Thursday, December 31, 2009

Whytecliff Park 30/12/2009

Even though I missed diving last weekend, I made up for it this week with Lighthouse Park on Monday, and a night dive at Whyteliff last night. It was a pretty good evening, cloudy but not raining and fairly warm. Vince had gotten a new truck (and an equally new license) and he asked if I'd go along. I jumped at that chance immediately. I was sitting in the lobby of my apartment building with my gear waiting, and I got a few odd looks. My friends from upstairs came through too, and asked what I was doing. I said going diving, and they looked pretty incredulous. I thought it was pretty funny, but then, I'm a bit more hard-core than most divers.

Vince was understandably nervous driving out to the park. I had totally forgotten what it was like to be a new driver, and it was doubly bad for him because he had just learned to drive standard! We made it fine, though.

The plan was to dive the Cut and head south curving around the day marker and then north west back up into Whytecliff bay. I figured that would be the easiest, nicest dive since you just have to follow the rock walls. Going to the right at the Cut was nice, but finding the exit again had always been a problem for me. Since Vince was going to take some photos, and I'd be navigating, I wanted to do the most comfortable route for me. It was night too, and I didn't fancy winding up in Howe Sound in the dark trying to find our way out if we missed it!

When we got down to the water, the tide was lower than I'd ever seen. The base of the day marker was exposed at least as much as it was tall, and the water started at the point where we normally swim out to descend at. It was very strange. Visibility was not bad, but not great. There turned out to be a fairly significant current during the middle part of the dive too.

When we dropped down, the visibility got a bit better, but not by much. There was surprisingly not a lot to see on this dive. Well, maybe I should say not a lot new to see. Good thing it was all about being underwater for me, and not new marine life! There were certainly loads of coonstripe shrimp. They were always cool, because of how they gathered in big groups and their eyes glowed eerily in your light. There were some really big ones tonight. I also saw a really big yellow margin dorid, as well as a tiny white dendronotid (both nudibranchs). The highlight of the marine life was a baby giant pacific octopus. That was a contradiction, for sure! It was tiny. There was also one of the biggest copper rockfish I've ever seen hiding in a rocky crevice. On the way around the day marker, the plumose anemone gardens looked a lot different than usual. This was I think because we were actually at a deeper level than I'm normally used to, since the water was actually shallower due to the tide. It was pretty cool. The drop offs from the wall we were following were also spectacular, descending down into murky darkness. Very cool. I'm sure there was a new blue fish that I didn't recognize, but I have yet to identify. It may be that it was just a variation on a kelp greenling. Finally, on the way up to the beach we came across a fat dungeness crab that showed no fear of the two black monsters hovering over it. There were of course, the usual huge amounts of sea stars and sea cucumbers covering many of the rocks. I also retrieved a beer bottle off of the bottom as my contribution to cleaning up the environment.

The last portion of the ascent was very shallow, and was a good test of buoyancy control. Once we hit the surface, we surprised a great blue heron who was taking advantage of the exposed rocks to get some late night snacks. It flew off unimpressed. We also both ended up running into the remnants of the dock pilings that were normally underwater. Swimming backwards usually was no problem in that area, but at such a low tide it was disconcerting to bump into something you didn't expect. I'd need to remember for next time!

We both agreed that it was a pretty good dive. Vince took a few pictures, but very soon into the dive his batteries gave out which was too bad. I felt a lot more comfortable with my buoyancy on this dive. All the diving was paying off!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lighthouse Park 21/12/2009

I had been planning this dive for some time. Lighthouse Park was listed in my dive book, and seemed like a good spot to check out. The problem was the hike. Whenever I'd mention Lighthouse Point, people seemed less than enthusiastic! There was no road access, so all your stuff had to be lugged down from the parking lot about a kilometre away. The tides and currents were a concern too, so planning was done to find a day with a very small tidal exchange. That turned out to be December 28 between 10 and noon. It also was a holiday for most people, so even better! I ended up having to take the day off anyway though, since for some reason our office was open that day. Oh well.

Here is a Google Map link to the dive site, remember to click on Satellite view if it's not on already.,-97.15369&sspn=25.027097,64.423828&ie=UTF8&hq=lighthouse+park&hnear=Vancouver,+BC&ll=49.330789,-123.261985&spn=0.000771,0.001966&t=h&z=19

We planned to arrive at the Park for 10:30, and brought two wheeled trollies to carry gear with. Ideally, each person should have had one trolly each, but we originally had only two people planned, so Evan and Alan had to share.

While waiting, I met one of the people involved with the park who was out for a walk. She asked if I was going diving, and where. I said yes, and where should I go! She was quite helpful. There were three places to dive, the West Beach, East Beach and Starboat Cove. She said that beach access to West Beach was tricky and the dive wasn't that great. East Beach was easy to get into and a good dive, and Starboat Cove was also a bit tricky to get down into. It was good information that we put to use, picking East Beach as the place we would explore.

Alan and Evan showed up on time, and we assembled all our gear in the parking lot, strapped it to the trollies, and putting on our drysuits too. This was all done to make sure that any obvious failures or missing gear would be spotted immediately. It worked out ok, but the hike was a bit warm with a drysuit on. I think I would still prefer to cart the bags down and assemble gear closer.

The main trail down from the parking lot was quite wide and free of bumps. But, it was a steady and steep downhill hike making the return journey difficult. Be prepared for a work out coming back up! Taking it slow was the way to go. For any reasonably fit person, you'd be ok going down, but probably get pretty tired on the way back. However, after diving you'd need to watch yourself since you'd be more loaded with inert gas.

We stayed on the main trail and followed it down until we came across the park buildings near the Lighthouse driveway. There was a good map in the parking lot, and the trails are well marked. We left our trollies and hiked down to the beach to check out the water and the entry terrain and to take some photos. You couldn't take the trolly much farther than the buildings because the path down to the beach was just a walking trail. It was much like the path down to the Cut entry at Whytecliff, but probably a bit rougher and longer. Down at the water, there was a large granite rock that had three channels branching off of it (you can see it in the Google map above). We decided to enter in the middle channel, follow the bottom south to 21 meters or so, then curve to the north east. We'd aim to end up back near the granite rock at the end. The visibility looked pretty good, and the water didn't look like it was moving much at all either. We seemed to have hit the site at the right time. The area was pretty exposed, so large tidal flows could make the currents very scary.

After a few pictures of which we were sternly told by Alan to not ham it up in, we hiked back up to our gear and decided to wait a bit longer. Partly this was to rest after the hike down, and partly it was to hopefully hit the tidal exchange at the optimal time. There was a nice picnic table near the buildings that made a great place to gear up on. There were bathrooms in the area too, which was a nice convenience. Not that we really needed them with p-valves and Evan and his iron bladder!

The hike down to the water in full gear wasn't too bad. We went slow, and there were no problems. The beach entry was nice and smooth too. We started our descent pretty quickly, and headed south. There were a lot of rock outcroppings along the bottom creating natural channels. It also made straight navigating hard. Going south didn't put us down very deep either, so our plan of hitting 21 meters quickly didn't work out so well. There was also a steady current flowing to the west, which made us turn east sooner to swim into it lest we be pulled too far away from our exit point. We discovered a steep drop off about 15 minutes into the dive on our curve to the east. It started around 21 meters, and probably went down to at least 30 or so. It was a pretty interesting find, but we couldn't stay since I had reached our agreed on turn pressure, and we started to head back up the bottom contour. I did a pretty good job navigating I think, as we ended up not too far off. Our exit ended up being the eastern rock channel that you can see on the Google map link. In the end, we agreed that this channel would be the best to enter from instead of the middle channel. Heading south from this channel should put you right near the interesting drop off, and we planned to do that soon.

Evan was designated as “crab master” as he had brought along his crabbing bag. Unfortunately, there were no suitable crabs to be found. Alan had his camera, and was “photo master” and I was “nav master”. Alan got some pretty good pictures I think. There was a fair amount of interesting life, too. We saw golf-ball crabs, hermit crabs, giant barnacles, rock scallops, brittle stars, purple sea stars, purple sea urchins, pacific sea peaches, great sculpins, grunt sculpins, and a squid. Well, I didn't see the squid, but Evan and Alan did. I also found a very interesting old square bottle which I hope to clean up as a souvenir.

We agreed that two dives would be good to plan, because of the effort to get down there. One dive seemed a bit of a waste!

We made a plan to get out to Lighthouse Park again, and explore the drop off we discovered soon!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Porteau Cove 13/12/2009

Back to Porteau Cove! It had been a long time since I dove here, so I figured it was high time to go back. Also, my dive buddy Mihai wanted a place with a bathroom that was still open, hah. Porteau Cove had one bathroom open during the winter, being a scenic stop on the highway and all. But, it was farther than the normal one. We ended up driving up to it because it was cold! Speaking of cold, it was snowing on this day. Not a lot of snow, just flakes in the air. I wanted to have a dive on a day with lots and lots of snow on the ground, but I'd have to wait. The air temperature was around 4 degrees. Thankfully it wasn't too windy. I also wished that I had my thicker undergarment, but it had still not arrived, even though I ordered it back in September.

Before leaving IDC, Genessa mentioned about another dive site beside Furry Creek. I was kind of surprised, since I'd not seen it mentioned in my 151 Dives book. We decided to pass on it today, though. I planned on checking into it later. Apparently it was a fairly easy shore entry, with a wall to explore. She did say something about crossing someone's garden! Maybe that was why it wasn't in the Dive book.

