Degada Canyon Expedition

By Eric Sedletzky - September 17, 2002

"It was like doing a night dive on another planet".
-Dale Swift-

"That was the wierdest most surreal place I have ever seen.
I really got the feeling that I WAS in the abyss".
-Larry Cook-

" Frikin' bizzaar man... God only knows what's down there".
-Steve Wheeler-

" Holy Sh*t ! "
-Eric Sedletzky-

The Lost Coast From The South

Let me just open by saying that I am different now. That experience changed me. We were at a place that gave me a great deal of respect for the unknown. I think I can say that my other three comrades probably feel the same.

The drive up to Shelter cove friday was not as bad as I had been told it was. The grade to get down into the cove was steep but not that bad. I had my van loaded to the gills with gear and the boat faithfully following behind. When we got there I found the area or town to be much more spread out than I had pictured. There were some pretty upscale homes mixed with some funky run down areas. There was a golf course and an air strip.
The boat launch facilities were adequate and I did see some fairly large boats being launched out of there. All of them were anglers.
The campground was very spartan and barren, just flat or gently sloped dry grass and dirt. Old semi truck rims were the fire pits and there were several permanent trailer residents living in the park. The people in the office were more than nice and real layed back. We found a suitable site right along the edge of the fence bordering the golf course. We set up camp and took a walk to check out the surroundings. We never got a chance to do any freediving for abs. The terrain and rocks just didn't look like a place you would find abalone.
I asked a guy about it later and he said most people go either north or south in a boat to find the good spots. Well, maybe next time.

At about 9:30 pm Dale and Steve showed up and Larry and I had a good fire going and everyone was keyed up talking about what we might find.
Earlier in the afternoon I had seen a black kitty walking around the camping area, and as we were all sitting talking in the dark I saw a black small shape moving around in the shadows by my boat. I assumed it was the same little black kitty so I put my hand out to call it. Well, it started coming over to us but it wasn't the little cat because the kitty I saw didn't have a white stripe down it's back! My heart sank when I told the guys " Don't look now but we have a skunk in our campsite!" Everyone just sat still and the little stinker just sniffed around and was on his way. We were actually visited 2 more times that night as he checked around all over to see if we might have left him a little snack.

In the morning we loaded the boat, doned our gear and set off to launch. After a successful launch we headed to the area that I calculated to be Delgada Canyon. We were heavy. I had to use my super low pitch prop to move that barge. With 4 guys, 13 tanks, pony bottles, weight belts , other gear, lunch, 20 gals of fuel, I achieved a speed of 8 knots in an 18 ft boat with a 40 hp. Needless to say it was a long trip. The morning was absolutely still. There was no wind and the ocean was glass flat. The sky was overcast and you could see an even heavier layer of fog on the horizon. It was 12 pm, and the slack low tide was to be in another 30 minutes.
Along the way, only about half way of my calculated area, we gradually started seeing readings of depth from the 50's to the 200's then 300's. I was puzzled since the typographical map that I studied did not show this. Could this be the canyon? We motered towards shore and the depth gradually shallowed. this wasn't it.
As we were on our way further and further Steve suddenly yelled out "Look at that fin!" We all looked out to sea and about 1500 -1800 ft away we saw a huge dorsal fin of something break the surface of the water and slowly return into the water. We speculated it could have been a great white but most likely was an orca. We found out later that many orcas have been seen following the whales.
I continued on my intended path and then .9 mile before my theoretical waypoint the sonar went from 70 feet to 300 plus. Wham, just like that.
I followed the depth all the way up towards shore and not until we were less than 200 yards off shore did the depth reading begin to come up from the 300's!
We motored back and forth, up and back keeping a close eye on the depth finder. I found it!! The three other guys were glued to that screen like it was the super bowl. whoaing and cheering everytime there was a drastic depth change on the screen.We finally found a place along the rim of the trench to anchor in about 70 feet.
All the gear gets put on and we're in the water. Dale and Steve were scheduled to dive to 200 feet on trimix and Larry and I were going no deeper than 140 on 27%.

