It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve at Lobos

We had a boat cancellation the weekend before Christmas, but I was too lame to organize alternate dive plans.  Then when I saw pictures from the weekend, with awesome viz, and also saw the excellent forecast for the next few days, I decided we should go diving on Christmas Eve.  When we got there, the surface conditions were excellent, as forecast.  It was also a nice high tide, ahhh.  We decided to go to Twin Peaks.  When we were discussing the plan the day before, I asked how many bottles that required, and shockingly, Rob said it was up to me.  No pressure.  Then I thought about how annoying it is to have to turn the dive on gas, so I called for three bottles :)

We got all the gear setup, which was pretty easy with the high tide and barely moving water, and got into the water pretty quickly.  It wasn't very crowded at Lobos, which I found sort of surprising, but I guess most normal people were attending to family obligations.  The viz in the cove was really good as we scootered out, but when we dropped in the sand channel, we found that it was a bit churned up.  The viz wasn't terrible, but not at all what I was expecting based on the cove.  Once we got to Hole in the Wall, it was like someone had flipped a switch, and just like that, the viz got really good.  It only got better as we continued on.  We went out via Lone Metridium and the Sisters, and pretty much headed straight down the road all the way to Twin Peaks.

The viz was really good, with bright blue water.  We played around a bit with lighting pictures with my video light and Rob's strobes, which consumed a bit of time.  Aside from that, I was mostly looking for little critters.  But Rob actually made the best macro find of all, which was a nice plump Cuthona divae.      We swam around from the main peak, meandering around the surrounding pinnacles.  There were some sea lions that kept swimming down and buzzing us.  There were at least two, but maybe a few more.  Eventually, I noticed that one kept swimming behind an elephant ear sponge.  It seemed like it was gnawing at something back there, but I couldn't imagine what it was.  I was watching it, and videoing it, since it kept predictably returning to that one spot.  Then all of a sudden, it zipped down to the sponge and chomped down on it, breaking off a huge piece of the sponge!  I couldn't believe it.  I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised to see that from a creature that likes to play mola frisbee.  It did make me wonder about the fate of the elephant ear sponge on the side of the second sister, which I always assumed was destroyed by a diver's fin, a boat anchor, or a big storm.

We headed back in, and went via Beto's Reef, since that's how Rob likes to go.  I prefer to go back the way we came, because we get to our 70 foot bottle sooner, but today it was a good move.  We were scootering back, and I was basically just zooming along, kind of antsy to get to 70 feet, when Rob signaled me rather excitedly.  He was at one of the little drops in the reef, near the old wolf eel's den.  So I was thinking he was showing me the wolf eel, though his signal seemed a bit too excited for that.  I swam over, saw that he was giving me the "octopus" signal, and really couldn't believe he was stopping me to show me an octopus.  Until I looked.  Ooooh, that kind of octopus!  There's a GPO in the wolf eel's den!  It even had the nice tell-tale pile of crab shells just outside of it.  It was a pretty small one, but still a great find!

We headed in, and after getting onto our bottles, I suggested we hop over to Middle Reef.  It seemed like the bottom was even more churned up than it had been on the way out, but I was thinking that with the viz above the bottom being quite nice, the top of Middle Reef could be a rather scenic ride in.  So we headed over to Middle Reef, and Rob kept ignoring my overtures to go up to the top of the reef.  Then finally, when we got to our 40 foot stop, right by transect 4 (where we looked for, but did not find, the old resident warbonnet), I made it clear that I wanted to stay there for the 30 foot stop too.  Rob finally got it, and then realized that it was a gorgeous day on the top of the reef!  The water was bright blue and there was a nice school of blue rockfish hanging out in the kelp.  We pretty much spent the rest of deco, both our 30 and most of our 20 foot stop, in that spot, with Rob shooting pictures of the kelp and the rockfish (and occasionally me).  I think he got some of his best ever pictures of rockfish in the kelp!  Definitely a great way to pass the time on deco!

Once we finished up with the photo shoot, we headed in.  Rob's scooter got quite slow while we were in the cove; I think I could have swum faster than he was moving :P  When we surfaced, conditions were still great on the way out of the water, making for an easy time retrieving all of our gear.  We high-tailed it out of town, so we could make it back to San Jose in time for the Christmas party going on at Anywater Sports.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

CRB (Meh)

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We were supposed to be on a boat on Saturday, but it got cancelled due to weather.  Considering how long it had been since I'd been diving, and I didn't have plans for the following weekend, I figured I should come up with some sort of alternative.  Sunday's forecast was looking pretty good, and it just kept getting better looking.  So Clinton, Rob, and I decided to head to Carmel for a shore dive on Sunday (no Lobos tickets, wah).  We went to Monastery first, which was definitely diveable, but not as epically calm as I was expecting (from the forecast).  There were also a TON of divers there, like so many that you might have to trip over them on the way into the water :)  So we decided to head to CRB, where I haven't been in years!

