Cold Water Kitty

It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, December 22, 2017

Back to Birthday Wall

It's been a few years since we've been to Birthday Wall, but it's still one of my favorite sites. So I figured finally getting back there was worthy of a post. Even without pictures from Rob :(. We both had Friday off; when I pointed this out to Rob the week before (he didn't know he had the day off, and first denied it), he made a Lobos reservation. Then a couple days later he told me he got Phil. Woot! That's another thing we haven't done in ages. Unfortunately, Kevin had already shipped stuff to Florida for our New Years' trip, so he could not join us :(. Also unfortunately, Rob's camera has been leaking a bit on deeper dives lately, so it wasn't allowed to come on the dive (it's now at Backscatter). So Rob convinced me to bring the GoPro, and he brought the video light.

Conditions were pretty flat in terms of both swell and wind. It was pretty much a perfect day to be out with Phil except that it was cold!  Brrr.  I asked Rob to slow down on the way out because it was so cold.  When we got out to the area, we briefly had some problems with the depth sounder but after Phil went for a little dip in the water, we got that fixed and found the site without a problem.  We dropped the hook in about 150'. There was roughly zero current on the surface. It was a good day to lollygag on the surface while getting geared up :)  When we finally flopped into the water, we found very clear water.  We met up at 20' for bubble checks and I noticed that Rob's O2 bottle was leaking at the solenoid what I would describe as a non-trivial amount.  I told him to keep an eye on it.

We headed down the line and eventually found a little current closer to the bottom, but overall it was nice clear, still water. We dropped on the pinnacle, got situated, and then headed down the wall.  Rob was really flying down the wall. I just can't drop that fast!  But eventually I nad it down to him. In the sand off of the wall, we saw a wolf eel just sitting in the sand. Then a lingcod swam over and sat next to him, just staring him down. Rob convinced me to get some video, but I didn't want to get up in his face and disturb him. But mostly I was thinking... a wolf eel is not worth my time to video at 280'!  So we continued along until we got to the flag rockfish den (flaggle rock, as I like to call it).  Rob points out a flag rockfish, which I hang out with and video' for a couple minutes. Rob later claimed to have seen three or four flag rockfish, but that was the only one that I saw (which is annoying and makes him a bad dive buddy!).

From there, we continued a bit further along the wall until we came to a small group of Boccaccio, which we always seem to see somewhere around there, though never in one particular spot. Today there was one especially big one, which I think was pregnant.  I got a bit of video before signaling that we needed to head shallower. We headed up the wall a bit, and followed along near the top of the wall until we got back to around the pinnacle where we started. The viz up there was really blue, it was much brighter than the bottom of the wall. There was a school of juvenile rockfish on top of the wall, and a big school of rockfish just off of the wall, which we watched and video'd for a bit before heading up shallower on the pinnacles.  Up there, we poked and peered into holes, looking for little stuff. I saw several juvenile yelloweyes.

Eventually it was time to go, and we shot the bag within sight of the line.  At the 70' stop, we finally heard the boat. But then not again for the rest of deco, which made me a little squirmy. I guess that's what happens when there's no current :). At 20', Rob started gesticulating about his O2 bottle and trying to hand me his spool. Remember back to that bubble check?  Well Rob had been keeping an eye on his O2 bottle and decided it was time to switch. I would have just gone onto my deco bottle, but I guess I'm lazy. Rob rotated his bottle forward and then plugged in the spare hose on his O2 bottle to the MAV (I guess that's why he has the spare hose...). I was prett impressed. I was less impressed when I found out how little O2 he started with, which explained why a not-catastrophically-bad leak left him with not enough O2.  He got a big eye roll when he confessed that to me.

After quite a bit of looking at nothing (I remember one lone sea nettle and the occasional gooseberry), deco was finally over.  Phil was waiting right next to us when we surfaced.  It had been a while since I had to get out of my gear on the surface. Rob offered to help me out of my gear (after he was out of his). I forgot that while he was holding onto my rig, he expected me to jack on the inflator.  So I almost lost my rig (and possibly Rob) to the bottom of the ocean, but Rob managed to hold it up while I found the inflator.

Phil has a ladder on his boat now. It's been there for a while, but always sort of experimental when I've used it before. Maybe it still is, but he was really pushing it this time. Especially for Rob, who has a tendency to get bent in the shoulder. There was a moment when climbing it that I was sure if I took another step, I'd fall in the water. There was a bit of whimpering but after some assurances from Phil, I managed to do it. Pretty civilized, though I kind of like trying to pull myself over the side, as a feat of strength (which I always fail). Rob was not so thrilled with the ladder due to what I was generously call a "sports injury" (running around like Jack Bauer shooting at coworkers is a sport, right?), but we all lived and no one got bent. We made a pretty hasty return back to Lobos, and despite his best efforts, Rob did not run into any rocks on the ramp with the boat.

