It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, May 26, 2007

NCUPS Beach Dive Competition

On Saturday, Rob and I did the Northern California Underwater Photographic Society's Annual Beach Dive Competition. Well, technically Rob was the only one who participated, but I was his spotter and model :) The rules of the competition are basically this: pictures must be taken on the day of the competition, from shore (no boats, scooters, kayaks, etc.), and cannot be editted at all (no cropping, etc.). You submit up to 5 underwater images across three categories: macro, portrait, and normal/wide-angle. There are separate categories for novice versus everyone else (Open). You can also submit 1 above water photo (which must contain divers or dive gear), and 1 humorous photo. You get points for each place/honorable mention you get for the UW pictures, and the other two categories can be used to break ties. Novice winners get fewer points than winners in the Open category. Rob entered as a novice.

Our plan was to dive the barge and the Metridium field. We anally planned the dives, down the times by which we had to walk into the water for each dive, in order to make the cutoff time for submitting pictures (5 PM, but we'd have to review them first). We wanted to hit the water for the first dive by 10 AM, leaving a half hour of surface swimming (and general bumblef***ing) on each end, and 90 minutes for the dive, to be out of the water by 12:30. Then we'd enter the water by 1:30 for the second (slightly shorter) dive, with the goal of being out of the water by 3:30.

In order to pull off at least 2.5 hours underwater without getting a fill, we each took an Al80 stage bottle. You may remember from last week my plan to steadfastly resist Rob pressuring me to start diving with a stage bottle. But it made the logistics so much easier for doing barge + Metridium field, and with 3 to 5 foot swell and diving the Breakwater, I figured it was a good time to try it out. A month or so ago, Beto did a little stage bottle clinic (just a lecture and land drills), so I knew all the theory about the gas management and procedures and I'd tried them on land before. We ran into Captain Jonathan (as Rob and Ted like to call him) at the Breakwater a few minutes after we arrived, so he and Susan helped us get our stage bottles down to the water line. Jonathan also showed us a useful trick for walking into the water with a stage... if you clip the nose to your hip D-ring, once you get into the water at hip depth, you can just let go of it while you are putting your fins on. It was still a little scary walking into the water in doubles and carrying an 80. But there was basically no surf, so it was alright. First we headed out to set Susan's float (she was doing an OW class, and since it was on our way out, we agreed to set the float for her). I also thought that it would be good to descend in 20 feet of water, and play around with the stage bottle, getting used to the effect it had on my buoyancy and trim. When I first started to descend, I sort of rocketed to the bottom, since I guess I'm programmed to add a certain amount of gas to my wing at a certain rate as I descend. But with the added weight of the stage, that didn't work too well. Once I sorted that out, it was like the stage wasn't even there (like everyone has been telling me). The only difference was that I had to remember that I don't have the same vertical clearance I am used to (can't swim right above a rock, etc.), and it's way easier to check my SPG! We had a little problem with the float (namely, Rob lost one of the lines on the way out, sorry Susan!), so that took some time to deal with. But we still managed to descend ahead of our 10:30 goal (a little after 10 in fact). The swim out was pretty tiring... that's the one thing I didn't like about the stage, it added a lot of drag on the surface. I think that's because I didn't have it clipped properly. I left it clipped at the nose to my hip D-ring for the first half of the swim, which caused a lot of drag. Once I clipped it off properly it was alright.

One of the main goals for diving the barge was to visit Rob's pet fringehead (who I've nicknamed Googly Eyes). He lives somewhere on the way out to the barge... I've never seen him in real life, only in pictures. But Rob has consistently found him on every dive to the barge. So, we dropped on the wall around the "8" on the wall, and headed further out. We saw quite a few Dendronotus iris's on the sand just off the wall. Rob stopped to shoot a few pictures. I saw a few other nudis on the wall, but nothing too interesting. We finally found the cinder blocks that mark where to leave the wall. I was starting to worry we'd missed them. Viz was terrible... there were times where I could just barely make out Rob's fins, like 3 feet in front of me. But it was basically terrible in patches, and then it would get a little better (but it was consistently very dark, due to a consistent layer of bad viz on top). Luckily we were on the wall, so I knew right where he was. Rob tied off with a spool at the wall near the cinder blocks. The original plan was that I would run the spool from the wall to the permanent line, and then Rob would run the reel from the end of the permanent line to the barge. But right before we descended I asked him to run both lines, because the stage bottle was enough new stuff for one dive for me (I've never run line before, except in our hallway at home :) and it seems much easier to tie off to door knobs and drawer handles than real rocks). So Rob ran the spool out for a while, we decided we must be far enough and we started searching for the permanent line. Rob eventually found it, and I guess he tied off to the stake where the permanent line begins. I guess, because I was still looking for the line while he was doing that, and then he pointed the line out to me. So I never saw the stake. The line looked slack, so we were immediately like.... hmmm... So we followed the line out for 50 to 100 feet maybe, and it ended. Hmm, that sucks. Rob initially started reeling out from where it ended to see if he could pick up the other end, but that didn't work. After a heated wetnotes debate about what to do, we decided to just head back into the wall and dive the wall. We considered looking for the fringehead, but in that viz, I really didn't want to be roaming aimlessly over the sand out there.

