It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pickup Rec Boat

The Escapade was available on Saturday, so we organized a last minute recreational charter.  It was supposed to be pretty windy, though after the backwards conditions on Friday, we didn't really know what to expect.  As it turns out, we were able to make it all the way to Flintstones.  Woohoo.  And when we got in the water, we found not much current.  We brought scooters anyway, though we didn't cover too much ground, since Rob was shooting macro.

The viz was not particularly wonderful for the first half of the dive or so.  It was green and fairly murky, maybe 20 feet of viz.  There were quite a lot of juvenile rockfish about, though it didn't compare to the insanely thick school of them that we saw the day before.  I didn't really feel like I had brought my macro-critter-peeping A-game, but I tried to find a few subjects for Rob.  We were pretty deep at the beginning (up to 100'), not too far from the metridium wall.  Eventually we came around the pinnacle a bit (counterclockwise), and settled in an area that had really good viz.  It was really strange.  We came over a shallower plateau and then back down to the wall on the other side, and once we were below about 70 feet, it was so clear and bright!  I don't know what was going on.  It was still green, but in all other respects, it seemed like we were in a completely different patch of water.  We saw some fishies in cracks, but mostly I was just marveling at the anomalous viz, while Rob took some pictures.  Then when it was about time to end the dive, we headed back to where we started, killed some time right by the anchor, and then headed up.

It was pretty calm when we surfaced.  We headed north for the second dive.  We were planning to go to Outer Pinnacles, but when we got there, there was another (private) dive boat anchored there.  So we were forced to dive Locals' Ledge, what a bummer :P  The viz there was similarly weird as it was at Flintstones.  The viz was pretty terrible up on top, but around 70' or so, there was a crisp line below which the viz was excellent, and bright.  I don't get it, but I suppose one shouldn't question surprise good viz.  We went over to Rob's favorite hydrocoral spot, and wandered around there a bit.  After heading back, we had two cool finds.  First, I found a crab running across the bottom, carrying and attempting to snack on a sea urchin.  It was so cute!  Then Kevin found a juvenile wolf eel, who was surprisingly tolerant of lights, strobes, etc. being pointed at it.  Those little red spotted eels are so pretty!

On the way up, the viz was bad and it was also kind of a washing machine above 30'.  I actually temporarily lost the team on the move from 30' to 20'.  I guess we were at slightly different depths and the surge blew me around differently than them.  I don't really know how it happened, but it took a bit of looking around to find them (though honestly I'm not sure they even noticed I was missing).  After that I suggested we just get the heck out of there.

All in all, a nice day of diving.  Making it to Flintstones on a rec boat is always a treat, though I think I preferred the second dive because of those two nice finds.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Another Rocky Day on the M.V. Sammet

Team Kitty was back out on Phil's boat again on Friday.  I'm trying to cram in as much Friday diving as possible right now.  The forecast looked pretty good, though the reality was somewhat different from that.  It was pretty rocky once we were outside of Whaler's, and as we headed around the point, it just got worse.  At some point, a bit past the E3 area, it was sort of scary rough, so we stopped there to discuss.  We decided to peek around the point, to see if the conditions were any different there, and then turn back if they were not.  After a rough ride around the point, conditions actually calmed down a lot, much to my surprise.  There were still whitecaps around, but it wasn't scary big.  There was some patchy fog around, which was a bit of a concern.  Based on that, we decided to go to Birthday Wall, and come up the main peak (rather than scootering to one of the other peaks).  This way we could come right back to the line to shoot our bag, in case the fog moved in over the area.

When we got to the site, we drove around looking at the depth sounder, as usual, and we found a slightly shallower spot than usual, in the 130s.  We can never usually find that spot.  So, we dropped anchor, got geared up, which was only mildly barf-inducing, and rolled into the water.  We headed down the line into sort of murky but bright green water.  I wouldn't call the viz bad, but there was a good bit of particulate in the water column.  It cleared up as we got deeper, but then it was darker.  Not as dark as it sometimes is at the start of the wall there though.  Overall I would call the viz pretty good.  It was also pretty cold.  We hit the structure shallower than usual, which came as a surprise as I descended.  I think there are two peaks right next to each other, and one comes a bit shallower.  I'm pretty sure the first time we ever went to the site, we anchored on the shallower of the two (which comes to about 130'), but since then, we've always ended up on the deeper (which comes to about 150').  There were a lot of juvenile rockfish on the pinnacle; more on that later.

