The “Channels” dive site on the backside of West Anacapa Island is one of those dive sites I fell in love with immediately. It has a nice growth of kelp, healthy, but not too thick, a varied and unusual bottom structure, and a lot of little, and a few big, undersea creatures to keep you entertained on your dive.
Another reason I like this dive is because it’s shallow, generally less than 30 feet and much of it less than 20. Shallow dives last longer. And with this terrific reef, I never got bored, even after two hour-long dives in the same general area.
The physical location of the dive site is nearly ideal. When the north, northwest or northeast winds blow hard across the Santa Barbara Channel there are few places to hide. One of those is the semi-cove formed on the backside of West Anacapa Island with Cat Rock offering some protection to the east and the huge island sheltering from winds from the north. Waters will often be flat calm here when they are nearly impossible to dive anywhere else on Anacapa. The only exception to this is the late summer when a heavy south swell will sometimes crash into the site.
Just to the west of the prominent Cat Rock is a small, thin sandy beach on shore. The reefs begin just to the west of this beach. Initially, the reefs are low-lying with eel grass and feather boa kelp. The better reefs are farther to the west and extend 500 yards or so to the point.
Rocky fingers extend 100 to 150 yards out from shore. The dive site gains its name from the spaces between the reefs or “channels.” These channels are anywhere from just a couple feet across to 20 feet wide and filled with beautiful ivory sand. These corridors are as much as 10 feet deep from top to bottom, forming mini-walls on either side.
The Channels meander, split, and narrow but generally extend out from shore, widening as they go. There are overhangs, deep crevices and small caves. It’s a fascinating reef to explore. If there is little surge, don’t hesitate to head to extreme shallows. Here you will find holes in the reef 20 feet deep, protected from the surge and full of fish, octopus, and light — beautiful light that only shallow water and overhead kelp can deliver.
All of this probably sounds like great lobster hunting grounds. Unfortunately, it’s not. The area is heavily trapped. Only a few shorts can be found. In general, this is not a good dive for game. While there is a lot of fish, few are of the game variety. There are rock scallops here, but most are small.
I liked getting down into the channels. In one particular narrow, five-foot deep gash, Dale and I spent half a roll of film on what appeared to be a mating pair of black surf perch as they danced before our eyes. In that same crevice were scorpionfish, Christmas tree worms, and giant keyhole limpets.
The mini-walls of the large crevices gave Dale a lot of material for his macro camera rig. There were Spanish shawl nudibranchs, corynactis anemones, yellow encrusting (sulphur) sponges, and island kelpfish. You don’t need a camera to enjoy yourself here. I had fun just watching the ocean’s critters go about their business. Some other small notables on the walls of the channels include gobies, cowries, norris top shells with their distinctive orange mantle, and urchins, lots of urchins. And it’s not just the little guys that entertain. Harbor seals come close by. There were nice schools of Catalina halfmoon fish and opaleye in the kelp. Sheephead, señoritas, and rock wrasse, too. And lets not forget garibaldi. The interesting reef structure, fish, and kelp make for interesting wide-angle photography or just a great place to meditate underwater.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Backside of West Anacapa Island, just west of Cat Rock. GPS N34°00.403′, W119°25.657′. (GPS for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation).
Access: Boat only.
Depths: 10 to 35 feet.
Skill Level: All
Visibility: Good, averaging 30 to 40 feet.
Snorkeling: Good with shallow reefs.
Photography: Nice variety of macro subjects. Reefs, kelp and fish good for wide-angle.