Anacapa Easy

I needed to dive.

I needed to do a normal dive. Not one of my typical double black diamond warm up hunting dives I do these days. Just a dive. Like I used to do all the time. A dive ... just for the fun of it. A mellow dive. Maybe even a warm dive. Just not a dive where every decision must be made in less than two seconds. An easy dive.

Anacapa Island
Backside West End Anacapa Island - All Of It. Click on image.

I had some time so I looked for a boat going to the northern islands. I wanted to see the lush beauty of where I started diving. The Spectre was going to Anacapa. How could I go wrong with that? An 8 o’clock departure seemed unbelievable. Heck, that's a full nights sleep. What a novel concept... if I ever slept before diving.

I boarded with no surprises. There were a fair number of divers, but it wasn't a crowded boat. The diver stations on the Spectre are very convenient with plenty of room for tanks and gear. Tank fills are done in place at your station which is nice. It's an easy layout. I got my gear in place, filled in my paperwork and then took stock of the other divers onboard. They all seemed like your usual fairly experienced divers. I checked out gear to see what that showed. Most rigs were just standard BC's, but there was one other backplate rig and there was one rig with the tank in a neoprene cover. I never saw that before. I wouldn't want the extra lead for it myself, but none of the gear looked particularly exotic. There were no spears visible in the tank. The Spectre itself is a large steel hulled beast that used to service the oil platforms. As such, she is very comfortable in rough water, though as we left the harbor, that didn't seem to be any problem. It was overcast, but clear enough. It was nice after the hot, laser clear sunlight of the valley. The breezes were bonifide authentic cool, rejuvenating, salty sea air with a touch of spray as the boat cut through the small swell. After a while I could see oil platform Gina through the mists a ways to the south so I knew we were heading for the west end of the island. The skipper, Ted, had said that the backside had been having real good visibility. I was on a mission to get scallops, but I was thinking of trying some turban snails if I saw a few.

A bit after we went around the west end, we were anchored just west of Cat Rock. I knew the area. There is kelp near the main rock, but the reefs extend far beyond that. Everyone was pretty much geared up so the deckhand, Harmony, gave a short talk on boat procedures before the skipper gave a talk on the dive spot. Afterwards I asked if it would be a good idea to swim all the way around the rock, he said it was not very interesting on the other side. Besides, it would have been a long swim and my word for the day was "easy".

Cat Rock, Anacapa Island

I did a tiny stride entry and immediately saw the rocky reef below me at about 35 feet. Vis was great, perhaps 50 feet. There were a lot of urchins on the open parts of the rocks, mostly purple urchins, but a number of big red ones too. Much of the area also had a thick cover of brittle stars, but they were relaxing, waiting for the current. I was taking pictures of them and then some delicate tube anemones as well. Best of all though were numerous small, vividly lavender sea fans. I don't remember seeing such pretty colored fans before. There were also some of the more common large gold sea fans. It was beautiful there, but I wanted to move on to the thick, lush reef growth I could see on the larger rocks. There the life was thick and diverse. Sea Cucumbers in the rocks had their feeding fingers out everywhere. There were some good corynactus displays, even some entire rock faces covered with them. I was seeing cowerys, small turban snails, all kinds of sponges including vivid yellow sulfur sponges. There was even a little hand sized patch of cup corals. In places like this, every inch is covered with various invertebrate life. It is colorful, beautiful and fascinating. The water was about 64 degrees and felt warm enough to dive in all day without noticing any chill.

Beautiful Sea Fans

Sea Fans and Brittle Stars

I went from rock to rock and sure enough in one hole I found two large scallops. Getting them was another issue. I had one of the aluminum abalone irons with the built in caliper measures. I like something bigger actually, but most of the scallops I found were deep in small holes that would not have allowed anything bigger. These were stuck on good. Frankly I was surprised I never bent the iron. I banged around them to get room to get the iron in so that I could actually pry some. On the first one, the shell broke enough that I scooped in and took the meat while leaving the bottom shell in place. The second one took some serious prying, but it broke loose and then I wiggled it back and forth for a while until it came out. These were both about 7 inches and respectable size for anywhere.

Cute Little Gari

I continued towards Cat Rock itself and just at its base was an abandoned lobster pot. There was a rock fish in it, but it was open so I ignored it. The rock was covered with life including small fish, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, all the usual suspects, kelps and a lot of stuff I couldn't really identify. There were no scallops though, except the colorful green and orange lips of small ones. I moved towards shore along the fringe at an easy 30 feet. I was taking pictures as I went. I found more scallops on rocks off the main reef. They were all large and all were very difficult to get off. At one point I found a 3 inch red abalone shell that was fresh. I also found a very big pink abalone shell, but it was a bit older. Not that old though. For some reason I was thinking of Freddy Macarow. He really knew how to enjoy a dive.

Even I can get it right... occasionally

After a while my regulator was starting to suck a bit. I wasn't really ready to go up and in 30 feet I was debating whether I had to, but I did start moving off the bottom. I had enough to make a short stop at 10 feet, but had trouble taking it seriously. I do make the last bit slowly. The deck hand took fins off at the swim step and helped with gear.

