It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kevin: Tech 2, Day 3

Go deep go dark

Day three dawned just like the other two days. I know I tossed and turned most of the night just by looking at the bed sheets. Pretty much all the bottom sheets had been bunched up into the corner of the bed. After dragging ourselves out of bed we went through the same routine that we had done the last couple of days (meet at 7:15, get lunch at the Win Dixie then head over to the divesite).

Our tanks weren’t quite ready yet so we sat down to talk more with Dean about deco and various questions we had. Dean is a wealth of knowledge. Soon enough we got all our tanks analyzed and bottles placed down by the docks and geared up to do the first of our two dives.

I think we had all forgotten or at least blanked out how dark and nasty it is at the bottom of 40 fathoms. All light is filtered out and the bottom is covered with tons of light fluffy silt. There is random junk laying about that Hal Watts has thrown into the sinkhole over the years including several boats, cars, tonka trucks, & sattilite dishes. Lines to various places snake off in seemingly random directions and the bottom sharply slopes down to what we were told was 220 feet. To say the site is small is an understatement. After about 15 minutes we had seen all there was to see and were left wondering what else to see.

On the way back I checked the pressure in my stage and seeing it was at turn pressure made the dubious decision to switch off the stage. Of course it was just after switching off the stage that I mentally processed the WTF looks I was getting from my team and realized it was a boneheaded move. At this point there was just a few minutes left of bottom time so I just elected to continue on back gas. It was a good reminder of how focus has to be maintained throughout the dive.

Deco was uneventful with the exception of Dean stepping in and letting us know that he wanted us to do 36 minutes of deco at 20 feet.

During the debrief he let us know that we had seen in one dive everything there was to see at the site and that if we wished we could save the second dive for when we got back to Monterey. Not an easy decision as on one hand we could avoid going back down but we would be sacrificing all the gas that we spent much of the morning figuring out how to fill. In the end we decided to nickel rocket it and do another dive.

Rob led this dive and we pretty much bummed around taking our time looking at the sites again. Everything was pretty relaxed until we all suddenly saw a lot more lights bobbing and jumping about. After looking about trying to figure out who was doing the disco impersonation. As it turns out it was a bunch of other divers…. diving air…. And single tanks…. To 140’ feet…. And beyond…

Needless to say after seeing how wide their eyes were we elected to stay well out of their way. After they passed by we followed the clouds of silt back to our upline and started our ascent. Deco was uneventful again with another 36 minutes of deco at 20 feet. With that much time at one depth things just seem to slow down. Everybody start to get in to a nice easy groove, fin movements slow down and eventually stop and nothing…. Happens… for… minutes… at…a… time. A small fish wandering by becomes a great source of amusement.

With the second dive over and after a debrief with Dean we had completed the Florida segment of our class and it was time to party! Well as much partying that 3 exhausted kitties could handle. Which as it turns out was not much. Rob made the loud announcement that he stank that that shower first was non negotiable and Alison was making some type of statement that ice scream had been promised (a fact that neither Rob or I remember) so we hightailed it back to our motel rooms for a quick show before heading out to find the closest Chilis… which happened to be 30 minutes drive away!

At Chilis there was smiles all around as Rob finally got a 3G signal and we got an onion ring/jalapeƱo appetizer. Rob in his joy of surfing his iPhone almost missed getting any of the tasty dish as by the time he looked up Allison and I had already hovered up half the dish. As we didn’t have to get up in the morning, we elected for adult beverages. With the young-uns going for margaritas and the aged one (me) going for beer (2 for 1 special yay!). The meat & BBQ motif of the trip continued with Rob ordering the ribs.

Afterwards we headed back to our respective motels with smiles on our faces and sleep on our mind. I literally do not remember my head hitting the pillow.

Rob: Tech 2, Day 3

40 Fathoms again, for experience dives. Not so much stuff happened, but still really hot. More meat for dinner.

Allison: Tech 2, Day 3

We were very excited to be doing some real dives on day 3. We started the morning with our now-familiar routine of hitting the Winn Dixie for breakfast and lunch provisions, then headed to 40 Fathoms. When we got to 40 Fathoms in the morning, our backgas had been filled, but it had just been filled, and hadn't quite mixed. The first time we analyzed it, the Helium was reading way high. So we had to dance around with our tanks for a while until the reading stabilized. We also found out that the mix in our O2 bottles had gotten foobar'd (they were topped with O2), which was unfortunate, since this wasted a bunch of what little oxygen was left. In any case, we left Jolene to figure that out while we did the first dive. Before the dive, we went over some of the quizzes for the academic material. We also went over our random deco questions. Rob had prepared quite a list. Kevin had a slightly smaller list, and I had a very tiny list. Eventually we got all of our gear down to the water and headed in. By day 3, all of our undergarments had quite an unpleasant odor. Mine smelled like the inside of a wet drysuit that was left in the garage for a few days. Rob's smelled even worse :P I was so looking forward to being finished with the undergarment for the week! Once the gas was all worked out, we headed into the water (after the great bottle schlep).

Kevin was leading the dive, so I ran deco, and Rob got to do... nothing! (In case it hasn't become apparent by now, we were rotating team positions... on the first dive of the first day, I was 1, Rob was 2, and Kevin was 3, and then we rotated from there). We headed down the line, and had a minor fixable failure on the way down, before we descended into the darkness. After taking care of that, we continued on down the line. We got to the bottom and headed in the opposite direction from the day before. If I had to describe the site in a few words, it would be "deep, dark and scary". I thought it was spooky as hell as we descended into the utter darkness. There was a line that was supposed to lead down the slope. Our plan was a max depth of 150'. We worked our way down the line, looking at the various crap that had been dumped down there -- a boat or two, a big toy jeep, a satellite dish, and a stuffed bear. Afterwards, we were told that the bear was supposedly known as the "polar bear", but it looked pretty brown to me. Not sure what the deal was with that. Maybe it was just brown from all of the silt. It was awfully silty down there! There were also random tree branches strewn about, and sticking out at you. They too were covered with silt, so any bumping into them resulted into a plume of silt. It was a pretty boring dive... I think I saw maybe one fish on the bottom. Eventually we turned the dive, and of course we were only like 5 minutes from the down line :P Just not a lot of ground to cover and a lot to look at before it got past 150 feet.

The deco was pretty uneventful. By this point, we finally knew where all of the platforms, cables, etc. and managed to not bonk our heads on anything significant. When we got to 20 feet, Dean gave us a surprise deco extension, I guess to see if we panicked at the thought of having to spend an extra 20 minutes in the 71 degree water :) Rob pointed out afterwards that being at 20 feet was actually way more comfortable than being above water, where it was crazy hot :) I will admit I would have been a lot more cranky in 48 degree water at home. When we hit the surface, we all expressed our extreme disinterest in the dive site. Because we were all horribly bored by the site, Dean offered to let us do three ocean dives in Monterey instead. We had the boat booked for three days anyway, in case we fell behind on the class. However, we reasoned that if we did the second dive today, we'd get to do two experience dives plus a day of post-class fun diving in Monterey, which we all agreed would be more fun. So we decided to bang out the second dive.

After the dive, we had lunch and talked about DCS and other fun topics. Rob had to sit a table away from the rest of us because of his smell. We had gas issues -- there hadn't been enough O2 to fill our 50% bottles. But we did some math and decided that with the leftover O2 from dive 1, plus 32% tops, we could get enough 50%. Woohoo! But it took a fair amount of running around before we got all of that settled. It also meant we had to relabel some of our bottles, which made us all extremely paranoid about getting it wrong in terms of what was 50% and what was O2. After we finally sorted that all out, and did a final great schlep down to the water, we got in. What a relief to get into the water.

The plan (the night before) was for me to lead the second dive. But I wimped out after experiencing the extreme spookiness on the first dive. I likened the drop to the bottom there to the first scene with the Dementors in Harry Potter (I was re-reading the third book on the flight to Florida). As you descend into the darkness, it gets cold and all of the happiness is sucked out of your world. I was worried it would be obvious to Dean that I had wimped out, since it was my turn to lead. I came up with several bogus excuses in case I was asked, including... since I had led the first dive of the trip, we had at this point all done each task an equal number of times, so it wasn't really my turn, OR, this would put me in position to lead one of the experience dives in Monterey, which would be more fun. Rob told me I was way overthinking this, and there was no way Dean would even question it. I am just hoping that Dean has better things to do than read my blog, and doesn't find out about this extreme wimpiness on my part. Indeed, no questions were asked about our team ordering.

