It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, December 31, 2010


Friday we went to Peacock. Kevin punted because his ears were bothering him. We started at Peacock 1. The viz in the basin looked great. There was just one other team, and we were both ambivalent about which line to do first, so in the end they said they would do the Peanut line and we'd do the Pothole line (and I would lead). We did that line in C1 on our first cave day, so we didn't really see very much of it. Also, the viz was not very good. Today we made it all the way to Olson, and the viz was much better. It made the cave feel a lot bigger, I thought. We surfaced at Olson and I got some video. As usual at Peacock, there were a lot of cave critters. On the way out, at the bottom of the chute, just near the sign, I saw a little transparent shrimp with some reddish-black markings and blue eyes -- it looked like it belonged in the ocean! About 300 feet before Olson, the line suddenly seemed to disappear, when it took a hard left turn through a hole in the wall. I think that hole in the wall would make a nice picture.

Once we got back to the reel, we moved it over to the peanut line and headed right in. At a little over 1000 feet, I found a smiley face drawn in the clay (eye-roll). We also passed, not long after that, some kind of scientific instrument hanging on the line. Not sure what it was gathering or for whom. Eventually we made it to 1600 feet before turning on gas. When we got back to the cavern zone, I shot some video and made Rob cleanup the reel.

We wanted to make it back to EE by 4 (closing early for New Year's Eve) to get fills for the next day, so we quickly headed over to Orange Grove, and figured out when we must be out of the water to make it. We were hoping to make it to Challenge, which should not be a problem gas-wise, but might be time-wise. When we got to the basin, it was incredibly clear, in stark contrast to the conditions there last time (when we spent 20 minutes just finding the entrance :P). After very briefly poking his head in the wrong hole (a slot just above where we wanted to be), I pointed out the cinder block to Rob -- someone else's line was nearby too (started in the overhead, cough cough), which made it a bit easier to find the way. Unfortunately that team was coming out just as we started to go in through the little tunnel to the main line, so we had to step aside while they came out. After all of the shenanigans, it was about 10 minutes before we tied into the mainline. And then we were off. I found a neat little fish bone at the bottom at some point. I decided it was neat enough to call Rob back to take a look, and he seemed to think so too. When we got to the little maze at 800', I took the bypass to the left and when I came around I got a big finger waggle from Rob for doing that. A little past the change in arrows, when we went down the little chute/corkscrew, the viz got much worse at the bottom of it. Not sure why. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, except that we were moving at a pretty good pace. There were several times when I was tempted to give Rob a leg push to tell him to speed up. We did indeed make it to Challenge, but we basically surfaced, looked around (it was really small, smaller than I expected) and then dropped back down and headed in. I didn't even get any video of it! On the way back down, I had some brief ear problems, but once those were resolved, we were off. We pretty much sprinted the 1700 or so feet back out.

When we got to the basin, we swam over toward the steps, and there was a big patch of duckweed on the surface over there. Without any warning, Rob dropped a little below and purged his regulator to clear it out of the way -- into me. I came out of the water with duckweed all over me, including all throughout my hair (the bit of my braid hanging below my hood anyway). Pfft. I managed to get out of the water and onto the steps much more gracefully than expected. On the walk back to the car I bailed out at the first set of picnic tables and had to have a little rest before continuing on -- my back was killing me! We very speedily tossed everything in the car and got going (since we were running about 20 minutes later than planned), and managed to get back to EE around 3:40 or so. Mark M. had a class in its last day, so he and Doug were there, and we ended up chatting with them (well, Rob chatted with Mark while I chatted with Doug). In the end we didn't get our tanks setup to fill until long past 4, but we did get our fills. We also met and chatted with a few other divers who were there.

After grabbing some provisions for New Year's Eve from the Winn Dixie and its attached (but not really) liquor store, we headed to Great Outdoors for dinner, which wasn't taking walk-ins since it was NYE (doh!) but did have a table at the bar for us (phew). We had a tasty meal and then headed back to the Country Inn. Amazingly, we actually made it until midnight. We wiled away the time watching Mythbusters and playing on our computers (really lame, yes, but I was hell-bent on finishing the last dive report for 2010 before 2010 actually ended). And we had champagne around midnight.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Little River

Thursday we went to Little River. There were several other dive teams there, but no tourists at all (other than some divers' wives). I led the first dive. The last time we were there, Kevin and Don took the big log on the right for their primary tie, and Rob took the other side, and everyone was singing the praises of the log as a wonderful primary tie. And no one had taken the log, so I was all over that, of course. I think the log sucks. It's too big to reach my arms around, so I had to toss the reel over it and then reach underneath to pull it around. I guess you can't believe everything you hear. Anyhoo, eventually we got going, and we went right at the big T. The flow didn't seem as bad as I remember it, which is consistent with reports that the flow was down. The flow was only really bad before the corkscrew. Last time, the flow was bad pretty much all the way to the big T and then when we went right, it died down. Today after we went right, it didn't really change. After we went right, we made it about 5 minutes before we turned it. We returned to the reel and left it, and made it up to 30 feet before we stopped and discussed what to do next. We agreed on 500 psi penetration and went back in. I was still leading (not sure why). When we got to the big T, for some reason I went right again :) When we were there in July, Don and Kevin went left and reported raging flow. It didn't occur to me that since the flow is down in general, perhaps I should have tried that side anyway. We were following a team almost the whole way in, so I periodically stopped and doodled around to let them get ahead, but invariably we would end up about 20 feet behind them again a few minutes later. We made it to the first jump after the T and turned a bit past there. The cave was quite crowded, and we passed a few teams along the way. But otherwise it was a pretty uneventful dive. Very similar to the first :)

Kevin sat out the third dive because he is an old man, or maybe because his ears were bothering him :) We went left this time, and made it past the next T where the two sides meet. The cave is narrow and tall on the left. I can see how there would be a lot of flow here when the flow is up, but the good thing is that there are little ledges on each side which are ideal for pulling on :) The cave gets much bigger after the two lines meet again. There were two instances of photographer shenanigans on the way out. First, we passed a pair of divers in the narrow section (on the left of the T), one posed for pictures and the other taking pictures. Hmm, what is the etiquette to pass them? I know... I will slowly swim up next to the model (who is closer to me) and when he sees me out of the corner of his eye, and give him a little "I want to get by" wave. But the model was totally oblivious to me when I swam up right next to him (which is odd, since they really should have seen us when they turned their dive, because we saw them swimming toward us and then turning). So in the end I just swam through the frame (my bad!) but the photographer gave me a little wave so I guess he wasn't too broken up about it. Then farther along on the way out (I think just at the first marked jump after the corkscrew), we came upon a guy who was literally laying on the bottom across the line trying to get a shot of something off to the side. I saw it in time to go through another little passage just on the other side of a pillar behind him. But that was just odd.

After a bit of doodling around in the cavern, trying to get some video, we headed out, and headed back to High Springs. We even managed to get to EE and get some fills for tomorrow. Dinner and too many margaritas (Kevin is the little devil on my shoulder) at the Texas Roadhouse in Gainesville.

P.S. Isn't that picture of the side of Kevin's head lovely? Sadly, that was the best picture of Kevin that I got on the trip, but I had to include him on here somewhere!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Diving with Jim

I had been planning to take Friday off to catch up on my Christmas shopping (which was horribly behind, or really not even started). Then Jim sent email to the BAUE list looking for a dive buddy for Friday, so how could I turn that down? Christmas shopping would have to wait. Conditions were forecast to get big Wednesday night and then calm down again on Thursday night. When we finally made the call on Thursday, I told Jim I was game for driving down and possibly thumbing it, so it was on. I got up early (even earlier than Rob, Susan, and Beto who were starting a fundies class that day!) and headed down to Monterey. In Gilroy, it was super windy; in Prunedale, it was super rainy; and in Seaside, it was super foggy. As I drove into Monterey, I was half expecting to find a swarm of locusts. Instead, it was sunny and clear, and the flag on Del Monte beach was limp. Woohoo. I suggested Lunaticos, since I haven't been there in ages and I know that Jim likes that site.

