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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Whytecliff Park GUE Skills Dive 13/10/2009

Dive number 30! I have been busy! My total time underwater so far was 16 hours.

I had been waiting for my long hose to get set up for a while, and finally the part came in, and Alan could do it. He had offered to take me out and practice the skills needed to properly deploy and use this standard piece of DIR kit, and I jumped at the chance. I was scared and nervous though, because I would be diving with a very accomplished diver and under a lot of scrutiny. Alan is a great guy, and I feel honoured and privileged that he's taking the time out to help me with my skills. I'm committed to going the DIR route, and I want to dive safer, better, and farther. The DIR philosophy and the GUE organization really appeal to me, and I want to be part of what they are building: better divers.

Anyway, I'm so committed that I took half a day off work not for fun, but so Alan could tell me exactly how crap I am :-) It wasn't that bad, seriously, hah.

The day was very rough, with large whitecaps and swells out in the Sound. The bay in Whytecliff wasn't so bad, but we were worried the visibility would be very bad. There was no one in the parking lot at all! Surprise, surprise for a Tuesday morning at 9am! Well, there were a few dog-walkers, but we were the only divers in sight. There were a tonne of leaves and debris that made gearing up and down a bit of a pain, as the fall leaves were getting into everything. I can't wait to dive with snow on the ground.

Alan had brought along his spare undergarment which was great to try out. I'd not dove in a real undergarment yet, and my Saanti had not come in. I was surprised just how bulky it was! My drysuit felt a lot more 'full'. But it sure was warmer. I'm sold on the importance of a real undergarment.

We got geared up, and I was pretty nervous. The length of the new hose was a bit intimidating, as well as being under pressure to remember all the skills and drills we'd be doing. First off, we ran over the basic 5 scuba skills from the GUE, of which we only did the first 3. That was just a regulator removal and replacement (making sure to grip the hose and not the regulator, so that the purge valve is exposed for your buddy), a regulator exchange (switching to your secondary around your neck and clipping off the primary to your right D ring, and back), and a gas-sharing long hose deployment and replacement. I don't think I did too badly on the land practice, but I had some issues with looping and stowing the hose around my neck. Something didn't quite click on that whole procedure.

I was also missing my canister light, so I couldn't route the long hose quite as it should, but it didn't work too badly around my ACB weight pockets. The canister light would add a whole new dimension and complexity with its cord!

We also practised an out-of-gas situation and swim on land, with signals. You remained in touch contact on the arm, pushed forward to go forward, pulled back to go back, and squeezed to stop. You also needed to hold on to the long hose as necessary in your palm depending on which side you were on. On the left side, the buddy was responsible for managing the long hose. On the right, you are.

We hit the water, and descended pretty shallow (8m or so). Alan deployed his SMB and ran a line along the bottom. The idea was that I'd stay on my side of the line, and he'd be on his. Unfortunately, since I couldn't backfin yet, I had real problems staying on my side. But, he'd just push me back over as necessary. I found too that since I was finning some to keep stability, this drove me forward even more. I've got to learn that backfin stuff!

Once the lines were run, Alan demonstrated the skills again. Then, I ran through all three 4 times. The first run went ok, but on the second, I got hung up on looping the long hose around my neck properly. I was trying to sort it without a regulator in my mouth, and I completely forgot that I had a backup around my neck! Still, I didn't panic and did things as slowly and deliberately as possible. Alan commented later that that was a good thing. Clipping off the long hose was one of the hardest things to do right. I'm going to have to put my gloves on and practice that many times.

Finally, we did a gas-sharing exercise and swim. Alan signalled out of gas, and I gave him my long hose and switched to my backup, waited for him to clip off his long hose, and then we went for a small swim. It seemed to go OK. As the last skill, I pulled out and deployed my surface marker buoy. I love my new pockets, but it's hard to get stuff out! In this case, the spool came un-clipped and nearly ended up as a big mess of line. I also got it tangled around my hand briefly which would have been bad if I had let go. I also forgot that when I inflated the SMB, to not take in such a huge breath. I did, and promptly started ascending! I got that under control and shot the SMB alright. Not great, but alright. At the surface, it was pretty limp. Got to get more gas in it next time, otherwise no one will see it!

