It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Little Cow Canyon

There were back-to-back BAUE tech boats this weekend. We were on the Saturday boat, which was slated to do a 15/55 dive. Earlier in the week, there was talk of potentially switching to 18/45 so we could make a run for Big Sur Banks. There seemed to be a general ambivalence about what to do, so we stuck with the original plan, and hoped that the fog that had been hanging around all week would go away for the weekend. It turns out we made the right decision. When we got down to Monterey on Saturday morning, there was fog. The middle of the bay was pretty fog-free, but we could see (or not see, rather) that there was thick fog out by Point Pinos. Jim had driven down the coast to see whether it cleared up in Carmel, and reported that there was thick fog all the way down to Yankee Point. Hmph. So we decided to adjourn for breakfast and come back a bit later, in hopes that the fog would have lifted. We headed to the breakfast club, where I had some very tasty French toast with strawberries. This was definitely risky, since I am usually pretty strict about what I will and will not eat before a significant deco dive; and French toast with strawberries is definitely not on the "will" side of the list. By the time we got back to the dock, it was about 10. The fog situation looked better in the bay, but looking south from K-dock, we could see fog in the hills. We decided to go out and take a look anyway. On the way out of the bay, the fog seemed to be lifting, and between Point Pinos and Cypress Point, it was really clear. It looked good enough that we all decided it was worth it to put our drysuits on. Just after Cypress Point, we encountered a wall of fog, but then a bit south of there was better.

We made it down to Lobos and started to discuss our options. We decided to look at Yankee Point and if that wouldn't work, we would retreat to the E3 area, and if that wouldn't work, back to the Outer Outer Pinnacles area. Once we passed Lobos the wind really kicked up and by the time we got to Yankee Point, we pretty much turned around without discussion. By the time we got back to Lobos, even there it was quite windy, with whitecaps about. Jim was worried about the direction of the wind and the potential to drift into the rocks, so we headed back to the OOP area. It was pretty freakin' windy at this point, and I was feeling pretty negative about the idea of getting into the water with 3 bottles, a process I do not particularly enjoy even in the best conditions. Luckily, when we got back to the OOP area, the water was dead calm. I guess Cypress Point was protecting us from the wind? We circled and circled and discussed our plans. Jim had some mark in his GPS which Rob had given to him, that was supposedly a spot from 160' to 230'. But no one had actually dived it. After discussing our options (which included some strange ones), we eventually settled on dropping the downline on that spot, and planning to spend the dive there (that is, not heading to the next shallower pinnacle at the end of the dive, which had been one of the options). So we finally got geared up while the line was set. Rob was looking a bit green during the process of gearing up, most likely from circling while we decided what to do, and at some point while we were getting ready, he made a bucket deposit. Ewww.

Normally when doing a 3 bottle dive on the Escapade, I have a crew member clip my O2 bottle to my leash when I am standing on (or one step from) the swim step. Today I decided to just clip it off while seated, since it's only like an extra 3 steps with the bottle. When we were ready to go, Michael and I hoisted me up and then Michael practically collapsed in laughter as I trudged to the swimstep, looking like a bottle monster. I didn't even bother to hold the O2 bottle, I just let it drag along. Probably not very good for the boat deck, but it worked well for me. Rob pointed out that my other bottles were sort of bouncing around against the valve/reg on the O2 bottle, so it probably wasn't very good for my gear either. Oops. Anyhoo, I got into the water and grabbed my scooter. It was super calm with very little surface current. Rob and Kevin were getting their stuff sorted out when I told them I would meet them on the line. Then I attempted to scooter down to the line, from about 10 feet away from the ball. Silly me. The viz was like 3 feet, so there was no way I was going to find the line from that far away :) I had to return to the surface, go to the ball on the surface, and follow the line down. We got to 20 feet and did bubble checks. Rob told me my right post was bubbling, and told me to hold while he monkeyed with it. It was very reminiscent of T2, having to fix a post on the way down at 20 feet. Once that was sorted out, we headed down. As I mentioned the viz was crap near the surface. But below about 30 or 40 feet, it was really good. Not epic, but very good. We came to the top of the structure at about 160 feet. The ball was actually in a little sand channel between the main structure and another mini pinnacle.

