Central Coast Diving

CopyRight @ 1997

This is Dale.
I have better pictures than this, but it looks ok.

Here we are again with Dale in his Bayliner or that other blue lake boat he had. I even did a number of dives on the Princess out of Morro Bay, but they had a real problem keeping that going as a viable dive boat, just because the diving is too rough, cold and nasty most of the time. Anyway, I have done a lot of dives around here. Some were good days, some were nasty. It is such a beautiful and pristine area that I just love diving here, even if there are some drawbacks, such as Dale, for one. Now, I am not writing this to pick on Dale, but to understand the adventure in this all, you must know a little bit about Dale. Dale is a buddy of mine from LA, that moved to Pismo Beach and then on to San Luis Obispo. That's Dismal Beach and San Lousy Abysmal to the locals. For some reason, place names get really abused up there. Atrashcadero, Moron Bay, Santa Margaritaville, Dos Losers, etc. Anyway, Dale likes fishing, drinking and a number of other bad habits. That's part of why we are friends. He is actually a smart guy, but his idiosyncrasies have convinced many people otherwise. 'Hi Dale'. I have seen him spear a fish. I was pulling it to the boat on a fishing pole at the time. Have you ever seen someone clean a fish with a 12 gauge shotgun? It sorta worked and he did eat it... He lived on a large remote mountain ranch, above Santa Margarita where the quail constantly conspired to mob him. Luckily he was handy with the 12 gauge and cooked them pests up as fast as they attacked. He had his own motocross track. I used to shoot at him with a pellet gun as he did laps.

Now this was more back in my drinkin and whatever days. I don't know if his drinkin days ever tapered off. The problem with this started immediately when I got to the ranch after driving from LA. It's late. It's time to get drunk. Diving with a hangover sucks. I soon quit the 'night before' drinking. Well, hung over or not, the next morning I was going to have to deal with one of Dale's most endearing qualities. You cannot get that guy on the road. You are going to get to the docks late. That is never good in the ocean anywhere and up there it is a real problem. That area is just naturally rough all the time and it gets worse as the day goes on. A couple of times, we got going after 11 AM when 7 would have been more appropriate. While it's not all that difficult to do, this was more than enough to drive me to drink. Then you get to the water and hope that the boat is going to start. Usually, it would. Dale is basically a motorhead and likes things to be overpowered. He is also basically a landlubber, so he drives a boat like it was a dirt bike. Then, when the day is over, you just hope that you are back in time for the Alviso boat hoist to be open still. There is no ramp. Anyhow, once in the water, there are new problems. Dale, soaking wet, weighs less than half what I do. So he does not get banged around on rough days near as much as I do. Since telling him to slow down does not work, I have learned to judiciously punch him. I say that if he wants to beat me up, I will beat him up.

We went on many trips, that extended from past Point Sal in the South, all the way up to the near Ragged Point at the start of Big Sur in the North. While he lived in Pismo, we usually went out of Alviso. After he moved up to San Luis Obispo for some warmer weather, we usually went out of Morro Bay. Most of the time we went to the 20 mile area between the two harbors that included Point Buchon. It was great fishing and diving. We also made a number of trips north from Morro Bay, up to Cayucus and beyond. Some of the events of these trips were memorable. Sometimes, I had to wonder if I was going to have to hitch back with my gear. Just north of Pismo Beach area is the headland that protects Alviso Harbor. From the mouth of Alviso Harbor to Point Buchon, are mountains that go down to the water. About a mile south of Point Buchon is Diablo Nuclear Plant. The area is really only accessible by boat. The whole area is reefs and kelp beds. Some of the reefs are miles off shore, yet shallower than 100 feet. There are also some small sea mounts if you want to look for them. It is all spectacular diving. North of Point Buchon is Montagne De Oro State Park. It was called 'Mountain of Gold' because of the yellow flowers on the hills there. That area is entered from the Morro Bay side and on a nice day, provides extensive dive areas. It is really something to hear the stories of the abalone in the sand channels, before the otters came.

