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Here's my informal report of the first lobster-season opening-night I ever participated in. I've been leery in past years of going out on that always-insane first night, but this year I decided to give it a go on the Mr. C, because I knew that Stan, our captain, would do his best to find an uncrowded site with lotsa bugs. And did he ever!
(I'm calling this an "informal" report because I haven't even checked my computer to see what the actual dive times, depths and surface intervals were - I'm just going off memory here.)
We departed San Pedro for Catalina at 9pm with a load of 16 divers - a perfect number for that boat for lobster-hunting, given the amount of additional deck space our game bags would take up. A few people headed to the bunks to catch a few zzz's before the fun began. The rest of us chatted in the little salon for the 2+ hour ride over, munching on the homemade lemon bars that I'd brought, and the homemade, incredibly decadent chocolate/creamcheese dessert that Nicole had brought. A boat fulla divers on a sugar high - awesome!
We anchored at a site called Yellowtail Point, north of Twin Harbors towards the center of the island. We saw only one other boat out there - a very small powerboat with one drunk idiot aboard. I say "drunk idiot" because as soon as we dropped anchor he came barreling over to us on a dinghy, screaming obscenities and threatening to drop heavy things on the heads of our divers. Which was pretty nutty, given that his boat was so far away from us that it would have been a helluva swim for any of our divers to get anywhere NEAR it! And also pretty nutty given the fact that, if any of us were actually able to make that herculean swim and found heavy crap dropped on their heads, we would be able to...ahem...see his anchor line. And we carry knives. :mooner:
(DISCLAIMER: I'm JUST KIDDING! I would NEVER advocate slicing the anchor line of a drunk idiot attempting to murder divers over lobster-territory disputes!)
My buddy was Greg (aka Weiland on this forum). We hit the water just a little after midnight, and immediately dropped to 74 feet - a bit deeper than we were expecting, as our briefing had said that we were anchored in 60 ft of water. But even at that depth the temperature was a balmy 66 degrees - like bathwater considering the temps I've been experiencing this year. We immediately started heading towards the island to find shallower territory, and within the first 3 minutes Greg plunged his hand into the long, wide fronds of kelp that were lining the bottom, and BOOM came up with his first legal! WOOHOO Greg!
The vis was way better than I'd expected. When we're both bug hunting it's hard to stay too close to each other, especially when we go chasing after them. But even with frequent, pretty significant separations, I never lost sight of his light and was always able to fin over to him quickly.
We moved into 50-40 ft territory, and I saw dozens of shorties, but not one of legal size. Greg, however, continued on his lucky streak and got yet another one. We were both so hyped up, though, that we blew right through our tanks in, I think, about 25 minutes. And these were steel 100's!
So I got skunked on that first dive. Oh well. There's bugs out there...lots of divers were coming up with multiples, so I still had hope.
After about an hour surface interval we hit the water again. This time we did a long surface swim so we could descend in a shallower zone and not blow through our tanks so fast. And yet AGAIN Greg started hitting the jackpot! Me - I was seeing the big ones, and I even got my hands on a few...but they managed to slip away every time. Bastards. I was starting to get ticked, worrying that I was going strike out for the whole trip!
But we did see all kinds of cool stuff - stuff that normally would send me into paroxysms of ecstasy and camera-strobe flashes. Of course I didn't HAVE my camera with me - but I have the pictures in my head. I haven't done a night dive in a really long time, and I forgot how many cool critters come out at night. DOZENS of juvenile scorpion fish, a small electric ray, baby horn sharks...it was a rich night for life. We managed to stretch this dive out for a much longer time - well over 45 min I think.
When we re-boarded, we had some guests - DFG was there, checking bug sizes and fishing licenses. We had a nice chat with them, and happened to mention the drunk idiot anchored in the distance. They told us they'd already visited him - and caught him dumping a bucket-full of shorties! So he got a nice fat citation. Karma baby! Next time don't threaten to murder our divers! Anyway, DFG was very nice, and even though quite a few of our divers hadn't pre-filled out their lobster report cards (which is actually required), they didn't ticket us for that, just reminded us of the regulation
Our surface interval was rather extended due to the DFG visit, plus we moved to another site - we dropped anchor at a spot midway between Yellowtail Point and the Quarry. So we hit the water sometime around 5:00 in the morning. THIS was an AWESOME site! Shallow, most of our time was in less than 30 fsw, with great patches of rocky reef with nice sandy patches in between. And HUNDREDS of bugs! This time I hit the jackpot - I was grabbing them, and KEEPING them, like crazy! Unfortunately most of them were squeakers - JUST under legal, which hurts so bad when you gotta let 'em go. But I did manage to bag three nice-sized ones, and Greg added to his catch - can't remember how many he ended up with, but I'm quite sure he and his wife will be enjoying lobster dinners for some time to come!
But this dive was even more special: while hovering over a lovely sandy area in between tumbled rock structures, my light hit something that looked like...a huge eye. Blinking at me! I finned over to it, and saw an ENORMOUS sea turtle! And I mean HUGE! This thing had to be 4 or 5 ft long. He was just sitting there on the bottom. It took me a while to wrest Greg's attention from his bug hunting, but finally my wildly waving light hitting him right in the eyes got his attention and he came finning over. We just hovered there in awe for quite a while. Now, I've seen plenty of sea turtles in my time - in Maui, Belize, French Polynesia, and most recently in the Galapagos...but I've NEVER seen one here in SoCal! I didn't even know they were in this area. But after doing some research, looks like...yup...we got 'em.
