I went to Catalina Island to go scuba diving yesterday. Notice that I said I went to go diving, not that I actually dove. Because I didn’t dive. But I did have an adventure.
We’ve been having some strange weather here in the Los Angeles area lately, unusual conditions that puzzle the locals and cause them to drive dangerously — odd cottony formations in the sky, scary booming noises coming from all around, a curious liquid substance falling from somewhere far above. I’ve done some research on the internets and this phenomenon sounds a lot like rain. Being a Southern Californian I’ve never seen this “rain,” but that does seem to describe what we’re seeing so I’ll go with it.
So yeah, it’s raining around here. But my local dive shop had a great deal going on a dive trip to Catalina yesterday, and I figured since I was going to be wet from being underwater anyway I could live with being a little wet above water too. So I paid my money and packed my gear — including my new hooded vest courtesy of Beth for my birthday — into my new gear bag courtesy of my mom for my birthday — and I drove down to Long Beach to board the Catalina Express ferry to the Island.
The ferry is usually packed to the gills with close to 400 passengers, but yesterday morning there were only about 40 people, 16 of whom were my group. We were all feeling very superior and snarking about how L.A. people can’t drive in the rain and are afraid they’re going to melt and how rough and tough we were for ignoring the rain and doing our thing anyway. Two hours later it looked like we were the fools for showing up, not the others for staying home.
Leaving the harbor we were joking about how rough the crossing was going to be. The crew had warned us to expect a few bumps because of the storms, so we were prepared for some rocking and rolling. The crew gave us the standard briefing about where the life preservers were and how to wear them — and they added a bit of information I hadn’t heard them give before: sickbags were available if anyone felt they needed one. That quieted a few folks down.
The boat started rolling and bouncing, and someone mentioned that “well, that’s not too bad” and someone else pointed out that “we haven’t cleared the breakwater yet.” Nervous laughter. Once we cleared the breakwater the rolling and bouncing got worse, but it still wasn’t too bad. But as it got rougher and rougher, to where you couldn’t walk around without holding on to something, it got quieter and quieter. And some people started turning green.
The ferry usually cruises at about 30 – 35 knots. I don’t think we were going that fast, but we were still moving pretty good. At those speeds you don’t feel each individual wave, you get more of the swell movement — it’s a slow up-and-down rocking/surging as the boat rides from the crest to the valley to the crest of the swells. If the timing is right it’s just like going up and over hills in your car. If the timing’s wrong it’s like digging the nose of the car into the top of the hill you’re climbing … and fortunately the bow can punch through the “ground.”
The ride got more and more wild and we had more and more waves crashing over the bow. But we were nice and dry inside the cabin and it was pretty impressive to see the waves splashing against the front windows. Then the captain started cutting power every once in a while, and we quickly noticed the pattern when he did: cut power, smash into a really big wave, watch an impressive wall of water break over the bow and against the windows, feel the ship drop like a rock into the trough and thud into the water at the bottom, throttle up and repeat. The green people starting puking. Some of the jokers shut up and started turning green themselves. One of the crew started puking.
Now, I’ve always wondered if I were prone to seasickness. I’ve been on boats many times, but never in really trying conditions, never in anything that would definitely make you seasick. I’ve always felt fine but I’ve always wondered if it was just because the conditions were agreeable. I think that now I know for sure, because I have definitely been tested. And I’m happy to say that I felt fine. Thank God, too, because the people who were puking looked miserable. You know how you always hear about people turning green? They really do.
So the seas are really rough, people are puking all over the place, we’re pitching and rolling, out the window you can see sea/sky/sea/sky, the captain is cutting power more and more frequently as huge waves are smashing over the bow and we’re slamming into the troughs, one of the crew told me that it was worse than he’d ever seen it and that if we weren’t already halfway there we’d probably turn back … and then it got interesting.
People going over to Catalina carry a lot of crap with them — scuba gear, camping equipment, fishing tackle, assorted stuff. There are storage bins on the bow deck to put all the crap in, and covers that dog down over them to keep them dry. There’s a row of storage bins right against the front cabin windows that open just like the hood of a car, with the lid leaning back against the wall with the windows in it.
So we’re crashing along, smashing through the wind and rain and waves — and one of these car hood-type lids flips up. This all happened so quickly that nobody really saw it and we had to piece it together afterware, but when this lid flipped up it slammed back against the wall right over one of the windows. The lid was a little wider than the window itself, so the edges of the lid hit the framing around the window and so the window didn’t break. Until seconds after the lid flipped up and we crashed through a monster wave.
This sent a wall of water crashing over the deck and against the storage bin lid, which had no hope of standing up against the force of the water. It bent like a U and crashed through the window, shattering it. And the rest of that wave came pouring into the cabin. It was like something out of a movie, The Perfect Storm, to be exact. And it was exactly like that.
The captain slowed waaay the hell down after that, which actually made things even rougher since that let us feel each individual wave. But going slower kept the waves crashing over the bow from coming far enough up to come into the cabin, which I think you can understand is something you’d want to prevent on a boat. We were never in any danger, but I suppose we could have been if the seas had gotten worse. Mostly we took it in stride and those of us who weren’t puking thought it was pretty cool. But still: damn!
The trip over to Catalina ended up taking us nearly 3 hours, and once we got there the conditions were so bad that diving really wasn’t possible. So we got back on the ferry (after they boarded up the window) and headed back to the mainland. The ride back was quite a bit calmer, and those of us who’d just been through it snickered at the new passengers oohing and aahing over conditions that were barely half of what we’d just experienced.
So I went diving but didn’t get to dive. But I still had a great time. And most importantly: I didn’t get seasick.