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For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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source dares to publish" -- Forbes
June 2005 Vol. 31, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Cypress Sea

Contents of this Issue:
All publicly available

Tobago, West Indies

The Cypress Sea

Nitrox Myths?

Aqua Lung’s “Mistral” Regulator

Dive Computers: Part II

Unfriendly Skies for Divers

No Safe Harbor

Scubapro MK20 Cracking Problem Reported

Flotsam & Jetsam

Editorial Office:

Ben Davison

Publisher and Editor


3020 Bridgeway, Suite 102

Sausalito, CA 94965

Contact Ben

Northern California boat diving

from the June, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver,

Hard core California divers rate their kelp forests among the most beautiful underwater scenery anywhere. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Water temperatures at depth never rise above the low 70s in Southern California, and range from 48-55F north of Santa Barbara. Waves and currents may prevent boats from getting to some better sites, and can turn beginner sites into advanced dives.

Frequently, people have written Undercurrent saying they are coming to San Francisco and want to dive for a day. “Where should I go?” Unless you have buddies who want to go beach diving, the answer is three hours south, by car. Monterey.

I’ve done endless dives there, and my recent half-day outing on the Cypress Sea provided a typical experience. Approaching the boat on Monterey’s nontouristy municipal wharf just before 8:00 A.M., I handed up my gear and joined 17 other divers on the 50-foot aluminum crew boat. First thing, I selected an aluminum 80 in the least crowded spot I could find (the Cypress Sea was a couple of slots shy of its 22-diver capacity). Then I stowed the rest of my dive gear under the tank and went into the galley/cabin for a cup of coffee, a pastry and fruit as the boat motored out past Monterey Bay’s scenic Cannery Row, the world famous aquarium, around Pt. Pinos and past Pebble Beach into Carmel Bay.

The scenery was stunning and the ride that morning was glassy, though shrouded in fog. A pod of dolphins raced the boat for several minutes (whale sightings are not uncommon, either). However, sometimes, getting around the point can be problematic. Some divers get seasick on these trips, and all too frequently boats can’t get outside Monterey Bay itself. That’s a major disappointment, because visibility in Carmel Bay can get to 80 feet on occasion. Inside Monterey Bay, 35 foot vis. is considered good and it often drops to 15 feet or less.

As the largest of Monterey’s dive boats, Cypress Sea has a reputation for getting “outside” most reliably. It also offers three-tank trips at a “rack rate” of $95 while its competitors offer two tanks, at around $75-$85. While many divers use wet suits, if you have been trained in using a dry suit, then they are easily rentable at Monterey Bay Dive Center. A DUI tri-laminate shell with fleece undergarments, hood and boots ran me $70, and they even installed a “loaner” inflator hose for the suit on my first stage. About half the divers on board used dry suits.

All or part of the Cypress Sea can be chartered by dive shops or clubs. I joined a group from the San Francisco Reef Divers, which got me a $10 discount (for groups of six or more). The other divers were a mixed bag, from rec-tec Nitrox heads to recently certified open water rookies. While air fills were included in the charter price, Nitrox added $10 per fill. That seemed pretty steep, especially because I’m dubious about two of the supposed benefits of Nitrox: a) that it keeps a diver warmer and b) that it helps fight fatigue (see sidebar).


The Cypress Sea

The Cypress Sea

As we steamed past picturesque Pebble Beach, people began to suit up. Soon captain Phil Sammet called us out on the dive deck for a very detailed (perhaps too detailed) briefing. Our first dive would be just outside the boundaries of Pt. Lobos State Park, a marine preserve that forms the southern border of Carmel Bay. Because of the currents in the area, Stammet laid out several optional dive plans, from the adventurous to the conservative.

There were no divemasters in the water, although many California boats offer guided dives for an additional fee. After a giant stride through a side gate, I kicked against the current to the anchor line, where I descended with my buddy. The water was murky from storms earlier in the week, and visibility on the craggy bottom was a disappointing 30 feet. Water temperature in early April was 52°F. Below the kelp canopy, I turned on my dive light – a useful accessory in kelp – and navigated between the stalks, peering intently into every little nook and cranny.

