Monday, September 28, 2009

Advanced Open Water Course - Porteau Cove 26/09/2009

This was a pretty exciting day for me, since it was the inaugural dive for my new TLS 350 Signature Series custom drysuit. It arrived at the shop on the Friday, and it fitted fantastically. Alan was kind enough to cut the neck seal properly, as well as give me some extra instructions on care for the zipper and the suit in general. I had already dove in a suit like this (Alan's suit) but this would be the first time with one that was actually fitted to my size. I couldn't wait! Oh, and it's red because my Snow Goose parka that I wore in the Arctic was red. Now if only my Saanti undergarment would arrive, I'd be ready to dive all winter.

It was awesome to have Lyenne Lawrie as my dive buddy again, since along with being a very accomplished diver, she is also a great person to spend time with. I was very grateful to her since she was able to pick up my gear from the shop as well as give me a lift. Thanks again Lyenne; my turn next time to provide the ride :-) Lugging my stuff to the shop via transit and getting a lift in the van was doable, but pretty heavy and awkward. Much nicer to get a lift.

Lyenne was doing her drysuit training, along with at least four or five others. It was a bit confusing since the Advanced course people were mixed in there too. I was never totally sure who was who! Our instructors were Kyle, Genessa, and Shawn. Vince was along as part of his Master Scuba diver training. Shawn rode his motorcycle to the dive site if you can believe it (minus cylinders, but he had everything else strapped to it). The weather was quite nice too, and the water at Porteau Cove when we arrived was the calmest I'd ever seen. Hardly one ripple marred the surface. The tide was pretty much all the way in when we began our dives.

We spent some time doing a dive site orientation and going over the questions we had to answer in the textbooks, both for the Advanced and Drysuit divers. It didn't take long, but during the session a train went by, then a helicopter, and then a big bus which drowned out our voices each time. Talk about planes, trains and automobiles! We had a good laugh over the “visualization” section of the book, and how we weren't going to have to sit in a circle and hold hands.

We did a quick gear up, then hit the water for the drysuit / peak buoyancy dive. Lyenne and I were in Kyle's group, but one of our group members had some problems and we were delayed a fair bit. Eventually we were swimming out and made it to the Grant Hall marker buoy. It was a pretty relaxing swim, since the water was so calm. The descent was uneventful, and we moved off of the Grant Hall's deck and started a slow tour (emphasis on the “slow”, Lyenne commented later on just how little there was to do on this dive!). To the port side of the stern, we investigated the concrete slab that anchored the marker buoy on the surface. It was festooned with decorator crabs. They were very cool. I was able to be a bit of a celebrity as showed the group the octopus that Jason and I had located the week before. He was still hanging out in his lair under the rock ledge near the jungle gym. Unfortunately, with all the people in our group the bottom got disturbed quite a bit and it was difficult to see him at all after that. He was again wedged way up in the crack between the bottom and the concrete slab, just like last time. There was also one of the humungous ling cods hanging out amongst the jungle gym. We had a pretty short dive of only about 30 minutes. Lyenne had a tonne of air left; I was jealous! Checking my SAC rate later showed it wasn't too bad, around 0.6. I'm getting the impression that I need to check my lung volume, because I think I just take in a lot of air. I think I just breath more!

Between dives, we talked about the octopus and Shawn talked a lot about his fishing business. He had a lot of stories to tell. Since it was so nice, I decided to work on my tan some, and Lyenne joked that I looked like a fireman because my new drysuit had built-in suspenders. Unfortunately, no pictures to back that up! It started to get quite windy at that point, and Lyenne was pretty cold despite the extra layers and the drysuit. With winter coming, the benefits of the right amount of thermal protection are really becoming apparent to me. Don't neglect your warmth! More is always better, it seems. Still, I can't wait to dive in the snow.

We did another quick knowledge review, and started to gear up for the wreck dive. We had some pretty bad luck during the day though. One wrist seal tore, another suit flooded, and another person had a severe nose bleed. We ended up loosing three people, so Kyle sat out and we consolidated groups. Genessa took Lyenne and myself, along with a fellow named Clint and Kent and his girlfriend out for the wreck dive. It was a harder swim, with a lot of chop and wind. It was fun breaking through the waves though. I'm glad I don't get seasick! Oh, and Vince was along on this dive, since he was working toward his Master Scuba diver certificate. It was good to have him along.

Visibility went to crap on this dive, probably because the tide was going out. Anyway, it was nice to get some experience in bad visibility conditions though. It was surprising just how fast you can lose track of someone when you can only see five to ten feet. The wreck dive was a bit disappointing, since it wasn't anything new. The last three sets of dives I had were around the Grant Hall and it was a lot more enjoyable as a duo and in better visibility. Still, Lyenne did spot a neat crab on the top deck next to one of the mooring posts, and it was fun to descend into one of the open holds. We ended up swimming a fair ways back to shore following the bottom contour. It was so shallow that my dive computer didn't even register the need for a safety stop. On the way, I saw some more of this bright orange moss-like stuff that I had noted on previous dives. I'll need to look up what it was sometime.

