Weather Forecasts.

Just as you can never judge a book by its cover, you really cannot judge a day by the weather forecast. At least not here in Southern California. Today’s forecast was rain, and lots of it, starting around 5am. This meant I woke with misgivings about having to spend the day on a dive boat off Catalina teaching a young boy how to Scuba Dive. Surely enough it did start raining a little after 5:00am, as I was tossing my gear into the car to drive down to San Pedro. I must have driven south just ahead of the storm, because I had a clear road the whole way down, but as I began setting up my gear on the boat the rain started. A few minutes later it was nearly a downpour, however after about 20 minutes it began to slacken. By the time the dive boat pulled away from the dock at 7 am the rain had stopped, and even patches of blue sky were beginning to show as the sun rose.

As we motored out of the harbor, the Police Patrol boat pulled alongside us, and I saw the wordless communication between them and our captain. It went something like, policeman points out to sea and shakes his head. Our captain looks out and nods. Policeman makes a large up and down waving signal with his hand (think the motion you make when you stick your hand out of the window of a moving car). He then shakes his head in disbelief, our captain shrugs and smiles. Translate that, and here’s what I got: Policeman, “you can’t seriously be headed out there are you? Captain, “of course, we’re going diving.” Policeman, “but the swells are HUGE, you’re really going to cross the channel?!” Captain, “yep, no sweat”. I had taken my sea sickness medicine, so I wasn’t too worried, but boy was I in for a surprise.

The swells were worse than I had anticipated, and my single dose of Bonine was NOT going to cut it. About halfway across the channel, after nearly an hour of incessant ups and downs and rocking and watching the tanks sway and strain against their bungees with every roll of the boat my stomach began to get queasy. My poor little ten year old student, didn’t last that long. He got queasy and lost his breakfast while I was trying to keep it together. Carlos and Tony helped me get him out towards the back of the boat where we stayed the remainder of the trip out. He felt worse and worse as the trip continued, but could not throw up again. I on the otherhand had no trouble on that account. This was by far my worst channel crossing ever, and I ended up losing it twice, with long, painful dry heaves since my two pieces of toast had long since digested. After that I stood with my student watching the horizon, praying that we’d hit a time warp and magically appear at Catalina Island. We weren’t alone either, there were 7 others that rotated through the back of the boat blowing chunks. All in all about a third of the boat was not handling the trip out well. I would guess the other third was alseep, in an attempt to avoid a twisted stomach and the final third are the lucky bunch that have hardened stomachs, or just didn’t get to that point of no return.

Blissfully though we reached the island and settled into Geiger Cove where it was calm and peaceful with barely a movement from the boat. After some warm water and crackers, my student and I suited up and began the long day of working through the final 3 dives for his Open Water certification. Here is where the weather forecast lost its validity. Once we were at the island and out of the larger swells, I noticed that it was sunny out. The rainclouds had moved on, and we were looking at fairly cloudless skies and minimal wind. It was chilly, yes, but over all the weather turned out to be beautiful. The sun stuck around all day, with the exception of one short moment when another small front rolled through clouding up the sky and misting briefly. After that it was back to calm, sunny skies. The ocean water was still on the warm side with bottom temperature around 58 degrees, positively balmy for Southern California!

My student rocked out through his three dives, finishing up all of his open water requirements for certification. After feeling so miserable in the morning, his energy and confidence came right back when he was able to descend to the bottom and swim around with me looking for seashells and fish. He rocked on his skills, showing me with ease that he had them mastered, he even had no issues with oral inflation of the BCD underwater, or removing and replacing his mask. The ride back to the mainland was a little bumpy, but over all much smoother, and much more of the boat passengers disappeared beneath the deck to sleep through the crossing. My little student and his mother both passed out for most of the ride back, and I too snuck in a little nap to help avoid any queasiness lingering from the morning crossing.

Despite the rough start to the morning, and the painful channel crossing, the day overall ended up being quite wonderful. I felt so great that my student was able to complete all of his requirements, and I know he was so excited about diving at the end of the day. I loved seeing the joy in his eyes when we swam around exploring the ocean bottom and hope that he sticks with it as he will definitely become a great diver.

Sense of Accomplishment.

