Monday, August 24, 2009

Pentax Optio W80 - I am sooo Happy!

So I got a new camera and tried it out around the yard. Before we moved here I bought Jeff an Olympus 770w or something like that - a camera that was small and could be dropped, used down to 30 feet (for spearfishing photos) and mainly something he could use and not break (although he did break it by taking it to 60 feet - another story). Since then I have been jealous of its smallness and portability. It goes where my big one doesn't - into caves, in the kayak, to the beach.

I have an Olympus evolt 510 with a few different lenses and for underwater I have a Nikonos film camera and strobe and strobe arms and all that crap. I have never been into equipment and believe that what makes an interesting or compelling image is the subject matter and person's vision and not the equipment. I enjoy my camera, but I don't take it everywhere because I don't want to leave it in the car, don't want to haul it around everywhere and it can't get wet, can't squeeze though some of the spots we squeeze through without getting muddy or bumped or screwed up, etc.

Well finally they made a camera for me. Pentax just came out with the Optio W80 which has some neat features that made me want it. First off it is small - 3 1/2 inches by 2 inches by 3/4 inch thick. The feature I like best is that it has a 5x optical zoom which means I can be as close as 1cm which is exactly the stuff I love doing (bugs, buds, patterns etc). The digital zoom is 5.7 or something, but the internal optical zoom is what makes it great. It is perfect for caves because it can go to 15 feet underwater (many of the caves are actually underground rivers and wet the whole time), can get wet, humid, muddy (although you don't want to do that) and can take little bumps here and there and drops to 5 feet. It is 12 megapixels which I don't care about but will make nice prints. The greatest thing is that it is $299 so I can drag it around everywhere and really use it without being afraid of wrecking a $1500 piece of equipment. Fits my lifestyle and is so small I can have it in the car for my favorite grass collecting photos, animals in the road photos, cow attached to the tow hitch etc etc. So enough blahblah.

Who can resist an ugly cat face? Tuca is the ugliest little cat with a huge personality. We love her but she won't sit still.

Close up of light through a leaf.

New tree fern frond.

Don't know the name of this plant, coral plant or something - isn't that helpful?

My new favorite plant for tough spots - "firecracker" plant. It gets to about 4 feet tall, wherever it touches down it roots and spreads, blooms always, likes it dry and sunny, and holds soil. I put it under our Robelinni palms and will be propagating it and moving it all around the yard.

Finally, after a little over a year the beehive ginger bloomed! I knew it would take a year or so (needs to be about 5 feet) and I expected longer since I have it in rocky soil and it prefers moister more composty stuff.

It is just unreal to see this fake looking thing pop out of the ground.

The Ylang ylang tree absolutely fills the house and yard with scent (pleasant but strong). I am glad it is 50 feet from the house or it would be overpowering! It smells especially strong in the morning as the sun comes up and when things get still and humid.

This was a $4 mystery thing that looks like a ginger of some sort.

I just wasn't expecting this icy blue color. Very nice. So this weekend we are caving up in the Florida area and I'll be taking the little camera underground. It is hard to do a cave justice without tripods, multiple bulbs, strobes etc but I just don't want my caving to be about that. Just like diving here - I want to enjoy the dive, not dive to photograph (done that already). So we will see how the little camera does. Built in flash that doesn't go far, how will zoom work in blackness, with the contrast of limestone and blackness...I am sure something will come out so I can look back and remember the spot and that is what I want! So now I am trying it out before I have to figure out how to use it in the dark - ha!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cat Antics and a New Toy

This is Blanco inside the cat tunnel. The cat tunnel was a couple different toys(at least in the cats' mind's). I was cleaning out all the boxes and foam peanuts we were hoarding since we moved here to get rid of stuff. I found a xmas tree box and decided to use it for weed suppression in the garden and hadn't taken it out yet. The cats roared through the open ends, one cat in one cat out, one on top one inside, 4 get the idea. It turned into another toy when I cut a hole in the top so they could poke their little hands through it. Finally they started to sleep in it but I got tired of having a box in the jungle room for 3 weeks! I cut it open and put it in the vegetable area and then thought.."hmmm...I have a couple red clay pots just laying out in the yard - I should put one in the jungle room." So I did.

