Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bragging rights

Even though I had completed my Reef Check training a while back, finishing Fundies, the Kona trip and other diving kept me from actually doing any surveys for them up till now. In addition to being my first survey trip of the year, what made it extra special was that it was in the no-diving area of Point Lobos, off the Escapade. Suffice to say, I was thrilled to bits at the prospect of diving a part of the reserve that very few had seen :)

We got to Weston pretty quickly and Team Medusa dropped in on transect 4. There was a lot of rocky relief at the site and was very different from anything I'd seen on my other Lobos dives. I didn't have much to record for my invertebrate and algae transects but there were tons of fish around. The good thing was that there were very few urchins about and another team also reported seeing some sunflower stars. Very encouraging observations overall.
-> 40min, 69ft, 54F

The second survey dive was inside the cove, familiar territory for me. I managed to not make a total fool of myself navigating to our transect to the west. Considering we were fairly shallow, it was super surgy and the viz was pretty bad. We did a couple of extra fish transects before my buddy called it on account of being super jetlagged.
-> 60min, 34ft, 57F

I learned a lot on my first survey dives - what worked and what didn't. I'm totally looking forward to more of these before the season ends.

 - U

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Heatwave and navigation lulz

Back to colder water after the week in Hawai'i, Señor Schneble and I met at Pt Lobos. My doubles had emptied out overnight (again!!) but I was lent a similar set by my dive buddy. A little faffing around with leaking regulators and we were all prepped to get into the water before it got too hot.

I was leading and the plan was to go up Middle Reef, hang right and explore Granite Point Wall. I successfully managed to guide us to Lone Metridium instead - clearly, I have the navigational ability of a hard boiled egg. On top of that, Señor later told me that he didn't actually see said metridium despite all my waving and pointing. We didn't have enough gas to try and re-navigate to the Wall so we explored the Hole in the Wall area and Middle Reef instead. More stellar navigation on my part brought us to the far east side of the cove, with dense kelp between us and the ramp. Applause all around.

The dive itself was great. Visibility opened up to about 50ft of blue water once we got a little depth and there was a lot of large fish activity - lingcods, sheepheads, kelp greenlings, the resident vermillion and a couple of huge decorator crabs. This was also my first dive with my spankin' new Focus 2.0 light - amazing!!!
-> 1hr 28min, 74ft, 50F

And then this shite on the way back home - recorded driving through Salinas.

 - U

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Kona Aggressor 2017

I took advantage of Aggressor's 33% off deal and booked a week long trip on the Kona itinerary. Since this was my first full length liveaboard - the Channel Islands trip was too short to count - I wanted to go somewhere convenient; which, for me, is a short, direct, non-stop flight and minimal time zone change.
We had an amazing crew that week with Capt Randy, chef Kevin, Celia, Jeremy, Cam and Cliff with SwissMiss, Doc Brown and Karl putting up with me on the boat and under water. It was a very seasoned passenger list as I was the least experienced diver on board - I'm the "a Californian" in the Captain's log.



 - U

Friday, August 18, 2017

Beer, Cake and Iron

And, before we even realized it, the trip was almost done.


The last day of diving was pretty mellow as we worked our way back up towards Kailua and dove at the Turtle Pinnacles. Supposedly, there's tiger sharks seen around here due to the presence of turtles and I was shown a fairly terrifying video of a dive at this same location when one decided to turn up and swim among the divers :O

No such luck (or good luck?) this time but we did see some turtles and a couple of spotted eagle rays cruising by us - it looked like an adult and juvenile.
-> 2 dives, 56-58min, 55-59ft, 77-79F

In addition to the warm towels greeting us at the end of the dive, there was also beer waiting for us at the swim step.  My cabin buddy, SwissMiss, hit dive #700 and got caked to celebrate. More beer to wash it down.

At the end of the day, the Iron Diver medals were presented with more beer to celebrate that.

We had been keeping a running list of all the cool marine creatures we saw during the week and it was really cool to be able to look back at all of them and recall the dives over a few more beers.
Fun trip. Uh, beer.