All in all, not a bad set of dives, but after discussing it, Lyenne and I both agreed that the drysuit training and the advanced course left quite a bit to be desired. We both expected to practice a lot more skills. But I guess in the end getting the “rubber stamp” is worth it. There really aren't any alternatives :-)

The next dive will be the night dive so I'm quite excited about that. It will be very interesting to see how I handle diving in the dark! Until then...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Porteau Cove 19/09/2009 and 20/09/2009

I was very excited about these two days of diving at Porteau Cove after experiencing how great this dive site was the previous week with Lyenne. Also, with these four dives it would push me to my 20 dive mark. Not bad for getting certified at the end of July! 20 dives was a bit of a milestone for me, since I set that as a goal to complete before my Advanced Open water course started this week. I can't wait to increase my depth limits as that will mean that the Nakayama wreck at Porteau will be in my reach.

Saturday morning couldn't have been better. The marine forecast was clear, and the day was fairly sunny. At times it would threaten rain, but that never materialized. You could see it raining across Howe Sound though which was cool. It was very windy though.

My dive buddy was Gosia, and she was kind enough to give me a lift. We picked up gear (I still didn't have my new drysuit yet, blah!) at IDC at 10, and were out at Porteau for 11 or so. There were a fair number of other divers there, but we found several picnic tables free so it was far from full. We geared up very quickly, even though Gosia hadn't got a lot of practice lately. We were on a mission today because we had to get back to IDC so that I could get cylinder fills for the next day's dive. In the end, I was very happy at how smoothly things went. We went fast, but it didn't feel like rushing either so that was great. I still remember all the instructors stressing the “relax” part during my course, but you can't relax too much or you don't get anywhere! It's totally possible to go to IDC at 10 and be back well before 6 and still have two dives.

Gosia was diving with a wetsuit, and forgot her towel. I forgot a towel, too. It's the first time I've forgotten anything. I can't believe it either, because I'm a Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan and the one thing you learn from those books is to always know where your towel is! Good thing there were no hideous Bug Bladder Beasts of Trall to be found on the dives.

We started our first dive at 12:30, and the tide was almost fully out. It was kind of nice because it cut down on the surface swim by at least 40 metres because you could walk instead. Gosia got to try out her new pink fins, mask and snorkel set. It was sure distinctive. There was a bit of confusion on the swim out to the marker buoy though, so make sure you both are clear on which buoy you are swimming for!

Our descent on the first dive was a little problematic. I must not have gotten all the air out of my BCD as I had some trouble sinking, but only briefly. I suspect there may have been an up-welling or some kind of current maybe too. We hit the bottom without too much incident. The plan was to head west around the artificial reefs and curve to the Grant Hall wreck. Unfortunately, yet again I missed the navigation and ended up putting us across a sandy wasteland for a good while. I think the current was pushing us to the east, because we ended up running into the Grant Hall the same as happened on my first dive at Porteau. It was not a big deal though. From there, we came around the stern and up the starboard side past the toilet. There was a fair amount of fighting with the currents on this dive. There were many huge ling cod, more than 5 at least all hanging out around the jungle gym area. I was looking for the octopus again, but had no luck. The visibility was pretty good too, maybe 15 feet. It was a fairly long dive at about 45 minutes, and we swam along the bottom a fair ways back to shore first. Gosia got very cold. On the surface, she said she had some trouble feeling her hands. I can't understand people who want to dive in wetsuits when drysuits are just not all that complicated and a lot warmer! Oh well :-)

Back on shore, Gosia tried to warm up by sitting in the car. The wind was pretty bad too, but the sun was out. We ate something and swapped out cylinders and were back in the water and descending after only an hour and twenty minutes. Gosia was a real trooper :-) On the second dive, the tide was coming back in so it made the surface swim a bit harder. We descended at the same closest middle marker buoy and this time found the reef as intended. We went around the sailboat, around the Grant Hall, and then up and over the top deck. Shining my light into the depths of the hold was very cool Nothing looked to live in there at all, just a lot of sediment and darkness. Does that bode ill for my future experiences with wreck diving? Time will tell I guess! It's going to be a challenge for sure.

Since I waited so long to do this dive log, I've forgotten a lot of what I saw on that second dive. There was certainly one massive ling cod that I got close to, and I remember looking at its teeth and mouth. It was at least half a foot wide. Alan would later tell us that he got nipped by a ling cod when they were guarding their egg masses.