The ride out was calm, and when we got to Point Pinos, it was basically dead flat. However, there was some fog. Around Point Pinos, the bilge alarm went off, so we stopped and the crew climbed down into that mysterious compartment below the deck, and eventually it was deemed okay to proceed. In the meantime, I was marveling at how calm it was sitting there where it is often the roughest part of the trip. As we continued, the fog had mostly lifted, but it was still there in patches. However, since we were just one team, the boat would follow our bubbles just in case a patch of fog descended upon us. They dropped the downline and it looked like there wasn't much current. Jim jumped with his bottle and scooter clipped to him. I told the crew that I would take my scooter in the water, and noted that Jim was making me feel like a girl. We got into the water and it was totally flat without any noticeable surface current. Why can't every dive be like that? It was nice to have a moment to doodle with my gear before we headed down. After doing a scooter-down descent on my last dive, I decided to try it again. At around 60 feet, I had to put the brakes on, of course, and stop to clear my ears for a while before proceeding. Oh well. We got down to the top of Lunaticos (I think we were shooting for the pinnacle next to it, the "Annex" as we call it, but I thought we were on Lunaticos based on the depth). There is a channel between the two pinnacles, and we followed that to the south side, and headed west (I think those are the cardinal directions, but keep in mind that I am seriously directionally-challenged, so they could be completely wrong). It gets deeper at the bottom as you go west. So our plan was to do a deeper segment out there and then head back up the structure for a shallower segment. The last time I was at Lunaticos, we stayed pretty shallow. So when I was thinking about what I would see on the dive, I wasn't thinking of vase sponges, but of course as soon as we got down to 150' or so, they started appearing (not surprising, since they are quite common on the nearby Outer Outer Pinnacles sites, which come to think of it, I haven't dived in a while either). There were lots of them, yay! We swam off of the pinnacle a bit and there was a little structure running parallel to the main pinnacle. I thought it was just a little structure, but it turned out to be a small ridge running parallel to the pinnacle to the west for a while. We meandered along that structure, where I saw a starry rockfish. Eventually that structure gets taller so that we were scootering between what I would describe as a canyon. It was pretty cool. I guess this canyon eventually gets to at least 200 feet, though we didn't go that far to the west.

Eventually it was time to head shallower, so we turned around and headed back to the east, working up the pinnacle as we went. As I was scootering along, I saw a slither along the reef and stopped. Was that an octopus or a brittle star? I scanned the reef and saw a teeny red octopus. I didn't really know if this would be Jim's kind of thing but I decided to make him come back and take a look anyway. By the time he got there, the octo had settled into a totally camouflaged color and position. I sort of pushed some water past it, hoping it would slither a bit and Jim would see what I was pointing at. I guess I was a bit rough, because it took flight and instantly turned bright red. Oops. After we marveled at it for a moment, we continued on. We eventually ended up back at the original, slightly shallower pinnacle. When we got to the top, I remembered that I had my hero cam in my pocket. I wanted to experiment with it a bit just to see what kind of video it would take deep. So I shot a little sample footage of it 120' (most of the footage turned out red, but a small amount of it was passable). So I whiled away the last several minutes of the dive just scootering around with the hero cam on my hand. I put it away and pulled the bag a minute before I knew that Jim would call the dive. For some reason I had a lot of trouble getting my bag out -- it felt like my hand just wouldn't fit in my pocket. Then while I was inflating it, it seemed like everything didn't fit in my hand as well as it should. I chalked all of this up to rustiness (for whatever reason, it seems like it's been a while since I shot the bag), until I was spooling up to 90' and realized that my light was still on my hand :) Doh.

I cleaned that up and then at 80', Jim pointed out that we were in danger of drifting into the downline. I told him I knew, and we could swim a bit to avoid it. As we were about to swim, I saw a mola swim by and I signaled to Jim and pointed to it. He replied with an "okay, let's swim", thinking I was pointing in the direction I wanted to swim. I gave him an emphatic "no, look over there" and finally he saw the mola. Ahh. We headed up to 70' and as we were switching onto our bottles, I saw that the mola had followed us up to 70'. After a minute or two of enjoying the mola, I suddenly remembered that I had a video camera. Hehe. So I handed the bag to Jim and whipped that out and got video of the mola. We headed to 60' and there was the mola again. He swam around us for the whole stop. For a while, he swam behind Jim and was just at the limit of visibility. Then he came swimming back toward us and as he headed straight toward me, we had a very close encounter. At some point, something must have spooked him because he sort of shook all over and took off swimming in another direction. That was cute. When it was time to head to 50', the mola literally moved with us, and I was actually videoing him as we ascended. At 50', he was still on the edge of visibility, but not close enough to video. But that was the last that we saw him. It was a pretty uneventful deco from there, though I did shoot a little video at 20', just to see how the video quality compared at different depths.

When we surfaced, the water was dead calm, and it was sunny. As we headed home, we did come across some stubborn patches of fog that were still around, but overall the conditions were great. It was supposed to get only better over the weekend, of course, since I was confined to the pool, video'ing for Fundies. Hmph. I think it was definitely worth falling even further behind on my Christmas shopping to do a little fun diving with Jim :) Thanks to Jim and the crew of the Escapade!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crinoid Canyon

We realized we didn't have plans for the weekend after Thanksgiving, so Rob called Phil to see if he was available. We never dive with Phil during the weekend, but we've both been too busy for mid-week diving lately. Phil was available, so we told Kitty #3 to hold the date, and it was on. We have had 12/65 in our big tanks since the beginning of July, when we were slated to go do a deep dive on the Escapade, but I sprained my ankle two days before. We set another date in August, but then there was a storm. So those tanks have been out of commission all this time, which made me very sad, since they had come to be my favorite tanks. Anyhoo, this trip seemed like a perfect time to finally use the gas (yes, I realize we could have just re-mixed the tanks, but what fun is that?). It was also the perfect opportunity for Rob to try out the new lens that I gave to him for his birthday (a 60mm). We were targeting Crinoid Canyon. Conditions were looking pretty good though, so who knows? When we arrived at Lobos (at the luxuriously late hour of 8:30, thanks Rob), things were looking good. I checked out the ramp, which I hadn't seen before. It looks very nice. We headed out, and when we got to the site, it was dead calm. It was really nice to get geared up in such flat conditions, especially since there was an insane amount of gear. While getting geared up, Phil asked me if I was nervous... well, I wasn't, until he asked :) Somehow by the unluck of the draw, I got my bottles clipped to me first, so I was sitting there with the 2 80s in front pulling me down. It was not very comfortable, but would have been worse in big conditions. Eventually I rolled into the water and waited for Rob and Kevin.

We headed down to 20' to switch to backgas. After that, we headed down to the bottom. I pointed my scooter down and took off down the line. The boys were shocked, and so was I, but my ears just worked. I had to slow down a few times because my Argon regulator couldn't keep up. I have one of those crappy little Salvo "disposable" Argon regs, that all of the cool kids have abandoned because they don't provide gas fast enough for the scootering downward descent; up until now this has never been a problem for me. By the time we were at 150', it was dark as night. We anchored in about 240' of water, near a drop off into "Crinoid Canyon" aka "Phil's Crack". The plan was to do a segment on that wall, then come up the wall and head to Deep E3 or so for a 210-ish segment, and then head to E3 or so for a 150-ish segment (on our first deco bottle). So after a long descent (though not as long as it could have been), we hit the bottom, in the most literal sense. Hey, this scootering down thing is new to me. We headed toward the drop-off and before we quite got there, we found a rock that had like a dozen crinoids on it. It was at like 240'. I felt like I had been tricked into doing a deeper dive, when there was a perfectly good rock covered in crinoids at 240'. Oh well. This viz was not very good and it was quite dark. We headed down the slope, and yowza were there crinoids. They were everywhere! It was really neat. We also saw a really big basket star; it was all closed up, but its body was huge. There were also a lot of lingcods hanging around, mostly pretty small (and one really small). But definitely the crinoids are what there is to see. The slope down is actually pretty cool itself -- it is like nearly vertical sand, which seems to violate some laws of physics, with boulders protruding out here and there (covered in crinoids, did I mention that?).

After 15 minutes on the slope, we headed up and over toward Deep E3. Or that was the goal anyway. In the dark, poor viz, it wasn't exactly to be. I guess we headed a bit too far east, so eventually we found structure, but it came to maybe 190'. Still, not a bad spot to hang out for our 210' segment. So we meandered around that. I found a Tochuina tetraquetra almost right away, and there was another basket star. Yay, two of my favorite deep water critters (after crinoids, of course). Sitting on Phil's boat with 200+ pounds of gear tugging at my body was so worth it. Rob got some pictures of them, and then we continued on the trigger. We found another spot that was sort of like a structure with a little side structure that came up to about 200 or 210'. So we were hanging out on the little side structure, since it was the right depth. After a couple of minutes there, Kevin signaled to get back on the trigger. Rob had his camera out, so I got his attention and told him. Somehow with one flick of his hand (holding the space station of a camera), Rob managed to entangle like every piece of his gear on every other piece of his gear. I think it all started with his camera and scooter tow cord, but while trying to resolve it, his O2 bottle popped out and got tangled on his arm, while his scooter tow cord got further entangled on one of his bottles. Can't imagine it? Well the point is, it was a mess, so I darted over to him, told him to hold, and got it all sorted out. When I told him he could move, he signaled to head off the pinnacle and I gave him the okay. Then as I went to grab my scooter, I realized MY tow cord was now entangled in one of my bottles. Grumble. I let the guys take off without signaling them, thinking I would have it sorted out in no time. No time became some time after I got my scooter tow cord wrapped around the trigger assembly and had to sort that out. By the time I was ready to go, they were gone. No sign of them. But I knew which way we were headed, so off I went, sure I would catch up with them in a moment.

