Archive for March, 2013

#298 Cottage by the Sea 2013-03-23

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
Cottage by the Sea in Melbourne, Australia
38 minutes, max depth 7.9 m, water 18°C
Buddies: Alycia, Evan Hallein, Fi, Geordie, Seth

Cottage by the Sea – Poor conditions yet again :(

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

After some pretty stormy weather last weekend things were looking up again this weekend. We had had a couple of really windy days after my snorkeling trip on Wednesday but Saturday was looking fairly decent again, particularly on the Bellarine side of the Bay which is more protected from NW winds. We had quite a few fresh club members joining us for the dive and after a drive down to Queenscliff we met Evan and Fi down at the Cottage by the Sea.

I had only dived Cottage by the Sea once before. Despite the dismal conditions back then I was keen to visit the site again as it certainly looked interesting with a long nice wall with interesting ledges. Certainly quite different than most of the shore dives near Melbourne. It’s also still the only place I have seen eagle rays in Victoria.

Unfortunately this dive wasn’t much better, surf was certainly less of an issue instead of major pain like last time. Unfortunately visibility was really poor despite the fact we did the dive right after a flood tide which usually brings clearer water from outside the Bay. Unfortunately this was not to be, near the coast the vis was just dismal from the sand blowing around and even out at the reef we barely got to 1.5 to 2 meters. Not a very pleasant dive, particularly when trying to keep track of some less-experienced divers.

Obviously the conditions were not the best for photos either, particularly with a wide-angle lens. I still managed a few fairly ok fish shots from under the ledges but even with those I had to be careful to not to lose track of my buddies. The reef itself is quite nice and there are lots of pretty big fish around, most of them hiding under the ledge.

To make the dive even more annoying my drysuit’s neck seal hasn’t been replaced yet so I was stuck using a club wetsuit. A thick wetsuit like that is quite uncomfortable, both in the water and out of it too. A huge step down from a decent trilam drysuit and you need more weight too. Oh well, at least the replacement seal should arrive before my next dives.

To further mess up the day we had another nasty surprise waiting for us back on the shore. Geordie had hidden his car keys in the bush before the dive. But when we got back we couldn’t find them anywhere! The seven of us (plus two dogs!) spent at least an hour combing through the bush to no avail. The keys were simply nowhere to be found which was quite odd considering the car hadn’t been broken into either. Eventually we gave up and Geordie called to have his spare keys delivered from Melbourne.

Evan and Fi had other plans for the rest of the day and Basem was having bit of a headache so it was just Seth, Alycia and me heading for the second site of the day. We had decided to visit St Leonards, my favorite shore dive on that side of the Bay. Unfortunately things didn’t really look good once we got there. The visibility looked really poor from the surface with the pier pylons just vanishing into impenetrable soup. From the looks of it the vis was perhaps half a meter at best. After some contemplation we decided that it was not worth hopping in and just headed back to Melbourne instead.

All in all this was one of the most disappointing diving days I have had. Visibility has been quite poor in the last few weeks with the autumn plankton bloom in full swing. And I guess the strong winds over the last few days had muddied the coastal waters further leading to the conditions we had.

Originally we had planned some further shore dives for Sunday but after seeing the conditions we decided to cancel those dives as well, particularly as winds were picking up again.

Snorkeling in Brighton and Black Rock & some split shot experiments

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The new dome obviously had to be taken for a test run. Despite the fairly windy conditions on Wednesday I packed my snorkeling gear and headed down to the coast near the city. The weather was superb apart from the wind, sunny and quite warm for late March.

I started out my trip in Middle Brighton. I had originally planned to check out the area around the Brighton Sea Baths as Academy of Scuba has a dive marker for the area. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a good spot for a snorkel and the water looked very shallow at low tide. Maybe further along the jetty would have been better but I gave the spot a miss this time around. I ventured south along the coast instead and after a short walk arrived to Brighton Beach. There’s a small protruding point there right at the northern end of the beach and as I saw few others snorkeling there I decided to hop in.

While not terribly impressing, there was still plenty of shallow reef to explore. I also spent a fair bit of time practicing split (or over-under) shots, a perfect way to test the dome repairs. Windy conditions were not really the best for this but at least the dome performed well and pretty much all the damage was gone from the photos. Job well done!

Fish life was not quite as good as earlier in the year, northern end of the Port Phillip Bay is usually fairly busy in the Summer and then in the colder months most fish move elsewhere. Still, there were some to be seen, including a big adult flathead. Sadly he kept moving away whenever I got close enough to take a photo. After a few attempts I gave up as chasing fish rarely works.

