Cortes Bank is a seamount located about 115 miles (188 kilometers) west of Point Loma San Diego, USA, and 50 miles (82 kilometers) south-west of San Clemente Island. Its highest peak once lurked a couple of meters below the surface and accounted for many shipwrecks.
In 1969, a group wanted to sink a vessel in the shallow water of the bank to form a tax-free island nation and shellfish processing plant. During that sinking, rough seas broke her mooring lines and pushed her into deeper water. Shortly after, another company planned to build a platform on the bank and form a nation called Taluga but the US government declared that the bank, as part of the continental shelf, was US territory. Most recently it has garnered much attention as a destination for big wave surfing. All of this is superficial. Have you heard what lies beneath?
Legends have it beneath such treacherous waters lies treasures extraordinaire. Countless baits choking the pristine giant kelp forests. Rivers of yellowtail pushing through walls of ghostly seabass. And once in a while this eerily beautiful scene would wake to life with the appearance of a dozen slashing tunas. After learning of such magical place, the only reasonable thought in my mind was “I must dive Cortes Bank.” Yet years go by without a sliver of chance. Until one day my ship arrives.
She sails under the jolly roger Sand Dollar and the captain George who was kind enough to reserve a spot for me on this trip well before the departure date. Yet, somehow, I couldn’t pull my stuff together until the last minutes. Work, school courses, gear malfunction and product shipping delay all plagued me until the very last day. Being the second to last person to make it down to the dock, I was only beaten by Mori Masahiro, who is known to always be fashionably late. The man commands respects. As everyone welcomed the stragglers, I stowed my gear away in a bunk reserved for me by Hughsey, who would not answer to his formal name Capt’n Prick even in the darkest storms. And with that we sailed off into sunset with three skiffs in tow. On these trips, having chase boats is invaluable in distributing and locating divers at the hot spots.
Here’s where I would like to tell you about the crew, for without them the trip wouldn’t have been possible. First off, there’s Capt’n George, who has decades of experience in running dive charters. Next is the chef, Kevin, who keeps us well fed and also does odd jobs on deck. Further down the line is a crew of hungry young blood that includes Zach, Robbie, Kyle, Wyatt and more. While they maybe lowly plebes now, they may become respected watermen later. Who did I leave out? Oh, the spearfishermen. Capt’n Ron, Hughsey, Mori and MikeLB always seem to be a constant source of stories – some incredible, a few boring, others informative. It would take me literally minutes to recall all the notable names and stories but in short, the crew made this trip.
The Sand Dollar rolled up to the red buoy at dawn. Now the water was even thicker with anticipation and some jittery birds decided to hurl themselves overboard sans breakfast. I for one did not rush. The huge kelp bed wasn’t going anywhere. I have grown patient with age, you see, but others may argue I simply overslept. Eventually, I got all my gear together. A few stragglers, Mori and I piled into a small skiff and off to the thick canopy’s corner we go. There I donned the last pieces of equipment, took one long breath and quietly slipped over the side of the chase boat. And with that first poke through the veil, my mind was blown. It was everything I had hoped for. There’s no way I can put it into words. For those who have never been, there’s only one thing to tell yourself – I must dive Cortes Bank.
We all saw game fish and each took a respectful share, plus many first’s and personal best’s. I hope these divers will step up and share their stories for all to enjoy.
(Bait, sealion and bat ray at Cortez Bank)