It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, June 14, 2013

Like Riding a Bicycle

Friday marked my triumphant return to diving.  After five weekends (that's over a month!) out of the water, I finally got to get wet again, with Team Kitty (proper) aboard the M.V. Phil Sammet.  We made the date a while back (at the recent dive show actually, which I suppose I should have blogged about), and my return to the ear-clearing coincided nicely with the date.  Of course the forecast looked like it was going to be windy.  But after a month of strong winds (even up in the bay area), this wasn't really much of a surprise.  When I voiced my concern about this, Rob said that since we were on Phil's boat, it wasn't a concern :)  But as we drove into Monterey, I was happy to see that the flag at Del Monte was very very limp.  And as we considered our options for dive sites in the Lobos parking lot, it didn't really seem windy at all.  We talked about trying a new (Phil) spot up around Outer Outer Pinnacles, but because of the wimpiness of my dive buddies, we ended up settling on Ed Cooper's Wall as a destination (wimpy in the sense that they didn't want to risk an unknown site and have a bad dive).  Once we headed out, however, we found that it really was windy!  In fact, by the time we got to about the Hole in the Wall area, there were whitecaps.  Oy oy oy.  The viz was also atrocious on the way out.  The water in the cove looked like mud.

As we headed out toward the point, I joked that we might end up at "plan C" (Great Pinnacle), diving our 190 bottles.  After putting my hood on (it was really wet!), I wondered if we should consider something around the Deep E3 area.  But Phil said there would really be no difference between that and the Ed Cooper's area, so we continued out in that direction.  And then at some point not much later, it was abruptly suggested that maybe the Outer Outer Pinnacles area would be better.  I'm not really sure what transpired in that short period of time to change the sentiment, but we all agreed.  As we headed that way, I suddenly remembered (and blurted out) Little Cow Canyon.  For some reason, when we were discussing 15/55 dives in that area earlier, I had completely forgotten about it.  I pitched it to the guys... when I thought of it, I immediately thought of crinoids, a cowcod, and a purple sea fan.  But I couldn't remember if there was really a purple sea fan there (or if it had just erroneously popped into my head), so I left that out.  After reminding the boys about the site, we decided to head there.  And then began the longest ride to the pinnacles area that I can imagine.  It was a really wet, windy ride.  I was on the windy side of the boat, and after getting pummeled by the water one too many times, I decided to sit on the deck, cowering between the tube and the console, for the rest of the ride.  There were a couple reports of dolphins, but I couldn't see any of them from my position.  At some point I mentioned (in comparison) the worst ride we had ever had on Phil's boat, and the funny thing was that Rob and Kevin instantly knew which day I was talking about.  Kevin pulled out Rob's GPS when we were 1.4 miles from the site, and he was counting down the distance from the site.  Oh man, I couldn't believe how slow the countdown went.  It seemed like we were never going to get there.  Then, as we were finally approaching the mark, there was some doubt about the existence of the site, or perhaps the validity of the GPS mark.  It wasn't looking good on the depth sounder.  But then, right as we approached the mark, alas, we started to see some relief, and before you know it, we found a 150 to 220 drop.  Phew.

So after getting our butts kicked getting to the site, I was expecting the gearing up to be pretty uncomfortable.  But for whatever reason, once we were at the spot, the wind seemed a bit calmer, and it was pretty comfortable once we were at anchor.  As we were getting geared up, Kevin made some comment about seasickness meds.  Doh!  That's what I forgot.  I really am out of practice.  By the time we were ready to roll into the water, I was feeling a little seasick, but once I flopped into the water, that was all gone.  We found not much in the way of surface current, and fairly clear water even on top.  We convened at 20 feet on the downline in order to do bubble checks and the like, and then we continued down.  Somewhere between 40 and 50 feet, my ear locked up and it really really did not want to clear.  It took me about two minutes to get from 40 to 50 feet, and I think another minute to get from 50 to 60 feet.  I was about the call the dive when it started to get a bit easier, and I eventually made it to the bottom (though I clocked 9 minutes to get to 100 feet!).  The good news was that the viz was really really good below about 60 feet.  (Even above that it was pretty good, but with a lot of particulate in the water.)  The good viz was, unsurprisingly, accompanied by COLD water.  I mean COLD.  My gauge was bouncing back and forth between 44 and 46 while we were on the bottom.  I know that gauges vary, but my gauge basically never reads below 46 around here, so I think it was legitimately colder than usual.  Anyhoo, we ended up approaching the site from the northeast.  There are a series of ridges that run east-west, so we were pretty much at the east end of the northern most ridge.  From there, it is just sand if you look to the north, though we know there is eventually another ridge out there (that we have never seen).

So we followed the north side of the ridge to the west, where the bottom gets deeper.  Almost immediately upon heading in that direction, we met a purple seafan.  Yay!  Rob was shooting macro, so he just looked at it for a bit and didn't attempt to take pictures (grumble, he really couldn't have gotten at least like a shot of one bit of it?!)  Kevin took some video, so hopefully something will come of that.  We continued along the ridge, and as we got a bit deeper, I saw a crinoid.  The last time we were here, there was a patch at the western tip where there were about a dozen crinoids.  So I pointed this one out to Kevin and assumed there'd be a lot more where that came from later.  Turns out that this wasn't the case.  When we got to the spot at the end of the ridge, I eventually found one more crinoid, but that was it.  We did find of strange-looking worm.  Rob got  some pictures of it, but you can't really see the whole thing (the problem with macro, though I think the pictures would have been worse, at least for ID purposes, with wide-angle).  Very near to the worm, while Rob was taking pictures of it, I found a slinky looking fish curled up on top of the reef.  But I eventually got bored waiting to show it to Rob, so I just moved along.  Not too long after that, Rob had moved over to the next ridge (just across the narrow canyon, maybe 15 feet away) and he signaled me excitedly, to show me another of the same kind of fish.  If I had known he would be that excited about it, I would have waited around longer to show him the first one :)  Clinton called it a longfin gunnel, though I don't know if that ID is for certain.