We got going pretty late, so it wasn't until about 12:30 that we got into the water. It was high tide, and there was quite a surface current so the swim out to the buoy was long. We stopped for a rest halfway there. Once we got to it, there were two free divers there in wetsuits. I'd never seen anyone free diving in the area yet, let alone in wetsuits on such a cold day! I thought they were pretty crazy, but I guess we were equally as crazy. They were taking photos of each other diving down.

After resting up some more, we dropped down. Our plan was to follow the artificial reef around to the wreck of the Grant Hall, then come back around, look for an octopus, and then follow the bottom back to shore. The plan went a bit awry when Mihai tried to turn his light on near the bottom and found that it was broken. After fiddling with it for a while, he gave up. It was fairly bright, so a light wasn't necessary and it wasn't worth calling the dive on account of that. I lost our orientation when he was fiddling with the light, so we ended up loosing the reef. Whoops. Still, I trusted my compass and struck out where the Grant Hall should be, and it loomed out of the gloom fairly quickly. Visibility was not good, so it was hard to see much detail. Funny because in the winter the visibility is supposed to be a lot better. Ah well. We circled around the stern of the ship and came across a large school of shiner perch. Their small silvery bodies gleamed very nicely in my light beam. There was a concrete slab on the bottom that used to have a marker buoy attached to it. It was packed with longhorn decorator crabs in the cracks around it. It also seemed that a lot of the marker buoys had been moved, and attached to newer, larger concrete road barriers. The work looked quite recent. Someone had been busy!

Resting under the port side of the wreck was a pretty large ling cod. He looked pretty happy sitting on the bottom watching us swim by. There was also one of the biggest kelp greenlings that I'd seen swimming around near there. We puttered around the artificial reefs looking for octopus next. We didn't find any, though. A bunch of divers must have come through, because we also came across a huge silt trail. They really kicked up the bottom. I don't recall anything else of unique interest until we were almost back to shore. Travelling along the bottom, the water got noticeably colder very quickly the shallower we got. It ended up around 5 or 6 degrees. I thought the sandy bottom would be pretty uninteresting, but was wrong. Mihai noticed a hairy crab which I'd not seen before. We also came across a huge gathering of dungeness crabs. They were kind of small, but there were over 30 of them all packed into a small area. There was a bigger red rock crab mixed in with them, too. I'd never seen so many crabs in one spot. There didn't look to be anything keeping them there (like food) but who knows. I wanted to investigate them more, but the dive was already going on long, and I was feeling the chill. Getting out into the cold air was a bit of a shock. I think the air temperature was around 4 degrees at that point.

We almost called it a day because of that. There weren't that many divers out, and by the time we were eating lunch, all of them had left already. We ended up sitting in the car for a while warming up, which helped, so the second dive was a go. However, we'd make it shorter, and planned to just explore the dock pilings that were very near rather than doing a long surface swim again.

The dock pilings turned out to be pretty interesting. The bottom was sandy, but had interesting lines carved in it by the wave action, and the pilings had a lot of life encrusting them. There were some rocks and such sunk there too which also provided a good home for life. I found an old baseball! I saw my first mossy chiton on one of the rocks, too. There were actually about 5 of them. Near one of the pilings, we practised some skills for the upcoming GUE Fundamentals course. The mask removal and clearing was a bit chilly on the face, but everything went well. I was happy that I wasn't floating up as much as I had in the past. Buoyancy was getting better! Mihai did well, but ended up dipping his fins too close to the bottom and stirred up a tonne of silt, and floating up a lot. We also later agreed that backfinning was something we really needed to learn. There's really no easy way to stay stationary in the water without being able to go forward and backwards. I also got a bit turned around under the dock, and ended up swimming too far south. But we fixed that and continued to explore, and called the dive after about half an hour. There was one of the biggest purple stars we'd ever seen. Coming back up to the surface was pretty cool. We came up the boat ramp, and it was neat to see the interface of the water and air getting closer and closer, with your bubbles disturbing it. It reminded me of the GUE training videos I'd seen, where they were practising in 5 feet of water.

We packed up as quickly as possible, and hopped in the car. By this time, I certainly was feeling the cold! It was a good set of dives. Today marked my 60th dive, which was great. More to come!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tuwanek 06/12/2009

After the Rescue Diver course, I thought it would be a good idea to go for a fun dive without having to work so hard. That and my dive buddy Mihai was up in Tuwanek for two days, so I thought to join up with him there on Sunday.

I planned to take the 7:20am ferry, believing that people would want to get going early. I was wrong! I got up at 5am, and was in Sechelt by about 8:30am. No one was awake! So I spent an hour having a coffee and exploring Sechelt a bit. The ferry ride over had been very rough. Strong winds and cold air made for a rough passage. I went up on deck briefly to check things out, and got a bit worried! Thankfully it calmed down, and the sun was out all day. It was still pretty cold. Sechelt is a nice little town on the water. I spent some time walking on the beach with the surf, and watching the sun on the water. I didn't spend too much time out though, since the wind was still very brisk.

I met up with Mihai and Christina at the UpperDeck guesthouse in Sechelt, along with their other dive buddies. There were originally 5 or 6, but by the time Sunday rolled around, only 3 remained. Of those 3, only one would dive with us on Sunday. They had some poor dives the day before, and did not sleep the greatest. I was rested and raring to go, though! Poor Mihai had vehicle problems, and didn't sleep well either, so was in rough shape. He still stuck with it and did the two dives though, so good for him.

After some more coffee and breakfast for the late-risers, we made it out to the dive site. It really was a very nice day. The water wasn't moving too much, and the visibility looked great. We geared up and decided to dive the north island first, and try and find the wolf eels that I had seen the last trip.

It was a nice relaxing dive, this one. A lot more relaxing than the trip with IDC, but I'm sure that had a lot to do without being in a group of 8! I really wanted to get to where the wolf eels were, so was moving quickly. But the other two were going pretty slow, so I decided to just relax and do that too. There were big schools of shiner perch, and a lot of boot/chimney sponges. Lots of blackeyed gobies too, and tonnes of painted greenlings (convict fish). There was also a really awesome longhorn decorator crab that I came across on the way back. Beside this north island there was also quite a bit of bull kelp. It was smaller than the stuff I saw near Port Hardy, but I still found it cool. I can't believe how strong it is. There was no sign of the wolf eels, but that's mostly because I couldn't find their den. I found several vertical cracks at the right depth, but none of them were big enough to hold them. I don't think we went far enough, but that's ok. There were a couple of really neat chitons on the way, as well as a pretty big ling cod hiding in some kelp. He got scared and swam away very quickly. Once we surfaced, using a strand of bull kelp for a reference line, we were treated to a seal swimming on the surface. He was pretty far away, and even though we tried to call to him, he wasn't interested. He did look our way, but must have had better things to do. Mihai had some problems with his dive computer, so for the next dive we planned it using tables. The swim back to shore was pretty long and cold! But we made it.

The other group of divers decided to pack it in. So Mihai and I were left on our own for the second dive, with Christina trying to keep warm in the sun. She had forgotten her warm ski pants, so was also chilled. There was a lot of that going on today!

For our second dive, we wanted to be conservative, so we decided to stay shallow and go to the southern island along the bottom. The surface water was surprisingly cold, something like 5-6 degrees. There was also a lot of fresh water mixing near the surface making for a pretty interesting halocline. This dive turned out to be very good. Once we descended and made it to the side of the island, it was like a big aquarium. The light was streaming in from above, the visibility was great, and there were tonnes of fish swimming about the rocks and along the wall. It was really cool. There were a lot of striped seaperch. I also recovered some treasure: a CD by Zamfir and a boat light. There was a star fish re-growing from one arm, or a star fish who lost all but one arm, take your pick. Again, tonnes of painted greenlings. We continued along the island wall and ended up swimming along barren rock. We should have hung out in the previous part, since it was pretty uninteresting farther on. We turned back, and spent the rest of the dive coming up the bottom contour to the beach. There was a lot of sea grass there, but the bottom was pretty sandy and muddy. Not uninteresting though. The sun coming in from above made everything bright and different.

So, we ended there packing up quickly and meeting the others in a small bakery called Wheatberries back in Sechelt. I showed off my treasure finds, had another coffee (lots of coffee today, that was an early morning!) and made it onto the four thirty ferry. I'm sure I'll be back!

Rescue Diver Course 05/12/2009

I had planned to take the Rescue Diver course sometime in the spring since I had heard a lot about it and people had spoken highly of it. I decided to take it earlier for a few reasons. One was that I was doing so much diving. The chances of coming across a rescue situation were a lot higher. Two, Kyle convinced me to join in. There were not that many who had signed up. Three, the next rescue course might have conflicted with the GUE Fundamentals class that I want to take in February. Four, I wasn't doing anything else that week!

In the end, taking this combined with the prerequisite Emergency First Response course, as well as finishing the Nitrox course meant that I had a lot of studying going on for several weeks. I'm glad it was finally over! Now I could get back to reading some of the GUE material that I had on the go. The class work for the Rescue Diver wasn't too bad. Every session we'd head to the pool for some confined-water practice of the skills we learned about after reviewing some material in class. I think I spent a week going through the book and answering questions in preparation for the written exam. I'm sure that was over-kill, but I figured you weren't just there to pass, but to learn about how to save someone. The more you know, the better I figured.

