It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Counting Slugs and Taking Names

On Saturday, Rob and I were diving at Lobos. We were very waffly about what to do, and finally after chatting with John on Friday about his plans for the day (to count slugs with Clinton), we got inspired and decided to do that too. When we rolled into Lobos at 9:20, it seemed like everyone was at Lobos! And they were all waiting to heckle us for arriving so "late". But I see that as one of the benefits of diving just the two of us -- we can arrive whenever we feel like it! Anyhoo, after chatting with John and Clinton, we split the transects up, and we agreed to take the deeper transects at the end of middle reef. Our plan was to go out there, each count one transect, and then meander back in on the east side as time allowed.

We got into the water to find excellent viz and very calm water in the cove. We swam out to the mouth of the cove, and decided to drop there, since the viz was so good. On the descent I found out that my sketchy dry glove was indeed still leaking. Boohoo. I was too lazy to go back to the surface and pull the vent bungee from the seal, which I would come to regret later on :) We headed down the sand channel, and then cut over to middle reef around 30'. We saw a HUGE sheephead (and a slightly less huge one) cruising middle reef, and then we also found a HUGE cabezon sitting in the rubble just off the wall. After marvelling at its hugeness, we continued on. As we past transect 5, I saw two big juicy Berthellas there, and I wondered if we should have chosen the shallow transects :) We stopped for a brief visit with the wolf eels. I hadn't visited them since the return -- it is definitely a different male wolf eel in there now. The new one is less "ugly" and not as huge. I could see the red one back in there too. Next we stopped at transect 4 to look for the resident warbonnet, but we couldn't find him :( Then we finally headed out to transects 1 and 2.

Rob counted his transect (1) first. While he was counting, I swam around his transect looking for anything interesting. I saw tons of slugs, but nothing particularly interesting. I think the most interesting find on his transect was a Limacia. I also found a teeny tiny San Diego dorid. It's rings were so tiny they first looked like spots. When he was finished, we moved on to my transect. It was a pretty slow slug day, and there wasn't really anything too interesting. Near the end of my count, I found a Limacia, which was a relief, since that is at least a little exciting :) Once I was finished, we compared our gas and decided we should head straight in. I led us in on the east side of the top of the wall. There were TONS of slugs up there too. We also saw another big (but not quite huge) sheephead swimming around up there. When we got to about 20' (on top of the wall), we cut back over to the west side and down off of the wall. When we got to the worm patch, I thumbed it and we ascended there. The wind had picked up quite a bit, so it was pretty choppy on the surface.

Since we were running late in the morning, we didn't manage to stop anywhere to get surface interval food. The good thing about so many people we know being at Lobos is it means there are more people to mooch food off of. Cynthia even baked brownies! There was also a gaggle of docent-trainees enjoying some lunchtime refreshments at the picnic tables. When they were finished, Matt the lifeguard offered us the scraps. It was a pretty efficient way to get rid of a big plate of cheese, fruit, and sandwiches, and little bags of Doritos. Rob noted that the docents should really be trained not to feed the wildlife :) After the mooching of food was complete, we headed back into the water to do some drills. We kicked out to the worm patch and dropped there. The plan was to head out to 40-ish feet so we could put up a line and do some "midwater" stuff. Before we headed out there, I did a quick maskless drill. When I got my mask back on, before I even managed to look up at Rob and give him the okay, I noticed a white glowing line hanging out from under one of the worms on the patch. After a second look, I realized it was a little trilineata. Then I found another. I showed them to Rob and then we headed out. We got out to 40 feet, after finding another trilineata on a piece of kelp on the way out. We put up a bag and did some bottle drills. At one point, as Rob was in the middle of a bottle rotation, I noticed another trilineata floating in the water next to him. Why couldn't any of them have been on my transect!?! Life is so unfair! After we did some drills on the bottom, we moved up to 20' to do some more. All in all I thought it was pretty successful. When we were finished, we went back to the bottom, cleaned up the line and ascended. Then we kicked in on the surface.

Dinner at Turtle Bay with a bunch of the other Lobos dive crew.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fun with Fundies

Last weekend I helped do the video for a Fundies class. It was Kenn, Steve, and August's class (who shall henceforth be known as "Team Bunny"). I played around with the camera in the pool a month or so ago, just to get the hang of it. I was supposed to help with the pool sessions the previous weekend, but I had an ear infection, so Rob was left to do it all himself. So I had to pretty quickly figure out how to maneuver around the team and get useful video (without kicking too many of the students), all in the surge and otherwise "real" conditions outside of the pool. It was definitely a bit of work contorting myself around them, trying to get good shots without getting in their way. However, Team Bunny was quite cooperative in their positioning, and they didn't seem to mind the occasional kick. Overall, it was quite fun to video the class, but I was just glad no one was videoing me!

