Posted by seahunt on August 25, 2000 at 19:54:19:
This is the second part of two, of a report on my recent trip
to Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast of Northern California.
It is an incredibly beautiful place with some really fun,
primievel, diving. I got together with some friends there and
we had a really good time.
To see the entire report with pictures and about a dozen
thumbnails, try http://www.diver.net/seahunt/sernch00.
There are a lot of other pictures and stories from many other
great dives at the site as well.... Not sure about the server
I hope you enjoy this, seahunt
Diving With The Dive Crazies
I've already described what a beautiful drive it is along
the coast from Sea Ranch to Albion in Dive Crazy Diving.
This trip was beautiful again, but considerably more foggy
than the last time and just as rushed. We got to the dock
in the forested river valley of the Albion River and
everyone was soon ready to go. It was also more foggy on
the water than the last time. As we left the harbor,
Captain Matt said that radar showed that we were surrounded
by boats. They were completely invisible in the fog. Since
the trip had been planned for abalone diving instead of
scuba, his objective was to get far enough south that we
would be beyond where many boats were able comfortably go.
In this fast boat, that meant about 45 minutes. It is a
strange trip through the fog. Sometimes you could see a few
hundred yards, but most times it was far less than
Here I must put in a disclaimer. I brought along my wife
for sight seeing. That was a mistake. It was not sunny like
last time. It was cold and foggy. There is really no cover
on this boat. It is fine if you are in a wetsuit. Better if
you are in a warm wind jacket over your wetsuit. If you are
not set up very cold and water resistant, it can be
miserable. She was.
Anyway, we went a long way through the fog, down the coast
and then we could see our destination. About 150 yards in,
above the shore, was a middling cliff down to the water and
some offshore rocks. In from the boat, there were numerous
rocks together forming a bit of a reef about 75 yards from
shore. There were 2 car sized wash rocks sticking up about
75 yards out from the boat as well. Most of the divers went
to the inner rocks. Curt and I decided to go out to the
Vis was fairly poor. It was lucky if it was 10 feet.
Luckily, for this kind of diving, vis is fairly irrelevant.
The abalone are camouflaged in the weeds and cracks such
that you are not likely to see them from much more than 6
feet anyway. They are instinctively hiding from the otters
that are no longer there... just now. The objective is just
to get to somewhere that few people have ever visited and
see if there is some huge abalone stashed somewhere that
either no one noticed or else they weren't able to get out.
Abalone may be in holes that they fit in, but nothing else
is going to. Curt had along his 9 inch measure. He was
looking for fairly serious biggies.
The bottom was large rocks in about 25 feet of water with
rock or narrow sand channels between them. The rocks
flattened out in about 12 feet of water and they were
covered with thick red algaes that stick up less than a
foot. Among these short thick leafy algaes, are the small
holdfasts of bull kelps that come up to or near the
You have a choice here. You can dive to the bottom of the
rocks at about 25 feet and look along the rock sides or you
can try to look through the thick algaes on the tops of the
rocks. In both cases you are looking for holes and cracks
that are good habitat for the abalone. Either way, these are
basically huge flattened snails and aren't always so bright.
You may just find a big one out in the open on top of a
rock. What you really want to look for though, especially in
areas that have some diving pressure, is a small hidey hole
under a rock or some other hole that you figure is well
enough hidden that other divers probably didn't look there.
That is where you may find a really big one. Or it may be
just completely out in the open... You just have to look.
Another thing to look for are cracks that are wide enough
to swim through and up to 6 feet deep. There are a couple of
reasons to look for these. The first is that they catch kelp
leaves and so there is food for abalone. There may be a lot
of abalone and you can look for a big one. Also, if the
water is rough, these cracks can provide a very comfortable
calm spot to swim in. Sometimes they may be a calm spot just
under the surface of big waves. The other reason to swim in
them is that they provide protection to fish, crabs,
urchins, anemones and many other species besides abalone.
They are extremely beautiful, protected areas.
I searched the different parts of the reef as did Curt. He
did find one nice one in the 9 inch range. I decided to
climb out on a rock and relax. I was out for just a couple
of minutes when a bigger wave came by. It didn't knock me
off, but it made it about a 4 foot fall off the back of the
rock and I decided to go while the going wasn't
It just wasn't anything special out there, so when Curt
suggested trying in where the others were, I readily agreed.
The rest of the divers were strung out along a series of
wash rocks about 75 yards from shore that marked a very
large shallow reef area. Chris seemed to have staked out an
area just next to a truck sized rock and was working the
rough area next to it where there was some wave action. I
found a likely looking spot (there is a lot of those in the
untracked ocean) and started diving. It was nice that there
was so little current that I didn't try to anchor my inner
tube any. It never really went anywhere.
There was better terrain here. There were lots of the
cracks that went down 3 or 4 feet and were wide enough to
dive in. At first I didn't see many abalone, but then I
started getting into cracks that might have a dozen in
them. The lower you get in the crack, the better you can
see and the better control of your movements you have. I
just kept looking for hidey holes or in the groups to try
to find some big ones. There were numerous of the bright
magenta anemones and some crabs in the cracks as
Conditions like these are what I have said make some of
the best divers in the world. The vis was crummy, maybe 8
feet, at times it gets much worse. Though this was a very
calm day, for up there, it still was ocean waves coming
from Japan and Alaska. North Coast divers continue to dive
on even moderate days and that can be a very rough day
indeed. The experienced hunters are able to dive
effectively among wash rocks where there may be white outs
and surges from waves can suddenly grab you and whip you
into a rock at high speed. But these divers know how to
read the terrain so that they can move and hold their
bodies such that are able to hide from the currents or
ride them without harm. Free diving in waves and kelp
forces them to have their gear configured to slide through
the water without ever dragging, snagging or coming loose
in a wave. The heavy wetsuit they need does not stop them
from swimming relaxed and efficient with a graceful speed.
