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Me diving

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Neptune Smiles on Us

Flag Rockfish
Photo by Robert Lee, 1/16/12
Through some strange set of twists, Rob, Kevin, and I ended up on the Escapade, all by ourselves, on Saturday.  We originally had a two-team 15/55 charter, but then two-thirds of the other team couldn't make it and in the end, we were just left with our team.  It was quite luxurious.  Captain Mike told us that we each got to pick our own personal crew-member for the day :)  The forecast for swell was looking good, for wind a little iffy, but then there was the fog.  Blech!  It has been a long time since we've done a deeper dive; in fact, the gas in my big doubles has been languishing since our last dive at Birthday Wall, since a couple of boats have been cancelled.  So when we arrived at the dock, and it was foggy, I told Mike that we were going out, even if we were just going to drive around in the fog and come home :)  I figured by the time we got somewhere good, the fog would have lifted.

And that's pretty much what happened.  We had a very flat, but somewhat (nor horribly) foggy drive down.  The fog was improving, but still patchy, as we passed through Carmel Bay.  I went to the bathroom and when I came out, we had just passed Lobos, and poof, there was a sunny blue sky.  The wind had kicked up though, so there were some whitecaps around by the time we got to our destination, but it still seemed quite calm as we geared up, I guess because there was basically no swell.  At all.  I was glad for this, since getting into the water with 3 bottles from the Escapade is never fun, but especially when it is rough.  We flopped into the water, and found some current.  A good bit of current even :)  I was scootering on 5 and making very slow progress to the downline.  But I made it there.  We descended to 20 feet and did our bubble checks over basically unlimited viz.  Ahhh.  Finally, flat seas and good viz.  On a day when we were on the boat.  Sadly, Rob's housing is being serviced, so no pictures.  There's always a catch.  (I've included a couple of relevant pictures from a previous dive at this site, since the dive was so awesome, it would be a travesty not to include any pictures in this post!)  We continued down to the plateau at about 170', and switched to back gas.  Then we headed down the wall, to the bottom, and followed the wall to the north.  The viz continued to be really good, and pretty bright considering the depth.  It was the second best viz I've had at this site, only bested by a dive with Kevin and Susan.  And of course it was cold, clear water.  A bone-chilling 46 degrees on the bottom.  There was a decent current, pushing us to the north, which is pretty typical for this site.

Pygmy Rockfish
Photo by Robert Lee, 1/16/12
We saw tons of fish as usual -- the one fish that I was a bit surprised NOT to see was a ratfish, since we usually see them here, plus there have been reports of seeing them at other sites recently.  But maybe the ones that usually hang out here are making the rounds at our other local dive sites :)  On the scoot down the wall, Kevin pointed out a fish to me, which I only saw the butt side of, which was black, and when I say black, I mean solid solid black.  The front of it was a sort of cream-yellow color.  I didn't know what it was, but then after discussing it with Tom L., we concluded it was a quillback, just a bit lighter in color (on the front) than the others which I've see... this made me feel like a moron, since if I had just looked it in the face, it would have been really obvious what it was!  The one other "mystery fish" (during the dive) was the ubiquitous (at this dive site) bright yellow juvenile rockfish.  I've seen these fish on *every* dive at this site, and always thought "wow, that's a bright yellow fish, I wonder what it is".  Well this dive I actually looked at it really closely, so I could get some more details -- bright yellow on the side, white on the belly, and an orange tinge along the base of the dorsal fin and around the lips.  I sent this description to Tom, and he came back with some pics of baby starries, which is definitely the fish.  Apparently they start out without the orange lips, and those appear later.  They are really beautiful little fish -- they look like something out of the tropics!  Rob will have to get a pic of one of them next time.  Aside from these guys, we saw tons of pygmy and half-banded juveniles, a few juvey yellow eyes, and adult squarespots, bocaccio, starries, mammoth vermilions, two wolf eels, lots of lings, plus the usual boring blues and olives.  And, drum-roll... 3 flaggies!  When we first got to the rock pile where we have seen the flaggies before, there were none to be found, but a bit later, on the other side of the rock pile, I found one.  Then after we left that spot and continued a bit further down the reef, we found another rock pile, which at one point had two flaggies swimming around it.  Yay!

