It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, December 30, 2007

whirrr... click-click ... WHIRRR

After the wonderful conditions on Saturday, I decided to go back for some more on Sunday. Harry Wong had some Lobos reservations with extra spaces on them, so Rob, Kevin, and I went scootering again at Lobos (thanks Harry). After blowing by the ranger station on Saturday, Sunday was quite the opposite. When we got there at 12 till, the line was backed up to the road. Then it took 30 minutes to get through the line. And that's not an exaggeration. When we finally got to Whaler's we discussed what we wanted to do. Kevin mentioned that he wanted to do some valve drills and S drills, and I whined that I had been lured down to dive on the pretense of fun diving only. So we negotiated that down to a valve drill only, and we would do that on the way out on the scooters, so just one long dive. I wanted to go back to the canyon area in the shallows that we went to yesterday, but Rob informed me that that wasn't sufficiently cool to spend a whole dive there (what-EV). So he suggested we go back to the Sisters. I was amenable, since we really didn't get to spend too much time there yesterday (on account of overstaying our welcome at Beto's).

The water was no nearly as clear in the cove as it was yesterday. So we surface scooted out to the edge of the cove, and then we descended. We scooted out to about 40 feet, and then we did some valve drills at 20 feet. After some more harness adjustments, I could reach my isolator again, although my arm was a little tired by the end of it. I felt like I had to try a little too hard, but the drills were all very good overall. Then we headed out. I keep telling Rob and Kevin that I need some remedial barrel roll training, because I just can't seem to do it. So while we were in the sand channel, Kevin told me to stop and then he demonstrated and told me to try it. I kind of got stuck halfway through, and had to fin my way back over. He got it on video which was quite amusing. Then Rob did a perfect barrel roll. Kevin was leading (after he insisted Rob not lead, since he led on Saturday, and tried to make me lead -- but I pointed out that I led on the dive before). He took us on a different path than we usually take... he cut west earlier and took us behind Hole in the Wall, and the other ridges along Cannery Point that we usually pass on the way out there. We were scooting along in maybe 50 feet of water when out of nowhere we reached a clearing with two sea lions dancing around. I've never seen sea lions at Lobos (underwater) before! They were only with us briefly and then they took off. We continued out and I think Kevin got some glamour shots of Rob and me scooting along. We eventually reached Beto's (whoops) and then headed over to the Sisters. We hit the second sister (the deep one) and Rob signaled to me that we should clip off our scooters. I was like... umm, no, we're scooting around the pinnacle first :) So we went for a quick spin around it, which was very fun, and then clipped off.

Rob had wanted to hang out at the second one, so we hunkered down there for a while. While Rob was shooting an elephant ear sponge, I found a small Dendronotus albus. Woohoo. Rob was down by another elephant ear sponge (the one that sticks out of the east-side of sister 2... Rob's favorite elephant ear sponge). He motioned me to come down and pose behind it. I went down there and once he and I were trying to line up, I realized how surgey it was even this deep! While we were at this sister, I also looked up and noticed I could see the ripples on the surface :P Eventually Kevin suggested we move over to the third one, and we all agreed. Kevin started scooting over there, and then I realized Rob was swimming because he didn't want to have to fold up and clip his camera. So I was scooting, waiting for Rob, scooting, waiting for Rob. It was pretty amusing. We got over to the third one, and I started looking closer for critters. I noticed that there were tons of clown nudibranchs, many of them fairly small. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was one. I was pointing this out to Rob, and while he was looking, he noticed another Dendronotus albus. It was pretty big, a nice-sized specimen for Kevin to video. I also found a very cute sculpin hanging his head down from a little overhang, so just his head was hanging out upside-down. Eventually he swam out, probably because he was annoyed by our lights.

Eventually we headed in shallower, shooting for the canyons we had played in on Saturday. We never really found that area, but we did find some nice color structures and even one surgey channel between to walls to zoom through. Then we headed east back towards Lone Metridium, which was open and quite happy looking today. Kevin paused to bow to the metridium gods, and I gave it a poke (so bad, I know). At this point, I was freezing. My arm felt really cold, and I suspected it was wet. In one of the channels between ridges out near Lone Metrid, Kevin stopped and prodded me to work on my barrel roll some more. After one more not so successful attempt, I told Kevin I was cold and we headed in. We zoomed down the sand channel, until we hit that worm patch in about 25 feet (I couldn't believe it when we got to it -- we got there so fast!). Right after we got past that, visibility got terrible. Really terrible, like hard to see your buddy 5 feet away with a HID light. So Kevin turned around and suggested we go back and ascend. Just as he turned around, a seal appeared behind him and started tugging on his fins. Rob and I were chuckling and pointing while Kevin was trying to figure out what was going on. He later told us that at first he thought he was kicking me :) As soon as he looked, the seal swam away. Eventually he showed himself though, and Kevin got what was going on. We swam back to the worm patch, and just like that the visibility cleared up. Rob suggested I shoot a bag, so I did, while we all clipped off our scooters and lights and got ready for the ascent. My bag shoot yesterday was, umm, a little limp. So this time I really concentrated on exhaling the WHOLE way. We ascended to 20 feet, and after a minute, I signaled we should go up to 10, when Rob pointed out that we had agreed to 3 minutes at 20 and 10. Brrrrr. My arm was freezing at this point, but I went along with it. When we got to 10 feet, Kevin scooted off a little to get some video of us. When I was ready to surface, I turned to Rob and asked "where's Kevin?" and he pointed out that Kevin was right between us. Doh! He's sneaky like a seal! We got to the surface and I was delighted to see that my bag was completely inflated. That may be a first ;) and from 25 feet! We scooted back in on the surface. 91 minutes, 108 feet, 49 degrees

When I got out of the water, I found that my right arm was completely waterlogged. Hmph. Yesterday was the first time that my pink drysuit has been 100% dry, and now today there was a huge regression :( After a little searching, I found a hole in the wrist seal right near the suit. At least that was easy to find and easy to fix. We watched the video footage from the dive at Turtle Bay afterwards. I think that after studying the successful barrel rolls vs. my unsuccessful attempts, I have a better idea of what to do next time :) Thanks again to David for loaning me his scoot scoot.

