Catalina Island is one of the most heavily dived islands in the world with millions of dives logged in its fantastic azure waters. Diving at Catalina is not only great but also very convenient to reach, especially for the 100,000 plus active divers at home just a few miles away on the mainland. Catalina is know for great diving, but, alas, not virgin diving. Even so, there are dive sites around Catalina that are great dives, but rarely visited. And many of these are on the easy to reach frontside.
JOHNSON ROCK PINNACLES
Off the frontside of the west end is the massive reef and kelp around Johnson Rock, a small wash rock about 150 yards offshore. The diving is great and well worth a visit.
Further offshore, however, is the real treasure. Rocky pinnacles rise from deep water to easily diveable depths. Vertical rockfaces hold marine life usually only found at remote Channel Island locations. The exact location of these pinnacles is a closely guarded secret (I am only sure of the existence of two and how to get back to one). If you want to dive them, you will have to coerce a knowledgeable professional dive charter operator into taking you there. Not all know where they are—many will deny knowing— but if you can get them to take you, you are in for a treat.
UNNAMED REEF BETWEEN BIRD AND SHIP ROCK
Between Ship Rock and Bird Rock, two of the most heavily dived sites on the frontside of Catalina, lies an unnamed large rock pile that is rarely dived. While the scenery is not as good as Bird or Ship Rock, you will see some animals here in more abundant numbers. Lobsters, for example, are prolific. Invertebrate photography, especially for nudibranchs, is excellent. Diving here, however, is not without its hazards. Boat traffic is heavy and currents can be strong. Depths here are between 45 and 100 feet with 80 feet being about the average dive depth. Surprisingly, this reef is fairly easy to find, marked on charts and large enough to show up large on a depth finder.
When most divers get off the ferry in Avalon, they make a quick right hand turn and head for Casino Point. A great dive but you will definitely not be alone. Next time, instead, make a left turn. You will follow Pebbly Beach road along Lover’s Cove, a marine preserve that has fantastic underwater life but is limited to snorkeling only, no scuba. Even so, it is definitely worth a good amount of water time.
Beyond Lover’s Cove is Abalone Point and around the corner, Ring Rock. It is actually a bit less of a walk from the ferry to Ring Rock than it is to Casino Point. Ring Rock gains its name from the mooring ring embedded in a large rock at water’s edge.
While this is not a spectacular dive, it does have its redeeming qualities. The water is generally quite clear here with visibility that is usually better then at Casino Point. Reef area is limited but what there is, is covered with fascinating critters, good for macro photography. There is also some wreckage of an old bait barge that holds some interesting nooks and crannies. Across the expansive sloping sand bottoms are other photo opportunities like the always photogenic mantis shrimp.
Boat traffic can be a problem here so be aware. You may even want to take a dive flag. Another hazard is the descent to the water’s edge. While short, you will be doing a hand over hand to get to and from the ocean. Diving here with moderate to heavy seas in not recommended as there is little area to launch or land yourself. While this is a good area to hunt lobster and halibut as Lover’s Cove Preserve ends just to the west of Ring Rock, you will have to walk past Lover’s Cove with your catch. You could find yourself trying to explain your seafood. And finally, unlike Casino Point, there are no facilities here. Secure valuables in lockers at the ferry landing (the “Mole”). There are restrooms at the Mole as well.
BLUE CAVERN POINT
While this is not exactly an “unknown” dive site, it is rarely dived. There are two reasons for this. First, it is logistically difficult to dive. The area is part of a marine reserve/study area in which anchoring is prohibited. While this is a problem that could be easily overcome by simply anchoring just outside the boundary and swimming in and out, the bottom topography and currents make this nearly impossible. The bottom here drops away sharply to several hundred feet just offshore. Anchoring requires the boat operator to drop the anchor in deep water. With a prevailing strong current, the boat then swings too far offshore to make diving from an anchored boat practical. Second, this is a strict reserve—nothing may be taken or disturbed— and it is rigorously enforced.
Still, this is a spectacular dive not to be missed. While currents can be strong, they are easily avoided by hugging the vertical rock-face underwater. There are incredible walls of covered with gorgonia, caves, crystal blue water and the proliferation and quality of marine life you would expect from a marine preserve. Look seaward into the deep blue water and you are likely to see large pelagic fish pass by. Schools of yellowtail, white sea bass, giant black sea bass, even an occasional great white shark pass close to this point. Visibility is typically in the 80-to 100-foot range, sometimes more. This is a fantastic wide-angle photography site. Ever been to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach? Their largest tank simulating a kelp forest is called “Blue Cavern.”
Diving this site requires that you “live-boat” the site. Once current direction is determined, the boat can drop the divers in an appropriate location, then pull back to watch the bubbles progress and pick up the divers after the ascent.