Sudafed Diving

or Get High On A Reef... Very High

CopyRight @ 1998

Here's a bit of a weird topic for you, but it did make for some very memorable diving.

About 20 years back, when I was primarily diving Pidgin Point and the Santa Cruz area, I got a cold. Not a particularly memorable cold. Heck, I don't remember it at all for that matter. But I wanted to dive and was a bit congested, so I took a Sudafed before diving. That, on the other hand, was quite memorable. You see, I'm one of those people that respond rather strongly to the xxxxiene medications.

I parked my van perhaps 1/2 mile south of Pidgin Point lighthouse. You could park in the field there and go down a trail to the water. The cliff is only about 25 feet high, but it is a hike both ways. I always threw my weight belt down ahead of me, to the little beach in front to the cliff. It is a great place to dive because the area for about a mile south of the point, is protected from the west swell. It was a nice enough day. Vis would be expected to be around 3, maybe 4 feet. You might or might not be able to see your fins. I know the entry and dive area well, so I bounced across the inner rocks and flopped over the first ledge that you cross before hitting the 3 to 5 foot deep, second reef. While there are a few abalone there, it is such a shallow area, that you are very libel to get into some surf during the top of the set and there are a lot of rocks to bump into. After 25 yards going through the thick growths on this reef, the rock drops down to... well sorta to forever. Really, it is only the third reef and quite shallow, but it is ocean after that and also it is Whitey's turf. I do not recommend open ocean swimming out in Monterey Bay.

Now a reef that is no more than say 14 feet deep may not seem like much of a dive spot, but you are talking about some of the lushest ocean bottom on the planet. The waters are nutrient rich and it is shallow enough that even with the limited vis, there is a lot of light from the sun... usually. The algae grows incredibly thick and offers habitat to an amazing variety of invertebrate sea life. The limited vis and thick plant life also adds to the challenge of being able to effectively dive.

Well, I was feeling fine. I was going to school at the University of California, Santa Cruz at the time. You might say that I had been intoxicated before, maybe quite blasted even, but I still didn't notice anything odd. Then I saw this nice 8 inch ab and went for it like I had done many times before. I missed it and miss timed well enough that I was washed away in the light surge. Huh?
Enough to say that I was swimming around looking as clumsy as all Three Stooges combined. It takes a fair amount of grace to swim along the bottom channels and cracks in the rocks such that you can position yourself perfectly to be able to pry off the abalone without fighting with it. Normally, I slide along the bottom, in and out of the rocks while staying so low that the surge never touches me. This dive, I was smacking into the bottom, getting swept around by waves, kicking urchins, bumping into rocks and basically all out of shape.
I was taking abalone. I could hunt pretty well if I was blind drunk, but I didn't recognize what was going on. I was just merrily free diving along. Then I noticed that it was a bit darker on the last couple dive of dives. I realized that I had traveled past the third reef and was free diving in deeper water. I also realized that I had been out a while. Physically, I was well within a safe diving situation, but I never go over the outer reef without lots of fore-thought. This was about time that my automatic warnings all went off. Current warning, shore distance warning, something wrong warning. It wasn't paranoia, which can happen here when solo diving. These were trained in warnings that are supposed to go off anytime I violate certain dive parameters. Unlike paranoia, they are definitely rationally based concerns. I just headed straight into shore without worrying too much about timing my way through the waves.
The legal limit there was 4 abalone a day. I won't say how many abalone I picked up. Worse than that, a few of them were shorts. After prying the ab off of the rock, I was just hitting the back of them with the measuring caliper and if there was a click, I assumed that it was the measure hitting the shell ends and it was therefore a legal size. No, not quite. I was hitting the inside of the caliper on the back of the shell. Luckily, in this area, it is easy to replant short or over limit abs.
By now I was figuring out what was going on and I could feel the tingling in my skin from the drug. I didn't know what it was in the Sudafed, but I did know how it was getting me blasted and I do mean so high, that I didn't even know I was high... You would think that I would have learned my lesson, Well I did, for about 20 years. The next time was even a bit nuttier. It wasn't Sudafed though, it was something else and I can at least claim I didn't know that it would do the same thing. Now I know what ingredient to look for.

