Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

Under the cover of night, I pass a heavy bag of dive gear to a waiting hand and then pull myself aboard the Nautilus Under Sea. This 96-foot craft would be my diesel-powered home for the next 16 days, and my ride to one of the most remote island atolls in the world. I'm tagging along on the “Big Migrations II Expedition” to Clipperton Island, some 1,236 kilometers (768 miles) into the Pacific Ocean, south of the Baja Peninsula. Sponsored in no small part by Oris watches, I am the only “watch press" member aboard and one of two guests directly invited by Oris, the other being an affable Brit named Michael who won a spot on the trip via the MyOris owners club.

The trip itinerary laid out a busy voyage of diving, island exploration, and various scientific objectives. As requisite companions, I have brought the Oris Aquis Regulateur "Der Meistertaucher" and the Aquis Hammerhead LE, both representing the current cutting edge of Oris’ dive watch design and manufacturing. By nearly any metric, this trip is like nothing I have experienced in the past. Arriving in San José del Cabo, I met the expedition leaders, French-Canadian explorers, and oceanographers Michel Labrecque and Julie Ouimet, both of whom are far more kind and accommodating than could be expected for a random watch writer that was attached to an expedition they had spent more than two years willing into existence via their own blood, sweat, and untold tears.

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles
Photo courtesy of Phillip Colla / Oceanlight.com

Hostile and uninhabited by humans since 1945, Clipperton is a six square kilometer (2.3 square miles) coral atoll surrounding a large freshwater lagoon. Cousteau and his crew visited Clipperton in 1978, calling their subsequent film The Island that Time Forgot. I've included the film below as Cousteau did a simply fantastic job of covering the multifaceted story of Clipperton, much of which I will not address in the (failed) interest of brevity. It's definitely worth a viewing:

Currently claimed by France, Clipperton was once under the purview of Mexico and for a time in the mid '40s, housed a small American military presence. Today, aside from the occasional illegal fishing operation or interested scientific party, visitors are few and far between.

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

En Route to Clipperton

With approval from the French Government, Big Migrations II spanned April 29th to May 14th. Leaving from San José del Cabo at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, we made the atoll by noon on Wednesday May 3rd, after more than 70 hours under power. The seas are calm and I found that as long as I ate regularly I could prevent the onset of seasickness. Boat life, especially under the care of the Under Sea's crew, was relaxing, novel, and pleasantly disconnected from the everyday pattern of land-based life.

The small two-berth cabin I shared with Michael was simple but a fine enough place to sleep, with two bunks, a private bathroom, and full wood paneling that creaked and protested under the ship’s pitch and roll at sea. The days at sea proved to be surprisingly lethargic. I found myself passing the hours with books, and by sleeping more than I have since university.

After successfully helping to establish a no-fishing zone around Clipperton following the first Big Migrations expedition in 2016, Big Migrations II leaders Michel and Julie collected a team with a wide range of goals for the sequel mission. Spanning reef surveys, debris studies, ROV exploration, shark tagging, and more, there were a lot of moving parts. Experienced divers and avid adventurers, Michel and Julie’s company, N2Pix, is based in Quebec, Canada and they are both fellows of the famed Explorers Club. They hope that the reports from Big Migrations II will inform the creation of a larger protected area around Clipperton, eventually paving the way for a protected migration corridor from Baja to Chile.

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

At Clipperton

By mid-morning on May 3rd, with an escort of boobies, frigates, and dolphins accompanying us on calm seas, we began to see palm trees breaking the flat contrast of the horizon. As if from nothing, we came upon the thin topography of Clipperton. We dropped anchor off the southeast coast, facing the only visible rock formation on the island, the aptly named Clipperton Rock. The dive skiffs were unloaded as the group eagerly loitered on the dive deck. We had come many miles and it was time to dive.

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles
Photo courtesy of N2Pix.com

Oris had kindly supplied me a snug 5mm wetsuit, which was more than capable of keeping up with the 30 °C (86 °F) waters surrounding Clipperton. Given the considerable remoteness of Clipperton, this was no location to test one's limits as a diver. Medical support was limited to a well-stocked first-aid cabinet and a scientist who had practice suturing sharks. There was no hyperbaric chamber, no possibility of air rescue, no room for any major error. So, with the boat motto quickly becoming “we have a no accident policy” we would dive easy, cool, like The Fonz in an Oris-branded wetsuit.

And dive we did. The water is warm, with visibility often exceeding 15 meters (50 feet) in a topography that transitions from a wall, to a sloping rise, to the coral shallows leading to shore. While biodiversity on Clipperton is limited, biomass is impressive, with large populations of more than one hundred identified species of fish and wildlife. All of my dives on Clipperton were spent on vast fields of complicated hard corals, surrounded by an array of small fish, territorial moray eels, and an ever-present cast of jacks and curious blue trevallies.

