It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sur 20

There were tech boats scheduled for Saturday and Sunday this weekend. I was diving Sunday, and Rob was on both boats. The Sunday boat was originally slated to be a 15/55 trip, but early in the week, Jim told the organizer that the forecast was looking really stellar and making it to Big Sur was a real possibility. So we voted or something and it was agreed that we would switch it to 18/45, so we could try to get down there. As the weekend arrived, the forecast looked good for both days, but extra super good on Saturday. Hmph. Anyway, Rob called me Saturday afternoon to tell me that (a) they made it to Big Sur Banks (Sur 19 to be precise) and (b) he was horribly sick for basically the entire trip back, despite the dead calm water -- so sick that Ted had to drive him home (luckily they carpooled, so there was no car-ditching required). But the report from the day's diving was dead calm seas, raging current (especially on the bottom), good viz, and blue whales on the trip home. Rob ended up punting on Sunday, and it was just me and Kevin. On the ride out, I pointed out that without Rob, our team lacked leadership. How would we know which way to go? I suggested that once the site choice was finalized, we call Rob so he could plan our dive for us :)

Quite a while later, we were almost to Point Sur, and debating whether to go to Midway, Sur 19, or Sur 20. The viz the day before was reported to be good, so I decided it was time to give Sur 20 another try -- seems like the couple of times I have been there, the viz has been pretty bad, so I have a preference for Sur 19. So eventually we settled on Sur 20. In the end, I somehow drew the short straw and ended up leading to dive (and deco, but I like that). There was some bizarre new experimental plan for deploying the divers. I thought it sounded bizarre and rather unpleasant. In an effort to deploy all of the teams at the same time, the first teams got in the water and waited on a current line for the final team, then we would all let go of the current line and drift to the downline (which had been set in advance, before the boat was anchored). I didn't think hanging on a current line in a stiff current sounded too pleasant. So even though Kevin and I were geared up and ready to deploy first, I pulled the "oh, after you" with Beto, Sue, and Jim's team, since (for once) I was actually quite comfy sitting on the bench waiting to deploy. The seas were really calm, but apparently the day before had been even flatter! So we got in second, and after I popped up from my jump in, I had to swim like hell to make it back to the boat to get my scooter. Not a good sign. I couldn't manage to hold onto the line with any force while clipping on my scooter, so I found myself just getting dragged along toward the end of the current line (I had my elbow hooked around the line, so I could use my hand to clip my scooter). I quickly saw the ball at the end of the line approaching, with Susan holding on for dear life, and decided that I had to let go, or I was going to end up dragging her off the end of the line with me. So I let go, clipped my scooter forthwith, and got on the trigger. I was making slow progress back toward the line, which, I supposed, was all that really mattered. Before I managed to get back to the line, we were instructed, as the final team deployed, that we could let go and head to the downline. So, remember that part about "drifting" to the downline. Due to some sort of current miscalculation, the current line was actually down-current of the downline. Doh!

I was struggling to make headway on my itty bitty scooter in the big bad current. I found that if I was on the highest speed plus gave the occasional little kick, I was making forward progress. Just barely. Kevin (with his Cuda) looked concerned and hung back for me to catch up. Once I caught up to him, I grabbed his elbow, and we scootered along basically holding hands. Teehee. Eventually I decided to grab his manifold instead, so that was a little easier to grip. We made it to the ball and then had to wait for everyone else to materialize, scootering at top speed to stay with it. Beto eventually signaled his team to descend, so we descended as well. The current was reasonably bad in the top twenty or so feet, but by the time we cleared fifty feet, it was noticably less. Two other things happened around 50 feet... we passed Beto and Susan who had halted their descent, and the lights came on, as we cleared the slightly mucky layer and were suddenly greeted but much clearer, bluer water. Not that the viz was terrible in the top layer, but it was significantly better below. I'm terrible at judging viz, but I'd guess it was 50 or 60 feet on the bottom. It was pretty good -- definitely the best viz I've ever had at Sur 20.

