Pulling into the cove, I could not help but notice the cross on the bluff. “THAT was not here before,” I thought. With some concern I asked Fidel, skipper of the dive boat Peace, as to its meaning. Unfortunately, It did involve the death of a diver in a diving accident, but not at this site. The cross was put in memorial of Steve Crombie, a free-diver of some note who died while free diving at Cortes Bank. But Fraser Cove was one of his favorite dive spots. In fact, a small portion of the cove is named after him—Crombie’s Hole.
Fraser Point is a large rocky extension at the extreme west end of Santa Cruz Island. Diving around Fraser Point is exciting and quite doable most of the time, because you can tuck into either side of the cove depending on the weather or swell direction. The south side of the point is the most protected with the best anchorage in all but a severe south swell. Known as Forney’s Cove there is a large finger reef, good for lobster, and a sand bottom in the cove known for halibut and, in shallow, pismo clams.
But when the prevailing northwesterlies calm down, Fraser Cove, on the north side of the point, is the place to hit. Along the surge swept rocky point are channels, overhangs, deep crevices, and holes, including Crombie’s Hole, that hold a myriad of marine life.
Steve Crombie was a hunter and he discovered his famous hole while scouring the reef for one of his favorite seafoods—lobster. Deep in the reef and only 15 feet down, diving the hole is a challenge and left only to the calmest of days. It is a big cavern, penetrating deep into the island. It is right under the cross on the bluff, but the day I tried to find it I was getting slammed around in 25 feet of water so I dared not go shallower. It is supposed to be an excellent lobster spot, so I hear. There are similar, but smaller holes, most also discovered by Crombie, along the east side of the cove and out to West Point. Again, these are excellent lobster hunting areas.
Inside the cove the bottom is varied and interesting. There is a small sand beach ashore that sometimes disappears from winter storm erosion. A sand and gravel bottom, mixed with some rocks, at the center of the cove is excellent for halibut hunting. Channels and groves in the reefs extend out along the point at depths 30 to 40 feet. I found these interesting exploration with bat rays, lingcod, and rockfish. Along the channel walls are big sunstars, both in subdued blue-gray and bright orange, shiny chestnut cowries, brightly colored nudibranches, and small reef fish. On one dive I delighted to the antics of a mating pair of Painted Greenlings. A darker male (I think) was frantically dancing and twitching around a female attempting to seduce the six-inch long fish with its muscle flexing.
Inshore from the channels is jumbled boulders and holes. Lobster are here but the hunting can be tough in the surge in 20 feet of water or less. Beware of “white-outs” where tiny bubbles in the water swirl in from the crashing waves making viz drop to zero. Offshore, in water 40 feet or deeper, the bottom is flat rock with minimal profile. This used to be a large kelp forest but as of the last few months is barren. Only light kelp exists out off the end of the point and on the reefs closer to shore.
Fraser Cove, also known as West Cove, has a lot of diving opportunities. It is protected from the south swells, sometimes common in the fall, and has some decent lobster hunting. And in the spring the halibut will return. In between, the underwater scenery here is always beautiful.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: North side of the extreme west end of Santa Cruz Island. GPS coordinates N34°03.73, W119°55.444. (Use GPS coordinates for reference only and not as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only.
Depths: 15 to 60 feet.
Skill Level: All when calm.
Visibility: Good, averaging 30 feet.
Snorkeling: Interesting but shallower waters are usually too rough.
Photography: Interesting rock formations with good amount of fish and large marine life for wide angle. Fair amount of macro material as well but watch out for the surge!
Hunting: Good for lobster and halibut.
Hazards: Can get rough.