We headed down the wall, and pretty much right after we got to the bottom, Kevin's scooter crapped out.  Doh.  He did not require a tow however, since we were moving with the current at that point.  There is often a current in that direction here, and it was a bit more than usual, but not ripping or anything.  Since we were just drifting with the current, and we'd started at the further (from the deep wall) pinnacle, I wasn't sure that we'd make it to Flaggle Rock.  But before you know it, I recognized the rock pile where they like to hang out.  I looked around for them a bit and couldn't find any :(  So I looked around at the wall next to it a bit.  There were the usual assortment of juveniles and "red rockfish" and some lings.  In the deep portion of the dive, the fish life was good, but not particularly epic, compared to how it often is.  Then at some point I looked back to the rock pile, and a flaggie had appeared!  He was just sitting there, tucked against a rock, waiting to be admired.  I pointed him out to Rob, who got to work taking pictures.  It was pretty much time go to, so once we head done, we started up the wall, when a ratfish appeared!  I thought it was a pretty big specimen, though Rob and Kevin didn't really agree.  He was swimming down the wall, bumping along, as Rob got a few pictures.  Then it was really time to go, so we headed up and in along the wall.

Now we were going against the current, so I figured eventually Kevin would ask for a tow.  He swam for a while, we eventually stopped to go onto our 190' bottles, and then finally after a bit more swimming, I think he got a pretty brief tow from Rob.  We returned to the shallow pinnacle, which was completely engulfed in juvenile (err, YOY) rockfish.  It was completely disorienting to be in the swarm.  I took some video of it, and then I had to extricate myself, so I could get my bearings.  Then I just hung off of the pinnacle for a bit, watching them.  We were right next to the anchor line at this point, so when the time came, we headed up the line, and shot the bag somewhere during the deep stops.  We stayed on the line through the 70' and 60' stops (which was fairly annoying, because there was a little current), and then started to drift.  The viz got markedly worse at about 50'; it was still really bright, but there were lots of particles (which looked white to me) hanging in the water.  It got a little warmer too, but not by much.

When we surfaced, the sun still hadn't really come out, but the wind had completely laid down.  The ride back was crazy flat, though foggy.  I couldn't believe how much it had changed in just a couple of hours.  The super sporty ride around the point was dead calm, but then there was also fog basically right up to Whaler's Cove (making the ride back a bit scary in a different way, especially with Kevin driving :P).  While we were waiting for Phil to bring the trailer back, we noticed that the rock off to the south of the ramp has a nesting sea gull on it.  The babies were still fuzzy and apparently couldn't fly.  Very cute.  She was not too appreciative of us buzzing around her rock though.  (That reminds me, on the way out, we also saw a sea otter with her baby, in Whaler's Cove.  Maybe the same one I saw there two weeks ago.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Not Diving the Epic Viz in Carmel

The kitties stayed over in Monterey on Friday night, for a BAUE tech boat on Saturday.  The forecast was looking pretty bad; I think there may have even been a small craft advisory on.  Though these days I think that's de rigeur.  But we weren't about to let that deter us, not after seeing the awesome viz in Carmel the day before.  I even remembered to have a half bonine (after the unfortunate incident the day before, where I remembered when we were on the boat).  So out we went.  Conditions weren't too bad in the bay.  We started to come around the point, and it got a bit snotty.  Then we got smacked by a big gust of wind, the boat rolled a bit, and suddenly we were turning around, tail between legs.  Hmph.  Well at least we tried.  So we retreated to Kawika's Garden.  When we got there and the downline was dropped, Jim noted that the water looked good down the line.  Then he noted that he had probably just jinxed us.

So, into the water we went.  Rob and I didn't bother with scooters, though Kevin brought his, as a platform for his video camera.  As we headed down the line, we quickly found that Jim had, indeed, jinxed us.  Well, the viz wasn't horrible.  On the bottom it was probably like 20 feet.  From what I'd heard recently, that's actually pretty good for the bay.  But not what we had become accustomed to after yesterday's dive :)  The drop down the line was slow and pretty painful to my ears.  Oddly, it was my other ear that was problematic today.  (In hindsight, after the dive was over, I would say that the dive was probably not worth the descent.)  So we got to the bottom, and meandered around.  We didn't see anything super awesome on the dive.  There were a fair number of lingcods, and otherwise the usual assortment of fish.  There were some groups of juveniles, but nothing like the bigger schools that we've seen recently.

