It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, January 31, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Zippers

All of the suits I've had have been front-entry. I don't know much about the rear-entry style zippers, but I do wonder if they would wear more from the backplate sitting against the zipper and rubbing against it when you walk around with tanks on. I've also heard that having that stiff zipper back there can inhibit range of motion for things like reaching your valves. If you go with front entry, with a DUI suit, you will have the option of having the zipper zip down (which I believe they refer to as "old style") or zip up. I've heard a lot of DIR types claim that the old style is better. I don't know their reasons for thinking that, but here's my experience. I have had both styles, and I prefer the zip down. If you have a suit with a fairly narrow waist (which is I guess more likely for women), then the zipper starts practically in the middle of the back and makes this big arc around your side. That curve around the side always seems to wear much faster than any other point on the zipper. And it's also just hard for me to self zip when I have to reach around to the middle of my back to start the zipper :) I find the zip down style easier to self zip, and I like the fact that I can actually see the entire zipper as I am zipping, so I'm not going to accidentally run over my undergarment or something. Also it's a little bit easier for me to see the end of the zip-down zipper, to see that it's actually zipped the whole way. Rob also likes the old style zipper, and his gripe is that if you get a zip up one, the slider ends up sitting under (or nearly under) the harness and this causes more wear on the zipper.

It might seem like we are over-thinking this, but replacing a zipper on a drysuit is pretty much the most expensive maintenance you will ever have to do on the suit. Eventually you will have to do it though. I've had a bunch of zippers replaced by Steve Gamble in Florida, and I've always been pleased with his work. Rob has had zippers replaced by DUI and is likewise happy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Eighteen Minutes at the Breakwater

We were down in Monterey for the weekend. On Saturday I was helping with some Fundies checkouts, and then Sunday we had big plans for a fun dive. Rob wanted to do a long dive out to Twin Peaks, so that was the plan. The conditions on Saturday at the Breakwater were totally placid, with amazingly good viz. We knew conditions were supposed to deteriorate at some point on Sunday, though I hadn't looked at the forecast in a couple of days. We headed to Point Lobos under overcast skies with on and off torrential downpours. Ugh. When we got to Lobos, the ramp was super sloshy. The tide was very high and the water was just moving all over the place up and down the ramp, not really in distinct predictable sets. So after a couple of minutes of watching that, and even taking our scooters out and putting them next to the ramp, I decided I didn't want to dive. So we headed to First Awakenings for breakfast and then to the Aquarium, in some pretty icky rain. By the time we finished at the aquarium, it was sunny and the bay just looked so appealing that we decided to head to the Breakwater for a dive after all.

We had a ton of gas and tanks in the van, but not exactly the right tanks for the job. So we decided we would use our spent doubles from the day before, which each had a bit of gas left, plus our 70' deco bottles as stages :) The plan was to scooter out to the end of the Breakwater to see if we could get some sea lion action. Unfortunately this plan called for bringing a lot of gear into the water, and there was a good bit of surf by the time we got there. I am not really a fan of dragging gear through big surf, or really any surf, so we decided I would human buoy the gear. Rob walked me into the water, handed me some gear, and then got into his rig and came back with the rest of the gear. Getting in was a pain even without carrying extra gear. We passed the Fundies checkout class coming out of the water as we were getting in. We scootered out on the surface a bit past the bend in the wall, and then dropped and continued out along the wall. Pretty shortly into the dive, I felt a stream of water shooting down my leg. When I put my hand on the spot where the water felt like it was coming in, the end of my p-valve hose (not hooked up) was right under my hand -- hmm. I gave the valve a twist to make sure it was closed, and it seemed like maybe it wasn't leaking anymore. But a couple minutes later, I could tell that it was still leaking, even though the valve was still closed. Maybe it wasn't the p-valve. But it felt like quite a big leak and it was spreading down my leg and across into my other leg. So about 8 minutes into the dive, I turned it and we headed back in. Grumble grumble. When we got to the surface, I told Rob why I thumbed it. I suggested we stage the gear out in the same manner that we did on the way in. He asked for my stage bottle, and for some reason, he took both bottles and his scooter and walked out through the surf. I didn't understand why, but apparently he thought that I was in a big hurry to get out, which I really wasn't -- I don't think a few extra minutes in a wet suit was going to kill me :P As Rob was getting out, Beto caught on that he was coming out by himself, after a very short amount of time, and I guess was a bit concerned, so he came down to the beach. Brian followed him, so by the time Rob came back to get my scooter, I had a three-man escort out of the water. Very nice :) I managed to get my fins off in a period of relative calm, and just as I was walking out, saw a big wave coming behind me. I trotted back into the water so it would pass by me before breaking, then looked back toward the beach to see Beto sort of jumping through/body surfing the wave. But everyone made it without getting rolled. Then I waddled out of the water before another big one could come through. Phew. It was a slightly harrowing experience, and I had to stop at the rocks on the side of the beach for a little breather.

After retrieving our gear from the beach, we found that one stage reg's second stage was completely swamped with sand, and the other was missing its face plate and the various pieces that fall out when you are missing a face plate. We never did retrieve all of the pieces :( Totally not worth the trouble for an 18 minute dive! I think we should have called it quits at the Aquarium.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Seals

I was originally targeting posting a "FAQ" post once a week, but looking at the drysuit series, I realized that would mean talking about drysuits for 8 weeks! So let's try twice a week instead -- I'll shoot for Monday and Friday. I'm also toying with a separate post on dry gloves, since I have a bit to say about them. We'll see. Anyhoo, today we're talking about drysuit seals.

Latex seals seem to be the default choice for seals, although I know a few people who have neoprene seals. I've only ever dived latex seals. Neoprene seals supposedly have more of a "memory" than latex, so that over time, stretching them to get them over your head/hands will cause them to become too loose, and as I understand it, they will start to weep water in through the seals. On the other hand, they are supposedly less likely to suddenly fail while you are putting them on. I've never actually had this happen with a latex seal though -- I can usually tell when my seals are about to go, and get them replaced before they get a chance to fail like that. The only downside to latex seals that I have experienced is that I do sometimes get the latex neck hickey, so that it looks like I tried to hang myself. I haven't really figured out why this happens sometimes and not others. It doesn't typically happen in fresh water, and it is more likely to happen with a newer seal (which could be due to the chemicals used to process the seal, or just that the newer seal is a bit tighter). Slathering my neck with KY jelly before a dive tends to help somewhat. But typically I just don't bother, since I'm just not that vain :) Neoprene seals also seem to be a bit harder to get seated properly on your neck. Typically my friends with neoprene seals need a buddy to check or help seat the seal for them, and I've been told by at least one seasick-prone friend that the concentration it takes to get the seal on in rough seas is not pleasant. However, other friends have reported that neoprene neck seals keep your neck nice and warm. And if you have any sort of latex allergy, well then obviously you should go with neoprene.

