Jun 07 2010

Memorial Day Weekend dive trip to Catalina and Santa Barbara Island.

Published by at 8:24 pm under Diving

When i first saw this trip posted on the sundiver website, i was really interested but then when i found out that we would be trying to head out to San Nicholas island i signed up for this trip, my other option for memorial day weekend was ski trip to mammoth but i was told that it could get really crowded there. So booking this trip seemed a no brainer to me.

When i booked my spot i was one of the few people signed so far, so this trip wasn’t 100% but then about a week earlier there were enough people on the boat so i breathed a sigh of relief. It turned out that it was going to be a light load of only 10 people onboard instead of the maximum of 16 which was great.

We were planning to leave at 2 am for one of the islands so i took my sweet time to get to the boat but i was there before midnight and since i was the only one left, as soon as i reached the boat we left for catalina island. I was under the impression that we would try to make it out to san clemente but then the weather wasn’t that great so catalina it was.

One of the best things about having only 10 divers onboard is that there was plenty of bunk space and i had a 2 person bunk to myself, the crossing over to the island wasn’t rough and i manage to get decent sleep.

Day 1: Catalina Island.

After breakfast we decided to go over to little farnsworth and see if it was possible to dive there. Last time when we had tried to dive it the currents were too strong but this time around it wasn’t the case. It was a terrific way to start the trip.

Since i had filled my tank with 37% Nitrox, i swapped my tank with one on the boat which had air and it mean’t i was using a LP 80 with 2442 psi instead of my steel 130. The reason for doing that was that the dive site, little farnsworth, is a deep dive and the sandy part where last time divers found tons of angel sharks is in 110-120 ft range.

Dive 1: Little Farnsworth, Catalina

The plan was to drop down the bow anchor to the pinnacles and then come back up the same way. It was going to be my first 100 ft + dive with my dry suit so i was little nervous but it turned out to be perfectly fine. Dropped down on the anchor line and then started exploring the pinnacles but since the main action was supposed to be in deeper sand i started heading down towards that area.

As soon i started in that area i came across a big Navanax, followed by a porter’s dorid. It was awesome, i was beyond happy and my joy knew no bounds when i found tiny baby porter’s dorid. I took its picture with my finger and it was probably 3/4th of an inch.

Baby Nudibranch

One disadvantage of diving with air that you can’t stay longer at bottom so it was time for me to start heading back. I found couple more nudis before started the ascent and then my dive computer had slapped me a 1 min stop at 10 ft. I decided to do 1 min stops at 70,60,50 and so on so by the time i reached 30 my dive computer was happy with me again that mandatory stop was removed. I didn’t want to piss my computer off on the first dive of a 3 day dive trip :)

On the surface from the boat, we saw a baby mola pass by in 10-15 ft of water, i was bummed that didn’t get a chance to see it while i was in water, oh well i am sure some day.

Captain Ray then decided to head east or possibly backside of catalina and then in evening maybe do the crossing over to San Clemente but as soon as he ventured little out, he saw it wasn’t worth it and immediately turned around. We decided to do our second dive of the day at Twin Rock which isn’t too far from Little Farnsworth.

Dive 2: Twin Rock, Catalina

Since this dive spot sits in 40-50 ft of water i decided to use my big tank and take advantage of Nitrox :). Descended down on the reef and there were sea hare’s all over the place. It was like a sea hare garden, they were huge and black. Laying eggs, mating all over the place. This dive site was a typical rocky reef dive, under the rocks found shrimps hiding, lobsters and the kelp was growing nicely. Even managed to find a moray eel and a navanax.

Sea Hare’s Laying Eggs

After this dive we decided to head to the west side of the island, so after a bit of traveling we came to our next dive site called Candump. Not sure about the name but it was an amazing dive site which had what you would call an underwater garden.

Dive 3: Candump West

It was a short swim to the actual dive site and as i started heading towards it, i ended up going in the area which i wanted to avoid because of it being shallow and it was little surgy. At this point i should mention that during the first dive i was comfortable with my dry suit but then on the shallow dive i had little trouble staying down. It wasn’t a huge deal but i wasn’t 100% comfortable as i would have liked to.

