When the southerly wind starts to blow, Monterey divers have few options. Most stay in the Monterey Bay, or head south to Mono-Lobo Wall in Carmel Bay. During one southerly blow we noticed a calm spot on the north side of Cypress Point. The point provided sufficient of protection from the wind and offered up a superb dive site.
Cypress Point is the major promontory between Monterey and Carmel Bays and is the most westerly point for some distance from Monterey. Consequently, coastal traffic (both men and beast) passes closer to shore here than points north and south.
In our not-so-distant past, but prior to the development of radar and satellite-based navigation, coastal shipping frequently passed close to Cypress Point. Some of these ships passed a little too close and stayed there. In 1923 the SS Flavel came to rest on the north side of Cypress Point followed by the SS J.B. Stetson in 1934. Since both of these ships were wooden-hulled and are found in shallow water, they are not intact today. However anchors, brass and iron artifacts are easy to find in the sand bottom. A bell buoy now warns ships to stay off the point. Check out A Diver’s Guide to Monterey County for more information on these wrecks.
This spot is worth visiting even if you are not interested in wreck diving. The bottom here is covered with rocky pinnacles and sand channels in 15 to 70 feet of water. The rocks here experience a great deal of current and have accumulated a thick invertebrate growth that is unlike anything you will see along the Monterey/Carmel Bays. Unusual sponges, nudibranchs, and tunicates may be found here. This is also a good fish watching and fish photography.
If you approach the reef from seaward you will find a sand bottom at 70 feet that jumps up to a 50-foot rocky reef. A thick bed of giant kelp covers massive, square-sided rocks that jut 10 to 15 feet from the sand bottom. The distance between rocks varies between 5 to 20 feet, and rocks seem to be randomly scattered on the bottom. The overall impression is like swimming through a maze. You never know what will be waiting for you around each turn.
Lingcod and cabezon find perches on high points and wait for unsuspecting prey to pass below. Look for sculpins, black-eyed gobys, and kelp fish in the deep cracks in the rocks. Schools of señoritas and blue rockfish swim along the edge of the kelp bed.
Because this area is constantly swept by currents there is an abundance of unusual invertebrates here. Look for large, solitary tunicates that are covered with little tunicates. There are uncommon nudibranchs here as well, like the Berthella, Janolus and Flabellina.
With all of the interesting marine life on the rocks, divers need to take the time to look into open water. On their annual migration gray whales come inshore at Cypress Point, making it one of the best spots around for whale watching. The whales take the shortest route down the coast and use their sonar to navigate from point to point. The observant diver may be surprised to see a whale pass directly overhead.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Just north of Cypress Point and about 1/3 mile offshore, along the 17- Mile Drive.
Access: Best dived from a boat launched either from the Monterey Breakwater or Stillwater Cove. May be dived from shore, and this is the best way to dive the wrecks, but is a long swim to the better offshore reef. Kayaks may be launched from Fan Shell Beach.
Skill Level: Advanced only from shore, beginners may enjoy the reef on calm days from a boat.
Depths: 15 to 70 feet
Visibility: Good 15 to 30 feet.
Photography: Great for fish portraits, nudibranchs, invertebrates.
Hazards: This spot offers limited protection form wind, surge or swell. Watch for big swell and surge. It is illegal to remove artifacts from historic shipwrecks.