Diving Catalina Midnight Hour Wreck, Blue Caverns & Big Geiger With The Magician Dive Boat

  • Updated: September 28, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

September 28th, 2019

This weekend was supposed to be the last of the 10 or so Sierra backpacks I led over the summer for the Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course. But a few days before we were set to leave a flurry of participant cancellations and a incoming bad weather ended up scuttling the trip.

So what to do with a free weekend? I mean I could sit around the house, catch up on sleep, and get to all those tasks that have been piling up during my summer spent mostly on the road. But why do that when you can dive!

Jen and I found a three tank deep dive trip off Catalina on the Magician dive boat which is one of the last few I haven't been able to get out on yet. The trip was already full but when we called to put our names down for the wait list in case of any cancellations they called back in about 10 minutes letting us know we were good to go.

As usual it was an early morning driving out to San Pedro since we like to get there and get our gear situated before the crowds arrive.

The Magician is a bit smaller than some of the other Catalina bound dive boats we've been on. This meant it was occasionally hard to find an open patch of floor to stand on and also that it seemed to catch the waves a bit rougher. They actually kept the top deck closed for most of the trip to prevent people from getting tossed off.

The boat left a little after it's 7 am departure thanks to one late diver and we had the next two hours of transit across to the island to eat the provided breakfast, drink coffee, and relax. Or at least it would have been relaxing if we weren't being tossed around by swell.

Jen had taken her usual sea sickness medication and tried to sack out on the bunks below but I found her upchucking off the side of the boat before we even reached the island. And she wasn't the only one.

The first dive was to the wreck of the Midnight Hour a 61 ft commercial squid boat that sank back in 2011 off the northwestern tip of the island. It's 100 ft deep meaning everyone on the boat had to be at least Advanced Open Water.

Trips to the far side of Catalina are less common since that side is exposed to the swell coming in off the open ocean. One person on the boat had been with the Magician on a previous attempt to do the Midnight Hour and they'd had swell cause the anchor line to break resulting in a scramble to retrieve all the divers.

This time around the crew was able to get us anchored to the wreck and we were given the all clear to enter the water.

With all the surface chop it was with no small relief that we did our final check and dropped underwater following the line off the bow. We had a bit of current hitting us but other than that visibility seemed decent.

Unfortunately we hadn't made it more than about 20 ft before Jen motioned me that she had a problem. Looking at her back I saw her tank had come loose from the strap.

Scuba tanks are attached to the BCD we wear with a velcro strap that incorporates a clamp. Jen's had been tight enough that the tank didn't move when she hefted on the vest and walked across the boat and hadn't looked out of place on the surface but now it had slid down and was only still attached to her because the strap had caught on the first stage.

She held onto the rope while I worked at loosening the velcro strap and getting the tank back into place. Just about when I was ready to admit defeat and signal that we'd have to return to the boat another diver came by on his way down the line, saw what we were dealing with, and managed to slam the tank back into place and help get the strap back into position.

Crisis dealt with we reassessed and then ended up having to return to the surface anyway thanks to a breathing issue on my end. That only took a minute or two to sort out and after assuring the boat crew everything was ok we dropped back down. At this point I was half expected we were going to have to abort but I wanted to at least make sure things were sorted for the next dive. However, this time everything went smoothly other than a minor difficulty clearing one of my ears and we were able to slowly descend the line down to the wreck.

As we were dropping down I noticed someone coming back up the line in a rather odd manner. Back on the boat I learned he'd reached to the bottom only to find his BCD wouldn't inflate likely because one of the lines leading to the dump valves was caught on something. He'd found that out on the bottom and had pulled his way back up the line to get back to the surface.

The rest of the divers were scattered along the hull when we arrived. The depth combined with my lack of decent camera light means I didn't get much in the way of decent pictures but I was able to get a few.

The wreck is sitting on its side and the wheel house is readily accessible. There was the expected large school of fish inside.

It was also bloody cold even in our 7mm wetsuits and I was looking enviously at the guys wearing dry suits well before our tanks were empty.

The safety stop on the way back up was a bit of a zoo thanks to the fact the boat was pitching significantly due to the swell and there were a good number of people all trying to hang on against the current in the 15-20 ft zone.

Back on the surface getting back on the boat was also entertaining as the swim step was underwater one moment and the next 2 ft in the air. The DM was a real pro however and quickly helped people back onto the boat.

While the boat repositioned we all filtered into the galley to get some foot and escape the chilly wild outside. Jen was still struggling a bit with the early morning and sea sickness meds and managed to doze off in the middle of a rather cramped and busy cabin.

And did so so thoroughly she didn't even wake when the DM came by and took a selfie with her.

Dive #2 was back on the protected side of Catalina and we were all relieved to get into calmer waters.

Blue Caverns is just to the east of Two Harbors located in an area where boats are not allowed to anchor. This means we had to do a live drop similar to the procedure for diving the oil rigs. Once in the water we were told to aim for a particular feature on the shore and to drop down to about 70 ft where we'd find the caverns. Easy enough.

We dropped down just beyond the start of the kelp and at first we didn't find anything. Then I noticed bubbles coming up through the rocks a bit lower.

That's a dead giveaway for a cavern and sure enough when we swam over to the lip and looked down we could see people coming and going below us including a team of divers using DPVs.

The cavern was near but there wasn't a ton to see in there other than the occasional hole packed full of lobsters.

We swam to the back, tried to take a few pictures with limited success, and then explored a few other smaller openings to either side.

We tried to venture further north along the way only to turn a corner and get blasted by current. We elected to turn back to the shallows and spend the rest of the dive exploring the kelp.

This area also had a decently strong current and the kelp was flying at about 45 degrees which was a bit of a unique experience.

At the end of the dive we surfaced to find we'd overcompensated for the current and were quite a distance up-current from the boat. That was a nice change from usually having to fight the current to get back and we practically flew back to the boat.

After a hearty lunch the third and final dive of the day was at Big Geiger.  I've been here a few times and it's your basic shallow -ish dive spot usually good for a good amount of critter sightings. In addition to the usual lobsters and such we came across four octopus and several moray eels.

I'm fascinated by octopus and always thrilled when I can find one. They tend to be a bit hard to pick out though. See the picture below which is the view from a few feet away from his hiding place.

By the end of the third dive we were both thoroughly chilled though not enough to dissuade us from helping ourselves to the traditional post dive brownie and ice cream served on the way back. We were back to the docks a little before 6:30 pm and headed for home.

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