Monday, September 24, 2007
Waking up early Saturday morning we were anxious to try our hand at Abalone diving. As many might already be aware, California regulations require a special fishing license stamp to be able to catch abalone, and furthermore, you may only hunt for them by free diving (sans tanks, BC, etc). So it is a pretty “primitive” form of diving. We thought we were heading out earlier than the actual departure time but when the time came, about 10 divers walked out the ¼ mile or so boardwalk out to the shoreline, down the cliffs and suited up, so it was a nice size group of people go out with. Wetsuits, fins, masks, snorkels, floats, weight belts (so heavy!), gloves, abalone gauges and bars and we were off.
North Coast diving is quite a bit different from Monterey diving. It is more rugged, more exposed. There is a greater need to time wave intervals and be very aware of your surroundings to prevent yourself from being bashed up against rocks.
Swimming out as a group we swam around rocky outcroppings, past them and continued out into the sea. There was a considerable surge and we had to keep repositioning to avoid having waves crashing on us and possibly moving us too close to the rocks. Visibility was not great, it was hard for me to see my fins as I was floating on the surface, and the vis didn’t clear up as we descended. In the end, about 12 abalone were caught, cleaned, breaded, cooked – a truly wonderful and rustic meal shared with great company.
[Image is not my own]
Friday, September 14, 2007
This September’s International Coastal Clean-Up Dives were organized by Aquarius Dive Shop in Monterey.
We met at Lover’s #3, just around the bend from Lover’s Cove, on the more exposed area of Lover’s Point, across from Borg’s Motel. There was a bit of confusion as to the meeting time since I had thought we were meant to be in the water between 8 and 9 am, but when Mark and I arrived just before 8, no one else was there. Of course, that made us a bit worried that we were in the wrong place, etc. I knew some of the other members from ScubaBoard would be there, so we waited to see if we recognized anyone. Eventually we met Albert who was there for the dives and who informed us that there were several people who were at the Dive Shop and they were going to be making their way over to the site shortly. After they arrived, we had a dive briefing, explaining how we could conduct the trash search and recovery and were assigned our “locations” from the shoreline as to what area of the bay we’d be searching. Afterwards, we were left to our own devises to kit up and get into the water.
Returning to the car, I quickly discovered that Mark and I had left a crucial part of our gear behind – our wetsuits. Not only are they important from the standpoint of keeping you warm, etc – but they are, in a sense, “intimate” pieces of gear. The only thing that really sticks to your skin. Plus, in Monterey, dive shops only rent 2-piece “farmer John” set ups which, while providing tons of exposure protection against the cold, also are a pain in the backside to wear, restrict your movement and are generally a nuisance. Being 2+ hours away from our home, I realized that we were, in essence, condemned to wear this set up if we were to dive that day….and I was, in no uncertain terms, not happy in the slightest about it.
Well, with some strong arming and a bit of tenderness, Mark triumphed and we were suiting up, overheating and struggling to get our gear down a stone set of stairs to the rocky shore below. The waves were soft on the shore and all the other divers had long since gone into the water to begin their search for hidden (or not-so-hidden) trash. Finally, we were set. Andy, the photographer who joined us for the Clean Up snapped two photos of Mark and I, and we entered the water. Soon we were doing the short surface swim out and dropping down, through the strands of kelp the sandy and eel-grass bottom below. The water was GORGEOUS! Not too cold, great visibility and just perfect.
As Mark navigated, I searched for garbage, mesh bag trailing empty behind me. Over rocky ledges covered in sponges, kelp, crabs, starfish, bat stars, anemones and other life and vegetation, we moved out, and back towards shore, making u-turns at appropriate intervals. No trash. Schools of fish – perch, senoritas, krill, and even my first cabezon! But still, no trash. We surfaced to take a compass heading back to our entry point on shore, only to find out we had covered substantial territory while underwater. Taking the compass heading, we returned back, surfacing only a few feet off from our original point of entry – not too shabby.
Beautiful surface interval – talking with the other members of ScubaBoard as we waited for our opportunity to go back in. Visited by a man on a horse (we are still wondering about the legality of the entire exercise!) – and soon we were kitting up for dive #2 for the day.
Again, out we went, not particular heading in mind, just with the goal of spending time in the kelp cathedrals just under the surface of the water. Dropping down, we landed right in a beautiful spot – beautiful, long strands of kelp, at least 15’ long reaching to the surface of the water and gracefully creating a canopy under which swam tons of black and red surfperch and a bunch of senoritas. We found rocky outcroppings just covered in life – sponges, sunflower stars, short-spined sea stars, algae, bat stars, anemones – strawberry anemone, green anemone and what I think was a rose anemone. Even a moon jelly and some more crabs. As always, we emerged somewhat puffed, but happy and feeling successful about our dives – even in the face of the rocky start (no pun intended!)
Dive #33 – Sunday 9/15/07: Lover’s Point #3 – Monterey, California. 10:22 AM. Max depth 20 feet, bottom time 45 minutes (1200 PSI remaining at end of dive with Al80). Rocky beach dive, water temp 63˚, vis approximately 20-25 feet.
