Scorpion Anchorage: Santa Cruz Island 2012 Trip Report

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by FrankPro1 on August 12, 2012 at 23:16:42:

Back from another great Scorpion Anchorage trip! This was our 6th annual excursion to Santa Cruz Island and it will certainly not be the last. Despite phantom health issues, bouts with bronchitis and automotive problems, we were all still able to pull the trip off "minus one individual, We Missed You Michael! ". Crossing the channel was flat and uneventful despite the forecast of a strong NW push increasing throughout the week. Even with the NW bump the east facing anchorage had pretty decent visibility throughout our stay. It certainly wasn't the best we had, but I'll take 15-25ft of vis on Santa Cruz Island any day. All three of our group scuba dives were at the closest Scorpion Rock, with Charlie doing one solo under the pier on the final day. Scorpion Rock consists of a central pinnacle in 50ft of water with surrounding low lying reefs. The main pinnacle is littered with crevices, overhangs and small arches. Every year the life on the pinnacle seems to change slightly. Last year the dominant reef critters were dock shrimp and cup corals. In years prior, juvenile Treefish and Clown Dorids dominated the site. This was the year of the Confederated salp and Kelp rockfish. Every bit of the water column at almost every site we explored, both free and scuba diving, was covered with small juvenile confederated salp chains.
By the time we suited up and swam out for Dive 1 the current and wind coming out of the North began to rip hard, so conditions were less the optimal. We had about 15ft of cloudy visibility or 8-10ft if your using the Maxbottomtime standardized visibility measurement format "patent pending". No unique critters were found on Dive 1 outside of an extremely large female sheephead. She was almost the size of Oscar but still in a semi-transitional stage, with her black / white coloration just barely starting to coming in. There was also a few Black Croakers which we encountered on all three dives but they tended to just hang at the edge of visibility, never allowing us to approach too close.
Dive 2 was by far the highlight of the trip. Visibility was up "clear 20-25ft", surge and current were down and lots of life was out on the reef. As we rounded the western edge of the pinnacle, we encountered a large cluster of juvenile Blue Rockfish, Halfmoon, Blacksmith and Kelp Bass munching on a suspended cloud of Salp chains. On the reef, Sheephead and Rubberlips crunched on tasty reef dwelling critters. Big Boy Sheephead cruised around us throughout the dive, always cautiously inspecting the slow and cumbersome, bubble blowing behemoths. On every dive, no matter where I'm at, I look for the "money shot". The one capture which will pull the whole dive together and make it worth the effort. On Dive 2 I got the "money shot" of the trip. As we cruised over one of the lower lying reefs surrounding the pinnacle we startled a resting Lingcod. Charlie and I slowly chased him down from perch to perch, down the edge of the reef. Finally after a few nerve racking minutes, he gave in to our incessant chasing and let us get close for a few quick captures.
Dive 3 was extremely fun and yet at the same time very frustrating. Charlie accidentally grabbed his backup mask which was "unseasoned" and kept fogging up on him. I on the other hand, dealt with 4 very uncooperative Cabezons. The night before we went over target species and what kind of captures we wanted to bring back. I being a fan of all things Cabezon, wanted to bring home stills of my favorite fish species. Well the ocean gods decided to taunt me. The first individual I found was stuffed deep into a small crevice. By the time I fandangled my strobes to fit into the tight space, he had gotten spooked and fled deep out of sight. The second Cabezon was found cruising along the top of an adjoining reef. I approached from below him and as he caught sight of me, he froze and settled on the reef. Perfect right!? I slowly pulled my camera up to eye level and poof, he was gone. Looking off to the left, I see his fleeing backside and begin the chase. Not wanting to spook him, I took indirect routes towards him, just keeping within visual contact. Even with the careful, non-aggressive pursuit, he would just not let me get close enough for a capture. It was during the chase that I found the third Cabezon. Same thing as before. Get close, and poof gone. Completely resolute to end the dive without a "money shot", I signal to Charlie and we headed back into the cove. With camera / strobes turned off we reached the end of the eel grass area which marks the middle of the cove and what do we see? A Cabezon resting in a sandy patch! One last mock from King Neptune. I turned my camera on, slowly approached and..... POOF! He's gone!
Much of the trip outside of the scuba diving was pretty standard, run-of-the-mill Scorpion Anchorage experiences. We explored distant coves and sea caves via kayak, took walks through the canyon and star gazed at night on the pier. One free-dive was pretty exceptional though. It was on the final day and while Charlie geared up for a solo scuba dive, I decided to slip into the water to cool off. On the kelp crawl out of the cove I found a Kelp Gunnel. I knew immediately what he was and being the rarity of such a critter, I of course was without my camera rig. I was able to study him for a few moments before he got agitated by my presence and slipped below the canopy. A great encounter but it hurt oh so much to not be able to bring back a shot of him. Oh well, there's always next year.

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