San Diego Diving, Wreck Alley

Maximum Color

I needed to go to San Diego for some business in the morning so I checked the website and sure enough the Lois Ann was making a trip to Wreck Alley at 2 pm. According to the 3 day wave report, the big waves of last week had subsided. It should be a hot clear sunny SoCal day showing blue from the Coronado Islands to La Jolla.

I was a little late, but still got to the landing at Mission Bay in plenty of time. It can seem strange when you go to a place that you once frequented, but have not visited in a long time. I guess it is good that it is mostly the same. The Lois Ann is still ultra red and white like a couple stripes from the flag. Any change to that would be shocking.

It's convenient that they supply weights and tanks, though I brought my HP 100 rather than use their steel 80's.

When I got to the dock, It was not the sunny clear blue I was hoping for. Instead conditions were windy with a nasty looking overcast the color of dive weights. I got lucky parking and prepared my gear while talking with the other divers getting ready for the trip. Divers leaving from the morning trip had said that conditions on the wrecks were good. It ended up that 12 divers were going out, which is a real nice number on this boat. There was a very wide range of experience from tech divers to newbies, a couple drysuits and a lot of different gear styles. I actually brought my strobe and was hoping for some great photo opportunity. I prepared my camera before we started out. With this wind, it was going to be bumpy. You may be very near the shore, but unlike the islands, there is no place out here to find shelter from wind or wave.

It was time to go and the skipper, Karl gave an orientation about the boat. Then the DM, MJ, gave a quick, but extensive discussion of dive matters. As we cleared the breakwall, it wasn't big and it wasn't small, but it was breezy.

Within 15 minutes, we were at the Yukon. The crew gave a good discussion. They said it was a 366 foot Canadian Destroyer. I have heard slightly different lengths up to 388 feet. When the ship was prepared, a route was planned so that divers could easily go the entire length of the ship. It was called the Grand Hiway. Unfortunately, since the ship fell on it's port side, this Hiway is at the very bottom of the ship at about 95 feet or so. It is a fun dive, but must be carefully planned to start at the beginning of the dive to allow for gas and bottom time. I took that route the last few times I dove the Yukon, but this time I wanted to go elsewhere and take the colorful pictures possible on the outside of the wreck. It was supposed to be a mild exploration dive.

Karl said that they don't have a lot of rules about dive procedures, but they expected divers to be very responsible. As far as penetrating the wreck, he said the old scuba adage, if you have any questions about if you are qualified to make a dive, then you are probably not qualified.

The diver with the doubles was in the water already. The rest of us finished gearing up. There was only stern and bow buoys above the wreck now. Apparently boats going by tended to hit them and cut the ropes. There used to be buoys or ascent lines every 50 feet. Karl said some boats had been by earlier. Sounded exciting.

After a quick game of 'are you organized', I entered the water a short distance from the stern boey and followed it down into cold green water. It was like a black and white movie, except green instead of black. As I went down the line, it became colder, dark and stayed pretty green. I didn't know what the bottom visibility was going to be like, but I sure didn't want to get away from that boey line until I was on the wreck it self. It seemed like the glare of the sunny haze above was in the water making what light there was completely flat. The water clarity was pretty good, but not the light. The stern appeared and I could see that well enough, but to see any detail or color, my LED light helped a lot. I was right above the big propeller assembly which was full of large snowy white metridium anemones.

The big round propeller assembly

I drifted down to look around it. Looking from underneath it appears much bigger. It is really weird looking at it hanging out so far. They're big.

The propeller cone is popular real estate for the current dwellers.

I still hadn't really decided on any particular route to take. I moved back to the hull and looked into the furthest back access hole into it. Talk about a black pit. There was a metridium that was at least 2 feet tall right inside. I didn't go in partly because I wasn't interested in the area, but also because I didn't feel like disturbing the metridiums there.

This is what you see if you look in the farthest back opening. The white paint is on the inside of the hull of the stern.

I moved forward some. It was a little hard to see in the dark. I wanted to find where the upper decks started. White swords that were diver lights reflecting off the hull would appear out of the dimness from different parts of the deck, then the diver might appear. Every so often there were things sticking up from the deck. The ordinary was made incredible by being completely encrusted with different brilliant shades of Corynactus anemones. Most items on the deck are unrecognizable now. A little kelp grew near the high point of the starboard rail, but there were very few fish to be seen. There used to be more.

Not sure what it is, but the anemones like it.

Then I saw the hold. I remember it well as the blackest, darkest, light absorbing pit imaginable, but there were many ways from in there to the interior corridors of the ship. It is disorienting how your vision is stolen from you. The blackness of space must be like that. Even your light beam is invisible. Then you start to make out shapes and openings. I looked around a bit. There really isn't a lot to see though there were a couple of fish and there were the metridiums at every opening. I found an opening that headed towards the bow and up. Before entering the submerged room, I looked for the green glow that shows the way to the openings through the hull. From most places inside the hull, it is at most two rooms to the outside of the ship. In the dark of the interior, your light shows everything clearly, in perfect visibility. All green and haze are gone because inside the walls are only about eight feet away at most. I went outside again fairly quickly because I wanted to get back out around to the deck where I could find better photography. Still it is fascinating inside and something different to see.