 - U

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mugged by a milkfish

The last full day of diving and it was, by far, the best of the trip.


The first dive was at the Catacombs and, appropriately enough, there were a lot of cool swim throughs, caves and grottos in the rock face. We didn't move around a lot but there was tons to see and explore. A fairly large school of Heller's barracuda kept me company on the ascent back to the boat. What is it with barracudas doing this with me?!?!?! The exact same thing happened in the Keys.
-> 59min, 58ft, 78F

The next dive was at Thompson's Reef. This is another one where I don't really recall anything specific about this site except that I managed to finally get a photo of the usually twitchy hawkfish perched in antler coral.
-> 56min, 56ft, 79F

The afternoon dives were at Au Au Crater and this was, hands down, my favorite site of the trip. On the first dive, we swam over the shallow reef and then down into the crater. We found a gigantic Titan scorpionfish and a lot of nudibranchs. The crater itself was beautiful and the open side of it dropped pretty steeply down into the depths. On the second dive, we went along the deep end of the wall and ended up in the crater from the open end - it was really cool entering the crater this way. And, to top it off, we saw an eagle ray swimming circles inside the crater, right underneath us!!
-> 2 dives, 55-58min, 65-68ft, 79F

The last dive of the day was the highly anticipated Pelagic Magic dive. This is basically where the boat goes about 3-4 miles offshore and drifts while the divers hang underneath it, waiting for the nightly migration of billions of deepwater zooplankton to the surface to feed. I was relatively nervous about this dive considering we would be in the pitch black, with the sea floor 3000ft below us :O The dive briefing was pretty hilarious and that definitely helped. It took me about 10min to stop freaking out and release the death grip I had on the down line, but once that was done, the dive was absolutely mind-blowing. I can't even begin to describe the different kinds of jellyfish, slaps and other organisms that showed up, blinking, glowing and pulsing in my light. There were schools of squid and milkfish swimming around as well and I got bumped by them more than once. The milkfish were following my light a lot more intently than I thought (and were larger than I thought) and I somehow managed to track one right into my face. Saying I was startled would be an understatement - the fish basically swam full speed into my mask. That was fun. Made my eyes water and nose tingle for the rest of the dive but fun nonetheless.
-> 51min, 32ft, 79F

 - U






Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Morays chomp tangs

The morning dives were at Pele's Playground. Honestly, I don't remember anything specific about them - the number of dives I've done over the past few days are kinda starting to blur together.
-> 2 dives, 60-63min, 42-43ft, 77F

In the afternoon, the boat moved to Manuka Bay which was the first mooring where there was a beach. I didn't realize just how much of Big Island's coastline was jagged and rocky until I specifically noticed the sand here for the first time this week.

The reef at Manuka Bay was different from what we'd dove so far - there were finger reefs with very shallow relief but still a lot of horizontal and vertical swim throughs. There was a fair bit of surge which made swimming through the overheads, uh, exciting. There was a fairly large peacock flounder in the sand and the usual assortment of smaller reef fish everywhere. I saw quite a few Spanish dancer egg clusters around as well but none of the nudibranch.
-> 2 dives, 60min, 40ft, 77F

The night dive here was far more fascinating. We found a jolly green giant nudibranch (which is a very rare sighting), a few octopi, a hermit crab in a Triton trumpet shell and a large moray hunting for dinner. We spent a good amount of time following the eel through the reef and watched it absolutely slam a yellow tang before it retreated into a crevice to chow down on it.
-> 49min, 44ft, 77F

- U




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Frogfish

The morning dives today were unique in the sense that I found them to be more topographically interesting than anything else. That's not to say that there wasn't cool marine life around, it was just overshadowed by the dramatic underwater vistas.

