It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Quick Trip to LA: UB88 and the Moody

We had a very quick trip to LA for Rob's birthday weekend.  Karl chartered a boat scheduled for that Saturday, so we drove down on Thursday night/Friday, went diving on Saturday, and then came home on Sunday.  In addition to the one day of diving, we managed to cram in some family visits as well.  Rob has wanted to drive the UB88 for quite some time, so Karl made that happen.  We brought Matt with us, and Karl brought Marc Hall, so we had two teams on the boat.  The boat was probably just a bit small for 5 people to comfortably dive (with tech gear), but it worked out fine, we just had to get into the water one team at a time.

For the first dive, we went to the UB88.  It was very calm on the water, but it was also very foggy.  Very Monterey-like.  We puttered out to the site pretty slowly, and then when we got there, we had to wait a bit for the fog to lift.  Because of the fog, I really had no idea where (on the coastline) we were.  After tripping over each other to get geared up, our team got into the water second, and found that there was super clear blue water on top.  The water got greener and murkier on the way down, however.  There was a layer of somewhat murkier water, starting maybe around 70 feet, which then cleared up again (maybe around 100 feet), but because of that, the water was darker on the bottom.  But it was pretty clear down there, just not bright and blue like it was up on top.

The wreck is pretty well intact, and VERY encrusted.  Large portions of the wreck are completely encrusted with corynactis and zoanthids, with a patch of yellow sponge here and there.  There were some areas with a lot of gorgonians too, the lanky spindly SoCal variety.  At the stern end, there were these enormous fishing nets draped over the wreck, which were very heavily encrusted with corynactis and metridiums.  This was the coolest part of the wreck, in my opinion.  It was like a curtain of corynactis that would flap around in the surge.  There were a fair number of fish on the wreck, including some big lingcod and vermilions, but I wouldn't say it was teeming with fish or anything.

Deco was quite warm (around 60 degrees), and it seemed like you could see forever in the viz in the shallows.  We were decoing on an anchor line, which is always a bit of a pain compared to drifting, and even though we had the whole big ocean to ourselves, with 5 people hanging at 20' at the same time, I felt like I was constantly kicking someone :P  When we got back to the surface, found the ladder/swimstep on the boat a bit difficult to negotiate.  Mostly because I picked a terrible way to get back onto the boat, which involved lots of bruises on my knees and shins.  However, I subsequently saw Karl and Marc climb the ladder, in a much less painful-looking way.

We debated whether or not to do another dive on the UB88 or to move to another wreck, and eventually we decided to check out the Moody for dive 2.  The Moody is broken in two pieces, which are relatively close to each other (close enough to visit both on one dive, I guess).  It is a bit shallower than the UB88 (in the 140ish range).

We got into the water first for this dive.  It was not as dark on the bottom here, but it was still quite green (and the green seemed to start a bit shallower).  The Moody was also fairly well encrusted, but it didn't seem quite as impressively so as the UB88.  That may have been because it had more variety of things growing on it though... it just wasn't wall-to-wall pink with corynactis.  But the really impressive thing was the fish life and the gorgonians.  There was a huge school of small (juvenile?) fish covering the wreck.  And one portion of the wreck (near the back) had this awesome "garden" of gorgonians, that looked very nice with all of the fish above it.  It would have made for a great video sequence, but rather annoyingly, I'd left my camera on in my pocket (or maybe it turned itself on) during the first dive, which had drained the battery.  So I barely got any footage on the second dive :(

I also noticed some little colorful fish, which made it seem more like SoCal diving than the UB88 had, which when I think back to it, seemed to mostly have critters that we have in Monterey too.  I also saw a couple of Chromodoris-type nudibranchs... I can never remember how to tell all of those guys apart, so I'm not going to venture a guess about what exactly I saw.

On the stern, there were more nets, though they were not as impressively encrusted either.  They did have a lot of corynactis on them, but not so much that you could barely see the nets (like on the UB88).  I saw two smallish rockfish which I think had to be tiger rockfish.  That's cool, since I've never seen a tiger rockfish (and had no idea that they were in range down there, but it seems that they are).  When I saw the second one, it was about to dart around one of the folds in a huge net that was hanging off the side of the stern.  Even though I sort of knew better, I swam closer to get more of a look at it, and not too surprisingly, I get snarled in the net.  I don't think I was actually tangled in the net, but rather in a line with a fishing weight that was hanging down from the net (and which I saw as I approached the fish, so I was practically expecting to get tangled in it).  As soon as I felt a small tug on my manifold, I knew I was entangled, and signaled to Rob, who signaled to Matt (since Rob's camera was unfurled, thus posing its own likelihood of being entangled).  After a moment of Matt thinking that I was posing for a picture for Rob, since you know, I was hanging there, very still, next to this really nicely encrusted net, he eventually came over and freed me.  Phew.