Kevin shot, edited and posted video from our dive here.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Almost-Epic Day at Lobos

On Saturday, Team Kitty dove at Point Lobos. The swell forecast looked big all week, but we planned to go down anyway and see how it looked. By Saturday morning, the forecast had improved significantly, but I guess no one else got the memo -- we pulled into Lobos right at 9 and the gate was open with no backlog of cars entering. There were only 2 other dive teams when we got there and in the end, I think there were only 5 in total all day. All of those people who stayed home missed a great day of diving. It was really calm at Lobos (and Monastery looked like it was probably diveable from the drive-by). Overall the conditions were great, and given the dire predictions all week, they were spectacularrrr.

Our first order of business was to do some drills, as usual. So we decided to do two dives; the first one was all drills, and the second one we would scooter. Kevin was trying out the X-View camera on one of the scooters -- his first time doing underwater video. We got into the water reasonably quickly (in a hurry to get the boring dive over with), and swam out on the surface along the sand channel. We wanted to get to about 50 feet and practice a couple of ascents from there. We were impressed with the visibility even right at the ramp. It was very clear and very blue. When we got out of the cove, it continued to be great; when we dropped in 40 feet of water, we could see the bottom. We swam out a little further to 50 feet, and practiced a couple of timed ascents, with bottle switches and 6 minute ascents from 20 feet. We also did a couple of valve drills in mid-water. I had adjusted my harness a little bit before the dive, and I couldn't reach my isolator :( Well, I could reach it, and just barely managed to close it, but then I had to give up with it halfway open (because reaching back there was causing me serious pain) and have Rob finish opening it for me :) But then he swiveled the isolator down a little towards my head, and I could do it, but it was still pretty uncomfortable. Then we headed in, and on the way, we practiced deploying backup lights and backup masks. I found out the hard way that I haven't adjusted the strap on my backup mask since my last warm water trip :) A little tight with that 12mm hood on. 84 minutes, 51 feet, 49 degrees

By the time we got back in the water for the second dive, the visibility in the cove had deteriorated a little bit. But it was still good outside of the cove. The plan was to go to Beto's Reef, spend a few minutes there, and then head over to the Three Sisters. Rob was leading, I was #2, and Kevin was #3. We scootered out a little bit on the surface and dropped in the sand channel. I had borrowed Rob's mask because I wanted to try out this $35 frameless mask that everyone raves about (Rob has another one as his backup, so he wore that). When we first descended there seemed like a trickle coming in around the cheek, but I thought I could live with it. Then once we started scootering, I swear that thing was bouncing off of my face at the bottom. I thought to myself... hmm, this could get really annoying after an hour. So I signaled the others and swapped back to my regular mask. So I got to practice the backup mask deployment a second time :) Kevin got the whole ordeal on video too, which was amusing to watch. Anyhoo, we headed out along the sand channel until we got to Hole in the Wall, and then we headed towards Beto's. When we got there, we scootered along to the first drop off, and then we clipped off and swam around. We saw a lingcod on a perch just outside of a little overhang. There was a second one about 5 feet further down the reef. Kevin was trying to take some video of it, and scared him away, and he saw under the overhang. We continued on, and looked for the wolf eels in their usual spot, but unfortunately they were not there. We came upon another lingcod sitting on the reef, but he was less skittish. I think he eventually got annoyed with Kevin and swam off, but then he stopped at another perch about 5 feet away. Rob found an elephant ear that he likes and set me up for some pictures, and then he setup Kevin and me for some "action shots" of us scootering over him. Right as Rob was putting his camera away to head to the sisters, Kevin found a seal darting around near the bottom. There was a little swim through that the seal was going through. Rob got his camera out to take more pictures and then of course the seal would not come out again :)

We headed over to the Sisters, and on the way there, we passed over a school of maybe 100 of some sort of perch-like fish (they were silver). We paused at the second sister briefly, but then Kevin wanted to go over to the third one, so we went over there. It is really big compared to the second one, which is the one I have been to more often. We hung out there for a while, and Rob took some pictures. Rob found a Dendronotus albus on a little piece of seaweed swaying in the surge, and pointed it out to me. That was pretty cool -- I have never seen one of these at Lobos before (or anywhere from shore). I brought Kevin over to look at it and he took some video of it. We also saw at least one more lingcod over here. In all, we saw 4 or 5 big lingcods during the course of the dive. When we turned the dive, Rob headed us in south toward the shallower structures out there. We got to an area of canyons which were very colorful and very fun to zip through on the scooters. The walls were covered in cotton candy colors. After slaloming around between rock walls and kelp stalks for a while, we eventually headed in. We passed by Lone Metridium, who was all curled up and sad looking, and then we hit the sand channel and scooted in there. The visibility there had gotten a bit worse, but we still managed to scooter in all the way to the ramp. It was just about high tide when we got out, which made for a nice easy exit. 64 minutes, 110 ft, 49 degrees

Afterwards, we had lunch at Black Bear with Ted, Don, and Elissa who had been at Lobos but got out of there before we did because they just did one long dive. We reviewed some of the video footage that Kevin took, and it looked good. I can't wait to see what he puts together! Thanks to David for letting me borrow his scooter :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Team Kitty Rides Again

Since Ken and Claudette were visiting from SoCal, it seemed like everyone came to Lobos to dive today. Kevin had made a great point of saying that he was not committing to diving with anyone in particular this weekend, but especially not Team Kitty :) Jonathan had some spare scooters for us to borrow, and as it turned out, there were six of us planning to scoot over to Granite Point. We decided to do two teams of three, and somehow, we ended up diving with Kevin. The plan was to go out to Granite Point, and go to some of the pinnacles further north than we go when we swim. Rob was leading the dive, and I was in my usual (for scootering) #2 position :) Thanks to Ben Villao for the below scooter lineup picture.

