It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cordell Bank 2016: Northern West Ridge

There was a lot less fog on Tuesday, and we also had a much better attitude about getting out to the bank and the fog would go away, so we got going at the usual time.  We headed out Northern West Ridge, everyone's favorite dive site at Cordell (although Northern East Ridge is giving it a run for it's money after yesterday's dive!).  We made really good time getting out to the site, though there was a little bit of swell when we got out there.  When we jumped in the water, it was just as clear on the surface as it had been the day before.  There was a little bit of current as we scootered to the downline.  On the way down the line, there were a lot of small jelly creatures, including lots of sea butterflies.  

Heading out for some more
As we approached the pinnacle, I was a little disappointed by two things: first, the water was not nearly as bright as the previous day (but the viz was still insanely good); second, there wasn't a giant school of fish on the pinnacle, like there were in the two previous dives there (2013 and 2014).  However, I immediately saw a smaller aggregation of fish on the northeast side, which included quite a few bocaccio!  We headed down to that area, and I quickly found a couple of big yelloweyes hanging out on the reef. 

Like yesterday, there were a lot of rosy rockfish hanging out on the reef, and many juvenile yelloweyes.  I eventually saw quite a few more adult yelloweyes, including one monster big one that is, I believe, the same giant yelloweye I've seen on our previous two dives there (even hanging out around the same crack).  This time I managed to get a little video footage of it though.  There were also quite a few blue rockfish, and the occasional china rockfish, and more bocaccio, and one monster lingcod.  The first year that we visited this site, we all noted the lack of blue rockfish.  So the next year, we were all keeping an eye out for them, and I saw about 3... so this year I was pretty surprised that there were actually a fair number of them there.  Definitely a new development from our perspective.  Other fish sightings included a kelp greenling or two, and a (not terribly large) school of small juvenile rockfish on the north side of the wall.

We started around 160' on the northeast side of the wall, and worked our way counterclockwise, eventually settling around 140'-150' for most of the dive.  I spent a lot of time around the north/northwest area of the pinnacle.  This is near the crack that the big yelloweye lives.  I spent a little while looking around for macro critters, and the only thing really notable that I saw was that there were quite a lot of Flabellina trilineata living on the brown hydroids on the white sponge.  There were also Corynactis of all colors (especially on top), including the light purple/lilac color which we hardly ever see in Monterey (especially not at these depths).  Again, at the top of the pinnacle there was more of that dark red kelp than I remember.  One thing that was notably missing was the golden hydroids which were all over the place in previous years (I know from diving in Carmel that this stuff can bloom and then disappear, but it was *so* prevalent in the first year that we went to Cordell).

Eventually I came around the south side and only then did I realize that there was a large school of rockfish on top of the pinnacle, well really more like above the pinnacle.  There was actually a mix of YOYs and adults, with the YOYs seeming to congregate closer to the pinnacle, and the adults higher up in the water column.  I went as shallow as 100' to video the school of fish.  I wasn't sure what they were; in the water, I thought they were widows, but in the video, they seem a bit dark in color.  Rob sent pictures to Tom Laidig, who reported that the adults were widows.  The smaller ones were quite the mix... he ID'd rosies, blues, widows, and (most prevalent) shortbellies.  Good thing for hi-res images :)

One nice-looking diver
The first team started their ascent a few minutes before we did.  When we left the pinnacle, we were initially in an area of water that was unbelievably clear and devoid of any critters.  It was so clear that I had the sensation that I was looking at Rob suspended in air :)  I was thinking about how when we first descended, I was "disappointed" by the viz -- I've become pretty spoiled by the viz at Cordell!  A couple of stops later, the amount of deco critters definitely picked up, so there were sea butterflies, jellies, etc. to stare at to pass the time.  At 20', I met a reddish-orange copepod that I was transfixed with for most of the stop.  Unfortunately we were not visited by whales today.  Or I really hope we weren't visited by a whale while I was staring at a copepod :P

Making friends on deco
When we surfaced, it seemed that the swell had laid down, and the water was back to glassy.  Unfortunately there weren't any whales to watch on the surface; extra disappointing since I even remembered to bring my selfie stick today!  We made it back to the dock in good time, which was good for Jim and crew, who needed to gas up the boat for the return trip tomorrow.  The forecast made it pretty clear that tomorrow was the day to get back to Monterey, unless Jim wanted to permanently relocate the boat to Bodega Bay :)

Mission accomplished
After getting our gear off of the boat, we headed across the street to Fisherman's Cove for lunch, and eventually everyone else made it over there too.  Then we headed back to the housing enclave to pack up and hit the road.  It was about 4 by the time we were ready to go, so Rob and I hung around for a while, to try to wait out traffic through San Francisco.  Everyone else seemed in a hurry to get home, so it was just us and the boat crew.  Rob volunteered to take some of them to town to get some provisions (beer, but "provisions" sounds more nautical).  Since Rob was driving, I volunteered to help the crew finish up the leftover liquor from the trip.  It's important to be one with your boat crew.

Despite some doubts at the start of the trip, it was a super successful trip to Cordell this year.  Considering how bad the weather has been overall this year, I really didn't believe we'd pull off Cordell.  But this makes up for all of the weather-cancelled dives this year :)

No comments: