It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Photo by Rob Lee
We were on the Escapade on Saturday for a tech charter.  I guess Clinton wanted to go somewhere "new" so Rob  (I think) came up with a spot to suggest.  The spot was sort of new, but sort of not.  We were pretty sure that this spot (on the bathymetry maps) was the pinnacle that we ended up on our first dive at Birthday Wall.  We didn't have much time at the spot, but it ended at 70 feet, which is always a bonus :)  The structure was pretty big-looking, so it definitely looked worth a dive.  Rob and I were diving with Jim, can you believe it?  We dropped down the line to find nice blue water.  What we didn't find was the top of the pinnacle.  We were expecting to hit some sort of shallow structure, but we eventually ended up on a small structure at like 160.

Rob somehow magically decided to go that way and I followed.  As far as I recall, "that way" was to the left, but Rob claims it was south-southwest-ish.  After crossing what I'd call a sand channel, we came to a nice to pinnacle, with a very vertical wall on the north side.  We were near the bottom, at about 200 feet.  This was still not "the pinnacle" as it did not come up nearly as shallow as 70 feet.  But it was a lovely pinnacle none-the-less.  There was a nice school of blue rockfish on that sand channel we had crossed.  After a bit of meandering, we curved around on the west side of the pinnacle and found a nice little ledge that was packed with very lush gorgonians.  It reminded me of the little gorgonian garden patch on the north side of K2.  After posing with the gorgonians, we headed up the pinnacle a bit and then headed back around to the wall on the north side.  From there, we headed back across the sand channel to what turned out to be the main pinnacle.  

Photo by Rob Lee
On the south end of the main pinnacle, we ran into Clinton and John, who were surround by blue rockfish.  We looked at them briefly, and a lingzilla below, and then headed around on the west side, just to take a little bit of a tour of the site.  The pinnacle was quite large, so we were going along for quite a while.  Eventually things got a bit uglier... lots of that uninteresting palm kelp-like stuff, which I don't think is actually called palm kelp.  So when we tired of this, we turned and headed back.  We once again found the big school of blue rockfish, and hung out with them for a bit, while Rob took some pictures.  The school(s) of blue rockfish were definitely the highlight of the dive for me.  It's so fun to be engulfed in a school of fish, especially in clear blue water!  Then we curved around to the east side a bit, and worked our way up to the pinnacle, all the way up to 70 feet, before shooting a bag and starting our deco.  The deco was pretty uneventful, except for a funny worm that we saw around 40 feet.  It was wriggling all around, and kind of reminded me of a fireworm, but really skinny.  But no whales swam by or anything :P  We could see Clinton and John in the distance and eventually we ended up pretty close to them (at 20 feet), and Clinton made us pose for some pictures.  I was very cold on this dive, and by the 20 foot stop my feet were pretty numb and my calves were cramping up.  This made trying to position ourselves for a picture sort of interesting.  But you know, being able to back-kick is overrated.

Photo by Rob Lee
We surfaced and got back on the boat, and not surprisingly, considering the viz, there was enthusiasm for a second dive.  Rob suggested Honeymoon Rocks, which I found sort of odd.  It was odd because first, I didn't think Rob really liked that site very much, and second, it is sort of a deep site for a post-tech-dive dive.  We headed over there and after my feet thawed and I could feel all of my toes (or all of the important ones anyway), we got back in.  I was diving with Rob and John on this dive, since Jim and Clinton were both sitting out the dive.  We got to the front of the boat, and I descended to about 8 feet and realized that my suit inflator was not delivering gas.  So I signaled to Rob and returned to the surface.  My argon bottle was empty.  You may be wondering how I could have missed this on my gear checks.  When we were doing gear checks, I hit the inflator and thought something was wrong, then I hit it again and convinced myself that gas was actually going in (I was already pretty poofy though, so I guess I couldn't tell).  So, that's how I managed to miss it.  I was sort of like "just go on without me" but Rob was like "no, we can fix this".  There was a full argon bottle on the boat that was offered to me (thanks Mark), but I really didn't want to deal with stripping off my scooter and stage, getting back on the boat, switching out argon bottles, and getting back in.  Rob told me he swap them out for me on the surface.  Sure, go ahead and try.  After a very awkward minute or two contorting on the surface, or really just below the surface, we managed to swap the bottles out.  Woohoo.  So then we headed back to the bow (by now we had sort of drifted off the back of the boat, since we were wanted to do our contortions without worrying about getting smacked in the head by a boat hull).

Photo by Clinton Bauder
The second descent attempt was more successful.  We came to a ridge at the end of the downline, and we were right near a break in the ridge.  We essentially went down one side of the ridge, then curved around the end and came back up the other side.  The viz wasn't quite as stellar here as the first dive, but still good.  There was a bit of current.  I noticed this while waiting for Rob to take some pictures.  I kept drifting away from him unintentionally!  We saw lots of O. bilamellata eggs on the wall, so we were on slug alert (my whiskers were twitching).  Eventually we hit the mother lode and found a carpet of slugs.  We found some other dense patches nearby.  Those slugs are so cool, and so gross, at the same time.  On the way back, we found a giant freakin' lingcod.  I signaled to Rob and told him to be vewwy vewwy quiet but to look over there at that giant freakin' fish.  He was pretty excited and very slowly set up his camera for a shot and inched closer and closer to the fish, and just as he went in for the shot, whoosh, there went the fish.  Of course :)  When we got back to the anchor line, Rob started a long winded underwater conversation about whether we were deeper than we thought and maybe we should thumb it, so I thumbed it.  Why do we need to have a long discussion?  If you think we should thumb it, just thumb it!  When we got to the surface, Clinton and Jim told us that there was a lot of whale action on the surface.  No, we didn't see a whale underwater :(

Photo by Rob Lee
We started to head out of there, and I realized like 2 minutes too late that I wanted to ride back in the wheelhouse.  I don't like climbing the ladder when the boat is underway.  Actually I don't like climbing any ladders at all, ever, but I occasionally make an exception on the Escapade.  So I gave Rob and Luke the international signal for "slow the boat down so I can climb the ladder" which for some reason they didn't get.  After a bit of back and forth, Greg finally complied.  It was a very nice ride back, and there were a bunch of whale sightings.