More graceful Metridiums. There were a number of perch in places around the wreck.

I followed the bridge out and then along the life boat cranes. They are covered with colorful life, but you are very aware that if you lose sight of that ship, good luck finding it again. There was more visibility than light. As you go above the bridge, your eyes get tired trying to make out ghosts in the dimness. This is when I could have used an HID light.

And this is a... Yah a.... I remember that things used to be more recognizable on the deck.

I had shot a lot of pics by the time I got to the bow. The cold was oppressive and the lack of light was almost disorienting so I decided that though I had some air left, I was just going to drift to the stern again along the starboard rail seeing what I could before ascending the line. Just this distance made it almost impossible to see the bridge, but some divers were checking it out with their lights so it showed in the gloom. As I ascended into the warmth and light it was like a weight was removed from my shoulders. The water was a good bit warmer near the surface.

Now these I can identify.

I was happy to kick back some on deck even though the wind was a bit stronger. After a while everyone was aboard and seemed to have had a good time. A short time later we were anchored nearby at the Ruby E. The crew put out some good sandwich makings. The captain commented that there tended to be more fish on this wreck than on the Yukon. He also warned that the wreck was older and there might be some sharp edges. It was getting old enough that in places you could put your hand through it.

I've always liked the Ruby E. It has some of the best displays of Corynactus anemones anywhere in California with every imaginable shade between brilliant red and soft rich violet. It tends to have more fish as well. The decent down the bow line was another decent into green and dark. With the wind, the bow line went down a long ways at a mild angle. About 15 feet above, the hull the ship appeared like a phantom in the fog. Immediately you get struck by the colors. Everything that is not deck is covered with anemones. I took some pictures, but really wanted to get to the wheel house where the best displays tend to be. Again, what was needed was a large HID light to illuminate things. I could see that the deck plates had gotten as thin as we were told. Luckily there wasn't any obvious diver damage. I wanted to make this a no touch dive in terms of both the boat and the life on it.

One of the old ascent lines

There were a couple varieties of perch as well as a couple knobby orange sea cucumbers. I think there were more cucumbers last time I was here. There is a large stack that sticks up about 12 feet from the deck which was solidly covered with Corynactus. I went on to the bow. It seems the wreck is sinking into the bottom a bit more or perhaps just bending with age like an old man. For all the vivid thickness of life on certain parts, other parts of the deck are completely bare.

Color Wall. I think there is as much or more color here than any other dive site in the world.

I then headed back to the wheel house to look for shots. One thing for sure, there were a lot of painted greenlings fish on the wreck. I was hoping to find some small odd life in amongst the overgrown areas. The anemone growth on the wheelhouse was as heavy as I have ever seen it, but it is Corynactus anemones and pretty much nothing else. I used my light to try to get some idea of what the colors were, but it can be hard. The bright reds and yellows are pretty easy to figure out, but what I really wanted to find were lavender anemones. You usually can find some patches and the color is amazing. This time I found patches of that were predominantly purple, but quite pale and only colored at the base. It is a big area of anemones on the ship, but I didn't find the color I was looking for.

It's a long time since her skipper looked out of these.

I moved around to the starboard side of the wheel house and looked in. Again I stayed out since the edges of the hatches were grown thick with anemones. It looked like there were more anemones, but there were no cucumbers climbing the walls like the last time I was here. The portholes of the wheelhouse make you think about the long ago mariners that looked out here at the many faces of the sea.

Where the currents flow, there is colorful life

It was time to head back some. On top of the wheelhouse was a large gray sponge and a hand sized patch of bright yellow sulfur sponge. I found another patch like it on top of the stack. It's a great place to just relax and look around in dark holes and nooks with your light.

Life in the cold green

When I got to the stern, there were a number of fish on the deck including perch and what I think were young white sea bass. I headed slowly up the line from the bow and from the feel of the rope jerking like a fish on a hook, the seas had gotten a bit livelier while I had been down. I came up the bow line to near the metal float ball (about 16 inches) at the surface. It was bobbing violently in the chop and wind. Clear green water just seems odd to me. Next time, I'm bringing a bigger light even with the camera. The surface was not rough enough to be a problem, but it was time for care when approaching the step as it jumped up and down in the swell.

Everyone had had a good dive. Gear was put away. For all that it was windy and darkly overcast, it was warm when I took off my wetsuit. That seemed really strange. It was tropical, but San Diego can get that way. The ride back was short and with the wind. it was a ride back to another world. The view of the shore was like the view underwater, flat and it absorbed all visual clues. It was some very odd weather for Wreck Alley, but the diving had still been really good.

This got photoshopped. Can you guess the original color of the anemones?

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

Other San Diego Dives

  • The Yukon
  • The Ruby E
  • Point Loma Kelp Beds
  • Yukon Morning

  • Beautiful Dive On The NOS Tower In San Diego

  • Extrordinary Images Of Wreck Alley From The Camera Of Alan Shepard

  • The Ruby E On The Lois Ann

  • Back

    A few more pics

    This looks like a wreck

    An odd grouping