It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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