Thursday, February 21, 2008

Zodiac Diving – February 18th, 2008

“We need not feel ashamed of flirting with the zodiac. The zodiac is well worth flirting with.”
– D.H. Lawrence

It all started with three-day weekend topped off with a lovely Marine forecast predicting virtually no swell on Presidents Day, and – more importantly – no NW swell.

I’d been unable to do Dive #50 for several weeks because of the weather that we’ve been experiencing lately. President’s Day weekend, however, was a pleasant forecast to behold, and being able to make my 50th with Mark was a welcome thought. So, after an already fun and busy weekend, we got up bright and early on Monday morning, checked the forecast and then began the trek down to Monterey. We planned to dive MacAbee Beach
for the first time and we were both pretty excited about the prospect.

Plans can change in the blink of an eye however and just outside of Marina, we got a call from Ron, Carrie and their friend Kent, telling us that they were on their way down to Monterey and – better still, they had a boat! A boat!

Now, this bears some explanation. I’ve done a considerable amount of boat diving given my relative lack of experience, but only one time have I dove in Monterey from a boat. Monterey has tons of shore dives that you can do, provided that you are willing to do the surface swim – which I am. But a boat? A boat! Luxurious! As I am used to “giant stride” kinds of boats, the only apprehension I had was that we would be diving from a Zodiac. On any given weekend you can see various dive sites around Monterey and Carmel spotted with little inflatable boats. In seeing these Zodiacs, I already knew, a bit more “finesse” would be required, a bit more knowledge, planning, etc. First of all, there is the entry. Not a giant stride, but a back roll. Not a problem. Check. More onerous, however, is how you get back into the boat. This requires more practice and generally makes you feel like a giant sea lion trying to catapult itself onto the deck.

Was I worried? Nah. Okay, maybe just a little bit.

Arriving at the Breakwater, we began setting up our gear to get on the boat for our first dive. We were soon joined by Ron, Carrie and Kent who further informed us of protocols, requirements, and procedures. While I was still a bit apprehensive of the entire situation (not because of the boat, the diving, etc. but rather because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, cause problems, be a bad diver, etc), Ron, Carrie and Kent were so at ease, full of great explanations and help that soon we were dragging our behind down the boat launch and jumping in to the boat to take off.

Slowly cruising out of the Breakwater, the cool air of the overcast day, I felt like I should be on Ocean Adventures with Jean-Michel Cousteau. Lightly bouncing on the Zodiac’s inflatable sides, looking at the tightly stored gear and at the other divers, we exited the cove and headed out into the Bay. My sense of “cool” quickly faded when Kent opened up the throttle and we were charging across the surface of the water at a clip of about 35 miles per hour. Clinging to the ropes to avoid being thrown in, I quickly regained my sense of composure and couldn’t stop smiling. This was going to be a great day. Great company, lots of fun and good diving.

Soon we were pulling up on the site – ahead of us was John’s boat and its divers were in the water. We anchored off to the north of their boat, and quickly our boat swung around over the site – Aumentos Reef.
Aumentos – a site I’ve seen so many pictures of but, for whatever reason, never thought I would have the opportunity to dive – but here we were. After initial preparations, we donned our gear and rolled into the water to begin the dive.

The dive site was phenomenal. The walls were healthy in appearance – covered in hundreds of strawberry anemone, metridium anemone, giant spined stars, algae and purple ring topsnails. Sea lemons lounged around lazily next to bat stars and there were “small fry” in the water column. Swimming around, we headed further down walls and around the back. Soon Mark and I headed off in another direction, away from the anchor line, only to find ourselves along a sheer wall, dropping off to a sandy bottom. The wall was absolutely breathtaking. White-spotted anemone mingled with strawberry anemone, purple algae, orange ball sponges and other sea life. A lone fish hung in the water column, wedging himself down in a crevice in the rocks. Coming around the wall, we did not find the anchor line, so we decided ascend without it. After our safety stop, we came up to the surface about 20 yards away from the boat, before the other divers.

Reboarding the boat from the water proved to be more difficult than getting into the water. Mark and I really needed to work as a team in order to make sure that we didn’t get injured or lose any gear. Mark removed his BC after we clipped it off onto a carabineer attached to the boat. He then removed his fins and tossed them into the boat. He climbed into the boat by stepping on a “step” on the outboard motor and then hoisting himself up into the inflatable. After I handed him the camera, I swam around to the other side boat, attached the other carabineer to a D ring on my shoulder strap and then wiggled myself out of my BC, slipped off my fins and handed them off to Mark – all the while trying to maintain my position close to the motor. Getting back into the boat, we relaxed while waiting for the other divers to come back. Soon Carrie and Kent surfaced and reboarded the boat. Then Ron showed up and we motored back to the Breakwater Pier to offload the tanks and have some lunch.

