My new favorite old dive site – reprinted from the Marker Buoy Newsletter

It has been far too long since I posted here. I am going to share a newsletter article I wrote for my dive club, the Marker Buoys. 

But first, as they mentioned at the end of my article, I would be remiss to not mention there are particular hazards associated with this site at certain times of year — namely, when boats are using the boat ramp. So… maybe don’t go there. Maybe just read my fun article and look at my fun photos and just have fun from the comfort of your fun computer.

bay pipefish and hermit crab

bay pipefish and hermit crab

biggest bay pipefish ever

biggest bay pipefish ever

If you have read my seajen.com blog, you know I get obsessed with things underwater. “Things.” Usually the things are species. Hooded nudibranchs. Decorated warbonnets. And the obsession stems from the desire to make my idea of a perfect image. I get a vision in my head and return relentlessly to a location until (a) I get what I want or (b) the animals have moved on, left the building.

giant fleshy scaleworm

giant fleshy scaleworm

light-edged ribbon worm

light-edged ribbon worm

My newest obsession is a site. And this obsession is more about discovery than one perfect photo. I guess you could say it is about many imperfect photos.

sailfin sculpin chasing me

sailfin sculpin chasing me

sailfin sculpin not chasing me

sailfin sculpin not chasing me

The site is not new, but lately I have been obsessively exploring a part of it that I don’t think gets the bulk of divers’ attention. The site is at Redondo Beach, which is known as a singular dive site, but I would argue there are actually two sites there: one leading out from the stairs and MAST and another leading out from the beach south of the boat ramp. And as these sites are separated by the fishing pier and each features its own geographic reach, they each deserve a unique name. I would therefore submit that we start referring to them as Redondo North (entry at the stairs or the beach north of Salty’s) and Redondo South (entry point at the beach south of the boat ramp). You might think I’m ridiculous, as probably there is a great deal of overlap of these areas. But humor me for a few more paragraphs? If nothing else, it makes describing your starting point easier.

blacktail shrimp

blacktail shrimp

Dana's blade shrimp

Dana’s blade shrimp

The first time I dived Redondo South was January 4, 2014. I did it as a Marker Buoy night dive hosted by Joyce Merkel. I followed Joyce and Fritz around, and it was a good dive. We ended up seeing more than a couple Pacific spiny lumpsuckers, the primary target of the dive. Two days later I went there with different buddies but was unable to re-create the profile Joyce set out (instead, I unfortunately led us through the wood field, and the most exciting thing we saw was some sunken head shop paraphernalia). But here very recently, I returned to the site after reading reports of 8 lumpsucker sightings in a single dive, and my first time back after my wood-field hiatus I counted 8 octopus for starters. That was December 13 (12-13-14!!), and I have been getting to know this site better ever since. Most importantly, I now know how to avoid the ugly patch of woody debris near the boat ramp. The profile I prefer is to swim down to a bottle field at about 85 feet, then slowly come up slope over a field of cockle and moonsnail shells, and finish with enough air to explore the sandy and intermittently cobbly shallows parallel to the beach. In each of these areas you will find exactly two things: species you can anticipate and species you cannot.

early-morning hooded nudibranch

early-morning hooded nudibranch

plainfin midshipman

plainfin midshipman

At 85 feet, in the bottle field, it’s an amusement park of muck critters. Tiny red octopus can be seen reliably in and among the bottles, and all kinds of crazy worms are a surprise every time. Stubby squid are quite likely, but whether the cockscombs will show up in numbers free-swimming is anyone’s guess. You can reliably find sailfin sculpin and pipefish here — I have seen the largest bay pipefish of all time — so big it looked like a snake (I thought it would be a different species, but it seems there is only the one species in our waters). In the shallows I recently found a starry flounder – not at all common unless you are in the Seattle Aquarium. Crescent Gunnels are the norm, as are a mix of shrimp species I never see elsewhere. (Gives new meaning to the phrase “shrimp cocktail.”) The safety stop zone is spiny lumpsucker-land in winter. But they seem to vary their preferred depth on any given day based on, what? Time of day? Tide cycle? Roshambo?

marbled snailfish chasing me

marbled snailfish chasing me

marbled snailfish acting innocent

marbled snailfish acting innocent

I kept thinking about the muck diving in the Philippines and how this dive site seems to rival some of their muck sites. This is a site where I consistently wish I could double my underwater time — a full hour deep and a full hour shallow. The only reason I hesitate to write about this site is I don’t want it to be the next California: you tell everyone how great it is, then it gets over run. I want it to be like Seattle: everyone thinks it rains here all the time so no one moves here. Okay, well… maybe not the best analogy. But this is a special site.

scaleworm on a white-lined dirona

scaleworm on a white-lined dirona

another shrimp

another shrimp

I did a pre-dawn “night dive” there just before the longest night of the year. Besides the usual suspects, we saw two free-swimming hooded nudibranchs. That morning I had a sailfin sculpin chase me head-on down slope until I finally had to stop descending. On January 3, my buddy and I spent most of the dive deep and ended up rushing our search for lumpsuckers. I was about 6 seconds from giving up, throwing in the towel, getting skunked and surfacing when a medium-sized lumpie appeared from nowhere swimming directly at me, hell bent for leather. Have you ever been chased by a lumpsucker? And on January 11, I did a night dive with the target of finding snailfish. I had some great intelligence, as there had been a Marker Buoy dive the night before. I knew the snailfish were seen between about 45 and 15 feet. We found three! And, as seems to be the trend, one of them swam at me…

octo too sexy

octo too sexy

octo without attitude

octo without attitude

Maybe you have already dived here, maybe you haven’t. Regardless — At Redondo South, expect the unexpected – and the expected.

pair of high cockscombs

pair of high cockscombs

very white grunt sculpin

very white grunt sculpin

spiny lumpsucker chasing me

spiny lumpsucker chasing me

spiny lumpsucker relaxing

spiny lumpsucker relaxing

another worm

another worm

just yer basic stubby squid

just yer basic stubby squid

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