Monday, December 13, 2010

Cottam Point and Wall Beach, Nanaimo 04/12/2010

After diving at Tuwanek, Anita had invited me to dive the wrecks at Nanaimo with her friend Bill. I found later that I had met Bill on the Diver's Choice boat. Bill had a pretty nice dive boat too. However we weren't able to use it in the end, and I didn't get to see it.

Getting anywhere early with a ferry involved meant getting up even earlier. I had to get up at 4:30. With an office Christmas party the night before, it was extremely difficult.

We made the 6 am ferry with no problems. But soon found out from Bill that his boat had a problem, and he needed to fix it. Some folks were counting on using it for some dive training the next day, so he had to get it done and couldn't do any diving.

We went for coffee and had a good time discussing rebreathers. Bill had gotten on to them because of a bad back (they were lighter) and had spent a good deal of time learning their pros and cons. I had never really talked in depth with a rebreather diver, so it was interesting to get one take on them.

We also talked about possible dive sites. We decided on Cottam Point and Wall Beach. Both sites can be seen on this map.

Cottam Point is at the top of the map, and Wall Beach is near the bottom.

We went to Cottam Point first. We had done a lot of reading on the highlights of the site based off of a photographer/blogger. It was also listed in the 151 Dives book. Based on the bottom contours we thought we'd find some kind of wall.

The entry to the site was down a fairly steep set of very rough “stairs”. They were basically rocks, not stairs. Getting doubles down to the rock beach was a bit tricky but doable. There were quite a few rocks to put them on and gear up. You could also drive your car down the lane and gear up there, but parking wasn't allowed there. We opted to bring everything down to the beach.

The entry into the water was on a wide expanse of fairly flat rock. At low tide, it would be very slippery due to the abundance of seaweed. It was also hard to see where to step with all the seaweed and there were a lot of sharp rocks. I put a hole in my drysuit boot. Not a big one, but it certainly started to leak. I needed to send in my suit to get a new neck seal, so it could be fixed at the same time.

Our dive plan was to swim north west towards Mystery Island, then curve out and head south east. The depth contours seemed like there should be a wall there. In the end this was a very shallow dive, about 30 feet max. We hit some current, and could not do the dive as planned. Also the bottom was quite flat and fairly featureless heading to the north west. I think the problem was that the depth contours and map in the 151 dive book was just a larger area than what can be conceivably done on a dive without a scooter. We noticed some sea lions in the water, but none came to visit. There was one nice octopus in a crack, and a huge number of nice nudibranchs. The opalescent, feathered and leopard to name some. There were no large bull kelp forests, but some. The smaller bottom kelp and algae were quite nice to see waving in the water. The visibility was awesome, and with it being so shallow, it seemed almost tropical. There was a lot of light streaming down too.

Recommendations for Cottham point would be to enter farther to the west shore, and south, then come around the point to the east. Or vice versa depending on the current. It was a very shallow dive.

We left Cottham to go try Wall Beach. We had a small map from Bill, and he recommended it because there were a lot of wolf eels. Unfortunately we misread the map and dove the wrong spot. You had to keep going along Seahaven Road to the end. We entered at the end of Wall Beach road. There is a beach there, and it took 25 minutes of surface swimming to get out to a depth beyond 20 feet. It's too bad we missed the dive site! Still, it was interesting. There were a tonne of oysters on the bottom of the bay. I'd never seen so many. Also, a flock of about 20 diving birds (I think they were a kind of murre) dove down from the surface to the bottom right in front of us. It was like a scene from the Planet Earth series. Once the main flock swam back to the surface trailing a stream of bubbles from their feathers, a straggler zoomed up after them as if to say “wait for me!”.

So, we would have to go back and check out the right dive site next time! Here is the map that we had:

Howe Sound Boat Dive 28/11/2010

Jason and I decided to go on a boat dive with the Topline. Mike Jurren was on board helping out Kevin. On the trip I asked Kevin about diving in the Florida keys, around Marathon since he has a house down there, and had a lot of dive contacts.

The two dives we did were off of Hutt Wall, and then down at Wolcomb Island. Hutt wall was nice, and we saw the two big cloud sponges. I brought my scooter along for this dive just for fun. I wanted to see how it performed using a single cylinder versus doubles. It really didn't have any change in it's performance. Just before we hit the sponges, I was going to bring us up shallower because I had forgotten about seeing them. Good thing Jason remembered, as just over the next rock outcropping there they were. We would have missed them. Again, the sponges were noticeably dying, with lots of brown sections.

The Wolcombe Island dive was also good. We found a nice octopus on this dive. However, it was 2 degrees colder here, at 7 degrees. We were both frozen at the end of the dive. I left the scooter behind this time. We changed our dive plan a bit, and headed along the rock wall out until it started to peter out, then we turned around and came up shallower and explored the south section of the island near the cove there. It turned out to be a good way to do it. The other times we'd spend all the time on the rock wall. The shallower section in the bay had a lot of nice boulders and rocks, with lots of places for things to hide. I remember seeing a very large and interesting rock chunk, much like the prow of a ship.

Visibility was good on both dives as well. All in all a nice set of two dives.

Tuwanek 21/11/2010

Teri, Anita and I took a quick trip out to Tuwanek, since I hadn't been there for a while and the diving there has always been nice. It was snowy and cold, with the mountains all around covered in white. There was some snow in the air too, and the dive site area was blanketed in white.

Gearing up wasn't too bad though. There was no wind, so that was good.

The water temperature was pretty good too, around 9 degrees. I was expecting to be a lot colder. We headed out to the north island, around the back to the north west. The plan was to see the wolf eels and return. We spent most of the dive around 70 to 80 feet.

Along for the trip was Tom, a drysuit only diver (no bcd), an avid photographer. He was supposed to be very good at finding marine life, and we did find a big octopus and the wolf eels.

The big octopus was about half way to the wolf eels, and was hiding under a set of boulders. It stuck a tentacle straight up out of the den. But after that, it retreated very far back in. The wolf eels were home, but again quite far back in.

On the way back to the entry point, we crossed from the boulder field near the east side of the island over the sandy bottom, and ran into another rock reef which I'd never found before. The rock reef was just off from the entry point, very near where the gravel bottom drops off down to the sand bottom. In this area, we found one more small octopus underneath a small set of rocks.

We only did one dive, not because we were cold (everyone reported being quite comfortable) but because we wanted to get the earlier ferry back to Vancouver. On the way home, we took a detour north of Sechelt to a small general store at Halfmoon Bay for some really great bacon!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Whytecliff 13/11/2010

Saturday found me out at Whytecliff with Jason and the last few dives of an advanced open water course. I was out providing moral support to Heather, along with being a dive buddy. It was early, cold, and cloudy, but at least it wasn't raining!

The highlight of the day was a young seal that came around. I noticed it beneath me while on the surface. He kept staring up at me as if he wanted to come closer but just couldn't bring himself to do it. He also played with the float line, wrapping himself up in it. On one of the surface swims, two more seals popped up behind us to check things out.

There was an incredible wake that pounded the shore at one point. Our gear was on some of the logs at what I thought was a safe distance. But the waves came right up and almost washed one of our fins away! Luckily a diver coming out of the water rescued it. A good note to myself to make sure to get things well away from the water!

A great blue heron perched in one of the trees over us too. Rounding out the wildlife was the usual bottom creatures like flatfish and seastars. Nothing incredible, but we were in the middle of the sandy bay so no surprise there.

At the end of the dives, Jason and I cleaned up the line and float. He tried to throw me the weight that was holding the line down and it went about 2 inches. I laughed.

All in all the dives were successful. The deep dive was completed and the navigation dive went great. Liam was pretty excited, since it was the first time I think he had experienced what real teamwork could be like.

Porteau Cove Scooter Dive 11/11/2010

It was high time for a scooter dive, and Alan Johnson and I decided to scooter Porteau Cove on Remembrance Day.

Heading out was pretty miserable. It was only 5pm, but the time change made it very dark. Plus it was pouring rain. We had to gear up in the change room at Porteau it was so bad. Doing that made it almost pleasant so it was a good call! The rain wasn't so bad once we were in our suits. It was surprisingly warm too. I was sweating after putting everything together.

I was running the dive, which would be good practice. Our bottom time would be 1 hour, based on an average depth of 70 feet. The plan was to scooter around the dock pilings, then follow the firehose north east, scooter around the jungle gym and the Grant Hall for 20 minutes, then head north east at the 70 foot contour to the Nakaya, spend 20 minutes there, then scooter back and in to shore.

All in all I hit all the points, and ran the dive right on time. I got turned around at the Grant Hall going to the Nakaya and did a big circle running back into the Grant Hall again. That was embarrassing. But I got back on track and hit the Nakaya almost right on.

