The Peace

CopyRight @ 1997

Where's Wayno?

I had moved back to LA from up north. What a come down. One day, Charlie from West Coast Divers gave me a call and asked if I wanted to take an opening on a boat called the Peace. Sure, it was half price. This was the start of something special.

I got to the boat in Ventura. It was 65 foot and it looked nice... and it had a hot tub. That was something new. It smelled ok down below and the bunks were comfortable. That was a good start. We went out to Santa Cruz Island and did a few tanks. I was really impressed with how enthusiastic the crew was. They were all divers and they loved to hunt. I quickly noticed that they were good at it too. There was this one guy standing around that seemed like crew, though I wasn't sure. Since I was wet, I asked him if he could grab my towel from on top of my bunk. He was happy to oblige. It turned out that this was Bill Magee, the owner of the boat and one fantastic hunter. He also knew how to run an operation that his customers would enjoy. While this dive was fun, it was nothing compared to some of the trips I took on this boat in the future. Here are some of the high lights of this time. It was a time. It was the time of certain skilled divers. It was a time of certain hunting grounds. It was a time for San Nic and Santa Rosa. It was a great time for me.

It was now the start of lobster season. Being the derelict I am, I signed up for a mid week open dive at San Nicolas. It's a long way out there. You have to hope that you are on a good boat with a knowledgeable crew. My first trip to San Nic on the Golden Doubloon, took 11 hours to get back, because they forgot... Anyway, there is lots of room on deck for tanks and gear, as well as the holders for spears... and a hot tub. How novel. I had been gone a long time, but it almost seemed as if I recognized some of the people on the boat, including this one blond guy who was being a bit loud having fun. On a dive boat, no one really notices the fish stories, but this guy sounded like he might be telling some whoppers. Whatever. The season has only begun.

I woke up early and went on deck. We were still under way and a great sunrise was just starting. The west end of the island was a few miles in front of us. A mild Santana wind was making the air warm and the ocean flat with a slow swell. The Peace can handle about 33 divers, tops. There were about 20 this trip and one would stumbled up occasionally. Then, the captain changed the engine speed as we got near. All of a sudden, everyone is on deck looking where we are and starting to gear up. Realize, to get back on time, we need to leave by about 12:30. It is a short day and the more bottom time, the more chance of finding bugs. This is not like your average resort trip. The first one off the boat does have a better shot at getting to the bugs. The skipper is going to try to put the boat over a rocky reef. While it is true that everyone is going to be far from the boat quickly, getting in first is a good idea. So by the time we slowed to meter the bottom, about 8 divers were lined up, fully geared, at the gate. It was a long time since I had been on a boat with serious hunters. That noisy blond guy was there at the front of the line. He was wearing a basically rotten wetsuit. Also, he had one of the old ScubaPro diving meters. This meter was obsolete even then. It came from the late 70's and while I expect it was better than nothing, this was a relic in the late 80's. The gear suggested a diver dependent on himself, not his gear. It seemed that his name was Freddy, but people were calling him something else as well. Obviously a regular on the boat. The anchor went in and the deck hand got the signal and the gate was opened. People were going off both sides of the boat as fast as the last diver got out of the way. It is about a 5 foot jump. Most of the divers were hitting the water and turning to go down without ever bobbing up to the surface for a gear check. I think that that was the first time I had seen that maneuver. I learned that that and some other innovations were common with certain groups of the lobster divers.

We were next to a kelp bed about 2 miles off the west end of the island. I was about number 4 in line. As I went down, I headed towards the bow of the boat to the edge of some kelp. It is an easy way down in unfamiliar areas. The water was cold and clear. Though it was still just dawn, I could see the kelp fronds go straight down at least 50 feet. It was dark enough, that I decided to turn on my light. As the water got to my spine, I couldn't help but think, this sure is so fun... The scenery was immediately captivating though. This kelp was huge, with at least 3 foot leaves. This is Macrocystis, for the purists. Dropping in the cold and dark along side this magnificent kelp grove welcomes you to where you may find yourself feeling more alive than you ever do on land.

