It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cats in boxes...

I'm thinking of giving the folks at Cats in Sinks a run for their money. The concept is cats in boxes... Here is the first candidate:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Calculus of dive gear packing

After our recent experiences with dive travel and baggage limits, we decided to avert future ticket-counter reshuffling by weighing each piece of gear to create a quick-reference guide for packing:

Gear item
Dry weight (lbs.)
Drysuit (DUI TLS350) in bag8.5-9.5
DUI Rockboots (pair)2.4
Backgas regs (Apeks DS4/TX50) + gauges7.5
Stage/deco reg (Apeks TX100)3.6
Stage/deco reg (MK25/G250)2.5
Halcyon Al BP4.2
DeepSeaSupply SS BP8.0
Halcyon 40lbs Evolve wing2.3
XL Jetfins (pair)5.0
Turtle fins (pair)5.8
Pocket contents

(wetnotes, SMB/spool, backup mask,

airhorn, stage leash)
Scout backup light (with Batteries)0.6
Argon reg0.2
Double-ender boltsnap0.2
Yoke/DIN adapter0.8
9Ah NiMH battery3.3
Helios/Salvo 9Ah canister1.4
Halcyon 18W/Salvo 21W lighthead2.3
Halcyon boatbag1.9
Halcyon 4.5 SMB/150' spool1.4
Diving Concepts drygloves (pair)0.8

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Dozen Needles in a Haystack

On Saturday, John, Rob, and I were planning a little expedition to Twin Peaks to document the Aldisa cooperi that we saw there a couple weeks ago. This time Rob would have his camera, rigged for macro, no less. Last time we saw them, they were near the bottom of the big peak, so we were planning for a slightly deeper dive than the usual Twin Peaks run, and packed the appropriate gas for it. When we got to Lobos, I ran into Brenna, who had some exciting news about a recent slug find (Spanish shawls with egg ribbons found at Ballbuster -- there had been some speculation that they only mate further south). We talked about some other interesting slug sitings we'd each had lately, and she mentioned the mystery Okenia that Rob and I found (once) almost a year ago. She told me she had been keeping an eye out for it, which I found amusing, since I had sort of given up on actually looking for it, thinking it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, or more like a needle in a sea of haystacks. She was on the Beach Hopper (which was doing one of its Lobos dive days), so she had to head out, and as she walked down the ramp, the last thing she said to me was "Find that Okenia!". Yea right.

John was running late, but when he finally showed up, we argued about who had to lead. I refused, since I have led the last two long scooter journeys we have done. I wanted to be a follower today. So Rob agreed to lead. We told him where we had found the Aldisas (since he wasn't on that dive), and we came up with a plan based on our expected depth range. I swam our gear out to the float while John was getting into his drysuit. It was a good excuse to get into the water, since it was pretty warm on the surface, and I prefer the swim than the lug :) We finally got geared up (just after Team Bunny arrived, who we chatted with for a little while about their proposed expedition to Beto's Reef), and headed into the water. The viz was really good right at the ramp, so we were excited about our prospects. We surface scotoed out to about 35 feet, where we could still see the bottom, and dropped in the sand channel. After a little fun with masks, we headed out. It was a pretty uneventful travel to the Sisters, via Lone Metridium. We hit the first sister, and I could literally see the second sister from there (and the shadow of the third, I swear!). The viz was just incredible. We headed out along the Road, and almost immediately, I saw a Doriopsilla spaldingi -- an exciting enough slug, in my opinion, to stop the team to check it out. The iridescent ring around the slug was particularly glowy -- more blue than white. After we looked it over, we continued on. Very shortly after that, I saw the sponge that the Aldisas eat, and I couldn't believe my eyes, but there was a yellow-orange slug sitting on top of it. I stopped us, again, to check if it was A. cooperi (vs. A. sanguinea), and there were the tell-tale spots down its back. I showed it to Rob, and he asked if he should take some pictures of it. Of course!