After my first dip I kept on walking southwards along the beach and had another stop at the South Road, one of my popular snorkeling spots as it’s right next to the Brighton Beach station. There was even one guy preparing for a solo dive. He looked like a pretty experienced diver so there was no need to go in to lecture mode. 🙂 Unfortunately vis was somewhat poor, so I didn’t spend too much time in the water. Still there were some interesting small reefs and some old junk in the water. One of these days when the vis is decent I need to go out and also look for that bommie that’s supposed to be further out there.

The third site I had planned to check out was the Sandringham Pier. Unfortunately once I got there the place didn’t really look suitable for snorkeling. So I moved along and walked all the way to Black Rock. I geared up near Red Bluff and waded in. At first it seemed I had missed the better reefs in the area, but as I got closer to the rocky outcrop under the Red Bluff things got lot better.

There’s lots of nice reefs down there and I took my time taking some more split shots. The shallow reefs and the Red Bluff in the background are a nice combination for a good split shot, unfortunately wind had picked up and waves messed up most of my shots. I also saw a few stingrays in the area, but didn’t manage any decent shots.

As the bottom stayed quite interesting even after the Red Bluff I continued all the way to the Black Rock jetty. Along the way there were some big beds of sea stars and lots of those white worms whose name I never remember. 🙂 Too bad the Jetty itself was not quite as interesting as last time I was there. I didn’t spot any nudibranchs this time around, but at least there was a seahorse on one of the pylons and I managed a few ok shots of the jetty itself.

Three snorkels was enough for a day, so I packed up my kit and headed to Sandringham Station and home. It was a nice to be out in the water, too bad with the windy conditions I didn’t really manage any great shots. At least the dome performed really well and the repairs seem to have succeeded quite nicely.

Repairing an Acrylic Dome Port

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

During a year of pretty heavy use my dome port has received its fair share of small scratches. Luckily they are not really a problem underwater as even fairly deep damage fills up with water and doesn’t show up on photos. However, lately the damage has started to show up in split shots and even some underwater shots. Particularly the latest scratches acquired during the Phillip Island trip were quite bad and as they are showing up even on underwater photos something had to be done.

Acrylic dome ports are expensive pieces of equipment so replacing them every year is not really an option. Luckily even fairly nasty damage can be repaired relatively easily with the right tools. Hobby kits for polishing and repairing acrylic items are readily available and lot cheaper than replacing the whole port or using commercial repair services. I ordered one online from an Australian reseller Sandpaperman on Ebay and got to work.

The kit I used had 9 different grades of sandpaper. The kits are available in two different types, either more traditional sand paper type or soft touch pads that are more suitable for small jobs. After some online research I went with the touch pads, but I don’t think it makes a huge difference in the end.

The sandpapers start from fairly coarse and progress down to very fine indeed. The coarse ones are used to remove the original damage and then the dome is smoothed and polished at stages using finer and finer pads. To finish the job I used an abrasive liquid, however at this point there was not much difference between the last application of sandpaper and the liquid polish.

While the few initial steps were little bit scary (the dome gets quite opaque) the end results were quite good. Pretty much all the damage showing up in photos is gone and that’s what counts. However, I should have taken little more care with the edges of the dome. The results from different sandpaper grades were bit uneven and there are some visible scratches from the process itself. Luckily they are far enough on the sides so they don’t actually show up on the photos but it would still be nice to get rid of them at some point.

Luckily the pads are reusable, so improving the smoothness is simply a question of time and effort. The actual operation took me little over an hour, which is not too bad considering it included some extra time taking the photos.

#297 Gardens 2013-03-11

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Gardens in Phillip Island, Australia
46 minutes, max depth 8.2 m, water 20°C
Buddies: Luke Cawley, Quynh

#296 Pinnacles 2013-03-11

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Pinnacles in Phillip Island, Australia
40 minutes, max depth 32.6 m, water 20°C
Buddies: Luke Cawley

Dive trip to Phillip Island

Monday, March 11th, 2013

It has been almost a year since my last dive trip to Phillip Island so I was keen to get back there. I really wanted to visit the Pinnacles again and also get some better shots on the wreck of George Kermode. On Friday things looked promising enough, weather forecast was looking promising indeed (30+ degrees every day!) and we had the whole long labour day weekend ahead of us.

Unfortunately despite the superb weather and great organization the trip turned out into a pretty big disappointment. On Friday we heard some worrying reports about very poor visibility on many dive sites along the coast. Too bad these reports were not exaggerated, on Saturday we experienced the problem firsthand. Our first dive was George Kermode, an old bucket dredge scuttled in 1976. I had visited the wreck once before and I was hoping to get some improved shots this time around. Sadly this was not meant to be, fairly strong surge and visibility that was barely two meters made for some very poor conditions for photography.