Dive #34 – Sunday, 9/15/07: Lover’s Point #3 – Monterey, California. 12:23 PM. Max depth 30 feet, bottom time 35 minutes (1300 PST remaining with Steel 74). Rocky beach dive, water temp 55˚, vis approximately 20-25 feet.
[Sorry, I didn’t take the camera along with me this time. The photo above was taken in April when we were down in Monterey and were checking out Lover’s. It is a representation of the site although the conditions were quite different on Sunday.]
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Last weekend was a gorgeous, 3 day weekend in San Francisco and I had some diving planned, so I couldn’t be happier. Saturday, Mark and I headed down to Moss Landing to go on a whale watching cruise. Unfortunately the whales (and dolphins) had packed up for the holiday weekend and headed elsewhere so we saw none. :-( But the operators gave us a rain check so we could come back another time. I was, however, a bit skeptical about the lack of life, wondering if the warmer waters were causing the marine life to head further out then normal.
Curious how this would affect our dives, if at all, we headed down to Pacific Grove to Lover’s Point where we were staying. After resting up (the Dramamine caused us both to be a bit sleepy), we headed out to the Breakwater to get a night dive in.
Parking along the pier wall, we unloaded our gear, dressed and spent some time chatting with some other friendly divers who were also hanging out. Something nice about the dive community in Monterey – as if the coldwater experience somehow creates a bond between divers, commiserating about the viz (or lack thereof), where the best areas are, etc. It doesn’t feel as “aggressive” as vacation dives where everyone is trying to show up the other divers.
But I digress…..
We entered the water at about 7:45 PM and swam out almost to the end of the gate on the pier. Dropped down in about 17 feet of water and just as the sun was releasing its hold on the day. Reaching the bottom, we checked our compass headings and started out. Soon we were sinking into the deeper rangers of 30 feet and the tube anemones began to appear and so did the sea life. Tons of sand dabs flitted around in the sand, a tiny octopus entertained Mark and I until it swam quickly away, squeezing itself down into its hole. A dendronotus danced about 1 foot from the ground and other fish swam idly by, as though we were of no consequence. A shrimp hung out by an anemone, cute and delicate. We made it a short dive and came on shore with tons of air left. We didn’t mind, we were happy with all the life that we had seen.
Sunday morning we got up early to pack up the gear that had been rinsed the night before and hung to drive. Off to Monterey Bay Dive Center to get our tanks refilled and head back to the Breakwater to wait for Wayne and Kelley. Wayne, who we had met a few weeks prior during the event I had organized had offered to lead us to the famed Metridium Field which lies right off the shore from the Breakwater, a hearty surface swim out, but a rewarding one. We got there just before 8 and reserved a nice spot on the grassy area overlooking the beach. The sun was quickly rising on the horizon, promising to be a warm day. Our friends arrived just before 9 and set up their canopy and gear.
We entered the water just after 10:30 AM in search of the Metridium Field. Swimming out a long way, we regrouped and dropped down together in about 25 feet of water. Off we swam – Wayne and Kelley in the lead, Mark and I (with my camera) behind them. Visibility wasn’t that great – we had to stay on their heels in order to remain as a group. Crossing the “big pipe” (“not the small pipe”) on a 30 degree compass heading, we swam and swam. Finally, Wayne turned around and pointed off to about 45 degrees. I couldn’t really tell what he was pointing at, but swam in the direction, and there they were! The eerie white Metridium – huge, between 1-2 feet long, covering the surfaces of these rocks. Some fully extended, looking soft and inviting. Others balled up against the world, eating or having been touched by something disagreeable. I was amazed. I had seen them when we did our drysuit checkout off the boat, but because of the leak in my suit (at 80 feet in January --- brrrrr!!!!) we surfaced after only about 10 minutes. But this site seemed to have so many more and they were stunning. A kelp rockfish hung out on top of a group of them, peacefully allowing me to come within a few feet of him. I found a sea lemon surrounded by some strawberry anemone hiding in between some of the rocks. We floated around, checking out the scene for about 10 minutes or so before it was time to head back to shore. Following a near-perfect route back, we emerged in almost the exact same spot as we had descended at. Kudos to Wayne and his supreme navigation skills!
After a nice surface interval and changing out the gear, we headed back into the water, this time for a little tour of the Breakwater – to swim through the kelp and scope out cool things to take photos of. We saw black serfperch and rainbow serfperch , what I think were sardines, amongst other critters. A mask problem cut the dive slightly shorter than I had hoped, but we got some good photos nonetheless.
Dive #30 – Saturday 9/1/07: Breakwater Cove – Monterey, California. 7:45 PM. Max depth 41 feet, bottom time 34 minutes. Beach dive, water temp 63˚, vis approximately 10-20 feet (depending upon location).
Dive #31 – Sunday, 9/2/07: Breakwater Cove – Monterey, California. 10:35 AM. Max depth 48 feet, bottom time 42 minutes. Beach dive to the Metridium Field. Water temp 55˚, vis approximately 7-20 feet (depending upon location). Surface interval approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Dive #32 – Sunday, 9/2/07: Breakwater Cove – Monterey, California. 1:05 PM. Max depth 27 feet, bottom time 34 minutes. Beach dive, water temp 63˚, vis approximately 10-12 feet.