At 85 feet I hit bottom. BC's were pretty common by now. They weren't the last time I spent much time on boats. Flotation devices were mandatory by then. I had on an old horsecollar BC that I had borrowed from Kevin. I didn't try to fill it any. This was time to be on the rocks. I quickly scoped out the row of rocks where the kelp was growing. There was nothing there. The area was flat rock with an occasional boulder pile. It seemed to go on forever. I swam as fast as I could and pulled my way along the bottom. Then I saw antennas at the end of a rock pile. I passed the edge and there was a short completely in the open. Where one bug is, there's probably more. I came around the rock and swatted the biggest one I saw. I haven't grabbed a bug in years and this one is easily 5 pounds. Wow! I grabbed in the hole real quick again and got a hold of something. I was wearing leather gloves and had both good feel and good grip. The bug was wedged in just at the end of my reach. You pull it and shake. You can't let or it may find a way to move deeper in the hole. The spines make it almost impossible to move your hand up its body. Shake some more and it finally is loose. In the bag. Any more victims?

It's time to make a quick check of air. I have very good air control, especially after the previous years of north coast free diving, but swimming at that speed and fighting a lobster, can make air just vanish. Diving for lobster, especially in the open of San Nicolas, is a sprint. You minimize air consumption, but don't worry about it. Covering territory is how you get bugs. Look in a lot of holes and some will be occupied. At this depth and in these conditions, watch your air.

I saw a small, but legal looking volunteer by the edge of a rock. It was well protected by a wide rock face above the hole, but it didn't look like there was that far for him to go under the rock. He ducked back and I reached in. I could feel him, but he was hard to get at, so I decided to try to reach under the rock from another side. Sure enough there was a hole there and I could reach in and sort of feel him. Shake, tug, smack, smack, yank and a nice legal is in the goody bag. One thing to check though. Sure enough, there were 2 holes and 2 bugs. So reach back in the first hole really far. Yank, yank, etc., and another. Time for me to bug out. A 5 pound bug is really nice anywhere, anytime, as is any 4 legals in a bag. I like San Nicolas.

The day went on like this. Waiting for other divers and moving the boat, sort of enforces an hour between gate times. It is needed. Freddy did well, as did many of the divers. One 7 pounder was taken. we moved a ways, but still stayed in the deep water over the flat rock of the west end of the island. They seemed to refer to this area as the Badlands. In the 70's I had heard it called the Flats and the Freeway. It is miles of flat undulating rock, with some sand and boulders, but in the 70's it was considered a bit deep for casual diving. Now, it seemed like the place.

To make a long story short, I seemed to recognize that Blond guy Freddy. He went by the name Czar and while his ego was obvious, he was also, perhaps even more obnoxious than myself. I later asked him, and yes he vaguely remembered diving with me years before and was on the Golden Doubloon trip the first time I went to San Nic and got the 10 and 12 pound bugs. We ended up on the Peace and other boats together numerous times and continued to develop a growing contempt for each other as time went on. I am easy to bait and he just naturally loved to bait. He knew just what it would take to get me going.. so... we made a great pair. Then, if he managed to annoy me enough to wake me up and get my attention, it was not pretty, because I am not subtle. Then, that is about the time the crew is getting annoyed. They eventually did not like the two of us on the boat together. I dare say that we were really entertaining. He was one of the best hunters there was though. Sometimes he was the best. I was not the only one that thought highly of Freddy. He came on one of the 2 day Animals hunting trips with tea shirts that said 'I got skunked by the Czar'. He handed these out liberally. Hey, it's a free fish rag. For sure no one was going to wear it. One time he was crowing about a near 10 pound bug he had. We were all sick of it, but Wayno decided to do something that only he could get away with. He shot a pole spear right through the lobster as Freddy was holding it up. It is now illegal to possess the bug... Only Wayno could do this, because he and Freddy were the undisputed best (non-crew) bug hunters, at the time. Another time, as Freddy was trying to get off the boat real quick, someone looped a rope around his tank valve. He jumped off and hung there from his backpack. At least they never did that to me.

