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 DigitalDiver.net. 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