ADP Journal: Scholarship Tryouts and Graduation

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 10:34 am

My Saturday began in the pool, with tryouts for the ADP “Outstanding Graduate” award, which comes with a scholarship to the next LA County instructor program (UICC). The award depends on a lot of factors (academics, diving, overall attitude, etc), but the pool tryouts are definitely an important part. Basically, it’s a chance to try your hand at the skills you’ll have to be able to do really well in UICC.

I’m not sure if the tryouts were fun in a sucky way, or if they sucked in a fun way. There’s something about shared suffering that kept it from being actually unpleasant, but some of the tasks were pretty trying. Only seven of us showed up, including Meca – and she didn’t plan on trying for the scholarship, or even doing the scuba portion of the tryouts.

So our Saturday morning went like this:

Swimming Skills

  • 400 yard swim in under 10 minutes. This may actually have been my best moment of the day; I came in at 8:08, behind only David (who plays underwater hockey regularly and is an amazing swimmer and freediver).
  • 25 yard underwater swim, then carry a 10 pound weight belt up from the deep end. Extra points if you swim up without pushing off the bottom. I wasn’t worried about this once since I’ve been practicing 25 yard underwater swims, but it was harder than I expected. I guess my adrenaline was going because I was nervous about being judged; that’ll suck up your oxygen pretty quick. I was seriously considering giving up and trying again when I finally saw the weight belt 10 feet away. Well, I couldn’t quit then! I made it, with the bonus points.
  • 10 minutes treading water, 30 seconds treading water with your arms up in the air. No problem. We passed the time sharing bad jokes. Meca and I discovered that we have the same favorite stupid joke (you know that one with elephants and sheep?) What were the odds?
  • 50 yard buddy tow with no swim aids (ie, fins). No problemo.

Skin Skills

  • Skin DNR (ditch and recovery) – I’ve discussed this before ad nauseam on this blog. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, especially when you add a 40 foot underwater swim after doffing your gear, and before donning it. I managed the doff plus swim, but the return the swim-plus-don was too much. Oh well; the 40 feet were for extra points, and I was able to do the DNR going straight down. But I think this is where I started to slip in the rankings!

SCUBA Skills

  • Buddy breathe combo. Drop down in the deep end with a buddy. One person takes off their mask, the indicates they are out of air. The other person shares their primary regulator, and then the two swim together to the other end of the pool (50 yards), sharing air the whole way. My incredibly powerful, easily-freeflowing regulator makes this a bit of a pain, but the return trip (on my buddy’s regulator) was perfect.
  • Bailout. Jump into the deep end holding all your gear (and the air turned off), and put it on underwater. I did this quite well, despite having very little weight on my weight belt, which makes it hard to stay down before you get the tank and BC on. However, I didn’t want any additional weight – and in fact, could have done with a lot less – because of the next skill.
  • 300 yard surface snorkel. In full SCUBA gear. With no air in your BC. AND CARRYING A TEN POUND WEIGHT BELT THE WHOLE WAY. This just completely sucked for everyone. My tank is so ridiculously negative that I actually don’t need any additional weights to sink, so the 6 pounds I took for my belt in the bailout really hurt me here! You wind up swimming at a funny 45 degree angle to keep yourself afloat. We all did ok in the deep end of the pool, but 25 yards of the pool are only 3 feet deep. It’s impossible to get in good fin kicks there, so it was a real struggle to stay off the bottom, while keeping my head high enough that no water got in my snorkel. I did a lot more stopping and resting than I should have, and I think this skill hurt me the most. But seriously. IT SUCKED. I know I wasn’t the only one who started to have serious concerns about drowning.

So that was my morning. After lunch with the gang, I drove around with Meca to do a little shopping (small gifts for our team leaders and safety divers). The shopping didn’t take long, but there was quite a bit of driving involved since I also dropped her back off in Santa Monica. She lives just about spitting distance from where I used to work at the promenade, so it was actually kind of cool to see the neighborhood. And I didn’t actually mind the extra drive, as she and I are never short on things to talk about! If I get nothing else out of ADP, I made a great new friend who’s also a good dive buddy.

I made it home in time to wrap presents, shower and throw on clothes and makeup, along with my new cowrie necklace from Marineland.

Then it was off to the banquet, held at a swanky athletic club in downtown LA with banquet facilities.

It’s always weird to see people that you know from diving (hood hair, mucus on their faces, ratty sweatpants) all dressed up and pretty! the girls in particular clean up quite nicely. You can sort of see my cowrie in this picture:


To end any suspense, I didn’t win the scholarship. I’m pretty bummed, actually, even though I agree with the awards that were given out. Meca won Best Academics, and David took Best Watermanship – neither of those were a surprise (except to Meca, who looked genuinely shocked).

I’d suspected that the Outstanding Graduate would come down to Kelly and myself (and it sounds like that was the case). I was genuinely glad when he won, but at the same time, I have to admit I feel a little rejected. Ray reminded me I should be really proud that I was one of the top contenders for Outstanding Graduate, when I began the course afraid to even go in the water when the surf was up. I guess that is pretty impressive.

ADP 2006 Graduates:

Well, I have until January to decide about UICC. In the meantime, I guess I’d better practice my DNRs.


ADP Journal: Weekend #10, Part Two

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 5:04 pm

The night dive was a bit more eventful. We stuck with the same group as the afternoon dive, and a similar plan. We entered a bit further to the south, dropped down at about 15fsw, and kicked straight out to 35fsw: Meca and me in the lead, then Sam and Mike, with Kevin following behind. Once we hit 35fsw, we were going to turn north, spread out in a line of four abreast, and sweep for the pilings.

