If you truly want to appreciate a dive site, it’s nice to know how it got its name. Some are obvious, like Three Sisters. Some are not so obvious, like Shag Rock. And others are obvious if you know the back-story. Such is the case with Inside the Outside Boiler.

You’ll find this site on the eastern side of Pyramid Cove, which is along the southern edge of San Clemente Island. In the cove, there are a couple of boilers (rocks that break that surface) that captains have to be aware of. Specifically, one known as the First Boiler or the Outside Boiler, and the other one is known as the Second Boiler or the Inside Boiler. The site we’re talking about lies somewhat between the two, and more specifically inside (landward) of the Outside Boiler. Hence the name, Inside the Outside Boiler.

Now that you know the name, what can you expect to find? Well, just about everything that SoCal diving has to offer. The edge of the reef is a 60-foot-deep sandy plain and that’s usually where most dive boats anchor. You can recognize the edge of the reef (and the end of the sand) by the edge of the massive kelp bed that sits on the reef.

It’s here you’ll find a mini-wall, running from about 40 feet down to the deeper sand. You spend an entire dive just exploring this wall. There are numerous cracks and crevices to investigate, plus you’ve got the edge of the sand plain, where you might find Angel Sharks or Bat Rays.

But the reef itself is a fabulous dive. As you start to explore, you’ll discover that there are numerous channels and canyons that run directly into shore. They make for easy navigation because you can just follow the canyon in and then back out.

It’s also why this site can be good for both advanced and beginning divers since, as the canyons run landward, the whole reef shallows up to as little as 10 feet in some spots. So this is a site where instructors can take basic classes while still providing an interesting dive for certified divers. And there’s plenty to see.

On my most recent dive there, I saw something I’ve never seen before in SoCal waters. One of the things I’ve talked about for years in my basic classes when we have the “Myths & Fears” discussion is that while I’ve seen plenty of sharks all over the world, I’ve never seen one here (discounting horn, swell, and angel sharks—we’re talking “real” sharks here). Well, not any more.

I was with a student of mine, finishing up our final dive. Since we needed to do an emergency swimming ascent, we followed one of the reef channels back to shallower water. As we were about 25 feet deep, we passed over an abalone. I motioned for my student to stop and as I turned us around, lo and behold, there was a magnificent 7-foot blue shark trailing about 50 feet behind us, cruising through the kelp and going about his business. We were transfixed. Not only was it a sunny day, not only was the vis pretty good, not only were the sunlight rays dancing through the kelp, but here was an apex predator to cap the whole thing off. Best of all, we were able to follow him for about two minutes until he moved off to deeper water. Spectacular.

And that’s the reaction many divers have after a dive at Inside the Outside Boiler, whether they see a shark or not. The place crawls with life. There’s no question you’ll see lobsters hanging out in the rocky crags, abalone are there if you look hard enough, and there are plenty of soft corals catching the currents along the front mini-wall and along the canyons. Fish abound, invertebrates are everywhere, and you can easily do two or thee dives here and not get bored.

In fact, if you’re on a boat visiting Clemente, it’s a great final site of the day, because you can do a semi-deep dive for those not too nitrogen-loaded or a shallow dive for those with less bottom time. And all divers should come away happy.

Inside the Outside Boiler is a fabulous site with plenty to offer divers of all skill levels. It’s somewhat protected by the Outside Boiler, and it’s just a neat place to go. The next time you’re in the Pyramid Cove area of Clemente, ask your DM or captain if you can give it a shot.