It's the middle of January and I haven't been diving all year. At least I'll be able to say that until sometime this Saturday morning, when my buddy Anne and I will hit the water in Monterey for a visit to the Metridium Fields with friends from scubaboard.com and northcoastdivers.org. We're heading south really early so we can get there in time to park somewhere east of Pacific Grove.
I am excited because this will be my first weekend diving with my new camera setup. Nothing fancy, but serviceable Canon SD870, Canon housing, and a pretty nice Inon D2000 strobe. I'm tired of coming back from a great diving trip with only stories about how beautiful it all is. Now I'll have photos.
My last trip was at the very end of last year, on Vision, to the Channel Islands. Here's a shot taken by Michelle Boucher of me and my buddy Pete at a spot named Cuevas Valdez.
This spot, on the North Side of Santa Cruz, featured large caves and huge spires of textured rock sloping sharply off the island down to a sandy bottom at about 60 feet. Pete had just freed a Horn Shark from where it had got stuck between two rocks, and we were headed back to the boat when we saw Michelle with her camera.
It was our last of three days of bouncing between Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, and we'd had great weather and good sea conditions. The diving was, at times, just spectacular. Visibility varied with location, but we'd had a few dives with 60 foot viz that were breathtaking.
Our first dive of the last day was one of the best. Fern Grotto, north side of Santa Cruz, we dropped onto a ridge that was the underwater extension of the west point of the grotto. We could see all the way down the terraced contour to about 110' or so as the ridge sloped off into deep water. We descended right down the spine of it, marvelling at the diversity of marine life crowding the rocks and fissures. I saw a large yellow striped fish in a hole that was too big to be a juvenile Treefish. We soared down the slope to about 95' and levelled off, then looped back in an ascending spiral to explore the west side of the ridge. As we came around the peak there unfolded in front of us a wide, deep sand channel with another huge dike about 50 meters away. Looking just to the left around the west side we saw that the ridge dropped off in a sheer cliff down to about 120'. We glided out over the wall, which extended up to about 30' depth above us, and we hovered just off the face looking into small cracks for nudis.
Sadly we didn't have air to go further exploring so headed back to the boat vowing to get over to that far westerly wall another time.
Aboard the boat were some who'd come for the lobster. Here's a bug that got caught out of his hole during the night dive on Anacapa after the second day.
The next day on Anacapa we drifted a bit west from our overnight anchorage at Cat Rock and did our first dive at Coral Reef. This location was stunning: a set of pinnacles whose peaks were at about 40' but which dropped off to the west and south into dramatic, wide canyons and ledges to a 120' bottom of gently sloping sand and rock. We could see all the way down the canyons and the massive structures, walls, and valleys were an unbelievable spectacle. We elected to traverse north along the west side of the outer pinnacle. The bottom looked at first like a smooth rounded series of hillocks sloping off to ledges over which we could see successive terraces all the way to the bottom. On closer inspection the brown covering of the hillsides turned out to be literally billions of brittle stars waving their small tentacles. It was like the very ground was completely alive.
We circled around to where there was some kelp growing out of rock and ascended a bit to traverse back toward the boat across the endless bed of brittle stars.
On the other side of the anchor line the terrain changed completely. We were looking directly down the broad canyon that opened out into deep water to the south. At the apex of this canyon we glided into a realm of textured, jumbled rock that more resembled Monterey, with the customary explosion of invertibrate life, including sponges, gorgonians, kelp, strawberry anemones, telia anemones, scallops, and nudibranchs.
We wandered around and through the rock pillars until our air got low and then headed back to the boat, ascending with the help of some giant kelp stalks. I later learned that there are three pinnacles here, running roughly parallel to the island, with sand channels in between. Once again, we'd only seen a tiny portion of this majestic underwater realm. Must return.
On the way back to Santa Barbara the sea was calm and the water glassy. You'd hardly think it was winter. Dolphins jumped in and out of the wake and the low afternoon sun was warm on us as we hung out on the stern of Vision looking at the islands receding over the horizon.
Here's a picture of Pete at the back of the boat trying to get in position to photograph the dolphins.