At 35fsw, I signaled Meca it was time to turn. Sam and Mike kept on swimming, and we flashed our lights at them to get their attention. They slowed down and finned over to us – at which point everything got chaotic. Sand got kicked up, we couldn’t get ourselves into position, and the next thing I knew we were at 45 fsw. How’d that happen?

I navigated out of the melee, re-oriented myself, and started kicking. We basically had to abandon the four-abreast idea – by the time we’d reached 35 fsw again, I was pretty sure we’d already missed the pilings, and in all that confusion it was just easier not to worry about it.

This time I knew about the current, and figured we’d have to do at least 400 kick cycles to reach home. The current was even stronger than we remembered, though, and made it hard to swim shallower as well as hard to swim north. We inched our way up to 30fsw, by which time Sam and Mike were at 500psi.

They indicated they were going to go up, and we communicated that it was ok to split into buddy teams. Meca and I would remain under with Kevin.

Mike and Sam headed off, and Kevin told us he wanted to lead the dive (I guess we weren’t getting shallow fast enough). He took off like a shot, while Meca tried to flash a light in front of him to get his attention and ask him to slow down. He finally noticed we girls weren’t hurrying, and let us catch back up.

We reached 20fsw and kept heading north, while Meca kept me apprised of her air situation – 1000 psi, 900, 800. She finally hit 500psi and indicated she wanted to go up. I tried to communicate that we should do at least another minute where we were (I was only halfway through a safety stop), but she again gave me the thumbs up. This is where things got confusing.

To me, thumbs up means UP. I’ve been in a situation before where I really wanted to ascend, and my dive buddy wasn’t ready – it’s not good. I knew Meca was nervous (this was her second night dive, and she’d kept a hand on my arm the whole time), so when she gave me a thumbs-up even after my “stay here 1 minute” suggestion, I decided half a safety stop wasn’t worth freaking out my dive buddy by trying to make her stay put when she was worried. So I gave her a thumbs-up back and got ready to ascend.

We flashed our lights at Kevin, who turned to look at us. We gave him a thumbs-up. The last thing we saw was him flashing his light in our eyes, which I took to mean “you guys are being silly, why not stay down here and finish that safety stop?”

We’d discussed buddy separation procedures before getting in the water. If you get separated, you look around for a minute and then surface, without a safety stop. So we figured he’d be right behind us, and then if he wanted to go back down on his own, fine (although I can’t say I’m a fan of solo night diving).

Well, he didn’t surface.

We waited a few minutes in case he was just safety stopping. And he still didn’t surface. We couldn’t see his light. We were drifting in the current. Meca started to worry that his flashing his light at us had been a signal that he needed help, rather than trying to get us to stay put.

Another group surfaced nearby and we alerted them that we’d lost Kevin. Ray dropped down to do a quick look for him, while Meca and I headed in towards shore. About halfway there, we saw a diver surfacing just behind the surf zone and exiting – probably Kevin, but we couldn’t be sure. Meca headed on in to confirm that it was him, yelled back to me, and I yelled back to the “search party.”

This was all extremely NOT fun in the afore-mentioned surface chop.


Kevin was fine. He didn’t agree with our decision to surface, and didn’t consider himself part of our buddy team, so he just decided to finish out the dive on his own. We had a rather heated discussion about buddy separation, solo diving, when it’s ok to skip safety stops, and how I could have better gotten his attention. Meca should have felt comfortable finishing a safety stop with 500psi. But she didn’t (or else I misunderstood a thumbs-up), so it was OK to go up. We’d done a relatively shallow dive, and a safety stop is just that – it’s not mandatory. I should have made sure Kevin knew what we were doing – he didn’t see my thumbs-up. I should have grabbed him and waited for him to sign back.

But once we headed up, I maintain that Kevin absolutely should have surfaced as well. Solo diving wasn’t part of the plan. If he was really worried about a safety stop, he could have surfaced, told us so, and gone back down for a few minutes – at least then we would have known where he was.

Yeah. That was a fun walk back to the car.

Anyway, it turns out our group actually had one of the LEAST eventful dives! I’ll share one of the other incidents:

Divemaster A was the safety diver for divers 1, 2 and 3. After they descended, Divemaster B decided to join them. In his mind, he was just following and observing; not really part of the team. But as far as A and 1-3 knew, he was officially part of the group. That was problem #1.

Problem #2 was miscommunication. Diver #1 kept going deeper and deeper in search of the pilings, and didn’t realize that it was ok with the Divemaster if he just gave up at certain point. The current didn’t help, and they all wound up around 70fsw, strung out because some were speedier than others.

Problem #3: diver #3 had a sudden freeflow (when air keeps coming out of your regulator). He kept trying to purge it, but it kept freeflowing. He remained calm – but problem #4: he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. He was flashing his light in front of Divemaster B, who was “just observing” – but diver 3 didn’t know that, so he didn’t try to race on to the other divers. After 5 minutes of being ignored, while the freeflow depleted his air supply (it also makes it really hard to see – bubbles everywhere), diver 3 decided to take his chances on a solo ascent. From 70fsw. In the dark. Where there can be boating traffic.

At this point, Divemaster A notices that diver 3 has disappeared. She writes his name on her slate with a question mark and shows it to the two remaining divers. They shrug and look confused. She turns around and shows it to Divemaster B. He misunderstands the question, and writes on his slate: “No, I’m so-and-so.”

I find this hysterically funny, though obviously it wasn’t funny at the time!

So – now they all do an ascent. In the dark, in boat traffic, from 70fsw. Yikes!

