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Surface Water Temperature:
Bottom Water Temperature:
ANACAPA ISLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS, CA USA
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Ventura Dive and Sport
Raptor Dive Boat
We are fortunate to find the Raptor, a new dive boat operated out of Ventura Dive and Sport. By email, Jim, the owner, tells us that he needs 8 divers to go at a minimum, although the boat can hold as many as 20 or even more. On the 7th, we happily learn that the dive is a go!
I admit I probably try a bit too hard to prepare Janel for the relative coldness of this dive. I remember being freezing during our Coronados Islands dives off San Diego in 1997. In trying to get her to steel her resolve against the cold, I sorta overdo it, causing her to worry too much about it beforehand. What a dope.
I awake at 4:50am and tap Janel. We are both out of bed by 5:15 and get a quick bite to eat. As we ready our gear, Janel suddenly realizes that she has no bathing suit, so we sit for quite a few minutes trying to figure out our options. Not having one on a populated dive boat might be awkward, and wearing shorts and shirt in its place might turn out to be very cold following a dive. In the end, we have no real choices, and Janel braves it out, simply wearing a pair of my shorts and one of my tee shirts.
We hit the road about 6am, and arrive in Ventura by about 6:25am, well before the dive shop opening at 7. We decide to scour the streets of Ventura to possibly find a Wal-Mart which might be open. We drive around for a while and pop into a Starbucks to inquire. A friendly guy tells us there is one 10 minutes down the road in Oxnard, so we book down there, find a suit (and a couple of towels to boot), and floor it back to the marina.
The dive shop is open and we are immediately welcomed and start in to the wetsuit sizing process. We score 2 very comfortable 7mm suits made by Excel. Mine has an integrated hood, while Janel’s has a separate hood.
With only 8 paying divers, plus 4 crew, the Raptor is a roomy comfortable dive boat. The large salon has plenty of wet and dry storage, a big central table for camera operations and food, and, best of all, is heated! There are nice seating areas in the salon, aft, and on a sun deck that includes the wheelhouse. The transom of the boat is cut away so that diver entry is by a very comfortable giant stride.
The Raptor's powerful engines take us quickly across to Anacapa Island in a mere 40 minutes, much faster than most of the dive operators. Due to some chop and the occasional swell, the ride is not smooth, but the Raptor seemingly has handles everywhere to help with stability.
We meet some of the interesting characters on board: a couple of teachers, a construction worker from Michigan, and a nice crew hand from Ventura.
The crew has some difficulty in mooring the boat at The Arch, but finally manages it. The Arch is a much-photographed rock formation on the far eastern end of Anacapa. During the dive briefing we see and hear the sea lions are already getting excited, barking and jumping like dolphins around the boat. We are also pleased to see the tops of large kelp mats in front of the Arch. Jim explains that is it is a treat for us to dive on the ocean side today, which is often not permitted due to the current and wind patterns.
Janel and I are both diving with steel 72s and are also both astounded to be loaded down with nearly 20 pounds of weight. We suit up and Janel is laughing at me in my hood – my cheeks seem to do a peculiar bulge. We finally take our first plunge into the California waters. I am expecting to be startled by the cold, but am immediately surprised and pleased that it is only a mild chill. We take a bearing and submerge, finding a sandy bottom at the anchor around 35 feet down.
We fin for a couple minutes along the sandy bottom, locating the occasional flounder that is almost perfectly camouflaged in the salt-and-pepper sand colors. Visibility is around 30 feet, and a small mount finally comes into view. As we approach it we can see dozens and dozens of urchins covering it, most of them a lavender purple, but also some beige, black, and golden colored. A beautiful spiny garden.
Only a short distance further, we are rapidly approached by several large sea lions, each about the size of a person. We are both startled and a bit unnerved, not knowing how they will behave with us. It seems that they lunge at each of us several times, do some acrobatics, then disappear quickly, and we are left staring at each other in appreciation. It is our first good dive encounter with them.
Another few fin strokes and Janel is pointing into the water. She can see the edges of the kelp forest coming into view. The huge kelp trees materialize before us and we are simply awed by them. We spend many minutes simply swimming through and beside and staring up into the long flowing trees swaying back and forth in the surge. As we explore, we are occasionally treated to another visit by one or as many as half a dozen sea lions, twirling quickly around us.
We also see several batwing rays, usually at a distance flapping away from us. These guys are really cool looking, like Southern stringrays, only with a much taller dorsal profile, and wings shaped more like a spotted eagle ray. There are dinner-plate-sized garibaldi fish here and there, their bright orange a stark contrast with the surroundings. It’s only been 20 minutes into the dive and we’ve seen everything we really wanted to see – sea lions, kelp, and garibaldis.
Janel points out a super cool looking nudibranch, deep bluish-purple with long flowing fringe off the top in brilliant orange. We soon spot another and then another, and then start seeing them regularly.
The surge gets fairly significant is some spots, but Janel and I just relax and flow with it. It is actually fun to swing broadly back and forth, timing our finning and movements through the kelp trees and rocks.
We make our way to a denser kelp area with only sand at the bottom. The kelp flops horizontally into a mat on the surface, which creates an orange-yellow filter for the sunlight on the bottom. The orangish glow is interspersed with the blue streaks of direct sunlight, and the moving patterns on the sand floor are marvelous. We find an especially pretty spot and simply stop our movements and sit, craning our necks skyward or rolling over and meditating at the scene.
My tank slips out of its strap during the dive, and after several tries Janel is unsuccessful in trying to re-cinch it. No big deal – I simply cup my hand beneath it behind my back and hold it in place.
We encounter one last batwing ray in the sand who doesn’t seem to mind our presence. We slowly approach it and are soon within a few inches, watching it puff away at something in the sand for several minutes, getting a great look at it.
A little later, a sea lion approaches Janel, then hunkers down in the sand in front of her. They have a brief meeting of the minds and we all stare at each other for perhaps a minute, pawing in the sand.
Eventually, we head back in the direction of the boat, swim a roughly measured distance over the sand, and start up. Our safety stop is performed midwater over the sand, and with the limited visibility, we are relying solely on our computers to hang at 15 feet. Fortunately, sea lions come out to entertain us repeatedly during the stop – they are really cool to see.
We surface about 40 yards from the boat, then submerge for a swim over to it. Our dive has gone 59 minutes and everyone is already back on the boat. I apologize for the delay to Captain Joe, but he simply says it isn’t a problem. He has me take off my weight belt and then my BC in order to get the BC with loose tank back onboard, which works fine.
By the way, the 20 pounds I’m carrying are way too much, and I end up even using my BC occasionally for realtime buoyancy control during the dive. Still, we’ve both managed pretty well during the dive, and Janel is grinning.
Joe takes some minutes following the dive to rethread my tank strap and explains the details of it without making me feel too stupid. Good technique.
Four little men – kelp, sea lions, garibaldis, batwing rays, unexpectedly comfortable, and diving with my dolly.
Mares Avanti Quattro
U S Divers Matrix
72 ft3 Steel
SeaQuest Spectrum 4
Body of Water:
U S Divers
7mm full suit plus hood & gloves