It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, July 23, 2012

Weekend at the Mill Pond: Hole in the Wall Upstream

Fully loaded boat
Monday morning, I dove with Rob and Meredith at Hole in the Wall.  We did a dive to “Sheck’s Bottle” which I really knew nothing about.  I would call it an epic dive, not only in the colloquial sense of the word, but also in the long Greek poem sense.  The dive had many different parts, several of which were really cool, and while there was a “destination”, getting there would not have been necessary to make it a really awesome dive.  Kevin and Keith were doing a different dive at Hole in the Wall, which also called for several stages and scooters, so we loaded the boat at Edd’s to what must have been pretty close to capacity and then inched our way up (or is it down?) the pond to the site.  We let the guys enter ahead of us, since I think we expected their dive to be longer (or maybe it was arbitrary, I’m not sure).

Meredith led the dive at the beginning (with me in second), since there was a little bit of navigation to be done.  But once we got to the scooter drop, where there was nowhere to go but straight, she shooed us ahead of her, so we could get the better view in front.  We headed up the mainline, where the viz was not so great in the first few hundred feet, to the funny T that looks like a jump, just before Alford’s room.  Actually we took a quick jaunt up to Alford’s room, and then returned to the T and headed to the right (if you were going in, but we were actually going left at that point, I guess).  This takes you to the so-called century tunnel, which I haven’t been to before.  It is a fun tunnel, twisty turny and small enough to see tunnel all around you, but not small.  Definitely worth a visit even on its own.  It does get a bit low in some places, too low to comfortably scooter (but not what I’d call low if you are swimming).  It was convenient to be following Meredith instead of leading, so I could see what spots to go off the trigger.  Eventually, just as I was thinking that I really needed to drop my scooter soon, we popped out of the tunnel and into a big tall, long room that sloped up.  We dropped our scooters and stages here.  Then I took over the lead.
Headed to Hole in the Wall

After getting to the top of the slope, the line took a hard left into another big tall room, which, after crossing the room and taking a hard right, the line exits essentially diagonally across the room from where it entered.  The next section of cave was really fun, with lots of crevices and ups and downs where you can’t tell where the heck the line is going until you drop down a crevice or pop up into a vertical crack.  More like underwater rock climbing than anything.  I found it highly amusing, and it was good to lead, though a bit intimidating to drop into cracks that I couldn’t see an exit from :)  This section of cave was not constantly up and down, there was one nice little deeper tunnel, that was (in my head anyway) like a smaller version of the century tunnel.

Eventually the underwater rock climbing came to an end, and we ended up in a really pretty section of tunnel that was fairly small, a bit taller than it was wide, with a little ledge occasionally jutting out so that you had to either go over the ledge or under the ledge.  I always followed the line, which seemed to often go underneath where it seemed it would have been easier to go over.  Anyway, since I couldn’t see where the line ended up, I just had to follow it, and then Rob had the benefit of seeing where I popped out and going whichever way was easier.  I think this tunnel would be really photogenic, but I suspect I would have a hard time convincing Rob to drag his camera all the way back there.  After being in this section of tunnel for a while, it got a bit darker behind me, I thought because somewhere moved their light, but then a moment later I got a signal and saw that Rob’s light had died.  We looked at each other sadly and thumbed it, but then Meredith swooped in and pointed out that she had an extra canister (for her suit heater).  So Rob popped his light head off and plugged it in, and we were back in business.  Rob and I were both about 100 psi from turn at this point, but Meredith assured us that would be enough.  And indeed, it was about another 2 or 3 minutes before we got to the end of the line, and the bottle.  It was a bit anti-climactic… the path to the bottle was a zillion times cooler than the bottle itself.

Someone else uses purple tape on their snaps!
The swim out was pretty uneventful.  This time I got to be in the back, so I could see the easy way to go at all of the under/overpasses.  Also, I found it highly amusing to watch Rob “climb” through the various crevices ahead of us.  Before you know it, we were back in the big tall room, and we found our scooters right where we left them.  When we picked up the scooters, we reordered again back to how we had entered, just by virtue of our scooters’ positions on the line.  So now I was in the middle again, with Rob in front.  Somewhere in the century tunnel, Meredith’s light died, and after a quick reordering, I finished the dive in the back.  It was uneventful.  Like the way in, but in reverse.

