Last Sunday I had my first taste of diving the Oil Rigs off Los Angeles, and I must say, it was a crazy and amazing experience.
I went with my pals on the Sundiver (and Deep Blue Scuba Shop) to Eureka, one of three oil rigs in Federal waters about 8 miles off the coast of LA. Diving the oil rigs requires special permission, as these rigs are currently active, and
let me break it down, this shit ain’t easy.
Because the rigs are in water as deep as 720 feet, it’s not really viable to anchor the boat, so the boat waits for divers to surface and then signals for them to swim back to the boat. This is stressful for both diver and boat crew, as you have to be “on” and alert for any dive emergencies.
As the dive is deep, and there is no real bottom to speak of, dive emergencies are possible. Maybe even probable, depending on the divers and the conditions. When considering a dive at the rigs, ask yourself, “is my buoyancy spot on?” and “can I manage myself in less than ideal conditions?”.
SO you can imagine a dive briefing was a necessity in this situation
After what may have been my most stressful dive briefing in my diving career, (aside from the fact that is was coming from my favorite DM bubbly Jules), half of the 20 diver boat suited up and prepared for our giant strides. While Captain Ray radioed the rig, we waited for the signal, and then all lined up.
I geared up, jumped, and swam like hell to the rig. There was a big incentive when I saw all the Sea Lions who were hanging out there, having loud, barking conversations and sleeping in adorable heaps.
After some discussion with my dive buddy, we decided on a game plan, that quickly adjusted with the conditions. With the current pulling us from the rig, we decided to stay in constant contact so we wouldn’t have to look away from the rig while staying together. I maintained visual contact with the rig, and my dive computer for the entire dive, and only dropped as deep as I felt comfortable.
The Oil Rig is like an alien spaceship underwater. Above water it’s all business. Under, it is an artificial reef, covered with life and color. Branches grew off the structure into the sea, and metallic noises echo underwater. Geometric structures guide the way, and drop down further than the diving eye can see.
Because the visibility wasn’t fanstastic, the dive was dark and stressful and current-y. I have to say, my favorite part of the dive happened around 15 feet, during our safety stop. The sea lions of the rig were jumping off and playing with us. If you’ve ever dived with sea lions you know how great it is when they play, diving at you and playing chicken, blowing bubbles, or ducking under you. We even saw a sea lion eating goodies off the rig, which was the most adorable gnawing action I have ever seen.
This is the most advanced dive I have ever done. Visibility is unknown until you are diving and experiencing them. Currents are common, surge, swell, and everything the open ocean has to offer can affect the dive. My dive was affected by all of it: waves that started small and got bigger, visibility that was perhaps 10 feet, the sun wasn’t properly out, so it was very dark past 25 feet, the feeling of the open ocean pulling me away from the structure of the oil rig, knowing that as soon as I lose sight of the rig I am at the mercy of the ocean, knowing that if I lose my buoyancy control I will sink to the bottom of the sea, on top of 54 degree F water, biting cold into my bones moments into the dive.
SO……amazing dive, but one must be such an advanced diver that they are prepared for all of the above. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
Special thanks to my friends Dudley McLaughlin (the red head front and center) and Nicholli Gan(red hat, front off right) for their photos of this day.