We debated our lunch options and went with La Tortuga instead of Thai. This was a mistake for two reasons, well maybe one.  Thai has food immediately, and that food is hot (two kinds of soup!). Won't make that mistake again ;)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Eagle's Nest

Rob and Kevin had already been to Eagle's Nest earlier in the week, before I got there, when Rob had tried his hardest to get stuck in a tiny murder hole.  We thought it would be a good last dive of the trip, but I decreed that there would be no crawling into tiny murder holes on this dive.  I think that's a good rule to live by, in general.  Meredith joined us, though she didn't dive due to being a bit congested (and not wanted to risk screwing up her sinuses/ears a couple days before she started teaching a class).  She met us at Matt & Leah's, and we headed down in two cars.  The trip to Eagle's Nest was not as long as I remembered, for two reasons.  First, Newberry is closer than High Springs (where I guess we were staying on previous trips to the nest).  Second, the roads from the highway to the nest have really been improved.  It's both a lot easier to find, and a lot faster/less bumpy to get there now.

When we pulled into the parking area, there was someone there already, but he was not there to dive, and he left pretty much as soon as we showed up.  The water in the basin looked pretty clear.  We loaded our gear into the water -- actually Meredith did a lot of the loading for us while we got our gear ready.  What a great dive buddy :)  Our plan was to go upstream (the boys had gone downstream on their dive) and then depending on time and how we felt, we might head downstream to the Lockwood tunnel at the end.

We dropped our bottles on the way down and then headed upstream.  Rob was leading, and I was second.  Just as we came down the slope to 200', Rob stopped and started monkeying with his gear.  I could tell that he had some sort of gas injection problem (gas leaking into something), and I kind of assumed that it was a sticky wing inflator, since the problem had started just after we came down the slope (and he presumably used his wing inflator).  Then I saw him bail out and figured this was not the case (and that the dive was about to be over :P).  Kevin got to Rob before I did, so I just stayed back and watched them and the line.  It turns out that his MAV (manual O2 injector) had stuck on, so he quickly bailed out, assessed the problem, found that it was no longer leaking and no longer sticking, and then went back onto the loop.  Everything was settled in a minute or two, though Rob and Kevin had drifted from the line a bit.  Rob started flailing about looking for the line, which annoyed me.  After the dive, I asked Rob... when there's a problem on a cave dive and one buddy is helping another, what is the third buddy supposed to do?  Anyway, after Rob stopped spazzing and looked where I was pointing, we continued on into the cave.

The viz was very good, and when we got to the big room, we spread out and lighted up the whole room.  It was pretty cool.  We stopped briefly in there, but for the most part, we just headed straight to the end of the line.  We hung out in the last room for a few minutes, and then came back and stopped in a few more spots on the way out.  I think this is the first time I've been to the end of the upstream line on a rebreather.  It was definitely the longest time I've spent in that last room -- because on OC, by the time we get there, I feel like I'm in a rush to get going.

So the plan was to head downstream if my ears were cooperative.  As we came up the slope near the downline, my ears were crackling and popping like crazy.  So I initially said we should skip the downstream.  But then I thought more about it, and decided that we could try to go downstream and if my ears wouldn't clear, then we'd just turn around.  And I figured we were here, and who knows when we'll be back, so it would be dumb not to go downstream.  So I told the guys we should go after all (so fickle), and we headed back down the slope.  It was pretty silly... if I had just said yes in the first place, we could have gone around the mound, instead of up and then back down, and my ears probably would have been a lot happier with that.  But in the end, I did not have too much trouble on the descent.

We headed to the Lockwood tunnel, where Rob promptly dropped a double ender and tied his spool around his scooter while putting the jump in.  Apparently he dropped a double ender while putting the spool in there on their dive a few days earlier.  I guess it's a tradition now :)  We went pretty far up the Lockwood Tunnel, and the water got quite clear the further we went.  When we finally turned, it was pretty close to the end of the tunnel (allegedly... I'm not sure if I've been all the way to the end).  I like the Lockwood Tunnel.  I think it's the prettiest tunnel at Eagle's Nest.  But I think I like upstream more than downstream, so I guess this dive (upstream then just down to the lockwood) is the best dive to do.  But it was kind of long.  Actually our bottom time was quite a bit longer than I'd planned for.  Oh well.  What's an extra 40 minutes of deco between friends?