Last weekend was a blur of Scuba related ‘manageable’ chaos. My schedule went from an empty weekend, with the possibility of taking of the DM spot on Sunday for a friend who has been unable to dive these last couple of weeks, to full out non stop teaching with several “all in one day referrals” on saturday and three Advanced Open Water dives with two students on the boat Sunday. I was fairly nervous going into the weekend, I had 6 students on my plate for the referrals, which consist of accomplishing all the Confined Water skills and classroom quiz within one day. It’s a long day, and requires both planning, and having a group that can stay focused to be able to get through everything.

As it turned out I gained a seventh student last minute, and we got a slightly late start in the morning. The pool work started slowly, and we didn’t get quite as far as I would like in the morning pool session, which left me a little stressed. However, after burning through a quick lunch and quiz and a couple gear exchanges at the shop, we regrouped at the pool to blaze through the rest of the skill sets. My students were awesome. They hung in there to the very end, which ended up being 6:00pm…basically an hour after we are ‘supposed’ to be finished at the pool. They were patient while I worked with one student for a few minutes to help her overcome an inability to clear her mask, which with several tries and the switch of mask type she was able to accomplish with ease. Finally they all finished every skill, and were feeling comfortable in the pool when we crawled out exhausted, but excited to be done!

The day was over for the students, but far from it for me. I hurried back to the shop, to drop off some gear and tanks. I needed to quickly wrap up all the paperwork for my referrals, as most of them wanted to return their rental gear and pick up the paperwork on Sunday (no reason to make them have an extra trip!), then I needed to grab a fresh tank and additional gear for my Advanced dives. I ended up trying to put together a set of rental gear with no idea of sizes for a guy who was coming down from the North and needed gear, unable to get ahold of him I was basically putting together a range of gear from what we had available. Luckily, (just after I finished gathering it all up) he called and said he had decided to rent gear in Santa Barbara, so didn’t need it from us anymore, but asked if I could bring a tank for him and his son…not a problem. So, now a little prior to 9:00p, I had re-packed my equipment for the weekend, grabbed a short shower, and loaded my car with 3 tanks, and some spare equipment just in case. It was off for the 2 hour drive to Santa Barbara with a stop to pick up Jessica and Bryan and all their gear. You should know, I own a Honda Fit…and thus far my car his lived up to its name. We FIT, 5 tanks, 3 full sets of gear in our giant Scuba gear bags, a fourth half set of two bcd’s and a regulators, my sleeping bag, three backpacks, who even knows how many pounds of weight…including the extra weight I brought for my class and the “emergency someone forgot weight” situation. Add in the three of us, and my little baby was feeling the burden! However, she handled everything well and we cruised up to SB with minimal traffic. I missed dinner on Saturday due to all the running around, but was so exhausted that I didn’t care. We helped with some of the waiver organizatioin, sorted out a few bunk issues (the joys of a full boat!) and I promptly passed out in my bunk around midnight.

Sunday’s weather was perfect and warm (which was great because in the mad dash to get out of the house I managed to forget a towel!). The ocean was calm, but unfortunately the viz was less than ideal. To make things even better, I managed to miss a step on the way up from the bunks on an early morning bathroom run and scraped up my shin quite painfully. I had two Advanced Open Water Students and on the docket for the day was the Navigation Dive, Peak Performance Buoyancy and Search and Recovery. Having never taught any of these I was feeling a little overwhelmed, hoping that I’d be able to pull it off. Navigation was easy. The less than stellar visibility meant that my divers really had to use their navigation skills because each time they swam away from me for the out and back and the square, I would disappear. However they came back every time, with the final “just for fun” larger square I had them do since we had some extra time they almost missed me…but a quick glance to the right as I watched them swim by they realized they were off by just a bit and recorrected. I had a great dive, sitting on the sand watching them disappear, then getting bombarded by several sea lions that kept swimming by, stopping briefly to check me out then moving on. Peak Performance Buoyance went well, we found a small plate in the sand and I distracted them from fully focusing on thier hoover by passing it around fin to fin to fin…it was quite fun, and we all stayed neutral while doing it which was great. Finally it was time for search and recovery…I had been most nervous for this, feeling a little unprepared (I hadn’t tied those knots in a few months…could I remember how?!) Having practiced in my bunk before going to bed, I realized that I still remembered how, and the rest was easy. I sent them off in a U pattern to find the plate from the previous dive, while I hid a heavy weight belt in the opposite direction. They succeeded in finding the plate on turn 4, and then we did an expanding square to find the weight belt. I really enjoyed being the “observer” watching thier square expand around and around. I could tell they were feeling like they might not find the weight belt, their heads started turning more frequently, but I knew they were coming upon it with the next turn of the square. After seeing it they swam over and took turns tying off the lift bag. Once secured they worked perfectly as a team to make it neutral and surface safely.

