Sunday, June 17, 2012

Topline - Dragon's Den 03/06/2012

I had not been out diving with Mihai in a long long time, so took the opportunity to accompany him on the Topline.

The boat was not very full at all, so it was very comfortable. Mihai had a friend of his along, Scott I think. We ended up diving as a foursome with one other diver.

It took a bit of discussion, but we finally settled on Dragon's Den for the first dive. The visibility wasn't as good as it was on my previous dive here, but it was still good. We didn't discover any impressive critters, but it was still a great dive. The small caverns in the rock were again very interesting.

The second dive took us to find a wolf eel, at Mihai's request. We visited South Bowyer Island for that. This time, I was determined not to miss it! And we didn't. I found the eel pretty easily this time with updated instructions. The rock he was under was not very big at all. It was definitely not boulder sized. He was a pretty big specimen, but it was hard to tell since he was hidden pretty well. I led our dive around the back side of the canyon, and we came across two very nice puget sound king crabs. Then we came across a barbecue that must have fallen off someone's boat, and finished up at the small power-boat wreck.

All in all, it was again a fun day of diving! Here is some video:

Sponge Bioherm in Howe Sound aka Sponge Bob 27/05/2012

Jim Dixon and I had a chance to re-visit the sponge bioherm that we were supposed to do as our first tech dive after finishing GUE Tech 1. We were pretty exited to see what we missed the first time around! I found a link to some material on the sponge bioherm here. Looks like it is the only sponge reef in Howe Sound. Pretty interesting!

I had seen glass sponges a lot, but did not realize that they could form reef structures like that. There is some video on that site as well. The Vancouver Aquarium is monitoring this bioherm too.

For the Topline, it had become a very popular dive site. They had nick-named it "Sponge Bob". It was a tricky site to dive, since it was in the middle of Howe Sound a bit south east of Halket bay. There was no mooring line, and you had to find it with GPS and depth soundings. Currents were a problem, and the tides had to be right for it to be dive-able. The reef started at about 70 feet, and went well below 150 feet. The usual plan for the Topline was to drop a shot-line to give some visual reference on the way down. If you didn't, it would be very likely that the current would blow you off of the reef and you'd totally miss it.With the deep waters in the area, it would make for a disorientating blue-water dive. You couldn't hang on to the line either, as it was not anchored like regular descent lines. Also, due to the fragile nature of the reef, everyone had to be very careful not to disturb anything. Buoyancy and propulsion control were key. This was not a dive for novices.

I was talking to Ken and on the last trip, someone grabbed the shot line and pulled it loose. That meant that the first group found the reef, but everyone else was blown off of it before they even saw it and totally missed it. It was very important not to touch the line!

Jim and I had a tech dive planned with an average depth of 45 meters for 30 minutes, and using 18/45 Trimix. 18/45 was just the tool to do such a long deep dive. That obligated us to 30 minutes of decompression, with an additional 5 minutes added in from 6 meters to the surface for added conservatism.

With the dive plan set, the Topline dropped the shot line and Mike Juren went in first to make sure it was relatively secure and to attach a strobe to the line. He sent up a marker buoy when all was well. That signaled the start of diving!

The first team of Alan and John went in, and then Jim and I. There was also Jason Kolba and Dave doing a recreational dive (and one other fellow whose name I keep forgetting!), along with another group of divers up from the US I think.

Jim and I followed the line down, and the reef quickly loomed to meet us. The visibility was pretty good, and there was indeed some current but it wasn't too bad. I was leading the dive, and once we reset our timers and average depths at 70 feet, we continued on down. I took us north west-ish down to our planned depth and we followed that out to our turn time. The reef was not what you'd expect. It was like a big pile of mud or ooze pock-marked with large sponges. The really impressive sponges were around 40 meters. The bigger ones were at least the size of an easy chair. Some of the more impressive ones appeared to be "melting" like candle wax. I had never seen glass sponges like this before. I would say the glass sponges in Agamemnon Channel up by Egmont were a bit more prolific, but these made up for that in their Doctor-Seuss like shapes. We passed Alan and John during our dive as well. The visibility was good, and I always liked how it seemed like you were meeting astronauts in space when you came across another dive team. I got some video of the dive, and I hope it will give some sense of what we saw:

We found the up-line with no difficulty and our deco to the surface passed uneventfully. It was a pretty dull 30 minutes though! There was nothing but murky water to stare at, and the small up-line. Still, what we saw on the dive made up for that.