We retrieved the line and the SMBs and geared down. Alan had some good feedback. I was too high many times, and needed to control my buoyancy more. He recommended to get as close to the bottom as possible as that would really help fine-tune things with a good reference. In mid-water, you can fluctuate many feet without realizing it. Along the bottom, well, you'll crash into it or float away from it. He was pleased that I took my time and thought about things as I was doing them. He was also pleased that I was committed to skills and serious about learning. So, my homework was to practice the 3 skills, get better at clipping stuff off, and work on buoyancy and propulsion. I had tried some frog kicks and felt like I was getting better. But I still have a ways to go!

Howe Sound Boat Dive 11/10/2009

I had planned this dive for quite some time. Since I knew my advanced course was finishing, I wanted to have a celebratory dive to commemorate that. It was also Lyenne's birthday soon, so I asked her to come along and gave the trip as a birthday present. It was also supposed to be the test-dive for Lyenne's new underwater camera housing. Unfortunately, it wasn't together in time, so she had to use her smaller Sea and Sea camera. Next time!

The day didn't start off great, since the sound was quite rough. The marine forecast had called for strong gales the night before, but it reported that it would be calm that day. Kevin the skipper was concerned for safety, and delayed our departure until 10am. So Lyenne and I hung out at a coffee shop and went over dive logs that needed to be done. There was another problem in that the inflator hose of the BCD for her was leaking, and in the attempt to fix it, Kyle snapped off a part. Fortunately, the boat had a spare BCD. Unfortunately, it looked like it had been last used on the Titanic! It was a credit to Lyenne's strong dive skills that she was able to dive and still take pictures even with not the most ideal equipment. It's also a good reminder to me about complacency. I had picked up the dive gear, but had been using my own for so long that I forgot the cardinal rule about rental equipment: always check it. It's a valuable lesson that I hope I'll never forget again. I felt extremely awful about the whole incident.

It was a full boat that day, with 12 divers total, so it was crowded when we got under way. The first dive site we visited had to be scrubbed because the current was too strong. The second one was near the north end of Bowen island along a rock wall. The boat was going to drop us off and stay mobile to pick us up on the other side. We got geared up, and jumped in. On descending, Lyenne couldn't get down properly and we had to grab more weight from the boat. It looked like the replacement BCD was a lot more positively buoyant than the other one. We got down OK after that. The dive was pretty nice as it ended up being a drift dive. We didn't have much work to do kicking at all, and just floated by the wall. The downside was that there really wasn't a lot to see along the wall. Lyenne lost her one fin, but got it back on fine. More problems! Once we got past the end of the wall, the visibility turned to complete crap. Before that, we did see two cool things. One was a giant pacific chiton, and the other was an extremely ugly but cute sculpin. I think it was a Sharpnose Sculpin. I thought later that it was a Cabezon, but a biologist on the boat pointed out that Cabezons are quite large. The thing we saw was only a few inches. Oh, and there was a dungeness crab hanging out on one of the rocks, too.

Popping up to the surface after our safety stop, we had a bit of a swim to the boat. The other dive groups were having a devil of a time getting down, and the boat kept having to come around to pick them up so they could adjust weight. As you can tell, this was a day of problems!

On the boat, Lyenne was very cold, especially her feet. Later we'd realize that her boots were too small for all the layers she had on. I'm sure things would improve next time with some larger boots. Anyway, we did our best to get her warmed up, and succeeded somewhat.

However, the next dive was soon upon us, and that would be a problem for the coldness. We had moved to South Bowyer (the Canyons). There were two wolf-eels living there that I made up my mind to find. I got instructions from Kyle and Jan, which were to head North from the mooring line and hug the wall to the right all the way. Unfortunately, I didn't quite hug it all the time, and ended up missing the place completely and heading further north. There were a lot of anemones as usual, but not a tremendous amount of active life apparent though. It could be that I was fixated on the wolf-eels so I missed most of the stuff. I also was moving quite quickly, and should have slowed down more. I must remember next time that diving is not a race! Also, with someone along taking pictures, you really have to be mindful of your buddy.

On the way back after not finding the eels, we passed over top of another dive group of three. It was pretty cool to sail over top of them. At our safety stop, Lyenne tried to get me to do something for a video, but I mistook the camera rolling motion she was making to mean do a barrel roll. I guess it worked out though, since I did one roll finally. Communicating underwater can be really difficult!

