It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's 2013: Manatee

On Monday we went to Manatee.  There was some skepticism about whether we could fit all of our bottles and scooters into the truck, so that we would not have to take two cars.  But we did manage to do it.  Of course, I was stuffed into the back seat with like 8 bottles, but details details.  How much space do I really need?  So, we each have a scooter that lives in Florida.  In addition, Kevin brought his Cuda in case we did any dives that we wanted a tow scooter for.  And I guess Kevin and/or Rob wanted to bring a tow scooter on this dive.  (I didn't really see the need, but since I wasn't the one who had to tow a scooter, I didn't complain.)  Then when we got to Florida, we found my scooter to be ill.  It was making a bad noise when run (which I guess Rob noticed when he just hit the trigger on it in the garage).  Rob asked Dan to look at it, and he agreed it did not sound good.  He offered to take a look at it, and loaned me his scooter to use while mine was recovering (which was super nice of him!).  So we had his scooter, Rob's, and two of Kevin's.  Which we managed to fit in the truck along with 3 sets of doubles and 9 bottles.  Woohoo. 

And on the drive to Manatee, while cowering amongst the bottles in the back of the truck, I took a very important step in the immortalization of Team Kitty... I created a Team Kitty station on Pandora!  My first attempt at this resulted in catastrophe.  I was going for the music of Team Kitty with a smattering of Florida radio music thrown in.  But apparently the combination of Fleetwood Mac and Katy Perry is such an outlier that Pandora couldn't handle it, and just picked really horrible music.  So I had to retreat to just the music of Team Kitty, which worked out much better!  I am listening to it as I write this, in fact.

So, back to the dive.  We got there on the early side, because we knew that Manatee limits the number of divers.  We were originally going to leave at 7, but then Kyle made fun of us for worrying about the diver limit, and we left at 7:30 instead.  When we checked in, we were the first or second team, though the ranger told us that the previous day they had filled up and had to turn divers away.  Take that, Kyle!  We were the only divers at Catfish, and got the best parking spot for it.  The boys moved scooters to the water, and eventually we got all of the bottles over there too.  We really need a beefier dolly (or even better, multiple beefier dollies).  Kevin realized he was missing a key piece to his Gavin (the tow cord, which was removed for service and never re-attached), so in the end, we didn't have a tow scooter.  I ended up diving Kevin's Cuda, Rob was diving his Gavin, and Kevin was diving Dan's SS (because I am too deficient at using the trigger mechanism on the SS).  The plan for the dive was to go up the mainline until whatever, and then on the way out, we were going to go up the Chalkley bypass just for giggles.  This is pretty much the exact same dive that I did the last time I was at Manatee, though on that dive, I had to turn it on my ears not liking the ups and downs.  So we were hopeful we'd make it a bit further today.  I was hoping that the water level would be a bit higher than it had been last spring, but it was not to be.  It is still below the platform, with that painfully under-provisioned pool ladder that you have to climb both down and up.

Kevin was leading the dive, but for some reason Rob really wanted to install the reel (which made no sense to me), so he did, and then we passed him.  I think the last time we did this dive, I dropped my stage bottle right at Friedman, probably because we spent so much time dicking around in the basin, trying to find the mainline.  Today we were more efficient about that (well, about finding the line, perhaps not about installing it :P), so I dropped my bottle quite a bit later.  This was good and bad.  Since we were burn-time-limited, this just meant I had a longer way to pull and glide and kick and huff and puff with a stage bottle :)  Since we turned the dive early last time, I've never had the privilege of kicking in Manatee (on the mainline anyway).  It was sort of horrible, but sort of fun at the same time.  I really felt like in this cave, even more so than Ginnie, that if you are smart about where you position yourself, you can avoid a lot of the flow.  So I was having fun trying to figure out where to go to get around the next spot with high flow.  Of course, it doesn't always work out right, and in one spot, where I decided it would be better to be on the other wall, and tried to swim across the tunnel, I literally got picked up by the flow and dragged backwards until I found a rock cropping that I could grab onto.  I was in the middle, but I got dragged back behind Rob.  He looked back at me as I was hanging onto a rock and just gave me a look.  Yea, I know.  I had to catch my breath and then I made it on the second try.  I did enjoy the swimming portion of the dive, because I felt like I saw a lot more.  This is probably in part because we were moving slower, part because the viz gets better as you get further in, and part because I actually think there is more to see by there.  For instance, there are rock formations on the bottom, versus the constant brown mud bottom in the first 1500 or so feet.

After about 25 minutes of kicking (or flailing), we turned it on gas, and had a nice easy ride out.  At some point on the way out, before we got back to our scooters, Kevin thought he saw a jump, so he installed a spool and started swimming.  I had no idea where he was going, but eventually he got far enough away that I felt compelled to follow him.  And then it turned out that he thought he saw a line which failed to materialize.  Oops.  Aside from that brief shenanigan, we alternately scooted and drifted out until we got back to the jump to the Chalkley passage.  We headed up there, with Rob in the lead now, and we made it much further in than the last time Rob and I went there.  I really like that passage.  In fact, I think I like it better than anything else I have seen at Manatee.  I like the grey clay, plus it is small and twisty, so the lights can light everything up.  It is pretty silty in there, and at first, the flow is kind of a pain.  But it dies down after not too long.  Eventually Rob turned it, I think because it was getting smaller and siltier, though I will have to take his word on that.  After that, we just headed on out.

When we got back to the cavern, Rob was pulling the line, and Kevin, without much warning, disappeared into a hole.  This kind of annoyed me, but I guess he thought he had signaled to me that he was going in to look.  So he went into the hole and saw a lot of catfish, and then when he came out he got a cranky look from me.  Deco was pretty excruciating, because I didn't plug in my p-valve, and really really regretted it.  I don't know why; the dive was not terribly long.  Rob and Kevin traded scooters so Rob could drive the SS around in the basin, while I counted down the seconds until I could get out of the water.  And then when we surfaced, there was a team getting in, so I had to act polite while they dilly-dallied in front of the platform :)  Once we got out of the water, we packed up the truck pretty efficiently, and then headed back even in time to get fills at EE (which was closing early, since it was New Year's Eve).

For New Year's Eve, we had a little get-together at the house, and then we went to the Great Outdoors for dinner.  When I originally made the reservation at Great Outdoors, we were five (Team Kitty plus Matt and Leah), and by the time the evening rolled around, we'd increased our numbers to eleven (the Brits, Kyle, Doug and Corey joined us).  So while we got the usual ho-hum service from Great Outdoors, they were very accommodating to our bigger group.  After dinner we headed back to the house for some more celebration, and I even made it to midnight!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's 2013: Emerald Sink to the Black Abyss

We had a reservation to dive Emerald on Sunday.  There are a bunch of requirements to dive Emerald, and prior to January 1, you had to submit a bunch of paperwork and proof of certification and whatnot in order to get pre-approved to dive there.  So we did all of that in November or December, in anticipation of this trip.  And then of course they changed the rules so that I guess you can just show up at Wakulla with your cards and get in (or so I'm told... don't take that as the truth if you are planning a dive there).  So, first you go to Wakulla to get the key.  It's also important to know how to get there, since according to Kevin, the address on Cave Atlas won't quite get you there (though Kevin has been known to get lost in car-parks).  We got directions from the dive coordinator, and they were spot on.  It was insanely cold the day that we went there.  We left a bit on the early side, and as we drove up there, the temperature gauge on the car was bobbing around between 30 and 35.  Yikes.  By the time we got to Emerald, it had warmed up to 39.  For some dumb reason (laziness the night before), we hadn't put our regs onto our stage bottles when we packed the truck.  So we were punished for that by having to setup gear in the cold.  We eventually got everything setup and into the water.  Kevin brought a rope with loops on it so we could lower bottles into the water.  It was quite a rope, and probably a bit overkill for our needs.  The path to the water is not too far, and it is flat and tree-root-free.  Then there is a platform with benches (a la Orange Grove) and a nice set of stairs down to the water.  There is also a picnic table next to platform.  So overall, nice facilities for a clearing in the middle of the woods (though no "facilities" unless you mean the girl tree and the boy tree).

