It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, December 22, 2017

Back to Birthday Wall

It's been a few years since we've been to Birthday Wall, but it's still one of my favorite sites. So I figured finally getting back there was worthy of a post. Even without pictures from Rob :(. We both had Friday off; when I pointed this out to Rob the week before (he didn't know he had the day off, and first denied it), he made a Lobos reservation. Then a couple days later he told me he got Phil. Woot! That's another thing we haven't done in ages. Unfortunately, Kevin had already shipped stuff to Florida for our New Years' trip, so he could not join us :(. Also unfortunately, Rob's camera has been leaking a bit on deeper dives lately, so it wasn't allowed to come on the dive (it's now at Backscatter). So Rob convinced me to bring the GoPro, and he brought the video light.

Conditions were pretty flat in terms of both swell and wind. It was pretty much a perfect day to be out with Phil except that it was cold!  Brrr.  I asked Rob to slow down on the way out because it was so cold.  When we got out to the area, we briefly had some problems with the depth sounder but after Phil went for a little dip in the water, we got that fixed and found the site without a problem.  We dropped the hook in about 150'. There was roughly zero current on the surface. It was a good day to lollygag on the surface while getting geared up :)  When we finally flopped into the water, we found very clear water.  We met up at 20' for bubble checks and I noticed that Rob's O2 bottle was leaking at the solenoid what I would describe as a non-trivial amount.  I told him to keep an eye on it.

We headed down the line and eventually found a little current closer to the bottom, but overall it was nice clear, still water. We dropped on the pinnacle, got situated, and then headed down the wall.  Rob was really flying down the wall. I just can't drop that fast!  But eventually I nad it down to him. In the sand off of the wall, we saw a wolf eel just sitting in the sand. Then a lingcod swam over and sat next to him, just staring him down. Rob convinced me to get some video, but I didn't want to get up in his face and disturb him. But mostly I was thinking... a wolf eel is not worth my time to video at 280'!  So we continued along until we got to the flag rockfish den (flaggle rock, as I like to call it).  Rob points out a flag rockfish, which I hang out with and video' for a couple minutes. Rob later claimed to have seen three or four flag rockfish, but that was the only one that I saw (which is annoying and makes him a bad dive buddy!).

From there, we continued a bit further along the wall until we came to a small group of Boccaccio, which we always seem to see somewhere around there, though never in one particular spot. Today there was one especially big one, which I think was pregnant.  I got a bit of video before signaling that we needed to head shallower. We headed up the wall a bit, and followed along near the top of the wall until we got back to around the pinnacle where we started. The viz up there was really blue, it was much brighter than the bottom of the wall. There was a school of juvenile rockfish on top of the wall, and a big school of rockfish just off of the wall, which we watched and video'd for a bit before heading up shallower on the pinnacles.  Up there, we poked and peered into holes, looking for little stuff. I saw several juvenile yelloweyes.

Eventually it was time to go, and we shot the bag within sight of the line.  At the 70' stop, we finally heard the boat. But then not again for the rest of deco, which made me a little squirmy. I guess that's what happens when there's no current :). At 20', Rob started gesticulating about his O2 bottle and trying to hand me his spool. Remember back to that bubble check?  Well Rob had been keeping an eye on his O2 bottle and decided it was time to switch. I would have just gone onto my deco bottle, but I guess I'm lazy. Rob rotated his bottle forward and then plugged in the spare hose on his O2 bottle to the MAV (I guess that's why he has the spare hose...). I was prett impressed. I was less impressed when I found out how little O2 he started with, which explained why a not-catastrophically-bad leak left him with not enough O2.  He got a big eye roll when he confessed that to me.

After quite a bit of looking at nothing (I remember one lone sea nettle and the occasional gooseberry), deco was finally over.  Phil was waiting right next to us when we surfaced.  It had been a while since I had to get out of my gear on the surface. Rob offered to help me out of my gear (after he was out of his). I forgot that while he was holding onto my rig, he expected me to jack on the inflator.  So I almost lost my rig (and possibly Rob) to the bottom of the ocean, but Rob managed to hold it up while I found the inflator.

