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.

Peering at the Palawan.

I know, I know. Its been forever since I’ve graced you with my presence and recounted the latest and greatest dive adventure. Honestly its because there haven’t been too many lately. Sad right? However its not for lack of underwater time, I’ve just been passing along my knowledge teaching in the pool and ocean this year…but more on that later. In addition, my goal for this year is to find a balance between my two passions, Scuba and triathlon, two hobbies which do not mesh well, especially since both want to take up the bulk of any weekend…but again, more on that later.

Last night, I hooked up with a group of dive buddies for the rare mid-week boat dive. The plan was the wreck of the Palawan, which lies off the coast of Redondo. The Palawan is a 440′ Liberty Ship that was sunk in the 1970’s as an artificial reef. It lies in about 110′ – 130′ of water, so with my single tank of air it made for a couple of short dives. Since the ship has been down there going on 30 years its somewhat degraded, with mostly just the hull remaining and has a ton of life and growth surrounding it.

We left Redondo on the Island Diver, and the short… 15 minutes!… motor to the site was easy and calm. This is diving at its most basic, we had rigged up and loaded our gear on the boat, suited up on shore and were chilling with some water and a bag of peanuts for snacks. Simple and perfect. That is until a wayward bit of peanut shell (or so i believe… you know, not the hard outside the but the papery like inner-shell…) caught the eddying winds and made a beeline for my eye. As the boat was dropping the buoy and setting anchor, I was doubled over with scratching pain in my eye, trying to figure out what happened! Shane and Saif assisted in trying to see if it was still in there, and Dan came to the rescue with his first aid kit and some saline solution. I never saw what truly flew into my eye, but I must have managed to get it out, because by the time the anchor was set and we were to go my eye was at a manageable level of distress… I figured I would try to descend and if it bothered me, then I’d call it. Luckily, I had no issues once in the water, and continued the descent down the rope into the black abyss.

Our first dive started out with a shock for two of our members as they approached the wreck and peered in the first hole only to have a large sea lion barrel out of it. It cruised around then disappeared into the darkness in an instant. All in all this dive was fantastic. I barely got to take in the wreck, as I worried about not finding the buoy line again, so buddy Saif and myself explored a small area around where the buoy lay. With the short no-deco time available at 110′ this was more than fine, and I was able to peer into some holes, and snap a few pictures of some of the many fish lounging about. The wreck is covered in strawberry anemones, red gorgonians, and plays home to a variety of fish, nudibranchs, sea stars, crab, lobster and a ton more I didn’t see I’m sure! I recently rigged my little Tusa as a focus light which allowed my camera to actually focus (finally!), ¬†and I enjoyed the few minutes of bottom time seeking out fish and playing around with my new strobe… still trying to get the hang of it!! From there it was a long slow ascent up the rope, avoiding the few jellyfish floating nearby.

After a good surface interval, we splashed back into the water and descended back into the deep once more. This dive was even shorter, and its amazing how quickly time flies! I found a large rock crab, posing nicely and tried to get some shots of the wreck structure, but before I knew it my watch was reading one minute left!! A quick swim to the rope and it was back and up again. The ascent this time was a bit more harried, as around 20ft I glanced up to make sure all was stil clear and looked right into a huge jellyfish that was tangled around the rope! Of course the first reaction, is “OH SHIT” which also includes a sharp inhale… with full lungs I was now floating right into it, so I exhaled and purged the remaining air, dropping away from the rope, but not quite in time. One of the tentacles just barely grazed my cheek… no big deal really, a little stinging and some irritation but that was it.

After the dive, it was a short trip back to shore, quick break down and pack up before we headed over to Henessey’s for a late night snack. The dives were short but sweet, and Dick, our captain, was great. They visit the Palawan so frequently that he has the coordinates written on the boat window, and dropped the buoy line within 2 feet of the wreck, making our dives that much more enjoyable! I can’t wait for the next one!