There was a huge shining school of pipefish on the bow of the Grant Hall. Alan sucked a perch through his prop and had some fish chunks resulting. Poor fish! Lots of decorator crabs and perch. No octopus that we saw, but scootering fast make a hard time to stop and look in cracks.

We went through and around the jungle gym a few times which was fun. No crashes! The Nakaya was the best. Very spooky at night. A real ghostly looking ship. We stowed the scooters and swam the wreck. There were columns of air bubbles coming out of the deck planks which was odd. Not quit sure what was causing that.

Coming back in to shore was uneventful. I intended to scooter through the sites on the way back but went too far to the east and missed everything except for a lot of sand.

Still it was a very fun scooter dive! Clear skies and a crescent moon greeted us on the surface. The rain had stopped and it was a nice night.

Whytecliff 10/11/2010

I went out with Heather's Advanced Open Water class for their night dive. Alan Johnson and Emily were there instructing and it was fun. It was still cold, though!

Alan ran folks through light deployment and signal drills on land first.

Out in the water, I was supposed to try and get video of the individual people doing their drills, but that didn't work out too well. The visibility was poor, and I ran out of space on the memory stick very quickly as I left the clips running quite long. I tried to erase some of them underwater, but I wasn't familiar enough with the camera.

In the end all the skills were accomplished, and things went well. It also wasn't that late when we left thankfully so that was nice.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Whytecliff Stage Bottle Checkout Dive 02/11/2010

Part two of my stage bottle checkout dive. And this time it was more successful.

Finally after many delays and reschedules, we made it out to finish this off. I almost had to cancel again as the alarm at work went off, and I was called to go investigate. There were no problems, and everything was fine, but it made me late. Thankfully Alan agreed to still do the dive. He joked that I owed him 15 minutes of his life. I figured some beer would be adequate.

It was dark now by the time we got geared up and into the water. No more "night" dives like the ones in summer! This would make it a bit more challenging, but not bad since Whytecliff was well known to us, and night dives were fairly routine now.

Our dive plan was to deploy our stages, then run out the gas to about half at 30 feet while looking around, then shoot a surface marker and send the positive bottles to the surface.

I was leading the dive and took us down to 30 feet. I went down to 40 feet without noticing quick enough, but got us back on track. I followed the bottom contour from there, just practicing propulsion and navigation. Near the start of the dive, Alan unclipped the tail of my stage bottle and my SPG. I didn't notice for 20 minutes! That reinforced the good practice of a complete flow check and pat down. I was doing the flow checks, but didn't also check the rest of my gear. When I finally noticed, I was able to clip everything back off alright. However, I stopped the dive to do that, and Alan later said that you should not need to stop the dive to clean up gear like that. Only if there was a big problem.

We came across three stubby squid on the dive, along with a seal that kept buzzing us several times. The squid were small, maybe 3 inches, but very cool. I'd not seen squid before. One of them inked Alan when he was looking at it. They were fast, too! The seal never really came very close, but zipped around in the edges of our light beams using it to help him catch stuff.

Alan pulled an out of gas situation after the squid and it went ok. I got him my stage regulator and switched to my secondary. But I didn't go onto my primary, so he simulated out of gas again. The idea being that the stages would be usually quite low, and it may have been used up. I learned a valuable lesson in that once you got your buddy onto a known gas source, get off your secondary and onto your primary just in case you need to donate that. I was able to stow the stage and clean up my gear alright after this drill. So my practice had paid off.

After that situation, I shot the surface marker and we went to send the bottles up. Alan clipped his to the line and pushed it up. A few seconds later it rocketed back down. I laughed pretty hard, the stages were not positive enough, as we'd not used enough gas. Oh well! We weren't able to do that particular skill to completion. I'd have to practice it later.

Finally we did the normal staged ascent following the line up. However, Alan did yet another out of gas situation, this time I had my spool in one hand and my light. I hadn't clipped the line off to the spool properly and Alan wanted to see if I'd drop it. I was able to get things handled ok, but did touch off the bottom one time. Then we shared air up to the surface.

At the end of the dive, he had a lot of valuable feedback. I did ok, but still there were fundamental problems, even after 200 dives. My frog kick was still not very good at all, and my trim was off by about 30 degrees. At the end of the dive Alan said trim got much better, with it being 0 degrees at the end. But again it's something I had to keep working on.

He gave a valuable tip about inward / outward awareness and skill. During the dive, the idea was to do a thorough check every 5 minutes. I had been focusing on equipment, but even then I still wasn't checking everything. Case in point doing a dive for 20 minutes with an unclipped stage bottle and SPG! The best way to do it was to do an internal check first covering yourself, how you were feeling, etc. Then move to a full check of your gear, valves, depth, time, gas supply, a full pat down to identify anything lose. Then to check your buddy; were they showing any stress, strange motions, bubbles etc. Building situational awareness was hard, but this would help a lot. Once the inward and equipment was second nature, the external stuff would come too. So in the end the goal is to have a complete mental picture of the dive at any time, and be able to anticipate problems before they occur. So something to work on for sure!

As a big, and pleasant surprise, Heather had come out to see how we were doing. I saw a glow stick on the rocks by the bay after we surfaced and wondered who it was. Then when we were going down to the beach to get our stages in the dark, that same glow stick went by. It was two people, but I had no idea that it was her. Then in the parking lot, her friend Karen came up behind me and asked if I was Anton. I had no idea how this person knew I was there! So it was a pretty funny situation after I figured out she was behind it.

Porteau Cove 30/10/2010

I went out to Porteau Cove with an Advanced open water class. Heather from the Egmont trip was there, and I had promised to come along in case she needed a dive buddy or for moral support, if needed. However, the dives we would do were much less challenging than those in Egmont, especially the wreck of the Chaudiere. So I was pretty sure that things would go well.

It was an early morning, as I got a lift out with Jason. We went by the dive shop and helped pack the van with Steve Redding. We also all drove out together. It was always fun to chat in the van with Steve. I'd also not get many more opportunities to do that since he was returning to Australia around November 7.

Out at Porteau, I met John, another up and coming diver doing the dry suit course. He talked about the other dive near the Porteau Cove campground. I had heard about it, but never had done it. So we made plans to get that happening in the weeks ahead.

The first dive we did was just sorting out buoyancy and trim, doing some propulsion practice and generally staring at sand. We had a very small group. It was just Jason and Heather and a french girl Magalain, and me. I wasn't participating in any of the skills, just observing and trying to set a good example of proper trim and buoyancy. We didn't see much in terms of life, but the visibility was quite good so that was nice. You could see the surface of the water from 30 feet down, which was excellent.

Porteau had the tide coming in, so the surface swim was longer. There was a bit of current, too. Jason and I ended up having to take turns towing the french girl. She was in a wetsuit and was completely frozen on both dives. I can't understand how people dive in wetsuits in BC waters!

The second dive was a bit more fun. We toured around the Grant Hall. There were some nice big ling cod, some good decorator crabs, and a few nice nudibranchs. The jungle gym also had a great school of small pipe fish, which I always like seeing. I poked my nose into one of the octopus dens, but no one was home.

The day was awesome for a dive. The sun was out, the visibility was good, and it wasn't that cold. Can't complain about that!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Howe Sound Boat Dive - 23/10/2010

It was back out on the Topline with Jason and Vince this Saturday. Kevin and Jan were great hosts as usual!

The first site we visited was on the southern edge of Bowen Island. It was a new site to me, but I can't quite recall the name of it. We ended up passing it up since the conditions were not good there. The currents were not looking right to have a good dive.

Fortunately, Wolcombe Island was in the area, and we went there instead. I'd been there several times before, and it was usually a nice dive. On my first trip there, we saw a basket star. Wolcombe was apparently the only place in the Vancouver area where they could be found. However, since that trip, I've not seen a single basket star there. I suspect they have died out / moved on. So, if you want to see basket stars, get up to Port Hardy!

It was a pretty uneventful live boat drop, and we swam to the stick marker on the rock, did our checks, and descended. Our dive plan was to average 70 feet for half an hour then move up gradually for the rest of the dive. Jason was the limiting factor with a smaller gas supply, so we capped the dive to 50 minutes maximum. The wall at Wolcombe dropped to about a max of 80 feet, with a sandy bottom leaving off there. We didn't see anything too spectacular. The previous weekend many octopus had been reported here, but we didn't see any. The rock topography of Wolcombe was always interesting. But in terms of life there wasn't much of interest to be seen today. Or, we just missed everything! Well, there was a fairly large grunt sculpin which is always cool. I had my stage bottle out for practice again, and got some good stuff done. Managing the extra gear was getting easier. All three of us shot surface markers for practice at the end of the dive, and all that went well too.