Phil has a ladder on his boat now. It's been there for a while, but always sort of experimental when I've used it before. Maybe it still is, but he was really pushing it this time. Especially for Rob, who has a tendency to get bent in the shoulder. There was a moment when climbing it that I was sure if I took another step, I'd fall in the water. There was a bit of whimpering but after some assurances from Phil, I managed to do it. Pretty civilized, though I kind of like trying to pull myself over the side, as a feat of strength (which I always fail). Rob was not so thrilled with the ladder due to what I was generously call a "sports injury" (running around like Jack Bauer shooting at coworkers is a sport, right?), but we all lived and no one got bent. We made a pretty hasty return back to Lobos, and despite his best efforts, Rob did not run into any rocks on the ramp with the boat.

We debated our lunch options and went with La Tortuga instead of Thai. This was a mistake for two reasons, well maybe one.  Thai has food immediately, and that food is hot (two kinds of soup!). Won't make that mistake again ;)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Eagle's Nest

Rob and Kevin had already been to Eagle's Nest earlier in the week, before I got there, when Rob had tried his hardest to get stuck in a tiny murder hole.  We thought it would be a good last dive of the trip, but I decreed that there would be no crawling into tiny murder holes on this dive.  I think that's a good rule to live by, in general.  Meredith joined us, though she didn't dive due to being a bit congested (and not wanted to risk screwing up her sinuses/ears a couple days before she started teaching a class).  She met us at Matt & Leah's, and we headed down in two cars.  The trip to Eagle's Nest was not as long as I remembered, for two reasons.  First, Newberry is closer than High Springs (where I guess we were staying on previous trips to the nest).  Second, the roads from the highway to the nest have really been improved.  It's both a lot easier to find, and a lot faster/less bumpy to get there now.

When we pulled into the parking area, there was someone there already, but he was not there to dive, and he left pretty much as soon as we showed up.  The water in the basin looked pretty clear.  We loaded our gear into the water -- actually Meredith did a lot of the loading for us while we got our gear ready.  What a great dive buddy :)  Our plan was to go upstream (the boys had gone downstream on their dive) and then depending on time and how we felt, we might head downstream to the Lockwood tunnel at the end.

We dropped our bottles on the way down and then headed upstream.  Rob was leading, and I was second.  Just as we came down the slope to 200', Rob stopped and started monkeying with his gear.  I could tell that he had some sort of gas injection problem (gas leaking into something), and I kind of assumed that it was a sticky wing inflator, since the problem had started just after we came down the slope (and he presumably used his wing inflator).  Then I saw him bail out and figured this was not the case (and that the dive was about to be over :P).  Kevin got to Rob before I did, so I just stayed back and watched them and the line.  It turns out that his MAV (manual O2 injector) had stuck on, so he quickly bailed out, assessed the problem, found that it was no longer leaking and no longer sticking, and then went back onto the loop.  Everything was settled in a minute or two, though Rob and Kevin had drifted from the line a bit.  Rob started flailing about looking for the line, which annoyed me.  After the dive, I asked Rob... when there's a problem on a cave dive and one buddy is helping another, what is the third buddy supposed to do?  Anyway, after Rob stopped spazzing and looked where I was pointing, we continued on into the cave.

The viz was very good, and when we got to the big room, we spread out and lighted up the whole room.  It was pretty cool.  We stopped briefly in there, but for the most part, we just headed straight to the end of the line.  We hung out in the last room for a few minutes, and then came back and stopped in a few more spots on the way out.  I think this is the first time I've been to the end of the upstream line on a rebreather.  It was definitely the longest time I've spent in that last room -- because on OC, by the time we get there, I feel like I'm in a rush to get going.

So the plan was to head downstream if my ears were cooperative.  As we came up the slope near the downline, my ears were crackling and popping like crazy.  So I initially said we should skip the downstream.  But then I thought more about it, and decided that we could try to go downstream and if my ears wouldn't clear, then we'd just turn around.  And I figured we were here, and who knows when we'll be back, so it would be dumb not to go downstream.  So I told the guys we should go after all (so fickle), and we headed back down the slope.  It was pretty silly... if I had just said yes in the first place, we could have gone around the mound, instead of up and then back down, and my ears probably would have been a lot happier with that.  But in the end, I did not have too much trouble on the descent.

We headed to the Lockwood tunnel, where Rob promptly dropped a double ender and tied his spool around his scooter while putting the jump in.  Apparently he dropped a double ender while putting the spool in there on their dive a few days earlier.  I guess it's a tradition now :)  We went pretty far up the Lockwood Tunnel, and the water got quite clear the further we went.  When we finally turned, it was pretty close to the end of the tunnel (allegedly... I'm not sure if I've been all the way to the end).  I like the Lockwood Tunnel.  I think it's the prettiest tunnel at Eagle's Nest.  But I think I like upstream more than downstream, so I guess this dive (upstream then just down to the lockwood) is the best dive to do.  But it was kind of long.  Actually our bottom time was quite a bit longer than I'd planned for.  Oh well.  What's an extra 40 minutes of deco between friends?

