After checking the forecasts for days we decided to head out and go scuba diving up the coast in an area known as Mendocino (Coast). The launch site was decided by a group of friends going abalone freediving that we would hang out with after we all returned. Van Damme is the name of the State Beach. (Photos found on the internet, not taken by me, but not sure who to give credit too.)
Well it turns out as we roll in some other friends just happen to be there
We then get a text by the other friends saying they bailed. Typically with the boat I prefer to launch in the local river that empties out into a bay known as Albion (River has the same name, as does the community). Far easier and well protected but there is a launching fee of $10. Today we were going to be beach launching for free. The swells were far bigger than the 2-4ft (Around a meter) forecast which is evident by the turbulent water in front of us. There is a breeze blowing, but nothing major. We take the boat off the trailer, and easily haul it down the beach on all four wheels, then start to setup our dive gear, and put on our drysuits. Eventually we head into the water with our scuba gear on so the boat is not heavily loaded.
It just happens that right as we decide to enter a BIG set comes rolling in and the first wave breaks over the bow that we are carrying since we are now just using the two transom mounted wheels. Once the boat is afloat, typically one person will hold the boat as the other puts there scuba tank (Kit) into the boat. During these sets, the boat is going up and down from hip level to chin level, as the wheels bounce off the bottom every time the waves pass. My friend says there is no way he can put his gear into the boat (Damn computer guys that spend 12 hours a day working on their butts!). So I take my gear off, toss it in the boat and start the engine. The waves are still hammering us and occasionally breaking over the bow a little bit. I tell him to hang on and I am going to drag him out to deeper water, then we will pull everything including him onboard. That works well, and after lifting the transom wheels we are on our way to "a" dive site. I turn on the bilge pump and lower the elephant trunk which drains the boat in less than a minute while on plane.
I have a bunch of dive sites marked out on my GPS but we are looking for something protected and hopefully new. As we head South the swells are well over 7ft (More than 2 meters) and it is choppy with a confused swell. Trying to get away from the confused swell I head further offshore into deeper water. In over 160ft (55 meters roughly) the seas are still confused and the swell is pitching us up and down, although these are not breaking swells, my speed is held down to just around planning speed which is 12mph (19km) to keep from slamming our dive gear around. Ironically the place we wind up diving is Albion Bay since it is fairly protected. We saw tons of fish with some Lingcod being quite big at over 3ft (1 meter). JKY you will be proud of me, I found my anchor line without using a reel
(Actually I am usually pretty good about finding my anchor line or at least coming up fairly close to the boat, but JKY got a good laugh as we surface swam a loooong ways once, okay twice, or it might be a few more times.)
The boat ride back is uphill, but the seas are now a little calmer. Then we enter the fog bank. Shore disappears as does everything else. I Have GPS, but no radar. Not many boats are out and the ones that are out are small inflatables. We continue on, talking about the possibility of a second dive, but fog is very daunting as finding the boat can be impossible 50ft away. Running line underwater is an option, but there are very few places to come ashore without getting pounded onto mussel covered rocks by overhead waves.
We safely make it back to the beach, put the transom wheels down, and I turn the boat bow out to unload the heavier items. We take turns holding the boat and unloading gear. Again the boat is bouncing off the bottom as the waves pull the boat around. When ready we found a break in the waves, and quickly turned the boat bow in and we attempt to walk it up to dry land. Attempt is the key word as the beach is steep, I wind up on one knee, and the boat weighs more than it should. My friend at this point tells me it took two waves over the bow. Had I known I would have turned the bilge pump back on. With a little more umph added we pull it clear of the surf zone and get the bow high enough for the bilge to drain more than a few gallons of sea water. Carrying our dive gear back to the vehicle we decide to cancel on a second dive as the fog is looming close in. We eat lunch, and I grab the bow wheel dolly heading down to the boat myself. With it now far lighter I am able to drag it half way up the beach before my friend arrives to help. My shoes are full of sand, but I am happy that I can move it alone across a beach. There is still no way I will ever be able to pull it from the water alone though. Two of us can usually do it fairly easily though when the waves are smaller. Had the forecast been accurate it would have been a "piece of cake".
Putting it back on the trailer I tested my new remote controlled electric winch. The boat slid right up into place with only the push of a button
We were then chatting with a Game warden who was watching the beach closely as they do. Eventually he goes "yeah, I am just waiting for those guys to pack up their inflatable so I can arrest them and confiscate their boat and motor, along with all their dive gear"
It was a newer Saturn about 3.2 meters or so with a nice 2.5HP outboard. Abalone is a large mollusk that has stringent requirements for taking them. They are a delicacy, and prized by many people selling on the black market for over $100 a pound (125 euros for 453grams). So it turns out these guys went out and took their limit of 6 abalone, except only one guy got in the water which is illegal, and most likely means they are going to sell them, which is also illegal, as they can only be eaten or gifted, not sold for profit.
Once packed up we headed home, but this time with me at the steering wheel. I tend to drive faster than most towing or not and since the road has a lot of slow speed curves I had to drive very smooth, but fast-ish to keep my friend from getting too car sick. There was hardly any vehicle traffic, and I had mostly open road. Easy ride home. Our ladies and another female friend enjoy a Thai dinner with us to top the evening off.
Even though conditions weren't great, the company was, and our coast is always an enjoyable place to be.