So I did the video on one dive on Saturday and just hung out and watched for the second dive (which Rob video'd). I must admit, I got a little distracted by the kelp critters nearby -- I found one kelp stalk with both a stiletto shrimp and a kelp clingfish! Score.

On Saturday night, I came down with some horrible form of food poisoning (now I know what they mean when they say "projectile vomiting"). I have pseudo-scientifically tracked it down to a peanut butter Clif bar that I ate Saturday morning, and later found out was a subject of the FDA peanut butter recall. Pre-dive nutrition is very important to staying warm, but I can't say I recommend this form of nourishment :)

Anyhoo, Kenn wrote a pretty nice class report about Team Bunny's experience in fundies. Check it out here. Thanks Kenn for the Team Bunny mascot photo.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fishy Friday

On Friday, Team Kitty was out on Phil's boat. The forecast looked pretty good, and Rob came with his wetnotes jam-packed with GPS numbers for all the various sites we should consider. After some chatting about the conditions and what sites would be doable that weren't always doable, we settled on Pinnacle Point Wall. Rob and I have been there once before, but Kevin hadn't been there before. Rob was eager to go back there with scooters. I remembered it being shallower than it is, I guess because there is a peak that comes up shallower, which is where we dropped and spent a good bit of time on the last dive. After being assured that it was deep enough to make good use of our gas choice (wouldn't want to waste that extra 10% Helium), we decided to go there. It did seem like it would make for an excellent scooter run, since it is a pretty long reef.

After a short ride out to the site, we found ourselves in dead calm water, which was nice. I remarked while we were getting geared up or doing gear checks that it was nice for once not to be getting knocked around or feeling seasick while getting ready, which always makes me feel rushed. Rob had a pretty specific idea of the path he wanted to take along the wall, so he led. I refused to shoot the bag on principle (actually because my wrist was bothering me), so that left me with the role of Deco Queen (my favorite). When we flopped into the water, there was literally no current. Again, nice to be able to take a minute on the surface without trying to keep track of the line. The water also looked very clear -- we could see very far down the limp noodle of an anchor line. After everyone got their scooters and cameras sorted out, we headed down the line. I was leading, since I am, shall we say, the weakest link, when it comes to descents (especially having just gotten over an ear infection). I wow'd the boys with a 60 foot per minute descent, and then handed over the lead to Rob when we got to the reef.

Right next to where we dropped there was a giant column of rockfish. It was one of those "most fish I've ever seen in one place" type of columns. And the great part was, they didn't seem to mind us at all. We were zipping around on scooters, Rob was taking pictures, and they didn't scatter. There were also a variety of fish in the column. It was mostly blues, as usual, but there were some others in there too -- a decent number of olives, and a few canaries (Rob regarded my claims of canaries in the school with extreme skepticism, until we reviewed Kevin's video and watched a canary swim right out of the school toward the camera). There were also a lot of Chinas hanging out on the reef -- don't know if they were just out for the show or what. I noticed one that had his jaw hanging open, waiting for a tasty morsel to drift in, I guess. I have a feeling there were some other kinds of fish, that I am overlooking. I noticed there were also a lot of canaries hanging out deeper, under one of the overhangs of the wall. Anyhoo, we hung out there for a bit, not really moving very much other than to scooter around the school of fish. I found a really cool looking little fish that was hanging its head out of a hole. It was one of those long thin sort of snakey looking fish (like a ronquil). I signaled for anyone interested to come take a look, and Kevin rounded the corner from where he was, shined is light directly at the fish, and well, that was pretty much the last I saw of the fish. Actually I could still see him after he hid in his hole, but not nearly as well.