Clinton named the dive site Cupcakes, having nothing to do with the geometry of the site or anything.  I'd explain it, but it would violate my family-friendly policy for the blog :)

All of the boys' pictures are here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fiji Trip: Summary

At long last, I have posted my Fiji trip report!  Rob and I spent a week in Fiji, at Koro Sun Resort near Savusavu.  The trip was organized by Anywater Sports, and was our first ever shop trip.  The diving was nice, and some of it was super awesome.  We did a total of 15 dives over 6 days, which of course was not enough diving for Rob.  I thought that the amount of diving was in principle okay, but that the amount of time/effort spent diving versus the amount of diving was not really ideal.    It seemed like we spent nearly all day everyday diving, or walking back and forth between our room and the dive boat.  If I were to go back to Fiji (which I'm sure I will someday), I would do a few things differently.  I would definitely do it as a liveaboard -- both so I could do more diving (or the same amount, with more time to lay around and read), and because I imagine that on a liveaboard, a higher proportion of the dives would be of the super awesome variety.  I wanted to do something land-based because I wanted to see Fiji and its terrestrial creatures.  But I didn't really have a lot of time to chase butterflies anyway, so I think a better way to do it would be a liveaboard with a few non-dive days tacked on at the end.  So that's how I'd do it next time!  Also, unless I was taking a longer trip, I would try to go somewhere that does not require a flight within Fiji (and this may apply elsewhere as well).  We blew almost a day on each end with the travel from Nadi to Savusavu.  Assuming there's equally good diving to be done on the same island that you fly into, I would try to do that.

Since this was our first shop trip, here are my thoughts on that.  There were certainly both pros and cons to traveling with a group.  It was very nice to have someone else do all of the haggling with the airline, especially when they cancelled our flights!  On the other hand, our group was definitely too large for the dive shop to handle, and I suspect the diving experience would have been more efficient with a smaller group.  Or maybe it would have been exactly the same, but we would have had to deal with all the other crap ourselves.  I thought it was fun travelling with the shop, but it would have been a lot more fun with a much smaller group.  So I will probably stick to smaller group trips in the future.

Air Pacific is a pretty ghetto airline.  I didn't find the flight experience to be as good as I have on other recent transoceanic flights.  I guess you don't have that many other options though.  To be fair, I heard that the planes we flew on were about to be retired (like within a week's time), so perhaps the new planes are better?  I thought the resort was fine; it wasn't particularly luxurious but it was perfectly nice.  However, it is definitely a resort with some diving, and not a dive resort.  All of the people we interacted with at the resort were very friendly, and some of them gave really excellent service (like the bartender, who knew my name before I'd even visited the bar).  The dive shop clearly could not deal with so many divers.  They did their best to keep us happy, but I think we would have been a lot happier if there were fewer divers around while we were there. They were perfectly happy to let us wander off on our own, and did not (practically speaking) limit our dive time, which I liked.  And Colin really wanted to find good subjects for Rob to photograph (despite Rob's rather stubborn refusal to follow a DM of any sort :P).

So that's the summary.  Here are the reports day by day:

Fiji Trip: Getting to Fiji
Fiji Day 1: Hammerheads (or not) and Al50s
Fiji Day 2: Turtle Turtle
Fiji Day 3: Namena Marine Reserve
Fiji Day 4: Macro Day!
Fiji Day 5: Somosomo Strait
Fiji Day 6: The Elusive Hammerhead
Fiji Trip: Going Home

I have included a lot of Rob's pictures in this report, but there are even more and they can all be found here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

And the winner is...

I held off briefly on selecting a winner for the 2012 Calendar Giveaway, since I wanted to leave the Big Sur Banks post at the top of the blog for a few more days :)  But, I wouldn't want the winner to miss out on the January page completely, so the winner is... Doug (the author of the eighth comment)!  How convenient for me; since Doug is local, I can hand deliver the calendar.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Flaggle Rock

