It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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 :)

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