The drive to dive

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Posted by Curt Billings on September 02, 1999 at 00:59:14:

Lobster season opens in October and is something I eagerly look forward to. In the mean time there is some great diving to be done outside of lobster season. This might be hard to imagine for the bug grabbers out there.

However, I have made several exciting trips to the Sonoma and Mendocino Coast this summer. It is a 10hr drive from SoCal but well worth the drive when you get there. The WAM web page and ocean cam at Sea Ranch can give you current and forecasted conditions out to 144 hrs. This will give you plenty of info before you begin a trip North. Water temp and tide charts are available on the net also. While on your drive a stop in Napa or Sonoma for a wine taste or two adds a nice break to the drive.

From my recent trips north I have brought back several abalones and enjoyed some wonderful meals. A white grape with red wine sauce over Masa crusted abalone is my current favorite. Yes Virginia we take no more than 4 abs per individual on these trips and we have our ab stamps and licenses current. Of our newly acquired mollusks several were over 9", which is a rare find. Also, we bought lots of fresh salmon, available in May, and fresh albacore that is available in late August, from the Bodega Bay fishmongers. Some of the fish I used for fine tuning my recipe for smoking.

We have an inflatable boat that we drag up to the North Coast and launch into the ocean. Our last endeavor we launched from Point Arena pier and then cruised up to the lighthouse at the Point about 3 miles NW. The motor overheated a few times because the kelp is so thick you cannot keep it out of the water intakes. In May and June the kelp is not a problem. We cleared the water intakes each time and continued on. At the Point, while we were about to set anchor on an underwater pinnacle an unexpected wave developed, and only by a quick reaction to the throttle did we get out of the way before it crashed upon us. Always keep an eye out for the sneaker wave that will appear from time to time. After relocating to another spot. I did some free diving to 20' to 30' deep. Not as deep as the Japanese pearl divers, however I got my ab's. It was common to see the ab's nestled against each other in shallow rifts. Very similar to lobsters when they feel threatened and crouch down into the nearest depression when there is nowhere else to go.

When we were ready to leave the dive spot the fog had rolled in and reduced the surface vis to about 100'. We relied on the GPS to help navigate back. The kelp beds were intensely thick making the return trip slow and we had quite a zigzagged path. We had to go at least a mile or two offshore to get around the thickest parts. I got us back to a buoy located 1 mile from the Point Arena pier. The GPS was accurate to about 75 feet of this previouly entered waypoint. For $500 a DGPS antenna would enable us to nearly hit the buoy. Maybe another time. Turned a 90 deg. angle and headed to the next waypoint marked on the GPS. Though more fog and minefield of kelp we came right up to the boat lift.

It is typical for the wind to increase in the afternoon and it did so this day. It was a bit tense with the kelp, waves and wind but afterward very exhilarating to have managed through it. The memory of the drive north was forgotten, but the dive underneath will never be forgotten.

Don't wait for October to make you next dive!

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