Sea Ranch

We got back to Sea Ranch and had some tasty salad that Debbie had prepared. We put our gear on again and headed for the water just about 75 yards from the house. As I had told Eric, it looked like OK diving here, but perhaps 175 yards south, the coast angled in about 15 degrees at a cove and point. Beyond that, the wave action was just a bit calmer. While there was nothing in the way of big waves, these had some power to them and were not to be ignored. They had a short period with less power than a storm wave, but some solidness to them. Still, it wasn't Spring or anything nasty like that, so caution was more called for than raw nerve. The cliffs rose about 60 feet high above the ocean, but easily passable if you followed the contours of the geology.

We proceeded south and I offered Eric one option I had considered. We could enter on the north side of the cove, a jump in entry, swim out and across the cove entrance, around the point and exit on the other side. It looked like good ab territory all the way, but it would have been a long, tough, exposed swim. We agreed that it was better saved for another day when we had not already done a long swim. It might also be better advised on a calmer day. Besides, did we really need that much adventure?

We walked past the cove and on to where the offshore rocks of the point ended. Past here it was just a bit calmer and again, it was a place to just exit off the rocks and go on in. We decided to try an entry just a little protected by the offshore rocks. I carefully noted that the seals on the rocks of the point seemed unperterbed. That does not mean that the landlord is not about, but it does mean that the seals don't know he's there.

The geology ran almost completely parallel to the coast line. I did not like how soft the sandstone was both because of the climb and because of it's likely nature in the water. It was dissolved by seawater into fantastic shapes. It made for skinny ridges with deep skinny canyons between them. I expected the topography in the water to be similar.

We geared up in a long shallow tidepool and considered one entry that looked possible from the ocean entrance of this tide pool. Eric had these huge, long freediving fins instead of his smaller fins that he had used for the earlier scuba dive. After watching the waves at the mouth we went to the other side to just try entering between the rocks. It was nearing high tide and the entry would have been easy enough, but near 6 feet out from the water entry was about 15 feet of rock ridge sticking up that we would have to go around to the north or south. Since I could see that all rips were going south, I went in north, but Eric went around south. It wasn't really difficult either way, but the exit would most likely be more entertaining.

We swam out past the line of the offshore rocks where Eric dropped his anchor. I tied my float to his instead of tying off to kelp as is my usual habit. By the way, the backpack innertube floats that North Coast divers use, work fantastically. I looked around to evaluate conditions, nearby rocks, bull kelp patches and to make sure what the currents were. If I started to move, I would know it right way. That is about the most important thing to watch. Waves announce themselves, but currents can sneak up on you.

Now it was time to dive. I always wonder if I'll have my form this year. I wonder if my recent injuries will slow me down. There's only one way to find out. Eric seemed comfortable. I was in my place. I took my air and made sure to do a high footed surface dive and down I went. At 8 feet you see the green of eel grass so you edge out some to go over the rock side. At 12 feet you see the small kelps, so you edge out some more. Then it's straight down the rock side to the bottom of the canyon at its base. I was running short of air, so I didn't try to get under the bottom laminareas, but turned above them to follow the canyon and see what it was like here. I just love flying between the bottom rocks and then turn up and everything opens up as you approach the surface under some bull kelp. Before you reach the surface, quit swimming and just clear your snorkel as you broach the surface. Not bad, but not at all good. As expected it would take few dives for my body to get adjusted. I looked at Eric to make sure. He was doing his thing, so breathe and do it again. My third dive, I knew I had it. Actually I was surprised how comfortable I was. I hope I thanked God. I took air and followed a rock face down to the bottom and went perhaps 10 feet before I saw an overhang that went back near 6 feet. There were abs, but there was a rock in the entrance as well. There was a big one on the overhang, in just bit, but the rock was only 2 inches from its shell. I looked at it good, but decided against it. I don't mangle out abs and I only carry a very small iron. Maybe, maybe not. No and up I go.

There were two more farther in, but I wanted to explore so I really didn't want to work them. Besides, I could find them later if I wanted. Again I waited for Eric to surface. He must have been having fun because it took a fair while, but he didn't seem at all stressed from the depth. A lot of divers just can't handle that depth. It was an easy 35 feet to the bottom of the canyons.

