It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, September 30, 2012

GUE Conference 2012

Lynne and I sharing some juice
I went to the GUE conference this year, since it was practically next door.  Well, in the same state anyway.  I have never been diving in Catalina before, so I thought this was a good excuse to do that.  Rob was already down in LA for his instructor requalification (which he passed, by the way, can you believe it?).  So I flew down solo on Friday morning, and had to deal with the daunting task of finding my way to the dive shop on my own.  Actually I just had to find my way to the GUE shuttle at the airport.  This was made significantly easier because as I was wandering along outside of the terminal, someone said "hey, you must be looking for us" and I looked up and saw a GUE-Seattle t-shirt.  Actually I saw Kees, wearing a GUE-Seattle shirt.  I was wearing my GUE hoodie.  We exchanged introductions and he asked me if I was the Allison of Cold Water Kitty.  I confessed that I was.  Off to a good start.

Two of the many giant sea bass
The diving didn't quite turn out to be what I expected, due to logistical problems (and not because of anything inherently bad about diving in Catalina).  Now that I have been there once, I can more easily imagine going back and diving.  People make it out like this big ordeal to schlep your gear onto the ferry.  But it really wasn't a big deal at all.  I was not bringing tanks, but I don't think it would be that much more complex to strap on a single tank and walk it onto the boat.  But if I went back, I'd probably just bring what I brought, and rent a tank once on the island.  Anyhoo, I only ended up doing one dive, due to some timing issues, and it was at a pretty lame site, which they called "Blue Car".  However, the site had a bunch of giant sea bass hanging out there.  I think this was the only reason the boat took us there.  The problem was, instead of briefing us with something like "this is a shit site, but there are probably giant sea bass... go find them" they made it out like it was a decent "kelp forest" and there might be giant sea bass down the sand slope.  So, we found the sea bass (I saw at least 5 congregating together at once, and my guess is that there were actually around 10 distinct fish).  We spent about 20 minutes or so being entertained by them.  Then, we headed up the slope to the "kelp forest" which was more like, umm, a couple strands of kelp.  Not really worth visiting... should have stayed with the sea bass the whole time.

Rob and Doug ponder a sea hare
The one thing that sort of redeemed the rest of the dive, though, was that we were diving with Doug (finally, after years of him fending off our dive invitations).  Doug has never been diving on the west coast before.  So basically everything we found was new to him, and thus very exciting for him.  And we did have a couple of cool finds for someone new to our kind of diving -- we got buzzed by a lone sea lion, found a small octopus, a teeny tiny swell shark (which even I was excited about!), a couple of giant sea hares, and lots of garibaldis, including the juveniles.  The swell shark was so cute, I want one for a pet.  The water was much warmer than I expected (it was like 68 in the top 40 or so feet!).

Aside from the so-so diving, there were a variety of interesting presentations at the conference.  I particularly enjoyed Michael's presentation on CCRs, and Jarrod's presentation on the Mars.  I totally want to dive the Mars now.  Even if it is in bone-chillingly cold water!  Aside from the presentations and the diving, there were many opportunities to socialize with old (and not-so-old) friends.  And take pictures of ourselves sharing fruity beverages.  And send them to Kevin via SMS, taunting him for missing out on the fun.  I also got this awesome DUI tattoo on my arm.   Anyhoo, I just wanted to post a few pictures, and there you have it.  It was a fun time, and I look forward to the next one, though I hope it's in Florida next time :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Birthday Boat

Rob and I were supposed to go out on the Escapade on Friday, for my official “birthday boat” (even though it wasn’t officially my birthday yet), and then there was a BAUE tech boat on Saturday.  There was terrible fog all week, though, and the forecast called for more of the same. Friday morning, Jim drove down to Monterey early and it was super foggy, so we ended up calling it on our way down to Monterey.  I didn’t feel like driving all the way down there and back, then potentially do it all over again on Saturday.  So on Saturday, when we got to Monterey and it was foggy, it wasn’t a huge surprise.  But it didn’t seem that foggy, and I was hopeful that by the time we got to where we wanted to dive, it would clear.   So we headed out, and the plan was that if the fog hadn’t lifted by the time we got south, we could do a rec dive first and hope it would lift later.  But by the time we passed Lobos, the fog lifted, and it ended up being a pretty nice sunny day.  So we headed to the Dos Gatos/Three Nixies area.

