It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, May 31, 2008

NCUPS Beach Dive Competition

Saturday Rob participated in the beach diving competition. He wanted to dive at South Monastery. Originally we were talking about doing one really long dive, but then he decided he wanted to shoot wide-angle on one dive and macro on another, so we ended up doing two dives. I don't think I've ever actually been to a dive site at 7:30 before. We stayed at Jonathan's on Friday night to allow that without extreme crankiness (although Clinton told me at the NCUPS registration that I looked like I needed more sleep... thanks!). When we got to Monastery, it was very calm. Shortly after we got there, lots of other divers with cameras arrived. We setup our tables and stuff down on the beach, and got ready to go. Right before we geared up, Rob swam our float and stage bottles out. He swam out much further than I expected, and then realized it was too deep for the float. Doh!

Anyhoo, once we got into the water, we kicked out to the beginning of the kelp and descended there. The conditions were very nice. It was very calm, and the viz was good. Unfortunately, it wasn't very sunny out, so there wasn't a lot of sunlight streaming down through the kelp. We ambled along for a while, stopping to take pictures every few minutes. It was a nice little meander through the kelp forest. The kelp is really thick in some areas, which made it a little dark. But it was very peaceful. We were moving pretty slowly at first, but I guess Rob eventually decided he wanted to cover more ground, and he started hauling ass. He was going way too fast for me! So I got his attention and gesticulated wildly at him to tell him to slow the heck down. I did see a couple of cool critters fly by on the swim, though, including a Dendronotus albus and a Hilton's nudibranch. We were getting pretty close to the area with hydrocoral, I think (in about 50 to 60 feet), when I finally turned the dive. We had just switched off our stage bottles, which seemed like it took forever for me to do, because my fingers were so cold, and I decided it was probably a sign that if we didn't turn the dive soon, I would turn into a popsicle. For some reason at several points during the dive I suddenly felt really cold all over. I don't know if there were actually variations in the water temperature, or if it was in my head. I had been relying on a much quicker trip back, but for some reason, it was a bit longer than I expected. I was totally pooped and freezing when we finally ascended, right around where we had started. 62 feet, 117 minutes, 50 degrees

Since we were doing two dives, and the walk out of Monastery in doubles isn't exactly fun, we left our gear on the float between dives. Walking out of the water with no gear on is so much easier :P I was being a little wishy washy about whether I really wanted to do a second dive, since we had gone over our planned 90 minute dive by 20 minutes (brrrr). But once I got out of the water and warmed up a little, I wanted to get back in. We had some snacks on the surface and headed back in. I wore dry gloves for the second dive. I abstained on the first dive, since I know Rob thinks the blue gloves look dumb in pictures, and he was shooting wide-angle. Last time I dove dry gloves, I had a little leak in the left hand. Jonathan had given me about 6 random gloves and told me to figure out which ones weren't leaking, so this time I tried a different left glove :P When I got into the water, even on the surface I could feel it leaking. Hmmm. Anyhoo, we swam to the float and donned our gear in the water. I don't know if I have done this in doubles before. Rob got in his first, and afterwards, I asked if he had any advice. He suggested pretty much what I had planned to do (the opposite of what I do to get out of my gear on the surface). Then he watched me as I flailed around getting into my rig. My long hose ended up running down the right side, across the bottom of my backplate, up my left side, over my head to its clipped position. So that took some contortions to fix, while Rob laughed at me.

We dropped about where we dropped on the first dive, and headed out along the same path, but much more slowly of course. I was actually pretty disappointed with the critter peeping on this dive. We definitely saw more interesting macro subjects further out on the first dive. Even the sculpin selection was disappointing. I found a couple of Limacias, and some less exciting nudis. We also found several kelp stalks with egg bundles on them, which Rob took some shots of. We didn't make it as far out, we were in the 20 to 30 foot area the whole time. This had the unfortunate side effect that I just could not get rid of my gas fast enough, so I couldn't use that as an excuse to turn the dive (which Rob finds more acceptable than turning on cold). Eventually I turned the dive on cold. After we turned, we were still moving along slowly looking for stuff, and eventually I decided it was just too cold and we needed to move. Of course after that Rob kept finding more things to shoot :P We saw a cabezon right near the end of the dive, and Rob bashfully asked for permission to stop to take its picture. It was pretty cooperative for some eye shots. We finally made it back and ascended. Brrr. 34 feet, 105 minutes, 50 degrees

I had told Rob on the surface interval that a condition of doing the second dive was that he had to agree to carry my doubles up the hill after we got out :) When we got to the float, he tried to convince me to leave my doubles on the float and he would come back for them, but I told him I wouldn't because Matt and Ben (and Shawn, their dive buddy from out of town) were waiting on the beach for us, and that would look super lame :P Actually I figure that the key to conquering getting out at Monastery in doubles is to actually do it and get used to it. The water was so calm that when I was about knee deep in water, I stopped to wait for a wave to push me up the beach, but no waves were coming! Eventually Rob gave me a hand to step up the little berm at the edge of the water. We got up to our tables and got some help getting out of our gear. Then Matt asked if we needed help carrying gear back to the car, and I told him about my little arrangement with Rob. Then he insisted he could carry my doubles for me, which made me feel way lame, but I figured I would do him a favor and let him show off what a strong man he is :)

After we packed up the car, we headed over to Jonathan's to review pictures before the submission deadline. Ben, Matt and Shawn fetched pizza and helped with the review. There was quite a lot of bickering about which picture of the exact same thing was better :P Rob ended up submitting the pictures that I have included in this post. He got an Honorable Mention for one of the macro shots (the picture of the fish eggs).

