CopyRight @ 1998
It's 6:30 AM and I am trying to enjoy the early morning
scenery, unfortunately, I'm also running a bit late and need to
hurry. This road is not a place to hurry. This is some of the
finest scenery on the California Coast. The land along this part of
the coast makes for scenery that is far more beautiful and
accessible then the better known Big Sur Coast.
The road winds along beautiful coves, sometimes near the shore, sometimes it is high on a mountain side way above the water. Most of the time though it just goes through the many cattle ranches of the area. The pastures are cut by rows of cypress planted as wind breaks 100 years ago. There is some fog and much mist in the early morning, but the air is crystal clear.
The plan was to make a trip with Dive Crazy Adventures in
Albion. We were going to do some free diving for abalone and then a
tank in deeper water. Matt was the skipper of the boat and told me
to go just across the Albion Bridge and immediately turn right there.
It was a small road that went down to the river. I followed it back a
bit and was told that Dive Crazys was about a mile further on up
the river. It wasn't hard to find the shop and other divers were
already hustling around with final preparations. The dock was in a
very beautiful part of the forested river canyon. There were other
people heading up the river in kayaks that are also rented by Dive
Crazys. It turns out that Dive Crazys has most of what you could
want for river kayaking and diving, including rentals and a
compressor. Don't go there looking for the latest in BC's or
regulators. This is about diving, not shopping.
The other divers on the trip were a group that knew each other from diving together up in Eureka. The conditions up there are actually a bit nastier than here, so I expected that they would all be good divers.
We were all suited up before loading. This was likely to be a rough wet ride even going with the waves. They had all brought inner tubes with nets around them. These were standard equipment for North Coast divers. They hold your game, provide a float to rest on, you can ride them in through the waves and they have straps so that they work as a backpack for gear and game when out of the water. They are really handy rigs. Most of these divers brought fair sized guns as well, in anticipation of Ling Cod. The boat was well set up to handle gear. Even though the boat was very full of people, all the gear was well stowed or packed. We headed down the Albion River and out into the cove at the river mouth, passing under the tall skeleton of the old Albion Bridge. As we got into the cove, we passed the rescue boat that was anchored there. You know, the roll over under a wave and come back up again kind of boat. The forests along the river and shore are beautiful.
Then we were in the ocean. The big ocean. It really wasn't a rough day, but up here, a calm day can be fairly big. The boat was made for this and though it didn't seem like it, Matt said his plotter showed that we were going just over 30 miles an hour. We were heading to a spot a bit south of Albion that was fairly protected.
Sure enough, after a while we turned into a large cove protected by numerous offshore rocks and reefs. After some frustrating days of attempted shore dives and the trip out through the swell, this place looked like a lake and some very inviting diving. There were numerous rocks and reefs to orient on for diving. Matt said that he had found a 9 3/4 inch abalone here last week. He also gave a quick rundown about getting back on the boat again.
With Matts help, divers got organized in the back by twos. I got together hurriedly and jumped in, only to suddenly notice I had forgotten my gloves in my haste. That water is sharp on any exposed skin. They were tossed to me and I went in the general direction of the other divers who had all taken off with their inner tube floats to different spots that looked likely.
The best way to dive in an area like this is to go to a rock near the surface and look around nearby for deeper rocks or pinnacles. There were lots more pinnacles sticking up below water than above. Since it had been a long time since I had done any real serious free diving, I started above a rock I could see about 12 feet down. It had very lush algae growing on it, but I found a crack that went along it. The crack was about 4 feet deep, 2 feet wide and went further than I could easily see. This is the kind of diving I love. Not only is it very protected and calm in a crack like this, but also kelp cannot well grow in it, because it will get rubbed off. Also, a protected spot like this is likely to be full of life. It was. There were urchins, some crabs, stars and lots of large abalone. In a spot like this there is likely to be an abalone every couple of feet. It looked like all were legal, but I wanted to grab some truly big ones. Ideally I wanted to get all 9 inchers or larger. I took a couple, but then, as you do where there are a lot of abalone, I took my time. With a couple taken, it is now time to sight see and look for some hub caps. I went over to where Jim was diving with his float nearby and asked if he minded if I attached my goody bag to his float. he said that there were D rings all around it. While I can dive with weight in my bag, it's nice not to. That is the best part about free diving. The absolute minimum of gear with the maximum of grace. You glide through the water about as close to like a fish as a human can get.
