It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Whale Watching on the Way to G3

Kevin, Rob, Susan, and I went diving on Phil's boat today. After getting a slightly late start, we headed out from the Lobos ramp. Rob made a beeline for the console, since he wanted to pilot the boat off the ramp :) Other than a tense moment where I was sure he was going to ram the boat into the rocks (and Phil, as he waited to be picked up), that went alright. When we were about halfway to the edge of the cove, we saw a grey whale like 20 feet from the boat! We were all pretty shocked; there were expletives flying. We stopped and watched and saw him again a couple minutes later even shallower in the cove. We ended up spending around 45 minutes just drifting around in the cove, watching the whale. At one point he passed behind the boat and broke the surface about 5 feet behind us. I have never seen a whale that close up before. It was just zipping back and forth around the cove the whole time. Probably trying to figure out how to get out :) Phil said he thought it was about a 25 footer. Neat.

We finally headed out after it became clear that the viz in the cove (and the possibility of a hefty fine for marine mammal harassment) would preclude snorkeling with the whale. The viz in the cove seemed to vary from... can't see my outstretched hand to can see just beyond my fin tips. We were hoping for something a bit better out where we were headed. We headed out towards E3. The ride was rather sporty. Basically as soon as we got out to the Cannery Point Pinnacles things got big. It was a very wet ride; I was thinking it would be a good idea to put my mask on :) When we finally got out around there and Phil starting looking at the depth finder, he mentioned some structure south of E3 that came up shallower and bottomed out around the 150-ish range. So we said we'd give it a try. After a little motoring around, Rob dropped the hook (after a somewhat humorous false start). We got into our gear and just when I didn't think I could take anymore bobbing around on the surface without vomiting, we splashed. We headed down the line and my ears magically didn't bother me at all (which I suspect had to do with me pausing at about 6 feet and 20 feet on the way down). So we dropped pretty speedily after that. The water seemed sort of milky in the shallows but it opened up nicely by the time we got to the bottom.

We came to a structure topping out in about 100 to 110 feet of water, with the sand at maybe 120 to 130 feet. It was a pretty small structure, long and not too tall. Off to the right (east), barely even detached from it was a larger structure that topped off in probably 80 to 90 feet. We swam over to that and were swimming along the north side of that and a bigger structure appeared to the north across the sand. Kevin and Susan headed over in that direction, and we followed when Rob was finished taking some pictures. This is when I first noticed how incredible the visibility was. I was thinking that Kevin and Susan were getting a bit away from us, but I could see way beyond them. I would estimate the viz at 80 feet. It was also surprisingly bright down there, considering the milky water on top and that it was pretty overcast on the surface. It just seemed like I could see everything everywhere without even shining my light. It was also around this time that Susan pointed out that it was freezing (not that she needed to point that out :P) and that according to her computer, it was 44 degrees. Yowza! Anyhoo, this new structure was much bigger. It had a lot of elephant ear sponges, but they weren't very big ones. I also noticed some reasonably-sized clown nudibranchs as we swam towards it. We swam west along this structure. There was sort of a rubble field at the base of it which eventually gave way to sand. This left many nooks for fish to hide in. Rob pointed out a treefish in hiding out in one. Rob signaled a spot on a rock to me, and I looked at it. He was shining his light on a clown nudibranch, so I circled it and he continued on. I couldn't figure out why he was pointing that out to me, but it turns out there was a Dendronotus albus (apparently pretty big) right next to it. Oops. I also found a little Festive Triton nearby on the same rock.

We swam around the pinnacle clockwise. When we got to the west-ish side, there was another structure in sight across the sand (more on that later; let's refer to it as structure X). On this side of the pinnacle we were on, there were lots of neat crevices in the reef to stick your head and light into. I think I saw a Geitodoris heathi, but I think I need to discuss that with Clinton, since my white-nudibranch-identification skills are questionable. I was showing Rob a Berthella that was all curled up in a crack when Susan came over and told us to come look at something. She told me to cover my light and pointed up into a crack -- there was a yelloweye rockfish (which as far as I know, I have never seen before, or at least never identified :P). Further along we came to some nice big elephant ears. I also spied a really light colored Peltodoris which was so light I at first thought it was white. But it was actually a really light shade of yellow. As we came around to the north side of the pinnacle , I realized that this was the good side. The other sides had in hindsight been relatively barren of encrustation. This side had tons of strawberry anemones and sponges of various colors covering the reef. I noticed bunch of sponges that were bright red-orange and very bumpy that I haven't noticed before. There was also a pretty sheer wall on this side, from about 70-ish feet to 130-ish feet. From about 120 feet, I looked up and saw some palm kelp flapping around at the top. There was also a column of rockfish, blues and olives, hanging out by the wall.

It was time to head up, so we followed the reef up for our deep stops and did our switch still along the reef. We actually ended up staying on the reef until the 60' stop, so the reef topped out somewhere between 50' and 60'. Watching the palm kelp swaying at the 60' stop was making me a bit queasy. But once we left the structure it was fine. The ascent was freezing but otherwise uneventful. Susan was running deco. When we got to 15', she suggested doing part of our 10' stop there so we didn't get seasick. When we got to the 10' stop, I was very glad she suggested it :) It was still pretty sporty on the surface. But happily it was a quicker ride in than out, thanks to the direction of the wind. Phil dumped me off at the ramp because I was whining about having to pee (that extra 45 minutes in the cove at the beginning pushed me over the edge), and I was too much of a wimp to scramble up the rocks like Phil does. So that meant I got to miss the fun of trying to get the boat on the trailer without Phil in the boat. Let's just say that Susan had to school Kevin in the ways of driving the boat :) 142 feet max, 64 minutes, 46 degrees

So, after we got back, we checked out the bathymetry data, to figure out exactly where we were. We are convinced that the pinnacle we spent most of the time on is G3 (aka Garden of Gorgeous Gorgonians, but I have to say I wouldn't describe it that way -- there were gorgonians but nothing out of the ordinary). I think the structure (X) that appeared to our left at one point was probably the end of F3. It is, however, possible that it was E3. Kevin thinks that the first structure we dropped on was F3 (which would mean X would have to be E3), but I am not convinced. The sand was not as deep as the sand around F3 on the bathymetry, so I am thinking it was actually H3 that we initially dropped on.

All of the day's pictures are here.

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