It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dialula Lovefest

Today, I dove at Point Lobos with Rob and Matt. The plan was to do some nudibranch survey for the BAUE nudibranch project for dive 1, and do whatever for dive 2. It was overcast and chilly when we got there, and the water was really really high. Like sloshing up into the parking lot from the ramp high. This made for a delightfully easy entrance into the water though. There was also a super clean path down the left (as you face the water) side that must have been power-washed in the past two days (didn't notice it there on Friday). We decided to survey the two shallower transects, unless the surge was too bad and then we'd move to the deeper ones.

We swam out and descended in about 25 feet of water. It was surprisingly choppy on the surface, which is why we descended sort of early. I was getting sick of getting mouthfuls of salt water. We descended on rocks, not the sand channel. I started to take us in a direction which I believed would take us to the sand channel (while simultaneously heading further out). Rob told me I was going the wrong way, but I was really sure of it, so I waved him off (hoping not to turn out to be wrong :P). In a couple minutes, we hit the sand channel, and I was relieved. We soon got to the area of the shallowest transect, and I took us over there. The sand was really kicked up -- the water was a very nice blue color, but there were tons of sand particles moving around in the surge. In hindsight, it might have been better to move to the deeper transects considering how surgy it was. It made it pretty hard to point stuff out to Matt while I was surveying. As we swam up to the transect, I saw a Tritonia festiva before I even settled in to start the count. So, I surveyed the transect, which was pretty uneventful. I actually did not see very many nudibranchs, which was sad. When I was finished, I was glad to move on to a deeper and hopefully less surgy area.

We headed out further, and after a visit with the wolf eels (both of whom were home, although I could only see the male's head), we went to the next transect. We saw quite a few moon jellies on the way, some alive, some dead, some being eaten. As I came around the corner right before getting there, I noticed a few rocks that had piles of Dialula sandiegensis on them. Most of them were paired up and mating. There were probably 15 to 20 of them on two rocks right next to each other. Unfortunately they were all on the rocks next to the transect, and not on the transect :) Again, I didn't really count too many nudis. And nothing was very exciting except for one little Limacia. It was actually pretty nice looking, because it was on a nice big patch of yellow sponge, so it stood out very nicely. And I thought the orange and red/orange on the Limacia looked nice with the banana yellow backdrop. I also saw two big Doris odhneri right off of the transect. I was pretty bitter that I could not count those, since I was recently noting that I see them pretty frequently but never on the transects :( At some point during the dive, we picked up a seal as a fourth dive buddy. He followed us to this transect and was pretty much hanging out with us the whole time. He snuck up on me at one point while I was sticking my head in a crack looking for nudibranchs, and scared me when he came down from above me and stuck his nose in my face :) He was sticking his nose in the same crack as me for the rest of the time we were there.

Aside from the survey, I did have one exciting find. I was looking at a patch of Middle Reef, and saw a warbonnet! I froze for a moment, because I didn't want to scare him off with any sudden movements. I slowly signaled to Rob, told him to cover his light, and showed it to him. He was pretty excited. I was so glad that Rob was shooting macro (which he debated up until the last minute the previous night). Shortly after that, the fish got spooked and swam into a hole. Rob managed to find the hole, though, so he could get some shots. Even more exciting, there was another one in the hole with him! What a cute couple. Middle Reef seems to be full of happy couples lately. Shortly after that, we headed back to the sand channel and ascended. When we got back to the ramp, we went down to look for the monkey face eel, who we haven't visited in a while. Rob found him pretty quickly and we showed him to Matt. Unfortunately, he wouldn't eat today :( The water was amazingly clear right by the ramp. I found two big bushy Hermissendas down there too. 51 feet, 74 minutes, 50 degrees

After that dive, Matt and I were freezing. We tried to fill Matt with Argon, but the stupid inflation thingy on his DC drysuit has a different nipple on it than our hoses, so we couldn't. He decided to go to Otter Bay to get a new hood instead of doing dive 2. So it was just Rob and me for dive 2. We decided to head out to the Cannery Point area and doodle around with the critters in the hydrocoral. The tide had gone quite a bit out, but it wasn't too bad getting in the water. I perfected my walk off of the ramp until I flopped into the water. We took our 40 cuft bottles with us just for practice (and because, ya know, you look cooler if you are carrying a fake deco bottle), and getting into the water with it was no problem. The water was much calmer than in the morning. We swam out and descended in about 30 ft of water. On the way out, we saw more moon jellies, and right before descending, we saw a little sea nettle. It was very cute. Rob led us out along the sand channel, hugging the reef on the west side. We header northwest over the reef before we got to Hole in the Wall and swam between the ridges back there and around Lone Metridium. The viz was better out here, maybe 25 to 30 feet. We saw another big pile of mating Dialulas. I think this one had even more than the other two. I wasn't looking particularly closely for macro subjects, I was mostly just enjoying the very colorful walls over there. We used to dive this area all the time, but ever since I got doubles, we have stopped. We should really go there more often, it is nice and easy, and very colorful. There were lots of cute little crabs scurrying around, and I saw a lot of sculpins curled up on the reef. I also saw a particularly small Tritonia festiva.

When we got back to the sand channel on the way in, we were going against a bit of a current. I felt like I was kicking and getting nowhere, but I was just glad that Rob was suffering from the same affliction :) The viz was also quite bad over the sand, I would say around 10 feet. On the way in, we switched to our bottles. Rob says I pull the reg out like a girl, and need to do it like I mean it :) After that, we headed in and ascended around the edge of the cove. We surface swam in, and then the adventure began. The water level was super-low on the ramp, there was about 1 foot of water on the ramp when the water came in, and none when it went out. Dionna came down and took my bottle and Rob's camera. There was water swooshing around across the ramp, so I kept getting dragged back and forth as I tried to find a good place to crawl out. Finally Mark Lloyd directed me to a little nook on the north side of the ramp, and as I trying to claw my way out, he pulled off my fins and hoisted me up and gave me a hand out :) Phew, that would have been a real mess without some surface support :P Thanks again to Dionna and Mark for plucking me and our gear out of the water. 66 feet, 69 minutes, 51 degrees

We headed over to Vivolo's for some apres dive bisque with Matt. Yum yum.

