(This post written by Michael. We took none of the pictures in this post–they all came from other places on the internet. I endeavored to find the best images that capture what we actually saw.)
Sherrie and I dived at La Jolla Cove today with divemaster Michael Timm of Dive California. It was an awesome experience! It was our first real-world dive in the ocean, and it was quite memorable. I think we are hooked on scuba diving.
We met Michael on the grass above the lifeguard station at the Cove. He patiently explained a lot about the dive, and how to put on and wear the wetsuit, gloves, and boots. I believe that he wasn’t super impressed with our training (e.g., he doesn’t think that we should have gotten “open water” certification by diving in the Homestead Crater), but he was patient and helped us a lot.
We wore 7mm wetsuits (very thick) because the water was cold. Except it wasn’t that cold: on our first dive the surface temperature was 70 degrees, and on the second dive, it had warmed up to about 75 degrees. I was worried that I would get cold and have cramps, but neither happened. The wetsuits kept us toasty warm, even though we were in the water for nearly an hour on each dive.
Since we were in salt water with big wetsuits, we had to wear a lot of weight. I was wearing 20 pounds, and Sherrie 18 I think. I’m not sure we needed that much, but it worked out well. Walking around on dry ground with that much weight (probably a total of 60+ pounds) was hard, as was wading into the ocean. The Cove doesn’t have real waves, but it has swell that comes in and out and can really push you around. I felt like a fish out of water trying to put my fins on at the beginning of the first dive!
We descended almost immediately off the beach in about 6-8 feet of water. I think Michael was worried about our buoyancy control, and didn’t want us to be too deep to start. Sherrie had a small issue once or twice where she popped up, but got back down quickly. Adding ankle weights for the second dive seemed to solve the popping up problem.
The water at the Cove was not only warm, but it was pretty clear too. On the first dive, the visibility was at least 20 feet, if not 30. The underwater world at the Cove is amazing, and having good visibility made things really pop!
Perhaps my favorite thing of the day was that, once we got away from the Cove entrance, we went to an area just northwest of the Cove beach where a colony of sea lions dwell. They formed a “raft” (the collective noun for sea lions in the water) near us and swam all around us, coming with a foot or two on occasion. They were clearly as interested in us as we were in them.
(This picture comes from the Dive California website)
At one point, one stopped very close to me and just looked me in the eyes. It was breathtaking! They are incredibly agile in the water; they looked like fighter aircraft circling in a dogfight.
Michael took us near big rocks and we looked under the ledges to see scores (no exaggeration) of lobsters just hanging out. We saw them all over the place on the dive; they are cool to look at because their yellow eyes look back at you (the yellow is actually “eye shadow”–the eyes are black). This will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:
Michael picked up an abalone off a rock and showed us the tender underneath part. On this first dive we also saw a shovel-nosed guitarfish
and lots of kelp bass (we didn’t see kelp like this on our dives–it’s not deep enough in/near the cove for kelp to grow like this)
and a sculpin/rockfish or two
Of course, one reason you go to the Cove is to see Garibaldi–the California state fish. And they are everywhere in the Cove because they like the sea grass that grows on the bottom there. We saw mature adults
and the babies that are orange and have blue spots
They took no thought for us and swam very close to us. The Garibaldi are in the Cove because of all the sea grass that grows there–here’s an image that represents what we saw nearly continuously on our dives:
Another fish we saw that I hadn’t anticipated was the California Sheephead. It’s got interesting colors and was cool to see under the water.
We were in the water for a little over 50 minutes, then Michael guided us back to shore. He did amazing navigating us around–we had no idea where we were. Once back on land–actually, just before we surfaced–I started feeling seasick. One thing about diving in/around the cove is that it’s not that deep (20-25 feet) and you experience a lot of surge (water going back and forth). The surge upset my stomach, and I didn’t feel that well when we got out of the water. I ate a banana and a tasty cranberry scone that Michael brought for us, and drank a lot of water, and was feeling reasonably well by the time the second dive started.
The second dive was like the first, of course, but different too. The visibility wasn’t quite as good, but still clear enough to see things around us. We didn’t descend immediately off the beach, but rather did a lazy surface swim a couple hundred yards off the beach (this time to the northeast) and descended there in about 15 feet of water.
Michael took us to a “cavern” near the Cove. It wasn’t really a true underwater cave (we aren’t certified for that). Michael called it a cavern because it has air above the surface inside. It was inside a narrow opening in the rocks that leads to a nearly completely covered, very small, rocky beach. Here’s a photo of a diver underwater (not us) in what I am pretty sure is the cavern we went into:
The water was 6-8 feet deep in the “cave” and we saw some kayakers in there. We said “Hi” as we surfaced there for a minute or two to see the rocks in the cave. Then we descended and went back out into the deeper water.
On the second dive, we saw a baby stingray. It was no bigger than a dinner plate, but something a bit unusual after seeing Garibaldi and kelp bass for the last hour or two.
I felt pretty well the second dive until the end. As we got shallower and closer to the beach, the swell got more pronounced, and I started feeling quite ill. I managed to drag myself out of the water and over to the concrete steps leading up and out of the cove, and then I wretched all over the ground–twice. Just at that moment, a lady was walking down the stairs. Sherrie said to her, “You might not want to come down right now.” and she exclaimed “Oh my!” and ran back up the stairs. Fortunately, it was high tide, and the water took all my vomit out to sea very quickly. I felt better immediately after I wretched, but was still a bit queasy until after lunch.
Our first diving experience in the ocean was awesome. We saw some very cool stuff, got to practice our buoyancy control. got to experience a thermocline (I failed to mention this–on the first dive, in about 10-15 feet of water, the temperature suddenly dropped from about 70 to about 60 degrees, and stayed that way for about 25 minutes. It was invigorating (but not cold!) and a cool experience, no pun intended. Michael later explained that the water comes out of a 200-300 foot deep canyon several hundred yards north of the Cove and causes the thermoclines), got to go into a cavern, and had a successful, safe dive.