It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Granite Point Shallows

On Sunday, BAUE was having a little get together at Point Lobos. We were encouraged to try to mix it up and dive with someone different from the usual dive buddies, so I dove with Joakim. Since I didn't have my personal photographer with me, no underwater pictures today. We originally talked about Three Sisters or Granite Point as a dive site, but since it was dead calm, and Joakim told me he's more into structure than little critters, Granite Point seemed like the best choice. The plan was to scooter out to the wall, and decide based on the conditions there to either go around the back of the wall before heading north-ish, or just to head directly north.

We surface scooted out until the kelp got thick and dropped. As soon as we got going, I could see the worm patch, and then we headed out along the sand channel, and then over towards Granite Point. Along the way, we saw some swarms of little shrimp over the sand. We got to the wall, and it was really calm, so we headed to the right and circled behind the wall. It was super calm and really clear back there, but dark from the kelp cover. It was a very peaceful spot to hang out. So we clipped off and swam around a little. I noticed a little school of juvey rockfish hanging in a nook of the wall. I found a Limacia on the east wall in pretty short order, and pointed it out to Jo. I also found a fairly rotund Festive Triton scurrying across one of the boulders between the two walls. After swimming to the end of that area, I suggested we scooter some more, so we headed off to the north. I wanted to find this particular spot that has some nice hydrocoral. But after going for a few minutes, I decided I must have missed it, so I picked a fairly random spot with a wall sloping down at about 60 degrees, and suggested we clip off there.

From there, we swam around for a while. I found an Aegires and pointed it out, and then not long after I saw two more. I don't know if there are more out than usual, or if they were just easy to pattern match after seeing some on Saturday. We eventually found ourselves at the bottom of a sort of V-shaped canyon running east-west-ish, where the other end was shallower than where we were. I took us for a swim through the V, which was neat -- it was very colorful on both sides, with pink Corynactis, and tons of orange and yellow sponges, it was like a wall of cotton candy. This was in about 40 feet I think. I really like the shallow areas around Granite Point, and this is why -- so colorful! When we got to the other end, we were kind of at the top of the wall. We continued swimming around, and found some more similar cracks to swim through. I found a couple more interesting slugs during the swim. First, I found a nice plump Hilton's. I turned around to show it to Jo, and when I turned back, I couldn't find the bugger (which was ridiculous, given its size). I eventually relocated it. Then while Jo was checking it out, I noticed a very nice Rostanga egg spiral nearby. Also, as I was swimming through yet another V-shaped canyon, I saw a small Dirona on a little rock right under me. I had to flip myself around to face Jo so I could point it out to him. It was a very cute little Dirona, and I am pretty sure the first time I have seen one so shallow. While I was pointing it out, I noticed a little trilineata just a couple inches from it. It wasn't the sluggiest day, but there certainly was a variety!

When I decided it was time to head back, I knew I needed to go southwest to hit the rock-sand interface. I found a channel heading south, and figured I would just follow that and then hop west when it became convenient. But we pretty quickly ended up a lot shallower. From about 20 feet up, the water was super clear and bright. It was like scootering through a tide pool. There were lots of giant green anemones (which was cool, I've never seen them over on the Granite Point side) and purple coralline algae. Eventually I came to a point where there was a rock in front of my path that went up at least 5 feet (and I was in 15 feet of water). I decided that I really didn't want to end up on the surface, getting punished by the rocks over there, so I turned us around and took the next opportunity to bail out to the west :) I scootered down a path that got us to 30 feet and then basically just wound our way over to the top of the wall, and as we came over the wall, it was pretty cool to look down it. And scootering down the wall was really fun :) We ended up back at 60 to 70 feet, on the reef-sand interface, and scootered back along until we hit the main wall. We clipped off our scooters and poked around there for a few minutes, and then we headed in. We scootered back to the end of middle reef, and followed the west side of the reef. I stopped at the 40 foot warbonnet (Rob recently found a new apparently-resident warbonnet, in 60 feet :P), and showed it to Joakim. Then we headed in. We surfaced from 10 feet, about 100 feet from the float. 73 ft, 80 minutes, 50 degrees

I considered going back for a second dive with Rob, but after such a great first dive, I decided there was no need. I definitely want to go back to that area again the next time it is really flat. Swimming around and scootering through all the little nooks in the shallow area is really fun.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mutiny on the Cypress Sea

On Saturday we went on our first Cypress Sea Big Sur trip of the season. The idea was to do a farewell boat trip with Jonathan, since this would be his last weekend in town :( As a result, our dive clique had nearly all of the spots on the trip. Even some of the more elusive boat divers (like Don and Elissa) made an appearance. The festivities really started the night before. Given the 6 AM boat departure, no one wanted to have to drive down in the morning, but the Monterey Blues Festival made hotel rooms crazy expensive. Since all of Jonathan's furniture had already been moved out, we had a slumber party (sleeping bags and all) in his living room. We also had a bonfire on the beach on Friday night, which was fun.

Anyhoo, after boarding the boat, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5:30 AM, we headed down the coast. The water was crazy calm. It was like we never left the bay (or the harbor for that matter). On the way down, I enjoyed some oatmeal -- they have a fabulous new cinnamon roll flavored oatmeal on board which I highly recommend. Rob bossed Phil around and convinced him that we should go to a site we went to last year, that was a long crack that we thought would be fun to scooter. But we would do a site north of Point Sur first. The whole Big Sur coast smelled like a campfire throughout the day. We ended up at this site which Phil called "Castle Rock" (which is apparently the site that Beto calls "Las Piedras Wall"). This pinnacle goes from about 70 feet down to 140 or so feet, and is long and thin. It's about 500' long and maybe 100' wide. After we saw the bathymetry map, we decided it would be a good site to scooter, since the navigation would be trivial. We hopped into the water, and swam back to the swim step to grab our scooters, which was pretty crowded with 5 scooters on board. But mine was easy to identify as the one with the Death Kitty on it (care of Ken Gwin). There was a bit of current at this site, so scootering was nice. We headed down the line, and it was quite easy to stay with the line and with each other on the way down. This was my first scooter dive from a boat. It was very nice to be able to pause to clear my ears without either having to hang on the line or kick kick kick while waiting for my ears to cooperate. The visibility was not spectacular from the surface, and it was pretty green. By the time we got down to the pinnacle, it was quite dark, but the visibility was really good.

