Cold Water Kitty

It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, October 3, 2022

Cordell 2022

We haven't been to Cordell Bank since 2016, and it wasn't for lack of trying.  Every year except 2020, we had a weather window set up for the project, but we never managed to have a long enough period of good weather to get the boat up to Bodega Bay, dive, and get the boat back to Monterey.  So this year, we did things a bit differently.  Instead of looking for a period of 4-ish days of consecutive good weather, we had a weather window on the longer side (4 weeks), and we moved the boat on the first day that the weather was good enough to move it -- making the assumption that within the rest of the 4 weeks, in the worst case, we'd have at least one day to get the boat back, and in all likelihood several good weather days to allow for diving and getting the boat back.  This approach was very successful.  We ended up moving the boat in the first week of the weather window, keeping the boat in Bodega Bay for two and a half weeks, and getting in 5 days of diving!  

So I'd call the new approach a success.  The downside was that there was a lot of driving up and back from Bodega Bay -- I had a total of 4 trips, including the trip to pick up Rob and Jim after they delivered the boat.  Also, since we were staying a couple days at a time, we didn't stay in the Bodega Bay Marine Lab Housing, and instead got AirBnb's just-in-time.  This resulted in some variation in the quality of the accommodations -- the first weekend we stayed in an awesome house, the second weekend we stayed in a much less nice place, and the third weekend (which didn't end up generating any diving, due to fog), we stayed at a pretty nice place.  But I think we will definitely go the AirBnb route in the future, though next time I will remember to bring my own sheep.

This year, we were toting some extra gear on the dive.  The Office of Marine Sanctuaries has been doing this project where they create 360 degree VR videos of marine sanctuaries, so they wanted us to gather footage using their camera ("the Boxfish").  The camera is a beast, and is somewhat complex to use.  Nick, the NOAA keeper of the camera, came out to Monterey for a few days in August to show us how to use it.

Anyhoo, here are the reports day by day:

Day 1: Northern West Ridge

Day 2: Quillback Ridge

Day 3: Craine's Point

Day 4: Back to Northern West Ridge

Day 5: Northern East Ridge

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 5: Northern East Ridge

Today was supposed to be the flattest day of the year (by my definition anyway) according to the forecast. As we first headed out, it was flat but not spectacularly flat, and it improved as we got out to the Bank. But still not really flattest day of the year conditions. As we were setting the down line, apparently they had trouble finding the top of the structure because of a big school of fish on the depth sounder. So I was expecting that. The water looked clear from the top, and as we headed down, it was warm but not murky, but also not quite as clear as it was midwater on yesterday’s dive.

As we approached the structure I was a bit disappointed by the lack of schooling fish. But the viz was great and the reef was as encrusted as I remembered it. One thing I like about this spot is it has bigger heads of pink hydrocoral than the other sites on the bank. Plus tons of elephant ear sponges and corynactis. There was a bit more dark red algae than I remembered. This dive reinforced my belief that the unnamed site from last weekend was most similar to this spot. I spent a bunch of time video’ing the area around where we dropped, mostly on top of the structure. There were tons and tons of rosy rockfish, a few big yelloweyes and lots of young ones, and quite a few not-that-big lingcod.

At some point I followed Rob and Kevin to a different ridge to the East. On the north end, there was a big school of rockfish. Actually two schools, one of adults, one of young of year. The adult school was mostly blues, which was different. In addition to being fishy, this part of the reef was prettier. More densely covered, plus less algae. I think this is the spot we have dived previously, or at least the one I have a picture of in my head.

We had left the boxfish over on the first ridge, so at some point Rob signaled that he was going to get it. We followed him over, and only at this point did I really appreciate how insanely good the viz was! You could see the light from the boxfish across the sand channel and down the ridge. Rob picked up the boxfish and moved it to the other ridge, where I think it got some great fishy footage.

When it was time to go, the two teams left in pretty close proximity, in time and location. Right as we were getting ready to leave, I heard whale song and Rob signaled that he heard it too. Kevin popped the bag, and squirrellyness ensued. It was like Kevin was flying a kite, or maybe the kite was flying him. I was worried his bag was caught on the downline or the other team’s line, but there was just a strange, strong current in midwater. The other team had a similar experience. Deco was fine, but I think this was a bit annoying for Kevin. The viz wasn’t quite as crazy good on deco, so it wasn’t like you could see everything in all directions, like yesterday. There were also fewer deco critters, but there were some nice sea nettles at 20’. Rob got his camera out to take some pics (which is always nerve wracking to watch!). Unfortunately the whales that we heard did not make an appearance today.

