It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Bottom of Twin Peaks

On Saturday I went to Twin Peaks with John and Clinton. Rob and I had this dive date to Twin Peaks with John on the calendar for a while, but got called away to video a class on short notice. Clinton had asked about dive plans earlier in the week, so I figured it was the perfect chance to talk him into a scooter dive (since Rob's scooter would otherwise be stuck at home, washing its hair). It didn't take too much convincing (possibly because his camera is in the shop). The plan had been to go to Twin Peaks and look at the sea pens in the sand at the bottom. I always hear about the sea pens, but never make it to the bottom of the peaks (usually due to our gas choice not being quite right for that). So we wanted to make a point of going out there and making it down to the bottom.

After a brief standoff with John, I offered to lead us out there. After a quick briefing of the features specific to an X-scooter, and a review of the map, we staged our gear on the float (I got to swim, woohoo) and then got geared up and into the water. As we were retrieving gear from the float, someone noticed a stream of bubbles spewing out of John's scooter, from one of the o-rings around the body. Not good. John schlepped that bad boy back out of the water, and debugged the leak. Turned out there was a piece of debris under the o-ring, which was easy enough to fix. After drying stuff off and tinkering a little, John decided that the scooter was good to go, or at least if it wasn't, would likely make that known early in the dive :) While he was tinkering with his scooter, Clinton took the opportunity to descend right by the ramp and figure out the right length for his tow cord. Oh, did I mention that the viz was pretty good right by the ramp? :) After bobbing in the water for quite a while, we finally got going. I really should have insisted that John bring me a snack when he got back into the water. We scootered out to the start of the sand channel, and dropped there. We were within site of Beto and Rob's crew where we dropped.

The viz was quite good in the sand channel, I would say at least 30 feet. It only got better as we headed out. The patch of kelp just north of the lone metridium had stellar viz, and it was incredibly bright. Almost as soon as we left lone metridium, I could see what I thought was Sea Mount off to my right. I was doubtful at first -- I can *never* find Sea Mount on the way out, it seems like it only appears when I am on the way in. So I headed in that direction to check it out and after passing it, we hit Beto's. We scootered out along Beto's and then turned left to go toward the Sisters. I love the ride from Beto's to the Sisters on a good viz day. It seems like you can see forever over the open expanse of sand and rubble when it is bright and clear. Before you know it, we hit the Sisters and headed up the Road. As usual, there were various small and juvenile rockfish hanging out on the Road near the Sisters. Clinton found some sort of rockfish that he couldn't identify (which John and I were of course no help with). I gave him the big shrug and then we continued out. We stopped along the way to look at a couple of Medusa jellyfish, but we were otherwise on the trigger pretty much non-stop. About 2/3 of the way out along the road, we came upon a school of blue rockfish, and not long after that, a school of olive rockfish. The olive rockfish were neat, since I don't usually see them in those numbers out there. After marveling at them briefly, we continued out until we got to the big peak.

We headed to the bottom of the northeast tip, to look for the sea pens. It was my understanding that this is where the sea pens were (which John confirmed on the map). Apparently this isn't actually the spot that is known for the pens, but there were several there. I pretty quickly decided that the sea pens were quite unexciting, considering there was a big wall with various colorful life forms within sight. So after just a couple of minutes looking for stuff in the sand, I headed to the wall, which we worked our way up slowly for the rest of the time there. Clinton found some slug on a red sponge, which I thought was a pretty common slug out there. I thought it was an Aldisa sanguinea, but it turns out it was actually an Aldisa cooperi (which has spots down the center). I am still pretty sure we have seen those before, but I didn't know the spots were significant. The first one he found was on a red bumpy sponge (which are pretty common in the E3-ish area, and I would like to know what they are...), but there were several others nearby, and some egg bundles too. Clinton was clearly very excited about the find (which made no sense at the time, since I thought they were A. sanguinea). I guess these are not generally known to be around here (they are a northern species), hence his extreme excitement.

