The Santa Barbara Channel is a unique geologic feature on the California coast. Running nearly due east-west, it is the only such location to be found on a coast that generally runs in a north-northwest, south-southeast orientation. The channel is bounded on the north by the California coast from approximately Point Mugu on the east (south) end and by Point Conception on the west (north) end. The southern boundary is made up of the Channel Islands, which are from east to west, are Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. This approximately 65 nautical mile shortcut has been a favorite maritime highway for over 200 years. However with the convenience of usually protected waters and shorter route, there were other aspects to be considered as well. For early mariners especially, unpredictable winds and currents along with dense fogs could and did make the channel a challenging place. Over the years numerous ships came to grief in the channel providing divers unique glimpses of maritime history and some truly wonderful dive locations.
Gosford & Shasta:
The western (north) or up coast end of the Santa Barbara Channel has claimed numerous vessels over the years. One of the most interesting is the British sailing vessel Gosford. In November 1893, the Gosford, her cargo of coal ablaze, sought refuge in Cojo Anchorage, just east of Point Conception. Efforts of rescue ships to put out the fire ultimately resulted in the Gosford’s sinking in the protected waters of the anchorage. Salvage attempts on the 281-footer were unsuccessful, and today, the remains of this graceful square-rigger remain for divers to explore. Over the years, the ship has become a vibrant artificial reef, with its cargo of coal and the hull of the ship providing the base structure for a dense kelp forest which supports big populations of fish and invertebrates. Depths range from 30 to 50 feet and because of her protected location inside Government Point the Gosford is almost always a viable dive spot.
Another Santa Barbara Channel wreck lies within a stones throw of the Gosford on nearby Government Point. In October 1906, the 722-ton, wooden steam schooner Shasta was north bound when dense fog caused her to run aground on Government Point, just a mile and a half east of the Point Conception Lighthouse. The crew was all saved but the Shasta was doomed. She remained on the point and slowly went to pieces. Because the point typically is a better surfing spot than a dive destination, the scattered remains of the old steamer are rarely visited. When conditions allow it is an interesting dive with almost all of the machinery of the ship there to be explored. Depths range from 15 to 30-feet but again, conditions must be exceptionally calm for a visit to this lost steamer.
The 1961 Thanksgiving Day storm that struck the Santa Barbara coast was a disaster for the Global Marine Corporation, owner of the drill ship Humble SM-1, and the Texaco Oil Company who was operating the vessel, but has since proved to be a windfall for divers. The violent southeaster caught the 200-foot oil drilling vessel unawares, and the huge storm-driven waves overwhelmed the ship capsized her and drove her to the bottom. The crew fortunately was rescued by a nearby crew-boat and no lives were lost in the sinking.
Today the storm-battered drill ship lies inverted on the bottom in about 80-feet of water a short distance from Cojo Anchorage and the final resting place of the Gosford. Though most inverted shipwrecks don’t provide much of interest for divers, the SM-1 has a prominent amount of interesting structure lying just off her starboard side. These materials are the remains of the SM-1’s draw works – the structure and equipment used during the ships drilling operations.
Even though she is inverted, there are several areas that allow access the interior of the vessel as well. Perhaps most obvious is the moon pool an opening in the center of the vessel that allowed the drilling operations to be carried out in a more stable, safer environment. Salvage efforts have also opened several other accesses into the SM-1, but access should not be attempted except by properly equipped, properly trained divers.
The SM-1 provides photographers – whether wide angle or macro – with numerous varied subjects and opportunities for unique documentation of both shipwreck and critters. For hunters the SM-1 provides the kelp and structure that bass, rockfish and ling cod call home. The bottom around the SM-1 has provided bragging-sized halibut as well. Whether you dive the SM-1 to sightsee, take photos or to do a little hunting, it is a site that you will want to return to time and again.
Oil Rig Dive
Oil Rig diving is a fantastic experience in every aspect of the trip. They are usually no-take zones, making their structures a perfect home for an incredible variety of marine life. This kind of diving is considered advanced due to unpredictable conditions found around the rigs. Divers must have excellent buoyancy control and be comfortable performing free descents and ascents in open ocean. It is critical to remain aware of depth, air consumption, and NDL or decompression obligations. Compasses are useless underneath these massive steel structures. Large surface signaling devices are a necessity.
All diving is done by live drop and pickup, as boats cannot tie off to the platforms and anchoring in these depths is impractical. Boats must call ahead to gain permission for divers to enter the water, so it is best to join an arranged charter. These sites are working platforms with active resupply boat traffic; divers must pay close attention to briefings detailing entry, descent, surfacing, and getting back to the dive boat.
Temperatures at depth can range from the low 50s in late spring to low 60s in the autumn. A drysuit or 7 mm wetsuit with hooded vest, boots and gloves is recommended year-round. Visibility can vary widely, ranging from less than 10 feet to well over 100. Surge is a given, and currents can occasionally be strong or rapidly changing.