Catalina Frontside

I went out on the Great Escape last Sunday. We were scheduled for Santa
Barbara Island, but weather forced us to Catalina. That was OK since my
my main interest was photography this trip rather than hunting. I also
wanted to work on getting a feel for my new wing type BC.
It was calm, clear and sunny when we got to the island.
We ended up at Eagles Reef for the first dive. We were right near where
the main pinnacle comes up to about 12 feet from the surface. The kelp
was up, so there wasn't any current to consider.  I was tentatively
planning to compass out to a deeper pinnacle that I know of, but it is
deep and problematic enough that I was figuring that if anything wasn't
perfect, I'd stay on the main pinnacles.
One of the things I'm interested in with a wing is if I can do head
first entries. The Great Escape is pretty high though and I have to
admit the impact was pretty drastic. It would not matter as much
perhaps, but my sinuses were unhappy as well, Other than that it
worked well, since I was at 30 feet almost immediately.
Vis was only about 20 or so feet, but that's plenty. I was moving
straight down the face of the pinnacle, but my sinuses were really
complaining so at 60 feet, I found a ledge and sat down to take off
my mask and try to clear out my head. It's one of the times you
notice the difference between the buoyancy of a wing and a
conventional BC. Whatever attitude you go in, a wing tends
to hold you there.
Well, my sinuses were still unhappy, so I scratched the plan for
the deeper pinnacle. It is a difficult dive when everything goes
right. Well, Eagles Reef is beautiful dive ... no matter how many
times I've done it.
I know that a good dive when not hunting is just to work all the way
around at 60 feet and then work up the pinnacle at the end, so it was
now time to look for photo ops. I found a couple of very pretty bright
blue nudibranchs. There were a lot of fish, though they were all
smaller. There were also lots of very healthy Gorgonian sea fans.
The kelp was healthy and fairly thick.
After a while I found another kind of nudibranch. It was brown with
blue spots and about 4 inches long. I took a couple shots of it and
then waited because it was heading towards a small starfish. I figured
it would make a good shot even if I had to wait on it traveling at
a snail's pace. It got there eventually, then there is still the
problem that I am a lousy photographer. At least the Sculpin I found
was happy to pose, but poisonous critters often seem to be.
I continued working around the pinnacle slowly. It is a very pretty
dive. I ended it by working very slow to the very top of the pinnacle
and relaxed there for a while to look around. All the kelps were lush
and brilliantly lit by the sunlight.

The next stop was on the outside of Ship Rock. Since I more often
than not am hunting, it's not a spot I frequent, but even when
hunting I like to visit it because it is such a beautiful dive.
Positioned where it is so far offshore, it almost always has
excellent visibility. Today was no exception. As usual, my plan was
to swim all the way around it.
It drops off pretty fast around ship rock, especially on the mainland
side, but there is some reef at 20 to 30 feet and another larger area
at 60 to 70 feet. Then it drops off deep, fast. On the island side is
a fairly large area of reef 30 feet and shallower. There are the
remains of a sailboat there as well. The kelps and algaes are
spectacular all the way around and give the whole reef area a golden
I swam towards the rock through the deep kelp to the shallows. Vis
looked to be about 50 feet or more. There were a lot of small fish
everywhere. There were lots of Garibaldi, bass, sea cucumbers and
other assorted critters. I just worked my way around slowly in the
well lit shallows, taking occasional pictures of whatever looked
interesting. I like taking pictures from underneath of waves washing
up on the rocks. The kelp on the island side was extremely thick and
I enjoy going into the thickest parts I can find. While I didn't see
many large fish, I saw one nice Calico bass about 16 inches. It was
way to spooky to have gotten a shot at even if I had brought a
I collected a couple of cleaned urchin shells to bring home to
the kids. The challenge is to get them to the boat intact. To
make it more interesting, I climbed out onto the rocks on the
mainland side for a bit.
It was just a beautiful, shallow dive in the thick kelps.

The next dive was along the shore at a place I didn't recognize,
but I strongly suspect that with the number of dives I've done in
the immediate area, I've been there recently at night. The 'beach' is
steep and 20 feet wide or so, made of rocks from the size of a small
bowling ball down to pebbles. Scrub covered cliffs rise behind that.
Rocks of various sizes, none bigger than a washing machine, make up
an algae covered reef that goes down to 20 or 25 feet at 150 feet
from shore. In terms of dive spots, it wasn't any kind of a special
place, but a lot of times, a dive is what you make of it.
I traveled slowly west along the outside of the reef at perhaps 20
to 25 feet, either over the sand or a bit into the lowest part of the
reef. The kelp was a bit down in the current, so it constantly provided
interesting swim throughs.
Where the reef met the sand, the rocks were big and there were lots of
nice cover for critters. I saw a fair number of lobsters. Actually more
than I expected. There were lots of fish including a number of sculpin.
I just continued to swim up current in the shallow water for quite a
while enjoying looking in holes for things to photograph and making my
way through the kelp. Eventually, I figured it was time to turn back
and I had something specific in mind for the return trip.
Where is the most beautiful diving? Where did diving start out? In many
cases, it was right here, along the warm, shallow sunlit shores that
could be reached by any diver with a mask and perhaps some fins. There
are less fish than there once were and it's not covered in green and
pink abalone like it once was, but it is still thick with all kinds of
small fish swimming in the lush brilliantly lit kelps and
I stayed between 10 and 4 feet deep, moving back towards the boat, taking
advantage of the brilliant sunlight to take pictures that I could
never get with any camera flash. There were bright orange juvenile
Garibaldis with their iridescent blue spots dodging me almost as
nervously as they avoided the mature, territorial members of their
own specie. In holes were large urchins and small sea cucumbers.
There were some bright colored anemones. Clouds of young blacksmiths
were everywhere as well as a fair number of anchovies. The real
display though were the lush algaes. There was only so much
macrocystis this shallow, but there were all different varieties of
exotic looking red, green and brown algaes of every color. Even if
this were 25 years ago when I studied algaes, I would know the names
of few beyond some Gigartina's and Halysacyon's.
I had a long way to go back to the boat. At this depth, air was no
issue. I moved slowly trying to get a good look in the holes under
the kelp for the more hidden life of the reef. After a long mild swim,
but still too soon, I could tell it was time to head out the boat. I
popped up to get my bearings and check out the island from close up.
Then it was a matter of following the reef out to its end and then
staying at 20 feet until I could see the boat above me. It was about as
generic a dive site as can be found at the islands, but it was
still spectacularly beautiful.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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