Anyway, everyone made it back ok. But it was definitely a lesson in the importance of communication, taking your time, and sticking together.

That, and it TOTALLY SUCKS to dive with more than 2 or 3 people at a time in limited visibility. It was true at Lake Castaic, and it’s true in the dark. Ugh.

It wasn’t the best way to finish off ADP, but at least it was educational. We left Vets around 11, grabbed dinner at a nearby diner, and I finally made it home at 1am. I didn’t even have the energy to shower, much less rinse my gear; I left it to marinate in the trunk of my car and just collapsed in bed.

Then it was up early Sunday for some last-minute cramming before our final (written) exam. Luckily for me, the exam was given at the Glendale YMCA, an easy 5-minute walk. I think all our classes should have been at the Y!


ADP Journal: Weekend #10, Part One

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 9:00 am

October 7 was our last scheduled day of diving with ADP. Instead of the usual early beach arrival, however, we started off the day with a tour of the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. We began by strolling through the California exhibits with occasional commentary by Brett, an ADP instructor who also volunteers as a diver at AoP.

(Once again, pics by Walt Conklin.)


Next, we headed behind the scenes for a look at the inner working of the aquarium. We strolled past the food prep areas and vet clinic, got a tour of the ozone generation and various pieces of plumbing, and got to see where the divers suit up and jump in to clean the exhibits and feed their inhabitants.

Somehow, we still had time to play with fake coral. (This pic by Johnny Wong):


We were finished checking out the aquarium by noon or so, and had time to get lunch and fill any tanks that needed filling before meeting up at Vets Park at 2:30pm. The plan was to do an afternoon dive over by Topaz Jetty in search of the old pier pilings, then navigate back to the Pearl Street stairs underwater. Then we’d repeat the dive in the dark for our night dive.

It was a bit of a walk down to the jetty, but at least it’s flat and paved.


I buddied up with Meca, and we joined Mike and Sam to form a group. Kevin Van Hook was our divemaster, tasked with following us around. We knew roughly where the pilings were, and at what depth, so the plan was to drop down in 20 fsw and do a sweep out until we hit the pilings (which should be in about 35 fsw).

Of course, we hit 40 fsw and still hadn’t found the pilings. Since we suspected we’d dropped down a bit too far north, we headed back to the 35fsw contour and started sweeping south. It only took a few minutes to hit the pilings – oh, the excitement.


Then it was time to start heading north, back towards Pearl Street. I’d measured the distance in paces that we had to walk to our entry site, and estimated it should take about 250 kick cycles to get back to the stairs. I took the lead with Meca: she kept an eye on the compass, I concentrated on counting kicks and watching our depth.

On the way across the mostly-featureless sand, we found quite a few interesting critters. I spotted a sarcastic fringehead out on the sand – it was weird to see the little fish naked, without his shell to hide in. Meca found a little horn shark perfectly camoflouged in the sand, then noticed a shell next to it that housed a small octopus. A few minutes later, I saw what I thought might be a scorpionfish half-buried in the sand. As we got closer, I discovered it was actually a California lizardfish! I hadn’t seen one before, and didn’t get much of a chance to investigate, as it got startled and disappeared. Oh well.

I reached 250 kick cycles about the same time Sam and Mike ran low on air. We’d been in 15-20 fsw for a few minutes, so we all surfaced to get our bearings.

We were only about 2/3 of the way back. Doh. Guess we’d neglected to account for the south-flowing current that had kicked up.

Mike and Sam headed in, and the rest of us dropped back down and resumed kicking north. Meca hit 500psi after another 150 or so kick cycles, so we surfaced again to discover that we’d just barely overshot our mark. We let the current take us back a bit as we kicked in and made an unventful exit.

The surf was about 1-2 feet that day, with an 8s period – totally manageable, but it was interesting to realize how much more afraid I would have been getting in and out a few months ago. The entries didn’t bother me at all, but there was quite a bit of surface chop once you made it past the surf zone; that was a bit more annoying.

We all sat around in the parking lot for a while, reviewing the material for Sunday’s exam while we waited out our surface interval. Meca and I spent the last half hour of our interval huddled in my car with the heating cranked up, trying to get warm before getting back in the water.



ADP Journal: Weekend #9

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:19 pm

At last, victory is mine. I have conquered my fears and entered over the rocks at Old Marineland.

I achieved a partial victory last month, when my group did a beach survey at Old Marineland. We went for the easy entry then, at the cobblestone cove, which is a pretty long swim from the “good” part of the dive site.

Last Sunday, our entire ADP class headed to Old Marineland for an entry over the rocks at the point where the best diving is. This is the entry that scared the heck out of me two years ago with the Sole Searchers, and it was still a bit off-putting. Wonder of wonders, I was no longer afraid of the dealing-with-surf part. But the hike down to the entry still made me nervous.

Here we are starting down towards the rocks. Doesn’t look too bad from this angle, right?

(Note: all Marineland pics by Walt Conklin)


Once you’re past the “easy” part of the climb, you have to get over lots of various-sized rocks. Some are slippery, and most are what we like to call “ankle-breakers.” Remember, you’re wearing a tank and a weight belt, so you’re not at your most agile.



Once you’re at the water’s edge, the trick is to get yourself in a spot where you’re protected by bigger rocks. We had two foot swells rolling in at pretty regular intervals, and some spots along the rocky shoreline would have been completely impossible to do safely. We picked a “staging area” behind several big rocks where we could take a moment to put on fins and mask. Here’s Ray helping us clamber over to the spot:


(That’s my head at the bottom of the pic, with the blue snorkel.)

