It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crinoid Canyon

We realized we didn't have plans for the weekend after Thanksgiving, so Rob called Phil to see if he was available. We never dive with Phil during the weekend, but we've both been too busy for mid-week diving lately. Phil was available, so we told Kitty #3 to hold the date, and it was on. We have had 12/65 in our big tanks since the beginning of July, when we were slated to go do a deep dive on the Escapade, but I sprained my ankle two days before. We set another date in August, but then there was a storm. So those tanks have been out of commission all this time, which made me very sad, since they had come to be my favorite tanks. Anyhoo, this trip seemed like a perfect time to finally use the gas (yes, I realize we could have just re-mixed the tanks, but what fun is that?). It was also the perfect opportunity for Rob to try out the new lens that I gave to him for his birthday (a 60mm). We were targeting Crinoid Canyon. Conditions were looking pretty good though, so who knows? When we arrived at Lobos (at the luxuriously late hour of 8:30, thanks Rob), things were looking good. I checked out the ramp, which I hadn't seen before. It looks very nice. We headed out, and when we got to the site, it was dead calm. It was really nice to get geared up in such flat conditions, especially since there was an insane amount of gear. While getting geared up, Phil asked me if I was nervous... well, I wasn't, until he asked :) Somehow by the unluck of the draw, I got my bottles clipped to me first, so I was sitting there with the 2 80s in front pulling me down. It was not very comfortable, but would have been worse in big conditions. Eventually I rolled into the water and waited for Rob and Kevin.

We headed down to 20' to switch to backgas. After that, we headed down to the bottom. I pointed my scooter down and took off down the line. The boys were shocked, and so was I, but my ears just worked. I had to slow down a few times because my Argon regulator couldn't keep up. I have one of those crappy little Salvo "disposable" Argon regs, that all of the cool kids have abandoned because they don't provide gas fast enough for the scootering downward descent; up until now this has never been a problem for me. By the time we were at 150', it was dark as night. We anchored in about 240' of water, near a drop off into "Crinoid Canyon" aka "Phil's Crack". The plan was to do a segment on that wall, then come up the wall and head to Deep E3 or so for a 210-ish segment, and then head to E3 or so for a 150-ish segment (on our first deco bottle). So after a long descent (though not as long as it could have been), we hit the bottom, in the most literal sense. Hey, this scootering down thing is new to me. We headed toward the drop-off and before we quite got there, we found a rock that had like a dozen crinoids on it. It was at like 240'. I felt like I had been tricked into doing a deeper dive, when there was a perfectly good rock covered in crinoids at 240'. Oh well. This viz was not very good and it was quite dark. We headed down the slope, and yowza were there crinoids. They were everywhere! It was really neat. We also saw a really big basket star; it was all closed up, but its body was huge. There were also a lot of lingcods hanging around, mostly pretty small (and one really small). But definitely the crinoids are what there is to see. The slope down is actually pretty cool itself -- it is like nearly vertical sand, which seems to violate some laws of physics, with boulders protruding out here and there (covered in crinoids, did I mention that?).

After 15 minutes on the slope, we headed up and over toward Deep E3. Or that was the goal anyway. In the dark, poor viz, it wasn't exactly to be. I guess we headed a bit too far east, so eventually we found structure, but it came to maybe 190'. Still, not a bad spot to hang out for our 210' segment. So we meandered around that. I found a Tochuina tetraquetra almost right away, and there was another basket star. Yay, two of my favorite deep water critters (after crinoids, of course). Sitting on Phil's boat with 200+ pounds of gear tugging at my body was so worth it. Rob got some pictures of them, and then we continued on the trigger. We found another spot that was sort of like a structure with a little side structure that came up to about 200 or 210'. So we were hanging out on the little side structure, since it was the right depth. After a couple of minutes there, Kevin signaled to get back on the trigger. Rob had his camera out, so I got his attention and told him. Somehow with one flick of his hand (holding the space station of a camera), Rob managed to entangle like every piece of his gear on every other piece of his gear. I think it all started with his camera and scooter tow cord, but while trying to resolve it, his O2 bottle popped out and got tangled on his arm, while his scooter tow cord got further entangled on one of his bottles. Can't imagine it? Well the point is, it was a mess, so I darted over to him, told him to hold, and got it all sorted out. When I told him he could move, he signaled to head off the pinnacle and I gave him the okay. Then as I went to grab my scooter, I realized MY tow cord was now entangled in one of my bottles. Grumble. I let the guys take off without signaling them, thinking I would have it sorted out in no time. No time became some time after I got my scooter tow cord wrapped around the trigger assembly and had to sort that out. By the time I was ready to go, they were gone. No sign of them. But I knew which way we were headed, so off I went, sure I would catch up with them in a moment.

