Thursday, January 28, 2010

Porteau Cove Night Dive 27/01/2010

I had been kind of sad that I hadn't been able to get out diving before now. It was not for lack of trying, though! As a small consolation, the past Sunday I visited the Vancouver Aquarium for the Scuba Diver days, where lots of people from the dive industry had come for a trade show thing. It was pretty fun, and I was able to work on some of my marine identification skills with the specimens in the tanks. A good thing too, because I saw something on this dive that I wouldn't have recognized otherwise!

Vince and I decided to go to Porteau Cove. I had not dove Porteau at night before, and was excited to see what might be different. It wasn't a bad evening, either. It wasn't raining, the moon was almost full and it wasn't that cold. The water temperature was 7 degrees, but it didn't feel that bad. The tide had gone out completely, so it made the usually arduous surface swim much shorter since we could walk out quite a ways. It also made the depths a lot shallower. Instead of 15-20 meters, it was only about 10. That also made it a lot more forgiving on gas consumption, so we were able to stay down quite a bit longer (51 minutes).

It was kind of choppy though, and the wind was relatively strong. The surface swim had us bouncing up and down with the waves. Visibility didn't look good, but once we were down it wasn't bad. We could see at least 20 feet or so.

Once we descended, we basically just puttered around the barge wreck and the pipe reef and jungle gym. There was a lot to see, so that area was plenty. We didn't circle the Grant Hall, but did swim alongside its starboard side.

Either I was getting better at noticing marine life, or there was a tonne of life. I think it was a combination of both, because I saw a lot! The highlight were three sailfin sculpins. I never would have recognized them if I had not seen them in the aquarium on Sunday. They were very interesting with the long plume coming off of their heads. There was also a big buffalo sculpin resting on a girder. He was hard to see due to his impressive camouflage. I am pretty sure it was a buffalo sculpin, but it could also have been a great sculpin. Underneath one of the concrete blocks the lair of the resident giant pacific octopus awaited. He was home today, but stuffed way back in the hole so all you could really see was a sucker covered tentacle. He did seem to be getting bigger! Must have been all those tasty crabs. There were lots and lots of graceful decorator crabs hanging off of all manner of things, their claws outstretched ready to snag unsuspecting tidbits. They did not look like this picture at all, since they all used different things to adorn their shells. These ones were more red, too. I am sure I saw a hairy crab as well clinging to a rock. On the swim back to shore, there was a large dungeness crab, as well as a red rock crab. Schools of shiner perch were swimming around too. There was also a puget sound rockfish. It was small and yellow, and I'm pretty sure it was one of these. It could have also been a kelp perch. I'm not sure! I'd not seen these little yellow fish before. The more I think about it, the more I think that it was indeed a kelp perch since it wasn't in a school, but alone. There was also the usual abundance of small and large lingcod, all of them snoozing on the bottom or on a rock. There were quite a few kelp greenlings too. On one concrete reef portion I swear I saw a mossy chiton . Identifying chitons was very hard, though. The picture in my marine life book seemed very similar to what I saw, but this photo wasn't much like it.

On the swim back on the sandy bottom, I am sure I saw a Pacific snake prickleback and a starry flounder. Of course, there were lots and lots of orange and white plumose anemones covering everything. Some had fallen off of what they were clinging too. I can only assume they got dislodged by other divers, or by wave action. I'm not sure. A final hightlight was spotting a Hudson's dorid clinging underneath an overhang. It was super cool!

Even though I got home very late, this dive was worth it. I'd certainly recommend checking out Porteau Cove as a good destination for a night dive any day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Howe Sound Boat Dive 18/01/2010

This was a pretty packed weekend with diving on Saturday, then skiing in Whistler on Sunday. Boat dives in Howe Sound were always good, and I'm very glad I went on this one. Jason Kolba told me about it, and I signed up fairly last minute.

There was a break in the weather and Saturday was sunny. All the other days around it had been raining heavily. It sure was a nice break to be out on the water in the sun! It was almost like summer. Well, ok, not like summer because there was frost on the docks. But being able to gear up with no rain was a welcome change.

I was out on the Sea Dragon with IDC again for this dive. We got going a bit later than normal since we had to stop for fuel, but other than that, we got underway pretty quickly. Since it was cold and I was waiting around, I put on my undergarment and drysuit before getting on the boat. Having the extra room to manoeuvre was nice, and it gave some good protection from the wind.