The anchor was on the east side of the pinnacle, near the south end. We decided to scooter down to the south end first, to check it out. Down at the south end, there was a cool overhang at about 120'. We continued around the tip and it got much less pretty as we came up the west side, so we turned around and headed back to the overhang, where we poked around. The wall and overhang were covered in pink corynactis (which looked just smashing next to my pink drysuit), so they were impressive just to look at. There were some rockfish hanging out under the overhang, including a treefish and a China. Across the sand at the bottom a little to the south was a rock with a bunch of metridium on it. We eventually continued scootering back north on the east side, where we seemed to pass pretty much all of the other divers. We made it to the northern tip and then meandered back along the east side. There were scattered hydrocoral shrubs. Rob stopped to take some pictures of them, and I was poking around, when I found the smallest clown nudi I have ever seen. Kevin also pointed out some pastel purple corynactis to me (my favorite color corynactis :P) which I guess he'd never seen before. Before long, it was time to head up. The line was pretty crowded on the way up, with Jonathan and Kevin zipping around on their scooters (we had ours clipped off... so much more civilized). We eventually got sick of having to stay with the line and left it after we left 20 feet. Then we surface scooted back to the boat. 127 feet, 63 minutes, 46 degrees

After the dive, I was really cold, and it didn't seem to improve on the surface interval. I finally figured out why when I took my suit off to go to the bathroom (I can just hear Rob chastising me for not calling it "the head"), I was super wet! The backs of my legs from my butt to my knees were soaked. That's a new development :( I downed a cup o'noodles and some tea to try to warm up. Anyhoo, for the second dive, we went to the site Rob wanted to go to, which Phil calls "Monte Sur". Or maybe it is a site near Monte Sur. I'm not sure. The water was super flat and there was no current there. There was lots of kelp, and it was just lying lazily on the surface. We got into the water (I am perfecting the giant flop off of the Cypress Sea, which used to be a source of great stress for me), and got our scooters from the back. We descended at the swimstep because of all of the kelp, and headed over to the line in about 10 feet. The line was amazingly vertical. As we headed down, it was like we were on a different site than the last time we were there. Why? Because the viz sucked today :( I have memories of near tropical viz in blue water, where you could see the canyon/crack stretch out in both directions. Today, you couldn't even see across the channel in some spots. Oh well. We headed off in one direction and the wall sort of petered out pretty quickly. So we turned around and went the other direction. We scootered for a few minutes, getting the lay of the land, and eventually we stopped and clipped off and kicked from there. We passed a lot of blue rockfish and some olives. We moseyed along the reef, Rob taking some pictures, while I looked in the cracks for anything interesting. I found a few nice slugs -- trilineatas (including some "big" ones), several Aegires, and a mating pair of Adalaria jannae (or are they Onchidoris muricata?), plus lots of Hermissendas in different shades.

We eventually decided to head back to the line. Rob asked me which way the line was, and I told him, and confirmed his suspicion (we had actually meandered past it, I think, but it was across the crack so we didn't notice). So we headed back in that direction and after scootering a couple of minutes, we both started doubting ourselves. I told him let's go for another minute before we turn around, and then we saw a bunch of lights from the other divers (we had moseyed a lot further than we realized!). Nils had found a red (young?) wolf eel in a crack right next to the line. We checked it out and Rob took some pictures, and then we headed up. The line was pretty crowded, especially since once we got past the top of the crack, there was kelp everywhere on one side. I think I beaned someone in the face (who was above me) as I was ascending. When we got to 20', I noticed that a big dense school of blue rockfish had appeared in the kelp on the other side of the crack. I asked Rob if we could swim over and hang with them. So we went over and pretended to be rockfish, hanging with the school, for the rest of our hang. It was a very pretty scene, with all the rockfish and all of the kelp in the background. We swam to the back of the boat underwater (since there was kelp everywhere), and I found a little hole where I could ascend. I couldn't really even see where the back of the boat ended, so I was hoping this would be close enough to board. Nope. I was sent back under and had to clear some kelp with bubbles (actually, Rob cleared the kelp and I shared the hole in the kelp with him -- very romantic). Getting up on the swimstep, covered in kelp, was a slippery proposition. 96 feet, 68 minutes, 48 degrees

After dive two, we had sandwiches (a variety of meat and cheese on croissants) for lunch. Croissant sandwiches definitely get the Cold Water Kitty stamp of approval. A big improvement over the sandwiches from last year :)

For the last dive, we headed back to the north, since the viz was apparently better up there. We went to G spot, a pinnacle that tops around 40', and is about 100' at the bottom. I warned Rob that this would have to be a shorter dive, since I was really cold. We decided to leave our scooters behind for this dive. As soon as we started to descend, I sort of regretted that, as there was a bit of a current to swim into on the way down. Nothing terrible, but probably the worst of the day. As we got down the line, almost to the pinnacle, a really pretty egg yolk jelly appeared. I swam over to look at it, while Rob took some pictures. I felt a little bad to stick my face in the frame, but I really wanted to get a look! But alas, it was headed up, and I didn't feel like following it, so we continued down. When we got down to the pinnacle, there was a big vertical crack through the pinnacle right near the line. I wanted to go check it out, but first we had some business to attend to. Cynthia had been wanting a photo shoot with Rob for some time, and it kept not working out. So we met up with Cynthia and Al at the bottom of the line, and Rob took some pictures of Cynthia. After he was finished and signaled to move along, I suggested he get some glamour shots of Al too, so he did, and then we headed off. I wanted to check out the crack but for some reason, Rob whooshed past the crack and along the outside of the pinnacle. Whatever.