By the time I made it to the next pinnacle, and found absolutely no sign of them, it started to sink in that they were just GONE. I stopped on this pinnacle, because it seemed like a reasonable place for them to stop, or you know, at least notice they were down a teammate. They were nowhere to be found. I briefly sunk into a moment of near terror, realizing I was all alone at 200+ feet, with 60 minutes of deco between me and the surface. Not complete terror, but I definitely had that horrible feeling in my stomach that I have right before I have to present a paper at a conference or something. I had to pause for a few seconds and give myself a pep-talk to recover from it: nothing was actually wrong, all of my gear was working, and I was certainly capable of finishing the dive on my own; the only way I would get hurt was if I mentally imploded. After my pep talk, I considered whether to head back to where we last saw each other, but decided that this pinnacle I was on made a great waypoint, and I would search from there. It was unlikely they could double back to where they last saw me without passing within light range of this spot. Somewhere during all of this calculating, it occurred to me that while I knew why we had separated, and that the two of them had each other, Rob would potentially have to spend 60 minutes of deco wondering if I was dead.

I decided to do one last long, slow sweep of my light around the entire pinnacle when I saw a beam of light in the distance, heading straight back toward me Phew. I gave Kevin a big okay and then saw Rob's dinky little beam of light (he was on a backup light at this point) coming at me from the side too. I guess the light sweep I did caught both of their eyes. Rob thinks it was between one and two minutes that we were separated. It seemed like an eternity to me. After our reunion I got quite a few inquisitive okays (because how on earth did I fall behind if everything was okay!?!) After we got back together, I was practically touching Kevin's left elbow for the duration of the dive. We continued on our shallow-ward trajectory and eventually found a pinnacle at like 180' at the bottom, coming up to a bit shallower than 150'. I was starting to think we would never find our 150' segment and just have to drift it, so this was nice to find. We switched onto our 190 bottles and meandered a bit before continuing on the trigger. We finally found another pinnacle just in time to look around for a few minutes before it was time to move onto our deep stops. We eventually gave up on finding a shallow enough structure to do our deep stops on reef, and we headed up, but kept scootering in the direction of shallower structure. We finally found something to spend the last few deep stops on and left it just in time to switch to our 70' bottles.

Just after I finished up my switch, Kevin pointed out that there was a mola checking us out! He stuck around for a bit of our 70' stop, but that was the last that we saw of him. After I got onto my bottle, I realized I was still feeling pretty frazzled about the whole team separation thing. That's probably why my report for the rest of the dive is quite hazy :) Plus it just seemed like we were on the trigger for so much of the dive. Rob did his bottle rotation, and I decided it would be best to just chill out for a few minutes before attempting mine (since I think my bottle rotations are borderline in the best of conditions :P). After we left the mola, deco was pretty uneventful for the next few stops, though as we got shallower, we ended up in the jellyfish stew. There were lots of nettles, but not an uncomfortable number of them. There were some nice little chains of salps too. At 20', we agreed to extend the deco since we all felt like we had ended up a little deeper on some of the segments than we planned. We started finding a bunch of neat looking little jellyfish on this stop. Eventually (after our backgas break), Rob decided to start taking some pictures of the little critters. This was an excellent idea, because having something to do (look for jellies for Rob) totally distracted me and kept me warm on the deco. Plus Rob gave me the bag, and when he did, I have to admit that I was totally relieved to have something to lean on (totally un-DIR, I know!). I have been known to have shitty buoyancy on the 20' stop and use the bag as a crutch. So I really try hard not to have the bag on the 20' stop, just to stop this bad habit. But by the time Rob handed it to me, my back was sore, my feet were numb, my calves were on the verge of cramping, and I felt like I was curling up like an upside-down bug. At some point after he handed off the bag, I suddenly found myself having buoyancy issues. I realized someone/thing was tugging on my bag. I heard a boat so I flipped over to see Phil tugging on my line. Kevin had just shot a bottle on a bag and Phil had accidentally grabbed my bag, which also had a bottle (of Rob's) on it. I'm always telling the guys, if they can't handle the gear, they shouldn't be doing the dives ;) Just as I was about to drop the bag, Phil dropped it. Phew, I really didn't feel like shooting another bag! The rest of the deco went by pretty quickly thanks to the jelly shoot. When I called the 6 minute ascent, we headed up to 17' and on the way, I got totally owned by a jellyfish. I was squealing through my reg. At 14', Rob said his shoulder hurt so we went back down to 20' for a few minutes and then did it all over again.

