Sea Ranch Abalone Diving

Thinking about diving. Yah, I had a lot of time to think about diving, but it was like disturbed dreams with swell and surge of day to day demands pushing me from side to side. I needed to center my thoughts and cut through the chop. Yah... that's the ticket. Thinking of Sea Ranch always puts me where I should be. What the heck? I had had enough so I loaded up the wife, kids, dive gear, four bicycles, the rest of the kit and just hit the road. (We won't mention the six months of planning).

A fair amount of debate made us decide that driving would be a better bet this time than flying. Only thing is that I5 is on Deb's regular route and with her driving a big rental car, we were flying! Traffic was mostly light through the fields, orchards and vineyards of the Central Valley. We made Oakland about 30 minutes after we would have been leaving Oakland Airport (if nothing went wrong). In the green hills of Oakland, the old houses with real character told of another, different time and style than SoCal. We passed north of San Francisco, not stopping to sample the delights and fascinations of that bright city.

   Hot, dry, dusty... and fertile. Much of the best foods in the world come from the vast farms and orchards of the California Central Valley
We made our usual stop at Korbel winery. The vines were green and fat as they approached their peak. This year, it was the Chardonnay that was the best champagne. The car was pretty packed, but we found room for a half case. Then it was on into the Russian River valley, from the oak forests to the coastal farms and the redwoods. As we got in view of the river mouth, the ocean had little swell, but was seriously windblown.

       At Jenner, the mouth of the Russian River, is when you see what you are getting into. ...Run your mouse over this picture....

       As we came down to the shore again, I could see the incredibly thick kelp that so many divers had warned me about

It is about an hours journey from Jenner along the North Coast Shore to Sea Ranch. It is a trip over a mountain, through forests and fields in a place dominated by nature and ruled by the endless Pacific Ocean. This is where the storms of the ocean cross the rocky shore to moisten the forested mountains.
Today, even though windy, was clear. Coming down off the hilly curves of the Dramamine Hiway you could see up the coast to where it curved out of sight. It was a nice summer day on the North Coast and that just means the weather wasn't violent. The sky was a deep blue above the mists from the winds. The waves did little more than rise against the rocks and plunge back. The wind pushed chop and small white buffalos to the shore. Further out, strong winds produced a seascape of white heads and blowing water. Yah, it looked divable. Brisk, but divable. Every turn of the Hiway revealed another rocky reef rising out of the dark blue waters showing an enticing dive spot to explore. It is a trip to be savored and I did, it was so good to be back, but it was late and we wanted to be off the road.
We went past Gerstle Cove and the hillside I have watched recover for the past 25 years since a fire there. Nature always heals in its own time. We went past Fort Ross and the history it represents, a time of primieval lands and forests. The sea is still the same as it was then, wild and unchanged. We passed the styles over the fense where so many of my years of dive adventures in that endless cove had begun. I always look for cows in the fields there. They have contributed to a number of great moments in dive spot access adventures. The Hiway goes along the shore through wind blown fields of trees and bushes bent by the constant sea breezes. It turns sharply into coves formed by redwood lined creeks fed crystal clear waters from the forested coastal mountains. Emerald green fields nestled in the flat coastal pockets among the feet of the mountains are cut by old wind break rows of gnarled cypresses. Always the black birds patrol the land and the sea gulls patrol the shore.

In mid-aftrnoon we got to Kool house towards the very south end of Sea Ranch. First task was to unload and assemble the bikes just so we could get to all the rest of the luggage. None of us were ambitious, so we went to the lodge for a late lunch. The Sea Ranch Lodge has a four star restraunt. We just wanted food and to relax so we got a table in the solarium. A few people relaxed outside with beers in wooden lounge chairs under the sun, but sheltered from the strongest of the winds. It's a very good place to visit with afriend and watch a sunset over a glass or two.

