Windmill Cove, Bodega Bay Abalone Dive

Bodega Head

In ways, this picture didn't come out as good as some, but I still like it. It shows so many things if you know what to look for and maybe can look in your memory for the details.

Look to the left. It starts with the North Coast's finest scenery. Completely unapproachable cliffs protected by stone teeth challenging the open Pacific Ocean at the southern face of Bodega Head. In the distance is Pt. Reyes. Both of these are lonely rocky sentinels on the Pacific plate to the west side of the San Andreas fault. The rest of California is east on the other side of the fault and so moves the opposite direction when the Earth decides to adjust. Between both of these isolated ancient granite mountains are long beaches extending to the other side of the fault. These are lonely, windswept places that are land, but belong to the sea. Off these craggy cliffs is nice diving if you can do it. Around this point is one of the whale passages and many people stand above the cliffs watching the grand beasts rounding the rock headland on their yearly ocean spanning trek. It is OK for whales, but as a diver, I recommend that you don't find yourself in a current there.

Look below, right in front of you. See those long offshore rocks. They look protected a bit. It is a challenging climb across the steep rock faces to get down. There are pocket beaches in the rocks. Kelps of every color, flotsom of every type lie strewn in natural artistic jumbles, left on the shore by waves and tide. Yes, I dove there a couple of times, which is just proof that I'll try anything twice. You see, those long rocks have very steep sides and even on a calm day the waves just rise and then bounce back off them. You have never had so many waves coming at you from so many direction at once, in between those long rocks. That was interesting diving, but really a bit too wild for great site seeing. There were a few abalone. Basically a stupid place to dive.

Look at the natural beauty, but be careful. See that light brown rock right in front of you and underfoot. It's decomposed granite. It looks solid, but can explode to fine gravel in your hand or under foot. Many people get hurt this way. Hiking can be more dangerous than diving, but here it is an open question that changes day to day.

Then again you can do like a buddy of mine when I went to school there. I think it was his birthday. I think he was inebriated. He ended up hiking to the top of the headlands around midnight on a very dark night. Apparently at one point, he found himself within a herd of deer. What is no doubt, is that he found the uniquely potent poison oak that only grows on the Bodega Headlands.

Now look all the way around the corner to the right. There are cliff flowers at your feet. Be careful going into those channels near shore. They can be hard to get out of and the waves go in them just fine. Look a bit more to the right. That is to the west and north now. There is Windmill Cove just beyond. That's my dive spot. Few people really go there to dive, partly because the diving above the Russian River is just as close and more accessible. This is the only spot that can be easily reached by car for many miles. The accessible spots north towards the river are pretty treacherous and the river may limit the visibility. Then again, maybe it is its reputation Bodega Bay has as one of the corners of the White Triangle. Oh yes, whether you see or not, the Landlord is certainly there. What did I care? It was great diving and I could get to it on my bicycle.

When I went to school at the Marine Lab there, I visited the cove for a dive every few days for a season. From the waves and howling winds of early Spring to the relative calm of summer. I went with other divers on the occasions I could, but mostly it was just me and a few people fishing or watching the waves from the parking lot. I learned to stay to the south of the cove and not get in the current that entered the south of the cove and barreled out on the north side. The rocks may not look friendly. The corridors between them are narrow and rough, but that is better than currents. Rocks stick up, but most dives, you go into the placid water in the cracks well below the dancing waves, foam and white water of the surface. Find the bottom of the hole between rocks. Drop into it, relax on the bottom and look around. The life is vivid. The beauty is intoxicating. There are fish and invertebrates everywhere as well as all the exotic sea weeds. Abalone are common. Don't take any too soon or it will ruin the flight of diving. Look for big ones, unless of course it is one of the rough treacherous days of waves and currents. Then you get in, grab and get out. Time and again, as you move through the tight channels between the rocks, you have fish encounters that are of the close and fast kind. I was there on days with nasty storm waves. I was there on calm days when I tried to climb out on all the rocks that stuck up high enough. I swam off the points where fishermen died each year in the treacherous surf and saw that the rock channels were there and could have protected them if they had known. On one dive with five people from the lab, I saw a white shark swim behind them. I saw no reason to mention it at the time. They were going in. Times were when I was slammed into rocks and smashed by rogue waves. I had so much fun and adventure that this place is etched in my mind until I die.

There is so much more that the picture records if you know where to look. There were the abalone parties on Sunday nights and the Spring Ball at the Lab. I hitch hiked home there from Santa Cruz for my twenty first birthday. That evening I stood in that huge empty intersection after the rain. In the west the water painted the ground a golden red from the brilliant sunset above. In the East were two rainbows. It wasn't the only magic. I learned much there. Too, there was a lot I didn't learn. That was when I knew Salli..

Look up. No, not the next cove. There wasn't that much to see underwater there besides purple urchins. Look at the next headland far beyond. On this side of it is Horse Shoe Cove where no one is allowed to dive anymore. On its shore is the Bodega Marine Lab. This is the most private of private places. A marine preserve in between two state parks. It takes some permission and qualifications to dive there even if you are at the lab. I never did. Still, all the rest was my playground to explore. Every day when the other students walked the path from the dorms (where the "Birds" was filmed) and then up the road to the lab, I went the other way. Straight west were the untouched dunes that led to Salmon Creek Beach. Rabbits, deer and hawks were the owners here. The plant life was hearty to survive in these shore dunes. It was then a half mile walk along a lonely, misty beach, that ended at the other side of the ancient granite of that headland. It was a steep climb up it through the marine chaparral. Then it was a the most beautiful part of the walk, above the jagged cliffs of the headland with the crashing sea in front of you and colorful fields of wild flowers behind. The journey came to an end at the lab at Horseshoe Cove, but did the journey ever end? The pursuit of natural beauty and wonder goes on.

After school, I went there many times, year after year, each trip an adventure. It has been so many years enjoying the rugged coast and softness of the sea. In the coves is not just great diving in thick kelps of every variety. It is not just the fish that suddenly appear in the fast moving water or sleep under the deep protected cracks. It is not the stars, the scallops, anemones, urchins and so much more. It is the best things in life. It is adventure and it is beauty.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

More about diving at Windmill Cove, Bodega bay
Diving Bodega Bay