With an abundance of nudibranchs, anemones, and other colorful invertebrates, Monterey is popular with close-up photographers. Photo strobes bring out colors of these macro subjects more brilliantly than the naked eye perceives underwater. Down at 100 fsw, I spotted a chestnut cowry, which I hadn’t seen before in these waters.

Upon surfacing, I kicked back to the stern of the Cypress Sea. Fortunately, the kelp was still thinned out from winter storms, so I could weave my way through it without resorting to the dreaded “kelp crawl” – which requires pushing the fronds down and out of the way with one’s arms while kicking face down. I hauled myself up on a swim step just above the water line, kneeling while a crewman took off my fins. Then I climbed a short ladder to deposit my tank at my station, retrieve my fins, and get out of my wet gear for my surface interval. Unhooking my first stage signaled that I wanted a fresh fill from the onboard compressor. Wet suit divers reveled in the hot outdoor showers. They allow dive suits in the cabin, so some folks never took theirs off all day.

Despite the caution captain Stammet showed in his dive briefing, he took no roll call. Still, everyone made it back safely, and we motored a few minutes to our next site, in Carmel’s Butterfly Cove. The entertaining Stammet – he does a killer impression of Groundskeeper Willie from the Simpsons -- called the site the “Widow Maker.” Rolling swells created some surge even at 80 fsw, but I could visit two underwater pinnacles, and spotted a decorator crab in full camouflage. Visibility dropped to 25 feet during my 28-minute dive.

When I returned from that dive, the crew had set out a buffet lunch with cold cuts, hot soup, and a choice of hot and cold beverages. By this point people were getting to know one another, and dive stories were zinging like kelp flies.

The last dive, which some wet suit and dry suit divers skipped, was in Stillwater Cove, right off Pebble Beach. Like most California boats, the Cypress Sea schedules its furthest and deepest site first, and then begins working its way back home to shallower stops. Here I never got below 52 fsw during my 38-minute dive, and yet visibility deteriorated to 15 feet. The fog never lifted, so I missed the spectacle of the sun’s rays beaming through the kelp forest. My buddy had a brief visit from a harbor seal, but the highlight of the dive for me was watching usuallysedentary sun stars out crawling around like octopi. These 18-inch, 12-armed predators were clearly on the hunt.

When we returned a little after 1:30 P.M., there was another group waiting to do a two-tank afternoon dive. The Cypress Sea offers several options, including all-advanced and all-beginner trips, and departures on Thursdays and Fridays, as well as on the weekends. For further information or reservations, contact or (408) 244-4433.

Other boats serve Monterey as well. Monterey Bay Dive Center owns and operates the Silver Prince ( or 800-60-SCUBA). Another popular boat is the Monterey Express (888-422-2999 or Overnight accommodations range from lavish hotels to quaint B&Bs to budget motels. Divers particularly like the Monterey Bay Inn at 242 Cannery Row, near the frequently-dived Coast Guard Pier (800-424-6242), and the Lone Oak Lodge in nearby Seaside, which features a hot tub, rinse facility with showers and drying hooks in front of each room (831-333-1743). Websites like can help you compare amenities, prices and locations.

For a comprehensive listing of California dive boats by location (from Monterey to San Diego), click on Here you will find basic information on each vessel, plus phone numbers and links to websites. When booking a boat, be sure to determine in advance what they provide and what you must bring, such as snacks. Some live-aboards require you to bring your own tanks, although rentals can often be arranged through nearby dive shops. Most websites offer checklists that can help you make sure you bring everything you need. If a boat is fully chartered by one group, the captain or boat’s rep will give you contact information so you may ask the charter if they have open slots. Ask about the kind of diving the group prefers, just for your own comfort level.

California diving is consistently inconsistent, especially in the north, so you just have to go for it and hope for the best. Some days are spectacular and some, like my April experience, are below average. But it still beats mowing the lawn.

–– D.L.

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