The idea of making reservations to go shore diving may seem ridiculous--all too reminiscent of trying to get into a tony restaurant or hot new nightclub. It's easy to imagine lining up behind velvet ropes, pleading with a stone-faced maitre d' or doorman to check the guest list just one more time.
It's not quite that bad at Point Lobos State Reserve, where access to some of California's sweetest shore diving is limited to just 15 buddy teams a day. There aren't any velvet ropes, and the doorman is replaced by a park ranger, but the concept is the same. If you don't register in advanceif your name isn't on the listyou're just not getting in. Oh, and you'll need photo ID in the form of your C-card, too.
What's so great about Point Lobos? Everything. There's a variety of diving: shallow reefs, deep kelp beds, walls, pinnacles, caves and sandy coves with the state's largest variety of sea stars. The swimming marine life ranges from seals, sea lions and otters to torpedo rays, rockfish and lingcod. The shore diving couldn't be easier; there's no surf zone to contend with or uneven sand to stumble across. Topside, there is a spigot for rinsing gear, picnic tables for a surface interval snack, conveniently located restrooms and acres of breathtaking scenery.
Diving is limited to Bluefish Cove and Whalers Cove, so even with restricted admission, the rudimentary boat ramp/entrance point in Whalers Cove is usually bustling with excited divers. The friendly exchanges and diving patter soon turn strangers into friends as returning divers share information about conditions and creatures with those just entering the water.
Most divers descend soon after entry in Whalers Cove. Here, a jungle of amber kelp ribbons is rooted in a rocky bottom substrate. It's a great area for novice and intermediate divers looking for consistently calm water, reasonable depths and a choice of shallow or deep reefs. Shafts of light penetrate the kelp forest to illuminate massive lingcod, and otters and harbor seals are common dive companions. While the sea otters tend to be shy, the harbor seals are notoriously mischievous and will goad divers by tugging at their fins.
On calm days, energetic divers may choose to swim around the point and dive in Bluefish Cove. Because of the huff-and-puff required to swim through the kelp, the better option is to dive by kayak or small inflatable boatthe only watercraft allowed in the park. Punctuated by steep walls, caves and canyons, the cove is best known for a series of pinnacles at the mouth of the cove. They drop more than 100 feet and are covered with gigantic strawberry anemones and pink and purple hydrocorals. Use caution, howeverthe pinnacles can be exposed to open-water conditions.
Securing a dive reservation at Point Lobos State Reserve may require some advanced planning, but it's well worth it.
Dive In: Point Lobos State Reserve
Location: Point Lobos State Reserve is a fully protected no-touch, no-take preserve located on Hwy. 1 at Riley Ranch Road in Carmel. To make reservations, call (831) 624-4909.
The Rules: There is a $7 reservation fee per team, and permits are valid only for the date issued. All divers must register in person at the ranger station by presenting a valid C-card and photo ID. Solo diving is prohibited. Hand-launchable boats and kayaks are permitted, but require advance reservations on weekends.
Dive teams and boats must be registered at least two hours prior to the posted closing time5 p.m. in winter, 7 p.m. in summer. Divers and boats may enter or exit the water only at the access ramp at Whalers Cove. Fishing equipment and collecting tools are prohibited, and federal law prohibits harassment of harbor seals, sea lions, whales and sea otters.
Water Conditions: Water temperatures range from 50F to 65F, depending on season and conditions. A dry suit is a great way to go, but a 7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves will do. In Whalers Cove, expect visibility between 15 and 30 feet, with occasional highs of 60 feet at the mouth. Bluefish Cove normally has 30- to 40-foot visibility, with peaks of 80 feet or more. Depths range from 20 to 100 feet.
Dive Operators: For more information and for local equipment rental and air fills, call the Monterey Bay Dive Center at (831) 656-0454 or (800) 60-scuba.