The Emerald basin is really nice.  It's big and deep and the water was really clear when we were there.  We went upstream to the Black Abyss, which has an average depth of 50-some feet.  The other option is downstream, which I hear is a 150-200 foot dive.  We brought two stages, which was total overkill.  But since we didnt' know much about the site (Kevin has dived it once, and Rob and I have dived it zero times before), we figured that would give us options if we found any jumps worth checking out.  There is a T not too far in, maybe about 15 minutes in.  The two paths, to the left and right, eventually meet up again.  The right side is quite a bit longer, and Kevin told us that it was bigger too (though the left side is not small).  Since we had a lot of gas, we figured we could check out both sides, but we planned to take the right on the way in.  Rob was leading, because it was his turn to lead.  Kevin said it was his turn to be third, so I ended up second (even though it was technically my turn to be third also!).

There is a convenient place on a tree trunk to drop your deco bottles in the basin, and then we headed into the cave.  I'm going to be honest.  I didn't think Emerald was the best cave dive ever.  It is a very dark cave, and for much of the path in, I felt like I was just following a line in the blackness, because you can't see both walls at once, and the walls are dark and suck the light up.  Anyhoo, I digress.  Not very far in, before you even get to the T, you pass a little opening to daylight, off to the left.  There is no cavern shown on the map, so I don't know if one can actually exit there, but there is plenty of daylight streaming in.  Not too far after the T on the right path, there is a change in arrows, and eventually we came to another big sink, Split Sink, which you actually swim right through as you follow the line.  It looks like a pretty big opening, though we didn't surface to look at it.  Very shortly after that, just a couple hundred feet, we passed Cheryl Sink.  This is very close to the other T.  We dropped our first stage bottles there, since we wanted to try to complete the circuit on the way out, and thus couldn't leave the bottles on the right side of the path.  Up until this point, the average depth was probably 50 feet or less, but then it got a bit deeper.  Eventually we came to a spot where it dips down to about 100 feet, under a sort of archway.  At this point the path is a bit narrower and taller, and you can actually see the walls on both sides, which was nice.  This section of the cave is actually the part that I have the most clear picture of in my mind, because you can actually see it :)  The tunnel is not too deep for very long, and then it comes back up to about 80 feet.  Not too long after that (maybe 10 minutes past the second T?) you come to another T, which is the start of the Black Abyss.  The line runs around the outside of the room and then back onto itself.  We followed the line to the right, and swam around the room.  It is aptly named; it's very black, and deep, and you can't see to the bottom.

Just for the record, it took us almost exactly an hour to get to the Black Abyss.  If we had taken the left side path, I think that would shave about 15 minutes off.  Also, this dive definitely doesn't require two stages!  I used two stages plus about 200 psi of backgas, so it is really doable on just backgas (especially if you take the shorter path).

On the way out, right around the deep spot, Kevin pointed out a jump that he wanted to take.  We agreed to check it out, and dumped all of our junk on the line.  We jumped into a line that was running sort of back the way we came, into a brown, silty room.  Not very far in, I noticed another line running along the room, parallel to the one we were on, maybe 8 feet away.  I was rather confused by this.  I suppose whoever installed the second line was probably confused too.  After not very long at all (a minute or two), the line ended.  Doh!  So out we went.  What a waste of a stage switch.  From there, we headed out, and checked out the other side of the loop on the way out.  I liked this side better.  Since it is smaller, you can actually see the walls quite a bit more.  It was a nice view as we rode the flow out.  The flow is not significant, but definitely noticeable.  At some point Kevin basically gave up on kicking, and was just riding the flow out, which was met with a "move along" signal from me.  That was a bit TOO slow for me.  It took us about 35 minutes to get from the first to second T on the way in (on the right), and about 15 minutes to get back on the left, though considering the flow, I'm guessing it would have been about 20 minutes on the way in.

I think the best part of the whole dive was the last couple minutes, as we approached the basin, when we could see the light streaming in.  It's a very nice view.  When we got back to the basin, I swam over to the tree trunk with our bottles, but the boys wanted to check out downstream.  So they bolted down to the bottom and started to swim into the cave (without me!)  I followed, but they turned around before I even made it to the overhead.  We returned to the tree trunk and started our ascent.  This is the first time I've had to do midwater deco on a cave dive (well, maybe Eagle's Nest, but only for a tiny bit of the deco).  Perhaps that is why I had to prove that I had full trimix training to do this 55 foot average depth dive ;)  When we got to our O2 bottles, I called 6 minutes of deco, and Rob practically had a fit.  He considered it an MDL dive, and refused to even go onto his O2 bottle.  So I did my 6 minutes, while his eyes were rolling for practically the entire time.  I guess I need a deco rule for 55 feet, to avoid these kinds of quarrels in the future.

After packing everything up, we headed back to Wakulla, to check out and retrieve our cards.  From there, we had a plan to get oysters for lunch, at one of the two oyster shacks on the way back.  Our plans were thwarted, though, because they were both closed!  This was a huge bummer; Rob was very disappointed.  I think that oysters were half the reason that he wanted to dive Emerald.  It's quite strange, too, since I'm sure that the last time we went to Revell's, it was on a Sunday (during last year's New Year's trip, even).  So we had to settle for Sonic, which is basically like the opposite of oysters, in terms of awesomeness.  But to brighten our day, they accidentally gave Kevin two corn-dogs instead of one.  I think that was the most exciting thing that's ever happened to Kevin.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's 2013: Madison: The Courtyard and Godzilla Room

On Saturday we went to Madison.  We were worried it would be crowded there, since it seemed like every cave diver on earth was in town.  So we got there on the early side (I think we got there at like 9, so not *that* early).  We were the first divers there, woohoo.  So we took the good parking spot right by the bench by Martz, and started the gear schlep over to the platform.  We carried our bottles over and then clipped them all to the line and dropped them into the water.  I walked my doubles over to the platform and sat them on one of the little seats there, but the boys didn't want to do that.  So I got into my drysuit and walked over to the platform and got into my rig as Rob was getting into the water.  Kevin hung around until I got in, which is not a very graceful process, and then he went back to the truck to get into his gear.  But by the time I had fetched my bottles (which had been lowered down kind of far into the water) and returned to the surface, Kevin was back.  Turns out you can fit 3 people in at Martz, though it is definitely more cramped than with 2.  After some checks and discussion of the plan, we headed down and met up in the room at the bottom.

Platform at Martz (Oct 2012)
I was leading, and the plan was to go to the Courtyard.  The viz was pretty green in Martz, but it was quite good once we got to the mainline.  The flow was higher than it has been in the past, but lower than the last time I was here (in October), though it seemed pretty variable throughout the dive.  For some reason, on this dive, I felt super ungraceful.  It seemed I didn't fit anywhere that I should normally fit.  In the little tunnel before the half hitch, there was a lot of clanging.  Anyway, it wasn't apparent to me why I felt this way during the dive, though afterward, Kevin noted that the leash on one of my bottles seemed to be too long, and that bottle was hanging down a lot more than is typical.  So perhaps that is why it seemed like I couldn't fit anywhere.  So, since I was leading, I had to set the pace, which I am pretty terrible at.  I have noticed that when Kevin leads, he goes a little faster than I would go.  When Rob leads, he goes a lot faster than I would go (so I think it is optimal for Kevin to lead in and Rob to lead out :P).  So I was trying to go just a little fast, trying to emulate the Kevin-pace.  Because I've been yelled at before for going to slow on this particular dive.  A couple hundred feet up the mainline, Rob signaled and told me to slow down.  I couldn't imagine that I was going too fast for Rob, so I figured he could either see that I was going too fast for me, or that I was being a silty kitty.  But there was no evidence of the latter, so I think he just saw large plumes of bubbles coming from me and thought I should slow down.  So I did.  A while later, he signaled me again, and in his very calm, instructor voice (which I don't usually get) he told me to kick smaller.  Hehehe.  So eventually I managed to set a pace that everyone was happy with and we got to the jump from the mainline.