The dive at Lion's Den had lot of sharp edges and cliffs, none of them very deep, but dramatic nonetheless. For whatever reason, it reminded me of the scene in the Lord of the Rings at the pass of Caradhras. I should clarify that I was NOT replaying the scene verbatim in my head - 'cause, really, what kind of nerd would even remember that?
-> 60min, 68ft, 77F

The next dive was at Rob's Reef and the best/scariest part was the sea cave. This wasn't a small chamber like the sea cave at The Dome. It went into the cliff at least 30-40yd and was completely dark inside, even during the day. As I got farther in, it narrowed down considerably as well and that's basically when I gave it the big ol' nope. 
-> 58min, 38ft, 79F

I've been flirting with the idea of technical cave diving for some time but the experiences in the last few days are making me rethink that idea - I'm realizing that I'm not a fan of enclosed spaces outside the light zone.

The boat moved to the Hive after these dives and we spent the rest of the evening there. This was where the frogfish, endemic to Hawai'i, made their presence felt in force. We found at least five of them in a couple of different colorings. They were #1 on my list of aquatic life I wanted to see on this trip and I was not disappointed. They reminded me of something out of a kaiju films with all the weird bumps all over them, the oddly shaped fins/flippers and the lumbering way they moved around. There was also a day octopus sighting with it changing colors pretty quickly as moved around us and a couple of leaf scorpionfish. We had the closest sighting of this trip of a green turtle on the second dive as well as a lava tube swim through that was filled with dozens of banded lobsters.
-> 2 dives, 63-64min, 47-53ft, 79F

The night dive was also at the Hive and was one of the most varied in terms of the life we saw. There were multiple cusk eel and octopus sightings as well as some small schools of unicornfish. There was also a unique looking 7-11 crab and a lobster that was carrying an urchin in its mouth.
-> 61min, 46ft, 77F

The hot showers on the dive deck were starting to make themselves more and more useful by this point. The hot towel after the rinse was also something I had become quite enamored with.

 - U







Monday, August 14, 2017

Co-op hunts

It took a day but liveaboards are starting make waaay more sense to me now.
Dive and meal buddy groups were starting to form, the schedule was making more sense, the constant flow of absolutely delicious food kept energy levels up and the ability to get completely dry after every dive was absolutely amazing.

The morning dives were at the Aquarium Reef and featured the first lava tube swim throughs for the week. We had reports of harlequin shrimp seen at this site a week or so ago and considering how rare they are, we spent a fair bit of time with our noses in the cauliflower and antler corals looking for them. I found a lot of cool looking coral guard crabs this way and Celia did end up finding not one but two of the elusive shrimp. I also found two orange mouth lizardfish that were pretty well camouflaged on the reef. 
-> 2 dives, 57-60min, 45-50ft, 80F

That afternoon we headed to the Dome. This was a large site with a bunch of caves and swim throughs and varied topography all around it, all teeming with life. During the day dives, we saw blue dragon nudibranch, yellow coris, devilfish, tiger cowries and a horned helmet snail that was fed an urchin.
One of the coolest things I saw on these dives were the coordinated hunts being done by the eels, goatfish and trevally. The eels stayed inside the corals, the goatfish just outside and the trevally a little off of it and between them, they corralled the smaller fish into each others' target areas. It was pretty amazing to watch how much in sync they were.
-> 2 dives, 57-61min, 52-64ft, 80F


The night dive was also at the Dome and was a slightly eery experience for me. The sea cave we had swam in earlier today felt more like a true cave due to the almost complete darkness. The tiger cowries, Spanish dancers, pimpled baskets and white margin nudibranchs inside the caves were very cool and there were also a bunch of slipper lobsters and giant porcupinefish about.

-> 55min, 56ft, 78F

 - U


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dolphins trippin'

First day of the trip and it was a day of trying to get used to the rhythms of the boat. I didn't sleep very well but was looking forward to getting in the water. We had set up all of our gear the previous evening and we were able to splash in pretty much immediately after breakfast. One of the things I appreciated the most during the trip was the one time setup and then not having to do anything to my rig for the entire week.

