Trip Report - The "Palawan" New Years Day

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Posted by tleemay on January 02, 2001 at 20:44:58:

This trip has become somewhat a ritual for Captain Tim and the GE. His regulars love being the first at a chance to dive the Palawan for New Years Day. The boat had a nice even mix of regulars and a few out of towners visiting relatives in SoCal for the Holidays.

We motored off to the north side of PV pennisula and the SM bay to dive the "Palawan", an old liberty ship that was top-chopped and sunk as an artificial reef in 1977. She sits in about 125' of water just off Redondo Beach and is, I believe, 440' long.

We had a pretty comfortable boat ride making way to the wreck. The fog in the area enroute was light, but present. The water was for the most part glass by PV standards, there was a very slight and mysterious wind slinking around - more later on this.

We arrived at the fog free site only to discover the fishing boat "City of Redondo" had arrived about :30 secs earlier and proceded to drop anchor right across the center of the wreck. After some brief discussions with the charters, we decided to move towards the point and take a shot at the "Avalon" in about 70-80' of water. That wreck is pretty much strewn across the sea floor, but the bow is still somewhat in tact. Many who did the dive came back with some unusual shells. One diver was rather excited that she had found some that were considered to be rather rare to the area. The vis was about 20' and the water ran about 55* on the bottom. A nice dive and a decent consolation for the missed "Palawan" opprotunity... or so we thought.

During the first dive, the Captain noticed that the "City of Redondo" had moved off the Palawan, possibly in search for better fishing grounds. Upon retireving all divers from the "Avalon", Tim quickly motored over to the "Palawan" and dropped the hook right square dab on the telephone pole pile. The word was given and all divers - every last one of them - jumped onto the wreck. On the top the vis looked good and clean, there was little or no detectable current to contend with.

All who came back reported the bottom vis was better than average for the site - in the 30-40' range. Huge sand bass were making their home of the wreck. Many swam throught the many structures of the hull and up and down her sides. Everyone who came back were excited to do her again. The Captain and DM agreed - dive three will be done following lunch.

Lunch consisted of homemade chicken and green chile tamales, make your own beef tacos, Captain Tim's famous cheese and onion enchiladas, refried beans, and all the other trimming of a fine New Year's Fiesta.

After lunch, everone was chomping at the bit (and eagerly awaiting the passing of their surface intervals) to do jump number three of the day, a second dive on the Palawan. I was able to do this dive with John Walker as my buddy. We dropped on the wreck and tied off a line to the anchor and a secondary tie off on an old fitting of some kind on the wreck itself. We then proceded to stick our noses inside every nook and crannk we could find. We sliced through the inside wall passages like fresh oil moving through an engine block (OK, bad analogy, but you get the drift).

Early on in the dive Walker decided to show off his bouyancy and anti-silt skills by effortlessly slipping through a nasty passage that was completely filled with thick silt on the bottom portion. I tried to follow but since I am a larger person than Walker, there was no way I was going to fit through the way he did. I did try, but I only touched the silt blanket with two fingers of by left hand and the vis was destroyed. I am told I have very good bouyancy skills and a good flay kick when inside on OE, so I was a bit frustrated when I couldn't get through. I opted to back out and swim across the top of the passage roof to the awaiting dive buddy Johnny who was chuckling in his reg and giving me the sign of "fat-ass". Later on after the dive Johnny told me the secret of getting through the passage was where you choose to slip through. As it turnes out, I only needed to move about a foot to the left to afford more space between my maniforld and the silt blanket. It was doable.. and it will be done the next time.

We continued on to the bow of the ship and checked out all the large bass and ling cod. Lings are one of my favorite fish to watch underwater for two reasons; they are nowadays hard to come by and they always seem to be scheming on something, like watching that other fish and waiting for the right time to pounce. I've seen these guys smack fish right off a divers stringer - so I know what they are capable of.

We swam through the clear and slightly green water with ease, there was no current or swell present, something I could never not recall on my previous dives on the Palawan. We peeked inside the hull sanctions and saw rock crabs inside every one of them. They were wedged in so tight, I though to my self they perhaps had grown inside the space and could never leave. In side of one of the stanctions I saw what could have been a lobster with a crab on top of it, as if it were sitting on it keeping it inside with the lobster's antennas poking out past the crab and out the top... "mmmm, clever rock crab" I said to myself.

Johnny and I planned on only a 20 minute bottom time since this was his second dive on the wreck - it was my only one. We returned to the line, pulled off the secondary and primary tie offs, checked the anchor to make sure it was still clear for retrieval, and made our acsent doing our decompression stops for the last 8 minutes underwater.

As we were climbing out, other divers were just beginning their second dive on the wreck and we passed them between the anchor line and the swim step. Back on the boat I struck the gear and took over DM duties from MHK who covered for me while I made the dive. About 20 minutes later, all divers were back on the boat with the exception of two, the last two who jumped in.

Low and behold, there were Adam D. and John P. returning from their dive and on the swim step when Captain Tim exclaimed "Look at that roll in!". There was a huge fog bank rolling in from the West along with that mysterous wind. It moved right towards us from the open ocean. If anyone had seen the movie "The Fog" from the early 80's you would know what I am referring to. It was extremely sureal watching this literal wall of thick cottony fog come upon us like a nucular blast over a period of about 30 seconds. SLAM! we were now in a white out situation, absolutely near 0 vis.

The dive gods planned this one right. If that fog would have rolled in while Adam D. and John P. were in the water and they surfaced off the line and away from the boat a few minutes earlier (as they did on dive 1 on the "Palawan"), we would of had no sight of them from the deck and the $.25 dive whistle would have been worth it's weight in gold to the divers.

We got Adam D. and John P. back on board and departed from the mooring. The Captain had MHK and I ride shotgun on the top deck wheel house looking forward port and starboard while he kept a close eye on the radar. We snaked carefully and deliberately around all the small craft without radar as they anchored to remain safe. Captain Tim is a true expert when it comes to running in low vis situations, a trait damned good to have in a serious captain, in a serious situation.

After clearing the PV/Dominator Point area, it was a smooth, fog enshrouded, and un-eventful trip until we reached Angel's gate. What is it about heavy fog that give fast powerboaters the feeling they are invincible? Expensive and fast powerboats were ripping out of the breakwall entrance with no regard for the conditions or others in the area. Captain Tim slowed down and with radar monitored all the fast movers and then proceeded with extreme caution until we were inside the breakwall... at which time the fog almost completely lifted for the rest of the 15 minute ride to the dock.

This was a great trip, I really wish you all could have been there.

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