Blanco was the first to claim it. King of the pot.

To maintain ownership he had to go in, since Tuca (using the tree fern as her tower) and Bepo were next in line to claim it. I had hoped to strap orchids and ferns to the tree fern but the cats use it as a natural scratching post and they play on top and knock it over all the time.

I liked how it looked and wanted to put a fern in it but didn't want to use up my good soil or have to buy some. My solution for big pots is to fill them mainly with the foam peanuts, then to put dirt or a plant in a pot over that. So I filled the thing with peanuts.

The foam peanuts were just the greatest thing for the cats! Chicken is picking one up in his mouth and dropping it out for the others (Mars looking on the right with Bepo and Stripes waiting). This goes on all day - pulling a peanut out, knocking it around and diving in for more.

Then Tuca decided it was a good place to sleep. But when she tries to get out it is like quicksand and she kind of sinks so only her head and little hands show! (When I leave the area I put a towel over it so no one suffocates.)

And of course if you disappear into the pot everyone comes looking for you so they can harass you out of it!

Just a Frickin l o n g Dive

After Saturday's adventure David and I headed out for another dive. This time the north was even worse, and we decided to give the Sugar Mill a try. We parked, got the gear on and walked 20 minutes to the water and it looked kind of brown near shore. Oh well, we walked all the way down so we are going!

The surface was flat, the wind was picking up a little, but it looked like nice conditions. The plan was to consider yesterday's northbound train-of-a-current and go south so we could do the rubble first and then come with the current north to do the pilings. We went down into murky water and then in the distance could see a layer of blue with murk above and below it - there was hope!

We dropped into about 40 feet of water so we could follow the slope down and not miss the rubble. Before you knew it we were at 60 feet in the rubble and then 87 looking up at the surface. No current. That's a little deep even though he is using the other regulator (not yesterday's disaster one). We came up and stayed in the 60-70 zone for quite a while and then headed to the pilings after seeing a mob of Spade Fish and loads of schools of other types. There were huge Puffers and eels and just about everything else.

We stayed around the pilings for quite a while looking for seahorses. We heard that someone has been taking them out to sell to the aquarium trade. Shame. They should take the lionfish I found (just call me the lionfish whisperer) - My 5th one. That at least is a non-native-we-should-remove-them -before they eat everything species that doesn't belong here. We spent quite a long time. We turned and the line up of squid we saw before were there again. This time they wanted to rumble and brought reinforcements. 14 in all. David had only 200 pounds of air left so we started coming in at around 20 feet. He wanted to surface (but I had air) until he saw an octopus. We went down to peek at it. It looked closer than it was. He was out of air and used my regulator again for what we thought would be a "quick peek" and a speedy rise to the surface. That was until my dive computer alarm sounded and told me that all of a sudden I needed to go a little deeper and stay there for 6 minutes! 6 minutes? What the hell for?

I have a very conservative computer that I follow because what will kill me is that I have air. I ALWAYS have air and I like to use it. My computer will tell me I owe 4 minutes of decompression time when my husband who goes deeper won't owe any time. I take my computer under advisement but usually figure it is fine to do what I want - I have enough air to do 20 minutes of decompression time!

So David and I breathed off of my tank for 6 minutes, came up, gave the customary Yoo Hoo and had our longest dive ever...2 hours and 13 minutes! If you are a diver you are thinking this is fake (nope)....they were at 30 feet the whole time (nope - 87 and 60 for a wad of it). This is unheard of! We were both on 80's, not 100s, not twin tanks, nope..just regular tanks. I found a couple perfect pair of sunglasses. We saw all kinds of cool stuff (except the lionfish that shouldn't be there). It was a really long and really pleasant dive. I can't wait until Jeff gets home so we can do it!