It was quite cold on the bottom.  My gauge had 48 degrees.  So it wasn't as cold as the clear water in Carmel, but it was relatively cold for the bay.  I was quite chilly, though perhaps that was residual coldness from the day before (I've often wondered about this... if I do back-to-back days of long cold dives, I feel colder after the first day; is there really anything to that?).  I was trying to find some photo subjects for Rob, but nothing that I found ended up making the cut.  The best thing I found was an interracial Geitodoris heathi couple with an egg mass.  I love it when you can see both color forms in one shot.  After the dive, I mentioned that I would have liked to see a Tochuina.  Then Rob said "oh I saw one".  What the heck!?!  Isn't this what dive buddies are for?  To point out the good nudibranchs?  And not only did he see one, but he photographed it!  Grumble.  (Apparently the nudi formerly known as Tochuina is now officially "Tritonia gigantea" but I am in denial.)

Deco was interesting, only because of the massive temperature shift.  As I mentioned, I had 48 degrees on the bottom.  By the time we got to 20 feet, I had 59 degrees.  So warm!  I don't think I've ever seen such a big temperature swing on a local dive before.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Like Riding a Bicycle

Friday marked my triumphant return to diving.  After five weekends (that's over a month!) out of the water, I finally got to get wet again, with Team Kitty (proper) aboard the M.V. Phil Sammet.  We made the date a while back (at the recent dive show actually, which I suppose I should have blogged about), and my return to the ear-clearing coincided nicely with the date.  Of course the forecast looked like it was going to be windy.  But after a month of strong winds (even up in the bay area), this wasn't really much of a surprise.  When I voiced my concern about this, Rob said that since we were on Phil's boat, it wasn't a concern :)  But as we drove into Monterey, I was happy to see that the flag at Del Monte was very very limp.  And as we considered our options for dive sites in the Lobos parking lot, it didn't really seem windy at all.  We talked about trying a new (Phil) spot up around Outer Outer Pinnacles, but because of the wimpiness of my dive buddies, we ended up settling on Ed Cooper's Wall as a destination (wimpy in the sense that they didn't want to risk an unknown site and have a bad dive).  Once we headed out, however, we found that it really was windy!  In fact, by the time we got to about the Hole in the Wall area, there were whitecaps.  Oy oy oy.  The viz was also atrocious on the way out.  The water in the cove looked like mud.

As we headed out toward the point, I joked that we might end up at "plan C" (Great Pinnacle), diving our 190 bottles.  After putting my hood on (it was really wet!), I wondered if we should consider something around the Deep E3 area.  But Phil said there would really be no difference between that and the Ed Cooper's area, so we continued out in that direction.  And then at some point not much later, it was abruptly suggested that maybe the Outer Outer Pinnacles area would be better.  I'm not really sure what transpired in that short period of time to change the sentiment, but we all agreed.  As we headed that way, I suddenly remembered (and blurted out) Little Cow Canyon.  For some reason, when we were discussing 15/55 dives in that area earlier, I had completely forgotten about it.  I pitched it to the guys... when I thought of it, I immediately thought of crinoids, a cowcod, and a purple sea fan.  But I couldn't remember if there was really a purple sea fan there (or if it had just erroneously popped into my head), so I left that out.  After reminding the boys about the site, we decided to head there.  And then began the longest ride to the pinnacles area that I can imagine.  It was a really wet, windy ride.  I was on the windy side of the boat, and after getting pummeled by the water one too many times, I decided to sit on the deck, cowering between the tube and the console, for the rest of the ride.  There were a couple reports of dolphins, but I couldn't see any of them from my position.  At some point I mentioned (in comparison) the worst ride we had ever had on Phil's boat, and the funny thing was that Rob and Kevin instantly knew which day I was talking about.  Kevin pulled out Rob's GPS when we were 1.4 miles from the site, and he was counting down the distance from the site.  Oh man, I couldn't believe how slow the countdown went.  It seemed like we were never going to get there.  Then, as we were finally approaching the mark, there was some doubt about the existence of the site, or perhaps the validity of the GPS mark.  It wasn't looking good on the depth sounder.  But then, right as we approached the mark, alas, we started to see some relief, and before you know it, we found a 150 to 220 drop.  Phew.