Congrats to Clinton and Sami on their excellent showing in the contest. Everyone's submissions are posted here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Scootering South Monastery

On Monday, I dove South Monastery with Rob, Jonathan, and Matt. I haven't been diving at Monastery in ages (because I was afraid to dive it in doubles), but Monday seemed like the day to dive there, given the conditions. We met at 10 (despite Rob's protests), and I was surprised that the beach was pretty empty (of both beachgoers and divers). There was one pair of divers there who had just gotten out. We chatted with them while we were waiting for Jonathan and Matt to show up -- apparently they were from Seattle and had just driven 15 hours straight and decided to go for a dive since they couldn't check into their hotel yet. Now that's hard core. Anyhoo, we setup our tables down on a little flat patch above the water, and commenced with the schlepping of gear. Jonathan and Matt eventually joined us. The water was super flat. It was a relief to stumble into the water, as it was pretty warm on the surface. I was trying out dry gloves for the first time, which felt pretty awkward on the surface (and looked really dorky). David was nice enough to leave me his zip seals with the DC rings on them, so I could try them out on my suit that has zip seals. Jonathan loaned me a bunch of gloves (and left it to me to figure out which ones were actually dry :P).

The main plan was just to go out to the left until we hit hydrocoral, but first we wanted to explore a little hump that we saw on the bathymetry near the dropoff. So we planned to take a little jaunt down there first, and then head out to the shallow stuff. We scooted out a bit on the surface and then dropped in about 20' of water. Then we scootered out about 5 more minutes and we all agreed to head down the slope to look around. It was really cool heading down the sand slope -- I felt like I was practically sliding down the hill. As we got deeper, it got dark and scary (and green and murky). Hmmm. We had been hoping that with decent viz, we could just do a fly-by of the mystery hump, but in this viz, it didn't look promising. So we scootered along the slope for a couple minutes. There were some patches of rock peeking out from the sand, with some metridiums on them. It would be interesting to see what else is on the rocks on another day (with another gas). As we were scootering along, Rob pointed out a line to me... it was like an anchor line going to nowhere. I swear it was completely vertical, but Rob claims it was at about 60 degrees. It was very encrusted, and I could see that it ended not far above us. I thought I must be hallucinating though, because how could a line be standing straight up and then just end? Jonathan went up a little to check it out, and apparently it terminated in some sort of plastic box. Clearly it was left there by aliens. At this point I decided I was feeling absolutely loopy, and signaled that we should head back to the wall and up a little. Then we headed back up the dropoff, which was just as amusing as going down it. I felt like I was climbing a steep hill; I was feeling tired just looking up it. Once we got back up to flat land, we headed out roughly along the reef-sand interface, weaving through the rocks and kelp.

We eventually got to a spot with some hydrocoral, and Rob signaled that we should clip off. We spent most of the rest of the dive there. After briefly admiring the hydrocoral, I joined Matt in poking around for little critters. I found a nice-sized Aldisa sanguinea, and Matt showed me a Limacia. I also found an interesting looking dorid that was the color of French vanilla ice cream, with slightly darker rhinophores. I showed it to Rob, because I wasn't sure what it was. Rob took some pictures (wrong lens of course), and Clinton thinks it is just a Geitodoris. I could believe it, but it's definitely a color I have not seen before. There were also tons of the darker tan San Diego dorids. Jonathan showed me a pretty bushy trilineata. Actually, he signaled me, brought me over to the top of the rock we were on, and then got that "where'd it go?" look on his face. I was looking around for what he might have seen and found the trilineata, and he confirmed that was what he was looking for :) I also saw a pair of mating Berthellas.

We eventually continued on a little from that rock, to an area with scattered small boulders and a nice kelp forest with some rockfish. I was thinking that it sort of reminded me of Partington Canyon. There were mostly blues, olives and kelp rockfish, but I know I also saw at least one black and yellow. Rob found a cabezon to chase, who wasn't at all cooperative. I finally turned the dive because I was getting cold. A couple of minutes later as we were slaloming the kelp stalks, someone signaled from behind. Matt's scooter was dying, so Jonathan towed him the rest of the way. The return trip was otherwise uneventful, although I had a catastrophic braid failure (it came completely undone!). When we got to about 20', Jonathan and I thumbed it, which Rob must have missed because he decided to do a valve drill with Matt while we were waiting at 10' for them to come up. Eventually they did. 106 feet (briefly), 95 minutes, 50 degrees

Jonathan got out of the water before the rest of us, ditched his gear, and then came back to help with scooters and such. Before the dive, he had given me some advice on how he likes to exit with the scooter -- remove your fins beyond the surf zone, get neutral, and scooter in until your feet hit the sand and just walk up from under the water. That worked well, and I was relieved when I walked out of the water under my own power. Jonathan came over and took my scooter for me, and I trudged up to my table. Phew. The hard part was over. Well, not really, but the part where I might get turtled in the surf and have to be rescued :P After collecting my strength, I headed up the hill with my doubles still on. Just before the top, I made the mistake of stopping for a little break. As I stopped, I was thinking about a cautionary tale that Don and Elissa told about stopping on the walk up the hill there (which ends with Don on his back, in his doubles, head facing down the slope... hehehe). Then when I started to go again, plop, I was on my knees. Rob rolled his eyes and I told him to come back for me after he dropped his gear at the car. Then I just hung out there, surrounded by happy tourist families enjoying the beach, and trying to avoid eye contact with me, I think. Luckily Matt came along a minute later, and he was carrying his table with him. That turned out to be a useful prop for pulling myself up (with a little push from Matt). From there I managed to get back to the car without falling again :) But Rob made me walk back into the water to clean the sand off of my suit.

