Monday, March 29, 2010

Copper Cove and Kelvin Grove 27-28/03/2010

With the GUE Fundamentals done, the Instructor Dan Mackay told us to go out and do some fun diving. Copper Cove wasn't necessarily “fun” because it was a working dive to map the bottom, but Klevin Grove was a fun dive for sure.

Jason had been working on his PADI Dive Master course, and we had started the underwater mapping project a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get the deep 24m depth contour done on the previous dives. So, with Port Hardy taking up next weekend, this was the only time to get it finished.

We got out to Copper Cove very early. There was a lot of ferry traffic that was stirring up the bottom, so it wasn't very easy to see much during the dive. It was basically like a night dive it was so dark. Jason's light got very dim on him, so it was tough to write down the data as we measured things out. I didn't have a problem because I wasn't writing anything, just measuring depth and distance. It was a real working dive, and we used up our air pretty quickly. There was not a lot that I remember seeing, but there were some nice anemones and sea pens, along with a buffalo sculpin camouflaged against the rocks. Swimming back along the bottom to shore was pretty dull too. The bottom of Copper Cove is pretty sandy and plain. I think I remember seeing a few crabs along the way.

At the end of the dive, the water near shore was full of debris and junk. It was pretty yucky. We heard later that the visibility was so bad that they cancelled the Open Water course that was supposed to be training in the ocean at Whytecliff. I took the opportunity to work on my backkick at the surface though. I think I got moving backwards a bit which was encouraging. We opted out of a second dive since Jason's light was basically dead. I think we should have stuck it out in hindsight since the day turned very sunny and bright, but oh well.

The next day, I went back to Kelvin Grove with another DIR diver David Ryan. He would be coming along to Dodd Narrows with me on April 10, so it was a good opportunity to have a fun dive and to get to know each other. We had met at Kelvin Grove actually.

I got a lot of sleep the night before, but I had woken up a few times to hear very heavy rain. I was a bit worried that we'd be in for a wet day, but it turned out not too bad. It did rain briefly in the afternoon, but that was it. There was a group of 5 other divers there when we arrived. They were doing a single dive, then were off for a tour of the hyperbaric chamber that Vancouver General Hospital. They invited us along, but there wouldn't be time for us to finish our planned two dives and get back to town. I'd have to remember to check back on that tour sometime, it sounded interesting.

On our first dive, David led. Our plan was to do 20 minutes at 30m, then 20 minutes at 24m, but we ended up between 24 and 15m mostly for that. Then the last 20 minutes would be following the bottom back up to the surface. Kelvin Grove has a very nice wall to the right. I had forgotten how nice it was. There were interesting overhangs of rock, big cracks and crevices, and lots of things to see.

The beginning of the dive wasn't so great. We could hardly see a thing there was so much crap in the water. I lost sight of David if he got 5 feet away. But, once we got down past 15m, it was nice. Dark, but nice. It was basically like a night dive. It was also a bit dicey in that David's primary light didn't switch on properly at the beginning of the dive. We did get it going, but that would have been bad.

During the dive itself, there was a lot to see. The cloud sponges and boot sponges were really neat. David found an octopus deep within a crevice. There were quite a few big ling cods, and still a lot of long cod egg masses as well. There were nudibranchs everywhere, and I'd never seen a chiton standing on its end before. Normally they were glued to the rock. At the end of the dive, David went through a valve drill, and I practiced my backkick some more.

We spent an hour on the surface eating some lunch and talking about dive locations. Cozumel, Mexico was one place David said was good and cheap.

I led the next dive, and the plan was to stay shallower. We'd do 20 minutes at 24m then 20 minutes at 18m with a gradual ascent to the surface after that. Again there was bad visibility until below 15m, but it was a pleasant dive after that. I saw some kind of pink eel-like thing in a crevice which I couldn't identify. I'm not sure if it was just a fish of some kind, or a juvenile of something. I'd have to look it up later. Again at the end of the dive I did some backfinning practice, and I think it went ok.

We packed up and got rained on briefly, but it didn't last. The creek beside the dive site gave a handy location to rinse some of our gear too.

I had forgotten how nice Kelvin Grove was to dive. I'm glad I went again!

