Casino Point as a New Diver, Leading Dives

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Santa Barbara
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Hello! I'm a new diver, certified at Anacapa + local shore diving around SB in November 2019. No diving during the height of the pandemic, but recently (July 2021) did a refresher dive at Refugio State Beach prior to a trip to Kona, Hawaii. I have 5 local dives (incl. 4 for certification) and 4 dives in Hawaii.

My brother is newly certified diving in (quite cold) lakes in Idaho, and plans to make a trip down to visit me soon. He was supposed to come to Hawaii with us, but got sick before the trip and couldn't travel, so he hasn't been in the ocean yet.

Given that we'll be diving on a Tuesday to fit around his work schedule, we don't have the option of taking the Spectre. I'm thinking a day trip (or one night overnight) at Catalina might be the move. I had planned to take a trip out there right after my OW, but the pandemic had other plans.

My question to those who familiar with the dive park: do you think I should hire a dive guide / try to find a local to show us around (though I imagine this might be hard on a Tuesday...)? I don't have much experience navigating, since other than the basic navigation in my OW I've only done "follow the leader" diving. That said, all of my local dives have been in cold water with kelp, and I'm reasonably confident I could lead out-and-back dives for my brother and I. In any case, I want to build up my navigation experience so that I feel more comfortable doing local shore diving without a dive guide, and am thinking that with the generally better visibility at Catalina (relative to most sites in SB), and dedicated, mapped out dive area, it might be a great opportunity.

What do you all think? Is the dive park reasonably forgiving re basic navigation, or would you recommend finding/hiring someone to show us around? I guess if we went the route of hiring someone, I'd ideally do a single guided dive before setting out on our own -- like I said, I really want to transition into leading my own dives in a buddy team. Additionally, money is a factor -- as a graduate student, the idea of diving Casino point for just the price of the ferry and tank/weight rental is quite attractive relative. That price tag more than doubles when factoring in guided dives. Of course, though, I foremost want to dive safely.

Thoughts? Maybe even thoughts/advice more general than for this dive trip, but applying to the process of first learning to lead your own dives with a buddy. Thanks in advance for your time!
 

Lorenzoid

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Former SoCalian here. I was only there once, but Casino Point could not have been simpler and easier. I admittedly had never dived Catalina until after I had moved away, but when I returned for a weekend of diving a few years ago I was still relatively inexperienced, and it was a piece of cake. I too asked about a guide, and I got a lot of shrugs in response. For Casino Point--nah. Down the steps, into the water, don't go too far. No need to go deep. The kelp is a helpful navigational aid. If you lose your bearings, you can do the pop up and take a look thing--with no shame, I say. Others with more recent, more local viewpoints may feel free to correct me.
 

Esprise Me

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Given your prior cold/temperate-water experience, I think you can do it without a guide. That said, I think a guide might be worth the money, and I don't think it'll be hard to book one on a Tuesday. You can book online if you decide to go that route: https://www.catalinadiverssupply.com/guided-dives-catalina

There are lots of cool things to see in the dive park that might be hard to find on your own--little shipwrecks and other sunken objects, small nudibranchs, shark eggs, eels hiding in crevices-- and the guides I've had have been really great. But if you don't want to spend the money and you're content to explore on your own and see what you see, I think you'll be fine. Have fun!
 

Lorenzoid

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Given your prior cold/temperate-water experience, I think you can do it without a guide. That said, I think a guide might be worth the money, and I don't think it'll be hard to book one on a Tuesday. You can book online if you decide to go that route: https://www.catalinadiverssupply.com/guided-dives-catalina

There are lots of cool things to see in the dive park that might be hard to find on your own--little shipwrecks and other sunken objects, small nudibranchs, shark eggs, eels hiding in crevices-- and the guides I've had have been really great. But if you don't want to spend the money and you're content to explore on your own and see what you see, I think you'll be fine. Have fun!

Gosh, the reaction I got from Catalina Divers Supply when I asked whether a guide was a good idea was like "we'll lend you a wheelbarrow, and you head down the road." Maybe they didn't have a guide available then. I would have gladly hired one.
 

wnissen

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I, ahem, had to be rescued by my buddy at the park. Conditions were rough, and the swell and current pushed us out of the park and into the main harbor before we surfaced to get a heading. I was still responsive but very seasick and it's lucky for both of us that he was a strong swimmer. It was a real slog back to the stairs. Which we had to climb up on our knees because it was low tide and the railing doesn't go down all the way. Definitely a time to keep your reg in your mouth and carefully time your exit. But that was poor conditions in a winter storm, our dives the next day got blown out by a gale warning because the boat couldn't even make it across the channel. The other couple times I've been it's been very easy to get in, around, and out. If you have your heart set on a particular part of the park, hire someone, but just take it easy, keep plenty of reserve, and I'm sure you'll be fine. Do check the swell forecast and tides, and don't be afraid to scrub if conditions aren't looking good.
 

stretchthepenn

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It's been quite a few years since I dived Casino Point, but the navigation can't have changed much. If you're shallow, that means you're on the wall. If you're deep, that means you're away from the wall and you should follow the slope uphill. Ain't no big thang.

