It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SoCal Shore Diving

We went to Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving, and since we were heading down the coast anyway, we decided to setup a dive in Morro Bay, which has a new dive boat. Nils has been on the boat before, and knows the captain, so he setup a little exploration trip. The plan was to do that the weekend before Thanksgiving, then head down to Santa Barbara for the week. Then Neptune decided to punish us, and the Morro Bay trip was off. Boohoo. We brought our gear anyway, and figured we could sneak off for a shore dive sometime during the week. After doing a little research, we decided to go to Refugio. I have a fear of these fabled hard core SoCal surf entries, so when I read that it was a popular site for OW classes, I was in.

We decided to dive on Tuesday afternoon, since the sea state, Andrea's work schedule, and the parking situation at the beach all lined up well. The beach was pretty empty, though there was a surfer or two off of the point. However, the surf looked very small along the straight part of the beach, where we would enter. It started raining a little when we got there, so we had to get geared up in the rain. As we were getting geared up, a big scary wave came along, but then the ankle slappers returned. We saw a few more cycles like this, where an occasional big set would come through. So we figured we just needed to avoid those, and it should be an easy entry. Once we were geared up, we walked pretty much straight down the beach from the car and into the water without any problems. On the swim out, Rob made some snide comment about scary SoCal beach entries, and I told him he should probably wait until we had made it out without incident before sneering about it.

We swam out to a little patch of kelp that we could see from the surface. Our plan was to swim out to that (which was on the right, standing on the beach looking out) and past it into deeper water, then swim parallel to shore to the left, and the circle back to around our starting point. The viz was better than we expected, which exceptionally clear water in areas, and then silty water in spots where the waves had kicked up the sand. We swam between patches of reef, pausing at each patch to look around. Eventually we found a couple of shale ledges, and one long thin ledge that appeared to run parallel to beach for a long way in both directions. So we decided to follow that ledge. Rob was shooting macro, so we poked around in the shale and the sand around it, looking for subjects. We found lots of snails and little crabs, and lots of flatfish with their beady little eyes staring at us from the sand.

Of course, the highlights of the dive required a different lens than Rob was using. As we were swimming along the ledge, we found a horn shark just sitting in the sand perpendicular to the ledge. What a cute little shark! He was probably about two feet long, and pretty tolerant of us checking him out. Then, on the way in, in about 10 or 15 feet of water, we saw a "big" leopard shark. Well, big for a leopard shark -- surprisingly big. His tail seemed to just keep going as I looked along his body. I guess the sharks shouldn't have come as a surprise, since we saw oodles of shark egg cases throughout the dive. They were all over the place! Rob also found a pretty good-sized octopus way back in a hole. He found the tell-tale pile of crustacean shells outside of a hole, so he peered in and saw it. I took a look too, but then he sort of retracted further into the hole, clearly displeased by our presence. One thing that was definitely missing from this site were slugs -- I saw a grand total of two slugs on the entire dive!

I eventually suggested we head in, because I was getting a little chilly. Mostly it was my hands that were cold -- should have brought the dry gloves! But the water was actually pretty warm. We surfaced not too far from where our car was, and swam in for an uneventful exit from the water. It wasn't the most exciting dive site in the world, but it was still pretty entertaining and I thought the sharks were pretty neat.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Saturday I dove with Rob, Kevin, and Matt. There was quite a bit of buddy swapping that occurred before we finally ended up with this team. But long before we even discussed who we would dive with, Rob and I were thinking of heading out to Crossroads, since we always pass it on the way back from going elsewhere, when we don't really have time to check it out. We also thought it would be a good opportunity to explore the deeper areas on that side a little bit more. So, yada yada yada, we ended up diving with Kevin and Matt. Kevin wanted to lead for some reason. He unveiled his grand plan, which was to hit Beto's, go north to the metridium rocks, and then cut to the right over to Crossroads. While this completely defeated the purpose of learning the areas on the right side, oh well. So that's how we did it.