The second dive was basically more of the same. We ran into a team of single tankers in wetsuits on the bottom, in about 130 feet. They were swimming like bats out of hell DOWN the slope. They all had lights on lanyards on their wrists, so it was like a light show down there. I was in position 3, so when all of a sudden there was light spazziness behind me, I was like "what is Dean's problem!?!". Then I quickly checked on him and realized what was going on. It was quite distracting. Not too long later, they came charging back up the slope, in the vertical bicycle kick position. Just what you want in a silty (and deep, dark, and scary) environment. This was actually the first time I got a good look at the divers, and I literally did a double take when I saw that they were in single tanks. What a sheltered world I live in :) One small departure from the first dive was that at the boat at about 130', we headed off of the line, where there was a little rock ledge that we followed, until we hit a pine tree, needles and all. After that, we headed back to the upline. This time we had been warned in advance to extend our 20 feet deco. The deco was otherwise uneventful. There were a few little fishies keeping us entertained at 20 feet, snacking on Rob's "nose nudibranchs". Yea, super gross.

We were all relieved to have "passed" the Florida part of the class on schedule. Now we just had the fun part left in Monterey! After the great schlep back up the hill (Rob was nice enough to trade a 40 for an 80 with me :P... that's why I married him), we did some more review of the quizzes. Once that was finished, we were free to go :P We decided a little celebration was in order. But first we would shower. We all stunk! We decided to go to the "big city" of Ocala for dinner. By the time we had gone back to the motel and cleaned up, it was about 9. Since it was 9 on a Sunday, in what I perceived to be god-fearing country (though that perception may be entirely inaccurate), we decided a chain restaurant would be a safer bet in terms of being open. So Rob fired up the iPhone and we found a Chili's in Ocala. Mmm, margaritas. Kevin was kind enough to drive. We celebrated with some inordinately unhealthy food, including margaritas, some form of fried onions, and a gooey chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert. Yum! After three days of class, I was definitely running a margarita deficit. I had been telling the boys that they had to get me ice cream the entire time we were in Florida, since it was so hot. Perfect ice cream eating weather. Kevin claimed that this outing fulfilled that, but I claim they still owe me ice cream proper, not just an accompanying scoop of vanilla :P I think we all slept pretty well that night!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kevin: Tech 2, Day 2

Hal’s Horrible Hole aka 40 Fathoms Grotto

Even though our meeting time with Dean was again going to be 8:30 we elected to arrive early at 40 Fathoms Grotto. Yesterday we spent quite a bit of time just getting the bottles properly marked an analyzed. With the blue tape coming off we needed to remark our bottles in addition to getting them filled along with our backgas tanks.

40 Fathoms Grotto has been leased out to a commercial dive academy. They have done quite a bit of improvements to the sinkhole including installing a filtration system that should eventually improve the water clarity. Almost half of the water is covered with floating docks that contain various benches for setting up gear. During the day it’s a bee hive of activity with divers of all types in different areas of training from Open water to welding to trimix training (us)
While the tanks were filling we went through some of our quizzes as well as some lecture on deco and stage bottle usage. Eventually we got the gas we needed and started in on the analyzing session. As we continually found out during the class, three people analyzing tanks together can bang through quite a few pretty quickly.

The dives for the morning were to be ascent driven and time limited. Coming up from a set depth we had to manage smbs, stowing stages, switching to deco gasses and rotating bottles all within a very small deco schedule of one minute per stop. To say things were frantic at times is an understatement. After a couple of shallower ascents we went back down to do a deeper ascent from 100’. With the same quick deco schedule but more distance to move it made it even more frantic at times. Taking a bit longer at any one step really pushed back everything else on the schedule and just ramps up the pressure. Once we hit our twenty foot stop we called the drilled and went through and did another series of bottle rotation drills. Normally at this point we were supposed to wait a minute between each step of the moves, but I think we were so tired of doing this we started rushing things and continued on to the next step as soon as we completed the last.

The debrief afterwards was pretty quiet as we all didn’t think we covered ourselves with glory but I guess Dean was satisfied enough as for the afternoon dive we would be doing a scenario based dive. In some ways this would easier as the deco would be longer, but we would have to deal with failures.

After lunch we briefed on the dive and jumped in to do it. After dealing with a failure or two during the descent we finally reached the bottom. The bottom of the ascent line terminates at a small minisub that has a couple of creepy mannequin figured dressed in it. After a short time looking at it we continued along the ling. More stuff failed until it was time to ascend… where upon more stuff failed. Deco up at the 20 foot stop was yawn inducing.

The debrief as Deans typical no holds bared but we apparently didn’t do anything too bad as we were instructed to plan two 150’ dives for tomorrow. Our only major hurdle would be that 40 Fathoms had run out of O2 for our fills tomorrow. After some quick calculations and angst ridden moments, we calculated that we could just manage to fill our stages + deco bottles for tomorrow dives with the residual O2 left and a fill plan was agreed upon.

That night after our usually dinner at the local eatery Billy Jacks where we continued on our theme of BBQ every night (4 for 4 so far) we got back to plan our dives. What usually might take just a few moments pretty much dragged out due to tiredness and general light bickering amongst the team. It was safe to say by this point the length of the days and the stress of the class had taken its toll on all of us. None of us had been sleeping very well since the first day.

Rob: Tech 2, Day 2

40 Fathoms today. Went diving again, and more stuff happened. Suckage is diminishing, but still really hot out. More BBQ meats for dinner.

Allison: Tech 2, Day 2

On Saturday, we were at 40 Fathoms Grotto. We got there a little early so we could drop our tanks at the fill station and relabel our bottles with our new roll of duct table. Then we did a little lecture while we were waiting (CNS clock and OTUs I think), and Dean briefed us on our dive plan for the morning. Taking all of our bottles down to the water seemed to take forever. There are quite a few steps down to the water. However, the facilities were excellent, so it could have been a lot worse. I had heard stories of this dive site and its horrible viz, but apparently it is under new management (by a commercial dive school), and they installed a filtration system, so the viz is not actually terrible anymore.

Dean made a small change to the plan at the last minute (which I think was designed to see if we got thrown off by it), but we ended up doing 3 practice ascents and a couple of super rotations. The first two ascents were from 33 ft to 10 ft, and the last was from 100 ft to 20 ft, each with switches and mock deco. We didn't surface between the various drills, the idea being that we should get used to staying underwater for a long time. After debriefing on the surface, we de-bottled and headed to the stairs out of the water. Rob was the first to get out, and as he got to the top of the stairs, he caught his foot on the top step, and tripped. He would have totally wiped out, except that a guy standing right in front of him caught him, and helped him gracefully down to his knees. (Just for the record, I asked Rob if this is one of those "what happens in tech 2 stays in tech 2", but he said it was pretty funny so I should feel free to blog about it.) Then the guy tried to help Rob stand up, and Rob was just like... that's not going to happen. He felt the need to sit down and regroup. Then when he sat down the people around all seemed really worried that he was hurt. I could tell that all that was hurt was his ego, and he confirmed that his main concern was how to get out of there quickly, so people would stop asking him if he was okay :P Unfortunately once you wipe out in a set of doubles, there really is no quick escape. He eventually managed to shimmy out of his rig and Kevin helped him carry it across the platform to one of the benches.

Then we had lunch, and probably more lecture, though I don't remember the exact topic. We shared another team sandwich (those $5 12-inch subs at Winn Dixie are quite tasty). It was my turn to pick our sandwich accompaniment, so we had pretzels (from Pennsylvania, no less). Then we were briefed on our dive for the afternoon. The plan was to go down to 100' and do a scenario dive, and then do a simulated deco. Dean provided us with the deco schedule. Happily, the deco schedule was almost exactly the same as the schedule we usually do for a 30 minute deco, so not too hard to remember :)

After another great bottle schlep, we got into the water. This dive was basically the equivalent of day 4 of tech 1 -- all sorts of failures both on the bottom and the ascent. It didn't get too crazy, but it did get a little silty on the bottom (and just to preserve Kevin's cave prowess... it was all me and Rob). This was our first time leaving the line on the bottom. It was very spooky down there -- super dark and super silty. But before long, we had to call the dive (those pesky regulators kept failing). Kevin was running the ascent, and Rob's gauge failed. As soon as that happened, I just knew Kevin's gauge was about to fail. I was pretty happy though, since I love running deco. The only downside was that every minute or two one of the boys would ask me how much time was left on the stop -- sooo impatient! 40 Fathoms has a bunch of platforms at various depths, for training purposes. The downside of this is that as we were ascending, we kept having to check that we weren't going to bonk our heads on the platforms. There were also all these cables and lines running everywhere to support the platforms. It was entanglement heaven :)

After the dive, Dean told us we would be planning two Tech 1 dives for the next day. So we had to drop our tanks off at the fill station to get the gas for that. We already had one set of stage and deco bottles for the experience dives, but we needed backgas and a second set of stage and deco bottles. Joleen, the fill mistress, broke it to us that they were low on O2, so we might have problems with the fills. But they had a huge bank of 32%, so we decided that she could use 32 + Helium for the mix, and save the O2 for the deco bottles, and hopefully it would all work out.

