It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Belize 2007

We recently got back from a week in Belize, on Ambergris Caye which was a trip that we won in this year's NCUPS Beach Diving Photo Competition. I have included day-by-day entries that include both diving and random stuff like restaurants we went to, etc. We stayed at Exotic Caye Beach Resort and dove with Protech. I would definitely recommend Protech as a dive operation. We dove with divemaster Israel, and most days Peter (the owner) came along too. There were never more than 4 divers on the boat, though I think that has more to do with the fact that we were there in the low season. And about that... the island was not crowded at all, due to low season, which was nice. But as a result of that, there were lots of restaurants that were sporadically closed, plus getting a trip out to Turneffe was non-trivial. Getting a trip out to the Blue Hole would not have been a problem, but we decided not to go there (because Rob is scared to dive below 60 feet).

All of the pictures from the trip are available here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Belize, Day 6

Since our flight wasn’t until the afternoon on Saturday, we could dive on Friday. We did two last dives with Protech. Israel picked up all of our gear from Aqua Dives, as promised. Rob was shooting macro for our last day, after shooting wide-angle for the past 3 days.

Dive 1 : Paradise Canyons

Not too long into the dive, Rob pointed out a nudibranch (Glossodoris sedna) to me! I was very excited, since I have never seen a nudibranch in the Caribbean before. It was very pretty, and it was out in the open and in fine form – it’s gill plume was very plumy. While he was setting up a shot, I found a second of the same kind on the same rock. It’s gill plume was curled up and it’s rhinophores were under something, so it wasn’t quite as wonderful looking. We continued on, and I was really trying to find some shrimp for him to shoot. I was looking for barrel sponges, since they seem to congregate around those. I found a couple that were tucked way under overhangs. I also found a ton of arrow crabs for Rob, since they were pretty easy to find near crinoids. At some point, I was hanging around while Rob was taking a picture of something, and I saw something close out of the corner of my eye, like a scallop or something. I looked into the crack where it was, and saw a toothy grin. It was a large-eye toadfish, which I have never seen before! It was so cool looking. I pointed it out to Rob, who tried to take some pictures. By that point, the fish had retreated a bit more (not so into the focus light) into its hole. Rob gave up, then a minute later, signalled that he wanted to go back and try again :) After a while, we moved along, and 15 feet down the reef, Rob found another one!

I was very excited to see the nudibranchs. When I told Rob afterwards how excited I was, he asked if I was going to email my man crush about it right away :) I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out who he was referring to. The toadfish were really neat too. The other people on the boat had seen a couple the day before at Turneffe, and apparently they are not very commonly seen at Ambergris.

Dive 2 : Mosquito Canyons

My light wouldn’t come on at the beginning of this dive, which was a big bummer. I felt pretty useless at finding macro critters without the light (my backup was completely useless in such bright conditions). Boohoo. I finally did find a coral banded shrimp that was reasonably out on a barrel sponge, but it was still at a pretty weird angle, so I don’t think Rob got any good shots of it. Oh well. Then near the end of the dive, Rob found a flamingo tongue! It had almost no spots, so it was pretty funny looking. Then I found another one, with more spots, on the same gorgonian. A minute later, Rob found another one on another nearby gorgonian (the third one was the most beautiful of the three, but the gorgonian it was on looked pretty sickly). So Rob did find something fun to take macro shots of.

In case any one is worried (ahem, Ben), my light is actually fine. I guess the battery wasn’t charged properly. Can’t trust the old ball and chain to do anything right…

We headed downtown in the later afternoon to look at the souvenir shops, since I knew that Platypus Rex would have a temper tantrum if I didn’t get her a present. We also got some T-shirts for ourselves. Then we went to BCs for some drinks and to kill some time, since we weren’t quite hungry yet. For dinner, we went to Ambergris Delight, which was delightful. I had blackened shrimp kebabs and a margarita. Rob had barbecued chicken (because he is boring) and a tasty pina colada (because he is girly).

On Saturday morning, we went to Estel’s for breakfast. I had French toast, which was good, but not as good as the stellar French toast at Pepper Bite’s.

The flight home was rather uneventful. Our flight into SFO even got in a bit early, so we got home by midnight. We left our car at work, so we took a cab from the airport back to work to pick up the car. As we were driving there, we saw 2 bunny rabbits hopping around by the Oracle gym. They had super big ears. Bunny rabbits are so cute :) When we finally got home, the rugrats were waiting lovingly for us by the front door :)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Belize, Day 5

We had been trying to setup a Turneffe trip all week (or really, Peter had been trying to set on up for us with AquaDives), and they still hadn’t given a go/no-go by Thursday afternoon. Thanks to a bunch of last-minute running around by Peter, we managed to get to go. And Israel came in wicked early so we could retrieve our gear in the morning before the 7 AM boat departure.

So, there were only 6 of us on the trip, so we took a “small boat”. The boat could probably hold about 16 people though, so it wasn’t really small. There were lots of tanks on board, many with sketchtastic valves. The first two tanks I tried to use each had a squished valve orifice. One of the DMs suggested maybe something was wrong with my regulator (which made me want to kick him in the nuts), and after I insisted that wasn’t so, he tried cranking down on my reg and decided that the tank valve was indeed faulty. Another tank near our gear had a busted handle, that was hanging down about 30 degrees from horizontal. And of course even the serviceable valves had O-rings that were perhaps older than me.

The trip out to Turneffe was not as bad as I thought – it was only about an hour and a half, because we went to the South side, which I guess is closer than the Elbow. The boat ride was perfectly comfortable. The water had been very calm all week though, so maybe the “sometimes rough conditions” are for real. We did all three dives as drift dives. We told the DM that Rob is a pokey photographer, and he said it would be fine if we just popped our own bag when we were done, if we got separated from the herd.

Dive 1: Turneffe South

This site had more variety in corals and sponges than the sites at Ambergris. There were also more fish, though not necessarily more variety, just more of the same stuff. I saw a giant anemone, which I don’t think I had seen yet. Also saw some corkscrew anemones, knobby anemones, and branching anemones.

Dive 2 : Mertle’s Turtles

We saw an eagle ray here. I found several spotted cleaner shrimp (the cool blue ones) on sea anemones. One of the other divers pointed out a spotted drum in a crevice to us. I’m not sure why people get so excited about spotted drums, but everyone else seemed to be. Eh, it’s a fish, not even a colorful one.