If this clueless n00b could manage it, so can you.

1996 December -- Catalina Dive Park.jpg
 

donhealy

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Not uncommon to have a 100 divers on the weekend and maybe half that during the week in the summer. Pretty simple diving. You already received the salient directions. Go down the stairs and have a good time. Too bad about Spectre. That is my go to dive boat. Incidentally, Casino Point was my OW certification 35 years ago. No steps back then!!
 

yle

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What do you all think? Is the dive park reasonably forgiving re basic navigation, or would you recommend finding/hiring someone to show us around?

To answer your question: yes, the dive park is reasonably forgiving re basic navigation. It's roughly rectangular, with the steps in the middle of the long side that runs parallel to shore. It's very easy to navigate by depth in the shorter dimension of the "rectangle": depth goes smoothly from zero to about 90 feet as you move away from the shore. Navigating the longer dimension of the rectangle is a little trickier, just because there's no natural clue as obvious as the depth, but still very forgiving.

As you stand on the steps, facing the water, the surface current when present does tend to pull slightly to the right. If you drift too far to the right, you'll end up out of the roped area and into boat traffic in the small harbor. That's not good... but I've only seen one person one time get even halfway to that point. They struggled to swim back to the steps against the current. The current underwater is always weaker or non-existent, so if you're concerned about current at all, just make your way back underwater.

Our standard trip to the dive park: take the Catalina Express from Long Beach, bring our gear (no tanks or weights) in a roller bag. Once arriving at Avalon, we walk to Casino Point, rolling our gear with us. (Golf cart taxis are available... or at least they were last time I was there.)

We rent tanks and weights from Catalina Diver Supply; they have a storage container right at the dive park steps. I've heard they're taking over some of the space in the old casino building too. Very easy to get your tanks and weight from them right there. Their website has details.

We usually do two or three dives, depends on how the day is going. Only concern, and worth thinking ahead, is whether or not you'll want to secure any of the stuff you're not taking in the water with you. There are no lockers or any other way to secure anything at Casino Point. Often there are so many people diving that no one really is concerned about leaving their gear bags unattended... but it is something to think about.

Other than that... after diving we usually spend an hour or two eating and drinking at one of the restaurants near the harbor, between the dive park and the ferry terminal. Then we make our way back to the ferry terminal for an evening ride back to Long Beach.

Good idea to check conditions before you go, there's all sorts of websites that can tell you what it will look like a week in advance. I use surf-forecast.com, and I know people that use Magic Seaweed. I'm sure there are many others.

Hope this helps... send more questions if you need more info or advice!
 

Ulfhedinn

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To answer your question: yes, the dive park is reasonably forgiving re basic navigation. It's roughly rectangular, with the steps in the middle of the long side that runs parallel to shore. It's very easy to navigate by depth in the shorter dimension of the "rectangle": depth goes smoothly from zero to about 90 feet as you move away from the shore. Navigating the longer dimension of the rectangle is a little trickier, just because there's no natural clue as obvious as the depth, but still very forgiving.

As you stand on the steps, facing the water, the surface current when present does tend to pull slightly to the right. If you drift too far to the right, you'll end up out of the roped area and into boat traffic in the small harbor. That's not good... but I've only seen one person one time get even halfway to that point. They struggled to swim back to the steps against the current. The current underwater is always weaker or non-existent, so if you're concerned about current at all, just make your way back underwater.

Our standard trip to the dive park: take the Catalina Express from Long Beach, bring our gear (no tanks or weights) in a roller bag. Once arriving at Avalon, we walk to Casino Point, rolling our gear with us. (Golf cart taxis are available... or at least they were last time I was there.)

We rent tanks and weights from Catalina Diver Supply; they have a storage container right at the dive park steps. I've heard they're taking over some of the space in the old casino building too. Very easy to get your tanks and weight from them right there. Their website has details.

We usually do two or three dives, depends on how the day is going. Only concern, and worth thinking ahead, is whether or not you'll want to secure any of the stuff you're not taking in the water with you. There are no lockers or any other way to secure anything at Casino Point. Often there are so many people diving that no one really is concerned about leaving their gear bags unattended... but it is something to think about.

Other than that... after diving we usually spend an hour or two eating and drinking at one of the restaurants near the harbor, between the dive park and the ferry terminal. Then we make our way back to the ferry terminal for an evening ride back to Long Beach.

Good idea to check conditions before you go, there's all sorts of websites that can tell you what it will look like a week in advance. I use surf-forecast.com, and I know people that use Magic Seaweed. I'm sure there are many others.

Hope this helps... send more questions if you need more info or advice!


This...
 
https://www.shearwater.com/products/perdix-ai/

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