Dive report: San Clemente Island with dive boat Encore 6/5/05

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Posted by Dick Analog on June 07, 2005 at 20:41:48:

We enjoyed a couple of firsts this past weekend: our first trip to San Clemente Island, and our first trip aboard the Encore. I’m happy to report that we were pleased in every respect – with the dive destination, and with the nice folks who run the Encore.

This was a Reefseekers chartered trip, so there was a strong diver representation from the West L.A. crowd including lawyers, investment advisors, and film industry tech-types. We had newly-certified divers on board, those with 500+ dives under their belt, and every experience level in between. After a fairly bumpy overnight ride out of Long Beach we arrived at Pyramid Cove around 6:30am, and were greeted by calm water but a low, June Gloom cloud deck. Ironically, the first dive site was Sun Point, but Mr.Sun never graced us with his presence during any of the dives that day. The DMs and deckhands had a heck of a time getting divers to suit-up, gear-up, and out the gate in the early morning cold and gloom. I do have serious doubts about the strength of the coffee that morning – maybe someone slipped in some de-caf by mistake. “Morning of the Frogfoot Zombies” might best describe how we shuffled oh-so-slowly toward the dive gate.

For Jan and I, our morning plunge into the ocean came as a double-shock, due to not only to the early hour, but the fact that our previous dives just a few days before were in the warm, sparkling waters of Hawaii. We felt like we were hit with a hammer by the 55 degree water. Fortunately, the underwater terrain at Sun Point offered enough of a variety that we temporarily forgot how chilly the water was. We had thick kelp to explore, and could follow a steep, blocky slope down to 100ft to check out the deeper critters. We were a little surprised by how timid the reef fish seemed at this particular site – it wasn’t easy to get within photo range, and they usually turned tail and fled when you did get close. I’m wondering if their timidity was due to a yellowtail run which was apparently in progress about 1/4mi. from where our boat was anchored; there were maybe two-dozen private and commercial sport fishing boats anchored in a tight group and countless fishing poles pointed skyward.

After a warm, hearty breakfast we dropped anchor at a site referred to as Second Boilers, also in Pyramid Cove. Here, the attraction was a thick, extensive kelp bed in 50-60ft of water. Shortly after starting our second dive, I noticed droplets of water inside my camera housing. Uh, oh. My chronic inattention to O-ring maintenance had finally caught up with me. I shut the camera down in order to minimize the chance of any water contact with live electronics and kept an eye on the water situation. The water droplet count didn’t seem to increase during the remainder of the dive, and when I eventually did pull the camera from the housing it appeared to be functioning normally. Lesson learned, disaster averted (barely).

It was nice of the Encore to save the best dive site for last: East End Reef. Located at the extreme northeast tip of the island, East End Reef is highlighted by a dramatic East-West trending wall which tops out in a little as 15ft of water, and plunges to over 110ft. As Capt. Pam carefully maneuvered the boat to place us over the wall, we were treated to a wild and unexpected flying fish show. A raucous group of sea lions was raising hell with a school of flying fish, and every thirty seconds or so, two or three fish would erupt from below and flutter and glide for perhaps 150ft. I had never seen flying fish and imagined beforehand that they simply leapt out of the water, glided a short distance, and dropped back in. No, these fish FLEW. Their wing-fin movements reminded me of the way locusts fly, except that these would be freakin’ big locusts. As they winged their way 2 to 3ft over the water’s surface, they kept their backs and tails arched downward, perhaps achieving a rudder effect during flight. We all whooped and hollered with each new flight.

I guess I missed the 110ft+ part in the pre-dive briefing, because as Jan and I were exploring nooks and crannies about 2/3 the way down the wall I was mildly shocked when I glanced at my depth gage and it read 85ft. Going that deep wasn’t part of our plan for the last dive of the day (though we were still well within NDC limits), so we gradually worked our way back toward the top of the wall, and then over it. We got shallow enough that we were eventually being whisked over brilliant green beds of eel grass by the strong surge. This is a site that we definitely want to come back and explore, and given its potential depth, it would make an excellent first dive of the day.

Each dive boat we have taken seems to have its own particular strength, and I’d have to say that Capt. Pam gets our nod for keeping the cleanest, tidiest boat in the fleet. From the heads to the bunk room, everything was about as spotless as humanly possible for a dive boat. And we liked everything else about the Encore – good food and plenty of it, and very helpful deckhands. Last but not least, Reefseekers deserve kudos for sending their A-team DMs. We’ll certainly return to San Clemente Island, though probably in the Fall/Winter when the visibility is at its best; on last weekend’s trip the visibility ranged from 20 to 40ft – not bad, but probably not one of the island’s better days.

A few photos (taken before the camera started taking on water) are posted below.

Given the general skittishness of the reef fish on the first dive, I looked for Garibaldi which were guarding their nesting sites. At least they could be counted on to stay put, more or less.

Garibaldi in deep space.

This young treefish first caught my attention, then when the camera strobe fired I caught sight of a telltale antenna.

Over the three dives I’m sure we saw in excess of a hundred lobsters, but only two might have been legal size. I now understand why San Clemente is referred to as the “Island of Shorts”.

You know the reef fish are nervous about something when even the sheephead stick to ledges and crevices. This individual seems to be in the middle of making the transition from female to male.

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