After working our way up the wall, I came over the top and down the other side of it. I love the view down the face of that wall, especially when the viz is so nice. With such excellent viz, I realized that spending all of my time at Twin Peaks looking for small critters is really sort of a waste. The wide angle view of the northeast-facing wall was gorgeous. It was time to leave, so we got on the trigger and headed back. We scootered in shallower off the reef, with a nice view of the topography below us. We stopped in the vicinity of Lone Metridium to switch to our deco bottles, and hung out there for a few minutes, before continuing to our next stop. Once we made it to the sand channel (after our 60' stop), we were mostly on the trigger the whole way down the sand channel. Around 40', Clinton pointed up and I looked up to see a school of some kind of perch. There must have hundreds of them, which was surreal to see in the sand channel. There were also lots of smaller schools of tube snouts along the sand channel.

When we got to the worm patch, we decided to keep going, because the viz was awesome, so why stop there? Eventually I found a little clearing in the kelp at about 20', so we hung out there for the remainder of that stop. Clinton whipped out his wetnotes to brief us on the "new" nudibranch (complete with a cute little drawing of the nudibranch and its spots). The wetnotes chat was a good way to pass the time, since we were all pretty cold. I think bobbing on the surface for so long before the dive definitely took its toll. When we were finished with that stop, we headed in until we found the line for our float. I clipped my scoot off and we waited out our last stop. It seems like when I am leading, we almost always end up ascending at the worm patch. So I was relieved that I actually found our way all the way back to the ramp :) Rob was impressed. I think he was also impressed that I led us out to Twin Peaks and back (he apparently thinks that I can only navigate when he is there to send me telepathic hints about whether I'm going in the right direction).

When we first got out, everyone was pretty cold, so we pulled our gear and float, thinking we probably wouldn't do a second dive. But then after we reflected on the crazy good conditions (in addition to the viz, the water was dead flat), we decided another dive was in order. There was also a little bit of questioning certain team members' manhood involved in the decision to do another dive (by Rob actually -- backseat team member!). We discussed the various options for the dive, and Clinton wanted to count nudibranchs. It wasn't the most popular idea, but since we did talk him into scootering with us for the first dive, I figured we should go along with the nudi counting. After warming up for a little while (the topside conditions were awesome too), we waddled back into the water. Walking in with a stage bottle (sans float) is such a hardship. Swimming out on the surface with a stage both (sans scooter) is even more of a hardship. Clinton and John are just too hard-core for me. I had called transect 5 (since it always has more nudis, which makes counting more fun), and Clinton was counting transect 4. Poor John, he didn't even have a camera to hold while Clinton counted :) We headed out to transect 5 first, and Clinton did his count. I poked around mostly in the little channel that cuts across to the east side of the reef. I noticed a lot of Rostangas in that area. John found an Aegires in that area too. I also visited the resident warbonnet, who I was relieved to see (since I hadn't been able to find him several times recently). I was getting rather chilly while Clinton counted, so I was glad when he was finished. We stopped by to check out the wolf eels on the way. I saw them the last time I was at Lobos, but what I hadn't seen was the eggs that everyone else apparently had seen recently. So I specifically wanted to look for those, but they were no longer in there. I did get a good look at both eels though.

After that, we continued to transect 5, and I did my thing. I found a ton of slugs, though not much that I would consider exciting -- one berthella (which I like, since their little spots look like twinkling stars). Finally at the very end, I found a Limacia -- phew, a certifiably "exciting" slug :) I also found an incredible number of Rostangas. On one little patch of reef, I counted 7, including two mating pairs. There was also one mystery nudibranch that I really couldn't decide if it was a Rostanga or an Aldisa sanguinea. It really didn't look right for a Rostanga, but it had none of the tell-tale characteristics of an Aldisa. I called Clinton over to consult, but he was waffling on that too. He really needs to get his camera back into service :) The plan had been to hop over to the east side to play around when the counting was finished. However, when I finished Clinton gave me the "I'm cold" signal so we headed straight in. Clinton was swimming like a madman (even more so than usual). I guess without the added drag of the camera, he can really motor. We ascended right by the ramp, and after I caught my breath, I waddled up the ramp.

We had a late lunch at RG Burger, which we haven't been to in a while (Phat Burger seems to have gained favor in recent times). We had to put up with the usual slow service, but the milkshakes were good.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dos Gatos

On Saturday, Rob and I were on the BAUE tech boat. We were diving as a team of two, since Kevin was off being hard core and cave divering in Mexico (okay, not that hard core). Mark (who had organized the boat) wanted to go to Flintstones. Rob also had some new site in mind that he found on the bathymetry maps, not far from Flintstones. On the way down there, there was some sort of mutiny in the wheelhouse I guess, because John came scurrying down looking for support for E3. Everyone agreed, even though we were already south of Lobos, pretty close to Flintstones. Then the next thing you know, we were dropping anchor, in the vicinity of Flintstones. Jim told us that we were anchored on a "different part of Flintstones" than we usually go, which I guess we a diplomatic way of saying we went to the new site that Rob had numbers for.

