It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

We weren't diving this weekend, since we were visiting family in LA instead. But I did make some ocean-themed dyed Easter eggs while we were there. The one on the right is a jellyfish -- a little hard to tell with all of the light reflections off of it. Hopefully you can tell what the one on the left is supposed to be!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Matt's Birthday Dive

Photo by Leah Wadler
On Sunday I was back on Phil's boat, this time to celebrate Matt's birthday. It was quite the full weekend of birthday celebrations, though unfortunately we only had cupcakes once :( We were hoping to see some dolphins on the way out, after our many dolphin encounters on Friday. In fact, I said that if there was a pod of dolphins on top of the Great Pinnacle again, we were diving there, no matter how good the conditions were. Unfortunately, we saw no dolphins. After dealing with some engine shenanigans, we finally got going, and sort of paused just outside of the cove. We had been talking about Yankee Point sites, but then it was a bit windy, and there was also the question of the engine, but Phil said it was fine. After a bit of waffling on whether to go south, or to stay close to Lobos, or maybe to go north, or maybe less north, we eventually settled on Yankee Point after all, shooting for PTP (Pinnacle of Tremendous Proportions). Actually we settled on heading that way and seeing how things got once we were around Lobos. Because on Friday, I felt like things settled down a bit once we were down there.

Conditions were roughly equivalent to Friday, with some wind but very little swell. However, it was quite overcast today, which I always feel makes it seem like conditions are worse than they really are. We got down there, and I got to drop the hook -- not sure I've ever done that before. For some odd reason, Phil put me in my gear last, which made little sense to me, since Leah is prone to seasickness. But there seemed to be a method to his madness, it just eluded me. There was a bit of surface current, but I found it not too bad to get to the anchor line (sans scooter, if you can believe it). And once we were off of the surface, it was fine. On Friday, there was a layer of muck to maybe 40 feet and then quite clear water below that. I was hoping for the same, and while it did clear up a bit, it definitely wasn't quite as clear. Greener and darker, too, I guess because it was overcast above. Matt was leading, because he said it was his birthday and if he led, then he would get to do whatever he wanted. If it were my birthday, I would do whatever I wanted too, which is to not lead :) We hit the pinnacle at maybe 60' and Matt quickly found this nice canyon, with the tops of the walls on either side at about 80' and the bottom at maybe 110' or so. We didn't go all the way to the bottom, so it's hard to say. The viz was pretty good there, and it was a very pretty spot.

Since the pinnacle is tremendous, we planned a multi-level dive at like 90' for the deep part and then 60-ish for the shallow segment. In hindsight, the deep spot was so nice, we really should have just stayed there. It was too cold to do a super long dive anyway! We swam along the canyon, and eventually I got out my Hero-cam and Leah got out her camera. The one notable/unusable thing I noticed on the dive was that there were TONS of sea urchins. I was thinking that as I video'd a couple of spots with a bunch of them, and then just a few minutes later, Matt signaled toward some of them and gave me this sort of "what the heck?" look. I was thinking it seemed like a good place for a wolf eel, and I even found a nice crack that seemed like a hospitable place for one, but no wolf eel was to be found. I did find a treefish in the crack though. After about 10 minutes of video'ing, I decided that video'ing was interfering with my enjoyment of the dive, so I put the camera away for the rest of the dive. But since that was the nicest part of the dive anyway, I don't think I missed too much.

About 20 minutes into the dive, Matt suggested we work our way up the reef. I felt like we spent the rest of the dive swimming around looking for a nice spot, and never really found it. Not that it wasn't a nice dive, but nothing that was found was as nice as that first canyon. We were pretty much swimming along through the palm kelp salad for most of the shallow portion of the dive. But the palm kelp salad always has some interesting things to look at. At one point when I ventured through the kelp to get a look at the reef, I found some hydroids that, I think, were the kind that I have seen Dendronotus subramosus on. So I was inspecting those and noticed something moving. There were some skeleton-like shrimp on the hydroids, but they were tan, not the usual red. They were also pretty big (for skeleton shrimp, but still tiny). I have never seen them in that color. They were pretty cool, but also kind of creepy, as skeleton shrimp tend to be. I also found this awesome red and white (but mostly red) kelpfish squirming around in a ball of kelp leaves. I was trying to show it to Leah, and it kept wriggling out of site into the web of kelp leaves. It was quite amusing trying to show it to her. Finally he stayed in one place long enough for me to point and her to see it. It was a neat fish, and I loved how its idea of swimming away and hiding wasn't really swimming away at all... it never left that bundle of kelp. Just after I showed that to Leah, I noticed a stiletto shrimp on the same kelp stalk. And eventually we came across two Dendronotus irises within about 8 inches of each other.

