San Clemente Island Diving

         By Richard Jones

When the usual warm and dry late Autumn/early Winter weather pattern settles across the Golden State, those fortunate enough to be able to dive off the Southern California coast are often treated to some of the best diving conditions of the year. That was certainly the case this past weekend during a Reefseekers’ chartered trip aboard the dive boat Encore to San Clemente Island. There was a mild Santa Ana wind condition in effect, meaning that warm, dry air from far inland was blowing seaward, and far out over the ocean. During the six-hour overnight transit from Long Beach to San Clemente, the surface of the ocean was so smooth and the boat so steady that if it weren’t for the noise of the engines it would be difficult to tell that the boat was actually underway. And at daybreak the air was so incredibly clear that it was possible to look back toward the mainland and see Catalina Island as if it were just a stone’s throw away, and also see the coastal hills of Orange County, San Diego County, and Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The Sun rose over an ocean that fully lived up to its name – the Pacific; hardly a ripple creased the glassy surface.

The Encore stopped at three dive sites along the southeast coast (lower frontside) of San Clemente during the day: White Bluff, Twin Caves, and Fisheye. Water conditions were superb at all three sites, with visibility ranging from 50ft to 75ft and very little surge. The water temperature was a bit nippy at depth, averaging about 56 degrees F.

Marine life was varied and abundant. While descending on the first dive of the morning, I spotted the distinct shape of an angel shark on the sandy bottom beneath the dive boat, in about 105ft of water. After having re-positioned myself several times around the angel shark to get photos from different angles, I noticed the sand under my arm begin to shift as I lay nearly prone on the sea floor getting ready for the next shot. Then the sand exploded beneath me and a large shovel-nosed guitarfish swam swiftly into the blue. Who knows how long I’d been resting on top of it; I do know it was several minutes before my heart rate returned to normal.

The Fisheye dive site featured the wreckage of a large commercial sportfishing boat which had apparently run aground in the not-too-distant past. There was a broad debris field which included some of the boat’s navigation electronics, stainless steel bait tanks, propane cylinders, and important fixtures from one of the bathrooms.

The most amazing sight of the day was, unfortunately, un-photographable. As the Encore was approaching Long Beach harbor a couple of hours past sunset, and the amount of bio-stuff in the water increased with the diminished distance to civilization, the boat’s bow wave created a spectacular display of bio-luminescence. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a small pod of dolphins swam into the bow wave and stayed with the boat for several minutes. The amazing part of this sight was the streamers of bio-luminescence which trailed behind each of the dolphins. It was like a scene out of an animated film, ala Fantasia. And when an individual dolphin shot out of the bow wave and ahead of the boat, the intensity of its luminescent streamer increased proportionally with its speed. It was one of those truly unforgettable things that we may only witness once in a lifetime. And a fitting end to a perfect day of Southern California diving.

Sunrise over glassy Pacific Ocean.

Early morning light, and moonset over San Clemente Island.

Crystal clear sky and water.

Angel Shark.

Navanax Inermis nudibranch.

Divers explore rocky pinnacle.


Giant Kelp forest.

Blue Banded Goby.

Opaleye Perch and friends.

Calico Bass.

Only in California...

Scorpion Fish.

Unusual sight.

Moray Eel.

Spiny Lobster and little buddy.

The Encore from 50 feet below.


All good things must come to an end.