Friday, December 23, 2016

Fight club

Everything was a fight.
The drive down in the pouring rain.
Gearing up in the rain.
The surge and ebb tide creating a lot of movement in the water.
Just not being able to get comfortable in the water - not for the drills nor for the ascent.
Waiting around in the drysuit for almost an hour after the dive for a brief let-up in the pouring rain to de-kit and avoid being completely soaked.

The redeeming factors for the day were seeing an octopus in the sand (I've never seen one during the day) and a large spotted turbot.
-> 41min, 34ft, 51F
Post dive at Hula's while we waited for sea_otter's tanks to be refilled.

 - U

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tuna crab seppuku

I'd been looking for a Worthington HP130 for a while and had the chance to borrow and use one recently if I got the visual inspection done. Considering that cost the same as a rental and the fact that no shop in the Bay area had one for rent, I jumped at the chance. The deal was that I could use it a few times and then buy it if I liked it. The asking price was also pretty low considering the tank had been hydro'd this year. The extra gas would let me gas match a lot better with A and other dive buddies who had much better air consumption than I did. It also makes my rig 12lb heavier which isn't much but, in my head, works me up to doubles. The specs don't make it seem so but it is significantly larger than my HP100s.

It was a freezing cold morning - sea_otter and I headed down with the truck's thermometer reading 39F but, luckily, it was sunny all day long. We did another skills dive at the Breakwater to start off. The surface was pretty rough and there were some pretty significant waves crashing on the beach. On top of that, there was practically a carpet of red pelagic crabs washed up on the beach which made for some crunchy entries and exits. It actually looked like a lot of them were swimming in to shore rather than being washed up - there were tons of them in the water too and the sea gulls were having an all-you-can-eat party. The skills dive went better than last time, I kept my eyes open during the mask skills which was a lot easier and the ascents were slightly more controlled. I'm still depending a lot on venting my wing to get stable and 20ft and above is not super comfortable yet. The swim back to shore was fun too as the crabs kept us company most of the way there.
-> 1hr 4min, 31ft, 53F

After a deeelish SI snack of spam musubi (which is now going to be my go-to dive food), we headed over to the Metridium Fields. We found the pipe and chugged forward pretty quick along it. There was less life on the pipe itself than what I'd heard of - maybe it comes alive at night (??). There was an enormous lingzilla inside the end of the pipe which I've heard is resident there. The viz had reduced a bit since the last dive but we found the Fields pretty easily. I wasn't expecting to have much gas left to explore there but, boy, does that 130 give you a lot more breathing room (yes, I know what I did there and am quite pleased with myself). It was cool to see all those metridiums but, honestly, I thought the fields were a lot bigger than what we saw. After reaching turn pressure, we headed back along the pipe until we got to about 25ft and it got super surgy. We managed one more round of drills before we ascended. sea_otter shot a bag which I promptly got myself entangled in and then proceeded to not distinguish myself on the ascent. Fun dive overall and I love the HP130 - it feels almost identical to the HP100 in the water. I'm definitely going to keep it.
-> 57min, 51ft, 53F

Even after all that musubi, I was hungry enough to head to Hula's for a post dive meal. The drive back was more awful than usual and I slammed 2 RedBulls in anticipation of a late night watching Rogue One.

 - U

Friday, December 16, 2016


I got my regulators converted to DIN, the main reason being I want to start diving doubles soon-ish. Since I still have the yoke parts, I should (in theory) be able to swap it back for trips to the tropics but I'll most likely just use a spin-on adapter.

DIN is supposed to improve your trim and buoyancy control automagically, so I'm looking forward to that. On the other hand, it makes me look like I know what I'm doing, so ... um ... yeah.

 - U

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Clown show

Travel, red tides, storms and swell conspired to keep me out of the water for almost 2 months. sea_otter was in the same boat and, having signed up for Rec3 in January, wanted to go out and do some easy dives with skills and ascent practice thrown in.