We cut short the second dive a bit because I noticed Gosia was freezing again. The surface swim back was a lot nicer this time as we were being helped by the tide. My friend Lyenne had mentioned she might come out on a motorcycle ride that day. When we were just exiting the water, I noticed someone on the rocks with a camera. I thought to myself “wouldn't that be funny if that was Lyenne?”. My eyes are pretty good, and getting a bit closer showed me that I was right. It was very lucky her showing up right at the time we were coming out, and she said she got some good pictures with her telephoto lens. It was quite a nice surprise to have her stop by! It's too bad she wasn't able to dive that day. We didn't have much time to talk either as rain was threatening, and I had to get back to the shop. So we said our goodbyes, Gosia and I geared down, rinsed off, and got back to the shop in plenty of time.

The second day's dive was with Jason Kolba. He was nice enough to pick me up at my place, where I had stored my cylinders and gear down in the underground garage. Quite handy. We had a good drive out to Porteau Cove, and the day again was awesome. Even nicer than the previous day. There were some wind warnings for Howe Sound though, but I found there to be less wind than the previous day. There were a lot more divers out though. The parking lot wasn't that full, but there were several large groups of divers from various diving clubs there. Nobody from IDC that I could see however.

For both the day before and this day I had started to use seal-saver on my drysuit neck seal. The last Porteau dive I was on I got some severe chaffing on my neck. So much so that it looked like I had tried to hang myself, hah. The seal-saver helped, but what helped the most was not turning my head so much. I've learned a valuable lesson in that. Turn my body more, and not my neck! It doesn't' help that there is so much to see at Porteau Cove! I still need to find out something else to lubricate my neck area though that won't get rubbed off and is good for latex.

We met a guy from one of the other dive clubs in the parking lot named Homie. He was in high spirits for the day's dives. We talked a bit about the octopus that we were going to look for, but in the end started gearing up fairly quickly so we could get out and do just that. Several other divers mentioned they had seen at least two octopus out that day. The tide was out again, so we had a break on the surface swim. It was still pretty long though.

Descending at the middle closest marker buoy, we headed west for the artificial reef. We hit it ok, and Jason was leading. He was pretty fast. I noticed he finned quite a bit, and left me in the dust often. I was wondering what his hurry was! I figured he was excited about looking for the octopus. We poked around the jungle gym and looked in one of the suspected lairs. No one was home. We then checked out the hull of the Grant Hall as someone mentioned one octopus under there beside the toilet. No luck there either. We did find one of them in the jungle gym area though wedged way back in a crack. It was hard to see, but at least he was there. Probably trying to hide from all the prying eyes.

We ran into several large groups of divers out training. No problems though, we just avoided them. We saw a bunch of the huge ling cods which Jason dubbed “the Codfathers”, as well as a very large kelp greenling. We also found out that the female kelp greenling was the orange and gold fish we had been trying to identify for a while. So much for the “green” in “greenling”! There was also one very large, and very dead looking sea blubber at the stern of the Grant Hall. We saw lots of the coonstripe shrimp on the bottom, as well as a rock scallop and dungeness crab. There were a bunch of the longhorn decorator crabs, as well as one of the slender decorator crab (it was very mossy). I finally found a chiton, which was a lot smaller than I had realized. This one was a bright turquoise blue. Another high-light were huge schools of pipe-fish. They were very small, but reflected the light very nicely. Visibility was pretty good, maybe 15 feet. However, the currents felt a bit odd and they pushed me around a fair bit. But it wasn't too bad.

I did better on air than Jason did, and we talked about that on the swim back. I mentioned he was finning a lot, and that that was probably what it was. He also found that the straps on his Halcyon BCD were loosening, a problem he had noticed the previous week. We checked it out on shore, and sure enough, the webbing had loosened right up. He decided to have them look at it back at the shop later. All we could do was tighten it up and hope for the best.

It was a fabulous sunny day, and I had some fun chatting with some new divers out in the sun. There wouldn't be many days left where you could just sit and work on your tan. One person was having a lot of problems with their weight. I hope they sorted it in the end.

By the time of our second dive, the tide was coming back in. Also, there were a lot of groups out in the water, so it became quite a traffic jam down there. I remember ascending out of the way of one big group, sailing over top of them, and giving the ok signal to their grateful dive guide. I don't think the people in the group even saw me! It's getting kind of fun to do things in the water as I get better with buoyancy. Jason and I had fun swimming between the girders in the jungle gym too. We paid a visit to our octopus friend who was still sleeping, and just puttered around a bit. When we surfaced, we followed a line up to a buoy and were surprised to see our location. What we had thought was the buoy for the Grant Hall was the one we came up at. We both agreed we'd need to look into that, because we were sure that the dive map clearly showed something different. I also had my first problem equalizing my ears. It wasn't too uncomfortable, but there definitely was pressure building. I stopped and ascended a bit, kept swallowing and stretching my neck and with a small pop it cleared. I also got a bit of vertigo during this, but handled it ok. It was nice to experience this, since I hadn't before.