We were on the north side of a ridge that ran, for the most part, east-west. We headed west along the edge of the ridge, since we knew that was the deeper end. Along the way to the west end, we saw a Diaulula lentiginosa, two of those weird reddish carrot-shaped deco creatures (this was the first time I saw one on the bottom), a couple of starry rockfish, and some vase sponges. When we got to the end, there were several parallel fingers of the reef extending out, with sand in-between. On the south side of the northernmost finger, Rob found a crinoid, which he showed to me, because he knows I love crinoids. While we were looking at it, I saw a rockfish, which I didn't recognize at all, sort of tucked up against the reef. But completely out in the open. I pointed it out to Rob, and as he also had no clue what it was, he took some pictures. While he was doing that, I got an excited light signal from Kevin, who was at the very tip of the next reef finger. I went over to see what was up, and saw a field of crinoids -- yay! There were over a dozen full-sized ones and a couple of baby crinoids which were oh so cute. Eventually Rob came over to shoot some pictures of me with the crinoids. While I was supposed to be pretending to look at the crinoids, I was actually ogling some of the many (dozens) of Acanthadoris hudsoni all over the reef, including a really tiny one maybe a centimeter long. So cute! I was also noting that my hands were freakin' cold, I thought because my new wrist seals were too tight, inhibiting circulation (or, as those GUE types like to say, "perfusion"). Eventually Kevin and Rob moved along to the east a bit, back to what I would consider the south side of the main reef (as opposed to the "fingers" extending from it). I was still playing with the slugs and crinoids when I heard a squeal and looked over at them, just in time to see them both start to signal me at once. I scootered over to them, and then were pointing into a crack, which contained the largest lingcod I've ever seen. He was scary-big, and I have no idea why he felt the need to hide in a crack, considering his scary-bigness. Right next to him, half in the crack and half out of it, was a giant vermilion. They must have both been snacking on the same nuclear waste to end up so big.

After marveling at the giants for a bit longer, we headed to the east, ending up in a canyon between a ridge to the north and a ridge to the south. So we were on the south side of the ridge we had started on. Along the canyon, we saw several vase sponges and just generally a lot of fish. Although we did see quite a few vase sponges, they weren't the impressive towering ones that you often see in the OOP area. In fact, I was a bit surprised that this site didn't have "better" vase sponges. We stopped around 180' and switched onto our 190' bottles. We looked around briefly at that spot, then continued to the east. As we neared the high spot on the east side, we saw two bright dots in the distance, coming toward us, and eventually Matt and Jim appeared. They had been looking for any other high spots to the east, but hadn't found anything. Both of our teams ended up finishing our dives on that 160' high spot where we had started the dive. This spot had more of the stuff you typically see shallower, with a heavy covering of Corynactis. Rob thumbed the dive on time, and I started barking out deco orders. When we got to 90', I told them, by the way, that I was deco captain. Teehee. When we got to 70', we discussed the deco plan. The deep portion of the dive had been significantly shallower than we had planned, so we adjusted our deco slightly.

The viz was pretty amazing on deco. There were a good number of egg yolk jellies in the water column, and from 20 or 30 feet, you could look out in the distance and make out jellies that were obviously quite far away. The seascape was dotted with them. One other neat siting on deco was a pretty nice looking salp chain. It wasn't huge, but was pretty big. I regretted being too lazy to bring my hero cam to play with on deco. At 20 feet, the viz got a little wonky -- we could be in a patch of great viz and see a patch of murkiness drifting toward us (or, more likely, we were drifting toward it). But those murky patches sure were toasty warm!