Since it was a long dive, we just did one. So we moved onto the lunch venue negotiation, after I collected Jonathan from his perch on top of the berm (where he was watching a little girl playing by the surf unattended for several minutes... grumble). After Matt declared that he absolutely did not want to go to Turtle Bay, we ended up at Turtle Bay.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kicking at Lobos

Photo by Robert Lee
On Saturday, I dove at Lobos with Cynthia and Clinton. Clinton wanted to shoot some non-slug macro subjects (wanted to get shots of some very common stuff, which he didn’t have good ID-type pics of). Based on the very ugly water in the cove and the very blue-looking water outside, it looked like further out would be best. So we headed to Granite Point, my current favorite site. When we got into the water, it was a very low tide, but I was hopeful that it would come up before we had to get out. We swam out pretty far on the surface, until I got sick of swimming and suggested we descend there. The kelp is really coming in; but I managed to get myself hopelessly entangled only once, and Clinton freed me from the kelp monster’s grip.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
When we dropped, we were at the end of Middle Reef. The water was really blue, but there was a lot of particulate in the water, so the viz wasn’t exceptional. We headed out to Granite Point Wall, and then swam north a couple of minutes from where we hit it. Then Clinton found something he wanted to take pictures of, so we hung out in that area for a while. I saw mostly the usual stuff for out there. It seemed like there were a lot of sea cucumbers (of various types) around. After we hung out there for a while, I was getting cold, so I suggested we move a little. We headed around the corner of the wall and across the rubble to the next patch of reef. Then we found another spot to hang around. I found two Limacias on that patch, one really tiny, but otherwise nothing too exciting. Eventually we turned the dive and headed back along the path we came. When we got to Middle Reef, I took us along the west side, as usual. I paused by the warbonnet and saw his head poking out of his hole. I also stopped by the wolf eels' den, but they weren't there. Instead I found a rockfish staring back out at me. I hope they haven't permanently relocated :( Not far from there, the viz got pretty crappy, so we headed to the sand channel and ascended after Cynthia shot a bag.

Photo by Robert Lee
As we swam in, Clinton was poking around looking in the kelp, and found some cute little fishies. First he found a manacled sculpin, which immediately decided it wanted to be Clinton's pet and live on his glove. Not very convenient for getting a picture :P Eventually he gave up, and then he found a little kelp clingfish sucking on a piece of kelp. He wouldn't hold still for a picture, so I grabbed a piece of kelp and kept trying to corral him on the kelp, but it just wasn't really working. He was a frisky fish too -- at one point he attached himself to a strobe, and another time to Beto's bag (which was near us on the surface). Eventually we gave up, and swam the rest of the way in. When we got back to the ramp, I was relieved to see that the tide had indeed come in, and it was a pleasant depth on the ramp for exiting. 70 feet, 79 minutes, 46 degrees

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Clinton and I were planning a second dive, and Rob ended up tagging along (after first claiming he was too cold, who ever thought he'd be the one saying that!?!). We decided to go to the Hole in the Wall-ish area. We swam out a while, and when we dropped, we were about 100 ft from Hole in the Wall. Once again the water was super blue, and it seemed to have cleared up a little. We swam around behind the Hole in the Wall and hung out there for the whole dive. I didn't see anything too exciting. Rob kept trying to get me to take pictures, so I spent most of the dive being frustrated as I tried to focus on big nudibranchs in the surge :P I eventually gave up and gave the beast back to him. I spent some time on the top of the reef, looking in a crack that runs along it. Then I spent sometime untangling myself from the kelp up there, before returning to the side with the boys. Clinton and Rob each took a turn harassing an uncooperative cabezon (who fled Clinton, only to end up right next to Rob). There were also a bunch of kelp stalks with egg bundles on them. They were really neat, you could see the little fish eyeballs in them. After they finished taking pictures of those, I called the dive on cold (which Rob tells me is an unacceptable reason to call a dive... pffftt). We swam back in to the worm patch and ascended there. 72 feet, 68 minutes, 46 degrees

Friday, May 23, 2008

Big Day at Lobos

Today we did our monthly(-ish) dive on Phil's boat. The Guest Kitty this time around was Jonathan. I know it was quite a hardship for him to dive without his scooter, but we managed to talk him into it. The swell model did not look good all week, and Kevin was naysaying about our dive prospects all week. We remained optimistic, but in the end things did not really improve. But we met Phil at the gate, and decided to see how things looked (but held off on loading the boat). The surface conditions were not too pleasant – it was cloudy and cold and sprinkling intermittently. When the park opened, and we got down to Whaler's, it looked pretty marginal in the cove, and the waves breaking on Granite Point were pretty big. Also, the cove looked absolutely pukey -- a really ugly shade of greenish brown. However, as you looked outside of the cove, you could see a very distinctive change to a nice aquamarine color further out. Anyhoo, Phil told us if we wanted to go, he would take us to the E3 area (we wanted to go to Deep E3). So we loaded the boat and got going. The swell was big, so it was a slow trip over there. However, once we got to the site, we were pretty efficient about getting geared up, so no one got too queasy before we got in the water.

