It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Whale!

Photo by Clinton Bauder (my hero)
The title of this post might be a bit of a spoiler, but I think at this point, everyone has already heard about the awesome encounter that we had on our dive.  It was hands down, the coolest dive I've ever done (yes, even cooler than when we re-found the Okenia!).  But we'll get to that eventually...  Rob, Clinton, and I had made plans to dive at Lobos a few weeks ago.  We had a fourth slot on our reservation, which we offered to a variety of dive buddies, but no takers.  Earlier in the week, the forecast was looking like slightly big swell, but out of the west, and slightly long period.  But diving with Rob and Clinton, the forecast was of no concern :P  We all carpooled in the van, and when we got to Lobos, we found that it was quite choppy on the surface.  It was definitely a good day to be shore diving (I found out later that the tech boat on the Escapade had been cancelled.)  The tide was quite high, and with the choppy surface, I swear it just looked like the water was about to overflow the cove in all directions.  There was no beach on the south end.  There were also very few divers.  I think there were like 4 other teams.  Three or four guys were going out on their Port-a-Bote (more on that later), plus there were two other teams getting ready when we arrived.

The dive du jour was a 32% kick dive.  Can you believe it?  With the high high tide, entry was easy.  The swim out was kind of annoying because of the wind chop.  It's been a while since I've done a kick dive at Lobos with Clinton, but he usually likes to swim really far out on the surface.  We got just a bit past the worm patch, and I finally cried uncle over the choppy swim.  I asked if anyone wanted to drop, and Clinton immediately agreed.  Phew.  We dropped into quite good visibility by the sand channel, just north of the worm patch.  The plan was to go to the Lone Metridium area, via what I call the "back way" where you cut over to the left of the sand channel, on the mini-sand channel that goes behind Hole in the Wall over that way, via Oyster Rd.  We were swimming around in the quite shallow, quite clear water off to the left of the sand channel.  But we didn't hit the sand channel after a bit, and I think we were all a little confused by that.  (I would normally just take the sand channel to the start of the mini-channel, which was probably why I was a little disoriented.)  But we eventually did find the mini-channel.  Rob was experimenting with time-lapsing with a hero-cam, so we dropped a camera in the mini-channel, configured to get a picture every 10 seconds.

Photo by Robert Lee
From there, we slowly worked our way to the Lone Metridium area.  The viz was quite good.  It was also quite surgy once we got further along the path.  Because of the good viz, you could see all the way up the tall kelp stalks, and it was pretty impressive to watch them swooshing around in the surge.  Would have been even nicer if the kelp were slightly thicker!  We finally made it to the ridges, and when we got to the end, we were greeted by a very large school of blue rockfish.  There is often a school of blues out there, but I don't remember it being so big.  Clinton told me afterward that the school there has been that big for a while, so I guess I just haven't been diving out there enough lately.  It was quite surgy, especially when I went up shallow to the school.  All three of us were shooting the fishies, and getting sloshed around in the surge.  We spent maybe a half hour there, and when we had had enough, we decided to head in.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We eventually made it back to the time-lapse cam, and we had a brief conversation about whether we were going to do a second dive.  We decided no.  From there, we headed back to the sand channel, and headed in.  We were swimming along on the right (west) side, and I was looking off to the right, since there is actually reef and stuff over there instead of the boring sand channel.  Then, just as something caught my eye up ahead on the sand channel, I felt someone tug my fin (turns out it was Rob).  I looked up, and for a few moments, time nearly stood still.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
I saw what was unmistakably a whale, headed down the sand channel, right toward us.  It was quite surreal, almost cartoonish-looking, when I first saw its nose headed toward us.  I guess it was cartoonish looking because it was just so ridiculous to see a whale was swimming at me, on the Lobos sand channel no less!  The first moment that I saw it, I was kind of stunned and froze, just staring at it.  With the excellent viz, we got a really good look at it swimming toward us, and then past us, and we could see the whole thing really clearly.  I had the sensation that I could feel a wake off of it, though I have no idea if that was in my head, or just the surge, or if there was actually something to it.  And just for the record, since a lot of people have been asking, we were approximately 35 feet deep and between the three of us, we all estimated the whale to be somewhere between 20 and 30 feet long.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob and I both had our cameras stowed, and while I was slowly trying to unclip mine as I watched, it was not to be (which I'm rather disappointed by, since I've literally told Rob on many occasions that the hero-cam is perfect for carrying in your pocket "for when a whale swims by").  I think part of the reason I couldn't unclip it was because I was so awestruck that my fingers weren't really working properly.  Luckily Clinton is more hard core than us, and he swims with his camera unfurled and ready to go.  So he was right on top of snapping some shots of it.  After it passed, we all looked at each other like "did we just see that?".  I realize that you can't actually have your jaw hanging on the ground when you have a regulator in your mouth, but we all sort of had that look on our faces.  Then Clinton looked at his camera, pushed some buttons, and flipped it around to me.  He got the shot!  I gave him a high five and then hugged his camera.  After a bit more celebrating and commenting on how we were all either out of breath/our hearts were pounding, we decided to head in.

