It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why Not to Read the Forecast

Remember how last weekend I noted that it was a "good thing we're not on a boat" because the conditions were bad?  Well this week's forecast looked eerily similar to last weekend's.  I think I must have unintentionally cursed it when I made that comment.  But hey, it's not everyday you have a forecast for 3 to 9 foot wind waves.  Really?  They can't be more specific?  That's like saying my blog gets between twelve and 10 trillion page views a day.  Anyhoo, with a really bad wind forecast and a not-too-stellar swell forecast, well, it wasn't looking good.  It was only a matter of time before the email chatter started.  The subtle mention of the forecast, to soften the blow when the suggestion of cancelling the boat comes.  I was opposed to cancelling the boat without at least showing up at the dock in the morning.  So I did the best thing I could think of to ensure that happened; I convinced Clinton the signup for the boat at the last minute :)  And what do you know, when Saturday morning rolled around, we met up at the dock to see how conditions looked.  On the way down, we saw the flag standing at attention, but it was pointed the wrong way... the wind was out of the east.  It was pretty weird to see the flag pointing out to sea.

We didn't even talk about whether to not go out once we got to the dock.  That's the way I like it.  If the conditions are undiveable, that will soon become apparent.  So we headed out, and the conditions in the bay were pretty okay.  As we were approaching (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) Point Pinos, it started to get a bit snotty.  I volunteered the fact that I was not trying to prove anything by making it to Carmel, and was perfectly happy to dive in the bay.  At precisely that moment, Michael appeared from above (the wheelhouse, that is) and asked if we should turn it around.  Yes, please.  So we retreated to Mile Buoy, that much maligned site which I think I've actually only dived once before.  When we arrived, Jim announced that the wind/current allowed us to drift, rather than having to deco on the line.  Yay.  We (Team Kitty, that is... I was diving with Rob and Kevin) got geared up and into the water first.  We headed down the line and hit the structure a little shallower than I expected.  The viz was quite good.  In fact, I'd say for the bay it was "great".  Once at the bottom, we found a couple of Tochuinas in pretty short order.  Then Clinton signaled us to show us a basket star.  Sweet!  Those were pretty much the two critters I was hoping to see at Mile Buoy, so within about two minutes of the dive, mission accomplished.

After getting some pictures of those critters, Rob suggested scootering off of the main site to look at the surroundings.  Yes, we were scootering Mile Buoy.  Yes, it's silly.  But Rob wanted to test out his scooter, so he refused to leave the scooters on the boat :)  It turned out to be a good decision.  We meandered over the sand and eventually hit some other smaller reef structures.  I was poking around, admiring a weight belt with like one bullet weight in every color of the rainbow that was laying on the bottom (does that sound familiar to anyone else?) and looking at the usual slugspects.... the Spanish shawls, the Tritonias poised to strike on unsuspecting gorgonians, when Rob signaled me.  Sort of excitedly.  He was on the other side of the big boulder that I was on.  I swam over and saw that he was pointing to the sand.  I looked down.  I saw what first looked like some sort of flatfish.  A flat oval blob with two eyes poking up off the bottom.  Okay.  Interesting, but not that exciting.  Then I swam around and looked at it from a different angle, lower and more on its level.  That's not a flatfish, it's a giant slug!  The "eyes" were its rhinophores.  And it was some sort of slug that I'd never seen before, with its gill plume on the side.  The gill plume was really cool, because it was sort of tucked up under it on the side and it could extend it.  It was like it had a sea pen sticking out of its side.  Very neat, not like any slug I've ever seen before.  And scary big.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
After getting quite a few pictures, we eventually left that spot and cruised over the sand and to a couple other small structures.  We saw lots more of these slugs.  Probably about eight total.  And there were some giant slug eggs too, which I suspect were its eggs.  After the dive, Rob showed the pictures to Clinton, who ID'd it as Pleurobranchaea californica, which he said he has seen once before (at the Breakwater I think).  Definitely a new one for me!  Aside from the man-eating slugs, the one other cool find on the dive was a little Pepper-sized wolf eel.  He was loitering in a crack, just poking his little head out.  I was very impressed with myself for finding it, and managing to show it to Rob before he (or was it a she? I think it may have been a she) hid.  As our bottom time was coming to an end, we headed back toward the main structure.  We were scootering for a while and didn't hit anything.  Then there was a bit of a disagreement (mostly between the boys, but to be honest, I didn't agree with either of them either) on which way to go to find the main structure.  I found their bickering annoying, and didn't see much point in scootering around over the sand for another two minutes, and thumbed it.  So we had to suffer the indignity of popping our bag off of the structure, though apparently we were actually quite close (so says the boat crew).