We continued along the side of the pinnacle, and eventually hit some rocks off to the side. We stopped at one of these rocks, which had some hydrocoral, which Rob of course wanted to shoot. So I looked around. I found another treefish in a crack on this rock. I noticed a lot of hydroids that were some different kind that I haven't seen around here before. Then I realized they were crawling with trilineatas (at first I pointed a couple out to Rob, and then I realized how ridiculous that was when I realized they were everywhere!). There were also some very pretty Hermissendas with bright red tips on yellow. After Rob was finished with the hydrocoral, I signaled that we should turn around because I really wanted to check out that crack. We headed back to the line, where the viz had deteriorated significantly -- there was a lot of particulate in the water, and the current direction seemed to have changed. When we got back to it, I am pretty sure Rob was expecting me to head for the line, but instead I swam into the crack. I went a little further into it than I should have (I was thinking I could ascend a little, since it widened higher up, but that somehow didn't quite work), so I had to back out until I was far enough to turn around (which required contortions). Then I figured once I was jammed in there, I might as well pose for some pictures :) Then we headed back to the line. During the ascent, I was constantly kicking to stay with the line, but it wasn't too bad. When we got up to 20', Rob finally gave up and decided that hanging on the line so he could face me would be easier. When we got up to about 15', I noticed that the granny line was heading in the opposite direction of the boat. I'm pretty sure it wasn't like that at the start of the dive :) Swimming to the back of the boat against the current was a bit of a chore. Rob wouldn't hand over his O2 bottle to Phil while he caught his breath. I was, however, in a hurry to get out of the water, since I was really cold. I was also sort of pooped, but Phil picked up the slack and lifted me out of the water by the manifold :) 94 feet, 52 minutes, 46 degrees

We had an incredibly smooth ride back to Monterey.

All of the day's pictures are here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chapter 20: Investigating the Phantom Signal

(Guest report by Rob) Following up on Saturday's expedition off of Stillwater cove, Allison, Jonathan and I decided to seize on the weekend's flat conditions to go do a dive that we'd be kicking around for some time. The plan was to go out from Lovers Pt. in search of the Mating Amtracks. While this is typically a boat-dive site, we had been looking at the maps and confident that the distance from shore was manageable, so we set off to Lover's Pt. to begin the quest at about half-past the crack of dawn.

The Amtracks are located about a half-mile off of the point, but without any discernable structure near-by. In fact (as we later confirmed), there is almost nothing but sand for at least a thousand feet leading up to it. We rolled into the parking lot at Lovers 3 and found that all of the signs are for 2hr parking?! Is that a new development? As if the parking situation wasn't enough to dissuade me from diving at Lovers, the base of the stairs in cove 3 have been washed away so that the last 5-10 vertical feet almost require a climbing harness. Oy; barely civilized. After making several trips up and down to schlep the doubles, stages and scooters down, I was almost ready for Turtle Bay. But alas, there is exploring to be done :) Right before we got in, I noticed that the meter-people had chalked my tire (oh yeah, 2hr parking?!). A little spit took care of that (hey, stupid system) one, so take that Pacific Grove.

We hobbled in the water (no camera today for me) and headed out on the surface a little bit. The plan was to take a roughly 30° magnetic heading until we hit the 75'-80' contour, then turn SSE and spread out in a search pattern. We had allocated 10 minutes to searching after hitting the contour before giving up and trying to find something else out there of interest. The trip out was really uneventful, seeing as there's almost nothing there. I kept futilely scanning the sand for bat rays, but I suspect that was mostly out of wishful boredom. Soon enough, we hit the contour and started in on our first search pattern.

The viz which was pretty milky and gross on the surface cleared up pretty nicely below about 30FSW or so to about 40' horizontal, which was good because it allowed us to spread out quite a bit and cover a large swath while scootering in parallel. Allison was anchoring the search in the middle, with Jonathan and I flanking her around the limit of visibility. About 4 or 5 minutes into the first leg of the pattern, Allison started signalling me, so I turned in. I fully expected it to be to regroup and start in on the second leg (since it was approaching the agreed-upon time), but instead I was motioned towards Jonathan's side so we headed over there. Turns out Jonathan's track planted him almost smack into the Amtracks (again, there's *nothing* else out there so these things really stick out like a sore thumb.)

Woohoo (or "w00t" even)! After exchanging a scooter-by high-five, we settled in to examining the Amtracks. Being the first time I've ever been there, I was pretty impressed by the amount of life on them. I suppose this is to be expected to some extent as the surrounding area is pretty barren. There were literally hundreds of Hermissenda, and maybe half-as-many F. trilineata. There were also an impressive amount of rockfish (including many juveniles) settled into various nooks and crannies, as well as a juvie Cabezon and (what I believe was) a juvenile sculpin of some sort.

We spent about 40 minutes on the wreck until our stage bottles ran out. After switching off the bottles, we decided to turn the dive and head for home. We followed pretty much the same path back, heading WNW for a few minutes before turning towards about 210° magnetic. We had agreed to surface from about 30FSW to get our bearings and to avoid getting run into the rocks, so we put a bag up and headed up. I had heard a boat motor by shortly before we put our back up, and surely enough, we surfaced about 100' aft of the BeachHopper. It turned out that we were right on track as we surfaced about 50' or so from where we had dropped, so we surface-scooted the rest of the way back to Cove 3 (though I had half a mind to scooter over the BeachHopper and attempt to "re-board" :) 77', 80minutes, 50F

All in all, it was a great dive, and pretty satisfying that we had found the Amtracks. Having now been there, I'd love to go back, but this time with a camera and a macro lens. I'm sure that there was a fair amount of luck involved in finding the spot so fast the first time out, so I'm not sure how dependable a scooter dive it really is. Probably better to try to bum a ride from some of the local boat crowd...

After rinsing all the gear out from a long dive weekend, we headed to the Chowder House for dive 2, into a bowl of chowder and a crab sandwich.

