When I came back from Thanksgiving in Maryland with Marty's relatives it occurred to me that there were only a few more days of abalone season. I checked the wave data on the WEB and predicted that Wednesday morning would be reasonable for kayaking and diving. I called my brother Paul and left a message on his answering machine Tuesday then called him Wednesday morning to wake him up. He was unable to go because of commitments at work. I thought about it for a while and decided to go diving by myself again. If I went without Paul I could take my kayak on a longer trip from any access. I decided to go to the place north of Russian Gulch Beach where I caught my first abalone just over a week ago. The waves at Russian Gulch were mild and I got in the water with no problems and traveled the two kilometers north to my "picnic spot". Last time I was here when I tried diving from the shore I recalled wishing I had the kayak closer for keeping equipment close at hand. So this time I tied the kayak to some kelp and dove just a few meters from where I remembered diving before.
I dove once and had trouble clearing my ears. I have always had trouble with this and used to be unable to dive to the bottom of a 10 foot pool. This is how I measured my depth on my last few dives: if my ears started hurting I must be 10 feet deep. I usually also have trouble with airline flights getting painful ears during the decent. Paul talked to someone on an airplane since he took his diving class and found out that at 30 thousand feet the cabin pressure is kept at 8 psi, almost half of the air pressure at sea level. The pressure change while coming in for a landing is equal to a 15 foot dive, which is below my painful ear level. So when I was traveling for Thanksgiving last week I practiced clearing my ears every time the jet landed. It worked! I didn't have any pain in my ears on all three landings this trip!
So on my second diving attempt this morning, I worked on clearing my ears and headed a little closer to shore hoping for shallower water. On this dive and the next one I found an abalone, pried them off the rock and got them to the surface. Both of them were in cracks and I worried that they might not come out sideways but they did. Both of them were well over the size limit. In between dives I hauled myself up onto the kayak sideways and rested. Actually I sort of totally collapsed across the kayak with my feet and arms dangling in the water. I worried that if anyone looked down from Vista Point and saw me they would think they were seeing a dead body draped over the kayak.
The thing that I found most interesting about spending time on the bottom of the water near shore was a change in my own perceptions. Although I know this is not true I apparently had an internal preconception that the land was rocky and the bottom of the ocean was sandy or muddy all the way across. Poking into cracks between the rocks on the bottom did not fit into this world view. It occurred to me that the bottom of the ocean must have only a thin layer of sand and mud. It must be made out of stuff like I was looking at now, boojums all the way through. It gave me a sudden feeling of the immense mass and extent of the rock and water around me.
On my 4th dive I found a rock that had an overhanging shelf and figured that this was exactly the place an abalone would hide. Sure enough there was one hanging upside down. This one should have been easier than the first two but when I popped it off of the shelf a surge in the water came along and sucked it away from me and through a hole created by the next rock leaning on the edge of this shelf. I paddled and reached for it then decided perhaps I should let it go. I saw it land in a brightly lit sandy area on the other side. But I didn't have enough breath left and went back to the surface. With my ears cleared properly I can no longer tell how deep I am and it seems to take a long time to get to the surface. It feels like an incredible distance but I think it was only four meters deep here. I caught my breath and dove back down again and found that abalone before it had time to attach to another rock. I decided that three abalone was more than enough and paddled home to clean them and put them all in the freezer.
The next morning, Paul was able to go diving with me and came by around 7:00 am. We went to Russian Gulch Beach again. I had the thought that we could go just north of the end of the sandy beach. There is another rockier beach there and a rocky point that provides shelter from the waves. I towed Paul behind the kayak and he paddled to help us along. When we got to the sheltered area behind the point, we tied up the kayak and stared diving. The water was reasonably clear and we searched the bottom in four meters of water. Neither of us saw any abalone. I thought I had seen one small one. Since I started diving, I have never seen an abalone that was UNDER the size limit. So when I saw this little four inch one, I pried it off just for practice. On the way to the surface to show it to Paul, I started to wonder why this abalone was hard on both sides. By the time I got to the surface, I realized I had picked up a small rock that had about the same outline as an abalone. Aside from this rock, neither of us saw abalone on the whole morning.
We went to shore for a rest and then dove from shore looking as we went. The water stayed shallow, around two meters, until we got back out to where we were diving around the kayak. We decided that this area must have been picked over by too many abalone divers all year long. I suggested that we go get the kayak again and paddle around the next point and look for abalone there. The waves around the point were a little rough and we had to head a short distance out to get around the rocks. When we made it around the next point we discovered that there was a narrow channel before the next rock. The waves were concentrated here and it was too rough to go diving closer to shore. If we went around the next rock and the next one and the next one, maybe it would get better. The next rock had a smaller rock offshore, with lots of choppy water in our path. Paul was hanging on the back of the kayak, with his face down, staring "Into the Abyss" and bobbing around without any reference points. The result was he got seasick and I decided we were out of our element and should head back. He has a mask that has a fancy new-wave "splattered" paint job. When I looked back at him, I thought that the white spatters on it were vomit. But when we got back to the first point and Paul dove a few more times before we quit, the water never washed those white splatters off, they were painted on. On his last three dives, deeper that I could have gone, Paul still did not find any abalone. On the side of the rocks near the point, he said he saw clear circles on the rock that looked like abalone used to live here and were probably already picked off.
We gave up and headed back to the beach. I had read an article about using a sea anchor (a little parachute on the end of a length of shock cord) to make landings in rough waves. I told Paul to hang on and I would try making the landing together. It worked O.K. for a while. But as the last wave started pulling us the last five meters to shore the kayak moved too fast and turned to the right. Paul's hand slipped off the handle of the kayak and the sudden loss of drag caused the kayak to roll over, dump me out, then push me the rest of the way up the beach in the breaker.
While we were re-arranging our equipment to head back to the parking lot, someone else arrived with a big duffel-pack on and a kayak paddle. I asked him if he had a collapsible kayak in the pack but he was just bringing the kayak on a second trip from to the parking lot. His name turned out to be Mike and he lives in Berkeley. It was his kayak tracks I saw in the sand last week when I went out to catch my first abalone. Mike has an Ocean Kayak also but a newer model. He used to have the same model I do, a "Frenzy" and recommended that I "Get rid of that dog and get a Scupper Pro model". My model has a compromise hull that has a narrow keel sticking out of a flat hull. The flat component creates a lot of drag in choppy water but makes it much more stable, which I liked when I was starting. I've been happy with it. Mike tried to convince me to come back out with him saying that he would like to find a diving buddy and knew where I could easily get my limit. I told him that Marty would love for me to find a kayak buddy and even more a diving buddy. But it turns out that Mike is not interested in kayaking for its own sake, only as a transportation device for getting out to where the abalone are. He said he would be diving in 40 feet of water to get them today. Forty Feet! He said he would get the limit in only three dives and could get our limits for us as well if we liked. I said (with mock shock on my face): "But that would be against the law"! His reply was "Driving more than 25 miles an hour in city limits is also illegal but we do that all the time". We declined his offer and also declined to go back out diving again since we were both close to exhaustion and both of us had to get to work soon anyway. But I left Mike my address and phone number so we could get in touch again when abalone season re-opened next year. He says he will be going back out on the very first day, April first.