Santa Rosa: East End Pinnacles

Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I saw that my friend and dive buddy Josh was awake before me, putting away some toast and juice in hasty order. The second thing I did was to get my bearings. I could tell we were on the backside of Santa Rosa Island, the third in the Northern Channel Islands chain, but I wasn’t sure where we were or where we were headed. In my raspy voice the first thing I said to Josh was, “I hope we are headed to the East End Pinnacles.”

My wish came true.

I immediately started jacking my jaw to Josh on what a great dive this was. Actually, I had not been on the site in many years. But what I remembered was all good.

There are two groups of pinnacles just south of East Point. Three make up the outer group with depths of about 50 feet to the top and 85-100 feet to the bottom. The inner group is also three peaks topping out at about 40-60 feet and the bottom at about 70-80 feet. The rock formations here are not really pinnacles, per se, but more like giant solid rock mounds surrounded by large and small boulders calved from the main rock. There are three primary areas to explore: the top of the reef with the inner group being usually covered with kelp, the walls dropping off from the top to the bottom (my personal favorite area) and the boulders and flat bottom surrounding each pinnacle. Each pinnacle has a different character and profile with the differences between the outer and inner pinnacles being the most profound.

The outer pinnacles are abundant with invertebrate life and a boon for macro photographer. If you are just sightseeing, bring a large light to take in the full rainbow effect. All sections of these reef are covered with colorful critters. Take the time to head out from the reef onto the flats to see the numerous and huge sand rose anemones. You will be deep, so watch your time and pressure.

The outer pinnacles can be more difficult to dive because of strong currents. The entire area is susceptible to strong currents but the outer pinnacles especially so. At least with the inner pinnacles you usually have a moderate to thick kelp growth to help you gauge current speed and direction.

With the inner pinnacles you’ll see more fish and have the benefit of the kelp for that aspect of beauty. There are still a lot of invertebrates, but for the inner pinnacles you are probably better off with a wide-angle rig for photos.

Common to both sets of pinnacles is the unusual number and variety of sea stars. You’ll see exceptional large pisaster stars in all their varieties, leather, blood, and rainbow stars and more. But what you’ll remember the most is the large number of huge sunstars. At the base of the reef they seem to be everywhere.

Hunters might be a bit disappointed here. You’ll still find rock scallops here and there but not in the numbers as 20 years ago. Lobster grabbing is fair in the boulders around the base of the reef. Early in the season is best. Spearfishing is much better at other places around Santa Rosa Island with the possible exception of halibut hunting, which remains good in the shallower sections around the inner pinnacles.

If you are ambitious, you could circumnavigate some of the pinnacles in one dive. I would not recommend it, however, as there is so much to see here. You should take it all in a leisurely pace.

Dive Spot At A Glance

Location: One of three inner pinnacles GPS —N33°56.132′, W119°58.107′. Other pinnacles easy find with depth finder and marked on most charts.
Access: Boat only, professional charter boat highly recommended.
Skill Level: Intermediate or better
Visibility: Generally good; averaging 40 feet but plankton blooms can reduce clarity considerably.
Depths: Inner group 40 to 80 feet, outer group 50 to 100 feet.
Snorkeling: Poor; reefs too deep
Photography: Excellent macro especially on outer pinnacles. Good wide-angle and macro on inner pinnacles.
Hunting: Some scallops, fair for lobster early in season. Spearfishing for halibut good on flats nearby.
Ocean Conditions: Generally calm and protected from the prevailing northwest weather but currents are common.

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