Aside from the jelly-peeping, the deco was pretty uneventful. When we surfaced, the wind had definitely picked up a bit, but it was not too bad. The pickup was pretty easy, in fact it was quite fast. I ditched my two bottles, my scooter, and then headed up the ladder. I felt like I had an unusual amount of difficulty climbing the ladder. Usually, it is getting from the top rung of the ladder to the swimstep that is tough; there's always a two-second moment where I'm not sure I'm going to make it, and think I'm going to fall (but haven't... yet). But today it was pulling myself up the first few rungs of the ladder with my arms. Luckily I had pre-warned Michael to give me a hand, since I was climbing with my O2 bottle still on. After I plopped down on the bench and got out of my rig, Kevin and Rob eventually appeared back on the boat, and we reviewed the cool finds of the dive, while retrieving the other team. About five minutes after I got back on the boat, before I'd even stood up, I suddenly felt a stabbing pain in my left elbow, and an intense desire to get my arm out of my way too tight wrist seal :) I have (non-decompression-related) pain in my left shoulder and wrist with some regularity, but never my elbow, and never like this. It felt like an ice pick being jammed into my elbow. I also had a less distinct pain in my wrist. Rob helped me out of my suit and to retrieve my leftover O2 bottle, which I breathed for the entire ride back to the dock. After maybe 15 minutes, it felt maybe 50% better, and within the last 5 minutes of the boat ride back to the dock, it went from still hurting a bit to not really hurting at all. So, no permanent damage, except maybe to my skin -- I didn't get around to putting sunblock on during the ride home, and you know, wrinkles are forever. I cannot identify any reason that this dive would have caused my first-ever DCS hit, except for my tight wrist seal. I didn't consider the profile of the dive to be particularly aggressive, considering the dive was shallower than usual and we barely modified the deco. The only other slight difference was that I was extremely speedy in getting out of the water; so I may have done less "surface deco" than usual. But there is usually a lot of variation in this regard, so I don't see this as being a very significant factor. So I blame the wrist seals. Or maybe it was the French toast.

In addition to not attending to my skin care (or bladder) needs while slurping Oxygen on the ride home, I didn't manage to eat much, so I was starving when we got back to the dock. We headed to La Tortuga for lunch.

After circulating the picture of the mystery fish to the "fish guys", we found that the mystery fish is a juvenile cowcod. Neat! So I named the site "Little Cow Canyon" after the fishy. And after my little cow cat.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Drysuit Shakeout Dive

Rob was out of town this weekend, and I was not very on top of making plans to dive. I made some feeble attempts to find something to do, and by Thursday I had given up on diving. Or given up on trying to make plans anyway. On Friday afternoon, Matt asked me if I had any plans, because he was suddenly without a buddy for his Lobos tickets. Due to some sort of scheduing snafu, Leah couldn't dive on Saturday. I had also received a call on Friday from Any Water Sports, about my new drysuit having arrived. So after work, I headed down to AWS (with like a dozen tanks in the poor RAV4, which Rob had left for me to take to AWS after our dive the previous weekend) to try the suit on. I was happy to find that it actually fit pretty well. It didn't fit exactly like my current suit, which I was a bit miffed about (since I consider that suit to "fit perfectly"), but it did fit well. It was definitely worthy of sea trials. We got a late start on Saturday and rolled into Lobos at about 10:45 :) As we pulled in, the conversation turned to where to go. Eventually we decided to head down the sand channel, and if the viz was good, we'd head toward Granite Point, and otherwise, we'd head left, to the Sisters or Beto's, or maybe the shallows over there. Since we had no clue where or what depth we would end up, we took O2 bottles along for the ride.

The water was super calm and the tide was nice and high. I donned my new drysuit and had a little photo shoot before I got in the water, since both Ted and Rob had asked me to take a pic. Unfortunately the picture makes the suit look blue, but I swear it looks purple in real life! We loaded our float with scoots and bottles (the tide was conveniently high enough that we could load it up on the ramp and then I swam it out). Then we got geared up and after some reviewing the plan and doing gear checks, we headed into the water. I got roped into leading the dive, grumble. After dealing with a bubbly right post (which confirmed for me that I could actually do a flow check on the surface in my new suit), we scooted out on the surface until we were a bit past the worm patch. We dropped in 30-ish feet. I did another flow check once we hit the bottom and found that I could indeed reach my valves in the new suit. The viz was looking pretty good on the sand channel. We headed out on the right side of the sand channel, and by the end of middle reef, I had decided we'd go to Granite Point. As we were approaching transect 1 by the end of middle reef, I stopped at the crack just before the transect and peered through it. Ted had recently asked me if I knew if the crack went the whole way through the reef. Amazingly, though I have peered into the crack on numerous occasions to look for slugs or fish, I've never bothered to look through it. And it does indeed go through -- I could see light on the other side.

