North Coast Ab opener report

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Posted by Eric S on April 07, 2008 at 18:25:21:

Abalone season started off this year better than Iíve ever seen it, not only the conditions, but also the camaraderie and everything that surrounds the diving to make this opener the best yet.

When I posted about the opener on diver.net, Jon saw it and e-mailed me right away. He was planning to come up from LA just for the weekend and get some abs and maybe also do a few tanks. Well, he got his wish; everything came together just like weíd hoped.

Jon got a late start from LA, he didnít leave until 6:00pm and he got to my house in Santa Rosa at 1:30 am Saturday morning. We caught up on things over a beer and crashed at 2:00.
The next morning we were up at 6:00 and hit the road. After a Starbucks we wound our way through the redwoods and on up to the North Coast.
We got to the campground at 8:30, dropped some camping gear and went down across the highway to South Gerstle where a few of the early bird club members had already staked out our picnic site.
After a little scoping of the water we geared up and made our way down to the little rocky cove that is S. Gerstle.
The water looked very clean and bright. The mild crashing of the waves produced very beautiful tones of turquoise and greens around the rocks and I could see the transparency of the water nearer to shore and make out rocks and reefs underwater.

I knew the vis was going to be stellar and it was. After battling a little minor wave action at the entrance we got out past the break zone and headed out. The water was cold. I got a little cold burn around the face, which I love BTW. After a few minutes it goes away. Jon got in without his hood pulled up and without his mask on. I donít know how he did it; I wouldíve had an ice cream headache like crazy if I did that.
We worked the area for around two hours. The center of the cove was surprisingly barren. I managed to pop three OK abs, nothing huge. Jon got his abs. We dove around more just enjoying the great vis and the cool typography with all the rocks and valleys and sea life. I saw many fish too. We dove in the 10 to 25 foot range, thatís what it would be around that type of structure. Later, Gonphishing told us that they found more abs both north and south closer to the shoreline.

A view of the rocky beach at South Gerstle.

The cove. See how many float tubes you can spot.

After exiting the water we did a perfect textbook filling-in of the tags and the cards. The new rules are that you have to have your card and license with you in a water tight container when youíre diving. As soon as you get out and without delay youíre to fill out the tags first and attach them to the abs with zip ties, then fill out the info on the card. We made certain to pull the tags off in numeric order. Funny though, we were never approached once by DFG the whole trip?

Everybody had a great dive. All of us went out at different times in small groups or paired up. At around noon everyone started to show up for the BBQ. Some people were off at N. Gerstle doing tank dives and they made it down. We fired up the Q and started cooking. A feast followed.

We had the picnic grounds all to ourselves. What a view!

Sliced pineapple, portabellas, chicken, and oysters.

Our club shirt

After all the eating we hung out for a while then decided to do a tank dive at N.Gerstle at about 4:30. It was Jon, Brian (gonphishing) and I.
I took them out to the pinnacles. We headed straight out of the cove and a tad south we hit the pinnacles then did a 90 degree turn to the right. We hit the canyon and I got around 97 feet, then we took another 90 degree turn and headed back in. I kept an eye on the terrain and depth and at around 30 feet we came up and were right at the marker to the entrance to the cove. It was a great dive, very cold, but good vis.
The wind had picked up a bit throughout the day but the cove was very calm.
After we got out I found my fingers were frozen worse than they have ever been. I couldnít work my thumbs and getting dressed was a challenge. I couldnít put my shoes or socks on so I had to drive up to the campsite with bare feet under the heater going full blast. I couldnít zip up my pants or put the button through so I put a long work flannel on over so nobody would know. I couldnít even turn the key to start my truck, I had to squeeze the key between the outer palms of my hands and turn the ignition on that way. It was quite humorous. It took about 45 minutes of working the hands before I could use them again. I guess 3 mil gloves donít cut it in 47 degree water with 4 hours sleep and 2 hours of previous freediving.

As the sun went down we began preparing for our much anticipated feast. There was a roaring fire going in the fire pit and the kitchen hardware was coming out. The scene began to resemble an Iron Chef competition and all that was missing was to have all the cooks standing in their corners in warm up robes with their trainers loosening up their shoulder muscles prior to the bell.

And the cooking starts:

Abs get slice and pounded, breaded, fried up.
Oysters are on the grill.
Jon Davies brought some lobsters and from down south which were halved and grilled on the open fire, and he also brought a whole bag of nice scallops that got sautťed in garlic, butter, a little sesame oil and my blend of seasonings.
I had some uni cleaned and everybody was trying it.
The micro brews were going down and wine was pouring.
I took a whole ab and pounded the crap out of it, then cut down about half way into the ab vertically in 1 inch increments followed by turning it 90 degrees and repeating the process. Then I spread some uni over the ab and down into the cuts, then I topped it with a thi marinade rub that I have. I wrapped the whole thing in double foil and put it down in the coals of the fire for about 25 minutes rotating it every so often. When it came out it was the show stopper.
Brian also got a nice Puget Sound crab freediving and it somehow crawled into a pot of hot boiling salt water. The meat from that crab is the best crabmeat Iíve ever tasted.
The feasting finished off with bananas that were left unpeeled and cut halfway down lengthwise, then chocolate and marshmallows are stuffed into the bananas and then they were double wrapped in foil and shoved into the coals for 10 minutes. The results are pretty darn good. A little rum could be drizzled into the banana as an added bonus but I didnít have any, maybe next time.

The eating started around 8:00 pm and didnít stop till around midnight.

The next day Jon and I did one more tank dive out of N. Gerstle.
This time I wanted to show him the great pinnacle, the biggest and most glorious pinnacle and the one that is the furthest out. It is also marked on the charts as an underwater obstruction. Itís further south and out twice as far as the other smaller pinnacles from the previous day.
Iíve been out to it many times on a kayak in the summer when a very small amount of kelp marked the top. Up till now Iíve never reached it underwater. A few degrees off on the compass either way and youíd go right by it and never know you passed it.

I decided to descend right outside of the entrance to the cove and see if we could navigate our to it. Bingo! Man did I luck out; we hit it dead on, what a stroke of luck. The pinnacle was just as grand as I remembered it and there was a big school of blue rockfish hanging out near to top and along the sides. That rock has some of the biggest and most prolific metridiums Iíve ever seen We cruised all the way around it along the vertical walls and undercuts. The views looking up are really cool. The vis was good. It was a little milky on the outside due to some small krill in the water, but anytime I can see 10 to 15 feet I consider it darn good for the north coast.
That dive we hit around 65 feet max and the water was 48 degrees according to my thermometer. My hands survived the cold this time no problem.

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