The dive was very cold. Around the 30 minute mark, I was wondering how I could have done a nearly 2 hour dive on Friday -- my hands were SO cold. Then around the 45 minute mark, I realized that at some point, you stop feeling your fingers, and then it doesn't matter :) Around 50 or 55 minutes, I was wondering how Leah could possibly stand it, since she has a thinner undergarment than Matt and I. Then about 2 minutes shy of when I was going to call the dive on MDL, Leah thumbed it because she was cold. Phew. I pulled my bag out and shot it. As I was blowing into it, I saw some bubbles which at first I thought were coming from the OPV. But I decided they were probably just coming from my mouth (and not going into the bag, since my lips were cold). I put up the bag and we headed up. I didn't hear the boat on the ascent, but since it was a short ascent, I figured it didn't matter. Indeed, we were too close to the anchor line when we first put up the bag and when we finally drifted off of it and Phil was about to pull anchor, he saw us surface. So he checked that we were all okay and then pulled the anchor. When I got to the surface, I found a rather floppy bag. This didn't make sense, since I shot it from 65 feet and it was well over 1/3 full when I released it. When I grabbed it to take a look, just the pressure of my hand on it caused a bunch more gas to escape out of the OPV. So I didn't imagine those bubbles as I was inflating it. Phil said it was standing up just fine as we were coming up, but I guess when I got to the surface and released the tension on it and it flopped over, it started to leak gas. Apparently the OPV wasn't seated properly, but it seems to have fixed itself after rinsing it, popping off the OPV and replacing it. Or that's what Rob says anyway ;)

When we surfaced, it was snottier than when we got in, but not as bad as it had been on Friday. There were whitecaps that we could see, but we weren't actually IN the whitecaps. Phil picked up Matt and Leah, as I drifted away from the boat. I actually had to get myself out of my gear all by myself. Pffft. But I managed to do it and not drop my rig or anything (which is quite a bit easier without hypoxic backgas, I found). We headed in, and at some point I was wondering why, just south of Lobos, Phil was aimed straight toward land around Sea Lion point. Eventually he explained that he was trying to go in close to shore, since he thought that would be easier on Leah. I'm not convinced that it was really any easier. Maybe it was better seasickness-wise, but I thought it was mildly terrifying. We took the channel between the mainland and the first rock. I have never crossed that area even remotely that close to land! As we were going through it, I had a sudden thought about the engine problem we had in the morning, and thought what a terrible place this would be for the engines to die. After we got through it, I mentioned that I had this thought right in that channel, and Matt said he had been thinking the same thing :) But we made it through fine. While we were waiting for Phil to get the trailer, we again watched the baby seals getting swimming lessons.

I haven't been able to edit the video from this dive, because some sort of catastrophic hardware failure has left me without my video editing machine. (The video editing machine is fine, but Rob's laptop is dead, so he commandeered that machine.) So I am just including some screenshots for now.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kevin's Birthday Dive

It was Kevin's birthday weekend, so Team Kitty went out on Phil's RIB on Friday to celebrate. During the week, the forecast was looking pretty good, though as the day got closer, the wind forecast did increase. It was a little shaky getting around Point Lobos, but once we were south of the sea lions, it seemed to calm down a bit. We headed south and after mulling our options, we decided to go to the southwest corner of Mt. Chamberlin. That way we could do a nice long bottom time, working our way up the reef. After a little bit of driving around and looking at the numbers on the depth sounder, we dropped the hook in about 160 feet. As we got geared up, it was pretty calm in the boat, which was nice. I think I even stood up with my doubles on at some point :) When I rolled into the water, I found a little surface current, but not much. I headed down the line and a moment later, we did our bubble checks at 20'. I told the boys that I wanted to do an extended pause there for my ears.

