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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Big Sur on the Cypress Sea, Part Deux

On Saturday, we did another Cypress Sea Big Sur trip. First, let's start with a recap of the weather forecast:

232 PM PDT FRI AUG 17 2007



Hmm, not exactly what you want to see when you are going on a long range boat trip. But we'll get to that later. Anyhoo, after the 3:45 AM wakup (I wanted to set the alarm to 4:00 but Rob would not budge, temper tantrums notwithstanding), we headed down to make the 6 AM departure from Monterey. I managed to get a nice spot for snoozing on the ride down, although I wasn't really able to sleep (which was okay, since I slept in the car). The ride down was pretty uneventful. The weather did not really allow us to stay north of Point Sur, so we went further south. The first dive was at a site called Compost, which Phil said would probably be undiveable later in the day.

This site is a pinnacle pretty much in the middle of nothing. The sand is around 100 feet, and from there, this pinnacle sticks up to 30 or 40 feet. It is not very big around, so it is a pretty dramatic looking, towering pinnacle. We descended to about 80 feet, and started to circle it. The visibility was great, probably 80 to 100 feet. Almost immediately (maybe even on the way down, actually), we saw a small salp chain. As we started circling the pinnacle, I was looking in nooks for tiny things. After we came around the first corner, I noticed an egg yolk jelly a little bit off of the pinnacle. We swam out to check it out; it was pretty cool. When we swam back toward the pinnacle, I realized how beautiful this site is, and that I was wasting my time sticking my head in cracks looking for nudibranchs :) The pinnacle was like a tall skinny skyscraper that was covered in color, and you could see all the way up it, to some very pretty kelp at the top. Off of the pinnacle, there were tons of rockfish (blues, blacks, olives, and I'm sure some others). So for the rest of the dive, I spent more time looking up and around at the scenery. On this side of the pinnacle, there was a little canyon with another peak around 60 feet. As we were swimming through the canyon, Clinton signaled us and just from the way he and John looked and where they were hanging out, I thought... wolf eel? Indeed, they had found a wolf eel. He was in his crack, probably swearing at us as we each took a turn shining our light at him. I signaled Kevin and Nils and they came over to look too. After that, we continued looking at the peak on the other side of the little canyon. I saw another egg yolk jelly, this one bigger than the last, but it was heading away out over the sand. I signaled Rob and we decided to go after it. We swam out over the sand and looked at him, and Rob took a zillion pictures. When we went to swim back, I realized there was an itty bitty current to swim against. We got back to the pinnacle, and as we came around another corner (yes, lots of corners :P) we saw a nice big metridium. It was very nicely opened up. Next to it was a little stumpy one that was closed up. I also noticed that at the bottom, there was another one that was also closed up. Aww, a little metridium family. While Rob was playing with the 'trid, I noticed a nudi on a rock, that looked sort of like Cadlina luteomarginata, but a lot lumpier, and I think it had some blackish spots in addition to the yellow (though that could have been sand particles). I pointed it out to Rob and told him to remember it (after the dive, he said "why did you want me to remember that Cadlina luteomarginata?"). I still need to figure out what it was.

We ended up circling the pinnacle more than once, because we eventually ended up back by the metridium family. But by the time we came around the second time, we had worked our way up to about 50 feet. On the side with the 'trids, there was a peak with a shallow sloping side that sort of formed a shelf on that edge, and there was lots of kelp growing there. The thin stuff that likes to wrap around manifolds and cause other sorts of general mischief (Pepper's favorite past time too). In the midst of that, we saw a much bigger salp chain. We looked at it for a bit, and Rob got some pictures. At some point not too much later, I decided I was past my cold threshold, and we turned back and headed up near the line. At our 20 foot stop, we found John and Clinton looking at teeny tiny nudibranchs on the kelp leaves (surprise surprise). After Rob took a look at what they were looking at, Rob handed me a kelp leaf and I saw a tiny Dendronotus frondosus on one end. I was peering at it, when Rob then pointed to the other end of the kelp leave, which had tons more! Pretty cool. Then we headed over to another stalk of kelp and Rob found a tiny Flabellina trilineata on it. Clinton later told us that he saw oodles (my word, not his) of them in that kelp patch. When we surfaced, the conditions seemed to have picked up a little, nothing too bad, but just not as flat as when we started. But those big waves did a nice job of pushing me to the boat with little effort. Before I could even try to be a non-wimp and haul myself up on the swimstep, Phil grabbed my manifold and pulled me up. Hehe, I guess he has figured out I am a big wimp. 70 minutes, 86 feet, 47 degrres

I was so hungry after the first dive, because all I ate on the way down was a piece of cantaloupe. There was soup on the boat, which looked so tempting, but also looked like it was a good candidate to cause heartburn on dive 2 (how can anyone eat tomato based soup and then get back in the water!?!). Then a little light bulb went off over my head and I remembered that there is instant oatmeal on board! Last time I was on the boat, I didn't discover this until the end of the day. So I had some strawberries and cream oatmeal, which was a disturbing shade of pink. Mmmm, so warm. We headed further south, and Phil was perusing various areas of Partington Canyon. After a lot of driving back and forth, we finally settled on a spot that is further north than the spot we dove last time. Everyone likes to make fun of Phil for always going to Partington Canyon (which isn't exactly the most spectacular site along Big Sur, but it is SO FAR SOUTH, or at least I think that's why he likes it). But today, I think that Neptune decided where we were going.