There were two pool sessions for us. They kind of ran together in terms of what I can remember. Fun things I remember were doing the different diver carries, bringing an unconscious diver up from the bottom, dealing with a panicked diver and practicing out of air situations. We had quite a few laughs in the pool, really.

Saturday was what I really looked forward to, since we'd be out in the ocean practicing the same things. The day was very sunny, but windy and cold! There was also a huge tidal exchange (16 feet or so), and the current out past the bay was just ripping along. Even in the bay at Whytecliff things looked a bit rough. I'd never seen the tide up so high, either. An open water class was going out that day too, I felt sorry for them!

I also felt sorry for myself, since I had spent a lot of the evening agonizing over gear choices. From all I'd heard, with the dragging and carrying and lifting, your gear took a lot of abuse during the course. So, I had rented a drysuit to use instead of my regular TLS350. The boots on my regular suit were designed for range of motion and not durability, so I didn't fancy putting a hole in them. Especially since I planned to go to Tuwanek diving the next day! However, that meant that the rental suit didn't have drygloves, and I'd need to use wetsuit gloves. I also didn't put on my regular thinsulate undergarment because I wanted it to be dry and in good shape for the dive the next day. I wasn't quite sure if the layers I had on, or the wetsuit gloves would keep me warm enough. In the end, it wasn't too bad, though. Also, I probably should have just worn my regular suit. There wasn't nearly as much equipment abuse as I thought there'd be.

Kyle was being assisted by Vince, and there was myself, Jason, and two others named Neal and Dan. Kyle was looking pretty tired and not overly happy about being out in such cold temperatures. He also ended up forgetting to put on his thinsulate booties, so his feet slowly froze throughout the day making him more cranky. Too bad for him! He and Vince spent more time in the water than the rest of us though, so it wasn't surprising that he got cold.

Dan was in wetsuit gloves too, and Neal's drysuit gloves failed so he was basically in wetsuit gloves too. Not a good start for being warm! I was happy to find that I wasn't as cold as I thought I might be. My wetsuit gloves weren't too bad. I also had some hot water on hand to pour into them periodically which made a big different. My feet were pretty comfortable, as well as the rest of me. So the layering worked out ok. I was still cold near the end of the day, but not as bad as it ended up for Dan. But that's for later.

The first set of skills was helping a tired diver out by towing them around. Then we got to act like panicked divers and do the same thing. This was all pretty fun, because everyone was still pretty warm and happy. Kyle was complaining that his head felt like being squeezed in an ice vice when he went under water, but I didn't think it was that bad. The surface water was pretty chill though. Deeper the water was the constant 8-9 degrees it had been for most of the fall.

We did some out of air practice after that, which all went well. Dan and Neal had a problem when Dan was using Neal's alternate air source. I watched as it happened. The hose was tucked up through his D ring, and when he gave the regulator to Dan, the hose got pinched and Dan really didn't get any air at all. Good thing they didn't have far to the surface. Yet another validation of the DIR gear configuration I was using. We don't mess with giving alternate regulators, we donate the regulator we are breathing, and switch to a backup that hangs around our neck. There's no chance someone will not get air in that case. Vince also pointed out later that when Neal was donating air to Dan, that the regulator was upside down. That meant Dan got a big mouthful of water, since regulator mouthpieces don't work well unless orientated properly. Again, a big validation to the DIR system since you know the orientation of your regulator since you are breathing off of it!

Next was bringing an unconscious diver up from the bottom. Here is where we got to act some more, but it was pretty easy just hanging there limp. No Oscars awarded here! We all had a problem bringing up the person slowly, and went a bit too fast. It was difficult keeping your diver from rolling over along with keeping both your buoyancy's under control. But, the goal was to bring them up in a controlled way, and we did that. Knowing that you had to pay attention so much to your buoyancy was a good lesson. I was surprised that your diver would roll over so much. It wasn't like that in the pool.

Next was dealing with unresponsive divers at the surface. Again, more acting! Basically all we had to do was flip them over, see if they were breathing, and start rescue breaths if not while towing them. The big challenge here was to get their airway open, and not get water in their face. Kind of hard to do when you had to pinch their nose after your hand came out of the water! Shaking your hand helped, but it was still a bit uncomfortable for the “victim”. Also, kicking up high enough to get your mouth into the right spot to give the breaths was very hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. Add in towing them, and it was very very tiring. You had to do all this while doing 2 breaths every 5 seconds. There's not much time to do anything else!

Here Jason and I got a break after I towed him in to shore. Neal and Dan had to finish off their rescue of the unresponsive diver at depth, as well as their tows and gear removals. Since it was sunny, it was not hard to get warmer sitting still, but I used some of my hot water to help my hands. A big wave came in and soaked my food bag which was unexpected. At least things inside were well sealed.

We had to do our gear removals next, and that took a long time since you were doing rescue breaths in between. Again, there was hardly any time to do anything with just 5 seconds. We also did some carries, and everyone got to drag someone out of the water. Finally we got all this done, and everyone took a break for lunch.

At this point, Dan was shivering almost uncontrollably. He was in pretty bad shape, and instead of having a real rescue situation on our hands, it was decided that he needed to sit out. Kyle also wanted to cut short some of the scenarios, since he was in pretty bad shape too. We agreed to do the missing diver search, and the underwater bleeding scenario and call it a day. The other scenarios were towing, rescue breaths and gear removal which we'd already done. Granted, it would have been more practice, but at that point the cold was becoming a real factor, so it made sense. I'd just make sure to practice some of those later, and probably sit in on a few of the upcoming rescue classes. Landon said anyone was welcome to come along.

After eating and warming up as much as we could, we started the missing diver scenario. Kyle and Vince hid a Mountain Dew bottle out on the bottom of the bay, and we'd need to work as a group of three to set up a search pattern and find it. We tried our best to keep track of where their bubbles went, so we had a pretty good idea of where it might be. They also told us approximately the location and depth, so it wasn't totally cheating! We went out and did a three abreast line search, and Jason found the bottle pretty quickly. On the way back, he lost one of the weights on it though. Whoops!

The last scenario was dealing with a bleeding diver under water. Vince was going to be the victim, and Kyle whispered to me to stage an out of air situation as well. Vince did the acting thing, and Neal attended to him first, and got pressure on it. Then I signalled out of air to Jason. It took him a bit of time to figure out what was going on! Whoops again. But he got it, and then we all ascended as a group. Not too bad!

In the end, I realized just how much there is to know, and to practice with this stuff. Getting more familiar with everything looks to be very important. I learned a lot in the course, and I'll need to keep learning and practicing. Hopefully I'll never need it, but I'm glad I'm better prepared just in case.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Whytecliff Park – The Cut 29/11/2009

After the boat dive just the day before, I didn't think I'd be diving again on Sunday, but it worked out. Mihai and I decided to go do the Cut at Whytecliff park, and finish off the day with a skills-dive in preparation for some time in the water with Alan to work on more stuff. The skills-dive was to go over the basic 5 GUE scuba skills, which really is just air-sharing and mask-removal stuff. It's good stuff to practice though, since the more comfortable you are with it, the better you'll be when you need to do it for real. Alan offered to do a skills-dive with us, and wanted to make sure that everyone involved would be at a similar level before doing it.

Sunday turned out to be a pretty nice day. Overcast, but not rainy. It was kind of cold though, and a bit windy. We got to the park later than usual since we had to go by the shop to get some cylinder fills. All my cylinders were empty!

Mihai had brought his wife Christina along, and we walked down to the Cut entry point to check things out. The tide was supposed to be coming in at that time, and things looked not too bad. However, we'd soon see that there was some pretty wicked current happening!

Mihai hadn't done the Cut before, so I was going to lead. We geared up, did our checks, and started down. We were going to go to the right along the wall, and return at our agreed turn air-pressure. Pretty straightforward. Once we started along, I noticed that we were being pushed along quite well by a current. It was a fairly nice relaxing drift dive with it. At the back of my mind, though, I was thinking about the return swim against it, and how hard it might be. We continued along the wall for quite a while at about 20 metres, until we got to our agreed return air-pressure. I turned the dive at that point, and we started back. That's when the current really started to become a problem. With the extra effort, I went through my air a lot faster. I realized then that I should have turned the dive earlier, but everything was still good. I also should have come up to a shallower depth which would have helped air consumption, but I forgot. Anyway, I reached what I thought was the exit point, and signalled our ascent. We started to go up, and Mihai had a problem on the safety stop and continued up to the surface without being able to stop. I stayed down and waited out the safety stop, but didn't realize that while I was down that the current was pulling me north away from the exit point. When I did surface, I was a surprising distance away from Mihai. I also realized that I mistook the exit point, and it was actually a lot farther on, so that we had an even farther distance to go. I gave an ok signal to Mihai, and I saw him make one back, so I thought everything was good. I didn't realize that he didn't see my ok and started to swim back to me in case there was a problem. When Mihai and I met back up, we were quite far from the exit point. We started the long swim back along the surface next to the rocks, because we'd have to pull ourselves along from time to time because the current was so strong. I had enough air to do some of the trip under water, but that didn't really help in terms of effort. Eventually, we made it back just via brute force, which was the only option. We were pretty tired.

In the end, it was a lot of little things that combined into a bigger situation. There was no real problem, but it was a good learning experience. I'll certainly not forget the lessons learned. Every dive I go on I learn something new. This was a good one in terms of learning!

Needless to say, I was game for dive two, but we decided to pack it in for that day. No skills dive today. But, something was learned anyway.