Once we were in the side passage, I was surprised that there was still a bit of flow (though less).  When we got to the sign before Potter's Delight, I decided to ditch my stage bottle.  Before the dive, I said that I might carry my stage through Rocky Horror, but might not.  But the guys were planning to carry theirs through, to give us more options in the event of any problems on the other side (I like this scenario... they do the heavy lifting, but I can take a bottle if I need it).  So I clipped my bottle off right at the clipboard, and moved the clip to "divers in" (the best part of leading the dive!).  There was some flow in Potter's Delight and Rocky Horror.  I was a clunker getting through Rocky Horror.  At this point, I had no bottle to blame, so I think it was just a clunky day for me.  I got out the other side and was happy that the flow on the other side was quite insignificant, which was good since last time I turned the dive on too deep with too much flow.  I really like the part of the dive shortly after Rocky Horror, where it becomes a smallish tunnel again... it's nice and small enough to really light it up.  The water just looks so blue back there!  We eventually came to the spot where I turned the dive last time, where it dips down to about 110 feet.  But I pushed on this time, and of course, once through the "doorway" that I couldn't see beyond from there, it got abruptly shallower (90 to 95 feet), and then a bit further up, it got even shallower.  I think the ups and downs back there are pretty fun.  It reminds me of the boulder piles in the breakdown rooms near the front of Jackson Blue.

I eventually turned the dive on gas.  I mentioned that there wasn't much flow, but when I turned the dive, I realized that there definitely was flow, since the exit was much faster.  This allowed Kevin to get a little video footage on the way out.  He got a really nice shot of the layers of a clay bank back there.  I enjoyed the swim out, since I was in the back now, so Rob and Kevin were lighting things up nicely for me.  I really don't like the idea of being behind someone in Rocky Horror, because it makes me feel "stuck".  Last time I went through there, I made Kevin go second on the way in and the way out.  I realize this makes no sense at all, since on the way in, if I am in the front, then there is someone between me and the exit, so in that sense, I am actually more "stuck" in the front.  Anyhoo, I decided not to play any such shenanigans on the way out this time.  I was thinking that if I followed someone else out, I might get some tips on how to get through there gracefully.  Nope.  Watching Kevin ahead of me, he didn't have any tricks for doing it any better than me.  He also had a stage bottle, so if anything, he was less graceful than me.  Eventually I saw a sharp right turn ahead and I figured we were to that last really narrow part before Potter's Delight.  I stuck my head in there and saw a cloud of silt.  Yep, Potter's Delight.  Needless to say, it was not terribly clear as the third person through.  The guys were waiting for me at the end, and I went back onto my stage, and moved the clip back to the "divers out" position.

Stairs to Martz (Oct 2012)
It was nice riding the flow out, much more relaxing than the way in.  We passed a couple of teams on our way out.  When we got to the Godzilla room jump, we took that.  The boys dropped all of their bottles on the mainline, but I didn't want our pile of bottles in the way there, so I waited until the jump was installed and dropped my stuff.  When we got to the jump where the line comes back around to complete the circuit, Rob dropped a cookie.  We played around in the Godzilla room a little bit, and then we went the whole way around the circuit today, and saw our cookie back on the line.  Kevin was a bit confused about why Rob dropped a cookie there, but he got it once we came to the end of the line.  From there, we headed out.  When we got back to the mainline, I was stuck with pulling the jump, hmph.  We had a short way back to the main spring.  Strangely, there didn't seem like there was a lot of flow right in the entrance there, at least in proportion to the amount of flow elsewhere in the cave.  But there was enough flow in the spring to make it sort of annoying to stand still.  So I found a rock to hold onto and got my wetnotes out to write mean things about Kevin.  Actually I was taking some notes on the dive, but Kevin seemed very interested in reading what I was writing.  So naturally I didn't let him, and now he refers to my wetnotes as my diary :)  Deco seemed to last an eternity, because I was cold.  But eventually it did come to an end, phew.

On a random note, Kevin rented a truck (an F150 I believe) for this trip, which was awesome.  We rented a sedan, and we ended up piling all of our stuff into the truck and taking one car for nearly all of the trip.  This was much more fun than taking two cars, and possibly more fuel-efficient, though with that truck, who knows?

After we very efficiently packed up, we headed to Lake City for a late late breakfast at Bob Evans (can't mess with tradition!).  While we were there, I got a text from Leah asking if we wanted to lunch at Great Outdoors.  They were on their way there from Peacock.  Since we were already eating, we decided to just meet them there for a beer.  So we went to EE, got our fills started, and walked over there to meet them.  She told me they had some other unnamed divers along with them, which turned out to be Kate and Tim, who we've met before on various trips there.

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year's 2013: Peacock to the Crypt

Since we got into Florida late on Thursday night, we got a later start on Friday.  We usually do our first day's dive at Ginnie, but I made a crazy suggestion to go to Peacock instead.  I was thinking it might be a bit less crowded, plus I'm always looking for excuses to talk Rob into going to Peacock :)  When we pulled into Peacock, I couldn't believe how crowded the parking lot was.  There was a lot of groaning coming from Rob.  It was so crowded that we actually had a bit of trouble finding parking spots for our two cars, though it had cleared out a bit before we were ready to get into the water.  The last time I was at Peacock, when I failed to dive due to a cold, the plan was to go to the Crypt.  So I suggested we do that today.  I had a fuzzy memory of how to get there, and so did Kevin, who I think had actually been there before.

Kevin led the dive, since he knew the way, followed by me, then Rob.  We went up the peanut line and through the crossover tunnel.  This is not the most direct way to go, I suppose, but I like the peanut tunnel and I like the crossover tunnel, so that is how we went.  When we crossed Olson, the path back down into the cave seemed a little more cramped with tree branches and such than I remembered it, and I wondered if this was caused by the storms.  I really liked the section of cave just after Olson, which is like a vertical crack, tall and relatively narrow.  We were still in this section when we came to the jump, which is really not very far from Olson.  After we took that jump, once past the zig-zag, we landed in a fairly straight tunnel, that I would call small-to-medium sized for Peacock.  There were also a far number of ups and downs.  From there, we were told to take the first jump or T to the left.  Having not looked too closely at the map, I had no idea how soon that would be.  After not very long, Kevin pulled out a cookie.  I knew he was out of spools at this point, and the next jump would require my spool.  So, I got my spool out, but then when it became obvious that there was no jump, I didn’t feel like putting it away, so I clipped it to my chest D-ring.  For the entire swim to the jump, I was worried about it.  Not that it would get tangled in the line, or dragged in the silt; no, I was worried that Rob would try to sneak up and steal it.  Not that I’ve ever done anything like that before :P

Eventually we did come to that jump, which was in a little room that sort of opened up from the tunnel, and I finally got to hand over that damn spool.  Once you make that jump, it’s really not too far to the Crypt, less than a 10 minute swim.  The very last part before you get into the Crypt goes a little deeper and its in a smaller tunnel with some ups and downs.  A fun tunnel to swim through, though as I was swimming through it, I felt kind of uncomfortable.  I couldn’t understand why, because we were swimming at a very leisurely pace, and it was not particularly deep or technically challenging.  (I remembered having the same thoughts when I was wonked out on CO2 with a barely breathing regulator, but I decided my regulator was breathing just find today.)  Then we popped out into the Crypt and I felt much better.  The crypt is a fairly big room (quite big by Peacock standards) with big boulders on the bottom.  The last time I was at Peacock, not diving, but instead walking around on the surface, I was the poster board above the Crypt, which had a picture of the room.  So I already had a pretty good idea of what it looked like in there.  We played around in there for a couple of minutes, and then we turned it.  As soon as we descended into that first tunnel, I realized why I had been uncomfortable on the first pass through… it was hot in there!  I’m sure the water was just a degree or two warmer, but it was discernably warmer, and definitely a bit too warm for my 400g undergarment (which I just brought to town, to replace my 250g).  But after a couple of minutes, we were back to the cooler water.

Before you know it, we were back to the room with the jump.  Kevin cleaned it up, and then as we were swimming out, I put my hand back so he could give me the spool once it was cleaned up.  And instead, as an homage to Ted, Kevin held my hand, which caused me to laugh so hard I almost spit out my reg.  Kevin told me that after he did that, he just saw a huge plume of bubbles coming from me, and he knew I was amused.  Our plan was to head back through the crossover tunnel, and then go further up the peanut line, so back we headed.  I had dropped my stage bottle just on the other side of Olson, and I decided to try to be slick and switch onto it while swimming, pausing just long enough to get Kevin to verify the bottle.  Instead of being slick, I had a total Ted moment.  I didn’t clip my light off (which I usually don’t if I’m just picking up a bottle, but usually do if I am going onto a bottle), and I somehow deployed my reg over my light cord.  I figured that was no problem, I’d just pass the lighthead back under it.  But I guess when I tried to do that, I passed it under the clip from the bottle to my D-ring.  So now my light cord was basically tied in a knot around that bolt snap :)  You see what I mean about a Ted moment?  I was really trying to fix this without Rob figuring out that anything was amiss, which was of course not possible because of all of the passing the light back and forth trying to work this out.  So of course Rob eventually turned around and I gave him my best “nothing to see here” look, he shook his head, and continued on.