Shore entries can involve some nasty rocks

A typical dive was like one calm day. We were about a mile south of Point Buchon, near Diablo Nuclear Plant. The kelp beds basically go on forever. We were seeing individual otters, but not the big rafts of 20 to 50. I hopped off in about 50 feet of water with a spear and a camera. I was drifting around a rock wall when I looked down to see what my camera strap had hooked on. It was a pink hydrocoral. I am careful of these, so I unwrapped it carefully and then realized that the whole rock above me, about 20 by 15 feet was different colors of hydrocoral. I had never seen so much. The whole rock face was such solid coral, that it looked like a warm water coral reef. I continued to see great amounts of the coral as I dove. As was often the case, on this dive I saw a great deal of this particular animal, but on other dives, only saw normal quantities. That being occasional clumps and patches.
When diving here, I am looking for, in order, Abalone, Ling Cod, Red Snappers, Kelp Bass and any tasty looking rockfish. The Abalone are almost completely gone now that there are otters here. Ling Cod are common enough, though not always seen. They are far enough under the rocks that they may just not be found. Bang something on the bottom once in a while though and they may well come out to investigate. Hit these as hard as you can with your spear and then pin them to the bottom. They can be hard to hang onto. Red Snappers are spooky and will leave the area of a diver if they see them, but they just don't seem to be able to take a spear. If you hit them even decently, you have them. They are challenging to chase. I found no abalone, even though I was looking. If you find a flat sided crack, it may be scrubbed clean. There are so many otters that if it seems like a spot that an abalone would like, the otters have scraped everything off the rock.
In this area, the reefs are often just huge rocks that stick up from the bottom with sand channels between them. I tend to swim perhaps 8 feet off of the bottom, between the big rocks, but always check them out vertically. It is dim in the kelp, but there is so much to see.
There are many varieties of starfish here, including Pisaster, Leptisteria, Bat Stars and occasional huge purple Picnopodia with 20 or so arms.

Swimming along from rock to rock in this limited visibility, every 20 feet is like entering a new room with new things to see and new fish. Since I am moving fast, while trying to minimize disturbance while I swim, I am usually gone before the fish react.

Then when I surfaced, the fun begins. You see, Dale has taken off to deep water to try to get some fish. My butt is hanging out there about a mile off shore. I have to be ready to bale out and swim to shore. The exit across the rocks is guaranteed to be a thrill. Then I get to talk to security about why I am near Diablo Nuclear Power Plant. Then, maybe, I get to try to hitchhike somewhere in my dive gear. Luckily, Dale always showed up eventually. But he does not look at land marks, he looks at kelp marks. That does not really work, so he usually never got back closer than a couple hundred yards. If you have ever used that whistle in the water, that was so loud in the dive shop, you know that on the water it is not very loud at all. So I would be out there screaming at him and waving my pole spear. I finally got a Water Weenie... or was that a Scuba Tuba. One of those orange, six foot baggies that you can inflate and hold up. It is a great safety device, if you tend to get away from the boat very far. I had told Dale that when I enter the water I am safe. When I am on the bottom I am safe. When I get back to the surface, I am potentially a meal. I would look for the thickest kelp patty, swim to the middle and sorta park on top of it. Oh, did I say that Dale is already drinking his beer and Captain Morgan rum mix that he likes...

We were fishing and fooling around one afternoon, well after I was done diving. By then we are both a few sheets to the wind. Maybe him more than me, but I was quite cheery. We were close to Point Buchon and it was the typical afternoon slop and chop, though since it was not storming, it was actually much calmer than usual. In the small lake boat, we were getting bounced around a bit, when the landlord went by. This was a big one. I won't estimate the size of this white shark, but while we were bouncing around, this thing was going by, just at the surface, without being rocked a bit. Waves and chop just did not seem to effect him. I call those ones 'dinosaur fish'.

