North of Fort Ross, a man with a shaved head strode from the sea onto Stillwater Cove beach with an abalone under one arm and his hand outstretched for a shake.
"I'm Flash Gordon," he said. "My parents were hippies. I only take what I can eat. I don't know any better source of protein."
It was the 32-year-old San Francisco man's first day hunting for the popular mollusk since the season opened April 1. Like most other divers, he saw his first foray of the year delayed until this weekend by foul weather that made the North Coast waters too difficult and dangerous.
"It was just too murky out there," Gordon, holding a 7?-inch abalone, said of the opening day.
Authorities reported no diver mishaps over the weekend. But underwater visibility was limited, about two-and-a-half feet.
Still, said Gordon, who's been diving for abalone since he was a teenager, "It's a gorgous view."
Easter Sunday along the coast was cast in a pale blue light. At Stillwater Cove — about a football field across at its widest — the gunmetal-colored sea shot through rocky channels on either side of the arrowhead-shaped beach. Surf leaped to slap at the cliffsides.
"Rough," said Steve Clearwater, 23, of Thousand Oaks, suiting up to enter the water, one of about a half-dozen divers at the beach by later morning. Exiting divers said the water temperature was 47 degrees.
"Surgy," said other divers, arriving on the beach with their limit of three abalone. "Crappy."
The North Coast is the only part of the California coast where abalone can be taken now. Last year, a mass shellfish die-off shut down the season in September, two months early, along the Sonoma Coast.
On Sunday, much of Fort Ross Historic Park remained closed, with the season there delayed until June 1. Waters farther north, in the Fort Bragg area, were still too turbulent to dive on Sunday, other divers said.
A red tide algae bloom involving a species rare locally, killed hundrds of thousands of abalone, chitons and other invertebrates in 2011, scientists believe.
"That's my biggest question, how last year's die-off affected this year," said Victor Critchfield, fiddling with his equipment by the side of Highway 101, above the little bay.
"I don't know how many there will be out there, but we'll see," said the 48-year-old San Francisco man.
At stake — at least, to a degree — was "marital bliss," he said. "My wife loves to eat abalone."
For Clearwater, abalone are a smaller portion of the attraction.
"I"m not crazy about it, but it's being down there that's awesome," he said. "Big-finned cod. Sharks swimming around you."
"What kind of sharks," said his companion, Terry Moore, 62, prompting some dark diver's humor.
"Great white sharks," said Clearwater.
About 45 minutes later, Moore emerged from the surf.
"I couldn't see anything," said the 62-year-old. He said he has dived in Southern California for 40 years but makes it north to hunt abalone about once every decade.
"This is a special event," he said, "Maybe in the morning it'll be better."
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.