More pictures from the day are here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Blue Water on Black Friday

On Friday, we went to Point Lobos to do a scooter dive. Our third teammate got sick, so Rob and I were on our own. We decided to do one long dive to the Granite Point area. I knew that the low tide would make for a painful exit, so we were pretty efficient about getting into the water once we got in (we showed up at 8:55 so had to wait in line for a while to get past the gate). The plan was for Rob to lead and head out to the shallow part of Granite Point Wall, and then we would head out along it until we got to the pinnacle area. The water level was really high when we got there, which made getting in (twice, once to put our scooters on the float) really easy for once.

As we were walking down the ramp, we noticed a sea nettle flopping around in the water on the ramp. It looked like it was not in very good shape. Once we got into the water, and were doing some last equipment checks, we noticed another one just a couple feet below us. So Rob went down and took some pictures while I floated on the surface watching. When he was finished, we surface scooted out a bit past the edge of the cove, and descended in the sand channel in about 25 feet of water (we could see the bottom from the surface, I think). On the surface on the way out, we saw another sea nettle and a couple moon jellies. Just before we descended, a harbor seal popped up about 5 feet from me and nearly scared me to death. Right after descending, we hung out there for a little while so I could scoot around in circles and figure out the right length for my tow cord. The harbor seal was hanging out with us while we were down there. Once we were all set, we got going and headed down the sand channel, where we saw more moon jellies. We got to the end of the sand channel and were about to head out over the sand, when Rob asked me to lead for that portion. The compass mounted on his scooter was busted, and since it is way easier to navigate with that one than the wrist-mounted one, it made sense for me to lead. I was a little concerned that it would be hard to keep track of where we were going and keep track of Rob at the same time (since I've never led on a scooter dive before). It turned out to be really easy, because Rob positioned himself so I could see his light without turning my head. I think he positioned himself a lot better than I do when he is leading :)

In about 3 minutes, we hit Granite Point Wall. I love how when you are approaching it, before you can see the wall itself, you can see its shadow. When we got to the wall, I asked Rob if he wanted to stow the scooters, and he gave me a look like I was crazy. Okay, I guess that would be lame since we had the scooters to not go any further. So I told him he could lead again. We scootered for another couple of minutes, until we got to a little rock (or maybe a baby pinnacle -- a pinnaclet) off of the wall with a lot of hydrocoral on it. I recognized it, from a dive we did with Kevin a while ago. I signaled that to Rob, and he agreed. Out here, the viz was at least 40 feet, and the water was really blue. There was variable surge -- it would occasionally kick up and be pretty wild, but overall there really wasn't much surge. For periods of time it was dead calm. Being around hydrocoral when it is surgey always makes me nervous, but I managed to align myself in between the wall and pinnaclet so that the surge was pushing me along the channel and not into either rock. Then I just hung there swooshing around, watching Rob take pictures. Then he signaled to me to swim over in a particular direction, and I thought he was lining me up for a picture. I started swimming and he followed me. I was offended that he didn't want to take my picture, so I forced him to :P After the little photo shoot, we swam around the rock and into a kelp forest, which was quite dark under the kelp cover. We saw a rose anemone that was munching on a moon jelly. I also noticed a lot of San Diego dorids, some very dark tan in color. After a bit of swimming, we scooted a little to another patch of hydrocoral (Rob's favorite). There were some nice busy pieces, but unfortunately there was eel grass stuck in a bunch of them. Rob took pictures while I poked around and talked to the little crabs living in the hydrocoral. He eventually asked me to scoot across in front of and above him for some action shots. I did that a few times, and then we swam out a bit further. While Rob was taking some pictures, I was looking at a little wall, and saw a Limacia. Before I really absorbed it and its surroundings, I signaled to Rob to come take a look. He came over and of course I couldn't find it again. So we looked for a little while and I finally found it again. It was "big" (for a Limacia), so I couldn't believe I had so much trouble finding it :) We swam a bit further and found this cool patch of kelp in front of us, that was very dense and had all these parallel columns of kelp that we could see all the way to the surface. There was a harbor seal that had been following us at least part of the time that we were out by Granite Point. He swam past us and swam up between the kelp stalks. The surge kicked in and all of a sudden the kelp columns were swooshing around side to side. It was really cool looking.

We decided that this would be a good time to head back. I pulled my scooter out and thought... man, the weighting on this thing is messed up. Then I realized that the battery retaining ring must have slipped out of place, so the battery was sloshing around in there -- I could feel it thumping around (at the time I thought I could hear it, but I think I just imagined the sound to go with the feel). I signaled to Rob that it was broken and tried to signal the mode of failure. He clearly doubted me, because he reached over, and hit the trigger to show me it was working (and looked at me like I was an idiot, or that's what I imagined). So I again explained what happened and he got it this time. So I clipped it off and went into the tow position. I was sort of bummed because I was looking forward to doing some acrobatics on the return trip. Instead I got an up close view of Rob's butt (I swear there are hydroids growing on the back of his crotch strap). We scooted back to the wall near where we started, and Rob stopped. He asked if I wanted to head back immediately or hang out there some more. I told him we could hang out there for 5 more minutes. Rob was taking some pictures, and I found a Festive Triton. After a couple minutes, I signaled that I was cold, and we should head in. Before we did, Rob showed me a better way to hold on for the tow, and I am glad he did because it was a lot more comfortable on my arms, and I could see my depth gauge more easily. We headed in and in no time, we were at the end of Middle Reef. I saw a sea nettle or two go by on the way. We headed in along the reef and he stopped us right at the wolf eels. The big male had he head all the way out of the hole, and his head was basically taking up the entire hole, so I couldn't see if the female was in. After that, we scooted in a bit more, and I finally stopped Rob around 25 feet, and thumbed it, because I was freezing. My hands and feet were SO COLD. 90 minutes, 80 feet, 49 degrees (brrr, or as Oreo likes to say, brrreow)

After I basked in the sun for a minute to warm up, we surface scooted in the rest of the way. The water level was much lower, but just high enough that I could get out without assistance :) and without too much embarrassing flopping around on the ramp. We swung by the Breakwater before lunch to do a viz check for Ted (who was diving on Saturday). The water looked incredibly red. The water was also unbelievably low on the beach! So many rocks were exposed. Dive 2 was at Turtle Bay :)

All of today's pictures are here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Breakwater Wall, Try 2

Rob somehow neglected to get us a Lobos reservation this weekend, so we were stuck at the Breakwater again. The swell forecast looked ugly, so there were all sorts of dire predictions for what it would be like. When we drove up, it was very calm -- ankle slappers at most. The water also looked pretty okay from the wall. We were diving with Kevin, who just got back from Romania (and I mean just got back... he flew in last night, and was diving this morning, so he gets bonus HardCore points). So I got to hear all about how lovely looking the ladies in Romania are :) Anyway, since we were diving with Kevin, we had to do some skills practice for Tech 1. So we agreed to do one skills dive and one fun dive. Of course we had to do the skills dive first, since I have been known to lame out of a second dive.