Back on board, Lyenne wasn't in good shape. She was even colder than before, and was shivering quite a lot. I really think she ended up with a mild case of hypothermia. We got her as warm as possible, and getting her out of the too-tight boots seemed to help. Add to it some sinus problems and motion sickness from the boat, as well as a strenuous second dive keeping up to me, and it was pretty rough for her. I also need to check with the shop to see if we can borrow a proper undergarment for her to try and see if that makes a difference too.

Kyle was kind enough to bring our gear up from the dock after we tied off and got the car down to the parking lot. So we said our goodbyes and headed out.

All in all, not the best boat dive ever! But I learned some valuable things. Always check your gear, don't underestimate the cold, more layers do not always mean warmer, don't go too fast, and ankle weights are no fun!

Whytecliff Park Deep and Navigation Dive 10/10/2009

These two dives were the conclusion to my Advanced Open Water Certificate! A deep dive and a navigation dive. With those done, I could officially dive to 30 metres, putting more dive site options into my range. Specifically I wanted to dive the Nakaya wreck at Porteau Cove.

The Saturday weather was excellent: clear and sunny. When I arrived, the parking lot was mostly empty. I didn't see the IDC van either. I parked near the burger stand, and walked up to the washroom. There was the van! Libby had her dad's two schnauzers with her and they became the dive-dogs for the day. Shawn was there too, and they said that they had to come up there because the Langley dive shop had stolen their parking spot. That meant that for our deep dive we'd be doing the Cut! That was awesome, because I had just done the Cut the previous weekend and I liked it. It was also a much quicker entry than having to swim out into the main bay.

Some of the other folks were a bit late, but it wasn't too bad. There was Kent and his girlfriend, Sylvia, Peter, and three others whose names escape me right now. Emily was there as part of her Dive Master training too. Libby had me, Emily and Kent and his girlfriend in our group so it was a nice size.

We geared up and had a quick dive briefing. It was funny because I had more information about the dive site than Shawn did! But in his defence, he had not dove the cut in many years. It was nice to contribute something, and feel useful however. Being an active diver is nice. When I was hanging out in the shop the previous day, a customer mistook me for staff, too!

The plan was to head left and descend to 25m or so, and return at 1500psi. A pretty simple plan. We hit the water and all made it past the rocks and logs. The tide was not too high, so it was a fairly nice entry. Kent had a problem with a free-flowing regulator so he lost a lot of gas. This would ultimately cut the dive short. While that was being sorted, Emily and I hung out hovering on the wall looking at stuff. I tried to take the opportunity to practice some buoyancy skills. Libby would tell us later that she saw two seals on the entry. I missed them, blah. Also, she found an octopus under a rock, but I couldn't see past her nor could I figure out what captivated her attention. I checked under a different rock and saw a small gobbie, so I figured that's what she saw, too. Oh well! Later at the shop, Libby would compliment me on my buoyancy and general dive skills. She said it was great not to have a student running into her all the time, hah.

In the end we hit 23.8m so we didn't crack 25. It was a bit of a let down, because I was hoping to experience a bit of the nitrogen narcosis. I'll have to do my own deep dive later to see about that. On the up-side, I only used half my cylinder (so did Emily) so we decided not to change them out and save an air fill. Not too bad. The dive was only 25 minutes long. I also realized I had bit through my regulator mouthpiece! I couldn't understand when I could have done that. Since I was without a spare, Shawn and I ended up cannibalizing a mouthpiece off a spare regulator to fix the problem. I'd not changed one of those yet, so it was good to see how it was done.

Libby's amazing sense of direction got us right back to the Cut and we hiked back up and geared down and had some lunch in the sun. Peter from the other group did report that he got “narced” and that it was pretty weird. Everyone moved over to the other parking lot to prep for the navigation dive. I had to give up my really great parking spot!

For the navigation dive, we spent some time running squares on land with our compasses. I must work on my math, because adding 90 to my headings got a bit hard! But ultimately the land part wasn't too bad. We had done similar stuff in the Open Water course, but just used straight lines and reciprocals. We spent a good deal of time hanging around because it was such a nice day. There was some pleasant conversation, and I ended up with my foot in my mouth on one story. The result made for quite a laugh (it was about the name for the new KFC sandwich). I'm not going to repeat it here!

