It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back to Birthday Wall

I have been wanting to get back to Birthday Wall ever since our first dive there, but weather and boat availability has conspired against us to prevent that.  There was a last minute cancellation on Sunday's tech boat, and the forecast was looking really good, so I jumped on the boat, with the hope that we could make it there.  Rob was entertaining visiting relatives so he could not make it unfortunately.  I dove with Kevin and Susan.  The conditions were, as forecast, super flat.  It was incredibly flat for this time of year.  I'm sure we could have made it to Big Sur Banks if we had wanted to.  So with our choice of any dive site, and gas for a 250 foot dive, we finally made it back to Birthday Wall!  After the previous weekend's deco sea lion, I was hell-bent on bringing my hero cam along on this dive; but of course I realized as we pulled up to the site that I'd left it in the car, grumble.  Once we got the downline in and got geared up, we practically dilly-dallied getting into the water with all of our gear, because in addition to there being no wind or swell to speak of, there was no surface current either!  The awesome viz from the week before was still around as well.

The downline was in a slightly different position, further toward the deep end of the wall.  The ball was actually sitting in a sort of precarious location; I was surprised that it was holding where it was, but it was.  We headed down the wall, and headed toward the deeper spot.  I was leading -- can you believe it!?!  I guess I was being too pushy about the dive plan on the boat, so I was punished with having to lead.  Luckily this site is pretty easy to navigate :)  We pretty quickly made it to the "crack" where the wall meets a spit of reef protruding out to the left.  We looked around in crack when we first got there, and then we headed out to the left.  The viz was amazing.  With crazy good viz, bright blue water, and an abundance of little fishies (juvey rockfish) hanging just above the reef, it really had a tropical feel -- except that it was freakin' cold.  Actually it wasn't that bad, my gauge said 51 degrees on the bottom.  We poked around on that little spit of reef.  I mostly stayed on top of it, keeping the bottom segment relatively shallow compared to the dive plan.  The highlight of the dive was really just the insane viz and awesome structure.  But we saw plenty of lingcod, though not as many as the last dive, and lots of big vermilions.  I also found a nice big yelloweye, which for the first time ever, I was SURE was a yelloweye the moment I saw it... usually there are a few moments of "is that a yelloweye?"  There were also lots of juvenile yelloweyes -- they're so pretty.

Eventually when the time came, I suggested turning around and heading back toward the downline and up the wall.  There was a brief moment of confusion as we rounded up the team, because the other team had by then appeared in the vicinity.  Once we all got together, we headed up along the wall.  We came back to spire, and I must say I felt like a bit of an idiot, because despite my best efforts, I was just not able to make progress up the wall.  I couldn't figure out why I was having buoyancy problems, until I finally realized that there was a raging downcurrent right around the spire.  The geometry of it is basically there is a spire with a little canyon on each side of it, and the current was shooting through those canyons and then down the wall.  This meant two things.  First, it was freakin' hard to get up the wall (though eventually I just pointed my scooter up and went for it), and second, once up the spire, there was like a spiraling death current that would shoot us around the spire.  Once we figured out the lay of the land, we headed upcurrent to the back side of the spire, and tried to hide there while switching to our 190 bottles.  This was relatively protected, though we were pushed around the spire a bit in the meantime.  Once we were all on our bottles we wiled away the time on the top of the peak.  But it was really quite annoying to basically scooter up to the peak, have a little look around, then get sucked out by the current, and repeat.  After about 10 minutes of our planned 15 minutes on the shallow segment, I suggested we thumb it, since it was getting a bit old.  Everyone agreed; apparently the reg on Susan's deco bottle was breathing rather poorly, so she was happy to thumb it.

We headed up off the pinnacle and on the way up during our deep stops, we put the bag up.  It was really strange.  The current sort of shot us off of the wall, and I was expecting to just keeping going, but after we were like 50 or so feet off of the wall, we just stopped, and weren't really moving at all.  I guess the current is all to do with the shape of the reef there, and once you are off of it, it dies down.  So we could clearly see the reef for quite a while as we ascended.  The first couple of deco stops were not too eventful.  The water was super clear, which mean not much in terms of deco critters.  My bottle rotation did not suck too much, though I was reminded that my left D-ring seems to have shimmied around a bit and is now too low (or more likely, the webbing slipped through the tri-glide at the bottom of the plate, which made the D-ring move).  I keep discovering this and then not remembering to fix it after the dive!  Then at 50 feet, we met a friendly mola.  It was probably my best mola encounter yet, considering that the viz was so good.  I was cursing the fact that I didn't have my hero cam.  These were the *perfect* conditions for hero cam-ing!  Hmph.  Other than that, we didn't see much on deco.  Though at 20 feet, we saw the boat.  It was like right next to our bag, which I guess works when there is no swell, wind, or current :)  We looked up and saw Luke waving to us from the side of the boat -- and we waved back.