So, we planned to head out to 25-ish feet, and each do a maskless ascent. Then we would head out to deeper water, do a couple of timed ascents, and some mid-water valve drills. The water was very calm when we entered, which was nice, since we were dragging our 40 cu ft bottles along. The 40 is so much easier to handle than an 80, but the nice thing about an 80 is that it is big enough that you can ask someone to walk it down to the water for you without feeling like too much of a sissy. With the 40, you are on your own :) On the way out, Rob was inspecting the kelp leaves and he found a tiny jellyfish (Vallentinia adherens). We swam out to around the fence and dropped. We could see the bottom, which was about 18'. The horizontal viz was also quite good and it was sunny and bright. I wimped out of my maskless ascent because it just seemed so scary :) So Rob did his (Kevin brought him up and I shot a bag), then Kevin did his, and I brought him up. It was quite an ordeal, since I had never done that before. But it went pretty well. Kevin just said that I was a little too grabby with his hand ;) I was sentenced to a no-mask swim since I wimped out of the ascent, to work up to the real thing. So we did that, and then we headed out to about 40' and did an OOG ascent; Kevin donated to Rob and I shot the bag. After that, we dropped down to 20' and did mid-water valve drills. Then we dropped to the bottom, and I did another no-mask swim (an addendum to my sentence), and we did another OOG ascent. This time Rob was donating to me, and Kevin shot a bag. At 20', we switched to our 40s. That all went smoothly, and the times looked good. In between the various drills, we spent a little time swimming to different depths, and just playing around on the bottom. There was tons of Hermissendas out, of various colors (one was almost all grey, with only a tiny bit of oranges on the tips, and then there were the usual yellow through orange variations). At one point, I found a Aeolidia papillosa (or the "shaggy mouse" as it is called), which I was quite delighted to see. I have only seen them a couple times before (and always at Breakwater I think). Then later one, Rob found another one, which was pretty big. They were cool. Of course Rob did not have his camera since this was the skills dive :( Rob also allegedly found a trilineata while we were over the sand. Apparently he found it right as Kevin lost his mask and I was going to aid him, so he figured it wasn't a very convenient time to show me a nudibranch :) Kevin also found two big Dendronotus iris's, which were a very pretty shade of red. We also saw a variety of neat crabs. Kevin seems to really have a thing for crabs, and he seems to have trouble keeping his hands to himself :P When we were in about 10 feet of water, right before we ascended, we saw lots of these small jellyfish that I have never seen before. They have sort of tall bells with stringy tentacles. I think they had a pinkish tint. I haven't yet tried to ID them. By the end of the dive, it had gotten pretty foggy, and the beach had a very twilight zone look to it. 40 feet, 74 minutes, 52 degrees

Dive 2 was supposed to be all about fun and no skills, but I decided to try the maskless ascent again so that I wouldn't have to stew about my failure all week. So, I said I'd do it in 15 to 20 feet, with only one stop on the way up. So we did it, and it went fine. Actually it was pretty fun, except for the crazy ice cream headache. By about the end of the stop, I finally adjusted to how freaking cold my forehead was. I did it a second time (with Rob leading me up this time), just to make sure I would be completely over my fear, and that too went fine. Then we headed out for the fun portion of the dive. Of course the viz has deteriorated significantly since the first dive. When we first descended, it was really gross and yellow looking. But we swam not very far at all (we were still in less than 20 ft), and it suddenly cleared up and was bright and clear again. I think there were just patches of algae bloom or something. We headed to the wall and swam out along it. I was looking for interesting critters for Rob. I found a couple of cute kelp crabs and one or two Hermissendas, but I was feeling a little disappointed with the lack of nudibranchs (especially after all the ones we saw on the first dive). Then I found a rock with a Limacia on it. No two. No three. I brought Rob over and showed them to him. Then I gave him some room to take some pictures. I came back a couple minutes later, and noticed a fourth one (which Rob had already found). That was pretty neat, they were in less than a 1 square foot patch. While Kevin and I were waiting for Rob, Kevin found a cabezon who blended in so well with the red seaweed around it. It was not nearly as skittish as cabs usually are -- it even hung out while Kevin pet its fin. I also noticed a bunch of San Diego dorids around there. I eventually found two clown nudibranchs on the wall as well. I noticed a bunch of patches of orange sponge, and was thinking this might be a good place to look for Rostangas. So I started looking when I found patches of sponge. On the second patch of sponge, I found a nice, bulbous Rostanga. It was sort of back in a crevice though, but I managed to point it out to Rob.