It took a bit of circling around before we finally found the right road to take to get to the stairs, but once we found it, we got the prime parking spot right across the street from the stairs.  We looked at the water, and while there were pretty big breakers out past the rocks, the entrance was protected enough.  Since its a long swim out to the "good parts", we brought scooters.  We also brought single tanks (since we'd had our eye on Monastery), and I think this may literally have been the first time I've ever scootered in just a single tank (that is, without a stage... not that I make a habit of single tank + stage dives either :P).  We schlepped the scooters and cameras and some tables down to the beach.  I decided to stage my rig down on the beach too.  I headed down to the beach, and as I was getting into my gear, I was having a ton of trouble with my drysuit inflator hose.  It just didn't want to connect to my drysuit inflator!  After forcing it a bit too much, I guess, the hose started to free flow.  Of course I was standing on the beach, by myself, in a not too convenient place to do a valve shutdown (on the left side of my H valve).  After some contortions, I got the thing shut down, just as Rob and Clinton arrived.  I thought it might be a bad Schrader valve, but Rob determined that it just needed to be tightened.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
It was a beautiful day on the beach, sunny, blue sky, nice-looking water, but man was it cold!  It was probably in the low 40s at its warmest (glad I wasn't one of the wetsuit divers at Monastery!)  We human buoyed it to get our scooters and cameras into the water, and although it was pretty calm and I just had a single tank on my back, it stilled seemed like I did everything in my power to almost drown as I got into the water.  I guess I need to shore dive more often.  Once we were all in the water, we headed out on the surface.  The color of the water from the surface was excellent.  It was bright blue, and we could see to the bottom even when we were in the 20 to 30 foot depth range.  Woohoo.  I was sure it was going to be an awesome dive.  We eventually decided to drop, somewhere in the 30 to 40 foot range, and when we got to the bottom, boy was I disappointed.  The bottom 5 to 10 feet had a layer of crap viz, I guess stirred up from the big swells.  Hmph.  We headed out, eventually getting to around 80 feet, and the viz did not improve.  It was actually kind of a chore to keep the team together, though that could have been related to Rob and Clinton taking pictures (and me occasionally video'ing).

Photo by Clinton Bauder
In addition to the crap viz, CRB has become a barnacle wasteland.  It was just ugly!  All of those little pinnacles that used to be covered in color are now just barren rock with barnacles.  I found some tiny patches Corynactis, but for the most part, there was none.  Like I said, I haven't been to CRB in ages, so I figured this is what the years of barnacle cycles have done to it.  But Rob and Clinton were there just a few months ago, and they said that this is a new phenomenon (which is good, I guess).  So hopefully it will bounce back soon.  Eventually we got to a patch of sand with tons of squid eggs (we'd since a bunch of patches of them already, on the way out), and we amused ourselves with those.  Clinton took some pictures of us with the eggs.  We killed a bunch of time out there and then headed in.

We scootered in almost all the way to the beach (to less than 10 feet), and then last part of the ride, above about 25 feet, the viz was excellent.  Unfortunately there was nothing to see in the crystal clear water except sand.  After we exited the water, I though my face was going to freeze on the way up the stairs.  Brrr.  Clinton said it was better than no dive at all, but I really wasn't sure.  Between the three of us, no one had anything worth posting from the day, but Clinton did send me some squid egg pics, so at least I have something to go along with the unenthusiastic report :)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Nice Day in Big Sur

With Rob finally back from his big unemployment vacation, Team Kitty was on the Escapade for a tech charter.  As the weekend approached, the forecast was looking very good, but after our last epic fail attempt at Big Sur, I was not counting my chickens.  I was just hoping for a good dive at least as far south as Yankee Point :)  We did end up making it down to Big Sur, where we found much nicer conditions than last time (no whitecaps), as well as bright sunny blue skies that would hopefully mean bright water at the bottom.  Unfortunately we could not return to Sur D to try to retrieve our lost ball, since its depth wasn't appropriate for some of the divers on the boat, so we went to Sur 19 instead.  (I'm not sure if it's legal to say "unfortunately" and "we went to Sur 19" in the same sentence.)

Our team was the first in the water, and there was practically no surface current.  Once I realized that, I was just kind of bobbing on the surface, waiting for Rob and Kevin to join me at the ball.  Ahh, perfect Big Sur conditions.  We headed down the line, which was pretty limp for the first 90 or so feet, and then it flattened out, with a bit of a current just on top of the pinnacle.  It was nothing too substantial -- we spent most of the dive video'ing and taking pictures without the aid of our scooters, though at the end of the dive the current picked up to the point where I was using my scooter to position myself to pose in pictures (though Rob was still kicking to take pictures, but he's harder core than me).  But enough about the current.  The viz was excellent!  On the way down the line, I could see the whole site below me, and when we got to the bottom, we were greeted with very bright clear water.

Aside from the usual ginormous heads of pink and purple hydrocoral, there was the ever-present school of blue rockfish, though it wasn't particularly big today.  There were also a decent number of young rockfish, most of which were also blues, I think.  We found a mass of kelp greenling eggs on one head of hydrocoral, and elsewhere I found a kelp greenling that was acting territorial, though I couldn't find any nearby eggs.  Rob got some nice pictures and I got some pretty good video (pat self on back), so I will let those tell the rest of the story about the awesome conditions on the bottom!

On the ascent, we met a few playful sea lions who buzzed us several times.  This was fun, but it was just getting us prepared for dive 2, which was at Lobos Rocks.  Woohoo.  The wind was out of the south by the time we got up there, which made it difficult to anchor the boat on the south side, so we ended up liveboating, sort of.  When we got in the water, a bit further south of the pinnacles than usual, I looked down the kelp from the surface, and I could see a loooong way.  It looked like viz was going to be excellent here to.

We headed over to whether the sea lions like to zoom about on the west rock, and were playing with them for a while.  It was quite calm, even at 10 to 15 feet, which is where I was for the first 15 or so minutes, videoing and just generally watching the sea lions zoom around.  Eventually I noticed Rob and going a bit deeper, I figured to look for some green anemones to shoot, but I wanted to stay up with the sea lions, so I did not follow.  I assumed he would come back up to the shallows before moving on. But then after a minute or so, I realized that he was no longer down there, and he was just nowhere in sight.  At this point, Clinton and John had appeared, and were taking pictures and hanging out on the same ledge where I was watching the sea lions.  I asked them if I could hang out with them until my team re-appeared.

I pretty much went on with my dive for 5 or so minutes, but then when the kitties still had not returned, I figured I should go to the surface, since they might be there looking for me.  So I scootered south, away from the pinnacle (didn't want to surface in the whitewater) and surfaced.  I immediately saw Rob's bag, and saw that the boat was communicating with Rob and Kevin.  I guess they had been on the surface long enough that the boat was looking for me.  Oops.  So we met back up,  but I decided to thumb the dive, since I was at that point (20+ minutes at 10-15 feet) feeling a little bit seasick :)  I can never last more than 20 minutes that shallow at Lobos Rocks!  So I returned to the boat, and Rob and Kevin dropped back down for a bit longer.