 (Note: this report includes details about a boat separation incident.  If that's what you are here to read about, you can skip to the fourth paragraph.)  We have Martin Luther King Day off, and every year for the past several years, we have booked Phil (or the Escapade) on this date.  As you can imagine, since it is the middle of January, our record of being able to dive is not that good, maybe 50/50.  We've been skunked for the past two years.  As we approached the weekend, the forecast looked iffy for Monday.  But after the totally awesome conditions on Saturday, and my excitement over our fish sightings from the previous weekend, I really really want to make it back down to Birthday Wall.  At the same time I really really didn't want to get up early and drive down to Monterey, to get skunked by the weather.  But Rob or Kevin checked in with Phil on Sunday night, and he didn't seem concerned.  But Phil might think we'll dive in anything at this point, so I wasn't sure what to make of that.  When we got down to Lobos on Monday morning, conditions were quite a bit better looking than expected.  And it was a nice sunny day too!  We didn't even discuss whether we could make it out... we just loaded the boat and got going.  The ride to Yankee Point involved big rolling swell, but not too much wind chop.  When we got to the site, we found the 140-something spot and dropped the anchored.  It looked like there was not too much current.  Kevin suggested that for the shallow segment, we go to a different spot, just a couple hundred feet northeast of the spire.  He showed me a tiny little map on his GPS and though it didn't really make much sense to me, I said okay.  We told Phil when to expect the bag and that we may be a couple hundred feet to the northeast.  I was horribly seasick (further proving Rob's theory that there is no correlation between me getting seasick and me taking bonine, since I did actually take it the night before) by the time I got geared up.  We did our gear checks before putting our bottles on, and then I took my bottles and rolled in and waited for the guys (this was Phil's bright idea... I was way too seasick to have such a good idea).  That was much better.  There was just a tiny bit of current, enough that I had to hold onto one of the lines on the boat.  Eventually Phil handed me my scooter and I would just drift a little, scooter back up to the boat, and repeat.  Before you know it, the guys were in the water, and we met up at the line and headed down.  The viz was very good, and it was bright even at the bottom.  In terms of viz, water color, etc. this is the second best dive I've done here (and of course Rob was shooting macro :P).

We stopped at the plateau and then headed down the wall.  We were further south than we have been on other dives lately, so when we hit the bottom of the wall, it wasn't quite as deep, and there were some small structures across a little sand channel -- this is the area where we saw the out-in-the-open GPO on our first dive here.  As we headed northwest along that channel, I found a ratfish!  I signaled Rob and he got a couple pictures... and the camera worked, woohoo!  From there we continued along and eventually we headed perpendicular to the wall, just out over the rubble.  I wasn't completely sure what the plan was here.  I thought that Rob would want to head straight for the flag rockfish spot, to see if he was around.  But we meandered around the rubble for a bit first (this new two-segment bottom profile makes the deeper segment seem luxuriously long).  There were quite a few fish out there, though mostly just solitary ones.  The usual giant vermilions and some pretty big bocaccio -- bigger than the ones that we have seen in small schools at this site.  Eventually we headed to the part where the wall turns, which is where we have seen the flag rockfish before (around some big boulders near the base of the wall).  Further down the wall there is also where we saw the "school" of ratfish recently.  We were near the bottom,  keeping an eye out for Flaggie, when Rob found him.  Rob was patiently waiting for him to line up in a nice position, since he was sort of half out of a crevice, when I looked a bit down the reef, and there was Flaggie.  Another Flaggie.  Two flag rockfish.  Woohoo!  The other one was in a much more photogenic position, so I got Rob's attention (trying not to scare away the one near Rob, since it would be really dumb to wave my light around and end up with zero Flaggies to take pictures of) and kept telling him "another fish over there".  There was a boulder in the way for him to see the other fish.  Eventually he got the message and came up a bit and looked over the boulder. Ahhh, another flag rockfish, totally out in the open.  I think Rob ended up getting pictures of both of the fish.  This left us to ponder, after the dive, if there might be even more than two flag rockfish living in that little complex of boulders.  Who knows?  There could be a whole colony of flag rockfish, plotting to take over the world.

I also saw more of the supposed juvenile pygmy rockfish, and basically had to force Rob to get a picture.  There were so many of them, I was NOT coming back from this dive without a good picture of one to show Tom for ID.  Rob did get a couple of pictures, which nicely show both the red smear and the yellow tummy patch.  Good job Rob.  Eventually we headed out just a bit further, and found a little congregation of 3 or 4 ratfish.  Yay!  They were right around the area where we saw the big group of ratfish before, so they must live around there.  Good to know.  We eventually agreed to head back and started working our way shallower.  On the way in, I passed a monster yelloweye in nearly the exact same spot where I saw a big yelloweye on a previous dive.  So perhaps he is a resident, and needs a name.  When we turned the dive, I was closest to the the start point, and started to head that way.  Kevin had suggested we try this alternate spot to the northeast of the start point for the shallow segment of the dive.  But I thought we would come back to the main wall before heading that way.  Apparently that wasn't what he had in mind, so once I started to head back to the main wall, he and Rob figured I didn't want to go exploring.  Oops.  So we just headed back to the spire where we started, and killed some time there.  Rob found a fish in a crack that he really wanted me to see.  I tried to look at it, but really just saw a fish butt, which if I had to describe, I would call it a canary rockfish (though it was in a pretty unusual place for a canary).  I guess Rob's camera was dead at this point -- apparently taking it deep causes button crushing which drains the battery.  I also found a bunch of Dotos at the shallow spot.  Eventually I got kind of bored, and went to the top and put my gauge right next to the shallowest point -- 143 feet.  Now I know :)  After the dive, I told Phil that next time we aren't dropping the hook until we find the 143 foot spot.

