Saturday, February 25, 2006 

Rocking Out on Puget Sound

Got to do a day of diving at Possession Point on the south end of Whidbey Island today on my dive buddy Doc Kay's Carver 37 powerboat.

The weather was mild, but quite cold this morning with a frigid breeze blowing off snow covered mountains. We were eager to jump in the 43F water and warm up!

We had 6 divers on our boat and another "hanger on", Steve Lodge in his small powerboat rafted to our side. After waiting for the current to slack, we split into 2 groups to dive. Doc and I got in after the first group came up and descended on the old ferry wreck there, really the only large wreck in Puget Sound within recreational limits. Viz was murky around 20' at best. The wreck is one of my favorite dives here, covered with Plumose Anenomes and teaming with rockfish, lingcod, perch and invertibrates. Many of the rockfish here are huge and very old, large ones are 80-90 years old!

We did a second dive nearby but the surface current was ripping pretty hard and I decided that safety was more important that taking pictures. Of course, once down on the bottom, it wouldn't of been a problem and we saw even more life there. Oh well, we're going back next month.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Don’t Scratch the Octopus Between the Eyes!

Note: this is an older story, but a good one, from an encounter a few of years ago...
My good friend Doc Kay has been busy retaking his diving medicine boards, family, and like, and readily agreed to my suggestion we take the good boat Komokwa (a beautiful Carver 37’) out for some scuba diving recently.

Seven of us showed up at 8:30 am; Ed Kay, Randy Williams and Randi Weinstein, Steve Lacey, Paul Riggs, my girlfriend and myself. After loading the usual ton of gear, we got underway and through the locks quickly.

Reaching Blakely Rocks, the tide was starting to slack, so we got ready to dive taking a while for each buddy pair to get dressed and into the water. Going down the buoy line we ran into stronger than expected currents and poor visability, maybe 15' or so. I gave my girlfriend the 10-cent tour, taking her to the wolf eel den, where they surprised us with a large egg mass that they were tending. We enjoyed some of the small anemones, sponge and nudibranchs as we went back over the top of the ridge to go back down the slope to the deeper part of the dive. We reached 70' or so and started to swim through the boulder garden down there and look for other critters. Swimming along, I saw one of the boulders had eyes.

Huh? Yup, we did a double take. Here was one of the largest Giant Pacific Octopus I had ever seen, out in the open, sitting on a rock, blending into it with a brown and white mottling. It was just humongous, with a head about 2.5 basketballs large. It was about the size of my girlfriend and when it stretched out its arms to examine us, it was probably 12-15' arm to arm and least 80-100#. And it was in no way scared. Quite the opposite, it was looking at us for, or to be, food or a sexual partner.

We shook hands with it and we started to examine each other. Even with us both hitting the Octo with our powerful HID lights, it was just curious. It was pretty aggressive and we kept backing off and then petting it when it turned its attention on the other diver. It tried to put an arm over my friend's mask and she wasn't too happy with that idea, nor was I when it grabbed my gauge console. Tina got on the other side of me, as I cavalierly patted it on the head and scratched it between the eyes. Well, my cats like it…


It had had enough of me playing with it, and suddenly flew up vertically so that all I was seeing was 15' feet of suckers and mouth flying at me. I'm not sure quite what I did, sort of a twisting, backwards half gainer. The Octo then swam off with a spurt and landed on a rock and glared at us in the gloom. We also had had enough, and swam the heck back up the slope. After circling around a bit (and seeing another Octo way back in the middle of a rock (where they should be), we spotted Randy and the others and found the buoy line, about an hour's dive to 70' max. This was certainly one of the most aggressive encounters I have had with these magnificent creatures. They usually are timid, or curious, but not aggressive.

Another great day on, and under, the water in Puget Sound.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

Has my Ship Come in?

On a busy day in Puget Sound, it seems like the freighters and tugs go by at 10 minute increments. As I look out the window I often wonder what the names of the ships are.

UAIS (Universal Automatic Identification system) is all the rage among geeky boat owners of any size in busy shipping lanes. With a system of a receiver, antenna, and a display or laptop computer with navigation software, you can see most of the large or passenger carrying vessels and a lot of information about them. If you have a GPS you can determine your closest approach, etc. This is in many ways much better than radar and a fraction of the cost. a system for a small sailboat like mine is maybe $3-400. The USCG has a section describing AIS and Panbo's Marine Electronics Blog has many articles on this new service.