Then we headed down to the bottom of the wall and off over the sand. We eventually got to an area where there were lots of Hermissendas again. I heard sea lions barking and a minute later, one swished right by my head. I looked up and there were about 4 others all dancing around quite close to me. I turned to signal Rob and Kevin, and it my zeal to notify them, Kevin came racing over with his long hose deployed :) Whoops, I guess I should save the enthusiastic light waving for when I really need it. By the time I explained to him that I was fine, the sea lions were gone :( Right after that, Rob signaled us and pointed out that his piece of crap H light was flickering, a sign it was about to die. So he switched to his backup (which he had managed to badly cross-clip his primary to, which had to be sorted out). When that was all settled, we headed in. We were still looking for stuff in the sand, but eventually I signaled to Kevin that we should get it moving because I was cold. When we got to about 12 feet, Rob and I purged our regs until we were down to 500, to do weight checks. I haven't done once since adding my vest and light. I'm not really sure what Rob has changed that he was checking for. We ascended from there, and I couldn't believe we were out past the fence, in 12 feet of water. I guess the tide came out. Well, I know it did, because on the way out along the wall, I was getting pushed out. It seemed like a very long swim in , since well, I don't have a pee valve :) The fog had completely cleared during our dive. On the surface after the dive, we noticed that there were tons of sea lions out and about in different areas of the water. A lot of them were jumping around in the water, almost like dolphins. 45 feet, 68 minutes, 51 degrees

Friday, November 16, 2007

Playing Hookey at Lobos

We went on a scoot scoot dive with Jonathan today at Point Lobos. The plan was to visit the sites to the west between Whaler's and Bluefish. So pretty similar to the last scooter dive we did, where we hit Beto's, two of the Three Sisters, and Shortcut Reef. We essentially did that dive in reverse today. Lobos was pretty empty, which I guess is not surprising for an overcast, almost raining, weekday. It was pretty chilly when we got there. Once I got into my drysuit, it was much more comfortable on the surface. We ran into Phil Sammet, who was there diving off of his RIB. Other than that, I don't think there were any other divers around when we got in the water. The tide was nice and high, plus the ramp was recently cleaned, so entering the water was not scary. But I still made Rob put a float in so we could stage the scooters on that :) I know Jonathan thinks I am a goofball for not wanting to walk into the water with an X.

We surface scooted to the edge of the cove and descended. The water was very murky. In fact, from about 0 to 10 feet, I couldn't really see Rob and Jonathan, but once I got below 10 feet, it was okay. As we went further out, it cleared up even more. We headed out along the sand channel and then cut west along the reef a while before Hole in the Wall. Around here, we picked up a fourth teammate... a playful seal who ended up following us out for quite a while. Then we snaked through the little walls and reefs, with their bits of hydrocoral hanging off the corners, in the shallow parts of Cannery Point. Jonathan had a near scooter to big sheephead encounter :) Eventually we emerged on the north side of Lone Metridium (or in that vicinity). We headed out into the blue (errr, green) until we got to Shortcut Reef. We clipped off the scoots there and looked around in the 70 to 80 feet range. There was pretty standard stuff for this area -- some nice-sized chunks of hydrocoral, in various shades, plus lots of smaller bits of purple hydrocoral. And all the usual encrusting life and inverts. I noticed that there were tons of San Diego dorids (funny, since the last time I counted nudis on Middle Reef, they seemed to all be in hybernation). I also saw some interesting little tan invertebrate on some of the lacy red seaweed that was fluttering in the surge. I think it was probably some sort of bryozoan. I'll have to look into that. I also noticed some translucent white tunicates, probably glassy tunicates. There were also plenty of small blue rockfish and the occasional olive hanging out in the water off of the reef.

We swam around the reef and found this narrow chute between two small walls/ledges. Jonathan scootered down it and then came back to us a moment later. After Rob finished taking some pictures, he and Jonathan were gesticulating about going through the chute. I must have misunderstood the plan... when Jonathan started scootering through the chute, I followed. Not very far down it, there was a big rock that I probably would have scootered right into if Jonathan weren't in front of me. I guess Jonathan was actually supposed to scooter into it, turn around, and then scooter back out for a picture. It was, umm, a little cramped in there with the two of us trying to turn around. So I popped up to the tops of the ledges and let Jonathan do his little scoot back towards the camera. Then I also scooted back toward the camera, and Rob got some shots.

After that, we headed back towards home. We hit the third (biggest) sister, and just scooted around half of it and kept going. Then when we got to the second sister, we clipped off and swam around it. I found a small clown nudi, which seems pretty standard for the sisters. Other than that, I saw a nice bushy Hermissenda, and just the usual stuff. Mostly I was just trying to keep track of Rob and Jonathan :) Then we headed to Beto's Reef, and stopped there only briefly, to look at the eels. They were both in there. I could only see the side of the red one's head, but the grey one was hanging his head out as usual. Then we headed in. Somewhere along the way in, we picked up another seal escort. He followed us all the way in to Middle Reef, where he hung out with us and posed for some pictures. He also tugged on Rob's fins while Rob was look for the eels there. He was really adorable. He reminded me of Oreo, because he had her signature "wide eyed and filled with wonder" look, plus he was pudgy. Jonathan also found two Doris odhneri together, one of which was really huge. We hung out there, looking at the eels and the seal for a while, and then headed in along the sand channel. 103 feet, 95 minutes

We decided to pass on a second dive, so we headed to lunch. On the way out of Carmel, Monastery looked really beautiful topside. The fog and clouds had cleared, and the water just beyond the beach looked turquoise, like a tropical beach scene! We decided to try someplace new for lunch, so we went to Ambrosia India Bistro in Monterey. It was good, but I think eating Indian food after diving is just asking to fall asleep and die in a firey car crash on the way home. After that, we stopped at Backscatter, because Rob busted a nut (on his strobe arm) and needed a replacement. He also picked up a cover for his dome port which seems much higher quality than the one he sewed from neoprene scraps :) On the way out of there, we noticed that the water at the Breakwater looked rather un-red, unlike last weekend.

All of today's pictures are here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mola Ballet

Sunday we dove at Point Lobos with Ted. The plan was to go to Beto's Reef for dive 1, and do some skills and fun (and possibly nudi counting) at Middle Reef for dive 2. Rob was shooting wide-angle, which he hasn't done in a while at Beto's Reef. I so prefer when he shoots macro, because I like looking for little critters for him to shoot! When we got to Lobos, the tide was really high, which was nice. I think Rob almost fell in the water when he was tossing our float in from the rocks; that's what he gets for being cavalier about climbing around on slippery rocks. We put our stage bottles on the float and got geared up.