For dinner, we returned to Billy Jack's. In the parking lot, we met a neighborhood kitty named Stewy. We had an encounter with him on the way in, and then on the way out, we found him lounging under a car. It was good to get a little kitty fix. After dinner, we planned our two dives for the next day, which basically consisted of the same deco we would normally do for a 150 for 30 minute dive, except that the 10 foot stop was transformed into a 6 minute ascent.

During our dive planning, Ted texted to say that he had returned to our house to find a little present left by one of the cats (probably Oreo) -- a hairball. She had quite politely left it on the hardwood, and not the carpet, which made Ted's job of cleaning it up easier :) Poor kitty!

Our dive planning took a little longer than expected, so by the end of it, I was totally cranky and ready for bed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Kevin: Tech 2, Day 1

All hell breaks loose

After getting an okay nights sleep we started a trend that was to continue for the next three days. Wake up at 6:45, quick shower and head over to the WinDixie down the street to pick up breakfast/lunch and then head over to the dive site.

Our first day was going to be spent at Blue Grotto. This is a beautiful large cavern that extends down to 100’. It has a large open water area as well as several platforms at various depths. The grounds have plenty of tables and shade for gear setup.

After we had gotten the forms and paperwork all squared away with the Blue Grotto staff, we started in with some brief introductions and thoughts on why we wanted to take the class and what we could expect over the next couple of days. One of the major items that he would be doing is keeping us in and under the water quite a bit to get a feeling of how we handle extended deco times. This would be no joke as we would typically spend at least three hours in the water a day. Another aspect would be stress from physical exertion. To get to the water at Blue Grotto or later at 40 Fathoms one has to go down three sets of stairs as its about 30 to 40 feet below ground level. Humping three sets of stages plus your doubles up and down that multiple time a day in the heat and the humidity gets to be very tiring.

After some discussion on stage and deco bottle management we jumped into the water to start things. First up was a quick scenario dive. Stuff happened, posts failed, masks were lost. After a quick debrief we descended back down to practice bottle rotations. The next couple of dives the goal was to keep team positioning and trim while developing proficiency with moving bottles around. After what seemed like an endless series of rotations we finally switched over to a bottle passing routine. Each of us would take all the bottle from the rest of the team before passing it onto the next person. With 9 bottles on the rig is quite a site to see, but surprisingly possible. After this fun we surfaced for lunch.

After a bit more time with lecture we went back down to the practice toxing diver rescue. We all managed the skill without too many problems and were commenting that the extra bottles didn’t seem to interfere with things too badly. My one interesting moment came when Allison was playing victim. There is a wooden platform that is sloped downwards and at the edge drops another 10 feet to the floor. The wood having been in the water a long time is quite slick with algae so when I went to flip her over she started sliding toward the edge. Luckily I saw where this was going and manage to get into position quickly enough to only fall a couple of feet before stabilizing things. For a moment through it felt like I was launching off a carrier deck with not enough speed to fly. ☺
Rescue being completed we spent a few minutes cleaning up the reels and SMB’s and blue tape. At the beginning of the day we had marked all our bottles with painters tape. Unfortunately over the course of the day the water dissolved the glue on the tape so blue painters tape was strewn over the floor.

Once out of the water we had to quickly pack up due to the fact that the Owners of Blue Grotto are adamant that people leave by 6:00pm. In our case they threatened to charge us an extra 100’s and were holding my CC hostage. Needless to say this did not endear me to the management at Blue Grotto and in the future I will avoid patronizing their establishment if at all possible.

Rob: Tech 2, Day 1

Started class. Went diving, stuff happened. Had lunch and went diving again. More stuff happened. Florida still hot, but more meat for dinner.

Allison: Tech 2, Day 1

The dreaded day was finally here. We met at 7:15 and headed to the Winn Dixie for breakfast and lunch supplies (I was disappointed to find that they didn't have small bottles of skim milk, so I was stuck with 2%), and then to Blue Grotto. Blue Grotto was super close, so of course we ended up super early. So we ate our breakfast while we waited. Not long after we arrived, the guy came and opened the gate, so we headed in. I went to the bathroom and when I came back, Dean had materialized and was chatting with the boys. We filled out the paperwork and watched a little introductory video (which reminded us quite a few times that we should kneel and stand on the platforms, but nowhere else).

Then we headed over to the water and claimed one of the little pavilions with picnic benches on it. We did some intros and such. When we had to say why we were taking the class, Rob and Kevin totally lied and omitted the fact that they are deep freaks. I omitted the fact that I had been dragged kicking and screaming by Rob and Kevin :P Dean gave us a little overview of bottle juggling, showed us a little demo, but told us that we should try different techniques and see what works best for us. Then he briefed us on the plan for the morning. We were going to do three dives (with a debrief on the surface between each, but staying in the water the whole time) -- the first was a scenario dive with two bottles, the second we did some valve and S-drills followed by bottle rotations, and on the third, we did what we termed the "super rotation", where we did all of the bottle manipulations you would do on a real dive, in that order (onto stage, off of stage, onto 70', rotate, off of 70', onto 20', off of 20').

We started the painful task of analyzing all of the bottles, and then schlepping them down to the water. There was a nice civilized set of stairs down to the water. Then we got geared up. It was crazy hot in the drysuits, plus I was feeling the usual excessive pre-class nervousness. On the walk down to the water I decided that I am never again taking a GUE class. It's not worth the stress that it causes me. It was a relief to get into the water, which was a very pleasant 70 degrees. I'm not going to go into the play by play on the scenario dive, since I think that is sort of the instructor's intellectual property. But I will say that the dive ended with both of the boys losing their masks. So I had to bring them up, plus by that point, we had 5 masks in our hands (and one on my face), since Dean basically failed every mask that came out. We also found that the blue masking tape we used to label our bottles was not very good. I wonder if it was because of the humidity on the surface.

The next two dives were pretty uneventful, except that I felt like a total spaz with the three bottles. We didn't drop any bottles, but I didn't think my rotations looked very pretty. There was also a fair amount of finning around (at least on my part), although we were pretty good about resetting back to where we started, and keeping the team in a nice circle. The super rotations took forever. After the 4th one, we got into a brief argument about whether we had done three or four of them. It was just so monotonous. But still we managed not to drop any bottles :) Near the end of that dive, I realized that I was having trouble keeping my head back because there was a ton of gas in my wing (in hindsight, this should have been obvious from the beginning, because when I went to vent my wing a ton of gas would come out since it was bursting at the seams). So after we were finished with the third dive, and ready to leave the water, we went down to do a quick weight check. I couldn't believe it when I took my entire 6 pound weight belt off and was neutral. Oops. It was nice to be able to dive without a weight belt (which I can never do, but both of the boys do at home).

We humped the tanks up the stairs and over to the fill station, and left our tanks to be filled. Then we ate some lunch (Team Kitty shared a team sandwich), and had a little lecture on O2. In the morning, Dean had alluded to the fact that if we sucked too much at bottle rotations, we would have to do more in the afternoon, but otherwise we would move on to rescue techniques. So we were pretty happy to hear that we were going to practice rescue techniques and not do more bottle rotations in the afternoon. We went over how to rescue a toxing/unconscious diver. I told Dean that I had trouble reaching around a big diver, so I couldn't imagine doing it with bottles. He showed us a technique that was a little different than how Beto does it, which looked like it would make it easier to do if you don't have Gumby arms. For the second dive, I wore gloves. I had been planning on wearing gloves, and even brought my dry gloves, but then after diving gloveless at Ginnie, it was just too tempting. So for dive 1, I went gloveless, which of course resulted in totally trashing my hands from boltsnap manipulation (which I had told Kevin a million times was the reason to wear gloves even if the water was warm). Also, I kept banging my hand against the dry glove ring on my suit sleeve, which left some serious bruises on my hand.