Team Kitty was planning to dive together, but then John lost his buddy to illness at the last minute.  We were going to split up, but then I had a little tantrum and declared that I didn’t want to split up the team – it had been ages since we’d all dived together!  So we decided to dive as a team of 4 instead.  Surface conditions were pretty reasonable, at least compared to last week’s fin-eating ocean conditions.  Beto and Susan got in the water first, which turned out to be a good thing.  Beto had some sort of suit flood, so he had to abort the dive.  We were already in the water by the time this was discovered, but Susan joined our team while Beto got back on the boat.  Since we were already in the water, there wasn’t any sort of discussion about the extreme silliness of a team of five.  I figured if it got annoying once we were on the bottom, we’d split up then. 

When we got to the bottom, it was quite dark, and the viz was not stellar (but not terrible either) – I’d call it 30 to 40 feet.  But considering the darkness, I didn’t have a great sense of where we were.  We meandered down whichever pinnacle we landed on, and we spent a fair amount of time on the bottom, just off of the pinnacle, looking for critters inhabiting the rubble (Rob was shooting macro).  It was a very fruitful search.  We found a basket star right away, and then a Tochuina tetraqetra (or whatever we are calling that one these days!) shortly thereafter.  We eventually saw two wolfies two; one was fairly large, and one was smaller and still sort of reddish.  I also found a bunch of Acanthodoris hudsoni and a single Doriopsilla spaldingi.  Eventually it came time to work our way up the pinnacle, a bit shallower. 

We scootered around a bit on the pinnacle that we were on.  Eventually, Rob decided to go check out another pinnacle, some distance away, without really any warning or asking if anyone wanted to follow.  And we didn’t want to follow, so we waited for him to figure that out.  Then we had to send Kevin to retrieve him.  I guess this was the only time when having a five-man team became problematic.  Actually I’m not sure that the team size had anything to do with it.  We finished off the dive working our way up the pinnacle we were on.  I found a bunch of Dotos, but that was outdone by Rob, who found a Cuthona divae.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those, but Clinton had seen one the week before, I think, so I had the name of it on the tip of my brain.

When it was time to thumb the dive, Rob wisely suggested that we split into two teams.  His thinking was that the boat may be expecting two bags.  My thinking was that drifting in a cluster of five would be, well, a cluster.  So we split up; I was with Rob and Susan, and Kevin and John were together.  But really we were all together – even though we split up around 130 feet, and didn’t actually leave the reef or shoot our bags at precisely the same time, somehow by the time we got to 70 feet, they were right next to us.  Right next to us.  I was literally kicking John every time I backed up for the first half of the deco! 

There were a lot of sea nettles on deco.  When we were redirecting one of the nettles away from us, we noticed that a bunch of those little fishies that hang out in their tentacles sort of “fell out” of the nettle.  Then once we were looking for the fish, we saw them in all of the nettles!  At 20 feet, Rob got his camera out, and took pictures of the fishies, and also some of those little crabs hitchhikers too.  Those fish are pretty cute.  Especially when you bop a sea nettle on the bell and ten of them fall out of.  They look really panicked until they can find another nettle to take cover in.  Anyway, the photo shoot was an excellent way to pass the time on deco.  When we surfaced, I managed to reboard the boat without losing any gear.

There was a surprising amount of ambivalence about doing a second dive, considering that the conditions were fairly good.  But Beto wanted to get back in to test out if his glove was still leaking, so Susan and I joined him.  I wanted to play with my new Hero-cam (that Rob gave me for my birthday).  We went to the anchor farm.  As we headed down the line, I found that I was out of Argon.  Doh!  So I switched to backgas, which was quite chilly.  But I figured it was probably going to be a short dive anyway, so I sucked it up.  We never managed to find the anchors.  When we got to the end of the anchor line, the anchor had slipped, and we were just on a flat expanse of shale.  We found a ledge and just followed that for the dive.  The viz was amazingly good for the bay.  It was better than the viz was at Yankee Point, plus it was fairly bright.  We found a couple of octopuses and I found another Doriopsilla spaldingi (which I was pretty excited and surprised to find there).  Other than that, we pretty much saw the usual shale suspects, and we found one taller ledge with lots of vermilion rockfish.  Eventually we got bored/cold, so we shot a bag and headed up.  The sea nettles were pretty thick here.