I just got over a cold again and was really working to make sure my head was clear. We had had a calm trip over to Catalina and were about to enter at Eagles Reef, just a bit west of the Isthmus. These are a few steep pinnacles that come off of the bottom at about 100 feet, to near the surface, about a quarter mile off of the island. At the last minute, I had decided to take the decongestant. Mark your watches. This was about 8 o'clock at night.
I entered and thought nothing of it, partly because of the incredible vis. It was night, but vis looked to be an easy 75 feet. Often, at this area, I shoot on down to 95 feet or wherever the bottom is, check it out and move up quickly if I don't see lobsters. While a lot of the reef is pretty vertical there are a fair amount of ledges at 60 feet and some at 30 feet, below the tops of the pinnacles. There are plenty of smaller ledges all over the place as well.
This time I went along an area at about 40 feet and was seeing some short bugs, so I decided to just go along that. Sure enough, I saw two bugs together, next to a rock. One was obviously a bit short. The other looked plenty legal. I quickly dropped right down onto the bigger one and grabbed hold of it. Well, not too surprisingly the smaller one bugged out in haste and I registered it scooting beyond the side of my vision. My response was to think that I had missed the one I had grabbed for. Even this did not really catch my attention.

A little bit later, I grabbed for one in front of a hole. I missed and went grabbing all around inside the hole, but couldn't feel it. I went to the back real quick to check for another entrance, but there was none. I couldn't figure out where the bug had gone. About this time I could see another singe light coming towards me over the reef. This would be Mel. Anyway, I went to the front again and shined my light in the hole. The lobster is just hunkered down at the front of the hole. So I grabbed it and got a good grip on it and was yanking and jerking back and forth and just not getting it out. Mel got there about this time and so did some vestige of my wits. I said "calm down and just pull it out". Sure enough, I slipped my hand up the bug a bit and just pulled up a bit so that it could not wedge in place well. It came out fine and I was able to pull it out just as Mel got there, as he tends to do to me.

Nice bug, but I knew now that I was Mui Blastido! This time, I knew to relax and I could feel my skin crawl. You can also feel the effect as you breathe. The air feels funny. It has a taste. So, of course I did the sensible thing and ascended slowly. Go to the boat and sit out the rest of the night. No way. After a bit of thought I figured that if I went deep on the reef, it would be fairly hazardous, but diving while a bit impaired was not something I was overly worried about. If I did end up going deep, I just had to be aware of the thermocline at 50 feet and I would know if I was doing something too stupid. Even this buzzed, I figured that I would feel the 6 degree drop in temperature if I went under the thermocline.
So the dive went on this way. Grab at a bug. Sorta miss it. Maybe get a second grab at it and put it in the bag. Realize, in the day, getting a second grab at a bug is difficult and uncommon. This was at night. I had seen a lot of bugs and had managed to hold onto 3 legals. I was flopping all over the place.

Back at the boat, the others said that they had seen few lobsters and none of them had picked up more than 3. I was saying that I was seeing them everywhere, but one problem, I was way too high to do much about it. I said that this antihistamine had me swimming on the moon. They knew me and figured that wouldn't slow my diving much, but it had them wondering about just what kind of lobsters I was seeing.

We headed on down to some coves near the east end of the island. I was tending to go along the sand at the bottom of the reef and look for bugs there and see if I could see eyes reflecting in my light, from out in the sand. Sure enough, I was finding lobsters everywhere. There were as many as I had ever seen. One problem. I was still so high that I was having to make two grabs on the same lobster to get each one.

Again, they said they weren't finding much and I said that the place was crawling with them. "Just follow me and grab what I can't hang onto". By now, these guys knew how high I was. So on the next dive when Alex saw my light, he came on over. I was along the sand again and sure enough they did get some that I spooked up while floundering around.

I did end up with a limit of 7 bugs that night, which was amazing and only attributable to the seeming fact that people that are high seem to attract wildlife.

The next day we were just getting together to head to the Isthmus high spot for the first dive at dark. It was going on 4 o'clock. My skin finally quit crawling. This time, I'm going to remember not to do that again for the next 40 years.

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