Dive Report: Saunders Reef, Mendocino County on 8/4/2008 with Eric Sedletzky

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Posted by Chris on August 13, 2008 at 01:11:12:

Saunders Reef, Mendocino County, California
Saunders Reef, Mendocino County, California

It had been one month since I had done my first dive to Arena Rock with Eric Sedletzky and Curt Billings. Kathryn Cody and I had returned to the area for a few days and Eric and I had planned to try another dive if conditions allowed after our dive a month earlier.

The morning we arrived (Friday, 8/1/2008) the water along the shore was milky, but there was a transition line to a deeper blue offshore. The wind came up hard at about 9:30 AM that day and blew until just before sunrise. However although there was wind and whitecaps, there was no appreciable swell.

Aug 1, 2008: Looking North towards Point Arena, Saunders Reef is offshore on the left
Aug 1, 2008: Looking North towards Point Arena, Saunders Reef is offshore on the left

The next day the same weather pattern occurred, but the wind came up at a bit later at 10 AM. However the wind seemed to be driving a cold water upwelling and the water offshore was turning blue, and the milk line moved closer to shore.

Aug 2, 2008: Looking North towards Point Arena, Saunders Reef is offshore on the left
Aug 2, 2008: Looking North towards Point Arena, Saunders Reef is offshore on the left

The next day the water was bluer and the wind came up at 11 AM. I talked with Eric on the phone that evening and we agreed to go for it on Monday Morning since the low that was driving the wind was moving out.

Kathryn and I had gear and cameras in the truck and we met Eric at the Arena Cove Pier at 8 AM. I had wanted to dive Saunders Reef in the past, so Eric said we would try it today.

Most reports of the reef said it was not great diving, but I was curious anyway. It just so happened that s group of commercial urchin divers, who knew Eric, were there at the same time. We talked a bit about diving and they asked me about my dives at the Farallones. I told them we were going to try a dive at Saunders Reef. They were going there that day as well. They told us the shallow area of the reef that is thick with Nereocystis luetkeana (Bull Kelp) was relatively flat and uninteresting, however the outer edge of the reef was dramatic, with many deep pinnacles, walls, and canyons that were lush with life.

Once we had Eric's boat in the water we got aboard and Eric headed South about 6 miles to Saunders Reef. We anchored on the outer edge of the Bull Kelp in about 60 feet of water over some interesting looking structure. Then Eric went over the emergency boat operation procedures with Kathryn who would remain behind on the boat in case we could not make it back.

The water was a deep dark blue color. It was the best visibility I had ever seen on the North Coast. I deployed the dive tracker transmitter and got into my gear while Eric did the same. Once I was in my gear I was getting hot, so I did a back roll into the water while Eric got ready. I got my camera and waited at the anchor line.

As I first headed down I saw an interesting looking jellyfish (Solmissus spp.). As soon as I got near the bottom I saw a rock full of the Strogylocentrotus franciscanus (Red Sea Urchin) that keeps the urchin divers in business here. I than went through down a canyon and saw my first Lopholithodes mandtii (Puget Sound King Crab). As I swam around among the many pinnacles and canyons I saw many large nudibranchs, rockfish, crabs, and large Urticina piscivora (Fish-Eating Anemones). The water was a crisp 46 °F, but because of the incredible beauty I hardly noticed. On my way back to the boat I came across my first Tochuina tetraquetra nudibranch. I spent most of the dive at about 70 feet.

After a 45 minute dive Eric and I were back on the boat, Kathryn told us she could see us below the water was so clear. We swapped out our tanks and pulled anchor and moved to another spot a few hundred yards to the South and closer to the buoy. We anchored in open spot in about 50 feet that was mostly surrounded by Bull Kelp.

After an hour surface interval we got back in our gear and headed back down. The water here was again 46 °F with great visibility. Once down I swam for a ways through some canyons and small sand patches until I came to a wall where I spent almost the entire dive. This wall was covered with a multituide of life and the clear water allowed me to see it all. There were many Pisaster brevispinus (Giant Pink Star, Sea Star, Short-Spined Sea Star), some unusually light colored Hermissenda crassicornis feeding on a sponge I had never before encountered, and my first Solaster stimpsoni (Stripped Sun Star, Sun Star, Stimpson's Sun Star).

Just as we pulled anchor at about 12:45 PM, the wind started to blow. Since we had to travel in to it on the way back, Eric had Kathryn and I sit down in the bottom boat about the center to get the optimal weight distribution. The ride was a little bumpy on the way back, but comfortable none the less.

It was a great dive and I would love to go back since there is so much more to see. Saunders Reef is very large and the structure extends out quite deep. The place is incredibly lush and easily rivals the best spots at San Miguel Island. I can't wait to dive it again.

I took many underwater pictures on the trip, and Kathryn took many above. A collection of the best ones can be found at the link below. I hope you enjoy them.

Underwater Photographs from Saunders Reef, Mendocino County, California

©2008 Chris Grossman, diver.net

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