Osborne Bank and Santa Barbara Island
The Sea Divers on the Great Escape
June 17, 2006
Story and Photos © Elaine Jobin, may not be reproduced in part or whole without advanced written permission. This is my account of my experience on the trip to Osborne Bank. It is not intended to serve any purpose except to be my account. It is factual to the best of my ability to make it so and the photos speak for themselves. The photos were processed via photoshop and do not reflect the quality of the slides which in comparison - are better. There is a great amount of detail in the actual slides.
The trip to Osborne was coming. It was a destination of great interest to me because, I, like most people, had never been there before.
It is so rarely visited, Osborne Bank is almost a mythical place - a dive site surrounded by lore from previous expeditions and not a lot of facts. Rumors that this underwater mountain top held three foot hydrocoral and rare rockfish added to my curiosity. There was so little information available, it was difficult to figure out what kind of dive to plan for. My research revealed estimates that the expected depth of a dive would be somewhere between 110 and 150 feet. Would Osborne Bank be a site that I could even dive at all?
I don't like to do deeper dives. There is rarely anything past 100 feet, usually past 80 feet, that I need to see. Unless I'm highly motivated, getting me to do a deeper dive is like pulling teeth. In Southern California, wide angle photography at deeper depths is difficult because there is so little available light. In planning a successful dive at Osborne I had to consider my diving skills, my comfort level, and, figure out a plan of attack with a camera that would be likely to work.
I felt that my best chances of getting good photos at Osborne would be with my Nikonos V (no auto focus), my Nikonos 15mm lens, and a single SB104 strobe - a minimalist approach. This was a camera set up that I haven't used or thought through in years. It is a film camera. Osborne was going to be a "one opportunity, one dive, one roll of film" experience. I put the camera equipment together and started reviewing everything that I had ever learned about it - the lens capabilities, the strobe guide number calculations, the appropriate use of parallax adjustments, etc. etc. etc. I needed to guess at ISO settings, shutter speeds, apertures, etc. that would be appropriate for the anticipated amount of available light. Ross O. and I planned a practice dive to a place somewhat similar to what we would face at Osborne. At 150 feet, the bottom was there but not necessarily visible, it would be dark, there might be some current, it was a place that Ross knew well but I had never been to before, it was a site with some structure and larger invertebrate life, and, as it turned out was a dive with my fellow diver experiencing some equipment issues. It was a very "conservative" anchor line dive, and I was thankful that we made it.
The departure date finally arrived. We met on the Great Escape in Long Beach on Friday evening . The thick traffic ended at the dock but the soaring temperatures of the heat wave remained. The first thing on our agenda was to seek out an air conditioned eatery We choose Cinco de Mayo - a very reasonably priced Mexican cafe at 4th and Pacific in Long Beach. It has a low key atmosphere and some interesting artwork on the building.
Back at the boat, most had arrived and were signing in.
The air was tense with wonder. We asked Captain Tim the inevitable question "Do you think we are going to make Osborne?" I don't know why we ask that question. We all know that there are so many factors involved it is an impossible question to answer. In the most relaxing style he could muster - Tim laughed and said he thought it looked like it might be possible but there was no way to know for sure until we were on our way.
I wanted to slip into my bunk at a reasonable hour. After we left the dock, I periodically woke up with some of the ocean rolls. I saw it as a good sign. Maybe we were headed to Osborne. I was the first one up in the morning. I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas. I looked outside and had no clue where we were. My sixth sense told me Osborne. Chris was the next one up. He mumbled something about it being too smooth and that we were headed to Clemente. He fumbled for a GPS. Waiting for the device to warm up seemed to take forever. He finally said "Osborne!"
Others began to arise. It was shaping into a beautiful sunny and clear day. Eventually several of us, who had asked permission the night before, ended up in the wheelhouse with Captain Tim. We watched the bottom contour of Osborne bank as Tim began runs over possible dive sites. It was so engrossing, anyone watching us would have thought that we were watching prime time TV.
The shallowest potential site (114 feet) was too pointy. A second potential site (138 feet) was too deep. Captain Tim picked one that was that was at (125 feet) "just right". Perhaps, as per legend, there was a dive site at Osborne Bank.
At some point, Ross and I had sat down and run some numbers of potential dive profiles. The "shallower deep" calculations looked normal and familiar. The deeper for longer calculations looked like nothing that I wanted to get into - they involved huge ascent times - they drew a picture of a dive profile that was way out of my league. Taking a hard look at a much bigger picture was a great reminder to me that I didn't want to get into any of it. It solidly strengthened my conviction to do a very conservative dive.
After the anchor checks, the current checks, assorted other checks, and a test dive by our DM, word finally came that a dive was looking possible. In addition to the usual things we were cautioned about the surface current and to not loose track of the anchor line. The importance of using the anchor line to get down and to get back to the boat was repeated over and over.