The viz in the cavern was kind of a treat.  It was the best viz I've seen there.  We could actually leave the line and poke around in the cavern during the 70' stop.  Eventually I corralled the boys, and we headed up to the 60' stop.  I went first, which is always my demand at Eagle's Nest, because I hate feeling like I'm trapped in the tube.  It's silly, I know.  I always think that you are in the tube in single file longer than you really are.  Even at 50', two people can fit side by side -- so naturally Rob and I deco'd side by side, holding hands.  Not.  The great thing about rebreathers is that you can talk through them (actually I generally think that's a terrible thing about rebreathers... because Rob and Kevin *love* talking through their rebreathers, and do it just to annoy me); but it's convenient when you are deco'ing in single file, because you can just call it out when it's time to move :P

There was a mild amount of negotiation about deco, which resulted in an extra 5 minutes at 30' and 20'.  When we got to 20', I took all of my gear off.  Okay, not all of my gear, but all of my bottles and my scooter.  Rob kept all of his gear on, and instead of laying on a log like Kevin and I did, he was hanging in mid-water, showing off his trim.  Actually he wasn't just carrying all of his gear... he was carrying one of my bottles (70'), because it had been driving me nuts at the 70' stop, so he just took it.

Kevin whipped out his wetnotes, where he had a couple of sudoku puzzles.  One of them was supposed to be easy.  It was like the hardest easy sudoku ever!  We were both pretty stumped, but we eventually found a few numbers and between the two of us, we made some progress on it.  Eventually I decided it was time for a backgas break.  I guess I'm the only one in team kitty who believes in backgas breaks anymore.  I think it took me like 15 minutes to pull off a 6 minute backgas break.  First I had to doink with my controller for a while to figure out how to drop the PPO2 lower than 0.7.  It goes down to 0.4, but if you accidentally hit the button too many times, you are back at 1.4 or 1.5.  So that took a while to get right, and then my attempts at a hands-free dil flush failed (probably because my trim sucks).  But eventually I got it started.  Then when it was time to switch back to O2, it took me a while to get the PPO2 back up to 1.6 all the way from 0.4 :)  I eventually decided to use technology, and switch my controller's PPO2 to 1.4 (instead of 1.2) and wow, what a great innovation!  Kevin has told me in the past that he does that at 30 feet so that when he gets to 20, it will get him to 1.4 without any effort, and wow, that's really smart!  By this point, Kevin had given up on me and put the sudoku away.  Hmph.  So I just laid on a log for the rest of the 20 foot stop.

When we surfaced, Meredith was sitting by the water with her Kindle.  She helped us get the gear out; actually I think she carried 80% of the gear (that wasn't on our backs) back to our trucks.  Surface support rocks :P

After we cleaned everything up, we headed to The Freezer in Homosassa, which has become our post-Eagle's Nest tradition.  It was good, but it seemed like they were out of half of the items on the menu (which resulted in Kevin going hungry).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Emerald Sink

A boy and his rope
On Sunday, we headed to Emerald Sink, which was a lot closer to Tallahassee than I remembered.  We met Meredith there, who wasn't sure she'd be able to dive, because she was getting over a cold, but in the end she did join us for the dive.  After two very cold days, it was starting to warm up.  In fact, it was a little uncomfortable getting geared up, but mostly because it was so humid.  Ugh, I hate the east coast!  Diving at Emerald has changed a bit since we last went there; you used to have to get a reservation, and jump through some hoops to prove your worthiness to dive there, and then go to Wakulla to checkin and get the key.  Now there is none of that; you just show up and pay at the iron ranger.  It took a little bit of driving around to find the entrance, but otherwise it was a pretty easy experience.

We moved our bottles and scooters to the water, where there's a nice civilized set of stairs to get in.  Apparently the way you do things at Emerald (or at least the way Kevin does it) is you bring a weighted rope with some loops about 20 and 70 feet down it, which you tie to the stairs and drop into the water, and this becomes a down line where you can drop deco bottles.  And if you are smart enough to put some loops near the surface, it's also a convenient place to stash your bottles before you get in the water.  Kevin is really into his rope.  I think it's the main reason he likes going to Emerald.

An interesting thing happened to my rebreather before I got in the water.  My rebreather was mostly set up the previous night, but I still needed to calibrate it in the morning.  When I did that, one of the sensors was calibrating slowly, and it ended up off.  Not horrendously far off, but off.  Since it was calibrating slowly, I calibrated again, and this time it was within the margin of error.  I didn't give it too much thought.  Then when I got geared up and was going through the checks, and I did a dil flush, that same sensor wouldn't drop.  I should have thought to try this after the calibration thing, but I didn't.  This was pretty annoying because it meant I had to get out of my gear and deal with it.  I popped the head off and found that that sensor had a big drop of water on it.  I dried it out and then all was well.  This happened to Rob earlier in the trip too, and we decided it was because of how we were laying them down in the back of the truck; it allowed condensation to drip into the middle sensor.  At home, the RBs live standing up in the back of the van or standing up on the garage floor.