From there, we got to pick where to go next. Hutt Wall was near, so we headed north to that. Jason and I hadn't been there in quite some time. Also, Mike the dive master on the boat said that there were two really huge cloud sponges at 60 feet there. Jason and I had missed them the last time we were there, so were anxious to see them. Mike also reported a northern spearnose poacher living under one of the sponges. I'd never seen one of those before, so was quite curious.

Since the sponges were at 60 feet, we decided to keep our dive plan to that depth. There was no way that we'd run out of no decompression time before Jason hit his gas limits, so that wasn't a concern. We estimated a 50 minute dive based on his gas consumption, and it turned out to be pretty accurate.

Descending down the wall was pretty murky at first. It also took a bit of swimming to get out from the rock far enough to actually get onto the wall itself. Somehow, Jason picked up a hitch hiker on the way. A feather star latched onto his arm, but eventually detached and dropped off. I found it quite amusing though. It took a bit of swimming to actually get to the could sponges. I almost started to think we missed them, but then there they were. They didn't disappoint. Both were close together and very large, at least the size of a small couch. One was half-dead though, shot through with brown. It's structure was still there, but both were not in good shape. It was too bad, but it was strange for them to be in such shallow water anyway.

Under the one sponge was indeed the norther spearnose poacher. It was very cool. Inside the sponges several grunt sculpins were making their home, along with many squat lobster. All in all, the sponges were extremely interesting and made this the best dive of the day. We continued on, and found several hairy crabs in various cracks, along with a very well camoflaged sculpin on a rock wall. Jason was looking at something right beside it and totally missed it. I wasn't quite sure what it was. Nothing in my marine book really looked right. I suspect it was a leister or buffalo sculpin. We also found a boot sponge filled with purple fish eggs. There was a kelp greenling near, so we thought it may have been greenling eggs. I also noticed a very nice painted greenling on the dive.

Hutt Wall was the high light of the day for sure! Afterward, we had some drinks at Ya Ya's in Horseshoe Bay. It was a pleasant end to a good day...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Egmont Dive Trip - 15/10/2010-17

I had visited Kal and Porpoise Bay Charters one time before, and I jumped at the chance to go again for more dives in the fabulous waters of the Egmont area. Many of the photos in the big green Pacific marine life book I had were taken in Egmont, as Kal explained later. The Chaudiere was also potentially on the list of dive sites, as was Agamemnon power lines and Skookumchuck rapids, all of which I'd heard a lot about. Another reason I wanted to go was to have a special location for my 200th dive.

The trip was arranged via IDC, and was planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. One dive on Friday, three on Saturday, and two on Sunday.

There were some logistical concerns for this trip. One was Nitrox. Kal needed to know before hand who wanted that. The ferry ride to Langdale was another, but not a big one, since traffic on a Friday afternoon to the Sunshine Coast would be light. Transporting scuba cylinders was a third, but I had the forms printed out already and gave some to Steve as well. Other than that, the only things to be concerned about was making sure to bring everything that you might need to make the trip enjoyable. There would be no trips back and forth to the community, so what you brought was what you had. Having a warm hat, gloves, and some waterproof clothing was a very good idea, just in case too. There was no need to bring sleeping bags or anything like that. The accommodations were great. More on that later.

It took about three hours to do the trip up. There were two vehicles, the IDC van and Mihai's. I drove up with Mihai and his wife Christina, and everyone else went in the van with Steve. There was Heather, Alison, Jim, Liam, Avi, Gord, and Dave. About half of our group were new divers, so it was an interesting mix of experience.

The drive up was great. It was a warm sunny fall day, and there were no delays. We arrived at the red government dock in Egmont around 3:30 and met Kal.

A Google map link.

Kal's boat:

From scuba 2010 october egmont

It didn't take long to get stuff onto the boat for the short ride to Kal's place. Kal's boat was very well set up. Benches lined both sides at a good comfortable height, without having to stand up from a full sitting position. Double cylinders fitted fine as well. Under each bench was a sturdy shelf, and 2 single cylinders could fit in the bottom space. The boat had a good bathroom, and was covered as well, but open on the sides. Thankfully it didn't rain all weekend, but that kept the sun off! There was a custom hot-air blower that Kal had put in for hand warming as well. He joked about the jet-engine sound the fan made when it was running. If I recall correctly, the boat could hold 16 divers, 8 per side. That would be pretty tight but it was possible. We got to spread out some so that was nice. There was no capacity to do fills on the boat, but all the dive sites were close to Kal's home base so that wasn't a big problem.

When we got to where we'd be staying, I was anxious to see the yurts. Kal had set them up as a cheaper alternative to building cabins. They were "tents" in a very loose sense. Sure they were made of treated cotton canvas, but they were warm and dry and very nice. No dirt floors here!

From scuba 2010 october egmont

From scuba 2010 october egmont

From scuba 2010 october egmont

We met Ann (the "big cheese" according to Kal), and Nanook and Nemo, who were the resident puppies. They were an instant hit. Nanook was on the dock waiting to greet us, and to see what new people the boat would be bringing to lavish attention upon him. Kal joked that if we saw two glowing red eyes in the dark, that it was just Nanook. He was a husky cross and had very interesting grey/white eyes.

We quickly got sorted and picked out our accommodations. There were five yurts if I recall correctly, two sets of yurt bathroom/shower combinations, and a four bedroom guest house behind the main house. There was a lot of room to spread out that's for sure! We would have to settle in later though, since we wanted to get out for a check-out dive before it got too late. Worse, we didn't want to miss dinner!

Kal took us out to Nemo's Leap, which I had dove on the previous trip. It was named because the dog Nemo had leaped off of the boat and swam to the shore on one occasion. I was diving with Mihai for the duration of the trip, but we trio-ed up with Dave on several dives including this one. Jim and Alison formed another team, Heather and Avi another, and Gord and Liam. Steve bounced around between those groups I think. The checkout dive went pretty well. Mihai, Dave and myself had a good time on the dive. It was getting dark, but the visibility was quite good, probably 20-30 feet. The bull kelp beds were very nice to see. There were a lot of great nudibranchs out as well. We kept it under 60 feet and just had a nice relaxing 45 minute tour around the broken rocks and interesting topography.

Again we were greeted by the dogs on the dock, and hung up our drysuits in Kal's other boat which was heated and dry. It was a good setup. All the dive gear stayed on the boat or near it. There were no drysuits allowed in the yurts! Dinner was a variety of hamburgers, smokies, chicken and veggie burgers. Desert was a home-made chocolate brownie with ice cream. All excellent! Some of us hit the hot tub that evening, too. Yes, there was a hot tub! I didn't recall the hot tub from the last time I had been out there, but we were only there for a day trip then. It was a welcome treat after a long drive and some time in the Pacific ocean! The stars were out in force, and the view skywards from the tub was great.

The next morning brought more clear sunny skies, and flat glass-like water. It would be like that all weekend, which made a huge difference. The plan was to head out to South Sutton Island for the first dive of the day. But first, a hearty pancake breakfast courtesy of Ann. That morning dive would be one of the most memorable for people, because at the end of the dive, a bull and a cow sea lion played around with almost everyone. Unfortunately Mihai and myself were in a different location, and missed out on the sea lion fun. But it was still a great dive.

South Sutton Alison being camera shy

South Sutton surfacing in kelp

The dive I was most looking forward to was the Chaudiere, a Restigouche-class Destroyer Escort 366-feet long and 2900 tons. It was sunk in 1992. The Chaudière was the first Destroyer Escort ship sunk by the ARSBC, purchased from the Department of National Defence for $1.07 ($1.00 plus GST). We got to go through the famous Skookumchuck narrows, but unfortunately the tides would be wrong so we'd not be able to dive them during the trip. It certainly gave a reason to go back! Kal was saying the water could rip through there at over 15 knots at times. We went through during a safe period, but it was still plenty fast. Kyakers were out on the standing waves set up near the rocks by shore. They looked to be having an exciting time!

For the Chaudiere, Dave, Mihai and myself were diving together again. The general plan was to descend on the midship line, go towards the bow to see the guns, then slowly ascend up the stern section to the stern line. The Chaudiere was quite deep, and we planned accordingly. The guns and superstructure were at 100 feet, and we spent a good portion of our bottom time there.

Chaudiere guns

Chaudiere near the guns

Working our way back up the stern, we came across Steve doing a bit of wreck penetration.

Chaudiere Steve entering

Chaudiere Steve exiting and waving

There were a lot of large and spectacular yellow frosted nudibranchs on the wreck, along with a variety of anemones and tunicates. I was surprised that there wasn't more life on it however. There were large sections of barren rust-covered metal. The ship was quite interesting, though, since it was on it's side. It gave quite a different perspective. I can just imagine how different it would be inside seeing staircases and ceilings all sideways.