We got to the bottom and agreed to hang out near the downline for the other teams to arrive. Actually we agreed to wait there for 5 minutes. Five minutes came and went, and there were still no other teams. This was not much of an imposition though, since the downline was set along the crack in the center of the pinnacle, and the top of the side that we were on (the south side) was probably the nicest part of the pinnacle, hydrocoral-wise. As we approached 10 minutes, I wondered what we should do. Considering the rather stressful deployment, if we surfaced and had to re-deploy, I didn't think I would have the gas for a reasonable dive. So I figured if no one appeared, we could just do an abbreviated dive, and the others could dive in a second shift. At around 12 or so minutes, Beto and Sue appeared, but without Jim. Weird. I later found out that his scooter was not up to the task of getting him to the downline. Anyhoo, once we saw them, we headed off and initially did a big circle around the whole pinnacle, just to have a little tour and see what was where. As we came around the northeast side, we were greeted by a giant school of blue rockfish. I don't know where they were when we started the dive... maybe I just couldn't see them because I was on the south side of the crack, but it was like we went from having hardly any fish at all to this giant swarm of them. I've included a crappy hero cam screen capture so you can get an idea of the fishiness. That was really cool. We enjoyed the view there for a bit, and then Kevin found a neat little arch/swimthrough at the bottom of the pinnacle, and of course he had to go through it :)

At some point at least 20 minutes into the dive, we were scootering around and passed Dionna and Mark. I guess they had some current-related snafu that caused them to get there late. But at the time, I was wondering if they had been there all along and I had just not noticed them :) Anyhoo, we eventually headed back to around where we started, and spent most of the rest of the dive just looking at the hydrocoral. We also found a nice big egg yolk jelly, quite a few big lingcods, and a few of those little juvenile yelloweyes (no adults though :( ). And more hydrocoral. Now that I've seen Sur 20 in good viz, I think it has more interesting structure than Sur 19, but Sur 19 has better hydrocoral. There's lots of hydrocoral at Sur 20, but not as many really big impressive bushes.

Eventually it was time to go, and after making sure we were down current of the down line, Kevin shot a bag and we were off. Starting from around 70 feet, there were a bunch of jellyfish, of the random, medium-sized, anonymous variety (meaning I don't know what they are called :P). At one point we also saw a weird floating thing that I've seen once before, and have no idea what it is. This time, it appeared just as we were about to move up a stop, so I decided to bring it with us. Well, encourage it to come with us by flapping my hand upward under it. I hope that doesn't make me a bad person. Anyway, in the process of this flapping, I touched it, and it didn't feel at all like I was expecting -- I thought it would be squishy but it was rigid! I have included a grainy hero cam picture of it. I'd love to know what it is. Just above 40 feet there was a very clear line where the murk began. I knew it was going to be warm in the murk -- Rob told me it had been 59 or 60 degrees in the shallows the day before. The entire 40 foot stop I kept reaching my arms above me because I could feel the warmth up there! Indeed, once we got to 30 feet, it was toasty warm! It was so warm, I decided to push our 20 foot stop a bit. And I'm totally not a deco pusher usually (unlike Rob and Kevin).

We were the first team to surface, and I commented on how nice and unusual it was to get back on the boat in such calm seas. We retrieved the other teams, and went back to pick up the anchor and the ball. I guess they had trouble retrieving both, but when we went back for them, it was not a problem at all. As we were about to leave the area, I saw a whale in the distance. Everyone else missed it. I was accused of imagining it. After describing it to Susan, she thought it was a Minke whale. I'd never seen one of those before, but I thought it looked like a dolphin fin, but then there was a really long back, that was clearly a whale. Now that I've done a bit of web research, I think Susan was right. So woohoo, I've seen a Minke whale now :) On the way home we did a little more targeted whale watching and saw at least one (maybe two) blues, and several humpbacks. I was excited to see a blue whale, which is what I really wanted to see, but I wouldn't call it a super awesome blue whale encounter. It sounded like they had much better encounters the day before :(

We finally got back to the dock around 4, so I headed straight home.

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