Anyhoo, the one and only time I've been here before, we went upstream to the black abyss.  Downstream is deeper (18/45 territory), and we didn't have appropriate gas to even poke our heads downstream on that previous visit.  This time we came prepared.  So the plan was to go downstream and then play around in the upstream shallows while we were on deco.  Meredith led, followed by Kevin, me, then Rob.  The visibility in the basin was very good.  It was very good the last time we were there, too, but I get the impression that this is not typical.  After dropping our bottles at various places in the basin, we got going into the cave.  The viz was not great, but it was decent (I'd guess 40 feet) in the cave.  There is a T just a couple minutes after entering the overhead.  The plan was to go left for the main part of the dive, and then briefly check out the other side on the way out.  For the first 10 minutes or so, the cave was pretty brown, but eventually the walls get whiter, and it reminded me of Indian.  But without the great viz :)  It's a great scooter dive, with big but not huge passages.  It didn't get as deep as I expected as quickly as I expected.  It took a while before we were consistently deeper than 160', and it wasn't until it got a bit deeper that we hit the white walls.  This is definitely the nice part of the dive.

Unfortunately, before you know it (and before Rob wanted to), Meredith signaled to turn.  We headed back out, making excellent time back to the first T, and then we headed to the right.  Very shortly after that T was another T, where we went left.  We went in just a minute or two and found very tannic water.  At the very top of the tunnel, there was clear (and cold) water.  It was kind of surreal, because we were scootering through the clear water and when we looked down, it seemed like the bottom was just below us, but it was just the start of the tannic water.  The clear water layer at the top quickly became smaller and smaller, and we turned before the entire tunnel became tannic.  Back to the last T, we considered going the other way at that T, but the water got tannic like 30 feet from the T, so we didn't really even start up that tunnel.  Instead, we headed out.

We slowly ascended to 70', where we did some bottle exchanges and hung out for a bit.  After our 60' stop, we headed over to the upstream section.  Deco'ing in the upstream section seems like a good way to pass the time, and I guess it was, but if you take a strict interpretation of your deco schedule (which I generally don't), it's not ideal.  I think the real problem was that we set out to do the circuit, and at least where you pass Cheryl Sink and Split Sink, you come up fairly shallow (shallower than you'd want for a 30' stop).  It's also a bit dirty to drag 4 people with scooters through some of the spots right by those sinks.  In hindsight, it would have been better to just go one way or the other at the T and putter around in there without the goal of making it around the circuit.  Right probably would have been better, since I believe it stays deeper longer.  Anyway, we did eventually make it around the circuit, though we had to stop and wait out deco in some spots.

Ahhh, to-go cups
When we got back out to the Basin, we went to 20' and hung out.  Rob and I negotiated deco; I wanted to do 15 minutes, he wanted to do none, so I think we settled on 8 minutes :P  Kevin and Meredith did way more deco than us.  We got all of our gear out of the water before they showed up, which left us free to help them get their gear out of the water while they changed.  Since it was new year's day, the usual oyster places that we go to between Tallahassee and High Springs were both closed, boohoo.  But Meredith came up with an alternative seafood place to try, which was fine.  And they had to-go cups -- take that, Ted!  It started to rain really hard while we were at lunch, which I guess was predictable considering the insane humidity earlier in the day.

We headed back to Matt and Leah's place in Newberry, where we were officially staying (though this was the first night that I actually made it there).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Back to Jackson Blue

Our plan was to go to Hole in the Wall on Saturday, but when I woke up on Saturday, my ears were killing me.  I had my doubts about whether I'd actually be able to dive, and in the event that I could not, I didn't really want to sit on a boat on the Mill Pond for 3 hours while I waited for the boys to get back.  So I made a couple of alternative suggestions, and in the end we settled on just going back to Jackson Blue.  I was still sort of regretting that we had not gone to the end of the line (or thereabouts) the previous day.

So we came up with a pretty simple plan, which was to go to the end of the line, or well, to the part before it gets way shallower (the stratosphere, I believe it's called).  Then on the way back, we'd check out some of the side passages on the other side from where we'd gone the day before.  While I've done some diving on the "right" side of the main line, I've never really even noticed anything on the left side, but Kevin claimed there was some stuff to do, and suggested Source Nouveau.

