It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, March 29, 2010

C1 Class Summary

Considering what an epic story this series of posts turned out to be, I felt like I had to summarize (for those of you who skimmed/skipped the other posts :P). I guess I will summarize it as follows. I am glad we did it in Florida. I now have no anxiety about going back to Florida and diving in a high flow system, and also no anxiety about diving in Mexico (although the entry into Temple of Doom sounds terrifying). If I had trained in MX, I know I would have still been really scared of diving in the flow in FL. So I guess this allowed me to get all of the anxiety out of my system in one trip.

And Oleg was a great teammate. We knew we were taking a risk when we signed up without a third teammate, but we got really lucky!

And of course, I would highly recommend David as an instructor. Even though I made up the part about the action figure.

Thanks to David, Doug, Oleg, and I guess Rob for a great class.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Post-Class Day 2: Ginnie Springs

For our last dive day of the trip, we went back to Ginnie Springs. Since we had to get our gear back to EE and take care of a few other things, we decided to just do a couple of dives in the morning. We had to get gas, so we ended up getting to Ginnie pretty late (maybe around 11). Of course by then the parking situation was quite different than it had been during the week in the early morning. So we parked by the entrance to the water by Little Devil's. The picnic tables were all in use, but the friendly chaps next to us cleared space for us on one of the tables they were using. We got geared up and into the water, and swam over to the Eye. Oleg was leading and said that he preferred that entrance. On the first dive, we made it quite a bit further in than we had on any previous dives. We turned right at the 800 foot arrow. By that point, the flow seemed to have lessened, so it was finally a bit more comfortable to actually swim instead of pulling and gliding. The tunnel also got a bit more round, which I thought was pretty neat looking. We were just about to swim through an archway created by a pillar that drops down from the ceiling when we turned it. On the way out, we basically just coasted with the flow, taking in the scenery. I finally noticed the stratified clay in the junction room which Rob had mentioned to me earlier. It was very colorful, like an oil slick, but in layers. At the little room at 30 feet, there was quite the little family of O2 bottles :)

When we got to the surface, Rob had a raging headache. Serves him right for eschewing the 30/30 to prove his manliness. We hung out on the surface for a little while. We decided it was time to dive again when we saw an open water class of about 20 people about to descend on the spring. On the second dive, we just made it to the Keyhole before turning. The exit through the eye (with the reel) was a bit more civilized than through the ear. I still like the spitting out effect of the ear though :) When we got out of the water, the team at the table next to us was back from their dive(s) and they were nice enough to get a final picture of the team, all geared up (okay, I took my hood off before I realized it was picture time). We packed up our gear, for the last time. I was sad, but I told Rob that if we had been staying any longer, I probably would have needed a day off from diving. I was pretty pooped.

We returned the tanks to EE and Rob got measured for a drysuit (which took forever, but hopefully that's worth it in terms of a suit that fits well). Then we went to David's for dinner. A variety of meats were grilled (Rob played the part of grillmaster). And at the end of the night, we sampled some of David's moonshine. Teehee. I really wanted to kidnap Bella, but decided that I probably shouldn't, since David has the power to pull my C1 card :) Here's a picture of the little princess. Awww.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Post-Class Day 1: Peacock Springs

We went back to Peacock on Saturday. In the morning, we went to Orange Grove. Near there parking area there is a "recycling toilet" that uses no chemicals or water (according to the sign in there). It is like an outhouse with composting facilities under the building. I thought the concept was pretty cool, though I'm sure in 30 years it will turn out to be horribly bad for the environment in some unforeseen way. The walk to the water from our car seemed a bit long, but that may have been more about it being the 7th day straight of diving the beasts (plus we took it easy and didn't get there super early, so we didn't have the best parking spot). The basin was quite green with lots of duckweed (which I prefer to refer to as "gillyweed") on top and green tree snot hanging in the water. The basin is pretty cool -- it looks like a tree cemetary with all these tree branches laying at crazy angles. Very Tim Burton.

I was leading the dive and a bit worried about figuring out where to go, but there were two other reels already installed to give me a hint :) Those tree branches make very convenient tie-off points. We swam into a little hole and we were off. This site was very archy. I felt like we were swimming through a southwestern desert because of the orangy-brown walls. (My handwritten journal says it was like swimming through a southwestern dessert, but that's not how I remember it :P) My favorite part of this dive was right before we turned it (at the 800 line arrow), the line abruptly turns right and goes through a tall narrow zig-zaggy passage, which reminded me of a fun house/haunted house. There was just a little flow here, so our exit was pretty leisurely. We did a second dive after a short surface interval. I was really hoping to make it to the funhouse again, but of course we didn't come close. I also liked this site because I saw lots of crayfish. Those albino crayfish were like reverse-video crayfish with their bright white shells on a red-brown backdrop. As we were exiting the water, Oleg was dilly-dallying with his fins, so I decided to have a seat on the bench at the top of the stairs. Boy was that a mistake, as I couldn't get back up without a good tug from Rob. Not my finest hour.