The next dive we did after a nice long surface interval was at a site called Stairway to Heaven. It was a wall on the back side of Bowen Island, and I had not dove there before. Jim and I took our remaining gas and planned a 20 minute dive to an average depth of 38 meters. We were putting what we learned in our GUE Tech 1 class to good use, planning the dive on the fly. The dive itself was nice, but nothing too memorable.

Back on the surface we headed home. The sponge dive was a success!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Topline 26/05/2012

After Heather's Rescue Course, Ken at Ocean Quest had a special deal for the people who completed it: a boat dive with the Topline at a reduced rate. Too good to pass up!
We met at Horseshoe Bay as normal at 8am. It was a pretty good looking day, calm and not too warm. The sun was out periodically, but it was mostly cloudy all day.
Ken had method in his madness: some of the divers on the boat were Dive Master candidates, working on their program. Heather and I were paired with a fellow named Dale. He had won the coin toss to accompany the experienced divers instead of the new open water students who were along. We both thought it was very amusing that people were fighting over us.
Kevin and Jan were their usual awesome hosts. There were 18 divers on the boat, and even with all those people it ran extremely smoothly thanks to their organizing and Ken's. The first site we went to was South Bowyer. The idea was to look for the wolf eel that had taken up residence under a rock about 5 minutes north of the tie-up line. Ken told Heather and I to spring some tasks on Dale during the dive, but we didn't have the heart. I made a mistake looking for the wolf eel. What you were supposed to do was descend the line, then head north up the canyon, sticking to the right hand wall. When the canyon ran out, you had to follow it on to the right almost to a saddle of rock that was covered in plumose anemones. There was a metal grate on the bottom, and not far from that was a small rock. Under that rock was the wolf eel. If you went over the saddle of rock and hit a drop-off, you had gone too far. We ended up going too far, oops. Even though we missed the wolf eel, we still had a very nice dive. We went around the back side of the canyon and saw lots of plumose anemone beds. Then, coming back around to the up-line, we came across a small power boat sitting on the bottom. Not much of a wreck, but still a wreck! Even though we looked under it, there was nothing interesting there to be found.
After a nice long surface interval and lunch, we dove the North Bowyer site. On that dive, Ken came along too. Once again, it was a very nice relaxing dive with a lot more plumose anemones and some pretty decorator crabs. The highlight was two lion's mane jelly fish. One small one that had some of its tentacles trapped by a plumose anemoe that Dale cut free, and one really big one with tentacles stretching maybe 10 feet. We kept our distance, but it was awesome to see.
Dale was more worried about someone doing something, and nothing happened at all. I think Ken did a good job of psyching him out!
An awesome trip with the Topline! Here is a bit of video:

Porteau Cove 21/05/2012

Heather and I went out with one of her old friends from Dragon Boating on a night dive. Jason was looking to up his dive count before heading to Michigan to teach scuba diving at a boy's camp. We decided on Porteau as one of the most relaxing places we could think of. As was sometimes the case, the current at Porteau didn't make it that relaxing in the end! Genessa was just coming out with a student when we got there. She didn't have a lot of good things to say about the vis, but such was diving around Vancouver in the summer. Our dive plan was pretty simple: head to the firehose and follow that out to the wrecks. The current had other plans, sweeping us to the north east. By the time I thought we were supposed to see the firehose, we actually bumped into the Grant Hall wreck. Visibility wasn't that bad, and the current did let up a bit on the way back in. We saw some nice decorator crabs, and the obligatory giant ling cods. The Ford Ranger worked out great with 3 people. It was the first time we had it out with a third diver along. A bit cramped, but very doable.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuwanek 20/05/2012

Jason Kolba and I headed out to Tuwanek because we had not been out that way in a long long time. Also, BC ferries had their cheap ferry deal going on, so it was good to take advantage of that too. I always forgot how much those ferry rides could add up!