Howe Sound Boat Dive 28/11/2009

A lot of diving happened this week. I barely had time to service and dry my gear between trips!

This was another boat dive with the IDC and the Sea Dragon. I had had to re-schedule since it conflicted with my Port Hardy trip. Port Hardy was certainly more important than a boat dive in Howe Sound! I was looking forward to some nice diving this day, but the weather wasn't co-operating. I woke up early that morning to a miserable rainy sky. It was going to be wet!

Jason Kolba was on the boat too, so he picked me up that morning. We made it out to Horseshoe Bay in plenty of time. The Sea Dragon crew, Kevin and Jan were not there yet, but we were able to get our gear down to the dock past the gate as someone opened it for us. I think they knew we were divers, with all of our stuff.

We spent a good amount of time chatting with Kyle about the Tuwanek trip the last week, and just diving in general. It made hanging out in the rain not so bad. Kyle did end up leaving his lunch on the dock, and the seagulls ate it. We found the remnants when we got back later that day.

We got underway a bit later than we wanted, but it wasn't too bad. The first dive site we went to was a standard one: the Pinnacle off of the North end of Bowyer Island. We had several new open water divers, and Kevin wanted to have an easy first dive for them. That was fine by me, I just wanted to get down there!

Jason and I geared up and were in the water pretty quickly after our checks. Our plan was to follow the south-western wall, and then come back. The water wasn't very clear because of all the rain, so visibility was pretty bad. I don't recall seeing too many things that were exciting, but Jason did come across a tiny 5 inch baby octopus in a small crevice. I was concentrating on my propulsion, so I was more active than normal, meaning that my air went faster than usual. It was all fine, but we had to stop the dive sooner than I had hoped. My navigation was good, so I got us back to the ascent line with no difficulty. On the way up, we ran into the other group just on its way down. That was quite strange, since it meant that they took half an hour at least to get into the water. We soon found out that there were some problems with weighting and regulators that delayed the dive. One fellow, Ivan, couldn't dive at all due to a malfunctioning regulator. Pretty bad to be out on the boat and not be able to dive. Sometimes there is not much you can do though.

It was still raining quite a bit, so we spent most of the time in the cabin. When the other group got back, we chatted a bit, and answered questions from the newer divers. It was nice. Soon though, we were on the move and going to the next dive site. Again, nothing new for me, but still a nice dive coming up. We went to the south end of Bowyer Island to the Canyons. That's where there were supposed to be wolf-eels, and this time I was determined to find them.

After going over directions to where the eels should be, Jason and I went down and started looking. I had tried to find them once before, and made a wrong turn. This time I was sure I knew where to go. In the end, I went too far, and missed them on the way out. They are actually quite close to where you descend. Jason and I ended up curving far out past them, and only on the way back did we happen across Kyle and his group who had found them. Jason and I checked out the eels for a bit, but I was near our agreed pressure on which to surface, so had to cut things short. We didn't quite make it back to the line, so did a mid-water no-reference ascent. That's always good practice. When we surfaced after our safety stop, we weren't far off from the boat. So all in all, not a bad bit of navigation. It could have been worse!

Pretty soon we were all packed up, docked, and saying our goodbyes to the Sea Dragon and everyone. The rain had let up a bit, so that made walking back to the car a bit nicer. I didn't have another boat dive planned with the Sea Dragon anytime soon. I think my plan is to stick with shore diving for the remainder of the winter. The weather is just too chancy sometimes. I don't like the idea of having a boat dive cancelled!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Whytecliff Night Dive 26/11/2009

As the day wound down, it looked to be a perfect night for this dive. A far cry from the week before, where it seemed a miniature typhoon was lashing Whytecliff! There was half a full moon, the sky was almost clear (there was a thin layer of hazy cloud), and the air temperature was relatively warm. Best of all, no rain!

We got started a bit later than the planned 7pm, but it was not a big deal. The drive out to Whytecliff was pleasant, and there was some good conversation. Arriving at the park, we discovered even though it was a great evening, no one else was out. Not surprising for a weekday night I suppose. But that just meant we had the place to ourselves. One surprise was that all the picnic tables were gone, and the washroom was closed. It's too bad, since the tables made gearing up and down a lot easier. It wasn't a show-stopper though, since we had the tailgate of Mihai's truck.

Since it was such a nice night, we didn't go down to check the water conditions and just started to get ready. It sure was dark! There were no lights in the parking lot, so I'm glad I was familiar with putting together things by feel. We had flashlights, but it was good practice to be very familiar with your gear.

Our plan was to just follow the right hand rock wall of the bay out and around the day-marker, then turn around at about 1500psi. I would lead the dive, but we decided to do a side-by side grouping instead of single file. That would make it easier to communicate and to point out things of interest. I ended up using my compass a lot on this dive!

The tide looked to be just right, and I believe it was going out. However, it didn't appear to be doing anything violent that would hinder our progress. When I first saw the water, it looked very clear. When we got in, however, the visibility was actually quite poor. There must have been a lot of particulate matter left over from the heavy rains that we'd been having. I made a mistake and forgot to inflate my BCD before I got in the water and got a bit of a surprise when I submerged briefly trying to put my fins on. Whoops! That was quickly fixed though, and a good lesson.

Mihai and I swam out a ways along the right hand rock wall and then descended. You could really tell how bad the visibility was, that's for sure. Some of the first things we saw were some very large dock shrimp, with very reflective eyes. They were scattered all over, and it was eerie the way their eyes glowed on the bottom. They were also pretty unafraid, standing their ground when you got very close to them like little bull-dogs. There were the usual vast assortment of sea-stars, and we soon got out to the day-marker and the fields of white plumose anemones emerged from the gloom. It was very cool. From that point on, we had some help in the form of the current. It pushed us along on a very nice and relaxing drift dive. It was a lot like flying through the night. There were some fish out, but not as many as I would have thought. Maybe I just wasn't seeing them though. Some of the coolest ones were large schools of shiner perch, which were about loonie-size and silver. They were huddling on the bottom in large groups, and reflected like silver dollars in our lights. Mihai said that several of them in their attempts to escape when we got close crashed into rocks behind them. I guess they were sleepy! The highlight were some small baby squid. We came across them on the way back, and I'd never seen one before. It was quite small and transparent.

I turned us back earlier than what we agreed because I knew that swimming against the current would use up our air faster. But, it was not too bad. We ended up getting back around the point, into the bay and following the bottom all the way up to shore with plenty left. On the way in, we both noticed a shining circular light on the surface of the water. At first I thought it was the moon, but then I realized that we were right beside the rock wall, and that Mihai's wife must be up there with her flashlight. She told us later that that was right, and that she didn't think we'd see it at all. It was certainly a cool effect to see underwater. It was like a floating disc of silver.

We hung out in the parking lot a bit afterwards with some tea after getting things packed up, but didn't stay long. It was getting late, and it was also getting cold! We talked a bit about the squid and the fish, and how nice the moon was. On the whole, a very nice dive. So, we decided to plan it again for the next Thursday.

Tomorrow will be a boat dive in Howe Sound with the Sea Dragon. I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tuwanek, Sunshine Coast 22/11/2009

The IDC dive shop had put together a day trip to go diving at a place called Tuwanek. It had a very funny name to me, but I signed up anyway. You had to take the ferry across to Gibsons, and then drive to Sechelt, then 10 minutes north of that. Apparently it was supposed to be a nice shore dive. Here is a Google map link to the site (make sure to use Satellite View, if it's not already on). You can see the little point of land, and the two islands that are just off the shore to the west. That's where we started the dive.,+BC&sll=49.891235,-97.15369&sspn=25.027097,55.283203&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Tuwanek,+Sechelt,+Sunshine+Coast+Regional+District,+British+Columbia&ll=49.54618,-123.765138&spn=0.001535,0.003374&t=

The day started off pretty early, as we planned to catch the 8:30 ferry. We also had the potential hassle of declaring our scuba cylinders, which did turn into a bit of a hassle actually. Kyle from the IDC was driving the IDC van, and it had 12 cylinders in it. The limit apparently is only 8, so we had to move some of them into the other cars. Good thing we had some extra room! The BC ferries web site had said that there was a limit of 8 enriched air cylinders. Well, these 12 were not all enriched air, so Kyle thought it was ok. Anyway, good to remember if we have to transport a large number of cylinders in the future.

The ferry ride was uneventful, and pretty quick, so we were driving up the Sunshine Coast in no time. It wasn't living up to its name, since it was cloudy and rainy the whole trip. There was one small point where the sun peaked through, but that was it. The air temperature was pretty cold too, down near 10 degrees or so.

Tuwanek turned out to have a very nice little hotel on the bay. It was very pretty looking, and would be a great place to stay overnight and maybe do a few days of diving, since the dive site is a short walk away. When we arrived, another group of divers that we were supposed to meet were already there. A woman named Terri whom I had met briefly at Kelvin Grove not long ago, was part of that group. She knew a lot about the dive site, and passed on as much information as she could. There were some wolf eels on the small island to the north of the entry point, and some giant pacific octopus on the island to the south. For the wolf eels, you had to swim out to the southern point of the north island, descend to about 80 feet and swim along the wall for about 20 minutes. Then there was supposed to be a vertical crack in the wall where the wolf eels lived.

