Stellar Visibility.

I have dived the Oil Rigs off the coast of Long Beach several times now. In fact it is one of my favorite dives. The three dimensional structure differs from any reef or kelp forest. Its a mix of a bluewater dive and wreck dive. There is no floor (at least not one that you can see within the recreational limits), and you can find all sorts of pelagic life that floats or swims through the rigs. The beams themselves are covered with soft corals, anenomes and a variety of macro life. Fish and Sea Lions call the rigs home, so there is never a shortage of awesome things to see.

Last weekend I dove the rigs again, and experienced probably the best rig dives I’ve ever had. The visibility was amazing, more than 60ft… could even have been up to 80ft. I saw one Mola Mola swim by outside the rigs, and near the surface we were completely surrounded by a giant school of small fish. Often the rigs are cleaned near the surface, sometimes all the way down to 50ft, but this was not the case here. The growth on the upper beams was less, but there was still growth. The weather was warm, the sun came out, and when one of my strobes died on the second dive I decided to take some video. With only 1 light, the color is not the best, but the OM-D takes great quality video and I was very pleased with how this turned out. Enjoy the glimpse of my latest great diving adventure!

Here Be Giants.

Two weekends ago I went out with Bluewater Photo on the Peace dive boat to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island. It was a great day, though we had a lot of wind and some building swell, so we got stuck at one site for the final two dives. This however was not a bad thing. There was a pretty decent current ripping down the island and the kelp was laying down which made the diving actually more adventurous seeming. One the first dive at Landing Cove Point Rob and I were nearing our turnaround time when I passed another friend underwater who looked at us, then threw his arms wide, followed by taking one hand in a swimming motion forward. Truthfully I had no idea what he was trying to say. Bat Ray? Huge Eel? Curious though we continued on for a bit more as I kept my gaze sweeping back and forth along the sand for something huge. Then out of no where it swam by. The largest fish I have ever seen. Immediately it clicked into place… arms wide, huge… swimming motion, fish… huge fish: Giant Black Sea Bass.

These graceful giants were hunted nearly to extinction in the 60’s and 70’s until they were protected under law in 1982. Since then the populations have slowly been recovering and small fish have had a chance to grow large. This fish swam right by us gliding with the current, then disappeared into the kelp. We waited for a few minutes hoping he would return, but then had to turn around and head back to the boat. On the second dive, we headed straight for the sighting spot then slowly moved up and down with fingers crossed. Again, the fish emerged, two of them this time, swimming down current then later back up past us. These three fish were giantic. The first solo fish was larger than me, and the two swimming together slightly smaller, but still at least 5ft long. It was impressive and incredible. Unfortunately they did not swim close enough to me for a good picture, but Scott, owner of Bluewater and my boss got some great video and a good picture. Take a look!

Two huge Black Sea Bass swim past Scott on our final dive of the day.

I know now why people are so elated to see these guys, and just how tiny in comparison the young bass were that I saw back in October. I nearly dropped my regulator from excitement and I totally flooded my mask from smiling so huge, which also probably explains why I didn’t get any good pictures!

Deep Blue Sea.

Yesterday I ventured out in the sea with a small group of divers on the Giant Stride. Our destination…somewhere off the coast of Palos Verdes in about 2,000 feet of water. Why? Well… why not?!

I took part in what is called a Blue Water Dive. This is where we drop a line around 100ft off the boat, then descend on it, tethering yourself to the down line. The tether line is typically around 20ft long, and you just float and drift in the middle of the ocean with the current. Unfortunately yesterday the current was a bit strong, and the ocean seemed pretty empty. Carolyn and I shared a down line, and we caught a glimpse of a Mola Mola swimming away from us as we descended but that was all we got. There were a couple floaters, pelagic life that just drifts around the sea.

With the stronger current, I left the strobe to my camera on the boat, and just went down with my light for video. The experience was incredible. At first it seemed a bit daunting as I descended into nothingness. Once I hit my target depth, around 90ft I tried to clip my tether to the down line. After watching Carolyn (a BW veteran) easily clip and release her line, I started working on mine. Clinging to the down line for dear life, I was jerked up and down as the boat bounced on the swells way above us. I fumbled with my clips, and managed to get them unhooked from myself while keeping one leg wrapped around the down line. At one point my leg slipped and a quick vision of me floating tetherless as my friends drifted away flashed through my mind. I quickly kicked hard and grabbed the downline. Managing to secure my tether I cautiously started to let it out. It was the weirdest feeling, being suspended in the water pulled only by the small line attached to my BCD. I didn’t need to navigate, I didn’t need to check on where my buddy might have wandered off to, I just hung there, scanning the blue void.

