It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Best GPO Encounter Ever!

The title doesn't leave much up to the imagination, but here goes anyway :P On Sunday we (Team Kitty, that is) were on a BAUE tech charter. The plan was to do something in the 15/55 range. For some reason, which I don't think I had much say in, it was decreed that it would be a 3 (deco) bottle dive. Well hmph. I am not the biggest fan of 3-bottle dives off of the Escapade, since I find it difficult to get myself into the water in all of that gear (on Phil's boat, on the other hand, you just have to roll yourself in with the gear on, which is much easier than having to stand yourself up and get to the swimstep). But this was the plan, and who was I to question it? It seems like we have had a lot of cancellations of 15/55 boats this year. Well, there have been a lot of cancellations of boats in general but in the 15/55 range, it is particularly bad, since there aren't as many sites in that range, so the weather can really limit whether there is any place to do a dive at all. Anyhoo, on Saturday conditions were great, and Jim said that the boat could have gone "anywhere" in those conditions. We were hoping for more of the same on Sunday. On the way out of the bay, Jim mentioned the small craft advisory and the wind forecast, which I had not previously been aware of. Then he checked the weather again and said there was no longer a small craft advisory. Phew.

As we neared Point Lobos, there was talk about diving the Deep E3 area versus Mt. Chamberlain. I didn't really know why we were even discussing Deep E3 without trying to make it to MC first. Jim decided that MC would actually be preferable since based on the direction of the wind, there were some concerns about where we might drift near Lobos. So we continued down there, and when we got there, conditions were actually pretty good. There was a bit of wind, but nothing too uncomfortable, and the swell was quite small. We got geared up and did a first round of gear checks as the crew set the downline somewhere on the southwest corner, and then once they were finished with that, they helped us with our bottles. Our team was to be deployed first, since we had the longest bottom time. I was sitting closest to the gate, since that is, after all, my seat on the Escapade. I very bossily told the deck hands (Michael and Derek) where I wanted each of them to stand and what pieces of gear they were each to handle as they helped me into the water, followed by a brief lecture on the perils of hypoxic backgas. Bossy, yes, but the deployment went quite smoothly, and I like to think my careful choreography helped ;) After the boys got themselves into the water and collected scooters and camera, we headed down the line and met at 20-some feet to get situated and do bubble checks. Then we headed down the line. I think my descent was pretty speedy, though occasionally I had to flatten out (from my head down scootering position) to clear my ears. We got down to about 170' or so on the reef and paused there until everyone gave the okay to continue. It was quite dark, and the water was rather green. There was an icky layer down to 50' or so, but at the bottom the viz did clear up to maybe 40 feet.

In the darkness (and the not totally stellar viz), I didn't have a very clear idea of where we were. Luckily Rob was leading. We scootered down a crack of sorts, and as we came to the bottom of the crack, there was a basket star that was totally unfurled on a gorgonian on the right side. We then headed left, following along the side of a wall, with the bottom in maybe 230' of water, if that. We were definitely on the shallow side of our planned bottom depth for a bit. As we were scootering along, I was wondering if the dive was really worth all the effort and the gear. I am sure I've said this before, but I just don't think the deeper reef (> 200') at MC is quite as beautiful as it is shallower (around 150'). It just doesn't seem as colorful. But it has the potential for interesting critters (like the hagfish or sometimes crinoids). Eventually we left the wall and hopped across the sand to our right, until we came to a low-lying reef. At the time, I thought this was in the same general area but a bit further south than the usual low-lying patches of reef in sand on the southwest corner. But now I think maybe we were actually on the back side of the very south of the west-side wall. Since we really couldn't see far, it is possible the little reef patch we were on continued and I just couldn't see it.

