Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reveling in the Revelligegedos

I went to the Revillagigedo Islands (only gringos call them the Soccoros) in Mexico in November, leaving from Cabo San Lucas and going 250+ miles out to sea. I went on the Solmar V an aging, but luxurious, liveaboard dive boat, around 112’ long. Club members have re-christened me Juan El Rocha de la Mar.

The 4 islands (we went to 3) are very remote and are called Mexico's Galapagos. They are volcanic and one volcano last erupted in 1952 on San Benedicto. One is nothing more than a rock way out to sea, but the diving there is great!

The Solmar V was very nice, but had very small cabins, 2 people couldn't stand up at the same time. But we only slept in them. Pretty noisy with the engines or generator running. Beautiful woodwork and most amenities, wide screen TV and DVD, bar, etc.

But 5 star meals (totally gourmet, steaks, fresh mahi-mahi, etc) and great crew, fantastic diving in very remote locations. One divemaster I knew from La Paz; mi amigo Nelson.

We did 4 dives a day (no nitrox either) in rough seas out of an inflatable. Long 27 hour run back to Cabo.

By in large we had very good conditions, fairly calm, only the last two days back at San Benedicto Isd was windy and rough (3-5' seas). Couldn't get back to El Boiler. Warm days and 80F water. We went out to Rocha Partida, an additional 73 miles from there for 3 dives on one day, traveling at night.

Saw several schools of hammerhead sharks, but always at a distance, some silkys, lots of white tips, etc. But they tended to be shy, except when we were snorkeling, which was disconcerting (whales left, sharks moved in), amazing how fast you can get back in a panga! Lots of small and larger fish like jacks and tuna, reef fishes, lobsters everywhere. Few invertebrates. We sang the whale shark song, but didn't see any. Snorkeled with a large pod of false killer whales and took video with the F810. See: False Killer Whales Video (requires Quicktime 7).

Highlight of the trip was diving with a 20' manta ray and a large pod of dolphins vying for our attention at the same time. One dolphin swooped the manta out of frustration!

My trip photos are at: Revillagigedo Islands trip photos

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dances with Wolf Eels

Members of the dive club met on Sunday, Oct23rd at Day Island wall near the Tacoma Narrows, a high current dive site. This is a tricky neighborhood situation so we try to car pool and be discreet.

Divers were getting out as we were getting in. I lead my dive buddy Paul Riggs who hadn't dove the site before. We kicked out and I knew we were late, as we drifted north with the ebb. I hate it when your not 2 mins into a dive and you know there's problems. It was supposed to be a low exchange afternoon, so there was hope.

We submerged and swam hard out cross-wise to the current in search of the wall. We went over a couple of ledges at 65' and I though the wall would drop off soon, but we had missed it to the north a bit and had to circle back from 90', kicking hard. When we did find the wall we'd used up a third of our air. Continuing south, the current let up and we could relax a bit.

The attraction here in the murky depths are wolf eels. Lots of wolf eels, we lost count at 10. They have condos in the hard sandstone/mud walls along the lip. I had brought a bag of old chicken to see if they liked it. The answer was YES!

Poking my HID light into a hole I got an immediate response. He went after my light! Then flew up and was in my face. He was about 6' long or so. I dug out my food from my pocket and had to pet him gently out of the way so I could open it. Like an over-eager puppy; down boy!

Held out bits to him, which he found and gulped down and then went nuts again. He was twirled around me trying to get at the bag, chicken flying in the current. Paul was slightly below me, enjoying the show. Then the wolfie went after Paul's hand. They have teeth, but his were not pronounced. Paul didn't know what to do and I was laughing so hard I flooded my mask.

We continued the dive finally, and tried a few other eels to little success, they seemed shy. Also saw a couple of medium-sized GPO and lots of Red Irish Lords who loved the treats.

We swam for quite a while along the wall and I realized we'd gone past one geographic turn around spot, so we went up over the lip and partially rode the current back until it backeddied and we had to kick like hell again.
Ended up just about right, other divers had a hard kick back in.

But feeding that big friendly fella was a memory that will stay with me for a while.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Getting Crazy at Keystone

Old Keystone Pier
Originally uploaded by Pixel Letch.
I lead the first of what I hope will be ongoing club photo dives at Keystone Ferry Jetty on Whidbey Island today.

We had 16 or so divers show up and probably 10 cameras or so! I had suspected that there were a lot of people that had cameras, but weren't using them. Keystone is a great photo site with lots of current and life.