So after getting our butts kicked getting to the site, I was expecting the gearing up to be pretty uncomfortable.  But for whatever reason, once we were at the spot, the wind seemed a bit calmer, and it was pretty comfortable once we were at anchor.  As we were getting geared up, Kevin made some comment about seasickness meds.  Doh!  That's what I forgot.  I really am out of practice.  By the time we were ready to roll into the water, I was feeling a little seasick, but once I flopped into the water, that was all gone.  We found not much in the way of surface current, and fairly clear water even on top.  We convened at 20 feet on the downline in order to do bubble checks and the like, and then we continued down.  Somewhere between 40 and 50 feet, my ear locked up and it really really did not want to clear.  It took me about two minutes to get from 40 to 50 feet, and I think another minute to get from 50 to 60 feet.  I was about the call the dive when it started to get a bit easier, and I eventually made it to the bottom (though I clocked 9 minutes to get to 100 feet!).  The good news was that the viz was really really good below about 60 feet.  (Even above that it was pretty good, but with a lot of particulate in the water.)  The good viz was, unsurprisingly, accompanied by COLD water.  I mean COLD.  My gauge was bouncing back and forth between 44 and 46 while we were on the bottom.  I know that gauges vary, but my gauge basically never reads below 46 around here, so I think it was legitimately colder than usual.  Anyhoo, we ended up approaching the site from the northeast.  There are a series of ridges that run east-west, so we were pretty much at the east end of the northern most ridge.  From there, it is just sand if you look to the north, though we know there is eventually another ridge out there (that we have never seen).

So we followed the north side of the ridge to the west, where the bottom gets deeper.  Almost immediately upon heading in that direction, we met a purple seafan.  Yay!  Rob was shooting macro, so he just looked at it for a bit and didn't attempt to take pictures (grumble, he really couldn't have gotten at least like a shot of one bit of it?!)  Kevin took some video, so hopefully something will come of that.  We continued along the ridge, and as we got a bit deeper, I saw a crinoid.  The last time we were here, there was a patch at the western tip where there were about a dozen crinoids.  So I pointed this one out to Kevin and assumed there'd be a lot more where that came from later.  Turns out that this wasn't the case.  When we got to the spot at the end of the ridge, I eventually found one more crinoid, but that was it.  We did find of strange-looking worm.  Rob got  some pictures of it, but you can't really see the whole thing (the problem with macro, though I think the pictures would have been worse, at least for ID purposes, with wide-angle).  Very near to the worm, while Rob was taking pictures of it, I found a slinky looking fish curled up on top of the reef.  But I eventually got bored waiting to show it to Rob, so I just moved along.  Not too long after that, Rob had moved over to the next ridge (just across the narrow canyon, maybe 15 feet away) and he signaled me excitedly, to show me another of the same kind of fish.  If I had known he would be that excited about it, I would have waited around longer to show him the first one :)  Clinton called it a longfin gunnel, though I don't know if that ID is for certain.

Once we were over on that adjacent ridge, we found a couple more interesting critters.  While Rob was shooting the gunnel, seemingly forever, I found a little white speck on an orange sponge.  I couldn't figure out exactly what I was looking at, for a couple of reasons.  First, it was tiny, like Okenia felis tiny.  Second, one lens of my masking had been fogging terribly for most of the dive.  It made it really hard to focus on something tiny.  So while I was sure it was "something", I couldn't tell if it was a tiny slug or a tiny sea cucumber (or a tiny shrimp or shrimp-like critter was even a possibility).  But I couldn't just swim away without making Rob take some pictures so I would know.  Turns out it was a tiny cucumber, though I know nothing more about it.  Next was a basket star.  Just a basket star, but it was unfurled in a very aesthetically pleasing manner, in my opinion.  Very symmetric.

It was then about time to head shallower, so we headed to the top of the ridge and back to the east, where it got shallower.  Once we were at a 160'-ish spot, we switched onto our 190 bottles.  Right after we did that, Rob pointed to the downline, which we were very close to.  We poked around there for a while.  On the south side of that ridge, there was a slope rather than a dropoff, and the slope was covered with a carpet of young rockfish.  I'm not sure what they were, but there were a zillion of them.  After a few more minutes near the downline, and a couple of Dirona sightings, we decided to continue east, to see if things got even shallower.  And indeed they did.  We were, for the most part, heading along a canyon, then we crossed a little boulder field, where there was a pretty interesting pile of big boulders on the bottom, and then we came to a shallower ridge that eventually led us to a spot coming to 100'.  That seemed to be the shallowest it got (within sight anyway), before it then sloped back down a bit deeper.

