Once again we packed up the Honda Element with tanks, weights, cameras, and dive gear and drove 12 hours from Albuquerque, NM to Long Beach, Ca. Our destination, the Great Escape dive boat for two days of diving. We arrived in Long Beach around 5pm on Friday night and headed straight to Chipotle for a monster burrito (yummmmmm!) and then off to the boat at Pier C. We unloaded gear and were the first to guests to arrive. Once our gear was onboard, tanks and BCs were setup in slots #1 and #2 (right next to the starboard gate). We then headed downstairs to our stateroom to unpack and set up camera gear. The Great Escape has 6 staterooms downstairs which are double bunk rooms along the sides which have a door for privacy. This works really well for us as we have lots of camera gear! Those not lucky enough to reserve a stateroom are bunked in 3-tier bunks in the center of the boat and also along the back and front areas surrounding the bunkroom. Restrooms (2 of them) are located up on the main deck. Capt Tim told us the boat would be full for both day, 36 divers. Since Saturday was scheduled for diving at San Clemente, the boat would be leaving port at midnight so all divers needed to arrive before our departure time. By 10pm it seemed all had arrived and checked in and we all shuffled off below to sleep as the boat headed out for San Clemente island, a 6-7 hour trip.
At around 6am, we both woke up and headed for the restrooms and to brush our teeth before the others woke up. The cook, Capt Rob, was already setting up in the kitchen and the sun was coming up. Through the haze we could see San Clemente off in the distance! Woo Hoo! This was our second attempt at reaching this island diving (last year the Navy closed the island so our boat was diverted to Santa Barbara island). Cold items such as bagels and english muffins, cream cheese, butter and jelly were placed out on the counter for a pre-breakfast before the first dive of the day. Slowly, divers began to climb up the stairs and grab cups of coffee and food as the crew announced the 30 minute warning for the Dive Briefing. A young guy named Adam didn't have a buddy so we offered for him to join us. After a description of how the dives would be run for the day, how to get fills after each dive, etc. everyone began to gear up and into the water we all went.
Dive 1: East End Reef, 76fsw, water 64 degrees, 46 minutes
The sun was not up very high and the fog was thick as we entered the water. Wow, this was almost a night dive! The kelp was very lush but there was very little current and we headed down under the canopy. Huge schools of thousands of small silvery fish, probably anchovies(?), swirled around, in and out of the kelp. Garibaldi, senoritas, calico bass, and blacksmiths were abundant. It was obvious why so many people rave about diving this island! A gorgeous dive and nice first dive for us back in California waters after a year away.
Once back on deck, breakfast was served. Omelettes and hashbrowns, made to order.
Dive 2: Little Flower, 54fsw, water 63 degrees, 30 minutes, heavy currrent!
During the surface interval the sun began to break through and by the time we reached our new dive site it was sunny and warming up nicely. The kelp was not visible from the surface as we hopped into the water. I didn't even realize there was supposed to be kelp until we headed over to the anchor line to pull our way down. Wow! Current, lots of current... As we made our way down, two Black Sea Bass came swimming up over the kelp right by us. I didn't even see them until they were almost gone. The fishlife was very dense, just like the previous site, but the current was not helping us take any photos or videos. After fighting to stay in one place for much too long we opted to head up for a safety stop on the line. Once we reached it we discovered most of the other divers doing the very same thing. There just wasn't enough room for everyone but after a 2 min stop we drifted back to the dive step to finish before climbing back onboard. Wonderful dive but just a bit too much current to spend much time there!
Watermelon, grapes, oranges, and other fruits and snacks were out as we headed back into the galley. As the boat moved to the last dive sight of the day, everyone chatted and compared notes on what they saw. Eric and Ray, divers we had met last year on the Great Escape were also on this trip so it was great to see them again and catch up on events of the past year. As the boat arrived at the next dive site the DMs let Capt Tim know that it wasn't good - too much current. So instead of dropping the anchor, the boat kept going. After searching for awhile, Capt Tim opted to move in closer to shore. A spot was picked that was shallow and would be easy diving for everyone.
Dive 3: Steve's Secret, 29fsw, water 77 degrees (yes, really!), 45 minutes, surgy
Ron, Adam, and I headed towards the shore and found a lovely dive site which resembled a technicolor dream. Not much kelp here, but lots of algae, gorgorians, and greenery filled with fish. Wow, just amazing! Lobster, garibaldi, calico bass, surf perch, senoritas, sheephead, and other colorful fish everywhere! Since the dive site was only about 20' deep average, the sunlight twinkled through the water making the whole scene look like an aquarium. After 45 minutes we all agreed to head back to the boat for lunch and as we headed out over the sand, a small 4-5" flatfish shuffled by in front of us (halibut or turbot, maybe?). Great dive and very different from the other two!