Enter Sea Links. From their website; "SEALINKS operates the world's first live AIS-to-Web network and is currently tracking AIS activity with RADARPLUS SL161R units installed around Puget Sound, Washington, USA. The network is expanding to include additional ports throughout the United States and around the globe. It looks like they also have the upper east coast covered now.

By going to these websites you can get a chart display of the ship's names, tracks, and other info from the internet. So I can pull up a page and say to myself; "Hmm, that's the Hajin Copenhagen going by. I wonder why the Navios Aurora has been anchored out there for two days..."

I'll eventually add this equipment to my boat, although my home port of Blaine isn't in the busiest shipping area, most of the ships run to the west.

Saturday, February 11, 2006 

New Blog "Skin"

I've redesigned the layout and look and feel of the site. I've also added slideshow links to many articles that have some, but not all, of the photos that are in the Flickr galleries. In addition, I've added some direct links to major trip reports over on the right-hand column.

The black background shows off the photos better, but I'm not sure how readers will like the legibility.

Let me know what you think, or any problems you encounter with different browsers. Please leave comments below.

Friday, February 10, 2006 

Cruising at Cove Two

Harbor Seal - NOAA
Each week my dive club does a Thursday night dive at a couple of different locations. Makes a nice break and keeps our skills current. Diving is a sport best practiced often.

Last night's dive at Seacrest Cove 2 in West Seattle, was a bit different in terms of what we didn't see and then what we did.

I was asked to lead our trio of divers on a tour of the I-beams and maybe back over to the rope barrier to see if we could spot some Giant Pacific Octopus there. There was a lot of fresh water on the surface of the cove and the tide was extremely low, making getting in the dark water hazardous due to broken pilings and cement slabs that are easy to trip on. But we managed and swam out in the milky green water to the white buoy.

Descending, I lead the group over to the large 3" hawser line (that I and a group of friends installed a couple of years ago). This leads down to the old I-beams, part of an old dory launching rig from the marina that was there for many years. Over time, white plumose anemones, sponge, other invertebrates and fish have claimed it as a home. It makes a good training dive as depths at the outer end are around 106'.

But not last night. It was only 86', so we could enjoy a good long look around. But there wasn't much to see.

Fuzzy Mouse Nudibranch
Originally uploaded by Pixel Letch.
The two very pretty vermillion rockfish were cowering under a beam. No large Cabazon around, or Mossy-Headed Warbonnets that usually are tucked away there. I saw some eggs and one old, dead Fuzzy Mouse nudibranch.

Coming up a bit shallower, we swam over to the line to a group of old fish bins. Saw several ling cod egg masses, with no parent fish nearby. No octos. A silt cloud was present, but no lights indicating divers. Very strange.

Then a black shape went whizzing by over my shoulder. Can you jump under water? I did.

Cruising in and out of our lights were two large, spotted, harbor seals that were stirring up the bottom. These are fairly common place here and often become part of a dive "team". But these were quite large, looked like a mated pair, with the male around 8' long. It was like having a guided missile come blasting past your mask!

They chased fish to and fro, peering under the bins, and generally startled the heck out of us swimming out of the dark. But they were fun to watch and it always gets my heart thumping to be close to a big animal like them.

As I was doing my safety stop it occurred to me that these animals have been cleaning out the cove of fish, making everything hide, or risk becoming dinner!

Thursday, February 09, 2006 

Writers Cramp?

I'll try to keep this blog from getting too camera tech-oriented. There's enough on the net on that.. But from time to time, I will touch on tech topics that affect UW photography.

One of these is write speed for digicams like my Fuji F810. If you're photographing fish, or using up your air supply waiting for a camera to write a file, it is frustrating to spend an extra 3-4 secs on each shot. Like a lot of photographers now, I shoot almost exclusively in RAW format so that I have the ability to post-process files. But RAW files are large, around 12MB on the F810 and 18MB on the E900.

Toshiba (branded by Olympus, Fuji and I'm sure Sandisk and Kodak) has started shipping a new format of xD cards called type H, as opposed to the Type M cards, released last year. Reports are that the newer 1 GB type H card is writing at around 5 secs on the F810. So I sold my type M and ordered one. But I also have two 512MB xD cards.

I decided to see what the difference in RAW write speed between the newer type M and an even older "no-type" 512MB card was. The answer surprised the heck out of me.

This was a decidedly un-scientific comparison. I did reinitialize the cards in the camera before timing, as this makes a difference of 10-15%. The cards were writing a 12.5MB RAW file.

I also wanted to see if it made a difference having Image View set to: on/off/preview.

It did:

With the type M card having the preview set to "On", it was ~8.5 secs. Having it "Off" it was ~8 secs. Having it set to "Preview" (where you ok the shot) it was ~6 secs.