After retrieving our newly-filled tanks, we got back into the water. The plan was to each practice swimming around and ascending with a mock unresponsive diver (each taking turns being the unresponsive diver). I went first. It went pretty well. The technique that Dean showed us made it quite a bit easier to get my arms around Rob, but the consequence was that Rob eventually went vertical (which Dean warned us would happen). I think if you have a lot of gear, this is the way to go, but I think it a bit easier to maneuver using Beto's technique (which keeps the diver horizontal). Obviously it depends on the circumstances which one would work better, but hopefully I will never have to use either! When I was swimming Rob around, I felt like we were barely moving, but when it was my turn to play the dummy, it seemed like Kevin was really motoring! He was also testing how far he could push my head back without snapping my neck :) I was relieved when he finally let me go.

Next we did the infamous 9 bottle drill. I get the impression that not all instructors do this one. Stories of this are pretty much the reason I decided we should put 30/30 in our stage bottles :) The basic idea is that everyone passes all of their bottles to one guy. Each person gets a turn taking all 9 bottles. We didn't do the drill exactly as it was supposed to be done (due to a misunderstanding during the briefing), but we got the basic gist of each of us ending up with all of the bottles once. It was good that Rob went first, because I got to watch how he did it, to get some ideas. I went last. By the time I had 6 bottles, I was actually pretty impressed with how easy it was to maneuver. I had 4 bottles on the leash, and at that point, I was able to stash them all between my legs and back kick, etc. as usual. Then Kevin gave me the last 3. Dean had mentioned that it was "not exactly cheating" to hand over an entire leash at once. So I took the whole leash. I don't know if this made things easier or harder, but I was completely unable to get that puppy clipped to my hip D-ring. I kept trying and just couldn't fit everything back there. I was swimming around in circles, unable to back kick with the three bottles hanging in my hand. Finally I gave up and told Kevin to clip it for me. Once he did, I was much less spazzy, but I still couldn't completely back kick. Basically I could back kick with my right leg, but not my left. So I would have to kick forward into the right position and then swivel around with my right leg. Afterwards, Kevin let me in on a little secret -- it helps if you pump some gas into your left leg, so that side of your body is not so weighed down.

I'm not really sure what the purpose of that drill was. I suspect it was mostly for Dean's amusement. In any case, he seemed satisfied enough with our performance (or satisfied that we know the extent to which we sucked, anyway). After that, we had some line and bags to clean up, plus we recovered all of the bits of blue tape that had falled off of our tanks. Then we scurried out of the water to get out of there before close. The people who run Blue Grotto are not very nice. They held Kevin's credit card hostage to insure that we left before close. Kevin had left his card with them to keep open a gas tab (in case we wanted to get a gas fill before we left, which we did, but they refused because I guess they are lazy), but when he went to close the tab, they refused to give it back until we left. Needless to say, Kevin was none too pleased.

Dean gave us the option of either breaking for dinner or finishing up some lecture right away. We decided to finish up lecture so we could have a more leisurely meal afterwards. We headed back to the motel and did lecture in Dean's room. There is a lot of overlap between the material for Tech 2 and Tech 1. Dean's lecture style can be pretty much summed up as follows. He asks you some questions to determine if you already know what he is about to teach, and if you do, he doesn't make you sit through something you already know. I think we all appreciated that. He quizzed us a little on tank factor math and gas consumption calculations, and then continued on to talk about variable ascent rates. Quite frankly I find the 10 ft/minute, 5 ft/minute thing confusing. I will just stick with the 1 and 2 minute stops that I learned before. We also watched a little bit of video just to see how we looked. Dean did not really focus too much on the video review. At the end of the day, he told us we would be meeting at 40 Fathoms Grotto the next day, which meaned we did well enough to move on to ascents.

Once we were finished, we headed over to the Winn Dixie to get some duct tape to better label our bottles. We asked one of the cashiers for a dinner recommendation, and they suggested a place down the street called Billy Jacks. So we headed over to check it out. It was a hit. Rob was happy because they had hushpuppies. I was happy because they had baked potatoes and baked apples (the ribs were good too, but by this point I was already starting to feel a bit over-meated). The staff there were all very friendly too. Actually I found that pretty much everyone we encountered on our trip (other than the Blue Grotto people) were exceedingly friendly. I think people in the south are just way friendlier than people in California.

I was delighted to find that Ted had sent us a couple of pictures of Liz playing with the cats. I missed my kitties!

I was so tired that I went to sleep without showering. This is pretty much unheard of for me after diving, but especially considering the heat and humidity. Poor Rob.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kevin: Tech 2 - Day 0

The previous night we all agreed to be up and have nice leisurely breakfast around 9am but R&A were knocking at my door around 8:45. Apparently they had gotten up early and were all packed and ready to go. So after quickly throwing the rest of my stuff in the car, we walked across the street to have breakfast at the Fleetwood Diner. Being in the South we elected to try some southern style dishes with Rob trying the grits and me trying the Biscuits and Gravy. While

Afterwards we stopped by to visit Salvo before heading over to Extreme Exposure to analyze and pickup the silly amount of tanks we had reserved for class. After going through three sets of doubles, 12 al40s, & 6 al80 stages we separated the gear into two piles. Stuff that was ready to go immediately and tanks that needed a bit of tweaking before we could pick them up. While they tweaked tanks, we headed over to Ginny springs to do a shake out dive.

We geared up and headed to the water to check out the Cavern area. After a quick set of drills decided to do a couple of dives in the cavern. Allison got the joy of running the reel the first time and learned the fun of trying to make tie offs on round smooth rocks while in some flow. She did great though and got us to the main line. The two swam around a bit exploring the nooks and crannies of the cavern area as well as descending down to the grate at the back of the cavern to experience the full force of the flow.
On the way out, Allison indicated that we should leave the reel in place for our next dive. This turned to be an interesting discussion point as Rob wanted to run the reel next. No matter as we just jumped back in removed the reel, and then handed it to Rob to run to the same place. We looked around some more and admired the scalloped walls and looked for fossils of ancient sea critters in the rocks.

On our second surface debrief, we found that Allison had yet to go all the way to the grate, so there was nothing left but to do one more goal oriented dive to get her to the grate. I think she got within a hands reach of it before the flow pushed her back away.

Rob was marveling at the clearness of the water, and Allison managed to find a cool little fresh water flounder. I think they had a good time and I believe I managed to set the hook deep as there was some discussion on when they would be taking cave. ☺

After getting out of the water we decided to head over to the spring run to take a look at Devils Ear from the surface as we were unable to see it last night. As it turned out all the rain had raised the river water high enough to submerge the marker bouy. We once again spotted the Manatee in the water and after a brief discussion on the coldness of the water, we decided to get our swim suits and jump in the water with masks to take a closer look. After a bit of complaining and toe dipping we made it into the water with our masks. Swimming with a Manatee or “Sea Cow” was one of the coolest experiences that I have ever done. They are so graceful looking and calm in the water. The Manatee seamed to be totally unconcerned with our presence and swam around us and let us get incredibly close while he placidly munched on underwater flora.

While Rob and Allison spent time admiring the manatee I also spent some time swimming over Devils Eye and practicing my free diving technique by swimming down to the bottom. I went over to Devils Ear planning on doing the same, but the dark brown river water covering it made it a way to spooky experience, so I quickly retreated back to the crystal clear water of the spring run.

After the Manatee had finally left, we got out dried ourselves off and went back to EE to pick up the rest of our tanks. The mixes were spot on (Thanks Doug and Andrew!) and we were ready to head on down to Williston where we would be spending the next four nights at the Williston motor lodge. Doug from Extreme Exposure gave us a great recommendation for a BBQ place in Newbury so we stoped there to have some dinner. Rob was really wanting some Hush Puppies but the restaurant didn’t have any so we got on their recommendation these corn nugget type food that were A) deep fried, B) contained some type of honey and C) were delicious. The group settled on this BBQ mixed platter and quickly devoured everything on it.