Rob and I hopped in the water, grabbed our scoots, and headed to the line. There seemed to be a little surface current, but the line was pretty much vertical below the surface, down to about 80 feet, where it then flattened out. We got down and checked the anchor, and made our best effort to place the chain to prevent the anchor from getting stuck. We were anchored on a pinnacle that topped around 90 to 100 feet. It didn't look like any Flintstones I know of. The south side, where we hit the pinnacle, was fairly steep. We headed around clockwise, and stopped for a while on the east side, which had a much less steep slope (at least at the depth where we were -- 150 to 160 feet). There were lots of nice big elephant ears and a lot of areas had really nice gorgonian gardens. The viz was good -- bright, blue, and clear. I found an interesting little snail, which had a distinctive black and white pattern on its shell, for which I have dubbed it the "zebra snail". I have no idea what it was -- it's not in the BAUE field guide, so I'll have to do a little more research. I also found some strange little metal cylinder (about the size of a backup light) sitting there, with what looked like a bite out of it. Strange. It was also around this point that I realized I had a catastrophic pony-tail failure. The band at the end of my braid had come out, and my braid had slowly unwound itself until there was hair *everywhere*. It made it hard to clip to my right D-ring. This is definitely a weakness of the hog harness, which requires further study.

Eventually we continued on, heading to the west side of the pinnacle. At the northwest tip of the pinnacle, there was a crack with some nice hydrocoral bushes. We were recently chatting about how we don't usually see the bushy hydrocoral very deep (except at Big Sur Banks), but here was a counterexample. As we were leaving that spot, we pass Nick and Clinton. Clinton got some nice shots of a bushy hydrocoral stalk. As we came around to the north side, a school of blue rockfish came into view. Also, we could see a second pinnacle off to the north, and Rob suggested we head over there. So we did, and the fishies seemed to come with us. There was an even bigger school over there. We circled around that pinnacle until we came to a really cool little canyon on the southeast side.

It ran north-south and was in fact the east side of the first pinnacle on the right, and the west wall of a third pinnacle (which we didn't have time to explore) to the left. In between was a well-defined sand channel. The walls had the usual elephant ears and an impressive number of fluffy gorgonians. I think this was my favorite spot of the dive, due to the dramatic topography and the nice gorgonian cover. After Rob snapped a couple of pictures, I signalled that it was time to go. I wanted to follow the reef up and hop over to the peak where the anchor was (which I was fairly confident we could find), but Rob didn't quite get what I was suggesting so we just headed back around the way that we came. We got to the top of the pinnacle and shot a bag just as we saw John, Matt, and Mark doing the same. We ended up basically drifting with them for the entire deco. Rob went over to take a few pics at one stop. The deco was very cold, but otherwise uneventful.

It was overcast and chilly on the surface, which didn't help. Rob was horribly sea sick, and spent the entire surface interval hanging over the side of the boat. He didn't eat a single cheeto! I tried to pick up the slack for him in that department. While we were chatting about gear that had been lost over the years, I mentioned that I had lost many hair bands to the ocean, and Michael mentioned that he had found one on the bench after we got in the water. Phew. I was relieved to know that a baby seal wouldn't end up choking on it. I was thinking that with this viz, it would be a nice day to hit the Pinnacles. So when a few options were given for our second dive, I immediately pounced on Outer Pinnacles.

