It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Big Sur Banks

On Saturday, we went on a much anticipated BAUE charter to Big Sur Banks. Long anticipated too -- on the first day of Tech 1, when we had to introduce ourselves and say why we were taking the class, Big Sur Banks came up during Rob's spiel. Then for the rest of the class, every time Beto was describing a scenario to us, it was at Big Sur Banks :P So, at long last, Saturday at 6 AM we took to the high seas (actually the seas were quite low). The sea conditions were really stellar, I even got a few wink winks in on the way down. It was a bit overcast and chilly, but the visibility over the water was good by the time we got down there. However, I didn't want to take any chances with having to hurriedly get geared up in big barfy seas, so I strategically got dressed over the course of about an hour before we got down there.

Once we were down there, we started to gear up before the hook had even been set. The plan was to drop a grapple, to minimize any damage to the reef, with a float ball attached to it. Actually there were two floats, the idea being that the line between them would serve as a current line on the surface. However, Neptune had other plans for that ball, as it was sucked underwater by the current. One of the DMs hopped in with another little float with line on it and attached it to the ball left on the surface. Luckily that ball was not swallowed by the ocean, so we were left with two floats connected by a granny line. This was all going on while we were sitting on the benches with our gear on and bottles clipped to us. My upper back was killing me from hunching in my doubles trying to stay comfortable. Anyhoo, once everything was setup, we all Geronimo'd off the side, and drifted into the line. Then the fun began. After sorting out the two teams on the line, we started our descent, against a ripping current. Now I know what the term "ripping current" is meant to describe :) In about 20 feet, tons of salps came streaming by in the current. We were pulling ourselves down the line slowly (the one upside of which was that I had no ear problems whatsoever!), but really not slowly since I was getting pretty winded on the way down. I kept cracking open the knob on my reg until finally it would open no further :( At around 100 feet, I decided I needed a little break, so I told the boys we needed to stop for a moment. I was trying to signal something useful to them, which proved tricky since I was holding on for dear life with one hand, and had my light on the other hand. But I think they got the idea. The pause was surprisingly refreshing, as hanging like a flag in the wind wasn't really hard, except perhaps on my hand. After a minute, we continued down (after a little team re-ordering, since Rob had skipped ahead of me on the line earlier).

As we got to 120', I started to get mighty suspicious of the lack of pinnacle. Soon it became clear that the hook had slipped, and instead of a pinnacle from 120-ish to 160-ish, we were over sand in about 170', which was littered with small boulders topping out around 160'. At this point we were about 10 minutes into the dive, and it seemed pointless to abort and try to reposition. For one thing, I was probably too pooped for another long descent against the current, but I also probably didn't have the gas, and the time constraints for the day would have made it tough as well. It also didn't seem feasible to try to find the pinnacle, since it would no doubt require swimming against the current, which I know I was in no mood to do. So we decided to just poke around where we were, and shorten the dive as necessary due to the depth. The problem with the low-lying boulders was that nothing was there to protect us from the current, so even once we got down, we still had to contend with that. We pretty much swam around a handful of these boulders for a while. One that we came upon pretty quickly actually had a nice bushy piece of pink hydrocoral. All of the boulders had hydrocoral in decent quantities, but it was mostly the more two dimensional sheets that I don't think are nearly as pretty as the shrubs. There were also gorgonians and lots of Hermissendas, including the red and peach tipped ones that I find very attractive. After visiting some of the other boulders, we sort of gravitated back to the one with the pretty hydrocoral bush, and Rob took some pics (which was an amusing feat due to the current). Before you know it, it was time to head up. We ascended to 120', and Rob shot the bag from there (we had planned to shoot it from the "reef" but I didn't know how a 150' spool would fare from 160' :P).