After dinner we tried to slap our selves out of the meat induced coma and continue the rest of the way to Williston to the Williston Motor Lodge. We got our room keys and our TV remote controls (yes it was that type of establishment) at the check in. And were informed that it was watermelon picking season and the motel was filled with transient workers. It was the strangest experience to see a completely full motel, yet only a half dozen cars in the parking lot. Apparently after working out in the farm all day, they would sit out on the front and party most of the night. It was definitely an odder group of characters than we were used to.
The rooms themselves were moderately clean though old. Creepy crawlies where not in great evidence so one didn’t have to shake too many roaches out of the dry suits each morning.
Robs internet withdrawal state was creeping up amber due to the fact that their room was not getting wireless signal to it. Mine dropped to green due to the wicked strong signal I was getting.

Rob: Tech 2, Day 0

Went diving; caverns are cool and water is clear. Florida still hot. BBQ meats are good.

Allison: Tech 2, Day 0

Thursday we were planning to get all of our tanks from Extreme Exposure and then do a shakeout dive. But first we headed across the street to the Fleetwood Diner for breakfast. Mmm, diner breakfast. After a hearty breakfast, we walked down to Salvo so Kevin could get a reel, then headed to EE. We found our crapload of tanks, and started analyzing. A couple of the mixes were off, so we left those to be fixed while we headed out to dive. We also retrieved the box of lead we had shipped (I love Priority mail flat rate boxes), which barely made it intact.

We went to Ginnie Springs and just as we finished filling out paperwork and watching the video, it started pouring outside. The forecast said there were supposed to be thunderstorms all week :( We waited it out for a few minutes, and it let up a bit, enough to trot back to our cars and drive over to the water. I went to one of the covered pavilions and got into my drysuit forthwith, just in time for the rain to stop entirely. We eventually got our gear set up, while also chatting with some friendly chaps who were diving there, and then headed into the water. The steps into the water are great, they really need some of those at Lobos. After dropping down and making sure we could reach our valves, etc. in these foreign tanks (Al80s), we headed into the cavern. I ran the line, which made Rob very jealous :P

The cavern was really awesome. The water was so clear, it was like air. And the rock was really white, so our lights were reflected everywhere. It was really bright in there. As we swam down the slope towards the grate, you could really feel the flow coming out of it. When it was time to head out, I left the reel, because I figured we'd come back in for it later. Rob didn't seem to agree with this, but eventually gave in. When we got back to the surface, he admitted that he wanted me to reel in so that he could lay line on the way back in. What a dork. The next time in, I swam down to the grate, but gave up just before it, and let the flow drag me back up the slope. Apparently not actually going to the grate and grabbing onto it makes me less cool than Rob and Kevin.

When we were finished playing around in the cavern, we did a couple of drills out in open water, just to make sure we could actually reach our valves and such. Then we packed up our gear and decided to go take a look at the eye/ear before heading back to EE. Kevin had sort of been lobbying for doing a dive over there, but they do not allow open water divers to take lights into the water there (to discourage them from going beyond the daylight zone). I think that is exceptionally stupid, so we took a pass on diving there.

It turned out that we made the right choice, because the brown river water was on top of the cavern entrance, so there probably wouldn't have been a daylight zone. On the other hand, there was a manatee parked in the cove in about 6 feet of water. We so wanted to play with him! So we decided to go for a swim. Brrr, getting into the water in just a swimsuit was pretty chilly. But we warmed up after swimming around a bit. We played with the manatee for a while. He didn't seem to mind us at all. I just want to say that I would never harrass a marine mammal. But I heard a rumor that the no petting rule doesn't apply when they have come into freshwater ;) Kevin and Rob showed off their manhood by free diving down into Devil's Eye. I didn't feel the need to participate.

After that, we headed back to EE to get our tanks filled and pickup the ones we had left earlier. They have a totally sweet system for filling tanks in the back of your car -- they have some really long whips, and then they chain tanks together with shorter whips. That was awesome, we didn't have to touch our gear except to take a regulator off. Of course after they filled our tanks, Rob remembered that his valves had been nearly impossible to turn, and asked if they could do anything about that. Andrew replaced the o-rings on the two posts, but in order to do anything to the isolator he had to drain the tanks. Hehe. So in the end, Rob had smooth as butter posts, which seemed totally unfair to me, since he already has the advantage of being zen-like in the water (it's all the kung fu training, I think).

From there, we headed down to Williston. We asked Doug at EE if there was a good place for BBQ, and he suggested Newberry's Backyard BBQ, which was more or less on the way. It was an excellent suggestion. We shared the feast for two, which was basically a giant plate of some of everything. Mmmm. Rob wanted hushpuppies, which they didn't have, so he had to settle for corn nuggets. They were a hit. From there, we headed down to the Williston Motor Inn, which is, I'm pretty sure, the grossest place I have ever stayed. It was actually fine, in terms of being clean and bug-free (which in the land of giant cockroaches in all I really ask for). The crowd there was sort of colorful. The motel was completely booked, which we were pretty shocked by, but the guy at the front desk told us it was because the watermelon harvest was in progress, so there were a lot of people in town for that. Those guys like to sit outside of their rooms and drink beer, play cards, and chit-chat into the wee hours. However, the very effective air conditioner in the room drowned out the noise at night, so it really wasn't a problem.

Rob was disappointed to find that our room did not get wireless. I guess it was too far from the office. Kevin, who was in the first room from the office, had a fine signal in his room. So we just had to survive on Law and Order re-runs and Edge service for our entertainment. We made a quick stop on the Winn Dixie, which was literally a one minute drive, to get some supplies. However, once we were there, we realized that we would really need to come by in the morning for breakfast and lunch stuff (since we were without a fridge), so we just got non-perishables and left everything else for the morning.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rob: Tech 2, Day -1

Got up really early and sat on a plane. Florida is hot.

Kevin: Tech 2, Day -2

Team Kitty had to get up way too early. With a 6am flight out of SFO, we negotiated leaving the house around 4:15. I dropped Rob and Allison off at the reservations desk with our bags while I went and parked the car. I was surprised to find that by the time I got back, the line had moved so slow that Rob had just gotten to the front. I managed to take the super-duper expedite line and got through shortly after them. Nothing much can be said about the plane flight itself beyond that we got through it.

There was great discussion before the class on whether we needed one or two cars. In the end we decided to go with two cars. The rental company had some type of special where for a set amount, you would get a random car that had to be at least as big as a midsize. We decided to gamble and try out this deal and to our pleasant surprise we both got large minivans. Packing and arranging gear would not be a problem.

After a few comments on the humidity we threw our gear in the back (all 9 bags) of the vans and boogied on down the road to High Springs. After getting settled into the High Springs Country Inn we then went looking for Food with a capital “F”. In this case it meant looking for a BBQ joint in nearby Alchua. We finally instead settled on a restaurant that I had gone to the last time I was down after I reported they served all you can eat Hot Wings. Sadly it wasn’t the right night for the all you can eat special, so we had to just order the 40 wing plate. Our plans for a BBQ dinner quickly disappeared in the face a set of 10 medium and 30 wicked hot wings.

On the way back we stopped by Ginny Springs to get the lay of the land. Parking in the lot and walking around the back area at night was sorta spooky but we were rewarded by Rob’s eagle eye pointing out a manatee that was hanging out in the spring run.

No internet access at the country inn as their router was down. Teams Internet withdrawal state was at Orange.

Allison: Tech 2, Day -1

We headed out to Florida on Wednesday, on a ridiculously early flight. I guess technically the fun started on Tuesday night, since Kevin came over and stayed at our place. I tried to go to sleep early to make the 3:45 AM wakeup call, but of course that was met with limited success. Oreo must have sensed from all of the bags that we were about to leave -- she came to bed with Rob and promptly plopped on my arm and purred at the top of her lungs during an intense petting session. I eventually realized she was never going to leave, and had to squirm out from under her so I could get some sleep. Meanwhile Pepper was sending out an Evite to all the neighborhood kitties for the kegger she had planned while we were gone. The good thing about getting up crazy early to go to the airport is that there is no traffic, so we made excellent time getting to the airport. We dropped off all the bags, and Kevin parked the car while we checked in. Kevin didn't have to stand in line with the hoi polloi, so by the time he got back, Rob was finally at the front of the line. Kevin was upgraded to first class, which nearly caused a rift in the team, but then he offered to check one of our bags for us (since he got 3 free checked bags), and all was well.

