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Searching for the Perfect Boat

25 Jul

Gigas.  Well truth be told, it should actually be gigas. Stereolepis gigas with the “g” in lowercase since it’s a species name.  That’s the scientific name for the Black Sea Bass, or Giant Sea Bass which cruise around southern California kelp beds.  At any rate, I thought of the name Gigas as soon as I saw her, it just popped in my mind and stuck there like gum on a hot summer day.  Gigas means giant in Latin, it’s an oxymoron for what I was naming her as she was a tiny boat.  I’m not 100% that is gong to be her name but I like it, at least for now.

But I should step back a bit and tell the story first about my boat search.  I’ve only owned two boats in my lifetime, a older Boston Whaler Montauk 16.5 with a Yamaha 4stroke 100 hp outboard and more recently a Boston Whaler Outrage 18 with a Honda 4stroke 130 hp engine on her.  Both boats would be my pride and joy, the Montauk was bought from a good friend and served as my primary dive platform until I couldn’t take the harsh ride anymore.  I learned a lot about freediving and spearfishing on that boat as she could take me to Catalina Island to dive the deep clear waters.  The only reason I sold her was to upgrade to a bigger boat, the Outrage.  I named both of the boats C-level.

The first C-Level Boston Whaler 16′ Montauk with Yamaha 4stroke

BW Montauk.  Having a boat speeded up my learning curve on yellowtail!

Although I regret selling both boats, selling the Outrage was probably the bigger of my mistakes.  I shot some big fish on that boat and with a 60 gallon gas tank I had about 180 mile range which meant I could visit most of the islands around here.  Her bow didn’t pound like the Montauk, and it was a fairly dry ride as I had extended the plexiglass windshield even higher to shield me from the wind and spray.  I made a lot of modifications to her over the years with speargun racks, dive fin holders and even a hot water shower.  Man I still miss that boat.

18′ Boston Whaler Outrage with Honda BF130 4stroke

But like I always say, sometimes life gets in the way of fun.  Once my son Hawke was born I found it harder and harder to take C-level out as I had to have at least two other divers with me to foot the rising gas costs.  My buddies also had boats and I found myself grabbing rides with them as it was more convenient and their boats were also a lot nicer and roomier.  So C-level spent a lot of time in my driveway and the sun began to wear at her tires and I knew she would have problems if I didn’t start running her regularly.  That’s how boats are, they need to be running to keep varnish out of the engine passages and water out of the gas.

So I thought about my options and eventually sold her, of course right then it happened that it would be an epic white seabass year and I missed out on a lot of trips.  Then yellowtail season crept up and I again missed the calling of the sea as my buddies started having families of their own or couldn’t go out on the days I was free.

Pretty much when the white seabass started showing and I couldn’t stand it anymore I started searching a lot harder.  My goal was to find a boat that was open ocean worthy and got about 5mpg and was hopefully light enough to tow with a smaller suv.  The boat and motor had to be around 10k and the motor had to be bulletproof as I planned on going to the islands.  That pretty much narrowed my search to 14-17’ skiffs, power catamarans, center console aluminum’s, and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RIBS OR RHIBS) Here’s what I learned along the way and in my defense I’ll preface my stories by first saying that there is no perfect boat, each will have their strengths and weaknesses.  This is all my opinion only, you can take it or leave it, I’m not here to argue about it because one thing I know is that owners will be the first to defend their boats!

My first search involved small power catamarans, something like a 14’ Livingston or a 17’ Twin Vee.  Not only were these boats very hard to find, they were almost impossible to find with a 4stroke locally.  I finally sourced out a 15’ Livingston and the owner swore to me the boat was in excellent condition.  He said it several times, I can hear it echoing now, “Excellent condition”.  It had a two stroke on it but the motor was also said to only have 50 hours on it and was in “excellent condition”.  The pictures on craigslist looked great, the problem was the boat was way out in San Jose and I live in south orange county.  But I talked to the owner and he swore it was a great reliable boat so I took the day off, jumped in my truck at 4am and headed up to San Jose.  It was seven hours each way with a bit of traffic.

As soon as I pulled up I knew I had made a mistake.  The boat was in hideous condition.  There was some weird yellowish repaint on the deck and the rollers were all compressed.  The deck was soft in spots and the engine?  It was 50 hours on a REBUILD, it was in horrible condition as well.  I spent about ten minutes looking at it and then turned around and made the additional 7 hour trip home quickly before I changed my mind about strangling the guy.

What I found out later is that power catamarans are excellent boats with great gas milage.  The plus is they ride soft over MOST swell.  The downside is if it’s a beam swell (waves hitting you on the sides) it is downright terrifying and the boat skips all over, it does not surf like my whalers did and does this odd pitch where the passengers (me) feel unstable.  I know this because several of my friends own catamarans and in bad conditions it was a white knuckle ride.  If I were to get one I’d get the biggest one I could afford, I like them a lot but they aren’t the magic carpet ride that I had heard about, especially if it’s a small one.  If you get one 17’ or larger, you definitely want one with two engines if you can find it because of the twin hull design.  On a single engine you’ll get a lot of cavitation from air running between the hulls.  Someday when Hawke is older I’ll look into a 26′ one as they make perfect spearing boats.

A real  nice 14′ Livingston Power Catamaran that I couldn’t afford

The next search included RIBs.  There’s a lot of plusses to a RIB.  The inflatable tubes take a beating in swell and dampen the shock as you come down, so generally it’s a softer ride.  They ride very well and get super duper gas milage, we are talking 7-12 mpg if they are set up right on a four stroke outboard.  The downside is they are very expensive, a new 16’ with a 4stroke is going to run 20-30k dollars and I could only find used ones in the 8k range and a lot of those had sun damage or other problems.  The tubes also have a lifespan and the replacement cost of a lot of the tubes is close to 10 grand, you want to stick with hypalon over pvc as hypalon lasts a lot longer.  Finally deck space is much smaller than on a boat, when you look at a 16’ RIB it actually only has the space of a 12’ boat, I like to take a lot of back up gear and clothes so it would make for a cramped ride.  They are also very wet rides when you are hitting a lot of wind swell, most of my buddies wear wetsuits when they are on their RIBs.  Most of the ones in my price range had 2 strokes on them.  So I kept them in my searches but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.

Another one of my searches included Hobie Power Skiff or a copy version called a Caliboogie skiff.  The Hobies are darn near collectors items and were designed to surf waves.  The hull cuts through most swell although if it is windy you are going to get wet.  The skiffs are super light weight and get better than 8 mpg in some situations when outfitted right.  Some of them have huge motors on them, like 75 hp and scream in flat water!  The only problem was they stopped making them years ago, the Hobies I saw were in terrible condition and needed a lot of work.  And any with a good 4stroke were asking 12k.  The Caliboogie was a nice alternative, they were about a foot larger and had a better deck layout.  But I saw two that had cracks in the chines of the boat and that’s a no no in rough ocean water.  I also questioned the reliability in rough conditions in open ocean.  My montauk and especially my Outrage were bullet proof, I could take almost any conditions and in the Outrage I never worried about the ocean conditons changing much.  In a 15’ 700lb hull that might be a different story.  And at any rate I couldn’t locate one that I was interested in, at least in my price range.  Most guys loved theirs and didn’t want to cut the prices on them, any that were cheap had a lot of work to be had.  There’s a newer option called Razor Power Skiffs and I believe they were renamed to Power Skiff company or something like that but you will have to do your research about those as I’ve heard of some problems with them in the past models.

Aluminum skiffs came into the picture later on.  Able to cut right through the rough chop with their deep v hulls, light weight on towing and get 5 mpg or more!  Very appealing to me thats for sure.  Two problems I were told was that aluminum skiffs all have a certain lifespan in the ocean.  The ocean eventually robs the aluminum of its parts and the hull becomes thinner and thinner. If you are towing them you should not be using pressure treated wood as the chemicals in the wood react badly with the aluminum and speed up the electrolysis problems.   Regardless, eventually there will be holes, and it is often difficult to patch them correctly.  Unfortunately due to the price range, most that I looked at had leaks that the owner couldn’t find and when I read up it was said the only way to find the leak was to fill the boat up with water and see where the drips occur.  The final straw was when I heard that if you take a large wave over the bow the boat can sink.  Now that I have a family I have more things to worry about and that pretty much sealed the deal on aluminums.