Once we left 20', we got down to 100' in about a minute, so I guess the pause helped. By the time we were there, I could see the sand below us. There was definitely a brownish layer on the top 40 or so feet, but it was still reasonably bright below it, and the water was quite clear. It was also quite cold. I have 46 degrees for most of the time we were on the bottom. We hit the reef on the edge of the little cove on the southwest corner. Then we worked our way down it and crossed the sand. We intercepted a patch of reef, which I recognized. I think it was very close (probably 50 feet or so) to the spot where my wing failed on Kevin's last birthday dive. As I was reminiscing about this, I looked down and saw a purple sea fan! There is fabled to be a purple sea fan at the bottom of Deep E3 (which I haven't seen, but Rob and Clinton recently got pictures of), but I'd never heard of one at Mt Chamberlin! I couldn't believe I was just thinking about how I've been to this spot before -- how did we not see the sea fan!?! I guess it's not too surprising, since the guys were ahead of me, and they had just scootered right over it without noticing :P I signaled them very excitedly, and Rob whipped out his camera to get some pictures. Once he was finished, we continued on and a moment later, I saw a really tiny basket star on a gorgonian. I looked over at Rob and Kevin to signal them and saw that they were positioned around another gorgonian, which had a much bigger basket star on it. It was really active with all of its legs flailing around. So I went over to check that one out, since it was way more interesting than the tiny one. There seem to pretty predictably be basket stars on this part of the reef.

Rob took some pictures of that and then we continued on and found a slightly taller section of reef that we were scootering along. I was in the back, and Rob, who was in front of me, started circling something on the sand with his light. At first I thought he was just giving me an "okay" since I had fallen a bit behind. But it seemed like an odd spot to point his light for that. I swooped down to where he was pointing and saw a ratfish! Yay! At first he was sort of swimming around, but not trying to bolt or anything. So I went off the trigger and swam alongside of him, taking some footage, and waiting for him to settle down. When he finally did, Rob slowly moved in to get some pictures. After a little photo shoot, the fish repositioned again, and we followed him and watched him for another minute before continuing on. We were heading toward the deep wall at this point, and just before we got there, we passed a huge school of blue rockfish and then I spied a Tochuina. I was in the back, though, and by the time I stopped to look, the boys had started down the wall. I waited a moment to see if they'd come back, and then went to the edge of the wall and signaled them. Kevin came over to take a look, and eventually Rob did too (he was embroiled in a photo shoot with an elephant ear or something on the top edge of the wall). After he looked at it, he pointed to the northeast and suggested we head shallower. So I totally missed the wall experience. Hmph!

As we headed shallower, we encountered a giant school of juvenile rockfish. It was insane how thick the water was with little fishies. Eventually we got shallow enough to switch to our 190' bottles, so we stopped for that. Right in the spot where we stopped, we saw two cool things. First, just as I finished up with my bottle switch, I looked down and realized there was Lingzilla sitting on the reef like right under me. It actually kind of scared the crap out of me when I saw it; and I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it the whole time we were doodling with our bottles. Next, there was a quillback rockfish right there. He caught my eye because of his extremely spikey dorsal fin, but I didn't realize what it was until Rob showed me a picture he got of it. I have never seen a quillback before! We continued shallower until we got to a peak around 110', which I believe was K3. There was yet another big school of blue rockfish there. We lingered there for a bit. I was video'ing the rockfish, when Rob signaled me and pointed down. I saw a really nice-looking cabezon, with pretty interesting color. It had some bright yellowish splotches on its tail. I swam over to try to video it (but the white balance was acting up, so got no usable footage :( ). As I swam over, I noticed an adjacent crack with a treefish in it. When I mentioned the cabezon to Rob after the dive, he had no idea what I was talking about. It turns out, he was actually pointing out the treefish to me. So no pics of the cabezon :(