So at this point we were about 10 minutes into the dive, at 120', and we'd already completed our "mission". Sweet! Now we could just have some fun at the peaks! After Rob finished up taking pics, we were about to get going when Rob spied a big lingcod hanging out under an overhang, with its mouth hanging over. We swam over to take a look, and then were about to leave again, when John signaled us. He innocently pointed to the reef, and I looked over to where he pointed. In hindsight, I can't believe my reg stayed in my mouth, because I'm sure my jaw dropped open when I saw not one, but two little mystery Okenias. The next minute was filled with screaming through my reg at Rob. I was not just excited that we had found it again, but we had found two! We have a permit to collect up to two of these little guys, since, in the event that it actually is an unknown species, two are required to authenticate that. I wasn't even sure if John knew what he had found, but he did. I practically mauled him as I told him he rocked (yes, I now have a hand signal for "you rock"). As Rob was taking some photos of it, we found three or four more within about 10 feet of those two. It must have been small white nudi day on the Road, because there were also dozens (or maybe even hundreds) of Diaphoradoris, and at least a dozen Aegires. But the Okenia stood out easily, like a ball of whiskers sitting on the reef. By this point I had decided that we probably weren't going to make it to Twin Peaks -- I was way to giddy to embark on the long scooter ride out there. A couple of things surprised me about the slug this time around. One was that it seemed so much bigger than I remembered it. Objectively, it was still a tiny slug. But after studying the photo Rob had taken of it for so long, I could look at the details of it, and actually process what I was seeing. The first time I found it, it was just like... on there's some weird looking nudibranch. Another thing that surprised me, which is related, is how easy it was to pick them out on the reef. I've always found that after I see a small critter the first time, I form a pattern in my mind that makes it easy to pick out, even as I scan the reef fairly quickly. Looking at Rob's photo over the past year definitely helped to form that pattern. All this time I have been looking for it, thinking I would have to be scanning a patch of reef so slowly to possibly find it, but now I think just the standard nudibranch perusal would do it.

Disclaimer: don't try this at home, kids, unless you have a permit to collect at Lobos. After Rob got shots of the first several that we found, we decided we would collect two. When we originally got the permit to collect them, I started carrying a little piece of gladware on a boltsnap on deeper dives, but eventually that got tiresome and ended up living in the garage. So instead Rob and I had a backup ziploc bag that we had been passing back and forth between our wetnotes. Luckily I still had it in my wetnotes. So we carefully removed two slugs from the reef (one of them came with a bit of its substrate, which we figured would be useful to identify what it eats, plus it would give it something to eat for the road). I was a little sad to collect them, but it was definitely better that there were so many of them around, so I didn't feel like I was plucking the last two of the species from the ocean. In the end, we saw probably around a dozen (although I stopped counting after nine). I couldn't stop thinking about Brenna's last comment to me as she walked into the water :) Once we were finished with that, we discussed what to do next. At this point, I figured if we headed out to the peaks, we'd basically get there in time to turn around. So I suggested we just stick around the area for a while and then head in. So that's what we did. It was amazing what a slug fest it was out there. In addition to all of the white guys, and a lot of the usual suspects, there were quite a few of the Aldisas.

Eventually we decided to head in, and just as we were about to get to the Sisters, I saw another D. spaldingi. I'm not sure I've ever seen more than one on a dive before. Makes me wonder what we might have found had we gone further down the road. When we got to the Sisters, Rob suggested we head across to Beto's, which I always love to do in good viz. There were lots of canary rockfish over the sand on the way, as is typical out there. The viz was so good, I could clearly see Beto's more than 30 seconds before we actually got to it (which, using the 150 ft/min scooter speed estimate, tells me the viz was over 75 feet). When we got to Beto's we headed in along it, stopping to say hello to the wolf eel. From there we skirted Sea Mount, and following the kelp-sand interface of the sand channel until we got to 70' and switched to our bottles. We hung out there, and had a little wetnotes discussion about how we couldn't wait to tell Clinton about our find. Rob was very carefully carrying the ziploc bag as he scootered, which was amusing to watch. In order to vent he had to stop, so he could move the bag to his right hand. So it was a slightly slow trip in on the sand channel, but it matched our deco schedule anyway. At 30', we ran into Suzanne and Nathalie, and showed them our specimens. I wrote them a little note about what it was. We eventually scootered in the whole way to the ramp, pausing for a while at 20'. Don helped us (or the nudis, really) out of the water, and we found a bigger, more stable vessel to keep them in (a mask box). After a bit of scrambling with John's Blackberry (which has the smallest, worst keyboard known to man), I managed to find the phone number of Gary McDonald, who had volunteered to preserve any specimens we eventually found. After discussing with him when we could bring them by and how to keep them alive int he meantime, we decided we could do another dive, with them safely bobbing in a huge bin of seawater in the back of the divemobile. We also called Clinton (actually Rob and John both called him, so he had a couple of missed calls when he got back from his dives, which hopefully didn't alarm him too much), who unfortunately couldn't manage to get over to Lobos to see the slug :(

