In old movies, cartoons, and perhaps even in your fantasies, sunken ships are old wooden sailing ships lying upright on the bottom, perhaps with just a hole or two in the sides, bow standing out proudly, masts intact. It’s just ripe for exploration. But anybody who has been diving long enough will tell you that wrecks, especially wooden ones, are usually just rubble on the bottom. Off the coast of Santa Barbara County, just east of Point Conception, however, is an exception. While it is well known, and in relatively shallow water, it is not frequently dived.
The Gosford is a four-masted wooden sailing ship carrying a cargo of coal that caught fire, eventually sinking at Cojo Anchorage in 1893. Salvage was attempted but eventually abandoned.
Diving the Gosford is great fun because of the age of the ship and bottom profile of the wreck. The stern is in 35 feet of water and it is 55 feet to the bottom of the bow. Originally 281 feet long, most of the stern is now gone but the bow is relatively intact. Debris is scattered around and in the ship consisting of steel plates, pipes, chains and more. There is even another small fishing boat wreck immediately adjacent to the Gosford.
Kelp covers much of the wreck, making it sometimes difficult to distinguish features. A large number of kelp rockfish hover in the fronds and with the right camera angles, make for excellent photos against jagged elements of the hull. Because the hulk rests on a sand bottom, however, it cannot be mistaken for a reef. Also, the bow is mostly clear of kelp and unmistakably marks it as a wreck.
Photography, particularity around the bow, would be very good if it were not for one factor—water clarity. While not bad, it is typically only around 15 to 20 feet. Photography of the fish in the kelp, however, is great. This is also a good spots for macro photography of the anemones on the wreck, as well as numerous nudibranchs.
Hunters will do fair. There are some lobster in the wreckage, but there are not as much crevices and holes as you might think. Look under the steel plates on the deck and in the debris around the wreck. Halibut are common on the sand around the wreck. Rockfish hunting is also decent.
But the main fun here is just to explore and cruise. Although the wreck is large, it can be easily covered in one dive. Navigation is easy—just follow along the side of the hull until reaching the bow and then skirt up along the opposite side while occasionally venturing out on to the debris for a look. Also, spend some time in the center of the wreck and the hardware here. Bring a light to look into holes and illuminate the colorful growth on the hull.
Although you could launch a private boat out of Santa Barbara or a small boat off the hoist at Gaviota pier, with the remoteness and fickle conditions, taking a professional charter boat is recommended. The Truth Aquatics boats (Vision, Conception, Truth) out of Santa Barbara makes trips to the wreck, but they are infrequent and fill up quickly. Also nearby is the wreck of the SM1 which is deeper but more spectacular. Conditions permitting, the first dive is often on the SM1 and then on to the Gosford wreck. Or an alternative schedule is to dive the islands or oil rigs and then dive the Gosford. On the way back to Santa Barbara, there are a number of great reef dives for a third or fourth dive. Multi-day wreck-focused trips to the area could include the SM1, Gosford or even, if conditions permit, a visit to the multiple wrecks at Honda, a real treat.
In short, there is a lot of excellent wreck diving west of Santa Barbara that deserve a visit. Book your trip there now.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: West of Santa Barbara and Gaviota, just east of Point Conception at Cojo Anchorage. GPS N 34° 26.720′, W 120° 26.820′ (GPS for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only. Although close to shore, there is no shore access. Charter boat suggested although hoist launch for small boats available at Gaviota.
Skill Level: All levels but nearby wrecks are for the advanced.
Depths: 35 to 55 feet.
Visibility: Fair, 15 to 20 feet.
Snorkeling: Not practical due to only fair visibility.
Photography: Fair for wide angle—good angles and kelp shots but limited by visibility. Good macro with a fair amount of little critters.
Hunting: Fair for lobster, rockfish, and halibut.
Hazards: Can be surgy.