After doodling around for just a bit longer, Rob thumbed the dive. He whipped out his bag and put it up. Kevin was calling deco. I didn't really think about it until after the dive, but I has no responsibilities on this dive --- ahhh, so nice. I waited until 60 feet to do my bottle rotation, which was a bit of a messy, but I'm going to blame that on my leash being clipped the wrong way :) As I was putting my leash back, I was sure I had accidentally swapped the double ender on my leash for a longer one. It just didn't seem to fit in my hand. But upon inspection after the dive, it seemed to be the right size. I guess I'm just rusty. The deco was otherwise pretty uneventful. At 50', I could see a brownish layer above us. I was hoping it would be a bit warmer, and it was. It was 48 to 50 degrees from the 40' up. Still, I was pretty chilly by the end of it! When we surfaced, we were in whitecaps. After passing up scooters and bottles, we drifted away from the boat to get out of our gear. Kevin helped me out of mine and then Phil came over to me. I told Phil it might be better to wait until one of the guys could help hoist my gear into the boat. Then I decided to man up and we got my gear and me back into the boat. Then we picked up Kevin, and finally Rob.

On the way back, Kevin suggested we "shoot the gap" between the two outer sea lion rocks. I was pretty surprised when Phil went for it, and as we were cruising through there, I was thinking this was a bad idea. But we made it through unscathed, and were back outside of Bluefish before you know it. There were still tons of dolphins there -- it looked like they were right over Great Pinnacle. After looking at them briefly, we headed in. While we were waiting for Phil to get the trailer, we watched the baby seals getting swimming lessons from their moms. They are so adorable! Once we got the boat out of the water and we packed up, we headed to Siamese Bay for lunch. It's been a while!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ginnie Springs: The Dome Room, V2

We were thinking about going back to Little River on Monday, since the flow was down and we had such an awesome dive there on Saturday. But since we were on a bit of a schedule (flying out that night), we decided we should go to Ginnie since it is close. Plus, there is a lot more of Ginnie to see. So, where to go in Ginnie? I formulated a proposal, which on the surface may seem to be at odds with "there's a lot more of Ginnie to see". We went to the Dome Room, again! And then we went up the Hill 400 line, again! But this time we would take the Hiller tunnel, which bypasses the mainline from the roller coaster line, straight to the dome room line. This path is longer, but lacks flow. Then on the way back, we'd recalculate gas and head up the Hill 400 line, and take the "double lines" jump (which is different than the parallel lines from yesterday... I know, parallel lines, double lines, they kind of sound the same).

We got to Ginnie by 8:30 and it was pretty empty. That was nice. It was also nice and cool for getting geared up. In fact, I think we even did our gear checks at the picnic benches -- it was just that cool. I think that was my idea, since in my little 40 pound wing with 104s full of 32, I feel not terribly comfortable on the surface. I have to inflate my drysuit, so I feel like the stay puft marshmallow man. We were quite efficient at getting geared up and in the water, and after checking the time as we clipped on our stages, I told Rob we should limit ourselves to 3 hours. He claimed we couldn't possibly do a 3 hour dive. I gave him a skeptical look, and we were off. I have been leading a lot of our cave dives lately, and Rob sort of rebelled and said he wanted to lead this one, so I let him. But it was my plan, so was he really leading the dive? I don't think so. The first 25 minutes or so were pretty similar to yesterday's dive, so I don't really have anything to say. We put in the reel, headed up the mainline, and when we got to the Hill 400 line, I went ahead and put in the spool (it was my jump to install, since we would do the jump on the way out, and after Rob's mutiny over the leader role, I wasn't going to get cheated out of that). We dropped our stage bottles on the Hill 400 line, since there is a nice spot to put the bottles right there. Then we continued up the main line and took the roller coaster jump. Now, from there, we were to take the Hiller Tunnel, which according to the map, was a jump to the left just when you hit the mainline, or possibly right before that. But we hadn't noticed the line before, so we weren't entirely sure of the geometry of it. At some point just after I'd seen the 1000' marker on the roller coaster line, Rob pointed out a jump to me, and said he was going to take it. I remembered from the map that the shortcut line (which heads up to the bats) was just after 1000', so I told him I didn't think this was the right line. He pointed out that just ahead there was a little "underpass" with a pit cut out on the bottom, which looked like the end of the roller coaster line. I was still not convinced, but I knew the roller coaster line ended after not that much more than 1000', so I told him to install the jump.