Chaudiere stern panorama

After the Chaudiere, we had a second dive planned before heading back for dinner. We returned to Nemo's leap, in a bit of a different location. This ended up being a pretty fast drift dive, and it was a lot of fun. Again, there were a lot of nudibranchs and bull kelp. We kept it shallow, and had a nice relaxing time. Lots of nudibranchs were a common theme on this trip, that's for sure. Also, there was a lot of human evidence on the bottom here. We came across a barbecue, a circular saw blade, various bottles, and Jim found a teapot. I am pretty sure that it was the same brown teapot I saw in the spring!

Trashed Teapot

Back at the house, some of us decided to do a night dive under Kal's dock before dinner. I had eyed the water under the dock since day one; visibility looked great, and there were kelp beds and shallow rock walls rimming the area. Kal also said he'd be happy if we could recover a few of his vinyl gear covers that had blown into the water recently. Alas, we didn't find any of those, but the dive turned out to be pretty good. Myself, Dave, Gord, Avi and Liam suited up and hit the water. Liam had a problem with his light, and Heather was kind enough to lend him hers. Overall, we headed north out from the dock along the gravel bottom. It was pretty flat and shallow, but gave a good easy dive for Gord, Liam and Avi who hadn't had much experience with night diving. The best part of the dive was the huge schools of gleaming shiner perch. They flitted about in our light beams magically. Visibility went beyond where our lights extended adding to the experience. We did hit some rock piles and poked about there, but the current started to pick up so we headed back in.

However, it was a pretty tough deciding to do this dive. Heather and Steve had hit the hot tub. Dave and I both confessed to each other the next day that we almost did the same!

Dinner was again grand, with Ann doing some great steak, fish and veggie dishes. Desert was a raspberry cobbler; as good as it sounds. Alison had two helpings (I had to correct that, originally I put down three, but she had three "home made" buns the next day so I got confused)! It would be an early night, though, since the plan was to try for a "sunrise" dive. Steve wanted to see if it was similar to what he had experience elsewhere, where getting in the water before sunrise and spending your dive time during it would give insight into both night and dawn life. It certainly sounded like an intriguing idea, if early.

So at 7:40am the next day we were in the water descending on Swede's Reef, so named for the Swedish photographers who loved it so much. Mihai and I teamed up again, and found about 4 puget sound king crabs. We also found an octopus den, with the remains of a puget sound king crab at the door. Mihai saw the tentacles, but it was too far back for me to see. I did recover the carapace from the deceased crab, and it made a great souvenir! Kal said to rinse it in fresh water then coat it in a lacquer or other coating as quickly as possible. I used lacquer later, and it did a pretty good job. The shallow depth and the bright morning light made it amazing when we were swimming with a school of fish, too.

Swede's reef puget sound king crab

Swede's reef swimming with the fish

After heading back for an excellent eggs benedict breakfast, we were on our way to the final dive of the trip, the Agamemnon power lines. I had heard a lot about this dive, so was pretty excited when I heard we would do it. It turned out not to disappoint! This wall dive was incredible. The number and size of the cloud sponges was unbelievable. We wouldn't see any of the big gorgonian corals, but we did see some small specimens. I'd have to return to see those once I completed Tech 1. The visibility was very good, and the light was great, even at a hundred feet. I was pretty sad when we had to come up from this dive! However, it was just as good shallow, as it got even brighter. The rock topography here was great. Maybe not packed with as much life as a place like Browning Wall, but it was on par in terms of spectacular dive sites!

Agamemnon channel cloud sponge fly by

Agamemnon channel cloud sponge crab and panorama

Agamemnon channel small gorgonian coral

Overall, this was the best dive of the trip in my opinion. Everyone else said the sea lion experience, but since I didn't see that, this was it!

I've certainly left out a lot of details, but there was no way to pack all those memories into this post. A big thanks to Steve for organizing the trip, and the same to Kal and Ann for being such great hosts. I know many of us will be back! I can't wait myself.

Here is a short list of some of the life I saw: cloud sponge, chimney sponge, gorgonian coral, zoanthids, moon jelly, sea blubber, red fur crab, puget sound king crab, rhinocerous crab, rock scallop, leafy hornmouth, giant white dorid, yellow margin dorid, variable dendrontid, gold dirona, pearly nudibranch, frosted nudibranch, shag-rug nudibranch, spiny sea squirt, transparent sea squirt, longfin sculpin, cabezon, yelloweye rockfish, tiger rockfish, painted greenling.

I just got some pictures from David. I will continue to update this with more of his favorites as I get them!

From scuba 2010 october egmont

From scuba 2010 october egmont

From scuba 2010 october egmont

Friday, October 15, 2010

Howe Sound Boat Dive - 10/10/2010

It was time for a boat dive, so I went out with Mihai on the Topline. It was fall, so the boat had moved to the other side of the marina. Good thing I remembered they did that, otherwise we would have been looking for a long time!

The day was very nice. It started out threatening but cleared up nicely.

The first dive was on North Bowyer. I had brought my AL80 stage for some practice so this was ideal. Mihai and I planned a dive of 50 minutes with an average of 70 feet. We ended up shallower so extended it to almost an hour. The stage practice went well, but the visibility was very poor. Maybe 10 or 15 feet. Not much exciting in terms of things to see either, so not the best of dives. We had some team positioning and communication problems, but I think that was due to Mihai being out of the water for a while and also had a leak and computer problems.

The second dive site was new to me. It was the North East wall on Bowyer island. Kevin had reported a lot of octopus there the previous week, so I was hoping to see a bunch. This dive site was a not bad wall, but it wasn't as nice as the Cut at Whitecliff. There we're some cloud sponges and other life such as you would find on a wall, but not a lot of it. Certainly not as much as you'd find other places. The wall too was plateaued, so there was not a drop off to nothing. This made it a lot easier for newer divers. We had a few along, so that was good.

We practised SMB deployment at the end of the dive, and that went pretty well.
All in all, not a bad day, but visibility was very poor. Too bad, since it was so sunny and nice. No octopus either! Oh well, next time.

Caulfield Cove 09/10/2010

It was always fun to check out a new dive site, and Jason and I did just that. I had known about Caulfield Cove for a long time, but had never taken the opportunity to check it out. Caulfield Cove was pretty easy to get to, being even closer to town than Whitecliff. However, parking was very limited and as we would find out, quite shallow and barren.

Betty Pratt in the 151 Dives book called Caulfield a great place to find bottles. When that description has been used, the dive usually is less than stellar. Usually shallow and lots of mud. Bottles yes but you really have to like that!

I'm getting ahead of myself.

It looked like the area could be promising with rock cliffs lining the west shore, and a rocky outcropping to a bay to the east. There was a DFO dock here, and some people would use that to dive from. Jason and I decided to park in the parking spot by the garbage can and enter the water from the beach trail that was near that. We checked out the rocky outcropping but that looked too steep and craggy.

We knew the site would be shallow, so planned accordingly. On the first dive we decided to cross the bay to the rock cliffs on the west and follow those out south. Crossing the bay was pretty uninteresting. We did find a lot of bottles and golf balls. We did find a cracked white china plate with a blue pattern on it. Treasure from long ago, or knock-off modern crap. Not sure! There were rumours of all sorts of things lost overboard here, as it was a shipping stop-point.

All in all, It was a uniform muddy bottom with little life. Some red rock and dungeness crabs, and a few midshipmen. We did find a brand new boat anchor and chain in the middle of the bay. I marked it with my SMB just to see if we could recover it later.

Finally we made it to the west side, and discovered the bottom sand/mud sloped up all the way to meet the rock, meaning there was really not much there at all. No wall anyway. We followed this for some time at 10 feet and came across a lot of red algae and eel grass. There was a frosted nudibranch which was the highlight of the wildlife. We crossed back over the bay and found a few rock outcroppings on the way back to the dock, that seemed good for the second dive.

We returned to the anchor but it was too heavy to safely raise. We'd need lift bags to do it properly, and so we abandoned it.

Our average depth was something like 10 feet. We did both dives on a single steel 100. Jason mentioned his air consumption had gotten better, too. A pretty good day!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tofino / Ucluelet UASBC Trip 02-03/10/2010

On October 2nd and 3rd, I went along with Chris and Kim and the Underwater Archaeology Society of BC (UASBC) to dive 4 wrecks around the Tofino and Ucluelet area. The wrecks were the Lord Western, Favorite, Nika and Pass of Melfort. I had been meaning to join the society for a long time, so this was a great opportunity to do that and to see some history!

The logistical difficulty of diving on the Western side of Vancouver Island was what I learned most, especially coming from Vancouver. First contending with the ferry ride, then the 2-3 hour drive across the island along narrow winding roads, and weather that changed on a dime. It was worth it because of the huge variety of diving opportunities, though.