Lunch was served immediately as we all returned to the boat - beef stroganoff, noodles, bread, salad. As all the divers began to eat, Capt Tim turned the boat towards Long Beach and the long ride back. After lunch, brownies and ice cream were served then most divers headed back below for naps. We washed camera gear and checked out of pictures and discovered that we had both gotten some good stuff to share!
The boat arrived back at Long Beach just after 7pm. Most of the divers had packed up their gear and so they left the boat. Me, Ron, Eric, and Ray were all diving again the next day so we headed into town for a quick dinner before returning to the boat. Some divers arrived that night but most of the Sunday trip divers didn't arrive until early in the am on Sunday. Catalina was the destination and since the boat wouldn't leave until 7am, most of these divers didn't need to spend the night on the boat. A few others, like Claudette, live in the area so they went home to sleep in their own bed and returned early in the am.
Once again, the boat left the harbor, this time at 7am on the dot. Cold breakfast was served during the 2.5 hour ride over to Catalina. After arrival at the island, the dive briefing and information was given, then all divers geared up. Claudette discovered a rip in her neck seal of her drysuit so while she patched it, her buddy, Ozell, came on the dive with us.
Dive 1: Isthmus Reef, 46fsw, water 66 degrees, 34 minutes + 7 minutes, current
Our dive plan was to drop down and swim over to the wall however I noticed some current so told Ron I would prefer to stay near the boat. Oops, I guess he didn't hear me as the next thing I know the three of us are kicking towards the wall. I tried to signal them to figure out what was going on but it didn't work. As I was trying to catch up with them after stopping to shoot some video, a gorgeous 4' long leopard shark swam by. He turned and headed right towards the guys. I followed shooting away and shouting through my reg "shark, shark, shark!" Neither of them saw it! Ugghh. In a flash he was gone, but at least I got proof on the video! tehehehehe My first shark in Calif! I was stoked. Once again the guys headed off for the wall and as we found it the vis dropped from 40-50' down to 20' max and we hit an ugly thermocline! I got Ron's attention and signalled "back to boat" and he shook his head okay. Off we went but water vis didn't improve and water was still cold. It seemed we weren't headed in the right direction. Ron went up to the surface after several minutes and came back town signaling a different direction. Hmmmmm. Not right either. We all surfaced to discover the Great Escape was far away. Ugghhh. I was pooped trying to lug my heavy video rig and now we had a long swim ahead of us. After trying to do it on the surface we all decided to drop down and swim underwater. We finally made it to the boat but I was whipped.
After breakfast, omelettes made to order again, the boat arrived at the new dive site. Claudette let us know that her neck seal was fixed so her buddy would be diving with her again. I bet he was just as happy about it as she was. LOL
Dive 2: Yellowtail Point, 41fsw, water 66 degrees, 40 minutes, thick kelp,
Wow, kelp so thick you had to kick it out of the way to descend. Once below the kelp was even thicker! Geez, I couldn't kick more than 3-4 strokes without the kelp grabbing my fin straps. After both of us struggling to stay untangled by the kelp, we opted to turn and find the edge of the kelp forest and some rocky areas. Just out over the sand we looked for bat rays, no luck. Lots of garibaldi and blacksmiths here though.
Lunch - beef with gravy, peas, rice, salad. Claudette told us that she and her buddy had found a horn shark at this site, in the rocky area along the edge of the kelp. Capt Tim decided to stay at this site as everyone liked it so you know what we planned to do! I wanted to see a horn shark.
Dive 3: same site, 50fsw, water 68 degrees, 44 minutes
Off we went to look for my horn shark into the rocky area. Ron spotted a swell shark egg casing but no sharks found under the rocks. As we headed out over the sand we spotted the bat ray we had been searching for on the last dive. He was busy eating and didn't swim off the way most rays we have seen in California. Wow, that was soooooo awesome!
After returning to the boat, all the divers began breaking down gear and packing up. Warm brownies right out of the oven and vanilla ice cream were served in the galley. Yum. The ride back to the dock seemed very short and soon everyone was carrying dive bags and tanks back to their cars in the parking lot. We said quick goodbyes to everyone, thanked the wonderful crew again: Capt Tim, Capt Tom, Capt Rob, Jerry and Steve, and we were off to find our hotel before the long drive back to Albuquerque. Wow, great weekend of diving!
Great Escape website: Great Escape boat