Rob said he would lead the dive, which surprised me. We swam out and dropped in about 35 feet of water. On the swim out, the water looked really blue and pretty, with the sunlight streaming down through the kelp. But somehow it didn't look as nice when we were underwater :( After we dropped, we did a round of stowing our stage bottles and deploying them, just for practice. Then we headed out. Rob hugged the reef to the west of the sand channel more than I usually do, which I found slightly disorienting. Anyway, we eventually hit Hole in the Wall and continued out over the sand. We traveled at 70 feet like we usually do, but the viz wasn't that great, it was sort of milky. So we couldn't clearly see the bottom for parts of the trek. Perhaps that is why Ted and I spent a good deal of the time kicking each other. I think he must have a lot of pent up hostility and this was his way of airing his grievances. I think the lack of a reference also caused Rob to not realize how fast he was swimming. I had to signal him several times to tell him to slow down. Letting Rob lead a "death swim" dive like this is just asking to get narc'd. He swears that when I am leading, I actually swim at least as fast as he does when leading, and it is all in my head. What-ev. Anyhoo, he led us a little more east (or less west, depending on how you look at it) than I do, so we hit Beto's on the east side, not the west side. Just as we got to it, I signaled him to say that I thought he was going not west enough. Then he points down. I was like, what are you pointing at? I really didn't recognize it from this side :) So I decided to humor him and go down to the reef to check it out, and of course he was right.

We hopped over to the west side and swam out along the reef. I must admit my memory is a bit fuzzy. One good thing about looking for macro critters is that you move really slowly. But I guess that wasn't the case on this dive. I was trying to move slowly, but I guess we just weren't. One thing I do remember thinking is that I saw more gorgonians than I remembered from the past. Rob had mentioned that he wanted to get a shot of us coming over a particular drop-off out there, so as we got to that, we posed for him. We also looked for the wolf eel. Rob found it right away and pointed it out to Ted. Then I peered in his den, and saw some red... looked familiar. I looked and looked and then I saw a red wolf eel's head! I very excitedly signaled Rob and made him come back to look, and then I showed Ted. Then I took one final look. She (I guess?) was peering out and then the grey one swam just in front of her like he was protecting her. It was really adorable. We each switched off of our stage bottles, and after I finished up, Ted pointed behind me. I looked back and there was a mola mola swimming along just parallel to the reef! I think that seeing a mola mola perfectly compliments being a little narc'd, since a mola mola is like the underwater equivalent of a tap dancing hippo.

A moment after we switched, we turned around and headed back to the end of the reef. Then we ascended to 70 feet for the swim in. Rob headed more east than I do, so we hit the sand channel pretty quickly instead of hugging the reef (and passing Sea Mount) like we usually do (or I should say, I usually do). We ended up hitting the sand channel in about 70 feet of water, while we were traveling at 50 feet. Right around that point, we saw two molas. One of them had a fairly chewed up fin -- looked like a close encounter with a sea lion :( We watched them swim around and Rob took some pictures. Then we started moving again. A moment later, I saw 3 molas, and they were swimming in formation. It was so cool. The one with the chewed up fin was no longer around, so it was at least 4 distinct molas. The three molas were swimming alongside of us, and they were pretty close to each other. Unfortunately by the time we showed them to Rob, they had widened, so it was too late to get a picture of them "in formation". It was still a lot of fun to watch them dancing around us. Eventually they swam off and we headed in. We visited the Itchy and Scratchy on the way in (actually, we only saw the male today). His giant head was sitting outside of his hole, looking like a big blob of granite. Ted had never seen the Middle Reef wolf eels before. We were tentatively planning to do some valve drills on the way in, but Ted didn't have the gas to do it (and still do dive 2), so we punted and ascended. I shot a bag while Rob and Ted practiced a gas sharing ascent. My ascent with the bag wasn't exactly textbook :) but we made it to the surface and swam back in. We were actually further out than I thought, so it was a bit of a swim. The water had already receded quite a bit, which made it a bit of a pain to get out. 103 feet, 94 minutes, 52 degrees

I was really cold during the surface interval, so I curled up in the back of the car with my fleece blanket trying to warm up. I decided to punt on nudi counting for dive 2, since I was already cold, and staying still for 20 minutes would just make me colder. We had some surface interval blueberry muffins and then headed back into the water. Scott Tims was there training people on the power washer to wash the Lobos ramp (which I am very thankful for), so you know that means two things -- one, the ramp hadn't been washed in a while, and two, the tide was low. Really low. So that sort of sucked. As soon as we were swimming out, we realized that conditions had really deteriorated. It was really windy and choppy on the surface. Also, it looked like the bottom was really getting churned up. We were planning to swim out to like 40 feet, and doing some midwater drills before the dive, but since it was questionable if we were going to really do the dive, we decided to just drop closer in. Didn't want to swim any further, if it was going to turn out to be a bum dive. So we dropped to 15 feet in about 25 feet of water (we couldn't see the bottom AT ALL), and Rob and I did valve drills. Then I shot a bag and we came up. Then we went to the bottom, Rob lost his mask, and Ted brought him up while I shot a bag and ran the ascent. It was interesting to watch Ted and Rob. At this point, we decided that conditions sucked, so we should punt the "fun" portion of the dive. Ted for some reason wanted to just hang out in mid-water for a little while, which I thought was bizarre, but Rob agreed, so whatever. So, we went back down to 15 feet, and hung out there for a while, until Ted signaled and asked if we were hungry. I said so-so and Rob said yes, so Ted thumbed it :) Any longer and I might have gotten seasick from hanging in that poor viz with the choppy seas. We swam back in, and then the fun began. The water level was even lower, and I had to claw my way out. I needed a hand (or two) from Rob and Ted to get up :) I guess this was the feats of strength portion of the dive :) But Scott and crew had been working on the ramp while we were out, so at least part of it was clean on the walk up! 22 feet, 28 minutes, 54 degrees

I tried out two new pieces of "gear" today. First, I borrowed Ildiko's Evolve wing, which is donut-shaped instead of a horseshoe. I am hooked -- that thing is so easy to vent, you never have to do the shoulder shrug to move the gas from the right to left sides. It does float you a little differently on the surface though -- I got to a point where adding gas made it seem like it was pushing my head down into the water, since there is more lift around the butt. But I found it tolerable for a long surface swim with an Al80 stage (in pretty calm water though). Second, I have been fighting this neck seal chafing problem for months. Last weekend, I tried BodyGlide, which is an anti-chafing product made for runners. The first day, it did a pretty good job to minimize the chafing, but then on Sunday, it was nearly as bad as ever. So this week, I tried KY. It worked great! I have no mark on my neck at all (except for what is left from last weekend). Hopefully it will continue to work, and my coworkers will no longer look at me strangely on Mondays.

