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Catalina Island trip report

Discussion in 'SoCal' started by Jayfarmlaw, Oct 8, 2018.

  1. Jayfarmlaw

    Jayfarmlaw Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Tuttle, Ok
    1,285
    1,012
    113
    This was our first trip to Catalina and the Pacific so I am by no means any type of an expert. If anyone has any ideas on how to do this cheaper, faster, or better....please chime in. The conditions were less than par so we will be back at some point for another try.

    Getting there- we flew in on Southwest from OKC to SNA (John Wayne/Orange County) and spent the night with friends. We planned to take the ferry from Dana Point the next morning but ended up doing other things with friends. The only other option was the ferry out of Long Beach at 5:45. I'm not going to get into California Traffic, but I'll just say leave early if you're not used to it.... if you are, leave early anyway. GPS took us right to the Catalina Express Ferry Terminal. There is a parking garage close for ferry parking.

    The ferry is nice and seats are comfortable. It takes just a little over an hour to get to the island. Some said it was rough but the ferry to Cozumel made this feel like a limo ride. It's a Catamaran so I thought it was smooth, despite 4-5 foot seas. It cost right at $150.00 for a round trip ticket for two.

    Once there, the ferry pier is at one end of the town of Avalon, the dive park is at the other. It's about a 15-20 minute walk between the two.

    We stayed at the Hotel Mac Rae for $80 a night on Hotels.com. Nice enough, clean room, nice staff, muffins, pastries, and not bad coffee for breakfast. Located on the water between the ferry and dive park. Our view was of the wall of the building next to the hotel less than two feet from the window. We were not there to stay in the room though. They also have a shower you can use after you check out, unsecure bag storage, and will let you take a towel if you leave an ID. Great perks for divers!! We will stay there again.

    That night we ate at the Blue Water Grill and had a great meal. The scallops were amazing and sour dough bread, Clam Chowder, and everything else was just as good. It was about $100 with appetizer, drinks, and tips. We will eat there again.

    The walk to the dive park kind of sucked lugging gear. If you have a rolling bag or cart, that would make life easier. It's about a 15 minute walk going slow. Catalina Divers Supply has a trailer at the park that they rent full equipment, tanks, fills, and weights out of. I only saw hard weights. Staff was friendly, knowledgable, and concerned it was our first time there since the surge was a bit(a lot) sporty. We geared up and headed down the entry stairs. Entry was not difficult as long as you timed it right with the surge. Walk down the steps, wait for the surge to be waist deep or more, spin and kick and the surge will take you out. Actually the easiest shore dive entry I've ever done.

    The vis was down and surge was significant so diving was less than fantastic. The Kelp was really fun to dive in, there are a few sunken boats, and a crane boom like structure they call a dive platform. Our first dive went to 90 feet pretty fast. Second dive we stayed around the 60 foot foot mark for most of the dive...54 minutes.

    What absolutely made the dive trip for me was a huge...I mean Godzilla huge....sea bass. She was at least 6 feet long and probably 500 pounds or more (by my cattle weight judging skills). She could have cared less that we were inches from her and just stayed by her stalk of Kelp like it was her home. The free diver that waved at 41 feet deep was just icing on the cake. We saw several other large sea bass and beautiful gold Garibaldi everywhere.

    Fun dives, the vis and surge could have been better, but still better than Oklahoma Lake Diving.

    Getting out was tricky. If your timing was right, the surge would lift you about a third of the way up the steps and set you down gently, looking like a boss. If your timing was off, it would pound you on the steps like a rag doll, then try to drag you out to sea. My wife got rolled and has the bruises and swollen knee to prove it. I got to her and helped her to her feet and we made it out with only our pride hurt.

    Cost of 2 tanks, 2 fills, and weights was $62. They have about every type of tank you could ask for. I dove a steel 100 and wife a steel 80. Water temp was 68-70, I was fine in a 7mm, semidry hood and 5 mil gloves. Wife dove a lavacore and 3 mil suit, hood and gloves. She dove the second dive without the hood. (She hates hoods). We were probably over dressed for 70 degrees, but I planned for 60.

    With my wife's banged up knee we took a cab back to the hotel for $12 and used their shower. We stored our bags with them and walked around a few hours. We ate a at Maggie's Blue Rose next to the hotel and it was not that good. My wife got sick while eating and the food was mediocre. We will pass on that one next time.

    There are bathrooms at the dive park, but no food or drinks. Take your own, it's a walk to get anything.

    I lugged the gear back to the ferry and the rest of the trip went smoothly. Parking from about 4 pm to 8pm (28 hours) the next day was $34.

    We can check Kelp diving off out bucket list, but did not see a sea lion in the park. As we were in line to get on the ferry.....a sea lion surfaced as if to say "So Long Suckers" or words to that effect and swam off....possibly mooning us as he left. Next time buddy...next time.

    We will be back, hopefully to catch a dive boat. We had planned on diving with Catalina Divers Supply's boat but only 4 divers signed up. I offered to pay for two ghost ride alongs, but that wouldn't be enough. They need 6 paid divers slots to go.

    Next time we will leave a dive boat option for Friday and Saturday to double our chances for a boat. They had two boats going Saturday. None made it Friday.

    I'll add Lax or SNA to my cheap airfare searches. It was a fun trip.

    If you have any advice on Catalina, I'm all ears!!

