It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Breakwater, Six Ways

I'll take a break from writing about cuddly slugs to talk about some actual diving :)  In mid-March, when my office shutdown, I decided to relocate to our place in Pacific Grove for the duration of that shutdown.  So we packed up the kitties and a few other essentials (e.g. my InstantPot) and we've been down here ever since.  I'll post some pictures of the kitties enjoying outdoor time on the patio in a future post.

Anyhoo, since we've been down here, and boats and Lobos are shutdown, we've had to make do with shore diving, but we have managed to dive at least once a week this whole time.  Since we are lazy and not that creative, we've done a lot of dives at the Breakwater (aka San Carlos Beach) -- I think something like seven or eight dives.  Before this, I don't even know when I last did a daytime dive at Breakwater, but I'm guessing it was five to eight years ago (my last report on the blog is from 2011 though).  Not all of our dives were there, and I'll make another post about the other sites we've been diving, but more than half of our dives have been at Breakwater.  But that's okay, since there are a lot of different dives that you can do there.  So I thought I'd make a little post about what I consider to be the different dives of the Breakwater.  By my count, there are six, though one of them might be double counting.  Still, quite a bit of variety for one beach that can be dived in almost any conditions!  So, here goes, starting with the most common:

1. Breakwater Wall  

I think this is the most obvious and well-known dive, kind of the default dive to do at the Breakwater, unless you are with an open water class, kneeling in the sand.  The wall runs from about 15 feet down to 50 feet if you get far enough out, though in all honesty, when we go to just dive the wall, we never make it that far out.  That's because we would typically be doing a macro dive, and end up inching along the wall very slowly, looking for slugs and other tiny things.  During quarantine season, there were quite a few interesting critters that were out in abundance -- Okenia rosacea, Polycera atra, Limacia cockerelli, and a flatworm whose official name I don't know were extremely abundant.  On some dives, we were practically tripping over Okenia rosacea's.  Anyway, these weren't the only critters, but it was nice to have all of these all over the place, because they are all very pretty slugs, so we didn't have to look hard at all to find them!

So as I mentioned, I would normally consider this a macro dive, but there were a few days where the viz was outstanding at Breakwater, and a bit further out along the wall, there are some really nice patches of kelp.  So it might even be worth doing this as a wide angle dive, if the viz is right.  The trick to finding the nice kelp patches is to not follow the wall along the bottom.  If you stay a bit shallower in the 20 to 25 foot range, at least in recent times, the viz tends to be a bit better, and there are some nice patches of kelp that get nice sunbeams if it's sunny and the viz is clear.

2. Metridium Field

While this is a bit more of a swim, this is also a super common dive.  The way that we generally get out there is to enter on the far (north) side of the beach, swim out a ways, until you can line up the "building" at the end of the beach with the road (Reeside).  I'm not sure what this building is, but it's in the vicinity of where the bathrooms at this end of the beach are (but I don't think it's attached to them).  Once you drop, if you swim sort of northeast-ish, you will hit a big pipe, which you can follow out to the end, keep going in the north-ish direction and after two minutes or so, you should find rocks with metridium.  From there, you can hop from rock to rock or just swim anywhere in the north to northwest direction and you'll find more metridiums.

The pipe is in and of itself pretty interesting, especially if you are in it for the macro critters (though if you are swimming out to the Metridium Field, you are probably shooting wide).  We saw many of the same slugs/flatworms that were abundant on the wall on the pipe.  Fun fact: the first Hopkins' rose that I ever saw was on the underside of the pipe; I didn't know what it was called back then and dubbed it the bubble gum nudibranch.