So when i started swimming towards the actual dive site through this path of rocks, i saw a shark swim by. It was a big one too about 4-5 ft, i tried following it but it was surgy and the shark was too quick. I didn’t get a good look at it and no pic either. But i was excited and extra alert to find it again but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

I explored the rest of the dive site and it was absolutely gorgeous. There weren’t many small critters to find or fishes but i was stunned by the underwater flora. There was little bit of surge so i was trying to enjoy that. I stayed at 20-25 ft in the surge and enjoy the view. During dives like this, i really wish i had a better under water rig with strobes and all so i could take better wide angle shots. Currently i have to take them without my flash on and it they don’t come out to be that good :(.

It was almost time to end my dive and big school of bait fish went by me, it was cool. I then saw a purple jelly hanging out at about 10ft or so, i didn’t want to ascend and swim in its direction because i would have then liked to end my end rather than dive down to depth again n explore more. I tried taking its picture from a distance but it wasn’t good so i told to myself what the hell i will end my dive after getting close to it.

Purple Jelly

So i swam upto the jelly and took its pictures and then headed back to the boat. Our next dive was going to be Sea Fan Grotto, as suggested by name in this case this dive site has walls which are covered by Sea Fans.

Dive 4: Sea Fan Grotto

For some reason we were anchored little farther from this site and it was a fair amount of swim underwater to find the actual site along the walls. As we were traveling along the walls i came across an octopus hiding in one of the holes. Finally managed to find the site and it was great, sea fans all along the wall. It was really nice.

At the end of the dive, i was just hanging out at 15 ft doing a safety stop and a huge school of bait fish went past me, it was such a surreal experience watching them go past me so close. For a moment i was in state of trance with their shining scales reflecting the sunlight and they were in thousands. It was a truly amazing experience for me, i can never forget it. I just wanted to stay there and watch them swim by me over and over again. That definitely made my day.

We settled down at eel cove for the night and it seemed like i was the only one who was keen on the night dive :(, so it didn’t happen and everyone called it an early night. Since San Clemente crossing didn’t look good, it was decided that we will try to make it to Santa Barbara

Day 2: Catalina and Santa Barbara

Dive 5: White Rock, Catalina.

We moved over to dive white rock which is very close to sea fan grotto and absolutely amazing site with some caves. As i started going towards the area where the caves are located, this dive site seemed like a typical one but then i got a different impression as soon as i got to the caves.

In the small ledge, there was 4-5 ft horn shark resting which was great and there were few kelp bass and a giant sea bass hanging out with the shark it was cool. Unfortunately none of us could manage to get a good picture of that shark, the entrance to the cave was from the other side and i decided to venture in there.

It was a very unique experience and it gave me a feeling of what it is like to do cave diving. My light wasn’t that strong enough so i didn’t want to venture too much in and knowing there was a shark already there, i didn’t know what else could be lurking around so after just going in about 20 ft or so i decided to head back. :).

View from Inside the Cave

A spooky and very interesting experience, i have mixed feelings about it but i think i will dig cave diving for sure. It was very different experience from the wrecks that i have penetrated in red sea, just wasn’t the same.

On the way back, i spent time exploring the rest of the reef and came across few horn sharks but these were juveniles more like 1-2 feet long. This dive gave me first taste of cave diving and i was happy about it.

Dive 6: Yellowtail Reef, Catalina.

I was really glad to see that the sargassum was dying on most of the dive sites and the kelp was growing really well. This dive site was also the same, even though i didn’t come across any exciting or spectacular marine life as such but i still had a good time exploring the reef and going through the kelp.

Even though it was bright and sunny outside, there were times when the kelp got so thick that it blocked all the sunlight and it got really dark. Again, It was little weird and spooky but i still enjoyed it.

Dive 7: Starlite cove, Catalina.