Anyhoo, once we got there, we stopped and started to look around. I found a Diaulula lentiginosa and was about to signal Rob to look at it, when he signaled me to come look at something. I figured my slug wasn't going anywhere (and was certainly big enough to find again :P) whereas whatever he was looking at might go somewhere, so he won. I headed over and there was a small-ish lingcod with a little rockfish in his mouth. He was just perched on a rock with this treat. And he even let Rob get some pictures. That was pretty cool. I eventually swam around Rob, toward Kevin, so I would be out of his way and wouldn't disturb the fish. Then I was innocently poking around on the reef when I got a light signal from Kevin and as my eyes swept across the reef to look at him, I saw the object of his light signal. A big! GPO was just sitting out on top of the reef, a couple feet from me. According to Kevin, he heard me squeal through my regulator when I saw it :) I turned to signal Rob, but Kevin beat me to it. Kevin managed some sort of disco-ball effect with his light to signal "GPO!" to Rob (it reminded me of diving at 40 Fathoms Grotto with some single tankers on air). Poor light etiquette perhaps, but after the dive we all agreed that it was way too panicked to mean someone was out of gas ;) Rob came over and we all watched as the GPO basically just skittered across the top of the reef, not really in a hurry to get away and not really attempting to take cover anywhere.

Rob skittered along with it, shooting a zillion pics of the octopus. Kevin and I posed in the background above the reef for the first few pictures. Eventually I just hunkered down off of the reef, on the opposite side of Rob from the octopus, so I would be out of the frame. I laughed to myself as I saw the teeny tiny tip of one of the octopus tentacles groping for Rob's strobe arm, and then slowly winding its way around the strobe. Rob was so busy taking pictures that he didn't even notice it at first. I pointed it out to him and then decided that if there was going to be a diver-GPO skirmish, I wanted to get it on video. I was getting out my hero-cam (which I realized had like 0 chance of producing usable footage at this depth, but one must try), and when I looked back up, I was rather confused to see that the diver with the camera and the diver in the grey suit were no longer the same. Kevin was holding the camera, and Rob was entangled with the GPO, who was tasting Rob's arm. Kevin was just going click click click, taking pictures without really knowing how to use the camera, while I was trying to get anything on my camera. We were clearly really concerned about Rob's welfare. Eventually Rob retrieved his arm from the octopus, and his camera from Kevin, and the octopus skittered across the sand and rubble field. We followed him as he would stop and pose, then move a few more feet, and stop and pose again. Kevin and I took turns posing behind him, and posed together a couple of times. Somewhere during the meander across the sand, there was a crinoid siting too. I lamented after the dive that that rubble field was probably teeming with crinoids -- it had that Mount Chamberlain crinoid feel to it. But who has time for crinoids when you are playing with a GPO?

Eventually it was really getting to be time to go, especially as we were now on the deeper side of our target depth :) Kevin signaled Rob to look at the time, and surprisingly, Rob did not ask to push it. We said goodbye to the octopus and headed for the top of the south wall. When we got to a reasonable depth for the occasion, we switched onto our 190' bottles and continued in. We eventually made it to the channel. We paused along there from time to time, and Rob took a couple of pictures of the reef and Kevin, and also pointed out a Doto amyra which had an egg-ribbon alongside of it. We also saw quite a few lingcods in the channel. As we were approaching K2, Kevin started to signal us excitedly again, as he had found a huge skate laying on the bottom. Unfortunately it seemed to have recently expired -- it had some crabs walking on its back, though it didn't look decayed at all. So it must have died super recently. It was quite an amazing sight even though it was dead. It was huge, at least 5 feet long I would estimate, and the swirly pattern on its back was really cool. After Rob took some pictures of it, we continued on to K2 and we actually made it the whole way there, even in not-so-stellar viz.

As soon as we started to ascend up the peak at K2, from about 90' up, the current was totally sweeping us away. Whoosh. Rob put up a bag at 80' and the bottle shenanigans commenced. Off the 190' bottle, up to 70', onto the 70' bottles, and then bottle rotations all around. I was quite pleased with my bottle rotation; it was speedy and not too spazzy. I feel like I have finally conquered the bottle rotation (2 years after T2, I know). As I told Rob after the dive, to great eye-rolling, the great secret of a non-spazzy bottle rotation is ... keep your head back. Yes, it's a very advanced technique that I first learned in Fundies. The deco was pretty uneventful. It was long, and somewhat cold (but not that cold, as I was wearing my near-new undergarment), and I was hungry. Rob kept shivering and I told him to stop because it was making me cold :) As we approached the surface from 5', I was thinking that now comes the hard part, getting our gear and ourselves back on the boat. I was expecting the wind to have increased, but in fact when we surfaced it was rather calm. We re-boarded the boat quickly without much drama, and then went to pickup the other teams. The trip back to the dock was pretty smooth, then we headed to Phat Burger for lunch.

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