Breakwater was jam packed with a ton of classes catching up on lost time over the last few weeks. We swam out to the Mid Reefs, found a spot that wasn't already occupied by a float and dropped down. Basic 5 went OK although I do tend to rise 2-3ft while doing the mask removal and replacement. After a round of that, we did our first ascent next to a stalk of kelp which ended up being a bit of a clusterfrick. Once I got to 20ft, I lost buoyancy and was moving around a LOT to try and not pop up. I ended up getting my leg tangled up in the kelp in the last 10ft. We did this a couple more times with Ouvea keeping an eye on us to make sure neither of us committed harakiri. The ascents were improving but still a bit of a clown show.
-> 50min, 32ft, 53F

A couple of slices of cold pizza later, Ouvea joined us for a dive along the wall. There wasn't much life out today but it was still a fun and leisurely dive with a couple of Pacific sea nettles bombing us now and then.
-> 55min, 39ft, 51F

 - U

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Reverse block at Lobos

Once again, I was the beneficiary of sea_otter's foresight for getting reservations at Pt Lobos. One of these days, I'm 50% sure I'll get a reservation before her.

The plan was to make another attempt at finding Hole in the Wall. We swam out to our usual spot and took a heading towards the last bird poop rock. Visibility wasn't the greatest in the beginning of the dive, 30ft but very milky, as we swam along the reef. We remained between 30-40ft for a large part of the swim out which was not what I expected. At one point in the rocks, it got super surgy and that's when I realized we were too far west, right alongside the Cannery Point Wall. A flashback to the washing machine dive later, we cut to the right and very quickly dropped to 70ft. That's when the viz opened up spectacularly and we could see all the way to the surface. A school of rockfish was above us and beautifully backlit by the sun's rays as they broke through the surface. I had just passed turn pressure around then and we headed back. As we turned around a rock, I saw a single, and fairly large, metridium - we had overshot Hole in the Wall by quite a bit and ended up at Lone Metridium. We looked for it on our way back in but weren't able to find it. As we got back to our ascent depth, I found that my right ear was refusing to equalize. It remained that way as we made it to the surface :/
-> 71ft, 52min, 51F

Even after a healthy surface interval, my right ear refused to co-operate and I skipped the 2nd dive. Turns out not taking your prescription antihistamines the day of a dive is not the smartest thing to do and results in a reverse block. Luckily, it was another amazingly bright and sunny day and waiting around for an hour in the parking lot was more pleasant than it sounds. I saw my OW instructor for the first time since my certification and had a nice chat with him and his buddy (who was in a super sweet looking sidemount rig).

Hole in the Wall eluded us again - this is the 4th time for me and is starting to get pretty annoying. We're definitely heading way too far west as we go out and really need to find the sand channel to navigate to it correctly. It should not be this hard to find it. Next time ...

 - U

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Night at the Breakwater

Anywater's monthly fun dive for September was a night dive at the Breakwater. Considering how many times I've dived there, it was a bit of a travesty that I hadn't done it at night and this was something I meant to rectify. The drive down to Monterey in the afternoon was horrendous, almost an hour more than usual and felt even worse than what I usually encounter on the way back home from a dive day. I got to the lot around 6:30PM and hooked up with Ouvea and sea_otter, the plan being to get in around 8PM as the sun was setting. sea_otter decided she wanted to do a pre-night dive, headed in with Gianni,  came back with a leaking wrist seal and had to skip the actual night dive :P

Ouvea and I debated diving the pipe or the kelp to avoid the inevitable crowd at the wall but, with reports of craptastic visibility and our low motivation to attempt any navigation in said muck, we ended up there anyway. We swam out and dropped at the #8, confirming the viz was actually as bad as we had been told. We couldn't see the bottom at all, even when we were within an arm's length of it. Not wanting to immediately make a fool of myself by cratering in the sand on the descent, I let Ouvea go down first and followed his 21W HID light saber down. I have a compact homebrew 10W-ish LED can light which works really well and cost about as much as a small backup light but the it ended up being less than useful in the 5ft of extremely particulatey viz we had - it was barely useful for signaling and even less so for looking around. I ended up keeping it pointed down and using the ambient light of the HID. I was super impressed by how far it punched through the murk; it didn't have an insanely bright hot spot but made it so you could see much farther. And the beam made it super easy to keep track of him as well. Guess I know what I'm saving up for next ...