Our first dives were at the Kaloko Arches and I was really pleased with how well my weighting worked out. The warm water and practically endless visibility was great and we saw a lot of fried egg and speckled nudibranchs, spotted eels, bird wrasses, a beautiful zebra moray and a couple of milletseeds which were known to live on this reef.
-> 2 dives, 55-58min, 55-70ft, 80F

The afternoon dives were at Garden Eel Cove and the plan was to stay there for the night dive with the mantas. This was a semi circular rubbly site with a lot of healthy reef sloping down to the sand at 80ft. There were sidespot and manybar goatfish actively foraging for food and a black stripe coris hovering around them. The highlight of this dive was the two dolphins we saw - one of them was rolling around in the sand and the other looked like it was tossing around and playing with a sea cucumber. It was super fun to watch them do their thing; they looked like they were having fun too and we hung out and watched them for quite some time until another dive group charged towards them and scared them off.
-> 2 dives, 52-57min, 60-75ft, 79F


The last dive of the day was the manta mayhem / madness / magic dive. Honestly, I was a little disappointed with this dive overall. We had a couple of mantas show up in the beginning of the dive but nothing after the first 15min. That was fine in itself but what made the dive meh for me was the sheer number of people in the water - there were at least a 100 divers with lights on top of the snorkelers. It ruined whatever effect this dive is known for. 
-> 48min, 48ft, 79F

The end of the first day's diving brought some lessons for me. Mainly, that having my DSMB and reel on my hip D-ring was a terrible idea as the spool completely unraveled on one of my entries. I might have to go back to using the pocket shorts with wetsuits. Also, donning a wet diveskin is super uncomfortable, especially in the wind tunnel that was the gear area. One lady had brought five skins with her and was cycling through them during the day - this is a splendid idea and something I'm going to do for future liveaboards.

The diving on day one was great but I was more tired than I thought, mainly because I just couldn't get settled in to the boat schedule. I'm pretty confident this is going to improve by the next day or two.

 - U




Sunday, August 6, 2017

This time, it IS Fundies 2

After the almost-Fundies class earlier this year, I was itching to actually finish it so I could sign up for the fabled BAUE boat trips and also move forward with more training in the GUE ladder. As usual, there were some shenanigans with scheduling and buddy availability - one of the potential classmates ended up in Africa - until Beto decided I had waited long enough and we decided to move forward with just me. The plan was to do the class solo for the skills dives and find someone from BAUE to join us for the scenario dives.

I'm too lazy to write up a super detailed class report but after 4 hours in the pool and another 4 at Point Lobos, I had my recreational pass. sea_otter joined us for the last day of scenario and experience dives and covered some skills she had skipped during her class. I had improved some since my last time with Beto but still had a fair bit to work on.
  • Back kick was actually functional - long, slow and with a follow-through was the way to go.
  • Helicopter kick worked going left but not right - still haven't figured this one out.
  • Ankles stay flexed during entire flutter kick cycle - this was way easier and far more effective than what I was doing before.
  • Arms out!!
  • Ascents are still not great - I just don't have the confidence yet to move up at a the right rate. I think I'm moving up too quick when I'm actually barely getting started. The video review showed I was dumping my wing after ascending only a couple of feet. I spoke to sea_otter about this and she felt the same way before the Rec3 class. Hmmm, seems like I'll be adding that to my list.
Scooby, one of the super friendly cove residents, kept us company on both days at Point Lobos. He seemed to enjoy coming up to us right when we were doing S-drills and had the longhose deployed. Also, Beto finally got me to La Tortuga after the class. I can't believe it took me this long to go there - I guess I'm far too attached to Hula's.

No photos from this class as GUE has a new policy which doesn't allow instructors to make any images from the class public or available to the student. Lamesauce :/

I'm glad to be done - I certainly took the scenic route to complete Fundamentals considering how long ago I had started and how much diving and follow-up training I had done since then.

 - U

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tiny portraits

I got some portraits made of our brood. They're all only 2"x2" but amazingly detailed and very true to each and every one of them. Margie was terrific to work with - she's here.



