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Me diving

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Back to Jackson Blue

Our plan was to go to Hole in the Wall on Saturday, but when I woke up on Saturday, my ears were killing me.  I had my doubts about whether I'd actually be able to dive, and in the event that I could not, I didn't really want to sit on a boat on the Mill Pond for 3 hours while I waited for the boys to get back.  So I made a couple of alternative suggestions, and in the end we settled on just going back to Jackson Blue.  I was still sort of regretting that we had not gone to the end of the line (or thereabouts) the previous day.

So we came up with a pretty simple plan, which was to go to the end of the line, or well, to the part before it gets way shallower (the stratosphere, I believe it's called).  Then on the way back, we'd check out some of the side passages on the other side from where we'd gone the day before.  While I've done some diving on the "right" side of the main line, I've never really even noticed anything on the left side, but Kevin claimed there was some stuff to do, and suggested Source Nouveau.

After all the brouhaha about clearing my ears, I actually had a much easier time with my ears today than I had yesterday.  Strange.  Things started out pretty uneventfully; we made our way through the two loop de loops (4 Ts). Kevin had some problem with the weighting of his scooter, which he'd identified when we were still in the basin, but decided it was okay to dive.  Rob tried to convince Kevin to switch scooters with him, because, you know, Rob is a much more talented scooter driver than Kevin, and thus would be able to deal with the mis-weighting better, snicker.  (Though if it had been me, I totally would have taken Rob up on that!).  So, once we were in the cave, Kevin seemed to be able to ride the scooter just fine, but every time he went onto the trigger, the scooters trim would be a bit wonky and he'd kick up a bit of silt from the bottom.  After this happened several times, I pointed it out to him and things did improve.  So we got into a rhythm once we were past the fourth T, though we were moving really slowly.  Kevin says he likes to dawdle on the way in (at least on the breathers, when having enough gas to get to your destination is not a concern), but I secretly think he has the slowest scooter in the history of the world.  That might seem like a lot of extraneous commentary on Kevin's scooter, but eventually this becomes relevant.

So there we were, moseying along at like, I don't know somewhere in the low 3000s of feet, when I realized I could not see Rob's light.  Between you and me, I don't think Rob is always the most on top of keeping his light where I can see it.  Well, that's not really far, but what he does do which kind of drives me crazy is that even when I start doing the turn left, turn right, looking for my buddy dance, he doesn't make himself anymore obvious.  So I looked left, I looked right, still didn't see him, but figured he was just being Rob.  So then I slowly did a big loop around so I could see behind me (because who wants to go off of the trigger), and he wasn't there.  So I stopped Kevin, asked him where 3 was (in case Rob was still hiding in some blindspot I hadn't looked in) and he agreed that Rob was not there.  Hmph.  So we headed back.  We weren't going that long, though it seemed pretty long, before I saw a tiny beam of light -- so tiny that I thought he had gone onto a backup light, but actually it was just that far away.  As I approached him at first I thought he was pointing down a passage, as if he'd stopped because he wanted to make the jump (the thought of which annoyed me), but then I realized he wasn't pointing, he was holding something up... his prop.  Doh!

There was a brief moment before I remembered that on the Suex's, you can remove the prop if something gets sucked into it.  So I looked at the shaft and sure enough, there was some thin bungee wrapped around it.  It was no problem to remove, but Rob just didn't have quite enough hands to hold his light so he could see the bungee, while simultaneously removing the bungee.  So I offered him a third hand and he quickly fixed that.