As it turned out, the viz was actually quite unspectacular. It was greener and snotty. There was also a bit of surge. We found a couple of nice patches of hydrocoral, and Rob took some pictures. We also had fun scootering along all of the little canyons. We found a very small swimthrough (I think that calling it is a "swimthrough" is actually sort of generous) and I poked my head into it. Apparently on the last BAUE rec boat, Kevin found some swimthrough on the first dive, that everyone was searching for on the second dive (and couldn't find). We were wondering if this was the same one (since we were at the same anchorage). Eventually Rob started to get motion sick, or something, from trying to take pictures, so he stowed his camera. Meanwhile I was getting uncomfortably cold, and regretting eating all of those cheetos on the surface interval. So I thumbed it. On the ascent at about 20 feet we saw a gorgeous Leucothea that had its "wings" extended and it's little "arms" fluttering. I think it was the nicest specimen I've ever seen. After getting some glamour shots of it, we continued up to 10 feet, where Rob pointed out some tiny little jelly animal (less than a centimeter long) that was sort of carrot-shaped with pink insides and tiny little fluttering arms. I have no idea what it was, but it was very cute!

When we hit the surface, we were delighted to find that we were only about 50 feet from the boat (we had ascended up a stalk of kelp on the theory that we were "near" the anchor line). Once we got back on the boat, Rob was immediately sea sick again and stayed that way for the return trip :( He eventually recovered after napping in the car while I ate lunch at the taco place :)

After we told Beto about our fun time, he asked Rob for the coordinates and the name of the site. Oooh, the name. I suggested Dos Gatos, for the two pinnacles. True, there is a third kitty which has yet to be explored, but we can save that for another day (hopefully when we have our third kitty along!). I joked to Rob that the small pinnacle is Pepper's Peak and the big one is Oreo Mountain :) Oh, and by the way... the site we ended up at is not actually the site that Rob had numbers for. The target site is 300 feet or so to the west of this one, and remains to be explored at a later date. I can't wait!

All of the day's pictures are here (including topside pics by Mark!).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Dive

On Saturday, Rob, Kevin, and I had a romantic Valentine's dive for three planned. I recently realized that we haven't done a macro dive on the Road in ages. I miss all the little slugs out there. So I penciled it in for our Valentine's dive, and somehow Kevin managed to invite himself along :) Unfortunately the conditions were looking pretty bad all week, and we kept postponing a decision about whether to go. Finally on Friday evening, we "decided" to check the buoy and various web-cams in the morning and have a final call about whether to drive down at 7:15. Getting up was painful, especially with the rainy overcast weather. However, I couldn't stand the idea of sitting at home in the rain, wondering if we should have gone. So we decided to meet down at Lobos and take a look.

The crappy topside weather disappeared by the time we were halfway down there, but it was quite cold. But once we got to Carmel, the temperature seemed to magically rise 5 degrees, so it was a balmy 55 degrees at Lobos. The water didn't look too rough. It looked diveable, but the water level on the ramp was low, so with the swell, it didn't look like the most fun entry. But we decided to go for it. While Rob and Kevin would staging gear on the float, they helped a guy who got sort of stuck in the rocks on his way out. That caused my level of ramp-fear to spike beyond its usual already-unreasonable level. Anyhoo, we finished gearing up, did some final checks and headed down the ramp. Rob claimed it took about 8 minutes for me to make it down the ramp because of the overly careful, baby steps I was taking. He claims that the longer I take getting down the ramp, the more likely I am to fall. I don't completely disagree. I got to lead, since it had been my idea to go out to the Road (and Kevin was just "along for the ride" as usual). We surface scooted out until the viz was good enough.

We dropped in the sand channel in about 30 feet. The viz was not very good and it was quite surgy. But it was actually fairly bright. That wasn't necessarily a good thing, since Kevin's primary light was dead. It was kind of disorienting to navigate in such poor viz. I could handle the sand channel, but once we turned the corner at Hole in the Wall, things got much sketchier. I actually had to navigate with my compass! I never actually found the Lone Metridium, but I eventually decided I must be there-ish, and headed out over the sand. I eventually hit the first sister (or so I thought). Rob was signaling emphatically that I needed to head left, as if I was going the wrong way. So I was like.. what the heck, isn't this the first sister? He agreed that it was. I guess he was worried I might have spontaneously forgotten how to get from there to the second one :) After we hit the second sister, we headed out along the Road. By this point, it was really dark. The viz never really cleared up; there was tons of particulate. Due to the bad viz, I was skittish about going out too far or around any curves that would be non-trivial to navigate. So I basically went straight out along the reef-sand interface until about 130', and suggested we clip off there.