Friday, March 26, 2010

GUE Fundamentals 21-24/03/2010

I had been looking forward to this course for some time. Quite a whirl-wind four days of training, which I ended up passing.

I`m not sure if I shall try to do a write up of everything that occurred. If I do, it might take a while!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Indian Arm Boat Adventure 14/03/2010

Weather stopped the planned dive of the HMCS Saskatchewan once again. We assembled early at Shaun's boat, but the gale and hurricane warnings north of Nanaimo were too worrying. We ended up going with our backup plan of Indian Arm. No one but me had dove there, so it was a good compromise. We headed for Crocker Island and the fishbowl that I had done before because I figured it was the best dive I knew up there.

It was a long boat ride from False Creek. Aboard were me, Patrick, Jason, Vince and Shaun. The weather was grey, but the sun came out periodically so it was pretty nice. We had a nice time chatting on the way up. At the fishbowl on the southern tip of Crocker Island, things didn't look so good! There was a lot of brown murky water in sharp contrast to the crystal clear visibility I had before. Jason, Vince and I decided to dive first and check it out. The brown layer was very short-lived, and the water cleared up nicely below 10 or 20 feet. This made for a very nice dive. We checked out the fishbowl, then went around the rock wall on the east side. The drop-off was impressive. Not much to see on the wall again, but there was an interesting colony of decorator crabs all in one spot. The rocks themselves were the most interesting. Very nice formations. At the end of the dive we messed around in a flatter area with boulders and anemones.

Shaun and Patrick dove next, as someone needed to stay on the boat. The sun came out again and illuminated the snow and tree covered peaks all around us. It was very pretty. At the end, everyone was impressed by the fishbowl. Some scenery pictures of the trip are here:

We decided to try Racoon Island next, but not the west wall that I did before. We explored the north point instead. Vince and Shaun (Shaun was worried about the boat) decided to sit the dive out, and it was me and Jason and Patrick. It wasn't a bad dive. It was quite shallow, maybe 10-15 meters, and the brown water made visibility a bit poor. We also spent too much time in a large sandy area with no topography. There were a lot of rocky reefs, so it was certainly an interesting place if you stuck to those. There was also a spot with a lot of bottles scattered around. I wondered if someone's groceries had fallen over board. We also checked out a drop off that sloped off rapidly to nothing. It seemed like those were common in Indian Arm.

Back on the boat, it was raining so we packed up quickly and got under way. Again, a long ride back to False Creek, but we talked more and had a good time.

At the dock, I slipped and hurt my hand a bit. Completely an accident, but I figured I would be out of diving for a few days. That's why this isn't very long, I was typing with one hand!

Oh, and I did do four dives on the Saturday before this. I helped Jason out mapping a place called Copper Cove for his Dive Master course. Patrick was along too. Copper Cove was nice. Just had to make sure to stay around 16 to 20 meters, and keep around the point on the left. The middle of the bay is flat uninteresting sand! We spent a lot of time there though mapping the depths. It was one of the hardest working dives I'd been on as you had to count kick cycles for 10 meters, and do 20 of those, so 200 meters of swimming at a time. We ended up doing 3 depths, so that was 600 meters. I much preferred regular take-your-time diving!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Strathcona (White Rock) 08/03/2010

The end to three days straight of diving, dive number 88! I was closing in on 100. My plan was to have enough dives so that I'd hit 100 on my trip to Port Hardy on April 1st. I was thinking I might have to stop some of my diving, otherwise I'd have too many! I had at least 6 more planned, along with the open water dives for my GUE Fundamentals training course. I suppose I could not count the training dives in a pinch.

Anyway, I had tried to go on a night dive with Alan and Evan a few weeks ago. The plan was to go to Strathcona (White Rock) near Deep Cove to pick up some dungeness crabs. Unfortunately, that dive was cancelled when Alan smashed his head into the truck tail gate by accident. So, we planned it again, and it worked out. Evan couldn't make it, though.

It was an awesome night for a dive. Completely clear sky, and a spectacular view of Orion's Belt. It was cold though. I had to wear my toque and gloves while we were getting ready. Strathcona, also known as White Rock, was not to be confused with White Rock the community south of Vancouver. Strathcona was the road name, and White Rock was the small island just off shore. At least I think it was! There were about 3 or 4 parking spaces available. No bathrooms that I could see though, and a lot of residential houses around. Gearing up on the asphalt was nice and clean, but there were no tables to help you get into your gear. Alan had double 130s, and I was using my single 130. Pretty soon I'd be in double 130s as well, but not yet.