We headed down to Carmel for the beach BBQ, and after not too long there, we headed home.  I got an especially adorable birthday card from Rob and the kitties, which I thought I would share:

I think that if Pepper were to write a birthday card, this is exactly what it would say!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Ocean Ate My Fin

Photo by Clinton Bauder
After a pretty long lull (by my standards) in local boat diving, I was back on the Escapade on Saturday, for a BAUE tech boat.  I was diving with Ted, which was good, because a T1 dive seemed like a good reintroduction.  Plus it seems like I never dive with Ted, even though I call him a "dive buddy".  Rob was on the boat too, but he was diving with another team.  When we arrived in Monterey, conditions were looking good, though I knew the forecast was for wind.  Apparently there was a small craft advisory in the afternoon... I guess the forecast had worsened since I last read it.  But we figured we could sneak one in before it got too bad.

We made it down to Yankee Point.  There were whitecaps once we got past Lobos.  But it seemed okay, so we decided to dive at Mount Chamberlain (the south wall).  Just in the time that it took for us to drop the ball and get geared up, conditions had deteriorated, and sitting on the bench in my gear was kind of scary.  I felt like the conditions were borderline for me, so I said something to Ted about being a little concerned about the wind and what did he think.  He didn't seem to care.  (He told me afterward that he didn't know enough to know why the wind would be bad.)  We were the last team in the water, since we would do the shortest bottom time (but only by 5 minutes, so we pretty much entered one team after the other).  After the first team got into the water, we had to swing around to reposition the boat for the second team to enter.  I thought we would swing around again, but then I asked and I was told to go.  So I went, unfortunately before Clinton (in the second team) managed to get his camera from the crew.  Oops.  So I jumped in, popped back up to the surface, and then immediately started to swim as hard as I could, using both my arms and my legs, and I quickly surmised that I would not be making it back to the swimstep to get my scooter.  Clinton seemed to have made the same decision regarding his camera (and he had a scooter!).  During this period, I also got the impress that I saw Ted sitting down on the deck.  I guess he slipped on his way into the water.  Oops. So a moment later, Ted and I were both in the water, with no scooters.  The boat swung back around and I swooped by the swim step long enough to grab Ted's scooter (because that's the one they had out first).  I took it, gave it to Ted, and suggested that he scooter back to the boat and retrieve my scooter :)  Once we both had scooters, we headed toward the ball, where we found Clinton's team, since he hadn't given up on the camera.  The boat did another pass to give him his camera, and then we were all on our way.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We were anchored on the south wall, with the plan being to meet up and start the drift at the K2 peak.  This meant I had to find my way to the peak, since I knew that Ted would not be much help in that department (because we coddle him, Rob says) :P  We got to the bottom of the line, and we were literally right on the wall's edge.  The viz was not terrible but really not too good, maybe 30 feet but pretty green.  Since we were right by the canyon (if you can call it that) that leads to K2, I figured it would be best to stay nearby.  So we doodled around on the wall, within about 50 feet of the line, for the first 10 minutes of the dive, just looking for any interesting critters.  Then I suggested we head north, and I led us up the canyon.  I think I was actually one notch over (to the west) from that main canyon, but with the not-great viz, I wasn't totally sure.  Eventually I ran into a wall (well not literally) and decided to go right, and then very shortly after, I came to the little gorgonian nook that I love so much, just southeast of the peak.  Before I saw the peak, I saw a school of blue rockfish hanging in the water above us, and hoped they would stick around for the deco.  Once we were in the vicinity of the peak, I figured we could shoot north along the east side, and then turn around and come back slightly shallower.

Whenever we follow the east-side wall out, it seems like I more or less follow it along or near the bottom.  But today we headed out it a bit shallower, which was sort of different.  Because of the viz, we couldn't actually see the bottom, which made it seem a lot different.  There is a horizontal crack that extends along the side of the wall for a while, and I was pretty much just scootering along at that level, looking at the fishies in the crack.  Eventually we started to turn around the north corner, and I figured it was about time to turn.  So we came up a bit shallower for the ride back.  When we got back to the peak, I looked in the GPO crack, but alas there was no GPO :P  Since we still had 5 or 10 minutes left of our bottom time, we continued a bit back to the south, to that gorgonian garden that I love, and just hung out there.  There were an unfortunate number of barnacles back around the site, many of them actually on the gorgonians.  Not cool!  While we were in the gorgonians, Rob's team passed us.  I think Rob was confused when he found me; I guess he looked up expecting to see someone from his team, and I was waving at him instead :P