When we got back to the reel, there was some further reordering, since Meredith was on a scout light.  I didn’t entirely understand the reordering, but I think it left me in the front, and Rob in the back.  When we got to the cavern, Keith and Kevin were there, about to finish their deco (which I was a bit surprised by).  We started our deco, and a couple minutes later, Kevin came over to collect our spent bottles to take out with him.  How convenient!  He took bottles from two of us, and then turned to leave, and I signaled him with my light, mostly just because I wanted to see him have to turn around with 7 bottles on, and then I pointed to the last two bottles, and he actually took them.  I guess that 9-bottle drill in T2 comes in handy :)  At our 10 foot stop, Meredith and I passed the time by decorating Rob’s manifold with hydrilla.  He looked like a Christmas tree when we were finished, and had no clue what we had done.

The elusive Team Kitty, who did not actually dive together 
Once we were back on the boat, there was a general disinterest in doing a second dive with Don, since everyone had great dives.  But I knew that Rob (and was pretty sure that Keith) would take one for the team if necessary.  So after calling Don to check that he really did want to dive, they headed to Jackson Blue for a dive, and the rest of us headed for snacks at the Mexican place, and then we all met up for dinner at Madison’s Warehouse.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend at the Mill Pond: Hole in the Wall and Twin

Rob drives the boat
Since I was temporarily without a drysuit, and Keith was off repairing my drysuit, the plan was to do both a morning and an afternoon dive.  I came along in the morning, planning to read on the boat while the others were in the water.  But when we all met up at Edd's, Meredith presented me with both of her suits, and told me that if either fit, I was welcome to borrow it.  We originally thought it wouldn't work because of the boots, but it turns out both suits had, if anything, boots that were a bit big for me -- I guess Meredith wears way thicker sockwear than I do.  Both suits were probably diveable, but one was a bit shorter in the arms than the other, so I picked the one with the longer arms, and now I was just left feeling guilty that Keith had driven all the way home to fix my suit.  We loaded the boat and then headed over to Hole in the Wall.  Once we were there, we decided on teams; I dove with Kevin and Don.  There was a lot of brown goo on the surface of the water.  It was definitely less inviting than it has been in the past.  It was really hot and really sunny, and the sunblock I had slathered on was practically melting on my face (this isn't just random whining, it will be significant later).

We tossed our tanks in and got into our suits for a cool-down swim, during which my mask kept fogging up.  After our swim in the goo, we eventually got into our gear and got back into the water.  Rob and Meredith had headed in first, but as we were swimming over toward the entrance, they reappeared and told us that there was a team deco'ing in the restriction.  And I guess there was some sort of exchange that led them to believe they would be doing a fair amount of deco in the restriction.  I guess 30' is the new 20' or something.  So we puttered around on the surface for a bit, where my mask kept fogging, and I kept spitting in it and hoping for the best.  Eventually Rob and Meredith saw the team was in the cavern, so they headed in.  And a few minutes later we headed in.  We headed downstream (both teams were heading downstream).  We had a pretty simple plan, to head up the mainline for a while, going left (I think) at any Ts that we encountered.  Or maybe the plan was to go the way that seemed like the bigger passage at any Ts.  I can't quite remember.  I was leading the dive.  My mask kept fogging, so I kept flooding and clearing it.  This went on for a while, but eventually I couldn't stand it anymore, so I stopped and switched to my backup mask.  I think there is some kind of Hole-in-the-Wall foggy mask curse.  Once I switched masks, all was well.  Cave diving is a lot more fun when you can see stuff.

We dropped our stages just after the E, and not too terribly far past that, we came upon a jump that Rob and Meredith had taken, to the right.  I haven’t been too far up (down) this line before, but I found the first half hour or so to be pretty consistent with the part that I had seem before.  Relatively tall passages, which sometimes pinched down to smaller (but not small, in absolute terms) “rooms”, some of which had goethite “chandeliers” on the ceilings.  But at some point there seemed to be fewer rooms and more just straight segments of tunnel.  Eventually we came to a point where the tunnel headed up quite a bit shallower, taking us into a sort of room, and then the line headed down a relatively narrow, relatively vertical crack. Looking down the crack from the top, it looked like the line just ended at the bottom.  I headed down the crack, assuming it would become obvious what to do once at the bottom, and indeed, once down there the line actually turned under a ledge and kept going under a briefly low but wide, flat passage.  Once we popped out of that passage the tunnel opened up again.  The shallow room and then the drop down a shaft and the little passage after it was the most significant “feature” of the dive, I thought.  We continued a bit past that, and eventually I turned it, I think on time, definitely not on gas.  Maybe just on getting a little bored.

