Wednesday-November 12, 2008-11:00pm
San Diego Harbor-We made it. After an uneventful flight and uneventful cab ride, we made it to H&M Landing to board the boat. Kent and I were the last people to get to there. Guys starting arriving at 3pm, they let you on the boat at 8pm and we showed up at 9:30pm.
We only have 14 people on this trip. On trips past we average twice that. That means a lot of room on the boat. The crew took out the dividers on some of the bunks which means you have twice the space. Captain Greg gave us the safety briefing, Chef Mark gave us the galley briefing and we were off. It takes about an hour to clear the harbor and hang a right to head northwest towards the Channel Islands. Captain Greg said that the navy has closed San Clemente Island until Saturday so we are headed farther north to Santa Barbara Island for our first day, then Catalina on Friday and finish up at San Clemente on Saturday. The weather report calls for sun and calm so it should be a great trip.
2 miles southeast of the isthmus of Catalina-I hate the first night in a new bed, especially one that is tossing and turning. Down in the bunk room, it is pretty dark so you can’t tell what is going on in the real world. I tossed and turned for awhile and came up at 7:30 to a gloriously sunny morning. Catalina is off to our right and the cut of Two Harbors is clearly visible. Breakfast with eggs, potatoes and sausage and we are off and running. About 1 ½ hours more to Santa Barbara and the diving begins!!
11am-Johnson Rocks-west end of Catalina Island
So about 20 minutes after the last post, the captain got on the loud speaker to say that because of the swell we were encountering we were bagging Santa Barbara in favor of Catalina. Santa Barbara is a smaller island and with the swell coming from the direction it was coming from, I guess most of the island would be too rough to dive. 20 minutes later we came around the western tip of Catalina to the leeward side and anchored at Johnson Rock. We suited up and prepared to dive. When I hit the water I first helped a boy, Chad, who was diving with his dad and brother. He was having trouble getting down. One of the biggest problems people find, especially with cold water diving, is that they feel they need more and more weight. Remember that neoprene is made up of lots of small air pockets and as you descend, they will compress and you will become less buoyant. Dump all your air, relax so you are not breathing that hard and then fin your hands so you go down a little. Once you are under, flip over and kick yourself down further. Once you are down about 15-20 feet, the air in your suit will compress and you should be able to stay down. Now keep in mind on the way back up that if you are not letting air out of your BCD at 30 and then 20 feet, once you hit 15 feet, the air in your suit is expanding and you will pop up like a cork.
So once he got down, I found Joerg and we started swimming. I looked down at my camera to turn everything on. Imagine my surprise when I saw the camera housing was half filled with water!! I had checked the o-ring and let it sit in the rinse tank for awhile. Everything seemed fine. Coming up as I checked out the housing I could see part of the o-ring pinched out. I climbed out, rinsed off the housing, took the camera out and rinsed that as well. The Horizon keeps a hairdryer for just such an emergency. I dried it out for awhile, I can’t tell if anything happened or not. I guess we’ll wait and see. I am hopeful. Back in October I soaked a camera in Zions and after thinking it was toast (and buying a new one) turned out it worked just fine a few weeks later. So much for the much anticipated “taking lots of pictures” part of the trip. Lunch was a deli-spread and we are moving to the next site. ike this will do any good!
