Monday, August 21, 2006 

Graceful Diving

Oil Rig Grace
Drifting down in the clear, blue, calm waters under Oil Rig Grace, I couldn't believe how lucky we were to have such great conditions. As we went down I kept having to put more and more air into my drysuit and thought I was overweighted, until I glanced at my depth gauge that was reading 97 feet. Huh, it felt like 67 feet. The blue water was a surprise, as conditions while warmer (65F+), generally are very similar to the Pacific Northwest. My dive buddy Margaret leveled off at our agreed upon 100' depth, and we marveled at the pilings and structure completely covered in strawberry and white Metridium anemones, sponge and many other invertebrates.

I came down to California from Seattle to visit my Mom and as always, worked in a couple of days diving with some friends from We dove off The Peace, one of my favorite boats. Eric and his crew always are wonderful to dive with, and their Wednesday specials are a great deal; usually going out to San Miguel or the Oil Rigs with tons of great food all day long.

Oil platform Grace has had a checkered history and was the source of a large oil spill in it's early years. Now the company that owns it has opened it to divers for PR purposes and to publicize that environmentalists that want complete removal of the platforms are actually destroying large amounts of underwater habitat. It is covered in it's entire 320' depth with life of all kinds, is also home to sea lions and the occasional pelagic as it is in blue water. We did not see large amounts of fish, just a few Rockfish and smaller Greenlings.

We enjoyed perfect conditions all day with just a little current and poorer visibility on the third dive. The 26 divers on the boat were divided into 2 groups and it made for a fairly relaxed day. I was diving an E119 with EAN32 which gave me long bottom times and a small nitrogen load. When I overstayed the rest of my group on the last dive, The Peace simply dropped the second group and picked me up when I was done. No fuss, no muss. On the way home, Capt. Eric found a nice pod of dolphins to play with for a while, putting a capper on a great day.

Rushing around Santa Cruz
The second day Robin, Ron and myself dove off The Spectre and older (nee ancient) charter boat from Ventura, as The Peace was booked. What a contrast, although it's a larger boat, they crowd up to 40 divers on The Spectre. Many are newer divers it seemed, a few instructors with students in tow.

We were lucky to only have 28 that day and took off in calm conditions to do 3 dives on the north side of Santa Cruz island. Before getting into the water at the first site (Lobster Spot) I asked how long I could stay out and was told an hour. Coming back after 65 mins I was yelled at by the DM for staying out 1:20 after the gate had been opened, which was BS, as I was the first one out the other gate, when the captain had opened it across from the DM. This set the tone for the day, as after we zoomed to another site (Potato Rock) the gates were opened with only a 35 min surface interval.

I cut my dives to 45-50 mins the second two times, and as I was diving the equivalent of a 100cf in 50' of water I came back with nearly half my air. Again a rushed 35 min surface interval, this time while wolfing down (a decent) lunch and changing camera batteries. Rush, rush, rush. Overall the diving was so-so, no kelp and the critters a little hard to find after the first site. We did see some cool little Decorator Crabs, Spanish Shawl nudis, a lobster, and at the last site an array of a few fish. But in my experience they were very mediocre compared to sites I've dove on Anacapa, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands (See Diving Miguel). Suffice to say I won't dive on The Spectre again, and don't recommend it to more experienced divers or photographers.

See Photos at: Channel Islands Photo Set

Monday, August 07, 2006 

Flying & Diving in 3/4's Time

Finally got back to do some diving this weekend at Sucia Island. Chip, Paul and I took off on my boat from Blaine on Saturday morning with a load of scuba gear, tanks and even my new scooter. During the off-season I had found a decent older 10' Zodac inflatable that with a little gluing back together of the transom and floor, was in great shape. Paul came up with the wonderful idea of putting our bcs on one set of tanks, inflating them and then lashing them down, so that even in the event the boat flipped, the tanks would still be buoyant and tied down. We actually had plenty of room for the rest of the gear in my 28' sailboat, putting the scooter at night in the cockpit.

Making good time in the ebb to Sucia we anchored, had lunch and slowly got ready to dive the outside of Ewing Island at the end of Echo Bay. I had calculated that we didn't want to start the first dive until at least 4-4:30 pm, with slack at 7 pm. We filled up a load of gear in the Zodiac and motored over to see where we could find a spot to stage a shore dive from. I like the east end best, but there has been a large pod of harbor seals there, and in one spot a small seal was sleeping, so we came back to the middle and found a perfect spot, with a sort of boat harbor that allowed us to pull the dink into the rocks to unload.

With the heat of the day upon us, we decided to suit up in our drysuits in the shade of the island, and after another trip back and forth to the boat, we were able to get in the water on time with little difficulty.

The wall there is a jumble of boulders small, large and house-sized, with quite a few fish and invertebrates and a nice kelp forest along the shallower edge. But it does drop-off to 100' sharply, and slightly further out to 150-180'.

I was trying my Apollo dive scooter out for the second time and thought that maybe I could take some video with my Fuji E900. Unfortunately, I had left the handle for my HID light at home and had to deal with it too. Along with being overweighted with all this stuff by at least 4#, I was task-loaded to the max. I scootered along uncomfortably for a while, but decided to come back and leave off the camera to simplify things.

I had seen Paul and Chip drifting quite a ways in the mild current, and when I went back I found them swimming back against the current. I stopped, flipped out the towing handles and gestured to them to grab hold. We weren't well-balanced, but that little scooter did a great job of motoring the three of us in bulky drysuits and gear back to where we started. They decided since they had plenty of air, they would continue the other direction again with the current, as it split along the wall, going in two directions. So I zoomed around for a while, took one long loop down to 100', checked out the house-sized boulders there, and came back up, grabbed them and took them back again. Talk about a taxi service.

The second dive I left the scooter and just did a mellow dive, showing the guys the ruble down deep and taking photos. Highlights included a school of Yellow-tail rockfish, a rare Tiger rockfish, a Mossy-headed Warbonnet, nudibranchs and even a juvenile Puget Sound King crab hiding in a deep hole the small width as it!

Surfacing, we got out of our gear as a beautiful twilight descended, went back to the boat for a couple of rib-eyes and lots of beer.
View Video Here
View Photos here

About Jack

  • Adventurer, diver, sailor, photographer, writer and sometimes graphic designer. Proprietor of Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. Enjoy the blog, check back and please leave comments!
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