Diving Pt. Lobos (for the First Time!)
That bone-deep sense of exhaustion and satisfaction when you get back home after a solid day of diving, you've eaten, and all your gear is clean - is there anything better?
A couple of months ago, I started looking into new spots around Monterey that we could dive - while we love San Carlos Beach, now that we've logged about 20 dives there, we were ready for a change of pace! When searching through some of the local dive shops, I noticed that a lot of local dive shops would list tours for Point Lobos, so I decided to look into it - many of the dive shops charge around $180 for tours, so it seemed like it was worth checking out.
Sure enough, as I did more research, I found that there was a lot of opportunity around diving Pt. Lobos, and we decided to plan a trip down. Because Pt. Lobos is a marine sanctuary, there is a limit to 15 dive teams (2 divers per team) per day. The California State Parks site has a registration form, and weekends fill up quickly, but we were able to get a spot about two months in advance for the month of October. They usually have signups available over a three month period of time, so if you want to get a specific spot, start checking about 90 days in advance.
Pt. Lobos is located in Carmel, California about 20 minutes south of Monterey. The diving is in a relatively sheltered inlet called Whaler's Cove, and entry is through a small boat ramp that sits at the base of a parking lot. Because access to Pt. Lobos is controlled, it's not a largely trafficked area compared to areas around San Carlos, but by 9:30am, the lot was filling up, so I would advise planning to get there no later than 10am to avoid the stress of finding a spot when there are more people around. Diving permits purchased directly from CA.gov are $30 per dive team, and there is a $10 park entrance fee, so the total cost to do a trip on on your own is only $20 per diver.
At the parking area, there's a small structure with a couple of restrooms and a boat launch. The boat launch is also the diving entry point, though there are also a reserved number of kayak and paddle board passes that visitors can register for. The reserve has a limit of four boats launched per day, though there are different restrictions for different types of watercraft.
Gear-wise, the only difference with my setup this dive was the addition of ditchable weight pockets to my backplate harness. I purchased a set of OMS Utility Pockets, which each hold six pounds, and two DGX Trim Weight Pockets, which each hold four pounds. The utility pockets sit on my hips and can be dropped in the event of an emergency ascent, and I have one of the trim weight pockets on each of my tank straps. With the six-pound steel backplate, the 26lbs works perfectly for maintaining neutral-ish buoyancy (I'm still working on this part!) The rest of my gear was my usual, with my SolaFX wetsuit, my Deep6 regulator, and BP/W.
Whaler's Cove has a number of different dive attractions, ranging from dense kelp forests just off the coast to a cavern, granite rock features, a sand bar, and pinnacles. You can find a full list of Whaler's Cove dive sites on OpenDiveSites.org. Since this was our first time diving in Whaler's Cove, and it was just the pair of us, we decided to stick to some easy, short surface swims and take in what we saw, with no real destination in mind.
Entering through the boat launch was easy, but a bit slippery. There are tiny fish that come right up to the edge of the water, and the kelp is so prevalent, it feels like it's trying to climb out onto land! It was an exceptionally still day, so we were able to get in quickly and put our fins on. Most of the folks diving were in dry suits - after the fact, I understand why!
We did two dives - the first one, we decided to set our compass headings to guide us towards the entrance of Coal Chute Cavern, though given our relatively low dive count, we wouldn't go in even if we were successful in finding the entry. After a quick surface swim out to the sand bar that lies a short distance from the coast, we went down to the bottom, about 20ft/7m, and off we went.
Duration - 0:56:00
Max/Average Depth - 34ft/22ft
Water Temp - 53.0F
Air Temp - 65.0F
Visibility - 30ft
Start Pressure - 3000psi
End Pressure - 600psi
Words can't describe the surprise I felt diving in Whaler's Cove - because it wasn't all the far away from Monterey, I wasn't expecting it to feel too much different than San Carlos Beach, but right off the bat, the underwater geography was a big change. It was far rockier, which gave the kelp an even stronger presence. There was also far more activity from sea creatures - big schools of small fish, starfish of all shapes and sizes, anemones, various types of larger fish, and hermit crabs. A bright pink Hopkins Rose was one of the highlights of the first dive! My computer captured this as two dives, since we surfaced after making it to the far side of the cove for a short break.
Duration - 0:49:00
Max/Average Depth - 40ft/24ft
Water Temp - 52.0F
Air Temp - 65.0F
Visibility - 25ft
Start Pressure - 2900psi
End Pressure - 700psi
Our second dive started and ended with some playful harbor seals. We set our compass headings out further towards Granite Point, and went off, thinking that we'd have a short dive (we were both cold!) Instead, we stayed out for nearly as long as our first dive, and found our way into a patch of dark kelp at 40ft that was eerie and incredible. A Minor Nudibranch welcomed us back and we spotted some camouflaged critters along the way!
I felt a little nervous going into the first dive and had some issues with my mask flooding. Getting used to the new weight pockets took me a little bit, but by the second dive, I was really in the zone!
After our dive, getting out of our wet suits was a bit harder than usual. We've been improving our bottom times significantly (it helped that these were relatively shallow dives) and we were both worn out! We also both felt colder than usual, and were ready to get warmed up! I donned my usual post-dive sweatpants and hoodie and we spent a bit more time appreciating the view before driving back home.
I highly recommend including Pt. Lobos next time you're diving in the Monterey area - it's worth it even if you go independently of a large group, though if a tour is more your style, I can't recommend Bamboo Reef enough. My experiences with them have always been great ones, for gear, classes, and tours. The water is cold but the views are absolutely gorgeous. Having harbor seals pop up near us and venture a peek through the kelp was an unmatched experience, and the entire landscape is fantastic. A 10/10 dive for us!