So now you’re hunkered down behind a boulder, trying to put on your fins in between waves (which raise the water level 3 or 4 feet and will try to take your fins away with them). You need to carefully time your entry. If you start to swim out right before a wave, you’ll just get knocked back into the rocks. Even if you wait for what you think is a decent swell and then start kicking, if a BIGGER swell is up next, you might get knocked back. So you need to wait until the largest swells are past, and then pick a good one to ride out.




Check us out – we all made it in without incident!

Meca and I were buddies again on this dive (as usually happens when we’re allowed to pick our buddies), and we dropped down right away before she had a chance to get seasick.

I’d say Old Marineland lived up to the hype. The boulders by the point are so large they form a series of wall dives, and are covered with all kinds of life. We saw cabezon, black-and-yellow rockfish,four or five different nudibranchs, a red octopus hiding in a hole, several lobsters and hermit crabs, chestnut cowries, scallops, schools of unidentifiable baitfish – it was just a great place to poke around and find stuff.

The ADP plan was to navigate to the cove and surface there – quite a swim. Instead, we opted to spend as much time as possible in the interesting area, so we surfaced a good 200 yards away from the exit. No problem; the current was with us, and we moseyed over to the cobblestone cove after fifty minutes in the water.



For the first time, I brought something back with me from a dive. Right when we dropped down at the point, I practically landed on an empty chestnut cowrie shell. Having just recently learned that it’s legal to take them (even if they’re not empty, but that seems a bit mean), I pocketed it as a souvenir of my conquering Marineland. I’m thinking of turning it into a pendant.




ADP Journal: Weekend #8, Part Two

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 11:45 am

Since I bailed on the camping part, I woke up early on Sunday (Sep 17) and made the 40-minute drive up to Lake Castaic. I found a cluster of tents that I assumed was ADP, but no one was moving around. A quick phone call to one of my fellow students revealed that I was in the firefighter’s camp (a staging area for the nearby Day Fire), and needed to drive a little further to reach ADPers, down at the water’s edge.

We started the day with a lecture from Dave Bunch on diving in zero visibility, knot tying, lift bags, etc; then we were split into groups of 4 and sent out to do 4 different tasks in the lake. For each task, a different one of us was the “group leader,” calling all the shots.

I’ll say upfront, that was the hardest part of the day – dealing with bossing each other around. I don’t think we were the only group that uncovered some interesting personality traits!

Somehow, though, we managed to succeed (or almost succeed) at our tasks.


Dive 1:

Three floats were set up in a triangle, with a transect line strung along two sides at about 12 feet. We were to head out to the first float, take a reading on the third float, then descend and follow the line from the first float over to the second and third, while measuring distance in kicks. The transect line ended at float 3, and we spent a few minutes doing some quickie math on our slates to estimate the fin kicks back to the first float – then we headed off in the appropriate compass direction.

And here is where we sucked. Four people in a line heading the same direction – it’s just really, really hard, even when you’re holding on to a buddy line. Perhaps especially when you’re holding on to a buddy line, because it’s easy for someone to pull the wrong direction and get you off track. One person is monitoring their compass and “leading,” but if people start going even slightly different speeds the leader can wind up no longer out in front. Bob, as one of the fastest swimmers, was the designated compass leader, but there was so much cross-talk between the four of us that we wound up going quite a bit off to one side.

Eventually the divemasters, who’d followed our bubbles, came down to tell us to give up – we surfaced about 20 feet away from our target. Not too far if you’re navigating in 20 foot visibility, but for zero-vis we were way off course. We had a second try and didn’t do any better. In fact, the navigating-in-a-line turned out to be the bane of our day: each drill started and ended with a navigation from the beach to the starting float (on snorkel, with your face in the water) and then back at the end (underwater). The only times we nailed our target were when we were allowed to split into buddy groups (2 people are easier to keep in line than 4).

Dive 2

The second station was a lift bag exercise. “Lift bag” is a slight misnomer here; we were actually dealing with big 50 gallon drums that were chained to sections of pipe, which weighed several hundred pounds. Four of these contraptions were set up on a platform at the bottom, and we took turns in buddy pairs lifting and re-sinking them.

Things that were hard about this task:

  • Finding the damn things in the first place, in the 0-to-6-inch visibility
  • Communicating with one’s buddy via buddy line
  • Getting air into the drums through a tiny hole in the bottom
  • Knowing when to get the heck out of the way as they shoot to the surface
  • Getting them back down in an orderly fashion. (We didn’t – they dropped so fast we totally let go, and they landed across the other three and had to be re-adjusted. In zero vis.)

The easy part of this dive was navigating back to the shore, as we did it in pairs rather than all 4 at once.

Dive 3

This was our best dive – and ironically, we didn’t have much of a plan ahead of time. At this station, there were pieces of wood, saws and hammers, and staples. Our job was to create four “marker floats,” squares of wood with a staple hammered in that could be attached to a line later. We had a complicated plan for who would saw, who would hammer, who would get tools out of the bag, and who would hold onto things, but we wound up mixing it up a little when we hit the bottom, passing things off to each other as necessary. We did stick with the one-person-sawing idea, which worked really well. We had all four marker floats “built” in a matter of minutes, and navigated off towards our starting point.

Dive 4

I was so ready to be done by the time we got to the last station – and so were the divemasters in charge there. A sweep line was tied off to the dock, and we were supposed to run a search pattern from there to find where three mortars were lying on a platform. The DMs gave us the rather large hint that the sweep line was “just long enough,” saving us time inching out the line; we went straight to the mortars and got to work.

