Archive for August, 2007

Swimming with an Ocean Sunfish

August 27, 2007

These photos were taken by Peter Donahue with Pat Walsh’s new digital still camera:

Swimmers with an ocean sunfish

The encounter took place on Sunday, August 26th, off Rockport, MA.

They look like they’re freezing and having fun at the same time, don’t they?

More swimmers with the sunfish

That’s Pat Walsh at the top, and, clockwise from her, Veronica Atlantis, Ray, Laurent Dubois, and Richard Brandolini at the bottom.

A Doozy

August 26, 2007

OK.  Where should I begin?  Swimming with the mola mola? Seeing a torpedo ray? Videoing a pack of dogfish? It was a National Geographic Special kinda day.  Hot again, and less wind, but cloudy for most of the time, with a few droplets of rain.

We went north because we couldn’t see the mouth of Gloucester Harbor looking south.  It was foggy, hot and HUMID.  I was drenched in sweat just helping load the boat with the six divers who’d chartered today – Richard Brandolini, Larry Fine, Laurent Dubois, Ben “Nuts & Bolts” Perkins and his friend Ray, and a new NAUI Instructor candidate, Tim Maxwell.  Pat, Pete, and Veronica were crew.  The Captain shouted directions.  I drove the boat.

I had a yen to try Fisherman’s Canyon and as we rounded Pointe des Chenes in Rockport, I saw the flippy, flappy fin of an ocean sunfish on the surface.  We encouraged some of the more intrepid divers and they jumped in to swim with it in just their swim suits, masks and flippers.  The surface is about 60 degrees and there were some yelps as they eased off the swim platform, but we didn’t want to scare it by having them just jump in quickly.  It didn’t go away and let the swimmers approach it.  We cautioned everyone not to try to touch it.  We handed still cameras and video cameras back and forth and they caught up close images of its eye and “beard” of copepods.  I’ll post them here as soon as I get them from anyone.

After about 20 minutes of that, we eased over to Fisherman’s Canyon for sightseeing and hunting.  I anchored in 25 feet.  Everyone was quickly into the water at Peter’s urging because the sky was getting dark and threatening.  It sprinkled while they were under, but no heavy wind happened and no further darkening took place.  Peter said it was 55 degrees at 47 feet and 47 degrees at 55 feet.

There was a move to look for lobsters in a better place on the way home.  I chose the best place near the graveyard in Lanesville for the second dive.  There was a little bit of an outbound current, so I made sure everyone swam into it and didn’t get swept around the rocks at Folly Point.  I anchored in about 20 feet of water.  Immediately upon descending with Tim, we saw a dogfish swimming around the white mushroom anchor.  It must have been intrigued by it, because it let me video it and Tim.  It was about 2 feet long, grey, and extremely sleek looking.

We came to the surface to let Veronica know there were sharks here.  Then we descended again with Laurent and he led us to the place where he’d just seen a torpedo ray.  Of course, it was gone, but there were about 30 dogfish swimming in a pack at 37 feet.  They were skittish, but not fearful.  Everytime we exhaled, they backed away.  When there was stillness, they circled closer and closer.  I could see the white spots along their lateral lines.

When we got back to the boat, we learned that Veronica had rescued one of these sharks that was trapped in a ghost lobster trap using her bare hands and a scuba tank, but no exposure suit in 17 feet of water because Pete told her one was trapped right next to the boat. 

Everyone remarked on the number of huge, egg-bearing lobsters at this site.  We were happy they were there.  It’s neat just to look at them.

The divers returned, all having swum with the dogfish. 

Happy campers.

It was a wonder-filled day.

Breezy, Super-heated Perfection

August 25, 2007

Today was our 22nd wedding anniversary.  Dr. Don Butterfield and Ken Ishiwata proposed a celebratory picnic and were willing to bring it.  Since Don was our Best Person, how could we say “No”?  There were the three Childresses and Dianne Kelleher as well.  A laid-back team if there ever was one.  We were treated to wonderful sun, a 10-15 knot breeze from the southwest, and pretty warm water.

On the way north, we passed a small boat at the first Annisquam River mark that had all its passengers draped over the bow.  They were either sea sick, or there was something interesting in the water near them.  As we got closer, we could see the flippy, floppy dorsal fin of an ocean sunfish, doing its thing.  They were amazed and agog at the depth of our knowledge about this amazing fish.  They had thought it was sick.  We assured them that it was just feeding.  The great big eye looked back at them through the water, and the toothless mouth seemed too small for the body.

