BAUE’s August 2009 Trip to Schmieder Banks

Author and photographer: Robert Lee
Video: Beto Nava

In August, BAUE divers continued exploration of Schmieder Banks, an elevated plateau approximately four miles west of Point Sur, along the central California coastline. The banks cover an area roughly one square mile and start around 200' deep with several pinnacles that rise up as shallow as 125.' The area was first explored by divers who formed a group called Cordell Expeditions in the late 1980s, which initially visited and named several of the larger pinnacles. Since 2004, BAUE divers have been diving the banks and collecting photos and videos of several of the pinnacles.

During the first of three trips scheduled for 2009, four teams of divers executed a series of dives on the largest of the pinnacles, a site originally named SUR19. Because of the exposed nature of the site, divers often encounter strong currents, heavy fog, large swells, and other punishing weather conditions. However, for our first trip, we were greeted by calm surface conditions and little to no current.

As we dropped down the line, the top of the reef (~125') started to come into view around 70' or so. The visibility was excellent (60'+) and with no fog or cloud cover, it was fairly bright. As we scootered down to the reef, we could see large schools of blue rockfish as well as several large schools of juvenile rockfish. We stopped at the top of the reef and spent most of the dive examining and photographing the hydrocoral at the top of the pinnacle.

The distinctive feature of SUR19, like many of the other pinnacles on the banks, is the extremely dense covering of huge heads of California hydrocoral (Stylaster californicus) on the top of the pinnacle. Much of the hydrocoral on SUR19 is close to 100 years old (based on a growth rate of less than 1cm/yr) and likely thrives due to the location of the banks, the high current flow, and the remoteness of the location (over 40 miles from the nearest port).

As we photographed and explored the top of the pinnacle, it seemed as if the schools of rockfish followed us around, intrigued by our exhaust bubbles; it is unlikely that they have seen many divers way out here before. With the perfect water conditions we had, the dive seemed almost tropical. We met up with the other team and, after shooting some video and photos of each other, our extended bottom time was soon up.

As we left the pinnacle, thoughts quickly turned from the great dive we just had to our next upcoming opportunity to come back. We have two more trips planned for 2009 and are hoping to visit some of the other smaller pinnacles, perhaps for the first time.


BAUE is a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration and conservation of our planet's underwater regions. Most of our activities take place in Northern California. BAUE promotes continued diver education and safety within our group through a variety of activities. We conduct regular pool sessions, training dives, and local instructors offer workshops to support ongoing training objectives. We host presentations and workshops by expert explorers and educators from around the world. BAUE fosters diver education in the community through various outreach programs and provides useful and pertinent information on our website. We also promote reasoned, thought-provoking debate on our e-mail list. For additional information please visit:

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