We eventually thumbed it right at that high spot, within site of the anchor line.  Kevin put the (big) bag up at the first or second deep stop, and off we drifted to the south.  I was delighted to find that moving my D-ring down, and adjusting the left side of my harness (I think it had inched itself shorter over time) actually made a difference in being able to reach my D-ring during a bottle rotation -- yay!  Deco was pretty boring, with not a lot of stuff to look at.  Yet for some reason it wasn't until we got to 50 feet that I realized something was amiss; I hadn't heard the boat yet.  I asked the others, and they hadn't heard it either.  That is unusual, but not *that* unusual.  But by the time we got to 20 feet, we still hadn't heard the boat, and that was very unusual.  I told Kevin to give the line a good tug so that the bag would stand up, which I'm sure was mildly annoying to Kevin, since he knew that :)  Our 20 foot stop was 30 minutes, and I spent much of that time thinking of the various scenarios that would cause us to not hear the boat, and the outcomes of those various scenarios.  Needless to say, it was pretty distressing, but what could we do?  There were a couple of points where Kevin or I thought we heard something, but it definitely wasn't a definite boat "sighting".  At some point, I think right after our backgas break, Rob tried to engage the boat, just in case Phil was silently drifting near us.  He put up a second bag, which we knew would elicit a response from Phil, then he put an empty bottle up the line, which would generally bring Phil over to take the bottle, and there were no boat sounds.  So at that point, we were pretty certain that Phil was not with our bag.  When we finally finished our 20 foot and then our 6 minute ascent, we hit the surface, slowly searched around in all directions, and confirmed what we pretty much already knew -- that the boat wasn't there.

We were carrying several audible signalling devices between us, including several dive alerts and whistles.  We pulled these out and tried them, and found them all to be pretty underwhelming.  My dive alert did not produce any noise (except maybe a big of gurgling), though on subsequent tests, it has actually produced sound as expected.  We discussed various options, such as heading toward shore (we were about a mile from shore), and decided that our best option was to wait for a while.  We each picked a direction to look, and watched for the boat, while taking turns holding the big bag up vertically.  It was still very sunny and pleasant out (though with big swell) which I think helped our (or at least my) state of mind.  After about 10 minutes, I was "sure" that I saw some sort of boat on top of a wave, in the north-northeast direction.  I told the guys, and we all looked in that direction for a minute or so, and I started to really doubt myself.  After about 15 minutes total, we finally had a confirmed siting of Phil, heading toward us, from the north-northeast direction (so I probably didn't imagine it, but who knows?).  After a bit of rejoicing, we slowly handed our gear up to Phil and got back on the boat.  Phil reported that when he couldn't see our bag at the appointed time, he pulled anchor and started running a search pattern about 60 minutes into the dive.  This means he spent approximately 70 minutes searching for us before we were found.  Yikes.  He ran an expanding elliptical search pattern and found us on the third time around.  Based on our GPS unit (which shows the track that Phil drove), we determined that we were picked up just under 0.9 miles from our start point.  We also determined that Phil ran quite a nice search pattern!  Once we were back on board, Phil offered his theory of why he could not find us.  He pointed in the direction that we had drifted, and looking in that direction, the sun was in our eyes, and we couldn't see any details on the surface of the ocean.

I'm pretty sure we saw some whale spouts on the ride back to Lobos, but honestly the ride back was kind of a blur.  I got dropped at the ramp because I really had to pee by the time we made it back to Whaler's.

Since this dive, we've obviously considered all of the possible scenarios that played in our minds, and what we can to do prevent or mitigate the risks.  I'm not going to go into detail about every little thing, but here are the highlights.  There are obviously inherent risks to drift deco.  Diving off of a small boat with a single crew member presents additions risks.  In large swell, the visibility from a small boat is not as good, so this may have been a factor.  With only a single person on the boat, there is a single point of failure if he should become debilitated (to me, this was the worst possible scenario I could think of while we were separated from the boat).  Carrying a hand-held radio on the dive would not have prevented the problem, but it certainly would have provided peace of mind if we could call Phil and at least know he was looking for us.  We have a radio that fits into a plugged canister (which we have carried on some Big Sur dives in the past), which was safely stowed on a shelf in the garage.  We plan to carry the radio on dives off of Phil's boat in the future.  Also, we don't know the extent that this affected things, but we did deviate slightly from our plan to pop the bag slightly to the northeast; instead we popped the bag right by the anchor line.  Our final thought about all of this was that our audible signals were pretty underwhelming; the big bag was by far the best "signalling device" that we had.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Big Sur Banks in January!

 As the weekend approached, we were watching the forecast closely.  It looked like it should be alright on Saturday but not so good by Monday (Sunday didn't really matter, since we weren't diving on that day!).  But the forecast was really volatile.  Every time there was an update, things looked different.  But Saturday looked like it would be at least pretty good.  On Friday, Kevin mumbled something about Sur 19, to which I silently replied "Kevin, you're a moron".  But as we headed out of Monterey Bay, the water was flat.  Jim asked where we wanted to go, and said that the GPS was currently set to GPS.  Okay, I take it back, Kevin is not a moron, or at least not as it regards this one small issue :)  Considering the blatantly flat conditions, we decided to have a little fun with Rob, who was asleep, and when he woke up, we told him we were going to head to Lunaticos, because it seemed a bit too rough to continue.  Since, as Rob says, I am a very bad liar, the jig was quickly up.  On the way down the coast, we saw a couple of gray whales, but we didn't stop to say hello -- there was a dive to do!  We also noticed the water color improving as we drove further south.  Woohoo.

