It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Big Sur

We dove off of the Big Sur Coast (off of the Cypress Sea) on Saturday, for the first time. We had heard very good things about the diving there, so we braved the 4 AM wakeup and the potentially vomit-inducing boat trip to go there. The 4AM wakeup totally sucked (especially how Oreo scowled at me in the morning and refused to take my pets, she seems to hate the alarm clock), but the boat trip was actually not bad at all. Well, I slept on the boat ride down there, or at least for the first hour and fifteen minutes. Then I woke up and changed into my drysuit (I took it as a hint when Rob and Beto emerged from the wheelhouse and started putting on their suits), which wasn't too annoying. Sometimes I find putting my drysuit on on a rocking boat to be really painful. But luckily the boat was not rocking too much.

Dive 1 (Unnamed site near a site called Portholes). Beto picked this site out based on the bathymetry maps. It looked like some sort of canyon, where the reef started at 40 to 60 feet and dropped down to 120 in the middle. The visibility looked good from the surface, and the water looked pretty blue. There were some patches of kelp, but it wasn't super thick and it wasn't everywhere. I hopped in (using my stellar giant stride in doubles, which I recently perfected in the Channel Islands), and immediately drifted into some kelp. There was a little bit of current on the surface. I fought my way out of the kelp and joined Clinton at the anchor line. Then Rob got in, and also immediately drifted into some even thicker kelp. After a couple minutes watching him trying to get through it and claiming he didn't need any help, Clinton swam over and disentangled him.

Then we started the dive. I was having ear troubles on the way down (from about 30' to 50', I had to drop foot by foot -- pretty weird that I had trouble at that depth but not shallower). But once we made it to 50', which is about where the reef started, it was fine. The anchor was basically right near the edge of the "canyon", which was really more like a crack -- there were two parallel walls running east-west, with sand between them at 120'. Well, I guess it was 120', we didn't go down there, but that is what Phil said it was. Beto and Susan were scootering, and it seemed like an awesome site to scooter. Scootering down the crack would be really fun. The sides of the walls were very colorful. And the visibility was great -- I would say at least 60 feet horizontal (Rob guessed 80') and at least 80' vertical. From 80', I could look up and see the ripples on the surface clearly (probably could have seen them deeper, but we didn't go any deeper). And the water was really blue. Near the end of the dive, I flipped over and looked up... it was pretty cool to see the sun, the ripples, the kelp, and some diver silhouettes hanging by the anchor line. It looked almost tropical.

We hopped across the crack to the other side, and started looking for critters on the wall. Clinton was shooting macro, looking for nudibranchs (of course :P) and Rob was shooting wide-angle. Certain portions of the wall (especially the top edge before it dropped off) had small kelp stalks growing on them, so you sort of had to fight your way between them to see what was under there. Rob was hoping to see big bushy hydrocoral, and while there was some hydrocoral, it was not big and bushy -- on par with what you can see at Cannery Point at Lobos. Parts of the wall were covered in patches of strawberry anemones. As for little critters, we saw some cool stuff. First, I found a nice-sized Hopkins Rose, which I was excited to see since they are so pretty (what can I say? I like the color). I was finding them pretty frequently in fairly mundane places (Breakwater, MacAbee) for a while, but there has been a dry spell lately. Then I found what I thought was 2 clown nudibranchs mating, and when I showed it to Rob, he pointed out that there was actually a third one under them. I later found another solo clown nudi. Clinton showed me a Dendronotus albus, which I've never seen before. I brought Rob over to Clinton to show it to him, but oblivious Rob didn't see it. I think he was like... why the heck did you bring me over here? I also found an Aegires (I guess I have perfected my Aegires detector, since I seem to find them every time I go out these days) sitting next to a Geitodoris heathi (which I can now identify thanks to my recent nudibranch counting experiences). Plus there were lots of the usual dorids (Doriopsilla, Peltodoris, Cadlina luteomarginata) and a couple of Hermissendas. Apparently Clinton found a Limacia, and I later whimpered that he didn't show it to me. I noticed a big lingcod swimming by, and then I looked over and signalled Rob, to show it to him. Then I looked back and couldn't find it; I eventually did, and couldn't figure out how I'd missed it. It was just laying on the rock under a little overhang. There were also a few baby metridiums -- well, not really baby metridiums, but Metridium senile, which look sort of like baby Metridium giganteum. I also saw at least three kinds of jellyfish on this dive. On the descent, I saw what I think was a medusa. On the ascent, I saw several moon jellies and another kind I need to lookup. Also on the ascent (when we were hanging at 20'), I found a little orange nudibranch on a kelp stalk. I gave Clinton the "get over here!" signal and showed it to him, and he got some nice pictures of it. He told me afterward that it was a Triopha maculata (which I have never seen or heard of before). Some other people apparently saw Dironas, which I have never seen before. I was jealous :P. 84ft, 65 minutes, 48 degrees

