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Me diving

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Big Sur Slugfest

Today was our last installment for the summer of Big Sur diving off of the Cypress Sea. Or at least our last planned trip down there. The wind and swell forecast was looking good for doing some diving north of Point Sur. On our previous trips, we had to go south for some protection. John suggested Flintstones, which Rob and I immediately seconded. We had been talking about trying to get back down there on one of these trips. Phil complained a little that it wasn't far enough south, but he admitted that it is rare for both the conditions and the divers on the boat to align such that he can go there. So, he went along with it. As an aside, the Cypress Sea has a new system on it so that you can see where you are on the bathymetry maps while the boat is underway (there is a screen in the cabin). It really takes all of the mystery out of the trip -- if you fall asleep and wake up, wondering where the heck you are, it's easy to find out! Once at the site, they show the 3D projection of the site, which is pretty sweet.

John, Rob and I were planning to dive together, but Cameron was buddyless, so we ended up diving together. We broke up in teams of 2 (I got stuck with Bob, boohoo), but the plan was to keep the two teams together for the dives. So, after a few delays, we still got to Flintstones pretty early (funny how a 6 AM departure will do that). It didn't look too too currentful from the surface, even though Phil mentioned the potential for ripping currents. (I don't remember it being that bad last time, so I was thinking... what did we just talk Phil into? :P) We could see a bunch of moon jellies in the water, and I noted to Rob that this time, we would not pay more attention to jellies than the line and get swept off the line :) We hopped in, headed down the line, and the current seemed okay (although the viz got quite hazy around 20 feet, then opened up at 40 or 50 feet). When we got down to the top though, WHOOSH, there was a ton of surge. At this very inopportune time, I realized that my ears required a significant pause before I could go any further. So I was hanging onto a piece of bull kelp on the edge of the dropoff, while the rest of the team was 5 feet below, where there was essentially no surge. Once you were on the side of the pinnacle, it was fine. I was clearing my ears for what seemed like forever (but was probably not very long at all) and then finally I dropped down and joined them.

We headed along the side of the pinnacle and worked our way down to 90 to 100 feet. It was quite dark at this depth, I guess due to the layer of particulate from 20 to 40 feet. There was also a little surge even down here. There were a bunch of small to medium stalks of hydrocoral, which Rob immediately starting taking pictures of. I saw a small orange nudi (which I suspected was an orange Peltodoris) and pointed it out to John. But I spent a lot of the dive looking down into the abyss (well, it's not that deep at the bottom, but in this viz, you couldn't see the bottomm so it still looked abyssal). John found a bunch of gorgonians growing in a vertical crack starting around 90 feet. We didn't think we'd see gorgonians here, since you supposedly have to go deeper to see them at this site. I guess we were misinformed; they were pretty small gorgonians, but there were a bunch. There were also some small elephant ear sponges. I saw a really cute little gopher rockfish (maybe 3 to 4 inches) in a wide crevice. When I signalled to show Rob, he retreated a bit :( But Rob could still see him, and he gave me the universal signal for "cute" (pinching his cheek). And then the wall of Corynactis of course was worth looking at :) And the usual blue rockfish school hanging out off the wall. We also saw a little wall of metridiums, across from a small valley between it and the main pinnacle, and a little deeper than us. We worked our way up shallower, to maybe 60 or 70 feet.