Kitty commentary: To be fair, the ride out wasn't completely uneventful. We hit a big rock right around 60' that was packed with Metridium (so densely packed, it put the Metridium Field rocks to shame!). It is a shame Rob didn't bring his camera. Either macro or WA would have been great. The viz was so good, he could have gotten some cool diver over "wreck" shots. On the way in, we saw several (at least 3) Scrippsia pacifica. Hyeon Joo was taking pictures on the surface as we got geared up, which I have included in the report.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Scooting Stillwater Cove

After our super cool dive at Point Pinos a month or so ago, we decided that diving new-to-us sites (with scooters :P) should be a semi-regular thing. Kevin in particular was really interested in "exploring" some new sites. So he put together what he believed to be the first of many such adventures, a scooter date at Stillwater Cove. I claim it is the second, but since Kevin missed Point Pinos, he is in denial. We set the date several weeks ago, and as the date drew near, it became apparent that Stillwater would likely be a waste of good conditions. However, since we had been planning it for a while, and a bunch of people were supposed to come, and we lack imagination, we decided to do it anyway. Of course, as the date drew near, some of our so-called buddies were overcome by flakiness (which seems to be an epidemic among West Coasters), and in the end it was just the four of us -- Rob, Kevin, Jonathan, and her Kittyness.

Since we all stayed at Jonathan's on Friday night, we managed to get a good night's sleep while still starting at a respectable time. We caravaned over to Seventeen Mile Drive, where the nice gate attendants let us pass without payment when we told them we had a reservation to dive. When we got to the water, we noticed just how disgusting the water looked. But we were hopeful that it would clear at the edge of the cove. We brought our gear down to the beach, and then moved our cars and got into our suits. Did I mention it was about 85 degrees by 8:30? Yet another unpleasant day for climbing into drysuits. When we got into the water, the viz was at least as bad as we expected. I think it would be fair to call it zero viz -- I kept tripping over rocks that I couldn't see, even in 1 to 2 feet of water. When I got into the water I realized that my scooter strap (to carry it) had fallen off on the way to the water. I saw it on the beach and decided to take my chance that it would still be there at the end of the dive. We scootered straight out on the surface, zipping around the patches of kelp, until we were at a buoy almost to the rocks at the edge of the cove. We dropped there (in about 15 feet) where the viz was still not great (maybe 15 feet), and with Kevin as our fearless leader, headed for deeper water. The viz was cruddy until 30 to 40 feet when it abruptly got much better (30 feet). We passed some structure in the 40 foot range, but kept going to see what else was out there. Eventually we found a spot with some reef and kelp in around 60 feet, and decided to clip off the scooters and hang out there.

The reef struck me as being nearly identical to Middle Reef at Lobos (as far as life goes). The relief ranged from 5 to 10 feet off the bottom. There were blue and kelp rockfish, plus some unknown-to-me juvie rockfish. Among the interesting slugs I found were a Limacia, several trilineatas (including one that I told Rob afterwards was the most beautiful one I'd ever seen), and a couple of Dendronotus albus. I was thinking at some point that it would be good warbonnet territory, so when Rob signaled me and told me to cover my light and look, I had a good idea of what he was about to show me! Yep, a little warbonnet poking his head out. It definitely would have been better for Rob to shoot macro. Oh well. Eventually I told Kevin I was cold, so we headed in. On the way in, we passed some more canyon-ish structures that looked like they might be a bit more interesting structure-wise (and better for shooting W/A -- whoops). We ascended from about 20', just a little bit beyond where we had dropped, and we surface scooted back through the muck. 66 feet, 95 minutes, 50 degrees

When we got out of the water, I was sad to see that my scooter strap had apparently been lost to the rising tide. But I later found it next to the stairs, with some other apparently "lost and found" stuff. Phew. After all was said and done, I definitely think we squandered a good conditions day by going to Stillwater. I wouldn't rule out diving there again, but it doesn't really seem worth the swim/scooter out to get to a site that looks like Middle Reef (not that I dislike Middle Reef, but if I want that, I'll go there and forgo the long trip out). On the other hand, there was some nicer looking stuff that we passed on the way in, so maybe next time we will find an area that I like more that is not quite as far out.

After we packed everything up, we drove the rest of Seventeen Mile drive and stopped at Pescadero Point so Jonathan could get some pictures. We were treated to a pretty neat lightning show over the bay. The storm was heading towards us, and luckily it was accompanied by about a 20 degree drop in temperature (which was a relief since we were roasting on Friday, but it had to be better than at home). We also stopped at a few of the other beaches along Seventeen Mile Drive to scope out potential future dive sites. Then we headed to Turtle Bay to meet Matt and his out-of-town friend for lunch.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scootering to the End of the Earth

We had planned to take Friday off to go out on Phil's RIB, but he had to cancel at the last minute (hiss at Phil) on Thursday to drive the Cypress Sea (Rob tried to talk Phil into taking the "Friendly Friday" boat to Flintstones, but that didn't quite work.) After planning all week to take the day off to go diving, I couldn't bear the thought of going to work, so we decided to just go scootering at Lobos instead. I had been mulling the idea of scootering to Montana sometime, harassing Kevin about the profile from his last dive out there, and discussing the various paths out there with Jonathan. So it seemed like a good time to head out there. The little change of plans required us to go by Anywater on Thursday evening, and since we were already about 1/3 of the way to Monterey, we decided to just head down there and spend the night (at Hotel Derosier :P). It was good that we did; apparently there was some big accident on 1 just coming into Monterey, that everyone was stuck in. So instead of meeting Kevin at 7:30 or so, he showed up a little after 8:30.

