Trip report (long), Saturday 3/11/00

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Posted by Curt Billings on March 12, 2000 at 13:07:31:

Friday morning, the swell model was double scale and reporting 9+ in the outer waters. The rains had finally stopped. The WAM forecast showed the Saturday swell to subside a bit and then to increase for the next day. It looked marginal that we would make Nic for our planned Saturday dive. Time is running out with the close of the lobster season just a week and a half away. We need some luck and a good determined boat captain to make it happen.

I got a number of calls from divers that were indecisive about going. Everybody is a weatherman this week and they are all asking me for my prediction. I say, I think it is 50/50 but I think we will make it to Nic. We did it last year on the Great Escape under similar conditions. That evening when I get to the boat we still have some open spots left. The swell model is laying down and it is now single scale. Apparently this was a missed opportunity for some staying home to mow their lawns.

At the dock the Westerly diveboat is loading up with the Douglas diveclub group. They are also going to Nic. The Sea Divers are going to Nic on the Great Escape. Will both boats make it to Nic or somewhere else?

The Great Escape departs promptly at 11pm. Immediately out of the harbor, the lumpy seas forewarn of a pending disappointment. It is a long ride to Nic and there are other islands on the way to tuck into if the conditions get worse. While resting in the bunk or stateroom you can judge by the running time, and the direction of the swells hitting the boat, if the boat changes course or stops short. It was a long lumpy night and the swells kept coming from the same direction until about 4 or so hours into the crossing. Then, the swells began to rock the boat more off the starboard side. A change of course? maybe, or maybe were are heading to San Clemente, the island of the shorts, oh gads. A deep sleep is near impossible with the constant rocking and occasional creek and thump that is heard and felt as the 80' boat slides up a swell and settles down into the next trough. I will find out soon enough where we end up. I would prefer Santa Barbara Island for a fall back over San Clemente - I have never been disappointed with the bugs at Barbara. The boat keeps motoring well past 4 hours, so we must be going to Clemente or Nic, but not Barbara.

Our clubs plan was to hit Nic in the predawn, on first arrival, to grab a few nocturnal bugs out walking around. So I get up about 5am while the boat is still motoring and check the horizon. Nic! What a pleasant surprise.

The wind is blowing a bit making a nice dicey chop of the sea on the surface. So Capt. Tim heads west along the south shore for some wind protection by island. With the added distance we loose the predawn advantage. No problem, it is a beautiful day, the sun is just breaking the horizon, and it appears we are the ONLY dive boat at Nic! Capt Tim says the wind was howling at Santa Barbara so what the hell let's go to Nic. I think, Damn, I like this boat.

Terry May and Mike Kane are divemastering this trip. The predive instructions are concise and to the point. They are expert divemasters and it is a privilege to be diving under their watch. If you are experienced and want to dive a backpack or solo, they can spot you out of a crowd no questions, no oppressive rules. If you are less experienced and need some help with your gear, they are observant and ready to help. It is nice to know that if someone in the club should forget to put their fins on before jumping off or some other lame trick we have all done at one time or another they can bail your butt out of the situation. If this happens to you remember to tip heavily at the end of the trip :)

For San Nic trips, our club limits the gate times to 30 minutes, to ensure 4 dives. At the dive spot the frenzy begins. The first dive begins like a fire drill for most. However, others are going to start the day a little more leisurely by beginning with the second dive. For me I am one of the firsts in with my wife Doris in hot pursuit. We strategically planned to go deep. The vis good, probably 35', but who's paying attention to that. In a few minutes we find 3 bugs nestled together. The first one and easiest to get appears to be short. I grab it and gauge it just to be sure. I unlatch my bag for the rest, a bit anxious I guess. The shorty is tossed into the current and swims away. The other two bugs that are disturbed by the commotion are hunkering down. Doris has moved to the opposite side of the tunnel they are in to grab at any backdoor escapees. Her light is drawing their attention and they turn towards her. One bug decides to turn and walks to my direction right into my hands. Grabbed, gauged, and bagged. The next one has disappeared. Doris points to her left with a motion of her light. Ah ha, I see it, I reach in and tickle it's tail, it actually turns its tail more towards me and backs right into my hands, go figure. Grabbed, gauged, and bagged. The water temp is in the mid to low 50's, we are not cold yet so we scout around some more at 80' and then head to the boat.