Photo by Robert Lee
Most of the dive after that was a blur, as we headed straight in, riding the we-just-saw-a-whale high.  On the way in, I do remember hearing a boat overhead, and being surprised that it sounded like it was really moving, and we were very close in.  Way too close for a boat to be zipping around like that.  Somewhere between 15 and 20 feet deep, Clinton thumbed it.  We surfaced a bit further to the east than I would have expected, probably because we were all a little out of it and off in our navigation.  After the expected cheering when we first surfaced, we noticed a lot of emergency vehicles in the parking lot.  Ugh.  That explained the fast-moving boat that we heard -- it was a rescue boat.  When we got in, we found that there wasn't a diver emergency, per se, but a boat emergency.  Apparently the Port-a-Bote was not up to the 20+ knot winds that day.  I don't know exactly what the winds were at Lobos, but in the morning, the buoy was reading something like 20 gusting 24.  And when we were gearing up, it was freaking windy.  Too windy to go up on the cliff, so we sent Clinton (and I was relieved when he made it back).  I guess the boat essentially sank, and two rescue boats brought the guys in and then towed the boat in.  Luckily everyone was fine.  I did feel sort of odd about the fact that before the dive, we all thought that it was, umm, not the best idea to take that boat out, but we didn't say anything.  I've seen that boat out at Lobos before, and I've never thought it was a good idea, so I didn't think my concerns would be welcome.  No one wants to be the "you're gonna die" asshole, but sometimes it is warranted I guess.

The boat rescue
As you can imagine, there was a lot of excitement in the parking lot about Clinton's whale pictures, even just looking at them on the little screen on the back of the camera!  After Clinton finished giving autographs, we mulled where to go for lunch.  Rob had BBQ on the brain, so we ended up at Little Chicken Hut in Pacific Grove.  We haven't been there in ages (and Clinton had never been there).  I got some very tasty ribs.  Also, I noticed for the first time ever, that there is a really good view of the bay from there.  I guess I've always been sitting facing the wrong direction!  It was a nice sunny day by the time we got there, so the view was great.  The bay was practically frothing with whitecaps.  After that, we headed to Anywater, which I haven't been to in quite some time (Rob keeps going without me).  So we had an extended visit while I caught up with Frank, and we traded stories about squirrels, rats, gophers, and all other manner of furry vermin.

This is how big my eyes got when I saw the whale
All of the day's pictures are here.  The whale pictures are awesome.  I love the fact that the viz was so good, that you could see the whole whale very clearly.  Though its quite a bit different than the image of the whale that is seared in my mind, which is of it head on, swimming at us.

And for those of you who are curious about the time-lapse experiment, it was a successful trial.  The criteria for success was that the camera actually stayed in one place, and we were able to relocate it at the end of the dive.  Nothing much was caught on it though, except a very still starfish wiggling his toes.

2 comments:

Jane Call said...

what a great post-thanks for the whole story-what a day to remember!

Lynne Flaherty said...

What a wonderful description of a once-in-a-lifetime dive.

And that photo of you in the blue rockfish is just plain awesome.