We then relocated to Peacock 1 after eating lunch (we stopped for sandwiches at the Luraville Country Store... good sandwiches). It was not too crowded at this time of day. We took the line to the left (which we later learned was called the Peanut line). Rob put in the reel. The main line comes out ridiculously close to open water, but Rob said he wanted some reel practice (I think he just wanted to demonstrate his superiority to us) so he ran it much further in, but not quite to the sign. I thought it strange that the line is so far out and the sign so far in. Anyhoo, this site was cool -- for a while it is like you are swimming under overpasses that are (in cross section) like wide flat rectangles. Between the overpasses the ceiling opens up higher. Under the "overpasses" you can look up and see pools of bubbles. There was some flow, which was strongest in this area. When you get to the end, it opens into a very high ceiling'd room, which is a neat contrast. Later on, there is a path with tall walls that feels very canyon-y. There were also a lot of ups and downs, which reminded me of a roller coaster (a weenie roller coaster, like Hershey Park's Trailblazer). We made it past the 1100 ft line arrow before turning it. On the way out, while riding the mild flow, I pondered the concept of being 30 minutes into a cave, comparing it to a 30 minute deco obligation. I decided that the actual overhead was no more stressful than the virtual one. In fact I think it's less stressful because of the relatively benign conditions (warmer water, less dynamic environment). On the way out, at the mouth of the cavern, we ran into Mark's class.

After a brief surface interval, we headed back in. We had just made it past the section with the highest flow (the underpasses) when Rob's light died (weak, dude). So we had to turn around. I told Rob afterward that just because he is an instructor-wannabe doesn't mean he has to be failing gear.

By the time we got back, it was too late to get gas so we just headed to dinner at the Fleetwood (after stopping at the Country Store for some ice cream novelties). Later, we swung by EE and chatted with Doug for a while (he was going to measure Rob for a drysuit, but we postponed it to Sunday). Then we went by Great Outdoors for dessert. Despite the fact that they had my most favoritest dessert of all time on the menu (or at least my most favorite pie... key lime), I took one for the team and split an apple crisp with Rob. Yum. Wow, upon reviewing this paragraph, I realize that we are little piggies.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cave 1: Day 5: Ginnie Springs

David gave us the option of swimming in the pool or at Ginnie and of course we chose the pool (which Ted tells me is super lame). So we had to meet him at 7 in Gainesville. He asked us if we wanted to swim or do the breath hold first and we told him the swim (so I could mentally warm up for the breath hold). He said we had 14 minutes to swim 400 yards, and if it came in at 14:01, we'd have to do it again. No pressure though. I wasn't worried about the swim, since I somewhat regularly swim 500 meters to start off my swim workout, so by math, I knew I would take somewhere in the 8 to 9 minute range, and that's what I did. I felt like I was going really slowly though, because I shared a lane with Oleg, who was quite speedy. Then we took several minutes to recover before doing the breath hold. David asked us to go to the end of the pool (75 feet) and after the 14:01 comment, I did not think this was negotiable. I was super nervous at this point, since I can never make it to the end of the pool when I practice (though our pool is in meters, so a tiny bit longer). In T2, I think I made it about 70 feet before popping to the surface. But I sucked it up and went for it, and made it to the end. I was quite pleased. By the time I swam back to the other end, Rob had already told David and Doug that I had never before made it to the end of the pool. Rob was amused at how much better I perform when David tells me to do something versus when he tells me to. Rob has on a few occasions tried to motivate me to make it to the end of the pool with some fictitious scenario where Pepper is drowning at the other end of the pool and I have to save her. I have never quite understood why, in such a scenario, I would have to make it to the end in one breath (not to mention how Pepper would end up at the Oracle pool, since she is a strictly indoor kitty).

We headed to Ginnie after a stop at Starbucks (where I learned, thanks to David, that Starbucks has oatmeal! This could be the beginning of a whole new era of pre-dive eating when we stay overnight in Monterey and my normal granola and yogurt is not convenient. The oatmeal even came with little packets of my favorite oatmeal fixins'... nuts, dried fruit, and brown sugar.) We got geared up and in the water. I was having some serious sinus problems and generally feeling like crap. We were entering through the eye today, so again, Doug played #0 and ran the reel to show us how. On this dive, we made it about as far as we did yesterday before turning on gas. There were a variety of failures including a lost diver and eventually we ended up sharing gas on the line with no lights, fun fun. It felt like a cluster, especially crossing the line (which I had not, up to this point, practiced while tethered to another diver via the long hose). When we got to the little room at 50', David cut the drill and we exited on backup lights. When we got to the surface, David said we had a lot to talk about (cringe). During the debrief he asked if we knew why he cut the drill, to which I replied "because we were spazzes", but it was actually because of the short restriction just ahead. Phew. We had one last OW drill to do and David gave us the option of doing one more short penetration first. We would get to do the afternoon dives by ourselves (sans instructor, not solo). We decided to do another dive so we could at least retrieve the reel. We made it to just before the keyhole. I don't think we had any failures on the way out (which makes sense, since it was an optional dive).

David wanted to do one more OW drill which he told us was not required for C1 but he liked to do (I didn't, at this point, understand if that meant that he required it to pass or not). He setup a line and we had one person on one end with his back to the other person on the other end of the line. That person takes off their mask, then takes their reg out and follows the line to the other diver, and finds their reg, takes it, and then swims back to the other end sharing gas in touch contact. Basically this simulates having to find a breathing source in zero viz when you have absolutely no gas left. This drill terrified me. While I am moderately comfortable with no reg or no mask, the idea of being without both freaked me out. Rob went first and I played the donor. Then David told me to go. I was on the verge of a panic attack (well, that may be a slight exaggeration) which of course makes the breath hold impossible. Needless to say, I epic failed this drill -- twice. I gave up quickly (Rob claims I made it only like 5 feet), came to the surface and literally started whimpering to Rob that I didn't think I could do it (when I told this to Ted, he quite aptly said "there's no crying in cave diving"). Rob gave me a small pep talk which went something like "just go back down and do it" and assured me that he wouldn't let me drown (in 3 feet of water). So I went back down and tried again. I made it marginally further/longer before giving up this time. Then I swam back over to Doug and David, who told me that this wasn't required for the class but I should work on it. Phew. I tried once more with my mask on just for my own enrichment (since I've never really worked on my breath hold in full gear) and did make it to the diver (but didn't take the reg, etc.). After that, David said we could get out, have lunch, and then do a dive or two without him. I assumed this meant we had passed, but he didn't make it official until we were back on dry land and out of our gear.