Unfortunately when we got there there was another huge class already there from Silent World, like 15 cars full. OMG! And the calm, partially sunny, day that was promised didn't materialize. It was cold, cloudy and very windy, kicking up a 2' foot or so chop. This is a fairly steep round rock beach, so the chop can be a little treacherous.

Several of us decided to dive the old pier that is just to the south of the jetty and avoid the students. Others went on the jetty and said the most prevalent marine life they saw was other divers. But most all of us had a good dive.

A late arriving group decided to do a drift dive from the pier to the jetty. This is quite doable, but you must stay shallow like 30', or you will get shot right past the jetty and into the state ferry lane, not a good idea. Very unfortunately they did exactly that - went to 55' around the jetty, had the ferry go right over them in 40' of water, then swim back around the end. I climbed out on the rocks to assist one diver who decided to climb out. One of the divers was very upset, scared, and it took a while to talk to her and make her feel better. So I only did one dive.

But the dive was excellent, except for the surge and strong current in 13-22' of water! Very clear viz, had me trying some close focus/wide angle shots, a first for me with the Ike/Fuji F810 system, as we don't get these conditions often. While the subject matter could be more spectacular, I was quite pleased with the shots technically and the stock lens on the F810.

My thanks to all who came and particularly Jim McGauhey who brought his rolling RV party wagon and saved us from the cold winds! It was also nice to meet several new divers in the club and dive with them. And a personal thanks to big Carl Harrington, my dive buddy and fin man extrodinare!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sucia Part Two

Lawson Bluff
Originally uploaded by Pixel Letch.
We returned to Sucia Island again the weekend of Sept 10-11th. (see first trip: Scallops and Tigers and Nudis - Oh My! Sucia is one of the northernmost San Juan islands. This time we came in force and loaded for "bear", or nudibranchs anyway. We were apprehensive about the weather, as it poured rain on the drive north, but cleared by Mt. Vernon and was beautiful, except for just a little rain at night.

Fellow Marker Buoy Club member Greg Wilson has a fantastic, bright red 16' Zodiac with a 25HP motor, just made for diving. He, Chip Petit and I loaded it with 9 tanks and all our dive gear, then towed it behind my 28' sailboat Maggie May. It was dubbed the Dive Barge and probably weighed over 1200 pounds loaded. The cool thing was that even loaded, it still towed well enough to sail and we had a good time going and coming! Greg and I feel like we've worked out a great solution for diving; I have the comfortable "bunk house" and he has the fast dive platform. The Zodiac easily got up on plane with 3 divers, gear and 6 tanks.

Steve Lodge and his boat along with his son, girlfriend and Carl Baird met us up at Sucia on Saturday morning. We dove at Little Patos Island across from Sucia and then back to Lawson Bluff on the north side of Sucia. I wasn't too impressed by Little Patos, but I think we dove too far away from the point. Visibility was excellent, really opening up nicely to 40-50'. We saw lots of Copper rockfish and small invertibrates. The only bummer was when Greg was pulling his rig off, he managed to snag and loose his Cochran wrist computer into 150' of water.

For the second dive, we did Lawson Bluff again. I'm getting this site wired and have found the perfect little cove to pull into, put our gear on, and do an easy shore dive from the rocks. We also found a treasure trove of scallops there and collected a bag of Pectins for an or'sderve! The depth is easy and we found lots of photo subjects. Lawson was a much richer site, lots of Dendronotus nudibranchs, Copper and Puget Sound rockfish, with a few large Ling Cods cruising by. I shot macro on both dives, yet with the visibility opening up nicely, I'm starting to yearn for a wide angle lens, it was much better than two weeks ago.

We were going to get up and do an early dive on Ewing Island, but were lazy and just decided to have a big breakfast and head home; spending the early afternoon sailing and enjoying the sunshine!

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Scallops and Nudis and Tigers, Oh My!

Tiger Rockfish
Originally uploaded by Pixel Letch.
Club member Steve Lodge and I staged a boat dive in the San Juan Islands to Sucia Island, my home-away-from-home, over the weekend.

There were 5 divers from our club, 3 on my sailboat "Maggie May" (myself, Jim McGaughey and Carl Baird), and Paul Riggs and Steve on his powerboat "Makushla". We met up Friday, spent a bouncy night at anchor, and then moved around to the other side of the island to Fox Cove and found a mooring there. Steve and Paul tried doing a dive to find some crab to no avail. We transferred 10 tons of dive gear to Steve's boat and motored around to the north side of the island and dove Lawson Bluff and then Ewing Island. Weather was gorgeous - in upper 70's and sunny.

