It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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!