Make your own free website on
Saga of the rock with no name
By Buck Graham
On the near side of Santa Cruz Island, across the channel from Santa Barbara,
there is a monumental arch called "Arch Rock".  If this arch grew on the mainland,
it would be a tourist attraction, because the opening is high enough to clear my
sailboat's mast, about 30 feet above the sea.  On Santa Cruz Island, such
monuments are commonplace.
Fifty yards offshore, there is another rock, big as a barn, un-named, and crowned
with whitewash.  Its' sides drop vertically into the water for 40 feet or more.
Its' lee-side is large enough to shelter my sailboat, "FANTA SEA" from the winds
and waves of the prevailing Westerlies.  On its' weather side are huge patches of
goose-necked barnacles, a favorite food of the Sheephead fish.  In the picture, you can see the big hunkin' teeth the Sheephead has for crushing barnacles and other shellfish.
Now for those of you with young ones, I hope they are all put to bed when you read this
because it is difficult to relate in polite company.  I didn't believe this the first time I heard
it -- I thought the person telling it was just engaging in a bit of sensationalism.  But I have
double-checked it, and now believe it may be true.  All Sheephead fish are born female.
At some point in their lives they take it upon themselves to become male.  Horrible, isn't it?
I always thought just people did that.  Makes you lose all respect for them, doesn't it?
But there it is:  The Peyton Place of the Deep.
On my first several trips to this rock, I speared the smaller female Sheephead.  They are bluish
when small, turning pinkish as they grow older, and larger.  When they turn male, they have
the pink cumberbund and black head and tail that you can see in the photo.
They were always a thrilling sight, but........just beyond range.  Then, one time as I was
swimming down, I surprised one.....I was almost close enough.  I started down after him,
but he was still just beyond range.  "A little more," I thought, "And I'll have him," and still
"A little more........and a little more!"  Together we descended the sides of the un-named
rock.  "A little more"......and we were at the bottom!  Too late, I realized I had been lured
beyond my safe snorkelling depths!
I started up.  In the shifting blue and green of the sea that pale circle marking the sky.....
-and air......looked so far away!  Stroking hard I swam for the pale circle, still so far away!
My lungs ached.  My pulse pounded in my ears.  "Now maybe this rock will have my name!"
I thought as I swam hard.  I broke the surface and lay there panting, knowing that if fish
can laugh, that one was.  That trip, I settled for less glorious fish.    As "FANTA SEA" heeled,
danced and sang in the wind and sea on my way home, I sat at the tiller, thinking about that fish.  It was a huge fish.  I had never speared one that big.  Maybe it I did spear it, it could
tow me!  And I knew I'd be too cheap to turn loose the spear.
It could be the end of Ol' Bucko!
A few weeks later I again dropped anchor in the lee of that still un-named rock.  Again I went snorkeling for my trophy Sheephead, with the same dismal result.  Lured beyond my limits twice by the same fish!  But this time I had a scuba tank of air on board.  I put it on, and went after my fish!  Aha!  A secret weapon!  Look out, fish!
With a vengeance, I started back down, knowing exactly how Ahab had felt.Around the weather side, past the white patches of barnacles.  Again, we descended the rock together,
........a little more........a little sixty feet, we bottomed out.  He headed for Santa Barbara.  I still had another secret weapon.  my Dolphin kick.  This is a kick a diver can use underwater in which his whole body undulates, like a dolphins'.  It gives at least twice the speed of the flutter kick.  When I thought he wasn't noticing, I kicked in my after-burner--
my dolphin kick, with my speargun zeroed in.  But he had a dolphin kick too!  Across the ocean floor I pursued him, kicking hard, breathing hard -- I must have looked like a steam engine chasing that fish!  Then I looked at my pressure gauge.  My air pressure was zero!
He had done it to me again!  Again I headed for the surface.
Like a living thing "FANTA SEA" danced and sang in the wind and sea on the way home.
In a  mood I sat at the tiller, wondering why I had let myself in for all of this.  Why
hadn't I gone for something noble?  Like a swordfish?  Or Orca or Moby Dick?  Or even Jaws.  Nope.  Not me.  I had to get hung up on some stupid fish.  With a questionable personal life.
Born to generations run aground, why did this sea have to call to me?
It was a year before I made it back.  This time with more scuba air, a new strategy, and even a diving buddy!  The strategy sounded good.  Always before, I had come around the shoreward side of the rock, and dove downward.  This time, we would come around the seaward side of the rock, and be ascending when we met the fish.  Three knobby heads of Harbor Seals watched as we dropped anchor and suited up.  On previous trips, I had played silly little games with these friendly seals.  They seemed hurt that I didn't have time for them this day.  They followed us around the rock, sometimes as close as ten feet, staring at our every move.
We bucked currents as we swam around the weather side of the rock and started up.
A sudden flash of color.....startled eyes.......a snap shot......and my trophy was on my spear.
A kibbitzing Harbor Seal ten feet away stared in open-mouthed, wide-eyed wonder as he watched me stuff the fish in my game bag.  Wow!!  And it couldn't tow me!  I headed for the surface and let out a whoop.  The crew of seagulls detailed to white-washing the rock with no name flew off in squawking surprise.  I had my fish!  Triumph!!   Happiness!
I truly enjoyed eating that fish.  'Cause if the story had turned out the other way around,
those big hunkin' teeth would be chewing on 'Ol Bucko!
As "FANTA SEA" danced and sang in the wind and sea on the way home that time,
I heard the music all sailors hear when their ship is under sail.