Mt Humphreys 12,633'

Mt Humphreys volcano is the tallest point in Arizona and some co-workers recommended that I go hike it. It's last erupted a hundred years or so ago. Its in Flagstaff where the weather is considerably cooler. The trail head is at 9,300' and it was a pleasant 68 degrees. As soon as I stepped out of the car I knew I was in trouble. I got lightheaded just putting the backpack on. I haven't really been hiking in the last year (other than this trip) so I am not in good shape. This was going to be tough.

4.8 miles to the summit and the weather is perfect.

Mt Humphreys sure is a long ways away, lets go!
The trees are starting to thin out. Now I can see the other side of the crater.

This is the saddle. At 11,800 feet its a nice place to stop. There were at least 30 people here.

This is a view of the center of the volcano that blew out millions of years ago. Whats left of the rim continues on up the left side of the picture.

Almost there...? This hike had several false summits. Just when I thought I was at the top I get there and look in the distance to find I have another half mile to go!

Finally. I (and many others here) are very lightheaded. With no time to acclimate its hard to breathe. Did I mention how cold it was. I was freezing. It must have been 45 degrees and the wind was blowing hard.

This guy was taking a nap sheltered from the wind. There were a few rock windbreaks to sit in and warm up. Silly me for not bringing any warm clothes for the trip.

I was starting to get a bad headache on top. Its time to leave. Pound pound pound on the way down.

I was happy to be back at the parking lot. This was the highest I have hiked and felt like the toughest. I took it easy on Sunday and visited a petroglyph museum. Don't step on the rattlesnake and watch out for coyotes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

High Adventure under the Calm Seas or Oh #@*&*$^

Well, I didn't expect an adventure of this sort...and neither did David! Jeff is still in Arizona (but coming home soon) so David and I headed out for the regular 8:30am dive. He called from Isabela and said the cuevas (caves) were too crappy to dive inside or out. I already had passed Rincon (which I suspected would be muddy) so we agreed to dive Natural in Aguadilla. It is kind of our back up spot and very very nice with all kinds of life. We usually see lots of turtles, all kinds of fish, eagle rays, moray eels etc etc. We have even seen 2 of the evil non-native lion fish there.

It LOOKED like it would be ok and it was...except...

We started our dive as usual except I was using Jeff's 100 tank instead of my 65 or 80 (we are talking cubic feet of air here). I never need all the air I carry. I was using the big tank because I only have 3 tanks and since Jeff is gone and we are all solar power now and I had no way to fill the tanks. They are out of hydro so a dive shop won't do it. When Jeff is home he un-wires the solar and reconnects to the grid to power the compressor. This is a good solution since getting a gas motor would take up space, mean storing and using gas etc etc. It is only $6.98 a month to be able to do this. I decided to use the 100 today since Natural has a short easy walk and swim and that would leave me one 80 cubic foot tank (less air but smaller and lighter - my usual tank) for tomorrow. That wasn't the problem.

We kicked out and hmm... looked pretty clear. We dropped down and immediately noticed that the current was really moving to the north. We have experienced this before and figured we would go north 20 minutes or so instead of the usual 40 to 60 and fight the current coming back at a slow pace. Of course we didn't really set this plan up before we went under, but we dive together every weekend and think alike. So sure enough , at 20 minutes he wants to head back which is fine with me.

We are heading back and really fighting when all of a sudden I hear lots of bubbles - and I know this sound. David's regulator is free flowing! This usually isn't a big deal, he took it out, smacked it, purged it, and it still kept free flowing. He stuck the backup in his mouth but the only problem is that there is not way to isolate the free flowing one so it is draining his tank. Just FYI - a hose split drains a FULL tank in about 4 minutes. So he looks at his air and starts going up.

I have to pull him back down, since we have been at 67 feet for some minutes and can't just pop up to the top! I give him my backup (since I am the queen of air - I don't use it, I have partially adapted I think) and then I notice that in the commotion his mask has filled with water so he doesn't even realize 1)we are deep 2) we are ascending too fast 3) we are drifting away. He didn't panic, but with this losing-the-air-really-fast problem after having 40 minutes underwater already and add to that being in a strong current and not being able to see is problematic.

