Belmar Back Bay
July 6, 2001
For the first time in recent memory (which is pretty short these days), the weather forecast was great for the weekend and the tides were cooperative for a night dive in the Belmar Back Bay.
Sometimes called the Shark River Back Bay, this is one of my favorite playgrounds for long, leisurely dives in shallow water. The bay is a nursery for much of the marine life off the Jersey shore and depending on the time of year it can be crawling with small fluke, sea robins, bluefish, etc. Many varieties of crabs come into the bay to breed. I've been there when the bottom was literally covered with spider crabs. In the late summer many tropical fish appear having been carried up by the Gulf Stream. I've had dives lasting as much as an hour and a half spent cruising just over the bottom taking in the marine life.
This evening, I arrived home from work to find my new Halcyon Pro 4 HID light waiting on the porch for me. I pulled it out of the box, fondled it, tried it out on the harness and debated whether to take it on the night dive, thinking the battery probably needed charging and I should stick to familiar equipment for a real night dive. But I plugged the battery into the recharger, and before you know it it's ready to go. I couldn't resist taking it.
I arrived at the beach around 8:15 PM with a cloudless sky turning violet as the sun sets. The wind died down and the bay was flat and calm. Life is good. This is one of the Divers Two"Happy Hour" dives that I usually try to make. Carol, an instructor for D2 and a tireless organizer of these dives, often teams me up with divers who have never dove here before. Tonight I was teamed up with "Bob and Ray" as their guide to the bay. We geared up a little before high tide, trying to beat the rest of the divers into the water, and began a surface swim out to the end of the old fishing pier in the bay.
On the way out, I figured it was time to fire up my light and flipped the switch on the battery canister, thinking "Torch On! Nothing happens, nada, since I had forgotten to reverse the lid and plug the connections into the battery. Somewhat embarrassed, I swam back to shore and struggled with lid with all my stuff on, while at the same trying to keep water from getting into the canister. I mentally added this to the already long list of things I need to check before getting into the water.
Finally, I get back into the water and join my buddies. By now it's really dark, so I fire up the HID. Wow! I expect I'm visible to astronauts in the International Space Station.
We all begin our descent, plunging into the depths. This takes about 10 seconds, because the water's only about 15 ft deep. I get to the bottom first, soon Bob joins me and we wait for Ray. I see him come down a few feet from me, then head back up, start down again, and then appear to be flailing away near the surface. Figuring he doesn't have enough weight, I signal Bob to head up. At the surface Ray is ok, just having trouble finding the right amount of air to add to his BC. The challenges of shallow water diving.
We all descend again, sort ourselves out, and start the dive. The vis is very good for the bay, maybe 15 ft, and my HID cuts through the gloom vaporizing any particles in its way. ;-) The dive turns into a delight. The three of us cruise side by side close to the bottom drifting with the tide.
The first thing I notice is small (~5") fish that looks like a trigger fish. It's got blue vertical stripes, but I'm not sure whether the fins are right for a trigger fish. Later, aided by my fish identification books, I deduce that its a sheepshead
Then I see a very small critter that looks like a baby blowfish. It's kind of blue colored though, and the blowfish I remember are more orange. It's a cute little guy - about 1 1/2 " long, hanging out on the bottom. Wide squat body with eyes high on the sides of the head with small pectoral fins spinning like propellers. The books weren't much help here.
Continuing along we play around with the crabs. Lots of blueclaws have appeared. I spot an egg laden female, her shell extended out in the back and her underside covered with a mass of orange eggs. The horseshoe crabs and spider crabs are still at it doing the hokey-pokey crab style.
Heading into the sea weed, lots of small baitfish swim around us attracted to our lights. The are also many more sheepshead. Some see the light and dash away, others sit still trying to ignore us.
Heading south, we soon run into the fishing pier. The half rotted posts are covered with tiny mussels. Shining my light up one of them, I spot an eel twirling around above me. I've been waiting to see one of these guys.
I'm simultaneously fascinated and spooked by eels. During the day they mostly hide out and are hard to spot, but at night, they're out in abundance. We spot a dozen or more around the pier. It's really unnerving, cruising inches above them. One is about 3 ft long, hiding with it's head under some sea weed with the rest of it's body wiggling behind it. The current slowly propels me inches over it
Soon it's time to head back towards shore. The depth is now 4 ft, but there's still plenty to see. Crabs hiding out in the seaweed, a lone shrimp, and hundreds of what appear to be baby bluefish swarming into our lights.
Finally we bump into the bulkhead near our cars and the dive is over.
Damn, I love night dives.
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Copyright 2002 Carl Muhlhausen