Dive 3: Barrow’s Camp

We saw wwo eagle rays and two turtles here. And a little Pepper eel (it was a goldentail), plus a green moray. More of those pretty blue shrimp. Also found a dancing peppermint shrimp in a stovepipe sponge (why do shrimpies rock back and forth like that?). Two fish with two spikes on their heads, which I could not ID.

The trip back was likewise uneventful, except that I was pouty because Rob had re-appropriated my towel for his camera. And I got rather sunburned on my back because I am an idiot, and only put sunblock on my face and shoulders. When we got back to the dock, we had to schlep our gear up to the dive shop, where we rinsed it. Israel from Protech said that he would pick up our gear in the morning, on the way to pick us up from our hotel. The guys at AquaDives acted like this was some big inconvenience to them, which annoyed me. The service definitely wasn’t as good as Protech – I never had to move gear to/from the boat the entire week with them, except the first and last days. Rob made fun of me when I complained about this to him, but it’s vacation, so I’m allowed to be lazy.

For dinner, we went downtown to Elvi’s Kitchen. I got the special, which was a mixed seafood grill with a tropical fruit sauce. It was really good, the sauce was super tasty and had chunks of mango, papaya, and pineapple. It was probably my favorite meal of the vacation. All week, I had been telling Rob I was going to have key lime pie before we left, since it’s my favorite kind of pie, and it seemed to be on basically every restaurant’s menu. So I finally got a slice at Elvi’s – they had a frozen key lime pie. It was tasty.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Belize, Day 4

We went to Pepper Bites for breakfast this morning. I had French toast which was really really good. It was made from this cinnamon swirl bread, so it was like a cross between French toast and a Cinnabon. Mmmm, I could use some French toast right now.

We went to Hol Chan Marine Park to dive today. It is way down south on Ambergris. Since it is so far south, we did not return to the dock during the surface interval.

Dive 1: Eagle Ray Canyons

Today Peter was giving a class to another couple, so we stuck with Israel. We saw one eagle ray here, as promised. I also noticed lots of cool shrimps, which is funny because before the night dive, I had seen next to none. I noticed that in the little pits on the outside of big barrel sponges, there were lots of cool critters – tons of coral banded shrimps, and one really interesting one which I think was a squat anemone shrimp. I also found some of corkscrew anemones. I also started to notice that arrow crabs seem to pretty reliably be found near the orange crinoids.

Surface interval

On the surface interval, we snorkelled a very shallow area in Hol Chan (we could stand the whole time), although no snorkels actually participated :P There were nurse sharks and a variety of fish. There were scattered coral heads, some in surprisingly good condition, with lots of little fish hanging out around them.

Dive 2 : Pillar Corals

I thought that the shallows at Hol Chan were actually in worse shape than elsewhere, but that the deeper portions were better. Unfortunately we did not spend too much time very deep on this dive. But there were lots of huge barrel sponges, plus more of the small critters from the first dive. And I believe we saw at least one eagle ray.

In the afternoon, we rented a golf cart, to drive around the island and check out the further reaches. We went up north past the cut, and drove up a ways until it got rather desolate. At one point we found a little path to the beach big enough for the cart, and we drove down the beach, which was better than the sometimes-flooded dirt road. We didn’t see anything particularly interesting up there. Then a bit before dusk, we drove down south in search of crocodiles. We got rather lost on the way to the pond that was described to us (because of a road being closed), but we just happened to end up there. At the time, we thought we were just at a different pond, but turns out it was the one. Anyway, I saw something on the surface, and it was a crocodile! Pretty cool. I’ve never seen an alligator or crocodile before.

For dinner, we went to Sunset Grille. The service was appallingly slow. We got there, and were seated in the back corner (which was right on the water). Someone finally took our order after 20 minutes (no one ever bothered to take a drink order). Then about 15 minutes later, someone brought bread. People kept coming by and asking if we’d ordered yet. Then another 10 minutes later, our appetizer came. Shortly before that, our waiter came and asked if everything was alright (uh, everything being the bread and water?). I asked if we were ever going to get our food, and he made some excuse about our appetizer being poached by the server for another table. So finally we got our appetizer, and then our entrĂ©e came in another 20 minutes. I wasn’t in love with what I got (snapper with a mango salsa) because it had some herb I wasn’t a fan of. But I think it was a good dish, I am just picky about herbs. Rob got a really tasty shrimp pasta dish. By the time we got our entrees, I just wanted to get the hell out of there though. The place did have good ambience, but being shoved in a corner with no service was pretty annoying.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Belize, Day 3

Dive 1: Esmerelda

We returned to this site because the first time, Rob was shooting macro and Teresa had some camera problems. So we all wanted to return. There were plenty of nurse sharks here again, and also a lot of big grouper. We hung out in the shallows for the first 15 minutes or so checking them out and taking pictures. Then we headed to the dropoff and swam across a couple of the coral fingers. Rob found two eels in pretty quick succession. The first was on one of the little “walls” formed by the coral fingers, and I think it was a goldentail moray. It kept popping its head out and then pulling it in. It reminded me of Pepper protecting her tunnel. After we were finished watching it, we headed up to the top of the dropoff and Rob found a green moray in a hole. His head wasn’t sticking out when I got to it, but I could see its body in the hole. When we got back to the shallows, the nurse sharks and groupers were still around, and Rob found one grouper that was particularly into having his picture taken. Rob was taking pictures of him forever, and I found a little arrow crab and one of those curly cue anemones to entertain me. Right before we ascended, I saw a spotted eagle ray coming towards us. It came around us and basically swam a big square-shaped U around us, stopping at each corner. So we got to watch it for a while before it took off. It had an entourage of cleaner fish with it.

Dive 2: Double Buoy

When I jumped in the water and looked down, I saw three nurse sharks laying in the sand in one spot, and two laying in the sand a little further away. And lots of yellowtail snapper closer to the surface. We again hung out with the nurse sharks for a while, then headed to the dropoff. Right before we got to the dropoff, Israel pointed out a lettuce sea slug to us. It was more colorful than others that I have seen before, with red and blue on its lettuce edges. It also blended in way better than any that I have seen before. We also saw a green moray, which was pretty far out of his hole. As soon as Rob swam over, he popped out even more to check out Rob’s camera (or more likely, his reflection in the dome port). It was really cute, he seemed really curious about the camera.