We went to a new dive site off of the south west corner of Bowen Island called Wolcomb Island. I'm really not sure of that spelling, and I couldn't find the name on any online maps. It was a fairly small rocky island but had several nice houses on it. A google map link is here:,-123.45423&spn=0.000771,0.001966&t=h&z=19

The Sea Dragon dropped us in the water close to the rocks, and we swam up and down a wall that extended to the east. It was a very cool wall dive with tonnes of stuff to see. There were the biggest chimney/boot sponges I'd ever seen there. One had a mouth that was at least a foot and a half across. I stuck my light in the mouth of another one, and it lighted up like a Halloween pumpkin. There was also a puget sound king crab (he was small, not like the monsters near Port Hardy), a basket star, and a golf-ball crab (also known as a rhinoceros crab). This was the only spot you could find basket stars in Howe Sound. There were also some cool strawberry anemones that festooned the rocks that I'd never seen before. The wall was good down to below 25 metres for sure, and went quite a ways. Jason and I went back and forth along it three times. It was nice not having to worry about getting back to an up line, since the boat picked us up when we were done. It took some time to get to the dive site, but it was definitely worth it.

We headed back to the Whytecliff area for the next dive at Bird Islet. I had read about it in my dive book, but was very mistaken on its location. I had thought it was right beside Whytecliff when in fact it was a good distance south. There was a small rocky outcrop with a marker tower on it where a lot of birds rested (hence the name I guess!). Here is a google map link:,-123.278886&spn=0.001541,0.003916&t=h&z=18

The Sea Dragon crew said that Bird Islet was one of their favourite dive sites, but boat traffic and currents made it not always good to go to. Today it was good though, with very little current. We dropped into the water by the islet, and followed the wall that went out to the south. It was a good dive for sure. We came across a crevice with a giant pacific octopus, and a huge school of some kind of rockfish. There was almost no current, so it was a very relaxing pleasant dive. There were huge numbers of white plumose anemones, along with some rose anemones too. There was also a chubby sea star that I need to look up the name of. Finally, there was a really cool nudibranch hanging out in the open. On the ascent, I really should have deployed my surface marker buoy. Partly for practice, but mostly for reference since we were mid-water. It would have made keeping our depth less variable on our safety stop a lot easier. Next time.

The diving was over far too soon unfortunately. Good thing I had another boat dive planned for the 31st!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Porteau Cove 09/01/2010

Vince asked me to help fulfil some of his dive master requirements, namely a discover local diving dive and a lead a certified diver dive. He had Landon lined up to do the evaluation, so I figured it would be a fun excuse to go out diving. We got up very early, though, so it wasn't a day for sleeping in!

It was a pretty miserable day, with rain and cloud. However, the temperature was over 10 degrees, so it was pretty warm. We stopped by Tim Hortons on the way out, and I rode with Landon in his new car. Vince's truck was full of dive gear. It was a good drive. I'd not spent much time getting to know Landon, so it was nice to chat about diving with someone new.

There was one diver out at Porteau Cove when we arrived at around 8. Landon knew him, but I can't recall his name. He was solo diving on doubles, and was just going out into the water when we arrived. Vince did his site briefing, and went over our dive plan, and he did pretty well. It didn't take long to gear up, and we started swimming out to the marker buoys. The first dive would be around the Grant Hall wreck, then out to the sailboat wreck and around the pipe reef, then ascending at the Grant Hall. At least, I think that was the plan! Landon had talked to me before hand to make sure that if Vince got too far ahead that I would stop and see how far he'd get before noticing, and pull an out of gas scenario if he didn't check gas pressures. It wasn't being mean, it was providing valuable experience! Actually, there never was an opportunity to do these, as Vince did pretty well keeping track of things.

I'm going to collapse both dives into one description, because I took too long to write this up, and have forgotten a lot of the details. Landon had a problem with his UK light, but got it sorted out. This was the second time I'd seen a problem with the UK lights not turning on (Mihai had a problem previously). On the dives, we saw a tonne of the coonstripe shrimps. They were everywhere. Landon found a tire with about 5 hairy crabs. Or at least, I thought they were hairy crabs. There was also the biggest longhorn decorator crab I'd seen on the deck of the Grant Hall (maybe a foot from arm to arm). I spent a lot of time looking in the crevices of the deck plates, and there were tonnes of things living in there, along with a small decorated warbonnet. We also were able to find an octopus sleeping in a crevice in the pipe reef. He was pretty hard to see though. Visibility was good on both the dives, so that was nice. At one point, Vince stopped and turned around and his canister light fell off his harness. That was pretty amusing, seeing the 'dive master' hovering there with a dangling light. That was sorted out, though. Landon had some good pointers on my frog kicks which helped a lot. I could feel my fins biting the water a lot more. Hopefully that would help reduce my gas consumption rates, since I wouldn't be working as hard to move. We'll see!

The second dive was a marathon dive of over 50 minutes. That was really fun. On the way back, we paralleled the rocks lining the shore, and it was really great seeing the surface above and the bottom below. It felt like being in the GUE underwater training videos I'd been watching. The sun had sort of come out, so the sky was quite bright through the water. It looked like a distorted mirror effect. There were also a lot of dungeness crabs again in the shallow waters. I don't know why there have been so many, but there they were again. A lot of them were quite big too, but being a marine protected area meant no crabbing!