When we pulled up to Sur 19, the conditions were great!  It was a nice calm day to get geared up and into the water.  I was the first to splash, and found very little surface current.  I'd almost say that there was no surface current, but I was technically slowly moving away from the boat.  I corralled the boys and we headed down the line.  The line was fairly vertical near the top, and then flattened out as we approached the bottom, because there was some bottom current.  The viz was excellent.  I think it was the second best viz I've ever had at Big Sur Banks.  But since the best viz I've ever had there is basically unbeatable, I think second is pretty good :)  I noticed an annoying noise as I was scootering down the line, and I eventually determined it was bubbles from my right post.  It wasn't that noisy, but somehow the combination of the sound of my scooter and the sound of the bubbles was surprisingly distressing.  It was like someone was whining behind my ear.  So I asked Rob to take a look and he made an effort to fix it.  That effort failed, so I just had to live with the noise.  But I remembered to do my flow check!

We agreed to do a little loop around the base of the pinnacle, looking for GPOs and wolf eels and the like.  We did not find any such critters, though I saw a surprising number of lingcod.  The school of rockfish that is usually around was not on the main pinnacle.  But I found a pretty big group of blues and olives on a little pinnaclet off to the side.  I was looking at them, trying to get Rob to come over to take some pictures, but he was not interested.  So we headed back to the main pinnacle and spent most of the dive drooling over the hydrocoral.  I found a lingcod guarding his nest, so Rob spent a while trying to get a shot of that.  The lingcod was really not very cooperative.  He was more interested in trying to scoot us away from his nest than posing for a picture.  So there was a lot of waiting for him to settle back down by the eggs.  Once Rob gave up on that, we spent the rest of the dive on the very top of the pinnacle.  The current seemed to have picked up by this time, so posing for pictures (and I imagine shooting them) was quite a pain.  Take one shot, get swept across the pinnacle, then scooter back and repeat.  But who can complain about having to drift across the top of Sur 19 over and over again?

The deco was pretty uneventful.  There were some jelly critters to look at, but not a ton.  Early in our deco, a sea lion made a very brief appearance.  I whipped out my hero cam in case he came back, but of course he did not.  When we got to the surface, we were the first team up, oddly.  The surface conditions were so placid that I was lollygagging at the ladder while getting my fins off, and let go of the ladder without either of my fins on.  The very mild surface current managed to drag me just beyond reach of the ladder.  After attempting to paddle back with my fins on my arms, I gave up and started to put them back on my feet, when Rob swooped by on his scooter and towed me back to the ladder.  I felt like a total moron.  Rob gave me some good advice about not letting go of the ladder this time :)  After we retrieved the rest of the divers, we headed back toward shore and discussed a second dive.  Woohoo, my sad little 32% stage has seen so many tech charters without getting in the water lately!  We wanted to go to Lobos Rocks, but by the time we got there, it was pretty ugly there.  There was much discussion about whether to go, and Jim seemed pretty negative about it.  Since I am a bigger wimp than Jim (by a very small margin, let me assure you), I decided that if Jim didn't think it was prudent to dive, we probably shouldn't dive.  So I was the first to say I was happy to dive elsewhere.  Someone (Jim I guess) rattled off some other options, one of which was MacDonald's.  So I seconded that, since Rob had never been there, and I was thinking with this viz, the arches would be great.

Neither Rob nor Kevin had been to MacD's before, and they were both pretty sullen about not diving at Lobos Rocks.  So I was responsible for navigating and showing them a good time.  I believe I pretty much failed in both respects.  The last time I dove there, the anchor was practically on top of one of the arches.  I knew if I could find that one, that I could definitely find the other from it.  When we got down to the pinnacle, I had not very much of a clue where we were.  The viz was not nearly as good as it had been at Big Sur -- it was stirred up in various places, but pretty good in others.  Overall it was good but not great.  But the water was also a lot more green than it had been at Sur 19.  We dropped down one side of the pinnacle, and I saw another pinnacle very close to us.  I didn't remember there being another pinnacle this close on this side, and I thought I recognized a spot on that other pinnacle.  So I thought we might be one pinnacle over from the arches.  After a meander around the other pinnacle, I realized this was wrong, and continued around the first pinnacle we'd dropped on.  And found the first arch in very short order.  The last time I dove this site, the viz was quite spectacular.  In this viz, the site just wasn't quite what I remembered.  The swimthroughs were still fun, though.  We posed for some pictures, and then headed off to the other one.  I totally overshot it, I guess because last time I was swimming and hence we passed it in about one-third the time.  Once I realized I overshot, we turned around, and I found the second arch on the way back.  We posed for more pictures (quite a lot of pictures, considering only one made the cut and ended up in the BAUE album!) and then headed back to the main pinnacle.  We landed near the downline, and I asked the boys if they wanted to thumb it, and they agreed.  So we headed up.  The conditions had definitely deteriorated a bit throughout the day.  It was still not very rough, but not super calm like the first dive.

Still calm enough to lay down on the deck for the ride home.  I was looking forward to laying down in the sun, but the sun was low enough in the sky that that didn't really work out too well.  I was frosty cold by the time we got back to the dock.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 Calendar Giveaway

Since last year's calendar giveaway was a smashing success, I'm doing it again this year!  Here's a thumbnail of the photos in this year's calendar:

Some might say it's too cave heavy, and others will say it's too octopus heavy.  Well, if you don't like it, don't enter to win.  I'm pretty happy with how the calendar turned out, considering that when I thought back over the year, it didn't seem like it was exactly an epic year for diving.  Or for photography.  For various reasons, far too many of my posts in the past year have been photo-less.  I told Rob that my new year's resolution is to have more pictures on my blog.  Sadly that is not really within my control, but maybe that will inspire/pressure Rob.

So, if you want a shot at the calendar, leave a comment by Tuesday, January 17 at 11:59 pm (Pacific time) saying what the coolest dive you did last year was.  Mine was definitely my birthday dive at Birthday Wall.  Close seconds would have to be the two other dives I did at that site, and the best octopus encounter ever.

