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Me diving

Monday, October 3, 2022

Cordell 2022

We haven't been to Cordell Bank since 2016, and it wasn't for lack of trying.  Every year except 2020, we had a weather window set up for the project, but we never managed to have a long enough period of good weather to get the boat up to Bodega Bay, dive, and get the boat back to Monterey.  So this year, we did things a bit differently.  Instead of looking for a period of 4-ish days of consecutive good weather, we had a weather window on the longer side (4 weeks), and we moved the boat on the first day that the weather was good enough to move it -- making the assumption that within the rest of the 4 weeks, in the worst case, we'd have at least one day to get the boat back, and in all likelihood several good weather days to allow for diving and getting the boat back.  This approach was very successful.  We ended up moving the boat in the first week of the weather window, keeping the boat in Bodega Bay for two and a half weeks, and getting in 5 days of diving!  

So I'd call the new approach a success.  The downside was that there was a lot of driving up and back from Bodega Bay -- I had a total of 4 trips, including the trip to pick up Rob and Jim after they delivered the boat.  Also, since we were staying a couple days at a time, we didn't stay in the Bodega Bay Marine Lab Housing, and instead got AirBnb's just-in-time.  This resulted in some variation in the quality of the accommodations -- the first weekend we stayed in an awesome house, the second weekend we stayed in a much less nice place, and the third weekend (which didn't end up generating any diving, due to fog), we stayed at a pretty nice place.  But I think we will definitely go the AirBnb route in the future, though next time I will remember to bring my own sheep.

This year, we were toting some extra gear on the dive.  The Office of Marine Sanctuaries has been doing this project where they create 360 degree VR videos of marine sanctuaries, so they wanted us to gather footage using their camera ("the Boxfish").  The camera is a beast, and is somewhat complex to use.  Nick, the NOAA keeper of the camera, came out to Monterey for a few days in August to show us how to use it.

Anyhoo, here are the reports day by day:

Day 1: Northern West Ridge

Day 2: Quillback Ridge

Day 3: Craine's Point

Day 4: Back to Northern West Ridge

Day 5: Northern East Ridge

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 5: Northern East Ridge

Today was supposed to be the flattest day of the year (by my definition anyway) according to the forecast. As we first headed out, it was flat but not spectacularly flat, and it improved as we got out to the Bank. But still not really flattest day of the year conditions. As we were setting the down line, apparently they had trouble finding the top of the structure because of a big school of fish on the depth sounder. So I was expecting that. The water looked clear from the top, and as we headed down, it was warm but not murky, but also not quite as clear as it was midwater on yesterday’s dive.

As we approached the structure I was a bit disappointed by the lack of schooling fish. But the viz was great and the reef was as encrusted as I remembered it. One thing I like about this spot is it has bigger heads of pink hydrocoral than the other sites on the bank. Plus tons of elephant ear sponges and corynactis. There was a bit more dark red algae than I remembered. This dive reinforced my belief that the unnamed site from last weekend was most similar to this spot. I spent a bunch of time video’ing the area around where we dropped, mostly on top of the structure. There were tons and tons of rosy rockfish, a few big yelloweyes and lots of young ones, and quite a few not-that-big lingcod.

At some point I followed Rob and Kevin to a different ridge to the East. On the north end, there was a big school of rockfish. Actually two schools, one of adults, one of young of year. The adult school was mostly blues, which was different. In addition to being fishy, this part of the reef was prettier. More densely covered, plus less algae. I think this is the spot we have dived previously, or at least the one I have a picture of in my head.

We had left the boxfish over on the first ridge, so at some point Rob signaled that he was going to get it. We followed him over, and only at this point did I really appreciate how insanely good the viz was! You could see the light from the boxfish across the sand channel and down the ridge. Rob picked up the boxfish and moved it to the other ridge, where I think it got some great fishy footage.

