It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, December 6, 2014


I had a cold for the entire Thanksgiving week, which sucked, since I was actually in Monterey the entire week, but couldn't dive that week or on either weekend around it.  So, I was definitely ready to get back in the water today, and the sea conditions were happy to oblige.  We made it to Yankee Point and decided to go to the Nixies.  I was diving with Rob, Kevin, and Matt.  We were diving as one team, but loosely paired up.  I had a LOT of trouble with my ears on the way down.  So much trouble that I would have given up, except that Kevin and Matt had gotten ahead of (below) us on the descent, so I couldn't just abort and send Rob with them.  Rob would have had to abort too, and then presumably Matt and Kevin would be waiting at the bottom of the line, wondering where we were, etc.  (We assumed they were at the bottom of the line, but since they weren't emitting bubbles, we didn't really know.) 

So, it took over 5 minutes to get down to the structure, where of course Kevin and Matt were waiting for us.  The viz was excellent.  Definitely worth the trouble of getting down the line :)  We headed down the structure that we landed on, and then once we got to the sand, we headed across to the sand to one of the deeper structures.  The water was very clear, though right at the bottom, it was dark, I think because we were in the shadow of the pinnacle.  Further up on the pinnacle it was much brighter, and pretty blue.  It seemed like up on the pinnacle, there were a few more gorgonians than usual for this site.  The other nice finds on the dive included a Tochuina, right at the bottom of the pinnacle, and a wolf eel.

Eventually we headed back to the original pinnacle where we started, to finish up the dive a bit shallower.  Deco was uneventful.  For the second dive, we headed to Mono Lobo, but considering how difficult the first dive had been for my ears, I sat it out.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Not Diving at E3 and the Anchor Farm

I didn't actually dive today, though I tried.  Twice.  Friday night I felt like I might be getting a cold, but since I was in denial, I got up to go diving on Saturday anyway.  We made it to E3, and the viz was excellent on top, it was blue and clear.  But I couldn't get past about 5 feet :(  It was just me and Rob, so I had to make a quick decision about whether to try to make it down, or to abort and hand Rob off to one of the other teams (before they descended).  As John and Clinton were descending past me, I grabbed Clinton signaled for him to surface with me, and then asked him to take Rob and go diving.  So, I got to do all of the fun parts of the dive... setting up gear, getting into my gear, doing gear checks, fighting the current to get to the downline, and then getting back on the boat.  And then it rained a bit while I was waiting on the boat :P

For the second dive, we went to the anchor farm.  I thought that with a bit more time to get down, I might be able to dive.  So I tried again, this time with John, Clinton, and Rob as a team, and still couldn't clear my ears.  So back to the boat, but at least the topside weather had improved a bit.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mount Chamberlin Annex and Outer Pinnacles

We were on a tech boat on Saturday, and there were actually good conditions.  And even more exciting than good conditions, I had a new drysuit to test out!  Recently, after probably a year of musing about getting a new drysuit, and yet still sort of on a whim, ordered a new drysuit.  It took a couple of tries to get the suit right (but not for the usual reasons... I ordered a plastic zipper and the suit arrived with a metal one), but I finally had it and decided to try it out.  In addition to the plastic zipper, the one other change was that I was talked into getting zipseals on the wrist.  I really don't know why; I've had them before and didn't really care one way of the other, but somehow decided to give them another try.  The suit is otherwise based on the exact same measurements as my current suit, and it fit quite well.  The boots are a bit roomier than I like; I don't know if the boot sizing changed or if there is just a lack of consistency.  I suspect the sizing changed, since I got the boots replaced on my old (old) suit recently and they are a little roomier than I like too.

Anyhoo, we made it down to Mount Chamberlin, and dropped near the south wall.  The viz was insanely good!  We headed down the wall, and then across the sand to the south annex.  Once we hit that, we headed west, to the end, and around to the back.  While we were back there, the boys headed down a bit deeper, because, well, they are deep freaks.  While they were below me, a big mola swam by!  After a bit of spazzing around to get their attention, they saw the mola too.  I had my hero cam, and Rob was lighting for me.  The mola was never really close enough to get a good shot, but Rob did light it well enough for me to get a few seconds worth keeping.  Aside from the mola, we didn't see anything too unusual, but it was just an awesome dive because of the excellent viz.  Rob and I got a few video clips where we were both on the trigger with him lighting for me from above; he's gotten really good at that!

We headed back to the main plateau at the end, though we got a bit of course and ended up scootering way too far to the east.  So once we made it back to the wall, we had to correct a bit, but amazingly, we made it back to K2.  I was pretty doubtful there for a while, but we found it eventually.  On deco, I discovered that the new suit dives quite a bit differently than my old suit; in other words, I was a complete spazz on deco -- I've had some pretty ugly ascents on the rebreather, but this sort of took it to a new level.  That wasn't fun.  I was having a lot of trouble venting the suit (not sure if that's because of the location of the exhaust valve, or the extra material/gas in the suit, or what), plus the zipseals forced me to move my gauge further up my arm, to where it was quite hard to see (because my loop was in the way).  So I kept dropping my arm below me to see my gauge, which caused me to curl up into a ball out of trim, and spazziness ensued.  It was a stressful ascent.