After it descended for the last time, we proceeded north, looking for a cool anchorage.  Don and Ken and their pug, Deke, needed as comfortable a setting as I could find.  Folly Cove looked like it would be too hot and windless, Fisherman’s Canyon had breakers on its rocks, Straitsmouth Island had three anchored fishing boats, so we decided on Gully Cove.  I anchored up into the cove in about 25 feet so the divers could explore the rocks on its western edge.  Everyone suited up quickly because it was beastly hot.

I stayed on board with Don and Ken and Deke until they finished their first dive.  That way, I could be of help if anything happened with the divers.  Nothing did.  They came back with tales of a thermocline at 25 feet, 55 degrees from the top to the thermocline, and cold below it.  Visibility was about 10-15 feet. 

After the first dive, the picnicking commenced.  There was roast beef, roast chicken, ham and swiss, rolls, cherry tomatoes, bread and butter pickles, with arugula from Don and Ken, and brownies from the Childress family.  What a feast!  I think I saw some napping afterwards, but my eyes could have been deceiving me.

The vote was to stay in the same place so I could take Kathleen and Catie over to see the neat rocks at the cove’s edge.  Everyone else was hunting.  We were joined by Dianne and got to see the vertical boundary to the cove before having to turn around.  I had jumped in with a tank with only 1200 psi.  There were schools for small cunners scattering as we passed by.  As I got low on air, I led everyone back to the boat. Dianne stayed with Kathleen and Catie because she had more air as did they.

They emptied their tanks at the anchor and everyone climbed aboard at about the same time.  Catie helped haul the anchor and we headed back over the top for the marina.  It was a hot, sunny ride.  Lots of boats were pulled up at Wingaersheek Beach.  We pulled into the new finger docks with style and sweated the stuff up a low tide ramp. 

Great people, good eats, super day.

Family Day

August 19, 2007

Because of a last minute cancellation, we had only 5 folks today.  It was OK though, because they were family.  Steve Fisichelli and his son, Nick, joined Tom, Kathleen, and Catie Childress for a trip to the USF New Hampshire.  The Childress clan were repeats, but we’d never met Steve or Nick before today.   In the interests of making sure that the kids had a good, safe time, we decided to look at the wreckage of the USF New Hampshire and scour the site for treasure.

As we anchored, we noted that the wind and tide were combined to make a good anchorage which was close to the main wreck site possible.  Sometimes we have to go way into the cove to get calm water, but not today.

I was trying out a new dry suit from Ted Barnes’ Freedom Diving.  The Captain was directing traffic.  The remaining crew were Peter Donahue, Pat Walsh, and Veronica Atlantis.  Everyone was also hunting for lobsters, if they came across any. 

Although the wind had died from yesterday, it was overcast and not as warm as one would have liked for August 19th – maybe 70 degrees?  In the water, it was 52 all the way to the bottom.  Visibility was about 10-15 feet, with the better number closer to the island.  Speaking of the island, people saw stripers up in the shallows and on the bottom. 

Veronica saw a very large flounder.  The hunters were successful, as well.  The treasure was copper sheathing from the first metal rolling press in the world and nails manufactured by Paul Revere’s foundry.

We did both dives at the site by popular demand.  I learned after the first dive that Steve and Nick hadn’t gotten over to the wreck because they were hunting, don’t ya know.  I tagged Pete to guide them for the second dive because I wanted to be sure they saw it and its “golden” sawed-off pins.

The suit worked great and I’m now the proud owner of a new one.

Thanks to V for the “legal” snacks.

Good day with VERY nice people.

Very Breezy

August 18, 2007

We were glad to hear that the Blynman Bridge was fixed because the wind was gusting from the north northwest at 20-25 knots.  We went south with Linda and Kerry Hurd, Jim Castelli, Pat, Pete, The Captain and me.  As we turned around the Dog Bar Breakwater, we agreed that the nearest site would probably have the calmest water.  We could see rollers from the south were breaking on Salt Island’s shoreline, so we stopped at The Stone Garage.

Jim, Kerry, Pete and I suited up while everyone else kept anchor watch in the stiff, offshore breeze.  As I hit the water, the boat swung hard at anchor and I flapped like a flag.  This was going to be interesting.  I asked for the downline so I could manage venting my drysuit and the video camera at the same time as I was trying to descend.  Worked great.

Then I noticed how cold the water was.  Maybe the air temperature was affecting it, along with the off shore wind and the incoming tide, but later I learned it was 52 on the surface and 41 on the bottom at 35 feet.  That felt about right because I was chilly right away at 40 feet below the boat.

Nevertheless, we hardy souls saw decorator crabs in butterscotch-colored tunicate mantles, a purple blood star, a flounder with polka dot markings, a teeny “teddy bear” sea star,  a new kind of anemone, and lots of crabs everywhere.  Kerry was videoing up in the notches and trenches and got visibility of about 15 feet.  I was right under the boat and it was only about 10 feet of visibility there.  Then my suit started to leak down the arm.  That was it.

We surfaced and had no trouble getting into the boat, even though the wind was whipping and singing in the rigging.  We later learned it had topped out with gusts to 30 knots.  The vote was to call it at one and done. 

Lunch at The Gull  with our favorite waitress, Deb, helped even out the day with good people.

Let’s hope conditions are less challenging tomorrow.

The Best Sunday

August 12, 2007

of the summer.  Dry, coolish, but warming to upper 80s, cloudless, but silting up to high thin streamers, 57 degree ocean surface and good people chartering.  What’s not to love?

We had Joe Finkhouse, Laurent Dubois, Bill Low, Theresa H. and Emily with Veronica, Pat, and Pete as crew.  The Captain oversaw everything and I drove the boat.

They were a pack of hunters and needed prey.  I chose the Dead Light at Thacher Island as the best option and was I ever right.  It had lots of big mamoo lobsters that were oversized and fun to look at.  I anchored in 20 feet of water and Pete said it was 52 degrees at 35 feet.  He took Theresa and Emily on their first lobster hunt.  They had first hand experience holding one that was too big to take and then putting it back.  They caught supper.  Bill Low saw a big lobster with a crab in its clutches, ready for the feast.

The tide turned while we were climbing out and the current started to pick up.  I decided a second site would be a better option than fighting any current.  We headed over to the north side of Straitsmouth Island.

I anchored in 25 feet and everyone was back in the water quickly because the conditions looked perfect here.   We strongly encouraged the hunters to forage up into the cove and out of the traffic lane behind the boat.  A little southerly breeze kept us off the rocks and cooled too.  The visibility was 15-20 feet and even better up in the shallows.  There was golden Irish Moss spread over boulders and cormorants sun-drying themselves on rocks around the cove’s edge.  Again, the water was luxuriously  warm in the shallows – 62. 

Thanks to Veronica for the “legal” snacks. 

Thanks to Pete and Pat for steering repairs on-the-go. 

Thanks to Laurent for pumping the inflatable and other things.

Pat took lots of topside pictures.  If I get any from her, I’ll post them in another entry.

Wonderful day with great people.

Lanesville Shores and North Lane’s Cove

August 11, 2007

We had to go north today because the Blynman Bridge is broken.  No boat traffic is being permitted to go under it while it is being fixed.  That means EVERYONE is going north, regardless of the conditions.

Speaking of conditions, they were remarkable.  No breeze to speak of, high tide about 10:48 AM, cloudless sky, 80 degrees and rising for air temp, with 59 degree water temp (on the surface).  Pete suggested we stop at Lanesville Shores, just off the graveyard for our first site.  It looked fine and we had Kevin and Linsley Mordasky, Pat and Karen Hatcher, Juli and Kiera – all from Connecticut – to report back on their findings there.  Pete, Pat, and Kathy Cardinale were crew.  The Captain dove wet and I drove the boat.

It was about 20 feet deep and the visibility was 10-15 feet, but it was sunny even underwater.  The golden Irish Moss in the shallows was glistening.  I saw tons of teeny, tiny fish.  They were so young you could see clear through their bodies.  At only about 1 inch long, they proved to be too small and too far away for the video to do them justice.  Nevertheless, I lay and marveled at their antics in the sea lettuce fronds.  My drysuit’s valve leaked and my left arm got soaked.  Oh well, at least the water’s warm.

We just moved a little closer to Lane’s Cove for the second dive.  Same water conditions, but there was a thermocline at 19 feet, according to Pete.  It was 59 degrees above it and 52 degrees below it.

Everyone took their time getting ready for the second dive, so I jumped in with the remainder of my steel 70.  The boulders sheltered some really big lobsters and they were fun to video.  One came out boldly when he/she sensed me hovering nearby.

I felt a shadow without really seeing anything and looked up to find a striped bass watching to see what I’d do.  They wait to see if you pull out a lobster and then drop it as being too short.  Sometimes they’ll snatch the lobster before it gets back into a hole.  Opportunists of the first order.  I wasn’t hunting, so there was no reason for it to hang around.  It didn’t stay.

