Sunlight assists abalone divers on Mendocino coast
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By Bill Hanson  August 22, 2014 12:00 am

The weekend couldn’t have been more beautiful on the Mendocino coast.

The often-turbulent Pacific added a shallow swell that only broke on off shore reefs or on the rocky beaches.

Underwater visibility (the vis) was just average until the sun pushed the fog bank back a mile or more from the near-shore. With some light on the subject, the bottom at 20 feet became clear with 12 or more feet of good vis.

Divers worked the tall Bull Kelp fronds as a guide to the abalone beds. Frond Kelp cloaked the bottom from about 10 feet on down. On breath hold, divers had to pick the best spot to penetrate the canopy and ply the rocky bottom. Abalone were everywhere, many were “shorts,” those less than seven inches, with some bottom time for those with deep lungs, divers were able to ‘shop’ for the bigger snails.

Sometimes the abalones with bigger shells have less meat than their smaller cousins. If it is weight not length you crave then look for those that are as much as four inches between the shell and the rock.

Responsible divers do not molest ‘shorts’ abalone are hemophiliacs and do not heal after being pried off the rock, although it is possible to pop an ‘ab’ from his sleeping spot without injury. Like their dry land relatives, the common garden snail, they work the night shift and sleep during the day. Kelp is the food source for abalone. At sunset, they awake and follow their slime trail back out to begin grazing.

The weekend was not just about abalone diving, as there were more than 30 people from our area that attended the Frank DeNicola annual dive, drink and overeat party. Attendees brought out their finest for the Saturday night potluck dinner. As you might expect, lots and lots of abalone was expertly cooked. Steve Desbrow ran the giant sauté at the end of the table. Under his careful eye, the abalone rolls were cooked to perfection.

Rohnert Park resident Lex Wilder took the pounded abalone steaks laid in a healthy stick of cheese and a canned fire roasted chili. She then carefully sewed each one shut with toothpicks and rolled the finished product in fine breadcrumbs. After the first waves of food, campers sat around the fire complaining about eating too much, and then a new dish would arrive and the feast was on again. Handpicked blackberries found their way into a huge cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. Who could resist?

Frank DeNicola and his beautiful wife, Sal, are residents of Rohnert Park and began the annual abalone weekend loosely based on someone’s birthday. More than 25 years later, it is still going strong. All those wonderful people do not attend just to devour platters of abalone. It is always a pleasure to spend time with good people and share the wonderful MacKerricher camp.

Waves of families come every day loaded down with bikes and children, the old “haul road” gives older children a much longer ride than the kiddies who ride around and around inside the campground.

The friendly staff hosts Junior Ranger programs and other fun stuff. One cool thing about camping at MacKerricher is that town is only five minutes away, so that forgotten loaf of French bread is just a short ride away.


Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.

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