Made my first two dives into the frigid Pacific Ocean over the weekend in search of abalone.
The two forays could hardly have been more different.
On Saturday afternoon, when I arrived at my friend Greg’s place in Mendocino, off Salmon Creek, my enthusiasm got the better of me. It had been a year since my last dive and I could hardly wait to get into the water. One of Greg’s friends, Brandon, had the ab bug, too.
He’s 22 and from Omaha and this would be his first plunge into the Pacific for abalone.
Getting into the water isn’t easy. We climbed down a steep 300-floot cliff, in full gear, hauling masks, hoods, snorkels and ab irons, clinging to a rope. One slip and you’re done ...
When we reached the rocky area below we waded into the water at high tide. Not a good idea. We didn’t have weight belts and could only float. So we bobbed around in the water like a pair of inner tubes, with a great view of the ocean bottom and scores of abalone nestled to their rocks. But the prize was just out of reach.
As the incoming tide surged, it got rougher and we were tossed about like two corks in a washing machine. A couple of nearby seals must have been amused by this sight.
We got out after 40 minutes before the ocean hit the spin cycle. My fingers and toes were numb.
Despite the frustration, we vowed to return the next morning, waking at 6 a.m. and greeted by a huge minus tide, which allowed us easier access to our prey.
Back into gear. Back down the cliff. Back into the water. Still chilly, but far more tranquil than Saturday’s washing machine.
We collected our limits of three abalone each in 15 minutes and headed back up the hill.
Prepping abalone takes time. We cleaned them and ran them through a meat slicer. It took another hour to pound out 50-some steaks, which Greg then grilled after a bath in melted butter, garlic and olive oil.
We tried several wines with lunch. We had a crisp Koehler Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley 2005 (about $14), which offered a zingy pink grapefruit flavor. A Sangiovese and Barbera were also on the lunch table, and they worked well, too. But not as well as a sip of the 2001 J.J. Prum Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr (about $18 on release in 2002). It is still vibrant and refreshing, a perfect palate cleanser out of the salt water and with grilled abalone. At 8.5 percent alcohol, you can drink Kabinett all day without worrying about drinking too much. Its acidity cut right through the tender abalone morsels.
Back at home in Napa on Sunday night, I pounded out more abalone with a friend, and we grilled it with fresh vegetables and fresh-caught salmon. We drank a bottle of the 2004 Aubert Sonoma Coast Chardonnay Lauren (96 points, $70). A bigger, richer wine than the kabinett, it continued to offer lots of amazing flavors.
As we finished our last glass I thought about my next dive. I’ll make sure it’s during the right tide cycle. No more washing machine rides for me.
Doug Wilson — June 12, 2006 5:57pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 12, 2006 5:58pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 12, 2006 6:55pm ET
William Landreth — Irving, TX — June 13, 2006 10:36am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 13, 2006 11:26am ET
Deborah Ryan — Pasadena, CA — June 15, 2006 5:46pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 15, 2006 6:09pm ET
Chris Alexander — Moraga California — June 29, 2006 6:45pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 29, 2006 7:03pm ET
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