For the first dive, we decided to all stay as one big group. That was a total of 9 divers. It was a big group! I knew Nigel from a previous boat dive, Sylvia from my advanced open water course, and Vince from various IDC things. We had a pretty mixed bag of beginner and intermediate/advanced divers. It certainly was a long swim! My 151 Dives book said “don't give up”, and they were right. Once we got out and organized, we started down. It wasn't as relaxing a dive as it could have been because there were so many of us, and I kept trying to keep track of everyone. Kyle was leading, and successfully found the crack with the eels in it. Good for him, because I was too distracted to see where I was going. The crack was pretty small, and the wolf eels were really far back, but there were two, and they were there. Quite a bit of sediment was stirred up by all the traffic, so that made seeing them a bit tough. But I hung back and got a better look once everyone cleared out. On the way back, Sylvia had a problem with her drysuit not venting properly, so half the group got separated. I ended up helping with the problem, and keeping that half together. We ended up surfacing after about half and hour, and we were pretty far off the original starting point. So it was a long surface swim back, and most of the group was very cold. One fellow from Germany was in a wet suit, and he was the worst off. But, everyone got back ok and we were happy to see the wolf eel.

The dog from the local hotel was apparently a standard fixture at the dive site because he was there the whole time trying to mooch food. He was a golden retriever kind of dog, and pretty friendly. Although, not too friendly with the dog that Nigel and his Mom brought. They kept getting into fights and had to be separated.

Terri and her three dive companions had quite the feast for themselves. I had not seen a dive group with a plate of nachos and dip before! I guess they treat it a lot more like a picnic/outing, which is not a bad idea, considering it does take some time to get there. You might as well enjoy yourselves while not diving! It wasn't raining too much, but I ended up keeping my drysuit on the whole time. It made a difference in comfort level that's for sure. Most of the people who came in the IDC van passed on the second dive because they were too cold. Jason, Vince and myself decided to go as our own group this time, and Kyle took two others as a second group.

We decided to check out the second island, since Terri and her companions said that there were big octopii out there. The directions were kind of vague, but apparently if you descended down the dirty marker buoy, and headed south to the wall, there was supposed to be one right there amidst a large amount of broken crab shells. We found the crab shells, but no octopus. In the end, we carried on around the island, keeping the wall on our left and just checking things out. I saw one of the biggest feathery nudibrachs I've ever seen. I don't know what its name is, but I'll have to look it up. Also, I saw a painted greenling, or convict fish as they are sometimes known.

During the second dive, I just felt generally off in terms of skill and buoyancy. I'm not sure what was going on. It was an alright dive, but something wasn't clicking. My light was giving me problems in that it wasn't focusing properly and I was messing with that a lot, but that couldn't be the only thing. It didn't make a bad dive, but it made it kind of medium.

Packing everything up went pretty quickly because we were motivated to catch the next ferry in time. It helped in that most of the other divers were already ready to go. They looked warmer at least! On the trip back, we heard from Terri who was already in the ferry line that we'd probably not make that one. So we decided to stop for dinner and some drinks in Gibsons and catch the next one. It was a nice end to the day, but we were all pretty tired and glad to get back to Vancouver that night.

Tuwanek was a nice place to dive, but as a day trip with a lot of people it was a bit much. I think I'd prefer going out with a dive buddy on a day trip whom I knew would be fast and efficient in doing the dives and getting back to an early ferry. That would go a long way to making it more enjoyable I think. That or maybe staying over night in the hotel there, and getting a few more dives in the next day. The only problem with that is that air fills would need to be done in Sechelt which isn't far, but would add some extra logistical complexities.

My next dive should be the night dive that I was supposed to have the week before on Thursday. Mihai and I are going to try again. The last one we tried had to be scrubbed because the weather was just too stormy that evening. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ansell Place 17/11/2009

I had wanted to dive Ansell Place for a long time. It was another dive site along the Sea to Sky Highway, and a map link is here:,+West+Vancouver,+Greater+Vancouver+Regional+District,+British+Columbia&sll=49.891235,-97.15369&sspn=42.090987,89.560547&ie=UTF8&cd=1&geocode=FSzC8QIdFF-n-A&split=0&hq=&hnear=Ansell+Pl,+West+Vanco

It doesn't look like much, but underwater it was pretty nice. The problem was getting into the water! Everyone I talked to said that it was hard. During low tide, the exposed rocks covered with algae made it difficult to get to the water. There were quite a few steps to go down, too, as well as an unstable drop down onto the rocks. Erosion had made this drop worse. There was a rope hanging beside it to help you. Maybe ropes made people more nervous? It was just a few feet! It wasn't a mountain or anything.

Alan Johnson agreed to dive Ansell with me, and it was even more exciting because some new wolf eels had been spotted here. Our mission was to find them.

Thank goodness we chose Tuesday to go diving instead of Monday. The rain had been incredible all weekend, and Monday night was worse. Tuesday morning was beautiful though. It was almost clear and sunny and the temperature was fairly warm too. It was a great day for a dive!

When we arrived at Ansell Place, we took a quick walk down the steps to the water to check things out. I'd never been, and Alan had not dove the site for at least a year. Things looked pretty good. The stairs were slippery, but the water was near high-tide so the entry would be easier. Still, there were quite a few waves coming in, so we'd be thrown about a bit once we got in, but it was manageable. We got set up and joked a lot about Kelvin Grove and how maybe the people of Ansell Place would try to enact a bylaw banning naked, cursing, peeing, nuisance divers.

We got in the water with no issues, did a quick gear check and started down. The plan was to go to 25m as fast as possible and start looking for the wolf eels. The visibility was terrible! Most likely due to all the recent rain and runoff. Good thing we had our powerful cannister lights, so that we could stay together easier. There was not a lot to see since you really couldn't see far. It looked to be a fairly nice wall, and in better water it would be quite nice.

We came across a log sitting perpendicular to shore in a rock crevice, and soon after that (about 3 minutes total into the dive) we found a wolf eel. It was under a really large rock in a crevice that hardly looked like it could contain such a big creature. It was at least 4 feet long, and it's head was close to a foot up and down. It was really ugly! But extremely cool. We sat peering at it for about 15 minutes, trying to coax it out of its den. The wolf eel was having none of that though. It moved around inside, and kept staring out at us, but it wouldn't budge. There was also a copper rockfish and a big ling cod hanging out around the rock, along with a bunch of gobbies. Alan tried to take some photos, but the eel was too far back in the hole. Our lights easily penetrated and we could see it fine, but it was too far for the camera to get a decent shot. Eventually, we gave up and headed back.

On the ascent, Alan pulled a simulated out of air emergency, to see if I was on my toes. I did pretty well, and got him onto my regulator, but I forgot to do the follow up steps after that. Not crucial, since he was breathing, but not 100%. Anyway, I finished those last steps off, and we swam around for a bit sharing air and finished off the ascent.

All in all, a really good little dive. Wolf eels stay in one place for a while, so now I can go back and show him to others!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kelvin Grove 14/11/2009

Alas, there would be no diving of the HMCS Saskatchewan and Cape Breton this weekend. A weather system had moved in, and there were wind warnings all through the area. Too bad! Rescheduling might happen, but it looks like those wrecks will have to wait for now.

On the upside, I'm glad I planned a dive of Kelvin Grove on Saturday. There had been some controversy in the news lately about the dive site, because the village of Lion's Bay issued a by-law prohibiting divers from using the beach access. Apparently, residents were saying that divers were behaving inappropriately and being a nuisance. But, the Village backed off, and the by-law was not to be enforced so diving was back on again. I'm glad, since it turned out to be a nice little dive site.

Here is a Google Map link. Make sure to choose “Satellite View” from the top right corner to see more details.,+Greater+Vancouver+Regional+District,+British+Columbia,+Canada&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=33.435463,86.572266&ie=UTF8&cd=1&geocode=Fcar8gIdQY6n-A&split=0&hq=&hnear=Lions+Bay,+Greater+Vancouver+

I was diving with Jason Kolba again today, and we arrived fairly early, around 9am. We took a quick walk down to the beach to check out the site since I'd not been there before. He had dove it twice before. It was quite a steep walk down, but the path was paved and there was a washroom too so that was nice. What was not so nice was a big square concrete slab covering a large septic system! It smelled quite a bit. We ended up gearing up on top of that just because it was a nice clear surface, but the smell was annoying. I got the impression the system had been built many many years ago when no one was very concerned about it. There was a disconcerting sign beside the beach proclaiming in large letters “Sewage Outflow”, too. Nice layout! It didn't look like the outflow was used very often, though. I hoped it only went periodically, and that it wasn't this day.

There were another pair of divers there, and we met them coming out as we were going in. I believe one of their names was Dave. They were diving double cylinders, and told us that the visibility was very good that day. Encouraging to hear after seeing that sewage sign!

The plan for the first dive was to go to the right hand side of the small bay. There was a rock wall there that was supposed to be interesting. Before we went down, I checked the bottom with my mask on, and thought that I had a leak. When I put my face under, there was an odd wavy look to everything. It took me a bit to realize that it was a halocline caused by run-off from a nearby culvert. It was pretty cool.

