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Posted by seahunt on August 01, 2003 at 12:36:17:

Oil Rig Dive on the Peace

Morning of anticipation, a special dive to come. What's it gonna be?

Going on the Peace to dive the oil rigs is one of the ultimate dives
you can make. The unmatched beauty of the open ocean filter life combined
with an exotic dive that you had better be a journeyman diver to make.
As far as a diver is concerned, there is no bottom.

Everyone was aboard. Some I knew. Eric Bowman was skipper. The camera
rack was full and it was a very full boat, but with a 7:00 am departure,
this amounted to an easy trip for a lot of this group. The dive rats had
certainly crawled out of the cracks for this trip. Yes! We turned the
corner of the breakwater past the park boats and the ocean was flat
under a grey sky. That was the first test that had to be passed. I still
get blown away at the actual size of the Ventura Harbor breakwall.
Especially at low tide you see that it is over 30 feet tall. It is made
not of rocks, but interlocking concrete barriers. I've seen days when
the waves tested that strength and height.

This is going to be a very short trip. Little more than an hour. It's
time to eat and assemble gear. God is it crisp and invigorating! Just
walking across the deck wakes you up to that this is a different world.
We came upon a school of dolphins swimming and jumping, but they were
on their own path and didn't stop.

In a short time an oil rig came into sight. This was Platform
Gloria. They all have women's names. Gloria is pretty much the half
way point to Anacapa Island. We went towards it for miles and then
passed it, but we could already see the next platform about two miles
on. This was Platform Grace and these were the only two rigs in sight
this day, though there are some more platforms miles to the north.
Grace is big and an engineering marvel, but I'm not sure about her
grace or beauty.

The structure underneath is like the structure above water.
For some more pics of the rig itself.

When Eric stopped, we were near Grace. Depth was supposed to be
around 340 feet. There would be no anchoring today. Eric called us
all into the galley for the longest pre-dive briefing I have ever
been to. He tried to emphasize that this is a dive where we had to
keep our wits about us and follow procedures. Watch your buoyancy.
Cameras can be put in the inflatable and delivered to the divers in
the water. Surface under the rig on the side nearest the Peace. Stay
away from the supply boat that was docked. Group together on the
surface. Then follow the directions of the crew signaling divers to
stay away or to come aboard the boat. Entry would be through the
front gate. We would dive two groups that would alternate. Group one
was supposed to be a bit more experienced. "Watch your buoyancy.
Group one to the bow".

It was calm enough in the water, though it was a bit green. The
swell only made the water rise about 4 feet up the pilings. They
are mostly clean above the water level.

I as at the end of group one entering and I gotta admit, I was a
bit baffled why people were on the surface. I didn't care much and
jumped in carrying my camera, as soon as it was clear below. It was
30 feet to the first column. I went past that and down. It was dark.
Vis was limited, but it was still morning and shadowed under the rig.
I stayed very close to the leg I was following down. It would have
been easy to lose sight of the rig in the dimness. Passing the
thermocline was an eye opener. As soon as I passed 40 feet, I turned
up right and drifted straight down to the cross pieces of the rig at
80 feet. It is a real nice place to have a visual to track on the
way down. It helps avoid deep mistakes.

I got composed some next to a large leg pipe and looked around with
my light. It was the incredible sights and colors that had brought
me here.

This is what one of the large legs looks like. Colors all
crammed together. Say a 4 foot diameter pipe.

It was so dim that I decided to focus on taking some pictures in
one area. I parked off one large leg at about 60 feet or so and
moved up and down and around. There was strong local surge around
the members of the rig. The current was mild and easy to deal
with, but get near one of the legs and you get sucked around.

The metridium anemones
are as delicate looking as they are pure white.

This was the dive. There is more tiny life on one of those legs
than you are ever going to see on one tank of air. Look far away
at the areas of pure white Metridium anemones or the incredible
array of brilliant hued Corynactis anemones. Look close at all
the other life hiding amongst them. I love the variety of colors
of the Corynactis anemones, but especially look for shades of
purple and lavender. Here I could pick any shade I wanted to look

Colors like your eyes
were made for.

The rig is not solid. It's put together partly with solid joints,
but also a lot of the parts come together at collars that move over
the legs.

At first I didn't see too many scallops. Most were small, which
surprised me. I don't know how many divers take scallops here.
There were many small fish, but no larger ones to be seen. I just
clicked and clicked. Every so often I saw a scallop worth grabbing
to feel the size. If they were big enough, I popped them off into
my bag. There were cancer crabs in a lot of places, but none were
really big. Occasionally I saw other divers in the dimness or
should I say I saw their lights making small holes in the dimness.
Some came near, but most were busy with their photography or

I spent most of my time between 80 and 40 feet on a group of legs
and members that all came together at about 60 feet. Moving up the
legs in the surge, you are trying not to bump them, but the other
legs are close and you find yourself bumping into things,
especially as you move up and various members come together.

This is what a cross
member looks like. Real estate is at a premium.

It was time to go up. I knew I was well within the rig, but moved
towards the side near the Peace. The life shallower on the platform
is very different. There are huge mussels growing thickly. Some of
the mussels are easily a foot long. They are well worth taking a
close look at. Between them grows a variety of anemones, tunicates,
scallops, crabs and millions of brittle stars. Everything is
delicately beautiful.