“Work” was measuring the mortars so we could later calculate volume and weight. One diver pulled rulers out of the bag and handed them off; one measured dimensions of the mortars; one wrote down the measurements. My job was to hold onto the sweep line (don’t laugh) to make sure we’d be able to get back to our starting point. We did, and this time navigated back to the shore dead-on for a change. I guess we’d gotten too tired to fight each other in the line…

After the Dives

I was one of the divers who headed out to collect the dive floats which had been marking off the area. I hit my own float first and hauled up the anchor – not too hard, since my anchor/chain assembly is fairly light, but it was a long way down. I pulled up a good 70 feet of line, which had to be spooled up as I went.

Then I decided to go for another float, since I was already out there. As soon as I started lifting, I wondered if I was making a big mistake – this thing was HEAVY. I was barely staying afloat as I pulled it up, and couldn’t be bothered to spool the line as I went. I finally hauled out an enormous anchor and obscenely long length of chain. I guess the float’s owner expects to dive in heavy currents a lot? I made my way back to shore, spooling line as I went.

But that still wasn’t enough exercise: now it was time for the relay race. The ADP relay is a little funky: people take turns racing out to a float and back on full SCUBA gear (face in the water, breathing through your snorkel), skin gear (same), and swimming (no gear). I got drafted to join the opposite team since they were a little short, and volunteered for a swim.

By the time I was up, we were half a lap behind, but I narrowed the gap considerably. It’s funny – I certainly don’t look like I’d be able to swim all that fast. But somehow I pull it off.


The team I was on won by a few lengths – the final lap came down to two instructors on skin gear, pulling on each other’s fins as they took turns passing each other. Hilarious.


ADP Journal: Weekend #8, Part One

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 1:52 pm

We had quite a weekend September 16/17.

Saturday started out in Malibu, where we made a shore dive at Point Dume. The night before, our course director emailed out instructions. The basic outline was: enter the water in front of the lifeguard tower, surface swim out to the pinnacles, dive around the pinnacles, and navigate back to the lifeguard tower underwater. We were to estimate the distance from the tower to the pinnacles (by counting fin kicks). The details of compass headings and air consumption calculations were left up to us.

The pinnacles at Point Dume are notorious for their often strong and unpredictable currents, which can make compass headings hard to follow, distances impossible to accurately measure, and air a precious commodity as divers struggle to swim up-current. Luckily for us, we arrived to discover a reverse of the normal current situation: we’d have a hard swim out to the pinnacles, but an easy ride back (assuming nothing changed while we were diving).


Meca and I, having about the same air consumption and nearly-identical gear configurations, were assigned as a buddy team (much to our delight). The surf wasn’t too bad, or else I’m just getting used to it – a bit of both, I suspect. It was a surprisingly long swim from our entry straight out to where our instructors anchored the float in about 25 feet of water. We stopped there for a moment to catch our breath, and took a compass heading out to where we could see one of the pinnacles breaking the surface of the water.

And then it was time to start counting kicks.

The current was indeed running northwest, at about .3 knots as I later calculated. That may not sound like much, but it’s plenty when you’re in full scuba gear and trying to cover a 400 meter distance (which is what it turned out to be). And keeping track of your kicks. And (in Meca’s case) battling seasickness.

We alternated between snorkeling on our stomachs and kicking on our backs, leapfrogging with another team who’d entered the water along with us and joking about how little distance we seemed to covering. We kicked, and kicked, and kicked for FORTY MINUTES.

Once we finally reached the pinnacles, we couldn’t stop kicking and rest – every pause would push you back away from your goal. So Meca and I quickly did our final checks and dropped down to the base of the middle pinnacle (in about 30 feet), where we could relax out of the current and catch our breath as we perused the area.

I’ve often heard the Point Dume pinnacles described as one of the best shore dives in the area, both for the abundance of marine life and the good visibility the site frequently enjoys. Vis was only about 15 or 20 feet today, but that’s not half bad for a beach dive around here.

And the life really was incredible. We circled the middle pinnacle (which is fairly small) and then swung around to the deeper pinnacle (much larger and odd-shaped). One of our tasks for the day was to write down 10 species we hadn’t “handed in” on a previous ADP dive; usually we’re responsible for writing down 5 new species, and a few folks were concerned about finding 10. Really not a problem, and I didn’t even have to resort to listing boring things like algae or garibaldi.

We saw a sleeping horn shark, two well-camoflauged cabezons, a zebra goby (the second one I’ve ever seen), sunflower stars (further south than I’ve ever seen), half a dozen other varieties of starfish, schooling blacksmith and senoritas, sea pansies and sand dollars. I could have spent an hour poking around the pinnacles – but alas, we had to conserve two-thirds of our air for the swim back.

Sea pansy with the sand blown off:

I was hoping to scare up more interesting critters in the sand on the way back to the float, but didn’t see anything other than sand dollars and a small sole the whole (20 minute) swim back. We tooled along on a reverse heading from the one that took us to the pinnacles, staying in about 25 feet of water. When I reached 800 psi, we surfaced to see if we were close to (or past) the float, and discovered we were about 100 meters short of it. Since the current was still pushing us towards the float, we decided to just stay on the surface and make our way towards shore.

Up til then, I’d been surprisingly un-sore considering the amount of kicking involved. But as soon as I had to start walking up the sandy beach – whoah. My ankles hurt. My thighs didn’t want to work. My feet were almost numb.

And we weren’t done – we still had underwater hockey!

Most of us didn’t even have time for lunch (and by “most of us”, I do NOT include me – this sort of thing is why McDonald’s drive thrus were invented), and we all assembled sandy, sore and tired at a community pool in Santa Clarita after an hour’s drive.

