It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kitty vs. Burn Test

I once read on Wikipedia that cow cats are known to love water.  Seems they may have been onto something (though that claim has since been removed).

Not at all related to the burn test, but awfully cute:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Long Weekend in FL: Peacock to Waterhole

On Saturday we went to Peacock.  I don't remember whose idea it was to do Waterhole, but it was a dive we'd wanted to do, since David told us it was really nice.  We did not know precisely where the jump was (in terms of number of feet), but there is that board near the path to the spring, which has a map on it.  And that had some sort of numbers on it.  I don't remember the details of the map, but it led me to believe that the jump was somewhere (slightly) before 850 feet.  So the plan was to head up the peanut tunnel and over to Waterhole, and then possibly further up the peanut tunnel on the way out (because I'm a "compulsive recalculator" or so Rob tells me).  Ted and Kevin were diving at Peacock also, and we got there in time to watch young Ted on his first foray down the walkway into the water at Peacock :)

We got in the water and I ran a spool to the Peanut line.  I was diving my wimpy 10W light, and in the bright light of open water, I couldn't see the spot.  So I looked at the light head to check if it was on, and saw water in the light head.  Hmm, that's not right.  I shut it off, showed it to Rob, and he thumbed it.  We surfaced and found that the ring on the light head was loose.  After opening it, dumping the water out, and drying it as best we could, and putting it back together (and actually screwing the ring on tightly), the light worked.  Freshwater is nice like that.  So we headed back in, and headed up the Peanut line as planned.  The beginning of the dive was pretty usual -- everything was how I left it the last time I dove there :)  Around 800 feet, my ears perked up and my whiskers started to twitch in attention, as I looked for the jump.  I couldn't clearly remember the jump from when I have dived the peanut line before.  I was a bit worried when we crossed the 900 foot arrow,  but then shortly after that, we saw the jump.  I guess that map we looked at was not quite right.  Subsequent web research indicates that the jump is nominally at 950 feet.  We installed the jump, and left our stage bottles at the jump.  I was under the impression that this tunnel is kind of small, which is why we left our bottles there.

The first bit of this line did not seem all that different than the mainline.  But at some point, it transformed into looking like no other part of Peacock that I've been in before.  For some reason, it seemed more like blue water with light walls, versus the green water with brown walls that I typically think of at Peacock.  If there is one thing I would saw about this line, that's what it would be.  But it was also just a fun line to go down, with the cave alternating from low, wide areas, to tall narrower areas (which were my favorite) and little underpasses and twists and turns connecting all of those.  There was also some nice lighter colored clay.  The tunnel wasn't really small in the way that I had somehow imagined it would be, but it was definitely very delicate, so leaving our stage bottles at the jump was probably a good call.  It eventually started to look like we were near an opening, because there was lots of black-brown organic material on the bottom.  Then it started to get shallower.  I knew nothing about the opening here, so we decided to surface and see for ourselves.  Shortly after the line started to ramp up, there was a big obviously line trap.  I don't know if "line trap" is even the correct term.  To me, line trap implies that the line *could* end up running in a way that would make it difficult or impossible to follow in no viz.  But in this case, it already was running that way.  The line ran under a big boulder.  The line disappeared under the boulder, and then maybe 4 or 5 feet later (I would estimate it to be a bit less than my wing-span), the line popped out again.  I noted its presence, decided that I could reach across the boulder and find the other side, and kept on going.  I suppose Rob did the same thing.  As we approached the surface, the viz got worse, and we found a tangled web of tree branches just below the surface, where the line ended.  I popped to the surface, then Rob appeared shortly after me, having installed a spool from the end of the line to the surface.  I made fun of him for installing a spool for that last 2 feet, but in hindsight, it was a pretty smart thing to do.

The surface was not worth visiting.  It was basically just a crappy little mudhole, that smelled like sulfur and had lots of tree branches in it.  After a minute or two, we agreed to head back in.  I went first (I'm not sure why, since I led on the way in).  The viz below us was terrible, I guess in the process of bumping against all the tree branches, we had knocked crap down in the water below us.  I followed Rob's spool to the start of the line, and somehow in the process, I had thread myself through tree branches in such a way that I was wedged in.  I was stuck in the tree branches, no more than 3 feet below the surface.  I had a bit of a Ted moment at this point.  Ted has this story about getting turtled in doubles at the Breakwater once.  I think in the story, he didn't have a reg in his mouth, and possibly there was no mask on his face either.  Anyway, in this story, Ted says that he had this thought go through his mind "I am NOT drowning in 6 inches of water at the Breakwater".  I had some similar thoughts about being stuck in the tree branches in 3 feet of water :)  I wriggled around a bit, and then let a little gas out of my wing, which made me slip a little and then I was freed.  I decided to return to the surface to regroup, and found Rob was already reeling his spool down, so I told him to come back up with me.  This all transpired in maybe 20 seconds.  So it really wasn't as dramatic as it seems :)  When we got to the surface, I told Rob what happened, and that he should give me a minute to get out of the way before he starts to cleanup the spool again.

