It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Something New at Mount Chamberlain

Not very plain-looking midshipman
Through some series of events, Rob and I ended up on the Escapade for a tech boat, with no other teams on board.  It was a pretty light boat to begin with, then we lost the other team to injury.  When we found out that we had the boat to ourselves, we mulled a change in the plan.  Rob talked to Jim on Friday afternoon and he said there was nothing in the forecast that led him to think we would have trouble getting to Yankee Point.  So we decided that we couldn't let the opportunity go to waste, so we planned a 12/65 dive.  This required some last minute scrambling to get fills (since I'd already filled our big tanks with 15/55... Rob has enough tanks to keep both fills on-hand).  But Kevin was out of town and had a set of big doubles half filled with 12/65 sitting at Anywater that we could use.  Sweet!  When we got down to Monterey on Saturday, the weather seemed cooperative.  We had four crew on the boat, since Jim had originally planned to dive, so he was there along with the 3 scheduled crew.  It was like one of those fancy resorts where you get your own personal butler :)

Tochuina tetraquetra
As expected, we did not have trouble getting to Yankee Point.  There was not too much wind, and a long period swell.  On the way down, we found a breaching humpback, which was really cool.  I don't know if I've ever seen a breaching humpback before.  There were actually two whales, I guess a mother and baby.  After attempting to get some photos and video, we tore ourselves away and continued south.  But I felt like the trip was already a success, whatever we ended up seeing on the dive!  We decided to go to the deep wall on the west side of Mount Chamberlain.  Rob recently went there with Kevin, but I sat the dive out since I wasn't feeling well.  So now that Rob had scoped the site out, and had an idea of how to do it slightly better, I wanted to go.  The nice thing about having only one team on the boat is that gearing up was pretty leisurely, since we didn't have to coordinate with other teams, and no one cared if we dilly-dallied (not that I think we really did).  So, it was one of those days where the water looked okay (though not awesome) on the surface, but as we headed down, we encountered a thick layer that, well, never really cleared up.  By the time we got to 170 or 180' (when I stopped to switch to backgas), I still could not see any structure, as I was expecting.  We landed at about 200' in the sand.  This was perplexing, because we couldn't actually be on the sand, like off of the structure, at this depth.  We had to be on top of the "mount".  But the viz was so bad that we literally couldn't see any structure around us.  So, we headed west, since it seemed likely that the west wall was in that direction :P and quickly saw some structure before coming to the dropoff at the wall.

Quillback rockfish, shy about showing his quill
I've been to the south part of this wall on a few "southwest loop" dives before, but always on 15/55.  So I knew that from 250', you could look down and the wall kept going, but I'd never been to the bottom.  Turns out the bottom (at its deepest) is just over 300'.  We followed along pretty close to the bottom, heading north, and the bottom got shallower as we got further north.  The viz was BAD.  When we were scootering along the wall in single file, I had to stay very close to Rob to be able to see him (of course if he turned around and pointed his light toward me, I could see him from quite a distance).  That long period swell was totally churning up the sand on the bottom -- I would call the viz at best a chunky 15 to 20 feet and dark.  It was also a bit surgy at that depth; not continuously so, but every now and then it would kick up.  Luckily Rob was shooting macro, and you don't need viz for that!  It was a pretty productive dive from this perspective.  We saw a Tochuina or two, a few (three, I think) quillback rockfish, a ratfish, a basket star I think, and a strange-looking long fish that we were excited to find, but I guess was just a plainfin midshipman.  It was LONG though, maybe 12 to 18 inches long.  And it had a really bluish-purple hue, which I also found unusual.  But the fish gods, errr... experts, seemed pretty certain it was just a plainfin :)  Still a pretty cute little (long) fish.  There was a school of fish hanging out on the bottom just off of the wall.  It seemed like they were following us, though there might have just been a lot of them scattered along the wall.  It was hard to tell because the viz was so bad!  There were also lots of lingcods, most of them pretty puny though.

Just a crab
Eventually we made it to a point where the bottom was in the 260s, and then it was time to go shallower.  So we headed up the wall and found a spot that was shallow enough for us to switch to our 190 bottles.  From there, we headed east.  Our goal was to find a shallower structure, ideally K2.  But finding K2 was not to be.  Instead, we found a pinnacle coming up a bit shallower than 140', and hung out there for a bit.  I found what I thought was a pretty cute crab, and convinced Rob to take some pictures of it, even though it was just a crab (apologies to any crabs reading this).  The interesting thing about our time shallower was that the viz was quite a bit better.  Still not really good, but probably about 30 feet.  I guess closer to the bottom the sand was just churned up into the water.  It was also of course a lot brighter once we came shallower, so that probably made the viz seem even better than it actually was.  After spending some time on this pinnacle, we decided to venture out to find K2, or something.  Rob wanted to head north, which didn't make any sense at all to me.  When he pointed south, I didn't think he was actually looking for K2, since I thought if anything it was to the south.  I figured he just wanted to scooter north to see if anything was there.  And no, nothing was there.  It turns out (according to the boat people) that we were actually west (and a little north) of K2.  Well, west of the whole big structure and a bit north of the peak.  We probably should have figured that out, since K2 is such a big target, it would be hard to believe we'd gone by it and not seen some part of it.  But then, the viz was quite bad.

Juvenile Pacific sanddab, maybe
Anyhoo, after a brief scooter ride into nothingness, we gave up and popped a bag.  The green water kept the deco relatively warm.  There was a surprising lack of interesting jelly life though, so it was rather boring.  Until we got to 20 feet.  I found a couple of clear fish, that looked like juvenile flatfish of some sort to me (which I only know because I've seen them on a few night dives before).  I actually saw one of these fish around 20' on the way down at the start of the dive.  So I was glad that they put in an appearance, since it gave us something to do on deco.  The fish weren't being terribly cooperative at first, but luckily there were a lot of them, so when one swam too deep to photograph, another would appear.  They were doing this really funny thing where they were "sheltering" inside of the shroud of Rob's scooter.  It reminded me of those little fish that are always tagging along in the sea nettles.  But in a scooter instead.  They would hang out inside of the shroud and then occasionally dart out.  It certainly made it easier to find them for pictures though.  With the help of the little fishies, the 20 foot stop went by reasonably quickly.  We don't have a certain ID on the fish, but Tom's guess is a juvenile Pacific sanddab.  Yum.

Once back on the boat, we headed back and made pretty good time getting back to K-dock.  Jim made us a cup o'noodles to share, and he had also brought a piece of German chocolate cake for us to share, since he didn't do the usual full food spread for the two of us.  Yum.  You know those goo packs that you can eat underwater (well, some people can eat underwater... I haven't exactly mastered that).  I've decided they should make goo packs filled with German chocolate cake filling.

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