It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, April 25, 2009

BAUE Project Fair

On Saturday, BAUE had a little get together at Point Lobos. We used the date to work on some of the skills for our annual projects. The day started out with an overview by Rob of the main dive sites in kicking distance at Lobos and the major landmarks. Then we split up into groups -- I was working on nudibranch survey, but there was also a group working on survey techniques, photo and video groups, and a group doing an orientation dive at Lobos. I made some neat little underwater nudibranch picture books for the new nudi-philes, which included tips for how to distinguish the similar-looking species. This was actually a pretty useful exercise, since a lot of the species I can distinguish myself, but have difficulty putting the difference into words for someone who can't (other than "they just look different"). It was also painful and reminded me that the guy who designed figure placement in Microsoft Word is a truly evil person.

Anyhoo, after a review of the transect areas, the survey protocol, and a discussion of the more common species that we see on the transects, we split into teams and headed into the water. I was diving with Nils, and Clinton was diving with Nathalie. John and Mike were planning to tag along, at least to start, to get some pictures. I was diving a single tank, which is the first time in forever I have done that other than for a night dive. It was wonderful. I'm a convert. For the first dive, we headed out to transects 1 and 2. Clinton and I counted, while our buddies identified (from the picture book) all of the slugs that we found. I pretty much saw the usual suspects, though there was a surprising lack of Cadlinas. There were lots of Tritonias (not just on the transects, but out and about on the reef) and several Berthellas, who were all very cleverly hiding their rhinophores from Nils. Once we finished the transects, we just took a leisurely swim back along the reef, pointing out any interesting nudis that we found. We saw a bunch of Limacias. We stopped by the wolf eels' den, but they were not in. Eventually I turned the dive on gas (Nils was packing doubles and a stage to make up for my single-tanked-ness). We headed back to the worm patch, and I quickly got to work looking for a trilineata -- I was hoping to find one to point out to Nils, and the worm patch seems to be the money spot for them. I found one, showed it to him, and then we headed up.

After lunch, the photo and video boys gave us some tips to look grood as photo/video models. Among the bits of advice were not to wear flaming bright drysuits (oops) and bright blue gloves (oops). For dive 2, we stuck with our original teams, but flipped who was counting. Nils looked for and identified the slugs, and I recorded them. Since we didn't get to stop and see the warbonnet on the first dive, I suggested we do transect 4. I knew I would regret that, since it is often comparatively devoid of slugs, and on the first dive I had notice that transect 5 was oozing slugs. And of course we saw very few slugs on that transect. But I did find the warbonnet. We planned to hop over to the east side of the reef after the counting was complete. On the way over, in the crack next to transect 4, I found another warbonnet. He was little, even by warbonnet standards. I am hopeful that I can find him again, assuming that is his permanent lair. On the east side of middle reef, we saw more of the usual suspects. I found a cute, muppet-like fish, which we think was a brown Irish lord. I eventually turned the dive on cold. We headed back to the worm patch, where I found another trilineata, and Nils found a Hermissenda and a Triopha catalinae. Then we headed up.

After that, we killed some more time at Lobos before heading to Siamese Bay for dinner. Yum yum.

All of the pictures from the day are here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cold, Clear Water

Saturday was the April installment of the BAUE tech boat. It seemed like it had been ages since I'd been on the Escapade, but really it was only two months. The boat was so popular that it was split into two installments, morning and afternoon. Since the lowly T1 divers had been relegated to the afternoon boat last time, we got the morning boat this time around. There were only 5 of us on the boat, so it was quite comfortable on the boat. The swell forecast looked really good throughout the week, so we were hopeful that we could get far south. However, it was a bit foggy out, which we were a little concerned about. However, by the time we got down to Carmel, the fog had lifted. It was a bit sportier than I was expecting though. But nothing too bad -- we still made it down to the Yankee Point area, to the vicinity of "Dos Gatos", the site we went to in February.