The exit was pretty uneventful.  We passed Rob and Meredith in the shallow room, they were now heading up (down) the mainline (after their little jaunt to the right, which was apparently very silty) as we were heading out.  When we got back to the cavern, we had it all to ourselves and started our deco.  Rob and Meredith eventually appeared from the restriction; actually Rob appeared and waited and then it seemed quite a while later that Meredith finally came out.  I guess Rob just wasn’t that into a 30 foot stop :P  When we finally surfaced, Rob and Meredith still had a bit of deco left, so I went for a swim, which was actually a bit icky because of all of the brown goo on the surface of the water.

Heading to Twin Caves
After we retrieved Rob and Meredith, we headed back to Edd’s, where we found Keith.  I wanted to dive at Twin in the afternoon, which is apparently the least cool cave ever, so only Rob was willing to dive it with me (and only because he kind of had to).  Don had originally planned to join us, but wanted to let his ears rest.  So after getting some fills and stuffing some bars that sort of resumed food into my piehole, Rob and I headed back out on the boat to Twin, while Kevin and Keith headed to JB.  When we arrived, there were two boats hanging out on top of the entrance, fishing I guess.  As we were getting ready to go, they headed out.

So, there’s been a lot of talk about this invasive plant in the Mill Pond, and I wasn’t completely sure of which plant it was (though I thought there was more greenery at the mouth of the restriction in Hole in the Wall).  But looking down into the entrance of Twin, I knew exactly which plant it must be, because the entrance is covered in fluffy green boas.  We headed in, with me leading, and Rob getting annoyed at how I ran the line (which is pretty much the baseline, so I guess I shouldn’t be bothered by it too much).  We dropped down the little chimney, and the viz was not great but not bad either.  Next it cleared a bit, but then around 400 or 500 feet, it got quite bad.  It was pretty milky, and sort of ruined the Twin experience.  I like looking down the very radially-symmetric tunnel and just seeing straight round borehole forever.  But when the viz is 20 feet, it’s just not terribly impressive.  I suppose most would say it’s never impressive, but I like it :P  After maybe 300 feet of this viz, it did clear up, but was still not really pristine.

We came to the T, which I prefer to call a Y, and dropped our stages so we could do the circuit (why we bothered to bring a stage for this dive is a question for another time).  We headed down to the right, because, well, that’s the way I’ve done it before, so is there really any other way?  Once we descended into the deeper water, the viz went to hell again.  It didn’t stay that way for too long though.  The viz down there was pretty interesting – it seemed like there were clouds of bad viz hanging in some spots, plus generally not so great viz.  As we came around the circuit, Rob checked out a couple of jumps.  The first one he poked his head down was small.  But just before we came back on the other side, there was a jump which he thought worthy of exploring.  I told him we’d have to do it another time (if Rob ever agrees to dive Twin again), since I was just in the mood for a quick little swim around the circuit.  It was the second dive of the day after all, and I am a one-dive wonder.

After we came up the chute on the other side, the viz got really good in that nice little smaller tunnel before you come back on the other side of the Y.  This was definitely the nicest part of the dive for me.  We got back to the Y, picked up our stages, and headed out.  I think we reordered there, since it was only fair to let Rob lead out.  The path out was uneventful, but slightly better knowing where the bad viz would end :)  We came back to our O2 bottles in the cavern, and did a teeny bit of deco.  It was a nice short afternoon dive.  I think I might be able to extract one more Twin dive with Rob in our lifetimes, since there is that jump he wants to take.

Kevin and Keith were still in the water at JB, but everyone else was quite hungry, so we decided to find some food without them.  We went to this Mexican place in the plaza next door to Walmart.  I wasn’t really expecting much (but it was Sunday, so our options were even more limited than usual), but I thought the food was quite tasty.  They make very tasty guacamole (table-side).

