|Diving Catalina Island's Ship Rock is like flying down the side of an underwater skyscraper --with a vertical drop along the rock face to the sandy seafloor about 120 feet or more.
Though much of the rock monolith is vertical or nearly vertical there are enough complexities in this "building" to make its architecture quite interesting. Off the southeast corner a rocky ridge reaches up to just beneath the surface. This reef crest is definitely a hazard to mariners. In 1990 the renowned wood-hull racing sailboat Diosa Del Mar struck the reef during a yachting race. Built in 1898, she was a total loss, breaking apart on the reef, with large chunks sliding down the slope of the ridge. Pieces can still be found today.
Around the corner from the ridge, on the southwest side of the rock, is the protected shelf known as the Aquarium or Fish Bowl. Here divers will find a small lush kelp forest on a shallow plateau of rocks, which provides a perfect spot for beginners to dive this normally advanced dive site. An area close to the rock face offers good snorkeling.
Personally, I most enjoy the west and northwest sides of this submerged skyscraper, with its craggy vertical walls pocked with deep crevices that create perfect lobster "condos" and hiding spots for eels and other creatures.
When mentioning the fish life here, the place has a bustling, big-city look and feel. Blue-gray blacksmith fish are predominant. A damselfish, the blacksmith is a relative to the bright orange garibaldi (also in no short supply here). Huge schools of jack mackerel also commute through this area. Yellowtail and white sea bass are found here in numbers large enough to please most hunters. Lobster hunting is fair to good here (in season only, of course). Look in the rock jumbles at the base of some of the walls some 80 to 120 feet down.
The water clarity is fantastic, averaging 50 feet but often 100. Kelp is thick, lush and healthy and, along with the multitude of fish, filters the light beautifully for great photo angles along the steep rock faces. Other abundant fish in the water column include sheephead and rock wrasse, and lots of senoritas. In the sand, you'll find horn sharks and angel sharks lounging in the sand some 120 to 130 feet down.
As if the bright colors provided by the fish were not enough, invertebrates will also jump out at you. The walls are adorned with stunning stands of red and golden gorgonian sea fans filtering bits of food from the frequent currents. Another wall invertebrate that will dazzle your eyes are the big patches of zoanthid anemones. These bright yellow button size anemones are especially striking where they form mini-walls of color.
This location is considered by many to be the best on the front side of Catalina Island. Getting here is easy, as many Southern California dive charter boats visit on a regular basis and the passage is relatively easy for private skippers to make the run across the channel.
Location: Offshore from the tiny town of Two Harbors at Isthmus Cove. Visually hard to miss with its large white spire.
Access: Boat only. Experienced skippers only as anchorage can be difficult.
Visibility: Excellent with 50 foot average, sometimes 100+
Diving Depths: 20 to 130 feet but most 50+
Skill: From beginner to intermediate.
Photography: Excellent macro and fish portraits
Hunting: Occasional lobster. Yellowtail and white sea bass for the skilled spear fisher.
Hazards: Currents frequent and sometimes strong. For the private boater, watch winds in anchoring and compensate properly for boat swing.