We had been itching to get back there, mostly because the bathymetry showed so much more to explore. And also because Kevin had missed the dive in February. When we got there, Jim warned us that due to the wind, he couldn't really tell what the current was doing. We hopped into the water, which was incredibly blue and clear. I could see the line, and I could see that it was pretty much completely vertical -- nice. We headed over to the line and paused at 20' for a bubble check. As soon as we left 20', I could make out the reef below. I was thinking we must be on the wrong site, because the pinnacle was supposed to top around 100'. It did top at 100', but the viz was just that good. When we got to the bottom, it seemed like we could see forever. We could see the ripples on the surface from 150'! We got down to the pinnacle, and I had to make an executive decision about where to go (since I was leading). I was a bit perplexed. The depth of the pinnacle top suggested we were on the first (west-most) peak, but the slope at the bottom of the pinnacle was all wrong. Rob had mentioned that there was some structure south of the pinnacles we were on last time, so I was wondering if that was where we were. Given the crazy good viz, it seemed like a good day to cover some ground and try to get the lay of the land. So off we went, in the north-ish direction. Actually once we were headed north, I just sort of meandered based on where I could see structure.

The first spot that we landed on was a ridge from about 150 feet down to 180-ish feet, that ran roughly east-west. It had a lot of elephant ears on the top. We hung out there for a little while, and Rob took some pictures. Then we continued on to a structure I could see in the distance, to the east or northeast. We found another biggish pinnacle off in that area, and we paused there. After poking around a little while, we continued on to the west. I felt bad that we were spending so much time on the trigger so Rob couldn't take many pics, but I figured that is really the only way to get the lay of the land. We eventually found a small ridge to the west, but it was pretty deep. It topped at 160 to 170 feet. There was another bigger structure off further to the west, but I decided it was time to head back. There were two things I noticed, critter-wise, on the dive. First, there were tons of cream/light yellowed colored slugs around. I think they were Geitodoris heathi. Back on the boat after the dive, John mentioned that he had seen a ton of them as well. The second thing I noticed was a bunch of sponges (I guess) that were light yellow to white in color and had an interesting texture. Anyhoo, we headed back to the start point. Since we had been meandering here and there, I decided to just kind of average the headings out and try to head straight back. As a result, the trek back was over deeper water, with lots of little pinnacles and boulders topping at around 160 to 170 feet. I could tell Rob was nervous that I was completely lost, and he gave me a big "phew" gesture when we finally saw the pinnacle where we had started.

We had a few more minutes before it was time to call it, so we hung out there for the remainder. I was getting pretty cold by that point -- my computer showed 44 degrees! A few minutes later, thumbed it, and we headed up along the pinnacle and then left it to drift. We saw Matt and John head up a couple minutes before us, and could see them for the rest of the drift. At our first or second deep stop, Rob, who was running deco, started gesticulating in some cryptic manner. Eventually we managed to determine that he was saying that the exhaust valve on his drysuit was leaking. Then he handed off running deco to me. At first I thought he was just doing that to screw with me, but eventually I figured out he was not. We spent the rest of the deco watching Rob contort himself in attempts to keep the leak at bay. I'm not sure how successful that was. I was really cold myself, and couldn't imagine having a significant leak in this cold water. Rob, however, has a finely honed ability to withstand leaky drysuits, which has come from years of diving in poorly maintained suits (he's a masochist). This was his "dry" suit though, which he reserves for boat dives and the like with cold deco hangs. When we got to 20 feet, Kevin took Rob's scooter, to make the contortions easier on him. Then he offered to take his camera, and I had to laugh when Rob hugged his camera and gave Kevin a "yea right" look.

When we finally hit the surface, Rob scurried to the ladder and got back onto the boat and out of his suit. Meanwhile Kevin and I took our time bobbing on the surface in the slightly sportier conditions. The waves seemed to come in sets, with periods where I was just hanging onto the line, thinking how the Escapade looked like a toy bouncing around on top of the waves. But eventually there were enough lulls to pass up each piece of my gear and scurry up the ladder (while being heckled by a certain crew member for my slowness). It was just a harrowing experience. I was glad to find that Kevin thought it was a harrowing experience too, and it wasn't just me :) The fog had returned, and it was surprisingly foggy on the ride home. We couldn't see land for the longest time and it seemed like we were going forever, without any reference as to where we were, until we were in the bay. Rob made a speedy recovery and was back to eating Cheetos before we even made it past Lobos. Check out the picture above to see the nature of the valve failure.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Skills and Quick Lobos Tour

Our plan for Saturday had originally been to do a fun dive at Lobos, followed by a skills dive. For some reason I wasn't feeling like I was going to have the energy to do a skills dive after the fun was finished, so we decided to do the skills dive first, and then the fun dive (depending on conditions). So we schlepped all of the gear into the water (it was quite a lot of gear, since we wanted to practice ascents with bottles switched, which meant we each needed a distinct set of bottles), and scootered out to 50 or 60 feet. We put up a line and then we practiced a few ascents. The practice did not go as well as we had hoped, but after about 60 minutes we decided we had had enough. The water was surprisingly "warm" at 51 Tec2g degrees, so we decided to just go for a fun dive straight from there, rather than schlep back in and do a surface interval.

