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Me diving

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Adventures on the High Seas

Clinton and me near the top of the pinnacle.
Photo by Robert Lee
Sunday we were on a tech charter.  It was supposed to be just me and Rob diving together, but then I guess John caught Giardia from his cat or something (or maybe he just had food poisoning), so Clinton joined our team.  The forecast called for a good bit of wind, but when we passed the flag in Seaside, it was pretty limp.  So we were hopeful.  When we got going, it was pretty flat in the bay, and nice and warm and sunny.  When we turned Point Pinos we were greeted by more wind, plus a short period swell hitting us from the side.  Really not too pleasant.  We paused around Lunaticos, which had some whitecaps nearby, but not really right on top of it.  Then we continued down to Lobos, and even pretty close in, there were white caps.  Bleh.  We paused there (I'm guessing there was discussion about what to do in the wheelhouse) and then we turned around.  On our way back to the Lunaticos area, we became engulfed in fog.  It was pretty disturbing how fast it appeared, considering we could well have started a dive in pretty clear skies and started our drift in a thick fog.  We motored around for a while, I suppose just waiting for the fog to burn off, and eventually it did.  Now we found ourselves back at Lunaticos, surrounded by whitecaps.  But not very big ones :)  We decided to dive there, at a site which is, as far as we know, not named.  A pretty big pinnacle sort of between Lunaticos and Canyonlands, with the top around 100' and the bottom around 200'.

Clinton and me near the bottom.
Photo by Robert Lee
While the downline was being set, as I was just about to get into my rig, there was a problem with the line.  Apparently after dropping it, it had gotten a bit tangled in the prop, so that needed to be dealt with.  First the crew tried to retrieve it from the boat with a hook; then from the water with a mask and snorkel, and finally it was determined that this would require a bit more elbow grease.  So the ball and all hundred-some feet of line were pulled by hand (by Michael, with Clinton and Rob behind him pulling too), and then Derek freed it from in the water, with gear.  Phew.  I told Clinton that I wondered if this was a sign that we weren't meant to dive.  First the wind, then the fog, and now this.  Clinton told me I shouldn't give up so easily, while Rob snarled at me.  Once the downline was set again, we got into our gear, and got going into the water pretty quickly.  We were the first team in the water.  I immediately drifted in not the direction of the ball, I guess because there was a surface current that was at odds with the wind (I suppose this is how the line ended up on the prop on the first drop).  I guess this is the down side of being the first to jump.  Anyhoo, I got to the ball without any trouble and a moment later Rob and Clinton had also made it to the ball.  The viz looked super good, and the water was really blue.  We dropped down to 20' and after a quick bubble check, we were off.  Or they were off, and I waddled my way down the line, as my ears were not being uber-cooperative.  Sitting on the boat in the wind had given me a runny nose, so I was pretty stuffy by the time I got into the water.

Vase sponges
Photo by Robert Lee
The viz was awesome, and I could see the reef (and not just the top) very clearly by the time I was at 50'.  On the way down, I estimated that the top came to about 80', though I think in reality it only came to about 100'.  I guess the good viz made it look deceptively close.  We regrouped once we were on the structure, and headed to the south side of the pinnacle, and then along a canyon running to the west.  The sand in the canyon was at about 200'.  The viz was pretty much as good as it gets, probably in the 80' to 100' range for horizontal viz, with bright blue water.  After making it most of the way down the channel, we stopped and just meandered around for a while.  Rob pointed out a slug scooting along the wall, which was a Pleurobranchea californica.  This is what I thought it was, though it was much smaller (but still not small) than the ones we saw before.  It also seemed darker in color, but I suspect that was just because its spots were smaller (since it was smaller).  I didn't really do a lot of critter peeping on this dive.  I was too busy looking around at all of the awesome structure... because you could see so much of it!  I got out my hero cam and had some fun zooming up and down the canyon, with it mounted on my scooter.  Then I spent most of the rest of the deep part of the dive posing for pictures with vase sponges and rockfish (there was a little group of canaries, plus a small school of blues with the odd olive mixed in) for both Rob and Clinton.  Eventually it was time to head a bit shallower, so we headed back up the channel and up to pinnacle now on our left.

