Posted by seahunt on August 24, 2000 at 15:02:18:
This is the first of two parts that tell my version of the recent diver.net editors 2000 Sea Ranch Trip.
If you can, I suggest you just look at this at
Instead of my usual Cro-Magnon HTML text, I think I created a pretty
cool report with a number of thumb nails so that you can take a look
at more pictures if you want. Part 2 tomarrow
I hope you enjoy the story, seahunt
An Early Morning Swim
It was morning and I had the time. What could I do? I pretty much had to dive. But that's not so bad. I was back at Sea Ranch on the north Sonoma Coast and the diving is fantastic.
Debbie and I drove about a 1/2 mile from the house we rented, down the nearest road that looked like it went to the water and looked for a trail. I was suited up already and my other gear was in my innertube backpack, so it is only a couple of minutes from parking the car until I was at the bluffs overlooking a beautiful calm rocky cove. I didn't forget to pore warm water down my suit first though. Since there were a couple of divers already out, that made the decision where to go
It's an easy hike down the rocks, pull my mask and fins out of my backpack and then it's a dive float and game holder. It also holds my booties. Luckily for me I don't get cold feet, because I don't wear booties under my fins and the water is a brisk 50 degrees.
As I headed into the water, one of the divers was coming in through the rocks. He said his brother was staying out for a while to do more 'shopping', but he already had his limit of abalone. He said the vis was good and there were some nice abs to be had.
I had never used one of these innertube backpacks before and they are fantastic. I already liked how the straps across the back, made it a convenient backpack for carrying gear. Now I liked how it made it easy to glide across the thick low tide kelp and shallow rocks. I puttered out about 70 yards to where the second diver was and made my greetings. He was having a good time diving inside of a house sized reef that stuck just a bit above the surface and made a nice calm spot. He had his limit though and headed in.
I unzipped the float, got my ab iron and pulled out my line that would snap onto kelp or just hang and tangle to keep the float nearby. Now it was time to see if I still had the touch... or maybe it's the breath. I snapped a good surface dive with my feet high in the air to push me down and went to the edge of some rocks.
There was a vivid magenta anemone and some small fish to see, but no abalone. The dive was short, but I knew it would take time for me to adjust. It seemed that the terrain was mostly large rocks sticking up vertically from sand channels at the bottom. On the top of the rocks grew big bull kelp that came up to the surface. I continued to dive but started heading straight down to the bottom of the rock walls to about 25 feet. Soon, I knew I still had the touch. I was hitting the
bottom and heading off through the sand channels looking for abalone along the base of the rock walls. Unfortunately, the sheer rock walls offered pretty much no cover for abalone, though there were numerous large anemones in the small cracks as well as lots of smaller fish. Vis was say 15, maybe 20 feet, which is good for here and plenty for diving. The thick kelp was what usually limited vis. I was finding some boulders and cover, but still no abs so I kept moving on. Then I
found an opening about 4 feet deep, a few feet wide, that went into the rock for a body length or so. It was perfect habitat for an abalone to wait for kelp leaves to fall down into for lunch and sure enough there was a nice keeper at the back. That was in the bag. Still, I thought that I should be seeing more abs so I decided to try to get into the heavy kelp and see if there were more cracks, boulders or other broken terrain that would give cover for abs. The kelp was very thick and tough on top of the rocks, but there were cracks that I could get in under the kelp and follow to the outside of the reefs. The abalone were still spotty though and I wanted to find big ones to fill my limit.
It was pretty diving with lots of crabs, colorful anemones, pilaster stars, small fish and other invertebrates, though notably very few large urchins. I gave up diving into the thick kelp. It was a bit thick by this time of the summer.
Well, I had seen many abs, only a few shorts, but only a few nice keepers as well. There were occasional holes with 6 or 8 nice ones together, but nothing huge. I had one that I was disappointed in. It was plenty legal, but I found it well hidden under a rock and had thought 'score, a hidden biggy'. I popped it off and was disappointed because I could tell it was nothing special sized.
My diving was good and I could still go down and comfortably cruise. Due to my recent lack of exercise and back problems, that had not been a given. I was feeling great, but I didn't think it wise to push it. It was time to find one more nice sizer and get out.
Once again, the float was wonderful. I had my game in it, to which I added my iron and weight belt. I climbed on top and it still went through the water without dragging.
The other divers had nicely taken their time to move out in case I might need any assistance. Really, I guess few people are used to soloing out here, though I have done it enough to be comfortable. It is a strong custom up here to look out for other divers. They helped me get my gear up on higher rocks.
Ah.. Another fantastic north coast dive. There is nothing I like better. Now it was time for the short trip back to the hot tub.