Then I disappeared again, and this time I managed to not get tangled in the branches.  I was heading down the line, in touch contact, because the viz was spectacularly bad at this point.  I know I was in "open water", but since I was facing down, I could see only a few feet in front of me, wherever my light was pointing.  So I was inching down along the line, trying to avoid any tree branches.  I'd made it to about 10 feet, and I saw rock sloping down in front/above me, and I guess I put my hand out because I almost ran into it.  And then, at the least convenient possible moment, my light died.  I considered that I could have knocked the light off when I maneuvered to avoid the rock, but I really didn't have a hand free to figure that out.  So I looped my arm around the line and managed to get a scout light on, and then continued down the line, with the light still clipped to me, but in my hand.  I figured when I got to the bottom, I would deal with cleaning up my primary.  So I continued down, until the line suddenly disappeared under that boulder.  Oy.  I couldn't see the line come out on the other side, because the viz had deteriorated so much.  I figured I would need to tie a spool in and search around for the other side of the line, but step 1 was cleaning up my primary light (still on my hand), so I did that.  By the time I'd done that, Rob appeared, and I pointed out the problem.  He told me to stay on the line, and then he held onto my ankle (or maybe my fin), while searching around for the line.  I guess his wingspan plus my length was enough, because a moment later, he let go of my leg, and then kept giving me an okay.  Which I returned.  Then he returned it.  Then I returned it.  I was kind of like... is that an "I found the line okay?" or an "are you okay okay?"  But after trading okays back and forth a few times, I figured it could only be the former, and I swam toward him and saw the line.  We continued along until the water cleared (which it did as soon as we weren't under the icky hole), then I decided to fiddle with my light, to see if it would miraculously come back to life.  But alas it did not, so I exited on my backup.

The exit was uneventful and expedient.  When we got back to our bottles, I lamented the fact that we had *so much* more gas, but couldn't head further up the line as planned.  Stupid light.  I suppose that is what I get for hastily fixing a lighthead that is full of water on the surface before the dive.  After the dive, we took it apart and let everything dry and the light was fine.  I guess that's one more plus on the side of freshwater diving :)  I don't think it the light would have been as forgiving in the ocean!

So I suppose the lesson for today is not to swim over a line trap.  And surfacing at Waterhole isn't worth the effort.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Long Weekend in FL: Ginnie Springs River Intrusion Tunnel

After years of talking about it, we finally convinced Ted to go with us for a long weekend in cave country.  We flew in on Friday morning and stayed through Monday evening.  Kevin met us too, though he did not arrive until Saturday.  Ted spent the first day with Mark M. doing some sort of cave refresher/intro to Florida caves.  So on Friday, it was just Rob and me.  Rob had lofty ideas of getting to Ginnie Springs by noon, which of course was folly.  By the time we got our gear from storage, got all of our fills squared away at EE, and got some lunch, it was after 2 by the time that we got there.  We were slightly delayed because the last time we were in FL, I bought a new backplate to keep there, but hadn't gotten around to webbing it.  I hate webbing backplates, and came up with some complicated scheme involving taking my normal backplate with us, so I could match up the sizing.  But recognizing the silliness of this scheme, Rob offered to just do it for me.  I was a bit doubtful of his ability to size my harness on the spot, but he claimed he could :P  So we had to take care of that, and there were a couple of webbing misfires before we got it quite right :)  Of course we finally got to Ginnie just in time to get a text message from Ted saying that they were heading back to EE for lunch, but would be back at Ginnie later.  While we were at EE, we were asking Doug about ideas for where to go at Ginnie, since it seemed like we'd been to pretty much all of the places we could get with a single stage.  We showed him where we had been and he pretty much agreed.  So then he gave us a suggestion if we double staged, the river intrusion tunnel, though we were undecided if we wanted to do a double-stage dive.  Or more like I was undecided about it, since I was feeling kind of tired from the flight, and I've never double-staged at Ginnie before and it seemed vaguely scary.

When we got to Ginnie, I told Rob we could double stage if he ran the reel.  I didn't want to have to deal with pushing two stages through the eye and dealing with the reel.  Rob agreed to that.  But I did want to lead the dive, so he agreed to let me lead once the reel was tied in to the mainline.  He's so good to me.  Since I hate the mainline, or at least the flow on the mainline, I proposed that we go up the roller coaster line, then to the Hillier tunnel, then back to the mainline (at the dome room line) and then to the river intrusion tunnel.  So that was the plan.  When we got to Ginnie, we still had to setup our rigs, but that went reasonably quickly.  We counted up the number of spools we needed, and added one or two just in case we miscounted :)  We weren't entirely sure if we could jump from the Hillier tunnel right back to the mainline or if we would have to jump to the dome room tunnel then to the mainline (neither of us remembered it being that far, but couldn't remember just how far it was).  We put our bottles into the water, got into our suits and went for a little cool off swim before getting geared up and back into the water.  I dropped down and did a valve drill first, since I was still dubious about my cold-webbed harness.  But I could indeed reach my valves.  We got our bottles and headed into the eye.  Getting through there with two bottles was not too bad, but I was glad I wasn't running the reel :)  It was really only a pain in the one spot that's a pain with one bottle; and it didn't seem to be that much more geometrically challenging with two versus one bottles.  When we got to the mainline, Rob let me go ahead of him.

