Dive Report: Peace 2-Day: San Miguel, Oil Rig Grace, Anacapa

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Posted by CompuDude on May 09, 2006 at 17:20:27:

I posted this on ScubaBoard, too, but I figured this would be a good place, as well, since the Diver.Net BBS was so topical over the weekend. :-)

Randy and I had a great trip on the Peace this past weekend: a Friday-Saturday two day dive trip to the northern stretches of SoCal. This was also the shakedown cruise for my new camera, a Canon S80 with the Ikelite case. I'm happy to report the diffuser worked fine and the internal flash will serve me just fine until I can afford an external strobe. (I need to find a good way to retain the diffuser plate, however... I almost lost it on the first dive!)

Photos are posted here: http://www.kalani.net/scuba/pix.html (I highly recommend the larger viewing window... click the thumbnail and go through the 800x600 size shots instead of just looking at the thumbnails.)

We departed Thursday evening, and, after some last-minute scrambling around Ventura to find an open internet connection to email my wife some documents from my laptop, the boat set out around midnight. We were pleasantly surprised to see Deb Karimoto (frequent poster here) on the ship, too, as well as Randog's wife's instructor, Karen, and Chris Grossman (owner of diver.net). We probably turned in later than we should have.


We awoke early Friday morning off the coast of San Miguel Island and immediately geared up to hit the water. Our first dive was at Boomarang, a deeper dive of around 90 feet. Strong surge and current really pushed us around and made shooting difficult, but the visibility was great, showing us vast fields of strawberry anenome-covered rocks with tons of acorn barnacles, chestnut cowry's, stars, and hermissendas, and the like. Then, as an added bonus, we saw a cone jelly floating by during our safety stop.

I bowed out of the next two dives, unfortunately, due to an unexpected (and unprecedented) bout of seasickness, but later that afternoon, I was ready to go again, and had a great dive Lover's Cove. Saw a neat free swimming kelp crab on the way down. There was a HUGE hatch of krill (sea monkeys!) that made visibility a challenge, and it was quite odd to swim though a soup of creatures like that, but it was still interesting, and there was plenty to see. There were tons of hermissendas, some sort of very neat red and white polka-dotted anenomes, some truly monstrous sunflower stars (and one baby one!), and other various flora and fauna. Overall, a very pleasant dive. Sadly, in my eagerness to get back into water I forgot to change my camera battery and it died 15 minutes into the dive.

Our last dive of the day was a short distance away at Hare Rock, and still on the fringes of the krill cloud, but a current soon cleared things up. With a fresh battery, I saw tons of hermissendas, spanish shawls, and a couple other nudi's, and several large ling cods who proved to be cooperative photo subjects. A couple of sea lions dive bombed us, periodically, checking out what we were doing, and zooming away before you could even bring the camera around. There was also a fairly large school of blue rockfish feeding on the krill at the edge of the cloud. The neatest thing I saw was a black-eyed goby trying to eat a hermissenda! I missed the first shot where the thing was hanging mostly out of it's mouth, but I got a couple good shots in showing hermi bits poking out. Great stuff!

We again stayed up until well after midnight, socializing and enjoying a killer tri tip meal and far too much dessert, and going over the day's pictures with ID pros Debbie, and another lady (who happened to be an expert at fish identification... she literally "wrote the book"... one of the main SoCal Fish ID books! I can't recall her name, though... Debbie? care to refresh my memory?) but eventually we all turned in and slept like the dead.


The following morning we woke up early and watched the first group hit the oil rig: "Grace." We were split into two groups (about 10 each) so the group could exit as quickly as possible and the boat could pull away before the seas pitched it into the structure... a live drop. (there is a massive 250mb 1min video of the entire drop on my photo site... I'll crunch it smaller when I have time.) When the first group returned, it was our turn. Randog and I chose to giant stride in with our cameras, but others were handed their cameras once they reached the inside of the rig by a DM in a dinghy, again, to prevent delays. It was entertaining to watch the large group of resident sea lions circle the boat, clearly interested in the commotion. Once we got below, they mostly dive bombed us sporadically, checking in to see what we were up to and then zooming off.

We had heard from the first group that the vis was pretty soupy even as far down as 135 feet, and that the flora and fauna was fairly similar throughout as well, so we descended to approx 105 feet, confirmed this, and decided to spend the rest of our air at more conservative depths to extend our dive time. The structure was fascinating, for my first oil rig dive. The struts and legs of the rig were absolutely covered on every square inch by life growing on top of life. There was very odd current that swirled throughout the place... not super strong, but in 6 directions... you never knew where you were going to be pushed next. And because there was no bottom and no rocks to hold onto, taking pictures could sometimes be a real challenge.

We were rewarded, however, with a stunning vista a life. The struts I mentioned were absolutely thick with strawberry anenomies and metridiums, some star fish, and more scallops than have any right to be in one place. Had I been taking game, I could have limited out on scallops in under 5 minutes, or basically as fast as I could fill a game bag with a lift bag attached! A few greenlings and cabazons were about, although they were quite skittish. I also came across a really cool jellyfish in the middle of the water column with an electric light show running up and down it's sides. I wish I had shot video of it, but I did get some shots. Literally looked like lines of LEDs flashing different colors in sequence to some trance DJ's dub.

After a surface interval when the first group went back in, we went in a second time. I had an odd issue with my new camera: For some reason it was zoomed in to the max, and would not pull back to wide angle. I didn't notice until I was already well under, and could not fix the problem through the housing, so I had to make do. It's hard to shoot macro zoomed in that far... you have to do it from a foot and half away to get the focus right! Very tough in any circumstances, and worse with only the internal strobe. Oddly enough, however, I managed to get a few decent shots, and some of them had a dreamy quality that I would be hard pressed to replicate on purpose. The second dive was much the same as first aside from that, although Randog and I found some fairly large crabs (although with my camera issues, the shots came out poorly). I also got some neat shots of brittle stars floating down the water column after having been knocked off the struts by bubbles.

Two dives was all we got at the oil rig, so after that it back to land... by way of Anacapa. We squeezed in two more dives, although I was tired and passed on the second. The first spot was at the "Coral Reef" site. (Every dive spot in the world as a "coral reef" and a "coral gardens", have you ever noticed?)

Anacapa was a nice, relaxing dive, though, with much of the usual suspects. Found a crevice with easily 15 lobsters hanging out (including a couple BIG ones!), guarded by two very annoyed garibaldi's, stumbled across a couple of painted greenlings "chittering" at each other... getting ready to mate or fight was anyone's guess. I also found an enormous ling cod... biggest I've ever seen... it's head was almost as big as mine! It was kind enough to sit still for many pictures, glaring and Randog and I as we took turns snapping away.

All too soon, we were packed up and headed back to Ventura. Debbie and I made quite the picture, sipping wine in the hot tub, finally relaxing completely after the long journey. What a great weekend! :D


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