The boat was there until we hit the surface, so we just had to swim like 8 feet to get to the swimstep, and then could have spent all the time in the world passing our gear up to the boat.  It was definitely a nice day to be doing a dive with a ton of gear!  After retrieving the other team, we headed north and encountered a pod of Risso's after turning into the bay.  We hung out with them for a while, and then eventually headed back to K-dock.  Sadly there are no pictures from this dive, since Rob wasn't on the dive.  Boohoohoo.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Through the Tempest

Rob and I were diving on the tech boat on Sunday.  The forecast for the entire weekend was looking pretty terrible, so there was much checking the forecast and wondering whether the boat would go.  I guess by Saturday night, the weather appeared to be calming down, despite the still-dire forecast, so it was on.  Once we got going, the water was pretty calm in the bay, but we could that just beyond Point Pinos it looked like, well, sort of like Armageddon.  It was very gray and stormy looking over there.  Indeed, once we were out around there, it got really freakin' snotty.  There were whitecaps everywhere, and we were getting a bit tossed around, but once we made it past Cypress Point, it calmed down a bit.  Looking back toward Cypress Point, it looked pretty cool.  It was a nice sunny day where we were, but the sky was a deep blue beyond the point.  We made it down the Lobos area, and it was decided by someone from above (in the wheelhouse, that is) that we would go to Deep E3.  Down there, the conditions were quite placid.

I was the first into the water, and was greeted by incredible viz.  There was a bit of surface current, which made the entry into the water a bit of a cluster, but once that was all resolved, we headed down the line.  The water was so clear and blue; I would guess the (horizontal) viz was in the 80 foot range.  It's been a while since I've dived this site, and a long long while since I've dived it in really good viz.  So this was quite a treat.  We hit the pinnacle on the south side, I think, and headed around the western tip.  I spied a quillback rockfish, sitting out on a little ledge.  Sweet!  I showed it to Rob, and as he was looking at it, Beto and Sue were signalling us from below, because they had found the purple sea fan (not that it's hard to find in that kind of viz!).  Rob started to head there, but I suggested he get some shots of the fish, since it might swim away, whereas I was pretty sure the sea fan would not.  Rob tells me that the fish was in the same spot where he and Clinton saw a quillback rockfish on this site a while ago, so I guess he is a permanent fixture.  Eventually the rockfish retreated into a crack (which had some juvenile yelloweyes in it), so we headed to the sea fan.  This is the first time I've seen the sea fan here, but I've seen its cousin at Mount Chamberlain (I just noticed we saw a quillback rockfish on that dive too; maybe that's a trend).

Not far from there, Rob spied a crinoid -- yay!  And then a vase sponge or three.  We headed off of the main structure to look at some of the big boulders on the rubble patch and smaller structures across it.  We saw more crinoids and vase sponges over there.  Eventually we headed back to the main pinnacle, and then swung around to E3.  We spent just a few minutes there, before Rob pointed out into the blue and suggested we head there.  I wasn't precisely sure what he was attempting, but I had a feeling that he wanted to hop over to D3, and this was indeed his plan.  And he actually succeeded at it!  When we got over there, there was a nice school of blue rockfish on top of the pinnacle.  Rob took a few pictures of the reef there, and then I suggested we should head back to E3.  We were there for just a few more minutes before we started our ascent.  The deco was pretty uneventful, until we got to 20 feet and up, when a curious sea lion appeared, and kept dive bombing us.  I was so mad I didn't have my hero cam!  Bright blue water, in less than 20 feet with a dive bombing sea lion.  Hmph!

For some strange reason, we didn't do a second dive.  I think there may have been time constraints or something.  So we headed back to the dock and then to lunch.

All of the day's pictures (from Rob and Clinton) are here.