I quickly made my way up to the top left of the gallery, and found a nice spot where I could dodge the flow quite nicely.  Rob has taught me well.  Or maybe the flow was just down :P  The double stage experience was not too bad, once we were to the mainline.  I was a little nervous about going through the lips, so I took an extended pause right before the lips before starting through.  Again, not really that big of a deal -- you aren't actually any taller with two bottles, the tall part is just a little wider.  So it was just as ungraceful as usual, but not more, getting through the lips.  As we approached the hill 400 jump, I spied a good spot to drop our bottles, so I suggested we drop them there.  Ahhh, phew.  I've only done the roller coaster jump twice before, I think, so I was quite paranoid about swimming past it -- would I recognize it?  I knew it was somewhere in the vicinity of 700-800' in, but I wasn't really sure.  To make matters worse, before the dive, Rob had asked me if the jump was before or after the little low part where the center of the passage has a bump running through it.  I told him I thought the jump was before it.  So then when we passed that area and I still hadn't seen the jump, I was a bit worried.  Then a moment later we came to the jump and of course it was quite recognizable.  I put in the jump and we headed through there.  That's a fun passage; certainly a lot more fun than taking the mainline :P  When we got to the end, I started to install the jump when a team of scooter divers appeared out of the tunnel we had just come from.  Rob and I were embroiled in a discussion of where to drop our stages (since the Hillier tunnel didn't seem like a good place to drop them), so I tried to get out of their way.  They disappeared from my visual field and my consciousness.  I wasn't sure where they went, but I thought the mainline.  We found a nice little rock to leave our bottles on, and then finished installing the jump.  We headed up the line, which we thought, at that moment, was the Hillier tunnel line.

Then the line ended after like a minute.  This is not what we were expecting.  But we could see another line that this line effectively T'd into (except not, it was a jump).  I knew that right was the right way to go based on a) basic geometry and b) the direction that the arrows were pointing on that line (to the left).  I went to my pocket to pull a spool, but before I got it out, Rob had pulled a spool and started to install it and swim over to the other line.  Yea, you read that right.  While trying to pull a spool, I felt a bunch of line spaghetti in my pocket... obviously some line had come off of one of the spools in there.  When I caught up with Rob at the line that he jumped to, he asked which way to go.  I pointed the way to go (duh), but not with much force, because I wasn't ready to go yea.  Then I told him to hold.  I pulled my pigtail out of my pocket because it was in the way of fixing the spaghetti.  Rob just gave me this look like "why the f--- do you have your pigtail in your hand?".  Then I pulled a spool out and told him to hold on.  I was passing the pigtail between my hands, trying to figure out how to spool up the loose line while also hold the spool and my pigtail.  I think this is about the point where Rob started yelling at me through his regulator.  I'm not sure what he was saying, but it started with "Dude!"  Eventually I got the spool cleaned up and put back in my pocket, and pointed the way to go.  As you can possibly imagine, I was a bit annoyed with Rob by this point.  Like a minute later, as I was swimming along, Rob kept swimming PAST me, so I stopped and yelled at him with hand signals to tell him I was the captain and he should stay the hell behind me :)  He mostly behaved for the rest of the dive after that.  A couple minutes up the Hillier tunnel, I remembered, while visualizing the map of the cave, that the Hillier tunnel line runs all the way to the bats, and there is a little connector between the mainline and that line.  Doh.  Well I won't forget that again.

Dropping the stage bottles before the Hillier tunnel was a good call, since at least in some areas there would not have been good options for leaving bottles on.  When we got to the end of the line, I looked off to my right to see if I could see the main line, to jump directly to it, and I could not.  So instead I put the micro-jump (actually more of a nano-jump) to connect the Hillier line with the dome room line.  And managed to bonk my head on a spit of rock sticking down from the ceiling in the process.  Ouch.  We headed toward the mainline and of course it was super close, and I could easily have run a spool directly to it.  Grumble grumble.  We jumped to the mainline and headed up it.  I was expecting a torturous swim up the mainline, since there is quite a bit of flow and not much to pull on, but it wasn't too bad.  I guess the flow really was down.  That part of the mainline always seems so dark to me, because it's big and so less light reflecting around me.  So I was worried about missing the jump, since I couldn't necessarily see the right wall that well.  But it was not a problem.  I let Rob install the jump since I was out of jump spools, and I could tell that he really wanted to install a jump.  And I even let him lead from there.  Not that he really deserved that, based on his earlier behavior.  The river intrusion tunnel was weird.  The water looked really clear but it seemed like our lights did not penetrate it very well at all.  But I liked swimming in behind Rob and his giant light; there was a cool light effect in that tunnel.  We passed a T, where we went right, and not too much longer after that, the tunnel sort of pinched down and went up a little.  I saw that coming up, and noticing that I was going to turn on gas in just a couple minutes, I tried to signal Rob before he made it into the smaller passage (since it would be easier to turn around before getting into it), but he didn't see my signal.  I guess that is the downside of being behind Rob and his big bright light.  So by the time I signaled him to turn around, we were both in a sort of tight spot where it was annoying to turn around.  For all I know it opened back up into bigger tunnel up ahead, and I was just making our lives harder by turning a little early.  Actually after looking at the map, that doesn't seem likely, but I guess I'll have to investigate that at a later date.

