Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Vicarious Diving & Video Shoots! – Sunday, April 27th, 2008

I’ve been a landlubber since the world shortest dive on April 19th. I was looking forward to Doc Wong’s Video Shoot on safe Monastery Diving and was anticipating a day of diving. Of course, with a great Marine forecast on the horizon, I was getting excited. Of course, I shouldn’t have gotten excited as Wednesday rolled around and walloped me one of the worst colds that I had ever had in a very long time.

While extremely optimistic that the cold would dissipate prior to the dive day, I was not at all surprised when Saturday evening came and I wasn’t feeling near good enough to dive. Regardless, Mark was scheduled to dive with Michelle so we got his gear in the car. All the while, me with the heaviest of hearts. The forecast was still looking really good, so good that even Chuck Tribolet was planning on diving. I was really bummed but was hoping that I would at least catch some rays and could try out the new camera with subjects other than Mark and Gatita.
Doc Wong being assisted by Guy after his tumble.
We got up and made the trek down to Carmel, arriving at the rendezvous point slightly after Michelle and making our way to the convoy staging point (in order to get past the marathon that was running down Highway 1). Soon Doc was there and we were all hanging out, chatting and enjoying what was turning out to be a beautiful day.

Monastery is a beautiful beach. The beach is actually called Carmel River Beach – but it has adopted the nickname Monastery in the scuba community due to its proximity to a Monastery, just across the Highway 1, sitting proudly on the overlooking bluff. The beach itself, however, is quite dangerous. Because of the steep sloping beach, the way in which the waves come up the steep beach and then come rushing back, create an innocuous-seeming beach, which actually quite dangerous. Numerous people have had bad experiences because of this undertow, some have even lost their lives. In an attempt to warn visitors of the dangers, and prepare those divers who wish to dive Monastery, our friend Doc Harry Wong has been on a campaign to increase signage and create a video on safe diving procedures for the beach. We were onboard to help Doc Wong with the video; Mark would be demonstrating a safe entry into the water with Michelle. I would be providing surface support and photographs of the days events in light of my inability to participate in the diving.

Mark was amazingly composed about the entire event. Bringing his gear up the rocky beach, I was more nervous than he was. I suppose a certain part of that nervousness was because I have never actually stayed on shore while Mark was out diving – while he oftentimes doesn’t accompany me on a dive. But it wasn’t just that – it was my own fear about his safety. He would be diving North Monastery which is more exposed than the South, as it was necessary to show the entry with some kind of waves and the South looked like a lake. But North Monastery was rougher – walls of waves crashing upon the steep beach, each one making me more nervous as Mark suited up while listening to the dive briefing. But soon enough, Mark was down at the shoreline, listening to Doc, Guy and Dennis’ explanations on how to enter. Soon Michelle was entering the water, Mark standing back waiting as it is best to only have one diver in the surf zone at a time. When Michelle was safely through, it was Mark’s time. I put the camera down and walked down to the shore, watching with nervous anticipation as he watched the waves, waited for a lull, then moved out and, face down, began kicking like mad to ride the back pull off the beach and through the surf zone, regulator in mouth as instructed. It wasn’t until he was well clear of the danger zone that I relaxed, watching he and Michelle kick out along the edge of the kelp to begin their dive.

After about 35 minutes, Mark and Michelle surfaced and the exit procedure was begun – again, one diver at a time, all hands on deck ready to assist in event of an emergency. Michelle exited first, and then it was Mark’s turn. At this point, and due to their point of exit, the process was a relatively easy, rough surf exit on hands and knees, crawling until you are on dry sand where your fins are removed before you stand up. Whilst waiting for the right time, the small surf was actually pushing Mark onto shore, so it was a very stress-free exit for everyone involved.

Mark and Michelle were both pretty happy about the dive. The water temperature was cold, 48°, but because neither had their camera, the dive was spent swimming so they kept fairly warm in their wetsuits. They both related their journey, over the Monterey Bay Canyon, as Monastery Beach is the closest point to reach the Canyon from the shore. The visibility was approximately 25 to 30 feet, reduced somewhat because of the plethora of krill in the water, and better than the reports from other dive sites where the sandy bottom results in much for sediment in the water column.

