It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Two Pointy Pinnacles

On Saturday we were on the Escapade for a BAUE recreational charter.  It was a "Point Lobos" charter where the boat picked up the divers at Point Lobos.  This gave us the option of diving sites within the park boundary.  It also saved us the ride down on the boat, though I didn't really see this as a plus, since I like riding around on the boat.  The downside of this arrangement is, well, you have to schlep yourself and your gear into the water at Lobos.  Isn't the reason that we dive on boats so that we don't have to do that? :)  We did actually have the option of meeting the boat at K-dock and loading our gear there, so that we would only have to schlep ourselves into the water at Lobos.  But this required getting up 30 to 45 minutes earlier, and in the calculus of laziness, 45 minutes less sleep is worse than schlepping gear into the water at Lobos and climbing the boat ladder with said gear on.

The boat was to meet us at 9, and it was there just a bit before then.  Rob couldn't wait to get in the water (and yet couldn't not wait to get his gear out of the way so that I could retrieve my gear from the van), so he ditched me and I waddled into the water with Clinton.  Clinton woke up the extra 45 minutes early, so he didn't have to waddle.  It was an interesting entry.  The tide was low.  There was a boat being launched on the ramp, in a rather interesting manner.  As far as I could tell, at least one of the boat trailer's tires had gone off of the ramp, and yet the boat was not nearly in the water.  Apparently the "trick" to getting the boat into the water was to wait for a wave to wash in and then something involving a lot of bouncing and a lot of shouting.  The shouting was coming from someone at the top of the ramp and went something like "Stop! Stop! Stop! ...  Go! Go! Go!".  It was a little hard to tune it out, and to not stop when I heard someone screaming "stop".  It was like entering the water in a war zone (or at least what I imagine that being like, based on my many viewings of Black Hawk Down).  And I'd like to blame all of this for me ending up on my knees not that close to the end of the ramp, and basically knee walking the rest of the way, hoping Rob wasn't watching this from the boat.  Once I got into the water, luckily it was just a short kick to the boat.  The viz was excellent in the cove.  There was a medium-sized long period swell, so after a lot of talk about where to go, including a lot of lame talk about Great Pinnacle, we eventually came around to diving at the Needle.  I've never been to the Needle before (weird, I know).

After a very short :( boat ride, we got to the site.  I actually had to pay attention to the site briefing and look at the bathymetry map provided.  We flopped into the water to find more nice viz.  I was diving with Rob.  There isn't that much to tell about what we did on the dive.  We landed on the side of the pinnacle with a pretty sheer wall, and meandered around the pinnacle, and then around it again at a shallower depth.  Rob was taking pictures, and I was doing my best to either be in the shot and non-frumpy looking or to be out of the shot.  There were a good number of big lingcods.  I posed behind a variety of lovely heads of hydrocoral.  We also found a friendly siphonophore off of the pinnacle, who was willing to pose with me for a picture.  I liked the sheer wall a lot, but for some reason Rob didn't seem too interested in taking pictures of it.  The Needle is a really nice dive site, with excellent topography and very pink with corynactis and hydrocoral.  I can't believe I've never been there.  I'm sure the really good viz helped to make the site seem nice.  I could clearly see the bottom pretty far off of the pinnacle and all its detail from 70', so the vertical viz was definitely over 60'.  As expected, there was some surge, and occasionally there was A LOT of surge.  At the end of the dive we were hanging out near the top, and the palm kelp was swaying quite a bit.

Between dives, we encountered a large pod of Risso's just off of Point Lobos.  They were everywhere, and there were tons of babies, which were SO cute.  We would see one fin go by and then a little tiny fin go by right next to it.  They were like miniature dolphins.  So cute!  I think they have high potential as a bathtub pet for Pepper.

For the second (and third) dive, we went to Flintstones.  The surface conditions were fine for the ride down there and once we got there too.  Rob and I managed to be the first in the water, which I noted is always dangerous since it means we got to be the current testers.  There was a little bit of surface current when we got in, but not much.  No granny line required or anything.  The viz was great looking down the anchor line.  We headed down, and there was a little bit more current on the swim down.  And we swam and we swam and we finally saw a pinnacle.  But we were getting deeper than expected.  Eventually we swam off of the line over to the pinnacle, and it only came to 80 feet.  And it was very surgy and not very interesting looking.  Looking back toward the line, we could see another pinnacle beyond it, but it didn't come up any shallower, and wasn't big enough to be Flintstones.  So we decided to thumb it, and Rob put a bag up, hoping to signal to the boat not to put anyone else in the water.  But then we headed up the line and found that we were too late, as everyone was already in the water.  Oops.

