With the unusual persistence of warm water currents moving by California there is no doubt that we are experiencing the effects of an oncoming El Nino. While common conditions for the summer months along the central California coast are filled with algal blooms and poor visibility we have been fortunate enough to see one of the best summers for diving in many years. Along with calm swells the algal bloom as almost been non existent, providing divers that venture into the unknown to be pleasantly surprised with the above average visibility of dives and abundance of life found in the area. Large numbers of humpback whales have been spotted and some fish that are normally found in southern California such as the Sheepshead have been seen venturing north. So if you are in the Central or Southern California area now is the time to get in the water because great things are beginning to happen.
Point Lobos is one of the most coveted dive locations in Central California. Formerly an area used for whaling and harvesting Abalone it is now one of the best maintained reserves in California. The access for divers is limited to two main areas Bluefish Cove and Whalers Cove, the rest of Point Lobos is off limits for divers. Besides the limited sites Point lobos is also limited in number of divers per day. Current regulations limit 15 buddy teams per day, with a buddy team being considered 2 divers (They will make an exception for a group of 3 occasionally). With the limited number of divers per day weekends require reservations usually a month in advance, while most weekdays it is possible to drop in without a reservation. It Is usually a good idea to check the Point Lobos website to see if there are still available spots regardless of when you are trying to dive there.
The topography of Point Lobos is amazing lots of rock structure, and the classic California Kelp forrest. The two diving areas each have their own charm, Bluefish Cove has very exaggerated rock formations with canyons and pinnacles all over with access to the deeper water for those who like to like to feel the nitrogen. Whalers is generally a little shallower still with the canyons and pinnacles but not as large. Bluefish Cove is a little more difficult to access without a boat, kayak or DPV. Most divers diving off the shore stay within Whalers Cove because thats where the water access is. Both of these sites perfectly embody what California Diving is all about and for anyone that is interested in cold water diving Point lobos should be at the top of your list.
Central California diving is coveted as some of the best cold water diving in the world. The kelp forest provide a unique environment that can only be found in California. Diving in the kelp forest should be in every divers bucket list, and while many divers will make the trip to monterey and dive Breakwater, my suggestion is to head a little further south to Carmel. Carmel is not as frequently dived and the structure that can be found on many dive sites is unparalleled. With all of this being said there are a few misconceptions people have about diving in California. First California diving is completely different from diving anywhere else in the world. If you are not familiar with Monterey or Carmel I highly recommend hiring a guide they will help with gear and help you find the little treasures that hide in all the different nooks and crannies. Second, the summer is the worst time to dive, because of plankton blooms in the summer visibility degrades in the summer, the swells tend to be much lighter in the summer but this lack of movement allows the water to become stagnant. Third, the water is cold no matter the time of year, average yearly highs in Monterey are in the mid 50’s while Lows are in the mid 40’s, average temperature is 50 degrees. The best time to dive California is in the winter and spring, winter storms wash out all the junk that collects during the fall. Cold water is also a sign of upwelling, meaning that cold very clear water is coming up from deeper waters to replace surface waters displaced by winds. Upwelling normally occurs in the winter and spring along the California coast. The divers that are well prepared (usually the drysuit divers) are able to capitalize on these cold waters and on occasion find visibility of 60-150 ft. While many divers who are used to warm water and consistent visibility this may not sound amazing, but along the coast average visibility is about 20ft and can be as bad as 2 ft at times. So when reports of 100ft visibility are heard it is not uncommon to see divers flood the waters. So when you hear that the water temp is reaching its seasonal low its time to pick up your gear and get in the water.
I had the opportunity recently to try something that I have not done before as a part of this night dive. Although I have done many night dives, and even a few at South Monastery beach this one was special because we decided to complete this dive off of kayaks. With the ability to travel to our site on the kayaks we were able to greatly extend our dive time and avoid the cold temperatures of 49 degrees. The kayaks allowed us to reach one of my favorite pinnacles at South Monastery its not super far from shore but much farther than i would have preferred to swim at night. It was amazing to see one of my favorite sites in Carmel at night. The dynamic changes, the rock fish begin to stir, the crabs scurry across the rocks and sand. I managed to find a wolf eel deep in a hole that unfortunately did not want to come out and say hello. The visibility was great for a night dive close to 30ft, mainly due to the recently calm north west swell. We could not have asked for better conditions to test out our first kayak night dive. The dive was beautiful and well worth the effort of the kayaks, the true test was the end of the dive. with overcast skies it was pitch black with only the light of passing cars on the highway as a reference to shore. Aside from the normal uneasy feelings of night dives, this night dive is one of my favorites of Carmel Bay and Monastery Beach.