Photo by Clinton Bauder
When we had just a few minutes left, we returned to the peak and did one last clockwise circle around it.  On the other side, we found that big school of blue rockfish again.  I hung out with them for a minute, and then we thumbed it.  We tried to ascend the pinnacle, which had some wicked water movement around it.  So we went onto our bottles just off of the peak and then started to drift.  We could see both of the other teams where we shot our bag.  Deco was mostly uneventful.  The green water was pretty warm, and the stops were short :)  When we got to 20 feet, I eventually realized that Matt and Clinton were like 20 feet away from us, but I don't think I'd even noticed them until then.  As we started our 6 minute ascent, I caught a glimpse of a purple-striped jelly.  I was super excited about that.  It didn't have much for tentacles, like the really awesome pictures that you see, but since I've only seen two before (and one was very dying), I was still really excited.  I gesticulated wildly at Ted to look and then I darted back down to 20 feet and swam over to Matt and Clinton to show them.  Matt seemed amused.  I am sure Clinton has seen much nicer specimens before.

After that, we finished up our 6 minute ascent, and then the real fun began.  We surfaced, and it was snotty.  Not that this was unexpected.  Ted had been telling me his scooter was a bit off throughout the dive (apparently the battery had popped out... X-scooter FAIL!), and when we got to the surface he told me it was "dead".  I don't think it was actually dead, but I think he found it unusable.  So I hung back from the boat and let him get tangled in the current line and back on the boat.  He was getting kind of worked, but I thought he got back onto the boat pretty efficiently.  Before I let myself get too far from the boat, I checked that my scooter was up to the task of outrunning the boat, and it was.  I would drift away a bit and then scooter back until I was pretty close, and I repeated this until Ted was on the boat.  Then I approached the boat, and ditched my deco bottle.  Then I handed up my scooter, and grabbed the ladder.  I tried to wait for a lull in the waves to take my fins off.  I got one fin off (and safely on my wrist) and then I had pulled the strap off of my second fin, when a set of waves came through.  I tried to hold on to my fin with one hand and the boat with the other, but I realized I wasn't going to make it through the set with only one hand on the boat ladder.  So I basically decided that I was going to lose the fin so I could stay on the ladder.  So I held on, and with every wave that came through, my fin wiggled off of my foot a little more.  After like 5 or 6 waves, I sadly felt the fin wiggle off of my foot; talk about the long goodbye.  The set finished and I scurried up the ladder.  Luke seemed more upset about my lost fin than I did, but I knew when Rob got back on the boat I'd have some 'splaining to do :)

The worst part about the rough conditions was being the first team back on the boat, and having to sit on the boat while we circled around the other bags.  Then the even worster part was watching the other teams be retrieved.  It was tricky, with many of the scooters not being able to keep up with the boat.  It took three passes to retrieve Clinton!  Of course when it was time to retrieve Rob, the wind stopped, and he strutted up the ladder leisurely.  After we retrieved everyone, we headed out of there, for what I thought was a kind of sporty, scary ride.  This was probably not helped by the fact that circling in the boat waiting for the others made me feel pretty bad.  And I really had to pee, but I didn't want to go down into the head in rough conditions when I felt sick.  So it wasn't too fun of a ride home.  After what seemed like forever, we finally got back, and headed to La Tortuga to make up for the lack of bingeing on the boat.

Apparently Rob didn't even take his camera out on this dive, so you get to look at Clinton's macro shots instead.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Philippines 2012: Getting Home

Our flight left Manila at 8 PM, so we had the morning of our final day to doodle around at the resort (I went to the spa), and then had lunch before heading out.  We were initially told that we would leave 6 hours before our flight, but then our departure time was set for noon.  Rob negotiated it back up to 1, so we could eat before we left (and so we wouldn’t have to wait at the airport for 5 hours).  I guess the traffic around Manila can be quite variable, hence the early departure.  The boat ride back to Batangas was faster and much less sporty than the ride over.  It was sporty for a very brief period, but was otherwise fine.  When we arrived in Batangas, the van was waiting for us, and we were off.  We made a brief stop at a Starbucks just outside of Manila, and we still managed to get to the airport (to the first terminal where we stopped, which wasn’t ours) in exactly 3 hours.

