It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Nice Day in Big Sur

With Rob finally back from his big unemployment vacation, Team Kitty was on the Escapade for a tech charter.  As the weekend approached, the forecast was looking very good, but after our last epic fail attempt at Big Sur, I was not counting my chickens.  I was just hoping for a good dive at least as far south as Yankee Point :)  We did end up making it down to Big Sur, where we found much nicer conditions than last time (no whitecaps), as well as bright sunny blue skies that would hopefully mean bright water at the bottom.  Unfortunately we could not return to Sur D to try to retrieve our lost ball, since its depth wasn't appropriate for some of the divers on the boat, so we went to Sur 19 instead.  (I'm not sure if it's legal to say "unfortunately" and "we went to Sur 19" in the same sentence.)

Our team was the first in the water, and there was practically no surface current.  Once I realized that, I was just kind of bobbing on the surface, waiting for Rob and Kevin to join me at the ball.  Ahh, perfect Big Sur conditions.  We headed down the line, which was pretty limp for the first 90 or so feet, and then it flattened out, with a bit of a current just on top of the pinnacle.  It was nothing too substantial -- we spent most of the dive video'ing and taking pictures without the aid of our scooters, though at the end of the dive the current picked up to the point where I was using my scooter to position myself to pose in pictures (though Rob was still kicking to take pictures, but he's harder core than me).  But enough about the current.  The viz was excellent!  On the way down the line, I could see the whole site below me, and when we got to the bottom, we were greeted with very bright clear water.

Aside from the usual ginormous heads of pink and purple hydrocoral, there was the ever-present school of blue rockfish, though it wasn't particularly big today.  There were also a decent number of young rockfish, most of which were also blues, I think.  We found a mass of kelp greenling eggs on one head of hydrocoral, and elsewhere I found a kelp greenling that was acting territorial, though I couldn't find any nearby eggs.  Rob got some nice pictures and I got some pretty good video (pat self on back), so I will let those tell the rest of the story about the awesome conditions on the bottom!

On the ascent, we met a few playful sea lions who buzzed us several times.  This was fun, but it was just getting us prepared for dive 2, which was at Lobos Rocks.  Woohoo.  The wind was out of the south by the time we got up there, which made it difficult to anchor the boat on the south side, so we ended up liveboating, sort of.  When we got in the water, a bit further south of the pinnacles than usual, I looked down the kelp from the surface, and I could see a loooong way.  It looked like viz was going to be excellent here to.

We headed over to whether the sea lions like to zoom about on the west rock, and were playing with them for a while.  It was quite calm, even at 10 to 15 feet, which is where I was for the first 15 or so minutes, videoing and just generally watching the sea lions zoom around.  Eventually I noticed Rob and going a bit deeper, I figured to look for some green anemones to shoot, but I wanted to stay up with the sea lions, so I did not follow.  I assumed he would come back up to the shallows before moving on. But then after a minute or so, I realized that he was no longer down there, and he was just nowhere in sight.  At this point, Clinton and John had appeared, and were taking pictures and hanging out on the same ledge where I was watching the sea lions.  I asked them if I could hang out with them until my team re-appeared.

I pretty much went on with my dive for 5 or so minutes, but then when the kitties still had not returned, I figured I should go to the surface, since they might be there looking for me.  So I scootered south, away from the pinnacle (didn't want to surface in the whitewater) and surfaced.  I immediately saw Rob's bag, and saw that the boat was communicating with Rob and Kevin.  I guess they had been on the surface long enough that the boat was looking for me.  Oops.  So we met back up,  but I decided to thumb the dive, since I was at that point (20+ minutes at 10-15 feet) feeling a little bit seasick :)  I can never last more than 20 minutes that shallow at Lobos Rocks!  So I returned to the boat, and Rob and Kevin dropped back down for a bit longer.

Eventually everyone finished their dives, and we picked them up, and headed home.  The ride home was uneventful... no orcas :(

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cordell Bank 2013

In October, BAUE spent three days diving at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  I've wanted to dive Cordell for years, and this year, it finally came together, thanks to a lot of planning work on Matt Vieta and Jim Capwell's part.  After failing to find a suitable dive boat close to Cordell, we eventually landed on moving the Escapade from Monterey to Bodega Bay.  We had a weather window of about 12 days (not sure I counted that right), and the plan was to watch the forecast, and if there was a window where we could get the boat up, dive, and get the boat back to Monterey, we would go.  As it turned out, the weather was perfect during the first week of our weather window, so on Monday afternoon, we got the official call that we would be attempting a dive on Tuesday morning.  The boat made it to Bodega Bay in much better time than expected, and then for the next 3 days, we had flat flat seas for the 20+ mile trip out to the bank from Bodega Bay.

