A Time To Dive - The Golden Doubloon

It's Thirsty Work

CopyRight @ 1997

My favorite tub was the Golden Doubloon. It was the first California Dive Charter boat, run by the famous treasure hunter Mel Fisher. When I went on it, the skipper was Eddie Tanaka and it was slow. I started diving on it in about 1972, with trips to San Clemente, Catalina, Santa Barbara and even once to San Nicolas Islands. In the early 70's it was one of the biggest of the local dive boats and it was frequently chartered by Aloha Dive Shops. That was an NASDS crowd, so the equipment one saw on the boat could be anything. A lot of these guys were aerospace engineers and they would even make gear.

This was primarily warm weather diving. It tends to be much nicer weather at the southern Channel Islands than it is further north. It's great to wake up on a sunny day on a calm ocean. The diving tended to be rather casual. There might be a line at the gate in lobster season, but unlike some other boats, no one was prodding the person in front of them, with a dive knife.

We were anchored near a kelp bed off the front side of Catalina early one morning. Johnny and I were in quickly and decided to go straight down to the reef instead of swimming the 100 feet to where the kelp actually started. We went down quickly and I guess we both felt the depth because we each showed our depth gauges to the other. It was 110 feet and my suit was squeezed. We quickly moved to the reef and went up the nearly vertical face. I quickly saw what people said about it being called Eel Reef rather than Eagles Reef. There were big morays in every crack and hole.

The reef was as beautiful as anything you were likely to find on the entire island. Catalina has many smaller lacey golden algaes that give the reefs a gold glow. There were large Sheepheads and Kelp Bass everywhere, along with many perch and other smaller fish.

It turns out that Eagles reef is actually 5 large pinnacles, about 1/4 mile offshore, just a bit west of the Isthmus. There is a great deal of vertical in this area and one of the pinnacles comes to within about 10 feet of the surface.

Between about 60 and 70 feet was an area of Elephant Ear Kelp. This large Laminarea (brown algae) has a small stalk and a single huge 'leaf' that is about 2 feet wide and 40 feet long. The leaves lay about 18 inches off the bottom in a mat and can only grow where the water is consistently calm. I went under this. It is clearly separated from above by the solid mat of leaves and though a bit dim, it is quite easy to see in the area below it. Little other algae grew on the rocks below it, but there were numerous Corynactis anomenes and sponges. There also were numerous Sculpin or Scorpion Fish. These are neat looking orange rockfish that sit on the rocks and in the cracks. Their back spines carry a toxin that can cause great pain if you are stabbed by one. Apparently, very hot water can potentially denature the toxin, but I had no interest in finding out. Since there seemed little else to see and I didn't really like seeing the Sculpins, I left that place and continued in the open up the reef.

It was fascinating in the way that healthy reefs are. In the clear water on a sunny day, colors are brilliant. At the top of the reef, it was completely different than the terrain lower down. There was a fair of surge near the top. I was crossing an area of rocks with some brilliant green Eel Grass and all kinds of Perch, when I heard a bump. I went to the surface and a private boat had hit the red warning buoy above the reef, while trying to tie up to it. It was neither legal nor bright. I swam over to it and looked at the hull. The guy on the deck was happy to hear that there was no apparent damage.

I continued along the reef back towards the boat until out of air. Johnny was already there. We had time. I told him to go down to 100 feet on the edge of the reef, where we had been, and I would try to free dive to him. This was when I was really into free diving. He grabbed a tank and we went to near the kelp, where he went down. I waited a bit, did a sharp surface dive and dropped down quick. Sure enough, I wasn't hunting or anything and so easily got down to him. He was on the bottom though, so I figger it was at least 110 feet. That was the deepest that I ever tried.

A note. Nobody really took any game, though most people were at least casual hunters. Nobody, that is except Tom and another guy. They both got well more than the then limit of 5 abalone. These were nice big fat Green Abalone. Great eating and the shells were considered jewelry quality. Where were they? I looked and I didn't see a hint of these anywhere, yet these two guys had cleaned up. Under the Elephant Ear Kelp. There were lots of them. Further, Tom had used his knife to stab some of the Skulpin, which are very tasty. This was when I decided that the best way to dive was to go where other people wouldn't. That is how to find the game and the unusual. It is one of my primary rules of diving.

There was this engineer that machined abalone irons and steel single teeth out of aerospace type stainless steels.

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