Enough of that. If I don't want this to be too long, many details will have to be put on other pages. I will try to put some of what was unique about the Peace and what made it unique.

Obviously, it was Bill Magee and the crew he picked. If he or Mike Roach, the captain, came back and were swimming at all funny, see what they have in their goody bag, cuz it's likely to be huge. The deck hand Woody (Captain Wood if you are on his boat now), was small and could go in holes where the bugs thought they were safe. There was also James, who actually kept an eye on me and never got much more than frustrated. They wanted to hunt and took the divers to the hunting. Lobster were the mainstay, but the halibut hunting was also a hot topic. They would let the hard core halibut hunters off and tell them to meet the boat about a mile further on. Then some divers would get off mid way to the anchorage. Then the photographers and more casual divers would hop off when the boat anchored. I think that the boat record halibut was 53 pounds and I hate to say that I think it belonged to Freddy.

One time, at the front of San Nic, they got about 35 nice halibut in a day. This included some near 40 pound fish. Well, they made some video tape of it and then went on to Anacapa Island and shot some more video tape. The story was that all of the halibut were taken at Anacapa. Yah. Real likely story.

Bill would advertise 'Animals' open boats. This was the code word to say that it was going to be a hard core lobster hunting trip. We went out and nailed the bugs. To get the proper mood, as the boat approached the island, Bill would put on 'Rawhide' from the Blues Brothers. If the boat had only experienced divers, we could dive in places that were rarely visited. On one 2 day trip, 373 lobster were taken, with Wayno in the lead as usual. I'm afraid that it's not that way any more.

When you get 32 divers in the water, many wearing double tanks, all trying to get away from the boat and one another as quickly as possible, while covering as much territory as possible, sometimes divers came up away from the boat. Like more than a mile from the boat. In the deep water off the west end of Nic, the current can be fast. People are scattered everywhere. There is about a 1000 foot current line off the stern, but that only helps some people. The rest get to float until all divers are aboard and the boat can come pick them up. This was before the Peace got its own inflatable for diver pickup.

The Animals trips started to become known and more divers with less than excessive experience started to sign up. They could no longer automatically drop divers off anywhere. They had to start considering skill levels of some of the divers. Not that they were beginners, but some of the sites could only nicely be called highly advanced. Then, around the time of the infamous 'Kelp Flies' Animals trip, when there were two Fish and Game agents on board, things changed. They screwed up, but did manage to give some minor tickets. They also made people be a bit more discreet about taking more than a limit the first day of the multi-day trips. The Animals had become too well known and now became Bugs R Us.

On the invitational trips, it was not uncommon for a truly enthusiastic diver to use 7 tanks or more in a day of hard diving. Days like that were when the hottub was exceptionally nice. The hottub had its own stories to tell, far too involved for this tome.

It was during this time that the Doctor Death Invitational trips were started. This annual trip, usually on the Peace, has limited openings offered only to divers of proven experience and bad habit. The point is to do extreme lobster diving. As such, the itinerary generally starts at Tanner Bank (nobody dives there), proceeds to Cortez Bank and then ends up at San Nicolas or Santa Rosa islands. These trips were not always the most productive, but they were always the most exotic.

Through this all, the Peace retained an excellent safety record, both because the divers were skilled and because the crew consistently did what it took to maintain safe procedures.

The Peace went many places. San Nic was where the most big bugs were consistently found. It also took memorable trips to Santa Rosa (read that as Talcott Shoals) as well as all the other islands.

Things change. Over the years, the new areas explored by the Peace, got cleaned out of the big bugs. With the removal of the limit on the number of traps that a commercial fisherman could place, the lobster trappers stepped up trapping at Nic (and everywhere else). Divers got married or got cold. Other good boats followed in the paths laid down by the Peace. There are still great days, but it is different now.

That was the time of the badlands at Nic and great takes of big lobster, that have become real uncommon. It was exciting, with some great divers. There is nothing like a nice day of good diving at the Channel Islands. The people of the Peace managed to make it a little bit nicer.

To be continued...

Back To San Nic

Back To Dive Index