Rob, Oleg, and I had lunch and then headed back in for a couple of dives. As I mentioned earlier, I was quite fond of the turtles that we kept seeing in the water at Ginnie. After lunch, I was headed to the bathrooms, when I saw a little turtle waddling along on land. I got the guys' attention and told them to come over and bring the camera. Only once they got there did I approach it, since I didn't want to scare it away before they could see it. He was totally covered in mud. Very odd, but very cute. Anyhoo, on to the diving... it was Oleg's turn to lead, so he bravely manned the reel. We went in the ear (at David's suggestion). I was behind Oleg and I was just thinking I was glad I didn't have to run the reel. We didn't make it that far in because of the reel installation taking time. We made it further in on the second dive, basically about as far as we had made it on some of our earlier dives (just a bit past the park bench). Rob led that dive, because he wanted to bring up the reel. I finally managed to feel somewhat in control on the ascent (particularly at the 30' stop). Rob on the other hand... well, he got the line out without wrapping it around us or his manifold, so I guess we'll call it a success.

With two (very very puny) post-class cave dives under our belts, we packed up and headed back to EE. We managed to get back to GUE just before they closed, so I went on a little GUE logo-wear shopping spree (yes, I know it's lame that my idea of a shopping spree takes place at the GUE store). I found a hot pink and white t-shirt on the clearance rack for $5 -- what a steal! It matches my drysuit, so I know Clinton will like it. Back at EE, we ran into Mark Messersmith who had a C1 class that had just started. We chatted with him and his students briefly.

Friday night, we went to David's house for pizza and beer and to play with his pups. They are two of the cutest doggies I have ever met. They are like real live ewoks, but cuter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cave 1: Day 4: Ginnie Springs

We met at EE to pickup tanks and then headed to Ginnie. Doug gave us some tips on where to be at various points in the cave to dodge the flow. Once we met David at Ginnie and got signed in, he told us that for the first dive, Doug would lead us and run the line, and that we should just try to imitate Doug in terms of positioning in the cave. He also gave us tips on how to deal with specific areas, like the entry (we were entering through the ear) and the lips. I was super nervous before the dive, probably more than at any point during the class. I was pretty terrified as I dove head first down into the ear. The entry was difficult but actually kind of fun. I was "leading" behind Doug (I dubbed Doug #0 so I could still be 1 :) ). I did my best to zip around corners and across the cave the same way he did. We made it past the keyhole and just a bit beyond the left turn in the line before turning it. The ride back was pretty fun.

I noticed Doug's light was gone shortly after turning the dive, so I started doing the usual "where's my buddy" antics, and got the move along hand signal from David. Then I caught Doug in the corner of my light, with his light turned off. Apparently during the briefing when David said "Doug will lead you into the cave and be part of the team (muffle-muffle-mrph-blah)" (I was sporting the 12mm hood), he really said he wouldn't be part of the team on the way out. But I think Doug was amused that I cared enough to look for him. We had no failures on the way out, which was shocking. David said he never does that but was feeling nice (I bet he says that to all the ladies). When we got to the surface, I said it wasn't as bad as I expected, which got a laugh from David and Doug. We did two more dives, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with the usual assortment of failures.

During lunch, we did the lost line land drill where we closed our eyes, got spun around and had to search for the line. That was fun both to do and to watch the others do. While I was searching for a place to tie off to, I found the line. So I felt like I didn't quite get my money's worth on that one. On the last dive of the day, we practiced the lost line protocol in t. I totally sucked at it and took almost twice as long as Oleg and four times as long as Rob. But I eventually did find the line and was quite relieved. At some point after that David made some comment about how I seem to have spatial orientation issues, hehehe. Well at least I can find my way out of a carpark. Rob told me that it would have been more effective to spend the 18 minutes just waiting for the flow to spit me out of the cave :)

At the end of the day, David asked if we should do Friday here or at Peacock and I quickly said here, and got laughed at.

We had one funny incident today. At some point we all lost our primary lights in quick succession. I put my hand on the line as a reference and waited for Rob to get out his backup and cleanup the primary. When I looked up, he had two backups in his hands and was trying to give me one. I found this annoying, since it implied to me that I was too slow at deploying my backup, so he'd give me his (it's a lot like when he times my bag shoot, which is, you know, my favorite thing about diving with Rob).

We had the night "off" so that we could take the final exam together. We went to Great Outdoors for dinner and did the exam there. Oleg said he thought it was more of an English exam than a cave diving exam :) After that, we headed to the inn to get to sleep early, since we had the early swim test on Friday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cave 1: Day 3: Peacock Springs

We met at EE in the morning to fill tanks, then headed to Peacock. I was pretty terrified to go into a real cave. We looked at the water and had a briefing. The plan was to dive, lunch, land drill, dive. But at the end of the briefing we inundated David with questions about cookies and line arrows, so he decided to do land drills first since, as he put it, we were apparently all afraid he was going to leave us in the cave :) We went over lost line and lost diver protocols. Doug did the presentation, then we practiced it a bit on land. By the time we were finished, it was lunchtime, so we ate and then got in the water. Peacock does not have civilized facilities, just a port-a-potty, which I found surprisingly un-gross. On the other hand, they have a gorgeous wooden deck path to the water which is better than having to step over tree roots (and they have those cool tank benches too, though they are too tall for me). When we got in the water, the basin was pretty green. But it wasn't as yucky as David had described it and had a distinct lack of dead animals floating in the water (he thought it would be worse, from the rain).

