It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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.

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