View of the sand from above.
Photo by Clinton Bauder
We worked our way shallower, stopping for pictures here and there.  Rob and Clinton both always complain about the lack of pictures of themselves underwater, so they were having a serious love-fest, taking pictures of each other, and then taking pictures of each other taking pictures of each other.  Yea, creepy.  I injected myself into a few of these pictures, and wondered how strange it would be to see me posing next to a headless Clinton, with a camera where his head should be :)  Maybe I should have held my hero cam in front of my face, to provide some symmetry.  Eventually while we were in the shallower areas, Doug signaled us, to show us a wolf eel.  Nice find.  It was a pretty big one, sticking its big head out of pretty wide crack.  It was at a sort of odd angle, because its head was sticking up out of the reef, but not very far out.  Apparently Doug and Erik also found a free-swimming wolf eel and a ratfish.  I'm jealous.  It does seem like a good time for ratfish peeping, considering how cold the water has been (my gauge was flipping between 44 and 46 on the bottom -- my gauge doesn't a 45, it's either 44 or 46).  We meandered up to about 120', and I started to get my bag out of my pocket, as Clinton put the cover on his dome port.  Right about then, Rob found a sponge that was crawling with nudibranchs of all different kinds... there was a baby Dirona (I saw tons of Dironas on this dive, by the way), some trilineatas, a Cuthona catriona, and some others.  Clinton was like "very nice" and then thumbed it, as it was really time to go.  I put up the bag, which took two puffs, since my lips were half-frozen... I considered it a success that I could inflate it at all without going to my cheater hose.

Rob shooting things
Photo by Clinton Bauder
And so our ascent began.  It was pretty uneventful, but freakin' cold.  There weren't many critters to look at,   mostly just some salp bits.  From 70', we could see the sand at the bottom, which was at about 200'.  Not bad :)  During the ascent, mostly once we got to 20', my sinuses started to really bother me.  I was feeling more and more congested, and at 20', my nose was so stuffed up that I could barely breathe out of it.  My mask was a little foggy on one side, but I did not dare to flood it, since I didn't know if I'd be able to clear it.      I basically felt like I couldn't breathe the whole 20' stop, though clearly I could.  And my ear was bothering me too.  It would bother me every time I moved, up or down, even a little bit.  I kept pawing at my ear like somehow poking at it through my hood would help :)  Rob and Clinton asked if I was alright, and I told them I was.  I kept coughing out mucus, since that seemed like the most civilized way to deal with it, but then long strings of goo kept floating across my face, attached to my exhaust tee.  Maybe it is more civilized to just take my reg out and spit.  Also during the 20' stop, every time I looked up, I could see the chop.  I also had a suspicion that the wind was gusty, because of the behavior of my bag.  Around 5' or 8', I handed the bag to Rob, so I could clean up my light (which was still butt-clipped) before we surfaced.

Proof of wolf
Photo by Clinton Bauder
We surfaced and I was relieved to finally be able to blow my nose!  And yell some unlady-like things about the state of my sinuses.  Jim maneuvered the boat over to us and swung the back around just perfectly, but the moment he stopped, it was a race to get back to the swimstep.  Clinton made it there and after a moment where I thought I just couldn't make it, even on full speed and kicking, suddenly I could see the ladder underwater; I guess there was a lull in the wind.  I removed my one bottle as I approached, and I made it to the swimstep just as Clinton handed his last bit of gear up, and then waited for him to climb the ladder.  Once he was done, I tossed my bottle and then my scooter and grabbed the ladder.  I declared to the crew that I might need a hand, then I flung a fin at them.  Before I could get the other fin off, a wave came, and I got tossed around like a rag doll, hanging on with just one hand.  After I recovered from that, I managed to get the other fin off and trot up the ladder.  Rob, meanwhile, was way the heck off the back of the boat, bobbing along with the bag.  Jim had to swing back around to get him, and when he approached the boat, he was all tangled in line, like a very bad kitty.  Apparently while cleaning up his O2 bottle, the boltsnap on the spool slipped, and the spool dropped to the depths, unfurling all 150-some feet of line.  (I avoid this problem by not cleaning up my O2 bottle, and climbing the ladder with it still in my mouth... or by handing the bag and spool off to an unsuspecting member of the team.) Once Rob detangled himself, the crew and Clinton pulled the line in.  Luckily they were well-versed in this procedure after the line snafu earlier in the day.  After we retrieved all of the line and Rob, the last team was up and we collected them.

Which way do I look!?!
Photo by Robert Lee
It was pretty windy, so we quickly got the heck out of there.  At least one person on the boat (can you guess who?) wanted to do a second dive, so we retreated to the bay to discuss.  I would have loved to do another dive in Carmel, but I didn't think my ears could deal with that, and the weather didn't allow that anyway, so it was an easy choice to stay on the boat.  We ended up at Aumentos, and I went up to the wheelhouse to hang out with Rob and Kevin, which turned out to be a questionable move, considering the wind.  Then I was stuck up there until we got back to the dock, since I didn't want to climb the ladder to go back down :)  Apparently the water was green with a murky 30' of viz (and a crap layer on top).  So not exactly what we'd had in Carmel!  After that, we had a short ride back to the dock, and Rob and I had lunch (dinner?) at the pub at the dock with Dionna and Jim, before subjecting ourselves to Sunday evening traffic on the way home.

As I said, the viz was pretty much as good as it gets today, and with a super awesome new-to-us site, I think we can safely call the dive "epic".  I'm glad I didn't let the wind, fog, or downline snafu scare me off.  There were, of course, too many good pictures to fit in this post, so you can see everything here.

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