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  • 2000-06 A Desperado's Sea
    By Barb Roy
    Hidden in the shadow of the rising sun and the arch off Land’s End, our ship lay in wait for the Manila Galleon to sail around the peninsula into view. Only the creaking noise from the ships’ timbers, rocking in unison with the ocean swells, could be heard. Heavily laden with gold, silks and precious spices from the Philippines, the Galleon was one of Spain’s finest, destined for New Spain. We knew this would not be an easy victory and lives would be lost. Deep red and copper hues from the sun slowly engulfed us as we clung tightly to the ropes. Cannons were loaded and aimed. We were coiled and ready to strike. With a wave of the Captain’s hand, the skull and crossbones were hoisted and off we went like a stalking jaguar. Standing on the deck with the wind and salt spray embracing my body, and fiery blood burning through my veins, I was alive with the sea and
    the thought of treasure...

    “Excuse me Miss, but you’ll need to return your seatback to its original upright position in preparation for our landing in Los Cabos,” said a soft, civilized voice.

    A dream? What? I looked down to discover the history section of a travel guide to Cabo still opened, and sighed.

    The Sea of Cortez and the Baja Peninsula are rich in the history of pirates, privateers and banditos. Today, travelers from around the world are drawn to the Cape Region and the Sea of Cortez by the same things that drew those rough and ready souls—the solitude of the desert environment and the wealth of treasure available to those who will brave the sea.

    More than 3,000 species, including invertebrates, reside in the Sea of Cortez, making this the richest sea or gulf in the world. I set out to seek and experience this cornucopia of life aboard the Solmar V, a 112-foot, live-aboard dive boat. From Cabo San Lucas we headed 187 miles north up the Sea of Cortez and slowly worked our way back down the southern region of the Baja Peninsula.

    On one of our first dives, near Isla Cerralvo, I homed in on the wreckage of the Salvatierra. At 70 feet its huge propeller was covered with life. I positioned myself for the perfect wide-angle shot, complete with a silhouetted diver above. Suddenly, the light grew dim as if the sun had slid behind a dark thundercloud. I turned to find a giant Pacific Manta Ray with a 12-foot wingspan. Another Manta soon joined in, gracefully swimming from one diver to the next. Once the Mantas arrived, I hardly noticed anything else.

    Sometimes exceeding four dives a day, we were captivated by one natural marine wonder after another. When we weren’t snorkeling with pods of Common Dolphins off Isla Las Animas or with Whale Sharks in La Paz Bay, we were playing with friendly acrobatic California Sea Lions near Los Islotes and huge stingrays in the sand at Cabo Pulmo.

    One of the dive guides, also a marine biologist, explained that there were more than 60 species of sharks and 25 species of cetaceans found in Baja waters, in addition to 300 known species of birds. At almost any given time, several magnificent frigate birds soared undisturbed high above, while squawking pairs of blue- and brown-footed boobies and the silent, odd looking brown pelicans decorated the nearby rocky outcroppings.

    Below, we encountered a cute male Red Seahorse incubating his young at Piedra Carpintero. The vivid orange and purple seafans, Jeweled Moray Eels and black coral at the 300-foot Salvatierra shipwreck provided a rich tapestry of encounters. Some areas such as the fingering reefs at Cabo Pulmo were so full of life in and around the coral heads, we had to take lights down to see it all. Yet the most exhilarating site was at El Bajo Seamount.

    Adrenaline was high as we swam into the blue abyss. At 90 feet I waited. In the distance I could barely make out something coming directly toward me. Having distanced myself from the group, I was feeling rather vulnerable. The distant shape grew into the side-to-side swaying motion of a Hammerhead Shark. I watched in amazement as its sleek body circled me several times then melted into an armada of passing Hammerheads.

    As I cat-napped on the way into port, I imagined all the high-seas desperadoes who’d passed over this blue treasure. Like them, I embraced this place, if for a different kind of reward, and their fiery blood now burned though my veins, too.