It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cordell Bank: Northern East Ridge

After slightly more rest than the previous night, we were back at the dock before dawn again.  We had done all of our gear shuffling on the previous afternoon, but John and Clinton had just arrived, so we loaded their gear onto the boat and then got going.  The ocean conditions were once again fantastic, so we once again made great time getting to the dive site (which was slightly closer than yesterday's site).  This site consisted of a long, not very wide, ridge with a bunch of side pinnacles and ridges, that stretched from about 130' to 200'.  There was some concern about setting the downline on the main ridge, since it looked so skinny, but this turned out not to be a problem.  The downline was set in no time, and we all started to get geared up.  The water looked cleaner on top than it had the previous day.

Since we let the other team go first the day before, today we got in first.  As we were about to get in, I saw about 4 sea lions zipping around toward the ball, so I was hoping for some interaction on the dive. We found much cleaner, clearer water on top, and as we headed down, we found brighter water down on the structure.  It was quite different from the previous day in terms of the brightness of the water, but also in terms of what we saw.  In a lot of ways, this dive was much more like a dive at Yankee Point than the previous day had been.  There was lots of hydrocoral, pink and orange encrusting sponges, and the topography was reminiscent.  Also, at the bottom of the peaks, there was sand.

There was a big school of widow rockfish, though not as big as the day before, so it didn't seem so impressive to me Clinton, who hadn't been on the dive the previous day, found it hard to believe that there were even more fish, and that today's school of rockfish was unimpressive.  So I guess there were still a lot of fish... it's all relative :)

We pretty quickly moved off of the main ridge, to some of the side ridges off to the southwest (I think). As we perused the main ridge and the ridge closest to it, there were a couple of sea lions buzzing around.  They kept zooming down to the sand on the bottom, flipping around, and then zooming back up.  It was a slightly odd feeling to be at 150' and look down to see a sea lion.  I have a suspicion that they were just a bit curious about these strange creatures encroaching on their turf.  They were behaving almost more like playful, curious harbor seals than sea lions!  I don't mean to give any spoilers about the third day of diving, but, when all is said and done, today's dive isn't the Cordell dive that everyone was raving about.  However, I think it actually had the most lovely reef, and the pictures really show that!  There was much more hydrocoral here, and while it wasn't the huge heads that we know from Point Sur, I think it was more beautiful, because it was sitting atop equally colorful encrusting sponges.  The density of the invertebrate cover on the reef was just astounding, perhaps more so than the previous day, because it's the same invertebrate cover that we are used to seeing around Carmel.

In addition to the big school of widows, there was also quite a bit of diversity in terms of the other rockfish.  I saw tons of juvenile yelloweyes, and a few small adults.  I've never seen anywhere near that number of yelloweyes on one dive before.  I also saw two small quillback rockfish, not juveniles, but much smaller than any I've seen before.  There were also plenty of rosies, a China or two, and I'm sure a few others.  Also plenty of kelp greenlings (like yesterday, they were big by Monterey/Carmel standards).  I also saw lots of trilineatas (particularly in those stubbly brown hydroids on the white sponges) and a few Hermissendas, and maybe a handful of dorids.  Really not a lot of dorids, but more than zero -- a couple of small San Diegos and Cadlinas.  I saw a "muppet fish" later ID'd by Clinton to be a red Irish lord (Matt got a picture of one, which helped with the ID!).  The other fish that gets the "muppet fish" moniker at home is the brown Irish lord, so I can't say I was too surprised by the ID.  Oh, and last but not least, I saw two more little red octopus.

Near the end of the dive, we returned to the main ridge, and scootered along it for a bit, just to have a look around.  We found a thick line running down the side of the main ridge, and a small pile of the line at the bottom, in the sand.  Not sure what that came from... it seemed too small for an anchor/down line and too big to be fishing or survey-related.  Not too long after that, we decided it was time to turn back, and we came back up to the very top of the ridge, where we had first descended, and looked around there for a minute or two before agreeing to start our ascent.  Of course right at the end, the school of fish descended upon us again, so I was trying to video that while Kevin was getting ready to shoot the bag :)  Deco was uneventful.  The water was much clearer than it had been the day before.  It seemed colder, but I'm pretty sure I was just colder from being on a second day of diving.

Photo by Jim Capwell
When we surfaced, the conditions were still very calm.  After a bit of Cup o' Noodles to warm up, we retired to the wheelhouse for a surprisingly speed ride home.  We encountered some Dahl's porpoises today -- so cute!  I was originally only slated to dive two days, but Jim hurt his leg (biking, not diving), so his slot was available on Thursday.  After much hemming and hawing about having to go back to work, I decided to man up, and once back at the dock, I called my boss to ask if I could stay an extra day.  He laughed and said yes, and boy am I glad I made that call...

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