China Point

Smuggling illegal immigrants into the U.S. through California is not just recent history. Nor was it limited to Hispanics. In the mid-nineteenth century, racism and fears of cheap labor taking away jobs of American citizens caused the government to ban Chinese immigration. But that did not stop the smugglers. Catalina became a stopping point for smuggling process and a camp was set up at a well hidden point on the backside of the island. History often leads to the names of locations and the spot of this camp later became known as China Point.

Today the only thing the point has to do with the Chinese is when one of the descendents of those brave immigrants decides to explore underwater the beautiful kelp forests and reefs that lie just offshore.

Unfortunately, divers can’t get to this wonderful dive site as often as they’d like because of its remote location and open ocean location. The backside of Catalina is rough and rugged. It is always exposed to open ocean swells. In the summer and fall, large surf from the south sometimes moves in. Winter brings a near steady west wind, which makes China Point
particularly vulnerable. But there are windows of opportunities that make access to this location possible. Late fall and early winter is perhaps the best bet. The south swell is gone, west winds are light, and an occasional Santa Ana wind make this location ideal.

Because this site is not dived often, it is abundant in game. Lobsters are common, with some fair sized. Spearfishing for calico bass in the thick kelp is good. Halibut can be found half buried in the sand nearby. If you dive this place in the spring and summer, white sea bass and yellowtail can be seen.

Although the reefs of China Point are beautiful with considerable life, this is not the best spot for the sightseer or photographer. Surge is common and visibility is not consistent. If the ocean has been calm for a few days, with no rain and a steady cleansing current, visibility will be excellent, ranging 40 to 60 feet. But more often than not, the constant surge keeps viz in the 30- foot range. Head to the deeper sections of the reef to avoid the adverse effects of the surge.

The reef is mostly loose boulders, some the size of cars, interspersed with patches of sand, some very large. Out in the deeper sections, 60 feet or more, the bottom takes on a rolling terrain effect with pockets and ridges. Some of the open pockets, free of kelp, are quite pleasant, where you could come across a black sea bass, guitarfish, or large schools of salema.

On the outer fringes of the kelp it is not unusual to see pelagic life. Always take a few moments to turn your gaze away from the kelp forest and into the open Pacific. You could be treated to a passing Mola mola, huge jellies, or a blue shark. Years ago I spotted a sea turtle near here, the only time I have ever seen one in California waters.

Location: Backside of Catalina Island
Access: Boat only.
Skill level: Intermediate
Depths: 30 to 80 feet
Visibility: Variable but usually around 30 feet
Snorkeling: Poor; reefs too deep
Photography: Lot of subject material for wide angle, but surge and sometimes poor viz can make it difficult. Fair for macro.
Hunting: Good for lobster. Spearfishing also good for calico bass, halibut, yellowtail and white sea bass.
Hazards: Poor anchorage, surge.

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