We headed up that line and I was pretty quickly convinced that this was not right. And just then we popped out right on that bats. Okay, now we've seen the shortcut line :) We headed back to the roller coaster and continued up it. As we were heading back, I realized what wasn't right about the little underpass with the pit -- the one at the end of the roller coaster line has a distinct black patch in the middle of the "pit", which the one we saw lacked. Okay, let's try that again. We got to the end of the roller coaster line, and Rob tied in a jump from there and searched around a bit for the Hiller line. He quickly found it, and we were off. I liked this tunnel a lot. For one thing, it was much lower flow than the main line, but I also thought it was quite pretty. Somehow, it reminded me of a mini version of the gallery. I realize as I write that, these words don't make much sense. Maybe I should have been diving some helium, or maybe you just had to be there. I guess the walls were kind of light-colored and the way they were sculpted just made me think that. Anyway, I really liked this passage. Soon enough we popped out at that funny jump off of the dome room line, which is tied into the same rock as the dome room line. We headed up to the dome room. This time I actually followed the line all the way to the wall where it was tied off, since it had been bugging me that I hadn't actually seen where the line ended. Yep, that's the end of the line. We looked around at the room, and then I called the dive on gas. We had slightly weaker fills than yesterday, so I guess on the whole I used a bit less gas going via the Hiller tunnel rather than the mainline (we also had the little side jaunt to the bats). This is definitely the way I'd go to the dome room in the future.

We headed back out to the Hill 400 line and recalculated gas, and headed up that line. As I mentioned, we wanted to jump to the double lines. There is a jump to the left just around the 1000' marker, and then very shortly after that, there is another jump to the right, which was our target. When we were discussing this area of the cave, Mark M. had mentioned that you can just jump directly to the second line to save some time. So that was what we did. I had used my shorter spool to put in the Hill 400 jump, since I wasn't sure how far this jump would be. I believe I was using a 100' spool (I was leading at this point, since I was in the lead on the way out, when we jumped to Hill 400). I installed the jump spool and saw a sparkly weight with a carabiner attached to it or something sitting on a ledge on the left. The last time we were there, I saw this and assumed it was being used to secure a line. I swam over to it and found no line, but quickly saw the line. I ran my line parallel and soon enough Rob started to signal me, with his light on the line. He was trying to show me where the line was. I was mentally rolling my eyes... he thought I had been running line just parallel to another line for 30 feet without noticing it? Really? I eventually calmed him down and kept going, and soon enough the second line was in sight. But the line on my spool was rapidly dwindling. I was starting to think I might have to go back and move the line I had laid to make it use less line. But I got to the jump line just as I ran out of line on my spool. Literally. There were no loops of line left on my spool as I tied it into the line. Phew :)

We headed up that line, which I thought was super awesome. After not very long, it became sort of narrow and sort of low, but not particularly small, and very twisty turny. And the bottom was clay. Then we came to an area that was quite wide, but very low. I really liked this area. Eventually that area ended, and when I came out of it, I had to wait for Rob to come out. There were little plumes of clay in the water as he emerged. Oops. Next, we came to a section that I would describe as being a sequence of little rooms (or maybe vestibules would be a better description) separated by little chutes. I though this area was pretty fun. We got to a set of opposing arrows, and I called it on gas there. On the way out, it occurred to me that the best way to traverse the low, clay tunnel was like going through the halocline -- with the first diver further from the line than the second. The exit was pretty uneventful. When we got back to the ledge at 20', we positioned ourselves there and negotiated the deco. Then we passed the time playing hangman in the wetnotes. I know it's a pretty dumb game, but I find it highly amusing. Especially when I use cat-related phrases and get a big head shake from Rob when he finally gets it :)