After all the brouhaha about clearing my ears, I actually had a much easier time with my ears today than I had yesterday.  Strange.  Things started out pretty uneventfully; we made our way through the two loop de loops (4 Ts). Kevin had some problem with the weighting of his scooter, which he'd identified when we were still in the basin, but decided it was okay to dive.  Rob tried to convince Kevin to switch scooters with him, because, you know, Rob is a much more talented scooter driver than Kevin, and thus would be able to deal with the mis-weighting better, snicker.  (Though if it had been me, I totally would have taken Rob up on that!).  So, once we were in the cave, Kevin seemed to be able to ride the scooter just fine, but every time he went onto the trigger, the scooters trim would be a bit wonky and he'd kick up a bit of silt from the bottom.  After this happened several times, I pointed it out to him and things did improve.  So we got into a rhythm once we were past the fourth T, though we were moving really slowly.  Kevin says he likes to dawdle on the way in (at least on the breathers, when having enough gas to get to your destination is not a concern), but I secretly think he has the slowest scooter in the history of the world.  That might seem like a lot of extraneous commentary on Kevin's scooter, but eventually this becomes relevant.

So there we were, moseying along at like, I don't know somewhere in the low 3000s of feet, when I realized I could not see Rob's light.  Between you and me, I don't think Rob is always the most on top of keeping his light where I can see it.  Well, that's not really far, but what he does do which kind of drives me crazy is that even when I start doing the turn left, turn right, looking for my buddy dance, he doesn't make himself anymore obvious.  So I looked left, I looked right, still didn't see him, but figured he was just being Rob.  So then I slowly did a big loop around so I could see behind me (because who wants to go off of the trigger), and he wasn't there.  So I stopped Kevin, asked him where 3 was (in case Rob was still hiding in some blindspot I hadn't looked in) and he agreed that Rob was not there.  Hmph.  So we headed back.  We weren't going that long, though it seemed pretty long, before I saw a tiny beam of light -- so tiny that I thought he had gone onto a backup light, but actually it was just that far away.  As I approached him at first I thought he was pointing down a passage, as if he'd stopped because he wanted to make the jump (the thought of which annoyed me), but then I realized he wasn't pointing, he was holding something up... his prop.  Doh!

There was a brief moment before I remembered that on the Suex's, you can remove the prop if something gets sucked into it.  So I looked at the shaft and sure enough, there was some thin bungee wrapped around it.  It was no problem to remove, but Rob just didn't have quite enough hands to hold his light so he could see the bungee, while simultaneously removing the bungee.  So I offered him a third hand and he quickly fixed that.

Where he had stopped was quite close to a jump to the "left", so we decided to just head up there.  I think Rob proposed this, though I'm not completely sure.  It was a pretty annoying jump, because there was really nowhere to drop scooters and bottles.  Kevin found a spot just big enough to drop his scooter, and then when he tied the jump spool to the jump line, which was pretty much on the ceiling, we were able to drop our scooters up there, without them touching the silty bottom.  But there was no place to drop our bottles.  So we continued in with our bottles.  We passed some Ts and even at least one 4-way intersection, which seemed a bit odd, but seems quite a bit better than all of the double Ts that we passed yesterday... you know, there's a T and then like 4 feet later, there's another T, requiring two cookies be dropped when a 4-way intersection would require only one (and we passed several pairs of Ts like this!).  While the intersections may have been nice, I didn't find this passage very beautiful.  In fact, as we were swimming along, I was thinking it seemed more brown than white, compared to yesterday's very white passages.  And I had to schlep my bottle, because I literally never found a spot to drop it.  Eventually we came to a T in an actually T-shaped part of the passage.  Rob chose to go left, even though it was smaller (lower).  I kicked in like 10 feet and decided that this was not a reasonable passage to go into with a bottle.  I signaled to Rob to turn around.  He was, of course, annoyed, but we headed back to the mainline (since I wanted to go further up, and I really wasn't too into this passage).

Once back to the mainline, we continued up toward the end, making pretty slow progress.  Maybe it was in my head, or maybe I was just misremembering, but we eventually got to an area that was kind of low and a little silty compared to what I remember, and the line was on the ceiling which is always kind of annoying.  Now that I think of it, perhaps the last time I went there, we dropped our scooters earlier and kicked to the end.  Anyway, it was getting a bit dusty, so when we got to a T and Kevin stopped to point it out to me and tell me to remember it, I called turn.  We were at the T that you can take to go back to Crinoid Glory, which is what Kevin was showing to me.  This is pretty dang close to the Banana Room; if I'd realized how close, I probably would not have turned yet.  So we turned around and I tried to make my way out of the dusty part as quickly as possible, and once out of that area, I realized that I could not find Kevin's light.  Seriously!?!  Kevin is usually quite good about making his light known to me as soon as I show any sign of looking around.  So I quickly identified that he was not there, and stopped Rob, and back up the line we went.  We found Kevin all the way back at where we had turned; he had become entangled in the line (in a really annoying spot around his breather O2 bottle) while turning around, and decided it would be much easier to wait for us to dislodge him.  So there he was, tied to the ceiling.  Rob dislodged him (and said he probably would not have been able to get himself out without cutting the line), and we headed out.  After this, things went smoothly, and we managed to get all the way back out of the cave without any team separations :P

