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Me diving

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mt. Chamberlain, South South Wall

On Saturday, Team Kitty and friends were on the Escapade, and we headed to the South Wall of Mount Chamberlain. Rob had been looking at the bathymetry maps and decided that we should head even south of the south wall, to a ridge running parallel to the wall, about 100 feet south of it on the west half. This ridge was supposed to come up to 170 feet or so, with the bottom going from about 180 feet to really deep depending on how far west you go. We had a nice ride down there, and got dropped in the water by the downline, where we found nice, clear, jelly-laden water.

Right after dropping, I noticed that my gauge was dead :( I knew Kevin had a backup gauge in his pocket, so we continued down to the wall, and after rifling through his pocket, I found it and we were off. The downline dropped us right in the channel south of the wall. We scootered along that briefly, taking in the excellent viz. From the top of the wall (140'-ish), I could very clearly see the bottom in 190'-ish. And the water was bright and blue. Perfect. We eventually headed out over the sand and before long we saw the other structure. Yay. When we got over to it, we pretty quickly found a nice big vase sponge. It was very tall and cylindrical. Unfortunately it was in a divot on the wall that made it difficult to pose next to, so Rob was on his own in the photo department. Not too long after that, we also found a huge Tochuina tetraquetra. It was posed in a nice little flat area between two peakier spots that had a bunch of gorgonians, which seemed like the perfect place to pose. I instantly swam around behind the gorgonians and posed for Rob, hoping he didn't mind an interloper in his frame.

When I think of Mount Chamberlain, I always think of sponges. The picture that comes to mind is elephant ear sponges and that bright orange encrusting sponge that seems everpresent in that area. For some reason on this dive I had my fish goggles on, probably because in the two previous days I had been exchanging emails with Tom Laidig, and perusing his juvey rockfish identification slides. Or maybe it was just a really fishy day. I came upon a few different aggregations of juvenile rockfish, and for once I actually tried to figure out what I was looking at. First I noticed a bunch of the younger, yellow starries. They are so pretty, they practically look like tropical fish (I guess that calling every pretty fish I see a tropical-like fish is kind of insulting to our local fish). I also saw some of the bigger, redder starries, rosies, widows, and blues. I probably saw others but those are the ones that I am actually confident in my ID :) There were also plenty of adult rockfish, including a huge school of blues (with the occasional olive tagging along). I was actually staring at a little school of juvenile starries and widows very intently when I turned around to show something to Rob and realized that was a huge tower of blue rockfish above us, which I was totally missing in my quest for little things. Doh! I also saw three adult starries (which I consider "a lot" since I have seen probably fewer than 10 in all other dives together), and some Chinas and rosies. All in all, a good day for rockfish peeping. There was also a giant baitball of some kind of small fish that were very evasive when it came to having lights shined on them :) The last time we were at Mt. Chamberlain I saw a similarly huge baitball, I really need to figure out what those fish are.

Our plan was to do a deeper segment and a shallower segment, and unfortunately the shallower segment required that we return to the south wall. The scoot back over the sand was cool because of the great viz. We were scootering 30 feet or so above the sand, with a nice view of the "landscape" all around us. We got back to the wall and headed toward the area where all teams had agreed to start the drift. Once we were in the vicinity, we hung out there for the rest of the dive. There we saw the usual South Wall suspects. It wasn't nearly as fishy over there, but there were plenty of sponges, gorgonians, and corynactis to keep us entertained :) We could see Beto and Sue about 30 feet away from us as we started the drift. We met up a couple times on deco as well.

Once we were at 70 feet, for some reason Kevin or Rob flipped over to take a look at the view above us... I assumed they were just checking out the viz, but then they signalled to me to take a look. I flipped over and saw a wall of sea nettles above us. It was actually a little spooky -- I definitely felt like we were outnumbered and under attack. At 60 feet we experienced the onslaught. They were everywhere, literally. It was actually quite stressful to try to simultaneously bat them away from me and keep track of the team. They were really that thick in spots that I had trouble seeing Rob through all of them. But it thinned out from there, and by about 30 feet it was quite reasonable.

On the way home, we encountered dolphins in several spots in Carmel. There were some attempts to snorkel with the dolphins but they were definitely not interested. So we finally gave up and headed home. After a little lunch, we headed to Anywater where I inquired about a backup gauge forthwith (and handed over my crappy Tec2g, which at least now showed an error code, "E 3" instead of being completely blank).

I don't think this post really captures how spectacular this dive was, and how enthusiastic I was about it afterwards. I guess you just had to be there :) The dive was worth every minute (and then some) of the deco. This was definitely the best "T2" dive I have done since the class, and it made all of the pain and suffering worth it. Okay, there wasn't that much pain and suffering but I did have to smell Rob and Kevin in the Florida heat for several days! In addition to being an awesome dive, I really love the picture Rob took of the Tochuina with me and the rockfish in the background. I think it is one of my favorite pictures he has ever taken.

Thanks to Matt for organizing the boat, and of course to the Escapade crew!

All of the pictures are here.

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