

The border crossing is a bit of a pain as you not only have to get off the bus, but also have to get all your luggage off the bus. You fill out a Mexican Immigration form, then take your bags through Customs, play red light/green light, carry your bags back to the bus, and off you go. Overall, it took about three hours to get to Ensenada.

Even then, the bus pulls up to the port which is a “secure” facility. A guard boards and once again checks all passports against a master manifest. Once the bus is cleared (which took almost half an hour), you then get off and go through a metal detector and are FINALLY allowed out on the dock where the boat is tied up. The crew loads your bags from the bus on the boat and a little after midnight, we united and were on our way.

The second day is a full day at sea as you don’t arrive at Isla Guadalupe until after sunset. But that gives plenty of time to relax from the day before, hook up camera gear, get to know your fellow passengers and crew, pull out dive gear, and listen to short talks on cage Diving 101 and Great White Sharks 101.

All the diving is done from cages and the Belle Amie has five. Three of them are submerged cages (port, starboard, and middle) that are boarded at stern deck level and then are lowered down about 35 feet. Each of these cages is a double-decker, with the lower half for the passengers and the upper half for the DM who accompanies each cage.

The other two cages are the surface and the 20-foot submerged cage. Both of these are attached to a corner of the boat and both are about 10 feet tall. For the surface cage, you hop in and settle 10 feet below the surface. For the 20-foot cage, you go down a protected ladder and then drop into a 10-foot cage. (You can see pictures of all the cages on the SmugMug slideshow.)

From a diving standpoint, al the cages are the same. All the diving is done off of a master hookah system so there’s no need for tanks or BCs. To make sure you’re good and negative, DUI weight & harness systems are used and they’re loaded up with anywhere from 25-45 pounds of weight. (You’ll use more than you think you need.) All you do prior to a dive is put on your wetsuit and booties. I wore a 5mm – others went in 3mm, some people had drysuits, there was one shorty, and one or two times people went just in bathing suits. Slap your mask on, put up some weight, and you’re good to go.

Each of the cages has four regulators running off a single manifold. On the submerged cages, one is for the DM and the other three are for diving guests. On the surface and 20-foot cage, there’s no DM, so you can out as many as four divers in each of those. (There are also emergency tanks in each cage should the hookah system fail, which never happened on our trip.) You step on to the cage, start down ladder, they hand you the reg over your right shoulder, you drop to the bottom, and then generally moved to a corner of the cage and you’re good to go.

All the cages are made out of stainless steel and they all have excellent sight lines and the space between the bars is small enough that a sharks can’t stick his nose is, but big enough that you can stick your camera (and sometimes even the upper half of your body) outside the cage so it’s easy to get shots of the sharks without any bars in the picture.

The three submerged cages run from roughly 8AM-5PM with a cage dropping every ten minutes. To ensure that everyone gets an equal shot at these, each day there’s a schedule posted as to who’s in which cage for which drop. Everyone was given four cage drops each day, and each dive lasted about 40 minutes. If you don’t want to go at your scheduled time, you just let them know and they make that slot OPEN. By the same token, if there’s an OPEN slot, regardless of how many submerged cage dives you’ve done, they’re available to the first person that wants it. The reality was that the first day, just about everyone did all of their scheduled dives. On the second day, most people did most of their scheduled dives but there were plenty of OPEN spots to go around. And on the third day, probably half the people did half their dives so you could pretty much dive in a submerged cage anytime you wanted.

The surface and 20-foot cages are open from roughly 7AM-6PM and available at any time for those who want to go in. As long as there’s a reg available, have at it and stay as long as you want. There were times when I would finish a submerged cage dive, and hop right into one of the other cages to continue observing and shooting. I think one day I spent two hours underwater without a break.

And speaking of observing, don’t feel like you have to be a photographer to enjoy this trip. Although we certainly had our share (the boat has 24 charging stations spread out over three triple-decked camera tables), there were non-photogs too. And even my first two short dives (in the surface and 20-foot cages prior to my first submerged cage dive), I didn’t take a camera and spent the time just observing the behavior of the animals.

And while we certainly had plenty of sharks, the first thing you’ll notice are the Yellowtail. There are hundreds of them hanging under the boat and around the cages. And they’re big, three to four feet long. They’re hoping to snatch a handout because although they don’t feed the sharks to lure them in, they do do a modified form of chumming. It’s not the bloody bucket of fish “stew” like you saw in “Jaws”, but what they do is take frozen tuna, cut them up (with a chainsaw no less) and then put s few slices in a burlap bag that goes down with the DM for each cage. Once underwater, the DM then begins stomping and dancing on top of the burlap sack and, as the tuna thaws and the stomping continues, the scent permeates the water and sometimes little chucks of fish squirt free. So the Yellowtail are always on alert for free fish coming out of the bags.

But the Great White Sharks are the main attraction and they certainly didn’t disappoint. On every submerged cage dive (and we did almost 100 over the course of three days), I think there was at least one shark spotted on every dive, multiple sharks on most dives, and on one dive we counted seven at once. Pretty impressive. And these aren’t itty-bitty sharks just so you can impress your non-diving friends and say you saw a shark. These are top-of-the-food-chain major predators. This time of the year (the season is generally mid-July through end-of-November) what you see are males, who are smaller than females. So the sharks we saw were mostly in the 12-15 foot range. Still VERY impressive. But there was one shark that was estimated at 18 feet long. Wow.

Visibility ranged from terrific to very good. One the first day, I put it at 150’ in the morning because I could see the length of our 150’ boat underwater, and from 35 feet deep in the cage I could also see the outlines of the bottom contours, and we were anchored in 200 feet of water. Water temp was constant throughout our three dive days at 71 degrees. I was quite comfortable in my 5mm Pinnacle Cruiser and alternated between a 1mm Tilos hood and a 3mm one.

But the sharks are definitely the stars here. It’s thought they spend the nights deep and hunting so when the first cage drops at 8:00AM, you might only see one and it’ll likely be below you. But once there’s some activity in the water the Yellowtail are all around, the sharks come up to see what’s going on, and you get some really intimate encounters. The sharks are frequently passing right by the cages and on one dive, Dave was actually able to reach out and touch one. And on two other occasions, sharks bumped (“rammed” makes it sound too aggressive) the cages. Not sure if that was out of curiosity or what but at no time did anyone feel threatened or anything like that.

Over the course of three dive days, I personally was able to dive 17 dives. So there’s ample opportunity to go in and photograph the sharks, review your work, make some changes in how you’re shooting, and go back and do it again. I mean, let’s face it: There’s only SO many shots and angles you can get on a single species and you either get it or you don’t. But the opportunities are certainly there.

Was it all worth it? Absolutely!!! This is an incredible adventure that you must experience at least once in your life.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving I dive all over the world on a regular basis (please don't hate me).
Closest Airport San Diego Getting There Bus down to Ensenada from SD

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, dry Seas calm, choppy, no currents
Water Temp 71-71°F / 22-22°C Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 60-150 Ft/ 18-46 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile ?
Enforced diving restrictions You're in a cage, so N/A.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles None Whales None
Corals N/A Tropical Fish N/A
Small Critters N/A Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 4 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Excellent photo table. Lots of space and pretty much everyone had their own individual area, including charging outlets. [NOTE ABOUT "SUBJECT MATTER" ABOVE - I gave it 5 stars assuming you want to photo Great White Sharks. The only other things to shoot - all from a cage - are Yellowtail, Yellowfin Tuna, and maybe a turtle or sea lion if you're lucky.]
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