At the 20’ stop I could see the water on the surface near us that was a bit stirred up from the boat. I thought that was a little strange but sometimes when it’s really flat, the boat will stay really close. When it was time to leave 20’, I looked up and realized just how calm the water was. It was so flat that we did a 5’ stop, much to Kevin and Rob’s surprise. When we hit the surface, it was definitely calmest day of the year conditions, and the boat was like 50 feet from us, just hanging out.

While we didn’t know it at time, this was our last dive at Cordell for the year, and I would say we ended on a high note!

The following weekend, we attempted to dive one last day, and figured if we couldn't dive, Jim and Rob would bring the boat back, and I would bring the van back (Jim rode up in the van with us).  We met up on Friday night again, and it was foggy.  Saturday morning was just as foggy, and we didn't really want to try to wait it out, because if we waited too long, it would be too late to move the boat.  So we called it on fog, Rob and Jim headed back to Monterey in the boat, and John, Clinton, and I went to breakfast and then hiked at Bodega Head, and then got lunch.  The fog finally cleared around 1pm, so we definitely made the right call not to try to wait it out to dive.  I had to drive the van back by myself (ugh), and Jim and Rob actually beat me back to Monterey!

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 4: Back to Northern West Ridge

Rather conveniently, the next flat days in the forecast was the following weekend, which made it a lot easier for everyone to make the dives.  So we reconvened in Bodega Bay on Friday evening.  With three successful dives under our belt this year, we decided it was okay to repeat our favorite dive site :). The water was a little swell-y on the way out but it flattened out enough by the time we got to the site. It was overcast (and cold) again, but no fog. Before we even left the surface, I could see that the viz was very good and I could see various kinds of jellyfish (sea nettles, moon jellies) quite a bit down in the water column. We headed down the line, and I was kind of expecting it to get murky at some point, but it didn’t. The water was bright and blue, and surprisingly warm, the whole way down. There was a bunch of scope on the line and at some point it flattened out and started to vibrate… a good sign that we were about to hit some current.

When we got to the pinnacle, I was like… where are the fish? Uh oh. But I hopped over the first little peak, and phew, there they were. The water seemed a little chunkier than last week, but it was still very clear and very bright. In addition to the huge school of widows, there was a smaller school of juveniles. It also seemed liked there were more blues than in years past, but like years past, there were some really big blues.

Since I felt like I got a lot of footage of the school of fish last week, I spent more time trying to capture the reef today. I can’t say I saw much that was different from last week, but a few observations… Kevin found a GPO in a crack again, and it was a huge one. But he wasn’t coming out. There were a lot of big lingcod and a lot of big yelloweyes (and plenty of little ones too!). I was thinking it’s really nice how if you just hang out on any part of the reef and want to look at a big yelloweye, you can find one :). I saw several Boccaccio but not as many big ones. I also had some fun letting the current drag me across the reef and then scootering back.

Rob and Clinton had said they saw some mystery black and white fish on the previous dive here, and I saw what I was sure they must have seen. And I was sure it was a blue rockfish with some weird fin rot. Well maybe not fin rot, but something weird. Clinton and Rob got some pics, and I got some video, and Clinton dispatched a message to Milton and Tom about it.  They both agreed it was a strangely pigmented blue or deacon rockfish.  This also reminded me that there is this relatively newly described "deacon rockfish" (which I don't really know how to distinguish from a blue) and said that some of the fish in our pictures were deacon rockfish.  So I will have to study the photos and videos to see some.  Going to get right on that ;)

The deco was pretty chill (and warm). You could see so far and there were some interesting jellies, so Rob whipped out the boxfish and video’d for a bit.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 3: Craine's Point

Today only Rob and I were diving, since the other divers had to work :(. We decided to go back to Craines Point, which was the first site we visited on the first trip to Cordell, and we haven’t been back since. On the first visit, it was kind of dark and green, but viz was reasonably good, and there was a big school of widows. It was completely overcast but no sign of fog. It was a cold ride out.

When we got into the water, the viz was very good. But as we headed down the line, it very quickly got murky, and then very murky and warm. As we continued down, it was getting so murky and dark that I thought we might have to thumb the dive when we got to the bottom. Then we popped out of the layer, and it was crackling clear (but dark as night) and freezing. It felt like someone threw ice water on my face. It reminded me of a cave dive because it was so dark and clear. And there was no school of fish. We initially continued down to the wall, to around 160’, but then I headed up and over the lip to look for a spot to put the boxfish. As soon as I came over the top, I saw that there was a school of widows over the peak. I signaled to Rob and suggested he move the camera over here. He seemed to be having trouble getting it to stay where he was trying to put it, so he abandoned that spot and moved to the school of fish.

One of the most notable things about this dive was the intense whale song that was going on for most of the dive. It had a sort of spooky quality to it, which went along with the dark darkness of the dive. Another notable thing — there was quite a bit of current.

