Finally Farnsworth.

Its the dive site that everyone talks about… if you’re diving around Catalina, inevitably the question of, “so, have you dove Farnsworth?” will come up. It is a site I’ve yearned to get the chance to see, one of the only places I know around Southern California where you get hard corals…the famous Purple Hydrocoral. Truth to be told, its not actually even a true coral, its a hydroid, in the phylum Cnidaria – relative to jellyfish and anemones! Farnsworth Bank is a preserve for this slow growing animal, and its easy to see that it flourishes out there.

The Bank is found a little ways off shore from the backside of Catalina. It’s a large seamount that rises off the ocean floor (which is anywhere from 300-100 feet deep) up to about 50ft below the surface. There are several walls where it just drops away, as well as many gentler sloping faces. Over all the site is larger than can be fully explored in one trip…especially when I happen to have my camera and could easily spend all day within a few yards around the anchor chain!

I buddy-ed up with fellow photographer Carolyn, and while we are not the best of buddies in terms of sticking close and keeping in contact with each other, it worked out well as we were both not up for wandering super far, and wanted to practice our photo skills. We descended along the anchor chain looking down into the blue depths of some of the clearest water I’ve seen out here in California. Surprisingly though, as we reached about 30ft it started to get dark, as though we were approaching the seamount already. This was way to early and I quickly discovered that it was not land, but rather a huge and thick school of Blacksmith blocking our view. Slowly we descended below them and the view of Farnsworth began to form in the dark water below us.

This dive is different from so many around Southern California, as there is very little kelp. The makeup of the site is rocky, covered with anemones, very few urchin and just littered with the little clumps of Purple Hydrocoral. Lingcod, Garibaldi, Sheephead and the thick schools of Blacksmith surround the area. Eels and octopus can be found tucked away between the rocks, and of course my favorite, the little colorful nudibranchs seem to be everywhere!I spent the first dive slowly exploring and taking in the view. I found a huge (nearly 4 inches) lemon dorid nudibranch, as well as an awesome little hermissenda nudi perched nicely on a barnacle. Later, nestled beautifully in a grove of hyrdocoral was a large moray, just curiously poking out his head at me.

On the second dive I followed a large lingcod for a bit as he swam away then settled again, then practiced more with my landscape shots, attempting to expose the background and use my strobe to help light the darkened foreground correctly.

While I might not have wandered too far and really explored the area. I enjoyed two fantastic dives practicing my photography…finally getting a chance to try some wider landscape shots because of the better visibility. All too soon it was time to swim back up through the thick cloud of fish and back to the boat. I’ve definitely been bitten by the Farny bug, and look forward to getting to explore more of the site next time.

Finishing off the day, we motored around to the front side of the island and enjoyed a relaxing shallow dive off Eagle’s Nest. The visibility here was not a great as the first two dives, but it was still enjoyable and relaxing.

Diving with Dad.

Last weekend my father journeyed from afar…well Phoenix, to join me for what turned into a non-stop adventurous weekend! It all started with the fact that he, an avid Jimmy Buffett fan and my reason for loving his music, has never been to a Jimmy Buffett concert. So for his birthday (which is in June actually) I purchased a pair of tickets for us, and promised a fun weekend in LA. The concert was fabulous, but the highlight of the trip for me was going to be getting him underwater for the first time in about seven years! (that is not counting the numerous 5ft, 15 minute dives he made out in Saguaro Lake cleaning algae growth off the underside of our ski boat, which I don’t). The last time he actually dove was the first time I did. Back in 2003 on a family vacation to Maui, my sister and I earned our Open Water Diver certifications. On our final open water dives he joined us for a trip out to Molokini and St. Anthony’s wreck, then later we did a shore dive with all four of us (including my mom) on the small reef just off shore from our hotel. Flash forward seven years, and I’ve earned my OWSI rating and put more than 100 dives under my belt and he’s barely been wet.

It sure looks like I have a ton a gear! Mostly because of my camera, and because all my Dad’s gear looks like its actually hanging off me!

Needless to say I was slightly nervous about throwing him right into a Southern California beach dive, especially with a higher surf forecast, but he fell back into diving easily, as he said, “its like riding a bike, once you get back into it everything just comes back.”

We had driven down to San Diego to dive with a friend of his who is a big lobster hunter. He took us out to Swami’s, a beach in Encinitas known primarily for great surfing. I could easily see why, as a nearby reef created a perfect break for the surfers. What this also meant was that just down from the reef, there was barely any waves breaking at all, so we had a very easy entry and exit. Unfortunately, the fact that the beach is known for its reef break, coupled with a larger swell in general, meant that our dive conditions were less than ideal. The reef at Swami’s is fairly shallow, and the large swell moving in from off shore created a big surge underwater and pretty poor visibility. My dad handled this fine however, especially when we got separated about four minutes into the dive. Thats right, I lost my dad after only four minutes. Way to go me! Truth is, I paused for a picture while he and Dan (who was effectively leading the dive) continued to swim, and with the 5-10 ft viz, I lost them quickly. My Dad was a little left of Dan, so when he stopped to check on everyone and discovered I was not there, my Dad continued swimming. I caught up with Dan, but then Dad was gone! Dan and I searched, then surfaced (after what was probably only about 30 seconds as my mind worried over my missing father) and looked for bubbles on the surface. Meanwhile, we discovered later, my dad continued swimming along, thinking us just up ahead, and forgetting the 1 minute search rule we had decided upon before the dive. Finally, after what felt like forever, but was probably only a few minutes he surfaced about 50 yards up from us, opposite of where we were looking for him. Crisis averted we swam over to him and dropped back down. The highlight of the dive was finding a large Moray Eel inside a hole that Dan nearly put his hand down in search of lobster. The Moray poked its head out and started opening and closing its mouth in a fashion that makes you think he’d be hissing or growling if it were on the surface.