There are also these new silicone seals available, which I know absolutely nothing about. I don't know anyone that actually has them, but they look sort of cool.

If you go with latex seals and you are getting a DUI suit, then there is the option of ZipSeals. I had these on my first suit (neck and wrists), and I had wrist zips on my second suit. (All of the suits except my first were second-hand, so the decision about zip-seals was not actually mine.) I do not recommend the neck zip - it's uncomfortable, particularly if you dive a DIR-style harness. The harness tends to sit right on the edge of the zip ring, which causes it to dig into your collarbone. Also, the geometry of the ring made it so that the shoulder strap would sometimes slip off of it (on land, not in the water) which was just annoying. The wrist zipseals I never had a problem with, but feel sort of ambivalent about. I like the idea of being able to replace a torn seal "in the field" but I never actually found the need to do that. It was nice though that I could keep a spare set of seals with rings for my dry gloves (which I will discuss in a later post) so I could switch those on and off of the suit easily. Zipseals also give you the option of using the DUI zipgloves, which I have no experience with, but I know a few people who seem to like them. I'll discuss dry gloves in the "Accessories" post later in this series (or possibly in their own post).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Something New: A Drysuit Diatribe

I've decided to do something new and post some content other than dive reports. There are a couple of reasons I'm doing this. First, we tend to dive the same few sites a lot, and the twelfth report from K2 can't be that different than the eleventh. So the blog could use some variety. Second, there are some questions that Rob and I get over and over again, and/or I see asked in dive forums on a regular basis. So I'm going to start posting on these topics, so when someone asks, I can point them here, and they can read a well thought out reply. Otherwise I tend to sputter random thoughts and later realize I forgot to mention this and that. I'm going to try to post something like this once a week for at least the next couple of months (as I currently have a backlog of topics I can think of to write about).

This is the first of such posts. One of the most common questions I hear is about picking out a drysuit - whether it is what type of drysuit to get, or what bells and whistles to get on a specific suit. So that's where I'm going to start. I'm going to give some advice on what I would recommend if you are building your dream suit from the ground up. Please don't take this to mean that if you have something different, it is somehow wrong : I don't even have a dream suit that meets all of the criteria I will describe here (my next suit will hopefully be that suit). Also, please note that I'm not a gear, techy type of person, so my advice will be about what works for me and what has worked for my dive buddies, not about the theoretical aspects of this and that.

There are a lot of decisions to make when you pick out a drysuit, so I'm going to break this up into a series of posts, roughly head to toe, which will cover:

  • Seals
  • Zipper
  • Valves
  • Pockets
  • Boots
  • Undergarments
  • Accessories (including drygloves)

All of thse topics will be covered in future posts. In the rest of this post, I will talk about some of the higher level decisions and also give an overview of my personal drysuit experience, so you know where my advice is coming from (and can decide if you want to ignore it).

I've owned 4 drysuits, and all of them have been shell-style suits. Since this is all I have experience with, that's what I will mostly confine my discussion to. But it's worth mentioning why I've only owned such suits. With a neoprene drysuit, you have the same concerns about a balanced rig that you have with a thick wetsuit, since the material will compress and lose buoyancy at depth. So I don't consider these suits appropriate for deep diving.

All of the drysuits that I've owned have been DUI's. My first suit was a FLX50/50 (that's crushed neoprene on the bottom, and some sort of heavy tri-lam on the top). The other three were all TLS350's, two of which I currently own (which I will henceforth refer to as my "pink suit" and my "purple suit" -- it's a super cryptic code I speak). If you asked a DUI dealer about the relative pros and cons of these two suits (or the two materials - crushed neoprene versus tri-lam), I think they would tell you that crushed neoprene offers some warmth, and it is a bit more "robust" and less likely to tear or develop other leaks. I think there is some truth to both of these claims. On the other hand, I rarely have problems with my TLS drysuits leaking. But I know a lot of people (Rob for instance) who are constantly fighting leaks in their TLS suits. It's one of life's great mysteries why I manage to avoid leaks when I routinely end up on my knees on the Lobos ramp : Despite the benefits of the crushed neoprene, the TLS material is just easier to dive. I think this is because it is lighter weight, which makes you more flexible in the suit. Also, from my experience, a TLS suit that is a little too big is easier to deal with, because the material crushes down nicely. My pink suit is uber-big, I think it is about 50 pounds bigger than me, but it is still quite diveable. On the other hand, my FLX50/50 was just a bit long in the legs and too big in the shoulders, which was quite annoying because both kinds of materials were stiff and just seemed to stay where they wanted.

While I have only dived DUI drysuits, a lot of my friends have dived other suits - Diving Concepts is probably the next most popular, plus a few have Mobby's or BARE suits. But they all seem to prefer their DUI suits, and end up diving the other suit way less often. I think this comes back to the lightweight and easy to dive thing. Even though I clearly have a brand preference, most of the topics I am going to cover in this series are relevant to any drysuit, not just DUI.

People often obsess about which material to get, what style zipper, etc. but the single most important thing in picking a suit is getting one that fits well. You don't want to pay for all of the bells and whistles on your "dream suit" only to find that you can't reach your valves. Also, you need to think about what undergarment you will wear under the suit. You might find a suit that fits great with a fleece undergarment that you have, but if you have tech diving aspirations (at least in our cold water) you are going to need a thicker undergarment down the road. Your best bet for getting the right fit is finding a dealer who will do a good job of measuring you and recommending the suit for you. I can personally recommend Anywater Sports (in San Jose, CA) or Extreme Exposure (in High Springs, FL) for this. Once you take delivery of the suit, you should try it with your thickest undergarment to make sure you can do all of the range of motion stuff like "reaching your valves" (or over your head and down the middle of your back, to the uninitiated), crossing one leg over the other (standard fin-donning position), etc. If you can't do this stuff with your suit and undergarment together, try it with just the undergarment to make sure that that isn't the problem on its own.