So we went back in to the wall. In hindsight, we should have pulled the line since it's basically just sitting out there waiting to entangle something/someone. On the way, I found a nice black-eyed hermit crab for Rob to shoot (one of the critters he specifically told me to point out if I found one). Along the way, I noticed that my stage bottle was getting a little buoyant, so I reclipped it to my crotch D-ring (which Beto suggested in the stage clinic he gave). That also makes it way easier to get to my SPG on the hip D-ring. Once we got back to the wall, we started seeing lots more Dendronotus iris's, of various sizes (but all in the red/orange color range... no whites or pinks). While I was patiently waiting for him to setup a shot of one, I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye... a small fish perhaps? I shine my light on it, and it's a squid! Only the second squid I've seen around here, and the first one was at night. How cool! I signal Rob to get over here and get some pictures of this! He managed to get a few shots, until the squid became quite fascinated with the lens of his camera, and swam right up to/into it. Can't exactly take a picture when he's attacking the camera. A little while later, I saw a free-swimming Dendronotus iris, which I've never seen before! And it was a big one. Rob got several shots of that, and several with me looking at it and shining my light at it. It was really cool. This was all along the wall. At some point we switched off of our stages (when air hog Bob got down to a couple hundred PSI). That went smoothly, although Rob said my second stage was a little dangly, so he cleaned it up for me. It was getting a little crowded along the wall, so we circled out over the sand on the way in. We saw a few more Hermissendas in the sand, but they were mostly small. When we got to about 15 feet, we ascended, near the gate on the wall. By this point I was insanely cold. But even more agonizing, I really really had to pee! The swim back in was painful... I made Rob take my stage because having a tank banging around on my crotch strap was really not helping the situation!! We finally made it back to the beach (okay, it didn't take that long, but felt like forever), and I walked out with Rob's camera and he walked out with two stages. Hehe. Lame, I know. We dropped the stages just beyond the water line, and went and dropped our gear off on the tables we setup on the beach. Then began the non-trivial process of getting out of my gloves and drysuit and running to the bathroom. Someone really needs to design a P-valve for chicks. 50 ft, 96 minutes, 49 degrees (chilly for Breakwater)

On the surface interval, I chatted with Jim Ernst, who was also doing the photo competition. His buddy had ditched him, so he said he'd done a solo dive on the wall. I told him he really shouldn't solo dive and asked if he wanted to join us on our next dive. Unfortunately he'd already broken down and rinsed his gear. We also whined about the cut line to Susan and Chuck, and Chuck told Rob about the lineups he uses to get to the barge. I was trotting to the bathroom as he told Rob, so I missed most of it, but it sounded kind of complicated. I also ran into Scott (from Glenn's Aquarius II) walking Molly and Maggie. Maggie had gotten wet and was looking mighty cute (basically like a wet rat). Rob got some cute pictures of them frolicking next to his stage bottle. We marveled at how many rainbow nudis we'd seen, at least a dozen.

We got back into the water for dive 2 a little after 1, and headed out to the Metridium field. The walk across the beach in doubles was tiring, it was nice to get in the water :) But at least I wasn't carrying a stage! We swam out a little ways, and Rob suggested dropping just a little closer than we usually do. I told him he didn't have to talk me into cutting the surface swim short. So we dropped in maybe 25 feet of water. The viz was a lot better on this side of the beach, even fairly shallow. And it wasn't nearly as dark. That was actually a little disappointing -- usually on dark dives to the Metridium field, I can find octopus out and about, so I was thinking this would be a good day for octopus spotting. But no, it was quite bright out. Our plan was to do a dive that was "at most 80 minutes, but preferably more like 70" since I was expecting to get cold (gas would not be a limiting factor, just getting Rob's pictures in on time and me getting cold). We wanted to spend some time looking for critters on the pipe, and then head out to the 'trids, and then swing around to the west and maybe spend some time in the kelp beds to the west of the pipe.

We ended up spending tons of time on the pipe, because we saw lots of critters. First, along one of the stretches where the pipe comes up off the sand, I found 2 Hilton's nudibranchs on a rock under the pipe. Hilton's is perhaps my favorite nudibranch (but definitely near the top), but I have only ever seen 2. I was just telling Rob on Friday night that one reason I like MacAbee is that I've seen a Hilton's there, but have never seen one at the Breakwater. Well, now I've seen two. One was pretty big, and the other was medium sized. The big one was pretty far back under the pipe, so hard to shoot. But Rob got lots of pictures of the smaller one. We continued on, passing Chuck (I think) on the pipe, and then passing Clinton, Mike, and Dave. I didn't know who they were at the time, but they waved so I waved back. Then Clinton told me afterwards that it was them. We saw tons of Hermissendas on the pipe. Everytime I pointed one out for Rob to shoot, while I was waiting for him, I'd see like 5 more. I think I probably saw at least 50 Hermissendas on this one dive. We also saw a lot more rainbow nudibranchs, on the sand next to the pipe (and on tube anemones of course), and some were on the pipe. We ended up spending a lot of time just on the pipe.