The senses of the hunter are hightened by natural instincts
to understand everything they see in a glance and to react
instantly to anything they do see. Since they are filling
the nitch of the sea otter, they must move with a similar
style, quickly moving around and under rocks, positioning
to look in holes and dodging things that suddenly appear
out of the gloom. The north coast divers of California are
comfortable in conditions that are more challenging and
hostile than most divers from elsewhere, ever
Eventually, I figured it was time to finish up and get back
to the boat. I looked for some fattys to finish my limit.
Really, a deep 8 1/2 incher is going to have as much meat
as a flatter 9 inch abalone. With my limit done, I climbed
on my float and headed back to the boat. Before long, the
other divers were returning as well.
Pretty much everyone had gotten their limits. Curt had
gotten a couple that were 9 inch, but the biggest one had
been found by Chris. He had found a monster that was over
9 1/2 inches and was incredibly deep. A wild guess is that
it had 5 pounds of meat in it. The return trip was another
journey in the fog. It was just big enough for the swell to
pound the boat a bit, but not big enough to make the waves
have a long period. I was glad when we got to the cove at
the river mouth. The fog was thinning a bit there and the
entrance to the cove, under the old Albion Bridge, is
The innertube floats are wonderfully convenient. The only
drawback to them that I can see is that you do have to keep
track of them some or tie them off. Normally that is not a
problem and this trip it wasn't, but in the past, I have
tried to avoid having a float because I am more likely to go
exploring a distance. A single freedive may move me 75 feet
down the coast. It's not like that's needed, but when I can
explore, it is fun. the other drawback, that wasn't a
problem this time, is that I often like to go into very
rough water where a float would get pushed away or ever
perhaps brought to shore. This time, I it was pretty much
calm and I wouldn't have felt comfortable diving into the
Chris was using a piece of gear that I have seen but never
used. It is a ~30 foot piece of plastic tubeing that has had
flourescent paint poored through it. You tie one end to your
float and the other end to your ab iron. If you see something
big but you can't get it on one breath, you drop your ab iron
and surface. Then you can dive again and follow the line to
where you were before. Apparently, he and Curt, using it
together, were able to get two 9 inch plus abalone on their
last dive at Sea Ranch.
The drive back was a bit less foggy. We stopped at the Point
Arena Seafood Festival and Abalone Competition at the pier in
Point Arenan. It was an interesting stop with a band, fish
kabobs, fish tacos, pies, cookies and lots of other
consumables. If you want to compete in the abalone competition,
you have to register at by 10 am. Expect a 10 inch plus abalone
to take the competition.
Chris and Curt's Cool Dive
The next morning showed another incredibly beautiful day.
Unfortunately, we had to get packed and head back home. I
wanted to get some last photos so I went back to where Curt and
Chris were staying. They were leaving later and so had planned
on a last dive that morning. I would have loved to make another
dive, but I didn't think I had time to join them.
It was another morning with excellent conditions. They were
planning on going straight to the outer rock where they had
seen big abs before. They would fill their limits with 2 abs,
so the plan was to take nothing under 9 inches.
This is what Curt told me about the dive. I wish I had been there.
Chris and I made our last dive out to the rock for about an hour.
The vis was magical. I could clearly see my 4" square weight lying
in the troughs of white sand holding my dive float in place. The
sun was beaming thru the ripples of what should be waves just like
the rays of light piercing thru a cloudburst. I saw a VW size
boulder off by itself and thought that might hold some trophies. I
figured how would anybody even know it was there in a normal 10'
of vis. I dove down and surveyed the rock and did not find a
single ab. Discouraged I swam over to the outer rock, the same
location where I had been to on Friday when I got a 9.5" However,
I could not locate the same spot underwater and was having a hard
time finding good abs. The diving was beautiful and despite the
abs I was having the best of times enjoying the sights. I poked
around here and there in different kelp clusters until Chris found
a spot he said had some big abs. I moved the float in and set the
anchor in the vicinity. Made a couple of dives and a spotted a
couple of keepers. We needed two to limit out. I discussed the
spot with Chris and it was apparent it was the spot he found. I
made a dive gauged two, then another I found was over 9 inch so I
popped it, gauged another - over 9 inch and popped it too. As I
headed to the surface I dropped my 9 inch gauge. At the float I
told Chris I got two 9'ers and he replied 'let's go'. 'Oh no' I
said 'I have to get my gauge'. I dove back and in the clear water,
by north coast standards, and found the gauge lying next to
another large 9'er. It will wait for the next trip. There is
always a reason to go back.
Big ab of the trip goes to Chris. He got two in the 9 1/2 inch
range that were both incredibly deep. They must have had about 5
pounds of meat each.
Sometimes, I try to fix in my mind a picture of the beauty I see
when I dive. It is so fleeting and the image fades like a sunset.
I guess that is all right, because then I must go back and do it
Post a Followup