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Friday, September 16, 2011

Birthday Wall

Sometimes I do a dive that is so great that I find it difficult to write a report about it -- because the report can't possibly do it justice. This dive is just such a dive. And this is why it's taken me over two weeks to post about one of the coolest dives I've done in a while. Well, I hope that hasn't ruined the suspense about how the dive went, but here's the report. I commissioned Rob to setup some diving for my birthday weekend. Phil was available, yay, but we couldn't get Lobos tickets for Saturday so we settled for a Friday dive instead. This actually worked out well sine there was a somewhat last-minute BAUE boat on Saturday that we could go on too. I kept telling Rob that I needed to figure out where to go, but never got to it and eventually suggested that Rob make a suggestion. I was just too busy tom study the bathymetry maps in the week before the dive. He told me he had a mark for a site from 150 feet to 300 feet. I was doubtful and when he gave me the numbers, it looked more like it was a pinnacle from like 150 to 220ish next to a wall that went deeper. So we could check out the wall and then come up the pinnacle. This was all a few minutes scootering from the Dos Gatos area, so we figured we could finish up on the shallower structures there. Nice easy dive plan, huh?

The weather was very cooperative and we got to Yankee Point without too much trouble. It was actually kind of snotty coming around Point Lobos; in fact, I asked if Phil could take over the boat-driving from Rob, because it was a bit scary. They both ignored me and once we were around the point, it was a smoother ride. When we got near the site, Phil was eyeing the depth-sounder skeptically because it was pretty consistently reading 230ish without any sign of structure. Rob promised him that a small pinnacle top would suddenly shoot up to 150 and he was right we suddenly saw a plateau in the 180 rand and the it abruptly got shallower, peaking at 149 (at which we cheered and dropped the hook) and then got deeper again. The boat seemed kind of empty with just the two of us, even though we had a ton of gear. We got geared up and did all of our checks. We reviewed the plan, go here then here then here, but did not reviewed the bottom or deco profile, since it was the same profile we always do for these 15/55 Massively Multilevel Dives. We rolled into the water and found very little surface current and nice viz, on the top anyway. We headed down, met up at 20 feet for a bubble check, and continued down the line, which took forever because of my ears. Around 100 feet they started to behave. The viz was still good, though it was dark. I was looking below me waiting and waiting to see a pinnacle and around 140 feet I finally looked up and realized there was a pinnacle, towering above me, but the side we anchored on was so steep that looking down the anchor line, I didn't see the structure :).

The pinnacle actually came up to like 130' but it was this skinny spire poking up that shallow, which doesn't appear on the bathymetry. Then there was a plateau of sorts at like 170 or 180 before that sloped down deeper. We got to the plateau and regrouped. Rob was giving me a somewhat mysterious hand signal which I thought was a signal to reset my bottom timer (or at least note the time), since the uber-slow descent had eaten up like 5 minutes. I had already noted the time so I gave him the okay and we headed down the structure. Rob's initial claim about the profile was actually pretty accurate. The site was not really a pinnacle next to a wall. When you head down the side of the pinnacle you end up in 250' looking down, without really covering any horizontal distance. On the boat, Phil had been telling us about a ratfish he had seen a few days before. And what do you know, as we were looking at the sand below us, Rob signaled me excitedly to point out a ratfish below us. He immediately scurried down to get a look (and a picture... He brought the 60mm so the ratfish was a good subject). I was hanging above him, pondering how deep I wanted to go to see a ratfish, when I saw an interesting purple splotch on the sand, about 15 feet from Rob. It was round with little round bulges laying in the sand around it. It was a GPO laying completely out in the open on the sand! Just laying there. Once I convinced myself that there really was a GPO just laying in the sand I signaled Rob and pointed it out to him. He quickly lost interest in the ratfish and we both headed to the octopus. He was very friendly and I even let him suction one leg onto my hand for a bit. Two of his front tentacles were short and looked like they had been cut off. I guess the friendly octopus met another not so friendly creature. He slowly slithered across the sand with us until we ended up at a little structure across the sand, which was pretty fishy, and the octopus slithered up the structure. Rob started to take some pictures but I quickly suggested that we should head up a bit shallower. He nodded sadly.