We did "dive 3" at RG Burger. I tried a new float -- the Leap Frog. It was tasty; I recommend it if you like mint. On the way home, Rob and I were so sleepy that we pulled off at the McDonald's just north of 156 on 101. A minute after we pulled in, someone pulled up beside us and honked. It was Ted -- just couldn't shake the guy. So we all took naps and then headed home.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Snorkelling for Nudibranchs

Saturday we did two dives at the Breakwater with Matt. The goal was to look for nudibranchs and other macro critters. Rob was shooting macro, obviously. Last time we did this at the Breakwater, I was pretty excited by the stuff that we found, so even though most of our dive buddies laughed at us for squandering a good conditions day there, we did it anyway. The plan was to do the first dive to the Metridium Field, or at least along the pipe and as far as we could make it. For the second dive, we planned to dive the wall. When we pulled up at 8, the parking lot was pretty empty. We got a great spot along the fence by the parking machine. We walked down the wall and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of redness in the water. It looked reasonably clear along the wall.

We got geared up and headed into the water. The tide was pretty high, which was nice since there was a short walk, but then the rocks were all hidden. The water was pretty clear close in. On the swim out, it got kind of brown though. As we were swimming out, Rob was looking for stuff on the kelp (a nudi geek technique he learned from Clinton). He found a bunch of egg masses, and then found a couple of Melibe leonina on the kelp leaf. I have never seen their egg masses before, so that was interesting. I was glad we found some, since I saw them last time I was at Breakwater and was hoping to show them to Matt. Then a little while later, we were looking at hydroids on a piece of kelp and Rob found some egg masses, but couldn't find a slug nearby. I finally managed to find a really tiny one, Cuthona lagunae, on some of the hydroids. I have only seen this one once before, when Clinton found one at MacAbee. I was having a lot of trouble showing it to Matt, since it was at most 5 mm in length. I think Matt thought I was crazy and pointing at nothing, but he finally saw it :) This was all while bobbing around on the surface. I tried to hold the kelp leaf so that Rob could take some pictures of it. So, we were off to a pretty good start, and we hadn't even left the surface!

We eventually descended in about 25 feet of water. It was dark and murky on the way down, but the viz was fine on the bottom. And it wasn't that dark. This was slightly unfortunate, since I'd been hoping it would be dark enough for some good octopus spotting. We headed to the pipe and hit it pretty quickly. We saw a couple Hermissendas, but nothing too exciting for a bit. I thought I may have seen a Dendronotus frondosus (picture above) surge by on one of those red leafy kelp leaves, but then I couldn't find it. A minute later, Rob signaled me from behind, and had a Dendronotus frondosus to show us :) We continued on, I found a cool crab here and there and a kelp fish hiding along the pipe, and Matt found a neat shrimp. Rob was scouting the sand along the pipe for some Dendronotus iris -- there were lots of their egg masses. Eventually I did come upon one that was actually sitting on the side of the pipe. It was a pretty average sized one. We also found a giant Peltodoris nobilis just off of the pipe in the sand. Shortly after heading out over the sand, we found a Hermissenda laying on the sand, and Rob got some shots of it. Soon afterwards, we hit the Metridium field. I wasn't seeing much of interest, when Rob started signaling me. I swam over to him and he had found a big beautiful Phidiana hiltoni (what can I say? I'm a sucker for pink nudibranchs).

We continued out a bit further and then Matt turned the dive on gas. I was actually about to turn the dive, because I noticed a current pushing us out away from the beach, so I figured the trip back could be longer than out. I hadn't really thought about it much, but on the way out along the pipe, we were definitely getting pushed out -- the trip back in was a little slower. The trip back in was pretty uneventful. At one point, I was pointing out a fairly big patch of lightbulb tunicates to Matt, when a translucent white shrimp crawled across them. It was pretty strange looking. I called Rob over to look, and I could tell he didn't think it was worth coming over to look at some tunicates, but he liked the shrimp too. We headed off of the pipe and ascended around 20 feet. It was pretty brown and icky during the ascent. 75 minutes, 50 feet, 55 degrees

For dive 2, we planned to dive the wall. What folly. I don't know if some red tide moved in or what, but the water was disgusting. We dropped just before the bend, and it was really gross on the way down. Then at the bottom it was a tiny bit better. We ran into the wall, and were inching along it, when we must have swam into a patch of even worse crap. Just like that, we were all separated. The moment before, I was right next to Rob, with my head at about his waist level, and he was right next to Matt, with his head at about Matt's shoulders. So pretty tightly packed. I looked at my gauge and when I looked up, gone! I waved my light back and forth for a little while, and noted how the crap in the water seemed to completely absorb the light. Pretty cool, but sort of inconvenient. So we met up at the surface and decided to swim out towards the Metridium field again on the surface and see if the viz was still better over there.

We dropped again in 30 feet of water, and the viz was slightly better. Rob swam us northwest, but the viz actually seemed to get worse instead of better. At one point I noticed a cool looking nudibranch on a piece of kelp, and signalled the team. By the time they came over, I couldn't find it again! (In hindsight, I suspect it was just a biggish Dendronotus frondosus). But while I was looking, I found something even cooler... a Polycera atra, which I have never seen before. I very excitedly showed it to Rob and Matt. I don't know if either of them got a very good look. Rob was trying to set up a shot, but between the murky 3 foot viz, and a bit of surge, I decided that just wasn't going to happen and thumbed it. Rob shot a bag and we went up. We swam in on the surface, and of course when we got in, the water has receded a lot, so we had a longer walk up the beach. It was still a short walk, but I considered it one final Eff You from Neptune after that dive :) 24 minutes, 30 feet, 57 degrees

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Middle Reef Times Two

On Sunday, we went to Point Lobos. I was diving with Rob and Kevin, as usual :P The plan was to do one skills dive (ick) and one dive counting nudibranchs for the BAUE nudibranch project. I do not generally approve of doing entire dives dedicated to skills, but it seems like our plans to work on stuff at the end of dives keep getting postponed, due to conditions (on boats) or stupid stuff like not having enough gas. So, to get us over the hump, I allowed a complete skills dive :) I hope I'm not setting a bad precedent!