Planning tomorrow's dive
Once Keith and Kevin reappeared, their options were even more limited, because it was late, so they headed to Ruby Tuesday, and we joined for dessert.  Then we returned to the motel and enjoyed the heart-shaped jacuzzi.  We also plotted our dive for the next day.  Don wanted to do JB (since he hadn’t yet) and the rest of us wanted to do various dives at Hole in the Wall.  So the plan was a dive in the morning at HitW for two teams (sans Don), and then an afternoon/early evening dive at JB.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weekend at the Mill Pond: Jackson Blue

We flew into Jacksonville as usual, and headed to High Springs to raid our storage unit and stop at EE.  Then we headed directly up to the Mill Pond, with a quick stop for lunch along the way, and got to Marianna around 1:30.  We have always thought that going to the Mill Pond for a short trip would not work, since all of our gear is in High Springs.  But since we have the time difference working in our favor, and you can dive at JB until whenever, it actually worked out fine.  When we got to the motel where we were staying, they informed me that they didn’t have a regular room on the first floor, as requested, so they would give us a suite instead… with a heart-shaped Jacuzzi, hahaha!

We all met up at Edd’s (that would be Kevin, Don, and Keith).  Kevin and Don had already dived in the morning, so Don was sitting this one out.  We looked at the map and started to discuss options.  Keith was basically calling out suggestions, which meant nothing to me.  When I asked him to explain this on the map, it became apparent that all of his suggestions involved insane navigation.  I had just flown in on a redeye, I didn’t feel like doing a dive with 15 Ts.  So I suggested that he and Rob could do something insane, and Kevin and I could do something simple.  You know, keep it to 4 Ts.  I’ve only been past the first T before (went left).  After discussing with Kevin and Keith, we had a plan.  We would go right at the first pair of Ts, and then left at the second pair, and then just up the mainline from there.  Kevin kept talking about the trash room, which had no meaning to me, but whatever.

When we got to Jackson Blue, it was crowded, but not insanely crowded, with locals swimming there.  It was a bit later in the day and a bit less hot than the last time we went in the summer.   Also, the new pavilion for divers was operational, which makes a huge difference!  We began the long painful process of setting up bottles and then dragging bottles and scooters to the water.  Don helped us, which sped things up.  As I was going through my gear bag, to pick out which spools to bring, I found four fins.  Rob, Rob, Allison, Ted.  Hmm, that doesn’t seem right.  Apparently the last users of Ted and my fins mixed them up when they put them away.  Rob and I just counted four fins in the bag before leaving the storage unit.  Hmph.  Ted and I have the same size fin, but his spring straps are a size bigger (or maybe half a size, since I think they are different brands).  I figured I’d just get in the water in my suit and see how it worked.  Keith also had a spare pair that seemed possibly workable, so I took them both to the water and tried them out.  Ted’s fin was the winner.  It’s a good thing Ted has girlish feet.

We flopped around in the shallow water for a bit, until we were sufficiently cool, and then got out to get geared up.  There is a little set of steps to get into the water near the diver pavilion, but the steps are a little tall for my liking (at least when going down in doubles).  Kevin walked down the rocks instead, which didn’t seem entirely civilized to me.  So I enlisted the help of a local to give me a hand down, and all was well.  We got all of our gear clipped on, and we headed in.  Rob and Keith went first.  It was pretty stirred up in the basin, just from all of the people there, but once we were in the cavern, it was very clear.  I haven’t been to JB since the collapse at the first chute, so I wasn’t sure how that would be.  I don’t think I remember it well enough to have noticed much of a difference.  It was a bit tricky to negotiate with a scooter, but I seem to recall it being a bit tricky to negotiate before.  The flow was not too high, but it was still very nice to scooter through the pebbly areas between the first chute and the first breakdown room; I have not-very-fond memories of not-very-effectively trying to pull and glide through there before.

Rob supervises gear setup
For the first 15 minutes of the dive, I felt like a total mess on the scooter.  I wasn’t having any particular problems, but there was just a ton of stop and go.  First it was trying to speed match, then it was something else, getting up and down around the breakdown rooms, etc.  It seemed like we were barely making any progress.  I just felt like I had fallen out of practice driving a Gavin, which I guess should not come as too much of a surprise.  We dropped our first stages right before the first T, which I knew was very early to be dropping them.  But it just took us so long to get there!  But after that, things got a lot smoother, even though through some areas, we were off the trigger pushing the scooter, particularly between the second set of Ts.  Since I haven’t been very far into JB before, I saw a lot more different kinds of passive than I have seen before.  The passages between both sets of Ts were fun, with a bit more twisting and turning compared to the earlier sections that are, well, kind of boring in those gravelly areas.