When I got to the anchor line, I looked down into the water and knew we were in for a treat -- it was a really nice shade of blue and I could see pretty far down. We dropped down and when I saw the reef from about 60 feet, I figured we were not on Deep E3. In fact it was E3. But that was fine. Last time we were there, we stayed on the top half, so today we would check out the bottom half. We got down to the reef on the south side near the notch between the two peaks, and swam clockwise around the pinnacle. We saw a lot of the usual stuff -- gorgonians and elephant ears. I paused at the northwest end to pose next to an elephant ear (because we don't have enough pictures of me posing next to an elephant ear :P). As we came around that end, I noticed a lot of Spanish shawls, and two Dironas. Kevin pointed out a China rockfish hanging out from one of the boulders off of the main pinnacle on the bottom. As we continued around to the north side, I could see a structure out in the distance (the viz was 60 to 80 feet, depending on who you ask), which it turns out was Deep E3. I saw more fish around the boulder field at the bottom of the north side -- a ling cod swimming out in the open, a big vermilion, and another China. There was also the usual group of blue rockfish hanging off the pinnacle (but it was not spectacularly dense). We got to the notch between the two peaks (on the north side) by the time it was time to call it.

We followed the west peak up to about 100’ during our deep stops. Right at the top, there were a bunch of olive rockfish hanging out. When we got to 90’, I could see a medusa about 10’ below us. A while later on the deco, Kevin pointed out a medusa, which Rob said had been with us for a while, so I guess it was drifting with us. The ascent was otherwise pretty uneventful, except that my ponytail kept sneaking up on me, because it had unstowed itself. I also saw a strange looking crab drifting along. It was very small with long thin legs, like a daddy long legs. The water conditions were not bad on the ascent. Even at 10’, I didn’t notice a lot of water movement. When we got to the surface, there were big but somehow gentle waves rolling in. Phil retrieved us two at a time and we had an uneventful return to Whaler’s. While we were waiting in the cove for Phil to get the trailer, we practiced a man overboard drill, with Kevin playing the victim. Let’s just say he deserved it, but I am sure he will get his revenge on Rob when he least expects it. Then Jonathan jumped in to rescue Kevin’s hat, or to prove his supremacy at climbing back into the boat without fins on (frickin Marine). Phil had to land the boat himself because of the conditions (low tide with swells coming across the ramp). 165-ish feet, 65 minutes, 41 degrees (not a typo, but perhaps a glitch in the Tec2g matrix)

Pictures are here. Kevin's report is here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Breaking News: Japan's New Tourism Ambassador

This just in: On Monday, Japan's tourism ministry named Hello Kitty a goodwill tourism ambassador. Read more about it here.

We are pleased to see Ms. Kitty breaking the glass ceiling for kitties in the public sector.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Eubranchus, You Buy Us

On Saturday, we went out on the Escapade again. On the way in the bay, we found several humpbacks. At first we watched a couple that keep coming up together, at least one of which had unbelievably bad breath. We watched them for a while, and then noticed a few more further off in the other direction. Gary did some research about the cause of the "bad breath" and found this explanation of it -- it's caused by a form of diptheria. Worst smell ever.

We eventually continued on and ended up at Outer Pinnacles. Rob and Clinton were both shooting macro, so slug hunting was the plan. By the time we got there, it had gotten a little windy. The water was definitely not the clear blue water it had been the previous weekend, but viz was not bad -- 30 feet or so, but more green than blue. We got down to the top of the pinnacle and it was quite surgy. Rob and Clinton seemed to be looking for things to shoot, which seemed pretty futile. I noticed that there were Eubranchus rustyus all over the hydroids on the palm kelp. They were easy to find because their egg masses were everywhere, and once you found an egg mass, you could pretty easily find a slug nearby. Anyway, we made our way to the side of the pinnacle, which was much calmer. We stayed in that general area for a while. There really weren't many slugs -- some trilineatas and more Eubranchus, and other standard stuff. I also found a Pedicularia californica, which was cool -- I don't think I've ever seen one before, just pictures Rob has taken (he never shares his cool finds with me!). Plus, of course, the usual beautiful hydrocoral and blue rockfish hanging in the water. We eventually crossed over the sand to another pinnacle next door, and slowly moved along that. It was more wallish there, but I don't recall seeing anything wildly exciting. Right after we turned to head back, Rob pointed out a big treefish in a crack. We returned to the anchor line, and found some other divers there. We actually hadn't seen any of the other teams up until that point. I poked around in the kelp on the ascent, but didn't really see anything.