The diving was pretty much like the day before, with us doing a dive as usual and then being hit with failures on the way out. It was pretty spooky in there. David estimated the viz at 40 feet. He said the viz there is usually like 100 feet. It was very brown and dark feeling in there (yes, I realize all caves are dark, but this was more mucky feeling). There was also a touch of flow -- enough to notice, but no more than that. We did two dives and managed to not foobar anything up too badly (and remember our flow checks!). We did have one memorable blooper. At about 25 feet, right at the cavern exit, I lost my second post and went on Oleg's long hose. When we got to our 20 foot stop, suddenly I see Rob's reg in my face. He wanted me to switch onto it, because he had more gas. Afterward I told Rob that I was wondering for a moment if that was his reason, or if he just didn't trust Oleg to bring me up on his long hose. Rob was not very pleased when I told him that during the debrief. We finished the day with yet another round of valve and S-drills, right at the cave opening, to get experience with the flow. Rob had to be a showoff and orient himself so he was back kicking against the flow.

After that, we headed to EE for lecture and gas. Before we left Peacock, David asked if we wanted to do another day there before we headed to Devil's to dive in flow. I said I would rather do Peacock. I let it be known that I was terrified of the flow. Doug did the lectures that evening, on dive planning, deco, emergency procedures, blah blah blah. At the end of the lecture, David re-proposed going to Devil's the next day, and said that Rob had said "we" wanted to train in FL to learn to deal with flow (I think Rob botched the communication on that one) and assured us that they would show us how to deal with it, and if we didn't like it, we could go back to Peacock on Friday. Then they left the room and let the team decided. We decided to go to Devil's, since we knew we would have more time in the water on Thursday than on Friday, and wanted a full day to work with high flow. This meant that Doug had to refill the tanks, since we wanted 30/30 (we're so high maintenance). So David used that time to finish up the lectures.

When that was finished, we headed to the Fleetwood Diner for dinner. Because of class nervousness, I had trouble eating normally up to this point in the week, but on Wednesday this reached a tipping point where I was feeling totally hungry and ate a ton of food for dinner plus this adorable little chocolate cream pie that I found at Winn Dixie, and finally felt like I had some energy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cave 1: Day 2: Blue Grotto

David decided we should come back to Blue Grotto for day 2, because the recent rain meant that Peacock's viz might be too bad to dive. Rob was worried we were staying at Blue Grotto because we sucked too much to move on (that's so Rob), which David assured us was not the case. In the morning, we went over all of the permutations of valve failures on dry land and then got in the water. We again did valve and S-drills to start and then did more scenarios where we ran line and eventually various failures occurred. This is pretty much what we spent the day doing. We got down to the more cavey area of Blue Grotto which was pretty neat. I felt like a spaz every time we went down the chute thingy to get down there (I really don't like going head down in 104s).

We broke for lunch, switched doubles, and then headed back in for more. At some point during the afternoon, David told me that he had a suggestion but he didn't think I was going to like it (go sit in the corner while the boys finish the class?). He suggested I ditch my gaiters so I could put more gas in my legs to hold them up. I was actually perfectly happy to try this -- when I got my current suit, I suspected I didn't really need the gaiters with it, since it fits so well, but figured why mess with something that works? So I had never tried diving the suit without the gaiters. So I ditched the gaiters for the rest of the class. It took about a dive to get used to it, but in that suit, it was fine without them (though I still maintain that I need them in my pink oompa loompa suit). At the end of the day, we did another no mask swim on the line in touch contact, this time sharing gas. Since I felt like I had totally biffed it yesterday in front, I went in front again, and Rob and Oleg shared gas. I think we did a way better job this time, but we were allowed to keep our eyes open, so I am sure that was a bigger factor than actually improving since the day before :) After packing up, we headed to the Aquatic Center in Gainesville, which is EE's recreational sister store. We did lecture there for several hours. Since lecture ran late, we got to start late (at 9) again the next morning. We stopped at the Texas Roadhouse in Gainesville for dinner. By the time we got to High Springs, it was time for bed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cave 1: Day 1: Blue Grotto

We met at Blue Grotto at 9 on Monday morning. We did our introductions and then did some gear review. David randomly asked us questions like "why do we put this on this post?". It's a good thing I sat in on one of Rob's practice lectures on equipment recently, or I totally would have made a fool of myself (and maybe still did). Then we did some line drills on land and practiced following a line in touch contact with our eyes closed. We also each practiced running the primary reel to the fake mainline that was setup. By the time we were finished, it was about time for lunch, so we ate lunch (or for those of us with first-day-of-class jitters, nibbled on a little piece of sandwich) before gearing up and getting in the water. I think Doug was a little worried I wasn't going to make it to the water in the 104s, but I was just pacing myself for a long week of walks to the water :)

Doug and David ran a little course in open water and we practiced all of our kicks around the course, plus back kick and helicopter turn on one of the platforms, while Doug video'd us. It was like fundies all over again! Then we did valve and S-drills and came up to debrief. After that, we did 3 short dives into the overhead, so that we could each get some practice running the reel. During these dives, there were some minor failures in the cavern zone (e.g. lights going out). After that, we practiced line following in touch contact in "zero viz". That was simulated by taking our masks off and flipping them around so the straps covered our eyes. I was mildly terrified of this drill, since I am not a big no-mask fan, even less so when I can't see. Between that and how long we'd been in the water, I figured there was a 50/50 chance I would pee my pants during the dive :) The no-mask thing actually didn't bother me -- I guess there's a big difference between 70 degree freshwater and 50 degree sea water. The drill was, however, a total cluster and took forever. When I felt the reel as we got to the end, I think I yelled "thank god" through my reg.