On the descent, I focused my light but couldn't figure out why the light beam wasn't as pin-point as it should be. I messed around with it some more and realized that I had focused it past the point it should be at. I had no idea that that could happen! Something new learned there. The dive itself lasted about half an hour, and we were down around 27 metres. I was surprised to see so many boot sponges on the wall. I guess it was prime filter feeder area with that sewage sometimes! I tried to look in every crack and crevice I saw, since there were supposed to be octopii and wolf eels there. No luck, though. There were the usual ling cods and copper rock fish, but nothing extraordinary. I do remember peering off into the depths of a particularly shear portion of the wall. Floating weightless out in the blackness were several copper rock fish. They looked very cool like that. The whole wall was also covered in a thin layer of brown particulate matter, so it wasn't as “clean” looking as other walls I've experienced. On our ascent, we practised one minute stops at three metre intervals to get more practice with buoyancy control. It went pretty well, and I was pleased.

It was an overcast day, and the weather had called for a lot of rain but we lucked out. It didn't rain at all, and actually cleared up some with the sun peaking out later in the afternoon. We had some lunch and changed our cylinders and geared up for the second dive. I convinced Jason to go to the left side, even though he said it was boring. The visibility was good, so I figured that would help things and I wanted to see first hand both sides of the dive site.

I led the second dive, and indeed the dive was a bit dull. There were large expanses of fairly barren white sand, punctuated by some rock outcroppings. We did find the wall that was supposed to be there, and it turned out to be at least as interesting as the right side. Mainly I wanted to hunt for some more octopii, but they were not to be found. I ended up finding two sets of discarded fishing line on the bottom that I cleaned up, lest it harm some poor creature. There was a particularly brilliant chiton, more white than purple though. That was the closest picture I could find of it. There were also some particularly nice white nudibranchs. That's not an exact picture, but it's close. Basically it was a relaxing dive, where I worked on my frog kicks and buoyancy. I tried to hover as close to the bottom without touching as possible, which is a good exercise. We swam along the bottom all the way back and up the contours, so I was also pleased with my underwater navigating. My compass came in handy! On the way back, we found a red rock crab, which I'd never seen before. There was also a new red fish that neither of us had come across before. However, I have completely forgotten what it looked like! There's something to be said for having some kind of camera underwater, that's for sure.

When we got onto the surface, we noticed two seals out where we had been. We swam back out a bit to see if we could meet up with them, but they disappeared pretty quickly. Oh well!

We packed things up and were on our way home nice and early. We both agreed that it had been a pretty successful set of dives. Now, I have to get onto planning for those wrecks outside of Nanaimo!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lookout Point 08/11/2009

After Port Hardy, planning a dive in the local area seemed a bit... tame! But it would turn out to be anything but!

Jason Kolba and I decided to dive Lookout Point again, since we liked it the last time. There seemed to be few people interested in diving there since the walk down to the water is long, and there is no parking nearby. The day started out later than normal, since Jason wasn't able to get gear until that morning, but we made it out by eleven or so. It was already high tide, and the water was almost lapping at the base of the stairs. It was also threatening rain, but we were lucky in not getting any while we were gearing up. A Google map link of Lookout Point is here, just make sure to click on “Satellite View”.,-123.289669&spn=0.003081,0.006748&z=17

Our plan was to do a deeper dive, between 25 and 30 metres since neither of us had gotten very much experience with that yet. Completing the advanced open water course meant that we were certified to go to 30 metres, but that was the upper limit. While we weren't specifically looking to get nitrogen narcosis, we still wanted to get an idea what it was like under controlled conditions. So that was the plan for the first dive.

We entered the water at the beach, and swam out to the left and descended there. The water was pretty rough, and the visibility was pretty bad. I lost sight of Jason on the descent and he was only 10 feet away or so. I found him pretty quick though, and we started out around the rocky point like we did last time. On the way we came across three nice size dungeness crabs. Too bad the area is a no-take zone, or we might have had crab for dinner!

When we hit the end of the point, I noticed that the sea grass was bent completely horizontal. That started some warning signals for me. The water was just ripping along to the south west along the outside rock wall of the point. I hesitated, wondering if we should go ahead or not and decided to keep going. It was quite a nice drift dive at the start, but it was clear that we were moving very fast. So, I moved us into a sheltered cut in the rock after not too long and we went down to almost 30 metres. We hung out looking at the sponges on the rocks, where there were some pretty nice boot sponges. It did get very dark at 30 metres. I'm glad I was using my new cannister light. It made a big difference.

When we started to head back, that's when we realized just how strong the current was. Jason had planned for us to practice slow, neutral ascents, but there was no way we could do that in that kind of current. Swimming hard basically kept you stationary, with no gains at all. We ended up hugging the rock and pretty much pulling ourselves along with our arms. I burned through my air quite quickly doing that with all the exertion, so we had to surface far shorter from the point than we had anticipated. Still being pulled by the current, we had not much choice but to get closer to the rocks and keep pulling ourselves along. At that point, wash from a passing ferry took us by surprise and really pounded Jason. I was able to ride the swells, but he was too close to the rocks, and ended up having to crouch on them while the waves poured over him. In all that, his light broke off from its handle, and he got a bit scraped up. It was dicey, since I wasn't sure how I'd get in to help him if he got into trouble. The ferry wash died down fairly quickly, and I was able to retrieve his light from the bottom. It was wedged into a crack. Then we bent ourselves to the arduous task of hauling ourselves around the point hand over hand, without getting dashed into the rocks. All in all, we were successful and finally made it into calmer waters. We both were not keen on doing a second dive there, but had learned a lot!

Fortunately, Whytecliff is just next door, so we walked over there and it was much better. After a bit of rest and some lunch, as well as some chatting with Emily (I'm diving the HMCS Saskatchewan with her next weekend), we went out again.

This wasn't a sight-seeing dive. We wanted to run through some safety and gas-sharing drills in preparation for the GUE Fundamentals course that we are both planning on taking in the Spring. Everything went pretty well. We did some spinning helicopter turns, too, as well as some neutral buoyance practice. It was also nice because I got a chance to practice managing the cord that is part of my new light. A lot more relaxing than the last dive, if less exciting!

At the end of the day, the sun had come out somewhat and it was quite nice. The temperature was still cool, and I was glad to get home in the end.

Next week: diving the HMCS Saskatchewan and Cape Breton!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Port Hardy – Browning Pass Hideaway 30/10/2009-02/11/2009

I'd been looking forward to this trip for a long while. You can't dive in the Vancouver area without hearing people talk about Port Hardy. I had all but given up going this season because I couldn't coordinate a group to go. But out of the blue my friend Alan Johnson emailed me saying “Want to go to Port Hardy on October 30?”. I couldn't believe my luck and jumped at the chance.

The outfit we stayed and dove with was Browning Pass Hideaway. They have a website here:

John seems to have been there forever, and has been running dive trips in the area for many years. It really was a great place, but make sure you like roughing it.

Here is a Google Map link to the location of the actual Hideaway. You can see it in the satellite images! It's a floating “water world” of buildings and docks, cobbled together out of a mind-boggling array of various bits and pieces.'8.97%22N+127%C2%B040'25.72%22W&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=50.956929,89.560547&ie=UTF8&ll=50.869164,-127.673793&spn=0.020015,0.043731&t=h&z=15&iwloc=A

First off, if you are planning on diving with John and the Hideaway, you need to understand a few things.

  1. It's 2 hours away from any civilization (by boat, no roads).

  2. Do not count on laundry facilities, 24 hour electricity, private rooms, your own bathroom, etc.

  3. Do not count on customized meals, and if you have any kind of specialized diet talk to John first before you commit. Ideally, if “camp food” works for you, you'll be good to go.

  4. If cold bothers you, make sure to bring a lot of layers!

  5. Try to pack anything you can in waterproof containers or dry-bags. The boat ride out can be very wet, and some of your gear may need to go in an open top skiff.

  6. Plan well! Bring anything you might need, as there is no going to any store if you forget something.

  7. Bring good rain gear.

The drive up was quite long, about 6 hours total including the ferry trip over from Vancouver via Nanaimo. The scenery might have been very nice, but it rained for most of my trip. I had borrowed a small Mazda Miata, and while it was great fun to drive, it was a bit hard to fit in all my gear. Every spare nook in the car was taken up by something.

Arriving in Port Hardy, the meeting place was the Quarterdeck Inn. I found Alan and his friend Evan there, and we settled in to wait for John. The weather outside was quite miserable, with a steady driving rain. John arrived at about 12:45pm or so, and we started to coordinate loading the boat. This involved a lot of trekking back and forth between the parking lot and the boat. The dock ramps were very steep and slippery and it was quite the ordeal to get everything down there.

There were four other divers on the trip: Cheryl, Adrian, Mike, and Derek. Along with John, Ron the cook, me, Alan, and Evan that made for nine people on board. It was pretty cramped, especially since so much had to be jammed in the main boat cabin to keep it dry. There was even a spare toilet being transported!

The plan was to do one or two dives that day when we got in to the Hideaway, but that was not to be. We didn't get far on our first forray out because the weather past the sheltered bay was terrible, with large swells and wind. Towing a fully loaded skiff didn't help, either. I was really worrying about my gear and cylinders going overboard! John decided to abort the attempt and go back to the harbour to wait for the weather to calm down a bit. It wasn't a good start to the trip!

We relaxed in the Quarterdeck Inn, and got to know each other a bit while we dried out. Everyone was soaked from loading the boats. We were all getting resigned to the fact that we'd be stuck in Port Hardy for the night, when John came in and said “We're going!”. The weather had calmed, and we had a short window of opportunity so we hurried back to the boat and got underway for the second time. It was around 5 o'clock or so I think. It was a long ride to the Hideaway, and when we arrived it was dark. You really couldn't see much on the trip out, and even though the weather calmed, it was still pretty rough all the way.