We had a few hour layover in Houston, so we got some lunch after schlepping all over the airport looking for a suitable place to eat. We shared a couple of piles of fried food at a sports bar. Then we were herded back onto the plane (Kevin got upgraded again, loser) for the flight to Jacksonville. When we got to Jacksonville, we were delighted to find that all of our luggage had made it. We were even more delighted when we got to the rental car counter and both Kevin and Rob got mini-vans. They had both rented an undefined car that was at least a mid-sized sedan. The idea is that when you show up, they give you whatever they have too many of. We made the observation that they always seem to have too many mini-vans at car rental places, so we were hoping. The vans were luxurious in size, which would make it easy to schlep tons of tanks.

From there, we headed to the High Springs Country Inn, which was about an hour and a half away. We had to make a brief stop because I was thirsting to death. The boys have this strange ability to go long periods of time without food or drink. I think it's because they can eat and drink like 3 times as much as I can in one sitting. So by the time we got to the Inn, Kevin was already there. Eventually we headed out to get some dinner.

We drove down to Alachua, and after seeing a few options decided to circle back and decide. We were originally looking for BBQ, but then Rob had a hankering for wings, so we went to a place that Kevin had been to before that had wings. We shared a plate of 40 wings. Hehe. After polishing those off, we headed back to High Springs, and decided to go take a look at Ginnie Springs. There was signage pointing the way, which was quite convenient. Once we got there, we traipsed around in the woods in the dark for a little while, and eventually found the cavern (where we were met with a not-so-friendly guy cleaning up from a dive) and the eye/ear entrances. There was a manatee hanging out over there. I was pretty excited. We watched him for a while, and eventually headed back to the Inn, and parted ways for the night. Rob was tortured by the fact that High Springs didn't have 3G coverage. Plus the motel's internet was apparently down. So we were totally slumming it with only a TV and our Tech 2 lecture notes to keep us entertained :) I went to sleep early.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Scootering to Twin Peaks

A short post just to track the fact that we did this dive. For our last dive before heading to Florida for T2, we decided to just do a nice fun dive. We scootered out to Twin Peaks, which I hadn't done in a while (even though for a while that was like the default dive!). Rob was shooting macro, since we were all in the mood for a little slug peeping. I was hoping to find some more Okenias, even though it had been about a month since I'd heard a report of a siting. But one can hope. We got out to a spot on the Road in about 130', where we stopped to look around. I was scouring the reef looking for the Okenias, and was kind of disappointed not to see any. Just when I had more or less given up, I found one and then Kevin found another one right next to it. Those would be the only two that we found. Other than that we saw mostly the usual suspects. The one other sort of exciting find was a Doriopsilla spaldingi.

The pictures from the dive are here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senator Takes Aim at Hello Kitty

Apparently during the debate surrounding the credit card reform bill, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D. took aim at a marketing campaign for a "Hello Kitty" credit or debit card aimed at children. Details here. What I want to know is... now that the debate is over, what is the senator going to do with the giant pink Hello Kitty-emblazoned credit card reproduction shown in the picture? I could totally use that to decorate my girl-cave.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

South Monastery

Since we were down for the weekend for the NCUPS competition, we decided to dive on Sunday morning before the awards thingy. Karl had his new camera and housing, which he wanted to try out, so we went to South Monastery with him. Rob suggested that while Karl was futzing with his camera, I could futz with Rob's. So the plan was to just swim out a bit and find a spot and hang out there. We got into the water and swam out to the edge of the kelp on the surface. We dropped in the very nice viz and started swimming. I was #3 and kept falling behind because I wanted to actually look at stuff. Finally after we had been swimming and swimming, I asked Rob if he wanted to stop to take pics, and he explained that there was a problem with Karl's camera, so he couldn't take pics. Ahhh. So the death swim continued. I did manage to find a bunch of Limacias along the way (while I was falling behind :P).

We eventually stopped to look around for awhile, and Rob gave me his camera. I pretty quickly realized that the 30 second briefing Rob had given me on the camera was inadequate, and I gave it back to him :) So Rob took a few pictures instead, while we looked around at one of the larger structures. I signalled to Rob that we should turn the dive. He didn't seem too down with that, but I pointed out that we had been swimming out for45 minutes, so even if we turned now, we were in for a 90 minute dive. Okay okay, he agreed. Shortly after turning, we found a rock that had a nice little crack with hydrocoral in it. After the dive, we both agreed that we had never seen this particular hydrocoral formation before. I posed for a few pictures, and then we continued in. We came upon a friendly sea lion on the way end. It always seems like sea lions are more interested in zooming past you than actually interacting, but for some reason this one seemed friendly. He was almost harbor seal like in this way. Other than that, we had a pretty uneventful swim back in under the kelp. The kelp forest at South Monastery is so nice. I don't know why we don't dive there more often.

We ascended basically right where we dropped, and made our way back to shore. There was a bit of flopping around in the surf, but I managed to walk out under my own power, which is all I am really shooting for. But I did have the least elegant exit, which is sort of embarassing since I was the only single tanker :P I am totally sold on single tank diving for South Monastery. For a shallow kick dive, there is really no need for anything more!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

NCUPS 2009

Well, better late than never. This post is very out of date, but I did want to write something, since we had two really fun dives for NCUPS this year. I magnanimously offered to dive in a single tank, since I think single tankers actually look nicer in pictures (Rob doesn't, which really says something about him). And I also offered to ditch the dry gloves, since I think bright blue gloves also look dumb in pictures. I was pretty excited to do some single tank diving, which I only ever do on night dives. As a concession, I told Rob I would bring a stage for the second (macro) dive. That way he didn't have to worry about gas constraints. After some discussion, we decided to shoot for Coral Street for the first dive (shooting WA), and probably the Breakwater for dive two (shooting macro). We have very little experience diving Coral Street, but I have seen some lovely kelp shots there, and there's always the potential for seals, so we figured we'd do something different.

We stayed down in Monterey the night before, which was nice, since we didn't have to get up crazy early, but still got to Aquarius before registration had even started. Once Rob got his registration packet, we were off to Coral St. There was an organized dive going on there through Wallins, so we were concerned about parking, but that turned out not to be a problem. We decided to use the little ledge above the beach to gear up on, which turned out to be a slight overestimation in my height. I couldn't get my tank on that high, and Rob had to give me a bunch of help. But then we waddled into the water, found the little channel, and headed out. It was slippery as hell with kelp. We swam out a little, and quickly decided that the kelp was annoying, so we dropped and swam through the very shallow kelp. After not too long, we found a little opening in the kelp, where we ran into our first harbor seal. He was quite playful, and not surprisingly, completely uninterested in posing for pictures. Not long after that, we ran into another seal, this time in an even larger open area. He was a fin tugger, but again, in no mood to have his picture taken. We basically just meandered about for a while. Rob had given me quite a briefing on exactly the shot of me that he wanted in the kelp. I wasn't allowed to breathe (that would disturb the kelp), I was to be at like 5 or 6 feet, and I was to swim through the frame towards him, as he took some shots. The first few passes I swam way too fast, because I really can't go *that* long without breathing. We had a couple of surface debriefs to discuss how to improve the technique. I was actually feeling totally nauseous after trying to frame this shot several times. Eventually I threw up on the surface and felt much better. (It was all Susan's fault for challenging me to drink an entire half gallon of milk in one weekend.) Anyhoo, the whole kelp shot ordeal was quite tiring, but in the end I was very pleased with the results. In fact, I liked some of the pictures so much that I used one for my picture in the employee directory at work.

Eventually we headed back in, and we saw a huge school of senoritas on the way in. It was a really awesome site. I just wanted to hang out and watch them for a while. With the bright light streaming through the kelp and all of the fish, it really looked tropical. Did I mention we had great viz? Anyhoo, we swam back in underwater until I could no longer stand skimming along the bottom at 5 feet, so I surfaced. We swam back through the channel, which was annoying to get out of, since the bottom is covered in slippery kelp bits. Then one of the instructors leading the Wallins dive pointed out a little spot in the sand where it might be easier to get my fins off. So I waddled over there on my knees. It was just the right depth (not very deep) to stand on my knees and pull my fins off. I had a brief encounter with a DM who thought I needed to be rescued while I was standing on my knees before removing my fins. After I made it clear to him that I both did not need rescue, and had a very able buddy if the need arose, he realized I wasn't part of his group, and backed off. I felt bad that I was a little mean to him, but he sort of snuck up me from behind and scared the crap out of me. But we both apologized and all was well.