We got to the surface and it was like we had surfaced into Armageddon. Conditions had gotten really big. Phil said we were in an area of protection for almost all of our deco but right near the end we got swept out by a current into the bigness. By the time we got to the surface, I was nearly out of energy, and also nearly out of O2. I retardedly brought my 30 cuft bottle for the dive, which was nominally enough, but once we added to the 20 foot stop, and did our little 6 minute ascent do-over, and I breathed on it for a couple of minutes on the surface, there were just a couple hundred psi left. I asked Kevin to help me get out of my gear (I always find this easiest with a buddy, especially when there is hypoxic mix involved). He instantly snapped into his DM-demeanor, and basically did all of the work, then took my rig for me and let me just bob around in the water holding my O2 bottle. Ahhh. Waves kept breaking over our heads and Kevin suggested I breathe my O2 bottle (see what I mean about the DM demeanor?). We made our way over to the boat and Kevin and Phil got my gear back in the boat, and then I made my lamest ever attempt at pretending to try to get back in the boat, while Phil pretty much pulled me into the boat. I was spent -- too spent to remember to take my weight belt off first, which didn't help the situation :P After we got everyone back on the boat (and I got to work devouring the half of a protein bar I'd left on the boat), we headed back in.

There was a bit of a mishap returning the boat to the trailer. To make a long story short, the prop made contact with the ramp and by the end of it all, the boat was under the power of only one engine, and Phil had to land the boat. This is why I always try to avoid driving the boat. Phil was obviously not too pleased, though he seemed (a bit strangely) relieved that we all made it back alive, and super horrified by the bag tugging incident (though I assured him that if I hadn't let go of the bag, and ended up at the surface, that would be my fault).

A few post-dive comments:
- I told Rob that the separation experience was "revelatory". He denied that this is an actual word, and I assured him it was (I read a lot; Rob doesn't). I mentioned that it was the most stressed I have ever been on a dive. He asked what about the time my wing failed at 230'? I told him that while I was a bit stressed by that (at first), I never actually felt scared, which I definitely did on this dive. I can make two conclusions from this: 1) my mind is my most fragile piece of dive gear, and 2) I am definitely not cut out for solo diving. I guess this is really the same conclusion, since to me, the "backup brain" is the most compelling reason to dive with a team.
- This whole thing happened because I was cavalier about my ability to quickly deal with a problem (albeit minor) without alerting my team. That was dumb. I think this was a very minor error in judgment, but it quickly led to a bad situation (and me being extremely uncomfortable). Rob had told me about something almost identical happening to him on a recent dive (in 30 feet of water), but the lesson didn't stick.
- Bringing a 30 cuft bottle on this dive was silly. I love my 30 cuft O2 bottle, because it's just so small and cute, it's like it's not even there. And I like being able to climb the Escapade ladder with my O2 bottle still on. Once you have 2 80's clipped to you, the difference between a 30 and 40 is nothing (it's leashed for the active part of the dive anyway). I have a 40 cuft O2 bottle as well, and afterward I realized, if I'm not going to use it on a dive like this, when would I use it!?!
- Being able to descend that fast is so far outside of the realm of the usual that we had to discuss it afterward. Either Rob or Kevin suggested that the extended stop at 20' (we usually pause for a bubble check, but that's it) might have given my ears some time to adjust, so I wasn't trying to play catch-up the whole way down. I'm definitely going to experiment with this!
- This dive was basically at the limit of what I think I can physically withstand. By the end, I was so hungry, thirsty, exhausted and cold. I am sure that the in-water antics did not help with this, but it was also just a long dive. I love these deep multi-level dives because you can see the cool deep critters while still getting a good ratio between bottom time and deco, but at some point those extra levels/bottom time just extends the length of the dive and make it harder. This dive was 126 minutes; I would make a terrible bunny. I told this to Rob; his response was "I'm booking the Escapade for MLK day so we can go to Italian Ledge" :)

1 comment:

Lynne said...

OMG, that was a chilling read! I can't imagine being at 200 feet, alone, and worrying about what your buddies are thinking has happened to you. I'm glad everybody came out okay!

(BTW, Peter and I had a buddy separation event the other day from essentially the same issue -- signaled to move on, he took off, and I had to futz with something on the scooter. It happens fast!)