The fish did not like the light. Whether it was the boxfish or my video lights, they were just very skittish. So I had no success getting video of them. I decided to focus on getting video of the encrusting life on the reef instead. The site is kind of a plateau, with little ups and downs, which are very well encrusted, but subjectively not as pretty as the other sites at Cordell. I think this is at least in part because the reef is more brown and less pink. There corynactis seems to be more orange, there’s a lot of that golden hydroid, and also some kind of red algae that is not very pretty. But it is still quite impressive how encrusted it is! In addition to the school of widows, there were a fair number of rosy rockfish skittering about.

Given the darkness and the current (and a minor camera issue — floppy strobe arm), I only video’d for like 15 minutes and then put it away and enjoyed the dive. We eventually went down the wall a bit and explored the structure a bit. It was rather convenient to have the boxfish on top of the plateau as a beacon to return to. We could see it as we scootered around the wall, which turned out to be shaped like a horseshoe. Also, we briefly visited a little side pinnacle across a sand channel. I saw a quillback rockfish and more roseys along the side of the wall. There were also some of those holes, but less distinctly holey at the bottom of the wall in one spot.

When it was time to start the ascent, I was shocked by how warm and murky the water was as soon as we got to 120’. Apparently the current also calmed down because we barely drifted on deco according to the boat crew. There weren’t any interesting sightings on deco, since the viz was terrible. A whale would have had to swim right into us for us to see it :)

Although this wasn't the prettiest dive, it was quite memorable due to the whale song.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 2: Quillback Ridge

For the second day, we checked out a new site that Rob found on the bathymetry, and that he and Kevin did a short recon dive on the previous day. It looked big on the map, and was a sort of crescent shaped ridge coming up to 140’ or so, and dropping to a bit over 200’. It was not too far from Northern East Ridge. On the way down, the water did not seem as warm. It was pretty clear and blue on the bottom, but not as bright as the previous dive. The water was also a little schmutzy. There was a little bit of current, which seemed variable as you moved around the site. The site was more like a plateau than a pinnacle. I spent pretty much the entire dive on the plateau, with just a very brief foray down the side to about 170’.

The first thing we noticed when we got to the structure was the lack of fish. Or at least, no big schools of fish. There was a little school of young of year around, but nothing nearly as impressive as northern west ridge. The other thing that I noticed right away was that this spot really reminded me of Northern East Ridge — different shades of pink corynactis with lots of white elephant ears sponges (covered in brown hydroids) and some biggish heads of light pink hydrocoral. There is a picture that Rob took our first year at Northern East Ridge, which is the picture in my head of that sight, and it looked so much like that.

Although there was no big impressive school of fish, there was some notable fish life. There were quite a few lingcod, though they were all relatively small. There were tons of rosy rockfish. Clinton got a picture of like twenty of them piled up in a crack. But the coolest fish pile was a group of around ten quillback rockfish hanging out in an otherwise boring flat open area. They blended in so well, it seemed like there were one or two but then your eyes would adjust to the background and more and more would appear. Definitely the most quillbacks I’ve ever seen at once!

At some point, Rob pointed out one of those holes in the reef. We also briefly headed down the side to look at another quillback perched on a little ledge on the wall. The wall drop off was very vertical below us but probably only dropped another 50 feet to the sand. One other nice sighting was a siphonophore with its head attached.

The deco did not have as dramatic of a warm layer, which was a bummer since I had a leak in my left arm. A mola passed us once on deco. It was a very nice fly by but he didn’t stick around. When we surfaced and I was scanning around looking for the boat, I saw a whale less than 100’ away. Apparently there were five whales swimming very close to our bag for most of deco. Sigh.

It was Sunday, and Monday's forecast looked promising, but unfortunately several of the divers had to head back to work, and Nick had to head home.  But Rob and I stuck around with Jim to try to eek out another dive on Monday.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 1: Northern West Ridge + a Recon Dive

Conveniently, the weather opened up for diving over the weekend.  We all drove up on Friday afternoon, arriving at various times, and met at the AirBnB that we were sharing, which was really nice and really close to the marina.  Nick from NOAA (the keeper of the Boxfish) flew out to join us for the first weekend, which was fun.  I was hungry by the time we got there, and stuff closes early in Bodega Bay, so we headed back to the Fishetarian Fish Market before it closed.  It was busy, full of people that didn't understand the concept of figuring out what they wanted to eat while they stood in line for 15 minutes, and had passable food (but not very good french fries).  