With the older card having the preview set to on, it was ~6 secs. Having it off was ~6 secs. Having it set to preview it was only 3 secs! This is my preferred way of shooting, btw.

So the older xD card was 2x as fast! This seems astounding as both types of cards are supposed to write at 2.5MB/sec, which makes sense for the times on the type M one.

So guess I'll hang on to that older one. The type M sure wasn't much of an improvement overall.

Sure would like to see what the write times are for the type H 512MB cards, in both the F810 and the newer E900. I think it'd be similar to these. Please post any results you have as comments.

I've now used the 1 GB Type H card in my Fuji F810 and am getting the same write speeds of around 5-6 secs with view on and around 3 secs write time when Preview is on. Or around 40% faster. There was a noticeable speed difference when shooting yesterday and I'm much happier with the camera and it's card capacity/speed now. A friend reports that the 512MB Type H cards are working at the same speed, they aren't any faster.

I'd definitely recommend upgrading/buying the much faster type H xD cards rather than the type M cards that are prevalent in the marketplace.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 

Puget Sound to Get Wrecked?

Local divers here in Puget Sound have long looked wistfully to our northern cousins and wished we could convince our state government that artificial reefs and wrecks are a win-win-win for everyone and the environment.

We've been faced with a State Department of Natural Resources and State Department of Wildlife that are not only not in favor, but against the idea. Mainly their view is that "any action may be the wrong action". That was a quote from a speaker (a state biologist) at our dive club recently. The speaker's view was that any noticeable increase of fish populations are just fish moving from one area to another. That rockfish need to have reefs built that include shallower and deeper areas to be able to breed. Another underlying issue, not talked about too much, has been that they feel artificial reefs and wrecks may somehow create an impact to the salmon fishery. And salmon are gold, I mean god, here.

That thinking flies in the face of reality. One of the best, and really only, example, of a large wrecks to reefs is the Possession Point ferry wreck site off the south tip of Whidbey Island in central Puget Sound. This old wooden ferry, the Kehloken was sunk in the 1983 and is pretty well deteriorated except for her ribs and machinery. Current swept, it has become a perfect breeding ground for rockfish and ling cod. While the bottom is around 80', the top ribs of the wreck are at about 40', creating the shallower and deeper habitat. For many years we've seen many large populations of juvenile rockfish there and many fat, pregnant females also. Ling cod, scarce in many areas of the sound, have re-populated, probably from another artificial reef site at Edmonds UW Park. There are now many huge (like 5-6'!) lings there enjoying the many recesses of the hull.

This debate has been on-going with divers being frustrated at nearly every turn in trying to enhance their environment in Puget Sound. Most projects like these were done many years ago and have deteriorated or been fished-out.

Now The Pacific Northwest Aquatic Association - Wrecks to Reefs is having some success in sponsoring some state legislation that would require WA state governments to take another look at these projects in light of their impact for eco-tourism and recreation. This is a new tactic as it draws support from various tourism and economic groups not well-known for their support of lowly rockfish.

The bills (HB 2990 and SB 6610) would:
1. Amends various titles pertaining to the Dept. of Natural Resources, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Department of Community, Trade, & Economic Development, Dept. of Ecology, and the WA Parks & Recreation Commission to include in their policies the need to consider the promotion of 'underwater viewing' in their decisions that affect eco-tourism.

2. Calls for a conference to be led by the Dept. of Community, Trade, and Economic Development in 2006 that will produce a plan to promote WA state scuba dive tourism. The conference would include participation by the following state agencies as well as other interested constituencies: Dept. of Natural Resources, WA Parks & Recreation Commission, and the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation.

3. Calls for an inter-agency study to examine the concept of driving job creation by placing clean vessels in Puget Sound as scuba diving tourism infrastructure. The study would be led the Dept. of Community, Trade, and Economic Development and include the Dept. of Natural Resources, the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, the Dept. of Ecology, the Dept. of Community, Trade, and Economic Development and the WA Parks & Recreation Commission.

SB 6610 was voted unanimously out of committee to the Senate Ways and Means committee (which votes on it next week). So a big first step has been taken! We'll see that if by linking eco-tourism to artificial reefs divers might finally have some success in Puget Sound in creating some decent wreck dive sites here.

Both resident and almost more importantly non-resident divers are urged to write WA State legislators in support of the bills.

About Jack

  • Adventurer, diver, sailor, photographer, writer and sometimes graphic designer. Proprietor of Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. Enjoy the blog, check back and please leave comments!
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