By Tony Vanore
Photos by Tessa Ptacek
The past few months have reminded me about how epic the scuba and the diving is in LA County and Santa Barbara County. Hearing stories from divers coming into the shop to fill tanks and bragging about diving in 60 to 100-foot visibility, I have to remember that we are blessed with a truly wonderful dive environment.
Tessa Ptacek, a Dive N’ Surf instructor, raved that the trip to San Nicholas, and Santa Barbara Island was the best diving she have ever experienced in her two years of diving California. She said that the water temperature was extraordinary for November and didn’t feel cold in a 7mm full suit at 115-feet.
“We had the most beautiful sunny days and crystal clear flat water,” Ptacek said. “We had visibility of 80 to 100-feet everywhere we went.”
Another highlight of the trip for Ptacek was encountering the wide variety of life at every dive location.“Whether it was huge Sheephead at Begg Rock, the beautiful anemones and urchins at San Nicholas, or the Sea Lions, Bat Rays, and Huge Lobster Dens at Santa Barbara,” she said. “ there was never a dull moment on any of these dives. Many people think that only tropical waters offer the best diving, but all of my experience, especially on this two day boat trip on the Pacific Star, has made me think the complete opposite.”
One of the contributing factors to the wonderful dive conditions during the fall and early winter months are the Santa Ana winds. These winds are hot, high winds that blow from the eastern mountains and deserts towards coastal Southern California, usually in the spring and fall. They are the result of an air pressure buildup that spills out of the hot desert and brings winds from the east and northwest, sending heat skyrocketing and humidity plummeting to less than 15 percent. During Santa Ana conditions, it is typically hotter along the coast than in the deserts. These unique conditions tend to create exceptional dive conditions all along the coast of Palos Verdes.
“We are so lucky to have such incredible diving conditions around us, some right in our front yards,” Ptacek said, “ If you haven’t been out in a while, go now! I could not speak more highly of Southern California Beach Dives or Channel Island Diving.”Barring any swell caused by far off storms brings clear water up from the depths and the ocean becomes calm and flat and looks like a large lake – creating perfect diving conditions. Though this year we are in-between a “La Nada,” which means no dramatic change in the Pacific Ocean temperatures this year. This makes long range weather forecasts difficult. This fall, conditions as far out as the Cortez Banks, Begg Rock, Santa Barbra Island and St. Nickolas has produced over 100 feet of visibility with bottom temperatures in the low 60s.The reports from the Dive N’ Surf Dive Club two day dive trip to Begg Rock, San Nick and Santa Barbara Island were spectacular. Begg Rock, the remains of an ancient underwater volcano 60 miles west of the mainland and eight miles past St. Nickolas Island is usually a difficult dive to get to due to weather. When conditions are good, this is some of Southern California’s best Diving because of the incredible diverse sea life and clear visibility.Throughout most of November the conditions were great not only locally, but also out at the Islands. Diving to Casino Point on Catalina Island even had 30 plus feet of visibility. Dive N’ Surf Dive master Tony Toniolo even said the water was so clear he could see the reflection of the Casino from 40 feet below the surface of the water.California divers normal say that for a beach dive if you can see your hand with your arm extended it is generally considered great visibility. Veteran’s Park in Redondo Beach has been especially clear, which is unusual for a beach dive. “Jen Garrison and I were swimming along at about 65-feet deep on a big wall off the Santa Barbara arch, and we realized we could clearly see the rocks on the bottom at about 130 feet,” Dive N’ Surf Dive instructor Kathy Kempton said about the November two day trip. “We could read the waves rolling across the surface of the water, and we could easily register the colors and details of the dive gear of Mary, Diana, and Karen who were about 70 feet out in front of us. It felt like we were diving in a huge aquarium. We also had a night dive off Sutil Rock that was so clear, it felt like we were diving in the freshwater caves of Florida – it seemed like the only thing stopping the visibility was the reach of our dive lights. DZ