It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, May 30, 2015


This post is a little off topic, since it's not related to diving or cats, but I think pictures of any cute animals are fair game for the blog :)  On Saturday afternoon, we went to this spot in the middle of nowhere (sorry, my California geographical knowledge pretty much includes places reasonably close to the coast and all else is "middle of nowhere") where there were some nesting owls.  I had work obligations in the morning, so an afternoon jaunt to the owls was perfect.  Unfortunately, Rob had left all of the requisite camera gear in Pacific Grove the previous weekend, so we took a very long roundabout path to get to the middle of nowhere (which was somewhere near 5, a bit north of the Monterey area).  We finally made it there around 4, and it was still very hot, in the 90s.  It kind of reminded me of Mexico because a) we were in the middle of nowhere, b) there was a lot of dust, c) it was really hot.  But we didn't find any caves to dive in.

Anyhoo, we had heard about the nesting owls from Jim, and apparently Clinton had been there earlier in the day, though we missed each other.  We had no trouble finding the trees with owls in them, and spent a few hours watching and photographing them.  Rob had a little remote flash thingy (which probably has a more technically correct name), which I was in a few cases enlisted to hold, so he could position it further than his arm could reach.  So I get a credit as "lighting assistant" on some of these ;)

There were a couple of baby owls, which were a little harder to find.  Luckily there was another guy there who pointed us to the general area of one of the nests.  We managed to see a little fuzzy tuft of fur occasionally peeking out of the nest, but not much more than that at first.  We waited for a while, looked from all different angels, and I almost lost an eye crawling through the brush to try to get a better angle.  Eventually we gave up and headed back to the more cooperative adults for a bit.  The adult owls seemed completely not bothered by us... they were super close, close enough that I didn't need binoculars (and couldn't even have used them if I wanted to).  They were all within 10 feet of us, and some were even on really low branches, at like waist to shoulder height.

Eventually I went back to the area where the nest was, to see if I could spy the baby.  By then, he was completely out of the nest, in a pretty photographable spot.  Still about 10 feet off the ground, almost directly above where you could see him from, but no longer buried in tree branches.  So I went back and retrieved Rob, who photographed the baby for a while.  We eventually found another baby, but he was so well hidden that it was more like a fluffy white-ish ball in a tangle of branches.  Definitely not photogenic, and hard to even see when you knew exactly where to look.

After a few hours of shooting, when it started getting near dusk, the owls got a LOT more active, flapping their wings, and flying from tree to tree.  They also got to be slightly less cooperative subjects, so we eventually headed out.  If I didn't already think this place seemed a lot like Mexico, I managed to step on an ant hill and get attacked by biting ants all over one of my feet.  Eek!

There were some interesting subjects other than the owls hanging nearby, including some pretty birds, though I have no idea what they were :)  There were also a lot of cute little bunnies around, or as Rob would call them, tasty owl snacks.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend

I've officially decided that I should no longer feel constrained to posting blog posts in date order, since that just means that I am always more and more behind on my posts.  And, ya know, it's my blog, so I can do what I want :)  So, here's a pretty recent post, even though I have a bunch more posts to catch up on from the past 3 months.

Memorial Day weekend was pretty action-packed, even though very little of that action involved diving.  I drove down on Thursday night, and brought the kitties along.  They were not too amused.  I don't know if it was the night driving, or just the fact that getting Pepper into her carrier was quite a bit more traumatic than usual, but they squawked their heads off until at least Morgan Hill, before finally falling asleep and being mostly quiet for the rest of the ride.  We didn't do a ton on Friday -- Rob was working and I spent a good part of the afternoon putting together a super complicated-to-assemble sewing table that I had just picked up from Walmart.  I'm honestly not sure if I would have bought the thing if I knew it was *that* complicated to put together :)  Friday night, we went to one of the beaches along Ocean View Blvd so that Rob could take some pictures of sunset.  Rob has just started playing around with HDR pics at sunset, and probably wouldn't consider this one production quality, but I think it's quite nice.

