My brother Paul suggested going abalone diving this weekend, and I readily agreed because the waves promised to be mild. On Saturday morning, Paul called the Salt Point ocean conditions number, (707)847-3222. I had stopped using this number when I found the Weather Underground and the NOAA wave data on the WEB. My biggest complaint with the Salt Point service was they only updated their message whenever somebody remembered to. As a result it often didn't get changed for days and even then they would change it at 10:00 AM. Way to late in the day to do me any good. However, this time they had updated it at 7:30 AM and were reporting 3 foot swells, 1 foot breakers, and 20 foot visibility in the water! This is great visibility for our neighborhood, and none of the oher weather services report this useful piece of information to us.
Instead of going to the cove a half a kilometer north and paddling down to meet Paul at the base of the cliff, I tried carrying my small kayak straight down the steep trail to the beach right next to the reef. The first problem with this is when the trail gets really steep, the nose of the kayak behind me bangs on the ground and threatens to push me forward. Paul carried my weight belt down and I carried the kayak and all the rest of my equipment. I got in the water near the trail and carried Paul's weight belt out to the reef for him. Paul walked a hundred meters or so around the beach to the point and got in the water closer to the reef. Paul was so busy watching the bottom on the way out that I didn't get a chance to tow him any of the 200 meters to the other side of the reef. We passed over the shallow spot where Paul caught 3 abalone during a 2 meter high tide the last time we were out here together. I told Paul he would have to get out and hike over, but he pulled himself between the rocks by his arms in half a meter or so of water. I picked my spot and surfed over the reef in a small breaker.
I have never seen the water this clear while I was diving. Every other time I have gone abalone hunting the poor visibility has made the diving an unpleasant experience. Paul mentioned last time that "AB diving is supposed to be fun", and this time I really saw what he was talking about. When we started out, I scared a few harbor seals off of a rock, and then watched them swim away underwater. As we paddled out from the beach Paul kept seeing abalone in the shallow water near shore and stopping to dive and investigate. When we got to the spot we planned to dive in earnest, we could still see the bottom clearly 3 meters below us. I watched fish swim underneath me. At first I dove into likely looking spots and then searched for abalone, but after a while I discovered I could drift on the surface and spot them. The longer I stayed in one place the more abalone I could see. By the time we had our limit, we were eyeballing them from the surface and only bothering to dive for the largest ones. I thought I saw a few that were undersized, but when Paul picked one of them, it turned out to be just barely legal. I still don't think I have ever seen an undersized abalone. On previous trips, I had begun to wonder if these things were worth the trouble. But the great visibility on this trip made the snorkeling such a fun experience, that the abalone were an unnecessary bonus.
When we started back, the wind had finally picked up and there were whitecaps to the horizon. I had little trouble paddling into the wind, but wasted a lot of energy paddling in place waiting for Paul to catch up with me. So I offered to spend that wasted energy towing Paul the rest of the way to the beach. Then while Paul picked his way through the rocks near the point to get back to the beach, I paddled around to where I launched. I made 3 trips from the water to the base of the trail, one for Paul's weight belt, one for mine, (gasp, wheeze!) and one trip for the kayak and everything else. Then I rested there at the bottom of the cliff and waited for Paul, who had stopped to take off some of his equipment, to catch up with me.
I didn't want to make two trips up the cliff, so I put my weight belt on, picked up everything else on the kayak, and carried it on my back up the trail. Paul said that his goody-bag full of abalone felt as heavy as his weight belt. I made it most of the way up the cliff, but collapsed near the top. I left the kayak there and took everything else to the car. I went back and carried the seemingly weightless kayak easily the rest of the way back up. My calves were sore from getting cramps from wearing flippers, and they remained sore for days. My neck was sore the next day from twisting my head out of the way of the kayak on my back. And my back and arms were sore from carrying that weight all that distance. Climbing down the cliff trail was an interesting experiment, but next time I go here I'm going to the cove and paddling here and back. Even a head-wind would not be as hard on me as this climbing was!