 

 - U

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Reef Check CA

I've been wanting to volunteer with Reef Check CA ever since I got my OW certification - I'm a huge believer in citizen science and this was one way I could combine that with SCUBA diving.

From their website, 
In California, Reef Check helps ensure the long-term sustainability and health of the nearshore rocky reefs and kelp forests. Reef Check California volunteers are divers, fishermen, kayakers, surfers, boaters, and a wide range of Californians who take a proactive role in making sure that our nearshore ecosystems are healthy and well managed. We monitor rocky reefs inside and outside of California's marine protected areas (MPAs). We work with marine managers, researchers and the public to provide the scientific data needed to make informed, science-based decisions for the sustainable management and conservation of California's ocean environment.

The training was spread over 2 weekends covering the survey methods, protocols, pool practice and organism identification. The latter was far more detailed and specific than I was expecting and was one of the hardest parts of the course. We practiced running the reels and counting in the pool on the first weekend and then had 2 3-dive days on the Silver Prince the next weekend.

The first day of diving was at the Aquarium Reef and was a real eye opener. It was waaay harder to try and identify organisms (or even find them, for that matter). The task loading was not as much of an issue for me thanks to the GUE training I've done but I did manage to get tangled up in the transect tape. I started to get into a bit of a groove by the end of the day but was still having a really hard time finding the abalone. Seriously, they're frickin' ninjas. Visibility in the shallows and this close to shore was subpar but not a huge issue as we were not even attempting the fish surveys.
-> 3 dives, 35-45ft, 30-35min, 52F

The second day was a little bit better - we did all 3 dives at Hopkin's Reef. The abalone still eluded me but I was getting a lot more confident with my overall survey methods. I had a little trouble estimating reef sizes and repeated the UPC transects a couple of times.
-> 3 dives, 35-45ft, 35-45min, 52F

Another thing we kept seeing was huge waves of stinging nettles in the top 20ft that showed up right around 3PM or so on both the days. I didn't get any photos but here's one I shamelessly stole from Ouvea and also this video from Beto.

In the end, our entire group got certified for algae, UPC and invertebrate transect surveys. The fish survey practice and certification will have to wait till next year.

 - U

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Geotagging and the century

A few BAUE divers met at Pt Lobos to expand the geotagging database. sea_otter and I paired up to head towards Granite Point Wall; her with the camera and me man-handling the GPS tube. The latter was a 2ft long sealed plastic tube with the GPS unit which had to be launched like an SMB every time we got to a photo site and reeled back down when we moved. We could have just left it up and trailed it behind us but there was too much kelp to allow that.
The conditions weren't the greatest for photography as there was a lot of particulates in the water. Additionally, the GPS tube proved challenging to manage until I attached it to my crotch D-ring - I realized this pretty much at the end of the dive and fought it the entire time. We didn't get many usable photos for the database and the ones we did end up using were of me in absolutely awful trim and with my light cord flopping around all over the place. Terrific. The other teams didn't have much luck either with their cameras.

It was actually a very nice dive with a lot of life behind the Wall. And it was my 100th :)

-> 1hr 42min, 75ft, 49F


 - U

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pt Lobos Underwater Parks Day. And scooters!!

After the Carmel Middle School District's Underwater Parks Day was cancelled due to a sewage spill, we were hoping for better luck when Pt Lobos had a similar event. This is one of the rare days when divers get permission to collect specimens from inside the Reserve and bring them to the surface for display. BAUE has been volunteering for many years and, this year, I was fortunate enough to be one of the collection divers.

Ouvea and I hopped in with another team and found some great specimens inside the cove. The highlights for me were a Phidiana hiltoni, an extremely well camouflaged decorator crab (which I actually thought was a piece of kelp when I picked it up) and a Monterey dorid. The ramp exit was pretty dicey but sea_otter was providing surface support which made it a little more manageable.
-> 36min, 25ft, 48F



Ranger Chuck was at hand to provide the constant stream of visitors with a wealth of information about the Reserve. Reef Check CA, the Monterey Aquarium and a few other conservation organizations also had booths that stayed busy all day.