It was a very pleasant rinse and gear-down in the sun. I also handled a pretty neat little underwater camera from Sea Life. It may be exactly what I was looking for. Not very big, no housing required, inexpensive and easily stow-able in a pocket. Granted it won't take the best pictures without a strobe, but it had a video mode, and for the pictures I'd just want them initially to record what I see, not for National Geographic quality shots. Besides, huge cameras have always turned me off a bit, because I end up leaving them behind. I'll definitely check it out. When we were leaving, Jason and I were talking about air consumption and realized that I should have led on the second dive. That way we could see if it was because of his increased finning that was impacting his air usage. Too bad we didn't think of that this time. Next time though!

All in all, a great set of four dives. Now the advanced course starts. After that, I have a boat dive planned and hopefully I'll have my new dry-suit. Also, I will have my new Saanti undergarment too soon. Can't wait to do some diving during the winter!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Porteau Cove 12/09/2009

I was pretty excited about this dive because I had heard a lot about Porteau Cove from other divers. I was a bit nervous, because every time I heard about it wrecks were mentioned. Up to this point, we had it drilled into our heads how dangerous wrecks were. It was a bit of a psychological barrier since there is really no difference between a wreck and a regular rock reef. You just don't go inside or under it! I guess they did their job too well during the Open Water course with me :-)

Originally, this dive was going to be at Whytecliff park with Patrick Hung, Joaquin Puga and Lyenne Lawrie, but Joaquin had a schedule conflict and Patrick got sick. In the end that actually worked out for the best. Bad that they couldn't go, but good because there weren't enough drysuits to go around! It was actually even worse than that, because there weren't even enough rental suits. Alan Johnson went above and beyond the call of duty and lent me his own personal drysuit, with the caveat that I would take extra special care of it. That took me aback, because it was such an investment of trust on his part. I felt honored! In return, I promised him he could use my new suit whenever he needed since they were basically identical. I also returned the suit the next day in perfect condition, but also added in a four pack of beer in appreciation! But on to the day's dive...

Lyenne was my dive buddy on this dive, whom I had met on a previous Sea Dragon boat dive. She's quite an accomplished warm-water diver and underwater photographer, so I was very happy to have her agree to dive with me. Since I had wanted to dive Porteau Cove, I jumped at the chance to change dive locations from Whytecliff to here because she was along. We weren't disappointed! Lyenne mentioned she had did Porteau Cove, but a long time ago. She also said my buoyancy was pretty good when we were done and driving back, but I'm getting ahead of myself! I'll take that as an indication that I'm improving as a diver, since if I can keep alongside a photographer, I think that's pretty good.

Getting gear from IDC went smoothly as usual, except for the short shock that there might not have been a drysuit for me. That was sorted out as already mentioned, and we were on our way. It was a fabulous summer day, and the drive along the Sea to Sky was awesome. Pam Rocks beckoned to us out in Howe Sound since Lyenne was wishing to dive with seals. It would have to be another day, because we were boat-less! Pam Rocks sounded great though, as I had read up on it in the “151 Dives” book, and heard a lot about it from the divers I had met on the Sea Dragon.

Arriving at Porteau Cove, we surprisingly found a pretty good parking spot even though it was near noon. It didn't seem all that busy, but there were at least 4 or 5 other groups of divers in various states of gearing up / gearing down. We did a quick tour around for orientation's sake, and found the shower near the stairs down to the water entrance / exit area. The washrooms and change-rooms near the parking lot had lots of signs about not being for diver use, which was a bit worrying. But in the end, it seemed not to be a problem. There was no hose, and when I asked another diver about it, they confirmed that. They said that they rinsed off in the shower, but did their BCD at home in the tub. If you get your gear from IDC, you could also use the hose there if you were returning it, so it's not a big deal. The shower is good enough.

Lyenne and I also checked out the dive site using the posted map near the stairs to the water. The whole area is sectioned off from Howe Sound by white marker buoys. Inside that were yellow marker buoys at the various interesting locations. We decided to surface swim to the closest buoy which was over the so-called “Leaning Tower of Porteau”, and they follow the artificial reef to the wrecks. Here is a link to the dive-map:

Gearing up went smoothly, and Lyenne took along her camera. It was a pretty hot day! In the drysuit I was quickly baking. The shower helped a lot once we got to it, and entering the water felt so nice. But, there was a problem! I quickly realized that I had forgotten to put on my gloves for underneath the dry-gloves of the new suit! I was so used to the previous Nexgen suits where you put on your neoprene gloves separately that I forgot to do it when I was gearing up. To put them on, I would have had to either undo the zip-seals of the drygloves (something I didn't want to mess with on someone else's suit) or totally gear down. I decided to dive without them, but boy, did my hands get cold! Don't underestimate proper insulation in 10 degree water! Vince was gearing up beside the stairs and I said hi. He filled us in about the resident octopus, and to keep an eye out for masses of white crab shell parts which would mark his lair. I said we'd do our best :-) I also noticed Jason Kolba gearing up next to Vince when we were already in the water swimming out. It's too bad I didn't have a chance to say hi.