Everything had to be started up and made ship-shape, so there was no way we'd be able to dive that night. We didn't get dinner until about 10pm, either. We were all starving. Ron did a pretty good job getting together a meal without the benefit of having been there before. It was his first time working with John at the Hideaway. John got the generator going, blankets and sheets distributed, rooms sorted, and all the bits and pieces that were required to run the pretty complicated operation that is a dive outfit. I think any regular person would go insane with such demands, but he seemed to thrive on it. Nothing appeared to phase him much. Probably the worst thing according to him was loosing/misplacing his coffee, which happened fairly frequently!

Alan, Evan and I were assigned to the “Trapper Cabin”. We were lucky to have a propane heater, and once it was tinkered with by John, proved to be fairly good at keeping us warm. The other camp building had a wood stove which was a pain to keep going. But it had a nice lounge area and bigger beds, so there was a trade-off. The Trapper Cabin had beds and that was about it. Still it was serviceable, if rustic. There would be a lot of jokes about the Trapper Cabin throughout the weekend, and it will forever live on in infamy with it's little quirks. Basically it was like summer camp all over again. Alan, Evan and I would spend a good deal of time laughing and playing practical jokes on each other.

We awoke to a fairly nice Halloween morning. The rain had let up, and some sun had come out. After breakfast, we headed out for the first dive of our trip. It was called Eagle Rock. There was a lot of kelp in the water around the small island where we'd be diving around. I'd never dove in big kelp before. The water was extremely clear, and what people were saying about the visibility at Port Hardy wasn't exaggerated. I joined Alan and Evan on this dive. The kelp forest was very impressive, and I rolled over on my back several times to look up through it to the surface. It was very nice. After the dive, Evan mentioned that I had paid attention well to his signals during the dive (he had led this one), so that was a nice compliment.

The next dive was a place called Rock of Life. Here, we came across a massive Puget Sound king crab under a big rock. It was at least three feet across, and was easily the biggest crab I've ever seen. The Rock of Life was aptly named, with a huge array of organisms living on and around it. Again there was a lot of huge bull kelp stretching upwards, while rays of sunshine reached downwards from the surface. It was extremely impressive. There were also a tonne of hooded nudibranchs living under the kelp leaves and swimming about in the water. I'd never seen nudibranchs like these before. When they were all together they looked like masses of fish eggs of some sort.

On the next dive, I split up from Alan and Evan since they were diving double cylinders and wanted to have a longer dive. I joined Adrian and Cheryl at a dive site called Hussar Point which was well known for the huge numbers of giant swimming nudibranchs. They were very cool! On the descent, I noticed something shining on the bottom. It looked like a flashlight! I realized that Adrian had dropped his light on the way down, so I retrieved it and gave it to him. Good thing he had turned it on first. We came across another pretty big Puget Sound king crab too. He was out in the open on the sandy bottom, but got a bit perturbed when we surrounded him gawking. At the end of the dive, we went through a rocky trench which had a tremendous current going through it. It sucked us along and through at great speed, and I thought it felt like the scene out of Star Wars, where Luke flew through the Death Star trench. It was a lot of fun! It was also so sunny that I had a bit of a sun-bathe on dock after getting back to the Hideaway.

After some dinner, we had a night dive at a site called North Wall. I buddied up with Derek on this dive, since Adrian and Cheryl decided to stay in, and Evan and Alan were taking photos. Mike was also taking a lot of photos, and was diving solo because he needed to go very slowly. North Wall was a very impressive wall dive. Unfortunately, I don't recall many of the details of this dive other than when we surfaced, the full moon was out and illuminating the shear rock wall stretching upwards crowned with trees. It was like something out of an adventure movie. Mission accomplished! Mike's camera strobes also made for an impressive underwater light show when viewed from the boat.

When we got back to the Hideaway after a fanbulous moonlit boat ride, we were greeted by a jack-o-lantern being held by Cheryl in a fuzzy Eyor costume. I couldn't believe she totted a costume out with her! We had a bunch of photo ops with everyone, and I grabbed a rusty hatchet as part of my impromptu crazed-diver costume. It was very fun. We all relaxed for the rest of the evening and had a few Halloween drinks.

After a bit of confusion with Daylight savings time, our first dive the next morning would turn out to be the high-light of the trip. Not for the dive itself, but for what we saw after. The site was called Snowfall, and again I buddied up with Derek. There was quite a bit of current on this dive between rocky channels on the bottom, and we had to fight a lot to move anywhere. There was also a lot of bull kelp, and this time I got caught up on a piece of it for a while. I was swimming and swimming and not going anywhere until I realized. Kelp is very strong! We surfaced, and John was motioning us to get over to the boat animatedly. When we got aboard, we saw why. There was a pod of 8-10 Orcas going by! There were at least two to three big adults, and five or six younger ones. They were resident Orcas, so they just ate fish and weren't dangerous. The rogue Orcas were the dangerous ones apparently. We spent a lot of time following the pod in the skiff marvelling at these magnificent animals. I knew there would be a chance of seeing something like this, but didn't think it would really happen! Some sea lions bobbed up and down near the shore keeping a close eye on the Orcas as they passed. The size of the adults was amazing, easily bigger than our skiff. Their dorsal fin was also much taller than I thought possible. In the end, the cloudy rainy cold weather forced us to stop watching and head back to the Hideaway. Alan was especially happy since Orcas were one of his favourite creatures.

Next was Seven Tree Island, with a lot more trees than the seven it originally had when it was named! This site had two spectacular walls in a rectangular shape. Derek and I ended up almost lapping the whole island since we cruised by the first two corners and I kept looking for another one. We would have made it around if we had not ran into some nasty current on the other side of the island.

After lunch, Hideaway Island was next. There, Derek and I discovered a really great giant pacific octopus mostly out in the open. He was orange and in full camouflage mode, with horny projections all over his skin, especially on his eyes. Derek tried to coax him to grab hold of his finger, but it would have nothing to do with that. Rather than upset him too much, we left him alone.

The last dive of the day was another night dive at North Wall. Here, Derek and I joined Alan on this dive, since Evan decided to stay in. The highlight of this dive was coming across an octopus. Well, part of one at least! I looked down and spotted a tentacle. When I got closer, I realized 'hey, where is the rest'! A lone, fresh, octopus tentacle was just sitting there, with a small crab gnawing on one end. The tentacle was very long, at least three feet, and there was no way such a small crab could have gotten it off. Alan got some great pictures of this 1/8th octopus and the lucky crab.

The next day was our last, so the plan was to get up really early and get in a morning dive, then another dive after breakfast. I joked that it was a “morning night dive” since it was so black out. We hit the famous Browning Wall for the first dive, and it didn't disappoint. It was just covered in all sorts of life. The highlight was a huge nudibranch that was kind of yellow and looked like it had cauliflower growing out of its head. There was also an endless school of perch-like fish gather just off the wall which looked great when you shone your light on them. I think Alan and Evan reported seeing a sea lion cruise by them briefly too. I wish I'd seen that!

We came full circle for the last dive of the trip: Eagle Rock. I ended up buddying up with Alan for a very relaxing and beautiful last dive. He got a lot of pictures, and I just poked around amongst the kelp forests and rocks. I don't recall seeing anything mind-popping, but it was just a nice last dive.

Returning to the Hideaway, we had a good lunch and packed up the remainder of our gear. The weather was pretty good, with a bit of sun every now and again. It was looking like it would be a very pleasant boat ride back to Port Hardy, in stark contrast to the rough ride coming in. And it was! There was a bit of rain, but it only made for two great rainbows to marvel at, along with the rugged beauty of the shoreline and islands. John told a few stories about some of the big storms of the past.

All in all, no one really wanted to leave, but all good things come to an end and we soon were going our separate ways. I do hope to be back in Port Hardy for more diving next season, though! It was a great trip.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Whytecliff The Cut 25/10/2009

I had originally planned to dive both Saturday and Sunday, but a communication mixup meant that when I was all ready to go on Saturday, my dive buddy wasn't! It was kind of disappointing because I had everything worked out. A dive outfit on the North Shore called The Edge runs fun dives every Sunday. You just show up, and car-pooling is worked out for those without vehicles. I was going to drop my cylinders off after the dive on Saturday, and then just take my gear across via the Seabus. Saturday was such a nice day too! Oh well. I was just happy to dive at all, really.

My dive buddy was Jason Kolba and we planned to do the Cut at Whytecliff Park. I had tried to convince him to do Ansell Place, but getting to the water there is a bit dicey. A lot of steep stairs, and a rough beach which you have to navigate in full gear. If you slip, it can really hurt! I still really want to dive Ansell Place though. I'll convince someone soon!

The weather was very overcast that morning and the forecast called for heavy rain. We were lucky though because the rain didn't start until we were all finished up that afternoon. You might think that rain shouldn't matter as we're already wet, but it sure makes gearing up and down a miserable experience! Also, since we had two dives planned, sitting around for an hour while eating lunch in the rain is never very appealing.

We met Novi, a diver who goes with the Edge often and whom I had met at Porteau Cove a few weeks ago. She was in the middle of her dive master training. There were a number of open water classes going on that day, and IDC was out as well. Jason said hi to Landon and Vince during the day, but I never had a chance to. Next time!

