Sunday, August 31, 2008

Prepaing to Dive

After many months of practice and just plain fun paddling around La Jolla and Pacific Beach I decided that it was time to prepare to dive from my kayak. I checked out a few websites dedicated to the sport of kayak diving. Here are a couple I found….KAYAK DIVING & FISHING, Surfing, Exploring, and Play! & kayak diving. No reason to completely reinvent the wheel. Might as well learn from the experiences of others. In fact, this is one of the purposes in creating this blog.

One of the first problems to address is what to do with your kayak while you are off of it diving. On the websites I visited there were a number of different solutions. First was actually towing the kayak with you as you dive. And the other is to anchor the kayak. I chose to go for anchoring the kayak. Here is why.

In San Diego, and most of California we have Macrocystis Kelp. If you are not familiar with this type of Kelp here is a brief (layman’s) description of the plant. The Kelp plant is attached to the bottom (or other solid structure) by means of a holdfast. This loosely resembles a root system of a tree growing in a mangrove. From the holdfast long strands of rubbery "vines" extend up through the water column to reach the surface and then lay across the surface. Depending on the density of the kelp bed there may or may not be channels of open water between the kelp plants. So, if you were to use the technique of towing your kayak while diving in Kelp this could lead to some very severe entanglement problems.

For the conditions most likely to be encountered in Southern California, I think anchoring is the best solution. At sites without kelp towing may be an option. However, doing this will restrict your freedom depending on how long you tow line is. Another option, which I have yet to explore, is to have a line and reel similar to what one might use while diving a wreck. This would have two benefits. You could tie it off to your anchor line and therefore make it easy to find your way back to your kayak. And it would also allow you to know if something was happening to your kayak on the surface while you are diving.

So I went to the local kayak shop and purchased myself an anchor. The sales person sold me an anchor with fold up blades. It weighs 3 lb. I also bought a dive flag, some wooden dowels and found some closed cell foam packing material. I attached the dive flag to the wooden dowel (4 feet) and glued on the closed cell foam. I put this in one of the scuppers to let people know that there is a diver below and that this is not a derelict vessel. After testing the flag set up I found that I must waterproof the wooden dowel or use plastic for the pole.

I took my kayak out in to Mission Bay to test the anchor. At the time there was a slight incoming tide and so a bit of a current to test the holding power of the anchor. There was little to no wind pushing against me while sitting in the kayak. The bottom of Mission Bay in this area is flat and muddy. There are no rocks or other features that the anchor can lodge in. I anchored next to a marker buoy so I could determine if I was drifting at all. Within a few minutes it was obvious that the anchor was not sufficiently holding me in place. This was frustrating. So now I had to figure out what I could do to solve this problem.

Being cheap (or frugal) I did not really want to purchase a new anchor. Besides, this one might work just fine in a rocky reef where there are bottom features it can hook onto. So what I did was to get one of my extra Zeagle™ weight pouches and a carabiner. I put a few soft weights in the pouch and shot it down the anchor line after the anchor. I tested this system in the ocean, with swells and currents and wind. It held me in place just fine, even with me sitting on the kayak and all the wind resistance that creates. And if I wish, I can swim to the anchor line and detach the weight pouch prior to surfacing. That way I avoid having to pull up a heavier anchor.

That problem solved now I wanted to practice loading my dive gear onto my kayak. I went to La Jolla Shores and brought my dive gear and kayak to the sand on the boat launch. Being by myself I had to leave the gear on the beach while I parked the car. That was a little nerve racking. But when I am really going to be diving I will have a buddy with me and one can stay with the equipment while the other parks the car.

I took the kayak loaded with all my dive gear and went paddling out. The dive gear does add quite a lot of weight and drag. Even though I am able to paddle my kayak from La Jolla to Pacific Beach and back I wonder how far I can paddle with a full load. I know I can do it from LJS to Scripp’s Canyon dive site, having done that many years ago. And I am in better shape now.

My Scrambler XL has a tank well in the rear for the tank BCD set up. My kayak has bungies going across the tank well. I did flip the kayak in the surf zone and found that they would hold. However, there is a chance that the bungy could come loose from the kayak and dump my gear. I think I will get some more secure straps. For my mask, fins and other peripheral dive gear I like to put it all in a goody bag and stow it up in the front equipment well. That way it is together and will not be floating away from me while driving out or coming back through the surf. I did notice one very significant benefit to having the dive gear in the kayak. When coming back through the surf I am tail-end heavy. This extra weight in the back makes it easier to get in through the surf to the beach without tripping the kayak.

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