Dive Report 12-22-2012: A Swell Day On Santa Monica Bay

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Posted by Patrick on December 23, 2012 at 16:12:18:

Despite the dire warnings and forecasts for huge swells and surf not to mention the cold temps, a decision was made to take a chance and see if the crew of Moby Kate could squeeze a few more dives out of 2012. The focus of the trip was to be photography, but since holiday parties had wiped out our last catch of bugs we would be looking for lobsters too. The old saying, “if you don’t go, you don’t know” was uttered more than a few times to strengthen our less than determined resolve.

Clearing the channel at MdR at 07:30 the MK turned toward the northwest end of Santa Monica Bay. Based on the forecasts, it looked as though the area from Topanga to Point Dume would be pretty protected from the predicted rising swell. Conditions were amazing on the trip north – flat calm with just the slightest east southeast wind. Water color was blue-green with very few of the pelagic salps and jellys that we’ve seen earlier in the year. Large flocks of Brandt’s Cormorants were everywhere on the trip up and we passed many large bait balls dimpling the surface as we ran by them. Several pods of high-flying dolphins crossed our course too. From one pod we counted seven of them (with full body clearance) arcing through the air at once. Very nice for a mid-winter day at sea.

Topside conditions – mid-winter, Santa Monica Bay

Above Topanga, we found some bottom structure and Bill Brush (famous creator of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s Chocolate Lobster Dive) was chosen as go-fer to check conditions for the photogs in the group. As he descended we watched him carefully trying to determine what the visibility was like at least in the top of the water column. It really looked good, but we had been fooled before where the beautiful top layer of water sat atop 2-8 feet of vis on the bottom

Twenty minutes later Bill was back on the surface with his report: The visibility was 25-30 feet!. He had found a few bugs (he got two) but the strange thing was they were not in the rocks, but out strolling on the sand. We moved up the coast and Andy did the next splash. He was back on the surface in just six and a half minutes, yelling and waving. As I brought the boat up to him, he yelled. “You guys gotta get in the water. This is just unbelievable. Once aboard, he gushed that lobsters were all over the bottom just walking around. He had bagged his limit and wanted to get us down to get pictures.

Cindy and I dressed in and hit the water. She took her camera. I took a game bag. You have to have priorities.
On the bottom we found Andy’s description more than true. Everywhere were bugs. Those closest to us had their antennas directed suspiciously at us, but others were just doing a sea-bottom sashay across the sand.

Out for a stroll

I hung back to let Cindy shoot this incredible scene before I stirred up the bottom with my grabbing. True artiste that she is she shot some images of the perambulating crustaceans and then her well-honed hunting instinct came to the fore and she swooped down and grabbed a nice 4-pounder with one hand.

Cindy grabs and photo documents the moment

Swimming over to me with camera in one hand and bug in the other she emphatically gestured that I needed to bag her bug.
What the Hell? She was going to be the photo artist AND hunter and I’d get to carry the bag?
OK, it worked for me. In less than 15 minutes I had my limit and Cindy had hers, plus pictures so we headed up.

One dive limit

Bill was ready to splash as we surfaced and even after all the havoc Cindy and I created on the bottom, Bill managed to fill his limit in just a few minutes. After filling out lobster cards we decided on one more dive.
Since it was just before 10:00 and the conditions were beautiful, we decided to head back and do a jump on the Star of Scotland. Surface conditions were just amazing. The cool wind earlier had disappeared and we had warm, almost hot sunshine and not a breath of wind. At the Star, the ocean surface glassed off and was only rippled by the pods of dolphin passing by. It was hard to believe this was just one day past the Winter Solstice!
The one dive on the Star was quite wonderful. Blue (slightly milky) water was all the way to the bottom giving us better than 30-foot visibility. Given the usual density of piscatorial residents on the Star, we were surprised to find the wreck with very few of the locals around. There were a few Sand Bass, no sculpin and a couple of Cabazon, but the clouds of Chromis were missing, replaced by tiny schools of juvenile Sargo. We spent the dive killing pixels, marveling at the rainbow colors of the hull-encrusting Corynactis and hoping for a glimpse of one of the usually present Black Sea Bass.

Juvenile Sargo had the run of the wreck

Clear water, no fish…

Midships on the Star

Bow of the Star

Patrick Shooting on the bow

Cindy shooting the Star’s bow

Cindy, midships at main hatch

Since everyone had holiday responsibilities, we packed up and headed home after this dive. At the dock we were greeted by a F&G representative and checked out. With everything given the “thumbs-up” we got on the road and made it back to Santa Monica through the slightly frenzied holiday traffic by 1:00.
Southern California diving is just awesome, even in mid-winter. Another magnificent diving day in Santa Monica Bay.

Stay wet.

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