In 1989, little girls around the world dove into the ocean and wished for fins. While Ariel sang about becoming part of our world, I dreamed of being in hers. As I view the sky from the ocean waves’ underside, the sunlight that filters past the undulating surface is alive with magic. The bubbles soaring toward the silky veil between water and sky are tiny in the vast expanse of blues and greens. I have gotten my wish to become a mermaid at last. This is the life-changing power of SCUBA.
During our last adventure, Dory and I had just left Disneyland for Ventura, CA. The final days of our vacation would take us to visit Scuba Steve and the Channel Islands National Park’s chilly depths. Despite all my usual planning, we arrived in Ventura earlier than expected. Ventura Harbor has several restaurants, boutiques, and sweet treats. Best of all, the local SCUBA shop rents the equipment we would need for our subaqueous adventure. The babyface behind the counter was delightfully helpful, making sure we had everything we needed. Following lunch, Dory and I enjoyed more DoleWhip while admiring the local boat names. Seas the Day? The Codfather? She Got the House? Boat owners have a great sense of humor.
Scuba Steve and his wife, Pearl, have a beautiful pool in their backyard. However, the pool is not heated, and it is February. Although California has mild winters, the pool was about 68 degrees (colder than the actual ocean). By the time we wrestled into our 7mm wetsuits, booties, gloves, and hoods, Dory and I were sweating like harbor seals who just spotted an orca. To compensate for the buoyancy of all our snuggly neoprene, we each added 30lb weight belts. We looked like creatures returning to the Black Lagoon with vests, tanks, fins, and regulators. Luckily, our lagoon was tiled blue and had a few leaves on the surface. Walking from the shallows to the deep was a slow dance that required several steps back to the surface for adjustments. If you haven’t had much practice, bulky gear and regulated air can sometimes create a feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia. Dory had not been able to dive in several years and needed more time to adjust her ears. To add to the difficulties, her mask kept filling with water because the edge of her hood would not allow for a tight seal.
My nephews stood along the edge of the pool fence, yelling words of encouragement in the garbled and heartwarming way that only small children could. We descended less like diving submarines and more like slowly sinking dinghies. After an hour of bobbing about like ice cubes, we dragged our dripping bodies out of the pool and into warmer clothes. Our next task would be to get all of this gear dry overnight. Shimmying into a wetsuit is hard enough without it also being cold and clammy. Solution: crank the hotel room heater to HIGH and hang everything in a way that catches the hot air. If Poseidon built a scarecrow for his sea-garden, it would have looked like the monstrosity looming over our heater. Cue the smell of wet boots and sweating most of the night!
Dory awoke with a sinking feeling that would keep her on dry land. Both her ears were plugged, and she would not be able to equalize them to dive. Encouraging me to continue on with the dive as planned, Dory ushered me out the door to meet Scuba Steve at his new boat.
The Christine is a fine boat with no relation to the infamous car of the same name. Although seemingly small and overshadowed by the doomed marriage that had influenced her sale, Christine was a fantastic dive boat for a small group. Upon reaching Anacapa Island, we were greeted by several seals who inhabit nearby sea caves. The rock formation above our desired dive spot resembled a skull, and so it was deemed “Skull Rock” for future references. This was either ominous or simply pareidolia. I’ll stick with the latter.
We suited up and fell backwards over the side of the boat. Why do SCUBA divers fall backwards out of the boat? Because if they fell forward, they would still be in the boat. Bad joke, I know, but a classic. After descending the anchor line, I glanced around and spotted a seal performing loops and rolls among the kelp forest. While Scuba Steve finds seals annoying while diving, I was hoping for more interaction. I won’t touch the wildlife, but I genuinely enjoy their displays of prowess as native aquatic creatures.
Scuba Steve took the lead as we explored the inlets below the soaring cliffs. If a gap between formations appeared too tight, I would wait for him to explore and return to wave me after him. This helped to avoid fins to the face and awkward reverse swimming. As one inlet curved around into another, it created a horseshoe cavern that was illuminated by the thinnest shafts of light filtering down between gaps in the rocks above. As I stared around in wonder in this hidden treasure trove, I thought of Ariel stacking her baubles on nearby rock shelves. These shelves held only starfish, but the cavern had a magical calm that wasn’t affected by the tidal surge. Extraordinarily little coral had formed on the rocks and no plants grew in the cavern. Had this area been sealed off from the main ocean until recently? There was no evidence of a kraken or giant octopus to explain the lack of smaller sea life. There was a stark beauty that only the mysteries of the ocean could explain. Our dives at Skull Rock were the best of my underwater experiences thus far.
Although Dory was unable to dive, her adventure was not yet over. Having seen a billboard advertising the latest exhibit at the Reagan Library, we decided to make the most of our last morning together. Dedicated in 1991, the Reagan Library is a 300-acre site containing exhibits, the actual Air Force One airplane President Reagan used, and the burial sites of he and Nancy. After three hours, we had barely seen half of the exhibits and none of the grounds.
The main exhibit was titled, “Egypt’s Lost Cities” and featured pieces from entire cities that sunk into the bay of Aboukir. These underwater artifacts were preserved far better than those unearthed from the desert sands. It seems that another SCUBA diver, Franck Goddio, found treasures below the waves. However, Goddio estimates that over 90% of the lost city of Thonis-Haracleion is yet to be discovered. I imagine divers discovering a cavern similar to mine but filled with priceless artifacts.
With promises to return to the Reagan Library someday to finish all the exhibits we were unable to view, we started our drive to LAX. The last seven miles of freeway to LAX often take upwards of 45 minutes to travel. A disbelieving Dory was astounded as we crawled along with the traffic, still enjoying the extra time spent together. As I walked my Aunt Dory to the security checkpoint, I was already planning our next adventure together. I hear the diving in Egypt is excellent this time of year.
Safe Travels, my friends!