Even down there, it was surgy. The surge seemed sort of variable. It was definitely worse on top, but even on the sides it would occasionally be pretty surgy. However, there were periods of calm, which was good for Rob. We started looking around for macro subjects. Rob had told me I should look out for Dotos and other tiny hydroid slugs, but with the surge and the particulate, I was having trouble getting my eyes to focus on the swaying hydroids. I pretty quickly gave up on that. I found a gaggle of Diaphorodoris lirulatocauda. When I saw the first one, at first I thought it was an Aegires, until I got close enough to see its loong rhinophores. After I spotted the first one, I found 3 more right in the same area. I would eventually find another three in a different spot. I also found quite a few Adalaria jannae. I usually cannot tell these apart from Onchidoris muricata, but for once, the white gland thingy behind the gill plume was very obvious (on the first one that I saw, anyway). After I saw that first one, I kept happening upon more, probably at least half a dozen in total, scattered around the reef. Those two species were the most interesting finds on the dive. Other than that, I saw a couple Spanish shawls, and I noted the lack of Dironas. Turns out Kevin found one, and tugged my fins to show me. When I turned around, he wasn't even vaguely looking in my direction so I figured I imagined the tug and went on my merry way. Kevin also pointed out a Berthella, which he seemed quite excited about. Apparently he has never seen one before. I keep telling him it's not safe to dive with your eyes closed, but I guess he doesn't listen :) In all fairness, it was the only Berthella I saw on the dive. Rob also found a super cute little fish with really pretty orange and aqua markings. I was not sure what it was, but I think we saw one along the Road once before on a dive with John. Clinton says it is a longfin sculpin. In the non-macro category, I found a decent-sized ling cod, and showed it to Kevin, who was taking video.

The return trip was pretty uneventful. I carefully followed the reef-sand interface back. Usually, when we get to the second sister, we peel off (even though the rocks continue back to the first sister). I was watching for the second sister, but I never did see it... eventually we ran smack into the first sister, and we had to do a quick pass over the center hydrocoral to be sure. Yea, not such good viz. From there, we headed along the Lone Metridium-hat vector, until I started to doubt my navigation and we were in 70'. Usually we switch to our deco bottles at the ridge just past (west of) Lone Metridium. So when we got to 70' and hadn't hit any ridges at all, I gave up and stopped us so we could switch to our bottles. Then I swam about 8 feet, and hit one of the ridges. Yea, the viz was that bad. After we meandered around there looking at critters for a few minutes, we headed on to 60', where we took another pause on the back side of Hole in the Wall reef. There was a Diaulula orgy there, and a pair of Flabellina trilineatas in a very cozy position. After that we hopped over the reef and headed in along the sand channel. When we got to the sand channel, I decided we should ascend there, given the poor viz. After passing the time with some antics for the video camera, we ascended to somewhat better conditions. The tide had come in, which meant that getting out was a much more civilized affair than getting in.

Afterwards we hit Baldemiros in Seaside for lunch. Mmmm, burrito.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

BAUE Lobos Day

Sunday we had a BAUE Lobos day. Unfortunately the conditions turned out to be non-ideal. I think there were a little over 20 people slated to attend, but between the ubiquitous cold and the crappy conditions, a few people didn't make it. However, the showing was surprisingly good, considering the dire forecasts that had been making the rounds on the internet the previous week. The park aid working the gate also strongly encouraged us to not dive. But we had to at least take a look. The tide was super high so the water was sloshing out of the ramp into the parking lot. The water in the cove looked like pea soup, with some chop. The waves breaking on the non-existent beaches (high tide) at the south end of the cove were pretty big. There was a lot of negativity in the group of people who had already arrived. We headed up to the bluff to take a look. The waves crashing against the cannery point rocks were pretty big, and there was white water in the channels between them. However, the granite point side was surprising calm -- the waves breaking over there weren't unusually big. And the water over the middle reef area looked reasonably calm. There was also a distinct change of color not far outside of the cove, from pea soup to blue.