Eventually everyone finished their dives, and we picked them up, and headed home.  The ride home was uneventful... no orcas :(

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cordell Bank 2013

In October, BAUE spent three days diving at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  I've wanted to dive Cordell for years, and this year, it finally came together, thanks to a lot of planning work on Matt Vieta and Jim Capwell's part.  After failing to find a suitable dive boat close to Cordell, we eventually landed on moving the Escapade from Monterey to Bodega Bay.  We had a weather window of about 12 days (not sure I counted that right), and the plan was to watch the forecast, and if there was a window where we could get the boat up, dive, and get the boat back to Monterey, we would go.  As it turned out, the weather was perfect during the first week of our weather window, so on Monday afternoon, we got the official call that we would be attempting a dive on Tuesday morning.  The boat made it to Bodega Bay in much better time than expected, and then for the next 3 days, we had flat flat seas for the 20+ mile trip out to the bank from Bodega Bay.

It's taken me a long time to finish this report, mostly because I didn't really think that the report could possibly do the trip justice.  The diving was amazing!  Clinton put it best when he said something along the lines of how great it is when something you've dreamed about for years actually lives up to your expectations.  The second reason that it's taken a while to finish the report is that I've also spent a lot of time recently on video editing, making different versions of videos for different uses.  (And I'm still working on a final "project" video, which will have more than just footage from the dives.)  I've included a video per day in each of the posts, and a short summary video here.

Considering how delayed this report is, I will forgo the one-post-a-day thing, and just post it all at once.  So, without further ado...

Craine's Point
Northern East Ridge
Northern West Ridge
Not Diving in Fog

I don't think the report actually does do the trip justice, but hopefully the photos and video can help.  All of that is posted in the BAUE gallery.

Thanks to everyone who made the trip possible, including Matt, Jim, the crew of the Escapade, NOAA and the Cordell NMS people, the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory (which provided housing), and Anywater Sports.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Go Big and Go Home

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Saturday was another BAUE tech charter.  It was a light load today, with just John, Clinton, Jim and me on the boat.  The light load was mostly due to Rob and Kevin being in Florida, cave diving without me (grumble) as they celebrated Rob's (self-inflicted) unemployment.  The forecast was, as far as I knew, good but not great, so I was a bit surprised when there was talk of Big Sur.  Somewhere along the ride down, we came up with the idea of trying a new spot in Big Sur, Sur D.  It took a bit of scrounging around to find the numbers for the site (and in the process, I texted Rob and Matt, who was also in Florida, asking if they had the numbers with them), but in the end, Jim had them.  So we decided that if we could make it to Big Sur, that is where we'd go.  My desire to go there may have been just a little bit motivated by the fact that Rob, Kevin, and Matt were all in Florida, so going to a new dive site in Big Sur seemed like the ultimate revenge.  So, not the best reason in the world to motivate a dive plan...

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We got to Yankee Point, which was definitely diveable, though there was the occasional whitecap about.  However, we continued on down the coast, and maybe halfway between Yankee and Point Sur, conditions had deteriorated to whitecaps in all directions.  Every time the boat slowed down for any reason, we were sure that Mike and Jim were going to turn it around.  But astonishingly, we made it all the way out to Big Sur Banks.  There was a stiff wind, but barely any swell to speak of.  If we had this kind of wind on top of any swell at all, I'm sure we would have been deterred, but it kind of looked "flat" even though it was choppy as hell from the wind.  We got to Sur D, and found the spot, and dropped the ball.  As I was getting geared up, I was wondering if I would regret it when it was time to get back on the boat, which I was sure would be quite challenging in this wind.  Our plan was to dive as a team of four, but with primary buddies (me with Jim).  So Jim and I got in first.  By the time Jim had cleared the swimstep and I could jump, the boat had already drifted downwind of the ball.  Oops.  

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We got on the trigger and headed toward the ball.  We scootered for a while, at top speed, and we were still really far from the ball.  So we scootered some more, and we were still really far from the ball.  It seemed like we were making progress for a while, but then it started to seem like we weren't.  The second team was dropped, and they were actually upwind when they got in, but I think by the time they had scooters, maybe not.  Eventually we stopped to regroup and decided to give it just a bit longer, so we got back on the trigger, and gave it maybe another two minutes, and at that point, it seemed like we were further from the ball than we had been two minutes ago.  So at that point we gave up, and shortly after that, so did the other team.  Given the conditions, redeploying further up-current wasn't an option;  I knew that after getting back on the boat, I wasn't going to be up for another dive just right then.  The boat came around to get us, and I was a bit confused about whether I was supposed to wait for the boat, or scooter to the boat.  Jim scootered and I waited, so we ended up separated.  When he got to the swimstep, I realized there was no way I could catch up with the boat in this wind, so I just had to hang out and wait.  The boat was drifting away really fast, and I was getting further and further from it, so I put up my bag.  There wasn't much in the way of swell, but whitecaps were breaking over my head occasionally.  Finally the boat spun around and got me, and actually staying with the boat was not as bad as I expected, but it was still not what you'd call a graceful exit from the water :)  