Somehow it ended up that everyone descended on the ramp to get into the water at once. Once I got my fins out and bobbed off the end of the ramp, I realized there were tons of heads bobbing around in the water, with their nearly identical Otter Bay hoods and mostly black masks :) I managed to find my team, and Kevin quickly decreed that we would not be surface scooting to the sand channel -- the viz in the cove was spectacular, so he wanted to drop right there at the ramp. So, we did, although Rob made him lead to the sand channel (ever since Rob got us lost on scooters between the ramp and the sand channel, he claims he "can't" find his way from the ramp to the sand channel). Once we got to the sand channel, Rob took over as knucklehead, I mean leader. We scooted out along the sand channel, and then headed to Granite Point Wall. After 2 minutes, we were there. Then we headed north until we got to an area with some hydrocoral. The first area that we stopped at was a spot we'd been to once before on scooters, on a day when all of the hydrocoral had eel grass wrapped in it. Some of the pieces still had eel grass in them, but not nearly as badly as before. Rob took some pictures while we poked around (or I did anyway). I saw a couple of Festive Tritons out there, and tried to force Kevin to look at one, but he resisted and looked at a small rockfish instead.

We swam around a bit while Rob found nice pieces of hydrocoral to take pictures of. He was setting me up behind one piece, and while he was taking a picture, I noticed a nice bushy Phidiana hiltoni. We continued out along the rocks and pinnacles, and eventually we came to a couple of cool spots with narrow canyons between rock formations. Those were fun to scooter through. At one of them, we stopped for a while, and Kevin and I did a few passes over Rob while he took pictures. We ended up getting pretty shallow; we were at about 40 feet by the time we turned. In the shallows out near the end, it really reminded me of Monastery. So many colorful encrustations; the rocks were colored with cotton candy colors. We turned the dive and headed back over to the wall before we headed out over the sand.

I didn't have a compass on my scooter (which was annoying, since I had to actually use the compass on my arm :P), but I was getting pretty suspicious about the direction we were going for a little while. Eventually Rob corrected, but as a result, we came upon middle reef from the east side, unlike from the north like we usually do. So we got to see a different area of middle reef, which was neat. We cut across it to the west, and then we saw the familiar deep nudibranch transects. The visibility had deteriorated substantially, I assume because of the tide going out. Rob led us right along the wall on the east side of middle reef. All of a sudden, there were divers everywhere, and I realized that we'd found Ted, Matt, Don and Elissa. They were right near where the warbonnets live, so Rob went ahead and tried to find them. He was looking and looking and couldn't find them, and so the other four left. Of course right after they left, he found one in his hole. Kevin and I both took a look and then we headed in. We scooted all the way into the ramp until we saw the lines of the floats next to the ramp, and ascended from 5 feet. Rob shot a bag before we ascended, hehehe. 79 feet, 94 minutes, 51 degrees

The tide had gone out a lot by the time we got out, so the water was pretty low on the ramp. But it wasn't too too low, so I managed to get myself, and my scooter out without embarrassing myself (although I almost tripped over another diver sloshing around on the ramp :( but my hands were a little too full to help). Ben came running down and took my scooter, and then he insisted on giving me an arm to hold onto. What a gentleman :P In the confusion of getting everyone and their stuff out of the water, Rob must have dropped his SMB, because Ken noticed it bobbing around to the south of the ramp about halfway to the beach after we were all out of the water and out of our gear. Rob grabbed a scooter and surface scooted over to pick it up. As he was scooting back with the SMB, a seal became interested and was following right behind him. It was so cute.

We had been planning on doing two dives, but I was kind of feeling like going to eat instead, so Rob did a second dive with Ken, Claudette, and Ben, while I went to lunch with everyone else (mmm, Gianni's). At lunch, we watched David's video of their dive to the Twin Peaks area. It was pretty neat; I am sure he will publish something soon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Night Scooting, Deserves a Quiet Night

We went down to Monterey for a night dive with Kevin, Jonathan and Claudette (visiting from SoCal). Jonathan had some spare scooters so we did the Breakwater by scoot. We met there around 7 PM, and after getting geared up (brrrr that was cold), we were in the water around 8 or so. The conditions at the Breakwater were actually a little sporty. There were occasional sort of big breakers. There was also just a lot of water movement up the beach and back down. I have never done a shore entry with a scooter (only scooted at Lobos before), so Jonathan gave me some advice on how to do it (basically I had the option of scooting out and then putting my fins on further out). Then we got in, and I completely disregarded that, and got my fins on and then scooted out. There were actually reasonable-sized breakers on the entry, surprising for Breakwater.

We scooted out a ways on the surface. At some point, I noticed Rob signaling me from behind, and I stopped and he pointed out that one of my fins was on upside-down. Whoops :) After fixing that, we continued out on the surface, and met up with everyone else. The other three were diving as a team, and Rob and I were a team, following them. So, we dropped down, and yada yada yada, we got ditched and Rob and I were on our own. We headed out along the wall, as I thought to myself... hey, I didn't sign up for navigating out to the barge on a scooter at night :) There were tons of fish out on the wall. Just like last time, I noticed lots of small rockfish. So I scooted along, looking for the marker where we leave the wall. After a while, I decided we must have missed it, so I turned us around. Then I started going really slowly... scooter for a few seconds, stop to look around, and repeat. Apparently Rob found this annoying, so he asked if he could be captain (as an aside, Ken and Claudette later told us that the sign that we all use for "captain" is the same sign they use for "knucklehead", which makes a lot of sense actually). I said yes, because I really wasn't that interested in navigating. So he started to lead, and before you know it, we were heading out to the barge. On the way out, he stopped at one point to show me an octopus. There were also a decent number of moon jellies in the water. And we passed tons of tube snouts all the way out there. Other than that, I think the trip out there was uneventful.