When we got back to the peanut line, we waited for Kevin to pull the spool, and then confirmed that we were going to head up to that tunnel further.  I waited for Kevin to go ahead, which I guess irked him, but I hate when the team gets reordered on the way out… if I’m leading on the way in, I want to be in the back on the way out!  We made it through the peanut restriction and to the end of the peanut line, which I’ve never done before.   It’s been ages since I’ve even been up the peanut line past the crossover.  I really like that section of the tunnel; it has some pretty clay.  Anyhoo, I now understand why it’s called the peanut restriction.  Kevin and I maneuvered ourselves through the obvious lobe of the peanut, which the line runs through, and then of course Rob came swimming out of the other side, which was much more spacious.  Rob always does that!  We got to the end of the line, and there were three jump lines connected back into the main line.  Three lines!  This is when it occurred to me that despite seeing oodles of people in the parking lot and the basin, we hadn’t seen a single person in the cave.  Weird.  I guess they all went up the peanut line and then jumped back into the main line :)

From there we headed straight out, uneventfully.  We did finally pass another team in the peanut tunnel.  Of course as soon as they saw us, they froze in that “must give way to exiting team” way that cave divers often do, and they squished over against the wall, on the opposite side of the line.  They were in one of the more narrow parts of the tunnel, with a wider part of the tunnel just ahead of them.  I tried to signal them to go ahead, but they weren’t budging… we were the exiting team, and they were giving us the right of way whether we wanted it or not!  Since the dive was insanely shallow, we had no real deco to do, but we hung around at 20 and 10 for a few minutes each.  While I was at 10 feet, some other diver came barreling between me and Rob, which I found odd.  Then he came right back in a minute later.  While we were cleaning up after the dive, I happened to overhear a buddy team who had apparently become separated, and one of them came all the way out to the basin looking for his buddy, then went back in.  So I assume that’s what was going on.  Yikes.

By the time we got out, the parking lot had about half as many cars as when we pulled in.  But there were still quite a few people coming and going in the basin.  We got out of there quickly so we could get a quick lunch at the Luraville Country Store, and still make it back to EE in time for fills for the next day.  While we were filling tanks, I noticed that Kevin was wearing a really cool hat, which his Mom made for him, so I had to snap a photo for the blog:

We wanted BBQ for dinner.  We usually go to Newberry, but since we were bunking with Kyle, we asked him if he had any suggestions.  He suggested David’s Real Pit BBQ in Gainesville, so we tried that.  It definitely doesn’t have the same ambience as Newberry’s (if you call live bands and karaoke ambiance), but I liked the food better.  However, as a total package, I’d rate them about equal.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Two Kitties and the Kitchen Sink

On Saturday, Kevin and I dove together on a tech boat.  Rob was originally slated to accompany us, but he ended up extending a work trip through Saturday, so it was just me and Kevin.  We figured that with Rob away, we were guaranteed to have an epic dive (if history is any indication anyway).  The forecast seemed to agree with that theory, much to Rob's annoyance.  I carpooled with John, and when we drove into Monterey, the flag was flapping a bit more briskly than I expected though.  Jim told us we had a weather window, so we loaded the boat and got out of there a bit early, donning our drysuits en route.  It was a T2 boat, so it started with a limited load anyway, and somehow we ended up with only 4 divers on the boat.  And 4 crew members to go with that.  Sweet!  We made our way down to Yankee Point, where I suggested the southwest loop at Mount Chamberlin.  We'd been there pretty recently, but I with a broken scooter, so I didn't feel like I got to enjoy it fully.  On the ride down, Kevin made a prediction about the dive, which I dismissed.  We'll get back to that later.  Anyhoo, once we dropped the downline there, we found ourselves in relatively placid conditions (which is what I like to see when I am doing a 3 bottle dive!).

We got into the water and found little current and good viz on top.  By the time I had retrieved my scooter and deployed my light, I looked around to find the ball, and couldn't see it, because it was right behind me, because I really hadn't drifted while working this stuff out.  Nice.  Since we were missing our fearless leader, we decided to co-lead, whatever that means :)  I guess that means that we would wander around, and if we got lost, we would each blame the other.  When we first hit the bottom, it was very dark, and the viz didn't seem very good.  Maybe 30 feet.  It just seemed like there was a lot of particulate in the water.  But as we moved off of the sand and onto the wall, the viz really improved.  I think the sand had just been stirred up by the big weather in the previous week, and once you were off the sand, it was actually quite clear, maybe 60 foot viz.  It also got much brighter and bluer as we worked our way shallower, which made the viz seem even better.

Once we got to the bottom and got going, we sort of meandered across the sand until we hit some boulders, which we continued to meander along.  Kevin signaled me, and kept circling something on one of these boulders.  I thought he was circling some not-very-interesting fish (a sculpin, I think), and couldn't understand.  Then I realized he was circling something in front of that, a hole at the base of the boulder.  Then I saw some shells sitting next to the hole.  Hmmm... no way!  I swam up to the hole and peered in, and then I squealed through my regulator.  Okay, rewind back to the boat ride down to Yankee Point.  Twice on the ride down, Kevin said "I feel like we're going to see a GPO today".  As usual, I was like "whatever, Kevin" (insert eye-roll here).  So I couldn't believe it when first thing on the dive, he finds a GPO!  The boulder was shaped such that there were a few different gaps under it which led into the den, so we went around the boulder, peering in from different angles.  I was trying to avoid annoying the octopus, for fear it would retract further, and I wouldn't even be able to see it.  But then it stuck its tentacle out of one of the holes I was looking in, and started waving it around.  Kevin also pointed one hole to me and told me to look into it.  I saw something that looked like some kind of soft coral or something, which I had no idea what I was looking at.  After the dive, he told me that those were eggs, and a little internet research confirms that (I must admit that despite all of the talk about Laurynn's awesome video of the octopus eggs from Cove 2, I'd never actually watched the video before now!).  So, that was pretty sweet, and we were only like 5 minutes into the dive!

After we got our fill of GPO peeping, we continued along, and made it to the deep wall (to the north of the "cove").  There was a little current, so we just picked a depth and drifted along the wall.  It was just the right amount of current to watch everything go by.  At this point, it was pretty dark, but the viz was really good.  Because we were up off of the sand, we no longer had the chunkiness to contend with, so we could see quite far in all directions (including down the wall, which is always neat).  The wall was very fishy, as it has been in recent times.  I saw a bunch juvenile pygmies, with the orange swoosh on their sides.  Also, lots of young rosies and some young starries (and some older rosies and starries too).  Then I looked down the wall and saw a ratfish about two feet below us.  Sweet!  He was actually behind us, in terms of the drift, and I couldn't imagine how we had both drifted past him without noticing.  We watched him for a bit and then continued on.  Our next interesting find was a quillback rockfish, which I eventually saw another one of.

When it came time to head shallower, we sort of cut across the southwest corner over to the south wall.  When we got over there, we found a big "baitball" of juvenile rockfish hanging out at the top of the wall.  They didn't seem too interested in posing for video, so we decided to switch onto our first deco bottle.  By the time we were done with that, the fish were more interested in playing, so I shot a little video, and then we headed toward K2.  Since it took us a bit longer to make it to the wall (because we started north of where we usually do), instead of heading along the wall until we hit the canyon to K2, we cut the corner and basically ended up following another canyon up north, which put us on the other (west) side of K2.  We ended up on the slightly deeper peak just to the north of K2, where we found a school of not-very-big blue rockfish, and a few big sheepheads.  We watched them a bit, and then as I wanted to head shallower, I realized this wasn't the shallow peak, so I circled around the peak we are on, and headed to the south.  Of course there was a school of much bigger blue rockfish over there.  I was swimming toward them to get some video, when I saw something big hanging in the middle of them.  I swam a little closer and recognized it as a mola being cleaned.  A really big mola!  I slowly approached it, because I really didn't want to scare it away.  I signaled Kevin, and asked him to get in the frame, to show how big it was.  He made a big arc around, so he could approach it slowly, and it didn't seem to mind him at all.  He held his hand out, and it swam up to his hand and rubbed against it!  Yay!  Eventually after a couple of minutes, he wandered off.

