It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Montana, by Boat

Saturday we were on the Escapade for a BAUE tech charter. We were hoping to get down to Yankee Point, but the weather gods were not on our side. The wind out of the west was punishing on the trip down, with anything not tied down sliding across the deck every time we got smacked by a wave. It was also really foggy. For much of the trip down, I had no idea where we were. We stopped in the vicinity of the Pinnacles and circled around there briefly, then continued on. The fogged seemed to have cleared around there, but then as we continued on, it became apparent that it was just patchy, and it was still plenty foggy. By this point, we decided to try for E3 or one of the other sites just outside of Lobos. So we motored down there, where it was also quite foggy. It was so foggy that I couldn't really tell what sites we were checking out. After a bit of site shopping, things weren't looking good. Then someone had the bright idea of checking out Montana (instead of heading back into the bay, which was the other option). We headed over there and it seemed doable. A little choppy, but not as foggy as other spots.

On the way down, we kept hearing rumors of a really thick layer down to about 60' and then 10 to 15' viz below. I was skeptical. It turned out to be not nearly that bad. The layer wasn't that thick, and once we got to the bottom, the viz was probably around 50 feet. On the way down the line, we saw a bunch of egg yolk jellies (which I never get tired of seeing!). We were anchored near the southeast side, and headed clockwise when we got to the bottom. We were actually moving at a fairly quick clip, and pausing when Rob stopped to take pictures (he was leading). Rob found a starry rockfish, which I was very excited to see. I don't think I have ever seen one before. There weren't a ton of fish out, but there was a good variety of rockfish. There were also several big lingcod (at least 3, all in one area). A few of the corners of the reef had some very pretty Corynactis and hydrocoral coverage. Other than that, we saw the usual small critters -- nudibranchs, simnia snails, and lot of pedicularia snails on the hydrocoral.

Before you know it, we had made it nearly the whole way around, and it was time to leave. Kevin was on bag duty and I ran deco (mad with power!). At 50 feet, a big school of blue rockfish suddenly appeared below us and started to swim up toward us. They weren't there at 60 feet, so we must have drifted into them or something. But as we left the 50 foot stop, they lost interested in us. We also saw a lot more jellyfish on the ascent, including some egg yolks -- we had to move Kevin around to avoid them :) There were also a lot of different tiny jelly creatures in the water, which I was checking out and pointing out to the others. I have no idea what these were. The deco was surprisingly pleasant, probably because I was wearing my purple suit, which has this amazing property of actually keeping me dry (knock on wood).

When we got to the surface, we were the first team up (not surprising, since we were the first team down too), and Jim came over to pick us up. It was quite choppy on the surface. The boys implemented the "ladies last" rule of reboarding the boat (I think they learned it from Ted, who has been trying to start a "no girls" dive club) so I was stuck on the line getting knocked around while they dilly dallied with camera/bottles. If you are going to push your dive buddy out of the way to get back on the boat, you should at least be quick with the hand off! By the time I got to the ladder, I was eager to get back on the boat; it was a slightly harrowing experience. I was just relieved to sit down and take my gear off. By the time we were back on, one of the other teams had reached the surface, so we headed over and got them. I think their return to the boat was even more painful with all of the additional bottles. After gathering all of the teams, we got the hell out of there. Jim seemed eager to get back to the bay, I guess expecting conditions to deteriorate. The trip back was actually surprisingly not bad. 151 feet, 71 minutes, 51 degrees

Photo by Susan Bird

On the surface interval, we were treated to some croissant sandwiches (the Kitty's favorite, thanks Jim). Just to be fair, I guess I have to whip out the stamp of approval for the Escapade too (although the Escapade always had the stamp of approval, sandwiches or not!). We also took a little detour for a whale watch -- there was a humpback. I only got a brief glance at it breaching, and then saw its spout a couple of times. When the conversation turned to where/whether to do a second dive, there was a lack of enthusiasm. Several people planned to sit out a second dive, and I registered ambivalence about (would go if we did it, but wasn't totally attached to it). Luckily Rob and Clinton were enthusiastic enough to make up for the rest of us, and Rob suggested Ballbuster (once he woke up from his Cheetos stupor). So that's where we went.

Based on my extreme ambivalence, I told Kevin he had to lead :) I also suggested a relatively short bottom time (35 minutes) because I suspected I would get cold. We headed into the water, and it was pretty ugly on the way down. But it cleared up somewhat by the time that we got down to the reef, and suddenly the pink (Corynactis) with white spots (metridium) appeared out of the haze. After checking the anchor, we meandered around the reef pretty slowly, pausing here and there to pose for pictures. I noticed a bunch of juvenile rockfish at one point, including one that was nuzzled in a piece of staghorn bryozoan, between a row of horns -- very cute. It was very dark and green, which as far as I can tell, it always is at Ballbuster. Rumor has it that it can occasionally be better, but I've never seen it :) Eventually we made it back to the anchor line, and Kevin suggested we doodle around for another 5 minutes and then head up. So Rob took a few final shots of us posing next to Metridium, and then we headed up.

At 30 feet, the viz suddenly got super icky. All throughout the dive, my mask kept fogging up, and I would flood it to de-fog. At 30 feet, I realized I was foggy again, but hesitated for a moment, because the water was just SO ICKY, I didn't want to get those chunks of god-knows-what (whale poo?) in my eyes. But finally I decided that ascending blind would be inconvenient and sucked it up. At 20 feet, we bumped into (literally, perhaps) Clinton and Harry. They soon left us and then we bumped into them (figuratively this time) again at 10 feet. By the time we got up to the surface and swam to the back of the boat, they were still lollygagging, so I swooped in after Harry got back on the boat, and invoked the rule of ladies first. After everyone got back on, it was a short trip back to the dock, just long enough for an Escapade cookie. Then we adjourned to Turtle Bay. 97 feet, 44 minutes, 50 degrees

All of the underwater pics are here, and topside pics are here.

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