Mendocino Agate Beach area, September 29th 1996.


Late the first night another kayaker, Ken Kelton, arrived who was interested and equipped to go abalone diving. The two of us got together and planned to go out again Sunday morning. After the delays of Saturday morning, I figured we didn't have to go out so early. Another kayaker named Roger Lamb did not have all the equipment necessary, only a wetsuit and mask. But he came along to try swimming and diving to see what it was like. Getting into my cold wet slimy wetsuit was not as bad as I imagined it would be. The anticipation was much worse than the reality. Because I was sure the "abalone supermarket" was fished out, we went to a different small cove in the same area near Russian Gulch. We pulled over near the side of this cove before where the kelp got thick. I rolled out of my sit-on-top kayak while Ken, who is a very experienced kayaker, slipped out of his small sit-inside. Roger decided to paddle 200 meters away and land on a small beach and try diving close to shore where he could get in and out of his kayak.

To my surprise, we found that the visibility was 3 meters! Very good for northern California waters, and better than I had the day before in the cove next door. The water was around four meters deep, so part way down, my eyes would suddenly focus on the bottom. I could adjust my decent to aim towards one of the 3 or 4 abalone I could see from so far away. I quickly got two abalone. These plus the two left over from the day before made four. I choose to interpret the fishing regulations to mean that I cannot have more than this in my possession, even if they were caught on different days. So I stopped diving. Ken had originally planned to get only one, but could not resist getting a second one. His second abalone was one that I had taken a poke at, but missed because the small rock it was on moved when I struck it. Ken pulled the rock and abalone up 4 meters and managed to separate them while sitting on the rocky side of the cove in the surf.

While we were diving, another diver without a belt suddenly appeared. At first I didn't recognize this person in hood and mask. But it turned out to be Roger, who had swum the 200 meters over the thickest part of the kelp to join us! He was able to dive fairly deep without a belt and actually brought up some empty abalone shells that I had noticed on the bottom. He borrowed Ken's weight belt after Ken was finished with it, but it was too heavy for him. Rogeris apparently a great swimmer, but this was his first time in the ocean. He saw lots of abalone and predicted (correctly I am sure) that he could have gotten his limit if he had a license and a little more equipment. I'm going to have to track Roger down later, he would make an excellent abalone diving buddy.

When we were all done diving, we went back close to shore and through some caves to get back to Russian Gulch. It turns out that, we could get back to the beach without going out to sea the way we came in. I wish my brother Paul and I had known this the time we came out here. One cave we followed went back through one of the points and came out behind the little beach where Roger had parked his kayak! He could have taken an even shorter cut home. Another large cave went farther and farther back until we could not see in the darkness. I took out my flashlight and found that it ended fairly soon. Then I tied my flashlight to my bow line and lowered it into the water. It went down two meters (the length of my line) in very turbid water and never hit bottom.

Agate Beach Paddle.

When we were leaving to go on this diving expedition, Paul Futcher arrived. He seemed eager to talk when I was eager to go diving. I invited him to come along, but he refused, saying he was sick and tired of abalone and never wanted to see another one. I told him we would be gone an hour, and he admonished me that it should not take that long to pick four abalone. I started to tell him that it would take several hours if I stopped to talk to him first, but decided to just get in the water and leave him behind. At this rudeness from me, he finally went back to his car and started getting ready to paddle. He tried to follow us a little later, but could not find us and went back to the beach to wait.

When we got back, Paul was ready to do a serious paddle. I decided that the two of us would follow the shore from Russian Gulch to the Mendocino Headlands that the group had passed by the day before. I was interested in seeing Agate Beach, but that turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment. This turned out to be a narrow beach below a crumbling cliff that didn't look worth landing at. Paul assured me that by the time any beach gets named "Agate Beach", all the agates worth collecting have already long since been removed. Thinking back on it now, I noticed that the beach did not have good access from above, and the crumbling cliff might have uncovered more agates continuously.

When we got to the Mendocino Headlands, I lead the way into a large cave I had not been in before. It came out in a notch that I had been in before through a side arch. That side arch looked a little rough, so we went down the notch and around the end of the island. As we came out the notch we ran into a group of kayakers from BASK. It was almost the same group as the day before, and this time they had decided to run close to shore and had explored the same Agate Beach area this trip. If they had done this the day before, I would have used the time to explore some entirely new section of shore, perhaps from the Navaro River to the Albion harbor.

Paul and I cut straight back across the water to get back to Russian Gulch. When we got back, Paul took out a smoked chicken he had brought for lunch and we sat around talking into the early afternoon. By the time we were through all the other BASKers had already left and I was the last person to break camp and head home.


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All text and images Copyright © 1996 by Mike Higgins / contact