Award Winning!

I submitted my eight photos to the SoCal Shootout after the amazing weekend full of diving in the middle of September. To recap, i spent three solid days diving off the Los Angeles coast with probably the best conditions I have ever seen. It was amazing. I realize I am WAY behind in updating you all on my dive adventures, but instead of starting back at the beginning and moving forward through time, I’m going to jump ahead to the results of the contest. They were announced last week and much to my surprise and excitement I got third place in two different categories! Shooting on my new OM-D, a mirrorless camera I had to compete in the “Open” categories with all the big gun dSLR folks, so placing at all made me really happy. The first was a third place in the Wide Angle category with my photo of a female sheephead on one of the oil rigs off the coast of long beach. If you read my previous post, you can see just what amazing visibility we experienced that day. It was incredible.

The second picture that I placed with was in the Portrait category. I was swimming back to the boat after one of the dives off Santa Barbara Island when this huge lobster came cruising up from below. My guess, it was startled from a hidey hole by someone or something, and we crossed paths at just a perfect time. He shot past me into a growth of kelp and disappeared. Intrigued, I followed and found him clinging to a strand of kelp, upside down, just hanging there. The colors and the way he clung to theĀ  strands of kelp. I really liked it because the lobster stands out, since you never find lobster in the kelp, and the blues of the water, greens of the kelp and reds in the lobster create a bold palette. Apparently the judges liked it too!

I came away from that weekend of diving with many good images, but these two were definitely my favorites, which furthered my excitement that they were chosen as winners. I’m working to get the rest of the pictures from that weekend up and shared with everyone, followed by a day of diving at Casino Point with a couple of the nice macro lenses for the micro four-thirds cameras and my latest adventure, another night dive (2) on the wreck of the Palawan… deep in the Redondo Bay. Too much diving and too little time to sit in front of a computer!

Vacation Time!

As per usual, my blog posts are late in coming, but better late than never, here we go! In the middle of June I traveled across the country to Key West for a week of relaxing in the warm humid sunshine, diving and treasure. Our trip was put on by the Mel Fisher group, with the main reason for the trip being two days of treasure diving along the treasure trails of the wreck of the Atocha. (sound interesting? click here for more info)

The week trip included lodging, reef dives, two days of treasure diving with the salvage crew, bbq, sunset cruise, museum tours and more.

Unfortunately our trip corresponded with the beginning of a big tropical storm, so Kendra and I arrived in Key West to wind, rain and high seas. This meant much of our diving was in jeopardy. (Enter big frown here).

We started the week off with a great welcome BBQ at the house (which by the way was GORGEOUS). We met the other awesome people in our group for the week and got prepped for what was ahead. Sadly, much of the prep meeting included “if” things calm down, and “hopefully” due to the unpredictable winds and the high seas. Right off the bat, our check out dives on some of the reefs off Key West was cancelled. Needing to get a check out dive in, they moved us over to the Florida Keys Community College Lagoon.

Tuesday morning we all geared up at the lagoon, which it turned out is pretty much like diving in California, only the water is warm. Green water, with a very silty bottom and poor visibility, the lagoon was fairly boring most of the time, but did offer me really good photo practice, attempting to remove backscatter from my shots with good strobe placement. Placed throughout the lagoon were different objects like a boat, a taxi, bicycle and barrels. The highlight of the dives, and in my opinion something that made the reef dive cancellation not a big bummer, was that they have several actual beams from the Atocha in the lagoon. It was pretty awesome to see and touch 400 year old wooden beams from a shipwreck that has yielded millions of dollors of treasure over the last 30 years.

After the lagoon dives, the rest of the day was open, so Kendra and I spent it wandering Key West, and well…. eating and drinking. As it turned out throughout the week we had quite alot of down time, and wandering the town helped fill it up. It was raining like crazy on the drive home and kept up through most of the afternoon. So much so, that streets around Key West were flooding. We discovered a couple pluses to the rain were, cooler weather and less people out and about to deal with!