After the dive, Clinton wanted to do a second dive.  I normally may have skipped a second dive, after a nice long, deep first dive, but I felt so demoralized about my performance on the last dive, that I wanted to get back in and see if I could get this new suit figured out.  So, we did a dive at the Outer Pinnacles.  It was Rob, Clinton, and me.  It was quite a bit more green than the first dive, though the viz was still decent.  There were some pockets of better and worse viz.  Also, I noticed that in one area, the bottom (and a little bit of the walls) were crawling with brittle stars.  Weird.  There were also more urchins than usual; overall it just wasn't as pretty as usual.  After getting some pictures, we called it and headed up the anchor line, and I managed to keep it together, though still wasn't loving the feel of the suit.  I think I'll just use it for a recreational dives until I get the hang of it.  I suppose that would have been the wise thing to do in the first place, but it just didn't occur to me.

Since Rob wasn't taking pictures, I put together a short video just to document the awesomeness of the dive.  Also, I'm borrowing one of Clinton's pictures from his first dive (which I wasn't on).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mile Buoy and Shale Island

Photo by Clinton Bauder
It was once again one of those weekends where the forecast pretty much promised that we'd be diving in the bay.  But there was a surprising amount of enthusiasm for going diving anyway.  Well, the forecast wasn't lying, and we ended up at Mile Buoy.  Since we were sure we would end up in the bay, we didn't bring scooters.  Which was maybe a mistake, since there was actually a bit of current at Mile Buoy.  At the beginning of the dive, we were just sort of meandering around, letting the current drag us along.  We ended up off of the main site, looking at sea pens in the sand.  When we decided to head back to the main site, it was a bit of a pain swimming against the current!  So once we got back to the main structure, we pretty much just stayed there, to avoid having to schlep back through the current again :)  It was pretty much the usual Mile Buoy suspects, including some basket stars.

For the second dive, we went to Shale Island.  It seems like we've done a lot of second dives there recently.  Anyhoo, we circumnavigated the island, or well, I think we did.  Eventually we had been going for what seemed like plenty enough time that we should have passed back over the anchor line, but we hadn't seen it.  Rob was sure it was just a few more minutes ahead, so we kept going a few more minutes, then after not finding it, there was a bit of swimming around looking for it, and finally I suggested we just pop a bag, because well, we'd been looking for a while and not found it.  So we had to face the shame of coming up on a bag.  In order to draw attention away from that, I missed the boat on the first two pickup attempts :)  It was really windy!

No pictures from Rob, so I borrowed one from Clinton.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

BAUE Rec Boat

Rob and I hopped on the BAUE rec boat sort of at the last minute.  We tried to go to Soberanes Wall, but it was a bit too swishy looking on the surface, so we headed to Flintstones instead.  It was a bit surgy in some spots, but overall, the conditions were quite nice.  Viz was very good for the most part, though more green than blue, with some slightly murky areas.  This was the first dive in quite a while that I did in open circuit.  Oh man is it easier to dive than the CCR!  Rob kept sending me up shallow to pose for silhouette pictures, which would be a total pain in the 'breather, but was nice and easy in open circuit!

The highlight of the dive was finding a cabezon on eggs.  When we happened upon it, it got a bit riled up and started swimming around in circles, so we had to wait for a while, probably like 5 minutes, for the fish to simmer down and pose next to the eggs again.  Then Rob finally got like a single shot before the swimming in circles started again.  But the picture turned out pretty well, I think.

For the second dive, we went to Locals' Ledge.  The last time few times I've been to Locals' Ledge, it's looked pretty not great due to the barnacle invasion.  The barnacles seem to have died down, though our favorite hydrocoral spot has definitely not recovered.  And now there is a new nuisance there... sea urchins!  Some areas of the site look like southern California urchin barrens :(  So, that was a bit of a disappointment.  Add to that the surface, and it wasn't the best Locals' Ledge dive ever.  We got a bit lost on the way back from the hydrocoral spot (I'm going to blame that on everything looking different due to the urchin invasion :P), but I figured it we started our ascent, we'd probably see some bubbles and find the herd.  Instead I found the downline, so I guess we weren't that fair off the mark after all.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cordell Bank 2014

After our super successful trip to Cordell Bank last year, we quickly decided that we must return this year.  Once again, we picked a weather window in October, which has historically been a successful time to dive Cordell Bank.  Unfortunately this year, the weather was not quite as cooperative as it was last year.  This time around, as the weather window arrived, the forecast looked quite bad for the first several days.  But it was supposed to calm down starting on Thursday, and luckily we got in a few days of diving in a short window before conditions deteriorated again.  We only managed two days of diving on the bank this year, after which followed several days of heavy fog, followed by rough seas.  But, we managed to accomplish our goals for the year, which included laying the groundwork for a multi-year monitoring project with NOAA, and collecting specimens of several invertebrate species for scientists at NOAA and California Academy of Sciences.  Since there was fog on the third day, we did a recreational dive closer to shore, just to see what diving is like around Bodega Bay.  The individual dive reports are:

Northern East Ridge
Northern West Ridge
Ballbuster North

I'm not sure if I ever posted the final project video for our 2013 expedition on here.  So, here it is, and there's a lot more detail about that project on the project page.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Not Cordell Bank: Ballbuster North

Sunday morning, it was super foggy, as the forecast predicted.  We waited for a couple hours to see if anything would change, and alas it did not.  After much debate about what to do, we eventually settled on trying to do a recreational dive closer to shore.  Someone had the bathymetry data for this part of the coast, so we basically just looked at the data for anything that looked like it wasn't just a sand slope.  There really was not a lot, but we found one little area that looked like it was some structure, which came up from about 100' to about 60'.  I believe that the site was north of the harbor, though it is hard to say for sure, since the fog was so thick once we were out on the water, there was really no way to tell which way was land.  I'd like to think it was north, since that would technically put us outside of the Red Triangle (though according to Wikipedia, the Red Triangle extends all the way down to Point Sur, so I guess we dive in it all the time).