After a debrief, we cleaned up and headed to the parking lot to watch the video in Doug's van. I was shocked to find that my trim in 104s is actually reasonably good. But David said I extend my legs too far back (which I think is because I feel like I'm about to do a headstand in 104s, but I realize this is probably 90% psychological). After the video debrief, we were done for the night (shocking). We stopped at the BBQ place in Newberry for dinner and then headed back to the country inn. Doug was kind enough to take our empty doubles back to EE and fill them for tomorrow.

Somehow we managed to spend two days at Blue Grotto without getting any pictures -- lame, I know, but talk to the team photogs. So I am reusing this pic from T2 :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cave 1: Day 0: Shakeout

Sunday we planned to do a shakeout dive at Ginnie Springs. But first we had to go to Gainesville so Rob could retrieve his drysuit from Steve Gamble (he brought another drysuit with him... he's not that dumb). Rob wanted to go first thing to get it, and seemed sad at the idea of going solo, so I got up at 8 just to please him, grumble. Steve's "shop" is just his garage. I waited in the car, but did get a glimpse of him when he opened the door for Rob. Apparently he, like most sane people, thought Rob's suit was in comedically bad shape, yet charged very little to fix a lot (much like Frank). Once we had the suit, we headed back to High Springs to get Oleg and then headed to EE for tanks.

We picked up 3 sets of 104s (ugh) and headed to Ginnie. We managed to escape watching the video, since Rob and I had been there before (though I've actually never seen the video, since I went to the bathroom during it last time). We headed over to the cavern, explained the site to Oleg, and got ready to dive. Walking to the water in 104s was not as terrible as I thought but man were they heavy on the surface (or put another way, my 40 pound wing was undersized). We dropped down and did a round of valve drills and S-drills. Everything looked good, though we had a few sticky posts. After that, we headed into the cavern and back out several times, taking turns with the reel. The flow was a bit higher than I remembered, but I did make it to the grate this time (take that, Kevin!). I eventually got pretty bored of this, but Rob and Oleg seemed pretty into it, so we went in and out 5 times. At the end, we did a weight check. It took forever to dump all of that gas! I thought the highlight of the dives was a turtle that we saw in the basin. He was soooo cute. I wanted to pet him, but didn't know if they bite, so I abstained.

After that, we headed back to EE to get fills and pick up the rest of the tanks. While the tanks were filling, we headed down the road to the Great Outdoors Restaurant for lunch. I had a steak sub, which was very tasty. Rob made us get gator bites as an appetizer. They were fine but nothing wonderful. But now I can say in my memoirs that I've eaten alligator. After retrieving tanks from EE, we provisioned at the Winn Dixie (I am now a proud owner of a Winn Dixie discount card, woohoo) then headed back to our rooms. I actually took a nap, shocking. It was interrupted by a call from Ted, about the cats. Pepper had a battle wound that he was wondering about. I assured him that she frequently gets little battle wounds from tussling with Oreo, and, to date, none of these wounds have proved fatal, so she would probably pull through. Eventually we decided to head to the diner across the street for dessert. Unfortunately it was closed, so we decided to drive around to find a place. After quite a bit of driving, we ended up at Kazbor's. We went there for wings with Kevin during our T2 trip. Rob and I split nachos and a chocolate lava cake (we were craving a brownie sundae, and that was the closest thing). Oleg had chicken fried steak, which I secretly coveted. After we got back to the room, we watched a little Law and Order and went to bed early (for Rob anyway).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cave 1: Day -1: Travel

We had a pretty uninteresting journey to Florida. Unlike our T2 trip, we opted for a not-super-early flight -- the whole thing was quite civilized. We had a 2.5 hour layover at DFW, which was just enough time for lunch and a fro-yo cone. We got into JAX just before 10, and found our class buddy Oleg (previously unknown to us) by the luggage carousel with a sign, as promised. We really should have taken a picture of him with his sign, but we were clearly not thinking straight from the long flight. (Oleg's trip was 22 hours, so I don't know if ours actually qualifies as "long"). After retrieving luggage and the van, we headed to High Springs. It was a longer drive than I remembered. We got to the Country Inn around midnight, but I wasn't that tired due to the time change. I finally managed to get to sleep after 1.