Really, to get to the bottom of these canyons was deeper than I often bother with. There is rarely any reason to freedive this deep, but those abs had looked big and I had a spiffy new 9 inch measure that my brother had cut out of 1/2 inch aluminum plate. I wanted to try it and Karl had even put the little bug in my head to look for a 10 incher... the outside of my measure. Eric still looked comfortable enough so I moved over a bit, relaxed on the surface, sucked air for a while and went for it. At the bottom of this canyon I got under the laminareas to look better and then moved fast. It wasn't promising until I came around a small boulder and saw an ab under an undercut. It looked big, but I put my hand on it to be sure and it was definitely big. No illusion there. I stuck my ab iron under it and no luck. It just banged against the shell. Argg! I was holding it upside down. I was thinking about how nice some air would be just about now and the judgment I had to make carefully and very fast. I flipped the iron, jammed it under and gave a yank. It almost came off. I worked it in some, yanked again and the ab dropped off to the bottom. I dropped my iron and sort of spun the ab out to where I could get a solid grab on it. A big ab is a big handful. Then I just turned for the surface and swam. I still relaxed before I reached the top and just puffed the water out of my snorkel. I ran my 11 inch iron across it and while you can't get a good measure that way, I knew it was near 10 inches. When I got to the float, my big caliper showed it to be 9 1/2 inches. I've gotten bigger, but not in a while. I put it in the float and dropped the big measure out on its line for further use.

I was moving around some looking for some different terrain that might be more ab friendly. I knew not to look on the vertical rock sides. I was looking on the underside of boulders, but there seemed to be nothing there. I found leaning rocks that are my favorite place to look for abs that have to be felt rather than seen. Most divers don't search those spots, but there were still none. I had moved out to my deepest dives and got the feeling that I was past the depth where the abs would be, so I moved back to parallel the floats.

There were pinnacles that came to less than 10 feet from the surface. I looked at the top of them some without expecting to find anything, which I didn't, but I also gave up on that idea because the water near the top of them was just whipping by faster than anything I wanted to try to hold on in.

When you swim down to the bottom, it's only a few feet wide between the vertical rock walls. I settled on getting to the lowest part of the bottom under the laminareas and looking for large ledges. I was still looking at boulders, but everything I had seen was under the big ledges, few though they were. In a couple of dives I found another big ab and grabbed it. It's fun to try to estimate with my iron, because while it's no where near accurate, it tends to indicate a measure bigger than the ab really is. In the caliper, it measured over 9 inches.

I made some more dives and was seeing an occasional ab that I would put my hand on, but I was really only looking for ones my hand wouldn't fit on at all. Again, near the end of a dive, I found a big one way under a ledge, but it came off with one yank. I spun it out, grabbed it and went for the surface. As I went to the floats, Eric was coming towards me with a serious smile. He had a nice 9 inch plus one himself. We commented on that there sure didn't seem to be many, but they were certainly big. We were both quite conscious of the swell. While it wasn't real big, it certainly was strong and was slowly increasing.

Since I was looking for my last ab of the day, I was taking longer swims through the crevices. The laminareas were thick enough, but they cannot grow very well on the actual bottom of the crevices. They will tend to get worn off. There were big ones growing on the sides though and even though I was as low as I could get, I would occasionally have to shoulder clumps aside, especially when changing tracks between tight boulders. It was really beautiful diving. There were a fair number of urchins and I occasionally surprised rockfishes. Still, animal life in all intertidal regions is dependent on what cover is available and most of the rock surface here was vertical. Aside from kelps, life was rather limited. I didn't see any cucumbers, large anemones, crabs or White Spotted Rose Anemones which were what I sort of had my eye targeted to. On some of the vertical walls were very nice colonies of small Corynactus anemones. They were a brilliant deep pink and one solid colony was easily 4 feet by 4 feet.