    Safe travels,
    Jay
     
  2. JamesBon92007

    JamesBon92007 Great White

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Southern California...too far from the ocean
    3,027
    1,183
    113
    Groupon often has deals for the Catalina Express but they usually only have one trip per day, each way. The Catalina Flyer has more trips but usually costs more.
     
  3. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA
    22,445
    5,313
    113
    ???? The Catalina Express has a number of trips each day from three ports (or were you referring to those you can use Groupon coupons on?).

    Glad the OP enjoyed diving our park and had a chance to see the giant sea bass (or as I prefer to call them more accurately, the pretty darned big polka-dotted wreckfish).
     
    IncreaseMyT likes this.
  4. Jayfarmlaw

    Jayfarmlaw Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Tuttle, Ok
    1,285
    1,012
    113
  5. drrich2

    drrich2 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    7,864
    5,038
    113
    I enjoyed your report and would've found it quite handy when I was researching my options for a California trip back in 2016. Traveling solo with no family in the area and a primary focus on getting lot of diving in, with as simple a trip plan as possible, a live-aboard was the way to go. If I'd been bringing my wife & kiddo, a land-based Catalina Island stay would've been a stronger contender, and the very practical resources you described would've made that much easier. Thanks for including prices.

    I hope you'll make it back out for more California diving; yes, all that exposure protection is an added hassle, but there are things to experience you just don't get in the tropics.

    How typical was the surge at the entry steps, I wonder?

    Richard.
     
    <*)))>< likes this.
  6. JamesBon92007

    JamesBon92007 Great White

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Southern California...too far from the ocean
    3,027
    1,183
    113
    That must be a Groupon deal then. When I got the deal and looked it up they only went there once, and returned once per day. Is it possible that I got the name of the two ferries mixed up? Things like that have been known to happen.
     
  7. Ojai Diver

    Ojai Diver Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Southern California
    228
    131
    43
    Unfortunately there are a few pretty bad restaurants on Catalina. Coyote Joe's restaurant was pretty awful, as was Antonio's II (the one on the water.)

    We thought the Buffalo Nickel was the best we found in a whole week there.
     
  8. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    4,865
    3,457
    113
    @Jayfarmlaw

    "What absolutely made the dive trip for me was a huge...I mean Godzilla huge....sea bass. She was at least 6 feet long and probably 500 pounds or more (by my cattle weight judging skills). She could have cared less that we were inches from her and just stayed by her stalk of Kelp like it was her home. The free diver that waved at 41 feet deep was just icing on the cake. We saw several other large sea bass and beautiful gold Garibaldi everywhere."
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    A GSB is huge at 300...which is possibly near the size you experienced -- maybe a little more or a little less

    The world record when spearing GSB aka BSB was legal was 600 + (618?) pounds set by Bob Stansbury in the early 1970s

    I suspect the one you made contact up close and personal was in the 300 pound class- they look like freight trains but with fins and huge tails
    I am some what familiar with the general configuration and appearance of these great fishes up to 345 pounds

    You must come back to Catalina and check on its growth next year-- and the year following

    sdm
     
    IncreaseMyT and Jayfarmlaw like this.
  9. Jayfarmlaw

    Jayfarmlaw Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Tuttle, Ok
    1,285
    1,012
    113
    IMG_2093.JPG There was a local guide that mentioned several by name...maybe Charlie? The return trip is not an issue. Maybe March? My scuba trips are largely determined by when I catch a glitch in the Southwest Airfare system. We will absolutely be back and hopefully work in a boat dive out of the mainland.

    As far as weight goes....if 618 is a record....I'm going with 617 pounds for my fish story. I'm kicking myself for leaving the camera in my daypack stored by the scuba fill trailer. I think I've seen a pictures of the record fish in the back of some small convertible. I guess looks can be deceiving, and I was amazed at how docile this fish was, but I'm going with 617 pounds until proven wrong.

    I'll be checking for Groupon tickets on the ferry, the cost of the ferry plus the cost of rental tanks and weights would mostly cover a mainland 3 dive boat trip, with a place to sleep the night before on the boat. I almost take back everything bad I ever said about California....almost. I went from sunny California beaches on Tuesday to fixing a watergap in a cold, nasty, snakey creek in Oklahoma in 24 hours. I was not a happy man. For the unenlightened, a watergap is basically a fence across a creek that is designed to break when the creek gets up so the flood does not take the entire fence downstream. Watergap pic attached.

    Thanks again for the replies and if you have any advice on cheap dives from California, I'm all ears.

    Jay
     
  10. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    4,865
    3,457
    113
    My great great Uncle and great great grandfather were Texicans and at the Alamo
    My great grandfather was a Texican who departed Texas ASAP married my great grand mother in Missouri
    We are name after Sam Houston (grand father, father me and son Sam IV)

    I have always been taught "show me" from the Missouri heritage and from the Texicans heritage " things are bigger in Texas" -- (as well as Catalina water which magnifies)

    I have had many many up-close and personal relationships with BSB when the were ' legal '
    A 300 pound fish is huge -- a 345 pound fish is larger-- Almost 8 feet long

    A 600 pound fish would be considerably larger -- almost unbelievable in size

    Get some more Catalina diving experience and then tell a Californian who has experienced more up close and personal experiences with a GSB (aka BSB) the you have or will ever experience the reminder of your diving career which has just begun

    SDM
     

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