On the sand on the way out from the pipe to the field, Rob spotted a new (to us) nudibranch -- Aeolidia papillosa (the "shaggy mouse nudibranch"). After Rob pointed out the one to me, I found two more. We finally made it to the Metridium field, and Rob took some of his usual pictures of me posed behind some 'trids. I found some more Hermissendas, some laid out in really beautiful poses, and he took a lot more pictures of them. I also saw some nice blue ring top snails. On the way in, we found two rainbows in the sand, one very big and one quite small, right next to each other. We were looking at them, and then the big one took off swimming. It was really cool. Rob took some more pictures of it swimming, and of me looking at it swimming. I noticed the time, and couldn't believe how un-cold I was (I wouldn't say warm :P). The dive ended up being longer than 80 minutes, but it was a really nice dive, and I wasn't cold, so I saw no reason to end it sooner. 46 feet, 87 minutes, 49 degrees

Rob said this dive has to have convinced me of the benefits of Argon (I am a skeptic... I always tell people that I think the benefit is at least 50% psychological). Well, I can't deny that it's hard to understand how I could be so comfortable on a dive that long at that temperature. On the other hand, I was freezing on the first dive which was basically the same length and temperature, so it's pretty hard to reason about it, and compare one dive to another. Oh, but I was on the surface for probably 45 minutes before the first dive, so maybe that explains it. My Otter Bay hood, on the other hand, I am convinced is pretty toasty. The only problem with it is that it irritates the skin right next to my mouth. After I take it off, it always feels like there's a rash there or something, but Rob claims it isn't at all red.

The walk up/across the beach was pretty painful. And to add insult to injury, there was some trashy family sitting on the rocks behind my table, with some of their stuff sitting on my table! When Rob walked up and started setting his stuff down on his table, they moved their things. But they were still hovering like 6 inches from my table. I decided I didn't care, they were the ones being rude and if I splashed icky diver water on them, too bad. So I walked up and plopped down on the table, and one of them said "are those tanks heavy?"

After the dives, we broke down our gear and headed over to the Breakwater deli for some snacks and a place to review the pictures. We were greeted with the usual rudeness from the Deli Nazi. We got a muffin and some Snapple (and a stern warning that we couldn't eat any outside food in there), and transferred the pictures to my laptop. The lighting was terrible in there, plus my laptop does this annoying thing where it dims the screen when it isn't plugged in (and we didn't bring the plug). We couldn't figure out how to change that setting, so we just lived with it. We very hurriedly made a first pass through the pictures, coming up with a first cut. Then we went through those more carefully and picked Rob's submissions. It was very nerve wracking, and hard to decide on some of them. We headed over to Backscatter and Rob turned in his choices.

Here are the uneditted pictures that we ended up choosing:

Wide Angle:
1. Swimming Dendronotus and me (left)
2. Metridiums and me (right)

3. Phidiana hiltoni (left)
4. Hermissenda crassicornis (right)

5. Free-Swimming Dendronotus iris (left)

Above Water:
6. Canis familiaris with stage bottle (right)

Saturday night we attended the dinner associated with the competition. There was food from Buzzard's BBQ (mmm mmm) and a presentation by Jason Bradley, who had some awesome pictures (both above and underwater). His pictures of baby leatherbacks in Costa Rica were super cute, as were his manatee shots.

The awards presentation was on Sunday afternoon. Rob kept saying maybe we just shouldn't go, since he probably wouldn't win anything good anyway. But I told him that would be stupid. So we went, and endured the painful holiday traffic on the way to Carmel. It turned out to definitely be worth the car ride :) Drum roll please ... 5 of Rob's pictures were winners! Here's what won:

Metridiums and me (1) won 3rd place in Novice Wide-Angle.
Dendronotus and me (2) won 1st place in Novice Wide-Angle!
Hermissenda (4) won 2nd place in Novice Macro.
Free swimming Dendronotus (5) won an honorable mention in Novice Portait.
Molly, Maggie and stage bottle (6) won 3rd place in Above Water. Woohoo!

The full winner lists can be viewed here.

The person with the most points gets to pick their price first, etc. Rob got to pick 5th. There were a bunch of sweet trips on the list. But many were to places that are uber-expensive to get to (Indonesia, Micronesia). Rob picked a one week stay for 2 (wink wink) in Belize. We will go there sometime this fall. I can't believe I managed to trick Rob into taking me on another vacation this year. Sweet!

All of the (editted) pictures from the day can be found here.

1 comment:

Don said...

Allison, as always, great entry. I really enjoy reading about your dives.

Rob, congrats on the contest. The swimming Dendronotus and Allison is ridiculous!

Though, you do owe Allison for this one. A stage bottle and two very, very long dives in 49 degree water. Plus, didn't she tell you to enter the contest in the first place?