I had worked a bit towards the last of the offshore rocks that made up the point and while it got a little rougher, it was no more productive. It is fun watching the waves break on the Palmifera covered rocks from the water. At one point, I did see that Eric came up with another big ab. I watched him make a couple of dives. He didn't make much of a surface dive. He might use one leg in the air to get started, but mostly he just used his monster fins to grab the water and go. One time I got a good look at him starting out with his fin flat, less than a foot under the water. He gave a hard push with it and he was instantly moving down. Those fins really push against the water and obviously his legs were strong enough to use them.

I moved back towards the floats and towards shore. The terrain was the same. Either vertical walls or boulders that offered no good cover for abs. Finally I actually ended up at the first ledge I had been to near the floats. There were 3 abs under it, the most I had seen together today and I tried to decide who was biggest. They were all near the same size, so I went for the hardest one to reach, all the way back and part way in the sand. He came off easily enough and I pulled him out to where I could actually grab him in one hand. Then it was a leisurely swim up to the surface. Like most dives, I stopped swimming 8 or 10 feet before I reached the top and just puffed my snorkel clear.

Eric had 3 which was all he wanted. We had been out a fair amount of time and the diving was not easy. It was time to make the return trip. Since all the wave action was moving to the south, I suggested that we stay as tight as possible to the north as we did our exit. It might get a wave to break on you some, but I'd rather that than take a current ride south. Really, it was probably not rough enough to be a problem doing an impromptu exit, but I wanted to do a swim out rather than ride a wave into a rock and have to clutch on and climb.

Crossing from the outer rocks to the inner rocks was not hard and I intentionally just went against the rock face about 12 feet north of the exit. I figured I could slide across when I wanted. Eric just went straight in the slot. I think he was working those big fins again. I sidled along to a couple of feet from the chute between the rocks, waited for a wave to finish going out and just pulled myself in front of the entrance. You kick hard and with the help of the waves, you are all the way up on the rocks. Wow! What a dive! I've only once before pulled a four 9 inch plus abs before.

We relaxed a bit, but did have to move up. There was still real wave action coming in where we were. Still, after the swim and the rush of the entry, it's great to just catch your breath sitting in the cool thick kelp. It's a great feeling after a dive and the next stop was to climb that stupid cliff with game and gear, so why hurry... except for the intense sun. It was nice diving with Eric. He was comfortable and competent freediving in deep water and the rough water did not fray his nerves. He had a 9 1/2 incher as well as two others near as big. He was pretty excited from a dive like that.

We made it up the cliff and stumbled back to the house. It was nice to get out of the gear and nice to talk diving with someone that new what the reality of diving the North Coast is like. It is far more challenging than any other diving I have ever done. Southern California diving is generally a picnic compared to here. I finally shut up enough for him to get on his way, even though I was still completely wound up in the dive. That's why we do it.


The next morning I got up to make scrambled eggs with abalone, Swiss cheese and champagne. I figured that it was a recipe that only the French could have come up with.

A bit after 7 AM, both Joe and Karl were there. Joe I had met at Sea Ranch and he preferred to dive with other divers if they were available. He knew the area some and sounded like a good diver. He was going to be diving there all week. I knew Karl from the board and he sounded like he really enjoyed abalone diving as well.

We headed back towards where I had dove the day before, but this time it would be a slightly minus tide. Again we went down the cliff, but things looked extremely different, partly due to the different lighting and partly due to the low tide. The tidepool that we had entered from yesterday was completely empty. The chute we went through was deeper and extended farther out. It was also a bit rougher.

We climbed down until we were on rocks completely covered with small brown kelps. As we geared up, our breath made huge plumes of mist. Thin sea mists drifted by, but quickly vanished in the morning sun.

The entry was similar to on the last day, but a bit more lively across the shallower rocks. Joe and I headed out to the outside of the reef area as before and Karl decided to stay farther inside. I decided to move away from the offshore rocks this time instead of towards them.

This time some of the pinnacles were within 2 to 4 feet of the surface. If they are that shallow, I always at least try to stand up on one. It amuses me to be able to stand up that far offshore. It was a short lived triumph before I was swept off. The water out here was moving pretty good. Really, the difficulty of diving here was finding the canyons between the ridges. I was diving deep again and watching both Karl and Joe between dives. Joe seemed to be doing well and Karl signaled that he was OK, but I was just a bit uncomfortable watching how small the calm spot was that he had chosen to dive in. The waves were splashing on the rocks pretty good just 20 feet shoreward from his position and I could see the heavy swell move everything back and forth.