When we came out of the second loop (not sure what to call it when the line splits into two and then comes back together… there must be a word for that), I saw a stoplight.  Kevin had told me there would be a stoplight, and I had no idea what he meant, but once I saw it, I got it.  Very random.  So I knew this was the beginning of the “trash room”, which I suppose is so named because there is a lot of trash in the room.  Beer cans, etc.  I don’t know why they’ve all ended up here.  When Kevin told me I would see “trash mounds” off to the side, I thought this was a euphemism for some kind of structure or pile of (natural) debris.  But no, he meant it quite literally.

Aside from the trash, the bottom composition is quite pretty in this area, especially once you get a bit further in.  It reminded me of sand dunes, or a desert scene, because there are these creamy-colored sculpted “mounds”.  It is very bright and blue back there, somewhat in contrast to the earlier areas of the mainline.  We eventually got to a point where we dropped our scooters, based on time.  Kevin asked if I wanted to just go up and back in that room a little, but I said no, I want to keep going.  So we kicked along for a bit longer, and pretty quickly passed Rob and Keith’s scooter/stage drop, and then not long later, we passed a jump they had installed.  So we had the mainline all to ourselves :P  One last notable area was a section where it got a bit narrower and if you looked up, you could see a little crack, maybe big enough to call a passage, above a ledge above us.  I am sure if I’d been with Rob, he would have tried to go up there, but we just flipped over and took a look.  That was a neat little passage.  I’m sure I haven’t described it very well.

Eventually I turned it, on time, and because it was about time to drop stages, so I figured if we weren’t going to keep going much further, what was the point of switching off and dropping them?  On the way out, I noticed even more trash in the trash room than I had on the way in.  We had discussed the possibility of, after exiting back to the first T, dropping scooters and swimming up the other side of the T.  But I decided to pass on that; I was pretty cold, most likely because there was quite a bit of water gushing up my left arm.  The seal was seated fine, so I thought it must have either been a hole in the seal, or a leak where the seal meets the suit (I suspected the latter, because I knew the seal was peeling back, but hadn’t gotten around the fixing it).  So we made our way out (in way faster time than the way in, since I had gotten the hang of driving a Gavin again), and didn’t have too much deco to do when we got back to our bottles.  But it was a really cold deco.

We got out of the water, and found all of the swimmers gone, and a couple of divers who had just shown up to dive.  We lined up our bottles and scooters and got out of the water.   I was convinced at this point that my seal had been leaking where it was glued to the suit, so I did a quick inspection of that, and it looked okay.  Then I checked to see just how much of a leak it had been… I was completely soggy from the wrist up, but water was not pouring out of the seal or anything.  So I started to get out of my suit and my seal instantly exploded.  Doh!  In a not-possibly-fixable manner.  I’m guessing it had a hole in it or something, or maybe it had just started to disintegrate; it had a rather gummy feel to it.  I doubt there was anyway I could have removed it from my hand without damaging it.  So I was pretty pissed, but figured we would find a way to fix this, even if it meant driving back down to High Springs and diving there for the next few days.  Eventually Keith and Rob reappeared, and we cleaned up all of the gear.

I was pretty hopeful that Keith would have a spare seal in his truck, but after searching the truck, he came up empty  (and I thought Keith had everything in his truck!).  We headed to dinner (BBQ) and discussed what to do.  It sounded unlikely that Edd would have a seal for me (since apparently he has Pinnacle suits, and their seals don’t fit on DUI suits?).  We called up Meredith, who would be joining us on Sunday, and it sounded like her boots would be too small for my feet (I thought  that one of Meredith’s suits was otherwise likely to fit).  So Keith offered to drive home and fix it for me overnight.  What a sweetheart.  I am so lucky to have such nice (and handy) dive buddies.  The plan was that he would drive back the next day and meet us for an afternoon dive.

Weekend at the Mill Pond

We went on a brief cave trip at the end of July, in Don's honor.  Even though I swore never to go to cave country in the middle of the summer again after our last trip in July, there were a variety of date constraints that made this the best option.  Several weeks before our trip, Tropical Storm Debby flooded many of the caves, so we headed to the Mill Pond, which was rumored to be unaffected.  It was good to go there anyway, since it's been a while, and Don had not been there.  In all, the trip consisted of Team Kitty, Don, and Keith and Meredith made guest appearances.  Somehow Don managed to elude the camera the entire trip!

