I went scuba diving again on Saturday! Keep reading – there are some awesome photographs…and a video! Just to get things started, here’s me (on the right) and my buddy Mikael, roughly 50 feet under the surface:
There were a total of three dives, and the third one was a doozy. Strong currents, and waves that were rocking the boat back and forth. Mikael and I started started our descent, and about 12 or 15 feet down, I exhaled, and that’s when my mask started filling up with blood. Uh oh.
Quite a way to start a post, huh? It’s true, and I’ll finish that story, but first, let’s go back to the beginning. My friend Mikael and I went on a day-long trip on a chartered dive boat to Santa Barbara Island. It’s a little island about 50 miles off the coast of Long Beach – twice as far as Catalina – and it takes between 5-6 hours to get there.
To make the schedule the most advantageous, we all arrived at the dock Friday evening. There were about 18 divers total, and our home for the next day was the dive boat called Sand Dollar.
The boat departed around midnight, and we all had bunks so we could sleep during the voyage. Accommodations were cozy. I had the bunk on the bottom right, and when I was lying down, there was only about 6 inches of clearance above me:
When we awoke, the sun was coming up, and we were at Santa Barbara Island in the middle of the Pacific. The island is a big rock – not the most beautiful place on earth, but we weren’t there to check out what’s above the surface!
I got an artsy-fartsy photo of the Sand Dollar’s dinghy during the sunrise:
We had all set up our tanks the night before at the dock, so our gear was ready to go:
All that was left to do was pull on the wetsuit and accessories, do the pre-dive safety check, and we were in the water by 8:30 am!
Ready for some awesome photos and a kick-ass video? The main reason to dive at Santa Barbara Island is because it’s teeming with sea lions, and they’re curious creatures that love to come and scope you out. They swirl and swim around you, twisting, turning and looping, shooting by you and then circling back a different way. They like to pass through your bubbles. A couple times I thought none were around, only to turn my head, and see one in my periphery, checking me out incognito. They’ll get pretty close, too – just a couple feet beyond arm’s reach! It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Mikael had a underwater camera, and got some incredible footage! I put together this little 1-minute video so you can see what it’s like – check it out!
Oh – and all this happened 50 feet below the surface! One sea lion started circling me, checking me out, so I started rotating with it – and we completed 3 revolutions before it swam off! Check out our new sea lion friends:
That’s me in the corner of the next two:
After the first dive, the boat relocated to a second area, much closer to the shore of the island in an area known as the rookery, where sea lion pups are born. Before getting in the water, we were warned by the boat’s captain to be cautious of the bulls (which are what adult male sea lions are called). “Don’t make eye contact,” we were told, “and keep your arms close to your body.” Males can be aggressive, and you don’t want to do anything that can be perceived as a threat.
The visibility during the second dive wasn’t as great as the first dive. The sea lions were still plentiful, but it was harder to see them coming and going. At one point, we emerged from a kelp thicket into a clearing and there were 3 or 4 bulls lounging near the bottom. They were big, too – probably 400 pounds, at least, and probably longer than I am tall. I told myself to keep my cool and mind my business, but one of the bulls started swimming by me and I swear he kept giving me the stink-eye. He did not like me. At one point I saw him bear his teeth. Mikael saw him swim towards me, snap his jaws, and swim away. Yikes. That’s when I slowly turned and moved in another direction. There was a good 3-4 minutes where I felt uneasy about what that bulls would do, but soon enough they all swam off, and I don’t think we ever saw them again.
We saw other cool creatures besides sea lions. We saw this ray hanging out on the ocean floor. It had a wingspan of maybe 2-3 feet:
And I can say I swam with sharks! We saw three or four angel sharks, which were 4 or 5 feet long. Angel sharks are harmless unless you provoke them, and they also hang out on the ocean floor, where they partially bury themselves in the sand. In addition, we saw a big spiny lobster, schools of fish, and a mermaid. OK, maybe not a mermaid.
After the second dive, we relocated to a third spot near the island, where there’s an underwater rock arch that we could dive to. This is the dive where I started bleeding right off the bat. Within seconds I knew what was going on: it was a simple nosebleed. I’ve gotten nosebleeds all my life, and I wasn’t surprised that it happened in a situation where I was entering a highly-pressurized area. I signaled to Mikael that I needed to surface, and we swam to the back of the boat. We had to wait a few minutes for other divers to enter the water before we could exit, and by the time I was on the boat, the nose had pretty much stopped bleeding.
At first, I was bummed that I had to abort the dive, and making Mikael, my dive buddy, abort it too, but that feeling went away quickly, because most of the divers ended up aborting the dive. The currents were too strong. It wasn’t any fun, and it was very physically taxing. I think only a handful of divers stayed under for any length of time, and two of them that I talked to afterward basically said the same thing: It wasn’t worth it. They were continually fighting to stay in control, there was hardly any visibility, the arch was nowhere to be found, and there was nothing to see. I’m not bummed that I missed out on that.
With the diving over, there was not much to do except relax and enjoy the 6 hour ride back to the dock. I chatted with Mikael and other divers, read a magazine cover to cover, and dozed off in the shade near the bow of the boat. I also had a moment of nice moment of reflection. Scuba diving may be a new hobby for me, but it’s one that I enjoy very much, and, more importantly, it’s one that never ever would have been possible had I not lost the weight and kept it off. Now I have another reason to keep it up… so I can go back and visit my new sea lion friends!
Keep it up, David!