We decided to do a little tour of the left side of Lobos. The plan as to hit Lone Metridium, the Sisters, and Beto's. The viz was about average -- the water was quite blue and it was really bright, but there was a bit of particulate in the water. After a fly-by of Lone Metridium, we headed out to the first sister. We perused that for a bit. My back was bothering me (seems to be standard for scootering with many bottles), so from there we headed homeward instead of going to the other sisters. Rob was also kind enough to relieve me of one of my bottles :) We hit Beto's and then stopped at the wolf eel to say hello. From there, we kicked around a little in that area. We noticed a lingcod guarding his eggs along the vertical crack right by the wolf eel. We swam a bit north from there, and unsuccessfully looked for the resident warbonnet. While looking around there I did find a really "big" Diaphorodoris lirulatocauda. Well, big for that species. After a little while, we decided to head in.

No pictures, due to the last minute change of plans.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

'Branching at the Aquarium

Since the conditions were so bad at the Breakwater, we decided to hit the Aquarium in the afternoon, in hopes of actually seeing something interesting. We got there about 45 minutes before closing, so we just had time to hit our favorite spots. It turned out to be quite a treat. The water was hazy, from the crappy water being pulled in from the bay. It was the haziest I have ever seen the water there. But that did not deter us from scouring the tanks for nudibranchs. They have a couple of tanks that are supposed to have nudibranchs including a dedicated nudibranch tank (which is pretty new, it's near the penguins upstairs), but they often appear in other tanks as well. So we are always looking around just in case. The best find was in the skeleton shrimp tank, where we found a pair of Polycera atra. I've only seen one ever before, so that was exciting. We also found Spanish shawls in that tanks as well as in the pier pilings tank. The dedicated nudibranch tank was full of nudis. It seems to be quite variable in terms of both the number and species in there. Today they had several Dirona picta, which I have never seen before. There were also tons of Dorids in there.

We also visited the Melibe exhibit, and the Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers in the tank nearby. I think they are the cutest animals at the aquarium, even cuter than the sea otters! Speaking of otters, I was delighted to find a tiny cat-toy-sized stuffed sea otter at the gift shop. Pepper was quite pleased with the selection. Unfortunately Oreo only likes tiny toys, so she's not really a fan.

Really Bad Viz

Saturday and Sunday, we were supposed to be videoing for a Fundies class at the Breakwater. The viz was incredibly bad, however, which resulted in the dives being called early on both days. It was particularly unpleasant when we first dropped down to setup the line course. Once we had the line in, it wasn't so bad, since at least we had that to follow :) By the time I was up for video'ing, the viz was so bad on the bottom that I gave up even attempting to video. I was able to video the ascents, however, since it got progressively better as we got shallower. From about 20' up, it was definitely video'able. Sunday we looked at Monastery and CRB but decided not to dive based on the conditions. That was too bad, since the viz looked way better on the Carmel side. When we went in to setup the line on Sunday, we were quite enthusiastic about how much better the viz. I would guess it was about 8', which is really plenty of viz for a class on a line. We got to the surface and met up with Beto and the students and told them the good news. By the time everyone got situated and we made it down to the bottom, the swampy less than 5' viz had engulfed the spot we were on. Hmph. We called it early, and the class had to be postponed to a later date.

Rob and I decided to swim in underwater after we finished on Sunday. There turned out to be really good viz (until we silted it out), from about 15' in. While we were swimming along, goofing off over the sand, I saw a little plume of sand which I couldn't identify the source of. Rob later told me there was a pacific electric ray that I had scared from the sand. Unfortunately I totally missed it! There were also lots of those little olive snails out mating in the sand. That was literally all there was to report.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Small Boat, Big Seas