We did not do a very good job of not exceeding 3 hours, as I decreed. Well we almost made it. We bobbed around on the surface for a while before getting out, but then we were pretty efficient about packing up our gear. While I was changing on the pavilion near the Turkey Roost, I found another one of those "nudipillars" from yesterday. This one was even prettier (it was yellow), and it was in a more photogenic location. I snapped some pictures with my iPhone. I had just been chatting with Jim Wyatt, and he overheard me telling Rob about the "nudipillar". After hearing a brief description, he said it might be a "saddleback" and that they sting. Not that I was going to touch that thing anyway (though I do have a history of petting caterpillars, I only pet the ones that look like the local caterpillars from when I was growing up). After doing a bit of research, it is not in fact a saddleback, but I believe it is a Whitemarked tussock. The saddleback looks like a really beautiful caterpillar; I would love to see one. Anyhoo, in the course of researching the nudipillar, I came across a page on caterpillars of Alabama (close enough, right?). Apparently there is a whole world of beautiful caterpillars which I never knew about -- they really are like nudibranchs! Also, according to that page, the Whitemarked tussock stings, but not too badly. Good to know. Oh, and a quick warning -- while there are a bunch of beautiful caterpillars featured on that page, there are also a few that are rather creepy looking. So I don't recommend looking at it right before bedtime or anything :P

Sadly, this was the end of our trip and it was time to pack :( We packed up our gear, then headed back to the Country Inn and then EE. We grabbed lunch from the Station Bakery & Cafe. Yum. I love that place. I got a slice of the triple chocolate torte, which is totally awesome. I told Rob that if I ever get married again, that's the cake I will have at the wedding :) Oh and they have adorable decor there, including this kitten art that I snapped a pic of.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ginnie Springs: The Dome Room

On Saturday we went to Ginnie. It seemed the easiest option logistically, since Antonio had a long drive ahead of him that evening. Plus Madison was blown out :( We got a reasonably early start, meeting for breakfast and then getting to Ginnie a little after 9. So it wasn't too hot when we were gearing up. It also wasn't too crowded yet. We got geared up and into the water pretty quickly. The plan was to take the roller coaster jump to bypass the main line (or, more importantly, the flow on the mainline), and then up the mainline to the dome room jump. If we had gas once we got back to the mainline, we'd continue up it. We would also optionally take the Hill 400 jump on the way out. I was leading, but Antonio wanted to run the reel, so he led until we got to the mainline and then we switched. So he got to do the painful part of running line in high flow, and I got to do the fun part of picking a stage drop, installing the jumps, etc. Just the way I like it.

We went in the eye, since deco'ing there is much more civilized. That's too bad, though, since I think entering through the ear is much more fun. The flow was pretty typical, but I think I did a slightly better job of staying really high in the gallery. Except for one brief moment where I suddenly found myself flailing in the flow, in a little gap I was trying to cross on the left wall. I guess I was flailing enough that Rob gave me an "okay?" with his light :) We dropped our stages just before the Hill 400 jump. Once we got to the Roller Coaster line, there was a lot less flow. And it quickly became apparent why it is called the roller coaster line. Strangely, I never thought about it before... but it has lots of ups and downs, which were pretty fun. Right before the line ends, the line dips down in a little tunnel (which feels like an underpass), and there is kind of a pit on the bottom, and you can see all the layers in the clay on the sides of the pit. Then you pop out from the underpass in a big room, where the mainline runs. We jumped back to the mainline and there was a ton of flow. The tunnel is really big there, and there isn't anything exceedingly good to pull yourself on. I kicked for a while and then went over to left side wall for some mediocre pulling and gliding. When we got to the dome room jump, there were two zip ties on the line. I actually saw the jump line first, since it is to the left, and I was on the left wall. We headed up that line. After a couple minutes, we passed another jump to the left, which was somewhat confusingly tied into the same rock as the line we were on. Just a minute or two later, we hit the dome room. Just as we got there, I saw that I had hit my turn pressure. I wasn't completely sure that this was the last room, since I could see the line kind of disappear across the room, and I couldn't see it going anywhere beyond there, but I also couldn't see it distinctly ending. Antonio told me this was the room, so we took a quick look around, before turning and heading out.