Afternoon With Chris and Curt
Sea Ranch is one of the most beautiful places on the California Coast and one of the most private. Many years ago some partners bought the northern most 10 miles of the Sonoma Coast, extending up to the Gualala River and planned a development of summer homes that would fit into coast with a light touch. Regulations said that all houses had to have a natural wood exterior and many houses were designed as architectural dreams. It is some of the most easily accessed shoreline of the entire coast with mostly low bluffs above the shore instead of the towering cliffs that line much of the coast. They deeded some miles of the shoreline to public access so as to keep the state happy, but the central section was strictly off limits and will quickly get a wheel boot for anyone parked without a permit. Eventually, the Coastal Commission forced them to make some other accesses, but they are long walks. The houses are widely spaced, but grouped together with a 1/4 mile or so between them. The quiet, protected properties are filled with deer, rabbits and many other animals that are too shy to be often seen.
We rented a house that seemed to be Fen Shui approved with a strong touch of Frank Lloyd Wright to the design and decor. A peculiarity of the Sea Ranch is that curtains and blinds are not allowed. The area is so private that it is not an issue, but the house can sure get sunny. When it gets cold, most heat comes from the circular glassed fireplace in the living room. The interior is all raw sanded redwood. There is a beautiful shoreline view and binoculars out on the coffee table for enjoying it.
It was a clear sunny afternoon when Curt called me from the bluff top house that they had rented about a mile away in another part of the Ranch. I quickly got loaded up and drove there. The house was another typically complicated design with a large comfortable living room just made for relaxing while watching the nearby shore. There was a nice patio as well, that was shaped to be protected from the wind. Curt and Chris were preparing their gear and Doris was coming on this trip for support and camera management.
We all had our innertube packs on and headed the perhaps 150 feet along the trail across the meadow to the bluff top. Then it was a short walk through small brush trails to a path down the cliff. It is a short, but very careful hike down the rocks to the water.We headed out on our innertubes along the side of a rock that stuck out into the
cove perhaps 75 yards. Chris picked a spot about halfway out while Curt and I headed out towards the end. Vis was nice and got better as we went out. A legal red abalone is 7 inches and all divers are required to have a caliper measure with them. Curt had a 9 inch caliper and wanted to find some biggies.
The diving was easy and no more than 25 feet to the bottom. there were
occasional nice sized abs, but not many monsters. Lots of small jellyfish were in the surface waters near the end of the rocks. There were also lots of multi-colored anemones, small rock fish and large red urchins. Curt came up at one point and had found a nice ab just under 9 inches. That was a definite keeper. I had swam through one crack where I had seen at least a dozen abs that were bigger than 8 inches, but I too was looking for big ones.
Chris was working the same spot further in along the rock wall. I think he hunts abalone the way he hunts lobsters. He had a light mounted on the side of his mask and I expect that he was crawling in every hole that he could find. I think he was using an iron to get them off and not just his hands...
At the end of the rock was an area the size of a small Jacuzzi that had constant waves washing into it. I couldn't resist going into it even though it was just a constant white out. When it calmed between waves I could see that it was very shallow with thick seaweeds and no cover. I finally found that one side had a body wide crack about 8 feet deep heading out. It was well worth following because it was filled with hand sized anemones of every color.
I made a few more dives and then got to do one of my favorite things when diving. The last rock out was the size of a kitchen table and covered with sea palms. The waves were going over it, but not badly, so I climbed out on it to relax and enjoy the view. About 6 feet away, Curt was diving in 25 feet of water. That pool I had been in was behind me and the larger waves that were coming in just now made
me really glad that I had left it. After a while it was time to go in and do a few dives before leaving. I didn't feel that I could push it. One good mistake with my back and I wouldn't be walking. I had my limit of some nice large fattys, but nothing was 9 inches.
About this time Chris showed up. He had done really well with finding some large abs, though nothing that was 9 inches. He and Curt decided to swim another 75 yards out to an isolated rock that was sticking up. Regretfully, I headed for shore as they headed out. Again, the float was great for holding my iron, weightbelt, game and me on top.
The story was that when Curt and Chris got to the rock they dropped down along a rock wall and saw a number of huge abs, some of which were easily 9 inches. Curt took one and Chris got another large fatty, but that was limits for them, so it was time to swim back. We got our gear off and started cleaning some abs for dinner. It's nice when there are others helping. Usually, that is my job alone. I went back and got Debbie for dinner. Abalone were cooked breaded and in cooked almond chips. Doris and Curt make a good cooking team. It was some truly tender abalone. Not only did Doris provide a delicious spinach dish with dinner, it turned out that she has a great taste in red wines. I was definately prepared for a beautiful north coast sunset to end the day.
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