Some dives are challenging and require advanced divers to utilize all their skills to enjoy the dive. Other dives are all about experiencing calm serenity and enjoying the site’s fascinating marine life, and may be appreciated by divers of all skill levels. MacAfee Pinnacle is in the latter category.
MacAfee Pinnacle is located off of McAbee Beach in the City of Monterey. Although it is possible to make the long swim from shore to this pinnacle, divers normally enjoy this site from one of Monterey’s charter dive boats. Like many of Monterey’s boat dives, this site goes by at least two names. I could not find the origins of “MacAfee” other than it is a corruption of the nearby McAbee Beach. Dave Minard named it Sammet’s Spire after Phil Sammet, a fellow captain on the dive boat Cypress Sea. Captain Minard chose this name to have a little good-natured fun with Captain Sammet, who is an accomplished technical diver. A more adventurous site should bear Phil’s name.
The inshore area along most of the east side of the Monterey Peninsula is mostly a rock and sand patch reef. Although the area does have some very nice vertical rock faces with lots of invertebrates, most rocks rarely rise more than 10 feet off the bottom. At MacAfee the rocky pinnacle rises up a good 20 feet off the bottom. While calling this a “pinnacle” is somewhat of an overstatement since it pales to the massive offshore pinnacles, it is still impressive considering its close proximity to shore.
The pinnacle is a steeply sloping rock that is cut with deep cracks and crevices. This is a small rock and you can easily circumnavigate it several times on a single tank. This is not the place to cover a lot of ground and seek sweeping vistas or large fauna. It is a place to get close to the pinnacle and carefully examine each square inch of rock and each crevice to see what lurks there. It is, consequently, a great place to find an abundance of colorful, tiny critters.
There are a number of small rockfish hiding in the larger cracks, and blackeye gobies and sculpins in the smaller cracks. There were quite a few bay gobies out on my last dive, and one photogenic fish choose to pose on a very colorful, red sea star. There were also a large number of small shrimp and crabs hiding within the nooks-and-crannies of the rock.
MacAfee is a great place to photograph nudibranchs. You can expect to find at least a couple of Spanish shawls here. While most California divers think of these colorful aeolid nudibranchs as something you need to go to the Channel Islands to see, they are actually found as far north as Vancouver Island and I have personally photographed them well into Mendocino county. They are deep purple with maroon rhinophores and neatly arranged rows of orange gills. Like most aeolids, Spanish shawls feed on hydroids and anemones. Their gills have channels that are continuous with their digestive system. This allows the nudibranch to deliver fully armed stinging cells, nematocysts, to their gills, and use them for self-defense. The nematocysts make this nudibranch a very unpleasant snack for a hungry fish.
On a recent dive there were also a number of other aeolids — horned and Hilton’s nudibranchs. These are very colorful indeed, but pale when compared to the flamboyant color of the Spanish shawl. Like most of Monterey’s reefs you can expect to find a number of individuals of the more common yellow dorid nudibranchs.
So if you are into macro photography, or are simply looking for a very relaxing dive you should check out MacAfee Pinnacle. This site has a greater abundance of colorful little critters than nearby sites, yet is one of the most predictably calm boat dives in Monterey Bay.
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: Beginner or better
Location: Offshore of McAbee Beach at 36° 37.048′ N, 121° 53.770′ W.
Access: Boats may be launched from the public ramps at Monterey Breakwater or between Fisherman’s Wharf and Wharf #2.
Entry and Exit: Only boat access
Depth Range: 35 to 55 feet
Conditions: Predictably very calm
Visibility: 10 to 30 feet
Photography: Great macro photography even on days when the visibility to poor.
Hunting: None for divers, this site is within the Edward F. Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area where only finfish may be taken with hook and line.
Cautions: Watch for thick kelp, surge, and boat traffic.