Pea Soup.

Saturday morning, I excitedly drove down to Long Beach to board the Sundiver Express bound for the oil rigs, one of my favorite places to dive in Southern California. As I’ve mentioned previously (here) the rigs are unique because of their three dimensionality. There’s no bottom, and the entire structure is covered with life, so you can dive along, across, up, down and around each beam and support. I’ve been on two trips previously, both of which were fantastic with great visibility, and calm seas. As we motored out to the rigs, the day appeared to be just like before, the sun was shining and the sea was flat as a pancake. Unfortunately, once we’d plunged off the boat and into the water, we discovered that the ocean was not going to be as clear as the cloudless sky. There was a ton of crap floating along, mucking up the visibility and choking out all the light at depth. Unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

This was my first real chance to use my new strobe that I had recently purchased, so regardless of the viz, I was eager to test it out. Overall the strobe worked beautifully…it fired properly, and I found that by loosening my clamps a bit I could easily move and reposition the strobe as needed. The auto focus on the camera can still be finicky, especially in the low light we had at depth, and when using the close up lens I discovered that there is a pretty small window of focus available which can make it trickier to get the focus locked. However I feel that with time, I’ll get better at it. Despite having some focus trouble in the beginning I really do love the new close up lens, the shorter depth of field really helps your subject pop out in the picture, and the ability to get a more true macro is fantastic.

The upper 50′ of the Eureka rig had been stripped last August when I last dove the oil rigs, but slowly life is starting to come back. One little critter than has come back and is thriving are the Hermissenda crassicornis, a beautiful and easily identifiable opalescent nudibranch with brown and orange cerata covering its back. Its got two oral tentacles that extend like probes off the front, and of course the two rhinophores that stick up like rabbit ears on the top of its head. Between the two rhinophores is a bright orange stripe that runs the length of its body bordered by an electric blue stripe on either side. These guys were everywhere, which made exploring the stripped section of the oil rig rather exciting. I also came across two other nudi’s; a San Diego Dorid (who had his head stuck into some coral making him impossible to photograph well, and a couple Triopha maculate, though none of my shots came out in focus.

The second dive, while still fairly poor visibility, was really a trip. There were a group of sea lions lounging on the rig near where the boat dropped us off, and apparently our group was very exciting. Throughout the entire dive we had several sea lions diving down and around us before darting back up to the surface. It was fantastic and aggravating at the same time. They were great to see, and fun to watch, but trying to get a picture of one is darn near impossible because of the speed. Half the time they were gone before I even had a chance to move the camera, and more often my camera would not focus in time. I did manage (mostly luck I’m sure) to snap one shot in focus as a sea lion zoomed towards me.

His large, comical eyes are nicely in focus and he’s staring right at the camera. Add in a bit of a current wanting to pull us all off the rig structure and out into the sea made for a bit of a struggle when trying to keep the camera steady and pull of some macro shots.

Despite the poor viz, as always diving the oil rigs was a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed practicing with my new set up. I’m really looking forward to more chances to hone my skills and start to really improve my photography skills now that I have the gear that will allow me to do so! Here’s to many more posts with better and better photography as the year progresses!

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!

Rocking the Island Time

In desperate need to reach that golden 100th dive by July 31st I went out on the morning Island Time with a group of folks from Eco last Sunday. The waters were calm, we hit several great sites off Catalina, and overall had a blast. There was one small hiccup to my day. My wetsuit has a small tear so before leaving to go to New York I dropped it off at the shop to get fixed. Unfortunately its not back yet, so I had rented a wetsuit from the shop for the dives. I tried on one which had a built in hood, but was too small, so I grabbed the next available size up, put it on halfway which let me know it would fit well enough and headed out. What I didn’t realize was that while both suits are made by Bare, the second one I grabbed did not include a hood like the first. So I pulled it out of my bag at Catalina and went, “oh crap!” Luckily Kendra had a vest she let me borrow, which helped keep my core warm, and I managed to suck it up and deal with a cold head. Ironically it reminded me of my first ever California dives. A bit naive, I had no hood and no gloves for that first dive several years ago. It was also on the Island Time off Catalina, and occurred in July, not too far off from this dive.

Despite having to make do with out the hood I had two very nice dives. The first site we hit was called Bird Rock (for friends that join us for the Beer Fest…thats the nasty looking big rock covered in Sea Gull poop outside Two Harbors). It was overall rather shallow and had a great wall to explore. I found a nudibranch I had only seen once so far (Hermissenda). Other than the usual suspects (Garibaldi, Senorita Wrasse, Sheephead, Blacksmith, etc) I also saw a large Giant Kelpfish. Dive #2 was at a small cove between Howlands and another which I didn’t catch the name of. It was around the same depth, no more than about 50 ft deep, as the first dive, and not quite as clear. Lots of kelp and large boulders marked this site. I saw two new Nudi’s,  Macfarlands Chormodorid and the Mushroom Sidegill.

Crystal Clear, mostly.

Christmas Tree Cove (#54)

Sunday morning started completely opposite of Saturday. I had been out Saturday night with good friends, a few drinks and fun movie along with a good nights sleep really turned my mood around. The weather was perfect and I had organized two dives off of Palos Verdes to take advantage of the small swell and good visibility. Chris, Daryl and I met at 7:45 at Christmas Tree Cove. My friend Carissa joined us to snorkel since the weather promised good clear water even close to shore.

The plan was to dive Christmas Tree and use it for the mapping project due in the Divemaster class. With the conditions as they were it was going to be cake. We could almost create our maps just by looking down into the water from atop the cliff it was that clear out. So we hiked down with our tanks, back up, then back down with the rest of the gear. Got everything ready and were in the water right at high tide. Just before starting our descent we spotted a Bat Ray chilling on the bottom. The dive went smoothly and I plotted depths and features (like kelp, boulder patches and the large rock wall) while Daryl took note of compass headings and distances. The visibility was fantastic, though there was alot of little things floating around in the water.

Malaga Cove (#55)

After hiking back out of the cove we opted to try a different site for dive #2, purely because the hike in was EXHAUSTING. Driving north around Palos Verdes we headed to Malaga Cove. Again, the low swell made this another fantastic dive. The overall profile here is shallower, and we barely got deeper than 30ft.

Malaga was Horn Shark City. We easily saw more than 15 sharks just relaxing along the bottom. To top that off there were lobsters out enjoying the bright, clear viz, several Sheep Crab walking around, Spanish Shawl nudibranchs all over, a large Shovel-Nose Guitarfish that was pretending to just be sand and at then end (just before I reached the dreaded “memory card full” warning) we saw a huge Bat Ray resting in the shallows.