Eventually Rob suggested we move along as planned. We scootered for maybe a minute, and came across a deeper small pinnacle (if you can even call it that) off to the side of the main structure. We went over there, I pointed out a rosy rockfish or two to Rob, and I guess Rob decided that this really wasn't nicer than where we started, so we just headed back over there, to enjoy the fishies some more. I perused the reef for macro critters briefly, but I think the only thing that really interested me were some trilineatas (which I found in a couple different spots). I also noticed there were quite a few Aldisa sanguinea (the yellow shade, not the orange) out and about. I happened upon Rob shooting some fish column glamour shots and decided to place myself in the frame and pose along with them. While I was hanging out there, I noticed what looked like a skuffle going on in an elephant ear sponge on the wall. I looked over to see two painted greenlings doing their weird mating dance (I guess?). It was quite entertaining to watch. There were blue rockfish all over the place, and the one fish (male, I am guessing) seemed like he was trying to get them to leave. It was pretty cool. I called Rob and Kevin over. Rob came over and took some pictures. Kevin just sort of gave me an okay. I was certain he must not understand what I was showing him, so I insisted that he come over and get some video. Then he realized what I was showing him :)

Not long after that, it was time to go. As Rob was stowing his camera and Kevin was pulling the bag out, I was entranced by another few trilineatas on the reef, right below me. So entranced that I sort of missed the part where it was time to go and I was deco captain. Oops. We headed up and found that there was still absolutely no current, top to bottom. We were "drifting" within site of the anchor line until about 50', when Phil pulled the anchor. At 60', I looked up and could see the line all the way up to the boat, and Phil standing over the side of the boat with the float he uses to pull the anchor. Oh yea, did I mention the viz was awesome? We had a pretty uneventful deco, and it was even warm! Well, warm for those of us who take drysuit maintenance seriously :) I wasn't cold at all until about the 10' stop, when my hands got a little cold. Pretty unusual. When we got back to the surface, I remarked how nice it was to be able to take our time getting out of gear and slowly hand gear up to Phil. It was so calm, I couldn't stand to get out of the water. All in all, it was an epic day, with calm water, no current, great viz, and hundreds of fish!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thumbs Up Project Posted

I held off on posting my dive reports from the BAUE Thumbs Up Project until the project data were posted on the BAUE site. Then when it was posted, I got lazy, and never put up my dive reports. So, finally, I put up my dive reports (day 0 and day 1) and here is the project page.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Guest Dive Report: Naia's Wall

Allison, Kevin and I realized a few weeks ago that we all had MLK day off, so we quickly called Phil to see about going diving. There was some brief debate about whether or not 2 Phil dates in 5 days was too much, but that silliness was quickly put to rest. As the day drew nearer, one of the team members (the kitty herself) started coming down with an outer-ear infection. skilled forensic detective work traced it back to swimming in an under-chlorinated pool (man, and they say this diving thing is dangerous). Anyhow, we weren't able to tempt any honorary kitties for the dive, so it ended up just being Kevin and I (which was somewhat ironic since the gas plan of 18/45 to allow for a deeper dive was mostly Allison's idea).

I had been eying a dive site called Naia's Wall for some time, and it looked as though conditions might finally allow getting out there. We launched the boat as usual, and while waiting for Phil to park the trailer, politely declined a request from a kick team at Lobos for a tow out. We motored around the point in very short order thanks to almost no seas or wind to speak of, and before you know it we were throwing the hook and watching the line for what seemed like the whole way down. Kevin and I got dressed fairly quickly, went through our pre-dive checks and final plans/discussion and then splashed. We had been joking about how with Allison at home, we'd finally be able to make a fast descent. Little did either of us know how fast it would actually turn out to be. After meeting at 15' for bubble checks, we signalled to drop and both hit the triggers. About 60sec. later, we leveled off at about 140'

We dropped into a sand channel a little-bit SW of the Wall, but I could see it's dark shadow from the downline. In very very short order, we scootered up to it and were struck by its sheer magnitude. The wall itself is a sheer vertical drop from 60' at the very top to about 190' or so at the bottom. Parts of the wall near the bottom are undercut, giving the wall an inverted feel. We got on the trigger and started exploring the deeper end of the wall at about 170'ish. We spent about 10 minutes putzing around there before turning E and heading up to about 150' or so on the trigger. There aren't a whole lot of large sponge or hydrocoral formations here, but the wall does have a very healthy covering of corynactis and other smaller sponges, etc...

At about the 25 min. mark, I signalled to explore the channel further E and shallower. We scootered E until we got up to about the 130' mark or so and then worked our way back toward the peak where we would end the dive. We did our deep stops along the reef, as well as our gas switch and our 70' stop. It was great doing our deco while poking along the reef looking for slugs. At the 60' stop we were starting to get blown around the very very top of the reef, so we put the bag and drifted off. The rest of deco was fairly uneventful except for the whale song I kept hearing off in the distance.