We had originally planned to survey the transects for dive 2, but we decided that we had done enough for the nudibranch project on dive 1, and we would just have fun on dive 2 (fun being looking for nudibranchs at Granite Point). Rob left his camera behind (which I knew he would regret, but I didn't want to pressure him to bring it), and I volunteered to lead the dive. Just as we were about to get going, we noticed Team Bunny heading in, and I just had to show them the slugs, so we waited for them to get in. After we wow'd them with our nudibranch prowess, we headed into the water (Kenn escorting me down the low-tide-ramp, as he has become accustomed to doing). The viz was still really good, although with the sun lower in the sky, the water wasn't quite as bright. We headed out on the sand channel and before you know it, we were at the main wall. Rob had requested that we got to (what we refer to as) "the hydrocoral spot", so we motored until we got to the spot, and then clipped off the scoots and kicked around there. There was an impressive showing of nudibranchs out there. We saw the usual dorids, more Aegeris, several Dendronotus albus, tons of trilineatas, quite a few Limacias, four Hilton's, and an Adalaria jannae. Of course Rob regretted not bringing his camera. We left there with the plan to hang out on the east side of Middle Reef ont he way in. We got back to the end of Middle Reef and took a left to get to the east side. By the time we got in there, I decided I was took cold to do more than a fly-by, so that's all we did, and we hopped over to the sand channel and headed into the cove. At some point (as we were along the wall of the cove), Rob's scooter died, so we just ascended there and kicked in.

We managed to keep the slugs alive until the handoff to Gary, which was a relief. At his place, we looked at them under the microscope, and I was relieved to see they were still alive and kicking. I think that the one that was on his substrate was a bit happier with the trip than the other. Gary also gave us some good tips about various nudis to keep an eye out for, and showed us some of his excellent pictures. His office is like a little nudibranch wonderland :) He put the nudis in a tank and got some shots of his own, which are here.

On the way to dinner, I was telling Rob how I think that Brenna was my good luck charm -- she said to find the Okenia, and we did! So Rob has dubbed her the "nudibranch whisperer".

All of Rob's pics are here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Snowy Diving in Seattle

On Sunday we went on a boat with Lynne and Peter. We dove with Bandito Charters, on one of their "South Sound" charters. We got up early and as we left, it was starting to snow. But it was like the kind of snow that isn't quite sure if it wants to be snow or sleet or rain. As we headed south towards Tacoma, the snow picked up to the point where it was actually snowing. Like snowing enough to slow down our journey. Luckily Rob is a hard core New Englander, so driving in the snow was no problem (although I grew up in snowy-land, I have never once driven in snow, and would have had to pull off to the shoulder and cried if I had to deal with that). We were borrowing Jeff's car during the trip, and although he seemed to have the same GPS unit that we have (TomTom), it really sucked at giving directions to dive sites, dive shops, boat docks, and the like. I think that TomTom really had something against divers. But we managed to find the dock based on some Google directions Rob had scrawled on a scrap.

