It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thumbs Up Project, Day 1

Saturday was the actual project day for the BAUE Thumbs Up project. I was diving with Matt, counting slugs along the pinnacle. Clinton was sick, which meant we were photographer-less :( We wanted to survey two different depths on our two dives. The original plan was to do a survey around the base of the pinnacle (about 100') on the first dive, and then to do a survey in the 60-70' range on dive 2. However, the lack of photographer caused us to change our plans at the last minute. Mark was shooting macro on the photography team, but he would be in the water with us on the first dive and not the second. So we decided to switch the plan around, since Mark and Rob (Mark's buddy) were planning a dive in the shallower range. So we figured if we were in the same vicinity as Mark, if we found something super cool, at least he could get a shot of it. Since I wasn't really diving with a photography team, this post is pretty devoid of pictures. But I liked this picture that Rob took of Matt and me counting slugs. All of the pictures from the project days are here. The page for the whole project (including our nudibranch data), is here.

With that in mind, we headed into the water, and agreed to head along the same path and eventually we'd just bump into each other (we were getting in the water first, but expected to move pretty slowly since we were counting slugs). On this dive, I was recording the count. We dropped on the bag that was tied off on the southwest side of the pinnacle, and basically followed the shallower of the two lines that had been laid the day before. We were actually a little deeper than the line, since we didn't want to get in the way of any teams surveying the line. It was super surgy, especially in the areas where we were near the top. But the visibility was probably the best on this dive of the 4 dives over two days that we had done. When we were near the north tip, Mark and Rob appeared and let us know they'd be around for any photo needs. As it turns out, we didn't really see anything super cool. Mostly the usual suspects -- no Dotos, as I had been hoping based on the previous day's siting (although it turns out that Rob and Mark found one). I guess the most interesting finds were a trilineata, Aegires, and an Adalaria jannae. They were all on the south east side, pretty close to where we finished up. We had planned to swim out for 30 minutes, and then decide whether to turn (and stop counting) or to finish the circuit, depending on the progress we had made. Our goal was a 40 minute bottom time. When we got to the 30 minute point, we were pretty close to the end of the circuit, plus we had just passed the anchor line. So we finished the circuit and then headed back to the anchor line (which was just north of the eastern tip of the horseshoe). Then we headed up for an uneventful ascent. 80 feet, 58 minutes, 52 degrees

Matt and I weren't diving again until the third dive, so we got dumped at the Lobos ramp and swam to shore to hang out during the long surface interval. We and the other teams who weren't diving on dive 2 hung out there and ate some lunch and snacks we had deposited beforehand. When the second dive was completed, the Escapade came back into the cove to offload some of those divers and pick us up. Everything was running way ahead of schedule by this point. We headed back out to the site and headed down for our second dive. This dive, we were surveying near the base of the pinnacle. Matt was recording the count. We descended along the bag on the south east side of the pinnacle (the eastern tip of the horseshoe), and decided to head south a bit from there, to the actual southern tip of the pinnacle. Once we got there, we turned around and headed back towards the north, staying on the east side of the pinnacle for the entire survey.

We surveyed along the bottom of the pinnacle and also in the rubbly area at the base. This dive was not nearly as sluggy as the first one, but we did see a couple of slugs that we hadn't seen on the first dive (Tritona and Limacia). When we were finished with the survey, I took over the lead, as we had agreed to beforehand, since I knew the location of all of the bags, etc. We ascended along the pinnacle and continued around it, counterclockwise. I headed back to where the bag had been on the west side, and found it had already been cleaned up. So then I headed back around to the east side bag, which had also been cleaned up. The anchor line (which had been close to the east side bag) was no longer anywhere to be found either. So finally I decided we were ascending a kelp stalk :) During our deco, we noticed the other teams all seemed to be following suit. It turns out the anchor had slipped, and we weren't clueless and lost, as I was worried :) 101 feet, 55 minutes, 51 degrees

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thumbs Up Project, Day 0

Last weekend, we participated in a BAUE project at Thumbs Up. The idea was to study the pinnacle in various ways (a la the Great Pinnacle project of 2007), including a survey, fish count, nudibranch count, and video and photographic documentation. The main project day was Saturday, but we also dove the site on Friday for some setup. The main goal for the day was to set the survey lines (at 60' and 80') for the survey team to use the next day. We also wanted to take GPS coordinates for the start and end of the survey lines (or more accurately, GPS coordinates for bags shot from the ends of the survey lines). I also wanted to scope out the site for spots to do nudibranch count on Saturday.

We got a nice late start at K-dock, and had an uneventful ride down to Lobos. It was really warm out, but was pretty comfortable once the boat got moving. Beto, Susan, and Karl were to set the 80' line on the first dive, and we were going to shoot bags from the ends of the line. Beto had an idea of where on the structure they wanted to start and end the line -- at a distinctive crack running east-west across the pinnacle not too far from the south end. Due to the dependence, we delayed our entry until about 10 minutes after then entered the water. Beto had given Jim coordinates for where to anchor, to the east of the pinnacle. Jim told us there was another pinnacle to the east of the anchor, so we should make sure we ended up at the right pinnacle. When we headed down the line, the viz was nice on the surface but terrible underneath. By the time we got to the bottom, it was maybe 15 or 20 feet, and very chunky and dark. It was also really surgy. All together, this made it sort of hard to make sense of the structure (as I expected it, based on the bathymetry maps). We scooted to the west once we got to the bottom, and quickly found the pinnacle. We headed north, to circle it counterclockwise. After we turned the corner to come back down the west side, I noticed another little wall structure to my right. I wasn't really sure if this was part of "Thumbs Up" or what -- after a little conference, we decided to backtrack and circle it. When we got to the south end, the reef seemed to just peter out pretty indistinctly. This wasn't really what I was expecting. And we definitely didn't see a crack.

Anyhoo, when we got back to the east side, I sort of gave the guys the "what the heck" sign, since I had seen no sign of a crack. Rob said he thought the pinnacle was the one to the east, so we decided to check that out. We circled it clockwise. At the north, we found a cool crack running north-south, and Rob and Kevin disappeared down it (since they have a very loose interpretation of the "leader" of the team). I was skeptical of the width of the crack, and had a feeling they'd be coming back -- a moment later they popped back out of the crack, apparently they had encountered an abrupt end to the crack and beginning to a wall. We continued on to the east side, and found a crack across the pinnacle near the south side. This is what we were expecting on Thumbs Up, but the depth didn't really match. In any case, there was some nice hydrocoral on the west side of the crack, so we spent most of the rest of the dive there, so Rob could get some pics. After a quick swing past the other pinnacle to look for line, we headed up the anchor line. When we hit the surface, Susan asked if we found their line. After a few minutes of feeling lame, they admitted that they hadn't set the line (I think because they weren't sure about which pinnacle was which either). Jim told us that our bubble trail was circling the proper site at the start of our dive -- we never should have doubted Jim's anchor placement :) 94 feet, 66 minutes, 50 degrees

This left us with more to do on dive 2 than we expected... well, actually it left the other team with more to do :) They decided they would go down and run line and shoot bags. Then we would take GPS numbers on the surface, clean up one bag, and put the hook on the bottom of the other (for our "semi-permanent" downline). Since there were three tasks, we each took one -- Rob would boogie board out to the bags and get GPS numbers, I would cleanup the bag, and Kevin would be hook boy. Sitting on the boat at anchor was making me feel pretty barfy, so I laid down on the bench and continued to feel barfier while we waited. The second bag finally came up, and I crawled into my gear and tried not to barf on Jim's feet while Rob led us through gear checks. We finally got into the water, and I felt somewhat better right away. I asked Kevin who was leading the dive, and then recalled a groggy memory of Rob leading us through gear checks, and figured it must be Rob :) We headed to the first bag, and deflated it somewhat, and followed it down. When we got to the bottom, Rob immediately headed to the palm kelp that the bag was tied to and started fiddling with it. After being chastised by me and Kevin, he stood down and moved out of my way. Always trying to steal my thunder... I reeled in the bag (trying to avoid motion sickness while watching the spool go round and round), and then Rob helped me roll up the bag and stow it.

Then we followed the line to the other end. It was pretty fun to zoom along the pinnacle on the line -- so easy to navigate and keep track of the team :) It was also fun to be in the back so I could watch Rob and Kevin pileup every time the line took an unexpected turn. When we got to the other end, Kevin connected the spool to the hook and found a crack to stick it in. Apparently Rob wasn't convinced it would hold, so he piled some boulders on top of it. Quite the backseat driver. After that, we headed back to the north side of the pinnacle, which was really heavily encrusted in pinkness -- Corynactis, sponge, hydrocoral, etc. I couldn't believe just how pink everything on the wall was. I pointed to the wall and then to my suit to Rob -- I matched quite well! While Rob took some pictures, I poked around looking for nudibranchs. I noticed a bunch of reddish Hermissendas right at the north side of the reef, and then I found a couple of trilineatas on a sponge. I pointed them out to Rob, and accidentally poked the sponge in the process; it was very squishy. We continued on down the east side, and Rob found a nice overhang with a bunch of macaroni-and-cheese sponge. I was trying to set myself up for a shot when Rob came over, waved me out of the way, and placed Kevin in the frame -- ouch! So I poked around some more and noticed something on the back of a hydroid that was seriously flapping in the surge... I waited for it to come back and thought it was a Doto. After quite a bit of frustration, I managed to show it to Rob, and he agreed. It was on one of those mustard-yellow colored fractal-y hydroids. Need to check what that is. I was pretty excited by this find, and hopeful that we would see more while counting nudis on Saturday. We then headed back to the upline and headed up. 87 feet, 63 minutes, 51 degrees

It turned out to be a much longer day than I think any of us were expecting. We got back to the dock with barely enough time to make it to Bamboo Reef and Aquarius for fills, but we managed to get there just in time (although we had to load balance to both shops :P). Then we headed over to the Travelodge, where we were all staying, and hit the new (to me, anyway) sushi restaurant there for dinner. I passed on the karaoke.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oreo the Bunny Rabbit

I've always suspected Oreo was part bunny rabbit, and I finally have proof. Dive buddy and bunny connoisseur Kenn (who we will henceforth refer to as "Cold Water Bunny") recently provided me with these incriminating pictures of his bunnies, posing like an Oreo. Rodney (on the left) is doing his "wide eyed and filled with wonder" Oreo impersonation, while Blueberry (on the right) demonstrates the "snoozing Oreo" pose.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Taking the Fast Lane to Montana

On Sunday, we scootered to Montana with Kevin and Devin. I don't know if that makes Devin an honorary Kitty, or Kevin an honorary Beaver. Anyhoo, when I have gone to Montana in the past, we have taken the Granite Point route via Crossroads. But rumor has it you can get there faster by going from the end of Beto's Reef. Rob has gone that way before I think. So we decided we'd go out there that way, but come back in along the Granite Point side. Rob was leading with primary buddy Devin, and I was stuck with Kevin :)

The viz was surprisingly good in the shallows, at least from the top. We scootered out to about 30 feet along the sand channel, and dropped there. The viz wasn't quite as good underneath -- there was a lot of stuff in the water, including a lot of teeny shrimp or something. We headed out along the sand channel and then out towards Beto's Reef. Then we scootered along the left side of Beto's and when we got to the end, we headed out over the sand. Rob said it took about 6 minutes to get to Montana from the end of Beto's. After a few minutes, we hit the rocks with Metridium on them, which I was relieved to see, since I knew they were just a couple minutes from Montana. Not too long after that, I thought I could make out the shadow of Montana and before you know it, we were there. We headed clockwise and spent most of the time on the northwest side. There was a decent current, which was dragging us in the direction we wanted to go, and then we turned a current and ended up heading into it. Hmph. It was pretty dark and green, but the viz was not bad. I was looking around for Dotos, since we've seen a lot of them around lately, but no luck. I did however find a Festive Triton that was standing completely vertical in the water. Then I realized it was sniffing around about to pounce on a gorgonian right above it. It was pretty cool to watch it extend its radula as it moved in on the gorgonian. I have never seen the approach before, just seen them once they are already snacking on the gorgonian.

I signaled to Kevin and brought him over to watch it with me. We were pretty transfixed by it, and before you know it, we realized that Devin and Rob had moved on to the next rock. We figured we should probably stick with them and headed over there. There were a lot more fish over there, lots of blues and olives hanging in the water off the structure. We posed for a few pictures by the rock which has now come to be known as The Big Schlong (thank you, Kevin). Then it was about time to leave, so we got back on the trigger and continued around in the clockwise direction, and cut through between two of the peaks, and then headed out over the sand toward Crossroads. Before you know it, we hit Crossroads, which, as always, was bigger than I remembered it :) I could tell that Kevin and Devin wanted to do a little circle around Crossroads, and I know I did too, but Rob seemed to be on a mission to break some sort of speed record, so we did not. We got to Granite Point Wall and switch to our bottles, and then we moseyed around there for a few minutes. Then we headed back in toward Middle Reef. When we got there, we headed in along the east side, which was a nice departure from the usual. When we got to the end, where the reef comes up to about 18 feet, it was the perfect spot to hang out for our 20 foot stop. I was looking through the hydroids for slugs, but didn't find anything interesting. I think Rob was doing the same. Finally our 20 foot sentence was over, and we headed in. The viz was quite murky when we got into the cove, but somehow we managed to make it all the way back to the float without any separation. Bobby gets a gold star for his navigation. 156 feet, 87 minutes, 51 degrees

We finished up with lunch at Phil's Fish Market in Moss Landing. We encountered two friendly kitties at the little hut next door (which features a "Cat X-ing" sign and always seems to have some cute kitties hanging around).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Twin Peaks, Try 2

Since I am a bit behind on my blogging (was out of town all week last week), I will keep this report short. We had been planning to dive on both Saturday and Sunday, but the BAUE tech boat got blown out on Saturday. On Friday around lunchtime (on our way down to AWS to pick up our tanks), Rob got the call that the boat was off. So we decided to use our free weekend day for a last minute BBQ (since our weekends always seem too busy to pull off a BBQ). Pepper had a fun time harassing everyone and Oreo was quite brave and waited at least an hour before retiring to under the bed. Pepper and Naia made progress on their tenuous friendship, and Oreo studied the friendly giant from afar.

On Sunday, the conditions were significantly better. After our failed attempt to go to Twin Peaks the previous weekend (when the prop fell off my scooter), we decided to give it another try with my now-fixed scooter. Kevin came along with us. Rob was shooting macro. Rob wanted to try a slightly different route, following Beto's to the end, and then heading over to the Road from there. I am not really sure what the purpose of this was, except to waste more time deeper on the way out :) I guess it was just a for a change of scenery. As it turned out, it was pretty worthwhile to do -- as we were heading along the side of Beto's, we encountered several canaries at the bottom. On the way over across the sand, we saw more, and then just as we intercepted the Road, we saw another group of them. Probably the most canaries I have ever seen in one dive before.

Once we got to the Peak, we clipped off and started poking around looking for macro subjects. Rob found some hydroids with a bunch of Dotos on them, and then I found several more hydroids with them. Some of the Dotos were quite big (by Doto standards), which was good, because I could actually show them to Kevin and he could make out what he was looking at. The big pink ones are so pretty :) Anyhoo, as I was poking around looking at Dotos, I noticed a hydroid with eggs all over it. After looking a little closer, I found some tiny Dotos as well as some other tiny slugs. After some further inspection, I realized they were Cuthona divae, another slug which we seem to be seeing a lot of lately. I dragged Rob over and commanded him to get some pics. Soon after that, we headed in. It was a pretty uneventful trip back in. At the first sister, we ran into Don, Elissa, and Matt. After some Kevin antics, we continued in and did the usual drill. 152 feet, 83 minutes, 49 degrees. After that, we did a quick second dive to do a few skills near the worm patch. I was amazed that I remembered how to do a valve drill :) 29 feet, 35 minutes, 50 degrees

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Wheels Come Off

On Saturday, Rob and I planned to scooter out to Twin Peaks. Rob was shooting macro, so the plan was to head out there, hang out near the top of the peaks for a while and look for some little things. We hardly ever go all the way out to Twin Peaks (usually we hang out on the Road), but I guess Rob was looking for something more interesting. It had been over a month since I'd been to Lobos so I guess Rob was wanted to welcome me back with an exciting dive :P We staged our bottles and scooters on our float, and eventually geared up and headed into the water. Did I mention the water was dead calm? Not what I'd been expecting based on the swell forecast (although I hadn't checked it since Thursday).