I floated on my back staring up at the shadow of the boat 90ft above me, marveling that I could even see it and enjoying the weightlessness of the dive. I took a little bit of video so I could share what it was like, although there is really no way to express the giant expanse of water surrounding you on a dive like this through video. I’m definitely hooked on this style of diving, can’t wait to go again and looking forward to another twist if we manage to get our black water dive organized. Black water is the same as blue water….only at night. Sends a shiver down your spine, doesn’t it? Exciting.

Blast from the Past.

Wow, it’s been more than a month since I’ve graced you with my web presence, and truthfully it’s now been more than a month since I’ve been in the ocean (well unless you count the many times I’ve been swimming in it lately, but really it does not compare). Life has been busy, I went home and visited my Mom, traveled up to Mammoth to hike and bike with my friend Amy, worked in the scuba shop, have done some pool teaching days,  been making cakes and running around training for my next triathlon. So again, Constant Reader (there’s at least one of you checking each day and yes I stole that phrase from Stephen King) sorry for my absence from the internets. I promise I’ll be back enforce soon. Summer is coming, which means hopefully the return of AMPM diving… I just need my dive buddy’s knee to heal!

However, in the mean time here’s a blast from the past. Its the most solid influence for why I am here today, teaching, shooting pictures and truly loving the underwater world. In 2006, three years after getting my first taste of diving before returning to the dry wasteland of the Tucson desert (well not true, the Sonoran Desert is really, really beautiful), I found an internship out in Hawaii that would a) get me diving again, and b) allow me to practice and learn more about shooting underwater. Immediately I contacted them, and applied. I was accepted (only after I assured them that my knowledge of video and editing (I was a film major after all) would not give me a chip on my shoulder, and I would be eager to learn their process and practices. In addition I applied for a scholarship offered through the Media Arts College and received one, getting almost everything but the airfare covered (my amazing parents covered the rest). Let me re-phrase this… I was able to get my school to pay for me to go diving. I was stoked.

At the end of June I traveled to Hawaii, fitted with a new set of gear (some borrowed from my Uncle, some newly purchased…his gift to me, as he loves diving and was excited to see me getting involved more with it). I met up with Martina and Jim, the owners of Dolphin Dreams Images. Jim is a professional underwater photographer and videographer, who has had images and videos in many different magazines and assisted with several national geographic and other video shoots in Hawaii. Their primary business though is to film tourists on the popular Manta Ray night dives and Dolphin Ohana snorkel adventures. They sell the DVDs and photos to divers, and we the interns assist them with every facet of the operation. During the trip I would earn my Advanced Open Water certification, as well as Nitrox and a Manta Ray Diver specialty. I learned a TON about Manta Rays through giving the Manta Eco talk at the Sheraton some evenings, a trade in which we gave the talk to hotel guests who would come out to watch the mantas dance gracefully near the surface, swooping in and out of the beam from the large light they have shooting into the water to attract plankton (which then attracts the rays). In return we were allowed to use their shallow pool to offer intro to scuba to anyone interested. This was my first experience in a teaching situation, and I found I loved it. Those few days in the pool are really what put the idea of pursuing scuba into my mind.

In the evenings we assisted with all the scuba and camera gear set up, and would drive this ancient and awesome old suv down to the boat, and assist with getting the gear loaded and ready to go. If we were diving with them that night, we’d stick around. If not, we’d head into town and grab some food, the return to give the Manta talk. On days that we were diving, we would get to experience the dive just like the normal tourists, or sometimes even help out with the video duties. I remember the first night that Martina asked me to lead. Its a simple out and back dive, but I was SO nervous. It was night, pitch black and I’d never lead a dive before…surprisingly we all survived. One evening at the north site (by the airport…Garden Eel Cove (by day), we had 17 manta rays show up. It was insanity, Mantas were everywhere. The line up was: Alexander, Doug, Timbuktu, Knight, Big Bertha (who was pregnant and is the largest one they know of at 16ft), Lefty, Rebekah, Isabel, Wyland, Who Ray, X-Ray, Cousteau, Curly, Sugar Ray, Kaulani, Bob-n-Ray and Miki. This was definitely the best dive of the trip, and is a dive that I will remember forever.