We decided to start our ascent there.  The ascent started with a small blunder that is too funny not to recount.  In the interest of what happens in the water stays in the water, I won't identify the blunderer.  We started our ascent and at the first stop (90' I guess), the bag-boy went to deploy the bag.  He had a bit of a buoyancy blunder, no big deal, and when I looked up a couple feet to see if everything was alright, there was no bag.  Apparently the spool jammed (not sure if that is the technical term) and he had to let it go.  The main reason that this was so funny was that the last time Rob and Kevin did a dive without me (while I was waiting on Phil's boat), the exact same thing happened!  Anyway, a second bag was quickly deployed, so there was no problem.  But we all had a good laugh.  I guess Phil is getting used to the double bag deployment.

Deco was sort of interesting, because there were a number of small things bothering me.  First, I was a bit underweighted.  I got a new undergarment recently, and on the first dive with it, I added 3 pounds.  But that seemed like too much, I felt noticeably overweighted, so I decided to not add anything today.  I figured in the worst case, I would have an empty 80 at the end of the dive which I could send up the line.  So I did just that.  I felt pretty lame to put my bottle up the line (especially when someone else was running the bag, but I wasn't about to send the last bag amongst us to the surface if it wasn't truly necessary).  I always make fun of Kevin and Rob for sending their bottles up the line, joking that they should really be able to manage all of their gear.  Even after sending my bottle up, I still felt a wee bit underweighted.  (I use the same weighting with my 85s and my 120s, and I guess they probably aren't actually exactly the same, so that while the 85s required only a tiny weight adjustment, the 120s required a bit more.)  Then there was my foggy mask.  This wouldn't be such a big deal, but the descent left my sinuses in a pretty bad state.  And so every time I flooded my mask, it seemed to get just a bit harder to blow out of my nose to clear it.  So after a while, all of the sinus congestion sort of made me feel like I couldn't breathe.  And last of all, it was just SO cold.  I couldn't believe how cold I felt with a brand new undergarment.  So by the time we got to 20 feet, I was really ready to be done, and I was practically counting down the seconds.  It got a little warmer on deco, but not much.  50 degrees was the warmest that I ever saw.  The viz also got worse, but not in the usual way.  It was still bright and blue, but the water was filled with particulate.  Pretty weird to see so much junk in the water but also have it be bright blue instead of dull green.

When we got to the surface, I was expecting it to be like Armageddon, but the wind wasn't as bad as I was expecting.  The swell had picked up a bit though.  In any case, it was a relief to be able to pull my foggy mask off and blow all of the snot out of my nose (in a very ladylike way, of course).  Ahhh.  But I was pretty spent when we got to the surface, so I relied on my personal divemaster (Kevin) a bit more than usual.  First, when we got to the surface, he had the bag, and Rob and I each had a bottle on it.  Rob took his, but I asked Kevin if he could just keep it, so he handed it up to Phil on his first pass.  Then I got a bit tangled up getting my second bottle unclipped (because the clip was oriented "wrong", not that that's an excuse).  I needed a third hand to deal with it, so Kevin helped me with that.  Then I asked if he could just hold onto it, hehehe.  It wasn't until we got back on the boat that Kevin realized he had handed 5 bottles up to Phil and I had only handed up one :)

The ride back was quite nice.  One good thing about diving the Pinnacles area with Phil is that the "uphill" part of the dive is before the dive, so the ride in is very calm.  Though that didn't seem like a good thing before the dive ;)  When we got back to Whaler's, the tide had come in and the water in the cove looked much prettier.  The water right at the ramp was crystal clear.  What a difference a few hours made!

A pretty nice dive to get back into it, if a bit challenging.  I hope the report was worth the wait!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Feeling Like a Former Diver

I just posted a dive report for my most recent dive.  And yes, it was over a month ago!  A combination of travel and an epic cold (or maybe two colds) mean no diving for five consecutive weekends (including this coming weekend) :(  Kevin pointed out that this is the longest I've ever gone without diving (except for the first 24 or so years of my life).

But next week I have two days of diving scheduled.  Hopefully the viz will have cleared up by then.  And the wind.  I guess the good news is that it sounds like I haven't missed much.  Two boats that I was supposed to be on (while sick) got cancelled anyway due to the unrelenting wind we've had lately.  I think Rob has shore dived 5 days while I've been out, and only one day sounded like it was even worth diving.

Oh and the other good news is that I found an excuse to put Grumpy Cat on the blog :)