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We retrieved Clinton and John, and then we went to retrieve the ball.  That was a whole other ordeal.  They were at it for a while, I'd say 15 or 20 minutes, and eventually the line came up without the ball... with a sheared off boltsnap at the end of the ball.  And it wasn't even sheared off at the hollow part of the shaft, it was at the solid part!  So that was an extra eff you from the ocean; not only could we not dive, but we lost our ball (good reason to go back though!).  So, we headed back north, thinking we'd hit Yankee Point, which had been just lovely on the way down.  But of course, by the time we got back up there, conditions were terrible.  But more shocking, conditions were terrible the whole way back up to Monterey.  And it wasn't just rough; it was SLOW.  I swear it took like 2 hours to get from Lobos to Pinos :)  Okay, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like it took that long!  Coming around Cypress Point took forever.  It's like we just weren't making forward progress.  And it was strange, because if you looked out across the water, it didn't look "rough".  The swell wasn't bit, and yes there were some whitecaps, but not insanely many.  But those little swells were super steep, and the seas were very confused.  When we finally made it to Pinos, we were all just relieved to be back.  When we got into the bay, we were offered our choice of dive sites.  Our choice of two, that is :P  There was some talk of just calling it a day, but after being on the boat for 6 hours, I was going diving!  So we ended up at Kawika's, since we'd just been to Mile Buoy the previous weekend.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We decided to dive as a team of four, and to leave the scooters on the boat.  Thankfully, it was very flat at Kawika's.  The visibility on the bottom was pretty good (for Kawika's) but not excellent.  The fish life was quite good on the dive; we saw a bunch of big lings, including one super monster lingzilla.  And I saw another brown rockfish.  It wasn't an awesome dive, but we were just all happy to get a dive in after the journey.  We were visited by a bunch of sea lions on deco, which was fun :)

After our short ride back to the dock, the sun was already low in the sky.  Long day for a dive at Kawika's!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Winter" Boat Diving

Basket star
Photo by Clinton Bauder
On Saturday, Matt and I were on a tech boat.  Rob and Kevin were both out of town, in Florida, cave diving without me :(  The forecast looked really bad.  It was something like 20 to 30 knot winds, with a steep medium-big swell (something like 8 feet at 8 seconds).  I had no hope of a successful boat outing, and didn't really understand why we were bothering to drive down to Monterey at all.  But I guess some people on the boat really wanted to go diving, so, we had to at least drive down.  Matt and I carpooled, and on the drive down, we discussed where we would be going for breakfast :)  As we approached Monterey, the bay looked pretty flat, and the flag on the flagpole by Del Monte was limp.  Kind of surprising, given the forecast.

Brown rockfish
Photo by Clinton Bauder
So we loaded the boat and headed out.  Close in, it was pretty flat, but the conditions deteriorated surprisingly quickly.  All of a sudden there were pretty big swells stacked up on each other.  We didn't even make it to Eric's Pinnacle before turning the boat around, and even then, Mike told Jim he couldn't believe it took him so long to come up to the wheelhouse to turn it around :P  Then turning around was a little scary (for me, probably not so much for Mike and Jim).  So, we had two choices for diving, Kawika's or Mile Buoy.  I'm generally more of a fan of Kawika's, but Clinton thought that Mile Buoy would be less stirred up with this swell, so that's where we went.  Even though it was really rough so close in, at Mile Buoy it was super calm.  No wind at all, and not much swell.

Wasted sea star
Photo by Clinton Bauder
We hopped into the water and found that on top, the viz was quite good.  We left our scooters on the boat, and on the way down the line, I kind of felt like I didn't know how to get down the line without a scooter to speed things up.  It seemed like it took forever to descend!  Unfortunately at the bottom, things were a bit stirred up, but the viz was probably above average for Mile Buoy.  And it was very bright for a deep Bay dive.  We meandered around, and saw the typical Mile Buoy stuff... a couple of  Tochuinas, and quite a few basket stars.

There were just a few things that I considered notable.  First, I saw a brown rockfish, which I almost never see.  In fact, I never see them so much, that I wasn't 100% sure that it was a brown rockfish, and was planning to quiz Clinton about it once we got back on the boat.  Luckily Clinton got a picture of it, so it was very easy to confirm that.  Second, I finally got to see the sea star wasting disease that everyone has been talking about.  "Got to see" doesn't sound right, since it is not a very pleasant thing to look at (or to have, I guess, if you are a sea star).  Some of those starfish (yes, I just used the term "starfish") look like something chomped a leg off, except that the leg is sitting right next to it, so you know that's not what happened!  It's really not a nice looking thing to see, but Clinton got some "good" pictures of it, in terms of documentation.  Finally, there were a nice number of juvenile rockfish.  Maybe that's not notable, since there seem to be a nice number of juvenile rockfish everywhere these days! :)

Deco visitors
Deco was pretty nice, since the viz was outstanding.  There were lots of sea nettles, only one of which nailed me, and we were frequently visited by a bunch of sea lions.  It's funny, the sea lions were all over us and one other team, but the other teams said they didn't see any sea lions at all.  When we surfaced, our bag was quite close to one of the other teams (who got sea lion action), and the boat was sitting not too far away, just hanging out there, since it was dead flat.  Even flatter, I think, than it had been when we got in.  It was also sunny with clear blue skies; just a super nice day out on the bay.  So I started to swim to the boat, since I didn't know if we were too close to the other bag.  Once we got swimming, the crew told us that they had intended to do a pickup, but since we were already swimming, we told them we would come to them.  So that gives you an idea of how calm it was; we volunteered to swim (no scooters) to the boat at the end of the dive :P

Once we collected the other teams, we headed in, and were back at the dock before noon!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Back to Home Base

After three epic dives at Cordell Bank, I wondered if coming back to Monterey diving would be a big disappointment.  In fact, I was joking with Jim that I felt like I'd reached the pinnacle, and that  it might be time to retire.  But, I was already signed up for a tech boat on Saturday, so I figured I might as well give Monterey another try :P  Apparently our lucky streak had not yet come to an end.  We had nice calm conditions on our ride down to Yankee Point, and decided to go to Mount Chamberlin.  There was some back and forth on where to go, whether we wanted to dive the main wall, or the south annex.  Rob wanted to go to the annex, but one of the other teams wanted to dive the wall.  In the end, Jim suggested that we drop on the south wall, and each team could decide if they wanted to go to the annex or stay on the main wall, since they are close enough from a bag-shooting perspective.