At some point during the morning we had been talking about going to the wharf for dive 2, instead of the Breakwater. Once again, this is a dive we hadn't done much (I've dived it once before), but we did have fun the first time. And NCUPS had "surface support" stationed there throughout the day, so it was our big chance to dive it without having to line up someone to stand on the wharf. So we headed over there. The wharf is such a great dive. It is the easiest entry ever (although sort of a pain to walk through 18 inches of water for what seems like forever), you can gear up on the wall, which is the perfect height, it is super shallow, and there is so much cool macro life.

On the way over to the pilings, over the sand, we found a few cute little fishies who were poking their heads out of holes. They were very photogenic. When we first got to the pilings, all I could find were Hermissendas on red bryozoan! I was starting to think that this dive was a mistake, because at least at the Breakwater, I know what I am looking for. Then I found my first cool find (cool for me, but not necessarily photo-competition cool) -- a Dendronotus subramosus on a little green kelp leaf laying on the sand. It was a huge pain for Rob to get a picture while I was holding the piece of kelp, which was flapping in the breeze. I felt like there had to be Flabellina trilineatas there, and eventually I started finding some. I was relieved. Turns out I was setting my sights way too low.

We finally happened upon a single piling that was the jackpot for nudibranchs. I saw so many cool subjects on that one piling, I was having trouble keeping track of where everything was, and prioritizing what to show to Rob. Now I knew that Rob couldn't take pictures of super tiny stuff for the competition, since he wouldn't be able to crop. But at this point, I really didn't care -- I wanted pictures of these cool subjects for myself! Among the finds: Doto amyra (in a variety of colors, including creamsicle orange and a brownish color), Eubranchus rustyus, tons more Dendronotus subramosus, two Triopha maculata (in the orange with bright-white specks color that I have never seen outside of the aquarium), lots of Spanish shawls (yawn), and at least 10 Polycera atra (which I've only seen once before!), and about a dozen Dirona picta (another I've only seen at the aquarium!). I am pretty sure there were some Dendronotus frondosus in there too. In the non-macro category, we also saw a giant crab on the bottom. He was like science fiction big. I was literally not willing to take my eyes off of him while he was in claw's reach (which I estimated at being about 2 feet) from me. Rob had me lighting a specimen flapping in the breeze for him, and I was literally keeping one eye on my light and one eye on the crab. Once Rob was done I ran like a little girl far far away from that beast.

Around 90 minutes, I told Rob we should wrap it up, because I was getting cold. He asked me how much gas I had, and I made the mistake of telling him the truth. Then he got the idea that we could stay a lot longer. The thing about a 15 foot dive is that the plan to dive until you run low on gas really doesn't work :P After about 100 minutes, we finally headed in. Of course we ran into a photogenic Scrippsia pacifica on the way in, so we stopped for some pictures.

After we packed up our gear, we decided to meet Nils to get some third party advice on which pictures to submit. So we met up at El Torito, where I failed to drink a margarita, despite much talk about it. Then we headed over to Backscatter to submit. We ran into Mike and Mark there, and saw some of their pictures. Mike got a totally sweet shot of some hydrocoral at CRB, with a sunburst and Ben's silhouette in the background.

We decided to skip the NCUPS dinner thing that night, and go see the new Star Trek movie instead. I think it was a good choice. I just love Sylar as young Spock!

All of the BAUE boys' pictures from the competition are here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

BAUE Rec Boat

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a hole in our dive schedule for this weekend. I asked Rob and Kevin what we were doing, and they both said "nothing". So I suggested we hop on the BAUE recreational boat. We hadn't signed up, because I think we were assuming we would be busy cramming for T2 during the month of May. Luckily there was still room. There was even room to bring Ted! I hadn't looked at the forecast all week, so Saturday as we drove down I had literally no idea what we were in for. When we got down to K-dock, the news did not sound good. Apparently it was really really windy, with a decent-sized swell too :( Word from the earlier boats didn't sound promising. We eventually headed out (after waiting for a five-boat cluster at K-dock to clear, none of whom seemed to want to leave on time), hoping to make it around the point. It got a bit rougher as we were going, and eventually we were informed that Greg was still thinking of peaking around the corner, but it would be a big commitment and possibly a really rough ride. Just at that moment a really big wave tossed the boat around, which seemed like a sign. So we retreated to Ballbuster. Even there it was pretty dicey. I declared I would not be bringing a stage, since I didn't want to screw around on the surface with a bottle. I think this was greeted with a big eye roll from Rob (surprise, surprise).

Ted and Kevin were doing the scooter thing together on dive 1, and Rob and I were kicking (I don't really get the point of a scooter at Ballbuster). Rob and I quickly got into the water and headed down the line. The was a bit of particulate on the top, but it cleared up pretty quickly, and I could see the structure below starting from 20 or 30'. When we got to the bottom, the viz was quite good, and it was actually bright. I've had good viz at Ballbuster, but never good bright viz -- there is always enough of a layer that it's kind of dark down there. So this was a treat. We headed down to near the bottom, and swam around a bit. Rob kept sending me up above him to pose for silhouette shots. In between, I looked at the various critters. There were tons of trilineatas, including several pairs that were probably mating. I also found hydroids covered in Eubranchus ("big" Eubranchus, I could actually make out the details of the cerata). Eventually, for some reason (not really sure, Rob was leading...), we headed off of the main structure (east-southeast-ish) and eventually found a group of boulders, with an elephant ear on it. I also found an absolutely adorable fish sticking his head out of the staghorn bryozoan, sort of resting his chin on the bryozoan. Of course as I signaled to Rob to take a look he shined his light on the fish, who promptly scurried away :( But at least Rob got a glimpse first. We then headed back to the main structure. We passed the gorgonian (is there more than one gorgonian at Ballbuster? I've only ever seen one per dive) on the way.

When we got back, we worked our way shallower. We found a nice peachy-colored Dirona. We eventually ran into Mark and Marlies. I decided that Mark was a more interesting buddy, since he was shooting macro, and swam over to him to look for nearby Eubranchus. I found some and showed them to him, then return to my previously scheduled buddy. When it was time for Rob to switch off his stage (yea, he's just that much of a hoover -- he had to bring *three* tanks), he handed his camera off to me. Oooh. I decided to take a few pictures while I had it. I didn't even think about dealing with the strobes -- I left them in the funny tucked position Rob put them in for the handoff. But I still had some fun taking pictures of Rob switching off of his stage. I almost didn't want to give the camera back. We had a brief run-in with Ted and Kevin near the top of the structure, and before long it was time to begin our ascent. Just before then, we ran into a Scrippsia pacifica at 60'. I posed for some pictures. Rob had to shoo Mark out of the frame, hehe. Then we headed up the line. It was a long way up, there was sooo much scope on the line. There were tons of little jellies in the water on the way up, though, which was neat.

We got back to the surface, and it was pretty hairy on the surface. Everyone was hanging onto the current line, waiting to get back on the boat. But without any current pulling on the line, the line of people was just getting smashed into each other, and occasionally the ladder. I helped Marlies out of her second fin, but didn't get around to handing it off to her before she got out of the water. So I was left to negotiate getting my fins off with an extra fin on my wrist. Between that, holding onto the line, and not bashing my head on the swimstep, I had to sacrifice to fins to Neptune. And I couldn't even manage to drop the two that matched :( Rob took a mark on his GPS (his current favorite toy) for where I dropped it, and immediately started trying to put together a search team. I told him I wasn't getting back in (I wasn't convinced I could get back on the boat without dropping another fin :P), but Kevin was dumb enough, errr, nice enough to agree. Rob figured the fins were 150 feet southeast of the pinnacle, so they headed down with their scooters to look. They found them amazingly quickly -- their hang on the way back up far exceeded the bottom time, and even with that they were gone for less than 10 minutes. Greg was watching their bubble trail and was pretty convinced they had found them based on their meandering, then stopped for a bit, then hauling ass back to the pinnacle. They returned to a heroes' welcome, and were showered with Cheetos.

