A Time To Dive - Truth Aquatics

CopyRight @ 1997

Most of the pages here, that are listed as "A Time To Dive", tell about a few year period when a particular group of divers was doing a particular type of diving. Not so with Truth Aquatics. Boats and divers come and go, but the Truth endures. Their home port of Santa Barbara gives them convenient access to all of the northern Channel Islands as well as San Nicolas. Their large boats have the range to make an extended trip anywhere from Monterey to Cortez Banks. This is an extremely professional organization, but that has never taken away the spirit of adventure to be found when they go diving. It was started by some real diving pioneers.
Truth Aquatics is 3 boats. The 65 foot Truth, 75 foot Conception and the 83 foot Vision. These boats are designed from the keel up, for diving and are incredible. They have some really nice features. The bunk rooms are roomy, warm and dry. There are the water level live game wells just above the large swim step. The boats have a great deal of deck and gear space. The food tends to be excellent. The nicest feature though, is that they are built so that there is a large changing/shower/wetsuit/freezer/storage room right behind the engine room. Fans blow warm, clean, dry air from the engine room through this room and make it quite comfortable when it is time to get out of a cold wetsuit.

It's a funny thing, but the Truth boats did a lot to set the standard for tanks in the 80's and early 90's. Now, they have nice large compressors that will give you all the fill your tank can take, but it used to be just a bit different. They used to limit fills to 2500 psi. This was a problem with the "newest" tank of the day, the 3000 psi aluminum 80. It was a nice light tank, if a bit big, with much better capacity than the old steel 72, but at 2400 psi, you only had 64 cu ft of air. It was almost the same as a steel 72. This was not acceptable to the hunters going out sprinting after lobster, but if you wanted to hunt, you were going to end up on the Truth boats. So, just about all the hunters ended up with the 2400 psi steel 95 cu ft tank that ScubaPro had released. Some people, like me, got the bigger 104 cu ft version of the same tank, but it is a haul. The standard tank for the hunters on all boats became the steel 95 and it was largely because of the fill policy of Truth Aquatics.

For me, the time to dive the Truth, is in summer when they may be able to get to San Miguel Island or after November when I like to go to Talcott Shoal. I have had some terrific dives with them in many places. Here is the story of one of the most amazing of them.

Wilson Rock

The unbelievable part of this was the date. It was March 23. That was a week after lobster season closed and it is spring. That should mean wind. It should mean wind howling from the north past Point Conception and making the northern islands unreachable.
I was supposed to dive with Penny on the Truth. When she got there, she saw the Truth and she saw the Vision. She liked the looks of the bigger Vision much better. They told her "Sure, they're going the same place. Get on which one you want". You can tell she was enamored with me. Hah! We ended up with better diving.
When I got up just after dawn, the ocean was glassy and the wind calm. The Vision was a few miles away, going just a bit more south to get to the back of San Miguel Island. The Truth was heading to the north side of the island to see if it was divable. About a mile off shore is an underwater mountain ridge paralleling the island. This makes steep pinnacles that stick above the water in a couple of places and is called Wilson Rock. It is very exposed. Average wind speed is near 30 knots here, all year long. It was calm enough today, that we were actually going to get to dive it.
Dave was the skipper. He carefully positioned and anchored the Truth near the reef, but not on top of any rocks. The underwater recall siren was demonstrated. Currents are always to be considered here. He warned us not to over weight ourselves by taking too many big scallops. The gate was open. Since this is not lobster season, the diving is more casual and divers are not lined up foaming at the mouth, waiting to jump in. I just wanted to sight see and take some scallops.
This is the coldest time of year and the water was about 54 degrees. Vis was about 40 feet or so, which is good in these cold nutrient rich waters. The water tint was green. I headed down to a ridge at 30 feet and was immediately amazed by the richness of the life on the rocks. In the current here, the filter feeders had gone nuts. The colors were amazing. The predominant color was from the red corinactis anemones, but there were sponges, feathers and fans. Rare, bright yellow sulfur sponges were easy to find. Orange sponges and blue Cobalt sponges were everywhere. In the shallow areas were green anemones, Pisaster stars and mussel beds. In the deeper areas were pink hydrocorals. At a place like this, you cannot see the rocks, you can only see the thick growth on them.
I was just cruising along seeing what I could discover. I like to approach the small colorful spiral feather worms and watch them undisturbed. Any tiny turbulence makes them instantly pull back into their protective tube on the rock. I went on down to 80 feet for the start of the dive and planned to work my way up. Even at that depth, everything was thick growth and color. Down here were large healthy Gorgonian Corals. If you take a close at these white or gold fans, the individual polyps are very pretty and incredibly delicate.
There were big scallops, but they were well hidden, covered with sponges and anemones. I was trying to pick out some that were tucked away a bit and wouldn't leave big holes in the reef. Masses of filter feeders like this can only grow in open areas with constant nutrient rich currents. The only other place that I have seen so much growth was on a pinnacle in a fog storm, off of Point Buchon. At a future date, I will try to describe these critters some, in terms of biological classification, in "Diving the Front Side".
There were few urchins to be seen. Very little kelp grew out here and when pieces broke off, they would never have stayed close enough to the rocks for abalone or urchins to eat them. It also did not provide enough cover to support much in the way of fish. I saw very few, though I saw one large Cabezon.
As the dive went on, I slowly moved on up into shallower water. Every square foot was a complex, delicate color feast for the eyes. I was just drifting along in my own world, a couple of feet off the rock wall at 40 feet, when I noticed another diver. They were just drifting along in their own world, a couple of feet off the rock wall, 35 feet directly below me.