Went diving on Sunday with a bunch of local divers that had a “Meet and Greet”. We met up at the Breakwater shortly after 7:15 AM after picking up my tanks from a local dive store. The weather was perfect – sun just beginning to shine brightly, that time in the morning where everything just feels so new, fresh and full of opportunity (yes, I am a morning person). Two of the divers from the group had already arrived and set up a nice canopy on the grassy area, complete with tarp and chairs. We proceeded to haul our gear over and then hung out talking to the couple that were there already, watching the water at the Breakwater as it calmly lapped the shore. The water looked divine – so peaceful, some divers making their way in, seals down the pier doing their best to make a ton of noise. I was anxious to get into the water and start exploring.
Around 9:00 we were all geared up – 7MM fullsuit with a 5/3 hooded vest. It was getting hot and so I knew that the 55° water would be a welcome respite from the shore. Since one of the two divers that had been there was playing “rescue class victim,” his wife came along with Mark and I on our first dive. Swimming into the water from the shore, the water was indeed cool, but it felt great against the early heat of the day. Descending down, we were just on the edge of some kelp. Mark leading, Kelly and I followed him through the kelp, over the rocks, in and around all over the place. Tons of batstars, starfish,spiny rockfish, and – of course – kelp. When we hit 1200 PSI, we decided to start meandering our way back to shore.
All of a sudden, we gained another dive partner – a seal. First s/he was exploring Mark’s head and tank. I was desperately trying to get Mark’s attention, to no avail. The seal then made his way back to Kelly, doing flips and turns all the way. Playing with her tank, hood and then biting on her flippers. We got out of the kelp, each time I turned around to make sure she wasn’t stuck, there was the seal – swimming just over her shoulder, just as though s/he has fallen in line with our group. Then all of a sudden, he turned his attention to me – swimming over, going for my hood, playing with my fins – swimming off. And then, much to my extreme joy, s/he swam straight for my face – coming closer and closer until it touched its nose to my mask, I could see every little whisker. Only briefly though before s/he swam off for good. Poor Mark only got to see a bit of the fun since he had been in the lead and, whilst Kelly and I had stopped completely, he continued on. Realizing we weren’t with him, he came back for the tail end of playtime.
Ecstatic, we swam back to the shore underwater. Grinning ear to ear.
After a long surface interval, during which more divers came, we hung out – exchanging stories, snacking and sunning. It was a beautiful sunny day in Monterey – such a change from the relatively foggy summers of San Francisco. I got to play “distressed swimmer” and was rescued by one of the training classes. Nothing like getting towed back to shore and dragged up the beach!
Around 1 pm, I was starting to get warm and ready for our 2nd dive. Almost the entire group suited up and we headed out in search of the famed Metridium Field. After a relatively long surface swim, we dropped down to depth. Unfortunately, the kelp was a bit thicker than anticipated and Mark and I lost the rest of the group. While slightly disappointed, I had the camera with me and was quite happy to go off in search of some good photo opportunities – which we found. More kelp, batstars, starfish, beautiful vegetation, cormorants diving from the surface , massive amount of what I think were krill and some black surfperch, even an entire school of them!, etc. With about 1100 PSI, we were back on shore and happy as two clams.
Burgers with the group, more stories and sunshine and we packed up at about 4:30 to make the 2 hour drive home. It was a great day filled with wonderful dives and great company. I was really glad that I took the time to organize it and hope to see all those divers again in the future!
Dive #28: Breakwater Cove – Monterey, CA: Max depth 32 feet, bottom time 37 minutes. Beach dive, water temp 54°, vis approximately 12-15’. Surface interval approximately 2.5 hours.
Dive #29: Breakwater Cove – Monterey, CA: Max depth 27 feet, bottom time 40 minutes. Beach dive, water temp 54°, vis approximately 12’.
All suited up we headed into the water. Swam out about 100' feet or so - I am not that great with distances. Dropped down at about 15' to a nice, smooth, sandy bottom. Finning out further, Mark taking photos of starfish along the way. With me navigating, we worked our way to a slight drop off where I believed we'd find a metridium field that I had read about earlier that morning. Sure enough, hitting 35' they started showing up. More and more of them - dotting the entire bottom. Well, they turned out to be anenome, but they were still very awesome.
After about 20 minutes of exploring the Field, we decided to navigate our way back to shore. Emerging we were both exhilarated from the field, our first non-dive group dive, taking photos for the first time, etc. Despite the shortness of the dive, we both felt accomplished and relaxed. Mission accomplished!
Dive Information: Site Name: Breakwater Cove
Location: Monterey, California
Equipment: 7mm (1-piece), 5/3 hooded vest, camera, light, fish identifying chart, 80-aluminum, compass, etc. Dive Conditions: shore dive, sunny weather. Water Conditions: Water temp 50 degrees, visibility approx 25', relatively calm water, little surge, no current Depth: 46' max, 34 minutes.
Marine Life: starfish, anemone, decorator crabs, sea cucumbers, small fish (unsure what).