Dive 3: Double Buoy at Night

We were going to do a night dive at Taffy, where Peter said there was a “decent” chance of seeing some big sharks. But we ended up at Double Buoy (just by accident) but decided to just stay there anyway. Peter admitted that he didn’t know the site that well, but we were not that concerned, since the reef is pretty easy to navigate. Peter was diving with another local diver, named Abiner I think. So we headed down, and pretty soon after, Rob found a nice little octopus sitting out on a rock. After a minute of harassment from Rob, it scurried into a hole, turning bright red right before it disappeared. I had actually completely forgotten about the potential for seeing octopus on the night dive. I was kind of disappointed by how few shrimp I had seen overall on our previous dives. In fact, I don’t know if I had seen any. No coral banded shrimp, that’s for sure. But there were tons of shrimp out at night. I saw their beady little eyes as they skittered across the reef, just like the Breakwater at night. Then I found a nice big coral-banded, and Rob later found a smaller one. I also saw some red and white shrimp which I think were peppermint shrimp – it was much more tail and body and much less legs than coral-banded. I also found this ridiculous looking snail in one of the little walls. It had this huge foot that was like 8 or so inches long, with a not too huge shell. It was really creepy looking – if I found it in my garden, I would be afraid to go outside again. Sadly,Ii have not managed to ID it. We also saw a bunch of lobsters peeking out of their holes, and several were quite small. Speaking of babies, I saw a ton of small fish which I believe were juvenile squirrelfish. They were so cute – squirrelfish have babyface to begin with, but the babies were extra cute. There were also a lot of sleeping parrotfish. It is so cute how they just lay against the reef when they are sleeping.

My one goal for the night dive was to find a basket star. We saw two basket stars on one night dive in the Bahamas, so I was hoping for more. I was looking at every gorgonian that we passed, inspecting it for basket stars. I had almost given up, when finally I found a very small one, mostly curled up. It was feeding on some of the little worms that were ubiquitous in the water column. Kind of gross. I was very excited by this find. We eventually continued on, and Abiner found a nice big octopus sitting in the sand. We must have watched it for 10 or 15 minutes, as it scurried over the sand and puffed out as it tried to attack things. Rob and I each tried to get it to crawl on our hands, and we were rebuffed and it instead used its suckers to “attack” our hands. It felt pretty neat. Rob pointed out a flamingo tongue to me. We had discussed earlier how we were surprised to find not one flamingo tongue (they were all over the place in the Bahamas). After he found that first one, we found several more. I don’t know if they come out at night, or if I just saw them because I was searching for basket stars. Rob also found a slender filefish in a gorgonian. That was a nice find, it really blended in well. Rob also claimed to see a baby squid, but when he moved his light off of it to signal me, he lost site of it :)

After the night dive (which was over pretty early, nice thing about it getting dark so early), we headed down to BC’s, a bar on the edge of downtown, where we had a liquid dinner (and nachos), since we’d had a late afternoon snack.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Belize, Day 2

Dive 1: Esmerelda

As we descended, there were about 3 nurse sharks swimming around, and a bunch of really big groupers. Same sort of coral fingers, but the fingers were taller, so swimming between them was like swimming along mini-walls. Rob was shooting macro, so I was looking for small stuff, but without a lot of success. I found a bunch of nice worms (Christmas tree and feather duster worms), and some arrow crabs. Also, some little gobies perched on the coral. But nothing spectacularly cool. When we returned back to the shallows, there were even more nurse sharks swimming around, at least six. There were also lots of fish in the shallows. Not huge schools or anything, but there were tons of different kinds of small fish swimming around just above the reef. The divemaster had ascended before us with one of the other divers, and he moved the boat so another boat could tie into the mooring. So Peter shot a bag and we drifted on the ascent. The boat was waiting for us when we ascended.

During the surface interval, we saw one of the earlier-mentioned fishing boats cleaning its catch at the beach, and there were two rays (a Southern stingray and a roughtail stingray) loafing around waiting for food. There were also a bunch of smaller fish fighting for the bits.

Dive 2: Cypress Tunnels

I didn’t know the name of this site when we dove it, but it makes sense. We were being rather slow, since Rob was shooting macro, so at some point the other divers were out of site. But I could see bubbles, so I followed them, and found this little overhead area. I thought maybe it was a swimthrough, since I could see bubbles percolating through the reef. I swam towards it through a little channel between two fingers of reef to check it out, and saw no signs of light on the other side. Just a tunnel going to who knows where. I guess this is one of the “tunnels” referred to in the name. This site also had a few nurse sharks and a ton of big grouper. They are more menacing-looking than the nurse sharks :) We also saw two turtles, but neither seemed interested in sticking around to play with us. We also saw a stingray hanging out on the bottom. Rob swam over to it to try to take a picture, but of course he just scared it away. I shot a bag and we did a drift ascent. Israel had already ascended with the other team, and picked us up.

After that, we decided to try the restaurant at our hotel, Monkey Bites (or Pepper Bites, as Rob called it, after his favorite monkey), for lunch. I had fish tacos, which were good. The tortilla was really tasty.

Later in the afternoon, we went downtown for ice cream at DandE’s frozen custard. Okay, I guess it was technically frozen custard. The owner is an American guy (a Pennsylvanian even!). He asked if we were familiar with frozen custard, and I said yes, and I guess I looked at him like it was the strangest question anyone had ever asked me. He explained that many people were not, so he had a spiel about it. Anyway, I got mocha, and Rob had cookies and cream (sooo predictable).

We also went to a cybercafe downtown to check our email and stuff. The guy there seemed to not like us very much. We ended up going there a few times over the course of the week, and each time we were greeted with a scowl.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Belize, Day 1

Belize does not observe daylight savings, so it gets light (and dark) early. I woke up around 7 and piddled around until I couldn’t stand not to wake Rob up. Then we walked up to the super market (about 5 minutes from the hotel) to get some breakfast provisions. I got some frozen bagels and cream cheese, and we bought a gallon of bottled water, and headed back to our room. We met the dive boat at the dock (they sent a boat to pick us up) and headed over to their office, to do paperwork and stuff. Then we headed out to dive, along with a couple from New Jersey, Michael and Teresa, who has been to Belize several times before.

