Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Catalina Divin'

Two Harbors, Catalina Island

All I can say is that my wife is too kind.
She stayed at home with the kids this past weekend and let me go off with a buddy to Catalina for some quality bottom time off the rocky shores of this little Island Getaway.
For those of you not familiar with Catalina... it is an island about 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.  Most days you can't see the island from shore... thanks to the infamous air quality of LA.  This weekend, however, the weather was so nice we could not only see the shore... but could even see the snow up at Big Bear... from Catalina.
The weather was so nice, that each morning we got up and the water was flatter than most days on Lake Mead!
The trip we went on was sponsored and organized by a diving club from San Diego.  They did a nice job.  However, there is very little accommodations available in Two Harbors, which is the town we stayed in... less than 300 population.  They have only one bed and breakfast... with 11 rooms.  The only other places to stay are in the camp grounds or in the camping cabins (these are only available from November through April as they house employees during the summer months.)
To call these cabins is almost laughable.  I tried in vain to find pictures of the "cabins" prior to heading out for the trip.  It turns out that the cabins are really sheds, 6 of which have been attached together in something of a horseshoe shape to create some very sparse sleeping quarters.  There are bunk beds in each room; although no ladder to climb up in ours... making for an entertaining (or embarrasing, depending on your point of view) scramble up each night.  Each cabin also has a mini-fridge... so that you can have your cold beer waiting for you after each dive... some even tell great stories of diving while hung over and actually losing their lunch right into their regulators.  Yes... interesting people on this trip.
Here is one photo giving an idea of what the cabins are like.
So we get out to the island on Friday morning around 11:30 or so.  We get checked in to our cabin... then go for a quick trip across the bay on some ocean kayaks.  It was beautiful... you couldn't ask for nicer water... and clear enough to look right down at least 20 feet through the kelp forests.
We did a night dive Friday night... and although my buddy had to surface after only about 10 minutes due to a slight equipment problem, I was able to follow him back to shore on the bottom of the shallow bay.  On the way in I saw several octopus, a monster Morey Eel, Sting Rays, Thornback Rays, Shrimp, and tons of other little creatures. 
The next morning, we packed our gear onto kayaks and left the bay for another beach about a mile from Two Harbors.  We suited up and dropped down through the kelp for an excellent dive.  Among the regular creatures, we saw a Sheep Crab larger than either of my twins!  This guy could easily have eaten my dog!  I almost swore through my regulator... I was so blown away by it's size.
After the dive, we headed back for some lunch and a rest before our afternoon excursion on the dive boat Garibaldi.  Unfortunately; Bryan, my dive buddy, tweaked an old back injury while carrying all his gear and weights and ended up laid up in bed for pretty much the rest of the day.  While he tried to recuperate a bit, I headed out for two dives from the boat.  I was paired up with a diver from Scotland who now makes her home in San Diego.  The dives were fun, if uneventful.  Most of the cool creatures don't show themselves nearly as much during the day as at night.  All in all though, the dive boat was a fun experience.  We did see a ton of Hermissenda Nudibranches and even a couple of horn sharks.
Saturday night, I ditched Bryan again.  He was still laid up in bed... so I joined several other divers on another night dive.  Again, several octopus and garibaldis... and another sheep crab... though not nearly as large as the one from that morning.  After surfacing and finding the 4th diver in our group... who somehow got separated from us... we headed back to the shore.  I jumped in the shower with all of my gear still on so that I could rinse the salt and sand off of it... then headed for bed.  Diving can be very relaxing... but spending about 3 hours underwater in one day... and carting all that gear around between dives... can really take it out of you.
Just another interesting fact to note... Bison were brought to the island a few decades ago to use in a film that was being shot there.  They ended up not using them in the film... but left them on the island.  There are now about 250 American Bison in the Catalina Herd... and they just roam free around the island.  This guy walked right into town on Friday.  I stood about 20 feet away from him and wondered how fast I could climb a tree if I had the proper motivation.  Fortunately, he was just looking for a good log to scratch his back on... and didn't show any interest in me.
Unfortunately, the camera I took with me to the island was really a crummy piece of machinery.  I took it back to Sport Chalet and told them they should not even carry it in their inventory.  Because it took such crummy pics, I am using some pics from other trips we have made to Catalina in the past couple of years.  I am also adding some from the web so that you can see some of the animals we encountered.  Next time, I will try to get some more pics of my own.
Hermissenda Nudibranch- obviously taken by someone with a much nicer camera than me.
Garibaldi- state fish of California... and fun little guys... they like to buzz your mask

Kelp Forest

Small Morey Eel... about 1/3 of the size of the guy I saw on this trip
Horn Shark- cute little guys... and no teeth!

Octopus... a little bigger than the several I saw

Jelly Fish... one of the few decent pics I was able to get this trip

Sheep Crab... but not as big as the one I saw