By the time I made it to the next pinnacle, and found absolutely no sign of them, it started to sink in that they were just GONE. I stopped on this pinnacle, because it seemed like a reasonable place for them to stop, or you know, at least notice they were down a teammate. They were nowhere to be found. I briefly sunk into a moment of near terror, realizing I was all alone at 200+ feet, with 60 minutes of deco between me and the surface. Not complete terror, but I definitely had that horrible feeling in my stomach that I have right before I have to present a paper at a conference or something. I had to pause for a few seconds and give myself a pep-talk to recover from it: nothing was actually wrong, all of my gear was working, and I was certainly capable of finishing the dive on my own; the only way I would get hurt was if I mentally imploded. After my pep talk, I considered whether to head back to where we last saw each other, but decided that this pinnacle I was on made a great waypoint, and I would search from there. It was unlikely they could double back to where they last saw me without passing within light range of this spot. Somewhere during all of this calculating, it occurred to me that while I knew why we had separated, and that the two of them had each other, Rob would potentially have to spend 60 minutes of deco wondering if I was dead.

I decided to do one last long, slow sweep of my light around the entire pinnacle when I saw a beam of light in the distance, heading straight back toward me Phew. I gave Kevin a big okay and then saw Rob's dinky little beam of light (he was on a backup light at this point) coming at me from the side too. I guess the light sweep I did caught both of their eyes. Rob thinks it was between one and two minutes that we were separated. It seemed like an eternity to me. After our reunion I got quite a few inquisitive okays (because how on earth did I fall behind if everything was okay!?!) After we got back together, I was practically touching Kevin's left elbow for the duration of the dive. We continued on our shallow-ward trajectory and eventually found a pinnacle at like 180' at the bottom, coming up to a bit shallower than 150'. I was starting to think we would never find our 150' segment and just have to drift it, so this was nice to find. We switched onto our 190 bottles and meandered a bit before continuing on the trigger. We finally found another pinnacle just in time to look around for a few minutes before it was time to move onto our deep stops. We eventually gave up on finding a shallow enough structure to do our deep stops on reef, and we headed up, but kept scootering in the direction of shallower structure. We finally found something to spend the last few deep stops on and left it just in time to switch to our 70' bottles.

Just after I finished up my switch, Kevin pointed out that there was a mola checking us out! He stuck around for a bit of our 70' stop, but that was the last that we saw of him. After I got onto my bottle, I realized I was still feeling pretty frazzled about the whole team separation thing. That's probably why my report for the rest of the dive is quite hazy :) Plus it just seemed like we were on the trigger for so much of the dive. Rob did his bottle rotation, and I decided it would be best to just chill out for a few minutes before attempting mine (since I think my bottle rotations are borderline in the best of conditions :P). After we left the mola, deco was pretty uneventful for the next few stops, though as we got shallower, we ended up in the jellyfish stew. There were lots of nettles, but not an uncomfortable number of them. There were some nice little chains of salps too. At 20', we agreed to extend the deco since we all felt like we had ended up a little deeper on some of the segments than we planned. We started finding a bunch of neat looking little jellyfish on this stop. Eventually (after our backgas break), Rob decided to start taking some pictures of the little critters. This was an excellent idea, because having something to do (look for jellies for Rob) totally distracted me and kept me warm on the deco. Plus Rob gave me the bag, and when he did, I have to admit that I was totally relieved to have something to lean on (totally un-DIR, I know!). I have been known to have shitty buoyancy on the 20' stop and use the bag as a crutch. So I really try hard not to have the bag on the 20' stop, just to stop this bad habit. But by the time Rob handed it to me, my back was sore, my feet were numb, my calves were on the verge of cramping, and I felt like I was curling up like an upside-down bug. At some point after he handed off the bag, I suddenly found myself having buoyancy issues. I realized someone/thing was tugging on my bag. I heard a boat so I flipped over to see Phil tugging on my line. Kevin had just shot a bottle on a bag and Phil had accidentally grabbed my bag, which also had a bottle (of Rob's) on it. I'm always telling the guys, if they can't handle the gear, they shouldn't be doing the dives ;) Just as I was about to drop the bag, Phil dropped it. Phew, I really didn't feel like shooting another bag! The rest of the deco went by pretty quickly thanks to the jelly shoot. When I called the 6 minute ascent, we headed up to 17' and on the way, I got totally owned by a jellyfish. I was squealing through my reg. At 14', Rob said his shoulder hurt so we went back down to 20' for a few minutes and then did it all over again.

We got to the surface and it was like we had surfaced into Armageddon. Conditions had gotten really big. Phil said we were in an area of protection for almost all of our deco but right near the end we got swept out by a current into the bigness. By the time we got to the surface, I was nearly out of energy, and also nearly out of O2. I retardedly brought my 30 cuft bottle for the dive, which was nominally enough, but once we added to the 20 foot stop, and did our little 6 minute ascent do-over, and I breathed on it for a couple of minutes on the surface, there were just a couple hundred psi left. I asked Kevin to help me get out of my gear (I always find this easiest with a buddy, especially when there is hypoxic mix involved). He instantly snapped into his DM-demeanor, and basically did all of the work, then took my rig for me and let me just bob around in the water holding my O2 bottle. Ahhh. Waves kept breaking over our heads and Kevin suggested I breathe my O2 bottle (see what I mean about the DM demeanor?). We made our way over to the boat and Kevin and Phil got my gear back in the boat, and then I made my lamest ever attempt at pretending to try to get back in the boat, while Phil pretty much pulled me into the boat. I was spent -- too spent to remember to take my weight belt off first, which didn't help the situation :P After we got everyone back on the boat (and I got to work devouring the half of a protein bar I'd left on the boat), we headed back in.

There was a bit of a mishap returning the boat to the trailer. To make a long story short, the prop made contact with the ramp and by the end of it all, the boat was under the power of only one engine, and Phil had to land the boat. This is why I always try to avoid driving the boat. Phil was obviously not too pleased, though he seemed (a bit strangely) relieved that we all made it back alive, and super horrified by the bag tugging incident (though I assured him that if I hadn't let go of the bag, and ended up at the surface, that would be my fault).

A few post-dive comments:
- I told Rob that the separation experience was "revelatory". He denied that this is an actual word, and I assured him it was (I read a lot; Rob doesn't). I mentioned that it was the most stressed I have ever been on a dive. He asked what about the time my wing failed at 230'? I told him that while I was a bit stressed by that (at first), I never actually felt scared, which I definitely did on this dive. I can make two conclusions from this: 1) my mind is my most fragile piece of dive gear, and 2) I am definitely not cut out for solo diving. I guess this is really the same conclusion, since to me, the "backup brain" is the most compelling reason to dive with a team.
- This whole thing happened because I was cavalier about my ability to quickly deal with a problem (albeit minor) without alerting my team. That was dumb. I think this was a very minor error in judgment, but it quickly led to a bad situation (and me being extremely uncomfortable). Rob had told me about something almost identical happening to him on a recent dive (in 30 feet of water), but the lesson didn't stick.
- Bringing a 30 cuft bottle on this dive was silly. I love my 30 cuft O2 bottle, because it's just so small and cute, it's like it's not even there. And I like being able to climb the Escapade ladder with my O2 bottle still on. Once you have 2 80's clipped to you, the difference between a 30 and 40 is nothing (it's leashed for the active part of the dive anyway). I have a 40 cuft O2 bottle as well, and afterward I realized, if I'm not going to use it on a dive like this, when would I use it!?!
- Being able to descend that fast is so far outside of the realm of the usual that we had to discuss it afterward. Either Rob or Kevin suggested that the extended stop at 20' (we usually pause for a bubble check, but that's it) might have given my ears some time to adjust, so I wasn't trying to play catch-up the whole way down. I'm definitely going to experiment with this!
- This dive was basically at the limit of what I think I can physically withstand. By the end, I was so hungry, thirsty, exhausted and cold. I am sure that the in-water antics did not help with this, but it was also just a long dive. I love these deep multi-level dives because you can see the cool deep critters while still getting a good ratio between bottom time and deco, but at some point those extra levels/bottom time just extends the length of the dive and make it harder. This dive was 126 minutes; I would make a terrible bunny. I told this to Rob; his response was "I'm booking the Escapade for MLK day so we can go to Italian Ledge" :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Seattle Diving