I was talking to Jim while trying my hobby of standing up on a nearby submerged rock. He said that he had been following the side of the pinnacle he was next to down to the bottom at 27 feet. Like I said, it had been a long time since I had done much free diving, and I really wasn't sure if that would be at all difficult. I relaxed and got some air, then since I was a bit lightly weighted I made sure that I snapped a good high legged surface dive to push me down. I followed the rock down to the bottom with no problem. There were lots of abs along the bottom 5 feet of the rock, but I could also see them on the rock bottom that sloped away from the base of the pinnacle. That was where I wanted to look. Again I relaxed on the surface and took a number of deep breaths before going down. You move very quickly on a dive like this. I was swimming and pulling some between the bases of the bull kelps. There were abalone everywhere. I just wanted to find some really big ones. Near 9 inchers were common, but I was trying to find some that were bigger. It's hard to tell. After about 10 dives I had taken 2 beauties. It was fantastic to be doing some real free diving again and having no trouble at it either. I still doubt that I could have made it to my old easy depths of 70 feet, but I felt like I could have made 50 feet easily enough and realistically, it would not have been hard to find legal abs here in less than 10 feet with a bit of looking.
Since we were going to be doing a tank, we didn't want to hang out too long or get too fatigued. It seemed like the others were of the same idea so everyone started heading back to the boat about the same time. As we had been told, we handed up fins, weight belts and bags before climbing up the center post ladder at the stern. The boat entry was easy enough. Everyone had picked up a limit of large abalone and was in a great mood after the free diving on the lush shallow reefs.
Nest Pic by Aquadog... I think
We headed out towards one of the outer most of the many rocks sticking up past the surface in the cove. This was probably 75 feet across and stuck up maybe as far as 20 feet above the surface. We set anchor behind it in as protected a spot as could be managed. To the left was open ocean. To the right was a line of rocks that looked like the very tops of a small mountain range. Looking back, we had an excellent view of a beautiful area of wild, primitive coast line.
Matt said that to the left side of the rock, you might get lucky and find some Lings. I only had a small pole spear, so I decided to go to the right and explore the rock piles there. We all suited up and dropped in over the side. It was pretty cold. I went straight down and ended up right above a beautiful patch of ghostly white Metridium anemones in 70 feet of water. Did I mention I had forgotten my camera? The bottom here was large boulders on sand. I started of to the right and came to boulders that were covered with Metridiums and also large patches of red Corynactus anemones. At this depth there was little kelp growth, though I expected that there would be more as the summer progressed. Visibility was probably near 35 feet.
I quickly came to a large boulder pile that stuck up at least 30 feet. It looked like a good place to look for fish, so I decided to check it out closely. There were numerous large Pisaster Stars, Red Urchins and big Sea Cucumbers. There were also the biggest Giant Green Anemones that I have ever seen. Some were near a foot high and more than a foot across. Most were green, but some were vivid shades of red. I was seeing Gopher fish and a number of juvenile Ling Cods. The young Lings are a about 10 inches long and a burned golden color with brilliant blue spots. They are pretty spooky and would take off as soon as I got within 15 feet.
I looked at my thermometer and it said that it was 47 degrees. That's pretty cold. One thing though, I knew that it was still dropping. I am glad to say that normally it doesn't get anywhere near this cold.
I headed over the sand and boulders seeing various other fish and critters. I also saw the only abalone of the dive, though they are quite illegal to take while using scuba. I ran across one neat looking red and white star that I couldn't readily identify. It may have been a Rainbow starfish. Since I was getting down on air and I had found no Lings, I put a few Gopher fish in my bag. They saute up nicely with abalone.
I looked at my thermometer again and this time it said that it was 44 degrees. I figured that it had gone down as far as it was going to and it certainly was chill enough to satisfy me. I had already ordered a new wetsuit as the one I was wearing was pretty far gone. Well, air was low so time to go. I was the last one on the boat which surprised me, but I guess that they thought it was chill too. Some of the other divers had found some Blue Bass and some Black Bass as well. Matt mentioned that my wetsuit did seem to have a lot of leaks to it.
Now it was time for the trip back. True, the swell was mostly from the west, but it was also a bit from the north. Even with a full load, the boat handled it easily. A trip like that is incredibly invigorating. I didn't like the breeze that much though, so I used one of Matt's Warm Wind coats to stay warm. Matt decided to check his plotters accuracy by passing over a small sea mount on the way back. Sure enough, right when the plotter said it was below us, the depth recorder showed a vertical wall that was the edge of the reef. Maybe next time, on a calmer day.
The tide was quite low which made getting the heavily laden boat up the shallow river channel interesting, but Matt seemed to know the channel well. All we had to do was occasionally move to the front or back of the boat as we were directed and we made it up fine.
This area has excellent diving. Even though the poor weather limited where we could dive, we got to some lush, lightly touched diving. With good conditions, like is more common later in the year, we could have gotten to some spectacular diving that is basically in virgin areas. I guess I'll just have to go back out with them again.
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