The viz in the cavern was kind of a treat.  It was the best viz I've seen there.  We could actually leave the line and poke around in the cavern during the 70' stop.  Eventually I corralled the boys, and we headed up to the 60' stop.  I went first, which is always my demand at Eagle's Nest, because I hate feeling like I'm trapped in the tube.  It's silly, I know.  I always think that you are in the tube in single file longer than you really are.  Even at 50', two people can fit side by side -- so naturally Rob and I deco'd side by side, holding hands.  Not.  The great thing about rebreathers is that you can talk through them (actually I generally think that's a terrible thing about rebreathers... because Rob and Kevin *love* talking through their rebreathers, and do it just to annoy me); but it's convenient when you are deco'ing in single file, because you can just call it out when it's time to move :P

There was a mild amount of negotiation about deco, which resulted in an extra 5 minutes at 30' and 20'.  When we got to 20', I took all of my gear off.  Okay, not all of my gear, but all of my bottles and my scooter.  Rob kept all of his gear on, and instead of laying on a log like Kevin and I did, he was hanging in mid-water, showing off his trim.  Actually he wasn't just carrying all of his gear... he was carrying one of my bottles (70'), because it had been driving me nuts at the 70' stop, so he just took it.

Kevin whipped out his wetnotes, where he had a couple of sudoku puzzles.  One of them was supposed to be easy.  It was like the hardest easy sudoku ever!  We were both pretty stumped, but we eventually found a few numbers and between the two of us, we made some progress on it.  Eventually I decided it was time for a backgas break.  I guess I'm the only one in team kitty who believes in backgas breaks anymore.  I think it took me like 15 minutes to pull off a 6 minute backgas break.  First I had to doink with my controller for a while to figure out how to drop the PPO2 lower than 0.7.  It goes down to 0.4, but if you accidentally hit the button too many times, you are back at 1.4 or 1.5.  So that took a while to get right, and then my attempts at a hands-free dil flush failed (probably because my trim sucks).  But eventually I got it started.  Then when it was time to switch back to O2, it took me a while to get the PPO2 back up to 1.6 all the way from 0.4 :)  I eventually decided to use technology, and switch my controller's PPO2 to 1.4 (instead of 1.2) and wow, what a great innovation!  Kevin has told me in the past that he does that at 30 feet so that when he gets to 20, it will get him to 1.4 without any effort, and wow, that's really smart!  By this point, Kevin had given up on me and put the sudoku away.  Hmph.  So I just laid on a log for the rest of the 20 foot stop.

When we surfaced, Meredith was sitting by the water with her Kindle.  She helped us get the gear out; actually I think she carried 80% of the gear (that wasn't on our backs) back to our trucks.  Surface support rocks :P

After we cleaned everything up, we headed to The Freezer in Homosassa, which has become our post-Eagle's Nest tradition.  It was good, but it seemed like they were out of half of the items on the menu (which resulted in Kevin going hungry).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Emerald Sink

A boy and his rope
On Sunday, we headed to Emerald Sink, which was a lot closer to Tallahassee than I remembered.  We met Meredith there, who wasn't sure she'd be able to dive, because she was getting over a cold, but in the end she did join us for the dive.  After two very cold days, it was starting to warm up.  In fact, it was a little uncomfortable getting geared up, but mostly because it was so humid.  Ugh, I hate the east coast!  Diving at Emerald has changed a bit since we last went there; you used to have to get a reservation, and jump through some hoops to prove your worthiness to dive there, and then go to Wakulla to checkin and get the key.  Now there is none of that; you just show up and pay at the iron ranger.  It took a little bit of driving around to find the entrance, but otherwise it was a pretty easy experience.

We moved our bottles and scooters to the water, where there's a nice civilized set of stairs to get in.  Apparently the way you do things at Emerald (or at least the way Kevin does it) is you bring a weighted rope with some loops about 20 and 70 feet down it, which you tie to the stairs and drop into the water, and this becomes a down line where you can drop deco bottles.  And if you are smart enough to put some loops near the surface, it's also a convenient place to stash your bottles before you get in the water.  Kevin is really into his rope.  I think it's the main reason he likes going to Emerald.