If there is good visibility, say 18 feet, there is a great way to get fish. I would be swimming on the bottom mostly, between the large rocks that stick up 20, 30 feet. I would be looking for the Lings and Snappers, but occasionally, I would see schools of fish above me, usually around these big rocks. Most of these fish are Black Perch and so do not interest me, but it is worth checking out. I would drift up from below to where I could look at the school. The few fish that swim different from the rest are probably some kind of Calico or other kelp bass. Poke. Then drift to the bottom. Put it in the bag and do it again. I might get 5 or 6 fish from a big school, before they really notice me. Then, go on traveling on the bottom.

The area up there is so lush, that it presents its own problems with diving. I like thick kelp, but if the kelp canopy is too thick, it may be too dark to see anything. You dive, skirting the edges of the zones of light and dark. If the kelp is too thin, the bottom growth on the rocks may be too thick to even find the bottom. It is there and you can feel the rocks, but it is like flying over a forest, you cannot see the ground. Even the cracks are so full of growth, that you cannot find them or see in them. It was pretty undivable, even by feel. A couple of other times, I found 'fields' of laminarias that stood about 6 feet tall. You know, those are the brown kelp stalks with one large leaf set at the top, that grow about 18 inches tall. Not here. They are huge. I like to dive under the short ones, because the Calicos hide there and also you will encounter strange stuff there, but this is different. It is dark under them and hard to get through the tough stalks. I did not find much anyway, but it was fun and unique.

Shore of Montangne De Oro

On a calm foggy day up near the point, we saw some people fishing in rather close. They were locals that seemed to know what they were doing, so I said lets try the area. I went down in 25 feet, which means that even on a calm day, it will be rough there. I was staying low to keep from being grabbed by the surge and found a straight rock about 30 feet long that stuck up about 8 feet. Half way up was a ledge, so that the rock was shaped sorta like a large sofa. This rock faced out at the south, where the waves were coming from. It made for an isolated calm spot in the ledge. The ledge, that would be the seat and the back rest of a sofa, was completely covered in small, very red Corynactis anemones. I consider Corynactis anemones to be quite pretty anyway and this was the most beautiful display that I had ever seen. I have seen just about every color, but these were the reddest. It was one of the largest colonies that I have seen too. I got some pictures and just hung out there for about 10 minutes enjoying it. Actually, this prompted me to actually think of getting into some serious video. Spots like that are rare, but they are what I dive for as much as for the hunting.

I continued my dive, maybe with a bit of regret. I found no interesting fish. When I went to the surface, Dale had traveled a short distance out, since I was just a bit shallow. I was yelling at him to come get me, but I could see that his line was snagged. After a while he broke the line and came over. He told me that I had to get his lure. Yah, fat chance. So I went down again fairly quickly, basically at the spot he was at. I immediately saw a nice big Lingcod laying on a rock. I hit it really hard and pinned it to the rock, while trying to control myself in the surge. Then I noticed another big Ling about 12 feet to my right. So I grabbed the spear tip to hold onto the first fish and let the surge wash me over the other side of the rock. I bagged that fish and went back for the other. It was even bigger, near 15 pounds. I had just gotten off the boat and my bag had quite a load, so I surfaced and went to the boat. I told Dale to empty my bag so I could go down again. He was blown away. He poured the fish out onto the deck and tossed me the bag. They were really flopping around. As I was about to go down again, I looked back to see Dale standing on a seat, using a pair of pliers to smack at the fish as they were chasing him. I never did find the silly lure.

Lion Rock and Diablo Nuclear Power Plant.
The diving is primeval and the fish pre-cooked.

One time we went out from Morro Bay in the little blue boat. It was the calmest day that I ever saw there. We headed north past Cayucus Point and just kept on going. We got up around South Big Sur or at least that is what it says on a map. I consider the start of Big Sur to be Ragged Point, another 8 miles north. In any case, brush covered hills roll into the ocean. There are kelp beds miles off shore. Just navigating to avoid the really big ones is tough. There we were, so there I went. Picture if you will, a large reef, perhaps 200 yards long, parallel to the shore, from 30 feet at the base to about 10 feet at the top. It is shaped sort of like a caterpillar with large long legs. You have the long central ridge, with numerous small ridges sticking out from each side. The surge is substantial, even on a calm day, because of this shape. This makes for a nice dive spot with an interesting twist. If you stay in the cracks, you are fine. If you go near the top of the ridges, you are really in a surge. It is like this at the west end of both Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. So I am basically puttering along, keeping my head down. when I found one of those sea cucumbers with the bright orange Christmas tree like feeding things sticking out. They are really something to see, being so brightly colored and delicate. The sea cucumber itself is in a hole in the rocks and cannot be seen. I had never seen one and I had looked for them, so I stopped and took a couple of pictures. For all that it was a huge remote reef area, I was not seeing much else of interest. Then I saw a nice bass. I knew what would happen, but I poked it anyway. Well, that brought me high enough to get grabbed by the surge. Away I went flying over the top of the ridge, upside down, trying to get to the fish before it got off the spear. Whatever. I went back and looked for more of the sea cucumbers. I found only two more and really did a poor job of getting pictures. It was pretty dirty and I had a new view finder. The picture I got shows that.
Well, a short time later, on a trip to Point Buchon, I was in about 70 feet of water. There was a huge seamed rock face next to me that went up vertically for at least 35 feet. I just sorta drifted up beside it and realized that every 3 or 4 feet were more of those sea cucumbers... I did not have my camera and I have rarely seen more since... I think that this was the day that was so calm and beautiful that I was driving us in as slow as possible to enjoy the sunset. It was a bit of a mistake. It gave Dale way too much time to drink and I was not much better. We seriously thought about offering a drink to the guys on the Coast Guard boat in Morro Harbor. We were lucky that it was a bit too dark by the time we got there or else I think we would have.

I remember the last trip with my old wetsuit. It was actually a good wetsuit, but it was starting to wear. We had pounded up to near Point Buchon on a fairly rough day. I had made my first dive and it was cold. Since it was rough, I went a bit deeper to about 50 feet and did my thing of molesting fin bearers. It was cold. I got a few nice bass and a Red Snapper, but nothing special. A bonus of the rough water, was that Dale did not go off fishing while I was down, so I got back to the boat easily. Unfortunately, I get seasick pretty easy. So even though I was a bit chilled, I knew that if I wanted to dive again, I would have to go back in the water quickly before I got sick and it was all over for the day. I swam fast, but it did not warm me much. That was about the coldest that I have ever gotten.

I drove up with my Fem from San Diego one Friday night to dive with the Desert Divers on the Princess. This was my mandatory yearly trip on the Princess. We blew a tire and only really made it by luck and patience. We went out and it was rough. By the time we got somewhere off Point Buchon, (I am told that was where we were) it was both foggy and a cold howling wind. Debbie has more sense than to dive in those conditions, but she was along for the trip and moral support. She does not get seasick though. I think that only one other person wasn't sick and that wasn't me. People were laying on the galley floor... So I'm standing out in this freezing wind, trying to keep my cookies and they tell us that it is dive time. Huh? Well, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. It had to be better than on the surface. Off these points are small seamounts that are where the point was some geologic age ago. Even though the water is about 52 degrees, you don't really notice it after the surface conditions. Below it was a beautiful reef that went from about 20 feet on down to about 60 feet. Below 30 feet, it got quite clear and calm. In a current area like this, life is abundant and there are amazing colorful filter feeders everywhere. There were colorful Corynactis anemones, big white metritium anemones (quite shallow for them), fans, feathers, stars and all kinds of other things. The sight seeing was spectacular, though not much in the way of fish. When we got back up, the compressor had an electrical problem, so I got them to describe it so I could go below deck quickly to fix it before I got sick. It would have been a short day otherwise. The nice thing about being on a charter boat was that they were going to certainly pick quite different spots than Dale and I would. We went behind Lion Rock, near Diablo. This is calm and the otters come there to eat what they catch. The bottom is completely littered with small abalone shells and other shells. They do not care about size limits. We did another dive and then finished the day at the last cove before the very tip of Point Buchon. They were giving me nice air fills in my steel 104. It was shallow, so I was down for a long while, crawling through the thick red and brown kelps looking for fish even though it was rough as heck. Tiring dive and I never found any Lings... It was better than any day at work though.

Point Buchon from the south

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