The dive boat sits still on a calm, flat Sea of Cortez. We are 7 miles away from San Jose del Cabo. Our dive boat captain looks out to his triangulation points on the distant arid skyline and takes a whole minute to weigh up the opposing forces of a light breeze pushing the 28ft panga against a slight surface current. I am among three other experienced scuba divers that have arrived at the drop point above the deep seamount of Gordo Banks: a unique opportunity for hammerhead shark diving within a single day trip from Cabo San Lucas. The guide checks his GPS one last time, back-rolls in to set his buoy line and then off we go; down, down and down some more. Down to at least 100ft.
Shark Diving from Cabo San Lucas
As we descend we can already see the first signs of life in the form of small jacks and rainbow runners. This often leads to a wall of bonito jacks, yellow tail or snapper that hover on top of the deep pinnacle. It isn’t unusual to see a large stingray shadow pass beneath, or a mobula ray or two flying by near the surface and even a humpback whale in season. The bank itself is covered in beautiful black coral and we sometimes see 5ft long hound sharks darting around the pinnacle. The stars of the show are of course the schooling hammerhead sharks usually found between 100ft – 120ft (30 – 40m). They are by no means a guaranteed encounter and so this excursion is referred to as a ‘hit or miss’ shark dive. As a bonus, silky sharks are a regular safety stop encounter in the summer months.
The Dive Plan
You can dive two ways from the Gordo Banks panga boat: with or without a descent line. If the surface is calm and the captain doesn’t detect too much current then it is possible to lay a grampin anchor and use a descent line to the top of the pinnacle. However, this becomes difficult to contend with in very strong current and so if this is the case the guides will make the decision to drift dive onto of the seamount with their buoy lines up at all times. This is another reason that Gordo Banks is a hit and miss dive: currents can change speed throughout the descent but, nevertheless, captains must use their judgement to place divers in position and divers must get down fast. Once at the deepest depth of 35m / 120ft divers look for the sharks and other amazing life for 15 to 20 minutes before starting a controlled ascent. This can just as easily be dictated by no-decompression limits as it can by low air consumption.
When we talk about safety equipment for Gordo Banks, we’re talking about preventing problems from diving in deep open water and not because we’re diving with beautiful, harmless sharks! All divers must carry computers to track their bottom time and surface marker buoys so if they need to surface alone in an emergency they are visible. In addition, the guides at Cabo Private Guide carry a GPS radio lifeline, a single-use 8ft inflatable tube and a loud whistle. All divers on the boat dive as one group and do not dive as individual buddy teams. It is possible to send buddy teams up individually once the group arrives within 20ft of the surface. Sometimes those that have more gas reserve want to wait the full 50 minutes at safety stop level to see if any Silky sharks, rays or even marlin pass by. A deep stop is recommended at 40ft/12m and a safety stop is mandatory.
Who can go?
Anyone in good physical health, who is advanced certified and who has made a local check out dive with one of our guides.
Is a check out dive really necessary for very experienced divers at Gordo Banks?
Yes! Even the experienced scuba diver can discover an issue they didn’t know they had with their equipment, or maybe they are more congested than they realised or the water conditions aren’t what they’re used to. It’s recommended to sign up for a local 2 tank dive where the first dive is simply to relax and get comfortable with your weights and breathing. Then the second dive will be a dummy run of a deep dive to check buoyancy control at depth. If your guide agrees you will be a safe diver in deep, open water then the adventure can begin!
Enriched Air Nitrox or Air?
Gordo Banks dive site can be a bottomless blue water dive if current moves the group off the pinnacle. It is possible to dive Gordo Banks on 28% Nitrox rather than air to extend your bottom time on top of the pinnacle. You must decide as a certified Nitrox diver if you can stick to the maximum depth limits of your enriched air. Or, if air would be more suitable seeing as it’s safer if you accidentally dive deeper than your plan. If you haven’t heard of Nitrox you can read more about that here or sign up for a course!
San Jose vs Cabo San Lucas
The boat ride from San Jose is a lot shorter and more comfortable in choppier conditions although the longer journey from Cabo can be nicer for trying to spot more wildlife on the surface. Most boats will only go from San Lucas with a minimum of 4 people. Cabo Private Guide and Dive Gordo Banks runs trips from San Jose for a minimum of 2 people.