A couple of random notes about Metridium Field navigation: first, you don't really have to do the lineup on the surface thing; you can really just drop wherever on that side of the beach, swim at 20 or 25 feet in that direction, and you will hit the pipe.  Second, on one of our quarantine dives to the Metridium Field, we decided to swim back over the sand, toward the wall.  We didn't exactly make it to the wall (and may have ended up in a gas sharing ascent from 30 feet :P).  I was pretty cranky because this just happened to be on a very windy day, and swimming in was kind of annoying.  But this reminded me of a dive that Kevin and I did together years ago, where we tried to do the same thing, and kept getting lost and having to surface to figure out what direction to go in.  But if your gas planning and navigation is better than ours, this is an option :)

3. The Sand by the Wall (recommended for a night dive) 

This is our default night dive (especially when we night dive with Clinton).  We just swim out along the breakwater until we don't feel like swimming anymore (I recommend dropping somewhere between the bathrooms and the next little building on the pier), drop there, and amble about over the sand.  We tend to see tons of tiny octopus, interesting sand slugs, like the shaggy mouse (Aeolidia papillosa) or maybe a Dirona picta, and the occasional super-cool little fish, like grunt or sailfin sculpins (okay, those really aren't common at all, but I have seen both on Breakwater night dives!).  We've also seen plenty of weird worms in the water column, and the occasional squid.  This dive can really be hit or miss -- some nights it's non-stop critter action and sometimes it seems like you see a lot of Hermissenda and one tiny octopus ;)  We usually just meander around in the sand until we get cold, and then swim back toward the beach until we hit sand dollars and surface there.

4. The Wall at Night.  

Okay maybe this is a double count.  But the wall is kind of a different dive at night.  There tends to be a lot more bigger rockfish around on the wall at night (versus the day), we've even seen bocaccio on a couple of night dives.  We also frequently see a harbor seal along the wall at night, using our dive lights to help it fish.  There was a resident harbor seal there for a while over the past couple years, and he was soooo friendly.  I would never touch the wild life ;) but I hear he likes to have his belly scratched.  The wall is also a good spot for seeing squid, and we've seen bat or torpedo rays here at night on a couple of occasions.  And of course all of the usual little macro critters are here at night too.

Sometimes we pair this with the sand night dive, and swim back in along the wall.

5.  Sea lions at the end of the wall

We finally did this dive during the shelter in place, twice!  We've been talking about doing this dive for ages, and it just never worked out.  We always thought it was more of a to do that in really is.  In fact, we always talked about scootering out to the end of the wall (thinking the scooters would get the sea lions riled up), but it's totally doable as a single tank kick dive.  It's a 20 to 25 minutes kick dive along the wall, and we kicked out around 20 feet most of the way, so you really don't use a lot of gas.  We came upon some sea lions maybe 15 minutes out, but don't be fooled, the best action is further out :)  The best action is also quite shallow, like 10 to 15 feet, though it's pretty good even at 20 feet.  This is obviously best done on a flat day, when there's not too much surge, and ideally when the viz is good (not that you can really predict that).  On the first day that we did this dive, the viz was really good.  It wasn't as good the second time, but we still had a lot of fun.

On both occasions, Rob briefly surfaced to see just how far we had made it out, and we were actually all the way at the end of the wall.  On one of the dives, there was a noticeable current near the end of the wall.  At some point on the way out, the kelp started leaning in the direction that we were swimming.  It was not a problem to swim back against it, and I have no idea if that is common, but worth watching out for.

On the second dive out there, I suggested we descend all the way to the bottom of the wall and swim back in along the wall; this was mainly because I was curious how deep the wall was at that point.  (Spoiler alert!)  It was 50 feet.  It was also dang cold and much murkier (which we'd experienced on other recent dives at the breakwater too).  Fun story not really related to the sea lions: at some point as we swam in from out there, Rob took off swimming hard, away from the wall, clearly following something.  So I followed him.  I had no idea what we were chasing; so I started to think about what we could be chasing.  A whale or a mola, perhaps? ... A shark?  At some point Rob stopped and signaled "shark".  I kind of freaked out.  Well not really freaked out, but I was like... that's it, back to the wall, we are going home!  I turned and started hauling ass back toward the wall.  Rob finally caught up with me when we got to the wall and explained it was *not* a white shark.  He showed me a not-great picture he had taken; it was definitely not a white shark.  Turns out it was a seven gill shark, which I am now very grumpy to have not seen!

