Santa Cruz

Coches Prietos: No Pigs, But Plenty of Photo Hogs

Santa Cruz Island’s Coches Prietos anchorage means “dark pig” in Spanish, but in my mind the dive site off the east end point will forever be known as Baby Sheephead Rocks. I’ve tried for many years to get a decent photo of a juvenile sheephead. They’re not uncommon, but the darned things just won’t sit still. For whatever reason, on a recent dive at Coches Prietos I encountered not a dark pig but a photo hog — a lovely juvenile sheephead that parked itself in […]

Jewels of the Calif. Coast, Part 1: Northern Channel Islands

A native Chicagoan, it wasn’t until I became a scuba diver that I discovered Santa Catalina isn’t the only island off the SoCal coast; it is one of eight. In the past 40 years I have explored all of them. Each is unique above and below the water and each offers hundreds of dive sites, no two alike. Five of the eight comprise the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. This article is about four: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. The […]

Caves, Caverns, Coves and Cliffs at Cruz

The archipelago off the Southern California coastline known as the California Channel Islands is made of eight islands, each with its own distinct character. Our very own Santa Cruz Island holds many distinctions. At 96 square miles it is the largest of the Channel Islands. It is approximately 24 miles long and its highest peak, Diablo Peak, is 2,450 feet tall, the highest in all the Channel Islands. This is the only Channel Island with a valley with vernal pools and a seasonal marsh owed […]

Wall Diving Awaits off Santa Cruz Island’s Ruby Rock

I’ve got great news for wall diving enthusiasts. At Santa Cruz Island’s Ruby Rock there are several walls to explore. One wall in particular drops vertically from the surface to nearly 110 feet. The tallest is on the western point of the cove. A smaller 50-foot wall is located on the east side. The walls at both locations feature lots of crevices and hiding places for a variety of marine animals. Anemones provide a lot of the color here. Corynactis anemones are the tiniest, but […]

Heart Attack Reef

As the largest of all the Channel Islands, you would rightfully conclude that Santa Cruz Island has a great deal of excellent dive sites. Most of them are fairly well known as many show up on the charts or in guidebooks. Heart Attack Reef, however, does not. While not a virgin reef, fewer divers and fisherman visit here because of its absence from most published material. Yet I rate this location as one of the best on the backside of this big island. How it […]

On Fire at Flame Reef

When it comes to color, divers visiting California reef communities enter a world decorated in a vibrant mix of hues. Santa Cruz Island’s Flame Reef provides a classic case in point — it’s literally on fire with bright colors. Rising sharply from the bottom and a good distance away from any run-off from the island’s landmass, Flame Reef is bathed in clear, life-giving currents that usually flow west to east and help maintain the water clarity. From some vantage points it appears as if the […]

Morse Point

Santa Cruz Island is a special place in the Southern California ocean. It is a place of transition. Currents mix, converge and collide here in different ways depending on the season and climatic shifts. What you find at Santa Cruz Island is a mixture of temperate and cold water species of fish and invertebrates. This is the sampler platter of California’s underwater world. Here you see bright orange garibaldi typical to southern warmer waters alongside bright white-spotted rose anemones that you usually only see in […]

Gull Island West

Unexpected marine encounters are what make a dive truly special. Fortunate for us in California, that is a frequent occurrence. Such was the case of our most recent dive to Gull Island, a rocky outcropping off the backside of Santa Cruz Island. We dropped down through the kelp forest to a moderately slopped bottom at 45 feet. Cruising west as the divemaster had suggested, we ran into the mini-wall that ran approximately north-south. The water clarity was pretty decent, about 40 feet, as we followed […]

Fraser Cove (a.k.a. West Cove)

Pulling into the cove, I could not help but notice the cross on the bluff. “THAT was not here before,” I thought. With some concern I asked Fidel, skipper of the dive boat Peace, as to its meaning. Unfortunately, It did involve the death of a diver in a diving accident, but not at this site. The cross was put in memorial of Steve Crombie, a free-diver of some note who died while free diving at Cortes Bank. But Fraser Cove was one of his […]

Flame Reef

Along the backside of the east end of Santa Cruz Island, crumbling sandstone cliffs drop to the sea. The shoreline is a broken pattern of thin sand beaches and rock faces. Offshore, much of the bottom is sand flats. But here and there are rock piles, reefs and patches of bedrock that make for interesting diving. Most of these sites can be easily found by the kelp that grows attached to them. Others are hidden, requiring a depth finder to locate. Flame Reef is one […]

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