I was relaxed, so it was a long dive, but this was a place I hated to leave. I of course had ignored the skipper and taken a limit of 10 huge scallops. I had little trouble getting back on the boat, but they were heavy. Out here, even on a calm day, you just paddle behind the swim step until the waves are calm and the boat is not rocking for a moment. Then quickly get all the way onto the swim step before it moves again. A big boat moves up and down a lot. Once on the swim step, I could just go across it to the live game wells and leave my goody bag of scallops.
I put my tank up for a fill. Listening to people on the deck, it sounded like everyone was just as amazed at the place as I was. It turned out that few other divers saw any of the scallops that I had been finding. They were particularly well camouflaged there. It was a sunny morning by now and everyone was relaxing for the move to the next spot.
We went in to a reef near the island shore, east of castle Rock. It was a large flat area of broken rock at about 40 feet. The vis was good and I was hoping for some abs, but was basically sight seeing. Here is this nice 4 pound lobster in a hole about a foot deep. He knew that the season had closed. He had no where to go so I picked him up, carefully. I was tempted to put him on my tank by the valve and see if he would hang on through the dive until I got back to the boat. That was quite possible, but it was likely to annoy someone, even if I claimed that he followed me home. So I let him go without spooking him so that I could watch how he searched for a new hole. He must have had ok vision or something, because he went straight to the nearest rock pile, checked a few holes and hunkered down in a fairly good one. As he went, he had passed a nice legal Red Abalone. I pulled that and checked that it was legal before I put it in my bag. Cool.
Near to the island, there are fish everywhere, including some nice bass and some big sheepshead. There were lots of the large red urchins as well. It was more rocky than lush here. Sometimes I wonder why a place like this is rocky while another place seemingly like it is covered with lush algae growth. I found another nice red ab and got back to the boat.
After doing another dive in this area on the north side of the island, we went on to a bit north and west of Prince Island in Cuyler Harbor. It is believed that this small island, perhaps 150 yards across, but 150 feet tall, is where Juan Cabrillo was buried. The cove and surrounding area is beautiful and amazingly weathered. As you look along the shore, there is always a mist. You really feel the sea here.
The cove area here is mostly less than 40 feet deep and there are numerous wash rocks. It is a place of caution for a boater. Because of these rocks, we were again told of procedures if they used the underwater recall. If recalled, divers must be cautious and follow directions from the boat, because the currents may be moving the boat near some of these rocks. I always like diving in this large cove, because of the varied terrain. There are rock piles that go near the surface and deep pockets. The entire bottom is covered with a thick algae growth. It is the kind of place that is large enough and varied enough, that you may see anything. After the dive, other divers had found abalone in at least a couple of areas. I had seen none. Sometimes no fish were to be seen. Other times, there were groups of big sheepshead hanging around rock piles. Even on a nice day it's a bit rough in the water. There is a lot of motion in this shallow cove.
This particular dive, my plan was to go straight towards shore, basically for sight seeing. The boat was anchored such that the bow was in about 80 feet of water and the stern in about 45 feet. It was quite a ways to the shore, but looked like an easy "there and back" tank. The bottom right there was typical kelp forest with big rocks, urchins and thin bottom algae. There were lots of smaller fish. As I got to about 25 feet of water, things changed. Now there were the greens of the shallow water. Big green anemones, Green Algaes, Red Algaes that are green and brilliant green eel grass. Shallower still are the red coraline algaes, purple urchins, gooseneck barnacles and common Barnacles. There were a fair number of perch as well. It was sunny and shallow and stirred up. In the real shallow water, you can see pretty well, but vis is pretty limited by the sand and plants that the waves stirs up. There was getting to be an interesting surge as well. I was hugging along the bottom in about 4 feet of water, going up a channel in the rocks, when I figured that that was about as far as I could go. Fair size waves were breaking above me as well. Unfortunatly, there were no real tidepools to check out.
I went out a bit and popped up for a look and a compass bearing on the boat. It was way far away. When I got back down, there was a scallop out in the open that looked just the right size for a snack. I opened it quickly and took my glove off to clean it well. It made for 2 good bites. I was then just flying through the reefs, swimming with the surge and taking in the view.
As I got back to the swim step, someone asked if I had seen their goody bag that they had dropped. Hmmm. We were over the edge of the reef where it drops off from about 40 feet to 80 feet. I figured I had enough air to drop deep really quick to the deep side, then make a circle that would take me back to 40 feet. It should cover the area. Sure enough, coming up, I found their yellow bag at 60 feet. I quickly continued up. I was out of air...

Then another nice thing about Truth Aquatics. It is at most a 4 hour trip back from any of the northern islands. Usually less. We relaxed back for the ride and made sandwiches from the buffet. With that, chips, salad and a thirster, it makes a nice sunny day to kick back and enjoy the ride. The changing room and showers are warm and it seems just natural to hit the bunk for a nap, but it is so beautiful out that you want to stay awake. It is common to see whales or porpoises. There are more Blue whales in this area than in the whole rest of the world. Right whales may decide to play in front of the boat and the skipper will usually stop for them. An occasional Blue Shark can be seen by its fin on the surface.
While I have had a lot of great dives with Truth Aquatics, this was a really special day of diving. When we got to dock, the skipper said to tell people that you dove on Wilson Rock in March... and you won't be believed.

This is a picture of those scallops, laid out around the 2 Red Abalone. The Abs are about 1/2 inch over the 7 inch legal size limit. Some of the scallops are bigger. They are tasty. Especially eaten raw underwater, raw on the boat, made into ceviche or served as sushi.

Another special trip on the Truth is related in Shark Park - San Miguel
or check them out at Truth Aquatics Web Site.

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