Where he had stopped was quite close to a jump to the "left", so we decided to just head up there.  I think Rob proposed this, though I'm not completely sure.  It was a pretty annoying jump, because there was really nowhere to drop scooters and bottles.  Kevin found a spot just big enough to drop his scooter, and then when he tied the jump spool to the jump line, which was pretty much on the ceiling, we were able to drop our scooters up there, without them touching the silty bottom.  But there was no place to drop our bottles.  So we continued in with our bottles.  We passed some Ts and even at least one 4-way intersection, which seemed a bit odd, but seems quite a bit better than all of the double Ts that we passed yesterday... you know, there's a T and then like 4 feet later, there's another T, requiring two cookies be dropped when a 4-way intersection would require only one (and we passed several pairs of Ts like this!).  While the intersections may have been nice, I didn't find this passage very beautiful.  In fact, as we were swimming along, I was thinking it seemed more brown than white, compared to yesterday's very white passages.  And I had to schlep my bottle, because I literally never found a spot to drop it.  Eventually we came to a T in an actually T-shaped part of the passage.  Rob chose to go left, even though it was smaller (lower).  I kicked in like 10 feet and decided that this was not a reasonable passage to go into with a bottle.  I signaled to Rob to turn around.  He was, of course, annoyed, but we headed back to the mainline (since I wanted to go further up, and I really wasn't too into this passage).

Once back to the mainline, we continued up toward the end, making pretty slow progress.  Maybe it was in my head, or maybe I was just misremembering, but we eventually got to an area that was kind of low and a little silty compared to what I remember, and the line was on the ceiling which is always kind of annoying.  Now that I think of it, perhaps the last time I went there, we dropped our scooters earlier and kicked to the end.  Anyway, it was getting a bit dusty, so when we got to a T and Kevin stopped to point it out to me and tell me to remember it, I called turn.  We were at the T that you can take to go back to Crinoid Glory, which is what Kevin was showing to me.  This is pretty dang close to the Banana Room; if I'd realized how close, I probably would not have turned yet.  So we turned around and I tried to make my way out of the dusty part as quickly as possible, and once out of that area, I realized that I could not find Kevin's light.  Seriously!?!  Kevin is usually quite good about making his light known to me as soon as I show any sign of looking around.  So I quickly identified that he was not there, and stopped Rob, and back up the line we went.  We found Kevin all the way back at where we had turned; he had become entangled in the line (in a really annoying spot around his breather O2 bottle) while turning around, and decided it would be much easier to wait for us to dislodge him.  So there he was, tied to the ceiling.  Rob dislodged him (and said he probably would not have been able to get himself out without cutting the line), and we headed out.  After this, things went smoothly, and we managed to get all the way back out of the cave without any team separations :P

By the time we got back to the deco rock pile, I was pretty cold.  It had been cold before the dive (high 40s I think), and my suit was leaking through the zipper.  Brrr.  I was glad when we hit the surface both because of that, and because I really needed to blow my nose :)

Living it up in Tallahassee
So, about that bungee in Rob's prop... Once back on the surface, Kevin asked Rob how that happened.  Rob confessed that the bungee had come from his wetnotes.  Turns out, Rob was annoyed about Kevin's bad scooter trim, so he decided to take out his wetnotes to write Kevin a note (not sure exactly what it said, but probably something like... "I'm a better scooter driver than you, let's switch").  While on the trigger.  And that didn't end too well.  Sigh.  Can't take them anywhere.

After we packed up from the dive, we went to Edd's to fill some gas and then hit the road for Tallahassee.  Since we were in the big city for New Year's Eve, we were actually able to find a bar (if a chain restaurant bar counts -- we went to the BJs just across from our motel).  We only managed to stay out until like 9:30, but it was still a more exciting night than the previous two :)

2016 Year in Review

Photo by Robert Lee
It's been a pretty quiet year on the blog.  It's been a pretty quiet year for diving too, though not as quiet as the blog might suggest, so I thought I'd do a quick (doubtful) post about all of the stuff I did but didn't post about. The local diving was pretty terrible, with El NiƱo bringing us what sometimes seemed like a storm every weekend. That, combined with a red tide in the bay for a couple of months, resulted in a ton of boat cancellations. I counted 18 days of local diving this year (or maybe really 17...), which sounds pretty terrible, but it's actually better than I would have guessed -- I would have estimated one per month. The breakdown was 1 night dive at Breakwater, 4 days at Lobos, 2 rec boats, and 11 tech boats. So a quick rundown of the action, somewhat chronologically...