Once we were over on that adjacent ridge, we found a couple more interesting critters.  While Rob was shooting the gunnel, seemingly forever, I found a little white speck on an orange sponge.  I couldn't figure out exactly what I was looking at, for a couple of reasons.  First, it was tiny, like Okenia felis tiny.  Second, one lens of my masking had been fogging terribly for most of the dive.  It made it really hard to focus on something tiny.  So while I was sure it was "something", I couldn't tell if it was a tiny slug or a tiny sea cucumber (or a tiny shrimp or shrimp-like critter was even a possibility).  But I couldn't just swim away without making Rob take some pictures so I would know.  Turns out it was a tiny cucumber, though I know nothing more about it.  Next was a basket star.  Just a basket star, but it was unfurled in a very aesthetically pleasing manner, in my opinion.  Very symmetric.

It was then about time to head shallower, so we headed to the top of the ridge and back to the east, where it got shallower.  Once we were at a 160'-ish spot, we switched onto our 190 bottles.  Right after we did that, Rob pointed to the downline, which we were very close to.  We poked around there for a while.  On the south side of that ridge, there was a slope rather than a dropoff, and the slope was covered with a carpet of young rockfish.  I'm not sure what they were, but there were a zillion of them.  After a few more minutes near the downline, and a couple of Dirona sightings, we decided to continue east, to see if things got even shallower.  And indeed they did.  We were, for the most part, heading along a canyon, then we crossed a little boulder field, where there was a pretty interesting pile of big boulders on the bottom, and then we came to a shallower ridge that eventually led us to a spot coming to 100'.  That seemed to be the shallowest it got (within sight anyway), before it then sloped back down a bit deeper.

We decided to start our ascent there.  The ascent started with a small blunder that is too funny not to recount.  In the interest of what happens in the water stays in the water, I won't identify the blunderer.  We started our ascent and at the first stop (90' I guess), the bag-boy went to deploy the bag.  He had a bit of a buoyancy blunder, no big deal, and when I looked up a couple feet to see if everything was alright, there was no bag.  Apparently the spool jammed (not sure if that is the technical term) and he had to let it go.  The main reason that this was so funny was that the last time Rob and Kevin did a dive without me (while I was waiting on Phil's boat), the exact same thing happened!  Anyway, a second bag was quickly deployed, so there was no problem.  But we all had a good laugh.  I guess Phil is getting used to the double bag deployment.

Deco was sort of interesting, because there were a number of small things bothering me.  First, I was a bit underweighted.  I got a new undergarment recently, and on the first dive with it, I added 3 pounds.  But that seemed like too much, I felt noticeably overweighted, so I decided to not add anything today.  I figured in the worst case, I would have an empty 80 at the end of the dive which I could send up the line.  So I did just that.  I felt pretty lame to put my bottle up the line (especially when someone else was running the bag, but I wasn't about to send the last bag amongst us to the surface if it wasn't truly necessary).  I always make fun of Kevin and Rob for sending their bottles up the line, joking that they should really be able to manage all of their gear.  Even after sending my bottle up, I still felt a wee bit underweighted.  (I use the same weighting with my 85s and my 120s, and I guess they probably aren't actually exactly the same, so that while the 85s required only a tiny weight adjustment, the 120s required a bit more.)  Then there was my foggy mask.  This wouldn't be such a big deal, but the descent left my sinuses in a pretty bad state.  And so every time I flooded my mask, it seemed to get just a bit harder to blow out of my nose to clear it.  So after a while, all of the sinus congestion sort of made me feel like I couldn't breathe.  And last of all, it was just SO cold.  I couldn't believe how cold I felt with a brand new undergarment.  So by the time we got to 20 feet, I was really ready to be done, and I was practically counting down the seconds.  It got a little warmer on deco, but not much.  50 degrees was the warmest that I ever saw.  The viz also got worse, but not in the usual way.  It was still bright and blue, but the water was filled with particulate.  Pretty weird to see so much junk in the water but also have it be bright blue instead of dull green.

When we got to the surface, I was expecting it to be like Armageddon, but the wind wasn't as bad as I was expecting.  The swell had picked up a bit though.  In any case, it was a relief to be able to pull my foggy mask off and blow all of the snot out of my nose (in a very ladylike way, of course).  Ahhh.  But I was pretty spent when we got to the surface, so I relied on my personal divemaster (Kevin) a bit more than usual.  First, when we got to the surface, he had the bag, and Rob and I each had a bottle on it.  Rob took his, but I asked Kevin if he could just keep it, so he handed it up to Phil on his first pass.  Then I got a bit tangled up getting my second bottle unclipped (because the clip was oriented "wrong", not that that's an excuse).  I needed a third hand to deal with it, so Kevin helped me with that.  Then I asked if he could just hold onto it, hehehe.  It wasn't until we got back on the boat that Kevin realized he had handed 5 bottles up to Phil and I had only handed up one :)

The ride back was quite nice.  One good thing about diving the Pinnacles area with Phil is that the "uphill" part of the dive is before the dive, so the ride in is very calm.  Though that didn't seem like a good thing before the dive ;)  When we got back to Whaler's, the tide had come in and the water in the cove looked much prettier.  The water right at the ramp was crystal clear.  What a difference a few hours made!

A pretty nice dive to get back into it, if a bit challenging.  I hope the report was worth the wait!

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