It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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 This post is very out of date, but I did want to write something, since we had two really fun dives for NCUPS this year.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.

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