Before this dive i changed my camera battery and in the process some moisture got in and the silicon gel wasn’t absorbing the moisture. I was hoping that i didn’t come across something really cool during this dive and not be able to take its picture. :)

I think i found few interesting critters on this dive but nothing exceptional, it was a typical rocky reef with all the usual suspects. We were moving to the west side of the island so that we could head over to santa barbara island for a twilight/night dive.

Dive 8: Iron Bound, Catalina

This dive site had quite a bit of surge and probably the thickest kelp i have ever encountered. If you were to surface under the kelp chances are you would still be in 5-10 ft of water. There was an area of the site where quite a few kelp holdfasts were off the ground.

Kelp off the ground

I just explored the site and was just having fun hanging out in the surf zone and let the surge push me around. I really enjoy doing that, just practice my buoyancy and let the surge take me whereever and push me around. I have to admit, i was getting little bored of the site since the previous one was also very similar but then i got a reminder of why i love diving.

Even if you dive the same site over and over again the underwater environment is so dynamic that it is never going to be the same, that is the nature of diving. I was about to end the dive and a big bat ray zoomed right past me, i tried following it and wasn’t very successful but still managed to get a decent shot of it.

It was now time to do the channel crossing and head over to Santa Barbara, it also mean’t that after lunch there was time for a nice nap :)

Dive 9: Rookery, Santa Barbara Island.

After a refreshing nap it was time to do the twilight dive, my ears were bothering me somewhat since the second dive and at this point they were practically shut. I had popped in sudafed and was hoping for the best, i decided to attempt to dive and see how it goes.

I discovered a day later that this is the dive site at Santa Barbara which is famous for sea lions and there were couple of curious ones approaching us but they weren’t in mood to play. For this dive only 3 of us ventured into the water, there were another two divers planning on joining us but the possibility of a fog approaching deterred them. Luckily for us that fog never rolled in which was great.

As we dropped down my ears weren’t co-operating with me and for a while i thought about heading back to the boat. But me being me, i persisted and tried to clear out my ears and voila i managed to get down to 25ft. I knew it wasn’t going to be a deep dive so thats the depth i needed my ears to equalize and i was glad.

I wasn’t going to lead or navigate this dive so i was more than happy to follow the others, we didn’t come across something spectacular, it wasn’t too dark so there was still some natural light left. The dive site was a garden for Sea Hare’s but the ones out here were not big black ones like catalina but more of small medium sized and brownish colored.

Brown Sea Hare

After this dive, i was excited but worried as well for tomorrow. We were planning to dive the black caverns, which sits in a depth of 60-100 ft so i wasn’t sure if my ears would equalize but i didn’t want to miss out on the dive either. I popped in another dosage of sudafed and hoped for the best. :)

Day 3: Santa Barbara Island

I woke up and my ears felt alrite they weren’t puffy but not totally clear either. I tried equalizing them on surface and one of them opened little but other was still blocked. I was offered some nasal rinse and i gladly took it up, its not advised but i was really keen to dive this spot and i am glad i took it.

We tried to anchor at some better spot than black caverns but being out in the ocean there was some current out there so we moved to black caverns. This is also out in middle of the ocean but closer to the island and the current was non-existent out there.

Dive 10: Black Caverns, Santa Barbara Island.

The anchor was siting in 100+ ft of water and were supposed to follow it to the cavern which rests in 60-90 ft of water. I was glad that there was an anchor chain to descend so that i could take my sweet time to clear out my ears and then descend but then it was a pleasant surprise that my ears cleared out perfectly. I had no issues whatsoever.

The viz was great and as soon i got to the bottom of the anchor, i saw that the sea floor was littered with hydriods, brittle stars and some huge sun stars. It was a sign of things to come and then as i came to the caverns, they were amazing. It had a huge tunnel which was about 50-60 ft long, i went through the other end and then wanted to ascend on top to explore the reef but then i decided against it. There was a sea lion following us inside the tunnel which was cool.