On the way out, Rob pointed out stage bottle rock.  Doug had described this rock to us, and I had been looking for it and not seeing it on the way in, but that's because I thought it was just before the river intrusion tunnel; in fact it is just after it.  Rob knew that, probably because he stays up late at night, studying cave maps.  When we got back to the jump off of the mainline toward the dome room, Rob remembered that we had switched positions, which meant I had to clean up the spool, unfortunately.  The flow made that sort of annoying.  I managed not to hit my head while cleaning up my nano-jump and then we were back in the Hillier tunnel.  The viz got VERY bad in one passage while we were in there.  It was so bad that we were both on the line for a brief period.  But it eventually cleared up, and the rest of the way back was clear, and uneventful.  We didn't see any GPOs or anything.  When we got back to our first stage (the first that we dropped, the second that we came back to), Rob was fidgeting a bit about getting on his bottle and when we got to the park bench, I realized why... he wanted to jump off of there.  So we dropped our bottles there and headed up that line.  I often forget that there is actually a bit of flow on that line.  It's not like most of the other jumps off of the mainline, where once you take the jump the flow goes WAY down.  It's an especially rude awakening after you have been riding the flow out for a half hour, and then you take that jump.

We headed up that for a while, with Rob leading, since he'd been leading on the way out.  We passed the first jump to our left, then the second, and I figured he was just going to keep going up that line.  Then he stopped at some point, at an arrow on the line, where it turned to the left 90 degrees.  I didn't know if the arrow was for a jump or what, but there was what looked like a tunnel to the right.  Rob swam off a bit to look around and then came back and said he was going to install a line.  I told him that was fine.  I figured he had found a line on the other side.  Then he swam off.  And swam and swam.  And never stopped to tell me to cross once he had tied in the jump.  I was sitting there rolling my eyes about this and eventually decided that I had to follow him, because he was getting beyond the point where I could see him.  So I followed him line, only to find that there was no other line to jump into.  He was just running line.  Eventually he came to a room, with a pile of stuff in the center, which was the "White Room".  I didn't realize that there wasn't a line to the room.  After that, we headed out -- all the way out.  Rob re-took the lead once we got back to the park bench and got our bottles.  I made it back through the lips without a problem, phew.  When we got to back to the reel, I must have made some sort of stray hand signal, which Rob thought meant "go ahead, I'll get the reel".  Once I realized that that's what he thought, I signaled him again and was like "uh uh".  He sort of shook his head and then waved me ahead.  Hehe.  I waited for him in the 50 foot room while he cleaned up the reel to that point.  That seemed to sort of take forever :P  Then I crossed my fingers, hoping I wouldn't get stuck in the eye on the way out, and headed up.  There was some definite clanging along the way, but it was a pretty controlled passage through there.  I waited for Rob in the 30 foot room and then we got our O2 bottles.  After we picked them up, we saw someone hanging out at the entrance, looking down into the room.  I thought it was a diver waiting for us to exit, but we were hanging out at 30 feet for a minute or so, which Rob tried to signal.  Eventually after no one came by, but I got sick of waiting, I went up to the 20 foot ledge, and the diver was gone.  It turns out it was Ted, just peeking in to take a look at the eye (they had entered through the ear for their dives).  We settled in on the ledge and negotiated deco.  Once that was set, I whipped out my wetnotes, took a few notes on the dive (none of which did I reference while writing this report, oddly), and then we played some hang-man.  Or hang-kitty, as I prefer to play -- if you consider each whisker a separate body part, you can be really bad and still not lose.  Among today's phrases were "Ted the Cave Diver" and "I love the Station Bakery".

When we finally made it out of the water, we found a note from Ted on our car.  Apparently we had been in the water so long that they had come and gone while we were diving :(  Bastard.  We were both disgustingly hot when we got out of the water.  Rob went back in for a swim in his drysuit, but I just couldn't stand being in my suit any longer, so I changed into my swimsuit in the car (while perhaps flashing everyone in the vicinity of the turkey roost) and went to meet him.  Brrr.  As hot as I was,  the water was still painfully cold!  After a very short swim, we got out and got going.  We stopped by EE, which was closed, but Doug and Mark were both lurking out back, so we chatted with them briefly before heading back to the Country Inn, where we finally found Ted.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

North Side of K2

On Saturday we were on the BAUE tech boat, for my birthday dive-proper.  Rob and I were diving with Susan, because Beto had sustained a birthday-cake-related illness the night before :(  Rob had been scheming to go to back to Mount Chamberlain to look for the octopus we had seen on the south wall annex.  Conditions on the ride down were a little rocky but nothing too bad.  It was pretty similar to the day before -- a little worse than I was expecting based on the forecast.  We ended up at K2.  I told Rob that I didn't feel like going all the way over there from K2, since we would end up scootering out and back practically all of the dive.  So I suggested we head north instead, since I love the north side of K2.  I told Rob to take us to the super skinny canyon that we went to once before (my birthday -- no way I was leading!).

Viz was pretty good, just like the day before.  It wasn't as dark as the day before, but I guess that's probably because of a combination of not being as deep and it was also sunnier on the surface.  We dropped on the west side of K2, which seemed odd since, for whatever reason, it seems like we always drop on the east side. We popped over the top and headed north along the east side.  As we scootered along the that sand channel to the east, the viz was nice!  Eventually we curved around the north side a bit and then hopped across the sand to some of the structures to the north.  I think that we did two things a bit differently than usual -- first, we were deeper as we scootered along the main pinnacle, so we didn't have the same viewpoint of the outlying structures; second, we curved a bit further around the north side (so more to the west than the east) than we usually do.  As a result, we ended up in an area that I don't know if I've been to before.  Maybe once, with Rob's ITC buddy, Peter.  Anyhoo, as we explored these structures, we saw some canary rockfish, like we always see up there.  