Dive 2 (Partington Canyon)

The wind had picked up by the time the first dive was over, so we headed south for some protection. We went further south to Partington Canyon, which is apparently one of Phil's favorite Big Sur sites. It was super calm on the surface. There is a steep dropoff very close to shore. It drops from 40-ish feet to over 100 feet pretty suddenly. The dropoff however is basically all boring sand, so it is above the dropoff that is an interesting dive. You could tell from the surface that there was a lush kelp forest in the shallow area, and then no kelp at all a bit further out from shore (where the boat was sitting). On the descent, I felt a bunch of water come in through my neck seal. I instantly knew what happened -- between dives, I pushed my seal down a little because it was rubbing against my still-sore neck seal hickey from last weekend. I never pulled it back up to where it likes to be to make a good seal. So I did my best to push it back into place underwater (under my hood), but I think it was still leaking throughout the dive. It was cold!

Anyhoo, we started out following along the edge of the dropoff, until we eventually turned around, but headed in shallower for the return portion. The water was more green than the previous site, and the vis was maybe 30 to 40'. Not as good as the last site, but pretty decent by Monterey/Carmel standards. I don't think there was any hydrocoral at this site (poor Rob). I found a little orange nudibranch that looked like a Rostanga (but I was not sure), and pointed it out to Clinton. He confirmed later that it was indeed a Rostanga. I've never seen one that is not on an orange-ish sponge before. Later on, Clinton pointed out an Aldisa (which looks sort of Rostanga-like) on some orange sponge. I've never seen an Aldisa before, but now I know how to distinguish the two. Clinton found an unbelievably small trilineata on a piece of kelp. Part of this kelp stalk had some fuzzy stuff growing on it (not sure what), and among that he found this guy that was a few millimeters long. I could not tell what kind of nudi it was, but he told me afterwards what it was. I also saw a white nudi with yellow speckles which I think was either a Cadlina sparsa or Cadlina modesta. Clinton found a rock with a couple of Dendronotus albus's on it. After he pointed them out to us, we kept noticing more and more of them, there were at least half a dozen, I'd say. They were of varying sizes, one was really small and cute.

Once we headed into the shallower area (about 30'), we were in probably the lushest kelp forest I've ever been in. The kelp canopy on top was amazingly thick, it was letting practically no light through. We found a skull of some sort, which Beto thought might be a cow -- it definitely didn't look like it came from a sea animal. There were lots of fish at this site in general. But as you know, I suck at fish identification. But there were at least plenty of the following kinds of rockfish: blues, vermilions, olives, coppers, and treefish. And we saw another big lingcod sitting on a rock, out in the open. He posed for some pictures for Rob. Near the end of the dive, a harbor seal swam up to Clinton and started bobbing his head at him; apparently he kissed Clinton. It was very cute, but he didn't stay for long (not long enough for Rob to get many pictures). Eventually I was very cold, so I gave the "I'm cold, let's get the hell out of here signal" and we headed in. We ascended very near the boat, but the boat was totally engulfed in kelp, so we descended and swam in under the kelp. Except we kept missing the boat, because it was impossible to see it from under the kelp. After popping up a couple times to look for it, we finally found the bow from underwater, and swam right under it (so we didn't lose it) to get to the swim step. The swim step was totally engulfed in kelp too, of course, which made getting out a huge pain. It basically involved me beaching myself on the swim step and one of the divemasters (not sure which one, I was too busy eating kelp) grabbing my manifold and hoisting me up. Not my proudest moment :P. I told Rob afterwards that I just don't get how you are supposed to gracefully get yourself up on a swimstep that doesn't have a ledge or something to put your foot on. He suggested I take a PADI Swimstep Diver class :). 68ft, 77 minutes, 49 degrees

Dive 3 (Unnamed site, near a site called Compost)