It was important to both Mark and I to have participated in this venture to help promote a safe diving environment on Monastery Beach and it was a honor and a pleasure to have been able to help out. In the end, Doc’s video appears to have been a success although we await the final video to see how it came out…. After diving, Michelle, Mark and I went over to El Toritos to have some lunch and enjoy the vista of the Bay. MacAbee was equally tempting as we watched two divers kick out and begin their dives along side of a sea lion. Needless to say, I can't wait to post an actual dive blog from a successful dive!

MacAbee Beach

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shortest Dive Ever? - Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The Marine forecast was looking pretty iffy all week, and being that my BC was still not back from Scubapro, I was thinking it might be wiser to just stay dry for the weekend. However, a convincing call from Dan go my butt in gear and out on the road at 5:15 AM on Saturday morning, heading to Monterey on the chance that the conditions would be great.

The wind was definitely not as strong on shore as I thought it might be, given the gale wind warnings that were issued, but the clouds overhead were somewhat more ominous of the day. I arrived before Dan or Dave, so I checked out the scene along the Harbor wall where the Earth Day divers and shore clean-up brigades were setting up. The conditions didn’t seem to bad, so I went back to the Honda and was soon joined by Mike and Dave. We went to check out the Bay from the harbor wall together, and Dave decided that we could try and get in at least one dive. So back to the boat to get gear loaded and wetsuits/drysuits on. Soon my gear was onboard and set up with the tanks in the hold and I was donning my wetsuit and soon after, we were walking over to K dock to meet Mike in the boat.

Dan and I in the front, Mike and Dave driving, we cruised out of the marina, Mike tacking against the winds that were already becoming an issue in the marina. As soon as we got out of the harbor, the truest nature of the Bay became more apparent. It was going to be rough and I forgot to take Dramamine. Regardless of my fear of getting sick, we laid out into the bay, the discussion turning to which site to try. Over the swells, riding down their backs, it was soon decided that we would have to stay somewhere near the harbor, away from the mouth of the Bay in order to get any dive in – and we decided to stay at the Shale Beds / Anchor Farm.

As soon as the anchor was down, I started to feel it. My stomach bobbing around inside of me. Starring off into the horizon, picking out the Marriott just beyond the harbor I was able to get a hold of myself and begin to evaluate the dive site, conditions, etc against my feelings, comfort level and training. I was on a boat with very skilled and knowledgeable divers. One instructor, one assistant instructor and another diver who had logged a substantial number of dives – I was in more capable hands than I’ve been since my OW certification so it wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with them or that I thought they would let me be unsafe. It was that, while sitting there, the swells were increasing. No longer did they seem to be in the 8’ range, but looked more like 12’ and seemingly increasing. I wasn’t worried about the dive, I was just worried about the reentry into the boat after the dive. I voiced my concerns and after being assured that they would help me if needed, I decided to go for it. Knowing my luck, if I stayed on the boat, they’d come up raving about the gorgeous conditions. So, I started to don my gear.

Soon Dave was in the water, his fins slapping the water as he made his way down the anchor line to the bottom resting 80’ below. Dan and I followed shortly thereafter, doing a great backward roll off the side of the boat, feeling the calm sensation of twisting back towards the surface. I tried snorkeling over to the anchor line, wishing to conserve as much air as possible as to not cut Dan’s dive too short, but the swells were coming over the top of my snorkel, making breathing off my tank for the short surface swim a necessity. Soon Dan and I were heading down the anchor line, me following closely behind in order to avoid being separated. Visibility was less than optimal, being about 5-7 feet on the surface, and quickly deteriorating as we head down the line. Optimistic that it would clear, we continued, point out sea nettles that were wallowing around in the water column.

At 25’ feet we encountered Dave who was heading to the surface, thumbing the dive. According to his report, at depth the visibility was nowhere near improved, the swell causing the bottom’s silt to simply be stirred up. So, we made our way back onto the boat, got our gear off and fired the boat back up. After pulling the anchor, we headed back to the Marina, the swells increasing still, but riding back was more enjoyable as we were going with the wind, and were almost surfing along the tops of the swell. All the while my eyes trained along the horizon, still holding on to my light breakfast.

