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.