After that little stop off, we headed straight to granite point wall. The viz out there was good but not great. There were tons of egg yolk jellies, and unlike the dead or dying ones I saw last weekend at Lobos, many of them were in very good shape. We poked around behind the wall first. I found a couple interesting slugs, including one that was super tiny which I think was a Dendronotus albus but it was TINY, like the size of a big Eubranchus. After puttering around there for a bit, we headed north and scootered for a bit, stopping to look at the egg yolk jellies here and there, until we got to the little cove with hydrocoral. We looked around there for a bit. The barnacles are out of control there. I frequently scour the wall on the south of the cove, and all of those pretty patches of sponges are totally covered with barnacles. From there, we continued northeast up the chute that starts in the back of that cove. We basically continued east-northeast until we got pretty shallow, up to around 20 feet at the reef tops. It was alternating between periods of uber calmness and massive surge. But it was fun to just hang up there right under the kelp canopy. Eventually we headed a little west and found a decent-sized school of blue rockfish hanging in the kelp forest. I harassed them with my hero cam, which they tolerated surprisingly well.

From there, I decided to head back to the wall-sand interface, and work our way back. We headed west from where we were, until we hit a drop off and we headed down to the sand, and worked our way south. I found a couple of Hopkins roses right next to each other on a little rock under an overhang. They were cute, though not in the best spot for looking at. On our way south, we passed some rocks that were covered in Onchodoris bilamellata eggs. I had seen a bunch of their eggs last week too, but never got a chance to look for slugs. I was hoping I would find some today. I got the impression that Matt didn't know what kind of slug the eggs belonged to, so I was hoping to find one to show to him. Eventually we ended up back at the main wall and were looking around there, right at the northern tip. In between three boulders, I found a little crack with a rock in the bottom, and saw a single Onchodoris bilamellata sitting on that rock. I excitedly signaled to Matt and he came over to look. It took him a moment to figure out what he was looking at, and while he was staring into the crack, I noticed that one of the rocks next to it was completely carpeted in the slugs. It was so covered in them that they just blended in like they were the surface of the rock. Another nearby rock had a bunch of them too, this time fewer, so they were easier to see one by one. We found another rock that was completely carpeted to. There must have been a thousand slugs in total on these rocks. Really cool but also sort of creepy!

After appreciating the slugs for a while, we continued along the wall and finally headed back toward middle reef. Once we got to middle reef, we headed to the sand channel and were scootering back, when I spied a little thing in the water column. I stopped to look, and it was a super cute tiny little fish. I signaled for Matt to come over and after a moment of doubt on his face, he looked at the fish. I originally thought it was another one of those adorable kelp poacher things, but now I don't think so. First of all, it was way darker -- dark brown to black. And it had a much shapelier tail. I am going to have to do a bit of research on it. It had a really familiar look to me but I can't quite put my finger on what it reminded me of. In any case, it was super cute! We continued in past the worm patch and eventually decided to switch to our O2 bottles, because hey, why not? Shortly after that, we found another interesting floater -- some cool looking shrimp. It had an opaque brown (or maybe grey) and white striped shell. We continued in and I veered to the right until we got to the point where I knew we were right along the edge of the cove. But I lost confidence in my ability to find the float line underwater and eventually thumbed it, about 40 feet from the ball :)

I would say it was quite a successful dive with the new drysuit. The suit is a bit bigger than my other suit in the thighs and torso, but still within the reasonable range. And I love those small Halcyon pockets!