The fog was so thick that Jim was even nervous about putting us in the water on the anchor without a deco obligation.  We promised to come back up the anchor line.  We entered the water to find murky green water, with a side of eelgrass.  The eelgrass was just floating on the surface, not sure what was up with that...  Anyhoo, we headed down the anchor line, and the dive really had a Monterey Bay feel to it, green and murky, but when we got to the bottom the viz was actually pretty good, maybe 40' of dark green water.  There was a pretty nice wall, actually, nicer than what I would have guessed from the bathymetry.  Due to the resolution of the bathymetry, it was hard to tell if it would be a slope or wall or what.  It was a wall, with a narrow sand channel and then a smaller pinnacle across that.  There were a lot of metridium, corynactis, and those big acorn barnacles.  There was also what I believe was encrusting hydrocoral, which was very pretty.  In terms of fish, blue rockfish were the most common fish, but I also saw some coppers, canaries, kelp greenlings, and the occasional lingcod.  We also saw a mola swimming up above the reef, but he wasn't too interested in playing.  There was also one patch of the side pinnacle that had a bunch of sea urchins, though overall they were not a significant part of the landscape.

After about 40 or 50 minutes, we'd seen the site and decided to head up the anchor line.  After the dive, we joked about naming the site "Ballbuster North" because of both the depth range and the life that we saw there.  I'm not sure if that's the name that stuck, but it's the name that stuck in my head, so that's what I'm calling it.  Seriously, though, if I showed the video from the dive and said it was Ballbuster, you'd totally believe it.  Overall, it was a pretty good dive, considering our options and how we found it.  And it was definitely worth doing, since it's not like I have a lot of opportunities to do recreational boat diving near Bodega Bay.

So that was the end of the Cordell 2014 trip.  With the forecast for the next few days being either dense fog or sporty seas, and the time constraint for when the boat needed to be back in Monterey, it did not make sense to try to wait it out any longer in Bodega Bay.  I considered staying up for another day for the ride back to Monterey (on the boat), but given the fog forecast, it wasn't clear that it would be very fun.  (According to Jim, I made the right decision, since he could barely see the front of the boat for most of the trip back.)  So we headed home, with a quick stop to drop off the cooler full of specimens with one of the Sanctuary people.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Cordell Bank: Northern West Ridge

For the second day of the trip, we returned to Northern West Ridge, which was everyone's favorite site from the previous year's trip.  Last year, there was an insanely big school of widow rockfish, actually two schools, one of adults and one of juveniles, so we were eager to see if it would still be so fishy.  The surface conditions were flat swell-wise, but it did get a bit windy on the way out, with some whitecaps around by the time we got to the bank.  The agenda for today was to gather more photo and video documentation of the site, and also to collect a few specimens requested by scientists at either NOAA or the California Academy of Sciences.

When we got into the water, we found excellent viz and basically no current at the surface.  Unlike yesterday, on the way down, we never encountered a murky layer, so the water was bright, blue and clear the whole way to the bottom!  Near around 90' or so, the downline sort of corkscrewed around when we hit a layer of current.  From there, I could see the vertical wall on what I will call the "back" side of the pinnacle, because it is the opposite side of the pinnacle than we approached the pinnacle on the downline last year.  I could clearly see the pinnacle extending all the way down to about 200' as we approached the pinnacle.  Once we got to the pinnacle, we were protected from the current.  We headed down to about 200', where there was a small plateau before continuing to slope down.  One notable sighting on the way down was a small vase sponge, which I don't think I definitively saw any of last year.  (There were some interestingly shaped white sponges that may have been vase sponges, but nothing that I was really convinced was.)

We popped down to just a hair deeper than 200', before starting to work our way back up.  Kevin and I were working together to get video again, but we were diving in a team with Matt and Rob.  Matt and Rob went a bit deeper, but not as deep as the bottom.  But they got a closer look and estimated it was about 270' down at the sand.  There were a couple of items on our list of specimen requests that were bottom-of-the-wall sand dweller types of critters, but Matt and Rob resisted the urge to bounce down there for a look (which I was pretty surprised by :P).

Anyhoo, once we started to work our way along/up the wall, we were pretty focused on getting video.  At the spot where we started, the wall was pretty encrusted, though it's all relative -- it was even more encrusted from 180'ish and shallower.  As we came around the pinnacle (we were heading counterclockwise), we came upon a spot that was pretty sparsely encrusted, but had a lot of white sponges, which I would guess were elephant ear sponges.  It was weird, it was like one patch of wall, maybe 20 feet tall and 50 feet wide was just not nearly as encrusted as the areas all around it.  While we were in that area, Matt signaled to Rob that there were some specimens to collect.  Matt didn't have any specimen bags with him, which is why he called Rob over.  So Rob swam over and Kevin and I followed him so we could video the collection effort.  He collected some little tips of a small hydrocoral bush (what I refer to as the "flat" magenta hydrocoral, whose branches seem to grow along parallel, two-dimensional planes, versus the more three-dimensional pink and purple hydrocoral that grows in huge bushes at Big Sur Bank).  There was also an orange bryozoan shrub nearby, which Rob also collected a bit of, and snapped some photos of the bryozoan next to the specimen bag. 

We continued videoing the wall there, and then just a bit past (and above) the end of that not-super-encrusted patch of wall, I found Rob taking some pictures of a little ledge that kind of jutted out at 170' or so, which was completely encrusted with all kinds of invertebrates… corynactis of various shades of pink and orange, white sponges, yellow sponges, orange bryozoan, gold hydroids, etc.  From basically this point and up, the pinnacle is very heavily encrusted.  Kevin and I did a slow swim along and up the pinnacle from this spot, documenting the heavy invertebrate encrustation.  It's crazy!