I'm pretty sure what we saw is a loggerhead turtle. Although if so, he was rather outside of his normal range, since apparently they are rarely seen in CA, except in years when the water is warmer than normal (which has NOT been this year!) Here's some info about loggerhead turtles: Caretta caretta - Loggerhead Sea Turtle
It could also have been a green sea turtle: Chelonia mydas - Green Sea Turtle Although if so, he too was outside of his normal range, since they rarely go north of Baja.
Some people on the boat theorized we'd seen a leatherback, because they are more prevalent in this area, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't - I don't recall those long parallel ridges on his shell. Here's info on the leatherback: Dermochelys coriacea - Leatherback Sea Turtle That doesn't look like what we saw. Greg? Thoughts?
Anyway, to make this dive all the more special, we also had a nice, lengthy visit with one of the biggest bat rays I've ever seen. He just leisurely hovered underneath our lights, seemingly in no hurry to scatter outa there.
And then, to add yet ANOTHER level of excitement - on our long surface swim back, we saw lightning in the distance! When I saw the first flash, I pointed it out to Greg, and he thought it must be someone taking flash photos from a nearby boat. But then we heard the thunder! And apparently, some on the boat actually saw lightning bolts striking the water in the distance. Yikes!
We extended this dive to almost an hour, and boarded the boat around 6am. At this point I was just...done. Others went in again - I think some even did as many as 5 dives before we hauled anchor! Not me. I honestly can't remember the last time I watched the sun set, and then rise, without having slept a wink. I managed to stay awake long enough to whip up a bunch of breakfast burritos, then left them in the slow cooker to stay hot, and hit the bunks. We left the island sometime around 7:30 am, and were back to the dock at 9:45.
So there's my opening-night story. Greg, thanks for being an awesome dive buddy! And thanks to the Mr. C for always showing us a great time.
Hmmm...what turtle was it? I think I'm with you in thinking that it was a Loggerhead turtle. Your size estimates are the same as mine, so if it was a loggerhead, it's bigger than more common sizes from that webpage. Who knows, maybe somebody else will chime in if they've seen it. I was wondering what this crazy woman was doing flashing her lights at me like a maniac until I went over to investigate. It really was cool to hang there and observe it for a bit. It had a really big head and some algae growing on its back. No ridges that I recall either.
I have our dives down as 36', 51' and 53' minutes. My bug pull for the night was 5, but now I'm down to 3 because of my awesome lobster dinner saturday night! It really was a great night and totally exceeded my expectations based on our crappy weather this year. I dove dry and LeeAnne was having fun giving me crap because I was being "wimpy". I figured I'd need all the warmth I could get since we'd be going all night and I was expecting sub 60 degree water. The 66 reading on my computer was a pleasant site to say the least. I ended up bailing on the 4th dive because I got same major crampage on that 3rd dive.
Other critters seen by me was an octo trying to hide on a rock after I flashed him with my light, many little sets of eyes from all of the small shrimp that come out to prowl. Various crabs and many, many rock fish.
Thank you too LeeAnne for being a great buddy and I'll 2nd that the crew of the Mr. C did a great job.
Very good report.. And good for you as a dive charter boat cook-- My son who is now an ER-Hyperbaric Doc worked as a deck hand on Greg Elliott's boat while attending LB State
Over the years I have encountered a number of turtles in in the tropical waters of Mexico as well as our local waters..the local encounter was always is in the fall /winter months...September to as late as December. There was a group of OC based LA Co UW instructors who often made an early morning dives on the holiday mornings...Labor day, Thanksgiving and of course ALWAYS New years morning. One particular Thanksgiving at Moss Street in Laguna beach many many years ago we all encountered this particular turtle who apparently adapted many members of the tribe and swam around as searching for a companion.
Another time Al Carpenter , a LA based dive shop owner and LA CO UW instructor captured a hawksbill in at Catalina island and donated it to John Prescott another LA Co UW instructor and the curator of Marine land. It made the front page of Pacific Diving News the predecessor to the CDN. This was of course a long long time ago..probably 35 or more since CDN has been published for about 25 years and MOP has been gone equally as long. Now it is illegal to capture or disturb marine turtles and instead of a good deed Al would have been sited.
Just a few examples of local encounters
So there have been and are errant --rogue - turtles in the So Cal waters... Why they are only encountered in the fall months GOK?
Last edited by sam miller; October 6th, 2010 at 06:15 PM.
that sounds like a pretty cool first opening night out in a long time payoff. you hit the jackpot. the captain was way cool to hang out for so long rather than a typical 3 dive ok lets go home trip. what was the boat? mr c? i'll look it up. we did shore dives that night and it was also a pretty intense gathering. people doing crazy things. we got 7 bugs between 2 of us. and the next night going with someone else i seen the biggest octopus i've ever seen. his arms, legs or appendages were bigger than a d cell maglight in diameter. he was huge.
Mr. C is the boat, out of San Pedro. Unfortunately they don't have much of a web presence right now - they are just getting back on their feet with new owners. Many of their Saturdays are chartered by Sea d Sea dive shop - you can always sign up through them. They also do some charters through other local dive shops/groups, and occasional open boats.
If you're interested in going on them, drop me a PM and I'll get you their schedule.