Afterward, we had lunch with Beto and Sue, then to AWS for fills. When we got back, Allison had a hot dinner cooked and waiting for us (score!).

Pictures from the day are here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Breakwater Sand at Night

Photo by Robert Lee
Since the conditions looked crazy good during the week, Clinton suggested the obvious -- a weekday night dive. I haven't done a night dive in forever (since last spring, I think) so I was definitely interested. It was also a good excuse to break in our new (to us) single tanks. We headed down to Anywater to meet Clinton (and pester Frank while we waited), and then headed down to the Breakwater. There was a little confusion about whether we would stop for dinner on the way, or before meeting up, which resulted in me eating an energy bar for dinner. Yummm. We got down to the breakwater around 8. The water was lake-calm when we got there, and with the low tide, we were treated to a nice long walk down the beach. We got geared up not too horrendously slowly, and headed in.

Photo by Robert Lee
As soon as we got into the water, we were delighted to see how clear the water was. We swam out on the surface, occasionally checking out the water below us, with its crazy good viz. Eventually Rob pointed out that there was a school of fish below us, so we decided to drop there so the boys could get some pictures. It was pretty cool dropping into the school of fish. They seemed moderately tolerant of the picture-taking. After Clinton completely traumatized them with his strobes, we headed out and pretty quickly we hit the slope. We headed down, meandering along until we got to about 40-45', and then we loitered there for a while. One notable thing was the incredible lack of nudibranchs. I saw at most one all night... on the way out, we passed a rock and I saw a yellow splotch on it, which I didn't stop to look at, but was probably a yellow dorid of some sort. Another notable thing was that there were an incredible number of juvenile rockfish. I don't know what all of them were (since they were particularly skittish about the lights at night), but I saw quite a lot.

Photo by Robert Lee
I have to admit, for the first half of the dive, I just didn't feel like I was bringing my critter-spotting A-game. I didn't even manage to find a single octopus, which is pretty much unheard of for Breakwater night dives. We had been commanded to look for flatfish to get pics of (for the BAUE field guide), and nary a flatfish was spotted either. There were, however, quite the array of sculpins, shrimp, and crabbies. About halfway through the dive, I found a first octopus, and then it was like we hit the octopus mother lode. First a tiny one, then a big one. We accidentally scared the big one into flying off the sand, after which is quickly swam head-first into the float on Rob's strobe. Poor kitty. Just as Rob was harassing, err, shooting that octopus, I turned to look at my gauge and and saw a squid lingering about 2 inches from it. I excitedly called Rob over to take a look. He took a couple pictures, then called Clinton over, at which point the squid skeedaddled. Rob decided to pursue him, but I knew it was folly, and left him alone. Not long after that, I found a turbot (finally) who had a friend (parasite) hitching a ride. Kind of gross, but kind of cool.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Not long after this, I called turn, and we started to heard towards the wall. Rob wanted to look for Dendrontos subramosus on the wall, so we had agreed to swoop back in along the wall at the end of the dive. However, we kept happening upon interesting/cute critters (many more little octos), and stopping for the boys to take pics. At one point, Rob was taking pictures of something (I don't know what), and I was loitering near him. Clinton called us over to look at something, a tiny sculpin of some sort. At which point I was like.... umm, guys, there's a like foot-long shrimp sitting right next to that fish. That shrimp will forever haunt my dreams. I can usually get past the fact that shrimp are basically like sea bugs. But a foot long shrimp!?! That is just disturbing. Worse, perhaps, than any bug I encountered during my tenure at East Campus. After Rob and Clinton got some shots of that most disturbing creature of the night, we continued on, only to find more late night oddities.

Photo by Robert Lee
Rob and Clinton eventually each managed to find a mystery worm to take pictures of, which was undulating in the water column. After some correspondence with the "worm nerds", it turns out that these "worms" were actually synaptid sea cucumbers. Apparently they typically hang out buried in the sand, filtering food from the sand (I guess), but they can take flight into the water column, after purging their gut of the sediment. The ones that they got pictures of each also had a scaleworm along for the ride. To cap it all off, someone found a Pacific staghorn sculpin. I think it's cute how they burrow into the sand when they get shy. It seems quite cat-like. Unfortunately, after all the fun that we had on the way to the wall, we didn't quite make it there before gas considerations required that we head straight back in towards the beach. So no Dendronotus subramosus for Rob! We schlepped out of the water in equally lake-like conditions, and packed up all of our gear before heading home. We stopped at the Del Monte McDonald's (conveniently 24x7, probably about the only place to get food in Monterey at this hour). I was disturbed by just how good my Quarter Pounder tasted in my extreme state of hunger. After that, we had a pretty uneventful trip home. Rob didn't even get pulled over for driving with sleepy. And amazingly, I got to work earlier than I had all week on Friday. I guess the dive was refreshing :)