I considered Triumphs which are roplene (a type of plastic) molded boats.   I missed out on a terrific deal locally and the other ones were out of my price range and although I heard they were good I’ve heard that they also may have imperfections from the mold where owners noticed that there were curves in the boat.  It was also said pounding seas can make the screws back out of the plastic, however that’s not a huge problem to me.  From what I’ve read though, most owners like theirs as long as they didn’t have the curving problems. 

I inspected some Seacraft 18’s, lots of great history and I’ve seen some online that were absolutely beautiful.  Heavy fiberglass and very well built boats but the ones in my price range were pretty beat up and had older two strokes on them so I kept looking. 

Whalers were great choices and man they really hold their value.  Which was a problem because the guys with the older Hulled Montauk 17’s with two strokes were trying to unload them for 7-10k! It didn’t matter, I was only looking for post 1985 Whalers because of the hull design

After a few months I started getting pretty discouraged.  What I found out when I actually started looking at inexpensive boats is I was always looking to get something one step bigger or nicer.  And that brought the price from 4k to 6k to 8k pretty quickly.  My buddy brought up a solid point.  He said “it’s really nice to have a boat that can make it to Catalina”.  Anyone who knows me knows I love diving at the island.  A lot of the smaller 12 RIBS (they are really in surplus and you can get a 4 stroke for under 5k) are great local boats but it’s sketchy taking something that small that far out.  So it meant jumping to a 14-18′ RIB and as you go up in size on a rib the prices increase almost exponentially.  The same went with smaller skiffs, they would do fine locally but in rough water it sure would be nice to have a dry ride.  Pretty soon I was back to looking at 16-18′ skiffs and about 8-10k.

And then a boat appeared on the bloodydecks website.  It was originally advertised as a 16’ Radon.  I did a lot of research and emailed Don Radon because I thought the boat was more likely a Radoncraft and sure enough Don said that it was a Radoncraft Bahia and was either built by Innovator or Davis.  Don Radon is known for building very seaworthy boats, many are used as commercial fishing boats.  The Radoncraft I was looking at was a very nice 16’ with a 2 stroke engine on it and a T top.  The Radoncraft Bahia’s are beautiful boats with clean lines.  This one had a lot of built in storage areas including one with a removable fish hold!!  It was wider than any other 16’ boat I’ve ever seen and had heavier fiberglass construction with wood only in the transom.  Just in my price range, but the downside was the 2 stroke was only getting about 3mpg on plane. I was pretty sure I was going to try to buy that Radoncraft Bahia and I started doing research about the 16′ Radoncrafts.  Every single review and owner said that they loved that boat and that although it was small and you still had to pick your days in the ocean, it had a dry ride.  After getting soaked on my last few trips (the last one pumping the fuel bulb of my buddies 17′ cat on the way back from Catalina and being soaked all the way) I was really looking for a dryer ride.  I kept reading up and along the way found one for sale in Florida.  This boat was identical to the one in Huntington Beach except for one very important difference.  It had a Yamaha INJECTED four stroke engine on it!  I emailed the owner that night and the next day found out that it was still available.

Built in fish hold and two side compartments plus anchor locker

Let me digress a bit.  I’m a bit partial to Yamaha four stroke engines as they have better quality control and are thought of to be a bit more reliable than some of the other four strokes.  On any engines, a lot of the older carbed 4 strokes often had carb problems when they sit too  long, the small intakes tend to gum up.  I talked with a few independent mechanics and asked them to rate their favorite 4 strokes.  Most of them said Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda in that order.  I would say that each has it’s advantages and disadvantages but from what I’ve read I’d have to agree on the Yamaha.  I loved my Honda and we have a Honda BF 225 at work but they have small corrosion problems and we had a major common problem that I read about online which Honda would not warranty.

At any rate,  now there were two almost identical boats, one of which had the exact engine I would like to have but it was 2500 miles away. The thing that really attracted me was that he was only asking a bit more than what the guy with the 2 stroke was pricing his out at.  This is very common on the east coast, there are so many boats there that used boats often sell at a fantastic price.  A new Yamaha 4 stroke outboard rigged is about 9k, I’m talking about just the engine alone! And this one only had 200 hours on it and the owner wasn’t asking much more for the entire package.

Every other boat I was looking at immediately went on hold.  The owner in Florida was a really nice guy but I was super sketchy about doing an out of state deal.  I asked around and one of my buddies in Florida volunteered to go and check out the boat for me, even though it was two hours away from his house (thanks Matt!)!  I didn’t want him to have to do that and luckily found a surveyor that was based not too far from the boat. 

The surveyor ended up checking out the boat and indicated it was in good condition.  That surveyor was really thorough and had certifications from Admiralty Consulting and Surveying.  His name was Wayne Robinson and he was AMS certified.  His contact info is: 407-688-1221 and his email is admiraltyconsur@aol.com.  Wayne tapped all over the hull, used a moisture meter and double checked pretty much everything, and had a comprehensive summary printed for me when he was finished.  It really put my mind at ease doing a long distance buy. 

The owner and I had agreed that I’d wire the money and as soon as he got it he’d fed ex me the keys and papers.  At the same time I was still trying to get bids in for shipping.  I used uship.com, posted the distance, weight and length of the boat and started getting bids, they ran from about 1800 to 8000 dollars. 

I had lined up a carrier that was going to use a flatbed to put my trailer on it and then found out he couldn’t do it until the end of the month.  I didn’t want the buyer to have to keep paying storage fees and luckily I found another carrier who could bring it down. He was going to have to hitch it on the back of his suv which is what most of the guys were doing on uship.  The owner of the boat assured me that the trailer could make the 2500 mile trip and the deal was set.

I had good luck on uship but I read some horror stories about contract shippers there, the worst being someone using a guy who had never towed and who crashed the boat on the freeway without having any insurance.  If you are using uship.com, here’s what you want to do.  Post up a pix of your boat and have all the details down, height, length, width, weight, if it’s on a trailer etc.  The bids will come in and you can select which one you want.

You want to check the feedback as it is terribly important to make sure the guy has experience transporting boats on long distances and has any permits if your boat is overweight or length.  If you can have it hauled on a flatbed that is a lot better than having it towed on it’s trailer.  It will save you from having to worry about bearings, axles, tires etc.  On your end, uship charges I think 5% as a “service charge”.  On the shippers/carriers end, they get hit with a 12% charge.  Because of this you want to make sure you get everything in writing so the guy doesn’t try to add fees later on.  You will have to pay the payment on uship via credit card and they hold it until the guy delivers you boat and then it’s released to them.  If you have a contract drawn up with all the totals etc and both parties sign it beforehand then there won’t be any problems.

I wasn’t smart enough to do that but I was really lucky with the guy I chose.  We agreed on the price and he stuck with it.  He really worked hard to get the boat to me on time and kept in touch twice a day to update me on where he was.  It only took him three days and the price was worth it rather than have me fly to Florida, rent a truck and drag that boat back to my house.  My shippers name was Marvin Davis, his contact email is: knoxville37918@yahoo.com and his cell is 865-291-7287.  I’d definitely use him again to tow a small boat.

And in the end?  Three days later I met Marvin who had my boat in tow.  The boat came back in great condition and is back home in California where she belongs.  I hitched her up to my truck and drove her home.  I’m currently outfitting Gigas to get her ready for her life as a freediving boat.

So here’s what you want to do if you are looking for a smaller boat.

1. List what is important to you and focus on those aspects when you are searching.  There will be no “perfect magical boat”.  You will have to figure out what is the most important, gas useage, towability, or ocean capabilities.  Go to sites such as thehulltruth.com, bloodydecks.com, continuouswave.com etc.  This is a great write up on some of the aspects about different kinds of boats: http://www.ifish.net/board/showthread.php?t=166479

If you do a google search you will find you will have TONS to read up on.  I spent probably six months searching and I was doing a daily search every night on craigslist and also doing research around four hours a night every night.  It was way worse than school, lol!