As we were slaloming along through the little canyons and such, I was thinking how we always see basket stars around here.  And then Rob signaled me, and pointed out a basket star!  We looked at it briefly, and he seemed not terribly interested in taking pictures, and continued along.  Then a minute later, I saw another basket star.  I pointed it out to Rob, and asked if he wanted to take pictures.  I think he wanted to, but he always feels some subconscious pressure to not stop the team to take pictures when we are diving with others (well maybe others than Kevin).  So he stopped and took some pictures.  The little guy wouldn't unfurl for us though :(  Once we he was finished, we started to go, and I saw a fish, I think it was a canary, swim into a little nook under a boulder.  I followed it with my light, to see if there were other fish and there, and saw something weird.  There were these big white round things.  They were on a field of pink.  I was staring at it and staring at it, trying to figure out what I was looking at, and then I practically squealed through my regulator when I realized it was a HUGE GPO.  An HPO I guess :P  Or its legs anyway.  I signaled the team (I thought it was a pretty reserved GPO signal, because I didn't want to spook him into retracting further into his den, but Susan said she knew right away it was a "GPO signal" :P) and then swam a little closer to get a good look.  It's definitely the biggest GPO I've seen.  And that spot was the perfect GPO nook!  I looked around to see if there were any shells outside of it, and didn't see any.  But Rob said he saw some next to a side entrance.  While Susan and Rob were checking it out, I was looking around for something to feed it, but the only thing I could find was a crab.  While the little devil on my shoulder was certainly telling me to break it in half to try to lure the octopus out, there was no way I could do that.

After we finished with the octopus, we soon turned around and headed back to K2.  We were scootering back along the east side, and I was a bit off of the bottom because, well, I'm not a deep freak like some of my dive buddies.  Rob stopped (below me) to check out a crack in the rock.  There was a crack, maybe 15  feet from the bottom (which was chock full of rockfish, by the way), and a little cavern at the bottom.  Of course Rob had to check out the cavern.  I guess he got partway in and decided he couldn't make it through.  He signaled for us to come take a look, and I descended down to him, accidentally plummeted into the sand on the bottom (oops) and after recovering from that, I looked into the cavern and saw that it connected to the crack above.  I also saw that it was a bit stirred up in there, I guess from Rob's bubbles or something.  Then we continued along, coming up shallower on the wall.  I love that wall.  It's very impressive.  I think I may like it better than the south wall.  I was a pretty fishy day on the wall.  I saw a few juvenile yelloweyes, but they were all too shy to have their picture taken.  There were some less skittish fish that tolerated some photos, but I guess those didn't make the cut.  Rob only gave me one picture from the dive -- how sad.

We made it all the way back to the peak, and passed the other two teams right around there.  We had a couple minutes left, so Rob suggested we do a loop around the south side of the peak (after checking the crack for a GPO of course), and then we started our ascent.  I was relieved of the duty of shooting the bag today, phew.  At 50 feet, I looked at Rob and noticed something on his hood.  It looked like a logo in the center of his hood, but I knew there wasn't a logo there.  I swam over to look and saw that it was a tiny brittle star, maybe 1.5 inches in diameter.  And it was just planted on the top of his forehead, right in the center!  I swam over to Susan and told her to look at Rob.  She practically lost her regulator from laughing when she realized what it was.  So we spent the rest of the stop laughing and pointing at Rob.  Poor Rob.  We told him to take a picture of his head with his camera and take a look.  He could only tell that there was something on his head, but not what it was.  I was hoping he'd make it all the way to the surface with the starfish still there, but at 20 or 30 feet, he was gesticulating wildly and it popped off of his head.  I caught it in my hand and showed it to Rob.  I wish we'd gotten a picture of it on his hood!  Deco was otherwise uneventful.  After the dive, there was a general ambivalence about a second dive, so we did a little bit of searching around for whales but couldn't find anything.  So we just headed back to the dock instead.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Birthday Wall

Sometimes I do a dive that is so great that I find it difficult to write a report about it -- because the report can't possibly do it justice. This dive is just such a dive. And this is why it's taken me over two weeks to post about one of the coolest dives I've done in a while. Well, I hope that hasn't ruined the suspense about how the dive went, but here's the report. I commissioned Rob to setup some diving for my birthday weekend. Phil was available, yay, but we couldn't get Lobos tickets for Saturday so we settled for a Friday dive instead. This actually worked out well sine there was a somewhat last-minute BAUE boat on Saturday that we could go on too. I kept telling Rob that I needed to figure out where to go, but never got to it and eventually suggested that Rob make a suggestion. I was just too busy tom study the bathymetry maps in the week before the dive. He told me he had a mark for a site from 150 feet to 300 feet. I was doubtful and when he gave me the numbers, it looked more like it was a pinnacle from like 150 to 220ish next to a wall that went deeper. So we could check out the wall and then come up the pinnacle. This was all a few minutes scootering from the Dos Gatos area, so we figured we could finish up on the shallower structures there. Nice easy dive plan, huh?

