It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Porpoises, and Molas, and Whales! Oh, my!

We went out on the Rubber Ducky last Sunday and this Sunday, for some whale watching.  We had rather different conditions across the two weekends, but saw a lot of the same critters, so I thought I'd post all of the videos and photos in one post.

Last weekend, the conditions were a bit rough, with whitecaps pretty much the whole afternoon.  For the first hour or so, the whales were pretty elusive, but while we were meandering about, trying to decide where to go to find whales, a big mola swam right up to the boat.  He hung out with us for a while, and eventually I got the idea to try to video him with my GoPro, by hanging off the side of the boat with the camera underwater :)  I didn't have a selfie stick or anything like that to extend the camera under the water, just my arm!  But the mola seemed pretty content to hang out by the boat even while I hung over the side of the boat.

Later we found a pod of Dall's porpoises, who were zooming around the side of the boat and eventually started riding in our bow wake.  So I tried the same thing to video them.  The only problem with video'ing bow-riding porpoises while hanging over the side of the boat is that you have to hang over the side of the boat while it is underway.  My arms definitely got a good workout while one was hanging onto a rope on the boat to keep me in the boat, and the other was holding onto my GoPro trying not to lose it into the depths.

A bit later, we finally found a cooperative whale to take pictures of.  An insanely cooperative whale, actually.  We followed along beside a young humpback who was breaching every few minutes for about 2 hours.  We hung out with him the whole time.  There were a few whale watching boats around part of the time, but eventually they got tired of it (or had to take their passengers back into the dock) and we had him all to ourselves, which was good from a photography standpoint.  He would breach several times, dive for a couple minutes, and then he'd be back, breaching again.  Eventually he started to slow down, and was breaching only like every 5 minutes.  The entire time he was heading in the same direction, to the northwest, right into the wind.  So it was a bit of a bumpy ride to track alongside of him, and of course I was stuck driving, since Rob and Clinton were both taking pictures.  But they got some great shots, so it was definitely worth a couple of hours banging around in a boat.

This weekend, we came back and had much the same experience with a big mola and bow-riding porpoises, though this time the water was dead calm.  It was the perfect day for hanging off the side of the boat with a GoPro!  I also had a much better idea of how to get the shot from that position, having reviewed my video from the previous week.  So we played around with that for a while, and then looked for whales.  Unfortunately the whales were not quite as cooperative today.  There were some nice flukes, but not much in the way of breaching.

The best photo-op of the day was a sea lion that popped up right in front of the boat and snagged a fish right in front of us.  Poor fish, but neat to watch!  The video for today is at the top of this post.  There was another video from last weekend, which isn't nearly as good as this weekend's.

Also, I have to mention the baby sea gull in the parking lot.  Last week, we noticed a sea gull's nest in the parking lot of the boat launch with a fuzzy baby nearby, and this week Rob actually took some pictures (hard to convince himself to shoot pictures of a sea gull :P).  I can't believe I'm posting a picture of a sea gull here, but I just love the shot of the baby stretching his wings.  Even sea gulls are cute when they are babies!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Back to Sur-D

For a second week in a row, we had very good weather, good enough to make it down to Big Sur on the tech charter.  We also happened to once again have a boat consisting of all Tech 2 divers, so the idea of going back to Sur-D again came up.  On the one hand, we'd just been there the previously week.  On the other hand, it was an awesome dive site, and since we can't always go there even when we can make it to Big Sur, it seemed like it would be squandering an opportunity if we didn't go there.  When Nick mentioned that he hadn't been to Sur-D before, the right decision was clear.  (I was glad when Nick chimed in with that, since I really wanted to go to Sur-D, but it didn't seem like everyone else was on board with that idea.)

Once again we had great viz, in fact it was even better than it had been the previous week.  Maybe the viz was not technically better, but it was more blue and less green.  Not that the previous week's viz was anything to complain about, but it was more of a teal shade of awesome viz, while this week was more of an aqua shade of awesome viz.  In terms of current, though, this dive could not have been more different than last week's.  Last week, there was no current.  Today, there was a raging current on the bottom.  It was one of those dives where the whole purpose of the dive seemed to be to make it up-current to the other end of the pinnacle, only to be shot back to the other end once you got there.  It made posing for pictures a LOT harder.

