It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fantastic Diving in the Bay

I was on the BAUE recreational charter on Saturday.  I was diving with Ian and Jimmy.  When I signed up, I didn't know if Rob was going to be in town, but Rob did eventually signup at the last minute.  But I told him that I'd already made plans for a team, so he was on his own.  (Kevin was on the boat too, but amazingly, none of us dove together on either dive.)  The forecast had been looking pretty bad.  It was supposed to be really windy, but out of the south/southeast with moderate swell.  So I wasn't holding out too much hope about getting out of the bay, but I figured at least the bay would be nice and sheltered from the wind.  Somewhat predictably, after attempting to get around the point, we turned back.  It went pretty abruptly from being nice to being shitty, so I was happy to turn around (though also somewhat predictably, there were some naysayers on the boat).  We decided to head back to Ballbuster, but when we got back to it, the Beachhopper had snuck in there while we were trying to get around the point.  What is it they say about a bird in hand?

Photo by Robert Lee
So we retreated to Aumentos, and figured we'd head back to Ballbuster for the second dive.  The surface conditions were nice and calm at Aumentos.  My buddies and I were quite spread out on the boat (I was in my usual spot, and I think they assumed I was diving with Rob and ditching them, so they took seats elsewhere), so we waited for the teams around me to clear out so we they could reposition for gear checks.  As a result, we were the last team in the water.  I jumped in first, and the first things I noticed were the really good viz and a wee bit of current.  As I kicked myself back to the swimstep, I realized it was more than a wee bit.  I was kicking really hard and making slow progress.  We were chatting about the current as we swam, and Jim asked if I wanted a granny line.  I think the correct answer to that was yes, but I figured if no one else needed a line to get to the bow, neither did I :)  When we came around to the bow, I saw Kevin and Mike hanging out by the line, apparently having also gotten worked by the current (but they were on the other side of the boat, so I didn't see it).  I was sort of relieved it wasn't just me.  We headed down the line, and found good viz (40 to 50 feet?) all the way down, though it was stirred up a bit at the bottom, so the water was not nearly as clean as it had been near the surface.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
There was also current pretty much the whole way down, unless you were placed just so behind the structure so you could hide from it.  When we first hit the structure, I thought the current had subsided, but once we left the structure to swim across one of the sand channels, I found that I was wrong.  In addition to the current, there was the occasional long surge, so altogether there was just a lot of water movement.  So I spent a lot of the dive slightly above the reef, just looking around, not really sticking my head in the reef looking for critters.  There was a good amount of fish life, with a school of rockfish hanging above the reef (blues, blacks, a few olives, I think).  I also saw several nice-sized cabezons, some of whom I accidentally spooked as I whooshed by in the current, and several ling cods, some of them big.  I had been charged with leading the dive (because people who don't regularly dive with me wrongly assume that I'm good at that).  So I did the usual out and back to the anchor a couple of times.  Aumentos is thankfully pretty easy to navigate, even for me :)

There were quite a few molas on the bottom.  I also saw some sea lions zip by, and I even saw one that was "playing with" a mola.  It came zooming down with the molas in its mouth and then it dropped the mola and the mola slowly sank down toward the bottom.  It's a cruel world out there.  One of the bigger molas on the bottom, being feasted on by some starfish, made a good waypoint for navigation.  Eventually we ended up back by the anchor, and after a few minutes of looking around there, I suggested that we thumb it, and we all agreed.  Ian had wanted to shoot a bag for practice (which we had run by Jim), so we positioned ourselves in mid-water for that, and then decided at the last minute that there was still too much current there for us to come up with a bag.  So we just ascended the anchor line.  When we surfaced, we just had to drift back to the swimstep, but then there was a little pileup on the current line waiting to exit.  Mike got out, and then Kevin was waiting on the line, but I swear I heard him say "ladies first" so I jumped in front of him and waddled up the ladder.  Everyone agreed that the current was not especially fun.  After I got out of the water, I was actually pretty hot in my drysuit from all of the kicking.