We headed down the line and found very nice conditions.  The viz was insanely good when we got over to the annex.  You could look down the wall and see a very long way, and see to the bottom from the top of the structure.  There was a bit school of "bigger" juvenile rockfish, which seemed to be everywhere that we went.  Since we were planning to spend our entire dive here, we meandered along the north side for a while before heading to the back side.  I was pretty far up the wall, trying to video along the side of the wall (to get a shot showing how vertical the wall is), when Rob signaled me from below, to show me a wolf eel.  I guess all of those little baby wolf eels we saw a few months ago are growing up :)  I got some footage of him, hopefully without permanently blinding him, and then continued on along the bottom of the wall.  I found a little red octopus on the wall close to the bottom as well.

We eventually headed to the back side, where there were some adult rockfish.  There was a school of blues with a few olives mixed in.  It was a pretty unimpressive school of rockfish compared to my last dive at Cordell :)  Being back at Mt. Chamberlin gave me a chance to compare the life in Carmel versus at Cordell.  One big difference that we all noticed at Cordell was the lack of gorgonians (well they are there somewhere, but not at any of the dive sites that we went to).  So it was nice to be back to a site with very lush gorgonians.  I also noticed that those bright yellow hydroids that were all over the place at Cordell were around but in a darker, browner shade.  Also, sponge life really is different, even compared to Northern East and West Ridges, which I thought (at the time) were more similar to something like Mt. Chamberlin.  They had a lot more red, orange, and pink encrusting sponges.

Anyhoo, back to the dive.  Rob and I did a little experiment with the video light, where he was lighting the scene for me from above, while we were both on the trigger.  It was moderately successful (and made it into the video), but I think we'd do things a bit different next time.  For one thing, I would scooter on a slower speed.  After that little experiment, we ended up back on the north side of the top of the annex.  From there, we headed east, to see if we could make it to the shallower part of the structure before starting our ascent.  We know from the bathymetry that it eventually gets shallower, but we didn't make it that far.  We ended up finding more peaks in the 140 to 150' range, before eventually giving up on finding shallower structure, and starting our ascent.

On deco, there were lots of sea nettles, and the viz was still quite good.  It was just enough nettles to make for nice scenery, without being too many to deal with.  When we surfaced, it was a little windier than it had been before the dive.  It wasn't big big, but the boat was really moving, and I found it pretty hard to hold onto the ladder.  It took a lot of gripping strength (which I seem to lack these days from too much laptopping :P).  The ride home was not too rough though.  We had an encounter with several Rissos, who were even cooperative enough for a little video :)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cordell Bank: Not Diving in Fog

Photo by Kevin Dow
We made an attempt to do one last dive on Saturday.  We drove back up to Bodega on Friday night, and were greeted by really thick fog.  It was pretty creepy actually, driving through the fog at night, in the middle of nowhere.  In the morning, it was at least as foggy, but we were sure it was going to burn off :)  So, we motored out to the bank, rather slowly, and it was just as foggy :(  So we sat out there for about 2 hours, motored to a couple of different sites looking for a clear spot, but it was not to be.  It was just foggy, everywhere.  So, we sadly headed back in.  The fog eventually lifted on the way in, closer to shore, but I'm sure it never did out there.  I guess that's what we get for getting greedy and trying to squeeze in an extra dive after three awesome days of diving!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cordell Bank: Northern West Ridge

On Thursday, we were back once again to load the car at dawn.  Kevin wasn't diving today, and with the last minute roster change, we had to juggle teams.  So Rob and I ended up diving with Joakim, and Matt, John, and Clinton were the other team.  Joakim and Rob had to load gear (since, for some ridiculous reason, Rob was in denial that he would be diving on Thursday, until after we had already swapped gear around on Wednesday afternoon), but it was pretty quick, since it was just two people's gear to load.  We headed out, and I quickly decided that it was sufficiently cold to require an undergarment, and possibly a drysuit, for the ride out.  I retrieved my undergarment from belowdecks (can that term be applied to the Escapade? :P) and unzipped the pockets to get my socks.  But they weren't my socks.  They were Kevin's socks.  Then I looked the undergarment over and determined that it, too, was Kevin's.  Kevin had taken my undergarment home with him, and left me his stinky, oversized undergarment, grumble grumble grumble.  I could have lived with the stinkiness and worn his undergarment, but I had my doubts about it fitting in my drysuit :P  We were still in the harbor, which, in Bodega Bay, doesn't mean we were particularly close to the dock.  So we turned back so that I could get my backup undergarment from the van, which added 20 or so minutes to the journey.  It's a good thing it was cold and I decided to put my undergarment on so early!

Despite the small delay, we still made great time out to the site, thanks to the awesome weather.  We encountered quite a few more boats during our travels than we had on previous days, including two small freighter-type boats that were under tow.  Or at least one was under tow.  I couldn't really figure out what was going on, but it was strange.  We got out to the site, Northern West Ridge, and found nice conditions, including really nice-looking visibility, from the surface anyway.  There were, once again, some sea lions zipping around on the surface, yippy.  Our team entered the water first, and found that, as suspected, the viz was great.  From the bathymetry, we expected the pinnacle to come to about 120 feet.  Jared said that on the depth finder, it looked a bit shallower.  As we descended, we could make out the pinnacle while we were still quite shallow, maybe 50 to 60 feet.  In fact the pinnacle did come to about 120 feet, but the viz was just really really good.  The water was so clear and it was so bright and blue down at the top of the pinnacle.

However, we soon encountered much more limited visibility.  All of a sudden, I was engulfed in this cloud, that made it hard to see my buddies even 5 to 10 feet away.  There were these pesky widow rockfish, in a giant school, that were practically smothering us with their density!  As soon as we got to the top of the pinnacle, we were engulfed in fish.  It was more rockfish than I've ever seen in one place before.  It was amazing.  So amazing, that we just stopped and stared.  Rob started taking some pictures, and I started shooting video, but we were just hanging with the fish, having pretty much lost interest in the fact that we were sitting atop an incredibly tall, skinny pinnacle.  We were still on the top of the pinnacle when the other team descended past us.  Clinton was joking that he couldn't believe it when he was passing us on the way deeper :P  We got a bit more footage of the fish, and eventually decided that we had to head down to see the rest of the pinnacle.