The dive itself was pretty good, despite not being able to see much beyond my fingers. We saw a red octopus in a little nook and a bunch of barred shrimp. And then Chewie showed up!! Initially, I just got a couple of fleeting glances at him but then he settled down right next to us for quite a while, using our lights to pick off the few fish that were about. He definitely enjoys divers' company and is practically close enough to hug. Even if we had seen nothing but Chewie on the dive, it would have been worth it. We called it early after he disappeared as it looked like there was even more sand roiled up in the water than before.
-> 44ft, 48min, 57F

Another cool thing that night was watching the other dive teams surface after we were already up. Their lights created glowing pools that were slowly making it up to the surface - reminded me of movie scenes where submarines or spaceships rise out of the depths.

It was almost 10PM by the time we had broken everything down and I didn't get home till midnight. Luckily, Billie, Cousteau and Koda hadn't completely wrecked the house after having been left to their own devices since the early afternoon.

 - U

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lingzillas and slightly less lost at Lobos

sea_otter had a reservation to dive at Pt Lobos and with a very calm swell prediction, we headed out as usual. There was a ton of surface kelp in the cove with no discernible channel - the surface swim for the first dive was going to be a bear :/

We swam out, dropped in our usual spot and took a NNE heading with the intention of finding Hole in the Wall (which I still haven't seen). Visibility was decent, around 30ft, but there was a lot of large particulates in the water. I'm gonna go with whale snot.
Whale snot
We weren't looking for the sand channel, instead choosing to swim over the slightly rubbly reef on the left side and spotted the usual contingent of Monterey dorids along the way.
Monterey dorid
We hit turn pressure around 70ft without seeing Hole in the Wall and headed back in. A squirrelly ascent, with liberal kelp grabbing for stability, brought us back pretty much where we had dropped.
-> 70ft, 50min, 50F

We  chatted with raftingtigger and 3Ddiver during our surface interval and got some tips on finding HITW (take a heading towards the last bird poop rock at the drop point). Refueling (leftover garlic bread from 2 days ago, mmmmmmm) and a tank change later we were back in.

This time, the plan was a little more fool proof - Middle Reef. The swell had pushed the kelp towards the east side of the cove which made the surface swim a lot easier. The visibility was about the same, albeit a little clearer than before. I had the bejeezus scared out of me when I swam over some large lings and failed to notice them until they moved away when I was practically on top of them. sea_otter's backup light twisted itself on and there was some faffing around as I tried to communicate that to her. We rounded the end of Middle Reef with plenty of gas to spare and decided to continue going around on our way back in. Just around the overhang, I saw what I thought was a large horizontal crevice in the rock and went closer to take a look inside. Bejeezus scared out of me again as the crevice wasn't a crevice but another humongous ling. This is the first time I've seen one which such a dark coloration - it was almost completely black. We continued on the back side of the reef and sea_otter seemed confident in her navigation skills to get us back close to the worm patch. I shared that confidence until we ended up in about 20ft of water surrounded by some pretty thick kelp. Remember when I said the swell pushed the kelp to the east side of the cove and made our surface swim out super easy? Yeah, east side of the cove is exactly where had ended up. We ended up clawing our way back through the salad pretty much the entire way across.

-> 62ft, 59min, 50F

A fun day of diving was capped off by an absolutely beautiful day topside.

Hole in the Wall eluded us once again but we think we have a better plan for next time.
All photos courtesy of sea_otter.

 - U

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Washer and drygloves

In an attempt to get to Pt Lobos before the gate opened, I had to leave home at stupid o'clock, which meant a wake up time of stupider o'clock. Even Koda and Cousteau seemed non-plussed when I was up and about and they're usually good to go whenever; Billie didn't deign to open her eyes until she realized everyone was getting fed.
ParaMike had driven down from Fairfield which meant he woke up and left at wtf o'clock. I assume he got some sleep while driving down here since he was wide awake when we transferred all his gear into the Death Star.

