Dive Log: Catalina Islands, Red Crane Quarry & Little Geiger Reef (06/06/2009)

Dive #7 and #8, diving in the Catalina Islands with the Magician Scuba charter, Captain Jerry, the pirate divemaster and dive buddy Praveen.

Red Crane Quarry: Bottom time – 31 minutes; Depth – 9.5 meters

Tired and scared. Those would be the most appropriate adjectives to describe Praveen and my train of thoughts as we huddled together in the leaden morning at the Long Beach harbour, the cold wind nipping at us unmercifully even in June. We had picked up our gear from Sports Chalet the night before and had spent a rather panicked night trying to figure out how our dive computers worked, watching a navigation DVD and reading the Open Water manual to try and recollect what we had learnt during our certification course almost half a year ago. The primary reason for the panic was when we were told that the Divemaster on the boat would actually stay on the boat during the dive and not accompany us as was the norm in the tropics.

Actually on second thoughts, shit scared and tired was probably more accurate for us. Added to our blithering fears about the upcoming dive was that no matter where we seemed to walk in the Long Beach harbour we could not find the damn boat. P’s manic grin just got wider and wider while my breathing grew more and more laboured. Finally we stumbled upon the boat’s berth and staggered on with our gear, joining a motley crew of fellow divers loaded down with bags and bags of gear.

As the boat sputtered out of the harbour with the gulls harshly sending us on our way, P and I moved into the cabin area to grab a couple of muffins to calm our nerves down and try and have a nap. A brief chat and a wary eye on the Divemaster with his gold, skull and crossbones earring however calmed us down enough to have a quiet nap as the boat headed out to the Catalina islands, one of California’s prime dive destinations.
The grey morning turned into a bright blue sky and a sunny day and the brown speckled hills of Catalina rose up before us as we reached the islands. The boat moored in a little cove as the Divemaster gave us the brief on depths and what to look out for and at. Both P and I exchanged scared looks and decided we would stick to the edge of the cliff and the shallow kelp forests there, around 10m in depth. Struggling into our 7mm wetsuits and generally impressing everyone present with our (lack of) dexterity in getting our gear together we took giant strides off the boat, swam to the chain leading to the mooring and descended along the chain to where the water met the cliff. Nervously noting the position of the chain and taking a compass heading we set out explore the shallower waters. Sunlight streamed through the kelp as bright orange Garibaldi swarmed around us protecting their nesting sites. Peering closer amongst the rocks I excitedly pointed out the Catalina gobies shining red and blue amongst the rocks to P.

As we swam along we saw some of the other more experienced divers in the blue depths of around 20m pass us, bubbles streaming up towards the surface. P and I looked at each other, wordlessly confirmed that we were still cowards and continued to hug the rock face back to the chain and headed back to the boat with plenty of air to spare.

Little Geiger Reef: Bottom time – 25 minutes; Depth – 10 meters

We were somewhat more confident after having survived our first solo immersion in the ocean and were looking forward to this dive. This time the boat moored further out in the kelp and we decided (in our cowardice) to stick to the shallower area between the boat and the island. Falling ungracefully into the water and giving the Divemaster (who I must say had a slightly skeptical look in his eyes) a shaky ok signal we moved to a sandy area before deflating our BC’s and starting to descend.

Looking between my fins at the sandy bottom I noticed a slight aberration in the sand, an outline of something triangular shaped. As I moved closer and closer to it I suddenly realized it was a California Stingray directly below me, almost half a meter wide. All I could remember at that exact moment was Steve Irwin and paralyzed I kept descending towards it as it lay directly below me. Luckily for me the Stingray was smarter than me and quietly flapped off as I got to a couple of meters over its head and I was spared a barb in the heart or more likely my arse.

The excitement of the Stingray over we paused for a few moments to get our buoyancy under control, took a heading and proceeded to explore the kelp forest. There were huge boulders littering the ocean floor and these provided both interesting places to explore while at the same time being quite spooky, with the prospect of some hitherto unknown sea monster of Catalina engulfing me while I poked naively around. Did I mention we were cowards on this dive? The rocks also provided a more practical problem because I was trying to swim in a straight line as possible, in order to navigate back to the boat when we decided to head back. I was quite reluctant to swim around boulders (someone of them were pretty big) as I rather foolishly thought this would throw my navigation off but we managed ok in the end.

The major excitement of the dive came when I accidentally scared the crap out of a Grey Seal who came charging through the kelp at me, silvery with bubbles in the blue water. I was awestruck at the grace with which it moved in the water. Effortlessly it came to a complete stop about 5 meters from me and stared at me in puzzlement before pirouetting into the depths. I looked behind excitedly to share ok signs with P but he had unfortunately been behind a rock the whole time and had missed the excitement.

We headed back towards the boat as our air was running low (well not really low but we were being extra conservative) and gave the Divemaster (a hopefully pleasant) surprise by getting back onto the boat completely intact.

To be continued

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