Dive 1: Taffy (not sure how it gets the name)

The site starts in about 40 feet, and then slopes down to over 100 feet. There are reef fingers, separated by sand channels. The soft and hard corals on the reef were fairly standard Caribbean stuff, but the fish life was pretty underwhelming. We saw a few lobsters, and then near the end of the dive, a nurse shark and some big groupers.

We headed back to the dock for the surface interval, and ate some pineapple. In the water right off of the beach there, we saw a stingray cruising around in the sea grass. Apparently the fishing boats pull right up to the beach there and clean the fish, which attracts the rays. For the second dive, we went to

Dive 2 : Tacklebox

It had a similar structure to the first site, plus some cool swimthroughs in the reef fingers. One of the swimthroughs was more like a sequence of swimthroughs (they really weren’t “swimthroughs” in the true overhead sense – they were more like narrow channels between walls of the reef), and between two of them, the divemaster signalled “shark” to me. I couldn’t find one, but then a moment later, when Rob (who was behind me) passed that spot, he signalled me to say he saw the shark. But it was off again before I could backtrack and look. We saw a big green moray eel (in the standard eel-hanging-its-head-out-of-a-nook pose), and a couple nurse sharks. I also saw a queen triggerfish, which is one of my favorite fish! They are so pretty. As we were ascending, we saw two spotted eagle rays swimming side by side. One was pretty small, maybe a baby?

After we were finished diving, the boat dropped us back at our hotel.

We headed downtown for lunch, and after wandering around for far too long (I was really hungry), and finally settled on Caliente, which is right by the dock that Protech is on. We ran into Michael, Teresa, and Peter there. Anyhoo, I had chicken tacos and a margarita, and Rob had beef tostadas. My tacos were fine, and Rob really liked the tostadas. We headed back to the hotel, and stopped at the market on the way back. Just as we got there, it started raining a little. By the time we were finished, it was completely pouring. We figured we’d just suck it up and walk in the rain (which was actually pretty refreshing), when Michael and Teresa drove by in their golf cart, and gave us a lift. Very convenient :) For the rest of the afternoon, Rob played with his pictures, and I didn’t do much of anything. For dinner, we walked down to Banana Beach to go to El Divino’s. I really liked it -- I had some very tasty grouper. I don’t remember what Rob had. I also had a fantastic pina colada. I thought the ambience was nice too, even though the place was basically empty. This was pretty standard though, since it was the low season.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Belize, Day 0

We left SFO late on Friday night, and had an uneventful flight to Houston (I even slept the whole way). Then the painful part started. We had a 7 hour layover in Houston. We napped on and off for the first couple of hours. Then we discovered wireless internet in the airport, so we wasted some time with that. Then we watched a little Veronica Mars on my laptop. Finally, the time for our flight was drawing near. Then of course 30 minutes before the flight, they announced that there was a “maintenance problem” that they were trying to fix. After a couple hours of bumblefucking around with “the part” and deciding the plane could not be fixed, they found another plane for us and after moving to another gate, we were pretty quickly off to Belize. We were worried about our connection, since it was cutting it close to make the last flight to Ambergris Caye, but I called the regional airline and they said that they knew about our flight coming in late, and it would be fine. I guess it is a small enough airport/airline in Belize City that they are actually nimble about such things. When we got there, they just filled up as many planes as necessary to get everyone to San Pedro. The plane was very small, it seated 12 or 13 people, and we had to duck to practically crawl to our seats. I have never been on a plane anywhere near this small. I told Rob that flying on that plane is the most adventurous thing I had ever done. It was 15-minute ride to San Pedro, and it was pretty scenic (I had the window seat). It was unfortunately getting dark, so the water wasn’t a lovely shade of turquoise like it would have been during the day.

We got to San Pedro and took a taxi to our hotel. The taxis are all mini-vans, and the guy packed us into the car with 4 people going to another hotel, plus all of the luggage for the 6 of us. It was quite a clown car. When we got to the hotel (Exotic Caye Beach Resort), someone was waiting at the office for us (I guess it usuall closes earlier), and showed us to our room. The room was not particularly nice, but it was adequate. It actually looks exactly like the pictures on the website, so you can’t really complain :) The kitchen and bathroom reminded me of MIT’s Tang Hall, the graduate residence that I lived in for a year and a half. So not luxurious, but certainly liveable. The bedroom has a very effective air conditioner, which is powerful enough to cool the living room/kitchen as well (although the bedroom gets really cold if the AC is high enough to cool the whole place). We went out to look for dinner, and walked to a place that is like 2 minutes from the hotel. But it was closed, without any sort of explanation or indication of when it would be open. Turns out it is closed for the month or something because it is the low season. So we went to Pepperoni’s (which is even closer to the hotel). It is a little pizza stand on the side of the road, with some picnic benches to sit at. But it was way too sticky (it had just stopped raining) and the mosquitoes were out, so we just went back to our room and waited a while before going back and picking up our pizza. We got a Hawaiian pizza and garlic bread sticks, which were both very good. I was really pooped, and we were being picked up to go diving at 8:30 the next morning, so I went to bed around 9.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Scooter Awakening

Today we did two dives at Point Lobos. When I woke up this morning, I really was not in the mood to dive. I briefly considered not going. Then on the way down, I still wasn't in the mood, and considered hiking at Point Lobos instead. But alas, when we got there, I went diving. I'm glad I did. We borrowed scooters from Jonathan and David, and we scooted with Kevin. I think every time I have scootered at Lobos, we have gone to the Granite Point side, so this time, I wanted to go to the Cannery Point side. We chatted about a vague plan to do a big loop, going to Beto's Reef, 3 Sisters, and possibly Shortcut Reef, then heading back in shallower to the Cannery Point ridges, Lone Metridium, etc. When we met Kevin at the Lobos gate, he had a pretty little map he made in GlobalMapper with it all mapped out. It was cool. And very dorky.