It was crazy hot for the area, like 85 degrees at 8 AM. That made getting into our suits pretty icky. But eventually I decided to just get in it the whole way and douse myself in water. Then I laid on the ramp and worked on my tan (errr something) while waiting for Kevin. When he finally arrived, he was punished by being assigned to tow the extra scooter. The one upside to Kevin's late arrival was that the tide was coming in and the ramp got marginally more traversable by the time we got in. When we got into the water, the viz in the cove wasn't too terrible. We surface scooted out until the kelp got nearly unpassable, and given the good viz, we decided to just drop there. Rob was leading, with Kevin in second. We scootered over the south end of Middle Reef and then made our way to the sand channel. The ride through the kelp on the reef was really nice -- it was like zooming through a tropical forest, with sun streaming through the "trees" above. There were lots of fishies out and about enjoying the nice conditions -- senoritas, blue rockfish, kelp rockfish, little groups of juvenile rockfish. We headed out to the end of Middle Reef and then over to Granite Point Wall. After a little pause so I could turn off one of Kevin's backup lights, we headed out along the reef-sand interface. The visibility was really good, I would say at least 50 feet. The plan was to hop from pinnacle to pinnacle along the sand interface until we got a bit past Crossroads. We passed some little rocks with Metridium on them, which I have seen before when running along that edge before. Along the way, a back seat leader who I will not name started leading us more west than we had planned to go. Before you know it, we found some big rocks with Metridium on them. I had a suspicion that they were the rocks you are supposed to hit on the way from Beto's Reef to Montana (an alternate path that Jonathan had told me about). From these rocks, Montana was supposed to be just 2 minutes to the north. So we headed north, and before you know it we hit the little pinnaclet just to the south of Montana, and then Montana itself. Out here, I would guess the viz was around 80 feet. Woohoo.

We had originally planned to cruise to the "far side" (west side) of Montana when we got there, but since we were already on that side, we just clipped off and hung out there. We hung out on the western-most peak of Montana for the whole time that we were there (which was only about 15 minutes). When we first got there, as Kevin was switching scooters, I saw a school of baby rockfish; not sure what they were, but I swam over to take a look. Then we basically just perused the reef for a while. Rob was shooting wide-angle, while Kevin and I poked around. I hadn't seen any too interesting when I stumbled upon a white dorid with white speckles... could it be the elusive jaguar slug (errr Aldisa albomarginata). I was pretty sure it was. I called Rob over (actually I dispatched Kevin to fetch Rob, so I wouldn't lose it) and he agreed. Woohoo. Not so elusive after all.

After that, I swam over to look at something Kevin was pointing out to me, and they it was two Dendronotus albus. Then I was about to pose behind an elephant ear that Rob was shooting, when Kevin signaled me again to show me a Dirona. Then he showed me another one, and I eventually found a third. Before you know it, it was time to go. Just as Rob and I were discussing that it was time to go, Kevin signaled and we came over and saw a Tochuina tetraqueta. Kevin's nudi radar was really working! We checked it out, lamented that Rob had already folded up and stowed his camera, and then headed off. We circled around the north side and between two of the peaks as we headed back towards Crossroads. We saw a couple of medusas on the way, and an Aegina citrea (which I've never seen before, but Clinton got a nice picture of one last week, so I recognized it). We also passed a couple of small salp chains. After we hit Crossroads, we continued in weaving between the pinnacles, and eventually got to Granite Point Wall, where we switched to our bottles. Then we headed over to Middle Reef. We stopped at the end of Middle Reef, because Rob wanted to look for a warbonnet that he and Clinton had found recently. He found the warbonnet, and pointed its hole out to me. I peered into the hole and all I could see was its tail. I didn't want to shine my light in and blind the little guy :)

We cruised down the sand channel and when we got to the end, I suggested to Rob that we go to the east side of Middle Reef to hang out at 20'. So we headed over there and found a lovely spot under the kelp. The viz was really good even here. It was a nice day to hang out in this spot -- very calm and very clear. The light was streaming in through the kelp. There were a bunch of kelp rockfish hanging out with us. Rob decided it would be a good time to work on some kelp shots, so he got his camera out and I posed for some pictures. I kept moving into a good spot and then a minute later I wouldn't be under the kelp anymore. After a couple minutes, we finally realized our bubbles were parting the kelp canopy -- duh. When we were finished with our 20' stop, we headed in, and we finally ascended about 20' from our float. The tide had come in a lot while we were in the water, so we managed to get out of the water without too much flailing :) 140-ish feet, 96 minutes, 46 degrees (brrr)

It was a nice dive, and we saw some nice stuff, but I must admit, it's kind of a long scooter ride for not very much time on the site. But maybe the ride out would have seemed more "worth it" if we had hugged the reef and had something to look at (a la Road to Twin Peaks). We all agreed after the dive that it was a shame to have such awesome conditions and not be able to go out on the boat :( We met Jonathan and Hyeon Joo (whose name I may have just butchered) at El Torito for lunch, and saw the Cypress Sea driving back in from its Friendly Friday trip. It's like Phil was trying to rub it in! We also saw some dolphins jumping in the bay.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fishy Day at Lobos

On Sunday, I scootered with Rob and Devin out to Twin Peaks. We have been doing a lot of dives on the Road to Twin Peaks, but haven't been out all the way to Twin Peaks in a while. When we got to Lobos, a little before 9, I was quite surprised at how empty it was. Especially since the conditions were supposed to be good. I guess everyone made reservations and then realized it was Father's Day and punted or something. Anyhoo, when we got into the water, the viz was not too too terrible in the cove. Since everyone was ambivalent about it, I volunteered to lead. We scootered out on the surface until the kelp because too annoying, and dropped just outside of the cove.

When we dropped, it was pretty murky and green, but as soon as we got to the worm patch it abruptly became blue and less murky (but there was still a bunch of particulate). The trip out was pretty uneventful. By the time we got out past the 3 Sisters, it was kind of dark and murky. It just wasn't as blue out there. Right past the sisters, in the area with all the little rockfish, water leaking in through my neck seal. Eek! So we stopped and I fiddled with my neck seal and hood and it stopped. We continued out, and pretty much just followed the reef-sand interface until we finally made it to the big peak. There we clipped off, and poked around. Actually we were on the little peak off to the southeast of the big one at first. Rob was shooting macro, so I was looking around for little stuff. The first interesting thing I came across was a littel trilineata, and then I instantly found another one right nearby. Rob was taking some pictures of it, when I found a tiny little rockfish swimming along, and when I followed him, I saw that he had a whole gaggle of friends. There were probably around 20 of them. I excitedly got Rob's attention, and then left him to harass the fish, errr, take their pictures. While we was doing that, I found another cool little fishy, with a long warbonnet-ish tail. But he had no head-dress. Apparently he was a stripefin ronquil.