Throughout the day our fingers were crossed for better weather on Wednesday, our day for the optional Vandenberg dives. The seas had been continually bad throughout the day but looked to be dropping. At the beginning of the evening we finally got some good news, the trusty dive operator Captains Corner was braving the 5′ seas and heading out to the Vandy in the morning!

Practicing back-scatter free portraits during the lagoon dive in 5-10ft viz!

Our tour of the lagoon included the many exciting sites, such as this bicycle, a boat, a taxi, some barrels and of course the Atocha ship beams

One of the few marine life sightings in the lagoon, I found this lobster chilling along the wall on our way back to the dock.

Part of the lagoon had an aeriator running along the bottom which made for a cool photo as the air bubbles rose up to the surface.

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!

Diving with Dad.

Last weekend my father journeyed from afar…well Phoenix, to join me for what turned into a non-stop adventurous weekend! It all started with the fact that he, an avid Jimmy Buffett fan and my reason for loving his music, has never been to a Jimmy Buffett concert. So for his birthday (which is in June actually) I purchased a pair of tickets for us, and promised a fun weekend in LA. The concert was fabulous, but the highlight of the trip for me was going to be getting him underwater for the first time in about seven years! (that is not counting the numerous 5ft, 15 minute dives he made out in Saguaro Lake cleaning algae growth off the underside of our ski boat, which I don’t). The last time he actually dove was the first time I did. Back in 2003 on a family vacation to Maui, my sister and I earned our Open Water Diver certifications. On our final open water dives he joined us for a trip out to Molokini and St. Anthony’s wreck, then later we did a shore dive with all four of us (including my mom) on the small reef just off shore from our hotel. Flash forward seven years, and I’ve earned my OWSI rating and put more than 100 dives under my belt and he’s barely been wet.

It sure looks like I have a ton a gear! Mostly because of my camera, and because all my Dad’s gear looks like its actually hanging off me!

Needless to say I was slightly nervous about throwing him right into a Southern California beach dive, especially with a higher surf forecast, but he fell back into diving easily, as he said, “its like riding a bike, once you get back into it everything just comes back.”

We had driven down to San Diego to dive with a friend of his who is a big lobster hunter. He took us out to Swami’s, a beach in Encinitas known primarily for great surfing. I could easily see why, as a nearby reef created a perfect break for the surfers. What this also meant was that just down from the reef, there was barely any waves breaking at all, so we had a very easy entry and exit. Unfortunately, the fact that the beach is known for its reef break, coupled with a larger swell in general, meant that our dive conditions were less than ideal. The reef at Swami’s is fairly shallow, and the large swell moving in from off shore created a big surge underwater and pretty poor visibility. My dad handled this fine however, especially when we got separated about four minutes into the dive. Thats right, I lost my dad after only four minutes. Way to go me! Truth is, I paused for a picture while he and Dan (who was effectively leading the dive) continued to swim, and with the 5-10 ft viz, I lost them quickly. My Dad was a little left of Dan, so when he stopped to check on everyone and discovered I was not there, my Dad continued swimming. I caught up with Dan, but then Dad was gone! Dan and I searched, then surfaced (after what was probably only about 30 seconds as my mind worried over my missing father) and looked for bubbles on the surface. Meanwhile, we discovered later, my dad continued swimming along, thinking us just up ahead, and forgetting the 1 minute search rule we had decided upon before the dive. Finally, after what felt like forever, but was probably only a few minutes he surfaced about 50 yards up from us, opposite of where we were looking for him. Crisis averted we swam over to him and dropped back down. The highlight of the dive was finding a large Moray Eel inside a hole that Dan nearly put his hand down in search of lobster. The Moray poked its head out and started opening and closing its mouth in a fashion that makes you think he’d be hissing or growling if it were on the surface.

Yes, those little black dots in the water are surfers!