Back at shore, the boat was soon pulled out of the water and gear pulled off of it. Hanging around for a while, we then parted ways and I went off to take some photos with my new dSLR. Meeting up with Dan at the Breakwater, we watched a group of students being helped out of the water at high tide with less than optimal conditions. Dan offered to show me around Monastery which I gladly took him up on given the fact that I’ve never actually step foot on the beach despite having attended to panel discussions, etc. on how to dive at the location.

We took separate cars and I followed him out to the beach. Pulling up, we walked past Doc Wong’s new advisory signs, over the pebbly beach to the top of the steep beach. The water was beautiful, but rough. Brilliant shades of blue accented by the new season’s kelp strands, it was easy to see how beach-goers and divers alike would be drawn to this dangerous beach. Dan pointed out the best entry and exit points, as well as showing me what makes the beach so dangerous – the walls of water that comes rolling up in a tube almost, while the receding waters down the steeply angled beach pull back. It was so easy to see how dangerous it could be, and simultaneously, how attractive it would be to an unsuspecting person or child.

Leaving there, we rounded the corner to Point Lobos and went down to Whaler’s Cove which was just inundated with people. Seeing Team Kitty’s car in the parking lot with all their double tables set up, we realized they must be in the water so we stood on the rocks and looked for their bubbles, to no avail. Giving up, Dan dropped me back at my car and we parted ways. Stopping off Fremont Street on my way out of Monterey, I found my new "favorite gas station" - cheap gas (relatively speaking) and a Subway. I sat for a while and partook of my favorite sandwich - veggie delite with no cheese. YUM.

While disappointed that the diving wasn’t great (and I had to now go home and rinse all my gear), I had a great morning hanging out with such good divers who are nice enough to take a relatively new diver under their wing for the morning. It is these kinds of experiences that remind me and make me grateful to live and dive in such an awesome area where there is a general sense of community amongst the divers in the local area.

A warm thank you to Dan, Dave and Mike – you all were instrumental and encouraging, and I appreciate it immensely. I look forward to diving with you all again in the near future I hope!

Dive Stats:
1 minute at 25’ feet. Visibility approximately 3 to 5 feet. Water temperature 68 degrees. I know, not really a dive, but its funny to recount the day's events anyhow!

Homeward Bound - Highway 156, somewhere south of Gilroy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Warm Water Wonderland - Florida Trip (March/April 2008)

In light of the challenges associated with my last two dives, I was really looking forward to my escape to Florida with my husband and his kids, James (20), Sarah (19) and Daniel (17). I know, hardly “kids.” The kids were scheduled to get their Open Water certification after doing the PADI online training. Mark and I would be diving along side of them for their boat dives, and then the plan was to head to the Keys and do some diving with their new certification! I should know by now that, despite all my anal retentive planning, things absolutely never go as intended.

It all started with the wind. Southeasterly winds (if I remember correctly) at about 20 knots. We arrive at South Florida Dive Headquarters with the wind at our backs, ready to check the kids in for their pool sessions. After the hellos and introductions, Ed, the instructor’s face screws up and in comes the bad news. The winds are making the seas unfriendly, so they aren’t sure if we can get their certification dives in before we head to the Keys. Not a problem, we rearrange the Keys portion. And off they go to the pool. Funny set-up: South Florida Dive uses the pool at a local hotel which sits beautifully on the intercoastal. Better yet (for us at least), there is a bar right by the pool. I LOVE Florida. So we hang out by the pool, kids getting their instruction as little kids swim by or stand around watching with extreme interest at the goings on with their class. A drink later, I am relaxing as the rain comes pouring in, but not thunder/lightning so that the class can continue.

After about 5 hours in the pool, the kids emerge, water-logged but excited with prune-like fingers. I check in that evening with Sherry of SFDH and get told we told that they have a back-up plan, call in the morning. In the morning, the winds are preventing the boat from going out into the open seas but that we should report at 2:30 for high tide, the kids will be heading out to the bay around Lighthouse Point and, at high tide, there is enough water in the bay to qualify for their first 2 open water dives. Better yet, it will be silty, so they will have a chance to experience low visibility diving. Good.

That afternoon, we arrived and Ed and the kids load all their gear on to the Safari Diver Boat and the 6 of us and Captain headed out for the Bay. Arriving, the water is just deep enough but there is quite a bit of water movement. Soon Ed has them in the water and descending to start their first dives. Mark and I hang out watching their bubbles and catching some sun on the back of the boat, watching some kiteboarders who are taking advantage of the strong winds to have some fun on the Atlantic.

