Decompress Like A Boss
If someone tells you that they like doing decompression, they're either lying or they haven't done enough of it to know better.
This is a rule.
I will concede one very notable exception to this rule, and that is decompression on walls or pinnacles. On walls or pinnacles, a diver can make his or her way up the reef, conducting—and actually enjoying—their deco stops during what amounts to a second recreational dive, without that pesky "getting out of the water and doing a surface interval" part.
Suffice it to say that these dives:
- are precious, and
- don't happen all that often, at least not in my world.
Technical Diving at Catalina Island
I don't know of a place in Southern California that is more of a treat to dive than Catalina Island. The water is warm (that's "warm" in quotes for you tropical vacation divers) and clear blue (again, "clear" and "blue"). When the inshore San Diego green starts to seem normal, it's time to drive up to Long Beach and catch a boat out to the Channel Islands so you can remember that diving is supposed to be fun. And the great part about getting used to that cold murk is that it makes Catalina diving seem almost too easy.
Ship Rock, Catalina
A couple miles offshore of the Isthmus of Catalina is Ship Rock, a sharp, jagged rock that the birds have stained white (don't confuse it with Bird Rock, though) and juts dramatically out of the ocean some 20 feet. The part above the water is supposed to look like a ship, I guess, that's capsizing—I don't really see it, but my imagination has been known to fail me before. The kelp is epic here, and most divers assume the dive site ends around 130' below, where the craggy rock face levels out to a sandy shelf.
But Ship Rock goes down quite a bit lower than that, and the landscape is awe-inspiring. Giant boulders and rock formations are absolutely humbling, and the few specks of sand in the clear, dark blue water shine like stars when your light catches them. This is deep sea diving in the truest sense of the word, and also at its finest. When you're done being awestruck, you remind yourself to get your ass moving, because that deco time adds up quickly below 200'.
Decompression at Ship Rock is a dream, though. There's no hanging on a line. At all. It's no problem that you skipped all those rock crags and all that epic kelp on your way down, because there's plenty of time to enjoy it all on your way back up. Because it's that time of year again, we were looking for lobster—and there was plenty of time to do that, too.
"The Lettuce Zone"
The first section we got to on our way up, I found myself calling "the lettuce zone," because I'm pitiful at seaweed ID and I happen to be growing an extraordinary lettuce crop at home. We spent quite a while digging around for lobster around 40-60 feet.
"The Jewel Tone Zone"
Around 20 feet, there's just this explosion of light. Even through all the layers, I could almost feel the sun on my back, and with good reason—at 72 degrees, the water was nearly 20°F warmer than it was at 220'.
All the colors just shine, too. I was moved to stop and take it all in, which is a great way to feel when you're going to be stuck there for the next half hour anyway. I called it the "jewel tone zone," because it rhymes, and duh, the colors. Don't judge.
The Super Shallows
The super shallows can sometimes be an inhospitable place. That 10-foot stop can be surgey and generally pretty miserable in California. Not so at Ship Rock, not this time! And there was a very convenient rock shelf at like 11' to chill out on once swimming around the top of the rock lost its appeal.
Even an ideal decompression experience still sort of sucks. Those last few minutes just drag on forever, no matter how pretty the dive has been.
Finally, the surface! I love the surface.
We dove on Derek Dotson's catamaran "Perfect Mistress."