What is underwater hockey, you ask? Well – it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Two PVC “goals” are laid down at either end of the 7′ deep part of the pool, and a heavy “puck” is dropped onto the bottom. The players are in fins, mask and snorkel, and carry handheld “sticks” to shove the puck around with. So the trick is to dive down, push the puck towards your goal (while keeping the other team from nabbing it), and hand off to another teammember before you run out of air and drown. Then you bob on the surface, not quite long enough to catch your breath, before dropping back down to keep your teammate from drowning. And so on, until someone scores a goal.

Just warming up:

It reminded me of a boxing match, in that play becomes more and more sluggish the longer you go before scoring a goal. “The best way to rest is to score,” I heard more than once, and they weren’t kidding.

In one sense, I’m not a competitive person – I don’t really care if I win or lose. But in another sense, I am competitive – I’m determined not to suck. We were joining a regular underwater hockey team’s scrimmage, and there were plenty of really good players to embarrass ourselves in front of. So I pretty much went all-out, and was rewarded by making one of my (winning) team’s goals. And scraping some interesting patches of skin off my legs on the bottom of the pool. And inhaling more pool water than is really good for you.

But it was fun.

The original plan for Saturday night was to all drive up to Lake Castaic and camp out together – but things were thrown a bit out-of-whack by the inordinate amount of time needed to fill 10 scuba tanks at the local Sport Chalet. We killed the two hours of tank-fill time getting dinner, by which time it was almost dark. A few folks headed on up to camp, but I opted for the 30-minute drive home and 45-minute morning drive. I’d been waffling on the “camping” thing all summer, so this was not a big surprise to anyone.

And the weekend was only halfway over!


ADP Journal: Weekend #7, Part Two

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 4:20 pm

(Picking up after the lifeguard search-and-rescue stuff, September 9)

After a brief visit home to pick up Jeff, we headed up to Santa Barbara to spend the night on the Truth, which was scheduled to cart all the ADPers out to Santa Cruz Island on Sunday. The Truth Aquatics boats are as nice as Southern California boat diving gets. We’ve been going out on 3-day trips with them every winter to the northern channel islands, but this was the first time I’ve driven all the way up to Santa Barbara for just one day of diving.

The trip out was uneventful, thanks to Drammomine. I haven’t been seasick since I started popping those pills the night before a trip, about a year ago – huge relief. We passed several enormous pods of playful dolphins, who (naturally) disappeared every time I brought out the video camera. Johnny managed to snap this shot of Anastasia Frigida as I huddled on the deck:


It took a while for the Truth to find a good spot for our first exercise, which was to be search and recovery. We wound up at a popular harbor, close to several dozen small craft and fishing boats. In retrospect this may not have been ideal.

We broke into groups of four again, and this time each group had a divemaster whose job it was to go drop an aluminum can for us to find. The plan was to station 2 of us at each end of the boat so we could triangulate the exact position of droppage, which would be coordinated by sending OK signals back and forth between us and the DM once he reached his position.

But just to make things more interesting, the search-and-recovery exercise was mixed up with some surprise rescue exercises. First one DM started flailing and yelling for help, and a few of us jumped in to “rescue” her. I lost track of the DM who was dropping my can until I saw him also flailing and yelling for help – from pretty far away. Sam and I swam out and towed him back, and nearly got run over by a guy piloting a small skiff out from one of the nearby boats to help another “rescue.” Oops. Guess we should have put up big signs saying it’s fake.

After a long swim, Sam and I got our DM back to the boat and up the swim steps. I thought the “rescue” had pre-empted the can-drop, and that now we’d send him back out and get a sighting on the location of droppage. But alas, we learned he’d dropped the can before he started “panicking.”


At least one in our group had been paying attention from the boat, and another had marked the spot in the water where we retrieved our DM, so we decided to give it our best shot. Meca and I suited up in full dive gear to do an expanding circle search pattern around the PLS (point last seen); Johnny came with us in skin gear, and Sam stayed on the boat waving at us which direction to go.


When we thought we were in roughly the right spot, we dropped down: Meca on the line, and me as the “anchor.”

It was too bad this was a working dive, because otherwise it would have been a lot of fun! We nearly landed on a pair of mating sheep crab on our descent, and then realized the whole area was absolutely crawling with sheep and decorator crabs. I turned circles in place and observed the marine life (more crabs, greenlings, plenty of curious fish) while Meca made one… two… three… four expanding circles.


We surfaced and talked things over with Johnny, who thought the PLS was actually a little farther over. Meca and I dropped down again, doing another search pattern adjacent to the original one.

Still nothing.

By this time, Sam had joined us in scuba gear. He and Meca dropped down for some more searching, and Johnny headed back to the boat to gear up.

Johnny came back and took over Meca’s end of the search, and she and I headed in – did I mention the water was below 60 degrees and I wasn’t wearing gloves? Brrrr.

By the time we finally admited total defeat, we’d basically missed out on the chance to do a second, “fun” dive. Communication between the search teams and the boat fell apart pretty quickly once we were in the water. In fact, I found out later we’d been completely out of the loop for a “missing diver” stunt that two of the DMs pulled.

Back on the boat, our DM seemed surprised we hadn’t found our can. We pointed to the area we’d searched, and he thought we had it about right. It eventually came out that he hadn’t emptied the can first – so, being full of freshwater, it’s possible it floated away. That, or my team was just lame.

So, that was the first half of the day, during which Jeff had a pleasant, hour-long dive with drysuit-clad Carol.

We moved to a second dive site, and were let loose for the third (or for my team, second) dive of the day. No strings attached: go do what you want.