We started our ascent, and by the time we got to 70 feet, we had drifted off of the pinnacle a bit (to get out of the annoying surge that is always at the top), and our mola friend had reappeared.  So I got a bit more video of him, and then we finally went onto our bottles.  Of course as we were doing this, the mola came back, circling us as we went onto our bottles, and then as Kevin put up the bag.  The deco mola stuck with us through our 60 foot stop, occasionally swimming off and then coming back.  But when we got to 50 feet, he never returned.  After that, deco was pretty uneventful.  The water was really blue, and we could see a long long way, but there wasn't a lot to see... not too many jellies.  At 20 feet, I saw something odd in the distance, which looked to me like an albino sea nettle.  We swam over to it, thinking it was a long way off, but then we got to it really quickly.  Turns out it wasn't really far away, just rather small.  Nick got a picture of the same critter, which Mykle said looks like a juvenile purple-striped jelly.  Neat!  On the ascent from 20 feet, we saw another pretty big mola swim by in the distance.  It was a different one than the one we saw earlier (I could tell because this one was much less beaten up).  It immediately dove down too deep to follow, so we just watched it.  We surfaced into completely acceptable conditions, considering that we had a "weather window" though it did kick up a little on the way home.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Night Dive

Rob and I found ourselves in the strange situation of not having any dive plans for the weekend.  I was originally lobbying for a dive at MacAbee on Saturday morning (after seeing Kenn's awesome seal encounter, I wanted to go seal hunting :P), but then Rob suggested a Friday night dive.  Then I could theoretically have the weekend to take care of all of the silly pre-holiday stuff we had to do (theoretically, if I had managed to not have a hangover on Sunday that precluded doing anything more productive than watching Gossip Girl on Netflix).  The forecast looked pretty okay to me, so I didn't really think about that.  We had to stop at Anywater to get our single tanks filled, so of course that took longer than expected, so it was after 8 when we got to the Breakwater.  The water was a bit rougher than I expected.  Still diveable, but probably the roughest that it's been when I've done a night dive.  Even Rob said something about being surprised by how big it was.

We got geared up and into the water pretty quickly.  Something strange happened to the beach at the Breakwater.  It's like all of the sand was eroded away -- the beach was gravelly, and it was really low compared to the bottom step of the stairs.  Also, there were rocks sticking up in the surf zone that I've never seen before.  Presumably this was all uncovered by the big swells the previous weekend (those big swells that didn't stop us from doing an awesome dive).  We swam out a bit, until we were in 20 or so feet of water, and then decided to just drop there.  We dropped into a small school of squid.  I don't know if school is a fair term... there were only about 5 or 6.  I guess they were following our lights as we swam out on the surface, but once we descended on them, they skedaddled.  We swam out a bit, and eventually made it to the patch where we usually meander, and started looking for critters.  We found quite a few octopus, as usual.  There were also the usual sorts of cute little fish doing cute things, including one fish that was eating some kind of worm, which was still hanging out of its mouth.  Ewww.  We also saw two little red octopus wrapped around a crab (maybe a kelp crab?) that they were eating.  It was sort of interesting and sort of gross.

But there were two really good finds of the dive.  The first was by me, and I presented it to Rob with a flourish... it was a very nice specimen of Dirona picta.  It was a very white, almost pinkish color, rather than the usual more gold specimens.  Rob was pretty excited by this find, but in the end, Rob found the best critter of the night.  He forgot to give a flourish before he pointed it out to me, but it was definitely deserving... sitting there on the sand, all by himself, out in the open... a little bull sculpin!  I don't think I've ever seen one before.  That's one cute fish; definitely a muppet fish.  Other than these two really good finds, I found some photogenic Dendronotus (frondosus, I think), and a translucent fish sporting baby face.

I eventually suggested we turn, I think because I was getting cold.  Usually it takes about 15 or 20 minutes to meander in from where we spend most of the dive, so I called turn when I figured I would be really cold in 15 minutes.  But basically as soon as we turned, we hit the slope where it goes pretty quickly from 40ish to 20ish feet.  Doh.  So as a result, the dive was unusually short.  We didn't see anything exciting on the way in today, and we surfaced to some pretty sloshy water.  But we exited uneventfully and after rinsing off and packing up, we headed to Chili's for dinner (one of the few places we know of that is open late in Monterey) and then home.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bad Forecast, Good Dive

Rob and I did not have dive plans for the weekend, but there was a BAUE tech boat on Saturday.  I heard a rumor that some spots had opened up on the boat, so I asked Matt and he said there was room for us.  The forecast was pretty horrible earlier in the week.  In fact, even when I signed up a few days before the boat, the forecast was pretty horrible... something like 20 to 30 knot winds plus a respectable swell.  There was some whimpering on Friday about the forecast, but Jim said that based on the wind direction, the sites in the bay should be doable.  And the reports from Friday were that the visibility was pretty decent in the bay.  When we met up on Saturday morning, Jim was basically not even entertaining the notion of getting out of the bay, but he still thought that the in-the-bay sites looked good.  We didn't even bother to load our scooters on the boat, since the bay sites really don't call for them.  We headed out to Mile Buoy.  I was diving just with Rob.  For some bizarre reason, when we got to the site, no one else seemed like they wanted to go diving.  So while Rob and I got geared up right away, everyone else was just milling about.  I figured that was there problem, so we splashed as soon as we got the go ahead from the boat crew.

As soon as I hit the water, I found unbelievably clear, blue water.  Probably the best viz I've ever seen in the bay before.  And sea nettles as far as the eye could see!  We headed down the line, and found very good viz down to about 100 feet.  Closer to the bottom, the water was stirred up so that the viz was probably more like 20 feet; not too surprising since there'd been a big swell throughout the prior week.  It was also pretty dark, at least in comparison to mid-water, where it was super bright!  After we battled our way through the nettles to get to the bottom, we just sort of milled about on the site.  For some reason that I can't exactly remember, Rob didn't bring his camera.  I think it was because he was very negative about our prospects of getting a dive in, and didn't feel like setting up the camera.  It's a real shame that he didn't bring his camera, because either macro or wide angle would have been great (macro on the bottom, wide angle in mid-water).

During our amble about the bottom, we saw most of the exciting things one can see at Mile Buoy -- lots of basket stars (more than 5, then I stopped counting), a few Tochuinas, a bunch of big lingcods, and the usual assortment of rockfish, including some groups of juveniles.  We also saw some interesting nudibranchs, which would have been good to photograph.  I saw a couple of weird-looking Tritonias.  At first I thought they might have been diomedea, but then I decided they were probably just festiva with not-very-distinct markings on their backs.  Then later on, Rob showed me a slug that he thought was diomedea, so maybe the first two were too.  Definitely a good use case for a camera with a macro lens :)

Eventually we wound our way back to a taller rock, which had a lot of rockfish swimming around it.  It seemed like the viz was better around there, probably because we were up off of the sand, and thus there was less schmutz in the water.  We hung out there for a bit longer, then I suggested we start the ascent, because I was really looking forward to videoing the sea nettles on the way up.  I was a bit worried they'd all be gone by the time we left the bottom!  Not to worry, they were still out in full force.  I put the bag up (Kevin wasn't there, after all :P), but then I quickly passed it off to Rob since I wanted to take some video.  I amused myself for the first stop or two, videoing Rob and the nettles.  But then around the end of our 60' stop, it got even better when a mola swam by!  Then we were visited by a curious sea lion.  Throughout the deco, we saw several molas, probably four or five.  And we got bombed by a sea lion a few times, and as we got shallower, we saw a few sea lions zooming around together.  We could see the other teams during deco (since the viz was like 100 feet).  There were a couple of sea lions who seemed pretty curious about Ted's team, which was particularly amusing since they seemed completely oblivious to it!  Near the end of the dive, I saw the coolest thing of all... a sea lion going after a mola, who took off and managed to escape (this time).  Sadly I did not get a decent shot of that on my video :(  Overall I was really happy with the nettle footage though, and thoroughly entertained for the entire deco!  Seems like I've been getting lucky with some awesome ascents lately.

