Beauty, Movement and Bugs

The Boilers

CopyRight @ 1997

A bit more than a mile off of the north west corner of San Nicolas Island is a shallow rocky spot called the Boilers. I have also heard it called Bull City. Apparently, it used to be about the best place to find the large San Nic bull lobsters. It is a pretty rough place, as it is shallow reefs and rocks that go on for over half a mile and more than a hundred yards wide. I really do not know the extent of it. Many rocks stick up past the surface, but none are big. Waves and splash are boiling up everywhere on it. It is a wild place out in the open like that. It does not get visited to often by the charter boats. Sort of what you might call an advanced dive site. There is good diving all around it in more sedate depths though, if that is what you want. It is still well worth mentioning as an exotic and adventurous place. This also tells something about the Peace.

The first time I dove there, I did not dive there. We pulled in early, off the edge of the reef, on the Peace, hoping the morning calm would allow a nice dive. The boat was anchored only about 100 feet from the start of the rocks. Most of the reef is under shallow water, but there are a lot of rocks sticking up as well. We were all hopping off on our merry way. Some were going into the Boilers, but most planned to hunt elsewhere. The Captain, Bill Magee was going to show some people the best way in. I wouldn't have minded a guide, but that looked like a busy affair already with seven people planning to follow him. I figured that there it is, how hard can it be to swim there? I hopped on in and went down to about 35 feet. It was clear and beautiful, at least 50 feet of vis. A very San Nic rocky bottom. That means big rock slabs and boulders. There were a lot of fish there, including large Sheephead, Calico Bass, many varieties of rock fish, Garibaldi and other finned what not. It would have been good spearing if that had been what I was there for. I went towards the reef and looked up. and I do mean up. It was straight sided up to the rocks that broke the surface. Calm day this might be, but all things are relative. This was the ocean side and it looked nasty up there. I traveled along the reef for 150 feet and saw no entrance. I came back the other way some, where the others had planned to enter, but that was a ways back around the reef. Well, it was a fascinating place right where I was. There were the most large fish that I had probably ever seen. There were large horizontal shelves that went back a dozen feet or so into the rocks. I wanted to see if there were any bugs in the back, but I had to try to shoo an incredible number of big fish out of my way to see anything. There were some nice bugs, out of reach of course, but I had never seen a hole so full of fish. Some of the Sheephead were easily 20 pounds. They were not very timid. This is an open ocean area. I suspect that they liked looking for what the waves knocked off the reef above. Also, I expect that the area was really well oxygenated. It was a sort of weird dive. I did not get any bugs, but the fish were amazing. On later dives here, I found out how I could have gotten in, but it has to be seen from the inside to see what the paths are....

The seven divers that went in with Bill Magee. Well they didn't get anything... Of course Bill did pick up seven bugs with a combined weight of 49 pounds and I have a picture of it. One 12 pounder, two 8 pounders and some others. It is the biggest single legal bag that I have ever seen. Interesting place.

I got back to the Boilers again. Hunting used to be far better there, but now the hunting is spotty at best and it is hunted by the people that know the terrain and where the bugs hang out. Bug wise, some people hit the glory hole, the others did not, but what a novel and exciting place. I am sure that some people know their way around it and where the bugs tend to hang. This is part of why boat crew can do so well sometimes.