There weren't a lot of fish down deeper, but as we worked our way up the pinnacle, we passed several small rosy rockfish and yelloweyes.  Once we got above 150', it got a lot fishier.  There was a huge school of widow rockfish, like last year, but the fish didn't seem quite as big.  Last year, there were two somewhat distinct schools, one containing adults and one containing juvenile/young-of-years.  This year, there was just one big school of what seemed like smaller adults.  However, in the "big fish" category, overall this year was a lot more impressive.  We saw a couple of monster yellow eye rockfish, some big lingcod (compared to zero big lingcod last year), a small school of good-sized blue rockfish, and one giant bocaccio.  Sadly the big fish were (smart enough to be) skittish and not exactly willing to appear on video (or photograph, I think).

Once we got to the top of the pinnacle, I spent most of the time trying to get some good fish footage.  There was a fair amount of current right at the top, it seemed like it was coming up over the pinnacle and then down the other side.  After about 50 minutes on the bottom, we thumbed it and started our ascent.  I sort of got stuck in the current coming down one side of the pinnacle as we started our ascent, but once I got out of that, there wasn't a ton of current.  We were looking at the down line for the first several stops of our ascent.  The viz on deco was insanely good (just like it was on the dive!). There weren't too many deco creatures, but we tried to document the few that came by (since that was a request from Cal Academy).  At 20' and part of the way up from 20', a mola came by a couple of times.  He didn't seem too interested in hanging out with us though.

When we surfaced, we were in pretty significant fog.  Luckily the boat was right next to us!  Apparently the fog came in after we were already on deco.  It was pretty surprising, since it was totally clear, without a hint of fog, when we entered the water, and also it seemed very bright underwater throughout the entire dive, all the way to the end of deco.  Everyone agreed that this site was every bit as great as we remembered it from last year.  Jim, who had missed the dive at this site last year, said he was glad he didn't realize just how awesome it was, or he would have been pouting all year that he had missed it :P

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cordell Bank: Northern East Ridge

After waiting it out at the beginning of the week, the forecast quieted down for several days starting Thursday, so that was the day that we targeted to move the boat.  Jim and crew managed to get the boat up to Bodega Bay by early afternoon, which is always a good sign.  We headed up after work, and this year we managed to avoid terrible traffic on 19th Ave and make pretty decent time, so we got to the housing enclave around 9.  So this meant I should be able to get a full night's sleep before the 6:30 boat meet time.  In theory anyway.  But in fact, I slept terribly, in part because I tried to go to sleep too early, before I was actually tired, but mostly because I was too excited about the trip!

So the result of that was that I felt not that great on the boat ride out.  I felt a bit queasy though there was absolutely no reason for the conditions to cause that.  Rob claimed that the mixed swell caused some swirliness, but from my perspective, it was flat flat flat.  The swell was practically non-existent, and there was a little wind for part of the trip, as in, a little wind so the water wasn't glassy like it was for the rest of the trip.  It actually seemed to get calmer once we got out a bit further, so when we arrived at the bank, it was back to glassy calm.

We had committed to spending one day to work on a little science project that was suggested by scientists at the sanctuary, so we did this on the first day (to make sure we would get it done).  The proposed project is a multi-year study using photos of meter-square patches along a transect line, which can be compared from year to year.  This requires defining a fixed transect that can be located repeatably from year to year.  After discussing a variety of ways to do this, we decided to leave weighted markers that would define the corners of a triangle, and run transect lines between the markers, and run along those transect lines to collect photos.  The lines are not permanent, but installed on the markers the day that the photos are collected, and then removed.  We did some practice dives using this technique, and had found that finding a good place to define the transect was really key, so for this year, we focused on defining the transect, installing the markers, and documenting the location of the transect.  Getting some photos along a transect line (on one edge of the triangle) was a possible bonus goal.  This allowed us to spend an entire dive scouting for a good site for the transect, if we had to.

So, we parceled out the tasks among the 6 divers (that were effectively diving in 3 teams of 2, though two of the teams deployed and deco'd as one team).  The main tasks included:
  • Scouting for the site and laying line from the downline to the site, and to define the bounds of the transect.  
  • Moving three weighted markers (on lift bags) to the site and marking the corners of the transect.  
  • Collecting video documentation of the site layout.
  • Getting a GPS mark for the transect (by shooting a bag that the boat crew would take a GPS mark of).
  • Optionally running the transect tape between two of the balls
  • Optionally, photographing a meter-square quadrat along the tape.
Kevin and I were paired up for the video documentation part.  In addition to documenting the site, we wanted to document the process of setting up the transect too.  Kevin was toting a giant HMI light (which Halcyon graciously loaned to us for the project), and would be lighting the scene while I video'd.  This was the first time we had used the HMI light, since there was only a small window of time that the light was available to borrow.  Rob and Matt were paired up to do the scouting of the site, and the four of us got into the water first, and then John and Clinton got in about 10 minutes later, so that once the line had been run to define the transect, they would be ready to go with moving the balls.

When we got in the water, we found that viz was quite good near the surface.  We passed a murky layer from about 20', though it opened up a bit deeper and then really close to the bottom it opened up even more, so that viz was really good on the bottom, but it was kind of dark and green.  Not night dark, but not bright blue water.  But I was very happy with the viz at the bottom; it would be much easier to get the work done with good viz!  There was some strange swirly mixing of water masses going on right on the bottom, though, where rather warm (high 50s) water mixed with the colder (around 50 degrees) water.  The interface between these two masses of water had that shimmery thing that did sort of obscure the visibility.  Also, I think that the warm water mass was not as clear.