When we surfaced, there was a big gaggle of sea lions not that far away, but Jim didn't seem too keen about dropping us over there for some video of them.  We should have just swam over without asking :P

After collecting all of the teams, we headed back to the dock, and managed to avoid any unpleasant weather at all.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fantastic Diving in the Bay

I was on the BAUE recreational charter on Saturday.  I was diving with Ian and Jimmy.  When I signed up, I didn't know if Rob was going to be in town, but Rob did eventually signup at the last minute.  But I told him that I'd already made plans for a team, so he was on his own.  (Kevin was on the boat too, but amazingly, none of us dove together on either dive.)  The forecast had been looking pretty bad.  It was supposed to be really windy, but out of the south/southeast with moderate swell.  So I wasn't holding out too much hope about getting out of the bay, but I figured at least the bay would be nice and sheltered from the wind.  Somewhat predictably, after attempting to get around the point, we turned back.  It went pretty abruptly from being nice to being shitty, so I was happy to turn around (though also somewhat predictably, there were some naysayers on the boat).  We decided to head back to Ballbuster, but when we got back to it, the Beachhopper had snuck in there while we were trying to get around the point.  What is it they say about a bird in hand?

Photo by Robert Lee
So we retreated to Aumentos, and figured we'd head back to Ballbuster for the second dive.  The surface conditions were nice and calm at Aumentos.  My buddies and I were quite spread out on the boat (I was in my usual spot, and I think they assumed I was diving with Rob and ditching them, so they took seats elsewhere), so we waited for the teams around me to clear out so we they could reposition for gear checks.  As a result, we were the last team in the water.  I jumped in first, and the first things I noticed were the really good viz and a wee bit of current.  As I kicked myself back to the swimstep, I realized it was more than a wee bit.  I was kicking really hard and making slow progress.  We were chatting about the current as we swam, and Jim asked if I wanted a granny line.  I think the correct answer to that was yes, but I figured if no one else needed a line to get to the bow, neither did I :)  When we came around to the bow, I saw Kevin and Mike hanging out by the line, apparently having also gotten worked by the current (but they were on the other side of the boat, so I didn't see it).  I was sort of relieved it wasn't just me.  We headed down the line, and found good viz (40 to 50 feet?) all the way down, though it was stirred up a bit at the bottom, so the water was not nearly as clean as it had been near the surface.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
There was also current pretty much the whole way down, unless you were placed just so behind the structure so you could hide from it.  When we first hit the structure, I thought the current had subsided, but once we left the structure to swim across one of the sand channels, I found that I was wrong.  In addition to the current, there was the occasional long surge, so altogether there was just a lot of water movement.  So I spent a lot of the dive slightly above the reef, just looking around, not really sticking my head in the reef looking for critters.  There was a good amount of fish life, with a school of rockfish hanging above the reef (blues, blacks, a few olives, I think).  I also saw several nice-sized cabezons, some of whom I accidentally spooked as I whooshed by in the current, and several ling cods, some of them big.  I had been charged with leading the dive (because people who don't regularly dive with me wrongly assume that I'm good at that).  So I did the usual out and back to the anchor a couple of times.  Aumentos is thankfully pretty easy to navigate, even for me :)

There were quite a few molas on the bottom.  I also saw some sea lions zip by, and I even saw one that was "playing with" a mola.  It came zooming down with the molas in its mouth and then it dropped the mola and the mola slowly sank down toward the bottom.  It's a cruel world out there.  One of the bigger molas on the bottom, being feasted on by some starfish, made a good waypoint for navigation.  Eventually we ended up back by the anchor, and after a few minutes of looking around there, I suggested that we thumb it, and we all agreed.  Ian had wanted to shoot a bag for practice (which we had run by Jim), so we positioned ourselves in mid-water for that, and then decided at the last minute that there was still too much current there for us to come up with a bag.  So we just ascended the anchor line.  When we surfaced, we just had to drift back to the swimstep, but then there was a little pileup on the current line waiting to exit.  Mike got out, and then Kevin was waiting on the line, but I swear I heard him say "ladies first" so I jumped in front of him and waddled up the ladder.  Everyone agreed that the current was not especially fun.  After I got out of the water, I was actually pretty hot in my drysuit from all of the kicking.

Photo by Robert Lee
So we decided to head over to Hopkins Deep for dive 2, in hopes of avoiding the current.  I'm not sure whose idea this site was.  Since it is such a short ride, we were tied up there for a while waiting for the surface interval to pass.  Kevin reported that he had not charged his hero-cam, so it had died after 5 minutes.  I offered him my camera, since it had stayed in my pocket the entire dive anyway.  He passed.  We played with a friendly (food-craving) pelican.  And Luke went down for a short dive while we were waiting.  He reported very clear water on top, but less clear water on the bottom, and no current.  And he said there were lots of cool jelly critters in the top clear water, right under the boat.  So we figured that would be an option if we got bored on the bottom.  We finally got into the water again, and we were once again among the last into the water.  I guess that's what happens when I dive without Rob or Clinton to keep me moving.

Just as Luke had reported, there was no current (phew) and the viz was great on top, but murkier on bottom; I'm going to call it about 20 feet, though there were occasional patches that were better and some that were worse.  The murk was just on the bottom.  If you moved up about 10 feet off of the bottom, it opened up a lot.  There were a lot of fish swimming around right in that depth range anyway, so we did spend some time up there.  We pretty much just meandered around in the murk, but we had an excellent dive.  First, we found a friendly mola.  He was up out of the murk, so we went up there and watched him for a bit.  He took off and then reappeared and we watched him a bit longer.  Even though I feel like I pretty much got "the shot" with my recent mola encounter, I was still excited to see and video this guy.  And the guys were REALLY excited.  I don't think they'd ever seen a (live) mola in the water before.  A bit later in the dive, we saw a big mola.  Big by local standards anyway.  I would estimate that he was about 5 feet long, in the same range as the biggest molas I've ever seen in the wild.  I squealed through my reg when I saw him.  We swam after him briefly and then he disappeared.  He was down in the murk, which was too bad.  He appeared again a moment later, and then once again he was gone.  Still pretty cool too see such a big one.  The dive was also punctuated by brief sea lion encounters.  We could hear barking pretty consistently throughout the second half of the dive, so I was constantly looking for them.  Everyone now and then one or two would appear.  I saw two of them at the bottom snacking on a mola.  I squealed when I saw them, and they took off.  Oops.

Photo by Robert Lee
As a result of our two mola encounters, where we just sort of followed the molas wherever they went, I really had no freakin' clue where we were after a while. Somewhere on Hopkins.  I was hoping that one of the others did.  Near the end of the dive, we ended up deeper, in about 80 feet.  So we definitely weren't very close to where we started.  We passed some huge bunches of squid eggs on the sand just off of the reef out there.  We made some lame attempts to get back to the anchor and then gave up, and Ian put a bag up.  And this is when the fun began.  We got waylaid on our way to 40 feet, by a gang of curious sea lions.  They weren't doing the usual thing where they buzz by you really fast.  Instead, then would come down, and just hang and look at us, and slowly amble by.  It really felt like they were moving in slow motion.  They first appeared around 60 feet, and they were with us the whole way up.  They'd come down and swim around for a bit, then head to the surface, then come back down.  Obviously I was videoing the whole time.  Jimmy and I were flipping all around trying to get a good look at them, while Ian was stuck on bag duty.  But he seemed to be having a good time anyway.  It was not exactly what you would call a textbook ascent :P  We would pretty much move to the next stop, and stay there until the sea lions left, since we knew they'd be back down to wherever we stopped.  In all it was about a 15 minute ascent.  I was hoping that the boat wouldn't be too annoyed with us.  I figured they could probably see the sea lion action by our bag, and they'd understand.  This was definitely the best sea lion encounter I've had anywhere other than Lobos Rocks.  And in a way, it was better than Lobos Rocks, because we didn't have to worry about getting slammed into the rocks, plus the slow-motion buzzing was really cool to watch.  Plus I don't think Jimmy and Ian had ever had any sort of sea lion encounter like this before, so they loved it.

Eventually it was time to surface, and when we hit the surface, the boat was FAR.  Apparently we weren't that far from the boat when we popped the back, but once we started drifting, we were really moving.  I started swimming toward the boat, hoping it would eventually head over and pick us up, which it did after a minute or two.  I think Jim just wanted to make us sweat since we made him sweat over our drift ;)  We were very excited about our mola and sea lions encounters.  I don't think any of the other teams had nearly as interesting dives, unfortunately, though Rob said he had a good time overall.  We had a short ride back to the dock, followed by La Tortuga, and then Anywater, and we still made it home pretty early thanks to the short boat ride.  I was so excited about our dive that I edited my video that night when I got home.