It's taken me a long time to finish this report, mostly because I didn't really think that the report could possibly do the trip justice.  The diving was amazing!  Clinton put it best when he said something along the lines of how great it is when something you've dreamed about for years actually lives up to your expectations.  The second reason that it's taken a while to finish the report is that I've also spent a lot of time recently on video editing, making different versions of videos for different uses.  (And I'm still working on a final "project" video, which will have more than just footage from the dives.)  I've included a video per day in each of the posts, and a short summary video here.

Considering how delayed this report is, I will forgo the one-post-a-day thing, and just post it all at once.  So, without further ado...

Craine's Point
Northern East Ridge
Northern West Ridge
Not Diving in Fog

I don't think the report actually does do the trip justice, but hopefully the photos and video can help.  All of that is posted in the BAUE gallery.

Thanks to everyone who made the trip possible, including Matt, Jim, the crew of the Escapade, NOAA and the Cordell NMS people, the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory (which provided housing), and Anywater Sports.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Go Big and Go Home

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Saturday was another BAUE tech charter.  It was a light load today, with just John, Clinton, Jim and me on the boat.  The light load was mostly due to Rob and Kevin being in Florida, cave diving without me (grumble) as they celebrated Rob's (self-inflicted) unemployment.  The forecast was, as far as I knew, good but not great, so I was a bit surprised when there was talk of Big Sur.  Somewhere along the ride down, we came up with the idea of trying a new spot in Big Sur, Sur D.  It took a bit of scrounging around to find the numbers for the site (and in the process, I texted Rob and Matt, who was also in Florida, asking if they had the numbers with them), but in the end, Jim had them.  So we decided that if we could make it to Big Sur, that is where we'd go.  My desire to go there may have been just a little bit motivated by the fact that Rob, Kevin, and Matt were all in Florida, so going to a new dive site in Big Sur seemed like the ultimate revenge.  So, not the best reason in the world to motivate a dive plan...

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We got to Yankee Point, which was definitely diveable, though there was the occasional whitecap about.  However, we continued on down the coast, and maybe halfway between Yankee and Point Sur, conditions had deteriorated to whitecaps in all directions.  Every time the boat slowed down for any reason, we were sure that Mike and Jim were going to turn it around.  But astonishingly, we made it all the way out to Big Sur Banks.  There was a stiff wind, but barely any swell to speak of.  If we had this kind of wind on top of any swell at all, I'm sure we would have been deterred, but it kind of looked "flat" even though it was choppy as hell from the wind.  We got to Sur D, and found the spot, and dropped the ball.  As I was getting geared up, I was wondering if I would regret it when it was time to get back on the boat, which I was sure would be quite challenging in this wind.  Our plan was to dive as a team of four, but with primary buddies (me with Jim).  So Jim and I got in first.  By the time Jim had cleared the swimstep and I could jump, the boat had already drifted downwind of the ball.  Oops.  

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We got on the trigger and headed toward the ball.  We scootered for a while, at top speed, and we were still really far from the ball.  So we scootered some more, and we were still really far from the ball.  It seemed like we were making progress for a while, but then it started to seem like we weren't.  The second team was dropped, and they were actually upwind when they got in, but I think by the time they had scooters, maybe not.  Eventually we stopped to regroup and decided to give it just a bit longer, so we got back on the trigger, and gave it maybe another two minutes, and at that point, it seemed like we were further from the ball than we had been two minutes ago.  So at that point we gave up, and shortly after that, so did the other team.  Given the conditions, redeploying further up-current wasn't an option;  I knew that after getting back on the boat, I wasn't going to be up for another dive just right then.  The boat came around to get us, and I was a bit confused about whether I was supposed to wait for the boat, or scooter to the boat.  Jim scootered and I waited, so we ended up separated.  When he got to the swimstep, I realized there was no way I could catch up with the boat in this wind, so I just had to hang out and wait.  The boat was drifting away really fast, and I was getting further and further from it, so I put up my bag.  There wasn't much in the way of swell, but whitecaps were breaking over my head occasionally.  Finally the boat spun around and got me, and actually staying with the boat was not as bad as I expected, but it was still not what you'd call a graceful exit from the water :)  