Okenia felis, photo by Robert Lee
For the first time in many years, we did not spend New Years cave diving in Florida.  We spent the holidays at home (the Monterey home) for the most part. But we started the year off right with a scooter dive at Lobos with John and Clinton, out to Twin Peaks to visit the Okenia felis on the Road. Rob and I had done pretty much the same dive a week before, and we found the little buggers, but Rob was shooting wide angle. They were on a rock that I know (I've seen Okenia there before), so I was pretty sure we'd find them again, and we did. Everyone who was toting a giant camera got pictures of them. 

Photo by Robert Lee
The winter diving was not very inspiring; we did make it down to Diablo Pinnacles once, and the viz was excellent, but while I hate to admit that Rob is right, that site just doesn't excite me that much. We did have some awesome Orca action in the late winter. One day on the ducky with Rob, Clinton, and Jim, we saw a group of about 6 orcas have an encounter with a huge pod of dolphins. That was cool enough by itself, but then we got a front row seat to one of the orcas peeling off from the group and after a long chase, he took down a dolphin (and the guys got the shot!). The orcas were around for probably at least a month, chowing down on baby grey whales and such, and we had one other pretty cool day of watching a group of orcas between mile buoy and pinos, from the Escapade. 

Photo by Robert Lee
In April and May, we had a brief break from the bum weather and snuck in a few days at Lobos and south (Mt Chamberlin south wall, K1 crack) with epic viz and very cold water, brrrr.  On one dive at E3, we found more Okenia :P. We did get one trip down to Sur, but the water was quite dark, not quite the epic viz from those other dives. 

Photo by Robert Lee
After we got back from Fiji, we finally managed to do something we've been talking about for ages... We started up the slug count at Lobos again. Rob, John, Lauren, and I managed to get all 4 transacts counted in one dive. We had a bit of debate about where transact 5 starts and ends, and about which transact is 1 and which is 2 :P. Otherwise it was a successful day; we even found our warbonnet friends on transact 4 again!

Photo by Robert Lee
After that, the summer was pretty light on diving, and all of my tech boats ending up in the bay. At one point, at the end of July, I felt like my rebreather was taunting me, because it reported 42 days as my surface interval. Then after we made it out to the dive site (in the bay, of course), my O2 reg exploded, and it became clear that this was not a fixable-on-the-boat failure. And it's probably the one reg on my gear where swapping out another reg doesn't really work... The geometry is rather persnickety. So I sat out the dive (that would have been the 18th dive), and got a spare one of those regs so this won't happen again :)

Photo by Robert Lee
While the summer was sort of a bust for diving, we did have a couple of good days out on the ducky watching humpbacks. The whale watching wasn't nearly as good as it has been in the past couple of years, and we had a few days where whales were few and far between, but also a few great days. Rob got at least one shot good enough to make it onto our wall (and Jim's wall too, I believe). We also spent a few days in Oregon over the summer, where Jim and Rob came up with a rather intense schedule (e.g. waking up at midnight to catch the Milky Way at 2am, then head to a different spot to wait for sunrise).  There were also some more slightly relaxed days where we got to do things like (easy) hiking, looking at water falls, eating ice cream, and looking at quilts (ahead of the Sisters Quilt Festival). 

Felimida macfarland, photo by Clinton Bauder
For my birthday, there just happened to be a BAUE Lobos Day. Rob signed us up to do some dive for the geo-tagging project that I wasn't that interested in doing. So I vetoed him and organized another slug count with John and Clinton. We wanted to do it once a quarter, so this was perfect timing.  We had a couple of cool finds.  First, I found a Chromodoris macfarlandi (whose genus has changed, but I refuse to learn the new ones!) on my transact, so I even got to count it :P. Then, one the way in, on the back side of middle reef, Rob found a new-to-me (and him, but not Clinton) slug, Thordisa bimaculata. Woot!  So that was definitely a successful slu dive, and to top things off, Clinton brought cupcakes for my birthday :)

Thordisa bimaculata, photo by Clinton Bauder
Rob, Clinton, and I did one other cool dive in October, while we were waiting out the Cordell window. We wanted to dive, but leaving the bay was not an option. So we decided to try to find something like Consolation Prize (deep shale ledge) but a little shallower, like 150-160. While Rob was negotiating that with Jared, he found a GPS mark from when they did the original Consolation Prize dive. And it was in just the right depth range. It turned out to be an awesome dive, though when we first dropped we picked a slightly non-optimal (boring as hell) direction to go, but eventually circled back to awesomeness. We saw vase sponges, a purple sea fan, and a bunch of (at least 4 distinct) small flag rockfish!  Definitely a cool site that we will have to visit again when we are stuck in the bay. 