The Manila airport has three terminals, two of which don’t seem that terrible, but we were flying out of the terrible Terminal 1 (which nearly all of the airlines go out of).  All I can say is that if you ever fly out of this terminal, I highly recommend not flying coach.  We were met at the van by a porter who works for the hotel (there were lots of porters for hire at the airport too, which would have swarmed us when we got out of our van, except we already had one).  You have to go through a metal detector and bag scanner to enter the airport, so there was a huge line snaking its way along the sidewalk outside of the airport, in the heat.  Our porter asked us if we were coach or business class.  Turns out if you are business class, you can go to the front of the line (phew) but you need something to prove this to actually do that.  Luckily that return itinerary that we were told we would need to enter the Philippines was still in the bottom of my bag.  So we escaped the long line, and stood in a short line and after a few minutes, we were through security.  Our porter showed us to the checkin line, which had one person in it, and he explained the rest of the process – pay exit fee, go through immigration (or is it emigration?), then security – pointed us in the right direction, and then we parted. 

There was a short line to pay the exit fee, and slightly longer line at passport control (which is a no wang-wang zone, by the way).  Then we got to the security checkpoint.  There is a separate line for men and women, and the women’s line was slower.  Not because there were more women, but because they got stuck with the kids, strollers, etc. while their husbands strolled through the shorter line.  But it was still a pretty short wait, since the passport check throttles it.  Since Rob had his camera and our lightheads, we made it through our respective lines at about the same time anyway.  

Once through security, I perused some of the shops in the terminal, and then we retreated to the Cathay Pacific lounge.  For some reason that remains unknown to me, Rob’s lounge invitation for Manila was for the first class lounge, while mine was for the business class lounge; and both of our Hong Kong lounge invitations were business class.  So, when we walked into the lounge, the attendant told us we could go to the first class lounge; the door to that was right next to the entrance.  So I didn’t get a very good look at the business class lounge, but it looked like a room with a bunch of chairs and coffee tables crammed into it in a very cramped configuration.  The first class lounge was much more spacious and had more comfortable chairs (or more comfortable-looking anyway, since I didn’t actually sit in the other chairs).  The one thing that both lounges had was ample air conditioning.  The terminal itself was under-cooled, and as you walked past each of the lounge entrances, you could feel a little bubble of cool air.  The first class lounge was actually uncomfortably cold.  There was self-serve food and beverage.  We were in the lounge for quite a while (maybe 3 hours?), so I eventually was hungry, and had some noodle soup and a tiny crème brulee (which Rob seemed quite insistent that I have).  When it was finally time to board, we headed to the boarding lounge, which was like a 1 minute walk from the lounge, and it was not nearly as crowded or chaotic as I expected, based on what we’d seen when we flew in.  After a minute or two, we boarded. 

We were on an A-330 for this leg, and I had no idea what the configuration was like (I couldn’t figure out which of the CX A-330 configurations from seatguru applied to this flight).  Turns out it was what seatguru refers to as “2-class V1 (333)”.  Anyhoo, it was similar to what you would get on a two-class short haul domestic flight on a US airline, though the seats were maybe a tiny bit wider and cushier, though it seemed like finding a seat whose controls actually worked properly was a bit of a challenge.  The cabin was maybe 20% full.  It was a short flight, during which they served us dinner.  I had some beef dish with some kind of sauce and veggies, and probably potatoes.  The beef (or maybe the sauce) was inedibly salty, so after a few bites I gave up on it (hence the lack of a precise description… I blocked it out).  I read for a little bit and before you know it, we were to Hong Kong.

We had a two and a half hour layover in Hong Kong, and we made the hike to the Pier, even though it wasn’t terribly close to our gate.  I wandered over to the shower area and retrieved a pager, since all of the showers were in use I guess, and Rob found a seat in the lounge.  Eventually I had a shower and then snacked a bit, since I didn’t eat much on the flight.  The noodle bar closed just after we arrived, which was too bad.  I wasn’t really in love with much of the food that I found to nibble on, though they had some tasty sesame cookies.  Eventually it was time to make the trek back to our gate, and we got there to find that once again, things were running a bit behind.  When you walk down the ramp to board, before you get to the jetway, there is a bit of security theater, where they go through your bags and pretend they are making the flight safer.   It was pretty efficient though.