Yes, those little black dots in the water are surfers!

Moving on from there we found a couple lobster, however any that Dan was able to grab were too small to keep, sadly no delicious crustacean dinner. The rest of the dive was spent swimming around, exploring the kelp and searching for lobster hidey holes. We surfaced when my Dad finished his air, quicker than the more experienced divers, but not so fast that it was annoying, we enjoyed a nice 37 minute dive. The water was summer warm around 60 degrees at depth, and the only drawback was in the form of the extremely long surface swim to and from the dive site… almost a 1/4 mile! Its definitely a sight I’d like to try again, maybe with a kayak and definitely with less surge and better viz. Mostly though I enjoyed just getting under the water with my Dad again. Next up: Mom. (I think that effort will require somewhere warm and clear).

The rest of the weekend passed quickly with some delicious food, a couple of beers, a movie and a day at the beach spent trying our hand at Stand Up Paddleboarding. After successfully getting through the larger surf breaking (though unsuccessfully losing my sunglasses to a large wave) we managed to get our SUP skills down and paddle down to the Santa Monica Pier and back for a 2 mile trip. We practiced some more, then went in for a long break which included playing in the perfectly sized body boarding waves. Another voyage through the surf and some more paddling, though not quite as far because the wind had picked up creating a lot of chop on the water. Then more food and a beer, showers and it was back to the airport. I had a blast, and can’t wait to get him back underwater again soon! (I think I’ve got him wanting to dive again, hooray!)

A perfect summer day, in the middle of October. Taking a break from paddle boarding, we went back into the ocean for some body surfing.

Sweet San Clemente!

Last weekend I braved gale force winds and 13ft high seas to travel to San Clemente Island for an exciting day of diving. Well thats not entirely true, the trip was delayed until the seas and wind calmed a bit, but it was still a bumpy ride (not that I would know, I slept through most of it!). Our scheduled 8:00pm departure was pushed to midnight in order to let the wind and high seas diminish so we could safely make the six hour motor out to San Clemente Island. This meant no Catalina night dive, but we were able to still get in 4 dives off San Clemente so there was no loss.

After rolling back and forth on my bunk as I drifted in and out of sleep we pulled up to San Clemente around 6:00am. We were up and dressing as the boat laid anchor so that we could be in the water as soon as possible, giving us the most possible time for diving. The sun was barely up as we made our first giant stride off the back of the boat.

Sea Cucumber and a Tiny GobySite #1 was called Fish Hook. We swam off the boat away from the island towards a large patch of kelp. Through the kelp we emerged onto an immense wall that plunged to below 100ft. Knowing we had a full day of diving we capped our dive around 80ft and explored up and down the wall. The visibility was fantastic, and there were a ton of critters around including all the usual suspects (Garibaldi, Kelp Bass, Sheephead, Senorita Wrasse and Blue Banded Gobies). There were a bunch of sea stars and even a baby sheephead (which I in my ignorance was rather excited about before looking it up because I thought it was a new fish I had yet to see! Oh well…just a Sheephead.) The highlight of the dive for me was when I glanced down into the depths to see a 6-7ft Soupfin Shark cruising along the wall. It was sleek, smooth and AWESOME! I had to keep myself from charging after it down into the depths. Luckily I had wicked fast video skills and caught it on camera!

Site #2: was called Wash Rock. We were told that we should see LOTS of the Soupfin sharks in the shallows, but we must have gone to the wrong section of shallows because we saw none (sadness). Upon surfacing we found that one group had seen a whole bunch, up to ten all laying in the sand just chilling. (Lame!) Anyways, we headed east from the boat exploring a very surgy shallow area. It was beautiful and full of fish, so I can’t really complain about not seeing any sharks. We did come across a HUGE bat ray with a little bat ray sleeping next to it in the sand which was great. After exploring the shallows a bit we headed slightly deeper near the boat and explored a cool section of kelp.

Site #3: After another surface interval we jumped into a site called Green Acres. I’m sure you can guess how this site got its name. Its a huge expanse of thick healthy kelp that seems to go FOREVER down and down into the water. We kept the dive fairly shallow since it was our third and we had one more to go, but the kelp and the rock formations on the bottom (as Jessica pointed out, they looked almost volcanic…which they probably were!) were fantastic. We found 2 octopus all curled up inside some holes in the rocky ground and I discovered how much I hate that I can’t bend my strobe all the way down level with my camera…it was damn near impossible to get the camera and the strobe into the small hole to light up the octopus, but I managed fairly well on the second one.

Site #4: Little Rock. This site was a bed of sea grass and weeds. We traveled along, and I brought a bunch up with me after sinking down into the weed beds to get some photos. We progressed into a kelp forest and explored before circling around, overshooting the boat and swimming back. Unfortunately for me, I learned that my camera battery quickly progresses from the “halfway dead” symbol to completely dead and ended up with a dead battery early on in the dive. I was however able to eek out one shot, not great though, when I came across a large Moray Eel in a patch of rocks.

Our group of friends, most from Eco Dive Center, made for a great trip. We had enjoyable surface intervals, full of delicious food thanks to the awesome staff of the Sand Dollar dive boat. Quick fills allowed us to keep getting in the water as soon as the boat set anchor and the gates were open. The weather was clear, the water was warm (for CA…around 59-55 degrees!) and I really don’t think the day could have been better!