Roger and I were on a mission: we were looking for big abalone. Some years ago I explored the area north of Elk, called Cuffey’s Cove and found a large number of abalone that were just short of 10 inches. The plan was to find those who had grown up a bit.

We paddled our kayaks across Greenwood Cove and headed north. About half way across the cove we felt the impact of numerous small objects striking the bottom of our kayaks. This was somewhat puzzling since we were in over 40 feet of water. I peered over the side to see a frantic school of sardines, seemingly swimming for their very lives. Indeed they were. The school boiled around us, and was pierced by the gaping jaws of a school of porpoise. They were soon joined by a number of sea lions, and every several minutes the ocean would erupt in boils of frenzied fish and snapping jaws. We postponed our quest and enjoyed the show.

Between Navarro and Point Arena lies a rugged coastline that is certainly among the most breathtaking spots in the entire state. This area is sculpted with islands and large rocks that create a labyrinth of passageways and offer a considerable degree of protection from the northwest swell. The offshore rocks are riddled with caves, tunnels, and huge arches, some over 40 feet tall. The enormous arches dwarfed our little kayaks, and we thoroughly enjoyed the paddle to the dive site along this grand coastline.

The only public access in the area is at Elk, and one of the best dives is a mile north at Cuffey’s Cove. The cove takes its name from Nathaniel Smith, a professional game hunter and an African American. Nathaniel’s nickname was Cuffey, common slang for an African American in the 1800s. Cuffey’s Cove was a lumber mill and port, a cattle ranch, and a potato farm that supported a town second in size only to Mendocino. Artifacts from the dog hole days may still be found, both above and below the water

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The bottom around Cuffey’s Cove is rocky, with an abundance of invertebrate and fish life. Rocky walls begin at the water line and drop vertically to a sand bottom, 10 to 40 feet below. The area supports a thick growth of palm and bull kelp, particularly in summer, and has colorful invertebrates hiding underneath the kelp canopy. Look for nudibranchs and shelled mollusks, along with photogenic cucumbers and anemones. The fish life here is impressive with large rockfish, greenlings, lingcod, and perch.

This area is reputed to have more and bigger abalone than anywhere in the state. It is sometimes hard to find abalone less than nine inches. The better hunting is west of Cuffey’s Point, although the cove has plenty to offer as well. Roger and I enjoyed both hunting and sightseeing in the calm shallow water. Huge schools of sardines blotted out the sun and then were scattered by marauding sea lions with over-stuffed mouths.

Well, Roger and I never found an abalone over 10 inches, but our 6 were all over 9 1/2. We did find some mighty fine diving, caught dinner and got a bit of exercise. We were also treated to one of nature’s finest contests between predator and prey. Not a bad day…

Dive Spot At A Glance
: In Mendocino County 6 miles south of Navarro and 19 miles north of Point Arena.
Access: Public access is very limited. There is free, public parking directly across from the Elk Store on the west side of Hwy. 1. An unpaved road heads south from the parking lot and down to Greenwood Beach. This is a good spot to launch dive kayaks to explore sites north and south of the cove. Vehicles are not permitted on the beach, but it is possible to use your vehicle to drop off gear the base of the bluff. Parking and access may also be found at the old Elk Post Office, now a museum. Park near the museum, and follow the trail on the north side to the bluff and a very steep trail to the beach. Bring a rope. You may also run a boat down the coast from Albion.
Depths: 10 to 60 feet
Visibility: Good; 15 to 40 feet.
Skill level: Beginner through advanced, divers must be in good physical shape for the climb to and from the beach.
Hunting: Great hunting for big abalone (free-diving in season only, of course), good spearfishing for lingcod and rockfish.
Photography: Good macro photography for fish and invertebrates, cave and kelp wide-angle shots when visibility is optimal.
Hazards: Watch for big waves and surge here. Expect to climb down a steep and dangerous cliff or a long, strenuous walk on an unpaved road, and a scramble across a soft sand beach.

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