When we boarded, we found that it would have been better to be seated in two adjacent middle seats, rather than the middle and window that we had.  There was an equipment change for this flight at some point after I picked seats (back then it was a 747, now it was a 777) and since I couldn’t figure out which way the pods faced (feet towards aisle or head towards aisle), I didn’t know which would make more sense.  So once we figured this out, Rob asked a flight attendant if there were any two middle seats available for us, and they re-seated us.  After takeoff they started dinner service.  At this point it was after midnight, and I was tired, but I wanted to stay up a while longer so I wouldn’t sleep too long.  Dinner consisted of a very tasty fruit plate (which included some very tasty fruit that I couldn’t identify), a Cobb salad (which I initially dismissed but was actually quite good), and some Chinese dish with prawns (the details of which I can’t remember, because it wasn’t especially awesome, but was perfectly acceptable).  For dessert there was a peanut butter mousse cake which I was sort of meh about, even though it sounds really tasty.

I changed into my pajamas, and after a bit more reading, I decided to go to sleep.  My goal was to sleep for 4 hours; I think I actually slept something between 5 and 6.  The seat, when reclined fully, is a little narrow in the shoulders on one side (the side not facing the aisle).  I have read this before about these seats, but I was still able to sleep just fine.  A little too fine, since I slept longer than I meant to!

File photo of adorable kitties
After I woke up, I watched a movie (Ides of March), and unfortunately it was about 6 minutes too long to finish before we landed.  Hmph.  But at least I understood the movie this time!  After landing, we had a surprisingly short wait at immigration and before you know it, we were back home with the little furballs.  They both greeted us at the door, but they didn’t seem as desperate to see us as they usually are when we get home from a trip.  I eventually discovered this was because they still had about two days worth of food left in their bowl :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Philippines 2012: Day 6: Macro Day!

For the last day, we were on the boat with Richard again, and everyone agreed it should be all macro.  We had to see all of the cool things left to see in one day!  For the first dive, we went to a site called Boulders, which was very close to where we did the first dive of the trip – to the right, around the corner.  It was similar in that it was a sloping reef which gave way to sand around 80 to 90 feet.  The first goal of the dive was to find an ornate ghost pipefish, which was known to hang out there.  And we did indeed find it.  I thought it was one of the coolest critters I’ve ever seen.  For some strange reason, Rob just wasn’t that into it.  I just don’t get it!  I watched it for quite a while, while Rob looked around for other subjects.  At the bottom of the slope (on the sand), we found all kinds of critters, including a couple of cuttlefish.  We also found a whole bunch of new-to-us slugs on this dive.

After that, we went to Coral Cove, which was actually the site where we did our first dive of the week.  The name of the game was, once again, looking for slugs, and we were not disappointed.  We found some really cool-looking ones – probably my favorite of the dive was the Cadlinella ornatissima.  Pink tips, I can’t help loving it!  Richard also found some pygmy seahorses for us (he studied pygmy seahorses for his PhD… good to have along on a dive!).  I believe it was also on this dive that we saw the mushroom pipe eel, which is just a strange little creature, which we had been briefed we would probably see.

After lunch, we went to Ship Wreck, another muck dive over in the bay.  It was an awesome dive.  The only unfortunate thing about this dive was that the viz was really bad.  It didn’t seem that bad, because it was fairly bright, but it was just so foggy.  We lost the other team less than 10 minutes into the dive.  In the course of trying to swim around and find them, I nearly lost Rob, who was only like 10 feet away from me.  Yea, pretty bad viz.  But who needs viz on a muck dive!?!  We found tons of cool critters, including some great slugs.  I found a Ceratasoma tenue, which is a pretty big slug, and it’s so colorful!  It reminds me of the circus; weird, perhaps, but that’s just what pops into my mind every time I look at the picture!  I also found a filefish, which I always love.  Rob thought it was a real yawn, and I had to twist his arm not once, not twice, but thrice, to first, take a picture of it, second, process the photo after the dive, and third, upload the photo to the gallery of the trip.  We also saw this really strange little fish, the ultimate muppet fish, which looked (to me) like a cross between a rock and a grunt sculpin.  Still not sure what he is.