We got to the barge, and met up with everyone else. The barge was, ya know, the barge. Except it was dark out. I saw a few ginormous Peltodoris's (what IS the plural of Peltodoris?) on the barge. I didn't see any Triopha catalinae, which surprised me, since it seems like I always see those on the barge (I did see one as I was scooting along the wall though). There were a couple of moon jellies out there too, and as Rob was about to take a picture of one, Kevin practically assaulted me, trying to push me out of the way so he could have his picture taken. He's so vain. Rob set me up behind a sunflower star on the side of the barge, and as I was hanging out there pretending to be interested in the star, I noticed a little lined chiton scurrying along the edge. I have seen those things so many times, but I've never noticed one actually moving. Even cuter, there was a tiny snail (may 3 mm in diameter) sitting on the chitons back, going for a ride. Rob also at one point showed me a really cute little sculpin curled up on the edge of a piece of the barge. I'm not sure what it was. There were also a lot of rockfish and some surfperch. At some point, Rob asked me if I wanted to stay around there or scoot over to the Metridium field. I gave him the "are you crazy" look and said no. I have never done the so-called Breakwater circuit, and didn't really feel like exploring on my first night scooter dive :)

We hung around there for a while, and eventually the other team left. Rob finished up taking some pictures, and tried to get a few of me scootering over him (which didn't really work, I suspect because we were having trouble coordinating the timing without one of us blinding the other with our lights). After the other team left, it seemed like it got so dark out there. I didn't realize it, but the 5 of us all out there really lit the place up. We then headed back to the wall. On the way, Rob found another octopus, and he also found two really cute fish, burying themselves in the sand. I believe that they were Pacific staghorn sculpins (which are new to me). A moment later, when we were back on the trigger, I noticed a small ray laying in the sand. I signaled Rob and then swooped back to find it. It was a small pacific electric ray. We were both pretty excited... we've only seen one once before (when we were scootering Lobos... hmm, coincidence?). Rob took some pictures, which I was kind of surprised by considering its size and that he was shooting wide angle. But I was glad he managed to get some shots of it. After that, we continued in. I saw a tube anemone whose tube was about 3 feet long. I couldn't believe it (and knew Rob wouldn't), so I signaled him and we quickly circled it to get a second look. Then we headed back to the wall. After we got there, we ended up circling out over the sand a little bit. We saw a bunch of Dendronotus iris's (and their eggs), and another octopus. We eventually got to about 15 feet, where we paused for a bit. While we were just hanging there, I noticed a pretty big octopus in the sand right in front of me. It was trying to hide in a hole, but the surge kept blowing it out of the hole. It was pretty neat watching it get blown around, curling itself up and then uncurling and expanding its mantle.

Speaking of getting blown around, it was very surgy in the shallows. We ascended from about 10 feet, and the surface was even sportier than when we got in. The water was really sloshing around like all the way up to the stairs and then pretty far out. We tried removing our fins a bit beyond the surf zone and then scooting in. I went ahead of Rob, and reminded him that it wouldn't be very nice to leave me behind in the surf :) For some reason I found it insanely difficult to scooter on the surface with no fins. I guess I am just not used to it. I was barely moving, and eventually I just put on fin back on, as a compromise, so I would only have to wrestle one fin off in the surf. Then I got close enough in to stand up and take that one off. I was walking out, and not making any progress because I would walk up the beach and then another wave would come, and the water would be as deep as it was when I started :) Eventually Kevin came down and took my scooter and then I managed to scurry out pretty quickly :) Go Team Kitty. 63 feet, 77 minutes, 52 degrees

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Granite Point by Kick

We were back at Lobos today, diving with Kevin and Beto and Susan. Beto had a video camera malfunction yesterday, so they were going to take some video of us today. The conditions looked quite good at Monastery (and there were basically no breakers as we looked at the bay on the way down). In fact, we called up some buddies who were planning to dive Breakwater to tell them to go over to Monastery instead. The water was likewise calm-looking at Lobos when we finally got to Whaler's. We decided it was a good day to head to Granite Point. But first we would do some skills along the sand channel for the video camera.

For some reason, despite my significant leak(s) on Saturday, I decided to dive the same suit. There was some rationale behind it, but it doesn't really make sense in hindsight (it didn't make sense to anyone but me in foresight either :P). That would turn out to be a bit of a mistake. Anyhoo, we got into the water, and right as we left the ramp, Rob yelled that there was a leopard shark. I immediately stuck my face in the water but could not see it (I think it was already beyond the limit of visibility). It was swimming in Susan's direction so she got a good look at it. Rob and I had never seen a leopard shark before, and I am bitter than I still haven't :P The viz was good in the shallows again, though probably not quite as spectacular as it was on Friday. We swam out to about 30 feet, and Susan and Beto went down and put up a bag, so that Rob could clip off his camera while we had our skills fun. Then we descended to 20 feet and did a round of valve drills and S drills. They all went well, better than on Friday I think. After that, we went down to the bottom and Kevin shot a bag and we did an ascent with 1 minutes stops each 10 feet. That too went fine, except for my slight inability to keep seconds without a seconds timer on my computer :) We had originally planned on each doing a bag shoot and ascent, but we decided to just go do our fun dive and then we could shoot bags on our final ascent. 24 minutes, 26 feet, 50 degrees

I was leading Team Kitty. We headed down and out the sand channel a little ways. Once again viz was pretty bad below 20 feet. I eventually cut us over to the reef, and we stopped on the way out to look for our new pet warbonnets. Rob found one of the two in the same hole where we found him last time. He showed it to Kevin, who clearly was not too excited about it. His disdain for macro life makes me seriously question our screening process for Team Kitty :) We continued out along the reef and when we got to near the end (by the far nudibranch transects), Rob set up some shots of me and Kevin swimming towards/over him. After that, we headed out over the sand. That was pretty uneventful, we traveled a little shallower than usual (the water was much cleaner out here, so it was a fun day to swim a bit above the sand because you could see quite far). We eventually hit the wall and headed north along that. Eventually I suggested that Rob take over leading, so he could find spots he wanted to stop at for pictures. That worked better than me leading and having to keep stopping and asking if he wanted to take pictures there. We curved around the wall and got to the first break in the wall with a little kelp patch. I think the kelp patches over there are always very pretty, even when the kelp is thin. At some point when I was in about 70 feet, I looked up and could see the surface ripples. Very nice. The horizontal viz was probably about 30 to 40 feet. We started seeing some bits of hydrocoral (which, as far as Rob is concerned, is the reason to go to Granite Point), and Rob setup a couple of shots with us. Then we continued out, and we made it to Rob's favorite hydrocoral spot out there. I was glad we made it there... he was hmm'ing and haa'ing about swimming out there, because he says we can only get to the "good parts" on scooter. Apparently that is not true.

