“I wouldn’t let you go if I didn’t think you could do it” Elaina stated matter of factly. Jenn still wasn’t convinced we weren’t facing imminent death. There were a lot of things that could happen in the unknown when we only had each other to trust and depend on. Were we ready? Could we do it?
We had just finished a dive at Casino Point with Elaina, a dive master from Catalina Scuba Luv and we were contemplating if we were going to keep her on for the second dive or make our first solo (no guides) dive. Actually, I had done this already during my trip to Two Harbors but it would be Jenn’s first time and she was more than a little worried.
The first dive of the day was phenomenal. The seas off of Catalina Island were beautiful that morning with great visibility and calm tides. Elaina took us on a fantastic route too. We started by swimming through a new piece of installation art – Doug Aitken: Underwater Pavilions. It is brand new(like less than a month old) and shaped like a geodesic globe of funky reflective spheres that you can swim through. Next, she took us to the kelp, which was making a comeback. It was considerably more plentiful than it was the previous year when we did our dive certification here on Catalina Island. She found an octopus to play with and pointed out all kinds of cool fish. Even if we were ok, would we have any fun without a guide?
Ready to Dive – OK
We looked at our cruise ship floating in the harbor in Avalon and back into the aqua blue water. “Ok, let’s do it”, Jenn said nervously. A round of high fives and pictures was followed by Elaina driving away in her golf cart, a staple mode of transportation on Catalina Island. This is it….just Jenn and me, the gear on our backs and a little bit of PADI training. Things were going to get real – real soon.
We reviewed our dive plan like we were taught. Mustering our courage and confidence we said again to one another that could do this. This was as much to convince ourselves as it was to convince one another, at least for Jenn. Another Scuba Luv team was in the lot staging for their second dive. Since they agreed to transport our gear back to town, when they entered the water it was our cue to go. Final gear check… and my tank was too loose. Ominous start, but at least Jenn had my back, both literally as well as figuratively. Babies. With. Rabies, Are….. Ready to dive.
Casino Point is a unique shore dive. Steps lead right down into the water so there is no swimming out. You step right into the dive site almost like a boat dive from shore. The natural beauty is augmented by dive fixtures that are interesting and useful for navigation while diving. We choose to descend at the buoys that were 15’ away from the steps. A final check – OK – and we let the air out of our BCDs.
Into the kelp forest we go
Sinking down into the known unknown with my love and companion beside me was surreal. We were actually doing this. Just us. Is this what it will feel like leaving corporate America and trusting our writing and photography to put food on the table?
We adjusted our ears and took a look at our surroundings. Three buoys were chained to the bottom; their chains making an audible clanking even under water. An unusual amount of fish seemed to be hanging out here too. Were they expecting the divers to feed them? Behind us were the stairs out. To our left was Pavilions and the sandy flats but we were going to the right into the rocks and the resurgent kelp forest.
Jenn led and I followed her into blue unknown. Jenn is not a natural water baby by any means and generally doesn’t like fish in any form, they are actually one of her biggest phobias. The fact that she was underwater at all shows her commitment to growing past her fears. She also never envisioned liking kelp either. There have been several anxiety ridden snorkeling trips to La Jolla Shores to see leopard sharks. All have ended in total failure for Jenn with kelp being her nemesis. Not only did it represent another hazard but also it also provided hiding places for critters. We will talk more of all this in a future post, yet here we were swimming deeper into the underwater forest.
2500 PSI… 2000 PSI… We kept track of each other and our air consumption as we explored the kelp forest. Jenn was doing awesome. Her buoyancy was spot on and she confidently kept kicking out into the deep. If you are a scuba diver and haven’t been in a kelp forest, you should add it to your must-do list. The National Ocean Service uses this description – “Kelp are large brown algae that live in cool, relatively shallow waters close to the shore. They grow in dense groupings much like a forest on land. These underwater towers of kelp provide food and shelter for thousands of fish, invertebrates, and marine mammal species.”
1500 PSI – time to turn around per our dive plan. Surprisingly, the dive site was easy to navigate. Instead of a three-dimensional maze of similar features we found we were on an underwater path. Our instruments kept track of our depth. Shore was one direction and the deep the other. The final step, we wanted to stay close to the bottom to see things. Whala, we have a singular line through the wilderness as we moved in contour to the land at a fairly consistent depth.
Swimming back home
Our line guided us true. Before we could see the chains, we could hear their clinking under the water. Air check – 1000 PSI. How do you signal let’s swim around for a bit since we have extra air? Does Jenn even want to swim or is she mentally done now that we’re back? My underwater charades were horribly ineffective but it was a great lesson on how important communication is when you are exploring the unknown. Especially when you are unable to actually speak to one another.
Another good lesson is to error on the side of caution and head back just in case. We made kissy faces during our redundant safety stop and we were soon swimming back to the stairway. We had plenty of air (re caution) so we just stayed underwater for the return swim. As we approached the shore, we could feel the small waves and could see their motion on the seagrass. A few friendly garibaldi escorted us in, perhaps still hoping we were going to feed them. A well timed swim with the surge and we were on the stairs. First of hopefully many dives successfully completed.
Final thought bubbles
Casino Point Dive Park is a unique and amazing place to dive in California. First off, it’s on Catalina Island which is almost like a Mediterranean town. In the town of Avalon is a couple of full-service dive shops including Scuba Luv. On the edge of Avalon sits the Casino (not a gambling casino, but a gathering place) and next to the Casino is Casino Point Dive Park.
The dive park is well set up for easy and enjoyable diving. The dive park is partitioned off from the quiet harbor a buoy divider so there is no fear of passing boats. The stairs give easy access to a well-manicured dive sites. In addition to the new artwork, several small wrecks have been sunk around the site so there will plenty to look at. Lots of fish and other animals live in the kelp forest and rock structures around the points. The shore rolls off to a maximum depth of 90’ within the boundaries of the park. What’s more, you can even get an air fill and even grab a bottle of water or soda to drink right at the park during your surface interval. How cool is that?
Whether it’s diving or something else, you should take a chance to adventure with your partner. Learn together. Grow together. Build trust and skills through repetition. Have fun practicing until you can make the entire world your playground. We aren’t there yet but, after this adventure, I really feel like we are on the right path.