Sunday, August 30, 2009

Whytecliff Park 29/08/2009

Desiree Johnston talked to me during the week, and had not been out diving yet since the course. We decided to do a fun dive at Whytecliff that Saturday. It was a bit hairy getting gear since IDC had an open water course heading out that same day. However, Steve and Allan did an awesome job of magically making everything work out. I don't know where they got some of the stuff, though! Allan said they had to pull some of it out of their butts... I don't want to know!

This all started at IDC around 10am. My normal drysuit wasn't available, so I had to try on several others until one finally worked out (suit B3). The neck seals were too lose on all the others. The one that worked was sized for someone at least six foot plus though! The extra material wasn't too much of a problem since it was extra length not width. Desiree decided to dive in a wet suit, and had to take some time as well to get one that fit properly.

We made it out to Whytecliff at about noon. The parking Gods smiled on us because someone pulled out of a space just as we arrived. Very nice! We chose to gear up down on the beach by the change room / washroom on the left-hand side trail. Joaquin and I geared up down there last time as well, and even though the sand sucks, the shower and faucet on the side of the shed makes rinsing and gearing down a breeze.

Please note: I'm trying my hand at identifying the wildlife I see. I haven't found a good source of information yet, so anything that I link to may not actually be what I saw! I hope to get better at identifying stuff once I find some good books. So far, my only resource is

We were geared up and in the water by a bit after 1pm, which was great. It was a sunny day, and the tide was just starting to come in. Our first dive goal was to see the anemone garden near the day-marker. We descended just off the tip of the right hand side rock wall, and followed a compass heading to the marker. We arrived pretty spot on after seeing many starfish. I got a bit worried when we hadn't come across the day marker yet, but it just needed a bit of patience. It loomed out of the depths finally. The rusted steel cable ropes on the bottom clued me in to that we were getting close. There were a tonne of starfish all over the rock wall there. Visibility was quite good too. I saw one or two of the smaller transparent tentacle anemones and was a bit confused because they certainly didn't make up a garden! I think they were Pachycerianthus fimbriatus, but I'm not entirely sure. When we rounded the rock wall of the day-marker though, there was the garden. It came into view quite spectacularly; a large expanse of Metridium senile, the white plumose anemone, stretching out before us. Unfortunately, we had agreed on a return air pressure of 1500 psi, and we hit that just then, so we turned around and headed back. Later, Steve had a good suggestion: just stay and explore, surface when you need and just surface swim back! There was no real reason to swim back underwater, but that idea never occurred to me. Next time, I'll do that. It would have been very cool to explore the garden and look for the diver plaques as well. Something to do for next time!

I was very happy to hit the return reciprocal compass heading pretty much dead on. We ended up exactly where we started from. I did make a note to start keeping better track of kick strokes for distance though. There were more starfish on the return trip as well, and we passed the sunken rusty steel boxes that are just full of the buggers. I also chased a small crab along the bottom for a while. He was pretty fast! I checked my buoyancy and trim on the swim back. I had 24 lbs of weight total, down from the 30 that I used during the Open Water course. I was pretty much bang on with that amount of weight, floating at eye-level with a held breath. I had more air in my tank than I had wanted though. 800psi versus the 150-300psi detailed in this article. I also did the check at the surface, and not at 3m. I'll keep trimming my weight, but it was a good thing to see.

We had about an hour and a half on the surface, and had some lunch in the sun on the beach. It was a great day. The tide sure was high for a long time. The rocks leading out to the small island were almost submerged the entire time we were there. Also, the water almost reached the logs we were using to gear up on. It made getting into the water a lot quicker, even though it almost washed my fins out to sea!

After soaking up some rays, changing out tanks, and cursing the sand which got into everything, we were ready for dive number two. The plan for this one was to head straight out from the stairs of the shack, descend about mid-way out into the bay, and head to the left. That would put us right on the rock-reef that was there. We started the dive at 3:30pm so we were doing great for time. The descent went well, but visibility was a bit poor. It cleared up after we descended a bit though. The rock-reef turned out to be very interesting. It was loaded with
Parastichopus californicus (sea cucumber), a few Metridium senile (the orange version of the plumose anemone), all sorts of starfish, and some really huge red sea-urchins (they looked black until I shone my light on them; bring a light with you even on day-dives!). We did two laps around the reef, since we were only down about 10m and weren't using up much gas at all. It got a bit cold, too! The whole dive was 38 minutes, and was the longest dive I had done to date. Near the mid-point of the dive, I really started to feel the chill. There was a fairly significant leak in my left drysuit boot which I noticed during the surface interval, but there wasn't much I could do about it but suck it up. The icing on the cake of this dive was seeing a huge school of thousands of silver fish just off the rock reef. It appeared out of no-where, and disappeared just as fast. It was super cool! I'd only ever seen schools of fish like that on TV. Seeing them dart around and shift direction as a mass group was just amazing. Steve explained later that the fish use a series of lateral pressure sensors on their body to detect the changes in pressure beside them created by their buddies, and use that to make near-instant direction changes. There was also a really cool tiny orange crab that was about an inch long on the rocks. I tried to find some reference to it, but couldn't find anything. It was bright orange, and did not have a round shell. It was kind of a triangular shell, with the point to the back. It didn't have big claws, and had a rough appearance to its shell. It was really distinctive looking. After the second lap around the rocks, we struck out parallel to the shore to run out our gas. Not much to see, just the regular sand bottom, but it was relaxing.

On the way up, we nailed the safety stop bang on which was one of our goals. For all the dives up to this point, I had been missing the safety stop. This was mostly due to time or gas constraints. Not a good excuse, no. From now on, I'm going to make a point of hitting that safety stop every dive, and making it known that I'm doing that to my dive buddies. Learning and developing good habits is what it's all about!

Finally, I figure I won't gear up on sand if I can help it anymore. If I dive at Whytecliff, I still like the shower by the shed, but I'll gear up on the asphalt slab there instead of down on the logs. It just makes more sense, and less chance of sand getting into your regulator and gear.

Desiree and I geared down pretty quickly, and were ready to leave at about 5pm. The highlight we both agreed was the huge school of fish.

On the previous day, I got measured for my new drysuit. It's going to take a month to show up, and I can't wait! I ended up going for the DUI TLS350 Signature series. It's a custom-fit suit, and when we got it all specced out, Allan congratulated me on ending up with the exact same suit he uses :-) It's got to be good!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Howe Sound Boat Dive 8.23.2009 Part 2

Lyenne Angelina Lawrie who is Patrick Hung's friend had an underwater camera along with her for this boat dive, and posted some amazing pictures of stuff that we saw on Facebook. Since not everyone has access to Facebook, I put some of the pictures here:

Check them out, she's a great photographer!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Howe Sound Boat Dive 8.23.2009

My first boat dive! I knew it was going to be awesome, and wasn't disappointed...

I booked it through IDC, and the boat was the Sea Dragon that they usually use. It was an amazing day but started off chilly. I made the mistake of wearing too many layers, figuring air temperatures out on the water would be quite cool. I was wrong! Still, too many layers is better than too few, as you can always take some off. I brought my goretex rain gear too just in case, but it wasn't needed of course. I guess I was too prepared!

Kevin was our skipper on the boat, was very friendly and helpful and kept things moving like a well-oiled machine. There was a woman on board too, whose name escapes me who was equally great. Hot soup between dives, too if you needed it!

As for the divers, there were 10 of us. First here's the people I knew already: Patrick, Libby, and Kyle. There were a lot of divers that I hadn't met yet who rounded out the rest. They were all much more experienced than I was. Patrick brought his friend Leanne, a tropical water diver with her own underwater camera rig who was trying out temperate water diving. She was using a wetsuit, and I think that worked out ok for her (the water was 12-13 degrees Celsius). Gale was another tropical water diver who had just got certified on drysuits, and this was her first dive with one. Marty, Jason, Nigel and Ivan rounded out the bunch. Marty was one of Kyle's friends, Jason had just got a new drysuit and had some leaky wrist seals (argh!) and Nigel was about 15 or 16.

I was diving with Kyle and Gale. I'm not quite sure how the other groups were sorted out, though. Kyle was great to dive with...

We were suited up and starting the first descent at 10am to a site called the Canyons just south of Bowyer Island (directly north of Horseshoe bay). Boat diving is great to descend from, since most places have a mooring line that you can follow all the way down. It made things a snap. The location had a lot of big rocks with channels cut into them, hence the name "Canyons". The first thing I noticed was just how many anemones there were! It was seriously like a white forest, filled with the white Plumose Anemone (I know the name now!). There were the orange ones too, but the white ones were far more plentiful. Kyle was on the hunt for a wolf eel, but we never did find one which is too bad. When we hit the bottom though, there was a baby seal swimming around. Kyle pointed it out, but I must have thought he meant something else because I totally missed it. Gale saw it though, so even though I accused Kyle of lying, I begrudgingly had to accept that it was really there. I told him to point harder next time though!

Back on the boat, we had a very nice relaxing time in between dives. Most people were up on the upper deck soaking up the sun after the chill waters. It's a fairly roomy boat when the day is nice. If it's rainy, I think the interior cabin would be pretty cramped! There was a funny episode where Libby asked Kyle to scratch an itch inside her drysuit she couldn't reach. If only I had a video camera, because if you didn't know what was going on, it certainly didn't look like scratching an itch! Kyle knew what it looked like, and made it better with a few choice comments :-) Very funny! We all agreed though that divers really don't have any shame, and tend to talk about underwear a lot.

Kevin swung the boat around to the north side of Bowyer Island, and we dove the north Pinnacle. I'm not quite sure why it's called that though, I need to ask. This was a pretty special dive, because apart from tonnes more anemones, we happened across a medium sized octopus! It was hanging out outside a fairly shallow rock crevice, pretty much out in the open. Kyle and Libby said later that that was pretty rare, since mostly they are jammed in deep and all you can see is a bit of tentacle. This guy retreated fairly quickly, but we hovered for a while and it came out a bit. It was pretty cool watching it change colour and texture. Definitely the high-point of the dive. The ascent was a bit hairy, because we ran into three Lion's Mane jelly fish. They're red with very long trailing tendrils, and are quite painful. We had to play dodge the jellyfish for a while, but made it up fine. I remember turning around and seeing the third one just behind me. It was big!