I was getting pretty cold and started thinking that I would turn the dive when he was done taking pictures in that spot. Then Kevin signaled turn on gas. Rob led us back to around where I had handed off leading to him, and then I took over leading again. We were swimming back over the sand channel when either Rob or Kevin noticed a flatfish slithering around in the sand below us. Rob went down to take some pictures while Kevin and I watched from a few feet above. Then all of a sudden there were bubbles under me -- Beto and Susan had snuck up on us. Beto played with the fish and posed for some pictures while Susan got some video of it. Susan told us afterwards that it was a C-O Turbot. Then we continued on because I was COLD. It was a welcome site when we hit the end of middle reef. I was trying to get my bearings, and looking at a rock to my right when Kevin confirmed that this is the "V mount" that the scooter boys use as a waypoint on the way out to Granite Point. We continued in until we got to about 30 feet, when I decided it would not be too unreasonable of a surface swim back in. I thumbed it, and had Rob shoot a bag, and we ascended. Beto and Susan appeared below us as we were ascending, and we met up at the surface. We were pretty close to where we had started (we had left the bag there that we used to clip off Rob's camera). We headed in, me at lightning speed, because I was cold and had to pee. Rob and Kevin were taking their good old time, which was seriously annoying me :) 80 minutes, 70 feet, 50 degrees

Shortly after we got out of the water, Jonathan, Nils, and Ben showed up. They had been diving at Monastery. Apparently Nils' X-Table had collapsed under the weight of his doubles on the uneven sand at Monastery. Wow, that's impressive, considering they are rated for 750-ish pounds :) After we cleaned up our gear (and I dried off :( ), we headed to the chowder house for lunch and video review.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Playing with Line at Point Lobos

We took Friday off to do a little line clinic with Beto at Point Lobos. We brought Kevin along even though he is a line expert (they don't call him Cave Diver Kevin for nothing) so we could also practice some other stuff with Beto around to watch. It was really chilly on the surface when we first got there; it was pretty overcast and a little windy. First we did some land drills with the reel (with our gloves on and goodman handle on our hands). It was mostly the stuff that Kevin has shown us before, but we practiced in a little wooded spot behind the cabin at Whaler's, and I think that tying off to tree branches is more interesting practice than the Breakwater parking meters. It went pretty well, although reeling in was really hurting my hand, though I suspected it would be easier in the water, when the reel is much less heavy. But I did find a better hand position than I previously used. After we did the basics, we also covered how to follow the line out in zero viz. That was pretty funny, especially every time we came to a tie off and I smacked into Rob when he stopped :)

We had some snacks and finally made it into the water in the early afternoon. The plan was to do some valve drills and S-drills in midwater, then to head to the bottom and run some line along the sand channel. Beto pointed out that palm kelp is a very convenient place to tie off, which I never would have considered. When we got into the water, I could not believe how clear it was. The water right near the ramp was probably as clean as I have ever seen it. We were all excited at the prospect of great viz. On the way out, we passed Phil Sammet, who was on the way in from a similar dive he was doing with students. He told us the viz was terrible on the sand channel. Hmph. So, we headed out until we were in about 30 feet, and descended to 20. Around 20 feet, the water went from incredibly clean and clear to really murky. We did our drills, which were pretty uneventful, except that my valve drill sucked, so I did a second one at the end in an attempt to redeem myself :P After that, we dropped down, and I played with the reel first. The viz was incredibly bad, and it was super surgy. Tying the line was painful because I kept getting jerked around by the surge. I laid line as we headed out along the sand channel for about 15 minutes. Then we turned around and I reeled in. My team kept leaving me in their dust, since I am always pokey but even pokier when there is line cleanup involved.

We finally got back to the start and Rob took his turn. As soon as he got his reel out and picked a spot for the primary tie, his reel sort of exploded. His reel was super filled with line, and Beto had suggested it might be easier if he cut some of it off; he wasn't kidding. I held the end of the line while Rob cleaned it up (which he did impressively quickly and gracefully). Then we got back to business and he laid line along the sand channel, taking a very similar route to the one I took (no creativity...). After nearly 15 minutes, I was super cold, so I told him, let's turn around. He tied off the reel (because he for some reason loves doing that), and then I thought he told Kevin to reel in, although it made no sense to me. I don't exactly know what transpired, but in any case, next thing I knew, Kevin was heading out further, and he was not handling the reel. After a couple of tie offs (which of course were super fast and slick), I told him it was time to head in. He reeled in back to where he had started and then handed the reel to Rob, who reeled in. In the very murky viz, it was a little hard to keep everyone in site, but I think by the end of it, we figured out how to arrange ourselves so that we weren't in Rob's way, but we could all keep track of each other. After Rob finished reeling in, I took over as el capitan again, and took us in. After just a minute or two, I decided I was just too cold and thumbed it. After a little discussion about whether I really wanted to ascend or swim in further (I won't say who asked, but amazingly, it was not Rob), Rob shot a back and up we went. Once we hit the surface, I realized I was seriously wet. I super-inflated my suit and laid on the surface to warm up a bit. Kevin and Beto wanted to go back down and swim in underneath, since we had finally hit 20', where the viz was awesome. So after I warmed up, Rob and I went back down too. We swam in, checking out the moon jellies and little blue rockfish on the way. The water was so clear, it would have been a great day to snorkel in the cove. 102 minutes, 48 ft, 49 degrees

I was even wetter than I thought when I got out of my suit. But that is okay, since I am taking the suit in this week to have some work done and be leak tested anyway. I changed out of my wet clothing and then we did a little debrief in the parking lot. After that, we headed to Turtle Bay for dive 2 :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Breakwater Night Dive

I guess everyone was bitter about the lack of diving last weekend, so we did a night dive at the Breakwater with Clinton and Mike. We met up at the Breakwater around 7. There are a couple of down sides to night diving during the winter. First, it was really cold out, so before we even hit the water, I was chilled. Second, when it is cold and dark, the Breakwater bathrooms seem like a great setting for the opening scene of an episode of Law & Order (you know, the part where they find the dead body). Not to mention that by the time you get out of the water, the bathrooms are locked. Anyhoo, we decided to head out over the sand off the wall and look for little sand dwelling critters, and if that got boring we would head to the wall.

