Catalina Night Dive

A gorgeous evening. That's a good way to start.

I had taken off early to get through the LA traffic to the landing. I was early enough to stop at Pacific Wilderness to check out what new dive gear was in and pick up a few things like a new clip for my goody bag. That is a great dive shop. It was cool and quiet at the docks when I walked down to the boat. While arranging my gear, Dell showed up. I hadn't met him before, but Mel had told me that he was an avid free diver spear fisherman. He seemed like a real nice guy and we talked as he arranged his gear aboard. he had been diving since he wa a young teenager. Soon Mel showed up and after a bit of boat prep we were ready to go. Leaving the harbor, we encountered only minor chop. That was a good start. It seemed like a soft warm night.

Mel had said that we were going to go to a small isolated pinnacle that was very productive at the beginning of the season. I had been there once before with him and it is a beautiful dive spot that is rarely visited because of its depth and isolation from reefs around it. It is only about the size of a large house starting at 108 feet and rising to the top at 55 feet. You tend to spiral around it from top to bottom. If there is a current, the lobster may congregate on the rock face where the current hits.

Mel gave Dell the signal and he dropped the anchor so that it should go right over the pinnacle. As I geared up, I found out that my compass that had been showing signs of magnetic weakness before, now had a bubble in it. It was basically useless. We got organized and went on down the anchor line at the same time. The water felt warm, but there was little bioluminescence.

The first thing you see at night, blacksmiths.

Sure enough the anchor was about 5 feet from a rock wall. I didn't see the other divers. I figured they had rushed off to where they wanted to try their luck. So I started around the bottom of the pinnacle at about 105 feet and soon realized something was wrong. This was a pinnacle, but it was only about 18 feet high and not that big in diameter. It was just a single rock sticking up out of the sand like a big tooth and I didn't know where the main pinnacle was. I thought about it some, but I had never seen this rock before. Looking around with my light, I saw no clue as to where the main pinnacle was. Son of a gun. I was a bit baffled, but the place was too isolated and deep to go off after a guess. All I could see was a whole lot of blackness. If my compass had worked I would have had some option, but basically I had no idea where I was other than deep. I started ascending while looking around and I saw the flash of a light in the distance. Cool, I headed there and found the main pinnacle.
When I got to the rock, I saw that it was thickly covered with elephant ear kelp and laminarias. So this was going to be a get under the kelp and crawl along the rocks type of dive. My air was still fine even with some misdirection at the beginning of the dive. I started around, but wasn't seeing any bugs. I headed to the leading edge, but there wasn't anybody there either. There were a number of very nice gorgonian sea fans so I decided to take pictures. I also got the feeling that if there were any bugs, they were going to be few.

There is lots of life to be seen under the kelp.

I came to a nice crack going in about 10 feet between the rocks and thought there has to be a bug in there. I backed off a bit, then carefully went to the lowest point of the crack and worked under the kelp. Nothing. As I came out the other side, way down through a bunch of kelp, I could see a short lobster. I decided to take a picture.

Way down there.

There were a few more bugs to be seen, but they all looked short so I decided to work on photography. I do believe in task loading for my diving. There were more gorgonians, but none of the zoanthids I had seen last time I was here. There were various fish snoozing and a lot of very active blacksmiths. I saw a couple nice sized scallops. I ran into Dell a couple of times. It was an absolutely beautiful dive in the thick kelp.

There were nice gorgonians all over.

Finally I was low on air so I went to the top of the pinnacle and made my ascent. Great dive but few bugs. Mel and Dell did get some, but I never saw anything legal sized and the hunting in kelp that thick is tough.

Mostly what I was seeing there. Glimpses of obviously short bugs way under the kelp

We traveled a short while to another area that Mel said was promising. A little warm water from the shower into the suit and we hit it again. Dell and I went down in the same place. The reef started at 80 feet and there were bugs everywhere. Little bugs, big bugs and bugs sitting on the kelp. I was grabbing and stuffing and I could see that Dell had hit it too. A couple times I saw two together, a small and a legal. It seemed the short was always in between me and the larger one. I sort of drifted a bit past 90 feet and didn't see any more so I headed back up to 80 feet, but I definitely seemed out of all the bugs I had seen at first. I kept looking around and did see a few shorts, but it was nothing like the first few intense minutes when I went down. That location was sure some good advice from Mel.

Mel got a couple of real nice ones.

A Blacksmith kind of night.

I continued hunting above and below the kelp, but I wanted to get above 80 feet so I started to move up the reef. I wanted to get to the leading edge of the reef in the current to see if there might be a group there. I never did find anything there, probably because there was almost no current. I did see another couple of nice scallops and even tried to pull one off, but it didn't budge. There were a fair number of baitfish and the usual snoozing suspects. Again, it was a beautiful, clear dive in relatively warm water. Here the terrain was different so that I didn't have to crawl under the kelp to see anything. Since I had some nitrogen notches on my computer I held onto some kelp when I left the reef and hung on for a while to off gas before swimming back to the boat.

