Friday, November 27, 2009

Whytecliff Night Dive 26/11/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tuwanek, Sunshine Coast 22/11/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ansell Place 17/11/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kelvin Grove 14/11/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lookout Point 08/11/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: diving the HMCS Saskatchewan and Cape Breton!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. Bring good rain gear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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