Rob and I were in Seattle for Thanksgiving, visiting our respective brothers. We weren't totally attached to the idea of diving, since schlepping gear is a bit of a pain for not a lot of diving. So we agreed that if we could bring minimal gear (think drysuits, undergarments, masks, gloves, hoods) and borrow everything else, then we'd do it. Rob contacted Lynne and a few others to see what they could do for us. Lynne was conveniently (but sadly) going to be away for the weekend, so we basically just borrowed all of her gear. So we went over to Lynne and Peter's on Friday and had a chat, played with their kitties, and got some gear. I think they actually had enough stuff that even if Lynne were diving, we would have been fine. We each brought backplates, though in the end I just used Lynne's, since it already had the cam bands in it for a single tank. (Note to self: next time, don't bother bringing a backplate.) We were given an array of tanks to choose from, and I took two single 95s, thinking that way I would have a lot of gas, since Rob took a set of doubles. So if he wanted to do one longer dive and one shorter dive, we would have that flexibility. I never even considered that they might not overfill their LP tanks. But they don't! I guess since the only place I ever get tanks filled is Anywater (and Extreme Exposure, when in Rome), I totally take that for granted!

Saturday morning, we met up with Nils, Scott, Peter (who was a "maybe" but did show up) and Laurynn, who I had never met before, to dive Cove 2. There have been a bunch of GPOs there recently, so that's what we were hoping to see. They had some ideas of where we might find them. We got geared up and were all sitting on the little ledge by the steps, where we did our gear checks. During the checks, my backup second stage started hissing. A lot. Too much to just ignore. Peter tried futzing with it a little, but it would not stop. Scott said he had another second stage in the car, and voila, he provided me with a second stage that even already had a bungee necklace! And it was even a better bungee necklace than Lynne's (sorry Lynne). After that was all taken care of, we got in the water. The tide was super high, which is a good thing at Cove 2. We were in two teams, mine consisted of Peter, Rob, and me. Peter was leading our team, though the other team was ahead of us. So we mostly followed them. We dropped down at one of the buoys and followed a big line down the slope. We eventually saw two GPOs. The second was (by my standards) HUGE, though apparently there are even huger ones up there. They were both under things, not out in the open. But still some pretty good octopus sitings.

We followed the slope down a bit deeper than I expected, and for a bit longer than I expected too. Oh well. In addition to the GPOs, we saw a few things that I was pretty excited about. First, there was a sailfin sculpin (whose sail was unfortunately not up) on the way down the slope. Right at the bottom, where we turned around, in the end of a pipe, was a red brotula, which I don't think I've ever seen before (so it was totally worth violating the MOD of my gas by 3 feet). Right near there was a warbonnet. Then on the way up the slope, there was a Tritonia diomedea, which I have never seen before and was super excited about. Then I saw this super cute fish; I had no idea what it was, but knew it was cute enough to point out to Rob, who then showed it to Laurynn. She coerced us (I swear) into petting it. It was a buffalo sculpin, another new fish for me. Then Rob found a grunt sculpin (sooo cute). So not bad for the Seattle version of the breakwater. Oh, and lots of orange metridium, which amuse me, even though they are like nothing special to Seattle peeps. On the way up we did some sort of loop so that at any point I was really quite clueless as to how far we were from shore. So I kept having to tell Peter how much gas I had, since I didn't know when to call it. I am sure he felt like he was taking one of his OW students on a tour :)

Our dive ended up being about 50 minutes. I think on the last trip, our dives were about that length, and I was ice cold by the end. Just before this trip, when I was sort of dreading the cold, I realized that on the last trip, I had my old 250gm Thinsulate undergarment. Now I have a 400gm. Ahh, what a difference that made! Of course, once we were out of the water, it was insanely cold, so that was pretty uncomfortable (especially with wet hair). But Peter totally came prepared, with his little insta-matic hot water heater (we totally need one of those for the van). We finished up with lunch at the restaurant right there by the parking lot. Man, that place is like the anti-Breakwater deli. They are so friendly to divers.

We had a second dive planned at Mukilteo pier that night. Apparently this site has a zillion ratfish, and Rob had asked Nils to take us somewhere that has ratfish. Since I guess there is no access right at the pier, you have to go in from one beach down. So Lynne and Peter loaned us scoots for the dive (which we were doing with just Nils). We got there and Rob found that the screw that locks the trigger on Peter's scooter was stuck, and was not coming un-stuck with his hands. There was another team of divers just coming out and Rob borrowed some vise grips from them, and soon fixed the problem. Then as I was getting my hood and gloves together, I realized I lacked fins. Sigh. I had left Lynne's fins (with my mask tucked in a fin pocket) at Cove 2. Somehow I managed to go from 2 sets of fins (Laurynn has also brought me a pair of fins, which I returned to her before leaving Cove 2) to 0 sets of fins in the space of a few hours. Rob told me I could never again make fun of John H. for forgetting his fins. After briefly considering doing the dive without fins, I decided to drive back to Cove 2 to look for them while the boys went diving. Cove 2 is just a few miles from my brother's house, so I suggested to Rob that we just go by there tomorrow. He had this really nervous look on his face and started to say something and then stopped. I had a feeling that Rob was really concerned about my mask, because he has this idea that it is the only mask in the world that fits my face.

Anyhoo, I went to Cove 2, which was traumatic in and of itself, since it was dark and raining, and a strange city with way too many exit only lanes, and I am, shall we say, a "weak" driver even in the best conditions. I made it there without crashing into the median on the West Seattle Bridge, and had a look on the bench where I knew I had left it. Then I headed into the un-Breakwater-deli, and asked if there was a lost and found. After being quizzed briefly on what these missing fins looked like, they returned them to me (with my mask in one of the pockets, phew). How un-Breakwater-deli of them. Yay! I returned to Mukilteo, where Nils and Rob were chit-chatting, having come out of the water not too long ago. They reported something on the order of 200 ratfish, which according to Nils is not as dense as it often is. Wow. On the way back to Jeff's, I confronted Rob about his weird fear of me losing my mask, and he admitted that he was afraid if I lost my mask, I would give up diving. I assured him that that was not true.

Thanks to Lynne and Peter for all of the loaner gear!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Kitties

I've decided that Seattle is a pretty good place to vacation, because there are lots of vacation kitties to play with. Jeff and Sarah have two kitties, plus Lynne and Peter have their two. So I always get a decent dose of kitty time when I am there. I had never met Jeff's cats before, and to be honest, none of the pictures that I had seen made them look exceptionally cute. But in real life they totally are. Cali is a calico cat, who looks like a bucket of paint was splashed on her. She has dense, short fur, and is really lightweight and small. She is even lighter weight than she looks. I guess it's because Pepper is such a lean, mean, foot-biting machine, when I pickup a small cat, I expect it to be heavier per unit volume. Cali took a little while to warm up to us, but she eventually was quite friendly. That cat is the most vocal cat I have ever met (though Jeff claims Pepper is more vocal). And she makes the weirdest noises. It's like she is talking to you in a growly voice.

Her (adopted) brother is George, who I would call a "ginger cat". But only because that is how Crookshanks was described in Harry Potter :) He is like a little lion. He has sort of tufted fur and a fluffy tail, both of which I love. But the really intriguing thing about George is his multitude of toes. That's right, he's a polydactyl cat. He has two extra toes on each front paw, and one extra toe on each back paw. On his front paws, he basically has two extra thumbs, which are at an opposing angle to his paws. So he kind of walks with his feet turned out. Wikipedia has a very informative article on polydactyl cats. According to it, cats with this form of polydactyly often have improved dexterity. He also has the problem they mention with the claws overgrowing and poking his skin. Apparently his vet recommended de-clawing those extra claws; I told Jeff that George is a work of art and he should find a new vet :) Unfortunately George is pretty shy, so he hid under the futon during the day for most of our trip. But once the lights were out, he would come out and be friendly -- a lot like Oreo used to be, before she became a social butterfly. I even caught him chewing on my hair a la Pepper in the middle of the night one night!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Getting the Band Back Together

We were back on the Escapade, for a BAUE tech boat. Team Kitty (classic) was diving together; it seems like it has been ages since we've all dived together. A quick review of the blog suggests that the last dive we did together locally was in July! How terrible. But there have been two cave trips since then, so I guess not that terrible. Anyhoo, the forecast for Saturday was looking pretty good, but the wind was supposed to get worse throughout the day, and then Sunday had a pretty horrible wind forecast. But we managed to sneak down to Yankee Point before it got too bad. Rob wanted to go to the south wall, so we hatched a plan to drop just north of the wall, and then have all of the teams (since we were all on scooters) meet back at K2 and pop bags there. We hopped into the water (as much as you can "hop" with a gazillion pounds of gear on) and scooted to the downline. There was some wicked current. I had to stay on the trigger pretty much continuously to stay with the line. I was waiting and waiting and eventually Kevin appeared. He headed down to 20 feet, so I followed him. And we waited and waited and eventually came up to look for Rob. Eventually he appeared (he fell behind while clipping his camera off and his ghetto scooter took a while to get him to the line). So finally we headed down the line.

