It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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!