On Saturday, we were in the Escapade.  The forecast was pretty iffy, and so were the conditions!  We managed to make it down to the Lobos area, with E3/Deep E3 as the target.  Not too far from Lobos, I was adjusting my neck seal (I was already completely in my suit at this point), and I felt a crack/slit at the edge of it.  A pretty big-feeling one.  It felt like it might split at any moment.  I asked Kevin to take a look and tell me if he thought it was diveable.  He was pretty iffy on it, so he took a picture of it with his phone, so that I could take a look.  Maybe even more disconcerting than the split itself was that there were lots more little cracks below and all around it.  Rob looked at it, and said he thought he could duct tape it.  John and Clinton both registered skepticism about diving that on a tech dive.  In the end, Rob did duct tape it, but I still decided it was too iffy for a tech dive.  Live to dive another day.  So I warned Clinton that I would definitely be expecting a second (recreational) dive with him, and helped everyone else get geared up and into the water.  I did a bunch of bottle clipping, and man, that's kind of hard work on a pitching boat.  The crew on the Escapade always make it look easy though :)

While the boys were in the water, I got to pass the time practicing holding station in the big boat.  Actually there was only a very short period of time where I was at the wheel, and I found it quite terrifying.  I kept us heading into the wind (there were quite a lot of whitecaps by this point) for a while, but eventually I had to turn if I was going to circle back around to the downline, and that was terrifying.  But kind of fun.  Also while they were down, we saw a breaching whale out in the distance.  He was breaching over and over and over again; it was a bummer we couldn't go check it out.  Before you know it, bags were up and we meandered along with them, wringing our hands about whether one of the teams was going to drift too close to the rocks for a pickup in this wind.  In the end, they just made it beyond where it would have been dicey to do a pickup.  The pickups were only the usual amount of dicey-ness for this amount of wind.  The conditions actually deteriorated quite a bit in the last 10 to 15 minutes that divers were in the water, so it was pretty snotty by the time everyone was back on board.  So we got the heck out of there, and headed back to the bay for a second dive.

Even in the bay, it was pretty snotty at some of the further out sites, like Ballbuster.  So I decided to go wimpy and suggested Eric's Pinnacle.  Clinton agreed.  No one else was excited enough to do a second dive.  I guess the first dive wasn't that awesome; it was dark/green, and neither Rob nor Clinton thought it was nice enough to even get their cameras out to take pictures.  When we anchored at Eric's, you could see pretty far down the line, so we thought we were in for nice conditions.  It turns out that the water was very clear in the top 15 to 20 feet, but below that, it was pretty murky.  The viz was probably slightly better than average for Eric's, but definitely not what we had in mind from what we saw on the boat.  Oh well.  Clinton managed to at least get a few nice pictures of me, as Ted later said to me, "at Eric's... in a rebreather".  Yea, that's pretty lame.  Much of the dive was in the 20 to 30 foot range, so I felt like I was trying to get my buoyancy and loop volume right for like the entire dive.  Clinton kept pointing the camera at me while I was on the way up shallower or down deeper, when my buoyancy was never right!  So I think a lot of his shots had bubbles coming out of my nose.  That's what he gets for not giving me any warning before he starts clicking :P

I was a bit disappointed after the dive, when I took my drysuit off, that the neck seal didn't explode dramatically.  In fact, it didn't split at all; I guess the duct tape worked :)  We headed to lunch at the pub at K-dock, and sat outside, where everyone was either too cold or too hot.  Later in thte afternoon, Rob and I went for a short hike at Lobos.  Rob was hoping to take some pictures of baby seals or maybe otters, but due to technical difficulties (which I won't expound upon, to protect Rob's street cred), no pictures were taken.  We took the patch around whaler's cove over to coal chute, then up to the thumb, and a little further to the cove by Monastery.  It was a nice short "hike".  Since the traffic back through Carmel was terrible, we decided to take a little drive down the coast, hoping traffic would clear before we came back.  We made it down to Bixby Creek Bridge, parked there and walked around a little (Rob was scoping out spots to take pictures of the bridge from), and then headed back.  Traffic was way better by the time that we got back.

On Sunday, we were hoping to take the ducky out for some whale action, but the sea conditions were not favorable.  But Rob was really itching to get some pictures with his new lens.  We met Jim for lunch (at La Tortuga), and Jim offered to show us some of his spots where he takes pictures of birds.  So we went on a little tour of birding spots in the Moss Landing through Aptos area.  We finished up at an osprey nest, where we hung out for a while.  It was pretty overcast when we first got there.  We did manage to see an osprey return to the nest with a fish in his claws (Rob got a shot of this, but since the background was an overcast sky, he won't publish it :( ), and then we watched him eat the fish (very slowly).  Later on, the sun finally came out and Rob got some blue sky pictures of one of the ospreys stretching his wings.  Yay!