The day wasn't the best, a bit cloudy and drizzly. When we arrived, I was quite surprised to see about 4 cars already there. It was a full house, and we had to park further away. I didn't quite catch where the divers were from, but I think it was a club or shop trip.

We geared up and decided to try the North island first. Our original plan was to circumnavigate the island if the visibility was good. When we descended and started out, we quickly realized that we wouldn't be doing that. The visibility was really not that great at all, certainly not what was expected at Tuwanek. It was maybe 30' or so, which was better than back in Vancouver at least. The dive was pretty good apart from that small disappointment. We found the wolf eels at the back of the island, and then turned around and came back. The shallows were quite nice, with a lot of aquatic plants waving in the current.

After some lunch, and a bit of rain, we decided to do the south island and see if we could find the octopus that could be over there. On the swim out, I had a small problem with the o-ring in my low pressure inflator. I ended up having to get out of the water and do a quick repair at the truck. The experience and equipment courses I had were paying off! With that fixed, Jason and I swam out to the white marker buoy and descended. Again, the visibility was pretty bad, but at about 60 feet it cleared up immensely. The vis actually was better than on the first dive. We didn't find the octopus that was sometimes near the marker buoy chain, but we did come across a skate! I had never seen this relative of the ray before, and neither had Jason. It was a really great find. We also came across some large clouds of baby shrimp larvae that were quite impressive.

All in all, the wolf eels and the skate made the trip one to remember! Here is a bit of video:

Rescue Course 13/05/2012

I went out with Heather to finish off her rescue course at Whytecliff. We couldn't have asked for a better day, sunny and dry.

All she had to finish was the scenarios, and the group that we had was great. I got to play the victim again, and it was a lot of fun as usual. Not only did Heather finish off the course and do great, but I also got a chance to practice some search and recovery skills. The previous day, one person had lost a fin, and lost another one again. I was able to find the missing fin on one search. Then, my mask was accidentally dropped on the last scenario, and I managed to find that, along with the fin that was lost the previous day, and a 2 pound bullet weight! Not bad!

I do remember when I was running the search that I thought I'd look pretty silly if I couldn't find all this stuff. So I worried for nothing. Guess all the practice and training had paid off!

Kelvin Grove 09/05/2012

Jim Dixon and I decided to see what kind of tech diving opportunities that Kelvin Grove had to offer. I was a bit worried about the weather as there was a lot of wind that day, and the ocean was very rough. Still it wasn't raining, and it was a nice enough evening.

When we arrived, we scoped out the site, and deemed it dive-able even with the rough sea. Kelvin Grove is quite sheltered.

After gearing up and hitting the water, we followed our dive plan. After talking to a few people, and drawing on what we already knew of the site, we decided to swim out to the right hand side and follow the rock wall down to a max depth of 45 meters, and just see what it was like.

It turned out to be quite a nice tech dive. The bottom kept sloping down past our planned depth, so you could definitely keep going. The one problem was that it did take quite a few minutes to get to depth, because the bottom sloped quite gradually. Not too much of a problem though, and certainly a nice easy tech dive.

In terms of what we saw, there was nothing beyond the usual. There were nice large boot sponges, and the nice rock wall topography. I liked Kelvin Grove quite and bit, and it still didn't disappoint. In the end, it was probably not worth a second tech dive. You can see all that Kelvin has to offer in recreational depths.

We had a great time though, as always. There was a lot to see in the coming up on our deco stops. Always a bonus to be able to look at something instead of just blue water or a line!

Porteau Cove 06/05/2012

Heather and I went and did a nice dive at Porteau Cove to make sure that the wrist seals on her suit were better now that they were trimmed. I don't recall too much from the dive, but we followed the firehose and checked out the sailboat and the jungle gym. It wasn't raining and it was a good day of diving!