The water level was super low, so it was a bit of a hike to the water. On the plus side, all of the rocks were exposed so no rocks to trip over. On the swim out, we saw several moon jellies. I guess someone survived the storm. When we were at the Breakwater on Saturday afternoon (not diving), it was like a sea nettle graveyard :( There were tons of sea lions out on the breakwater, and they were barking up a storm. It was actually sort of stressful swimming out with all of the noise. It seemed like some sort of sensory experiment. I couldn't really hear most of what everyone else was saying, but for once, I was glad that my Otter Bay hood makes it hard to hear on the surface. We swam out pretty far; it didn't seem that far, but Rob claims it is the farthest we have ever swam out on the wall side before dropping. He further claims that if we were diving alone I would never let him swim us that far out before dropping :P But the water was like a lake, so why not. We dropped in 40 feet, and started inching along over the sand looking for macro critters. And I do mean inching. That's one benefit of diving with 3 guys shooting macro, don't have to worry about getting left behind :P

There were tons of little shrimp or something in the water that were pretty annoying. They kept swarming my light, which was kind of grossing me out. We saw a bunch of little octopuses, as usual. One of them was curled up in an abandoned shell of maybe a black-eyed hermit crab. That sort of shell. It was curled up in it with it's head sticking out. It was adorable. There were tons of Hermissendas out there of all different color variations. I saw a lot of them on eel grass, and even more of their egg bundles on eel grass. Clinton or Mike found an Acanthodoris brunnea, and the boys took turns taking its picture. At some point, I noticed a sea lion was sitting about 2 feet from me, perched on the sand. I've seen plenty of sea lions zooming around me, but never had one come up and sit next to me. He hung out there for a moment even while I was signaling then others, and then he took off, leaving a puff of silt in his wake. I also noticed tons of cool looking shrimps. I suck at shrimp ID, but there were a couple different types of neat red ones, the usual dock shrimp (everywhere), and one with an interesting white pattern on it (which I saw on the pipe recently with Matt). At some point, Rob started signaling me as he swam towards something, and I went over and it was a squid! Neat. I was hanging out shining my light on it with Rob and Mike on each side of me taking pictures. Very flashy. After a little while, a second one showed up, or maybe he was always there and I just didn't notice.

I noticed Clinton and Mike lining up to take pictures of something, so we headed over to take a look. It was a big Triopha maculata, in the tan color variation. I have only seen one before, and it was small and orange. But I recognized it from either Clinton's website of the Sea Slug forum. It was big. Clinton and Mike were going to head shallower (ppfft, single tank divers), but Rob was still taking pictures of yet another squid. So we stayed behind while he was finishing up with that. When he (finally) finished, I signaled that I was freezing, let's get moving. I headed us so that we'd be heading toward the beach but would intercept the wall, with the plan to then follow the wall in. We hit the wall quicker than I expected and followed it in. There were lots of fish out on the wall, including a bunch of juvenile rockfish. Rob also pointed out a big octopus along the bottom of the wall. It's head was about the size of a softball. We followed th wall in and came in. Walking out of the water was painful because my feet were numb and my legs were cramped from the cold. I think I need to cover a little more ground if I want to last longer than an hour :) 76 minutes, 46 feet, 50 degrees

It was even colder outside, which was pretty painful with a wet head and hands. And of course, the Breakwater bathroom was locked, grumble. After chatting for a while, Rob and I got dinner at Chili's (whose only redeeming quality is that it's open until 11 PM even during the week). The temperature in the restaurant wasn't exactly conducive to post-dive warming. Anyway, we headed home and I quickly nodded off, shirking my responsibilities of keeping him awake. Then I was rudely awaken by a cop pulling Rob over because he was driving as if he were drunk. Once he established that he was just tired and not drunk, he was actually super friendly. I was surprised that there wasn't really any scolding involved, since it was totally warranted. Rob mentioned that we had been diving and that he took pictures, and the guy was really interested, and wrote down the Cold Water Kitty URL :)

All of the evening's pictures are available here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gift Ideas for the Monterey Diver

Since I didn't get to write a dive report this week, and I have a blog quota to fill, I thought I'd entertain myself with a list of Festivus gift ideas for the Monterey (or other cold water) diver. So, here goes. Feel free to add a comment with any other ideas that you have :)

Exposure Protection:
- Otter Bay 12mm hood ~$75
- Diving Concepts Thinsulate vest ~$110
- Argon setup ~$200
- Dry glove system ~125 (Elissa's idea... I don't wear dry gloves)
- Deep Sea Dry Comfort Glove ~$40 (my glove of choice)

- Eastern Pacific Nudibranchs
- Guide to Marine Invertebrates: Alaska to Baja California
- Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates: A Guide to the Common Gelatinous Animals
- Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes
- A Living Bay: The Underwater World of Monterey Bay

- Husky X-Workhorse Table (aka Dive Table)
- Folding Hand Truck
- Bolt snap variety pack (Rob's favorite birthday present)
- Coffee/soup Thermos for those cold surface intervals (Don's idea)
- Float (8" or 12") for stage bottles, scooters, cameras, etc.