When we got to the dock, it was still snowing in full force. We were directed to our boat (the charter company had two boats going out). It turned out that our boat was just the four of us. What fun! We eventually ran into Lynne and Peter (who we had never technically, nor non-technically I suppose, met) schlepping their gear down the boat. After we got everything on the boat, we headed out. The forecast was for crazy (gale force or so) winds in the afternoon. So that apparently affected our choice of dive sites. So did the bad tides, which we had been warned about by Lynne when we were planning the trip. However, since any site they took us to would be new to us, we really didn't care (and didn't know what we might be missing). The first site was Maury Island barges, which is a site that was closed for a while but recently reopened, or so I heard. As we were getting geared up, Lynne's regulator was free-flowing, so she decided to sit out the dive :( Topside, the site consisted of a bunch of pilings breaking the surface, at a regular interval. Underwater there was a bunch of man-made debris, including various sunk wrecks (including a small boat and several barges). When we got to the site, the boat basically backed up to some pilings and dropped us right by them. To be honest, I found the protocol sort of confusing. The boat wasn't anchored, but Peter told us that they don't usually shoot a bag. So I asked if we should ascend along the pilings, and got the impression that that was non-optimal (because we'd have to swim out from the pilings for the pickup). I was confused and not really down with a free ascent in an area with several dive boats, so Rob and I just stealthily agreed that we would shoot a bag.

As the boat was backing up to the site, we positioned on the swim step, resting our butts on the transom. It was actually pretty fun waiting there while the boat inched up to the drop point and then we flopped into the water. I was super cold on the boat, and it was a bit disturbing to flop into 42 degree water and find that it was warmer :) Once we were all in the water, we headed down. Just as we were approaching the bottom, we found a ratfish skulking along the bottom! Rob and I were very excited, since this was one of the things we really wanted to see on the trip. We had even reviewed the Ratfish Rule video earlier in on trip, so we would be prepared to sing the song when we saw one. I was singing the song for the rest of the dive. Apparently Rob was not, despite our agreement to sing it if we saw a ratfish. After he swam away, we got going. We meandered over to the little sunken pleasure boat, and poked around it. There had been a rumor of a GPO under it, but we could not find it. There wasn't a lot of interesting stuff on the boat, and then some other divers showed up to silt out the site, errr, to check out the site, so we headed off. Rob had been hoping to see more Janolus since he didn't feel like he got a great shot of the ones from Friday. Oh boy did we find him some subjects. We saw tons of them. We also saw tons of Dironas. I found a sea spider, which looked very sea spider-like, but was much bigger than I thought they were supposed to be, so I wasn't sure. But I pointed it out to Rob and moved along. Apparently he agreed with my diagnosis. I also found a golden Dirona (D. aurantia), which I've never seen before. Right near the end of the dive, we started finding a bunch of teeny tiny hydroid nudis, that were about the size of our Eubranchus's. After studying the photos, we believe they were Eubranchus rupium. I also found the most textbook Geitodoris heathi I've ever seen, and lots more of those funny looking San Diego dorids. I was really cold near the end of the dive, and finally I couldn't take it anymore and I thumbed it. I thought Rob had finished up taking pictures of all of our finds, but apparently he had not gotten a pic of the golden Dirona :(

As soon as we got back on the boat, they had many wonderful warm foods to feed us, including soup and breadsticks. I also availed myself of the PB&J materials. I've decided that is the perfect dive snack. We headed to the second site, Port Defiance North Wall. I was quite shocked to find that they actually have dive sites with structure, that wasn't, ya know, dropped down there by people. The site reminded me of a cross behind Shale Island and Rubicon Wall. There would be tall steep ledges, and then the slope would sort of flatten out in spots. We headed out along the wall basically until I got so cold that I could not stand it, and then Rob and I turned and headed back up the slope a little bit and shot a bag. The highlights of the dive were bazillions of Flabellina verrucosa (once we saw a couple, I realized that they were *everywhere* on some of the ledges), a grunt sculpin (good find, Lynne!), a GPO under a rock (good find, Peter!), more Eubranchus, a very photogenic hermit crab, and a really pretty blue Stimpson's starfish.

The wind had picked up by the time we got to the surface, and it was howling on the trip in. The crew clocked the winds at up to 48 knots. The weather was crazy, going from blue skies, to sleet, back to blue skies. We were all sitting inside, untouched by the wind, feeling very hard core about how windy it was outside. It had calmed down by the time we got back to the dock and had to unload our gear.

Later that evening, we went over to Lynne and Peter's house for a lovely dinner. We got to meet their kitties, who are very DIR -- they are black, redundant, and always look good. They were also quite friendly. We also got to meet the "big kitties" (aka horses).