The water was very geen and murkey. I could barely see my fins and as we descended down the anchorline the water got darker and darker. As I inflated my bc I saw the bottom coming up and the vis actually wasn't that bad down at the chain. The techs hooked up their reel and the plan was for Larry and I to follow their reel line down to 140 and return as they continued.

Well the bottom consisted of mud and a few rocks, similar to the surface of the moon. The bottom got silted out almost instantly and as Larry and I followed after those guys on the line. The feeling of disorientation was really weird. I remember the the bottom beginning to slope down steeper and steeper and I was trying to feel for the bottom, control my buoyancy, watch my depth. keep track of my gas, not lose my buddy, not lose the line, all in 0 visibility. At 122 feet I pulled Larry around into my face and with my light showed him the middle finger sign followed by pointing down, then back towards the anchor chain, (F this! let's go back).
When we got back up to the chain all the silt from before had cleared up and the vis was a good 15 feet or so. It was dark because of the upper layer of bloom but not that bad. I clipped my reel onto the chain and we took off laterally out toward sea. As we ventured onward we began to notice the mud slope giving way to bigger and bigger rocks developing with deep cracks and huge mitridium anemones on them and hundreds of small fish. I was shining my light on little octupusses no bigger that a tea saucer and baby lingcod everywhere only about 6-8 inches long. As we ventured further along this wall the growth became more and more profuse. I have never seen areas of filter feeding organisms so thick in one spot in my life. Strawberry anemones so thick that it would make Amentos Reef in Monterey look barren. The vis was getting better and better as we went on, up to 20 feet now. I looked up and saw hundred of tiny blues not one bigger than 3-4 inches, As I shined my light into the cracks more I was seeing all sorts of baby rock fish of 6-8 different species laying inverted on the shelves. We maintained a depth of 100 feet average during this stretch. As we were focusing on different things trying to absorb this visual overload I saw a strange rock formation sticking straight out from the wall with kind of a flat disc like shape on the end. As I shined my light closer I saw the strange disc like shape close up quickly and I suddenly realized that we were in major huge scallop country. That clam was bigger than a legal ab and I have pictures to prove it. I also came to the realization that we were undoubtedly the absolute first divers there. A scallop perched out that far?
Those critters on that wall had seen their first scuba divers for sure! Looking down the wall all I could see was down, down, down, and blackness. There didn't seem to be a bottom.

Time and gas where running low now so I gave the turn around sign and we started reeling in line. When we got back to the chain I signalled that I wanted to keep going and see what was across the other way. We went a ways and all we saw was more of the same steep wall of mud and sediment with a few small rocks strewn about. There were some bigger rocks with some big anemones and tons of star fish. at this point I figured we were about at the very beginning of the canyon where it starts from shore.
I also saw all along the the dive many crab shell pieces scatterd everywhere. This is a good sign of the giant pacific octopuss. I also wanted to mention that I saw a massive green anemone that was at least as big around at the trunk as a 5 gallon bucket. It was absolutely huge!

When we got back to the chain we ran into Dale and Steve returning from their adventure into the real abyss. We all did our obligatory series of stops and in due time returned onto the boat giddy with what we had just discovered. Dale and Steve said that they saw just masses of these spotted shrimp about 4-5 inches long. They said at one point there were so many that if you had a rake you could have filled the trunk of a car.

After a lunch and a 2 hour interval, we decided that we must dive this spot again! This time however, we will all four go laterally along this overgrown rock wall and continue on from where Larry and I left off.

It was strange, but when you looked at shore it seemed so darn close, but yet that trench was so damn deep right there. A person could literally surface swim from shore no sweat to get to this spot. I had envisioned it a lot further out, but not as deep so fast.

