It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, September 26, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 3: Craine's Point

Today only Rob and I were diving, since the other divers had to work :(. We decided to go back to Craines Point, which was the first site we visited on the first trip to Cordell, and we haven’t been back since. On the first visit, it was kind of dark and green, but viz was reasonably good, and there was a big school of widows. It was completely overcast but no sign of fog. It was a cold ride out.

When we got into the water, the viz was very good. But as we headed down the line, it very quickly got murky, and then very murky and warm. As we continued down, it was getting so murky and dark that I thought we might have to thumb the dive when we got to the bottom. Then we popped out of the layer, and it was crackling clear (but dark as night) and freezing. It felt like someone threw ice water on my face. It reminded me of a cave dive because it was so dark and clear. And there was no school of fish. We initially continued down to the wall, to around 160’, but then I headed up and over the lip to look for a spot to put the boxfish. As soon as I came over the top, I saw that there was a school of widows over the peak. I signaled to Rob and suggested he move the camera over here. He seemed to be having trouble getting it to stay where he was trying to put it, so he abandoned that spot and moved to the school of fish.

One of the most notable things about this dive was the intense whale song that was going on for most of the dive. It had a sort of spooky quality to it, which went along with the dark darkness of the dive. Another notable thing — there was quite a bit of current.

The fish did not like the light. Whether it was the boxfish or my video lights, they were just very skittish. So I had no success getting video of them. I decided to focus on getting video of the encrusting life on the reef instead. The site is kind of a plateau, with little ups and downs, which are very well encrusted, but subjectively not as pretty as the other sites at Cordell. I think this is at least in part because the reef is more brown and less pink. There corynactis seems to be more orange, there’s a lot of that golden hydroid, and also some kind of red algae that is not very pretty. But it is still quite impressive how encrusted it is! In addition to the school of widows, there were a fair number of rosy rockfish skittering about.

Given the darkness and the current (and a minor camera issue — floppy strobe arm), I only video’d for like 15 minutes and then put it away and enjoyed the dive. We eventually went down the wall a bit and explored the structure a bit. It was rather convenient to have the boxfish on top of the plateau as a beacon to return to. We could see it as we scootered around the wall, which turned out to be shaped like a horseshoe. Also, we briefly visited a little side pinnacle across a sand channel. I saw a quillback rockfish and more roseys along the side of the wall. There were also some of those holes, but less distinctly holey at the bottom of the wall in one spot.

When it was time to start the ascent, I was shocked by how warm and murky the water was as soon as we got to 120’. Apparently the current also calmed down because we barely drifted on deco according to the boat crew. There weren’t any interesting sightings on deco, since the viz was terrible. A whale would have had to swim right into us for us to see it :)

Although this wasn't the prettiest dive, it was quite memorable due to the whale song.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 2: Quillback Ridge

For the second day, we checked out a new site that Rob found on the bathymetry, and that he and Kevin did a short recon dive on the previous day. It looked big on the map, and was a sort of crescent shaped ridge coming up to 140’ or so, and dropping to a bit over 200’. It was not too far from Northern East Ridge. On the way down, the water did not seem as warm. It was pretty clear and blue on the bottom, but not as bright as the previous dive. The water was also a little schmutzy. There was a little bit of current, which seemed variable as you moved around the site. The site was more like a plateau than a pinnacle. I spent pretty much the entire dive on the plateau, with just a very brief foray down the side to about 170’.

The first thing we noticed when we got to the structure was the lack of fish. Or at least, no big schools of fish. There was a little school of young of year around, but nothing nearly as impressive as northern west ridge. The other thing that I noticed right away was that this spot really reminded me of Northern East Ridge — different shades of pink corynactis with lots of white elephant ears sponges (covered in brown hydroids) and some biggish heads of light pink hydrocoral. There is a picture that Rob took our first year at Northern East Ridge, which is the picture in my head of that sight, and it looked so much like that.

Although there was no big impressive school of fish, there was some notable fish life. There were quite a few lingcod, though they were all relatively small. There were tons of rosy rockfish. Clinton got a picture of like twenty of them piled up in a crack. But the coolest fish pile was a group of around ten quillback rockfish hanging out in an otherwise boring flat open area. They blended in so well, it seemed like there were one or two but then your eyes would adjust to the background and more and more would appear. Definitely the most quillbacks I’ve ever seen at once!

At some point, Rob pointed out one of those holes in the reef. We also briefly headed down the side to look at another quillback perched on a little ledge on the wall. The wall drop off was very vertical below us but probably only dropped another 50 feet to the sand. One other nice sighting was a siphonophore with its head attached.