For the second dive, we went to Carmel City Beach Reef, at Clinton's request. He'd told us about the untold riches (errr nudibranchs) that could be found there in the past. Jim kept telling us that if we hated the site, we were to blame Clinton for choosing it. Hmmm. Anyway, we got over there pretty quickly and hung around on the surface for a bit. Actually, I jumped into the water to try to get some practice using my She-P :P (more on that in a future post). Then we eventually got back in. Rob and I borrowed Matt's big bag to practice shooting. When we got down the anchor line, it was a pretty barren site -- scattered rocks with sand between them, and a decent number of olive rockfish milling about. We were crawling along at our usual slow pace (I figured it was just a barren site), but apparently Clinton was trying to move us along because he knew we weren't quite on the site. Eventually we got to a spot with much more continuous rockiness. The site reminded me a lot of Middle Reef at Lobos. Lots of the same usual stuff that you'd see there (tons of Rostangas!). I kept thinking it was a prime spot for finding Limacias, but never managed to find one (Matt apparently did, however). I did happen upon a little yellow slug (about 1 cm in diameter) that had a familiar look -- I had to give it a little poke to convince myself it was a slug, and not some tiny patch of sponge. Then I signaled Clinton and pointed it out to him, and was relieved that he agreed with my slug assessment. Turns out it was an Adalaria jannae, which I haven't seen before (but I've looked at Clinton's picture, because I noticed it on the list of slugs we have collectively seen at Point Lobos). That was the only really exciting find on that dive, I think. Other than that, I mostly found a lot of cute sculpins.

Eventually someone thumbed the dive, which was good because I was getting cold. I guess that's what I get for splashing around in the water on the surface interval. We shot the bag from about 50 feet -- I pulled the bag out and held the spool while Rob inflated and shot the bag. It was a bit of a beast to handle. I almost lost a thumb in the process, when my thumb got stuck in the spool and I had to flick the spool off of my hand. Luckily it just hung in the water in front of me as it unspooled rather than flying to the surface, the bottom, or instantly wrapping itself around someone's neck and strangling them. Other than that, it was an uneventful ascent. We surfaced a little ways from the boat, and swam back. The boat ride back was pretty uneventful -- Rob didn't even drool very much while he slept.

All of the day's pictures are here. The title of this post was inspired by John H's lame Eubranchus joke (that we hear everytime we see a Eubranchus :P).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Adventure No. 12: "The Jaguar Slug"

Rob and I dove at Point Lobos on Sunday. We were originally slated to dive with Kevin, but he wimped out. Well, not really -- he got back Saturday evening from a week of cave diving in Mexico, and I guess even Kevin isn't hard core enough to show up for a dive on Sunday after that. Anyhoo, so it was just the two of us. We wanted to go out to the Road to shoot macro. I wanted to stay shallower so we could spend more time there, and search for the jaguar slug (our mystery white dorid, which we have seen twice before out there). We actually got to Lobos a little after 9, because I was being a sleepyhead, and stayed in bed a half hour after the alarm went off. We also rendezvous'd at Monastery with Jonathan, so I could borrow a spare Argon bottle.

But once we were there, we got geared up and in the water pretty quickly. Our plan was to scooter out to the Road, and to pick a spot in about 130' to stay at for the rest of the dive. We agreed to set aside a few minutes at the end so we could get some pictures of the baby rockfish just north of the sisters on the way in. It was a low low tide day. Rob went bounding down the ramp and was in the water before I was halfway down. Then I had to climb around some other divers loitering at the bottom of the ramp. After getting around them, I demonstrated a beautiful fall on your knees and push yourself out like a half-beached whale entry. We scooted out on the surface to a bit past the worm patch, and we descended in the sand channel. The viz was not so hot right when we dropped, and it was quite green. However, as we got out along the sand channel, it quickly got bluer and clearer. We cut to the northwest after Hole in the Wall, slaloming the kelp stalks in the little kelp patch next to it. We got to the Lone Metridium and I circled it with my light and then we headed out toward the sisters. Eventually I saw to my right a little reef that I have noticed before, which is just to the southeast of the second sister, and has some nice bushy stalks of hydrocoral. I swung over to it and pointed the hydrocoral out to Rob. He says this is the first sister, but I really don't know -- everytime someone takes me to the "first sister" it seems to be something different. Anyway, it has nice hydrocoral. I then headed to the left and we very quickly hit the second sister. From Lone Metridium to the Sisters, the viz was quite good (at least 40 feet) and the water quite blue.

From there, I headed out along the Road, riding the reef-sand interface on the east side. The water was a bit murkier along the road. We paused right after we left the sisters to look at the baby rockfish that hang out at the bottom there. After a couple minutes, I found a nice sluggy looking spot in about 130', so I paused to look around and then headed over to another patch of reef I could see from there, thinking it would be a good place to clip off and we could swim between these two areas. As I was surveying the other spot, Rob signaled to me and showed me a patch with a bunch of Dendronotus albus. So I signaled to clip off and hang out here. Right near the D. albus patch, I also found a juvenile rockfish, and pointed it out to Rob. While he was taking pictures of the fish and the D. albus, I swam over to another spot on the same rock, and started looking next to a little vertical crack. Sitting out on the rock, not really camouflaged at all, I found a small white nudibranch that wasn't at all familiar looking to me. It was a spunky slug, that remind me of a small, white Hopkins' rose, but with not nearly such dense cerata. It was less than a centimeter in diameter. I excitedly pointed it out to Rob, and left him to take some pictures. On the top surface of that rock, not far from that crack, I also found a Doriopsilla spaldingi, and pointed it out to Rob.