Back on the boat Rhonda is cooking. What a dream. Rhonda cooked for years on the Atlantis and the smell of hot chocolate chip cookies at the end of the dive day is a memory many of us will never forget. She cooked for a short while on the Great Escape in its first year but left to work other boats. Well, sheeeee's baaaaack! The breakfast she serves has her special touches on it that makes it a great meal.

After a short move to a secret spot at Dutch Harbor, they are all secret, right, well we hit the water again. This time Doris stays topside to warm her hands that are paralyzed from the cold water. I am off and soon find a bug in a flat crevice. I spotted the bug from the side and she can go anywhere to escape, it doesn't look good. I will give it a minute or two for the catch before I resume the search for another. I move to face the lobster tucked in her lair. Oh, the nasty urchins have done me a favor and blocked the sides to her escapes. How nice, I lunge in with both hands and make the steal. That is three and I love this game. I spent some more time at 60-70' but nothing was producing so I headed back to the boat. A lot of times, divers in their rush to get away from the boat overlook the obvious, under the boat. Before heading to the surface I scout out around the boat and find a nice group of bugs sitting in a crevice under the stern at 40'. I look up and watch as some divers are climbing up on the swim step. Back in the crevice there is one bug bigger then the rest in this group of 3 and I reach for her. Silly girl must have been sleeping 'cause it was too easy. I fumble with latch on my bag an as I open it. The one bug that is inside has its tail pointed out the opening ready to bolt. The water is numbing my hands and I struggle a bit to shove the latest addition into the bag without loosing the first bug. Got 'em both in, I leave the rest for someone else and head topside for some sun.

We are diving our schedule as planned. Capt. Tim asks if we want to stay put and do a longer gate time for dives 3 and 4, or move. We respond, "We want to move for dive 4." We want to cover as much fresh territory as possible.

After a short move the third dive was jinxed for me. I got tangled up in the air whip in my exit from the boat and lost sight of Doris on her way down. I followed some bubbles only to find Delaney rising to the surface. We surface together and he in no way looks like Doris, I was quite disappointed. Delaney lost his game bag and the crew tossed him another. As it turned out, Doris was still below, she found a game bag and was bringing it to the surface while I was on the surface looking for her. I looked on the surface for a while and then dove. We passed liked elevators moving in opposite directions and did the rest of our dives separately. No bugs were seen. It was jinxed I tell you.

We moved east to dive spot 4. Doris is on the now Great Escape verandah soaking in the warm sun on a beautiful clear day. I headed below the surface and scanned the 50-60' range. It was barren to the south, but I went looking for a rock outcropping or two. After a few minutes I found some rocks but the bugs were gone. I followed some ridges north that turned into broken sandstone plates. After a while I spotted two bugs together, half exposed from the overhang of a rock plate. With a swoop with both hands the two are grabbed before they can move. One is placed under my arm and one I hold in my hand. Because of the cold water I grope with my free hand at opening the bag. Delaney shows ups like a vulture looking for scraps and I latch on tight to my catch. He offers assistance and I reluctantly release the one under my arm to him, this is a short term loan only. We gauge and bag my catch and we are off in our own directions in search for more. I am feeling content and the warmth of the sun is becoming more important to me as I search for another bug. After a few moments I head back to the boat.

Topside, Rhonda is laying out the lunch feast. Without divulging all of her secrets at one sitting let's just say the side dish of Miso soup she has prepared has everybody going back for thirds. After lunch, a hot shower, and stowing the gear I head for the verandah. Grab a chair, prop the feet on the rail, and pop the cork off an '95 Edgewood Petite Sarah. The smooth velvety aroma portends to a nice afternoon of sun worship and conversation.

In a little while deckhand Hollywood says Capt. Tim is cutting the corners to get us back early. We analyze this for awhile and question why he would not always take the most direct route. Then we figure, ah Hollywood, he is just working the crowd. Capt. Tim spots a whale for us and later while passing the west end of Catalina some porpoise do acrobatic jumps in the wake. One jumps 10' in the air. It was one of those marvelously clear winter days where you could see Nic, Clemente, Barbara, Catalina, PV and the snow capped Mt Baldy/Mt. Wilson mountains at one sitting. Back at the dock, a little after 6pm, to bad the day had come to an end. Next month, we hope for more fun, a dive to the backside of San Clemente, is our intended run.

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