My first ab dive (North Coast Bash Report Pt. 2)

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Posted by Jon on August 16, 2005 at 21:39:56:

This is a continuation of the North Coast trip report Eric Sedletzky started below:

On Friday morning, we discussed plans for the day over a round of hearty breakfast burritos cooked up by Eric. Most divers wanted to go for abs first, leaving the possibility of a scuba dive later in the day. I think there were five of us on the boat as we headed out to an isolated spot of coastline and dropped the hook about 50 yards from the rocky shore. This was going to be my first ab dive and I wasn't very confident that I'd get any at all, but I've been freediving on and off for the past year or so, so I figured it would be a good excuse to test out my breathhold skills at least.

I had my ab card, a gauge and a boogie board to use as a float, but I didn't have an iron, so Eric lent me one of his spares. When I got in the water, Eric threw me a float line and told me to tie on the iron so that I could use it to mark big abs and go back down to get them if necessary. As I fumbled to tie the lanyard on to the line, I promptly dropped the iron! I dived down to look for it, but when I reached the bottom at around 45 feet, I didn't have much time left to search among the boulders and soon abandoned the effort. "Don't worry -- it's easy to pop them off," encouraged Eric. I was pretty skeptical but I figured I'd give it a try anyway.

At first, my dives were rather tentative. I think I was barely managing to get 30 seconds of bottom time. But as I acclimatized to the cold water and the cloudy green vis, my performance gradually improved. As the dives got longer, I started finding more abs. In fact, when I really started looking, I realized they were nothing short of prolific. I'm not a big hunter, but I don't mind taking a little game in areas where it's plentiful. It certainly seemed that this area was not under any pressure from overfishing so I didn't have qualms about getting a couple.

After about 15 minutes, I dived down 25 feet and quickly found a decent-sized ab. I steadied myself and made a quick grab under the shell and pulled it up, as Eric had directed. To my surprise, the ab didn't have time to clench on to the rock and it popped right off with very little effort at all! I got back to the surface and gauged the ab (about 7.5 inches) and shouted to the others, waving my first ab above my head!

It's hard to compare the degree of difficulty between ab hunting and bug hunting -- scuba gives a hunter such a huge advantage -- but at least abs don't run very fast! Also, legal abs on this part of the coast were far more abundant than legal bugs are in most So Cal dive spots.

With one ab in the bag, I tried to concentrate on finding a couple of larger ones. I went in toward shore but there didn't seem to be nearly as many in the shallow areas. Heading back out again, I swam into a deep channel between two pinnacles. I cruised the bottom until I found a rock with a deep groove which had four big abs lined up along it. By this time in the dive, I was getting to the limit of my breathhold capability and I made a hurried grab for the largest of the abs. I got my fingers underneath but it clamped down hard and I couldn't shift it, so I had to let it go. On my next dive, I found another good sized "hubcap" but again rushed the grab and came up empty handed. Next time, I swam until I found a spot that was loaded with some of the biggest abs I'd seen all morning. Rather than grabbing any of them, I decided to go up and get a few lungfuls of air before trying to pick them up. I memorized the terrain (the line would have been helpful at this point) and went up. When I kicked down again, I found the spot right away and selected two decent sized next to each other. I quickly popped off the first one with my right hand and then flipped the other with my left hand and kicked toward the light and air. Woohoo!

I swam back toward the boat and came to a thick patch of bull kelp. Rather than swim around, I figured I'd kelp crawl over it. However, I quickly learned that kelp crawling doesn't work as well with bull kelp as it does with macrocystis -- the stalks and floats of the bull kelp are just too buoyant to push under water while you try to slide over the top. In fact, I found myself lying on top of a raft of kelp, completely out of the water and unable to use my fins at all. It took me a quite a lot of effort to haul myself over the paddy using my arms -- I'm glad I was only in freediving gear.

I think just about everyone on the boat got their limit -- in the spirit of the whole weekend, they all went into the community pot. Back at the campsite, Eric showed me how to trim and pound them and then cooked up some outrageously good abalone-jalapeno fritters and another camper used the rest of the meat to whip up some killer ceviche.

In fact, the food throughout the weekend was some of the best food I've ever had in my life. Eric's industrial-strength camp stoves would have put a five-star kitchen to shame and the 20+ coolers around the campsite were brimming with all kinds of delicacies to supplement the fresh seafood that arrived on a regular basis. There was one professional chef in the group as well as at least three or four very serious amateur chefs, and even the less culinary-gifted in the group like myself found something to contribute to the virtually non-stop feast.

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