Some divers chose not to attempt the dive at all. Some entered the water and turned back to the swim step. They made the decision that the surface current was too strong for them. I decided to make my first decision when I entered the water, at first I thought that the current might be too strong for me. Waiting for my camera to be passed down was like walking on a treadmill. After I got my camera it seemed hard to make much headway up the side of the boat, but, I was making headway. I decided to stick with it to see how it went. Maybe the boat swung a little, I don't know what it was, but I found it got easier. When I got to the anchor line I took an extra minute to rest and compose myself before I started the descent.
I loved the anchor line right off the bat. It was at a great angle to the bottom. It wouldn't be a really long trip. On the way down, the current disappeared, an annoying thermocline was traversed (my computer read 48 degrees), and finally, somewhere between 80 and 90 feet I caught my first glimpse of the bottom. It was getting darker. I turned on my flashlight and made my way to the anchor, it was sitting in an area 125 feet deep. At least for me, on this dive, on this day, Osborne did exist!
Because I knew that it was my lifeline back to the boat, I took some time to study the anchor myself. Before I could relax and think about anything else, I wanted to feel confident that it had a good hold. In making the dive I had entered into a situation of commitment to myself, to my group, and to the Captain to be sure that I could use it to get back to the boat. If the boat swung would it still be likely to hold? If it moved anywhere, which way might it be likely to go? When I was comfortable that it looked solid that that it was unlikely to walk off and leave me if I quit staring at it, I got myself and my camera settled in for a short dive.
As I looked around, the area appeared flat with purple hydrocoral heads everywhere. They weren't huge ones, they were little ones. There weren't many fish either. The scenery that I saw reminded me of a desert. I thought as fast as I could about how I wanted to photograph the site. Took some light meter readings and some test photos without the strobe. I had Provia 400 pushed to 800 and it looked like an ambient light background was going to need f4 or wider. It was definitely dim shooting conditions.
I experienced a huge sense of relief when the strobe turned on. I was even more relieved when I found that wide apertures had shorter recycle times and that smaller apertures had longer recycle times - it was a clue to me that it was all probably working and that I was probably choosing good camera settings for the ambient light. In between photo spurts I kept checking that the anchor line was still right where I'd left it. I never ventured far from the anchor line. These are some of my photo scans.
On a short bottom time I took in as much of the scenery as I could. On this dive my computer never went past 130 feet. I looked over into some slightly deeper areas and the terrain looked exactly the same. My departure was delayed by an unplanned photograph of a posing diver but I still had two minutes to spare when I started my ascent.
The trip back to the surface was long and boring. There was nothing to look at but water and an occasional transparent jelly that would drift by. At some point I started to notice some bounce from the anchor line. With an aluminum 80 I wanted to conserve energy and air so I dug out my "Jon line". When I finally got to shallower water, the current did pick up. I spent a lot of time enjoying what felt like a gentle ride in a breeze on my line. The last 30 feet of the dive was a little crowded. I still had 1300 psi when I finally arrived at 15 feet. I decided to err on the side of caution and spent extra time just sitting there blowing it down to 1000 psi. - I had tons of air so why not? I waited until everyone else had left and 40 minutes after I had started the dive I returned to the boat with about 1000 psi.
These are some of the faces of the Sea Divers after the dive. Not all of them made the Osborne dive.
Next, it was a long surface interval and we were off to Santa Barbara Island.
Our first dive at Santa Barbara Island was near Webster Point. Here I saw lots and lots of brittle stars and sun stars, but not too much else. Some observed the brittle stars seeming to run from the sun stars and wondered if they were natural enemies..
Our last and very long stop was near White Rock at Santa Barbara Island. I knew that there were lots of sea lions in the area. During the first part of this dive, I didn't see anything but sand, brittle stars and gorgonians. I decided that maybe today wasn't my day with sea lions and settled in to photograph gorgonians and more divers..
At some point I started to feel like I was being watched and I turned around to see one of the larger sea lions that I've ever seen up close lying a few feet away in the sand watching me. It was unnerving at first. I cautiously moved closer and he posed for some photos. These don't really show his size - he was big!
Later I found lots of the smaller ones playing and romancing as they usually do.
Next it was our trip back to Long Beach.
A flock of sea gulls followed us for a while.
I can't do trip reports after every trip any more. It takes more hours than I have to give. I wanted to do this one because Osborne is a site that is so rarely visited. We were fortunate and blessed to have the group, the boat, the weather, the sea conditions, the visibility, and most of all the Captain who trusted us enough to take us there.It was a fantastic trip and I feel extremely privileged to have seen Osborne Bank. Until next time..........