All in all, a successful day of diving.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Whytecliff Park 04/01/2010

Alan Johnson and I had talked about going back out to Lighthouse Park and exploring the drop off that we had found previously and had planned to do that this day. But, the tides were too big so we put that off for another time. Instead, we planned to do a skills dive at Whytecliff instead.

It was a pretty miserable rainy day, but at least it wasn't cold. I stopped off at Cafe Artigianos and got us both an Americano which helped. We geared up in the empty parking lot and went over the dive plan. Once in the water we got to work.

On the bottom, Alan used his surface marker buoy to mark a starting location. Then he ran a line along the bottom from there to a piece of rock and we used that for reference. The first thing I did was to show how my propulsion was coming along. So I did a frog kick, a modified frog kick, a flutter kick and a modified flutter kick up and down the line focusing on form and not speed. I really thought that my frog kick was great, but would soon find out otherwise! After that, I tried backfinning. It went terribly! I was hovering there psyching myself up, but when I went to try and actually do the motion I saw in my mind, my legs just wouldn't cooperate. I was actually expecting to do a lot better, but it was pretty much the first time I'd ever seriously attempted it. After that, we ran through deploying your backup light. That went ok, but I had problems stowing it again, as well as forgetting to signal the problem to my team. Then we went through the full S-drill a few times, which was basically just responding to an out of gas diver. Again, I had problems because I was trying to go too fast and wasn't thinking through the steps. I got it done, but not as efficiently as it could be. My light cord got tangled, for example. When we finished that up, we came up to the surface for a bit to talk. Alan said that it was good that I wasn't floating up during the drills as much as I used to, and that my flutter kicks were great. However, my frog kick wasn't that good and he'd go over what was going on later. Also, the S-drills went pretty poorly so he wanted to do them again. I also wanted to try backfinning again after a few pointers. So we went back down, recovered the line and I tried backfinning again this time extending my legs out farther and pointing my fins down. It worked a bit better. I didn't go backwards, but I didn't go forwards either. We went through the S-drill again and it went ok. Not as good as I wanted, but a bit better. I didn't go slow enough again. I also ended up floating up pretty far. Finally, I deployed my surface marker buoy and we ascended. A couple of problems arose when I did that. One I didn't open up the SMB enough, and two I inflated it very awkwardly. Alan gave some good tips on how to hold it in one hand so you could inflate it while holding your regulator.

Once back in the parking lot, we went over my problems with my frog kick. I wasn't extending my legs far enough, and one of my fins was cocked to the side reducing efficiency. Also, even though I had thought I was clapping my fins together at the end of the stroke, I wasn't. So I had to concentrate on keeping my fins horizontal, extending my legs more, and really clap the fin blades together. Since I had been trying to use a frog kick as much as possible lately it could have been the reason why my air consumption was so high. If I was doing it very inefficiently, I could have been using up far more air than I might have if I could increase my efficiency. Something to try out!

All in all, a very valuable day of learning. A bit disheartening, but good! The biggest thing I needed to remember was to relax, think and take things slower. I felt a lot better about the upcoming Fundamentals course I would be taking since Alan said that I was in good enough shape to succeed.

Ansell Place 02/01/2010

This was the first dive of the New Year! Emily called me up for a dive the night before, and we picked Ansell Place since I had found wolf eels there before and she'd not seen one yet. I was crossing my fingers that I'd find the den and that they'd be home.

It was high-tide at that time so that made getting into the water easier. It was always a concern walking over the slippery rocks at Ansell if the tide was out. Gearing up was less pleasant because there was a constant rain happening. But it wasn't so bad.

Once in the water, the plan was to head right down to about 24-25m and find the wolf eel den. From what I remembered, it wasn't too far along the wall maybe 3 or 5 minutes. I found it pretty easily. The log that I remembered seeing before was still there as a nice land mark. It had moved a bit though, and wasn't parallel to the wall but was perpendicular now. The big rock that the wolf eels were under before was very close to it. Unfortunately they weren't home. I circled around and checked all the angles but it was unoccupied. Too bad! We continued on and just had a pleasant dive. I did see two new fish, a mosshead warbonnet and a longfin sculpin. At least I'm pretty sure that was what they were. They were pretty small, only 2 or 3 inches long and without a camera I couldn't be sure on the identification afterwards.

On the way back we came across a 10 inch wide metal pipe coming down the wall. I had no idea what it was for, but it was probably some kind of rainwater runoff drain. I hope it wasn't sewage!

When we got back to the surface, it was still raining. Ah well. It was a nice little dive regardless of the rain and the missing wolf eels. We also talked about diving Buntzen Lake sometime as a freshwater dive. Hopefully soon!