It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sur 20

Saturday was the second Big Sur Banks trip of the year. After a bit of back and forth about where to go, we ended up going to Sur 20. We went there last year, but due to a slipped anchor and insane current, we ended up spending about 12 minutes of a single dive on the site, rather than the planned two 25 minutes dives. Like last trip, the dive teams were organized into two shifts, with one shift doing two shorter dives, and one shift doing one long dive. We were on the one long dive shift, so we were slated to get into the water second. That's nice, because it means I don't have to be bothered by pesky details like getting dressed, etc. on the way down.

The surface conditions were not as good as the last trip, in a variety of ways. First, the swell forecast didn't look so great as the weekend approached. And I think it was supposed to be building throughout the day. All in all, not the forecast you want for a trip to Big Sur. It was also foggy on the way down. When we first got down there (I slept for half of the boat ride, woohoo), it was really foggy. Too foggy for the planned drift deco. So the teams on the first shift decided to try to wait it out and if it hadn't improved in a half hour, we would head closer to shore in search of a less foggy patch. Before the half hour had passed, the fogged had cleared substantially, so they got into the water. They were dropped upcurrent of the down line, and drifted to the float. The current did not appear to be too substantial. When their bag appeared, again the current didn't look too substantial. For a while they were probably within 150 feet of the float and then at some point the drift did seem to pick up a bit and they got a bit further away.

When they got back from the dive, they reported a thick layer of bad viz down to about 80 feet, and very dark, somewhat murky water on the bottom. Viz did open up, they said, to 30 or 40 feet, but it was very dark. They also said it was surgy, which I sort of discounted as whining. How surgy could it really be at 150 feet? :) We got geared up and into the water without too much drama, and headed down the water. The viz was not good in the shallows, but not quite as bad as I was imagining based on Clinton's description. Somewhere around 100 feet, we lost the line. I really don't know how that happened. Kevin and I were on opposite sides of it and I was watching it intently because of the murky darkness. Kevin went to shift positions, and I was briefly blinded by his light and when I could see again, the line was gone. I guess the rest of the team assumed I still had the line, so by the time I made it clear that I didn't, it was gone. It seemed like we had hit some current (which was why, I guess, Kevin was moving in the first place), so we headed to the bottom as quickly as our ears would allow, planning to search from there. We dropped onto sand, and I felt like there was a big current right after dropping -- I had to stay on the trigger to maintain position. Then it switched directions. Hmm, not current. Huge surge. I guess the other team wasn't just being dramatic when they complained of surge :)

We quickly found a structure and then found Beto and Karl, so we knew it was actually the structure we were looking for. The surge was really quite amazing. There was a long period swell, and I guess only the really big sets would cause surge at that depth, so basically every couple minutes we would have a period of huge surge, like pick you up and drop you 20 feet from where you started. But the lulls inbetween were reasonably calm. Surge is annoying, but surge when I am near big heads of pristine hydrocoral is actually pretty stressful to me. I was just trying to stay far enough away to avoid any contact. We first did a circle around the base of the pinnacle. I saw a couple of vase sponges near the bottom. There were not a lot of fish. Often times fish will congregate at the bottom of a pinnacle like this, but not today. There was a reasonably-sized school of blue rockfish hanging out on one peak of the pinnacle, but you had to be pretty close to them to notice them, since it was dark. The viz was probably 30 to 40 feet, but very dark. Definitely a completely different scene than the last Big Sur trip, where we had tropical-like viz and brightness. After circling around we came back to the big crack in the middle of the pinnacle. We hung out there for a little while, during a period of calm. Being in the crack when the surge came through was... exciting :)

We eventually made our way to the top of the pinnacle where the nice big piece of hydrocoral live. The surge made posing for pictures basically useless. Before the dive, Rob had asked me to get closer than usual to the hydrocoral for some different shots, but I decided today was not the day for that. Instead, I just hung out in the general area and if Rob wanted to set up a shot involving me, that was up to him :) Rob was pretty displeased with the conditions from a photo standpoint, but I think his hydrocoral pictures turned out really well. No, they aren't on a bright blue background, but those are the conditions we were dealt. I think that the hydrocoral at this site is not as nice as Sur19. They both have really big impressive heads of hydrocoral, but at Sur 19 the top is mostly big pretty hydrocoral, whereas here it seemed to be interspersed with the small less impressive magenta hydrocoral (what I like to call "ugly hydrocoral"). It doesn't seem as much like fields of giant hydrocoral.

Beto told us about a swimthrough near the base of the pinnacle, which we somehow managed to miss on the first run around it. But after spending some time at the top, we headed back down the side of the pinnacle and around it again. This time we found the swimthrough, which was fun to scooter through. There is a big wide vase sponge growing in the swimthrough, which was the nicest vase sponge I saw on this dive. I was expecting the swimthrough to be an arch or something, but actually it isn't completely closed at the top -- there are two walls that just come close enough together that you can't get between them higher up. When I came out of it I considered posing at the mouth for a picture, but I didn't want to linger there for too long, to avoid getting bashed around if the surge returned. As the end of our bottom time neared, we headed to the north peak of the pinnacle, where we had agreed to meet up with the other team to start our drift. The other team shot their bag a couple minutes early so we decided to follow suit. I guess they had had enough :)

The drift was pretty uneventful we briefly got entangled with the downline but then managed to essentially drift out of it without much intervention. We came across the other team again around 70' but after a couple more stops we lost them again (they were probably there all along, but the viz deteriorated as we got shallower). There were lots of interesting jelly animals in the water, including, of course, a really cool one at 75' while we were at our 70' stop, that Rob so wanted to take a picture of :) The site was not quite as deep at the bottom as we had expected, so we negotiated a slightly reduced deco schedule on the way up. When we got to the surface, we saw the boat but couldn't see the other team's bag. Then we realized that they were on the other side of the boat, being picked up. We squabbled about whether to wait to be picked up or to scooter over to the boat. We finally decided to scooter over and then the boat headed toward us, of course. I got back on the boat in a slightly less than graceful manner (have I mentioned that the Cypress Sea swimstep is my arch-nemesis?).

After we got out of our gear, the other shift of divers got geared up for their second dive. Clinton managed to catch his light cord on the gate as he jumped off the boat, which caused a, shall we say, catastrophic light failure. So he got back on the boat and we quickly swapped in a new light (I loaned him mine; in hindsight it might not be the smartest thing to lend a light to someone who just destroyed their light in such a dramatic fashion. But he brought it back in one piece.) By the time their dive was over, it had gotten a bit foggy and overcast again. The ride back was pretty smooth, which wasn't what I was expecting based on the forecast. There were no bumps big enough to remove me from my seat. I was very sleepy and really wanted to nap on the deck, but it was so cold and foggy outside that that did not seem pleasant. I love how the deck gets hot when the sun is out -- perfect napping platform.

No comments: