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!

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