After dining at the Russian deli at the Pier, we loaded new tanks onto the boat. Mark decided that he wasn’t going to dive as he had gotten cold during the first dive but joined us on the boat nonetheless. After deciding to go to the Anchor Farm, we head out of the Breakwater to the site. Since I wanted to take photographs, it was decided that Ron, another photographer, and I should be buddies. Dropping the anchor, we again donned our gear, and rolled into the water. As we head down the anchor line, the visibility was not promising for the first 20 feet or so. Then, it suddenly opened up – beautifully. Swimming out a few yards, we quickly realized that we hadn’t anchored at the Anchor Farm but rather the Chains.

The Chains is a beautiful site. Piled up atop a shale bottom is a huge mass of massive, old chains and cement blocks. All of which are covered in sea life. The site was gorgeous. All over the shale beds were various nudibranchs. Crossing over a stretched chain, I encountered a Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea) with a San Diego Droid (Diaulula sandiegensis) followed by a sea lemon. Continuing around the site there were more nudibranch – doris, lemons, clown dorids. California Sea Cucumbers, Metridium, Strawberry Anemone, Sunflower Stars, Black-eyed gobies, beautiful sponges and more. Hidden in all the rocks, brittle stars – feathery and light, tucked under and in the rocks, shale ledges. Ron even saw a wolf eel being pestered by a fish, but by the time he was able to get me, the wolf eel had hidden itself in its home.

Because of our depth, it was getting near the time for me to end my dive. I signaled to Ron and we began our way back to the anchor line. Ascending in the water column, we did a one minute safety stop at 40 feet and then continued to the surface. Because I was low on air, I had a hard time maintaining my second safety stop at 15. Bouncing around after about 90 seconds, I hit 8 feet and was unable to stay down. We hit the surface and swam back to the boat, joining the other divers and Mark. Removing our gear, we boarded the boat, and started back to the Pier. Offloading, the gear and everything else, we all made our way out to get some dinner together.

In retrospect, I was foolish for being worried about diving from the Zodiac. It was a wonderful day, wonderful experience and there were wonderful dives. Many thanks to Ron, Carrie and Kent for the awesome day! D.H. Lawrence was right; flirting with the zodiac is well worth it.

Dive #50 – Monday, 2/18/08 – Aumentos Reef – Monterey, California. 11:17 AM. Max depth 56 feet, bottom time 25 minutes (approximately 1100 PSI remaining at the end of the dive). Water temp 52°, viz approximately 20-30 feet.

Dive #51 – Monday, 2/18/08 – The Chains – Monterey, California. 2:45 PM. Max depth 75 feet, bottom time 30 minutes (residual time 13 minutes; computer did not exceed no-deco limits; approximately 550 PSI remaining at end of the dive). Water temp 50°, visibility approximately 25 to 30 feet. Great being buddied with another photographer as it enabled me to go slowly, take photos. A very nice experience.

My favorite photo of the day

Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea) with a San Diego Droid (Diaulula sandiegensis)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nitrox Dive Certification - February 17th, 2008

Tomorrow we are finally getting around to getting our Nitrox Certification. We had planned on doing it while in Florida last year after my brother's wedding, but the plan to head south afterwards didn't come to fruition. So, being faced with some upcoming trips where the ability to use nitrox could extend our bottom times and/or increase our safety margins, we've decided to do the certification here in California so that we can do some nitrox dives when we vacation or even here in California.

My coursework is completed and, suffice it to say, I hate gas management. Having to read through PO2 levels and such is a real chore for me. Diving air is just as well for me, although I do like the idea of increased safety. As well, the other benefits of Nitrox diving are attractive. So off we go. Hopefully I won’t get all befuddled on the examination tomorrow!
UPDATE: Took the classwork and have passed the examination. Looking forward to doing some Nitrox diving in the near future on one of the vacations we've got planned. As for the course, I enjoyed learning about the various computation methods for nitrox dive planning. I really enjoy using dive tables and the Nitrox class just added a number of tables more. Appeals to my sense of anal-rententivity I suppose. I wish we could try Nitrox tomorrow on our dives that we are hoping to do - but we won't be at any depths sufficient to warrant the additional cost, get the benefits, etc. C'est la vie!