- Membership at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
- California State Parks Pass (aka Lobos Pass)
- "Gift certificate" for a day on the Escapade or Cypress Sea (I don't think they technically have gift certificates, but you get the idea)

Luxury Gifts (for if you really love your wife...):
- Salvo 21W HID can light
- X-Scooter
- a backup drysuit

Stocking Stuffers:
- Singleton bolt snaps
- Fill card for your favorite dive shop
- P valve catheters :)
- Aqua Seal
- KY jelly (for my neck seal, I swear)
- DVDs (Discover California Diving, 5thD-x Intro to Tech, etc.) (Ben's idea)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Back at the Breakwater

We dove with Matt and Cynthia at the Breakwater today. I really wanted to see the sea nettles again (and Rob wanted to get some pictures), and Matt was trying out a set of doubles for the first time, so that's why we went to the Breakwater, even though the swell probably allowed for a more "exciting" site. Cynthia was also trying out a new set of doubles (LP85s, which she got for an insanely good price -- I'm totally jealous). So we decided to do a first short dive just to see how everyone felt in their new gear, and then do a longer dive out to the Metridium Field for dive 2. Rob did not bring his camera on the first dive, so his hands would be free to grope Cynthia, I mean tinker with her gear if necessary.

We swam out and dropped in the sand just past all the OW class's floats, in about 25 feet of water. I was leading, with Matt as my buddy, and Rob and Cynthia were behind us. After everyone got situated, I took us for a little tour of the sand :) Actually it wasn't really sand. The bottom was littered with pieces of dead kelp, so there were lots of little crabbies scurrying around in there. But the really cool stuff was above us. We saw a few sea nettles as we were heading out and then we got to a point where there were quite a few above us, and a few down near us. We stopped to get a closeup look at the ones that were down near us. The one moment where I decided to look down for macro stuff, apparently 3 sea lions buzzed me, but I completely missed it. They obviously don't know that sea lion/diver etiquette dictates that they should bark to announce themselves before they buzz a diver. After about 20 minutes, I turned us around and headed back to the beach. When we got to about 12 feet, I thumbed it, and Rob shot a bag (because he is a dork), and we ascended. I was impressed to find us right in front of the beach. I have become so used to doing dives where it is all based on landmarks, that navigating over a barren stretch of sand was, umm, novel. 35 minutes, 39 feet, 50 degrees

Jonathan was going to join us for the second dive, but as he was putting his suit on, he busted the neck seal. I think it was bad drysuit karma, from when he proclaimed that my new suit was the ugliest suit he had ever seen. So it was just the four of us again. We headed out to the Metridium Field. Our plan was to go out to the Field, and then circle around towards the wall and come back in on the near side of the beach. On the surface, on the way out, Rob found a Melibe on a piece of kelp and then Cynthia found a couple more in the same area. I found a tiny little Aeolid which I for a moment thought might be a Cuthona lagunae. Upon closer inspection, I think it was just a tiny Hermissenda. But it was like 5 mm long, by far the smallest Hermissenda I have ever seen. A little while later, Rob found a Corambe pacifica on another kelp leaf! I was sort of skeptical that it might actually be the bryozoan that it looks like (and eats) but no, he really did find one. He pointed out the eggs on a patch of bryozoan nearby. Anyhoo, we finally got around to the actual dive. We descended in about 30 feet of water. Rob was leading, with Cynthia, and Matt and I were behind them. I was shocked by both how good the viz was (30 to 40 feet) and how empty the sandy area seemed. All of the kelp is gone, and with such good viz, all I could see was sand and tube anemones stretching out so far in all directions. The water was amazingly calm too, there was no movement at all. I felt like I was in Tahoe, except instead of blue water, we had green water.

We headed for the pipe, and along the way we stopped to look at a couple of sea nettles. We finally hit the pipe in over 40 feet of water, so we weren't on it for very long before we got to the end. We headed out over the sand, and right after we left it, I noticed Cynthia (or maybe it was Matt) sort of looking up and motioning. I looked up and there were hundreds of sea nettles from about 5 feet above us to the surface in all directions. So I signaled to Rob to look up and around us. He looked excited, and whipped out his camera to get some glamour shots of a sea nettle, and of course, glamour shots of me with a nettle. They are so pretty. I think they are the prettiest thing in the ocean, or at least in our ocean. Even though there were hundreds (actually thousands) of them, I still had to stop and stare every time I saw one go by. We eventually continued on to the 'trids. They were in a pretty sorry state actually. They were nearly all closed, and they had some sort of brown goo or debris on them. I don't know what it was, but it was on most of them. We played around the Metridiums for a little while, until I again became transfixed with the sea nettles and made Rob go up to about 35 feet to take some more pictures of them. We eventually went back down and swam around the Metridium field a bit.

Eventually we turned on gas and headed in. On the way in, we saw a few moon jellies (and of course lots and lots more sea nettles). At some point along the way, Rob and Cynthia did an S-drill and swam in touch contact for a while. This gave Rob an excuse to make references to Cynthia sucking on his long hose for the rest of the afernoon. At that point, I took over leading. I was super cold, so I wanted to get in fast, but I kept having to slow down for everyone else. Rob and Cynthia apparently saw a big Aeolidia papillosa (shaggy mouse nudibranch), which I guess is what I get for swimming too fast. I eventually got tired of that, so around 30 feet, I thumbed it, hoping to warm up on the surface. Ascending through the nettles was dicey. Rob purged his reg to push them out of the way, which was actually not as effective as I expected. When I got to the surface, I grabbed my hood and pulled it down over my chin (which I always do so I can hear on the surface), and I managed to sting myself. I looked down and saw that a nettle tentacle was wrapped around my hand. Ouch. Rob's line (he shot a bag, as usual) was similarly covered in reddish-purple nettleness. I realized on the surface that I was wet. I could feel water around my waist. So I swam in pretty quickly, stopping in 10 feet of water to do the fastest weight check ever with Cynthia, and then got out. Brrrreow. 72 minutes, 51 feet, 49 degrees

While I was initially casting aspersions on the new drysuit inflator that Frank put on my suit last night, I think the leak was most likely through the neck seal. I was tinkering with the neck on my hood on the surface swim out, and that combined with all the head swishing to look up at the sea nettles, combined with the moisture pattern on my shirt makes me suspect it came in from the neck seal. But it was a lot of water to come in through the neck! I guess I will find out next time I dive the suit. I still love the suit, even thought I am becoming more and more convinced that I look like an oompa loompa in it on the surface, and I look ridiculous in underwater pictures. Afterwards, we had dinner at Gianni's, which was good. I'd never been there before, but I think we will add it to the rotation.