Finally Shawn took the initiative and started to gear up, so we all followed suit. Hitting the water, we quickly found that the visibility was very bad. Libby ended up running her spool and line as part of the square which made things a lot easier. Emily and I ran a square to the left, then one to the right. Both of them were successful, but I knew I'd need to do more compass work because I ended up guessing a few times instead of actually calculating properly.

With all that done, it was time to go. Back at the shop, I hung out and chatted with Alan and Kyle and Libby for a few hours. I also put together a save a dive kit (with a spare mouthpiece!) after all the problems that I'd had recently. Libby's schnauzers captivated the attention of the shop customers, too.

The next day was another boat dive in Howe Sound. I was excited!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Whytecliff Park Night Dive 08/10/2009

This was part of my Advanced Open Water course. My first night dive! I had been looking forward to this for a while. I wasn't sure if I'd like diving in the dark, so I was excited to see how different it was and if I'd be interested in doing more of it. To ruin the ending, I sure will be :-)

It was a miracle that this dive happened in the first place. First off, there were transportation problems. I had wanted to go out in the IDC van, but a special Open Water course went on that day, so Shawn had it out at Whytecliff already. So Kyle out of the goodness of his heart offered to give me a lift instead. I really like how I'm making some good friends at the shop. It's very nice. Anyway, that ended up being changed too. Libby was the instructor that evening and was getting a ride with Emily who was doing some Dive Master skills. So Kyle got me a lift with them. Complicated already!

The plan was to leave at 5:15pm, and that went fine. But, on the way we noticed that the back tire was flat! We put some air in it, but things were looking bad with traffic. It was already 6 and we hadn't even gotten to Stanley Park yet. A cyclist told us that there was a jumper on the bridge! The traffic report also said the same and that traffic was closed totally. The other bridge was backed up too. Libby noticed that her cylinder was set up for yoke and not DIN, and we didn't have an allen key! It just kept getting better. Four other students were stuck in traffic, too. Libby was on the phone with the shop, with the students, and was just getting more and more frazzled. We also couldn't get a hold of Shawn out at the dive site to see who might already be there. Finally we got Shawn, and he said he had two students out there. But the other four stuck in traffic bailed out, so Libby was considering cancelling the dive. Landon still wanted it to go ahead, and it came down to a decision between me and Emily. In the end, the jumper got cleared, we decided to go, and we took the alternate route around. A big factor was getting Emily's skills done, because apparently it was harder than it seemed to lead a dive with a certified diver and an instructor involved.

Instead of getting to Whytecliff at 6, we ended up getting there at 8:30. It had turned into a REAL night dive. It was super dark! During the car trip, we had a pretty good time though. Libby talked a bit about her trip to Port Hardy and we just generally goofed around to keep our spirits up.

We got geared up pretty quickly since we were motivated to get home :-) The air temperature was dropping, and there was a lot of moisture even though it was a clear night. I used one of my glow sticks and attached it to my cylinder in what I thought to be a secure manner. Too bad it floated off as soon as we descended, hah. I guess I need to work on my knots.

Shawn was gearing down after his dives, so he gave us a hand too which was nice. I must remember to do up my crotch strap for my drysuit. I keep forgetting. The hike down to the water went without incident, and it looked quite clear in the shallows. Too bad after we got out a bit the visibility turned pretty crappy. There was quite a current after we swam out to the right hand rock wall. When we stopped to prep for descent, we suddenly realized we had been carried many feet beyond! To get out of it, we descended pretty quickly into the blackness.

It really wasn't as scary as you might think, at least not for me. So I was happy. It felt a bit weird not being able to see my gauges, but other than that it was like normal. I quickly found out that compass dials and pressure gauges are luminescent so you can charge them with your light and they'll glow for a bit. It was still super hard to see them properly though. My dive computer was harder still as the light button was hard to press and it only stayed on for a short time. When I get my canister light and can move it in from hand to hand, it will be easier to light my computer.

So we did a simple compass navigation exercise that wasn't so simple now that it was dark, hah. It could have gone straighter that's for sure. Anyway, Emily led the rest of the dive and we saw a lot of cool stuff.