When we got to the agreed upon time to start the ascent, we headed up to the anchor line. Whoosh. As soon as we got above the pinnacle, there was some serious current. I swam over to the line and held on, but with the up and down motion on it, that did not seem ideal. So I let go and swam towards it into the current. I was basically swimming as hard as I could (arms included :P) and was slowly moving away from the line. Rob and John were right at the line, I think maybe they were holding on. Cameron was right next to me, so I turned to him and suggested we shoot a bag and drift. (Phil always says that we can shoot bags and drift if we want, as long as we don't mind waiting on the surface for a pickup. However, I have never taken him up on that.) While we were working that out, Rob and John appeared (apparently they decided they liked their buddies more than they liked the line) and John shot a bag. Phew, much better than swimming hard into a current. The ascent wasn't exactly textbook; there was a bit of leapfrogging over each other and not really keeping a good formation. But we made our stops and got to the surface. There were some moon jellies on the ascent and at the surface. We were a decent distance from the boat. Let's just say I wouldn't have wanted to have to swim back to the boat :) After we bobbed around for a minute or two, with John trying to convince us we should swim for it, the boat headed our way. After a little teasing over the speaker, they picked us up. I thought the drifting ascent was really fun, even if our formation could have used some work. 102 feet, 62 minutes, 49 degrees

We headed down further south for the next dive. There was a south wind, so Phil did not think we could make it very far south. That was fine with me, I honestly don't think that Partington Canyon is really worth the drive :) We puttered around near Portholes, which is just south of Point Sur. We eventually went a little further south, to a new site. There was a small patch of kelp on the surface, and some interesting looking structure on the bathymetry. Basically a big pinnacle next to a small pinnacle in about 100 feet of water. The top of the taller of the two pinnacles came up to around 40 feet. We decided on the boat that we would shoot a bag and drift on this dive (whether it was necessary or not). I was leading the dive. Rob and I usually let the non-leader run the ascent, but since Rob had his camera and he said I "need practice" shooting a bag (one of Rob's adorable traits is how he is always planning skills into dives that he thinks I need to practice), so I was on bag duty.

We headed down to the pinnacle, and while the viz was not stellar (maybe 30 to 40 feet, but filled with particulate and green), it was a neat site, and quite calm. Just as I pass the top of the pinnacle, some diver swooped past me, dive bombing down the pinnacle face head down. It was very odd. Anyhoo, much to my surprise, the cool thing about this site was not spectacular pinnacle vistas, but the macro life. It was nudibranch heaven! Pretty soon after descending, we saw a small rock just off of the pinnacle, which had some nice-looking hydrocoral. So we swam over to it, so Rob could get some shots. While he was taking pictures, John and I noticed a bunch of Hermissendas, and two Spanish shawls (pretty small ones). Then I noticed what looked like Hermissendas, but had bright red tips and a orange-yellow below the red. They were really pretty. We weren't really sure if they were Hermissendas, but I looked in Alicia's new book (Opistobranquios de Mexico). The book is all in Spanish, but it has more photos (and color variations) of the species that it covers than Eastern Pacific Nudibranchs has, which I hoped would one day come in handy. Indeed, this color variation of the Hermissenda is in there. Another notable thing about this site, and that rock in particular was that there were lots of nipple sponges, some in huge aggregations. We eventually hopped back to the main pinnacle and continued along. We came around a corner and I noticed another rock just off of the pinnacle with a big Dendronotus albus on it. And another, and another. So I signalled everyone and swam over there and pointed them out. There were quite a few on this rock, at least 8, of all different sizes. There was a bigger rock right next to this one, which had more of the red Hermissendas, as well as some Triopha catalinae. Plus there were all of the usual dorids (San Diego, Doriopsilla, Peltodoris). Rob also found a Dendronotus frondosus on a piece of kelp. It looked very photogenic, because the piece of kelp was pristine. Of course Rob was not shooting macro though :( We eventually went back to the pinnacle and kept swimming around. I saw an Acanthodoris hudsoni (not sure if I've seen one of those before), and a couple more Dendrontus albus's on the main pinnacle.