There are nice walls and ledges with large boulders that have fallen off the sandstone bluffs above on these sites. We tended to have fairly square dive profiles, but not overly deep at around 55-80 feet. I dove on 32% EAN, that gave me long bottom times on my steel 98. Lots and lots of schools of fish, from small Puget Sound Rockfish, Quillback Rockfish in every size, Kelp Greenlings, large Ling Cod and so forth. Unfortunately the viz was so-so, maybe 15', so they were hard to shoot. Currents were light.

Photography-wise it was up and down for me.

I shot a couple of rare nudis not found south of the islands, and shot a Tiger Rockfish, also a rare and timid species. BUT I made a major mistake when switching into RAW mode I forgot to change the ISO back to 80 from the default 200. This is one feature I've stumbled over before on my Fuji F810, it takes two places to change back and forth from RAW and you have to remember to change the ISO back. So the photos are pretty grainy. Dimwitted at 70'.

I also managed to create a fog inside my case when shooting hard towards the end of the second dive. I forgot to add in silica gel packs, maybe got a tiny bit of water when changing batteries.

Had a great dinner Sat. On Sunday Steve, Paul and Jim went out on Jim's RIB dingy to do another drift dive with Carl doing surface support. I stayed back on the boat and made a huge brunch for everyone. Although overcast, we had a calm passage back to Blaine, got back to the dock, and had most of the boat unloaded before the rain deluged us. Jim had had some car problems towing his boat up, so his wife met them to take the boat in tow, so Jim could limp home.

So win some, loose some, great weekend, we're going again in two weeks. Practice makes perfect!

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Diving Miguel

I snuck out for a day of diving off The Peace in Ventura while on a family visit to So Cal. Most Wednesdays they run a long trip that leaves on Tues night and goes to San Miguel or the oil platforms or someplace cool. A bargain at $90 for 4 dives, air and 3 very square meals, snacks, etc. The Peace diveshop can arrange to have whatever rental gear you need delivered to the boat, ready to go, as was the case with my HP100 tank.

We were lucky to have calm conditions. My friends had tried for three times to get out to this location and were turned around by bad conditions. The skipper Eric told me that with almost any wind it becomes very rough. The boat left Tuesday night at midnight for the long run out, which was uneventful and allowed for most to get some sleep.

Topside temps were cool for us drysuit divers, as it was overcast most of the day. Didn't even see San Miguel until the third dive. The viz wasn't much better below, due to huge clouds of krill, but it was patchy. Bunch of hunters on the boat, gear and some of their attitudes are left over from Sea Hunt I think...

Fellow photographers Matt and John are definitely gear heads, oh ok, I'm jealous of their DSLR systems. But I'm gonna start wearing garlic around my neck when I'm around John, I don't want to pick up his gear failure karma. He blew up another ($700) DS-125 strobe and had his seals fail on his drysuit (they repaired 'em with duct tape and PVC cement for the day!). Arrgh, too late, I've had a screw to my latch strip on my camera housing. Lucky it didn't interfere with my dives.

We did 3 dives at San Miguel and one at Santa Rosa; Boomerang Pinnacle (which looked exactly like Vancouver Island; strawberry anemones everywhere), The Canyons, my favorite, small valleys leading off for miles; but nudibranch heaven right under the anchor! Pt Bennett, about as far west as you can go in the Channel Islands, my least favorite dive, not much little stuff. Then one dive on the way home at Santa Rosa; Little Wilson’s, not a bad site. The last two were in kelp forests with lots of fish, but no Garabaldis, as it is too cold. Weird to see cowries along with strawberry anemones. The Humbolt current comes south and just reaches these islands, not unusual to find a 10-15 degree or more temp
difference between San Miguel and Santa Cruz. Very similar water temps (56F) to Seattle. But it's definitely California, as I had several inquisitive sea lions check me out, I think they were intrigued with the HID light.

I should of gone with Nitrox, as on the last dive I went into deco and had a 6 min obligation, even though I stayed at 50' (oh ok, it was for 55 mins). I forgot that a lot of the dives are a pretty square profile here, not much shallows to end your dive on.

The Peace is a great boat, wonderful crew, lots of food, very comfortable - even with a crowd of 23 divers. There's bunks down below for the 7 hour boat ride each way. Even has a small hot tub! Sure could use a dedicated camera table.

I had a lot of fun with my Fuji F810/Ike housing/Ike DS50 system. I just shot macro. After 6 dives I'm finally starting to get more consistent with my focusing with the Inon macro lens. Hard for an old fart like me to focus with only 1/2" depth of field and surge, even with the viewfinder magnifier.