There’s usually a story behind a particular dive site’s name. Ball Buster is one of the most challenging recreational dives in Monterey Bay. It is a massive pinnacle, about two-thirds of a mile off the Coral Street entry and accessible only by boat. This is onsidered an advanced site for several reasons; it is in the middle of a boat lane, has no shallow area for a safety stop, and stiff currents are commonplace. Some say this site was named after the large number of 50-pound lead balls found here; these are artifacts from commercial fishing gear that got snagged on the rocks. Others claim an infamous Monterey diver named it after his ex-wife, attesting to the difficulty of dealing with both their divorce process and the challenging site.
Ball Buster is my very favorite Monterey dive site. Surmounting the challenging conditions will reward divers with excellent visibility, a high concentration of marine critters, and exceptional bottom topography.
This is a relatively small site, perhaps 30 by 50 yards. But what it lacks in overall size it makes up for in biodiversity and the concentration of life found here. The top of the pinnacle begins at about 72 feet. In some areas the pinnacle drops off steeply in a nearly sheer, but deeply cracked, rock face. In other areas the rock drops away in a series of giant steps. This shallow area is carpeted in red strawberry anemones. Among the anemones are an assortment of barnacles, nudibranchs and stony corals. There is often a swift current which attracts a lot of pelagic and schooling fish. It is common to find thick schools of blue rockfish circling the site. Ocean sunfish are found here in large numbers in the fall, when they come from deep water to be cleaned.
Dropping a bit deeper the walls are covered in a thick blanket of fluffy-white metridium anemones. These anemones are stunningly beautiful and completely cover much the rock face. Metridiums are carnivores and feed on zooplankton brought by the currents.
On the southwest side of the pinnacle is a deep vertical crack that is partially blocked by a large boulder. The bottom of the crack is about ten feet above the base of the pinnacle. Everyone who dives this site should check out this crack, as there is almost always something interesting to find here. Sometimes there will be a giant Pacific octopus; at other times you might find a wolf eel. Giant Pacific octopuses usually weigh around 50 pounds and are about six feet in length, although the record is over 600 pounds and 30 feet tip-to-tip.
The deep water at the base of the pinnacle is a wonderful place to find unusual critters. On the southeast side and maybe 20 feet from the main rock, is a patch of red gorgonians. Gorgonians are rarely seen at recreational diving depths in Monterey Bay, so these are a real treat. So are the colorful critters that feed on the gorgonians. Look for simnia shells, festive tritons, and slender shrimp on the gorgonians. These critters are normally found when the polyps are retracted, since many of these feed on polyps and gorgonians protect themselves by retracting their polyps.
This site cannot be dived every day because it is far enough offshore that is receives no protection from Point Pinos. That said Ball Buster is one of the best dives in the bay and should not be missed if conditions allow. All of the skippers on the local charter boats have experience diving this site.
The author wishes to thank Chuck Tribolet for his assistance with this article.
Location: About two-thirds of a mile northeast of Coral Street entry in Monterey Bay. The high spot is at: 36°38.488′ N, 121° 55.169″ W.
Access and Facilities: Boat access only. Since there are no lineups you must use GPS to find this site. To avoid harming marine life, do not anchor on the high spot. It is advisable to go with a knowledgeable local charter operator. Private boats may be launched from the public ramps Monterey Breakwater or between Fisherman’s Wharf and Wharf #2.
Depth: 72 to 105 feet.
Visibility: 30 to 60 feet, occasionally near 90.
Skill Level: Advanced.
Hunting: The high point is just outside of the Pacific Grove Gardens State Marine Conservation Area where only finfish may be taken.
Photography: Great for wide-angle.
Hazards: Strong currents, boat traffic.