It was a pleasant enough dive, with schools of opaleye, a few different types of nudibranch, island kelpfish, and a brief sighting of a harbor seal. But mostly, it was cold. I’d gone with a wetsuit for the day, anticipating a workout doing rescue and search stuff. This dive reminded me why we’re drysuit people now. I was freezing the instant I hit the water, and I didn’t get any warmer. I somehow managed to stay down about 25 minutes before admitting to Jeff I was freezing.

Our first Stearn’s Aeolid:

So… all in all, a rather frustrating day. I think we all learned a lesson about task loading, and chaos during rescue situations. My group was pretty bummed we didn’t find our can, even though we weren’t the only ones. And I basically only got one “real” dive in, and was freezing the whole time.

But at least I had great company for the day. All my new ADP friends plus Jeff – how better to fill a boat?

Hot chocolate and warm cookies post-dive:

More pics from Jeff here: Santa Cruz 09/10/06.


ADP Journal: Weekend #7, Part One

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 6:57 pm

On Saturday, September 9, I was able to sleep in for a change – the ADP candidates weren’t due in class until 9am. I can’t even describe how nice it felt to leave the apartment in daylight.

Apparently, Long Beach lifeguards regard their sleep more highly than LA County instructors; those were our teachers for the day, and the reason for our “late” start. We gathered at Los Alamitos Bay in Long Beach for a few hours in the classroom going over search and recovery techniques with the lifeguard dive team. These are the guys who search along the hulls of container ships in the harbor for contraband, go over every inch of the area where a gun was thrown into the water, or recover bodies and wreckage from accidents. Serious guys.

But they were a lot of fun, too. We had the chance to look at some of their gadgets, hear their stories, and learn from the best.

Then it was time to practice. We broke into teams and headed to the little beach on the bay, where we were tasked with recovering airplane parts (of various sizes) and three dummies that had been dropped around floats in the harbor. In buddy pairs, we took turns going out to the float, dropping down the anchor line, and conducting expanding circular searches out from the float. One buddy stayed at the anchor point holding a reel, letting out line to the searching buddy, who quickly disappeared into the murk.

Unlike the ocean a few hundred yards away, the bay bottom is extremely silty. When you step into the water, you sink into several inches of muck that puffs up into brown clouds, and it’s just worse the deeper you go. All it takes is a wave of your hand near the mud, and you can wave goodbye to visibility for a few minutes.

Mike and I were the first buddy pair in the water, and he only did about 3/4 of a circle before he found an enormous piece of airplane. We took it up, brought it back down for the next team, and went in to give them a turn. I felt like we’d barely had a chance to try the search pattern.

So after the next team had found the large piece, and then searched fruitlessly for 15 minutes for the various small parts that were in our area, Mike and I were sent back in to finish the job. This time Mike took the anchor spot, and let out about 25 feet of line for me to wander off and search.

I did a few circles around him. Every time he was facing the same direction as we started, he’d give two tugs on the line to indicate that we needed to let more out, and I’d tug twice back to agree before he spooled out another 2 feet of line. I made three or four expanding circles, and found two 6-inch metal chunks half-buried in the mud. Visibility ranged from 6 inches to 2 feet, so my mask was usually panning back and forth right over the ground.

After I’d found a second piece and been down for about 15 minutes (the max alloted), I gave Mike the “reel me in” signal (three tugs) and headed back as he spooled in the line. Even though I was looking for him, I didn’t see him until our faces nearly bumped into each other!

Everyone seemed to have a surprisingly fun time for our first near-zero visibility dive. All the parts were found (eventually), and lunch was waiting for us at the restaurant next door when we wrapped up around 2pm. That’s downright early – these lifeguard hours are easy!


Thanks to the Long Beach lifeguards for giving us a chance to learn their tricks – on their own volunteered time. We really appreciated it!


ADP Journal: Beach Survey 9/2/06

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:32 pm

In case 10 weekends of wall-to-wall ADP wasn’t enough, we were all given a project for September: on our own time, divide into groups and do a beach survey. This shall entail:

  • Getting a group together on a free weekend. This is quite a task in and of itself, logistics-wise.
  • Selecting a beach everyone is interested in.
  • Writing up everything there is to know about said beach
  • Diving at the beach, AND
  • Conducting a formal survey of a roughly 200′ by 50′ patch of underwater, using lines, buoys, and slates to record depths, substrates and marine life on a grid.

I joined up with a bunch of folks who decided Old Marineland, on the south side of Palos Verdes, would be a fun dive. None of us had actually dived it before, but OML is a famous dive spot among locals; it tends to have nice conditions and really cool stuff to see, if you can manage to get in the water. There’s a bit of a hike down (and hence, back up), and the most popular entry is off some rather tricky boulders. A slightly easier entry is offered at a cobblestone beach, out from which there’s mostly sand.

Cobblestone beach, as seen from the walk down – that’s us with our float:

I remember this dive site as the location of one of my first beach dive attempts with the Sole Searchers, where I was roundly scared away by the surf pounding on the slimy boulders (at entry #1) and the surf tossing around all the loose rocks (at entry #2). Jeff and I huffed all the way down and back up without actually diving.

This time, we had better conditions. Eight of us gathered in the parking lot above OML, and were ready to hit the water by 10am or so (downright late in the morning by ADP standards). We spent a bit of time coordinating logistics of the survey in the parking lot: how to stay in formation, how to signal each other when we were done taking readings, whether or not to lug the floats along with us (we did), etc. Then it was down the once-scary hill, which didn’t seem as hard as I remembered it, and onto the cobblestone beach (not wanting to wrangle the floats over the already-tricky boulders), which didn’t look as scary as I remembered it. So far, so good.