2.  Go check the boats out, you will have to see lots of boats to learn what you are looking for.  Stand on their decks, listen to engines, ask guys who know wtf they are talking about.  If it’s a good boat and priced well it will sell within a few days to a week, sometimes in hours.  Don’t worry, another one will come up.

3. If the boat is out of state or if you don’t know boats hire a surveyor or send out a buddy who knows boats.  You want to check for water intrusion in the hull, cracks or patches etc.  The deck will more than likely have small spider cracks on them, that is normal.  If it comes with a trailer make sure the trailer is also in good shape.

4.  If you are doing a deal out of state it makes sense to use a escrow company. I didn’t do that but it would have been safer.  It will cost you a bit though and it depends on if you know the owner of the boat or trust him.  I sent a surveyor out and spent a lot of time talking to the owner.  I also asked the owner a lot of questions, many questions I already knew the answer to from research but I wanted him to confirm what I’ve heard.  The bummer about the Florida trailer is that smaller trailers don’t have to be registered in Florida but they sure do in California!  I’m spending time in the DMV getting it retitled, you have to fill out paperwork, have a bill of sale (or better yet certificate of origin or title) and have DMV or CHP do an inspection and return the paperwork.

5.  Finally, make sure your vehicle can tow your boat and you have a place to store it.  If you are using a carrier make sure they have references and if you are using uship I’d adhere to my cautions above.  You definitely want a shipper/carrier with a lot of good feedback and that knows how to tow a load.

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My first Vermillion Rockfish and a Moana Waterman fin review

9 Feb

There were a lot of changes that occurred in the past year or so.  The move to the new house, the birth of my first born, getting used to the commute etc.  Pretty much all of that took up a great deal of my time but I couldn’t complain.  You can’t complain when your boy gives you a great smile when you take him to Disney or spend some time with him.  Yet every once in a while I get that yearning to get back into the water.  I can’t really explain it to you if you aren’t addicted to the ocean.  When conditions are good it’s a whole different world and an hour can easily stretch into a day.

I have a fantastic wife, she never complains about my freediving addiction.  She even will watch my son all day once in a while just so I can get out in the water. I made arrangements ahead of time and so it was with eager anticipation that I watched the swell  for days before we actually planned on going out. Everything looked bulletproof, no wind, no swell and from what I was hearing, pretty decent vis!  To make it even a sweeter deal we were going on my buddies boat, first to collect some specimens and then after we dropped them off, some diving!  We have special permits to allow us to collect scientifically but you cannot collect and sportfish on the same trip.  With the super high tide I had my sights set on halibut and a limit of bugs, I could hardly sleep the night before, all I could think about was seeing those halibut buried up in sand and squeezing that trigger.

Imagine my disappointment when we rolled to the harbor and saw the fog. Oh well, with this warm weather it’s likely to burn off in a few hours, we’ll go ahead and collect first and that was our plan anyways.  We again strapped on the dreaded scuba tanks and made the drop into the water. I won’t out this location but I will say, you probably would not shore dive there as it would be a hell of a swim. I knew that there would be a reef that would hold the nudibranchs (think slugs) that we were looking for and in an hour or so we had enough so we headed back in to drop them off.  We docked the boat and then jumped into our car to make the delivery to the warehouse.

Here’s the second disappointment. When we got back it was still fugging foggy :(. My buddies radar wasn’t working, his gps was also acting up and the fog was probably 200′ vis or so, but I had seen a few rockfish down at the 50′ level at the reef we were getting the nudibranchs at. We eased our way back to that spot and got ready to dive. Our plan was to dive here and then head up the coast a bit and work for some bugs.

One of the reasons why I wanted to get out was that I had a new pair of carbon fiber freediving fins that I wanted to try out.  Quite a few of my friends had already made the jump to these and I couldn’t wait to try them out.  I sold my old pair of carbons and saved up to buy them.  After some research I had ordered a pair of Moana watermans from the man JD himself, and Kyle laid the carbon fiber and got the fins ready. After much discussion with Daryl Wong, JD, Kyle and some of my buddies that own Moanas I ended up going with the new “hybrid softs”. I wasn’t too keen on getting anything soft at first because I had tried a pair of soft carbon fins before of another maker, and man they just flopped all over the place so I had sent them back and got mediums. Those particular fins on the surface were great but when I was powering bigger fish from the deeps it felt like I wasn’t moving at all and it scared the shit out of me.  JD assured me that his fins were not going to lack that punch, on the surface they would require less work and when you need that push with a big fish or from the deeper water they actually stiffen to give you the power you need.  Daryl also agreed with that statement and since they are both way better divers than myself I trusted their judgment.  I got these fins probably almost two months ago, but being sick for a month and also not having dive time meant that I wouldn’t have time to try them out, I was actually going to do a pool test since I couldn’t head to the ocean. But I knew we were diving a deeper spot so I strapped them on.

The fins are a bit longer than my leaderfin fiberglass which have been my goto fins for both shore and boat diving.   The fiberglass fins have been great, perfect for kicking all day in with the stiffness I like for powering big fish up.  To my delight, the Moanas were super light, much lighter than the leaderfins and with the pathos pockets they felt very responsive.  After warming up a bit I noticed that the fins required less effort going down and what I really liked was that under pressure I could rocket up, they didn’t flop around at all.  WOW.  I spent a hour or so testing them out and I can say that I’m very impressed and these are going to be my goto fins when I’m not on the rocks (mainly because I’m a baby and don’t want to scratch them up, I’m sure they will hold up).  I even switched back to my fiberglass fins to double check and man what a difference. I can’t wait till white seabass season to come around!

I started working deeper and deeper and trying to improve my bottom time.  With my new rockets strapped to my heels I made a drop down to about 50 feet and started to slowly cruise the bottom.  This was where I had seen some rockfish when I was on scuba that looked a lot like Vermillion Rockfish!  Vermillions are not rare in southern California, but they are usually found much deeper.  I took a nice grass rockfish on one drop and then headed back to the surface.  I slowly breathed up and when I was ready inverted and kicked the Moanas towards the bottom.  Effortlessly I floated back down to the bottom and started again working my way down the reef and saw a large Vermillion ambling away.  I extended my gun and squeezed off a shot.  Thunk, the shot rang true and the fish stopped moving and turned sideways, it was a perfect shot.   I was out of breath anyways so I grabbed it and started the slow ascent to the surface.   When enough light started to shine on it as I got shallower I noticed the brilliant red color. WOW, I was blown away, the closer I got to the surface, the more brilliant the red became.  The fish wasn’t huge at any rate, but at about 3 pounds or so it was going to make a delicious meal.

Unfortunately, the fog never lifted that day.  We spent the rest of our time securing some kelp bass and rockfish, enough to make a nice fish dinner.  We stored the fish on ice and carefully moved the boat back in, all the time watching the fog for any hidden obstacles.

I ended up doing a whole steamed fish for my wife and I, wow those rockfish were so sweet and tender!  If you haven’t steamed rockfish it’s very easy.  I just stuff the fish with garlic and ginger, add green onions and cilantro to the top and steam until the flesh begins to fall off.  Usually I’ll add a bit of teriyaki sauce to it and serve it next to some steamed veggies or rice.

All in all it we salvaged a great day.  We couldn’t go too far because of the fog but still had a lot of fun and I also got to try my new fins!

I don’t get any kickbacks from recommending these fins, I just think they are fantastic.  Moana Watermans are available at moanawaterman.com, sturgillspearfishing.com, spearamerica.com and other freediving/spearfishing shops.

Oaks Chinese Style Whole Steamed Fish

Ingredients
teriyaki sauce (I premake this and bottle it. I take soy sauce and sugar and mix it in a saucepan under heat, keep adding the sugar until it’s as sweet as you like it. I add a tiny bit of sesame oil, jalipenos, garlic and ginger to it and then bottle it. Let it cool before you put it in the fridge, all the sugars and garlic/ginger keep it from going bad, it will last six months but more than likely you’ll eat it up before then).

small fish that has been gutted/gilled/scaled. I also cut slits in the fish about every two inches.

green onion
cilantro
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tb chopped garlic

Start boiling your water, when it’s boiling add your steaming tray. I stuff the fish with green onion, cilantro, ginger and garlic. Put on the tray and pour a liberal amount of teriyaki sauce on there and then add more green onion/cilantro/ginger/garlic on top. Cover and steam until the eyes turn white and the flesh begins to fall off the bones. Serve on a bed or rice or veggies.