Photo by Robert Lee
So we decided to head over to Hopkins Deep for dive 2, in hopes of avoiding the current.  I'm not sure whose idea this site was.  Since it is such a short ride, we were tied up there for a while waiting for the surface interval to pass.  Kevin reported that he had not charged his hero-cam, so it had died after 5 minutes.  I offered him my camera, since it had stayed in my pocket the entire dive anyway.  He passed.  We played with a friendly (food-craving) pelican.  And Luke went down for a short dive while we were waiting.  He reported very clear water on top, but less clear water on the bottom, and no current.  And he said there were lots of cool jelly critters in the top clear water, right under the boat.  So we figured that would be an option if we got bored on the bottom.  We finally got into the water again, and we were once again among the last into the water.  I guess that's what happens when I dive without Rob or Clinton to keep me moving.

Just as Luke had reported, there was no current (phew) and the viz was great on top, but murkier on bottom; I'm going to call it about 20 feet, though there were occasional patches that were better and some that were worse.  The murk was just on the bottom.  If you moved up about 10 feet off of the bottom, it opened up a lot.  There were a lot of fish swimming around right in that depth range anyway, so we did spend some time up there.  We pretty much just meandered around in the murk, but we had an excellent dive.  First, we found a friendly mola.  He was up out of the murk, so we went up there and watched him for a bit.  He took off and then reappeared and we watched him a bit longer.  Even though I feel like I pretty much got "the shot" with my recent mola encounter, I was still excited to see and video this guy.  And the guys were REALLY excited.  I don't think they'd ever seen a (live) mola in the water before.  A bit later in the dive, we saw a big mola.  Big by local standards anyway.  I would estimate that he was about 5 feet long, in the same range as the biggest molas I've ever seen in the wild.  I squealed through my reg when I saw him.  We swam after him briefly and then he disappeared.  He was down in the murk, which was too bad.  He appeared again a moment later, and then once again he was gone.  Still pretty cool too see such a big one.  The dive was also punctuated by brief sea lion encounters.  We could hear barking pretty consistently throughout the second half of the dive, so I was constantly looking for them.  Everyone now and then one or two would appear.  I saw two of them at the bottom snacking on a mola.  I squealed when I saw them, and they took off.  Oops.

Photo by Robert Lee
As a result of our two mola encounters, where we just sort of followed the molas wherever they went, I really had no freakin' clue where we were after a while. Somewhere on Hopkins.  I was hoping that one of the others did.  Near the end of the dive, we ended up deeper, in about 80 feet.  So we definitely weren't very close to where we started.  We passed some huge bunches of squid eggs on the sand just off of the reef out there.  We made some lame attempts to get back to the anchor and then gave up, and Ian put a bag up.  And this is when the fun began.  We got waylaid on our way to 40 feet, by a gang of curious sea lions.  They weren't doing the usual thing where they buzz by you really fast.  Instead, then would come down, and just hang and look at us, and slowly amble by.  It really felt like they were moving in slow motion.  They first appeared around 60 feet, and they were with us the whole way up.  They'd come down and swim around for a bit, then head to the surface, then come back down.  Obviously I was videoing the whole time.  Jimmy and I were flipping all around trying to get a good look at them, while Ian was stuck on bag duty.  But he seemed to be having a good time anyway.  It was not exactly what you would call a textbook ascent :P  We would pretty much move to the next stop, and stay there until the sea lions left, since we knew they'd be back down to wherever we stopped.  In all it was about a 15 minute ascent.  I was hoping that the boat wouldn't be too annoyed with us.  I figured they could probably see the sea lion action by our bag, and they'd understand.  This was definitely the best sea lion encounter I've had anywhere other than Lobos Rocks.  And in a way, it was better than Lobos Rocks, because we didn't have to worry about getting slammed into the rocks, plus the slow-motion buzzing was really cool to watch.  Plus I don't think Jimmy and Ian had ever had any sort of sea lion encounter like this before, so they loved it.

Eventually it was time to surface, and when we hit the surface, the boat was FAR.  Apparently we weren't that far from the boat when we popped the back, but once we started drifting, we were really moving.  I started swimming toward the boat, hoping it would eventually head over and pick us up, which it did after a minute or two.  I think Jim just wanted to make us sweat since we made him sweat over our drift ;)  We were very excited about our mola and sea lions encounters.  I don't think any of the other teams had nearly as interesting dives, unfortunately, though Rob said he had a good time overall.  We had a short ride back to the dock, followed by La Tortuga, and then Anywater, and we still made it home pretty early thanks to the short boat ride.  I was so excited about our dive that I edited my video that night when I got home.

I've included a few pictures from the other teams, to give you an idea of the conditions at Aumentos.  All of the day's pictures are in the BAUE gallery.

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