Victorious on the Vandenberg.

Let me rewind a little before I jump into the next part of my recent Florida vacation. Last December I visited Key West for the first time, and we were supposed to dive the Vandenberg, but the dive was cancelled due to strong winds and high seas (does anyone else see a pattern here?). After returning with similar weather, I was so bummed when it looked like the dive was going to be scrapped…again. Waking up Wednesday morning knowing, that despite the rough seas, we were headed out to finally dive the Vandenberg!

The boat ride out was rough, no doubt about it. As I am prone to sea sickness I prepared, but even that wasn’t enough. I made it just about to the dive site, before having to lean over the side and dry heave. *sigh*

But we were there! Time to dive the Vandenberg. The boat tied off to the mooring buoy, dropped a line at about 15′ off the stern of the boat so that we could giant stride off the side of the boat and descend from the stern, traveling to the mooring under the water, vs battling the big waves and strong current. Seriously, this was the best idea ever. It made the descent and ascent so much easier.

Once off the boat (and feeling much better underwater, as usual). We descended into the rich blue water as the shipwreck slowly materialized below us. The current was ripping, but once we hit the wreck, we could hide in the lee of the current, blocked by the massive size of the Vandenberg. Unfortunately due to the turbulent water the viz was not as awesome as we had hoped, but still good, in the 30-40ft range. I had a blast with the 8mm fisheye lens on the wreck and my good buddy Kendra often made a perfect model. Sadly there were not as many fish on the wreck as I had hoped, we saw several large barracuda and a small school of another fish I didn’t know, but that was about it. Possibly the weather and current played a roll in the scarcity of life on the wreck.

While it was easy to jump off the ship, getting back on after each dive was “interesting”. It was a game of quickly move forward and hand the DM my camera, back off onto the down-line and remove fins. Shove arms through fin straps and move forward on the line to the ladder. Wait for a lull in the waves and grab ladder, then hang on for dear life as it bucked beneath you like a mechanical bull at a bad country bar. While fighting the ladder, attempt to hook feet into the first rung, also… becareful of the even larger rogue wave that causes you to face plant into the ladder. Once you get your feet in, scurry up as quickly as possible, sit down on the bench, remove gear. Breathe. Needless to say, we had a few bruises on the legs after this day.

Enjoy the photos! Next up… the meat of our vacation: The ATOCHA!

Midnight again.

Last weekend I went back out on the Sand Dollar to the wreck of the Midnight Hour again. Jumping into the water we discovered there was a fairly good current ripping along the island. Unforunately one of group fell prey to this getting pulled away from the descent line into the deep green sea. (He was fine, just surfaced away from the boat, got a lift back from the little whaler and missed the nice wreck dive).

Once I descended to the sand at about 110ft the wreck swam into view. The visibility was pretty good and at depth the current had disappeared. The overall growth had not changed much, but you could tell people have still been cleaning the wreck. All of the netting around the bow of the ship was gone as was the piles and piles of dead squid that had been tangled inside. It was neat to see the wreck again, as its not a large ship, originally it was a squid fishing boat, you can easily swim around the whole wreck on the dive. This time I spent more time at the bow, and this time I had a wide angle lens. Unfortunately this time one of my strobes would not work…due to me putting in one battery upside down. (Remember always test your camera before getting in the water!)

Since it was pretty dark down there, and the single strobe wasn’t working well with the wide angle lens, I tried to do a couple longer shutter / no strobe shots which overall came out pretty well. Being so deep, it was a short dive, but a good one and a good start to what was a nice day of diving.

 

dSLR Adventures…

Back in April.. yes I know, that’s how far behind I am. So. Back in April, my boss let me borrow his Nikon D7000 camera with Sea & Sea housing and dual YS-110a strobes for a day of diving on the wreck of the Olympic barge (San Pedro, just outside the harbor) and the Oil Rigs. This was my first time using a dSLR underwater and I was a bit nervous. The rig is huge compared even to my Olympus EPL1, which I feel is on the big side, but he has it set up so perfectly that once in the water its nice and neutral. I was impressed by the ease that I was able to use it, and especially with the speed at which it can focus and take pictures, that is definitely something you can’t beat with any smaller type of camera. However… for the first time using a dSLR AND using two strobes, I would not have picked two advanced, deep dive sites. I didn’t feel like I was able to really just relax and mess around with the camera, the Olympic sits at about 110ft and the rigs extend as deep as you’d like to go.

