The Sea Dream
Diving The Santa Monica Breakwall At Night
I love the sea. It makes me dream.
I love a remote cove with only the waves and rocks and sea in
front of me. I love the wind, the smells, the sounds, the mists,
the solitude, sea shells and sea grass. They all make me drift
into the Sea Dream.
Ah, those wasted days of youth, but they weren't completely wasted,
they were fun. Malibu and Santa Monica Bay were local playgrounds for
me. Long ago, well before I went diving, I fished. I was a pier
rat and on the half day boats when I could. This first brought me to
Santa Monica Pier. It is a fascinating place and back then, there was
still quite a bit of fish and other life around it. About 120 yards
past the end of the pier is a break wall running against the waves
for about 400 yards, to protect the pier and the boats that anchor
As I got older, I did less fishing, but there was an awful lot of
other fun to be had along Santa Monica Bay. Whether it was diving in
Malibu, roller-skating at Venice Beach or racing the bicycle paths to
Redondo, it is all great fun.
Still, whenever I was there on foot or bicycle, I always seemed
to make my way to the end of the pier. To look at the horizon, the
birds and the waves rising on the pilings. There, I drift into the
It's a long time since I have stood on the end of Santa Monica
pier. It's been a long time since there even has been a fishing boat
that went out from the pier. Years ago, the break wall was officially
abandoned and it has slowly sunk into the water as wave and storm
have ceaselessly challenged it. I've seen huge waves breaking on it
in the past.
Over the many years since I took up diving, I have occasionally
wondered about diving there and sometimes heard stories of rare,
but interesting dives that were made there by an intrepid few. Legend
was, there were lots of lobster. Life has mostly taken me away from
there just as it takes us away from so many things, but I was back
tonight. Many, many years later, it was finally my turn to dive the
The ocean was glassy, as calm as it gets. A good night for something
like this. The pier is well lighted and the multi-colored lights of the
Ferris Wheel flashed in different patterns. I had never seen these
lights from this side of the pier.
That is actually the Ferris
Wheel, just far away.
We anchored about 40 feet from the break wall, near the northern end.
This is the only part that still normally sticks above the surface. For
about 30 feet, the rocks still rise above the surface perhaps 4 to 6
feet. The break wall extends something like 160 yards south, but is
almost all submerged.
I went down before I got to it and came to the bottom of it in about 30
feet. There was a lot of life visible immediately. It was the second dive
of the night, so I wasn't surprised to see lots of healthy Gorgonian Sea
Fans growing along the lower rocks like at the last spot. There were also
sculpins everywhere. Big sculpins, little sculpins, sculpins sitting on
rocks in the open with the nonchalance that can only be achieved by a
I headed south and though I was hunting lobster, the last dive
had been so clear and beautiful that I figured I had to bring my camera
this time. I pulled it down in my left hand in case I saw anything
interesting on the way. Again, the vis was great, probably 25 feet,
except where the rocks met the sand and vis went to less than 10.
This meant that the smoothest dive was between 10 and 20 feet looking
into the holes and ledges between the big rocks.
There were a fair number of big franciscanus urchins showing all
different colors of red and burgundy in my light. There was no kelp,
but there was a lot of foot thick growth of a red, almost coralline
algae. I saw a number of big (maybe 20 inch or so) golden or maroon
pisaster stars that probably terrorized the patches of mussels. In
one hole was a vividly colored Spanish Shawl. I followed a middlin
sized stingray with my camera for a while, but there wasn't much
sign of lobster besides a few shorts and one big molt that got my
heart to spin for a moment or so. I figured it was time to look at
the inside of the break wall.
I like crossing shallow rocks for the same reason it's got to be
done carefully, the water can move really fast. Sure, it's a calm day,
but that means it's just like the day when that merry joker Magellan
first saw our ocean and called it the Pacific. It's just usually not.
Still, crossing over was no real problem. It was mostly about 4 feet
deep with individual rocks sticking up, some just to the surface. There
was a fair amount of Feather Boa kelp at the top, but it wasn't really
thick. The water was clear and it was easy to see that the rocks were
very worn down. The top of the break wall was about 20 feet across here.
I went down the other side and could immediately see differences. There
were lots of small purple purpuratus urchins on this side, but few reds.