At this point, I decided I was cold and since we were about 3 minutes shy of when we were supposed to start the ascent, I thumbed it. I've never shot a bag "for real" before, e.g. in more than like 25 feet of water to practice. So it was quite an exciting moment. I had a little trouble inflating it with my cold lips, but I figured it was alright since I was shooting it deeper so it would inflate more on the way up. Then I became quite fascinated with watching the line unspool -- 70 feet is a lot of unspooling. In fact, I was quite entranced by it, and when it was finished, I realized I hadn't been paying any attention to the rest of my team -- whoops. Our ascent was much smoother this time although perhaps a little slow; we kept a nice diamond formation on the way up. There was a school of blue rockfish hanging out with us on the ascent. Every now and then, the would all suddenly turn in one direction. Apparently there was also a sea lion buzzing me, but it was behind me, so everyone else saw it, but I did not. When we got to the surface, we were only about 100 feet from the boat. We swam back to it, I swam a lot faster than the others because I had to pee. When I got to the swimstep, I mentioned this to Phil, so he told Josh to strip me out of my gear really fast when I got on deck. Before I had even thought about getting out of my rig, I was out of it. Talk about full service :P Then I mumbled how it would probably take me another 5 minutes to get out of my drysuit :) 96 feet, 62 minutes, 50 degrees

We headed back up just north of Point Sur and puttered around there a bit before settling on Ventura Rocks. Phil was pretty excited to put us just north of the rocks, because usually (due to the wind direction), you have to go in south of the rocks. There was a little plateau at like 50 feet, and then a wall down to 100 feet. So he dropped the hook on the plateau and down we went. Phil told us that we really didn't want to surface on the other side of the rocks, so we decided that unless something unforeseen happened, we would come up the line. Boohoo, no more drifting for us. Just as we were about to descend at the anchor line, some other diver swooped past Rob, and started down the line, hand over hand, head first. He almost kicked Rob in the face. It was very odd, wonder if it was the same mystery swooper that almost kicked me on the second dive. Anyhoo, the viz was pretty crappy at this site (20-25 feet, but really chunky) and it was dark even at like 50 feet. But this site was also full of nudibranchs. We saw more Dendronotus albus, Triopha catalinae, red Hermissendas, and some Flabellina trilineatas (Rob found a really nice small one on some kelp, and then I found at least 2 others later on). I also saw a white dorid with black speckles, which was perhaps Geitodoris heathi. John found two Ancula gibbosas, which I have never seen before (but recognized from Clinton's pictures :P). John also found two San Diego dorids mating, with a frisky Peltodoris that seemed to be trying to get in on the action. I also found some tiny little aeolid, which I couldn't see enough detail on to ID. I also couldn't get Rob or John's attention, and I knew if I left it, I would never find it again :) There were also a bunch of ochre stars at this site, which were pretty colors :P We didn't actually make it too far away from the anchor, because we were mainly looking at small stuff. When we turned, I noticed a little bit of current that we were swimming into.

But we made it back to the anchor just in time for our planned ascent. So, Rob was stowing his camera (well, folding in the strobe arms and putting the cover on the dome port), when I hear CLANK CLANK CLANK. Then I see the anchor line falling. We were literally right next to the line, when the anchor slipped off of the plateau (50') down to the bottom (100'). With the 20' viz, we couldn't see the anchor or the line. We all looked at each other like "what the heck?" and decided we'd have to drift, since who knows where the anchor slipped to. So, John shot a bag and we did our ascent. It was pleasant, but there was some current, it kept knocking me into John :) When we ascended, I was looking around for the boat, and I was sort of shocked for a moment when we realized we were on the other side of the rocks. Whoops. The boat immediately headed in our direction, and then Phil directed us one by one to get back on the boat (in case the wind started to push it into the rocks, the rest of us hung back). The wind didn't cause any problems, and we all got back on the boat quickly. 75 feet, 54 minutes, 51 degrees

The ride back was very smooth, for a change. In fact, I was standing for most of the return trip, and my feet never left the floor :P

I have never done drift "deco" before, but I have to say, it's totally fun. I'm hooked :P Last night I told some diving buddies that I don't ever want to ascend an anchor line again, even in moderate current :)

Rob's pictures from the day are here

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