On April 13, 1970 the La Jenelle was a 466-foot, 1,000-passenger luxury liner moored outside Port Hueneme harbor when a storm changed her fate. Ripped from her mooring, she ended up aground near the mouth of the harbor. After repeated attempts to free the vessel failed, the La Jenelle received an unfortunate makeover — Navy Seabees cut away her superstructure and placed large boulders in and around the hull, turning the onetime oceangoing vessel into a permanent part of the Port Hueneme jetty. Portions of the wreck can still be seen today from the surface, but little can be viewed underwater, so don’t envision this site as a “wreck” dive. The main event for divers is the rocky reef and the nearby Hueneme Submarine Canyon.
Submarine canyons are fascinating geological structures where the deep gashes in the continental shelf are found relatively near shore. Along the Southern California coastline there are five sites visited by divers: La Jolla, Newport (accessible but rarely visited), Redondo, Dume, and Hueneme. Submarine canyons allow divers quick and easy access to deep water where unusual marine life often comes up from the abyss.
Access to the La Jenelle Park site is easy but the water entry can be tricky, and diving here should be conducted only during calm weather. Follow the small, short road at the end of Sawtelle Avenue in Port Hueneme. The road leads out toward the beach and to a small parking lot. There is no parking fee, no facilities are available, and the park closes at night. It is only a short walk from the parking lot to the dive site, but a four-wheel drive can venture right out to the rocks. The small cove formed where the jetty meets the remains of the La Jenelle is the best place to enter and exit the water. Resist the temptation to slip into the water on the south side of the jetty; diving is prohibited, as this is part of the Naval Base Ventura County. You will be cited and risk being arrested.
Out along the jetty seaward the bottom depth ranges from 20 feet at the entry point to about 45 at the tip of the jetty. Great diving begins almost immediately. The rocks hold a large amount of fascinating marine life. Expect to see some kelp, but the massive gorgonians are the real attraction here.
Unlike most beach dive sites, this location does sometimes present challenging currents, so be advised. While some come from coastal eddies, some also arise from tidal flows in and out of the port. The best time to dive here is at slack high tide. It will reduce aggravation from currents, but more importantly, this is the best time for good visibility.
Fish life at La Jenelle includes garibaldi, cabezon, rockfish, opaleye and senoritas. Even so, with the possible exception of halibut, the spearfishing is not worthwhile. Lobsters are found only occasionally; sheepcrab are abundant, especially out near the edge of the canyon.
A dive here would not be complete without a venture into the canyon. From the tip of the jetty the sand bottom drops off rapidly to over 80 feet before tapering off to a gentler slope. Crabs are what you’ll remember most from this area — lots of them.
Although not technically part of the La Jenelle Park dive site, one of the largest pismo clam beds in Southern California can be found just north of the wreck, off Silver Strand Beach, which can be reached from the same parking lot. A perfect shallow second dive outing, simply swim about 100 yards off the beach to about 15 feet of water and head north. You’ll find plenty of pismo clams, which make excellent chowder. A reminder, always check Fish and Game regulations before hunting.
Location: On the northwest side of the mouth of Port Hueneme.
Access: Rocky surf entry.
Best Diving Depths: 25 to 80 feet.
Visibility: Averages 15 feet.
Hunting: Spearfishing poor. Occasional halibut. Occasional lobster.
Photography: Good macro and wide-angle; challenging entry/exit with camera.