There was less plant growth and few sea fans, but the sculpins were sure
I saw a maybe legal bug peeking up from a the other side of a rock
and made a wild grab. A big sculpin popped out of the hole, which was
made more impressive by the fact that I had well stabbed myself in the
palm of my hand with a grab right onto the lobster's horns.
I continued south, but had moved up to between 10 and 15 feet deep.
I was seeing some bugs, but not that many. I was guessing that I knew
where they were. Probably, they were on top of the break wall, but I didn't
want to go up there yet without getting a good look along the bottom. I
figured I would go south as far as I wanted and then head back towards
the boat along the top of the rocks. It would be a tough dive there and
I could still perhaps find bugs here... It was an easy, pretty dive here,
with lots to see and things to click at. There were lots of fish, small
bugs, stars, an octopus and other things to see.
I found a lobster looking out from the bottom of a small hole with
an urchin above him. The hole was perhaps 10 inches high. The lobster
stood perhaps 4 inches high and the urchin about 8 inches. That left
little room, but I made a real good grab and got no spines.
I worked to use up my film and it was time to get serious and move
back. Besides, my sinuses were protesting the constant up and down as I
moved along the face of the wall.
The top was pretty wide here, perhaps 30 feet wide, between 2 and 6
feet deep. The surge was fairly strong and unfortunately, but not too
surprisingly, at this depth, I was a bit light. That would just make the
dive a little more challenging.
Now it was a matter of moving fast, ride the surge in and avoid
hitting rocks. Then paddle and pull out to the front of the wall again.
In places the kelp was thick, but at least there weren't so many sculpin
and sure enough, there were more bugs out. They were still shorts, but
most places there are shorts, there are a few legals.
There is a lot to see. The challenge is that if you go the direction
of the rock wall, you have to resist the surge, fight the kelp and
avoid hitting shallow rocks. The sensible thing to do is
to ride the surge back and forth across the top of the wall in the
direction of the waves. When the swell is smallest, the ride is back and
forth perhaps 8 feet. At the top of the swell, you may be pushed 30 feet
from the front of the wall all the way past the back. Mostly, it is like
swimming in a rocky creek.
You cover a lot of territory with little swimming, but you are moving
fast and you have to keep twisting your body and flashing the light
around real quick to see everything you are passing in your flight.
Grab something to stop for a look and you are likely to do a quick
flip. Oh, and did I mention that you have dodge the rocks
Since I was forced to align my body with the surge, that means that I was
no longer moving back towards the boat where I wanted to end up. This was
getting to be a long rough shallow dive.
There were a fair amount of shorts and every so often I was seeing
some legals, but they tended to be in holes. I made a wild grab for one
in a hole and managed to cramp my right calf and left thigh while missing
the lobster. Neeto. A bit further on I did the same thing again with
another bug in a hole, with the same result or lack there of. At this
point I was wondering why I was hunting at night if all the bugs were
in their holes still. Then I came to the first legal of the night that
was out of it's hole. There was a nice one in the open between two
small rocks. I grabbed, but did not compensate enough towards the
tail and felt it take off. Obviously I was in great form.
A bit further, I found the 'huge bugs of the breakwater'. I was about
10 feet deep when I looked about 10 feet under a ledge and saw the legs
of a huge bug moving further back in its hole. There was about a 5 pounder
and a few other legals with it. I checked around a boulder and got
nearer the hole, but no closer to getting any bugs. They just weren't
out walking tonight. I think they do get some persistent visitors
here at night. They were all pretty cagey.
For the umteenth time I popped my head up and saw that the boat
was still a ways up the wall. It seemed a good time to relax so I looked
for a shallow rock to haul out on. It was great to look at the lights of
the pier. I flashed my light some and watched to see if anyone would somehow
signal back. It was a bit damp so I think that no one was braving the dark
and mists at the end of the pier. Maybe though, just maybe, there in the
darkness was someone breathing the salt air and drifting in the Sea Dream
like I used to there.
I fell back into the water and continued on riding the surge and
pouncing my way around rocks to see if there was anyone to surprise. I
didn't mind at all when I got back even with the boat and swam out. It was
a beautiful dive with lots to see and I finally had gotten to dive the
Santa Monica Break Wall, but it was still one long tough dive with scant
The next dive could be expected to be no easier, maybe worse.
Enjoy the diving, seahunt
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