There was wicked current pretty much top to bottom. Once on the bottom, we were greeted by dark, green water, with rather shitty viz. Ahh, this is why we dive. I really had no freakin' clue where we were -- that's the beauty of dark green silty water. But rumor had it we were north of the wall, a little to the east of the channel that leads to K2. So Rob headed southwest. The current was dragging us away from the wall. Well, at least we wouldn't have to worry about fighting the current on the way back. We had tentative plans to head across the sand to the little parallel wall that I call the "south south wall". When we plan to do that, I always preface that with "if the viz looks good". When we finally made it to the wall (I guess... I really couldn't see much down or up it, but the depth suggests we were at the wall), and Rob asked and I was like "no freakin' way". I don't have much to report about this dive, since mostly I just saw green, dark, siltiness. It was insanely bad at 200' plus there was all that current. We eventually came up the wall, or somehow were magically transported to shallower structure -- hey, I just follow Rob. At 150', the water actually seemed a bit clearer. It was definitely a lot less dark.

Other than dark green siltiness, there were some hordes of baby rockfish. We also had a close encounter with a mola. We were on the trigger and Kevin signaled Rob I think he was worried that Rob was about to run straight into the mola. So we all stopped and had a mola fly-by. It was nice. I was thinking as we were scootering to the north, on our way to K2 (more on that in a moment), that in the greenness, the bright pink structures seemed even brighter than usual, maybe just because they seemed to suddenly appear under my light from the murk. However, I think Corynactis looks nicer on a backdrop of blue water (much like my drysuit). So eventually it was time to find our way back to K2. Because of the viz, we didn't successfully find the channel that we usually take up to K2. But we were heading in that general direction. Eventually we realized that we were a bit too far west; or I should say we guessed we were a bit too far west. It was the most plausible direction, based on the depth of the wall when we were on the wall, plus how long we spent getting to the wall. So we headed to the east, and saw some structure that had some tell-tale signs of looking like K2. It had all that mowed down palm kelp that you see on certain sides of the pinnacle. But now we had overshot to the north. So we headed south and eventually found the 70' high spot on the pinnacle. I was pretty impressed that we made it. I checked the crack formerly known as the GPO's home, and saw a huge urchin, but no octopus. I didn't see either of the other teams, though in this viz, I'm not sure I would have seen them. We had an uneventful, though pretty cold ascent.

We unfortunately surfaced just after another team did, so we had to wait for them to be retrieved. While we were bobbing on the surface, it was a little rough. Finally the boat came over to us, and getting back on the boat was a bit of a pain with all that current. I was freezing after the dive. I don't know if it is actually related, but I have a usual eating routine before a dive (based on my theory that protein == warmth), which I did not stick to. There is also a high likelihood that my pink drysuit is a bit leaky (I have since left it at the drysuit hospital for a leak test). We headed bayward and once we were there, we paused to discuss options for a second dive. I guess someone suggested Ballbuster, so that is where we went. As a result of my extreme coldness, and the fact that I think Ballbuster is a very scary dive, I decided to stay on the boat and have some hot chocolate instead. Kevin and Nick kept me company, and Rob joined Clinton and John. Eventually some bags came up, one not too far from the line and the other not at all close to the line. It turns out the anchor slipped (or something), and one team (Pavel and Masao) guessed the right direction to go, while Rob's team guessed the wrong direction and basically swam to deep Aumentos. No one had any pictures from the trip :(

We had lunch at Turtle Bay and then we headed over to Beto and Sue's afterward. The night before, a neighborhood (stray?) cat had followed Susan home, and come inside to play. So Susan and I took Naia for a walk to see if we could find him (or her) again. We found her (as far as I could tell, it was a girl) in the park, and she was super friendly, and we quickly made friends. She was grey with slightly long (super soft) fur, and a big fluffy tail. Since I am a crazy cat lady (CCL for short), I have a sort of cat bucket list. It's a list of all of the cats I want to have at some point. Two of the entries on the list are "grey cat" and "cat with bushy tail". So I was definitely into this cat. She followed us home and came inside and charmed Susan into giving her some tuna. What a lucky kitty. She also entertained us while Rob and Beto were knotting line -- every cat's favorite activity! Beto nicknamed her "Panther".

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Surprise Trip South

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob had friend in town -- Peter, from Belgium, who Rob met at his GUE ITC. He was looking to dive, so Rob setup some diving for the weekend. For Saturday, he put together a tech boat. It was originally a T2 boat, but after studying the forecast during the week, we decided to bring 18/45, in case we ended up in the bay. So that way some others could join the trip too. In the end, we had 3 teams. I decided that I just wanted to dive on Saturday, so Rob and I drove down separately. The upside of this is that I got to sleep in an extra half hour; Rob wanted to meet Peter early since he was loaning a bunch of gear to him. The forecast wasn't looking so good, so we really weren't expecting much. We were just hoping to make it to Carmel. When we got out there, the conditions were not too bad. There was big swell, but it was a big, long rolling swell without much wind, which I don't really mind. We got surprisingly not too trashed on the way around the point to Carmel. We knew that the wind was supposed to pickup later in the day though. But I guess Jim was feeling bold (or trying to teach us a lesson, maybe) and said we could try to make a run south of Lobos and see what it was like down there. Woohoo. We made it all the way down to Yankee Point, to Mount Chamberlin. Enter the wind. As we were getting geared up, it became obvious that conditions were not quite as favorable down here as they had been on the ride down. There were some gearing-up shenanigans that delayed us a bit -- Rob and Peter didn't do a very good job of assessing whether Peter would fit into Rob's plate before loading gear on the boat (amateur, right?). Once that was all resolved, we finally got into the water. One of the other teams had already jumped and was waiting for us at the ball.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Once I was in the water, I realized the swell was quite big. As I scootered to the ball, it kept disappearing (or I kept disappearing, maybe) in the trough of a wave. But I finally made it there, only to find that Rob and Peter had fallen behind. I guess the boat swung around on another pass to drop Matt and Clinton into the water, and it seemed like there were divers scattered everywhere. Eventually they all appeared at the ball, but while I was hanging out at the ball, thinking about how ridiculous it was trying to muster 8 divers at the ball in these conditions, I wondered if it was a good decision to get into the water. On the other hand, the pickup is always less chaotic because we do it one team at a time. We headed down the line into somewhat murky conditions. It was also incredibly surgy. By the time we hit the pinnacle, we were at maybe 100 feet, and the surge was wild. As we got a bit deeper, it relented a little, but it was still surgy basically all the way down to 200 feet. It was also quite dark, and I would call the viz 30 to 40 feet (though Rob seemed to think it wasn't quite this good). But there was a lot of particulate in the water.