On our second dive we all got down to the chain and I clipped my reel off again and we were on our merry way to the same wall. In short order we reached it and I could see that Dale and Steve were amazed. We saw all the same stuff. The little octopusses and all the fish. We found more and more scallops and couldn't resist but to take a few for dinner. These scallops were huge! Dale got one over 8" I think we took about 6-7 between all of us and they were sauteed in butter and garlic that night. What a treat.
As we continued on through the center of this reef I did finally come to the end where it turned back into the steep slope of mud and small rocks. We took our time going back knowing it was going to be a long time since we get to see this place again.

Once back on the boat, the anchor is pulled, and we all rejoice that that was definitely worth every penny coming up here!
Now the long motor back to port. It's 6:00 pm and the fog has sat down onto the water reducing visibility to 50 feet. The outboard drones on and on making divers nod off. I have to count on compass and electronics to find our way back.

Back at camp it's nightfall and we crack a beer and salute to a successful first day. (We nievely have no idea what in store for tomorrow!)

After cooking and incredible meal and having our little white striped friend visit us again (this time he came so close to me while I was sitting next to the fire I could have reached down and petted him) we crashed out in anticipation for tomorrows dive.

Sunday, September 15th, 2002.

Morning broke and Steve was the first one up. I could hear the coffee pot clanking around as he was getting coffee on. "Excellent, I can lay here for a few more minutes" I thought.
A few minutes later everyone was up and the Vandamme famous super stove (with enough BTU's to heat a house) was fired up under the famous 1/4" plate homemade pancake griddle. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, gourmet coffee...I can't let my friends go hungry!
After breakfast we change out our gear on the boat, load the stuff we need (fuel, lunch, water), break down the camp, and off we go to the ramp.
Another easy launch, and we are off once again. People joke that I am the weight distribution nazi on my boat because I am always getting people to shift around to get the ultimate balance.
Hey, I can get another couple miles an hour some times!
After going through all the shifting we rounded the point and it's full speed ahead.

This morning was also glass flat. Again, no wind and the fog was thicker. I had the waypoint up on the screen and followed the arrow. We were going right back to the canyon but this time we were going to find some thing along the opposite side of the canyon rim to explore.

I should mention before I get too far that while we were camping, 2 curious neighborhood boys rode up on their bikes and wanted to know why we were scuba diving up there. We mentioned about the expedition and they told us that their dad had seen a great white bigger than his trawler 2 days prior, and his uncle had seen one about 14 feet the day before. I'm assuming (if it's true) that the sharks may have been after the bycatch being thrown overboard?

During the motor Steve saw some dolphins off in the distance and I shedded the thoughts of sharks and the rest of the nonsense. When we approached the canyon I throttled back and we began our scan of the whole territory once more. Yep, it was still there. At least it was nice to know it wasn't just a dream.

Again, the depth started in 300+ and very quickly went right up to 45 feet. I ordered the anchor dropped, we got ready, and in we went. Larry and I were on 36% and at a PO2 of 1.6 that gave me a max bottom of 109 ft.

The water seemed greener and murkier than the day before and this time while I was waiting for the other divers to hit the water, I could only see the line about 3 feet down. There must have been a hell of a bloom.