As our second dive we decided to follow the coast the other way around towards Wanthaggi to see if the visibility was any better there. Sadly this was not the case. We found some interesting looking reefs on the sounder and hopped in to have a closer look. But the conditions were about the same as on the first dive and with more particles in the water the visibility dropped to one meter or less at times. Suffice to say things were not looking really good at this point!

Luckily the last dive of day was significantly better, Pinnacles are yet to disappoint. While visibility was still not that great, it was still fairly decent at around 5 meters. There was also a fair bit of current running around the Pinnacles and also some surge near the top, but it was still a quite nice if little challenging dive.

Sunday in general worked out little better than Saturday. Swell was down so the surge was less of an issue on most sites. First thing in the morning we headed back to Pinnacles and conditions were actually nice there, I hopped in with Luke and Nicky and we had a very nice with with decent visibility and only weak current. For the other two dives of the day I visited two reef sites around Cape Woolamai. Both were in somewhat protected bays and offered some small walls and kelp forests. We also spotted a few crays but didn’t catch any.

While the diving on Sunday was lot better there was a minor incident spoiling my day. While preparing the boat in the morning my camera fell off the tub and the dome hit the corner of a tank. One of the things you definitely don’t want to see! Luckily the damage was pretty minor, just some nice scratches on the dome. Unfortunately, these latest bumps are visible in underwater photos as well. I guess it’s time to  order that sandpaper kit and see if I can polish up the dome back to mirror shine!

Monday was the final day of our trip and once we had finished cleaning up the house we were staying in we decided to give George Kermode another go. Too bad visibility was perhaps even worse there than our first time there. At least surge was minimal so the dive wasn’t a total loss. We also had a minor scare on this dive, Cameron was suffering from some rather serious reverse block on the way back up. Luckily in the end everything turned out fine.

Then we headed back to the Pinnacles, too bad visibility was slightly down there as well. We also picked a somewhat boring route with Luke and the first half of our dive was mostly just kelp forests. By the time we got to the more impressive sections we were already running into light deco so it was time to started heading back to the surface.

To finish up the trip we decided to visit the Gardens, a shallow site on the sheltered side of Cape Woolamai. We had seen some other divers there earlier during the day and the site was supposed to be pretty nice. But when I was gearing up for the dive with Luke and Quynh I heard a nasty ripping sound. I found I had badly torn my drysuit’s neck seal! And the damage was so bad that there was no point keeping it on. Luckily weather was still great, with 35+ air and 20 degree water hopping in with just my skivvies was not a huge deal.

Still, I had some issues. I hadn’t brought my booties along so I had to borrow Debbie’s (small!). I also dropped one of my fins on the way down, luckily we were easily able to find it in shallow water. Finning in general was quite tricky, my spring straps are not really suitable for use with thin booties that are several sizes too small. Still, I managed well enough after some initial issues. Diving with no suit and no weights is always a very pleasant feeling, even if it did get a little cool after 46 minutes in the water. The site itself was ok enough, lots of kelp forest and a small wall with lots of ledges and several crays. Luke and Quynh didn’t catch any this time either. 🙂

And as if we hadn’t had enough bad luck by that point we had one more nasty surprise waiting for us back on the boat ramp. When we got back to the shore we found out that our compressor was gone from the car park. That must have been some pretty brazen thiefs, the car park was fairly busy as it was a public holiday and stealing the heavy compressor is quite conspicuous! Hopefully it will turn up somewhere later on, in any case our insurance should cover most of the loss.

Despite the poor conditions and all the mishaps I still managed nine dives over three days, fairly impressive in itself. Too bad photography-wise the trip was a big disappointment and only a few shots turned out ok. At least Phillip Island is close enough to Melbourne so there’s always a next time, hopefully with better conditions and fewer incidents!

#295 George Kormode 2013-03-11

Monday, March 11th, 2013
George Kormode in Phillip Island, Australia
43 minutes, max depth 21.6 m, water 19°C
Buddies: Luke Cawley

#294 Woolamai 2nd Bay 2013-03-10

Sunday, March 10th, 2013
Woolamai 2nd Bay in Phillip Island, Australia
46 minutes, max depth 17.4 m, water 21°C
Buddies: Luke Cawley, Quynh

#293 Woolamai 1st Bay 2013-03-10

Sunday, March 10th, 2013
Woolamai 1st Bay in Phillip Island, Australia
45 minutes, max depth 18 m, water 19°C
Buddies: Quynh