I have never been a fan of these scooter dives that do a big circuit, hit a bunch of sites, but where you get next to no time to actually look at any of the sites. So, the plan was to scoot to Beto's, spend about 10 minutes there, then to the Sisters, spend about 10 minutes there, and then possibly do a quick fly-by of Shortcut Reef. We also had a secondary mission of noting the species of nudibranchs we saw on our dives today (for the BAUE nudibranch project). Kevin assured us that Beto's was a less than 10 minute scoot, which I highly doubted because I am such an inefficient scooterer. I have up until now been pretty inept at scootering. I just don't feel very comfortable, my legs tend to flop around a bit, and it takes a lot of concentration just to keep track of everyone and do all the other usual things that take no concentration (like venting my wing or checking my SPG). But I always have fun when we scooter, and I figure the only way to get better at it is to do it some more. I am too big of a wuss to enter the water while carrying my scooter, so Rob put them out on our float; what a sweetheart. The tide was nice and high, so getting into the water was really easy. Rob did not bring his camera, since I guess scootering is not very compatible with shooting macro (he has these floats on his strobe arms, which make it hard to fold up for transport).

We surface scooted out to the mouth of the cove, and decided the viz looked good enough to drop there. We dropped in about 15 or 20 feet of water and headed out along the sand channel. I always feel like we are moving so slowly on scooters, until I realize how quickly we are descending. Anyhoo, as we were scooting down the sand channel, something magical happened -- I didn't completely suck at scootering :P I talked my feet into not fluttering around, and figured out a good tow cord length, and voila. It was so much easier than it has been before. I was in the #2 position, with Rob in #3, and he did a really good job of staying where I could easily see him or his light if I looked off to the left. We hit Hole in the Wall after 4 minutes (wow), and then headed out to Beto's straight from there. We got there in 9 minutes. Kevin pointed to his timer and gave me an "I told you so" look :P Rob led us around Beto's Reef, and we looked for nudis. We saw the usual stuff (Doriopsilla, Cadlina luteomarginata, Cadlina flavomaculata, Triopha catalinae, San Diego dorids). We did not see any Spanish shawls, even though we saw several last time. I was also miffed that we didn't see any Festive Tritons, which we usually see there, but right as we were about to leave, I found one. Phew. Rob also found a wolf eel there, which he claims is resident (he has seen him there before, he thinks in the same crack). Other than that, we saw the usual Beto's Reef stuff. There was a significant current pushing us north along the reef. It was pretty fun to ride it. We also ran into Mark and Dionna here.

Next we headed towards the Sisters. We ended up at the deep sister (#2 I believe they call it). On the way there, we saw an egg yolk jelly. We stopped to check it out. Anyhoo, almost immediately after getting to the second sister, I saw a Dirona! I have never seen one before, but have always wanted to find one. Rob saw one not too long ago at the Breakwater (on one of his night dives with the other woman, Dionna) and I was sooo jealous. I pointed it out to Rob and then we pointed it out to Kevin, although he seemed somewhat oblivious to it; I guess he just wasn't as excited about it as we were. Nearby, there were two very bushy Hermissendas. We did a little loop around, and ran into Mark and Dionna again. We saw some more of the usual nudibranchs, with Triopha catalinae being the highlight. I think I always see those on the Three Sisters.

We continued west toward Shortcut Reef, which is this reef that runs between Whaler's Cove and Bluefish Cove. Once we got to it, Rob and Kevin switched off of their stage bottles. I didn't bring a stage bottle, since I didn't want to deal with a scooter and a stage bottle. I figured I would bring mine on the second dive instead. Anyhoo, as they were switching, I saw this HUGE male sheephead. I guess his name is Victor, according to Dionna. I also noticed that the current was now carrying us to the south. Weird. After they were finished, we circled around Shortcut Reef, and then headed south, a bit shallower. There were lots of nice Corynactis covered walls out there, and some hydrocoral. Kevin tried to take us through this narrow crevice, which I decided was a bit too narrow for my scootering skills. So I stayed above the crevice. It dead-ended and Kevin came shooting out the top, right into me. Whoops. We eventually headed east, and passed several of the ridges that are beyond Lone Metridium, and then we eventually pass Lone Metridium and Hole in the Wall, and then headed in along the sand channel. 105 feet, 79 minutes, 51 degrees

After this dive, I decided that I love scootering and must get a scooter :)

We originally planned to do the second dive on Middle Reef. Rob was shooting macro, so he wanted to take some pictures of nudibranchs. But the conditions were really good, so that seemed like a waste. So we decided to kick out to Granite Point Wall instead. I was leading, and I have never navigated to that site before. I could tell that Rob was doubting my ability to get us there. I was pleasantly surprised that it did not take too long at all to get from the end of Middle Reef over to the shallow part of the wall. When we have scootered out there, we always go to the deeper part, so it is a bit further. Taking the stage on the kick dive instead of the scooter dive was pretty silly in hindsight. Anyhoo, we got out there and swam around a little. We didn't cover too much ground because Rob was looking for tiny things. I was getting really cold and at some point told him we needed to get moving. So we swam to another section of wall, and not too long later, Kevin turned the dive on gas. Which was good, because I was really cold. We did not see anything too noteworthy out there, just the usual stuff. Kevin pointed out a huge Peltodoris to me. There were a bunch of Urticinas in the vicinity, and I swear it was as big as the Urticinas :) We headed back in and once we hit the end of Middle Reef, I switched off my stage bottle and headed us to the sand channel. No doodling around on Middle Reef, I was way too cold. 71 feet, 68 minutes, 50 degrees

Afterwards, we had dinner at Turtle Bay.

Friday, September 14, 2007

My "Birthday" Dive

We went out on Phil's boat on Friday, for my "birthday dive". Friday was not actually my birthday, but it was the closest day to the real thing that we could get Phil's boat. Susan came along with us. The forecast looked really good, there was a mixed swell of like 2 or 3 feet, and light wind. Woohoo. So we headed down towards Yankee Point. The water was super calm on the way there. When we passed by the sea lion rocks on the west side of Lobos, the water was completely flat. Usually it is rocking and rolling over there! There were lots of sea lions playing in the water, and also a lot basking in the sun. We talked about going to Pinnacle of Tremendous Proportions, but Phil did not have the coordinates. So we decided to head down there and he would look around and find us some interesting topography.

He found us a pinnacle which went from under 50 feet to over 100 feet, with a patch of kelp on top. The water looked really clear and there were lots of moon jellies near the surface. It was a very pretty shade of teal. So, the plan was to work our way down the pinnacle, to a max depth of 100, and after about 35 minutes, to head up to the 50 to 60 foot range or shallower, to finish up a max 90 minute dive. I was leading the dive, and Rob and Susan would do a team bag shoot and Susan would run min deco. We got geared up and flopped into the water (after doing our GUE-EDGE of course; we were diving with the president of BAUE, so we had to pretend to be responsible). There was basically no surface current, although Phil had warned us that it looked like there was some current.