The trip definitely wasn't quite as much of an epic journey as the trip to Florida for T2 was. I guess it's because it was just the two of us, whereas traveling with all of Team Kitty was just more of an adventure. It was like the pilgrimage to Mecca. Plus since we had a really early flight for T2, Kevin stayed over at our house the night before so it was like a slumber party! This travel day was also not nearly as well documented from a photographic standpoint as our T2 travel, hence the lack of pictures :P

The Great Kitty Cave Adventure

After a couple of years of talking about and putting off taking a cave class, Rob and I finally decided to do it. We decided to do it fairly last minute -- I think we actually put the plan in motion in late January. Part of the deal was that there wasn't going to be practice and preparation for the class. I told Rob that after taking T2 fairly recently, if I couldn't make it through a C1 class, then I must be so stressed out by the cave environment that I wasn't meant to be a cave diver. So I just wanted to do some easy dives in the month beforehand, so I felt confident going into the class, and that would be that. Rob wasn't that good with sticking to the plan though, so he insisted on running line for practice on a few dives. But other than that, I think we maybe did one valve drill each, plus a session in the Wallins pool to figure out our freshwater weighting (in the dreaded 104s). But I would say the most important preparation of all was sticking to the Ted-training regimen, especially given that we were diving the beasts.

We decided to do the class in Florida for a couple of reasons. First, because I wanted to take the class with David Rhea. (You know, for every class you take from David, you get a stamp in your David Rhea fanclub book, and when you collect all of the stamps, you can send it in for an action figure.) Second, going to Florida just didn't seem like as big of an ordeal as going to Mexico. I am, as Rob likes to say, an extreme visualizer. It's easier for me to sign on to a class in a place I know with people I know. Rob also had some desires to take the class in Florida so he could learn to dive in flow. He wanted to dive in both Florida and Mexico after class, so he thought that training in Florida and then diving in MX would be an easier transition than the other way around. Personally, I didn't really see it this way -- I was willing to take the class in FL despite the flow, not because of it. There was much pre-class whining ("what if the flow is so scary I never want to dive in caves again?") on this matter, and also the matter of diving 104s for a week. There was some initial whimpering about whether I could dive other tanks, but in the end I decided to just suck it up.

And so, without further ado, the class/trip report. I'm going to do it day by day (since I'm sure Blogger has some sort of per-post length limit that I would no doubt exceed if I tried to put it all in one post). As a disclaimer, Rob apparently no longer approves of posting class reports on the web. I think he's nutty, and I would be a traitor to the cause if I didn't.

Day -1: Travel

Day 0: Shakeout Dive
Day 1: Blue Grotto
Day 2: Blue Grotto
Day 3: Peacock Springs
Day 4: Ginnie Springs
Day 5: Ginnie Springs
Post class day 1: Peacock Springs
Post class day 2: Ginnie Springs
Class summary

Most of the pictures in the report were taken by our teammate, Oleg Butov. I am too lazy to go through and label each picture (Blogger really doesn't make that easy, or if they do, I haven't figured out how :P). So if a picture is good, you can assume it was take by Oleg. There are a few iPhone-quality pics taken by Rob or me. Rob put up a gallery of more pictures from there class here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Getting Spanked at Flintstones

We were back in Monterey on Sunday to dive on a recreational charter on the Escapade. Rob got home from a trip late Saturday night, so he didn't feel like packing his camera. So I'm using some pics from Clinton, plus a video by Captain Bunny himself (that's Kenn in case you weren't sure) to illustrate this report. After the Saturday non-dive, we were all holding our breath for the Sunday trip. The only thing more annoying than driving down to Monterey to not dive on Saturday would be to drive down to not dive on Sunday too. Jim, Clinton, and I made a pact of sorts to be really chipper about diving potential no matter the conditions. Plus with Rob along for the ride, there was no way we would be calling it at the dock today :) The conditions turned out to be fine. I mean, it was a bit sporty coming around Point Pinos, and it wasn't totally smooth sailing, but it wasn't scary big or anything. Before you know it, we were at Flintstones... Flintstones on a day we were worried the boat wouldn't even go out! Let this be a lesson to all of the forecast weenies out there.

We quickly got geared up once we got there, and despite the fact that I really should have known better, we were the first team in the water. As a rule, whenever we go to a site south of Lobos, I like to let Clinton be the first in the water, so he can test the current for the rest of us. But we were seated right by the gate, so we were the first in. When we first jumped in, the current seemed okay. I started swimming toward the bow, and was making progress along the side of the boat. Then all of a sudden the current seemed to get worse. I think the boat may have swung a little or something, so when we first got in, I wasn't swimming completely against the current. Eventually I started slowly getting behind the boat, and asked the crew to deploy a current line. By the time that was deployed, I was pretty far behind the boat. I pulled myself back to the boat and as I was about to make the jump from the current line to the granny line, I decided sometimes you just have to know when to say no. There was no way I was making it to the bow in this current :) So I gave Michael a thumb and swam to the ladder, where he graciously removed my fins for me. I asked the crew to tell Rob (who made it to the bow) to find another team to dive with (I knew Jim and Clinton were up there, so I figured he could team up with them). Then Jim appeared next to me at the back of the boat and told the crew that we weren't diving here. Teehee. Luckily only about half to he teams had made it into the water yet, and Matt and Leah were still right at the back of the boat (not that getting back to the ladder would take any effort in that current :P).

So take 2 on the first dive was Outer Butterfly House. I'd only been there once before, and remembered some very nice hydrocoral. Rob made me lead the dive, grumble. We jumped in the water and I was relieved to find absolutely no current. Phew. After a leisurely swim to the line, we dropped into pretty good viz. But it was super surgy. We were anchored at the end of one ridge (vague, I know, but I navigate by landmark, so words like north and south don't mean much to me). We meandered in one direction before I got my bearings and figured out that based on the briefing, that was not the way I wanted to go. So we doubled back and hopped over to the next ridge, which had a nice tall wall, which was teeming with colorful encrusting stuff and hydrocoral. We swam around the tip of that and then eventually I decided that the other side was nicer, so we went over the top back to the tall wall. Eventually we meandered back to where a couple of the other teams were, and hopped back to the first ridge (this time on the good side). It was incredibly surgy near the top of the ridge. Every now and then a big set would come through and it was a total washing machine. At some point I inadvertently got dragged by the surge into the frame of a scene that Clinton was shooting so I tried to pose as well as I could as I bobbed around. Shortly after that, Rob decided to try to pose for a picture on top of the ridge for Clinton, and just as he positioned himself, the spin cycle started again. He grabbed onto a piece of palm kelp and went for a wild ride. It was reminiscent of his tumble at Strawberry Peak (but thankfully he didn't have his camera with him this time).