I've included a few pictures from the other teams, to give you an idea of the conditions at Aumentos.  All of the day's pictures are in the BAUE gallery.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

BAUE Wharf Day

On Saturday, we had a BAUE gathering at the Wharf.  Since diving the wharf requires getting approval from the Harbormaster, and having someone on the pier as surface support, it always makes more sense to dive it as a group.  John and Carol were kind enough to setup the dive and play surface support for the day.  We had around a dozen divers total.  I was diving with Rob, after my previously-planned buddy flaked on me.  When we passed Del Monte on the way into town, the waves looked surprisingly big; the forecast had looked pretty average for the bay, so I wasn't expecting this.  When we got to the Wharf, there were a bunch of surfers right by the wall there.  I think calling them surfers is a bit of a stretch.  Really it seemed like a bunch of teenage girls paddling around on their boards, and when the one biggest wave rolled through every 10 minutes or so, they'd try to surf it.  In any case, it's not really what I like to see at a dive site!  But John told us that you could see Melibe in the water from the end of the wharf.  So that was something to look forward to :)

We got geared up and eventually Rob and I waddled into the water.  The surf was bigger than typical, but still pretty manageable.  We had to swing out away from the wall to dodge the surfers, and then we came back into the wall, and swam right along the wall, under the overhang of the pier.  The surfers that we encountered were quite friendly, but there were apparently some surly surfers that did not want to share the ocean with some of the other divers in the group.  What the heck?  Anyhoo, we swam out to the first set of pilings, and were pretty shocked by how good the viz was on the surface.  We dropped there, and found decent, though somewhat stirred up viz, on the bottom.  I would call it slightly better than average for the site.  But you really don't need very good viz to have a good time at the wharf anyway.  There was the occasional surge, but overall I thought it was pretty tiny-critter-peeping friendly.

We meandered along the pilings as usual, and found a variety of interesting critters.  Overall, it seemed like we found a lot more stuff on the bottom than we usually do.  A lot of the interesting critters were on big chunks of broken red bryozoan that had fallen onto the bottom.  Like little bryozoan boulders.  Have those always been there?  I don't really remember there being so much on the bottom, but maybe they always have but I've never thought to look for stuff in there.  We found a couple of octopuses hiding in these patches of bryozoan, which were a nice dark red to blend into the bryozoan.  One of them interacted with us for a while, and I got some video of him scooting across the sand.

The patches of bryozoan were also filled with fringeheads.  I usually think I'm not very good at finding fringeheads at the wharf; I can usually find them, but I find that it takes a lot of concentration and I usually get bored with it.  So usually at the end of a dive at the wharf, Rob has pictures of tons of fringeheads and I wonder why he didn't show more of them to me.  But today I couldn't stop finding them.  They were just everywhere.  I stopped bothering to point them out to Rob, because he already had his choice of so many to shoot.  There was also a sea lion that kept zipping past us, but never stuck around long enough for any documentary evidence of its presence.

We also found a little patch with a bunch of Aeolidia papillosa, at least 5 or 6 in a 10 foot radius.  That was pretty exciting... haven't seen one of them in a while.  And John wasn't kidding about the Melibe.  There were quite a few of them, though oddly I kept seeing them in midwater.  I saw more of them swimming midwater than I've seen before.  I tried to get some video of them, which was a bit challenging and definitely a good way to go crosseyed trying to focus on one of them swishing around in the water.  I made two other good slug finds -- two Dirona pictas and one Polycera atra.  These both fall into the category of slugs that I rarely see, but see very frequently at the wharf.  I guess that means I need to dive the wharf more.  The Polycera atra was on the concrete wall at the beginning of the pier (or the beginning of the part with pilings instead of a solid bottom... is that what we call the pier?)  This wall is a great place to find critters, which I think is easy to overlook.  I also saw a small octopus crawling on a piling.  This struck me as a really weird place for an octopus to be, but someone else reported seeing one on a piling too, so maybe I am just out of touch with the octopus lifestyle.

Eventually we headed in, because it just seemed like it was about that time (90 minutes maybe?).  As we swam in over the sand, we found a little patch of kelp that was completely COVERED in melibes, large and small.  So we stopped there for a few minutes to get some pics and video, and then from there we headed in and surfaced from about 4 or 5 feet.  It seemed like the water had calmed down when we surfaced, so getting out of the water was pretty uneventful.  Except that I took my fins off a little too early, like I always do at the Wharf.

We were among the first to get out of the water (because we were the first in the water), so we puttered around for a bit, and then had lunch on the wharf and hung out for a while before heading home.

I did manage to get a little video of the friendly octopus, so I posted that.  Also, Rob has more pictures and Clinton has a few too (taken with Vanessa's camera), which are all posted on the BAUE gallery.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Two Epic Dives at Yankee Point

Rob finally got back from his trip on Friday night.  We were originally supposed to be on a boat on Sunday, but because of some sort of scheduling snafu, it got moved to Saturday a few days ago.  I wasn't too excited to get up early on Saturday to make the boat, considering that I was picking Rob up at the airport late on Friday.  Due to the change of schedule, we had an out if we wanted one, but we were diving with Kevin, and I didn't want to ditch him.  So we went.  The forecast for the day was sort of average.  It didn't look great, but it didn't look bad either.  I was pretty confident we would at least get to dive.  When we got to Monterey, it was looking good.  By the time we made it around Pinos and into Carmel, there was actually talk about whether we could make it to Point Sur.  But when we got past Lobos, the wind kicked up, and there were whitecaps about.  So, we stopped at Yankee Point.  Rob suggested Three Nixies.  He was up in the wheelhouse, and couldn't figure out which waypoint in Jim's GPS was for that site, so instead we went to Dos Gatos (which is like 2 pinnacles over from the Nixies), since Rob had that in his GPS (which I made fun of him for bringing, but I guess it was a wise move... which is not to say that Rob is wise).

Okenia felis, the world's coolest slug
In the grand boat-date shuffle, John had lost both of his buddies, so he was diving with Team Kitty.  We decided to just dive as one team, but if we had to split up for some reason, Rob was my primary buddy.  After the ball was dropped, we got into our gear, and I was thinking that I'd put my hood on too early, because I was feeling quite warm (it was a very sunny day).  Then it turned out that the ball had slipped, so we had to sit with all of our gear on while they circled around and reset the downline.  Kevin at some point got up (in his tanks) to do something, and when he came back he got the hose out and water each of us.  Ahhh.  Once the ball was reset and holding, I was the first to jump in the water, and I immediately noticed that the viz was amazing.  When I popped up from my jump, I expressed how awesome the viz was, grabbed my scooter, and then backed off from the boat.  The others jumped in, and when I looked back, I saw Kevin handing up his fins and scrambling up the ladder (with bottles still on), and he said to go without him :(  I didn't know why.  I thought I heard "scooter flood" but actually it was "suit flood" (though I didn't find this out until deco, when I asked Rob).  So the three of us headed for the ball, which was still quite close, because we weren't really drifting much.  It was quite calm on the surface.  As I scootered to the ball, I couldn't believe as I looked below the water at the line and then above the water at the ball, how far I could see underwater.  We headed down the line and found insanely good viz the whole way down.  And bright blue water, tropical-like.  I think this was literally the best viz I have ever seen around here (though possibly tied with a few other dives that I can think of).  Rob was, of course, shooting macro.  As we came down the line and hit the top of the pinnacle, we were greeted by a school of blue rockfish, which seems pretty typical at this site.  I whipped out my hero cam, and got some video while the guys patiently waited for me so we could get down to business (that is, get down to the bottom :P).  I was having trouble popping my hero cam off of the goodman handle that it lives on, and onto the mount on my scooter (this seemed like perfect viz to use the mount).  Rob helped me do that, and then we were off.