After that, we headed over to the main peak, where I pretty quickly found another group of baby rockfish (not to mention the young rosies that were all over the place), and a warbonnet poking his head out of the reef. This one was apparently not as used to HID lights as the one on Middle Reef, because he only hung around for one picture before retreating into his hole. It was a fishy dive in general. A big vermilion was hanging out with us part of the time, and I remember seeing at least one China rockfish. The nudi life wasn't particularly stellar. There were some Spanish shawls, and other than that, nothing notable. Not even a Doriopsilla spaldingi, which I have come to expect on dives out there.

Before you know it, it was time to go. As we headed off of the main peak, I felt water pouring in through my neck seal, and I couldn't seem to get it to stop. Brrr. I eventually managed to get my neck seal to seal again, but by then I was already waterlogged and freezing :( We headed back along the "other" side of the Road, and eventually cut through over to the usual side. We cut through a little crack/canyon in one of the big structures on the Road. It was fun to zoom through on scoot. Somewhere along the Road, Rob pointed out a big fluffy Dirona. We eventually got back to the ridge just beyond Lone Metridium, and stopped there to switch to our deco bottles. Then we hung out there for a few minutes, basking in the Oxygen window. Since we were stopped, we started poking around on the reef there, and I found a little Limacia. After leaving there, we managed to scooter in the whole way to 20 feet without any stops -- perfect timing. We did our 20 foot stop on the southeast side of Middle Reef, which is much more entertaining than the worm patch. We didn't see anything too exciting, but I did notice there were a bunch of kelp rockfish. Then we scooted in, and ended up ascending about 30 feet from our float. 154 feet, 82 minutes, 46 degrees

When we got out of the water, it was unfortunately not nearly as sunny as it had been before the dive. It would have been nice for warming up. I changed out of my drysuit and declared myself finished for the day. But by the time Rob, Clinton, and Melissa were ready for another dive, I decided I would be terribly bored if I didn't go, and I had warmed up. Now the task of putting on my damp undergarment. Ick. The plan was to go over to the left of the cove, just outside of the cove. We realized swimming out that we would have to do a long swim around the kelp just to get across a small patch between us and the area we wanted to go to. So we decided to drop there and just swim through the muck. It actually wasn't that bad, and before you know it, we were in an area worth poking around.

On the way out, I saw a bunch more kelp rockfish. I saw quite a few abalones back in cracks over there. While I was peering at the abalone, I also happened upon a little black and yellow rockfish sharing a crack with them. I also found another pod of little rockfish (these darker in color than the ones on the first dive), and eventually found another little one solo, that was lighter in color. Other than that, Rob found a nice Hilton's nudibranch, and we found a few Limacias. I turned the dive when I decided I was just too cold (I noticed at some point that it was actually a "warm" 53 degrees, but the damp undergarment...), and we headed in. We managed to ascend into a patch of dead floating kelp (there wasn't any kelp around us, and we didn't bother to look up... whoops). So we descended and swam a bit further in and managed to find a clear spot to ascend. After rinsing gear, we adjourned to Turtle Bay. 32 feet, 60 minutes, 51 degrees

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Deep Deep Shale

We went on the Escapade on Sunday afternoon to do some dives on the deep shale. I think some people use that term to describe the shale in the 80' range, so I will refer to our site as the "deep deep shale" :P The boat was inspired by our 100' dives for Tech 1, where we had just long enough to see some cool nudibranchs (Tochnis, in particular) before an airgun would go off in our ears. We have been wanting to go back out to that area and look for Tochnis, and other stuff, so Rob put together a boat. Jim and Clinton had a particular site in mind, which I guess Kawika had found, which goes from about 110' to 130'.

After a short ride out to the site, we got geared up and Rob and I got into the water first. I brought my 80 cuft bottle along, and I was relieved to find that I could actually stand up from the bench with it clipped to me :P I didn't feel like doodling around at the swim step having the bottle handed down to me. It was a very pukey shade of green on the surface, and the viz was terrible. I was leading, so I had to descend into the muck first. It was creepy. I descended in touch contact with the line, since I figured in this viz, if I lost it, I was not finding it. Around 70 feet, I started seeing bright splotches below me, and I realized they were blue rockfish reflecting my light. We finally got down to the reef (it was the slowest descent in the history of the world), and dropped off of the line before we got to the anchor. Beneath us was a garden of gorgonians. We headed down the side of the structure and started swimming west-ish. The first thing I noticed was the abundance of fish. Every time I moved my light in any direction, I would light up a scene of tons of fish hanging in the water. It would have been quite a sight if it weren't so dark (the viz improved on the bottom, but that murky layer left it night-time dark). There were lots of blues and olive rockfish (BIG olive rockfish), and many others that I am too feeble-minded to identify. There were also a lot of rosies of all different sizes, down to the little tiny ones. Rob also found and got some pictures of a small-ish white and tan/brownish rockfish that we couldn't identify. Clinton ended up getting two pictures of the same kind of fish, and the current theory (according to the vast network of rockfish geeks) is a sharpchin rockfish. Rob also found a really cute little white fish, with bright blue eyeshadow, curled up on a sponge. It is allegedly a baby squarespot rockfish.