We all began our descents and within 10 feet of the surface visibility was 2 feet. I flipped my light on and all I could do was just train it on the anchor line and continue down. Dale and Steve were to first down again and at probably 35 feet I remember the water being almost black and then running right into a cloud of silt. I hit the bottom and regained buoyancy while Larry came up beside me. We hovered at the chain for several minutes and let the current remove the silt. Dale and Steve had clipped a reel and were already off down over the edge somewhere. I clipped off my reel took a compass reading to find the edge and we began the exploration. The bottom again consisted of mud and some scattered rocks. Where there were rocks there were dozens of star fish. I looked at my computer and we had descended to about 70 feet. The water now was completely pitch black. There was not an ounce of light penetrating through that muck. The visibility however was slowly beginning to improve as we inched our way further and further down. We started to see some upright rock formations begin to appear about 4 feet away that had those huge metridiums on them. As we moved through and to the other side of those rocky outcroppings the wall dropped straight down, and I mean DOWN. Larry and I, parallel, looked at each other, gave the ok sign, and off we dropped. As we descended slowly, adding more and more air to the bc, I was shining my light on the rocks seeing hundreds or even thousands of those transparent spotted shrimp. The further down we went the more life we saw. The growth on this side of the trench was double of what we saw the day before. Again I was seeing dozens of little lingcod no bigger than 4-6 inches along with many species of baby rockfish. The wall would give way periodically to small shelves that had dozens of fish sleeping on them. Some would scatter as I illuminated them but most just layed there. I thought to myself, Damn, this is the darkest night dive I've ever been on during the day! I looked at my depth - 95 feet, good, the reel was working good, Larry was behind me with one hand on the line and the other on his light checking stuff out.
The growth was now becoming so profuse with the paint factory explosion effect it was bordering on rediculous! More shrimp, massive metridiums, this lumpy ,bumpy wall with all these fish looking at me. There was absolutely no surge and just a very slight current running upwards. I shined my light down the wall and all I saw was black!
I noticed now that I was beginning to get some strange thoughts running through my head. [ All this going on around me, pitch black, 4 foot at best visibility. I was a kid born in Carmel, California to an architect and an overprotective mother. I hated water and didn't learn to swim till I was in high school, (but became a good swimmer). How the hell did I ever move up here, get into diving, and wind up in the most remote part of the state in some god forsaken trench in the middle of nowhere? We may as well be on freakin' Mars man! If anything got us right now nobody would ever find us... I should have gone to college and maybe someone could have put some sense in my brain.] The thoughts had begun to subside and I found myself shaking from cold and nerves. I looked at my depth guage and we were at exactly 109 feet. I showed Larry my computer and we hung there for a minute while I did a full all around gear check. Bottom time was still ok, gas supply was fine, temperature - 46 degrees. The shakes had subsided now. Oxygen narcosis? hmmm, maybe.

As we were hovering on that wall looking at the life on a small shelf, we noticed a small, very unusual fish. This fish was only about 3 inches long and had a fat little body almost resembling a puffer fish. It had 2-3 orange and white rings around it's tail (similar to an anomone fish in the tropics) which gave way to a tannish variegated body. The head was very wide with flat top and flat sides that tapered into a pointed little snout. It's pectoral fins were very broad and it used those the most to move around. This little fish could not move fast and it waddled it's body along just like a puffer would when inflated. The dorsal fin was also strange and ran down the whole length of it's back. As we were observing it, it got into a defensive posture and ,facing us head on, began to violently shake it's body as it flared all it's fins, especially the pectoral fins. This was downright bizzaar!

When the show was over we began the ascent up, up ,up. We passed all the weird transparent shrimp, the tiny baby fish and all the over growth of filter feeding organisms. It dawned on me that I had not seen any octopuss or scallops. Even if There were scallops (which there probably were) I would have passed because there was just to much to concentrate on. As we reached the rim we finned for another 50 feet to the chain.

While we were doing our stop on the line, I had formed a theory as to why there were just babies down there of so many species. Sure! the big fish come up that canyon hearded in by the natural walls and all spawn right there at the very closest part of the trench to shore, right where we were. It was essentially nothing more than a giant maternity ward for sea life. That explains all the varieties and the strange things we saw all in one place.
The scallops just were there because the currents swept the larva in from sea to the end of the canyon (or beginning depending on how you look at it). It's a big catch all.
I wonder if any marine scientists know about this place?

I was the first one back on the boat and as soon as I climbed in I gave her a big kiss right on the port gunwale! (I made sure nobody saw)

Well, all diving done and everyone in we motor back to port, again yacking a hundred miles an hour about the dive, "did you see this? did you see that?" Eyes about 3" around.

On the way back we saw more dolphins.

Once back at the ramp the boat gets pulled out, gear get's loaded, a bread bowl of chowder at the restaurant, and we're off.

I am now changed.

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