All of the night's pictures are here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sea Kittens: A Moral Dilemma

A friend recently pointed me to what I would have to call the cutest web site I've seen in months (at least). It's the Sea Kitten website, brought to you by PETA. I wouldn't say I am a great supporter of PETA, so I felt a bit of a dilemma about posting about it on my blog, and giving them press. But hey, they came up with a super cute campaign, about saving marine life, so what the heck. The premise of the site is basically that if fish were cute and cuddly, people wouldn't want to poke them with hooks and eat them. The site includes tons of cute sea kitten images, and even some pretty funny sea kitten stories. Check out the last page of the third story. There is also plenty of propaganda about how anyone who has ever fished (raises hand) or eaten fish (raises other hand) is evil. But best of all, you can make your own sea kitten using their snazzy flash editor with all sorts of sea kitty accessories! So of course I had to make a Sea Pepper and a Sea Oreo. Sea Pepper sports the punk rock jacket, and is entangled in a ball of string. Sea Oreo sports the pink princess dress and a tiara, and poses next to her favorite play item -- a bowl of water. There's also a merchandise section with the cutest canvas tote ever (I will not buy a PETA tote, I will not buy a PETA tote).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Almost Exploring at Point Lobos

On Sunday, we were at Lobos, diving with Devin and Pete. After trading quite a few emails during the week about what to do, we were considering head to Great Pinnacle and exploring west of there. We collected all of the necessary components for the dive (e.g. a lot of scooter burntime), and assembled at Lobos to make the final decision on where to go. After reviewing some bathymetry maps, we decided we would go for that. We planned to take the shallow route (but not the shallow-shallow route) to Great Pinnacle, which we were (collectively) less familiar with than other routes. I have been out this way on a few occasions, but I prefer the mid-depth route, and Devin and Pete prefer the deep route. Our bailout plan, should we get lost, confused, experience bad viz, become giant scaredy-cats, etc. was to bail to the Road and head out to Twin Peaks. Unfortunately Rob was diving sans camera, so you will have to use your imagination. Or you can look at the Great Pinnacle and Twin Peaks pages on the Point Lobos maps site to get a feel for the area.

After what seemed like dozens of laps between the ramp and the float (which was pretty far out, since there was a very high tide, which I knew was destined to become a very low tide), we had staged everything on the float. We also learned a valuable lesson about weighting a scooter -- the number of engineering degrees one has does not necessarily correlate with an ability to figure out which way to rotate the tube to get the scooter weighting right. With all the gear sorted out, we headed into the water. Ooh, speaking of gear, due to trimix logistics, and our dive on Saturday afternoon, I ended up using a set of HP100s on this dive (thanks Greg). My first time in these. They were not too different from LP85s. I could feel a little difference, but nothing too horrendous. Anyhoo, we scootered out on the surface to about 30 feet in the sand channel. Devin reported an incursion of cold water into his drysuit, but after a bit of flailing his arm around on the descent he decided it was alright. We headed out the sand channel and turned the corner at Hole in the Wall. We continued along, circling the Lone Metridium with our lights, since that is where we planned to start the bottom timer. A minute after that, I looked back and noticed the others lagging behind a bit. I stopped and instantly spotted a pretty medusa jellyfish hanging in the water nearby. We regrouped, oohed and ahhed over the jellyfish, and then continued on.

The planned navigation was to scooter along the sand/rubble area that is north of Lone Metridium etc., and south of Three Sisters etc., until we hit the south end of Shortcut Reef. Then we would cruise around that, and find the Great Pinnacle on our right. We eventually hit a structure which I now believe was the reef structure just to the east of Marco's Pinnacle. After scootering along it for a minute and looking at the depths, we figured it had to be part of the Marco's area, and headed more north. After what seemed like forever (but was actually much faster than planned), we cruised across the east end of Great Pinnacle, and down the slope to about 130'. At this point, Rob (who was leading) and I (who was co-leading, I guess you could say) were both doubting our navigation and chose the "big scaredy-cat" contingency. We headed east toward the Road, and managed to land right on a structure that we have spent many dives on (but we were on the backside). It is the big rock with the crack down the center, where Rob took a picture of Mark with a bunch of lingcod eggs. I instantly recognized it, and scootered through the crack around to the more familiar side of the Road. We stopped along the road briefly, at a little pinnaclet which had quite a few Spanish shawls on it (at least 4). Before I could notice anything else, the boys had gotten restless, and wanted to continue out. So we continued out until we got to the first peak, and spent the rest of our time there.