The tide was out, so the water level was very low. We joked that we were just going to wade out to catch the crabs. There were a lot of private docks nearby, so you really needed to pay attention where you might come up. You did not want to come up under someone's boat or dock. Still, it was pretty easy to steer clear of them if you used your compass, and paid attention to the underwater signs. It would get brown and gross when you were under a dock apparently. The island was south east of the entry point, and if you swam to it and headed around it to the left, you'd come across a nice wall. You would not want to go around to the right of the island, because that was extremely shallow and dull. Also, watching for boats was a good thing, although at night boat traffic was non-existent.

For our dive, we stayed between shore and the island. At low tide, the bottom was only 4 meters deep. But the number of crabs was astounding! I'd never seen so many, and big ones, too. It only took 8 minutes to fill Alan's crab bag. By the time he got one in the bag, there was another big one right there. There was quite the halocline going, too, which made the whole experience wavy and surreal. There must have been freshwater runoff nearby. At one point, Alan opened the crab bag, and one of the ones inside made a break for it and literally jumped right out! I had to grab the first one while Alan wrangled the escapee back in, then got the next one in too. I almost laughed underwater several times. Once the bag was full, we messed around chasing a few of the other crabs around. We also spotted some kind of centipede-looking thing on a blade of eelgrass. I guessed it might be some kind of isopod, but I'd need to check it out later. With crabbing done so fast, we decided to practice some skills. We went through a full gas-sharing drill, Alan did a valve drill, I tried to reach my own cylinder valve (with limited success, but got close), and I tried some more backfinning. The backfinning didn't go very well, but I was still confident that with the upcoming training that I'd learn it. Alan thought the same. It just came down to practice, and not doing it at night, in the dark!

So, we packed up the seafood haul, and called it a successful evening. No one had an accident, either!

Buntzen Lake 07/03/2010

My first fresh-water dive! I had wanted to do a fresh-water dive for a long time, and had heard about Buntzen Lake from a few people. They filmed a few episodes of the X-Files there, and a couple of movies. Buntzen Lake was a man-made lake used to feed a power generating station. I think the station was just used for an emergency backup now though.

Buntzen Lake was in Belcarra Regional Park, and was a very nice area. Very much the BC wilderness, and was very relaxing. The tree-lined drive up to the park, and the tree-covered slopes rising up from the lake waters were very nice.

When we arrived, we had to drive down to the boat launch area and drop off our gear. There was no parking near the beach, but there certainly was a lot of parking available. Once we got that sorted, we picked a picnic table close to the docks and checked out the water. The bathrooms were located as far away as you could get from us, unfortunately. There were two sets, but the closer ones were closed for the winter season. The open set was at the other end of the beach, near the enclosed dog run. An entire section of the beach was fenced off for dogs to use. That was pretty nice for dog owners, that's for sure. We were accompanied by some of Mihai's friends, and they had two dogs so that worked well. A small note, dogs were not allowed on the other areas of the beach, and a park official actually visited us and warned us of that fact. Just something to keep in mind!

The waters of Buntzen Lake were very dark and brown. It reminded me a lot of the lake waters in Ontario, brown with tannins. Signs were posted everywhere warning about a steep drop off. They weren't kidding! A few feet into the water, and it appeared to drop off to nothing.

We geared up and adjusted our weighting removing about 4-5 pounds to account for the lower density of fresh water. Our plan was to run through some skills on the first part of the dive, then explore down to about 30 meters. The water was about 5 degrees Celcius and it felt pretty cold on the face! Dropping down to about 10 meters, we did our skills. Everything went pretty well, but during my mask removal I breathed in too much and ended up ascending quite far. I got things sorted, and re-did it and it went better. Mihai had some problems with his horizontal trim, and was kicking the bottom a lot. But other than that, we got things done ok.

