Visiting California was the last stop on my whirlwind spring adventures. After being in Jackson for two days and driving to Big Sky for a few days I was on a flight out of Bozeman, MT.
Flying into Palm Springs airport and spending the next few days catching up with my friend was amazing. The best day of my trip to California was diving near the northeast coast of Catalina Island.
We left Palm Springs at about 3:00 AM and arrived at the pier in San Pedro around 6:30 AM. Once on The Magician, we readied our equipment and signed all the legal forms, standard boat procedures. The boat ride to Catalina Island was about two hours, one of which I tried unsuccessfully to nap. The other hour was spent meeting new people and eating a delicious feast for breakfast.
As we moored up to the first dive site everyone was putting on his or her gear. I myself was wearing a Sharkskin Climate Control Top and Sharkskin Paddling Pants underneath a 7mm Henderson wetsuit. I had to adjust my weight belt for all the extra neoprene. In addition to the added exposure suit, I was trying out a new Zeagle Zena BCD. Upon entry, I realized just how much colder the water was, 17C or 63F, from my usual tropical water diving, 28C or 82F.
The step off of the boat caused my body to go into a natural reaction of hyperventilation. I quickly opened my wetsuit to let in more chilly water to allow the neoprene to do its job and warm the waters inside the suit. As I waited for everyone to enter the water I tried unsuccessfully to slow my breath. As the group was descending I was not only fighting hyperventilation but a cold headache too. Ouch!! This new environment and new equipment quickly became a hindrance. I had to slow my decent from the groups, concentrate on slowing my breathing and focus on the other divers instead of the icy molecules of my brain. It was 13C or 55F at the bottom of our descent. I know most scuba instructors will probably never admit difficult situations but I have to say that it happens to all levels of divers. Engaging a normal breathing pattern calmed me and helped my body relax in the frigid water, which in turn acclimated a short while later and my frozen headache subsided. I didn’t think California diving would be a challenge to me. I know now to spend a few extra minutes at the surface to acclimate before I descend. I also recognize for myself, the need of a hood when diving anything below 20C or 68F.
Now, once I was breathing naturally and my popsicle head thawed, this beautiful kelp world opened up to me. According to local divers on the boat, this is the first year in a long time the kelp has been abundant here. The cause of the copious amounts of kelp is that the water temperatures had stayed cooler which allowed for them to thrive. Kelp in all its glory is like this fantasy maze that you have to slowly and carefully pick your way through. My fin strap snagged a few times but it was easy to stop and untangle especially with a helpful dive buddy. I was happy to see such a picturesque ecosystem and I was able to appreciate a few new sea creatures to add to my list.
There was a bat ray that was so cute because his face looks like he is smiling at you. He wasn't very interested in us though and swam off after just a minute or two. There were tons of Garibaldi, these are part of the damselfish family and are bright orange in color. On our ride back to the California coast we spotted and spent a few moments with an Elephant Seal, they can reach up to 3 or 4,000 kilograms, that’s up to 8,800 pounds! His nose was like a short version of an elephant's. I later read his short trunk is used for very loud roaring noises, and the chambers inside act similar to a rebreather, to collect moisture from exhalations. Both of these functions are important during the mating season. It was so cool to see something so different. I loved California diving and next time I will be better prepared.
The days following diving were spent mostly around a pool and celebrating yet another birthday! I left my friend and our pool days quite sadly. I returned to Bozeman then Big Sky for just a night and said farewell to everyone on my way back to Jackson Wyoming to start the summer season.