Miso Soup

July 9, 2008

Sometimes the most interesting dives are the ones that don’t go according to plan. Cheng and I had an interesting one at Redondo recently.

I’d been having consistent luck finding lumpsuckers down in the seaweed beds between the carousel boat and bottle field … not to mention finding all sorts of other interesting “small stuff” like unusual nudibranchs, small octopus, the occasional stubby squid and grunt sculpin. But with the lumpsuckers, in particular, none of my pictures were coming out … mainly because they were all really tiny ones, and sitting on a piece of seaweed that’s gently moving all the time poses certain challenges with a point-n-shoot camera.

We entered the water on a really low slack … the tail-end of an 11-foot ebb going into an equally large flood. But Redondo’s usually pretty user-friendly, so we weren’t too concerned. The tide was very low … we finned up while literally standing on the edge of the drop-off. There wouldn’t be much of a surface swim today … we kicked out about 30 feet and dropped.

Going downslope, I found the tiniest mosshead warbonnet I’ve ever seen … maybe an inch long. We stopped and took a couple pictures, and proceeded down toward the carousel boat … I was a man on a mission, after all. Further down the line we came upon a couple of grunt sculpins .. one of them quite orange and pretty.

Vis wasn’t very good … but that’s about normal on a very low tide. At the carousel boat we looked for the octopus that’s been denning under there, but apparently it wasn’t home. Or at least, it wasn’t visible by peering under the boat. So we turned south and headed through the seaweed bed toward the bottle field.

We hadn’t gone very far when I found what I was looking for … a tiny lumpsucker, so tiny it more qualified as an insect than a fish. I got Cheng’s attention and moved back a little bit so she could get a picture unimpeded. She took a couple shots, then motioned for me to have my turn. As I was setting up the shot, I noticed a lot of seaweed getting kicked up. A little annoyed, I turned to motion for Cheng to stop kicking … and then noticed that she was hovering perfectly still, a little bit down current from the subject … right where she was supposed to be. So what was kicking up all the seaweed? Looking upslope, into the current, I couldn’t help but notice a literal wall of seaweed moving toward us … fast. About all I had time to do was signal Cheng, point toward it, and move closer to her. Then we were enveloped in a literal maelstrom of flying seaweed and current. Flying bits of seaweed were sticking to my mask, and visibility went to zero in a hurry.

We both reached out and grabbed each other, holding hands as the current kicked both us and the seaweed around. To say it was disorienting is an understatement … I know I lost all sense of direction, and I’m sure Cheng did too. So I pushed downward on her hand and released all the air from mysuit and wing … hoping she would do the same (she did). We felt … but did not see … the bottom.

Well … I thought to myself … this is good practice. I’m trained for it, but she’s not. We’ve done a lot of dives together, so let’s see where it goes. Tugging on her hand, I guided her in the direction I thought would get us back to the carousel boat. She squeezed my hand back (OK) and pushed in the same direction (she understood what I wanted to do). Clinging to each other’s hands, we literally crawled together … not being able to see a thing past the inside of our masks. Within a minute or so we literally bumped into the side of the boat. Feeling our way to the bow, we found the guide rope that would take us back upslope. Once on the rope, life felt good indeed … I knew that as long as we didn’t lose it we wouldn’t need to see … it would take us home.

By the time we got back up to 50 feet, the current had slowed down and the seaweed had thinned out to the point where we could at least let go and wipe our masks clear … we could see the rope and parts of each other. The current was still running downslope, but at a much moderated pace … one we could easily deal with. At about 30 feet the current reversed, and gently pushed us upslope. At 10 feet it quit altogether.

When we surfaced, everything around us looked completely calm. We were a bit baffled by what we’d experienced until we looked further out, where we could see a line of ripples running like a river … bracketed on both sides by glassy calm water and moving steadily away from shore.

Getting out of the water was downright comical … we were covered head to toe in seaweed … two “swamp things” emerging from the deep. As we headed off to the showers I remarked to Cheng, “what the heck was that, anyway”. Her response was typically Cheng … all she said was “miso soup”.


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