By the time we got back to the deco rock pile, I was pretty cold.  It had been cold before the dive (high 40s I think), and my suit was leaking through the zipper.  Brrr.  I was glad when we hit the surface both because of that, and because I really needed to blow my nose :)

Living it up in Tallahassee
So, about that bungee in Rob's prop... Once back on the surface, Kevin asked Rob how that happened.  Rob confessed that the bungee had come from his wetnotes.  Turns out, Rob was annoyed about Kevin's bad scooter trim, so he decided to take out his wetnotes to write Kevin a note (not sure exactly what it said, but probably something like... "I'm a better scooter driver than you, let's switch").  While on the trigger.  And that didn't end too well.  Sigh.  Can't take them anywhere.

After we packed up from the dive, we went to Edd's to fill some gas and then hit the road for Tallahassee.  Since we were in the big city for New Year's Eve, we were actually able to find a bar (if a chain restaurant bar counts -- we went to the BJs just across from our motel).  We only managed to stay out until like 9:30, but it was still a more exciting night than the previous two :)

2016 Year in Review

Photo by Robert Lee
It's been a pretty quiet year on the blog.  It's been a pretty quiet year for diving too, though not as quiet as the blog might suggest, so I thought I'd do a quick (doubtful) post about all of the stuff I did but didn't post about. The local diving was pretty terrible, with El NiƱo bringing us what sometimes seemed like a storm every weekend. That, combined with a red tide in the bay for a couple of months, resulted in a ton of boat cancellations. I counted 18 days of local diving this year (or maybe really 17...), which sounds pretty terrible, but it's actually better than I would have guessed -- I would have estimated one per month. The breakdown was 1 night dive at Breakwater, 4 days at Lobos, 2 rec boats, and 11 tech boats. So a quick rundown of the action, somewhat chronologically...

Okenia felis, photo by Robert Lee
For the first time in many years, we did not spend New Years cave diving in Florida.  We spent the holidays at home (the Monterey home) for the most part. But we started the year off right with a scooter dive at Lobos with John and Clinton, out to Twin Peaks to visit the Okenia felis on the Road. Rob and I had done pretty much the same dive a week before, and we found the little buggers, but Rob was shooting wide angle. They were on a rock that I know (I've seen Okenia there before), so I was pretty sure we'd find them again, and we did. Everyone who was toting a giant camera got pictures of them. 

Photo by Robert Lee
The winter diving was not very inspiring; we did make it down to Diablo Pinnacles once, and the viz was excellent, but while I hate to admit that Rob is right, that site just doesn't excite me that much. We did have some awesome Orca action in the late winter. One day on the ducky with Rob, Clinton, and Jim, we saw a group of about 6 orcas have an encounter with a huge pod of dolphins. That was cool enough by itself, but then we got a front row seat to one of the orcas peeling off from the group and after a long chase, he took down a dolphin (and the guys got the shot!). The orcas were around for probably at least a month, chowing down on baby grey whales and such, and we had one other pretty cool day of watching a group of orcas between mile buoy and pinos, from the Escapade. 

Photo by Robert Lee
In April and May, we had a brief break from the bum weather and snuck in a few days at Lobos and south (Mt Chamberlin south wall, K1 crack) with epic viz and very cold water, brrrr.  On one dive at E3, we found more Okenia :P. We did get one trip down to Sur, but the water was quite dark, not quite the epic viz from those other dives. 

Photo by Robert Lee
After we got back from Fiji, we finally managed to do something we've been talking about for ages... We started up the slug count at Lobos again. Rob, John, Lauren, and I managed to get all 4 transacts counted in one dive. We had a bit of debate about where transact 5 starts and ends, and about which transact is 1 and which is 2 :P. Otherwise it was a successful day; we even found our warbonnet friends on transact 4 again!

Photo by Robert Lee
After that, the summer was pretty light on diving, and all of my tech boats ending up in the bay. At one point, at the end of July, I felt like my rebreather was taunting me, because it reported 42 days as my surface interval. Then after we made it out to the dive site (in the bay, of course), my O2 reg exploded, and it became clear that this was not a fixable-on-the-boat failure. And it's probably the one reg on my gear where swapping out another reg doesn't really work... The geometry is rather persnickety. So I sat out the dive (that would have been the 18th dive), and got a spare one of those regs so this won't happen again :)

Photo by Robert Lee
While the summer was sort of a bust for diving, we did have a couple of good days out on the ducky watching humpbacks. The whale watching wasn't nearly as good as it has been in the past couple of years, and we had a few days where whales were few and far between, but also a few great days. Rob got at least one shot good enough to make it onto our wall (and Jim's wall too, I believe). We also spent a few days in Oregon over the summer, where Jim and Rob came up with a rather intense schedule (e.g. waking up at midnight to catch the Milky Way at 2am, then head to a different spot to wait for sunrise).  There were also some more slightly relaxed days where we got to do things like (easy) hiking, looking at water falls, eating ice cream, and looking at quilts (ahead of the Sisters Quilt Festival). 

