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Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Review

Photo by Robert Lee
It's been a pretty quiet year on the blog.  It's been a pretty quiet year for diving too, though not as quiet as the blog might suggest, so I thought I'd do a quick (doubtful) post about all of the stuff I did but didn't post about. The local diving was pretty terrible, with El NiƱo bringing us what sometimes seemed like a storm every weekend. That, combined with a red tide in the bay for a couple of months, resulted in a ton of boat cancellations. I counted 18 days of local diving this year (or maybe really 17...), which sounds pretty terrible, but it's actually better than I would have guessed -- I would have estimated one per month. The breakdown was 1 night dive at Breakwater, 4 days at Lobos, 2 rec boats, and 11 tech boats. So a quick rundown of the action, somewhat chronologically...

Okenia felis, photo by Robert Lee
For the first time in many years, we did not spend New Years cave diving in Florida.  We spent the holidays at home (the Monterey home) for the most part. But we started the year off right with a scooter dive at Lobos with John and Clinton, out to Twin Peaks to visit the Okenia felis on the Road. Rob and I had done pretty much the same dive a week before, and we found the little buggers, but Rob was shooting wide angle. They were on a rock that I know (I've seen Okenia there before), so I was pretty sure we'd find them again, and we did. Everyone who was toting a giant camera got pictures of them. 

Photo by Robert Lee
The winter diving was not very inspiring; we did make it down to Diablo Pinnacles once, and the viz was excellent, but while I hate to admit that Rob is right, that site just doesn't excite me that much. We did have some awesome Orca action in the late winter. One day on the ducky with Rob, Clinton, and Jim, we saw a group of about 6 orcas have an encounter with a huge pod of dolphins. That was cool enough by itself, but then we got a front row seat to one of the orcas peeling off from the group and after a long chase, he took down a dolphin (and the guys got the shot!). The orcas were around for probably at least a month, chowing down on baby grey whales and such, and we had one other pretty cool day of watching a group of orcas between mile buoy and pinos, from the Escapade. 

Photo by Robert Lee
In April and May, we had a brief break from the bum weather and snuck in a few days at Lobos and south (Mt Chamberlin south wall, K1 crack) with epic viz and very cold water, brrrr.  On one dive at E3, we found more Okenia :P. We did get one trip down to Sur, but the water was quite dark, not quite the epic viz from those other dives. 

Photo by Robert Lee
After we got back from Fiji, we finally managed to do something we've been talking about for ages... We started up the slug count at Lobos again. Rob, John, Lauren, and I managed to get all 4 transacts counted in one dive. We had a bit of debate about where transact 5 starts and ends, and about which transact is 1 and which is 2 :P. Otherwise it was a successful day; we even found our warbonnet friends on transact 4 again!

Photo by Robert Lee
After that, the summer was pretty light on diving, and all of my tech boats ending up in the bay. At one point, at the end of July, I felt like my rebreather was taunting me, because it reported 42 days as my surface interval. Then after we made it out to the dive site (in the bay, of course), my O2 reg exploded, and it became clear that this was not a fixable-on-the-boat failure. And it's probably the one reg on my gear where swapping out another reg doesn't really work... The geometry is rather persnickety. So I sat out the dive (that would have been the 18th dive), and got a spare one of those regs so this won't happen again :)

Photo by Robert Lee
While the summer was sort of a bust for diving, we did have a couple of good days out on the ducky watching humpbacks. The whale watching wasn't nearly as good as it has been in the past couple of years, and we had a few days where whales were few and far between, but also a few great days. Rob got at least one shot good enough to make it onto our wall (and Jim's wall too, I believe). We also spent a few days in Oregon over the summer, where Jim and Rob came up with a rather intense schedule (e.g. waking up at midnight to catch the Milky Way at 2am, then head to a different spot to wait for sunrise).  There were also some more slightly relaxed days where we got to do things like (easy) hiking, looking at water falls, eating ice cream, and looking at quilts (ahead of the Sisters Quilt Festival). 

Felimida macfarland, photo by Clinton Bauder
For my birthday, there just happened to be a BAUE Lobos Day. Rob signed us up to do some dive for the geo-tagging project that I wasn't that interested in doing. So I vetoed him and organized another slug count with John and Clinton. We wanted to do it once a quarter, so this was perfect timing.  We had a couple of cool finds.  First, I found a Chromodoris macfarlandi (whose genus has changed, but I refuse to learn the new ones!) on my transact, so I even got to count it :P. Then, one the way in, on the back side of middle reef, Rob found a new-to-me (and him, but not Clinton) slug, Thordisa bimaculata. Woot!  So that was definitely a successful slu dive, and to top things off, Clinton brought cupcakes for my birthday :)

Thordisa bimaculata, photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob, Clinton, and I did one other cool dive in October, while we were waiting out the Cordell window. We wanted to dive, but leaving the bay was not an option. So we decided to try to find something like Consolation Prize (deep shale ledge) but a little shallower, like 150-160. While Rob was negotiating that with Jared, he found a GPS mark from when they did the original Consolation Prize dive. And it was in just the right depth range. It turned out to be an awesome dive, though when we first dropped we picked a slightly non-optimal (boring as hell) direction to go, but eventually circled back to awesomeness. We saw vase sponges, a purple sea fan, and a bunch of (at least 4 distinct) small flag rockfish!  Definitely a cool site that we will have to visit again when we are stuck in the bay. 

Photo by Robert Lee
For my last local dive of the year, Rob and I did a night dive at the Breakwater the week of thanksgiving. I was in Monterey for the week, but getting over a cold for the first weekend. Looking at the forecast though, the odds of getting a dive in did not look great. Rob left work a little early on Tuesday and headed down to join me, and I told him that afternoon that if we wanted to dive at all this week, this might be our only chance. It was a fun dive. It started out slowly, with not many good sightings, but eventually things picked up and we found some cool critters, the coolest of which was a super cute sculpin (I think it was either a buffalo sculpin or bull sculpin) sitting in a divot. I was so excited when I found it, and then he sat for quite a significant photo session.  But the coolest thing of all was the third buddy we picked up halfway through the dive -- a harbor seal. We didn't see him for a while, but kept finding patches where the viz was all stirred up. Then we finally got a glimpse of him swishing by a couple of times.  Then he warmed up to us and swam up right between us while we were watching that sculpin.  And he just kind of hung out with us. Once we got going again, he was swimming along with us for most of the rest of the dive. He would occasionally dart off and then rejoin us, but as we swam back in along the wall, he was swimming right beside me pretty much the whole time. At some point, Rob shined his light into a crack for me to look at something, and as I was trying to look, the seal came along and nudged me out of the way and stuck his face in the crack!  I never did get to see what Rob was showing me :(. The seal followed along with us all the way back to the beach (when we got to like 3 feet and stood up). I was worried he was going to follow us to the parking lot :)

To finish up the year, we restarted our annual tradition of cave diving in Florida over New Years. More on that later!