It was a very very high tide when we got in. By the time I got to the flat area of the ramp, I could barely stand! When I looked down, I could see that the ramp was unbelievably clean. I guess we have Jeff of Otter Bay to thank for that. Strong work! As we headed out, the viz was decent on the way out. Very blue. We dropped in the sand channel and then headed out. The viz was quite good in the sand channel, and improved as we headed further out. Near the end of Beto's, there were a bunch of canary rockfish loitering. From the end, we headed out over the sand, where the viz was insanely good. Before long, we hit the metridium rocks (and the more colorful, bigger rock out near them). We should check those out sometime too. Then we headed to Crossroads. When we first got there, we did a quick circle around it, just to see it from all angles. Then we clipped off and swam around for the rest of the time there. There was a male kelp greenling sort of following us around for much of the dive. The top of the pinnacle was very pretty. But overall, I don't really think the site is worth a whole dive again. Maybe it was just a bad day for nudibranchs, and I am biased :) It would make a good stop in conjunction with another spot over there (like maybe the rocks on the way to Montana). I may also be biased because I was uncomfortably cold for most of the dive :)

On the way back in, we headed east, and followed the reef structure in, which made for a slightly longer trip than expected. Which was fine, except that I was cold! When we got to Granite Point Wall, we switched and doodled around there for a couple of minutes before heading in. Then we basically just stayed on the trigger until we got to the worm patch. We paused there briefly, and then decided to continue in on the trigger until we hit 20'. When we got to about 20', the viz went to crap. It was super murky close to the bottom, but from 10' to the surface it was very clear and blue. So, we hunkered down in the crappy viz, since it was too hard to keep four people together in that. We ended up ascending inside the cove, about halfway from the ramp to the edge of the cove. Then we surface scooted in. We had been thinking about doing a second dive to practice some skills, but since we had done that the weekend before, and I was freezing, I voted no. The boys quickly fell into line, and we adjourned for BBQ, followed by a visit to Anywater Sports.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Outer Outer Pinnacles

At last, Team Kitty managed to put together a dive off of Phil's RIB. Kevin missed the last boat, and the several before that were plagued with cancellations. We decided to bring scooters along, which is the first time we have scootered off of Phil's boat. The down side of bringing scooters is that it precludes bringing more than the three of us. The conditions were not great, but not bad either. We had a list of potential sites, which were all sort of wall-ish, since that seemed like the thing to do with scooters. However, none of the sites we had in mind were feasible given the conditions. In the parking lot, there was some moping about probably only being able to make it to the E3 area. We launched the boat in a very high tide, and took a little joyride around while Phil parked his truck. Rob wanted to check out the Coal Chute Cove caves from the surface. It was definitely a bit sporty over there. A little scary with Rob driving :P

When Phil returned, we picked him up and headed out. As we got out further beyond the cove, things actually seemed to improve. Phil suggested going up to the Outer Outer Pinnacles (aka Lunaticos) area. I was very interested in checking out this area -- last time we went out, we had planned to head that way, but that planned lasted until Phil told Rob we could probably make it to Yankee Point :) So we headed up there, and it was a surprisingly smooth ride. It was really warm, with a strange warm wind. We circled around with Phil calling out depths on the depth finder, and finally settled on a spot in about 120'. The basic gist of the numbers being called out was that south was deeper and north was shallower. Then we got geared up and such, and flopped into the water one at a time, so we could retrieve scooters before we drifted off in the current. As soon as I got in the water, I looked down and saw clear blue water. Very nice. Just as we were about to head down the line, a big ball of dead kelp drifted over to us, and wrapped around Rob's manifold. As he scootered along, dragging it behind him, I couldn't avoid getting wrapped in it too. Rob looked very much like a kelp monster, and I am guessing I did too. Kevin cleaned us each up on the descent.

The water was incredibly clear from top to bottom, and very blue. We got down to the reef, which was a small wall running east-west, from 120' down to about 150'. I was leading, and pretty randomly decided to head west. Not too far from where we started, I noticed that at the bottom of the wall, there was an arch with a swimthrough. However, it didn't look that interesting to me, so I continued past it, thinking that Kevin would surely go through it. A moment later, I saw a big structure off to our south, which I wanted to head towards. I turned back to signal this to the boys, and they weren't behind me. Then I noticed that they were heading into the swimthrough. Apparently it was super cool and I missed the best part of the dive, or something. After I corralled them, we headed to the south over to the structure in the distance. From there, we basically hopped from structure to structure, looking for a good place to plop. We could see ridiculously far, so we could see all sorts of structures unfolding in front of us.

Just when I thought I'd found a nice looking area, Rob started gesticulating and I looked where he was pointing -- at a vase sponge! Neat-o. I had heard that there was one around 170' at this site, but figured it was pretty unlikely we would happen upon it. Then I started looking around and noticed a few more in a line running north-south, all in the 160-170' range. After looking around even more, I eventually counted 9, which were all visible from one spot. Pretty cool. Rob took a few pictures, and Kevin swooped in to pose. Before I could get my picture taken, Kevin started gesticulating about how we should head up a bit, since we were ermmm a bit deeper than we wanted to be. The garden of vase sponges was definitely the highlight of the dive. From there we found a nearby peak that came up to about 150', and hung out there while Rob got some pictures. After a few minutes there, we headed back in, and found a slightly shallower peak to hang out for the duration. I was thinking there was a surprising lack of fish at the site in general. It seemed like I'd seen maybe 2 or 3 rockfish so far. At that spot, I noticed a small school of blue rockfish. It wasn't particularly big, but definitely an improvement over the three fish I'd seen so far.

Phil had suggested that we just meander and then head north before we started to drift, so he would know where to expect our bag. So, we headed north, passing a few more peaks, and then a long expanse of sand. Just when I was thinking I might give up and hand over the deco to Kevin over the sand, we hit another structure coming up to about 100'. I was wondering how much further we had to go to get to Outer Pinnacles. So, we headed up there, and Rob shot a bag. When we got to 70', we saw a huge school of blue rockfish appear beneath us. It's probably the biggest school of fish I've ever seen other than at Big Sur Banks. It followed us from stop to stop until about 50', and then they left us to soldier on, with only the occasional little jelly animal to keep us entertained. Brrrr. Did I mention it was surprisingly cold? My gauge read 50 degrees, but it felt like a solid 48. We all agreed it felt a lot colder than our gauges reported -- must be some sort of rift in the space-temperature continuum.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Granite Point

On Saturday, Team Kitty was back at Lobos, and we decided to do a scooter dive in the Granite Point area. I was leading, since I always like zooming up and down and around all the relief over there. The water looked calm, which was good, since it meant we could hopefully go up to the shallow areas. I like to go up there to visit the giant green anemones. The plan was to head out to the wall, and depending on conditions, we'd either head behind it first, or we'd continue out deeper until we found calm enough water.

When we got out to the wall, it was nice and calm, so we headed around to the back of the wall. We hung out there while Kevin posed for Rob and I poked around looking for critters. After a little while there, we continued on from there, across the covelet just north of that, until we got to the next little covelet, and stopped there for a while. Rob found a neat little crack in one of the big boulders in that cove, and Kevin posed behind it for some shots. I eventually suggested we move along a bit, up into the shallows, but I didn't manage to find the green anemones. It got pretty surgy so I gave up. We headed back down to the deeper area, and poked around for a little while before heading back to the wall. As we scootered towards the wall, I headed up to the top of the wall (in 30 to 40 feet). I had never been up there before, but it seemed like a good day for that, with calm conditions. I could tell the boys thought I was a little crazy as I scootered straight towards the wall and then up and over top of it right at the last minute. We hung out there for a few minutes, where I found a couple of slugs and pointed them out to Rob and Kevin (I think I found a trilineata or two, and a Eubranchus, among others).

When it was time to head back, we did, staying fairly shallow over the sand, since the viz was so good we could see the bottom from 20' above it. When we got to the end of middle reef, I scootered over the top of that too, since, again, it seemed like the day to do that. Last time I went up there, I found a seal hanging out up there and thought it would be a fun place to scooter along. So we headed in along that and eventually ducked down to the left on the east side of the reef, then headed in. We did a quick second dive to do some drills and such. I'll spare you the details, but I am happy to report that no one dropped any bottles this time :)

All of the day's pictures are here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Adventure No. 12: The Jaguar Shark

Saturday was David's last day in town before being shipped off to the great white north, so we gathered at Lobos for a last day of diving. Rob and I decided to do a nice easy dive with Cynthia. I've been hearing the first reports of this season's leopard sharks, so I kind of wanted to hang out somewhere where we might see one. So we decided to do a little scootering over the sand, in search of leopard sharks (which we knew was a long shot). Rob suggested we head over to the caverns in Coal Chute Cove, which I have never been to before. So we decided to head over there, and then meander around the sand for a little while on the way in.

As soon as we got into the water (with the help of a very high tide), we were greeted with stellar viz. It was definitely the day to snorkel in the cove. We surface scooted most of the way out to Coal Chute, took a heading, and dropped in about 40'. We could see the bottom the whole way out. We headed to the east and stopped to poke around on some structures. Before you know it, we hit the first cavern. I posed for some glamour shots at the entrance, with Rob shooting out at me. I noticed a rock right at the entrance that was crawling with Cadlinas. After I finished posing, I headed in and looked around. There is a small entrance on the other side, which light was streaming through. The inside was crawling with various yellow and white dorids. The water was completely still -- this was definitely the perfect day to check out the caverns (which I have been told are only really doable when it is really calm). After hanging out and posing for a few pictures inside, I headed out and poked around the rocks outside. Then we continued on, and came upon the second cavern. I thought this one wasn't nearly as pretty -- I guess there wasn't as much light coming in from the other side and it seemed siltier. There was another entrance in this cavern too, but it was much smaller. I found a big trilineata on the first big rock inside the cavern, and then another small one on a smaller rock right at the entrance. We continued east from there, just slowly moving along. I saw a couple of Limacias, and perhaps the biggest giant green anemone I have ever seen. Must be a lot of bird poop, errr, nutrients, flowing into the water there.