All of the trip's pictures are here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seattle Night Dive

Saturday we met up with Kirk for a night dive. I'd never met Kirk, but Lynne had set us up to dive with him, and I'd heard about Kirk before from the MoCal cave diving crew. We met at Redondo Beach just after sunset. Unfortunately it started raining on the way there :( After we met up, we got a site briefing (in the rain). We would enter down a set of stairs that go right into the water. My kind of entry :) Then we'd walk over to a little sand channel and swim out on the surface a short while before dropping at the end of the pier. At the end of the pier, there is a rope on the bottom that leads down the slope. We would follow that down, then come back up it partway, and then head off of the line parallel to shore to see some rocky structure. Scott had virtually promised us a GPO siting on this dive, and Kirk told us where along the dive we would see the resident GPO (under the hull of a boat in about 60 feet). At the bototm of the rope, there is a "bottle field" with old glass bottles, where Rob wanted to look for Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers (PSL). Other critters we hoped to see included grunt sculpins, sailfin sculpins, and gunnels. Kirk also mentioned that we would probably see stubby squid, which I had never heard of before.

The slope was pretty significant. Before you know it, we were poking around a boat hull looking for the GPO underneath. There was of course a pile of crab shells and the like sitting just outside of the octopus's den. We each took a turn looking down the hole that was the entrance, where we could see big octopus tentacles. This was the first time I have seen a GPO in the wild (outside of the aquarium, that is). Then we continued to head down the line, eventually leaving it to head toward the bottle field I guess. Along the way, I found a little nudibranch on a tire, and realized it was the nudi that Scott had photographed the day before -- Onchidoris bilamellata. Before you know it, I had found a bunch more, including several that were mating. They were all over this set one big tire. And their egg ribbons were all over, including on the inside of the tire! Later while we were poking around on another boat hull, I found another new-to-me nudi, Acanthadoris nanaimosis, on the inside of the hull. Very cool. We also saw another GPO under that boat hull (this one was in about 85 feet).

We didn't manage to find any PSLs, but there were plenty of other interesting fish. There were a bunch of these long sort of eel-like fish (Blackbelly Eelpout) sitting in the sand that had serious baby face. We also saw two sailfin sculpins (my first!), the second of which even sort of allowed for photos. And we eventually did run into a gang of stubby squid. I immediately knew that's what they were, since the name is so appropriate :) They were really cute to see swimming, but as soon as they were in the light, they sort of squatted down in the sand and did an impersonation of a red octopus. One of them became almost purple in color which was pretty cool. We eventually made our way to this big pipe, and we swam along it, looking at the critters huddled under it. There were lots of green gunnels under there. At the end of one pipe, there was some metal scaffolding-type structure hanging off, and I found a grunt sculpin lurking in one of the corners. I couldn't believe I had found one! It was pretty well hidden in the corner, hard to get a good luck at from any side. But eventually it must have gotten annoyed with the lights in its eyes, so it swam (if you can call it that) out of that structure and plopped down on the sand. Those fish are so funny looking. Not long after that, I called the dive, because I was cold.

We headed up the slope until we hit the pier pilings. I found more gunnels cowering under the pier, and there was this huge school of tubesnouts, probably a thousand of them, and they were totally spazzing out in our lights. It was crazy how many fish there were! Just as were were about to head away from the pilings to ascend, Rob spotted a nudi on one of the pilings -- an Acanthadori pilosa. We also found another A. nanaimosis on the sand right there. After some photos, we ascended. The wind had really picked up while we were in the water, and the water conditions were almost sporty. Kirk told us that it was basically as bad as this site can possibly get, but it was just surface chop -- climbing up the ladder was no problem at all (with Kirk directing me as to which rocks to put my foot on to get up the first step, which is a couple feet high).

When we got up to the parking lot, we ditched our gear in Kirk's truck (since Rob's key was in his undergarment pocket), and we enjoyed the big thermos of hot water that Kirk had brought... it was very nice poured over my head :) My gauge read between 42 and 44 degrees on this dive (and all of the dives during the trip, actually). While that doesn't sound that much colder than the 46 to 48 that we get at some times of the year, it really is a lot colder! Those PNW divers are hard core.

