Rancho Bolsa Dive Club Gets the Lead Out

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For almost two years, the Rancho Bolsa Dive Club has ventured beyond the surface, scouring the depths of Emerald Bay’s ocean bed for lead fishing sinkers and other discarded junk, sometimes found resting at the bottom of the sea for decades or longer. 

Gary Cogorno shows off some of the lead fishing sinkers the Rancho Bolsa Dive Club has discovered in Emerald Bay. Clara Beard/LB Indy

The diving group started small after two Emerald Bay locals noticed the amount of discarded lead sinkers and began pulling them out of the ocean. Through word of mouth, the dive club has swelled to around 25 regular divers who meet at 11 a.m. every Sunday at the water’s edge. 

The group stays in the water for around 45 minutes, and then it’s time for lunch and hang time,” Rancho Bolsa Dive Club member Gary Cogorno said. “Needless to say, if the weather’s good, you don’t want to leave.”

The Rancho Bolsa Dive Club takes a break from searching for lead sinkers during a Sunday morning gathering at Emerald Bay. Photo courtesy of Rancho Bolsa Dive Club

Bill Steer, who has been part of the club for about a year and a half, added there is always food, drinks and barbecue to look forward to after the dive. 

“We have a big potluck on the first Sunday of the month, and then we have little tidbits that sometimes turn into gigantic parties,” Steer said. 

Dedicated members can even qualify for a Rancho Bolsa Dive Club sweatshirt, on which divers sew on patches – scout style – according to how many pieces of lead they’ve collected from the bottom of the ocean.

Despite their meeting frequency, the Rancho Bolsa divers still come back out of the water every Sunday with at least 10 or 15 pieces of lead. 

Kelly Mann counts the lead weights she collected while free diving at Emerald Bay. Clara Beard/LB Indy

Cogorno thinks the club has collected around 3,000 pounds of lead sinkers in total – all different shapes and sizes. When they run out of sinkers, spark plugs are also collected.

“One of our divers, Todd Miller, found a postcard dated 1917, and it shows a guy fishing with a bamboo rod. It looks like he’s at Crescent Bay,” Congorno said. “So we know that some of these lead pieces go back more than one hundred years ago.”

The group is family-oriented and has several kids who dive regularly. Everyone is welcome to join in. However, Cogorno, who also organizes Laguna’s annual Aquathon, cautions it’s for those who have experience swimming and diving in the ocean. 

“If you don’t feel comfortable in the water, you wouldn’t do something like this,” he said. “Especially in cold water and especially with no wetsuit on. Without being something of a regular ocean swimmer or surfer, it might not be up your alley.”

Riley McDuffy, a free diver visiting from Seattle, Wash., said the group did a great job making him feel comfortable going out into the water. 

“I do dive, but I don’t do it regularly. These guys are out here every week. This community is really cool out here. It’s always kind of a shock to your senses when you first get in the water when you’re freediving. Your brain is kind of rejecting what you’re about to do,” McDuffy said. “Then the water starts to feel real good.”

Rancho Bolsa Dive Club can be found on Instagram at @rlbdiveclub.

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