The weather was very cooperative and we got to Yankee Point without too much trouble. It was actually kind of snotty coming around Point Lobos; in fact, I asked if Phil could take over the boat-driving from Rob, because it was a bit scary. They both ignored me and once we were around the point, it was a smoother ride. When we got near the site, Phil was eyeing the depth-sounder skeptically because it was pretty consistently reading 230ish without any sign of structure. Rob promised him that a small pinnacle top would suddenly shoot up to 150 and he was right we suddenly saw a plateau in the 180 rand and the it abruptly got shallower, peaking at 149 (at which we cheered and dropped the hook) and then got deeper again. The boat seemed kind of empty with just the two of us, even though we had a ton of gear. We got geared up and did all of our checks. We reviewed the plan, go here then here then here, but did not reviewed the bottom or deco profile, since it was the same profile we always do for these 15/55 Massively Multilevel Dives. We rolled into the water and found very little surface current and nice viz, on the top anyway. We headed down, met up at 20 feet for a bubble check, and continued down the line, which took forever because of my ears. Around 100 feet they started to behave. The viz was still good, though it was dark. I was looking below me waiting and waiting to see a pinnacle and around 140 feet I finally looked up and realized there was a pinnacle, towering above me, but the side we anchored on was so steep that looking down the anchor line, I didn't see the structure :).

The pinnacle actually came up to like 130' but it was this skinny spire poking up that shallow, which doesn't appear on the bathymetry. Then there was a plateau of sorts at like 170 or 180 before that sloped down deeper. We got to the plateau and regrouped. Rob was giving me a somewhat mysterious hand signal which I thought was a signal to reset my bottom timer (or at least note the time), since the uber-slow descent had eaten up like 5 minutes. I had already noted the time so I gave him the okay and we headed down the structure. Rob's initial claim about the profile was actually pretty accurate. The site was not really a pinnacle next to a wall. When you head down the side of the pinnacle you end up in 250' looking down, without really covering any horizontal distance. On the boat, Phil had been telling us about a ratfish he had seen a few days before. And what do you know, as we were looking at the sand below us, Rob signaled me excitedly to point out a ratfish below us. He immediately scurried down to get a look (and a picture... He brought the 60mm so the ratfish was a good subject). I was hanging above him, pondering how deep I wanted to go to see a ratfish, when I saw an interesting purple splotch on the sand, about 15 feet from Rob. It was round with little round bulges laying in the sand around it. It was a GPO laying completely out in the open on the sand! Just laying there. Once I convinced myself that there really was a GPO just laying in the sand I signaled Rob and pointed it out to him. He quickly lost interest in the ratfish and we both headed to the octopus. He was very friendly and I even let him suction one leg onto my hand for a bit. Two of his front tentacles were short and looked like they had been cut off. I guess the friendly octopus met another not so friendly creature. He slowly slithered across the sand with us until we ended up at a little structure across the sand, which was pretty fishy, and the octopus slithered up the structure. Rob started to take some pictures but I quickly suggested that we should head up a bit shallower. He nodded sadly.

We headed back to the main wall and then headed along that toward the deeper end of it. There was a current pushing us in that direction so we were pretty much just drifting along. The octopus encounter was just the beginning of an awesome dive. There were three really cool things about this dive. First, the topography was just cool. For a while, we were drifting along the wall at 250' looking down and not seeing the bottom. My guess is that the bottom is at at least 300'. The viz was good but it was DARK so difficult to say. Next time I come here I will bring a deeper gas so I can find out. Second, the fish life was amazing. We saw dozens of lingcods, many on the small side but a few (mostly shallower) pretty large ones too. Then there were the rockfish. There were tons of rockfish of all sizes. Lots of schools of juveniles. At one point we drifted over a boulder with a bunch of redfish on top of it. I thought at least some were yelloweyes, but as I lit it up, they all scattered into a crack. When I swam up to the crack there were at least a dozen stafford piled up against each other, and a couple yelloweyes I think. They were just crammed in there. I looked back to Rob to show him, and saw the one lone fish that didn't scatter was a bocaccio, and looking off into the distance, I realized I was staring at a school (!) of bocaccio. I didn't even know they came in schools :). There were also lots of big vermilions, several little groups of canaries, and plenty of fish that I don't even know what they were. Rob got pictures of two such mystery fish, which are (according to Tom Laidig) a sharpchin and a Pygmy -- both new-to-me rockfish, I think. After consulting my map, I was relieved to see that this spot is in a no-take area. Finally, the invertebrate life at this site was unusually good for this depth.  At a lot of sites, below 200', the invertebrate cover just isn't as impressive.  This is true, for instance, at Mount Chamberlain.  But at this site, it was really very covered all the way down to 250'.  All in all, an awesome site.  I can't wait to go back.