So he now has one of my regulators and is very close. I am not a DIR (Doing It Right) philosophy person (this is a very safe diving method) - I am a DIMY (Do It My Way) person (I take what works for me to be free of gadgets and extra stuff, safe, and practical given that I don't have much real estate to hang stuff off of). So not being DIR, I don't have the really long hose. That means David is very close. I am holding onto his BC and pulling him down. The computer is beeping that we are ascending too fast. I get us down and hold onto a rock. I let him clear his mask, show him that we need 4 minutes at depth before we can travel toward shore and the surface.

Meanwhile there are a couple other divers who see us and just have no clue that there is a problem - they actually look, sort of wave and keep going!

After his mask is clear I tell him 4 minutes,(holding up fingers) we head toward shore against the strong current, he knows there is plenty of air in my jumbo tank for both of us so we surface, give the whuu hoo yell that follows any good dive (or in this case "adventure") and then just kind of hang out floating near shore for a bit before going up to the cars and out for coffee. This all happened in about 5 minutes!

So does this happen often? The only time I had a regular free-flow was when I went Ice Diving in Fish Lake in Eastern Washington. When you are diving under 3 feet of ice and the water is, well, FREEZING, you can kind of expect this. I did have a hose burst in Fiji and it drained my FULL tank in under 4 minutes. Thankfully it was at the beginning of the dive and I was able to kick off the helpful soul who wanted to save me by racing me up to the surface too fast. So lucky for us I had air, we weren't horribly deep, we aren't the panicky types, and if we did drift away I have a GPS with us so we can be located. We got this after some "mishaps" in Neah Bay Washington which is the roughest diving there is.

So this has me thinking of our biggest adventures. I may just have to dig out some photos and relive them. Hmmm. I am sure I have forgotten some but a hint of what is to come:
1) drifting more than a nautical mile after diving the Diamond Knot wreck in the Straits of Juan de Fuca 2) getting held up at gunpoint, saved by a bamboo arrow and living to tell about in in Papua New Guinea 3) drifting for a long way at Darwin's Arch in the Galapagos Islands, 4) feeding and photographing Six Gill Sharks in Puget Sound. No particular order. I'll give it some thought. But right now I am starving!

Monday, August 3, 2009

It was 117 Degrees Yesterday!

I am in Phoenix for a work assignment. It is hot here! Yesterday I went hiking in the desert with a co-worker. I thought the heat was going to kill me but it just slowed me down a bit. It's dry so you have to drink lots and lots of water.

We hiked for 7 miles and climbed two peaks. It was a little cooler than 117 when we hiked but not much.

Saturday I visited a couple of museums and a botanical garden. The museums were ok but the botanical garden was really neet. I wish Katrina could have been there with me. It was all cactus . Here are a few pictures from my cell phone.
This Agave is taller than me.

Between the Museum and Garden I stopped at Paogo Park and saw a few hills that needed to be climbed. I wasn't in my hiking clothes and didn't have much water with me but I just couldn't help but climb them.

A short hike through the desert to get to the rocks.

The view from the top. I hiked around the back side to climb up. I thought I would take a short cut on the way down and just go down the front side. I got about 2/3rds down and got upset because I couldn't find a way down the rest of the way. It was steep. But I managed to find a way down. It was hairy and the rock was really hot to hold onto. You could only hold on for 5 to 10 seconds without being burned!
I wonder what next weekend will bring.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Diving Adventures Over the Last Month

No photos - but lots of adventures including today's and yesterday's..I'll start there.

YESTERDAY David and I (Jeff is in Arizona working) were going to go diving like we do every weekend (except when we are in caves). We have had some great dives lately but it looked like things were kind of changing. The Sahara Dust was knocked out of the sky and into the water and we thought visibility was dropping. Also it seems like wind and rain in the Central area were going to disturb things. I am just about to Rincon and David calls - "the north looks bad." No problem, I'll take the detour to Corseca in Rincon and check it out. Like mud. (Does it always rain in Rincon?) Where to now? We meet half way at the Aquadilla Court House Wall which can be spectacular or completely muddy. What a shock - it is crystal clear!!!! We descended at the usual place and since it was just David and I (we are the best on air - we don't breathe) we had 97 minutes underwater and saw the complete area! We went down and followed the wall to about 88 feet and went through thermoclines (layers of hot and cold water - 81 and then 82 but I swear it felt like a 3 or 4 degree difference). We kept the reef on our right and since it is kind of an oval we came up right where we descended after seeing oodles of stuff including the surface from 80 feet down!

