Every Diver has stories. The longer they dive, the more the stories. The more critical the conditions, the “hairier” the story.
After show hours at the annual Big Sur Jade Festival, Jade divers gather at the campgrounds and share. Ages 13 to 83, we play “show and tell” with our favorite finds and of course, the accompanying story. Since many of our customers can’t make it to the festival, maybe I can share a few stories here.
The morning’s jade dive started like many others. Standing on the cliff at dawn but there was a large visitor close to shore at the dive entry point … a 14ft Elephant Seal. He saw us immediately, postured up and started a low toned “croaking” to issue us a warning. We went to another spot but soon returned as worsening conditions were expected later in the day and the big seal was right where we needed to be.
Down the rope and down the cliff in full dive gear, on the beach and still no sign of the “Big Guy”. I was fist to the waters edge, sat on a rock to put my fins on, looked up and 15ft in front of me surfaced a large, adolescent male. The head was huge as was his width as he and I just stared curiously at each other. There was no croaking, posturing, no signs of injury only a strange silence and stillness.
I stood high up on a rock with my fins in my outstretched arms trying to look as big as I could but he just sat there looking at me. I started speaking to him in a normal tone, “Dude, were not here to hassle you only to dive for some jade so be cool and don’t harsh our dive”.
The boulder field and shallow water is all that separated us so I sat back down and put on my fins as he watched. I noticed a couple of big waves break off the point so I knew the last one would give me enough clearance as I launched off my perch. I lay prone, with my mask half in the water and the other half looking at this big animal as the last wave of the set hit the beach and started sucking me straight to the now submerging animal. The water was moving me fast so I was expecting to see it underwater …. but didn’t. It was gone and we didn’t see it the rest of the day.
I was on the surface and the strong current kept ripping me seaward for about a quarter mile until I reached a spot I wanted to descend. Visibility was good once on the bottom but the surge even at 25ft was nasty. Forecast was for 5-6ft but the swell interval was expected to be about 16 seconds. I dove for about an hour , found some nice stone but decided to come in with more air than usual just in case I got caught in the boulder field during a set. I have dove Big Sur many times and have been in some tight spots so I know with a swell swinging north to west and increasing size and interval, side current and rip tides would be a problem and things could get nasty.
I still had sufficient air to check out a shallow spot for a few minutes on the way in and decided to surface, check the waves on the point, wait for a lull then go for it between sets. It was low tide and the water was shallower than I expected, even moderate waves were moving big cobbles. I could feel the water start to rip and wedged myself in between some boulders to ride it out on the bottom as being on the surface this close to the rocks could throw me into them and wedge me in a crack or cut me to shreds. Hung onto my mask and regulator they were being pulled from my face, “I’m screwed!”
Luckily there were only 3 waves in that set so I figured I had about 5 minutes to look then get to deep water as a “safe spot” was non-existent. Moving still closer to the beach, I was picking up some nice small stones then noticed I was only in 8ft of water, this was suicide so I turned to get into some deeper water.
Feeling the surge again I “locked in” behind a big boulder which protected me from the full force of the next set and counted for 6 waves, the last wave pulled me over my protective shield hurtling toward another boulder but before I hit it, I ducked my head and buried it in the cobble while shoving my fins against the rock behind me.
The surge subsided so I began looking at the large rocks I was laying on. Between them I saw a baseball sized top of beautiful light blue, ocean polished jade buried in the sand. I had to move fast as I didn’t have much time. I slowly dug it out, put it in my bag and high tailed it to deeper water just in time to get “faced” by the next set.
Still had plenty of air so was able to take my time and calmly negotiate the boulder field, side current, rip tide and waves …. oh yeah, and zero visibility! These are conditions that can easily pin and snap a leg, arm or crush a skull even for a guy with over 250 dives at this same spot.
Was able to successfully hang on to the bottom in the shallows, riding out the set waves until it was calm enough to make my run to shore. Got banged around through the boulder field pretty good with all that weight on but hey, that’s a small price to pay especially in these worsening conditions.
Once high on the beach, tanks/belt off, it was time to admire my prize.
As the day came to a close and it was time to begin the struggle back up the cliff, a set wave came crashing down out on the point. Easily “double overhead”, I wondered how much the conditions had changed while I was in the water. First thing I did when done with my clean up at home was to check the conditions. 6.2ft at 19 second intervals!!! Had I known that, I never would have dove this day, and never would have spoken with an elephant seal, and never found this strange but beautiful piece of jade.
Big Sur is a place that can be so beautiful but so deadly even for those who know her intimately. I could have very easily been swept out to sea or pinned in the rocks or had my gear damaged or any one of another dozen things. I have a ton of experience but anything can happen to anyone. Like I said, every piece of jade has a story. “Strange Day” indeed!