Eventually we agreed to turn around and head up a bit shallower.  I figured we started out a bit deep so it would be good to finish up a bit shallower.  But Rob seemed to be in a hurry to get up to 190', and as soon as we were there, he signaled me to switch.  I didn't understand why, since we still have 5 minutes left for out deep segment, but whatever.  Turns out, there was a bit of confusion about what the bottom profile was supposed to be :)  Rob thought we were doing 20/20, when the plan had been 25/15.  Oops.  Oh well.  We hung around on the spire for a few minutes and then decided to head out into mid-water, to look for shallower structure.  We were scootering over nothing for a couple minutes, with literally nothing in site in any direction, when finally I saw some structures below me, and eventually it got shallower and we landed on a pinnacle.  We quickly discovered that it wasn't Dos Gatos, because the pinnacle came up to 70'.  It was a nice spot, though it had quite a few barnacles on it.  I even saw a head of hydrocoral covered in barnacles :(  I think I identified this pinnacle on the bathy maps, but I have no idea if it is a named site.  We worked our way up the pinnacle, and switched onto our 70' bottles, then put up a bag and left the pinnacle.  I was joking with Rob before the dive that without Kevin, how would we put up a bag?  I drew the short straw, and Rob was left unimpressed with my bag shoot.  The line got caught on my glove as it was unspooling, and I had to give it a good flick to get it off, and then had to swim after the spool as it got dragged away from me.  Oops.  Maybe I need to shoot the bag more often.

Deco was uneventful and so was our retrieval by Phil.  Conditions seemed quite a bit calmer on the way back, as we regaled Phil with tales of our epic dive.  I can't wait to go back to that spot :)  I think it is the best 15/55 dive site that I have dived.  It needs a name, and I really don't feel up to the task of naming such an awesome site.  I just can't think of anything that does it justice.  So for now I am calling it "Birthday Wall" for lack of a better name.

Rob was sad that we saw a GPO while he was shooting macro, but I love the octopus eye shot!  It's so funny looking.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Que Paso

On Saturday, I was supposed to dive with Matt and Leah on Phil's boat. When they arrived at Lobos, Leah wasn't feeling well so she decided to stay at Lobos. So it was just me and Matt with 32%. Very strange going out with Phil like that. I had packed an O2 bottle, because I always figure it could be of use on the boat or in the car, but definitely won't be of use in my garage. Phil had an O2 bottle as well, so we decided to bring those along so that we had the option of doing something deeper/longer. While discussing site options, I randomly mentioned Que Paso and that is what we settled on.

Phil made me drive the boat which I am not really a fan of. But we managed to launch it and retrieve Phil without crashing into anything or running over any divers. This was the first time I experienced Phil's new engines. They are very quiet which makes it hard not to punch it, since you don't have the sound feedback. The forecast had looked pretty good, but it was actually a bit of a rough ride. It was also overcast which always makes it seem rougher than it is. We got to the site and it was a mysteriously calm patch just around there. We got geared up, in the oddly empty boar and flopped into the water. Phil reminded us that we would have to use our fins, not our trigger fingers, to get down the line today :). He also suggested that we come up the line instead of drifting if possible (i.e. there wasn't too much current). There actually was a little bit of current on the way down but nothing too bad.

The anchor was right next to a little crack that I recognized -- Rob has a picture of Susan from that spot. But it wasnt nearly as nice looking now because of the barnacle invasion. We headed down the pinnacle until we found one of the more vertical sides. There were white barnacles everywhere On the boat Phil had been talking about how there was a sister pinnacle that we could swim to. I got the impression that it was far enough away that we would only see it in really good viz. But we quickly spied this other pinnacle just across the sand from the wall that we were on. So we went to take a look. It was pretty neat; it was surprisingly barren of white barnacles (it was not as covered in general as the main pinnacle). In the center if the pinnacle there was a crater of sorts which I thought made it look like a volcano. Back on the boat Phil referred to this as an "amphitheater" which is an excellent description. There was a school of blues on this pinnacle, and there were some bug blues hanging out down in the amphitheater.

We headed back to the main pinnacle and circumnavigated it. I sort of felt like the whole dive, we were swimming around looking for a better spot -- one with something other than barnacles on it! I swam right over a couple of cabezons that I didn't even see until I spooked then and they took off. The last one that we came across bolted and then started acting really territorial toward us. So I figured there had to be a pile of eggs somewhere... Then I looked back at the spot that it had bolted from and sure enough there were eggs. So I guess he was guarding a best but not very well :). That spot was actually right on the edge of a crack with a bunch of hydrocoral -- so at least one scenic spot was left. I saw a couple of kelp greenlings acting territorial too but didn't find any nests.

We eventually ended up back on the wall where we started, and found one vertical stripe that was completely encrusted with corynactis and colorful sponges, and no white barnacles. It was odd because right next to it was a big swath of barnacles. So we hung out there until it was time to go shallower. Eventually we did head shallower and did a couple of loops around the top of the pinnacle. I expected to eventually wander past the anchor line but we never did. When we wanted to head up we actually started looking for it. I eventually found myself back at that recognizable crack which I was sure was where the anchor had been. But no anchor and no line. We gave up and shot a bag instead. We did a little deco at 20 feet. While we were there, Matt found a really cool critter. It was very similar to the "jelly bird" I saw once before but his one had some extra processes on it's back... making it look slug-like. When we surfaced, I told Phil that the anchor line eluded us. Turnout the anchor slipped, so he reset it, and then it slipped again, so he gave up. He claimed the weather picked up while we were in the water but then it calmed down again before we surfaced. Seems like that happens a lit in Phil's boat :). We told Phil about the jelly animal and he said it sounded like a sea angel. I finally got around to looking it up and that's definitely what my jelly bird was, and I suspect that the one we saw on this dive was some sort of sea angel too (but almost all of the pictures that I can find are of the one type with a smooth back).

