It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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