We brought our 40 cu ft bottles along to try them out. I haven't used one before -- I got it a while ago, but haven't gotten around to using it, I guess because I've been schlepping the stage. And after schlepping the stage for one dive, I never feel like schlepping a bottle on the second :) Anyhoo, I theorized that the 40 would be even less "there" than the 80, so it wouldn't be a big deal to get used to it. That was indeed the case. I was actually thinking during the dive that I can totally see how you could lose the bottle and not notice, because it's like it's not even there! We swam out to about 30 feet of water (we meant to go out to 40, but we got lazy on the surface swim) and did some valve and S-drills at 15 feet. Then we ascended, chatted about it, and went back down to practice playing with the bottles. We practiced switching on and off of them at the bottom and then at 20 feet. All went well. After that, we descended and moseyed on in. What more can I say, it was a skills dive? Well, there was one mildly amusing moment. We had gotten settled in at 15 feet, and Rob starts his valve drill. Then all of a sudden, bubbles are spewing at me from underneath. I look down, and there is a diver apparently laying on his back on the bottom looking up. I have no idea what he was doing. Maybe looking for his buddy, who appeared next to him shortly thereafter. So we regrouped out of his bubble stream and tried again :) 32 feet, 63 minutes, 51 degrees

For dive 2, we did something a bit more fun -- counting nudibranchs. Kevin's drysuit flooded not too subtly on dive 1, so he sat out the second dive. I had a soggy foot but decided that I could suck it up for another dive. We were counting nudibranchs on the two transects that are further out (in about 55 to 60 feet of water). We swam quite a ways on the surface, and finally dropped in about 40 feet. I headed us out on the sand channel and at some point cut over to the reef. I was swimming along, and came to the spot that I thought were the transects. Gave them a look over, and decided, nah, these aren't it. Kept going. After swimming for a while and getting past 60 feet, I decided I must have passed them. I signaled to Rob that I thought we'd gone too far. He said no. I pointed out the depth. He said he would lead. Okay. He swims about 10 feet further, then I see a little light bulb go off in his head and he looks at his depth gauge and turns us around :) We come back to the spot I had looked over, and Rob says this is it. I told him no. Then I ponder it for a while. Swim around, look at it from a different angle, and think, man I'm such a moron. Yea, that was it. I prefer to think that it somehow looks different with less palm kelp along the top of the reef, rather than temporary extreme stupidity.

So, after taking too long to get to the transect, I got right down to counting. I started with the northernmost one. It seemed like I found a lot more nudis on that transect than I have in the past (I guess I've only surveyed it once, so that's not a very impressive sample). I pretty quickly happened upon an Aegires (which, sadly, we don't count in the survey so I didn't get to count it) on an orange sponge. It was the first time I saw one of these and didn't have to do a double take to decide if it was really a slug. Sitting on that orange sponge, it was very obvious! Rob pointed out a Festive Triton to me pretty quickly, and I later found another one, at a slightly funny angle. I felt like it was looking at it from underneath. I also found one Rostanga after searching over many many patches of orange sponge. As I was swimming along one patch of the transect, I was thinking to myself that it seemed like the perfect place for a very well hidden Limacia. A minute later, I found a Limacia! I turned to signal Rob, and when I looked back, I couldn't find it. So I told Rob what I had found, and he found it again for us. Other than that, I saw pretty boring stuff. I hope none of my readers are opisthobranchs who are offended by talk like that.

I moved on to the next transect, and by this time my leg was soaked up to the knee :( Pretty chilly. Actually it was just uncomfortable feeling water swishing around in there. Maybe there is really something to this claim that Argon makes wet Thinsulate feel warmer. I found a bunch of Rostangas, one pretty big for a Rostanga. I showed it to Rob and his eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head and he signalled "big". I think I have actually seen one bigger before though. Rob also found a rather sad looking Flabellina trilineata. Sad looking, but exciting nonetheless. I don't think I have ever seen one before at Lobos, and I've definitely never gotten to check that box while doing a survey before :) You can see from the picture that it was missing a rhinophore, and some of its cerata look broken or bent. But still a cute little guy. After I finished, I told Rob I had a wet knee, but I could do a quick fly by the wolf eels. On the way over there, Rob found another trilineata on a piece of kelp. It was tiny. In my attempt to hold the kelp for him to take a picture of it, it ended up on my finger :( Whoops! Oh, that reminds me, I actually have seen a trilineata at Lobos once before -- Don and Elissa found one, and while attempting to show it to me, it ended up on Don's glove :)

We got to the area of the wolf eels, and while I was looking for my landmark to find it, I saw the males head just sitting out. He was further out of his crack than usual. Man, he has a giant head. I could see the female back in the crack, but not her head, just her body. After that, we headed out to the sand channel and ascended. Rob insisted on shooting a bag ("for practice") as we were heading up. 63 feet, 75 minutes, 51 degrees

We were kind of far out, but we ascended because we were both getting low on gas. When I popped up, I saw Jonathan standing at the top of the bluff. At this point I was ridiculously cold, so I surface swam as fast as I could. Jonathan offered us help out of the water, but luckily I didn't need it. The tide was low, but I still managed to get out of the water pretty gracefully, for once :P When we got up the ramp, Jonathan had filled our rinse buckets for us and put our tables over by the hose. Thanks Jonathan! He told us everyone was at Black Bear Diner for lunch and headed over there. After we cleaned up, we joined them and I had some tasty French toast. I was freezing for the next few hours, probably because of that leak. I guess it is time for some Aquaseal.

Pictures from the day are here.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Outer Pinnacles on the Escapade

Yesterday, we went on a BAUE charter on the Escapade. We did two dives at the Outer Pinnacles, but we moved a couple pinnacles over between dives. It was a great day topside -- sunny, clear skies, a light breeze and the water was not too rough. As we came around Pt. Pinos, it got a touch sporty (there was a fishing boat anchored right around there, and I was thinking to myself... fishermen are hard core, sitting at anchor in seas like this). But once we got around, it calmed down. We even talked Ted into coming on the boat with us (he always whines about getting seasick), so I was relieved that the conditions were this good. Hopefully it means we can twist his arm into coming on more boats with us in the future! There was a big wave every now and then, but nothing too bad. During the first dive it actually calmed down even more, so the water was essentially flat during our surface interval. Anyhoo, on the way down there, a bit before Cypress Point, we came upon a pod of dolphins. I think they were all Risso's, we saw maybe 100. That was neat. As we were gearing up for the first dive, Jim pointed out a whale (a humpback I think?). Of course, I was pinned to the bench half in my gear and the whale was right behind me. So I didn't actually see it.