On the boat again, it was almost a completely clear sky. A number of divers had seen a large black seabass that stayed in a hole. I had gotten 9 nice sized scallops, but two had only one shell. I cleaned them up, diced them on a shell and poured on a pack of soy sauce. Almost everyone on the boat tried them. They are so delicious when fresh.

The skipper moved the boat a short distance to Coral Reef. He said it ran west to east under the boat about 30 feet at the top and 50 feet at the sand at the sides. He said that though the current had died down, we should move up current to the east or anywhere but off the reef to the west. If anything, this area was even more lush and beautiful than the last dive. I like the diving at the outer islands, but this was pretty and vital enough to match most anything in California. There were lots of small fish, but no large ones. There were lots of sea fans like at the first spot, but few of the vivid lavender ones. This was more in the kelp. I saw a small lobster hunkered down deep in a hole, but no scallops larger than couple inches.

Coral Reef Kelp

Now it was a bright sunny day with just a light breeze and no chop. Gorgeous. Lori the cook put out a great lunch of bar-b-que chicken with some fixins, but I think it was the fresh salad with it that I enjoyed the most. Everyone seemed pretty amazed with the last dive. It had been a good one.

For the final dive, the skipper moved the boat a bit further west and anchored perhaps 200 feet from shore. He said that this place was called "Channels" for the channels between the rocks that ran all the way from the mid reefs to the shore. I hopped in and it was the typical rocky urchin reefs. Maybe more urchins than usual. I headed towards shore where the lush reef was under thick kelp. The deep channels started in about 20 feet with the rock sides sticking up 8 or 10 feet on both sides. There were lots of fish of all kinds. I started breaking some purple urchins up for them as I went along. They liked that. Again, there was all kinds of life on the rocks.

I was in about 10 feet of water looking in some cracks in the rocks when I saw a number of lobsters. They were legal sized and larger. I looked a bit to my left in a hole and there was a big lobster, very big. I think he was at least 8 pounds and he was coming up to check me out. I waved my fingers at him to see how far he would come. I might have gotten him in season, but it is hard to say. He was not shy. Next to him was another one of similar size. I broke up a bunch more urchins and then continued moving in.

Big Bug

Channels like this are fun. As they get shallow, they are still a bit protected, so the life gets thick in them with big green anemomes, senoritas and all kind of stuff. The problem is that the life gets thick, as in thick kelp too. The water is moving pretty fast and turning white from bubbles. I wanted to find any crossing to the next channel before I completely ran out of water. I sort of did or I think I did. I was flopping around in the surge, pulling my way along by grabbing the kelp on the bottom. I wanted to get into a couple feet of water fast rather than really get grabbed by a wave. At one point, I reached for the bottom, but moved my hand about a foot over so that I could grab a 2 pound bug that was in the open. I was a bit too busy to do more than grab him and let him go. There was a bit of a channel and I was pulling through it hard, watching some perch getting whipped around in the surge. I got through and wondered what that had all been about so I stuck my head up. Apparently I had gone through a little channel between the shore and a wash rock just off shore. I had definitely bumped some urchins well. I headed back out in this skinny channel and wanted to get into at least 6 feet of water.

Brilliant Green Anemone in the Shallows

I made it down into a small calm area and started breaking purple urchins. The good part is that the iron would clip them in half with one easy hit and the fish were really enjoying it. There were about 15 garibaldis and innumerable other little finned denizens. The bad part is that my experience has shown that if you break urchins like that, you are going to get spined some. Annoying. Then this nice sized, colorful cabazon appeared. He didn't seem to want urchins, but he just kept swimming around in the small area I was in. I was taking pictures and he would move around, but he never went far. I could get as close as I wanted and he just hung out.

Friendly Cabazon

It was time to start moving out a bit. Below me was a ledge that stuck out some above the bottom. It was pretty hard to get under, but I wanted to look in it. It was rather dark as it went in a ways. Then I saw the back. There was an entire army in there. Bugs from legal sized to about 3 pounds completely filled the ledge in an area more than 20 feet wide. I have never seen that many big bugs before at one time. It looked like the kind of crowd that Brad would get a picture of. I broke some urchins and tossed them in, but they stayed in the back. Now, in season with a buddy, I think a person could have taken off their tank and gotten in far enough to have started kicking bugs with their fins, but this was a small, deep ledge. A very interesting small, deep ledge.

I'll take on this army any day.

It was time to be moving out. This was a beautiful channel between and under a great little kelp forest. Like most areas of the day, it was full of life. I moved out to the urchin rocks. While there are lots of urchins, you just have to look close to see a huge variety of other life everywhere. I could see the boat above me, but still had time to look around a bit. It's easy to take Anacapa for granted because it is the closest island offshore, but in no way is it second rate for diving and the variety of life below. It is thick and diverse. I drifted up slowly to the swim step. Harmony was nice enough to take the urchin spine out of my foot. I've still got a few small ones in my knees for reminders. Next stop was the hot tub.

The channel out

As we came around the west end of Anacapa Island again, there were a lot of birds on the water. That is a good sign that there is plenty of baitfish for the food chain. Looking at the island from this angle, I was surprised how much it curves around. The rest or the island was like a crescent moon extending off into the hazy mist. The ride home was calm and easy. Some people dozed and some chatted, but I think all would remember it as an excellent day in the water.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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