It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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

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