And so the dive progressed in a similar fashion -- by the time Rob was finished photographing something, I had a stack of other things to show him. It was a very sluggy day -- there were lots of Spanish shawls (I stopped counting after six), tons of Berthellas, and also some Festive Tritons and a few more D. albus. Also there were plenty of the other standard slugs. I actually spent most of the dive swimming from white splotch to white splotch, inspecting anything that could possibly be the "jaguar slug". Most of these were Berthellas (in all different sizes -- I saw many smaller than usual ones), plus there were the Cadlinas. I saw the tiniest luteomarginata I have seen, curled around a bryozoan. I saw a few Cadlina flavomaculatas, including one bigger than usual one (about twice as big as the ones I usually see). After a brief absence, they seem to be pretty prevalent once again. At some point, Rob signaled me and I came over and he pointed out a Hopkins' rose. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it! I was sure I had been past that exact spot, and it's not like they are at all camouflaged!

Anyhoo, I was sort of working my way up the rock pile we were on, and at minute 32 (of a planned 35 minutes), I happened upon another white splotch on the reef. And it was the jaguar slug! It's funny, I have been looking at the one picture Rob got last time we saw one for a couple of weeks, and every time I look at it, I think that it looks more opaque than I remember it. When I found this one, it didn't look exactly like I remember it, but it looked exactly like the picture :) I very excitedly brought Rob over and he took several pictures of it from the top. I then suggested he take a picture with some size reference, so I put a boltsnap next to it, and realized just how small it was. After getting pictures from several angles on the top, Rob flipped it over to get some pictures of the undercarriage (as we had been instructed to by "the experts"). I just knew we would find one right as it was time to leave -- we had plenty of time for the pictures, but the juvey rockfish would have to wait for another day.

We headed in once we were finished, and passed Mark and Dionna right where the Road meets the Sisters. I think I got us slightly lost on the way in from there... we ended up (I think) more east than south, compared to the path we usually take. But when I found 70 feet of water, we stopped and switched to our bottles. Then Rob took over, since he was going to lead deco. We had planned to cross over to Middle Reef at the end of it, and follow the east side in. That didn't exactly happen as planned... as we were weaving through the kelp, we ended up going in the wrong direction on Middle Reef, and when I asked Rob where the heck we were going, he decided to bailout to the sand channel and just follow that in the rest of the way. So we ended up deco'ing on the worm patch after all. I would still like to try the east side path again some other time. We decided to pass the time by practicing a team bag shoot (inflating the bag off of an inflator hose), which was very easy and way faster than blowing it up with your mouth. When we hit the surface, I said to Rob that we had seen everything there is to see except for a simnia snail, and he fessed up to finding one and not showing it to me :( We scootered back in on the surface, and I was going to stay in the water and hand stuff up to Rob on the ramp. Then Jonathan appeared (he and Matt came over to Lobos to rinse gear after diving at South Monastery) and took our stuff for us. Then as I was flailing around at the end of the ramp, he pointed out a nice little sequence of rock steps for me to walk up. After making it up successfully, I managed to fall and make a fool of myself. We'll just leave it at that :P Thanks to Rob and Jonathan for picking me up off the ramp :) 136 feet, 79 minutes, 46 degrees

We were quite excited to have found another jaguar slug, and to get more pictures so we could hopefully get a final determination on the species. Based on the picture from the last one, the going theory had been Aldisa albomarginata. However, on Saturday, Clinton told me that someone else had chimed in saying she wasn't convinced it was that. It would be a significant range extension for it -- it is only documented around British Columbia. We were also curious to look through the books to figure out what the spunky white slug was. After looking through the books, it didn't really look like anything in there, but I thought it resembled (shape-wise) some Okenia species. I looked through the Sea Slug Forum at other Okenia species, but still couldn't find anything that really fit.

After sending the pictures around to the "slug experts", the consensus seems to be that the "jaguar slug" is in fact an Aldisa albomarginata. The spunky white guy has stumped everyone however, and the current theory is that it may be a new species of Okenia. Sweet!

P.S. For those of you who haven't gotten the reference, the nickname "jaguar slug" is a reference to our favorite dive movie, The Life Aquatic.

All of the day's pictures are here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Chapter 6: Explorers Club

On Saturday, I dove from the Escapade on the bi-monthly (or so) BAUE charter. Actually it has been ages (6 months to be precise) since a BAUE recreational charter -- the last one was canceled due to weather. We had the boat for 6 or so hours, so the plan was to go south if possible. Jim informed us that the conditions were supposed to get better throughout the day, so it would just be a matter of how the timing of the weather worked out, whether we could make it down. We made it around the point (outside of "the bay" as some might say) without any problems. The ride was quite smooth, as far as I could tell. I was happily munching on an Escapade muffin, having a yelling-over-the-engine conversation with Matt, half of which we probably both couldn't hear. We got down past Lobos, to the Yankee Point area. Clinton came down and told use we were going to Pinnacle of Tremendous Proportions, which I haven't been to before, but I'd seen pictures, and it sounded good to me.