The walls of the pinnacle were sheer vertical, dropping down who knows how deep.  We actually didn't make it that deep.  I don't think I got any deeper than 180', and even that only briefly.  John reported that from 200', you could see the pinnacle continuing down to probably 300' or so.  The walls were super colorful, completely encrusted with sponges and Corynactis.  The sponges were in all different shades of red, orange, yellow, and white.  It just seemed like you couldn't look anywhere and see bare rock.  The part of the pinnacle that we descended down was sort of in the shadow of the pinnacle, so it seemed quite a bit darker even though we were only a little bit deeper.  But that was really only if you were right on the pinnacle.  After circling around the pinnacle, we meandered back up to the top, to enjoy the fish some more.

And so we watched as the school zipped here and there, covering the super colorful reef top.  In addition to the huge school of adult widows, there was a school of juvenile (or young-of-year, if you want to be technical about it) rockfish.  While the adults and juveniles would intermingle at some points, it really seemed like two distinct schools, both huge and dense and very impressive.

In addition to the giant schools of rockfish, there were tons of yelloweyes dotting the reef, mostly juveniles, but plenty of small adults too.  It was the most yelloweyes I've ever seen on a dive.  I think I said that about the previous day's dive too, but well, today had even more!  There were also lots of rosies, and three, yes, three, blue rockfish :)  We had been discussing the surprising lack of blue rockfish on the previous days dives, where I had seen exactly zero.  So I took notice when three of them swam by, and I even managed to capture them on video!  One other notable sighting was a huge yelloweye, down in a crack.  It was probably twice as big as any yelloweye I've ever seen before, but it was quite a distinction from all of the other yelloweyes we'd seen on this trip.  While we saw tons of them, there really weren't any big ones (other than this one).

I don't have much more to say about this dive, which is too bad, since it was an amazing dive.  I don't really know where the 40 minutes of bottom time went.  Most of it was spent just experiencing the school of fish.  I don't think that either Rob or I did a great job of coordinating on the video or photos.  I was left to light the video myself, and I wasn't really paying any attention to posing for photos.  But luckily the site was so fantastic, none of that really mattered.  There's no way that a text description of this dive can do it justice, so be sure to check out the numerous excellent photos that Rob and Clinton took on this dive!  (That link takes you to the start of the pictures from this day, but be sure to check out the other days' pictures too.)

When it was sadly time to go, we left the pinnacle, and as Joakim started to put a bag up, we got buzzed by a sea lion.  I was cheering, and I swear Joakim looked at me like "can you please be serious, I'm trying to put a bag up here?" :P  The sea lions made a couple of appearances throughout the deco, but there weren't any particularly close encounters.  There was a close encounter with the other team, whenh, drifting along at 30', I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly realized that the other team was quite close to us.  I guess they were "behind" me, up until that point.  Clinton was taking some pictures of his buddies on deco, so we kept seeing flashes from his strobe :)  Deco was otherwise uneventful, though pretty cold.  I have Kevin to thank for that, since I was using my backup drysuit undergarment.  

Photo by Clinton Bauder
I felt like a bit of a spazz at some points during deco, because I was using Jim's doubles (since I hadn't come provisioned for 3 days of diving).  I did some magic math based on the weight charts for my tanks and his, but then with my thinner undergarment, and erring on the side of being a little overweighted, I was, well, a little overweighted.  So my wing was just a bit full on the ascent.  It sort of had a mind of its own.  It didn't really seem that bad, but I swear when I was climbing the ladder at the end of the dive, it felt like I was 10 pounds heavier than usual.  But maybe that was just the third day of diving talking :)

Once we collected all of the divers, we headed in, and were treated to quite a show from a pod of whales.  Okay, maybe pod isn't the right word, but there were a group of at least 4 humpbacks, who were quite willing to hang out and put on a show for us.  There weren't any breaches, but lots of tail and fin-slapping, and some nice flukes.  It was an excellent way to finish up the three days of diving.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
When we got back to the dock, we packed up, had a pretty quick lunch, and then headed for San Jose.  We had decided to attempt one more dive, on Saturday, but at this point we were all out of gas.  Kevin had taken a big bunch of tanks back to Anywater Sports on Wednesday afternoon.  There was a bit of a Helium crunch, due to our unexpected demand for gas for Saturday.  But after doing a bunch of math, and some cross-boosting from tanks that we were done with for the week, we managed to make enough 18/45 for everyone.  Rob was stuck diving a stage, but you know Rob, the more bottles the better!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cordell Bank: Northern East Ridge

After slightly more rest than the previous night, we were back at the dock before dawn again.  We had done all of our gear shuffling on the previous afternoon, but John and Clinton had just arrived, so we loaded their gear onto the boat and then got going.  The ocean conditions were once again fantastic, so we once again made great time getting to the dive site (which was slightly closer than yesterday's site).  This site consisted of a long, not very wide, ridge with a bunch of side pinnacles and ridges, that stretched from about 130' to 200'.  There was some concern about setting the downline on the main ridge, since it looked so skinny, but this turned out not to be a problem.  The downline was set in no time, and we all started to get geared up.  The water looked cleaner on top than it had the previous day.

Since we let the other team go first the day before, today we got in first.  As we were about to get in, I saw about 4 sea lions zipping around toward the ball, so I was hoping for some interaction on the dive. We found much cleaner, clearer water on top, and as we headed down, we found brighter water down on the structure.  It was quite different from the previous day in terms of the brightness of the water, but also in terms of what we saw.  In a lot of ways, this dive was much more like a dive at Yankee Point than the previous day had been.  There was lots of hydrocoral, pink and orange encrusting sponges, and the topography was reminiscent.  Also, at the bottom of the peaks, there was sand.

