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Played with 7 dolphins for 10 mins at Ship Rock yesterday





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Posted by Ross-O on April 08, 2010 at 21:50:07:

The interesting parts are all on the videos. Hereís a link.

http://ross-o.smugmug.com/Underwater/Catalina-Isthmus-472010/11766977_7sft3#830912771_kZm89

If you want to hear me blab, read on.

Claudette and I played hookey for some mid-week diving and had an amazing day at the isthmus yesterday. The plan was 3 dives that would stretch the batteries of our scooters and our nitrogen saturation levels to the max (and try to stay out of deco). We planned to circumnavigate Ship Rock, Bird Rock, and then Isthmus reef. In general, we would skirt the reef/sand interface keeping our depths in the 60-120 ft range most of the time. Iím using a stock Cuda and Claudette is using a Sierra with the new Li-Ion battery (making it a Sierra Fury). We didnít do a lot of planning on the front end. The general idea was to go for as long as battery, decompression limit, or nitrox lasted and work together to get back to the boat should one of the 3 become an issue.

We started out at Ship Rock. About 20-30 minutes into the dive, I found a 10lb weight on the rocks and decided to save it for a buddy whoís getting into the sport and needs gear. I didnít know of a good way to carry it around for the next 40 minutes so I put it in my drysuit leg pocket. As expected, this screwed me all up for a minute as I tried to trim out and get neutral. Claudette was a little ways out in the blue water on the North side of the rock. I scooted out to join her and was trying to get comfortable with the new passenger on my left leg. About this time, 2 huge dolphins just swam right up to me! Iím not neutral and trimmed out, the camera is not in video mode, and hereís a freaking dolphin so close I can almost pet it! I figured that at best I would only 10 seconds so I fired off a few quick shots in auto mode just as the dolphins dashed off. Before they even got out of vis, two more joined them and they headed back! SWEET! Now Iím struggling to get the camera in video mode, Iím on the trigger with the noise pointed down because Iíve gotten a little too light while watching the dolphin and I havenít had time to dump yet, and Iím hoping Claudette is looking at me because I have no clue where she is! Iím running back and forth in the gears and SCHOOLING with the dolphins! This is absolutely unreal. I canít believe that Iím zooming back and forth with a pod of dolphins and theyíre only about 10 ft away. Theyíre actually being accommodating and slowing down for me at times. Iím getting off the trigger to keep from getting too close! I get to full speed, cruise with then for a few seconds, and then watch them blast off at multiples of my top speed. Iím giggling. I spin around, find Claudette, and we make silly hand signals at each other for a few seconds and then realize the dolphins are COMING BACK! This time there is 7 of them! We start zooming around and they play with us for a few minutes. The thing I learned about dolphins is they have no respect for constant depths. Theyíre just as happy swimming straight up or down as they are horizontally. Iím on the trigger with my right hand and trying to keep them in frame on the camera in my left hand (this leaves no hands for holding my nose to clear). Iím having a hard time knowing where Claudette is and weíre out in the blue water somewhere off Ship Rock. Iím going down in the water column until my ear drums are about to pop and I let go, clear, look for Claudette, and blast off again. Ascents are easy because I can see the sun/surface and know to slow down. Going down gives little clue other than ear pain in the blue water since Iím in a blue sphere and canít look at my depth gauge while chasing dolphins and trying to video them. All in all, the dolphins hang around for about 10 mins. Itís been 33 hours now and Iím still grinning! In about 650 SoCal dives, Iíve seen a dolphin only once and it only hung around 10 seconds. This time I get 10 minutes. I had a scooter this time. Iím positive that it made the difference. We made it back around the rock and hung out in the fish bowl and played with a few very friendly sea lions until I didnít have another breath in my tank. What an incredible experience!

The next dive was Bird Rock. The notable thing here was a school of about 50 juvenile sealions that followed us around and played with us on the North side of the rock. We went all the way around and played in the shallow kelp for a good 10 minutes at the end.

We finished up by anchoring in the NW corner of Isthmus Reef. We knew this was going to be the longest dive, and after almost 2 hours of trigger time and a lot of residual nitrogen, I was a bit worried about battery capacity and having the bottom time to do the profile I wanted. It turns out that the Cuda and Sierra Li-Ion had no problem and our use of Nitrox 32-34 was perfect. Neither scooter stuttered and although both of computers were down to the single minutes at 40-50 ft near the end, we stayed out of deco . We were on the trigger for probably another 50 minutes to make it around this one. It was amazing to see all sides of this massive reef in one dive! We found many cool walls, crevices, and overhangs that were just spectacular on this dive and the Bird Rock dive. We found a bunch of cute little rays on this dive and had more sea lion fun.

When I got home, I checked the minimum possible distances using my GIS software. Here are the results.

Ship = 1700 ft
Bird = 3000 ft
Isthmus reef = 3900 ft
Total = 8600ft = 1.63 miles J

What an amazing day! Over 3 hours of bottom time and probably 2 miles of scootering! Vis ranged from a smoky 30-40ft in spots to probably 80ft out in the Blue water or deeper spots. It came and went. Claudetteís theory is that the invasive sargassum is messing with the vis in spots.

The crossing was fairly flat letting us run at 22-24 knots the whole way. We had dolphins or whales around us about half of the time. One whale surfaced only about 50 feet from the boat. He was so close that we could see the markings on his side. The whole day was just crazy fun. I canít wait for the next trip. This is going to be a GREAT summer!

I couldn't have asked for a better buddy for this adventure. I only wish more of you could have been with us!

Cheers,
Ross-O



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