Karl left the decision up to me, and after a bit of waffling, I decided to give it a try. As we got back down to the parking lot, a team of divers who had gone in like 10 minutes before came out. I don't think they swam out far enough to get to the clearer water. So we were not deterred. A lot of the people who had showed up opted not to dive. I assured them that no matter what the conditions were, I would report 80 foot viz in my dive report (the good thing about blogging is that you don't have to be bothered with that pesky "journalistic integrity" thing). Somehow we managed to be the first team in the water. Getting in was not at all a problem, because of the extremely high tide. Since we were more than halfway up the ramp when we stopped to put our fins on, we had some shelter. After that, we swam out to what I figured we about 30 feet, and dropped. The plan was basically to play it by ear and see what the conditions were in the various areas, and let that guide us. On one hand, I wanted to get deeper and under the weather, but on the other hand, from the surface the middle reef area looked calmer than the more westerly deeper spots (Sisters, Beto's). Anyhoo, once we dropped, we were a bit further east than usual (the churning water to the west was discouraging), so we dropped on top of rock, about 28 feet, with crap viz (5 feet-ish). We headed northwest until we hit the sand channel, and then headed north along that. At 39 or 40 feet, the water suddenly cleared up like that (snaps fingers). It was suddenly blue and clear-ish. It was still a bit stirred up with particulate, but overall pretty clear. The viz was probably about 30 feet. Once the viz cleared up, we headed east to the reef, and swam along it. We stopped to say hi to the wolf eels. I briefly attempted to look for the warbonnet, but gave up pretty quickly. We got to the end of middle reef, and then headed across the sand channel to Hole in the Wall.

Once we hit HITW reef, we headed south, because I was wondering how conditions were on the other side of the sand channel. The viz was a little worse at the south end of that reef, so we hopped over it to the back side of HITW. It was amazingly calm and clear on the back side there. After hanging out and poking around in the cracks for a couple of minutes, we continued north to the rock north of HITW. I found a gaggle of about 8 San Diego dorids there. After lingering there briefly, I was sort of feeling like heading out to Beto's, but I wasn't feeling very commited to it, so we headed over to the Lone Metridium. By the time we got there, I was commited to heading deeper. We headed north from that, and then cut a little east when I thought we were deep enough that we would definitely hit Beto's. We hit it pretty close to the south end, and headed along on the east side. I mainly just wanted to check if the wolf eel was in, so we swam out to his den. I noticed one of the gorgonians on the side of the wall just south of the wolf eel den, and was thinking about how we used to be so excited to see the 3 or so gorgonians out there. After saying hello to the eel, we headed in. We came over the top of Beto's and headed south, skirting the east side of side of the next stairstep south of the wolf eels. I found a couple of Tritonia festiva hanging out under an overhang along there.

From the end of Beto's we continued south and pass to the left of Sea Mount, then swam through the little kelp patch off to the east of sea mount. We ran into Clinton, John, and Sami around the rock just north of HITW, and posed for a couple shots before continuing on. We got to HITW and then headed back over to middle reef. We swam in along the reef, poking around in the crevices. I noticed a bunch of China rockfish in some cracks and there were also some sheephead loitering near middle reef. They seem to have become a fixture of middle reef recently. As we approached the south end of middle reef, I figured we'd hit all the hot spots, so we might as well head in. I figured we'd keep going until the viz got terrible again, and ascend wherever that was. We hit that spot in about 25 feet, and I thumbed it. We ascended pretty darn close to where we had dropped. As soon as we hit the surface, I said to Karl "I swear I can hear Rob's voice". He and his buddy were about halfway between us and the ramp, and I guess they were chatting loudly on the way in :) It seemed like conditions had improved a bit since we started the dive. So the exit was even easier than the entrance (although I was having a little trouble getting my fin off -- I knew the ghetto spring straps would bite me one day).

We were definitely glad we got in the water, considering how ambivalent everyone was beforehand. However, we decided to pass on a second dive, so instead I headed to Turtle Bay with Rob, Clinton, and John. After that, we went to the aquarium, and all huddled around the new nudibranch tank, oohing and ahhing at the beautiful Triopha maculata that they have. I have never seen a "big" orange one -- the orange ones I find are always tiny, and the big ones are always cream-colored. Then we went to a talk by nudibranch expert Jim Murray. The talk was about Tritonia diomedea, and how they orient to flow. It was an interesting talk; I especially liked the videos he showed of the slugs, sped up a couple hundred times. It looked like they were running around on the screen :)

I borrowed the pic above (from Hole in the Wall) from Rob, just to show what the conditions were like. Here are all of Rob's and Clinton's pictures for the day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gran Sabana

