Sea Ranch 2002 Dive 4
The morning started out beautiful, clear and sunny. A good day for wind. Experience told me to get in a good dive while the getting was good. The plan though to get together at 9:30 with some people I had met the night before and see where they liked diving, further south at Sea Ranch. The wind had started by 8:00. It wasn't bad, but it would be and there were already small whitecaps offshore.
I got there and they were all pretty much ready to go. I planned to dive with Jerry, who was willing to go out a bit farther to look for some big abs. He was an experienced ab diver that had been doing it since he was about 12 years old. His whole family would be diving, but probably not as far out. As we got out at Smuggler's Cove, who should drive up, but Joe who I had gone diving with last year. He wanted to come along for the dive as well.
It was a short trip across the paths to the cove and it looked like a great dive spot. It was a deep cove that was somewhat sheltered from the north weather. There were a lot of rocks sticking up and small inlets in the north side where the cove was more protected. That was good, because there was definately some weather coming from there. The wind was making some small, but short period waves. Wind waves could mess up the visibility and make diving just a bit harder, though they would never be the problem that a real swell would cause, though there was a bit of that too.
Entry was great. There were easy paths down to beaches and rocks at the bottom of what was only a small cliff below the bluff. There was no surf to speak of and an easy swim past shallow rocks out through the cove.
The swim was fun. The water was very shallow and the rocks below were very plainly visible. I was swimming over flat rocks solidly covered with urchins and occasional starfish. There were 20 inch, many armed, Picnopodia starfish in only a couple of feet of water. It was obvious that they were feeding on the urchins. There was enough water movement and a kind of heavy Eel Grass, that the bottom was somewhat obscured, but I kept looking as I swam along. Sure enough, after a bit I popped up and told Jerry that I had seen my first abalone of the day.
Jerry, Joe and I continued out while the rest of the divers stopped in the more protected areas. It was a day for Grandpa to introduce some of the young ones the sporting art of abalone diving.
We got out to the last bull kelp before passing the last protection of the north point of the cove. It was a bit sloppy as I tied my innertube float up in a thick patch of bull kelp. There were waves boiling and breaking only 15 feet to the north, but since there was no swell right where I was at, I could figure that the rocks dropped off very sharply. As I unclipped my abalone iron, I could see that there were no no other lines in the clip. That was bad. My 9 inch measure was supposed to be clipped in there. Crud. Well, that determined where I would start my diving.
True it wasn't particularly rough, but this patch of kelp was attached on a rock that came within 6 feet of the surface and the water was whipping over the top of it. That plus the fact that the kelp was almost solid right there on top of the rock made it real fun to dive, but if the measure was to be found, it would be in that kelp. I did about 8 dives, but I just couldn't see anything and was really sick of trying to get on top of the rock in the swell and the solid kelp. At that point, it seemed time to look around the rock some and keep an eye tuned for abs. I found a nice one fairly quickly, right near the float. Since I found it so fast, I figured there would be plenty more and I didn't take it. Hmmm. Questionable plan.
I kept diving, trying to get a feel for the water and the shape of the reef. I quickly figured out that it was a shallow reef with steep sides that went down to sand somewhere near 35 feet. Rocks stuck up near the surface, but were very steep sided. I suspect that there are some really impressive waves pounding across these steep sided rocks in winter. Growth was limited on their sides. This is not prime territory for abalone, because they like to be in holes that kelp leaves can fall into. Still, there would be abs and and I had found one quickly, didn't I. I didn't want to move north any or out to where it was more exposed to the wind. That meant working the group of rocks I was on right on the inside of the edge of the cove. Well, there wasn't a whole lot to them but steep sides and more dense kelp on the tops. I would go down them looking for ledges or cracks, but instead would follow them down and out to their bottoms that were deeper than I really wanted to be diving. On one dive, as I was coming up at about 20 feet, I did find one nice large ab out in the open on a shoulder of rock. I went for it, but it was ready for me and I not only had trouble getting my iron under it, then I couldn't easily get it loose. I could have fought with it and probably would have got it, but it was a long dive and I just didn't feel like it for what looked like an 8 1/2 incher. I was also quite aware that I was uncomfortable. I didn't know what it was. I suspected it was mild sea sickness from the wind chop, but I didn't know for sure. If I had been solo, I would have had to seriously considered getting out. With buddys in the water, I had more of a margin to work with, but I had to be careful and knew that deep dives were not going to help. I decided to try to find that nice one that I had seen about 10 feet from where my float was tied. The other divers all seemed to be fine, but I could tell that they too were trying to find good areas. I searched, but just couldn't locate the shallow area where it had been.
There was some terrain for abs here, but I just wasn't finding them. I wasn't feeling any worse, so it was time to go north and out in front of the reef. I went in front of the Sea Palm covered rocks, but was careful to stay out a bit from the white water there. A few feet underwater, in front of the exposed rocks were submerged rocks seperated by narrow cracks that went down perhaps 20 feet. These cracks were barely wide enough to swim through and were shaped such that you could not see to their bottom from the top. They were really pretty inside because the water action within them made it perfect habitat for big Green anemones and numerous Rose Spotted anemones as well. There were a lot of fish too, if not many abalone. These deep cracks required long dives because once you were in them you generally had to go to the ends to easily get out. I didn't have to back out any, but with their shapes, it could have easily come to that. Oceanward from them, it was just steep rocks all the way down to the sand. It makes for pretty diving, but not too productive.
I headed back where I started from. Joe and Jerry were still working the area. I decided enough was enough and started making long careful dives. I had had enough of sight seeing by then.
I found a bit of a crack between the big boulders and got right in the bottom of it. It was narrow and I was going through thick lamanarias. It ended at another rock wall, but at the end were some smaller microwave sized boulders and various rubble. Hidden some, up under one of the smaller boulders was another fatty. I slipped under it real carefully and pushed the iron away from the rock. It came off easily.
It was a bit rough by then, so when I went back to the float, I told the others that we should probably clear out fairly soon. They agreed with that. I figured one more time I'd look a bit for my 9 inch measure and that other ab I had seen. Sure enough, about 15 feet behind the float, just about where I had thought it would be, I found the big one I had seen first. I popped it out and it was easily 9 inches and very fat. About this time, Jerry decided to go the one place I had not looked. He went right into the rough water where the waves were coming over the rocks at the mouth of the cove. He came up and said that thear was where the big ones were and he had seen a few that were at least 9 inches. It wasn't deep either, just about 10 feet. I swam in to the reef at about 10 feet, but I repeatedly got blown out of the shallow area by white water rolling over the rocks. After a bit of this, I figured I could settle for the limit I had and really didn't need to swim into that storm just for a look.... I can always look back there next time.
Since we were moving into the cove as we left, the swim in was calm and uneventful. It was really pretty fun though because again we swam across the shallow rocks with the thick invertebrate life on them. There were also shallow areas where we were swimming through a variety of extremely thick beaded (brown) kelp. Who knows what was under them? The kids were mostly coming in at the same time. They had had a lot of fun thought I don't think they had taken many abs.
Looking from trail at the top of the bluff above the cove, at the whitecaps offshore and the waves hitting the rocks, I was very glad to have visited this vibrant and protected cove. It is a masterpiece of North Coast natural beauty.
Enjoy the diving, seahunt