Felimida macfarland, photo by Clinton Bauder
For my birthday, there just happened to be a BAUE Lobos Day. Rob signed us up to do some dive for the geo-tagging project that I wasn't that interested in doing. So I vetoed him and organized another slug count with John and Clinton. We wanted to do it once a quarter, so this was perfect timing.  We had a couple of cool finds.  First, I found a Chromodoris macfarlandi (whose genus has changed, but I refuse to learn the new ones!) on my transact, so I even got to count it :P. Then, one the way in, on the back side of middle reef, Rob found a new-to-me (and him, but not Clinton) slug, Thordisa bimaculata. Woot!  So that was definitely a successful slu dive, and to top things off, Clinton brought cupcakes for my birthday :)

Thordisa bimaculata, photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob, Clinton, and I did one other cool dive in October, while we were waiting out the Cordell window. We wanted to dive, but leaving the bay was not an option. So we decided to try to find something like Consolation Prize (deep shale ledge) but a little shallower, like 150-160. While Rob was negotiating that with Jared, he found a GPS mark from when they did the original Consolation Prize dive. And it was in just the right depth range. It turned out to be an awesome dive, though when we first dropped we picked a slightly non-optimal (boring as hell) direction to go, but eventually circled back to awesomeness. We saw vase sponges, a purple sea fan, and a bunch of (at least 4 distinct) small flag rockfish!  Definitely a cool site that we will have to visit again when we are stuck in the bay. 

Photo by Robert Lee
For my last local dive of the year, Rob and I did a night dive at the Breakwater the week of thanksgiving. I was in Monterey for the week, but getting over a cold for the first weekend. Looking at the forecast though, the odds of getting a dive in did not look great. Rob left work a little early on Tuesday and headed down to join me, and I told him that afternoon that if we wanted to dive at all this week, this might be our only chance. It was a fun dive. It started out slowly, with not many good sightings, but eventually things picked up and we found some cool critters, the coolest of which was a super cute sculpin (I think it was either a buffalo sculpin or bull sculpin) sitting in a divot. I was so excited when I found it, and then he sat for quite a significant photo session.  But the coolest thing of all was the third buddy we picked up halfway through the dive -- a harbor seal. We didn't see him for a while, but kept finding patches where the viz was all stirred up. Then we finally got a glimpse of him swishing by a couple of times.  Then he warmed up to us and swam up right between us while we were watching that sculpin.  And he just kind of hung out with us. Once we got going again, he was swimming along with us for most of the rest of the dive. He would occasionally dart off and then rejoin us, but as we swam back in along the wall, he was swimming right beside me pretty much the whole time. At some point, Rob shined his light into a crack for me to look at something, and as I was trying to look, the seal came along and nudged me out of the way and stuck his face in the crack!  I never did get to see what Rob was showing me :(. The seal followed along with us all the way back to the beach (when we got to like 3 feet and stood up). I was worried he was going to follow us to the parking lot :)

To finish up the year, we restarted our annual tradition of cave diving in Florida over New Years. More on that later!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jackson Blue, toward Crinoid Glory

I flew into Jacksonville on Thursday, and Rob was kind enough to pick me up (he and Kevin had dived Madison that day) and then we booked it to Marianna, getting into town just before Ruby Tuesday closed (which is, as far as I can tell, the latest place to get food other than fast food). Kevin met us there and we had some snacks and beer, as I was reminded for the nth time that Marianna doesn't have hard liquor. We came up with a tentative plan for the rest of the week... JB on Friday, Hole in the Wall on Saturday, then down to Tallahassee to Emerald, then back to Newberry (home base) for either Alachua Sink or Eagle's Nest on Monday.

We headed to Edd's in the morning, to get a little gas (Argon, O2) and sign in to Jackson Blue. It was pretty crowded there, and once we headed over to JB, it was a little crowded there too.  Well there were a few other cars there already.  We couldn't find a real map of JB but we'd taken a look at a map on a T shirt at Edd's so we could formulate a plan, which was to head up toward Crinoid Glory. I've headed up to that area before, but I don't think I've ever technically made it there. But I don't know; I'm not sure what part of the cave is technically called that :P

Anyhoo, Kevin was leading, followed by me and then Rob. We schlepped our gear to the water (not that bad of a schlep... gotta love Matt and Leah's scooters!) and off we went. So, it's been about two years since I've been on a cave dive. And as I was puttering into the cavern, I realized that I hadn't turned my light on. Doh. I guess that's what the cavern zone is for. Kevin and I dumped our O2 bottles in the cavern, and I remembered to check whose bottle I had... I was pretty surprised to see it had my name on it, since it seemed like we had a lot of borrowed gear :P. We headed toward the mainline, and around 30 feet, before we even got to the line, my ear locked up. For a while I thought I might have to turn the dive, but eventually I managed to get down to 40 feet.