We rode the flow out and were back to the roller coaster before you know it. And then we were back to the Hill 400 line before you know it. We had a brief conference and after all checking our gas, we agreed to head up that line. Rob was leading at this point. Just after we got to the point where the parallel line starts, I suggested to Rob that we jump over to it. At the next hole in the wall, we jumped over to it and followed that line for a while. It was small and not too pretty in there. Just a silty little tunnel snaking around for a while. In hindsight, I think someone told me that before. We eventually came out to within sight of the Hill 400 line, and for some reason when Rob asked what we wanted to do, instead of continuing up, I suggested we turn around. So we went back through the silty tunnel and then headed up the Hill 400 line further. Duh. We made it to just about the 1000' mark, where the hill is, before turning.

The trip out was pretty uneventful. When we got to 20', we each found a comfy spot and then negotiated the deco. I hurried over to the ledge that faces out the entrance, since I never get that spot and it looks so ideal. Cave deco is so nice. I pulled out my wetnotes to write some notes about the dive (which, strangely, I didn't think to reference while writing this report until just now!). At some point, Rob tapped on my arm and pointed to the entrance. I looked up, and there was a girl in a mermaid suit, free-diving. She was with another girl in a bikini. Rob seemed to enjoy deco quite a bit. When we (finally) surfaced, he commented on how great cave deco is, because there are mermaids. He said he thinks we need mermaids on deco at home. I said we need a rock ledge to lay on at 20'. Maybe Jim can look into installing one below the Escapade (and Michael Bryan can look into finding a mermaid suit :P).

While we were changing out of our drysuits, Rob was standing on a picnic table on the pavilion and spied an interesting caterpillar hanging out on the concrete along the top. He called me over to take a look at it, since he thought I would find it cool. It had two little horns and a row of spikey tufts on its back. It totally reminded me of a nudibranch! So I called it a nudipillar. Later I thought to try to get a picture of it, which wasn't too easy because of where it was, but eventually Rob got a nice picture of it.

Then, while we were packing up our gear, as Antonio was pulling his wing off of his tanks, I thought I glimpsed what looked like a little fish on his wing. I asked him to hold it up, and sure enough, there was a little creature suctioned onto it. It reminded me of a kelp clingfish, so I dubbed it the "wing clingfish". What an icky little creature! It was quite a productive day for critters!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Quick Cave Jaunt: Little River

Rob was on the east coast for work and decided to hop down to Florida on his way back, for a couple of days of diving. I was jealous, so I decided to meet him there, and we ended up doing 3 days of diving -- since it's really not worth flying to Florida for 2 days of diving. Antonio drove up to meet us for the first two days. We got in super late on Friday, so we met for breakfast at Alice's on Saturday and then headed to EE to get our gear together. After a bit of running around looking for our gear bin, we managed to find everything that we needed, and we headed to Little River. We got there around 11:30 and I was surprised there weren't more people there. It was hot -- forecast to get over 90 degrees, so I was expecting lots of families. There were a bunch of people swimming, but it wasn't too crazy. There were also a decent number of divers there, though most were getting out by the time we got in. They knew better :)

We put our stages and deco bottles in the water and walked our doubles down and sat them on the ledge. The water was totally crystal clear and blue, and the water level was a little higher than I remembered it. The stairs have been repaired significantly since we were last there, so only a couple have cracks now. That was nice. Then we went back to the car, got into our suits, and went back down for a swim. While we were getting our gear together at the car, there was a very pretty blue butterfly that was flying around. It wasn't very cooperative at sitting for a picture though :( After bobbing in the water in our drysuits for a while, we got out and geared up, and met back in the water for some final gear checks. The plan was to take the bypass of the mainline (before the giant arrow T), and then go right at the T, and straight down the mainline when the two lines joined (so I guess that's technically right at the second T). Then we would just follow the mainline. There are a couple of passages off to the right that are prominent on the map (one of the maps shows it as a three-way split). Antonio said he would point these out to us, since we'd probably want to dive them at some point in the future.