We got back on the boat and after a few circles around the site, we were pronounced to be on the site.  We got back in and headed down the line, and almost immediately I could see the top of the pinnacle.  Woohoo.  We landed on the wall and after looking at it for a moment, we started to circumnavigate the pinnacle, clockwise.  when we got to the end, we cut across the palm-kelp-covered plateau, which was super surgy and sort of hard to swim across in the surge!  The viz was really good, so we could see a lot of the pinnacle.  What a treat!  There were a fair number of fish out and about, including several cabezon and lingcod, and a school of blue rockfish hanging out on one side.  The dive was not that long, since we'd blown a bunch of gas on the first attempt at Flintstones.  So we pretty much just did a slow meander around the pinnacle once, with some stops for pictures, and then we killed some time by the anchor and then headed up.  On the way up, it seemed like the current had picked up a little bit.  I ended up on the line for our 20 foot stop, while Rob hovered off of the line, scowling at me.  After we collected all of the divers (including one team that had been blown off of the line), we had a short ride back to Lobos.

For reasons unrelated to my slothfulness, we needed to meet back up with the boat at K-dock anyway, so I decided to leave my gear on the boat and swim in au naturel (well, not quite).  Man, it's a lot easier to exit on the ramp without any gear on!  After I got lost on the way to K-dock (well not really lost, just taking a very non-optimal route), we eventually headed to Phat Burger for lunch.  Ick.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Q-Tip by Kick

Photo by Clinton Bauder
I mentioned in my last post that I was lamenting the fact that we couldn't do a shallow shore dive at Lobos, considering the awesome viz in the cove.  Well, as luck would have it, I got to do just that on Saturday, with Clinton.  I was originally slated to help Rob with a class, but ended up being absolved of that responsibility.  So I went for a fun dive with Clinton instead.  There had been some leopard shark sitings recently, so I decided we should go look for some of our own.  So I told Clinton that his mission was to find a leopard shark.  So we decided to drop on the east side of the cove and swim out toward Granite Point.  The east side of the cove and Middle Reef is usually a good place for leopard sharks.

We got into the water at a lowish tide, and found really good viz right by the ramp.  We swam not too far on the surface before deciding to drop in the cove, and swim out across the sand.   A couple minutes into the dive, Clinton excitedly waved at me, and what do you know? he'd found a leopard shark!  I looked at my gauge and saw that it was 4 minutes into the dive.  Leopard shark, check.  What next?  The leopard shark was of the skittish variety, so he really didn't stick around long.  Clinton did manage to get one shot off on his camera to at least prove that we did see one.  We continued on and found a nice school of blue rockfish in the kelp in the sand to the east of Middle Reef.  We stopped there for some pictures and video.  The fish really didn't seem to mind Clinton's strobes at all.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
From there, we meandered across the sand and eventually we hit Granite Point Wall.  We were moving along pretty slowly, stopping for pictures of video here and there.  We stayed pretty high up on the reefs, instead of following the bottom like I usually do.  I guess that's because the viz was so good, so we could see everywhere (including down to the bottom) from up there.  There were a lot of fish.  We encountered several nice-sized schools of blue rockfish, and one big school of perch a bit further out (around 70 or 80 feet).  There were also the usual lingcods scurrying about.  Like I said, we were hanging out pretty high up the reefs on the way out, so we were in the 50 to 60 foot range pretty much the whole time.  Then suddenly we were at 80 feet, and I realized that we had gotten pretty far out.  Eventually after about an hour, I suggested we turn around.  I was getting cold, and I figured that while the swim in would be faster, it wouldn't be that much faster, so an hour was a good time to turn it.  At this point, Clinton suggested that swim out from the reef a little and then loop around.  Okay.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
So we swam out and then I saw below me, a little rock out in the sand, covered with metridium.  Really?  I couldn't believe that we had swam all the way out to Q-Tip, but I was sure that that's what I was staring at.  Clinton was scratching his head, which pretty much confirmed that he was thinking exactly what I was thinking.  Clinton zoomed down to get some pictures.  I attempted to follow him, but my ears were just not cooperating, so I was stuck at 80 or so feet while.  So I figured this would be a good place to hang out and be the silhouette :)  Turns out that was a good plan, because Clinton got some awesome shots there!  Once we were finished with that, we headed in along the edge of the reef.  When we got back to the main wall, I was looking around in the rocks for little critters, when I saw what I thought were a lobster’s antennae poking out from a crack.  Hmm.  I contorted myself every which way trying to see back into the crack, and it just wasn’t happening.  So I signaled Clinton and made a hand signal for antennae and pointed out the crack.  Then he spazzed out a bit around the crack and came back reporting that he thought he saw something.  Later (after the dive) we discussed it and he said he thought he had caught a glimpse of a lobster, but couldn’t be sure.  I guess he has seen them before at Monastery and I’ve seen a carapace at Lobos, so there must be some of them around.  After that, we headed out over the sand and intercepted Middle Reef pretty close to the tip on the east side.  We crossed over the reef and eventually popped out on the sand channel, where we found yet another school of blue rockfish hanging out in the kelp.  Yawn: :)