The big highlight was a seal that came to swim with us. I saw something dark and moving outside our light beams and was like “hmm what's that?”. It swam near and under us and it was a seal! I'm glad it didn't freak me out too much. It was just super cool. The seal probably was using our lights to help look for food, and just to satisfy curiosity. It looked to be a young one. He or she swam over, around and through us quite often over the course of the dive. Libby said that it bumped her several times. Being playful I think. It was super cute.

Other highlights were the bio luminescent plankton that shone when you moved your hand in the water. It totally was like mini stars in the water (you had to hide your light to see them). I did that for a few minutes, it was so cool. There was also an incredible nudibranch. It was white with orange, and it looked like a little flower. It was one of the prettiest things I've seen underwater so far. I'm pretty sure it was a White-line Dirona.

I did have one uncomfortable incident where I looked behind me for Libby and when I flipped over, my tank rank into the bottom. I got a bit anxious as it was difficult to right myself, but it went ok. Libby did say that my eyes were wide as saucers, but I just say that's because my pupils were dilated due to lack of light :-)

There were at least 3 other sets of divers out that night. One group was putting out some kind of fish in a can. They must have been feeding something I guess. Our dive took us along the right hand wall out to the steel crates and then back over the bottom contour to shore. The end of the dive was in very shallow water, and the seal was flying all over the place. I almost was able to touch it one time when it swam under me. There were some really big dungeness crabs, along with some small ling cod sleeping, some sleeping copper rockfish, and shiner perch. All in all, quite a bit of wildlife!

We didn't waste much time gearing down, and had a good excited conversation all the way back about our friend the seal. We all agreed that we were glad that we persevered and did the dive! It was a long one too, about 42 minutes. Granted we were at 5 meters or so for a lot of it, but that was cool.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Whytecliff Park – The Cut 04/10/2009

Originally, this dive was supposed to be at Porteau Cove to test out Lynne Lawrie's new underwater camera housing, but it was in too many pieces to get together in time. So Jason Kolba and I decided to do a Plan B. We had talked about doing the Cut at Whytecliff park a few times, and used this opportunity to try out a new area of an old dive site. I'd also talked to Alan Johnson and he had said that the Cut was his favorite dive site in the Vancouver area because of the wall and the ability to go to any depth you want to do. Not to mention all the critters and wildlife, easy parking, fairly easy entry, and facilities. But I'm getting ahead of myself!

This was also the first dive that I was able to test out my new p-valve, cylinders and jetfins. I decided that it was time to hang up my Triex fins for warm-water and get a pair of fins that would allow for skills like backfinning. I also got the unbreakable and fool-proof steel spring-straps so I could do away with potential strap breakage. I won't go into too many details about the p-valve, though! Suffice to say that it worked great. I can't imagine diving without it now! I was also testing out my new steel 100 cylinders. My decision to buy two cylinders of my own was based on a few reasons. One I breathe a lot, so I wanted to get a larger capacity cylinder to make me less of a factor in determining the length of a dive (especially when paired with more efficient breathers, which apparently is like everyone but me!). Another reason was safety. With extra gas, I would have more reserve capacity. Convenience was in there too, since with my own cylinders I wouldn't have to reserve from the shop and I could dive at a moment's notice. In the long run it would be cheaper, too since I see myself doing a lot of diving. I also liked the idea of going DIN and the flexibility of under-filling my cylinder to get a lower pressure that was easier on my regulator and still get more capacity than a regular aluminum 80. The cylinders would also be all ready for Nitrox when I get that training, too. Finally, the better buoyancy characteristics and smaller size of the steel cylinder made it a winner. I spent a lot of time researching cylinders. I almost went with steel 120s but decided against it because the diameter was larger. That meant there was less chance of them fitting on the racks of a dive boat, as well as them being a bit wonky for trim in a single tank set up. Once I get into doubles then I'll start thinking in the 120+ direction. Steel 130s were also on the list because they had the same diameter as a steel 100, but they were super long. Too long to be really practical for a single-tank setup.

It was a great morning for a dive. The weather was sunny, and it was fairly warm and not too windy. It was a pleasure to get my gear together since I didn't have to visit the shop at all! All I had to do was get picked up, which Jason Kolba graciously did.