All of the weekend's pictures are here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Northern Kitties

Rob and I went to Seattle for a long weekend, with the joint purpose of visiting family and doing a little diving. Lynne managed to round up tanks for us, and also some local dive buddies to show us what there was to see. On Friday, we met up with Scott (who we met on his recent trip to Monterey) and Jeanna to dive Cove 2, which is a beginner dive site right in Seattle. Rob and I were extremely bitter about how "close to home" the dive sites are up there! We got to the site around noon, and the topside weather was great! It was unseasonably warm and sunny. Scott gave us an overview of what there was to see where at the site, and the route that we would take. We got geared up and headed into the water. The tide was pretty low, so it was a bit of a walk down the steep beach to the water. However, since there was no water movement whatsoever, it wasn't exactly a Monastery entry :)

Rob and I were mainly interested in seeing the slugs at this site, from what we had been told about it. Rob packed macro for the entire trip. Scott told us that it is often the case that you will see tons of slugs of one species (which varies over time), but we might not see a huge variety. The site consists of a sloping silty bottom, with logs and various pieces of man-made junk down there for stuff to grow on. The most notable piece of man-made junk are a bunch of big i-beams and a little wreck called the Honey Bear. We dropped in about 25 feet, and saw some sort of jellyfish in the water on the way down. We dropped at a buoy, and at the bottom there was a line (or more like a rope) running down the slope. We meandered along that for most of the dive. The silty bottom is really silty -- just moving your light around to get a look at a little nudibranch is enough to send up plumes of silt. But the silt also settled down fairly quickly.

The highlights of this dive were the variety of nudibranchs, the metridium on the i-beams, and the lingcod. There were several lings guarding their nests, which was cool because they would swim right up to us and stare us down. I saw at least 3 nests with intimidating lings circling. The i-beams at 80 to 90 feet were incredibly densely covered with metridium. There were orange metridiums (a treat -- I've only seen one in Monterey!) all over the place too. But the sheer number of white ones growing on the beams was what was really impressive. And then there were the nudibranchs. As we followed the rope down the slope, I very quickly ran into a Flabellina verrucosa. I was delighted to find such a pretty aeolid as my first slug find. We ended up seeing several more of these on the dive. The other cool finds were a Janolus fuscus (I found a tiny one perched on a rock, but when I moved my light to signal the others, I blew it off of the rock and onto the sand :( ), and a big pile of mating Aeolidia papillosa on an i-beam. They were a speckled purple color and they were huge compared to the ones we see in Monterey. We also saw several other cream-colored ones like the ones we see in Monterey. Other slug finds included a Dialula lentiginosa (we think), lots of Dialula sandiegensis (which look quite different than ours), Onchidoris muricata, a tiny Dirona albolineata, and some Limacias. There might be some pedestrian nudis that I have forgotten. Not bad considering we weren't expecting a lot of variety. Oh, and at the very end, I found some very interesting slug in 10 feet of water, but as I was getting left behind by the team, I had to swim ahead to get Rob. Then I couldn't find it again :( I think it was some sort of Ancula, but I can't be sure.

Oh and there was also a decorated warbonnet that Rob found on the i-beams. That was cute. He was totally curled up and camouflaged, but his headdress was unmistakable when Rob pointed him out to me.

We basically swam in until we could stand up. After that we headed over to the little restaurant by the cove for some chowder. It reminded me of the Breakwater deli, except that the woman there was actually friendly to the divers :) Thanks to Scott and Jeanna for leading us on a fun dive.

After Scott posted his pictures from the dive, we found out that he had found a new-to-him nudibranch, Onchidoris bilamellata, that he hadn't shown to us (bad buddy!). We were a little bummed about that (and Lynne taunted us about it!).

All of the weekend's pictures are here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Marco's Pinnacle

On Sunday, Team Kitty decided to scooter out to Marco's Pinnacle. I have never been there, really. Well, I have passed it on my way to Great Pinnacle (or not on my way to Great Pinnacle, as the case may be), but it has never really been a destination. So we decided to go check it out. The nice thing is that even though it is a bit of a long scoot, it is shallow, and the route out is fairly shallow, so we could still get a decent amount of time on site. After negotiating all of that, we headed into the water, and off we went. I was leading, woohoo. The water was pretty green in the cove, which was not surprising based on what we saw the previous day. However, we also saw that it fairly quickly became blue, so we were hoping it would be blue out at Marco's. We dropped a little bit before the sand channel, and after the requisite dunking of the face in water (while Kevin video'd), we headed out.