ADVENTURE - The adventure started AFTER the dive. David has told us stories of diving the Sugar Mill. He hadn't gone there in 6 or so years and there was construction there now so he talked about getting a boat to take us there. The Sugar Mill is just South of Crash Boat. I pestered him into taking a big adventure and showing me where he USED to go down. I am always up for an adventure. There was some construction but an older guy (I love the old people here - they know everything) showed us where to get through the fence. David had us wandering on steep embankments and in thick brush looking for the old trail. We heard stories of needing 4 wheel drive pickups and then hiking boots to get down. There was no way we were doing this from shore....or could we? We saw another older guy in dress pants and I told David "I bet he knows how to get down." David asked, and the guy takes is an easy way down the bank to a beautiful little beach at the base of the pilings exactly where we want to be. This of course is after David gets into the dreaded pica pica and we both have scratches from wandering the brush without a machete! A nice swim after we found the route to the beach though made us forget all about the scratches and stings.

SUGAR MILL - David didn't even have to ask..."we are diving the Sugar Mill." Yes we are. So this morning we drove to the spot, suited up, and walked the 15 minutes past the no trespassing signs etc to get to the water. It is flat...sun is waves...clear people. Perfect! We swim on the surface to the end of the structure and decide to descend there, head south to around 60 feet to a debris pile and then back to the pilings. We drop down and it is a lot like Bonaire or St. Croix diving (very good). We are in caballo del mar country now - seahorses. Unfortunately we didn't see any but we saw more schools of fish than I have seen in one place. 30 or more Spade fish, large fish, small fish, all in huge schools around us. A line up of 10 squid that were in football formation. More eels than I have seen in one place - at least 6, turtles (I don't think it is really turtle time yet), nudibranches (I saw more today than I have in 100 dives here), god, what didn't we see? I used a 65 cubic foot tank and David used an 80 and we went to 78 feet and could still see the surface! We had 110 minutes underwater - wow! It was really wonderful. Lots of Tubastrea Coral that would be spectacular at night - unfortunately there is a guard in the evenings. We'll have to introduce ourselves! We then had to hike up the hill in our gear. My tank weighs 29 pounds and I carry 6 or 8 pounds of lead since I wear a 5mm suit (I know, most people are fine in a 3 mm). It didn't take much more than 20 minutes to come up but I was a little warm. We had a nice chat with the neighbors...nice people.

DESECHEO - a few weeks ago David, Raul and a friend of Raul's (forget his name) and I hired
a guy to take us in his boat to Desecheo. Jeff and I have always wanted to go there but the weather was never right...we didn't know any guys with boats...we didn't want to pay 85 bucks a person and be expected to have two back to back 30 minute dives. This was a friend of David's and for 40 bucks (then we all gave him an extra 10) he took us out and let us dive our way - which means David and I had 2 80 minute plus dives and he just tracked us with in the boat and came for us when we were ready.(Dive stores won't let you have long dives.) The trip out in the boat was great - maybe 40 minutes or so. It is about 14 miles off the Rincon coast and we left from Aguadilla near the Ice Rink. There was current, but the water was really really clear and there were really neat caverns lots of corals and fish and stuff (not like today's dive though - which was really packed with fish). We had long, wonderful dives and unfortunately for Jeff he was visiting his family in Wisconsin. The trip back in the boat was similar to any good Neah Bay trip - very very rough with lots of bottom slamming, being airborne and pounding. Coming back took over 1 1/2 hours. I am glad I took Bonine - I am shocked I didn't get seasick. Maybe the sun and being warm is just plain easier on the body? I got back to the truck and loaded up just about as Jeff's plane was landing in Mayaguez. He didn't have to wait long at all so it was pretty much perfect except that he didn't get to do the dives with us! Ah, another time..another adventure.