Dive report: Peace to Anacapa on 3/27/05

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Posted by Dick Analog on March 28, 2005 at 22:42:15:

We had always wanted to make a trip aboard the Peace and we finally got our chance this past Sunday. Dive trips out of Ventura Harbor are always our preferred option, as it is a shorter and more pleasant drive for us out of the Santa Clarita Valley compared to the freeway hell that lies between our home and Long Beach or San Pedro.

I had cajoled Jan - my sweetie pie/dive buddy into getting up extra early so we could snag a ‘good spot’ for our gear on the dive deck. She was visibly upset when she saw that the gear stations were nearly filled as we walked down the ramp to the dock. It turned out that most divers had arrived the day before, including a healthy contingent from the Bay Area and Central Coast. The Peace is known for its devoted following of repeat customers.

We ended up getting decent gear spots anyway, and any residual disappointment melted away when we dug into our hot, scrumptious breakfast. Another Peace specialty: gourmet food served to shivering, wetsuit-clad diners. Jan later described the Peace diving experience as ‘a series of fabulous meals, interrupted by chilly dunkings in the ocean’.

As the boat pulled farther away from the harbor I was excited to see that we were headed toward the east end of Anacapa Island. We had done a few trips to Anacapa, but had never visited the east end. The trip across the channel was highlighted by our passing through a modest-sized pod of dolphins. A few energetic individuals rode the bow wave for a good five minutes before tiring and rejoining their pod.

Another highlight of the trip was finally meeting Elaine Jobin in person. We didn’t know she had signed on for this trip, but the golden braids and several ice chests full of camera gear were a dead giveaway. She graciously chatted with us during the crossing and passed on some valuable tips on underwater photography and diving in general. She even told us the secret to her infallible underwater navigation, but we’ll let that bit of information remain just that – her secret.

Our first dive site was Landing Cove. The water was flat calm and we were told to expect little if any current. We dropped into about 45ft of water and soon after reaching our level-off depth we were joined by a playful sea lion. It made several high-speed runs, around us and between us, before teasingly lying down on the sand and blowing bubbles toward us. Of course, the moment that I got the camera un-tethered and fired up, the sea lion was gone.

We headed toward the back wall of the cove, slowly working up our way upward into shallower water. The surge wasn’t too bad so we decided to spend most of the dive looking for things in the 5-25ft depth range. We passed over a field of manmade debris that had been discarded in earlier times and were startled by the sight of a very large moray eel, lurking in the end of an iron pipe. It had the thickest body that I had ever seen, and if it had made any sudden movement toward me I would have surely soiled my wetsuit. This particular eel turned out to be a shy creature, and was not very photogenic that day.

We found many, many lobsters. They seemed to be feeling smug about their being in a protected zone. That, and the fact that lobster season is over until next October.

As we neared the end of our dive we did a safety stop at 15ft by clinging onto a thick bunch of kelp. The kelp was pretty dense so I couldn’t see Jan, but I heard what I thought were bubbly shrieks coming from her direction. I pulled apart the kelp and saw our sea lion buddy, playfully pulling on one of Jan’s fins with its teeth. He had also been dive-bombing Jan, which precipitated the shrieks of fear and nervous laughter. Like before, by the time I got my camera ready the sea lion was long gone.

After leaving Landing Cove we pulled around the east end of the island and headed west along the backside. We cruised all the way to Cat Rock. At least that’s what our divemaster called it. On another trip with a different boat, it was Hat Rock. Cat, or Hat, it’s an interesting site with numerous submerged ridges that radiate outward from the rock. I have noticed that backside dives on Anacapa tend to be more sparsely populated with marine life, compared to frontside sites. Maybe it’s the greater exposure to storms and the open ocean that accounts for more tenuous conditions. It was shortly into this second dive that the battery on my camera gave out, while trying to photograph my first christmas tree worm. I guess I had taken too many out-of-focus photos of the eel back at Landing Cove.

After leaving Cat/Hat rock we dropped anchor over Coral Reef. Here, there was a pretty stiff current in play. Coral Reef appears to be an isolated mound of rock in 60ft of water, about 300yds from the shoreline, and reaches to within 30ft of the surface. For the hunters on this trip, this site offered some exciting prospects; less than five minutes after the dive gate was opened, someone tossed a nice-sized halibut onto the deck. We began our dive by heading straight into the current, and for the most part followed the transition zone between the sand flats and rocky reef. It was slow going, and our air consumption rate was high. We purposely let our tank pressure get lower than usual before turning around, knowing that the trip back toward the boat would be easy. And it was easy; this is what drift diving must be like. We floated over vast mats of brittle stars, and pulled in behind a boulder to check out a nice-sized lingcod. We still had quite a bit of air left when we reached the rear anchor, so we did one more quick out-and-back before pulling our way up the anchor line to 15ft for a safety stop.

By the end of the third dive the weather turned blustery. An ominous cloud cap had formed over the top of Santa Cruz Island, and clung tightly to the highest ridges. The captain of the Peace did, however, oblige us with a fourth dive, at Amphitheater Cove. Due to the chilling wind and fading sunlight, most on board either dove into the Peace’s famous hot tub, or into their bunks. But a few hardy souls jumped back into the clear, blue water. This is a shallow site, with most of the interesting diving found in 15 to 20ft of water. As we passed through a stand of kelp, we spotted a single column of bubbles rising from behind a rock ridge; from time to time the column of bubbles was illuminated by brightly flashing light. We swam toward this curious sight and sure enough, there was Elaine, trying to wedge her camera and strobes beneath a ledge, in hopes of getting just the right angle on whatever it was she was after. Her work ethic as a photographer is remarkable. On each dive she was usually the first in the water and one of the last ones out.

After stowing our dive gear and enjoying some exquisite apple cobbler, Jan and I crashed and burned in our bunk. The nearly two-hour trip back to port seemed to go by in a moment. I just hope my enthusiastic snoring didn’t startle anyone.

This was a great series of dives, on a great boat. In my mind, the captain and crew of the Peace set the standard for So.California dive boats with respect to professionalism and customer service. It is no surprise that this boat is already 100% booked through the end of 2005.

The first dive site of the day, Landing Cove, east end of Anacapa Island

This large moray eel has taken up residence in a steel pipe at Landing Cove.

The lobsters at Landing Cove were very approachable. They seem to know that they are in a protected area.

A whole nest of smug bugs.

I snapped a photo of this treefish because its coloration was more yellowish than I had seen before. We also saw a free-swimming treefish at this site, something that one doesn’t see very often.

Island kelpfish.

Playing follow-the-leader with large sheephead, through submerged arch at Landing Cove.

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a nudibranch crawling up a sycamore tree. A 25ft long sycamore trunk was lying in about 20ft of water at Landing Cove, apparently after having drifted over from the mainland during one of the recent storms.

This posed an interesting problem for the captain and crew, kind of like a ‘horseshoe and chain’ puzzle.

But after some clever working of the wheel, forward & reverse gears, and winch, the puzzle was eventually solved.

Log for first dive, showing that there is lots to keep one entertained in shallow water.

One of the colorful starfish on Anacapa’s backside.

Spanish shawl nudibranch in natural light.

A “running” star. There is also a painted greenling tucked in against the starfish.

No So.Cal. dive report would be complete without a garibaldi photo. Taken in natural light.

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