Hitchin' a Ride to Piedros Blancas

CopyRight @ 1997

This was just some fun I had one day and it can inspire one to think...

Dale and I were cruising up around the San Simeon area one day. This is basically south Big Sur, just below Ragged Point. I wanted to find a beach dive. There are all kinds of likely places up there, but you do have to catch it on a good day. Summer and Fall are the best bets. Consider 20 feet of visibility to be a very good day and 10 feet to be divable. In the shallows, that may be plenty. Along Hotel Row in Cayucus are incredible rocky reefs just offshore. There is a boat launch there. It is not much of a ramp, but it is enough for kayaks, inflatables and aluminum boats. Further north is San Simeon with interesting reefs all along the shore. Kayakers go out from San Simeon Pier to San Simeon Point for the excellent fishing. Further North up Hiway 1 is Piedras Blancas. It was probably named White Point because of the large sea stack just off the point that is covered in bird stuff. There are numerous rocky, kelp filed coves, just off the road, that look like some really inviting diving. Past Piedros Blancas the coast rises towards Ragged Point, which is the real start of the Big Sur Coast. Access to that area is another matter and is difficult even by boat, let alone shore.

We had gone as far as Ragged Point and were heading back south again with the plan being that I would select some spot that I had scoped out on the way up. It is not what would be called a really calm day and since I am solo diving, I have to be a bit careful in my selection of where to dive. The drawback of solo diving, one has to be even more conservative about other safety procedures. I was looking at an area just below Piedros Blancas, where the road goes right near some nice partially protected coves. There are good areas to pull off the road there. Then, I saw a guy near his van with scuba gear laid out. That seemed like a good place to start and ask about conditions. It turned out that he was supposed to meet some people who couldn't make it. His inflatable was in the water at the cove and he was about to go, but actually, he would like some company. Sure Bob. Why not?

We loaded up quick and were heading out of the cove carefully. It was not a calm day and as we passed the break on the rocks at the edge of the cove, I was happy that I was not beach diving it that day. He said that we would go behind the large sea stack to another one that was submerged beyond it. I guess that that makes it a sea mount. It was calm going, because the waves were swell, not wind generated. It made for a beautiful sunny day out there. It was also nice, because the inflatable was small by any standards. We went about a mile to get behind the big sea stack and there was an extremely dense patch of Bull Kelp. These are the kelps that are attached to the bottom by what seems like a long slender rope, then they get very thick towards the ball at the top. On top of that are a few long "leaves". They can reach the surface in very deep water and usually only show their ball above the surface. Here, instead of being spaced apart, they grew so thickly together that the surface was more than solid with them. This was above the top of the seamount where we were to dive.

It is really something to look at the seaward side of the sea stack. Beyond the point, this is really the open ocean. It evokes thoughts of the storms that come in here so often. It is a beautiful place, but obviously quite harsh a lot of the time.

Dale was going to splash around in his wetsuit, but not really dive. Bob was going to sightsee and I had a pole spear. We rolled on in and dropped through the kelp. It was dim, but the visibility was 25 or 30 feet. I saw the top of the seamount at about 50 feet, but dropped down along the vertical side to the bottom at about 80 feet. It looked like it a bit rough for there to be real luxurious bottom life. There were anemones, stars, mussels and some algae, but also a lot of bare rocks. It was beautiful in the cracks where the life was a bit more protected. The sand along the bottom had typical little crawlers and some juvenile flat fish. I was following the bottom edge of the mount looking for rock piles or hidey holes when I saw what looked like a Red Snapper, but all white, with a small patch of red on its side. I have heard that this may be the same specie, but a color variant, just as Red Snappers sometimes have a white patch on their side. I cannot say for sure, but there is one thing that makes me think that it is another specie. Whenever I have seen these fish, they leave immediately and fast. I have only succeeded in getting to one once and so consider them to be a real challenge. Red Snappers are friendly by comparison. In any case, this was the biggest one that I had ever seen, so the chase was on.

Now, this is a bit of an odd chase, for many reasons. If the fish actually thinks I am after him, he will be halfway to Ragged Point in a flash. Visibility is about 35 feet and if he sees me within 20 feet, he is going to leave. I cannot give off any signals like quick movements or direct pursuit. Aiming my pole prematurely will send him scooting and even speeding up my breathing will scare him off. All I can do is wait for him to stop around a corner or pass some ledge that will allow me to move up without being seen. I had followed him for about 50 yards when he went into a pile of rocks leaning against the base of the seamount. I realized that the hole went through the rocks and was actually big enough for me to follow through. It made a little tunnel about 6 feet through. The decision to follow through the hole has to be made very fast and one barely has time to enjoy the uniqueness of the journey. About this time, the fish is starting to notice this big bubble blowing blob pacing him. He went about 20 yards further along the base and then straight up the side of the seamount, into the kelp, at full evasive speed. He's seen divers before. Well, that was fun.

I was no longer attempting to pursue him, but I took his path up the side of the seamount to the top. Now I am in the craggy top of the seamount which is densely covered with the Bull Kelp holdfasts and a wide variety of other brown and red kelps. There is patches of iridescent Porfira seaweed occasionally and different species of Gigartina. Up here are lots of smaller rock fish and perch. All kinds of worms, crustaceans, shellfish, starfish and whatnot are distributed on the rocks. It is careful going, because the strong, rope like bases of the Bull Kelp are only inches apart. The light coming through the kelp is a bit dim and very yellowish. Vis here is closer to maybe 15 feet. I found a nice Cabezon in a rock and figured that to be dinner, but I was mostly sight seeing by then.

I floated on up when my tank was empty. Bob was already back and Dale was still playing in the kelp. It was a nice day to be on the ocean and it was an extremely exotic little spot. Even if it does get some divers, this place will always have a somewhat primeval nature, because it in not a place for land dwellers to go carelessly. It is real ocean and a harsh place. I want to go back and find that fish.

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