It is a geographical certainty that when two dissimilar environments occur in the same bit of ocean they must meet at some point. That is exactly what happens in the brilliant waters of the Northern Channel Islands. This island chain off the coast of Southern California includes from east to west Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. Here the warmer currents from the south meet the colder, nutrient rich waters from the north. The resulting mix supports kelp forests, marine mammals, and endless varieties of fish and plants. Divers who explore the waters of the world return to these islands for their extreme diversity and the certainty that no two dives will be quite the same. With visibility averaging 40 feet and often much greater, hundreds of miles of shoreline, and large well equipped boats offering dives all year, a channel Islands trip should be on every divers schedule. Anacapa is the closest to shore of all eight islands when departing from Ventura Harbor. Santa Cruz is the next in the chain. The Spectre dive boat can reach Anacapa in an hour and 15 minutes.
In The Water
Entry is a giant stride from the boat deck but divers may also exit from the large stern mounted swim-step. Most dives are near the island in depths from just a few feet up to about 50 feet. It is possible to do deeper dives but not required. The Spectre stays anchored during the dive using both a bow anchor in front and a stern anchor behind. This system keeps the boat stationary over the dive sites. Each dive lasts about an hour depending on a diver’s air consumption. The boat does three dives per day at different dive sites. Snorkelers may also enjoy these trips since the boat is usually close to shallow areas.
The bottom is rocky reef and sand. Some spots offer kelp forests, walls, and pinnacles. Hundreds of plants and small animals share the reefs with many varieties of fish including kelp bass, sheepshead, and garibaldi. It is not unusual to spot sea lions, seals, lobsters, bat rays, horn sharks, moray eels, and occasionally giant black sea bass as well as blacksmith perch, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and other small schooling fish. The more you look the more you see!
It is almost impossible not to ask how things will be for the day you choose to dive, even when divers know how uncertain predictions can be. Dive trips run all year so here are some very general guidelines. Water temperature is coldest from February to May varying between 56 and 62 degrees. From June to September, it will range from 62 to as high as 70 then slowly begin to drop. October through January finds the water in the low 60s to high 50s. These temperatures are for Anacapa and Santa Cruz. Air temperature runs 60 to 75 in the summer and fall and in the 50s in the winter and spring. Visibility rarely goes below 10 feet and can be as high as 100 feet. The average is 40 feet and on most days the bottom is visible from the boat.
Weather is so localized and changes so much it is impossible to give an accurate overview. The islands offer protection so even on windy days there is usually a calm spot. Check just before the trip; remember that TV weather is not telling much about the real conditions at the islands, and that in California the word “storm” can mean light drizzle with 10 knot winds. Also keep in mind that it can be windy the day before the trip and be flat calm the next morning.
Dive masters do not take divers on tours. They give briefings, answer questions, and are ready to offer assistance.
Most of the dive sites are also great for snorkeling. A wet suit is a must and snorkel gear is available. Rates are about half the diver price and include food. Ask us for complete details.
The entire north side of Anacapa Island is a marine protected area where hunting and fishing are not allowed. This makes Anacapa a favorite dive destination because there is so much life. Most trips include dives both in and out of the reserves.
Anacapa and Santa Cruz are great for both macro and wide-angle photography and the Spectre has a camera rinse tank, tables to change lenses, and abundant 110volt outlets for recharging batteries. All the photos on this website were taken at Anacapa island, most by underwater photographer Doug Klug. (Divers can Google Doug Klug for more great photos.)
Hunting is allowed on the Spectre but dive sites are chosen for best conditions, which means some or all the dives may be in marine protected areas. A California fishing license is required. Lobster season varies each year but it starts near the beginning of October and runs until mid-March. Fish and rock scallops may be taken all year. If you dive primarily to hunt let us know and we can offer suggestions.
Choosing a Trip
For first time dives in California, Anacapa is the best choice. It is close to the mainland and offers a perfect introduction to California diving. There is something for everyone and local divers choose Anacapa again and again.