Jackson Blue
Hole in the Wall and Twin
Hole in the Wall Upstream

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Big Sur Dive Season is Officially Open

Photo by Clinton Bauder
I was on the Escapade on Saturday for a tech charter.  Rob was out of town, so this ensured optimal diving conditions :)  After a bit of shuffling of teams around due to a few roster changes, I ended up diving with Kevin and Matt.  But I carpooled down to Monterey with Ted, so all was not lost.  Everything was looking pretty good in the forecast, with small wind and small swell, and the fog was really the only unknown.  After a few recent days of motoring around in fog, I was pleasantly surprised by the general lack of fog when we got to the dock.  There was enough wind for the flag to flap a bit in the breeze, but nothing too significant.  I was even riding in the wheelhouse as we left the bay.  I was the "organizer" of the boat, and before we even hit Cypress Point, Jim was giving me options for where to dive around Yankee Point.  I assumed this was "in the event we can't make it to Big Sur" (because isn't that always plan A?) and picked the south wall of Mount Chamberlain.  Apparently there was a miscommunication and Jim didn't understand the implicit plan A.  He thought I wanted to go to Yankee Point no matter what (huh?).  Luckily Clinton clued into this and, as we slowed around the Yankee Point area. explicitly asked why we weren't going to Big Sur.  So once that was cleared up, we were off, again, and had a pretty smooth, though not epically smooth, ride to Big Sur Banks.  Then we had to make the tough decision of Sur 19 or 20.  I always favor 19, but was willing to go wherever.  This is how we end up never going to 20.  Doug had never been to Sur Banks at all, so it was settled -- Sur 19 for the first-timer.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
It was pleasantly calm as we geared up, and when we dropped into the water, there wasn't too much current on the surface.  As we headed down the line, the viz was good, though a bit green on top with lots of salps and other jelly beasts.  Once we got a bit deeper, the viz was excellent, though not the bet I've ever seen there.  The green water above made it just a bit darker than it has sometimes been in the past.  In any case, the viz was very good on top (maybe 60 feet?) and even better along the bottom (80 feet?).  We started out with a little circle around the structure, near the bottom.  On the way to the bottom, I got a bit distracted by the huge school of blue rockfish off of the pinnacle (they were sufficiently off of the pinnacle that I don't think any of the pictures here show them in their full glory).  There were quite a few olives in the mix today.  You could maybe even say there was a little side school of olives.  I saw a few juvenile yelloweyes in the cracks along the side.  I was inspecting all of the cracks for wolf eels.  Eventually I found this very nice vertical crack down the side, and was pointing out a juvenile yelloweye to the boys, when I realized that just above it was a full-grown yelloweye.  Sweet!  Once I saw that, I was even more interested in peering into every crack I could find to look for fish.  As a result, I saw quite the array of rockfish across the entire dive.  In the end, I saw a total of 3 adult yelloweyes, which is probably the most I've ever seen in one dive!  Too bad there wasn't a photographer along for it.  I also found a juvenile starry, which now that I can ID (thanks to Tom), I am sure I will be seeing more of.  Other than this, I saw vermilions, rosies, Chinas, tree fish, and all of the other usual suspects.  Plus quite a few ling cod, a few very big.  It was overall a pretty good fish day, with slightly more variety than usual, though perhaps that's just because I spent 15 minutes peering into cracks :)

Photo by Clinton Bauder
After the circumnavigation, we came over the top and just played over the fields of hydrocoral for the rest of the dive.  That never gets old.  There was a bit of a current sweeping us across the top, but nothing ripping.  It was definitely a swimmable day (even though everyone had scooters).  There seems to be a lot more kelp salad among the hydrocoral on top, which is not terribly photogenic, so I wasn't very happy to see it.  As I recall, there has always been a bit of this on the top of Sur 20, but I don't remember it, at least not in such large amounts, on Sur 19.  There was also some bull kelp on top, which I do not remember ever seeing before, but I can't be sure of that.  Eventually it was time to thumb it, so we let ourselves drift just off the pinnacle, enough to make sure we wouldn't shoot our bag into the downline (that never happens), and then we put up the bag.  We had a relatively short deco, during which we entertained ourselves by inspecting the salps and jellies that drifted by.  It got a bit warmer as we got to the shallows in the slightly murkier water.  We surfaced to still-calm surface conditions.  The boat was busy picking up Ted and Doug, and after what seemed like an eternity, finally came to retrieve us.  After I was back on the boat, someone (probably Jim) pointed out an albatross circling.  Neat!  Eventually we retrieved Clinton and Pete, and headed out of there, toward Lobos Rocks.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We had a lot of fun with the sea lions last week, despite the relatively rough conditions and murky water.  Since it was calmer and clearer today, it seemed pretty obvious that we should go back.  I was happy to see significantly less whitewater sloshing around the rocks when we arrived.  We dropped into nice clear water, and scootered over to the rocks in mid-water.  Once we found what we were looking for, we came up a bit shallower to play with the puppies, errr, sea lions.  They were very friendly, and the water was indeed calmer and clearer, so it was not as barf-inducing to get up in the shallows with them.  I spent most of the dive in the 8 to 12 foot range, in the sea lions frenzy as much as I could, just pointing the camera forward and letting them do their thing.  I am really pleased with the footage I got... this is probably the best video I've ever taken with the hero-cam.

