On the night of November 21, 2004, a sudden and powerful storm came up out of the northeast heaving the seas into massive turbulence at the normally calm Isthmus Cove on Catalina Island. The skipper of the 37-foot Bertram yacht Toro became frightened for himself and his four passengers and decided to head for the backside of the island. The skipper did not give his radar a chance to warm up properly and underestimating the power of the wind, the Toro was driven up on the rocks, its hull hopelessly cracked. With the Toro doomed, the passengers abandoned ship and were rescued a short time later, although the skipper floated in the water for several hours before being rescued. The Toro broke up and sank in shallow water on a steep sloping bottom to become Catalina Island’s new wreck dive.
While the Toro is not a spectacular wreck dive, it is interesting all the same, not just for the wreckage but also for the surrounding steep rocky drop and surrounding kelp. Much of the heavier and larger pieces of wreckage have since slid down the steep slope and with time and surge will likely continue to break apart.
Some debris can be found as deep as 130 feet across the sand, but most of the larger pieces are in 50 feet or shallower wedged in the rocks. The largest section is about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide in 50 feet of water. Another large section of the hull can be found in 30 feet of water. This portion is interesting in that it is intact with a gearbox, rudder and prop. Close to the island, in about 10 feet of water, and down the slope, are a variety of smaller pieces, the largest being an engine block. In the shallows are small fittings, wiring, tubing and hoses.
Over the few years since its sinking a few interesting objects have been found on the wreck including bottles of liquor, glasses, and even a wallet. Most of the valuable smaller personal items have long ago been salvaged.
The larger pieces of wreckage in deep water are surrounded by a healthy kelp forest and reef. The big sections have are becoming covered with marine life and animals are finding homes. Spanish shawl nudibranchs seem to be especially abundant here and on the nearby reefs. The ubiquitous garibaldi likes to move in and out of the ledges created by the large hull pieces and rockfish lounge atop the wreckage.
The reef and wreckage hold thousands of the bright red and blue blue-banded gobies. They make for beautiful macro images but can difficult to approach. Up in the kelp you will find calico bass and sheephead, but none are large so it is best to leave your speargun behind. One big fish you might see, however, is the giant black sea bass sometimes weighing in at over 300 pounds. These gentle giants are protected so no shooting except with a camera. Speaking of hunting, this area falls within an invertebrate preserve, so taking of lobster is prohibited. Lobsters are rarely seen in this area anyway.
If you are a wreck buff, the Toro is another lesser-known wreck that you can put in your logbook. As with many wrecks, one man’s misfortune is another’s pleasure.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Just southeast of the dive site known as Pebble Beach between Arrow Point and Doctor’s Cove on the frontside Catalina Island. To be put on the larger sections of wreck diving with the boat Sundiver or Sundiver Express is recommended (www.sundiver.net).
Skill Level: All but can be surgy in shallow. Watch your depth over the sand slope.
Depths: Most of the wreckage is 50 feet or less. Reef is approximately 70 feet to the sand.
Visibility: Good. Averages 40 feet but can drop in the surge.
Photography: Wreckage is not very interesting, but there are some good macro opportunities of small fish and nudibranchs.
Hunting: No-take zone for invertebrates and fish are small. Don’t bother.