Deco was uneventful.  It got warmer as we got shallower.  Oh, speaking of that, the water was insanely cold.  My gauge read 46 degrees, which for the bay I consider insanely cold.  I heard jingle bells the whole deco.  The whole dive actually.  It was driving me nutty, and I wonder if I was hearing things.  But there's really no hand signal for "do you hear the jingle bells?" so I just had to wonder.  Apparently it is the chain from the buoy jingling around.  So if you are ever diving Mile Buoy and you hear jingle bells, no you are not suffering from auditory hallucinations.  All in all, it was a pretty awesome dive for a day where we almost didn't dive!

For the second dive, we suggested a rather unorthodox site -- the mating amtracks.  We wanted to do a little recon on the site for some future diving.  I wasn't sure if others would be interested, but there was a lot of interest, because no one on the boat other than Rob and I had ever dived it before.  The boat crew was not sure if they were right on it, so the boys and I jumped in first, with scooters, so we could search for the site, and put up a bag.  We headed down the line, and found the tracks like 3 feet from the line.  It seemed sort of silly to pop a bag, but we had said we would, so we did.  That came in handy later in the dive.  The viz was still quite good here, maybe 30 feet.  We just doodled around on the tracks and I got a little hero cam footage, and after about 25 minutes, we thumbed it.  We were all freezing!  And conditions had really kicked up.  By the end of our short dive, sand and eel grass were spinning around in the water.  We had agreed to head to the anchor line, which was like 8 feet from where we were, and then all of a sudden, the anchor line was gone.  I guess the boat slipped anchor just at that moment.  At least it didn't come crashing down off of a wall between our team.  So we just ascended up the line of the bag we'd shot.  Rob had tied it using some super special tie that Jim taught him, so it could be pulled up from the surface.  When we hit the surface, it was snotty.  There were whitecaps all around us, when there had been none when we got in the water.  Wow, that was fast.  The boat came and retrieved us, and then the other teams as they appeared.  Then the bag was pulled (and that special tie actually worked!).

After we got back to the dock, we headed to the 17th Street Grille, which I would normally whine about, but I sucked it up and ate some chicken tenders, so I could strong arm Rob or Clinton into going someplace they don't like at a later date.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

This and That

Not a nudibranch (Panthera onca)
On Saturday, we went to Lobos, and I dove with Ted and Clinton.  Rob and Vanessa had been planning to dive some day in January, and so Clinton and I decided we'd dive too.  Then the weather caused us all to cancel our plans, so Rob and Vanessa rescheduled their dive.  And Rob told Vanessa to get two reservations, so that I could dive too.  So I had a Lobos ticket without much of a plan for what to do or who to dive with.  Ted was looking to do some skills practice before his upcoming cave class, so I told him he could come along, and I'd watch him do drills if he watched me count slugs (which was what Clinton and I were originally planning on our cancelled dive).  Then Clinton finagled an extra slot on our reservation and came along too.  Oh, and Rob wanted me to test out his new (to him) Gavin, plus I needed some Gavin practice anyway.  So in the end, the dive plan was a bunch of odds and ends.  We decided to scooter out to the end of middle reef (lame to bring a scooter for that, I know), Ted would run some line, we'd park our scooters on the line, and he and I would practice some out-of-gas line-following, and practice crossing the line (since that's like the one cave skill that probably wouldn't be fresh in Ted's mind from his tech training).  Then we'd count slugs on transects 1 and 2, meander around for a while, then retrieve our scooters, cleanup the line, and head in.  And somewhere along the way, I was to figure out if Rob's scooter had proper buoyancy and trim (and didn't flood, though I guess that would technically fall under the "proper buoyancy" part).

Another non-slug (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
All week, I was watching the forecast, and it looked pretty ugly for Saturday.  But we were pretty determined not to cancel, again.  It was insanely windy, as promised by the forecast.  There were whitecaps right at Del Monte, and the flag was totally erect.  Good thing we weren't on a boat.  When we passed Monastery, it looked surprisingly not that bad.  And when we got to Lobos, pretty much the same thing.  The occasional big set would roll through, but the west direction of the big swell left the entry pretty protected.  Part of the deal with Rob re: testing out his scooter was that he had to put it in and out of the water for me.  But I went over to the ramp with Ted to help him load his and Clinton's scooter onto the float.  As I was standing on the ramp watching Ted, I saw some divers approaching to exit.  They ended up coming up the ramp at just the wrong moment, when suddenly it went from placid to churning.  We gave them a little bit of assistance, and afterwards I was feeling a bit nervous about getting in and out of the water.  But I just watched it for a while and convinced myself that it was just a matter of timing it well.  And getting the heck in the water, since the tide would be getting lower throughout the day.

