Written by Tania Land Photos Courtesy of Matthew Dodson
This May, Academy of Scuba divers gathered in Los Angeles at the 22nd Street Landing to board the Great Escape liveaboard charter en route to Santa Catalina Island for a three day, three night, all- inclusive diving vacation.
On Thursday evening, divers hauled their bags of gear on the wheel barrel carts provided and loaded the eighty-foot vessel in anticipation for the underwater world awaiting them beyond the Los Angeles coastline. Many of the divers on board were embarking on their very first ocean voyage including Evan Bloomingdale, Paul Buttermore, Caitlin Ditwiler, Tom Herrschaft, Shawn Jurgens and Tania Land. The vast Pacific Ocean is a truly amazing place to enjoy an underwater adventure, weaving through the dense kelp forests teeming with a beautiful array of living colors making up a uniquely diverse marine ecosystem. As the divers settled in, a few retired early to rest from their journey in preparation for the next day’s dives. Some gathered on the bow for a few beers and some friendly conversation while others sat in the galley for a nightcap and a game of Cards Against Humanity. The laughter continued well into the night until the diehard stragglers finally hit their bunks into the late evening.
Everyone awoke early the next day to the smell of brewing coffee, freshly made omelets and bacon prepared by Mike, the cook. Captain Tim fired up the engines around seven and we were off to Catalina Island. The sun was bright and the air was warm on our first day as we arrived at the island and set anchor at Torqua Springs for dive one. With water at sixty degrees and a floor of sixty feet, it was a perfect site to kick off the diving. The underwater world below was illuminated by the glinting of the California sunshine through the calm salty waters. Divers were greeted by the notorious bright orange Garbaldi, shimmering schools of mackerel, starfish in all colors of the rainbow and sea urchins as far as the eye could see.
Diving continued throughout the day in what can only be described as INCREDIBLE.
On Friday night, we all suited up for a memorable night dive. With Hotsuits primed and lights ready, we jumped into the dark waters and went exploring. The bottom was crawling with shrimp and lobster. Their eyes would catch the glare of our dive lights, sparkling like diamonds scattered along the ocean floor. The flying fish had come out to play as well. The divers that opted to stay on board gathered at the back of the boat to watch the fish fling themselves out of the water and soar through the air with seemingly no sense of direction. The fish would occasionally hit the back of the boat, stunning themselves just long enough for the sea lions to swoop up from the depths and catch them in their jaws. It was an exciting scene. One diver was caught by surprise as one of the fish that had made in on deck smacked him right on the back. The divers below were also occasionally pelted by a few of these clumsy creatures.
After the day’s excitement, the divers were spent and everyone was in bed early and sleeping soundly. The next day, we rose to another delicious meal and divers were anxious to get back in the water. After each dive, our chef Mike, hand-prepared delicious snacks for everyone. We had the pleasure of enjoying monkey bread! A wonderfully gooey, pull-apart bread drenched in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. This delightful treat lasted mere seconds on the baking pan as divers swooped in like gulls and devoured every last bit. Nothing goes to waste in the ocean. There was plenty else to eat as Mike was hard at work in the kitchen from sunrise to sunset. Each of the three meals, two snacks and dessert enjoyed every day was proudly served with a kind smile and skills that would put Iron Chef to shame. He was even prepared with accommodations for the vegetarians on board!
Later that day, we pulled into Isthmus Cove. Divemaster Jason Zambo was jumping up and down in anticipation for this dive, “This is my favorite spot. It’s awesome!” He was right about this dive site. Isthmus Reef is tucked away in a cove on the north side of the island. The site draws much boat traffic and for good reason. After descending along the anchor line and venturing through the sunlit kelp, we crept along the side of the wall alive with activity. The wall that we explored here was covered in starfish, blue-banded gobies, anemones and keyhole limpet snails. As the divers boarded the boat, we all gathered on the bow, watching the hustle and bustle in of the cove and waiting for the remaining divers to surface. Soon Shaun and Caitlin made it to the surface, a bit nervos. A few sea lions, curious about the two divers, had been harmlessly playing with Shaun and Caitlin under the water and following them during their dive, swiftly darting through the water. Everyone on board burst into laughter as we watched the playful sea lions leaping in and out of the water in a circle around the divers.
It was unanimous, the amazing crew made this a vacation that all will cherish and remember. Special thanks go to Mark Moran and Doss Powell for all of their preparation and hard work in organizing this trip and their steadfast attentiveness and oversight during the training and fun dives. Evan Coppola was always prepared with a witty quip or, occasionally, just the tip you were looking for. Of course, Tom Herrschaft claimed to have done “the best dive ever”…again. I know I’m not the only diver that willl be booking my spot with Academy of Scuba on one of the best dive charters in Southern California, the Great Escape.