He set me up with the Tokina 10-17 fisheye to practice wide angle, so there was another new thing added to the mix. I definitely had trouble keeping the strobes positioned far enough away and many of my pictures ended up with glare/ backscatter on the sides from the strobes. I also discovered upon importing my photos to my computer that just about every one of them was not really in focus. The dark, deep dives and the change from looking at an LCD to peering through a small viewfinder for the first time took its toll.

Despite having some technical difficulties, the first dive was fantastic. The Olympic sits just outside the San Pedro Harbor in an area that is not known for good visibility. We descended not expecting much, but were surpised with nearly 40ft viz on the wreck. It was fantastic, and the Olympic is a large barge with some great columns still intact, overall a very cool dive site. After that we motored over to the oil rigs, the highlight of the trip, only to find a ripping current (which by the way is not fun with a large camera rig!), and tons of stuff in the water mucking up with visibility. It was a pretty unanimous vote after that dive to head back and do a second dive off the wreck. The viz was not a good as dive #1, but still much better than the rigs, and no current. Overall I really liked using the dSLR, but would want my next attempt to be on a peaceful, easy, shallow dive.

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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!

SS Winfield Scott

Sunday morning my buddy Neil and I drove up to Ventura for a two tank trip off Anacapa aboard the Raptor dive boat. The morning was chilly and grey with the sky spitting a few rain drops as we drove up the PCH. Luckily though, the seas were calm, and it was a smooth and quick ride over to the island. The Raptor is a great boat if you’re looking for a quick and easy Channel Islands trip. Its a smaller open boat, so everything’s going to get wet, but its fast and the service is fantastic. Between dives they offer a spread of sandwiches and fruit as well as always a hot dish, Sunday it was chili and it was delicious, especially while hanging out in the cold air after a cold dive.

The site we pulled up to was called Winfield Scott, named so because of the sidewheel steamer, SS Winfield Scott which crashed in that spot on December 1, 1853 after trying to navigate a heavy fog. It was headed from San Francisco to Panama on its usual route carrying passengers and a large cargo of approximately  $2 million in gold when it ran aground on Middle Anacapa.

Capt. Joe mentioned that this site held several interesting features, one being the remains of the wreck of the Winfield Scott, mostly the paddle wheel. Other features were a few swim throughs close to the islands and large thick kelp beds. The whole site was really shallow with anything worth seeing being no deeper than 40 feet. Neil and I joined up with Betsy, another diver in need of a buddy and we decided to head towards the island through the kelp and to the swim throughs. This was easier said than done. The kelp was thick and as we wove our way through it we quickly got off course. Finally finding a small opening in the kelp, and being at about all of 15 feet down I popped up top, signaled the boat I was okay and quickly looked around for my bearings. I noted that we were probably only 10 feet from the main swim through, but it meant navigating more kelp and we were sick of it. I realigned myself with the boat, dropped back down and we high tailed it out of there. Once back at the boat we ran into a group of students finning along mucking up the sand as they learned to control their buoyancy, so we headed in the opposite direction. I found a nudibranch I hadn’t seen yet, Hermissenda, which was exciting and we happened upon a large Sheep Crab. Other than that there was not much in that direction so we turned around and went back towards the direction of the wreck.

Nearing the end of the dive we saw a long pipe nestled on the bottom and searched around hoping to be near the wreck. I started thinking, maybe its more degraded that the captain let on until suddenly we went through a bit of kelp and Neil turned around and signaled me. Turning back he spread his arms wide as if to say, Ta Da! and there in front of us was the large side wheel structure. Around it were more bits and pieces of the remains, all fully covered with growth. Our time was short as we were nearing the end of our air, so we headed back to the boat. Luckily the captain said that the decision had been made to stay at that site for dive #2, so after a surface interval full of chili and cornbread and we were back in the water. Our plan was to keep the dive shorter, we were still chilly after our first dive of about 54 minutes, and fully explore the wreck area again. We gained a diver, Brian, after his buddy decided not to do the second dive, so the four of us headed towards the wreck. I ended up as navigator again, and I kept an eye out for the pipe that signaled us that we were in the area. Finding that we started into the kelp to find the large wheel structure. I came across a few more nudibranchs, several Spanish Shawl and another new one, Triopha maculata! Our dive ended up being a little over 40 minutes as I was engrossed in exploring the wreckage and the surround rocks hoping for more new Nudi sightings! We made it back to the boat easily, and quickly enough that I didn’t think we were there until Neil abruptly grabbed my fin and poined out that we had just swam past the anchor line!

Below is my little video around the wreck, enjoy!

Dive Logs:

Dive #1

Dive #2