Anyway, I digress, this is not the day this post is supposed to be about!  So the ride out to Cordell Bank on this day was interesting, because it was relatively rough in terms of swell.  It wasn't really rough, but since we only go at Cordell when the forecast is really flat, AND we usually use the first day to move the boat, it means that by the time we get out there, we are on day 2 of a 4 day window of flat weather.  So, I guess it's obvious, but the way we did it this year means that it might not be quite so flat flat when we get out there.  It was still perfectly diveable, and it actually flattened out while we were in the water and was quite flat on the way in. 

Since we hadn't made it to Cordell Bank in 6 years, we of course kicked off the trip at our favorite site, which is Northern West Ridge.  Every time we have dived it, it has had "fish-limited visibility" at the top of the pinnacle.  Aside from the little bit of swell, the conditions looked great when we got there -- no discernible current, and the viz looked great from the surface.  The water was pretty warm on the way down. On the way down the line, the viz got a little murkier, from about 20 feet. At 80 or 90 feet, the line flattened out due to a little bit of current. We continued along the line and suddenly I saw a wall of brown ahead of me. As I got closer, I realized it was a huge, dense school of widow rockfish. The visibility opened up and the water felt colder (it was 49 on the bottom) as we came through the school of fish. At the top of the pinnacle, the water was super clear blue, probably around 100 feet of viz, and it was quite bright.

Rob set up the 360 camera and I got my video camera mounted on my scooter, and got some footage of the fish at the top of the reef. The top of the reef was completely engulfed in rockfish, and they did not seem bothered by the video lights. The fish were primarily widow rockfish, with the occasional olive or blue mixed in. After my camera was set up, I headed down the pinnacle to join Rob and Kevin. Kevin was at the bottom of the pinnacle, because he had followed a giant pacific octopus down there. T give an idea of the viz, I could very clearly see his tanks from 100 feet above. I passed Rob on the way down and joined Kevin at approximately 250’. I saw a quillback rockfish down there, but my camera couldn’t start running at that depth so didn’t get any footage. We headed back up to join Rob with the school of fish shallower.

Rob moved the box fish several times during the dive, to different spots near the top of the pinnacle. I spent a lot of time video’ing the school of rockfish, and also did several passes around the pinnacle to document the dense invertebrate life all over it, including several different shades of corynactis, and lots of yellow and white sponges. John and Clinton found a second giant pacific octopus in a crack along the side of the pinnacle. It was not coming out, but you could clearly see it and it looked huge!

In addition to the schooling rockfish, there were some nice bigger fish around. I saw several very big yelloweyes and big Boccaccio. There is a crack that goes down one side of the reef starting from the top where two really big Boccaccio were hanging out. I remember the same crack from previously years, also being a spot where some of the bigger fish hung out. One of the Boccaccio had a black splotch on its side, which we have seen before at Italian Ledge (and Tom Laidig explained to us… I think it’s some kind of fungus). Anyhoo, I made sure to get some video of that. I saw one other big big fish by that crack. It was silver and not a rockfish. It was tall and skinny. Kevin saw it too and described it as a tuna-looking thing. For some reason I did not get video of it, which was dumb. Maybe the box fish caught it. There were some relatively big lingcod around too.

When it was time to go, we shot our bag and headed up. From about 70’ up, the water was noticeably warmer, and got to 57 degrees at some point. We didn’t see too much on deco, but there were a few Leucothea pulchra.

After the first dive, Rob and Kevin did a short recon dive on a new potential site, which they said looked good, so we decided to dive it tomorrow.

The ride back in was flatter than the ride out.  After we got back to the dock, we headed to Fisherman's Cove for lunch, which is pretty much where we always go for lunch after a dive at Cordell.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Winter Big Sur Diving

We had a crazy good winter diving season, which included 4 tech trips to Big Sur, of which 3 were back to back weekends.  It was really unusual, and because we made it down there so many times in such a short period, we were more willing to take a chance on something new.  On one trip (to Sur 20), Rob and Kevin did a short second dive to check out a mark that Rob found on the bathymetry.  They found a site that was actually worth diving, so the following weekend, we went back.  The structure there had really interesting formations that caused us to name the site Funnel Cakes.

Anyhoo, since I also got new video lights relatively recently, I was actually shooting video on all four dives, and I put together not one, but two videos from these dives -- at Sur 19, Sur 20, Funnel Cakes, and Sur 19 again.

In addition to making it down to Big Sur a lot this winter, it was also a great winter in the sense that we only cancelled one boat due to weather, and I think I did not dive in the bay at all!

At the time of the dive at Funnel Cakes, the formations seemed really unusual to me; it was like nothing that I'd seen underwater before.  But then a week or so later, Rob and I were heading down to Garrapata State Park for. a hike, which we do *all the time* when I noticed that these kinds of formations appear all along the coast down there, and all along the side of highway 1 as you are approaching that area.  So okay, maybe not that unusual :)