It’s a Catalina landmark as well as a Mecca for divers. The guano covered pinnacle rises 66 feet above the ocean and resembles the white sail of a ship (albeit an enormous one). This pinnacle is known as Ship Rock.
In open water, less than a mile and a half from the little town of Two Harbors at the Isthmus, Ship Rock is considered an advanced dive. It’s deep (more than 120 feet at the base of the pinnacle) and gets deeper the farther you venture from the Rock. There can be a strong current off the ocean side.
Some years the Rock is cloaked in kelp, other years only occasional strands reach toward the surface. This year, kelp is abundant. But whether or not there’s kelp, blacksmith are ever-present, schooling in midwater, while bright orange garibaldi flit here and there closer to the huge boulders that tumble from the surface to the depths. Lobster are plentiful, taking full advantage of the numerous crevices that allow them to retreat beyond a diver’s reach. Colorful encrusting anemones cover the boulders with yellow in many places.
Sea lions play in the waters surrounding the Rock but unlike those at Santa Barbara Island, they usually keep their distance.
You may also find swell or horn sharks resting among the boulders.
The Rock even has its own wreck, though the years have worked hard at erasing her presence. Diosa del Mar (Goddess of the Sea) was a 90-foot long, wooden staysail schooner. Built in 1898, she ran aground here during a race in July 1990. Her remains lie in snorkeling depths and below on the east, south and west sides of the Rock.
The southeast side of the Rock has a shallow area that offers good snorkeling when the seas are flat. The western side of the Rock drops off much more steeply than the eastern side. Because of currents and wind, boats usually anchor off the eastern slope so it is the more commonly dived.
Choose a depth and circumnavigate the Rock (retracing your route if you run into a current) or go deep and work your up way to the surface.
If the water is clear and the sun is out, wide-angle photography is excellent all around the Rock. Otherwise, I’d recommend close-ups—and there are plenty of subjects.
Under adverse conditions, Ship Rock can be a difficult, even hazardous dive. On those days don’t tempt fate, dive somewhere else. Wait for the times when the wind dies down and the water is calm and clear—because then Ship Rock is spectacular.