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles
Photo courtesy of Alex Rose

Time On Clipperton: 16 Days, Two Oris Watches, One Forgotten Island Feature Articles

On occasion, we were treated to the occasional small Galapagos or Silvertip shark, lovely Golden Puffers, and during one dive I found myself in an expansive tornado of countless black triggerfish. But for all of Clipperton’s life, the reef showed considerable evidence of fishing. From markers and buoys and abandoned nets, to a nearly unbelievable amount of entangled and often overgrown long line, Clipperton’s remote location makes it an ideal spot for illegal fishing. In total, divers on the expedition would collect more than three kilometers of long line in just a handful of days diving around the atoll.

  • Mikita

    You’re lucky man, James! What a great adventure.. The island is a real hidden jem, however the story of it in the beginning of XX is rather brutal. I wish I could visit it one day.

  • Pete L

    Fabulous article and great way to review the watches too! It is great to see Oris offering such support to these expeditions.
    What an amazing experience this must have been.

  • William & Falcon

    Didn’t read atoll, but I’m shore it’s great. Will get around to it.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      I see what you did their 🙂

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Great pictures of a lovely watch. So jealous. Most watches don’t deserve 3 pages, this was a good review, thanks James.

  • Welcome to Clipperton – no worries if you forgot to pack a toothbrush – we have plenty of slightly used ones to choose from.

    Sounds like you have a great time James. And thanks to Oris for sponsoring both the expedition and you divers.

  • Berndt Norten

    Da plane! Da plane!

  • Indescribably jealous. You can keep your $600K ultra-complicated watches – give me a lifetime of diving off secluded islands. Excellent article, James.

    • dennis

      Now what you mean, did that for a 30 day period at one time, wish
      i could do it continually. The ocean is my mistress.

  • Mike V

    Another fantastic expedition sponsored by Oris to showcase their watches. The marketing value to potential buyers is exponential to the actual costs incurred. Well done Oris! As always, great job James!!

  • BNABOD

    Great write up fun to read, cool watches and plenty of trash. Maybe it can help Oris and help stop trashing our oceans. Big fan of Oris and I have been eye balling that regulator too….want one even more now

  • Yan Fin

    Nice write-up. Fun to read. Now back to office life…

  • DanW94

    Thanks for sharing your adventures. Some of those photos are stunning. Concerning the garbage, I can’t think of a more fitting illustration of the saying, “Think globally, act locally”.

  • Great review James. What a unique opportunity and experience. Ditto on the Mantas. I’ve been close to some large Spotted Eagle Rays off the southwest coast of Maui, and they are amazing to watch.

    BTW: Live old munitions like those are relatively unstable. I would not pick one up.

  • Warsh

    great piece!!

  • Cris deA

    Excellent article, James. I enjoyed it very much, as I enjoyed your story at The Grey Nato. Amazing expedition; kudos to Oris for supporting this initiative.

  • SuperStrapper

    Sweet trip. All the garbage would have been so anti climactic, but the forgotten machinery and munitions would have rescued it.

    Despite Oris’ known quality, I find those Msrps unrealistic.

  • egznyc

    Thanks for the combination adventure tale and watch review. The Hammerhead LE, while less exotic, is rather large – but if you have big wrists (or happen to be wearing a wet suit), I guess it fits! (Also liked the mention of its strong lume.)

  • arsenal55

    James, what a great article, so glad you got to do it and share the experience with us landlubbers. And bravo to Oris for providing the backing for such interesting and fruitful work. I have owned a couple of Oris pieces in the past and will again, the only problem being they have so many quality pieces, it’s hard to choose!

  • Simon_Hell

    I’ve gotta say those dive watches sure look ridiculous on those neoprene wrists. It’s like a joke that someone didn’t get. It’s just called a diver, but its not to be taken literally. It’s useless for actual diving. That’s why you have the computer on the other wrist.

    • WTF

      • Simon_Hell

        It is as ridiculous as buying an ‘aviator jacket’ from jcpenny and then testing it by flying a plane in it. Or buying ‘cargo pants’ and then wearing them while unloading a uhal truck to see how them hold up in on the cargo front. I see no difference.

        • Great examples. I guess you truly don’t see any tailoring of a watch to a particular activity. Be sure to wear a 3 ATM water resistant dress watch on your next mixed gas scuba dive.

  • Mr. Snrub

    Enjoyed this one. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  • Word Merchant

    The beauty of the scenery is in stark contrast to the dullness of the watches.

  • William & Falcon

    “an escort of boobies”
    Yeah, the rest of that paragraph didn’t pan out like I’d hoped.

    • Spaceguitar

      LOLOL

    • benjameshodges

      Read that twice. Maybe thrice.

  • Really brilliant stuff – been waiting many weeks for this report, found it well worth it. Miss the hell outta my old Regulateur, looks like it’s time to replace it pronto.

  • benjameshodges

    Oris strike again. This brand have been doing everything so right recently. The Oris Aquis Hammerhead is rugged as hell.

  • Lucian Virciu

    Well done Oris!

  • Ulysses31

    Great watches. A shame about the HDR photography though; it always looks “fake” to me if done without subtlety.