When we got to the next site, Phil told us to take our time getting in the water, but look at those whitecaps in the distance (it was pretty cool looking actually), they are headed our way and will be here soon (hint hint). So we decided we should probably get in the water sooner rather than later. After the second dive, I pulled down my drysuit to try to give my undergarment some time to dry (and hung the shirt I wear under it out in the sun). It worked moderately well, but I was still damp by the next dive. So I was expecting to get pretty cold. Based on that, the plan for the dive was that it might be a short dive, since I was likely to turn it on being cold. This was another site that was not previously dived, which I guess Beto picked out on the maps. We were supposed to report back on whether it sucked or not :P It did not. There were basically a few big reef structures and some baby pinnaclelets near those. We did not make it very far from the anchor, because Clinton spent pretty much the whole dive taking pictures of some tiny nudibranchs on some tiny hydroids. That was fine by me, though, because staying close to the anchor meant when I decided I was just too cold, we wouldn't have far to go. But probably not moving much during the dive didn't help with the cold factor (I warmed myself up by swimming back and forth between Rob and Clinton :P). The reef structure we were looking at was like a mini wall from about 45 feet to 60 feet. It was very well covered, it was sort of like something you would see at Point Lobos. The viz was around 60 feet. It was still greener than the first site, but bluer than your average day at Point Lobos.

So, Clinton was photographing the same spot for like 20 minutes, and finally I was like... okay, I have to see this. So I went over and asked him to show me, and it was the tinyest little guy I have ever seen, a couple millimeters. I never would have seen it :) But once he pointed it out, I noticed two more on the same hydroid. They were apparently Eubranchus. Clinton got some nice pictures, which he was excited about. I didn't see anything else too cool here, but it was just nice overall. There was lots of strawberry anemone cover, in various colors (including the pink-purple which I really like), at least one Geitodoris heathi, a Cadlina flavomaculata, the usual dorids, and aggregating nipple sponges in bigger aggregations than I have seen before. I also saw a couple cute little greenlings. We saw another big lingcod just hanging out on a rock, showing his teeth. That was cool. I may have seen a wolf eel scurry away during the ascent, but it was kind of far off, so I may have been mistaken (or hallucinating :P). I posed for a few pictures for Rob. Eventually I could not stand the cold anymore (I was shivering, worried my reg would fall out of my mouth), so I thumbed it. On the 20' stop, I noticed Rob playing with his camera out of the corner of my eye, and I turned around and there were Susan and Beto... they kind of scared the crap out of me. Rob was showing Beto how his camera rig now floats up because of the floaty arms that Beto had loaned to him. Rob decided his camera is just too negative (it's really really heavy, he's handed it off to me before and I sink) so he needs something to counteract it. He decided the floats would be perfect with the macro lens, but unnecessary with the dome port. Anyhoo, we again had to ascend into a thick kelp layer, and I shamu'd onto the swimstep again. Phil pulled me up while Rob was laughing at me in the background. What a bad teammate :P. 67ft, 58 minutes, 49 degrees

I have heard some stories about how bad the ride back from Big Sur can be, but I thought it was fine. There was a lot of splashing on the deck, but I stayed inside, and was perfectly comfy. Most people slept, and I dozed a little on and off, but I mainly stayed awake to watch the scenery. The Big Sur coast is even nicer looking from offshore than it is from shore. The cliffs are really cool looking. I wish Rob had taken some topside pictures, but he forgot :( We have another trip to Big Sur scheduled for August. I hope the conditions are as good then!

Afterwards, we went to dinner at Siamese Bay Restaurant, a Thai restaurant in Monterey, with Dionna, Beto and Susan. The food was very tasty. During dinner, I happened to mention my inability to make a hole in the kelp when I was ascending on dives 2 and 3. On the second dive, I ascended through Rob's hole (while he was still in it, kind of pushed him out of the way :P), and on the third dive, I reused Clinton's hole after he was out of the water. So everyone laughed at me (some on the outside, some on the inside, I could tell) and explained that you purge your regulator and the bubbles push the kelp out of the way. In hindsight, I have been told this before, but never had to do it, so I'd forgotten. Also in hindsight, I noticed two "strange" things at the end of dive 3... 1) where are all those bubbles around Clinton coming from (as he ascended through the kelp), 2) why is Rob breathing off of his necklace with his primary in his hand (a moment before he ascended). I guess I was too cold to put it all together :)

And to top off a great day, when I got home, my copy of the new Harry Potter book was waiting for me. Thank you, Amazon :)

Selected pictures from the day in the BAUE galleries.
All of the pictures from the day are here.

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