We arrived around 9:15 and decided to check out the entry to the Cut first. I took a few pictures of it here:

After a bit of searching we found the stairs and path leading down. The tide was going out at the time so a lot of it was exposed. The Cut was aptly named because it really was just a cut in the rock that lead down to the water. There were a lot of rocks and logs strewn about the place, and it was obvious that it took a pounding when the water was high. A pebble beach area lead down to the deep water where the rocks were all fairly large and covered in barnacles. Some of them were pretty sharp, so you had to watch it. It wouldn't be fun to be caught in there with some big surf coming in!

Jason and I took our time gearing up, but were ready pretty quickly. Our plan for the first dive was to head to the right and follow the rock wall at about 20m or so, and return at 1500psi. Jason was using aluminum 80s so he'd be the weak link this time! I did experience the downside with the turbo-soles that I have on my drysuit boots though. Since they aren't as robust as a regular rock-boot, you have to be very careful on entries and exits over sharp rocks. Still, the trade-off in foot mobility was worth it to me. Anyway, that made the entry a little bit more tricky since I had to be extra-careful where I was stepping. We made it into the water, and at that point I decided to test out the p-valve. It was a bit disconcerting because I was worried that the whole system would fail, and that I would have an “accident” that I'd end up having to dive in all day. But it worked great!

The descent was pretty interesting. The tidal zone that was right outside the Cut had a tonne of life living there. The purple sea-stars were particularly cool. We followed the wall to the right, and it just kept going down to nothing. It didn't freak me out at all. I have gotten used to trusting the water to keep me suspended even when there is nothing below me. I did watch my depth gauge closely though, and was glad I did because it was quite easy to just keep going down. We levelled out around 20m and started along. There were a few chimney sponges, and a lot of copper rockfish. They seemed to be lazing around quite a bit. Every so often, white plumose anemones would festoon the wall beside us. It was very cool. Jason said later that he swore there were baby octopus living in the chimney sponges. We'll have to check that out in some marine books to see if that happens. There was a decorator crab, along with several schools of what looked like perch swimming around. Of course, there were tonnes of sea cucumbers and sea-stars. At deeper depths, Alan was saying that there were cloud sponges the size of small cars. Also, there is apparently a statue of a pink pig on the wall somewhere that was put there by persons unknown. But those would have to be seen another day. We reached our return pressure and started to head back. This turned us into the current, and it was kind of rough going but not too bad. I noticed that my jetfins felt very loose for the whole dive, so I knew I'd have to get those adjusted. Jason also commented that I was a bit feet-down (this was later) so I'd have to work on my trim some more. I thought I was doing pretty well, but it's hard to see yourself!

I was leading this dive, and signalled an ascent at what I thought was the right spot. Alan had described how to recognize the Cut again from under water, but had also mentioned that it was a bit tricky to find. Apparently you had to look for a triangle of rock and a sandy bottom. But, it looked like there are several other areas close by that fit that description. It may be that at deeper depths it was easier to differentiate. Anyway, we ascended a good hundred feet from where the Cut really was. No big deal though, we just dropped back down and swam around. We spent a bit of time in the tidal zone just beneath the surface too. That's where Jason noticed the purple sea-stars. The dive was a respectable 33 minutes at a maximum depth of 21m, so I was happy. The average depth worked out to be about 14m.

It was a bit of a climb up the hill back to the picnic table we were based off of, but we made it without incident. I thought it would be pretty awful to take a tumble down that path in full gear! We geared down, had some food and enjoyed the beautiful day. I met Homie whom I had met at Porteau Cove two weeks before, as well as Novi too. It was nice to see some familiar faces. One fellow had been gearing up on double nitrox when we were entering the water and was still out on a solo dive. I don't think I'll be doing anything like that, though! I had to agree with Jason that diving with a buddy was too interesting and just safer.