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We retrieved Clinton and John, and then we went to retrieve the ball.  That was a whole other ordeal.  They were at it for a while, I'd say 15 or 20 minutes, and eventually the line came up without the ball... with a sheared off boltsnap at the end of the ball.  And it wasn't even sheared off at the hollow part of the shaft, it was at the solid part!  So that was an extra eff you from the ocean; not only could we not dive, but we lost our ball (good reason to go back though!).  So, we headed back north, thinking we'd hit Yankee Point, which had been just lovely on the way down.  But of course, by the time we got back up there, conditions were terrible.  But more shocking, conditions were terrible the whole way back up to Monterey.  And it wasn't just rough; it was SLOW.  I swear it took like 2 hours to get from Lobos to Pinos :)  Okay, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like it took that long!  Coming around Cypress Point took forever.  It's like we just weren't making forward progress.  And it was strange, because if you looked out across the water, it didn't look "rough".  The swell wasn't bit, and yes there were some whitecaps, but not insanely many.  But those little swells were super steep, and the seas were very confused.  When we finally made it to Pinos, we were all just relieved to be back.  When we got into the bay, we were offered our choice of dive sites.  Our choice of two, that is :P  There was some talk of just calling it a day, but after being on the boat for 6 hours, I was going diving!  So we ended up at Kawika's, since we'd just been to Mile Buoy the previous weekend.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
We decided to dive as a team of four, and to leave the scooters on the boat.  Thankfully, it was very flat at Kawika's.  The visibility on the bottom was pretty good (for Kawika's) but not excellent.  The fish life was quite good on the dive; we saw a bunch of big lings, including one super monster lingzilla.  And I saw another brown rockfish.  It wasn't an awesome dive, but we were just all happy to get a dive in after the journey.  We were visited by a bunch of sea lions on deco, which was fun :)

After our short ride back to the dock, the sun was already low in the sky.  Long day for a dive at Kawika's!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Winter" Boat Diving

Basket star
Photo by Clinton Bauder
On Saturday, Matt and I were on a tech boat.  Rob and Kevin were both out of town, in Florida, cave diving without me :(  The forecast looked really bad.  It was something like 20 to 30 knot winds, with a steep medium-big swell (something like 8 feet at 8 seconds).  I had no hope of a successful boat outing, and didn't really understand why we were bothering to drive down to Monterey at all.  But I guess some people on the boat really wanted to go diving, so, we had to at least drive down.  Matt and I carpooled, and on the drive down, we discussed where we would be going for breakfast :)  As we approached Monterey, the bay looked pretty flat, and the flag on the flagpole by Del Monte was limp.  Kind of surprising, given the forecast.

Brown rockfish
Photo by Clinton Bauder
So we loaded the boat and headed out.  Close in, it was pretty flat, but the conditions deteriorated surprisingly quickly.  All of a sudden there were pretty big swells stacked up on each other.  We didn't even make it to Eric's Pinnacle before turning the boat around, and even then, Mike told Jim he couldn't believe it took him so long to come up to the wheelhouse to turn it around :P  Then turning around was a little scary (for me, probably not so much for Mike and Jim).  So, we had two choices for diving, Kawika's or Mile Buoy.  I'm generally more of a fan of Kawika's, but Clinton thought that Mile Buoy would be less stirred up with this swell, so that's where we went.  Even though it was really rough so close in, at Mile Buoy it was super calm.  No wind at all, and not much swell.

Wasted sea star
Photo by Clinton Bauder
We hopped into the water and found that on top, the viz was quite good.  We left our scooters on the boat, and on the way down the line, I kind of felt like I didn't know how to get down the line without a scooter to speed things up.  It seemed like it took forever to descend!  Unfortunately at the bottom, things were a bit stirred up, but the viz was probably above average for Mile Buoy.  And it was very bright for a deep Bay dive.  We meandered around, and saw the typical Mile Buoy stuff... a couple of  Tochuinas, and quite a few basket stars.

There were just a few things that I considered notable.  First, I saw a brown rockfish, which I almost never see.  In fact, I never see them so much, that I wasn't 100% sure that it was a brown rockfish, and was planning to quiz Clinton about it once we got back on the boat.  Luckily Clinton got a picture of it, so it was very easy to confirm that.  Second, I finally got to see the sea star wasting disease that everyone has been talking about.  "Got to see" doesn't sound right, since it is not a very pleasant thing to look at (or to have, I guess, if you are a sea star).  Some of those starfish (yes, I just used the term "starfish") look like something chomped a leg off, except that the leg is sitting right next to it, so you know that's not what happened!  It's really not a nice looking thing to see, but Clinton got some "good" pictures of it, in terms of documentation.  Finally, there were a nice number of juvenile rockfish.  Maybe that's not notable, since there seem to be a nice number of juvenile rockfish everywhere these days! :)

Deco visitors
Deco was pretty nice, since the viz was outstanding.  There were lots of sea nettles, only one of which nailed me, and we were frequently visited by a bunch of sea lions.  It's funny, the sea lions were all over us and one other team, but the other teams said they didn't see any sea lions at all.  When we surfaced, our bag was quite close to one of the other teams (who got sea lion action), and the boat was sitting not too far away, just hanging out there, since it was dead flat.  Even flatter, I think, than it had been when we got in.  It was also sunny with clear blue skies; just a super nice day out on the bay.  So I started to swim to the boat, since I didn't know if we were too close to the other bag.  Once we got swimming, the crew told us that they had intended to do a pickup, but since we were already swimming, we told them we would come to them.  So that gives you an idea of how calm it was; we volunteered to swim (no scooters) to the boat at the end of the dive :P

Once we collected the other teams, we headed in, and were back at the dock before noon!