   There is wildlife everywhere at Sea Ranch. These visitors were in the back yard when we got there.
  Afterward lunch I walked below the Lodge out to Black Point, but after a while the kids headed back to get out of the chill wind. This is a rough, beautiful headland with a long beach to the north and small coves to the south. I had scouted the area with Google Earth earlier and had some places to definately check out. I quickly found that the incredible looking cove I wanted to dive in right below the Lodge was made inaccessible by cliffs all around it. As hard to get to as it was, I bet the diving was good. I continued walking around the point looking for a possible entry. At the end of the point, there was one place with a sloping area like a ramp that would have allowed a fairly easy rock entry, but it was extremely exposed. I continued around and on trails above cliffs plunging to wave washed boulders below. I went all the way around, but I didn't see any more entries that looked feasible even to a mountain goat. This was a boundry passible only by birds.

A challenging entry leads to a beautiful cove of diving. Right, that's not a cove. That entry is on a
point and it was the only entry I saw in a long way. It didn't look bad for on a good day


The next morning was cool and overcast, but the wind was missing. The morning mists lingered little longer than the darkness, but the cold remained the same in the weak light of the early day. Everywhere is nature. In the plants and animals and in the ocean mists there is beauty and vitality. No matter how much gear needs assembly, one must stop and enjoy the life. I took a short walk through the cypress grove that started across the road. I wanted to get in a dive while the getting was good. I had to assemble a pile of gear as there was gear to get together for the kids as well. My dive float had to be inflated and everything had to be loaded into the car.

Wild flowers as well as flying flowers as common here. MouseOver the image for a better view.


The plan was to go to The cove where last time I had found diving and the kids had been able to have lots of fun on the beach. When we stopped, Deb thought I was in the wrong place, but I had found it. I loaded some gear and my weight belt onto some luggage wheels. My float was on my back. Unfortunately when we got there, we could see that the tide was a bit high and there was little beach. I hoped that with the kids in 3 mil wetsuits, they would be warm enough to have fun. They could spend some time exploring the tidepools.

     A lot of diving available. I got to explore the whole cove this time. The shore is as fascinating as the waters.

      I love to look across a kelp cove and look for the path through it where it can not block me
The last time I was here, the swell map was predicting 12 to 15 foot swell. Waves piled upon each other as they entered the cove. I had come to this place to find anywhere I could that was protected enough to enter the water without getting mashed. The shallows of the deep cove were covered with smaller red and green algaes. In the deeper water, the browns ruled. The bull kelp was much thicker than the last time I was here. I had checked it out pretty carefully then, but it extended another 30 feet out into the cove from where it had been last time and there were some new patches. I wanted to start my hunting by checking those. I did want to do a few warm-up dives so I went down a couple times in the shallower kelp where I had been before on the last trip.

You prepare for your dive just next to the tops of the kelp so that you can have something to follow down to the bottom. As you get to the bottom, it's dim and the vis is poor which is not such a big deal, but the bottom growth is. Usually the base stipe (stalk) of the bull kelp is just like a rope sticking to a rock. There may be some leafy growth around it, but not a lot. In this case, there was a thick growth of very dark brown strap like "leaves". It was solid. It was too short and thick to coccasionally drift away from the rocks when the surge was right. Where it was not too overgrown you can see the rocks under it. Where it grows thick a couple feet from the main kelp stipe holdfasts, you can even swim into, but I was never able to really see the rocks or the holdfasts on them. It was just to thick and made it completely dark by the rocks. The long leaves are strong and really tend to loop over ankles. A few dives showed the same thing I had found last time, kelp attached to mostly just small rocks sticking out of the bottom, with very little structure. I didn't hope to see much and the vis was really only about 3 feet at best. Still, this was my first North Coast dive in a long time. The cold green moving water in the thick kelp was comfortably familiar. I pulled and crawled through the thick growth at the bottom of the brown seaweeds, pushing it out of the way looking for a hidden rock big enough for an ab to be hiding on.

After a bit of that I then headed on hoping that the small paddies I had seen further out might actually be rocks with structure and maybe not too often visited. I tied my float to a stalk and swam down fast so that I would have some air when I got to the bottom. The vis was just a little better, but there was nothing but kelp growing on more small rocks in the sand. The swell wasn't big, but it was wind swell so it came in a bit fast and choppy. It was deeper diving and minor tangles with kelp seemed more noticable. Again, the base of the Bull Klep had a growth thicker than I had ever seen. Even with my streamlined fins, I could feel the kelp whips wrapping my legs and looping over ankles. I made a few dives on these deep bull kelps and decided to move on.

To my right were some reefs in the mouth of the cove that I really wanted to check out, but they were pretty exposed with a fair amount of wave action today, so this was just not the time. I went with Plan A and headed towards the inside middle of the cove. This was the reef I hadn't made it to last time because it was just too rough. The nearer rock had a few abalone, but I wanted to skip it this time. It was great to have a protected spot to dive in when the swell is raging, but this time it was calm enough to not need to hide. I could go anywhere in the cove I wanted to swim to, though the far south side near the point did look a bit rough from the north swell.
I came to the area I wanted and as usual, there was a 20 foot wide band of bull kelp growing out past the reef where waves would not break it off on the rocks. Inside that was a small clear spot that extended to the seaweeds on the rocks. The rocks angled up so the swell climbed them and fell back making it a rough zone of strong currents.

I tied my float off in the middle of the bull kelp and started working to the south. I hadn't been in this area so I looked in the bull kelp first, but again it was dark in the thick bottom growth and unproductive on very little bottom rock. It was time to go into the rough stuff. Oh how I love warm up dives like this. I moved into the inner edge and this was the rocks making up the near vertical face of the reef. I was right at the edge of the wild water zone on the shallow rocks. If I moved in 5 feet it could get exciting. There were few breaks in the rock, but the cracks there were went down from about 8 feet at the top to 20 feet at the bottom. The kelp was so thick it was hard to see anything. I had hopes, but had no idea if there really was anything here. I was on the face of the rock, but it had some cracks in it. About my third dive, I saw a fat ab that was smaller than 9 inches, but I took it quick. Cool. As I had seen some invertebrates, I decided to try to get a couple pictures. One dive and I remembered you can think of pictures or abalone, but not both. I put the camera back and decided I should make this short as the kids wanted to swim in the cove. Right out from the middle of the reef I found a deep crack that went towards the main rocks. I pulled a nice ab from the side and decided to go back in it and look some more. It went in a ways, but the surge was radical and there were sort of ledges sticking out across it in the dim gloom. I did not want to get sucked into it. The holes were big enough to get sucked into, but they might not be fun to get out of. It was dark in there and with 5 feet of vis, I had no idea what I would be getting into, except for strong water. I stayed around the outside and found another nice ab. After just a few more tries at getting pics in the fast water and thick kelp, I decided to head on in.

   The abs tended to be deep in cracks behind thick kelp. Those are all around 9 inch plus fattys. You have to wait patiently for the current to move the weeds so you can see the bottom for a moment.

I got to shore and Marissa wanted to try diving. I had been ambivalent about the thought of them doing North Coast diving from the start, but I figured if conditions were good enough, I'd regret it if I didn't let them try. Both kids had practiced and she was actually pretty good at prying an ab shell off the bottom of the pool that I was holding down. I already realized I had forgotten to have her practice bringing it to the surface. They had fair wetsuit coverage, but I wasn't too sure how it would go. Kids are unpredictable. Now, I thought the water would just be too cold. It was OK for me, but she's a little girl. She had a mask, snorkel, fins, full wetsuit and a surfing hood, but no booties or gloves. I didn't think it was going to work, but she wanted to try. I quickly tagged my abalone and told her to get on the float. I figured that I would take her to the shallows along the wall of the cove. I was hoping she could get a look at some of the life along the wall. She looked really cute. She put her face in the water and said she was just too cold. It was time to head home and take it easy.
   You have a different pespective on a rocky shore from this side. It is beautiful, but it is a challenge.
   You can see the surface, but what is below? The surface is pretty thick. What's the bottom going to be like?
   There's only one way to find out. Go there.


Actually, I was a bit disappointed so I spent the next couple hours driving around by myself looking for potential entries. The south end of Sea Ranch has much less ocean access than the north end does. I did find a couple good spots where I could enter though. I marked them on the map for later. It was fun driving around exploring, but as my knee is giving me problems, I was looking for easier entries.

Enjoy, seahunt

seahunt Diving For The Fun Of It