We packed up and headed to RG for milkshakes to go, then headed back to San Jose for dinner with Leah.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Anniversary Dive

It was our anniversary weekend, so we decided to do a dive for two at Lobos. Since we haven't successfully dived Twin Peaks in a while, we decided to go there. Rob and Matt spied an Okenia felis out there recently, so I was hoping for another siting. But strangely, Rob was shooting wide angle (which may have had more to do with what was already setup than anything...). We got to Lobos pretty late, at my insistence, since we went on a date the night before. On the way down to Monterey, we passed Ted, which we were a bit shocked by, since we were running so late. I think we got to Lobos just before 9:30. It was a pretty good day for loading a bazillion bottles onto the float (I secretly knew that the tide would be more favorable a bit later, so that was part of my master plan to show up late). I offered to swim, since swimming bottles totally beats carrying them. I even offered to swim out Ted and Brian's bottles to their float, since they didn't have much and I was already in the water; and it's always good to be owed a favor :)

Rob and I got into the water pretty quickly, got our gear from the float, and headed out on the surface. We dropped into the sand channel to find pretty so-so viz. We started down the sand channel, and I quickly heard any annoying bubbly noise coming from my left post. We stopped briefly so that Rob could fix it. The exact same thing happened the last time we dove Lobos, but this time I didn't forget to do a flow check after Rob was done tinkering with my valves :) We got started once again and found that the viz cleared up a bit north of Hole in the Wall, Lone Metridium, etc. We headed to the left at Hole in the Wall, and sort of straddled the line between worse and better viz. Along the way, I saw one of the big boulders in the sand was covered with the eggs of Onchidoris bilamellata. I figured I could look for slugs on deco :) The viz still was only okay to the north though. Eventually we headed that way, encountering a pretty big school of blue rockfish above us about halfway to the First Sister. They were just hanging there, above us, at about 60 feet. The so-so viz continued out to the start of the Road, and then a little bit along there, it seemed like the viz actually got worse. Maybe it was just because it was darker, so it seemed that way. Anyway, it definitely wasn't the right day for Rob to be packing wide angle :P Oh well.

Despite the bad viz, we did eventually make it all the way out to the Peaks. Once we got to the big one, we slowed down, and would park in an area for a bit, then slowly move along. There was a noticeable current out there, to the point where it was difficult to stay in one place to focus on little stuff :) But we still made a couple of interesting finds. The best find was definitely an Okenia felis, which Rob found. Good work! It was actually a really nice looking specimen, nice and symmetrical looking -- it's a shame Rob couldn't get a picture. This was definitely the deepest I have seen one. All of the others have been on the Road in 120 to 130-ish feet. After ogling that for a while, we eventually moved on, and I found an Aldisa albomarginata. I haven't seen one of those in ages! That slug is close to my heart, since I was looking for it when I found the first Okenia felis :P Other than these two slugs, we saw some Dotos and I found a cute muppet fish (an Irish lord I think). Shortly after we both switched off of our stages, I suggested we head in, so we could look around on the Road on the way in. So we did that. We didn't find anything terribly interesting on the Road, but did see some Dironas.

Eventually we headed in. Rob wanted to shoot straight from the Road to Beto's, so we went that way. I was a little nervous partway across that we were going to miss it to the north, so I started subtly nudging Rob to the right :) We hit Beto's and headed in along that, with just a brief stop to look for the wolf eel (Bert), but he was not in, or maybe just not taking visitors. Since we came back via Beto's, I didn't get a chance to look for those slugs on deco. On the way back just south of Sea Mount I saw some more rocks with lots of eggs on them, but they were around 75 or 80 feet, so I didn't get a chance to look at them either. Boohoo. Just around where we stopped to go onto our 50% bottles, Brian and Ted scooted past us. Ted didn't notice us, so we tried to sneak up on him and buzz past him :) After our 60 foot stop, we headed over to Middle Reef for the rest of deco. Eventually Rob decided to take some pictures of Ted and Brian, though they didn't seem that interested :) Once we got to 30 feet, we left Middle Reef and just headed in. Rob's scooter died as we were arriving for our 20 foot stop. Or I guess it was just making that noise where it is about to die. We just hung out for a bit at 20 feet, and then decided to mosey on in. We passed by a couple of red clouds which were swarms of some sort of little shrimp -- it was pretty eerie to see this moving cloud of red. Kind of cool but also pretty gross. I was trying to avoid the cloud, but Rob swam right through one. Eek! Eventually we made it back to our float and we surfaced.

After we got ourselves and our gear out of the water, we cleaned up and went to RG with Ted and Brian.

Since the viz was so crappy, Rob didn't even bother to take his camera out. So no pictures today!