When it was time to go, the two teams left in pretty close proximity, in time and location. Right as we were getting ready to leave, I heard whale song and Rob signaled that he heard it too. Kevin popped the bag, and squirrellyness ensued. It was like Kevin was flying a kite, or maybe the kite was flying him. I was worried his bag was caught on the downline or the other team’s line, but there was just a strange, strong current in midwater. The other team had a similar experience. Deco was fine, but I think this was a bit annoying for Kevin. The viz wasn’t quite as crazy good on deco, so it wasn’t like you could see everything in all directions, like yesterday. There were also fewer deco critters, but there were some nice sea nettles at 20’. Rob got his camera out to take some pics (which is always nerve wracking to watch!). Unfortunately the whales that we heard did not make an appearance today.

At the 20’ stop I could see the water on the surface near us that was a bit stirred up from the boat. I thought that was a little strange but sometimes when it’s really flat, the boat will stay really close. When it was time to leave 20’, I looked up and realized just how calm the water was. It was so flat that we did a 5’ stop, much to Kevin and Rob’s surprise. When we hit the surface, it was definitely calmest day of the year conditions, and the boat was like 50 feet from us, just hanging out.

While we didn’t know it at time, this was our last dive at Cordell for the year, and I would say we ended on a high note!

The following weekend, we attempted to dive one last day, and figured if we couldn't dive, Jim and Rob would bring the boat back, and I would bring the van back (Jim rode up in the van with us).  We met up on Friday night again, and it was foggy.  Saturday morning was just as foggy, and we didn't really want to try to wait it out, because if we waited too long, it would be too late to move the boat.  So we called it on fog, Rob and Jim headed back to Monterey in the boat, and John, Clinton, and I went to breakfast and then hiked at Bodega Head, and then got lunch.  The fog finally cleared around 1pm, so we definitely made the right call not to try to wait it out to dive.  I had to drive the van back by myself (ugh), and Jim and Rob actually beat me back to Monterey!

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Cordell 2022 Day 4: Back to Northern West Ridge

Rather conveniently, the next flat days in the forecast was the following weekend, which made it a lot easier for everyone to make the dives.  So we reconvened in Bodega Bay on Friday evening.  With three successful dives under our belt this year, we decided it was okay to repeat our favorite dive site :). The water was a little swell-y on the way out but it flattened out enough by the time we got to the site. It was overcast (and cold) again, but no fog. Before we even left the surface, I could see that the viz was very good and I could see various kinds of jellyfish (sea nettles, moon jellies) quite a bit down in the water column. We headed down the line, and I was kind of expecting it to get murky at some point, but it didn’t. The water was bright and blue, and surprisingly warm, the whole way down. There was a bunch of scope on the line and at some point it flattened out and started to vibrate… a good sign that we were about to hit some current.

When we got to the pinnacle, I was like… where are the fish? Uh oh. But I hopped over the first little peak, and phew, there they were. The water seemed a little chunkier than last week, but it was still very clear and very bright. In addition to the huge school of widows, there was a smaller school of juveniles. It also seemed liked there were more blues than in years past, but like years past, there were some really big blues.

Since I felt like I got a lot of footage of the school of fish last week, I spent more time trying to capture the reef today. I can’t say I saw much that was different from last week, but a few observations… Kevin found a GPO in a crack again, and it was a huge one. But he wasn’t coming out. There were a lot of big lingcod and a lot of big yelloweyes (and plenty of little ones too!). I was thinking it’s really nice how if you just hang out on any part of the reef and want to look at a big yelloweye, you can find one :). I saw several Boccaccio but not as many big ones. I also had some fun letting the current drag me across the reef and then scootering back.

Rob and Clinton had said they saw some mystery black and white fish on the previous dive here, and I saw what I was sure they must have seen. And I was sure it was a blue rockfish with some weird fin rot. Well maybe not fin rot, but something weird. Clinton and Rob got some pics, and I got some video, and Clinton dispatched a message to Milton and Tom about it.  They both agreed it was a strangely pigmented blue or deacon rockfish.  This also reminded me that there is this relatively newly described "deacon rockfish" (which I don't really know how to distinguish from a blue) and said that some of the fish in our pictures were deacon rockfish.  So I will have to study the photos and videos to see some.  Going to get right on that ;)

The deco was pretty chill (and warm). You could see so far and there were some interesting jellies, so Rob whipped out the boxfish and video’d for a bit.