The visibility on all the dives was truly awesome. When we got back to the dock, it seemed to just be getting better. Scuba Steve and his group were loading up to go out next, so I'm sure they had great dives too. Steve is leaving very shortly to head back to Australia for a while, but will be back soon I think. Last chance to dive with him is today (Aug 24th)!

Boat diving was awesome, but it hasn't spoiled me like some people said it would. For me, it doesn't matter where or when I'm diving, so long as I'm in the water "blowing bubbles" that makes my day :-)

Some tips I learned from the boat dive:
  1. You can't park near dock-side (next to the coffee shop). But, you can drop your gear off and then park in the lot across from the Ferry Terminal. It's $12 flat for the day.
  2. There are wheeled carts to help take your gear to the boat.
  3. Before getting on the boat, you need to assemble your tank, BCD and regulator.
  4. You also need to get out any gear that you will need to dive with (weight, fins, mask, snorkel, gloves, hood, lights, mask de-fog).
  5. You'll be assigned a spot in a rack to stow your assembled BCD. Underneath that, all the above mentioned gear goes in the mesh bag (weight goes on the deck, not in the bag). Make sure your BCD is secure! You don't want it tipping over, or worse, overboard! The crew will check this, but it's nice to make their job easier. There are bungee cords to secure your tank and BCD.
  6. Once the boat is underway, you'll get a call to put on your undergarments, drysuit, boots, and any wrist mounted equipment you might have. Most of the experienced divers were putting on their compasses and computers before getting into their BCD, since it's very easy to get into when it's on the rack, and they won't snag unlike if you were shore diving.
  7. Finally, make sure you don't have anything lying around that can blow overboard! The boat moves pretty fast, and it gets windy.
  8. Have $10 cash to have your tank refilled on the boat, it's worth it rather than lugging two tanks. However, it does take some time to fill all the tanks. For our dive, it took over an hour and a half.
  9. Finally, try to really pack efficiently. They mentioned that in the PADI book and course, but it really does help. The less bags you have, the less chance you'll leave something behind, or lose it. Having one or two bags makes things a lot easier.

Whytecliff Park 8.22.2009

On this dive, my buddy was Joaquin Puga. We did two dives: one to the left side of the cove to the rock reef 10m down, and the second along the rock wall to the right of the cove.

Highlights included a number of sea anemones on the rock reef. Small ones that had semi-transparent tendrils, and a large orange cauliflower one that wasn't open unfortunately. It looked a bit like a big orange pop can, and we weren't quite sure what it was until later. There were a lot of blue fish that were about 6 inches long, too that I'll need to look up. Oh and tonnes of starfish of course (orange and pink). On the right hand side, there was a small scuttling crab, more of those blue fish, even more starfish all over the rocks and in some rusting metal boxes, some sea grass, and a school of small yellow and black fish. I'm really going to have to get a marine life identification book!

The tide was going out, but even so the visibility was very good. Lots of sunlight down to the 10m we spent most of our time at. The water was quite warm too; around 14 degrees Celsius. Both dives were about half an hour, and we weren't left with much gas. Got to work on that breathing! It was warm and sunny, and quite a few other dive groups were out. Most looked to be training.

It took a lot more time to get set up for each dive, a lot more time than I planned. We arrived around 1pm, and didn't get into the water for the first dive until 2:30. We were out of the water around 3, and didn't start the second dive until about 4:30. Then it took about an hour to pack up, so we didn't leave until 6. What I've learned from this is that getting out early is very important, especially if you want to do multiple dives. You also get a better parking space! My goal is to get more efficient at setting up / taking down. But, if you are planning on taking your time, giving 2 hours is a much better estimate for getting into the water. I'll have to keep that in mind :-)

This was my first dive after completing my Open Water Course on July 20, 2009. It was a practice dive to get familiar with my new gear that I purchased recently (mostly the BCD, regulator and dive computer), and to focus on some buoyancy skills. Just for my reference, here is the gear I was using (minus hood, boots, and gloves).

Nexgen Shell Dry suit (rental for the time being)
Apeks XTX 200 Sealed Regulator (I want to do cold water/ice diving sometime)
Halcyon Eclipse MC System BCD w. stainless steel backplate for extra weight
Princeton Shockwave LED Primary Light
Halcyon Scout Back-up Light
Wenoka Squeeze Lock 3" dive knife
Suunto Vytec Deep Stop dive computer
Suunto SK-7 wrist compass
Atomic Aquatics Frameless Dive Mask
SP-170 TUSA Platina II Hyperdry Snorkel
TUSA SF-6 Imprex Tri-Ex Fins

I'm kicking myself a bit that I didn't get vented fins off the bat. I can see myself wanting to start practicing back-finning very soon! Argh, oh well...