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Me diving

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Big Sur Banks

On Saturday we did our first Big Sur trip of the season -- the trip we'd all been looking forward to since last year's Big Sur trips :) And planning for nearly that long, it seems. Luckily, Beto and Rob did most of the planning, so I mostly just had to agree to a profile and show up :) Last year, I was endlessly stressing about the trips beforehand, but this year it just sort of snuck up on me (for a variety of reasons -- too busy at work, too many other things to stress about, etc.). I think it was better this way! Last year each team did two dives, in two shifts, so the schedule was really tight. This year, we changed it up a bit and two of the teams (one shift) did 2 shorter dives, and one did one longer dive. With 3 dives instead of 4, the schedule was a bit more relaxed. The boat was also a little less crowded, especially because fewer total dives meant fewer bottles and sets of doubles. So overall the trip just seemed a lot easier than last year. Leading up to the day of the dive, there was some doomsday talk about the swell forecast. I have mostly stopped looking at the forecast -- either way, we were going to Monterey to see how it turned out. As far as I can tell, obsessing about how bad the conditions will be doesn't actually affect the sea state, so why bother? I guess it's a way to pass the time during that 5-day surface interval that we call the workweek.

We loaded the boat on Friday evening and stayed the night in Monterey, so the 6 AM departure time didn't seem as horrible as I remembered/imagined it. It was overcast and hazy, but the surface visibility looked good (some of the doomsday predictions involved fog). We headed out, and it was actually slightly punishing as we turned Point Pinos. But then it calmed down, for a pretty nice ride down, during which I pretended to sleep and eventually gave up and sat in the wheelhouse, where John and Matt kept me warm. Since I wasn't diving until the second shift, I wasn't bothered with the details of dressing or gearing up on the way down. Once we got down to Sur19, Phil set up the downline, and we (the shift 2 divers) helped the divers into their gear and into the water. And then we got to watch as they tried to drift into and not past the line. All were successful and down they went. We waited for a while, and I carefully timed getting dressed and sealing myself into my non-p-valve-enabled drysuit (there's a p-valve, it just wasn't enabled :P). Before you know it, bags were up. And then more bags were up... not one but two bags got eaten by the down line, and had to be abandoned. Hehe. When the first shift of divers were recovered, they seemed way less excited than they should have been about the dive, even though they reported little (on the descent) to no (on the bottom) current and about 70' of viz. I didn't really get the seeming nonchalance about the dive, but both of those things sounded great to me!

We got geared up and hopped into the water. I used to be really terrified about the leap from the Cypress Sea, but for some reason it seemed much less spectacular than I remembered it. That was a relief. In the past we have jumped off the side and then swam back to the swimstep to get our scoots. We asked the crew to instead just lower (or throw :P) the scoots down to us as we jumped. I thought this worked out really well and was much more efficient, though one member of the team was a whiny bitch about it. We met up at the line, and headed down once everyone was accounted for. The current on the way down did not seem too substantial. We passed some jelly critters on the way down, including a reasonably cool salp chain, which I paused to look at. When we first got to the bottom, I realized that something just didn't feel right about my rig. It was digging into my bag in various spots and was totally uncomfortable. I think this is because the 120s are too tall for me to comfortably get into on the Cypress Sea -- I need a booster seat! (On the Escapade, there is that little channel that the tanks sit in, and with that, the height is just perfect.) So my harness waist strap wasn't tight enough and it was sort of sagging in a funny position. After wrestling my harness into a better position, and wiggling my Argon bottle around a little so it wasn't digging into my ribs, we were off! The viz was amazing. Not only could we see ridiculously far, but it was really bright. Bright warm water blue at 130'. This was a big contrast to the conditions last year, where even with good viz, it was quite dark.

With the incredible viz, we could see a landscape covered with hydrocoral stretching in all directions. And fish, so many fish. There was a huge school of blue rockfish, which at points appeared like a wall of fish, crammed nose to tail. There were also various little schools of juvenile rockfish atop the hydrocoral bushes. It totally reminded me of a warm water reef, where there is a cluster of little tropical fish above a coralhead. Actually it reminded me of Finding Nemo :) We also encountered quite a few lingcods, from scrawny small to lingzilla-sized. We basically meandered from patch to patch of jumbo-sized hydrocoral. Rob posed me behind a variety of specimens. We eventually ran into the other team. Looking in Beto's general direction was painful, because of his ridiculously high-powered headlights. At some point he signalled me to scooter toward the camera, and I just tried to avoid looking directly at them. Then he and Rob did that cute little video-stills thing that videographers and photographers like to do, where they point their cameras at each other and each get a picture of the other doing their craft. We were on the long-dive shift, so we got a luxurious 45 minute bottom time. This seemed luxurious for the first 25 minutes, but then the last 20 went by in a flash. It's easy to lose track of time in such awesome conditions.

At the appointed time, both teams shot bags and began the drift. When we first left the pinnacle we were so close to the other team that we literally had to swim away to avoid bag entanglement. But after a few stops we had drifted apart a bit. The deco was pretty uneventful. I totally biffed the bag shoot, and my punishment for that was that Rob took the spool and manned the spool for the rest of the deco. I don't really see what part of this is punishment, but I wasn't complaining :P I was freezing for the first few stops. It must have warmed up a bit in the shallower water. It was also quite a bit more murky shallower. I didn't think the viz was particularly bad on the shallow stops, but from about 60 feet looking up, I could see a brown layer above us. But when you are comparing to 100-foot-ish viz, I guess the comparatively murky water was still pretty nice. There were a variety of deco critters in the water, including those sea beans (pelagic tunicates, or so claims Clinton) we saw a couple weeks earlier. They are entertaining since you can harrass them with your fingertip. Whatever passes the time :)

We finally got to the surface after what seemed like forever, but in normal human time was about 50 minutes. I think the deco was probably overkill -- we planned for a 140' dive, but our average depth was less than 130'. But there seemed to be no point in negotiating a new deco profile to shave 5 minutes, especially considering the nice conditions. Plus long deco hangs are good practice for our big dive to (insert big dive of choice here... some of Rob and Kevin's favorites include "Doria", "Britannic", "Portuguese Ledge", ... hehehe). When we got back to the surface, the boat was already picking up the other team. You know you are a deco weenie when Beto's team makes it to the surface first :P When it was our turn, as usual, I pushed the boys out of the way and told them I was boarding first due to bladder constraints. I was impressed with myself when I managed to both pull myself onto the swimstep and onto my knees under my own power, and then stand up from that position under my own power (after the deck hand took my fins off of course :P). Corey totally burst that bubble when he told me they lowered the swimstep for us before the trip!

After back on the boat, I scrounged for sugary foods and drink with a crazed look on my face, as is typical after a long cold dive. I finally found the hot chocolate mix -- phew. The first shift decided to stay at the current spot, so we helped them into their gear and got them back into the water. Then we just hung out for the duration of their dive. It was a great day to be out on the water -- the sun had come out, and it was nice and calm. Calm enough to sit at anchor without wanting to barf (Rob might not agree with that assessment). The ride back was similarly calm. Around Carmel, I headed back to the deck and took a nap on the deck. It was great! I should have spent the whole ride back out there. We got back shockingly early (around 4:15), I guess due to the 3-dive schedule. Then we headed over to Cynthia's for some delicious lasagna. And wine. We stayed over on Saturday night, and after breakfast at First Awakenings and a quick swing through the Aquarium (the current nudibranchs are not too exciting), we headed home.

All of the trip's pictures are here.

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