We had hoped to be able to locate the transect near the man-made hole that we found on the reef last year, since that is a recognizable feature that we thought we could easily relocate.  As it turns out, the downline ended up right next to a man-made hole, though it wasn't the one that we saw last year.  We knew that there was a series of such holes, so we weren't that surprised, but the one we found last year had a metal pole "installed" in the sand, which wasn't there.  But still this was a convenient landmark that would help us to relocate our markers in the future.  Once we got to the bottom and got our bearings, we got right to work.  

There was quite a lot of current on the bottom.  So much current, that getting my hero cam out and setting it up on my scooter (which required going off of the trigger) without getting separated from the team was sort of a chore.  The current was really strong right on the bottom, but just a few feet above the reef, it calmed down.  Also, if you dropped down the side of the ridge, it calmed down there too.  The problem was, in order to get a good view of the reef for the video, I had to be on its level, so I was right in the current for much of the dive.  The HMI light worked great, though it was pretty challenging for me and Kevin to keep ourselves lined up properly (he was above me), since I had to be on the trigger for most of the time that I was video'ing.  It would have been much easier if I was swimming, since I could more easily fine-tune my pace as we were moving along the transect lines.  Still, I think we did a fine job of documenting both the site and the setup process.

There wasn't a huge amount of time for critter peeping, but we found a few things of note.  First, there was a brown Irish lord like right next to one of the marker weights that we set.  I can't believe he didn't just get up and leave when we placed the marker!  Also, I found a pair of painted greenlings doing their mating dance (and got some so-so video of it).  There were also quite a few small (some very small) lingcod.  This is interesting, since last year we noted an absence of "big fish" like lings.  But there are a ton of young ones now.  There was also a big school of widow rockfish hanging around above the ridge.  But the main thing about this site is the spectacular invertebrate cover.  It is just so colorful and so heavily encrusted with all kinds of invertebrates.  It looks exactly as I remembered it from last year, from one particular picture that Rob took, which is just so dang colorful.

In the end, we started to run one of the transect tapes, then decided we would not be able to get a good run of photos along it, so we pulled it and just got some general pictures of the area for the last few minutes.  Then Rob and Matt pulled the line while Clinton and John put the bag up for the boat to get GPS numbers.  Once we were finished cleaning up the line, we thumbed the dive too, and the four of us deco'd together.  Deco was pretty uneventful.  A few deco critters did swim by, and we tried to get some pictures or video of a few of them.  The layer that we had encountered on the way down didn't seem quite as thick on the way back up.

We surfaced to conditions that were just as flat as when we got in, maybe even a bit flatter.  It was an excellent return to Cordell.  Great viz, at a great dive site, though the conditions were a bit more challenging than last year.  And it was sort of a relief to be finished with the "work" part of the trip… we were all glad that we accomplished our main goal of setting up the transect, and we look forward to going back next year to see if the markers stay put!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sur 20

 We were back on the Escapade on Sunday, to finish off my birthday weekend.  Today it was just me and Rob diving as a team... I couldn't talk Kevin into a third day of fun.  As luck would have it, we had very flat seas, and made it down to Big Sur again.  Two weekends in a row -- it was a birthday miracle :P  Since we had just been at Sur 19 the previous weekend, we went to Sur 20 today.

The conditions on the dive were sort of weird.  The viz was at times (or in spots) very very good, and at other times (or spots), it was very green and murky.  The one upside was that the green water was very warm.  It was pretty strange though, that as we scootered around the pinnacle, we would pass through warm, murky areas, and then pop back out of them into clearer, blue water.  Of course it seemed like every time we found a spot with a really nice patch of hydrocoral, the green water would roll in.  (Rob managed to get some pretty nice pictures despite this.)

We made a somewhat disappointing discovery on the dive, which was that there was quite a bit of fishing gear on the pinnacle.  I guess it's not too surprising, with the changing regulations in the last several years, fishing boats have just moved further south, and we have see fishing boats out there on several occasions.  Still, not awesome to find fishing line and lures here :(  But the fishermen left plenty of fish for us to enjoy, including some nice big lingcod, and a large school of juvenile rockfish.

Our search for whales on the way home today was no more successful than our whale watching on Friday.  Where did they all go?  There were so many whales last week, and poof! all gone!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Something Different: One Boat, Two Tech Dives

There was a tech boat on Saturday, which had only me, Rob, Kevin, and Matt on it.  The new team kitty, I guess you could say.  Since we had the boat to ourselves, we could do pretty much whatever we wanted, and initially had intended to do a deeper (15/55 or 12/65) dive.  We debated what to do for the dive, and somehow we came up with this crazy idea of doing two dives in the 150-200' range instead of one deeper dive.  Because hey, we have rebreathers, so why the heck not?

For the first dive, we went to Mount Chamberlin, and dove on the north end of K2.  I really like that area, it has a lot of relief in a small space, and the gorgonians are awesome.  And most importantly, I haven't done that dive in quite some time.  Rob wanted to play around with video on his D800, I guess in preparation for possibly doing some video at Cordell.  So I got to play lighting assistant for Rob for once.  He usually does the lighting for me, and makes it look super easy.  And when I try to do lighting for myself, it never comes out as well (though that is at least in part because my arms aren't long enough; Rob has the benefit of having arms that aren't attached to my body).  So since he was playing with video, I had to play lighting assistant.  It was a bit of a pain, having to follow him around and guess where he wanted to shoot.  I'm definitely not as good at that as he is (and I definitely couldn't do it on the trigger, like Rob has on a few occasions).  I don't think Rob actually produced any video from the dive, since he was just playing around, so I don't really know how good of a job I did with the lighting in the end.  And as a result of Rob playing with video, there weren't any photos produced from the dive either :(  It was a nice dive, with all of the usual K2 creatures... tons of gorgonians, along the wall on the east side, a family of canary rockfish near the bottom on the north side, etc.