On Monday, the conditions were ducky-able.  We met Jim, Bev, and Clinton in Moss Landing, and headed out from there.  We saw humpbacks here and there closer to shore, but the real action was pretty far out, maybe 10 miles from shore.  There was a one mile or so area where there must have been 30 whales.  Once we got out there, Rob, Clinton, and Jim all got their cameras out, so I was stuck with the task of driving.  We pretty much just had to look out and pick which group of spouts we wanted to go look at.  At some point, I was debating about which group of spouts to go to next, when all of a sudden I heard a loud almost growling sound, and a whale came up within 10 feet of the boat.  The "growling" was the up-close sound of a whale exhaling.  A total of 5 or 6 whales all came up without maybe 15 feet of the boat, all around us.  It was really cool, but a bit scary too, since they kind of came out of nowhere.  Luckily none of them decided to breach right next to the boat.

We eventually found a young whale that was breaching over and over and over again.  We spent quite a bit of time watching him.  His mom was swimming along next to him, just doing the normal whale thing, while he was just breaching over and over again.  It was a lot of fun (and a lot of work, keeping us on the right side of the whale for the right light for the ornery photographers on the boat).  In addition to this guy, we had an encounter with a flamboyant tail-slapper, and some very friendly/curious albatrosses.  One of them seemed to really really want his picture taken.  After several hours of whale fun, we came back in and had dinner at the Sea Harvest right there by the harbor.

Then, we had the complicated task of getting ourselves (and our cats) home on a holiday weekend.  We headed back to PG to get the cats, but the traffic report was so terrible that we stayed there until pretty late, to let the traffic clear.  In the end it took about 2 hours to get home, which isn't terrible (pretty standard for 101 on a Sunday night, though usually earlier in the evening).  Rob got home much faster than me, because he took 17.  But I really didn't want to take the cats over 17, since I was afraid it would make them carsick.  But we eventually all made it home, without much squawking from the kitties.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The K1 Crack, Found Again

Nearly five years ago, we did a particularly awesome dive at K2, where we found this really cool vertical crack "somewhere north" of K2.   It was one of the coolest spots, topography-wise, that I've dived locally.  It was insanely narrow, so covered with gorgonians on both sides, and in one spot, there was a fallen boulder that was suspended between the two walls.  I loved the spot, Rob got this super cool picture of me between the walls, that was still not nearly as cool as it looked in real life :P  We looked for it on a couple of subsequent dives, and never did find it again.  Then, a couple months ago, when I was sick (with my never-ending cold/sinus infection), Rob went on a dive without me (with Clinton and John I think), and found the crack from K1.  I was pretty bitter that they went back to the crack without me AND the viz was insanely good.  So, we were back at Mt Chamberlin, trying to decide where to dive, and Rob said that he thought he could now find the crack from K1.  Actually he said he was sure he could find it.  So the pressure was on :P

We got into clear, cold blue water, with excellent viz all the way to the bottom.  We came down the side of K1 pinnacle, I believe on the east side, down to the sand, and from there it seemed like we could see forever.  We started to come around the pinnacle, counterclockwise, and stopped briefly to check out a wolf eel.  We continued on our path around the pinnacle, and before long, we were on a less dramatically sloping structure, to our left, with sand as far as the eye could see (and it could see far) to our right.  It was kind of boring.  It was noticeably less encrusted, and while the viz was insanely good, there just wasn't a lot to see.  I was starting to wonder about Rob's certainty that he could find the crack.  Just when I was about to ask him where the heck we were, we encountered a nice big salp chain out over the sand, so we stopped to take some pictures.

Once we got going from there, we ended up at the crack pretty quickly.  Just before we got to the crack, actually basically right at the entrance to the crack, we found a dead GPO on the bottom :(  It was still completely in tact, but completely white.  Not a very nice find, but at least we had managed to find the crack.  We headed in there, from the end where that big boulder was suspended between the walls.  Rob likes to photograph the boulder, even though the walls further in a zillion times more photogenic.  They are just so insanely encrusted, even prettier than I remember them.  I was hanging out in there where the crack seemed to be at its narrowest, while Rob took some pictures.  I must say, it was kind of nice not going up and down every time I inhaled and exhaled.  I could have hung out there all day while Rob took pictures.  The pictures turned out nicely, but I still think they can't possible do the spot justice!  Rob and I were discussing this, and it might be fun to play around with some slave strobes in there sometime, to light up the wall behind me as well.