Paying it forward: I found an iPhone, now what?

23 Oct

Honesty and Integrity

The day would start like a lot of great trips.  I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I quietly gathered my gear so as not to wake my wife and baby.  Outside the mist would creep up on my truck and dampen the windows and paint, just a cold chill to let me know fall really was here at last.  I yawned and started up my truck, the rumbling quietly echoing through the hills.  Somewhere, out there the sun lay waiting.  But right now it was still pitch black and I had a ways to go.

In an hour or so I’d find myself bobbing up and down on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) and heading to a island that I love so much.  It wasn’t my boat this time, Dylan’s RIB has made the crossing many times and along with us was another friend, Byron.   We’ve all dove together before and knew it would be a day of fun.  As we approached the first spot we noticed how blue the water looked.  Even from the top we could see blacksmith darting back and forth chasing small bits of plankton.  The visibility was almost an inky blue:  60′ of visibility today!  We excitedly suited up and dropped over the sides of the boat one by one.  We kicked to where the bait would be nervously waiting and there we started making drops in hopes of catching site of a late season yellowtail.  We spent over an hour at that one spot, probably made over seventy drops and only saw a few schools of bonita with just a few sightings of yellowtail.

On one drop I saw two very nice sized yellowtail swaggering in the water.  They never stopped to give me a chance, only flicked their tails in dissatisfaction as they hurried along.  It did not matter, because we were on a smaller boat I only had my 55″ Mori reef gun with me, with two bands I was limited to about 12′ of range, nothing like my 67″ gun.  Those yellows were safe from me.  The next thing I knew I was enveloped by bait.  Sardines, spanish mackerel, pacific mackerel, pretty much every type of bait swarmed up by the millions and danced around us.  There were so many fish there wasn’t any room for water it seemed and the school was endless.  We made many drops into this silver river and were amazed at how many fish there actually were.

After a couple of hours it was apparent that no yellows were going to show.  I saw both Byron and Dylan on the RIB and figured time was up at this spot, I began my lazy kick towards them.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement and to my right I saw one yellowtail, then two, then ten.  In seconds that opened up to probably what was over 50 fish!  I knew I’d have to get close for the shot so I made my drop and then pretended that I wasn’t interested at all and slowly crept up to them.  In one swift movement I extended the gun and picked a fat fish out of the group and clicked of the shot.

The shot rang true and the shaft entered the fish and the slip tip toggled.  Line began to scream off the reel and I slowly applied some tension as I let the fish run.  Lucky for me the fish was small, about 12 or 15 pounds and the shot looked good so I took my time fighting it and then dispatched it with a quick sting of my knife.  Victory!

I swam the fish over to the boat and hid it under my body.  When they asked me if I got anything I smartly replied “hey do you guys like mackerel?”  They responded, “you shot a mackerel??”  I laughed and flipped the fish onto the boat, “no but I got a nice yellowtail!”.  I heard nothing but “kook”, “bastard”, and a few other choice names I won’t burn your ears with.  The best part was this entitled me to rag on them all day long.  “Hey do you guys want yellowtail lessons?  Hey anytime you want tips on fighting big fish let me know.  Hey uuuuhhh this fish bag is heavy, can you help me lift it?”  I’m sure they were planning my disappearance so they wouldn’t have to listen to the ridicule but thank goodness California has a death penalty and it kept them sane!

We started looking for lobster but unfortunately most of the ones we saw were either “shorts” (under regulation size) or they were holed way up in the back of caves.  Every single lobster I measured was a tiny bit short so they were released with their tails flapping in the water.  On one occasion I found a small opening in a crevice and was able to shove myself into it.  I saw a nice lobster and quickly grabbed at it and was holding it by the horns (the base of the antennae).  Success!  As I shifted my grip the damn thing kicked one more time and I fumbled with it and it took off.  Damn, I guess I shouldn’t have called success so early!  At the least I didn’t rip my nail off and smash my thumb like last week when I was trying to grab a lobster under a rock.

Isn’t that beautiful? See that red line in the middle, that’s where the entire thumb bent backwards right thru the meat above the bone.  It hurt way worse than the last time I tore the whole nail off.

We dove several spots for a while and on one particular one I was just finishing up a drop at about 30 feet when I thought I noticed something shiny.  I breathed up and dropped down again, a few kicks later I was on the bottom and I pulled up what I thought was a nice underwater camera case.  As I turned it over I could make out a newer iPhone in that case.  Wow, score!  I carefully brought it back to the boat and tried pushing the buttons to see if it was working but it either had a dead battery or was flooded.

When I got home I washed off the camera along with my gear.  I carefully dried it and then popped open the case, it opened with a suction sound and the phone appeared to be totally dry!  I again tried to fire it up, but no such luck.  As I examined it I noticed it was an iPhone 5, newer than the iPhone 4 I have myself.  But I knew it wouldn’t be right to keep it and I wanted to find it’s owner.  But first I’d have to charge it up and since I didn’t know anyone who had an iPhone 5 I ordered a charger online and started reading up.

To my dismay most of the posts online said that they recommended taking the phone to the nearest police station.  Most officers are busy solving crimes, they aren’t going to be able to figure out where a dead battery lost phone came from and the phone eventually ends up in a box with a bunch of other dead phones.  Since this phone was found in the ocean I was unsure if the owner even knew they had lost it there.

Some people said you could take it back to the cell phone store and they would give you the information but others said this was untrue:  because of privacy laws they could not give you that information nor would they try to contact the person.  One employee at the store even said that you’d be better off just keeping the phone.  The only saving grace would be if the phone was unlocked I might be able to look up a home address or contact number.

One of my friends said that a coworker had a new iPhone 5, so I called her up and asked to borrow her charger.  She brought it in the next day and I promptly started charging the phone.  An hour or so later I had enough charge to use the phone and now was the moment of truth.  Would the phone fire up?

As I pressed the power button and the phone came to life I noticed that the phone was unlocked!  Whoo hoo I might have a chance.  I opened up the recently called screen and scanned.  There were several names on there and then one said “Home”.  I figured that might be the owners home so I called the number and a man answered.

I told them who I was and that I had found an iPhone and did they lose one?  When they said they did, I asked the important question.  “Where did you lose it?  When they answered correctly I knew I had found the owner!  I saw that he lived in Oregon, but with luck he was in San Diego that weekend!  I made arrangements and he was able to swing by my work and pick up the phone.  When I met him, he extended his hand and had a big smile on his face and told me I had made his day.  He told me the story of the lost phone.

It was the opening night of lobster season about a month earlier and his girlfriend had agreed to take him on a scuba dive boat.  As a gift she bought him a very nice housing for his iPhone.  They were kicking around some of the reef and his phone battery had started to die out so he turned it off and put it on his wrist.  Somewhere along the night it slipped off into the rocks below.  His girlfriend threw on another tank and began to search for it but couldn’t locate it and they gave up.  He was pretty bummed out.  She tried to comfort him by saying that most divers are pretty honest people and there’s a chance it would be returned but she could tell he was really sad about losing the phone and felt bad about losing the housing.

It made my day knowing that I was able to help them out.   I felt really really great about finding the owner.  I wished them a safe trip back home and they left with the cell phone firmly gripped in their hands.   For me it was a great ending to a great dive trip with friends.

As I told this story to some of my younger friends I was pretty disturbed that a couple of them told me,  “you dummy, why didn’t you keep it?  The phone was lost for a month, he probably had bought another one.” Or “if he could afford an iPhone then he probably didn’t miss it and could afford another one”.  I was blown away by their reactions.

