CopyRight @ 1997

When I was a little child, something that some people say never was, my father took us on a trip up the coast near Vandenberg Air Force Base and then down this long dirt road to a cove. It was quite remote and beautiful, but I remember that the waves were huge. It was not some place that I was going to go swimming. The fog of time makes my memories of it rather poor, but I remember those big waves and the walls of white water that they turned into. That was the first time that I saw Point Sal.

Rough, remote and primeval, Point Sal

So there I was 20 some years later, heading south out of Alviso with Dale in his 19 foot V8 Bayliner. Diving is always exciting, but when you are on this course it is going to be something more. While Dale does like molesting fish, from a dry perch, he is still basically a land lubber. He thinks a boat is a dirt bike. He used to own a 750 water cooled 2 stroke Kawasaki... that he built. That says it all. Well, he is this little guy and does not get beat up near as much as I do when things get bouncy. Pismo Bay is bouncy. I finally crossed my arms on my knees to prop up my chest so that my back wouldn't get bounced so much. Bad move. It meant that I was not holding on. It also meant that I ended up flat on my back in the bottom of the boat... and Dale was not even drunk yet. Anyway, that and a good threat got him to slow down a bit. So we're getting down near Point Sal and trying to figure just where we are and where the rocks are. It is a deceptive place. There is one big rock out there that is easy to see, but there are a couple of smaller ones out there that I am not too sure of the exact location. Also as I say, it is a bit deceptive, because of the way that the land turns in there. It is somewhat calm around the point, but not entirely. One thing that I have noticed in all my trips to this point, even on a relatively calm day, there are going to be huge ground swell coming into there. The water may not be choppy, but there are always these mountains going by. Doing a solo dive in an unknown area is always a hesitation. Doing it in an open rough unknown area is even more so. We had no depth finding gear, so I got him to pull up near enough to the big rock for me to swim to it if I wanted. I guessed that it was only about 40 feet, though we were very far off shore. I was interested in abalone and lingcod. Now this was before the otters had moved into this area heavily, so I expected to find some nice game..

I rolled on in with my pole spear and ended up at about 35 feet. It was clear and bright. I could see right away that it was a healthy pristine area that did not get much dive traffic. It was very much like I would have expected at Santa Cruz Island. I immediately saw a number of big bass, perch and Sheephead. Conditions seemed reasonable so I moved away from the rock, since I figured that that was where the most divers were likely to try their luck. Then I saw the abalone. There were enough there that I figured I would look for a couple of big ones before even thinking of taking any. There were an amazing number of fish. While this area is fished a fair amount, it did not get many divers. The urchin divers had not been here either and there were many of the large red urchins, Strongilocentrotus franciscanus. There were also the big Sheepheads that eat them. It was easy to see that this place got heavy wave action at times, but the surge did not seem too bad at the moment. I was poking around and looking in holes when I saw a nice Cabezon, about 4 pounds, parked in a shallow hole. That is related to the Lingcod and if anything, was better eating. Not much sooner seen than in the bag. About this time, I was realizing that the abalone were not quite as common as I had thought and decided to take what I could find. I found a rock ledge with some nice ones on it, but there was a rock leaning just away from the ledge. Since I could not see under the rock, I figured that no one else could either. Right, I got a nice red, just over 9 inches. About this time, I got the warning that I had been looking for. The water was fairly clear, but suddenly, there was a blur on the bottom as some silt got disturbed. This was the leading edge of the pressure wave of a large swell going overhead. I have seen these in up to 70 feet of water when there are really big waves. I knew to either get above the reef and ride out the surge like a fish, or else quickly tuck into a hole on the bottom and wait it out. I was near a crack, so I quickly went into it all the way and held on. There were three big swell and each one was preceded by the pressure wave on the bottom, then kelp, fish and everything was whipping back and forth. I know that the waves were big on the surface if they were this strong at 40 feet. I came out of my hole and kept a weather eye open. Swimming on relatively fast, I could have gotten some bass, but I was having fun looking at all the different critters and plants. There were some huge green anemones that must have been a foot across. I never did see any Lingcod, though the place is supposed to be good for them. When I came up, Dale was still nearby, which is not always the case. Of course, I had come up just in time for another big set. So I waited before I even tried to get near the boat. Then we had to head north and it was afternoon. That means bumps. At least I did not get beaten too badly.

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