If for one reason or another you end up with a suit that doesn't fit quite right, you can get them altered. I had some minor alterations done by Superior Drysuits on a second-hand suit that I bought. The workmanship and the price were both great and I never had any problems with it.

Stay tuned for the next post on seals...

P.S. Aren't we adorable in our drysuits?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Road to Twin Peaks

Saturday I dove at Lobos with Clinton. I was originally supposed to dive with Rob. We had decided we wanted to do a nice long dive to Twin Peaks, so we found some Lobos reservations and it was a plan. Then Rob had to go out of town, so I had to find a new buddy, which was Clinton. We hadn't decided what sort of dive to do by mid-week, when the forecast looked kind of big. So we figured, when in doubt, go deep. This was definitely the right decision. The swell was quite big, but the combination of a high tide and the long lulls between big sets made it okay getting in at the ramp. I did make Clinton swim the gear out to the float because I was too much of a wimp to get in :) Luckily there wasn't that much gear -- one bottle each and our scooters. We were planning to go to the Road to look for slugs. We're always hoping to see Okenia felis out there, plus Clinton said he'd also like to some day get a picture of Aldisa albomarginata (which I haven't seen for quite some time). We got geared up and managed to time our entry pretty well, so it wasn't scary at all. That probably had more to do with luck than any skill at timing the entry.

We headed out on the surface, and once we were outside of the cove, it was big and sloshy and frothy. Eventually I decided I'd had enough of the next time Clinton looked over at me I signaled to descend. There was no stopping on the surface to chit-chat, he just returned the signal and down we went. We dropped just a little bit northeast of the worm patch, so we were on top of the reef, with a bit of kelp to get entangled in. I scootered over to the sand and waited for Clinton to meet me there, and then we were off, down the sand channel. It was rather surgy, but the viz wasn't too bad. However, I kept getting eel grass bits of kelp in my scooter prop. I couldn't figure out why, because I definitely wasn't running into (or even anywhere near) any kelp. Then I realized it was because there were chunks of the stuff floating in the water, having been churned up by the huge swells. Every now and then one or the other of us would have to stop to clear our props. By the time we got to Hole in the Wall, the viz really opened up and was quite nice. Probably about 30 feet, but very bright and blue, due to the very nice sunny day topside. We were scootering along probably about 10 feet or so off of the bottom, over the sand that is to the north of the Lone Metridium and the other unnamed ridges along there. I noticed some bright white patches on the boulders below us, which looked like an encrusting sponge or something. It seemed out of place though, and then I noticed that the rocks were carpeted with slug eggs. I signaled Clinton to stop and went down to one of the boulders. I've only seen a carpet of eggs like that once before, in Seattle, and it was covered with Onchidoris bilamellata. We have been on the lookout for these at the shale recently, since they eat those annoying white barnacles that have been all over everything there. But I definitely wasn't expecting them at Lobos, since I hadn't particularly noticed the barnacles there. But I wasn't 100% sure that this is what the eggs were. I was looking around for slugs and saw none. I wasn't sure if Clinton even knew what I was looking for, so I found a barnacle (they really are there) and pointed to it and then gave him the "munch munch munch" sign with my hand, and he nodded. We didn't find any slugs on that rock, so we moved to the next one, and looked it over. Finally Clinton signaled me and pointed his light at something. I couldn't tell what he was pointing at. Meanwhile we were totally getting hammered by the surge. Clinton said he wanted to take some pics -- and I was like "yea, of course". I was trying to stay out of his way, looking on a different surface of the rock, when I realized that the "rock surface" I was looking at was actually a slug carpet. When I realized it was just wall-to-wall slugs I was momentarily grossed out by it, like something out of Indiana Jones :) I signaled to Clinton and said that the slugs were all over the rock and he was like "uh, yea". Hehe. I decided now would be a good time to deploy the hero-cam (I had it in my pocket, since I thought putting it on the scooter and letting it bounce around on the float might be hard on it), and then got a little footage of Clinton taking pictures in the surge.

Once he was done with that, we continued out. A minute or so from there, we encountered a school of blue rockfish. There were also a bunch of olives -- more olives than usual. We were over the sand for a bit, and I started to see some familiar boulders on the bottom and the next thing you know, we were at the First Sister. There were two big lingcods perched on little plateaus in the crack that runs east-westish across the center. I usually see one big lingcod there, but the second was new. We stopped briefly to take a look and then continued on to the Second Sister, and out along the road. When we got to one of the bigger structures where we often look for slugs, I stopped and suggested we swim around there. I was down on the side of it, and when I inched up along the top of it, man was it surgy. We spent the rest of our time in that area, swimming around, and eventually we ended up swimming basically across that set of pinnacles so that we were on the west side of the Road when we finally decided to head back. The slug hunting was not very lucrative. I found two Dironas, one Trilineata, and those were pretty much the highlights. I spent a while looking for Okenias, which was an exercise in frustration in that surge. Aside from slugs, I found a little yellow and black juvenile rockfish (like the kind I saw the other weekend at Shale Island). There was also a small lingcod hanging around in that area. I also found a little patch of reef that was just covered in different colored brittle stars (unfortunately, without a video light, I really couldn't capture this in the video). There was also a big crab that I tried to engage for theatrical purposes, who was totally disinterested in me, even after I tapped on his back (or perhaps because I tapped on his back). Eventually I just had to entertain myself by video'ing Clinton taking pictures of a Dirona, while sloshing around in the surge.