Eventually we headed back to the tip of the ridge that the anchor was near. There were a bunch of teams hanging out around there, and there was some nice hydrocoral to look at. We decided to just hang out there for the remainder of the dive. There was actually a reasonably long period with little surge, so we could just enjoy the scenery without worrying about face-planting into a beautiful piece of hydrocoral. Ahhh. When we got back on the boat, Greg told us about some giant swells that came by while we were in the water. Yea, we felt those :P After collecting all of the divers, we motored up to the Pinnacles area. It was pretty rough there, so we weenied it and headed back in to the bay, to Aumentos. We took a vote and I think Rob and Clinton were the only ones who voted to stay at the Pinnacles (surprise surprise).

It was certainly calmer on the surface at Aumentos. The viz was definitely not as good, but it wasn't terrible, either. Rob wanted to run line for giggles, which certainly made the navigation easier :P We just sort of wandered around (as far as I know... maybe there was some method to Rob's madness), and stopped here and there in spots where it seemed like there was something worth looking at. At the farthest point out, we were poking around when Rob signaled me and told me to cover my light. He pointed out an exceptionally cute fish in a hole near the bottom of the reef, which I am pretty sure was a sarcastic fringehead. The only other notable siting that I recall is more of those really splotchy Geitodoris heathi that I have been seeing a lot of lately. We eventually headed back and when we got back to the anchor, we poked around the Metridium for a few more minutes before thumbing it.

A couple of nice easy dives (except for the ass-kicking at Flintstones) before our big secret trip the following week ;)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Not Diving at Soberanes Point

On Saturday we had a BAUE tech boat planned. The plan for the dive was to a shallower, longer T1 dive, something like Kawika's Garden or Lunaticos. I love these kinds of dives... I'm a fan of any dive that gives you more time on the bottom than on deco :) So I was immediately interested, even though Rob and I had tentatively planned to dive on Sunday (since he was out of town and not getting back until Saturday night). But after enough whining about it, Rob said his feelings would not be hurt if I wanted to dive on Saturday and not Sunday. So I roped Karl into being my buddy and we signed up for the boat. Unfortunately when we got down to K-dock, Jim did not seem very pleased with the conditions. This was a departure from Jim's usual "well let's go check it out attitude" so I knew that the conditions must be pretty bad. It was super windy and there was just no hope at all of making it out of the bay. After looking at the wind from the end of K-dock, we decided that our only option at all was to dive Mile Buoy (the direction of the wind was unfavorable for diving Kawika's). Recent dives in the bay had had 1 to 5 foot viz, so this really wasn't very tempting. Add to that the fact that the size and direction of the wind was worrisome for drift deco (unless the plan was to drift into the Breakwater wall and finish up deco there :P). So we had the option of going out in rough seas to dive in less than 5 foot viz and deco on the line in this viz. There was a lot of hemming and hawing, with no one wanting to be the guy to say no, but no one really wanting to say yes either. Finally after like an hour of vacillating (and I'm really not exaggerating about that!), Joakim decided that we shouldn't dive. His logic was that if we hadn't talked ourselves into diving yet, the dive was not going to happen. Sound logic to me! So instead we headed to First Awakenings for some breakfast. After breakfast, Clinton and I decided to go on a hike.

The two ideas were Lobos or Soberanes Point. I've never done the hike at Soberanes Point, so I was up for that. Clinton warned me that it was a "real" hike, not like a Lobos hike, and make some references to "if we even make it to the top". I told him I would try to keep the whining to a minimum. The description of the hike that we did, and the trail map, is here. We went up the Rocky Ridge trail and then came back down the Soberanes Canyon trail. Clinton said that he usually does it the other way around, and that in hindsight, the route down is less steep, and thus less scary, if you do it his usual way... I guess this is the part of the trail which is described in the brochure as "the trail makes an insanely steep descent into Soberanes Canyon - 0.3 miles with an average gradient of 14%, followed by 0.4 miles with an average gradient of 32%". Hehehe. On the other hand, I had to take many breaks on the way up, so I'm not sure that a steepier ascent would have been any better. I fell three times on the way down, but other than a bloody finger, I lived to tell the tail :) The hike up had some really nice views of Lobos Rocks and such (Clinton convinced himself that the water had calmed down during the hike, but I think the whitecaps just looked smaller from 2000 feet). But personally I liked the part along the creek with the redwoods the best. This is actually a fairly short, easy hike from the road, so I can imagine returning there with Rob (he would whine too much if I made him do the whole hike). Other highlights of the hike included mating ladybugs, a few butterflies, and some interesting plants/flowers.

Clinton was on the lookout for lizards and such the whole hike. I think he found one lizard but it scurried off before I got a chance to see it (it was on the really steep downhill part, where I was lagging behind). Then in the section after the creek, where it there were cactuses along the side of the trail, Clinton suddenly took off running along the trail and then stopped and started rooting around in the bushes on the side of the trail. What did you see, I asked? "A snake!" Clinton is the only person I know who would start rooting around in the bushes to go after a snake. After a bit of searching, he eventually gave up :( I must admit I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to see the snake.