Soon the divers emerged, big smiles on their faces, chattering about the fish that they saw, how cool it was. They practiced taking apart their gear and then Ed gives them a briefing. Soon there are doing their giant stride off the back of the boat heading towards their 2nd dive. I got a green light permission slip from the Captain and dove off the boat - no gear, just me felt so liberating. The initial chill of the mid-70 degree water soon gave way to relaxation as I tread water on the surface, swimming around to see the kids under the water working on their drills. Soon Mark joined in, diving off the high sides of the boat, relaxing in the warm Atlantic waters in the bay. When the kids came out after their second dive, they got a good report from Ed and we were off back to the Marina.

Next day, we are scheduled to go again – this time, hopefully, to the Ocean. Arriving at 8:15 AM, the kids get their rental gear and we meet the other diver scheduled to go out on the boat. Soon, three other divers have showed up and so we are 10 divers and one divemaster and a captain and the Safari Diver is looking like it is going to be a pretty full experience. Everyone gets on board, starts setting up their gear…..and its tight. Looking around at the other divers, I quickly realize that I am thankful I’ve been “schooled” in how to pack a boat bag as I am finding that the guy next to me has no clue whatsoever and has hauled his large roll-on bag into his space and mine and has no qualms whatsoever about taking up all of the available space. Determined now to let it get to me, I quickly get my gear ready to go and soon we are off to dive!

Heading out along the intercoastal is just beautiful. The people of Florida don’t know how beautiful their area is – with stunning homes, sunning Iguanas, sunshine and water everywhere. Enjoying the view, I slipped into my 3mm suit, smiling at the ease of getting it on compared to my normal 7mm. Rounding out of the intercoastal and into the now familiar bay, we see the ocean raging against the stone walls leading out to the Atlantic. Despite it being diveable, it is going to be sporty getting out there. I quietly reminded the kids to keep their eyes on a substantial landmark, knowing full and well that I, too, would need to do the same. And sure enough, soon we are in the thick of some pretty bumpy and rocking seas. I don’t think that there was one diver, except for Ed, who didn’t get queasy.

Soon the captain announced our arrival at Lighthouse Ledge and the gate was opened. Getting to the end of the boat was sporting, divers in slippery fins and heavy gear trying to get to the gate while the boat is bucking around is a challenge, but the promise of an awesome dive always lures divers to get to the end of the boat.
Mark and I would be following Ed, James, Sarah and Daniel on one flag for their first ocean dive and soon they were in while the Captain swung the boat around and we plunked in, swimming over to their flag. As soon as we were in the water, they began their descent, fully conscious of the fact that it would help any seasickness to get their heads under. With the water clarity, Mark and I began our descent and quickly located them. An easy dive, coasting over the reef, barrel sponges and schools of fish was relaxing, photographing Sarah, James and Daniel in their new environment was rewarding and challenging (since I don’t often have the opportunity to photograph divers in Monterey because of the visibility).

Soon we were joined by fish, tons of various grunts, Creole Wrasse (Clepticus parrae) (blue) while watching Yellow Coris Wrasse (Halichoeres chrysus) playfully bob in and out of the various barrel sponges. Swimming over reef ledges we were delighted by the various tube worms quickly tucking themselves back into the coral and other rocky areas, reminding us that we were in a world in which we not normally invited. After about 25 minutes, Ed, James, Daniel and Sarah decided to end their dive as someone was low on air. Handing off the dive flag, they ascended in the water column without the assistance of an anchor line. Words can’t express how proud I was of them, knowing that ascents and safety stops can be difficult without a line, especially as new divers! Mark and I continued our dive, finding a nice sandy part of the reef where Mark enjoyed a rest, actually sitting down in the sand, while I swam around, videoing and photographing the reef and all the grunts that had joined us. After about 20 or so minutes, we began our ascent, doing a leisurely 4 minute safety stop at 15-18 feet, me attempting to do it in a horizontal, face down position (for the record it is not easy, but very relaxing).

