Dive Report - Before the Storm - 03/24/12

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Posted by Patrick on March 27, 2012 at 16:31:44:

It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually it was a cold and dreary morning, but I love that opening…
The plan was to run to Catalina and do some diving in the 50-70 foot visibility that was reported on Friday.
Man plans.
The Gods laugh.

Our plan was to meet the Moby Kate at the Cabrillo launch ramp at 07:30. The boat crew call came at 07:00: We hit something on the freeway. Bent a rim and have a flat on the boat trailer.
The remainder of the flat tire ordeal is too painful to go into. Sufficed to say, quarter to ten found us at the Marina del Rey launch ramp operating on plan “B”. Catalina was out, Santa Monica Bay was in.
It was decided to make the first dive on the Hyperion pipe off El Segundo. By the time Andy completed the first jump the previously gray skies were beginning to show large areas of blue and the sun was driving the overcast away. His only comment as he came aboard was “the vis. is pretty good and there’s lots of sex.”
With a recommendation like that who would even hesitate?
Cindy and I rolled in a few moments after Bill McDonald and we descended into cool, greenish water with large, stringy wads of sea-snot drifting by in a mild current. At about 30 to 35-feet there was a thermocline and visibility zoomed out to about 40 feet. It took a minute to decide whether the increased visibility was worth the temperature drop. I was stunned by the cold and a quick check of my computer informed me that we were marinating in 49° water! On surfacing, Cindy said she did half the dive with a Margarita/ice cream headache, but the vis and the critters were way better than either tequila or butter pecan.
The visibility on the pipe was amazing. I believe the pipe sections are 15-feet long and you could easily see four segments in the cold, clear water. With that visibility, the subjects available for the photographers (Cindy and Bill) were myriad. In a level just above the bottom, there was a current-driven layer loaded with all manner of pelagics. The ctenophores and jellyfish that Max, Merry and Kevin were looking for offshore were for some reason in 100 feet of water right along the coast.
On the bottom, it was as Andy said – SEX everywhere! There were cancer crabs (and other crabs) everywhere on the pipe and on the bottom nearby; if it wasn’t a male and female making babies, it was a Momma with a load of eggs in her apron.

Momma Crab with an apron full of eggs

In some places along the pipe hubs there would be up to a dozen crustacean lovers doing the deed for the future crab population.

Looking for Mr. or Miss RightCrab

Not just Cancer crabs had the urge

Another Momma with an apron full of eggs

Apparently there was something in the water, because there were numerous Daddy cabazon, nest-sitting on and along the pipe as well. Amongst the crabs, cabazon, shrimp, octopus and the kelp, Corynactis and other inverts on the structure, there were subjects enough to keep the photogs busy for much longer that the two dives we did there.

Piasters group grope on the pipe

With conditions so good on the typically murky Hyperion Pipe, it was decided to run north and do a final dive of the day on my favorite Santa Monica Bay wreck, the Star of Scotland.

Star of Scotland off Santa Monica - 1941

We grappled up on the Star and prepared to dive. Bill whose batteries had died for his UW electric heater vest declined to make the jump, and it was his loss. The Star lived up to her name! Again we found 49° water (Ice cream headache!) but with visibility in the 40-50 foot range with the long stringy sea snot globs marring the otherwise beautiful visibility. Not the best I’ve ever seen it, but the best I’ve seen it in a long time.

From where our grapple hooked, port side, midships, we swam forward happily killing pixels and taking in the magnificent expanse of this amazing artificial reef.

With the exceptional vis, it was easy to see recent, large areas of collapse. The section above the engine has fallen free and lays on top of the triple-expansion steam engine cylinders. Large roving packs of huge barred sand bass roamed the edges and across the wreck, some of them big enough to be mistaken for small Black Sea Bass.

Sand Bass taking a rest on the Star

The water clarity provided the ambient light that caused the Corynactis-carpeted wreck to just glow with their vibrant colors.

Toward the bow, there was more damage – probably caused by poor anchoring – that dragged a large section of steel plate clear up on to the aft section of the bow. I hate to see this kind of damage, obviously caused by inept or unthinking skippers. The wreck is showing her years and certainly doesn’t need any additional damage from these yahoo captains.

Steel plate ripped up and dragged to the aft end of the forecastle

After shooting the bow, we continued on a grand tour of the Star, moving aft down the starboard side. Just forward of midships we found a base-line laid with a tag showing the owner as something called Los Angeles Underwater Explorers. Anybody know who these folks are and what the line is for?
All too soon we were at the stern and running out of air and bottom time.

With a few last pictures and great regret, I gently freed our grapple and we began our ascent. On the way up we again noticed the stringy schumtz in the water and later, decided that all the small schmutz that had been killing the visibility for the last month or so had coagulated into these bigger structures leaving more clear water which we got to enjoy.
For a day that began so inauspiciously, it turned out to be a magnificent day of diving.
Of course, is there any other kind?
Stay wet.

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