Another thing Lyenne and I learned very quickly about Porteau Cove was that you'd better be prepared to swim. The surface swim to even the closest marker buoy is very very long, about 150m to the closest one. That doesn't seem like much, but it is since you are often fighting a pretty decent current. A few of the divers recommended descending fairly early, especially if you find that you aren't moving at all. Swimming along the bottom is a lot easier. Make sure to get a good compass heading first though! Over such long distances, it would be easy to get lost.

I didn't time how long the swim took, but it was pretty long. We had a bit of a rest at the middle marker buoy and then descended. The plan was to follow the artificial reef around to the west. But, after we descended I ended up heading us too much to the north east. Live and learn! So there I was trying to figure out why all we were seeing was featureless bottom with the odd anemone covered rock here and there. It was still pretty cool, because each rock was like an oasis in a sandy desert. There were copper rockfish hanging out on them, along with tonnes of plumose anemones. On the sandy bottom, we saw lots of coonstripe shrimp. They congregated in huge groups, and shot backwards in unison as we approached. Lyenne got pretty excited chasing them around :-) I had never seen these little guys before, and they were really cool.

Realizing that we were heading in the wrong direction, I curved us back around to the west. At this point the bottom began to slope off slowly, and we were at a depth of 13-15m. The bottom was still pretty featureless, but there were quite a few large schools of silvery fish, probably shiner perch since the schools were so big. But, the best part was yet to come. Suddenly, looming out of the gloom was the stern of the Granthall! It was the first wreck I had ever seen underwater, and it was just amazing. The hull was covered with plumose anemones, barnacles and life in general. We swam around the stern and up the starboard side. Another group of three divers came out of the gloom along the same side, which was also very cool to see. They turned out to be from Austria, which Lyenne found out later. Along the starboard side, I couldn't help but call attention to the toilet that was sitting on the bottom beside the hull. It had a few anemones arranged on it, and was pretty amusing. Talking about it later, Lyenne and I had a good chuckle over it, and both agreed that someone must have put it there on purpose.

Unfortunately, we didn't have much gas left since we had spent so much time puttering around on the bottom before discovering the really good stuff. But we made the most of it and explored the artificial reef as much as we could. There were tonnes of copper rockfish resting on the iron girders, as well as a huge number of giant sea cucumbers. There was one spot under the stern of the Granthall's hull where there were at least 8 all in one spot. They were at least one foot long. By this point, we were nearing the 40 minute mark of the dive, so we started to follow the bottom back towards shore, even though we both wanted to spend more time in the reefs. The surface buoy connected to what was known as the “Leaning Tower of Porteau” was especially cool since it had plumose anemones attached directly to it. Lyenne spent a good bit of time trying to get some interesting pictures of it.

It turned out that even though I had improved my gas consumption, I was the limiting factor on this dive. Lyenne was way more efficient, and had something ridiculous like 1500psi left, and I was at like 500. Later when I checked my SAC rate, it was like 0.6 SCFM. Also later, Alan told me that a lot of women could have SAC rates of like 0.4. Argh! Well, my solution will be to use bigger cylinders in the future. I figure steel 100's will be perfect. Anyway, I wasn't the only limiting factor, since Lyenne was getting pretty cold. She hadn't completed her drysuit course yet, so was still in a wetsuit. Very brave considering the water was 10 degrees! My hands were super cold because of forgetting to put on the gloves, so I couldn't imagine how it would be in a wetsuit. We hit our 3 minute safety stop, surfaced and started to swim to shore. We discovered a very strong surface current that ended up driving us into the boat launch ramp. Instead of fighting it, we just exited there. There were no boats going in at that point, so that was OK. Divers are probably not allowed to enter and exit there. I'll have to find out the proper rules later.

We ended up having a pretty long surface interval of over 2 hours. Lyenne really needed to warm up. Even though it was pretty sunny, the breeze so near the water was stiff so it wasn't as warm as it could be. During this time, the Austrians that we had seen at the Granthall asked Lyenne to send them some of the photos she took of them.

Part of the other reason the surface interval was so long was that after we got geared up and in the water, Lyenne noticed that her camera housing was fogged up inside! She geared down and tried to clear it, but in the end it didn't help. So, for the second dive we were camera-less. Damn! Not wanting to make the same mistake as dive one, we decided to swim out and descend right on top of the reef. Well, at first we were going to swim all the way to the Granthall and descend there, but soon realized that the surface current was just too much. We made it to the closest marker buoy and had to rest and descend there.