The viz cleared up by the time we hit Hole in the Wall, but the water was still green. Then around Lone Metridium the water suddenly turned a lovely shade of blue. As I scootered through the kelp next to Lone Metridium, I was thinking how it looked almost tropical, but with kelp. It was a sunny day, so it was really bright. We meandered along the 80' depth contour, and eventually I started to get antsy, and wonder if every structure that I hit was Marco's :) We hit some sort of big structure right before it, but it wasn't shallow enough, so I kept going. Then we finally hit it, and it was really big, and came up shallow, so it was pretty unmistakable. Right where we hit it (on the northeast side), there were some nice hydrocoral shrubs. And the viz was quite incredible -- it was so blue and bright and clear! Since I had never been to the site before, I wanted to circle it, to see what was where, and where was the "nice part". So we circled around it counterclockwise. The west side is really not very pretty -- there is lots of palm kelp and it just isn't as colorful. Man is it a big pinnacle! About 3 minutes into the circumnavigation, I was pondering turning around... this side wasn't nearly as nice as the spot we first hit, and I had no idea when it would end! I eventually sort of cut over the top of the south end, and then before you know it, we were back to the east side, where there was hydrocoral.

For some strange reason, Rob stopped to take some pictures of some spindly looking chunks of hydrocoral. Kevin and I were sort of like... what the heck? there is much nicer hydrocoral over there! So Kevin grabbed Rob's manifold and gave him a little tow over to the nicer area, and Rob got that "ah-hah" look and started shooting away. Meanwhile I started poking around, looking for critters. The hydrocoral there was quite a population of cute little crabbies, trying to intimidate the divers with their tiny little claws. I also noticed a bunch of trilineatas on those white sponges with the brown crud on them. I've noticed that those sponges are a prime spot for trilineata peeping, so once I found some of the sponges, I kept an eye out for them, and quickly spotted a few. We also found several Dendronotus albus, which I had just been thinking about the day before (based on a conversation with Phil) that I hadn't seen any for a while. We saw at least 4, or various sizes. Even Kevin found a couple :)

After a nice long time at the site, we turned it on time (the plan was to leave at 70 minutes, at the latest). I could tell Rob wanted to renegotiate the plan (we were actually shallower than we had planned) but he could probably sense that I was cold and that wasn't going to happen :) So we headed back in, this time following the reef-sand interface instead of sticking exactly to the depth contour. Since the viz was so good, we were scootering near the top of the reef, and it was cool to look down the rubble to the sand in those spots where there is a significant drop. Eventually I saw this square-ish reef that seemed sort of Sea Mount-ish. Hmm. I decided to head south at that point, and if I hit a ridge, I would know it wasn't actually Sea Mount, and if I hit Hole in the Wall, then, well, I had apparently veered too far north :) Before you know it, I recognized the big rock just north of HITW, and was relieved to get my barings. Rob asked me what I was doing (I don't think he noticed Sea Mount, and was worried I was going to crash into the shallow rocks of Cannery Point :P). I gave him the "give me a minute" signal, and when we hit HITW, he admitted to my navigational supremacy :P From there we had an uneventful scoot in.

We had planned to do some drills for dive two. Beto was nice enough to loan us one of his little video cameras so we could be vain and video ourselves doing the drills. Rob put together a little summary video. I think putting up videos of yourself doing skills is generally pretty lame, but there is a funny non-skills part at the end. More about that later. We wanted to go out deep enough that we could go to 20 feet and not be able to see the bottom. So we scootered out to the end of the sand channel, and shot a bag from 70'. We clipped off the scoots, and headed up to 20'. We did some valve drills (my best mid-water valve drill ever, I think -- the boys even applauded when I was finished!) and some bottle rotations. I finally go the "snap" to whip the 80 cuft bottle around when I am moving it forward. I was inspired after watching Rob... he does it so violently, I realized I just need to commit to doing it, and not be afraid of bonking myself in the head and rocketing to the surface (or the bottom). So I gave it another try at the end and it went quite well. After a good set of drills we decided to head in. We dropped down and pulled the float, and then got ready to head in. Rob's scooter was on the verge of dying, and so was Kevin's (though through some breakdown in communication, Rob didn't get the memo on Kevin's scoot), so I kept all 3 bottles, and Kevin towed Rob for as long as his scooter would allow. Then they kicked while I scootered on and off to keep pace with them... no way am I kicking those 3 bottles around when I have a perfectly functional scooter in my hand! On the way in, Rob demonstrated his excellent situational awareness and Kevin demonstrated his excellent buddy skills. See the video for more details.