Rob was shooting macro, so there was also quite a lot of staring at the reef looking for little stuff. We saw lots of Spanish shawls, one simnia snail, and other than that mostly pretty "boring" slugs (errr, I mean, all slugs are beautiful creatures). No tochnis :( Boohoo. We meandered between the various patches of reef, and just poked around. There were some patches of metridium, but most of them were closed or half closed. We crossed paths with John and Clinton a couple of times, and then just when we were about to ascend, we crossed paths with Mark and Dionna. I shot the bag, which seemed to take forever to unspool from 120' and we headed up. The ascent was pretty uneventful (although trying to spool at 30 ft/min was... interesting), until we got to 50', and I saw something white in the distance, and I thought it might be a moon jelly. We kicked a little in its directions, and they were white tanks! It was Mark and Dionna. What a disappointment :P Above about 50', the viz was super bad again; we could basically see each other and that was it. Then at 20', my foot hit something. I really didn't want to look back to find out what it was, but phew, it was Dionna's fin. Hehe. We waved hello and then it was about time to move. The one good think about the nasty top layer was that it was delightfully warm! It definitely made up for the boring long 20' stop. When we got to the surface, we were about 100 ft from the boat, which was still anchored. We swam back over to the boat while John and Clinton heckled us about how they saw a Tochni right by the anchor :( (That's what we get for not checking the anchor, as we were instructed to do). 128 feet, 77 minutes, 48 degrees

On the surface interval, we jetted out towards the edge of the bay for a little whale watch. We watched several humpbacks out there (no bad breath, phew). It was kind of sporty out there! We then headed back in towards the less-deep shale. We went to the old anchor farm site (which now has a pile of chain but no anchors), which I've never been to before. It was a nice site. The viz was surprisingly good on the bottom there, and it was not super dark. We checked out the Metridiums on the chain pile, and then headed west along the ledge there. We really didn't get very far at all. As we were heading across the ledge (so we could look under the ledge), I found a decent-sized octopus hanging half out of his hole. He literally looked like he had just stepped out and froze when I saw him. He stayed there long enough for me to show Rob, but then he quickly retreated. There were an amazing number of Hermissendas, all big and bushy and pretty. They were everywhere! I found a pair of them mating, and pointed it out to Rob. Then I continued poking around under the ledge. I found a little rockfish that I didn't know what it was (it was a very pretty shade of maroon with some green and cream splotches), and I waited with it for Rob to come over. And waited and waited. I guess he was really into those mating Hermissendas. All this time, the fish managed to not be scared off by me while I inspected him. Then Rob turned toward me when he was finished taking his pictures, shined his light directly at me, and the fish skittered off, scared of Rob's light :( I did manage to quickly point it out to Rob before it retreated into a hole. Clinton ended up getting a picture of the same kind of fish, so now I know it was a young vermilion. Very pretty fish!

We turned the dive (I think we had made it far enough to be like a 3 minute swim from the anchor line :P), and as we headed back we came across Clinton and John. They were hovering over a starfish with a half eaten fish under it. Yummm. Rob and I headed to the line and headed up. That was uneventful except that I kept getting blown into the line. Rob told me afterwards that I was "awfully cozy with the line" or some other condescending thing. Next time, he gets the bitch spot and he can back kick to stay in position! The nice thing about diving at the shale is the quick trip back to the dock. Not too quick for some Escapade snacks though! 79 feet, 41 minutes, 48 degrees

All of the day's pictures are here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Shortcut Reef

We've never spent much time on Shortcut Reef before, just scootered past it mostly, so we decided to check it out. Rob wanted to see what sort of macro life was out there, plus I think he wanted to do a long "shallow" dive so he had an excuse to do O2 deco :P I have never navigated out to Shortcut (or Great Pinnacle, which it is sort of on the way to), so I said I would lead. After looking at the maps, I thought that going via the Three Sisters would make it easier to find than taking the shallow route we have taken to Great Pinnacle (on that route, you sort of pass it off to your right vs. running smack into it, so I figured there was a higher likelihood of missing it). So that is the route that we decided to take.

Now that Lobos opens at 8 AM, Rob wanted to get there around 8, but due to a catastrophic alarm clock failure and a lack of breakfast foods in the house, we didn't get down there until our usual time of about 8:40. Whoops. Not to worry, everyone was scared off by the swell forecast, so we still managed to get Rob's favorite parking spot. There were only like 4 or 5 teams there. The water level on the ramp was super low though :( Somehow my scooter and bottle magically made it onto the float while I was in the bathroom. We got geared up and I waddled into the water, doing the fall on my knees and push myself out to deeper water entry. I've decided that entry works pretty well, slightly minimizes the chance of falling on the ramp, and since I was going on a boat on Sunday, I was probably going to come out of the weekend with bruised knees anyway :P The water in the cove was super yucky looking. At the ramp, I couldn't even see my hands and feet while donning my fins. We scootered out on the surface until the kelp got annoyingly thick, slightly before the worm patch. The viz was still pretty crappy there, so we decided to just keep in touch (scooter to fin) contact on the way out. That worked well as we wound our way through the kelp, and then we went side by side once we got to the worm patch. As we headed down the sand channel, the viz improved some, but the water was still very particulate-y. And it was quite surgy.

The viz did improve by the time we got out to Lone Metridium, and eventually got to about 40 feet. We headed off towards the sisters, and soon I hit the first one, and hopped over to the second. From there, we headed west towards Shortcut Reef. It took a little longer to get there than I was expecting, so I was getting a little nervous about missing it. But then we hit it -- it was impossible to miss :P Rob suggested we do a little circuit around it, just to get the lay of the land. We circled around clockwise, and ended up about where we started, and decided to just clip off there. The spot where we stopped really wasn't that spectacular, but I pretty quickly found a Dendronotus albus for Rob to shoot. Then I swam down this little crack/canyon nearby, and looked around on each wall. It was pretty surgy even there. The one thing I noticed was a lot of Hermissendas. I eventually noticed a little yellow patch on the reef and realized it was two Adalaria jannae mating, and then I noticed an inch or so away, there was another one, that was a slightly lighter shade of yellow. Neat! Only the second time I've seen those. I pointed them out to Rob, and moved along, trying to find a spot where I wasn't constantly getting knocked into the reef. After not too much longer, I suggested that we head back to the 3 Sisters, and hang out there for the rest of our bottom time. I must have been going a little too north, because I ended up hitting the road, and following that back to the second sister. We hung out there for a couple minutes, and then headed in. Rob wanted to go in via Beto's Reef, so I led us over there, and then scooted along it and in until we got to the sand channel. I think I prefer going back to the shallower structure and then east, because there is a bit more to see along the way (although Clinton tells me there used to be a starry rockfish living out between Beto's and the Sisters, so perhaps that makes it worthwhile to go the more boring route).