During the surface interval, I managed to lock myself out of the truck :P Carmel FD was around doing training drills and they managed to get me back in in no time at all. Thanks guys!!

After that got sorted out, OlegT invited me to try out one of his scooters. This turned out to be a mistake as I went from thinking about buying one in a year or two to wanting one RIGHT FRICKIN' NOW. Him and Ouvea helped me get the harness adjusted and gave me some tips on handling it and then we were off. It took me a while to get the hang off it but once I was relatively comfortable, it was insanely fun. We motored past Middle Reef and towards Granite Point Wall. We stayed in midwater the whole time (which is new to me) and I got an amazing new perspective of the topography. The rock faces at the Wall somehow seemed even bigger and having that much water above and below me made me feel a whole lot smaller than usual. I was a little freaked out when I looked down and realized we were above Q Tip - I did not realize that's how far we were. The conditions were absolutely spectacular. We had about 70ft of bluewater viz which enabled us to stay on the trigger almost the entire time. A lack of P-valve hookup and getting chilled forced me to call the dive sooner than I would have liked. Amazing first time on a DPV!!
-> 47min, 86ft, 46F

I'm already starting to look at which scooter to get. BAUE divers are SUCH enablers.

 - U

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Great white shark, you say?

This dive would normally not have warranted a post. We got a really bad parking spot, viz was icky, skills practice was a total fail and we somehow managed to get lost on the way to the Metridium Fields.

One of the exciting things that happened was me getting an honest-to-goodness 1st stage freeflow - the Deep6 reg is now confirmed to have the out of spec DIN component :/

The other one was totally after the fact but scared the bajeezus out of me regardless. We found out that a great white shark attacked a kayak in the same area we were diving at approximately the same time we were there. Rational thinking tells me that we were never in any danger but still ... :O
-> 1hr 46min, 45ft, 53F

 - U

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hole in the Wall (finally)

I could feel it in my bones. This was the day; it had to be. I had everything I needed to make it this time - a buddy who knew the way there, tons of gas and the frickin' determination to end this travesty. It would be Hole in the Wall or bust.

Señor Schneble and I swam out in what should have been great conditions but encountered enough surface chop to drop pretty early. After some initial tomfoolery with navigation, we motored up Middle Reef and made a hard left at the end. I was actually surprised how quickly and easily we found it this way :) There weren't a ton of fish around but I saw the largest Monterey dorid I've seen so far. We had gotten there pretty quickly but decided to head back as SS was close to turnaround pressure. A nice, relaxed return and a mediocre valve drill later, I managed a relatively slow and stable ascent to the surface.
-> 1hr 13min, 75ft, 48F

It wasn't really a memorable dive by Pt Lobos standards but finally getting to Hole in the Wall was pretty satisfying. My manifold was a little looser than I thought it should be so now I have one more thing to play around with along with figuring out the 1st stage issues.

 - U

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Granite Point Wall

A lot of firsts today. Diving doubles outside of the safety net of the class, an argon bottle and, the biggest one for me, venturing outside the relative familiarity of the sand channel at Pt Lobos :O

The plan was for sea_otter and I to head towards Granite Point Wall and explore Middle Reef on the way back. I had some trouble seating my new Deep 6 1st stages that morning which added to the anxiety I was already feeling. I think I may have the "faulty" DIN part that's going to need replacement.

We swam out a fair bit past our usual drop point as the surface was pretty calm and dropped around midway up Middle Reef. Rounding the corner, we took a heading and ventured off over the sand. I was surprised how quickly we got to the wall itself - I think I had psyched myself out expecting a much longer swim over featureless sand. The worm patches along the way were pretty helpful for me to orient.

Granite Point Wall is beautiful. I think it might end up being one of my favorite/default sites at Pt Lobos. Everything just seems bigger here - the fish, the anemones, even the rocks for some reason. We did an almost complete circuit of the wall and saw a beautiful school of blue rockfish above us, backlit by the sunlight above, when we started to head back. We overshot Middle Reef, ended up at Lone Metridium and then headed back down the west side of the sand channel.