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.

No bubbles? No kidding.

So there is technology out there I’m sure you all have heard of called a Rebreather. Its a closed circuit form of Scuba that recycles your air allowing you longer air consumption time, longer no decompression limits, deeper dives and it emits no bubbles. While many people have heard of them they are not widely used and my people think of them only in terms of the Navy, or highly advanced technical divers and commercial divers.

Titan Dive Gear folks Randy and Web explain about the Titan eCCR.

However, last Tuesday for the monthly Eco Dive Club meeting we got to hear from Titan Dive Gear about their (might I say awesome) eCCR. This is an electronic closed circuit rebreather that is working to make the rebreather technology something that is more available to the general diver. I went into the meeting highly skeptical, I’ve heard horror stories about rebreathers, sometimes called a “widowmaker” because if your oxygen or carbon dioxide monitor fails you could easily pass out and drown before you realized that you were breathing a bad gas mix.

Titan however has created a rebreather that is not only really streamlined, but also rather redundant in terms of safety features and failsafes. They have created a system that relies on several components for safety, from multiple oxygen sensors (3), to a safer and easier to use carbon dioxide scrubber, more streamlined gear organization, easy to use buttons, and a large, deatiled and easy to read computer. There is also a second “heads up” display on the main air hoses to alert you if something is wrong as well.

(from Titan website http://www.titandivegear.com)

The carbon dioxide scrubber is a solid state absorbent that is housed in a clear plastic container. This sounded better than the usual granular absorbent that takes extra time to make sure its well packed in the canister and disposed of properly after its used up. The solid absorbent is cylindrical and slides right into the canister, then can be tossed in your gear bag without having to worry about spillage. Having a clear outer canister is great because it allows easy visual checks for the o-ring seals, making sure the scrubber is in there, checking for any water, etc.

The unit itself weighs approximately 48lbs with the absorbent and cylinders filled. It is designed that you really should not need much additional weight unlike normal open circuit systems, and since you don’t drain your tanks due to the recycled air you don’t have to add weight to account for an empty tank. The 48lbs is about the same, if even less than a normal open circuit set up (and far less than a typical technical set up) which makes this product even more desirable.

Now for the good part. Using a rebreather not only extends your bottom time tenfold, but it allows you to get to depths you can never achieve on a single tank dive. Imagine cruising underwater at 200ft for several hours with little or no decompression requirements (sure in California that doesn’t seem so great…brrrrrrrrr! but think tropical…). Yup thats right. From what I understand (and I’m no expert) that because you are able to control your PO2 (oxygen partial pressure) you can keep the gas mix you are breathing at a lower partial pressure so that you don’t run into oxygen toxicity at depth. Also by keeping the PO2 lower you keep your nitrogen loading down which means you can stay deeper longer without added decompression requirements. Now to top it all off, theres the fact that you create no bubbles. So instead of being this loudly breathing bubble making oddity under the water you begin to blend in with the other quiet animals surrounding you, and they don’t scatter as you get close (some still will since we’re big and look threatening). The Titan Dive gear folks sold us with stunning images of a rebreather diver and dolphin together underwater and the dolphin is curiously examining the diver, not swimming away disturbed by our bubbles.

Basically I walked away from that meeting completely sold. My only problem is I don’t have the means for the $10,000.00 price tag that comes with the gear set up and training. My OWSI training is currently breaking the bank! I also feel that right now in my dive career this is not a toy I need, but is something I will keep my eye on, and hope that as technology improves and time passes it will be more readily available and cost less down the road! All in all, from my limited knowledge on rebreathers, the Titan model really looks like the winner, well designed and simple to use. If you want to learn more about this rebreather, visit their website: titandivegear.com.

I want. (taken from Titan Dive Gear website http://www.titandivegear.com)

(So anyone have $10,000.00 to donate to my cause? I promise a great write up on the wonders of diving rebreather!)