We all got geared up, and Rob asked Jim what he thought the current was like, and someone pointed out that the jellies in the water sure were swimming fast :P After a little experiment
with line and a bolt snap, Jim became concerned. Clinton eagerly volunteered to be the test dummy, so he hopped into the water. By the time he popped up from the splash, he had already drifted a bit away from the boat. Based on the amount of effort it took to pull himself up the line, Jim decided to go elsewhere for the first dive. So we all sat down in our gear and held on while we motored back up to Honeymoon Rocks, another site which I have not been to. Matt and I were diving together, and Ildiko and Rob were diving together, so we decided to stick together as a foursome. We headed down and there was not much current at all. At around 40 feet, I felt tugging on my fins, which I thought was actually pushing, because I was descending slowly. Then a few feet down the tugs got a little more aggressive, so I looked back and Rob handed me his camera -- his drysuit inflator had popped off and when he went to add gas, he got a nice shot of cold water instead :P After he took care of that, we continued down the line.

The anchor was on the southeast side of the western-most rock (or I am totally confused...). After doodling around at the anchor while Rob took some pics, we swam counterclockwise around that rock, and then hopped south to the next rock south, which had some metridium, which I posed with. In general, the reef had scattered patches of corynactis and other encrusting stuff and metridiums, and the occasional stalk of hydrocoral. Oh, the viz was great -- 60 feetish, and the water was super-blue! Anyhoo, then we hopped back to the original rock, and continued east, and curved around north, following a wall with scattered metridium. At the end of that, it sort of petered out to rubbleness, and we turned back. Across from that wall (to the east), was another rock, which I swam over to. Here I saw a treefish, which I pointed out to the others. It was about time to head up, so we headed back to the line and up. Keeping track of 3 others on the line was a bit of a chore. Eventually Clinton and team appeared below us and I kept seeing flashes going off, so I tried to pretend to have good trim and whatnot. Rob, apparently, did not get the memo. 96 feet, 50 minutes, 48 degrees

When we got back onto the boat, Rob got out of his gear and immediately took his spot on the gunwale. He basically alternated between that spot and sitting on the bench in a cat-atonic state for the entire surface interval, which was substantial. We motored up to Stillwater for the surface interval, and had some sandwiches and chowder. Then after a brief poll, Jim decided to head back to PTP and see if the current had improved at all. When we got down there, Rob hopped in the water (sans gear) to see what the current was like. He said there wasn't very much, so we all got geared up and got into the water. On this dive, I was just diving with Rob. On the way to the anchor line, there was some current but not too much.

We dropped and I could immediately see the reef, since the pinnacle tops in about 30 feet. We got down to it, and the current was pushing us south. We swam to the east side and dropped down, and then it was calmer. We swam north along the east side. Where we first dropped down, there was a little ledge below the top, which we swam along. There was a lot of palm kelp on it. As I was swimming along, I noticed some hydroids in one of the palm kelps and without even looking for it, saw a Dendronotus frondosus on the hydroids as they blew in the surge. From about 50 feet down to 100 feet-ish, it was a pretty straight wall, which was cool to look down. There were some nice hydrocoral shrubs, lots of corynactis, and some metridium. There was also a smaller pinnaclet off to the east across a small channel. I noticed a few nice stalks of hydrocoral, so I swam over to it, turned around, and positioned myself for a shot, but then I realized Rob was busy taking a picture of something on the main pinnacle. So I went back over to him. Then a minute later, he swam over to the little one, and signaled to me to pose for a picture by those stalks of hydrocoral :P Apparently Clinton and Sami had the same idea. Anyhoo, we continued to the north until we got to the end of the pinnacle.

We were told that it was too large to swim around (which was false), so we turned back there. On the way back, I don't even know why, but I decided to pick through some feathery hydroids, to look for slugs. The first bunch of hydroids I looked in, I found a bunch of Dendronotus subramosus (I think). I showed them to Rob, and then I noticed that John and Matt were just about to pass us, so I decided to share them with my fellow slug geeks. While we were fighting the surge to look at some tiny slugs, Rob found a very photogenic lingcod, which I completely missed. Anyhoo, we continued on, and I found some more sluggy hydroids, and a small Hilton's nudibranch. When my gas was getting low, I suggested we pop our heads up on top of the pinnacle and check where the anchor was. I popped up and immediately saw the line, so I suggested we just hang around there for a few more minutes before heading up. I found some other kinds of slugs (which I couldn't identify without magnification) on the red lacy hydroids. Rob also found a really cool looking one on a feathery hydroid, that was actually big enough to look at. I couldn't get a good enough look at it in the surge, but Rob thinks it may have been Eubranchus rustyus, which I find highly plausible.

We headed up the line, and were greeted by a variety of jellyfish. First there were the moon jellies, which were plentiful. Then while we were at 10 feet, we saw a Scrippsia pacifica, which I was fascinated by. Then a spotted comb jelly came by -- I love those (probably because they remind me of a chocolate chip jellyfish), and this is probably the nicest looking specimen I have seen. I went to signal Rob, and I noticed he had drifted off the line, with a jellyfish of his own, and was taking pictures of it. Turns out it was a sea nettle. 88 ft, 46 minutes, 47 degrees

The ride back was uneventful and quite calm, I thought, although Rob returned to his catatonic state for the trip :( But about 2 minutes after stepping foot on land, he was ready for Turtle Bay, so there was clearly no long term damage :)

All of the day's pictures are here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

In Search of the Jaguar Nudibranch

Rob and I dove at Point Lobos today. We were originally slated to dive with John H, but he had a cold, so we were on our own. But it seemed like a Team Kitty dive -- Kevin was with us in spirit, or at least his scooter was clipped to my butt. Rob wanted to go back to Great Pinnacle shooting macro, since we saw so many cool nudibranchs there last time. We also wanted to look for the mystery white dorid we've seen a few times out around the Road (which we have dubbed the "jaguar nudibranch"), so he could get some more shots of it. So, we decided we'd go to Great Pinnacle (via the shallow route) and swing around to the Road on the way back.