The original plan was do some drills at the Worm Patch before ascending - valve drills for me and stage handling for sea_otter - but after almost 2hr in 49F water, we were both frozen and decided to just end the dive. We did a very slow ascent and I was pretty happy overall with the doubles setup.
-> 1hr 45min, 49F, 78ft

Post dive was nice and warm in the bright sunshine. I had a lovely conversation with a couple of divers from Sacramento. It took about an hour to figure out they were Jeff's parents :P

 - U

Friday, February 10, 2017

This ain't Fundies 2!! Yeah, but it is though

Day 2 was all about building confidence diving doubles and a drysuit while task loaded. I've dilly-dallied for over a year and a half after finishing Fundamentals 1 so there was a fair bit of new stuff for me - S drill, DSMB, deployment, no mask swim, etc. I had seen videos of all of this but it was really good to go over it step by step with an instructor and practice all of those in the water a couple of times. A bunch of skills run-throughs and ascents later, I was feeling a lot better about my ability to dive this setup.

Not a whole lot to say about the dive. Viz had dropped to a murky 15ft or so. We stayed inside the cove and didn't see much life until our swim back in the end when we happened upon a huge ling cod.
-> 2hr 9min, 48ft, 55F

We covered a lot of lecture material that's in Fundies that evening as well as a lot of details and dive profiles specific to our area that are now viable for me with doubles. Granite Point Wall, Sea Mount and the 3 Sisters are all within reach now. I still need to find Hole in the Wall but having this much gas now should give me plenty of time in the area.

New lessons learned (for me) from the dives and the ensuing video reviews -
  • Back kick - If your hips move significantly and it looks like you're humping an imaginary something, you're not going to move backwards.
  • Helicopter kick - Jerking your torso violently to the side and muscling the tanks into position kinda gets you moving in the right direction but is not recommended more than a couple of times a day. Also, if you rely on the frog kick half of the helicopter turn instead of the back kick half, you end up moving in a small circle instead of turning in place.
  • DSMB deployment - I am now extremely familiar with task fixation. Also, I have giant lungs or something. Even with a half breath from the reg to inflate the DSMB, I got it all the way full and was still going until I noticed Beto signaling me to stop and let it practically rocket out of my hand.
  • Valve drill - Staying within the vicinity of where you started the drill is preferable. Definitely do not end up 30ft away.
  • No mask swim - If you have your eyes open during this drill and look comfortable doing it, Beto will attempt to run you into a rock.
  • Stretch those legs out - Dual HP100s want to put you head down and having your heels touch your butt doesn't help.

After the debrief, Beto told me I had a good grasp of the steps for all the skills required in Fundies and should practice them for a couple of months so I can aim for a tech pass when I come back to finish the class.
The photos below are far more flattering than how I actually looked and felt in the water. Beto cherrypicks screen captures of moments when you look good and sends them to you post-class to make you feel better about yourself.


It was a great couple of days overall. Days with GUE instructors are long, jam packed and super busy but I got so much figured out with the doubles and drysuit with Beto that I don't think would have been possible on my own. Next stop - Fundamentals 2!

 - U

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Horny harbor seals

Day 1 of the doubles clinic with Beto!! An early drive down to Monterey started off with prayers for not-a-crap-ton of rain (the forecast called for constant rain for a couple of days) and not-a-frick-ton of traffic (the Pebble Beach Pro-Am was happening at the same time). Both were answered.

We started off with equipment setup and going over the working of the manifold, regulator setup, what's on which post and why, weighting options, etc. I had done a fair bit of reading on this and so it went pretty quickly. All this was done on Beto's already setup rig, following which we set mine up from the ground up. Turns out not having the bottom 5th port on the DST meant that I needed slightly different hose lengths than what I had on my singles setup. Some pawing through the random parts bin, and harness adjusting, later I was good to go. The main things we were going to work on today were just getting used to having two tanks on my back and the dreaded valve drill. I was a little nervous about this because of everything I'd read about it and specifically gotten the DGX long neck manifold to make things easier. The land drills went fine but the real test would be once I had the drysuit on.