For the second dive, we went to Pinnacle Point Wall.  This dive was nearly non-existent.  A minute or so after we got down to the pinnacle, Matt had some sort of gear problem, so we thumbed the dive.  We basically got down there and had enough time to see that the viz was good, though it was dark.  I think we spent more time on the ascent than we did on the rest of the dive :)  Clearly we were not meant to draw outside of the lines with this two tech dives in one day silliness.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Birthday Weekend Kick-off on the Rubber Ducky

I took Friday off so we could spend a long weekend in Monterey for my birthday.  Our Friday dive plans fell through, though luckily it was far enough in advance that I could still convince Jim to go whale watching in the RIB on Friday instead.  Kevin ended up joining us, so it was the four of us.  The whale watching wasn't really that great, we saw a few small groups and singleton whales, but none were both super close and super playful.  We covered a lot of ground in our attempts to find something photo worthy, first working our way north from Monterey and then eventually heading back south to Carmel.  We got down by Lobos, and considered a run to Yankee Point, but decided not to bother since there was no indication that it would have whales either.  Also, while it started out very sunny and nice out, it got foggy and cold a little after noon.

We did encounter a huge school of dolphins in Carmel, which was fun.  They were zipping around and riding our wake for quite a while.  Eventually we headed back to the dock and went to lunch (at the Googie Diner).  We headed out briefly, but it was pretty clear that we weren't going to see much, due to the fog coming into the bay, so we called it a day instead of continuing out.  Not the best whale action ever, but it still beats going to work :P

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yucky Day at Point Lobos

After an awesome day out at Big Sur, we had to follow it up with a crappy day of diving at Point Lobos.  This dive doesn't really deserve a lot of flowery prose, so I will save it for one that does.  We went out to Beto's Reef, and the viz was terrible.  The viz was so terrible that I basically got lost on the way there.  We ended up at a structure which Rob thought was the 1st Sister, but I really didn't.  Eventually we bailed to the east along a depth contour, which did get us to Beto's.  But it was very green and murky.  Rob had wanted to play around with video on his camera, but there were some problems with that, so it wasn't really a very fruitful dive overall.  Can't win them all.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Insanely Nice Day to be on a Boat, at Sur 19

Photo by Clinton Bauder
On Saturday, we made it down to Big Sur for our first Big Sur Banks dive of the "season".  The seas were flat enough to get down there, though on the way down, they weren't lake-flat.  But we got down there without a problem, woohoo.  We decided on Sur 19, since everyone seems to like it better than Sur 20 (well I do anyway).  When we got in the water, we were greeted by excellent viz.  It was super clear and super blue, and it was Sur 19... lots of hydrocoral and lots of fish.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
There were schools of both adult and juvenile rockfish, though the juvenile schools wasn't as insane as what we saw last year.  Still enough to block out divers in the photos though, as you can see.  There was a school of adult blue rockfish, with a sprinkling of olives, as usual; the adult school also wasn't the biggest I've seem down there, but still respectable.  There were also a lot of lingcod, which seems to be a common theme this year pretty much everywhere we dive!  We had a great dive, and we even managed to eek out an extra five minutes on the site, since the viz was so good, we could see all of the other teams.  So, we weren't going to leave until everyone else did.

Rarely photographed sea kitten
Photo by Clinton Bauder
On the ascent, I couldn't believe how clear the water was.  We could see down to the reef for most of deco, plus it seemed like we could see really far horizontally too.  I felt like a bit of a spazz on the second half of the deco, an intermittent thing with the 'breather.  I have a love-hate relationship with the thing... I'll have a few great dives on it and then a dive where I'm a total spazz.  And there seems to be no correlation with difficulty of conditions or anything else.  So that was a bit of a bummer in terms of finishing up a great dive.  After the dive, I was definitely looking forward to selling the purple people eater on Craigslist as soon as I got home.

A little greener at G-Spot
Photo by Clinton Bauder
With such a great first dive, we of course felt compelled to do a second dive, which was guaranteed to be nowhere near as awesome.  And the thing is, we always know and discuss the fact that the second dive is almost certain to be a letdown, but we usually do it anyway.  Actually the only reason I got back in the water for the second dive was to practice an ascent on the way back up; otherwise I'd be stewing on my crappy ascent all week.  We went to G-Spot, and Rob and I planned to go down, look around a bit, and then do an ascent with some mock stops.  And that is what we did.  The viz was pretty green and crappy, so I didn't feel any real compulsion to stay too long anyway.  The wall there is pretty nice, though, and there was a pretty big school of rockfish hanging out atop the wall.  The other team saw a mola, but we did not.  Boohoo.  Anyway, we did an ascent with some short stops from about 50' up, and it went fine.  Rob gave me some helpful pointers on how to not be a spazz.  Which were the same very basic helpful pointers I've been told dozens of times in all of the GUE classes I've ever taken, but I suppose I've gotten a bit lazy/sloppy over the years... I'm used to letting my head and arms go wherever they want on deco, but with the questionable trim properties of the PPE, I have to actually keep my head back/arms up.