Rob led, since he has been out there more than I have. I think this was the first time either of us had been out there without Jonathan. I towed a backup scooter, which I have never done for real before. I swam our stuff out to the float, and then we got geared up and got into the water. Suzanne and Gary were getting in the water at the same time, so we loaned them one of the scooters so they could surface scoot out with us. We got a little bit outside of the cove, and they handed it off to us. Rob clipped it to my butt for me, and we dropped there. We headed down the sand channel to Hole in the Wall, which I noticed had a decent amount of kelp just to the northwest of it (I noticed it because I was worried about the towed scooter getting tangled in it :P). The viz was quite nice even on the sand channel -- probably 30 to 40 feet, and very blue. When we got to the Lone Metridium, I went to reset my bottom timer, and I noticed that my gauge read 44 degrees! Yikes! I could feel it. It was also very clear though, probably 50 to 60 feet of viz, plus blue and bright! From there, we continued to about the 80 foot contour and followed it west. At some point Rob pointed to the structure to our left, for me to look up it, and I noticed that you could see up to the top of the structure, and then kelp came off the top of that, which you could see all the way to the surface -- very nice! I eventually started recognizing landmarks near Great Pinnacle, and then we finally came to Great Pinnacle, which I recognized by the occasional metridium dotting it on this side.

We came around to the north side, and clipped our scooters off, and hung out there for a while. At first I didn't see anything too interesting, just a lot of clown nudibranchs, and Doriopsillas. Then I finally found a Dirona on the wall below us, and after swimming down to look at it, I saw another one a little further down. I pointed them out to Rob and continued along while he got some pictures. I eventually found a Spanish shawl too, which was not in a very photogenic position, but I pointed it out to Rob anyway, since he has his little Spanish shawl obsession. He pointed out a gorgonian to me that was crawling with skeleton shrimp. It was pretty neat looking, but also kind of gross. While he was taking pictures of that, I found a little nook with a little juvenile rockfish (a rosy, I think) in it. I was watching him for a while, and when Rob finally came over, I pointed him out. Of course, he disappeared into his crack before Rob could even setup a shot. I ended up finding an area with several Hermissendas, including some smaller ones. While I was looking around at those, I realized there were also two trilineatas nearby. Not exactly the throngs of them which we saw last weekend, but at least Rob was shooting macro. Rob found a tiny little tannish nudi on a hydroid, which he told me afterwards was a Cuthona fulgens (it was too small for me to tell). I have never seen one of those before. After he was done taking pictures of that, I signaled that I was cold, and we should get going. I guess we will have to return to our search for the jaguar nudibranch on a future dive.

After some camera and scooter juggling, we headed towards the Road. I realized I should have juggled scooters (I switched to the one I was towing) when we got there instead of when we were ready to leave. Would have made for a quicker getaway :P Shortly after leaving, we passed a Scrippsia pacifica. I also noticed as we approached the Road that there was an impressive column of blue rockfish above us. We hit the Road and followed it in south. When we got to the end near the Sisters, I once again found some little rockfish near the bottom. I pointed them out to Rob, but there was no time for pictures, so we continued. When we got to the rock just past Lone Metridium (which has become our default 70 foot stop), we switched to our bottles and negotiated our deco (a little disagreement on what our average depth was, so we went with the more conservative one). We headed in in the usual manner. When we got to the sand channel, the viz had deteriorated. It was chunkier than it had been on the way out.

By this point, I was very cold, and we still had over 15 minutes of deco left. I decided that twiddling my thumbs at the worm patch wasn't going to cut it -- I needed a distraction to keep me from thinking about how cold it was! So at about 30 feet, I headed us over to Middle Reef and decided that today we would take a detour to the east for our 20 foot stop. This was inspired by the two recent dives I did on the east side of Middle Reef, both of which were at 20 feet, but with plenty to see. We doodled along the reef over there, occasionally scooting to another spot to look around. Eventually we made our way south to where the reef ended, so I headed southwest. Then I decided I really had no clue how far east I had taken us (or how far west I needed to go to get home), so I found a nice kelp stalk and told Rob we would finish up there. We were working our way up to 10 feet, when we heard a boat overhead, so Rob whipped his bag out, and after recovering his unspooled spool (hehe), he managed to inflate it (I was very impressed... sooo cold). When we got to the surface, we were pretty far to the east of the cove. Whoops. Well, that's what scooters are for. 135ft, 89 minutes, 44F.

Even though the conditions were nice, I was crazy cold and decided to pass on a second dive. It was cold on the surface too, so I figured it would be difficult to warm up between dives. Instead, we headed to Turtle Bay. Actually we stopped at Jonathan's garage briefly, and dragged Cynthia out of bed to join us for lunch. We also visited the devil's spawn, errr, Nitrox the cat. Actually she was a little angel to us -- I guess she likes us better when Oreo and Pepper aren't around.

Pictures from the dive are here.