After diving we decided to high tail it out of there so we could drop tanks at Anywater. Actually Kevin dropped tanks while we took our time rinsing gear, and then we all met back at Casa de los Gatitos (hopefully I didn't just say something dirty in Spanish) for pizza and beer and video review.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ed Cooper's Wall

Friday we did a Team Kitty dive off of Phil's boat. Beto joined us as a kitty for the day. We had been hoping to target a spot near Ed Cooper's Wall, just outside of the Point Lobos boundary. But with all of the rain during the week, Beto reported earlier in the week that from the surface, the water was quite brown all over Lobos. So we figured we would try to make it to Yankee Point, or as a backup, the Outer Outer Pinnacles area. When we got to Lobos, there were little brown waterfalls at the south end of the cove, and the water was indeed a nasty shade of brownish-green. We headed out of the cove in the Yankee Point direction, to see if we could make it down there. At some point, the color of the water abruptly improved, and we decided our original site was worth a look. We found the spot and the water color looked fine, so we got geared up and flopped in. The period of time between pulling up to the site and heading down the line is mostly a haze, because I was feeling sort of seasick at that point... all I really remember was Phil bonking me in the knee with my deco bottle while gearing me up, and noting "that's going to leave a mark".

After dealing with a bubbly regulator, we headed down the line, right next to a narrow canyon that had been the target. Instead of heading down the canyon, we headed west down the wider canyon that runs perpendicular. The top of the canyon was a little deeper than 100', and the bottom was probably about 180' or so at the bottom (the top and bottom get deeper as you run west). Not too long after we started scooting down the channel, we ran into a gorgonian with a basket star on it, on the left hand side of the channel. What a treat! I have never seen one around here before. After briefly oohing and ahhing at the basket star, and posing for some pictures, we continued on, stopping every now and then so Rob could take some pictures. At one point we paused at a not-very-encrusted plateau, which I noticed had several of the red bumpy sponges that the Aldisa cooperi were on last weekend at Twin Peaks. I was looking for the slugs on the sponges, and just when I was about to tell Rob that these were the red bumpy sponges I had told him about, he pointed out an Aldisa he had found. It had an egg mass on the sponge next to it.

Other than that, the wall had lots of nooks with rockfish in them, most notably some treefish, Chinas, and vermilions. Canaries too, I think. The wall was generally covered with corynactis, with the occasional elephant ear or gorgonian. We eventually turned around and scootered back shallower. We briefly visited the narrow channel that had been the original target. It was really cool... very narrow and tall. We'll have to hit that another day. Near the end of the dive, we stopped to check out a treefish, and found a den with two wolf eels nearby. As we were hanging out in that spot, a tower of blue rockfish suddenly descended upon us. Sadly, it was time to start our ascent. We followed the reef shallower to about 90' and then Rob shot a bag and we started our drift. On the deep stops, there was a gang of chestnut cowries on the reef -- they seemed to be everywhere! It was weird. We had a pretty uneventful deco.

When we got back to the surface, Phil had a treat for us -- he had built this little ladder made of metal rings welded together, that he flopped over the side for a trial run. It was definitely easier than no ladder, but still a little unstable. I think Phil got some ideas for LadderV2, which I look forward to trying out next time. We had lunch at our usual Friday spot, Siamese Bay. After that, we reviewed some footage that Kevin took during the dive. I have to admit, I had no idea Kevin was filming during the dive... when we were on the boat pulling up to the site, he was saying that he didn't know if he was going to bother hooking up the camera. I never noticed him actually doing it, and I couldn't figure out why he was scootering around us during deco :)