After some lolly-gagging to play with the cat (and waiting for the rain to subside a bit), we headed to the Breakwater. The plan was to do one dive to feel things out a bit and try a valve drill, come back out to adjust the harness as needed and dive again to work on the skills some more and figure out weighting and any trim adjustments with close to empty tanks. I have to say that after the first few minutes, it didn't feel that much different than what I was used to in singles (apart from the "oh crap" moment when I realized I needed to add a LOT more gas to the wing during the descent to avoid cratering in the sand). Basic 5 and the kicks went totally fine. And then came the signal for the valve drill. If there's one thing I can honestly say I impressed Beto with it's the range of motion in my shoulders. Even with my elbow sticking out perpendicular to my body and my head not quite looking up, I was easily able to do the valve drill. Not that I'm satisfied with doing it this way, it's just a huge mental sigh of relief knowing now that I can do it without killing myself in my drysuit and thick Thinsulate undies.

I also found out exactly how sneaky GUE instructors are. I've read reports from tech and cave classes where they sidle up next to/above/below you unnoticed to steal stuff and initiate all kinds of failures. In my case, it was unexpected drysuit inflation - not a little puff either, he had my inflator activated for a few seconds while I was attempting a back kick before I realized what was happening. Doesn't sound like a lot but at 20ft it required some concerted action on my part to not pop up to the surface. I had specifically spoken to him earlier about working on drysuit skills so I guess I was asking for it.

The other thing I need to mention was just how insanely amazing of a dive it was. We had at least 40-50ft viz in blue water and tons of jellies everywhere - salp chains, pyrosomes, hula skirt jellies, sea butterflies, egg yolk jellies and the ubiquitous sea nettles. Probably a lot more species that I just don't remember or can't ID. And, um, a couple of seals that decided our doubles were super attractive and started humping them. Beto showed me a way to drive them off - go head down, stretch your legs out and try to get 'em in a scissor hold. True story.
-> 1hr 48min, 20ft, 53F

Beto was very satisfied with the setup and my ability to manage it in the water so we decided day 2 would essentially be a sneak peek into Fundies 2.

- U

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doubles

My aspirations are starting to exceed the limits I'm under diving single tanks, primarily wanting to do DPV shore diving to sites slightly farther away and kinda-sorta-maybe cave(rn) training. With this in mind, I went about converting my gear to dive double tanks.

I got the bands from Dive Gear Express as well as their long neck manifold - both were well reviewed and significantly cheaper than the offerings from the big name brands. In addition, the long neck manifold reputedly makes the dreaded valve reachability easier. 2 of my 4 HP100s got conscripted into doubles duty after AWS measured and matched them up.


The regulator conversion was pretty straight forward as well, I already had an extra Apeks DST 1st stage which matched the one on my singles rig. A couple of hoses got moved around and that was it. The 1st stages don't have the bottom 5th port, which is supposed to make hose routing a little better, but I think this is a very workable solution to start off.

I'm a big fan of Deep Sea Supply and wanted to stick with their products for the backplate and wing. I could have used my existing steel plate but HP100s are a little short and tend to make you want to faceplant - a steel plate would have potentially exacerbated the problem by adding weight forward. I dug around the used gear listings and found the kydex plate for less than half the retail price - it was a shop display and in insanely good condition. I had spoken to Tobin about the wing and he recommended the Torus 49 for the HP100s, not just for the amount of lift but the shape of the wing. It's top biased and helps counteract the faceplant behavior of the tanks and is especially useful for newer divers. I got super lucky again and got one of these from a local GUE diver, again, for less than half of retail.
This is what the full rig looks like without any weights on it. I've signed up for a doubles workshop with Beto later this week - can't wait!!!


 - U