Shortly after that, we turned the dive. By then we had sort of crossed the road, so we wended our way back over to the left-hand side and before you know it, we were back to the First Sister. From there, we continued in, and when we were in about 80 feet of water, Clinton abruptly stopped. I was like "why are we stopping" and then I realized that school of rockfish was just ahead and above us -- but it seemed bigger this time. Maybe we hadn't seen the full extent of it on the way out? We stopped for a bit and I got some video, and then we continued in. We switched to our bottles and hung out near a little patch of reef for our 70 foot stop. For there, we were more or less on the trigger for the rest of deco. I admit I wasn't exactly sure where we were at some point, and then suddenly recognized the back side of Hole in the Wall reef, and sure enough after crossing over that reef, that's where we were. Phew. Once we were back on the sand channel, it was even more stirred up (or so it seemed) than on the way out! I never even saw the worm patch, though we must have skirted it at some point. On our 20 foot stop, we kept getting entangled in kelp and knocked around into the rocks, until we managed to find our way to a little patch that was relatively open without too much kelp to wrap around Clinton's strobe arms. On the surface we had discussed that if the viz was super bad in the cove, we would just ascend instead of scootering in. But I suggested we scooter in just a bit further, because I wanted to avoid getting knocked around on the surface too much. The viz was quite bad on the way in, but we were scootering really close side by side, watching each other constantly. Eventually at around 12 or 13 feet, we looked and each other and both signaled to ascend there. We hung out for a couple minutes at 10 feet (except when a big swell came through, and then we were at whatever depth the ocean chose for us) and surfaced. We were like 8 feet from our float. We were both shocked, as we really had no idea where we were. I thought we were quite a bit further out, but I guess that was the really high tide playing tricks on me. I suggested that since the tide was so high, we could just swim the float in and drop it on the ramp, so we wouldn't have to swim back out. Clinton pulled the float and swam it in. I guess if I were nice I could have volunteered to take his camera in exchange, but I did not. We got to the ramp in a period of relative calm, though it wasn't completely placid. There was a bit of timing it with the water going up and down the ramp.

I waddled up the ramp and ditched my gear, and then came back to take gear from Clinton. Suzanne and Nathalie had already returned from their dive and they helped by taking the gear from me once I was above the water line, assembly-line style. Before you know it we had everything out of the water. We took our time cleaning up our gear and changing and then eventually headed up to the top of the cliff so Clinton could get some pictures of the big sets coming in. I told Clinton that the goal was to get a picture that when people looked at it, they would think we were really hard core for going diving. I think he did a pretty good job :P We had lunch at RG Burger, and then made a brief drive-by at Marina State Beach to watch the very impressive, big waves rolling in. Then we headed to AWS.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And the winner is...

The winner of the Underwater 2011 calendar (by super awesome Robert Lee) goes to... (is the suspense building?) ... Lynne!

Thanks to everyone who posted!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy New Year and a Free Calendar

I suppose in the spirit of good bloggery, I have to have some sort of new year's post, where I talk about the past year and the next year, or something. Even better, to celebrate the new year, I am doing my first ever blog giveaway. I have started reading a few blogs regularly (mostly craft-related) and apparently it is good blogging business to occasionally give stuff away. Well, I'm going to give something away that is so cool, it isn't even available to purchase. Rob makes an annual calendar of underwater photos to give out to friends and family, and this year we have a couple of leftovers. So I am giving one away to some lucky blog reader. Here are the thumbnails of the photos in the calendar:

To enter to win, you just need to leave a comment by Wednesday, January 19 at 11:59 PM (Pacific) saying what the coolest dive you did last year was. I will pick a winner using a random number generator from Here's my answer to that question, by the way: It's a hard one to answer. After a dive at K2 where we saw a GPO in the open among other things, I told Rob it was the best dive I'd done all year. But then two weeks later, we saw dolphins on deco. So I'm going to call it a tie. What a tough life when you have two awesome dives in two weeks and can't figure out which one was better.

Also, since I am a data geek, I felt compelled to summarize my 2010 diving by the numbers. I used Excel to generate these numbers, which was fairly painful. I did 120 dives with 24 distinct buddies. The top 5 dive buddies by dive count should not be too surprising:


It seems like I haven't been diving with Kevin as much as usual recently, but the numbers don't really support that. However, I think a lot of those dives were on cave trips. Speaking of which, the breakdown for dives by certification is:


I'm shocked and disturbed that I did more cave dives than any other category. That has more to do with how many C1 dives you can do in a day than a preference for that kind of diving, I swear.

Another shocking number: 14 locals dives were from shore, while 42 were from the Escapade (and 4 from Phil's RIB). Wow, I have become so soft about shore diving!

These numbers do not include class dives (either when I was a student, or assisting with a class). I spent 5 days in class (C1) and 9 days assisting with classes (7 days of Fundies, 2 days of Doubles primers).

P.S. Excel sucks. Relational databases rule.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Nixies

Team Kitty was on the BAUE tech boat on Saturday. On the drive down to Monterey, I tried to take a nap in the van, which caused me to get a bit carsick (which is a new phenomenon to me, since we got the van). By the time we got to Monterey, I still wasn't feeling great, and getting on the boat did not help. It really wasn't that rough, but I still felt terrible. We pulled up the Nixies (woohoo) and I was feeling so bad I wasn't sure I could get into my gear. But I decided to man up since I would certainly feel better once I was in the water. So as a compromise, I got into my gear but waited to put my bottles on at the last possible moment (after gear checks and everyone else was ready). We hopped in and I grabbed my scooter and headed for the float. Rob was a bit slow getting to the float but after a moment he appeared.

We had agreed to have a dramatic pause at 20', to see if it made the rest of the descent easier on my ears. After that, I pointed my scooter down and we were off. I had to pause once at 50' or 60' for some ear clearing, but even so, I made it from 20' to 90' in under a minute. Not bad. We hit the top of the reef and the viz was awesome. I turned to Rob to gesticulate about the awesomeness of the viz, and he agreed and then gave me a sad look and said he didn't have his camera. I was in disbelief and then quickly scanned him and saw that sure enough, he didn't have his camera. It was back on the boat he said. I guess we was delayed getting into the water and didn't want to make the boat do a second pass to drop the camera. Boohoo. So no pictures today. Anyhoo, I stopped at like 110 feet to celebrate the amazing viz, but Kevin and Rob had other ideas, and wanted to head deep. So I followed them down to the bottom of the pinnacle, and we headed down a little channel, south I think. I thought, at the time, that this was the channel where we saw the Diaulula lentiginosa in August, but I'm not entirely sure about that. We eventually turned the corner and followed the pinnacle to our right, and then headed out over the sand from it, to another pinnacle. As expected, I started to feel better once I was in the water, and by about 15 minutes into the dive, I was feeling quite good.