6. Hidden Beach Reef

Okay, I made up that name.  But when we were getting tired of diving Breakwater, we decided we should check out Hidden Beach, which is the beach right next to Breakwater, by the Monterey Plaza Hotel.  So we went there one Saturday morning, and found that the stairs down to the beach were chained off.  This sort of made sense, since the hotel was closed and I think the stairs are their property.  So we gave up and dived the Breakwater instead.  Then the next week, on Friday afternoon, we happened to be near there (I think I was going to Otter Bay to pickup my new hood), and we saw that the stairs were unchained.  So we came back the next morning to dive, and the chain was up again.  Sigh.  So we decided to just dive the kelp patch off of this beach from the Metridium Field end of San Carlos Beach.  This is not that much of a swim, and honestly with the parking situation by the hotel and those stairs down to the beach, I think this might be a better way to dive the spot even if the chain hadn't been up!

We swam probably halfway to the kelp patch on the surface, then took a heading, dropped, and swam in that direction.  We found the kelp forest in not too long.  It was surprisingly shallow at least in the part that we visited, in the 20 to 30 foot range.  The viz just so happened to be quite good that day.  The kelp forest is really nice; it seems that the urchins haven't quite made it this far yet, compared to MacAbee where there are some spots that are urchin-free and some that are urchin barrens.  This might be my new favorite shore kelp dive in Monterey Bay!  (Though with the urchins, I guess it's sort of slim pickings.)  After about 30 minutes of frolicking in the kelp, we decided to head back.  We hit the pipe in the way in, and followed it out and visited the Metridium Field.  The viz was not nearly as good out there as it had been in the kelp.  Anyway, this was the day of our ill-fated (okay not really) attempt to swim back out over the sand from the Metridium Field.  We saw lots of dead/dying molas on the bottom :( and surfaced not quite back at the wall or beach :)

I think that covers all of the dives we've done at Breakwater in the last couple of months.  Have I missed any worthwhile spots?  Maybe the Barge...

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Cuddly Slugs: Part 3

When I started this series, I had the best intention to post once a week, but then a squirrel ran by (I got distracted) and it was five months later. 🙀  Better late than never, though.

I am sad to report that I have no pictures of the slug that I made in 2012.  And I have no idea who won the slug, so I can't even hit that person up for a picture!  (So if you happen to have the slug, put me out of my misery and let me know!)  I've searched high and low in our network-attached storage device, email accounts, phones, and Facebook, and I can't find any pictures.  In the summer of 2013, my laptop was stolen (along with everything else of value in our house, which is luckily not that much), so I'm pretty sure that's why I have no photographic evidence.  For a while, I also couldn't even remember what slug I made.  And then I stumbled across some of the fabric that I used to make it, and I finally remembered it was a Doto amyra.  Dotty the Doto!
Photo by Robert Lee
Dotty the Doto component

(Don't worry, that will be the last sad story about a stuffed slug lost to history in this series.)

In 2013, after having two years to recover/forget how tricky it was to make the Spanish shawl, I decided to made another aeolid -- a Flabellina trilineata.  It really wasn't any easier the second time, and overall I don't think it was awesome as the original.  But the glowing lines that it's named for looked pretty nice.  John and Carol won the slug that year, and Carol was *really* excited to finally get one!
... the trilineata
Photo by Clinton Bauder
I think somewhere around this year, I stopped naming the slugs.  I just couldn't make a good name out of trilineata. (I don't think the Spanish shawl got a name either.)

In 2014, I was once again traumatized by the aeolid-making experience from the previous year, and decided to go a bit simpler.  (I was also probably hosed at work, which may have contributed to that decision.)  So I went with a Tochuina tetraquetra (which has since been renamed), which is a cool, pretty dorid.  I used beads and sequins to make the glowing tubercles, and ribbon for the fringe of gills that runs around the mantle.

Photo by Clinton Bauder
Photo by Dionna House :)

I also lost all photographic evidence of this slug, but luckily, who was the Dionna winner, took some pictures for me.  Thanks, Dionna!

That's it for today.  I promise the next installment will be in less than 5 months!