We spent a lot of time slowly weaving around the girders and objects curving around to the west. It was pretty awesome. Porteau Cove is a great place to practice buoyancy. You really needed it! We checked out the sailboat hull and the dredger, then circled the Granthall and also swam over top of the deck. Looking down into the gaping holds was very cool. A bit scary too! At that point I was pretty comfortable knowing that I wasn't going to “fall” into anything. I think I'm really starting to get the hang of this weightlessness thing! Lyenne spotted the mother of all ling cods near the dredger hull. It was huge! At least 5 feet long, and just lying there on the bottom as pleased as could be. There was also what I was sure must be a canary rockfish. It was orange, but I'm still not sure if that's what it was. The fins didn't look right when I looked up the picture later. But, it might be an alternate form maybe. I'm also sure that I spotted the remains of the octopus's meals, but I couldn't spot the diner himself. Next time! There were more coonstripe shrimp to chase, a lot more copper rockfish to marvel at, and all the anemones and sea stars and sea cucumbers of course. Jason Kolba would email me later that he found the octopus, so I'm going to rely on him to help me find it next time.

At this point, we were around the 37 minute mark, and Lyenne signalled that she was very cold. So we ended the dive at that point, hit the safety stop and surfaced right there. I was under 1000psi anyway, damn my fast air consumption! Since we surfaced so far out, we had a long swim back. The current wasn't as bad, though.

Even though the surface swims are long, they are certainly beautiful since you can look at all the tree-covered mountains around you. It's quite spectacular. I can't wait to dive Porteau in the winter when they are covered in snow! It will be awesome.

After gearing down, we took a quick dip in the ocean. Why? I have no idea, it was Lyenne's! So much for being “cold”! Once you got in, it wasn't so bad, but moving around was freezing. I really appreciated my drysuit after that. But, it was the first time I had swam in the Pacific, so there is that. There was also an old lady rescuing stranded sea blubbers on the beach. I'm not quite sure if it did them any good though, they looked pretty dead to me!

Since our second dive went quite long, there was no way we could get back to IDC to return gear in time. So, we just rinsed everything off, packed up, and I returned it the next day. All in all an awesome dive! I'm going back to Porteau Cove as soon as possible.

One final note: Alan's suit was awesome, but he had just had the neck seal replaced. Whatever factory chemicals that were on it really did a number on my neck. I got a huge rash, which was compounded by moving my neck a lot to look at all the fantastic things, so I had a really raw neck after. I learned a valuable lesson, I'm using the suit saver lubricant stuff next time that Alan mentioned! It ended up looking like I survived a suicide attempt via noose :-)

Look for the next instalments of my Porteau Cove dive adventures next weekend. I have two dives planned with Gosia and Jason there for Saturday and Sunday.

Until then!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Howe Sound Boat Dive 9/5/2009

What an amazing opportunity this dive was. I had signed up for theSea Dragon boat dive through IDC, but found out a few days before that they were opening a second afternoon slot. I jumped at the chance to go on two trips in one day. Four boat dives in a row were too good to pass up!

Even better, I got a lift with Steve in the IDC van. Parking hassle eliminated! I had to get up at 5am and bus it over to the shop (not the easiest with at least 50 plus pounds of gear!). When I arrived, I noticed the light from a flashlight shining around inside the shop. I thought it might be a robber since it looked to be some bald criminal-looking type and I've watched too many movies. Then I realized it was just Steve :-) I waved to him, and I swear he made the circular OK signal with his light so I thought he saw me. I ended up hanging around outside the garage door for about 20 minutes wondering what was keeping him. I figured he was just getting stuff ready. When the door finally opened he was surprised to see me. It turns out that he had no idea I was there, and had just been testing out a new light he had gotten, and it was just coincidence that he made what looked to be an OK signal. It was pretty funny!

The morning weather was pretty bad. It was drizzling and there was a marine wind warning on for Howe Sound. But, I figured I'd just stay in my drysuit. There is a definite advantage to them in terms of rain protection! A couple from Calgary got a lift in the van too. They were Mark and Claire if I remember correctly, and dove in the lakes of Alberta mostly which I found amazing. I know I want to dive in lakes at some point, but only diving in lakes? I guess if that's all you have that's what you do! It made me realize again how lucky we are on the West Coast. Steve and I did the tourist guide thing on the ride out for them.

Arriving quite early in the parking lot at Horseshoe Bay, we waited in the van. It was raining a lot harder at that point. Another couple joined us in the van to get out of the rain, but their names completely escape me. Albert from my Open Water course and Jason Kolba from a previous boat dive I was on also showed up, so we all cozied up inside the van until Kevin and Jan from the Sea Dragon showed up. There was one other diver along too, and another couple who arrived very late, but I don't remember their names either. Steve said later the couple was from South Africa. I met Nicola Grice too, who was the last diver to round out the quite full boat.

I was very surprised by the number of wet suit divers on this run. It was about half! Jason and I buddied up, and we brought Nicola along into our group too. Steve took a group of 6 down! It was like the open water training course all over, hah. I don't know what it would be like with such a big group. I find having three hard enough!