We headed in, with Antonio in the lead. The flow was way down, barely existent. And the viz was excellent. We took the first just to the left to do the bypass. There was no particular reason to do this, except that we'd never done it before. I think even Antonio said he'd never done it before! I believe the passage was a bit narrower than the alternative mainline tunnel, though it's been a little while since I've dived that, so I could be mis-remembering. It's not small or anything, but just a bit more of a defined tunnel. After a few minutes, we came to the end and jumped back into the mainline. Shortly after that, we dropped our stages, right after the mainline takes a sharp turn to the left. There is a nice rock bottom laying across the passage there. We went right at the T, though in hindsight with so little flow, and having already dropped our stages, we should have gone left -- I think that passage is fun! We passed some divers coming out in that tunnel. When we got to the next T, we followed the mainline into the "Florida room" which is a big wide open tunnel. Eventually that gives way to a much flatter tunnel, that is kind of wide, but not that wide. It also gets deeper. We were eventually at a solid 100' for a little while, and I was thinking 30/30 might be a better gas for this cave (at least when the flow is up). Around 8 minutes past the second T, Antonio pointed out those jumps to the right to us. By this point in the cave, I was thinking that the cave sort of reminded me of Peacock. And just after I thought that, I saw a cave crayfish, which we always see tons of at Peacock :)

A few more minutes down the line, we came to this small room where the line turns sharply up and you go from 90-ish feet to at most 70 feet. And then it immediately turns sharply down again, though I think the passage beyond that is not quite as deep as it was before the room. We went a few more minutes beyond that, before turning it, at 50 minutes. By the time we turned, we started to see some evidence of another opening, debris from the outside world, and I think we even saw a fish. I think this is from what is marked as "source of primary flow" on the map. After turning it, we found that while it seemed like there was barely any flow on the way in, there really was some flow. Enough to move us at a nice clip on the way out. When we got back to the first T, we recalculated gas and decided to go back around the left side of the T -- yay! When we came to the second T, instead of turning around, we just kept going back around through the other tunnel and back to the first T. Then we headed out. When I picked up my stage bottle and charged it, it started spewing bubbles. I unconsciously cranked down on the DIN fitting and charged it again, only to realize that now the SPG was turned sideways. So I took a moment to drain it, reseat it so I could actually see the SPG, and then go onto it. Rob was looking at me like "what the heck is taking you so long?" :) Then we continued out. When we got to our O2 bottles, we negotiated the deco, and then we each tried to find a comfortable spot to hang out in. I chose the little nook off to the right (facing out of the cave), where I have seen Kevin and Rob hang out before. It really isn't that great, so eventually I came out and just waited by the ledge in the center. I guess the nook would be more advantageous in higher flow. I eventually got bored and tried to shoot a little video of the cavern.

From there, we slowly worked our way out of the cave and up. Once in open water, I could see that there were A LOT more people out swimming. As I ascended from about 5 feet, I had to look up to dodge all of the swimmers. When we finally hit the surface, it was like there were 50 kids all screaming in my ear at once :) This was more like what I was expecting on a hot day! After resting on the surface for a little while and chatting with some of the kids who were curious about the cave and diving (and being told by one that a lot of people don't come out of the cave :P), we got out. I took a little break on the retaining wall before walking up the steps. We packed up pretty quickly and headed to Subway for lunch, then back to EE for fills for tomorrow.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not Diving at Soberanes Point, Again

We were supposed to be on a tech boat on Saturday. The forecast was sort of all over the place during the week, varying between okay and really really windy, but with not horribly bad swell. By the time we got down to Monterey, it was apparently already gusting 25 knots at the buoy, with 14 foot swell (though Clinton says the swell reading can get wonky from the wind). In any case I think the swell was quite a bit bigger than the forecast. So we decided to call it and go to breakfast at First Awakenings instead. Then we headed out for a hike. We did an abbreviated version of a hike I did on another not diving day (dive vans are dangerous, don't let anyone tell you otherwise!).

Then we headed across the road to look at the water, and see why we didn't go diving. I'm still not convinced. I think we could have made it to Kawika's Garden :)