It was a busy day and I was sure glad to see my bed by the time I got home, but I felt so good of all that had been accomplished, especially the 7 Referrals.

Mystery Solved.

I’m sure its been bugging all my, what 2? 3? constant readers just like its been bothering me. In August, on our fantastic Oil Rig dive my group of divers happened upon a mysterious and see thru creature I had never seen before.

I attempted the usual google searches, but not really knowing how to classify, or even describe the creature in ways that a search engine would be able to key into the specific animal, I didn’t find the answer. Friends on Facebook did not know, and I gave up, and let it slip from my mind.

Then just the other day while perusing through some images for the website I’m slowly working on, I came across it again and a new idea struck. Scubaboard.com! They must have a creature ID forum, if not perhaps posting in the main forum would illicit an answer. Lo and Behold, they do have a whole sub-forum just for helping people identify those mysterious and beautiful creatures that often float by us on our underwater adventures. This one, happens to be a snail. Yep…a pelagic snail, most likely Carinaria japonica.

More information: http://tolweb.org/Carinaria_japonica/28750

So many thanks to the folks over on scubaboard, mystery solved, and now I know where to go for any help with my creature ID questions!

My enemy the KELP.

I bet that title threw you off guard! After all, I named my blog Kelli’s in the Kelp because of how much I love the kelp forests and diving off Southern California. However, after the dive I completed last Thursday evening I was ready to pack my bags and say Sayonara! to the chilly, kelp filled waters in search of something warm, clear and free of flowing plant life! Please, allow me to explain.

Thursday night I met up with Richard and Carolyn for what we expected to be an easy night dive at a site I’ve dove several times, Malaga Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I felt that it would be a good dive, but wasn’t expecting much in the way of visibility, Malaga is a rather shallow dive site, and we’d had a bigger swell roll in along with rain and lots of wind recently which made me think the site would still be a bit stirred up. None of us had really looked at a tide chart; our timing of the dive was dictated by when we were able to get off work and over to the site. I had decided to forgo the camera for this adventure, hoping more to just relax and enjoy the dive while Richard hunted lobsters.

Our usual entry is over the rocks and into the water where you have to wade then swim through some kelp but its typically not that bad. Thursday evening when we reached the rocks something looked wrong. There is usually about 5-10ft of scrambling over rocks before entering the water, but tonight we could see the 5-10ft of dry white rocks, but after that was another 10-15ft of black looking rock, which turned out was wet, kelp covered, extremely slippery exposed rock thanks to an extremely low tide. Carefully we picked our way over these and into the water, where immediately we saw the adverse effects of such a low tide. The significant decrease in water depth meant that all the kelp that usually floated in patches you could swim over or around was now crowding every possible inch of the waters surface, making it nearly impossible to wade through. In addition, water that usually quickly progresses to waist and chest deep then flattens out for a while allowing you swim to slightly deeper depths stayed at ankle to knee depth forcing us to slowly pick our way through this clogged mess of sea flora. Not too far into the seemingly impossible entry we all ended up finding something that tripped us up causing us to fall over. Add in the twisting, clinging kelp on our BCD’s, regulators, guages and any other item that hung off us (thank god I had left the camera and surface marker buoy in the car!) and the dive went from easy to extremely difficult within minutes. Once the depth hit around our knees, the sheer thickness of the kelp started to really tangle as it twisted around our legs, getting caught on my dive knife as I tried to move forward. Once as I reached down to clear a huge chunk that was literally binding me in place my knife slipped out of its sheath, wrapped completely in kelp and I nearly lost it. However I was able to grip the handle and free it; after that I swam like a movie Marine with my knife clenched in my teeth as I continued to try and work my way through this bog. Finally I managed to get deep enough where I could inflate my BCD, clear my legs of kelp and get my fins on. From there it was an effort to slowly crawl over the shifting mass, constantly clearing snags until I reached the wonderfully calm and empty stretch of water just past the main kelp beds.

After what felt like FOREVER, the three of us were able to kick out further than usual to try and make up for the lower tide. We dropped down into a murky soup of 12ft deep water…so much for trying to go out further and hit deeper water. Knowing that we were even or just behind where the site usually is, I lead the group out along the sand until we reached the rock formations and kelp that marked the dive site. Looking at my computer I discovered that we were in about 18ft of water, where there is usually 25-30ft, very strange. The visibility cleared a little bit and we ran across a thornback ray resting in the sand, and I saw a small octopus moving towards the rocks. Continuing on we noticed that the kelp only got thicker, but not like usual. This kelp all looked extremely young. It consisted of very thin strands of anywhere from 3-10 in a bunch all anchored on the rocks and each grouping was spread anywhere from about a foot to a couple feet apart. This little baby kelp was a pain to swim through, as the small strands caught much easier on any exposed gear and the thinness of the strands made it nearly impossible to snap with gloves on. So through and through it we went, Richard looked for lobster, and I managed to grab one myself, though when measured it was a bit too small to keep. The topography of the dive site was the same, nice large rock shelves stretching into the darkness with patches of sand laying between each. Unfortunately the weird abundance of this new small kelp growth made the dive frustrating. There was no calm kicking and weaving in and out of the kelp beds. This was constant pushing and turning and reaching and making every effort to stay on course while plotting an extremely twisted path through the maze of kelp. The kelp pulled at my snorkel, tried to rip out my regulator and kept snagging on my spare light and gauge console. It liked to stick itself into the little gap in my fins pulling me to a complete stop and often wrapped around my ankles making it difficult to remove. Our maximum depth topped out at a whopping 23 feet, and when I surfaced in the middle of the dive to recheck our orientation I discovered that the lower depth meant that the surface was literally choked with kelp, making it difficult to descend back to my dive buddies waiting below. I also noted with a tinge of sadness that the mass of kelp seemed to extend forever on all sides of us, somehow, we had managed to weave our way deep into the kelp bed. Once back down we continued on the dive, trying to stay as much on the heading that should take us out of the kelp mess as quickly as possible. After a few diversions, and the slow progress of getting through the kelp, we all surfaced to check our position once more. By this time I was over it. My hope of a relaxing night dive had turned into a frustrating and difficult journey and I was ready for it to be over. We noticed that we were about 20ft from the end of the kelp bed, so after one more check of the compass we dropped back down and began to kick to freedom. Just after returning to the bottom, I found a small yellow dive light resting between two rocks. It didn’t look too old, so I picked up thinking that at least it didn’t need to sit there and rot. Swimming along I had lost all patience at this point, and stopped trying to carefully pick my way through while stopping to untangle fins or gauges. I just pushed through, kicking furiously at times to just dislodge the kelp from either myself, or its anchor on the rocks below. Just as we neared the glorious looking black open water past the kelp bed we ran over a large horn shark resting on a small patch of sand. Disturbed by our lights, it swam up and around us briefly before taking off into the dark. Once we were free of the kelp we followed our heading to the beach, swimming until the visibility returned to practically zero before surfacing. It appeared we still had quite aways to kick back to the beach, the farther exit point which looked kelp free, there was no way we were going to try and pick our way back through the masses of kelp in the shallow water; much better to have to walk a few extra minutes than to try that!

As we swam in I noticed that the water began to get really shallow while the beach still seemed far away. Before I knew it my fins were hitting the bottom and I discovered I could stand. I looked ahead of my and saw that the beach, which is usually a thin stretch of sand between the rocks had turned into a wide soggy piece of land, littered with lumps of drying kelp. The tide must have been out nearly 50ft from where it usually washed on shore! The exit was incredibly easy compared to the rest of the dive, we simply walked out of the water, across the kelp strewn beach and up over the rocks to the path. As we walked back up the hill to the cars, all I could think about was that I was glad it was over, and that it was high time to find a nice warm, clear place to dive. Perhaps a trip to the tropics is in store next year! The one saving grace for me, was that once back at the cars, I examined my deep sea treasure and found that the light looked pretty new, and not flooded. I tried to turn it on, and while a little stiff, the lever slid over an a faint light spilled out from the light. I guess now I have an extra dive light for that inevitable day that a buddy or a student forgets one, or has a malfunction while diving!