I was making deep dives and having the same problem finding abs as the day before, but I got a nice big one soon. I found a line of urchins and so took one that was fair sized. The biggest ones may not be good. I removed the spines with my hands before putting it in the float. It had about a 5 inch test. I got another one and had put it into the float. Just then Joe swam up holding a big ab and said 'thanks, that's my first 9 incher'. Well that was one of the coolest things I've ever been told while diving, but he was the one that got it. I learned later that though he was an experienced diver, he really hadn't tried diving at this depth before and was really glad that I had given him a good opportunity to find out something about what he could really do given the chance. I thought he was a well poised diver that handled the depth and rough water just fine.

During this time, both Joe and I were keeping an eye on Karl inside in the rough water. We were both stoked on the fun diving. It was really pretty and I was seeing the same life I had seen the day before, though I was finding more rock fish. At one point I even came upon a large Cabazon, but he did not feel friendly and shot down a rock canyon. After a while, both Joe and I had 3 abs at or near 9 inches. Then came in the set.

Generally the waves that were coming in had all been pretty much the same size. They were strong enough, but quite manageable in the deeper water. They mostly just caused boils above the pinnacles or a small wave like a whitecap. This set was probably 2 feet higher and so actually broke above the shallowest pinnacles. That was OK for us. We just got shoved around some, but Karl got hit by a breaker. He was OK, but had to scramble for his float before it got to the rocks. He got back in control pretty fast, but Joe and I talked a bit and said it was very near time to get out. We would try to get one last ab each, but not for long and if it picked up again more than just a set, it was time to bail. I fairly quickly found another ab and got my float untied from the kelp. Joe said he was just a bit tired and was plenty ready to go. Karl was already heading out to us.

This is when I stop, relax and try to fix in my mind the beauty of the shore and the waves breaking on the offshore rocks. I certainly won't be back soon enough, yet this is the best part of my life, but it is time to go. I also look at the currents and whitewater we're going to have to go through. Well, I suggested that they follow me in, which seemed OK with them. I said to stay as far north as possible. Just to make things more interesting I was going to try to take pictures as I went in. It's hard to say if that presented more danger to me or my camera. What was on my mind was that there had been some calm water after that set for about 8 minutes. It was entirely possible that another big set could land right on us at the worst time. I looked back and Joe and Karl were in a line behind me. I swam right across some rocks into the outer tidepool and made the last 20 yard dash to the shore rocks. I did not try for the exit though. If I was north of it, I could get to it. If I got south at all, I was going to have to find another exit. The water was really moving. Whenever it moved out I finned hard and held on to whatever kelp I could grab. During this, I'm sort of trying to take some pictures. Again I made it against the rocks above the exit, though the water was much more active this time. I pulled carefully with the waves until I was next to the exit. About this time, Joe rode a wave straight in. I waited until that wave was finished receding and yanked myself in front of the exit. The next wave took me in and just bumped me up the rocks. I sat down and looked back for Karl. Joe said he was coming in and seemed OK, but I couldn't see him. I got my camera out and set the focus to the outside of the exit and sure enough, Karl came whipping around the corner in the whitewater and rode the next wave in. I may have a good picture for him.

Well there we were, but we had to move up. One big wave could have easily sucked us all out again and anyway I was about to slip down the kelp and land on Karl. We got our fins off and moved up a bit.

I had to stop for a bit though and look back. My life is far from here in a hot place and busy with responsibilities. Where I live now is far from the cool North Coast kelps, but without a doubt this is my place. When I have to leave, it hurts. Still, I was there now. In some way, I always will be.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

For more stories about diving the Sea Ranch area

  • California Coastal Diving - North Coast
  • Sea Ranch 2000 Editors Trip.. Many Pics
  • Gerstle Cove
  • NorthCoast - Abalone
  • Mists

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