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Since the viz was awesome, when we got to the worm patch, we kept on going.  When we were over the sand in maybe 15 feet, I suddenly noticed an absence of Clinton.  I turned around and saw him preparing to get pictures of something in the sand.  Another leopard shark?  No, but still pretty cool – a thornback ray.  He was pretty tolerant of us inspecting him and flashing him with strobes.  Yay.  We were with him for quite a while.  Eventually we had everything we wanted, so we headed in and surface just a few kicks from the ramp.  Clinton told me that he was tempted to call 7 minutes of deco to make the dive an even 2 hours.  I wouldn’t have been too please with that, since I was pretty well-chilled by this point.

Conditions on Sunday
We hung out on the surface for a while, waiting for Ted and Ben to get out of the water, since we figured they might be interested in joining us for lunch.  And they were.  We headed to RG Burger for some mediocre milkshakes (which never happens at RG!).

I was originally supposed to dive again on Sunday, but the combination of my misbehaving ears and a turn in the weather convinced me to go for a little hike instead.  I followed the path over to Monastery, and traversed all of the little offshoots from that path.  So I got to meet the thumb in person.  Somehow its skinny vs tall aspect ratio was not quite as I expected.  I also walked down to the water at Coal Chute Cove, which I didn't realize there was a path to.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Let's Try That Again

Flag rockfish
As you may recall, two weeks ago, we got lost at Birthday Wall.  But luckily, we had a Phil date coming up, and this seemed like our chance to redeem ourselves.  As the weekend approached, the forecast was looking quite favorable, so our chances of getting to Yankee Point seemed really good.  When we go to Monterey, we were not disappointed.  There were ankle-slappers at Del Monte Beach, and a limp flag.  And Monastery was a lake.  Woohoo.  By the time we got the boat loaded and ready to go, Whaler's Cove was hopping.  There were two or three other boats in the parking lot, though we managed to sneak in first.  It was a really nice, sunny day topside.  It was so warm on the surface, that Kevin decided to go for a quick dip in Whaler's Cove while we waited for Phil to deposit his trailer.  The viz was insanely good in the shallows at Lobos.  We could see the bottom fromt he boat both in the cove, and a bit outside of it, over Middle Reef.

We had a nice easy ride out to Yankee Point; I think Rob drove the whole way.  When we got down in the vicinity of the site, everyone got their GPS out (because apparently everyone needs their own), and eventually we found the 150' spot.  We were planning to do a multi-level dive, with the deep segment at the bottom of Birthday Wall, and then we would scooter over to a spot that is about 600' north of there.  So we told Phil to expect us our bag about 600' north.  Due to past shenanigans when diving off of the RIB, I brought along a hand-held radio in a canister.  On the drive down, I asked Rob if he had brought it.  He said that it was in the van, but he couldn't bring it because there was no room for it on his harness.  I found this slightly annoying, but then I realized that it was just as ridiculous that I didn't want to carry it.  So I tried it out on my harness, and there was indeed just enough room for it, my light canister, my two bullet weights, and the bucket to hold it all in place.  So I brought it along, and told Phil that we'd have it with us.  Anyhoo, even thought it was pretty calm, getting geared up seemed a bit of a pain, probably because I'm out of practice with getting geared up on the RIB!  We eventually rolled in, and found not a lot of current, and really good viz looking down the line.  We headed down the line, and after a pause at 20' for a bubble check, we were off.  I think I made pretty good time getting down to the plateau.  Once there, we switched to backgas, I shimmied my gear around to tighten my waist strap, and then we were off.  The viz was really good at the plateau, though when we got to the bottom, it was a little darker than I expected, considering how clear the water was on the way down and how bright the sun was that day.  But the viz was at least 60 to 80 feet.  It was probably even better than that.  It was so good that it was a bit disorienting to see so much of the site at once!

