30 - 31, 2004
Trip Reports and Photos
Cortes Bank with Art and Michael LaCilento
on the Great Escape
and Photos ©
Elaine Jobin, may not be reproduced in part or whole without advanced
On January 30 and 31 the
Great Escape made a run to Cortez
(Cortes) Bank. The trip was organized by Art and Michael LaCilento,
AKA "the twins", and AKA "trouble and troubles double". The following
account is mostly accurate, all accounts of this real life adventure
are purely fictional, and, any resemblance to the actual events/persons
is merely coincidental.
Thursday night about 20
brave souls courageously boarded the Great
Escape with high hopes of reaching Cortez Bank. Cortez Bank is
a large seamount about 100 miles west of the California Coastline
in the unsheltered and unpredictable ocean. Anything except a dive
boat, or perhaps a boat of nutzo surfers, would probably mostly consider
the area to be nothing more than a navigational hazard. Statistics
quoted were, that, 1 in 5 scheduled trips to Cortez don't make it.
As far as we knew, every expedition that has at least made the effort
has "come back", so, we at least went to bed hopefully optimistic.
The Great Escape departed
at about 10pm with Capt. Don doing his night duty at the helm. Until
about 2:30am the seas were relatively calm, but after that, the wind
and the waves picked up a bit, making sleep just a bit harder to get.
At about 5am some divers began giving up trying to sleep through the
"rock and roll", and, by 6am many people were up realizing that we
were probably going to actually make it to Cortez, only 16 more nautical
miles to go.
The first sight we saw
as daylight appeared and we neared the bank were the famous waves
that have attracted the hardest of the hard core surfers to Cortez.
We estimated the size on this morning to be between 15 and 20 feet.
Capt. Tim anchored the
boat at a place he refers to as "Secret Spot #1". The swells were
approximately 6-8 foot, strong currents seemed to be absent, and with
great joy, conditions were deemed to be divable. Eager adventurers
took that Giant Stride of Faith off into the unknown. The landscape
at "Secret Spot #1" was somewhat like a mesa with lots of Bull Kelp,
purple Coralline Algae, and rocky outcroppings.
The 15 to 20 ft surge made
getting around a bit of a challenge. I found the hand over hand method,
using the bull kelp as stability bars, to be my ticket to getting
me where I wanted to go. A couple of times the strength of the surge
almost liberated the mask from my face.
Somewhere along the dive
I crossed paths with "Bug Hunter Bill" and photographed a series as
he bagged his first bug, and the first bug of the trip.
After that, I decided to
quit fighting the surge, give up on trying to get decent photos, relax,
and just experience the amusing surge and the decent visibility. When
I began to wonder exactly where the boat was so that I could plan
my assent, I noticed something pretty incredible - at 65 feet the
entire boat, the chase boat, even the line from the boat to the chase
boat were all clearly visible. They looked deceptively close. I had
to check my depth gauge to be sure I really was still at 65 feet.
It was a sight that I've almost never seen in 12 years of diving Southern
Everyone safely found their
way back to the boat, with no current and such excellent visibility
it was hard target to miss. Everyone was hungry for more of what Cortez
had to offer. In the mean time however, during our dive, the weather
had started to deteriorate. The 6 to 8 foot swells were showing signs
of growing to 8 to 12 feet. Capt. Tim took faith in the fact that
there were some of Southern CA's most experienced divers aboard and
tried to advance to a place where he thought the bottom surge might
be a bit less, and a great dive more of a possibility. He moved the
boat a little bit closer to the red buoy. As the anchor dropped at
the second dive sight, a sudden holler of "TIM, TIM" came from the
back of the boat. Sure enough, trouble had arisen, and a true adventure
at Cortez had begun. In the swells, the line to the chase boat had
become entangled on the propeller shaft. The chase boat was now totally
secured right next to the mother ship and the hull of the Great Escape
was actively pushing the Boston Whaler underneath with each passing
The first order of business
was to cut the line to the chase boat - easier said than done - but
with every kitchen and dive knife on the boat drawn - the mission
was accomplished. The flooded Whaler was secured again to the Great
Escape, and, the second order of business arose - clearing the entangled
line from the propeller shaft was begun. Steve and Mike, willing to
do anything to get more dive time in at Cortez, donned their tanks
and braved the surge near the propellers to try and clear the line.
We were now adrift, with a potentially disabled prop. Steve and Mike
worked hard to clear the line, but, they just couldn't get it untangled
or cut, the line was Kevlar, and, had been sold to Tim with the assurance
that it was nearly impossible to cut or break Steven and Mike kept
at the task and finally had it at least under control enough to regain
safe use of the propeller. Our trip hero's were christened - Mike
and Steve, as well as the crew that saved the Whaler, the propeller,
and the trip.
The "emergency use only"
Whaler was out of commission, the weather and surf conditions had
turned to more hazardous. With some remorse, we started the several
hour trek to Clemente. Navy exercises closed much of the island and
surrounding waters, but the Pyramid Cove area was open for diving.
The first afternoon dive at Clemente was pretty awesome, great visibility
and diving conditions.
By the end of the first
dive someone had cleared all remaining Kevlar line from the propeller
The second dive, near the
boilers, was strictly a lobster mission - less visibility but potentially
better lobster terrain.
Because Clemente was living
up to its reputation as "Island of the Shorts", the group opted to
travel over to Catalina for some night lobstering. By 10:30 we were
anchored for diving at Catalina. The lobster hunting proved to be
good and the diving continued until about 2:30 am. One of our group
members was treated to an unexpected find - an entire lobster filled
bag that someone from another boat had lost and left, probably earlier
in the day.
On Saturday we continued
to dive Catalina near the Isthmus and at Jerry's reef. Those hunting
lobsters seemed to be having good luck there. I liked Jerry's reef
the best. I practiced some macro on top snails and found an eel agreeable
to being photographed.
We returned to Long Beach
happy, knowing that the ocean had let us be one of those lucky 1 in
5 that make it to Cortez.