Places I Remember - Diving with Mr. Peabody

Point Fermin, Palos Verdes - Before development.
Point Fermin, Palos Verdes - Before development.

I was asked for a dive story. What could I do... warning though, it's a bit long like I write. I hope it amuses.

I don't know anything about diving. I'd have to make something up... but Historical Fiction is considered a respectable genre of literature, especially based on the accuracy describing what is being written about. Well, this should be a pretty accurate picture of what you might have seen not so very long ago. It would have been incredible. Let’s see how you are at making visuals from written word. Besides, you should all know by now that I like writing weird stuff and every so often... I do.
I hope you enjoy it, M

The other day, I was lounging with my koi when who should appear, but Mr. Peabody. We made our usual pleasantries and of course scrupulously made no mention of the recent sorry events involving Sherman. Childhood stardom does so often end in tragedy...We made small talk, but really, I had requested that Mr. Peabody show up. ("Mr." seems somewhat presumptuous for a dog, but I guess he has more legs to stand on than most people I know... Get it? More Legs.... har har... ) I wanted to take a trip in his Way Back Machine and because of what I knew about his past, he would do almost anything for me. While he tried to pass himself off as a respectable conservative member of the canine intelligentsia, I knew that before he hunted with the hounds, he used to run with the foxes. He had secrets and would do almost anything to keep them private. The trick was to get what I wanted from him without risking too much. While traveling time, I could well be dangerously in Peabody's power and I did not want him baring his fangs at me at such a time. Peabody knew though, I had taken out insurance with Vito.

As a minor note, traveling in the Way Back Machine does not risk changing the future like the tesseract that I usually employ. The Way Back Machine goes to a "local" copy of time. Anything you do there ceases to exist in no more than 24 hours.

In any case, I had him set his Way Back machine for August 1, 1850. 1 year before a large El Nino year. Location, Long Beach, just offshore in my boat, The Island Breaker. We would start our journey there and continue to Catalina Island, via Palos Verdes, Diving along the way. But first something else. Darn. I hate the feeling of time travel. It makes me want to hiccup uncontrollably.

See, what this was all about is that I wanted to see what the sea life was like then in the places I boat and dive at now.

We arrived in calm water at the first glow of dawn, about 1/4 mile offshore from what would be called Long Beach. We could see the movement of bait fish on the surface so I started throwing jigs to see if I could get some interest from the local bluefin tuna. 300-pound tuna were common just offshore here at this time. At this time, tuna fishing around Los Angeles and south were some of the best the world has ever seen. It was relatively easy to catch smaller ones in the surf.

Mr. Peabody just lounged with his glass of Crown Royal and said something about cat food. Under the boat the water visibility was great. I could easily see the occasional streak of brilliant blue and green opalescence of tuna in the water.

My fishing gear was a short stick stuck in a full lap plate with a Penn Imperial 8/0 reel loaded with 100-pound monofilament line. I wanted to make this quick. It can even be cast if ya got the nerve. I was pulling in a blue and white feather as fast as I could when it hit. Dang. Just a 20-pound skipjack. I horsed him up to the boat and unhooked him in the water. It was going to be hard to get the hook past the huge schools of smaller skipjacks to the fish I wanted to catch. I kept casting and finally got a hit that was no skipjack. The short stick, basically a small fiberglass telephone pole, was just made for this. Sure it was flexible, but it was also willing to bend only so far and then there is nothing but the line between the fish and me. The line went out. The line went in. It's always fun at first, but after the first 30 minutes of fighting a big tuna, it gets to be a lot of work. This is why Mr. Peabody likes me along. He gets to laugh at me.

Heck, he's gonna get tanked before 10 AM at this rate.

Just over an hour. That's pretty good for what looks like a 250-pound fish. I'm lucky I didn't hook into one of the really big ones or I'd have been here all day. I got the hook back and we went up the coast with the Island Breaker wide open. Then I had my hands full navigating. There was a tremendous amount of kelp all along the Long Beach and San Pedro coast. There were just patches all over the place near and far from shore. This was the Horseshoe Kelp. There is probably a hundred square miles of sand bottom with small isolated reefs and rocks strewn through it. Some of the reefs go on for 200 feet rising as much as 8 feet. Most are 15 to 30 feet long and rise 2 feet. The sheer size of the area makes for a vibrant ecology and all the sea life gets amazingly concentrated on the small reefs. Oh, I had forgotten about that entire area. Last time I was there, no kelp reached the surface anymore and though it still has its vibrancy on the reef, but it has felt the same impact of the LA metropolis as did the tuna. Up to now, I have had to keep a sharp eye out for surface swimmers that I don't want to hit. There are Mola Molas out here and large sharks, mostly blues, are seen every couple minutes of the trip.

Then it was time to slow down and think. Ahead of me was Palos Verdes, but before that came one of the largest, thickest kelp beds I've seen. Well, the boat was set up for that.