I immediately started looking for Doto-inhabited hydroids, since Rob was sad I didn't share my find with him on Saturday. I quickly found some pretty big Dotos to show to him, and moved along. After that, I was poking around for other critters, and didn't see a lot. Until I saw it. A tiny warbonnet, sitting out on the reef in his full glory. Tiny even by warbonnet standards. A tan one, many times cuter (by virtue of his size) than any other warbonnet I've found out on a reef. I excitedly called Rob over, warning him to cover his light. He managed to come over and see the little fish with only a small skitter along the reef. The fish was actually gracious enough to put up with all four of us trampling past his bit of reef to get a look. After gawking at the warbonnet, it was about time to head in, and so we did. The trip in was straightforward. Near the base of the road, we saw the usual menagerie of juvey rockfish. There was also a big group of some other small fish, whose identity is a mystery to me. They were about the size of juvey rockfish, but the wrong shape (rounder heads). They were whitish, with two red to brownish splotches on their backs. I realize I have no hope of IDing them with such a vague description. I had noticed a big group of them between Great Pinnacle and the Road earlier too.

The viz had deteriorated in the sand channel (as the tide went out), so we finished up our deco over the worm patch, instead of the inevitable team separation that happens with 4 scooters and crap cove viz. The tide had gone out quite a bit, just to that point where it becomes annoying to get out of the water. The sea state had also deteriorated somewhat, making the water awfully swishy by the ramp. The swishiness slammed me knee-first into one of the ledges at the end of the ramp. Ouch. However, I managed to walk out of the water under my own power, which is all I can really ask for on a low tide :) After cleaning up gear, Rob and I headed to Phil's Fish Market for lunch. Yum yum.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Afternoon Boat

On Saturday, we were on the afternoon installment of the BAUE tech boat. The downside of the afternoon boat is that we are more likely to end up diving Mile Buoy, but the upside is that we potentially get to do two dives and we get to sleep in. When we got there, the boat wasn't back from the morning yet, so we loitered around K-dock and I worked on my tan (or something) in the bed of Kevin's truck. The tide was nice and low, so we could pass gear down to the dock from the parking lot. That was convenient. When the boat finally returned, we quickly loaded gear and started to chat about where we could go. Flintstones and Mt. Chamberlin were tossed around, if we could make it down there, and E3 was our backup if not.

We headed south and before you know it, we were pulling up to Mt Chamberlin, to dive the south wall. Jim seemed a little concerned about current. We were scooering, and scheduled to get in before the other team, so we agreed to loiter near the bottom of the line to make sure the other team made it down before we headed off. There was a wicked surface current, but once we got under like 5 feet, there was very little current. It was an easy, slow drop down to the reef. We got down there, and headed south towards the wall. On the way out, I noticed the little spur with a really nice gorgonian garden that we had spent some time on at the end of our dive there last time. We got to the edge of the wall and hung out there while we waited for the other team. While we were there, I started looking through some hydroids and found a couple of Dotos. Before I managed to show them to Rob, he signaled me and suggested I move over a little to pose behind an elephant ear. Hmph. So I moved over, and found some more hydroids to stare at, which also had Dotos on them. Very nice. Then we moved on to a very big aggregation of elephant ears, which unfortunately had no nearby Dotos, but had a cute little juvey rockfish curled up in one of the "ears". The viz wasn't quite as good as I expected. Actually I think the viz was pretty good, but the water just wasn't that clean, especially close to the reef. However, the vertical viz was incredibly good.

After the other team appeared, we headed west along the wall. Eventually we cut in over the top of the wall, along one of the spurs of reef. We were scootering across one and Kevin signaled to Rob that he wanted to go back. Of course he found some crazy tight swimthrough that he wanted to try to conquer, flexing his cave diver muscles at us. He slowly eeked his way through it, and then I went and looked and said no way. He later reported that that was a wise decision. I am almost certain that was the little arch that I saw on the last dive, which I believe I reported was not quite big enough to swim through :) From there we continued along, stopping occasionally for some pictures, and then starting to head back towards the anchor line. I noticed quite a few juvey rockfish along the way (rosies and I think some blues).