As we headed down the line, the visibility actually got a little chunky on the way down, but it got better once we were down to the pinnacle. The anchor was in about 50 feet of water on the south side (if I am reading my Global Mapper right), but the pinnacle came up a bit shallower than that. We swam around towards the west side, as we descended to about 70 or 80 feet. The pinnacle had a lot of palm kelp on the sides of it. I saw some white splotches in the distance and as we got closer, I realized there were patches of Metridium on some deeper outcroppings just off to the side of the pinnacle (it's the little stump to the right in the foreground of the picture, which is on the southwest side of the pinnacle). As we were heading in that direction, I was suddenly like... where did the spot from my light go? My light had unceremoniously pooped out. An undercharged battery, perhaps? Rob offered me his light. At first I waved him off, then I thought -- he doesn't really use his light anyway (he usually keeps it clipped off since he is toting the camera). So when he asked if I was sure, I decided to take him up on it. So, he undid his waist strap, took off the light, and handed it to me. Then he fixed his strap, and took it while I undid my strap, then I put it on, buckled my strap and we were off. It was a bit of an odd maneuver to do underwater, and we probably looked like morons. Susan was holding his camera during all of this, and said that she wanted to take a picture, but couldn't figure out how :) That's too bad. So, we continued on to the Metridium patch, and Rob took some pictures. There were some other similar patches further out from the pinnacle on deeper rocks. But they were too deep for us. So we headed back to the pinnacle and continued around it. There were some other patches of Metridiums along the pinnacle. The pinnacle had a lot of palm kelp, which made it hard to see the little stuff on the rocks. But there were little vertical wall-lets in various locations that were kelp free, and had stuff growing on them. Some had patches of Metridiums, and some were covered in Corynactis and other colorful encrusting life. There was the occasional stalk of hydrocoral (some very attractive ones, just not that many). I spent a little bit of time looking for nudibranchs between the kelp patches, but didn't see much of note. I found one Cadlina flavomaculata, and three Triopha catalinae in one spot (two of them were mating; one of the mating ones was quite small). There were also lots of Doriopsillas and San Diego dorids (of varying colors, both the white and the darker tan ones).

After about 30 minutes, I started pondering going a bit shallower, but we seemed to have run out of shallow pinnacle. The part of the pinnacle we were on did not have much above 70 feet. So I figured we'd swim back towards where the anchor was, since that went up to at least 40 feet. We swam back around, making our way up shallower. There were some neat little cut throughs in the side of the pinnacle, with really pretty little walls of Corynactis. There were also lots of skinny kelp stalks to get entangled in :) As we came around to the south side, whoosh, there was some mad current in the 30 to 60 foot range. After kicking, kicking, kicking, without getting anywhere, I decided we'd just have to go back around to the west side. So we meandered back around the pinnacle, and stayed around 50 or 60 feet. Then we curled around to the north side. Near the northwest corner, there were some really nice little areas of Corynactis cover, with some light yellow sponges and various colored ochre stars. It was pastel heaven :P Rob took some pictures of Susan around there. There were also some really big Doris montereyensis's on this side of the pinnacle. Once we were on the north side, there was also some current. But we continued heading into it, and then stopped and doodled around on the northeast edge of the top of the pinnacle. Apparently a sea lion was spotted around there, but I was oblivious to it. The pinnacle came up to almost 30 feet, but it was quite surgy right at the top. Rob suggested heading back down this side of the pinnacle, but I was chilly so I thumbed it.

We let the current carry us back to the west end of the north side of the pinnacle as we were ascending. It was pretty cool looking, all the kelp on this side of the pinnacle was leaning over at like a 30 degree (from vertical) angle. Then we followed some kelp up to 20 feet, and Rob and Susan shot the bag while I was on camera holding duty. Susan pulled the bag out and held it (and the spool) while Rob plugged in his inflator and inflated it. Then off it went. We have only shot bags by blowing them up, but the inflator is WAY faster. Pretty soon after that, we could hear the boat, which was comforting :P We watched some moon jellies on the ascent. They were pretty. 101 feet, 88 minutes, 52 degrees

The ride back to Lobos was smooth and uneventful. Zooming between the rocks at Lobos on a calm day was fun. Dive 2 was at RG Burger. I had an orange soda ice cream float instead of the usual milkshake. Yum yum.

I did a little research on the dive sites around Yankee Point to try to figure out if this pinnacle has a name. Phil said it was just somewhere around Yankee Breakers. According to the GPS coordinates on Brian Hackett's dive site page, this site is "Que Paso?". However, from my discussions with other people who have dived Que Paso, the depths do not exactly seem to match up; so I'm not convinced. By the way, I love Brian Hackett's website -- where else can you find dive site coordinates and papers on program analysis in one place? :)

The pictures from today are here.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Counting Nudis with Kevin

Kevin and I were back at Lobos today, counting nudibranchs with Clinton, John, and Mike. I snapped up the two shallower transects to count, since I think they are a bit more fun to count. They were also the two that I pointed out to Kevin yesterday. We swam out a little past the mouth of the cove, and dropped in about 30 feet. We headed over to the reef and I found the shallowest transect. I had to swim up and down it a couple times to convince myself it was the right spot (there is a hole in the reef, which I couldn't find, because I was at a funny angle, but on the second pass I saw it). I outlined the transect for Kevin, and we started looking. The plan was that I would show him stuff as I found it, and he would point out anything that he saw that I missed. The viz was not that good (20 chunky feet), not that that really matters for counting nudis. But it was also rather surgy, which is pretty annoying when you are trying to get up close to look for something tiny. I started looking for Rostangas on some orange sponge and found only one. I actually spent a lot of time looking at orange sponge, but that was the only one I saw all day! I was delighted to find a Festive Triton, since most of the other nudis we saw were pretty boring (San Diegos, Cadlina luteomarginata, Peltodoris). Kevin found a very small (5mm) oval, bumpy, white nudi. He had very tall rhinophores. At first I thought it might be a funny shaped Aegires, but after talking to Clinton, I think the tall rhinophores and the shape mean it was probably Diaphorodoris lirulatocauda, which I have never seen before. Speaking of Aegires, I also found one of those.