When I surfaced everyone else was in the water, so I got dressed quickly.  When Kathy and I were relaxing on the bow with Wheat Thins and Sprite, the rest of the crew helped the customers as they returned.  What a life!

The trip back down the river to the Cape Ann Marina was much faster then I thought it was going to be and there were many fewer boats in the river at Wingaersheek Beach.  I guess the folk that travel up to Cape Ann from Salem and Beverly were staying home rather than circumnavigating to get to a sandy anchorage.

It was a wonderful New England summer day with great people.

Tomorrow is supposed to be more of the same. 

What a Difference

August 5, 2007

How could two days in a row be so different from each other?

Today dawned with 70 degrees, a brisk breeze from the northeast, and hardly any humidity.  WooHoo!

We had Joe Finkhouse, Lihui Lin, Laurent Dubois, Jonathan M., Dianne Kelleher, and Richard Brandolini with Veronica Atlantis, Pete, and Pat as crew.  The Captain and I were along for the ride, but I drove the boat.

The wind dictated another trip south.  We picked Graves Island for the first site so The Captain and Dianne could video a segment about finding a spike from the USF New Hampshire.  Lihui and I were working on her open water skills; everyone else was hunting for either spikes or lobsters or both.

I anchored in about 15 feet of water in the shelter of the island.  Lihui and I descended the downline and explored the open sand and the sheltering rocks.  We saw flounder, moon snails, sand dollars, shards of copper sheathing from the bottom of the wreck, and ricochet shrimp (really, sand shrimp).  Laurent found lots of what he was looking for.  Everyone else seemed happy with the conditions – 55 degrees and about 10-15 feet of visibility.

The second site was picked for its protection from the wind that had shifted to the southeast.  It is called Divers’ Leap (a joke) because the entry from the land is via a high, steep bluff and would break anyone’s neck who tried it.  I anchored in 20 feet of water and everyone clamored in for the second dive.  Lihui tried Veronica’s inflatable vest to see what it felt like.  It was a good fit, but didn’t help her diving any.  Peter wrestled another three pounds on her weight belt and put some more in the pocket of her vest.  That seemed to make the biggest improvement.  She could descend without struggling when she wanted to do so.

We followed the anchor after our descent and found lots of moon snail collars and even a large, empty moon snail shell.   We saw little lobsters in depressions in the sand and large crabs eating what looked like sandy spaghetti.

People came back with prey and Lihui graduated from her course.  A great time was had by all.

Much better than Saturday.

But it felt like Fall.

Hot and Sweaty

August 4, 2007

There were six very sticky types on our boat Saturday, August 4th.  They were Lihui Lin, Laurent Dubois, Paul Savageau, Jonathan M., Jacki K. and Andi.  The crew was Pat, Pete, me and The Captain.  It was over 90 and there were messy swells coming in from the south.  What wind there was came from the west.  We decided to go south to get in the water ASAP.  The surface was at least 60 and maybe higher.  The Captain and I dove with wetsuits for the first time this year.  Just the thought of getting into our green fuzzies and then the DUI dry suit made me feel faint.

Lihui and I were dropped off at Kettle Island’s beach while everyone else went to the southwest corner of the island for their first dive.  Lihui is getting her open water experience for a scuba certification from NAUI.  We needed to be able to have her stand up if she wanted to.

The hunters did very well and so did Lihui and I.  We had fin kicked the inflatable 1/2-way to the anchored dive boat by the time they came to get us for the second dive.

The Captain decided we needed Norman’s Woe, but when we got close it seemed too surgy.  We proceeded into the mouth of Gloucester Harbor to Old House Cove.  We anchored in about 25 feet and Lihui and I swam the inflatable to shore for a stable platform to use for diving.  Big mistake.  It wasn’t stable in there at all.  Two white horses came to check us out and I decided that was an omen.  We agreed that the surge and black water, filled with torn seaweed, made getting into our gear too much hastle.  We swam the inflatable back to the boat and she geared up there.

Everyone else was already in the water, so it was an easy task for Pete and The Captain to help Lihui get into her tank, etc.   Laurent came over to help us and she made it to the bottom with the downline’s help.  When there, she was excited to see the smallest critters and Laurent found several for her. 

The visibility wasn’t great and the temperature on the bottom was about 50 degrees, so we needed all the rubber goods we’d brought along.  Darn!

We powered back to the marina and wrangled the heavy gear up a relatively flat ramp due to an incoming tide.  Thank goodness for some things. 

Dripping salt water, sweat, and swears, we packed up and hoped for better conditions on Sunday.