Diving Big Bear Lake (or why I wasn't on Esther's Grand Le Tour) -long-

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Posted by tleemay on September 03, 2002 at 14:24:14:

So I had some work to do this past weekend at Big Bear
Lake. Greg told me about a pair of dives he did there
in 1991 that involved some reasonably interesting
things to see, like an old steam powered cement mixer
and various railroad tie shaped timbers, but three
times the size of what you would expect. I took gear
with me just in case.

After doing most of the house repairs Saturday morning,
I called Greg and told him to bring up a couple sets of
rented alum 80's and we would explore this site he
described a month earlier. He picked up the tanks
from some shop in Redlands, and was at the lake dam
N. parking lot by 10am Sunday.

Labor Day Weekend, not the best time to dive in a lake
with a gazillion privateers zipping all around in
everything from slow moving pontoon boats, to the
fast and furious PWC and BAH outdrives (and they were
LOUD when they throttled up).

Our saving grace from the run-a-mucks... we were diving
within the no boat zone bouys at the dam. This is an
area marked off about 200 yds in front of the dam from
shore to shore. Those of you who know Big Bear Lake
know where I mean.

Hot, damned Africa hot in my oprnion. We were
at 7000'+ elevation, and since I arrived Friday evening
I was already 43 hours into aclimation at the time of
the dive. The sun beat on us like a couple of squids
out of water. Between the heat and desert-like
ultra dry humidity, we cooked until we slipped in.

Ahhh, cool water, felt similar to an ocean dive as far
as temp was concerned. Vis on top was only about 5'.
Greg said the depth he found the mixer was about 70',
and that was when the lake level was up. Right now,
it's about 10 ft below it's norm for this time of year,
but we planned on a 70' dive for 25 minutes to be on
the conservative side and alow us some decent time
in between dives without being too saturated should we
do a second jump.

The water was thick with algae bloom until we hit 50',
then the vis opened up to about 30'. The HID made this
a very comfortable even though it felt like a night
dive. Greg's HID head was out for repair, so he brought
his old Dive Rite MLS halogen. 18w of HID snuffed out
his 100w of halogen in the dark. We searched around
the 63' bottom for about 12 minutes. Boulders, old tree
trunks cut off at the roots, fishing tackle, gravel, more
rocks and boulders, but no real bottom off the slope and
no cement mixer. Oh, and did I mention it was cold below
the algae layer - nice and crisp 47 degrees. Saw very
few fish. Even those were no more than fry size. I knew
the fishing at the lake had been poor this year.

As we thumbed to call the dive due to a lack of target
discovery, I could hear the low growl of an inboard
boat above us. I didn't think we travelled past the
no boat zone buoys, but perhaps we did. We back tracked
and surfaced about 25' down range from out entry point,
well within the buoyed zone and about 50' from shore.

"PLEASE STAY WERE YOU ARE" came a booming hailing PA
command. We turned around to see the local lake patrol
slowly motoring up to us. He was inside to buoys.

"What are you doing here?" the lake patrol officer
asked us.

"Trying to find the old mixer" Greg responded.

"Are you two aware that there is no SCUBA diving
allowed in Big Bear Lake?" the patrol officer asked?

"I didn't see a rule against it posted at Pine Knott
(the local public marina and boat launching area)" I
responded as I did check the lake rules and ordinances
before I asked Greg to come up.

"It's not a regulation, it's just not a smart idea"
the patrol officer said. You can get yourself killed
here if you don't know what you are doing.

After we listed to the patrol officer rant and rave
about what does not constitutes a safe dive activity at
Big Bear Lake for 10 minutes, he commanded us to swim
to shore and stand by for another officer to approach
us. He had been having radio discussions with someone
in between lecturing us.

Greg and I slowly kicked into shore discussing what was

"They aren't going to give us a ticket, are they?" Greg

"I don't know. We didn't do anything wrong as far as
I can tell." I answered. Being ignorant of 'it's just
not a good idea' didn't seem indefensible in a court
of law to me at that time.

We no sooner than we slid out of out harnesses did a very
young San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputy named (IIRC)
A. Stark walk down from his patrol Bronco and start to
interview us. He asked for ID and where we were staying
in the area. I was local (for that weekend anyway) and
Greg came up from Malibu. He then asked for our cert cards,
which seemed strange for an officer to ask for.

Deputy Stark then started to lecture us further on the
dangers of diving fresh water, especially water as
cold as Big Bear Lake. He was much more polite and much
less stressed than the lake patrol officer.

At that point I started to put 2 and 2 together.

"Deputy, I just wanted to tell you that the ROV
you provided to the LA Sheriff and our recovery team
last Feburary was a great help in recovering the bodies
from Castaic last February."

The deputy's eyes got big.

"Oh was that you guys?" he asked. "I was going to ask
if you knew they guys from GUE when I saw your cert

We exchanged some common names of the persons involved
in the Castaic recovery and came to grips between
all parties that were indeed knew what we were doing
and had experience in diving in such situations.
Deputy Stark did however continue to discourage us in
diving the lake though.

"There are a lot of people who come up here and think
that the lake is crystal clear and still 60 degrees
when they reach the bottom. It isn't and it get's
people into trouble" the deputy explained. He recounted
an incident at the lake a few years past where three
divers go into trouble diving the lake. One got lost
and was narrowly missed by a ski boat when he surfaced,
one embolized as he panicked and shot to the surface and
was hauled away by ambulance, and the other got bent as
he drove home that day a few hours later.

"If people see you guys out here, they then think
anyone can do it and try. They are the ones we worry
about" he explained.

So, we decided to heed the Deputy's advice and not
do a second dive like we planned. People had gathered
around the area to see what the deputy was
investigating - looky-loos are the worst.

BTW, there was no mention from either officer or
deputy about our lack of dive flag.

Will I try to dive the lake again - yes.
Will they be able to stop me - no.

That is unless they really pass a law forbiding it and
make it public knowlege.

And that should answer your question Dale -

PS; did you get in on the dousing of Jantzn too?

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