We did a multi-level dive, with the first segment at about 200' and the second segment at about 150' (well that was the plan, though the second segment was actually a bit shallower). On the deeper section, we saw two Tochuina's, and two basket stars. We also found this weird little patch of sand off of one of the pinnacles that was swarming with clown nudibranchs -- really big ones that seemed to be extra warty (that is, the orange tubercles seemed extra prominent). On the shallower segment, we didn't see anything wildly interesting, though we did encounter a nice school of blue rockfish hanging out on top of one of the pinnacles. And of course the pretty reef was all around us. We also crossed paths with Clinton, Joakim, and Beto a couple of times, zooming around on their scooters. By the time we left the reef to start to drift, we were at about 100'. At that depth, I guess there was a bit of surge, because I was starting to feel a little queasy again.

Once we left the reef and I had no visual reference, the seasickness came back with a vengeance. I asked Kevin to shoot the bag, since I was feeling a bit too wobbly to do it myself. Then once I got onto my bottle, I promptly took the bag from Kevin because I was feeling wobbly :) Luckily Kevin is well trained and puts up with my shenanigans. The deco was pretty much hell, and it seemed like I literally spent the time counting down the seconds until it was over. When it came time to switch off of my bottle at 30', it was a total cluster. I just couldn't manage to figure out where to put my hands to get the frakin' hose stowed. When we were discussing it afterward, Rob mentioned that it might have been better to just ask one of them to stow it for me; he was right. Yea, it was that bad :) Once we got to 20', I think I fell into a sort of meditative state, where the time passed rather quickly even though it was a much longer stop and I felt quite bad. It was periodically interrupted when I felt like I might barf, and grabbed my reg so I wouldn't projectile vomit it out. Every time I did that, Kevin would swim over and give me an exaggerated "are you okay?" signal. It was really quite adorable. I was relieved when we got to the surface, where conditions seemed a bit bigger, but maybe they weren't. Well, I think the wind had picked up. When I got to the surface, I took my regulator out of my mouth and spit (without regard to wind direction) and watched my spit sail back past my head in the other direction. Teehee.

Rob had recently suggested to me that when reboarding the boat with a scooter, I could take my fins off on the line, away from the boat, and then scooter up to the ladder, hand over my scooter and climb out. Usually I pass my scooter up and then remove my fins (either at the ladder or just off of the ladder on the line). For some strange reason, I decided this would be a good day to try this new technique -- what could possibly go wrong? Man was that a cluster. I ended up with my scooter, an O2 bottle, a line that was alternatively wrapping around my manifold or my scooter, one fin on my wrist, and the other fin still on my foot, but with the strap pulled off. And I couldn't seem to get the fin off. I finally gave Kevin a little wave to get his attention and squawked "my fin" though my regulator. He looked at my feet and thought I had dropped a fin (since one foot was finless). Eventually I made clear what I wanted and he pulled my fin off, and I managed to get myself unentangled and back onto the boat. Phew. Then to cap things off, as Rob was climbing the ladder a wave came and knocked him off, into the water. Luckily he was okay, and didn't hit anything on the way back into the water. Or even drop a fin. His kung fu is strong.

We headed back to Carmel and eventually ended up at East Pinnacle for a second dive. I decided to sit that one out. I took the opportunity to try out some new-to-me (supposedly fast acting) seasickness drugs that Matt and John both swear by. I would have to call the results inconclusive (since by that point we were in a quite protected area), but I didn't get loopy or anything, which is good to know. Even though I didn't go along on the second dive, I'm posting a picture that Rob took, since completely picture-less posts are just so sad. Apparently Clinton's team was on the trigger for so much of the first dive that he didn't get any pics either -- so I can't even mooch pics off of him!

We were supposed to dive on Monday, but the conditions were bad on Sunday (and supposed to be the same on Monday) and since the dive (gas) plan required being able to get out of the bay, Jim called it on Sunday. But hanging out at home and catching up on my blogging and video editing was nice anyway.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Magnus Test Drive

Saturday was the first BAUE rec boat of the year. I was the organizer, which isn't really as glorious as it sounds, since I didn't even get much of a vote on where we ended up going (I'll get to that in a minute). The forecast looked okay but not great. At the last minute, I remembered that I had been wanting to test drive the Silent Submersion Magnus scooter that Beto had had in his possession for a while (a demo unit, I guess). Rumor was that he was going to have to send it back soon, so this weekend was my last chance to try it out. I'm usually not a fan of bringing scooters on the rec boats for a few different reasons. But I decided that this counted as an exigent circumstance, so we brought scooters. Rob had also just installed a little scooter mount for the Hero cam on my scooter. So we wanted to play with that as well. I even asked Kevin to bring his video reflector for me to borrow for the the occasion. So these dives were really more about playing with scooters and the video camera than anything. As we headed out of the bay, it was a bit big, but once we came around Point Pinos, I thought things had really settled down. I was relieved that it was a much smoother ride. Then we started to drive out to the west, in a big arc... as if the boat was turning around! Jim came down and told us that the reports from down in Carmel were that it was pretty bad. So the recommendation was to turn around. Jim said we could keep going and take a look if we wanted to, but I didn't want to defy his recommendation and end up taking everyone on a wild goose chase. I hate it when we do a long barf-inducing drive, end up having to turn around anyway, and then I feel like crap by the time we get to dive.

So the discussion turned to where to go. I voted for Aumentos, or rather against Ballbuster. I explained to Rob that I think Ballbuster is a scary dive. Every time we go there, it's because it is too rough to get out of the bay. Well when it is too rough to get out of the bay, it's usually kind of rough at Ballbuster. So a disproportionate number of the dives I've done at Ballbuster have been rough. And no matter how many times I dive the Escapade, I still think that reboarding the boat when it's at anchor in rough seas is a little scary. Reason #385 that I prefer to live boat. Anyhoo, I was outvoted, because I guess the rest of the people on the boat are less cowardly than me. So to Ballbuster we went. Rob had brought my scooter so he could use the camera mount, and I had the Magnus. Rob gave me a little briefing on how to use the trigger on it, since he had dived it before. When we jumped in the water, the crew brought me my scooter, so I told Rob that he could take the Magnus and we'd switch once we were at the bottom. This was code for "I don't think I can figure out how to use that thing while simultaneously clearing my ears". As I scootered down the line, something didn't feel right about my tow cord. I thought it was caught on something because it wouldn't slide around on the boltsnap. I looked down and found that the tow cord was now fixed on the bolt-snap, Gavin-style. There was practically steam coming out of my ears when I concluded that Rob had changed the tow cord on *my scooter*. It turned out that he had brought my tube and battery with his back-end. Phew.