We moved onto the next transect after stopping to visit Itchy and Scratchy. Here we saw more of the usual, plus two Festive Tritons and a Triopha Catalinae. I also saw a Cadlina flavomaculata and another Aegeris. So not too bad, but still no Rostangas despite spending a lot of time looking on orange sponge. Kevin told me afterwards that he was looking at orange sponge too, and couldn't find any. Apparently Clinton also didn't see any (or very few) on his transects. So I guess it wasn't just me. By the time I was done on this transect, I was freezing, so we sprinted back in. Actually we were goofing off a bit in the sand channel on the way in. We both flopped over on our backs and looked up at the surface (which makes me nervous in doubles... worried I won't be able to right myself). We finally surfaced at the mouth of the cove, and swam in the rest of the way. 78 minutes, 49 feet, 50 degrees

We decided to punt dive 2, so we could get lunch and still get home not too late. I didn't bring the camera, since I didn't want it to get in the way while counting. Sorry, no pictures :(

Saturday, September 8, 2007

To Cannery Point and Beyond

Rob is out of town, so I was on my own for diving this weekend. I have never actually been diving without him before. Well, I have dived without him, but I have always at least driven to the dive site with him (actually, he does most of the driving, I do most of the snoozing on the way to the dive site). I took the opportunity to steal a strobe from his camera rig, and take out his old point and shoot camera to play with. That's why this week's pictures are, ummm, not exactly as high quality as the usual pictures. It's a downside of diving without Rob. So anyway, I had to deploy my backup dive husband, Kevin (who I keep bungeed around my neck). We met up with Don, Elissa, Cynthia, and Matt too. David and Jonathan were there too, but you know those tech divers, too cool to dive with us. Kevin and I were planning to do one dive together, and then we'd possibly shuffle teams around for dive 2.

The plan was to go explore an area we hadn't been to before, along the boundary between Whaler's and Bluefish. Rob was all jealous that I was exploring with another man, and particularly because I took a stage bottle along; apparently, diving a stage bottle with another man is serious infidelity. (Rob will be relieved to hear that the stage bottle stayed in the truck the whole weekend.) There is supposedly this "Shortcut Reef" which takes you from Whaler's to Bluefish, which the scooter posse goes through, but I wanted to explore the area shallower than that, in 60 to 80 feet. I have been over there before, and there are some ridges with hydrocoral on them, but we wanted to head out past that. Well, that was the plan anyway. We swam out a bit past the edge of the cove. As we were about to drop down, we noticed a bunch of blue rockfish practically nipping at our fins. We descended in about 35 feet and saw a harbor seal on the way down. Unfortunately, he did not stick around. We each did an S-drill (Kevin's idea, I swear), and then headed out along the sand channel. We meandered over into the rocky area to the west of the sand channel and found a large lingcod there. He would not stand still for a picture, despite my attempts. Just before Hole in the Wall, we stopped so I could take a picture of an fish-eating Urticina. That is one of the first subjects that Rob could take pictures of, so I figured it was a good beginner subject :) I was having problems with too much strobe, and eventually got sick of getting bonked around in the surge and continued on. When we got to Hole in the Wall, we headed west or maybe WNW. It was pretty surgy the entire dive, and dark too. The viz was probably around 25 feet out past HITW, but it was chunky. Not the ideal day to try to take pictures for the first(ish) time.

We saw a couple more big lingcods. One let me get pretty close to him, so I took some pictures. The area we swam over was rubbly with some occasional bigger rocks and ridges. In better visibility, I think there is a series of ridges that you can hop along, but we could not see from one to the next. We finally found a ridge with some hydrocoral, which I had promised Kevin we would see. There were several stalks of hydrocoral, all pink. I was taking pictures of it forever. Rob's old housing has this problem where the shutter button gets stuck half down, and the only way to fix it is to use your dive knife to pop it back up. So every 5 or so shots, that kept happening. It was driving me crazy. Eventually, Kevin took the knife and every time I needed it, he handed it back to me. Very convenient :) He was very patient while I was taking pictures; I know how boring that can be! I took a break to take some pictures of a nice-looking green anemone at the bottom of the ridge, and then I popped back up for some more hydrocoral shots, including some with Kevin. We also saw a couple of interesting jellyfish. They were shaped sort of like moon jellies, and were a translucent white, but the oral arms were more square shaped, and they had no tentacles. In all, we saw at least 3 of these on the first dive. Two were pretty big (about the standard moon jelly size that we see around here) and one was about the size of a bread plate. We turned the dive, and headed west until we hit the sand channel (the backup return path for when I don't feel like actually reversing the path I took to get there). We did not get nearly as far as I had hoped, since I was bumblefutzing around with the camera for so long. But Kevin didn't seem to mind. We headed in and hopped over to middle reef to look for Itchy and Scratchy. They were both in, and Kevin got to see them for the first time. As we were heading back to the sand channel, I found this teeny tiny tan nudibranch on some red seaweed. I don't think I have any hope of id'ing it without a picture (and without some means of magnification during the dive), but I will peruse the book. Right before we ascended, we saw another one of those jellyfish, with a couple of senoritas pecking at it. 88 minutes, 72 feet, 52 degrees

For dive 2, the six of us decided to all dive middle reef together. We stuck to the same teams of two as the first dive, so I was stuck with Kevin again :P We dropped in the sand channel in about 30 feet. Don and Elissa were doing some S drills at the start of the dive, so we decided to pass the time with valve drills. It was the best part of the dive (that was sarcasm, for those who didn't get it). Then we headed to middle reef. As we passed the transects for the nudibranch study, I pointed them out to Kevin, since he seemed to want some details of what he was in for on Sunday. I also thought it would be good to show him some nudis he might not be familiar with. So, there is a spot on the west side of middle reef, where there is a boulder about one divers' width away from the main wall. There is a rock in between that is a reliable place for Rostangas, and the shape makes it pretty easy to point them out. I found two Rostangas and an egg case on it today, and showed them to Kevin. He did not have any trouble seeing them. We visited Itchy and Scratchy again, and showed it to Cynthia and Matt. Not too long after, the other 4 turned the dive. Kevin and I decided to continue on. We got to another of the transects, which I pointed out to him, and then we hopped over to the east side, and swam down this crack with a small sand channel between two ridges. There were a variety of rockfish hanging out in crevices. There were several cute little blue rockfish. We hopped back over to the west side and headed in. In about 20 feet of water, we saw a cormorant swimming around. I always thought they just jetted down, looked for food, and jetted back up. But he was taking his time, swimming here and there looking around. It was pretty neat. There was a funny little trail of bubbles following him. We also saw a smaller one of the same kind of jellyfish we saw on the first dive. 51 minutes, 42 feet, 51 degrees