After the hike we headed back to Monterey so that I could get my car. I left it at the parking lot for First Awakenings. I accidentally stayed beyond the 4 hours allowed with validation, so I had to bat my eyelashes at the parking attendant to avoid paying a monstrous fee. I usually reserve the eyelash-batting for guys I know, so I felt a little dirty using it to save $16 :)

Back tomorrow for another attempt to dive on the Escapade. Pictures in this report were all taken by Clinton. Thanks, Clinton.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Pinnacles and Such

Saturday was the March BAUE recreational boat (or the first installment, anyway, since there was a last minute addition to the calendar for the next weekend). There was the usual amount of hemming and hawing about the weather before the trip, but when the day came, we actually made it out of the bay -- yay! We ended up at Outer Pinnacles for the first dive. I was diving with Rob and Jim. This diving with Jim thing seems to be a recurring theme. I like diving with him, though he makes me a little self-conscious on deco because his trim is so good :P He's a much prettier "DIR diver" than I am, especially with the color-coordinated necklace bungee and drysuit.

We dropped into good viz (finally), and quite a bit of surge. But that's okay, I would trade surge for viz :) The viz was actually really good, by my standards, and the water was bright and blue. We dropped down onto the top of one of the pinnacles, and we swam over it to where it dropped down in a nice vertical wall into sand (I can't really say anything more about where we were, since I am totally navigationally challenged when it comes to the pinnacles... every dive there requires extreme concentration to make it back to the anchor line, and I recognize exactly one spot there, only because Rob and Clinton have collectively shot the exact same scene on like 5 different days).

The surge was a little annoying at first, but once I got used to it, it was pretty fun to hang just above the top of the palm kelp, flying back and forth over the reef, taking in the hydrocoral eye candy. I've done a few dives at the Outer Pinnacles in pretty crappy green viz lately, and I was recently telling Rob that I would rather dive the shale in crappy viz than Outer Pinnacles... so it was a relief to finally dive it in stellar viz (which is how I always remember it, since that's how it was on my first dive there). After we dropped down the wall, we were in a little alcove and I spotted a decent-sized lingcod. He was just chilling on the reef, and Rob started taking some pics. I really wanted to pose behind him, but I hung back for a little while, since I figured there was a good chance I would scare him away (and then Rob would have no shots of him). I finally got the wave from Rob and snuck up behind the ling. Would he bolt? No, he was totally cool with me staring him down. I think the picture turned out really well!

From there we headed back to the wall and along it for a while, passing several of the other teams on the way. We eventually turned around and then headed up on top of the reef towards where the anchor was. We also, at some point, took a little foray behind the alcove where we found the lingcod... there was some super nice hydrocoral back there, but it was incredibly surgy, so we eventually gave up and turned around, but not before Rob got a couple of shots of me hanging just above the reef. All in all, I would say we spent the entire dive along a stretch of maybe 300 feet along that wall :) But it's the outer pinnacles, covered in pretty hydrocoral, so why do you really need to go any further than that? Eventually we made it back near the anchor again and after a bunch of ambivalent discussion about what to do, we decided to hang around there for another 5 minutes before beginning the ascent.

During the surface interval, we enjoyed some croissanwiches and lively conversation. Then the topic turned to where to go next. Rob, of course, said "how about Flintstones?" (little known fact... Rob actually has a string in his back that if you pull he says "let's go to Flintstones" in a few different variations). Jim laughed at him. John and I were muttering about the shale, since we were excited about our various finds there the previous week (there's a hand signal that Rob frequently gives me on deco, which could be applied to this situation). Then a bit later, Clinton said "how about Flintstones?" and somehow that time it stuck. Jim gave us the option of either staying in the pinnacles area, or running down to Flintstones to check it out. But if Flintstones wasn't diveable, we'd head back to the shale. So of course we headed down to Flintstones. As soon as we came around Point Lobos, it got much rougher, and was pretty crazy when we got down to Flintstones. We paused and then turned around. Of course Rob thought we should have stayed (I was glad we didn't!). So after that we headed back to the bay and went to the Anchor Farm.

The viz was horrendous when we got to the bottom. We had decided to look for the nearby shale ledge first, and after checking that out, we'd head back to the anchors. Rob was going to run line from the anchors to the ledge. Unfortunately we were not exactly successful at figuring out which direction the ledge was. So much of the dive was spent swimming around in various directions and then backtracking and swimming in another direction. The fact that Jim was navigating while Rob was running line did not help. I briefly got separated from the team (the viz was that bad), but managed to find their line and then follow it back to them. Basically the first 3/4 of the dive was a total cluster, and then we finally just went back to the anchors to hang out and get some pics before thumbing the dive. Jim moved the anchor before we headed up, so it wouldn't get entangled with the anchors upon pulling it. As a result, the anchor was slipping as we ascended, so we kept getting in a nice position on the line and then not being in a nice position a minute later. Rob got super annoyed with me because he didn't realize the anchor was moving and thought that I was moving. Hehehe.

Since we had lunch on the boat, we skipped the usual post-dive meal and headed straight up to AWS for some fills. Then Team Kitty had a team meeting over enormous quantities of meat at the Korean BBQ buffet in Sunnyvale. Team meeting sounds very formal, it was more like a team meat-fest.