Monday, February 22, 2010

Filmmaker's Journal: the sea reminds you who is the boss

For the past few days I was offline, as Scott Cassell, founder of the Undersea Voyager Project, and I were in Bodega Bay, California trying to film Humboldt squid.

Notice I said "trying."

It was one of those experiences where you get reminded as to who is the real boss on the water. On Day One, we left Bodega Bay and traveled 35 miles offshore to an area known as Cordell Bank. Sportfishermen having been pulling up large numbers of squid from this area. The sky was overcast but the seas were fairly calm. Northern California waters are not always gin clear and after days of prior rain, the water, combined with the threatening sky, was making filming impossible (Humboldt squid run from video lights, so there had to be sufficient ambient light for us to film).

Day Two and we're hit with another ocean gremlin: an engine malfunction with the boat. Remember, boats are holes in the water, lined with wood, into which you pour vast amounts of money.

So, a lot was riding on Day Three, the last day of shooting. The sky was cooperating with cottony patches of clouds patterned across vast expanses of bright blue. And a gentle breeze was slowly picking up as the morning temperatures increased.

Oh, oh. The morning breeze. It can be a bad indicator of what's taking place offshore.

And so we set out - a crew of six including Scott and myself. As we cleared the jetty that keeps Bodega Bay's inner waters nice and calm, we see an ocean horizon that looks like broken glass - meaning large swells and wind chop. The worse roller coaster you can think of is about to seem tame.

For several hours we plowed forward. Tom Loomis at the wheel did a terrific job handling the boat. But when we reached our destination, it was easy to see that diving was out of the question. With the boat riding in 10+ foot swells and white caps peaking from two different directions, getting in the water would have been challenging but not impossible. Getting out would have been flat-out dangerous. And there was the planned potential of a decompression dive; but with heaving seas, trying to hang on to a line at the proper decompression depth was out of the question. Scott scrubbed the dive and we headed back, both a bit disappointed and relieved.

The ocean is one of the earth's most powerful forces and must never be underestimated. Whether it's explorers looking to peer into it's depths with cameras at hand, fishermen plundering its bounty of sealife, or factories spewing pollutants into its delicate ecosystem - the ocean has its ways to remind us who is the boss; who will do what it takes to protect itself, adjusting itself to survive; and who will be around in some form or another long after we have managed to eliminate ourselves from the game.

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