Gearing up and getting underway went pretty well. It was a bit damp from the rain, but once I got my drysuit on it was pretty nice. The boat cabin sure was packed with people changing! We moored at the sheltered north side of Bowyer Island and dove the Pinnacle dive site. The first dive started at 9:30, but there was a problem! Jason and I were in the water at the descent line, and a female diver came up. We both assumed it was Nicola, and asked if it was OK to descend. She seemed to say yes, so we thought all was well. We began our descent, but I noticed no one following us. On the bottom, we finally were joined by Nicola. It turns out that Nicola was still on the boat when we started our descent, and the other female diver was not our buddy! A good lesson learned there. Always verify your dive group every step of the way, and don't rely on the boat crew to do it for you. Also, don't assume someone is who you think it is when masks and hoods can make identifying faces difficult!

Jason did a very good job of navigating on the first dive. But, there ended up being another problem, this one a bit scarier, and another important lesson learned. We were checking air pressure periodically amongst us, but either we weren't doing it enough, or signals weren't getting across properly. Nicola's air was going down extremely fast, and neither Jason nor I picked up on it. In the end, we finally realized the situation, and immediately began an ascent. On the ascent, Nicola signaled out of air and I donated my alternate air source and we ended up buddy-breathing for the rest of the ascent. Her pressure gauge was showing basically zero. Pretty scary, more for her than me, but it worked out OK. The training we have does work. We missed the safety stop, but came up within limits. Jason finished his stop and joined us at the boat later.

Nicola was pretty shaken by the whole experience, and rightly so. But the lessons learned were very valuable. I'll not forget to check my buddy any time soon, and not just ask for air pressures underwater, but to actually comprehend and project air usage before a problem occurs. Steve had some good advice after we had time to discuss the situation too. Basically we got a stamp of approval that we handled things ok, so that was good! The rescue diver course is even more appealing to me now. I'll definitely be doing it in the spring. One of the other divers gave me some tips on that course. It's very hard on your gear, so rent if you do it. Use a wetsuit too, since you're doing a lot of activity and you'll overheat in a drysuit. In the end, the problems we had were completely preventable if you pay attention and catch them before they become an emergency. Pretty much exactly what we were taught in the course!

The second dive was done again at the Pinnacle. It was just too windy and choppy to move outside of that area. The current was quite strong too so we ended up deploying and using trail lines to haul ourselves along to the descent line instead of swimming. It's a lot easier to pull yourself along a line instead of swimming! I had no idea until then. Rule number one; don't let go of the line!

Nicola came down with Jason and myself, so it was great she got past the incident. On this dive we paid a lot more attention to air pressures! On the ascent we hit the safety stop fine, and Jason and I ended up descending again because we had quite a bit of air left. It turns out he and I are very similar in air consumption and skill level, so we were a good match. We are certainly going to dive together again.

In terms of wildlife, there was nothing massively new to me. No octopus this time! However, it was all beautiful as usual. The white plumose anemone fields are always stunning. Jason was quite a bit ahead of me on his identification skills. I picked out some kelp greenlings and copper rockfish, a ling cod or two, and the usual plethora of star fish. I noticed for the first time how many brittle stars are spread all over the bottom, and that they move a lot! They reminded me of some of the machine creatures in the Matrix movies. There was also a bunch of chimney sponges with shrimp living in them. Pretty cool!

There are a couple of books I'm reviewing right now for marine life identification. “Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest”, “Pacific Reef & Shore”, and “Whelks to Whales”. That last one is sold in the IDC dive shop. So far, I'm not sure which is best. “Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest” is a very large hard cover book that has a lot of great photos, but not something you'd want to take on a dive. “Whelks to Whales” looks to be the most comprehensive and smaller winner. A friend of mine pointed out today the value of visiting the Vancouver Aquarium to help bone up on your identification skills. I can't believe I didn't think of that! Thanks, Melissa!

We packed it in for the first half of the day around 12:30. The weather was taking a turn for the worse; more rain, and even more wind. It was looking grim for the afternoon dives. But Kevin said the alternate would be Ansel Place which is near shore and fairly protected. The next load of divers included Ivan Rivera Cruz whom I had met briefly on the boat dive two weeks past. He ended up being my dive buddy on this run, because Steve took another big group out. There was a pair of older divers, one of whose name was Will, and a pair of more advanced divers Jay and Vince. I had heard Vince's name around the shop. Jay and Vince became pretty valuable on this trip as you'll soon see. Rounding things out was a warm-water diver named Brandon, along with two new open water divers. Out of that pair, I only remember Julie. The other girl's name escapes me at the moment unfortunately.

Once the boat was loaded and we were under way, the weather took a turn for the better. What a strange day! The sun came out and the rain was gone. The wind was still quite strong, but it meant we could return to Bowyer Island and dive those sites again. We started at the Canyons this time, and when we arrived the dive ladder broke off and sank! No one was on it. It happened when it got dropped into the water. Just snap! Then gone. This is where Vince and Jay came in very handy as they embarked on some search and recovery. Ivan and I had a pretty good dive seeing much the same things that I mentioned above. The current was quite strong again, and it was difficult in parts to swim against it. We also got a bit lost, coming up at least a hundred feet short of the descent line. We almost made it, but not quite. Got to work on that navigation!