Late at night after the Manta we’d digitize the tapes, and edit the dive down into a nice video with music to be mailed out or delivered to the hotel of the folks who purchased a DVD. In the mornings, when we went out of the Dolphin Ohana, a snorkeling adventure that caught up with the pod of dolphins slowly cruising back to a large bay after a night of hunting. They would chill and swim around in the bay, half awake while dozens of snorkelers got an up close view of the animals that many people only see in theme parks. Again, we assisted with any gear, helped out on the boat, and talked with the customers, assisting them if needed. After just like at night, we’d set up a small TV so that they could see the video as they left the boat, and could purchase a DVD or pictures that we would be editing that afternoon once we got back to the boat.

In addition to all my intern duties, we had chances to go diving for fun from the beach, and a couple of times out on the boat of one of the folks that Martina and Jim know and work with. I got to explore all over the Kona area, going into and making it out of several awesome lava tubes, hunting octopus and eels and other elusive creatures that hide out in the coral. We had days off where we could go into town and shop, relax, hang out at the beach, do just about anything we wanted…

Two of my weekends out there I was able to take off with some of the other interns and explore. On one occasion we rented a jeep and drove around the entire big island, stopping at the black sand beaches, hiking out along lava beds to where the Volcano is currently erupting (this was an adventure in itself as we didn’t plan and ended up hiking in flip flops, with no water or flashlights for the nighttime return back…and FYI lava is sharp!). We slept in the jeep when we discovered the campground was full, the showered in a cool river in the jungle like flora of Hilo before nearly tipping the jeep off a cliff as we traveled tiny single track roads to nowhere. We watched surfers on the beach, and drove through a crazy rainstorm before we emerged on the back side of the Big Island. Continuing around we found our planned campsite had been “bought out” for a family reunion, so once again, we found a deserted area and slept in the car. We spent the day on pristine beaches snorkeling and napping, before driving back into Kona to return the jeep and go back to interning in paradise.

On the other weekend I flew over to Oahu. We stopped at Pearl Harbor, but missed the chance to get over to the USS Arizona. From there we wandered Waikiki, then the next morning drove across the small island for a shark encounter, a snorkel adventure in a cage with sharks swimming all around. It was AMAZING. From there we continued our exploration of Oahu by taking the scenic route and driving the coast around, stopping at a variety of beaches and locations until we got back to Honolulu and the airport to fly “home” to the Big Island.

All in all this internship was one of the best experiences of my life, and I would definitely say is was a big influence into my decision to pursue a profession with scuba. Enjoy the slideshow below of many of my pictures from the trip! If you want to read more in detail, I kept a little blog/journal of the trip, updating each day: http://billytheplatypus.blogspot.com/ (the last post is first, so click on the archives and start with the oldest entry to follow in succession…)

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Video: Diving the HMCS Yukon

Two weekends ago I traveled south to San Diego to dive the HMCS Yukon with Eco Dive Center aboard the dive vessel Marissa. An easy 20 minute motor from the Mission Bay harbor, the Yukon lies in 75-100 feet of water. Due to accidentally sinking the night before the planned grand send off the Yukon lies on her port side making that first dive a bit disorienting. Once used to her layout however I was able to begin to really marvel at her majesty and truly explore along her structure. At around 350 feet long the Yukon is impossible to fully explore in just four dives, even just out her exterior! We started on day one by descending down the forward guns, on the second day we descended onto the signal mast. The ship itself has just about become a living entity, it is just about 100% covered with life including small corals, anemones and large cauliflower looking Metridians. Large schools of fish swam around the wreck, primarily Blacksmiths, along with Sheephead, Garibaldi and Senorita Wrasse just to name a few. Sea lions constantly played in the surrounding kelp, often diving down to check out the strange addition to their world and the divers exploring it.

This was my first dive with my new Olympus EPL1, and as I have no strobes yet the video is a bit grainy due to the lack of light so far down. Over all I was pleased with the outcome, as I was really pushing the camera to its limits and it still performed well. Enjoy the video! I hope to have a more detailed write up later, along with some images, but I’m still working on that!

Dolphin Frenzy.

The second large group of dolphins heads east as we near Catalina Island.