My original dive plan was to do a deep dive to 30m, but that got vetoed since Jason hadn't finished his Advanced course yet. Instead, we'd descend to around 20m and go right along the rock wall of the Cut. Since it was getting colder, I added a fleece vest over my undergarment which would prove to be a bit of a problem later. I had worn it before on a skills dive with Alan and it was fine. But we were pretty shallow then and didn't do a safety stop before surfacing. This time around, I got a good lesson in weighting, because at the end of the dive, I was just a bit too buoyant and couldn't hold our planned 3 minute safety stop. I figure I'll need at least two pounds more to offset the vest. Good to know!

The tide was coming in when we entered the water, but it wouldn't be high tide until about noon. The dive went ok, but I'd had better. I had a generally “off” feeling. I figure I was thinking too much about form, trim and propulsion, and not enough on just enjoying the dive. Leading the dive added to the stress, and so did obsessing over my depth and air consumption. Looking at my air consumption rates later confirmed that I was breathing a lot more than on dives past. However, we did stay at 20m pretty consistently which was deeper than many of my past dives so that was a factor too.

In the end, it was an ok dive. I certainly practiced a lot of propulsion and buoyancy skills so that was good. We also saw a seal rocket past us like a torpedo on the return to the Cut. At first I thought it was a ling cod, but then I realized it was the wrong shape. It was pretty far away, but you could see it pretty clearly. We also saw some pretty nice white nudibranchs and some nice chimney sponges. There were a few lazy ling cod resting on the rock shelves here and there, along with the regular spectacular compliment of white plumose anemones. Visibility was very good, out to about 40 feet or so. The water temperature was 10 degrees Celsius which hasn't changed in the last few months. I figure it might drop another degree. We'll see!

Like I already mentioned, I missed our safety stop but it was not a big deal. We had actually come up very slowly and spent a good few minutes at shallow depths, so I wasn't too concerned when I found that I couldn't stay down. It didn't take long to get back up to the park and change out tanks. We had a bit of lunch and talked with a few curious tourists who were braving the overcast day. A big dog came by to check out our gear, and I was a bit worried he'd carry off something! I didn't fancy getting teeth marks in my mask or fins.

Our second dive was going to be pretty simple too. Circle out to the left around the Day Marker and curve in to the bay, where we'd stop and practice the basic 5 GUE scuba skills. When we climbed down the stairs to the water, we noticed the tide had really come in. But it didn't make things too hard. After getting in and starting our descent, I had a funny feeling by my left foot. It was feeling wet! I must have nicked my boot on a sharp rock or barnacle, and I'd have to put up with a slow leak for the rest of the dive. It made things a lot colder having a wet foot, and I worried quite a lot about how serious the problem might be. Later, I'd find that it was a small cut and was easily fixable. On with the rest of the dive, though. We came across two of the memorial plaques to deceased divers on the way out. One really looked like a little box, and Jason didn't realize quite what it was until I explained later. There was no seal this time around. In fact, I can't recall much of the life I saw other than two other groups of divers that passed us. Like I said, these two dives were not the best for me.

However, when we got to the bay and started doing the skills, that turned out to be the most enjoyable time I had all day (even with the leaky boot!). The basic 5 skills we did were removing your regulator and replacing it, switching to your alternate regulator and back to your primary, deploying your primary regulator and hose as in an out of air emergency and switching to your alternate then replacing everything, flooding and clearing your mask, and removing and replacing your mask. All that was supposed to be done while hovering neutrally buoyant, but it was always harder than it sounds. We had a big tendency to “creep” upwards as we concentrated on doing the skills. But that was why we were practicing! We did pretty well on our no-reference safety stop just before this, but our neutral hovering left a lot to be desired. We also cheated and knelt on the bottom for the mask flood/removal skills. I got crap for that from Alan later! We really stirred up the bottom too. I knew that it was happening, though which is something at least. Got to work more on that buoyancy! Jason did comment that I looked very comfortable with mask clears and removals, which was good to hear. I just wish I was as comfortable with doing frog kicks and backwards kicks. But again, it will all come in time. This made my 35th dive, so that puts things in perspective. Guys like my mentor Alan had over 800! When I get to 800 dives, I'm sure I'll look back and wonder why I was so worried so early.

My next dive was already set: Port Hardy for 3 days worth of fantastic diving! Many people had been going on and on about how great it is there. I couldn't wait. My next entry will have to be extra long to document all that will go on there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lookout Point 18/10/2009

Lookout Point 18/10/2009

Prior to this Sunday, the weekend was looking pretty dismal. It seemed like we might be diving in the pouring rain, but it cleared up some which was great. It was still overcast, however the air temperature was very warm. I was diving with Jason Kolba, and we had picked a new dive site: Lookout Point. It's just north of Whytecliff Park, and was a bit hard to find. The access trail was hidden and not well marked. It was right at the Y intersection of Arbutus Road and Arbutus Place. We stopped the car right there and unloaded our gear. You had to look for the small trail leading into the trees by the telephone pole. There was also a wooden bench/platform at the start of the trail to help you gear up/down, and there were dive signs as well (well hidden though). If you go down into Arbutus Place, you came across a closed and locked gate. That wasn't it!To get to the water you had to hike, but it wasn't much farther than Whytecliff. The path was not as steep either, but it looked like it could get pretty muddy and slick. The one problem was that there was no parking there. We had to park the car at Whytecliff and walk back..

We ended up taking one cylinder down to the beach and leaving it there, while gearing up at the trail head and walking down. It worked out pretty well. The shore was pebble beach (well, maybe the size of small rocks not pebbles), with a lot of logs and debris. Caution was needed! Still, it was a pretty easy entry to the water. Everyone at the shop said to try and dive the site on slack tide, because the currents could get very strong. Going left around the rocky point was also recommended, so that's what we did. I led the first dive, and Jason led the second.

The bottom of the bay was very smooth and sandy. After a head to toe safety and bubble check a la GUE/DIR, we headed fairly far out and around the rocky point. There was a wall, but we weren't on that until later. Out on the sandy bottom we saw a dungeness crab snag a big fish right in front of us and scuttle off with his prize. We tried to follow him, but he was way too fast. He wasn't keen on sharing his meal I guess! There was also a huge shoal of shiner perch that reacted to our lights by darting back and fourth.

We curved back around to the west and soon ran into the rock walls of the point. It had several tiers, and you could go to pretty much any depth you wanted. If you had enough gas, you could swim all the way around and end up in Whytecliff park. On the rocks were the normal huge variety of sea-stars and anemones. It was different than say Porteau Cove, because there were little “garden patches” of life on the rocks. There was a pretty cool chiton, and a new brown fish that I'd not seen before. Unfortunately without a camera, it was pretty difficult to remember exactly what it looked like. I was trying to take Alan's homework assignment seriously and I hugged the bottom contours as much as possible to practice my buoyancy. As well, since there was quite a lot of sediment, it helped keep me conscious of my finning as well. My frog kicks seemed to be doing better too after watching some GUE training videos. At least, that's what Jason said later. Progression was good!

I found some treasure on this dive too. Something glinted on the bottom, and I went to check it out. It turned out to be a large foot-long fishing reflector with some damaged hooks attached. I put the pockets on my drysuit to use and scooped it up. It had some line attached to it, so that was good to clean up since it can be so dangerous to wildlife and to divers. I also came across several bottles on the bottom. I guess with it being so close to residential houses that invariably people have tossed some in. I didn't pick any of those up though since they were starting to become part of the habitat.

The current during and at the end of the dive was pretty strong, so it was a bit difficult to swim against and we both got tired. In the end we got back into the bay and paddled about next to the shallow inter-tidal sections looking at the sea-stars and kelp before finally surfacing. It was a fairly long dive, coming in at about 40 minutes. We were pleased.

Jason trekked back to the car for the lunches and I watched the gear on the beach. I think I got the better deal! It was a pretty peaceful spot. No one else was around, which was a nice change from Whytecliff. We talked a bit about our skills and performance on the dive and after relaxing for a bit, geared up and headed back in.

The second dive was the best one. Visibility was pretty good on both, but there was a very pronounced thermocline at about 10m near the tip of the point. Once past that, it was quite clear with visibility to about 40 feet or so. I was using my new Heser backup dive light. It was super cool and performed really well. I can't wait until I get my canister light though. It will make signalling and cutting through the gloom a piece of cake.

So on to why the second dive was better. It was because of the giant pacific octopus! We were about half-way along the wall heading out to the left of the bay when there he was hugging a rock. Jason passed right over him, but as soon as I looked down I realized it was no ordinary rock. It was right out in the open too, and at least two to three feet across. If you stretched out his tentacles, I'm sure he'd be five feet easy. He was moving slowly, and there was a large ling cod nearby eyeing him. I think the cod might have been target of the octopus. He didn't change colour much while we were watching, and remained a lightish brown. It was by far the biggest octopus I'd seen. The other ones were the smaller varieties. This guy made the dive for sure.

There was also a nice white nudibranch, as well as some small shrimp in some crevices. The ever-present copper rockfish were in great abundance too. There was also a brown four-armed sea star that I wasn't sure about. I think it was a sand star missing one of it's legs.

Again, the current played a bit of havoc with us on the way back, and we had to work pretty hard to make progress. Once we surfaced, all we could talk about was the octopus! All in all, a great set of dives. We planned to go out the next weekend, hopefully to some new sites up in the Deep Cove area.

In the end, the only bad thing that happened was a minor accident with my new p-valve. On the last dive, I tried to use it and something went wrong. I'll just leave it at that! Thankfully, it was the last dive, but my drysuit wasn't so dry any more, hah.