Roger Lamb and I planned to go abalone diving this weekend, but the weather didn't look great for it. On Saturday morning it was dark and raining with 5 foot swell every 5 seconds. Five foot swell is not high, but when the waves come so close together the water is very choppy. The prediction for the rest of the weekend was for the swell to increase continuously and reach 15 feet by Sunday evening. If we were going to try for abalone, Saturday early in the morning was the only chance. Roger came by and loaded his stuff into my van and we headed out to the coast. As we drove down towards the end of the Russian River the low dark clouds cleared up and stopped raining on us. There was still a high overcast of clouds, but our spirits lifted with the higher ceiling.
I wanted to try abalone diving in Stillwater Cove. Partially because it would be an easy place to launch, but also because I had gone on a SCUBA dive here recently and seen several underwater valleys full of large abalone. These were 8 to 9 meters deep but I thought I was ready to try diving that deep. We got our boats ready and paddled out into the middle of the cove. The swell didn't look like it was only 5 feet high. The large waves were breaking violently over the shallow areas on both sides of the cove. Right where I wanted to tie up my kayak. I took us out into the deep middle section and tried sounding the bottom with my anchor. (An old diving weight with 12 meters of parachute cord attached to it). I dropped it in the water and didn't hit bottom. We backed into the cove near an outcropping of bull kelp and my weight still couldn't find the bottom. Bull kelp is supposed to be able to find the surface from over 20 meters deep. Finally a little closer to shore I hit bottom at the 9 meter mark. We decided to tie up to that last bunch of kelp and dive towards the shallower water closer to shore.
I had trouble keeping my snorkel clear in the choppy water. I had trouble relaxing on the surface so I didn't actually dive very often. It felt like I was a beginner at this all over again. I tried diving and following the kelp down near the boat. I swam down and down into darker and darker water. I cleared my ears all the way down and had to clear a mask squeeze at one point. I never saw the bottom and the visibility never got any better than one meter, so I turned back for the long trip to the surface. Trying over closer to the shallows on the south side of the cove I dove down and found one undersized abalone which I left on the bottom.
The sun came out at one point. I joked with Roger later that a sunny day lifts my spirits and allows me to dive three meters deeper than on a dreary day. Sure enough on my next dive I found and popped of a reasonable 8 inch abalone, then took a poke at a larger one while I was down there. I missed and poked the poor abalone in the side of the foot. Worrying that I might have injured it, I dropped my first one and tried again to get the second one. There is a common belief that abalone have no clotting factor in their blood and will bleed to death from a simple cut. I wanted to try and catch this one so that it wouldn't die for no reason. It was no use, the abalone had a really firm grip on the rock. I had spent about three times as long on the bottom as I wanted to, so I grabbed my first abalone and made it gasping to the surface.
I tried diving in the same spot a few times but never found the same abalone again. This all took a lot out of me and I rested by hanging over the kayak for a while. Roger came back from looking at the shallow bottom on the north side of the cove. (Where the big waves were breaking). He never even saw any abalone over there. We spent some time sitting up in the kayaks resting and discovered that we were both a little seasick from the choppy swell, so we agreed to quit early. Roger says that he had spent his time improving his skill at clearing his ears and had been able to dive deeper than ever before. So he was satisfied that the trip was not a waste of time. As we were heading back in, three divers swam out on abalone floats. Before we had even finished packing up our equipment they came back to shore, with four abalone each. They had gone to the shallow area south of the cove and had found the abalone in 9 or more meters of water. Right at the limit of my diving ability on a good day, which this was not.