Open ocean pinnacles offer some of the most spectacular diving found in California. The biggest problem diving those pinnacles is the length of time it takes getting there and wondering if the weather will be friendly.
Begg Rock is one of those pinnacles. At 60 miles from the California mainland, it is one of the dives usually done from a multi-day, live-aboard boat. At about eight miles off the west end of San Nicolas, Island Begg Rock rises fifteen feet out of the sea. The rock is just that—a rock. No place to land, no life, nothing. It is below the water’s surface that life begins, and with awesome force.
In several places around the rock the wall drops vertically to over 250 feet. On the northeast side, there is a plateau of 55 feet with a tunnel. In one section on the main reef you feel as if you’re in a valley of snow-capped finger-like peaks. I felt as if I was being held in the palm of a giant’s white-gloved hand. Because of this open ocean environment, it creates an excellent area for a variety of invertebrates.
The photographer can go crazy deciding which lens to use. The macro photographer will find gray moon sponges, along with an enormous variety of brittle stars, large and small, crawling over everything. The assortment of anemones is almost endless. Ranging from snow white to hot pink and all hues in between, you can find anemones up and down the rock.
Much of your choices or what to look at will depend on your depth range. In 20 to 40 feet, a mish-mash of colorful mollusks, anemones, and stars cover the rock face. Deeper, white senile anemones and huge corynactis patches of lavender and orange take over. Rock scallops are abundant and big.
When using the wide-angle lens you can find great shots of the pinnacles and the many open water species. A recent dive brought us a pair of small mola mola drifting effortlessly past us at 80 feet. Visibility is generally consistent at about 40 feet, ranging as much as a reported 150 feet. Plankton blooms, however, occasionally drop water clarity to a green 20 feet.
The hunter can find a variety of game, but scallops and more scallops can be found all over the rock. Pick and choose carefully, You can’t put one back if you find a larger one—and you will find a larger one. You can have your limit (10) in a matter of minutes, so use caution when loading your game bag. Be aware of your depth, and adjust your buoyancy as you add those heavy large scallops.
For the hunter with a spear, you will find rockfish and an occasional lingcod on the deeper ledges. Check the new fish and game regulations with regards to these species as they have changed (and continue to change) with regards to both size and season. Due to the vertical nature of the rock, you will not find lobster creeping about.
Approach and anchoring on the rock can be very difficult. Due to its open ocean location, seas must be calm; consequently, many dive-charter boat captains prefer to live-boat or drift-dive the rock. Current can also be a hazard.
For these reasons, and general diver comfort, the best way to reach Begg Rock is onboard one of Southern California’s fine dive-charter boats. Begg Rock situated close-by to San Nicolas Island, which is the farthest island out of all the islands; for this reason, a multi-day trip is considered to be ideal, although many boats run single-day trips as well.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: 8 miles of the west end of San Nicolas Island, GPS N33°21.856′, W119°41.724. (GPS coordinates are for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation)
Access: Boat only
Depths: 20 to well over 130 feet. Many sections a vertical drop to very deep water.
Skill Level: Experienced
Snorkeling: Poor, due to depths and open ocean location.
Visibility: Generally very good, averaging 40 feet with many days of over 100.
Photography: Excellent for both wide-angle and macro. Many invertebrates. Life covered rock spires and abundant pelagic fish make for good wide-angle photos on days of good visibility.
Hunting: Rock scallops abundant. Some rockfish and lingcod. Little or no lobster.
Hazards: Open ocean location and steep drop offs make anchoring difficult necessitating diving “live-boat.” Currents can be strong. Depths.