We headed back to the main wall and then headed along that toward the deeper end of it. There was a current pushing us in that direction so we were pretty much just drifting along. The octopus encounter was just the beginning of an awesome dive. There were three really cool things about this dive. First, the topography was just cool. For a while, we were drifting along the wall at 250' looking down and not seeing the bottom. My guess is that the bottom is at at least 300'. The viz was good but it was DARK so difficult to say. Next time I come here I will bring a deeper gas so I can find out. Second, the fish life was amazing. We saw dozens of lingcods, many on the small side but a few (mostly shallower) pretty large ones too. Then there were the rockfish. There were tons of rockfish of all sizes. Lots of schools of juveniles. At one point we drifted over a boulder with a bunch of redfish on top of it. I thought at least some were yelloweyes, but as I lit it up, they all scattered into a crack. When I swam up to the crack there were at least a dozen stafford piled up against each other, and a couple yelloweyes I think. They were just crammed in there. I looked back to Rob to show him, and saw the one lone fish that didn't scatter was a bocaccio, and looking off into the distance, I realized I was staring at a school (!) of bocaccio. I didn't even know they came in schools :). There were also lots of big vermilions, several little groups of canaries, and plenty of fish that I don't even know what they were. Rob got pictures of two such mystery fish, which are (according to Tom Laidig) a sharpchin and a Pygmy -- both new-to-me rockfish, I think. After consulting my map, I was relieved to see that this spot is in a no-take area. Finally, the invertebrate life at this site was unusually good for this depth.  At a lot of sites, below 200', the invertebrate cover just isn't as impressive.  This is true, for instance, at Mount Chamberlain.  But at this site, it was really very covered all the way down to 250'.  All in all, an awesome site.  I can't wait to go back.

Eventually we agreed to turn around and head up a bit shallower.  I figured we started out a bit deep so it would be good to finish up a bit shallower.  But Rob seemed to be in a hurry to get up to 190', and as soon as we were there, he signaled me to switch.  I didn't understand why, since we still have 5 minutes left for out deep segment, but whatever.  Turns out, there was a bit of confusion about what the bottom profile was supposed to be :)  Rob thought we were doing 20/20, when the plan had been 25/15.  Oops.  Oh well.  We hung around on the spire for a few minutes and then decided to head out into mid-water, to look for shallower structure.  We were scootering over nothing for a couple minutes, with literally nothing in site in any direction, when finally I saw some structures below me, and eventually it got shallower and we landed on a pinnacle.  We quickly discovered that it wasn't Dos Gatos, because the pinnacle came up to 70'.  It was a nice spot, though it had quite a few barnacles on it.  I even saw a head of hydrocoral covered in barnacles :(  I think I identified this pinnacle on the bathy maps, but I have no idea if it is a named site.  We worked our way up the pinnacle, and switched onto our 70' bottles, then put up a bag and left the pinnacle.  I was joking with Rob before the dive that without Kevin, how would we put up a bag?  I drew the short straw, and Rob was left unimpressed with my bag shoot.  The line got caught on my glove as it was unspooling, and I had to give it a good flick to get it off, and then had to swim after the spool as it got dragged away from me.  Oops.  Maybe I need to shoot the bag more often.

Deco was uneventful and so was our retrieval by Phil.  Conditions seemed quite a bit calmer on the way back, as we regaled Phil with tales of our epic dive.  I can't wait to go back to that spot :)  I think it is the best 15/55 dive site that I have dived.  It needs a name, and I really don't feel up to the task of naming such an awesome site.  I just can't think of anything that does it justice.  So for now I am calling it "Birthday Wall" for lack of a better name.

Rob was sad that we saw a GPO while he was shooting macro, but I love the octopus eye shot!  It's so funny looking.

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