The UASBC used the Michelle Diana, a 32 foot Water taxi/dive boat captained by a fellow named Brian. It was a versatile boat, but in that versatility it lost out on features that folks who dive doubles can appreciate. Namely, a lot of bench space and ways to secure your rig in your space. We made it work, but there was a lot of man-handling of gear needed. If I had to handle my doubles on this boat while in rough weather, I'd be pretty nervous!

Everyone met up in Tofino on Saturday at about 10:30am. Jacques Marc was the trip leader, and we had Chris, Kim, and me as the GUE contingent, along with Keith, Alexa, Holger, and Jiri. We departed Tofino in good order for the 1 hour and 15 minute boat ride north to Sydney Inlet. I think the approximate Google Map location of the Lord Western was:

I was surprised at the poor quality of the satellite view, but what can you do!

On the trip up, we were lucky to see several humpback whales. One dove quite nicely and showed it's flukes in the classic whale-diving pose.

Arriving at the dive site, Jacques briefed us on the Lord Western. The UASBC had a publication on this wreck which I had read as well. It was the oldest located wreck in BC, having sunk in 1853. It was a three masted barque, carrying fir piles and canned salmon. I forgot to take notes on more details! It was a pretty big ship, though.

Jacques dropped a shot-line down on where the sounding showed the ballast pile. The ship had a large amount of small rocks in the hold as ballast, and that gave a very nice landmark running the length of the wreck site. Unfortunately, the shot-line was off, and when we got to the bottom, we were greeted with nothing but muddy bottom. However, it didn't take long to come across the debris and the wreck site opened up around us. Silt was a real problem here. Most of the wreck was between 60 and 40 feet. There was a surprising amount of the wreck left. A large section of wooden deck planking remained, copper pins from the keel jutted up from the bottom at regular intervals, and timbers lay tangled everywhere.

I took some shaky video on this trip. I had not done underwater video before, so please forgive the camera-work.

Lord Western debris field

Lord Western debris from Anton North on Vimeo.

Lord Western ballast pile

Lord Western ballast pile from Anton North on Vimeo.

A picture courtesy of Alexa. Note the line running through the shot, left over from the UASBC survey work.

From scuba tofino uclulet 2010 not mine Alexa Councell

Next, we headed North to the wreck of the Favorite. Jacques told us that it provided floating accommodation to female cannery workers. The other rumour was that it was a floating brothel. It sank in 1920 quite ingloriously. The crew took leave for a weekend, and upon returning found the vessel had sunk!

I was not quite sure where the wreck was geographically, but I believe this was it:

The Favorite was very close to shore, right at the mouth of a small freshwater creek. Again, the bottom was very muddy and silt was a problem. The wreck was small, but more recognizable. The bow and stern jutted up from the bottom, and were still joined together by parts of the hull. Copper hull plates had been helping to keep these parts intact. The wreck was shallow, between 30 and 15 feet. Because it was small, we kind of ran out of things to see after about 20 minutes. There were some iron capstans encrusted with rust which were interesting. They looked like cones made of very thick metal lattice work. We stretched the dive out to about 40 minutes by going up and down the hull 4 times, but I think it would have been more interesting if we had some specific tasks to do while on the wreck. There was nothing else around the area to see unfortunately.

Favorite bow

Favorite bow from Anton North on Vimeo.

Favorite capstan by Alexa

From scuba tofino uclulet 2010 not mine Alexa Councell

Favorite bow by Alexa

From scuba tofino uclulet 2010 not mine Alexa Councell

On the trip back to Tofino, we stopped in at the Lord Western to retrieve the shot-line that we had forgotten. The ride back was a bit rough as the swells had increased, but it wasn't bad. We had to be back quickly to make it to Ucluelet and drop our cylinders off at Subtidal Adventures for fills. This was not advertised as a dive shop as far as I could see. However, the owner seemed to have a compressor that was available. You may want to call ahead to confirm if you want to use him. Originally Chris, Kim and I were going to blend some 32% nitrox in the field, but that plan was abandoned. Chris and Kim decided to burn up some trimix on the next day's dive of the Nika. Limited fill ability was something to keep in mind on future trips.

We had dinner at the Eagle's Nest Pub, but not after some problems with directions! You wouldn't think you could get lost in a small town, but we almost managed it. But, because it was a small town, a bit of driving around allowed us to discover Jacques's blue pickup in short order. We stayed at the Little Beach Resort, which had small cabins for rent. They had free wifi too! Good for me, since my phone was on the Rogers network, and that didn't work in the area. We had a good meal talking diving, but packed it in for an early night's sleep.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the Blue Water cafe. At least, I think it was called that. It's address was approximately 1636 Peninsula Road. It used to be a shop called “Big Swell”. Anyway, it's not hard to find. It seemed to be one of the few places open for breakfast early.

After picking up cylinders, we were out on the water with Brian again. The Nika dive site was near Francis Island, but my memory of the location was vague. It was not far from the harbour, though, only 10 or 15 minutes. It was near a pretty exposed rocky outcropping, and the swells were breaking vigorously on it. But apart from the rough water the day was ideal. Clear and sunny with no fog or rain. We all got geared up in a sheltered bay, then we motored to the site and did a live boat drop. Jacques would lead the main group so as we'd not miss anything. Kim and Chris were on trimix and they planned a much longer dive so they were able to go off on their own. The rest of us were on air, and were constrained by bottom time. The Nika was in about 80-90 feet of water, and was a very square-profile dive. It lay pretty much completely in that depth range on a flat sandy bottom. We descended down the rock wall of the outcropping, and landed smack on top of the prop area. A very long drive shaft connected them to the steam engines. A huge cabezon was hanging out on them. Beyond that, Jacques took us out to some more of the wreckage, then around to the boilers which had slid off to the side. All in all, this was the best dive of the trip. The high-flow area meant that there was very little silt. The sunny day made for quite a bright dive, too. And the wreckage was just cool. Alas, our bottom time ran out far too quickly and we had to surface. It really made me look forward to Tech 1! Jacques was quite the speed-demon too, which made good use of our limited bottom time. We ended up seeing everything of the wreck, I think.

Nika prop area

Nika prop area from Anton North on Vimeo.

Nika boiler area

Nika boilers from Anton North on Vimeo.

Unfortunately the Pass of Melfort was not doable. The swells were just too large in the area of the wreck.

Instead, we went back into the harbour area and went looking for wreckage from the MV Ganges a former RCMP launch wrecked in 2008 and an unknown wreck that Jacques had heard about that morning from a local. Jacques handed out marker floats so that if we came across anything we could mark it. The dive itself was shallow, (25 feet) and the surge was quite pronounced. Keith and I dropped in right on the fuel tank from the Ganges. Jacques marked it so that we could get the GPS coordinates. We found another square tank, this one newer and made of aluminum. Others found the Ganges stack, engine bed plate, battery cases etc. There was also a lot of life, many nudibranchs and jellies, and best of all, a Puget Sound King Crab. Also a few rubber tires!

Puget sound king crab from Anton North on Vimeo.

Back on the boat, we waited for Jacques. Holger had found the sailing ship parrel that we were looking for in 13 feet of water. Jacques swam in to photograph it and recover the marker. The surge made it very challenging at one point washing him over a rock. In the end he abandoned his efforts and we sacrificed another float. Thankfully we didn't have to mount a rescue dive for him! Once he was back on the boat, he was very very tired.

Another highlight was before this dive, a California sea lion gave us a show eating a salmon near the boat. Alexa got a great picture of him gulping down the entire tail section!

From scuba tofino uclulet 2010 not mine Alexa Councell

Finally, we were back in the harbor and all packed up. Here is the group of us, after a successful and fun trip!

From scuba tofino uclulet 2010 not mine Alexa Councell

Please note: I have corrected some of the details above, but there still may be some errors. I will do my best to correct them! I wanted to post this quickly so as not to have it fade too much from memory. Jacques was kind enough to do some editing and updated some of the details. Thanks, Jacques! The edited article will be going in the UASBC publication, the Foghorn soon.

Kelvin Grove 30/09/2010

I went back to Kelvin Grove for a night dive with Anita Hollands. Not only was it just to have a nice fun dive since I missed diving on the weekend, but I also was trying out an underwater camera that I had borrowed.

I only did video on this dive, and it didn't turn out very well. It was harder than I thought! Mostly it was the lighting. Without large powerful lights, underwater stuff was hard to capture. No surprise there, I had been hearing that since I started diving!

It was still a nice little dive. I found a great little octopus out of its den. But before Anita could see it, it had retreated out of sight. Too bad, it was a great orange colour. There were many nudibranchs as well.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kelvin Grove and Porteau Cove 19/09/2010

This weekend, I went back to Kelvin Grove with Vince. Kelvin Grove had been closed due to septic system work, but that was all done now. The system had been upgraded so the water was treated now, and not raw like it was before. The outflow pipe was very far off shore and deep so it wasn't close to the dive area at all. A good reminder there could be bad stuff in the ocean!