After that, we descended further down to 30 meters. The steep drop off ended about 25 meters or so and it gradually descended fairly flat from there. It was so dark down at 30 meters that it was like a night dive. There wasn't much to see, just an endless muddy bottom punctuated every so often by discarded beer cans. We did find three small bottom dwelling fish that looked a lot like small sculpins. I salvaged a lot of old stuff on all the dives, too. I found two pairs of sunglasses, a dog toy, a stubby beer bottle, two golf balls, and a kids scuba mask. Nothing valuable, but there must be a lot that got lost in such a popular lake! On the way up, we also came across the dead trees that people had told us about. They were very spooky looking in the dim, brown waters. Very skeletal like. One had been decorated by divers with bottles, cans, scuba masks and other junk. It was like a junk Christmas tree. There were also at least three sets of kayak paddles shoved blade up in the mud at various locations.

Surfacing, we found that the rain had really started. Poor Christina was pretty wet. Our surface interval was damp and cold, alas. So much for the nice weather! I gave the recovered dog toy to their dog friends.

On the second dive, we started at the boat dock and then swam to the east along the drop off at about 15 meters. This seemed to be where the most interesting stuff was, most notably the dead trees. Near the dock was one big dead tree that was covered with fishing line and lures from people getting snagged. I didn't recover any of these, though, and left them alone. After heading a ways east parallel to the beach, all the interesting stuff disappeared. All that was left was a slope of sand and mud. We turned back then, and found some of the dead trees to look at. There was one section of the slope that was covered in red rust-like deposits. That was about as interesting as it got! In one of the trees, we found some rainbow trout minnows. There were quite a few of them, all bunched up in the cracks in the wood. They were maybe 2 inches long, and glistened and gleamed quite nicely. Finally, we ascended back to the shallow ledge. There were a lot of underwater grasses there.

Buntzen Lake wasn't the most exciting dive location ever, but it was alright. The lack of current would make it a good place to try out new gear. Still, it's a long way to travel, and there are certainly better, more interesting dive sites in the ocean which outweighs the benefits of not having to rinse your dive gear!

Porteau Cove 06/03/2010

This was the start of a three day stretch of diving. I had heard from Landon that he was taking a small class out and I decided to tag along. It worked out even better, since they actually went to Porteau Cove instead of Whytecliff, and Genessa and Shaun were doing an advanced open water course. So I tagged along with them and their group for two decent dives, rather than just hovering watching people do skills! Oh and even more good news, the outdoor shower was on again after being off for the winter. One other reason making diving at Porteau Cove extremely convenient.

It started out being not the best morning for a dive. There was a significant amount of wave action, and it was cold and windy. It was high tide, so the surface swim was not only rough, but longer too. One person got so sea-sick they had to cancel their dive just from the swim. The class had 6 people in it. I stuck with the group that Shaun was doing. There wasn't much of a current so the swim, while rough, wasn't hard. We all made it out to the buoy and descended. The plan was to do some buoyancy skills, then head out for a short dive. I just hung around the group mostly watching. I fiddled a bit with my buoyancy, but didn't practice many skills myself other than to act as a reference and good role model. I tried to stay as horizontal and trim as possible, all the time. Genessa said later that I did a good job. Everyone in the class was dressed the same, all in black. I was the only one who stood out with the red accents on my drysuit, and powerful light. The visibility wasn't very good, so it was a good thing that I had my light along. I'm sure it helped people keep track of where the main group was. There was of course a lot of silting, but that's to be expected. All the divers came from warm-water backgrounds and were still learning drysuit and cold water diving. A lot of fins were hitting the bottom!

There wasn't much to see because of the poor visibility, and the fact that we weren't moving around much. But there were a few nudibranchs and ling cod, as usual.

The day really brightened up, and the waves petered out so the second dive was just great. It was almost like being out in summer. On the swim out for the second dive, I had my first encounter with a real panicked diver. Landon was handling it, but I went over to assist in calming them down just in case. One of his students had problems with doing a mask clearing skill, and tried to bolt to the surface. Landon brought him up safely, but it was quite an experience to see something that I only practiced for in the Rescue Diver course.

The second dive was around the Grant Hall, and it was nice. Shorter, but nice. I saw a nice sized buffalo sculpin camouflaged on the hull, and a really big ling cod. We didn't go by the octopus den, which was too bad. But we did swim around the pipe reef which was fun. Shaun dropped his underwater signaling shaker, which I saw and picked up and gave back to him later. So I helped out! I didn't feel like keeping an underwater shaker thing, anyway, hah.