“Are you shitting me?  Is that how you really think?” I replied.   I was pretty pissed.  Think about how devastated you’d be if you lost your phone with all your contacts, maybe pictures of you and your friends you’d never get back, maybe a text from someone you loved, or a last picture with someone who might not be here today.  One of my pet peeves about a lot of people in the world today is that they think they have what I call the “get some shit for free” card.  It’s one of those things that make them think that it’s okay to take stuff that doesn’t belong to you or mooch off friends without ever thinking of repaying them back.  It’s also one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the reasons why I wanted to move to a different area of southern California.  I’ll tell you a quick story.  One time I was at Disneyland and had just rode the space mountain ride for the billionth time ;).  As I stepped off the ride I was taking something out of my pocket and my annual pass fell out.  I realized this after about fifteen or so steps and went back to look for it.  GONE.  I know for a fact that it was in my pocket as I exited the ride and I KNOW that the person had to have seen me double back to pick up my pass.  I checked over the next few days at lost and found and it never turned up.  I sincerely hope that person/kid gets run over by a slow moving steam roller or gets eaten by ants or at the very least gets struck by lightning although having their genitals torn off by chimpanzees or having their face eaten also has a nice ending to it.

At any rate, think of how cool it would be if everyone was a little more honest and a little more friendly.  We could live in a society where you’d never have to lock your front door, and if you dropped your wallet (or cell phone!) you could be assured an honest person would return it later on.  You could leave your car unlocked, there wouldn’t be any need for annoying alarms, and I sure wouldn’t have to hide all my stuff during my shoredives and worry that some dopus would take it.

So if you came across this blog and found a iPhone and would like to return it to the owner, here’s what I found out by reading up online:

1.  Try to turn the phone on, if you are lucky and if it is charged and unlocked you can look up recently called numbers and call some of them back.  I looked for “home” but you might try “mom” “work” etc.  You might try “ice” which stands for “in case of emergency”, this has to be set up in your phone as a contact and I’m going to do that to my phone asap.  If the phone is locked you can see if SIRI is running and tell the phone to “call home” or “call work” etc and see if it will dial out.

2.  If the phone is locked, basically you are supposed to return it to the nearest police station where you found the phone, otherwise it could be viewed as stolen property.  I don’t have a lot of faith in law enforcement trying to find the owner (especially if the owner didn’t call that particular station) as it seems officers are probably too busy because they are often trying to hassle me for not having a front license plate or for supposedly speeding in the slow lane of the freeway at 10 pm at night or for lobster diving in some of my favorite spots at night.  What, Bitter? Who me? :).  You can call the station up and try this route but from what I read they hold the phone for 30 days and if no one claims it, it ends up in a box of discarded phones.

3.  You can try to go to the carrier and ask them to remove and scan the sim card which is located on the side of the phone.  I have heard different stories about this, but in general they will not give you the info because of privacy laws.  I have heard different things about whether or not they will contact the person and I’ve also read that there is nothing they can do.  It might be worth it to give them a call anyways.  You might also try the apple store, but I’ve heard they are very unlikely to try to contact the owner there and it is a better shot to try at the carrier store although employees have said there is nothing they can do.

4.  As a last resort you might try to post it up on a found section in something like “craigslist” etc.  Give the general area where you found it but leave some mystery to it, because a lot of people who like to use their “get some shit for free” card and lie to you just to get a new phone.   You can quiz them on where they lost it, what color it was etc.

5.  Karma is a bitch.  If you want to be one of the many outstanding citizens of Los Angeles who like to go shopping during riots and want to maximize your “get some shit for free” card and keep the phone without trying to contact the owner I can only hope a crackhead jumps you and jabs you with a dirty hypodermic needle and takes the phone from you.  When you are dying from some horrible disease surrounded by no friends nor family (because obviously you are a douchebag of epidemic proportions), hopefully you will recall that if you had returned the phone to it’s rightful owner, maybe this wouldn’t have happened ;).

By the way, I gave half that fish away to my buddies and the other half was made into a series of yellowtail sashimi, spicy yellowtail sushi rolls and an epic Misoyaki yellowtail.  Yum!

Spicy yellowtail rolls and sashimi                                                    Yellowtail Misoyaki

The Story of California Waterman Rick Hadley

4 Oct

Richard Hadley 3/8/1958-9/28/2013

We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don’t come back leaving only that which was touched along the way.”  Chasing Mavericks, 2012.

Tonight, like the last couple of nights I find myself staring at the ceiling.  I can’t sleep even though I’m very tired.  I roll around in the bed and can’t stand it and I stumble back to my keyboard.  I look at some of Rick’s fish pictures he posted.  Tuna, yellowtail, white seabass, ulua…Wow, just wow…

I still vividly remember the last email I got from Rick, it was him sassing me about our annual Yellowtail contest.  I see his letter every time I open my email.  I’ll never delete it.

“Hey Chris,

I just sent in my yt smackdown $$$.  Any chance we can go retroactive to last Tuesday?  I’ll split the winnings with you if it holds up :).  JK of course.  Heading off shore tomorrow to get another one!!

Thanks, Rick”

Rick had shot an absolute monster last week, 40.5 pound yellowtail and it was a local fish, the biggest that we’ve seen all year.  We all had to bow down to him on that one and there was a lot of friendly banter among what we affectionately call “The Tribe”,  which is our tight knit group of spearfishermen.  If Rick had entered the tournament earlier he would have walked away with the title, something that we’d all laugh about together.  A running joke between our Tribe, is to always say “stay off my spotz, kook” (yes I know I misspelled spots, it’s part of the joke) and that was what I wrote to him as an answer to that email he had sent me.  Little would I know that this would be the last time I would get to talk to him.

The next time his name would come up was when my buddy John texted me that Rick had passed away while diving.  To me, this was an impossibility.  Rick was a fantastic diver, in a class so far ahead of me I was always in awe of him and his accomplishments.  Rick could hit over 150′ (yes, that’s feet) on a single breath, he had a fantastic breath hold and had a personal best static of 5:35 (5 min 35 sec).  He also had many years of experience under his belt.   I knew he was diving for “bugs” (what we call California Spiny Lobsters) in fairly shallow water at one of the islands.  In my mind it was impossible for him to have died doing that.  I immediately called my buddy and he confirmed it, with a shaking voice he gave me the details and again and again I told him I didn’t believe it.

It was the opening season for lobster and some friends headed out to one of their favorite spots.  They spent the day getting some nice fish and then pulled anchor and headed to another island, one of their favorite spots for lobster.  As usual Rick was the first in the water and he headed towards a likely spot.  When Rick didn’t show up on the boat after a while all the guys on the boat immediately had started to grid search.  Another boat of guys were in the area and they also joined the search as did the coast guard and county lifeguards.  Everyone did absolutely everything they could.  The ocean wrapped her arms around Rick to welcome him one final time.   We’re still not sure what had happened, the details weren’t really important, what pained us all was that our friend was not going to return.   At the very very least I know that on his last day, Rick was among his best friends and he was doing something that he absolutely loved, we all took some comfort in that thought.

For those who knew Rick, they knew he was a great father to two children.  That he was chairman and CEO of Hawaiian Springs Water.  That he was a philanthropist and had a true love for the ocean.  And for those of us who were lucky enough to get close to him, we knew he was a phenomenal freediver and spearfisherman.  He trained with professional freedivers and would spend a lot of time doing drills in the pool.  He would spend many days hunting in the water, this year would be a banner  year for Rick as he shot two of his personal best fish, a 40.5 lb yellowtail and a 60.4 lb white seabass.  Rick was so modest and humble you would never peg him to be a pro, he would never brag about his accomplishments and you kind of had to drag it out of him.  He largely flew under the radar.  Anyone who knew him would tell you, he was always there to help anyone out who needed it and always went out of his way to answer questions or lend a hand.  He was a wonderful human being.

