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!

North @ Vets.

Friday night Jessica, Bryan and I ventured back out to Veterans Park to squeeze in two quick dives that would bring my total dive count to 98. We did this because we were diving the oil rigs off of Long Beach the following morning and I desperately wanted to make the oil rig dives fall on my 100 dive. 100 is a pretty big milestone in the dive world and I was extremely excited to be hitting it.

Everytime I dive Vet’s I have gone south. Its a west facing beach, so we swim west to the depth we want, then turn south in the canyon and swim down until either our air or time limit is up and we turn around to swim back to the entry. Vets is all sandy bottom, so its not the most exciting dive, but in the evening or at night there are a plethora of creatures that come out. Typically you see octopus, crab, small fish like scoropionfish, sarcastic fringehead, cusk eels, lots of sand dollars, and sea stars. Friday however, we decided to explore north for something different. There is supposed to be a large grassy area, known as the “Salad Bowl” just north of the stairs that you use to get to the beach. We were told that you can find more life in this area than you usually see heading north, and that often there are nudibranch hiding out in the grass.

Either, we didn’t swim far enough or it just wasn’t a good day for nudi hunting. The grassy area was fairly sparse, and while there were a bunch of little octopus swimming around that was about it. I saw a nice scorpionfish and was able to get a great shot of him resting in the sand, but otherwise it was a rather boring and cold couple of dives. However these two dives weren’t really for quality, they were for quantity, and by completing them I was able to align the oil rigs and my 100th dive!

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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?

One step closer

Before heading out of town on a whirlwind adventure I was able to sneak in one last dive and check off one more DMC requirement. My final open water internship marker was “leading certified divers.” While I lucked out and was able to brief and lead a small group at a site very familiar to me, I was also doing it at night, which adds some thrill because if you don’t stay close to each other, its easy to get separated in the oppressing darkness.

After gearing up on land I gave my first ever official briefing, stumbling a bit at points, but making sure to hit all the important aspects of diving Vet’s Park at night. We lucked out because the ocean looked as still as a lake, so the usual cautions of careful beach entry were unnecessary. After this we walked down to the beach and away we went.

Vet’s Park is a really easy dive site, in that its all sandy bottom and its typically an out and back site. My goals in leading the group was to not drop below our decided depth, and to resurface just off the stairs so we would not have a far walk out. The visibility was really crappy in the shallower water, but once we dropped below 40 ft things cleared out. Continually looking behind me, I made sure everyone was following as I lead down into the canyon. Immediately on dropping down to around 40ft we encountered a GIANT Sea Hare. This thing was larger than a basketball and by far the largest I’ve ever seen. Making note, I hoped we’d run into it again on return; it would serve as a perfect marker of where the steps were amongst the never changing sand bottom.

We capped our depth around 70ft, and headed south. I kept us a bit shallower at first so that we would run into the “Shrine”, a collection of dumped items that create something different to look at and homes for lots of little sea critters. After exploring around that for a bit we continued on. There was all the usual tiny octopus and sand dabs, etc. I tried to point them out as much as possible, but even then not everyone got to see them.

I think we went the furthest south on this dive then I ever have before mostly due to the fact that I wasn’t diving with my camera or a bunch of shutterbugs. We ran into a patch of weedy growth that I have never seen before. It was great to get to explore that area, I even found a small horn shark nestled in the weeds. This marked our turn around point and we cruised back at a slightly shallower depth. We indeed ran into the sea hare again (and I was sure glad we did, because it felt sooner than I anticipated where the stairs were). After hitting that I began moving everyone shallower hoping to be able to do our safety stop along the bottom, but the visibility deteriorated too quickly. We began our ascent and completed our safety stop mid water. Upon surfacing I was glad to see that we were just north of the stairs. The ocean had picked up a little bit, but over all was still an easy exit. After the dive we debriefed a bit on what we saw, how it went etc. Everyone had a good dive and there were no issues which was fantastic. One more pool session and a day out as back up DM next weekend and I’ll be putting through the DM cert and officially be a “Pro!”

Blackjack anyone?

Monday night I met up with Kristan and Richard down in Redondo for a quick night dive off of Veteran’s Park. The ocean was calm and there were no waves to battle as we easily walked into the sea. Cruising down the canyon Kristan had a bit of equalization issues, but was able to clear and we swam down to 100ft to settle on the sand. Unzipping a pocket of his BCD Kristan pulled out a pack of water proof cards and began to deal out a hand of black jack! I got my first card, a Queen…so far so good. Next came a 10 and of course when signaled I chose to stay. Everyone turned over their hand and with 20 points I was the big winner! It was smilies all around, then we carefully gave back the cards, I cleared my mask (one of the drawbacks of smiling…you break the mask seal and it floods. I would wager that 90% of my dive time is done with a partially flooded mask, the other 10% is the few minutes after clearing it!)

After the game we started our ascent, exploring the bottom as we slowly swam up out of the canyon. On the way down we had seen a pretty good sized Red Octopus, just out for a night of hunting. On the way back there were the usual crabs, several Mantis Shrimp, a Red Irish Lord and even an itty bitty teeny tiny baby octopus! Overall a great dive, though I will say, beware of that thermocline… it was COLD down at depth, around 50 degrees!! Yikes!

Red Octopus out hunting.

Mantis Shrimp... these guys are a pain to get a picture of...the swim off as soon as you get near.

This little octopus was about the size of a golf ball! So cute!

A Red Irish Lord laying in the sand.