The ascent was actually pretty interesting. First of all, we drifted past a couple of huge schools of rockfish. We were also visited by a parade of jelly animals. We were pretty much continuously greeted by more Cyclosalpa's, and then there were some comb jellies. We saw a comb jelly that looked like a Leucothea, but without the chocolate chips (err, red spots). Then later we saw a Leucothea. There were also tons of sea gooseberries. Finally, we saw a reasonably big jelly that I had never seen before, which I am pretty sure was a Beroe forskalii. I am sure there are others I am forgetting! I was a little surprised that there were no egg yolk jellies, since I have been seeing them all over the place lately (including closer in around Big Sur). When we returned to the boat, we found out that the hook had slipped and we were about 150 yards away from the pinnacle. Oops. I guess that's what happens when you put six gear-laden divers pulling on a line held in place with an itty bitty grapple. 162 feet, 63 minutes, 50 degrees

We were diving in two shifts, so the second shift for the first dive had the benefit of the hook being moved back to the pinnacle, sort of. This time Phil used the big boy anchor, and anchored the boat. As a result, the teams had to make it from the gate to the front of the boat, just to get started down the line. This proved an insurmountable feat for the swimming team (despite Phil's supportive cheers about the size of the teams' reproductive organs). The second team was on scooters, and tried to give the swimmers a tow, which resulted in the scooters moving backwards. Yikes. After 10 minutes or so of getting their asses kicked on the surface, the swimming team ended up sitting out the dive. We had a while before our next dive, during which we swapped gear out and had some food. Apparently reporting on the contents of my lunch is lame, so I will have to skip that today. When Beto and Susan returned from their dive, they told us about a "big" shark that was hanging out on the top of the pinnacle during their dive. Hmmm, I wasn't sure whether to be terrified or excited. In any case, I decided to just put it out of my mind for the time being.

Then we sort of regrouped and discussed what to do next. We considered moving to a site closer in, which would hopefully have less current. However, we decided to give it another try here, and to risk not getting another dive in vs. going to a less exciting site. But it was clear that anchoring the boat was not the way to do it. So, instead, we used the approach we'd used on the first dive (drifting into the buoy) but with the bigger anchor. We got in the water, and swiftly found ourselves at the buoys. We started the descent (right behind Clinton and Nick), which was also a strenuous pull down the line. And a looong pull. There was zillions of feet of scope, it seemed. We eventually dropped off the line, hoping that the pinnacle would shield us a little from the current -- ha! Instead, we were just kicking against the current and deeper :( However, it turned out to be worth it, when I saw a vase sponge (or boot sponge, people seem to call them different things), which I have never seen before! That was neat. We continued along and finally got to the pinnacle at around12 minutes into the dive. We worked our way up the side of the pinnacle, and ended up settling on top, since that's where all of the really huge pieces of hydrocoral were. They were incredibly big -- much bigger than any hydrocoral heads I have seen before by a large margin. I tried to pose for a couple of pictures behind various chunks of hydrocoral, which was quite comical -- in there current, it was nearly impossible for both me and Rob to hold a position long enough for him to get any shots. However, we did get at least one nice pose of me and Kevin behind a piece of hydrocoral. I also attempted to pose for Clinton too, but also found that to be pretty impossible.

Before you know it, it was time to start our ascent. That's the downside of spending half of the bottom time to get to the site :( Bob shot the bag and we headed up. As soon as we left, we seemed to fly off of the pinnacle. At around 70', we flew by the anchor line. The ascent was pretty uneventful, until we were at 10'. All of a sudden, Kevin seemed to charge us and shake us around and point down below. All I could think of was the "big shark" that was supposedly seen on the previous team's dive. My fears were not allayed when I scanned the water and saw a flash of silver... which was a curious mola mola! He kept swooping around us coming closer to check us out. I held my hand out and he swam up about 6 inches from it, as if he was sniffing it like a curious kitty. We played around with the mola for a few minutes until he lost interest and swam off. 166 feet, 61 minutes, 48 degrees

The water was dead calm for the ride back, so we made great time getting home. There was plenty of time to eat, swing by Cynthia's, and still make it home in time for kitty feeding time.

All of the day's pictures are here.

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