When we came to the chimney, I took pretty much forever to get down. Kevin was waiting patiently at the bottom.  For some reason I had the dumb idea to switch my PPO2 at the top of the chimney. I realized immediately that it was a dumb moment to do it, but didn't switch it back. So in addition to dealing with my ears, I was dealing with venting gas on the way down :). I can't even blame that on my lack of recent cave diving :P. Not too long after the chimney, after I think we had just gone through another small down area, Kevin stopped and gave me a hand signal which I thought was suggesting that he and I switch. I was thinking he wanted to do this so that we could go through the ups and downs at whatever speed worked for me.  I kind of waved him off because I didn't really want to lead (into the dark scary cave) but he kept signalling. So finally I just scootered past him and led us from there. I stayed in the lead until the second set of Ts, when I let him take back the lead. I paused there because I didn't really want to go first, and he just scooted by.

We took the usual scootering path to the right at the first set of Ts and to the left at the second.  We were going pretty slowly. I know that Kevin will deny it, but I think his Gavin is the slowest scooter in the history of the world. He would probably say that he likes to dawdle on the way in on the trigger (especially when gas is not an issue). Anyhoo, we ambled along through the trash room and all that, and before you know it, we got to the jump. By the time that you see the jump, there is not a good drop point for scooters and bottles. So Rob and I went back a bit to the first rubble pile and dropped our stuff there. Kevin made do closer to the jump (but he kept his bottle). Once we made the jump, we quickly started passing gazillions of Ts. I somehow drew the short straw and got stuck dropping cookies. I think I was down to about two cookies left before Kevin started to contribute. 

So, I don't really know where we were going, and I didn't necessarily know that Kevin did either. Not that there's anything wrong with that... I'm always happy to just poke around. But I thought the area that we went to was really nice. The water was SO clear and the walls were quite bright.  I remember the last time I was back there, there was a far amount of percolation, but today is was just so clear and quiet!  At some point we made it to some areas that were a little lower, and Kevin dropped his bottle. Eventually after I think around 9 Ts, we swam over a T where Kevin dropped a cookie, and I pointed out that on the other side of the T was a cookie I had dropped earlier. A sure sign that it's time to turn the dive :P. So we headed back.  My ears were starting to get persnickety, so it was a good time to turn back anyway. 

On the way back to the mainline, I saw what seemed like the biggest cave crayfish I'd ever seen. It was pretty cool, but now that I think back to it, it was kind of creepy.  When we got back to the mainline, there was some slight discussion about heading further in, or calling it. I called it because of my ears but I pretty much immediately regretted that... There aren't that many ups and downs further up the mainline, so I should have just gone for it. Oh well. We kind of took our time on the way out. It was pretty uneventful, though between the last two Ts, I became convinced that I must have swum over the last T and not seen it, because it seemed like I'd been going and going and not seen it yet. And then we passed the T. I guess we were just going that slowly :P. 

Coming up the chimney was not great. My ears were driving me nuts and I kind of felt like my eye balls were leaking out of my nose. We meandered pretty slowly back to the cavern, and then hung out there for about 15 minutes. I laid on the rock bottom and practiced using my p-valve. While Kevin video'd me. Apparently he didn't realize what I was doing ;)

When deco was finished, we drifted back to the surface and splashed about for a bit. I had a bloody nose. I guess it wasn't my eye balls leaking into my nose :P

New Year's 2017: Florida Cave Diving

After a one year hiatus from tradition, we managed to get back to Florida for some New Year's cave diving this year.  All of Team Kitty was present.  Unfortunately, Rob was traveling a week before Christm
as, and he brought home a horrendous cold.  Which he gave to me just in time for me to be sick for Christmas.  When we woke up the next morning to leave for Florida, I was so sick.  There was no way I could drag myself to the airport, let alone sit on a flight for 6 hours.  So I stayed home, and Rob headed to Florida without me.  While he was at the airport, he got them to change my flight to be the exact same itinerary 3 days later.  So, I missed 3 days of diving, but I least I managed to make the trip.  I told Kevin and Rob to get all of the scary dives out of their systems before I showed up :)

Jackson Blue, toward Crinoid Glory
Back to Jackson Blue
Emerald Sink
Eagle's Nest