Anyhoo, when we got to the pinnacle, we traded scooters, and I was just flying around the pinnacle playing with the scooter. After the dive I was telling Kevin that I have really never done a dive before where the sole purpose of the dive was to play with a scooter, but now I have. The Magnus is a monster. When you take it up to top speed it is not just fast, but it makes this low grumbly reverberating noise that feels like you are riding on the back of a Mack truck. My one complaint about it (besides the fact that I got a mask hicky from driving it on top speed) is the way the tow cord works. Instead of connecting to the shroud at the top and bottom, it connects on the sides. This has an annoying side effect that if you start to go when the tow cord isn't exactly centered, the scooter will pull you to one side, and once there is tension on the tow cord, sliding it back to the center is pretty much impossible (without giving the scooter a good yank with your left hand). The same is pretty much true when you go into a turn, it's really hard to come out of the turn. Beto tells me that while the tow cord on the sides thing is pretty annoying at first, you eventually get used to that (by figuring out the technique to get it out of a turn). Also, my right wrist was killing me after the first dive. I think that's because after going into a turn (we were scootering around a pinnacle, so there was a lot of that), I would try to muscle the scooter back to center with my right arm which was pretty hard on my wrist and shoulder (for the purposes of full disclosure, I should mention that I do sometimes have right wrist pain when I've been mousing too much at work, so occasionally even scootering with my X bothers my wrist). But once I figured out that I could use my left hand to pull the shroud and get the scooter pointing where I wanted it, that seemed to solve that problem. But the scooter is very stable once you have it pointed in the right direction. While this isn't the best when you are scootering around a small pinnacle like Ballbuster (which really doesn't call for a scooter anyway), if you were trying to get from here to there in a relatively straight cave passage, this would be a good thing. And I think that's really what you would use the highest speed for. Also, since it is very powerful, I have no doubt that it could get me and as many bottles as I would ever want to bring on a dive down an anchor line in a pretty stiff current. I can't really say the same thing for my Sierra.

Okay, enough with the product endorsements. Even though I was primarily just zooming around on the scooter, we also saw some neat things at Ballbuster. First of all, the viz was quite good. I would say 30 to 40 feet (after reviewing the video footage, it's probably more like 40 than 30). Ballbuster has a lot of Metridiums on it. I know this sounds like an obvious statement, but when you are seeing the reef 20 feet at a time, it doesn't seem as impressive as when you can see the reef 40 feet at a time. At the bottom of the pinnacle looking up, there were Metridium everywhere. After scootering off of the pinnacle a bit, we found a pretty big lingcod on some of the rubble. We stalked it briefly, as Rob was trying to get some video. Rob also found a cabezon right at the bottom of Ballbuster, and a fringehead poking his head out among some Metridium. I think it was a sarcastic fringehead but I am not very good at fringehead ID. It was super cute -- I want one as a pet! The ascent was a bit sea nettly, and the viz was very milky from about 10 to 30 feet, so keeping track of the line among all of the divers on it was a pain. At some point Ted tried to swim over me or something and ended up totally clobbering me.

For the second dive, we wanted to do something on the shale. We ended up going to "shale island annex" which is a taller shale ledge near the island. Rob wanted to bring scooters again so we did. We pretty much just scootered and swam along the ledge looking for anything interesting. Rob was taking video of a few things. We didn't see anything unusual. Rob found one slug that he wasn't sure what it was. It was white with fairly big black splotches on it. At first I thought it was a Geitodoris, but now I am thinking it was one of those splotchier, Seattle-style San Diego dorids. I also found a nice yellow Geitodoris that had the characteristic yellow splotch on its back. Otherwise it was pretty much the usual slugs. I was hoping for some Onchidoris bilamellata eating those barnacles, but didn't see any. Boohoo. We saw a bunch of Vermilion rockfish in one area, including a younger one that hadn't yet changed to the adult coloration. At some point I put the video reflector on my light and tried to light things for Rob. Eventually we switched scooters so I could take some video. Eventually Rob suggested that we find the anchor line. We weren't anchored right on the taller ledge, so it wasn't exactly trivial to find our way back to it. We were scootering along on some of the smaller ledges parallel to the tall ledge, and Rob signaled that he thought we had gone too far and we should turn around. I said okay. At this point I was right next to Rob, so it wasn't convenient to scooter myself around. So instead, I helicoptered around. On the way around, I saw a nice sand rose anemone, so I video'd it for a moment. When I finished turning around, Rob was gone. I guess when he said let's go that way and I said okay, he took that to mean it was time to take off on his scooter. Grumble grumble grumble. Not this again. Since I was on a ledge, I thought there was a good likelihood if I just stayed there, he would turn around and follow that ledge back and find me. So I just hung there for a little while, but eventually gave up on that plan. I headed over to the tall ledge, where there were a couple of other teams. I figured if I was going to search around for Rob it would be good to be in proximity to some other divers. While looking for Rob, I happened to find a warbonnet poking its head out of the reef. But I figured videoing a warbonnet while searching for my lost buddy was probably not kosher. I asked one of the teams if they had seen him and it didn't seem so. I could hear his scooter at some point, so I headed in that direction, but still no Rob. After one last pass along the ledge we had been on when we separated, I decided I was just going to have to surface to find him. So I popped a bag and headed up. At 30 feet, Rob appeared out of nowhere. For whatever reason, when I first saw him, he was a foot or two below me. I couldn't understand how he had found me in midwater. It turns out he had surfaced, asked the boat if they had seen me, seen my bag, and then followed it down. So while it looked like he had come from below me, he had not. We finished our ascent and headed back to the boat.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's in Cave Country

For New Year's 2011, Team Kitty took to the caves. Since Rob and I were on the east coast to visit our parents for Christmas anyway, of course we had to swing by Florida for a few days of diving. Kevin actually went out there several days before us, and stayed for about a week, and our trips overlapped for a couple of days. Rob didn't bring his camera, but I brought the Hero cam, which I have come to love. I don't love editing video, though. So for now I am just posting screen captured images from the video (hence the lower than usual quality of the pics!). Some day in the future (possibly after I retire), I am sure I will edit all of the video, and I will post it here.