In addition to the fish bonanza, we found a crinoid (my fave!), a good-sized vase sponge, and a HUGE basket star.  It was so big that it was hard to believe it was just one, but open careful inspection, it was.  After the dive, I told Ted that we saw basically all of the critters one can hope to see on a deep dive.  He pointed out that the dive lacked a GPO.  True.  After 20 minutes of fun on the bottom, it was time to get a little shallower.  On our last dive here, we planned to hop over to another structure to the northish (that we'd never been to before, but saw on the map), but due to some confusion (on my part), that did not happen.  But we did want to try to hit this spot, since it looked like there was a pretty big structure coming up shallower than 150', versus the peak at Birthday Wall, which is a tiny little spire... it gets a bit boring cowering around it in the current after a few minutes.  So this time I left the leading to Rob and Kevin.  We initially headed back toward the spire, which sort of confused me.  There was at this point, a raging current that we were scootering against.  Once we got shallow enough, we switched onto our 190 bottles, and in the time that we paused to do that (off the trigger), it seemed like we'd lost all of the ground that we'd made up scootering against the current!  So after a huddle, we decided to head for the other pinnacle, which I thought was the plan anyway.  Let's just say I was confused at this point, and would have bet that we were going to end up having to abort the second segment and start an ascent.  But Kevin did not disappoint us and a minute or two later, he delivered us to a big pinnacle that sort of plateaued at the top.  It had a nice crack along the side that we came upon, which was filled with really really fluffy gorgonians.  Probably the most lush gorgonians I have ever seen.  It reminded me of Cupcakes in this respect, and I had to momentarily think about whether we could possibly have landed there.  But the shape and depth of the pinnacle said otherwise.  The best part of this crack was that the current was ripping through it, so I had a lot of fun flying over the gorgonian garden, then scootering back up-current and riding back through the crack.  Rinse, repeat.  Eventually I tired of that, and poked around a bit on the top of the plateau, doing some nudi-peeping.  Kevin pointed out this big Hermissenda that had red-red tips; it was a really pretty, flamboyant, specimen.  I love the reddish ones.

Eventually we thumbed it, and began our ascent.  We quickly heard the sound of the boat, phew.  When we got to 70 feet, I blinked, and Rob had finished his bottle rotation.  Actually I didn't blink; I watched him do it, and it was, shall we say, demonstration quality.  I wished that I had video'd it, but that is sort of jinxing it.  I'm sure if I had video'd it, he would have dropped a bottle.  So then I took my turn, and did a pretty nice one.  Quite nice by my standards.  As I told Rob after the dive, the key is to keep your head back, to which he rolled his eyes.  Kevin eventually took his turn, and then we settled in for the ride.  We were really moving in the current.  During our 60 foot stop, I noticed I could see some reef passing under us, probably in the 100 foot range.  As we were leaving our 60 foot stop, the boys told me to look behind me, and I turned to see a pinnacle rapidly approaching us.  Or maybe we were rapidly approaching it.  And whoosh, before you know it, we were blown over the top of it.  It looked like it came up to about 60 feet.  I'm a bit stumped by what this structure was.  We were drifting north, and the only thing that comes up close to that shallow to the north are the Kn pinnacles at Mount Chamberlain.  I would have recognized K2, so that definitely wasn't it.  But on the other hand, if we had drifted over one of those pinnacles, I think we would have seen more structure coming.  So, who knows?  After that, deco was uneventful until 30'.  Just as we were about to move to 20'. we drifted up to a wall of mud.  I don't know how else to describe it.  There we were in stunning bright blue water, and we drifted up to a curtain of brown.  I looked to my right, and could see blue forever; I looked to my left and it was brown, and I couldn't see anything into the brown.  I was a bit spooked by this.  At first, I thought we might be drifting toward shore, so I whipped out my scooter in case we had to scooter in the other direction in a hurry.  But there wasn't any sign of whitewater above us, and the brown was just as calm as the blue water.  Plus I figured that if we were drifting into rocks, the boat would communicate that with us.  After I got over that, I started to wonder what might swim out of the murk.  Luckily we were drifting along side of it (parallel to the dividing line between the two masses of water), so we didn't actually end up in the murk.  Eventually something did swim out of the murk -- a bait ball.  We ended up spending like the last 10 or 15 minutes at 20', decoing in a bait-ball.  Neat!  I guess they were munching on the brown.  This was quite cool but unfortunately impossible to video with my hero-cam.  Boohoo.

We surfaced in still-calm waters and a bright blue sky.  Actually the water seemed even calmer -- it seemed a bit less windy than when we got in.  After we got back on the boat, we ate the last 3 cup-o-noodles on the boat.  Ahhh, hot salty noodles really hit the spot after a long cold dive.  I think we made record time back to K-dock; from Yankee Point in under an hour.  Well, not quite Yankee Point -- we did drift pretty far!  When we got back to the dock, we decided to try something new for lunch, and headed to the Sandbar Grill, right on the wharf.  I thought it was good but not great.  I got a calamari steak, which didn't compare to Loulou's squiddle and eggs.  Which is not to say I wouldn't return to the Sandbar, but the moral of the story is that if you are a craving a calamari steak, go to Loulou's.  This is the second time I've made this mistake.

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