Russian Gulch, September 12th 2008.

I took Friday off so I could spend an extra day in Russian Gulch State Park on the biggest BASK party of the year. Six months before we had reserved the group camp at this park, then announced it on the BASK email listserver (called BUZZ). Within 20 minutes every other campsite in the park had been reserved, mostly by BASK members. I had a reserved campsite for Friday and Saturday night but I drove up Thursday evening figuring that there would be room to park my car at the group site. There was, I slept in the back of my truck and the rangers never knew I was there! I carpooled with Jonathan Purcell who set up his tent in the group site.

On Friday morning Jonathan, Mary Ann Furda and I paddled out of Russian Gulch. We paddled north through EVERY cave and arch, even the ones that you normally avoid. The swell was so calm we could go anywhere! We went behind the offshore rocks and looked at the spot where I went abalone diving here the year before. This was far enough north for me and we turned south.

Mary Ann was volunteering as an assistant instructor in the “Rock Gardening 102” class and wanted to see what the area south of Russian Gulch was like. The three of us worked our way out through the unusually thick kelp beds and paddled far from shore then turned in to land at a beach for lunch. There were some mild waves offshore that I managed to catch a ride on while getting ready to land. Mary Ann hung out in these waves and played for a while before lunch. She is trying to get comfortable with the idea of having fun with waves instead of always being afraid of them!

After lunch we hugged the shore again and went through an area that Mary Ann’s Rock Gardening class will go through the next day. Turning the last corner we arrived at Russian Gulch Beach just in time to meet Dennis Holton at the pre-arranged time to go abalone diving.

Dennis followed Mary Ann, Jonathan and I back north to my favorite dive spot. Actually they all followed me until I turned in-between two rocks when they were not looking. I was a bit ahead of everyone else when I landed. I surfed my kayak into a calm tide pool, landed, climbed up on the rock and waved at them. They didn’t see me and paddled on around the next point! By then I had taken my kayak gear off and just continued putting on diving gear. (Hood, goggles, snorkel, 6mm jacket, gloves, abalone iron, caliper and fins). Eventually everyone turned back and joined me.

Despite my head start, Dennis (an excellent diver) quickly caught his limit of three abalone. I only caught one but figured this was good enough for me. Mary Ann walked around our offshore rock and collected enough sea palm leaves to make a seaweed salad for the big party the next night. We paddled back to camp and I put my abalone in a bucket of seawater with a battery powered aerator to keep it alive for a day.

A group of us went to dinner at the Thai restaurant in Fort Bragg then came back to party, drink and talk until late into the night at the group campsite. When I returned to my campsite I went to check on my abalone. The aerator was still there, buzzing but lying on the ground with muddy footprints on it. The bucket was completely missing! I looked around in the darkness with my flashlight and noticed a bucket-sized hole in the bramble bushes that surrounded my camp. Shining the light in there I saw the bucket pulled five feet into the thicket. By lying on my side I was just able to reach it with my extended bilge pump, hook the handle and pull it back. The bucket was empty and licked dry. I can only assume that raccoons did this. They dragged the bucket off, dumped the water, managed to pry the abalone off the bottom and dragged it farther into the bramble. I never found it.

All text and images Copyright © 2008 by Mike Higgins / contact