Re: 5th Annual North Coast Bash (partial report)

Great Dive Trips at Bargain Prices with the Sea Divers

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Posted by Jon on August 16, 2005 at 18:22:23:

In Reply to: 5th Annual North Coast Bash (partial report) posted by Eric S on August 16, 2005 at 09:48:00:

Hey Eric, you beat me to the punch! I've been trying to put together a report since I got back but the backlog of work-related email has been suffocating.

Anyway, here's part one of my report:

For the last few years I've been reading Eric's reports of diving California's wild North Coast with a mixture of intrigue and envy. This year, I finally decided to do something about it and go check it out for myself.

The perfect opportunity to make the journey to the North Coast was Eric's annual camp-and-dive party in mid-August, which conicided nicely with my family's need for a summer getaway. But getting my wife to agree to a long weekend of camping and diving was going to be a tough sell. Fortunately, I was able to wrap the diving weekend into a larger trip that would encompass wine tasting, mountain biking, fishing, river kayaking, antiquing, touring around and generally relaxing at a small resort on the Russian River, as well as meeting up with some old friends who were coming down from Washington state. Eric was a great help in advising us where to stay and things to do, and thanks in large part to his assistance, our first week was a ton of fun.

We headed over to the coast last Thursday not sure what to expect, but hoping that we'd not feel too out of place with a group of hard-core North California divers. As we reached the town of Jenner where the road from Santa Rosa meets the coast, I was blown away by the spectacular view: miles of rugged coastline peppered with huge outcroppings and pinnacles. It reminded me a lot of the northwest coast of Scotland, where I spent a many vacations as a kid.

I was equally stunned by how flat calm the ocean was. Contrary to my expectations of wild and furious seas, the surf was barely lapping against the sheer cliff walls that drop away from Highway 1. I took the "Lake Pacific" conditions as a great omen for the weekend.

When we reached the campsite, I searched out Eric's truck and we introduced ourselves to him and a couple of the other early arrivals. Once I'd put our tent up, Eric invited me to join him and another diver, Justin, for a single-tanker off his boat. If you haven't read Eric's reports before, the boat is an 18-foot flat-bottomed dory with a center console that he built by hand about six years ago. The boat -- battleship gray and just about as tough -- is a great set-up for diving, with acres of deck space and it's extremely stable in the water.

Eric retrived the boat from its anchorage in the cove below the campsite and we motored out to an underwater pinnacle a mile or two up the coast. The three of us splashed to find about 5 feet of soupy vis on the surface but it opened up to at least 15 or 20 below -- dark but no problem with the HID light. The first thing that struck me was the scale of the underwater terrain -- everything was HUGE. Mostly, the bottom around the pinnacle was a jumble of boulders up to the size of apartment buildings. The sides of the boulders were plastered with metridium and rose anemones, and crevices and swim throughs filled with monster scallops. All around the pinnacle, there were massive schools of rockfish -- mostly blues and blacks -- as well as some larger individual vermillions, olives and chinas. We also found a couple of fair sized ling cod and greenlings skulking around at the base of the pinnacle in 80 feet.

As we worked back up to about 45 feet, I spotted a sizable cave beneath one of the larger bounders that was leaning up against the wall of the pinnacle, so I signaled to Eric and Justin that I was going to stick my head in to check it out. The cave continued quite a way under the boulder -- maybe 25 feet or more -- but when I got a short way inside I saw it was starting to taper away to nothing and decided there wasn't any point in going further. Just as I was about to back out, Eric tapped me on the shoulder and pointed up to a skylight above us. It looked plenty big enough to swim through, so I kicked up into the vertical shaft and gingerly worked my way upward, careful not to damage the marine life surrounding me, or any of my gear. I emerged from the skylight about 20 feet shallower than the cave we'd entered and waited there while Eric and Justin came through behind me.

In the shallower areas, the rocks were studded with abalone grazing through the lush bull kelp. I had heard that abs were still quite prolific on the North Coast, yet I was still surprised to see how numerous and how sizable they actually were. As we moved up through our safety stops, Eric pointed out a particularly large hubcap that must have fallen into the near-mythical 10-incher category sitting right on the crown of the pinnacle in only 20 feet.

More about the abs in part two of my report ....

For now, many thanks to Eric, whose generosity and hard work made the entire weekend a roaring success (in more ways than one ;-) I can't wait to go back!

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