Dive Report - 03_08_08 - Channel Islands - Current & Waves & Whales, Oh My!

Scuba Diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by Patrick on March 12, 2008 at 16:26:53:

With the poor conditions in Santa Monica Bay the previous week, we decided to take a run to the Channel Islands and see what Anacapa and maybe Santa Cruz had to offer.

It was an easy and beautiful trip up the coast. The recent rains had turned the coastal hillside emerald green with new growth, and the telltale splotches of yellow showed where coreopsis was setting in.

Launching from Channel Islands Harbor, we were greeted by a moderate NW wind and steep, choppy seas on the starboard bow, which made for a really uncomfortable trip. There was no relief even offshore, so we splashed and crashed until we were almost directly under the lee of Anacapa’s West End.

First dive was a drift dive along the rocky spine coming off the west end. Current was pretty stiff above the reef, but by adjusting your depth you could control your speed. Visibility was in the 60+ foot range and allowed easy viewing of vast areas of the reef. Large plumes of Chromis surged back and forth through the rocks, and down in the lee, sheephead were patrolling the periphery. Ridding the current and just taking in the view was a blast. I only stopped once to grab a couple legal bugs sitting in a shallow crevice. When I ascended for my safety stop, the current had its way with me and by the time I came to the surface, I was well on my way to Santa Cruz. It took a few minutes to get the Moby Kate’s crew’s attention, but I was spotted, I was picked up in short order.

There was some discussion whether the second team wanted to dive the West End or find a slightly less dynamic area. They decided on the E-ticket drift dive and off they went. Their dive produced another rapid transit dive and three more bugs for the boat.

Next dive was at the 85-foot ledges at Yellow Banks. Our water movement situation had moderated slightly there, but evidence of strong, continuous currents on the site was plain to see. The single strand stems of the elk-horn kelp (Pelagophycus porra) had been twisted together – braided, really – into 6 to 8-inch kelp hawsers with the clusters of the elk-horn bladders grouped together like yellow-brown balloon bouquets. Visibility was in the 40-foot range and temperature a noticeable 51-degrees. There seemed to be fewer fish in the area, but this lack was more than made up for by the density and diversity of the invertebrate life on the ledges.

By the end of the dives at Yellow Banks the wind was coming up and after looking at several other sites, all rough and wind blown, we decided to head back across the channel for home. And what a channel it was. Looking toward the mainland there was pretty much nothing but whitecaps to be seen. After stowing and securing all lose gear we headed out.

It was rough. The steep, close duration swell from the morning trip across was now being pushed by a heavy NW wind. According to the GPS our speed depending on whether we were surfing the face of a swell or powering up out of the trough, ranged between 12 -22 knots. The wave faces were steep enough at times to where the prospect of pitch-poling was a real possibility; we buried the bow more than once. Then, about half way across, just island-ward platform Gail, Andy pointed ahead in the whitecaps and said, “Is that a boat?” We looked where he pointed and there seemed to be more whitewater than just what the wind and swell was kicking up. We came closer, and realized it was whales! Humpback whales! And they were having a grand time. They were rolling with their warty-looking pectorals waving above the whitecaps. Doing mock deep dives where their flukes would silhouette against the sky, but they would bounce back to the surface and exhale plumes of mist and spray as they caught a breath. Spy-hopping! I didn’t know humpies did this behavior, but this group did. And just when we thought we had seen it all, a full-blown breech! Wheeehoo! And then another, and another, and still others. The 20-minute show by the 5 or 6 humpbacks was absolutely spectacular, and then they were gone.
The question here is , “Did you take pictures?” Yes, but between the spray of the wind and waves, the movement of the boat in said wind and waves and the damnable digital delay, nothing that wasn’t a great, big, nasty blur.

The humpback encounter really made the day, but Poseidon had more for us. A couple of miles beyond platform Gail, the wind began to drop and the conditions improved considerably. However an area distant off the bow seemed to be nothing but an huge swath of whitewater. On coming closer we saw that it was an immense pod of dolphin. Perhaps a half-mile wide, the leading and trailing end of the huge herd could not be seen. It stretched as far as you could see east and west in the channel. Party creatures that they are, in moments the Moby Kate was surrounded by scores of splashing and crashing cetaceans. Amazing creatures, the dolphins grew bored with us in fairly short order when we wouldn’t change course and head west with the pod.

Despite the cool encounters on the crossing, we still hadn’t had enough. With the improved wind and sea conditions closer to the coast, and the fact that it was nearly on our homeward track, we decided to try one more dive before we called it a day. Our site was the La Janelle Artificial Reef. It was easily located since one of the local commercial fishermen had his lobster traps set on the site. Conditions on the descent were okay – probably 10 to 12-foot of visibility. But at 60-feet someone turned out the lights. On the bottom it was 0 to 6-inches of vis, and wrapped around the structure we came down on was a nice clump of monofilament gillnet – it was time to call the dive and call it a day.

On the way home we stopped for the Best Fries in the World at the Steak & Hoagie Co. in Oxnard and also at a roadside fruit stand for flats of freshly picked strawberries.

Another spectacular day of California diving.

Stay wet.

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