Last Sunday I was aboard the dive boat Mr. C, headed out to Catalina Island to complete weekend two of the Open Water course I was teaching. Finally, unlike the previous couple of weekends, we had perfectly calm seas, though the skies were overcast with rain possible in the afternoon. Not long after exiting the harbor we ran across a rare, and amazing sight. Dolphins. This was not the usual 4-5 cruisers surfing along the surge of water pushed ahead of the bow of the boat. No, ahead of us were hundreds of dolphins that seemed to be making a beeline across the vast seas for some unknown purpose. They were all cruising at a decent speed, popping up out of the water before sliding back in and popping out again. Our boat was traveling just a little faster than they were and we caught up to them, then slowly moved through the crowd. It was incredible to watch the pod of dolphins all moving along as a giant unit. With no camera on hand, I grabbed my iphone to snag a couple of pictures and a short video. This was definitely not something I had ever seen before, and to top it off we ran across another large pod doing the same thing in the opposite direction as we neared Catalina later in the morning. It was fantastic!

Scubapalooza!

Its been a long time coming, but here it is, the Catalina, Casino Point Scubapalooza recap! On June 19-20th Richard and I got up at the crack of dawn (literally, it was still dark when I pulled out of my apartment complex) to catch the Long Beach Catalina Express to catch the 6:15AM boat. I literally mean catch. Thanks to poor google directions and being about half awake I managed to miss two exits, get turned around, end up almost back in San Pedro, making it onto the boat with less than 5 minutes to spare.

We got to Avalon around 8:00am, had some delicious breakfast at Joes diner, checked into the hotel then went off in search of Scuba Luv to pick up a pair of Nitrox tanks. We had decided to dive nitrox that weekend, because our plan was to get as many dives in as possible. Nitrox would allow us to dive more, because we’d be absorbing less nitrogen (Why its Great!). We discovered just how long the walk around the harbor from the boat to Casino Point can really seem!

The weather was sunny and warm, and the water is calm. I discovered how to use the stairs at low tide, where you can’t easily wade into the water, because they end before you get wet! A gentle fall on your side splashes you into the ocean without hitting the bottom and tearing up the grasses and reef! We dove to the right, we dove to the left, we dove down into the depths finding the glass bottom boat, the swim platform, both the Jacques Cousteau and La Cruzado Plaques! In the middle we took a long lunch break with some delicious pasta (funny how hungry you get while diving!) Then it was back in the water, where the diving was great, the viz was good, not the best though, but still good. As night  fell we relaxed watching the sun set before donning our gear one last time for a night dive.

A warm shower, and delicious fancy meal and a few drinks, we headed back to the hotel where Richard promptly fell asleep, snoring from the other side of the room. I watched part of a movie on my computer then it was off to dreamland myself. The next morning it was new tanks, we didn’t feel like paying the extra cash for nitrox and decided since it was day two and we weren’t doing as many dives, we’d just do air…hell, we could sleep on the boat on the way home. In retrospect, I would have dove nitrox… it was amazing just how tired you are after 5 dives! It’d definitely worth the extra cash. Diving was good again and we explored further on each side of the park, revisiting several parts we had liked the day before. We ended a little early so we could rinse off, change and pack up the gear. A large root beer float was a nice ending to the day before piling back onto the Catalina Express and reality on the mainland.

Check out our adventure!

Champagne Toast (and more oil rigs!).

As I mentioned in my previous post on the second dive of the oil rigs Jessica brought along a little bottle of champagne for an underwater toast to my 100th dive! She just finished editing an awesome video of the day, and it includes a shot of my taking a nice swig of champagne while getting checked out by a curious sea lion. I’m not going to lie, while a bit salty, it was really entertaining to drink a little bubbly underwater with a sea lion! How many people can say they’ve done that? Enjoy the video, its fantastic! (Thanks to Jessica for letting me share!) The champagne toast is at the end of the video, but watch out for her amazing shot of one of the Salp colonies, its my favorite!

Diving the Oil Rig Eureka.

When I tell some of my non-diver friends that I am heading off to dive an oil rig this weekend I often get weird looks and questions like, “why would you want to do that?”, “what is there to see on an oil rig?” Well, for those who haven’t experienced it, the answer is quite a lot.

We dive the oil rigs off of Long Beach, CA. They sit in about 700 feet of water, so unlike most dives, where you can at least see the bottom contour, or follow along a rock shelf, you are completely in blue water and keeping control of your depth is very important. The dives are deep, and sometimes there can be currents (though I’ve lucked out with two years worth of good calm oil rig trips). Due to these reasons the oil rig dives are considered advanced (and if you ever needed one, are a perfect reason to take the advanced course!)