Afterwards, we had to rush off to make it back to Anywater Sports before closing so we could get fills for Sunday. I guess Rob is right about the need for a second set of doubles :)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Beto's Reef

Rob, Kevin, and I went to Point Lobos today and did a dive to Beto's Reef. We met at the gate before the park opened, and chatted with Harry Wong, who was scooting with Jonathan today. Harry asked us if we were "practicing" and I told him we were practicing diving Beto's Reef :) They were planning on going to Twin Peaks or some such site that is out of my range. After we got into the park, Rob, Kevin, and I headed up to the top of the hill to check out the water. It looked pretty calm. We ran into another dive team up their contemplating their dive plan, and chatted with them briefly. At least one of them is on Scubaboard, and has apparently read some of my reports (and you know how much Kitty loves meeting blog readers). After a bit more putzing around, we decided to get dressed and gear up. The plan was a pretty straightforward dive to Beto's Reef, with possible visits to Sea Mount and Itchy and Scratchy (our pet wolf eels) on the way in. I was leading. And we were each supposed to do a valve drill (fun fun) at the beginning. You may have noticed that I've been leading a lot of dives lately. Apparently I suck at leading dives, and Rob sucks at not leading dives (or rather, letting me lead dives), so we've been working on that. Rob says that I have become "mad with power" from leading so many dives. Bwahaha.

In the past, I have gone to Beto's Reef two different ways. One is to go to Lone Metridium and then head North (which tends to put you just west of Beto's Reef, but close enough to see it on a decent viz day); the other is to go straight from Hole in the Wall, by going NNW or so. I think that in theory the Hole in the Wall route is faster, so that is how I was planning to go. We swam out on the surface for a while, and dropped in 40'. I am sure Rob wanted to swim further, since he likes the death swims, but since I was mad with power, I decided where to drop :P We dropped down, hung out for a minute, and each did our valve drill. While we were doing them, I noticed we were drifting back into the cove, which made sense since the tide was clearly coming in when we were swimming out. Actually, while I was doing my valve drill, I assumed that it was just me, nervously finning while I valve'd and moving us away from where we started. Then when Rob was doing his valve drill, and we were drifting in the direction of Rob's feet, I figured it was unlikely he was nervously kicking himself backwards (although he does have a fabulous back-kick), and figured out what was going on. Anyhoo, after we were done, about 10 minutes into the dive, we headed out along the sand channel. I eventually started to skirt the edge of the reef, and we hit hole in the wall. After briefly marveling at its beauty, we were off. There is a rock just north of hole in the wall that I like, so I was checking it out for some nudibranchs. Didn't see anything too exciting though. So, we were heading NNW, and then I realized I had veered a little too west. Then I saw lone metridium in the distance. Whoops. I also saw some lights in the distance -- Jonathan and Harry. We swam over to lone metridium to say hello to them, and watch them switch to their deco bottles. Rob took some pictures, and Kevin flipped over to look at the surface, which we could see from here (60 feet-ish).

We headed north from there, and after just a couple minutes, we saw it just to our right. In hindsight, I think I actually prefer the lone metridium path, because there is less time spent over boring sand and rubble reef. Although there is a nice elephant ear sponge in like 70' if you go the other way. We slowly worked our way down the reef, where I saw lots of nudibranchs. I kept signaling Rob to look at a nudibranch, and I could tell he was like... leave me alone, I'm trying to shoot wide-angle! I saw several Tritonia festiva right away, and continued to see more during the dive. I also saw a couple of Spanish shawls, which I've only ever seen once before on a shore dive (at MacAbee). I also saw a bunch of Triopha catalinae, one quite small; a small Cadlina flavomaculata; and tons of the usual suspects (Cadlina luteomarginata, Doriopsilla, San Diego dorids). There were also lots of pretty elephant ear sponges and several gorgonians. And some glassy tunicates (thanks Dionna for helping me to identify them), which I have never seen before. There were the usual rockfish in holes, which seem to be everywhere at Beto's Reef. I also saw these sponges which I have only ever noticed at Beto's Reef, but which are all over the place there. I forced Rob to take a picture, so I could ID it. It looks a lot like the picture of Microciona parthena in Gotshall's invertebrates book, although it claims the range is SoCal.

Kevin happened to be diving 30/30, so Rob and I each took a swig briefly to see what we thought. I have 3 comments on my Discover Helium experience (in the order that I observed them): 1) I swear it made my teeth cold; 2) wow, this is much easier to breathe; and 3) I didn't feel any different breathing it, but when I switched back to my reg from his, it seemed much more trivial than when I switched to his from mine (what can I say, I have a history of tangling my hoses while "intoxicated"). So that's something I guess. After the dive, Kevin said that Rob took a couple breaths off of it, and then after he handed it to me, he was wondering if he was ever going to get it back. I guess I was waiting for something magical to happen, but it didn't. So eventually I gave it back, before Kevin ripped it out of my mouth :)

We headed back and almost instantly hit Sea Mount. I never realized just how close it is to Beto's Reef, but I guess it helps when the viz is about 60 feet :) We swam past it, pointed it out to Kevin, and just kept heading in. We hit the sand channel and swam in along that. We punted on Itchy and Scratchy due to gas constraints. Once we were in about 20 feet of water, we were joined by a school of blue rockfish (nice sized ones, too). They were swimming in front of and among us. I felt like I was part of the school. Then we started to swim through this dense brownish streaky particulate just hanging in the water. I was wondering if it was blue rockfish poop, and after getting sufficiently grossed out by that concept, I thumbed it. 105 feet, 93 minutes, 50 degrees

No cats were harmed in the making of this report, other than having to pry my dive computer from Pepper's jaws to get the depth and time (mmm, bungee).

Pictures from the day are here.