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I've never been diving at the Channel Islands before, and I'm thinking about going down to do some dives during the first weekend of August to celebrate my 30th birthday. I live in the Sacramento area, and my friend is in Chico, so we'd likely be driving down, and for this reason I've been scoping out dive operations out of Ventura or Santa Barbara. I'm still trying to figure out if we'll be staying on land overnight, or if we'd want to do a multi-day overnight trip. So, my questions since I don't know much about that area...
1) Generally how are dive conditions in the area the first part of August?
2) What sort of skill level are most dives at the Islands? I've got about 15 dives under my belt and my friend has about the same. My cert. dives were in some HORRIBLE conditions in Monterey (1' viz. with us getting kicked around by a 7-10' surge) at the Breakwater and we were the only class there to even attempt it. I would by no means say that I can handle harsh conditions, but I have experienced less than ideal conditions before.
3) Cost is a factor; would staying at a mainland hotel be preferred over staying in say Avalon?
4) Are the boat dives guided? Is that a separate charge to get a guided dive?
Anyway, I don't know much about So. Cal diving, so I'm looking for information. Feel free to PM me with boat recommendations; I don't want the thread turning into a "this boat is better than that boat" battle.
I would check out Truth Aquatics Truth Aquatics: The Best In Liveaboard Diving, Island Kayaking and Hiking, or the Peace Peace Dive Boat for the northern islands. You'd probably have to travel another hour + south to get boats to Catalina. Conditions are usually good, but viz can suffer a bit during the summer. The advantage of multiday trips is that there is no hotel cost or meals- that's all on the boat. Some will let you spend the night before on the boat as well. No boats down here lead dives so you are on your own unless you hire a guide, or get someone else from Scubaboard to join you that will help you.
We are headed out on the Truth Aquatics Conception next week and it will be our 3rd year diving this same week in June. The first year we went, it was my 2nd dive after certification.
1) Not sure of the conditions in August. In June, the temp at the Northern Islands is in the high 50's to 60F. I've heard the vis can be anywhere from 15-50 feet, and we usually find it on the lower end of that. Current and surge have been minimal for us, maybe we have just been lucky.
2) If you are a confident cold water diver, you'll be okay. On the 2 trips I've been on, the Conception anchors in little coves where you can also dive with a sort of wall on one side of you. Not a vertical, Caribbean type of wall, but rocks that eventually form the shore. It makes navigation pretty simple as long as you stay in sight of the rocks. They are one side as you go out, turn at about 1/3 pressure, and you should be close enough to the boat if you start to surface after another 1/3 pressure. You'll have enough air when you surface to take a compass reading of the boat and head that way under water if you are a bit far out. Dive sites have been in the 30-60 feet range for us, with depths up to 80 or 100 ft if you venture away from the wall.
3) 3 nights and 2.5 dive days on the Conception is about $500, including all the diving you can fit in and 3 good meals a day. Below deck is a bunk room, but after a day of diving, you'll sleep like a baby regardless. Just bring a sleeping bag and if you a picky about pillows, your own pillow.
4) No guides, but you might find a more seasoned diver willing to dive with you for the first dive or two. Most people on the boat fit in between 8-12 dives over 3 days so the group I dive with seems to feel that every dive moment doesn't have to be your ideal profile if you are working with someone newer. (That "someone newer" has been me a bunch of times.)
Truth Aquatics is a great op. I highly recommend them
My dives from last August in Anacapa ranged from 61º to 63º, while my Catalina dives were in the high 60s. It seems to be colder the further north you go in my experience. Visibility was actually very good - I noted 30' to 40' in my log book (but then I'm not really ever that good at judging distance). Regardless, it's 7mm territory.
If you can, try diving both areas! Catalina and the northern Channel Islands are quite a bit different in what you'll find. Casino Point has the beautiful kelp beds, some nice wrecks, friendly fish and it's extremely convenient. Anacapa has the gorgeous purples, the seals and sea lions (if you're lucky), lots of little life and is my favorite place. Both are truly fantastic dive areas.
I'm not a Southern Californian, but I've done a number of trips down there.
I'd highly recommend one of the three-day liveaboards, if you're up for that. Going out on the Peace is a treat, and as somebody already pointed out, Ventura is a nicely northern harbor for you to head for as you come down from your neck of the woods.
The diving around the inner islands has, on my trips, been pretty easy, with the exception of the fact that you DO need to find the anchor line to get back to the boat. That's a matter of paying attention to the depth of the anchor, the direction you're going (reef on the left shoulder) and the time you swim away from the anchor line. For novices, staying close and doing a "star" pattern might be a good idea. None of the boats I've been on in SoCal put guides in the water. If the particular trip is going out to San Miguel, I'd be little wary at your experience level. It can get hairy out there.
Thanks for all of the great tips! No worries when it comes to diving in the cold water. I had the most amazing diving up in Victoria, B.C. back in October 2010, it was cold, but I can't imagine a better diving experience. I was probably a bit spoiled up there as well because I was able to hire out a dive guide from the shop for very little cost and he was basically my private dive buddy for the weekend since nobody else joined our group.
@TSandM: Thanks for the tips on finding the boat and on San Miguel, that's very valuable information
@Kryssa: Really? That many dives can be squeezed into a day? Thanks for the tip on hitting up more experienced divers on the boat out. That 30-60 depth is perfect for me, as I work as a wildlife biologist and I go diving to see the sea life. This means I tend to dive shallow so I can get in more time underwater to see more stuff, while also going very slowly so I can pick out all of the hidden critters. I don't think I would venture far from the boat, but I just purchased a Sunnto dive compass and it would be nice to put it to use.
Google Maps is telling me that the drive time from Sacramento to Ventura vs. Sac. to the Long Beach area is about the same (must just be how the highways are). Of course I’m sure this doesn’t account for traffic through L.A.. Are there any strong opinions in choosing on port over another, considering my situation?
I've only been on the Peace for Multi day trips and I love it.
It depends on who books the boat that determines where the charter master decides to go.
They have a salt water hot tub, killer tri tips for dinner, and nitrox. If I were you I'd get nitrox certified between now and then if you can. It makes making all the dives easier and you will feel better...that's just my opinion, no scientific basis, but I'm sure others will agree.
The lee sides of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz are nice easy diving. Currents can whistle though sometimes if they anchor anywhere close to a spot between the islands, just pay attention to which way the kelp is leaning and go the opposite direction for the first half of your dive.
The Peace also has a little chase boat which (I found out the hard way) is a really nice feature.
Haha just want to clarify that its 8-10 dives over 3 days. If you can handle it, we have guys that eat breakfast, dive twice, have lunch, dive twice, have dinner, then do a night dive. There is a rumor that you can get a dawn dive in, too, but I'm not awake to see it. On the final day, most do 2 dives before the trip back.
The Truth Aquatics boats leave out of Santa Barbara. That would probably be closer for you than Long Beach or Ventura.
Thanks Kryssa, that makes more sense, I must have skimmed over the "3 day" part of your post.
I've been looking into the Peace boat since it looks like they have a trip in my desired time range. I see lots of possitive feedback here on the forum about there operation. For those who have gone out on Peace, how was the rental dive gear? My understanding is that they don't rent the dive gear themselves, but that through there website there's a local shop that does it and can deliver the gear to the boat. I have the basic 5 (fins, mask, snorkle, gloves, boots), plus the new compass and regulator I just purchased from a friend, but it'll need to be checked out by a dive shop before I can use it.