I didn’t know the exact topography of the site and the tunnel was in 80-90 ft of water so didn’t want to get low on air or something if had to swim back through it again. So i headed back and explored the reef structure. After a while i had to stop counting the number of nudis i was finding, they were all over the place, mainly dorids and hermisenda crassonis.

Anemone, my best pics so far are of them.

As i was hanging around and about to end my dive, Chris, who is a marine biologist, asked me to come over to the other side and take picture of something. I was excited about but unfortunately it was a fish he had never seen before and it swam away before i got there. :(

It was time for me to head back, do the safety stops and all that stuff. I didn’t want to descend down to 100ft again and try to find the anchor and following it up, instead i just followed my gut and tried to locate the chain midway at about 60 ft. Not a smart move without a compass heading or a compass and it also mean’t that i would out in the middle of the ocean without any reference.

It was an interesting experience to do safety stops out in middle of ocean where i could have been easily been carried away by any current but i had rough idea where i was and there were no currents. I was little bit tensed but a sea lion and some pelagic tunicates accompanied me during this interesting phase of the dive which helped me a lot.

It seemed like a foolish decision but i experienced something which made it worthwhile, it was a moment where you know its very easy to go in panic mode but still you have to keep your calm. Being in middle of ocean 15-30 ft underwater with nothing for visual reference you get this feeling of how small and insignificant you are compared to everything else around you. I am glad i got to experience it and when i popped up on the surface, i wasn’t too far from the boat. :)

I had such an amazing dive that if we decided to return at that point, i would have been content. I was glad that we were doing 2 more dives before returning but i would have been ok if the trip would come to an end.

Dive 11: Third Rock, Santa Barbara Island.

We didn’t move too far from the first dive site and then were anchored in this open ocean again but this time we were lot closer to the island and the depth was only 45 ft. Captain Ray mention that this site is like a ridge with quite a few tunnels and lot of structure. The anchor laid directly on top of the dive site so all we had to do is follow it.

The viz was so good that we could see the bottom from the surface, dropped down and then proceeded to explore the dive site. The was this nice narrow tunnel which was lot shorter than the one at black caverns and this time i came out from the other side and explored the structure behind.

The reef was littered with all kinds of stuff and had lot of structure to it. There were legdes, some small caves, some small holes through which you could barely swim through, it was superb. I managed to find some nudis but there was quite a bit of surge and it was hard to stay in one place to be able to take pics.

I came across a jelly/salp i am not sure what exactly it was, haven’t bothered to id it yet, apart from that nothing too exciting but i was just having a great time exploring the structure and enjoying the surge.

Jelly mostly

Dive 12: Rookery, Santa Barbara Island.

For the final dive we decided to head back to rookerie which is famous for sea lion interaction but unfortunately for us not many were interested. I didn’t know earlier that it was the same site where we did the twilight dive. It came as no surprise to me because i again mainly found only sea hares :)

There were two patches of kelp out there, one was thin because of the sea urchins where as other side seperated by sand patch was a thick area of kelp. At the end of the dive, i decided to hang at 15ft in a bid to attract some sea lions if they wanted to come out and play but they would just swim around me for sometime. They were in no mood to play. It was a nice relaxing dive to end what had been a great weekend.

It had been an amazing weekend for me and with the variety of dive sites we dove i came to realize something important. While diving it is the fear/excitement of the unknown which gives me that adrenaline rush. When inside the cave, the dark area of site covered with kelp, the shark which swam away or the safety stop in middle of ocean all these times i felt challenged to keep my calm, i was on the edge all the time. It was something that i have never felt before and i have come to realize that i really relished that challenge. There will be many more such situations and i hope that i do manage to keep my cool :).

Facebook link for more pics.

One response so far

One Response to “Memorial Day Weekend dive trip to Catalina and Santa Barbara Island.”

  1. chetan galaon 14 Jun 2010 at 11:25 am

    that was gr8 i have not seen pic like this before they r amazing, ur hobby is gr8 it needs lots of courage & very big heart,thanks 4 putting all this atleast we cant do all that but atleast know something new.

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