Oil Platform Grace

Northern Channel Islands Chamber Day (September 10) dawned clear and sunny. Those of us on the Vision enjoyed the smooth, short ride on a glassy ocean to Grace, only eight miles offshore. Erected in 1979 in 320 feet of water, Grace is a platform not a rig. She doesn’t drill, she pumps oil from Gail to a Venoco facility in Carpenteria.

The Vision dived the platform a bit differently than other boats I’ve been on. Instead of approaching bow first, the boat backed up to Grace and, once the engines were in neutral, divers merely stepped off the dive platform.

Whoosh! One minute I was standing on the stern, the next I was pinned against one of the legs in the center of the platform. I’d heard there was a current but this was a CURRENT! The good news was that I’d arrived at my destination with no effort whatsoever. The bad news was that if I wasn’t careful, I’d be carried beyond the structure I was supposed to be diving.

Lacking options, I descended quickly, finding the current at 35 feet just as strong as that at the surface. To get out of it, you needed to stay on the down current side of the legs.

There was more bad news/good news. The viz was less than 10 feet. The good news? The water temperature was 64°F and I was set up for macro. And oil platforms offer millions of macro subjects. The only problem was choosing just a few subjects from among the multitudes. I looked around. In my very small currentless area there were fluffy white Metridium anemones, strawberry anemones in various hues, mussels with orange or black mantles, scallops with orange or gray mantles, little decorator crabs covered with sponges and tunicates, shells, nudibranchs, tiny fish, feather duster worms, brittlestarfish and barnacles, to name a few. Even better, usually shy creatures were oblivious to my presence because of the current.

I went to work. In less than ten minutes all my film was exposed. After investigating subjects for the next dive, I ascended next to a leg of the structure and looked to the boat. When given the signal by the crew, I swam for the Vision as it backed toward me. The reboarding was almost as effortless as the entry.

The current didn’t let up. On the next dive there was once again a magic carpet ride into the rig. This time, however, there was no current at depth, allowing a more extensive exploration of the structure. I chose a few more subjects and exposed another roll of film.

Back on board the Vision, the sun continued to shine brightly in a cloudless sky and the ocean remained mirror flat. A good time was had by all and an excellent cause, “the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber” benefitted.

Note: Oil platform/rig diving is for advanced divers only. There is often current and/or surge, and the structures are in very deep water.

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