On Friday, we had plans to dive from Phil's boat. The swell forecast was not looking too promising, thought luckily I was busy enough that I didn't get around to looking at it until a fellow Kitty sent it to me on Thursday. So at least I didn't spend the week fretting about it. Both the wind and the swell forecasts were not very encouraging -- something like 10 to 11 foot swell, and 20 to 30 knot winds. But we were undeterred. Rob has been wanting to dive E3/Deep E3 (both in one dive, via scooter) for a while, but it's always the backup. So we were thinking we might finally end up going there (as Rob says, "Phil can always make it to E3"). We pulled in at 8-ish, just behind Phil. The conditions in/around the cove looked a bit sloshy. I disappeared to the bathroom, and when I returned, everyone was gone. I figured they were up on the hill, scrutinizing the conditions. Indeed they were, and it was super windy up there. Phil told us E3 was a no-go. Eek. He drew an imaginary line from where we were to Cypress Point and told us we could only dive to the right of the line. We asked about Outer Outer Pinnacles, but apparently that was on the wrong side of the line. So after scrounging around in our various GPS units, we came up with a list of three possible sites -- Montana and two sites we'd never dived before (one that Phil had, one that I think Rob pulled from the bathymetry maps).

So we headed out in search of Phil's spot, or wherever we happened to end up. The swells were big, but it wasn't too choppy, so it really didn't make me want to barf. However, I did contemplate the fact that the ocean is very big, and the boat is very small. I asked Phil if there was a small craft advisory and he laughed at me. I was sitting quietly in my little corner of the boat, trying to stay in my happy place, and I really couldn't hear what the boys were talking about (had the 12mm Otter Bay artillery helmet on). The next thing you know, Phil tells me we have crossed the line of demarcation and was that alright with me. We were headed to Outer Outer Pinnacles. Woohoo. In our zeal to get in the water, we dropped the hook at a different anchorage than usual. I think we were southeast of the usual anchorage. We dropped on a structure in about 130 feet of water, but as we headed southwest, we had to go over sand for some time before making it to the usual area. As we passed a little pinnaclet in the sand, I slowed down when I saw the trilineata sponge, to look for slugs. I didn't see any, and Rob and Kevin were still on the trigger, so I continued on. Just as I started to go, I did a double take -- there was a Tochuina tetraquetra. I waited for the boys to realize I had detached, and signaled for them to come back. Then it took me a moment to find the slug, worried briefly that it was a hallucination (you could only really see it from one direction).

After that, we continued across the sand and eventually found a ridge running north-south, that had a little sand channel at the bottom, and a little rock ledge running down the center of the channel. On that ledge was a vase sponge, which Rob started taking some shots of. There was another much less attractive vase sponge (it had furry brown-ness on it) nearby on the main ridge. This area looked very similar to the ridge where we first saw vase sponges at OOP, and I wondered if it was a continuation of that same ridge. After that, we continued on and eventually found our way to another familiar spot, which we had been to on that same first dive at OOP. I had just come to the conclusion that it was probably the same spot, when I saw a starry rockfish. I had seen one in that same spot before, so he must be a resident. I showed him to Rob as he backed into a little overhang. This spot was at the end of a channel between two walls, and we headed down that channel. The last time we were here, we had gone the other direction, so this was new to us. At this point we were heading north, the direction that we had planned to head before starting our ascent. We stopped and poked around on the two walls of the channel, and Kevin posed for some pictures with Rob. Eventually we continued north, and ended up crossing a rubble field, a small patch of reef, and another rubble field. Eventually we came to a small pinnacle in about 120' with palm kelp, which remind me a lot of some of the stuff over by the pinnacles (which makes sense, since we were headed that way).

We considered whether to hang out in this area for a few more minutes, but I decided to thumb it, since it was cold, and we had that chilly deco hang ahead of us. Brrr, it was chilly. The deco was fairly uneventful. There was a small bag shoot malfunction that resulted in two bags being shot, with Rob and Kevin each sailing along on a spool. At 20', I found a really cool shrimp (I guess) hanging in the water -- it had really long legs. It was very odd, definitely the highlight of the deco :) Getting back on the boat was a bit of an ordeal. Or rather, bobbing in the water while we waited to take turns sprinting over to the boat to offload gear was the truly harrowing experience. After what seemed like forever bobbing around in the big waves, it was my turn to reboard the boat. Or rather to be reboarded by Phil and Rob :) I was sad to see that Phil hadn't brought his neat little ladder contraption along, though I admitted to him that I wouldn't have wanted to take my fins off to climb the ladder in those conditions. The ride back was uneventful. Phil had the land the boat on the trailer -- the big swell and low tide made it a bit dicey.

Wow, just thinking about those big waves while I write this is making me feel a little seasick.