And it stayed that way. Meca and I were first into the water with a float (with Mike’s help ‘tossing’ it out to us), which we dropped towards the west end of the cove. Then we hit the bottom and started unspooling line in the direction of the reef (west towards the boulders). Even with my fancy new PVC line spool, assembled the night before, working with lightweight line underwater was a bit of a bitch. We persevered, and laid out 100′ of line over… sand. Boring, boring sand. We finally hit a bit of rock at the end, where the reef appeared to just be starting.

Back on the surface, we were joined by Sam and David sporting float #2, which they anchored at the end of our line. We decided instead of doing either side of a single line, we’d just go straight down the middle of one long line, and hopefully catch some actual topography. Sam and David dropped down with their own 100′ marked line and laid it out over a slightly more interesting section of reef than the first line.

By this time, the remaining two buddy teams had joined us at float #1. We broke into groups of 4, each on one side of the line, and headed out to survey the area.

It’s incredibly easy to do this on land. Put a line down on the grass. Line up perpendicular to the line, everyone arms’ length apart. Take 2 steps forward. Write down what you see. 2 more steps. Repeat. Etc.

It’s a bit nastier underwater, because of surge pushing you back and forth, so every 5 feet in each direction becomes more like “5 feet plus or minus another 5 feet.” Additionally, keeping even 4 divers in a straight line is – well – damn near impossible. We didn’t use a buddy line because we thought there would be kelp (there wasn’t). Passing the “stop, go” signals back and forth was also a little tricky due to difficulties getting each other’s attention, so everyone wound up with a slightly different number of readings.

Our site survey area, on a Google Maps pic of OML:

Still, I had a really fun dive, even just checking out the “boring” side of Old Marineland. We saw plenty of fish, including a big school of jack mackerel and a rainbow seaperch (my first). Spanish shawls, sea hares, keyhole limpets and chestnut cowries all made appearances, as did a few soles in the sand. Mike spotted a batray in the shallows on his way out. So, despite our less-than-scientific underwater survey, we all had a good time – and learned a few things for the next time we try a site survey.


ADP Journal: Weekend #6

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:16 pm

(Yes, I missed a weekend… I was in Tucson, walking into sliding glass doors, while my class went to Catalina for the day.)

But I was back in plenty of time for our next beach dive: rescue drills at Malaga Cove, on the northwest tip of the Palos Verdes penninsula.

I’ve been to Malaga before, though not for SCUBA. I’ve snorkeled, and hung out at the beach. It’s a nice place to hang out for a day, if you don’t mind not having any bathrooms. And if you don’t mind The Hill. The distance from top to bottom probably isn’t any worse than many of Southern California’s beach diving sites, but it’s steep.

By 8am, we were heading down The Hill, all geared up and lugging whatever we’d need for the next few hours: floats with anchors and bottles of water, snacks, etc. In other words: heavy. By the time we hit sand at the bottom of the paved path, most of us were ready to drop our burdens right there. But oh no, this is ADP – we keep walking. Sigh.

We finally set up camp just a little bit down the beach, away from boogie-boarders and surfers (despite the relative lack of surf: 1-2 footers, no problem).

Then we spent the next 5 or 6 hours going in and out, in and out, in and out of the surf. Think I’m kidding? First we took the floats out and set them up in a line. Then we started with rescue drills on skin (fins, mask/snorkel). We split into groups of 6, and then did the drill 6 times so everyone had a chance to play rescuer – but all but two in that group went in and out of the surf zone (2 stayed on the beach to help the others come back out).

And once we’d finally done skin rescue six times… it was time to do it all again ON SCUBA. Now the “victim” sank down on the bottom at the float, and the rescuer started from just behind the surf zone, swam out in full scuba gear, went to bring the victim up, ditched all the gear, and then did the skin rescue back into shore.


It went really well, though, especially considering I’d missed the rescue pool session and my rescue class is 3 years behind me. I don’t think I “killed” my buddy too badly, and only swallowed a small amount of seawater myself, despite the set of 2 footers that started breaking over my head while I was being dragged in. Timing.

Then, at 2pm, it was time for the fun dive. We hauled our gear back to the bottom of the hill, and then broke into buddy teams to enter over the rocks into the kelp bed. Despite the unpleasantness of the entry (clambering over slimy rocks when already exhausted – I was not at my most graceful), I had a fantastic dive.

For starters, visibility was 15-20 feet, much better than is typical at Malaga. We found two octopi, one curled up asleep in a half-buried shell. The whole area was full of juvenile fish of various species; in particular, I stumbled across least five mostly-blue super-juvenile garibaldi, juvenile rock wrasse, and young blacksmith and senoritas. We also bumped into a large school of salema, a fish I hadn’t seen before.

On our exit, we surfaced a bit too far west where the feather boa kelp was too thick to easily paddle through. We dropped back down and returned to our entry point, and hauled our tired butts back up the rocks. And then – back up THE HILL. I’m proud to say I made it on one trip (mainly because there was no way in hell I wanted to make that walk TWICE).

By the time everyone had finished putting away gear and debriefing, it was 4pm and we were seriously starving. Luckily, enough of us had remembered to bring food (and one person remembered to bring a bbq), so even without formal planning ahead we pulled off a halfway decent bbq. You’ve never seen people inhale hot dogs so fast. Divers can eat.

So, pretty much no downside to our rescue day. I had a great time with the drills, managed the surf without fear (it wasn’t terrible surf, but it was worse than I would have been comfortable in a month ago), and even got a dive in that was 100% for-fun.

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