Monday, June 16, 2008

A fine, murky day at Gerstle

As we unloaded the van at Gerstle Cove Sunday I quipped, "it's a mud-hole, but it's *our* mudhole." We had actually anticipated decent conditions, but as soon as we descended for our first dive we realized we were wrong.

We'd decided on a 200˚ heading to the right, sort of splitting the wash rocks, and see how far we get before turn pressure.

On the way down I absently glanced away from Anne to pick up the bottom. Nothing but deep, textured green noise. When I reacquired Anne she was reduced to a shadowy sillhouette, even though she was only 4 feet away from me at the time.

One of those days in the local mudhole. "OK," I thought. "So it's a nav dive." We'd practice the no-visibility skill of swimming out on a heading and swimming back without ending up in Antarctica. Actually, we were going to have to alter return heading to 330˚ at some point on the way back to get to the beach. So paying attention was going to be a virtue.

Earlier, just before we went in the water, Denise and Joy from had told us that Andy, Kevin, and Sean-Paul were at South Gerstle hunting around the wreck of the Norlina, and that they'd be along around 10am. Despite the foggy, cool weather, there were families arriving and kids playing around on the rocks.

After about 5 minutes of skimming across the rocky terrain, hugging the bottom so as not to lose sight of it, we entered an area with lots of baby bull kelp reaching upward on lone, slender stalks. There were the usual large abalone, urchins, and sunstars, along with lots of tealia anemones and palm kelp, but not many fish.

As we ranged deeper and further out the gloom increased gradually so that you couldn't see large rocks ahead until you were right on them. Going slow was a plus for a number of reasons, this among them. Another, of course, was so as not to lose your buddy. Anne and I assumed a wing on wing position to make staying in touch easier, and out we went until the curtain of gloom became almost opaque, punctuated only by billions of wriggling krill and the dark outlines of kelp stalks. Here's a shot of a blue rockfish and lots of krill.

I think we ended up turning at about 2500 psi, after about 10 minutes of this, and immediately things began looking brighter.

After we'd surfaced in about 12' inside the cove we immediately encountered Andy swimming out with a float for use by his advanced class. We told him what he already knew: crappy.

On the plus side, we'd nailed our navigation, and the water had been a tropical 50˚f.

As we hauled out of the water I was sure we weren't going to do another dive. Some days are like that. But then the damn sun came out and everything got bright and warm. The wind hadn't really come up yet and the surface of the cove looked inviting. The warm was welcome to those of us in wetsuites, and i sat down and ate my sandwich, still skeptical about another dive.

My skepticism increased when Denise and Joy popped up 20 meters from the beach reporting, "murky, way murky!"

A couple of hours later, after we'd gone back and forth on whether to get back in the water, Anne and I realized that it would never be easier to go do a dive than it would be right then. All our stuff was right there, all put together and ready for use. And, ever optimistic, I thought, "maybe it's gotten better."

Here's Anne as we were on our way out of the cove. You can see Kevin with his back to us on the beach.

Actually, as we dropped for our second dive it was clear that things had gotten better, if only because the sun was out and enlivening the colors of the coraline algae and bat stars on the bottom. Vis had improved from 2-4 feet to 4-6 feet. Whoopee! Temps had dropped a bit from 50˚ to 48˚ but it didn't feel that cold.

We went straight out on 150˚ to make it easy and were thinking of finding the metridium wall out in about 45 feet of water.

One the way out we started seeing fish, mostly blue rockfish, and Anne found a small kelp crab.
That's her finger pointing to it. I found a Lemon Nudibranch, but the photo was destroyed by surge.

More tealia anemones and sunstars, but outside the cove we reentered the massive krill cloud and vis once again dropped to practically none. So, we turned.

On the way back we swam right over a medium sized Cabezon who wasn't afraid of having his picture taken. And by the time we'd got back into 25 feet of water or so the sunlight began opening up our path.
Having escaped the plague of krill, we lazily kicked back into the cove and the rocks, algae, bat stars, and kelp blazed with color. I remembered why I think Gerstle Cove is such a beautiful place to dive.

We congratulated ourselves on doing the second dive and persevering to see some pretty animals and underwater life. It was a feeling of completion which made the day worth it for us, having actually had fun underwater afterall. Once we were drying off in our lawn chairs on the beach, in the sunshine with other divers, all of whom had managed to have good dives despite the conditions, the sight of our four used (though still half-full) tanks made the beer taste that much better.

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