Once again this year, I decided to do some data crunching for the past year (and once again I was left wondering why the heck I did it in Excel, instead of a relational database).  I "only" did 88 dives this year, which is much lower than last year, but I think I should get extra credit for those 3 or 4 hour cave dives :)  I also didn't include any dives in classes or assisting with classes, which by my count took another 20 days.

This year I dove with 15 distinct dive buddies, also down quite a bit from last year.  I guess I'm becoming a dive snob.  The top 5 buddies by dive count has changed a bit, but no surprises here:


I guess that's technically 6, but there was a tie for 5th.  But if I counted all those C2 class dives, Antonio clearly would have kicked Ted's butt.

And the numbers by certification are:


The count for rec dives might seem surprisingly high, but that's just because I haven't posted my Fiji trip report yet.  It's coming soon!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Is this dive site getting old? No!

The weather for the weekend was looking not so good, with Saturday looking really bad and then it calming down a little for Sunday.  Rob, Matt and I were planning to go out with Phil on Sunday.  Matt also had Phil on Saturday, and Ted and Rob were joining.  I decided to sit that one out, and wait to hear on a conditions report.  Rob claimed that the conditions were not as bad as expected considering the dire predictions, and that Phil didn't seem concerned about Sunday.  Our goal was to hit Birthday Wall, which Matt had never been to before.  The downside of planning such a dive is that if we can't make it to Yankee Point due to weather, there aren't that many other options for sites to go to with 12/65.  But it turned out to settle down quite a bit by Sunday, and getting to Yankee Point was not a problem at all.  In fact, I would describe the conditions as "calm".  It was a delightful day to get geared up in the RIB and have oodles of bottles clipped to you.  The only problem we encountered was a current that looked to be, umm, what's the word, ripping.  It was one of the few times that I really wasn't sure we were going to be able to make it to the site (or to the front of the boat, for that matter) even with scooters.  Somehow I was the unlucky one to be volunteered to roll in first.  I rolled in, and held on to the line on the side of the boat while Phil got my scooter for me.  He handed me my scooter, and said "don't let go, don't let go".  Then I was faced with the question of how to hold my scooter, hold the boat, and clip my scooter.  I'm nearly certain that requires three hands!  In the past when we've deployed in such current, Phil has held the nose of the scooter while I clip it on (which I remembered AFTER the dive).  So, alas, I let go. I figured that if my scooter could not get me back to the boat, then it wouldn't get me to the line at the front of the boat anyway.  Once clipped on, I hit the trigger, went up to 5, and kicked a little, and made it to the front of the boat.  I had told the boys that I was going to go down the line and wait at 20 feet.  The 20 feet part may have been slightly mumbled.

I went down to about 25 feet, because that's where the current seemed to let up just a bit, and I held onto the line, occasionally hitting the trigger to relieve my arm.  Matt appeared behind me on the line after a minute.  I waited a minute more and then asked if 3 was good and could we head down.  Apparently the communication was botched; I guess Matt thought I could see Rob, and I thought he could see Rob, so he gave me the okay to go.  We headed down the line, and were scootering for what seemed like hours.  In fact, it was more like 7 minutes.  Somewhere on the way down, Matt passed me, so I figured it was not my responsibility to keep tabs on Rob.  So I turned to look back for him, and he wasn't there.  So I stopped and looked around some more, and then I saw a tiny beam of light.  Apparently we had completely ditched Rob (who was delayed while getting his camera).  Oops.  He caught up and we eventually made it to the pinnacle (7 minutes in).  We switched to backgas, and then headed down the wall.  The viz at the top of the pinnacle was quite good; the water was sort of a milky green color, but you could see far, and it was very bright.  As we got down deeper, the viz deteriorated, and it was night dark.  I guess the big weather from the past days had really stirred up the bottom.  There were just a lot of particles in the water.  I would still call it at least 30 foot viz, but chunky and very dark.  We headed out to the deep area, near where we'd seen all those ratfish last time.  We were moving kind of slowly, due to the not so hot viz.  Rob found a flag rockfish in the same area where we'd seen one before.  So I guess he is a resident -- yay!  I have dubbed him "Flaggie".  I know, I'm so imaginative.  Rob was shooting wide angle, and managed to get only a not very in-focus shot that proved we saw a flag rockfish, before the fish scattered.  Wide-angle really isn't the right lens for this site!

As usual, there were quite a lot of juvenile rockfish.  I always look at the schools, and find that they all look sort of the same and hard to describe, and hence hard to ID.  But today I actually noticed some very distinctive looking fish.  I saw quite a few that had a reddish "smear" on the sides of their bodies.  Like if you dipped a finger in red paint and poked the side of the fish and then smeared it horizontally along its side.  Then later on, as we were heading back toward the shallower area (but still relatively deep), I saw some other interesting looking ones that were sort of a mottled red and white on top, with a yellow underside.  Pretty bright yellow.  Since these fish were distinctive enough for me to actually described without too much wishy washiness, I was on a mission -- I was going to ID these fish!  After doing a bit of research (looking at other juvenile fish pics that Rob had had ID'd from this site before), I thought that the ones with the red smear may be pygmies... though in Rob's earlier picture, the line wasn't nearly as distinct.  So I emailed Tom Laidig with my descriptions, and my pygmy theory, and he told me that yes, the first fish sounded like a pygmy.  And so did the second.  Apparently they can look different depending on where they are -- on the bottom versus in the water column.  He sent along a picture for me to look at of the second variety.  And it looked just like the fishies I saw.  I was very proud of myself for noticing enough details about some juveniles to actually ID them (without a picture!).