We had planned to head to the north side of the pinnacle, and hop over to some of the structures just north of K2 for a deep segment and then come back to K2 and multi-level it from there. Scootering in big surge is always amusing, since for a moment you are barely moving (if at all) and then suddenly you are flying forward. Rob led us to the north side and across the sand channel to a little pinnacle which I think we have been too before (I think we saw a lot of canary rockfish there once, and a couple of basket stars on another dive). Rob doesn't know, since he is mostly stateless as it pertains to landmarks on dives. Usually we go to the top of it, but today (I'm guessing due to the surge), we stayed kind of low and scootered around the south side. We eventually came to a little channel between this rock and another, and Rob and Peter headed through it. I scootered towards the channel and there was ridiculous surge coming through it, against me. It was the kind of water movement where if you try to scooter through it, it feels like your mask is going to implode on your face. I backed off to the side and waited for the surge to change directions. Once it did, I scootered into the crack and literally got spit out the other side, where Rob and Peter were waiting. Phew. Not long after that, as we curved around to the north side of that pinnacle, we found a couple of basket stars. The first one was all curled up with just one tendril extended. There were also gobs of fishies on this pinnacle. If you looked up, the water was filled with the silhouettes of small rockfish.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We eventually headed back to K2 working our way shallower up the east side. We stopped to look at a few fish along the wall, including a juvenile yelloweye (those guys have been everywhere this year), a mystery juvenile rockfish (I think) that was yellowish with some fluorescent orange-pink on its head, China rockfish, and kelp greenlings. Plus there were the usual schooling blue rockfish. Peter was pretty impressed with the fish life on the dive, which was evident from the squealing coming from his regulator :) We also saw some Dotos and a lot of Flabellina trilineata along the side of the wall. We eventually passed the high spot on K2 and ended up in a little canyon where we went on my first BAUE tech boat, but we seem to never go anymore. It has lush gorgonians and elephant ear sponges along the sides. After poking around in there for a couple minutes, we headed back to the high spot. We were killing the last few minutes of our bottom time, at maybe 120 feet on the east side of that high spot, when I found the mystery "zebra snail" which I have seen exactly once before, on our first dive at Dos Gatos. Needless to say, I was delighted to see it again, and even more delighted to show it to Rob, so someone else could vouch for its existence :) I should really try to figure out what it is. (Unfortunately, Clinton was nowhere to be found -- he was shooting macro). I also looked into the GPO crack, but alas there was no GPO. Just some rockfish and a huge urchin. When it was time to start the deco, Rob put up a bag and off we went. We could see both of the other teams all leaving the peak at the agreed-upon time.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
On deco, we had the usual assortment of jellies drifting by, including some nettles, but nothing too exciting. It was noticeably lacking the warm water that we had on deco recently. Getting my fins off on the current line was a difficult task since my fingers were basically numb by the end of the dive :) For some reason, climbing the ladder to get back on the boat seemed unusually hard. Perhaps Kevin is right -- everything gets harder once you turn 30 :P The conditions had actually not deteriorated as much as I expected, phew. We were talking about doing a second dive, but decided to head back to Monterey Bay, since we wanted to do the travel before the wind got worse. On the way from Cypress Point to Pinos, it actually seemed like the swell was smaller than it had been on the way down, but maybe it was a bit more windy. It wasn't a bad ride at all though. We made a brief stop a bit north of Pinos to play with a gaggle of dolphins -- there were Risso's and Northern right whale dolphins, at least. I guess Jim saw a Dahl's porpoise, but I don't think anyone else did. The Risso's seemed awfully frisky, with a bunch of them jumping completely out of the water. After we were finished with that, we headed into the bay, and started talking dive sites. Clinton was interested in diving the deep shale, so we went to check it out. The water on the surface was quite brown. Jim was getting reports that the sites in the bay (Aumentos or Eric's, not sure which) were reporting like 5 to 10 foot viz. We expected the viz to be worse on the shale, so we decided to punt (yea, we're soft) and go get some lunch instead. Laura at AWS told me the breakwater had like 2 foot viz, so I can't imagine the shale was much better.

Rob was nominally shooting wide-angle, but I don't think he ever even took his camera out. I guess it was the combination of darkness, surge, and the fact that the dive was more like a tour around the pinnacle. But Clinton got some nice macro pics, which I am including in the post. Thanks for the pics Clinton. And of course, thanks to the crew of the Escapade for letting us show Peter a pretty nice first dive in California.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wreck Diving Road Trip

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob, Clinton, and I went down to LA for the weekend to do a little wreck diving (and family visitation). Nick and Jamie setup a boat for us to do some light tech diving off of, and Justin (visiting from Colorado) joined their team. The plan was to do the first dive on the Retriever (in about 130 feet), the second on the Palawan (in about 120 feet), and a third dive on the Star of Scotland (in about 80 feet). This involved a ton of gear, with some people bringing two sets of doubles and some of us just brought a lot of stages. We were on the Island Diver, and the boat seemed pretty full with gear for the 6 of us. The last time we dove in LA (on the Palawan), we were on the slowest boat known to man. This boat was much more reasonable, and we were out to the site in no time. The way that they planned to deploy us was to drop a shot line on the wreck and then anchor off of the wreck in the sand, letting the boat drift back to near the shot line (hopefully). Once the boat was anchored, we clipped our bottles to lines on the sides of the boat and tossed them in. Then we got into our gear, which was kind of annoying because the gear was on the deck on the way out and we had to hoist it up onto the benches to get geared up. Then we rolled into the water and put our bottles on in there. Then we swam over to downline. There was a bit of current on the surface. We didn't have scooters for this dive, because the site was supposed to be really small.

Photo by Robert Lee
We headed down to the line, and at the bottom, we found a whole lot of sand. And a lead weight bouncing along the bottom. Hmph. This is seeming very familiar. Rob suggested we swim a little to see if there was any sign of anything, but after about 10 feet, I guess he realized that was futile. So we returned to the line and headed up it. On the way up, Rob put up a bag, hoping this would signal to the other team not to bother coming down the line. We got to the surface and found the other team waiting (not sure if they saw the bag and decided to wait, or just happened to not have started down yet). We told the captain that we were in sand and he said we could stay in the water and he would go drop the ball again. Just as we were pondering the long swim up-current that this would involve, he told us he would tow us over to the ball once it was reset. I've never done that before, and always imagined it being not very comfortable on the shoulders. Indeed it is not, even though we were moving pretty slowly. Just as I was about to let go because I couldn't stand it anymore, I peeked above the water and saw that we were just about to the ball. As soon as the boat stopped, I made a bee-line for the line and our team was headed back down pretty quickly.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
This time we actually found something at the bottom of the line. The wreck is reminiscent of a rubble pile more than a wreck :) It is small, and broken into two big pieces. Between the two big pieces there is low-lying rubble strewn about. While the structure is nothing to write home about, there were zillions of fish on it. And it is pretty nicely covered in Corynactis and gorgonians. I couldn't believe how dense it was with fishies! As soon as we got down, the first thing I saw (other than the scads of fishies in the water) was a lingcod guarding some eggs. Neat. After looking at the half of the wreck that we dropped on, I poked around the rubble pile briefly and found a huge lingcod under there, and also a starry rockfish. Clinton apparently saw a bunch of starries, but I saw only that one. There were also a zillion juvenile half-bandeds. Near the end of the dive, we meandered over to the mast, and I noticed a line wrapped around it with a bolt-snap on the end. Ooh la la -- loot! I salvaged the bolt-snap, with Rob's assistance. I told him afterward that if I find that bolt snap with yellow tape on it, he is in big trouble. We ended up leaving the bottom a bit before scheduled (not really sure why, but we had kind of seen what there was to see). There was a little bit of current on the way up, but it seemed to get better as we got closer to the surface, so for most of the deco it was fine.

Photo by Robert Lee
For the next dive, we headed to the Palawan, which is really close. But by the time we got into the water, it had gotten kind of windy. It was a little snotty when I rolled into the water. We headed down and thankfully found the wreck. We had originally planned to dive bottom stages on dive 1 but not on dive 2. But with the extra "dive" down to the sand on the first dive, we decided to bring a stage on dive 2 (to share :P). Luckily we had brought an extra stage on the boat "just in case". I think planning to pass a stage bottle halfway through the dive is a bit strokey, but Rob assures me it isn't. The viz was not too good -- it was very chunky, especially bad in some spots near the bottom. We did one zoom around the outside, and then ended up spending most of the rest of the dive on top. There was quite a bit of current, but if you were on the deck, there was some protection from the structure. It was amazing how much current there was outside of the protection and then if you dropped down like 2 feet, it was basically totally protected. The wreck is totally colorful with Corynactis, and also has a lot of those spindly red gorgonians. But there were also the more lush golden gorgonians and some of those purple sea-fan-like things (not sure what the technical term is), and a few orange ones too. Last time we were on the Palawan, there were zillions of Cuthona divae and their eggs all over it. This time I saw a bunch, but not as many as last time. There were also plenty of fish on the wreck, though it didn't seem as fishy as the Retriever was. But maybe it was just the small wreck versus big wreck thing affecting my perception of the fishiness. I am pleased to report that I passed my half-empty stage to Rob without incident. But of course as soon as I started to stow the reg, I realize Clinton wants to take a pictures; so he got a picture of me with a reg in my hands.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
The deco was uneventful, though there was a bit of current. We would just scoot back into place a couple times a minute to stay with the line. The water got warmer on the way up, so it was toasty warm by 20 feet. The water also was much clearer at 20 feet, which struck me as pretty odd. The original plan was to do a third dive on the Star of Scotland, but the wind had really picked up, and with the current at the Palawan, we didn't think it was worth the bumpy ride to try it. So then we were talking about the Avalon, or a drift dive on some reef nearby. In the end, we rode over to the Avalon, and the divemaster was going to do a quick dive to see what the current was like. When the shot line immediately went for a ride after it was dropped, it was pretty apparent that there was a lot of current. And no one was feeling that attached to a third dive, so we just called instead. So we got back to the dock a bit early, but of course the LA traffic conspired to keep us from actually having any day left by the time we got back to Adrienne's house.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Since I am a bit behind in my writing, I guess I can't post this without mentioning the next week's drama about this trip. Apparently we made some horrific tipping faux pas with the DM (I swear, we gave the guy a hundred bucks!), and so we all got called assholes by some guy on The Deco Stop. I believe the exact phrase was "asshole tech divers". I gather the original poster is a bit of an asshole himself, and doesn't get along with Nick. Well, I was telling Matt, if I had a nickel for every time I was called an asshole on the internet... and Matt said I could probably buy a new drysuit ;)