Anyhoo, we headed into the water, and as we were surface scooting out, I noticed a little wobble in my propeller. I showed it to Rob, to see if I was imagining it or if he too thought there was a bit of a wobble. While he was playing with my scooter, I was holding his, and noticed a little kelp clingfish slithering around on his scooter. I showed it to Rob, and he took some pictures. The fish wasn't very cooperative -- he really wanted to be on the bottom (facing down) and Rob really wanted him not to be on the bottom. So I kept twirling the scooter around so he wouldn't be on the bottom, and then he would slither back to the bottom. It was very frustrating! After a while, we gave up, and Rob told me he didn't see a wobble. So we continued out, and figured I'd see if it was behaving oddly once we got going. We descended a little south of the worm patch and I led us out to the sand channel. Then, we headed out on the sand channel. My scooter was working fine, I was a little faster than Rob as usual. So I sort of forgot about it. The viz was pretty good on the surface scoot out (we could see the bottom the whole way out), but the horizontal viz was a little worse once we dropped. It was clearing up, however, and seemed to get quite a bit better as we rounded Hole in the Wall.

I always cut through the little kelp patch just north of HITW, but south of the next rock. As we were scooting through it, I got a piece of kelp wrapped around my light head. So I stopped to detangle, and Rob stopped next to me. Once I detangled, I gave him the okay and we both hit our triggers. But I didn't go anywhere. I looked down to see if there was kelp in the prop or something, and there was no prop! It was a bit of a shock to look down and just see the shiny washers and such that sit under the prop. I quickly signaled Rob and showed it to him. It probably would have been funny to see the looks on our faces as we each looked at the scooter and saw no prop. We looked around on the bottom and then decided we'd need to search a little for it, but I didn't want to forget where I was when I lost it. So we got out a spool and did a little search pattern. We found it right away. I clipped off my scooter and Rob towed me in. In the past when I have been towed, I always need to hop out of the tow every 20 or so vertical feet to vent my suit and wing. But I finally managed to get it to work while being towed this time. So I guess it wasn't a complete waste of a dive. 65 feet, 23 minutes, 53 degrees

We ascended at around 30 feet on the sand channel. On the surface, we ran into Matt and Kenn and team, and also Beto and Susan. Everyone found the prop in my hand somewhat amusing :) We headed back to the ramp, and after a little bottle swapping and scooter retrieval, we headed back out to do a dive on Middle Reef. We scooted out to the end (Rob towed me), and then kicked around at the end and then back up on the east side. Rob visited his pet warbonnet, who lives at the end of Middle Reef (in a pretty well hidden spot). I was looking at the reef, when a snail came raining down in front of me. My first thought was that another diver kicked it off the reef, so I looked up to see if there were divers above me, and I saw a harbor seal with a mischievous look on his face :) Then he disappeared over the top of the reef. I eventually headed up to the top of the reef, where I saw him swimming around, but then he disappeared again. Then we headed over the top of the reef and eventually down the side on the east side, and meandered in along there. I didn't see anything particularly interesting. Eventually I was really cold and had to pee (I stayed in the water when we returned to the ramp, so I was in the water for a pretty long time), so I called it early. We scooted in to about the worm patch and ascended there. Not exactly the dive we had planned, but better than nothing. 62 feet, 60 minutes, 53 degrees

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mt Chamberlin

We took the day off on Friday to go out on Phil's boat. It's been ages since we have been out on Phil's boat, but at last the stars aligned (and Phil managed not to break the boat) and we went out. The conditions looked like they should be pretty okay, and it was really calm at Monastery and in Whaler's when we arrived. Matt joined us, with his newfound lots of free time. We were supposed to be a foursome, but the UnKitty (who shall remain nameless) had a last minute loss of balls, errr scheduling conflict, so it was just the three of us. We had originally talked about heading towards Outer Pinnacles to dive Canyonlands, which we collected GPS numbers for the night before. Then when we pulled into Lobos, I guess Rob was feeling optimistic about the conditions, and wanted to go to Mt. Chamberlin. So we decided to go around and take a look.

