I illegally exported three of the frozen abalone from my freezer to our family reunion in Idaho. I've given a few away to neighbors and friends and I find the supply in my freezer to be almost gone. Actually, I may be incriminating myself several ways here. The fishing regulations are vague and could be interpreted to mean that you are not allowed even to have frozen abalone in your freezer out of the shell "unless preparing them for immediate consumption". Ignoring that for now, when I got up and found out that the swells at sea were only 3 to 4 feet this morning, I wanted to go out and get a few more abalone for the freezer.
I went to Russian Gulch Beach with plans to go north to my favorite secret abalone dive spot. I put on all of my equipment that I was unable to pack inside the kayak and managed to carry it all in one trip out to the beach. I figured I would make several trips back with wet equipment and (hopefully) abalones later. I got into the mild waves with absolutely no problems and headed north. The water was an opaque milky green near the beach but soon turned a beautiful dusky teal color. The waves had been mild all weekend while I was in Berkeley, and I hoped that this would mean good visibility. These small swells meant that there were practically no breakers, and I was able to paddle very close to shore into some little coveles that are normally pretty rough. I went behind every rock and right up along the shear walls of the big rocks on the shore. All the time I have spent with Jeremy and Ralph in the surf has greatly increased my confidence with rough water.
The water was so mild that I decided to stop one point short and look for abalone in an area that I usually considered too rough. I tied the kayak up to some kelp and put on all the rest of the diving equipment. I dove under the kayak and found the bottom only 3 meters or so under the kayak. Despite the shallow water, I found and brought up a legal abalone on this first dive. On successive dives, I worked out into deeper water away from the kayak. I found and brought up another large abalone in water around 4 meters deep. Then I found 4 or 5 other abalone that I was unable to pry off. Several of them were wedged in cracks and could not be pried loose. But most of them reacted to my presence before I could even try to pop them off the rock. I was carrying an underwater flashlight with me this trip (a new gadget) and I think it was alerting them to my arrival. An abalone diver I talked to last year had recommended a flashlight, but I'm not impressed. Besides, I was in shallow water (5 meters and less) with 3 meter visibility. Even with an overcast sky, there was plenty of light to see by on the bottom.
After a few of these failed attempts, and after a bunch of dives without seeing any abalone, I decided to quit for the morning. Two abalone was enough and I needed to get back home to work. But I did a few more dives in the shallow water near the kayak anyway. From the surface, I saw a big rock-crab in the seaweed. I waited until the surge pulled the kelp off it, then dove down to pick it up. "It" turned out to be two crabs, a male and a female locked together belly to belly. They were so engrossed that they didn't put up much of a fight as I picked them up with one hand and swam them back to the kayak. They separated when I dropped them in the kayak, and tried very hard to prevent me from putting them in my goody bag.
On my way back to the beach, I went back into exploring mode and went into all the coves and behind the rocks again. There was a dent in the next big rock north from where I had been diving. It looked like it was a very shallow cave, but I thought that it might be interesting to listen to. But the closer I got to it, the deeper the dent seemed to be. I paddled right into it and it kept going. The roof got a little lower, but never as low as the shadows had looked from a distance. The cave turned to the left, then back to the right and only then got narrow enough that I could not have turned around in it. Light came in from the end of the cave, which opened way on the other side of this huge rock. Loud noises of waves breaking came from the end of the cave, but they turned out to be the sound of waves breaking that had to travel under me first. The end of the cave opened onto the light, but it was so shallow that I would have to walk and climb out the other side. I backed up to the last corner and turned around to go back out.
Carrying my goody bag on my shoulder back to the car, the two crabs started making a clicking noise. I recognized this noise: I had heard it when I was resting on the surface between dives with my head in the water breathing through the snorkel. I wondered what that clicking noise was, but figured that I would never know. Now I know that it was the sound of a bunch of mating rock crabs! I'm going to have to go back out and look for some more of them.
When I got the crabs home, I put them in a bag in the refrigerator until early in the afternoon. Following the directions in "The Joy of Cooking", I steamed them with some crab spice, substituting some Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) for the beer. I brought them with me to Jeremy's 12th birthday party that evening and shared them with Jeremy, a bunch of his friends, and his parents. When we cracked open the female, it had a new soft-shell skin almost ready to come out just inside the outer shell. I recalled reading somewhere that the male blue fin crabs will hold onto the female when she molts and protect her until her new shell hardens up. So I must have caught them just before she molted. Now I have another reason to want to go look for more crabs: Soft shell rock crabs!