When I came up, there was a group waiting together to board, but
Bob was waving them off. I swam towards them quickly, but before
I got to them, Bob had waved them in. He signaled me to keep coming.
The rule of exiting was hold onto the dive platform, but stay out
from under the other divers exiting up the ladder. They might fall
on you or a tank could fall.

Back on the Peace, I was surprised to see a few divers come up a
bit away from the platform and one actually came swimming around
the oil rig supply boat, which was starting up. That didn't look
good. Sure enough, after everyone was aboard, Eric called us into
the galley and chewed out everyone liberally. "You were supposed
to be the more experienced divers. We can go to Anacapa and dive
the Gold Fish Bowl for the rest of the day. Propellers and divers
mean death!" Uggh. This went on for a while. Frankly, it
surprised me how careless some of the divers had been.

Nicely, he didn't move the boat and we prepared for the next dive.
I had gotten a look at some of the incredible camera gear some of
the laddies were armed with. There was one digital video camera,
but what intrigued me was this one digital rig with a camera in
it that was bigger than most underwater cases I saw. From what I
understood, the large pair of strobes was just barely enough to
illuminate close ups because the guy was taking pictures at
ASA 35 to 40. It would have an amazing depth of field. I'd like
to see those pics.

One guy mentioned that he had seen a Giant Black Seabass... at
about 160 feet.

Barnacles make their living
where they can.

It was time to enter again and see what pics I could get. Bob was
trying to keep me organized so that I would go in with all my gear.
It looked lighter as I went down, but the vis wasn't much better.
Again on this dive, I really didn't travel that much and just
looked for pictures on a set of legs and members. It was amazing
how much little stuff there was. There were colors that have no
name. I was just traveling up and down about four or five columns
and across some of the members between them. It's really easy to
swim up into where pipes come together. I went as high as I could
to look in the most hidden and protected crannies. Every hole you
look into has something amazing in it. Every so often, I would
take off the macro lens when I thought I could get a shot at a
meter or more.

This time I also saw a few different kinds of salps and jellies
drifting by. Some fish were working on the salps pretty hard.

There were lots of
small fish, like this sculpin.

This time, most of the divers surfaced where they belonged.
There were sea lions cruising the area though they didn't seem
to want to play with the divers. They spent their time on a
docking area. Eric said that the surface interval would be
longer and it was time for lunch. I cleaned up some scallops,
chopped them some and then put them in soy. They were great.
Some people helped eat them, but only a few.

Big orange scallops are
like a neon light even in the other colors.

It was starting to sun up some by now and it was time for the
final dive. The final dive of some great diving opportunity.
I wasn't going to cruise this dive. I was going to travel. I
wasn't going to have bottom time limitations and I wanted to
travel the rig some. It makes for a surrealistic dive like
you are swimming through some complicated giant jungle gym.
You can make a free fall through small openings between the

As I was gearing up I made a comment to myself that I wished
I had brought my big light. The nice thing about divers is
that someone over heard me and offered me his HID Light Cannon.
I had never used an HID light and it sounded like a great offer.

I entered with light, camera, iron, pony and assorted other
crud. I felt like a Christmas tree, but as soon as I was in
the water, it was my element. It was far lighter now and vis
was much better, perhaps 30 feet or so. I wanted to head
down to the major cross members at about 75 feet so that I
could cruise around the entire structure. That is really
like flying.

Scallops of every
size are all through the anemones.

The HID light was an eye opener. I've used bright lights
before, but the color correction of the HID was as good as
they say. It changed the nature of the dive and showed far
more color and beauty than I usually get to see. Practical
vis was near 40 feet by now. I crossed down diagonals then
crossed horizontal members to the other side. I was just
traveling, enjoying the sensation of flying. Then for all
the gear I had, I realized I had forgotten my goody bag and
I still wanted to get a couple scallops to fill my limit. I
found this sort of a bowl with no bottom that was 6 feet
across. It was absolutely solid with Corynactis of every
color. I saw my only nudibranch of the dive. A small Lemon
one. There were a number of fish in the area too that were
bigger than what I had seen. Some were perch and there were
some fair sized bass as well. From all the fish I saw hiding
in deep in various holes, I am sure that it would be a very
different dive at night.

Air was getting low so I moved towards the side where the
Peace should be. I found a couple of nice scallops and
cleaned them off before leaving them on a convenient cross
member to pick up when I went up. I wanted to make the dive
last as long as I could, but considering where I was, I
didn't want to push it either. I slowly progressed up above
the thermocline to where the mussels, aggregating anemones
and brittle stars were. I mostly hung on to mussels and
just looked at all the life. Unfortunately, I reached the
surface and made my way back to the boat.

A great dive boat with great people!

Gear was put away. Some diving was done in the hot tub.
Some amazing stories were told. It was a short trip back to
the docks, one of the things I like about a trip to the rigs.
Still, I love to be on the ocean. I love to feel the salt
air in my hair as I stand on the bow and watch the sun going
down over the sea mists. I love diving.

I did get more pictures that I thought were good,
but they didn't really fit on this page. So here are a couple
of pages with a few more pictures.

For some more pics of the rig itself.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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