We did a 20 min dive at each level of 90, 70, 50 feet making up an hour total. There were a lot of painted greenlings, and white nudibranchs. Nothing fancy but Kelvin was always a nice dive with its easy entry and good rock topography. Visibility was also good, maybe 30 feet and quite bright. It was a sunny day. Gearing up was easy on the concrete slab.

We left Kelvin for Porteau Cove. Jason was doing a fun dive for IDC there. We didn't synch up with them, as they were out on their last dive already.

Porteau didn't yield anything beyond the usual ling cods and schools of perch and fields of anemones. In the jungle gym there was a nudibranch garden that was nice. There were a bunch of opalescent nudibranchs clinging to the stalks of some bottom plants. Also near the sailboat hull there were a ton of red decorator crabs. We hunted for octopus, but none were in their homes. Too bad. Visibility wasn't as good as at Kelvins, but that was to be expected for the shallower Porteau.

It was a long day. Traffic on the way home was bad. But, it was a good dive day all around. Again, I brought my stage along for practice. It went ok, but my trim was off. I did a weight check, and discovered that my 11 pound v-weight was far too much. I decided to ditch that weight and use less.

Woodlands 12/09/2010

I went back to Woodlands with Jason because I liked it so much. I also brought along my stage for some practice. Things went better this time, and I felt more comfortable with the extra gear.

Everything about getting there remained the same as last time. We entered the water the same way as well; foregoing the jump off the dock and the shaky ladder. Going down beside the dock on the small trail was better. However we had to watch out for the brambles and the creosote on the dock pilings. I got some of the creosote on my drysuit and had to spend a lot of time later cleaning it off. It would be worth bringing a plastic garbage bag to cover the protruding timber. That way you wouldn't have to worry. Also some garden shears to trim back some of the brambles.

We did two dives, but only just. Jason had a bad leak in his suit, and it was pouring rain.

Dive 1 we went to the day marker and around to the right then left. We descended in the bay and followed the 30 foot contour. Visibility was poor in 20 feet but opened up nicely below 30. We saw a lot of nudibranchs again, especially opalescent and frosted. Many decorator crabs and red and dungeness crabs too. Lots of coonstripe shrimp as well. We followed the rock wall on the back of the island for a bit then headed back. We were down to about 80 feet at max depth The highlights were again the interesting rock formations, and the large numbers of moon jellyfish looking like clusters of galaxies. Oh and we found a little grunt sculpin too.

On dive 2, we stayed shallow in the bay to check that out. There were many hooded nudibranchs. We kept the dive short, because of Jason's leak. It was interesting staying in the bay area so long as you stayed away from the sand in the middle. Rocks rim the area, and there was a lot of small stuff to see. There was a dock on the island that had a lot of anchor cables encrusted with various life. The anchor cables were a good landmark of where you were, too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Woodlands 06/09/2010

I explored a new dive site on this dive, which was always fun!

I was quite surprised no one had mentioned Woodlands before. I had known about it from the 151 Dives book. I had thought several times to go out, but never made it. I was glad I did because it turned out to be an awesome dive site!

Woodlands was north of Deep Cove, in Cove Forest. On Google maps it's labeled North Woodlands. Use satellite view if it's not on in the link already.

The road was quite winding and narrow. You followed Indian River Drive pretty much all the way to the end. There was a steep hill down to a cul de sac. From there a trail led down a long dock/warf, which was public. Other docks there were private.

I was diving with Anita Hollands today. She had come along to Pavilion Lake with me, and we had a great time. She had brought along wine, cheese, avocado and soup. Diving in civilized comfort! Of course, the wine was after.

We unloaded gear at the cul de sac. There were no benches, and residential homes were all around. If you had doubles, it could be tricky. Anita appropriated a stump in the driveway of one of the houses, though. No one came out to yell! I think there was some low retaining walls that could work to put doubles on, though.

Parking was a problem. You had to park fairly far back up the hill. But there would be room for several vehicles. However, I don't think more than 4 divers could comfortably dive here at once. If you spent your time on the beach it might give more room.

Parking and gearing up issues aside, it was easily doable. We entered the water from the beach. The book said to enter from the dock, but we checked that out and it was not good. Not only was it a steep walk down the walkway at lower tides, the exit ladder was dodgy at best. With doubles you'd be hard pressed to climb it back out.

It was much easier to go down the narrow trail to the right of the dock, and enter from the beach. It was narrow, and there were brambles, but it was fine. It could be that the beach was not public. There was a massive mansion there, with a pair of red lips as a couch out front. Very garish. Making sure to go into the water from near the dock pilings might have been a good idea. Don't want to give divers a bad name!

The dive site was around the channel side of the small island, and around the marker. The depth in the bay out there was quit shallow, about 20 feet. It was a sandy bottom, so we surface swam out closer to the marker and then descended there.

There were tonnes of crabs, so crabbing here seemed to be a great option.

On the first dive, we went to the south east of the marker and followed the rock. Out in the channel side, the rock dropped off to a really great wall that continued east to west all along the back of the island. The wall slopped off to more than 100 feet for sure. Maybe not much more than that, but perfect for recreational dives.

All through the dive we were amazed at the number and types of nudibranchs, as well as crabs. No octopus, which was odd considering the amount of food. The visibility was pretty good, maybe 30 feet, but dropping to 5 in the shallows.

We saw leopard dorids, yellow margin dorids, hooded nudibranchs, white-lined dironas (also known as frosted nudibranchs), huge constellations of moon jellyfish, hundreds of longhorn decorator crabs, red rock crabs, dungeness crabs, coonstripe shrimp, a grunt sculpin, roughback sculpin, a water jelly and a bunch of others that escape me. The grunt sculpin would not cooperate to swim for us. Too tired I guess! There were so many nudibranchs, especially the white-lined ones. I'd never seen so many in one spot before. Most of them were laying eggs, and there were eggs everywhere.

The size of the dungeness crabs was amazing too. Massive. They were in the cracks and crevices everywhere, some guarding their cracks fiercely.

On the second dive, we aimed to go between the marker and the island. However the depth was so shallow and the visibility so poor, we skipped that in favor of going around deeper like on the first dive. We did return back between the marker and the island though. Out the channel side, it formed a sand bottomed cut in the rock wall, so it made a good landmark to come back to.

We spent most of the dive between 60 and 80 feet. That seemed to be where the most interesting stuff was. However the shallows around the marker at 40 feet provided a varied landscape of tumbled boulders and cracks where a lot of stuff was living. You could spend a whole dive poking around here.

Other landmarks of note were underwater anchor cables for the dock on the island. If you came across those you would know you were on your way back in. Useful when the visibility was bad.

Boat traffic in this area was a hazard, but it was no problem if you carried a surface marker and made sure to stay near the rock walls.

Current seemed to be non existent. We were diving on a rising tide. I'm sure current could be an issue in the channel, so diving near slack would be a good idea. However, there seemed to be enough protection from the rock walls to make for a nice dive even if there was current.

All in all this was a great dive site. It really took me by surprise!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pavilion Lake 02/09/2010

For over a month I had been organizing a trip to Pavilion Lake. Primitive life called microbialites had been found there by chance by a recreational diver. NASA has been involved in studying the life there to give them clues about how life could arise on other planets. The lake has been in the news a few times too.

Some details on the lake and the project:

Pavilion Lake itself:
823m elevation
Max depth 65m
Dive sites are at 0-40m
Recreational diving only permitted in designated areas.

On the map in the PDF below, the dark green areas are where diving is allowed.

The main project website is here:

Wikipedia article on the lake:

BC Parks information on Marble Canyon campground:

Logistically, it was complicated. The lake is at ~800 meters altitude, and to get there you are going up and down elevation in the mountain passes a lot, which made dive planning more complicated.. The drive is about 5 hours one way. There are no places for fills, so we had to bring all our gas, especially since most of us were on 32%.

Accommodations were limited to tenting it in the local provincial park. That was $16 per car, pit toilets and hand-pump water. There was a water quality warning sign on the pump, advising anyone with weak immune systems to boil it. There were no showers or washing facilities. Each overnight site was spacious and well tended, also each had a fire pit. Fire wood was not available, so you had to scrounge or bring it in.

The Sky Blue Water Resort was not open as far as we could tell, so don't count on that unless you call ahead and make sure. Their web site offered little information. When we arrived we thought we might stay there as it is right beside the central dive site, but the gate was closed and there was no obvious way in.

The provincial camp ground was far enough from the dive sites to need to drive back and forth. You wouldn't want to hike it with your gear!