There was a big school of widow rockfish, though not as big as the day before, so it didn't seem so impressive to me Clinton, who hadn't been on the dive the previous day, found it hard to believe that there were even more fish, and that today's school of rockfish was unimpressive.  So I guess there were still a lot of fish... it's all relative :)

We pretty quickly moved off of the main ridge, to some of the side ridges off to the southwest (I think). As we perused the main ridge and the ridge closest to it, there were a couple of sea lions buzzing around.  They kept zooming down to the sand on the bottom, flipping around, and then zooming back up.  It was a slightly odd feeling to be at 150' and look down to see a sea lion.  I have a suspicion that they were just a bit curious about these strange creatures encroaching on their turf.  They were behaving almost more like playful, curious harbor seals than sea lions!  I don't mean to give any spoilers about the third day of diving, but, when all is said and done, today's dive isn't the Cordell dive that everyone was raving about.  However, I think it actually had the most lovely reef, and the pictures really show that!  There was much more hydrocoral here, and while it wasn't the huge heads that we know from Point Sur, I think it was more beautiful, because it was sitting atop equally colorful encrusting sponges.  The density of the invertebrate cover on the reef was just astounding, perhaps more so than the previous day, because it's the same invertebrate cover that we are used to seeing around Carmel.

In addition to the big school of widows, there was also quite a bit of diversity in terms of the other rockfish.  I saw tons of juvenile yelloweyes, and a few small adults.  I've never seen anywhere near that number of yelloweyes on one dive before.  I also saw two small quillback rockfish, not juveniles, but much smaller than any I've seen before.  There were also plenty of rosies, a China or two, and I'm sure a few others.  Also plenty of kelp greenlings (like yesterday, they were big by Monterey/Carmel standards).  I also saw lots of trilineatas (particularly in those stubbly brown hydroids on the white sponges) and a few Hermissendas, and maybe a handful of dorids.  Really not a lot of dorids, but more than zero -- a couple of small San Diegos and Cadlinas.  I saw a "muppet fish" later ID'd by Clinton to be a red Irish lord (Matt got a picture of one, which helped with the ID!).  The other fish that gets the "muppet fish" moniker at home is the brown Irish lord, so I can't say I was too surprised by the ID.  Oh, and last but not least, I saw two more little red octopus.

Near the end of the dive, we returned to the main ridge, and scootered along it for a bit, just to have a look around.  We found a thick line running down the side of the main ridge, and a small pile of the line at the bottom, in the sand.  Not sure what that came from... it seemed too small for an anchor/down line and too big to be fishing or survey-related.  Not too long after that, we decided it was time to turn back, and we came back up to the very top of the ridge, where we had first descended, and looked around there for a minute or two before agreeing to start our ascent.  Of course right at the end, the school of fish descended upon us again, so I was trying to video that while Kevin was getting ready to shoot the bag :)  Deco was uneventful.  The water was much clearer than it had been the day before.  It seemed colder, but I'm pretty sure I was just colder from being on a second day of diving.

Photo by Jim Capwell
When we surfaced, the conditions were still very calm.  After a bit of Cup o' Noodles to warm up, we retired to the wheelhouse for a surprisingly speed ride home.  We encountered some Dahl's porpoises today -- so cute!  I was originally only slated to dive two days, but Jim hurt his leg (biking, not diving), so his slot was available on Thursday.  After much hemming and hawing about having to go back to work, I decided to man up, and once back at the dock, I called my boss to ask if I could stay an extra day.  He laughed and said yes, and boy am I glad I made that call...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cordell Bank: Craine's Point

After all of the waiting and obsessing about the weather forecast, the first day of diving was finally here.  The forecast for the next three days was basically perfect.  We drove up, with a fully loaded van, on Monday night, and arrived in Bodega Bay a little before 10.  Since we were to load the boat at 6:30, I had attempted to go to sleep immediately.  That hadn't been very successful, so I was pretty groggy in the morning (I'm sure the bonine didn't help).  The crew pulled the boat up to an empty slip right by the ramp, so we loaded the boat pretty quickly (in the dark :P), and then we were off as the sun was coming up.  Getting out of the harbor is like going through a maze, or maybe more like a slalom course, and takes about 15 minutes.  When we finally got beyond the last breakwall, it was still very calm.  I didn't really know what to expect of the conditions once we got further offshore.  I had certainly been expecting it to be a bit rougher than our average day of diving, but it turned out to be unbelievably calm.

Bodega Bay at sunrise
Photo by Clinton Bauder
Because it was so calm, we made really good time on the drive out there.  We were diving one of the further-from-shore sites on Cordell Bank, but we still got out there in under two hours.  We decided that instead of our usual get-geared-up-as-we-approach-site pace, we'd chill out a bit, while Matt and Jim looked at the site on the depth finder, and then reported back to us on what they saw.  The site has a pinnacle coming up to around 130 feet, from a "plateau" at about 170 feet, that then drops off in a wall to much beyond 200 feet.  Matt had brought along laminated bathymetry maps of the sites we were targeting (thanks, Leah).  So once we discussed where the downline had been dropped, we got geared up.  Once we were all set to go, we had to decide which team would enter the water first.  I'm usually all about going first (ladies first, after all), but since Matt and Jim had done all of the planning and work to get us out here, I thought they should go first.  So they hopped in, and found that there was some surface current (good call on letting them go first!).  We were watching them try to get to the ball, and Jim seemed to not be making much progress.  Calene said something like "but Matt's not having any trouble at all" which made us chuckle.  I told her that Matt has a pretty fast scooter.  I asked if we could be dropped a bit further up-current, so Jared drove us up quite a bit further up-current, and we hopped in.