For the second dive, I suggested Shale Island. Ted and I were diving together on this dive, and we brought scooters. We dropped on the northwest side of the island, just west of the big anchor. We scootered counterclockwise around the island. The highlights were a lot of squid -- we saw two in the sand just off the island, and another meandering around over the island, and two on the line on the way up. Plus I kept seeing little ink piles hanging in the water. I also saw an interesting slug that was some sort of Acanthodoris. I'm not sure what it was -- it was a light yellow to cream color, so it was either a very light colored Acanthodoris lutea, or a darker color Acanthodoris nanaimosis. It had distinctive maroon-tipped rhinophores, which makes me suspect the latter, but since I have never seen the form, I really am not sure. In any case, I was pretty excited, but I suspected that Ted was thinking "wow, a yellowish dorid, so exciting". There were also a lot of Geitodoris heathi, most of them with the tell-tale dark blotch just in front of the gill plume. We ended up cutting the dive a little short, mostly because of a miscommunication about whether we wanted to hang out around the anchor for another 5 minutes, or thumb it. We accidentally thumbed it. We ran into those two squid on the line, but it was otherwise an uneventful ascent. The rest of the teams returned within about 10 minutes, and we headed in.

Photos from the day are here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

More Training, Ugh

Saturday we were at Lobos. The plan was to do a skills dive and a fun dive. However, the tides and our energy level conspired, so we ended up changing the plan. Instead, we would do the same thing we did last time -- scooter out to 50 or 60 feet, do our skills stuff, then head out for a short fun dive. I was the slow one on the "not it" game when talk turned to who would lead the dive, so I got stuck with that. We loaded our gear on the float (I swam, so much easier than carrying bottles down the slippery ramp), and then got into our gear and headed out. We dropped at the ramp (good viz), and scootered out to about 50 feet. We were just southeast of Hole in the Wall. We shot a bag and tied off to one of the little stalks of palm kelp. Then we did some bottle juggling fun. It went pretty well -- much better than last time! It didn't go perfectly, but I think we were all much happier with it than the last time we did skills.

Once we were finished with that, we decided to ditch or gear on the line, and head out for some fun. It was dead calm, so Kevin suggested we check out the shallow areas in the Cannery Point rocks. We dropped back down the line, clipped off all of our bottles, retrieved our scooters, and headed off. We headed south and then cut over down one of the oyster shell channels, until we ended up in a little are in 15 to 20 feet, with little walls on two sides. It was like swimming in a tide pool. Eventually we ended up in like 10 feet, and Rob and Kevin wanted to surface, to see where we were. We ascended really close to two rocks. It was pretty cool, considering how calm the water has to be to pull that off :) After marvelling at how close we were to the rocks and how little water movement there was, we headed back down and poked around some more. It was a pretty sluggy day. There were lots of Tritonias (and they all seemed to be short and fat!), Rob found a Hilton's, and otherwise it was the usual suspects. We eventually headed north, to about 35 feet, and hung out there for a while. There wasn't anything super interesting, but it was a really nice bright, clear day. Finally I decided I really needed to pee, so I turned the dive.

Unfortunately I had waited just a little too long for a comfortable trip back :) We got back to the line (phew, all our bottles were still there), and we retrieved our stuff and headed in. Rob got chastised for dilly dallying on the way in -- I was on a mission. We ascended right by the line, and dropped our bottles at the float. Rob scurried out of the water to assist me with the low tide exit. It was the quickest low tide exit I've ever made!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Between a Volcano and a Kitty

Friday we went out with Phil. Rob was a sleepyhead in the car, so around Gilroy, he made me take over the driving (not bad, usually he only makes it to Morgan Hill). Just after getting to 1 from 156, I noticed something moving slowly across the road ahead, like a fat cad waddling (a really slow, fat cat). I couldn't believe it when I saw the characteristic beaver tail. I had no idea there were beavers in the area. I don't think I've ever seen a beaver in the wild before, so I was quite excited (nature's engineers and what not). When we got to Lobos, we quizzed Jim (who was diving with Beto) and Phil about whether beavers were common in the area. Jim questioned our ability to pick a beaver out of a lineup, which we were much offended by, since we are, after all, MIT Beavers. Then he admitted that they are pretty common in that area, because of some nearby stream.

Anyhoo, the swell was small, so we headed down to Yankee Point. But first I had to endure a boat driving lesson from Phil (and the boys). Phil gave me some tips and left Rob and Kevin to fill in the blanks :) I managed to back the boat off the trailer, idle in the cove, and come back to pick Phil up without damaging anything other than Rob and Kevin's nerves. After I made it out of the cove and beyond the kelp, to the fun part, Phil insisted on taking the helm :( So we headed down to Yankee Point, against a south wind. We wanted to go back to the "Dos Gatos" area. We were shooting for the first (west) kitty on the GPS. We drove over a peak around 90 feet, and then couldn't find it again. We finally found a structure at about 100 feet, and decided to drop the hook there. Turns out there was a little bit of "user error" with the GPS, which might explain our difficulty in finding the spot.

We dropped down into fairly green water. There was a lot of particulate in the water on the way down, but it was fairly clear at the bottom. As we dropped onto the pinnacle, a big column of blue rockfish greeted us. After enjoying the fish, Rob, who was leading, led us north. We really weren't sure what structure we were on. I don't know how Rob decided which way to go. Once we got off of the pinnacle, we passed over a rubbly bottom, at about 140 feet. But it might as well have been in 30 feet -- the little rocks had some Urticinas on them, plus a lot of the usual encrusting life and nudibranchs. Eventually we hit a low-lying ridge which was not too exciting, so Rob decided to head west. Before you know it, we were in deeper water, and it was suddenly getting much darker. It was like I could see a point where we suddenly crossed into the darkness. Very eerie. As it became clear that we were getting deep without finding much of interest, Rob curved around back to the south, and we eventually hit a big pinnacle. We spent the rest of the dive there. There were spots with very bad viz, but generally it was about 40 feet, but very dark and green. The pinnacle dropped down to at least 200 feet in spots. There were some tempting sand channels below us, that looked like they would be fun to scooter along.

I don't know if it was because of the contrast to the green, dark water, but the reef just seemed to light up. It was extremely colorful. It was also a very sluggy day. It seemed like I saw all of the usual suspects. There were also a bunch of Doto amyras, including some very large (for Dotos) specimens. It would definitely have been a better day for macro. We ended up circling around the pinnacle, eventually working our way shallower. On one side of the pinnacle there was a garden of lush gorgonians. That is one thing I really like about this group of pinnacles -- there are so many really lush, fluffy-looking gorgonians (unfortunately Rob doesn't find gorgonians very interesting to shoot -- hmph!). There were also a bunch of very craggy, pointy elephant ear sponges. It was odd. Eventually it was time to go, so we said goodbye and started to drift. I put the bag up, and we settled in for the deco.

The deco turned out to have nearly as many critters as the bottom segment -- the deco critters were out in full force. It was crazy -- there were so many interesting, tiny jelly creatures, I would find something really cool and as I tried to point it out to Rob, he would be trying to point something out that he had found. There were tons of little comb jellies, and little jellies that looked sort of like tiny moon jellies, and the ubiquitous sea gooseberries. Rob found this crazy little creature that looked like some sort of tiny transparent squid -- no clue what that was. We eventually found a bunch of sea nettles, and some moon jellies (one really nice big one). But by far the coolest thing was this beautiful little jelly that was shaped like a little sea nettle but the bell was maybe 2 inches in diameter. There was a yellow spot on top of its bell, right in the center. Upon closer inspection, it was a tiny crab, along for the ride. It was so cute. Definitely would have been a good macro day! Eventually the parade of jellyfish either ended, or we lost interest, so Kevin posed us for some video at 20 feet. Then Rob whipped out his wetnotes and spent several minutes practicing his underwater page flipping (don't ask). Before you know it, the long cold deco was over. Actually it wasn't that cold -- my computer had 48 to 50.

When we surfaced it was raining a bit, but the water was pretty calm. Just some wind. We got back into the boat, after I narrowly avoided watching my rig drop to the bottom of the ocean. Oops. Kevin drove on the way home. He was clearly trying to test out the top speed on Phil's boat, which was certainly helped by the wind. I swear we made it back to Whaler's Cove in like 5 minutes. I was just holding on and trying to avoid falling out of the boat. Then I took the helm, and wowed everyone with my drop off and pickup (very low tide) of Phil. Okay, maybe it took a couple of loops to retrieve him from the ramp :P

After reviewing the bathymetry, we think the structure we originally dropped on was a ridge running between the west pinnacle of Dos Gatos and the "volcano" structure that Rob first found on the bathymetry, which led us to the area. If this theory is correct, the big pinnacle we spent most of the dive on was the volcano.

Kevin's video of the dive is here.