The deco did not have as dramatic of a warm layer, which was a bummer since I had a leak in my left arm. A mola passed us once on deco. It was a very nice fly by but he didn’t stick around. When we surfaced and I was scanning around looking for the boat, I saw a whale less than 100’ away. Apparently there were five whales swimming very close to our bag for most of deco. Sigh.

It was Sunday, and Monday's forecast looked promising, but unfortunately several of the divers had to head back to work, and Nick had to head home.  But Rob and I stuck around with Jim to try to eek out another dive on Monday.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 1: Northern West Ridge + a Recon Dive

Conveniently, the weather opened up for diving over the weekend.  We all drove up on Friday afternoon, arriving at various times, and met at the AirBnB that we were sharing, which was really nice and really close to the marina.  Nick from NOAA (the keeper of the Boxfish) flew out to join us for the first weekend, which was fun.  I was hungry by the time we got there, and stuff closes early in Bodega Bay, so we headed back to the Fishetarian Fish Market before it closed.  It was busy, full of people that didn't understand the concept of figuring out what they wanted to eat while they stood in line for 15 minutes, and had passable food (but not very good french fries).  

Anyway, I digress, this is not the day this post is supposed to be about!  So the ride out to Cordell Bank on this day was interesting, because it was relatively rough in terms of swell.  It wasn't really rough, but since we only go at Cordell when the forecast is really flat, AND we usually use the first day to move the boat, it means that by the time we get out there, we are on day 2 of a 4 day window of flat weather.  So, I guess it's obvious, but the way we did it this year means that it might not be quite so flat flat when we get out there.  It was still perfectly diveable, and it actually flattened out while we were in the water and was quite flat on the way in. 

Since we hadn't made it to Cordell Bank in 6 years, we of course kicked off the trip at our favorite site, which is Northern West Ridge.  Every time we have dived it, it has had "fish-limited visibility" at the top of the pinnacle.  Aside from the little bit of swell, the conditions looked great when we got there -- no discernible current, and the viz looked great from the surface.  The water was pretty warm on the way down. On the way down the line, the viz got a little murkier, from about 20 feet. At 80 or 90 feet, the line flattened out due to a little bit of current. We continued along the line and suddenly I saw a wall of brown ahead of me. As I got closer, I realized it was a huge, dense school of widow rockfish. The visibility opened up and the water felt colder (it was 49 on the bottom) as we came through the school of fish. At the top of the pinnacle, the water was super clear blue, probably around 100 feet of viz, and it was quite bright.

Rob set up the 360 camera and I got my video camera mounted on my scooter, and got some footage of the fish at the top of the reef. The top of the reef was completely engulfed in rockfish, and they did not seem bothered by the video lights. The fish were primarily widow rockfish, with the occasional olive or blue mixed in. After my camera was set up, I headed down the pinnacle to join Rob and Kevin. Kevin was at the bottom of the pinnacle, because he had followed a giant pacific octopus down there. T give an idea of the viz, I could very clearly see his tanks from 100 feet above. I passed Rob on the way down and joined Kevin at approximately 250’. I saw a quillback rockfish down there, but my camera couldn’t start running at that depth so didn’t get any footage. We headed back up to join Rob with the school of fish shallower.

Rob moved the box fish several times during the dive, to different spots near the top of the pinnacle. I spent a lot of time video’ing the school of rockfish, and also did several passes around the pinnacle to document the dense invertebrate life all over it, including several different shades of corynactis, and lots of yellow and white sponges. John and Clinton found a second giant pacific octopus in a crack along the side of the pinnacle. It was not coming out, but you could clearly see it and it looked huge!

In addition to the schooling rockfish, there were some nice bigger fish around. I saw several very big yelloweyes and big Boccaccio. There is a crack that goes down one side of the reef starting from the top where two really big Boccaccio were hanging out. I remember the same crack from previously years, also being a spot where some of the bigger fish hung out. One of the Boccaccio had a black splotch on its side, which we have seen before at Italian Ledge (and Tom Laidig explained to us… I think it’s some kind of fungus). Anyhoo, I made sure to get some video of that. I saw one other big big fish by that crack. It was silver and not a rockfish. It was tall and skinny. Kevin saw it too and described it as a tuna-looking thing. For some reason I did not get video of it, which was dumb. Maybe the box fish caught it. There were some relatively big lingcod around too.

When it was time to go, we shot our bag and headed up. From about 70’ up, the water was noticeably warmer, and got to 57 degrees at some point. We didn’t see too much on deco, but there were a few Leucothea pulchra.

After the first dive, Rob and Kevin did a short recon dive on a new potential site, which they said looked good, so we decided to dive it tomorrow.

The ride back in was flatter than the ride out.  After we got back to the dock, we headed to Fisherman's Cove for lunch, which is pretty much where we always go for lunch after a dive at Cordell.