CopyRight @ 1998
I had just started school at UCSC, Uncle Charlie's Summer Camp,
and it was time to check into some of the local diving of the Monterey
Bay area. The scuba club and classes were going to go across the bay,
to Monterey for the class and some diving. So here I was after dawn,
walking across campus, through the redwoods, with a gear bag and my
weight belt on my waist. Since I was checking things out, I just
planned to free dive. I still had my 2 hose regulator and 1800 psi
tank at this time.
At the field house, I met up with Bob Widman and some others. Bob was the schools scuba instructor and a regional director of NAUI. He was macho enough to give a bad rep to 20 instructors. I said that I would just free dive and for some reason, he said that wasn't good and that I should use scuba. They had gear, so that was fine.
We got to Monterey and parked at the main part of Cannery Row, about 50 yards west of the big antennae there. Parking and other things get nasty later on in the day. There are lots of divers and even more tourists.
The area on land and in the water is beautiful. It was clear enough to see across the bay to Santa Cruz. The shore is rugged and the houses along it have great flower beds that like the cool marine weather. The water was flat with a bunch of Sea Otters swimming around the place. The kelp starts about 25 yards from shore and continues out in patches to perhaps 80 yards from shore. The divable area, just goes for miles down the beach. The beach is sandy with various rocks. This is a spot for a full wetsuit. Expect perhaps 65 degree water at best, but it can be much less.
The plan, I was told, was for the class to do its thing and then
there would be time for another dive after that for anyone that wanted
to. Some of the club members were going into the water at this point,
but I was going to bird-dog the class. Bob had 2 people on small rafts
for this purpose. Any problems and we were on the spot for a quick
assist or rescue.
In the early morning it was so nice, calm, quiet and uncrowded.
I just trotted on into the water. There were no waves big enough to notice. Even in 5 feet of water, there was thick growth on the rocks. It is an area well protected from most swell, but not all. I took up position, say 60 yards out, in 30 feet of water and watched the show. Class divers were bouncing up and down, birds were flying by and a number of otters could be seen nearby doing their thing.
Towards the end of the class, I asked another diver to watch the float while I did a quick free dive. I knew that Bob was pretty much under me, so I shot straight down to where he was with 2 students. Well, that raft I was on, it had some ropes tied along it, to hold onto. I had sorta flopped off the raft directly into my dive and hadn't noticed that my weightbelt buckle had caught on the rope. This was a thrill for Bob, I am sure. I managed to free dive down to right in front of him and the students at about 30 feet. As I stopped and turned at the bottom, my weightbelt landed on my head. I grabbed it there and looked around a bit before surfacing.
I didn't know yet what a pain Bob could be, but he came up complaining about me leaving the raft alone. I informed him that I had asked someone to watch it. This was not the last of our disagreements.
After the class moved in, I was puttering around in about 15 feet
of water. There is sand and car sized rocks. They are covered with
algae and quite a bit of invertebrate life, especially in the cracks.
There were otters all over the area, but they kept about 50 feet
between themselves and the divers. Here, closer to the edge of the
cove, were 3 otters hunting in the rocks. Vis was probably no more
than 15 feet.
I was just groking the area some and watching them a bit. This seemed to make them ignore me and I ended up pretty close to them. It seems that they were tactile hunters. They feel in every little hole and crack. They do not slide their "hand" along the crack, they reach it in and out, rapidly, as if they want to land on something. From what I know of animals, they probably really grab if they feel something that might be edible. I wondered what they would think in a moray eel area? At one point I was positioned above one such that it had to swim around me to surface. That still didn't seem to bother it.
It was a great place to just float on the surface with an occasional free dive to change position.
I later found out that it is considered extremely difficult to get that close to otters to watch them while they are feeding, but that was later when I went to Monastery Beach...
I went back in to get together for the scuba dive. Bob was quite
clear that he did not tolerate solo diving. Whatever. I went out with
Dave and we dropped down in about 30 feet.
The water there had about 20 feet of vis. It was a rocky bottom with lots of different algae. As is common in the Monterey Bay, the variety of invertebrates was amazing and that is even considering that the otters have eaten everything that they can get their hands on. Actually, nearer to shore, I had even seen some Black Abalone in a small, deep crack, out of reach of the otters. There was lots to see though. There are some huge barnacles growing down there. There are also quite a few human artifacts from the long history of the area. These were blocks, pipes and some rope. It is fun to follow them to see where they go. They tended to be crusted with coralline red algae, barnacles, anemones and various worms. There were lots of various types of stars as well. There were a number of different crabs to see to. The algae under the kelp made for very pretty diving. The area is lush enough, that there is very little bare rock. It's all covered with life.
There were lots of fish as well, but they are not large. There are a lot of divers and fishermen in this area. The bass and the perch are common, but there are not urchins and so no Sheephead. The lack of both of these made it quite different from the diving at the Channel Islands that I was used to.
It was still early when we got out of the water, perhaps 9 AM.
Now though, a lot of other divers were starting to show up. Many of
these were with classes. The otters were no where to be seen. They
figured the crowds could have it now.
One thing that is amazing to see. In the Monterey area, surf entries are the rule rather than the exception. The area is pretty rocky, which makes entries more interesting. Beaches are actually rather rare up here. The preferred entry method taught here, is the crawl entry. Just as it sounds, the divers have on all their gear and start crawling at or before the water line. It seems like a good idea, except that the water was like a lake today. A cautious standup entry should have been fine. That's all well and good, but you should see what it looks like when there are a lot of divers. There are far more divers in this area, per foot of shoreline, than I have seen anywhere else. At any moment there are a couple of groups of 2 to 6 divers, crawling in or out across the beach. It's really something to see.
The diving in Monterey is lush and beautiful and makes for great
sight seeing. It is not really a hunting spot, cuz if you want it, the
otters already ate it. They don't get the fish though, but I didn't
see anything big during any of my dives there. That could just be me
or it could be all those divers. The otters are interesting enough, I
guess, but I tend to consider them to be furry pests. They eat what I
You have to get it on a good day though. It can get really rough if there is any weather. Late summer and fall have the most good diving. At that time, 30 feet of vis is common enough and that is plenty for that type of diving.
On shore, there is a lot to do. Shopping and sight seeing are
great. There are lots of interesting shops for the tourists. The wharf
is great for walking around and there is lots to choose from to eat.
The only drawback can be the crowds. Lots of people like the place.
The best place in the world to watch a sunset is at the shore in Pacific Grove, where the shore turns south to the open ocean. Monterey is a really special place above and below the water.
There is plenty of dive area and much that would be fun for exploring. I would like to do some more diving there.
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