The map and descriptions of the boundaries of the sites were good. However there was little we could find in the way of directions on how to find the microbialite formations. Thankfully we discovered that it was not hard!

We explored the center site and the south site during our time there. We did not have the time to explore the north site.

The center site entry was well marked with a large sign. It was the same document that you will get from the website, so there was nothing different in terms of details. There was space for maybe 3 or 4 vehicles at the side of the road. There is no official parking, just a wide shoulder area by the highway.

The entry trail looked very steep. However, this was not the trail we had to use. I had gotten a tip that there was an easier trail and this turned out to be correct. From the sign, the easier trail led off to the right. It was farther, and not obvious, but with doubles on it was quite manageable, unlike the main trail.

A google map link to the center site is here.

On the map, the entry point is off the shore at the north side of the small island, called 3 Poles Point. Entry into the water was on smooth gravel and sand. There was quite a nice shallow area to get prepped and do equipment checks. The bottom also had a lot of freshwater vegetation all over it. Our dive plan took us to the south west around 3 Poles Point, then back to the entry. The majority of the microbialites were in the 60-70 foot range. Right after entering the water and descending, we came across a large microbialite formation in very shallow water, about 15 feet.

We did not make it very far around the island as we were going pretty slow. All the microbialites looked very similar. Lumpy organic looking brown rock formations, with a lot of holes. We did not see the more spectacular formations listed on the project website. Those may be deeper, or in another location.

On day two, we dove the south site. A google map link is here.

This site was not well marked at all. However, it was fairly simple to find. There is a very wide and open trail leading down to the water from the highway. It went a very short distance through the trees down to a small beach. Parking was ample at the side of the highway again.

Dive 2 followed much the same profile as dive 1. We headed out from the beach to about 60' and then to the south west along the contour. There were a lot of microbialite formations at this site as well. Notable features were a "cascade" effect, where the microbialites cascaded down the depth contour perpendicular to the shore. Then there would be a stretch of sand, and another cascade. There were no microbialites shallower than about 50' here, so don't waste your time in the shallows!

Of further note, it looked like microbialites would attach and form their formations on dead trees or other things. Several deadfalls were slowly getting covered in the, and looked very spooky.

There was no fish life to speak off that we saw. There were a lot of small snails, and some kind of water flea, but beyond a lot of bottom vegetation, the lake was pretty barren.

All in all, a very interesting experience!

I did not take any of these pictures, but here are some from Anita who was on the trip:

Whytecliff Stage Bottle Checkout Dive 28/08/2010

That evening I had a check-out dive planned with Alan Johnson to practice stage bottle skills. In keeping with my philosophy of learning things before I need them to get used to them early, I figured getting a stage was a good idea.

For one thing, it would be good prep for the tools required for technical diving, it builds skill capacity and it allows you to bring more gas on remote location dives.

We went to Whytecliff and did some preliminary skills at the surface. It was very humbling. Just adding one piece of gear like this really taxed me. There seemed to be a never-ending series of drills and skills that I had to learn.

The dive went ok at the beginning but I had to cut it off after half an hour. My calves cramped up very badly from all the backfinning I was doing. I'm sure I was doing too much of that. Also the fact that I had a full morning of diving contributed to fatigue. I had a lot of sleep and was well hydrated, but all the new skills were too much.

So another checkout dive would be planned and I'd make sure to go over the skill steps so I wouldn't have to concentrate so much on keeping them straight.

I learned a lot, and know that once I get this down I'll have progressed very far in my diving skills!

Howe Sound Boat Dive - 28/08/2010

I headed out on the Topline with Jason for two dives in the morning. Glad I did since on dive 1 there was a spectacular wolf eel! This was at Bowyer Island, on the North Pinnacle dive site. We descended down the line, and the wolf eel was sitting on the rock right there at 45 feet. I signaled Jason and we watched and followed it for a while. He didn't seem happy to see us though, so we left him alone. I had not been back to this site in some time, so it was nice to see. From the line we went south east over the plumose anemone fields. There was somewhat of a wall there, but mostly rugged boulder formations and gently sloping rock. There was a cloud sponge that seemed out of place near 80 feet.

Dive 2 was across the way to Halket Wall. Nothing jumps out at me now of note on that one. It was a pleasant drift dive. We were at 80 feet to 60 feet and the wall was good. Not packed with stuff though. Visibility was good too maybe 30 feet.

Hard to top that wolf eel though!

It's not my video, but a good bit representing what I saw is here:

Whytecliff 22/08/2010

Sunday was a dive at Whytecliff with Teri and her friends. Originally they wanted to do Kelvin Grove but there was still a sewage warning there. The septic tank had been ripped up and was being replaced. I guess there might be the possibility of untreated water going into the ocean.

We did one dive at the Cut. Teri wasn't feeling great so we passed on a second dive. The visibility was pretty good but we didn't see anything spectacular. John saw lots of stuff including a puget sound king crab. Wish I'd been on the dive he was on! Not observant enough today I guess.

It was nice to be done early, though.

Porteau Cove 21/08/2010

A dive at Porteau Cove with a new dive buddy Dennis. He'd been out of the water for a while, and wanted to get back into things.

Porteau gave two nice easy dives for him to start back into. We followed the firehose from the first marker to the main sites. I like the firehose marking the way, now that I've discovered it. It makes for an easy way to get from the closest marker buoy to the main site. Whoever put it there did everyone a favor!

The first dive we explored the sailboat and tug. There was a throng of furry crabs on the bottom. I was surprised to see such a concentration in one place.

Both dives we found octopii sleeping in cracks under the concrete blocks. There was also a nudibranch garden, with hundreds of the hanging on to plant stalks on the bottom. It looked like Dr Suess style trees as the nudibranchs were the colorful and feathery flabellina kind.

The visibility was quite good so it was a very enjoyable dive day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Howe Sound Boat Dive - 08/08/2010

A big day of diving this one.

I went out with the Topline boat in the morning for two dives, and stayed on for the afternoon doing two more dives.

The morning dive was with the IDC diving shop. I was diving with Steve Redding and Ivan. We had a pretty good day, but didn't have any special events happen. We were at Christie Islet and Pam Rocks. Steve hoped some seals would play with us, but no luck. On the second dive Steve and I had some fun playing practical jokes on each other underwater; putting starfish on people and turning people's lights off. It was fun.

The second set of dives I was with Vince. We went to a new site at south Pasley Island near Bowen Island. Being a new site, we had to do some exploring. There were two dive sites here. One to the left and one to the right. Vince and I found the one on the right, and it was a pretty nice wall between 50 and 80 feet. The other group was very shallow around 40 feet, but found four octopus which was kind of aggravating. Vince and I didn't seen anything much in terms of neat wildlife.

The next dive was to the Collingwood Day marker. Again and nice enjoyable dive. This is a good site. Nothing spectacular in terms of life, but nice rockfish and underwater topography.

At the end of the day, I was really feeling tired. A lot of diving will do that!

We finished off things at Ya Ya's in Horseshoe Bay with some nice food and chatting.

Whytecliff 05/08/2010

Just a quick skills dive with Vince. We went out and did a descent drill, shot a surface marker, ran off some line for reference, did valve drills, back finning, and s drills and some propulsion all while videoing each other.

I felt pretty good. I think I am feeling more ready to progress on to the technical diving that I have planned on.

At the end of the dive, I simulated an out of gas scenario and everything went well.

The video of me doing my valve drills is here It's pretty boring though!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Whytecliff 01/08/2010

The next day I had a more aggressive dive planned with three other divers: Teri, Cedric and Anita (whom I had not met before). I brought my doubles and my scooter to get some practice with them. No one else had a scooter, but that was ok. I found on my dive at Tuwanek with Ivan that you can scooter with just one. You just end up going slower and staying with the group.

We started with the right side of the Cut around 80 feet. The cloud sponges were nice, and there were a lot of decorated warbonnets living in them. I found it very fun scootering up and down the line of other divers. Getting off the wall and looking at the entire group arrayed along the wall with light beams playing on the rock was very nice. A lot like space.

After a nice picnic lunch provided by Teri and Anita, we explored the Plumose garden. Anita found a giant pacific octopus under a rock. I startled a seal scootering around a rock corner. He was coming right at me, and got a good scare. I tried to follow him a bit but he was too fast even for a scooter.

At the end of the day, we finished off with a celebratory drink on the grass in the sun to commemorate Teri's 300th dive (albeit a bit belated).

Porteau Cove 31/07/2010

It had been a while since I had dove with Mihai, so I promised to go out to Whytecliff with him on Saturday. Nothing aggressive or fancy, just the left and right sides of the bay on single cylinders.

Both dives were nice but not spectacular. Visibility was ok, around 20 feet. No fauna of note other than some really nice pink and red anemones. We stayed at about 60 feet for both dives.