We did a brief search of the area for our 8-legged friend from last week, but we couldn't find him.  We spent more time on this dive on the main structures (there are two structures that are much bigger than the others; I'm not sure which of them is "the" pinnacle) than on the little side structures, mostly because some of their crags and protrusions afforded us a tiny bit of protection from the current.  There was a spot right near the center of the big pinnacle where there is a crack (that's not quite the right word) across it, where the structure dips down a little, which seemed to be a relative dead zone for current.  Conveniently, there are also some monster heads of hydrocoral in this spot, which are quite photogenic.  So we spent several minutes here during the middle of the dive, and again near the end of the dive, while we caught our breath from dealing with the current.

Today's dive seemed a bit fishier than last week, with a bigger school of (adult) blue rockfish congregating near the top of the pinnacle.  I don't know why they weren't hunkered down in a spot where they could hide from the current.  That's what I'd do if I were a fish.

Deco was uneventful until the very end.  When we were doing our last 30 second pause at 5 feet, what looked like a thick rope came drifting along.  But it wasn't a rope.  It was actually a kelp stalk that was super encrusted with barnacles.  So encrusted that you couldn't really see the stalk at all, and the white barnacles made it look like a fat rope.  It was a really bizarre thing to see drifting by.  Rob pulled out his camera to take some pictures.  I hung out for a bit, and finally got sick of hovering at 5 feet (my least favorite deco stop of all!) and went to the surface and watched him.  The picture turned out pretty well.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sur D!

I've wanted to dive Sur D for a long time.  It seems like we talked about it for ages.  It required the right combination of being able to make it down to Big Sur Banks, and having the right group of divers on the boat, that could all do a dive in that depth range (i.e. divers with GUE Tech 2).  GPO, excellent viz, my first trip to Sur D.  One time, we actually made it down there, but our attempts to dive were thwarted by insane current.  Then, sometime this past winter, when I was sick, a BAUE charter that I was supposed to be on made it down there, and came back with excellent pictures.  Yet another charter in the spring made it down there a second time (this one I missed because I had too much work to do to go diving, a once in five years kind of event for me, but of course on that day, they went to Sur D).

So we finally had a boat that made it to Big Sur, and that had the right set of divers on it, so I made it very clear that we *were* going to Sur D.  I think Clinton didn't want to go there, but was a little afraid of what I would do if he too strenuously objected to my "suggestion".  Today was one of those epically flat days, with barely any surface current, when you could leisurely get into the water and lollygag* on the surface.  Not that we did, but we could have.  The water was also very clear.  And it just got better on the way down.  When I was around maybe 80 feet, I looked down and I could see the top.  And it looked so close, I thought there was no way we could be on the right site... the top is supposed to be around 160 feet.  The viz was just that good.  We landed on the top of the shallow pinnacle.  It was very pink with corynactic, though it didn't have the usual Sur Banks gigantor hydrocoral.  But the structure was quite dramatic, with a very vertical side to that pinnacle.  We headed down the side of the pinnacle, to start our dive in the deeper section.

Before it felt like the dive had really even started, I heard a squeal.  A someone is squealing through their rebreather kind of squeal.  Rob and Kevin are both big time squealers (rebreather chatterboxes in general), so I had to look from one to the other to see that Kevin was the source.  He was flapping about and pointing, into a spot that could only be a GPOs den.  I went to check it out, and then the GPO came out to play.  He was a very friendly chap.  He posed for pictures, and then slithered over the reef a bit, and sat back down to pose for some more pictures.  By now the second team's lights had appeared, and we excitedly tried to signal them (too excitedly perhaps), and eventually Kevin scootered over to drag them over to look at the GPO, whether they wanted to or not!  When Rob finished with him pictures, Clinton took over.  I really wanted to pose for a picture with the GPO, but since there were 6 divers and 2 photographers trying to look/shoot, I never really got the chance to get into a position for that.  Boohoo.