We stayed pretty shallow this time, since last time, we liked the shallow part the best. We actually didn't go very far, because there was plenty of neat stuff to look at pretty close by. It was pretty dark and green because of the dense kelp cover. But the beams of light shining through were so pretty. This site is very fishy. Lots of different rockfish (blues, blacks, olives, coppers, some nice sized vermilions, and one really cute little copper, I think). We also saw what must have been the largest sheephead known to man. It was HUGE. I did a little nudi hunting at this site, since it was pretty good last time. I found tons of Rostangas. While Rob was shooting a black and yellow rockfish, I got a little bored, so I started staring at a nearby rock. It has some orange sponge on it, and found about 4 Rostangas, and maybe 3 egg masses. The next time Rob was taking forever to shoot something (can't remember what this time), I looked at another rock. This one had that orange-pink sponge with a star pattern on it, and the Rostangas totally stuck out. There were little patches of orange without the pattern and when I looked closely, sure enough, they were all Rostangas. Rob also pointed out a nudi which he thought was a Rostanga, but it had a white gill plume. It also looked like it had a bit too much texture. Looked like a small orange Peltodoris to me (although I wasn't sure if they came in orange -- Clinton said they do though). I also found a nice sized Dendronotus albus. We saw a bunch of these at Partington last time as well. I also noticed these clusters of orange tunicates (I think) all over the place at this site. They looked like really tiny light bulb tunicates (but you had to look really close to see that). I have never seen those before. I pointed them out to Rob and told him to remember them, but afterwards he had no idea what I had been pointing too. Near the end of the dive, I found a very cute little sculpin (haven't gotten around to ID'ing it yet). He blended in to the rock he was on amazingly well. After I found him, I pointed it out to Rob and he was looking, looking, looking. I thought, he must have seen it and just been unimpressed. Then finally I could see the lightbulb go off, and he saw it. He actually seemed to think it was really neat when he finally saw it. Shortly thereafter, I signalled to Rob that I was getting cold. We headed back to the boat, killed some more time and then headed up. Of course by this point, the boat had swung into the kelp, so we ascended right beside the boat, but couldn't get through the kelp to the swim step. So we descended and swam to the back, and I used the purge your regulator to clear the kelp technique. Then my purge button stuck and my reg was free flowing. Doh. In the commotion, I hit my head on the swimstep... twice. Ouch. Then someone on the boat managed to drag us out of the kelp's grasp and all was well. 59 minutes, 48 feet, 48 degrees

We headed back up north a little bit, and got a small taste of the rough ride back. Meanwhile, Phil kept telling us how terrible the ride home was going to be. Anyhoo, we ended up at Unicorn Harbor, which we dove on our previous trip (it was also our third dive, and at that point unnamed). We were anchored in a different spot, but we wanted to get back to where we were last time. So Rob talked to Clinton about where he thought that was, and we headed in that direction. Of course we didn't end up finding it, and Clinton and John (who weren't really looking for that spot) did :) But it was still a nice spot. The water was nice and blue with viz of at least 50 feet I think. There was rubble reef with scattered bigger structures. We saw a variety of jellyfish -- some medusas, some tiny unidentified ones, and one that looked like another unidentified one I saw at Lobos a few months ago (when I was diving Three Sisters with Rob and Ted). While we were looking at a medusa, and Rob was taking pictures, he started gesticulating at me. I thought he was trying to pose me for a picture, then I thought he was trying to tell me not to point my light where he was shooting, then I thought he was telling me that a backup light was on. Finally, he basically turned me around and showed me a wolf eel in a crack right behind me. Turns out he was telling me to cover my light and turn around to look at it :) Apparently he was somewhat out of the crack but then we scared him back into it. He was still a cutie. I also noticed a bunch of hydroids that were the same kind that Clinton had found Eubranchus on last time. So I looked very closely at some of the hydroids, and eventually I found several Eubranchus. After turning the dive, we ascended a little and swam in through the kelp. At one point, Rob showed me a tiny little jellyfish (not sure what kind). About 15 seconds later I felt a painful stinging sensation on my lip. Ouch! I guess I have officially been stung by a jellyfish now. 77 feet, 54 minutes, 47 degrees

So, after all the talk about the horrible ride back, it really wasn't too bad. There were a few bumps, but it wasn't scary like I feared it would be. Certainly nothing to lose your post-dive Oreos over. I think that sitting in the wheelhouse is key, so that you are notified before a big bump comes. The only part of the trip back that was bad was in Carmel, from Cypress Point to Point Pinos. But I was expecting it to be terrible from Pt. Sur on, so no complaints here.

Selected pictures from the day from Clinton and Rob are here.
All of Rob's pictures are here.

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