Photo by Robert Lee
After two dives on the Big Sur coast, you might think the fun was over, but not at all.  We had some excellent whale watching on the way home.  Not too far from G-Spot, it all started with a group of whales that was lunge feeding, together.  I've never seen this behavior before, but basically the group of whales would kind of corral the bait-ball and then all at the same time, they would pop their mouths out of the water to feed.  Jim got some awesome pictures (unlike Clinton, Jim has not granted me a lifetime license to post his pictures on the blog, hence the link).  We watched this for quite a while, probably at least an hour.  There were other whales breaching in the distance, trying to get an audience with us, but the feeding was much more interesting.  Eventually we headed north, where we saw tons of whales along the way, but didn't really stop again until we got to Carmel Bay, where we saw... orcas.  I've never seen orcas before (well, except at Sea World), so I was, of course super excited.  The orcas weren't really putting on that much of a show for us, but they were cute.  There was a baby with them, awww.  Rob got some pictures of them not doing anything too interesting.

All in all, an awesome, long day out on the boat.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cordell Practice Dives

Rockfish at Eric's Pinnacle
Photo by Clinton Bauder
 We were scheduled to dive on Saturday on a tech boat, but the forecast was looking pretty terrible as we approached the weekend.  So, with the high likelihood that we were going to end up diving in the bay, we decided to convert the boat to a practice dive for Cordell instead.  For this year's trip to Cordell, we are planning to set the stage to start a multi-year transect-based photographic survey of a site.  So, that requires setting up permanent markers (for which we were thinking of using lead fishing balls) to leave there to re-locate the site in future years, then running transect lines between the markers, and then running along the lines with a scale stick, and taking meter-sized pictures along the line.  So, obviously, a practice session (or three) was in order.

Me with a scale stick thingy
Photo by Clinton Bauder
We were originally discussing doing this at Kawika's, but decided that we wanted more topography, since that would be trickier and more realistic for the site we had in mind at Cordell (or actually the site that the Sanctuary people had it in mind).  So we eventually settled on Aumentos, as the best site in terms of topography, which was also diveable in the day's conditions (which were not good).  We came  up with the plan for the dive, which not too surprisingly, was insanely complicated and seemed unlikely to actually be pulled off once we were underwater.  The boat dropped the balls on two different lines, so we would descend one line and find the second one, then scout the site and move the balls into a triangular formation, run transect lines, and take some sample photos.  Then at the end, we'd move the balls back, clip them back to the lines, and the boat crew would pull them after we surfaced.  We did not have our full complement of lift bags yet, just one to share.  So we had to serialize the ball moving, which clearly would not be ideal for the real project.  But we took turns so that everyone got a try with various skills.  Rob and Clinton were taking pictures, and I got a little bit of video.  I was also manning a scale stick, and was paired up with Rob for one pass over the transect lines with him taking photos.

Matt and Rob moving a transect anchor
Photo by Clinton Bauder
The viz was really really good for the site, which definitely made things easier.  Finding the second line with the extra balls was trivial, and we could see the down line from the spot that we picked for the transect.  So basically everyone could see everyone throughout the whole dive, which made it quite easy to coordinate everything.  I mostly just watched in the beginning, while others were placing balls, and took a little video.  Then I escorted Rob while he moved one of the balls, and then once the first transect line was laid, we swam along the transect line and I held the scale stick along the line.  It was kind of difficult to figure out how exactly to orient the scale stick along the line, so one takeaway was that a quadrat would probably work better.  We also do a bit of video along the transect line, just to see how that worked.  After several passes over the lines, with both Rob and Clinton taking pictures, we cleaned things up, moved the balls back over to the downlines, clipped everything off, and started our ascent.  While we were on the line, we saw a bat ray swim by!  It's been a really long time since I've seen a bat ray around here, so that was pretty cool.

John and Matt setting up transect tape
Photo by Clinton Bauder
We finished up the first dive pretty quickly, and since the viz was so awesome, we decided to do a second dive, and went to Eric's Pinnacle.  Rob didn't dive for some reason -- I think he got wet on the first dive, but he also likes to claim he's never dived Eric's Pinnacle (even though that's not exactly true).  So it was just me and Kevin in my team for dive two.  On the way down the line, my ears were not cooperating.  I couldn't seem to get below 30 feet, but eventually I just swam over to the pinnacle at 30 feet, and hung out there for a bit, until my ears very slowly allowed me to go deeper.  Eventually we did make it to the bottom.  We circumnavigated the pinnacle and then worked our way up.  The viz was excellent, and we saw the usual assortment of Eric's critters.  There was a nice-sized school of rockfish hanging around by the pinnacle.  I eventually called the dive because my ears were continuing to bother me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Somewhere on Mt Chamberlin and More Whales!

We were out on the Escapade again, and tried to dive the South Annex at Mt Chamberlin.  We were hoping to make up for last week's failure to dive, and I'm not sure that we can say we really succeeded there...  On the way down the line, it seemed like there was quite a bit of scootering to stay with the line, even though it was pretty much vertical.  That should have been a bad sign, though I didn't really catch on at the time.  When we got to the bottom, the viz was terrible and it was quite dark.  I really had no idea where we were, I just knew that we were on a wall that came up to around 160', and the sand was around 200'.  We ended up calling the dive early, and afterward, Rob said that he was pretty sure we were just on the south wall of Mt. Chamberlin, instead of the annex.  Which made sense based one what we saw, though during the dive, I didn't know.