I’ve only known Rick for a few years.  The first time I met Rick was probably at a Long Beach Neptunes meeting, a well known spearfishing club which he was a member.  My buddies introduced me to him and it would be the first of many times that I would experience that warm smile and firm handshake.  I never even really thought Rick would remember me but in an odd coincidence one of my former coworkers was on a flight and unknowingly sat next to Rick.  Rick was reading a Hawaii Skin Diver magazine on the plane.  I was fortunate enough to have an article in that issue and my friend told Rick that she knew a guy who wrote one of the articles in there and pointed to it.  Rick lit up and blurted out my name and told her about the article and how he was my friend and some other nice things.  When my friend told me about it she couldn’t remember his name until she described him and I said that had to be Rick Hadley.  To me, Rick was a spearfishing legend.    He was taking down large tuna before a lot of guys even figured out how to shoot them.  Early in my spearfishing adventures I remember seeing pictures of him next to gigantic yellowfin tuna.  I remember seeing his posts as “Kumu” years before, Rick was a big guy and the tuna made him look small in comparison.   I believe his biggest was about 276 lbs.  He had stopped posting for various reasons and I was honored when he found us and began posting on a small spearsite I owned and when we made the transition to the new larger site Rick made the move with us to that site as well and posted often.  I always looked forward to seeing that boyish grin from the big guy who looked like a surfer from a magazine.  I still remember talking to him at Byron’s 50th bday.  Rick had brought a present for Byron and with a serious face, handed it to him.  Byron said, “aw man Rick you shouldn’t have!”  Rick (with a straight face), “oh it’s no big deal, just wanted to wish you a happy bday, open it”.  So with a lot of encouragement Byron finally opens it and it’s a big pack of Depends adult diapers.  Rick’s face suddenly splits into a big smile and roars with a booming laugh and we all crack up.  What a character Rick was!

When Rick passed, the news spread through the freediving community like wildfire.  I  received texts, calls and emails for the rest of the night and the next day as well, every single one was disbelief on what had happened.  Our forum blew up with posts of sadness and prayers for his family.  In 24 hours pretty much anyone in the Tribe knew what had happened, although Rick was modest, pretty much anyone who was a freediver knew who he was.  When I first got the news I  came home from work and I was numb.  I scooped up my six month old son Hawke and held him tight and the tears just kept flowing.  It took a while before I could tell my wife what was wrong.  It’s been a few days, but when I see all the Tribe banding together and swapping stories and pictures of Rick I still get teary eyed.  We lost a great spearfisherman, a loving family man, a business role model and a real ambassador to our sport.  It is a tremendous loss for anyone who ever was lucky enough to meet him.

I didn’t feel like doing anything the last few nights.  We are all still depressed and can’t believe what happened.  I often deal with grief by writing, and when my fingers were done tapping, I came up with something to try to comfort our loss to the Tribe.

 “The Freediving Tribe is so small that when we lose someone, it’s always a tremendous personal loss. We’re doing this on one breath of air, and on that one drop it’s that one breath that sustains your life. I’m sure everyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to make it back up wishes that they had used that one breath to tell someone they loved them, to whisper a last thought into someone’s ear, or at least to tell us goodbye. But since they couldn’t we just have to take comfort knowing that on their last breath, they were doing something that they truly loved.”

I’ll never be able to truly accept that Rick is gone, in my mind he’s just on vacation and I’ll see him again sometime.  I’m sure he’s going to be watching over us while we dip our fins under the sea.  I like to think he’s exploring new spots now, finding big fish, swimming free and never having to worry about coming back up for air.  When I see him again with that boyish grin and barreling laugh I’ll tell him the same thing I always tell him.  “Stay off my spotz, kook!!!” :).

Memorial service will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach October 10, at 11:00 am.  Hawaiian shirt attire requested.

A really nice article about Rick and his company: http://www.ocmetro.com/t-Cover_Hot25_12Rick_Hadley1110.aspx http://www.ocmetro.com/t-Cover_Hot25_12Rick_Hadley1110.aspx

And below are a bunch of photos I got from friends or Rick’s facebook page.

Rick with two big Yellowfin Tuna                                                      Rick hit 150′ with the monofin

Rick, Carla and Byron

2013 Personal best local yellowtail, a monster at 40.5 pounds

Best of friends:  Rick and Lyle with a couple of nice white seabass.  BTW I told you kooks to stay off my spotz! 😉

Rick and Daryl Wong with a nice Ulua.

Aloha,

Its such a tragedy that we have all lost a member of our tribe. Even more so to those that have been lifelong friends with Rick. I’ve only known Rick a few years now and he’s everything that has been described and more. 
We would go out diving when ever he was in town for his Hawaiian springs business. He was always so positive and Hawaii has lost a true friend. Through his business, endangered plant species are being saved through his companies sponsorship. Many companies come over to Hawaii and do well, but Rick’s company not only provided a service, but gave back. He had the true meaning of “Aloha” spirit in him. He was a member of our dive gang here. It was always nice to dive with him and then have him over for our traditional Sunday BBQ’s after diving.

I’ll miss my friend Rick, but will always think of him. His legacy here with his company, its goodwill, his positive attitude and the friendships he made will always be in our thoughts with the dive gang here.

Aloha Rick, dive on!

Daryl”

Yes that fish is that BIG

These two kooks are practically brothers.  Sorry Lyle, Rick’s fish looks bigger 😉

Rick’s water company                                                                                                Another big white seabass

Center Punched Yellowfin Tuna                                               Personal best white seabass:  60.4 lbs.  Nice pink line you got there Rick 😉

Traveling down South: the Georgia Aquarium and Disney World

8 Aug

We knew that the next RAW (Regional Aquatics Workshop) was going to happen in Georgia two years before the actual date and I was counting the days until the trip.  It would be my first trip to Georgia and I was excited, I love it in the South because people are usually so friendly and everything is nicer then in LA.  I had just enough time to get one dive in before the trip where me and my buddy Corey both scored some nice white seabass :).  Our families feasted on the fish and it was soon time for me to start packing.

A day or two later, the super shuttle picked me up bright and early.   I kissed my wife and newborn son goodbye and headed out the door.  I was pleased that I was the only guy in there but it wouldn’t last long.  Jeez, the shuttle stopped like 5 times picking up wary travelers from all over OC. I laughed when it stopped at a familiar address and one of my coworkers peeked inside. “Bitch get to the back of the bus” I laughed, he shoved me aside and sat next to me and we took off for the airport.

When we landed in Hartford I was impressed.   Welcome to Hotlanta!!  Everything was clean and well managed, no sticky floors, trash strewn about like LAX!  Wow even the bathrooms were shiny and clean!  We navigated to our luggage and took off for the Embassy Suites.  We had arranged to stay at the hotel thru the Georgia Aquarium, they were hosting the conference and the sessions were held in the conference rooms of the hotel, with the aquarium within walking distance. We dropped our stuff off and went out to explore.

The area seemed like it had been recently redeveloped, it was pretty new and the park was very clean and welcoming. In fact that whole area had a great feel to it, it was like everyone was so clean and green, I liked that a lot. Pretty much every night the Georgia Aquarium had arranged for some sort of icebreaker, we clicked bottles and glasses and met other aquarists from around the country.  It was a fairly large conference with hundreds of Aquarists from around the country.  Each day was packed with presentations, wide ranges from vet talks, to education, white sharks to whale sharks.   The conference was pretty much elbow to elbow with people.  My presentation was on collecting fish using a net I developed, it is unique because it is run with two freedivers.  Since both me and my coworker are well versed in freediving, the net works well and we are able to collect thousands of fish in one scoop.

I’m one of those guys blessed with a short attention span, nowadays it’s called ADD and kids take meds. In the old days you would pretty much just get wacked or else you learned how to deal with it. I chose to hide it with the latter.  Because of this fault, I worked my powerpoint with a lot of pictures and a video that was synced with music. I’m the first to admit I have no faith in microsoft I was nervous when I started my presentation.  I tried to get the shakiness out of my voice,  took a deep breath and ran through it. To my relief the techs were running macs and the video ran perfect and we ended with applause instead of the rotten apples and tomatoes hurled at me like I’m used to.  Mission accomplished!  Time to kick back and relax.  All of my close friends were now done with our presentations and we celebrated with a round of shots, followed by another round of drinks and an open bar.  We almost overslept and barely made it to the icebreaker that night.