Once we were finished with the fun, we scootered back toward the boat in mid-water.  I was expecting to just surface eventually and find the boat, but much to my surprise, we ended up scootering right up to the downline.  The good viz certainly helped with that.

We had a nice ride back to K-dock.  I was zonked, and laid on the deck in the sun for part of the trip.

Kevin also has a video from the day, but I don't know how to embed it :)  And Clinton has more pictures on the BAUE gallery.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Whale Snot and Sea Lions

We were back on the Escapade on Saturday, and after the epic viz the previous weekend, followed by the rather bad viz on Tuesday night, we weren't really sure what we were in for.  When we got to Monterey it was really really foggy.  But it was pretty calm, so we decided to go for a drive to see what would happen.  So, apparently the salmon were in town, and every fisher person from the greater central California area were in Monterey Bay, hoping to catch some.  The bay was unbelievably crowded with boats of all sizes.  There were easily over 50 boats, all centered around Mile Buoy, it seemed.  It was actually a pretty cool sight.  We headed out of the bay, slowly, in the thick thick fog.  We drove for what seemed like forever, since it was impossible to tell where we were.  We made it all the way to Soberanes Wall, where there was a small pocket of clear sky.  More importantly, we figured we could do a shallow tech dive there, and deco up the reef and the kelp.  And then we'd be conveniently positioned for a second dive at Lobos Rocks.

We hopped in the water, and the viz was pretty reasonable on top.  But as we descended, it got pretty bad, and by the time we got to the bottom, it was really really bad.  There was just a ton of stuff suspended in the water, and by the time we got to the bottom, it was super dark.  All of the stuff in the water moving around was sort of disorienting. It was hard to tell if it was moving, or I was moving, or the reef was moving.  With the really bad viz, I felt like I had to spend most of my mental resources just keeping track of Rob and Kevin.  So it was not a terribly fun dive.  I was thinking during the dive that if we were incurring more deco, I would have just thumbed it, because it wouldn't really be worth the deco :)  The only critter that really stood out to me on the dive was that I saw a few Dironas.  Eventually we worked our way up the reef; as we got shallower, it got brighter, so it was actually quite a bit nicer once we got onto our deco bottles.  We continued up the reef, until we were on top and in the kelp forest, and up there, the viz was actually pretty good.  It was still chunky in the water, but it was so much brighter and bluer.  It was pretty fun bobbing in the kelp and blue water for our relatively short deco.  That was definitely the nicest part of the dive!

When we surfaced, the fog hadn't improved.  So we were glad we hadn't tried to wait it out.  We headed over to Lobos Rocks for our surface interval.  Shortly after we arrived, we were treated to what I thought was the coolest part of the day... a Minke whale breached several times (3, I think).  It was like it was skipping across the water in slow motion, breaching, then disappearing beneath the water, then popping back up again a moment later.  We followed it until we ended up back at Soberanes, but by that point it was done having fun, and we just got the occasional fin sighting.

We returned to the Rocks, and eventually four of us got into the water (Rob, Kevin, Beto, and me).  We were diving as a team of four, in the whitewater... what could possibly go wrong? :)   Instead of following the line down and finding our way to the rocks, we just scootered toward the rocks on the surface, and eventually dropped when it got uncomfortably sloshy.  We pretty quickly found the sea lions.  The viz was a little better over here, but it was still not too good.  It had also become a bit rougher, so begin up in the shallows with the sea lions was, well, an adventure.  We could see and hear these big waves come in and slam into the rocks.  I would go up to like 12 or 15 feet with the sea lions, and then when I saw the shadow or heard the roar of a big wave coming in, I'd point my scooter down and scooter out of it.  I was trying to get a little video, and so was Kevin.  We basically just repeated this over and over for a while.  Around 25 minutes into the dive, I scootered over to Kevin and gave him a hand signal to say "I feel like barfing".  He returned the same signal :)  So I thumbed it.  We headed back in and left Rob and Beto for some more fun.  I guess they were tiring of it too, though, because not long after we surfaced, they did too.