I was trying out my new dry gloves system today. I had opted for the simplest (and cheapest) setup available - the SiTech rubber pullover rings - since I wasn't quite sure how much I would like the relative loss of dexterity in the water and didn't want to drop $350 on the Kubi system I was secretly coveting. The install on the ZipSeals was super easy once I popped them off the drysuit. All it is is a hard plastic ring the goes on the inside of the seal and a corresponding firm rubber ring that goes around the outside. The rubber gloves that go with simply stretch over these rings and form a seal on the 2 grooves - no O-rings to slip, tabs to break off, parts to get gunked up or any alignment needed. The wrist seal is not impacted at all and would be a secondary seal in case the glove was damaged or popped off somehow. I wore thin merino wool liners under them and was able to don and doff them pretty easily on my own. They seem a little floppy on the surface but not too bad as I was able to get my rig on and everything hooked up and arranged on my own. It's recommended to put a little piece of bungee or tubing under the wrist seal to allow some gas into the gloves (which I neglected to do) but even that didn't cause any trouble during the dive.

We were geared up and in the water around 0930. Visibility in the cove was awful and there was a lot of kelp around. We had to weave around quite a bit to get to the sand channel. We surface swam out past the Dog and dropped in the sand channel in about 40ft. The viz was pretty good as we made our down through a school of senoritas and remained that way for the rest of the dive. There were a couple of ling cods on the prowl and a mahoosive vermillion rockfish as we made our way along the Cannery Point Wall. I spotted a few Monterey dorids, Doris montereyensis, but no other nudibranchs.
We were aiming for Hole in the Wall and should have stuck to the border of the reef and the sand channel. Instead we went through all the rocks and cut between the little walls that are at the north end of that reef. It was a lot of fun and really beautiful but I was pretty sure we had overshot our target since we were in about 85ft. We hung a left to return from the west side of this reef but went too far west and ended up right in the middle of the Cannery Point Rocks.
Not good. Like, really not good. It was insanely surgy above 30ft and we were getting thrown about 10-15ft in every direction in the middle of the rocks and kelp. When I surfaced to take a bearing I realized we were in a bad spot where the swell was about 5-6ft and the waves crashing into the rocks could be heard pretty loudly even through my thick hood. After an "oh sh*t" moment, we high tailed it out of there and ended the dive early with a looong surface swim back.
-> 35min, 86ft, 50F

Good dive overall despite the navigation errors. We got some pointers later for better ways to dive the west side reef. We skipped dive #2 as I was very low energy after the surface swim - forgoing breakfast that morning had also not been one of my better ideas. Lessons learned. The dry gloves were awesome, staying dry and warm for the entire 90min we were in the water. Post dive at Papa Chevo's where I practically inhaled a giant plate of fish tacos.

 - U

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Rainbow road

With A out of town and a nasty NW swell only just starting to taper off, a prolonged lack of diving looked like it was going to get even longer. Right up until sea_otter and I decided to throw caution to the wind and dive anyway. The primary option was Pt Lobos but we ended up deciding to go to the Breakwater as the swell still looked a little iffy.

With reports of 5ft viz and about a jillion OW students already in the water, we headed in and the first thing I noticed was that it was cooooold. My computer recorded 48F but it felt colder for some reason.
The second thing I noticed was that the reports of 5ft viz were quite incorrect - I could see at least 7ft in front of me. sea_otter's BigBlue light was amazing in these conditions and keeping track of her using the light beam was super easy. It was a lot brighter than the homebrew can light I was sporting.

We surface swam out to the No6 before we dropped and the rainbow nudibranchs, Dendronotus iris, made their presence known immediately. There were dozens of them feeding on the tube anemones, getting it on and laying eggs. Most had the reddish-purple coloring but I also saw a large white one. sea_otter found a small but stunning Mexichromis porterae. Turn pressure was reached right around the end of the wall with a conspicuous absence of pinnipeds. We did see some when we surfaced near the No7.
-> 41min, 47ft, 48F

Post dive at Papa Chevo's.