Jay and Vince were successful in retrieving the ladder and earned their keep even more by helping the other divers get back on board. With no ladder, we had to take off our gear and weight in the water, grasp the back dive platform, wait for a swell, then kick and pull ourselves up. Jay and Vince helped by hauling gear on board, and then hauling us up too. I didn't expect so much help, so I kicked quite hard, and when they pulled I rocketed up and on board almost into the rear cabin. It was pretty funny. Will ended up losing his new $800 camera, and his friend got a jelly fish sting across his upper lip. They were in good spirits about it though. The jelly fish sting looked pretty painful. I'd never seen what one looked like before. I ended up losing something too; the bolt snap that I had attached to my dive light. But when I heard about the camera loss, I couldn't be very sad about it! I learned another very good lesson; make sure everything is secure!

During the surface interval when tanks were getting filled, we hung out in the sun on deck. Ivan ended up taking a nap on the upper deck and almost lost his hat overboard from the wind. Steve talked a lot about and demonstrating dive floats and how to use them. It's a very good idea for every open water diver to have some kind of reel and float combo to release underwater to mark your ascent location. Especially when diving without a descent/ascent line or from a boat. They're pretty simple and compact little things. But you've got to have one with you to use it! I've got to look into getting one very soon. You don't need it for dives at Whytecliff, but any place where there might be boat traffic, you really should. Ideally, Steve was saying you need to swim out and put up a dive flag where the boats can see it, but when shore diving that becomes pretty impractical because of the huge extra distance you have to swim, and then do it again to recover the float.

For the fourth and last dive of the day we ended up back at the Pinnacle. Mostly I think because Kevin was getting fed up with divers getting lost! The Pinnacle is a lot easier to navigate, since after you descend, you note the depth of the descent line, then go either left or right. The Pinnacle is shaped like a two-tiered wedding cake, so you just keep one rock wall on your left or right, then turn around at some agreed-on air pressure and return to the same depth. Voila, you're back! Still, Ivan and I had a bit of a dicey return trip. He was using his compass, but I found mine next to useless because we were going in basically a circle. I ended up watching the rock formations a lot more and using natural navigation to get us back. Ivan ended up following me! There was one section I got worried on as the rock wall kind of disappeared into a sand bed, but I remembered we had to cross that before, so I trusted in my heading, and sure enough the wall re-appeared where it should have been. I've got a huge amount of work to learn on navigation. That's one thing all these dives showed me. Compasses are great, but using natural navigation backed up by a compass is often the best way to go.

On that fourth and last dive, I saw something new. Small spotted prawns in the crevices of the rocks. They were tiny and easy to miss. I'm glad I had my dive light on every dive. Ivan meant to bring his along, but ended up kicking himself after descending because he forgot it on the boat. It's great to have something, but if you don't remember to take it, it's almost worse than not having it!

As much as I didn't want to go, the day was pretty much done. All in all, I was pretty happy with my buoyancy and comfort level, as well as energy level. I told Ivan that I would have totally gone on a night-dive with him if I had had my Advanced course done! Diving with a computer is a god-send too. The extra no-decompression time they give is great, along with keeping track of your surface intervals automatically. I still take time to calculate things out with tables, but only afterwards. I think I will also get the wireless air monitoring module add-on. As I dive more, I like the idea of having my exact air pressures recorded for me. This makes calculating your air consumption a lot easier. Manually writing down your pressures is fine, and I'll still do that, but having it right there in the computer is getting more appealing. Also, it's a one-stop place to check depth, air pressure, time and temperature. Pretty valuable! You don't want to stop checking your manual pressure gauge, but you can do it a bit less often.

After saying so long to the new friends I met, I hitched a ride back to town with Steve. Well, that was after he found the van keys! He had left them hanging in the van door, and spent 15 minutes looking for them. It was pretty funny. We ended up going to Dix Brewery right beside my place for some beer and the Piggy Platter. It was the kind of day you want to top off with a plate of barbecued meat! Steve's key woes weren't over, because he promptly locked the keys inside his car after we arrived. Good thing he lived up to his burglar-looks and broke back in pretty easily!

I ended up getting home at 10pm. Quite the day! I hung out my wet gear, fell into bed, and it was lights out. I can't wait to do it again!

Some random things I learned/was reminded of today:

Bring a drybag or two on boat trips
Try to keep all your gear in one bag/spot
Keep everything you can attached to you
If it's not attached know where it is
Secure anything that might fly way overboard
Always secure your BCD/cylinder! We had one fall over on this trip, and it was dangerous
Don't rely on the crew to think for you
Bring cash for air fills
Bring enough food and water, especially on multiple dive trips
Bring some essential dry cloth items