Loading the boat at sunrise
We drifted to the ball without a problem, and headed down the line.  Once we were down to 20 or 30 feet, the current had completely subsided.  I was pretty slow going down the line (trouble with the ears), but didn't have to stay on the trigger at all to stay with the line.  The water was pretty green and murky in the top 50 or so feet, which was a bit disappointing.  But once we got below 70 feet or so, it really opened up.  However, it was quite dark by the time we got to the bottom.  But that didn't stop us from seeing the HUGE school of widow rockfish on the bottom.  There were so many fish, it was like one of the huge schools of blue rockfish that we have occasionally seen at Big Sur Banks.  The downline was on the plateau next to the pinnacle.  On that plateau there were a bunch of smaller boulders and pinnaclets, which we spent a bunch of time looking at.  The reef was incredibly colorful, covered with encrusting life.

The ride out
Photo by Kevin Dow
There were a few things that struck me as different than I expected.  First, there was quite a variety of different sponges and tunicates, many that looked different than what we see in Carmel.  There were some brown sponges that reminded me of little volcanoes, white sponges that I would call "tube sponges" that I don't recall seeing elsewhere, and these big bowl-shaped white sponges that seemed like halfway between a vase sponge and an elephant ear, many of which were covered in that brown hydroid that aeolids seem to like to chow on.  There were also a lot of different kinds of tunicates, one of which I didn't recognize, which was a shimmery purple-gray color.  There was some hydrocoral, though not a ton.  Another critter that was significant on the reefscape was a yellow-gold hydroid which seemed to be everywhere.  I've seen this hydroid in Monterey/Carmel, though I think it's a bit more gold-brown, and also I've never seen it in such quantities.  As I looked across the reef, it was a significant part of the color that I saw.

Team Kitty, ready to dive
Photo by Jim Capwell
Eventually we decided to head over to the dropoff.  We saw several juvenile to young-adult yelloweyes on the wall, and quite a few rosy rockfish too.  I didn't go terribly far down the wall, as it seemed like the encrusting life started to peter out around 180' or so (Rob and Kevin went further down than I did, and made the same observation).  The prettiest part of the top 10' or so, right where it transitioned from flat to wall, it was super encrusted and super colorful.  Unfortunately I don't think the video really did this section justice.  After a bit of time on the wall, we headed back up to the plateau.  We found a slightly shallower part of the plateau, and hung out there, and didn't really spend much time on the pinnacle itself.  Rob took over the video light and helped with lighting for my video (which definitely resulted in the best video of the day).  Apparently his camera was not functioning properly :(, though I didn't realize that until late in the dive.  So that was super disappointing (hence the lack of good pictures in this post!).

Calm seas
While we were perusing the plateau at the end, it occurred to me, that looking at the bathymetry, I had assumed that the space between the pinnacle and the dropoff would have sand patches in it.  But even the flats were completely encrusted reef.  It was just so colorful!  I found a couple of little red octopus skittering along on the colorful flats.  Before you know, our 40 minute bottom time was over, and we started our ascent.  Once we left the bottom, there was a noticeable current, and we were off in the blue (or maybe the green) pretty quickly.  But the viz was incredibly good until we got to about 50 feet.  It was greenish, but quite bright, and it seemed like we could see forever.  I must admit that, really for the first time ever on a dive in California, I spent a good bit of time on deco that first day worrying about sharks.  The day before, one of my coworkers had pointed out that even if Cordell was outside of the "red triangle" it was doubtful that the sharks know where the edges of the triangle are :P  When we got shallower, the viz got quite bad, so we were pretty much on top of each other.  In terms of worrying about sharks, I didn't know if bad viz was better or worse than good viz.  I think it's better; I really don't want to see it coming if I'm going to be eaten by a shark.

Ready for some diving
When we surfaced, it was just as flat as it had been when we got in.  It was a leisurely boat pickup, and then we headed in.  We were hoping to see some dolphins or whales from the boat, though we didn't have a lot of success with that the first day.  I think we saw one whale spout but that was about it.  At some point, I had changed out of my drysuit, and was hanging out by myself on the deck, and decided that I wanted to go up to the wheelhouse too.  I am afraid of climbing the ladder up to the wheelhouse when the boat is underway.  The only time I ever go up there is when the boat is stopped (occasionally I ask for a pause so I can go up :P).  But I decided to conquer my fear, and just do it.  Needless to say, everyone in the wheelhouse was shocked when I appeared on the ladder, while we were underway (at a higher-than-usual speed, no less).  We had a great view up there, as we made our way back to shore in really good time.

Charging station
We pulled to fuel dock, and while the boat was fueled up, we swapped out gear for the next day (the fuel dock was actually a really convenient place to pull our cars up to for this purpose).  We chatted with some fisherman at the fuel dock, and one of the security guys working the dock.  They all seemed pretty intrigued that we were diving out of there, and that we'd brought a boat all the way from Monterey for it :)  I'm not sure if any of them were even familiar with Cordell Bank.  Shocking.

We were staying at a cottage for visitors of the Bodega Bay Marine Lab.  We went over there and unpacked some of our stuff, and then headed to lunch in town (such as it is).  The cottage was so dorm-like, it was totally like a blast from the past.  But the biggest blast from the past of all was the pay phone in the living room.  That's right, a pay phone... remember those?  (And it even worked!)  It was much more fun to stay there than the inn where we stayed the first night.  It was like going to summer camp with BAUE and the Escapade crew :)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Australia 2013

We went to Australia for a week of diving on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea, aboard the Spirit of Freedom.  I am going to post the trip report one day at a time, and I'll update this post as I go.

I think I will save the summary and impressions on the trip for the last post.

Here we go:

Getting to Australia
Finally Diving at Saxon Reef
Ribbon Reef 3
Ribbon Reefs 9 and 10
Lizard Island and Inside Out
More Diving at Ribbon Reefs 9 and 10
Osprey Reef
Back to Ribbon Reef 3