I was on the Truth out of Santa Barbara on a 2 day hunting trip for the lobster season opener. It was a pretty calm dawn and we could see the Charisma about a 200 yards towards the middle of the reef. There were other boats strung along the reef as well. I had my 104 cubic foot tank and I was determined to cover some ground. I went into the reef at the side and headed south along its length. Most of it was about 8 feet deep. There were some cracks, though not a lot. Most of the reef is more flat or rolling than full of cracks and boulders. It is a big area though, so there was a good deal of variety. There was little algae, let alone kelp. I expect that it was too rough for that. What there was were huge Pisaster starfish and Anemones. These were in areas that were covered with gooseneck barnacles and mussels. There are not too many fish there, mainly perch. I expect that it is a bit rough for them as well and there is little cover. I was swimming over rather flat areas of the reef that were covered with white patches of gooseneck barnacles. It was about 6 to 8 feet deep and quite clear. Be aware, this includes a very interesting surge. As you swim, you hang on. When you release your hold to ride the surge, you fly for 20 feet. It may have been a somewhat calm day, but this water is not calm. Looking over the outer edge of the reef I could see shallow channels in the rock, where a diver could have come up the face of the reef if they knew about them and were careful to hang on. Nearby were rocks sticking up into the surf. In a way, being in this extensive, clear, shallow area it was a bit like being in a swimming pool, except that there are large waves forming and breaking above you. Watching waves from underneath is one of the most fascinating views to see while diving. It is great. As you swim along and check out along the bottoms of the rocks for bugs, you have to stop and look up to see if this is a rock that sticks above the surface. There will be waves sloshing around it if it does. It is a reminder of how rough the surface looks.

I still was not finding bugs and I knew I had been traveling pretty much south, so I decided to pop up for a look and some bearings. I was way down there past the Charisma and even the next boat. I had trouble even figuring out for sure where my boat was. You ever notice that the further out from the dock you are, the smaller the boat looks? The Truth is a big boat. It looked tiny. Anyway, I swam back, riding the surge, hanging on and looking for likely holes.

I had checked any rocks or cracks I came to with no luck. Then I came to a crack perhaps 6 feet wide at the top, 30 feet long and probably 25 feet deep at the deepest. I dove in it, hoping that there was a ledge at the bottom. Sure enough, there were some rocks and a small ledge and there were antennas sticking out from under it. It was a skinny crack at the bottom, filled with rocks that had fallen into it, so it was a bit hard to get into the bottom of it. Unfortunately, that meant that the lobsters knew I was there and that they were in trouble. An 8 pounder went one way and a 6 pounder went out the ledge in the opposite direction. I swatted them both with my arms outstretched and sorta got a hold of them. I barely had a hold of the bigger one, sort of pressing him down and against a rock. As I lay on the bottom, trying to figure out what to do next, I noticed that there was a nice 4 pounder looking nervously at me from right in front of my head. I couldn't really move much without losing my grip on the biggest bug and I couldn't work my hand up it because of the spines. I had a good hold on the 6 pounder with my right hand on the back of his head and carapace though, so I brought it over. I considered sticking it between my legs, but that can be iffy and they can do some real damage. I did see a small hole between some rocks though. So I jammed him into it backwards, like putting a bug into a goody bag and rolled a rock over the top enough to trap him. I really don't think he liked it, but he was well stuck. The rock just wiggled a bunch. Then it was easy to get a good hold on the 8 pounder and he was in the bag. The 4 pound one was indecisive, so I got 2 hands on him and he was quickly in the bag too. The 6 pounder was still stuck in the hole under the rock. I carefully got him out and that was that. Bag o' bugs.

I had planned it well enough to get back to the boat pretty easily, but that had used some air. I got moving quickly. I wanted my air to last at least until I got off the reef and I still had a ways to go. It was great sight seeing as I went along, but I had to hurry and kept riding the surge as much as I could. I was able to travel amazingly fast. By the time I did get off the reef, my legs had a wee bit of a burn to them. That was a long fast swim, in rough shallow water that used up my whole large tank.

This dive was unique for a number of reasons. It was clear, shallow and brightly lit. The colors of the upper intertidal zone, especially the greens, were bright and vivid in the sunlight. It was some amazing sight seeing as I traveled. I was glad to get off of the reef and into deeper, calmer water nearer the boat. You really catch your breath and relax as you come off of it, but I also hated to leave. I would sure like to go back.

This was a really unique and special dive. If I hadn't even seen a single bug on the whole dive, it wouldn't have changed that. It sure did add some excitement to it though.

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