I love diving the oil rigs because they offer an experience unlike any other. The boat ride is short; they pull up close to the rig and as many people as possible plunge into the ocean and swim away from the boat. Often there is a pause in off loading divers so the boat can reposition itself to avoid drifting into the rig. Its all bit chaotic and rushed, buts it’s exciting. Once off the boat you swim inside the rig structure (being careful to mind the swell so it doesn’t push your head right up into a large beam). Then the boat drives away! It doesn’t go far, but it can’t anchor to anything and has to keep a safe distance from the rig. After grouping up with your buddies you descend straight down into the abyss. Depth for these dives is totally up to each diver, you can go all the way down to the recreational limits if you wanted. On Saturday we decided that we would go down as deep as we could until either someone got narc’ed and wanted to stop, or we reached 130′. Having never been narc’ed (though I’ve been deep – to 125′ before) I was curious if this would be the dive. It surely was. We dropped down fairly quickly and as soon as we hit around 112′ my heart started thumping and I realized that I felt funny. We kept going down and at 117′ it was too much, I was giddy, excited, could not stop smiling, then actually started to laugh out loud for a little bit before my higher brain function took over and said, “Hey Kelli, you’re totally narc’ed! Pay attention, mind your depth, how’s your air, stay focused!” For those who don’t know, being “narc’ed” is encountering Nitrogen Narcosis, which is an overload of nitrogen in your system that occurs from breathing excess nitrogen due to increased pressure in your breathing gas during a deep dive. It’s really non-life threatening, mostly makes you feel drunk, silly or impaired in some way. My buddy Beck, got very anxious and tenses up when narc’ed, while I went all giddy and couldn’t stop smiling. Anyways, after this realization I gave Beck, Jessica and Bryan signals to say, I’m narc’ed! Lets level out here, I don’t want to go any deeper!

Once we reached that depth, all that was left was to go back up. So we started our ascent, and really our dive. As we slowly ascended back through the structure we swam around, over, and through the various metal crossings, and beams. Everything was absolutely covered with life. Corals and anemones covered every inch of the structure. Sea fans grew, and brittle stars lay in bunches on top of other growth. Hiding in holes and crevasses of the corals and anemones were small fish that would dart in and out as you got near. Large fish rested on the beams as well, or swam around inside the structure. We encountered huge schools of baitfish swimming through, and sea lions would glide down from the surface, effortlessly moving around us before bolting back up.

The oil rigs are probably one of the most surreal dives I’ve experienced, as you watch the large beams that plunge into the depths and the giant cross sections that support those beams all materialize as you near them. Hazy shapes take form as you slowly ascend back towards them. The whole dive is really mysterious and completely unique.

I saw several new creatures on these two dives. We encountered several colonies of Salps. A salp is typically a barrel shaped, free floating tunicate (underwater, saclike filter feeder). They float along in the ocean, move by contracting and pumping water through its body, which it also feeds off of. I saw two, possibly three different types. One was a long chain, at least 5-7′ of small tubes all joined together. It would curl and uncurl as it floated along. The other was a series of three rings joined together with golden parts inside, and the third, if even a salp, looked like a single organism and was almost fish shaped. It moved along with the use of one larger fin that swung back and forth over its body.

This year, these two dives happened to fall on a big milestone for me. Dive #99 and #100 were my two oil rig dives. I’ve now hit triple digits in my number of dives and to celebrate, my friend Jessica brought a small bottle of champagne down in her BCD pocket. During our safety stop around 15′ she pulled it out and popped the cork. We each took a nice big swig, doing our best to block the opening with our finger in an attempt to keep out as much sea water as possible. It was awesome, and to cap it all off, we had a very curious sea lion that kept swimming down to our group and checking out what we were doing. I tried to offer him some champagne, but he wasn’t really interested.

Our day had started with another rare event, Blue Whale sightings just off our bow. There were several whales surfacing in the channel, so the boat stopped and we watched from a distance as these majestic creatures slowly rose up, took a nice big breath, and dropped back below the surface. We were lucky on the return to run into the whales again, much closer this time and watched them rise and fall in the water, their smooth backs gliding out of sight each time they dropped back down. It was my first time seeing a Blue Whale, and they really are as big as all the books say! It was insane to see something that big with my own eyes.

I could not have asked for a better 100th dive, and even got to celebrate with the entire boat on the way back, as Jessica pulled another full size bottle of champagne, some orange juice and plastic cups from the cooler and poured mimosas for everyone, she then raised her glass in celebration of my dive, and everyone followed suit. It was great.

Rescue Course Video!

The rescue course video that Ron at Eco Dive Center made from our class in March has finally been put up on YouTube! Enjoy! Its a great video done in a very creative comic book format.