Photo by Robert Lee
For my last local dive of the year, Rob and I did a night dive at the Breakwater the week of thanksgiving. I was in Monterey for the week, but getting over a cold for the first weekend. Looking at the forecast though, the odds of getting a dive in did not look great. Rob left work a little early on Tuesday and headed down to join me, and I told him that afternoon that if we wanted to dive at all this week, this might be our only chance. It was a fun dive. It started out slowly, with not many good sightings, but eventually things picked up and we found some cool critters, the coolest of which was a super cute sculpin (I think it was either a buffalo sculpin or bull sculpin) sitting in a divot. I was so excited when I found it, and then he sat for quite a significant photo session.  But the coolest thing of all was the third buddy we picked up halfway through the dive -- a harbor seal. We didn't see him for a while, but kept finding patches where the viz was all stirred up. Then we finally got a glimpse of him swishing by a couple of times.  Then he warmed up to us and swam up right between us while we were watching that sculpin.  And he just kind of hung out with us. Once we got going again, he was swimming along with us for most of the rest of the dive. He would occasionally dart off and then rejoin us, but as we swam back in along the wall, he was swimming right beside me pretty much the whole time. At some point, Rob shined his light into a crack for me to look at something, and as I was trying to look, the seal came along and nudged me out of the way and stuck his face in the crack!  I never did get to see what Rob was showing me :(. The seal followed along with us all the way back to the beach (when we got to like 3 feet and stood up). I was worried he was going to follow us to the parking lot :)

To finish up the year, we restarted our annual tradition of cave diving in Florida over New Years. More on that later!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jackson Blue, toward Crinoid Glory

I flew into Jacksonville on Thursday, and Rob was kind enough to pick me up (he and Kevin had dived Madison that day) and then we booked it to Marianna, getting into town just before Ruby Tuesday closed (which is, as far as I can tell, the latest place to get food other than fast food). Kevin met us there and we had some snacks and beer, as I was reminded for the nth time that Marianna doesn't have hard liquor. We came up with a tentative plan for the rest of the week... JB on Friday, Hole in the Wall on Saturday, then down to Tallahassee to Emerald, then back to Newberry (home base) for either Alachua Sink or Eagle's Nest on Monday.

We headed to Edd's in the morning, to get a little gas (Argon, O2) and sign in to Jackson Blue. It was pretty crowded there, and once we headed over to JB, it was a little crowded there too.  Well there were a few other cars there already.  We couldn't find a real map of JB but we'd taken a look at a map on a T shirt at Edd's so we could formulate a plan, which was to head up toward Crinoid Glory. I've headed up to that area before, but I don't think I've ever technically made it there. But I don't know; I'm not sure what part of the cave is technically called that :P

Anyhoo, Kevin was leading, followed by me and then Rob. We schlepped our gear to the water (not that bad of a schlep... gotta love Matt and Leah's scooters!) and off we went. So, it's been about two years since I've been on a cave dive. And as I was puttering into the cavern, I realized that I hadn't turned my light on. Doh. I guess that's what the cavern zone is for. Kevin and I dumped our O2 bottles in the cavern, and I remembered to check whose bottle I had... I was pretty surprised to see it had my name on it, since it seemed like we had a lot of borrowed gear :P. We headed toward the mainline, and around 30 feet, before we even got to the line, my ear locked up. For a while I thought I might have to turn the dive, but eventually I managed to get down to 40 feet.