When we pulled out of the cove, there was some biggish swell, bigger than I was expecting. Strangely, it seemed to get better after we passed the Sea Lion rocks, though maybe I just got used to it. When we got down around Mt. Chamberlin, we motored around looking for the spot we wanted (K2) on the depth sounder, trying to figure out which of Phil's waypoints was what we called K2. Eventually we punched in the GPS numbers we brought along, and then we found the spot in short order. Once we were anchored, we got geared up and ready to hit the water. Phil warned us that there was some current, and gave us each a little string (mmm string) to hold onto when we flopped in the water. We met at the anchor line and headed down. There was a bit of current, but it wasn't too significant. It was a bit of a swim down the line though. The anchor was on the south side of the pinnacle (whoops, Phil had claimed we dropped the anchor on the north side). At the surface, the viz looked great, then it seemed to get a bit worse, then at about 70 feet it really opened up. We could see the reef, as we descended through a big school of rockfish.

We got down to the pinnacle, and decided to head counterclockwise. The school of rockfish was huge, probably the biggest group of rockfish I've seen anywhere other than Big Sur Banks. The viz was also incredible on the bottom -- probably around 80 feet. As we headed around the pinnacle, we pretty quickly found the little canyon that Rob and I had been to before at K2. We were unfortunately swimming against the current, but it was okay, we just moved at a leisurely pace. Rob found a giant group of elephant ears really close to the bottom on the right wall. He was taking pics of it for a while, and then I swam over to pose behind it. When we finished, Matt signaled me with his light and then pointed at Rob. I looked over at Rob and his deco bottle was flopping around, only attached at the hip. It looked really ridiculous. I guess when he was squirming around on the bottom shooting upwards, he squirmed in just the wrong way. After Matt and I fixed that, we continued on. The wall on the left side (which was the actual pinnacle) was red with gorgonians -- there was a garden of bunch of really fluffy gorgonians around the bottom. When we got to the end of the canyon, we came to a little plateau with a big group of elephant ears on the horizontal rock. I remembered it from the last time I was at the site (being posed behind it by both Clinton and Rob).

The school of fish seemed to be following us for most of the dive, always a little behind us. We also saw plenty of other fish on the bottom, including some big vermilions and coppers, as well as several gophers and Chinas. I also saw one (not particularly large) sheephead. Surprising, since the last time we were at the site, I remember it being not too fishy. After circling around basically to the opposite side of the pinnacle that we started on, it was time to head up. We started the ascent, and I put the bag up in a decent current. There was also obviously significant swell as the spool was bobbing up and down. The ascent was pretty uneventful, no interesting drifty creatures visited us. We heard the boat around 60', which is always nice. When we got to the surface, it was quite foggy -- eek. Apparently even though we swam upcurrent during the dive, we didn't drift past the boat with our bag, and Phil did a little boat math to find us -- double eek. After Phil plucked us and our gear from the ocean, we had a slightly eerie trip back in the fog. 141 feet, 72 minutes, 50 degrees

We were planning on meeting Cynthia back at Lobos later in the afternoon, so we headed to RGs for lunch. On the way there, Rob called Mr. Flaky to rub his nose in the great conditions that we had in his absence. Since we had plenty of time to kill, RGs of course served us in record time. When we got back to Lobos, there were a couple of dolphins cruising around in Whalers. They were there for at least a couple of hours!

All of the pictures from the day are here.

Addendum: It has come to my attention that some readers thought my reference to the anchor being on the wrong side of the pinnacle was a potshot at Phil. Just to be clear, Rob is the one who dropped the anchor :)