Closeup of the swarming fish, juvenile shortbelly rockfish
We scootered through a little channel and then came around to the bottom of the pinnacle, where there was sand as far as the eye could see.  Rob found a basket star on a gorgonian on a little rock sitting in the sand.  We took a look at that, and continued on -- I guess Rob didn't think it was worth taking a picture of it.  So, next we came around into a channel between two of the pinnacles.  You could see everything today!  John signaled to us to look up.  At this point we were around 180' or 190', and I figured he was pointing out that you could see the surface down here.  So I flipped over, expecting to see clear up to the surface, but instead, I saw a cloud above us.  More like a swarm really.  A swarm of little fish, pouring over the top of the pinnacle.  We all looked at each other like "holy shit" and signaled to head up to them.  They were pretty far above us, so despite my intense desire to point my scooter up and go, we sort of meandered up the pinnacle until we got close, and then swam through them, to avoid completely disturbing the fish with our scooters.  The number of fish was unbelievable, and swimming along next to the swarm was so cool.  Eventually they moved off of the pinnacle into the water between us and the next pinnacle (where the downline was).  They sort of scattered at that point, and the cloud wasn't as dense.  I looked across and saw that Erik and Doug had just come down the line.  They basically came down the line, with their backs to the swarm, and then headed around the back side of the other pinnacle (despite my efforts to signal them and show the fish to them).  I figured eventually they'd run into the swarm (which they did).

We headed back a bit deeper, or rather Rob did, and we eventually followed.  Pretty soon, we were technically at the end of our deep segment (which wasn't actually very deep at all, since we spent most of it with the fish swarm).  So we headed up the reef.  Rob was looking for some macro critters to shoot.  I got a pretty excited signal from him and when I came over, I saw that he was pointing at an Okenia felis!  Yay!  After showing it to everyone (including Doug, who was surely like "what am I looking at?"), he got some pictures of it.  We continued along the reef, and I eventually found, much to my surprise, a little octopus hanging onto the wall.  Not what I'd expect to find there, especially considering how bright it was today!  Rob shot some pics of that, and then as we came around the pinnacle, we found that the baitball was back, and it was even more compact and impressive than in had been before.  I went off the trigger and sort of snuck up toward it, trying not to disturb it, but swimming through it as I video'd.  It was insanely fun swimming through all of those fish.  And I got a ton of footage of it.  Rob got to work taking some macro shots of the fish, which was good, since I had no clue what they were.  (He sent the pics off to Milton and Tom, and they have proclaimed them to be juvenile shortbelly rockfish... that's a new one for me!)  Eventually it was time to head up, and John signaled as much.  After a brief exchange where Rob asked if we could push it, and John looked at me and then looked at Rob, and didn't really give an answer, I just thumbed it out of confusion.

An octopus who is confused about the time change
We headed up to our first deep stop, where Rob put up the bag, and some of the baitball followed us.  Hehe.  But by the time we had started deco we were all alone in the big bright blue ocean.  But I could see the occasional very far off egg yolk jelly.  But they were just little specks in the distance, because I could see them coming from SOOO far.  I could even see the boat passing above us as it headed over to pull the ball.  What an amazing day!  The whole deco, I was looking for molas.  Last weekend, Erik and Doug saw molas (and we didn't, boohoo).  And while I have some nice footage of molas on deco, it's always been in fairly green water.  So whenever we have bright blue water and it's mola season, I'm hoping... Anyhoo, eventually one of the egg yolks that I had seen in the distance made its way to us (I think it was moving more than we were... we could see the reef for a while and we weren't really drifting very fast).  It was huge, with its tentacles stretching for 10 feet on each side, and made a pretty interesting video subject as it pulsated along.  The one downside to the awesome viz was that the water was cold even on deco.  Or at least not warm like it has been lately (I had 51 for most of deco, though 20 feet felt a touch warmer.)
Flabellina trilineata

When we got to 20 feet, I asked around about how much deco to do.  Since our dive had been substantially shallower than the plan, I suggested less deco than we'd discussed on the boat.  After a bit of negotiating (and perhaps a bit of misunderstanding), we settled on 18 minutes (instead of 20).  There was not a lot to look at because the water was mostly jelly-free.  But the occasional sea nettle did start to pop up on the 20 foot stop.  I also saw heard and then saw the boat come over and "park" near our bag (which was a sure sign that it was calm above).  Then out of nowhere, Rob was signaling to me and I looked over to see a mola swimming away from me.  I whipped out my camera, because if he came back, I was going to be ready!  But I didn't see him and I didn't see him.  And I sadly thought that I'd missed my shot at some mola-in-infinite-viz video.  And then all of a sudden, there were molas all around us.  Five, to be exact.  I don't know where they all came from, but they were just there, in all directions.  Eventually they all came together, and alternated between swimming in formation, and swimming in one group of three and one group of two.  They circled us for many minutes, and I was happily video'ing them the whole time.  Eventually they swam down below us and disappeared from sight.  I figured they were gone, and since we had been at the stop for over 20 minutes (so much for that renegotiation), I asked if we should start our ascent.  Everyone agreed.  When we got to 17 feet, I realized the molas were back.  They just wouldn't leave us alone!  So I got my camera back out and took a little more footage during the 6-minute ascent.  (It was not what you would call a textbook 6-minute ascent :P).  We finally managed to shake those pesky molas and make it to the surface.  It was completely flat, not a whitecap in sight.  We were actually kind of lollygagging on the surface at the back of the boat.

One handsome fish
I didn't want to talk the dive up too much back on the boat, since Kevin had missed it, but it was hard not to.  John said that this was his best dive ever in the ocean, which didn't seem like a stretch to me (even though John has been diving since before the lightbulb was invented :P).  We eventually discussed where to go for the second dive, and since it was ridiculously calm, and the viz was ridiculously good, we decided to stay nearby and head to Flintstones.  So after a very short drive over there, we hunkered down for our surface interval.  Eventually the time came when we agreed we could get back into the water.  Rob and Kevin seemed to have slightly different ideas about how deep of a dive they wanted to do so soon after our first dive (I guess that only applied to Rob).  I set 80 feet as my max depth, and made a sarcastic remark about John and I staying above them.

On the way down the line, I saw three molas between the line and the pinnacle, so I swam off of the line over to them to get some footage.  When I was finished with that, I turned around to look for the others.  John was near the line and maybe a few feet below, looking in my general direction.  Then I looked down and saw that Rob was way below me.  Not even close to 80 feet or shallower, grumble.  I  started to descend, and around 60 feet, I found myself out of argon.  Grumble.  I think when I am videoing I use my drysuit more for buoyancy (very bad, I know, but it's just so much easier to vent hands-free!), which is why I keep running out of argon on the second dive!  Anyway, I tried to signal the team, because I was thinking that I'd rather take a puff of Argon from someone else versus using backgas, but my signals were in vain.  By this point they were all far below me.  Grumble.  So at 70 feet (very squeezed), I sucked it up and closed down my exhaust valve and switched my suit inflation to backgas (remembering to shutoff my argon valve first... Frank would be so proud!).  So I basically spent the rest of the dive trying to avoid going too deep, diving very squeezed, and being cold.

Wolf eel, which I didn't see
It wasn't the most pleasant dive, but it was a fun one.  The viz was still very good, though not as clean as it had been on the previous dive.  But there were so many fish!  In addition to the molas (who were setup at a couple of mola cleaning stations!), there were a zillion perch, plus a nice-sized school of blue rockfish, some senoritas, and one very mischievous sea lion.  He kept dive bombing me and John.  And then we played a game of hide-and-seek where he would try to hide behind the pinnacle, but I would see his bubbles and find him again :)  I eventually got annoyed with Rob and Kevin going ridiculously deep and asked John if we could just team up.  So that's what we did, and we stayed at about 60 or 70 feet for most of the dive (which meant I didn't need to inflate my suit much beyond what it was when I closed my valve and went to backgas).  As a result, we missed a bat ray and a wolf eel that Rob and Kevin saw.  But all of the fish were on top of the pinnacle anyway.  There was some strange sort of mixing of water right near the top of the pinnacle, on the end where the line was.

Eventually I was just too cold and I thumbed the dive.  We headed up the line, and Rob and Kevin turned out to not be too far behind us.  When I got to the surface and told John that I was really cold because I was out of Argon, he seemed to think I was insane for inflating at all with 18/45.  Perhaps.  After we had a little more fun on the boat, and retrieved the other team, we headed home.  It was a nice ride home, though once we were out of the little nook we had spent the day in, there were whitecaps again.  I guess we were close enough to shore for some protection.  When we got back to the dock, we decided to head to Turtle Bay for a little lunch -- it's been a while!

I was quite pleased with the video from this dive, and I sure had a lot of it.  I took 40 minutes of footage :)  So while the 5 minute video I produced might seem a bit long, it really could have been worse :P