Moving on from there we found a couple lobster, however any that Dan was able to grab were too small to keep, sadly no delicious crustacean dinner. The rest of the dive was spent swimming around, exploring the kelp and searching for lobster hidey holes. We surfaced when my Dad finished his air, quicker than the more experienced divers, but not so fast that it was annoying, we enjoyed a nice 37 minute dive. The water was summer warm around 60 degrees at depth, and the only drawback was in the form of the extremely long surface swim to and from the dive site… almost a 1/4 mile! Its definitely a sight I’d like to try again, maybe with a kayak and definitely with less surge and better viz. Mostly though I enjoyed just getting under the water with my Dad again. Next up: Mom. (I think that effort will require somewhere warm and clear).

The rest of the weekend passed quickly with some delicious food, a couple of beers, a movie and a day at the beach spent trying our hand at Stand Up Paddleboarding. After successfully getting through the larger surf breaking (though unsuccessfully losing my sunglasses to a large wave) we managed to get our SUP skills down and paddle down to the Santa Monica Pier and back for a 2 mile trip. We practiced some more, then went in for a long break which included playing in the perfectly sized body boarding waves. Another voyage through the surf and some more paddling, though not quite as far because the wind had picked up creating a lot of chop on the water. Then more food and a beer, showers and it was back to the airport. I had a blast, and can’t wait to get him back underwater again soon! (I think I’ve got him wanting to dive again, hooray!)

A perfect summer day, in the middle of October. Taking a break from paddle boarding, we went back into the ocean for some body surfing.

Malaga Cove, at Night.

Friday night I ventured out with two friends to explore a favorite site of mine after dark. I was slightly worried because the weather forecast had shown larger waves than the earlier prediction and this site mucks up quickly because its fairly shallow. I had also been dry for about two weeks, after the delay of my instructor exam date I decided to take it easy and have been picky about choosing my dives. However, after a stressful week at work (read: probably going on “hiatus” in a few weeks due to how crappy things are going in the industry), I just needed to be underwater.

We met up in the parking lot, and the ocean was calm and quiet. So far, so good. Daryl, Richard and I gabbed as we donned our gear, I made the last minute decision to bring the camera since the calm seas meant I wouldn’t have to stress over it getting battered on the rocks during the entry and exit, and I am SO glad that I did. As we kicked out along the surface I could tell that the visibility was going to be good and my spirits rose.

We dropped down in about 15 feet of water and began kicking over the sand towards the dive site. Our max on this dive was 24 feet, so you can imagine how quickly it would go from good to bad with a larger surf, but that night we lucked out. On top of the great conditions, it seemed that everything was also out enjoying the night. We ran across a small thornback ray immediately after dropping down, then crossed paths with a large horn shark as we swam into the kelp and rock ledges. There were large Sheep Crabs wandering across the sandy patches in numbers I had never seen before. We must have passed at least 10 throughout the dive!

Richard pointed out an octopus all stuffed into a tiny hole in a rocky outcropping as we swam over and through the ledge-like outcroppings that mark Malaga Cove dive site. The most entertaining for me (aggravating for Richard) were the lobster. They were everywhere and they were docile and unafraid. Usually lobster hide in holes in the rocks, or in crevasses just out of reach, but tonight they were out swimming around, lounging on top of the rocks in plain sight and easy grabbing proximity. To top it off, they didn’t swim away when you got near. I was even able to pick one up, though was so startled by the fact that I could that I dropped it immediately as soon as it squirmed. Richard, who is a hunter, could not believe they were just out like this and was extremely bummed that it was not lobster season. Soon, Rich, soon... season opens midnight on October 1st.

As we continued the dive it just got better. I found a nicely sized octopus out and about and was able to follow him as he swam along the rocks, molding and melting to whatever shape he passed over. Towards the end I ran across a tiny little baby Horn Shark just curled up against a little rock cluster. As we returned to the sand at the end of the dive we ran across another Thornback Ray, larger this time, and in no hurry to swim away as I snapped picture after picture. Then just before we surfaced we stumbled onto a large Pacific Angel Shark nestled in the sand. Really, what more could we have asked for?