Report and photos from Great Escape Grand Tour, Labor Day Weekend

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Posted by Dick J on September 07, 2005 at 18:06:16:

I was fortunate to squeeze in at the last minute on Esther and Odon Carbonell’s annual Labor Day Grand Tour of the Southern Channel Islands, aboard the Great Escape. We had a wonderful, varied group of divers on board including many from Esther and Odon’s (and my) home dive club - The Santa Clarita Dive Club, a dive club from Orange County - The Liquid Adrenaline Club, several Sea Divers (though this was not a club outing), plus a few individuals who came along simply because Esther and Odon always put on a great trip.

The Grand Tour dive itinerary was to include Santa Barbara Island, San Clemente Island, and Catalina’s backside plus Farnsworth Bank. We had good luck getting over to Santa Barbara and San Clemente Islands, but sea conditions prevented us from hitting Catalina’s back side and we went to some great front side dive sites instead. Everyone was able to dive to their heart’s content - the most gung-ho were able to get in 6 dives per day (including a night dive). For the most part, the divers on board for this trip were fairly experienced so Capt. Tim didn’t hesitate to drop us onto deep spots or into rip-roaring currents.

A personal high point was finding three Guadalupe Cardinalfish directly beneath the boat during a night dive at Little Flower on San Clemente. I had found a group of these beautiful nocturnal fish congregated deep in a crevice during a daytime dive on another trip to San Clemente, at a site just 1/2-mile further down the coast. I had always hoped since then to be able to see them free-swimming at night. Here are some other personal moments of note.

Most embarrassing moment(s): despite my supposed infallible UW navigation skills, I surfaced at what seemed like a mile from the dive boat, on two different occasions. And twice I had to endure the long, painful "swim of shame" back to the boat.

Most exciting moment: dropping beneath the surface at Little Farnsworth and being able to clearly see divers 130ft below, and seeing an other-worldly scene with a Buddhist temple-like spire rising from the sea floor, surrounded by a swirling constellation of fish.

Most frustrating moments: (1) dropping beneath the surface at Little Farnsworth and being able to clearly see divers 130ft below, and seeing an other-worldly scene with a Buddhist temple-like spire rising from the sea floor, surrounded by a swirling constellation of fish - and having the macro lens on my camera. (2) after carefully stowing my eyeglasses in the galley, and before getting geared up with my prescription dive mask, a number of the twenty-something aged diver chicks on board jumped into the 70 degree water and proceeded to remove their tops and twirl them high over their heads, to everyone’s delight; all I saw were some vague, blurry shapes somewhere out in the ocean.

Water conditions on this trip were excellent, with visibility ranging from a minimum of 40ft, to probably 150ft at Little Farnsworth on Catalina’s front side. This was the first time I was really able to get out and have fun with a wide-angle lens. Photos from the trip are posted below. Enjoy!

Welcome to the enchanted forest.

A shy painted greenling.

We had cloudless skies for three days, which warmed our bodies and souls both above and below the surface.

A large treefish which was free-swimming in broad daylight.

Capt. Tim dropped us on several un-named dive sites along San Clemente’s front side where he’d never seen kelp before - a real treat!

Bug eyes.

Our beloved little orange fish.

Mr./Ms. Photogenic.


The obvious questions: How did it get there? And, how can it survive?

Typical reef scene.

Small, delicate things.

A cute little perch.

Master of stealth.

Things to photograph during a safety stop.

Scorpionfish. The only photo I took at Little Farnsworth. I didn’t want to waste precious bottom time (at 110ft) chasing micro-things while such a wide-angle wonder unfolded before my eyes.

Another safety stop subject.

Joan, moments before finding a huge moray eel. I tried to photograph it with the wide-angle but it was in a fairly deep hole and the pictures turned out poorly. Sorry Joan!

Carlos exploring the north wall of Sutil Rock.

Claudette hamming it up.

Divemaster Mike.

Carlos and Claudette finish up their safety stop and head for the surface.

Another Great Escapist.

On the last dive of the last day we spotted some lovely sea sprites, frolicking in the Summer-warmed water...

They invited us to come nearer...

And from time to time would descend to bestow gentle kisses ...

Or swim by to tease us ...

But alas, they swam away just as quickly as they appeared, and sadly, the encounter ended. As did our marvelous journey.

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