Up from the Deep.

I went out blue water diving with some friends a couple weekends ago and while we were shunned by any of the big stuff… no molas or other large pelagic life, we did see lots and lots of jellies. Small and transparent most of these would be hard to photograph on a normal dive. Since this was a blue water dive we were tethered to a line dropped off the boat and just floating along with the current. Drifting as such means that I only get about 30 seconds to compose, focus and shoot any passing jelly before the float past and out of my reach. This makes the dive more exciting as I tried to get a good shot, or even just a shot in focus. This was my second time out, and I was a bit more successful.

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!

Up North: The Monterey Breakwater.

After successfully completing our IE, Shane and I stayed at the Monterey Breakwater to go out for a “real” dive. Neither of us had ventured this far north before and we were interested to see what lay beneath their sea. Monterey is known for colder temperatures than Los Angeles, and for some rough seas. We were warned that our test conditions were probably going to be less than ideal. However, as mentioned earlier, we could not have asked for calmer weather. It was chilly and overcast on land, but the ocean temperatures were in the mid 50’s which, unfortunately, has been normal for us in LA this year.

We were advised by some of the other folks in our IE group to enter from the middle area and swim down along a large pipe towards the Metridium Field. This is a large field of Metridiums, which are basically huge white anemones. While they are fairly common from Washington down through California, for reasons unknown a large patch of them grown in this one location off the Breakwater beach. Now please excuse me, if I go Star Wars on you at some point in this article, as I was unfamiliar with these animals, and my brain immediately changed the name to Midichlorians and I still confuse the words! Yes I know, these massive anemones are not the organisms that create the Force, but my mind wanted to make them so.

We were given instructions and a heading to take in order to find the pipe, and set off for adventure. The visibility was not the best, but it was decent and we dropped down into about 20′ of water and swam out in search of the large pipe that was described to us. First we found a small pipe, and unsure began to follow that down into deeper water. We explored around it as we swam until it abruptly ended. Shrugging at each other the unspoken consensus was, “well lets just dive around and see what we see”. A few minutes later I swam over a large half buried pipe. This had to be what we were originally searching for! I signaled to Shane and we once again were on track swimming deeper and further out into the ocean.

The life up in Monterey is very similar to our home in Los Angeles, though there were definitely plants and fish I hadn’t seen before. We had seen otters playing in the water from the surface and while I hoped and hoped that one would just swim by us on our dive, we had no such luck. While being adorable, I was told that the otters are more of a menace to the dive instructors, as they will get on and inside the dive floats, tossing out weights and rope you may have stored inside and sometimes even popping the float itself. As one person told me, “its annoying when you’re trying to teach and the next thing you see is your float slowly sinking behind your students.” Having not experienced that, the idea made me chuckle. Another creature that was very prevalent up in the colder Monterey waters are Jellyfish. As we began the dive in the shallower waters we’d see a few of these jellies, Sea Nettles, I believe. As we went deeper and deeper, they grew in numbers. There would be times that I’d be studying a rock area, or watching several fish swimming around, then I’d look up to swim forward and stop short as there was a jellyfish right in front of me. At one point in the dive, I looked up as we swam along and the water above me was dotted with jellies, large and small, everywhere. I just wish I had a better camera system that could light the darker water so I could show everyone just how many there were, but my little strobe wouldn’t reach and my photos came out black. There was so many though, that a couple times during the dive I had to stop kicking because I couldn’t see a safe route through them. I knew I was mostly safe as every inch of  me was covered in neoprene. Every inch except for some very important ones in the face region. The last thing I wanted was to return to LA with a face full of jellyfish stings! Luckily neither Shane or I had a run in, and we made it down to the Metridium field safely.

Getting close to the field was supernatural at best. These anemones are so starkly white that the seem to glow under the water, so as we neared, the water lightened and slowly the large blurs began to take shape. They were beautiful. Large white columns that exploded at the top in a burst of small, fine tentacles. The field was exactly that; a huge grouping of metridiums that started abruptly and ended just as quick. It was a large rocky patch absolutely covered in various sized metridiums. Some stood alone, others bunched together in a sort of miniature underwater forest. I would have loved to explore them for awhile, but unfortunately it was a long swim to get there so we had to turn back after a few short minutes and start the trek back to shallower waters.

So we swam back through the masses of jellies as we followed the pipe. Once in shallower depths we explored some of the kelp, though stayed mostly in the rocky reef area until our air supply was up and we surfaced. It was a fantastic dive, and whetted my appetite for more northern adventures, though possibly after a purchase of a drysuit, especially as our dive took place at the end of summer when water temperatures are probably the warmest. Thanks Monterey for the memories, can’t wait to return!