My brother Paul and his girlfriend Erin went on this Channel Island boat dive trip last year and had a wonderful time. Erin described it as being like a child again: You get up in the morning and someone cooks breakfast for you. Then you go out to play (dive) and when you get back someone helps you with your toys (re-fills your tanks) and feeds you lunch. Then you go out and play some more. All this and you get to see a bunch of different dive sites and increase your diving experience. I signed up to go along. You can find out more about this trip from the Underwater Adventures WEB page.
I talked to Jon Valez, our dive instructor who also organized this trip, about bringing a kayak along. He was not sure there would be room on the boat for a kayak and suggested that we scope it out first and talk about a kayak next year. I figured that kayaking would be compatible with being a diver: You dive for a while and build up excess nitrogen in your tissues. Then you kayak while you out-gas. At least this is what I though might happen. Instead, the boat spends very little time at each dive site, barely enough to get back out of the water, Then you spend your out-gassing time while the boat drives to the next site. Occasionally the next spot would only be a kilometer or so from the last one and a kayak could have followed along. But often in these cases the boat was snooping around for clear water and might have moved farther away. The boat usually settled down early in the evening and there might be time to kayak then.
We drove down late at night and I had trouble sleeping on the hard foam bunks. Early in the morning the boat drove out to Santa Cruz Island. I skipped the first dive in the morning and apparently missed a great dive under a kelp forest. One of the next few dives I was swimming head down looking at the life on the rocks and saw swirling patterns in the water directly in front of my mask, like heat ripples. I stirred them with my fingers and wondered what I was seeing. Then I swam down a few more feet and suddenly found myself in water 10 degrees colder! The heat ripples I had seen was a thermocline, the boundary between water of very different temperatures. As we swam around we occasionally swam back up into the warm layer and it felt like suddenly swimming into a bathtub.
The next morning Paul, Erin and I planned to practice buoyancy control by traveling down the anchor line. The swell at the surface was not very large, but the line bounced up and down by three meters or more. The boat has two lines, one at the bow and one at the stern, both set to run off at long angles. I figured that the boat was swinging back and forth slightly in the swell and tugging on the line to magnify the effect. We had to give up trying to hold onto it and drop to the bottom for an ordinary dive. Between dives Erin did a lot of swimming off the boat and inspired a bunch of other people, including me, to swim in the ocean as well. I usually wore the bottom half of my wetsuit and felt very buoyant in the water. Despite this buoyancy I was able to free-dive down to fifteen feet and wave at scuba divers that were waiting for their safety decompression stop.
At a place called the "Goldfish Bowl" on Anacapa Island, we saw a cave in the side of the cliff. When Paul an I went for a dive here, we swam up to the cliff and along the bottom of it looking for the cave. We managed to find it, but it turned out to be only a small depression in the cliff. Paul had an underwater camera with him and we tried to take pictures of each other in this small dent in the rock.
In the morning the boat traveled back to Santa Cruz Island and anchored over an underwater mountain called Diablo Pinnacle. This time the boat anchored by only one line that dropped straight down into the abyss. Paul and I dropped down the line and found that the anchor line was wrapped around a knob of rock on top of the pinnacle. Then the chain continued down the side of the pinnacle and disappeared below 80 feet. We never went low enough to actually find the anchor. Instead we went down the side of the pinnacle to 75 feet and circled around the entire point.
I was planning on resting and skipping the next dive, but I heard the description of the location and became intrigued. There was an underwater arch here that I wanted to see. The bottom turned out to be flat and sandy with occasional rocks sticking out of it. Each of these rocks had a clump of kelp growing on it and in the shallow water, no more than 40 feet deep, the sun made it down to illuminate the sparse forest. Paul navigated to the arch (I am going to have to get a dive compass) and we soon found it. I swam up the side of the arch, under the roof of it, and back down the other side upside-down. Reveling in the freedom of flying under water.
The last two dives of the weekend were at Diablo Point on Santa Cruz island. I waited until the last possible minute to out-gas as much nitrogen as possible so I could dive again. While we were waiting Paul and I went snorkeling and swam ashore to an enticing sandy beach. We felt that we could not spend three days swimming around this island without standing on it at least once. We swam over to the nearest point and slowly followed it to shore. The rock sloped down gently for a while, covered with life. Then it dropped suddenly down to the sandy floor. Paul pointed out a bat ray swimming along the bottom. Once we saw one of them we saw more and more of them resting on the sand. Traveling along the edge of the point, we found a cave going deep into the cliff. Free-diving down to take a look, I saw the cave continuing deeper and deeper out of sight. We decided to come back later with SCUBA gear to explore it more fully.
With only an hour left before the boat was scheduled to leave, Paul and I got ready to go. I brought my big diving flashlight. We swam part way back to shore on the surface with all our gear on, but this was a lot of work. So we dropped underwater and started using up canned air to swim fifteen feet below the surface. When we found the cave, it continued under farther and farther. At one point the bottom rose up until my depth gauge said I was only ten feet underwater. But looking up I saw that the water continued all the way up to the ceiling. The cave was not straight, but meandered back and forth a bit. In one of these bends, I saw a shark sleeping on the bottom! I pointed it out to Paul and then we gave it a wide berth. This shark was only a meter long, perhaps a little bit longer. It had an angular head that reminded me of the head of a guitar fish and soft mouth parts like a manta ray. There were ridges on it's face that went back over its eyes and back along the side of the head. It seemed a little flat on the bottom like a bottom dwelling fish and was gray with dark spots like a leopard shark. But it definitely looked like a shark. Back on the boat later someone recognized my description and identified it as a "horned shark". An auspicious animal to find in a cave on Diablo Point. Once we saw that shark, we saw a bunch of smaller ones sleeping in various places on the bottom. At one point I swam down and tried petting one of them. Through my thick neoprene gloves I could still feel the scratchy surface of the shark skin. The shark was not pleased and swam up past my mask and out the opening in the cave.
We kept following the cave until it came out the other side of the point, perhaps 200 meters from the opening. We looked at the light coming down from the surface and saw pretty rough water up there. Paul asked me (with gestures) if we should continue out the second opening or turn back. I pointed back through the cave. My thoughts were that we did not know how strong the current was around the other side of the point and might have a difficult swim back to the boat. Erin had suggested that she might want to swim out and meet us at the opening of the cave, and I didn't want her to wait there and start worrying about us. And if we turned back we would get to swim through the cave a second time! Half way through I turned out the flashlight and looked around. In both directions I could only see a triangle of aquamarine light shining back at me from each opening. We swam back to the boat and found one of the anchor lines to hold onto for a safety decompression stop at fifteen feet. Paul hand-signed CAVE, INSIDE, OK? and I replied OK! OK! OK! I don't think my big smile made it around the regulator in my mouth.