The Oil Rig Eureka, September 18, 1999

To see a video of this adventure

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ã Walter Marti

walter @ diver . net

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about diving the oil rigs off of Huntington Beach. Actually, they are almost half way to Catalina. The Sea Sabre Dive Club chartered the dive boat Westerly out to the rigs, to see what the fuss is all about.

I made three dives on the oil rig Emmy in 1980, and have fond memories of them. She is just off shore of the Bolsa Chica State Beach, in 40 feet of water. The piling were covered in scallops and mussels. Lots of fish congregated thereabout. I was a fish killer back then, and didn’t take time to look for the finer life forms. I once even took my dive kayak out of Bolsa Chica. If, I enjoyed it so much why did I wait almost two decades to return? I have no idea! Then I consulted my dive log. They turned fire hoses on us last time and told us to stay away or they’ll call the Coast Guard.

With Captain Jim Ingram at the helm of the Westerly, we left San Pedro at 7 am and headed to the farthest oil rig, the Eureka. She sits in 700 feet of water. I was anxious to take video. I was not hunting for halibut. So, I didn’t feel a need to go to the bottom. It was a gloomy overcast day and it stayed that way. The water was unusually flat. As we approached the Eureka, Jim radio the oil rig and politely asked permission to dive. They told him which side we could dive on, and which side to stay away from. We stayed away from the side where the tender boat docked. This way we wouldn’t hinder their operations and none of the divers would be pureed by there props.

We had 15 divers aboard. Jim backed the boat near the rig and in groups of four or five, we jumped off and swam to the structure. We beheld great visibility, considering how diving has been this year. If we would have had sun, it would have been fantastic. I emptied my BC and started downward. The top of the piling were covered in mussels, at 20 feet the corinactis, strawberry anenomes, of every shade and variety of red covered everything. Absolutely incredible to look at. Nestled within the corinactis were scallops. Not the occasional scallop, but everywhere. I have a shot in my video where there is a legal limit just within view. I continued my decent. I was taking the express elevator down. At 100 feet the occasional metridium could be seen. They are the large white plumed anenomes that are usually seen in the cold waters of Monterey. I was dropping like a rock. I hit my BC inflator and drysuit inflator and stopped my decent. I was in such awe at seeing these metridiums. At 120 feet they started to come out in numbers. At 145 feet they were covering the pilings and were about two feet apart. I shot of some quick video of them and started to take the elevator up. The no decompression limit isn’t real long at this depth and I didn’t want to be making a decompression stop. Besides I still had a whole day of diving to look forward to. As I ascended, I was enthralled at the beauty of everything. The nudibranchs, dorids, brittle stars, small fish and numerous other invertebrates, that I have no idea what they are called. As for big stuff, there were large sheephead and rockfish hiding withing the piling. Nearing the end of my tank I ascended further up and was treated to a three ring circus of playful sealions. First they did their usual coy routine and then they started with the ‘dive bombing’ and blowing bubbles at me. Another great video-op.

Upon surfacing, I find Captain Jim becoming stressed out with the ‘live boat’ situation and divers in 700 feet of water. I don’t ‘think’ anyone went to the bottom. But, after everyone surfaced with beaming smiles and raves of this being absolutely the best dive in a very, very long time, he calmed down a bit. Yes, the rig is in extremely deep water, but I see this safer than diving Farnsworth Banks or any other deep seamount. There is always a vertical reference, that seamounts don’t provide.

After a long surface interval, we made our second dive at the Eueka. Then moved to Palos Verde. To finish off the day. We anchored off of Point Vincente. Many divers looked at the color of the water and said, ‘the first dives were perfect, why spoil the day with this’. I’m not easily swayed by mediocre, or less, visibility. The first ten minutes of the dive had me thinking that the group on the boat may have been correct in there initial assumptions. Then I spied two Spanish shawl nudibranchs. Both had a large bulge on their right side, just behind their head. I was recently informed that this is their sex orgins. They are hermaphrodites. They have both sets of equipment. But, can’t do themselves, they still need a partner. These two were moving away from each other. I surmised that they may have just finished making whoopie. I quickly swam around and found a third one and brought it to the first one. He got excited right away. I say he, because the ‘he’ portion of it swelled up and became aroused a lot quicker then the ‘she’ part did. The first one wasn’t interested. I thought I heard it tell the third one that it was going to get a beer and watch some television. I found a fourth one, they got down to business right away. The bottle of wine was opened, the soft music was playing. My video lights provided the mood lighting. I watched as they went ‘all the way’. Three times! Amorous couple those two were. Seeing that they live underwater, neither had to deal with the wet spot.

My video lights spent I, opted not to make the fourth dive. The nudibranch scene was a great way to top of a fantastic day of diving. We will definitely want to make this a regular stop for next year.