Anyhoo, we headed shallower and ended back at the pinnacle we started on.  We tried a new profile today, with a deep segment for 20 minutes and a shallower segment for up to 20 minutes (or until we hit gas).  Previously we've done a three-level profile, but it seems much more onerous to keep to the schedule with the shorter segments.  I definitely prefer the two-level dive.  When we got back to the pinnacle, Rob took a few shots of us there.  There is always a bit of a swirly current around the pinnacle, and while it wasn't super high current today, it was still enough to make posing for pictures a bit of a pain.  Eventually we thumbed it on gas and started an uneventful deco.  I felt pretty uncomfortable for most of the deco.  I just could not get in trim and comfortable... my isolator was sticking in my head if I was in trim.  And if I was out of trim, well, I just wasn't comfortable!  I felt like I was finning all of deco.  I'm sure it wasn't as bad as it seemed to me, but I was definitely sculling A LOT.  I'm sure it was highly annoying for Rob and Matt.  However, I didn't need any assistance with my bottle rotation this time, so that was good!  I actually remembered to move my shoulder D-ring a bit after my epic fail last time.  Okay, I guess it's not an epic fail if you don't actually drop a bottle.  Anyhoo, I finally managed to get comfortable for the last 10 minutes of our O2 stop :)  I think I just found an out-of-trim position that was comfortable.  Rob said that he thought my tanks looked way too high on me.  But he always says that, so I wasn't really sure what to make of that.

The surface conditions seemed even better on the way home than they were on the way out.  It turned out to be a great day on the boat.  It just goes to show you can't always believe the forecasts!

By the way, Rob has dubbed the little boulder pile with the flag rockfish "Flaggle Rock".  I think this is an adorable name, since I've always been a HUGE Fraggle Rock fan (and I make frequent references to it to Rob, which he finds rather odd).

Sadly, I have no pictures to post for today.  Rob claimed none of the pictures were good enough to post, even though I disagree.  He's not being very supportive of my new year's goal!  But don't worry (SPOILER ALERT), there are some awesome pics from this site coming soon :)

Update: After much whining, Rob offered up this one picture from the dive.  So now you have the privilege of looking at Matt, sporting his analogous color scheme, shooting a bag.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Little River: To the Well Casing

Rob wanted to scooter, and since I am terrified of scootering through the eye at Ginnie, I suggested we go elsewhere.  I suggested Little River, since it is a cave I have dived a number of times, so it seemed like a good choice.  We got there not terribly early, but the parking lot was completely empty.  Very nice.  Perhaps people were sleeping in because they knew it was going to be really freakin' cold in the morning.  Brrr.  The staircase seems to have been refurbished since the last time I was there (or at least the last time I dove there).  We walked our bottles and doubles down, and then dealt with the beasts.  Rob was capable of carrying my (26Ah) scooter down by himself, but carrying his (33Ah) down was a team effort.  "My" scooter doesn't really feel like my scooter, since so far the only encounter I have had with it was to put a sticker on the side that says "Allison".  It is in all other respects just a scooter I've seen at EE sitting on a charger :)  Kevin has dived it before, and assured me it was a lovely scooter.  While we were staging gear down there, I had a chance to look around for the best way to enter the water -- the water level was a bit lower than it has been when I've dived there before, but the same old entry worked fine.

We finally got into our gear, ran through our gear checks, and got into the water.  Ahhh, so warm.  The plan was for me to lead, and once we were in the cavern area, I was going to scoot around a bit and find the right length for my tow cord, etc.  Then we would head down the mainline for a while.  I ran the line into the cavern zone, and a little bit beyond where we dropped our O2 bottles, I dropped the reel so I could play on my scooter.  I thought I had the right length for my tow cord, but wimped out on leading the dive, and asked Rob to lead instead.  I felt a little too encumbered with the scooter :)  We headed in, and I quickly realized that picking Little River as an easier-to-scooter site than Ginnie was totally dumb.  It is so much twisty-turny-er.  What was I thinking!?!  Well, it was actually pretty good practice for maneuvering on a Gavin.  Eventually I got the hang of the technique and timing of turning the scooter, but there were definitely a bunch of spots where I was approaching a turn and realized I just couldn't make the turn in time and had to go off the trigger and kick my way around.  Hehe.  So I think we were probably a bit slow on the way in.  I have always had trouble corresponding what I see in the cave at Little River, with what I see on the maps that are available online.  So while I'm not precisely sure where we were on the map, we dropped our stages past the Florida room, after it got deeper and a bit smaller and twisty again.  I asked Rob if he wanted to drop scooters too, but he did not.  So we continued on, and not long after, it got twisty-turnier and annoying to scooter.  Then we popped out in a bigger room with a hill that we had to go over, and we ditched our scooters on the other side of that.  We continued kicking from there for another 10 to 15 minutes.  I had just signaled Rob to tell him that I wanted to turn it, when he gave me a "just a sec" signal and told me to keep going.  He had just seen the well casing, and wanted me to see it before we turned the dive.  I have never known exactly where (how far in) the well casing was supposed to be, and wondered if we could have passed it before but not seen it.  We had been talking to Mark a day or so before about this, and he said he didn't think it was possible to pass the well casing without seeing it.  And now I know exactly what he meant :)

