Philippines Day -1: Catalina

The last day of preparation for this trip. It’s a bit weird to me writing about the days leading up to the trip with things like going to Catalina to scuba dive, especially since Jenn isn’t joining me on the last 2 days of this. But I swear it’s connected. Please believe me! Sadly I forgot my camera at home, so the photos for today are courtesy of Todd, my dive buddy.

So, absolutely exhausted from a busy day/night before, and running on 5 hours of sleep I knew that the boat was in Long Beach Harbor. I had googled it quickly to see how long it was supposed to take and planned accordingly. When I started driving and went right past the LA harbor I was a bit surprised. Then right passed shoreline drive, even more surprised. It started to dawn on my sleep addled brain that I was headed to Alamitos Bay where we kept our boat through most of my childhood. Going through Belmont Shores felt so very familiar. I used to see that every morning going to school when we were living on Aquavit in the downtown marina.

Sundiver was the name of today’s boat and she was much smaller, lacking a hot tub. I knew I was spoiled last time. But the divers on board were few but with even less space. It made it feel like more of an intimate experience with mostly my group and just a handful of others.

Today was supposed to rain and be fairly cold. In fact rain was predicted until Tuesday. Cold it was too. 60F the predicted high. I had some questions rolling around in my head about why wasn’t I waiting to go with Jenn, that it was cold and miserable and I wished to be back in bed sleeping in with her. I reminded myself that it would cost another $125 to go with her and I’d already paid so just finish and try to enjoy it.

Underway we found another pod of dolphins, and just like before they had some fun in our wake. I have to imagine a lot of boats pass through here, it must be a laugh riot for them, like living in six flags. LA harbor is sadly on strike again. It’s so sad to see ship after ship lined up, anchor dropped waiting to be allowed to unload. I can’t help but imagine how much money is being lost daily, it has to total in the billions so very quickly. It amazes me that big business lets this happen repeatedly. My dad called me fuming about how the Unions are funding the politicians and that’s why they won’t do anything about it, but I don’t understand why big business which probably has more capital doesn’t do the same.

This time the island was sunny and clear, we had a break in the clouds, and that was allowing things to warm up past 65 degrees. Everyone was in great spirits when we arrived and saw a good 60ft of visibility, warmer weather, and heard reports of a large number of bat rays in the spot.

The water was slightly warmer than before at 63, but still a little bit of a shock jumping in. Todd, Garret and myself all did our CESA drill at the start, so now there were just a small handful of skills left to practice to be certified.

Down below at a spot called Little Giger, it took us no time to find the Bat Rays, often sitting in groups. The rays have ridges on their heads and stick up off the sandy bottom noticeably. When we approached they would puff up for a better look at these weird mammals coming their way blowing bubbles. When we got close enough for their comfort they would effortlessly glide away. I was amazed how big they were, wingspans of 4ft. There were lots of smaller Round Sting Rays as well, who concealed themselves much better and were less timid. One ray was buried in sand until Nick dug into the sand with his hand and touched it. A little bit further along Nick found a Bay Pipefish in some grass and coaxed it out, playing with it in his hand before passing it off to the others in our group to look at. I really wish I had a camera to get a nice close shot of the guy, he wasn’t timid at all. A bit further down we saw a flash of light from a side of a fish, as we got closer we saw it was a Mackerel caught with a hook through it’s head that had gotten the fishing line wrapped around some kelp. The poor guy had probably been stuck for some time, but was still pretty energetic. Nick pulled him in and freed him. Sadly that wasn’t the only human presence we saw, not far from there we came across a coke bottle and a frying pan, and a bit further a weight pocket. We practiced a couple more skills before surfacing.

Back on board I was sad to not have any awesome tomato bisque waiting, just some veggies from Ralphs. I filled out my dive log to remember all of the cool stuff we saw.

The next dive we had a bit less visibility at a spot called Fraggle Rock we didn’t have quite as much luck seeing interesting things. Supposedly the area last week was filled with Leopard and Horned sharks, but they must have moved on because we didn’t see a single one. We did see a scorpion fish which was pretty neat. We did the last of our drills, navigation mostly this time. The last one was to take off and put on our gear at the surface. Nick announced that the first person to take off and put on their gear would be the first to be certified. The race was on! I had mine off first, but had trouble getting my left arm back ground under the strap and got beat out. I was now effectively certified!

Our lunch wasn’t bad, sloppy joes, but I knew immediately I’d have trouble with heart burn. The next dive I’d be burping up sloppy joe.

Our last dive was at Red Rock Bluffs, and the good weather we had at the start of the day had passed. We now had light rain and some cold wind. The wind increased surge and visibility had dropped down to 20-30ft, still not horrible, but not as good as in the morning. We didn’t have much time either, all the time going between spots and getting out there we had burned the day light and had 30 minutes to complete our dive. Our tanks were the last to get filled and we were on deck waiting while others were getting in the water. This dive spot was cramped with vertical walls. We were told we could find Moray Eels in the area, and the Dive Master pointed us to their last known spot. They were hiding though it seems. This spot reminded me a lot of being in the Aquarium of the Pacific, shallow with vertical rock walls, kelp, and surge. Because of the small space, all of the groups were again on top of one another, and it took me a moment to notice my buddy was gone. I looked around and noticed someone floating at the surface, 12 ft above, sure enough it was Todd. I got Nick’s attention and he already knew. I watched as Todd motioned that he had lost his weight pocket, and Nick communicated this to me as well. We had a look around the area, but had no luck. We knew it couldn’t be far, but after a good 10 minutes of looking we gave up and finished up the last drills for David, one of our group before surfacing and returning to the boat. We were chastised for being 5 minutes late.

The first order of business was to strip off the wetsuit, secure my gear, go shower and change into warm dry clothes.

Exhausted we all sat down with Nick and did our last dive logs together, and then signed our paperwork. Once that was out of the way Scotch and Beer made an appearance. I had brought a wonderfully chocolaty Belgian beer from Trader Joes.

The 2hrs ride home didn’t take much time, and to my surprise we had cell phone service most of the way. Jenn was at Disney Land with Nicole hoping to have an easy time with lines because of the poor weather. Apparently it didn’t help much. She got on her last ride then headed back to Racho Palos Verdes to meet me arriving nearly at the same time.

All that was left now was to do laundry and pack! I have Friday off which is perfect for getting ready.

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