Every now and then we would cross paths with the other team, and eventually we all ended up on the same patch of reef, and then ascended from there. A couple minutes later, we headed up as well, for a pretty uneventful ascent. At 20 feet, Rob took some pics. Kevin was using his CSI cam for the first time around here. He pointed the camera at us to get some pics of the deco-photo-shoot. However, due to some technical difficulties, the footage has forever been lost to the gods of video technology. Boohoo. When we got to the surface, the boat was picking up the other team, pretty close to us. So we scootered over to the boat, passing some moon jellies along the way. The surface current seemed to have decreased substantially.

After reboarding, we decided there was time for a quickly second dive on the way home. We discussed some options, and eventually ended up at Strawberry Peak, which is just off Point Pinos. This is near the site of our Point Pinos commando dive back in April (or so), but much shallower. It is a ledge (or series of pinnacles, really) coming up to 20 feet from about 60 feet. When we got into the water, I could very clearly see the reef from the surface. We dropped down, to find a bit of a washing machine near the top of the reef. It was that circular surge that sucks you down 5 (or more) feet, then spits you back up to where you started. Really unpleasant on the ears! However, once we got down below that, the surge was not too bad. The reef didn't strike me as being the most interesting, but the viz was incredible! There were a lot of big ochre stars, which I like. There was a lot of coralline algae, and the purple looked really pretty against the sunbursty blue blue water. The were also some patches of what Rob claims were encrusting hydrocoral. I could believe it.

We meandered around the reef, first heading northeast of the main structure, and then swinging around to the south side. We had a sea lion stealthily following us. He kept appearing and zipping by, but never when Rob or Kevin were looking. I think they thought I was making it up. There were also quite a few fish, of various species. Some big ling cods, a cabezon, a lot of blue rockfish, a sprinkling of other rockfish, and several perchy-looking fish. When we finally decided to head up, we went up to 20 feet to hang for a bit, and that is when the fun (or not) began. The washing machine surge was crazy up there. It would come only every minute or so, but then we would get dragged at least 10 feet from where we started. After a couple of big swishes, an even bigger one came, and I looked back and watched Rob get slammed into the reef, and turned head over heels. Ouch. Apparently this dinged his camera body a bit, but his dome port was spared (phew). After he righted himself, the sea lion swooped by again (I swear I heard him snickering at Rob), and Rob finally saw him. There, I wasn't making it up.

The sun was setting as we hit the surface, and we had a very scenic ride back to K-dock. The tide had one wayyy out, and the walk up the ramp from the dock was at a crazy angle. It's certainly the worst I have ever had to walk up. I practically had to climb it like a ladder :)

All of the day's pictures are here.
Kevin's video from the second dive is here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Quicky Skills Dive

For some reason on Friday, I became overcome with this feeling that I had forgotten everything I had ever learned to do underwater. So I suggested we go out and do some drills, some of which I haven't done with Tech 1 :) For instance, I was convinced that there was no way I could do a midwater valve drill anymore. And that might come in handy for Tech 2 (which is thankfully many months away). We got a nice late start to the day, and scootered out to 70 feet, put up a bag, clipped off our scooters, and went up to 20 feet for some drills. That went surprisingly well! Then we headed into the worm patch (terrible viz) for some bottle rotations. That too went better than last time. Based on our good performance there, we then went up to 10 feet and worked on those some more. The viz was actually really great in the top layer, but total crap below that. It did open up a bit around 50 feet, but still never as good as that top layer. The one notable sea life encounter was at 10 feet over the worm patch. The blue rockfish seemed to be attracted to Rob's bottles. As he brought the bottle forward, it seemed as if they were going to stampede it. I guess they like shiny toys. Very cat-like.

After one 90 minute dive, I was very cold. It was really cold on the surface too, making it hard to warm up. Since we had accomplished everything I wanted during the first dive, I passed on a second dive, and instead headed to the Chowder House for some chowder and Arnold Palmers.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mt. Chamberlin, Mystery Site

We decided to start the year our right, and take off the first work day of 2009 to go diving. John, Matt, Rob, and I went out with Phil. Rob came armed with a bunch of GPS coordinates of sites appropriate for all sorts of conditions. John was strangely attached to the idea of E3. Phil said we would peek around the point and see how the conditions were. There would be no diving at E3 on a Yankee Point-able day :P When we came around the point, it was shockingly calm. I guess there was a north wind so it was nice and protected south of the point. In addition to calm, calm water, the sky was blue and it was just a beautiful day to be out on the water. We headed down to Yankee Point. Rob had the numbers for K3, where we had never been before. As is typically the case, the format of Rob's numbers was different than the format of Phil's GPS, so there was quite a bit of drifting around with our thumbs up our, errr, I mean with Phil yelling out depths and Rob pondering whether they sounded right. In any case, we found a peak coming up to about 70 feet-ish, that wasn't too far from deeper water. When we looked over the side, the viz looked quite pleasant. So we got geared up and flopped into the water.