I use a compass a lot to judge where I am. On this dive and the last, I definitely missed having it. It was very hard to judge where I was.

OOPS. They spilled.

The third dive was a problem. The bugs were generally deep and we were mostly out of bottom time. There are a lot of shallow spots, but they are not going to be productive. Mel planned to sit it out and hit a deep reef in the morning. Dell and I wanted to try another night dive. My third tank was a bit small for any kind of deep dive anyway. There was a place I knew of that I had done well last year, so I mentioned it and Mel took us near it. With the lights off, baitfish congregated behind the boat.

Have some colorful anchovies."

Now I've said that if you don't dive enough, things tend to go wrong when you do. I had already had the problem with the compass and there had been other minor annoyances. I was aware that there was the problem of ongoing issues arising. Deal with them. Your judgment has to be not only good though, it has to be correct. The next dive showed a lot of 'I would have done things differently if I had known'. I put my regulator on my AL 80 that is my third tank and it had been filled with NITROX more than a year ago. It was down to 700 pounds. Note to self... double check that... So I decided I would go near to shore and free dive, using my tank when I wanted to check something out. Dell and I headed in. I went for a long swim to shore to a point in front of the boat.

Well, when I got there, I headed all the way in, planning to work my way out, but there were bugs in very shallow. Many bugs, little bugs, littler bugs, little bugs with very big antennas. I figured there had to be some legals, so I was trying to free dive with a tank in 1 or 2 feet of water. Ah, judgment... I should have done a quick dive under the boat to check if they were in the sand and then come in here with no tank. I spooked up some big rock fish that was gone before I could see it. I saw some bugs that were almost worth grabbing. I rode the little waves in an out and bounced over the rocks. Sometimes small bugs spooked up and ran into my sides and legs. Surprisingly, the baitfish kept bumping into me.

It was too overcast to watch the stars so I never did my usual haulout.

I worked in as shallow as I could go and figured I would go a bit deeper on another pass. I reached the end of the shallows at a small point and turned out to go deeper. There were bigger rocks and lots of eel grass, but it only a few small bugs. Then I felt my weight belt slip. It had gotten unclipped while I was bouncing on the rocks. That is a minor issue except that I was pretty sure that my new belt clip I had picked earlier had probably slipped off with my goody bag. Yep, it did. I backtracked as best I could, but never found it in the eel grass or the rocks. It was pretty thick there.

This all seemed to sort of suck so I figured it was time to head back. I went down and headed out over the sand planning to use what little air I had to look around and come up somewhere near the boat. Well, there was nothing to see and the boat turned out to be farther away than I expected. It gets difficult to orient at night. I needed to go about 100 yards to the boat. Bad luck. There was a current and I'm not in great shape for that kind of swimming. I swam a bit further and knew that I was going to have to do something different if I wanted to make it to the boat. That judgment thing again. I could drop the weights out of my belt pockets to make swimming easier. It's too nice a belt to drop except in an immediate emergency. I could swim to shore and work my way up along it against the direction of the current, then swim back out to the boat. That would be a long haul for the last dive. I decided to try something different. I loosened the belt on my back plate and swam on my back. I generally never do that, but it worked pretty well and I really chugged along, though I moved towards the boat very slowly. I was afraid my knee wouldn't take it, but it didn't seem to mind. The problem was navigating since there were no stars to see, but if I kept the island in the corner of my vision, I was aimed correctly. I made it, but it was a hassle. I used to not mind long swims, but these days I am careful to never get down current. All in all, a lot of things were done on this dive that I would not have done in hindsight.

Well, a nice warm shower and some dry clothes will make you feel fine. I saw Dell's light way down current along the shore, but he moved up again before swimming out to the boat and had little trouble. He had seen the same thing as me. A whole lot of short lobsters.

The next morning dawned beautiful with a low fog hugging the island. The ocean was lake like. It's very quiet then. Mel wanted to do a deep dive on a small obscure isolated reef that he has been trying to explore for years. It probably gets visited less than 5 times a year if that much. On NITROX with good conditions he got a better look at it than ever and found out it was far more extensive than he thought.

I love the sea mists in the morning."

It's the quiet winter season at Isthmus."

We considered getting fills at West End Scuba in the Isthmus, but there were time pressures so we headed back. A bit of metering was done off the harbor to look for reef for possible future dives. Then it was time for the reality that sets in when you leave the boat. Still, it was a weekend, so that's not all bad.


Pretty good eats.

We don't care who wears the wetsuit in this family.>