It was one of those magical days in Monterey. The ocean’s surface shined like polished onyx. Wave height was measured in inches, not feet. Sailboats sat lifeless in their slips, while their owners prayed for wind. Time to go diving!
On rare days like these you can dive anywhere in Monterey, so we sought out sites that are undiveable under “normal” conditions. This day we checked out the extensive reef system off Point Joe. This site is about halfway between Point Pinos and Cypress Point. It is not much of a point at all, more like a hunk of granite on shore and a rocky reef offshore. When viewed from seaside it stands out as a black rock surrounded by white sand beaches.
Point Joe does look a little too much like the rocky Point Pinos, and sometimes north bound ships turn a bit too early into Monterey Bay. This mistake has resulted in many spectacular shipwrecks. The bones of the St. Paul lie on the south side of Point Joe, while the Celia sits on the north side. The Roderick Dhu rests nearby on the north end of Moss Beach. While none of these wrecks are intact, there are still plenty of metal parts around to amuse divers. Details of the ships, their sinking, and location may be found in “A Diver’s Guide to Monterey County.”
The rocky reef begins right beyond the shoreline and drops off gradually to a sand bottom at about 60 feet. The rocks forms a series of rolling ridges, that run roughly north-south. There is a bit of sand between the ridges but the bottom is mostly rock. Most of the wreckage is close to shore in 20 to 30 feet of water, while the best critter watching and photography may be found at 50 to 60 feet.
The reef here is full of color. Cobalt blue, orange and yellow sponges and encrusting tunicates paint the rock in quilt-like patterns. Huge, orange sea cucumbers poke out from cracks in the rock and extend their tentacles into the current. Strawberry and telia anemones accent the rocky walls.
This is a great place for fish watching. There are so few fishermen out here that the fish have not grown to fear divers. I swam by one steep-sided rock and watched a good sized lingcod watch me. After a few photos I peered over the rock to see a large mass of gelatinous spheres tucked into a crack—a nest. In the late fall through early spring lingcod mate and lay eggs. The females quickly leave for deep water and the males adopt the roll of house husbands. If this guardian is killed the nest, and future season’s fish will be eaten by a horde of predators.
Photographers should also look for rockfish hanging in the kelp canopy and hiding in cracks. Schools of cigar-shaped señoritas and juvenile rockfish move along the bottom like a dancing crowd. Yes, you can’t dive Point Joe every day, but when the ocean lays flat there are few better places for fish watching and photography.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: About halfway between Point Pinos and Cypress Point, along the 17- Mile Drive.
Access: Best dived from a boat launched either from the Monterey Breakwater or Stillwater Cove. May be dived from shore, and this is the best way to dive the wrecks, but is a 1/2 mile swim to the better offshore reef diving.
Skill Level: Advanced only form shore; beginners may enjoy the reef on calm days from a boat.
Depths: 15 to 60 feet
Visibility: Good, 15 to 30 feet.
Photography: Great for fish portraits, nudibranchs, invertebrates.
Hazards: This spot offers no protection form wind, surge or swell. Watch for big swell and surge. It is illegal to remove artifacts from historic Monterey shipwrecks.