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Me 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!

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