After we finished up there, we headed out of the crack, where there was a nice colorful spot on the pinnacle with quite a few yellowtail rockfish, and more super-lush gorgonians.  We hung out there for the rest of the dive, getting more pictures and enjoying the scenery.  I wasn't exactly sure if we were back on K1 when we finished the dive, but I guess we were.  I could hear the other team's scooters nearby.  We popped our bag, and had what I would describe as a rather interesting deco. As soon as the bag went up, and we came off of the pinnacle, we went zooming across the pinnacle.  There hadn't been much current on the bottom, but we were flying once we were in mid-water.  And it wasn't just pushing us horizontally through the water.  When we were at around 80 feet, on our way to 70 feet, we can shooting across another structure.  We worked our way to 70 feet, started timing the stop, and then after we drifted across the structure, and were back in deeper water, it was like we were dropped almost 10 feet.  We were at 70 feet and then we were in the high-70s.  We returned to 70 feet, but then for the next couple of stops, we had periodic "current" going up and down, presumably as we were pushed over deeper structures.  It was crazy.  For some of the moves between stops, I felt like I had to swim up just to get up to the nice stop.  Finally at around 40 feet, everything seemed to settle down, and the rest of the deco was uneventful.

I mentioned the wonky currents during deco to Gary and John, who didn't seem to have been bothered by it.  I found this pretty strange.  Then later, Rob told me that he had mentioned it to Clinton, who had no idea what he was talking about.  Then Jim, who had been driving the boat, said that even though we popped our bags really close to each other, after our bag went up we went zooming off in one direction, while the other team's bag just sort of bobbed along slowly.  I guess we were in two different currents for our drifts.  Weird!

Anyhoo, it was great to finally find the crack again, and I'm glad at least one of us knows how to find it again.  I can't believe it's been almost 5 years since we were last there.  That makes me feel old :P

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Kitties with a Ball of String at Mt Chamberlin

We did a very fun dive at Mt Chamberlin, which unfortunately doesn't have any pictures or video to go with it :(  But it was sort of the nature of the dive that no pictures managed to be taken.  Two weeks earlier, while I was visiting my parents, Rob went diving with Jim and Joakim, to the Mount Chamberlin area, and I guess the downline was lost somehow.  It came detached (or maybe was never attached?) to the float on the surface.  I'm not sure when/how this happened, maybe when the line was being retrieved, but the bottom line is, they lost the ball and line, and did not manage to recover them on that dive.

So we happened to make it back down to there today, and we were hoping to recover the ball and line.  We dropped the downline at the South Wall, but we planned to head to the Annex.  I was diving with Rob, Kevin, and the one they call McNeill.  The viz was good (very good even), so we made the jump over to the annex, and were following the north side wall to the west (like we always do), and as we came around the corner at the west end, we could see a big thick line, clearly the line attached to the lost ball.  Rob and Kevin got to work with dragging the line back as they followed it back around the pinnacle to the ball.  Clown music was playing in my head as I watched.  I initially hung back, because usually when Rob and Kevin decide to do something like this, it's best to just stay back.  I did eventually have to get involved to ensure that no elephant ear sponges were harmed in the recovery of this ball.  We followed the line back around to the ball, and it was up a bit shallower, sitting in maybe 170'. 

As it turned out, it was sitting right on the flat area just in front of the swim-through that we've been having fun with on the annex lately.  Anyway, Rob and Kevin tried to lay the line out sort of flat-like, so that it wouldn't catch on anything, then attached a bag to the end and sent it up.  The idea was that the bag would go to the surface, and the ball would stay where it was.  It didn't go exactly as planned... the ball kind of rolled a bit and then got pulled down off the pinnacle to the sand channel between the annex and the main structure.  And off it went (the ball was recovered by the boat crew, but this was the last that we saw of it).  Once that was finished, we were conveniently located right at our favorite swim-through, so we headed through that.  Every time that I've gone through there, I've started on the south side (the opposite side that we were on today), and came up through the swim-through, where you land on a nice gorgonian-encrusted flat-ish area (where we found the ball).  Today we went through in the reverse direction, which is a million times cooler, because you come out of the swim-through on the side of the wall, with 50+ feet of blue water below you, so you are staring into the abyss as you come out of the swim-through.  Definitely more fun that way!  From there, we headed down the wall, and around the back side, to the east.  Just as we started to come up the structure to cut through a crack, we found a wolf eel.  After checking that out, we continued up to the top of the structure.  Jon was on a stage bottle, so we paused there so he could switch off of it.  While he was doing that, I found another wolf eel!  I was pretty excited, and wanted to show someone, but Kevin was being a good buddy, watching Jon, and well, Jon was switching bottles.  So I finally got Rob to come over and enjoy the wolfy peeping with me.

From there, we headed north over the channel, and up the ridge to K2.  We made it back to K2, did a GPO sweep (negative), and then headed up the pinnacle.  We had an uneventful (though somewhat cold) deco.  The cold water is definitely back!