Little River
Ginnie Springs
Madison Blue

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Madison Blue

To finish our whirlwind tour of caves in the greater High Springs area, we headed to Madison Blue on Sunday. Rumor was the flow was down and the viz was good. I guess we picked a good time to visit. There was some misinformation surrounding how long of a drive it was from High Springs, but it turned out to only be about an hour and twenty minutes. Rob was kind enough to get up a little early and go to EE for fills while I stayed in bed. We ended up getting to Madison around 11 I think. There were quite a few other divers there, and they all seemed to be carrying their side-mount tanks down to the water. We walked down and took a look at the basin, which looked quite lovely. We chatted a little with some of the divers next to us, and then started to get geared up. I noticed when I got back from the bathroom, Rob had put a battery in my canister for me and closed it up. How nice. I got into my suit and I had one arm in it, when I thought to check that all of my lights were working. Nope. The little wire coming out of the can lid had pulled out of the connector. This happened a few weeks ago, and Frank fixed it, but I was planning on dropping my light off at Light Monkey on the way out of town to get it really fixed, since everytime it gets "fixed" the wire gets a little shorter and thus easier to get pulled out of the connector next time. I informed Rob that he had broken my light while putting a battery in :) Well I don't know if I wouldn't have broken it, but I knew it was fragile and thus was treating it as such. Rob started scurrying around and asked the guys next to us if they had some tools. They produced a couple of useful tools from their toolkit. I don't precisely remember what tools he had at this point, but it seemed a bit like trying to fix a can light with an emery board and a toothpick (which I could do, because I am a gear expert, but Rob I'm not so sure about). While Rob was working on it, another guy came over (who must have overheard) and said he had a soldering iron if that would be helpful. No way! He brought his very impressive tool box over, which included a butane soldering iron and pretty much every other tool you might possibly need. Best dive toolkit ever. Then he and Rob fixed my light, which I was super grateful for. There was a while where they were huddled over the soldering iron trying to protect it from the wind so the flame didn't blow out before it got hot. I really should have taken a picture of that!

After that, we got geared up and headed into the water. I picked the wrong staircase to walk down (the one on the right as you enter) so when I got to the bottom it wasn't shallow enough to stand and put fins on. So I did my best impression of a drowning cat and eventually just asked Rob to put my fins on for me. Very hard core, I know. I ran the reel to the mainline, which is maybe a body-length into the overhead. Rob apparently estimated it to be more like in open water, and made fun of me for running the reel (strange, since Rob is always encouraging me to "practice" running the reel and such). I was sure if I didn't run the reel to the mainline that I would get some serious shit from him for that; I'm still not convinced I wouldn't have. I think he was just testing me when he asked why I ran the reel.

There was what I would call minor flow. There were some areas where the flow picked up a bit, and I did pull and glide for some of it, because I am lazy, but it probably wasn't really necessary. The water is very blue, so I can see why it is named so. And the cavern zone is pretty (when you are looking out, that is). There are a lot of those smooth sculpted looking rock formations that remind me of either sheet coral or mammal skulls. I think those look neat. There were a few flatter wider areas, separated by more round tunnely passages. After a few hundred feet, we came to a plastic figurine which I thought was a dragon tied to the line (actually on the way in, I thought it was a dinosaur and on the way out, I revised that to a dragon). But I guess it's Godzilla, since this is apparently where you jump to go to "Godzilla Room". At about 500 feet, we came to what I would call a breakdown room, but that might be the wrong term, since I am cave-retarded. When you get to the "top" there is a little ledge above, and a vertical crack/hole which goes up quite a ways. I guess Rob saw it and was curious so he went up to check it out while I stayed on the line, and yep, it goes up quite a distance. Then he sent me up to look at it. It was pretty silty up there; I guess no one else is silly enough to go look at it. A little beyond 800', there was this crazy little z-shaped passage which I was not at all graceful at getting through -- it is called the "half hitch" which I didn't know at the time, but I saw a line marker with "HH" on it just past it. I asked Rob about this and he filled me in on the meaning, since he is a studier of cave maps, and is thus down with the lingo. On the way out, I was no more graceful, and thinking this would be quite "fun" with more flow.

After that, the flow seemed to pick up a bit, around the 1100' mark. Still nothing too significant, but I did catch Rob pulling once or twice, so I felt like it was okay for me to be lazy and pull too. We passed a jump spool with a cookie on the line that said "Poor scooter skills". I didn't get it. I asked Rob about it afterward, and then a few days later, he sent me to this thread. Man, cave divers can be so catty (and to ask for your cookie back!) Teehee. We also passed a couple of scientific instruments of some sort in two different spots in the cave. We did back-to-back dives and on the second dive we made it beyond the half hitch, but obviously not quite as far. Everything was pretty much the same, except someone had installed the jump on godzilla. On the way out from the second dive, I got the hero cam out and video'd on the way out of the cavern zone. We doodled about in the basin for a bit, and when we surfaced, it was raining :( After we got back to the car, we discussed a second dive and decided to punt. We were hungry and didn't have much to eat, because we forgot to get food before we left civilization, and everything on the way from civilization to Madison Blue was closed (Sunday, I guess?). So we headed out and stopped in Lake City for lunch (breakfast for me, I love biscuits) at Bob Evans. Hehe.