I swear, sometimes I think every boat has its own name for the same site. We are just east of the old quarry. I have dove this area probably 15 times under 5 different names. Sea Fan Grotto mergers into Rock Quarry, which merges into Crane Point, which merges into the Shack, which merges into Yellowtail Point. What’s in a dive site name? A site by any other would look as good? I digress. Great dive. Started off with Doyle, Joerg, Butch and Kent. Sandy bottom under the boat at around 40’ and slopes up into kelp and boulders. Nice visibility. Most dives I am leading people so when I get to follow someone it is a bit of a novelty. Doyle was leading and I could just ignore everything and focus on the dive. The first thing I noticed was the purple covering on almost all the rocks. I have no idea what it is but it looks so pretty when you shine your light on it to really bring out the color. There are a lot of purple urchins in all the cracks. As I checked out some closer and peered my light deeper into the crack I saw an octopus. They are the coolest creatures. I can count on 1 hand the number of times I have seen one so this is a highlight. It is pretty deep in the hole and not moving around much but his eye is right there. (I imagine he is thinking, Dude-turn off your light!) I look around to show him to someone else but Joerg is the only one close to me and he doesn’t hear me yelling for him. As I leave the octopus, I see a scallop tucked in the next crack over. Naturally I brush some water at him to make him close up. That’s just what I do. I proceed to follow behind everyone else as we go up and down through the kelp. We came across one huge boulder, most likely 20 feet high and over 100 feet around. There are numerous cracks running through it and the biggest one is teeming with shorts and the big ones are hiding down deep inside. The Captain caught one on the last dive that was barely legal size. He is the only one to get one so far. We are going to have dinner and make our night dive. We can do 2 night dives since that is when lobsters come out more. We will see how we do tonight.
After a wonderful dinner of Chicken Tacos (chicken was BBQ’d on a grill that hangs off the back of the boat) with lemon cake for dessert, a few of us suited up for a night dive. I buddied up with Chad’s dad. Since he was hunting lobster and I was just site seeing, I told him to lead and I would follow. Like the last dive it was fun to just tag along. There is almost a full moon tonight so you could really see a lot without even using your light. That is one of my favorite things to do on a night dive, turn off my light and play Navy Stealth Diver. It is amazing just how much you can see once your eyes get used to the dark. A little light from the surface can go a long way. There are 3 great night dives that come to mind that were made in the dark (pun intended). 2 were in California. The first was at the Casino Point Marine Park on Catalina. There are some lights from the Casino that you could see clear as a bell. The second was on my first trip on the Horizon about 5 years ago. I was doing Butch’s Advanced class and the boat was backed up right next to a kelp forest. There was a very definitive line between the kelp and the sand. We swam back and forth along the kelp line weaving in and out using the lights from the boat as our guide. The 3rd one was in warm water in Curacao. We stayed at Captain Don’s. They have a very good house reef and put out about 50 tanks at the end of the day so you can dive any time you want during the night. They made navigation really easy. The laid a thick rope from the edge of the dock, out over the flats to the wall and then down the wall to 80’. Once you hit the rope you could find your back. Across the flats and to the edge of the wall, it was almost bright as day from all the lights from the resort. Since it was so easy and there was a lot to see on the wall, I think we did 3-4 night dives that week. There was a resident green moray that lived right next to the rope at the top of the wall. He was there day and at night, never more then 10 feet from the rope.
We didn’t see anything too exciting on this dive. Captain Greg said he had seen a lot of lobsters up in the shallows around 15’ so that is where we spent most of the dive. My buddy caught a few lobsters but they were all shorts. The captain also said he was going to check with a few sources and hopefully head to Santa Barbara tonight.
We moved a little further east and made the next dive. I buddied up with Kent and we had a good dive. The visibility wasn’t as good as earlier, about 30 feet max. There was lot of surge especially as you got shallower. Right under the boat was sand and not a lot to see. We headed in a bit and got into some good kelp and boulders with lots of life. I saw a small school of bait fish and saw a larger school of California Barracuda right on the edge of the kelp. We cruised around shallow and then headed back towards the boat. Just to the right of the boat, we came into some more kelp and boulders. Saw the first lobsters of the trip in here. There was a crevice with about 7-8 shorts just hanging out. It was an okay site but I’m glad we are going to move for the next dive. Due to the conditions on this end, the captain wants to move farther east towards Two Harbors. Some of my favorite dives are up that way-Bird Rock, Crane Point and Sea Fan Grotto. I might have to try and pull some rank to see what if can dive up there.