My brother Paul wanted to go abalone hunting and get a few more for the freezer before the season ended. So he scheduled to go out this weekend, invited me along, another friend of his named Derek who turns out to be a very experienced diver, and Paul's girlfriend Erin. Erin was taking a scuba diving class, and Paul brought her along to get some experience snorkeling in the ocean ahead of her classmates. I also invited my other brother Ralph and his son Jeremy to come along and watch.
Paul scheduled us to all meet at Fort Ross Reef at 9:00am in the morning. When I got up, I checked the wave data on the Internet, and found that they were 11 feet high! Too high to go kayaking, and probably too high for abalone hunting. But Paul had not called to cancel, so I drove out to meet him and discourage him out of the water. As I drove through Jenner, I recognized his truck in the Jenner gas station parking lot, and stopped there. Paul had not checked the wave data, and I chided him: "You have access to the WEB! Why didn't you check the wave data before you left?". He answered: "I figured YOU would do that for me". There was someone else in the convenience store at the gas station who said that the National Weather Service broadcast was reporting 15 foot swells. Paul decided to go ahead to Fort Ross Reef and look at the waves. If it was too rough, we would go on and do a short dive in the mild waters of Stillwater Cove. Sure enough, the waves were pretty rough at Fort Ross, and we went on to look for calmer water.
At Stillwater Cove, the water behaved like the name suggests. Unfortunately, this cove is so calm and accessible all summer long, that we assumed (correctly) that any abalone were long gone. This was not going to be a successful abalone dive. After we all got into wetsuits (accept for Ralph and Jeremy) I ran ahead to put my kayak in the water first. My plan was to take embarrassing pictures of Erin flailing about in the surf, then threaten to publish them all later in my WEB page. But when I suggested it, Erin thought the idea was cool. I ended up sitting there a long time, as Erin got a long verbal lesson while standing on the shore and in the surf. Just as they were walking out into the water, a HUMONGUS wave came through the cove. When It broke behind Paul, it was 2 meters tall. Ralph laughed and congratulated them on picking the worst possible time to try to get in the water. Finally, they made it out into the cove, where Erin got more talk than diving as far as I could tell. I paddled around the cove and out to sea a few times, and on one of my returns, I heard that Erin had somehow slipped out of her weight belt. Paul and Derek were diving and searching for it, so I went back to shore to get the rest of my equipment to join them in the search. I said it was like tossing a penny in the swimming pool: Now we had something to dive after in the ocean!
They found the belt before I came back, and it was already safely strapped to Erin's float. She was a little overwhelmed about being in the ocean, and had decided not to put it back on and not to do any more diving. She had not heard about my recent and similar experience. So she was relieved to hear that I also had similar fears about putting on a lead belt, instead of floats, in the ocean. I told her about how I had tried diving without it. She was intrigued, and left me holding her float so she could try it. As I predicted, she popped back up like a cork, laughing and sputtering through her snorkel. I think that helped turn a stressful experience into a playful one, so I'm sure she will get more comfortable and try more next time.
While I was puttering around in the cove, three other groups with kayaks came and launched. One group had three Ocean Kayaks, and they laughed something disparaging about my little "Frenzy" model on their way out to sea. They disappeared for a short time, and came back with their limit (4 each) of big, fat, abalones. I asked how far they traveled, and they managed to change the subject (secret diving spot). I asked how deep they had to dive to get them, and they said 25 or 30 feet. Twenty Five Feet! That's way below my diving ability for now. The next group of kayakers was three guys in little tiny fiberglass kayaks. Their kayaks looked more like a traditional Eskimo design, made a little smaller out of lighter, stronger materials. These guys wore helmets (just looking for trouble) and played in- between the rocks on the north side of the cove where the waves were breaking. But shortly, they paddled out to sea and headed north. They did not come back before we left. The third group of kayakers were just getting in the water as we left. This was two people with inflatable kayaks. They inflated them with a foot pump, and one guy in a cowboy-style hat looked like he was doing a boring country western dance, stomping one foot with bended knee. These inflatables have a poor reputation, but there are newer higher tech ones that are supposed to be reliable. I'm not interested. If I ever get another kayak, I'm going in the other direction: towards a traditional ridgid kayak, or maybe a folding-frame one I can take traveling.