I put a starfish on Mihai's head as a joke, but with the thick hood he didn't notice. I needed a camera to capture the moment.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Strathcona 28/07/2010

This night dive was originally supposed to be for crabbing. But, Alan couldn't go, so that was canceled. I decided to go to Strathcona anyway, since I'd been meaning to check it out further. I had been there one time on a previous crab dive with Alan.

Jason and Vince were along for this dive. Prior to getting out to the island, we helped retrieve some dropped car keys. There were some people on the dock and one guy in the water. When we asked them what they were doing, they said they were trying to get their keys. We said "oh, well we just happen to have some scuba gear, we'll get them". And we did!

We dove around the small island off the shore. It was a pretty long surface swim out to it. We went to the right around the south end, and came up the side facing the channel. That was the side with the most life apparently.

It was a long shallow dive around the south tip. We should have went around the north end first. The depth was maybe 10 feet most of the way. We didn't get onto the channel side of the island for at least half an hour. The bottom was a lot of big rocks and boulders, with some sand. The channel side of the island turned into some sloping rock walls that were a bit deeper, maybe 40 feet. I didn't want to get too far from the island in case we got out into the channel. There is a lot of boat traffic there.

We made it almost to the north tip of the island, and it was pretty interesting. Lots of nice solid sloping rock walls and cracks. But current hit us pretty bad and we had to turn back. If we had come the other way around, we could have drifted with it.

There were some new nocturnal fish that I'd not seen before. IT was a roughback sculpin. There were loads of them. There were also loads of sticklebacks/pricklebacks, which are long thing eel-like fish.

I don't think I'd dive here again without a scooter. The swim is far too long for what you get to see!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Porteau Cove 25/07/2010

A day of skills. Alan asked me to be the buddy for a very gifted starting diver named Jose. He already could backfin after 8 dives.

We did two dives, doing propulsion and buoyancy skills on both. Alan videoed it.
Jose learned a lot on these two dives, and showed marked improvement from one dive to the other. He had problems sculling with his hands, but that was because he had propulsion issues that were causing him to lose balance. Once those were fixed, his hand moving was not such a problem.

We basically did dive 2 from the GUE Fundamentals course. It gave me practice on my frog-kicks and backfinning so that was good. It also gave an opportunity for Alan to see how my propulsion was progressing. Since the Fundies he'd not seen my backkick. He said I'd come a long way from the non-existent backkick I had in the Fundies!
We saw a grunt sculpin on the end of the dive. The poor thing was scooting on the bottom, and a big ling cod swam along and sat on him. I really thought at first he was going to get eaten.

There was a pretty wicked current, and we had problems surface swimming with Jose. But it got sorted well enough. Alan set up a new course when we couldn't make it to the area with the first set-up. It worked well. Then he exhibited some pretty stellar underwater navigating to get us back to the old course to clean it up, then back to shore.

Tuwanek 24/07/2010

I had tried to plan a trip to Tuwanek all week, but couldn't get a dive buddy. In the end I decided to go on the Topline boat and pick up a buddy, but on Friday Ivan emailed me saying he'd go along.

After the poor visibility at Whytecliff on Thursday I cancelled the Topline in favour of the generally better visibility at Tuwanek.

The morning started off badly. I set my alarm for pm instead of am. We missed the ferry we wanted by minutes. Fortunately there was a 9:40 ferry so we weren't too far behind.

The plan was to do three dives. Ivan had double AL80s and a single AL80, and I'd divide my S130s into thirds. It worked pretty well. Each dive was shorter and shallower too.

I took my scooter along to cut the surface swim. It was slower than I expected towing two fully laden divers, especially on the surface. The prop kept breaking the surface and sucking air. But it still worked. It was at least as fast as swimming. I didn't use the scooter on the dives except for the last one. I got practice stowing it and towing it behind me.

Dive 1 was to the North/right island. We descended a bit too early, so wasted some time looking at sand before hitting the walls and boulders around the back side. We also didn't find the wolf eels. Oh well. Right at the start was a big orange tritonia nudibranch. There were tonnes of tunicates covering everything. Apparently they were seasonal. Moon jellies were everywhere. There were lots of tiny flabellina nudibranchs too. A big cloud sponge came out of nowhere too on the bottom all alone. I had not seen any at Tuwanek before. It was a small hotel for several small fish and crabs.

Dive 2 was to the South/left island. Divers had told us there were two octopii there. I parked the scooter on a marker buoy line this time. I was a bit nervous leaving it and made sure it was totally secure. We saw a big swimming nudibranch and a red buffalo sculpin. The highlight was a giant pacific octopus in his crack. We found the one people were talking about! It was south from the marker buoy at about 60 feet. The scooter was recovered without incident, but on the ascent we almost ran into a lions's mane jellyfish.

Dive 3 was back to the North island, but more right than left. There was another octopus reported there, but we didn't see it. Visibility was poor and we were shallow, around 20 feet. The other dives had better visibility, but below 50 at least. I did doughnuts around Ivan with my scooter on this dive. It was fun!

We had to rush, but made the planned ferry back. All in all a good set of dives!

Whytecliff Scooter Dive 22/07/2010

My second scooter dive, and some serious trigger-time. Things didn't start out great as some gear was left behind. We had to go downtown and back, otherwise Alan would have been freezing in a wetsuit. By the time we started the dive it was 9:30.

It was worth it in the end as we saw a dogfish twice (the closest thing to a shark in these waters besides a six gill). I'd never seen a dogfish before. It's a small mini-shark really. Maybe about 2 feet long.

We did all of Whytecliff on this dive. The cloud sponges up the Cut at 100 feet were another highlight along with a baby octopus at the day marker/ plumose gardens.

A very late night but totally worth it!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Whitecliff Scooter Dive - 18/07/2010

I was super excited when the latest addition to my diving equipment arsenal arrived: the HDV-T16!

An underwater scooter isn't an essential piece of gear by any means. However, my philosophy is to get gear that I'll be using later sooner, so as to get a lot of practice time on it before it becomes more of a necessity. With technical training sometime next year, having those scooter skills in place will make things a lot easier.

The T16 is a very very nice machine. I was surprised at how small it was compared to the old Gavins. In fact, it was standing next to a Gavin in the shop when I saw it for the first time. All I could think was "wow that's small!". The Gavin scooters are at least twice the weight and twice the size. I was very impressed with the quality of construction and features of the T16. It's 48 pounds and about waist high. I still need to test its run time, but it should be around 100 minutes.

I was lucky enough to get Alan Johnson to take me on a check-out dive on Sunday evening at Whitecliff. It was pretty crowded, and taking the scooter down to the beach was pretty cool. I know there were some jealous divers looking at it!

Once we got in the water, we ran through scooter skills. The T16 was supposed to be neutral, but it sank slowly. No big deal, there was a weight plate to take out that should fix that. It was surprising as the scooter was weighted for salt water. Taking the plate out would fix it for fresh water. Alan speculated that the salinity of the water was lower than where they tested it. Not a big deal, it certainly wasn't dragging me down in any way.

At first I just circled around under the surface. There was a surprising amount of force exerted on the right arm that you hold the trigger with, even with the tow cord attached to the crotch D ring. But, it's just because I'm not proficient at scootering yet. It's not as easy as just hanging on and pressing the trigger!

Underwater we ran through stowing the scooter behind you with a leash. It was and interesting exercise to attach the leash, clip it off to the crotch D ring and push the scooter down between your legs and behind you. It felt very awkward. But good practice managing big things underwater. I can only imagine what adding 1 or 2 stage bottles to the mix will be like! By that time though, the scooter will be second nature, which was the whole goal.

We covered a lot of ground on the dive, but no surprise there. We went from the bay all the way around the left island and back, and then messed around in the bay. It was about an hour long dive. Things happened a lot faster while scootering, since you were going faster. I had been used to keeping track of depth, time, compass heading and pressure at a certain rate. Now that all changed! I'll get used to it, but it was a challenge.

Maintaining a set depth level was a challenge too. You really had to keep the scooter pointed properly otherwise you were going up or down. I didn't have my legs out straight enough either. But that was contrary to the regular position of legs up. It makes sense though, as you need to be more streamlined. I also noticed how much a difference in your position behind the scooter made. If you are too low, you get in the prop wash and you go slower. That's easy to feel though, so that's good.

Alan bumped into me one time on purpose for fun. That was a surprise! I didn't crash into anything, which was good too. There was one time where I accidentally engaged the set-screw that locks the trigger on, so for a few seconds I thought I had a runaway scooter problem. I realized what happened quickly and fixed it though.

At the end, it was an awesome time. With a scooter, you can do all the various parts of Whitecliff park in one dive. But, you have to be spot on with your compass navigation or you won't get far!