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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.

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