So, not a great dive, but we made up for it later in the afternoon.  After we got back to Monterey and had lunch, we headed up to Moss Landing, to do a little whale watching from Jim's inflatable (a fairly new acquisition).  We'd been seeing a decent number of whales around Monterey lately, but apparently there were a lot more off of Moss Landing.  By the time we got into the water (maybe 4ish), it was pretty windy, but there wasn't really any swell to speak of.  So it was a bit choppy on the ride out, but that was it.  Clinton was driving, Rob and Jim were taking pictures, and I was taking video.  Once we got out from shore a bit, it seemed like there were whale spouts everywhere, and there were some groups of up to 6 whales together.

We pretty much had our pick of whales look at, so we went from group to group until we found some breachers, which we found a few of.  There was a lot of maneuvering to get on the correct side of the whale (with respect to the sun), and then waiting and hoping the whale would come back up on the correct side of the boat.  We got very lucky with a few really close breachers.  Rob got some awesome shots, and I got some pretty good video.  Good in the sense that I was pointing the camera in the right direction when a whale breached pretty close by :P  Rob was shooting one of Jim's cameras (he didn't have the right lens for his own), and got some great shots.  I think Jim regretted giving him the lens that he did, since it was definitely the right lens for the day.  In addition to the breaching, there were whale tails, tail and fin slapping, lunging, and pretty much all of the whale behavior you could hope to see.  Some of the whales also had an entourage of sea lions following them around, which was pretty cute as well.

We stayed out for a few hours, until sunset was nearing, and managed to get back just in time to grab dinner at a restaurant right in the harbor.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Whale Watching at Yankee Point

We didn't manage to go diving today due to technical difficulties, but we did do some whale watching at Yankee Point, from the Escapade.  Well we were mostly watching one whale, who was breaching over and over again, like clockwork, for over an hour.  It was crazy!  While he did appear pretty close to the boat once or twice, the breaching show was a bit too far away to capture with the GoPro.  After watching for over an hour, we headed back to Monterey, slowly (due to that technical difficulty I mentioned).  Luckily it was a nice flat day for a long ride home.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kawika's Garden

Rob, Kevin, and I were on the Escapade on Saturday for a tech boat.  The forecast looked fine... not great, but not bad.  So it was a bit of a surprise when we got our butts kicked trying to get out of the bay, actually before we even really got to the point where we were trying to get out of the bay!  So we tucked our tails and turned around an went back to Kawika's Garden for a dive.

The viz wasn't super good on the bottom, but it was surprisingly bright down there.  The main attraction of the dive was that it was super fishy.  There was a pretty big school of pretty big blue rockfish, quite a few BIG lingcod, several brown rockfish, lots of canaries (in general, plus a group of at least a dozen all in one spot).  And to top it all off, we found a Tochuina!

When we surfaced, it was pretty rough.  Getting back on the boat was a bit scary, the swimstep was really smacking up and down a lot in the wind waves.  Luckily it was a short ride back to shore :)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Epic Yankee Point

Rob, Kevin, Matt and I had a date with Phil to dive off of his boat out of Lobos today.  I haven't been on Phil's boat in ages!  With the four of us, it was pretty crowded on the boat, but with only two bottles each, hey, it could have been worse :P  Luckily, the weather was good, so the drive to Yankee Point in a fully loaded boat was not a problem.  Well, except that Rob was driving, which is always a little scary.  Since we had a super nice dive at the Mount Chamberlin South Annex a couple weeks ago, we decided to return there.  In particular, we wanted to find the swim-through that we had found on that dive, and visit it again.  After a bit of driving around, we found a 150' spot and dropped the anchor.

We headed down the line into great viz, and warm water on the top, just like we had experienced on our last dive here.  We followed the line down and then we were getting situated (I was having some trouble reaching my light switch because my light was mounted a bit differently than usual, and Rob and Kevin were helping me with that), when I heard someone laughing, and looked up to see Matt staring into the swim-through and pointing.  We had practically dropped the anchor in the swim-through!  So, finding the swim-through again turned out to be pretty easy :)  We headed down the back side of the ridge pretty much right there, rather than following the "front" (north) side to the west, like we usually do.  That wall is quite shear there, and the sand it around maybe 240'.  The excellent viz continued all the way to the bottom,  and it was quite bright down there too.

Once we were near the bottom, since the viz was so good, I could see a bunch of small boulders in the sand off of the wall.  And then I noticed that they had quite a few crinoids on them!  So I went over there to play with the crinoids, take some video, etc.  I don't know why I love crinoids so much.  After we got our fill of the crinoids, we headed back toward the wall, when I spotted a GPO under a big rock ledge pretty close to the wall.  And it was quite an active GPO at that.  We watched him for a while, taking photos and video, while he was sticking his arms out and squirming around.  While we were looking at that, I noticed that there was a second GPO, under the same ledge, but on the other side.  He wasn't nearly so active though, so we pretty much stuck with the first one.

After that, it was time to come a bit shallower, so we worked our way to the top of the ridge, and watched the nice scenery up there.  It was super bright up there, and the water was very blue and clear. There was a pretty big school of juvenile rockfish milling about up there, and a few egg yolk jellies.  We took some video up there (Rob was lighting for me), posed for some pictures, and then before you know it, it was time to start our ascent :(  Deco was thankfully VERY warm again (about 60 degrees).  There were some more egg yolk jellies to entertain us, but other than that, it was pretty uneventful.  It occurred to me on the deco that give that we were the only team in the water, and the deco temps were so comfortable, we really should have pushed the bottom time a bit.  We really aren't very good at this CCR diver thing yet :P

On the drive back, we encountered a big mola on the surface.  Rob went for a swim with the mola, and got some super cute video footage.  Eventually Matt got in for a brief dip, and then I did too, at which point the mola headed for the hills, of course!