Monday, February 22, 2010

Lessons learned at Redondo.

At 6am Scot, Dana and I loaded up The Great Blue Whale (Scot's truck) and headed to Redondo Beach on the Poverty Bay of Federal Way, WA. Thanks to good company, the 3 hour drive up went by like a flash (despite stops for coffee and breakfast). Standing in the parking lot on a bright sunny day with not a single cloud in the sky, the water was rimmed in the distance by the snow capped mountains. The view topside alone made the trip worth it. But we had the real adventure still to come.

(I do not have an underwater camera and won't for some time. So I'll rely on the photos of those who have come before me. Again, thanks Dana! She took these on a previous trip to Redondo and they are pretty illustrative of what we saw.)

The parking lot was filled with cars, a few of them divers. A lot of smiles, welcomes, and chats resulted.

It took us forever to gear up. Dana has the patience of a saint with me (and Scot dotes on me). No doubt my double fisting of caffeine that morning led to my anxiety, which slows me down. New rule: no caffeine 24 hours before diving. None. Nada. Zip. Wearing a steel 95 for the first time, plus being grossly overweighted put a bigger strain on me physically, too. By the time we got into the water, I was downright jittery.

After a leisurely swim to the end of the pier we dropped down--Scot and I quite literally like rocks. Can you get narc'd in 25 feet of water? As we acclimated, I realized I was hyperventilating: short, sharp gasps off the reg that were totally unfulfilling. So heavy, I was putting crazy amounts of air in just to stay off the bottom. After almost getting it tweaked right, though, I found myself on the bottom again, and realized I'd purged instead of filled. Looking at the inflator in my hand I said said to myself, "What the hell is this?" Suddenly, I forgot how to use it. An insane chatter in my brain rose to a crescendo and I realized, without any real panic, that I had just lost it. Luckily, my brain's default response was to say, "STOP! CENTER! BREATHE!" I did, feeling a bit better. As we hadn't begun our descent from there, I got the attention of Dana and Scot and gave the thumbs up.

By the time we surfaced, I was "back to normal" and saying, "WTF was that!?" What a bizarre experience, and one I'll never forget.

Down we go again, and the anxiety drains away as the pure joy of being in the water returns.  The trip down was easy thanks to a thick rope to follow. Equalizing happens for me without thought on a first dive. Along the way there are Metridium anemones, crabs, fish, and the most beautiful (and HUGE) sea stars. The anemones are thick and fleshy, you just want to grab and squeeze them! Visibility seemed good from what I've heard. I'm bad at estimating, but I'd say 15 feet.

Topside, a lot of my anxiety is attached to a number. Before I knew it, we were at the old sunken boat, 84 feet underwater. It felt good. Looking up into the the soft green fuzz, I breathed a sign of relief. Not because I was glad we'd finally got there, but because I was glad we were there.

The boat was full of shrimp, spread out along its surface equidistant. The lair of the octo was obvious, but he didn't appear to be home. Schools of long, slim silver fish hovered above us, their ranks disappearing into the green fuzz, all turning at the same time to deliver a disco-ball like wave of light. Once, we all paused for a time to look at something, and as I looked over at Dana I saw a school of long, slim, hog nosed fish had settled in between us; they looked to be saying, "Hey, what are we looking at?" Scot showed me a small baby sea star; amazing to think they grow into the big ones.

We weren't down long, only about 30 minutes because none of our tanks had a good fill and Dana, leading, had a notable leak to boot so she dictated the turn.

Returning to the truck, we ditched weight; the 10 lb vest I was wearing stayed at the truck. It seems silly to be on dive 20something and still not know what weight, but as this was really only my 3rd and 4th "real" cold water dive, we wanted to make sure we got down (and didn't have to trek across the parking lot again for more weight). Scot unloaded a similar amount of weight. We snacked, rested, rehydrated (but not too much...).

The start of our second dive was sublime; the descent felt slow and controlled, and establishing buoyancy was a snap. Dana had equilizing problems, and had to call it. After insuring she was okay, we asked it it was okay if we went down again and tootled around a bit and she agreed. How great it feels when you've got things dialed in right. We just played around sea stars and what not, and went back up quickly as we'd promised. "Never leave a buddy" includes not leaving them standing alone in a parking lot.  =-)  We'll just have to see the Volkswagen next time.

Scot and I agree an overnight stay would be worth it, just to get two good dives on each of two days. There are a lot of great diving sites in the sound, and this is a good place to get some practice in thanks to the one deep dive and the other shallow dive. With Dash Point state park right nearby, it would be a great cheap fun weekend. Well, cheap is relative: gear rental plus gas plus lodging...

The highlight for me was the tiny half-dollar sized jellyfish I followed. He was a beautiful milky white, thin and filmy, about the size of a good sized button mushroom. He was the little baby cousin of the huge dinner plate sized one I saw off the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys. I LOVE jellies (especially small, non stinging ones), and being able to be with one in their own environment was wondrous. 

On the way home we stopped at Norma's off exit 114 for burgers and shakes. As we'd just thrown the gear into the back of the truck, we sorted it out piece by piece once home. My plans to hang and rinse it all fell to the call of puppies wanting to snuggle in bed -- they'd seen us take all the gear bags out and clearly thought we were gone for another trip. 

I'm awake at 5am for some reason; thought I'd get an early start on the cleaning so I can really start the day with a trip to the dog park with both of them. 

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