When we came to the chimney, I took pretty much forever to get down. Kevin was waiting patiently at the bottom.  For some reason I had the dumb idea to switch my PPO2 at the top of the chimney. I realized immediately that it was a dumb moment to do it, but didn't switch it back. So in addition to dealing with my ears, I was dealing with venting gas on the way down :). I can't even blame that on my lack of recent cave diving :P. Not too long after the chimney, after I think we had just gone through another small down area, Kevin stopped and gave me a hand signal which I thought was suggesting that he and I switch. I was thinking he wanted to do this so that we could go through the ups and downs at whatever speed worked for me.  I kind of waved him off because I didn't really want to lead (into the dark scary cave) but he kept signalling. So finally I just scootered past him and led us from there. I stayed in the lead until the second set of Ts, when I let him take back the lead. I paused there because I didn't really want to go first, and he just scooted by.

We took the usual scootering path to the right at the first set of Ts and to the left at the second.  We were going pretty slowly. I know that Kevin will deny it, but I think his Gavin is the slowest scooter in the history of the world. He would probably say that he likes to dawdle on the way in on the trigger (especially when gas is not an issue). Anyhoo, we ambled along through the trash room and all that, and before you know it, we got to the jump. By the time that you see the jump, there is not a good drop point for scooters and bottles. So Rob and I went back a bit to the first rubble pile and dropped our stuff there. Kevin made do closer to the jump (but he kept his bottle). Once we made the jump, we quickly started passing gazillions of Ts. I somehow drew the short straw and got stuck dropping cookies. I think I was down to about two cookies left before Kevin started to contribute. 

So, I don't really know where we were going, and I didn't necessarily know that Kevin did either. Not that there's anything wrong with that... I'm always happy to just poke around. But I thought the area that we went to was really nice. The water was SO clear and the walls were quite bright.  I remember the last time I was back there, there was a far amount of percolation, but today is was just so clear and quiet!  At some point we made it to some areas that were a little lower, and Kevin dropped his bottle. Eventually after I think around 9 Ts, we swam over a T where Kevin dropped a cookie, and I pointed out that on the other side of the T was a cookie I had dropped earlier. A sure sign that it's time to turn the dive :P. So we headed back.  My ears were starting to get persnickety, so it was a good time to turn back anyway. 

On the way back to the mainline, I saw what seemed like the biggest cave crayfish I'd ever seen. It was pretty cool, but now that I think back to it, it was kind of creepy.  When we got back to the mainline, there was some slight discussion about heading further in, or calling it. I called it because of my ears but I pretty much immediately regretted that... There aren't that many ups and downs further up the mainline, so I should have just gone for it. Oh well. We kind of took our time on the way out. It was pretty uneventful, though between the last two Ts, I became convinced that I must have swum over the last T and not seen it, because it seemed like I'd been going and going and not seen it yet. And then we passed the T. I guess we were just going that slowly :P. 

Coming up the chimney was not great. My ears were driving me nuts and I kind of felt like my eye balls were leaking out of my nose. We meandered pretty slowly back to the cavern, and then hung out there for about 15 minutes. I laid on the rock bottom and practiced using my p-valve. While Kevin video'd me. Apparently he didn't realize what I was doing ;)

When deco was finished, we drifted back to the surface and splashed about for a bit. I had a bloody nose. I guess it wasn't my eye balls leaking into my nose :P

New Year's 2017: Florida Cave Diving

After a one year hiatus from tradition, we managed to get back to Florida for some New Year's cave diving this year.  All of Team Kitty was present.  Unfortunately, Rob was traveling a week before Christm
as, and he brought home a horrendous cold.  Which he gave to me just in time for me to be sick for Christmas.  When we woke up the next morning to leave for Florida, I was so sick.  There was no way I could drag myself to the airport, let alone sit on a flight for 6 hours.  So I stayed home, and Rob headed to Florida without me.  While he was at the airport, he got them to change my flight to be the exact same itinerary 3 days later.  So, I missed 3 days of diving, but I least I managed to make the trip.  I told Kevin and Rob to get all of the scary dives out of their systems before I showed up :)

Jackson Blue, toward Crinoid Glory
Back to Jackson Blue
Emerald Sink
Eagle's Nest