When we got to the line and looked down, it was going straight down, sort of flaccid-like, which looked good for a scooterless descent. There we no current at all on the way down, but then a pretty good bottom current. The reef started at like 70 feet, and there was a big school of blue rockfish hanging out right there when we got down to it. We headed south with the reef on our left(into-ish the current), based on the depths that Phil had called out during our bob on the surface. I was leading, woohoo. It took a minute or two to get down to 100', but then there was a steep dropoff and before you know it, we were in 160' or so. There was another structure across a sandy channel coming up to about 140'. We spent some time poking around there, and then head along that, north-ish, until we came to a crack across that structure. We swam through that, and passed an Urticina in 150'. That struck me as odd.

From there, we popped out into another, deeper channel. This one was probably about 170' at the bottom. It was a nice channel with tall structures on each side. On the left hand side, there were some cool little vertical slots carved out of the reef, with overhangs and the like. We swam up that (unfortunately against the current), just enjoying the scenery -- elephant ears, gorgonians, and the like. What I really wanted to do was swim to the end (it sort of took a turn and petered out) and then drift back along it with the current. However, I decided it would be too difficult to corral the boys and communicate that to them, so when we got to the end, I just thumbed it, and figured we would drift through it on the way up. When I thumbed it, Rob gave me a "WTF?" look (which I thought was a bit much, since I had thumbed it all of 30 seconds shy of the plan). Turns out he had bumped a button on his gauge and reset the time, so he thought it was a few minutes early. After he folded up him camera, Matt (our illustrious deco captain) took over. Rob was on bag duty, which is always mean to do to the guy with the space station-sized camera, but you know, something about readiness.

After we got to 70' and switched onto our bottles, Rob tamed the beast (cleaned up his camera), we found a nice position to avoid getting current-bumped into each other, and settled in for the ride. We could hear the boat engine at some point during the 70' stop, which was comforting. Things were pretty uneventful for the first half of the deco. At 20', after adjusting my hood (it has this annoying habit of collecting bubbles from my second-stage exhaust) and smooshing my mask on my face, I noticed a jagged line running across one eye of my mask. Since it had appeared out of nowhere, I assumed it was on the outside, and tried to rub it off. I rubbed and rubbed and finally decided it wasn't on the outside. I suddenly became worried that it was a crack in my mask, and was pondering whether I should whip out my backup mask. I decided to get a second opinion first. I swam over to Rob and asked him to take a look, and quickly saw his eyes get REALLY big. Then he had a ponderous look on his face, and he scrutinized my mask for a minute. Suddenly he looked very relieved, and told me he didn't think it was a crack, but a hood thread. That little bit of drama kept me pretty occupied during the 20' stop, and before you know it, it was time to head to 10'.

Just about a minute before we were finished there, I looked up and noticed Rob and John both gesticulating wildly, pointing behind me. I swung around to see a big mola swimming toward us, taking a look. Then it started to descend, and I think we all momentarily decided to follow it, but then came to our senses when it kept descending. That was really cool. It's the first time I've seen what I would describe as a "big" mola underwater. We surfaced to find not-much-worse sea conditions than when we had started. However, the weather had deteriorated quite a bit, and it was now overcast and colder. But the sea state still allowed us to shoot the gap between the sea lion rocks :) After we got on the boat, I inspected the mystery "crack" in my mask. I have no idea what it was. Phil shared his theory with us (think Clarence Thomas). I think it was a piece of nature, like a thin twig or splinter of mulch. Definitely not hood related though.

After we got back to Lobos and packed up our gear, we headed to Siamese Bay for some lunch. Then we stopped by Cynthia's to retrieve a hand-me-down cat tree from Nitrox. The kitties are HUGE fans. I was worried they would reject it because it smelled of their arch nemesis, but it seems that one of them is always on it now.

So, after reviewing the bathy maps, Rob thinks we were on the west side of K2, which we've never been to before. I think that is a plausible explanation.

All of the day's pictures are here.