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.

1 comment:

Lynne said...

Wow -- glad the DCS thing came out to be that minor!

My hat is off to you again, woman -- I was forced to use 80's for deco bottles in the Red Sea, and just moving around a boat and on and off a RIB with ONE of them is almost more challenge than I'm game for.