When Cynthia reached her turn pressure, we headed back into Whaler's and scooted along in the sand. I was in third position, and at some point as I was about to scooter across a little rock trench, I noticed a leopard shark swimming along the trench! I was stunned for a moment (I couldn't believe I actually found one, after claiming that was the plan for the dive), and then excitedly signaled the others. I began to swim alongside it before collecting all of my dive buddies (that's a bad kitty, a very bad kitty), and I was amazed by how tolerant he was... I thought they would be skittish, especially with the scooter. But he didn't mind even when I scootered along. After a nice little swim with the shark, I figured I should find Rob (Cynthia was following me at that point), and let the shark go on without me. I returned to where I first lost Rob and found him signaling not too far ahead. I went to him and told him about the shark, and asked if he wanted to go look for it again. He agreed, and we all headed back to where I last saw him swimming off. We did a little searching around, and Rob found him pretty quickly. Then we hung out for a while, Rob taking pictures until the shark got restless, and then we'd all follow him to his next resting spot. Eventually I swam up right behind him and posed for some pics with him... as I watched his gills opening and closing, I realized the benefit of being a fish is that you don't have to time your exhalations for the camera. Eventually we let him scurry off, and we headed in. Just after he left, we ran into Matt, John, Kevin, and Delia heading in. We told them about the shark and Rob showed them a pic so they would know it was the good kind of shark ;) Shortly after that, we ascended in the sand channel and surface scooted in. 40-ish feet, 60-ish minutes

On the surface interval, we regaled everyone with tales of the caverns and the leopard shark. Most of the people agreed that it was way too nice not to do a second dive, so after a little tank swapping and trans filling so that everyone had enough gas, we decided to go on a second expedition to the caverns. After debating the merits of diving as one team of eight, we decided to split into primary teams (Rob, Cynthia, and I stuck together), but to all head out there together, since none of the other teams knew how to get there. We surface scooted even further out this time, so we dropped really close by. Before you know it, we were at the first cavern entrance. The surge had picked up a bit, and the viz had deteriorated inside. It was also much less peaceful with a bunch of people scootering in and out :) After a few minutes at the first one, we headed onto the second one. We poked our heads in there, and then just poked around outside for a while. When we headed in, Rob took us west and maybe even a little north, so we ended up hopping across middle reef and heading down the sand channel (despite our plans to do a straight out and back, based on burn time constraints on some people's scooters). As it turns out, Kevin and Don's scooters died in the sand channel, but at that point we had already split from them. Whoops. We scootered all the way back in to the float line. I was trying out a new set of tanks (borrowed from Ben), so I drained them the rest of the way for a weight check. I was definitely a bit heavy, but too lazy to take my 2 pound bullet weight off my waist belt. Instead I inflated my wing just enough to get neutral, and Rob inspected it. When we got to the surface, Rob was telling me he thought I was 3 or 4 pounds overweighted. John told him he should never say that to his wife :) 40-ish feet, 60-ish minutes

As an aside, I really love the tanks that I was using -- they are the old (2250 service pressure) LP72s. They are so tiny and light, I just feel so unencumbered in them both in and out of the water. I even demonstrated to Nils that I could do (very very small) jumping jacks in them, tee hee. The only problem is that my 2/3 v-weight that I custom cut for my 85s hangs out of the bottom, so I couldn't set them up on my table easily. I guess they will need a custom v-weight of their own. I put a 3 pound piece of surplus v weight on the top bolt, and even with that, they trimmed out well (and I will probably ditch that, given the weight check).

After the diving operations were complete, we headed to the Mucky Duck for some beer and pre-dinner munchies. They we hit Peppers (shhh... don't tell Oreo) in Pacific Grove for dinner. They we headed to Cynthia's for a little dessert wine and cat harassment. David even forced Troxy to briefly be a sweetheart and sit on my chest while I pet her. She is sooo soft! We'll miss you, Troxy and David :(