Van Damme

Last Sunday, Two dive buddies and myself decided to tow the dory up to Albion and blow a couple tanks.

We left Santa Rosa at 5:30 am which put us up there at 8:00. It was a brisk 38 degrees outside and crystal clear with only a light breeze. When we were motoring out of the harbor we encountered gradual swells of 8-9 feet with almost no wind chop. I thought how mother ocean was not pissed about anything today, but feeling rather good coming down from the previous fury she was in a few days back. She was inviting us out to enjoy her bounty. Whether she would hold her promise to be nice was yet to be seen.

Before we left, I marked on my GPS the coordinates to Colby Reef, 1 1/2 mi north and 1/2 mi out from Albion. As we aproached, 300 then 200 feet, then 75 feet, the depth was still at 130 feet. I thought, what a bunch of b... " well lookie here guys, 65, 35, 25,.. heeeere we are!" I anchored the boat and in a few minutes, Plaaash. We decended down to 40 feet and I checked the hook up on the pick, then we followed the reef wall down, down, down. The vis was a solid 30 feet and I immediately noticed how many filter feeding organisms and anemones I saw. It was like a total paint factory explosion. When we got to our max depth of 86 feet, I began looking into cracks and cravasses to spot the ever ellusive scallop. Well, I found them, dozens of them! There were also huge female blues laying inverted in the cracks laying their eggs. I spotted many other species of rockfish including several juvinile male lincod. I turned around and looked out into open water and saw probably 100 blues suspended in the water column staring back at me. I don't think many people dive this reef, so is it possible they lack a fear of predation?

Well, the time came to turn around and head for the anchor line to blow off a little nitro. I distinctly remember finding the chain and looking up and seeing the bottom of my boat 40 feet up. This may not seem like much vis to you southerners, but that is spectacular for up here. When we surfaced the wind had comletely died down and the air was beginning to warm up. Dive #2 was on a reef right out on the outer wall of the rock islands that mark the entrance to Vandamme cove. There is a deep sand channel that runs between two steep walls. It starts in about 120 feet and winds its way up a canyon to about 75 feet. We anchored in about 45 feet and went down the wall only to about 80 feet then went horizontally along the wall till we hit the sand channel. One of my buddies saw a humungous box crab. He said it was one of the biggest crabs of any kind he's ever seen! I wish I saw it.

On our return trip to the anchor line we did an integrated ascent up the reef wall. My other buddy managed to bag a nice ling for dinner. Vis was not as good at this spot, maybe 8-10 feet, but this reef is still a killer dive. Last Vandamme party we had 25 foot vis here. You just never know. On the boat ride back we were cruising along and I'm looking at the depth finder periodically, 125... 90...150...130. Then I notice the swells seemed a little larger than normal in a spot not far in front. I continued to look at the depth finder and I see 80...65...35... 24.. hmmm... "Hey guys. check this out"! We're all looking at the screen when not 10 feet further the screen goes from 22 feet to 150+! We all looked at each other and went "Duuude" That finger couldn't make it to the GPS fast enough to mark that spot! I'll be letting you know how that one was as soon as I can get up there again, and mother ocean isn't being a total bitch.


Eric lives above San Francisco and so gets to dive the beautiful North Coast regularly... when the ocean cooperates. North Coast diving is particularly demanding and requires a good deal of skill and fortitude. Even with those qualifications and a fair amount of experience though, the North Coast is a challenge and it's going to get you occasionally.
Here is a short paragraph the Eric sent me and I liked it because it so well described what North Coast diving can be about

With the ab float, I use a small anchor and a line on a winding handle to keep my ab float in place. If I want to check out a real rough area where few dare to dive, I use a game hook strung through a clorox bottle which I have a 20' line attached to. If need be I can hang on to the line while I take a dive, or tie it off on something and I know my rig will be there when I get back up. The advantage of this set up is that there is a lot less air space bulk to get picked up and blasted into shore if a big set of sleepers was to come in.

I once almost got my arm torn off my body trying to hang on to a tube when a 10' sleeper snuck up on us and ripped my tube out of my hand, tearing the handle off. My partner got slammed upside down onto a rock so hard that it knocked the wind out of him, leaving him laying upside down dry docked a huge wash rock floundering like a big beached whale. The next wave to come in was about a 12 footer. Neither he or I had time to do anything about his situation. When I saw this one coming I forgot about everything and dove straight down. This wave hit with such force that it blew my buddy right off the rock, down over the other side, and stripped his fins right off his feet! When it was all over and I came up and couldn't find him. I was panicked! After a few minutes of searching, I saw him sitting on a rock, waving. My float was gone, back at shore somewhere, and the ocean had calmed back down to the normal 4' to 6' swell that we had started the dive with. When I got over to my buddy he said " That was fun, now let me borrow your fins so I can get my damn abs!" the whole episode was just a minor inconvenience to him! Boy I'll tell you, Mike's a tough old salty SOB and at 60 years old (diving for 45 of them) he's got some tales to tell.

On the North coast this is what we deal with on a regular basis. I have never seen such unpredictable sneaker waves anywhere else, especially on a really low tide when there is not much of a water layer to carry the swell into shore further before it breaks.

The best way to deal with this kind of ocean is not to fight it. Just let it take you where it wants to go. Learn to use swell and surge to your strategic advantage. Or, just don't dive on days like that. However if you do that, your not going to get wet to much, at least not up here.

Have fun gettin' them "hogs"!

......this is the best essence of Northern California ab diving. It can get nuts and it creates the best divers in the world.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

Back To Home Page