Dive Report: San Nicolas & Catalina Islands

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by Elaine on October 29, 2003 at 10:04:55:

Hum, Lobster hunting. Grabbing "bugs" was the prevailing goal of most divers on the October two day Sea Divers trip on the Great Escape. Destination: Cortes and Tanner Banks. I had never been to either of these destinations. I don't hunt lobsters. I signed up with the hope of getting some new photo ops.

We left Long Beach harbor with the news that both Cortes and Tanner Banks were on Navy closure. St. Nick was the alternate destination. DM Terry gave the boat briefing, recited some of the F&G regulations, and requested that people not take female lobsters with eggs. Chris Grossman then offered an informal St. Nick briefing, Chris characterized Nick with phrases such as "lots of wind", "strong currents out of nowhere", "poor visibility", and "big lobsters".

Day One

Dive One -
Upon arrival at Nick the sun was bright, the wind was calm, the waves weren't too bad, I sat out the first dive. Not my norm, but, a leg joint has been acting up on me lately, and, I had promised myself to take it very easy. Those who ventured into the water returned with reports of great visibility, beautiful scenery, and calm diving conditions. I was sad; I had missed a great photo opportunity. Since no one had returned from this Eden with a lobster, the boat moved on in search of better hunting grounds.

Dive Two through Dive #? -
The rest of the day was spent in locations that might produce lobsters. The dive sites tended to have good visibility near the surface, but, closer to the bottom it was kind of like diving in a sand storm. The following photos are "Nick, as I saw it".



Distracted by my aches and pains, I hadn't done my usual pre trip camera preparation. I paid for that omission with strobes that couldn't decide if they wanted to work or not. Natural light photography can be beautiful when it is planned. Shots where you expect strobe lighting but don't get it, either don't come out, or, can look very boring.

Fortunately, I did have one toy that was working. Chris Grossman and Carol Beck had helped me to assemble my new Dive Tracker Scout System before we had left Long Beach. I marveled all day long that this little device really did keep showing me the way back to the boat. Due to the fact that electrical devices placed in salt water will always eventually fail, I'll keep taking my compass readings. However, I found that having this new "navigation assistant" was pretty cool.

Lobster wise, the day had not been productive for many the hunters. Surface intervals brought out various weird coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of unmet bag limits. Examples can be seen in the following photos:


The Night Dive

Daylight ended with a great misty sunset.

After dinner, fog rolled in. Night diving was slated for cancellation. The curtain of thick gray mist then lifted just long enough to reschedule the dive, and, to get the willing into the water. The fog then descended with a thud. It was thick.. After about 40 minutes divers began returning to the boat toting bags crawling with lobsters. Some divers smiled for the first time all day.

Two divers were still out. I went to the bow of the boat, partly to get away from the lobsters jumping around on the back deck. I scanned the fog and marveled at just how thick it was. I thought that I saw a dive light on the surface in the distance, and, I thought I heard someone yell "help". My heart must have sunk at least as far as the bunk room. I got DM Terry's attention. Terry came forward to assess the situation. Sure enough there was a dive light moving closer to the boat through the fog and someone really was saying "help", they weren't really yelling "help", but, the word definitely was "help". Terry got the divers a "float on a rope" and started pulling them in. As they passed the bow I expected to see someone suffering from a dive malady. What I saw was a huge lobster that appeared to have his diver in a choke hold. Evidently the lobster had been too big to fit in the game bag and was being hand carried back to the boat. The lobster had other ideas. The lobster had dismantled the inflator hose of his captors BC and was fiercely resisting his dinner invitation. The photos below are of the monster lobster, his captor, and the associated surgery to reassemble the damaged dive gear.


The lobster weighed in at about 9 lbs - put that on your weight belt with a disabled BC! Good Grief.

Day Two

At some point during the night the boat traveled to Santa Barbara Island. The morning Santa Barbara fog was just as bad as the fog at Nick. Captain Tim pulled anchor and headed for Catalina.

The Diving -
The first dive was in the Channel by the Isthmus. A strange sight greeted everyone. Beautiful blue bubbles were streaming to the surface from divers who were clearly visible at least 50 feet under the surface. After 5 months of poor visibility, maybe, FINALLY, conditions were changing. People couldn't wait to get in the water.

Once again, game bags filled with lobsters emerged with the divers.

Next we went to Eagle Reef, Yellowtail Point, and East Rock Quarry. The lobster catches slowed down a bit, but, the great diving conditions continued. I remembered thinking "I can see, I can see". At Yellowtail Point tales of multiple Torpedo Ray sightings surfaced. I didn't see one but I did run across a few Garibaldi, Horn Sharks, etc.


Happy contentment ruled the boat on the way back to Long Beach.


Going Home

When I got home, I realized that the visibility at Catalina was probably better than the visibility in my driveway. Thick smoke was everywhere. . Ashes were raining like snow. My orange roof was white. This was the view from my front yard when I got home.

Maybe I should have stayed out for one more day of diving (evacuation). I hope that everyone has survived the fires unscathed - other than a little dirt and a lot of smoke, I did.

© Elaine Jobin

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