The Boiler Maker
By Joshua Russo
We signed up for the lobster season opener at Cortez Banks this year, 2010. The weather at the banks forced us closer to shore after two days of excellent diving. With fast moving currents and surges on the bottom and huge waves on the surface, Cortez is double black diamond, seriously advanced diving on the best days. You don’t mess with Cortez in a storm. Channel Islands can get hairy quickly too. They’re a small chain of islands on the open ocean, completely exposed. On the morning of the third day we awoke at the southwest side of Santa Barbara Island. Our first dive was relatively uneventful. Dropping in at 90’ heading south, we hit a wall and followed it east till we came to a large crevice littered with boulders. We saw several lobsters, most too deep in their holes to reach or in holes with too many exits for us to pose a threat to them. The highlight of this dive was the huge Cabezon. This was the biggest Cabezon either my buddy or I had ever seen and he was not afraid of us in the least.
Our second dive was at a location called, “The Boiler Maker.” From the surface all you can see is a bubbling, churning, white frothy explosion of surges and waves. The Boiler Maker is an underwater pile of rocks and boulders that lurks just below the surface, causing 10’-20’ waves to form instantly at its western edge and break just as suddenly. The surge created by this force explodes against the rocks below, and from the surface it looks like someone is throwing dynamite into the water. During the pre-dive briefing the captain points at this area and says, “That’s where the lobsters are. If you find yourself getting shallow, you’re too close, get out of there; but as close as your skill level allows you to get to that, that’s where they are.”
We exited the boat and headed north for The Boiler Maker. My buddy and I got separated during the hunt which is not unusual for this type of diving; we’re hunting, not touring. We have a plan and a search pattern and what happens quite often is while your head is in a hole looking for bugs, your buddy is chasing one the other way and you get separated. Once you’re done in your hole or chasing your bug, you resume your pattern and usually you run into your buddy again. The hole I was in on this dive was a channel cut cleanly in the bottom of the ocean floor at about 25’ deep. As I was searching this channel, the walls started getting taller providing even more holes for the tasty little bugs to hide in. It was a great place to hunt --- occasionally opening up into a foxhole-type pit and everything was out of the surge. I came to a three-way intersection and turned west. I was at a depth of 25’. I made a few kicks in this direction, still searching for lobsters when a sudden surge with tremendous force came through. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing to hold onto and no way to resist the force of this surge. In two seconds I went from happily searching the ocean floor at 25’ to standing on a rock, out of the water with 10’ waves crashing and exploding all around me.