After playing a wicked round of e-mail and phone tag with my dive buddy Steve, we finalized our plans. I arrived at Shelter Island to see Steve waving his arms and guiding me over towards his new boat. Steve is a seasoned diver with well over a thousand dives logged in the Point Loma area. Today Steve is eager to take me to a place called “The Train Wheels.”
Navy jets ran with their afterburners blazing right over us as we sped out of the harbor. Shelter Island sits straight across from the Naval Air Installation and on this day it was a hub of activity.
Music blasting, wind in my face, I felt this is going to be a great day. We motor up and drop anchor with Deep-Purple pumping across the airwaves and Steve points out several Pacific Whiteside dolphins off the stern. They obviously like the music, so we turn it up. Suddenly we hear an unmistakable sound. We both crane around to see a small grey whale just off of our starboard side. WOW! There is a deep channel just off of the reefs here and whales are known to frequent this area.
Peering over the side, I look at the kelp and can see it standing straight up indicating little or no surface current. I can also see at least 10 to 15 feet into the water itself. Pulling on my drysuit, we discuss our dive plan, hand signals and safety procedures.
The Train Wheels dive site is named for its token namesake, a set of train wheels. There are a couple sets of them here and to see them lying where they do will surely boggle your mind. The site lies about one thousand yards from shore directly out from the point itself. In consideration that there isn’t any other wrecks in the immediate area one has to wonder, how the heck did these giant wheels get here? There is speculation that perhaps they were used as anchors or perhaps ballast on a smaller cargo ship. Some say they were once part of an exercise for Navy divers. Whatever the case may be, you would have to agree that the wheels are strangely out of place.
The topography of this site is a set of three reefs that come together but don’t touch. The center of the reef is the closest point opening up in an upside down “Y-shaped” canyon. The walls at the top are very narrow and convex as you continue to explore the depths. Beautiful strawberry anemones, sulfur sponges and big grey sponges highlight the walls. Red gorgonians decorated with festiva nudibranchs, starfish of several varieties, ronquiles and gobies also dot the reef. Giant male sheephead buzz around looking like big smiling torpedos and lingcod are gracious but inquisitive.
I head to the sand at 100 feet and near the opening of the canyon is the first set of wheels, definitely out of place. I always find it a bit eerie to see a wreck or some forgotten and lost man-made structure at depth. These out of place man-made orbs have now become a host and home to many different creatures. Ornate ring top snails can be found here with regularity along with a large variety of nudibranchs and loads of coon stripe shrimp.
Exploring the walls next, first one and then back to the other I finally make the jump into the crack. I have explored the many cracks, ledges, holes and rocks that make up the texture of this canyon for several dives and never tire of it. Vermilion rockfish and treefish can be photographed here with ease. They pose unafraid and docile as if to say, take my photo!
Reaching my max bottom time happens quickly here and so I begin to ascend the reef. The plant life becomes prolific and so does the sea life.
The profile here is typical of Point Loma, which is deep and very square; however, if you want to keep it shallow you can and still enjoy what this bio rich area has to offer. The tops of the reefs are highlighted with large rocky outcroppings decorated with colorful corynactis anemones. The reef tops off at around 55 feet. The healthy kelp that grows here creates a thick and wonderful canopy stretching upwards to the surface. The kelp is also a wonderful place to cruise and explore while off-gassing.
This area is known to have quite a tidal swing so the current can really pick up. A safety sausage on a finger reel is a solid piece of gear to have as this area can be busy with passing vessels.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Point Loma, San Diego
Access: Boat only
Depths: Range from 60-100, with the prime diving is done between 60 and 80 feet
Visibility: Excellent except during plankton blooms
Photography: Macro is always reliable here with a large variety of nudibranchs.
Wide-angle is also really good for seascape and subject
Hunting: Not recommended. Fishing by commercial boats is heavy in this area.
Hazards: Currents are frequently present due to tidal flow. Bring a safety sausage.