Deco was again pretty warm and uneventful.  When we surfaced, I decided to try my hand at the right way to climb out of the water, and it was quite straightforward and unpainful.  By this point in the day, the fog had completely lifted and it was quite warm and sunny on the way back in.  Overall, I'd say we picked a great day to come down and dive.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mt Chamberlin South Annex

After an incredible number of dives in the bay, and not so stellar viz when we could get out of the bay, we finally had a day that had a combination of both good enough weather to go somewhere more interesting and excellent viz.  Ahh, at long last.  We went down to Mount Chamberlin, and anchored on the south wall.  The plan was to go over to the south annex, if the viz allowed, and then come back up to K2 to finish the dive.  In fact, the viz was plenty good to go over to the south annex.  It was really really good, and the water was really really blue!  Yay!

When we go to the South Annex, we usually follow along on the north side until we get to the end, then swing around to the back and end up following it up to the top pretty shortly after we get to the back (just because of timing).  We did things a little bit differently today, I think because we were on the 'breavers with 15/55, so we could go a bit deeper on the back (south) side.  So we dropped down the back earlier in the dive, and spent more of the dive on that side, working our way up.  I love the south side of the annex, the wall is just so tall and dramatically vertical; I don't know why we've been spending so much time on the north side all this time!  Aside from the thick schools of juvenile rockfish (which seem to always be there these days), there were quite a few egg yolk jellies on the back side of the wall.

I guess because we did the dive a little differently, we came further east before we came up the wall to the top of the ridge.  So, we were almost to the top, when Rob found a little hole on the south side of the wall.  We were almost to the top of the ridge, and I was pretty doubtful that it would actually connect through, so I just kept ascending.  When I got to the top, I looked down the north side, and I could see Rob's light from the other side.  It was actually a really big swim-through, on the north side.  I couldn't believe that we had never seen it before... we've been to this site so many times.  But I guess we have always come up over the top further to the west.  The swim-through was not just fun to traverse, it was also super encrusted with life... tons of Corynactis and lush gorgonians.  Super pretty and (as you can see) photogenic!

After spending probably just a bit too long there, we finally headed back to the main structure and up to K2.  I think we saw a wolf eel along the way; Rob and I were experimenting with lighting for video while on the trigger, so it's all kind of a blur.  We made it back to K2 and started our ascent, which was extremely pleasant, because it was about 60 degrees.  No, that's not a typo.  Most of the deco was 59 degrees, and very close to the surface it was a hair warmer.  It was awesome!

The dive was so nice (and warm) that we were up for a second dive.  We went to Ballbuster, because the viz in the bay was supposed to be very good too.  And it was, very good for Ballbuster, but green.  It's been a while since I've been to Ballbuster, and it just seemed kind of barren to me.  I don't know if the barnacles did that, or I imagined it, or what.  There were a bunch of egg yolk jellies there as well, and one really cute, pudgy, cabezon.  The site also seemed smaller than I remembered it, but that's probably just because the viz was good, so I could actually see more than a few feet of it at once.  After a couple of laps around and a few pictures, we thumbed it and headed back up the line into the bath water on top.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Playing with Balls at Kawika's

After Saturday's not-so-awesome viz all the way down at Yankee Point, we decided to do something a little different on Sunday.  We have plans to return to Cordell Bank this fall, and we've been discussing some documentation techniques with NOAA, which involve establishing transects that we will return to year after year.  We've discussed various ideas for how to mark such a transect (in a way that will allow us to return to the same spot in the future), and one of the proposals involves using those big lead fishing balls, which we use for our down line.  They weigh anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds, so obviously, this involves lift bags to move them around and place them.  We decided to get some practice with this today.  And where better to play with balls than Kawika's Garden, which is littered with lost fishing gear... so we wouldn't even have to bring our own lead balls!  The team consisted of Kevin, Rob, Matt, Clinton, and me (diving in one team).