We made it back to EE in time to ditch our tanks, boohoo. Since we had a late lunch, we weren't hungry until fairly late, and we found out the hard way that nothing is open late on Sunday in rural Florida. So we got pizza at Villagio in Newberry which was quite tasty.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ginnie Springs

We managed to get ourselves out of bed not that late, and were on our way to Ginnie a little past 9. We were briefly waylaid by a sheriff's deputy with a radar gun, but after receiving our invitation to donate $194 to the state of Florida, we made it to Ginnie a but before 10. At that hour, the place was practically empty -- sweet. We parked by the turkey roost, and a bunch of the big buzzards were flapping around nearby, which was cool. We got geared up and into the water pretty quickly. I led the first dive, down the ear. The river was crazy clear, so that I could actually see all the way down the ear from the top (which I never have before). It was pretty cool, but at first a little disorienting! I've never run line through the ear before. It wasn't too bad -- there are quite a lot of nice primary ties to choose from, it's just a matter of flaring out all of your limbs to wedge yourself in (like Pepper when she falls in the bath tub, Rob says) while you put in the tie. Doug had said the day before that the flow was up at Ginnie (thanks Doug, for giving me something to fret about), but I didn't find that to be the case. I guess I have only a small sample size, so I don't really know what flow is typical. I was diving 32% for the first time ever at Ginnie, and I did not find it to be a problem. In fact I had a lot of fun pulling my way through the gallery, etc., since pull-and-glide is now my most favorite propulsion technique (I don't know why they don't teach that in fundies -- I would totally volunteer to demo it!). I think that because I was diving 32%, I was trying much harder to slow down and not exert myself, and as a result, we made it quite a bit further than I have made it in Ginnie before. I think the furthest I'd been before was just past 800', but today we got just past the 1100' arrow. I wanted to see this maple leaf that all of the cool kids have already seen. When I got to it, I asked Rob if this was the maple leaf, and he confirmed that it was. I must say, it's a little anti-climactic (which Rob denied when I told him this after the dive, and tried to explain to me why it is really cool). But what can I say -- now I have seen the maple leaf :P Just before and after the maple leaf, the cave gets way bigger. There are also tons of little clay banks where you can see the different-colored layers in the clay.

We did two back-to-back dives on the first set of doubles, leaving the reel in. The second dive looked quite a bit like the first :) On the way out, I tried going through the lips in a different area than usual (that I have always wondered about going through) and clank clank clank made it through with just a few bumps. When we got back to our reel, Rob told me to take it, so he could install the reel in the afternoon. I was amazed to find a decent "cavern zone" at the bottom of the ear, again due to the very clear river water. It was pretty cool. Reeling up through the ear was not exactly graceful; I can't exit gracefully even when I'm not reeling. First, Rob had added a "placement" to my lined on the way down the ear, around a little finger of rock that stuck out and then curled under. In order to get the line out I had to stick my finger under there and work the line out -- not exactly what you expect with a placement! After figuring that out, I moved up to the secondary tie, and then got pushed past it before I could get it un-done. So now I was like 3 feet past it with the line running down to the secondary tie and then back up to me. I was sitting there trying to work out the best way to get back down to the tie, when Rob (who was at 30' and had already turned himself around so that he was facing me) suggested that he go back to the tie (since he was facing the correct direction to swim to it) and pull it for me. Phew. The primary tie I was able to retrieve without too much difficulty, though in the process I decided that my reel really has a bit too much line on it. After that ordeal, we retired to the log for a while, and I got out the hero cam and got some footage of Rob posing on the log, and the fish, leaves, grass, etc. getting blown around in the flow. Since Rob got to the log first, he took the good spot, on the deeper end, so he was resting on it in like 15 degree trim. He left me the other end, where I had to rest in -15 degree trim on it. Pfft.

After we came up, Rob suggested running some line so I could work on my breath-hold (grumble). I told him I had to pee and he more or less convinced me to man-up and so we played with that for a little while. Well I have definitely improved a bit since C1. After we did that for a while, we cleaned up the line and got out for some food and to switch tanks. We didn't have a very long surface interval, as we wanted to squeeze in some more diving and also make it back to EE by 4 (they were closing early again) so we could get fills for the next day. Rob led the dive, but before we got in the water, he said that he thought I should give reeling up at the end "another try". I did not receive this helpful tip very well though. He also wanted me to work on my no-mask breath-hold some more in the spring run after the dives.

We headed in and around the gallery, Rob took off and left me behind. He got to right before the lips, and stopped there and gave me an okay with his lights. I didn't respond, because I wanted him to wait for me to catch up. And then off he went. I assumed he saw my light spazzing around while I pulled, and took that to be "okay", but I was still totally annoyed. I always stop before the lips to catch my breath and check on the team. So he should have known I wasn't ready for him to go through if I wasn't even there yet! Well, too bad for him. I was still going to stop and relax for a moment. I figured I'd find him waiting on the other side. I finally went through and no, he wasn't waiting, he was all the way across that room waiting before the keyhole. After some excited hand signals at him, we headed through the keyhole and made it to about 1000' feet before turning back. When we got back to the cavern zone, I asked if we should head up (Rob seemed really committed to making me do those line-following drills in the basin), but Rob wanted to do another dive. On this dive, we made it a couple hundred feet beyond the keyhole before turning back. About 50' after we turned, I crossed a jump line (I believe to the hill 400 line) installed from the mainline. It was like dark red or purple or something and quite hard to see. I had a brief moment of "oh crap, did I swim over that on the way in and totally miss it?" but I was sure it wasn't there -- as we approached that marked jump, I was even wondering if it would be installed, because it had been on the morning dives and I get the impression that is a sort of common jump. After the dive, Rob confirmed that the line wasn't there and that he had noticed a team not too far behind us on the way in. On the way out, Rob got to reel up the ear, bwahahaha. I got to 30 feet and waited for him and then he came along and shoo'd me along to go up to the log while he cleaned things up. I went up there and claimed the good end of the log and waited for him. He appeared a moment later. While we were hanging out on the log (it's just such a fun place to hang out and video each other :P) quite a lot of divers came through on their way in. Man, it's like all the cool kids are diving side-mount these days.

When we surfaced, Rob asked if I wanted to do some more drills, but I told him we didn't have time. Indeed, we just managed to make it to EE 5 minutes before close, but it didn't matter since their banks were empty anyway. This was a bummer, since we wanted to get an early start in the morning, but we figured we would just head over there early in the morning.

For dinner we decided to go to Gainesville and Rob found a few good-looking places on the Internets. It never occurred to me that stuff (well, restaurants) would be closed on New Year's day, but apparently they are. I can't even remember where we tried to go, but we found two of the places Rob had found online and they were both closed, plus a bunch of other places we passed were too. But we found a place called Harry's (that is New Orleans-themed) so we went there. I got jambalaya, which I wasn't too into, but that's because I don't like jambalaya. I don't know what I was thinking when I ordered it :) It always sounds good but I never like it. But we got a piece of key lime pie (the kitty's favorite pie, in case any blog-stalkers out there want to send me pie) to go which was super tasty.