It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Matt's Birthday Dive

Photo by Leah Wadler
On Sunday I was back on Phil's boat, this time to celebrate Matt's birthday. It was quite the full weekend of birthday celebrations, though unfortunately we only had cupcakes once :( We were hoping to see some dolphins on the way out, after our many dolphin encounters on Friday. In fact, I said that if there was a pod of dolphins on top of the Great Pinnacle again, we were diving there, no matter how good the conditions were. Unfortunately, we saw no dolphins. After dealing with some engine shenanigans, we finally got going, and sort of paused just outside of the cove. We had been talking about Yankee Point sites, but then it was a bit windy, and there was also the question of the engine, but Phil said it was fine. After a bit of waffling on whether to go south, or to stay close to Lobos, or maybe to go north, or maybe less north, we eventually settled on Yankee Point after all, shooting for PTP (Pinnacle of Tremendous Proportions). Actually we settled on heading that way and seeing how things got once we were around Lobos. Because on Friday, I felt like things settled down a bit once we were down there.

Conditions were roughly equivalent to Friday, with some wind but very little swell. However, it was quite overcast today, which I always feel makes it seem like conditions are worse than they really are. We got down there, and I got to drop the hook -- not sure I've ever done that before. For some odd reason, Phil put me in my gear last, which made little sense to me, since Leah is prone to seasickness. But there seemed to be a method to his madness, it just eluded me. There was a bit of surface current, but I found it not too bad to get to the anchor line (sans scooter, if you can believe it). And once we were off of the surface, it was fine. On Friday, there was a layer of muck to maybe 40 feet and then quite clear water below that. I was hoping for the same, and while it did clear up a bit, it definitely wasn't quite as clear. Greener and darker, too, I guess because it was overcast above. Matt was leading, because he said it was his birthday and if he led, then he would get to do whatever he wanted. If it were my birthday, I would do whatever I wanted too, which is to not lead :) We hit the pinnacle at maybe 60' and Matt quickly found this nice canyon, with the tops of the walls on either side at about 80' and the bottom at maybe 110' or so. We didn't go all the way to the bottom, so it's hard to say. The viz was pretty good there, and it was a very pretty spot.

Since the pinnacle is tremendous, we planned a multi-level dive at like 90' for the deep part and then 60-ish for the shallow segment. In hindsight, the deep spot was so nice, we really should have just stayed there. It was too cold to do a super long dive anyway! We swam along the canyon, and eventually I got out my Hero-cam and Leah got out her camera. The one notable/unusable thing I noticed on the dive was that there were TONS of sea urchins. I was thinking that as I video'd a couple of spots with a bunch of them, and then just a few minutes later, Matt signaled toward some of them and gave me this sort of "what the heck?" look. I was thinking it seemed like a good place for a wolf eel, and I even found a nice crack that seemed like a hospitable place for one, but no wolf eel was to be found. I did find a treefish in the crack though. After about 10 minutes of video'ing, I decided that video'ing was interfering with my enjoyment of the dive, so I put the camera away for the rest of the dive. But since that was the nicest part of the dive anyway, I don't think I missed too much.

About 20 minutes into the dive, Matt suggested we work our way up the reef. I felt like we spent the rest of the dive swimming around looking for a nice spot, and never really found it. Not that it wasn't a nice dive, but nothing that was found was as nice as that first canyon. We were pretty much swimming along through the palm kelp salad for most of the shallow portion of the dive. But the palm kelp salad always has some interesting things to look at. At one point when I ventured through the kelp to get a look at the reef, I found some hydroids that, I think, were the kind that I have seen Dendronotus subramosus on. So I was inspecting those and noticed something moving. There were some skeleton-like shrimp on the hydroids, but they were tan, not the usual red. They were also pretty big (for skeleton shrimp, but still tiny). I have never seen them in that color. They were pretty cool, but also kind of creepy, as skeleton shrimp tend to be. I also found this awesome red and white (but mostly red) kelpfish squirming around in a ball of kelp leaves. I was trying to show it to Leah, and it kept wriggling out of site into the web of kelp leaves. It was quite amusing trying to show it to her. Finally he stayed in one place long enough for me to point and her to see it. It was a neat fish, and I loved how its idea of swimming away and hiding wasn't really swimming away at all... it never left that bundle of kelp. Just after I showed that to Leah, I noticed a stiletto shrimp on the same kelp stalk. And eventually we came across two Dendronotus irises within about 8 inches of each other.

The dive was very cold. Around the 30 minute mark, I was wondering how I could have done a nearly 2 hour dive on Friday -- my hands were SO cold. Then around the 45 minute mark, I realized that at some point, you stop feeling your fingers, and then it doesn't matter :) Around 50 or 55 minutes, I was wondering how Leah could possibly stand it, since she has a thinner undergarment than Matt and I. Then about 2 minutes shy of when I was going to call the dive on MDL, Leah thumbed it because she was cold. Phew. I pulled my bag out and shot it. As I was blowing into it, I saw some bubbles which at first I thought were coming from the OPV. But I decided they were probably just coming from my mouth (and not going into the bag, since my lips were cold). I put up the bag and we headed up. I didn't hear the boat on the ascent, but since it was a short ascent, I figured it didn't matter. Indeed, we were too close to the anchor line when we first put up the bag and when we finally drifted off of it and Phil was about to pull anchor, he saw us surface. So he checked that we were all okay and then pulled the anchor. When I got to the surface, I found a rather floppy bag. This didn't make sense, since I shot it from 65 feet and it was well over 1/3 full when I released it. When I grabbed it to take a look, just the pressure of my hand on it caused a bunch more gas to escape out of the OPV. So I didn't imagine those bubbles as I was inflating it. Phil said it was standing up just fine as we were coming up, but I guess when I got to the surface and released the tension on it and it flopped over, it started to leak gas. Apparently the OPV wasn't seated properly, but it seems to have fixed itself after rinsing it, popping off the OPV and replacing it. Or that's what Rob says anyway ;)

When we surfaced, it was snottier than when we got in, but not as bad as it had been on Friday. There were whitecaps that we could see, but we weren't actually IN the whitecaps. Phil picked up Matt and Leah, as I drifted away from the boat. I actually had to get myself out of my gear all by myself. Pffft. But I managed to do it and not drop my rig or anything (which is quite a bit easier without hypoxic backgas, I found). We headed in, and at some point I was wondering why, just south of Lobos, Phil was aimed straight toward land around Sea Lion point. Eventually he explained that he was trying to go in close to shore, since he thought that would be easier on Leah. I'm not convinced that it was really any easier. Maybe it was better seasickness-wise, but I thought it was mildly terrifying. We took the channel between the mainland and the first rock. I have never crossed that area even remotely that close to land! As we were going through it, I had a sudden thought about the engine problem we had in the morning, and thought what a terrible place this would be for the engines to die. After we got through it, I mentioned that I had this thought right in that channel, and Matt said he had been thinking the same thing :) But we made it through fine. While we were waiting for Phil to get the trailer, we again watched the baby seals getting swimming lessons.

I haven't been able to edit the video from this dive, because some sort of catastrophic hardware failure has left me without my video editing machine. (The video editing machine is fine, but Rob's laptop is dead, so he commandeered that machine.) So I am just including some screenshots for now.

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