We could see tons of sea nettles in the water as soon as we got to the pinnacles. This was quite a treat, since I think that sea nettles are one of the most beautiful thing in the ocean (or at least in the aquarium :P), but I've only ever seen one. The water was also amazingly clear. So, we hopped into the water. There was a little surface current. I felt like I was kicking to the line and not moving, but that was probably mostly because my stage bottle was in a dumb position. I was diving with Rob and Kevin (my Tech 1 team), and since they are real killjoys, they insisted that we do some mid-water drills on the way down, if the current permitted. As we descended, there was a little more current than I wanted to have to deal with, so we punted that. We got down to the pinnacle and started exploring a little. As usual, there was lots of pretty hydrocoral. When I am at the pinnacles, hydrocoral is really all I see, because it distracts me from the rest :) It was surprisingly surgy even at 70 to 80 feet. I kept swimming us around looking for a spot where we would have some protection from the surge, but I never really found any such place. So we were on the move on this dive a lot more than I typically like. Surge near hydrocoral always makes me nervous. And it makes it quite hard for Rob to setup a shot. He set me up for a couple, and it was pretty comical to watch. The vertical viz was amazing. From 80 feet, you could see the surface. As we were swimming back near the end, I didn't see the line, so I looked up and found the boat. Then I was able to trace the line coming down from the boat :) On the way up, there were still sea nettles all around. I really didn't notice them on the way up, but that may have been because I was focusing on the silly 6 minute ascent that we were practicing. Once we got to the surface, I popped my head back down to look at them, and Rob took some pictures. In hindsight, we really should have gone back down to get some more shots. 80 feet, 58 minutes, 49 degrees

I was testing out two new pieces of equipment -- a Salvo 21W HID cannister light, and a Diving Concepts thinsulate vest (I know, George would NOT approve). They both worked well. Even though some water seeped in the back of my neck seal (I guess), I was pretty warm. Who knows if that had anything to do with the vest :P The light was great. At first, the bigger light head (my old light is a 10W H) was really annoying. I couldn't just forget that it was there like usual, and my thumb was getting sore from holding it. But I guess I eventually found a better way to hold it, because during the second dive, I didn't even notice it. I think my weighting wasn't quite right, though... the light is 2 to 3 pounds more negative than my old one, so I was hoping it would even out with the vest but I think I need another pound or two.

We moved a couple pinnacles over and hung out for a little while, while Rob attempted to break some kind of world record for the amount of junk food eaten on a surface interval. I guess he was feeling good since he had upped his dose of Bonine (plus the water was so calm). As I was getting geared up, I noticed my foot felt kind of squishy. Guess it is that time of month where we have to Aquaseal all the holes in the neoprene socks on our drysuits. We eventually flopped back into the water, and the sea nettles were still out playing. As soon as I got back in the water, sure enough, I could feel cold water on my foot. Unfortunately, the current had died down to basically none, so I couldn't weasel out of doing some drills. So we spent about 15 minutes at 20 feet. We barely moved at all, so I guess the current really had died down completely. I think from 20 feet we could probably see the bottom. It seemed like we were in the Caribbean, but with a tinge of green (oh and that pesky drysuit and 12mm hood).

When we finally descended, there was more pretty hydrocoral. We passed Ted and Matt at the anchor line (they were getting near the end of their dive as we were getting down there, because they got in way before us). The hydrocoral wasn't quite as prevalent as the last site. There was more other stuff, or at least I noticed more other stuff :) For one thing, there was more kelp. Actually when we jumped in the water, there was a bunch of kelp that would make swimming to the line annoying. But with that viz, we just dropped right there and found the line. I also noticed a lot of yellow sponge, which somehow reminded me of North Monastery. I'm sure there's yellow sponge all over the place, so I don't know why North Monastery pops to mind :) Rob found a gorgonian, which I have not noticed at the pinnacles before. We ended up finding a crack with about 3 more little gorgonians. Oddly, I saw essentially no nudibranchs. Not that I was looking for them (too surgy, plus that would be a waste of > 60 foot viz), but I saw exactly one -- a Doriopsilla. When I mentioned this to Rob, he said he too saw only one, and it was the same one. I did look at a kelp stalk to see if I could find anything interesting on it, and I saw a neat reddish shrimp eating some hydroids (or maybe he was just hanging out with them). I pointed it out to Rob and then forced Kevin to come over and look, even though I suspect he secretly doesn't really care about the small things I make him look at :P I wasn't feeling too confident on how to get us back to the boat, but I swam in the general direction until I saw bubbles and then people ascending. Then I found the line :) We decided to doodle around near the line for about 5 more minutes. I saw Rob flashing his light out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned I realized he wasn't flashing it, but it was flickering, on the verge of death. H lights really suck :P We headed back to the line and did another uneventful six minute ascent. Oh it was slightly eventful. I decided I needed another pound or two (I still have 800 or so PSI in the tanks, but felt like I had to squeeze every last bit of gas out of my suit and wing). When we got to the surface, we were sad to see that the sea nettles were gone, so Rob could not take more pictures. 86 feet, 64 minutes, 49 degrees

The trip back to Monterey was really smooth, and full of entertaining conversation with Ted. (Ted gets really sad when he doesn't make it into my reports, so I had to say that :P) On the way in, Jim saw two molas on the surface, so we circled back around to take a look. One of them was really small. The other was pretty small as well (about the size I've seen at the breakwater before). When we got into the bay, I was astonished at how gross the water looked. It was a terrible shade of reddish-brown. We saw one of the other dive boats turn back at the edge of the bay when we were on the way out (and heard some chatter on the radio about it). It would suck to be stuck on a boat that wouldn't leave the bay in the conditions we had yesterday, considering the alternative! Dive 3 at Turtle Bay :P

Rob and Clinton's pictures from the day are available here.