Hanging out after the dive, Shaun mentioned he and his boat were free for diving the coming weekend. So plans were set in motion to see if that could be made a reality. Tentatively, we discussed going to Nanaimo and diving the HMCS Saskatechewan. I hope it would work out!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Nakaya Wreck Dive 02/28/2010

Ever since diving the VT-100, I wanted to dive the Nakaya, the same Yard Mine Sweeper class of vessel but sunk at Porteau Cove marine park. It was designated YMS-420 before being sold to Harbour Ferries in 1970 and renamed Harbour Queen No. 1, then renamed Nakaya in 1980, and finally sunk in 1992.

Firstly, to find the Nakaya was dead easy. A lot easier than what my research uncovered. The material I found was fairly vague, and had compass bearings and no travel times.

Directions to the Nakaya, starting from the stairs down to the water:

Swim to the very last and very far white surface buoy on the extreme right (closest to shore).

It is a long swim, about 320m using the ruler tool in Google Earth.

Descend along the line from the buoy all the way to the bottom (depth about 25m).

If you face a compass bearing of 30 degrees, and then turn 90 degrees to your left and start swimming, you'll run right into the Nakaya.

The Nakaya is not far from the line. Maybe 20 or 30 feet. If you miss it for some reason, return to the line and try again.

I had been planning this dive for a week or two, with several divers included but in the end only Jason could make it. To be fair, it was the Olympic closing ceremony day, and the big Canada vs. USA gold medal hockey game was on. It was an awesome sunny day for a dive, and I was able to participate in the celebrations after getting back, so I think I got the best of both worlds.

Gearing up for the dive was not as pleasant, since it was drizzling at the time. This cleared up though and it got very sunny. We didn't have too much trouble getting into the park, but there were traffic cones set up to prevent you turning left due to the Olympics. Once in the water, we started the long swim out. It was right around low tide, and the water was pretty slack so there was not much current. Once we got to the white buoy, we did what I thought needed to be done to find the wreck. We first swam on the surface along 30 degrees looking down trying to see the removed marker buoy. We had no luck doing this, so returned to the white buoy. We decided to descend there, and head along 30 degrees on the bottom to try and run into the bottom of the supposed line. We did that, but swam a long way without finding anything. Every minute I thought I saw something in the gloom, but it was always just my eyes playing tricks on me.

Eventually the bottom started turning into sharp rocks and looked like it was going up to shore. So I turned us around and we headed back along the bottom at 30m. This was the other way of finding the Nakaya, since we should in theory run right into it if we stayed near its depth. Luckily, it worked, and the bow of the ship loomed out of the gloom. It was tall! The ship was 40m long, so it was a big one. The bow was in great shape, not crumbling or anything. As we followed the hull along the starboard side, it started to show more signs of deterioration. There were holes in the hull near the deck level, and they gave it the appearance of a railing on a spooky ghost ship. On the other side, schools of shiner perch darted around in our lights. Half way down the hull, I looked to the east and saw a line. I figured that was the “missing” line that we had been looking for. Little did I know it was the same line we came down on! We had descended right beside the wreck, only to swim off and totally missed it until we came back.

We checked out the stern section which was really crumbling, and headed up to the deck level for a bit. There was no deck left really, just big holes into the hold. There was a lot of sediment accumulated in there too. Not a lot of life down in the holds. But the hull and the remnants of the deck had quite a bit. There were a few really big ling cod guarding their egg masses. There was also a lot of decorator crabs and coonstripe shrimps, along with a hairy crab and some squat lobsters. The highlight of the dives was a giant dendronotid, a red flabellina and a leopard dorid. We looked and looked for octopus, but there were none.

The second dive was much the same as the first, but we were able to spend more time on the wreck now that we knew how to find it. It really was a lot of fun to explore, and was a lot more interesting than the VT-100. This is the kind of dive where Nitrox comes in very handy to extend your bottom time, since it is quite deep. I was also very pleased that my air consumption rate had gotten a lot better too. It had been pretty high for a long time, and it was nice to see it improving. Less air consumption equals longer dives, something that I'm all for!