Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dive the "Far Kelp Beds"

Kayak Dive #3
Kelp Bed NNW of Children’s Pool
August 23, 2009
Descent Time; 0854
Depth; 49
Bottom Time; 00:37

When I awoke this morning at 0600 it was overcast with a thick Marine Layer of clouds, not unknown at this time of year, but more common in May and June where this weather pattern actually has a name, May Gray and June Gloom. Because it is not usual, and nothing easily rhymes with August, it does not have a name and sometimes confuses San Diego natives. We claim this is weird weather. I am not sure if it is true. I think it happens often, if less, and burns off sooner, than in the previous months. We are supposed to have hot, sunny days with large thunderheads forming out east over the mountains. And in fact, this is what we have right now. The Marine layer is confined to the immediate coast.

Most of my dive gear was already in the car. I just gathered together my dive computer, log book, and hot water bottles (for my aprés-dive warm water "shower". Comfort is essential). Brought those out to the car and drove to La Jolla. I arrived at the boat launch early and set up my kayak and loaded all my dive gear. Jeff, my dive buddy, arrived a short time later. He started setting up his gear and we discussed where to go. My two choices were a deep dive in the South Branch of Scripps Canyon or out to what I call "The Far Kelp Beds." These are just to the north-northwest of The Children’s Pool. It is out here where most of the kayak fishermen spend a great deal of time. And it is here that I have paddled to see Gray Whales during the late winter, early spring. We decided to paddle out to The Far Kelp Bed.

There was a forecast of high surf. But it had not materialized anywhere near La Jolla Shores. We could see breakers over at Boomer Beach. Which indicated that if there is any high surf it is on the southwest facing beaches. But here there were only small ankle slappers with the occasional set of one-footers. Launching and paddling was so easy. And it seemed like we were just gliding effortlessly over the surface. I mentioned this to Jeff and he agreed it was remarkably calm.

In the surf-zone at The Shores we saw a couple of good-sized Leopard Sharks (for those of you not familiar with local shark species these are not Tiger Sharks). Just past the surf we encountered a school of bait fish jumping up out of the water as if being pursued me some large carnivore. Often, when I see this phenomena, I remark that that must be what is happening. Very rarely do I see what is actually chasing them. We paddled over to the spot and as we got close observed the dorsal and tail fin of a Leopard Shark beak the surface in a frenzied attempt at getting a meal.

An extraordinarily smooth paddle out to our chosen dive site. On the way out we passed a kayak fisherman coming back in. Jeff asked how the fishing was. He held up a good-sized sea bass of some type. Jeff turned to me and commented that someone was going to have some really tasty fish tacos tonight. We anchored the kayaks in water about 45 feet deep. Shallow enough for me to use my anchor. I have not yet gotten a longer anchor line. When anchoring in deeper water (like the last dive at Quast Rock) I just tie of to Jeff’s kayak. I could have done that here, but it is good practice for me to deploy my own anchor.

Now for the hard part, getting my step-in wetsuit top zipped up. I struggled for a bit trying to do it on my kayak. I was having a little trouble. Trouble that I did not have the last time out. So I jumped in the water to zip it up. There was no current so I was able to stay near my kayak even without my fins. But I was still unable to pull up my zipper. I kept trying but it would not come. Then suddenly my hand flew up out of the water and nearly hit me in the forehead. My zipper pull had broken off in my hand. I thought for a moment what I should do and informed Jeff of the problem. But the water seemed very warm. So I told him I would just go. The straps of my dive gear would hold together my wetsuit top. After a 1 ½ to 2-mile paddle I was not going make Jeff paddle back without diving. It turned out that the water was very warm and there was no change in temperature from the surface down to our deepest depth. And I was quite warm even with my jacket open. My farmer john was sufficient. I might have even been warm enough without the top at all. Reflecting after the dive, I think I had not zipped up my top enough prior to getting on my kayak. Now I must get that repaired.

After getting all our gear on we dropped down the anchor lines onto the rocky reef below. This area of the reef has a low rocky profile. Not the dramatic rocky out-croppings in some reefs closer to shore and along the sites south of here. Visibility was about twenty plus feet horizontally, and we could see up to the surface, though hazy, at 45 feet. The surge at depth was light with an occasional moderate set rolling through that only required us to kick a little to stay in one place. But not strong enough to require that we hang on to rocks or kelp strands.

A fairly dense and healthy kelp bed covers the area, providing a wide variety of habits for different sea creatures, from the bottom dwellers in the rocks and kelp holdfasts to the swimmers and crawlers that live in the vertical water/kelp column. We saw all the regular reef inhabitants. (I use this phrase when nothing outstanding or rare was observed. That does not mean it was a boring dive.)

But we did run across one interesting find on this area of the reef. Heading west from our anchor lines I spotted a cable or rope about a half inch thick held to the bottom with what appeared to be a large Railroad spike. The rope was fixed to this spike and led in and east/west direction along the reef. Tied at 20 foot intervals from the spike were orange plastic ribbons. It appeared the rope had been there for quite some time as there was a fuzz of alga growth. But the ribbons indicated it had recently been tended to, as these ribbons would not last for too many months in this environment. I followed the rope and came across a few more orange ties. Then I spotted another rope over to the right paralleling this one. Swimming over to that I spotted yet another line. The ropes and ties seemed to form some kind of research grid. At least that was my surmise. I will have to post this find to Divebums and see what I can find out. Following one of the ropes I found something that showed they had been there for quite a while. One of the ropes led right through the middle of a large kelp holdfast. It was about two feet across. For a holdfast to get this size takes some time, even with the rapidity of growth that the kelp plant has. (I received a reply from a Scripps researcher complete with an article about the research.)

We explored for a little more. Jeff took some photos of marine life and me. Following the cables back we came to our anchor lines. They reached straight up into the kelp showing that there was little or no current. We surfaced and reversed the process of stowing all our gear and getting in. I was able to get my tank assembly up on to my kayak without assistance. This is a satisfying accomplishment. My kayak does not have a covered hold to stow my weights in. So I must leave them in by Buoyancy device. That makes it considerably heavier and not easy to lug up onto the kayak. But I have developed a way to do it. I gather all the hoses and gauges and secure them tightly with my BCD straps. Then I belly up on the opposite side of the kayak from my BC, grab it and lift it up while sliding down into the water. This brings it up into the tank well. Then I secure the bungees get up on my kayak and take off my fins, gloves, hood, and wetsuit top. And I am ready to paddle back.

We turned to shore and headed back to the boat launch. The sun was starting to burn off the Marine layer and it was getting warm. Got a little sun. Getting closer to The Shores we started encountering the numerous kayak tourists that use the launch to be lead on tours by one of the many Kayak tour operators. We passed by triple kayak. I noticed that the girl in the middle did not have a paddle and was just along for the ride. The guys in the front and back were doing all the paddling. I hailed them and asked how she rated not having to paddle. Without missing a beat, the guy in the rear of the kayak told me that she was the Captain.

Surf still low and glided into shore effortlessly and with no embarrassing spills. The weight in the back of the kayak helps out tremendously. Unloaded the kayaks, loaded the cars, and went off for my usual shrimp burrito at El Charro’s. While eating, we discussed our next big adventure. I said I would like to attempt diving the HMCS Yukon from our kayaks.

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