We talked a bit about our next dive, and decided to do a few skills at the end. We'd head left, go around the Day Marker, past the plumose gardens and then finish up in Whytecliff bay where we'd come in shallow and do the skills there. With all that squared away, we got ready and hit the water. Jason's glove system failed though which sucked badly. One of the marigold gloves tore and was barely making a seal. He didn't have a spare, so dove on it anyway. The upside was that his suit did have a wrist seal underneath so his suit wouldn't flood. But the downside was that his hand would be wet and cold. As soon as we hit the water, the glove failed and sure enough his hand was numb, but I didn't find out about that until later. On the entry, we met and talked to some tourists from Calgary. They had a lot of questions about what there was to see, what was the gear we had, and how long we could stay down. Being the responsible ambassadors of our sport that we are, we tried to answer everything that we could. Unfortunately, the gear was pretty heavy and hot and we couldn't stand around all day! So we carefully got into the water and descended while they took pictures from shore. I guess I'm in someone's holiday snaps again!

The highlight of this dive was finding the dead-diver plaque. I had heard about it, but had never seen it. Well, we found it and it was a good sobering moment to remind me why you need to always be vigilant in diving. We passed the plumose gardens, saw a bunch more rockfish, more ling cod, nudibranchs, and the ever-present variety of sea-stars. There were quite a few urchins too. I was trying to look into every crevice I could as well just in case one might be hiding an octopus. There was one new sponge that I saw which was yellowish and had a lot of holes. Kind of like swiss cheese. I'll have to look that up later. The solo double-nitrox diver would say later that he saw two octopuses on his dive.

Eventually we made it into the bay and settled on the bottom for some skills. We did mask floods/clears, mask removals, and air-sharing. I also deployed my surface marker buoy for the first time. Let me tell you, it's not easy! First you have to unclip it from your pocket, get it out, make sure the spool and line isn't tangled, unfold the tube, inflate it, and let it go without losing the spool in the process. I think I did ok. I at least didn't strangle us in line. It was very hard to wind the line and ascend slowly while venting gas. It's going to take practice, practice, practice. I also tried to practice unclipping and reclipping my SPG. But the clipping part didn't go so well. It took me a tonne of tries to get it clipped again. The D ring was super hard to find for something so big!

Once we recovered the SMB, we descended again and did a swim while sharing air. Jason had originally wanted to don and doff his BCD in the water, but his hand was far too cold by that point so we skipped it. I checked my buoyancy and it seemed pretty good. However, I had a good 1000 psi left in my cylinder though, so it wasn't a true test. I forgot to either dump it to 300-500 or breath it down to that level before checking. But, even with the extra gas I had no problem floating at eye level and sinking while exhaling.

On the beach there were a tonne of divers doing their open water course. We talked to a few of them, knowing that we had just been in their shoes not long ago. I was amazed at all the wetsuits. They were crazy! The water was 11 degrees and just getting colder by the week. I'll keep my drysuit, thanks!

All in all a pretty good set of dives. The second was about 35 minutes to a maximum of 23m, but that was very brief at that depth. I think we investigated a crevice which had a scallop in it. I do have to remember to stay away from the saw-tooth dive profile, mixing deeper after shallower. It's all part of situational awareness skills that I'm trying to work on. Right now, I'm processing the immediate information, but I need to start thinking how that relates to the bigger picture, and ultimately my dive buddy or team. Still, this was just dive number twenty four, so I can't expect miracles! Jason and I both agreed that we were progressing, but both knew we had a lot to learn yet.

The jetfins worked out pretty well, and so did the steel 100 cylinders. I can't wait to get my canister light, long hose, and undergarment so that I can begin getting used to that stuff. As winter comes on, the undergarment is going to be a god-send.

Jason dropped me off at my place, and I borrowed my friend's car to pop over to the shop with my cylinders and fins. I got my fills, and asked Alan about tightening the spring-straps. Unfortunately, there were no medium straps in at the moment so he couldn't do that right away. Hopefully I'd have them by the night dive coming up this Thursday. But in the end, I could always use my Triex fins instead, so no big deal. I ended up hanging out in the shop with Alan and Kyle for about an hour. Alan had some great beer called Leffe from Belgium and it was cool to hang out and talk diving. They were impressed that I got the p-valve working without incident :-) I made a plan to go diving with Alan after my Advance course finished, because he offered to give me some instruction on proper use and deployment of the long-hose set up. It's going to be great. I also want to take my GUE fundamentals course next spring. Hopefully by that time Alan has finished his training for it, and I can have him as an instructor!

The next dive will be my first night dive. It's going to be super cool...