After probably about 10 minutes of playing with the GPO, we headed off to some of the other small side pinnaclets at this site.  Rob and Kevin had both told me from their previous dives here (grumble) that there was interesting topography.  The sides of the main pinnacle are pretty steep with some overhangs, but there are also just a lot of smaller side structures, which I don't think is obvious from the bathymetry.  On the deeper side pinnacles (some of which weren't nearly as colorfully encrusted), there were quite a lot of vase sponges.  I would say this was unusual compared to other Sur Banks sites, though on our most recent dive at Sur 19, we noticed an unusual number of vase sponges.  There was also a small (by Big Sur Banks standards) school of blue rockfish that was pretty deep, not on the top of the main pinnacle, but hanging between it and some of the deeper smaller side structures.  After we finished looking around in the deeper section (which is only like 180-190 feet at its deepest), we headed back to the main pinnacle to finish up the dive.  There were quite a lot of juvenile rockfish hanging out above that.  We found some big pristine hydrocoral heads, though they weren't nearly as common as Sur 19/20.  But the pinnacle is still super colorful, mostly from the corynactis.

Deco was uneventful, and so was the ride home.  We decided that after such an awesome dive, there was really no point in a second dive, which would surely be disappointing in comparison.

After all of the waiting, talking, trying, etc., Sur D did not disappoint.  The main pinnacle is super pretty and photogenic, and there are tons of little side structures to investigate on future dives.  I think we could do many more dives here before it gets old.  The fact that the first dive here featured a very friendly, photogenic, GPO certainly didn't hurt in convincing me that this is an awesome dive site.

P.S. While using Google to spell-check the word "lollygag" I learned from the urban dictionary that there is another meaning for this word.  Now I'm not so sure if I should use this word anymore.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Not Diving over July 4

 I took a couple of extra days off over July 4th weekend and headed down to Pacific Grove (with the kitties and everything!), and yet somehow managed to not dive at all.  After the previous weekend's epically bad viz, and the calm flat marine forecast, we decided that we'd rather go whale watching than diving.  We ended up doing some whale watching (out of Moss Landing) on Friday, and some otter peeping up the slough on Saturday.  We had Lobos reservations on Sunday, but decided to sleep in and head home before traffic got too hideously bad.

Speaking of hideous traffic, apparently getting from the bay area to Monterey on Saturday was terrible.  Clinton met us in Moss Landing for the whale watching, and it took like twice as long as usual for him to get there.  While we were waiting for him, we put the boat in the water and went out of the harbor to check things out.  It was SO foggy, and there were so many little boats out fishing.  It was crowded, because I guess no one wanted to go too far out in the fog.  So we putted out a bit and found that there were like two whales maybe a half mile from the harbor, which like 5 boats were all crowded around, watching.  So we hung out there for a bit, until we heard from Clinton.  Then we went back in to retrieve him.

In the short time that we went in to get Clinton and when we got back outside of the harbor, the fog had lifted.  Woot!  We ended up spending a couple of hours heading from here to there, looking for whales, and while we did see several whales, it was not what you'd call a productive day for the photographers.  None of the whales seemed interested in doing tricks.  But we still had plenty of fun zooming about in the ducky.  After the duckying, we headed back to Pacific Grove for a little BBQ with Kevin and Clinton.  Ted was supposed to come down (he was diving on Saturday, so he was going to come for dinner and sleep over), but the 3 hour google maps estimate to get from Anywater Sports to Pacific Grove deterred him.  But we drank a few margaritas in his honor.

Saturday afternoon we decided to go for a little adventure up the slough.  The timing of the tide was favorable (in that it was less likely that we'd run aground in the shallow parts), so we decided to do it. We've talked about going up there before, but have never done it.  After discussing with Jim, it turned out that it probably wouldn't be as scary as we originally thought.  And it was not.  There was the very small issue that the depth finder had gotten into a funky mode the day before, and so we weren't 100% sure we could believe it when we first started out.  But we quickly became convinced, and then everything was fine.

Close to the harbor, there are a lot of people in kayaks on the slough, but we eventually got further up, to where it was wide and deep, and there were hardly any kayakers.  There were lots of otters, and a variety of birds.  We even saw a (pretty big) baby otter on top of its mom, which had the benefit of having a nice dry, fluffy, teddy-bear-looking face.  Rob had a more productive photography day than the previous day.  At some point it began to drizzle a little bit, so we were riding back in the rain.  It never got too wet though.