We headed back to K-dock, and the fog never really got much better on the way up.  Kevin posted a video from the dive, but I have no clue how to embed it here :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Almost July 4 Dive

It just seemed wrong to have a day off from work and not to go diving.  But Rob and I were both really in the mood to sleep in.  So we compromised with a night dive on July 3.  So we'd get to dive, but we'd still get to sleep in and spend the day at home.  And we even managed to talk Ted into coming with us. We met at our house a bit before 6, and packed the RAV4 (which Rob was seriously whiny about, but I refused to bring the van!), and headed down to Monterey.  We got there a bit after 8, and it was still light out.  We killed a little time walking the wall to look at the viz, which looked alright.  When we had driven by the Breakwater on the way back from our dive (with epic viz) on Saturday, the viz looked really good.  And we'd heard reports at AWS of good viz there.  So we were hoping it had held out for a few more days.  Rob's camera is still in the shop, but I promise that the dark days are nearly over.  Ted had his hero cam, but it had some sort of malfunction that prevented anything useful from being generated :)

We got geared up and entered the water just a few minutes after sundown.  We swam out a bit and dropped in 20-some feet.  And quickly found that the good viz had not held out for a few days!  The viz was really bad.  It was very thick with particles of goo.  There were also TONS of sea nettles.  The water was thick with them all the way to the bottom.  Which, in low viz at night, can really take you by surprise when they bump into you (or maybe I was doing the bumping).  We inched our way along in the bad viz, and pretty quickly started finding some octopuses.  Ted always claims that he never sees octopuses, and we always tell him they are everywhere at the Breakwater at night.  Well, tonight we proved it to him.  We saw at least ten (I stopped counting).  Lots of the usual little guys, plus one bigger one, and one bigger one that was in the midst of dying, and being eaten.  It wasn't quite dead, but it clearly was not going to make it :(  We also saw a single squid, which is always pretty freakin' awesome.  Other over-the-sand critters included a nice golden juvenile cabezon, and a few Pleurobranchaea californica.  Ted had never seen one before, so that was pretty cool.  On the first one, I tried to point out the side-gill, but the slug was not having any of that.  It curled up into a ball just to get back at me.  But one of the later ones had its gill unfurled.  During the dive, we did occasionally meander into clearer water.  And the clearer water felt insanely cold.  In reality, the hazy water was insanely warm... my gauge was oscillating between 57 and 59 (!) and when we entered the cold water, it dropped down to 53.

Eventually we worked our way back to the wall.  There were tons of fish on the wall.  There was a decent-sized school of olive rockfish hanging off of the wall, that kept reappearing.  We saw a boccaccio, which made both Rob and me do a double take, and we both pointed at it like "are you seeing what I see?".  Aside from that, there were the usual assortment of rockfish.  One other cool site on the wall was that there were zillions of orange sea cucumbers feeding.  We swam over patches of rocks that looked like a garden of fluffy orange flowers.  Pretty neat!  Eventually we got shallow and left the wall to head in on the sand.  The viz was getting quite bad, so I suggested surfacing, but Rob wanted to continue on underwater.  About 30 seconds later, I found a thornback ray.  So I guess Rob was right :)  We watched it for a bit, and then continued in, but the viz was starting to get so bad that it was a task to keep track of the guys, so then I really thumbed it.  Rob rolled his eyes and we surfaced (from 9 feet).

When we got to the surface, we were just past the gate on the wall.  You wouldn't believe the amount of whining I endured on the swim in.  First, Rob wanted to drop down again because we were SO far from the beach.  Then, Ted talking about how he should have brought his scooter.  Then, Rob wondering if we could call Jim and have him come pick us up on the boat.  Those guys need to do a little more kick diving if you ask me!  After we *finally* made it back to the beach and packed up our gear, we hit the road and after a stop at In n Out, we made it home by 1.  Not bad.  And we even got to sleep in.