>As was the custom once business was concluded, Hoo-nahr and his Chumash colleagues were invited to a big feast before they left the island. As he relaxed and gazed across the restless Pacific, he couldn't possibly know that within a few hundred years the island known to him as Pimu would become a playground for throngs of strange people who ventured under the sea.
>Pimu is now known as Catalina Island; the 21-mile-long landmass lies a little more than 22 miles west of Los Angeles, the closest mainland point to Catalina. Of the eight islands off Southern California, Catalina is the only one with a permanent civilian population. The 54 miles of coastline are punctuated by thousands of coves and scores of offshore rocks providing countless diving possibilities. Just about any kind of diving can be had, from nice-and-easy shallow kelp explorations to a 230-foot-deep plunge to a wreck site.
>The deeper rock-reef structures starting at about 160 feet are quite spectacular. Even when visibility is low in the upper layers, the clarity of the water is usually very good at depth. Extremely large schools of blacksmith, and sometimes barracuda, will flow through and over the huge boulders, making for quite a visual spectacle. A few divers have reported seeing great white sharks and even orcas in these areas. Since Ship Rock sits more than two miles off the island and is basically in open sea, just about any marine animal could show up.
>For some of the easiest shore diving around, it's hard to beat the Avalon Underwater Park at Casino Point. A large, flat parking lot connects to a series of concrete steps that lead directly into the ocean.
>Avalon Harbor is the main point of entry and seems worlds away from Los
>Angeles less than 30 miles away.
>Angeles less than 30 miles away.
>At low tide there are some rocks to slide over, but for stress-free shore entry and exits, this is the place. The kelp is usually in good shape, and there are a number of interesting items scattered about that justify exploration, including several sunken boats and other bric-a-brac. Visibility is often excellent, and because it's a no-take preserve, marine life is plentiful and of good size. Depths range from around 20 to more than 100 feet. This is the most popular dive site on the island, so try to visit on weekdays to avoid the crowds.
>These few sites are but a fraction of what's available at Catalina Island for the diving connoisseur, and there's no shortage of topside fun either. Hiking, camping, sightseeing, parasailing and even a "submarine" ride are all on the menu. No, Hoo-nahr could not possibly have visualized what Pimu would offer in the 21st century.
>Getting There: From Orange County north to Ventura County, there are a plethora of dive boats that visit Catalina for day and multiday charters. There is also a day ferry that runs from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point multiple times per day. You can also fly in by helicopter or private airplane. See www.catalinaexpress.com and www.islandexpress.com.
>On the Surface: Because Catalina has permanent residents, there are a variety of options available for visitors. The main town is Avalon, and a number of hotels can be found there, from economical to multistar luxury. There are quite a few rental cottages as well. The best deals on the calendar are nonholidays and midweek. Located a little more than 13 miles northwest of Avalon is a small settlement called Two Harbors. While there are considerably fewer options for accommodations there, they are available. See www.catalinachamber.com for more information.
>Click here to read about some of the lesser known, more technical dive sites off Catalina Island.
>© Alert Diver — Summer 2011