Sunday morning we were on the Escapade for a last minute tech boat. Beto set it up earlier in the week. I was a little bit torn, since we stayed in Monterey last weekend, and I was feeling like a little kitty time this weekend. But since it would be an early morning boat, I figured there would be plenty of time for kitty-loving (and Super Bowl watching) in the afternoon. Beto and Rob traded some numbers for potential new sites, and eventually settled on a site Beto found on the bathy maps, about half a mile south of Flintstones. The site was a main pinnacle, with a smaller pinnacle off to the east, and some little ridges off to the west, in the 130' to 200' range. Based on the depths, Rob and I were interested in the main pinnacle and the east pinnacle, which was in easy scootering range of the main one. The main pinnacle had a skinny peak in the center coming up to about 130' from 160'. Then at 160', there was a plateau on the north and south sides and then a slope down to about 200'. It was a choppy ride down, and then the ritual circling of the site left me feeling pretty barfy.

We decided to live drop on a buoy. We were nominated the lucky guinea pigs, to be dropped to determine what was up with the current (we were so nominated because we had scooters and we were only two, so the faster team to drop I guess). I couldn't really complain though, since being in the water seemed better than circling around in the boat. There was a bit of current on the surface, but with the scooter it was not a problem. Rob and I met up at the buoy and then headed down. The water was pretty green, and it was quite dark at the bottom. I thought the viz was pretty good, but apparently it wasn't up to Rob's rigorous standards :) We dropped on the west side of the peak and headed clockwise around it. On the north side plateau, there were lots of elephant ears and some gorgonians. We came around to the east side, where we ran into Clinton and Matt. The east side featured a more precipitous drop but without much big stuff -- fewer elephant ears and no gorgonians. There were lots of nipple sponges in one area. While Rob was taking some pictures I became transfixed by some type of hydroid that looked like a different kind of hydroid than I had seen before. While I was staring at it, I noticed something pink! There was a pair of big, very pink Doto amyras mating (or surrounded by a bunch of egg ribbons at least) at the base on the hydroid. Upon closer inspection there were a couple other smaller Dotos in there. The mating pair were such pretty specimens, it was unfortunate no one was shooting macro! I showed them to Rob and not long after that, we decided to journey to the other pinnacle.

We headed out into the abyss in that direction, hoping it wouldn't take too long before we could see the other pinnacle. Just as I began to make out a shadow in the distance, a bunch of light beams came into view. Phew. Beto's team had already made it over to the second pinnacle and they were heading back now. As we got to the pinnacle, I looked down and saw them scootering along the base. We landed on a gently sloping side with a lot of elephant ears and gorgonians -- similar to plateau on the main pinnacle. After Rob took a few shots around there, we headed around to the east side, which was more wall-like. I posed for a couple of pictures while looking for macro critters on the reef. I found a trilineata (cool, but less cool since I had seen 4 of them in 20' yesterday!). While we were there, a school of blue rockfish descended on the pinnacle. We headed back to the main pinnacle, and hopped over to the west side, in sight of the anchor (and Matt and Clinton shooting their bag). We agreed to spend 3 minutes more before beginning our ascent. With about one minute left, Beto, Sue, and Karl came scootering around from the south, and as they lined themselves up nicely for a shot, Rob started packing up his camera for the ascent. What a meanie. Then he thumbed it, and we headed up to 120', where he shot the bag. This was the boat dive debut of "the big bag". It is a lot easier to shoot from 120' than for 40', like we practiced yesterday :)

The deco was pretty uneventful. Rob had a bubbly bottle at 70', which he fixed easily. We met a variety of deco critters on the stops after that, including a really sad looking sea nettled, and several moon jellies. One of the moon jellies was a really big, beautiful specimen. We marvelled at it for a while. Rob also found a little red-orange amphipod (so he says) propelling itself around in the water. Rob caught it on his finger to show to me, and then couldn't get it off of his glove. He finally did, and then a moment later, it was back on his glove. I guess it liked Rob. When we got to the surface, all of the bags were line up in a nice line. We were the first team to hit the surface. As the Escapade headed toward us to pick us up, Matt and Clinton surfaced. Reboarding the boat was a slightly choppy ordeal. After collecting all of the divers, we had a pretty smooth ride back with no whale or dolphin sitings :(

Beto named the site "Gran Sabana" after a peak in Venezuela with a similar shape.