Then we turned around and headed out.  I felt like much less of a spaz on the way out, and felt like we were making better time.  Yes, we were going with the flow, but there wasn't that much flow, so I think most of it was just getting the hang of things.  When we got to the Florida room, I had a lot of fun scootering through a bigger room.  When we got back to the T, I told Rob that scootering through the twisty turny areas sucked, but scootering through the Florida room was fun!  He laughed at me, and then we continued out.  The rest of the ride out was pretty uneventful.  When we got back to 20 feet, we got onto O2 bottles and negotiated the deco -- and there was so little deco!  That scooter sure makes the dive shorter :)  After switching onto my deco bottle, I decided to move my stage back, because it was annoying me.  As I whipped the bottle back with a flourish, I misjudged my proximity to a rock, and scraped my hand against it, eek.  I was practically just left with a bloody stump; it's a good thing there aren't sharks in the cave.  Once we finished, we surfaced to slightly less freezing conditions, and a few people loading gear into the water as we got out.

Monday, January 2, 2012


On  Monday, we went to Madison.  The temperature must have dropped like 20 degrees from the day before -- it was pretty freakin' cold while we were setting up!  So, Rob has apparently decided that the only dive worth doing at Madison is Rocky Horror (or rather past Rocky Horror).  On our last trip, he and Kevin dove there (without me) and I guess he thought it was super awesome.  So he decided, without really asking my opinion, that that's what we would do today, and so we would double stage so we could bask in the full glory of the awesomeness past Rocky Horror.  I was not too convinced, first because I wasn't totally thrilled to double stage it, and second, because I am in mortal fear of Rocky Horror :P  So I warned him that I might wimp out, but agreed to at least go down there and check it out.  Rob also wanted to go in at Martz, which I know nothing about.  We pulled in to the parking lot, and I really really had to go to the bathroom, and he told me I had to decide *right then* where I wanted to enter (so he could decide where to park).  So I told him to just park by the main entrance.  I think that was the wrong answer, but that's what he gets when he asks for a snap decision when I am under duress!

There were two other teams there, and we chatted a bit with the guys getting geared up next to us.  I guess Rob had chatted with the other team, who was entering at Martz, and no one was planning to dive Rocky Horror.  So we didn't have to worry about that.  We setup our bottles (brrrr) and loaded them all into the water, and then got geared up and into the water.  After clipping on all those bottles, we headed in, with me leading.  The viz was not too stellar in the early part.  It was pretty green and relatively murky until just past the Martz jump.  Then it was crystal clear.  A bit after that, we saw a team coming out ahead of us.  The tunnel was not terribly wide at this point, so I found a spot to tuck into the side, and waited for them to pass.  Just as I was about to get going again, I saw a light ahead.  The other team was coming out too.  They were a little ways down the passage, but I decided to just wait where we were for them to pass.  Then we got going again, and dropped our stages before the half-hitch.  When we got to the jump, I installed the spool, and we headed down the tunnel and I dropped my second stage just a few minutes before hitting the checkin sign.  By the time we got there, I had already decided I didn't want to do Rocky Horror, but I had been thinking I'd at least go to the end of Potter's Delight.  But then when we got to the sign, I figured it would be easier to just turn it there, rather than having a big conversation about it in Potter's Delight.  So much to Rob's dismay, we turned around.

We headed back out and when we got back to the mainline, I asked Rob if he wanted to head back up the mainline.  He shrugged so I took that to mean yes, so I dropped my stage and headed right.  From there we just followed the mainline for a while.  We got just a few minutes further than I have ever been.  Eventually I turned the dive because it was getting silty (actually it had been silty for a while) and twisty turny and a bit smaller, and I got tired of threading myself around while trying not to stir up silt.  As soon as I turned it, Rob sort of took off, I guess to demonstrate to me just how slowly I had been going on the way in.  I got back to my stage, and picked it up and switched onto it.  While the flow was down, it was definitely there, and we made much better time on the way out.  When I got to my second stage, I still had a ton of gas in the stage I was breathing so I just picked it up and never even went back onto it on the way out.  Just a bit after that, I got to a spot where the cave went from about 60 feet to about 65 feet, and I could not clear my right ear.  It was like it had half-cleared, and every time I swallowed, I could hear it click, and it was very uncomfortable.    Meanwhile, Rob was swimming really fast and I was barely keeping up with him.  I was a bit worried that when we came over the hill right before (after) the Martz jump, that I wouldn't be able to clear coming back down.  But actually coming up shallower in that spot let me finally clear.  Then I suddenly realized, that I had dropped a cookie on the way in, at the jump to Martz (because someone else had installed a line there), and I had neither noticed it nor picked it up on the way out.  Doh!  I guess I was a bit distracted trying to clear my ear and keep up.  So I had to stop Rob and turn us around to go and get that.  Once that was taken care of, we exited without incident.  

When I got to my O2 bottle, I picked it up and rotated one of my stages back, as I continued swimming through the cavern zone.  I was thinking... why can't it be this easy to rotate bottles at home!?!  When I mentioned this to Rob, I said it was probably because I didn't have gloves on (well, fingerless gloves) and my hands weren't cold.  He suggested that it was probably psychological, because I wasn't afraid of dropping the bottle (and watching it plummet to the bottom, 1 foot below me :P).  True.  We got out to the basin and negotiated a little bit of deco -- 10 or 12 minutes I think.  As we walked up the path back to the car, we were greeted by a stiff breeze.  Brrr.