We headed down the wall to the sand, and out along the way to the flaggie spot.  Along the way, we passed a big school of juvenile rockfish.  I'm not totally sure what kind they were; I think it was the now-usual school of silvery juveniles, but it was just background scenery so I didn't get to look too close.  As we headed along the wall, we saw a couple of ratfish (one at a time).  I guess this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, since they seem to always be around there.  Along the wall, I also saw quite a few starry rockfish, juvenile pygmies, and juvenile halfbandeds.  Eventually we came to a spot where Kevin pointed out one ratfish just as I was pointing out another.  Then as I turned to show them to Rob, I realized there was a flag rockfish poking out of a rubble pile right below me.  I didn't even realize we'd made it all the way out to Flaggle Rock... like I said, the good viz was a bit disorienting!  Not long after that, we saw another flaggie a few rubble piles over.  And to add to that, at this point there were about a dozen Boccaccio and three ratfish just meandering around in the area.  It was insane!  We saw a lot of boccaccio here on the first dive we ever did at this site, but since then, I haven't seen them in any large numbers.  So we basically just hung out there, watching the fish swim by for the rest of the deep segment of the dive.

Juvenile halfbanded rockfish
Eventually it was time to move shallower, so we headed to the top of the wall and out into the abyss, headed toward the north spot.  It was a much better day to be scootering out into the blue; the viz was really good.  After just a minute or so, I could see a shadow in the distance, and we hit a pinnacle.  It was the one we were looking for, which we had visited on a previous dive.  It has a very distinctive crack with some really lush gorgonians in it.  Since we were quite a bit shallower here, it was much brighter and so the viz seemed even better.  It was incredibly clear and blue.  It was also really cold.  Eventually it came time to start the ascent, so off we went.

Juvenile canary rockfish
I was really cold for basically all of deco.  Kevin was surprised when I launched into my bottle rotation at 70' as soon as Rob finished his.  But I figured the longer I waited, the less my fingers would work!  There were not too many deco critters to keep us entertained on deco.  There were a bunch of those long skinny jelly things that look like yellow pipe cleaners, with a little head at one end (Clinton told me the name, but I can't remember it).  At 20', there was a really long one, probably at least 15' long.  We heard the boat when we were at 50' and again when we were at 20', so that was good.  Looking up from 20', it didn't look as nice as it had when we dropped in.  Like I said, i was really cold on deco.  But somehow about 20 minutes into our 20' stop, I got over it.  I don't know if it was just a teeny bit warmer at 20' or if I just got over it.  But either way, I finally stopped counting the seconds down until deco was over :)  I've decided that I just don't like doing backgas breaks on 12/65, for a purely psychological reason.  The gas is so "easy to breathe" that I feel like I'm not breathing anything.  It's a pretty strange sensation, but I just don't like it.  Frank has told me stories of people bringing in regs and complaining that they are used to regs being harder to breathe.  So I guess it's something like that :)  Rob's shoulder was bothering him a bit, so we ended up padding our 20' stop and our ascent up from 20'.

Juvenile pygmy rockfish
When we hit the surface, it was FOGGY.  Like "oh shit" foggy.  I saw the boat after about 10 seconds, but for the first 10 seconds, I was thinking I was glad I brought the radio.  Apparently very thick fog rolled in shortly after we got in (which probably explains why it was darker than expected at depth), and it actually improved a bit while we were in the water.  Rob tried a new technique for reboarding the boat, since that often bothers his shoulder.  It took a bit more time to negotiate that, so I was on the surface for quite a while before I finally reboarded the boat.  But it was a nice day for a surface float.  Getting back on the boat went pretty well for me.  It was a super slow ride back, since we were in thick fog and thus going VERY slowly.  Also, I think at some point we got a bit off track, since we were going off the instruments.  The long slow ride plus the complete lack of sunlight made for a very cold ride home.  But eventually we found Lobos, and we even shot the gap between some of the outer rocks (Honeymoon I think).  When we got to the far side of bluefish, we ran into (well not literally) Luke, who was out there on a kayak.  Right at Lobos, the fog was not as bad, but you could see the fog bank just offshore.  While we waited for Phil to get his trailer, we marveled at the viz in the cove.  I told Rob that even though we had an awesome dive, I was sort of sad not to be doing a shallow dive at Lobos in such epic viz.  But there was still the rest of the weekend to make up for that :)