Diving in Monterey Bay, California - Part 2

On a calm day, though, the glassy surface here beckons. From the south end of Monastery, also called San Jose Creek Beach, divers have easy access to a rich kelp forest that begins in 30 feet of water. Look for the multi-armed sunflower star, the largest and fastest sea star on the coast. A dive light illuminates its true colors: cotton-candy hues of pink and purple. Tiny white pincers protruding from its body fasten like Velcro to your neoprene gloves. Fragile-looking brittle stars and curious sea cucumbers can also be found here.
 
The rougher north end of Monastery offers divers colorful algae- and sponge-saturated boulders to explore in shallow water, as well as the rare opportunity to drop deep into a sliver of the Monterey Canyon itself, along a 70-degree wall festooned with sea anemones, sponges, and bryozoans. Venture here cautiously, and adhere strictly to the bottom-time limits on your dive table.

Just north of Pescadero Point, less than a mile offshore from the golf courses of Pebble Beach, boat divers frequent an amazing spot called the Pinnacles. One pinnacle rises up to a depth of 40 feet, its flat top covered in thick kelp that could easily obscure divers but for their trail of bubbles. Schools of blue rockfish circle the promontory, as do jack mackerel, at certain times of the year.
 
Descend deeper along the sides to see one of the treasures of California diving: pink and purple heads of hydrocoral. Tiny crabs and other animals may perch on the branches for shelter. Though not a true coral, since the anemonelike animals never emerge from their carbonate castle, hydrocoral nonetheless seems somehow out of place on this chilly coast.

Shore Dives

Crescent-shaped Monterey Bay extends northward from Point Pi-os in Pacific Grove, where divers can make a shore entry after wading out carefully through shallow water, or they can anchor a boat offshore. The rugged, rocky bottom offers plenty of terrain to explore without going deep. Nudibranchs and chitons abound. You might glimpse a sea otter probing the rocks for a meal, then gliding by over your head with air bubbles gleaming in its dense fur.
 
Student and novice divers frequently dive on the east side of nearby Lover's Point. Beyond beds of eelgrass, a dense kelp forest rises from patches of rock and sand. Strong sea surge often buffets divers, but Lover's is a likely place to find octopus in cracks or on kelp holdfasts. Impressive bat rays, with a finspan of more than four feet, probe the sandy bottom on the more exposed east side of the point.
 
John Steinbeck would barely recognize his fabled Cannery Row, now that hotels have replaced honky-tonks, but divers can still gain easy access to the water at McAbee Beach. It's shallow and sandy here, but one unusual sight is the boiler from the steamship S.S. Gipsy, which ran aground in 1905 and spilled its cargo of kegs and cases of beer. Located about 50 feet out from the point at the south end of McAbee, the boiler sports a coating of pink strawberry anemones inside and may harbor a rockfish or two.
 
Once you have tried a few of these shore or boat dive sites — a sampling that just skims the surface of what can be found in and around Monterey Bay — ask other divers about their favorite spots. With so much to see in the cold-water world of the kelp forest, you may decide that a tropical diving vacation will just have to wait until next year.
 
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