An interesting thing happened to my rebreather before I got in the water.  My rebreather was mostly set up the previous night, but I still needed to calibrate it in the morning.  When I did that, one of the sensors was calibrating slowly, and it ended up off.  Not horrendously far off, but off.  Since it was calibrating slowly, I calibrated again, and this time it was within the margin of error.  I didn't give it too much thought.  Then when I got geared up and was going through the checks, and I did a dil flush, that same sensor wouldn't drop.  I should have thought to try this after the calibration thing, but I didn't.  This was pretty annoying because it meant I had to get out of my gear and deal with it.  I popped the head off and found that that sensor had a big drop of water on it.  I dried it out and then all was well.  This happened to Rob earlier in the trip too, and we decided it was because of how we were laying them down in the back of the truck; it allowed condensation to drip into the middle sensor.  At home, the RBs live standing up in the back of the van or standing up on the garage floor.

Anyhoo, the one and only time I've been here before, we went upstream to the black abyss.  Downstream is deeper (18/45 territory), and we didn't have appropriate gas to even poke our heads downstream on that previous visit.  This time we came prepared.  So the plan was to go downstream and then play around in the upstream shallows while we were on deco.  Meredith led, followed by Kevin, me, then Rob.  The visibility in the basin was very good.  It was very good the last time we were there, too, but I get the impression that this is not typical.  After dropping our bottles at various places in the basin, we got going into the cave.  The viz was not great, but it was decent (I'd guess 40 feet) in the cave.  There is a T just a couple minutes after entering the overhead.  The plan was to go left for the main part of the dive, and then briefly check out the other side on the way out.  For the first 10 minutes or so, the cave was pretty brown, but eventually the walls get whiter, and it reminded me of Indian.  But without the great viz :)  It's a great scooter dive, with big but not huge passages.  It didn't get as deep as I expected as quickly as I expected.  It took a while before we were consistently deeper than 160', and it wasn't until it got a bit deeper that we hit the white walls.  This is definitely the nice part of the dive.

Unfortunately, before you know it (and before Rob wanted to), Meredith signaled to turn.  We headed back out, making excellent time back to the first T, and then we headed to the right.  Very shortly after that T was another T, where we went left.  We went in just a minute or two and found very tannic water.  At the very top of the tunnel, there was clear (and cold) water.  It was kind of surreal, because we were scootering through the clear water and when we looked down, it seemed like the bottom was just below us, but it was just the start of the tannic water.  The clear water layer at the top quickly became smaller and smaller, and we turned before the entire tunnel became tannic.  Back to the last T, we considered going the other way at that T, but the water got tannic like 30 feet from the T, so we didn't really even start up that tunnel.  Instead, we headed out.

We slowly ascended to 70', where we did some bottle exchanges and hung out for a bit.  After our 60' stop, we headed over to the upstream section.  Deco'ing in the upstream section seems like a good way to pass the time, and I guess it was, but if you take a strict interpretation of your deco schedule (which I generally don't), it's not ideal.  I think the real problem was that we set out to do the circuit, and at least where you pass Cheryl Sink and Split Sink, you come up fairly shallow (shallower than you'd want for a 30' stop).  It's also a bit dirty to drag 4 people with scooters through some of the spots right by those sinks.  In hindsight, it would have been better to just go one way or the other at the T and putter around in there without the goal of making it around the circuit.  Right probably would have been better, since I believe it stays deeper longer.  Anyway, we did eventually make it around the circuit, though we had to stop and wait out deco in some spots.

Ahhh, to-go cups
When we got back out to the Basin, we went to 20' and hung out.  Rob and I negotiated deco; I wanted to do 15 minutes, he wanted to do none, so I think we settled on 8 minutes :P  Kevin and Meredith did way more deco than us.  We got all of our gear out of the water before they showed up, which left us free to help them get their gear out of the water while they changed.  Since it was new year's day, the usual oyster places that we go to between Tallahassee and High Springs were both closed, boohoo.  But Meredith came up with an alternative seafood place to try, which was fine.  And they had to-go cups -- take that, Ted!  It started to rain really hard while we were at lunch, which I guess was predictable considering the insane humidity earlier in the day.

We headed back to Matt and Leah's place in Newberry, where we were officially staying (though this was the first night that I actually made it there).