Posted by Karl on June 03, 2002 at 09:48:06:
I just got back from a weekend freediving trip at The Sea Ranch on the North Coast. Last year, when I freedived there with seahunt-MikeB of DiverNet fame, the water was crystal clear, vis was about 40 ft, and there were huge black sea urchins everywhere, but I saw few if any abs that time where we went. seahunt [small s] still brought back his limit of abs that time however, and three or four big sea urchins as well.
This past weekend the vis at The Sea Ranch was about 4 ft, the ocean was fairly rough all weekend long, with winds and chop as well as swell and surge. I was all ready to try to bag my limit of 30 sea urchins this time, but I didnt see any at all where we went. Instead, there were abs crawling on top of abs, everywhere. I spent the greater part of my freediving fighting with a toilot bowl sized ab that was wedged down inside a crag. I finally gave up on him, too big, and the endless fight was just starting to make me seasick, so I settled for my limit of ordinary sized abs instead.
But no uni in sight.
I still cant figure out how seahunt gets all the spines off the sea urchins before he bags them and brings them back to shore. I was planning to use my ab iron to smash up the spines, but I never got a chance, since I never saw any uni at this cove this year at The Sea Ranch.
One thing I have learned a lot about lately is the beauty of The Sea Ranch. It is primarily designed as a retirement facility for the filthy rich, but so many of the owners of the units there are absentee, so they also do a lively business of weekend and vacation rentals for the less fortunate California working poor, comprising the rest of us. The single units there run about $600,000 each now, and the property tax on that annually would be about $7500 as well, which is really the hard part, once you are retired, and trying to make ends meet, without a regular workingmans salary anymore.
The Sea Ranch is a great place for a Northern California coastal vacation, although not cheap. If you like to do scuba, a small HP 65 or 80 tank is the easiest thing to scramble up and down the trails and rocks there with. I would not bring a drysuit here, even for scuba, since it could easily get mauled by the rocks. A 7mm or quarter inch wetsuit worked fine for me freediving, although you tend to work a lot as a freediver, and youre mostly on the surface, so you dont get as cold as during scuba.
The Sea Ranch has basically two types of shoreline topography: (1) sandy beach or (2) rocky cove. If youre looking for abs or uni, the latter is the place to go. If you just want scenery and an easy entry and exit, the former then.
I was guiding a couple of freediving students, and showing them the features of the various coves there, which are typical for the rugged North Coast, and I explained to them that a good ab site has three things to look for from shore:
1) rocks not sand
2) fronds of bull kelp sticking out of the ocean offshore
3) a trail that leads down to and back from the rocky shore
Of course, an escalator or stairs would also be nice, but anyplace with stairs is going to be picked clean already of abs. And some freedivers bring hundreds of feet of rope with them so that they can rappel down and up the cliffs of the coves that have no trails, or where the winter rains have washed the trails out.
The first cove we went to freedive at has stairs leading down to it. Sure enough, it was picked clean of abs. Our group only found two abs at that particular spot, total. At another cove, like I said, there were abs crawing on top of abs, at about 25 fsw depth of bull kelp packed rocky shoreline ocean.
Next time I go up to The Sea Ranch, I will look for some uni again. I will probably bring my tanks then, and stick to the uni. I can get abs easy, anywhere, a whole lot closer than The Sea Ranch, but uni is harder to find along the North Coast, until and unless it finds you first.
The ab sites along the North Coast begin about the town of Jenner by the Russian River, at practically every turn-out in the road from there on northward, called the Shoreline Highway up here, basically an extension of the California PCH Hwy 1 down in the SouthLand. But you have to go a whole lot further north than Jenner to find a rich crop of uni, if thats your bag.
Ab diving around Jenner is not beautiful since the river tends to silt up the coastline for several miles north. Unless you are comfortable diving in near zero vis, Jenner is not a good ab site. But from Fort Ross and northward the water gets clearer.
If you are a beginner freediver, then Anchor Bay Campground is still your best bet. They have showers and toilots too, and even though thats not like The Sea Ranch, at least it is affordable, and its fun as well. Anchor Bay has a fair crop of abs as well, although it is not like The Sea Ranch nor is anyplace else, by several orders of magnitude.
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