- U

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Team Half Burrito gets a logo!!!

I have to say, I dazzled myself with this one. Some stock images and a couple of hours with GIMP yielded this.
I'm going to get some stickers made. Maybe a dive stamp as well. 'Cause, really, who doesn't want proof they dove with Team Half Burrito??

 - U

Monday, March 28, 2016

Northern Channel Islands 2016

I went on a 3 day trip (3/24-26) to the Northern Channel Islands with Truth Aquatics last week. It was scheduled to be on the Vision but was transferred to the Conception due to mechanical issues (the boats are practically identical). It was a very light load with only 15 divers on board and 6 crew. It was my first liveaboard experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A and I were supposed to dive together but a week before the trip, she had to cancel. Truth Aquatics was very accommodating and transferred her deposit to my balance as well as letting me keep the double bunk. 

We drove down to Santa Barbara the day before and spent the night on the boat. The double bunks are stacked 2 high and the single bunks 3 high. I had an upper bunk which was great 'cause it looked like I would have needed a pretty good tuck and roll to get into the lower ones.

The bunks have vinyl covered foam mattress with a pillow and a blanket - I took a sleeping bag but would bring a sheet next time. Also, there was next to no storage in the bunk room beyond a couple of hooks to hang stuff from. I had a backpacking pack but would try to take an even smaller bag next time.

The common area has 6 tables which easily sat 6 each. The galley is compact but the crew prepared some amazing meals in there. There's a bunch of different soft drinks and water on tap. There were 3 hot meals a day (breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, dinner at 6) with snacks and fruit set out all day long. Oh, and a plate of bacon after practically every dive :)

The dive deck has a large central table with tank racks on it's side. It's flanked by 2 benches that we used to get in and out of our rigs. They have long whips and tanks are filled in place. EAN32 is $6 a fill and they consistently filled my HP100 to 3000-3100psi. There's hot saltwater hoses for those diving in wetsuits as well as fresh water showers to rinse. There's a gate on each side of the boat where you can giant stride from (it's about a 6ft drop down to the water). Or you can use the swim platform in the back.
If there's one thing about the boat I would change, it would be that darn swim platform. You have to use it to get back on and after 3 days of multiple dives, my knees were hamburger. Even with calm seas, I didn't particularly enjoy it - there isn't much to hold on to when you have to get up and off your knees, I ended up crawling to the steps.

The dive windows were usually 8-noon and 2-6 with a night dive after dinner. Sometimes we did 2 dives at the same site or a short move within the window. During lunch, there was a longer transit to a slightly farther dive site.

We did all our dives at Santa Cruz Island - water temps were in the 53-59F range and it was bright and sunny topside. There was some current on all the sites but easily manageable. Surge was a bigger factor for me and there were a couple of occasions where I had to work pretty hard when I got tossed around. Viz tended to be in the 30-40ft range.

The conditions that week were pretty rough with a strong NW swell on almost all the days, 8-12ft combined seas. There was a gale warning a couple of days before the trip and a small craft advisory during. Consequently, we stayed on the sheltered south and east side of the island in the protected coves. Even with this limitation, the captain found us a good variety of sites although they were quite shallow (70ft max).
We hit Fry's Cove, Hungryman's Anchorage, Todd's Rock, Blue Banks Anchorage, Coches Prietos West & East and Albert's Anchorage.

I had my GoPro but the quality of photos/videos I took was balls as usual (the ones above were the only passable ones). They don't do any justice to the diving we had.

The much, much nicer photos below were taken by Arlo White, who was on the same trip.

And these amazing videos were shot by Peter Brink and Tom White (with the photon cannons he filched off the Enterprise), who were also great company on the boat. They got great shots of the beautiful nudibranches we saw as well as the Godzilla sea hares.

- U