Conditions on the surface were not any better and reentry onto the boat was a bit challenging. Mark got on first and found his position, while I waited a safe distance away from the boat until he was onboard. While swimming on the surface, I noticed that we were the last divers to surface.
On board, we swapped out tanks and the captain moved us around to the next site – Sunkist Reef. We took our own flag this time because of our required surface interval and the pressing need to get Sarah, James and Daniel back in the water to prevent further sea sickness. Watching everyone jump in, we decided it was in the best interests of everyone for us to get back in so that no one was stuck on the surface for very long after their dive, given the conditions. I knew, however, that our computers would give us a relatively short dive as a result. Sure enough, at the bottom, we were advised that our dive time would be approximately 39 minutes at the depth we were sitting on. So, we found a pretty patch of reef and took turns snapping photos of the reef and its inhabitants. Unfortunately our dive time soon ended with a considerable amount of gas remaining in our tank. Beginning our ascent, we took our time, Mark gently winding up the flag’s rope and did another nice, long safety stop. Again, we were the last divers on the boat and as soon as we were onboard and our gear was tied down, Captain was hauling back to the Marina.

The talk soon started and I listened as the other group of divers talked about their experiences. I was surprised to learn that, of all the paid customers, Mark and I had the most experience and were the only coldwater divers. I thought of how that aligned with what I witnessed and it reaffirmed my beliefs (and yes, I am biased) that cold water diving gives birth to a different kind of diver, one more conscious, more able. Not to say that I am an able diver because I am just a novice. But I dive regularly, more so than those that visit somewhere warm once or twice and dive. The challenges of cold water diving – the environment, the conditions, the gear – make for a more solid diver, a community that I am immensely proud to be considered a part of.

Overall, I was amazed by the sheer numbers and types of fish that we encountered. In Monterey, we get varieties of rockfish, but nothing like this. All in all, we were amazed at the variety of fish life. Mark’s favorites were the Stoplight Parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) and the Blackbar Soldierfish (Myripristis jacobus), beautiful in its mosaic pattern. I enjoyed the Harlequin Bass (Serranus Tigrinus) I found hovering under some coral, but was really in love with the Yellow Coris, the Sharpnose Puffer (Canthigaster rostrata) with its blue eye markings resembling makeup and the lovely Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis) who coyly swam in an out of a hole in a sponge, toying with my desires to get a good photo of her swimming out. But most delightful to watch was on the second dive while, of course, Mark had the camera. Over a pitted part of the reef along a ledge was a beautiful black and white Spotted Trunkfish (Lactophyrus bicaudalis), its little fins like wings, flitting it in and out of the various holes, teasing me because I didn’t have the camera in my hands! But it was absolutely enchanting to watch it duck in and out of the reef, curiously unaware of my presence, while I watched and listened to my breathing, relaxed.

Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate for the remainder of our trip. The four days of diving I had planned ended up being only one. Regardless, we had a wonderful time in Florida and are extremely proud that Sarah, James and Daniel are all troopers for sticking with it despite being seasick and are now certified divers! With that, I am looking forward to replacing my camera and getting back in my chilly backyard Monterey and shooting more macro with my friends and local divers.

Many thanks to everyone at South Florida Diving Headquarters (, especially Sherry and Captain Dick (both of whom tirelessly endured all of my questions!). A warm thank you to to Instructor Ed who was an absolutely wonderful, patient and informative instructor. Additionally, we'd like to thank Admiral Brenda and Captain Gary at Conch Republic ( - despite the fact we didn't get to dive with you, you were most welcoming at the shop, and we look forward to diving with you on our next trip to the Keys!

Favorite Photo:
Cocoa Damselfish (Stegastes variabilis)

Dive Statistics:
Dive #56 – Wednesday, 04/02/08 – “Lighthouse Ledge” – Lighthouse Point / Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 9:49 AM. Max depth 62 feet, average depth 51 feet. Bottom time 48 minutes (approximately 600 PSI remaining at the end of the dive). Water temp 75°, vis approximately 35-45 feet. Surface interval 38 minutes.

Dive #57 – Wednesday, 04/02/08 – “Sunkist Reef” – Lighthouse Point / Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 11:25 AM. Max depth 50 feet, average depth 42 feet. Bottom time 40 minutes (residual time 60 minutes) (approximately 1200 PSI remaining at the end of the dive). Water temp 75°, vis approximately 40 -45 feet.