We had initially talked about trying to hang out on the east side of Middle Reef for our 20' deco stop, if we could find a suitable spot at 20'. But once we got to about 30' or 40' on the sand channel, it became obvious that wasn't going to happen -- bad viz and bad surge. As we were approaching the worm patch, I asked Rob if he wanted to keep going until we got a bit shallower. He agreed. Apparently we scootered right below Jonathan and Nils doing their 20' stop there, and we didn't even see them. That says something about the viz (or our poor situational awareness). We continued in until about 22', and eventually picked a sandy spot to hang out on. We clipped off our scooters, did our stop, and ascended there. I was pretty freezing by the end of the dive. However, the mucky cove was actually noticeably warmer, which was nice. Rob shot a bag just for giggles, and then someone started sabotaging our bag from the surface! At the 10' stop I got buzzed by a crazy diver on a scooter. The best part was that I don't think Rob even noticed :) We scootered in on the surface, and ran into Jonathan and Nils at the floats. The tide had come in quite a bit, so it was actually a civilized depth at the ramp for the exit. However, the viz was so bad, that I couldn't see the ramp, and ended up super shallow without realizing it. After a do-over, I managed to get out without incident (and practice my blind fin removal). 108 feet, 101 minutes, 46 degrees

We were planning on doing some nudibranch survey on dive 2 with Clinton, John, and Matt, but I was super cold after the first dive. Which would have been fine if I had a chance to warm up, but Clinton seemed pretty set on getting right back in the water (hiss), so I decided to punt. Instead I went to Turtle Bay with Jonathan and Nils.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Exploring, or Not

On Sunday, we dove with Jonathan and Shawn (who was visiting from Washington). Our plan was to dive South Monastery, to look for the mystery hump. If it turned out to be lame (as we expect), we would just scooter out along the canyon wall and back. Rob wasn't going to bring his camera, he claimed because he doesn't like to bring a camera when diving a new site, but it was actually because he didn't bring enough battery power for the whole weekend. When we pulled up to Monastery, the conditions were quite different from Saturday. Rob walked to the top of the sand and declared it diveable (after observing about 15 seconds worth of waves), while I hemmed and hawed. When Jonathan arrived, he took my side (amazing!). By that point I think Rob was starting to see that there were some bigger sets that were going to make it pretty unpleasant. Then I proposed (I think) that we drive over to Lobos and see if there were any cancellations. We headed over there and managed to get in (that Jonathan, he is such a charmer).

We decided to go in the Twin Peaks direction, pausing along the Road and going out as far as we got. I got to lead (woohoo) with Rob as my primary buddy. We got into the water (I love high tides) and found the visibility in the cove to be terrible. We scootered out on the surface (I couldn't see Rob when my head was underwater, and he was about 5 feet to the right of me) until we got some better viz, and dropped in about 20 feet, to the east of the worm patch. I took us out to the sand channel, and as I was scootering, I thought about my Argon situation. Hmm, forgot to check the bottle and those were some cold dives yesterday. Then around Hole in the Wall, I concluded that I was out of Argon. Boohoo. I told Rob that it was dead, and he signaled to swap bottles. I really didn't know what his plan was, but I figure he had some rational plan. He pumped his suit up with some extra gas, and we swapped (while Jonathan video'd, of course). We drifted north a little during that little maneuver, and Rob and Jonathan (who are both very bad followers) tried to take us in the wrong direction. After a little argument that ended with me swinging back over HITW to show it to Rob, we headed northwest toward Lone Metridium, and then out toward the Sisters. I could tell Rob was doubting my navigation, which is super annoying. But then we hit the first Sister, and I could see the second one off to the left. From there, we headed out on the Road. I slowed down at one point to point out a Dirona along the road, and Jonathan came up and told me we should stop here and clip off. So that's what we did.

Once we were clipped off, Rob and I hung out together (creeping along slowly) and Jonathan and Shawn were touring the area by scooter I think. Aside from the Dirona, we saw a bunch of Spanish shawls, and a Doriopsilla spaldingi. Other than that, nothing too interesting. There were several of the baby rockfish (rosies I think) around there. Rob also found what I thought was a tiny sea cucumber, which he was inspecting, hoping to find that it was a slug. I told him I thought I knew what it was and convinced him it was a sea cucumber. It was really small! I eventually realized we were on the rocks where we found the mystery Okenia last time, but no luck relocating it :) I was getting crazy cold, so I eventually called it. Jonathan and Shawn had actually headed in a few minutes before because of gas constraints I guess. Rob asked me if I wanted to joy ride out a bit further before heading in, but I told him I didn't have the gas for it. Instead we headed in. We passed a small salp chain on the way in. When we were between the first and second sisters, Rob said he wanted to go by Beto's (which we could see an outline of from there... great viz!), so I told him he could lead :P We headed over there, and found a medusa jelly right before we got there. Then we headed in.

We switched to our bottles a little north of HITW, and headed over to Middle Reef when we got there. We stopped at the wolf eel den, but they weren't there. I fear it may actually be the former wolf eel den :( Shortly after that, I took us over to the east side of Middle Reef, since I figured that actually comes up to 20' and is way more entertaining than the worm patch. The kelp is really thick over that part of middle reef; it was neat looking with the sun streaming through the kelp canopy. We basically just zigzagged around the shallow part of middle reef, passing the time, and occasionally stopping to look around. Eventually we headed in, and we got into the green mucky cove, which I noticed was instantly warmer (53 degrees!). We ascended about 20 feet from our float... not bad. 141 feet, 87 minutes, 46 degrees