So we did just that, and got the heck in the water.  As we were getting into our gear, I asked Ted if he had a reel and he said he did.  We ran through our gear checks and headed into the water.  As we were getting situated on the surface, Ted reported that he left his reel in the car.  Doh!  Gear-check fail!  He was about to get out to get it, and I suggested we just use a spool instead.  So we went with that option.  Rob has one of those tow cords that is a pain in the butt to adjust (because that's how Gavin people do it, I guess).  The boltsnap was fixed, though could be adjusted in the water (just not easily), but the overall length of the cord could not (except by wrapping around a handle, adding a knot, etc.).  So on the surface I attempted to adjust it and get it to a reasonable length, which I was more or less able to do by wrapping the cord around one handle once.  Then on the surface scoot out, I realized it was pointing down, so I had to adjust the bolt snap position.  Then it was pointing up.  So I adjusted it again.  Then it was almost right, so once we descended (right by the worm patch), I added a knot to make it just a smidge shorter.  The viz was pretty good on the scoot out and by the time we dropped it was quite nice.  As we headed out on the sand channel, just past the worm patch, it suddenly went from quite nice in a shade of green to pretty dang awesome in a shade of blue.  Woohoo.  This was definitely a good day to stay on middle reef, because the viz was awesome even on middle reef.

We went straight down the sand channel and as we came to the end of middle reef, we pulled over to the right, and then headed to the rubble area north of the end of middle reef.  Ted found a spot to run the line, and tied in.  Once the secondary tie was in, I dropped my scooter on the line and followed Ted.  He ran and ran and ran the line.  It was pretty surgy out here, and oddly, I felt like I was swimming against a current as I followed Ted.  This didn't make too much sense to me, but I noticed the same thing on the way back to the end of the line later in the dive.  When I asked Ted about it, he said he noticed the same thing.  Weird.  Anyhoo, once he finished running line, we practiced some gas-sharing line-following drills.  We each took a turn donating.  Once that was done, we headed back to the slug transects.  I took transect 2, and Clinton took 1.  And Ted just hung out between us keeping an eye on both of us.  For a while I didn't see too many slugs, but I kept seeing the eggs of Onchidoris bilamellata.  I was hoping to find a horde of the slugs, but kept not seeing them.  I did find a bunch of patches of Rostangas (plus some of their eggs), and eventually the biggest Rostanga I've ever seen.  Eventually I found a little horde of O. bilamellata... about a dozen.  Yay!  Then I found a couple more groups of them, for a total of probably about 30.  Aside from that, I found a variety of the usual suspects, plus some clown nudis (not that they are unusual, but I don't always see them when surveying).  With all of the O. bilamellata, I'm sure this was my highest slug count ever.

Once we finished up, we meandered around the transects for a while longer, while Clinton took some pictures.  Clinton and I both looked for the transect 2 warbonnet, but neither of us could find him.  I eventually got cold, and suggested we go.  We first had to cleanup the line and retrieve our scooters.  Then we headed in.  At the worm patch, we passed another team, and we paused briefly and decided to keep going.  But the viz deteriorated, so we were sort of inching along.  Eventually I thumbed it on bad viz, and we ascended.  When we surfaced, it seemed like the wind had died down.  We hung out on the surface chatting for a bit and Ted asked if I would switch scooters with him, so he could try out the Gavin.  When I got on the trigger on his scooter, it felt like a toy!  A very agile toy :P

When we got to the ramp, Rob was waiting, and asked if he could come in and play with his scooter.  I wanted to get out (because I was freezing), so Ted agreed to stay in while Clinton and I got out.  As I approached the ramp (with a now much lower water level), there were a few divers inching down the ramp to get in.  I got to the last spot where I could stand in the water and popped a fin off.  While I was waiting for the ramp to clear, a big set of waves started to come in, so I had to put my fin back on and swim out to wait for another lull.  Once that happened, I made my way back to the ramp, and ended up on my knees with no one around to give me a hand up.  I waited for a little wave to come and stood myself up, oy.  In the process I got some lovely bruises on my knees.

After retrieving all of the divers and gear that we came with, we had some cupcakes for Vanessa's birthday. Then we headed to RG (in Monterey) for lunch.

Apparently Clinton "didn't get anything" in the photo department on this dive.  Grumble.  So I am posting pictures of cats instead, in protest.