The ride back was calmer than the ride down. When we got back to Lobos, Leah was feeling better so we headed to RG for lunch.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mount Chamberlain South Annex

Jim wanted to go diving on Labor Day so of course we joined him. It was supposed to be a pretty full boat, but in the end it was just Jim, Kevin, Rob and me. Having successfully made it down to Point Sur on Saturday, we decided to try again (but hopefully dive Big Sur Banks). We made it all the way to Sur 19 in what I would consider significant wind. There were whitecaps not too far south of Lobos. I was pretty surprised that we bothered to keep going, but we did. Not too surprisingly, once we were there, we decided it was not diveable. Well, Rob pulled his usual "we can dive this" nonsense, but Jim and I were pretty convinced otherwise. Actually, I'm sure we could dive it, it was just the getting back on the boat part that I was not so sure about :)

So we headed north for a calmer spot. The ride back up was unpleasant and a bit scary at times. We got back to Yankee Point and it was pretty calm there. In fact it was calmer than I remembered from the way down, though that was perhaps in comparison from the ride to Big Sur. We decided to anchor on the south wall of Mount Chamberlain, and "if the viz is good" go to the south annex... The wall that runs parallel to the south wall a couple hundred feet south across the sand. I think that Jim had not been to that spot before, but I love the spot. Maybe that's because we only go there in good viz :). We dropped down to find really bad viz on the wall. It was green and dark and chunky, and keeping the team of four together was annoying.

After a few minutes on the wall, heading west, we found a basket star on one of the boulders at the bottom of the wall. After checking him out, Rob suggested we head to the annex. The viz was crap but I figured why not... you can't really get lost between here and there. So we headed over the sand and in a little over a minute we saw the reef, phew. We landed on a familiar spot and were looking around at the fish when we got a light signal from Kevin. It was a rather excited light signal, so I was thinking "that had better be a GPO!" And it was! At the very bottom of the wall there was a little overhanging ledge, with a GPO under it. He had one arm completely outstretched, hanging out from the overhang. I think he was waving to us. Even though he was under a ledge, we had a pretty good view of him, and he was pretty active. We took terms swimming over to the opening to get a good look at him. By the time we were done with him, it was nearly time to head shallower, so we headed back north to the south wall. We came up the wall and headed north toward K2. We never actually found the shallow K2 peak, but we found a spot that came up to 110 or 120. I thought we should just hang out there instead if spending the rest of our bottom time futilely looking for a shallower peak to come up. So we hung around there for a few minutes before Rob got restless and suggested we search around a bit more. So we did, and it was futile :). One thing I did notice as we scootered around is that as soon as we got to 120 or 130, I started to see those evil white barnacles. Grumble. They are everywhere!

Deco was uneventful. There was the usual assortment of unnamable deco critters. At 20 feet Rob and Kevin decided that my gauge is broken. Apparently it is off by a couple feet compared to theirs so I kept finding myself a couple feet deeper than them. I think their gauges are the broken ones!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Planet Roxy and White Wall

 We were on a tech boat on Saturday and the forecast looked great. So of course the plan was to go south until the weather dictated otherwise. We made it to Point Sur and then discussed where to go. Jim had numbers for some new site (not sure where the numbers came from) and he called it Roxy something. I can't remember the rest of the name, so I've decided to call it Planet Roxy, for no particular reason. Anyhoo, the site was storied to be about as far out as Midway but a bit south of that. Or maybe it was north, I always get those confused. The profile was also supposed to be similar to midway, with the top in the 120 range and the bottom less than 200.

We dropped into excellent viz and not much surface current, but as we descended, we saw the line flatten out and then were greeted by an impressive current. Also, viz was quite green and murky at the bottom. Where we first dropped, there was a nice wall from maybe 130 to 180 or so. We dropped down the wall and Rob attempts some shots in the current. I found a Crinoid at 180'! That is by far the shallowest I have seen one locally. It was on the side of the wall, leaned over in the current. Poor little Crinoid.

We scootered around a bit to try to find more structure but eventually gave up and headed back. We saw a bunch of bigger red rockfish (including some yelloweyes) much like we have seen at Midway. Near the end we found a nice little crack with some hydrocoral for Rob to shoot. That part of the reef topped at like 120 feet making it a good multilevel option. All in all I would go to Midway over this site in the future... It has the same sort of fishlife but much better structure.

We headed back north and decided to try a "new" spot near Cypress Point. Beto has been wanting to look at this site for a while. Clinton said he was pretty sure he had dived it once a while ago. It was a well supposedly coming up to 60 and dropping off to like 130. Kevin had not brought a 32 stage so he sat this one out (despite my many strokey ideas for how we could cobble together the bottles we had so that we could all dive). The viz totally sucked on the top of the structure (which was not quite as shallow as reported). We headed down the wall, on backgas, which had slightly better viz. Also, further down the wall we escaped the barnacles (which were everywhere in the shallows). There were some nice hydrocoral bushes. Sort of like locals ledge deep was how Clinton described it.