All of the day's pictures are here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Three Dives for the Price of Two

Saturday I was on a BAUE tech boat. This was Ted's big BAUE tech boat debut, so I was diving with Kevin and him. But then half of the boat was knocked out by a cold (or something), and Matt was without a buddy. So we decided to just dive as a team of 4. The goal was, of course, to make it as far south as we could. There was a biggish swell but not a lot of wind when we first turned the Point. But soon enough the wind kicked up and we were in whitecaps. The wind was out of the south, so the crew recommended E3, since we would get protection from Point Lobos. They were right -- once we were there, it was dead calm. It was really nice getting geared up in such calm conditions. Just as we were all geared up, with bottles (well, bottle) and all, the down line slipped and we had to go back around again to drop it again. Once that was finished, we got in the water and headed down the line. The viz was looking pretty good.

I was a bit worried when we got down to 80' or so without seeing anything pinnacle-like. We kept on going until we got to 150', where the ball was drifting along in mid-water, with the bottom maybe 30 feet below. The viz was really good though :) We looked around and couldn't see any obvious structures around and thumbed it. By the time we got back to the surface it had been just a little over 10 minutes. Apparently we had drifted quite a bit (read: there was a lot of current), and there was no way we would have found E3 if we had searched for it. The water was still dead calm and we all quickly got back on the boat. After a bunch of hemming and hawing about what was the best way to deploy on the next try. Eventually we decided to anchor the boat and deploy a granny line, blah. We got in and pulled ourselves to the anchor line, which while not totally trivial, was not as bad as I expected given how much we had allegedly drifted on the previous dive. We started down the line, and again, it wasn't that bad. I was pulling but not with great effort, and Matt wasn't even pulling on the line. So I reasoned, based on the law of averages (or something) that if the current was mild now, it would be worse than expected later. Then we got to 50'. I swear it took me minutes to make it from 50' to 60'; it was like I wasn't moving. Just as I was thinking this, I noticed Matt was on the line too.

But eventually we saw pinnacle and just as the pinnacle came into view, we saw 3 molas too! Once we were below the top of the pinnacle, we were protected from the current, so we dropped away from the line and enjoyed the mola action. After they headed off, we swam along the current-protected side of the pinnacle. I believe that we dropped on the south side of the west end, but since I am directionally challenged, and used my compass not a bit on this dive, I really can't say for sure. We swam leisurely along the side that we dropped on. The viz wasn't as good as it was on the "first dive" but then there was a pinnacle on this dive, so who can complain? There were some fish, but not a huge number. We saw a couple of juvenile yelloweyes. Actually I saw one and then later on, Matt was trying to show me something in the folds of an elephant ear, and while I couldn't see the fish, I had a feeling that's what it was (which he confirmed back on the boat). Eventually we came to a little notch in the top of the pinnacle, and I thought I'd try my luck with the other side. I swam into the notch, looking around at the critters on each side. As soon as I got to the other side, I got completely spun around by the current, and decided to turn around and head back, with my tail between my legs. On the way back, I noticed that the wall was crawling with Diaphorodoris lirulatocauda. I pointed them out to Matt, since I thought he might actually appreciate it. We eventually meandered back around where we started, and I went a bit deeper to see what was down there. I saw a couple of simnia snails, but nothing else to report. Eventually we worked our way up to the top and headed back along the ridge. I saw two molas swimming along the top of the pinnacle just across the notch. I swam over toward them and they hung around for a minute and then headed out. Then a third once came swimming into the frame, but he wasn't really interested in hanging around long. Just a couple of minutes later, it was time to call the dive.

Our ascent was pretty uneventful for the first several stops. We did 25 minutes of deco, which I found to be delightfully quick. It was also nice and warm as we got shallower. I think it was about 57 degrees from 20 feet up. There were the usually assortment of small jellies to look at, but not much else. Then at 20 feet, as I was looking down into the abyss, out of nowhere, a sea lion was barreling towards me. He totally scared me. There were a few that were zipping around us for the next few minutes, which was fun. Just as Kevin called for us to head to 20 feet, I saw a big yellow halo below us. It slowly became more clear until I could see that it was a HUGE jellyfish. But alas, it was below us. It was slowly coming up toward us, and while I never got a clear view of what it was, it was definitely a huge jellyfish :) I lingered on my way up to 10 feet (Kevin was annoyed I think) because I was sort of transfixed by it. I was just thinking, if there were a man-eating jellyfish, that's what it would look like. I pretty much spent the rest of deco checking out the jellyfish, trying to will it to come up a bit shallower, but it was not to be.

When we hit the surface, the conditions had deteriorated a lot and it was whitecapping like crazy. It was kind of a shock considering how calm it had been when we got in (and it was only a one hour dive). Getting back on the boat was a bit of a pain -- there was so much surface current that I felt like my arms were going to be ripped out of my shoulders while trying to hold onto the ladder. Oy. When the topic turned to dive 2, we all agreed we should head back into the bay before it got worse. So we headed to Eric's Pinnacle. When we got there, I made a joke about putting a granny line in, which was funny because when we jumped in, there actually was a bit of current on the surface. Nothing big though. We did a pretty short dive; the highlights of it were the sea lion ballet -- there were about 8 of them periodically coming through and zipping around us; and the blue rockfish at the top of the pinnacle -- I swear they get bigger on every dive! There were also zillions of sea nettles in midwater. We got pretty well nailed on the way up (from all of 20 feet). I don't usually have much of a reaction to them, but this time after I pulled my hood off my face was stinging all over. I doused it with vinegar and it eventually felt better, either from the vinegar or the passage of time.

Once back to K-dock we decided to zip back up to AWS and then have late lunch/early dinner up there at Gloria's. Yummy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back to Twin Peaks

On Saturday, Rob and I attended a BAUE day at Point Lobos. Usually at these events, I try to dive with someone I don't normally dive with, or haven't dived with in a while. But this time, I decided to just dive with Rob. We haven't been diving together at Lobos in ages, it seems. I also haven't done a tech dive in almost two months, so I decided to ease back into it with a nice long, 3 bottle dive to Twin Peaks :) The water was so warm last weekend, I was thinking it would be a good day for a long dive. Plus everyone who was at Lobos the previous weekend reported excellent viz. It was so dreary on Friday that I was expecting rainy overcast weather on Saturday too. But when we arrived it was a clear and sunny, and the water was pretty calm, with a nice high tide. Excellent.

We had a bit of a float mishap while deploying our gear. Since the tide was so high, we put the float on the ramp and loaded it up. Then Rob swam it out. But the weight was still clipped to the float and he lost control of the float and everything sunk. Oops. Well, it was in like 10 feet of water just off the ramp, so we were pretty confident we could find it :) We got geared up and headed in. The water was nice and clear, and even if it hadn't been, I saw a little bubble coming up from one of our bottles, and that's how we found them. We recovered the ball, got our gear on, and I noticed that my stage bottle was quite bubbly at the high pressure spool. After doodling with it briefly, I decided it was fine, and we were off. We scootered out a bit, and dropped in 30 or so feet on the sand channel, and headed out. The water was warm around the sand channel, but by the time we got to the Road, my gauge was reading 48 degrees. The viz was really good though. We cruised straight out to the big peak, and kicked around for a while there.