We also practiced a new "fog protocol" which basically just involved towing a bag the whole dive.  When we got out to Kawika's, Mike was joking that this might not just be practice for fog-diving.  There was definitely some patchy fog hanging around in the bay.  But by the time we got everything together, it had mostly burned off.  Unsurprisingly, the plan was convoluted, probably more than it needed to be.  Step one, find some balls to play with.  We were both practicing with moving balls around and we also practiced raising some back to the surface, since we'd have to do that at Cordell if we couldn't find a good place to setup transects on a given dive.  That was, of course, a bit more complicated, we tried a couple different ways of doing that.  This was also all made more complicated because we only had one lift bag, so we had to practice moving the balls around in serial.

As it turned out, the viz was pretty bad, but not as bad as it had been the previous day down at Yankee Point.  We were able to find three balls, the first of which was right next to the down line.  We actually found way more than three balls, but a lot of them no longer had the little ring thing to clip on to, so not so useful to move around with a lift bag.  We had a very amusing dive, which was successful overall, with no one ended up with a ball getting dropped on them.  I shot some video, but the viz was bad enough that without a lighting assistant, it was hard to capture the... shenanigans :)

In addition to the fun with balls, I saw a little wolf eel and we found one or two calico rockfish.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dos Gatos by Braille

After what seemed like months of bad forecasts and dives in the bay, we finally had a weekend of good  forecasts for July 4th!  And as luck would have it, we had two days of diving planned (Saturday and Sunday).  As expected, the conditions were good and we had no trouble making it down to Yankee Point, where we settled on Dos Gatos.  I was diving with Rob, Kevin, and Matt.  When we got into the water, the viz at the surface was no so awesome.  No problem, I'm sure it will clear up on the way down...

We headed down the line, and at some point, as usual, I fell behind because I am a slow descender (apparently my teammates all have extra holes drilled in their sinus cavities, so they don't have to clear their ears on the descent).  Usually when this happens, Kevin hangs back and waits for me.  I think he actually had hung back to wait for me, but I couldn't really tell, since there was just impenetrable blackness below me.  I saw my light reflected off of tanks for a bit, and then they were gone.  I kept going and going down into the blackness, and then all of a sudden I saw a tiny pin of light, from someone below me, and then the next thing you know, I was on the bottom.  With very little warning that it was approaching.  The viz was probably around 5', and we were at about 150'.  It was not looking promising.  Once we got the team together and okays all around, Rob led us deeper.  I was thinking as we headed down the slope that there were basically no chance that we'd find our way back up to the shallows later in the dive.  But then I noticed that Rob was leading us due west, so there was some hope, since it was a pretty easy path to reverse :)

We got to the bottom of the wall, where there was sand and rubble.  Considering the viz, poking around there looking for critters seemed like the best option.  Not too long after we started meandering along in the rubble, Rob (I think) signaled.  I looked down and saw a small wolf eel, who was out in the open!  I was watching it for a minute, and then I realized that Rob was watching a different small wolf eel, that was also out in the open!  We watched the two of them slither around for at least 10 minutes, and one of them eventually started feeding, or attempting to feed on a variety of other critters.  First, he assaulted a shrimp, who he nibbled on a bit, but the shrimp managed to back away.  So then he investigated some easier to catch creatures, that aren't quite as skilled at evading capture, including a tube worm and finally a brittle star.  I posted a video of the wolf eel shenanigans.  Unfortunately, I was testing out a new hero-cam, which I did not have an LCD screen on, so the footage wasn't as awesome as it could have been :(

Before you know it, it was time to head shallower (or past time, really), so we headed back to the east, and we did manage to find our wall back up to 150'.  Even better, we found our way all the way back to the down line!  I couldn't believe it when we happened upon it.  Up shallower on the reef, we saw a few more notable specimens, including a Pleurobranchaea californica, that was crawling around on an elephant ear sponge... pretty weird, some basket stars, and a BIG wolf eel that was out in the open.  We spent the last 5 minutes of so of the dive watching this wolf eels swim around.  Then it was time to start the ascent.  Deco was uneventful.  Even though the conditions were terrible, we all had a pretty good time on the dive.  It was probably the most fun I've had on a dive in recent memory, with all of the excellent wolf eel stalking!

We (and Clinton), stayed down in Monterey (technically Marina) for the night, since we were back diving on Sunday.  We ended up in downtown Pacific Grove wandering around looking for dinner, and ended up at Jeninni, which was super tasty, though a bit upscale for us slovenly divers.