All of today's pictures are here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pretty in Pink

Team Kitty (Rob, Kevin, and me) did some skills practice dives for our upcoming Tech 1 class at the Breakwater today. Since we were doing skills, Rob did not bring his camera, so no underwater pictures today :( Instead, you get to see some topside pictures that Nils and Ted (who were also diving the BW) took. I recently bought a new-to-me used drysuit that I was trying out. It is a hot pink (yea, it's hot) TLS350. When I tried it on, I was delighted by how lightweight it was. It also fits me better than my current suit (which is too long in the legs, too long in the arms, and too big in the shoulders and arms). The new one is just a little floppy around the waist and butt (though the bubble butt seems par for the course with DUI suits, even custom ones). The color is a little too, umm, something. As I told Ted, it looks like I am trying to make a statement, like I LOVE PINK. Actually I do like pink, but in much milder shades. Ted said it looks like I am flaunting my femininity or something like that. No, it just fit well and was a good price :)

For the first dive, we were planning to do mostly the same old stuff. Maskless ascents all around (with bag shoots), mid-water S drills, and a deeper out-of-gas ascent with a bottle switch. Before we got geared up, Kevin and I both trotted into the water to make sure our suits weren't leaking horrendously (he was diving his backup suit, which I guess he hasn't dived in a little while). After that, we got geared up and headed in. One minor annoyance with the suit was the inflator on it does not swivel, and the inlet points to the right. So my short little argon hose did not reach it, so I had to use the backup drysuit hose on my left post. So I was Argon-less (but I did prime off of the bottle). We took the 40s in, which I have gotten pretty used to walking into the water with. It is nice and small and light, and after carrying it into the water so many times, I am seriously thinking that a 40 would make a much nicer stage bottle than an 80 :) I guess I'd need two though, so I could take one on each dive. Anyhoo, we swam out and just before we descended, we saw a couple of small sea nettles. But they were really nice looking ones, in great shape. We descended, and after I fiddled around with my suit and checked if I could reach my valves in it (which I could, very easily), we each took our turn doing the maskless ascent from about 30 feet. Rob said that during his ascent, when he opened one eye, he could see a dark blur, which was Kevin, and a bright pink spot, which was me. I guess I don't have to worry about anyone losing track of me underwater in the new suit. I noticed at some point when I got to the surface that my elbow was wet :( but it was nothing too major. We went down to 15 feet and did a round of S drills. Then we swam out a bit deeper, and at this point, we saw more sea nettles. Rob and Kevin did an out of gas ascent, and I shot a bag and brought us up. During the ascent, there were suddenly sea nettles everywhere, of all different sizes. It was awesome. We got to 20 feet, and as Rob was switching to his bottle, Kevin started to get all twitchy and was batting at his second stage (he was doing-it-cat). Apparently one of the nettles got him on the lip :( We each switched to our bottles and then moved up to 10 feet, and then we were completely surrounded by them. And they were all really pretty ones with long long tentacles. They looked so pretty against the green water, too bad there are no pictures. When we ascended and I said how cool it was to ascend in all of the nettles, Kevin pointed out that it was only cool if you did not get stung :) After that, we descended and swam in. Actually Kevin and I did valve drills, since we both wanted to check that our suits were not too restrictive for that. Then we swam in. 70 minutes, 35 feet, 51 degrees

We had some hot chocolate and chatted with Dionna and Carol and Larry on the surface interval. I also did the best I could to dry my undergarment using the hand dryer in the bathroom. Actually my undergarment was fine, but the long underwear I wear under that had a wet splotch. Then we had to decide what to do next. The conditions were pretty good; certainly much better than they have been lately in the bay -- no red water! Kevin and Rob sort of wanted to practice running line, so I agreed we could do it. I usually won't agree to two skills dives in one day, but I figured running line would be fun, and we'd actually cover some ground and maybe see some stuff. We did a little practice in the Breakwater parking lot (those posts where they used to have the parking meters are so convenient to tie to), and agreed to just go along the wall, putting placements fairly frequently and switching off every few, and then we'd turn around and reel in, switching off every few.

Nils and Ted were getting out of the water as we were heading down to the beach, and despite my best eyelash-batting, I could not convince either of them to come with us and take some pictures or video of us having fun with line (very cat-like). We got geared up and headed in. We swam out to about the fence on the wall, and then we descended, and I led us over to the wall. We swam out along it until we got to about 25 feet, and then I whipped out the reel and looked for a nice-shaped rock to tie into. It was pretty hard to tell what rocks would be good to tie to at first, but eventually we both got the hang of it. We each did 3 placements and then switched off (Kevin was just watching). After a while, Kevin took it and did 3, I think just to show off :P I did one more and then Kevin signaled to turn. We swam back, again taking turns reeling in, and that was a lot faster than the way out. When we got to the end, I was cold so we just headed in instead of cruising around looking for stuff. It was a fun dive; even though we were pretty focused on running the line, we got to take a little tour of the wall. Plus running the line was pretty fun, even though my hand got a little sore from holding the reel. 51 minutes, 39 feet, 50 degrees

I absolutely love the new suit. It is just so much more comfortable both in and out of the water. I actually think that the ZipSeal neck ring on my other suit was hampering my ability to extend my neck and move my head around. It is much more comfortable in the new suit. I also just feel less encumbered on the surface, because the material is so much lighter (and there is a bit less of it, at least in the shoulders). I was worried about the valve on it (which was cobbled together from piece of the slightly broken one that came on the suit and another old one that Frank had), but it vented really easily. I am sure that is where the leak was coming from on the first dive, but it did not leak at all on dive 2. Now I just have to send it off to get pockets put on it, but I am already sad to have to switch back to my other suit!