On one of the nights Georgia Aquarium hosted a behind the scenes tour. We met with a ton of their aquarists, I’d have to say among other things besides the spotless pumps, filters, skimmers and even a tool room/workshop that looked like something in a magazine with every tool in it’s place. We were more amazed by their hospitality, after a week of hosting the conference we knew their aquarists had to be dead tired but they were so inviting, so quick to answer any questions we had that I immediately envied their facility. If you’ve never been there I’d highly recommend it. Many of their tanks were huge, and what they might lack in numbers they sure made up with wonderful displays. Our favorite would be standing above the whale shark/manta ray tank. I’ve swam with these behmouths in the wild during my freediving/fishing trips but man seeing a full grown whale shark pass below you is absolutely freaking amazing. We sat in the big room later and watched manta rays doing barrel rolls as they tried to scoop up food and watched gigantic jacks schooling in the 6.3 million gallon tank.  It is the largest indoor tank in the world.   I could spend hours in that exhibit alone, the only thing I’ve seen that rivaled it is the tuna tank at Tokyo Sea Life Park and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s open ocean tank. What can I say, I’m a sucker for big fish!

Above and below the Ocean Voyager Tank

I so wish our workshop looked like this!!!

Food Prep Room                                                    Pump Room

Belugas                                                                                        Kids Exploration Area

Freshwater cichlid tank

The third day of sessions had another great gathering of interesting talks.  This was the last full day of presentations and  that evening somewhere in the blur of the night we ended up on the rooftop of  Ventanas for a cocktail reception.  It’s a high end lounge complete with a really awesome city view. We clinked bottles and chatted with old friends and made contacts with new ones. It was one of the highlights of my trip, but it would only be the beginning of many highlights to follow.


The conference was over too soon, we regrettably said our goodbyes and made plans to hit up our new friends for visits sometime soon. My trip would not be over just yet, even though my two month old begged for my attention back home with my loving wife I had a chance to see my brother and his wife.  They had moved to Georgia a few years ago and I had never visited their new house.  At the end of the conference I would be greeted by a BMW (black of course because it’s a family trademark) and slid in the black leather seats as we headed towards the airport. In a couple of hours we touched down in Orlando, one of my favorite places to visit.   For a guy who loves Disneyland, it’s a playground for the short attention spanned. I hadn’t been back to Orlando in probably 20 something years but it was pretty much how I remembered it, green and full of adventure.  Disneyworld is the number one tourist destination in the world and when you get there you’ll know why.  Theme parks all around, lots of water all around (probably teaming with largemouth bass), and full of more southern hospitality.   We stayed at Disney’s animal kingdom lodge, a place where you could see giraffes walking in front of your room and hippos bathing in the pools.  We would not even have time to enjoy the facilities as we were trying to pack as much as possible into a few days.   Most amazing to me was the attention to detail, it seemed like you were in a real african lodge, an extension of Disneyland, with air conditioning of course. We had a huge dinner at one of their restaurants and I had a hard time choosing between all of the meats, chicken dishes, salads and desserts. We headed back to our room and fell asleep.

Inside of the Animal kingdom Lodge
Too early the alarm shrieked and we dragged ourselves out of bed, we only had 1.5 days to see a lot. The first stop was Disneys Animal Kingdom. If you have kids it would be a must see, like a living zoo complete with rides.  I think the Yeti ride was probably my favorite, it reminded me of a combination of space mountain and the mummy ride at universal studios.  We hit the animal kingdom for half a day and then headed out to Epcot to finish off the day. So much to do and see!  Chinese acrobats, test track roller coaster, finding nemo ride, spaceflight simulator, test track ride and a lot of heat.  I can’t remember it all but we finished up the night with a fantastic firework show and then headed back to the lodge.

The Tree of Life.  The more you look at it the more animals you’ll see!

The icon of Epcot

Finding Nemo ride                                                                                    Flight Stimulator

My chinese army collection                                        Soda Tasting from around the world.   Some countries like some really nasty ass soda

This is really really cool.  It’s an integrated aquaculture/hydroponics display where the fish feed off the leftovers from the plants.  I really want to do a display like this at my aquarium and have been raising tilapia in a tank in the back for it.

We limped back to the hotel room and promptly fell asleep.  Once again the alarm would shriek too early and we headed to Disney Studios for our last day.  It’s very much like a combination of Disneyland and universal studios with stunt shows (the car stunt show was amazing), aerosmith roller coaster, dinosaur ride and even star tours. When you step through the gates you will immediately get the feeling of how california adventure got a lot of its ideas because some parts are very similar.

Disney Studios                                                    New interactive exhibit for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean Movie


The whole trip was over too soon, we finished our day at about 2 pm and headed back to the airport to catch a flight back to Georgia. I only had time to marvel at my brothers gigantic house, you can fit three of my houses into it, it was immense!  In the morning we all got up early and my brother drove me back to the airport where I’d somehow climb aboard my flight and head back to LA.
When the jet began to descend I had to let out a sigh. There were no more green fields filled with lakes, no clear skies.  I returned to a concrete jungle with fake palm trees, smog and a lot of trash on the ground.  After such a great vacation, if most of my family and friends were not here I would have tried harder to get my wife to move to the south, I can’t tell you how tired I am of the crowded city.  I love living in places where nature is close, were people are civilized and pick up their trash and are a little nicer.  It would only make it an easier decision for our move further into Orange County.  But I’ll save that for another story, for now I’ll just say that I was definitely impressed all around with Georgia and of the people as well as the hospitality of the Georgia Aquarium and of course I’ll be heading back there as well as Disneyworld.

Hell Freezes Over

9 May
To say it was the end of a long dry streak would be the understatement of the year. I can’t remember putting in time and not connecting since I started chasing the gray ghost.  Grant it, having my boy has put a damper on my dive time, but my wife has been cool enough to let me sneak away for half days from time to time and after probably 10 plus shore dive and boat dives I had only two sightings, it was getting pretty pathetic.  Hunting white seabass is a  battle between love and hate.  You love it when you connect and you hate it when you don’t.  Nothing compares to hours wasted swimming as slow as you can in murky freezing water.  But we hold out for those rare days when we connect…
I’ve been prepping for a “business” trip to the Georgia Aquarium where I’m presenting a highly secret collection technique that I won’t bore you with.  Sunday I made plans to head out on one of my buddies boats, a mere 24 hours until I had to catch my flight. The first spot had great visibility, probably too good at about 30 feet. There was current, bait but no fish. Seemed like a pattern of damnation was following me once again and I sadly climbed back into the boat and wept in a pool of urine.We only had less than a half day to dive so we hit a second spot. Vis looked marginal on the surface and I headed one direction while my buddy head in yet another.The sparse kelp was fairly barren, I saw some kelp perch and that was about it. Discouraging. I kicked over to some thicker stuff and started making drops, it looked absolutely epic and I saw small schools of bait racing through the channels of kelp. The water felt slightly warmer here and vis was about 15′. I started seeing kelp bass zooming away and a few cuda slowly cruised through, it looked absolutely epic and I figured if any spot had fish this would be it. I started making a few drops and was slowly moving through when I saw that golden flash and a nice fish turned slightly and began slinking away. Unfortunately I only had a shot from the back so I kept following it and finally it slightly turned and I clicked the trigger. The shaft left and I was waiting to see if I had connected or if my shooting line would do that discouraging fall.

My luck held and my floatline begain to zip through my hands, so fast in fact that I was slightly alarmed.  I marked my Neptonics floatline with black electrical tape at the end about 15′ from the end every foot or so and increasing at 6″ towards the end, when I saw the first mark I started putting pressure on it but it was still hauling ass so I dropped it and swam down the line to catch up with the main part of the white floatline. The fish started headed towards the shallows and I felt lucky but after a minute or so did a u turn and headed towards the deeper kelp. I had to drop and catch up with that line several times because I wasn’t sure of the shot, eventually I put a little more pressure and the fish tied up. Unfortunately my buddy was far off so I inflated and clipped off my float and gun and started to breathe up.

I breathed up and dropped down and followed the line until I located it and as usual that fish tied up in the deepest part of the kelp it could find at 60′.  When I could compose myself I dropped and dispatched my fish, grabbed it and then began swimming back up. When I hit about 20 feet the fish would not move and I could feel myself rapidly running out of breath. Without hesitation I dropped the fish and kicked up to the surface.  It proved to be a smart move.   I was already light headed and did a couple of hook breaths and felt better.  Once composed I thought about it and did a couple of other drops, the floatline and shooting line was way tangled around a big bunch of kelp so I decided to just cut the shooting line (I’m using a pigtail swivel on this rig and its too hard to untie), grabbed the fish and made the kick to the surface.

Upon examination I saw the shot was fairly poor, there was no better advertising for a slip tip. I had shot it towards the rear of the fish and the slip tip didn’t even penetrate the body cavity, it toggled inside but luckily was in the area of the anal fin. If it were not for the bungee that Josh from Neptonics put on the front of the line that I requested I probably would have lost this fish.  At any rate I made the long swim back to the boat and threw the slug on the boat and promptly gave my jeering buddies a call to razz them.  My buddy had similar luck and swam back to his boat with a nice fish in tow.  We high fived it and headed back to the docks.

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While it was not the biggest fish I’ve ever shot it was probably one of the most satisfying.  I cleaned the beast on my filet table and quickly iced down the filets in zip lock bags.  I throw salt in freshwater and then rinse the filets in those so you don’t get that osmotic flux that makes the meat watery.  Then I burp the bags under the water to get the air out of it, it’s the poorman’s vacuum sealer.  The fish promptly go in the freezer, I gave some away to friends and family and then cooked some for ourselves.
I tried a new recipe with some Misoyaki marinade that master speargun/sliptip/stainless shaft Mori gave me and man was it fantastic.  It’s my wife’s new favorite recipe!Image
Cranberry/walnut salad, White seabass sashimi, and Misoyaki White Seabass with a side of baked brussel sprouts and sweet potatos

An Encounter with Marine Mammals

1 Mar

I’m not sure when this actually occurred, but I’m pretty sure it was within a hundred years or so ;).  I remember waking up and rolling out of my warm bed, gathering my gear and firing up my truck.  I remember loading our gear into my buddies boat and feeling that dreadful cold air creeping through our clothes.  I remember feeling the boat rise and fall, feeling the wind pushing into our faces and making us even colder.  As we headed towards our first dive spot we saw a giant blow, the spout of a large whale.  We slowed down and took a look, I thought I caught a glimpse of gray and white and my guess is it was a gray whale.  We all watched as the boat silently drifted by, the whale took no notice and continued it’s way.  Then it dipped down and with a mighty push with its tail it breached clearly out of the water!  There was a big splash and I wished I had my camera, it was definitely a gray whale, fairly young and about 20ish feet long.  I thought no way would it happen again and then SPLASH, it leaped out and breached again!  This was the first time I’ve ever seen a gray whale breach in southern California, I’ve seen them breach in Baja before.  We could clearly make out the white/gray barnacle scarring and the orange patches of sea lice.  We talked about why they might be doing that and I remember what I used to tell the students when I was teaching:  “Why do whales breach?  Do they do it because they are showing off?  Is it because they are having fun and just horsing around?  Maybe they are trying to get some of the lice and barnacles off?  You really want to know why they do that?  I’ll tell you why, here’s the big secret answer.  We don’t know!  Maybe someday you can invent a whale talking machine and you can ask them and then come back and find me and let me know.”

We watched the whale for a few minutes and then took off, I quietly reminded myself that people pay a lot of money to see things like that and we get to see it pretty much for free.  Spend enough time in the water and you get to see a lot of really cool things, I’ve seen sea turtles locally, orcas mid channel on the way to Catalina, and blue whales come up to our boat so close that we felt their breath.  Today would be yet another somewhat unexpected adventure.

We eventually made our way to a spot to look for some white seabass.  The visibility was eeeeh just okay at maybe ten or so feet.  As I was putting on my wetsuit I sadly discovered I had ripped a 3″ hole right in the ass area.  I was even more sad because we were out of the water and I could feel that cold air seeping right against my skin, this proved a delight to my fellow freedivers.   Those cold hearted bastards!!   I tried vainly to cover up the area with my wetsuit top and tried to put the fabric together but it would always open to it’s wicked white smile.  As I put my long fins on and dropped over the side as quietly as possible I immediately felt the cold water pin against my body.  As I kicked that hole opened and closed up like some balloon mouth and cold water would shoot across one cheek to the other and then up my back.  I glanced at my watch, 56 degrees.  Wonderful.

Hunting the beds during the winter is always a dreadful event.  The water is typically murky.  It’s cold.  Fleeting thoughts of white sharks haunt us everytime we kick towards the end of the bed.  And the beds are usually fairly lifeless, there is some bait but very few other fish are around.  I dropped down until I was negative and started slowly kicking forward while stopping every once in a while to check out any life that might be around.  Some spanish mackerel cruised thru the bed and I saw some very small kelp bass dart away.  Senioritas would come check me out and then flitter away.  I breathed up once again and then made my drop.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement and then a huge white shape pushed through.  Finger off the trigger, I swung the gun just in case it was a fat white seabass.  Instead two large curious eyes poked through and eventually the whole body was pushed through the kelp.  It was a very big harbor seal.  The differences between seals and sea lions are pretty obvious if you care to look at them.  Sea lions have external ear flaps and their “flippers” are shaped a bit different.  Seals lack those ear flaps.  Sea lions are bastards to freedivers.  They often bear their teeth at us, blow bubbles in our faces and will rush us and veer away at the last minute.  They will snatch fish on a stringer on your belt and pull you to the bottom.  They have bitten divers before and are fairly bold, I’d say in the short time I’ve been diving I’ve seen them get even bolder because their numbers are largely unchecked and they are increasing.  Seals however are usually not as bold.  I’ve had them try to grab fish but they aren’t as bold about it, they’ve never tried to bite me (yet) and are more curious than anything.

This harbor seal was even more curious than others I’ve seen.  It followed me during my entire dive, watching me from below and then when I breathed up it would follow me and breathe up with me.  When I was below it came right up and inspected my speargun, it pushed against the tip and bands and would come right up to me with unblinking eyes.  I tried to ignore it, because I knew that if any seabass were around that the seal would scare them away.  It didn’t work.  Eventually it would rub it’s body up against my fins and I would gently push it away and it would immediately come back again, like a dog that wants to be scratched.  I gave up hunting, there was no way any seabass would be nearby me with this pest around.  Eventually the seal started to hug my fins and just wanted to sit there and watch me.  I dove as deep as I could and as I was kicking away horizontally I’d feel weight on my fins and as I looked back the seal would let go and dart away.  I would breathe up and again feel weight and look back and once again it was there playing it’s game.  On one drop I felt something laying against me and as I turned back saw it just putting the weight of it’s body against mine with it’s head on the square of my back.  My dog Leilani does the same thing when we are watching tv sometimes.  As I neared the boat the seal came to me one more time, it pushed against my leg and came right up to me, face to face.  As I put my hand up to push it away it pushed the side of it’s face into my hand.  I was careful to make sure it wasn’t trying to bite me and we both surfaced at the same time.  As I jumped back onto the boat it sat there in the water with it’s head up watching me with questioning eyes, like it was inviting me to come back to play, I had to laugh.  By then I was freezing and fishless, I poured some much needed hot water down my back and shivered until my buddies returned.

We never saw a fish that day, never heard any white seabass croaks and the kelp bed was pretty dead.  Yet I had to admit, it was just another pretty amazing day.  In fact pretty much any day in the water is a good day to me :).

I realized that most of the pix I have of marine mammals are either on film somewhere or in videos that I have yet to edit.  So here’s some really bad ones.  The harbor seal is the first picture hiding behind kelp, they typically will look spotted under the water.  The sea lion is the one in the green water.  And just for good measure, below that are elephant seals from a rookery up north.  We do get elephant seals in southern California, the males can get larger than walrus’s.  Should you ever see a sick seal/sea lion on the beach stay away from it, they can deliver a nasty bite.

Harbor Seal

Sea Lion

Elephant Seals, the males are the larger ones with the “snout”