For the fourth dive, we went back to La Laguna, which we had already been to at night.  Rob was having some problems with his camera on this dive.  His strobes both “died” but then mysteriously came back to life after a while.  So pretty obviously user error :P  We found a couple more nice slugs on this dive, and a blue hairy squat lobster (which I had seen pictures of and SO wanted to see one!).  Rob actually managed to get a very respectable picture of this guy without a strobe.  We also saw a juvenile corys, which was a cute little fishy, who was quite wiggly (but nothing like a juvenile sweetlips!).

For our last dive (sniff sniff), we were going slug hunting with Rusty.  He had a couple in mind that he wanted to find for us.  And he didn’t disappoint.  He found two really cool ones: Phyllodesmium jakobsenae (we thing) and the other one we haven’t ID’d yet.  He also found us a Risbecia tryoni, which I don’t think we’d seen yet.  The Phyllodesmium is so well-camouflaged in the soft coral that it lives on.  It’s crazy!  After the very short ride back to the resort, we sadly rinsed our gear.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Philippines 2012: Day 5: A little of this, a little of that

The previous day, when we figured out who we’d be diving with the next day (Richard, a marine biologist who was just as happy as we were to inch along taking pictures of critters), we formulated a plan.  In the morning we’d do some wide angle sites, and in the afternoon, he and Rob would switch to macro.   So the first dive of the day was at the Alma Wreck, which was really close to the resort.  It is in about 100 feet of water, so it was a fairly short, square profile kind of dive.  The main cool thing about the site was that it had a school of batfish living on it.  Also, at the very bottom, hanging out under it, there were some sea kraits.  Rob was trying to get me to pose under there, and I was getting a little nervous next to them!

For the second dive, we went a little further afield, to Canyons.  We zoomed by this site on our way out to Deep Atolls earlier in the week, and it looked really nice.  We dropped in the shallows and swam out.  We pass “Hole in the Wall” and swam through it.  When we dove Atolls, I had missed the hole, but I had heard Steve and Ferg joking about going through the hole.  And now I understood what a ridiculous suggesting that was, going through with bottles and scooters.  It felt like a bit of a squeeze in a single tank!  From there, we snaked along down that canyon, and ended up on a little plateau with a lot of small fish and soft coral.  It was actually probably the nicest part of the dive.  From there, we headed deeper, and got caught in quite a bit of current.  The viz also wasn’t very good when we got deeper.  Eventually we made it to a relatively sheltered area, and hung out there for the rest of the dive.  This spot had lots of sweetlips, of a few different varieties.  After entertaining myself with the sweetlips, I just spent the rest of the time looking at slugs.  The current prevented us from coming back into the shallows, so we thumbed it and did a blue water ascent.

After lunch, we headed back out, over to Giant Clam, which is a muck dive over in the bay.  This was an awesome dive.  I found a flamboyant cuttlefish, woohoo!  It is amazing how they can hide themselves.  When I found it, I had just been staring at a patch of sand, waiting for Rob to finish taking some pictures, when suddenly I realized I was staring right at one!  Then he gave us a light show :)  There were just so many cool critters, well-camouflaged in all sorts of odd places.  One of the best had to be the tiny little crab camouflaged on the forehead of a sea cucumber.  Plus even though the muck dives aren’t supposed to be the best for finding slugs, we collectively found a couple of pretty cool (teeny tiny) slugs anyway!  This was a totally awesome site, one of my favorite dives.  I could have happily done muck dives all week.

After a brief surface interval, we headed back out in the other direction to a site called Sabang Point.  This was a pretty silly dive.  Rob and Richard were both shooting macro, but we ended up dropping into a raging current.  It was insane.  We were flying along the reef, and at some point I found a big boulder behind which we could hang out and hide from the current.  So I started searching around for subjects, and when I looked up, I realized that no one else had decided to stay behind the rock, and they were WAY down the reef.  Oops!  Eventually there was a lull, and then in the second half of the dive, the current switched directions and we got to ride back to where we started!  At the end, it calmed down a bit, and we were actually able to find some nice subjects, including a cute little moray eek peeking out from a rock, and (my favorite) one rock that was covered in Phyllodesmium briareum, probably about 20 of them!
For the night dive, we went to Mini Reef, which is really close to the resort, just off it to the right a little.  We were on the hunt for stargazers and we were quite successful with that.  There were more cool shrimps and crabs, and one pretty interesting fish – a flying gurnard.