Rob was busy taking pictures and I was just poking around looking for slugs. I didn't find much of interest, but it was still fun. I did see a juvenile yelloweye, when Rob lined me up for a picture behind an elephant ear, and he just happened to be hanging out on the back side of it. After about 20 minutes or so out there, we headed back in. There was quite a bit of current heading out along the road. We stopped along the road, about halfway back in at a big towering pinnacle, where I believe we saw a ratfish not too long ago. We stopped so Rob could take some pictures, and I kept trying to pose and getting swept away by the current. It was like the worst current I think I've ever experienced at Lobos. After getting frustrated with the current, we continued in, and stopped at a spot in about 130 feet, where we often like to slug hunt. John and Clinton scootered by just before we stopped. We were each just poking around on our own piece of reef, when Rob signaled me very excitedly. I headed over and he had found an Okenia felis (yay, I think that's the first time I've referred to it here that it's actually been the legitimate name for it!). I was super excited -- I haven't seen one in well over a year. Since Clinton and John had just passed by a minute before, we decided to go look for them. Instead we found Kevin and Charles, so we brought them back to take a look (I marked the spot with a double-ender). I'm sure Charles was like dude, wtf? I made Rob take a picture of me looking at the slug, not that you can see what it is in the picture, but I just thought it would make a cute picture.

Shortly after that, we decided to head in. Rob wanted to scooter across the sand to Beto's reef, so we headed that way. After a minute, I got a little spooked about the fact that we were over featureless sand and there was a raging current, and told him to turn right and head in. We ended up running smack-dab into the first sister. Phew. We continued in toward Lone Metridium, and when we hit the kelp, it was laying WAY over in the current. It was crazy. From there, we shot over to the kelp-sand interface along the sand channel and did our 60 and 70 foot stops there. When we got to 70 feet, there were some tense deco negotiations (as a matter of course, Rob always rejects my first proposal), so by the time that was through and Rob did his (textbook-perfect, barf) bottle rotation, I decided to wait until 60 feet to do mine. As we pulled into the 60 foot stop, Kevin and Charles came scootering by and stopped about 10 feet away. Great, an audience. What I found out later was that not only did I have an audience, but Kevin was video'ing me! So wrong! From there we headed across the sand channel and came in along middle reef. As we headed in at 30 feet, Rob told me his scooter was slowing down, so he took the lead. We made it to our 20 foot stop before it completely died, so from there were just meandered in slowly, killing the time for our stop. Eventually when we hit 20 feet laying on the bottom, we had nowhere to go, so we hung out there. I found a little juvenile vermilion to watch for a while. Rob found a lobster shell -- we were both like "no WAY!". It also made us both hungry. When that stop was over, we swam in slowly, doing a 6 minute ascent, Lobos style. We ended up at the bottom of our float for our 8 foot stop. We tried to be all cool and shoot our bottles up the line, which totally failed, because there are a bunch of knots on it that the snaps couldn't slip over. Oops.

After some lunch, Rob wanted to get back in to take Beto's new scooter for a spin, so I let the boys go have fun while I killed some time on the surface. Unfortunately it started raining in the afternoon, and by the time we got going, it was pretty ugly out. Well, at least we got a nice day of diving in!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mola Parade

Saturday I was on the Escapade for a BAUE recreational boat. I was planning to dive with Jim, but he supposedly came down with some sort of cold and was not able to dive. I think he just didn't want to dive with me because of my recent curse when it comes to diving on the Escapade. When I arrived at K-dock, I told Jim I was sure I could find someone else to dive with, and then Kenn appeared. So I volunteered the Bunnies to dive with me, and it was so. It's been a while since I've dived with the bunnies, so I was excited! It seems like it's been forever since we've had a nice easy boat trip where it wasn't foggy and it wasn't windy and the swell wasn't big. So I was delighted to have a nice smooth ride down past Carmel, all the way to Que Paso!

We hopped in the water and saw some nice viz. We headed down the line, expecting to hit pinnacle around 40 feet. It quickly became obvious that that was not going to happen, but eventually we found ourselves on the little rock covered in metridium just off of the main pinnacle. We ended up a wee bit deeper than we expected, oops, and then headed over the main pinnacle and worked our way up that. From there, we headed counterclockwise (Kenn was ostensibly leading, but since I am a very bad #2, we were keeping it loose). For most of the dive, I was buried in the reef, Kenn was a bit off of the reef, and Steve was practically at a different dive site -- I guess he likes to take it all in. It took me a while to figure that out, so I kept "losing" him. Silly bunny. We meandered along, not moving very quickly, and eventually Kenn signaled to turn the dive. We turned to Steve and he was gesticulating out into the blue. I looked where he was pointing and saw two molas! I looked back and the boys and saw Kenn very seriously trying to tell Steve that we were turning the dive. Hehehe. Once he caught on, I decided to go in for a closer look. I swam toward the molas, and one of them just hung out while I swam right up to it, like arms reach away. He looked at me for a moment before heading off with his friend.

We headed back to the pinnacle and turned around, retracing our path back toward the anchor line. About halfway there, Steve signaled us to point out a group of 4 molas swimming along between him and the pinnacle. I guess there are benefits to not being buried in the weeds... I was literally inspecting some hydroids when he signaled me, which was pretty silly in hindsight, considering we had just seen molas a few minutes before! Anyhoo, I swam over to take a look and they gracefully swam up and away. I flipped over on my back to watch their silhouettes as they disappeared up into the water column. I saw a pile of divers hanging out above me, most of the apparently oblivious to the molas swimming past them :( Once we got back to around the little metridium rock, we still had some time to spare, so we decided to hang out near there, near the top of the pinnacle. It was a bit surgy there. When we decided to call it, we had to head about 10 feet deeper to see the metridium rock clearly, but then I could see the anchor line immediately. And before you know it, the anchor line was coming right at me, and splat, I practically smashed right into it. Hmm, the current sure did pick up! The ascent was actually fairly annoying because I was in denial about how strong the current was, and tried to back kick into it so we could all see each other. At 40 feet, another mola swam by. When I finally gave into the current and joined the boys facing into it, it got much easier. We got to the surface and literally just floated back to the swimstep. I was originally wondering if I had just been oblivious to the current on the way down, but there definitely wasn't that strong of a current on the surface when we got in. So it must have picked up.

I guess we were the last team on the boat, and everyone else must have gotten their giggles out while we were still in the water, because it seemed like everyone was very serious as we headed north. When we made it all the way past Cypress Point, I started to get suspicious that we might finally make it to Fanshell Pinnacles (which Clinton has been asking for a lot and is always denied by Jim) -- because I hoped we weren't heading back to the bay in these conditions. Clinton confirmed that that's where we were heading (I think it might technically be called "Fanshell Beach Pinnacles", but I'm really not sure). Jim told us the pinnacle went from about 70 feet to a bit deeper than 100 feet. So I brought a stage (the bunnies brought half-stages on the first dive, so I had a bit less gas than them). Thanks to Jim for loaning me the stage -- I didn't bring one because I didn't plan to use one, but when you dive with the bunnies you have to be prepared for some serious bottom time.

We hopped in and were once again greeted to nice viz (though not as good as Que Paso). We headed down the line, which was running right to a crack in the pinnacle. On the right side, the top was around 70 or so feet, but on the left it was a bit shallower, maybe about 50 feet on the top. I drew the short straw of leading the dive, so I decided to head down the crack and to the left. There was a sand channel that we could see below us at maybe 110 feet or so. The side of the pinnacle was very colorful, and then all of a sudden we hit this very vertical patch of wall that was really barren. It was strange, but kind of cool. We continued around the pinnacle, and it got less vertical and not as colorful so after a bit, we turned around and headed back. Why bother with the less colorful part? We came all the way back around and worked our way up a bit shallower. As we passed through about 80 feet, it got *really* warm. Like uncomfortably warm. I ducked back down for a moment because it was just too warm! We eventually came back around to the line and worked our way up the shallower side of the crack. A bunch of other teams were there, and Clinton was harassing, err, photographing a really pretty cabezon. It had pastel purple-ish spots, my favorite. I swam over to check out the fish; I figured I couldn't possibly be more annoying than his strobes :) The shallow side of the pinnacle was just super colorful. It was covered with Corynactis and also had some hydrocoral. It was a very pretty spot, with a dramatic wall on the deep side and a really colorful spire. When it was time to go, we headed up the line (and I did not go splat into it this time, phew).

When we got back to K-dock, I was just about to start begging for a place to store my gear while I waited for Rob to pick me up (he was off doing some "cooler" dive with Ted and John at Lobos), when I saw Ted, John, and Rob hanging out at K-dock waiting for us. I guess they decided to just do one dive. They were pretty hungry, so I was scurried off to La Tortuga for lunch -- they even helped unload gear from the boat!

Video by Kenn!