We divers are nothing if we are not explorers. No matter if we are looking for that long lost sunken ship, rare critter to photograph, dinner, or simply to seek out what lies beyond the next rock, we are constantly exploring our underwater world. No aspect of exploration is more profound than cavern and cave diving. Like the sirens of Greek legends, these lairs tempt us to explore their inner recesses. While California is not known for its abundance of large caves and caverns, there are a few small ones out there that are worth exploring. One of my favorites is Brian’s Crack.
Brian’s Crack is located just offshore and west of Pescadero Point at the northern tip of Carmel Bay. This spot is named after Brian Nelson, captain of the Beach Hopper II. Some years ago Brian dropped his divers on a new spot, not knowing about the cavern. His regular customers named the site in his honor.
This cavern is actually a steep-sided crack that begins about 60 feet deep and runs roughly south to about 80 feet. The shallow end of the crack starts with a small bulbous depression that is really a large overhang. It then closes up after about 20 feet, and develops into a long tunnel. Although it is technically open at the top for most of its length, in places it is too narrow for a diver, or even a small fish, to fit through, so it must be respected for what it is — an overhead environment that prevents a direct ascent to the surface. The crack opens up again after about 30 feet and runs open-topped for another 40 feet.
At the shallow end, the cave resembles a small fish bowl. Here you will frequently find a number of rockfish seeking solitude under the overhang of the cave. Many of these are brown rockfish, but you might also find some gopher or black-and-yellow rockfish as well. When you turn around and begin to drop into the main body of the cave, the walls seem to come alive with color. Divers should bring a light with them to reveal the tapestry of color within the cave. Orange, red and yellow sponges line the walls of the cave, and create a tapestry-like covering for the rocky walls. Look for nudibranchs, small blood stars and bryozoans among the colorful sponges. There were a number of brightly colored horned nudibranchs on my last visit to the cave, and there were also a number of yellow dorids.
The walls of the cave are not smooth, but are fractured with deep, narrow cracks. Within these cracks are found a cornucopia of small fish and crustaceans. Black-eyed gobies and snub-nosed sculpins peer out at divers. Most cracks have a number of dock shrimp and a few are home to kelp and hermit crabs.
Most divers here spend much of the dive in the cave, but the surrounding reef is interesting and should be explored. Like much of the Monterey Area there seems to be more fish out and about than in years past. Lingcod are commonly found sitting on top of small outcroppings or back in the many gaps between boulders. A school of blue rockfish is often found just outside the kelp bed. Numerous black-eyed gobies, kelpfish and greenlings may be found just outside the crack. The invertebrate life is diverse if not abundant. There are a few solitary trees of hydrocoral, many large fish-eating anemones, and lots of sponges and tunicates. At times one animal finds a home on top of another.
Keep in mind that this dive includes an overhead environment that prevents a direct ascent to the surface. Only those who are properly trained and equipped to dive caverns or caves should attempt this dive.
The author would like to thank Captain MaryJo Nelson and the crew of the Beachhopper II for their help in the preparation of this article.
Skill Level: Advanced.
Location: Mid-channel between Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. GPS: N34°03.132’, W120°15.908’
Access: Boat only. Professional dive charter boats are recommended. Charter boats run out of Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors
Entry and Exit: Boat.
Depth Range: 65 to 90 foot range.
Conditions: Ocean conditions unpredictable and can change quickly. Currents are almost constant.
Visibility: Excellent in this open ocean location although plankton blooms can bring it down in the spring and early summer.
Photography: Excellent macro and wide-angle with a large variety of subject material.
Hunting: Few rock scallops. Spearfishing
fair to poor.
Cautions: Strong currents, unpredictable seas, open ocean location.