I wanted to dive Palos Verdes because legend has it that in the time before the impact of a growing Los Angeles, Palos Verdes was the lushest of all the kelp forest ecologies in California. It was badly damaged, especially by pollution that has thankfully been controlled. Now it is a beautiful place, but really most of the life is gone. Where is the thick algae covering the rocks? Why are there so many small urchins everywhere? What makes it appear so bizarre is that a diver can't help but think, with the rock structure here, this place should be crammed with life. Instead, it is the life you would see on flat rocks. It's there, but it's thin. Again, in a place so capable of sustaining life, intertwined with the vitality of cold water reef life, life is still going to persist and there is beautiful diving there, even co-existing with Los Angeles. Luckily, the Angelinos have decided to try to protect it and it is recovering. That was then, this is now. I could have made a dive near the outside of the kelp in deeper water, but I wanted to go inshore to where the life is at its thickest. That is also what the first divers here saw when they started visiting these reefs. We moved in shallower, fairly near to shore. White seabass could be seen sunning. As I suited up, Mr. Peabody started pouring again, but this time he wasn't using any ice. I entered the water and it was dark like a deep forest, but with flashes of bright light reflected at odd angles through the water. I picked this time of year for the good visibility and the day for historically calm conditions. This dive had a number of objectives. Mostly it was to see what the "undisturbed" (minus otters) ecology looked like and also I had a double-sided caliper measure of 10 inches and 11 inches to see if I could find a brudongous sized abalone. This is where the world record green abalone came from that was over 10 inches. Going down I was amazed at the number and size of the fish. There were swarms of perch, calico bass as well as huge sheepheads and schools containing generations of rockfish.

Upon reaching the thick growth on the bottom, the first thing I noticed were the large Red urchins strewn like leaves from a tree. They were everywhere. Since they are often cover for other animals, I looked behind them as well and sure enough, there was a large scallop behind any urchins with room behind them as well as other life hiding in the protection of the urchin.

There were lobsters everywhere. Most of them were big. Very big.

Sure enough, there were abalone everywhere, especially greens in shallow and lots of big black abalone in near shore. Most of the greens were in the 9-inch range. I went back a bit deeper to the thermocline and looked for red abalone in the shelves. I measured just a few before I found a 10 incher. It was time to just look around.

Wow! I came up a large rock and in a flat spot was the reef master. This monster lobster was over 20 pounds and was not interested in hiding. Heck, checking him out, he was willing to attack me. I played with him a bit, but he finally left with his posse, backing into a crack. What a dive. I got back to the boat and Mr. Peabody seemed comatose. Sometimes these pet stars have a hard time coping as well and I know what an identity problem Mr. Peabody has. I also think that he has demons in his past that I don't even know about, but I know him well enough to have little pity. I dumped my gear and set off straight towards the front side of Catalina Island that was clearly visible in the distance. Within only a few minutes. Mr. Peabody was chucking his dog biscuits over the rail. That was one sick puppy.

I was going here to see two things. I wanted to see how what the Marine Reserves might look like in a few years and I wanted to see where sport diving started in California. The shallows of Catalina was the place.

As I anchored in a shallow cove a fair sized blue shark was nearby on the surface. I just couldn't resist and gave an easy kick to Mr. Peabody's butt. Over the rail he went with a howl like a wolf that was getting its soul torn out. You say cats don't like water. You should see a soft, spoiled puppy hit the cold wet.

I entered with no scuba, like the first divers. Unlike them, I did have a snorkel and a wetsuit. There was no need to be primitively uncomfortable about it.

I moved in shallow because diving started out in mostly less than 15 feet of water both because it is warmer and also because there was no reason to go deeper. In the shallow sunlit water, the emerald greens of the eelgrass and the golden browns of the laminareas were brilliant. Fish were everywhere. There were clouds of smaller fish as well as huge calicos and sheepheads. 20 pound sheepheads were common. Big ling cod were out in the open on the rocks. Most were over 30 pounds. And talk about huge sculpin. As I went along the edge of the reef, I even saw a squadron of Black Sea Bass. Like at Palos Verdes, the reef life was thick, but here there were lots of pink abalone as well as greens and blacks, but no reds were to be seen. The big urchins were thick and sea cucumbers were on most flat rock surfaces. This was more lush than anything I had ever seen. I swam for hours, totally entranced by all the sea life. Harbor seals buzzed by occasionally and baitfish balls were everywhere near the surface. I even saw a school of Bonita.

It was time I had to go. I swam back to the boat where Mr. Peabody had my three band spear gun loaded and aimed. He was snarling. I called out that Vito would put him in a cage with a well-fed mountain lion that just wanted to play. That chilled him, but then he looked like he wanted to chuck again. It was a calm ride back to our starting point. The Way Back Machine requires less power if it doesn't have to compensate for spatial displacement. I knew it took Mr. Peabody's private fusion reactor to power it, but there was no point in making things difficult and I loved a quick trip in the Island Breaker.

Well, it was the end of a great day of diving. Mr. Peabody looked mellow again with glass in one hand and his reeking pipe in the other. Hiccup time. Frizzle frazzle, frazzle frome. Time for this one to come home.....

I hope you found this amusing.

Palos Verdes Kelp Bed
Palos Verdes Kelp Bed. An endless golden playground.